Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 3, 2009

In Opposition to Abject Surrender

George Will doubles down on his call for retreat in Afghanistan with one to leave Iraq immediately. (He’s done this before on Iraq, so it hardly comes as a surprise.) Robert Kagan, also writing in the Washington Post, objects:

It’s hard to imagine a more disastrous blow to vital American security interests than the double surrender George Will is now proposing. To withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously would be to abandon American interests and allies in the Persian Gulf and greater Middle East. The consequences of such a retreat would be to shift the balance of influence in the region decidedly away from pro-U.S. forces in the direction of the most radical forces in Tehran, as well as toward al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Taliban, to name just the most prominent beneficiaries. Long-time allies of the United States would either have to accommodate to these radical forces and fall under their sway, or take matters into their own hands. What Will is proposing would constitute the largest strategic setback in American history.

[. . .]

Yes, the situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan are difficult. But they are far from unmanageable. Iraq has benefited immensely from the American surge and the political processes it has made possible. Afghanistan is in bad shape, but a concerted effort by our military and civilian forces, as well as by our allies, can produce stability and the possibility of progress with time, as top military leaders, including Gen. Stanley McChrystal, have attested.

Will wants us to commit preemptive suicide for fear of being killed. But we need to show some of the patience and fortitude previous generations of Americans have shown, and in far more dire circumstances.

There is a certain consistency in Will’s disdain for both endeavors. While liberals for a time, before they decided otherwise, made a distinction between “good” and “bad” wars, both Iraq and Afghanistan are battlefronts in the same war, and defeat in either, let alone both, would have dire consequences for the U.S. and the West.

The danger here, of course, is that the president, already ailing from domestic setbacks and facing an increasingly hostile electorate, will lose nerve in one or both battlefronts, glob on to the arguments of the Pat Buchanan/George Will/Russ Feingold contingent, and refuse to do what is necessary to secure victory in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He would do well to listen to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who seems now, finally, to be convinced that we need to increase troop strength in Afghanistan:

“I take seriously General McChrystal’s point that the size . . . of the footprint depends . . . in significant measure . . . on the nature of the footprint and the behavior of those troops and their attitudes and their interactions with the Afghans,” Gates said.

“If they interact with the Afghans in a way that gives confidence to the Afghans that we’re their partners and their allies, then the risks that I have been concerned about the footprint becoming too big . . . is mitigated.” In particular, Gates cited efforts by McChrystal to distribute U.S. troops to better protect the population and reduce civilian casualties.

Gates also rebuffed as “unrealistic” arguments that the administration should narrow the mission to one of counterterrorism in Afghanistan and along the Pakistani border. Instead, he said that uprooting terrorist groups requires a more holistic campaign to shore up internal security — the type of effort McChrystal and other top U.S. military leaders envision.

“Even if you want to focus on counterterrorism, you cannot do that successfully without local law enforcement, without internal security, without intelligence,” he said.

We spent years, sacrificed blood and treasure, and sapped public support for the Iraq war learning the painful lesson that we cannot win these conflicts with a “light footprint” or solely with high-tech gadgets far from the conflict. Obama, if he is smart and courageous, will learn from that experience and listen to the counsel of Gates and Kagan rather than to those preaching retreat — and ultimately defeat.

George Will doubles down on his call for retreat in Afghanistan with one to leave Iraq immediately. (He’s done this before on Iraq, so it hardly comes as a surprise.) Robert Kagan, also writing in the Washington Post, objects:

It’s hard to imagine a more disastrous blow to vital American security interests than the double surrender George Will is now proposing. To withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously would be to abandon American interests and allies in the Persian Gulf and greater Middle East. The consequences of such a retreat would be to shift the balance of influence in the region decidedly away from pro-U.S. forces in the direction of the most radical forces in Tehran, as well as toward al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Taliban, to name just the most prominent beneficiaries. Long-time allies of the United States would either have to accommodate to these radical forces and fall under their sway, or take matters into their own hands. What Will is proposing would constitute the largest strategic setback in American history.

[. . .]

Yes, the situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan are difficult. But they are far from unmanageable. Iraq has benefited immensely from the American surge and the political processes it has made possible. Afghanistan is in bad shape, but a concerted effort by our military and civilian forces, as well as by our allies, can produce stability and the possibility of progress with time, as top military leaders, including Gen. Stanley McChrystal, have attested.

Will wants us to commit preemptive suicide for fear of being killed. But we need to show some of the patience and fortitude previous generations of Americans have shown, and in far more dire circumstances.

There is a certain consistency in Will’s disdain for both endeavors. While liberals for a time, before they decided otherwise, made a distinction between “good” and “bad” wars, both Iraq and Afghanistan are battlefronts in the same war, and defeat in either, let alone both, would have dire consequences for the U.S. and the West.

The danger here, of course, is that the president, already ailing from domestic setbacks and facing an increasingly hostile electorate, will lose nerve in one or both battlefronts, glob on to the arguments of the Pat Buchanan/George Will/Russ Feingold contingent, and refuse to do what is necessary to secure victory in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He would do well to listen to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who seems now, finally, to be convinced that we need to increase troop strength in Afghanistan:

“I take seriously General McChrystal’s point that the size . . . of the footprint depends . . . in significant measure . . . on the nature of the footprint and the behavior of those troops and their attitudes and their interactions with the Afghans,” Gates said.

“If they interact with the Afghans in a way that gives confidence to the Afghans that we’re their partners and their allies, then the risks that I have been concerned about the footprint becoming too big . . . is mitigated.” In particular, Gates cited efforts by McChrystal to distribute U.S. troops to better protect the population and reduce civilian casualties.

Gates also rebuffed as “unrealistic” arguments that the administration should narrow the mission to one of counterterrorism in Afghanistan and along the Pakistani border. Instead, he said that uprooting terrorist groups requires a more holistic campaign to shore up internal security — the type of effort McChrystal and other top U.S. military leaders envision.

“Even if you want to focus on counterterrorism, you cannot do that successfully without local law enforcement, without internal security, without intelligence,” he said.

We spent years, sacrificed blood and treasure, and sapped public support for the Iraq war learning the painful lesson that we cannot win these conflicts with a “light footprint” or solely with high-tech gadgets far from the conflict. Obama, if he is smart and courageous, will learn from that experience and listen to the counsel of Gates and Kagan rather than to those preaching retreat — and ultimately defeat.

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What’s He Do Now?

Charles Krauthammer details Obama’s health-care reform collapse, culminating in his “disastrous summer.” Krauthammer cautions that Obama “will likely regroup and pass some version of health insurance reform that will restore some of his clout and popularity.” But something has been lost along the way, besides support for the public option:

What has occurred — irreversibly — is this: He’s become ordinary. The spell is broken. The charismatic conjurer of 2008 has shed his magic. He’s regressed to the mean, tellingly expressed in poll numbers hovering at 50 percent.

For a man who only recently bred a cult, ordinariness is a great burden, and for his acolytes, a crushing disappointment. Obama has become a politician like others. And like other flailing presidents, he will try to salvage a cherished reform — and his own standing — with yet another prime-time speech.

