Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 2, 2010

The Democrats’ Dilemma

With wars, terrorism, and a recession, Howard Fineman worries:

Given the urgency of those challenges, underscored by the Nigerian bomber, was it wise for the president to spend most of his first year and political capital on a monumentally complicated overhaul of the nation’s health-care system? And will the results of that gamble—not fundamental reform, but rather an expensive set of patches, bypasses, and trusses bolted onto the existing system—improve the lives of Americans enough to help him or his fellow Democrats politically?

Fineman’s point is especially well taken, given the fact that all the Democrats have been able to come up with is a monstrous tax-and-spend bill, which the public hates. Fineman sounds peculiarly like Obama’s conservative critics:

The result is a 10-year, trillion-dollar contraption full of political risk and unintended consequences for a health-care system that constitutes one sixth of the economy. Many of the people who will benefit directly from the reforms, the uninsured, don’t vote. Insurance premiums will continue to shoot up for most of us; Democrats fret that they will be blamed for those increases in the 2010 elections. Some regulations on the industry kick in immediately, but most don’t begin until at least 2013. And yet, to allow the bill to “save” money in the first decade, most new taxes and fees go into effect immediately. “We’re collecting money before we’re giving all the benefits!” lamented a Democratic senator facing reelection. “That is a political disaster.”

While it is true that Obama isn’t up for re-election, many Democrats are. They might consider Fineman’s warning that “even simple things in government never go as planned; a project as large and complex as his health-care ‘fix’ is certain to be more costly and disruptive than anticipated, and in ways no one can predict.” So why risk it? Why not get back to the business of spurring an economic recovery, defending Americans, and showing that they are not big spending, fiscally irresponsible, ultra liberals? (Well, unless they actually are, and in that case, that would be the root of the problem.) Many Democrats will be mulling over their options: jump ship or get pulled under in a wave election in 2010? If the new Newsweek can figure out which option makes sense, certainly some of them should also be able to.

With wars, terrorism, and a recession, Howard Fineman worries:

Given the urgency of those challenges, underscored by the Nigerian bomber, was it wise for the president to spend most of his first year and political capital on a monumentally complicated overhaul of the nation’s health-care system? And will the results of that gamble—not fundamental reform, but rather an expensive set of patches, bypasses, and trusses bolted onto the existing system—improve the lives of Americans enough to help him or his fellow Democrats politically?

Fineman’s point is especially well taken, given the fact that all the Democrats have been able to come up with is a monstrous tax-and-spend bill, which the public hates. Fineman sounds peculiarly like Obama’s conservative critics:

The result is a 10-year, trillion-dollar contraption full of political risk and unintended consequences for a health-care system that constitutes one sixth of the economy. Many of the people who will benefit directly from the reforms, the uninsured, don’t vote. Insurance premiums will continue to shoot up for most of us; Democrats fret that they will be blamed for those increases in the 2010 elections. Some regulations on the industry kick in immediately, but most don’t begin until at least 2013. And yet, to allow the bill to “save” money in the first decade, most new taxes and fees go into effect immediately. “We’re collecting money before we’re giving all the benefits!” lamented a Democratic senator facing reelection. “That is a political disaster.”

While it is true that Obama isn’t up for re-election, many Democrats are. They might consider Fineman’s warning that “even simple things in government never go as planned; a project as large and complex as his health-care ‘fix’ is certain to be more costly and disruptive than anticipated, and in ways no one can predict.” So why risk it? Why not get back to the business of spurring an economic recovery, defending Americans, and showing that they are not big spending, fiscally irresponsible, ultra liberals? (Well, unless they actually are, and in that case, that would be the root of the problem.) Many Democrats will be mulling over their options: jump ship or get pulled under in a wave election in 2010? If the new Newsweek can figure out which option makes sense, certainly some of them should also be able to.

Read Less

Third Time Is the Charm?

More than a week after the bombing attempt and following two half-hearted press conferences and an ensuing avalanche of criticism, the president in his weekly address acknowledged that this was an al-Qaeda operation:

We know that he traveled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies.  It appears that he joined an affiliate of al-Qaeda, and that this group–al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America.

This is not the first time this group has targeted us.  In recent years, they have bombed Yemeni government facilities and Western hotels, restaurants and embassies-including our embassy in 2008, killing one American.  So, as President, I’ve made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with the Yemeni government-training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence and working with them to strike al-Qaeda terrorists.

It is not clear why he felt compelled to bring up the issue of poverty. As this report notes, the president “did not point out that the would-be bomber was from a very wealthy family in Nigeria.” But the president is plainly on the defensive and responding to the substance of his critics’ complaint. He recalled taking his oath of office, asserting: “On that day I also made it very clear-our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred, and that we will do whatever it takes to defeat them and defend our country, even as we uphold the values that have always distinguished America among nations.”

