Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 20, 2010

Even Boxer and Feinstein Get It

Even Boxer and Feinstein get it. Well, sort of. They get the prospect of electoral vulnerability, at least. In the wake of Scott Brown’s victory, the Los Angeles Times’ California Politics column quotes Sen. Barbara Boxer today acknowledging that “every state is now in play, absolutely.”

Boxer, who got 57 percent of the vote in her 2004 reelection campaign, faces California voters this fall. Republicans are encouraged that she showed poorly – for her – in a January Rasmussen poll against the GOP contenders, who include former tech-industry CEO Carly Fiorina. Boxer’s best margin was a 46-40 showing against state legislator Chuck DeVore, but his is the interesting figure: with his name recognition lower than Fiorina’s, the historical pattern would have been for him to get a number no better than the low 30s. DeVore’s 40 signifies that voters are likely turning away from Boxer.

It’s not a given that the California GOP gets it, of course. Republican Tom Campbell, who switched from the gubernatorial race to the Senate race after Scott Brown surged in the Massachusetts polls last week, has probably thrown up a fresh obstacle to party unity in November. Some shaking out of cobwebs will be inevitable this year in a state party that has been remarkably unsuccessful for at least two decades.

But President Obama’s support is slipping significantly among Californians, and their dissatisfaction with the direction of the state and the nation is growing. What Republicans need to learn from Scott Brown’s success is that voters respond to forceful, specific, and positive messages. Jennifer captures this in her comments on the Brown victory speech. GOP candidates probably will not have the looming threat of ObamaCare to run against this fall; the Democrats look likely to back off and postpone that reckoning. Without that crystallizing threat in voters’ minds, the candidates’ positive messages will have to do the heavy lifting.

The 2010 opportunity is unique, however. Dianne Feinstein is California’s other occupant of one of the safest Senate seats in the country, and she demonstrated, in just a few words quoted today by the LA Times, that she misreads what voters want to hear:

People are very unsettled. They are very worried. There is anger. There is angst. … You see high unemployment. …You see anger. … The administration has to see it, and we have to see it. And therefore, everything is jobs and the economy and education.

Contrast that with the passage Jennifer cites from Brown’s speech last night:

Raising taxes, taking over our health care, and giving new rights to terrorists is the agenda of a new establishment in Washington.

In this aspect of the 2010 political environment, it’s Scott Brown who gets it. The American people aren’t writhing in anger and angst, confusedly demanding that government do something about “jobs, economy, and education.” They know exactly what they think is wrong today, and the problem, as Ronald Reagan would have said, is government. Scott Brown’s unvarnished directness has been respectful of voters as thinking citizens. If Republicans take that to heart, they will have an inherent advantage over many long-entrenched Democrats.

Even Boxer and Feinstein get it. Well, sort of. They get the prospect of electoral vulnerability, at least. In the wake of Scott Brown’s victory, the Los Angeles Times’ California Politics column quotes Sen. Barbara Boxer today acknowledging that “every state is now in play, absolutely.”

Boxer, who got 57 percent of the vote in her 2004 reelection campaign, faces California voters this fall. Republicans are encouraged that she showed poorly – for her – in a January Rasmussen poll against the GOP contenders, who include former tech-industry CEO Carly Fiorina. Boxer’s best margin was a 46-40 showing against state legislator Chuck DeVore, but his is the interesting figure: with his name recognition lower than Fiorina’s, the historical pattern would have been for him to get a number no better than the low 30s. DeVore’s 40 signifies that voters are likely turning away from Boxer.

It’s not a given that the California GOP gets it, of course. Republican Tom Campbell, who switched from the gubernatorial race to the Senate race after Scott Brown surged in the Massachusetts polls last week, has probably thrown up a fresh obstacle to party unity in November. Some shaking out of cobwebs will be inevitable this year in a state party that has been remarkably unsuccessful for at least two decades.

But President Obama’s support is slipping significantly among Californians, and their dissatisfaction with the direction of the state and the nation is growing. What Republicans need to learn from Scott Brown’s success is that voters respond to forceful, specific, and positive messages. Jennifer captures this in her comments on the Brown victory speech. GOP candidates probably will not have the looming threat of ObamaCare to run against this fall; the Democrats look likely to back off and postpone that reckoning. Without that crystallizing threat in voters’ minds, the candidates’ positive messages will have to do the heavy lifting.

The 2010 opportunity is unique, however. Dianne Feinstein is California’s other occupant of one of the safest Senate seats in the country, and she demonstrated, in just a few words quoted today by the LA Times, that she misreads what voters want to hear:

People are very unsettled. They are very worried. There is anger. There is angst. … You see high unemployment. …You see anger. … The administration has to see it, and we have to see it. And therefore, everything is jobs and the economy and education.

Contrast that with the passage Jennifer cites from Brown’s speech last night:

Raising taxes, taking over our health care, and giving new rights to terrorists is the agenda of a new establishment in Washington.

In this aspect of the 2010 political environment, it’s Scott Brown who gets it. The American people aren’t writhing in anger and angst, confusedly demanding that government do something about “jobs, economy, and education.” They know exactly what they think is wrong today, and the problem, as Ronald Reagan would have said, is government. Scott Brown’s unvarnished directness has been respectful of voters as thinking citizens. If Republicans take that to heart, they will have an inherent advantage over many long-entrenched Democrats.

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David Brooks Pleads: Don’t Blow Yourself Up

David Brooks pleads with the president he’s been rooting for not to blow it — or blow it any more. In a conversation with Gail Collins, he warns:

Go out and tell the voters of Massachusetts and the people answering all the polling questions that you hear them. Go out and say that maybe it’s not a great idea to pass the most complicated and largest piece of domestic legislation in a generation when the American people don’t like it. Show doubt. Don’t show arrogance. If President Obama comes out swinging, it will be his Katrina moment, the moment when the elitist tag will be permanently hung around his neck.

He confesses fondness for another health-care measure, but in the end Brooks comes down firmly on the side of not ignoring the loud voices of the voters shouting, “Stop!” He cautions: “If the Democrats act like the country hasn’t voiced a judgment, if they try to ram this through, there will be an explosion the likes of which we haven’t seen.”

One has the sense that he’s nervous, very nervous, that Obama and his crew won’t listen but will instead take that Katrina plunge. It is strange to have to warn a supposedly savvy politician — one with such a superior temperament, we are told — not to bury his head in the sand and show contempt for the voters. But Brooks is right to be nervous. So insular and ideological rigid are the Obama crew that they might just try to muscle their way through.

But on Brooks’s and ultimately the president’s side is the natural inclination of most politicians not to short-circuit their political careers for no good reason. Obama might prefer to press on, but who’s going to follow? We learned today that Rep. Barney Frank, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Evan Bayh, and many others are having serious reservations about ignoring the public. That’s a good thing for the country, and it’s what may ultimately save Obama from himself.

David Brooks pleads with the president he’s been rooting for not to blow it — or blow it any more. In a conversation with Gail Collins, he warns:

Go out and tell the voters of Massachusetts and the people answering all the polling questions that you hear them. Go out and say that maybe it’s not a great idea to pass the most complicated and largest piece of domestic legislation in a generation when the American people don’t like it. Show doubt. Don’t show arrogance. If President Obama comes out swinging, it will be his Katrina moment, the moment when the elitist tag will be permanently hung around his neck.

He confesses fondness for another health-care measure, but in the end Brooks comes down firmly on the side of not ignoring the loud voices of the voters shouting, “Stop!” He cautions: “If the Democrats act like the country hasn’t voiced a judgment, if they try to ram this through, there will be an explosion the likes of which we haven’t seen.”

One has the sense that he’s nervous, very nervous, that Obama and his crew won’t listen but will instead take that Katrina plunge. It is strange to have to warn a supposedly savvy politician — one with such a superior temperament, we are told — not to bury his head in the sand and show contempt for the voters. But Brooks is right to be nervous. So insular and ideological rigid are the Obama crew that they might just try to muscle their way through.

But on Brooks’s and ultimately the president’s side is the natural inclination of most politicians not to short-circuit their political careers for no good reason. Obama might prefer to press on, but who’s going to follow? We learned today that Rep. Barney Frank, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Evan Bayh, and many others are having serious reservations about ignoring the public. That’s a good thing for the country, and it’s what may ultimately save Obama from himself.

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A New Day

Nothing like a once-in-a-generation political upset to shake up incumbents, right? Two developments demonstrate that despite White House denial, the rest of the political establishment is taking stock and making adjustments.

On the defection-from-ObamaCare front, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is the latest voice of sanity to pipe up. ABC News reports:

“I can tell you the situation has changed dramatically. And I think it’s a sweep across the country and I think that the (White House Economic Adviser) Larry Summers’s of the world have to see it, the administration has to see it and we have to see it. And therefore everything is jobs and the economy and education. People are worried about education,” she said.

“You see anger. People are worried. And when they’re worried they don’t want to take on a broad new responsibility,” like health care reform, she said.

Meanwhile, Republicans are assessing their opportunities and will put new pressure on incumbents who previously didn’t consider themselves vulnerable. Evan Bayh has had the luxury to vote with his liberal leadership while talking like a fiscal conservative back home. That may end. Hotline reports:

In the wake of winning MA, GOPers are looking to put 1 more state in play if they can convince House GOP Conference chair Mike Pence to run against Sen. Evan Bayh (R-IN). … The NRSC has polled IN, and their survey shows Pence in a competitive position, though he trails Bayh in initial matchups.