But for the first time since election night in Grant Park, he will appear in the most unfamiliar of guises — mere mortal, a treacherous transformation to which a man of Obama’s supreme self-regard may never adapt.

Stripped of his aura, Obama may be in for a rough time. He lacks innovative policy ideas, preferring overstuffed statist programs. He does not have the legislative dealmaker skills of an LBJ. And one doubts he has the ability to craft cagey compromises like Bill Clinton. So if he’s not a “sort of God,” what is he? An ultra-liberal with a remote if not icy persona — and a mound of debt. And that’s not a formula for success.

But Krauthammer is right not to count Obama out, at least not now. A lot of people made that mistake about conservatives, who were declared to be in permanent exile after the 2008 election. (Once again, we relearn the lesson that the key to politics is waiting for the other guys to mess up, overreach, and self-destruct.) The aura may be gone, but Obama still has many assets at his disposal, including huge majorities in the House and Senate. Let’s see what he can do with them now that the magic is gone.

Charles Krauthammer details Obama’s health-care reform collapse, culminating in his “disastrous summer.” Krauthammer cautions that Obama “will likely regroup and pass some version of health insurance reform that will restore some of his clout and popularity.” But something has been lost along the way, besides support for the public option:

What has occurred — irreversibly — is this: He’s become ordinary. The spell is broken. The charismatic conjurer of 2008 has shed his magic. He’s regressed to the mean, tellingly expressed in poll numbers hovering at 50 percent.

For a man who only recently bred a cult, ordinariness is a great burden, and for his acolytes, a crushing disappointment. Obama has become a politician like others. And like other flailing presidents, he will try to salvage a cherished reform — and his own standing — with yet another prime-time speech.

But for the first time since election night in Grant Park, he will appear in the most unfamiliar of guises — mere mortal, a treacherous transformation to which a man of Obama’s supreme self-regard may never adapt.

Stripped of his aura, Obama may be in for a rough time. He lacks innovative policy ideas, preferring overstuffed statist programs. He does not have the legislative dealmaker skills of an LBJ. And one doubts he has the ability to craft cagey compromises like Bill Clinton. So if he’s not a “sort of God,” what is he? An ultra-liberal with a remote if not icy persona — and a mound of debt. And that’s not a formula for success.

But Krauthammer is right not to count Obama out, at least not now. A lot of people made that mistake about conservatives, who were declared to be in permanent exile after the 2008 election. (Once again, we relearn the lesson that the key to politics is waiting for the other guys to mess up, overreach, and self-destruct.) The aura may be gone, but Obama still has many assets at his disposal, including huge majorities in the House and Senate. Let’s see what he can do with them now that the magic is gone.

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Myth, Fact & ObamaCare

When I worked in the White House, there were those who believed, even into 2006, that our primary problem when it came to Iraq was a communications one. The way to win back public support (the argument went) was one more speech, or series of speeches, more visible and persuasive surrogates, and so forth. Others in the White House insisted that while we could certainly do a better job communicating, our main obstacle was a facts-on-the-ground one. We were losing the war in Iraq—and as a result we were losing support in America for the war. No speech and no revised communications strategy, regardless of how good they were, could turn a losing war into a popular war.

I am reminded of all of this in watching the president and his supporters thrash about on ObamaCare. They insist that what is wrong is that President Obama hasn’t sufficiently “sold” and “marketed” his health-care agenda. One reads in the New York Times Magazine, for example, that when former Majority Leader Tom Daschle was asked if Obama has done a good job of selling health-care reform to the general public, he responded, “We have to do better at making this issue a moral imperative. . . . This in many respects is the civil-rights battle of the early part of this century—it’s a fight for the disabled, it’s a fight for the sick, it’s a fight for equal rights when it comes to health.” Daschle went on to blame the “organizational strength of the other side,” its simplistic arguments and appeals to fear, for what has gone wrong. Democrats, Daschle said, need “better phrases.”

In this spirit, the president will give a speech to a joint session of Congress next Wednesday, in an effort to “re-launch” ObamaCare. His words will soothe our fears and heal the wounds caused by what Politico rightly calls a “brutal August recess.” So the idea, it appears, is to have Obama continue to say what he’s been saying—but to say it more often and more “prescriptively.” The underlying assumption is the public just hasn’t heard enough from Barack Obama on health care.

If Obama really believes this is the reason his health-care effort is in critical condition, then he has lost touch with reality. Obama’s health-care ambitions are being shattered because what he wants to do would make things worse rather than better, and costlier rather than cheaper. President Obama is attempting to sell a product that is fundamentally defective and increasingly radioactive. Even if Team Obama were doing everything right—and it is not—it would find itself in a precarious position. It is reality, including numerous CBO analyses, that is doing the damage. Public relations has very little to do with it.

The sooner Obama understands this and adjusts—the sooner his aides have a “come to Jesus” meeting with the president—the better it will be for him and everyone else. Because the current course is going to lead his administration aground. Whether he knows it or not, Obama has lost his health-care fight. The only question now is what he can salvage from it, if anything at all.

Barack Obama has created the impression that he’s well grounded, allergic to “happy talk,” in touch with reality, in sync with the country, and willing to adjust to changing circumstances. Things look quite a bit different now, after Obama’s summer of discontent. (To understand just how badly damaged Obama is, consider that David Brooks, who is certainly not an unsympathetic observer, wrote earlier this week that “no newly elected American president has fallen this far this fast.”)

If the president doesn’t make fundamental changes to his plan and his governing approach soon, the impression of Obama the Realist, like so much else about him, will turn out to be a mirage.

When I worked in the White House, there were those who believed, even into 2006, that our primary problem when it came to Iraq was a communications one. The way to win back public support (the argument went) was one more speech, or series of speeches, more visible and persuasive surrogates, and so forth. Others in the White House insisted that while we could certainly do a better job communicating, our main obstacle was a facts-on-the-ground one. We were losing the war in Iraq—and as a result we were losing support in America for the war. No speech and no revised communications strategy, regardless of how good they were, could turn a losing war into a popular war.

I am reminded of all of this in watching the president and his supporters thrash about on ObamaCare. They insist that what is wrong is that President Obama hasn’t sufficiently “sold” and “marketed” his health-care agenda. One reads in the New York Times Magazine, for example, that when former Majority Leader Tom Daschle was asked if Obama has done a good job of selling health-care reform to the general public, he responded, “We have to do better at making this issue a moral imperative. . . . This in many respects is the civil-rights battle of the early part of this century—it’s a fight for the disabled, it’s a fight for the sick, it’s a fight for equal rights when it comes to health.” Daschle went on to blame the “organizational strength of the other side,” its simplistic arguments and appeals to fear, for what has gone wrong. Democrats, Daschle said, need “better phrases.”

