Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 16, 2009

De-Objectified

“On its face,” writes Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic’s Politics blog, “the National Intelligence Strategy document released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence [on September 15] seems like a pro-forma exercise in accounting. . . . But in the hands of Adm. Dennis Blair, it is a document about priorities and about competing values.”

Indeed. The new National Intelligence Strategy (NIS), a document required quadrennially by the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004, is unquestionably a document about priorities—and probably about competing values as well. Ambinder, however, misses the most informative lens through which to discern the priorities showcased in the new NIS. Other commentators miss it too, focusing their analyses primarily on the NIS’s identification of Russia and China as nation-state challengers of American interests, along with Iran and North Korea. But the new NIS is best approached from the perspective of the previous NIS, published in 2005.

From this perspective, the updated boilerplate on the organization of the intelligence community is not nearly as significant as the change in how priorities in national security are framed. These priorities are captured in each document in a list of “Mission Objectives” for the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC), which derive from the sitting president’s National Security Strategy (Obama’s is not yet published). The lists merit reproduction here. The 2005 list reads:

1. Defeat terrorists at home and abroad by disarming their operational capabilities and seizing the initiative from them by promoting the growth of freedom and democracy.

2. Prevent and counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

3. Bolster the growth of democracy and sustain peaceful democratic states.

4. Develop innovative ways to penetrate and analyze the most difficult targets.

5. Anticipate developments of strategic concern and identify opportunities as well as vulnerabilities for decision-makers.

Contrast this with the Mission Objectives from the 2009 list:

1. Combat Violent Extremism—Understand, monitor, and disrupt violent extremist groups that actively plot to inflict grave damage or harm to the United States, its people, interests, and allies.

2. Counter WMD Proliferation—Counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery by state and non-state actors.

3. Provide Strategic Intelligence and Warning—Warn of strategic trends and events so that policy-makers, military officials, and civil authorities can effectively deter, prevent, or respond to threats and take advantage of opportunities.

4. Integrate Counterintelligence—Provide a counterintelligence capability that is integrated with all aspects of the intelligence process to inform policy and operations.

5. Enhance Cybersecurity—Understand, detect, and counter adversary cyber threats to enable protection of the Nation’s information infrastructure.

6. Support Current Operations—Support ongoing diplomatic, military, and law enforcement operations, especially counterinsurgency; security, stabilization, transition, and reconstruction; international counternarcotics; and border security.

Conspicuously absent from the 2009 Mission Objectives is bolstering the growth of freedom and democracy and sustaining peaceful democratic states, either as a separate objective or as a means of defeating terrorists. Also absent, of course, is the expression “Defeat terrorists,” for which “Combat violent extremism” is substituted. The verb “prevent” is gone from the objective regarding WMD proliferation, leaving only “counter.” The impression is inescapable that no decisive “end-state” is implied in these objectives, only an ongoing struggle, from which a vision for the growth of democracy—and perhaps even for the sustainment of peaceful democratic states—has been excised.

These changes did not occur randomly or without forethought. An NIS, by law, draws its mission statement for the USIC from the basic national-security objectives stated by the president. We can expect Obama’s new National Security Strategy (a document prescribed by the National Security Act of 1947 and updated by most presidents in their first year of office) to contain nearly the same objectives outlined in the new NIS. If the USIC does not anticipate having to support bolstering or promoting the growth of democracy, defeating terrorism, and preventing the proliferation of WMD, it is because the president and his most senior national-security advisers are not assigning those objectives.

“On its face,” writes Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic’s Politics blog, “the National Intelligence Strategy document released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence [on September 15] seems like a pro-forma exercise in accounting. . . . But in the hands of Adm. Dennis Blair, it is a document about priorities and about competing values.”

Indeed. The new National Intelligence Strategy (NIS), a document required quadrennially by the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004, is unquestionably a document about priorities—and probably about competing values as well. Ambinder, however, misses the most informative lens through which to discern the priorities showcased in the new NIS. Other commentators miss it too, focusing their analyses primarily on the NIS’s identification of Russia and China as nation-state challengers of American interests, along with Iran and North Korea. But the new NIS is best approached from the perspective of the previous NIS, published in 2005.

From this perspective, the updated boilerplate on the organization of the intelligence community is not nearly as significant as the change in how priorities in national security are framed. These priorities are captured in each document in a list of “Mission Objectives” for the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC), which derive from the sitting president’s National Security Strategy (Obama’s is not yet published). The lists merit reproduction here. The 2005 list reads:

1. Defeat terrorists at home and abroad by disarming their operational capabilities and seizing the initiative from them by promoting the growth of freedom and democracy.

2. Prevent and counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

3. Bolster the growth of democracy and sustain peaceful democratic states.

4. Develop innovative ways to penetrate and analyze the most difficult targets.

5. Anticipate developments of strategic concern and identify opportunities as well as vulnerabilities for decision-makers.

Contrast this with the Mission Objectives from the 2009 list:

1. Combat Violent Extremism—Understand, monitor, and disrupt violent extremist groups that actively plot to inflict grave damage or harm to the United States, its people, interests, and allies.

2. Counter WMD Proliferation—Counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery by state and non-state actors.

3. Provide Strategic Intelligence and Warning—Warn of strategic trends and events so that policy-makers, military officials, and civil authorities can effectively deter, prevent, or respond to threats and take advantage of opportunities.

4. Integrate Counterintelligence—Provide a counterintelligence capability that is integrated with all aspects of the intelligence process to inform policy and operations.

5. Enhance Cybersecurity—Understand, detect, and counter adversary cyber threats to enable protection of the Nation’s information infrastructure.

6. Support Current Operations—Support ongoing diplomatic, military, and law enforcement operations, especially counterinsurgency; security, stabilization, transition, and reconstruction; international counternarcotics; and border security.

Conspicuously absent from the 2009 Mission Objectives is bolstering the growth of freedom and democracy and sustaining peaceful democratic states, either as a separate objective or as a means of defeating terrorists. Also absent, of course, is the expression “Defeat terrorists,” for which “Combat violent extremism” is substituted. The verb “prevent” is gone from the objective regarding WMD proliferation, leaving only “counter.” The impression is inescapable that no decisive “end-state” is implied in these objectives, only an ongoing struggle, from which a vision for the growth of democracy—and perhaps even for the sustainment of peaceful democratic states—has been excised.

These changes did not occur randomly or without forethought. An NIS, by law, draws its mission statement for the USIC from the basic national-security objectives stated by the president. We can expect Obama’s new National Security Strategy (a document prescribed by the National Security Act of 1947 and updated by most presidents in their first year of office) to contain nearly the same objectives outlined in the new NIS. If the USIC does not anticipate having to support bolstering or promoting the growth of democracy, defeating terrorism, and preventing the proliferation of WMD, it is because the president and his most senior national-security advisers are not assigning those objectives.

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Afghanistan: The Metrics of Success

A copy of what purports to be the Obama administration’s draft metrics for Afghanistan has leaked out. Assuming this is accurate and final, it is far too complicated and also largely irrelevant. The proposed metrics recalls the “benchmarks” Congress mandated for Iraq. There were 18 of them, and most dealt with the passage of legislation that may or may not have contributed to the suppression of terrorism, whereas measures that in fact had a lot do with defeating the terrorists (e.g., the creation of the Sons of Iraq from among former anti-regime elements) were omitted.

The Obama administration’s memo on Afghanistan lists seven objectives and no fewer than 46 metrics. Whew! The most germane is Objective 3a: “Defeat the extremist insurgency, secure the Afghan populace, and develop increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces that can lead the counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism fight with reduced U.S. assistance.” This comes with 14 metrics of its own, of which the most important are Nos. 2 (“Level of insurgent-related violence”), 3 (“Public perceptions of security”), and 4 (“Percent of population living in districts/areas under insurgent control”). Why the other “metrics” are necessary is a mystery, since most of them are inputs (e.g., the “effectiveness” of Afghan-NATO counterinsurgency operations or the ability of the Afghans “to assume lead security responsibility”) that are meaningless if they don’t contribute to the bottom line: less violence and less insurgent control.

The point of Objectives 2C and 3C (“Involve the international community more actively to forge an international consensus to stabilize Pakistan … [and] Afghanistan”) escapes me entirely. Again, this is measuring inputs, not outputs. Involving the “international community” can be important or not; results are what counts. The Bush administration did a great job of involving our allies in Afghanistan; it actually turned over the whole war to NATO. The result was a disaster. The Obama administration implicitly recognizes that fact, because it is Americanizing the war effort, but it seems to be repeating a mistake made during the Iraq war, that of promulgating overly complicated and not terribly meaningful metrics to capture what is admittedly hard to quantify—success or failure in a counterinsurgency.

The good news is that success in war is a lot like pornography—you know it when you see it. The irrelevance of the congressional benchmarks in Iraq did not prevent the public from realizing that the surge was succeeding. Likewise, these metrics will not detract from an understanding of the underlying dynamics in Afghanistan. If Americans (and others) see violence decreasing and the Taliban on the run, they will know the war is a success. If not, then the war will be a judged a failure. That’s what counts. Everything else is a waste of staff time.

At least the metrics imply that the Obama administration will make a serious and sustained commitment to defeat the Taliban and support the government of Afghanistan so that it can eventually police its own territory. The administration should get on with providing the resources necessary for the job rather than worrying about how to measure various aspects of the process.

A copy of what purports to be the Obama administration’s draft metrics for Afghanistan has leaked out. Assuming this is accurate and final, it is far too complicated and also largely irrelevant. The proposed metrics recalls the “benchmarks” Congress mandated for Iraq. There were 18 of them, and most dealt with the passage of legislation that may or may not have contributed to the suppression of terrorism, whereas measures that in fact had a lot do with defeating the terrorists (e.g., the creation of the Sons of Iraq from among former anti-regime elements) were omitted.

