Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 22, 2010

Are the “Baathists” the New “Fascists”?

Joe Biden is hardly the world’s most diplomatic guy. Recall his infamous walk-out, while still a senator, from a dinner with Hamid Karzai: a gesture of pique that needlessly worsened relations with an important American ally. Nevertheless, I am glad he has gone to Iraq to try to resolve a dispute that threatens to cast into doubt the legitimacy of that country’s upcoming elections.

Iraq’s Accountability and Justice Commission has disqualified some 500 candidates from seeking election on the grounds of being “Baathists,” which, in today’s Iraq, has become an amorphous term of abuse comparable in the West to calling someone a “fascist.” Most of those affected are secular candidates who would be expected to oppose the Shiite religious alliance, the National Iraqi Alliance, made up primarily of ISCI and the Sadrists. The ban includes, among others, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading Sunni politician who left the Baathist Party in 1977, and the well-respected Defense Minister Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi.

What makes this whole process truly farcical is that the chairman of the Accountability and Justice Commission is none other than Ali Faisal al-Lami, a close associate of the increasingly discredited Ahmed Chalabi, who is now in alliance with the most extreme and violent Sadrists. Until last summer, Lami was in an American detention facility, charged (based on convincing intelligence) with orchestrating a bombing “that killed two American Embassy employees, two American soldiers and six Iraqis at a district council meeting in Baghdad” in 2008. Lami is hardly the kind of moral exemplar who should be ruling on anyone else’s fitness to seek office, and if his disqualifications stand, they will only reinforce a sense of grievance among the Sunni minority and among the large number of secularists of whatever sectarian persuasion — and justifiably so. I can only hope that Biden can bring enough political clout to force a resolution that would allow candidates to run for office freely regardless of their past political affiliations.

Joe Biden is hardly the world’s most diplomatic guy. Recall his infamous walk-out, while still a senator, from a dinner with Hamid Karzai: a gesture of pique that needlessly worsened relations with an important American ally. Nevertheless, I am glad he has gone to Iraq to try to resolve a dispute that threatens to cast into doubt the legitimacy of that country’s upcoming elections.

Iraq’s Accountability and Justice Commission has disqualified some 500 candidates from seeking election on the grounds of being “Baathists,” which, in today’s Iraq, has become an amorphous term of abuse comparable in the West to calling someone a “fascist.” Most of those affected are secular candidates who would be expected to oppose the Shiite religious alliance, the National Iraqi Alliance, made up primarily of ISCI and the Sadrists. The ban includes, among others, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading Sunni politician who left the Baathist Party in 1977, and the well-respected Defense Minister Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi.

What makes this whole process truly farcical is that the chairman of the Accountability and Justice Commission is none other than Ali Faisal al-Lami, a close associate of the increasingly discredited Ahmed Chalabi, who is now in alliance with the most extreme and violent Sadrists. Until last summer, Lami was in an American detention facility, charged (based on convincing intelligence) with orchestrating a bombing “that killed two American Embassy employees, two American soldiers and six Iraqis at a district council meeting in Baghdad” in 2008. Lami is hardly the kind of moral exemplar who should be ruling on anyone else’s fitness to seek office, and if his disqualifications stand, they will only reinforce a sense of grievance among the Sunni minority and among the large number of secularists of whatever sectarian persuasion — and justifiably so. I can only hope that Biden can bring enough political clout to force a resolution that would allow candidates to run for office freely regardless of their past political affiliations.

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Peace in Our Time: Patriots in Poland

As negotiators resume the START talks, Poland’s defense minister announced this week that a Patriot missile battery scheduled for deployment in Poland in 2011 will be placed in the northeastern town of Morag. This will put the Patriots near Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, a strip of land on the Baltic Sea sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. It also will put U.S. Army troops there to operate the missiles.

Poland says the decision to site the battery in Morag is based on its quality of infrastructure and not on concern about Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says he doesn’t understand the need to “create the impression as if Poland is bracing itself against Russia.” Both are being coy: putting the Patriots in Morag is Warsaw’s response to the huge military exercise in September in which the Russians postulated a Polish attack on Kaliningrad and simulated nuclear-missile launches against Poland.

We need not expect Russia to overreact to this development, for the simple reason that the Patriot battery’s defensive radius is limited. It can’t interfere with Russian ICBMs launched at North America. The area of Europe it can defend is small. These factors make it a proposition different from Bush’s silo-based interceptors. But a Russian military official has already stated that the Patriot deployment will prompt Russia to enlarge its Baltic Sea fleet. That statement was “clarified” only hours later with the explanation that fleet improvements in the Baltic would not be contingent on the status of the Patriots.

These disclosures, which have been trotted out with remarkable efficiency, are directed at the European audience that will be made uneasy by growing Russian power in the Baltic. The Patriot deployment presents an opportunity for Russia to justify ratcheting up its own military presence in the area. Having the battery removed won’t be an urgent objective for Moscow; indeed, the Patriots will serve a purpose for Russian policy as long as they are there.

Russia can’t enlarge its military footprint overnight, but it can have at least some of its forces on a new footing before the end of Obama’s first term. The American soldiers manning the Patriot battery in Morag, meanwhile, will be a very small contingent in a forward location performing a somewhat politically ambiguous function. U.S. officials need to be vigilant and proactive in defining the policy we are pursuing with this Patriot deployment. Eastern Europe, perennially the target of Russian aggression, is already thinking along the lines of General Ferdinand Foch in the months before World War I. When asked by a British counterpart what would be the smallest British military force of practical assistance to France, Foch replied: “A single British soldier — and we will see to it that he is killed.”