In this spirit, the president will give a speech to a joint session of Congress next Wednesday, in an effort to “re-launch” ObamaCare. His words will soothe our fears and heal the wounds caused by what Politico rightly calls a “brutal August recess.” So the idea, it appears, is to have Obama continue to say what he’s been saying—but to say it more often and more “prescriptively.” The underlying assumption is the public just hasn’t heard enough from Barack Obama on health care.

If Obama really believes this is the reason his health-care effort is in critical condition, then he has lost touch with reality. Obama’s health-care ambitions are being shattered because what he wants to do would make things worse rather than better, and costlier rather than cheaper. President Obama is attempting to sell a product that is fundamentally defective and increasingly radioactive. Even if Team Obama were doing everything right—and it is not—it would find itself in a precarious position. It is reality, including numerous CBO analyses, that is doing the damage. Public relations has very little to do with it.

The sooner Obama understands this and adjusts—the sooner his aides have a “come to Jesus” meeting with the president—the better it will be for him and everyone else. Because the current course is going to lead his administration aground. Whether he knows it or not, Obama has lost his health-care fight. The only question now is what he can salvage from it, if anything at all.

Barack Obama has created the impression that he’s well grounded, allergic to “happy talk,” in touch with reality, in sync with the country, and willing to adjust to changing circumstances. Things look quite a bit different now, after Obama’s summer of discontent. (To understand just how badly damaged Obama is, consider that David Brooks, who is certainly not an unsympathetic observer, wrote earlier this week that “no newly elected American president has fallen this far this fast.”)

If the president doesn’t make fundamental changes to his plan and his governing approach soon, the impression of Obama the Realist, like so much else about him, will turn out to be a mirage.

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Chicago Democracy in Honduras

If you can’t get Iran or North Korea to talk to you, if Russia has not exactly pushed the reset button you sent them, if China is not a country you can antagonize (if you want to continue to sell Treasury bonds), the next best thing may be to land on Honduras.

The State Department announced today it has formally determined that what happened on June 28 in Honduras was a “coup d’etat” requiring the termination under U.S. law of a broad range of assistance to the poverty-stricken country. The announcement cites “the continued resistance to the adoption of the San Jose Accord by the de facto regime and continuing failure to restore democratic, constitutional rule to Honduras.”

The San Jose Accord would require Honduras to ignore multiple rulings by its Supreme Court that the removal of former President Zelaya was constitutional (and done pursuant to its order, not by military action taken without prior legal authorization). It would require Honduras to act contrary to the consensus of all organs of the Honduran government, including its Congress and representatives of the church and civil society—a consensus communicated to the foreign ministers of the Organization of American States when they visited Honduras on August 24-25 and heard from them all.

It is a strange definition of coup d’etat that includes action authorized by the Honduran Supreme Court, ratified by its Congress, and supported by a consensus of its political parties and civil society. As for the “continuing failure to restore democratic, constitutional rule,” there is an election scheduled for November. A vote of the people is not generally considered characteristic of a coup d’etat, and returning Zelaya to serve a few more months (since even he now concedes he cannot hold a “referendum” to allow him to serve longer) would not seem necessary to “restore democratic, constitutional rule.”

If everyone in Honduras is to be believed, the Supreme Court order and subsequent rulings were in fact an example of the preservation of constitutional rule—against the type of threat that played out in Venezuela—that the U.S. should support, not subvert. But the State Department announcement concludes with a direct threat against Honduran democracy:

At this moment, we would not be able to support the outcome of the scheduled elections. A positive conclusion of the Arias [San Jose Accord] process would provide a sound basis for legitimate elections to proceed. We strongly urge all parties to the San Jose talks to move expeditiously to agreement.

Message to Honduras: If you want your elections, you better do what we say. Perhaps that is the way they do things in Chicago democracy.

If you can’t get Iran or North Korea to talk to you, if Russia has not exactly pushed the reset button you sent them, if China is not a country you can antagonize (if you want to continue to sell Treasury bonds), the next best thing may be to land on Honduras.

The State Department announced today it has formally determined that what happened on June 28 in Honduras was a “coup d’etat” requiring the termination under U.S. law of a broad range of assistance to the poverty-stricken country. The announcement cites “the continued resistance to the adoption of the San Jose Accord by the de facto regime and continuing failure to restore democratic, constitutional rule to Honduras.”

The San Jose Accord would require Honduras to ignore multiple rulings by its Supreme Court that the removal of former President Zelaya was constitutional (and done pursuant to its order, not by military action taken without prior legal authorization). It would require Honduras to act contrary to the consensus of all organs of the Honduran government, including its Congress and representatives of the church and civil society—a consensus communicated to the foreign ministers of the Organization of American States when they visited Honduras on August 24-25 and heard from them all.

It is a strange definition of coup d’etat that includes action authorized by the Honduran Supreme Court, ratified by its Congress, and supported by a consensus of its political parties and civil society. As for the “continuing failure to restore democratic, constitutional rule,” there is an election scheduled for November. A vote of the people is not generally considered characteristic of a coup d’etat, and returning Zelaya to serve a few more months (since even he now concedes he cannot hold a “referendum” to allow him to serve longer) would not seem necessary to “restore democratic, constitutional rule.”

If everyone in Honduras is to be believed, the Supreme Court order and subsequent rulings were in fact an example of the preservation of constitutional rule—against the type of threat that played out in Venezuela—that the U.S. should support, not subvert. But the State Department announcement concludes with a direct threat against Honduran democracy:

At this moment, we would not be able to support the outcome of the scheduled elections. A positive conclusion of the Arias [San Jose Accord] process would provide a sound basis for legitimate elections to proceed. We strongly urge all parties to the San Jose talks to move expeditiously to agreement.

Message to Honduras: If you want your elections, you better do what we say. Perhaps that is the way they do things in Chicago democracy.

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Uh . . . Never Mind

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, as I noted earlier, made a statement defending the decision by current AG Eric Holder to reinvestigate CIA operatives who were already investigated by career prosecutors. Well, someone explained it to Gonzales, who now comes out with a statement in an interview with the Washington Times diametrically opposed to his earlier comments:

“Contrary to press reporting and based on the information that’s available to me,” Mr. Gonzales said during an interview Thursday with The Washington Times, “I don’t support the investigation by the department because this is a matter that has already been reviewed thoroughly and because I believe that another investigation is going to harm our intelligence gathering capabilities and that’s a concern that’s shared by career intelligence officials and so for those reasons I respectfully disagree with the decision.”

Translation: I really had no idea what I was talking about, so forget it. If any proof were needed that Gonzales was among the least able of Bush’s appointees, this should do it.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, as I noted earlier, made a statement defending the decision by current AG Eric Holder to reinvestigate CIA operatives who were already investigated by career prosecutors. Well, someone explained it to Gonzales, who now comes out with a statement in an interview with the Washington Times diametrically opposed to his earlier comments:

“Contrary to press reporting and based on the information that’s available to me,” Mr. Gonzales said during an interview Thursday with The Washington Times, “I don’t support the investigation by the department because this is a matter that has already been reviewed thoroughly and because I believe that another investigation is going to harm our intelligence gathering capabilities and that’s a concern that’s shared by career intelligence officials and so for those reasons I respectfully disagree with the decision.”