The Obama administration’s memo on Afghanistan lists seven objectives and no fewer than 46 metrics. Whew! The most germane is Objective 3a: “Defeat the extremist insurgency, secure the Afghan populace, and develop increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces that can lead the counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism fight with reduced U.S. assistance.” This comes with 14 metrics of its own, of which the most important are Nos. 2 (“Level of insurgent-related violence”), 3 (“Public perceptions of security”), and 4 (“Percent of population living in districts/areas under insurgent control”). Why the other “metrics” are necessary is a mystery, since most of them are inputs (e.g., the “effectiveness” of Afghan-NATO counterinsurgency operations or the ability of the Afghans “to assume lead security responsibility”) that are meaningless if they don’t contribute to the bottom line: less violence and less insurgent control.

The point of Objectives 2C and 3C (“Involve the international community more actively to forge an international consensus to stabilize Pakistan … [and] Afghanistan”) escapes me entirely. Again, this is measuring inputs, not outputs. Involving the “international community” can be important or not; results are what counts. The Bush administration did a great job of involving our allies in Afghanistan; it actually turned over the whole war to NATO. The result was a disaster. The Obama administration implicitly recognizes that fact, because it is Americanizing the war effort, but it seems to be repeating a mistake made during the Iraq war, that of promulgating overly complicated and not terribly meaningful metrics to capture what is admittedly hard to quantify—success or failure in a counterinsurgency.

The good news is that success in war is a lot like pornography—you know it when you see it. The irrelevance of the congressional benchmarks in Iraq did not prevent the public from realizing that the surge was succeeding. Likewise, these metrics will not detract from an understanding of the underlying dynamics in Afghanistan. If Americans (and others) see violence decreasing and the Taliban on the run, they will know the war is a success. If not, then the war will be a judged a failure. That’s what counts. Everything else is a waste of staff time.

At least the metrics imply that the Obama administration will make a serious and sustained commitment to defeat the Taliban and support the government of Afghanistan so that it can eventually police its own territory. The administration should get on with providing the resources necessary for the job rather than worrying about how to measure various aspects of the process.

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Breaking the Law to “Engage” Iran

Liberals spent most of the past decade decrying what they never tired of describing as the “lawlessness” of the Bush administration. But today’s New York Times brings to its readers’ attention the fact that Obama’s team is just as willing to disregard legalities. But whereas Bush’s people showed a willingness to bend the rules to fight a war against Islamist terrorists, Obama’s minions will do the same in their quest to appease Islamists.

In this case, the Justice Department “has declared that President Obama can disregard a law forbidding State Department officials from attending United Nations meetings led by representatives of nations considered to be sponsors of terrorism.” Thus, rather than obeying laws passed by Congress to quarantine a nation like Iran, which ranks very high on that list of state sponsors of terror, Obama has sent State Department officials to take part in UN meetings chaired by Iran.

As the Times reports when it notes that the decision has gotten very little attention, “assertions by the Justice Department that certain laws cannot bind the president have drawn far more attention since the Bush administration, when the Office of Legal Counsel wrote secret opinions authorizing the bypassing of statutes and treaties governing surveillance and the treatment of detainees.”

Predictably, there isn’t much outrage from the same people who are ready to disbar or jail Bush staffers who issued rulings they didn’t like. To her credit, Democrat Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees the financing of the State Department, objected to the administration’s caprice. “This provision is law for a very good reason,” Ms. Lowey said. “There are consequences for being a state sponsor of terrorism. The decision of both the previous and current administrations to disregard this law is unacceptable.” On the other hand, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, was only peeved that he wasn’t informed about it before the rules were broken.

Don’t expect many of those who are ready to hang anyone who worked for Bush on any technicality they can find to express much anger over legalisms conjured up to advance the cause of appeasement. As the Times notes, “the new memorandum demonstrated that the Bush legal team’s approach was not as aberrational from other administrations as some critics contended.”

Liberals spent most of the past decade decrying what they never tired of describing as the “lawlessness” of the Bush administration. But today’s New York Times brings to its readers’ attention the fact that Obama’s team is just as willing to disregard legalities. But whereas Bush’s people showed a willingness to bend the rules to fight a war against Islamist terrorists, Obama’s minions will do the same in their quest to appease Islamists.

In this case, the Justice Department “has declared that President Obama can disregard a law forbidding State Department officials from attending United Nations meetings led by representatives of nations considered to be sponsors of terrorism.” Thus, rather than obeying laws passed by Congress to quarantine a nation like Iran, which ranks very high on that list of state sponsors of terror, Obama has sent State Department officials to take part in UN meetings chaired by Iran.

As the Times reports when it notes that the decision has gotten very little attention, “assertions by the Justice Department that certain laws cannot bind the president have drawn far more attention since the Bush administration, when the Office of Legal Counsel wrote secret opinions authorizing the bypassing of statutes and treaties governing surveillance and the treatment of detainees.”

Predictably, there isn’t much outrage from the same people who are ready to disbar or jail Bush staffers who issued rulings they didn’t like. To her credit, Democrat Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees the financing of the State Department, objected to the administration’s caprice. “This provision is law for a very good reason,” Ms. Lowey said. “There are consequences for being a state sponsor of terrorism. The decision of both the previous and current administrations to disregard this law is unacceptable.” On the other hand, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, was only peeved that he wasn’t informed about it before the rules were broken.

Don’t expect many of those who are ready to hang anyone who worked for Bush on any technicality they can find to express much anger over legalisms conjured up to advance the cause of appeasement. As the Times notes, “the new memorandum demonstrated that the Bush legal team’s approach was not as aberrational from other administrations as some critics contended.”

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The Goldstone Report

After reading the Goldstone Report on human-rights abuses committed during the Gaza War (December 27, 2008–January 19, 2009), all I can say is, it’s a good thing that the United Nations wasn’t around during World War II. I can just imagine its producing a supposedly evenhanded report that condemned the Nazis for “grave” abuses such as incinerating Jews, while also condemning the Allies for their equally “grave” abuses such as fire-bombing German and Japanese cities. The recommendation, no doubt, would have been that both sides be tried for war crimes, with Adolf Hitler in the dock alongside Franklin Roosevelt. Actually, that may be giving the UN more credit than it deserves. To judge by the evidence before us, the likelihood is that the UN in those days would have devoted far more space to Allied “abuses” than to those of the Axis and would have recommended that FDR stand alone before the world court.

The nods toward Palestinian culpability in the report issued by the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which was headed by the former South African judge Richard Goldstone, are pretty perfunctory. Yes, the report notes that “the rockets and, to a lesser extent, mortars, fired by the Palestinian armed groups . . . constitute indiscriminate attacks upon the civilian population of southern Israel” and amount to “war crimes” and possibly “crimes against humanity.” But far more space in this 575-page document is devoted to Israel’s sins, real or imagined—even if their relationship to the conflict in question is tangential at best.

Readers of the report may be surprised to learn, for example, that “individuals and groups, viewed as sources of criticism of Israel’s military operations were subjected to repression or attempted repression by the Government of Israel.” Repression? What repression? I thought Israel was one of the freest countries in the world and by far the freest in the region. But the UN, in its wisdom, finds:

Amidst a high level of support for the Israeli military operations in Gaza from the Israeli Jewish population, there were also widespread protests against the military operations inside Israel. Hundreds of thousands — mainly, but not exclusively, Palestinian citizens of Israel — protested. While in the main, the protests were permitted to take place, there were occasions when, reportedly, protesters had difficulty in obtaining permits — particularly in areas populated mainly by Palestinian Israelis. 715 people in Israel and in occupied East Jerusalem were arrested during the protests. Read More

After reading the Goldstone Report on human-rights abuses committed during the Gaza War (December 27, 2008–January 19, 2009), all I can say is, it’s a good thing that the United Nations wasn’t around during World War II. I can just imagine its producing a supposedly evenhanded report that condemned the Nazis for “grave” abuses such as incinerating Jews, while also condemning the Allies for their equally “grave” abuses such as fire-bombing German and Japanese cities. The recommendation, no doubt, would have been that both sides be tried for war crimes, with Adolf Hitler in the dock alongside Franklin Roosevelt. Actually, that may be giving the UN more credit than it deserves. To judge by the evidence before us, the likelihood is that the UN in those days would have devoted far more space to Allied “abuses” than to those of the Axis and would have recommended that FDR stand alone before the world court.

The nods toward Palestinian culpability in the report issued by the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which was headed by the former South African judge Richard Goldstone, are pretty perfunctory. Yes, the report notes that “the rockets and, to a lesser extent, mortars, fired by the Palestinian armed groups . . . constitute indiscriminate attacks upon the civilian population of southern Israel” and amount to “war crimes” and possibly “crimes against humanity.” But far more space in this 575-page document is devoted to Israel’s sins, real or imagined—even if their relationship to the conflict in question is tangential at best.

Readers of the report may be surprised to learn, for example, that “individuals and groups, viewed as sources of criticism of Israel’s military operations were subjected to repression or attempted repression by the Government of Israel.” Repression? What repression? I thought Israel was one of the freest countries in the world and by far the freest in the region. But the UN, in its wisdom, finds:

Amidst a high level of support for the Israeli military operations in Gaza from the Israeli Jewish population, there were also widespread protests against the military operations inside Israel. Hundreds of thousands — mainly, but not exclusively, Palestinian citizens of Israel — protested. While in the main, the protests were permitted to take place, there were occasions when, reportedly, protesters had difficulty in obtaining permits — particularly in areas populated mainly by Palestinian Israelis. 715 people in Israel and in occupied East Jerusalem were arrested during the protests.

So reported difficulties in obtaining protest permits and the arrests of unruly demonstrators (which must remain unverified, since the UN bureaucrats were denied permission to visit Israel and the West Bank) constitute crimes under international law? Pretty rich coming from a UN Human Rights Commission whose members include states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where protesters face consequences somewhat more severe than delays in being granted a permit.

The report also goes out of its way to attack Israel for its detention policies:

It is estimated that since the beginning of the occupation [presumably 1967], approximately 700,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been detained by Israel. According to estimates, as at 1st June 2009, there were approximately 8,100 Palestinian “political prisoners” in detention in Israel, including 60 women and 390 children. Most of these detainees are charged or convicted by the Israeli Military Court System that operates for Palestinians in the West Bank and under which due process rights for Palestinians are severely limited. Many are held in administrative detention, and some under the Israeli “Unlawful Combatants Law.”

