Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 21, 2009

Obama’s Engagement Fallout: Lebanon Surrenders

This past weekend, one of the genuine triumphs of American foreign policy in the past decade was officially reversed. When Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Harriri went to Damascus to pay tribute to his country’s Syrian overlord, the 2005 Cedar Revolution was buried. Less than five years ago, American pressure, which encouraged those forces in Lebanon that longed to be free, helped bring about the withdrawal of the Syrian troops that had occupied that country since the 1970s. Syria had overreached when it sponsored the assassination of Harriri’s father, Rafik, who preceded him as prime minister. That, combined with the increased influence in the region of the United States in the wake of the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, had convinced the Syrians that they must retreat.

But although the Syrian army has not returned, it now doesn’t have to. Hezbollah, the potent terrorist force that serves as a proxy for both Iran and Syria, has effectively strangled any hope of Lebanon’s escaping the grasp of those rogue regimes. Syria’s influence is once more unchallenged in Beirut. Rather than witnessing an international tribunal arraigning Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and his underlings for the murder of his father, as well as the transformation of Lebanon into a genuine Arab democracy, Saad Harriri has been compelled to swallow the humiliation of fawning on his father’s murderer.

What changed? According to the New York Times, the failure of Harriri to maintain his country’s independence is due to one major difference between 2005 and 2009: “since then, the United States and the West have chosen to engage with Syria, not isolate it.” As a result, those who thought they had the West’s backing for resisting the thugs of Damascus have been forced to swallow their pride and swear loyalty to Assad in order to save their lives.

All of which means that we can chalk up another defeat for the United States that can be put at the feet of Barack Obama’s fetish for diplomacy for its own sake. Like the opposition in Iran, the pro-independence Lebanese have been left in the lurch while Washington fecklessly pursues deals with dictators who have no intention of playing ball. And why should they, given the administration’s distaste for confrontations and its inability to rally international support for action on behalf of either a nuclear-free Iran or a free Lebanon?

It is worth recalling that back in the fall of 2008, when Joe Biden and Sarah Palin met for the vice-presidential nominees’ debate, Biden committed a gaffe when he claimed that Hezbollah had already been kicked out of Lebanon. Palin didn’t pick up on this blooper, and Biden escaped the derision he deserved for a passage in which he claimed that the best solution for Lebanon was a NATO intervention (had Palin committed such a blunder, she would never have heard the end of it). Biden probably meant Syria when he said Hezbollah, and his intention was to claim that Bush’s policies had failed in Lebanon because of Hezbollah’s revival. But as much as it should be conceded that Bush failed to sufficiently follow up on the Cedar Revolution, we now see what a year of the Obama-Biden administration has achieved in the region.

Their blind belief in engagement, as well as increased pressure on Israel, has emboldened both Syria and Iran. Those wishing to see what kind of difference Obama has made in the Middle East need only regard the wince-inducing spectacle of Saad Harriri bowing to Assad. The consequences of American engagement are not a pretty sight.

This past weekend, one of the genuine triumphs of American foreign policy in the past decade was officially reversed. When Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Harriri went to Damascus to pay tribute to his country’s Syrian overlord, the 2005 Cedar Revolution was buried. Less than five years ago, American pressure, which encouraged those forces in Lebanon that longed to be free, helped bring about the withdrawal of the Syrian troops that had occupied that country since the 1970s. Syria had overreached when it sponsored the assassination of Harriri’s father, Rafik, who preceded him as prime minister. That, combined with the increased influence in the region of the United States in the wake of the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, had convinced the Syrians that they must retreat.

But although the Syrian army has not returned, it now doesn’t have to. Hezbollah, the potent terrorist force that serves as a proxy for both Iran and Syria, has effectively strangled any hope of Lebanon’s escaping the grasp of those rogue regimes. Syria’s influence is once more unchallenged in Beirut. Rather than witnessing an international tribunal arraigning Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and his underlings for the murder of his father, as well as the transformation of Lebanon into a genuine Arab democracy, Saad Harriri has been compelled to swallow the humiliation of fawning on his father’s murderer.

What changed? According to the New York Times, the failure of Harriri to maintain his country’s independence is due to one major difference between 2005 and 2009: “since then, the United States and the West have chosen to engage with Syria, not isolate it.” As a result, those who thought they had the West’s backing for resisting the thugs of Damascus have been forced to swallow their pride and swear loyalty to Assad in order to save their lives.

All of which means that we can chalk up another defeat for the United States that can be put at the feet of Barack Obama’s fetish for diplomacy for its own sake. Like the opposition in Iran, the pro-independence Lebanese have been left in the lurch while Washington fecklessly pursues deals with dictators who have no intention of playing ball. And why should they, given the administration’s distaste for confrontations and its inability to rally international support for action on behalf of either a nuclear-free Iran or a free Lebanon?

It is worth recalling that back in the fall of 2008, when Joe Biden and Sarah Palin met for the vice-presidential nominees’ debate, Biden committed a gaffe when he claimed that Hezbollah had already been kicked out of Lebanon. Palin didn’t pick up on this blooper, and Biden escaped the derision he deserved for a passage in which he claimed that the best solution for Lebanon was a NATO intervention (had Palin committed such a blunder, she would never have heard the end of it). Biden probably meant Syria when he said Hezbollah, and his intention was to claim that Bush’s policies had failed in Lebanon because of Hezbollah’s revival. But as much as it should be conceded that Bush failed to sufficiently follow up on the Cedar Revolution, we now see what a year of the Obama-Biden administration has achieved in the region.

Their blind belief in engagement, as well as increased pressure on Israel, has emboldened both Syria and Iran. Those wishing to see what kind of difference Obama has made in the Middle East need only regard the wince-inducing spectacle of Saad Harriri bowing to Assad. The consequences of American engagement are not a pretty sight.

Read Less

The Health-Care Backlash

Here are some thoughts on where things stand in the aftermath of the certain passage of the Senate health-care bill.

1. Few Democrats understand the depth and intensity of opposition that exists toward them and their agenda, especially regarding health care. Passage of this bill will only heighten the depth and intensity of the opposition. We’re seeing a political tsunami in the making, and passage of health-care legislation would only add to its size and force.

2. This health-care bill may well be historic, but not in the way the president thinks. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything quite like it: passage of a mammoth piece of legislation, hugely expensive and unpopular, on a strict party-line vote taken in a rush of panic because Democrats know that the more people see of ObamaCare, the less they like it.

3. The problem isn’t simply with how substantively awful the bill is but how deeply dishonest and (legally) corrupt the whole process has been. There’s already a powerful populist, anti-Washington sentiment out there, perhaps as strong as anything we’ve seen. This will add kerosene to that raging fire.

4. Democrats have sold this bill as a miracle-worker; when people see first-hand how pernicious health-care legislation will be, abstract concerns will become concrete. That will magnify the unhappiness of the polity.

5. The collateral damage to Obama from this bill is enormous. More than any candidate in our lifetime, Obama won based on the aesthetics of politics. It wasn’t because of his record; he barely had one. And it wasn’t because of his command of policy; few people knew what his top three policy priorities were. It was based instead on the sense that he was something novel, the embodiment of a “new politics” – mature, high-minded and gracious, intellectually serious. That was the core of his speeches and his candidacy. In less than a year, that core has been devoured, most of all by this health-care process.

Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a deeply partisan and polarizing figure. (“I have never been asked to engage in a single serious negotiation on any issue, nor has any other Republican,” Senator McCain reported over the weekend.) The lack of transparency in this process has been unprecedented and bordering on criminal. The president has been deeply misleading in selling this plan. Lobbyists, a bane of Obama during the campaign, are having a field day.

President Obama may succeed in passing a terribly unpopular piece of legislation – but in the process, he has shattered his carefully cultivated image. It now consists of a thousand shards.

