Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 2009

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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Throwing the Objective Out with the Bathwater

John Noonan at the Weekly Standard and Max Boot fear that the compromise option Obama is considering for Afghanistan portends a bad decision. Regrettably, mainstream media reporting is unlikely to help Americans understand why. New York Times reporters faithfully reproduce the terms used by administration officials: adopting some elements from McChrystal’s plan and some from the Biden strategy of terrorist-hunting, with a lower number of additional troops presumably justified by the decision not to adopt the entire McChrystal plan. Noonan refers to it as “splitting the baby.”

These essentially methodological terms obscure the real issue, however, which is that truncating McChrystal’s plan inherently changes the objective. If Obama indeed chooses the compromise option outlined in the Times, he will not be telling McChrystal to approach the same objective in a different way. He will be telling McChrystal not to approach it at all.

Max has ably developed the essentials of the McChrystal proposal to secure areas of the Afghan countryside against the Taliban by immunizing the population against insurgent tactics through a multipronged approach, and by focusing on key terrain: transportation routes, the Helmand valley agricultural area, and selected positions in western and eastern Afghanistan that the Taliban cannot be allowed to hold. McChrystal’s plan also, of course, envisions protecting key cities and continuing to train Afghan forces. But it’s the emphasis on securing the countryside—which otherwise will be ruled and used by the Taliban—that demands the bulk of the 40,000 troops.

With only 10,000-20,000 additional troops, the countryside cannot be secured. Obama’s advisers have propounded this issue in honest terms: The Biden group avowedly sees no value in securing the Afghan countryside against the Taliban. There are vague references instead to concluding deals with “moderate” Taliban—a concept that in practice would amount to favoring some Taliban against their tribal enemies.

Given NATO’s numbers and superior armament, a handful of cities could probably be protected for some time under these conditions, although commerce and development would suffer. But a trained Afghan force, once security were turned over to it, would face the Taliban’s holding the majority of Afghan territory after just one or two years of the Obama administration’s compromise option. This option is not a strategy for leaving Afghanistan secure. It would inevitably be seen in the region as a strategy for American convenience and would complete the rollback from Bush’s transformative approach to one of retaining fortified bases from which to conduct homicidal raids against terrorists — while Central Asia is left to descend into chaos. Local rebellion against such a policy seems all but guaranteed.

The compromise option carries a fundamentally different objective from the one McChrystal’s plan seeks to achieve. The objective is the essential issue, not the methodology. This is a baby that cannot be split; it can only be thrown out with the bath water.

John Noonan at the Weekly Standard and Max Boot fear that the compromise option Obama is considering for Afghanistan portends a bad decision. Regrettably, mainstream media reporting is unlikely to help Americans understand why. New York Times reporters faithfully reproduce the terms used by administration officials: adopting some elements from McChrystal’s plan and some from the Biden strategy of terrorist-hunting, with a lower number of additional troops presumably justified by the decision not to adopt the entire McChrystal plan. Noonan refers to it as “splitting the baby.”

These essentially methodological terms obscure the real issue, however, which is that truncating McChrystal’s plan inherently changes the objective. If Obama indeed chooses the compromise option outlined in the Times, he will not be telling McChrystal to approach the same objective in a different way. He will be telling McChrystal not to approach it at all.

Max has ably developed the essentials of the McChrystal proposal to secure areas of the Afghan countryside against the Taliban by immunizing the population against insurgent tactics through a multipronged approach, and by focusing on key terrain: transportation routes, the Helmand valley agricultural area, and selected positions in western and eastern Afghanistan that the Taliban cannot be allowed to hold. McChrystal’s plan also, of course, envisions protecting key cities and continuing to train Afghan forces. But it’s the emphasis on securing the countryside—which otherwise will be ruled and used by the Taliban—that demands the bulk of the 40,000 troops.

With only 10,000-20,000 additional troops, the countryside cannot be secured. Obama’s advisers have propounded this issue in honest terms: The Biden group avowedly sees no value in securing the Afghan countryside against the Taliban. There are vague references instead to concluding deals with “moderate” Taliban—a concept that in practice would amount to favoring some Taliban against their tribal enemies.

Given NATO’s numbers and superior armament, a handful of cities could probably be protected for some time under these conditions, although commerce and development would suffer. But a trained Afghan force, once security were turned over to it, would face the Taliban’s holding the majority of Afghan territory after just one or two years of the Obama administration’s compromise option. This option is not a strategy for leaving Afghanistan secure. It would inevitably be seen in the region as a strategy for American convenience and would complete the rollback from Bush’s transformative approach to one of retaining fortified bases from which to conduct homicidal raids against terrorists — while Central Asia is left to descend into chaos. Local rebellion against such a policy seems all but guaranteed.

The compromise option carries a fundamentally different objective from the one McChrystal’s plan seeks to achieve. The objective is the essential issue, not the methodology. This is a baby that cannot be split; it can only be thrown out with the bath water.