(I’m betting that polling will shift post-Brown as voters realize there are options to the status quo.)

Now maybe Feinstein can be sweet-talked by the White House into continuing on the ObamaCare jag. Maybe Bayh isn’t concerned about his re-election. But I doubt it. These are mature politicians who can read the election returns for themselves. The White House will have a tough time convincing them to pretend all is well and the only problem has been insufficient speed in passing a grossly unpopular health-care bill.

Nothing like a once-in-a-generation political upset to shake up incumbents, right? Two developments demonstrate that despite White House denial, the rest of the political establishment is taking stock and making adjustments.

On the defection-from-ObamaCare front, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is the latest voice of sanity to pipe up. ABC News reports:

“I can tell you the situation has changed dramatically. And I think it’s a sweep across the country and I think that the (White House Economic Adviser) Larry Summers’s of the world have to see it, the administration has to see it and we have to see it. And therefore everything is jobs and the economy and education. People are worried about education,” she said.

“You see anger. People are worried. And when they’re worried they don’t want to take on a broad new responsibility,” like health care reform, she said.

Meanwhile, Republicans are assessing their opportunities and will put new pressure on incumbents who previously didn’t consider themselves vulnerable. Evan Bayh has had the luxury to vote with his liberal leadership while talking like a fiscal conservative back home. That may end. Hotline reports:

In the wake of winning MA, GOPers are looking to put 1 more state in play if they can convince House GOP Conference chair Mike Pence to run against Sen. Evan Bayh (R-IN). … The NRSC has polled IN, and their survey shows Pence in a competitive position, though he trails Bayh in initial matchups.

(I’m betting that polling will shift post-Brown as voters realize there are options to the status quo.)

Now maybe Feinstein can be sweet-talked by the White House into continuing on the ObamaCare jag. Maybe Bayh isn’t concerned about his re-election. But I doubt it. These are mature politicians who can read the election returns for themselves. The White House will have a tough time convincing them to pretend all is well and the only problem has been insufficient speed in passing a grossly unpopular health-care bill.

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Not Even a Pause

You just wish they’d stop. Take a morning to think about it. Go talk to some congressmen. Go out to a few state party offices. Watch a day of Fox News. Learn something. But no, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs — certainly reflecting the president’s mindset — seem incapable of self-reflection. So they take to MSNBC (yeah, MSNBC, because far be it for them to venture from their cocoon) to insist that nothing has changed:

“There are messages here, we hear those messages but there is a tendency in this town … to over blow things even beyond their importance,” said David Axelrod, a top adviser to President Obama, on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown.”

Axelrod signaled that the White House is not giving up on health-care reform.

“He believes there is a real crisis,” Axelrod said. “He believes we have to deal with that crisis.”

“We also have to take into account what voters were saying yesterday. … We will take that into account and then decide how to move forward,” Axelrod said.

“But it’s not an option to walk away from a problem that’s only going to get worse.”

The only concession they would make is that there’s “anger” out there. Directed at them, of course. But they left that part out. As comical as conservatives might find this cluelessness, imagine what fellow Democrats are whispering to one another: “Do they really not get it?” “This is for show, right?” There must be a fair amount of panic among the rank and file.

The White House duo contend that the anger isn’t related to their enormously unpopular health-care bill but to the economy. That of course raises two problems (aside from the fact that it isn’t true). First, as Ben Smith notes, that new spin has tripped over the old spin: “They seem to have abandoned — or at least didn’t mention — the notion that fixing the health care system is related to fixing the economy.” And second, the economy is their responsibility, and as authors of a failed stimulus plan, that excuse really doesn’t help their cause in the long run.

You wonder just how oblivious they can be at the White House. After a few days of this, perhaps the light will dawn and they’ll realize how daft they sound denying reality and pretending they have a majority (either in Congress or the country) to continue full steam ahead. Maybe Obama needs to bring this to a vote and have his signature bill voted down. Or maybe he needs to lose the House and/or Senate in November before he wakes up. Then again, maybe being president isn’t all he thought it would be, and he’s content merely to have won and served one term. That’s sure how he’s behaving.

You just wish they’d stop. Take a morning to think about it. Go talk to some congressmen. Go out to a few state party offices. Watch a day of Fox News. Learn something. But no, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs — certainly reflecting the president’s mindset — seem incapable of self-reflection. So they take to MSNBC (yeah, MSNBC, because far be it for them to venture from their cocoon) to insist that nothing has changed:

“There are messages here, we hear those messages but there is a tendency in this town … to over blow things even beyond their importance,” said David Axelrod, a top adviser to President Obama, on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown.”

Axelrod signaled that the White House is not giving up on health-care reform.

“He believes there is a real crisis,” Axelrod said. “He believes we have to deal with that crisis.”

“We also have to take into account what voters were saying yesterday. … We will take that into account and then decide how to move forward,” Axelrod said.

“But it’s not an option to walk away from a problem that’s only going to get worse.”

The only concession they would make is that there’s “anger” out there. Directed at them, of course. But they left that part out. As comical as conservatives might find this cluelessness, imagine what fellow Democrats are whispering to one another: “Do they really not get it?” “This is for show, right?” There must be a fair amount of panic among the rank and file.

The White House duo contend that the anger isn’t related to their enormously unpopular health-care bill but to the economy. That of course raises two problems (aside from the fact that it isn’t true). First, as Ben Smith notes, that new spin has tripped over the old spin: “They seem to have abandoned — or at least didn’t mention — the notion that fixing the health care system is related to fixing the economy.” And second, the economy is their responsibility, and as authors of a failed stimulus plan, that excuse really doesn’t help their cause in the long run.

You wonder just how oblivious they can be at the White House. After a few days of this, perhaps the light will dawn and they’ll realize how daft they sound denying reality and pretending they have a majority (either in Congress or the country) to continue full steam ahead. Maybe Obama needs to bring this to a vote and have his signature bill voted down. Or maybe he needs to lose the House and/or Senate in November before he wakes up. Then again, maybe being president isn’t all he thought it would be, and he’s content merely to have won and served one term. That’s sure how he’s behaving.

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The Centrist Tug

As he marks a year in office, President Obama has to deal with plunging opinion polls, repeated rebuffs abroad from nations as diverse as Israel and Iran, and now the loss of a Senate seat in solidly Democratic Massachusetts — a result only slightly more surprising than if the residents of Mecca had converted to Catholicism. That last setback has put his signature legislative initiative, an overhaul of the health-care system, in the critical-care ward.

I differ from the general disenchantment with Obama only insofar as I was never that enchanted to begin with. Yet I am still glad in retrospect that he won. And not because I doubt that John McCain would have been a better president; I don’t. But if McCain had won, he would have faced a poisonous environment in Washington with embittered Democrats blocking his every initiative and castigating him as a Bush clone.

An overly long period in opposition can drive any political party to extremes. We saw it with Republicans in the 1990s. Many Republicans opposed well-justified interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo simply because they were “Clinton’s wars” and spent much of their time in ever-more-bizarre scandal-mongering regarding the occupant of the Oval Office. Democrats went even more overboard during the Bush years; some went so far as to accuse the president of usurping our liberties and starting wars for profit. Even the more respectable center of the Democratic Party gave vent to views that were often fantastically irresponsible. They seemed to believe that every foreign difficulty encountered by the U.S. was due to Bush’s truculence, and that a president who believed in “outreach” could somehow bring about a miraculous rapprochement with nations from Iran to Russia.

A year into the Obama presidency, those illusions are rapidly evaporating upon contact with reality. Democrats are learning that negotiations alone will not end the threat from rogue regimes and that no sales job can stop al-Qaeda from trying to kill us. President Obama has actually chosen in many areas, ranging from the Patriot Act to U.S. dealings with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, to continue Bush initiatives, sometimes providing more resources and acting more aggressively than Bush had done. (He has, for example, ordered more Predator strikes over Pakistan than Bush did.) In those areas where he has tried to carry out the biggest deviations from Bush policy — e.g., closing Gitmo and dealing with Tehran — he has met nothing but frustration and disappointment. Now we can most likely add health-care reform to the list of leftist failures in Obama’s first term. Wise Democrats realize that a more centrist course is needed to prevent Obama’s first term from becoming his only term.

This is exactly how our democracy is supposed to function. The result will be, I hope, a president and a party that emerge wiser and more responsible in their policy prescriptions than they had been during the years in the wilderness.

As he marks a year in office, President Obama has to deal with plunging opinion polls, repeated rebuffs abroad from nations as diverse as Israel and Iran, and now the loss of a Senate seat in solidly Democratic Massachusetts — a result only slightly more surprising than if the residents of Mecca had converted to Catholicism. That last setback has put his signature legislative initiative, an overhaul of the health-care system, in the critical-care ward.

I differ from the general disenchantment with Obama only insofar as I was never that enchanted to begin with. Yet I am still glad in retrospect that he won. And not because I doubt that John McCain would have been a better president; I don’t. But if McCain had won, he would have faced a poisonous environment in Washington with embittered Democrats blocking his every initiative and castigating him as a Bush clone.

An overly long period in opposition can drive any political party to extremes. We saw it with Republicans in the 1990s. Many Republicans opposed well-justified interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo simply because they were “Clinton’s wars” and spent much of their time in ever-more-bizarre scandal-mongering regarding the occupant of the Oval Office. Democrats went even more overboard during the Bush years; some went so far as to accuse the president of usurping our liberties and starting wars for profit. Even the more respectable center of the Democratic Party gave vent to views that were often fantastically irresponsible. They seemed to believe that every foreign difficulty encountered by the U.S. was due to Bush’s truculence, and that a president who believed in “outreach” could somehow bring about a miraculous rapprochement with nations from Iran to Russia.

