Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 30, 2009

The Model for ObamaCare

Have you ever gotten a call or an e-mail from a credit-card company asking if a recent charge on your account was legitimate? Credit-card companies are on the hook for fraudulent charges for amounts over $50, even if the customer doesn’t report the fraud. So it is in their powerful self-interest to spot phony charges quickly. That’s why they have programmed computers to alert the company to charges that are out of pattern. Say your American Express bill usually runs between $400 and $600 a month, with the usual bump at Christmas time. Suddenly there is a spate of charges for expensive clothes, electronic equipment, airplane trips, etc. You can bet you’ll be getting a jingle from Amex to make sure things are on the up and up.

If they are not, they cancel the card, send you one with a different account number, and try their best to track down the bad guys.

Such obvious precautions, it seems, are beyond the capacity of Medicare, which pays out half a trillion dollars a year to medical-service providers. At least $60 billion — one dollar in eight — of that is paid out for claims that are not legitimate. CBS’s 60 Minutes, not exactly a member of the vast right-wing conspiracy, ran a story on it last Sunday that you can find here (h/t Instapundit). The reporter, Steve Kroft, warns that the report will raise your blood pressure. That it certainly will.

As the report shows, Medicare fraud is ridiculously easy to carry off, little effort is put into preventing it, and few resources are committed to catching suspected attempts at it. All you need is a physical address, a list of Medicare recipients (available on the black market for about $10 a name), and a list of Medicare billing codes. Medicare is required by law to pay these claims within 30 days. Every few months you shut down the ABC Medical Supply Company and open up the DEF Medical Supply Company at a different address. Medicare direct deposits the money you bill them right into your bank account — none of those annoying $100 bills to launder — and you don’t have to worry about being gunned down in a parking lot by a rival criminal. No wonder the FBI thinks it is now a larger criminal enterprise in South Florida — where the report was filmed — than cocaine-trafficking.

How bad is it? One woman interviewed says that she has been reporting an endless stream of false charges on her Medicare statement for six years. Medicare keeps saying they’ll look into it, and the phony charges just keep coming and just keep being paid. A retired federal judge who has his God-given arms, reports that Medicare was billed for two artificial ones for him at the same time. Medicare paid the bill without question, despite the fact that losing two arms simultaneously is, to put it mildly, a rare medical event.

And this is the model for ObamaCare. The mind boggles.

Have you ever gotten a call or an e-mail from a credit-card company asking if a recent charge on your account was legitimate? Credit-card companies are on the hook for fraudulent charges for amounts over $50, even if the customer doesn’t report the fraud. So it is in their powerful self-interest to spot phony charges quickly. That’s why they have programmed computers to alert the company to charges that are out of pattern. Say your American Express bill usually runs between $400 and $600 a month, with the usual bump at Christmas time. Suddenly there is a spate of charges for expensive clothes, electronic equipment, airplane trips, etc. You can bet you’ll be getting a jingle from Amex to make sure things are on the up and up.

If they are not, they cancel the card, send you one with a different account number, and try their best to track down the bad guys.

Such obvious precautions, it seems, are beyond the capacity of Medicare, which pays out half a trillion dollars a year to medical-service providers. At least $60 billion — one dollar in eight — of that is paid out for claims that are not legitimate. CBS’s 60 Minutes, not exactly a member of the vast right-wing conspiracy, ran a story on it last Sunday that you can find here (h/t Instapundit). The reporter, Steve Kroft, warns that the report will raise your blood pressure. That it certainly will.

As the report shows, Medicare fraud is ridiculously easy to carry off, little effort is put into preventing it, and few resources are committed to catching suspected attempts at it. All you need is a physical address, a list of Medicare recipients (available on the black market for about $10 a name), and a list of Medicare billing codes. Medicare is required by law to pay these claims within 30 days. Every few months you shut down the ABC Medical Supply Company and open up the DEF Medical Supply Company at a different address. Medicare direct deposits the money you bill them right into your bank account — none of those annoying $100 bills to launder — and you don’t have to worry about being gunned down in a parking lot by a rival criminal. No wonder the FBI thinks it is now a larger criminal enterprise in South Florida — where the report was filmed — than cocaine-trafficking.

How bad is it? One woman interviewed says that she has been reporting an endless stream of false charges on her Medicare statement for six years. Medicare keeps saying they’ll look into it, and the phony charges just keep coming and just keep being paid. A retired federal judge who has his God-given arms, reports that Medicare was billed for two artificial ones for him at the same time. Medicare paid the bill without question, despite the fact that losing two arms simultaneously is, to put it mildly, a rare medical event.

And this is the model for ObamaCare. The mind boggles.

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The Rank Stench of Success

On October 2, the first day of high-level nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran, Juan “Nostradamus” Cole wrote on his blog: “Barack Obama pwned Bush-Cheney in one day, and got more concessions from Iran in 7 1/2 hours than the former administration got in 8 years of saber-rattling.”

Did Cole nail it or what? In fact, he nwled it. That evil composite entity “Bush-Cheney” must now be kicking itself for not realizing all it could have gotten from Iran if it had only spent a year apologizing to the mullahs for a 65-year-old coup. Just look at what Obama accomplished: He effectively took the bombing option off the table, undermining any sense of credible American threat in Iran and far beyond. He alienated Iranian democrats. He put Iran on an equal footing with the U.S., France, and Russia for the whole world to see. He strained U.S. relations with England and France by rejecting their policy and rollout approaches to the revelation about the Qom enrichment facility. He undermined the international bodies he supposedly respects by effectively consenting to Iranian enrichment prohibited by international treaties. He turned his back on our Central European allies in a failed bid to get Russia in on a strict sanctions regime, and he proved himself weak and incompetent to the Kremlin.

Did I miss anything? Oh yeah, one small point: Iran will get the bomb.

But it was all worth it, because yesterday Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, “We are ready to cooperate” with the West. And it’s not like Iran has been saying that for years or anything.

Such formidable “pwnership” is not confined to Iran policy, mind you. Look at today’s international headlines and you’ll see a virtual anthology of American incompetence. Hillary Clinton is in Pakistan catching heat over U.S. drone attacks, while the rest of her administration is back in Washington arguing in favor of more drones and fewer soldiers in the region.

While in Islamabad, Clinton hailed the “historic agreement” that the U.S. forced upon Honduras, enabling self-appointed strongman Manuel Zelaya to subvert his country’s democracy and reclaim the presidency.

This administration is on the wrong side of just about everything. What’s more, there’s not a single Plan B in sight.

On October 2, the first day of high-level nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran, Juan “Nostradamus” Cole wrote on his blog: “Barack Obama pwned Bush-Cheney in one day, and got more concessions from Iran in 7 1/2 hours than the former administration got in 8 years of saber-rattling.”