6. This health-care bill shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It’s part of a train of events that include the stimulus package, the omnibus spending bill (complete with some 8,500 earmarks), and a record-sized budget. In addition, as Jim Manzi points out in the new issue of National Affairs:

[Under Obama] the federal government has also intervened aggressively in both the financial and industrial sectors of the economy in order to produce specific desired outcomes for particular corporations. It has nationalized America’s largest auto company (General Motors) and intervened in the bankruptcy proceedings of the third-largest auto company (Chrysler), privileging labor unions at the expense of bondholders. It has, in effect, nationalized what was America’s largest insurance company (American International Group) and largest bank (Citigroup), and appears to have exerted extra-legal financial pressure on what was the second-largest bank (Bank of America) to get it to purchase the ­country’s largest securities company (Merrill Lynch). The implicit government guarantees provided to home-loan giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been called in, and the federal government is now the largest de facto lender in the residential real-estate market. The government has selected the CEOs and is setting compensation at major automotive and financial companies across the country. On top of these interventions in finance and commerce, the administration and congressional Democrats are also pursuing both a new climate and energy strategy and large-scale health-care reform. Their agenda would place the government at the center of these two huge sectors of the economy…

Together, these actions tell quite a tale. Mr. Obama has revived the worst impressions of the Democratic party – profligate and undisciplined, arrogant, lovers of big government, increasers of taxes. The issues and narrative for American politics in the foreseeable future has been set — limited government versus exploding government, capitalism versus European style socialism, responsible and measured policies versus reckless and radical ones.

Barack Obama is in the process of inflicting enormous damage to his presidency and his party. And there is more, much more to come.

Here are some thoughts on where things stand in the aftermath of the certain passage of the Senate health-care bill.

1. Few Democrats understand the depth and intensity of opposition that exists toward them and their agenda, especially regarding health care. Passage of this bill will only heighten the depth and intensity of the opposition. We’re seeing a political tsunami in the making, and passage of health-care legislation would only add to its size and force.

2. This health-care bill may well be historic, but not in the way the president thinks. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything quite like it: passage of a mammoth piece of legislation, hugely expensive and unpopular, on a strict party-line vote taken in a rush of panic because Democrats know that the more people see of ObamaCare, the less they like it.

3. The problem isn’t simply with how substantively awful the bill is but how deeply dishonest and (legally) corrupt the whole process has been. There’s already a powerful populist, anti-Washington sentiment out there, perhaps as strong as anything we’ve seen. This will add kerosene to that raging fire.

4. Democrats have sold this bill as a miracle-worker; when people see first-hand how pernicious health-care legislation will be, abstract concerns will become concrete. That will magnify the unhappiness of the polity.

5. The collateral damage to Obama from this bill is enormous. More than any candidate in our lifetime, Obama won based on the aesthetics of politics. It wasn’t because of his record; he barely had one. And it wasn’t because of his command of policy; few people knew what his top three policy priorities were. It was based instead on the sense that he was something novel, the embodiment of a “new politics” – mature, high-minded and gracious, intellectually serious. That was the core of his speeches and his candidacy. In less than a year, that core has been devoured, most of all by this health-care process.

Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a deeply partisan and polarizing figure. (“I have never been asked to engage in a single serious negotiation on any issue, nor has any other Republican,” Senator McCain reported over the weekend.) The lack of transparency in this process has been unprecedented and bordering on criminal. The president has been deeply misleading in selling this plan. Lobbyists, a bane of Obama during the campaign, are having a field day.

President Obama may succeed in passing a terribly unpopular piece of legislation – but in the process, he has shattered his carefully cultivated image. It now consists of a thousand shards.

6. This health-care bill shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It’s part of a train of events that include the stimulus package, the omnibus spending bill (complete with some 8,500 earmarks), and a record-sized budget. In addition, as Jim Manzi points out in the new issue of National Affairs:

[Under Obama] the federal government has also intervened aggressively in both the financial and industrial sectors of the economy in order to produce specific desired outcomes for particular corporations. It has nationalized America’s largest auto company (General Motors) and intervened in the bankruptcy proceedings of the third-largest auto company (Chrysler), privileging labor unions at the expense of bondholders. It has, in effect, nationalized what was America’s largest insurance company (American International Group) and largest bank (Citigroup), and appears to have exerted extra-legal financial pressure on what was the second-largest bank (Bank of America) to get it to purchase the ­country’s largest securities company (Merrill Lynch). The implicit government guarantees provided to home-loan giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been called in, and the federal government is now the largest de facto lender in the residential real-estate market. The government has selected the CEOs and is setting compensation at major automotive and financial companies across the country. On top of these interventions in finance and commerce, the administration and congressional Democrats are also pursuing both a new climate and energy strategy and large-scale health-care reform. Their agenda would place the government at the center of these two huge sectors of the economy…

Together, these actions tell quite a tale. Mr. Obama has revived the worst impressions of the Democratic party – profligate and undisciplined, arrogant, lovers of big government, increasers of taxes. The issues and narrative for American politics in the foreseeable future has been set — limited government versus exploding government, capitalism versus European style socialism, responsible and measured policies versus reckless and radical ones.

Barack Obama is in the process of inflicting enormous damage to his presidency and his party. And there is more, much more to come.

Read Less

Imagine What His Critics Think

There is no more frenetic or faithful pro-Obama spinner than Marc Ambinder. If there is any conceivable argument, and even if not, for an Obama gambit or position, then he’ll come up with it. So it is noteworthy that this is the best he can do on health care:

Let it be said, at 1:15 a.m. ET, that Democratic Party discipline held, that Republicans failed to kill health-care reform, that the president now has a strong chance to sign into law historic, expensive, and far-reaching health-care reform legislation before his first official State of the Union address in a month from now. The bruising year-long battle has left the Democratic Party divided, has expended virtually all of the president’s political capital, and the legislation’s fidelity to the goals sketched by candidate Obama are questionable.

Well, the bill can’t really be defended on the merits, whether one assesses it from the Left’s perspective (insurance companies make out like bandits!) or the Right’s (what happened to real reform and cost control?). So the idealistic bloggers are reduced to cooing about the brute strength of the Obama-Reid machine. It is something, but not the stuff that inspires voters to elect Democrats. What do they run on? “Keep the strong-arm tactics going!” isn’t much of a message.

There is no more frenetic or faithful pro-Obama spinner than Marc Ambinder. If there is any conceivable argument, and even if not, for an Obama gambit or position, then he’ll come up with it. So it is noteworthy that this is the best he can do on health care:

Let it be said, at 1:15 a.m. ET, that Democratic Party discipline held, that Republicans failed to kill health-care reform, that the president now has a strong chance to sign into law historic, expensive, and far-reaching health-care reform legislation before his first official State of the Union address in a month from now. The bruising year-long battle has left the Democratic Party divided, has expended virtually all of the president’s political capital, and the legislation’s fidelity to the goals sketched by candidate Obama are questionable.

Well, the bill can’t really be defended on the merits, whether one assesses it from the Left’s perspective (insurance companies make out like bandits!) or the Right’s (what happened to real reform and cost control?). So the idealistic bloggers are reduced to cooing about the brute strength of the Obama-Reid machine. It is something, but not the stuff that inspires voters to elect Democrats. What do they run on? “Keep the strong-arm tactics going!” isn’t much of a message.

Read Less

A Political Earthquake

In today’s Rasmussen presidential poll, only 26 percent of the nation’s voters strongly approve of Barack Obama’s performance as president, while 43 percent strongly disapprove — giving him a Presidential Approval Index rating, a sum calculated by subtracting the number of strong disapprovals from the number of strong approvals, of negative 17. His overall disapproval rating is 53 percent (it has been 50 percent or more for over a month). But it is the extraordinarily high proportion of those who strongly disapprove that bears noting.

In January, George W. Bush left office with a “Strongly Disapprove” rating of … 43 percent. It took Bush eight years to achieve that level of strong disapproval, despite how the mainstream media pummeled him for years. Obama has reached that level in 11 months, despite a media that for months could not use his name in a sentence without also adding “Lincoln” and “FDR.”

To appreciate the magnitude of Obama’s ratings fall, consider that after his first full day in office, his presidential index was positive 30. Today’s index of negative 17 reflects a swing of 47 points in less than a year.

A commenter at the Huffington Post today observes that Obama has “accomplished the remarkable feat of both demoralizing the base and completely turning off voters in the center.” The president has also unified the Republican party and created a tea-party movement that in some polls is more popular than both the Democratic and Republican parties.

At this stage of the Clinton administration, voters were upset about a health-care reform being planned in secret by the president’s wife; today they appear even more upset by an administration pushing through an ultra-partisan restructuring of the economy in the dead of night. If this keeps up, there is going to be an electoral earthquake less than 11 months from now.

In today’s Rasmussen presidential poll, only 26 percent of the nation’s voters strongly approve of Barack Obama’s performance as president, while 43 percent strongly disapprove — giving him a Presidential Approval Index rating, a sum calculated by subtracting the number of strong disapprovals from the number of strong approvals, of negative 17. His overall disapproval rating is 53 percent (it has been 50 percent or more for over a month). But it is the extraordinarily high proportion of those who strongly disapprove that bears noting.

