Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 18, 2009

A Catch-and-Release Policy for Pirates

This is a story that is almost unbelievable — except that those of us who have been following the battle against piracy know it is all too commonplace:

A group of suspected Somali pirates detained on a Dutch warship has been released because no country has agreed to prosecute them. …

The suspects were seized in the Indian Ocean two weeks ago after allegedly attempting to attack a cargo ship.

They were put back on their own speedboat with some food and fuel.

What then, is the point, of the U.S. and other nations sending its warships to patrol the coast of East Africa if they’re going to simply release the captured culprits? The legal authority to imprison and even execute them is strong. In fact, the “doctrine of universal jurisdiction” — nowadays used to snare war criminals and Israeli leaders — was originally developed to deal with pirates, who were declared “hostes humani generis,” or common enemies of mankind. States going back to the days of the Roman Empire exercised the right to capture and execute captured pirates. The U.S., Britain, and other nations made ample use of this authority to stamp out the last major outbreak of piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries.

But today we have become unwilling to subject these banditos to the most elementary justice. The U.S. and other nations had hoped that Kenya would try the pirates, but in this case — and many others — the Kenyan authorities aren’t obliging. So why aren’t the U.S. and other nations stepping forward to try the pirates in their own courts? A variety of excuses will be advanced; reportedly the British are even worried about the cutthroats claiming “refugee” status. But ultimately it comes down to a failure of will. Until the so-called civilized nations muster the courage to act decisively, the plague of piracy will continue.

This is a story that is almost unbelievable — except that those of us who have been following the battle against piracy know it is all too commonplace:

A group of suspected Somali pirates detained on a Dutch warship has been released because no country has agreed to prosecute them. …

The suspects were seized in the Indian Ocean two weeks ago after allegedly attempting to attack a cargo ship.

They were put back on their own speedboat with some food and fuel.

What then, is the point, of the U.S. and other nations sending its warships to patrol the coast of East Africa if they’re going to simply release the captured culprits? The legal authority to imprison and even execute them is strong. In fact, the “doctrine of universal jurisdiction” — nowadays used to snare war criminals and Israeli leaders — was originally developed to deal with pirates, who were declared “hostes humani generis,” or common enemies of mankind. States going back to the days of the Roman Empire exercised the right to capture and execute captured pirates. The U.S., Britain, and other nations made ample use of this authority to stamp out the last major outbreak of piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries.

But today we have become unwilling to subject these banditos to the most elementary justice. The U.S. and other nations had hoped that Kenya would try the pirates, but in this case — and many others — the Kenyan authorities aren’t obliging. So why aren’t the U.S. and other nations stepping forward to try the pirates in their own courts? A variety of excuses will be advanced; reportedly the British are even worried about the cutthroats claiming “refugee” status. But ultimately it comes down to a failure of will. Until the so-called civilized nations muster the courage to act decisively, the plague of piracy will continue.

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Not an Easy Time for Obama Worshippers

Over at the Huffington Post (h/t: Ramesh Ponnuru, NRO), Jacob Heilbrunn writes some comically cloying sentences:

And never forget that [Obama] is as as [sic] good and intelligent and decent a president as America will ever have. He still has a chance to become one of the greatest. Eight years from now, after Obama has successfully served two terms, that judgment may well look like a commonplace.

Watching the Myth of Obama collide with reality is a traumatic experience for many on the Left. Some are getting angry. Others are getting defensive. Others are engaging in self-denial. Mr. Heilbrunn is struggling with all three.

These are not easy times for Obama worshippers.

Over at the Huffington Post (h/t: Ramesh Ponnuru, NRO), Jacob Heilbrunn writes some comically cloying sentences:

And never forget that [Obama] is as as [sic] good and intelligent and decent a president as America will ever have. He still has a chance to become one of the greatest. Eight years from now, after Obama has successfully served two terms, that judgment may well look like a commonplace.

Watching the Myth of Obama collide with reality is a traumatic experience for many on the Left. Some are getting angry. Others are getting defensive. Others are engaging in self-denial. Mr. Heilbrunn is struggling with all three.

These are not easy times for Obama worshippers.

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The Best Available Defense of Obama’s Foreign Policy

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

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RE: ObamaCare Loses Brooks

While I’m certainly glad that someone on the Times op-ed page has come out against ObamaCare, David Brooks could certainly have been a bit more forceful about it. Nothing wishy-washy about Keith Olbermann’s rejection of ObamaCare.

But I was struck by one thing that Brooks wrote: “The fact is, nobody knows how to reduce cost growth within the current system.”

Of course we do.

Allow people to buy insurance across state lines and thus escape unwanted mandates and such economic idiocies as “guaranteed issuance.” If New Yorkers could buy health insurance in Connecticut, their insurance costs would drop by 40 percent overnight. How’s that for reducing costs, Mr. Brooks?

Reform tort law. Texas did exactly that a few years ago and the cost of medical malpractice insurance — which, of course, is passed on to patients — fell by an average of 21 percent, and 7,000 new doctors began practicing in the state, many in under-served areas.

Require that medical-service providers post prices for standard procedures, allowing comparative shopping by doctors and patients alike. Charges for standard procedures can vary dramatically because they aren’t readily ascertained. Once posted, they would tend to converge toward the lower end. Combined with medical savings accounts that incite health-care consumers to look for the lowest prices, the reduction in costs would amount to billions of dollars.

Allow the young to buy high-deductible, low-cost health insurance to protect them from highly unlikely but devastating accidents and illnesses that represent the greatest risks to their health. That would enlarge the insurance pool and decrease the number of uninsured who are shifted onto the bills of those with insurance. That allows lower premiums.

Health-care costs will increase for reasons we can do nothing about, like inflation, an aging population, new and expensive technologies and drugs, and the fact that when we save a patient from dying of one illness, we guarantee that he will later die of another, at further cost. But there are hundreds of billions of dollars wasted in the health-care system today, and we know exactly how to fix that.

The only reason we haven’t is because politicians don’t want it fixed.

While I’m certainly glad that someone on the Times op-ed page has come out against ObamaCare, David Brooks could certainly have been a bit more forceful about it. Nothing wishy-washy about Keith Olbermann’s rejection of ObamaCare.

But I was struck by one thing that Brooks wrote: “The fact is, nobody knows how to reduce cost growth within the current system.”

Of course we do.

Allow people to buy insurance across state lines and thus escape unwanted mandates and such economic idiocies as “guaranteed issuance.” If New Yorkers could buy health insurance in Connecticut, their insurance costs would drop by 40 percent overnight. How’s that for reducing costs, Mr. Brooks?