As negotiators resume the START talks, Poland’s defense minister announced this week that a Patriot missile battery scheduled for deployment in Poland in 2011 will be placed in the northeastern town of Morag. This will put the Patriots near Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, a strip of land on the Baltic Sea sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. It also will put U.S. Army troops there to operate the missiles.

Poland says the decision to site the battery in Morag is based on its quality of infrastructure and not on concern about Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says he doesn’t understand the need to “create the impression as if Poland is bracing itself against Russia.” Both are being coy: putting the Patriots in Morag is Warsaw’s response to the huge military exercise in September in which the Russians postulated a Polish attack on Kaliningrad and simulated nuclear-missile launches against Poland.

We need not expect Russia to overreact to this development, for the simple reason that the Patriot battery’s defensive radius is limited. It can’t interfere with Russian ICBMs launched at North America. The area of Europe it can defend is small. These factors make it a proposition different from Bush’s silo-based interceptors. But a Russian military official has already stated that the Patriot deployment will prompt Russia to enlarge its Baltic Sea fleet. That statement was “clarified” only hours later with the explanation that fleet improvements in the Baltic would not be contingent on the status of the Patriots.

These disclosures, which have been trotted out with remarkable efficiency, are directed at the European audience that will be made uneasy by growing Russian power in the Baltic. The Patriot deployment presents an opportunity for Russia to justify ratcheting up its own military presence in the area. Having the battery removed won’t be an urgent objective for Moscow; indeed, the Patriots will serve a purpose for Russian policy as long as they are there.

Russia can’t enlarge its military footprint overnight, but it can have at least some of its forces on a new footing before the end of Obama’s first term. The American soldiers manning the Patriot battery in Morag, meanwhile, will be a very small contingent in a forward location performing a somewhat politically ambiguous function. U.S. officials need to be vigilant and proactive in defining the policy we are pursuing with this Patriot deployment. Eastern Europe, perennially the target of Russian aggression, is already thinking along the lines of General Ferdinand Foch in the months before World War I. When asked by a British counterpart what would be the smallest British military force of practical assistance to France, Foch replied: “A single British soldier — and we will see to it that he is killed.”

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Peace in Our Time: Moscow

National Security Adviser Jim Jones and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, resumed START talks with the Russians in Moscow on Thursday. Remarkably, the negotiations are not backstopped by an existing treaty still in force. The old START treaty expired on December 5, 2009. The U.S. verification team left Russia’s ICBM production facility in Votkinsk the day the treaty expired; mutual agreement to other verification measures can no longer be assumed. As of January 2010, we have an agreement in principle by presidents Obama and Medvedev to reduce nuclear warheads, but we don’t have a binding treaty.

It’s hard to characterize this as anything but a step backward. Although the 2002 “SORT” Treaty remains in effect until 2012, it differs from START in containing no verification provisions. Russia has participated in it largely to acquire a bargaining position against Bush’s missile-defense plan for Europe; but Obama obviated that negotiating dynamic by renouncing Bush’s plan in September. With much now riding on the 2010 START negotiations, we bring few bargaining chips. The Russians have an incentive to keep us in talks because that will effectively suspend U.S. decisions about modernizing our nuclear forces, but they now have no incentive to make important concessions. Their demands, meanwhile, will be unpalatable to the U.S. Senate, which warned Obama in December that the ratification of a new treaty will be contingent on a plan for modernizing our forces.

The conditions are thus developing for an impasse in START negotiations. In the interim, we are without a functioning plan for strategic stability. With his September decision on the European missile site, Obama rejected the Bush concept of centering our global security on American national missile defense. The fallback position – the one the Russians continue to favor – is a rough balance of strategic nuclear forces; but the START treaty has expired. There is no basis for demanding compliance with it.

Instead of a plan, what we have at present is inertia. Trusting to inertia is always a risky policy, particularly when wild cards are already in the picture. China’s subtle policy shift on strategic stability last week is a change in conditions that will affect the relevance of a bilateral arms-reduction process just as much as it affects the postures of the START parties.

Obama isn’t to blame for all the conditions that have developed since 1991 – but he is accountable for abandoning our previous strategic-security policies without replacing them. His focus on reducing nuclear warheads is a noble goal, and by no means unrealistic. However, the uncompensated loss in 2009 of both the START treaty and our plan for a comprehensive national missile defense has proved that his focus is too narrow. With five nuclear-armed Asian powers and Iran trying to become the sixth, there is nothing America needs more than a comprehensive concept for strategic security. At the moment we don’t have one.

National Security Adviser Jim Jones and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, resumed START talks with the Russians in Moscow on Thursday. Remarkably, the negotiations are not backstopped by an existing treaty still in force. The old START treaty expired on December 5, 2009. The U.S. verification team left Russia’s ICBM production facility in Votkinsk the day the treaty expired; mutual agreement to other verification measures can no longer be assumed. As of January 2010, we have an agreement in principle by presidents Obama and Medvedev to reduce nuclear warheads, but we don’t have a binding treaty.

It’s hard to characterize this as anything but a step backward. Although the 2002 “SORT” Treaty remains in effect until 2012, it differs from START in containing no verification provisions. Russia has participated in it largely to acquire a bargaining position against Bush’s missile-defense plan for Europe; but Obama obviated that negotiating dynamic by renouncing Bush’s plan in September. With much now riding on the 2010 START negotiations, we bring few bargaining chips. The Russians have an incentive to keep us in talks because that will effectively suspend U.S. decisions about modernizing our nuclear forces, but they now have no incentive to make important concessions. Their demands, meanwhile, will be unpalatable to the U.S. Senate, which warned Obama in December that the ratification of a new treaty will be contingent on a plan for modernizing our forces.