Did Cole nail it or what? In fact, he nwled it. That evil composite entity “Bush-Cheney” must now be kicking itself for not realizing all it could have gotten from Iran if it had only spent a year apologizing to the mullahs for a 65-year-old coup. Just look at what Obama accomplished: He effectively took the bombing option off the table, undermining any sense of credible American threat in Iran and far beyond. He alienated Iranian democrats. He put Iran on an equal footing with the U.S., France, and Russia for the whole world to see. He strained U.S. relations with England and France by rejecting their policy and rollout approaches to the revelation about the Qom enrichment facility. He undermined the international bodies he supposedly respects by effectively consenting to Iranian enrichment prohibited by international treaties. He turned his back on our Central European allies in a failed bid to get Russia in on a strict sanctions regime, and he proved himself weak and incompetent to the Kremlin.

Did I miss anything? Oh yeah, one small point: Iran will get the bomb.

But it was all worth it, because yesterday Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, “We are ready to cooperate” with the West. And it’s not like Iran has been saying that for years or anything.

Such formidable “pwnership” is not confined to Iran policy, mind you. Look at today’s international headlines and you’ll see a virtual anthology of American incompetence. Hillary Clinton is in Pakistan catching heat over U.S. drone attacks, while the rest of her administration is back in Washington arguing in favor of more drones and fewer soldiers in the region.

While in Islamabad, Clinton hailed the “historic agreement” that the U.S. forced upon Honduras, enabling self-appointed strongman Manuel Zelaya to subvert his country’s democracy and reclaim the presidency.

This administration is on the wrong side of just about everything. What’s more, there’s not a single Plan B in sight.

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Wisdom Wedded to Tenacity

As Jennifer has pointed out, David Brooks has penned an interesting column on Afghanistan and President Obama. After interviewing many experts on Afghanistan, he reports:

Their first concerns are about Obama the man. They know he is intellectually sophisticated. They know he is capable of processing complicated arguments and weighing nuanced evidence. But they do not know if he possesses the trait that is more important than intellectual sophistication and, in fact, stands in tension with it. They do not know if he possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. They do not know if he possesses the obstinacy that guided Lincoln and Churchill, and which must guide all war presidents to some degree.

These are of course precisely the qualities that George W. Bush showed during the debate in late 2006 and 2007 about the so-called surge in Iraq. At the time Bush was almost alone in his advocacy. His commending generals, George Casey and John Abizaid, opposed his plan, as did most members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and some members of Bush’s own war cabinet. Virtually the entire Democratic party, most of the foreign-policy establishment, and most of the public had turned hard against the war. They were certain the new counterinsurgency plan could not work and shouldn’t be tried.

Despite opposition as fierce and sustained as one can imagine (and far worse than anything President Obama is now experiencing), Bush and a small handful of others — the most important of whom were General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker -– persisted. They displayed raw determination. They fixated on a simple conviction and gripped it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. And they were proved right. In other words, the qualities Bush displayed in wartime are now the qualities Brooks and others (including me) are hoping Obama possesses.

I will add two other thoughts, the first being that tenacity needs to be conjoined to wisdom and right action. Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty’s raw determination and enthusiasm in the Dardanelles campaign was a disaster, forced his resignation, and almost ended Winston Churchill’s career. What determines whether something qualifies as impressive tenacity or foolish obstinacy are results, outcomes, successes. And those things are unknowable at the time a decision is being debated and made.

A second related observation is that the virtues we look for in our leaders often shift like a kaleidoscope. The kind of tenacity Brooks praises was absolutely essential for the surge to succeed. But at the time, tenacity was viewed as stubbornness; a visceral and unflinching commitment to principle was seen as dogmatism; raw determination was thought to be a rigid unwillingness to adapt to changing circumstances. Top leaders of the GOP came to Bush and urged him to end the Iraq war because of the damage it was doing to his party.

Lincoln and Churchill experienced the same phenomenon during the darkest days of the Civil War and World War II. The qualities that are now widely praised as virtues — the very qualities that helped make Lincoln and Churchill the greatest political leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries — were at the time widely regarded as vices. And very few people stood with them during the moments that mattered most. Tenacity and raw determination are easy when they are garnering applause from the public and the political class; to exhibit them in the face of catcalls and derision is much harder. To hold shape against relentless attacks is evidence of admirable human character. It is a vital trait for wartime leaders to possess. But it is not, by itself, enough.

As Jennifer has pointed out, David Brooks has penned an interesting column on Afghanistan and President Obama. After interviewing many experts on Afghanistan, he reports:

Their first concerns are about Obama the man. They know he is intellectually sophisticated. They know he is capable of processing complicated arguments and weighing nuanced evidence. But they do not know if he possesses the trait that is more important than intellectual sophistication and, in fact, stands in tension with it. They do not know if he possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. They do not know if he possesses the obstinacy that guided Lincoln and Churchill, and which must guide all war presidents to some degree.

These are of course precisely the qualities that George W. Bush showed during the debate in late 2006 and 2007 about the so-called surge in Iraq. At the time Bush was almost alone in his advocacy. His commending generals, George Casey and John Abizaid, opposed his plan, as did most members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and some members of Bush’s own war cabinet. Virtually the entire Democratic party, most of the foreign-policy establishment, and most of the public had turned hard against the war. They were certain the new counterinsurgency plan could not work and shouldn’t be tried.

Despite opposition as fierce and sustained as one can imagine (and far worse than anything President Obama is now experiencing), Bush and a small handful of others — the most important of whom were General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker -– persisted. They displayed raw determination. They fixated on a simple conviction and gripped it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. And they were proved right. In other words, the qualities Bush displayed in wartime are now the qualities Brooks and others (including me) are hoping Obama possesses.

I will add two other thoughts, the first being that tenacity needs to be conjoined to wisdom and right action. Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty’s raw determination and enthusiasm in the Dardanelles campaign was a disaster, forced his resignation, and almost ended Winston Churchill’s career. What determines whether something qualifies as impressive tenacity or foolish obstinacy are results, outcomes, successes. And those things are unknowable at the time a decision is being debated and made.

A second related observation is that the virtues we look for in our leaders often shift like a kaleidoscope. The kind of tenacity Brooks praises was absolutely essential for the surge to succeed. But at the time, tenacity was viewed as stubbornness; a visceral and unflinching commitment to principle was seen as dogmatism; raw determination was thought to be a rigid unwillingness to adapt to changing circumstances. Top leaders of the GOP came to Bush and urged him to end the Iraq war because of the damage it was doing to his party.

Lincoln and Churchill experienced the same phenomenon during the darkest days of the Civil War and World War II. The qualities that are now widely praised as virtues — the very qualities that helped make Lincoln and Churchill the greatest political leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries — were at the time widely regarded as vices. And very few people stood with them during the moments that mattered most. Tenacity and raw determination are easy when they are garnering applause from the public and the political class; to exhibit them in the face of catcalls and derision is much harder. To hold shape against relentless attacks is evidence of admirable human character. It is a vital trait for wartime leaders to possess. But it is not, by itself, enough.

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Determined to Fail

David Brooks describes the “determination vacuum” at the heart of the Afghanistan war strategy. No one who has watched the White House seminars, the massaging of troop levels, the whining about a lack of planning from the Bush administration, the effort to redefine the threat and the mission (from defeating the Taliban to picking off al-Qaeda), the whispered intimations that a victory isn’t possible, the freezing out of military leaders from the decision-making process, and the effort to mix and match incompatible approaches could conclude that the president is bound and determined to win at all costs. That’s what this is all about, after all.

