Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 24, 2009

It’s Not the Process

Ross Douthat notes that two of Obama’s key constituencies—liberals and the media (in this case, there is a difference)—have had it with him. He explains:

As the health care debate enters its decisive weeks, the left doubts President Obama’s commitment, and the press doubts his competence. . . . Where the left sees betrayal, the press sees ham-fistedness. The White House’s messages have been mixed—fiscal hawkery one day, moralism the next. The administration has allowed distractions like the Skip Gates affair to crowd out his agenda. It has overlearned the lessons of the Clinton-care debacle and given Congress too much leeway. It has underlearned the lessons of the Bush-era Social Security debacle and gone to war before there’s an actual piece of legislation on the table.

He concludes that it will be a failure of strategy and deal-making if the Democrats blow their once-in-a-lifetime chance to pass government-run health care.

But like so many pundits arrayed along the political spectrum, Douthat sees this as a tactical failure. It is the process that went wrong. This seems badly off the mark. The fundamental problem with ObamaCare is ObamaCare itself and its assumption that the entire health-care system must be ripped out by the roots and reworked, with the government front and center. Obama—not Nancy Pelosi—wants a public option and stringent controls on “unnecessary” care (to be determined by new panels of technocrats). That’s isn’t a process failure; it’s one of substance.

The error made by Obama and his congressional allies was to assume that, in the midst of a recession, the public would be amenable to a huge dislocation in the health-care system, a new tax regime, an enhanced role for government and a diminished one for practitioners and private insurers. That was wrong. Most Americans have insurance and most like it. Most Americans don’t trust bestowing on the government broad new powers to control their medical care.

Pundits are often enamored with analysis that ignores the substance and focuses on Washington-insiderness and tactical decisions, which only they have the time and expertise to translate for nonprofessionals (i.e., real people). This is especially true with regard to health care. But in this case, they certainly miss the central issue: Americans don’t want government-run health care.

Ross Douthat notes that two of Obama’s key constituencies—liberals and the media (in this case, there is a difference)—have had it with him. He explains:

As the health care debate enters its decisive weeks, the left doubts President Obama’s commitment, and the press doubts his competence. . . . Where the left sees betrayal, the press sees ham-fistedness. The White House’s messages have been mixed—fiscal hawkery one day, moralism the next. The administration has allowed distractions like the Skip Gates affair to crowd out his agenda. It has overlearned the lessons of the Clinton-care debacle and given Congress too much leeway. It has underlearned the lessons of the Bush-era Social Security debacle and gone to war before there’s an actual piece of legislation on the table.

He concludes that it will be a failure of strategy and deal-making if the Democrats blow their once-in-a-lifetime chance to pass government-run health care.

But like so many pundits arrayed along the political spectrum, Douthat sees this as a tactical failure. It is the process that went wrong. This seems badly off the mark. The fundamental problem with ObamaCare is ObamaCare itself and its assumption that the entire health-care system must be ripped out by the roots and reworked, with the government front and center. Obama—not Nancy Pelosi—wants a public option and stringent controls on “unnecessary” care (to be determined by new panels of technocrats). That’s isn’t a process failure; it’s one of substance.

The error made by Obama and his congressional allies was to assume that, in the midst of a recession, the public would be amenable to a huge dislocation in the health-care system, a new tax regime, an enhanced role for government and a diminished one for practitioners and private insurers. That was wrong. Most Americans have insurance and most like it. Most Americans don’t trust bestowing on the government broad new powers to control their medical care.

Pundits are often enamored with analysis that ignores the substance and focuses on Washington-insiderness and tactical decisions, which only they have the time and expertise to translate for nonprofessionals (i.e., real people). This is especially true with regard to health care. But in this case, they certainly miss the central issue: Americans don’t want government-run health care.

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Please Don’t Panic!

Leon Panetta sends out a memo to his battered and demoralized CIA employees, in essence pleading with them not to freak out over the news that they are about to be prosecuted and stripped of a key function (interrogating top terror suspects). His memo reads, in part:

Today, as part of a number of Freedom of Information Act cases, the government is responding to court orders to release more documents related to the Agency’s past detention and interrogation of foreign terrorists. The CIA materials include the 2004 report from our Office of Inspector General and two papers—one from 2004 and the other from 2005—that discuss the value of intelligence acquired from high-level detainees. The complete package is hundreds of pages long. The declassification process, a mandatory part of the proceedings, was conducted in accord with established FOIA guidelines.

[. . .]

My emphasis on the future comes with a clear recognition that our Agency takes seriously proper accountability for the past. As the intelligence service of a democracy, that’s an important part of who we are. When it comes to past detention and interrogation practices, here are some facts to bear in mind on that point:

• The CIA itself commissioned the Inspector General’s review. The report, prepared five years ago, noted both the effectiveness of the interrogation program and concerns about how it had been run early on. Several Agency components, including the Office of General Counsel and the Directorate of Operations, disagreed with some of the findings and conclusions.

• The CIA referred allegations of abuse to the Department of Justice for potential prosecution. This Agency made no excuses for behavior, however rare, that went beyond the formal guidelines on counterterrorism. The Department of Justice has had the complete IG report since 2004. Its career prosecutors have examined that document—and other incidents from Iraq and Afghanistan—for legal accountability. They worked carefully and thoroughly, sometimes taking years to decide if prosecution was warranted or not. In one case, the Department obtained a criminal conviction of a CIA contractor. In other instances, after Justice chose not to pursue action in court, the Agency took disciplinary steps of its own.

• The CIA provided the complete, unredacted IG report to the Congress. It was made available to the leadership of the Congressional intelligence committees in 2004 and to the full committees in 2006. All of the material in the document has been subject to Congressional oversight and reviewed for legal accountability.

As Director in 2009, my primary interest—when it comes to a program that no longer exists—is to stand up for those officers who did what their country asked and who followed the legal guidance they were given. That is the President’s position, too. The CIA was aggressive over the years in seeking new opinions from the Department of Justice as the legal landscape changed. The Agency sought and received multiple written assurances that its methods were lawful. The CIA has a strong record in terms of following legal guidance and informing the Department of Justice of potentially illegal conduct.

But what does this mean? And what about the news that his employees are now to face a criminal inquiry—does the president agree with that or not? Panetta concludes by imploring his agency to keep up their work and assuring them how proud he is of their efforts. But that rings awfully hollow. If he really were proud of them and wanted to look forward, he and the president would be calling off the Justice Department hounds. Rumors swirl that Panetta has threatened to quit. It seems incomprehensible that he has not done so already. At some point, the president will need to choose between the Justice Department/Holder/netroot crowd and Panetta’s CIA operatives. Or perhaps he has, and Panetta isn’t willing to fess up.

Leon Panetta sends out a memo to his battered and demoralized CIA employees, in essence pleading with them not to freak out over the news that they are about to be prosecuted and stripped of a key function (interrogating top terror suspects). His memo reads, in part:

Today, as part of a number of Freedom of Information Act cases, the government is responding to court orders to release more documents related to the Agency’s past detention and interrogation of foreign terrorists. The CIA materials include the 2004 report from our Office of Inspector General and two papers—one from 2004 and the other from 2005—that discuss the value of intelligence acquired from high-level detainees. The complete package is hundreds of pages long. The declassification process, a mandatory part of the proceedings, was conducted in accord with established FOIA guidelines.

[. . .]

My emphasis on the future comes with a clear recognition that our Agency takes seriously proper accountability for the past. As the intelligence service of a democracy, that’s an important part of who we are. When it comes to past detention and interrogation practices, here are some facts to bear in mind on that point:

• The CIA itself commissioned the Inspector General’s review. The report, prepared five years ago, noted both the effectiveness of the interrogation program and concerns about how it had been run early on. Several Agency components, including the Office of General Counsel and the Directorate of Operations, disagreed with some of the findings and conclusions.