The conditions are thus developing for an impasse in START negotiations. In the interim, we are without a functioning plan for strategic stability. With his September decision on the European missile site, Obama rejected the Bush concept of centering our global security on American national missile defense. The fallback position – the one the Russians continue to favor – is a rough balance of strategic nuclear forces; but the START treaty has expired. There is no basis for demanding compliance with it.

Instead of a plan, what we have at present is inertia. Trusting to inertia is always a risky policy, particularly when wild cards are already in the picture. China’s subtle policy shift on strategic stability last week is a change in conditions that will affect the relevance of a bilateral arms-reduction process just as much as it affects the postures of the START parties.

Obama isn’t to blame for all the conditions that have developed since 1991 – but he is accountable for abandoning our previous strategic-security policies without replacing them. His focus on reducing nuclear warheads is a noble goal, and by no means unrealistic. However, the uncompensated loss in 2009 of both the START treaty and our plan for a comprehensive national missile defense has proved that his focus is too narrow. With five nuclear-armed Asian powers and Iran trying to become the sixth, there is nothing America needs more than a comprehensive concept for strategic security. At the moment we don’t have one.

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Left Meltdown Over the Supreme Court

The Left is doing a lot of hyperventilating over the Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down most of the McCain-Feingold statute. It will forever change politics! Corporate boards will control politics! Much of this hype is overblown and just wrong. The ban on direct corporate giving remains in place so the notion that corporations will control politicians is silly. They — along with labor unions — will simply be able to exercise First Amendment rights. Citizens can ignore the ads just like they ignore newspaper op-eds or the current plethora of third-party advertising.

This is a remarkably sane take by David Indiviglio on the impact of the decision, making the case that there is less “danger” to liberals than they fear. Corporations have learned to give to both sides, for one thing. And of course corporations through PACs already give billions to candidates. (Just as Chuck Schumer.) And remember:

It’s a step forward for free speech. Corporations are groups of individuals, and they should be able to voice their political beliefs without significant barriers. This ruling allows for that. The key thing to remember here is that Americans are also free disagree with, dispute or ignore corporate political ads.

So why is the Left in a frenzy over this? Well, let’s face it: they will need an excuse for the 2010 elections. Better to say they were “swamped by corporate interests” than to say their agenda was rejected. And this is frankly something else for them to talk about in a week when they lost the Massachusetts senate seat and ObamaCare is going down the drain. It is also the ever-so-helpful Obama echo chamber at work. Obama is going nasty-populist so the liberal-media cheerleaders are following suit.

Now, part of what is going on here is the Left’s exaggerated sense of the boldness and deviousness of corporate America. Unlike the caricature painted by the Left and amplified by popular culture, most corporate executives are cautious, controversy-shy and ever aware of the long arm of the government to tax, regulate, and generally make their lives miserable. So I wouldn’t be so sure that corporate America is going to plunge into the political-ad business overnight. For one thing, business isn’t doing so well right now and there is not a lot of cash sitting around. And for another thing, given the political environment, businesses may not need to spend all that much to knock out Obama-philes in Congress. It seems as though ordinary citizens, thinking for themselves, organizing and turning out to vote, are able to do that on their own.

The Left is doing a lot of hyperventilating over the Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down most of the McCain-Feingold statute. It will forever change politics! Corporate boards will control politics! Much of this hype is overblown and just wrong. The ban on direct corporate giving remains in place so the notion that corporations will control politicians is silly. They — along with labor unions — will simply be able to exercise First Amendment rights. Citizens can ignore the ads just like they ignore newspaper op-eds or the current plethora of third-party advertising.

This is a remarkably sane take by David Indiviglio on the impact of the decision, making the case that there is less “danger” to liberals than they fear. Corporations have learned to give to both sides, for one thing. And of course corporations through PACs already give billions to candidates. (Just as Chuck Schumer.) And remember:

It’s a step forward for free speech. Corporations are groups of individuals, and they should be able to voice their political beliefs without significant barriers. This ruling allows for that. The key thing to remember here is that Americans are also free disagree with, dispute or ignore corporate political ads.

So why is the Left in a frenzy over this? Well, let’s face it: they will need an excuse for the 2010 elections. Better to say they were “swamped by corporate interests” than to say their agenda was rejected. And this is frankly something else for them to talk about in a week when they lost the Massachusetts senate seat and ObamaCare is going down the drain. It is also the ever-so-helpful Obama echo chamber at work. Obama is going nasty-populist so the liberal-media cheerleaders are following suit.

Now, part of what is going on here is the Left’s exaggerated sense of the boldness and deviousness of corporate America. Unlike the caricature painted by the Left and amplified by popular culture, most corporate executives are cautious, controversy-shy and ever aware of the long arm of the government to tax, regulate, and generally make their lives miserable. So I wouldn’t be so sure that corporate America is going to plunge into the political-ad business overnight. For one thing, business isn’t doing so well right now and there is not a lot of cash sitting around. And for another thing, given the political environment, businesses may not need to spend all that much to knock out Obama-philes in Congress. It seems as though ordinary citizens, thinking for themselves, organizing and turning out to vote, are able to do that on their own.

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When You Mess Up This Badly, There Are No Good Options

How badly did Obama mess up? Really badly, says David Brooks:

Instead of building trust in government, the Democrats have magnified distrust. The country already believed Washington is out of touch with its core concerns. So while most families were concerned about jobs, Democrats in Washington spent nine months arguing about health care. The country was already tired of self-serving back-room deals, so the Democrats negotiated a series of dirty deals with the pharmaceutical industry, the unions and certain senators. Americans already felt Washington doesn’t understand their fears and insecurities. So at the moment when economic insecurity was at its peak, the Democrats in Washington added another layer of insecurity by threatening to change everything at once.