As Brooks observes:

The experts I spoke with describe a vacuum at the heart of the war effort — a determination vacuum. And if these experts do not know the state of President Obama’s resolve, neither do the Afghan villagers. They are now hedging their bets, refusing to inform on Taliban force movements because they are aware that these Taliban fighters would be their masters if the U.S. withdraws. Nor does President Hamid Karzai know. He’s cutting deals with the Afghan warlords he would need if NATO leaves his country.

Nor do the Pakistanis or the Iranians or the Russians know. They are maintaining ties with the Taliban elements that would represent their interests in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.

The determination vacuum affects the debate in this country, too. Every argument about troop levels is really a proxy argument for whether the U.S. should stay or go. The administration is so divided because the fundamental issue of commitment has not been settled.

We don’t know why the president dithers. Maybe he really wants every dime for his health-care plan. Perhaps he simply can’t stomach the notion of annoying Nancy Pelosi. He might lack the ability to corral diverse voices and get everyone in his administration and party onboard with a controversial decision. Or he may simply be so stubborn that he can’t accept that Gen. Stanley McChrystal was right and had already given the country the right answer before Obama adopted the counterinsurgency plan as his own. It is unknowable and ultimately unimportant why the president is projecting weakness.

What is critical is whether we lack a commander in chief who inspires confidence and seems prepared to lead the country to victory. If Obama isn’t convincing Brooks, he’s not going to convince the country, our allies, the military, and especially our enemies. Running a seminar is not leading the nation in war, and the endless seminar has now made it infinitely more difficult to succeed at the latter. The president is seemingly unaware that others are watching his equivocation and making their own calculations, ones that will further complicate our war strategy, if we ever get one.

David Brooks describes the “determination vacuum” at the heart of the Afghanistan war strategy. No one who has watched the White House seminars, the massaging of troop levels, the whining about a lack of planning from the Bush administration, the effort to redefine the threat and the mission (from defeating the Taliban to picking off al-Qaeda), the whispered intimations that a victory isn’t possible, the freezing out of military leaders from the decision-making process, and the effort to mix and match incompatible approaches could conclude that the president is bound and determined to win at all costs. That’s what this is all about, after all.

As Brooks observes:

The experts I spoke with describe a vacuum at the heart of the war effort — a determination vacuum. And if these experts do not know the state of President Obama’s resolve, neither do the Afghan villagers. They are now hedging their bets, refusing to inform on Taliban force movements because they are aware that these Taliban fighters would be their masters if the U.S. withdraws. Nor does President Hamid Karzai know. He’s cutting deals with the Afghan warlords he would need if NATO leaves his country.

Nor do the Pakistanis or the Iranians or the Russians know. They are maintaining ties with the Taliban elements that would represent their interests in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.

The determination vacuum affects the debate in this country, too. Every argument about troop levels is really a proxy argument for whether the U.S. should stay or go. The administration is so divided because the fundamental issue of commitment has not been settled.

We don’t know why the president dithers. Maybe he really wants every dime for his health-care plan. Perhaps he simply can’t stomach the notion of annoying Nancy Pelosi. He might lack the ability to corral diverse voices and get everyone in his administration and party onboard with a controversial decision. Or he may simply be so stubborn that he can’t accept that Gen. Stanley McChrystal was right and had already given the country the right answer before Obama adopted the counterinsurgency plan as his own. It is unknowable and ultimately unimportant why the president is projecting weakness.

What is critical is whether we lack a commander in chief who inspires confidence and seems prepared to lead the country to victory. If Obama isn’t convincing Brooks, he’s not going to convince the country, our allies, the military, and especially our enemies. Running a seminar is not leading the nation in war, and the endless seminar has now made it infinitely more difficult to succeed at the latter. The president is seemingly unaware that others are watching his equivocation and making their own calculations, ones that will further complicate our war strategy, if we ever get one.

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It’s Historic, Certainly

Hillary Clinton is crowing. An “historic deal!” Yes, we have successfully bullied the Honduran government into returning to power, albeit temporarily, Hugo Chavez’s stooge Manuel Zelaya to the presidency. He, of course, is the one convinced that Israeli agents were bombarding him with rays while he was holed up in the Brazilian embassy. With a proviso (more in a minute), Zelaya will return to the presidency, and then elections will proceed in November. The Obami are delighted with their handiwork.

But we are not yet done, because that proviso is approval by the Honduran Congress, which in effect means emasculating the very body that sought to remove Zelaya for his unconstitutional power grab in the first place. The New York Times dryly notes, “It was not clear what would happen if the Honduran Congress rejected the deal.”

The lesson should be clear now for small democracies: be prepared to have the Obama administration pressure and cajole you for the sake of … well, of what? It isn’t quite clear what this stunt was all about. Ingratiating ourselves with Chavez? Living down some American liberals’ guilt about past American policy in the region? Or maybe it was pure stubbornness, an unwillingness on the part of the Obama team to admit that it had staked its reputation on a crackpot.

Nevertheless, Honduras can join the list of democracies (Poland, the Czech Republic, Israel) that are finding out how uncomfortable it can be to have America as your “ally.”

Hillary Clinton is crowing. An “historic deal!” Yes, we have successfully bullied the Honduran government into returning to power, albeit temporarily, Hugo Chavez’s stooge Manuel Zelaya to the presidency. He, of course, is the one convinced that Israeli agents were bombarding him with rays while he was holed up in the Brazilian embassy. With a proviso (more in a minute), Zelaya will return to the presidency, and then elections will proceed in November. The Obami are delighted with their handiwork.

But we are not yet done, because that proviso is approval by the Honduran Congress, which in effect means emasculating the very body that sought to remove Zelaya for his unconstitutional power grab in the first place. The New York Times dryly notes, “It was not clear what would happen if the Honduran Congress rejected the deal.”

The lesson should be clear now for small democracies: be prepared to have the Obama administration pressure and cajole you for the sake of … well, of what? It isn’t quite clear what this stunt was all about. Ingratiating ourselves with Chavez? Living down some American liberals’ guilt about past American policy in the region? Or maybe it was pure stubbornness, an unwillingness on the part of the Obama team to admit that it had staked its reputation on a crackpot.

Nevertheless, Honduras can join the list of democracies (Poland, the Czech Republic, Israel) that are finding out how uncomfortable it can be to have America as your “ally.”

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They Don’t Learn Until It’s Too Late

The ethics inquiries that have been revealed thanks to a leak from the House ethics panel are as diverse as they are widespread — from the well-known (PMA Lobby Group, Charlie Rangel), to the perpetually “under investigation” (Rep. Alan Mollohan), to lesser-known incidents (Rep. Maxine Waters, who used her position on behalf of her husband’s bank, a move so audacious it drew a warning from Rep. Barney Frank, who knows a thing or two about helping banks).

It suggests that the corruption issue is not going away anytime soon. Nor will it be easy to suggest what we have just one or two bad apples. This time, there are baskets of them. The accused (Rangel, Murtha, Waters) remain in prominent positions within the Democratic leadership. It will be hard to explain this away as the doings of inconsequential or peripheral figures.