But as with his Oslo speech, which offered more robust language in defense of American interests, this speech then raises the question: why don’t his policies meet his belated and tougher rhetoric? And if we are on war footing, why did it take a week for Obama to even get his rhetoric in order? If Obama intends to demonstrate his resolve and seriousness in fighting a war waged on our civilization, then he might do well to re-evaluate his criminal-justice model (and the legalistic language that infected his initial remarks), which is inappropriate to the task at hand. As Andy McCarthy points out:

The criminal case is complicating the President’s ability to do his jobs as president and commander-in-chief.  This morning, Obama declared flatly that Mutallab conspired with al-Qaeda in a heinous attempted terrorist attack. It was refreshing to hear the president not hedge with “alleged” this and “alleged” that. . . But, of course, defense counsel will now claim the president is hopelessly prejudicing Mutallab’s ability to get a fair trial — in Detroit or anyplace else — by smearing him in the press and eviscerating the presumption of innocence.  . .

The Mutallab case is an unnecessary, insignificant distraction from the real business of protecting the United States. And it is all so unnecessary.  It will be forever until we can have a trial of Mutallab, anyway:  From here on out, everytime something happens in Yemen, Mutallab’s lawyers will try to use it to their litigation advantage, repeating that the president has so tied Mutallab to terrorism in Yemen that there is no prospect of a fair trial. So why not transfer him to military custody as an enemy combatant, detain and interrogate him for as long as it is useful to do so, and then, in a year or three, either charge him with war crimes in a military tribunal or, if you insist, indict him the criminal justice system?

The inherent contradiction remains for Obama: he cannot provide the image of resolute wartime leadership while pursuing a set of policies that undermines our anti-terrorism efforts. The words can change, but it is the mindset and policies that are the root of the problem.

More than a week after the bombing attempt and following two half-hearted press conferences and an ensuing avalanche of criticism, the president in his weekly address acknowledged that this was an al-Qaeda operation:

We know that he traveled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies.  It appears that he joined an affiliate of al-Qaeda, and that this group–al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America.

This is not the first time this group has targeted us.  In recent years, they have bombed Yemeni government facilities and Western hotels, restaurants and embassies-including our embassy in 2008, killing one American.  So, as President, I’ve made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with the Yemeni government-training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence and working with them to strike al-Qaeda terrorists.

It is not clear why he felt compelled to bring up the issue of poverty. As this report notes, the president “did not point out that the would-be bomber was from a very wealthy family in Nigeria.” But the president is plainly on the defensive and responding to the substance of his critics’ complaint. He recalled taking his oath of office, asserting: “On that day I also made it very clear-our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred, and that we will do whatever it takes to defeat them and defend our country, even as we uphold the values that have always distinguished America among nations.”

But as with his Oslo speech, which offered more robust language in defense of American interests, this speech then raises the question: why don’t his policies meet his belated and tougher rhetoric? And if we are on war footing, why did it take a week for Obama to even get his rhetoric in order? If Obama intends to demonstrate his resolve and seriousness in fighting a war waged on our civilization, then he might do well to re-evaluate his criminal-justice model (and the legalistic language that infected his initial remarks), which is inappropriate to the task at hand. As Andy McCarthy points out:

The criminal case is complicating the President’s ability to do his jobs as president and commander-in-chief.  This morning, Obama declared flatly that Mutallab conspired with al-Qaeda in a heinous attempted terrorist attack. It was refreshing to hear the president not hedge with “alleged” this and “alleged” that. . . But, of course, defense counsel will now claim the president is hopelessly prejudicing Mutallab’s ability to get a fair trial — in Detroit or anyplace else — by smearing him in the press and eviscerating the presumption of innocence.  . .

The Mutallab case is an unnecessary, insignificant distraction from the real business of protecting the United States. And it is all so unnecessary.  It will be forever until we can have a trial of Mutallab, anyway:  From here on out, everytime something happens in Yemen, Mutallab’s lawyers will try to use it to their litigation advantage, repeating that the president has so tied Mutallab to terrorism in Yemen that there is no prospect of a fair trial. So why not transfer him to military custody as an enemy combatant, detain and interrogate him for as long as it is useful to do so, and then, in a year or three, either charge him with war crimes in a military tribunal or, if you insist, indict him the criminal justice system?

The inherent contradiction remains for Obama: he cannot provide the image of resolute wartime leadership while pursuing a set of policies that undermines our anti-terrorism efforts. The words can change, but it is the mindset and policies that are the root of the problem.

Read Less

Not as Planned

Obama and the Left more generally expected the financial meltdown of 2008 and the resulting recession to undermine the public’s faith in the private sector. As they pushed the Great Depression narrative, they strived to make way for a new, New Deal, in which the public would be willing to accept (in what had heretofore been private-sector decision-making) a far greater degree of government intervention than had been attempted in decades. Government would be entrusted to seize car companies, regulate executive compensation, and direct lending practices. But the “cure” for what supposedly ailed the American economy would not be limited to economic matters or to financial regulation. Obama spoke of a “new foundation,” meaning that government would also seek to expand its reach into health care, as well as to regulate all industries’ carbon emissions. A larger government, higher taxes, and a shrunken realm of private decision making would ensue.

