Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 18, 2010

Wanted: Turnaround Specialist

It’s not a good sign for the Obami when Politico – the Daily Variety of D.C. (e.g., in a company town, the insiders’ news outlet) — runs a forum looking at whether Obama’s top legislative issue is kaput if Scott Brown wins and how it was that Obama is now the target of public “anger.” One of the savviest comments comes from a financial institutions professor, Charles Calomiris, who writes:

I am puzzled that anyone can claim to be puzzled by the collapse of the popularity of the Obama Presidency (which I have been tracking and talking about here in the Arena for many months). Candidate Obama was elected by misleading people that he would govern as a moderate. That cat is now out of the bag. He is obviously a leftist bent on redistribution, rising control of the economy by government, protectionism, and bailing out auto unions. His political style is also not as advertised: he is just another Chicago-style political bully, who uses backroom deals (health care is the most obvious example) to get what he wants.

Well, the professor has a point. And it is indicative of the growing sense that the same empty rhetoric that got Obama into the White House and through his first year isn’t going to fly any longer. More important, it’s a reminder that Obama hasn’t really faced political adversity before or, frankly, anything less than widespread adulation. He slid through a Senate race where one potential opponent blew himself up in a personal scandal and another was not a viable candidate in Illinois. He ran against a Clinton campaign that misread the moment, and then against a McCain campaign that was on its best days hapless and on its worst, unintelligible. And then the financial meltdown struck just in time for the election. A more fortunate political candidate with a thinner resume would be hard to find.

So the question remains: does Obama possess the resources, skills, and flexibility to adjust, if need be, to a new political reality and to rescue the remainder of his agenda? Can he rethink his political assumptions and refashion his own governing style? If Scott Brown loses, we will find out in short order. If the Democrats get drubbed in November, we will see again. As with so much else, we have no prior experience with Obama, no demonstrated track record, by which we might assess how or whether he can do this. He didn’t have any executive experience, let alone any executive experience in turning around a failing operation. But it looks like he may have to do just that, or suffer the same fate as other unsuccessful, one-term presidents whose tenures in office never lived up to their campaign billings.

It’s not a good sign for the Obami when Politico – the Daily Variety of D.C. (e.g., in a company town, the insiders’ news outlet) — runs a forum looking at whether Obama’s top legislative issue is kaput if Scott Brown wins and how it was that Obama is now the target of public “anger.” One of the savviest comments comes from a financial institutions professor, Charles Calomiris, who writes:

I am puzzled that anyone can claim to be puzzled by the collapse of the popularity of the Obama Presidency (which I have been tracking and talking about here in the Arena for many months). Candidate Obama was elected by misleading people that he would govern as a moderate. That cat is now out of the bag. He is obviously a leftist bent on redistribution, rising control of the economy by government, protectionism, and bailing out auto unions. His political style is also not as advertised: he is just another Chicago-style political bully, who uses backroom deals (health care is the most obvious example) to get what he wants.

Well, the professor has a point. And it is indicative of the growing sense that the same empty rhetoric that got Obama into the White House and through his first year isn’t going to fly any longer. More important, it’s a reminder that Obama hasn’t really faced political adversity before or, frankly, anything less than widespread adulation. He slid through a Senate race where one potential opponent blew himself up in a personal scandal and another was not a viable candidate in Illinois. He ran against a Clinton campaign that misread the moment, and then against a McCain campaign that was on its best days hapless and on its worst, unintelligible. And then the financial meltdown struck just in time for the election. A more fortunate political candidate with a thinner resume would be hard to find.

So the question remains: does Obama possess the resources, skills, and flexibility to adjust, if need be, to a new political reality and to rescue the remainder of his agenda? Can he rethink his political assumptions and refashion his own governing style? If Scott Brown loses, we will find out in short order. If the Democrats get drubbed in November, we will see again. As with so much else, we have no prior experience with Obama, no demonstrated track record, by which we might assess how or whether he can do this. He didn’t have any executive experience, let alone any executive experience in turning around a failing operation. But it looks like he may have to do just that, or suffer the same fate as other unsuccessful, one-term presidents whose tenures in office never lived up to their campaign billings.

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A Perfect Political Storm

A month ago even most political junkies – at least outside Massachusetts – would have been hard-pressed to name the Democratic and Republican candidates in tomorrow’s special election for U.S. Senate. In that Bluest of Blue states, which hasn’t had a Republican senator in 32 years and has no Republican House members, it was a foregone conclusion that Martha Coakley was going to win in a walk. She was 30 points ahead. Ho hum.

But Coakley obviously believed she was a shoe-in and at first ran a lackluster, minimal, take-no-risks campaign. She even took a week off to celebrate the holidays. And when she was campaigning, she made gaffe after gaffe. She said that Curt Schilling is a Yankees fan; dissed Fenway Park; said Catholics (48.2 percent of the electorate in Massachusetts) shouldn’t work in emergency rooms because, in effect, Church teachings on abortion conflict with the liberal gospel; and said that “we need to get taxes up.” Her opponent, Scott Brown, has run a smart, effective campaign and seems to have pitch-perfect political instincts. His “it’s the people’s seat” was the best sound bite to come out of a debate in years.

Suddenly what had been a sure thing became competitive, and the national parties and political activists across the country awoke to what was at stake. Scott Brown’s election would end the Democrat’s filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. More, the election quickly became perceived as a referendum on the increasingly unpopular ObamaCare and on President Obama, himself. It became clear that a Brown win would be interpreted as a rebuke to the President and almost certainly mean the end of ObamaCare in anything like its present form. It would make Democrats in Congress, especially those in competitive seats, far more reluctant to vote in ways that might be unpopular. It would induce some Democrats facing uphill campaigns next November to retire.

Republicans, watching Brown climb the polls, sensed a historic opportunity. Democrats, watching Coakley drop in the polls, sensed a disaster in the making. Resources, money, and people from around the country have poured into Massachusetts in the last two weeks. The news networks sent their heavy hitters to cover the election. Pundits covered the story like a rug. And Brown kept climbing. Coakley kept making mistakes like flying to Washington to collect money from lobbyists at a private cocktail party and saying she didn’t know anything about a member of her entourage roughing up a reporter, even though photographs showed her standing right there, watching it happen from five feet away.

Finally President Obama, who had had no plans to campaign personally, decided to put his own prestige on the line to salvage the situation. It was a big risk, as a loss for Coakley would now inescapably be seen as a rebuke to him.  But he was in a damned-if-he-did-damned-if-he-didn’t situation. He and Coakley had a rally at Northeastern University. The hall wasn’t filled. Brown (and Curt Schilling) had a rally in Worchester. It was jammed. Hand-painted yard signs have sprung up all over the state for Brown, and the momentum seems to be all with him. Once down 30 points, he is now up from 4 to 11 points, although polling in this sort of election is very unreliable. Intrade, a prediction market that taps into the “wisdom of crowds,” had Coakley up 55-45 a few days ago but now has Brown up 64-37.

Six weeks ago, nobody cared. Now the entire political nation is awaiting the outcome of what might well be regarded as the most important and consequential by-election in American history.