Instead of building a new majority, the Democrats have set off a distrust insurrection (which is not the same as a conservative insurrection). Republicans are enraged. Independents are furious. Democrats are disheartened. Health care reform is brutally unpopular. Even voters in Massachusetts decided it was time to send a message.

Brooks writes “Democrats,” but you can plug in “Obama.” These were Obama’s decisions — either affirmatively or by ceding the decision-making to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. It might sound less harsh to avoid using his name, but we should be clear whose fault this is. Hard to imagine that someone like Obama – who could be such a fine editor of a liberal magazine – could have made that many bad calls and been so out of touch with the American electorate’s inherent conservatism and aversion to statism. Maybe being a fine editor or a sophisticated conversationalist or living in Indonesia has nothing to do with being a good president. (Note to file: There is no correlation between Ivy League credentials and prowess as a chief executive.)

Brooks gives Obama … er, Democrats … some advice: take what he calls the Weak and Feckless Approach to health care. Admit they messed up. Say they heard the public. And get out of Dodge with a face-saving, small-beans plan. “Perhaps we will use federal money to support a series of state reform efforts — like the one in Massachusetts — which are closer to the people, ” says Brooks. Yes, that sounds just unbelievably lame. But that’s what they’re reduced to. There is no support for grandiose ObamaCare. There hasn’t been support in the country for some time, and finally the lawmakers are listening.

I personally like the temper-tantrum option, which Brooks calls the Incoherent and Internecine Approach: “This would involve settling on no coherent policy but just blaming each other for cowardice and stupidity for the next month.” It would be fun to watch, and there’s at least a grain of truth in it. Obama is to blame. Pelosi is to blame. Reid is to blame. Greedy Ben Nelson is to blame. And then the Democrats will tell us that the voters are to blame, the tiny Republican minority is to blame, and of course the cabal of Bill Kristol–Jane Hamsher–Howard Dean–MoveOn.org–Club for Growth–Jim DeMint–Mitch McConnell–etc. is to blame. In short, the Right and the Left and Independents are the villains — because they all opposed the bill. Well, that does suggest that the bill was so flawed that it could engender no support. But that sort of discussion is what makes the Incoherent and Internecine Approach so enticing.

Surveying all that and observing the unraveling of support on Capitol Hill for ObamaCare, one must agree with Brooks that there are no good options here for the Obami. Sometimes the number and magnitude of a politician’s errors are so great that all that’s left for him to do is take his lumps, express contrition, and move on. (The Humble Pie Approach?) Unfortunately, that’s the last thing this president is inclined to favor.

How badly did Obama mess up? Really badly, says David Brooks:

Instead of building trust in government, the Democrats have magnified distrust. The country already believed Washington is out of touch with its core concerns. So while most families were concerned about jobs, Democrats in Washington spent nine months arguing about health care. The country was already tired of self-serving back-room deals, so the Democrats negotiated a series of dirty deals with the pharmaceutical industry, the unions and certain senators. Americans already felt Washington doesn’t understand their fears and insecurities. So at the moment when economic insecurity was at its peak, the Democrats in Washington added another layer of insecurity by threatening to change everything at once.

Instead of building a new majority, the Democrats have set off a distrust insurrection (which is not the same as a conservative insurrection). Republicans are enraged. Independents are furious. Democrats are disheartened. Health care reform is brutally unpopular. Even voters in Massachusetts decided it was time to send a message.

Brooks writes “Democrats,” but you can plug in “Obama.” These were Obama’s decisions — either affirmatively or by ceding the decision-making to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. It might sound less harsh to avoid using his name, but we should be clear whose fault this is. Hard to imagine that someone like Obama – who could be such a fine editor of a liberal magazine – could have made that many bad calls and been so out of touch with the American electorate’s inherent conservatism and aversion to statism. Maybe being a fine editor or a sophisticated conversationalist or living in Indonesia has nothing to do with being a good president. (Note to file: There is no correlation between Ivy League credentials and prowess as a chief executive.)

Brooks gives Obama … er, Democrats … some advice: take what he calls the Weak and Feckless Approach to health care. Admit they messed up. Say they heard the public. And get out of Dodge with a face-saving, small-beans plan. “Perhaps we will use federal money to support a series of state reform efforts — like the one in Massachusetts — which are closer to the people, ” says Brooks. Yes, that sounds just unbelievably lame. But that’s what they’re reduced to. There is no support for grandiose ObamaCare. There hasn’t been support in the country for some time, and finally the lawmakers are listening.

I personally like the temper-tantrum option, which Brooks calls the Incoherent and Internecine Approach: “This would involve settling on no coherent policy but just blaming each other for cowardice and stupidity for the next month.” It would be fun to watch, and there’s at least a grain of truth in it. Obama is to blame. Pelosi is to blame. Reid is to blame. Greedy Ben Nelson is to blame. And then the Democrats will tell us that the voters are to blame, the tiny Republican minority is to blame, and of course the cabal of Bill Kristol–Jane Hamsher–Howard Dean–MoveOn.org–Club for Growth–Jim DeMint–Mitch McConnell–etc. is to blame. In short, the Right and the Left and Independents are the villains — because they all opposed the bill. Well, that does suggest that the bill was so flawed that it could engender no support. But that sort of discussion is what makes the Incoherent and Internecine Approach so enticing.

Surveying all that and observing the unraveling of support on Capitol Hill for ObamaCare, one must agree with Brooks that there are no good options here for the Obami. Sometimes the number and magnitude of a politician’s errors are so great that all that’s left for him to do is take his lumps, express contrition, and move on. (The Humble Pie Approach?) Unfortunately, that’s the last thing this president is inclined to favor.