But the public remained stubbornly resistant to government power grabs. The increase in spending and massive accumulation of debt spooked them. The obvious inability of the government to “create or save” jobs and its scatterbrained rush to pass health-care reform (thus  taking over a sixth of the economy) did not endear to the public the prospect of a bigger, more powerful government. After less than a full year of Democratic control, the public’s faith in big government is on the decline.

It is not only Tea Party protestors and town-hall attendees who have recoiled against the overreach of the Obama agenda. It is the mass of ordinarily nonpartisan independents who have looked upon the corrupt Cash for Cloture deals and the government spend-a-thon with unease. They may not be enamored of big business, but neither are they excited by the prospect of big government, let alone a big government in league with big insurance companies.

Then along comes the Christmas Day bombing plot. The Obama team stumbles about like hapless bureaucrats. First denial that anything much was wrong and then the acknowledgment that yes, they had failed to do their jobs. The “solution” is a flurry of reports and reviews. And we expect to see a series of bureaucratic shuffling, some personnel departures, and some “reforms” that don’t amount to much at all other than vows to do what we thought the government was supposed to be doing since 9/11. Meanwhile, the public sees that the only real line of defense comes from private citizens. Their government is, in its most fundamental task, not to be trusted.

Obama’s new New Deal initiatives have not worked out as planned. Only a fraction of that ambitious agenda has been enacted. The public, including nonpartisan independents, has been jarred by the ambition of Obama’s designs. Large majorities are concerned about the prospect of tax hikes, a massive deficit, and an overactive government. Moreover, there is a growing sense, made worse by the bungling of the Christmas Day bombing, that rather than improve governance, the Obama administration has made things worse.

It is ironic in the extreme that Obama has been unable to dazzle the public with his effectiveness and, more generally, to impress Americans with the ability of the government to reorder society and improve their lives. It was, of course, the Democrats’ critique of the Bush administration’s competence — its handling of Katrina, the hapless Alberto Gonzales Justice Department, the Walter Reed scandal, the failure of financial oversight, and the mishandling of the pre-surge Iraq war – that formed the basis of their winning campaign rhetoric in 2006 and 2008. The Left assured us that sloth or distain for governance were at the root of the Bush administration’s failures but that its own candidates, graduated from the finest schools and enthusiastic proponents of government, would spare Americans from incompetence and corruption and would, moreover, rescue us from the excesses of the private sector. Washington was the place where “good ideas went to die,” Obama told us in the campaign. Puffed up with their own credentials and convinced that they were smarter than all who came before them, the members of Obama’s team assured us that this administration would be different. We were to get a cabinet of “geniuses.” Diplomacy was to be “smarter,” science would rule the day, and ideology was out. But alas it was not to be. The basic tasks of government — vetting, not scaring the populace (with a low Air Force One flyover), and rendering a timely decision on war strategy — seemed at times utterly beyond them.

It was perhaps unfortunate that Obama himself showed so little interest in the details of major domestic legislation. It became evident that, really, any health-care bill would do, so long as Obama got his signing ceremony. So we are on the verge of pasing a bill indefensible on the merits and which the public detests. And if Congress wanted to pass a junk-filled stimulus bill, that was alright with Obama as well. Now the public rightly regards it as a failure, a clumsily constructed waste of their tax dollars. We learned that the smart set really didn’t care about getting exquisitely crafted legislation passed; they simply wanted to demonstrate their own political muscle.

But the heart of the problem was not in a lack of competence or attention to detail but in arrogance — the hubris of believing that government bureaucracies could micromanage complex decisions and order the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans without severe adverse consequences. Never do Obama and his minions seem to recognize that centralizing and regulating millions and millions of intricate interactions is fraught with peril. They never do acknowledge that the track record of government in duplicating and supplanting free markets and individual decision-making is a poor one indeed. They certainly don’t seem to grasp the notion that expanding government and adding trillions to expenditures would merely multiply the opportunities for fraud, corruption, and waste.

So in the end the Obama team has not succeeded in persuading Americans that government should do more, spend more, and be trusted more. For decades, conservatives have made principled arguments as to the dangers of avaricious government, but experience is often the best teacher. After a year of governance by the Obama administration, the public has not learned to love big government but instead has relearned that it is wise to be wary of a growing and intrusive federal government. Had the Obama team been more competent and less ambitious, they might have, by small and irreversible steps, made the case for their ambitious agenda and inured the public to the steady expansion of the public sector. That didn’t happen, however, and the result is a new resurgence of anti-government populism and a fair amount of anger. Americans are reaching the conclusion that even when it comes to the most essential function of government, protecting them from foreign enemies, they are being ill-served. Perhaps if government did less, it would attend with greater focus to its most essential tasks.