In January, George W. Bush left office with a “Strongly Disapprove” rating of … 43 percent. It took Bush eight years to achieve that level of strong disapproval, despite how the mainstream media pummeled him for years. Obama has reached that level in 11 months, despite a media that for months could not use his name in a sentence without also adding “Lincoln” and “FDR.”

To appreciate the magnitude of Obama’s ratings fall, consider that after his first full day in office, his presidential index was positive 30. Today’s index of negative 17 reflects a swing of 47 points in less than a year.

A commenter at the Huffington Post today observes that Obama has “accomplished the remarkable feat of both demoralizing the base and completely turning off voters in the center.” The president has also unified the Republican party and created a tea-party movement that in some polls is more popular than both the Democratic and Republican parties.

At this stage of the Clinton administration, voters were upset about a health-care reform being planned in secret by the president’s wife; today they appear even more upset by an administration pushing through an ultra-partisan restructuring of the economy in the dead of night. If this keeps up, there is going to be an electoral earthquake less than 11 months from now.

Read Less

Obama, Jewish Voters, and the Lessons of 1984

Turns out there are real questions about the accuracy of that recent Quinnipiac poll showing President Obama’s approval rating at just 52 percent among Jewish voters. As the JTA’s Eric Fingerhut pointed out, the Jewish sampling “was derived from a sample of just 71 respondents, for a margin of error of plus or minus 11.6 percent — a sample size that pollsters generally say makes such surveys unreliable.”

Actually, common sense and some knowledge of Jewish voting habits should be enough to render any such poll findings suspect at best. Obama enjoys two important advantages that make him almost a shoo-in to win another landslide among Jewish voters three years from now: he’s a well-spoken, nonthreatening black man (a factor not to be underestimated when considering the voting psychology of liberal and moderate Jews), and he’s adamantly opposed to and by the Christian Right. Read More

Turns out there are real questions about the accuracy of that recent Quinnipiac poll showing President Obama’s approval rating at just 52 percent among Jewish voters. As the JTA’s Eric Fingerhut pointed out, the Jewish sampling “was derived from a sample of just 71 respondents, for a margin of error of plus or minus 11.6 percent — a sample size that pollsters generally say makes such surveys unreliable.”

Actually, common sense and some knowledge of Jewish voting habits should be enough to render any such poll findings suspect at best. Obama enjoys two important advantages that make him almost a shoo-in to win another landslide among Jewish voters three years from now: he’s a well-spoken, nonthreatening black man (a factor not to be underestimated when considering the voting psychology of liberal and moderate Jews), and he’s adamantly opposed to and by the Christian Right.

To put those realities into historical context, it’s instructive to look back at the presidential election of 1984. For a Republican, Ronald Reagan had done exceedingly well among Jews in 1980, winning 39 percent of their votes and holding the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, to an unimpressive plurality of 45 percent. (Third-party candidate John Anderson got the rest.) And then came the 1984 National Survey of American Jews, conducted between April and August that year, which found that while 39 percent of respondents acknowledged voting for Reagan in 1980, some 53 percent said that, looking back, Reagan was the candidate they would have preferred.

Certainly Reagan seemed poised to at least hold on to his 1980 share of the Jewish vote — and quite possibly exceed it.

In addition to Reagan’s performance in office, there was, in 1984, the Jesse Jackson factor. The longtime civil-rights firebrand was running for the Democratic nomination that year, and during the course of the campaign many of his past derogatory comments about Jews and Israel resurfaced, fueled both by his reference, in what he thought was an off-the-record conversation, to New York City as “Hymietown” and his reluctance to separate himself from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The Jackson factor was widely thought to threaten the Democratic party’s decades-old hold on Jewish loyalties, particularly when a Los Angeles Times poll of African-American delegates at the 1984 Democratic National Convention revealed that 75 percent of the delegates pledged to Jackson and almost 50 percent of those backing eventual nominee Walter Mondale felt no need to distance themselves from Farrakhan or his statements.

Come November, however, Reagan actually ended up losing significant ground among Jewish voters. “Exit polls taken the day of the election,” wrote Charles Silberman in his 1985 book A Certain People, “indicated that no more than 35 percent of American Jews, and perhaps as few as 31 percent, had voted for Reagan; the Jewish vote for Mondale was put at 65-69 percent … analysis of the polls indicated that between 25 and 35 percent of the Jews who had voted for Reagan in 1980 switched to Mondale in 1984.”

It seems that Reagan’s increasingly vocal embrace of the New — specifically, the Christian — Right scared Jews more than anything said by either Jackson or Farrakhan. Nearly 80 percent of Jews had an unfavorable opinion of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the most visible face of the Christian Right (never mind that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had presented Falwell with the Jabotinsky Prize in recognition of his strong support of the Jewish state). In fact, Silberman noted, “more Jewish voters indicated an unfavorable opinion of Falwell than of Jesse Jackson.”

The historian Stephen Whitfield elaborated on that point in 1986, writing: “The rise of the New Right has been more disturbing to Jews than the circulation within the Democratic Party of Third World sympathies that collide with Israeli interests.”

How does all this relate to Obama and Jewish support? For one thing, the Republican party’s identification with the Christian Right is immeasurably stronger today than it was 25 years ago, making it unlikely that liberal or moderate Jews will find a comfort level with the GOP anytime soon. For another, the current generation of American Jews is not nearly as supportive of Israel and Israeli policies as were their parents and grandparents — and support for Israel was the one factor that in the past might have swayed some liberal Jews to vote for a Republican.

If Jimmy Carter, fresh off a disastrous four years in office and displaying an increasingly palpable animus toward Israel, could still outpoll his Republican opponent among Jews (and absent the Anderson candidacy, Carter probably would have won at least 55 percent of the Jewish vote), there’s no reason to believe that even a mediocre Democratic president — particularly if he’s a likable African American who talks a good liberal game — need worry about Jewish voters.

Read Less

Is He Joking?

Chris Cillizza, a political writer for the Washington Post, compiles a list of the winners and losers in the health-care deal. Perhaps it’s a typo or the effect of staying up too late to follow a secretive middle-of-the-night vote, but he puts Sen. Ben Nelson in the winner column, waxing lyrical that the “Nebraska senator played the legislative process like a virtuoso, not only getting stricter language about abortion funding included in the final bill but also scoring another huge plum — the promise of full federal funding for the expansion of Medicaid in the Cornhusker State.” He must be joking, right?

The right-to-life community is up in arms and is likely to abandon Nelson. His other main constituency in Nebraska, which stuck with him in the past, the Chamber of Commerce,  now could well do the same. His “deal” is now labeled the Cornhusker Kickback, a symbol of corruption in a secretive legislative process. Nelson’s inability to answer simple questions about his rather lamely constructed agreement suggests that he either didn’t understand what he negotiated or is embarrassed to admit it.

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that this will be his last term in the Senate and that Republicans will be tripping over themselves to oppose him when he is up for re-election in 2012. Remember, more than 60 percent of his constituents are opposed to the bill, which he had the power to stop.

This is a winner? Well, it’s true he’ll keep his seat longer than some of his Democratic colleagues.

Chris Cillizza, a political writer for the Washington Post, compiles a list of the winners and losers in the health-care deal. Perhaps it’s a typo or the effect of staying up too late to follow a secretive middle-of-the-night vote, but he puts Sen. Ben Nelson in the winner column, waxing lyrical that the “Nebraska senator played the legislative process like a virtuoso, not only getting stricter language about abortion funding included in the final bill but also scoring another huge plum — the promise of full federal funding for the expansion of Medicaid in the Cornhusker State.” He must be joking, right?

The right-to-life community is up in arms and is likely to abandon Nelson. His other main constituency in Nebraska, which stuck with him in the past, the Chamber of Commerce,  now could well do the same. His “deal” is now labeled the Cornhusker Kickback, a symbol of corruption in a secretive legislative process. Nelson’s inability to answer simple questions about his rather lamely constructed agreement suggests that he either didn’t understand what he negotiated or is embarrassed to admit it.

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that this will be his last term in the Senate and that Republicans will be tripping over themselves to oppose him when he is up for re-election in 2012. Remember, more than 60 percent of his constituents are opposed to the bill, which he had the power to stop.

This is a winner? Well, it’s true he’ll keep his seat longer than some of his Democratic colleagues.