• The CIA referred allegations of abuse to the Department of Justice for potential prosecution. This Agency made no excuses for behavior, however rare, that went beyond the formal guidelines on counterterrorism. The Department of Justice has had the complete IG report since 2004. Its career prosecutors have examined that document—and other incidents from Iraq and Afghanistan—for legal accountability. They worked carefully and thoroughly, sometimes taking years to decide if prosecution was warranted or not. In one case, the Department obtained a criminal conviction of a CIA contractor. In other instances, after Justice chose not to pursue action in court, the Agency took disciplinary steps of its own.

• The CIA provided the complete, unredacted IG report to the Congress. It was made available to the leadership of the Congressional intelligence committees in 2004 and to the full committees in 2006. All of the material in the document has been subject to Congressional oversight and reviewed for legal accountability.

As Director in 2009, my primary interest—when it comes to a program that no longer exists—is to stand up for those officers who did what their country asked and who followed the legal guidance they were given. That is the President’s position, too. The CIA was aggressive over the years in seeking new opinions from the Department of Justice as the legal landscape changed. The Agency sought and received multiple written assurances that its methods were lawful. The CIA has a strong record in terms of following legal guidance and informing the Department of Justice of potentially illegal conduct.

But what does this mean? And what about the news that his employees are now to face a criminal inquiry—does the president agree with that or not? Panetta concludes by imploring his agency to keep up their work and assuring them how proud he is of their efforts. But that rings awfully hollow. If he really were proud of them and wanted to look forward, he and the president would be calling off the Justice Department hounds. Rumors swirl that Panetta has threatened to quit. It seems incomprehensible that he has not done so already. At some point, the president will need to choose between the Justice Department/Holder/netroot crowd and Panetta’s CIA operatives. Or perhaps he has, and Panetta isn’t willing to fess up.

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Standing with Obama

Bill Kristol has an important editorial in the current issue of the Weekly Standard, in which he writes this:

As a decision looms for Obama on a new strategy requiring increased numbers of troops in Afghanistan, a Washington Post–ABC News poll last week discovered that “majorities of liberals and Democrats alike now, for the first time, solidly oppose the war and are calling for a reduction of troop levels.” Conservatives and Republicans are far more supportive of the war—they “remain the war’s strongest backers”—and a majority of conservatives don’t merely support the war but say they approve of President Obama’s handling of it.

So much for charges of knee-jerk or unprincipled partisanship. Conservatives support a president they generally distrust because they think it important the country win the war in Afghanistan. And despite temptations to make political hay out of a war that’s getting more unpopular, and despite doubts about Obama as commander in chief, Republican political leaders remain supportive of the war effort. They are urging Obama to commit himself unambiguously to win the war and to approve General Stanley McChrystal’s coming request for more troops. And in urging the administration to follow this course, they are willing to see the president get credit for doing the right thing.

In sum: In opposing Obamacare and supporting victory in Afghanistan , conservatives and Republicans are behaving as a loyal opposition. Those who were worried that partisanship would trump patriotism among conservatives, and that loathing of Obama would overcome loyalty to the country among Republicans, have so far been proved wrong. And those who were worried that timidity would prevent vigorous opposition where warranted in domestic policy have been so far proven wrong as well. The Republican party and the conservative movement are behaving in a way that can make Republicans and conservatives proud. . . . Luckily, President Obama seems to understand that the United States can and ought to win. And the Obama administration will benefit from the support of a loyal opposition if it chooses to surge to victory.

This strikes me as quite right. In standing with President Obama as he pursues success in Afghanistan, the Republican party and the conservative movement would be acting in an admirable way. When some liberals and Democrats succumbed to Bush Derangement Syndrome earlier this decade, it was an ugly and unfortunate thing. They opposed Bush reflexively, often with venom. Conservatives and Republicans can act in a far more responsible manner, in a way that puts country above narrow partisan aims. Whatever temptation there may be to weaken the president, this is not the issue on which to yield to said temptation. Obama is pursuing the right strategy. The road ahead will be long and hard. More troops will be required. But we are committed—and with the right strategy, victory over al-Qaeda and the Taliban is possible.

Kristol’s stand is in sharp contrast to George Will, who now believes the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting (see roughly the 18:00-minute mark in this video clip). Mr. Will was a strong advocate of the Iraq war before he became a strong critic of it. He is experiencing a similar reversal on Afghanistan.

As a general rule, it’s unwise to champion wars at the start and abandon them when difficulties arise. If that is one’s cast of mind, it is more responsible simply to oppose war at the outset: once the shooting and fighting begin, success and victory become paramount. The consequences of defeat in Afghanistan—for America and its prestige; for the people of Afghanistan; for the Taliban and al-Qaeda; and for Pakistan (which would question how long we would remain committed to it)—would be enormous and, for the United States, baleful. President Obama seems to understand this, and he deserves credit for it. Republicans should stand by his side if they seek to advance the national interest.

Bill Kristol has an important editorial in the current issue of the Weekly Standard, in which he writes this:

As a decision looms for Obama on a new strategy requiring increased numbers of troops in Afghanistan, a Washington Post–ABC News poll last week discovered that “majorities of liberals and Democrats alike now, for the first time, solidly oppose the war and are calling for a reduction of troop levels.” Conservatives and Republicans are far more supportive of the war—they “remain the war’s strongest backers”—and a majority of conservatives don’t merely support the war but say they approve of President Obama’s handling of it.

So much for charges of knee-jerk or unprincipled partisanship. Conservatives support a president they generally distrust because they think it important the country win the war in Afghanistan. And despite temptations to make political hay out of a war that’s getting more unpopular, and despite doubts about Obama as commander in chief, Republican political leaders remain supportive of the war effort. They are urging Obama to commit himself unambiguously to win the war and to approve General Stanley McChrystal’s coming request for more troops. And in urging the administration to follow this course, they are willing to see the president get credit for doing the right thing.

In sum: In opposing Obamacare and supporting victory in Afghanistan , conservatives and Republicans are behaving as a loyal opposition. Those who were worried that partisanship would trump patriotism among conservatives, and that loathing of Obama would overcome loyalty to the country among Republicans, have so far been proved wrong. And those who were worried that timidity would prevent vigorous opposition where warranted in domestic policy have been so far proven wrong as well. The Republican party and the conservative movement are behaving in a way that can make Republicans and conservatives proud. . . . Luckily, President Obama seems to understand that the United States can and ought to win. And the Obama administration will benefit from the support of a loyal opposition if it chooses to surge to victory.

This strikes me as quite right. In standing with President Obama as he pursues success in Afghanistan, the Republican party and the conservative movement would be acting in an admirable way. When some liberals and Democrats succumbed to Bush Derangement Syndrome earlier this decade, it was an ugly and unfortunate thing. They opposed Bush reflexively, often with venom. Conservatives and Republicans can act in a far more responsible manner, in a way that puts country above narrow partisan aims. Whatever temptation there may be to weaken the president, this is not the issue on which to yield to said temptation. Obama is pursuing the right strategy. The road ahead will be long and hard. More troops will be required. But we are committed—and with the right strategy, victory over al-Qaeda and the Taliban is possible.

Kristol’s stand is in sharp contrast to George Will, who now believes the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting (see roughly the 18:00-minute mark in this video clip). Mr. Will was a strong advocate of the Iraq war before he became a strong critic of it. He is experiencing a similar reversal on Afghanistan.