The Bush administration never recovered the public’s confidence after Katrina. Americans had seen enough and thereafter tuned out. We will see if the Obama team can avoid that fate after its first year. It might help their cause if they tried to do less, focused more on the business of governing, and spent less time and effort attacking political enemies and recycling shopworn campaign rhetoric. They won’t likely again enjoy the level of goodwill and support that greeted them in the initial days of the administration, but they can perhaps recover a measure of the public’s respect by sober, modest, and competent governance.

Obama and the Left more generally expected the financial meltdown of 2008 and the resulting recession to undermine the public’s faith in the private sector. As they pushed the Great Depression narrative, they strived to make way for a new, New Deal, in which the public would be willing to accept (in what had heretofore been private-sector decision-making) a far greater degree of government intervention than had been attempted in decades. Government would be entrusted to seize car companies, regulate executive compensation, and direct lending practices. But the “cure” for what supposedly ailed the American economy would not be limited to economic matters or to financial regulation. Obama spoke of a “new foundation,” meaning that government would also seek to expand its reach into health care, as well as to regulate all industries’ carbon emissions. A larger government, higher taxes, and a shrunken realm of private decision making would ensue.

But the public remained stubbornly resistant to government power grabs. The increase in spending and massive accumulation of debt spooked them. The obvious inability of the government to “create or save” jobs and its scatterbrained rush to pass health-care reform (thus  taking over a sixth of the economy) did not endear to the public the prospect of a bigger, more powerful government. After less than a full year of Democratic control, the public’s faith in big government is on the decline.

It is not only Tea Party protestors and town-hall attendees who have recoiled against the overreach of the Obama agenda. It is the mass of ordinarily nonpartisan independents who have looked upon the corrupt Cash for Cloture deals and the government spend-a-thon with unease. They may not be enamored of big business, but neither are they excited by the prospect of big government, let alone a big government in league with big insurance companies.

Then along comes the Christmas Day bombing plot. The Obama team stumbles about like hapless bureaucrats. First denial that anything much was wrong and then the acknowledgment that yes, they had failed to do their jobs. The “solution” is a flurry of reports and reviews. And we expect to see a series of bureaucratic shuffling, some personnel departures, and some “reforms” that don’t amount to much at all other than vows to do what we thought the government was supposed to be doing since 9/11. Meanwhile, the public sees that the only real line of defense comes from private citizens. Their government is, in its most fundamental task, not to be trusted.

Obama’s new New Deal initiatives have not worked out as planned. Only a fraction of that ambitious agenda has been enacted. The public, including nonpartisan independents, has been jarred by the ambition of Obama’s designs. Large majorities are concerned about the prospect of tax hikes, a massive deficit, and an overactive government. Moreover, there is a growing sense, made worse by the bungling of the Christmas Day bombing, that rather than improve governance, the Obama administration has made things worse.

It is ironic in the extreme that Obama has been unable to dazzle the public with his effectiveness and, more generally, to impress Americans with the ability of the government to reorder society and improve their lives. It was, of course, the Democrats’ critique of the Bush administration’s competence — its handling of Katrina, the hapless Alberto Gonzales Justice Department, the Walter Reed scandal, the failure of financial oversight, and the mishandling of the pre-surge Iraq war – that formed the basis of their winning campaign rhetoric in 2006 and 2008. The Left assured us that sloth or distain for governance were at the root of the Bush administration’s failures but that its own candidates, graduated from the finest schools and enthusiastic proponents of government, would spare Americans from incompetence and corruption and would, moreover, rescue us from the excesses of the private sector. Washington was the place where “good ideas went to die,” Obama told us in the campaign. Puffed up with their own credentials and convinced that they were smarter than all who came before them, the members of Obama’s team assured us that this administration would be different. We were to get a cabinet of “geniuses.” Diplomacy was to be “smarter,” science would rule the day, and ideology was out. But alas it was not to be. The basic tasks of government — vetting, not scaring the populace (with a low Air Force One flyover), and rendering a timely decision on war strategy — seemed at times utterly beyond them.

It was perhaps unfortunate that Obama himself showed so little interest in the details of major domestic legislation. It became evident that, really, any health-care bill would do, so long as Obama got his signing ceremony. So we are on the verge of pasing a bill indefensible on the merits and which the public detests. And if Congress wanted to pass a junk-filled stimulus bill, that was alright with Obama as well. Now the public rightly regards it as a failure, a clumsily constructed waste of their tax dollars. We learned that the smart set really didn’t care about getting exquisitely crafted legislation passed; they simply wanted to demonstrate their own political muscle.