Translation: I really had no idea what I was talking about, so forget it. If any proof were needed that Gonzales was among the least able of Bush’s appointees, this should do it.

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Eighty Years Ago Today

One of the nice things about being a historian is that you get to play God. You know what the future holds, while the people you are studying don’t.

Consider Tuesday, September 3, 80 years ago today. It was a sunny and very hot day in New York after a very hot summer. As people headed back to work after the Labor Day weekend, there were no major news developments, unsurprisingly after a holiday, but four people had drowned at New York beaches over the weekend, seeking relief from the heat.

The stock market closed mixed that day, with big issues rising as they had been most of the summer. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, heavy with big issues, closed that day at 381.17. It was a new record high. But there had been many new records that summer, so it wasn’t big news. Indeed, the Times reported that brokers’ loans—which had financed so much of the speculation that had pushed the market ever higher—had increased markedly in August, reaching more than $7 billion for the first time, but it also noted that “the speculative community seems disposed to disregard record-breaking loan figures as being of purely academic interest.”

It wasn’t. No one knew it at the time, of course, but it would be 25 years before the Dow was that high again. The next day, the market drifted lower, and on September 5, Roger Babson, a bearish analyst of no great note, gave a lunch talk in Wellesley, Massachusetts, saying, “I repeat what I said at this time last year and the year before, that sooner or later a crash is coming.” Obviously no one had paid him the slightest attention in 1927 and 1928. But when a report of the talk now crossed the broad tape at 2:00 p.m., the market instantly nose-dived, with major issues falling 6 to 10 points and more by the close at 3 o’clock. Volume in the last hour of trading was a fantastic 2 million shares. The mood on Wall Street had changed in an instant, as it so often does. The sky had been the limit before, and greed the motivating emotion; now fear began to creep in like a miasma, and the market dumped lower and lower until the end of October, when the bottom fell out.

But that, of course, was just the beginning. For three and a half agonizing years, the American economy would spiral down and down into the abyss of the Great Depression, the Dow reaching as low as 41.22, down almost 90 percent. Only when a new president told the American people that fear, “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror,” was the enemy now, did the mood shift again and recovery begin.

But those people who made their way home in the stifling subways on the evening of Tuesday, September 3, 1929, knew only that the Dow had reached yet another record high. How much further up could it go? many of them must have wondered.

One of the nice things about being a historian is that you get to play God. You know what the future holds, while the people you are studying don’t.

Consider Tuesday, September 3, 80 years ago today. It was a sunny and very hot day in New York after a very hot summer. As people headed back to work after the Labor Day weekend, there were no major news developments, unsurprisingly after a holiday, but four people had drowned at New York beaches over the weekend, seeking relief from the heat.

The stock market closed mixed that day, with big issues rising as they had been most of the summer. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, heavy with big issues, closed that day at 381.17. It was a new record high. But there had been many new records that summer, so it wasn’t big news. Indeed, the Times reported that brokers’ loans—which had financed so much of the speculation that had pushed the market ever higher—had increased markedly in August, reaching more than $7 billion for the first time, but it also noted that “the speculative community seems disposed to disregard record-breaking loan figures as being of purely academic interest.”

It wasn’t. No one knew it at the time, of course, but it would be 25 years before the Dow was that high again. The next day, the market drifted lower, and on September 5, Roger Babson, a bearish analyst of no great note, gave a lunch talk in Wellesley, Massachusetts, saying, “I repeat what I said at this time last year and the year before, that sooner or later a crash is coming.” Obviously no one had paid him the slightest attention in 1927 and 1928. But when a report of the talk now crossed the broad tape at 2:00 p.m., the market instantly nose-dived, with major issues falling 6 to 10 points and more by the close at 3 o’clock. Volume in the last hour of trading was a fantastic 2 million shares. The mood on Wall Street had changed in an instant, as it so often does. The sky had been the limit before, and greed the motivating emotion; now fear began to creep in like a miasma, and the market dumped lower and lower until the end of October, when the bottom fell out.

But that, of course, was just the beginning. For three and a half agonizing years, the American economy would spiral down and down into the abyss of the Great Depression, the Dow reaching as low as 41.22, down almost 90 percent. Only when a new president told the American people that fear, “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror,” was the enemy now, did the mood shift again and recovery begin.

But those people who made their way home in the stifling subways on the evening of Tuesday, September 3, 1929, knew only that the Dow had reached yet another record high. How much further up could it go? many of them must have wondered.

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Freedom of the Press and Holocaust Deniers

Only weeks after Sweden’s Aftonbladet published its libelous story on Israeli soldiers and organ-harvesting, Spain’s El Mundo had its little spat with Israel today.

El Mundo is going to publish an interview with Holocaust denier David Irving this Saturday, as part of a string of articles commissioned to mark the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War II.

The paper received a protest letter from the Israeli ambassador, and it responded in kind, mentioning freedom of speech and implying that Irving’s views (while not those of the paper) may be of public interest as long as they do not incite. The Israeli ambassador, who questioned the choice, among other things, as a blatant example of moral relativism was accused of having a Manichaean view of the world.

Surely the editor will have missed the irony of rebuking Israel’s ambassador’s lamentations that El Mundo can’t tell right from wrong and truth from lie by calling his view “Manichaean,” because it kind of proves the ambassador’s point.

Just as surely, people will surmise callousness, if not outright anti-Semitism, in the choice of giving Irving equal dignity of standing and space alongside real historians who have long exposed him for what he really is.

But it seems to me that the point is that freedom of the press is not the same as the obligation to give a platform to every crank on the planet. Editors make thousands of editorial choices on what to publish, what to downplay, what to headline, and what to leave aside many times a week. In point of fact, El Mundo‘s editor, while waving the press’s freedom flag, censored the ambassador’s letter’s last, and most damning, paragraph because, presumably, it suggested that his editorial choice to publish Irving was dictated by sensationalism.

El Mundo and Aftonbladet have each in its own way crossed a line—making the outrageous legitimate, and the extreme mainstream. Each has referred to a principle it does not necessarily apply when receiving submissions from pro-Israel voices.

It remains to be seen what Irving says, of course. But that’s beside the point. An interview in a leading publication is a place in the sun. Spain’s El Mundo just gave him one.

One more line has been crossed in Europe. Don’t be surprised if the trickle soon becomes an avalanche.

Only weeks after Sweden’s Aftonbladet published its libelous story on Israeli soldiers and organ-harvesting, Spain’s El Mundo had its little spat with Israel today.

El Mundo is going to publish an interview with Holocaust denier David Irving this Saturday, as part of a string of articles commissioned to mark the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War II.

The paper received a protest letter from the Israeli ambassador, and it responded in kind, mentioning freedom of speech and implying that Irving’s views (while not those of the paper) may be of public interest as long as they do not incite. The Israeli ambassador, who questioned the choice, among other things, as a blatant example of moral relativism was accused of having a Manichaean view of the world.