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All Local Politics Is National

Jen cites a USA Today/Gallup poll that finds an overwhelming 72 percent of those surveyed Wednesday say Brown’s victory “reflects frustrations shared by many Americans, and the president and members of Congress should pay attention to it.” Just 18 percent say it “reflects political conditions in Massachusetts and doesn’t have a larger meaning for national politics.”

That will come to news to E.J. Dionne Jr., who, in a frantic pre-spin piece over at the Washington Post, wrote, “the important local factors of the sort [the Boston Globe‘s Joan] Vennochi underscores shouldn’t be overlooked in the effort to draw grand lessons about what this race means for the future of Obama, liberalism and our republic itself. Election results rarely have a single explanation.” Elsewhere in his PostPartisan piece, Dionne quotes Tip O’Neill’s line “All politics is still local.”

How convenient for E.J. to stumble across this insight just before the Democratic party’s historic loss in Massachusetts. Of course, every non-presidential election has some element of local politics involved; what made the Massachusetts race unusual is the degree to which it was nationalized and had national implications.

It should be said that Dionne’s track record is fairly spotty during the Age of Obama. Last week he predicted that the national attention of the race came just in the nick of time and that Martha Coakley would pull out a victory in his home state. And back in May, Dionne was counseling Republicans that they had to decide between “doctrinal purity” and winning — and that winning meant nominating “Obama huggers” — Republicans who had figuratively embraced the Obama agenda and literally embraced Obama himself.

Right now you can hardly find Democrats who want to hug Obama, figuratively or literally; and perhaps no non-presidential election in our lifetime has had larger meaning for national politics. The political ground has been shifting underneath us for many months now; much of the political class has ignored it. It will be interesting to see if liberals end their self-delusion in the wake of Brown’s epic win. I rather doubt they will.

Jen cites a USA Today/Gallup poll that finds an overwhelming 72 percent of those surveyed Wednesday say Brown’s victory “reflects frustrations shared by many Americans, and the president and members of Congress should pay attention to it.” Just 18 percent say it “reflects political conditions in Massachusetts and doesn’t have a larger meaning for national politics.”

That will come to news to E.J. Dionne Jr., who, in a frantic pre-spin piece over at the Washington Post, wrote, “the important local factors of the sort [the Boston Globe‘s Joan] Vennochi underscores shouldn’t be overlooked in the effort to draw grand lessons about what this race means for the future of Obama, liberalism and our republic itself. Election results rarely have a single explanation.” Elsewhere in his PostPartisan piece, Dionne quotes Tip O’Neill’s line “All politics is still local.”

How convenient for E.J. to stumble across this insight just before the Democratic party’s historic loss in Massachusetts. Of course, every non-presidential election has some element of local politics involved; what made the Massachusetts race unusual is the degree to which it was nationalized and had national implications.

It should be said that Dionne’s track record is fairly spotty during the Age of Obama. Last week he predicted that the national attention of the race came just in the nick of time and that Martha Coakley would pull out a victory in his home state. And back in May, Dionne was counseling Republicans that they had to decide between “doctrinal purity” and winning — and that winning meant nominating “Obama huggers” — Republicans who had figuratively embraced the Obama agenda and literally embraced Obama himself.

Right now you can hardly find Democrats who want to hug Obama, figuratively or literally; and perhaps no non-presidential election in our lifetime has had larger meaning for national politics. The political ground has been shifting underneath us for many months now; much of the political class has ignored it. It will be interesting to see if liberals end their self-delusion in the wake of Brown’s epic win. I rather doubt they will.

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The SOTU Response

Newly elected Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has been picked to deliver the State of the Union response for the Republicans. Let me be the first to offer condolences. It’s a thankless task and fraught with peril. As I’ve noted before, many a political career has been stalled by a mediocre outing. But hopefully someone on McDonnell’s staff has nixed using any setting that might give the appearance of an antebellum mansion, and no one will let him walk down the stairs like a prom queen.

But jokes aside, McDonnell is as a fairly savvy choice for a number of reasons. First, he’s not likely to screw up. This is a highly disciplined politician who survived the Washington Post onslaught and an avalanche of negative ads, never losing his cool during the campaign. He won by not just stating his opposition to Obama’s agenda but explaining why ordinary voters should oppose it too. That is precisely the task he’ll have in responding to the State of the Union.

Second, McDonnell won big in November, showing that there’s a viable Right-Center coalition that can turn out a large majority for Republicans in states that just a year ago went comfortably for Obama. In the wake of the Scott Brown mega-upset, that’s a powerful message and encouragement for those waging — or contemplating waging — battles around the country.

And finally, McDonnell’s tone is perfect for this sort of thing — calm, pleasant, upbeat, and reasoned. (Hey, if Obama goes partisan firebrand, McDonnell could be construed as the one with the superior temperament.) That too was part of his appeal last November with both women and suburban independent voters who don’t much like fiery rhetoric.

McDonnell married both populist anger and smart policy to win a key swing state. That’s a model Republicans want to advertise — and why McDonnell was given the spot. If he avoids the pitfalls of those who came before him (save the props, don’t aim too high, avoid quirky behavior), he and his party will get a lift, albeit a small one, considering that not a whole lot of people remember the response to the State of the Union anyway. Unless it’s really bad.

Newly elected Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has been picked to deliver the State of the Union response for the Republicans. Let me be the first to offer condolences. It’s a thankless task and fraught with peril. As I’ve noted before, many a political career has been stalled by a mediocre outing. But hopefully someone on McDonnell’s staff has nixed using any setting that might give the appearance of an antebellum mansion, and no one will let him walk down the stairs like a prom queen.