Reform tort law. Texas did exactly that a few years ago and the cost of medical malpractice insurance — which, of course, is passed on to patients — fell by an average of 21 percent, and 7,000 new doctors began practicing in the state, many in under-served areas.

Require that medical-service providers post prices for standard procedures, allowing comparative shopping by doctors and patients alike. Charges for standard procedures can vary dramatically because they aren’t readily ascertained. Once posted, they would tend to converge toward the lower end. Combined with medical savings accounts that incite health-care consumers to look for the lowest prices, the reduction in costs would amount to billions of dollars.

Allow the young to buy high-deductible, low-cost health insurance to protect them from highly unlikely but devastating accidents and illnesses that represent the greatest risks to their health. That would enlarge the insurance pool and decrease the number of uninsured who are shifted onto the bills of those with insurance. That allows lower premiums.

Health-care costs will increase for reasons we can do nothing about, like inflation, an aging population, new and expensive technologies and drugs, and the fact that when we save a patient from dying of one illness, we guarantee that he will later die of another, at further cost. But there are hundreds of billions of dollars wasted in the health-care system today, and we know exactly how to fix that.

The only reason we haven’t is because politicians don’t want it fixed.

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ObamaCare Loses Brooks

It’s one thing to have Howard Dean holler (he hollers even in print, it seems) to “kill the bill.” It’s quite another to have David Brooks, after the most reasoned balancing of pro’s and con’s and much heartfelt agonizing, say “kill the bill.” Well, he didn’t say it that way, but he’s figured out that it’s worse than doing nothing:

If you pass a health care bill without systemic incentives reform, you set up a political vortex in which the few good parts of the bill will get stripped out and the expensive and wasteful parts will be entrenched. Defenders say we can’t do real reform because the politics won’t allow it. The truth is the reverse. Unless you get the fundamental incentives right, the politics will be terrible forever and ever.

That means “kill the bill.” He’s got the reasons why we should. There’s no real health-care reform in all those pages. He says that “it will cause national health care spending to increase faster,” and it will increase demand but not the supply of health care in the short run, causing prices to skyrocket. He knows that “you can’t centrally regulate 17 percent of the U.S. economy without a raft of unintended consequences.” Medical innovation will get creamed. And there’s no hope for real cost control after this thing passes. His logic is impeccable.

So why doesn’t the White House agree? The president was supposed to be an evidence-driven, nonideological sort with a philosophical bent. Lots of smart people told us so. Well, truth be told, the White House never really cared about what was in the bill. The Obami never told us what they wanted, because they didn’t really know or didn’t think it mattered. They only wanted a bill. Their real interest was twofold: get a huge political win and plant the sapling for a European-style social-welfare state that couldn’t be ripped out once planted.

Maybe the Obami were right and they can get the Congress to pass a very bad bill that everyone — from Brooks to Howard Dean to Jim DeMint to ordinary voters to MoveOn.org to talk-radio hosts — has figured out really stinks. But it’s getting harder to do so with a straight face.

It’s one thing to have Howard Dean holler (he hollers even in print, it seems) to “kill the bill.” It’s quite another to have David Brooks, after the most reasoned balancing of pro’s and con’s and much heartfelt agonizing, say “kill the bill.” Well, he didn’t say it that way, but he’s figured out that it’s worse than doing nothing:

If you pass a health care bill without systemic incentives reform, you set up a political vortex in which the few good parts of the bill will get stripped out and the expensive and wasteful parts will be entrenched. Defenders say we can’t do real reform because the politics won’t allow it. The truth is the reverse. Unless you get the fundamental incentives right, the politics will be terrible forever and ever.

That means “kill the bill.” He’s got the reasons why we should. There’s no real health-care reform in all those pages. He says that “it will cause national health care spending to increase faster,” and it will increase demand but not the supply of health care in the short run, causing prices to skyrocket. He knows that “you can’t centrally regulate 17 percent of the U.S. economy without a raft of unintended consequences.” Medical innovation will get creamed. And there’s no hope for real cost control after this thing passes. His logic is impeccable.

So why doesn’t the White House agree? The president was supposed to be an evidence-driven, nonideological sort with a philosophical bent. Lots of smart people told us so. Well, truth be told, the White House never really cared about what was in the bill. The Obami never told us what they wanted, because they didn’t really know or didn’t think it mattered. They only wanted a bill. Their real interest was twofold: get a huge political win and plant the sapling for a European-style social-welfare state that couldn’t be ripped out once planted.

Maybe the Obami were right and they can get the Congress to pass a very bad bill that everyone — from Brooks to Howard Dean to Jim DeMint to ordinary voters to MoveOn.org to talk-radio hosts — has figured out really stinks. But it’s getting harder to do so with a straight face.

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The Left’s Uprising Against Obama

I received a note from a friend commenting on the Left’s uprising against President Obama (see here and here and here). He told me that he thinks “all this lefty fulmination against Obama is sound and fury signifying nothing.”

I have a different take.

Quite apart from whether the revolt among Obama’s liberal-Left base will help derail health-care legislation, the Left’s unhappiness with Obama is significant. Let’s start with the most obvious thing first: the spell he had cast over many of them has been broken, and it will never be reclaimed.

In addition, Obama’s presidency is already weaker than any other presidency has been at a comparable point into the mandate. To have this new fissure complicates Obama’s political life considerably. When independents are fleeing your party in overwhelming numbers, which is now happening to Obama and the Democrats, it is doubly important that your core supporters remain by your side. For Obama to alienate many of them this early into his presidency means that he’s heading toward politically treacherous territory. And Obama has alienated his liberal/Left base at precisely the same time that the rest of the country is convinced that Obama is pursuing a liberal and, in some respects, genuinely radical agenda.

This rupture will also dampen the enthusiasm of his base as we head toward mid-term elections. If Democrats go into the 2010 elections facing an energized opposition party, massive defections among independents, and a dispirited base, what may have been a very bad night for them could become a historically awful one. It’s certainly true that we have a long way to go until next November. But it’s also true that some trends are unmistakable, and they may prove to be irreversible.

Finally, Obama now has much less political maneuverability than he used to. Political advisers in the White House will be wary of doing anything to further upset the Left, meaning that an Obama move to the center – never a strong possibility to begin with – is less likely now. In fact, the president may take steps to re-connect with his base, which would further alienate the rest of the country.