A year into the Obama presidency, those illusions are rapidly evaporating upon contact with reality. Democrats are learning that negotiations alone will not end the threat from rogue regimes and that no sales job can stop al-Qaeda from trying to kill us. President Obama has actually chosen in many areas, ranging from the Patriot Act to U.S. dealings with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, to continue Bush initiatives, sometimes providing more resources and acting more aggressively than Bush had done. (He has, for example, ordered more Predator strikes over Pakistan than Bush did.) In those areas where he has tried to carry out the biggest deviations from Bush policy — e.g., closing Gitmo and dealing with Tehran — he has met nothing but frustration and disappointment. Now we can most likely add health-care reform to the list of leftist failures in Obama’s first term. Wise Democrats realize that a more centrist course is needed to prevent Obama’s first term from becoming his only term.

This is exactly how our democracy is supposed to function. The result will be, I hope, a president and a party that emerge wiser and more responsible in their policy prescriptions than they had been during the years in the wilderness.

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So Many Bad Deals

Harry Reid and the rest of the Democratic leadership thought themselves so very clever. A deal for Sen. Ben Nelson. Another for Big Labor. Some Gator-Aid to help Bill Nelson. And presto: they’d have health-care “reform.” But in doing so they gave Scott Brown and every other Republican a juicy target, which fused together many of the themes conservatives have raised: corruption, lack of transparency, statism, and simple unfairness. To get a sense of just how unpopular these deals are, take a look at the latest Rasmussen poll:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 33% of U.S. voters support enacting a significant excise tax on the most expensive health insurance plans provided by employers. … To keep union support for the overall health care plan, President Obama and Democratic leaders agreed last week to exempt union members from the tax for five years and modify it in other ways so they don’t pay as much. Voters really frown on that action. Only 27% support the excise tax if it exempts union members, while 70% are opposed. But even more significantly, if the union members are exempt 11% Strongly Support the tax while 51% Strongly Oppose it.

In short, in an effort to pass an unpalatable bill, the Democrats have made it — and themselves — more unpalatable to the voters. (Rasmussen reminds us: “Voters generally are unhappy with special deals for favored groups. In December, Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson gained concessions for his home state in exchange for his vote to keep the health care legislation alive. Just 17% of Nebraska voters approved of his action.”) Last night Scott Brown proclaimed:

This bill is not being debated openly and fairly. It will raise taxes, hurt Medicare, destroy jobs, and run our nation deeper into debt. It is not in the interest of our state or country – we can do better. When in Washington, I will work in the Senate with Democrats and Republicans to reform health care in an open and honest way. No more closed-door meetings or back room deals by an out of touch party leadership. No more hiding costs, concealing taxes, collaborating with special interests, and leaving more trillions in debt for our children to pay.

That’s a message many candidates will sound this year. Democrats will need to scramble to dump those deals before angry voters run them over — and out of office.

Harry Reid and the rest of the Democratic leadership thought themselves so very clever. A deal for Sen. Ben Nelson. Another for Big Labor. Some Gator-Aid to help Bill Nelson. And presto: they’d have health-care “reform.” But in doing so they gave Scott Brown and every other Republican a juicy target, which fused together many of the themes conservatives have raised: corruption, lack of transparency, statism, and simple unfairness. To get a sense of just how unpopular these deals are, take a look at the latest Rasmussen poll:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 33% of U.S. voters support enacting a significant excise tax on the most expensive health insurance plans provided by employers. … To keep union support for the overall health care plan, President Obama and Democratic leaders agreed last week to exempt union members from the tax for five years and modify it in other ways so they don’t pay as much. Voters really frown on that action. Only 27% support the excise tax if it exempts union members, while 70% are opposed. But even more significantly, if the union members are exempt 11% Strongly Support the tax while 51% Strongly Oppose it.

In short, in an effort to pass an unpalatable bill, the Democrats have made it — and themselves — more unpalatable to the voters. (Rasmussen reminds us: “Voters generally are unhappy with special deals for favored groups. In December, Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson gained concessions for his home state in exchange for his vote to keep the health care legislation alive. Just 17% of Nebraska voters approved of his action.”) Last night Scott Brown proclaimed:

This bill is not being debated openly and fairly. It will raise taxes, hurt Medicare, destroy jobs, and run our nation deeper into debt. It is not in the interest of our state or country – we can do better. When in Washington, I will work in the Senate with Democrats and Republicans to reform health care in an open and honest way. No more closed-door meetings or back room deals by an out of touch party leadership. No more hiding costs, concealing taxes, collaborating with special interests, and leaving more trillions in debt for our children to pay.

That’s a message many candidates will sound this year. Democrats will need to scramble to dump those deals before angry voters run them over — and out of office.

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RE: Time to Clean House

Dana Milbank reminds me that there’s another White House aide who deserves to be shown the door: the ever-snide Robert Gibbs. Milbank explains:

Gibbs acts as though he’s playing himself in the movie version of his job. In this imaginary film, he is the smart-alecky press secretary, offering zippy comebacks and cracking jokes to make his questioners look ridiculous. It’s no great feat to make reporters look bad, but this act also sends a televised image of a cocksure White House to ordinary Americans watching at home.

This is the most visible manifestation of a larger problem the Obama White House has. Many Obama loyalists from the 2008 race still seem, after a year on the job, to be having trouble exiting campaign mode. They sometimes appear to be running a taxpayer-funded rapid-response operation.

Sometimes? We’ve been treated to attacks from Gibbs on Fox, Gallup, radio talk-show hosts, and CNBC reporters. As Milbank describes, he waves off reporters’ legitimate inquiries with the back of his hand — the perfect metaphor for the contempt with which this White House treats critics. A case in point of the abject rudeness that Gibbs displays:

The press secretary drummed a bah-dum-bum on the lectern. [CBS’s Chip] Reid ignored the percussion and asked whether the “groundswell of support for a Republican in the blue state of Massachusetts for a candidate who’s running against the president’s agenda” meant that “the White House has simply lost touch with the American people.”

Gibbs gave another dismissive wave and cited a CBS News poll that wasn’t about Massachusetts.

“Good diversion,” Reid replied.

“I hate to quote CBS to CBS,” Gibbs continued with a grin.

Funny, huh? No, not really. The Obama team has brought its style of Chicago politics — nontransparent, corrupt, undemocratic, and bullying — to Washington. It makes no effort to conceal it; instead it showcases it every day from the White House press room. Gibbs in that regard is the perfect face for the Obama White House — arrogant and just plain boorish.

So if Obama is looking to turn over a new leaf — and it’s not sure that he is — or even if he wants to present a more appealing image to the voters, he’d do well to dump Gibbs. There have been some pretty good Democratic press secretaries (Mike McCurry among the best), so they should be able to come up with another mouthpiece. The message is a different problem, but the least they can do is find a less obnoxious messenger.

Dana Milbank reminds me that there’s another White House aide who deserves to be shown the door: the ever-snide Robert Gibbs. Milbank explains:

Gibbs acts as though he’s playing himself in the movie version of his job. In this imaginary film, he is the smart-alecky press secretary, offering zippy comebacks and cracking jokes to make his questioners look ridiculous. It’s no great feat to make reporters look bad, but this act also sends a televised image of a cocksure White House to ordinary Americans watching at home.

This is the most visible manifestation of a larger problem the Obama White House has. Many Obama loyalists from the 2008 race still seem, after a year on the job, to be having trouble exiting campaign mode. They sometimes appear to be running a taxpayer-funded rapid-response operation.

Sometimes? We’ve been treated to attacks from Gibbs on Fox, Gallup, radio talk-show hosts, and CNBC reporters. As Milbank describes, he waves off reporters’ legitimate inquiries with the back of his hand — the perfect metaphor for the contempt with which this White House treats critics. A case in point of the abject rudeness that Gibbs displays:

The press secretary drummed a bah-dum-bum on the lectern. [CBS’s Chip] Reid ignored the percussion and asked whether the “groundswell of support for a Republican in the blue state of Massachusetts for a candidate who’s running against the president’s agenda” meant that “the White House has simply lost touch with the American people.”

Gibbs gave another dismissive wave and cited a CBS News poll that wasn’t about Massachusetts.

“Good diversion,” Reid replied.

“I hate to quote CBS to CBS,” Gibbs continued with a grin.

Funny, huh? No, not really. The Obama team has brought its style of Chicago politics — nontransparent, corrupt, undemocratic, and bullying — to Washington. It makes no effort to conceal it; instead it showcases it every day from the White House press room. Gibbs in that regard is the perfect face for the Obama White House — arrogant and just plain boorish.

So if Obama is looking to turn over a new leaf — and it’s not sure that he is — or even if he wants to present a more appealing image to the voters, he’d do well to dump Gibbs. There have been some pretty good Democratic press secretaries (Mike McCurry among the best), so they should be able to come up with another mouthpiece. The message is a different problem, but the least they can do is find a less obnoxious messenger.

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In Big Trouble

John Judis at the New Republic doesn’t mince words:

Bill Clinton didn’t know he was in big trouble until the very eve of the November 1994 election. Barack Obama knows now, barely a year into his presidency. While the party loyalists can blame Martha Coakley’s defeat on her ignorance of Red Sox baseball, it was clearly a message to the president and his party. Yes, a less inept candidate might have beaten Scott Brown, but if Obama and his program had been more popular in Massachusetts, even Coakley could have won–and by ten points or more.