This makes it sound as if Israel imprisons people for voicing dissenting viewpoints. But Israel isn’t Egypt or Saudi Arabia. All its prisoners are behind bars because they are suspected of involvement in terrorism. In fact, left-wing Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs are free to subject their government to nonstop vituperation—and many take ample advantage of the opportunity.

The report also takes a swipe at Israeli restrictions on movement in the West Bank without any acknowledgment that this is done solely to prevent terrorism in Israel or any suggestion that this is related to the Gaza War. Israel is even castigated for “policies on the right to enter from abroad and the right of return for refugees,” meaning that the UN (or at least its Human Rights Commission) has endorsed the Palestinian bargaining position of the supposed “right to return,” which really amounts to the destruction of Israel by demographic means. But such pervasive anti-Israeli bias should not be surprising coming from a fact-finding mission that misses the elementary fact that the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip ended in 2005; the report still refers to Gaza as “Israeli occupied territory.”

The report’s findings on the actual Gaza conflict are no more convincing. It amounts to one-sided, after-the-fact second-guessing of difficult targeting decisions made in the heat of battle by Israeli soldiers. Goldstone & Co. are exercised about, inter alia,

the Israeli strikes against the Palestinian Legislative Council and the Gaza main prison. Both buildings were destroyed to an extent that puts them out of use. Statements by Israeli Government and armed forces representatives justified the attacks arguing that political and administrative institutions in Gaza are part of the “Hamas terrorist infrastructure.” The Mission rejects this position. It finds that there is no evidence that the Legislative Council building and the Gaza main prison made an effective contribution to military action. On the information available to it, the Mission finds that the attacks on these buildings constituted deliberate attacks on civilian objects in violation of the rule of customary international humanitarian law whereby attacks must be strictly limited to military objectives.

Presumably during World War II, Goldstone would have found that Allied attacks on the Reichstag were also in violation of “humanitarian law” because that building also was primarily civilian in orientation.

The UN goes so far as to excoriate Israeli attacks on Gaza police who are Hamas enforcers:

The Mission accepts that there may be individual members of the Gaza police that were at the same time members of Palestinian armed groups and thus combatants. It concludes, however, that the attacks against the police facilities on the first day of the armed operations failed to strike an acceptable balance between the direct military advantage anticipated (i.e., the killing of those policemen who may have been members of Palestinian armed groups) and the loss of civilian life (i.e., the other policemen killed and members of the public who would inevitably have been present or in the vicinity), and therefore violated international humanitarian law.

There is no indication of how Israeli military commanders were to strike the balance demanded by the UN: to defend southern Israel from Palestinian rocket attacks while at the same time not inflicting any damage on any Palestinian person or building that was designated as “civilian.” That task is hard enough to accomplish in a war against a conventional combatant whose forces operate openly in uniforms; it is impossible to achieve against a terrorist group whose members deliberately do not wear uniforms (in violation of the laws of war!) in order to blend in with the civilian population.

There is no reason to be surprised that the United Nations—long infamous for its now revoked “Zionism as racism” resolution—should be behind such a risible series of findings. But that makes it no less objectionable or worrisome insofar as Goldstone has suggested that he will push for International Criminal Court action in this matter. Israel’s President Shimon Peres—no hawk—has it right when he says that the Goldstone Report “makes a mockery of history” and “does not distinguish between the aggressor and the defender.”

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Nothing to Worry About

The Washington Post has finally discovered that there are a lot of czars in the Obama administration. This issue is characterized as worrisome to “conservative critics,” which is both accurate (liberals usually so fussy about executive power are mute) and an obvious journalistic ploy to convert a real, substantive story into a “those mean Republicans are grousing again” report. But the facts are startling:

Lists drawn up by conservative groups detail as many as 40 czars linked to Obama, although some of the positions existed before he took office, and some did win Senate approval. There’s “faith-based czar” Joshua DuBois, who heads the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, a post President George W. Bush created in 2001; “Afghanistan czar” Richard C. Holbrooke, appointed by Obama as special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan; “intelligence czar” Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, an office created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; “Mideast peace czar” George J. Mitchell; and “border czar” Alan Bersin, an assistant secretary of homeland security charged with improving security along the southern border.

Some of the czars are guiding the president on central policy issues. Carol M. Browner serves as Obama’s assistant for energy and climate change; Paul A. Volcker chairs the president’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board; and Nancy-Ann DeParle heads the White House Office of Health Reform.

Critics of the proliferation of czars say the White House uses the appointments to circumvent the normal vetting process required for Senate confirmation and to avoid congressional oversight. They mobilized recently with the resignation of Van Jones, an adviser to the White House Council on Environmental Quality who was known as the “green jobs czar.” Jones had avoided the kind of vetting to which Cabinet officials are subjected; his past affiliations and comments were later unearthed by a conservative commentator.

Notice that the lists were drawn up by conservative groups—because the mainstream media have ignored the phenomenon and can’t be bothered to do the legwork. The only member of Congress who has a problem with marginalizing his branch of government appears to be Sen. Robert Byrd:

On the Democratic side, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.) wrote to Obama in February asserting that “White House staff have taken direction and control of programmatic areas that are the statutory responsibility of Senate-confirmed officials” and criticizing their “rapid and easy accumulation of power.”

That’s it. No Russ Feingold meltdown about “shredding the Constitution” and no Pat Leahy hearings on the imperial executive branch. After all, the Post has told us it’s all a conservative political attack.

The Washington Post has finally discovered that there are a lot of czars in the Obama administration. This issue is characterized as worrisome to “conservative critics,” which is both accurate (liberals usually so fussy about executive power are mute) and an obvious journalistic ploy to convert a real, substantive story into a “those mean Republicans are grousing again” report. But the facts are startling:

Lists drawn up by conservative groups detail as many as 40 czars linked to Obama, although some of the positions existed before he took office, and some did win Senate approval. There’s “faith-based czar” Joshua DuBois, who heads the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, a post President George W. Bush created in 2001; “Afghanistan czar” Richard C. Holbrooke, appointed by Obama as special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan; “intelligence czar” Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, an office created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; “Mideast peace czar” George J. Mitchell; and “border czar” Alan Bersin, an assistant secretary of homeland security charged with improving security along the southern border.

Some of the czars are guiding the president on central policy issues. Carol M. Browner serves as Obama’s assistant for energy and climate change; Paul A. Volcker chairs the president’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board; and Nancy-Ann DeParle heads the White House Office of Health Reform.

Critics of the proliferation of czars say the White House uses the appointments to circumvent the normal vetting process required for Senate confirmation and to avoid congressional oversight. They mobilized recently with the resignation of Van Jones, an adviser to the White House Council on Environmental Quality who was known as the “green jobs czar.” Jones had avoided the kind of vetting to which Cabinet officials are subjected; his past affiliations and comments were later unearthed by a conservative commentator.

Notice that the lists were drawn up by conservative groups—because the mainstream media have ignored the phenomenon and can’t be bothered to do the legwork. The only member of Congress who has a problem with marginalizing his branch of government appears to be Sen. Robert Byrd:

On the Democratic side, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.) wrote to Obama in February asserting that “White House staff have taken direction and control of programmatic areas that are the statutory responsibility of Senate-confirmed officials” and criticizing their “rapid and easy accumulation of power.”

That’s it. No Russ Feingold meltdown about “shredding the Constitution” and no Pat Leahy hearings on the imperial executive branch. After all, the Post has told us it’s all a conservative political attack.

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Consensus at Last!

Sen. Max Baucus announced his health-care proposal and achieved what few expected—a broad coalition of Right, Left, and Center. Unfortunately, they all oppose the plan, which is a caricature of a compromise—namely, something everyone hates. It has no public option, at least not technically speaking (there are “co-ops”), so Sen. Jay Rockefeller, illustrative of the Left, has said he won’t vote for it. Conservatives from Sen. Lamar Alexander to Mitch McConnell have said no to the hodgepodge of tax hikes and mandates. Sen. Chuck Grassley says he won’t support it either. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) took to the floor to denounce the Medicare cuts, which as a Capitol Hill staffer points out violate the President’s  pledge that “your coverage won’t be affected.” Liberal senators and House members object to the skimpy subsidies, making the same point Ruth Marcus did (i.e., how is it “reform” to stick middle-class people with an obligation to buy insurance they can’t afford?).

And then there are the taxes.  A handy chart from Americans for Tax Reform explains the assortment of new taxes, fines, limits on health spending accounts—all imposed on people making less than $250,000, which candidate Obama assured us would never happen.

It seems that those arguing that Congress and the president should rip up all the health-care schemes floating around and start over with some targeted reforms will have some powerful ammunition. Full credit should go to Sen. Baucus, who has revealed just how unpalatable health-care “reform” can be.

Sen. Max Baucus announced his health-care proposal and achieved what few expected—a broad coalition of Right, Left, and Center. Unfortunately, they all oppose the plan, which is a caricature of a compromise—namely, something everyone hates. It has no public option, at least not technically speaking (there are “co-ops”), so Sen. Jay Rockefeller, illustrative of the Left, has said he won’t vote for it. Conservatives from Sen. Lamar Alexander to Mitch McConnell have said no to the hodgepodge of tax hikes and mandates. Sen. Chuck Grassley says he won’t support it either. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) took to the floor to denounce the Medicare cuts, which as a Capitol Hill staffer points out violate the President’s  pledge that “your coverage won’t be affected.” Liberal senators and House members object to the skimpy subsidies, making the same point Ruth Marcus did (i.e., how is it “reform” to stick middle-class people with an obligation to buy insurance they can’t afford?).

And then there are the taxes.  A handy chart from Americans for Tax Reform explains the assortment of new taxes, fines, limits on health spending accounts—all imposed on people making less than $250,000, which candidate Obama assured us would never happen.

It seems that those arguing that Congress and the president should rip up all the health-care schemes floating around and start over with some targeted reforms will have some powerful ammunition. Full credit should go to Sen. Baucus, who has revealed just how unpalatable health-care “reform” can be.