As a general rule, it’s unwise to champion wars at the start and abandon them when difficulties arise. If that is one’s cast of mind, it is more responsible simply to oppose war at the outset: once the shooting and fighting begin, success and victory become paramount. The consequences of defeat in Afghanistan—for America and its prestige; for the people of Afghanistan; for the Taliban and al-Qaeda; and for Pakistan (which would question how long we would remain committed to it)—would be enormous and, for the United States, baleful. President Obama seems to understand this, and he deserves credit for it. Republicans should stand by his side if they seek to advance the national interest.

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Maliki’s Pride

Nouri al-Maliki has proved to be a stronger and more unifying prime minister of Iraq than many had predicted. But if he has an Achilles heel, it is his tendency to claim exaggerated prowess for the Iraqi Security Forces and to underestimate, at least in public, the degree to which they need American help. Last year, in a Washington Post op-ed, I noted his long history of overconfident predictions about when his army and police forces would be ready to take over security on their own. For instance:

In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be “only a matter of months” before his security forces could “take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role.”

The pattern continues to the present day, with tragic consequences. The multiple bombings that killed more than 100 people in Baghdad last week were at least partially the result of Maliki’s overly hasty decision to start taking down concrete barriers in Baghdad and his unwillingness to call in American military help. Indications are also emerging about complicity in the bombings by some security personnel—the very people the prime minister has been counting on. Maliki has rightly been excoriated by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari:

Zebari said Maliki’s administration got ahead of itself, focusing on luring foreign investors while the country remains far from able to handle security.

“In all their statements, they call foreign companies to come and invest in Iraq,” he said. “So if people see ministries targeted and residents slaughtered in the streets, where is that security?”

The good news is that the Iraqi Security Forces are becoming more capable. Their performance is finally starting to catch up with Maliki’s rhetoric—but a gap still remains. In most of the country, they have no problem maintaining security with only a little U.S. help. But in Baghdad and parts of northern Iraq—areas that remain extremely dangerous—they clearly need more American help. The fact that Maliki decided to stop taking down concrete barriers in Baghdad indicates he is not wholly cut off from reality. I only hope he is able to swallow his pride and also ask the U.S. armed forces to assume a slightly greater role in working with Iraqi forces to avert future disasters.

Nouri al-Maliki has proved to be a stronger and more unifying prime minister of Iraq than many had predicted. But if he has an Achilles heel, it is his tendency to claim exaggerated prowess for the Iraqi Security Forces and to underestimate, at least in public, the degree to which they need American help. Last year, in a Washington Post op-ed, I noted his long history of overconfident predictions about when his army and police forces would be ready to take over security on their own. For instance:

In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be “only a matter of months” before his security forces could “take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role.”

The pattern continues to the present day, with tragic consequences. The multiple bombings that killed more than 100 people in Baghdad last week were at least partially the result of Maliki’s overly hasty decision to start taking down concrete barriers in Baghdad and his unwillingness to call in American military help. Indications are also emerging about complicity in the bombings by some security personnel—the very people the prime minister has been counting on. Maliki has rightly been excoriated by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari:

Zebari said Maliki’s administration got ahead of itself, focusing on luring foreign investors while the country remains far from able to handle security.

“In all their statements, they call foreign companies to come and invest in Iraq,” he said. “So if people see ministries targeted and residents slaughtered in the streets, where is that security?”

The good news is that the Iraqi Security Forces are becoming more capable. Their performance is finally starting to catch up with Maliki’s rhetoric—but a gap still remains. In most of the country, they have no problem maintaining security with only a little U.S. help. But in Baghdad and parts of northern Iraq—areas that remain extremely dangerous—they clearly need more American help. The fact that Maliki decided to stop taking down concrete barriers in Baghdad indicates he is not wholly cut off from reality. I only hope he is able to swallow his pride and also ask the U.S. armed forces to assume a slightly greater role in working with Iraqi forces to avert future disasters.

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When It Rains, It Pours

The latest news from the CBO only adds to the Obama administration’s woes. This report explains:

President Barack Obama’s domestic policy proposals will face the reality of skyrocketing deficits on Tuesday when officials release two government reports projecting huge budget shortfalls over the next decade.

The White House budget office and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a non-partisan arm of Congress, release updated economic forecasts and deficit estimates on Tuesday, providing further fiscal fodder to opponents of Obama’s nearly $1 trillion healthcare overhaul plan.

[. . .]

“We’re still on a long-run trajectory that’s not sustainable,” said Rudolph Penner, a fellow at the Urban Institute and former CBO director from 1983-1987.

“In an ideal world they would be doing a lot more to get health costs under control and, in my view, we wouldn’t be talking about expanding coverage right now,” said Penner, who describes himself as a moderate Republican.

The CBO had previously forecast that deficits between 2010 and 2019 would total $9.1 trillion, generating heat for the White House, which stuck to its original $7.1 trillion forecast earlier this year. The new number will bring White House projections into line with the CBO, the official said.

Well, we can certainly understand why the White House wanted to postpone release of the revised budget figures for as long as possible. The new numbers serve only to emphasize what folly it is to be talking about a trillion or more in new health-care spending. And it is this sort of data that drives not just Republicans but also independent and moderate Democratic voters to distraction. They find it hard to understand why we are contemplating new ways to expand our unsustainable debt. In between croquet matches and nouvelle cuisine meals in Martha’s Vineyard, maybe the president can offer up his thoughts on the matter.

The latest news from the CBO only adds to the Obama administration’s woes. This report explains:

President Barack Obama’s domestic policy proposals will face the reality of skyrocketing deficits on Tuesday when officials release two government reports projecting huge budget shortfalls over the next decade.

The White House budget office and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a non-partisan arm of Congress, release updated economic forecasts and deficit estimates on Tuesday, providing further fiscal fodder to opponents of Obama’s nearly $1 trillion healthcare overhaul plan.

[. . .]

“We’re still on a long-run trajectory that’s not sustainable,” said Rudolph Penner, a fellow at the Urban Institute and former CBO director from 1983-1987.

“In an ideal world they would be doing a lot more to get health costs under control and, in my view, we wouldn’t be talking about expanding coverage right now,” said Penner, who describes himself as a moderate Republican.

The CBO had previously forecast that deficits between 2010 and 2019 would total $9.1 trillion, generating heat for the White House, which stuck to its original $7.1 trillion forecast earlier this year. The new number will bring White House projections into line with the CBO, the official said.

Well, we can certainly understand why the White House wanted to postpone release of the revised budget figures for as long as possible. The new numbers serve only to emphasize what folly it is to be talking about a trillion or more in new health-care spending. And it is this sort of data that drives not just Republicans but also independent and moderate Democratic voters to distraction. They find it hard to understand why we are contemplating new ways to expand our unsustainable debt. In between croquet matches and nouvelle cuisine meals in Martha’s Vineyard, maybe the president can offer up his thoughts on the matter.

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Tracking the Organ-Trafficking Tale

Back at Harry’s Place, the ever vigilant British blog offers some background to the Swedish organ-trafficking story. Aftonbladet, it turns out, was not even that original in its libelous allegations against Israel. The sordid tale of Jews and Zionists trafficking in organs is the theme of both the 2006 Turkish box-office success Valley of the Wolves and of a 2004 Iranian TV series.

Any wonder where Aftonbladet‘s sources got their idea?

Back at Harry’s Place, the ever vigilant British blog offers some background to the Swedish organ-trafficking story. Aftonbladet, it turns out, was not even that original in its libelous allegations against Israel. The sordid tale of Jews and Zionists trafficking in organs is the theme of both the 2006 Turkish box-office success Valley of the Wolves and of a 2004 Iranian TV series.

Any wonder where Aftonbladet‘s sources got their idea?