But jokes aside, McDonnell is as a fairly savvy choice for a number of reasons. First, he’s not likely to screw up. This is a highly disciplined politician who survived the Washington Post onslaught and an avalanche of negative ads, never losing his cool during the campaign. He won by not just stating his opposition to Obama’s agenda but explaining why ordinary voters should oppose it too. That is precisely the task he’ll have in responding to the State of the Union.

Second, McDonnell won big in November, showing that there’s a viable Right-Center coalition that can turn out a large majority for Republicans in states that just a year ago went comfortably for Obama. In the wake of the Scott Brown mega-upset, that’s a powerful message and encouragement for those waging — or contemplating waging — battles around the country.

And finally, McDonnell’s tone is perfect for this sort of thing — calm, pleasant, upbeat, and reasoned. (Hey, if Obama goes partisan firebrand, McDonnell could be construed as the one with the superior temperament.) That too was part of his appeal last November with both women and suburban independent voters who don’t much like fiery rhetoric.

McDonnell married both populist anger and smart policy to win a key swing state. That’s a model Republicans want to advertise — and why McDonnell was given the spot. If he avoids the pitfalls of those who came before him (save the props, don’t aim too high, avoid quirky behavior), he and his party will get a lift, albeit a small one, considering that not a whole lot of people remember the response to the State of the Union anyway. Unless it’s really bad.

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Why Punch Is No More…

Pete, your post put me in mind of a story Malcolm Muggeridge tells in The End of Christendom, of an evening at the theater with then Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey.  Muggeridge, you may remember, was, among other things, the editor of Britain’s venerable humor magazine Punch for several years. Well, during a performance of Godspell, the good Archbishop saw fit to leap out of his seat at a climactic moment and yell, “Long live God!”

Which, to Muggeridge:

was like shouting “Carry on eternity” or “Keep going infinity.” The incident made a deep impression on my mind because it illustrated the basic difficulty I met with when I was editor of Punch: that the eminent so often say and do things which are infinitely more ridiculous than anything you can invent for them. That might not sound to you like a terrible difficulty but it is, believe me, the main headache of the editor of an ostensibly humorous paper. You go to great trouble to invent a ridiculous Archbishop of Canterbury and give him ridiculous lines to say and then suddenly he rises in his seat at the theater and shouts out “Long live God.” And you’re defeated, you’re broken.

Needless to say, Keith Olbermann is not “eminent,” as was Dr. Ramsey, merely immanent, much like a hallucination. Perhaps for not too much longer, given that his expectorations threaten the livelihood of many a satirist.

Pete, your post put me in mind of a story Malcolm Muggeridge tells in The End of Christendom, of an evening at the theater with then Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey.  Muggeridge, you may remember, was, among other things, the editor of Britain’s venerable humor magazine Punch for several years. Well, during a performance of Godspell, the good Archbishop saw fit to leap out of his seat at a climactic moment and yell, “Long live God!”

Which, to Muggeridge:

was like shouting “Carry on eternity” or “Keep going infinity.” The incident made a deep impression on my mind because it illustrated the basic difficulty I met with when I was editor of Punch: that the eminent so often say and do things which are infinitely more ridiculous than anything you can invent for them. That might not sound to you like a terrible difficulty but it is, believe me, the main headache of the editor of an ostensibly humorous paper. You go to great trouble to invent a ridiculous Archbishop of Canterbury and give him ridiculous lines to say and then suddenly he rises in his seat at the theater and shouts out “Long live God.” And you’re defeated, you’re broken.

Needless to say, Keith Olbermann is not “eminent,” as was Dr. Ramsey, merely immanent, much like a hallucination. Perhaps for not too much longer, given that his expectorations threaten the livelihood of many a satirist.

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Recruitment of Foreigners to Be Welcomed

For years I have been arguing that we should open military enlistment to recruits who don’t have citizenship or even a Green Card. For this I have been pilloried by nativists and xenophobes from both the Right and the Left. Last year the U.S. Army finally implemented a trial program to accept 1,000 immigrants with specialized skills. The results? According to this New York Times article:

Although the program has started small, senior commanders have praised it as an exceptional success. Recruiting officials said it had attracted a large number of unusually qualified candidates, including doctors, dentists and native speakers of Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Korean and other languages from strategic regions where United States forces are operating.

“We don’t see this normally; the quality for this population is off the charts,” said Lt. Col. Pete Badoian, a strategic planner at the Army Accessions Command, the recruiting branch of the Army….

The immigrants who have joined the Army through the program scored, on average, about 20 points higher (on a scale of 100) than other recruits on basic armed forces entry tests, and they had three to five years more education, Colonel Badoian said. One-third of the recruits have a master’s degree or higher.

That’s pretty much what I expected. Yet now the program has been suspended pending an internal Pentagon review—even as hundreds of immigrants petition to sign up. No doubt the review has been slowed down by concern following Major Nidal Hasan’s shooting spree at Fort Hood. But keep in mind that Hasan was no immigrant; he was born in Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech. Obviously military officials need to do a better job of monitoring such Islamist radicals within the ranks but that scrutiny should be applied equally to the foreign-born and the native-born; it should not stop this highly successful program of immigrant recruiting.

In fact the program needs to be expanded to recruit a much higher number of personnel and not only for the Army but for all the services—and by civilian agencies such as the CIA, State Department, and USAID as well. Only in this way can we address the pervasive, crippling lack of knowledge of foreign languages and cultures within our government, which constitutes a major strategic liability. As an army recruiting official told the Times: “We send people to language school, but it is tough to get a non-native speaker to the level of these folks.”