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The Countdown

Nancy Pelosi has unveiled her monstrous bill — well, not exactly unveiled it, because the unveiling wasn’t open to the public. But we do know it is now nearly 2,000 pages long. And we know she wants to vote on this before November 11. Some of the high- and low-lights:

The legislation imposes as much as $150 billion in Medicare cuts on the prescription-drug industry — almost double the $80 billion cuts in the Senate bill. It imposes a 2.5 percent tax on medical device manufacturers, a quietly influential force on Capitol Hill. And health insurers, who have already agreed to end many of the practices banned by the bill, would have to compete with a government-run insurance vehicle that would put pressure on them to lower premiums.

It achieves deficit neutrality by phantom Medicare cuts (which are unlikely to go through or, if they do, will be promptly undone). And then there are the taxes and mandates, which include:

In addition, businesses with a combined annual payroll exceeding $500,000 will be forced to pay penalties for its uninsured workers. As expected, the House bill generates most of its income by imposing a graduated surtax on married couples who make more than $1 million and individuals whose adjusted gross income exceeds $500,000. The initial income thresholds were $350,000 for couples and $280,000 for individuals.

What about cost containment? No, there are fee cuts for doctors and hospitals, but that’s just the amount the government will pay for health care (that is, the procedures and treatments it will approve). The cost of health care is not really addressed by any of this.

Will a single Republican vote for a government takeover of health care and 1,990 pages of mandates, taxes, and controls? I would be surprised. The question is how many Democrats are willing to stake their political futures on this sort of power grab. Perhaps next Tuesday’s elections will be a wake-up call of sorts … a teachable moment is what they call it, right?

Nancy Pelosi has unveiled her monstrous bill — well, not exactly unveiled it, because the unveiling wasn’t open to the public. But we do know it is now nearly 2,000 pages long. And we know she wants to vote on this before November 11. Some of the high- and low-lights:

The legislation imposes as much as $150 billion in Medicare cuts on the prescription-drug industry — almost double the $80 billion cuts in the Senate bill. It imposes a 2.5 percent tax on medical device manufacturers, a quietly influential force on Capitol Hill. And health insurers, who have already agreed to end many of the practices banned by the bill, would have to compete with a government-run insurance vehicle that would put pressure on them to lower premiums.

It achieves deficit neutrality by phantom Medicare cuts (which are unlikely to go through or, if they do, will be promptly undone). And then there are the taxes and mandates, which include:

In addition, businesses with a combined annual payroll exceeding $500,000 will be forced to pay penalties for its uninsured workers. As expected, the House bill generates most of its income by imposing a graduated surtax on married couples who make more than $1 million and individuals whose adjusted gross income exceeds $500,000. The initial income thresholds were $350,000 for couples and $280,000 for individuals.

What about cost containment? No, there are fee cuts for doctors and hospitals, but that’s just the amount the government will pay for health care (that is, the procedures and treatments it will approve). The cost of health care is not really addressed by any of this.

Will a single Republican vote for a government takeover of health care and 1,990 pages of mandates, taxes, and controls? I would be surprised. The question is how many Democrats are willing to stake their political futures on this sort of power grab. Perhaps next Tuesday’s elections will be a wake-up call of sorts … a teachable moment is what they call it, right?

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Seminars and Serious Questions

As the serial seminars continue, the front-page headline yesterday on the New York Times was “Brother of Afghan Leader Said to Be Paid by CIA.” The article did not waste any time getting to its point: the news “raises significant questions about America’s war strategy.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry issued a press release stating it was news to him and raised “serious questions”:

“After reading press accounts which allege that Mr. Karzai has been on the payroll of the CIA, one of the agencies gathering intelligence about narcotics trafficking in Afghanistan, I have serious questions about the information that Congress is receiving. On questions this serious, it is imperative that we receive reliable, current and accurate information. …

The appropriate congressional committees must be immediately provided with the most comprehensive and untainted information about his alleged entanglements.”

Over at the State Department, there was this comedy-silver exchange with Spokesman Ian Kelly:

QUESTION: Ian, quite apart from any report that may have appeared today or in the recent past, what does the Administration think about President Karzai’s brother?

MR. KELLY: What do we think about his brother? I don’t know that we necessarily have a view on his brother. I mean, we support the government of President Karzai, and our views are very well known on that.

QUESTION: Well, what do you think of the influence his brother might wield?

MR. KELLY: I don’t think I necessarily have that kind of information.

QUESTION: Okay. Perhaps then maybe you can [give] the guidance you have for the question that you were expecting.

MR. KELLY: You’ve got to ask me the question before I read the guidance. I’m happy to read the guidance, if you’ll ask me the question.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: What about reports that President Karzai’s brother is being paid by the CIA for various activities?

MR. KELLY: We don’t comment on intelligence matters.

One would have thought the serious questions had been resolved long ago. On March 27, President Obama announced his “comprehensive, new strategy” after a “careful policy review … ordered as soon as I took office” that reflected input from “our military commanders, as well as our diplomats” and consultations with Afghanistan, Pakistan, NATO allies, and international organizations working “closely” with members of Congress.

According to Rahm Emanuel, Obama is now asking “the questions that have never been asked on the civilian side, the political side, the military side and the strategic side.” Obama’s current review of his own comprehensive new strategy has now taken him longer than it took him to adopt the strategy in the first place.