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At War with the Public

Among the many White House failings with regard to health-care reform, none has been more glaring than the ill-advised and hugely unsuccessful effort to brand ordinary citizens who object to ObamaCare at congressional town-hall meetings as kooks or flunkies of the RNC or of the insurance industry. This is typical of many recent mainstream reports that acknowledge that average people—not plants or crackpots—really are upset about plans to remake the health-care system:

While some Democratic lawmakers have canceled town hall meetings after their colleagues endured criticism from health-reform opponents, GOP Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.) has struggled to find a space large enough to accommodate the throngs of people showing up at his meetings.

With two public healthcare forums under his belt since returning home for recess, the lightning-rod issue has shaken up thousands of his constituents, many of whom were unable to fit in the venues booked months ago by his staff.

[. . .]

Despite some pundits branding the protests at Democratic lawmakers’ townhall meetings as fringe, manufactured publicity stunts, there is an undercurrent of genuine concern beyond the Beltway that is seen in the number of individuals and small groupings of locals showing up at the events.

“This is unlike anything I’ve seen,” Lungren told The Hill on Saturday as the 25-year veteran state and federal lawmaker’s car pulled up to the town hall meeting. “It’s not organized, it’s spontaneous; it’s an extraordinary outpouring such as I have never seen before.”

Lungren gets it, as do an increasing number of congressional Democrats who have begun to grudgingly acknowledge that the public is mad at those pushing ObamaCare. The White House is a different story. It is a measure of just how politically tone deaf the Obama team has become that they choose to attack ordinary Americans rather than absorb the message being sent. They have become so used to the echo chamber of their fellow liberals and the mainstream media (I repeat myself) that they still seem unaware of the vast gulf between themselves and citizens motivated enough to turn out in record numbers to express their concerns.

After weeks of this and a mound of polling data to confirm what we are seeing and hearing, the president has yet to acknowledge that he hears what citizens are saying or understands the need to rethink health-care reform. He persists in decrying “misinformation”—implying that voters are dim and have been duped by nefarious forces. It is a politically dangerous place for a president to be—defaming voters and ignoring their pleas. It is one thing to go to war with the opposition party but quite another to go to war with voters. In his hubris, Obama has forgotten who is in charge.

Among the many White House failings with regard to health-care reform, none has been more glaring than the ill-advised and hugely unsuccessful effort to brand ordinary citizens who object to ObamaCare at congressional town-hall meetings as kooks or flunkies of the RNC or of the insurance industry. This is typical of many recent mainstream reports that acknowledge that average people—not plants or crackpots—really are upset about plans to remake the health-care system:

While some Democratic lawmakers have canceled town hall meetings after their colleagues endured criticism from health-reform opponents, GOP Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.) has struggled to find a space large enough to accommodate the throngs of people showing up at his meetings.

With two public healthcare forums under his belt since returning home for recess, the lightning-rod issue has shaken up thousands of his constituents, many of whom were unable to fit in the venues booked months ago by his staff.

[. . .]

Despite some pundits branding the protests at Democratic lawmakers’ townhall meetings as fringe, manufactured publicity stunts, there is an undercurrent of genuine concern beyond the Beltway that is seen in the number of individuals and small groupings of locals showing up at the events.

“This is unlike anything I’ve seen,” Lungren told The Hill on Saturday as the 25-year veteran state and federal lawmaker’s car pulled up to the town hall meeting. “It’s not organized, it’s spontaneous; it’s an extraordinary outpouring such as I have never seen before.”

Lungren gets it, as do an increasing number of congressional Democrats who have begun to grudgingly acknowledge that the public is mad at those pushing ObamaCare. The White House is a different story. It is a measure of just how politically tone deaf the Obama team has become that they choose to attack ordinary Americans rather than absorb the message being sent. They have become so used to the echo chamber of their fellow liberals and the mainstream media (I repeat myself) that they still seem unaware of the vast gulf between themselves and citizens motivated enough to turn out in record numbers to express their concerns.

After weeks of this and a mound of polling data to confirm what we are seeing and hearing, the president has yet to acknowledge that he hears what citizens are saying or understands the need to rethink health-care reform. He persists in decrying “misinformation”—implying that voters are dim and have been duped by nefarious forces. It is a politically dangerous place for a president to be—defaming voters and ignoring their pleas. It is one thing to go to war with the opposition party but quite another to go to war with voters. In his hubris, Obama has forgotten who is in charge.

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Obama, Clinton, and Carter

Some have analogized Barack Obama’s current situation with that of Bill Clinton, who pushed a wholesale revision of the country’s health-care system in 1993 with results that should have served as a warning to Obama. But the more relevant analogy is with Jimmy Carter in 1977.

We are watching a replay of what happened with Carter, elected in 1976 as a repudiation of the hated Richard Nixon and his selected successor (and pardoner) Gerald Ford. Carter misinterpreted the election results as a mandate for sweeping change he thought he (an Annapolis graduate, nuclear engineer, and published author) was uniquely qualified to enact.

On December 17, 1977, reviewing Carter’s first year, Russell Baker wrote that:

When voting for Presidents . . . even learned persons seem temporarily to suspend disbelief in miracles. During the Carter campaign it was common to meet men and women who had marinated a quarter-century and more in politics and should, therefore, have been beyond innocence, yet who insisted, often with passion, that the Democrat Carter in harness with a Democratic Congress would do marvels for the Republic.

These marvels have not occurred.

Hedrick Smith, in a long analysis in the January 8, 1978, New York Times, summarized what had happened:

Jimmy Carter first surprised and impressed the professional pols in 1976 with the cold, cocksure, methodical manner with which he stalked the Presidency. The surprise of 1977 was that Jimmy Carter was actually not the master politician they had imagined. . . . President Carter’s exaggerated aspirations and his profusion of proposals invited inevitable disappointment.

Four years later, Carter published his memoirs, which (in the words of Times reviewer Terrence Smith in 1982) admitted he had “overloaded the legislative agenda” in his early months in office and “the result was that his most cherished domestic initiatives—welfare and tax reform and a national health program—went down to early defeat.” His presidency never fully recovered.

How had the American people elected someone with seemingly so much promise who fizzled so quickly? The day after Carter’s 1976 election, the Times explained how a one-term governor, with no significant record, had secured the nomination from more experienced rivals and defeated a sitting president. He did it with the same techniques that Obama would use 32 years later.

First, a slogan—repeated ad nauseam—promising voters a “government as good as the American people,” which not only promised change but made voters think that by voting for him it reflected well on them.

Second, presentation of himself as a unifier—a reconciliation of North and South, white and black, conservatives and liberals. He was certified as The One at the Democratic Convention, with the closing benediction of the father of Martin Luther King Jr., who told the delegates and the entire country watching on all three networks that “Surely the Lord sent Jimmy Carter to come on out and bring America back where she belongs.”

Third, the use of a new technique in American politics—the well-written autobiography as a substitute for prior accomplishments. The Times review, written by a member of the editorial board, called the book a blend of “personal history, social description and political philosophy that makes fascinating reading” and that assertedly showed that Carter was reminiscent of Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy in his commitment to “governing.”

After a year in office, it became apparent that a great slogan, image, and autobiography were not by themselves sufficient for an inexperienced politician with grandiose ideas to govern the United States. And Carter’s foreign-policy disasters were still ahead of him.

Bill Clinton’s first-year disaster came at a time when the Cold War had ended and he had a “peace dividend” to spend. He did not try to do everything at once and focused first on health care while deferring his plans to revise welfare. He faced no apparent foreign-policy challenge. His mistakes were ones that could be corrected with some new advisers and a little triangulation.