A month ago even most political junkies – at least outside Massachusetts – would have been hard-pressed to name the Democratic and Republican candidates in tomorrow’s special election for U.S. Senate. In that Bluest of Blue states, which hasn’t had a Republican senator in 32 years and has no Republican House members, it was a foregone conclusion that Martha Coakley was going to win in a walk. She was 30 points ahead. Ho hum.

But Coakley obviously believed she was a shoe-in and at first ran a lackluster, minimal, take-no-risks campaign. She even took a week off to celebrate the holidays. And when she was campaigning, she made gaffe after gaffe. She said that Curt Schilling is a Yankees fan; dissed Fenway Park; said Catholics (48.2 percent of the electorate in Massachusetts) shouldn’t work in emergency rooms because, in effect, Church teachings on abortion conflict with the liberal gospel; and said that “we need to get taxes up.” Her opponent, Scott Brown, has run a smart, effective campaign and seems to have pitch-perfect political instincts. His “it’s the people’s seat” was the best sound bite to come out of a debate in years.

Suddenly what had been a sure thing became competitive, and the national parties and political activists across the country awoke to what was at stake. Scott Brown’s election would end the Democrat’s filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. More, the election quickly became perceived as a referendum on the increasingly unpopular ObamaCare and on President Obama, himself. It became clear that a Brown win would be interpreted as a rebuke to the President and almost certainly mean the end of ObamaCare in anything like its present form. It would make Democrats in Congress, especially those in competitive seats, far more reluctant to vote in ways that might be unpopular. It would induce some Democrats facing uphill campaigns next November to retire.

Republicans, watching Brown climb the polls, sensed a historic opportunity. Democrats, watching Coakley drop in the polls, sensed a disaster in the making. Resources, money, and people from around the country have poured into Massachusetts in the last two weeks. The news networks sent their heavy hitters to cover the election. Pundits covered the story like a rug. And Brown kept climbing. Coakley kept making mistakes like flying to Washington to collect money from lobbyists at a private cocktail party and saying she didn’t know anything about a member of her entourage roughing up a reporter, even though photographs showed her standing right there, watching it happen from five feet away.

Finally President Obama, who had had no plans to campaign personally, decided to put his own prestige on the line to salvage the situation. It was a big risk, as a loss for Coakley would now inescapably be seen as a rebuke to him.  But he was in a damned-if-he-did-damned-if-he-didn’t situation. He and Coakley had a rally at Northeastern University. The hall wasn’t filled. Brown (and Curt Schilling) had a rally in Worchester. It was jammed. Hand-painted yard signs have sprung up all over the state for Brown, and the momentum seems to be all with him. Once down 30 points, he is now up from 4 to 11 points, although polling in this sort of election is very unreliable. Intrade, a prediction market that taps into the “wisdom of crowds,” had Coakley up 55-45 a few days ago but now has Brown up 64-37.

Six weeks ago, nobody cared. Now the entire political nation is awaiting the outcome of what might well be regarded as the most important and consequential by-election in American history.

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Re: ObamaCare and Scott Brown

Pete, you are right that Wednesday would be an entirely different political world should Scott Brown prevail. The very notion that the House will somehow swallow the Senate bill hook, line, and sinker is preposterous on multiple levels. First, Bart Stupak and pro-life Democrats are supposed to simply fold up shop and declare themselves content with the Reid-Nelson language they have inveighed against? And what about last week’s grand deal with Big Labor? The union bosses are now going to sock it to their members and declare support for the full Cadillac tax? But the bigger issue is that all of the House Democrats in a post-Brown-victory environment will have a healthy dose of fear and skepticism. They will have seen a “safe” seat fall at the altar of ObamaCare. Who among them would then walk the plank for ObamaCare?

It is, as Pete suggests, a measure of how divorced from reality the Democratic leadership has become that a debilitating loss repudiating their signature issue would be greeted with the clarion call to rush through ObamaCare. Clive Crook pleads with Democrats:

The plain fact is, the Democrats have failed to make their case. They need to ask why, and start trying to fix it. Finding cunning ways to carry on regardless sends a message of contempt to the electorate, and one thing we know is that the electorate always gets the last word.

One can only marvel that the Democrats seem to think the answer to what ails them is: “More of the same!” Maybe Reid and Pelosi are that benighted, but I doubt 218 of the House Democrats will be.

Pete, you are right that Wednesday would be an entirely different political world should Scott Brown prevail. The very notion that the House will somehow swallow the Senate bill hook, line, and sinker is preposterous on multiple levels. First, Bart Stupak and pro-life Democrats are supposed to simply fold up shop and declare themselves content with the Reid-Nelson language they have inveighed against? And what about last week’s grand deal with Big Labor? The union bosses are now going to sock it to their members and declare support for the full Cadillac tax? But the bigger issue is that all of the House Democrats in a post-Brown-victory environment will have a healthy dose of fear and skepticism. They will have seen a “safe” seat fall at the altar of ObamaCare. Who among them would then walk the plank for ObamaCare?

It is, as Pete suggests, a measure of how divorced from reality the Democratic leadership has become that a debilitating loss repudiating their signature issue would be greeted with the clarion call to rush through ObamaCare. Clive Crook pleads with Democrats:

The plain fact is, the Democrats have failed to make their case. They need to ask why, and start trying to fix it. Finding cunning ways to carry on regardless sends a message of contempt to the electorate, and one thing we know is that the electorate always gets the last word.

One can only marvel that the Democrats seem to think the answer to what ails them is: “More of the same!” Maybe Reid and Pelosi are that benighted, but I doubt 218 of the House Democrats will be.

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ObamaCare and Scott Brown

Right now, we hear talk that Democrats are coming up with plans to push through health care even if Scott Brown wins the Senate race in Massachusetts tomorrow. According to the New York Times, “Plan B would be to try to persuade House Democrats to approve the health care bill that the Senate adopted on Christmas Eve, obviating the need for an additional Senate vote and sending the measure directly to President Obama for his signature.” Or they will try passing the bill before Brown is seated, it is said, or they will try passing health care through the budget reconciliation process, which requires only 51 Senate votes.

Democrats, I think, are deluding themselves.

All this talk fails to account for the magnitude of a Democratic loss in Massachusetts. That would, by itself, set off a terrifically powerful political chain reaction. The notion that Democrats would simply need a new tactic, as if the only thing to have changed were a single seat in the U.S. Senate, is silly.

Why? Because we will wake up to an entirely different political world on Wednesday if Scott Brown defeats Martha Coakley tomorrow. It is hard to overstate the panic (and recriminations) that will ensue among Democrats. It will be massive. The entire political and legislative dynamic will change. And the warning many of us have long been sending to Democrats will finally have broken through: passing ObamaCare is worse than passing nothing at all.

If the current polls hold up, and Scott Brown wins — which is likely at this point — ObamaCare may well die as a result of the massive wound inflicted by voters in the Bay State. Now wouldn’t that be an irony?

Right now, we hear talk that Democrats are coming up with plans to push through health care even if Scott Brown wins the Senate race in Massachusetts tomorrow. According to the New York Times, “Plan B would be to try to persuade House Democrats to approve the health care bill that the Senate adopted on Christmas Eve, obviating the need for an additional Senate vote and sending the measure directly to President Obama for his signature.” Or they will try passing the bill before Brown is seated, it is said, or they will try passing health care through the budget reconciliation process, which requires only 51 Senate votes.