For years I have been arguing that we should open military enlistment to recruits who don’t have citizenship or even a Green Card. For this I have been pilloried by nativists and xenophobes from both the Right and the Left. Last year the U.S. Army finally implemented a trial program to accept 1,000 immigrants with specialized skills. The results? According to this New York Times article:

Although the program has started small, senior commanders have praised it as an exceptional success. Recruiting officials said it had attracted a large number of unusually qualified candidates, including doctors, dentists and native speakers of Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Korean and other languages from strategic regions where United States forces are operating.

“We don’t see this normally; the quality for this population is off the charts,” said Lt. Col. Pete Badoian, a strategic planner at the Army Accessions Command, the recruiting branch of the Army….

The immigrants who have joined the Army through the program scored, on average, about 20 points higher (on a scale of 100) than other recruits on basic armed forces entry tests, and they had three to five years more education, Colonel Badoian said. One-third of the recruits have a master’s degree or higher.

That’s pretty much what I expected. Yet now the program has been suspended pending an internal Pentagon review—even as hundreds of immigrants petition to sign up. No doubt the review has been slowed down by concern following Major Nidal Hasan’s shooting spree at Fort Hood. But keep in mind that Hasan was no immigrant; he was born in Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech. Obviously military officials need to do a better job of monitoring such Islamist radicals within the ranks but that scrutiny should be applied equally to the foreign-born and the native-born; it should not stop this highly successful program of immigrant recruiting.

In fact the program needs to be expanded to recruit a much higher number of personnel and not only for the Army but for all the services—and by civilian agencies such as the CIA, State Department, and USAID as well. Only in this way can we address the pervasive, crippling lack of knowledge of foreign languages and cultures within our government, which constitutes a major strategic liability. As an army recruiting official told the Times: “We send people to language school, but it is tough to get a non-native speaker to the level of these folks.”

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Keith Olbermann: Beyond Satire

Here’s Jon Stewart mocking MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann over the latter’s comments on Scott Brown. Stewart is clever and funny, as he usually is; but what is most revealing is that Stewart, in attempting to lampoon Olbermann, comes across as far more sane and balanced than Olbermann does in real life. It’s official, then: Keith Olbermann is now beyond satirizing. He has entered territory where almost no man has gone before. And he’s all yours, MSNBC.

Here’s Jon Stewart mocking MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann over the latter’s comments on Scott Brown. Stewart is clever and funny, as he usually is; but what is most revealing is that Stewart, in attempting to lampoon Olbermann, comes across as far more sane and balanced than Olbermann does in real life. It’s official, then: Keith Olbermann is now beyond satirizing. He has entered territory where almost no man has gone before. And he’s all yours, MSNBC.

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J Street Is Ba-a-a-ck

When last we left the J Street gang, they were enjoying their Washington confab — though with many fewer congressional “hosts” once it became clear what the group’s agenda really was and what sort of Israel-bashing “artists” planned to entertain the assembled crowd. Then the conference itself proved informative. We learned that the J Streeters didn’t fancy calling themselves “pro-Israel,” at least not on college campuses. And we learned that what really got their juices flowing was a healthy dose of anti-anti-Iranian-regime propaganda and good old-fashioned neocon-bashing. Alas, there’s not much of a market for that on Capitol Hill, so their “lobbying” devolved into some mushy nothingness in which lawmakers were asked to do something to show they favored a two-state solution. (Gutsy stuff from these J Streeters, eh?)

Soon afterward we learned that J Street and NIAC shared some interesting conference calls, the object of which seemed to be, among other things, to get Dennis Ross. J Street didn’t like any of the Iran-sanction measures floating around Congress but seemed powerless to influence the votes.

So now that our memories are refreshed (ever since “engagement with Iran” became a laugh line, they’ve been sort of quiet), we see this report that J Street will “be increasing the number and amount of its contributions to US Congressional candidates by at least 50 percent in the coming year. The announcement comes a few weeks ahead of J Street’s first planned trip to bring members of Congress to Israel.” One wonders if Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson are to be the tour guides.

And who are the recipients of the not-to-be-called-pro-Israel-if-it’s-inconvenient gang’s largesse? There are a bunch:

The 41 endorsees include one Republican, Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, and one of the two Muslim members of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Eight Jewish members also received JStreetPAC’s nod, including representatives Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Susan Davis of California, Barney Frank of Massachusetts and John Yarmuth of Kentucky, as well as the only senator on the list, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Also on the list are Bob Filner of California, Jared Polis of Colorado, and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

Well, no one can excuse himself by pleading ignorance this time around, as did many of the “hosts” when confronted with J Street’s record in October. These lawmakers must be well aware of J Street’s anti-anti-Iran agenda and be quite enamored of its Israel-can-do-no-right rhetoric. One wonders if these lawmakers’ constituents share these views. That’s what elections are for, I suppose. We’ll find out soon enough whether there’s a market for Israel-bashing and Iran-sanction opposition.

When last we left the J Street gang, they were enjoying their Washington confab — though with many fewer congressional “hosts” once it became clear what the group’s agenda really was and what sort of Israel-bashing “artists” planned to entertain the assembled crowd. Then the conference itself proved informative. We learned that the J Streeters didn’t fancy calling themselves “pro-Israel,” at least not on college campuses. And we learned that what really got their juices flowing was a healthy dose of anti-anti-Iranian-regime propaganda and good old-fashioned neocon-bashing. Alas, there’s not much of a market for that on Capitol Hill, so their “lobbying” devolved into some mushy nothingness in which lawmakers were asked to do something to show they favored a two-state solution. (Gutsy stuff from these J Streeters, eh?)

Soon afterward we learned that J Street and NIAC shared some interesting conference calls, the object of which seemed to be, among other things, to get Dennis Ross. J Street didn’t like any of the Iran-sanction measures floating around Congress but seemed powerless to influence the votes.