Surely the editor will have missed the irony of rebuking Israel’s ambassador’s lamentations that El Mundo can’t tell right from wrong and truth from lie by calling his view “Manichaean,” because it kind of proves the ambassador’s point.

Just as surely, people will surmise callousness, if not outright anti-Semitism, in the choice of giving Irving equal dignity of standing and space alongside real historians who have long exposed him for what he really is.

But it seems to me that the point is that freedom of the press is not the same as the obligation to give a platform to every crank on the planet. Editors make thousands of editorial choices on what to publish, what to downplay, what to headline, and what to leave aside many times a week. In point of fact, El Mundo‘s editor, while waving the press’s freedom flag, censored the ambassador’s letter’s last, and most damning, paragraph because, presumably, it suggested that his editorial choice to publish Irving was dictated by sensationalism.

El Mundo and Aftonbladet have each in its own way crossed a line—making the outrageous legitimate, and the extreme mainstream. Each has referred to a principle it does not necessarily apply when receiving submissions from pro-Israel voices.

It remains to be seen what Irving says, of course. But that’s beside the point. An interview in a leading publication is a place in the sun. Spain’s El Mundo just gave him one.

One more line has been crossed in Europe. Don’t be surprised if the trickle soon becomes an avalanche.

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A New Arms Race in the Middle East?

Three reports from the past two days suggest a renewed effort to shift the strategic arms balance in the Middle East in favor of Syria and Iran. In one, a Russian official admitted to having contracted to sell advanced fighter jets to Syria—a state that is one of the few countries still listed on the State Department’s list of terrorism sponsors.

In another, a Kuwaiti newspaper is quoted as reporting that the Hezbollah arms cache that recently blew up in southern Lebanon held chemical weapons—suggesting that Hezbollah’s next terror assault on Israeli civilians may be far deadlier than in the past.

But the most disturbing report comes from a Beirut newspaper, which says that the Lebanese government has accepted an Iranian offer to provide the Lebanese military with advanced anti-aircraft systems. This would mark a remarkable change in posture on the part of Lebanon, which until now has attempted to distance itself from Hezbollah’s overt ties with Iran. For years, Western governments have struggled to keep Lebanon neutral at worst, yet these efforts have been frustrated by Hezbollah’s growing influence.

If such a military deal goes through, it will signal a major shift in Iran’s influence in the Middle East.

Three reports from the past two days suggest a renewed effort to shift the strategic arms balance in the Middle East in favor of Syria and Iran. In one, a Russian official admitted to having contracted to sell advanced fighter jets to Syria—a state that is one of the few countries still listed on the State Department’s list of terrorism sponsors.

In another, a Kuwaiti newspaper is quoted as reporting that the Hezbollah arms cache that recently blew up in southern Lebanon held chemical weapons—suggesting that Hezbollah’s next terror assault on Israeli civilians may be far deadlier than in the past.

But the most disturbing report comes from a Beirut newspaper, which says that the Lebanese government has accepted an Iranian offer to provide the Lebanese military with advanced anti-aircraft systems. This would mark a remarkable change in posture on the part of Lebanon, which until now has attempted to distance itself from Hezbollah’s overt ties with Iran. For years, Western governments have struggled to keep Lebanon neutral at worst, yet these efforts have been frustrated by Hezbollah’s growing influence.

If such a military deal goes through, it will signal a major shift in Iran’s influence in the Middle East.

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Beating Back the Pre-9/11 Crowd

In a robust rebuke of critics of the war in Afghanistan (including their own George Will, who goes unmentioned but who wields the straw-men arguments they deplore), the Washington Post‘s editors explain:

Yet if Mr. Obama provides adequate military and civilian resources, there’s a reasonable chance the counterinsurgency approach will yield something better than stalemate, as it did in Iraq. The Taliban insurgency is not comparable to those that earlier fought the Soviets and the British in Afghanistan. Surveys show that support for its rule is tiny, even in its southern base. Not everything in Mr. Karzai’s government is rotten: U.S. officials have reliable allies in some key ministries and provincial governorships, and the training of the Afghan army — accelerated only recently — is going relatively well. Stabilizing the country will require many years of patient effort and the pain of continued American casualties. Yet the consequences of any other option are likely to be far more dangerous for this country.

But the problem with the critics’ argument is that, while the strategy they oppose has yet to be tried, the alternatives they suggest already have been — and they led to failure in both Afghanistan and Iraq. For years, U.S. commanders in both countries focused on killing insurgents and minimizing the numbers and exposure of U.S. troops rather than pacifying the country. The result was that violence in both countries steadily grew, until a counterinsurgency strategy was applied to Iraq in 2007. As for limiting U.S. intervention in Afghanistan to attacks by drones and Special Forces units, that was the strategy of the 1990s, which, as chronicled by the Sept. 11 commission, paved the way for al-Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington. Given that the Taliban and al-Qaeda now also aim to overturn the government of nuclear-armed Pakistan, the risks of a U.S. withdrawal far exceed those of continuing to fight the war — even were the result to be continued stalemate.

(CONTENTIONS contributor Max Boot, in more detailed fashion in today’s Wall Street Journal, makes the case that “leaving Afghanistan in its current state would be a defeat in the larger war on terror, which would encourage jihadists everywhere.”)

But Will—who is short on facts and long on contempt for our British allies’ sacrifices—is not alone among conservatives. The isolationists are all the rage. Sen. Chuck Hagel goes down memory lane in Vietnam, making the case that anything really hard and complicated, requiring sacrifice by America, probably isn’t worth it.

Politics is replete with irony but none greater than the sight of a president, who rose to power decrying the ultimately successful effort in one battlefield in the war on terror, looking now to those dreaded neo-con pundits and Republican lawmakers for support against the pre-9/11 mentality he was all too happy to promote on the campaign trail.

The New York Times observes:

Despite Mr. Will’s argument, national security hawks in the Republican Party — not Mr. Obama’s most natural support base — still back the president on Afghanistan. “So far, to their credit, they’ve either remained silent or they’ve been supportive, guys like McCain and Graham,” said Matt Bennett, vice president of Third Way, a moderately left-wing think tank, referring to Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both Republicans.

But of course we can’t do all the work for the president. It is the commander in chief who must make the case to the American people and who must commit all the necessary resources, resisting the urge to try another war “on the cheap.” And if public opinion does falter despite his best efforts, it will be incumbent on him to show resolve and resist the cries to bug out or to set artificial deadlines for withdrawal.

Let’s hope Obama can match George W. Bush in resolve and political courage. Maybe Obama should put aside the anti-Bush venom for a moment and give his predecessor a call—he might learn something about the lonely obligation of a commander in chief to resist the howls from the likes of Will, Hagel, and the netroots.