But the heart of the problem was not in a lack of competence or attention to detail but in arrogance — the hubris of believing that government bureaucracies could micromanage complex decisions and order the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans without severe adverse consequences. Never do Obama and his minions seem to recognize that centralizing and regulating millions and millions of intricate interactions is fraught with peril. They never do acknowledge that the track record of government in duplicating and supplanting free markets and individual decision-making is a poor one indeed. They certainly don’t seem to grasp the notion that expanding government and adding trillions to expenditures would merely multiply the opportunities for fraud, corruption, and waste.

So in the end the Obama team has not succeeded in persuading Americans that government should do more, spend more, and be trusted more. For decades, conservatives have made principled arguments as to the dangers of avaricious government, but experience is often the best teacher. After a year of governance by the Obama administration, the public has not learned to love big government but instead has relearned that it is wise to be wary of a growing and intrusive federal government. Had the Obama team been more competent and less ambitious, they might have, by small and irreversible steps, made the case for their ambitious agenda and inured the public to the steady expansion of the public sector. That didn’t happen, however, and the result is a new resurgence of anti-government populism and a fair amount of anger. Americans are reaching the conclusion that even when it comes to the most essential function of government, protecting them from foreign enemies, they are being ill-served. Perhaps if government did less, it would attend with greater focus to its most essential tasks.

The Bush administration never recovered the public’s confidence after Katrina. Americans had seen enough and thereafter tuned out. We will see if the Obama team can avoid that fate after its first year. It might help their cause if they tried to do less, focused more on the business of governing, and spent less time and effort attacking political enemies and recycling shopworn campaign rhetoric. They won’t likely again enjoy the level of goodwill and support that greeted them in the initial days of the administration, but they can perhaps recover a measure of the public’s respect by sober, modest, and competent governance.

Read Less

No Mystery

As this Politico story notes, the Christmas Day bombing plot has shaken the Obama administration and his supporters, leaving the latter flummoxed. They can’t seem to understand the president’s clueless reaction, which verged on peevish resentment over the interruption to his vacation:

Over the course of five days, Obama’s reaction ranged from low-keyed to reassuring to, finally, a vow to find out what went wrong. The episode was a baffling, unforced error in presidential symbolism, hardly a small part of the presidency, and the moment at which yet another of the old political maxims that Obama had sought to transcend – the Democrats’ vulnerability on national security – reasserted itself.

What is remarkable is that there seems to be some mystery as to why Obama behaved as he did:

Explanations of Obama’s low-key reaction in the face of a terror attack include the characteristic caution of a president who resists jumping to conclusions and being pushed to action. They also include the White House’s belief – disproven repeatedly in 2009 – that it can evade the clichéd rules of politics, which include a suspicion of Democratic leadership on national security. Only Sunday night, when criticism of the system “worked” comment was not going away, did White House aides realize their approach was not working and that they needed to shift course.

Listen, it’s not all that complicated. The Obami don’t believe in their heart of hearts that we are on a war footing. The president wouldn’t label Fort Hood, where thirteen died, as an act of jihadist terror. His administration has systematically worked to denigrate the sense of urgency that the Bush administration displayed and to propound policies that treat these instances as discrete, ho-hum, and unexceptional. The Bush administration was scorned for reacting with a sense of alarm or out of fear following a terrorist attack — one which killed 3,000. Not the Obami. They told us they’re above all that and have an entirely new approach.

Arrest him, book him, Mirandize him, call the FBI — what’s the big deal? It is not a mystery at all as to why Obama behaved as he did. This is his anti-terror policy on full display. What we now see (and what the “shocked, shocked to see there is cluelessness” crowd is reacting to) is what that bizarre stance toward the war on terror looks like up close and in real time when played out in the context of actual events. Think it’s odd for the president to call Farouk Abdulmutallab a “suspect”? Think it’s weird that the terrorist isn’t being interrogated but has lawyered up? Well, that’s the Obama anti-terror policy. It isn’t supposed to be a big deal when these events occur. For if it were, we wouldn’t be treating the terrorists like criminal suspects.

It turns out that the Obami’s approach is entirely off-putting and inappropriate to virtually everyone. That the media has finally clued in to just how politically untenable it is, tells us something about the media’s own willingness to ignore the implications of Obama’s declared policy and previous rhetoric. The solution is not to make sure after the next incident that the president puts on a tie, drops the grumpy-guy demeanor, and orders Janet Napolitano to stay off the air (although all that would be swell): it is to get a new policy on the war on terror – a policy that regards these incidents with the gravity they deserve and employs responses appropriate to the war in which we are engaged.

As this Politico story notes, the Christmas Day bombing plot has shaken the Obama administration and his supporters, leaving the latter flummoxed. They can’t seem to understand the president’s clueless reaction, which verged on peevish resentment over the interruption to his vacation:

Over the course of five days, Obama’s reaction ranged from low-keyed to reassuring to, finally, a vow to find out what went wrong. The episode was a baffling, unforced error in presidential symbolism, hardly a small part of the presidency, and the moment at which yet another of the old political maxims that Obama had sought to transcend – the Democrats’ vulnerability on national security – reasserted itself.