In contrast, Jimmy Carter faced a more dangerous world and soon had crises to deal with in Iran and Afghanistan for which he was woefully unprepared. Three decades later, a president is pursuing exaggerated aspirations and a profusion of proposals while a storm is gathering abroad. It is not a situation that will be solved by triangulation.

Some have analogized Barack Obama’s current situation with that of Bill Clinton, who pushed a wholesale revision of the country’s health-care system in 1993 with results that should have served as a warning to Obama. But the more relevant analogy is with Jimmy Carter in 1977.

We are watching a replay of what happened with Carter, elected in 1976 as a repudiation of the hated Richard Nixon and his selected successor (and pardoner) Gerald Ford. Carter misinterpreted the election results as a mandate for sweeping change he thought he (an Annapolis graduate, nuclear engineer, and published author) was uniquely qualified to enact.

On December 17, 1977, reviewing Carter’s first year, Russell Baker wrote that:

When voting for Presidents . . . even learned persons seem temporarily to suspend disbelief in miracles. During the Carter campaign it was common to meet men and women who had marinated a quarter-century and more in politics and should, therefore, have been beyond innocence, yet who insisted, often with passion, that the Democrat Carter in harness with a Democratic Congress would do marvels for the Republic.

These marvels have not occurred.

Hedrick Smith, in a long analysis in the January 8, 1978, New York Times, summarized what had happened:

Jimmy Carter first surprised and impressed the professional pols in 1976 with the cold, cocksure, methodical manner with which he stalked the Presidency. The surprise of 1977 was that Jimmy Carter was actually not the master politician they had imagined. . . . President Carter’s exaggerated aspirations and his profusion of proposals invited inevitable disappointment.

Four years later, Carter published his memoirs, which (in the words of Times reviewer Terrence Smith in 1982) admitted he had “overloaded the legislative agenda” in his early months in office and “the result was that his most cherished domestic initiatives—welfare and tax reform and a national health program—went down to early defeat.” His presidency never fully recovered.

How had the American people elected someone with seemingly so much promise who fizzled so quickly? The day after Carter’s 1976 election, the Times explained how a one-term governor, with no significant record, had secured the nomination from more experienced rivals and defeated a sitting president. He did it with the same techniques that Obama would use 32 years later.

First, a slogan—repeated ad nauseam—promising voters a “government as good as the American people,” which not only promised change but made voters think that by voting for him it reflected well on them.

Second, presentation of himself as a unifier—a reconciliation of North and South, white and black, conservatives and liberals. He was certified as The One at the Democratic Convention, with the closing benediction of the father of Martin Luther King Jr., who told the delegates and the entire country watching on all three networks that “Surely the Lord sent Jimmy Carter to come on out and bring America back where she belongs.”

Third, the use of a new technique in American politics—the well-written autobiography as a substitute for prior accomplishments. The Times review, written by a member of the editorial board, called the book a blend of “personal history, social description and political philosophy that makes fascinating reading” and that assertedly showed that Carter was reminiscent of Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy in his commitment to “governing.”

After a year in office, it became apparent that a great slogan, image, and autobiography were not by themselves sufficient for an inexperienced politician with grandiose ideas to govern the United States. And Carter’s foreign-policy disasters were still ahead of him.

Bill Clinton’s first-year disaster came at a time when the Cold War had ended and he had a “peace dividend” to spend. He did not try to do everything at once and focused first on health care while deferring his plans to revise welfare. He faced no apparent foreign-policy challenge. His mistakes were ones that could be corrected with some new advisers and a little triangulation.

In contrast, Jimmy Carter faced a more dangerous world and soon had crises to deal with in Iran and Afghanistan for which he was woefully unprepared. Three decades later, a president is pursuing exaggerated aspirations and a profusion of proposals while a storm is gathering abroad. It is not a situation that will be solved by triangulation.

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Respect Sure Feels Funny

Barack Obama has so ably repaired the once frayed ties with our Bush-abused allies that UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown couldn’t do us the minute favor of keeping the convicted mass murderer of American citizens from being sprung and delivered into a Libyan hero’s welcome.

Hillary Clinton has been so levelheaded (so nonideological) in her pursuit of improved relations with Libya that Muammar Qaddafi simply had to meet terrorist Abdel Basset al-Megrahi at the airport to hug and kiss him and proclaim his love for both the killer and the British Crown before the world.

This is what all that goodwill and all those apologies have reaped? The unprecedented coupling of our best friend with one of our worst enemies?

And considering that this was all probably orchestrated in the interest of opening up British-Libya oil ties, the old nugget “blood for oil” seems particularly apt.

Hey, the important thing is: no more cowboy diplomacy, right? No more go-it-alone, unilateral, with-us-or-against-us, good-and-evil hooey. That was for simpletons. We’re in the hands of geniuses now.

So there’s no need for us mere mortals to get wee-weed up. The amount of gray matter that’s gone into this exquisitely calibrated foreign policy is beyond the grasp of regular folks like you and me. President Obama and Hillary Clinton have Qaddafi exactly where they want him. And Gordon Brown—you thought Tony Blair was Bush’s poodle? The same goes for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of course, and Kim Jong-il, not to mention all Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Remember, we became universally adored last November 4. If you’re not feeling the love yet, you’re just being ideologically rigid.

Smart power knows no ideology. Smart power, recall, is about approaching the proper problem at the proper moment with the proper tool. So look to the geniuses: the moment is now, the problem is our evaporating grasp on world affairs, and the selected tool? A little vacation time on the beach.

Barack Obama has so ably repaired the once frayed ties with our Bush-abused allies that UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown couldn’t do us the minute favor of keeping the convicted mass murderer of American citizens from being sprung and delivered into a Libyan hero’s welcome.

Hillary Clinton has been so levelheaded (so nonideological) in her pursuit of improved relations with Libya that Muammar Qaddafi simply had to meet terrorist Abdel Basset al-Megrahi at the airport to hug and kiss him and proclaim his love for both the killer and the British Crown before the world.

This is what all that goodwill and all those apologies have reaped? The unprecedented coupling of our best friend with one of our worst enemies?

And considering that this was all probably orchestrated in the interest of opening up British-Libya oil ties, the old nugget “blood for oil” seems particularly apt.

Hey, the important thing is: no more cowboy diplomacy, right? No more go-it-alone, unilateral, with-us-or-against-us, good-and-evil hooey. That was for simpletons. We’re in the hands of geniuses now.

So there’s no need for us mere mortals to get wee-weed up. The amount of gray matter that’s gone into this exquisitely calibrated foreign policy is beyond the grasp of regular folks like you and me. President Obama and Hillary Clinton have Qaddafi exactly where they want him. And Gordon Brown—you thought Tony Blair was Bush’s poodle? The same goes for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of course, and Kim Jong-il, not to mention all Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Remember, we became universally adored last November 4. If you’re not feeling the love yet, you’re just being ideologically rigid.

Smart power knows no ideology. Smart power, recall, is about approaching the proper problem at the proper moment with the proper tool. So look to the geniuses: the moment is now, the problem is our evaporating grasp on world affairs, and the selected tool? A little vacation time on the beach.

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The Rest Is Worse

Mickey Kaus comes up with a counterintuitive idea: Obama is better off struggling with health-care reform than going on to the rest of his agenda:

The idea of postponing health care reform—until, say, the economy improves—doesn’t seem appealing to many Democrats now. But it might soon. The problem, as Michael Goodwin’s recent column points out, is that the issues waiting in the wings—should health care leave the stage—are even worse, from the Democrats’ political perspective. Cap and trade, immigration legalization, “card check”—these are not what you’d call confidence building appetizers leading up to the main course of Obama’s presidency. Plus the Afghan War! At least a clear majority of the public wants something done about health care. . . .