Democrats, I think, are deluding themselves.

All this talk fails to account for the magnitude of a Democratic loss in Massachusetts. That would, by itself, set off a terrifically powerful political chain reaction. The notion that Democrats would simply need a new tactic, as if the only thing to have changed were a single seat in the U.S. Senate, is silly.

Why? Because we will wake up to an entirely different political world on Wednesday if Scott Brown defeats Martha Coakley tomorrow. It is hard to overstate the panic (and recriminations) that will ensue among Democrats. It will be massive. The entire political and legislative dynamic will change. And the warning many of us have long been sending to Democrats will finally have broken through: passing ObamaCare is worse than passing nothing at all.

If the current polls hold up, and Scott Brown wins — which is likely at this point — ObamaCare may well die as a result of the massive wound inflicted by voters in the Bay State. Now wouldn’t that be an irony?

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Missing the Campaign

Charles Hurt, writing of Obama’s lackluster and belated appearance in Massachusetts on behalf of the listing campaign of Martha Coakley, observes:

Obama told the crowd here yesterday that he needed Coakley in Washington because she is “independent.” Really? Does anybody actually think that the reason Obama wants her in the Senate is that she would even dream of casting the deciding vote to kill the Democratic health-care bill? Absolutely not. The only reason Obama came here is because he needs somebody bought and paid for. By him.

This concisely sums up the problem that threatens to engulf Obama and whatever is left of the remnants of his campaign organization. He is a candidate deprived of a campaign. He is a community organizer with no one to organize against those who hold the levers of power. He holds the levers of power but without the executive acumen to bring the country along and to craft a successful, broad-based agenda. If not out of his depth, he is out of his milieu.

The familiar campaign environment deprives Obama of three elements that were essential to his meteoric rise. First, he lacks a constant and inept opponent. Goodness knows he’s tried to re-create a string of new enemies — Fox News, Gallup, the Chamber of Commerce — but their multiplicity and the absurdity of characterizing all bad news as illegitimate and venal have undermined his gambit. Second, he must leave aside the puffy generalizations and that blank slate onto which diverse and contradictory forces projected their hopes and dreams. Again, he has tried to re-create and preserve ambiguity (e.g., refusing to draft his own health-care proposals), but governing alas is still choosing, and his choices have offended more than half the country, according to a good number of polls.

And finally, Obama’s favorite tactic — blaming George W. Bush and his administration for just about everything — is now faltering. While tangling with Dick Cheney never was all that successful, the fixation with the Bush team has become an obnoxious political tic and serves only to undercut his claim to be the Truman-esque buck-stops-here president. Noemie Emery aptly describes:

The Blaming Bush mantra is starting to fade in effectiveness. It was one thing early on when it was the real Bush being weighed against the ideal Obama, who had never been tried, and so never failed at anything, and who one could dream would do everything perfectly. The real Bush against the real Obama is a whole other story, as the problems that stymied the 43rd president show no signs of yielding to the 44th’s charms. The terrorists hate us, and still want to kill us. Unemployment is high, stimuli notwithstanding. Closing Guantánamo Bay isn’t that easy. Iran and North Korea haven’t unclenched their fists.

It is not hard to figure out why Obama has recycled campaign tactics, even when they have lost their utility and are ill-suited to the presidency. They are comfortable and no doubt recall better days, when Obama was the master of the political battlefield, when the media swooned, and when he could do no wrong. Unfortunately, he must now govern, and his repertoire of skills and his favorite rhetoric are of little use — no matter how often he goes to the well of campaign tricks.

Charles Hurt, writing of Obama’s lackluster and belated appearance in Massachusetts on behalf of the listing campaign of Martha Coakley, observes:

Obama told the crowd here yesterday that he needed Coakley in Washington because she is “independent.” Really? Does anybody actually think that the reason Obama wants her in the Senate is that she would even dream of casting the deciding vote to kill the Democratic health-care bill? Absolutely not. The only reason Obama came here is because he needs somebody bought and paid for. By him.

This concisely sums up the problem that threatens to engulf Obama and whatever is left of the remnants of his campaign organization. He is a candidate deprived of a campaign. He is a community organizer with no one to organize against those who hold the levers of power. He holds the levers of power but without the executive acumen to bring the country along and to craft a successful, broad-based agenda. If not out of his depth, he is out of his milieu.

The familiar campaign environment deprives Obama of three elements that were essential to his meteoric rise. First, he lacks a constant and inept opponent. Goodness knows he’s tried to re-create a string of new enemies — Fox News, Gallup, the Chamber of Commerce — but their multiplicity and the absurdity of characterizing all bad news as illegitimate and venal have undermined his gambit. Second, he must leave aside the puffy generalizations and that blank slate onto which diverse and contradictory forces projected their hopes and dreams. Again, he has tried to re-create and preserve ambiguity (e.g., refusing to draft his own health-care proposals), but governing alas is still choosing, and his choices have offended more than half the country, according to a good number of polls.

And finally, Obama’s favorite tactic — blaming George W. Bush and his administration for just about everything — is now faltering. While tangling with Dick Cheney never was all that successful, the fixation with the Bush team has become an obnoxious political tic and serves only to undercut his claim to be the Truman-esque buck-stops-here president. Noemie Emery aptly describes:

The Blaming Bush mantra is starting to fade in effectiveness. It was one thing early on when it was the real Bush being weighed against the ideal Obama, who had never been tried, and so never failed at anything, and who one could dream would do everything perfectly. The real Bush against the real Obama is a whole other story, as the problems that stymied the 43rd president show no signs of yielding to the 44th’s charms. The terrorists hate us, and still want to kill us. Unemployment is high, stimuli notwithstanding. Closing Guantánamo Bay isn’t that easy. Iran and North Korea haven’t unclenched their fists.

It is not hard to figure out why Obama has recycled campaign tactics, even when they have lost their utility and are ill-suited to the presidency. They are comfortable and no doubt recall better days, when Obama was the master of the political battlefield, when the media swooned, and when he could do no wrong. Unfortunately, he must now govern, and his repertoire of skills and his favorite rhetoric are of little use — no matter how often he goes to the well of campaign tricks.

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America’s Uncertain Presence in Haiti’s Uncertain Future

The New York Times wonders what the American role in Haiti is going to be after the current disaster is dealt with. The sad reality is that it’s hard to imagine a better future for Haiti absent a great deal of American involvement, but it’s equally hard to see what strategic calculation could justify such a stepped-up American presence.

Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti’s best years — the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil — were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since. But the reason for the American takeover was not altruism; it was fear that if the U.S. did not intervene, Germany or some other hostile power would, thereby creating a base that could threaten the Panama Canal and other vital American interests. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration lost interest and pulled out. This lack of American involvement allowed the rise of a string of tinhorn dictators, most famously the father and son duo of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

The American intervention in 1994 during the Clinton administration had less strategic justification; it was mainly an example of altruism in action although there were also concerns about Haitian boat people flooding into the United States if we did not stabilize the situation. That intervention involved putting Jean-Bertrand Aristide back into power. He turned out to be a singularly inept and vicious ruler whose departure was facilitated by the Bush administration in 1996. Since then the president of Haiti has been Rene Preval, but he has enjoyed limited power over a violent and chaotic country.