What is remarkable is that there seems to be some mystery as to why Obama behaved as he did:

Explanations of Obama’s low-key reaction in the face of a terror attack include the characteristic caution of a president who resists jumping to conclusions and being pushed to action. They also include the White House’s belief – disproven repeatedly in 2009 – that it can evade the clichéd rules of politics, which include a suspicion of Democratic leadership on national security. Only Sunday night, when criticism of the system “worked” comment was not going away, did White House aides realize their approach was not working and that they needed to shift course.

Listen, it’s not all that complicated. The Obami don’t believe in their heart of hearts that we are on a war footing. The president wouldn’t label Fort Hood, where thirteen died, as an act of jihadist terror. His administration has systematically worked to denigrate the sense of urgency that the Bush administration displayed and to propound policies that treat these instances as discrete, ho-hum, and unexceptional. The Bush administration was scorned for reacting with a sense of alarm or out of fear following a terrorist attack — one which killed 3,000. Not the Obami. They told us they’re above all that and have an entirely new approach.

Arrest him, book him, Mirandize him, call the FBI — what’s the big deal? It is not a mystery at all as to why Obama behaved as he did. This is his anti-terror policy on full display. What we now see (and what the “shocked, shocked to see there is cluelessness” crowd is reacting to) is what that bizarre stance toward the war on terror looks like up close and in real time when played out in the context of actual events. Think it’s odd for the president to call Farouk Abdulmutallab a “suspect”? Think it’s weird that the terrorist isn’t being interrogated but has lawyered up? Well, that’s the Obama anti-terror policy. It isn’t supposed to be a big deal when these events occur. For if it were, we wouldn’t be treating the terrorists like criminal suspects.

It turns out that the Obami’s approach is entirely off-putting and inappropriate to virtually everyone. That the media has finally clued in to just how politically untenable it is, tells us something about the media’s own willingness to ignore the implications of Obama’s declared policy and previous rhetoric. The solution is not to make sure after the next incident that the president puts on a tie, drops the grumpy-guy demeanor, and orders Janet Napolitano to stay off the air (although all that would be swell): it is to get a new policy on the war on terror – a policy that regards these incidents with the gravity they deserve and employs responses appropriate to the war in which we are engaged.

Read Less

McDonnell’s Model: Save the Flash

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Virginia governor-elect Bob McDonnell demonstrates the qualities that got him elected — an unflappable ability to stay on message, an attention to nitty-gritty details (on the budget, on school reform, etc.), a willingness to engage in meaningful bipartisan policy making (on charter schools), and an entirely conservative message. On the economy:

“Virginia’s unemployment rate, 6.6%, is lower than the 10% national average, but it is up sharply from its low of below 3% in 2007. In the worst economy in 80 years,” says Mr. McDonnell, “it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what we ought to be talking about.” He adds: “I do think that talking about the excesses of the federal government is something you are going to hear Republican and Democratic candidates for statewide office talk about for a while because I think you’re going to see a resurgence of discussions of federalism, about the 10th Amendment, about limits on federal power, and federal spending.”

Nor does he plan on jettisoning social issues or changing his political stripes to attract new supporters. (“I am 100% pro-life . . . We were unequivocal about our position on marriage.”) After all, he won by nearly 20 points.

He ran as a policy-wonkish conservative and he appears anxious to govern as one with an eye toward reform, rather than just slashing the size of government. He’s not, at least for now, running for anything else (Virginia limits its governors to one term); so he has the “luxury” of focusing on his job. In that and in his consistent political persona and message, he is an oddity these days. We have gotten used to politicians who run as one thing and govern as another, or those (like incumbent Tim Kaine) who take on other jobs or campaigns rather than attend to their day jobs.

Republicans will be scrambling to duplicate the McDonnell “model” — it is tempting to do so, given his margin of victory. But the real lesson of McDonnell is that the public, battered and bruised by recession, responds to serious campaigns and respects serious people. The key is to find candidates who don’t need to fake competency and who don’t need to reinvent themselves. We’ve had a year of learning that an “historic” and “charismatic” candidate doesn’t necessarily make for an effective office holder and that inviting everyone to project their own hopes and dreams onto a blank canvas may be a recipe for disappointment. If the public is tired and grumpy, maybe a little angry, and looking to once again throw the bums out, it might be attracted in 2010 to those who don’t want to dazzle but rather just want to do their jobs. It’s not an exciting formula, perhaps, but maybe we’ve had enough excitement for awhile.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Virginia governor-elect Bob McDonnell demonstrates the qualities that got him elected — an unflappable ability to stay on message, an attention to nitty-gritty details (on the budget, on school reform, etc.), a willingness to engage in meaningful bipartisan policy making (on charter schools), and an entirely conservative message. On the economy:

“Virginia’s unemployment rate, 6.6%, is lower than the 10% national average, but it is up sharply from its low of below 3% in 2007. In the worst economy in 80 years,” says Mr. McDonnell, “it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what we ought to be talking about.” He adds: “I do think that talking about the excesses of the federal government is something you are going to hear Republican and Democratic candidates for statewide office talk about for a while because I think you’re going to see a resurgence of discussions of federalism, about the 10th Amendment, about limits on federal power, and federal spending.”