It’s easy to forget that, even if Obama’s health care effort is bogging down, the effort itself still serves his presidency as a crucial time-waster, tying up Congress and giving him a reason to postpone (or the public a reason to ignore) those other divisive, presidency-killers. Obama needs some excuse for putting off unpopular Democratic demands; health care’s a good one. If he keeps failing to pass health care until spring, that might not be such a bad outcome. In fact, even quick passage was maybe never in his interest. There are things more unpopular than struggling.

Well, that’s one way to look at it. But, of course, struggling for six months on an increasingly unpopular initiative isn’t much of a confidence builder either. And all those congressmen and senators on the ballot in 2010 will most likely insist on moving on to something else, anything, that might be perceived as an accomplishment. Otherwise, the 2010 incumbent will be running on “We messed up on the stimulus plan and didn’t get health care!” Not very attractive.

Still, Kaus does get to the nub of the matter: if Obama fails on health care, there isn’t much left of an agenda. It’s not as if, like under Bill Clinton, there were a balanced budget or welfare reform in the offing. Obama might, of course, rethink the rest of his agenda and start responding to the hue and cry about spending and the need for pro-growth policies. But so far, that’s not happening. And that poses a dilemma for the 2010 elections—what do Democrats run on?

Mickey Kaus comes up with a counterintuitive idea: Obama is better off struggling with health-care reform than going on to the rest of his agenda:

The idea of postponing health care reform—until, say, the economy improves—doesn’t seem appealing to many Democrats now. But it might soon. The problem, as Michael Goodwin’s recent column points out, is that the issues waiting in the wings—should health care leave the stage—are even worse, from the Democrats’ political perspective. Cap and trade, immigration legalization, “card check”—these are not what you’d call confidence building appetizers leading up to the main course of Obama’s presidency. Plus the Afghan War! At least a clear majority of the public wants something done about health care. . . .

It’s easy to forget that, even if Obama’s health care effort is bogging down, the effort itself still serves his presidency as a crucial time-waster, tying up Congress and giving him a reason to postpone (or the public a reason to ignore) those other divisive, presidency-killers. Obama needs some excuse for putting off unpopular Democratic demands; health care’s a good one. If he keeps failing to pass health care until spring, that might not be such a bad outcome. In fact, even quick passage was maybe never in his interest. There are things more unpopular than struggling.

Well, that’s one way to look at it. But, of course, struggling for six months on an increasingly unpopular initiative isn’t much of a confidence builder either. And all those congressmen and senators on the ballot in 2010 will most likely insist on moving on to something else, anything, that might be perceived as an accomplishment. Otherwise, the 2010 incumbent will be running on “We messed up on the stimulus plan and didn’t get health care!” Not very attractive.

Still, Kaus does get to the nub of the matter: if Obama fails on health care, there isn’t much left of an agenda. It’s not as if, like under Bill Clinton, there were a balanced budget or welfare reform in the offing. Obama might, of course, rethink the rest of his agenda and start responding to the hue and cry about spending and the need for pro-growth policies. But so far, that’s not happening. And that poses a dilemma for the 2010 elections—what do Democrats run on?

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CIA Breaking Down

The New York Times reports:

The Justice Department’s ethics office has recommended reversing the Bush administration and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases, potentially exposing Central Intelligence Agency employees and contractors to prosecution for brutal treatment of terrorism suspects, according to a person officially briefed on the matter.”

The recommendation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, presented to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in recent weeks, comes as the Justice Department is about to disclose on Monday voluminous details on prisoner abuse that were gathered in 2004 by the C.I.A.’s inspector general but have never been released.

When the C.I.A. first referred its inspector general’s findings to prosecutors, they decided that none of the cases merited prosecution. But Mr. Holder’s associates say that when he took office and saw the allegations, which included the deaths of people in custody and other cases of physical or mental torment, he began to reconsider.

With the release of the details on Monday and the formal advice that at least some cases be reopened, it now seems all but certain that the appointment of a prosecutor or other concrete steps will follow, posing significant new problems for the C.I.A. It is politically awkward, too, for Mr. Holder because President Obama has said that he would rather move forward than get bogged down in the issue at the expense of his own agenda.

This is coupled with news that the interrogation of high-value terror suspects will be taken out of the hands of the CIA and given to a new group that reports to the NSC—that is, the White House.

Let’s unpack some of this. For starters, this is not “politically awkward” for Holder. He will be greeted by cheers from the Left. The media will write glowing editorials. There is nothing like going after the intelligence community for getting the liberal elite’s juices flowing. But he is actually doing one of two things: he is either a rogue attorney general, defying the wishes of the administration and determined to drag the administration and country through a quagmire of investigations and problematic prosecutions, or he is carrying out the president’s wishes while insulating Obama from the wrath of anyone thinking it is the president’s job to defend those who defended us and to avoid further damage to the already crumbling morale at Langley.

Second, Leon Panetta needs to quit. His agency is being attacked and prosecuted and stripped of a key responsibility. The White House, either egged on or enabled by the Justice Department, is systematically destroying the morale and role of CIA. If Panetta takes his responsibility seriously and believes the agents who work under him deserve some measure of support, the least he can do is quit and explain why. Or was this the game plan all along—for Panetta to preside over the dismantling of the CIA?

Third, we now are seeing the full results of the “criminalization” of the war on terror, in two senses. First, at least according to the Washington Post report, the new elite forces interrogating high-value detainees will be limited to the Army Field Manual—essentially permitted only to ask, pretty please, for name, rank, and serial number. Good luck getting that or any information. (Since terrorists don’t have the latter and aren’t necessarily inclined to give their names, the elite force need not be very big, one suspects.) We are essentially throwing in the towel on any meaningful efforts to glean intelligence from suspects.

Second, the civilian courts are now front and center—to be used against those who had been charged with keeping us safe in the months and years after 9/11. Certainly no one concerned with one’s own career and future would now choose to go into the business of extracting intelligence, and those already there should be lawyering up.

Well, we’ve come a long way. The war on terror has become the war on the CIA. And the terrorists no longer need fear anything more harsh than polite questions posed to them on a good night’s sleep and in quiet, comfy surroundings. And the timing is perfect. Obama is on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, and not bold enough to announce and defend these developments from the White House. America, apparently, is on holiday from the war on terror, too. Unfortunately, our enemies are not.

The New York Times reports:

The Justice Department’s ethics office has recommended reversing the Bush administration and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases, potentially exposing Central Intelligence Agency employees and contractors to prosecution for brutal treatment of terrorism suspects, according to a person officially briefed on the matter.”

The recommendation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, presented to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in recent weeks, comes as the Justice Department is about to disclose on Monday voluminous details on prisoner abuse that were gathered in 2004 by the C.I.A.’s inspector general but have never been released.

When the C.I.A. first referred its inspector general’s findings to prosecutors, they decided that none of the cases merited prosecution. But Mr. Holder’s associates say that when he took office and saw the allegations, which included the deaths of people in custody and other cases of physical or mental torment, he began to reconsider.

With the release of the details on Monday and the formal advice that at least some cases be reopened, it now seems all but certain that the appointment of a prosecutor or other concrete steps will follow, posing significant new problems for the C.I.A. It is politically awkward, too, for Mr. Holder because President Obama has said that he would rather move forward than get bogged down in the issue at the expense of his own agenda.

This is coupled with news that the interrogation of high-value terror suspects will be taken out of the hands of the CIA and given to a new group that reports to the NSC—that is, the White House.