And this is a problem for the Democrats, who seem to be in the process of assembling the very elements that contribute to a wave election. There is the governing failure (a jobless recovery, the prospect of looming unemployment at levels not experienced by most voters). In 2006 it was the Iraq war and Katrina. There is the ideological overreach on everything from cap-and-trade to health care. And now there is the corruption issue, which is endemic and which the House leadership has greeted with a yawn, determined to leave the malefactors in positions of authority.

The corruption issue affects almost solely the party in power, just as it did in 2006. The party in the minority isn’t worth bribing or influencing. And the policy failures will be equally hard to pawn off on the Republicans given the large Democratic majorities and the Republicans opposition to nearly all the ultra-liberal agenda. (This is the benefit of being the party of “no.”). There is, in short, no doubt whom angry voters should be angry at.

We have a year before the election. But if the leftward lurch continues and that swamp isn’t fully drained by then, the voters’ wrath, I suspect, will be felt. Those in power tend not to learn the lessons of their opponents — at least not until they experience a similar fate. The Pelosi Democrats will need to experience it themselves.

The ethics inquiries that have been revealed thanks to a leak from the House ethics panel are as diverse as they are widespread — from the well-known (PMA Lobby Group, Charlie Rangel), to the perpetually “under investigation” (Rep. Alan Mollohan), to lesser-known incidents (Rep. Maxine Waters, who used her position on behalf of her husband’s bank, a move so audacious it drew a warning from Rep. Barney Frank, who knows a thing or two about helping banks).

It suggests that the corruption issue is not going away anytime soon. Nor will it be easy to suggest what we have just one or two bad apples. This time, there are baskets of them. The accused (Rangel, Murtha, Waters) remain in prominent positions within the Democratic leadership. It will be hard to explain this away as the doings of inconsequential or peripheral figures.

And this is a problem for the Democrats, who seem to be in the process of assembling the very elements that contribute to a wave election. There is the governing failure (a jobless recovery, the prospect of looming unemployment at levels not experienced by most voters). In 2006 it was the Iraq war and Katrina. There is the ideological overreach on everything from cap-and-trade to health care. And now there is the corruption issue, which is endemic and which the House leadership has greeted with a yawn, determined to leave the malefactors in positions of authority.

The corruption issue affects almost solely the party in power, just as it did in 2006. The party in the minority isn’t worth bribing or influencing. And the policy failures will be equally hard to pawn off on the Republicans given the large Democratic majorities and the Republicans opposition to nearly all the ultra-liberal agenda. (This is the benefit of being the party of “no.”). There is, in short, no doubt whom angry voters should be angry at.

We have a year before the election. But if the leftward lurch continues and that swamp isn’t fully drained by then, the voters’ wrath, I suspect, will be felt. Those in power tend not to learn the lessons of their opponents — at least not until they experience a similar fate. The Pelosi Democrats will need to experience it themselves.

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Losing Faith in the Commander in Chief

Two foreign-policy items stand out in the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll. By a 42-to-34-percent margin, voters think a terror attack is more likely today than it was a year ago. By a 47-to-34-percent margin, voters think al-Qaeda is more determined than Obama to win the war in Afghanistan.

This is, in some sense, a stunning vote of no-confidence in the president as commander in chief. But there is good reason for voters to have doubts whether Obama is doing what is needed, as the folks say, to keep America safe. He is bound and determined to close Guantanamo and bring the detainees to American soil, at least for trial. He has declared war on the CIA — cutting off its role in interrogating top suspects, reinvestigating operatives, and revealing interrogation techniques. On Afghanistan his equivocation is plain for all to see and his unwillingness to fight for resources from Congress and rally the country has not gone unnoticed.

Americans may not yet see these matters as top issues as long as the economy and health-care debate dominate the news. But the cumulative picture of a president who dithers, who excuses our adversaries and rebuffs our friends, and who is willing to tolerate what months before was not tolerable will exact a toll. At some point, Americans may feel not only less safe but unsafe. And when that happens, there is a single person who will be held responsible. There are no Republicans to blame for this one.

Two foreign-policy items stand out in the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll. By a 42-to-34-percent margin, voters think a terror attack is more likely today than it was a year ago. By a 47-to-34-percent margin, voters think al-Qaeda is more determined than Obama to win the war in Afghanistan.

This is, in some sense, a stunning vote of no-confidence in the president as commander in chief. But there is good reason for voters to have doubts whether Obama is doing what is needed, as the folks say, to keep America safe. He is bound and determined to close Guantanamo and bring the detainees to American soil, at least for trial. He has declared war on the CIA — cutting off its role in interrogating top suspects, reinvestigating operatives, and revealing interrogation techniques. On Afghanistan his equivocation is plain for all to see and his unwillingness to fight for resources from Congress and rally the country has not gone unnoticed.

Americans may not yet see these matters as top issues as long as the economy and health-care debate dominate the news. But the cumulative picture of a president who dithers, who excuses our adversaries and rebuffs our friends, and who is willing to tolerate what months before was not tolerable will exact a toll. At some point, Americans may feel not only less safe but unsafe. And when that happens, there is a single person who will be held responsible. There are no Republicans to blame for this one.

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A Gift for the Lawyers

A friend points out a little nugget of absurdity and political mendacity in the Pelosi health-care bill. Remember Obama’s effort to try a “test” for tort reform? (We don’t actually need a test, since it has worked to lower medical malpractice coverage and help increase access to doctors in states that have tried it.) Well, Pelosi’s bill has an anti-tort-reform measure. On pages 1431-1433 of the 1990 spellbinder, there is a financial incentive for states to try “alternative medical liability laws.” But look — you don’t get the incentive if you have a law that would “limit attorneys’ fees or impose caps on damages.”

That’s what the trial lawyers get for the millions spent in supporting the Democratic party, and that’s what tort “reform” in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of health-care legislation amounts to. States will be strong-armed into repealing existing caps in order to get the Fed’s money. Sweet, huh? Well, unless you thought the aim was to reduce medical costs. No, this will go a long way toward ensuring that tort lawyers remain rich, malpractice insurance remains high, and unnecessary defensive medicine remains a fixture of the health-care system. Nice going, Nancy!

A friend points out a little nugget of absurdity and political mendacity in the Pelosi health-care bill. Remember Obama’s effort to try a “test” for tort reform? (We don’t actually need a test, since it has worked to lower medical malpractice coverage and help increase access to doctors in states that have tried it.) Well, Pelosi’s bill has an anti-tort-reform measure. On pages 1431-1433 of the 1990 spellbinder, there is a financial incentive for states to try “alternative medical liability laws.” But look — you don’t get the incentive if you have a law that would “limit attorneys’ fees or impose caps on damages.”

That’s what the trial lawyers get for the millions spent in supporting the Democratic party, and that’s what tort “reform” in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of health-care legislation amounts to. States will be strong-armed into repealing existing caps in order to get the Fed’s money. Sweet, huh? Well, unless you thought the aim was to reduce medical costs. No, this will go a long way toward ensuring that tort lawyers remain rich, malpractice insurance remains high, and unnecessary defensive medicine remains a fixture of the health-care system. Nice going, Nancy!