What stability there is has come from “Minustah,” which sounds like a Southern pronunciation of “minister” but in fact is the French acronym for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. This is a Brazilian-led military and police mission designed to defeat Haiti’s notorious gangs and allow the government to rule. As has become apparent during the post-earthquake looting and mayhem, Minustah has not been terribly successful since being established in 1994. Brazil’s heart is in the right place, but its troops, and those of other nations, have not been able to impose the kind of peace that NATO forces have brought to Bosnia and Kosovo.

Given American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is scant chance we will take over the peacekeeping mission ourselves. But it would make sense to provide more support to Minustah and work in general to strengthen such international mechanisms. We desperately need a way to place dysfunctional countries like Haiti into international receivership. Until such a mechanism is invented, it appears, alas, that Haiti will continue to experience more of the lawlessness and tragedy that have characterized its history ever since the establishment of a French slave regime in the 18th century.

The New York Times wonders what the American role in Haiti is going to be after the current disaster is dealt with. The sad reality is that it’s hard to imagine a better future for Haiti absent a great deal of American involvement, but it’s equally hard to see what strategic calculation could justify such a stepped-up American presence.

Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti’s best years — the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil — were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since. But the reason for the American takeover was not altruism; it was fear that if the U.S. did not intervene, Germany or some other hostile power would, thereby creating a base that could threaten the Panama Canal and other vital American interests. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration lost interest and pulled out. This lack of American involvement allowed the rise of a string of tinhorn dictators, most famously the father and son duo of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

The American intervention in 1994 during the Clinton administration had less strategic justification; it was mainly an example of altruism in action although there were also concerns about Haitian boat people flooding into the United States if we did not stabilize the situation. That intervention involved putting Jean-Bertrand Aristide back into power. He turned out to be a singularly inept and vicious ruler whose departure was facilitated by the Bush administration in 1996. Since then the president of Haiti has been Rene Preval, but he has enjoyed limited power over a violent and chaotic country.

What stability there is has come from “Minustah,” which sounds like a Southern pronunciation of “minister” but in fact is the French acronym for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. This is a Brazilian-led military and police mission designed to defeat Haiti’s notorious gangs and allow the government to rule. As has become apparent during the post-earthquake looting and mayhem, Minustah has not been terribly successful since being established in 1994. Brazil’s heart is in the right place, but its troops, and those of other nations, have not been able to impose the kind of peace that NATO forces have brought to Bosnia and Kosovo.

Given American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is scant chance we will take over the peacekeeping mission ourselves. But it would make sense to provide more support to Minustah and work in general to strengthen such international mechanisms. We desperately need a way to place dysfunctional countries like Haiti into international receivership. Until such a mechanism is invented, it appears, alas, that Haiti will continue to experience more of the lawlessness and tragedy that have characterized its history ever since the establishment of a French slave regime in the 18th century.

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Two Speeches in Massachusetts

Scott Brown’s speech yesterday in Massachusetts deserves not only to be read but also remembered. It was simultaneously straightforward and sophisticated, understated and eloquent, perfectly presented with Boston heroes surrounding him. It was, for the reasons enumerated by Scott Johnson, a classic speech.

Barack Obama’s speech yesterday was vintage 2008 Obama, as he leaned into the microphone to push waves of applause higher as he sought to energize a base. He seemed happy to be back in campaign mode, where everything is aspiration, hope, and the promise of change. But this time he spoke against a backdrop of actually existing Obamanism, a president who turned out to be a liberal in a hurry, pushing the most partisan piece of legislation within memory, railing yesterday against “fat cats,” “Wall Street,” and “big banks … big insurance companies … big drug companies.” It was unpresidential.

It is fitting that in Massachusetts tomorrow, Obamanism will face a test that cannot be met by a Louisiana Purchase, or a Cornhusker Kickback, or a Collective Bargaining Kickback, or convening a vote at one in the morning or on a Saturday night. It will be a plebiscite that the president himself has nationalized — conducted on the last day of his first year, in the most liberal state in the nation, in the place where the original tea party occurred. If two polls taken yesterday are accurate (both showing Brown up by 9.6 points), it will be a shot heard ’round the world.

Scott Brown’s speech yesterday in Massachusetts deserves not only to be read but also remembered. It was simultaneously straightforward and sophisticated, understated and eloquent, perfectly presented with Boston heroes surrounding him. It was, for the reasons enumerated by Scott Johnson, a classic speech.

Barack Obama’s speech yesterday was vintage 2008 Obama, as he leaned into the microphone to push waves of applause higher as he sought to energize a base. He seemed happy to be back in campaign mode, where everything is aspiration, hope, and the promise of change. But this time he spoke against a backdrop of actually existing Obamanism, a president who turned out to be a liberal in a hurry, pushing the most partisan piece of legislation within memory, railing yesterday against “fat cats,” “Wall Street,” and “big banks … big insurance companies … big drug companies.” It was unpresidential.

It is fitting that in Massachusetts tomorrow, Obamanism will face a test that cannot be met by a Louisiana Purchase, or a Cornhusker Kickback, or a Collective Bargaining Kickback, or convening a vote at one in the morning or on a Saturday night. It will be a plebiscite that the president himself has nationalized — conducted on the last day of his first year, in the most liberal state in the nation, in the place where the original tea party occurred. If two polls taken yesterday are accurate (both showing Brown up by 9.6 points), it will be a shot heard ’round the world.

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Humility Isn’t in the Obami Repertoire

Elliott Abrams sums up the mess that is the result of a year of the Obami’s “smart” Mideast policy:

So the Obama administration’s Middle East adventures in 2009 came to a close with Netanyahu, whom the administration has never much liked or treated well, stronger politically; and Abbas, whom the administration wished to strengthen, weaker and talking of retirement. In Arab capitals the failure of the United States to stop Iran’s nuclear program is understood as American weakness in the struggle for dominance in the Middle East, making additional cooperation from Arab leaders on Israeli-Palestinian issues even less likely. A strongly pro-American former Israeli official shook his head as he evaluated the Obama record in 2009: “This is what happens when -arrogance and clumsiness come together.”

While George Mitchell prattles on about a time limit on peace negotiations that have no starting point, no attendees, and no hope of success, Abrams suggests there is another way: forget the “peace process,” the endless churning of diplomats in European capitals with the same impediments to meaningful progress (not the least of which is a viable Palestinian negotiating partner for Israel), and instead create “a Palestinian state from the bottom up, institution by institution, and ending with Israeli withdrawal and negotiation of a state only when Palestinian political life is truly able to sustain self-government, maintain law and order, and prevent terrorism against Israel.” Despite the inescapable logic of the idea and the presence of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is devoted to such an approach, the Obami seem insistent on trotting out Mitchell to rehash what has been tried not for only a year but for a couple decades.

It’s worth asking why the Obama team has yet to see the light, and why Mitchell digs in, ever insistent on spinning a fantasy world in which he imagines that, in just the right setting (what, Vienna instead of Oslo or Annapolis?), and with just the right mumbo-jumbo rhetoric, and with enough sanctimonious condescension about past administrations’ failed efforts, there will be a breakthrough. We have to ask: doesn’t he realize how ridiculous he sounds?