Read Less

Stonewalling for Everyone but the NAACP?

In its ongoing effort to pry information out of the Justice Department regarding the dismissal of the New Black Panther voter-intimidation case, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last Friday sent a letter to Joseph P. Hunt, Director of the Federal Programs branch of the Civil Division. The letter, a copy of which I have received, in part reads:

Your refusal to schedule a meeting even to discuss the Commission’s pending discovery requests and depositions suggests that DOJ is not interested in working to develop a path that will allow each agency to fulfill its statutory obligation. As you are aware, the Commission first began requesting related information from the Department on June 16, 2009, six months ago. After six months passed without a substantive response from DOJ, the Commission felt it necessary to issue subpoenas.

And as it did in its discovery requests, the Commission hints that there was perhaps some unusual collaboration between the lefty lawyers in the Obama Justice Department and their ideological soul mates in the left-leaning civil rights community. (“According to news reports, however, DOJ shared sufficient common ground to consult with an outside advocacy group concerning aspects of the New Black Panther Party litigation, prior to the Department’s dismissal of most of the charges.”) This may, in part, explain the Justice Department’s reticence to turn over documents to the Commission. It might finally reveal the ideological underpinnings and the political calculus at play in the decision to dismiss an egregious case of voter intimidation.

So the Commission is plowing ahead. And what about those depositions of the trial team, which brought on the New Black Panther case and whose legal judgment was squashed by Obama’s political appointees? Well, those may be back on:

The Commission also agreed to postpone the deposition of Department personnel so that they and the Department could discuss any timing issues, or in an extraordinary case, to determine whether the President will invoke executive privilege to prevent the employees from providing certain testimony. A meeting would have clarified any outstanding issues related to the depositions. The Commission will set new deposition dates for the Department employees in the next few weeks, and may consider subpoenaing other Department personnel during the same time. If the Department does not want to discuss these issues, then the Commission will have to act without its input as to the individuals and timing of such depositions.

It seems as though the most transparent administration in history is now in full Nixonian stonewall mode. We’ll see if this tactic has a similarly disastrous result.

In its ongoing effort to pry information out of the Justice Department regarding the dismissal of the New Black Panther voter-intimidation case, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last Friday sent a letter to Joseph P. Hunt, Director of the Federal Programs branch of the Civil Division. The letter, a copy of which I have received, in part reads:

Your refusal to schedule a meeting even to discuss the Commission’s pending discovery requests and depositions suggests that DOJ is not interested in working to develop a path that will allow each agency to fulfill its statutory obligation. As you are aware, the Commission first began requesting related information from the Department on June 16, 2009, six months ago. After six months passed without a substantive response from DOJ, the Commission felt it necessary to issue subpoenas.

And as it did in its discovery requests, the Commission hints that there was perhaps some unusual collaboration between the lefty lawyers in the Obama Justice Department and their ideological soul mates in the left-leaning civil rights community. (“According to news reports, however, DOJ shared sufficient common ground to consult with an outside advocacy group concerning aspects of the New Black Panther Party litigation, prior to the Department’s dismissal of most of the charges.”) This may, in part, explain the Justice Department’s reticence to turn over documents to the Commission. It might finally reveal the ideological underpinnings and the political calculus at play in the decision to dismiss an egregious case of voter intimidation.

So the Commission is plowing ahead. And what about those depositions of the trial team, which brought on the New Black Panther case and whose legal judgment was squashed by Obama’s political appointees? Well, those may be back on:

The Commission also agreed to postpone the deposition of Department personnel so that they and the Department could discuss any timing issues, or in an extraordinary case, to determine whether the President will invoke executive privilege to prevent the employees from providing certain testimony. A meeting would have clarified any outstanding issues related to the depositions. The Commission will set new deposition dates for the Department employees in the next few weeks, and may consider subpoenaing other Department personnel during the same time. If the Department does not want to discuss these issues, then the Commission will have to act without its input as to the individuals and timing of such depositions.

It seems as though the most transparent administration in history is now in full Nixonian stonewall mode. We’ll see if this tactic has a similarly disastrous result.

Read Less

He Was for It Before He Was Against It

Paul Krugman’s opinion of the Senate filibuster depends on who might use it. Today he is against it.

America is caught between severe problems that must be addressed and a minority party determined to block action on every front. Doing nothing is not an option …

And last Friday, he was against it:

Beyond that, we need to take on the way the Senate works. The filibuster, and the need for 60 votes to end debate, aren’t in the Constitution. They’re a Senate tradition, and that same tradition said that the threat of filibusters should be used sparingly. Well, Republicans have already trashed the second part of the tradition: look at a list of cloture motions over time, and you’ll see that since the G.O.P. lost control of Congress it has pursued obstructionism on a literally unprecedented scale. So it’s time to revise the rules.

In 2005, however, when the Senate had a Republican majority, Krugman thought that only the filibuster saved us from government by extremists: “But the big step by extremists will be an attempt to eliminate the filibuster, so that the courts can be packed with judges less committed to upholding the law.” (h/t James Taranto)

Krugman’s intellectual inconsistency is at least consistent with that of his employer. On November 28, 2004, with Republicans in the White House and running Congress, the filibuster was a fundamental part of the Founders’ plan, according to the Times:

The Republicans see the filibuster as an annoying obstacle. But it is actually one of the checks and balances that the founders, who worried greatly about concentration of power, built into our system of government. It is also, right now, the main means by which the 48 percent of Americans who voted for John Kerry can influence federal policy. People who call themselves conservatives should find a way of achieving their goals without declaring war on one of the oldest traditions in American democracy.

But on March 1, 2009, with Democrats running everything in Washington, the Times had changed its mind, calling the filibuster a “self-inflicted wound.”

… the use of the filibuster as an everyday tool of legislation stands the idea of democratic government on its head. Instead of majority rule in the Senate, the tyranny of the minority prevails.

The filibuster is merely a Senate rule, not part of the Constitution. But the Founders did conceive of the Senate as “the saucer in which to cool the coffee.” And the filibuster facilitates by giving the minority increased power to affect legislation in ways that it favors, moving the legislation towards the center. What the Times and Krugman were attempting to justify in 2004 and 2005, however, was the use of the filibuster to prevent a vote on judicial nominations. And while legislation can be compromised, nominations cannot. The nominee is either appointed or he is not. So when the minority uses the filibuster to prevent an up-or-down vote on a nominee, it is, indeed, a “tyranny of the minority” and fundamentally undemocratic.

Paul Krugman’s opinion of the Senate filibuster depends on who might use it. Today he is against it.

America is caught between severe problems that must be addressed and a minority party determined to block action on every front. Doing nothing is not an option …

And last Friday, he was against it:

Beyond that, we need to take on the way the Senate works. The filibuster, and the need for 60 votes to end debate, aren’t in the Constitution. They’re a Senate tradition, and that same tradition said that the threat of filibusters should be used sparingly. Well, Republicans have already trashed the second part of the tradition: look at a list of cloture motions over time, and you’ll see that since the G.O.P. lost control of Congress it has pursued obstructionism on a literally unprecedented scale. So it’s time to revise the rules.

In 2005, however, when the Senate had a Republican majority, Krugman thought that only the filibuster saved us from government by extremists: “But the big step by extremists will be an attempt to eliminate the filibuster, so that the courts can be packed with judges less committed to upholding the law.” (h/t James Taranto)

Krugman’s intellectual inconsistency is at least consistent with that of his employer. On November 28, 2004, with Republicans in the White House and running Congress, the filibuster was a fundamental part of the Founders’ plan, according to the Times:

The Republicans see the filibuster as an annoying obstacle. But it is actually one of the checks and balances that the founders, who worried greatly about concentration of power, built into our system of government. It is also, right now, the main means by which the 48 percent of Americans who voted for John Kerry can influence federal policy. People who call themselves conservatives should find a way of achieving their goals without declaring war on one of the oldest traditions in American democracy.

But on March 1, 2009, with Democrats running everything in Washington, the Times had changed its mind, calling the filibuster a “self-inflicted wound.”

… the use of the filibuster as an everyday tool of legislation stands the idea of democratic government on its head. Instead of majority rule in the Senate, the tyranny of the minority prevails.