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Telling It as It Is — New York Times Style

In the September 24 article on the Honduran matter, the New York Times wrote: “Norma C. Gutierrez, an international law specialist who prepared a legal analysis for American lawmakers last month, criticized both sides. Her bottom line: the case against Mr. Zelaya was rooted in constitutional and statutory law. His removal from the country was not.”

This morning, reporting on the agreement, the Times writes, “Mr. Zelaya was ousted in a military coup on June 28 and flown to Costa Rica.”

As near as I can tell, the only coup in Honduras happened today, when a group of diplomatic thugs, led by the United States State Department and the OAS, offered the legal government of Honduras a deal they couldn’t refuse, forcing it to restore to power a man who had been legally removed from office (and, perhaps, illegally sent into exile instead of legally sent to jail).

In the September 24 article on the Honduran matter, the New York Times wrote: “Norma C. Gutierrez, an international law specialist who prepared a legal analysis for American lawmakers last month, criticized both sides. Her bottom line: the case against Mr. Zelaya was rooted in constitutional and statutory law. His removal from the country was not.”

This morning, reporting on the agreement, the Times writes, “Mr. Zelaya was ousted in a military coup on June 28 and flown to Costa Rica.”

As near as I can tell, the only coup in Honduras happened today, when a group of diplomatic thugs, led by the United States State Department and the OAS, offered the legal government of Honduras a deal they couldn’t refuse, forcing it to restore to power a man who had been legally removed from office (and, perhaps, illegally sent into exile instead of legally sent to jail).

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The Times They Are a-Changin’

How quickly things can turn. On May 15 of this year, in commenting on the intra-Republican contest between Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne wrote, “Florida will be one of the clearest tests of whether Republican voters are more interested in doctrinal purity or in winning even if it means nominating an Obama hugger.” Yet in his most recent column, Dionne writes:

Memo to Democrats: You will be defined by President Obama whether you like it or not, so you might as well embrace him for the benefits he can bring you…  the trajectory in both Virginia and New Jersey sends a message to many moderate congressional Democrats worried about the 2010 elections: Whatever problems Obama may cause them, they almost certainly can ‘ t win without him

In the span of less than six months, then, Dionne has gone from telling Republican they need to nominate an “Obama hugger” to explaining to moderate Democrats why they shouldn’t abandon Barack Obama, despite “whatever problems Obama may cause them.”

Mr. Dionne — whose distaste for Republicans and conservatives is evident in almost every column — cannot kick his habit of instructing them about the dangers of “doctrinal purity.” But for him, like so many other Obama supporters, the cockiness is gone, the fear is a’risin’, all before the Virginia gubernatorial election (where Democrat Creigh Deeds is down by double digits in the polls) has even occurred. The task now facing liberals like Dionne is to get moderate Democrats to be “Obama huggers” — or at least not to become Obama critics.

The times they are a-changin‘.

How quickly things can turn. On May 15 of this year, in commenting on the intra-Republican contest between Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne wrote, “Florida will be one of the clearest tests of whether Republican voters are more interested in doctrinal purity or in winning even if it means nominating an Obama hugger.” Yet in his most recent column, Dionne writes:

Memo to Democrats: You will be defined by President Obama whether you like it or not, so you might as well embrace him for the benefits he can bring you…  the trajectory in both Virginia and New Jersey sends a message to many moderate congressional Democrats worried about the 2010 elections: Whatever problems Obama may cause them, they almost certainly can ‘ t win without him

In the span of less than six months, then, Dionne has gone from telling Republican they need to nominate an “Obama hugger” to explaining to moderate Democrats why they shouldn’t abandon Barack Obama, despite “whatever problems Obama may cause them.”

Mr. Dionne — whose distaste for Republicans and conservatives is evident in almost every column — cannot kick his habit of instructing them about the dangers of “doctrinal purity.” But for him, like so many other Obama supporters, the cockiness is gone, the fear is a’risin’, all before the Virginia gubernatorial election (where Democrat Creigh Deeds is down by double digits in the polls) has even occurred. The task now facing liberals like Dionne is to get moderate Democrats to be “Obama huggers” — or at least not to become Obama critics.

The times they are a-changin‘.

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No? They Can’t Mean “No”!

The New York Times reports:

Iran told the United Nations nuclear watchdog on Thursday that it would not accept a plan its negotiators agreed to last week to send its stockpile of uranium out of the country, according to diplomats in Europe and American officials briefed on Iran’s response. The apparent rejection of the deal could unwind President Obama’s effort to buy time to resolve the nuclear standoff.

Well, that must come as a grave disappointment for the Obami, who were banking on the Iranians’ dragging this out a bit. There’s no sense in being so, well, definitive about it. And sure enough, the U.S. team isn’t ready to take no for an answer:

A senior European official characterized the Iranian response as “basically a refusal.” The Iranians, he said, want to keep all of their lightly enriched uranium in the country until receiving fuel bought from the West for the reactor in Tehran. “The key issue is that Iran does not agree to export its lightly enriched uranium,” the official said. “That’s not a minor detail. That’s the whole point of the deal.” American officials said it was unclear whether Iran’s declaration to Dr. ElBaradei was its final position, or whether it was seeking to renegotiate the deal — a step the Americans said they would not take.

You can hear the Obamai shuffling their feet. They murmur, “Isn’t there a moderate faction we can appeal to?” Maybe this is just a “test” — to see if the U.S. is serious about a deal, the flummoxed American negotiators fret. Yes, it’s a test all right.

It seems the Iranians are uninterested in a deal, even one as patently absurd as this one, in which an unverified portion of uranium (which the Iranians were never supposed to enrich) is shipped out of the country to be enriched for them by Russia or France and returned, thereby possibly delaying, for some minimal amount of time, the regime’s progress in attaining nuclear weapons. Not even this arrangement meets with the regime’s approval. It’s almost as if they think they can keep on doing what they’re doing, doesn’t it?

Could be that the mullahs did not perceive there were consequences to saying no. Might be that Obama’s cowering response to the June 12 elections and the brutalization of the Iranian democratic protesters, the president’s hush-hush-don’t-rock-the-boat-even-if Sarkozy’s-annoyed reaction to the Qom nuclear site, the repeated willingness to overlook deadlines, the ease by which we undercut our Eastern European allies, and the president’s obvious agony in deciding to fully fund a critical war in Afghanistan have together provided a picture of the Obama administration as unserious and irresolute.

The Iranians have no reason to jump at the first offer — Obama may make another, and at the very least he may come back to check if Iran really meant it. The Iranians can draw this out some more. We have not even reached the end of the beginning of the dawdling.

The New York Times reports:

Iran told the United Nations nuclear watchdog on Thursday that it would not accept a plan its negotiators agreed to last week to send its stockpile of uranium out of the country, according to diplomats in Europe and American officials briefed on Iran’s response. The apparent rejection of the deal could unwind President Obama’s effort to buy time to resolve the nuclear standoff.