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The Two-Faced Media and the U.S. Presidency

According to media reports:

[Former President Jimmy] Carter made similar remarks [to what he said to NBC News] about an event at his presidential center in Atlanta, Georgia, The Associated Press reported Tuesday, pointing to some protesters who have compared Obama to a Nazi. “Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on health care,” the former president said at the Carter Center, according to AP. “It’s deeper than that.” He grouped [Representative Joe] Wilson’s shout of “You lie!” during Obama’s speech in that category, according to AP. “I think it’s based on racism. There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president,” he said. “The president is not only the head of government, he is the head of state. And no matter who he is or how much we disagree with his policies, the president should be treated with respect.”

Now isn’t that a high-minded idea, that no matter who he is or how much we disagree with his policies, the president should be treated with respect. I happen to agree with that sentiment—and so I wonder why Mr. Carter didn’t follow his own counsel when George W. Bush was president. For example, in a March 22, 2004, interview with Britain’s the Independent, headlined “Carter Savages Blair and Bush: ‘Their War was Based on Lies,’ ” our 39th president said that the war to liberate Iraq was based on “lies and misinterpretations from London to Washington.”

I am also delighted with the newfound interest in civility in public discourse by Democrats and many in the press—and especially the importance of showing respect and civility to our head of state. It was certainly missing during the Bush years. Let us count some of the ways. Read More

According to media reports:

[Former President Jimmy] Carter made similar remarks [to what he said to NBC News] about an event at his presidential center in Atlanta, Georgia, The Associated Press reported Tuesday, pointing to some protesters who have compared Obama to a Nazi. “Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on health care,” the former president said at the Carter Center, according to AP. “It’s deeper than that.” He grouped [Representative Joe] Wilson’s shout of “You lie!” during Obama’s speech in that category, according to AP. “I think it’s based on racism. There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president,” he said. “The president is not only the head of government, he is the head of state. And no matter who he is or how much we disagree with his policies, the president should be treated with respect.”

Now isn’t that a high-minded idea, that no matter who he is or how much we disagree with his policies, the president should be treated with respect. I happen to agree with that sentiment—and so I wonder why Mr. Carter didn’t follow his own counsel when George W. Bush was president. For example, in a March 22, 2004, interview with Britain’s the Independent, headlined “Carter Savages Blair and Bush: ‘Their War was Based on Lies,’ ” our 39th president said that the war to liberate Iraq was based on “lies and misinterpretations from London to Washington.”

I am also delighted with the newfound interest in civility in public discourse by Democrats and many in the press—and especially the importance of showing respect and civility to our head of state. It was certainly missing during the Bush years. Let us count some of the ways.

Former Vice President Al Gore charged that President Bush “has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon.” Mr. Gore also said that Bush had “betrayed this country,” and called him a “moral coward.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called President Bush a “loser” and a “liar” and said Bush had “betrayed the country.”

In his October 16, 2003, Senate floor speech condemning Bush’s decision to go to war with Iraq, Edward Kennedy—among the greatest and most influential senators in American history, as we have been repeatedly told over the past few weeks—said this about the president: “Week after week after week after week we were told lie after lie after lie after lie.”

A month earlier, Kennedy had made the accusation that the case for going to war in Iraq was a “fraud . . . made up in Texas ” because it was “good politically” for the GOP. He also claimed, again without a shred of evidence, that foreign leaders were being bribed by the Bush administration to send troops to Iraq. “My belief is this money [for the postwar reconstruction of Iraq] is being shuffled all around to these political leaders in all parts of the world, bribing them to send in troops,” according to Kennedy.

In December 2003, Senator John Kerry told a New Hampshire newspaper editorial board that Bush had “lied” about his reason for going to war in Iraq. This was a repeat of the charge he made three months earlier, when Kerry said the Bush administration had “lied to us.”

On July 19, 2004, former U.S. Senator Max Cleland said, “[We were] flat-out lied to. By the President, by the Vice President and by the Secretary of Defense. [Colin] Powell was set up, the Congress was set up, all on the false premises to go to war in Iraq. Now, why did Bush go to war in Iraq? Because he concluded that his daddy was a failed president and one of the ways he failed is that he did not take out Saddam Hussein.”

Then Democratic Senator Fritz Hollings charged that President Bush went to war in Iraq to win Jewish votes. “[Bush] came to office imbued with one thought—re-election,” Hollings said. “Bush felt tax cuts would hold his crowd together and spreading democracy in the Mideast to secure Israel would take the Jewish vote from the Democrats.”

On April 22, 2004, Representative Jim McDermott said about President Bush, “You were AWOL for a whole year.” On December 16, 2003, McDermott told a Seattle radio station that the U.S. military could have found Saddam Hussein “a long time ago if they wanted.” Asked if he thought the capture of Saddam was timed to help Bush, McDermott chuckled and said, “Yeah. Oh, yeah.” The Democratic congressman went on to say, “There’s too much by happenstance for it to be just a coincidental thing.”

On the December 1, 2003, edition of NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show, then presidential candidate (and later DNC chairman) Howard Dean was asked why Bush was “suppressing” a report on the attacks on 9/11. “I don’t know,” Dean said. “There are many theories about it. The most interesting theory that I’ve heard so far—which is nothing more than a theory, it can’t be proved—is that he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis.”

Former NAACP president and CEO Kweisi Mfume said Bush is “prepared to take us back to the days of Jim Crow segregation and dominance.”

There is much more on the record, but you get the point. There is a huge, glaring double standard that is at play here. It was open season on Bush when he was president—and the press uttered hardly a word of concern about incivility and, especially, about venomous charges directed against a sitting American president. Back then it was just the routine stuff of politics. And to the degree that anyone was responsible for the incivility, it was said to be Bush (who never, in my recollection, called his critics liars, as Obama has). Yet now that Barack Obama is in office, the press—many of whom have a deep, emotional attachment to Obama and his success—are outraged by incivility directed against a sitting American president.

Presidents should hardly be above criticism, and our public debate should be passionate, vigorous, rigorous, and engaged. It’s fine, and it can even be enlightening, to challenge the facts, interpretations, and premises of those with whom you disagree. But there are lines we ought not to cross, especially when it comes to the office of the presidency. It is an institution we Americans should treat with respect and not undermine. I believe that Representative Joe Wilson crossed that line and that what he did was wrong, and I’m glad he apologized. But many Democrats—far more prominent and influential than Joe Wilson—repeatedly crossed that line during the Bush years and went beyond what Wilson said, often in premeditated ways, and in almost every instance no apology was issued afterward. Yet the press did not much care about decorum during the pre-Obama presidency. It does now. I suspect most people understand why. For many, though certainly not all, journalists and commentators, it has little to do with the etiquette of democracy and a lot to do with political preferences and ideological predispositions. The fact that the media was so silent before makes their howls of protest now sound contrived. It is little wonder that the media as an institution is so deeply mistrusted.

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Explaining ObamaBush to the Base

In the October 8 issue of the New York Review of Books, Garry Wills explains how the Obama administration, in the area of national security, “quickly came to resemble Bush’s,” as the Obama people “grabbed at the powers, the secrecy, the unaccountability that had led Bush into such opprobrium.”

At his confirmation hearing to be head of the CIA, Leon Panetta said that “extraordinary rendition”—the practice of sending prisoners to foreign countries—was a tool he meant to retain. Obama’s nominee for solicitor general, Elena Kagan, told Congress that she agreed with John Yoo’s claim that a terrorist captured anywhere should be subject to “battlefield law.” On the first opportunity to abort trial proceedings by invoking “state secrets” . . . Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, did so. Obama refused to release photographs of “enhanced interrogation.” . . . Obama refused to release documents describing [CIA-destroyed] tapes.

Notwithstanding Obama’s adoption of the Bush national-security policies, Wills spares him the opprobrium relentlessly leveled against Bush. He advises the left-wing readership of the Review that perhaps turning things around is “a hard, perhaps impossible, task”—not because of Bush but because of the “lasting institutional security apparatus” assembled in the 1940s and 1950s, which created a “National Security State” that rendered the president a “self-entangling giant” bound by worldwide hordes of “agents, military personnel, and diplomatic instruments,” requiring the president to observe “all manner of commitments.”

[A president] becomes the prisoner of his own power. As President Truman could not not use the bomb, a modern president cannot not use the huge powers at his disposal. It has all been given him as the legacy of Bomb Power, the thing that makes him not only Commander in Chief but Leader of the Free World. He is a self-entangling giant.

. . . Any president, wanting leverage to accomplish his goals, must find it hard to give up the aura of war chief, the mystery and majesty that have accrued to him with control of the Bomb, the awesome proximity to the Football, to the Button.

Given Wills’s analysis, it seems almost unfair for Obama’s “base” to blame him for a situation that really results from things that happened before he was born. Nor can the base fairly criticize Obama if “any president” would find it hard to give up the “mystery and majesty” and is necessarily a “self-entangling giant” who is a “prisoner of his own power.”

There may be a certain lack of perspective in Wills’s analysis, of the sort that caused him last year to compare Obama’s campaign speech on Jeremiah Wright to Abraham Lincoln’s address at Cooper Union. But it is a shame the base did not have the benefit of Wills’s analysis back when George W. Bush was the self-entangled prisoner-giant with huge powers he simply could not not use. We might have been able to avoid that whole Bushitler thing.

In the October 8 issue of the New York Review of Books, Garry Wills explains how the Obama administration, in the area of national security, “quickly came to resemble Bush’s,” as the Obama people “grabbed at the powers, the secrecy, the unaccountability that had led Bush into such opprobrium.”

At his confirmation hearing to be head of the CIA, Leon Panetta said that “extraordinary rendition”—the practice of sending prisoners to foreign countries—was a tool he meant to retain. Obama’s nominee for solicitor general, Elena Kagan, told Congress that she agreed with John Yoo’s claim that a terrorist captured anywhere should be subject to “battlefield law.” On the first opportunity to abort trial proceedings by invoking “state secrets” . . . Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, did so. Obama refused to release photographs of “enhanced interrogation.” . . . Obama refused to release documents describing [CIA-destroyed] tapes.