The collateral damage Obama has sustained because of the health-care debate is astonishing. It has revealed him to be a hyper-partisan rather than a unifying figure. And because Obama’s claims have been so transparently untrue and because they have been repeated so often, he has done enormous harm to his credibility. We have also seen key Democrats openly challenge Obama and refuse to bend to his will and way. The message is out: Obama can be rolled. He evokes little fear, which means party indiscipline will soon follow.

The health-care debate may one day become a case study for a government class. I suspect most people will look back at it and say that few legislative efforts have been so substantively and procedurally flawed and so politically harmful.

Three days after assuming the presidency, when his approval ratings were sky-high and many of his supporters viewed Obama almost as if he were a demi-God, I wrote this:

But precisely because this appeal is largely aesthetic rather than substantive, because it is not grounded in things deep or permanent, its durability is limited. Reality will intrude… the things people are taken up with now [Obama’s style and charm] will not be determinative. And if things get worse rather than better, if Obama appears overmatched by events, then what are viewed as strengths now will be seen as weaknesses later. The day’s vanity will become the night’s remorse. Barack Obama is President of the United States, not a crown prince on a white horse. Fairy tales are fine; but fairy tales are childish things.

The Left has now learned that lesson the hard way.

I received a note from a friend commenting on the Left’s uprising against President Obama (see here and here and here). He told me that he thinks “all this lefty fulmination against Obama is sound and fury signifying nothing.”

I have a different take.

Quite apart from whether the revolt among Obama’s liberal-Left base will help derail health-care legislation, the Left’s unhappiness with Obama is significant. Let’s start with the most obvious thing first: the spell he had cast over many of them has been broken, and it will never be reclaimed.

In addition, Obama’s presidency is already weaker than any other presidency has been at a comparable point into the mandate. To have this new fissure complicates Obama’s political life considerably. When independents are fleeing your party in overwhelming numbers, which is now happening to Obama and the Democrats, it is doubly important that your core supporters remain by your side. For Obama to alienate many of them this early into his presidency means that he’s heading toward politically treacherous territory. And Obama has alienated his liberal/Left base at precisely the same time that the rest of the country is convinced that Obama is pursuing a liberal and, in some respects, genuinely radical agenda.

This rupture will also dampen the enthusiasm of his base as we head toward mid-term elections. If Democrats go into the 2010 elections facing an energized opposition party, massive defections among independents, and a dispirited base, what may have been a very bad night for them could become a historically awful one. It’s certainly true that we have a long way to go until next November. But it’s also true that some trends are unmistakable, and they may prove to be irreversible.

Finally, Obama now has much less political maneuverability than he used to. Political advisers in the White House will be wary of doing anything to further upset the Left, meaning that an Obama move to the center – never a strong possibility to begin with – is less likely now. In fact, the president may take steps to re-connect with his base, which would further alienate the rest of the country.

The collateral damage Obama has sustained because of the health-care debate is astonishing. It has revealed him to be a hyper-partisan rather than a unifying figure. And because Obama’s claims have been so transparently untrue and because they have been repeated so often, he has done enormous harm to his credibility. We have also seen key Democrats openly challenge Obama and refuse to bend to his will and way. The message is out: Obama can be rolled. He evokes little fear, which means party indiscipline will soon follow.

The health-care debate may one day become a case study for a government class. I suspect most people will look back at it and say that few legislative efforts have been so substantively and procedurally flawed and so politically harmful.

Three days after assuming the presidency, when his approval ratings were sky-high and many of his supporters viewed Obama almost as if he were a demi-God, I wrote this:

But precisely because this appeal is largely aesthetic rather than substantive, because it is not grounded in things deep or permanent, its durability is limited. Reality will intrude… the things people are taken up with now [Obama’s style and charm] will not be determinative. And if things get worse rather than better, if Obama appears overmatched by events, then what are viewed as strengths now will be seen as weaknesses later. The day’s vanity will become the night’s remorse. Barack Obama is President of the United States, not a crown prince on a white horse. Fairy tales are fine; but fairy tales are childish things.

The Left has now learned that lesson the hard way.

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Polar Bears Are Dying!! Or Something…

Not even poems would help, I think. It seems Americans don’t want to give money away to developing countries to fund green projects in those locales. By a 57 to 39 percent margin, they say they’d rather not. And that’s when they heard that the figure was a mere $10B. Now Hillary Clinton is talking $100B. Asked how much they trust scientists, 29 percent say “completely” (are these all relatives?) or “a lot,” while a whopping 40 percent say only “a little” or “not at all.” Asked if they think scientists all agree or if there “is a lot of disagreement,” 62 percent go with disagreement.

It must be maddening to Gore and the environmental busybodies: didn’t people see An Inconvenient Truth? Well, not that many — and if they did, they’re not buying into the hype-a-thon. It seems that, once again, no matter how hard the liberal elites shriek, average Americans aren’t convinced by the Chicken Little-ism. Perhaps in hard economic times, the American public would rather not be pestered to send money to assuage the Third World decriers of Western “economic imperialism.” Maybe they’ve been reading up on Climategate and figured they were being had. Or maybe the high-pitched hysteria has been counterproductive. After a while people tune out, concluding that it can’t possibly be as bad as all those costumed Copenhagen catastrophizers make it out to be.

Nevertheless, a large majority, according to the same poll, is willing to regulate greenhouse gases, although that number has declined 10 points since June. So maybe the lesson here for the Green set is to lower the volume, be candid about what we do and don’t know, and make policy proposals that don’t strike average voters as absurd. Nah. There are polar bears dying because of this!! No, not really. But voters are tiring of listening to these and other horror stories. In the end, the most significant result of all the global-warming hype has been to diminish the credibility of the radical environmentalists. So maybe we should thank Gore after all.

Not even poems would help, I think. It seems Americans don’t want to give money away to developing countries to fund green projects in those locales. By a 57 to 39 percent margin, they say they’d rather not. And that’s when they heard that the figure was a mere $10B. Now Hillary Clinton is talking $100B. Asked how much they trust scientists, 29 percent say “completely” (are these all relatives?) or “a lot,” while a whopping 40 percent say only “a little” or “not at all.” Asked if they think scientists all agree or if there “is a lot of disagreement,” 62 percent go with disagreement.