Well, that must come as a grave disappointment for the Obami, who were banking on the Iranians’ dragging this out a bit. There’s no sense in being so, well, definitive about it. And sure enough, the U.S. team isn’t ready to take no for an answer:

A senior European official characterized the Iranian response as “basically a refusal.” The Iranians, he said, want to keep all of their lightly enriched uranium in the country until receiving fuel bought from the West for the reactor in Tehran. “The key issue is that Iran does not agree to export its lightly enriched uranium,” the official said. “That’s not a minor detail. That’s the whole point of the deal.” American officials said it was unclear whether Iran’s declaration to Dr. ElBaradei was its final position, or whether it was seeking to renegotiate the deal — a step the Americans said they would not take.

You can hear the Obamai shuffling their feet. They murmur, “Isn’t there a moderate faction we can appeal to?” Maybe this is just a “test” — to see if the U.S. is serious about a deal, the flummoxed American negotiators fret. Yes, it’s a test all right.

It seems the Iranians are uninterested in a deal, even one as patently absurd as this one, in which an unverified portion of uranium (which the Iranians were never supposed to enrich) is shipped out of the country to be enriched for them by Russia or France and returned, thereby possibly delaying, for some minimal amount of time, the regime’s progress in attaining nuclear weapons. Not even this arrangement meets with the regime’s approval. It’s almost as if they think they can keep on doing what they’re doing, doesn’t it?

Could be that the mullahs did not perceive there were consequences to saying no. Might be that Obama’s cowering response to the June 12 elections and the brutalization of the Iranian democratic protesters, the president’s hush-hush-don’t-rock-the-boat-even-if Sarkozy’s-annoyed reaction to the Qom nuclear site, the repeated willingness to overlook deadlines, the ease by which we undercut our Eastern European allies, and the president’s obvious agony in deciding to fully fund a critical war in Afghanistan have together provided a picture of the Obama administration as unserious and irresolute.

The Iranians have no reason to jump at the first offer — Obama may make another, and at the very least he may come back to check if Iran really meant it. The Iranians can draw this out some more. We have not even reached the end of the beginning of the dawdling.

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Getting Real About the Obama Iranian Policy

In a thought-provoking column, Yossi Klein Halevi examines Israeli opinion on the most critical issue of the day. ( No, James Jones, it’s not the “peace process” — it’s the existential threat to Israel and the prospect of a revolutionary Islamic state armed with nuclear weapons.) On the issue of whether Israel should employ military power and whether it will succeed, Halevi writes:

As sanctions efforts faltered, most Israelis came to answer the first question affirmatively. … A regime that assembles the world’s crackpots to deny the most documented atrocity in history—at the very moment it is trying to fend off sanctions and convince the international community of its sanity—may well be immune to rational self-interest.

Opinion here has been divided about the ability of an Israeli strike to significantly delay Iran’s nuclear program. But Israelis have dealt with their doubts by resurrecting a phrase from the country’s early years: Ein breira, there’s no choice. Besides, as one leading Israeli security official who has been involved in the Iranian issue for many years put it to me, “Technical problems have technical solutions.” Israelis tend to trust their strategic planners to find those solutions.

As for the willingness of the U.S. to use military force, he mulls whether the engagement gambit has effectively put the kibosh on a U.S. military option. Well, it certainly has thrown a wrench into the plans of those who envisioned us proceeding neatly from negotiation to sanctions. We are into the vortex of endless haggling. And we have the never-ending trickle of pronouncements from Obama officials, advising us that military options have their limitations (whereas quibbling with the Iranians has no limitations — or endpoint).

All signs point to the argument of inevitability. You can see the wheels in motion. We talked. We tried. Now they have nuclear arms. The alternatives are horrible. We can live with this, manage the threat. After all, look what a productive relationship we’re establishing with the regime! That’s what you see and hear underlying each move by the Obama team. No regime change — the democratic protesters are the fly at the engagement picnic. No sanctions right now — we’re negotiating. No big deal about Qom — the public may be alarmed we let this slide by. Don’t hold to any deadlines — we might reach a point of confrontation.

We can argue about just how naive the Obami are — or how compliant they think the American public may be when presented with the news that Iran has gone nuclear — but the Israelis don’t have the luxury of deluding themselves about the Obama administration’s game plan. It isn’t one designed to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat at all costs.

In a thought-provoking column, Yossi Klein Halevi examines Israeli opinion on the most critical issue of the day. ( No, James Jones, it’s not the “peace process” — it’s the existential threat to Israel and the prospect of a revolutionary Islamic state armed with nuclear weapons.) On the issue of whether Israel should employ military power and whether it will succeed, Halevi writes:

As sanctions efforts faltered, most Israelis came to answer the first question affirmatively. … A regime that assembles the world’s crackpots to deny the most documented atrocity in history—at the very moment it is trying to fend off sanctions and convince the international community of its sanity—may well be immune to rational self-interest.

Opinion here has been divided about the ability of an Israeli strike to significantly delay Iran’s nuclear program. But Israelis have dealt with their doubts by resurrecting a phrase from the country’s early years: Ein breira, there’s no choice. Besides, as one leading Israeli security official who has been involved in the Iranian issue for many years put it to me, “Technical problems have technical solutions.” Israelis tend to trust their strategic planners to find those solutions.

As for the willingness of the U.S. to use military force, he mulls whether the engagement gambit has effectively put the kibosh on a U.S. military option. Well, it certainly has thrown a wrench into the plans of those who envisioned us proceeding neatly from negotiation to sanctions. We are into the vortex of endless haggling. And we have the never-ending trickle of pronouncements from Obama officials, advising us that military options have their limitations (whereas quibbling with the Iranians has no limitations — or endpoint).

All signs point to the argument of inevitability. You can see the wheels in motion. We talked. We tried. Now they have nuclear arms. The alternatives are horrible. We can live with this, manage the threat. After all, look what a productive relationship we’re establishing with the regime! That’s what you see and hear underlying each move by the Obama team. No regime change — the democratic protesters are the fly at the engagement picnic. No sanctions right now — we’re negotiating. No big deal about Qom — the public may be alarmed we let this slide by. Don’t hold to any deadlines — we might reach a point of confrontation.

We can argue about just how naive the Obami are — or how compliant they think the American public may be when presented with the news that Iran has gone nuclear — but the Israelis don’t have the luxury of deluding themselves about the Obama administration’s game plan. It isn’t one designed to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat at all costs.

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Re: What Planet Are You On?

Pete, you’ve captured yet another way in which Obama has made the political divisions more acute. We now seem fundamentally and sharply divided on how we feel about him. Conservatives see the triumphalism (“I won!”), the petty attacks on talk-show hosts and a news network, the language of vilification, and the ungracious, almost pathological need to blame George Bush for all his woes. (His aides even go so far as to lie about the lack of war-planning by the Bush team — that would be the war-planning they plagiarized.)

It is, as Michael Gerson notes, a tone of “smallness.” Gerson reviews how we have gotten from large and grand ideas and appeals to our better selves to something very different:

How did the tonal candidate become so tone-deaf? We have always known that there are two Obamas. One is the thoughtful, Niebuhr-quoting professor, who listens to every side and speaks inspiring words of unity. The other Obama comes from Chicago and suffers from an excess of Chicagoans around him. Many Democrats seem to like the street-brawling side of Obama and his team. Many independents and Republicans seem less enthusiastic that Mr. Hyde has moved in his furniture and clearly plans to stay.