As the serial seminars continue, the front-page headline yesterday on the New York Times was “Brother of Afghan Leader Said to Be Paid by CIA.” The article did not waste any time getting to its point: the news “raises significant questions about America’s war strategy.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry issued a press release stating it was news to him and raised “serious questions”:

“After reading press accounts which allege that Mr. Karzai has been on the payroll of the CIA, one of the agencies gathering intelligence about narcotics trafficking in Afghanistan, I have serious questions about the information that Congress is receiving. On questions this serious, it is imperative that we receive reliable, current and accurate information. …

The appropriate congressional committees must be immediately provided with the most comprehensive and untainted information about his alleged entanglements.”

Over at the State Department, there was this comedy-silver exchange with Spokesman Ian Kelly:

QUESTION: Ian, quite apart from any report that may have appeared today or in the recent past, what does the Administration think about President Karzai’s brother?

MR. KELLY: What do we think about his brother? I don’t know that we necessarily have a view on his brother. I mean, we support the government of President Karzai, and our views are very well known on that.

QUESTION: Well, what do you think of the influence his brother might wield?

MR. KELLY: I don’t think I necessarily have that kind of information.

QUESTION: Okay. Perhaps then maybe you can [give] the guidance you have for the question that you were expecting.

MR. KELLY: You’ve got to ask me the question before I read the guidance. I’m happy to read the guidance, if you’ll ask me the question.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: What about reports that President Karzai’s brother is being paid by the CIA for various activities?

MR. KELLY: We don’t comment on intelligence matters.

One would have thought the serious questions had been resolved long ago. On March 27, President Obama announced his “comprehensive, new strategy” after a “careful policy review … ordered as soon as I took office” that reflected input from “our military commanders, as well as our diplomats” and consultations with Afghanistan, Pakistan, NATO allies, and international organizations working “closely” with members of Congress.

According to Rahm Emanuel, Obama is now asking “the questions that have never been asked on the civilian side, the political side, the military side and the strategic side.” Obama’s current review of his own comprehensive new strategy has now taken him longer than it took him to adopt the strategy in the first place.

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Helena Cobban on the Jews

Helena Cobban sits on the board of Human Rights Watch and was a member of the blogger panel at the J Street conference. She recently ruminated on the question of why so many Jews are disgusted with the Goldstone/HRW treatment of Israel (hat tip: Richard Landes). Her answer:

But the Michael Goldfarbs, the Norman Podhoretz’s, the Alan Dershowitz’s, and Robert Bernsteins of this world truly don’t get this. They truly think there is something so “special” about Jewish people and their experience in the world that somehow the [sic] (and especially the allegedly “Jewish” state, Israel) deserve to be given a free pass on the application of any neutral standards of behavior, such as would be applied to anyone else.

Ah, so the Jews think they’re superior to everyone else — where have we heard that one before? And what is the “allegedly” Jewish state? (Sorry, I’ve misquoted her. That’s the allegedly “Jewish” state.) Her writing is so sloppy that it’s impossible to discern what specific slander she has in mind.

Cobban concludes:

So now, frustrated by their inability to dream up a “Cast lead II,” Israel’s hardliners are taking out their frustrations by railing against Goldstone and “demanding deep changes in the laws of war.”

The pop psychology here is entertaining but of a thematic piece with the rest of her thinking. The criticism of Goldstone, she intones, is not serious or rational — it is in fact the redirected frustration of a predatory and sadistic people whose desire for more war on Palestinian civilians has been thwarted. Get it?

Just to remind people again: this petulant woman sits on the board of Human Rights Watch.

Helena Cobban sits on the board of Human Rights Watch and was a member of the blogger panel at the J Street conference. She recently ruminated on the question of why so many Jews are disgusted with the Goldstone/HRW treatment of Israel (hat tip: Richard Landes). Her answer:

But the Michael Goldfarbs, the Norman Podhoretz’s, the Alan Dershowitz’s, and Robert Bernsteins of this world truly don’t get this. They truly think there is something so “special” about Jewish people and their experience in the world that somehow the [sic] (and especially the allegedly “Jewish” state, Israel) deserve to be given a free pass on the application of any neutral standards of behavior, such as would be applied to anyone else.

Ah, so the Jews think they’re superior to everyone else — where have we heard that one before? And what is the “allegedly” Jewish state? (Sorry, I’ve misquoted her. That’s the allegedly “Jewish” state.) Her writing is so sloppy that it’s impossible to discern what specific slander she has in mind.

Cobban concludes:

So now, frustrated by their inability to dream up a “Cast lead II,” Israel’s hardliners are taking out their frustrations by railing against Goldstone and “demanding deep changes in the laws of war.”

The pop psychology here is entertaining but of a thematic piece with the rest of her thinking. The criticism of Goldstone, she intones, is not serious or rational — it is in fact the redirected frustration of a predatory and sadistic people whose desire for more war on Palestinian civilians has been thwarted. Get it?

Just to remind people again: this petulant woman sits on the board of Human Rights Watch.

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What Planet Are You On?