Well, neither Obama nor his minions appear to have much self-awareness, whether about the Middle East or any other aspect of their not-very-smart diplomacy. They pat themselves on the back as they slip the trap they have set for themselves (be it in Honduras in backing, and then abandoning, Manuel Zelaya, or imposing and then dropping the precondition of Israel’s agreement on an absolute settlement freeze), but they never advance past their initial starting point.

One gets the sense that the Obami regard their own earnestness and the number of frequent-flier miles accumulated by Mitchell as ends unto themselves. Look how hard they’re trying! It’s a pattern of self-congratulation not uncommon to the Obama team, which is long on meetings and short on results.

But there’s also something else at play here: if the Obami were to follow Abrams’s advice, where would be the glory in it for them? As Abrams describes it, institution-building by definition is a process undertaken by Palestinians for Palestinians. Abrams quotes Fayyed: “This is our agenda, and we want to pursue it doggedly” (emphasis added). Indeed there is nothing much for Mitchell to go on Charlie Rose to crow about. It’s not about them. There is an art and a certain humility required to step back, to allow the Palestinians to earn their own statehood. And humility is something in very short supply in the Obama administration. So let’s not get our hopes up that the Obami will see the light and try a different approach with some chance of success.

Elliott Abrams sums up the mess that is the result of a year of the Obami’s “smart” Mideast policy:

So the Obama administration’s Middle East adventures in 2009 came to a close with Netanyahu, whom the administration has never much liked or treated well, stronger politically; and Abbas, whom the administration wished to strengthen, weaker and talking of retirement. In Arab capitals the failure of the United States to stop Iran’s nuclear program is understood as American weakness in the struggle for dominance in the Middle East, making additional cooperation from Arab leaders on Israeli-Palestinian issues even less likely. A strongly pro-American former Israeli official shook his head as he evaluated the Obama record in 2009: “This is what happens when -arrogance and clumsiness come together.”

While George Mitchell prattles on about a time limit on peace negotiations that have no starting point, no attendees, and no hope of success, Abrams suggests there is another way: forget the “peace process,” the endless churning of diplomats in European capitals with the same impediments to meaningful progress (not the least of which is a viable Palestinian negotiating partner for Israel), and instead create “a Palestinian state from the bottom up, institution by institution, and ending with Israeli withdrawal and negotiation of a state only when Palestinian political life is truly able to sustain self-government, maintain law and order, and prevent terrorism against Israel.” Despite the inescapable logic of the idea and the presence of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is devoted to such an approach, the Obami seem insistent on trotting out Mitchell to rehash what has been tried not for only a year but for a couple decades.

It’s worth asking why the Obama team has yet to see the light, and why Mitchell digs in, ever insistent on spinning a fantasy world in which he imagines that, in just the right setting (what, Vienna instead of Oslo or Annapolis?), and with just the right mumbo-jumbo rhetoric, and with enough sanctimonious condescension about past administrations’ failed efforts, there will be a breakthrough. We have to ask: doesn’t he realize how ridiculous he sounds?

Well, neither Obama nor his minions appear to have much self-awareness, whether about the Middle East or any other aspect of their not-very-smart diplomacy. They pat themselves on the back as they slip the trap they have set for themselves (be it in Honduras in backing, and then abandoning, Manuel Zelaya, or imposing and then dropping the precondition of Israel’s agreement on an absolute settlement freeze), but they never advance past their initial starting point.

One gets the sense that the Obami regard their own earnestness and the number of frequent-flier miles accumulated by Mitchell as ends unto themselves. Look how hard they’re trying! It’s a pattern of self-congratulation not uncommon to the Obama team, which is long on meetings and short on results.

But there’s also something else at play here: if the Obami were to follow Abrams’s advice, where would be the glory in it for them? As Abrams describes it, institution-building by definition is a process undertaken by Palestinians for Palestinians. Abrams quotes Fayyed: “This is our agenda, and we want to pursue it doggedly” (emphasis added). Indeed there is nothing much for Mitchell to go on Charlie Rose to crow about. It’s not about them. There is an art and a certain humility required to step back, to allow the Palestinians to earn their own statehood. And humility is something in very short supply in the Obama administration. So let’s not get our hopes up that the Obami will see the light and try a different approach with some chance of success.

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The Once-Appealing Barack Obama

Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration. It has been, by almost any measure, a difficult and disappointing year for him and his party.

Mr. Obama now has the highest disapproval rating in Gallup’s history for a president entering his second year in office. According to a new Washington Post–ABC News poll, among independents, only 49 percent approve — the lowest of any of his recent predecessors at this point in their presidencies. (Obama has lost a stunning 18 points among independents in just a year’s time.) In November, Democrats suffered crushing defeats in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial campaigns — and if Republican Scott Brown prevails in his race against Martha Coakley in tomorrow’s Senate election in Massachusetts, it will rank among the most important non-presidential elections in our lifetime.

It has been a staggering collapse by a president who entered office with enormous support and an unprecedented amount of goodwill. Read More

Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration. It has been, by almost any measure, a difficult and disappointing year for him and his party.

Mr. Obama now has the highest disapproval rating in Gallup’s history for a president entering his second year in office. According to a new Washington Post–ABC News poll, among independents, only 49 percent approve — the lowest of any of his recent predecessors at this point in their presidencies. (Obama has lost a stunning 18 points among independents in just a year’s time.) In November, Democrats suffered crushing defeats in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial campaigns — and if Republican Scott Brown prevails in his race against Martha Coakley in tomorrow’s Senate election in Massachusetts, it will rank among the most important non-presidential elections in our lifetime.

It has been a staggering collapse by a president who entered office with enormous support and an unprecedented amount of goodwill.

The reasons for this slide include unemployment rates that are much higher than the Obama administration predicted, job growth that never materialized despite the president’s promises, a record-setting spending binge, a massive and hugely unpopular health-care proposal, and an agenda that is far too liberal for most Americans.

But there is another, and I think quite important, explanation that was reinforced to me while reading John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s book, Game Change, which is a fascinating (and very well-written) account of the 2008 presidential campaign.

One is reminded once again of how the core of Obama’s popularity was an appeal not to policy or to a governing agenda; instead it was an appeal to thematics and narrative. “Obama cast himself as a figure uncorrupted and unco-opted by evil Washington,” the authors write. He was the candidate who “promised to be a unifier and not a polarizer; someone nondogmatic and uncontaminated by the special-interest cesspool that Washington had become.” Obama’s appeal was romantic and aesthetic, built on the rhetoric of hope and change, on his “freshness and sense of promise.” A cult of personality built up around Obama — not because of what he had achieved but because of what he seemed to embody. (“Maybe one day he’ll do something to merit all this attention,” Michelle Obama dryly told a reporter.)

“We have something very special here,” Obama’s top political aide Axelrod is quoted as saying. “I feel like I’ve been handed a porcelain baby.” Axelrod tells Obama — dubbed by his aides as the “Black Jesus” — that voters were looking for “a president who can bring the country together, who can reach beyond partisanship, and who’ll be tough on special interests.”