Nor does he plan on jettisoning social issues or changing his political stripes to attract new supporters. (“I am 100% pro-life . . . We were unequivocal about our position on marriage.”) After all, he won by nearly 20 points.

He ran as a policy-wonkish conservative and he appears anxious to govern as one with an eye toward reform, rather than just slashing the size of government. He’s not, at least for now, running for anything else (Virginia limits its governors to one term); so he has the “luxury” of focusing on his job. In that and in his consistent political persona and message, he is an oddity these days. We have gotten used to politicians who run as one thing and govern as another, or those (like incumbent Tim Kaine) who take on other jobs or campaigns rather than attend to their day jobs.

Republicans will be scrambling to duplicate the McDonnell “model” — it is tempting to do so, given his margin of victory. But the real lesson of McDonnell is that the public, battered and bruised by recession, responds to serious campaigns and respects serious people. The key is to find candidates who don’t need to fake competency and who don’t need to reinvent themselves. We’ve had a year of learning that an “historic” and “charismatic” candidate doesn’t necessarily make for an effective office holder and that inviting everyone to project their own hopes and dreams onto a blank canvas may be a recipe for disappointment. If the public is tired and grumpy, maybe a little angry, and looking to once again throw the bums out, it might be attracted in 2010 to those who don’t want to dazzle but rather just want to do their jobs. It’s not an exciting formula, perhaps, but maybe we’ve had enough excitement for awhile.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Looks like there was good reason to hold up the TSA nominee: “The White House nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration gave Congress misleading information about incidents in which he inappropriately accessed a federal database, possibly in violation of privacy laws, documents obtained by the Washington Post show.”

Another good reason to dump Dennis Blair: “A U.S. counter-terrorism official is sharply challenging the assertion Thursday by Dennis C. Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, that the al-Qaeda terrorist network is ‘diminished.’  .  .  . The U.S. counter-terrorism official told Politico: ‘Blair should, at a minimum, take a mulligan on this. He seems to be suggesting here that al-Qaeda is somehow less of a threat these days. That just ain’t so. And someone should remind him that inexperienced individuals have been responsible for carrying out major attacks. That includes the muscle men on 9/11 and a number of other terrorist attacks since then.'”

A taste of ObamaCare: “The Mayo Clinic, praised by President Barack Obama as a national model for efficient health care, will stop accepting Medicare patients as of tomorrow at one of its primary-care clinics in Arizona, saying the U.S. government pays too little. . . Mayo’s move to drop Medicare patients may be copied by family doctors, some of whom have stopped accepting new patients from the program, said Lori Heim, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.”

Déjà vu all over again: “The former chairman of the 9/11 commission said that communications lapses that allowed a suspected terrorist to board a Detroit jetliner echoed the mistakes leading up to the 9/11 attacks. ‘It’s like reading the same script over again,’ said Thomas H. Kean, the 9/11 investigation’s top Republican and a former governor of New Jersey.”

A revolt is brewing against Gov.Charlie Crist’s state GOP chairman. Sure does seem as though “Charlie Crist is off his game. Way off his game, which was spectacular when it was good. . .Nowadays, Democrats have pretty much abandoned him, and hard-core GOP conservatives are flocking to Marco Rubio. Charlie’s not only lost his mo, he’s lost his mojo.”

Is David Broder kidding? “If there is anyone in the administration who embodies President Obama’s preference for quiet competence with ‘no drama,’ it is Janet Napolitano.” Well, she does seem to embody the essence of the Obama administration, but this is hardly reason for praise.

I suspect most Americans agree with Charles Krauthammer on this one: “The reason the country is uneasy about the Obama administration’s response to this attack is a distinct sense of not just incompetence but incomprehension. From the very beginning, President Obama has relentlessly tried to play down and deny the nature of the terrorist threat we continue to face. . . Any government can through laxity let someone slip through the cracks. But a government that refuses to admit that we are at war, indeed, refuses even to name the enemy — jihadist is a word banished from the Obama lexicon — turns laxity into a governing philosophy.”

The media elites didn’t make too much of this in the aftermath of the Fort Hood massacre, but now they have perked up: “The apparent ties between the Nigerian man charged with plotting to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day and a radical American-born Yemeni imam have cast a spotlight on a world of charismatic clerics who wield their Internet celebrity to indoctrinate young Muslims with extremist ideology and recruit them for al-Qaeda, American officials and counterterrorism specialists said.” But remember that the Obami are nevertheless going to give KSM a  public trial so he can use his “celebrity to indoctrinate young Muslims with extremist ideology and recruit them for al-Qaeda.”