The filibuster is merely a Senate rule, not part of the Constitution. But the Founders did conceive of the Senate as “the saucer in which to cool the coffee.” And the filibuster facilitates by giving the minority increased power to affect legislation in ways that it favors, moving the legislation towards the center. What the Times and Krugman were attempting to justify in 2004 and 2005, however, was the use of the filibuster to prevent a vote on judicial nominations. And while legislation can be compromised, nominations cannot. The nominee is either appointed or he is not. So when the minority uses the filibuster to prevent an up-or-down vote on a nominee, it is, indeed, a “tyranny of the minority” and fundamentally undemocratic.

Read Less

Gray Lady Capsizes — Again

The New York Times is incapable of punishing its “star” columnists, no matter what the offense. Maureen Dowd was caught plagiarizing and was allowed to skate by with a lame excuse and no real confession of guilt. Paul Krugman in a column last week wrote, “By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy.” Today, in a pathetic parenthetical, he writes: (“Management wants me to make it clear that in my last column I wasn’t endorsing inappropriate threats against Mr. Lieberman.”) A more insincere apology would be hard to find.

Let’s imagine — for we will have to, barring a spasm of transparency from public editor Clark Hoyt — that the Times management received one or more complaints about Krugman’s disgusting remark. What would they have said? “Well, no, we don’t actually support hanging in effigy U.S. senators.” If pressed as to their editorial judgment, would they have lamely acknowledged, “Er, yes, had anyone used that phrase with the regard to the president, we would have caught it and squelched it”? The mind reels.

What is clear is that for all the Times’s snooty condescension about the blogosphere, the editorial pages of the Gray Lady are no better than the average netroot blog. Journalistic ethics? Puh-leez! Common decency? Fuggedaboutit!

The New York Times is incapable of punishing its “star” columnists, no matter what the offense. Maureen Dowd was caught plagiarizing and was allowed to skate by with a lame excuse and no real confession of guilt. Paul Krugman in a column last week wrote, “By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy.” Today, in a pathetic parenthetical, he writes: (“Management wants me to make it clear that in my last column I wasn’t endorsing inappropriate threats against Mr. Lieberman.”) A more insincere apology would be hard to find.

Let’s imagine — for we will have to, barring a spasm of transparency from public editor Clark Hoyt — that the Times management received one or more complaints about Krugman’s disgusting remark. What would they have said? “Well, no, we don’t actually support hanging in effigy U.S. senators.” If pressed as to their editorial judgment, would they have lamely acknowledged, “Er, yes, had anyone used that phrase with the regard to the president, we would have caught it and squelched it”? The mind reels.

What is clear is that for all the Times’s snooty condescension about the blogosphere, the editorial pages of the Gray Lady are no better than the average netroot blog. Journalistic ethics? Puh-leez! Common decency? Fuggedaboutit!

Read Less

So Much for New Politics

On Sunday, the New York Times fessed up:

Nasty charges of bribery. Senators cut off mid-speech. Accusations of politics put over patriotism. Talk of double-crosses. A nonagenarian forced out after midnight for multiple procedural votes.In the heart of the holiday season, Senate Republicans and Democrats are at one another’s throats as the health care overhaul reaches its climactic votes, one of which is set for 1 a.m. Monday. A year that began with hopes of new post-partisanship has indeed produced change: Things have gotten worse.

Well, yes they have. How did we get to this point? Well, for starters, Obama, who ran on his determination to transcend partisan divisions, remained a passive and aloof figure when it came to the drafting and the details, allowing partisan passions to run wild. His sole concern was winning, not building a broad-based coalition for revolutionary legislation. Indeed, he contributed to partisan furies by labeling opponents as confused and misinformed and by repeating a series of partisan and baseless accusations against Republicans (the principal one — that they had “no alternative” — was easily disproved by the plethora of conservative plans and proposals). Obama had a reason for proceeding in this way — he wanted to rely on the muscle of large Democratic majorities to obtain the most liberal bill he could get. On Sunday John McCain explained:

There’s been a change. It’s more partisan. It’s more bitterly divided than it’s been. I have never been asked to engage in a single serious negotiation on any issue, nor has any other Republican. Now they’ve brought single Republicans down to try to pick off one or two Republicans so you can call it, quote, bipartisan. There’s never been serious across-the-table negotiations on any serious issue that I have engaged in with — I and others have engaged in with other administrations, both Republican and Democrat.

And if comity and Obama’s own credibility were sacrificed along the way, well, that’s simply what a Chicago pol must do to win.

It’s not a pretty picture, as even the Times must concede:

On Sunday, Republicans did not mince words when characterizing provisions put in the health care bill to attract the final votes for passage, particularly that of Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska. Some suggested that special Nebraska considerations in the bill amounted to bribery and corruption. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that it was reflective of “seedy Chicago politics.”

“In order to try to get the 60 votes, there has been basically a pay to play approach to this, and it’s just repulsive,” [Sen. John] Cornyn said.

Now some say that bipartisanship is overrated. But Obama wasn’t one of them. He got himself elected, in large part, because he promised to rise about the naked partisanship that had alienated so many voters. No Blue and Red States, just the United States of America and all that. So the question remains whether having jettisoned that tone and approach to politics, the president and his party will face any consequences. It’s not hard to imagine that once the dreamy idealism of young voters, the optimism of independents (who had grown disgusted with politics as normal), and the self-delusion of some Republicans (convinced that Obama was a man of reason, not of bare-knuckle politics) are drained away, the Democrats will face a motivation deficit in 2010 and perhaps beyond.

Having adopted the worst qualities of his hyper-partisan predecessors, Obama has left the “outsider” and “change” message by the wayside. We’ll see if his opponents are savvy enough to grab it and run for daylight.

On Sunday, the New York Times fessed up:

Nasty charges of bribery. Senators cut off mid-speech. Accusations of politics put over patriotism. Talk of double-crosses. A nonagenarian forced out after midnight for multiple procedural votes.In the heart of the holiday season, Senate Republicans and Democrats are at one another’s throats as the health care overhaul reaches its climactic votes, one of which is set for 1 a.m. Monday. A year that began with hopes of new post-partisanship has indeed produced change: Things have gotten worse.

Well, yes they have. How did we get to this point? Well, for starters, Obama, who ran on his determination to transcend partisan divisions, remained a passive and aloof figure when it came to the drafting and the details, allowing partisan passions to run wild. His sole concern was winning, not building a broad-based coalition for revolutionary legislation. Indeed, he contributed to partisan furies by labeling opponents as confused and misinformed and by repeating a series of partisan and baseless accusations against Republicans (the principal one — that they had “no alternative” — was easily disproved by the plethora of conservative plans and proposals). Obama had a reason for proceeding in this way — he wanted to rely on the muscle of large Democratic majorities to obtain the most liberal bill he could get. On Sunday John McCain explained:

There’s been a change. It’s more partisan. It’s more bitterly divided than it’s been. I have never been asked to engage in a single serious negotiation on any issue, nor has any other Republican. Now they’ve brought single Republicans down to try to pick off one or two Republicans so you can call it, quote, bipartisan. There’s never been serious across-the-table negotiations on any serious issue that I have engaged in with — I and others have engaged in with other administrations, both Republican and Democrat.

And if comity and Obama’s own credibility were sacrificed along the way, well, that’s simply what a Chicago pol must do to win.

It’s not a pretty picture, as even the Times must concede:

On Sunday, Republicans did not mince words when characterizing provisions put in the health care bill to attract the final votes for passage, particularly that of Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska. Some suggested that special Nebraska considerations in the bill amounted to bribery and corruption. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that it was reflective of “seedy Chicago politics.”

“In order to try to get the 60 votes, there has been basically a pay to play approach to this, and it’s just repulsive,” [Sen. John] Cornyn said.

Now some say that bipartisanship is overrated. But Obama wasn’t one of them. He got himself elected, in large part, because he promised to rise about the naked partisanship that had alienated so many voters. No Blue and Red States, just the United States of America and all that. So the question remains whether having jettisoned that tone and approach to politics, the president and his party will face any consequences. It’s not hard to imagine that once the dreamy idealism of young voters, the optimism of independents (who had grown disgusted with politics as normal), and the self-delusion of some Republicans (convinced that Obama was a man of reason, not of bare-knuckle politics) are drained away, the Democrats will face a motivation deficit in 2010 and perhaps beyond.

Having adopted the worst qualities of his hyper-partisan predecessors, Obama has left the “outsider” and “change” message by the wayside. We’ll see if his opponents are savvy enough to grab it and run for daylight.