That was what we were promised. What we got instead is a president who increased the divisions in our nation, the most partisan and polarizing figure in the history of polling, one who is dogmatic and has been as generous to special interests as any we have seen. The efforts to buy votes in pursuit of the Obama agenda has added sewage to the cesspool.

This would hurt any president under any circumstances; for Barack Obama, whose allure was based almost entirely on his ability to convince the public that he embodied a “new politics,” it has been doubly damaging. It was Hillary Clinton of all people who understood Obama best when she said during the campaign, “We have to make people understand that he’s not real.”

Not real indeed. Obama’s stirring call for Americans to reject the “politics of cynicism” was itself deeply cynical. Perhaps none of this should come as a surprise. After all, Heilemann and Halperin write, Axelrod was “a master of the dark arts of negative campaigning.” The first major profile of him, more than 20 years ago, was titled, “Hatchet Man: The Rise of David Axelrod.”

Obama and Axelrod might have been able to get away with this if Obama’s presidency had been viewed as successful and skilled. But it’s not. And when combined with the growing realization that Obama is not up to the task of governing, that he is pursuing policies that exacerbate our problems and takes us down a wrong and even perilous path, it is poison. The toxicity is such that what was once unthinkable now seems more likely than not: Democrats losing the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy for almost half a century. And even if they don’t, 2010 is shaping up to be a perfectly awful year for Democrats. It’s a safe bet that in response they and their allies will lash out in rage, angry at the perceived injustice of it all, furious at the fate that has befallen them. They will blame Obama’s predecessor, Republicans in Congress, the conservative movement, angry white males, Fox News, Sarah Palin’s tweets, and the wrong alignment of the stars. It won’t work.

Having created a myth, they must now live with its unmasking.

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Stick a Fork in It

The Jan. 16 meeting of the P5+1 ended ingloriously. The U.S. representative said the P5+1, which will confer again by phone this month, remains committed to the “dual track” approach, in which the possibility of sanctions on Iran is part of the “pressure track.” Western media uniformly characterize the meeting’s outcome as indecisive; but although Russia’s envoy made no definitive pronouncements, the headline at state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti was categorical: “Iran Six decides [sic] against new sanctions on Tehran.”

China, meanwhile, created impressive diplomatic theater by shifting veteran P5+1 negotiator He Yafei to a new post just before the Jan. 16 meeting, sending a low-ranking functionary in his stead and failing to provide contact information for Mr. He’s replacement. According to the UK Times, the P5+1 negotiators don’t know whom to contact in Beijing to schedule the phone conversation proposed for later this month.  The Washington Post reports that “diplomats said they did not know China’s motive” for these measures, but it cites the diplomats’ speculating — with straight faces, as far as we know — that “it might be to illustrate Beijing’s resistance to punishing Iran with more sanctions or dismay at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.” China’s obstructionist behavior effectively ended any hope for progress on Saturday.

This meeting, of course, was the threat hanging over Iran if it elected not to comply with President Obama’s Dec. 31 deadline. As Rick Richman pointed out last week, Obama’s State Department was already soft-peddling the deadline in mid-December, an approach unlikely to impress Iran with our seriousness. In fairness, however, making such an impression would require overcoming the relentless countersignals coming from our negotiating partners, whose businesses have spent recent months deepening their commercial ties with Iran. Whether it’s France’s Total SA bidding with China to develop Iranian gas fields or German port operator HPC contracting to manage the container port in Iran’s Bandar Abbas complex, our P5+1 partners are engaging themselves to make a lot of money from precisely the commercial activities we would have to sanction to affect Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Recent summaries like the ones here and here recount the many ways in which commerce is outrunning the political sentiment for sanctions. That sentiment is by no means strong or unified to begin with: Russia has been extraordinarily consistent in its position that there’s no evidence Iran is even pursuing nuclear weapons. Vladimir Putin reiterated that position on Jan. 7 after two previous Russian assertions to the same effect in December (here and here). Indeed, Putin said it in 2008, 2007, and 2005, a record we have heroically disregarded in our eagerness to negotiate alongside Moscow.

Obama’s effort, launched in September with the dramatic revelation about the nuclear site near Qom, is done. On assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on Jan. 5, China announced that sanctions against Iran will not be on the council’s agenda for January — a promise more credible than Obama’s December deadline. Either we change the pace of our diplomacy right now, or the nations concerned will conclude that U.S. diplomacy is irrelevant. Procrastination at this point means certain failure.

The Jan. 16 meeting of the P5+1 ended ingloriously. The U.S. representative said the P5+1, which will confer again by phone this month, remains committed to the “dual track” approach, in which the possibility of sanctions on Iran is part of the “pressure track.” Western media uniformly characterize the meeting’s outcome as indecisive; but although Russia’s envoy made no definitive pronouncements, the headline at state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti was categorical: “Iran Six decides [sic] against new sanctions on Tehran.”

China, meanwhile, created impressive diplomatic theater by shifting veteran P5+1 negotiator He Yafei to a new post just before the Jan. 16 meeting, sending a low-ranking functionary in his stead and failing to provide contact information for Mr. He’s replacement. According to the UK Times, the P5+1 negotiators don’t know whom to contact in Beijing to schedule the phone conversation proposed for later this month.  The Washington Post reports that “diplomats said they did not know China’s motive” for these measures, but it cites the diplomats’ speculating — with straight faces, as far as we know — that “it might be to illustrate Beijing’s resistance to punishing Iran with more sanctions or dismay at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.” China’s obstructionist behavior effectively ended any hope for progress on Saturday.

This meeting, of course, was the threat hanging over Iran if it elected not to comply with President Obama’s Dec. 31 deadline. As Rick Richman pointed out last week, Obama’s State Department was already soft-peddling the deadline in mid-December, an approach unlikely to impress Iran with our seriousness. In fairness, however, making such an impression would require overcoming the relentless countersignals coming from our negotiating partners, whose businesses have spent recent months deepening their commercial ties with Iran. Whether it’s France’s Total SA bidding with China to develop Iranian gas fields or German port operator HPC contracting to manage the container port in Iran’s Bandar Abbas complex, our P5+1 partners are engaging themselves to make a lot of money from precisely the commercial activities we would have to sanction to affect Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Recent summaries like the ones here and here recount the many ways in which commerce is outrunning the political sentiment for sanctions. That sentiment is by no means strong or unified to begin with: Russia has been extraordinarily consistent in its position that there’s no evidence Iran is even pursuing nuclear weapons. Vladimir Putin reiterated that position on Jan. 7 after two previous Russian assertions to the same effect in December (here and here). Indeed, Putin said it in 2008, 2007, and 2005, a record we have heroically disregarded in our eagerness to negotiate alongside Moscow.

Obama’s effort, launched in September with the dramatic revelation about the nuclear site near Qom, is done. On assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on Jan. 5, China announced that sanctions against Iran will not be on the council’s agenda for January — a promise more credible than Obama’s December deadline. Either we change the pace of our diplomacy right now, or the nations concerned will conclude that U.S. diplomacy is irrelevant. Procrastination at this point means certain failure.

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Reversing Obama’s Worst Decision Yet?