Let’s unpack some of this. For starters, this is not “politically awkward” for Holder. He will be greeted by cheers from the Left. The media will write glowing editorials. There is nothing like going after the intelligence community for getting the liberal elite’s juices flowing. But he is actually doing one of two things: he is either a rogue attorney general, defying the wishes of the administration and determined to drag the administration and country through a quagmire of investigations and problematic prosecutions, or he is carrying out the president’s wishes while insulating Obama from the wrath of anyone thinking it is the president’s job to defend those who defended us and to avoid further damage to the already crumbling morale at Langley.

Second, Leon Panetta needs to quit. His agency is being attacked and prosecuted and stripped of a key responsibility. The White House, either egged on or enabled by the Justice Department, is systematically destroying the morale and role of CIA. If Panetta takes his responsibility seriously and believes the agents who work under him deserve some measure of support, the least he can do is quit and explain why. Or was this the game plan all along—for Panetta to preside over the dismantling of the CIA?

Third, we now are seeing the full results of the “criminalization” of the war on terror, in two senses. First, at least according to the Washington Post report, the new elite forces interrogating high-value detainees will be limited to the Army Field Manual—essentially permitted only to ask, pretty please, for name, rank, and serial number. Good luck getting that or any information. (Since terrorists don’t have the latter and aren’t necessarily inclined to give their names, the elite force need not be very big, one suspects.) We are essentially throwing in the towel on any meaningful efforts to glean intelligence from suspects.

Second, the civilian courts are now front and center—to be used against those who had been charged with keeping us safe in the months and years after 9/11. Certainly no one concerned with one’s own career and future would now choose to go into the business of extracting intelligence, and those already there should be lawyering up.

Well, we’ve come a long way. The war on terror has become the war on the CIA. And the terrorists no longer need fear anything more harsh than polite questions posed to them on a good night’s sleep and in quiet, comfy surroundings. And the timing is perfect. Obama is on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, and not bold enough to announce and defend these developments from the White House. America, apparently, is on holiday from the war on terror, too. Unfortunately, our enemies are not.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Might Harry Reid go the way of Tom Daschle? “It’s the highest stakes ever for a Nevada election, and former boxer Sen. Harry Reid is on the ropes early. Either Republican Danny Tarkanian or Sue Lowden would knock out Reid in a general election, according to a recent poll of Nevada voters. . . . Nevadans favored Tarkanian over Reid 49 percent to 38 percent and Lowden over Reid 45 percent to 40 percent, according to the poll.”

You likely saw this one coming when the government gave out money to buy cars: “The Obama administration has declared the wildly popular ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program a success, saying it has revived the country’s ailing auto industry and taken polluting vehicles off the road. But the data shows that the program, which ends Monday, has apparently benefited foreign automakers more than their U.S. counterparts.” Darn consumers have minds of their own, it seems. But the real test will come in the fall, when we see if we really added to car purchases or just shifted the timing of those purchases from the traditional fall buying season to the summer.

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Richard Lugar say it’s time to start over with an incrementalist approach on health care.

Eleanor Cliff thinks Obama should start fighting for health care. I think he has been—and it’s not working, even with his own party.

Paul Greenberg on the Justice Department’s dismissal of the default judgment against the Black Panthers: “Why hasn’t there been a greater sense outrage, betrayal or just disgust at the administration’s handling of this case? My theory: Because none of this comes as a surprise. What else could be expected when The People in their wisdom elect a president of the United States who’s a product of Chicago’s machine politics?”

Mike Huckabee deserves kudos for giving Israeli officials the time and forum to explain the challenges of governing and living in Jerusalem. The substance of his remarks and tone of obvious affection for the Jewish state could not be more different than what is coming out of the Obama administration.

Bill Kristol on ObamaCare: “It is failing on the merits.” Juan Williams observes that the discussion is now among Democrats because Republicans are “not in the game.” Huh? If a majority of Democrats agreed with ObamaCare, they’d have passed it by now. But Williams does get to the nub of Tom Ridge’s allegation that threat levels were subject to political pressure: “He is trying to sell books.”

Not a headline that will thrill the White House: “Obama Vacations Where the Elites Meet.”

presidential vacation: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday shows that 27% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-one percent (41%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -14. These figures mark the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President.”

It is almost like there is no consensus to pass ObamaCare: “A public (or ‘government-run’) option in the healthcare bill before Congress is unlikely to survive conference between the House and Senate, a leader of the centrist Blue Dog coalition said this weekend. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-N.D.) said that while there is a good chance the preliminary House bill will contain the controversial provision, the final bill which will head to the White House probably won’t contain the option.”

Might Harry Reid go the way of Tom Daschle? “It’s the highest stakes ever for a Nevada election, and former boxer Sen. Harry Reid is on the ropes early. Either Republican Danny Tarkanian or Sue Lowden would knock out Reid in a general election, according to a recent poll of Nevada voters. . . . Nevadans favored Tarkanian over Reid 49 percent to 38 percent and Lowden over Reid 45 percent to 40 percent, according to the poll.”

You likely saw this one coming when the government gave out money to buy cars: “The Obama administration has declared the wildly popular ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program a success, saying it has revived the country’s ailing auto industry and taken polluting vehicles off the road. But the data shows that the program, which ends Monday, has apparently benefited foreign automakers more than their U.S. counterparts.” Darn consumers have minds of their own, it seems. But the real test will come in the fall, when we see if we really added to car purchases or just shifted the timing of those purchases from the traditional fall buying season to the summer.

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Richard Lugar say it’s time to start over with an incrementalist approach on health care.

Eleanor Cliff thinks Obama should start fighting for health care. I think he has been—and it’s not working, even with his own party.

Paul Greenberg on the Justice Department’s dismissal of the default judgment against the Black Panthers: “Why hasn’t there been a greater sense outrage, betrayal or just disgust at the administration’s handling of this case? My theory: Because none of this comes as a surprise. What else could be expected when The People in their wisdom elect a president of the United States who’s a product of Chicago’s machine politics?”

Mike Huckabee deserves kudos for giving Israeli officials the time and forum to explain the challenges of governing and living in Jerusalem. The substance of his remarks and tone of obvious affection for the Jewish state could not be more different than what is coming out of the Obama administration.

Bill Kristol on ObamaCare: “It is failing on the merits.” Juan Williams observes that the discussion is now among Democrats because Republicans are “not in the game.” Huh? If a majority of Democrats agreed with ObamaCare, they’d have passed it by now. But Williams does get to the nub of Tom Ridge’s allegation that threat levels were subject to political pressure: “He is trying to sell books.”

Not a headline that will thrill the White House: “Obama Vacations Where the Elites Meet.”

presidential vacation: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday shows that 27% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-one percent (41%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -14. These figures mark the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President.”

It is almost like there is no consensus to pass ObamaCare: “A public (or ‘government-run’) option in the healthcare bill before Congress is unlikely to survive conference between the House and Senate, a leader of the centrist Blue Dog coalition said this weekend. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-N.D.) said that while there is a good chance the preliminary House bill will contain the controversial provision, the final bill which will head to the White House probably won’t contain the option.”

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Competition—What For?

The Wall Street Journal editors, as many others have, offer an alternative to the government-centric ObamaCare plan, which is now at death’s door. They explain, citing Devon Herrick, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis:

Affordability would improve if consumers could escape states where each policy is loaded with mandates. “If consumers do not want expensive ‘Cadillac’ health plans that pay for acupuncture, fertility treatments or hairpieces, they could buy from insurers in a state that does not mandate such benefits,” Mr. Herrick has written.

A 2008 publication Consumer Response to a National Marketplace in Individual Insurance” (Parente et al., University of Minnesota) estimated that if individuals in New Jersey could buy health insurance in a national market, 49% more New Jerseyans in the individual and small-group market would have coverage. Competition among states would produce a more rational regulatory environment in all states.