It must be maddening to Gore and the environmental busybodies: didn’t people see An Inconvenient Truth? Well, not that many — and if they did, they’re not buying into the hype-a-thon. It seems that, once again, no matter how hard the liberal elites shriek, average Americans aren’t convinced by the Chicken Little-ism. Perhaps in hard economic times, the American public would rather not be pestered to send money to assuage the Third World decriers of Western “economic imperialism.” Maybe they’ve been reading up on Climategate and figured they were being had. Or maybe the high-pitched hysteria has been counterproductive. After a while people tune out, concluding that it can’t possibly be as bad as all those costumed Copenhagen catastrophizers make it out to be.

Nevertheless, a large majority, according to the same poll, is willing to regulate greenhouse gases, although that number has declined 10 points since June. So maybe the lesson here for the Green set is to lower the volume, be candid about what we do and don’t know, and make policy proposals that don’t strike average voters as absurd. Nah. There are polar bears dying because of this!! No, not really. But voters are tiring of listening to these and other horror stories. In the end, the most significant result of all the global-warming hype has been to diminish the credibility of the radical environmentalists. So maybe we should thank Gore after all.

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After Inevitability Goes, What Then?

It seems that things are not exactly on track with the Obama health-care-gotta-get-it-done-before-Christmas express train. Politico notes:

With the clock ticking down on health care reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has until Saturday to strike a 60-vote compromise if Democrats hope to meet a Christmas Eve deadline — but the obstacles kept piling up Thursday.

Reid still had no legislative text and no cost analysis to release. One of the final moderate holdouts, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), rejected compromise language on abortion funding and said he’s doubtful a bill can pass by Christmas. Two powerful unions blasted the bill. House Democrats threatened to undo the Senate bill during a conference committee. And a Democratic war over the bill raged on the Internet and cable news.

The stampede mentality has been momentarily disrupted by the resistance of Ben Nelson. Time, of course, is the kryptonite of health-care reform, the one phenomenon that disrupts the hype and pressure on lawmakers to vote on something, anything, and do it right now. It forces lawmakers to reflect and to worry (Sixty percent of the voters in my state oppose this?), and it reveals that the only thing ReidCare has going for it is an illusion of urgency.

Sen. Robert Casey confirmed the degree to which Democrats are dependent on a Cinderella-like haste to get it done before the clock strikes. Otherwise, everyone might realize what’s in the bill and that the Democratic leaders have little more than artificially induced fear on their side (“We’ll lose if we do nothing!”), as well as their members’ longing to get home for the holidays. As Casey remarked, “If we are going to get a bill out of the Senate, which will be very close to getting a bill enacted, we have to do it in 2009. … Some might not think so, but what I would worry about is losing momentum.” Because all they have is momentum, and once it’s gone, so too might be an ill-conceived and hugely unpopular bill.

Part of the danger here for ObamaCare supporters is that once the inevitability is gone, the senators will start to examine what’s in the bill. Then they might start pulling on the loose thread, the increasingly obvious irritant to both the Right and Left: the individual mandate. Rich Lowry explains the mutual disdain for this provision:

The right hates the governmental fiat and thinks — given the regulations and taxes that add to the cost of insurance — the mandate’s a bad deal. As one wag said of the bill, “First, it transforms insurance into a product that few rational people would buy. Second, it forces them to buy it.” The left hates that the insurance companies get the proceeds.

The Left thinks it makes Obama the “tax collector for the insurance-industrial complex”; the Right thinks it shreds the Constitution. How long before someone on either side can resist the urge to pull on this string, thereby unraveling the deal? With the Daily Kos and Rich Lowry cheering them on, some senators might actually bring an amendment to take it out.

So as Reid loses inevitability, and gives the Left and the Right time to think about their newfound mutual interests, some clever lawmaker might force the Senate to consider a key question: why are we forcing people to buy something they don’t want from companies they don’t like?

It seems that things are not exactly on track with the Obama health-care-gotta-get-it-done-before-Christmas express train. Politico notes:

With the clock ticking down on health care reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has until Saturday to strike a 60-vote compromise if Democrats hope to meet a Christmas Eve deadline — but the obstacles kept piling up Thursday.

Reid still had no legislative text and no cost analysis to release. One of the final moderate holdouts, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), rejected compromise language on abortion funding and said he’s doubtful a bill can pass by Christmas. Two powerful unions blasted the bill. House Democrats threatened to undo the Senate bill during a conference committee. And a Democratic war over the bill raged on the Internet and cable news.

The stampede mentality has been momentarily disrupted by the resistance of Ben Nelson. Time, of course, is the kryptonite of health-care reform, the one phenomenon that disrupts the hype and pressure on lawmakers to vote on something, anything, and do it right now. It forces lawmakers to reflect and to worry (Sixty percent of the voters in my state oppose this?), and it reveals that the only thing ReidCare has going for it is an illusion of urgency.

Sen. Robert Casey confirmed the degree to which Democrats are dependent on a Cinderella-like haste to get it done before the clock strikes. Otherwise, everyone might realize what’s in the bill and that the Democratic leaders have little more than artificially induced fear on their side (“We’ll lose if we do nothing!”), as well as their members’ longing to get home for the holidays. As Casey remarked, “If we are going to get a bill out of the Senate, which will be very close to getting a bill enacted, we have to do it in 2009. … Some might not think so, but what I would worry about is losing momentum.” Because all they have is momentum, and once it’s gone, so too might be an ill-conceived and hugely unpopular bill.

Part of the danger here for ObamaCare supporters is that once the inevitability is gone, the senators will start to examine what’s in the bill. Then they might start pulling on the loose thread, the increasingly obvious irritant to both the Right and Left: the individual mandate. Rich Lowry explains the mutual disdain for this provision:

The right hates the governmental fiat and thinks — given the regulations and taxes that add to the cost of insurance — the mandate’s a bad deal. As one wag said of the bill, “First, it transforms insurance into a product that few rational people would buy. Second, it forces them to buy it.” The left hates that the insurance companies get the proceeds.

The Left thinks it makes Obama the “tax collector for the insurance-industrial complex”; the Right thinks it shreds the Constitution. How long before someone on either side can resist the urge to pull on this string, thereby unraveling the deal? With the Daily Kos and Rich Lowry cheering them on, some senators might actually bring an amendment to take it out.

So as Reid loses inevitability, and gives the Left and the Right time to think about their newfound mutual interests, some clever lawmaker might force the Senate to consider a key question: why are we forcing people to buy something they don’t want from companies they don’t like?

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Jew Be Not Proud

Jews can be oversensitive, as any man might who’s been set upon by thugs and nearly killed once a year for a whole lifetime. You don’t look for easygoing complacency in such a man. In nearly every generation, Jews have been condemned to death and turned over to the executioner, only to be pardoned after much suffering in the nick of time; and the Haggada thanks God for this favor! (Admittedly, with a heavy irony that, if Jews at the seder table sometimes miss it, is surely clear to the Lord. This particular passage could not possibly be one of His favorites.)