In a robust rebuke of critics of the war in Afghanistan (including their own George Will, who goes unmentioned but who wields the straw-men arguments they deplore), the Washington Post‘s editors explain:

Yet if Mr. Obama provides adequate military and civilian resources, there’s a reasonable chance the counterinsurgency approach will yield something better than stalemate, as it did in Iraq. The Taliban insurgency is not comparable to those that earlier fought the Soviets and the British in Afghanistan. Surveys show that support for its rule is tiny, even in its southern base. Not everything in Mr. Karzai’s government is rotten: U.S. officials have reliable allies in some key ministries and provincial governorships, and the training of the Afghan army — accelerated only recently — is going relatively well. Stabilizing the country will require many years of patient effort and the pain of continued American casualties. Yet the consequences of any other option are likely to be far more dangerous for this country.

But the problem with the critics’ argument is that, while the strategy they oppose has yet to be tried, the alternatives they suggest already have been — and they led to failure in both Afghanistan and Iraq. For years, U.S. commanders in both countries focused on killing insurgents and minimizing the numbers and exposure of U.S. troops rather than pacifying the country. The result was that violence in both countries steadily grew, until a counterinsurgency strategy was applied to Iraq in 2007. As for limiting U.S. intervention in Afghanistan to attacks by drones and Special Forces units, that was the strategy of the 1990s, which, as chronicled by the Sept. 11 commission, paved the way for al-Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington. Given that the Taliban and al-Qaeda now also aim to overturn the government of nuclear-armed Pakistan, the risks of a U.S. withdrawal far exceed those of continuing to fight the war — even were the result to be continued stalemate.

(CONTENTIONS contributor Max Boot, in more detailed fashion in today’s Wall Street Journal, makes the case that “leaving Afghanistan in its current state would be a defeat in the larger war on terror, which would encourage jihadists everywhere.”)

But Will—who is short on facts and long on contempt for our British allies’ sacrifices—is not alone among conservatives. The isolationists are all the rage. Sen. Chuck Hagel goes down memory lane in Vietnam, making the case that anything really hard and complicated, requiring sacrifice by America, probably isn’t worth it.

Politics is replete with irony but none greater than the sight of a president, who rose to power decrying the ultimately successful effort in one battlefield in the war on terror, looking now to those dreaded neo-con pundits and Republican lawmakers for support against the pre-9/11 mentality he was all too happy to promote on the campaign trail.

The New York Times observes:

Despite Mr. Will’s argument, national security hawks in the Republican Party — not Mr. Obama’s most natural support base — still back the president on Afghanistan. “So far, to their credit, they’ve either remained silent or they’ve been supportive, guys like McCain and Graham,” said Matt Bennett, vice president of Third Way, a moderately left-wing think tank, referring to Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both Republicans.

But of course we can’t do all the work for the president. It is the commander in chief who must make the case to the American people and who must commit all the necessary resources, resisting the urge to try another war “on the cheap.” And if public opinion does falter despite his best efforts, it will be incumbent on him to show resolve and resist the cries to bug out or to set artificial deadlines for withdrawal.

Let’s hope Obama can match George W. Bush in resolve and political courage. Maybe Obama should put aside the anti-Bush venom for a moment and give his predecessor a call—he might learn something about the lonely obligation of a commander in chief to resist the howls from the likes of Will, Hagel, and the netroots.

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Change Again?

Daniel Henninger notes that there is a worldwide “throw the bums out” trend. In Japan, the UK, and here in the U.S., it isn’t a good time to be an incumbent. As for the U.S., he observes:

In the U.S., political handicappers are predicting heavy Democratic losses in the House next November. This just four years after ending GOP control of Congress in the 2006 elections and two years after sweeping into office Barack Obama and his Democratic partners.

Congress’s approval rating remains stuck around 30%. This number may be more important as an indicator of public sentiment toward the nation’s leadership than presidential approval.

Some search for an ideological trend toward the left or right in these votes, but the only evident trend is to strike out at whichever blob is currently in power. Even as Americans turned over their country to liberal Democrats, opinion polls showed that the British people were turning toward the Conservatives for relief from listless Labour.

His take is that this is a revolt against indebtedness, caused by the orgy of spending and the silent creep of entitlements and accompanied by a squeeze in payroll taxes. Ordinary voters are left with the sense that no one is really responsible for the whole mess. So, he explains, “national electorates are attempting accountability by voting whole parties out of power.”

The irony is great, of course. The “hope and change” Obama has joined the status quo of debt-mongers while a worldwide grassroots movement, populist and suspicious of the big-government solutions that Obama and his European fan club tout, may sweep this crowd out before they’ve unpacked. It turns out that “change” meant something else to the electorate, at least in the U.S., than what it did to Obama. He set out to change the relationship between the private and public sectors, between citizens and their government. The public just wants government to be accountable and cease gobbling up a greater and greater share of the nation’s wealth.

If Obama doesn’t understand and address the sort of change American voters want, he and his party will also be swept out in the tide of public anger. Getting a peek at that anger this summer must have been a sobering sight — if he could spot it all the way from Martha’s Vineyard. And if he missed the sneak preview, the 2010 elections will be harder to ignore.

Daniel Henninger notes that there is a worldwide “throw the bums out” trend. In Japan, the UK, and here in the U.S., it isn’t a good time to be an incumbent. As for the U.S., he observes:

In the U.S., political handicappers are predicting heavy Democratic losses in the House next November. This just four years after ending GOP control of Congress in the 2006 elections and two years after sweeping into office Barack Obama and his Democratic partners.

Congress’s approval rating remains stuck around 30%. This number may be more important as an indicator of public sentiment toward the nation’s leadership than presidential approval.

Some search for an ideological trend toward the left or right in these votes, but the only evident trend is to strike out at whichever blob is currently in power. Even as Americans turned over their country to liberal Democrats, opinion polls showed that the British people were turning toward the Conservatives for relief from listless Labour.

His take is that this is a revolt against indebtedness, caused by the orgy of spending and the silent creep of entitlements and accompanied by a squeeze in payroll taxes. Ordinary voters are left with the sense that no one is really responsible for the whole mess. So, he explains, “national electorates are attempting accountability by voting whole parties out of power.”

The irony is great, of course. The “hope and change” Obama has joined the status quo of debt-mongers while a worldwide grassroots movement, populist and suspicious of the big-government solutions that Obama and his European fan club tout, may sweep this crowd out before they’ve unpacked. It turns out that “change” meant something else to the electorate, at least in the U.S., than what it did to Obama. He set out to change the relationship between the private and public sectors, between citizens and their government. The public just wants government to be accountable and cease gobbling up a greater and greater share of the nation’s wealth.

If Obama doesn’t understand and address the sort of change American voters want, he and his party will also be swept out in the tide of public anger. Getting a peek at that anger this summer must have been a sobering sight — if he could spot it all the way from Martha’s Vineyard. And if he missed the sneak preview, the 2010 elections will be harder to ignore.

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A Rotten Idea Resurfaces

We thought at least one awful idea on health care was done, but now we hear that the idea to cap home-mortgage and charitable deductions is back in play. This report explains:

Senate Democrats are revisiting proposals to raise taxes on high-income people to help pay for an overhaul of the health-care system. The main proposal getting renewed attention is one by President Barack Obama that would limit the federal tax deductions for higher-income families for mortgage interest and other widely claimed purposes, said two senior Senate Democratic aides.