He makes a smart observation that most liberals refuse to recognize: it’s the substance of the health-care bill and the backroom dealings that have driven the enthusiasm gap on the other side and dispirited Obama’s own base:

Obama’s health care plan has provoked a combination of right-wing and left-wing populism. The middle class and senior citizens see it as a program that taxes and takes benefits away from them in order to help those without insurance–the out groups–and to enrich the insurance companies themselves. They didn’t invent this perception out of thin air: It derived in part from the plan to tax “Cadillac” health care plans (which are sometimes held by unionized middle class workers), penalize workers who don’t buy insurance, and cut future Medicare spending, while providing new subscribers and profits for the insurance companies. Undoubtedly, the prior perception of Obama’s financial policies reinforced these suspicions about his health care plan, which is now as unpopular as the bank bailout.

Oblivious White House spinners and equally dense lefty bloggers keep insisting that the answer is “More of the same!” But there’s a price to be paid for rushing through behind closed doors a bill so atrocious that it has brought together Jane Hamsher and Bill Kristol, the Nation and National Review, and other political odd couples.

Judis connects the health-care debacle to a more fundamental failing of Obama: his inability to speak to and connect with Middle America. Really, how could a Democratic president push for a bill in which middle-class Americans are required under threat of prosecution to buy expensive health-care policies they don’t want from Big Insurance? We got there because Obama never put forth a coherent plan for what he wanted, and the bill that emerged was the remnants, the lowest common denominator, of what remained after the Senate had discounted the views of Republicans and given up on the pipe dream of the Left (i.e., the public option). The White House convinced itself that middle-class voters were dupes and fools who would celebrate this awful legislation.

Instead, Obama’s sloth (or was it lack of skill and know-how?) in ceding his key policy initiative to the Congress and his contempt for the intelligence of voters — who were expected to be “sold” on a bill so bad that it required closed-door bribery to pass — has cost him dearly. Judis is right: Obama is in big trouble, as are his Democratic allies in Congress. (How long before Harry Reid announces his retirement?) Martha Coakley was a victim, not the cause, of the debacle last night. Had Obama not mishandled a once-in-a-lifetime political opportunity, she’d be heading to the Senate.

John Judis at the New Republic doesn’t mince words:

Bill Clinton didn’t know he was in big trouble until the very eve of the November 1994 election. Barack Obama knows now, barely a year into his presidency. While the party loyalists can blame Martha Coakley’s defeat on her ignorance of Red Sox baseball, it was clearly a message to the president and his party. Yes, a less inept candidate might have beaten Scott Brown, but if Obama and his program had been more popular in Massachusetts, even Coakley could have won–and by ten points or more.

He makes a smart observation that most liberals refuse to recognize: it’s the substance of the health-care bill and the backroom dealings that have driven the enthusiasm gap on the other side and dispirited Obama’s own base:

Obama’s health care plan has provoked a combination of right-wing and left-wing populism. The middle class and senior citizens see it as a program that taxes and takes benefits away from them in order to help those without insurance–the out groups–and to enrich the insurance companies themselves. They didn’t invent this perception out of thin air: It derived in part from the plan to tax “Cadillac” health care plans (which are sometimes held by unionized middle class workers), penalize workers who don’t buy insurance, and cut future Medicare spending, while providing new subscribers and profits for the insurance companies. Undoubtedly, the prior perception of Obama’s financial policies reinforced these suspicions about his health care plan, which is now as unpopular as the bank bailout.

Oblivious White House spinners and equally dense lefty bloggers keep insisting that the answer is “More of the same!” But there’s a price to be paid for rushing through behind closed doors a bill so atrocious that it has brought together Jane Hamsher and Bill Kristol, the Nation and National Review, and other political odd couples.

Judis connects the health-care debacle to a more fundamental failing of Obama: his inability to speak to and connect with Middle America. Really, how could a Democratic president push for a bill in which middle-class Americans are required under threat of prosecution to buy expensive health-care policies they don’t want from Big Insurance? We got there because Obama never put forth a coherent plan for what he wanted, and the bill that emerged was the remnants, the lowest common denominator, of what remained after the Senate had discounted the views of Republicans and given up on the pipe dream of the Left (i.e., the public option). The White House convinced itself that middle-class voters were dupes and fools who would celebrate this awful legislation.

Instead, Obama’s sloth (or was it lack of skill and know-how?) in ceding his key policy initiative to the Congress and his contempt for the intelligence of voters — who were expected to be “sold” on a bill so bad that it required closed-door bribery to pass — has cost him dearly. Judis is right: Obama is in big trouble, as are his Democratic allies in Congress. (How long before Harry Reid announces his retirement?) Martha Coakley was a victim, not the cause, of the debacle last night. Had Obama not mishandled a once-in-a-lifetime political opportunity, she’d be heading to the Senate.

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If You Lose Barney Frank. . .

At some point, the saner Democrats have to call a halt to the Obami’s march over the political … what was it? Ah, yes … precipice. That it came less than 12 hours after the Massachusetts Senate vote and from a liberal stalwart like Barney Frank is the only mild surprise. He declares ObamaCare kaput. Hotline reports:

“I think the measure that would have passed, that is, some compromise between the House and Senate bill, which I would have voted for, although there were some aspects of both bills I would have liked to see change, I think that’s dead,” Frank said in an interview Wednesday morning on Sirius-XM Radio. “It is certainly the case that the bill that would have passed, a compromise between the House and Senate bills, isn’t going to pass, in my judgment, and certainly shouldn’t. … I know some of my Democratic colleagues had been thinking about ways to, in effect, get around the results by working in various parliamentary ways, looking at the rules, trying to get a health care bill passed that would have been the same bill that would have passed if [MA AG] Martha Coakley [D] had won, and I think that’s a mistake,” Frank said. “I will not support an effort to push through a House-Senate compromise bill despite an election. I’m disappointed in how it came out, but I think electoral results have to be respected.”

We are going to have a full week of this, and pushback from liberals, followed by counter-pushback from scared moderates before the State of the Union. By then the table will have been set and a new reality will have taken hold. Obama seems a bystander once again. He’s no longer shaping events or in command of his party. It’s every lawmaker for himself. And given Frank’s long track record in Democratic politics and talent for political survival (he’s escaped more than one near political death experience), I suspect that fellow Democrats are going to be far more inclined to listen to his advice than to Obama’s.

UPDATE: Frank has company, according to this report:

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) told a local reporter “it’s probably back to the drawing board on health care, which is unfortunate.” Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) told MSNBC this morning he will advise Democratic leaders to scrap the big bill and move small, more popular pieces that can attract Republicans. And Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said his leadership is “whistling past the graveyard” if they think Brown’s win won’t force a rethinking of the health care plan.

At some point, the saner Democrats have to call a halt to the Obami’s march over the political … what was it? Ah, yes … precipice. That it came less than 12 hours after the Massachusetts Senate vote and from a liberal stalwart like Barney Frank is the only mild surprise. He declares ObamaCare kaput. Hotline reports:

“I think the measure that would have passed, that is, some compromise between the House and Senate bill, which I would have voted for, although there were some aspects of both bills I would have liked to see change, I think that’s dead,” Frank said in an interview Wednesday morning on Sirius-XM Radio. “It is certainly the case that the bill that would have passed, a compromise between the House and Senate bills, isn’t going to pass, in my judgment, and certainly shouldn’t. … I know some of my Democratic colleagues had been thinking about ways to, in effect, get around the results by working in various parliamentary ways, looking at the rules, trying to get a health care bill passed that would have been the same bill that would have passed if [MA AG] Martha Coakley [D] had won, and I think that’s a mistake,” Frank said. “I will not support an effort to push through a House-Senate compromise bill despite an election. I’m disappointed in how it came out, but I think electoral results have to be respected.”

We are going to have a full week of this, and pushback from liberals, followed by counter-pushback from scared moderates before the State of the Union. By then the table will have been set and a new reality will have taken hold. Obama seems a bystander once again. He’s no longer shaping events or in command of his party. It’s every lawmaker for himself. And given Frank’s long track record in Democratic politics and talent for political survival (he’s escaped more than one near political death experience), I suspect that fellow Democrats are going to be far more inclined to listen to his advice than to Obama’s.

UPDATE: Frank has company, according to this report:

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) told a local reporter “it’s probably back to the drawing board on health care, which is unfortunate.” Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) told MSNBC this morning he will advise Democratic leaders to scrap the big bill and move small, more popular pieces that can attract Republicans. And Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said his leadership is “whistling past the graveyard” if they think Brown’s win won’t force a rethinking of the health care plan.

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Securing Kabul

The Economist, seemingly alone among the MSM, gets it about the terrorist attack in Kabul. It writes:

Mr Karzai can feel some pride in the performance of the police, army and various counter-terror units. The insurgents have shown an undimmed ability to launch attacks in the city, but at least local security forces responded quickly and efficiently, no doubt limiting the death toll. A few soldiers from NATO did join in the fray, but the bulk of the response was local because Afghan forces now have direct responsibility for guarding the capital. …

Security officials were helped by intelligence which suggested that a plot was imminent. Guards at the central bank opened fire on a man whom they correctly identified as a suicide bomber, before he could get inside. Later in the day guards at a checkpoint stopped a bomber who was driving an ambulance full of explosives. Kabul police moved quickly to block roads across swathes of the city. Soon after the attacks began the main thoroughfares and shopping districts were boarded up and people headed to safe areas on the edge of town.