I’ve just published a book that attempts to explain Judaism’s view of life in the universe in terms of a few deep images, which have grown and deepened over thousands of years into brooding, beautiful thunderheads. But along the way I also make these assertions: the Jews are the senior nation of the Western world. Judaism is the most important intellectual development in Western history. The best ideas we have come straight from Judaism.

To continue reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Jews can be oversensitive, as any man might who’s been set upon by thugs and nearly killed once a year for a whole lifetime. You don’t look for easygoing complacency in such a man. In nearly every generation, Jews have been condemned to death and turned over to the executioner, only to be pardoned after much suffering in the nick of time; and the Haggada thanks God for this favor! (Admittedly, with a heavy irony that, if Jews at the seder table sometimes miss it, is surely clear to the Lord. This particular passage could not possibly be one of His favorites.)

I’ve just published a book that attempts to explain Judaism’s view of life in the universe in terms of a few deep images, which have grown and deepened over thousands of years into brooding, beautiful thunderheads. But along the way I also make these assertions: the Jews are the senior nation of the Western world. Judaism is the most important intellectual development in Western history. The best ideas we have come straight from Judaism.

To continue reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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The Eclipsing of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

According to a new study of public opinion by the folks who host the Doha Debates in Qatar, a clear majority in 18 Arab countries now thinks Iran poses a greater threat to security in the Middle East than Israel. The leadership in most of these countries has thought so for years. That average citizens now do so should be encouraging news for everyone in the region — aside from the Iranian government, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

Some may find it hard to believe that so many Arabs think Iran is more threatening than Israel, but I don’t. Leave aside the fact that Iran really is more threatening. Arabs and Persians have detested each other for more than a thousand years, ever since Arabs conquered premodern Iran and converted its people to Islam. The lasting ethnic enmity between the two is compounded by religious sectarianism. Most Arabs are Sunnis, most Persians are Shias, and Sunnis and Shias have been slugging it out with each other since the 8th century. Read More

According to a new study of public opinion by the folks who host the Doha Debates in Qatar, a clear majority in 18 Arab countries now thinks Iran poses a greater threat to security in the Middle East than Israel. The leadership in most of these countries has thought so for years. That average citizens now do so should be encouraging news for everyone in the region — aside from the Iranian government, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

Some may find it hard to believe that so many Arabs think Iran is more threatening than Israel, but I don’t. Leave aside the fact that Iran really is more threatening. Arabs and Persians have detested each other for more than a thousand years, ever since Arabs conquered premodern Iran and converted its people to Islam. The lasting ethnic enmity between the two is compounded by religious sectarianism. Most Arabs are Sunnis, most Persians are Shias, and Sunnis and Shias have been slugging it out with each other since the 8th century.

After the Iranian revolution against the Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic exploded into the Arab Middle East with a campaign of imperialism and terrorism. Khomeini never concealed his ambition to lead the whole Muslim world, and the government he founded has been hammering the established Sunni Arab order with a battering ram ever since.

Iran had excellent relations with Israel before Khomeini scrapped the alliance and switched to the Arab side. Like his successor Ali Khamenei, he used violent anti-Zionism to win the hearts and minds of the Arabs. It worked to an extent for a while. Most Arab governments didn’t buy it, but the people often did.

As recently as 2006, Iran, despite the fact that it has a Persian and Shia majority, picked up considerable cache among Sunni Arabs for attacking Israel from Lebanon with its Hezbollah proxy. (Lebanese Sunnis weren’t very happy about it, but Sunnis in Egypt and Syria certainly were.) The Egyptian and Saudi governments were alarmed, and they condemned Hezbollah for sparking the conflict.

This was unprecedented. While it barely registered in the West, it was huge in the Middle East, so huge that some of the more paranoid Lebanese Shias started thinking that the Sunnis and the Israelis were conspiring against them.

“Gulf Arabs give bombs to Israel to kill my people!” one excitable individual said to me at a Hezbollah rally in downtown Beirut. The guy was bonkers, of course. Israel doesn’t need bombs from the Gulf, and no one in the Gulf would donate or sell them even if Israel asked. Still, the man correctly sensed that Sunnis in the region aren’t as willing to team up with Shias against Israelis as they used to be.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is a minor historical hiccup compared with the ancient feuds between Arabs and Persians, and Sunnis and Shias. It has barely lasted a fraction as long and has hardly killed anyone by comparison. Arabs and Persians killed hundreds of thousands of each other in the Iran-Iraq war alone in the 1980s. The civil war between Sunni and Shia militias in Baghdad a few years ago was much nastier than any of the Israeli-Palestinian wars.

It took time for all this to sink in with everyday Arab citizens. For a while there was a disconnect between the region’s Sunni Arab rulers and people. It looked like Iran, by supporting Hezbollah and Hamas against Israel, might actually pull off the most unlikely of coups in rallying the mass of Sunni Arabs in support of Persian Shia hegemony. That disconnect now seems to be over.

Thanks to the Iranian government’s stubborn insistence on developing nuclear weapons, the age-old strife between Persians and Arabs, and Shias and Sunnis, may finally be eclipsing the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Most in the Western media and foreign-policy establishment still haven’t caught on. The policy implications for both the U.S. and Israel are profound, and the sooner Washington and Jerusalem figure this out, the better.

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Imagine What They Think in Tehran

Op-ed-page editors have been watching the Iranian mullahs and think the Obama administration should be paying closer attention. The Washington Post, for example, observes another hostage situation — the nabbing and trial of three American hikers — and concludes:

For the Obama administration, the hikers’ treatment is but one more indication that the regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has no interest in the constructive “engagement” that Mr. Obama has offered. Such despicable persecution of innocent people only adds to the reasons the administration should focus its energies on isolating and imposing sanctions on the regime’s leaders, while doing what it can to support the opposition Green movement.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors agree and are chagrined that the Obami seem to be interested in slowing down rather than encouraging sanctions legislation in Congress:

Iran spurns every overture from the U.S. and continues to develop WMD while abusing its neighbors. In response, the Administration, which had set a December deadline for diplomacy, now says it opposes precisely the kind of sanctions it once promised to impose if Iran didn’t come clean, never mind overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress. For an explanation of why Iran’s behavior remains unchanged, look no further.