The development reflects a hardening of partisan lines in the effort to forge a health-care bill. Raising taxes on the wealthy was regarded as a virtual deal-breaker for Senate Republicans engaged in negotiations over the spring and summer. So Senate Democrats steered clear of such an approach.

[. . .]

Targeting the rich also conflicted with Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus’s hopes of taxing the most costly employer-based health plans as a way to reduce overall health-care spending. But many Democrats are losing hope that Mr. Baucus’s bipartisan negotiations will produce a deal, so they are beginning to plan for a bill crafted by Democrats. A spokeswoman for Mr. Baucus (D., Mont.) said his committee is still pursuing a bipartisan bill.

Placing much of the burden of a health-care overhaul on higher-income earners is likely to face political hurdles of its own, particularly among moderate Democrats. And limiting the value of deductions for higher-income earners could run into opposition with some interest groups, such as the real-estate industry.

The imposition of such a cap would generate close to $100 billion over the next decade, said a person familiar with the situation. A health overhaul could cost the federal government as much as $1 trillion over 10 years.

No, we don’t know how the rest of the $1 trillion gap would be closed, but this tax idea already bombed. If you recall, a wide array of lawmakers and charitable institutions pointed out that it was atrocious social policy to make it harder to give to charities – in a recession, no less.

Perhaps this is just a trial balloon or a ploy to garner support for some other tax plan. It would be hard to believe that Democratic lawmakers could come up with a scheme that would make the already faltering health-care-reform effort even less popular. But this would do it.

We thought at least one awful idea on health care was done, but now we hear that the idea to cap home-mortgage and charitable deductions is back in play. This report explains:

Senate Democrats are revisiting proposals to raise taxes on high-income people to help pay for an overhaul of the health-care system. The main proposal getting renewed attention is one by President Barack Obama that would limit the federal tax deductions for higher-income families for mortgage interest and other widely claimed purposes, said two senior Senate Democratic aides.

The development reflects a hardening of partisan lines in the effort to forge a health-care bill. Raising taxes on the wealthy was regarded as a virtual deal-breaker for Senate Republicans engaged in negotiations over the spring and summer. So Senate Democrats steered clear of such an approach.

[. . .]

Targeting the rich also conflicted with Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus’s hopes of taxing the most costly employer-based health plans as a way to reduce overall health-care spending. But many Democrats are losing hope that Mr. Baucus’s bipartisan negotiations will produce a deal, so they are beginning to plan for a bill crafted by Democrats. A spokeswoman for Mr. Baucus (D., Mont.) said his committee is still pursuing a bipartisan bill.

Placing much of the burden of a health-care overhaul on higher-income earners is likely to face political hurdles of its own, particularly among moderate Democrats. And limiting the value of deductions for higher-income earners could run into opposition with some interest groups, such as the real-estate industry.

The imposition of such a cap would generate close to $100 billion over the next decade, said a person familiar with the situation. A health overhaul could cost the federal government as much as $1 trillion over 10 years.

No, we don’t know how the rest of the $1 trillion gap would be closed, but this tax idea already bombed. If you recall, a wide array of lawmakers and charitable institutions pointed out that it was atrocious social policy to make it harder to give to charities – in a recession, no less.

Perhaps this is just a trial balloon or a ploy to garner support for some other tax plan. It would be hard to believe that Democratic lawmakers could come up with a scheme that would make the already faltering health-care-reform effort even less popular. But this would do it.

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Looking for a Way Out

This is desperation time. The president’s signature agenda item, nationalized health care, is going down the tubes, and his own standing with the public is crumbling. So he’s going to give a speech on health care and be more specific, but not too specific. He’s signaling that the public option isn’t needed, but he’s not going to tell us he’s given up on it. Does this sound promising? This has all boiled down to a frantic effort to save Obama from political humiliation. As the New York Times reports:

“It’s so important to get a deal,” a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to be candid about strategy. “He will do almost anything it takes to get one.”

That cringe-inducing admission likely doesn’t warm the hearts of liberals who are convinced the president is on the verge of blowing their once-in-a-generation chance to get government-run health care. And what’s more, you get the sense that the White House is moving toward something that virtually no one will like:

So far, the administration’s ideas of concessions are likely to fall far short of the fundamental changes that Congressional Republicans seek.

For now, White House officials said, Mr. Obama remains committed to the goal of insuring all Americans and still prefers to foster competition for insurance companies by creating a new government insurance program, or public option.

White House officials are combing the versions of health care legislation approved by four of the five Congressional committees with jurisdiction on the issue, both to find common ground and to jettison provisions — some relatively minor — that have drawn fire from critics on the political right.

To avoid some of the most heated criticism voiced in recent weeks, White House officials said they would have no objection if Congress scrapped proposals to have Medicare pay for counseling on end-of-life care.

Critics said such counseling could lead to pressure on patients to forgo expensive treatments for terminal illnesses. Mr. Obama has said it is ludicrous to suggest that “we want to set up death panels to pull the plug on Grandma.”

White House officials said Congress could also drop proposals requiring the government to create school-based health clinics and collect nationwide data on health and health care by race, sex, sexual orientation and “gender identity.”

[. . .]

If Mr. Obama does not gain traction by making these concessions, his allies on Capitol Hill said, they may have to consider bigger changes. For example, they said, rather than requiring all Americans to carry health insurance, Congress might start by requiring coverage of children, or families with children.

While such a change would deeply disappoint many of Mr. Obama’s supporters, it could have two potential political benefits, reducing the initial cost of any bill and reducing the size of cuts needed in the future growth of Medicare.

You can hear Paul Krugman howling already. But what is evident here is that there isn’t any great health-care crisis that needs solving. Some expanded coverage here, some insurance regulations there. And the president gets out of a jam. Right now, the only crisis is Obama’s political nosedive — and it remains an open question whether liberals disappointed by his failure to deliver on their dream of nationalized health care will help him out of his jam. And Republicans now smell blood in the political water. Maybe he should have been nicer to them (remember the days of “I won”?) back when he was a “sort of God.”

This is desperation time. The president’s signature agenda item, nationalized health care, is going down the tubes, and his own standing with the public is crumbling. So he’s going to give a speech on health care and be more specific, but not too specific. He’s signaling that the public option isn’t needed, but he’s not going to tell us he’s given up on it. Does this sound promising? This has all boiled down to a frantic effort to save Obama from political humiliation. As the New York Times reports:

“It’s so important to get a deal,” a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to be candid about strategy. “He will do almost anything it takes to get one.”

That cringe-inducing admission likely doesn’t warm the hearts of liberals who are convinced the president is on the verge of blowing their once-in-a-generation chance to get government-run health care. And what’s more, you get the sense that the White House is moving toward something that virtually no one will like:

So far, the administration’s ideas of concessions are likely to fall far short of the fundamental changes that Congressional Republicans seek.

For now, White House officials said, Mr. Obama remains committed to the goal of insuring all Americans and still prefers to foster competition for insurance companies by creating a new government insurance program, or public option.