Although the latest attack reinforces the fears of residents in Kabul, it at least suggests that militants are finding it harder to strike official targets.

I think that’s right: the outcome of the attacks was not good news for the Haqqani Network and the Taliban — except, of course, for the propaganda points they scored. Still, despite the relatively benign outcome of what could have been a much more horrific attack, there is still a need for Afghanistan to do more to “harden” its capital and other areas against terrorist attacks, in much the same way that Israel, Iraq, and other countries that face a high degree of threat have done. Such precautions are by no means foolproof; Baghdad, in particular, has seen a few terrible al-Qaeda bombings in recent months that are much worse than anything that has occurred in Kabul. If not for all the concrete barriers and checkpoints that have gone up in Baghdad in recent years, such attacks would be much more frequent and even more severe. Kabul hasn’t faced as severe a threat, so not as much has been done to secure it, but that needs to change.

The Economist, seemingly alone among the MSM, gets it about the terrorist attack in Kabul. It writes:

Mr Karzai can feel some pride in the performance of the police, army and various counter-terror units. The insurgents have shown an undimmed ability to launch attacks in the city, but at least local security forces responded quickly and efficiently, no doubt limiting the death toll. A few soldiers from NATO did join in the fray, but the bulk of the response was local because Afghan forces now have direct responsibility for guarding the capital. …

Security officials were helped by intelligence which suggested that a plot was imminent. Guards at the central bank opened fire on a man whom they correctly identified as a suicide bomber, before he could get inside. Later in the day guards at a checkpoint stopped a bomber who was driving an ambulance full of explosives. Kabul police moved quickly to block roads across swathes of the city. Soon after the attacks began the main thoroughfares and shopping districts were boarded up and people headed to safe areas on the edge of town.

Although the latest attack reinforces the fears of residents in Kabul, it at least suggests that militants are finding it harder to strike official targets.

I think that’s right: the outcome of the attacks was not good news for the Haqqani Network and the Taliban — except, of course, for the propaganda points they scored. Still, despite the relatively benign outcome of what could have been a much more horrific attack, there is still a need for Afghanistan to do more to “harden” its capital and other areas against terrorist attacks, in much the same way that Israel, Iraq, and other countries that face a high degree of threat have done. Such precautions are by no means foolproof; Baghdad, in particular, has seen a few terrible al-Qaeda bombings in recent months that are much worse than anything that has occurred in Kabul. If not for all the concrete barriers and checkpoints that have gone up in Baghdad in recent years, such attacks would be much more frequent and even more severe. Kabul hasn’t faced as severe a threat, so not as much has been done to secure it, but that needs to change.

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The Virtues of Leaving Well Enough Alone

Among the many lessons to be learned from yesterday’s election in Massachusetts is that politicians should not play games with established law for short-term political advantage.

Like most states, Massachusetts law called for the governor to appoint someone to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat until the next general election. But in 2004, Republican Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, and Democratic Senator John Kerry was running for president. To prevent Romney from appointing a Republican in the event of a Kerry victory, a bill was submitted to the General Court (as Massachusetts calls its legislature) to strip the governor of this power and require a special election to be held from 145 to 160 days after the seat became vacant. The bill stalled in the legislature, however, until Senator Ted Kennedy personally pushed for its passage. Governor Romney vetoed the bill, but his veto was overridden by the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.

Kerry, of course, lost the election, so the only result of this maneuvering was to diminish whatever public respect there was for the political establishment in Massachusetts. Then in 2009, Senator Kennedy, dying of cancer, asked that the law be changed again to allow the appointment of an interim senator (by the now Democratic governor, Deval Patrick) until the special election was held. President Obama endorsed the effort to be sure of having the votes in the Senate to push through his health-care legislation.

But by the time the special election was nearing, the wheeling and dealing in the Senate had so disgusted Massachusetts voters that the sacrificial lamb nominated by the Republicans began to look like a political tiger. More wheeling and dealing in the White House to secure union support for a final bill further disgusted the electorate and that — together with a very good campaign by the Republican and a lousy one by the Democrat — was enough to put Scott Brown in the seat held by the Kennedy family (or its surrogates) since before Scott Brown was born.

Had the Massachusetts Democrats and Senator Kennedy simply left the law alone in 2004, this election would not have taken place, and the Democrats’ 60-seat majority in the Senate would still be intact. Had the Massachusetts Democrats, Senator Kennedy, and President Obama left the law alone in 2009, the Senate would have been forced to bargain with Republicans to secure passage of the health-care bill. A bill might have emerged that would have had more public support, and the president and the Democrats might have escaped an epic political disaster.

Among the many lessons to be learned from yesterday’s election in Massachusetts is that politicians should not play games with established law for short-term political advantage.

Like most states, Massachusetts law called for the governor to appoint someone to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat until the next general election. But in 2004, Republican Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, and Democratic Senator John Kerry was running for president. To prevent Romney from appointing a Republican in the event of a Kerry victory, a bill was submitted to the General Court (as Massachusetts calls its legislature) to strip the governor of this power and require a special election to be held from 145 to 160 days after the seat became vacant. The bill stalled in the legislature, however, until Senator Ted Kennedy personally pushed for its passage. Governor Romney vetoed the bill, but his veto was overridden by the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.

Kerry, of course, lost the election, so the only result of this maneuvering was to diminish whatever public respect there was for the political establishment in Massachusetts. Then in 2009, Senator Kennedy, dying of cancer, asked that the law be changed again to allow the appointment of an interim senator (by the now Democratic governor, Deval Patrick) until the special election was held. President Obama endorsed the effort to be sure of having the votes in the Senate to push through his health-care legislation.

But by the time the special election was nearing, the wheeling and dealing in the Senate had so disgusted Massachusetts voters that the sacrificial lamb nominated by the Republicans began to look like a political tiger. More wheeling and dealing in the White House to secure union support for a final bill further disgusted the electorate and that — together with a very good campaign by the Republican and a lousy one by the Democrat — was enough to put Scott Brown in the seat held by the Kennedy family (or its surrogates) since before Scott Brown was born.

Had the Massachusetts Democrats and Senator Kennedy simply left the law alone in 2004, this election would not have taken place, and the Democrats’ 60-seat majority in the Senate would still be intact. Had the Massachusetts Democrats, Senator Kennedy, and President Obama left the law alone in 2009, the Senate would have been forced to bargain with Republicans to secure passage of the health-care bill. A bill might have emerged that would have had more public support, and the president and the Democrats might have escaped an epic political disaster.

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Brown Gives the GOP Its Message

Scott Brown’s victory speech was a bit long. Other than that, it was as close as one can get to a political home run. For those who hadn’t seen or heard him, they probably thought to themselves, “Who is this guy?” Well, aside from the hero of the Right, he’s a very talented politician. He showed some style, humor, and the ability to connect with the crowd. But he (and/or his political staff) also has a key talent: the ability to take big ideas and boil them down to their essential elements. Let’s face it, campaigns may be grounded in well-developed policy proposals, but they are conducted in punchy and memorable phrases.

In addition to distilling the national-security message for conservatives, Brown provided a handy slogan for challengers in 2010:

Raising taxes, taking over our health care, and giving new rights to terrorists is the agenda of a new establishment in Washington.

It has the benefit of being true, getting to the nub of voters’ complaints, and focusing on the biggest issues that unite the Center-Right coalition. The chattering class is obsessed with forcing Republicans to develop a message other than “no.” But “no” is working very well, and “no” won back the House for the Democrats in 2006. And “no” is easily translated into positive policy statements: lower taxes (don’t raise them), create market solutions for health care (don’t allow the government to run it), and prosecute the war against Islamic fundamentalists robustly (don’t give the lefty lawyers at the Justice Department the final say). Certainly, there are other issues Republicans will run on — spending and the debt, for example — but they could do a lot worse than to follow Brown’s lead. He did, after all, figure out how to win a state the GOP lost by 25 points just a year ago.

Scott Brown’s victory speech was a bit long. Other than that, it was as close as one can get to a political home run. For those who hadn’t seen or heard him, they probably thought to themselves, “Who is this guy?” Well, aside from the hero of the Right, he’s a very talented politician. He showed some style, humor, and the ability to connect with the crowd. But he (and/or his political staff) also has a key talent: the ability to take big ideas and boil them down to their essential elements. Let’s face it, campaigns may be grounded in well-developed policy proposals, but they are conducted in punchy and memorable phrases.

In addition to distilling the national-security message for conservatives, Brown provided a handy slogan for challengers in 2010:

Raising taxes, taking over our health care, and giving new rights to terrorists is the agenda of a new establishment in Washington.

It has the benefit of being true, getting to the nub of voters’ complaints, and focusing on the biggest issues that unite the Center-Right coalition. The chattering class is obsessed with forcing Republicans to develop a message other than “no.” But “no” is working very well, and “no” won back the House for the Democrats in 2006. And “no” is easily translated into positive policy statements: lower taxes (don’t raise them), create market solutions for health care (don’t allow the government to run it), and prosecute the war against Islamic fundamentalists robustly (don’t give the lefty lawyers at the Justice Department the final say). Certainly, there are other issues Republicans will run on — spending and the debt, for example — but they could do a lot worse than to follow Brown’s lead. He did, after all, figure out how to win a state the GOP lost by 25 points just a year ago.