Notwithstanding Obama’s adoption of the Bush national-security policies, Wills spares him the opprobrium relentlessly leveled against Bush. He advises the left-wing readership of the Review that perhaps turning things around is “a hard, perhaps impossible, task”—not because of Bush but because of the “lasting institutional security apparatus” assembled in the 1940s and 1950s, which created a “National Security State” that rendered the president a “self-entangling giant” bound by worldwide hordes of “agents, military personnel, and diplomatic instruments,” requiring the president to observe “all manner of commitments.”

[A president] becomes the prisoner of his own power. As President Truman could not not use the bomb, a modern president cannot not use the huge powers at his disposal. It has all been given him as the legacy of Bomb Power, the thing that makes him not only Commander in Chief but Leader of the Free World. He is a self-entangling giant.

. . . Any president, wanting leverage to accomplish his goals, must find it hard to give up the aura of war chief, the mystery and majesty that have accrued to him with control of the Bomb, the awesome proximity to the Football, to the Button.

Given Wills’s analysis, it seems almost unfair for Obama’s “base” to blame him for a situation that really results from things that happened before he was born. Nor can the base fairly criticize Obama if “any president” would find it hard to give up the “mystery and majesty” and is necessarily a “self-entangling giant” who is a “prisoner of his own power.”

There may be a certain lack of perspective in Wills’s analysis, of the sort that caused him last year to compare Obama’s campaign speech on Jeremiah Wright to Abraham Lincoln’s address at Cooper Union. But it is a shame the base did not have the benefit of Wills’s analysis back when George W. Bush was the self-entangled prisoner-giant with huge powers he simply could not not use. We might have been able to avoid that whole Bushitler thing.

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The Liberals’ Breakdown

According to Jimmy Carter’s libel against opponents of Barack Obama, “an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is black man.” This reminds us once again of what a pathetic and mean-spirited figure Mr. Carter has become. But it is also evidence of how unhinged and desperate many liberals and some within the Democratic party are becoming. The hatred and fury that consumed them during the Bush years is returning with a vengeance. It turns out that the cause of their derangement during the Bush years may not have been Bush after all; he may simply have been the object of their crazed attacks.

It’s fascinating to watch how furious liberals have become despite Obama’s being president and Democrats’ controlling the Senate and the House by wide margins. This period should be—they expected it to be—years of milk and honey for them. But events and reality have intervened. They see the Anointed One, Barack Obama—their “sort of God”—failing. He is not only a mere mortal but also a deeply flawed one.

They see support for Obama’s effort to nationalize our health-care system collapsing. They see the American people rising up against his brand of liberalism. They see Republicans with all the intensity on their side. They see GOP candidates leading in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races. They see the popularity of their majority leader, Harry Reid, cratering. They see the Republican party drawing almost even with Democrats on issues like health care—and surging ahead of Democrats on many other issues. They see a dangerous loss of support for Obama among independents and the elderly. They see, in short, what the respected political analyst Charlie Cook sees:

The president’s ratings plummet; his party loses its advantage on the generic congressional ballot test; the intensity of opposition-party voters skyrockets; his own party’s voters become complacent or even depressed; and independent voters move lopsidedly away. These were the early-warning signs of past wave elections. Seeing them now should terrify Democrats.

Many liberals simply cannot process this new data, this horrible turn of events. What we are seeing is the equivalent of a computer crash. As a result, they are returning to what has become for some liberals an emotional and psychological norm: anger and fury, overheated and reckless charges, bitterness and pettiness. It is embodied in people like Frank Rich and Keith Olbermann and Joe Klein, but some version of this affliction extends to many others.

We’re only eight months into the Age of Obama—the period in which he promised to unite our divided country, heal our wounds, and bind up our divisions—and Obama’s critics are now routinely labeled as unpatriotic, racists, liars, mobsters, evil mongers, practitioners of un-American tactics, and more. As Obama’s failures mount up, it will only get worse. The volume will only get louder. And the charges will only get more desperate and incendiary.

It will be an ugly and sad thing to witness. Nervous breakdowns often are.

According to Jimmy Carter’s libel against opponents of Barack Obama, “an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is black man.” This reminds us once again of what a pathetic and mean-spirited figure Mr. Carter has become. But it is also evidence of how unhinged and desperate many liberals and some within the Democratic party are becoming. The hatred and fury that consumed them during the Bush years is returning with a vengeance. It turns out that the cause of their derangement during the Bush years may not have been Bush after all; he may simply have been the object of their crazed attacks.

It’s fascinating to watch how furious liberals have become despite Obama’s being president and Democrats’ controlling the Senate and the House by wide margins. This period should be—they expected it to be—years of milk and honey for them. But events and reality have intervened. They see the Anointed One, Barack Obama—their “sort of God”—failing. He is not only a mere mortal but also a deeply flawed one.

They see support for Obama’s effort to nationalize our health-care system collapsing. They see the American people rising up against his brand of liberalism. They see Republicans with all the intensity on their side. They see GOP candidates leading in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races. They see the popularity of their majority leader, Harry Reid, cratering. They see the Republican party drawing almost even with Democrats on issues like health care—and surging ahead of Democrats on many other issues. They see a dangerous loss of support for Obama among independents and the elderly. They see, in short, what the respected political analyst Charlie Cook sees:

The president’s ratings plummet; his party loses its advantage on the generic congressional ballot test; the intensity of opposition-party voters skyrockets; his own party’s voters become complacent or even depressed; and independent voters move lopsidedly away. These were the early-warning signs of past wave elections. Seeing them now should terrify Democrats.

Many liberals simply cannot process this new data, this horrible turn of events. What we are seeing is the equivalent of a computer crash. As a result, they are returning to what has become for some liberals an emotional and psychological norm: anger and fury, overheated and reckless charges, bitterness and pettiness. It is embodied in people like Frank Rich and Keith Olbermann and Joe Klein, but some version of this affliction extends to many others.

We’re only eight months into the Age of Obama—the period in which he promised to unite our divided country, heal our wounds, and bind up our divisions—and Obama’s critics are now routinely labeled as unpatriotic, racists, liars, mobsters, evil mongers, practitioners of un-American tactics, and more. As Obama’s failures mount up, it will only get worse. The volume will only get louder. And the charges will only get more desperate and incendiary.

It will be an ugly and sad thing to witness. Nervous breakdowns often are.

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More!

Because Obama has been so scarce on TV, such a shrinking violet in the health-care debate, he’s going on five Sunday talk shows (did we know there were five?) and on David Letterman. Might he be risking, well, some overexposure? Former Mitt Romney communications chief Kevin Madden thinks so:

“I think the worry is it’s gone beyond overexposure and now we have what I would call the ‘Obama omnipresence.’ You almost can’t escape this president,” Madden said on ABC News’ “Top Line.” “It goes beyond just cable news and it goes into whether or not you’re flipping on ESPN and you’re seeing him talk about basketball or you turn on the Lifetime channel and you hear what Michelle Obama is wearing this week. And I think that begins to wear on a lot of people.”

Madden said the barrage of TV appearances may have the opposite effect of what he’s trying to achieve.

“The president keeps — he tries to hit reset with a big speech or an appearance on, you know, a major media outlet and that becomes one of these things where it starts to dilute the message,” Madden said. “And the message is that he just keeps carrying another message and that begins to hurt him, in my book.”

It might be different if the president were having some success. But there isn’t any evidence that the big speech before Congress was a game changer. One can almost hear the White House aides talking among themselves, “We just haven’t put him on enough!” That’s it: “More! More Obama!” There is a desperate quality to all this, or perhaps a signal that no one in the White House can quite fathom the notion that the country doesn’t care what Obama says. They don’t want government-run health care. And not even a People-magazine cover or an ESPN appearance will change their mind.

Because Obama has been so scarce on TV, such a shrinking violet in the health-care debate, he’s going on five Sunday talk shows (did we know there were five?) and on David Letterman. Might he be risking, well, some overexposure? Former Mitt Romney communications chief Kevin Madden thinks so:

“I think the worry is it’s gone beyond overexposure and now we have what I would call the ‘Obama omnipresence.’ You almost can’t escape this president,” Madden said on ABC News’ “Top Line.” “It goes beyond just cable news and it goes into whether or not you’re flipping on ESPN and you’re seeing him talk about basketball or you turn on the Lifetime channel and you hear what Michelle Obama is wearing this week. And I think that begins to wear on a lot of people.”

Madden said the barrage of TV appearances may have the opposite effect of what he’s trying to achieve.

“The president keeps — he tries to hit reset with a big speech or an appearance on, you know, a major media outlet and that becomes one of these things where it starts to dilute the message,” Madden said. “And the message is that he just keeps carrying another message and that begins to hurt him, in my book.”

It might be different if the president were having some success. But there isn’t any evidence that the big speech before Congress was a game changer. One can almost hear the White House aides talking among themselves, “We just haven’t put him on enough!” That’s it: “More! More Obama!” There is a desperate quality to all this, or perhaps a signal that no one in the White House can quite fathom the notion that the country doesn’t care what Obama says. They don’t want government-run health care. And not even a People-magazine cover or an ESPN appearance will change their mind.

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At It Again

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors gingerly call it an “invention,” but really—it’s a lie. The “it,” of course, is another made-up fact by Obama, who is becoming a font of misinformation and half-truths. The editors explain that Obama’s claim that individually purchased insurance is three times more expensive than employer coverage is false:

The Congressional Budget Office expects premiums for employer-sponsored coverage to cost about $5,000 for singles and $13,000 for families this year on average. “Premiums for policies purchased in the individual market,” adds CBO, “are much lower, about one-third lower for single coverage and half that level for family policies.”

Similarly, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality finds that the growth rate for premiums is also lower for individuals over employers. Mr. Obama’s health team surely knows this dynamic, given that the CBO report was issued under the auspices of Peter Orszag, now the White House budget director.