White House officials are combing the versions of health care legislation approved by four of the five Congressional committees with jurisdiction on the issue, both to find common ground and to jettison provisions — some relatively minor — that have drawn fire from critics on the political right.

To avoid some of the most heated criticism voiced in recent weeks, White House officials said they would have no objection if Congress scrapped proposals to have Medicare pay for counseling on end-of-life care.

Critics said such counseling could lead to pressure on patients to forgo expensive treatments for terminal illnesses. Mr. Obama has said it is ludicrous to suggest that “we want to set up death panels to pull the plug on Grandma.”

White House officials said Congress could also drop proposals requiring the government to create school-based health clinics and collect nationwide data on health and health care by race, sex, sexual orientation and “gender identity.”

[. . .]

If Mr. Obama does not gain traction by making these concessions, his allies on Capitol Hill said, they may have to consider bigger changes. For example, they said, rather than requiring all Americans to carry health insurance, Congress might start by requiring coverage of children, or families with children.

While such a change would deeply disappoint many of Mr. Obama’s supporters, it could have two potential political benefits, reducing the initial cost of any bill and reducing the size of cuts needed in the future growth of Medicare.

You can hear Paul Krugman howling already. But what is evident here is that there isn’t any great health-care crisis that needs solving. Some expanded coverage here, some insurance regulations there. And the president gets out of a jam. Right now, the only crisis is Obama’s political nosedive — and it remains an open question whether liberals disappointed by his failure to deliver on their dream of nationalized health care will help him out of his jam. And Republicans now smell blood in the political water. Maybe he should have been nicer to them (remember the days of “I won”?) back when he was a “sort of God.”

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Is the Washington Post “obsessive compulsive” on the subject of old college papers? Well, only for Virginia Republicans.

So far, despite the Post‘s best efforts, Bob McDonnell still leads by 9 points, and 49 percent of Virginia voters think college term papers aren’t important in the election.

The White House backs off the creepy schoolchildren-enlistment gambit: “The Obama administration late Wednesday withdrew a recommendation that school children who watch a video featuring President Obama next week write about how they might ‘help the president’ as part of a classroom assignment. The decision came after conservative critics attacked the plan by federal education officials that teachers supplement the speech with a special curriculum that was designed in concert with the White House.”

Mark Hemingway on Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s health-care town hall: “This was the Westminster Kennel Club of partisan dog and pony shows, and the crowd was having none of it.”

Curt Schilling for Senate to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat? Couldn’t do worse than any politician with an “R” after his name.

Karl Rove on Obama’s travails: “Presidents always encounter rough patches. What is unusual is how soon Mr. Obama has hit his. He has used up almost all his goodwill in less than nine months, with the hardest work still ahead. At the year’s start, Democrats were cocky. At summer’s end, concern is giving way to despair. A perfect political storm is amassing, and heading straight for Democrats.”

Obama is going to give a really, really important speech on health care. Because we haven’t heard enough from him on the subject?

Good to know what a “Burkean” like David Brooks thinks: “Some Republicans say the Democratic bills would create death panels. I wish. I’m pro-death panel. We spend so much money on end of life care we have to have some way of talking about it.” You can see why he and Obama get along so famously.

The president hasn’t spent much time or given a major address on Afghanistan. It’s time for him to step up to the plate, the Wall Street Journals editors suggest, “President Obama may not want to spend any political capital on Afghanistan, but he has no choice. The main job of his generals should be to win the war, not also to have to sell it, especially when the main opposition so far is emerging from the President’s own left-flank. The opposition will also grow on the right if Americans conclude he isn’t providing the forces or personal leadership needed to win. Now is the time for Mr. Obama to give his generals everything they need to defeat the Taliban, or leave and explain why he’s concluded that Afghanistan is no longer worth the fight.”

Obama’s poll numbers on foreign policy tumble. Maybe voters want a war against terrorists instead of against the CIA.

David Broder, Dick Cheney, and I all agree: Eric Holder’s naming of a special prosecutor to reinvestigate CIA agents was a very bad idea.

Alberto Gonzales can’t figure out what’s wrong with Holder’s decision. Sigh. Gonzales didn’t let on that career prosecutors during his tenure investigated the allegations against CIA operatives and declined to prosecute. Did he forget? Well, details (and for that matter, legal analysis) were never his strong suit.

Is the Washington Post “obsessive compulsive” on the subject of old college papers? Well, only for Virginia Republicans.

So far, despite the Post‘s best efforts, Bob McDonnell still leads by 9 points, and 49 percent of Virginia voters think college term papers aren’t important in the election.

The White House backs off the creepy schoolchildren-enlistment gambit: “The Obama administration late Wednesday withdrew a recommendation that school children who watch a video featuring President Obama next week write about how they might ‘help the president’ as part of a classroom assignment. The decision came after conservative critics attacked the plan by federal education officials that teachers supplement the speech with a special curriculum that was designed in concert with the White House.”

Mark Hemingway on Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s health-care town hall: “This was the Westminster Kennel Club of partisan dog and pony shows, and the crowd was having none of it.”

Curt Schilling for Senate to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat? Couldn’t do worse than any politician with an “R” after his name.

Karl Rove on Obama’s travails: “Presidents always encounter rough patches. What is unusual is how soon Mr. Obama has hit his. He has used up almost all his goodwill in less than nine months, with the hardest work still ahead. At the year’s start, Democrats were cocky. At summer’s end, concern is giving way to despair. A perfect political storm is amassing, and heading straight for Democrats.”

Obama is going to give a really, really important speech on health care. Because we haven’t heard enough from him on the subject?

Good to know what a “Burkean” like David Brooks thinks: “Some Republicans say the Democratic bills would create death panels. I wish. I’m pro-death panel. We spend so much money on end of life care we have to have some way of talking about it.” You can see why he and Obama get along so famously.

The president hasn’t spent much time or given a major address on Afghanistan. It’s time for him to step up to the plate, the Wall Street Journals editors suggest, “President Obama may not want to spend any political capital on Afghanistan, but he has no choice. The main job of his generals should be to win the war, not also to have to sell it, especially when the main opposition so far is emerging from the President’s own left-flank. The opposition will also grow on the right if Americans conclude he isn’t providing the forces or personal leadership needed to win. Now is the time for Mr. Obama to give his generals everything they need to defeat the Taliban, or leave and explain why he’s concluded that Afghanistan is no longer worth the fight.”

Obama’s poll numbers on foreign policy tumble. Maybe voters want a war against terrorists instead of against the CIA.

David Broder, Dick Cheney, and I all agree: Eric Holder’s naming of a special prosecutor to reinvestigate CIA agents was a very bad idea.

Alberto Gonzales can’t figure out what’s wrong with Holder’s decision. Sigh. Gonzales didn’t let on that career prosecutors during his tenure investigated the allegations against CIA operatives and declined to prosecute. Did he forget? Well, details (and for that matter, legal analysis) were never his strong suit.

Read Less




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