In a story in the British paper the Independent, we find this nugget:

“Obama has created an atmosphere of no fear,” Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University and political biographer, told the National Journal. “Nobody is really worried about the revenge of Barack Obama, because he is not a vengeful man. That’s what we love about him; he is so high-minded, and a conciliatory guy, and he tries to govern with a sense of consensus – all noble goals, but they don’t get you very far in this Washington knifing environment.”

Exactly what planet is Professor Brinkley living on? The person he describes was Candidate Obama. But President Obama — you know, the one who targets news networks, the Chamber of Commerce, insurance companies, and people attending town-hall meetings; the Obama who accuses his critics of being liars; the Obama who is trying to ram through one of the largest pieces of legislation in American history without a single Republican vote and after having done virtually no outreach — is a very different person.

The curtain has been pulled back on the supposedly high-minded and noble Mr. Obama. The game is up. And the reality is that he is one of the most partisan and divisive figures we have seen, even as he tries from time to time to reach back to unifying rhetoric — rhetoric that has grown old and stale. His White House — led by Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Anita Dunn, and Robert Gibbs — is also showing a propensity to bring knives and clubs and guns to Washington’s political skirmishes. They are pulling down rather than elevating our politics. That should be obvious to anyone paying attention, to anyone not blinded by ideology. Which perhaps explains Professor Brinkley’s silly comments.

In a story in the British paper the Independent, we find this nugget:

“Obama has created an atmosphere of no fear,” Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University and political biographer, told the National Journal. “Nobody is really worried about the revenge of Barack Obama, because he is not a vengeful man. That’s what we love about him; he is so high-minded, and a conciliatory guy, and he tries to govern with a sense of consensus – all noble goals, but they don’t get you very far in this Washington knifing environment.”

Exactly what planet is Professor Brinkley living on? The person he describes was Candidate Obama. But President Obama — you know, the one who targets news networks, the Chamber of Commerce, insurance companies, and people attending town-hall meetings; the Obama who accuses his critics of being liars; the Obama who is trying to ram through one of the largest pieces of legislation in American history without a single Republican vote and after having done virtually no outreach — is a very different person.

The curtain has been pulled back on the supposedly high-minded and noble Mr. Obama. The game is up. And the reality is that he is one of the most partisan and divisive figures we have seen, even as he tries from time to time to reach back to unifying rhetoric — rhetoric that has grown old and stale. His White House — led by Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Anita Dunn, and Robert Gibbs — is also showing a propensity to bring knives and clubs and guns to Washington’s political skirmishes. They are pulling down rather than elevating our politics. That should be obvious to anyone paying attention, to anyone not blinded by ideology. Which perhaps explains Professor Brinkley’s silly comments.

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All Aboard COMMENTARY in August 2010

We are now accepting reservations for the week-long COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Seven Seas Navigator as it sails through the waters of Alaska. Enjoy stimulating discussions, speeches, and dinners with some of the most interesting and well-informed people you are ever likely to meet in the most dramatic and gorgeous setting in the Northern Hemisphere.

You will hear Elliott Abrams, the top official on the Mideast in the Bush White House, discuss the state of play between Israel, Iran, and the Palestinians. Bret Stephens, author of the marvelous “Global View” column in the Wall Street Journal and former editor of the Jerusalem Post, will offer his, well, Global View. (Bret began his career at COMMENTARY.) You will be privy to an authoritative historical overview provided by Andrew Roberts, who may be the finest living historian of World War II. The political condition of the United States will be the subject of talks by Michael Medved, the author and talk-show host, and Jennifer Rubin, COMMENTARY’s lead blogger and a contributing editor to the magazine. And of course, we’ll have the First Couple of Neoconservatism, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, who, I can tell you with some authority, are not only among the world’s most fascinating people but delightful traveling companions to boot. I’ll be there too, playing traffic cop.

We’ve just opened up shop for this conference, so the best cabins are still available. For more information on this singular event, click here.

We are now accepting reservations for the week-long COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Seven Seas Navigator as it sails through the waters of Alaska. Enjoy stimulating discussions, speeches, and dinners with some of the most interesting and well-informed people you are ever likely to meet in the most dramatic and gorgeous setting in the Northern Hemisphere.

You will hear Elliott Abrams, the top official on the Mideast in the Bush White House, discuss the state of play between Israel, Iran, and the Palestinians. Bret Stephens, author of the marvelous “Global View” column in the Wall Street Journal and former editor of the Jerusalem Post, will offer his, well, Global View. (Bret began his career at COMMENTARY.) You will be privy to an authoritative historical overview provided by Andrew Roberts, who may be the finest living historian of World War II. The political condition of the United States will be the subject of talks by Michael Medved, the author and talk-show host, and Jennifer Rubin, COMMENTARY’s lead blogger and a contributing editor to the magazine. And of course, we’ll have the First Couple of Neoconservatism, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, who, I can tell you with some authority, are not only among the world’s most fascinating people but delightful traveling companions to boot. I’ll be there too, playing traffic cop.

We’ve just opened up shop for this conference, so the best cabins are still available. For more information on this singular event, click here.