Read Less

Snowe’s Had It

Obama has finally managed to do it. He first lost David Brooks — and now Sen. Olympia Snowe. In her statement of opposition to ObamaCare, Snowe detailed some substantive concerns, but basically she got fed up with the bullying:

It defies logic that we are now expected to vote on the overall, final package before Christmas with no opportunity to amend it so we can adjourn for a three week recess even as the legislation will not fully go into effect until 2014, four years from now. … Ultimately, there is absolutely no reason to be hurtling headlong to a Christmas deadline on monumental legislation affecting every American, when it doesn’t even fully go into effect until 2014. When 51 percent of the American people in a recent survey have said they do not approve of what we are doing, they understand what Congress does not — and that is, that time is not our enemy, it is our friend.

Therefore, we must take a time out from this legislative game of “beat the clock,” reconvene in January – instead of taking a three week recess – and spend the time necessary to get this right. Legislation affecting more than 300 million Americans deserves better than midnight votes on a bill that cannot be further amended and that no one has had the opportunity to fully consider – and the Senate must step up to its responsibility as the world’s greatest deliberative body on behalf of the American people.

It’s significant that the not-very-conservative conservatives hovering around the middle of the political spectrum have thrown up their hands in collective disgust, recognizing that ObamaCare is not about reasoned policymaking but about brute political strength. Notice how popular — and broad-based — is the coalition of “no.” Recall that Olympia Snowe voted in favor of the stimulus plan, providing a bare fig leaf of bipartisanship to that embarrassing legislation. That she has reached her limit and can no longer justify even to her not-at-all-hardcore-conservative constituents voting for the latest junk-a-thon bill says something about how the political landscape has shifted.

Who knows if it was the bullyboy tactics or the substance that finally pushed Snowe over the … well … the precipice. For years conservatives have bemoaned the difficulty in holding Snowe and other moderate Republicans on board during critical legislative fights. It turns out that the solution was to a face off against a hyper-partisan, ultra-liberal Democratic majority. That’s the magic of the Obama era — the often squabbling members of the GOP coalition are now all on the same page.

Obama has finally managed to do it. He first lost David Brooks — and now Sen. Olympia Snowe. In her statement of opposition to ObamaCare, Snowe detailed some substantive concerns, but basically she got fed up with the bullying:

It defies logic that we are now expected to vote on the overall, final package before Christmas with no opportunity to amend it so we can adjourn for a three week recess even as the legislation will not fully go into effect until 2014, four years from now. … Ultimately, there is absolutely no reason to be hurtling headlong to a Christmas deadline on monumental legislation affecting every American, when it doesn’t even fully go into effect until 2014. When 51 percent of the American people in a recent survey have said they do not approve of what we are doing, they understand what Congress does not — and that is, that time is not our enemy, it is our friend.

Therefore, we must take a time out from this legislative game of “beat the clock,” reconvene in January – instead of taking a three week recess – and spend the time necessary to get this right. Legislation affecting more than 300 million Americans deserves better than midnight votes on a bill that cannot be further amended and that no one has had the opportunity to fully consider – and the Senate must step up to its responsibility as the world’s greatest deliberative body on behalf of the American people.

It’s significant that the not-very-conservative conservatives hovering around the middle of the political spectrum have thrown up their hands in collective disgust, recognizing that ObamaCare is not about reasoned policymaking but about brute political strength. Notice how popular — and broad-based — is the coalition of “no.” Recall that Olympia Snowe voted in favor of the stimulus plan, providing a bare fig leaf of bipartisanship to that embarrassing legislation. That she has reached her limit and can no longer justify even to her not-at-all-hardcore-conservative constituents voting for the latest junk-a-thon bill says something about how the political landscape has shifted.

Who knows if it was the bullyboy tactics or the substance that finally pushed Snowe over the … well … the precipice. For years conservatives have bemoaned the difficulty in holding Snowe and other moderate Republicans on board during critical legislative fights. It turns out that the solution was to a face off against a hyper-partisan, ultra-liberal Democratic majority. That’s the magic of the Obama era — the often squabbling members of the GOP coalition are now all on the same page.

Read Less

They All Own It

On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, among the cagier and more effective Republicans, uttered a final thought in his fiery denunciation of the health-care bill: “All it takes is one. Just one. One can stop it — or every one will own it.” Every one of the Democrats who voted in lockstep for cloture after 1 a.m. now owns the health-care bill. Each of the senators up in 2010 becomes the decisive vote. And each of them up in 2012 as well. In each and every race, this vote will be one of the top, if not the top issue, and voters enraged by one or another of the bill’s provisions (e.g., abortion subsidies, the violation of Obama’s pledge not to tax families with income less than $250,000, the slashing of Medicare) will get to register their disapproval.

As McConnell pointed out dryly, “But make no mistake: if the people who wrote this bill were proud of it, they wouldn’t be forcing this vote in the dead of night. … The final product is a mess — and so is the process that’s brought us here to vote on a bill that the American people overwhelmingly oppose.”

The bill will have to go to conference committee after passage by the Senate. Speculation is that Nancy Pelosi will run roughshod over her caucus and try to change virtually nothing so as to hold in place hard-won Senate votes. The task won’t be easy, as she may well have to go scrambling for votes lost from Rep. Bart Stupak and other pro-life Democrats unwilling to accept the Ben Nelson abortion language, which has been roundly condemned by pro-life groups. But make no mistake about how shrewd she can be. As one Hill aide put it:

Pelosi can be pretty persuasive down there on the floor. She turned 10 Dems who didn’t want to vote for their second stimulus last week to get the votes she needed. She’ll promise everything under the sun — campaign cash, committee slots, pork projects, etc — whatever she needs to put it over the top.

And she’ll need to offer a lot. For by then, the American people will have learned more about the “mess” they’re about to receive, and House members will be demanding plenty of those Pelosi goodies in exchange for a vote that could quite possibly end their careers.

On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, among the cagier and more effective Republicans, uttered a final thought in his fiery denunciation of the health-care bill: “All it takes is one. Just one. One can stop it — or every one will own it.” Every one of the Democrats who voted in lockstep for cloture after 1 a.m. now owns the health-care bill. Each of the senators up in 2010 becomes the decisive vote. And each of them up in 2012 as well. In each and every race, this vote will be one of the top, if not the top issue, and voters enraged by one or another of the bill’s provisions (e.g., abortion subsidies, the violation of Obama’s pledge not to tax families with income less than $250,000, the slashing of Medicare) will get to register their disapproval.

As McConnell pointed out dryly, “But make no mistake: if the people who wrote this bill were proud of it, they wouldn’t be forcing this vote in the dead of night. … The final product is a mess — and so is the process that’s brought us here to vote on a bill that the American people overwhelmingly oppose.”

The bill will have to go to conference committee after passage by the Senate. Speculation is that Nancy Pelosi will run roughshod over her caucus and try to change virtually nothing so as to hold in place hard-won Senate votes. The task won’t be easy, as she may well have to go scrambling for votes lost from Rep. Bart Stupak and other pro-life Democrats unwilling to accept the Ben Nelson abortion language, which has been roundly condemned by pro-life groups. But make no mistake about how shrewd she can be. As one Hill aide put it:

Pelosi can be pretty persuasive down there on the floor. She turned 10 Dems who didn’t want to vote for their second stimulus last week to get the votes she needed. She’ll promise everything under the sun — campaign cash, committee slots, pork projects, etc — whatever she needs to put it over the top.

And she’ll need to offer a lot. For by then, the American people will have learned more about the “mess” they’re about to receive, and House members will be demanding plenty of those Pelosi goodies in exchange for a vote that could quite possibly end their careers.

Read Less

The Corrective Election of 2010

On Fox News Sunday, Dana Perino provided a useful summary of what health-care “reform” now looks like. In short, it’s not reform at all:

Well, I think that at the end of the day this is a massive entitlement expansion that’s going to subsidize a lot of people without the reform that was needed. So you look at the CBO report — if you actually tease it out, they’re basically saying, “We don’t know really what’s going to happen.” It says that 23 million people are going to remain uninsured, so I don’t know how to break out those numbers. In addition to that, it does say that in 2010 they assume that doctors will be reduced in their reimbursements by 21 percent. This called “doc fix” up on Capitol Hill. It never happens.