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Fresh Faces

When a party loses a presidential election and suffers a wipeout in the Senate and the House, as the GOP did in 2008, there is, in addition to concerns about ideology, demographics, and message, a concern about where the next round of political talent will come from. But this is the most easily solved of a losing party’s dilemmas. After John Kerry lost in 2004, there was a Barack Obama. And after 2008, there are now lots and lots of viable, fresh Republican faces.

Matt Continetti spotted what I did last night — a new political rock star in Scott Brown. But he’s also right that “Brown is not alone. Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie are both fresh, likable conservatives who ran reform campaigns aimed at independent voters. In Florida, Marco Rubio is moving steadily toward victory while campaigning on similar themes. Who knows what talents will emerge in the years ahead.” The benefit of a wipeout loss is that old faces are swept from the scene and there’s room for the next generation of talent to emerge.

All these candidates — Brown, McDonnell, Christie, and Rubio defied the pundits who urged the Republicans to deploy a mushy centrism. Each of them ran conservative-themed campaigns aimed directly at the Democrats’ excesses. Nor do these figures seem bedeviled by some mythical “civil war” in conservative ranks. They’ve gathered support from Republican-establishment types and Tea Party protesters — not to mention a chunk of disaffected independent voters. None is tainted by a Washington D.C. connection (one was a U.S. attorney, the others were all state office holders). And they all have solid retail political skills and a good TV presence.

Once again, the pundits were proved wrong. There is no shortage of conservative talent out there. What those conservative up-and-comers needed was an opening to emerge on the national stage. They all found that opening a mere year into the era of the “permanent Democratic majority” — which, like so much else the chattering class has concocted, seems like a very silly notion now.

When a party loses a presidential election and suffers a wipeout in the Senate and the House, as the GOP did in 2008, there is, in addition to concerns about ideology, demographics, and message, a concern about where the next round of political talent will come from. But this is the most easily solved of a losing party’s dilemmas. After John Kerry lost in 2004, there was a Barack Obama. And after 2008, there are now lots and lots of viable, fresh Republican faces.

Matt Continetti spotted what I did last night — a new political rock star in Scott Brown. But he’s also right that “Brown is not alone. Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie are both fresh, likable conservatives who ran reform campaigns aimed at independent voters. In Florida, Marco Rubio is moving steadily toward victory while campaigning on similar themes. Who knows what talents will emerge in the years ahead.” The benefit of a wipeout loss is that old faces are swept from the scene and there’s room for the next generation of talent to emerge.

All these candidates — Brown, McDonnell, Christie, and Rubio defied the pundits who urged the Republicans to deploy a mushy centrism. Each of them ran conservative-themed campaigns aimed directly at the Democrats’ excesses. Nor do these figures seem bedeviled by some mythical “civil war” in conservative ranks. They’ve gathered support from Republican-establishment types and Tea Party protesters — not to mention a chunk of disaffected independent voters. None is tainted by a Washington D.C. connection (one was a U.S. attorney, the others were all state office holders). And they all have solid retail political skills and a good TV presence.

Once again, the pundits were proved wrong. There is no shortage of conservative talent out there. What those conservative up-and-comers needed was an opening to emerge on the national stage. They all found that opening a mere year into the era of the “permanent Democratic majority” — which, like so much else the chattering class has concocted, seems like a very silly notion now.

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Crying Sexism

A duo of female reporters for Politico are convinced that the rest of us are ignoring the real meaning in the Massachusetts race: “a glass ceiling that remains almost impenetrable, even in the blue state of Massachusetts.” You see, there’s a devious “double standard that some longtime women’s advocates see in the success of Republican Scott Brown, whose college-aged centerfold and lesser professional success didn’t prevent him from capturing Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat from the Democrats.” And this cursed sexism really just exists in Massachusetts, mind you. Sexism is no problem in “nearby Maine, where both senators are women.”

Oh, puhleez. This sort of woe is me/her is getting old. The indifference to all other political facts and phenomena in order to play the gender victim card is tiresome. There is of course no real evidence of this sexism. Nor does anyone think Coakley actually deserved to win. In fact, the reporters say that Coakley’s gender worked to her advantage in the primary and that gender really didn’t come up in the race. The best the duo can come up with is one female Boston Herald columnist who made some cracks, a Teamster boss who wouldn’t vote “for a broad,” one crude comment by someone in the crowd at one Brown rally, and some Internet commenters. That’s it.

There are plenty of legitimate theories to explain the results in Massachusetts. Sexism isn’t one of them, however. The reporters only embarrass themselves and their publication by crying sexism with nothing to back it up. It’s the Keith Olbermann style of “news” — non-news really. Olbermann last night pretended to apologize for calling Scott Brown “an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, tea-bagging supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees.” He added: “I’m sorry I left out the word ‘sexist.'” He then simply dared his audience to disprove his baseless slurs.

This seems now to be the operating standard for much of what passes for “journalism” — make a slur, repeat it, offer no proof, and challenge the targets to defend themselves. We’ve come to expect that of MSNBC, but MSNBC’s less loony journalistic colleagues should resist the temptation to follow in the netroot network’s footsteps.

A duo of female reporters for Politico are convinced that the rest of us are ignoring the real meaning in the Massachusetts race: “a glass ceiling that remains almost impenetrable, even in the blue state of Massachusetts.” You see, there’s a devious “double standard that some longtime women’s advocates see in the success of Republican Scott Brown, whose college-aged centerfold and lesser professional success didn’t prevent him from capturing Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat from the Democrats.” And this cursed sexism really just exists in Massachusetts, mind you. Sexism is no problem in “nearby Maine, where both senators are women.”

Oh, puhleez. This sort of woe is me/her is getting old. The indifference to all other political facts and phenomena in order to play the gender victim card is tiresome. There is of course no real evidence of this sexism. Nor does anyone think Coakley actually deserved to win. In fact, the reporters say that Coakley’s gender worked to her advantage in the primary and that gender really didn’t come up in the race. The best the duo can come up with is one female Boston Herald columnist who made some cracks, a Teamster boss who wouldn’t vote “for a broad,” one crude comment by someone in the crowd at one Brown rally, and some Internet commenters. That’s it.

There are plenty of legitimate theories to explain the results in Massachusetts. Sexism isn’t one of them, however. The reporters only embarrass themselves and their publication by crying sexism with nothing to back it up. It’s the Keith Olbermann style of “news” — non-news really. Olbermann last night pretended to apologize for calling Scott Brown “an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, tea-bagging supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees.” He added: “I’m sorry I left out the word ‘sexist.'” He then simply dared his audience to disprove his baseless slurs.

This seems now to be the operating standard for much of what passes for “journalism” — make a slur, repeat it, offer no proof, and challenge the targets to defend themselves. We’ve come to expect that of MSNBC, but MSNBC’s less loony journalistic colleagues should resist the temptation to follow in the netroot network’s footsteps.

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Time for Change

If you think we’ve been tough on Obama around here, take a look at Mort Zuckerman’s blast at Obama in his piece entitled “He’s Done Everything Wrong”:

He’s misjudged the character of the country in his whole approach. There’s the saying, “It’s the economy, stupid.” He didn’t get it. He was determined somehow or other to adopt a whole new agenda. He didn’t address the main issue.

This health-care plan is going to be a fiscal disaster for the country. Most of the country wanted to deal with costs, not expansion of coverage. This is going to raise costs dramatically.

In the campaign, he said he would change politics as usual. He did change them. It’s now worse than it was. I’ve now seen the kind of buying off of politicians that I’ve never seen before. It’s politically corrupt and it’s starting at the top. It’s revolting.

The corruption he is referring to is the Cash for Cloture deals, of course. (“Five states got deals on health care—one of them was Harry Reid’s. It is disgusting, just disgusting.”) He doesn’t like the union deal on Cadillac health plans either. Then there’s Obama’s inability to connect with voters — a combination of overexposure and remoteness. (Hard to pull off, I know.) Okay, he’s didn’t do everything wrong — just the “major things.” Read More

If you think we’ve been tough on Obama around here, take a look at Mort Zuckerman’s blast at Obama in his piece entitled “He’s Done Everything Wrong”:

He’s misjudged the character of the country in his whole approach. There’s the saying, “It’s the economy, stupid.” He didn’t get it. He was determined somehow or other to adopt a whole new agenda. He didn’t address the main issue.

This health-care plan is going to be a fiscal disaster for the country. Most of the country wanted to deal with costs, not expansion of coverage. This is going to raise costs dramatically.

In the campaign, he said he would change politics as usual. He did change them. It’s now worse than it was. I’ve now seen the kind of buying off of politicians that I’ve never seen before. It’s politically corrupt and it’s starting at the top. It’s revolting.

The corruption he is referring to is the Cash for Cloture deals, of course. (“Five states got deals on health care—one of them was Harry Reid’s. It is disgusting, just disgusting.”) He doesn’t like the union deal on Cadillac health plans either. Then there’s Obama’s inability to connect with voters — a combination of overexposure and remoteness. (Hard to pull off, I know.) Okay, he’s didn’t do everything wrong — just the “major things.”

Zuckerman doesn’t bother detailing the long list of foreign-policy screwups — the failed Middle East gambit, dumping on our allies in the Czech Republic and Poland, frittering away a year on “engaging” Iran, the appallingly disengaged reaction to three domestic Islamic jihadist attacks, etc. Zuckerman gives Obama credit for “improving our image” in the world, but then explains:

Let me tell you what a major leader said to me recently. “We are convinced,” he said, “that he is not strong enough to confront his enemy. We are concerned,” he said “that he is not strong to support his friends.”