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A Dignified Act

President Obama visited Dover Air Force Base early this morning and met with some of the families of the fallen. It was a dignified and appropriate act by the president. And I know from the experience of George W. Bush, who met with hundreds of family members over the course of his presidency, that it is an emotionally wrenching one as well, though nothing compared with what the families themselves suffer. In watching this, one is reminded of the awful costs of war — and of the unique place the president plays in our national life.

Barack Obama did the right thing in the right way, and he deserves credit for it.

President Obama visited Dover Air Force Base early this morning and met with some of the families of the fallen. It was a dignified and appropriate act by the president. And I know from the experience of George W. Bush, who met with hundreds of family members over the course of his presidency, that it is an emotionally wrenching one as well, though nothing compared with what the families themselves suffer. In watching this, one is reminded of the awful costs of war — and of the unique place the president plays in our national life.

Barack Obama did the right thing in the right way, and he deserves credit for it.

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Fortunate Timing

The Commerce Department reported this morning that the economy rebounded in the third quarter of 2009, growing at a 3.5 percent annual rate. That is the first quarter of growth since the second quarter of last year and so may signal the end of the Great Recession, especially if the fourth quarter continues the trend. To be sure, a considerable part of that growth was from the cash-for-clunkers program, which helped drive up durable-goods purchases by an astounding 22.3 percent last quarter. It will be interesting to see how much of that automobile-buying was borrowed from the future by the federal subsidies, retarding growth in the current quarter and the first quarter of 2010.

What is unlikely to rebound is employment, which is always a lagging indicator. Worse, as I explained here, the rebound in employment has been taking longer and longer after each recession, as the microprocessor revolution rolls on. It is, perhaps, lucky for the Democrats that preliminary quarterly GDP figures are released on the last Thursday of the month following the end of the quarter and that monthly unemployment figures are released on the first Friday of the next month. Because of the vagaries of the calendar this fall, that means that the good news on GDP was released five days before the election and the likely bad news on unemployment will be released three days after the election.

The Commerce Department reported this morning that the economy rebounded in the third quarter of 2009, growing at a 3.5 percent annual rate. That is the first quarter of growth since the second quarter of last year and so may signal the end of the Great Recession, especially if the fourth quarter continues the trend. To be sure, a considerable part of that growth was from the cash-for-clunkers program, which helped drive up durable-goods purchases by an astounding 22.3 percent last quarter. It will be interesting to see how much of that automobile-buying was borrowed from the future by the federal subsidies, retarding growth in the current quarter and the first quarter of 2010.

What is unlikely to rebound is employment, which is always a lagging indicator. Worse, as I explained here, the rebound in employment has been taking longer and longer after each recession, as the microprocessor revolution rolls on. It is, perhaps, lucky for the Democrats that preliminary quarterly GDP figures are released on the last Thursday of the month following the end of the quarter and that monthly unemployment figures are released on the first Friday of the next month. Because of the vagaries of the calendar this fall, that means that the good news on GDP was released five days before the election and the likely bad news on unemployment will be released three days after the election.

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What Could It Mean?

Stuart Rothenberg, hardly a conservative cheerleader, has a sobering take for Democrats on the Virginia gubernatorial race:

If George W. Bush were still in the White House, Deeds almost certainly would be elected governor of Virginia, so it’s a little difficult to swallow the argument that national politics has nothing to do with the Virginia results. But it’s also important to note that Virginia Republicans united behind their nominee and that McDonnell has kept his focus on jobs, taxes and transportation, rather than stressing social issues.

The ability of McDonnell to roll up big margins outside Northern Virginia, against a Democratic nominee from rural Bath County, can’t be ignored, especially considering all of the growth in Northern Virginia and the hype about the region’s political importance in state races. The red parts of Virginia are acting red again, even against a Democratic nominee who was expected to have considerable appeal in those parts of the state.

Tim Kaine won by 6 points in 2005. We’ll see what the switch from Bush to Obama is “worth” to Republicans. A 10-point shift (McDonnell by 4) or a 15-point shift (McDonnell by 9) would be extraordinary. Put differently, we will find out next Tuesday just how much of a drag Obama is on the political fortunes of swing-state Democrats.

In New Jersey, Rothenberg says it is too close to call, although he suggests that both the tendency for late deciders to break against the incumbent and the falloff in the vote for independents in the final days favor Chris Christie. Given that this is essentially a referendum on Jon Corzine, Rothenberg notes, “In any case and no matter the result, the result in the Garden State will say little or nothing about Obama.”

In 2005, Virginia losses foretold the GOP wipeout in 2006. In 1993 the GOP victories in New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races signaled the wave election of 1994. It doesn’t always work that way. But it does often enough, which is why everyone will argue about the implications of these races so strenuously.

Stuart Rothenberg, hardly a conservative cheerleader, has a sobering take for Democrats on the Virginia gubernatorial race:

If George W. Bush were still in the White House, Deeds almost certainly would be elected governor of Virginia, so it’s a little difficult to swallow the argument that national politics has nothing to do with the Virginia results. But it’s also important to note that Virginia Republicans united behind their nominee and that McDonnell has kept his focus on jobs, taxes and transportation, rather than stressing social issues.