In other words, it’s not a little exaggeration; it’s a really big lie, one that tells voters the exact opposite of the truth. There is a reason for this: the Republicans’ reform plans (which Obama pretends don’t exist) want to promote individual insurance purchases and push costs even lower by opening up interstate sales. But if you’re unwilling to promote the shift from employer-based to individual-based insurance, you certainly want to make individually purchased insurance a nonstarter.

Moreover, as the editors point out, the current tax laws don’t provide the same tax treatment for individually purchased insurance:

Meanwhile, in the individual market, consumers pay with after-tax dollars because Democrats won’t allow individuals to have the same tax subsidy that employer policies receive. This tax differential is the core of “our inefficient and inequitable system of tax-advantaged, employer-based health insurance,” writes Jeffrey Flier, the dean of Harvard Medical School, in a new commentary in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

“While the federal tax code promotes overspending by making the majority unaware of the true cost of their insurance and care,” he writes, “the code is grossly unfair to the self-employed, small businesses, workers who stick with a bad job because they need the coverage, and workers who lose their jobs after getting sick. . . . How this developed and persisted despite its unfairness and maladaptive consequences is a powerful illustration of the law of unintended consequences and the fact that government can take six decades or more to fix its obvious mistakes.”

But Obama would rather not talk about all that. So instead, as he is now wont to do, he makes things up.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors gingerly call it an “invention,” but really—it’s a lie. The “it,” of course, is another made-up fact by Obama, who is becoming a font of misinformation and half-truths. The editors explain that Obama’s claim that individually purchased insurance is three times more expensive than employer coverage is false:

The Congressional Budget Office expects premiums for employer-sponsored coverage to cost about $5,000 for singles and $13,000 for families this year on average. “Premiums for policies purchased in the individual market,” adds CBO, “are much lower, about one-third lower for single coverage and half that level for family policies.”

Similarly, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality finds that the growth rate for premiums is also lower for individuals over employers. Mr. Obama’s health team surely knows this dynamic, given that the CBO report was issued under the auspices of Peter Orszag, now the White House budget director.

In other words, it’s not a little exaggeration; it’s a really big lie, one that tells voters the exact opposite of the truth. There is a reason for this: the Republicans’ reform plans (which Obama pretends don’t exist) want to promote individual insurance purchases and push costs even lower by opening up interstate sales. But if you’re unwilling to promote the shift from employer-based to individual-based insurance, you certainly want to make individually purchased insurance a nonstarter.

Moreover, as the editors point out, the current tax laws don’t provide the same tax treatment for individually purchased insurance:

Meanwhile, in the individual market, consumers pay with after-tax dollars because Democrats won’t allow individuals to have the same tax subsidy that employer policies receive. This tax differential is the core of “our inefficient and inequitable system of tax-advantaged, employer-based health insurance,” writes Jeffrey Flier, the dean of Harvard Medical School, in a new commentary in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

“While the federal tax code promotes overspending by making the majority unaware of the true cost of their insurance and care,” he writes, “the code is grossly unfair to the self-employed, small businesses, workers who stick with a bad job because they need the coverage, and workers who lose their jobs after getting sick. . . . How this developed and persisted despite its unfairness and maladaptive consequences is a powerful illustration of the law of unintended consequences and the fact that government can take six decades or more to fix its obvious mistakes.”

But Obama would rather not talk about all that. So instead, as he is now wont to do, he makes things up.

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Re: Well, at Least One Side Isn’t Serious

Benny Avni, writing in the New York Post, observes:

For months now, we’ve heard that fall would be the time to re-evaluate the diplomacy on Iran and perhaps finally confront the mullahs over their nuclear program. Now that fall is here, it turns out that President Obama doesn’t do confrontation in foreign policy.

Late last week, when the mullahs finally answered Obama’s repeated pleas to “engage,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs acknowledged that, as always, the response was a non-answer. “Iran’s proposals have, time and again, failed to live up to its international obligations,” he said.

Oh, never mind, the White House said shortly afterward: Let’s try anyway. So now talks with Iran are scheduled officially to begin Oct. 1. They’ll be based on Tehran’s “offer.”

As Avni points out, the Iranians ironically want to talk about global nuclear proliferation, not theirs.

Meanwhile, the “international community,” whose opinion Obama thinks so highly of, is being directed away from the enforcement of sanctions against Iran and toward this very same objective—global nonproliferation. We can see how this plays out:

In the past, the [UN security] council ordered Iran to suspend all its uranium-enrichment activity. Now the administration is signaling a willingness to drop that demand, complains former Israeli national-security adviser Giora Eiland. Instead, says Eiland, Team O plans to set up unspecified assurances that Iran’s enrichment would remain at the low levels required for a nonmilitary nuclear power, in hopes of preventing it from reaching the levels needed for the bomb.

Theoretically, Eiland says, it’s possible to establish conditions that would prevent Iran from obtaining weapons even if it enriches its own uranium. But for that to work, America must be tough in the negotiation process, insisting that those conditions would be accepted and enforced; Iran would resist.

“I don’t believe the US will be forceful enough,” Eiland told me. “Obama isn’t willing to risk a real crisis” that may lead to a breakdown in talks with Iran.

And that’s precisely what we have seen. Obama’s refusal to accept “no” has tipped his hand, which is to avoid at all costs a confrontation that might require American action. It is conflict avoidance in its most extreme form. Refuse to recognize and certainly never emphasize the other side’s objectionable behavior. Be determined to ignore what the other side says and attribute good motives or ambiguity when there is no evidence of either. Suggest that the danger is exaggerated, illusory, or at least not immediate. And then talk and talk and talk.

But this is not a bank-hostage situation in which as long as the robbers are talking, they aren’t shooting. Here the Iranians (aside from killing and abusing their own people) are diligently at work on a nuclear-weapons program. And then what? We’ll no doubt hear that this can be contained or deterred or that there remains doubt as to what capability the Iranians actually possess. You see, in for a penny, in for a pound when you’re playing the conflict-avoidance game. But it’s no game, and lacking an American administration willing to accept its obligations and responsibilities, the Israelis will, it seems, have to take matters into their own hands. Unlike Obama, the Israelis are well aware that conflict avoidance is a dangerous and unworkable self-delusion. It is, strictly speaking, reality avoidance. The resulting false sense of security is a luxury that Israel cannot afford.

Benny Avni, writing in the New York Post, observes:

For months now, we’ve heard that fall would be the time to re-evaluate the diplomacy on Iran and perhaps finally confront the mullahs over their nuclear program. Now that fall is here, it turns out that President Obama doesn’t do confrontation in foreign policy.

Late last week, when the mullahs finally answered Obama’s repeated pleas to “engage,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs acknowledged that, as always, the response was a non-answer. “Iran’s proposals have, time and again, failed to live up to its international obligations,” he said.

Oh, never mind, the White House said shortly afterward: Let’s try anyway. So now talks with Iran are scheduled officially to begin Oct. 1. They’ll be based on Tehran’s “offer.”

As Avni points out, the Iranians ironically want to talk about global nuclear proliferation, not theirs.

Meanwhile, the “international community,” whose opinion Obama thinks so highly of, is being directed away from the enforcement of sanctions against Iran and toward this very same objective—global nonproliferation. We can see how this plays out:

In the past, the [UN security] council ordered Iran to suspend all its uranium-enrichment activity. Now the administration is signaling a willingness to drop that demand, complains former Israeli national-security adviser Giora Eiland. Instead, says Eiland, Team O plans to set up unspecified assurances that Iran’s enrichment would remain at the low levels required for a nonmilitary nuclear power, in hopes of preventing it from reaching the levels needed for the bomb.

Theoretically, Eiland says, it’s possible to establish conditions that would prevent Iran from obtaining weapons even if it enriches its own uranium. But for that to work, America must be tough in the negotiation process, insisting that those conditions would be accepted and enforced; Iran would resist.

“I don’t believe the US will be forceful enough,” Eiland told me. “Obama isn’t willing to risk a real crisis” that may lead to a breakdown in talks with Iran.

And that’s precisely what we have seen. Obama’s refusal to accept “no” has tipped his hand, which is to avoid at all costs a confrontation that might require American action. It is conflict avoidance in its most extreme form. Refuse to recognize and certainly never emphasize the other side’s objectionable behavior. Be determined to ignore what the other side says and attribute good motives or ambiguity when there is no evidence of either. Suggest that the danger is exaggerated, illusory, or at least not immediate. And then talk and talk and talk.

But this is not a bank-hostage situation in which as long as the robbers are talking, they aren’t shooting. Here the Iranians (aside from killing and abusing their own people) are diligently at work on a nuclear-weapons program. And then what? We’ll no doubt hear that this can be contained or deterred or that there remains doubt as to what capability the Iranians actually possess. You see, in for a penny, in for a pound when you’re playing the conflict-avoidance game. But it’s no game, and lacking an American administration willing to accept its obligations and responsibilities, the Israelis will, it seems, have to take matters into their own hands. Unlike Obama, the Israelis are well aware that conflict avoidance is a dangerous and unworkable self-delusion. It is, strictly speaking, reality avoidance. The resulting false sense of security is a luxury that Israel cannot afford.

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Follow the Money

In the Virginia gubernatorial race, Democrat Creigh Deeds out-raised his opponent by $500,000 over the past couple of months, although Bob McDonnell, who had no primary challenger, has more cash on hand ($5.8 million vs. $4.4 million) going down the stretch. But there are some interesting figures within those top-line numbers. For starters, McDonnell far outpaced Deeds in the number of donors—6,239 vs. 2,284. Does that suggest an enthusiasm gap in McDonnell’s favor? Well, to put it in perspective, McDonnell had more than 4,900 donors this quarter—more than Deeds tapped in the entire campaign. But the real story is where Deeds is getting his money. This Washington Post report tells us:

Deeds’s haul included significant help from national groups. Over the two months, he raised $3.48 million, for a total so far of $9.7 million for his gubernatorial campaign. Of that amount, $725,000 came from the DNC. Most of Deeds’s other biggest donations were from labor unions, including $250,000 from the Mid-Atlantic Laborers’ Political Education Fund, $100,000 from the SEIU and $100,000 from United Food and Commercial Workers. Obama and Vice President Biden have hosted fundraisers for Deeds.