Michael Isikoff reports:

Top administration officials are getting nervous that they may not be able to proceed with one of their most controversial national-security moves: trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 conspirators in federal court in New York City. Last November Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. portrayed the trial as a way to showcase the American justice system to the world — and to accelerate President Obama’s stalled plans to shut down the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. But because of shifting political winds in Congress, the trial is now “potentially in jeopardy,” a senior official, who did not want to be named talking about a sensitive situation, tells Newsweek. The chief concern: that Republicans will renew attempts to strip funding for the trial and, in the aftermath of the bombing attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253, pick up enough support from moderate Democrats to prevail.

It seems that Sen. Lindsay Graham and Rep. Frank Wolf will try to force votes in Congress to cut off funding for the trial. And one additional issue: the more than $200 million price tag for each year of the trial. The kicker: “If Holder’s plans are thwarted, though, one top administration official, who also didn’t want to be named talking about delicate issues, notes there is a Plan B — reviving the case against the alleged 9/11 conspirators before a military tribunal, just as the Bush administration tried to do.”

This would be a stunning turnaround, an admission of Holder’s irresponsibility and of the Justice Department’s loony leftism. But this, of course, was part and parcel of Obama’s personal vision and his “not-Bush” approach to the war against Islamic fascists. Obama spent his campaign and the first year of his presidency eschewing the Bush anti-terror policies — employing enhanced interrogation techniques, maintaining Guantanamo, using military tribunals to prosecute terrorists — and pronouncing that they represented a betrayal of “our values.” He told us we’d rack up credit with … with whom was never quite clear, but we’d rack up credit. Those who sought to incinerate innocents or who were attracted to the words of Major Hassan’s favorite imam (or was it the European elites who give out prizes for such foolishness?) would, presumably, be impressed. And we’d lure the butchers of children and women out of their mindset by impressing them with the wonders of the federal criminal procedure.

But alas, that proved to be politically untenable and logistically difficult. We had three domestic terror attacks. The president was hammered for his clueless reserve and the Keystone Kops response to the Christmas Day bombing. So now being “not Bush” doesn’t seem like such a good idea. It was born of arrogance and from a distorted view of the nature of our enemy. If Obama retreats on both this and Guantanamo, it will be a bitter pill for the Left and sweet vindication for those who kept us safe for seven and a half years after 9/11. But more important, it will be a step toward sanity in the administration’s national security policies. And should Obama and Holder feel the sting of humiliation if forced to abandon their plans to shutter Guantanamo and give KSM a propagandistic platform, the White House may find that a small price to pay to sync up its anti-terror policies with both reality and public opinion.

Michael Isikoff reports:

Top administration officials are getting nervous that they may not be able to proceed with one of their most controversial national-security moves: trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 conspirators in federal court in New York City. Last November Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. portrayed the trial as a way to showcase the American justice system to the world — and to accelerate President Obama’s stalled plans to shut down the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. But because of shifting political winds in Congress, the trial is now “potentially in jeopardy,” a senior official, who did not want to be named talking about a sensitive situation, tells Newsweek. The chief concern: that Republicans will renew attempts to strip funding for the trial and, in the aftermath of the bombing attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253, pick up enough support from moderate Democrats to prevail.

It seems that Sen. Lindsay Graham and Rep. Frank Wolf will try to force votes in Congress to cut off funding for the trial. And one additional issue: the more than $200 million price tag for each year of the trial. The kicker: “If Holder’s plans are thwarted, though, one top administration official, who also didn’t want to be named talking about delicate issues, notes there is a Plan B — reviving the case against the alleged 9/11 conspirators before a military tribunal, just as the Bush administration tried to do.”

This would be a stunning turnaround, an admission of Holder’s irresponsibility and of the Justice Department’s loony leftism. But this, of course, was part and parcel of Obama’s personal vision and his “not-Bush” approach to the war against Islamic fascists. Obama spent his campaign and the first year of his presidency eschewing the Bush anti-terror policies — employing enhanced interrogation techniques, maintaining Guantanamo, using military tribunals to prosecute terrorists — and pronouncing that they represented a betrayal of “our values.” He told us we’d rack up credit with … with whom was never quite clear, but we’d rack up credit. Those who sought to incinerate innocents or who were attracted to the words of Major Hassan’s favorite imam (or was it the European elites who give out prizes for such foolishness?) would, presumably, be impressed. And we’d lure the butchers of children and women out of their mindset by impressing them with the wonders of the federal criminal procedure.

But alas, that proved to be politically untenable and logistically difficult. We had three domestic terror attacks. The president was hammered for his clueless reserve and the Keystone Kops response to the Christmas Day bombing. So now being “not Bush” doesn’t seem like such a good idea. It was born of arrogance and from a distorted view of the nature of our enemy. If Obama retreats on both this and Guantanamo, it will be a bitter pill for the Left and sweet vindication for those who kept us safe for seven and a half years after 9/11. But more important, it will be a step toward sanity in the administration’s national security policies. And should Obama and Holder feel the sting of humiliation if forced to abandon their plans to shutter Guantanamo and give KSM a propagandistic platform, the White House may find that a small price to pay to sync up its anti-terror policies with both reality and public opinion.

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What if There Is a Massachusetts Miracle?

If Scott Brown wins in Massachusetts after a last gasp appearance from the president (albeit an anemic one), the spin war will be on. Just as they did after the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial losses, Democrats will rationalize the loss — a weak candidate, a lousy campaign, and a “challenging political environment.” (The challenge is overcoming the rising unpopularity of their agenda, but that’s left unsaid by those defending their run of losses.) Bob McDonnell, who was sworn in this Saturday, ran against the Obama agenda and won in a landslide. Scott Brown ran as the 41st vote against ObamaCare. At some point, all but the most deluded Obama spinners must acknowledge that the public is registering its opposition to Obama’s leftward lurch in general and his brand of health-care “reform” in particular.

Obama  rolled the dice by going to Massachusetts. But had he not gone, the headline will be the same in the event Martha Coakley loses: “Massachusetts Decks Obama.” Obama’s rhetoric may no longer carry the day. But of more concern to the White House may be that his agenda is becoming politically toxic. Those who embrace and defend it do so at their political peril. And if Coakley is defeated, far fewer Democrats will be inclined to defend it.

In one sense, this might be a blessing for Obama and the Democrats. Better to get the wake-up call in January and lose one seat than to get the message only in November and lose one or both houses of Congress. If Brown pulls off the greatest political upset since, well, since Obama took down the Clintons, then Obama and the Democrats will have a choice. They might continue to bury their heads in the sand, tag all critics as illegitimate partisan stooges, and push ahead with ObamaCare (with whatever parliamentary trick they can dream up). Alternatively, they can decide not to commit political suicide. They might stop and listen to the voters rather than insulting them. They might finally rethink the premise that they can jam through a highly unpopular, earthshaking piece of legislation on a straight party vote. And then there finally might be the opportunity to come up with a focused bill that addresses discrete issues with broad-based support (e.g., tort reform, interstate insurance purchases), rather than a giant tax-and-spend scheme and a recipe for rationing care to the oldest and sickest Americans. In doing so, Obama might regain his political footing and preserve many of his congressional allies’ seats.

The choice seems like a no-brainer for Democrats. But given the hubris and ideological fervor of this crowd, I wouldn’t bank on their reversing course to spare themselves a political wipeout.