The ability of McDonnell to roll up big margins outside Northern Virginia, against a Democratic nominee from rural Bath County, can’t be ignored, especially considering all of the growth in Northern Virginia and the hype about the region’s political importance in state races. The red parts of Virginia are acting red again, even against a Democratic nominee who was expected to have considerable appeal in those parts of the state.

Tim Kaine won by 6 points in 2005. We’ll see what the switch from Bush to Obama is “worth” to Republicans. A 10-point shift (McDonnell by 4) or a 15-point shift (McDonnell by 9) would be extraordinary. Put differently, we will find out next Tuesday just how much of a drag Obama is on the political fortunes of swing-state Democrats.

In New Jersey, Rothenberg says it is too close to call, although he suggests that both the tendency for late deciders to break against the incumbent and the falloff in the vote for independents in the final days favor Chris Christie. Given that this is essentially a referendum on Jon Corzine, Rothenberg notes, “In any case and no matter the result, the result in the Garden State will say little or nothing about Obama.”

In 2005, Virginia losses foretold the GOP wipeout in 2006. In 1993 the GOP victories in New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races signaled the wave election of 1994. It doesn’t always work that way. But it does often enough, which is why everyone will argue about the implications of these races so strenuously.

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Never Give Up

Bob Kagan asks a salient question: What will the Obama administration do when it’s clear (well, clearer than it has been) that we’re being played by the Iranian regime? He explains:

So now the test results are in: Iran’s intentions, it seems, are not good. Tehran apparently will not accept the deal but will propose an alternate plan, agreeing to ship smaller amounts of low-enriched uranium to Russia gradually over a year. Even if Iran carried out this plan as promised — every month would be an adventure to see how much, if anything, Iran shipped — the slow movement of small amounts of low-enriched uranium does not accomplish the original purpose, since Iran can quickly replace these amounts with new low-enriched uranium produced by its centrifuges. Iran’s nuclear clock, which the Obama administration hoped to stop or at least slow, would continue ticking at close to its regular speed.

Kagan implores the Obama team to show some spine and move ahead with sanctions to show we mean business. And really, if we didn’t get snookered by the Russians, they, in exchange for our selling out the Poles and Czechs on missile defense, “should come through by joining in sanctions.” Right? But like Kagan, I find it hard to believe that any objective evidence of “failure” will be taken to heart. We’ll simply double down, extend the deadlines, and continue the “hard work of negotiating.”

We’ve already refused repeatedly to take no for an answer on a series of deadlines, and have already absolved Iran for maintaining the secret Qom site. So why should we suddenly show some fortitude? We’ve already beckoned the mullahs back into respectable international company. We’re going to be the skunk at our own garden party?

The Obama team’s devotion to engagement has become a religious-like devotion. Contrary facts are reinterpreted to maintain the core ideology. We must simply be faithful and patient. As Kagan notes, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that “engagement is an end in itself, not a means to an end.” If engagement ever stopped, we would have to do something. And if the vision of a grand multilateral international community doesn’t quite match reality we might — oh my! — have to act on our own. The imposition of American military power we’ve already been warned isn’t going to “permanently” solve anything. (Not like shipping part of Iran’s uranium to Russia to be replaced in a year, huh?)

Much damage has already been done by the faux negotiating. The Iranian regime has solidified its position and taken on an air of legitimacy. News of its suppression of dissent and brutality is out of the headlines. We’ve been enablers in the snuffing out of Iranian democratic protests. (Defunding them certainly went a long way in that direction.)

So will Obama show us he is the savvy negotiator and tough guy his ardent fans think he is? C’mon, it’s not like we’re talking about Fox News or the Chamber of Commerce.

Bob Kagan asks a salient question: What will the Obama administration do when it’s clear (well, clearer than it has been) that we’re being played by the Iranian regime? He explains:

So now the test results are in: Iran’s intentions, it seems, are not good. Tehran apparently will not accept the deal but will propose an alternate plan, agreeing to ship smaller amounts of low-enriched uranium to Russia gradually over a year. Even if Iran carried out this plan as promised — every month would be an adventure to see how much, if anything, Iran shipped — the slow movement of small amounts of low-enriched uranium does not accomplish the original purpose, since Iran can quickly replace these amounts with new low-enriched uranium produced by its centrifuges. Iran’s nuclear clock, which the Obama administration hoped to stop or at least slow, would continue ticking at close to its regular speed.

Kagan implores the Obama team to show some spine and move ahead with sanctions to show we mean business. And really, if we didn’t get snookered by the Russians, they, in exchange for our selling out the Poles and Czechs on missile defense, “should come through by joining in sanctions.” Right? But like Kagan, I find it hard to believe that any objective evidence of “failure” will be taken to heart. We’ll simply double down, extend the deadlines, and continue the “hard work of negotiating.”

We’ve already refused repeatedly to take no for an answer on a series of deadlines, and have already absolved Iran for maintaining the secret Qom site. So why should we suddenly show some fortitude? We’ve already beckoned the mullahs back into respectable international company. We’re going to be the skunk at our own garden party?