The non-reform health-care bill does, to the disgust of liberals, make insurance companies very happy. The government is coercing customers to buy the companies’ products under penalty of prosecution and fine. The non-reform health-care bill does, to the horror of seniors, slash $500B out of Medicare with no conceivable alternative other than rationing to meet its new budget. The non-reform health-care bill does, to the delight of trial lawyers, do nothing to reform the tort system or the problem of defensive medicine. And the non-reform health-care bill does, to the chagrin of deficit hawks, do nothing to bend the cost-curve or cut the deficit. (James Capretta explains: “For starters, as CBO notes, the bill presumes that Medicare fees for physician services will get cut by more than 20 percent in 2011, and then stay at the reduced level indefinitely. There is strong bipartisan opposition to such cuts. Fixing that problem alone will cost more than $200 billion over a decade, pushing the Reid plan from the black and into a deep red.”) Finally, the non-reform health-care bill will, to the embarrassment of good-government types, in all likelihood get passed through a combination of bribery and secrecy, with virtually no time for thoughtful consideration.

On every level it’s a policy train wreck. As Robert J. Samuelson summed up:

It will not control costs. It will worsen the budget outlook. It will lead to higher taxes. It will disrupt how, or whether, companies provide insurance for their workers. As the real-life (as opposed to rhetorical) consequences unfold, they will rebut Obama’s claim that he has “solved” the health-care problem. His reputation will suffer.

Its noxious impact and the manner by which it was passed will annoy voters and motivate already enraged conservatives and skeptical independents in 2010. The Democrats have no cover on this one, just as they lacked one on the stimulus plan, which was passed on a near party-line vote. (The final vote on the non-reform health-care bill will be even more partisan.) If, as with the stimulus, voters cannot be lulled into believing that atrocious legislation is really a marvelous thing, the consequences will be significant and the 2010 election will make 1994 look like a mere ripple on the political landscape.

Elections have consequences, certainly. That’s how we wound up with huge congressional majorities in both houses and an ultra-liberal president. But there’s always another election coming up to correct the missteps and excesses of those who won last time. If ObamaCare manages to be passed into law, as is almost certain, and the voters slowly learn what the non-reform bill does, then be prepared for one of the great corrective elections in American history.

On Fox News Sunday, Dana Perino provided a useful summary of what health-care “reform” now looks like. In short, it’s not reform at all:

Well, I think that at the end of the day this is a massive entitlement expansion that’s going to subsidize a lot of people without the reform that was needed. So you look at the CBO report — if you actually tease it out, they’re basically saying, “We don’t know really what’s going to happen.” It says that 23 million people are going to remain uninsured, so I don’t know how to break out those numbers. In addition to that, it does say that in 2010 they assume that doctors will be reduced in their reimbursements by 21 percent. This called “doc fix” up on Capitol Hill. It never happens.

The non-reform health-care bill does, to the disgust of liberals, make insurance companies very happy. The government is coercing customers to buy the companies’ products under penalty of prosecution and fine. The non-reform health-care bill does, to the horror of seniors, slash $500B out of Medicare with no conceivable alternative other than rationing to meet its new budget. The non-reform health-care bill does, to the delight of trial lawyers, do nothing to reform the tort system or the problem of defensive medicine. And the non-reform health-care bill does, to the chagrin of deficit hawks, do nothing to bend the cost-curve or cut the deficit. (James Capretta explains: “For starters, as CBO notes, the bill presumes that Medicare fees for physician services will get cut by more than 20 percent in 2011, and then stay at the reduced level indefinitely. There is strong bipartisan opposition to such cuts. Fixing that problem alone will cost more than $200 billion over a decade, pushing the Reid plan from the black and into a deep red.”) Finally, the non-reform health-care bill will, to the embarrassment of good-government types, in all likelihood get passed through a combination of bribery and secrecy, with virtually no time for thoughtful consideration.

On every level it’s a policy train wreck. As Robert J. Samuelson summed up:

It will not control costs. It will worsen the budget outlook. It will lead to higher taxes. It will disrupt how, or whether, companies provide insurance for their workers. As the real-life (as opposed to rhetorical) consequences unfold, they will rebut Obama’s claim that he has “solved” the health-care problem. His reputation will suffer.

Its noxious impact and the manner by which it was passed will annoy voters and motivate already enraged conservatives and skeptical independents in 2010. The Democrats have no cover on this one, just as they lacked one on the stimulus plan, which was passed on a near party-line vote. (The final vote on the non-reform health-care bill will be even more partisan.) If, as with the stimulus, voters cannot be lulled into believing that atrocious legislation is really a marvelous thing, the consequences will be significant and the 2010 election will make 1994 look like a mere ripple on the political landscape.

Elections have consequences, certainly. That’s how we wound up with huge congressional majorities in both houses and an ultra-liberal president. But there’s always another election coming up to correct the missteps and excesses of those who won last time. If ObamaCare manages to be passed into law, as is almost certain, and the voters slowly learn what the non-reform bill does, then be prepared for one of the great corrective elections in American history.

Read Less

McCain on Obama’s “Serious Mistake” in the War on Terror

The Left has often pointed to Sen. John McCain as an exemplar of correct and moralistic thinking on the war on terror, especially when he was criticizing the Bush administration on enhanced interrogation methods. But oddly, they’ve chosen to ignore his position on Obama’s ill-conceived policies. Don’t expect to see this exchange touted in the left-wing blogosphere:

WALLACE: What do you think of the president’s plan — apparent plan to send up to 100 detainees from Guantanamo to a prison in rural Illinois?

MCCAIN: I think it’s a serious mistake, and I think that the way to dispose of the — of this issue is by having an overall policy.

Right now they’re going to — they’re going to try terrorists in New York City, thereby giving Khalid Sheik Mohammed what he wanted when he was captured. He said, “I want a trial in the United States and a lawyer.” I think they’re making a serious mistake.

WALLACE: What’s wrong with Thompson, Illinois?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I think that it’s anywhere in the United States. It’s not the fact that it’s Thompson, Illinois. It’s any …

WALLACE: No, but what’s wrong …

MCCAIN: … any place.

WALLACE: … with sending them there?

MCCAIN: I think that they should be either sentenced to have the kind of military commissions that we have outlined in law and may make — have to make additional changes to, and — because they are enemy combatants, and I don’t think they should be kept in prison in the United States. Read More

The Left has often pointed to Sen. John McCain as an exemplar of correct and moralistic thinking on the war on terror, especially when he was criticizing the Bush administration on enhanced interrogation methods. But oddly, they’ve chosen to ignore his position on Obama’s ill-conceived policies. Don’t expect to see this exchange touted in the left-wing blogosphere:

WALLACE: What do you think of the president’s plan — apparent plan to send up to 100 detainees from Guantanamo to a prison in rural Illinois?

MCCAIN: I think it’s a serious mistake, and I think that the way to dispose of the — of this issue is by having an overall policy.

Right now they’re going to — they’re going to try terrorists in New York City, thereby giving Khalid Sheik Mohammed what he wanted when he was captured. He said, “I want a trial in the United States and a lawyer.” I think they’re making a serious mistake.

WALLACE: What’s wrong with Thompson, Illinois?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I think that it’s anywhere in the United States. It’s not the fact that it’s Thompson, Illinois. It’s any …

WALLACE: No, but what’s wrong …

MCCAIN: … any place.

WALLACE: … with sending them there?

MCCAIN: I think that they should be either sentenced to have the kind of military commissions that we have outlined in law and may make — have to make additional changes to, and — because they are enemy combatants, and I don’t think they should be kept in prison in the United States.

Well, in point of fact, McCain has long argued for military commissions and never sided with the ACLU types who want full constitutional rights and civilian trials for terrorists, but this was largely ignored by the netroots looking only for comments that might support their views on the matter. In this regard, McCain is in perfect accord with former prosecutor Andy McCarthy (who vigorously disagreed with McCain on enhanced interrogation). As McCarthy pointed out recently, the arguments in favor of the detainee transfer are based on misunderstandings and misrepresentations as to the consequences of the move. He points to Sen. Dick Durbin’s unsupported contention that detainees moved to Illinois couldn’t be set free:

Nevertheless, Durbin is being disingenuous — doubly disingenuous, in fact. First, the principal fear is no longer that the Obama administration will try to free the terrorists and relocate them here. It is that the federal courts will order the release of the detainees. And second, the senator’s brave assurance that if “a detainee is found not guilty, he will not be released inside the United States” is a smokescreen. As he well knows, most of the Gitmo terrorists are not going to be found guilty or found not guilty — they’re not going to be tried at all. . .