But—I know, it’s shocking—the Post doesn’t tell the whole story. A review of the candidate campaign filing reports shows that Deeds also got $500,000 from the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees union and hefty contributions from more than a dozen labor unions. The total from a search for “labor union” donations: $958,500.

That’s a remarkable “haul” from Big Labor at a time when Deeds’s position on labor issues is beginning to take center stage in the campaign. Moreover, this isn’t New Jersey or New York or some other industrial, unionized state where that sort of giving is ho-hum for Democrats. That level of support and involvement from Big Labor in Virginia, a right-to-work state, is virtually unprecedented, raising the question as to what Big Labor thinks can be gained by helping to put Deeds in the governor’s mansion. In between scandal-mongering, the Washington Post might want to look into that.

In the Virginia gubernatorial race, Democrat Creigh Deeds out-raised his opponent by $500,000 over the past couple of months, although Bob McDonnell, who had no primary challenger, has more cash on hand ($5.8 million vs. $4.4 million) going down the stretch. But there are some interesting figures within those top-line numbers. For starters, McDonnell far outpaced Deeds in the number of donors—6,239 vs. 2,284. Does that suggest an enthusiasm gap in McDonnell’s favor? Well, to put it in perspective, McDonnell had more than 4,900 donors this quarter—more than Deeds tapped in the entire campaign. But the real story is where Deeds is getting his money. This Washington Post report tells us:

Deeds’s haul included significant help from national groups. Over the two months, he raised $3.48 million, for a total so far of $9.7 million for his gubernatorial campaign. Of that amount, $725,000 came from the DNC. Most of Deeds’s other biggest donations were from labor unions, including $250,000 from the Mid-Atlantic Laborers’ Political Education Fund, $100,000 from the SEIU and $100,000 from United Food and Commercial Workers. Obama and Vice President Biden have hosted fundraisers for Deeds.

But—I know, it’s shocking—the Post doesn’t tell the whole story. A review of the candidate campaign filing reports shows that Deeds also got $500,000 from the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees union and hefty contributions from more than a dozen labor unions. The total from a search for “labor union” donations: $958,500.

That’s a remarkable “haul” from Big Labor at a time when Deeds’s position on labor issues is beginning to take center stage in the campaign. Moreover, this isn’t New Jersey or New York or some other industrial, unionized state where that sort of giving is ho-hum for Democrats. That level of support and involvement from Big Labor in Virginia, a right-to-work state, is virtually unprecedented, raising the question as to what Big Labor thinks can be gained by helping to put Deeds in the governor’s mansion. In between scandal-mongering, the Washington Post might want to look into that.

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Bay Area Film Festival’s Final Act

The CEO of the San Francisco Jewish Federation, Daniel Sokatch, who was caught up in the furor over the anti-Israel hate gathering at the Bay Area Jewish Film Festival, is leaving his post. It seems that in addition to his funding and defense of the screening of a film about Palestinian-propaganda poster girl Rachel Corrie (at which an alarming array of anti-Semites turned out to jeer pro-Israel supporters and throw in a Nazi salute or two), his announced appearance at the J Street Conference did not go over well with a significant segment of the Jewish community, even in San Francisco. Everyone assures us that Sokatch wasn’t “pushed.” But as this report notes, “We’ll see if this version of the story holds as more people weigh in over the next day or so.”

This episode suggests that even in liberal San Francisco, a large body of donors and activists expect their leaders to—wacky as it sounds—defend Israel and not spend their time funding Palestinian-propaganda festivals or toddling off to beat Israel with a stick with the J Street crowd.

The CEO of the San Francisco Jewish Federation, Daniel Sokatch, who was caught up in the furor over the anti-Israel hate gathering at the Bay Area Jewish Film Festival, is leaving his post. It seems that in addition to his funding and defense of the screening of a film about Palestinian-propaganda poster girl Rachel Corrie (at which an alarming array of anti-Semites turned out to jeer pro-Israel supporters and throw in a Nazi salute or two), his announced appearance at the J Street Conference did not go over well with a significant segment of the Jewish community, even in San Francisco. Everyone assures us that Sokatch wasn’t “pushed.” But as this report notes, “We’ll see if this version of the story holds as more people weigh in over the next day or so.”

This episode suggests that even in liberal San Francisco, a large body of donors and activists expect their leaders to—wacky as it sounds—defend Israel and not spend their time funding Palestinian-propaganda festivals or toddling off to beat Israel with a stick with the J Street crowd.

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Well, at Least One Side Isn’t Serious

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concedes that Iran doesn’t want to talk about its nuclear program but that we still want to talk to Iran—apparently, desperately so. She explains: “We have no illusions about the Iranian government. . . . The point is to meet and explain to the Iranians, face to face, the choices that Iran has, and to see whether Iran is prepared to engage.” But that was supposed to be the point of the “deadline”—to see if by a certain date Iran would “engage” on its nuclear program. The New York Times continues:

The United States has already offered Iran an arrangement known as “freeze for freeze,” in which Iran would halt its production of nuclear fuels in return for the United Nations’ halting new sanctions against it.

While that remains a viable option, a senior American official said, the primary purpose of the meeting next month will be to determine whether Iran is serious about negotiating at all over its nuclear program.

But what we already know is that the United States isn’t serious. The administration is prepared, after already being rebuffed in its request for a firm commitment from Iran, to talk anyway – without an agenda or goals. What new super-duper deadline will Clinton come up with next? Perhaps the Iranian regime needs to tell us whether it absolutely, positively won’t consider giving up its nuclear program. But wait—they already did.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concedes that Iran doesn’t want to talk about its nuclear program but that we still want to talk to Iran—apparently, desperately so. She explains: “We have no illusions about the Iranian government. . . . The point is to meet and explain to the Iranians, face to face, the choices that Iran has, and to see whether Iran is prepared to engage.” But that was supposed to be the point of the “deadline”—to see if by a certain date Iran would “engage” on its nuclear program. The New York Times continues:

The United States has already offered Iran an arrangement known as “freeze for freeze,” in which Iran would halt its production of nuclear fuels in return for the United Nations’ halting new sanctions against it.

While that remains a viable option, a senior American official said, the primary purpose of the meeting next month will be to determine whether Iran is serious about negotiating at all over its nuclear program.

But what we already know is that the United States isn’t serious. The administration is prepared, after already being rebuffed in its request for a firm commitment from Iran, to talk anyway – without an agenda or goals. What new super-duper deadline will Clinton come up with next? Perhaps the Iranian regime needs to tell us whether it absolutely, positively won’t consider giving up its nuclear program. But wait—they already did.

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What’s Not to Like?

Ruth Marcus talked to Sen. Ron Wyden and found out some disturbing things about health-care “reform.” For starters, health-care reform may mean a new mandate for individuals and businesses to buy insurance they don’t want or can’t afford. When they discover how much this new mandatory coverage costs, they may very well decide to pay the fine (as much as $3,800) for remaining uninsured. So we’ll get not universal coverage but a lot of grumpy people paying a fine for not buying something they didn’t want or couldn’t afford in the first place. (Some class of middle-aged voters might be “exempt”—which spares them the fine but also makes “universal” coverage not universal at all.) Wyden explains what happens if the Senate Finance deal championed by Max Baucus goes through:

“They’re going to say, ‘Huh? Health-care security means I pay a whole lot more than I’m paying today or I get to be exempt from it, or I pay a penalty?’ They’re not going to say that meets the definition of health-care security.”

As Marcus notes, the reason we get to this point is that it is really, really expensive to insist that everyone get health insurance and then provide generous subsidies so they can get it. (“A price tag of more than $1 trillion for a more generous subsidy package induced sticker shock—though the cost ought not to have been surprising.”) Translation: there isn’t any feasible way to pay for what the Democrats really want without breaking the bank. So what the Senate Democrats are planning to give instead to middle-class voters is the worst of all worlds: a requirement to buy something they can’t afford—or pay a smaller but still very substantial fine. What’s not to like? Everything.

Ruth Marcus talked to Sen. Ron Wyden and found out some disturbing things about health-care “reform.” For starters, health-care reform may mean a new mandate for individuals and businesses to buy insurance they don’t want or can’t afford. When they discover how much this new mandatory coverage costs, they may very well decide to pay the fine (as much as $3,800) for remaining uninsured. So we’ll get not universal coverage but a lot of grumpy people paying a fine for not buying something they didn’t want or couldn’t afford in the first place. (Some class of middle-aged voters might be “exempt”—which spares them the fine but also makes “universal” coverage not universal at all.) Wyden explains what happens if the Senate Finance deal championed by Max Baucus goes through:

“They’re going to say, ‘Huh? Health-care security means I pay a whole lot more than I’m paying today or I get to be exempt from it, or I pay a penalty?’ They’re not going to say that meets the definition of health-care security.”

As Marcus notes, the reason we get to this point is that it is really, really expensive to insist that everyone get health insurance and then provide generous subsidies so they can get it. (“A price tag of more than $1 trillion for a more generous subsidy package induced sticker shock—though the cost ought not to have been surprising.”) Translation: there isn’t any feasible way to pay for what the Democrats really want without breaking the bank. So what the Senate Democrats are planning to give instead to middle-class voters is the worst of all worlds: a requirement to buy something they can’t afford—or pay a smaller but still very substantial fine. What’s not to like? Everything.

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“Deeds Messes Up Opportunity We Gave Him”

That might have been the headline in the Washington Post, which has tried its best to lift Creigh Deeds (who is proving to be a lifeless and issue-less candidate) with its made-up thesis scandal. But there is only so much even the Post can do. It seems Deeds can’t keep his stories straight:

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds found himself in hot water with two organizations representing state public safety employees Tuesday after he gave the groups differing answers about whether he supports collective bargaining for law enforcement personnel.