The Obama team’s devotion to engagement has become a religious-like devotion. Contrary facts are reinterpreted to maintain the core ideology. We must simply be faithful and patient. As Kagan notes, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that “engagement is an end in itself, not a means to an end.” If engagement ever stopped, we would have to do something. And if the vision of a grand multilateral international community doesn’t quite match reality we might — oh my! — have to act on our own. The imposition of American military power we’ve already been warned isn’t going to “permanently” solve anything. (Not like shipping part of Iran’s uranium to Russia to be replaced in a year, huh?)

Much damage has already been done by the faux negotiating. The Iranian regime has solidified its position and taken on an air of legitimacy. News of its suppression of dissent and brutality is out of the headlines. We’ve been enablers in the snuffing out of Iranian democratic protests. (Defunding them certainly went a long way in that direction.)

So will Obama show us he is the savvy negotiator and tough guy his ardent fans think he is? C’mon, it’s not like we’re talking about Fox News or the Chamber of Commerce.

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A Question of Priorities

This report tells us:

An early progress report on President Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan overstates by thousands the number of jobs created or saved through the stimulus program, a mistake that White House officials promise will be corrected in future reports.The government’s first accounting of jobs tied to the $787 billion stimulus program claimed more than 30,000 positions paid for with recovery money. But that figure is overstated by least 5,000 jobs, according to an Associated Press review of a sample of stimulus contracts.

Forget the error rate and the funny double-counting. If we created 25,000 jobs, we’re talking $31.48 million per job created. (That uses the conservative figure of $787B, which does not include interest.) This is how the taxpayers’ money is being spent. And the administration declares this a success, beyond its expectations. We’re heading for double-digit unemployment, but we’re told this was money well spent.

Meanwhile, the Obama team can’t find the money — or is it the will to ask for the money? — to give Gen. McChrystal all the funding for troops he needs. We don’t have enough to continue the F-22 — which would create directly or indirectly 95,000 high-paying jobs. We need to chisel a billion here and there on missile defense. After all, we need to watch how we spend the taxpayers’ money.

This report tells us:

An early progress report on President Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan overstates by thousands the number of jobs created or saved through the stimulus program, a mistake that White House officials promise will be corrected in future reports.The government’s first accounting of jobs tied to the $787 billion stimulus program claimed more than 30,000 positions paid for with recovery money. But that figure is overstated by least 5,000 jobs, according to an Associated Press review of a sample of stimulus contracts.

Forget the error rate and the funny double-counting. If we created 25,000 jobs, we’re talking $31.48 million per job created. (That uses the conservative figure of $787B, which does not include interest.) This is how the taxpayers’ money is being spent. And the administration declares this a success, beyond its expectations. We’re heading for double-digit unemployment, but we’re told this was money well spent.

Meanwhile, the Obama team can’t find the money — or is it the will to ask for the money? — to give Gen. McChrystal all the funding for troops he needs. We don’t have enough to continue the F-22 — which would create directly or indirectly 95,000 high-paying jobs. We need to chisel a billion here and there on missile defense. After all, we need to watch how we spend the taxpayers’ money.

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Other People’s Money

This news should come as no surprise to those who warned that we were going down a dangerous road with bailout mania:

Since the financial crisis broke, Congress has been acting like the board of USA Inc., invoking the infusion of taxpayer money to get banks to modify loans to constituents and to give more help to those in danger of foreclosure. Members have berated CEOs for their business practices and pushed for caps on executive pay. They have also pushed GM and Chrysler to reverse core decisions designed to cut costs, such as closing facilities and shuttering dealerships.

The list of meddlers in the car industry is long. This one wants a plant in his district. That one wants a dealership left open. The companies that went on the public dole now have a host of new bosses whose preferences and suggestions take on the air of ultimatums and whose decision-making is not guided by profit and loss but my political considerations. The recipients of government “help” have little choice but to comply with government directives, thereby muddying their business decisions. After awhile, those business decisions become political ones, which may further hobble the indebted firms. That, in turn, will put new pressure on lawmakers to give away more of the taxpayers’ money to keep them afloat.

There is no better (worse, actually) example than GM:

So far, GM has given reprieves to 70 dealerships nationwide. GM’s Washington spokesman says congressional pressure helped “put a focus on an individual dealer’s plight.” Beyond that, he said, “decisions to save individual dealerships were made on the merits.” In addition to the dealership issue, lawmakers have jumped into a union fight that pits GM and Chrysler against two trucking companies that haul new cars around the country. The auto makers want to give some of the work to cheaper nonunion contractors. But that raised the ire of lawmakers who support the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

So the codependent relationship seems destined to continue. Profitability? Not in sight. But that’s no longer the goal. The name of the game is keeping the congressional overlords happy — and they in turn can show their constituents all the goodies they’ve gotten. After all, it’s only the taxpayers’ money.

This news should come as no surprise to those who warned that we were going down a dangerous road with bailout mania:

Since the financial crisis broke, Congress has been acting like the board of USA Inc., invoking the infusion of taxpayer money to get banks to modify loans to constituents and to give more help to those in danger of foreclosure. Members have berated CEOs for their business practices and pushed for caps on executive pay. They have also pushed GM and Chrysler to reverse core decisions designed to cut costs, such as closing facilities and shuttering dealerships.