If Scott Brown wins in Massachusetts after a last gasp appearance from the president (albeit an anemic one), the spin war will be on. Just as they did after the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial losses, Democrats will rationalize the loss — a weak candidate, a lousy campaign, and a “challenging political environment.” (The challenge is overcoming the rising unpopularity of their agenda, but that’s left unsaid by those defending their run of losses.) Bob McDonnell, who was sworn in this Saturday, ran against the Obama agenda and won in a landslide. Scott Brown ran as the 41st vote against ObamaCare. At some point, all but the most deluded Obama spinners must acknowledge that the public is registering its opposition to Obama’s leftward lurch in general and his brand of health-care “reform” in particular.

Obama  rolled the dice by going to Massachusetts. But had he not gone, the headline will be the same in the event Martha Coakley loses: “Massachusetts Decks Obama.” Obama’s rhetoric may no longer carry the day. But of more concern to the White House may be that his agenda is becoming politically toxic. Those who embrace and defend it do so at their political peril. And if Coakley is defeated, far fewer Democrats will be inclined to defend it.

In one sense, this might be a blessing for Obama and the Democrats. Better to get the wake-up call in January and lose one seat than to get the message only in November and lose one or both houses of Congress. If Brown pulls off the greatest political upset since, well, since Obama took down the Clintons, then Obama and the Democrats will have a choice. They might continue to bury their heads in the sand, tag all critics as illegitimate partisan stooges, and push ahead with ObamaCare (with whatever parliamentary trick they can dream up). Alternatively, they can decide not to commit political suicide. They might stop and listen to the voters rather than insulting them. They might finally rethink the premise that they can jam through a highly unpopular, earthshaking piece of legislation on a straight party vote. And then there finally might be the opportunity to come up with a focused bill that addresses discrete issues with broad-based support (e.g., tort reform, interstate insurance purchases), rather than a giant tax-and-spend scheme and a recipe for rationing care to the oldest and sickest Americans. In doing so, Obama might regain his political footing and preserve many of his congressional allies’ seats.

The choice seems like a no-brainer for Democrats. But given the hubris and ideological fervor of this crowd, I wouldn’t bank on their reversing course to spare themselves a political wipeout.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Charlie Cook says Scott Brown in now favored. Well, one poll has him up almost 10 points.

My, what a difference a year makes. From the Boston Globe no less: “The feverish excitement that propelled Barack Obama and scores of other Democrats to victory in 2008 has all but evaporated, worrying party leaders who are struggling to invigorate the base before Tuesday’s Massachusetts Senate race and November’s critical midterm contests, pollsters and party activists said.”

It might help if Obama were as good as Bill Clinton on the stump. Byron York reports that “it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that Clinton just blew Obama’s doors off. Obama’s speech was halting, wandering, and humorless; the president looked as if he didn’t want to be there. There’s no doubt the crowd was excited to see Obama, but he seemed so hesitant and out-of-rhythm at the top that it appeared he might have been having teleprompter trouble, and he was also clearly rattled and unable to handle the completely-predictable presence of a heckler.”

CNN reports: “Multiple advisers to President Obama have privately told party officials that they believe Democrat Martha Coakley is going to lose Tuesday’s special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy for more than 40 years, several Democratic sources told CNN Sunday.” Then going to Massachusetts was sort of like going to Copenhagen for the Olympics (and again for the climate-change confab) — at some point it might be a good idea to stop demonstrating Obama’s ineffectiveness.

Things have gotten so sticky for Democrats that Ben Nelson “offers to give back his ‘bribe’.” Might be too late: his job approval has dropped to 42 percent.

More from the Democrats’ gloom-and-doom file: Friday, Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) announced his retirement. Plus, a “SurveyUSA poll shows Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio), a freshman Democrat who represents the Cincinnati area, losing to former Republican congressman Steve Chabot, 56 to 39 percent.” He voted for both ObamaCare and cap-and-trade.

This take from Sen. Mitch McConnell sounds right: “Massachusetts is going to be a very, very close race regardless of who wins. … Regardless of who wins, we have here in effect a referendum on this national healthcare bill. The American people are telling us: ‘Please don’t pass it.’ … I think the politics are toxic for the Democrats either way.”

Lanny Davis at least doesn’t sound divorced from reality, like his fellow Democrats: “If Democrats lose in Massachusetts, it will simply mean Democrats and President Obama need find a new center to enact health care and other progressive legislation – meaning, they must sit down with Lindsey Graham, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Orrin Hatch, John McCain and other GOP Senators with long records of bipartisan legislating — and moderate Democrats Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Evan Bayh, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu and others –and create a new health care bill that can command broad bipartisan support.” Imagine if Obama had done that from the start — New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts might have looked a whole lot different, and Byron Dorgan might be running for re-election.

Charlie Cook says Scott Brown in now favored. Well, one poll has him up almost 10 points.

My, what a difference a year makes. From the Boston Globe no less: “The feverish excitement that propelled Barack Obama and scores of other Democrats to victory in 2008 has all but evaporated, worrying party leaders who are struggling to invigorate the base before Tuesday’s Massachusetts Senate race and November’s critical midterm contests, pollsters and party activists said.”

It might help if Obama were as good as Bill Clinton on the stump. Byron York reports that “it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that Clinton just blew Obama’s doors off. Obama’s speech was halting, wandering, and humorless; the president looked as if he didn’t want to be there. There’s no doubt the crowd was excited to see Obama, but he seemed so hesitant and out-of-rhythm at the top that it appeared he might have been having teleprompter trouble, and he was also clearly rattled and unable to handle the completely-predictable presence of a heckler.”

CNN reports: “Multiple advisers to President Obama have privately told party officials that they believe Democrat Martha Coakley is going to lose Tuesday’s special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy for more than 40 years, several Democratic sources told CNN Sunday.” Then going to Massachusetts was sort of like going to Copenhagen for the Olympics (and again for the climate-change confab) — at some point it might be a good idea to stop demonstrating Obama’s ineffectiveness.

Things have gotten so sticky for Democrats that Ben Nelson “offers to give back his ‘bribe’.” Might be too late: his job approval has dropped to 42 percent.

More from the Democrats’ gloom-and-doom file: Friday, Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) announced his retirement. Plus, a “SurveyUSA poll shows Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio), a freshman Democrat who represents the Cincinnati area, losing to former Republican congressman Steve Chabot, 56 to 39 percent.” He voted for both ObamaCare and cap-and-trade.

This take from Sen. Mitch McConnell sounds right: “Massachusetts is going to be a very, very close race regardless of who wins. … Regardless of who wins, we have here in effect a referendum on this national healthcare bill. The American people are telling us: ‘Please don’t pass it.’ … I think the politics are toxic for the Democrats either way.”

Lanny Davis at least doesn’t sound divorced from reality, like his fellow Democrats: “If Democrats lose in Massachusetts, it will simply mean Democrats and President Obama need find a new center to enact health care and other progressive legislation – meaning, they must sit down with Lindsey Graham, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Orrin Hatch, John McCain and other GOP Senators with long records of bipartisan legislating — and moderate Democrats Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Evan Bayh, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu and others –and create a new health care bill that can command broad bipartisan support.” Imagine if Obama had done that from the start — New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts might have looked a whole lot different, and Byron Dorgan might be running for re-election.

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