He told one police group that he is a “strong supporter of collective bargaining rights for public safety employees” and the other that he isn’t. His first answer, he now says, was a staff error. It comes just as his opponent is making hay out of Deeds’s dependence on money from Big Labor, his unwillingness to defend the state’s right-to-work laws, and muteness on federal card-check legislation. Even the Post has to fess up:

The misfire could prove damaging to Deeds by giving Republicans an opening to call into question his often-stated support for Virginia’s right-to-work law, which makes it one of only a handful of states where public safety employees aren’t allowed to bargain collectively for wages and benefits. Deeds’s Republican opponent Robert F. McDonnell has repeatedly charged that the Democrat’s commitment to the statute is weak and blasted him for accepting large donations from national labor groups.

The incident also opened Deeds to the charge that he massaged his message in an attempt to tell members of both groups what they wanted to hear. An e-mail from the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] on the issue was distributed by the Republican Party of Virginia under the subject line “Two Groups, Two Positions.”

His opponent Bob McDonnell stuck to one story for both police groups: no collective bargaining for public-safety employees.

In addition to the damage done on one particular issue, the episode highlights an underlying concern about Deeds: he’s run a hapless, boring, and nondescript campaign about nothing much at all. Without a distinct persona or a signature issue, he remains a plain-wrap Democrat to many voters—at a time when Democrats are getting hammered nationally for their ultra-liberal agenda. And, it seems, he’s now going to have to live down the idea that, as boring and devoid of interesting policy positions as his campaign has been, he’s having trouble keeping whatever issue positions he has straight.

That might have been the headline in the Washington Post, which has tried its best to lift Creigh Deeds (who is proving to be a lifeless and issue-less candidate) with its made-up thesis scandal. But there is only so much even the Post can do. It seems Deeds can’t keep his stories straight:

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds found himself in hot water with two organizations representing state public safety employees Tuesday after he gave the groups differing answers about whether he supports collective bargaining for law enforcement personnel.

He told one police group that he is a “strong supporter of collective bargaining rights for public safety employees” and the other that he isn’t. His first answer, he now says, was a staff error. It comes just as his opponent is making hay out of Deeds’s dependence on money from Big Labor, his unwillingness to defend the state’s right-to-work laws, and muteness on federal card-check legislation. Even the Post has to fess up:

The misfire could prove damaging to Deeds by giving Republicans an opening to call into question his often-stated support for Virginia’s right-to-work law, which makes it one of only a handful of states where public safety employees aren’t allowed to bargain collectively for wages and benefits. Deeds’s Republican opponent Robert F. McDonnell has repeatedly charged that the Democrat’s commitment to the statute is weak and blasted him for accepting large donations from national labor groups.

The incident also opened Deeds to the charge that he massaged his message in an attempt to tell members of both groups what they wanted to hear. An e-mail from the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] on the issue was distributed by the Republican Party of Virginia under the subject line “Two Groups, Two Positions.”

His opponent Bob McDonnell stuck to one story for both police groups: no collective bargaining for public-safety employees.

In addition to the damage done on one particular issue, the episode highlights an underlying concern about Deeds: he’s run a hapless, boring, and nondescript campaign about nothing much at all. Without a distinct persona or a signature issue, he remains a plain-wrap Democrat to many voters—at a time when Democrats are getting hammered nationally for their ultra-liberal agenda. And, it seems, he’s now going to have to live down the idea that, as boring and devoid of interesting policy positions as his campaign has been, he’s having trouble keeping whatever issue positions he has straight.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Whatever bounce ObamaCare got from the president’s big speech is gone. In the Rasmussen poll, voters disapprove of the president’s health-care plan by a 52-45 percent margin, roughly what it was before the speech.

While the Osama bin Laden book-club advocates for retreat from Afghanistan, real national-security gurus will meet in Washington next week for a Foreign Policy Initiative forum to discuss, among other things, “Iraq and Afghanistan: Sustaining Success and Achieving Victory.” Wow, “victory”? That’s a term you don’t hear from the White House. (Interestingly, more than one Republican prospect for 2012 will be in attendance.)

And yet another Osama bin Laden favorite author, Jimmy Carter, says the Obama criticism is about racism. With a character witness like that, “Yippee!” holler the Obama critics. (Per Mickey Kaus, the mainstream media, which loves this story so, so much, is proving to be more of a hindrance than a help to Obama.)

Marty Peretz on Obama’s failure to recognize he’s being snubbed by the Saudis: “I am afraid that he now seems very much smitten by Arab rhetoric and Arab objectives. That is, the president is oblivious to the fact that the Saudis have not been at all responsive to his undignified bowing and scraping, to his mouthing of their own world view and to their intransigent determination to stand still. Asalum aleikum, Riyadh is not a foreign policy.”

Another poll shows Chris Christie with a healthy lead in the New Jersey gubernatorial race. Public Policy Polling shows him nine points ahead of Gov. Jon Corzine; among independents, he leads by a 48-29 percent margin. Most ominous for Corzine is his favorable/unfavorable rating: 32-60 percent. I suspect Obama isn’t going to lift a finger to help Corzine unless those numbers change dramatically.

Remarkably, all the public foot-stomping and the many scolding sessions with Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren haven’t brought about a deal to freeze settlements that meets with the Obama administration’s approval. Could they reach some face-saving compromise? Perhaps. Will it be sufficient to induce the Palestinians into the negotiating table? Less certain. And if they did meet, what would the Palestinian Authority be prepared and empowered to offer? Well, that’s the rub—as it was at Camp David and Annapolis.

Undone by a video camera: “In the last few days, the Census Bureau has severed ties with the advocacy group Acorn, and the Senate has voted to deny it access to federal housing funds. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that it took this long—and hidden-camera video footage of Acorn workers apparently advising others to commit crimes—before federal officials would act.” But ACORN is still—unbelievably—set to receive $8.5 billion in stimulus funds. And seven Democratic senators didn’t even want to cut off the Census Bureau gravy train.

Hey, conservative media are running circles around mainstream media, discovering scandals and spotting the populist Obama trend. Could it be that the mainstream media don’t want to say bad things about Obama? Nah, it’s just that ABC News, for example, isn’t “in the business of noise.” I think that noise is the news passing under their noses.

It’s not so easy to force people to buy health insurance: “Three years after Massachusetts’s ambitious universal coverage law went into effect, two-thirds of its previously 600,000 uninsured residents have coverage, according to state data. It has the lowest rate of uninsured in the country—about 3% according to a state survey, compared with 15% nationwide. But the remainder—many younger, male and fairly healthy—has proved tougher to cover. . . . The state’s costs for expanding coverage have swelled to an expected $1.75 billion in fiscal 2010 from $1.04 billion in 2006, partly because of higher-than-expected enrollment in state-subsidized plans, including a surge this year as more people lost jobs. Critics say the Obama plan could face similar problems, contending it doesn’t do enough to control costs.”

Whatever bounce ObamaCare got from the president’s big speech is gone. In the Rasmussen poll, voters disapprove of the president’s health-care plan by a 52-45 percent margin, roughly what it was before the speech.

While the Osama bin Laden book-club advocates for retreat from Afghanistan, real national-security gurus will meet in Washington next week for a Foreign Policy Initiative forum to discuss, among other things, “Iraq and Afghanistan: Sustaining Success and Achieving Victory.” Wow, “victory”? That’s a term you don’t hear from the White House. (Interestingly, more than one Republican prospect for 2012 will be in attendance.)

And yet another Osama bin Laden favorite author, Jimmy Carter, says the Obama criticism is about racism. With a character witness like that, “Yippee!” holler the Obama critics. (Per Mickey Kaus, the mainstream media, which loves this story so, so much, is proving to be more of a hindrance than a help to Obama.)

Marty Peretz on Obama’s failure to recognize he’s being snubbed by the Saudis: “I am afraid that he now seems very much smitten by Arab rhetoric and Arab objectives. That is, the president is oblivious to the fact that the Saudis have not been at all responsive to his undignified bowing and scraping, to his mouthing of their own world view and to their intransigent determination to stand still. Asalum aleikum, Riyadh is not a foreign policy.”

Another poll shows Chris Christie with a healthy lead in the New Jersey gubernatorial race. Public Policy Polling shows him nine points ahead of Gov. Jon Corzine; among independents, he leads by a 48-29 percent margin. Most ominous for Corzine is his favorable/unfavorable rating: 32-60 percent. I suspect Obama isn’t going to lift a finger to help Corzine unless those numbers change dramatically.

Remarkably, all the public foot-stomping and the many scolding sessions with Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren haven’t brought about a deal to freeze settlements that meets with the Obama administration’s approval. Could they reach some face-saving compromise? Perhaps. Will it be sufficient to induce the Palestinians into the negotiating table? Less certain. And if they did meet, what would the Palestinian Authority be prepared and empowered to offer? Well, that’s the rub—as it was at Camp David and Annapolis.

Undone by a video camera: “In the last few days, the Census Bureau has severed ties with the advocacy group Acorn, and the Senate has voted to deny it access to federal housing funds. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that it took this long—and hidden-camera video footage of Acorn workers apparently advising others to commit crimes—before federal officials would act.” But ACORN is still—unbelievably—set to receive $8.5 billion in stimulus funds. And seven Democratic senators didn’t even want to cut off the Census Bureau gravy train.

Hey, conservative media are running circles around mainstream media, discovering scandals and spotting the populist Obama trend. Could it be that the mainstream media don’t want to say bad things about Obama? Nah, it’s just that ABC News, for example, isn’t “in the business of noise.” I think that noise is the news passing under their noses.

It’s not so easy to force people to buy health insurance: “Three years after Massachusetts’s ambitious universal coverage law went into effect, two-thirds of its previously 600,000 uninsured residents have coverage, according to state data. It has the lowest rate of uninsured in the country—about 3% according to a state survey, compared with 15% nationwide. But the remainder—many younger, male and fairly healthy—has proved tougher to cover. . . . The state’s costs for expanding coverage have swelled to an expected $1.75 billion in fiscal 2010 from $1.04 billion in 2006, partly because of higher-than-expected enrollment in state-subsidized plans, including a surge this year as more people lost jobs. Critics say the Obama plan could face similar problems, contending it doesn’t do enough to control costs.”

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