Now if American editorial writers are unconvinced the Obami have signaled sufficient toughness, imagine what the Iranians must believe. They’ve seen us lift not a finger for the Green protesters, and in fact, we cut their funding. They saw us happily downplay the existence of the Qom facility and dither away a year. They’ve watched and have every reason to be encouraged. So convincing them now that we really, really mean business (or they might get a letter too!) is going to be an uphill climb.

Op-ed-page editors have been watching the Iranian mullahs and think the Obama administration should be paying closer attention. The Washington Post, for example, observes another hostage situation — the nabbing and trial of three American hikers — and concludes:

For the Obama administration, the hikers’ treatment is but one more indication that the regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has no interest in the constructive “engagement” that Mr. Obama has offered. Such despicable persecution of innocent people only adds to the reasons the administration should focus its energies on isolating and imposing sanctions on the regime’s leaders, while doing what it can to support the opposition Green movement.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors agree and are chagrined that the Obami seem to be interested in slowing down rather than encouraging sanctions legislation in Congress:

Iran spurns every overture from the U.S. and continues to develop WMD while abusing its neighbors. In response, the Administration, which had set a December deadline for diplomacy, now says it opposes precisely the kind of sanctions it once promised to impose if Iran didn’t come clean, never mind overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress. For an explanation of why Iran’s behavior remains unchanged, look no further.

Now if American editorial writers are unconvinced the Obami have signaled sufficient toughness, imagine what the Iranians must believe. They’ve seen us lift not a finger for the Green protesters, and in fact, we cut their funding. They saw us happily downplay the existence of the Qom facility and dither away a year. They’ve watched and have every reason to be encouraged. So convincing them now that we really, really mean business (or they might get a letter too!) is going to be an uphill climb.

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Liberals in Revolt, Looking for Allies

The Left is having a meltdown. They might yet get nationalized health care, but they’re beside themselves with fury. As this report sums up:

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is mounting a campaign of sorts against the initiative in its current form. MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has declared, “This is not health. This is not care. This is certainly not reform.” Liberal blogs such as Daily Kos are blasting the Senate bill, especially since it dropped a government-run “public option” and killed a plan to expand Medicare. Liberal House members are venting their fury at senators who are lukewarm on the revamp, especially Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson. Labor unions are protesting proposed taxes on high-value insurance policies.

On one hand, there’s reason to view all this with a great deal of skepticism. We haven’t seen, with the possible exception of Sen. Bernie Sanders, any indication that the Left will submarine the bill in the Senate. And virtually everyone suspects that whatever does get through the Senate will be jammed down the throats of House Democrats. They’ve shown no inclination to resist Nancy Pelosi on any significant vote.

However, there is reason for the White House and Democratic lawmakers to be very, very nervous. They need these angry liberals to support them, give money, and turn out to vote in 2010. The “angry Left” is useful to Democratic pols — so long as the Left’s anger is directed at others — and gets liberals to the polls for establishment Democrats. Should the liberal base stay home in a huff, the bleak 2010 picture will get bleaker.

What to do? Well, the White House and Democratic congressional leaders are convinced it will all work out in the end if the reviled health-care bill passes. Everyone — the Left included — will learn to love it, they keep telling themselves. Perhaps. But maybe there’s a strange convergence of interests. The Left wants to kill the bill. Conservatives want to kill the bill. Red State Democrats don’t really want to vote on the bill. What all these diverse groups need to do, then, is, well, kill the bill.

But then Democrats will need to look for someone to blame. (You don’t suppose they could blame George W. Bush? He’s come in so handy for so long, and on this one he almost surely wouldn’t mind.) Perhaps the Democrats should have held tight on the public option and let Sen. Joe Lieberman sink it. Come to think of it, that would have made a whole lot of people very happy. And it might have saved a lot of Democratic seats in 2010. Ah, well.

The Left is having a meltdown. They might yet get nationalized health care, but they’re beside themselves with fury. As this report sums up:

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is mounting a campaign of sorts against the initiative in its current form. MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has declared, “This is not health. This is not care. This is certainly not reform.” Liberal blogs such as Daily Kos are blasting the Senate bill, especially since it dropped a government-run “public option” and killed a plan to expand Medicare. Liberal House members are venting their fury at senators who are lukewarm on the revamp, especially Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson. Labor unions are protesting proposed taxes on high-value insurance policies.

On one hand, there’s reason to view all this with a great deal of skepticism. We haven’t seen, with the possible exception of Sen. Bernie Sanders, any indication that the Left will submarine the bill in the Senate. And virtually everyone suspects that whatever does get through the Senate will be jammed down the throats of House Democrats. They’ve shown no inclination to resist Nancy Pelosi on any significant vote.

However, there is reason for the White House and Democratic lawmakers to be very, very nervous. They need these angry liberals to support them, give money, and turn out to vote in 2010. The “angry Left” is useful to Democratic pols — so long as the Left’s anger is directed at others — and gets liberals to the polls for establishment Democrats. Should the liberal base stay home in a huff, the bleak 2010 picture will get bleaker.

What to do? Well, the White House and Democratic congressional leaders are convinced it will all work out in the end if the reviled health-care bill passes. Everyone — the Left included — will learn to love it, they keep telling themselves. Perhaps. But maybe there’s a strange convergence of interests. The Left wants to kill the bill. Conservatives want to kill the bill. Red State Democrats don’t really want to vote on the bill. What all these diverse groups need to do, then, is, well, kill the bill.

But then Democrats will need to look for someone to blame. (You don’t suppose they could blame George W. Bush? He’s come in so handy for so long, and on this one he almost surely wouldn’t mind.) Perhaps the Democrats should have held tight on the public option and let Sen. Joe Lieberman sink it. Come to think of it, that would have made a whole lot of people very happy. And it might have saved a lot of Democratic seats in 2010. Ah, well.

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Suspending Reason

Kim Strassel notes that support for ObamaCare seems to be, well, slight. The polling is atrocious. The Left has gone bonkers over the loss of the public option. The bill’s particulars are essentially unknown. So why the furor to get it passed? Strassel suggests:

The liberal wing of the party—the Barney Franks, the David Obeys—are focused beyond November 2010, to the long-term political prize. They want a health-care program that inevitably leads to a value-added tax and a permanent welfare state. Big government then becomes fact, and another Ronald Reagan becomes impossible. See Continental Europe.

The entitlement crazes of the 1930s and 1960s also caused a backlash, but liberal Democrats know the programs of those periods survived. They are more than happy to sacrifice a few Blue Dogs, a Blanche Lincoln, a Michael Bennet, if they can expand government so that in the long run it benefits the party of government.