Andy McCarthy on the Obami’s priorities: “Sure, this government can’t figure out how to move someone from the terrorist database to the no-fly list, but you can rest assured they’re fixated on the real problem:  bloggers who report that TSA issued a directive to increase security after the Christmas bombing attempt.”

This is how the housing crisis seems to have started: “The Obama administration’s $75 billion program to protect homeowners from foreclosure has been widely pronounced a disappointment, and some economists and real estate experts now contend it has done more harm than good.Since President Obama announced the program in February, it has lowered mortgage payments on a trial basis for hundreds of thousands of people but has largely failed to provide permanent relief. Critics increasingly argue that the program, Making Home Affordable, has raised false hopes among people who simply cannot afford their homes.”

Looks like there was good reason to hold up the TSA nominee: “The White House nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration gave Congress misleading information about incidents in which he inappropriately accessed a federal database, possibly in violation of privacy laws, documents obtained by the Washington Post show.”

Another good reason to dump Dennis Blair: “A U.S. counter-terrorism official is sharply challenging the assertion Thursday by Dennis C. Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, that the al-Qaeda terrorist network is ‘diminished.’  .  .  . The U.S. counter-terrorism official told Politico: ‘Blair should, at a minimum, take a mulligan on this. He seems to be suggesting here that al-Qaeda is somehow less of a threat these days. That just ain’t so. And someone should remind him that inexperienced individuals have been responsible for carrying out major attacks. That includes the muscle men on 9/11 and a number of other terrorist attacks since then.'”

A taste of ObamaCare: “The Mayo Clinic, praised by President Barack Obama as a national model for efficient health care, will stop accepting Medicare patients as of tomorrow at one of its primary-care clinics in Arizona, saying the U.S. government pays too little. . . Mayo’s move to drop Medicare patients may be copied by family doctors, some of whom have stopped accepting new patients from the program, said Lori Heim, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.”

Déjà vu all over again: “The former chairman of the 9/11 commission said that communications lapses that allowed a suspected terrorist to board a Detroit jetliner echoed the mistakes leading up to the 9/11 attacks. ‘It’s like reading the same script over again,’ said Thomas H. Kean, the 9/11 investigation’s top Republican and a former governor of New Jersey.”

A revolt is brewing against Gov.Charlie Crist’s state GOP chairman. Sure does seem as though “Charlie Crist is off his game. Way off his game, which was spectacular when it was good. . .Nowadays, Democrats have pretty much abandoned him, and hard-core GOP conservatives are flocking to Marco Rubio. Charlie’s not only lost his mo, he’s lost his mojo.”

Is David Broder kidding? “If there is anyone in the administration who embodies President Obama’s preference for quiet competence with ‘no drama,’ it is Janet Napolitano.” Well, she does seem to embody the essence of the Obama administration, but this is hardly reason for praise.

I suspect most Americans agree with Charles Krauthammer on this one: “The reason the country is uneasy about the Obama administration’s response to this attack is a distinct sense of not just incompetence but incomprehension. From the very beginning, President Obama has relentlessly tried to play down and deny the nature of the terrorist threat we continue to face. . . Any government can through laxity let someone slip through the cracks. But a government that refuses to admit that we are at war, indeed, refuses even to name the enemy — jihadist is a word banished from the Obama lexicon — turns laxity into a governing philosophy.”

The media elites didn’t make too much of this in the aftermath of the Fort Hood massacre, but now they have perked up: “The apparent ties between the Nigerian man charged with plotting to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day and a radical American-born Yemeni imam have cast a spotlight on a world of charismatic clerics who wield their Internet celebrity to indoctrinate young Muslims with extremist ideology and recruit them for al-Qaeda, American officials and counterterrorism specialists said.” But remember that the Obami are nevertheless going to give KSM a  public trial so he can use his “celebrity to indoctrinate young Muslims with extremist ideology and recruit them for al-Qaeda.”

Andy McCarthy on the Obami’s priorities: “Sure, this government can’t figure out how to move someone from the terrorist database to the no-fly list, but you can rest assured they’re fixated on the real problem:  bloggers who report that TSA issued a directive to increase security after the Christmas bombing attempt.”

This is how the housing crisis seems to have started: “The Obama administration’s $75 billion program to protect homeowners from foreclosure has been widely pronounced a disappointment, and some economists and real estate experts now contend it has done more harm than good.Since President Obama announced the program in February, it has lowered mortgage payments on a trial basis for hundreds of thousands of people but has largely failed to provide permanent relief. Critics increasingly argue that the program, Making Home Affordable, has raised false hopes among people who simply cannot afford their homes.”

Read Less




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