This doesn’t mean sick people who have kept up their coverage but are more difficult to insure would be left out. Congressman Shadegg advocates government funding for high-risk pools, noting that their numbers are tiny. The big benefit would come from a market supply of affordable insurance.

[. . .]

Interstate competition made the U.S. one of the world’s most efficient, consumer driven markets. But health insurance is a glaring exception. When the competition caucus in Team Obama has to look for Plan B, this is it.

So why doesn’t the Obama team or their allies look to some alternative ideas, including interstate competition and tax credits, to spur individual purchase of insurance? (We won’t even ask about tort reform, which is anathema to Democrats dependent on the largess of trial lawyers.) Well certainly Obama and liberal lawmakers are having a tough time giving up the idea of universal coverage provided by the government. If they can’t get nationalized medicine now, they may never succeed. So until the last Blue Dog’s arm has been twisted, they won’t throw in the towel.

But in some sense, it would not be attractive for Obama and his liberal cohorts to open up insurance competition, even if it would almost certainly gain a large bipartisan majority in Congress and succeed in increasing availability and lowering costs. Really, from their perspective, the whole point is for government to be giving out health care. There is no glory in allowing the free market to deliver health care. Politicians aren’t going to get much credit for that. And for those incumbents enjoying the flood of lobbyists and constituents who would be seeking to tweak a government-run system one way or another—and pony up commensurate political contributions—there is little to be gained by simply pointing voters to the Internet for an expanded list of insurers.

No wonder then that the White House and Democratic congressional leaders pretend the Republicans have no ideas. There are plenty of ideas and proposals from their critics—but none that hold allure for those who see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to place government front and center in health care and redefine the relationship between Americans and their government.

The Wall Street Journal editors, as many others have, offer an alternative to the government-centric ObamaCare plan, which is now at death’s door. They explain, citing Devon Herrick, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis:

Affordability would improve if consumers could escape states where each policy is loaded with mandates. “If consumers do not want expensive ‘Cadillac’ health plans that pay for acupuncture, fertility treatments or hairpieces, they could buy from insurers in a state that does not mandate such benefits,” Mr. Herrick has written.

A 2008 publication Consumer Response to a National Marketplace in Individual Insurance” (Parente et al., University of Minnesota) estimated that if individuals in New Jersey could buy health insurance in a national market, 49% more New Jerseyans in the individual and small-group market would have coverage. Competition among states would produce a more rational regulatory environment in all states.

This doesn’t mean sick people who have kept up their coverage but are more difficult to insure would be left out. Congressman Shadegg advocates government funding for high-risk pools, noting that their numbers are tiny. The big benefit would come from a market supply of affordable insurance.

[. . .]

Interstate competition made the U.S. one of the world’s most efficient, consumer driven markets. But health insurance is a glaring exception. When the competition caucus in Team Obama has to look for Plan B, this is it.

So why doesn’t the Obama team or their allies look to some alternative ideas, including interstate competition and tax credits, to spur individual purchase of insurance? (We won’t even ask about tort reform, which is anathema to Democrats dependent on the largess of trial lawyers.) Well certainly Obama and liberal lawmakers are having a tough time giving up the idea of universal coverage provided by the government. If they can’t get nationalized medicine now, they may never succeed. So until the last Blue Dog’s arm has been twisted, they won’t throw in the towel.

But in some sense, it would not be attractive for Obama and his liberal cohorts to open up insurance competition, even if it would almost certainly gain a large bipartisan majority in Congress and succeed in increasing availability and lowering costs. Really, from their perspective, the whole point is for government to be giving out health care. There is no glory in allowing the free market to deliver health care. Politicians aren’t going to get much credit for that. And for those incumbents enjoying the flood of lobbyists and constituents who would be seeking to tweak a government-run system one way or another—and pony up commensurate political contributions—there is little to be gained by simply pointing voters to the Internet for an expanded list of insurers.

No wonder then that the White House and Democratic congressional leaders pretend the Republicans have no ideas. There are plenty of ideas and proposals from their critics—but none that hold allure for those who see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to place government front and center in health care and redefine the relationship between Americans and their government.

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Obama Falters, with Help from His Friends

Michael Goodwinwrites:

The danger for Obama isn’t just that most voters don’t like his health plan. The real danger is that he is digging a trust deficit with ordinary Americans of all political stripes.

With as many as 70% of respondents effectively telling pollsters they don’t believe any of the inflated claims he routinely makes about an overhaul, the President is at risk of permanent damage.

It’s compounded by the fact that he has spoken publicly so often to push his view that he’s no longer welcome in many living rooms. One poll found half the country thinks he’s on television too much, which is a polite way of telling the President to buzz off.

It may be, ironically, that all the fawning coverage and the multiple primetime press conferences offered up by the sycophantic press in the end did more harm than good. While the press can’t be blamed for forgetting that a presidential appearance is a commodity to be used sparingly (only Obama and his team are responsible for that one), it certainly enabled his nonstop blather by dutifully covering every dog-and-pony show and press appearance.

Moreover, while the press often has acted as an early-warning sign for troubled presidential initiatives, the press corp did not perk up until the public was in open rebellion. Only the most tepid questions were raised, and few hard questions about rationing and costs were posed before August. As a result, the White House was largely caught unprepared for the storm of anger and protest that greeted congressional Democrats this month.

None of this is to diminish the responsibility that the president and his advisers bear for the debacle now threatening to consume the presidency. They made the decision to delegate draftsmanship to Congress. They decided to reinvent a health-care system that serves a large majority of Americans very well. They chose to conceal the costs of their plan until the CBO blew the whistle. And Obama personally and repeatedly spun nonsense (e.g., red/blue pills, bending the cost curve by spending more money, a guarantee that Americans could keep their plan while pushing a government option that would chase private insurers from the market). So the fault is the president’s. But his devoted fans in the media certainly helped.

Michael Goodwinwrites:

The danger for Obama isn’t just that most voters don’t like his health plan. The real danger is that he is digging a trust deficit with ordinary Americans of all political stripes.

With as many as 70% of respondents effectively telling pollsters they don’t believe any of the inflated claims he routinely makes about an overhaul, the President is at risk of permanent damage.

It’s compounded by the fact that he has spoken publicly so often to push his view that he’s no longer welcome in many living rooms. One poll found half the country thinks he’s on television too much, which is a polite way of telling the President to buzz off.

It may be, ironically, that all the fawning coverage and the multiple primetime press conferences offered up by the sycophantic press in the end did more harm than good. While the press can’t be blamed for forgetting that a presidential appearance is a commodity to be used sparingly (only Obama and his team are responsible for that one), it certainly enabled his nonstop blather by dutifully covering every dog-and-pony show and press appearance.

Moreover, while the press often has acted as an early-warning sign for troubled presidential initiatives, the press corp did not perk up until the public was in open rebellion. Only the most tepid questions were raised, and few hard questions about rationing and costs were posed before August. As a result, the White House was largely caught unprepared for the storm of anger and protest that greeted congressional Democrats this month.

None of this is to diminish the responsibility that the president and his advisers bear for the debacle now threatening to consume the presidency. They made the decision to delegate draftsmanship to Congress. They decided to reinvent a health-care system that serves a large majority of Americans very well. They chose to conceal the costs of their plan until the CBO blew the whistle. And Obama personally and repeatedly spun nonsense (e.g., red/blue pills, bending the cost curve by spending more money, a guarantee that Americans could keep their plan while pushing a government option that would chase private insurers from the market). So the fault is the president’s. But his devoted fans in the media certainly helped.

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