So why haven’t the vulnerable Democrats caught on, and why are they still supporting this? Well, the Red State Democrats may feel queasy, but they’re being cajoled and strong-armed on a daily basis. These are creatures of the party, and the party, with all its leaders, is pressing ahead, urging them to stick with their colleagues. And when the president calls you to the White House, it’s awfully hard to say no.

And then there’s the interpretation — or misinterpretation — of 1994. The White House has held up the collapse of HillaryCare and the Democratic wipeout in 1994 as evidence of what happens to an incumbent party that doesn’t do something, no matter how half-baked. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary, as Jeffrey Anderson and Andy Wickersham point out. They note that those Democrats who suffered most at the polls in 1994 were not conservative Democrats but instead those typical mainstream Democrats who supported HillaryCare.

So Red State Democrats are caught in a bind. Their president and leaders are pushing hard for them to support ObamaCare. The voters are telling them that if they vote for this monstrosity, they will suffer at the polls. If they can withstand the pressure tactics and if they think hard about 1994 and 2010, they might reconsider being sent off to political slaughter. But Harry Reid promises to keep them there 24 hours a day, just the environment that makes rational decision-making nearly impossible.

Kim Strassel notes that support for ObamaCare seems to be, well, slight. The polling is atrocious. The Left has gone bonkers over the loss of the public option. The bill’s particulars are essentially unknown. So why the furor to get it passed? Strassel suggests:

The liberal wing of the party—the Barney Franks, the David Obeys—are focused beyond November 2010, to the long-term political prize. They want a health-care program that inevitably leads to a value-added tax and a permanent welfare state. Big government then becomes fact, and another Ronald Reagan becomes impossible. See Continental Europe.

The entitlement crazes of the 1930s and 1960s also caused a backlash, but liberal Democrats know the programs of those periods survived. They are more than happy to sacrifice a few Blue Dogs, a Blanche Lincoln, a Michael Bennet, if they can expand government so that in the long run it benefits the party of government.

So why haven’t the vulnerable Democrats caught on, and why are they still supporting this? Well, the Red State Democrats may feel queasy, but they’re being cajoled and strong-armed on a daily basis. These are creatures of the party, and the party, with all its leaders, is pressing ahead, urging them to stick with their colleagues. And when the president calls you to the White House, it’s awfully hard to say no.

And then there’s the interpretation — or misinterpretation — of 1994. The White House has held up the collapse of HillaryCare and the Democratic wipeout in 1994 as evidence of what happens to an incumbent party that doesn’t do something, no matter how half-baked. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary, as Jeffrey Anderson and Andy Wickersham point out. They note that those Democrats who suffered most at the polls in 1994 were not conservative Democrats but instead those typical mainstream Democrats who supported HillaryCare.

So Red State Democrats are caught in a bind. Their president and leaders are pushing hard for them to support ObamaCare. The voters are telling them that if they vote for this monstrosity, they will suffer at the polls. If they can withstand the pressure tactics and if they think hard about 1994 and 2010, they might reconsider being sent off to political slaughter. But Harry Reid promises to keep them there 24 hours a day, just the environment that makes rational decision-making nearly impossible.

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Why Obama’s Rotten Poll Numbers Scare Congress

Congressional Democrats with an eye on political history should be nervous. California GOP chairman Ron Nehring highlights an uncomfortable reality for them as they head into 2010 with the least popular president at this stage in his presidency in decades:

The magnitude of the net losses suffered by the President’s party in Congress has been in direct, inverse proportion to the President’s public approval rating on Election Day. The party in control of the White House suffered the most in 1966, 1974 and 1994 when the incumbent’s approval ratings were all under 50%. High approval ratings of President Clinton in 1998 (66%) and President Bush in 2002 (63%) helped the governing party gain seats in those two years — a historical aberration.

How bad could it be? Bad. It seems that “an approval rating under 50% has typically resulted in a wipeout of 41 House and 477 state legislative seats lost by the President’s party. Barack Obama’s approval rating within the last week has hovered between 47% and 50% in Gallup’s surveys.”

We already saw Bob McDonnell leverage unpopular Obama policies (which have gotten even less popular in the past month) to win a state race. While avoiding running against Obama personally, McDonnell certainly ran against the Obama agenda (cap-and-trade, card check, ObamaCare, higher taxes). And it worked — spectacularly so. Those Congressional Democrats up in 2010 will have an even tougher time, for nearly all of them voted at one procedural stage or another for a series of hugely unpopular or failed measures. There was the $787 stimulus plan, the huge spending bills, the House bills on PelosiCare and cap-and-trade, and the funding of the Obama gambits to move terrorists to the U.S. and to give KSM his civilian trial. It’s not as if they’ve been innocent bystanders of the leftward lurch that has inflamed the electorate.

So it isn’t simply that Obama won’t be able to give lawmakers much cover if his approval ratings don’t pep up; it’s that the lawmakers are tied at the hip to the very agenda items that have helped make Obama so unpopular. Now, Obama’s poll numbers can change, the economy can bounce back, and the White House and Congress can embark on a major course correction. Those Democrats on the 2010 ballot better hope for all three.

Congressional Democrats with an eye on political history should be nervous. California GOP chairman Ron Nehring highlights an uncomfortable reality for them as they head into 2010 with the least popular president at this stage in his presidency in decades:

The magnitude of the net losses suffered by the President’s party in Congress has been in direct, inverse proportion to the President’s public approval rating on Election Day. The party in control of the White House suffered the most in 1966, 1974 and 1994 when the incumbent’s approval ratings were all under 50%. High approval ratings of President Clinton in 1998 (66%) and President Bush in 2002 (63%) helped the governing party gain seats in those two years — a historical aberration.

How bad could it be? Bad. It seems that “an approval rating under 50% has typically resulted in a wipeout of 41 House and 477 state legislative seats lost by the President’s party. Barack Obama’s approval rating within the last week has hovered between 47% and 50% in Gallup’s surveys.”

We already saw Bob McDonnell leverage unpopular Obama policies (which have gotten even less popular in the past month) to win a state race. While avoiding running against Obama personally, McDonnell certainly ran against the Obama agenda (cap-and-trade, card check, ObamaCare, higher taxes). And it worked — spectacularly so. Those Congressional Democrats up in 2010 will have an even tougher time, for nearly all of them voted at one procedural stage or another for a series of hugely unpopular or failed measures. There was the $787 stimulus plan, the huge spending bills, the House bills on PelosiCare and cap-and-trade, and the funding of the Obama gambits to move terrorists to the U.S. and to give KSM his civilian trial. It’s not as if they’ve been innocent bystanders of the leftward lurch that has inflamed the electorate.