Instead, the Obama fans see a tough-guy act all of a sudden. Shows he’s no push-over (we’re talking Fox, not the mullahs). And what conservatives see as a distasteful delight in running down America’s past conduct, the Left sees as a noble effort to rise above mere national parochialism. What conservatives see as blind disregard for the limitations of multilateralism and a disturbing tendency to ingratiate himself with foes, the Left sees as evidence of nobility and high-mindedness. And for those whose opinion is quite low of the knuckle-dragging voters who dare challenge the wisdom of ObamaCare or who disdain ( but don’t really listen to) talk radio, whatever insults are hurled by the White House seem entirely justified.

There is no bridging the divide. At least so long as the president chooses to plan himself so firmly on the Left.

And what of the great number of voters in the middle, for whom the tone was the key attraction and the high-mindedness (not the specific policy agenda) that drew them to him? I suspect that they, unlike the liberal cheerleaders willing to excuse or reinterpret nearly any behavior in service of the larger leftist agenda, will notice the change as well. They might wonder what happened to the candidate who didn’t sound like every other snarling politician to come down the pike. Now Obama and his team do, and it may make a very big difference to the segment of the electorate whose votes are always up for grabs.

Pete, you’ve captured yet another way in which Obama has made the political divisions more acute. We now seem fundamentally and sharply divided on how we feel about him. Conservatives see the triumphalism (“I won!”), the petty attacks on talk-show hosts and a news network, the language of vilification, and the ungracious, almost pathological need to blame George Bush for all his woes. (His aides even go so far as to lie about the lack of war-planning by the Bush team — that would be the war-planning they plagiarized.)

It is, as Michael Gerson notes, a tone of “smallness.” Gerson reviews how we have gotten from large and grand ideas and appeals to our better selves to something very different:

How did the tonal candidate become so tone-deaf? We have always known that there are two Obamas. One is the thoughtful, Niebuhr-quoting professor, who listens to every side and speaks inspiring words of unity. The other Obama comes from Chicago and suffers from an excess of Chicagoans around him. Many Democrats seem to like the street-brawling side of Obama and his team. Many independents and Republicans seem less enthusiastic that Mr. Hyde has moved in his furniture and clearly plans to stay.

Instead, the Obama fans see a tough-guy act all of a sudden. Shows he’s no push-over (we’re talking Fox, not the mullahs). And what conservatives see as a distasteful delight in running down America’s past conduct, the Left sees as a noble effort to rise above mere national parochialism. What conservatives see as blind disregard for the limitations of multilateralism and a disturbing tendency to ingratiate himself with foes, the Left sees as evidence of nobility and high-mindedness. And for those whose opinion is quite low of the knuckle-dragging voters who dare challenge the wisdom of ObamaCare or who disdain ( but don’t really listen to) talk radio, whatever insults are hurled by the White House seem entirely justified.

There is no bridging the divide. At least so long as the president chooses to plan himself so firmly on the Left.

And what of the great number of voters in the middle, for whom the tone was the key attraction and the high-mindedness (not the specific policy agenda) that drew them to him? I suspect that they, unlike the liberal cheerleaders willing to excuse or reinterpret nearly any behavior in service of the larger leftist agenda, will notice the change as well. They might wonder what happened to the candidate who didn’t sound like every other snarling politician to come down the pike. Now Obama and his team do, and it may make a very big difference to the segment of the electorate whose votes are always up for grabs.

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The Tax Issue Is Back, to the Democrats’ Dismay

In Virginia’s gubernatorial race, no issue has been as powerful as taxes. Creigh Deeds bobbed and weaved but ultimately got pinned down in a September debate (and then an embarrassing press avail), saying he’d go for a tax increase. Ever since, Bob McDonnell has pummeled him with that.

The same issue is now affecting the other statewide races and the 100 House of Delegate contests. One Virginia Republican told me: “We have Walter Mondale Democrats promising to raise our taxes in a recession and the Washington Post endorsing them because of it.” (The Post, in its infinite political wisdom, announced that it was this issue — the willingness to raise taxes — that distinguished Deeds.)

So now every Democrat on the ballot is being asked, Do you support a tax hike? Many are saying yes, and may go down to defeat because of it. We are reassured each election by the chattering class that the tax issue is losing its potency. Well, not this time. And if the Democrats in Washington are determined to raise hundreds of billions in new taxes (both in the guise of health-care reform and by letting the Bush tax cuts expire), get ready for taxes to become a top issue in 2010 as well.

In Virginia’s gubernatorial race, no issue has been as powerful as taxes. Creigh Deeds bobbed and weaved but ultimately got pinned down in a September debate (and then an embarrassing press avail), saying he’d go for a tax increase. Ever since, Bob McDonnell has pummeled him with that.

The same issue is now affecting the other statewide races and the 100 House of Delegate contests. One Virginia Republican told me: “We have Walter Mondale Democrats promising to raise our taxes in a recession and the Washington Post endorsing them because of it.” (The Post, in its infinite political wisdom, announced that it was this issue — the willingness to raise taxes — that distinguished Deeds.)

So now every Democrat on the ballot is being asked, Do you support a tax hike? Many are saying yes, and may go down to defeat because of it. We are reassured each election by the chattering class that the tax issue is losing its potency. Well, not this time. And if the Democrats in Washington are determined to raise hundreds of billions in new taxes (both in the guise of health-care reform and by letting the Bush tax cuts expire), get ready for taxes to become a top issue in 2010 as well.

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Watch Out for the Populists

Populism vs. establishment conservatism. Or Wall Street vs. Main Street. Call the two sides what you want, but they coincide and sometimes conflict within the Republican party and the conservative movement more generally.

What does each side think of Sarah Palin? Or Dede Scozzafava? Do they cringe or rejoice at the sight of unruly Tea Party protesters? Is Rep. Joe Wilson a hero or an embarrassment? In part, the visceral reaction to these people and phenomenon help define the two groups and also portends conflicts in leadership, tactics, and policy preferences between groups on the Right.

In the year since Barack Obama was elected, the populists have been in the ascension. They organized the first mass demonstrations in favor of fiscal conservatism. They focused attention on the dangers of ObamaCare and forced elected leaders to confront the voters. They are not much impressed with political elders who send established candidates their way — so they are in the process of rejecting Scozzafava and are souring on figures like Charlie Crist.

Next Tuesday, one populist-inspired candidate (Doug Hoffman) and one candidate who successfully tapped into populist fury over Washington power grabs and big spending (Bob McDonnell) may win, sending a message that it pays to run against Washington D.C. and to reject calls for conservatives to compromise with or resign themselves to Obamaism. (Chris Christie hasn’t gone that route, and indeed has tried to appropriate Obama’s hope-and-change theme as his own. He is now trailing.)

We will see next week who wins and by how much. But one lesson may be clear: Republican candidates will have to tap into the populist, anti-Washington fervor and take-no-prisoners attitude if they are going to unify their party, attract increasingly skeptical independents, and achieve their aims.