And Zuckerman warns that, at this rate, Obama will be a one-term president and “succeed” only in reviving the GOP.

Aside from the helpful catalog of Obama’s blunders, Zuckerman captures the amazement and disappointment that much of the chattering class must be experiencing. Their political messiah has been revealed as not only human but as a rather incompetent and foolish one. The political superstar has become a Jimmy Carter-esque figure from whom members of his party will now have to distance themselves to survive.

Conservatives shake their heads in disbelief that the media mavens are shocked, shocked to find that Obama is less than meets the eye. They snicker that only now is there some recognition that Obama was adept at winning but lacks both a reasonable governing philosophy and the executive skills to excel in the job. Conservatives spent an entire election trying to point out Obama’s lack of experience and his leftist bent. They warned and researched and sounded the alarm. But the media spinners, like so many Americans, wanted to believe that Obama was a politician like no other and that they had latched onto a superhuman figure of extraordinary political skill. They were wrong.

So what happens now? The choice, we hear, is between doubling-down or reversing course. But there are also the competency and connectivity issues. How does Obama suddenly learn to govern and take back the reins from the Reid-Pelosi machine? (And really, what’s the point if he hands it to the Emanuel-Axelrod machine?) And then how does he transform his personality? It’s quite an uphill climb, and it’s tempting to write him off and to declare game, set, and match. But other presidents have come back and revived their presidencies; this one just has a deeper hole (dug more swiftly) out of which to climb.

It starts, however, with the humility to realize that this is not the Republicans’ fault, or Chris Christie’s or Bob McDonnell’s or Martha Coakley’s doing. It’s not even attributable to those Tea Party protesters (they’re the effect, not the cause, of the president’s political troubles). The fault is Obama’s. Whether he publicly confesses that fact or not, he’ll have to act like it is.

Ironically, all that mumbo-jumbo about “change” finally has some concrete meaning. Little did Obama imagine that to rescue his presidency, he’d have to change himself, not the country.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Political Inflection Point

Here are some thoughts on last night.

1. A year ago Barack Obama took the oath of office with enormous public support and unprecedented goodwill behind him. Today he presides over a party that is panic-stricken, having lost a Senate race in Massachusetts that ranks among the most consequential nonpresidential elections in American history.

The president is now badly wounded, his agenda badly weakened, his signature domestic issue in critical and perhaps fatal condition. Not many presidents have had a worse opening act.

2. The result of the Massachusetts election, which is epic, should not be seen in isolation. It is the most recent occurrence in a long chain of events, including crushing gubernatorial losses in Virginia and New Jersey. Massachusetts makes it an electoral hat trick for the GOP.

A year ago the GOP was in tatters, its “brand” tarnished, its supporters dispirited. Today Republicans are riding a wave of enormous size and force, one that is in the process of wiping out Democrats who occupy seats in states of every political color: red, purple, and blue. After last night’s results, almost no Democratic seat that is being contested in 2010 can be considered safe.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Here are some thoughts on last night.

1. A year ago Barack Obama took the oath of office with enormous public support and unprecedented goodwill behind him. Today he presides over a party that is panic-stricken, having lost a Senate race in Massachusetts that ranks among the most consequential nonpresidential elections in American history.

The president is now badly wounded, his agenda badly weakened, his signature domestic issue in critical and perhaps fatal condition. Not many presidents have had a worse opening act.

2. The result of the Massachusetts election, which is epic, should not be seen in isolation. It is the most recent occurrence in a long chain of events, including crushing gubernatorial losses in Virginia and New Jersey. Massachusetts makes it an electoral hat trick for the GOP.

A year ago the GOP was in tatters, its “brand” tarnished, its supporters dispirited. Today Republicans are riding a wave of enormous size and force, one that is in the process of wiping out Democrats who occupy seats in states of every political color: red, purple, and blue. After last night’s results, almost no Democratic seat that is being contested in 2010 can be considered safe.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Railroading Health Care

When Ted Kennedy died last August, Democrats swung into action to ensure that the health-care train (which yesterday was involved in a train wreck) did not slow down. Massachusetts law required a special election to choose a Kennedy successor, but Democrats were unwilling to wait the necessary five months to conduct one. At Kennedy’s funeral, President Obama spoke to Governor Patrick about changing the law — part of a “furious lobbying campaign by national Democrats” to get Patrick to appoint an immediate interim successor.

The move to amend the law required a blatant disregard of principle by the Massachusetts Democrats, since they had established the election procedure in 2004 to deny the governor (then Mitt Romney) the power to choose a successor to John Kerry if Kerry won the presidential election. The law giving the power to Patrick barely passed, even though the legislature had only five Republican members: legislative leaders were still scrambling in the hours before the vote. Patrick mustered a majority but not the two-thirds vote necessary to make the legislation effective immediately. He declared it “emergency” legislation nonetheless so he could immediately appoint Paul Kirk, at the urging of Kennedy’s widow and sons. Kirk announced he was grateful the family chose him “to be a voice and a vote” for Kennedy’s causes.

Kirk provided a reliable 60th vote for a process that subsequently featured late-night and weekend sessions to meet artificial deadlines, with successively more blatant kickbacks to key senators and special interests to keep the train on its tracks. It was a process that could not have been more repulsive had it been shown on C-SPAN. It culminated in the historic repudiation last night in a state where voters knew better than most how corrupt the process had been: it had been enabled by the Massachusetts end run five months earlier.

In his speech on Sunday, Scott Brown disclosed the secret of his successful campaign:

The political experts are still wondering how this little campaign of ours grew so fast and gathered so much strength and momentum.  The reason is simple.

We do not want a senator whose only question on health care is to ask Harry Reid, “How do you want me to vote?”  Massachusetts wants real reform, and not this trillion-dollar Obama health care bill being forced on the American people.

The train conductor addresses Congress in one week. It will be a much different one than the one he helped create five months ago, which led him to this crash.

When Ted Kennedy died last August, Democrats swung into action to ensure that the health-care train (which yesterday was involved in a train wreck) did not slow down. Massachusetts law required a special election to choose a Kennedy successor, but Democrats were unwilling to wait the necessary five months to conduct one. At Kennedy’s funeral, President Obama spoke to Governor Patrick about changing the law — part of a “furious lobbying campaign by national Democrats” to get Patrick to appoint an immediate interim successor.

The move to amend the law required a blatant disregard of principle by the Massachusetts Democrats, since they had established the election procedure in 2004 to deny the governor (then Mitt Romney) the power to choose a successor to John Kerry if Kerry won the presidential election. The law giving the power to Patrick barely passed, even though the legislature had only five Republican members: legislative leaders were still scrambling in the hours before the vote. Patrick mustered a majority but not the two-thirds vote necessary to make the legislation effective immediately. He declared it “emergency” legislation nonetheless so he could immediately appoint Paul Kirk, at the urging of Kennedy’s widow and sons. Kirk announced he was grateful the family chose him “to be a voice and a vote” for Kennedy’s causes.

Kirk provided a reliable 60th vote for a process that subsequently featured late-night and weekend sessions to meet artificial deadlines, with successively more blatant kickbacks to key senators and special interests to keep the train on its tracks. It was a process that could not have been more repulsive had it been shown on C-SPAN. It culminated in the historic repudiation last night in a state where voters knew better than most how corrupt the process had been: it had been enabled by the Massachusetts end run five months earlier.

In his speech on Sunday, Scott Brown disclosed the secret of his successful campaign:

The political experts are still wondering how this little campaign of ours grew so fast and gathered so much strength and momentum.  The reason is simple.

We do not want a senator whose only question on health care is to ask Harry Reid, “How do you want me to vote?”  Massachusetts wants real reform, and not this trillion-dollar Obama health care bill being forced on the American people.

The train conductor addresses Congress in one week. It will be a much different one than the one he helped create five months ago, which led him to this crash.

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Brown on Terrorism

We remarked last night that the Christmas Day bombing and the Massachusetts candidates’ differing reactions may have been more telling than political observers imagined. The Scott Brown campaign agrees, as Andy McCarthy notes:

It was national security that put real distance between Scott Brown and Martha Coakley. “People talk about the potency of the health-care issue,” Brown’s top strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom, told National Review’s Robert Costa, “but from our own internal polling, the more potent issue here in Massachusetts was terrorism and the treatment of enemy combatants.” There is a powerful lesson here for Republicans, and here’s hoping they learn it.

Brown’s remarks on national security last night picked up where the campaign left off. They were noteworthy:

And let me say this, with respect to those who wish to harm us, I believe that our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation — they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them.

Now that’s a message, stated simply and matter of factly, which I suspect will resonate strongly with the public in 2010, unless the Obami get off their “not Bush” anti-terrorism approach. Perhaps the Obami will retreat on giving KSM a civilian trial. Maybe they’ll decide to utilize military commissions to try terrorists. But if not, and if KSM’s trial (at the cost of at least $200M per year) moves ahead, expect it to become yet another issue that Republicans will utilize to great advantage. It’s precisely the sort of “What could they be thinking inside the Beltway?” issue that will appeal to both Republicans and independents, as well as many Democrats who can’t figure out why we’d pay hundreds of millions of dollars to provide a publicity platform to those who want nothing more than to recruit more followers to the cause of murdering Americans.