So it isn’t simply that Obama won’t be able to give lawmakers much cover if his approval ratings don’t pep up; it’s that the lawmakers are tied at the hip to the very agenda items that have helped make Obama so unpopular. Now, Obama’s poll numbers can change, the economy can bounce back, and the White House and Congress can embark on a major course correction. Those Democrats on the 2010 ballot better hope for all three.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sen. Ben Nelson, holding firm for now, “on Thursday rejected a proposed compromise related to abortion coverage, but Democratic leaders said that they remain confident that the matter would be resolved and that the chamber could still push an overhaul of the health-care system to final passage by Christmas.” And what about the other concerns Nelson says he has?

An informative report on the middle-class workers who will be impacted by the Senate’s “Cadillac tax” on  generous health-care plans explains: “A senior Democratic House aide said this week that the choice by the Senate to pay for health care reform with an excise tax that could hit middle-class workers, as opposed to the choice of the House to tax the highest earners, represents a fundamental philosophical difference between the two chambers that could endanger the entire bill if it is a part of the final conference report.”

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights takes time out from bird-dogging the Justice Department on the New Black Panther case to write a letter to the president and Senate chiding them for including illegal racial preferences for medical schools in the health-care bill. “No matter how well-intentioned, utilizing racial preferences with the hop of alleviating health care disparities is inadvisable both as a matter of policy and as a matter of law.”

The Washington Times has the low-down on the firing of AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin, in which “we get a glimpse of the tangled web of interests and embarrassments of Obama allies on which the firing of Mr. Walpin put a kibosh. In logic if not in law, this raises the specter of obstruction of justice.”

Mark McKinnon on how quickly the 2012 GOP field has changed: “What is most interesting, comparing the list today with the one a year ago, is who has fallen off it or otherwise lost altitude. Mark Sanford and John Ensign, once bright lights, have been doomed by the ancient curse of infidelity. Jon Huntsman got detailed to China. Bobby Jindal gave a painful speech which reminded voters of Kenneth from 30 Rock. And Mike Huckabee’s chances took a serious blow when a prisoner he freed as Arkansas governor allegedly shot and killed four policemen before being gunned down himself.” Could it possibly be that it’s just too early to start talking about 2012?

Republican congressional candidates in the suburbs are already running against Nancy Pelosi. With an approval rating like hers, you can understand why.

Another sterling Obama nominee: “President Obama’s recent nominee for ambassador to El Salvador was forced to withdraw her nomination to another diplomatic post a decade ago following concerns about ties to Cuba, raising red flags as her name heads to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee once again for approval. … The selection has started to draw some attention given that former President Clinton nominated her for ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998, only to see the nomination fizzle after the foreign relations panel questioned her over her past relationship with someone who had apparently caught the attention of the FBI.” According to one source, Cuban intelligence had tried to recruit her through her boyfriend.

The mysteries of science: “There are 20 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne and every one of them alters the taste, scent and fluid dynamics of the sparkling wine, say researchers studying the chemistry of carbonation and the physics of fizz.” Read the whole thing and lap up … er … savor slowly: “Each exploding bubble sprays hundreds of droplets of concentrated compounds into the air, wreathing anyone drinking it in a fragrant mist, mass spectroscopy studies show.” But don’t tell the EPA : it’s all about carbon dioxide.

Sen. Ben Nelson, holding firm for now, “on Thursday rejected a proposed compromise related to abortion coverage, but Democratic leaders said that they remain confident that the matter would be resolved and that the chamber could still push an overhaul of the health-care system to final passage by Christmas.” And what about the other concerns Nelson says he has?

An informative report on the middle-class workers who will be impacted by the Senate’s “Cadillac tax” on  generous health-care plans explains: “A senior Democratic House aide said this week that the choice by the Senate to pay for health care reform with an excise tax that could hit middle-class workers, as opposed to the choice of the House to tax the highest earners, represents a fundamental philosophical difference between the two chambers that could endanger the entire bill if it is a part of the final conference report.”

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights takes time out from bird-dogging the Justice Department on the New Black Panther case to write a letter to the president and Senate chiding them for including illegal racial preferences for medical schools in the health-care bill. “No matter how well-intentioned, utilizing racial preferences with the hop of alleviating health care disparities is inadvisable both as a matter of policy and as a matter of law.”

The Washington Times has the low-down on the firing of AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin, in which “we get a glimpse of the tangled web of interests and embarrassments of Obama allies on which the firing of Mr. Walpin put a kibosh. In logic if not in law, this raises the specter of obstruction of justice.”

Mark McKinnon on how quickly the 2012 GOP field has changed: “What is most interesting, comparing the list today with the one a year ago, is who has fallen off it or otherwise lost altitude. Mark Sanford and John Ensign, once bright lights, have been doomed by the ancient curse of infidelity. Jon Huntsman got detailed to China. Bobby Jindal gave a painful speech which reminded voters of Kenneth from 30 Rock. And Mike Huckabee’s chances took a serious blow when a prisoner he freed as Arkansas governor allegedly shot and killed four policemen before being gunned down himself.” Could it possibly be that it’s just too early to start talking about 2012?

Republican congressional candidates in the suburbs are already running against Nancy Pelosi. With an approval rating like hers, you can understand why.

Another sterling Obama nominee: “President Obama’s recent nominee for ambassador to El Salvador was forced to withdraw her nomination to another diplomatic post a decade ago following concerns about ties to Cuba, raising red flags as her name heads to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee once again for approval. … The selection has started to draw some attention given that former President Clinton nominated her for ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998, only to see the nomination fizzle after the foreign relations panel questioned her over her past relationship with someone who had apparently caught the attention of the FBI.” According to one source, Cuban intelligence had tried to recruit her through her boyfriend.

The mysteries of science: “There are 20 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne and every one of them alters the taste, scent and fluid dynamics of the sparkling wine, say researchers studying the chemistry of carbonation and the physics of fizz.” Read the whole thing and lap up … er … savor slowly: “Each exploding bubble sprays hundreds of droplets of concentrated compounds into the air, wreathing anyone drinking it in a fragrant mist, mass spectroscopy studies show.” But don’t tell the EPA : it’s all about carbon dioxide.

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