The list of meddlers in the car industry is long. This one wants a plant in his district. That one wants a dealership left open. The companies that went on the public dole now have a host of new bosses whose preferences and suggestions take on the air of ultimatums and whose decision-making is not guided by profit and loss but my political considerations. The recipients of government “help” have little choice but to comply with government directives, thereby muddying their business decisions. After awhile, those business decisions become political ones, which may further hobble the indebted firms. That, in turn, will put new pressure on lawmakers to give away more of the taxpayers’ money to keep them afloat.

There is no better (worse, actually) example than GM:

So far, GM has given reprieves to 70 dealerships nationwide. GM’s Washington spokesman says congressional pressure helped “put a focus on an individual dealer’s plight.” Beyond that, he said, “decisions to save individual dealerships were made on the merits.” In addition to the dealership issue, lawmakers have jumped into a union fight that pits GM and Chrysler against two trucking companies that haul new cars around the country. The auto makers want to give some of the work to cheaper nonunion contractors. But that raised the ire of lawmakers who support the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

So the codependent relationship seems destined to continue. Profitability? Not in sight. But that’s no longer the goal. The name of the game is keeping the congressional overlords happy — and they in turn can show their constituents all the goodies they’ve gotten. After all, it’s only the taxpayers’ money.

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Searching for a Different Answer

The White House seminars on the Afghanistan war are continuing. The term papers assigned this quarter include a “province-by-province analysis of Afghanistan to determine which regions are being managed effectively by local leaders and which require international help, information that his advisers say will guide his decision on how many additional U.S. troops to send to the battle.” But there is a hint as to where this is headed. The military commanders are being phased out and the political appointees are taking charge:

The review group once included intelligence officials, generals and ambassadors, but it has recently narrowed to a far smaller number of senior civilian advisers, including Biden, Gates, Jones, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, among others.

But the game is obvious here. Extract information, second-guess the military, and lower the troop levels:

“There are a lot of questions about why McChrystal has identified the areas that he has identified as needing more forces,” said a senior military official familiar with the review, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations candidly. “Some see it as an attempt by the White House to do due diligence on the commander’s troop request. A less charitable view is that it is a 5,000-mile screwdriver tinkering from Washington.”

No wonder the process is taking so long. All this homework and micromanaging takes time. But in the end, will the American people believe that faux Gens. Biden and Emanuel were smarter than Gen. Stanley McChrystal? The voters in repeated polls have already said they trust the military commanders by a wide margin over the president to make the calls on Afghanistan. That isn’t how it should work in our system of civilian control. But the public has smelled a rat — and is right to conclude that the president and his team aren’t making decisions on the merits but rather are massaging the facts to get to a result they desire.

The seminar process has not inspired confidence. Moreover, the president’s failure to reiterate the importance of a successful outcome (he doesn’t like the word victory) has allowed public support for the war to erode further. It’s hard to see whether the president still believes in the effort, given that he’s decided that “the Taliban cannot be eliminated as a military and political force, regardless of how many more troops are deployed.” We are now in the business of half-measures and inconclusive outcomes.

A final decision on the strategy and troop levels, we are told, has not yet been made. But given the handiwork so far, it appears as though the seminar participants are heading for a failing grade.

The White House seminars on the Afghanistan war are continuing. The term papers assigned this quarter include a “province-by-province analysis of Afghanistan to determine which regions are being managed effectively by local leaders and which require international help, information that his advisers say will guide his decision on how many additional U.S. troops to send to the battle.” But there is a hint as to where this is headed. The military commanders are being phased out and the political appointees are taking charge:

The review group once included intelligence officials, generals and ambassadors, but it has recently narrowed to a far smaller number of senior civilian advisers, including Biden, Gates, Jones, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, among others.

But the game is obvious here. Extract information, second-guess the military, and lower the troop levels:

“There are a lot of questions about why McChrystal has identified the areas that he has identified as needing more forces,” said a senior military official familiar with the review, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations candidly. “Some see it as an attempt by the White House to do due diligence on the commander’s troop request. A less charitable view is that it is a 5,000-mile screwdriver tinkering from Washington.”

No wonder the process is taking so long. All this homework and micromanaging takes time. But in the end, will the American people believe that faux Gens. Biden and Emanuel were smarter than Gen. Stanley McChrystal? The voters in repeated polls have already said they trust the military commanders by a wide margin over the president to make the calls on Afghanistan. That isn’t how it should work in our system of civilian control. But the public has smelled a rat — and is right to conclude that the president and his team aren’t making decisions on the merits but rather are massaging the facts to get to a result they desire.

The seminar process has not inspired confidence. Moreover, the president’s failure to reiterate the importance of a successful outcome (he doesn’t like the word victory) has allowed public support for the war to erode further. It’s hard to see whether the president still believes in the effort, given that he’s decided that “the Taliban cannot be eliminated as a military and political force, regardless of how many more troops are deployed.” We are now in the business of half-measures and inconclusive outcomes.

A final decision on the strategy and troop levels, we are told, has not yet been made. But given the handiwork so far, it appears as though the seminar participants are heading for a failing grade.

Read Less




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