It’s not simply a national security argument, as Brown pointed out, but a financial one too. And most important, it highlights the populist message Brown rode to victory: the ultra-leftists running Washington D.C. are out of touch with ordinary Americans. Obama likes to say he’s defending “our values” when he declares his intention to close Guantanamo, cease enhanced interrogations, and give terrorists the same constitutional rights as common criminals. Brown argued that Obama has it backward. Our values and our Constitution require no such accommodation to butchers; they require we use all reasonable methods at our disposal to defend American lives and destroy the enemy. Brown’s position has the advantage of being right on the merits, and both right and potent on the politics.

We remarked last night that the Christmas Day bombing and the Massachusetts candidates’ differing reactions may have been more telling than political observers imagined. The Scott Brown campaign agrees, as Andy McCarthy notes:

It was national security that put real distance between Scott Brown and Martha Coakley. “People talk about the potency of the health-care issue,” Brown’s top strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom, told National Review’s Robert Costa, “but from our own internal polling, the more potent issue here in Massachusetts was terrorism and the treatment of enemy combatants.” There is a powerful lesson here for Republicans, and here’s hoping they learn it.

Brown’s remarks on national security last night picked up where the campaign left off. They were noteworthy:

And let me say this, with respect to those who wish to harm us, I believe that our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation — they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them.

Now that’s a message, stated simply and matter of factly, which I suspect will resonate strongly with the public in 2010, unless the Obami get off their “not Bush” anti-terrorism approach. Perhaps the Obami will retreat on giving KSM a civilian trial. Maybe they’ll decide to utilize military commissions to try terrorists. But if not, and if KSM’s trial (at the cost of at least $200M per year) moves ahead, expect it to become yet another issue that Republicans will utilize to great advantage. It’s precisely the sort of “What could they be thinking inside the Beltway?” issue that will appeal to both Republicans and independents, as well as many Democrats who can’t figure out why we’d pay hundreds of millions of dollars to provide a publicity platform to those who want nothing more than to recruit more followers to the cause of murdering Americans.

It’s not simply a national security argument, as Brown pointed out, but a financial one too. And most important, it highlights the populist message Brown rode to victory: the ultra-leftists running Washington D.C. are out of touch with ordinary Americans. Obama likes to say he’s defending “our values” when he declares his intention to close Guantanamo, cease enhanced interrogations, and give terrorists the same constitutional rights as common criminals. Brown argued that Obama has it backward. Our values and our Constitution require no such accommodation to butchers; they require we use all reasonable methods at our disposal to defend American lives and destroy the enemy. Brown’s position has the advantage of being right on the merits, and both right and potent on the politics.

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Still Pointing Fingers

The Washington Post editors acknowledge the message of the Massachusetts race:

The hard truth for Democrats is that the Massachusetts election resonates with national polling results. Voters, not just in Massachusetts and certainly not just in the Republican Party, are worried about government spending. Budget deficits and the national debt alarm many Americans, and rightly so. Voters also are disappointed that President Obama’s promises of pragmatic, bipartisan cooperation have not been fulfilled. On that score, too, we sympathize.

(By the way, that’s a far cry from the preceding day’s take by Fred Hiatt, which Max pointed out was comically generous, even by grading-on-the-curve standards.) So the editors urge Obama to ignore his liberal base, which “will conclude that he needs to be more combative and ideological.” That’s a start.

But then they can’t pass up the opportunity to bash the other side, the party that has won an impressive string of victories and made that exact case against Obama’s overreach. The editors warn Republicans:

With their scare talk of a “government takeover” of health care, and their demagogic about-face on Medicare savings, they no doubt feel they’ve done well for themselves. But ultimately we don’t believe voters will reward a party that just says no, either; Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell won with a very different promise, of a pragmatic and cooperative conservatism.

Okay that takes some nerve. It was the Post that vilified McDonnell, portraying him as a whacked-out extremist bent on sending women back to the dark ages. But beyond the jaw-dropping hypocrisy, the editors seem a bit disingenuous in this equal-opportunity blame-mongering: don’t the conservatives have a point on health care? Obama is proposing to slash $500 billion from Medicare. And Obama is proposing a new entitlement program with unprecedented powers for the federal government. That explains, after all, why so many voters are freaked out.

So what do the Post editors suggest? They seem reluctant to assign the full measure of blame where it rightly belongs. And it doesn’t belong to poor Martha Coakley or the mean Republicans. No, the president and his party have only themselves to blame. And the sooner they and their spinners stop looking for other targets, the faster they can get on with the business of political recovery.

The Washington Post editors acknowledge the message of the Massachusetts race:

The hard truth for Democrats is that the Massachusetts election resonates with national polling results. Voters, not just in Massachusetts and certainly not just in the Republican Party, are worried about government spending. Budget deficits and the national debt alarm many Americans, and rightly so. Voters also are disappointed that President Obama’s promises of pragmatic, bipartisan cooperation have not been fulfilled. On that score, too, we sympathize.

(By the way, that’s a far cry from the preceding day’s take by Fred Hiatt, which Max pointed out was comically generous, even by grading-on-the-curve standards.) So the editors urge Obama to ignore his liberal base, which “will conclude that he needs to be more combative and ideological.” That’s a start.

But then they can’t pass up the opportunity to bash the other side, the party that has won an impressive string of victories and made that exact case against Obama’s overreach. The editors warn Republicans:

With their scare talk of a “government takeover” of health care, and their demagogic about-face on Medicare savings, they no doubt feel they’ve done well for themselves. But ultimately we don’t believe voters will reward a party that just says no, either; Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell won with a very different promise, of a pragmatic and cooperative conservatism.

Okay that takes some nerve. It was the Post that vilified McDonnell, portraying him as a whacked-out extremist bent on sending women back to the dark ages. But beyond the jaw-dropping hypocrisy, the editors seem a bit disingenuous in this equal-opportunity blame-mongering: don’t the conservatives have a point on health care? Obama is proposing to slash $500 billion from Medicare. And Obama is proposing a new entitlement program with unprecedented powers for the federal government. That explains, after all, why so many voters are freaked out.

So what do the Post editors suggest? They seem reluctant to assign the full measure of blame where it rightly belongs. And it doesn’t belong to poor Martha Coakley or the mean Republicans. No, the president and his party have only themselves to blame. And the sooner they and their spinners stop looking for other targets, the faster they can get on with the business of political recovery.

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Time to Clean House?

Yuval Levin raises an interesting point about the Obami:

They have made it impossible for themselves to change course without a massive loss of face and of political capital. But however costly, that change will now need to come. You have to wonder if the people responsible for setting this course—and especially Rahm Emanuel and the House and Senate leadership—will still be standing when it’s all done with.

Obama isn’t big on firing people. It took a weekend of angst before Van Jones was shown the door. No one lost his job over the national security debacle that resulted in the Christmas Day near-catastrophe. So will he now clean house, after his domestic agenda has blown up in the Bluest State, his approval rating has plummeted, his party has formed a circular firing squad, and his congressional majorities are at risk? It seems that the Obama political brain trust — which thought its expertise extended to Afghanistan war strategy and the Middle East “peace process” — wasn’t very good at the jobs in which they were supposedly expert. Rahm Emanuel understood Congress. David Axelrod understood political salesmanship. But they, along with Obama of course, made a perfect mess in only a year.

It might be smart for Obama to toss some of them out. For starters, it might elevate the tone of the White House, which has been languishing in the partisan sewers for a year. And it might signal to panicked Democrats in the House and Senate that Obama doesn’t intend to plow them under. But most of all, it would be a message to the country that the president has learned a lesson and is setting a new direction.

Other presidents have shoved advisers aside at opportune moments. George W. Bush fired Donald Rumsfeld. Ronald Reagan fired Donald Regan. Bill Clinton fired Mack McLarty. In all those cases, the presidents and the country were the better for it. Obama might think hard about following his predecessors’ lead. Really, he could hardly do worse than his current staff.

Yuval Levin raises an interesting point about the Obami:

They have made it impossible for themselves to change course without a massive loss of face and of political capital. But however costly, that change will now need to come. You have to wonder if the people responsible for setting this course—and especially Rahm Emanuel and the House and Senate leadership—will still be standing when it’s all done with.

Obama isn’t big on firing people. It took a weekend of angst before Van Jones was shown the door. No one lost his job over the national security debacle that resulted in the Christmas Day near-catastrophe. So will he now clean house, after his domestic agenda has blown up in the Bluest State, his approval rating has plummeted, his party has formed a circular firing squad, and his congressional majorities are at risk? It seems that the Obama political brain trust — which thought its expertise extended to Afghanistan war strategy and the Middle East “peace process” — wasn’t very good at the jobs in which they were supposedly expert. Rahm Emanuel understood Congress. David Axelrod understood political salesmanship. But they, along with Obama of course, made a perfect mess in only a year.

It might be smart for Obama to toss some of them out. For starters, it might elevate the tone of the White House, which has been languishing in the partisan sewers for a year. And it might signal to panicked Democrats in the House and Senate that Obama doesn’t intend to plow them under. But most of all, it would be a message to the country that the president has learned a lesson and is setting a new direction.

Other presidents have shoved advisers aside at opportune moments. George W. Bush fired Donald Rumsfeld. Ronald Reagan fired Donald Regan. Bill Clinton fired Mack McLarty. In all those cases, the presidents and the country were the better for it. Obama might think hard about following his predecessors’ lead. Really, he could hardly do worse than his current staff.

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