Populism vs. establishment conservatism. Or Wall Street vs. Main Street. Call the two sides what you want, but they coincide and sometimes conflict within the Republican party and the conservative movement more generally.

What does each side think of Sarah Palin? Or Dede Scozzafava? Do they cringe or rejoice at the sight of unruly Tea Party protesters? Is Rep. Joe Wilson a hero or an embarrassment? In part, the visceral reaction to these people and phenomenon help define the two groups and also portends conflicts in leadership, tactics, and policy preferences between groups on the Right.

In the year since Barack Obama was elected, the populists have been in the ascension. They organized the first mass demonstrations in favor of fiscal conservatism. They focused attention on the dangers of ObamaCare and forced elected leaders to confront the voters. They are not much impressed with political elders who send established candidates their way — so they are in the process of rejecting Scozzafava and are souring on figures like Charlie Crist.

Next Tuesday, one populist-inspired candidate (Doug Hoffman) and one candidate who successfully tapped into populist fury over Washington power grabs and big spending (Bob McDonnell) may win, sending a message that it pays to run against Washington D.C. and to reject calls for conservatives to compromise with or resign themselves to Obamaism. (Chris Christie hasn’t gone that route, and indeed has tried to appropriate Obama’s hope-and-change theme as his own. He is now trailing.)

We will see next week who wins and by how much. But one lesson may be clear: Republican candidates will have to tap into the populist, anti-Washington fervor and take-no-prisoners attitude if they are going to unify their party, attract increasingly skeptical independents, and achieve their aims.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Doug Hoffman has indeed become the conservative front-runner in the NY-23 and has a shot at beating the Democrat.

And now the GOP establishment climbs onboard. A lesson perhaps for the Beltway crowd.

Another poll with a double-digit lead for Bob McDonnell.

Mickey Kaus, who more or less likes the Obama agenda, is forced to admit he doesn’t really like him. He’s discovered that Obama is pompous and aloof up there with his teleprompter. Yeah, who knew? Maybe that Obama magic that convinced so many of his magnificence has a one-year expiration date from Election Day.

What’s in the House’s trillion-dollar health-care bill? “Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had touted the bill as costing $894 billion when she released it online earlier in the day, but that number nets out $167 billion in new pay-or-play taxes on individuals and businesses. Pelosi’s office had also said the bill would cut the deficit by $30 billion, but the CBO score came in much better. The $1.055 trillion cost is offset by $740 billion in new taxes and revenue and a net $426 billion in cuts in spending, largely in Medicare.” That’s right — and how many Democrats are willing to vote for more than $700B in new taxes and $420B in Medicare cuts? We will find out. Unless the whole thing implodes.

National Jewish Democratic Council head Ira Forman says he would be upset with the Chuck Hagel pick if the job were more important. Well, this is progress. He wouldn’t offer an opinion on the Mary Robinson award. Next, maybe he can express some chagrin at sending James Jones to rub elbows with the mullah flacks.

Charles Krauthammer thinks Obama should stop blaming Bush and own up to his own policy choices: “Obama is obviously unhappy with the path he himself chose in March. Fine. He has every right — indeed, duty — to reconsider. But what Obama is reacting to is the failure of his own strategy.”

The swamp isn’t yet drained: “Nearly half the members of a powerful House subcommittee in control of Pentagon spending are under scrutiny by ethics investigators in Congress, who have trained their lens on the relationships between seven members and an influential lobbying firm founded by a former Capitol Hill aide.”

Turns out the global-warming models are “imperfect.” The new data comes at an inconvenient time for the international climate police: “The renewed discussion of inherent shortcomings in climate models comes on the cusp of potentially big financial commitments. In five weeks, diplomats from around the world will meet in Copenhagen to try to hash out a new agreement to curb global greenhouse-gas emissions. The science continues to evolve.”

Kim Strassel thinks there is a method to Harry Reid’s madness: “Then again, maybe he is majority leader for a reason. Maybe Mr. Reid didn’t just wander out of the Nevada desert. Maybe he has a plan. Maybe, just maybe, he sees a big upside in turning the public option into the centerpiece of the health-care debate. After all, what does he have to lose? Up for re-election next year, Mr. Reid is facing Nevada polls that suggest he’s lost most voters outside his base. His base too, was slipping, with Moveon.org making him a punching bag for not embracing the public option. With this week’s announcement, he is once again the hero of the left, and has that baboon off his back.”

Doug Hoffman has indeed become the conservative front-runner in the NY-23 and has a shot at beating the Democrat.

And now the GOP establishment climbs onboard. A lesson perhaps for the Beltway crowd.

Another poll with a double-digit lead for Bob McDonnell.

Mickey Kaus, who more or less likes the Obama agenda, is forced to admit he doesn’t really like him. He’s discovered that Obama is pompous and aloof up there with his teleprompter. Yeah, who knew? Maybe that Obama magic that convinced so many of his magnificence has a one-year expiration date from Election Day.

What’s in the House’s trillion-dollar health-care bill? “Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had touted the bill as costing $894 billion when she released it online earlier in the day, but that number nets out $167 billion in new pay-or-play taxes on individuals and businesses. Pelosi’s office had also said the bill would cut the deficit by $30 billion, but the CBO score came in much better. The $1.055 trillion cost is offset by $740 billion in new taxes and revenue and a net $426 billion in cuts in spending, largely in Medicare.” That’s right — and how many Democrats are willing to vote for more than $700B in new taxes and $420B in Medicare cuts? We will find out. Unless the whole thing implodes.

National Jewish Democratic Council head Ira Forman says he would be upset with the Chuck Hagel pick if the job were more important. Well, this is progress. He wouldn’t offer an opinion on the Mary Robinson award. Next, maybe he can express some chagrin at sending James Jones to rub elbows with the mullah flacks.

Charles Krauthammer thinks Obama should stop blaming Bush and own up to his own policy choices: “Obama is obviously unhappy with the path he himself chose in March. Fine. He has every right — indeed, duty — to reconsider. But what Obama is reacting to is the failure of his own strategy.”

The swamp isn’t yet drained: “Nearly half the members of a powerful House subcommittee in control of Pentagon spending are under scrutiny by ethics investigators in Congress, who have trained their lens on the relationships between seven members and an influential lobbying firm founded by a former Capitol Hill aide.”

Turns out the global-warming models are “imperfect.” The new data comes at an inconvenient time for the international climate police: “The renewed discussion of inherent shortcomings in climate models comes on the cusp of potentially big financial commitments. In five weeks, diplomats from around the world will meet in Copenhagen to try to hash out a new agreement to curb global greenhouse-gas emissions. The science continues to evolve.”

Kim Strassel thinks there is a method to Harry Reid’s madness: “Then again, maybe he is majority leader for a reason. Maybe Mr. Reid didn’t just wander out of the Nevada desert. Maybe he has a plan. Maybe, just maybe, he sees a big upside in turning the public option into the centerpiece of the health-care debate. After all, what does he have to lose? Up for re-election next year, Mr. Reid is facing Nevada polls that suggest he’s lost most voters outside his base. His base too, was slipping, with Moveon.org making him a punching bag for not embracing the public option. With this week’s announcement, he is once again the hero of the left, and has that baboon off his back.”

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