So we have custody of extremely dangerous terrorists who cannot be tried and who will not be taken off our hands by any trustworthy country. Their detention is now being scrutinized by judges who are skeptical of the traditional military practice of indefinite detention without trial. Some of us have implored Congress to enact rules of procedure for terrorist-detention hearings that would stop judges from favoring the terrorists over the military. But Democrats like Senator Durbin have turned a deaf ear, preferring to watch the judges make up the rules as they go along.

It’s a measure of how extreme and ill-advised the Obami’s war-on-terror policies are that those who previously tangled over the Bush administration’s approach are now in full agreement. It might be illuminating to have Attorney General Eric Holder come before the Senate Armed Services Committee or the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to be grilled by McCain on the administration’s policies. Now that would be worth watching.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Bill Kristol on enjoying the festivities in Copenhagen: “Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad giving anti-American speeches, huge applause from the delegates, snowing during this global warming conference. And I’m glad that it has done limited damage to the U.S. economy.” Mara Liasson (emboldened perhaps by the “Free Mara!” campaign) agrees: “I think, obviously, it was a disappointment for environmentalists who wanted something binding and wanted more firm targets, but I think what this means is that a very small step has been taken, and now we’ll see if the Senate will pass this treaty.”

In the rush to pass hugely unpopular and controversial legislation, errors are made: “The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) corrected its estimate of the Senate health bill’s costs on Sunday, saying it would reduce deficits slightly less than they’d predicted.”

The bill was so awful the payoffs had to be very high: “Nelson’s might be the most blatant – a deal carved out for a single state, a permanent exemption from the state share of Medicaid expansion for Nebraska, meaning federal taxpayers have to kick in an additional $45 million in the first decade. But another Democratic holdout, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), took credit for $10 billion in new funding for community health centers, while denying it was a “sweetheart deal.”

Megan McArdle: “Democrats are on a political suicide mission; I’m not a particularly accurate prognosticator, but I think this makes it very likely that in 2010 they will lost several seats in the Senate–enough to make it damn hard to pass any more of their signature legislation–and will lose the House outright.  In the case of the House, you can attribute it to the fact that the leadership has safe seats.  But three out of four of the Democrats on the podium today are in serious danger of losing their seats. No bill this large has ever before passed on a straight party-line vote, or even anything close to a straight party-line vote.  No bill this unpopular has ever before passed on a straight party-line vote.”

When do we get “change“? “The Senate Majority Leader has decided that the last few days before Christmas are the opportune moment for a narrow majority of Democrats to stuff ObamaCare through the Senate to meet an arbitrary White House deadline. Barring some extraordinary reversal, it now seems as if they have the 60 votes they need to jump off this cliff, with one-seventh of the economy in tow. Mr. Obama promised a new era of transparent good government, yet on Saturday morning Mr. Reid threw out the 2,100-page bill that the world’s greatest deliberative body spent just 17 days debating and replaced it with a new ‘manager’s amendment’ that was stapled together in covert partisan negotiations.” Well, voters may see their chance on Election Day 2010.

Harry Reid’s precarious position with Nevada voters may get worse. Even the new Newsweek has figured out that much: “As the approval ratings of both Obama and Congress fall, Nevada’s political dynamics spell trouble for many incumbent Democrats. When you’re the majority leader, that’s seriously bad news. ‘Any politician who gets into a leadership role like that has a tough time because they have to balance the needs of their leadership role against their representation of a state,’ [Scott] Rasmussen says. Reid’s job as leader requires him to be a strict partisan even though he comes from a purple state.”

To no one’s surprise, James Webb falls in line with ObamaCare despite all his supposed “disappointment with some sections of the bill.” His Virginia constituents, who elected Bob McDonnell and are running against the Obama agenda by twenty points, are no doubt even more disappointed. That’s what the 2012 election will be all about.

Eric Cantor explains where health care will be decided: “Cantor predicts that abortion would be the key issue in the House’s debate of the Senate’s bill. Pro-life Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) ‘has outlined very clear language’ on abortion and ‘has made it clear that if it’s not included then he will vote against the bill,’  he says. ‘. . It’s unfathomable to think that pro-life Democrats would go for the Senate version. They know that the Senate’s bill is a 30-year record-breaking move to allow taxpayer dollars to fund abortion. I can’t imagine any of them supporting it.” We’ll see.

We are still “bearing witness,” I suppose: “Iran’s opposition on Sunday seized upon the death of one of the Islamic republic’s founding fathers — a revered ayatollah who was also a fierce critic of the nation’s leadership — to take to the streets in mourning. Fearing that mourners could quickly turn into antigovernment protesters, Iranian authorities tightened security across the country.”

Bill Kristol on enjoying the festivities in Copenhagen: “Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad giving anti-American speeches, huge applause from the delegates, snowing during this global warming conference. And I’m glad that it has done limited damage to the U.S. economy.” Mara Liasson (emboldened perhaps by the “Free Mara!” campaign) agrees: “I think, obviously, it was a disappointment for environmentalists who wanted something binding and wanted more firm targets, but I think what this means is that a very small step has been taken, and now we’ll see if the Senate will pass this treaty.”

In the rush to pass hugely unpopular and controversial legislation, errors are made: “The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) corrected its estimate of the Senate health bill’s costs on Sunday, saying it would reduce deficits slightly less than they’d predicted.”

The bill was so awful the payoffs had to be very high: “Nelson’s might be the most blatant – a deal carved out for a single state, a permanent exemption from the state share of Medicaid expansion for Nebraska, meaning federal taxpayers have to kick in an additional $45 million in the first decade. But another Democratic holdout, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), took credit for $10 billion in new funding for community health centers, while denying it was a “sweetheart deal.”

Megan McArdle: “Democrats are on a political suicide mission; I’m not a particularly accurate prognosticator, but I think this makes it very likely that in 2010 they will lost several seats in the Senate–enough to make it damn hard to pass any more of their signature legislation–and will lose the House outright.  In the case of the House, you can attribute it to the fact that the leadership has safe seats.  But three out of four of the Democrats on the podium today are in serious danger of losing their seats. No bill this large has ever before passed on a straight party-line vote, or even anything close to a straight party-line vote.  No bill this unpopular has ever before passed on a straight party-line vote.”

When do we get “change“? “The Senate Majority Leader has decided that the last few days before Christmas are the opportune moment for a narrow majority of Democrats to stuff ObamaCare through the Senate to meet an arbitrary White House deadline. Barring some extraordinary reversal, it now seems as if they have the 60 votes they need to jump off this cliff, with one-seventh of the economy in tow. Mr. Obama promised a new era of transparent good government, yet on Saturday morning Mr. Reid threw out the 2,100-page bill that the world’s greatest deliberative body spent just 17 days debating and replaced it with a new ‘manager’s amendment’ that was stapled together in covert partisan negotiations.” Well, voters may see their chance on Election Day 2010.

Harry Reid’s precarious position with Nevada voters may get worse. Even the new Newsweek has figured out that much: “As the approval ratings of both Obama and Congress fall, Nevada’s political dynamics spell trouble for many incumbent Democrats. When you’re the majority leader, that’s seriously bad news. ‘Any politician who gets into a leadership role like that has a tough time because they have to balance the needs of their leadership role against their representation of a state,’ [Scott] Rasmussen says. Reid’s job as leader requires him to be a strict partisan even though he comes from a purple state.”

To no one’s surprise, James Webb falls in line with ObamaCare despite all his supposed “disappointment with some sections of the bill.” His Virginia constituents, who elected Bob McDonnell and are running against the Obama agenda by twenty points, are no doubt even more disappointed. That’s what the 2012 election will be all about.

Eric Cantor explains where health care will be decided: “Cantor predicts that abortion would be the key issue in the House’s debate of the Senate’s bill. Pro-life Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) ‘has outlined very clear language’ on abortion and ‘has made it clear that if it’s not included then he will vote against the bill,’  he says. ‘. . It’s unfathomable to think that pro-life Democrats would go for the Senate version. They know that the Senate’s bill is a 30-year record-breaking move to allow taxpayer dollars to fund abortion. I can’t imagine any of them supporting it.” We’ll see.

We are still “bearing witness,” I suppose: “Iran’s opposition on Sunday seized upon the death of one of the Islamic republic’s founding fathers — a revered ayatollah who was also a fierce critic of the nation’s leadership — to take to the streets in mourning. Fearing that mourners could quickly turn into antigovernment protesters, Iranian authorities tightened security across the country.”

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.