So now that our memories are refreshed (ever since “engagement with Iran” became a laugh line, they’ve been sort of quiet), we see this report that J Street will “be increasing the number and amount of its contributions to US Congressional candidates by at least 50 percent in the coming year. The announcement comes a few weeks ahead of J Street’s first planned trip to bring members of Congress to Israel.” One wonders if Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson are to be the tour guides.

And who are the recipients of the not-to-be-called-pro-Israel-if-it’s-inconvenient gang’s largesse? There are a bunch:

The 41 endorsees include one Republican, Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, and one of the two Muslim members of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Eight Jewish members also received JStreetPAC’s nod, including representatives Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Susan Davis of California, Barney Frank of Massachusetts and John Yarmuth of Kentucky, as well as the only senator on the list, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Also on the list are Bob Filner of California, Jared Polis of Colorado, and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

Well, no one can excuse himself by pleading ignorance this time around, as did many of the “hosts” when confronted with J Street’s record in October. These lawmakers must be well aware of J Street’s anti-anti-Iran agenda and be quite enamored of its Israel-can-do-no-right rhetoric. One wonders if these lawmakers’ constituents share these views. That’s what elections are for, I suppose. We’ll find out soon enough whether there’s a market for Israel-bashing and Iran-sanction opposition.

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Breaking Israel’s Academic Stranglehold

This week’s recognition of Ariel College as a “university center” — a step toward full-fledged university status — outraged Israel’s academic establishment.

For some, the objection is political: the institution is located in Ariel, a West Bank settlement, so hard-core leftists want it dismantled, not upgraded — though all Israeli governments have sought to retain Ariel under any peace agreement.

But for most, the objection is ostensibly professional: academically, they claim, Ariel is no better than other colleges that haven’t been upgraded; the Council for Higher Education, an independent professional body that oversees Israeli academia, opposes the upgrade; and the final approval was ordered by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, constituting blatant political interference in higher education.

The actual facts are these: because Israel never annexed the West Bank, formal legal authority there lies with the army — specifically, the GOC Central Command — rather than civilian bodies. Thus Ariel isn’t formally subject to the CHE. But since the army clearly can’t oversee universities, a CHE clone, the Council for Higher Education-Judea and Samaria, was created to do the job.

In 2006, a CHE-JS subcommittee recommended the upgrade, and in 2007 the full CHE-JS adopted this recommendation. All six subcommittee members admittedly lean politically right; most leftists wouldn’t serve on the CHE-JS. But as one member of the regular CHE acknowledged, all were also “people of the first rank in research” — including Nobel Prize laureate Robert Aumann, Israel Prize laureate Yuval Ne’eman (the father of Israel’s space program), and Israel Prize laureate Daniel Sperber.

Despite this, the GOC Central Command refused for three years to confirm the decision. Hence, when Barak finally ordered him to do so, he was not overruling the professionals’ decision but upholding it.

As for the CHE’s opposition, that had nothing to do with Ariel’s qualifications: it opposed the upgrade because it saw “no academic need for another university.”

In truth, as researcher Dan Ben-David has documented, Israel desperately needs another university. From 1973 to 2005, Israel’s population doubled, yet the number of senior faculty per capita plunged 50 percent. At its two flagship universities, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University, the number of researchers fell 14 percent and 21 percent, respectively, while the Technion, Israel’s MIT, added exactly one position. The result is a huge brain drain: fully 25 percent of Israeli academics work overseas, compared to less than 4 percent of European academics.

So what’s the real objection? Money. Israel’s universities are almost wholly state-funded. And while many colleges also receive state funds, universities get much more. Hence a new university would mean a smaller share of the pie for existing ones. And since existing universities control the CHE, they are determined to block newcomers.

But for a country with no natural resources, dependent entirely on its brainpower, a system that prevents new institutions from flourishing is bad news. It is therefore vital to end the CHE’s stranglehold, and in parallel to encourage existing universities to develop nongovernmental funding sources. A school shouldn’t have to be located in the West Bank to obtain recognition as an Israeli university.

This week’s recognition of Ariel College as a “university center” — a step toward full-fledged university status — outraged Israel’s academic establishment.

For some, the objection is political: the institution is located in Ariel, a West Bank settlement, so hard-core leftists want it dismantled, not upgraded — though all Israeli governments have sought to retain Ariel under any peace agreement.

But for most, the objection is ostensibly professional: academically, they claim, Ariel is no better than other colleges that haven’t been upgraded; the Council for Higher Education, an independent professional body that oversees Israeli academia, opposes the upgrade; and the final approval was ordered by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, constituting blatant political interference in higher education.

The actual facts are these: because Israel never annexed the West Bank, formal legal authority there lies with the army — specifically, the GOC Central Command — rather than civilian bodies. Thus Ariel isn’t formally subject to the CHE. But since the army clearly can’t oversee universities, a CHE clone, the Council for Higher Education-Judea and Samaria, was created to do the job.

In 2006, a CHE-JS subcommittee recommended the upgrade, and in 2007 the full CHE-JS adopted this recommendation. All six subcommittee members admittedly lean politically right; most leftists wouldn’t serve on the CHE-JS. But as one member of the regular CHE acknowledged, all were also “people of the first rank in research” — including Nobel Prize laureate Robert Aumann, Israel Prize laureate Yuval Ne’eman (the father of Israel’s space program), and Israel Prize laureate Daniel Sperber.

Despite this, the GOC Central Command refused for three years to confirm the decision. Hence, when Barak finally ordered him to do so, he was not overruling the professionals’ decision but upholding it.

As for the CHE’s opposition, that had nothing to do with Ariel’s qualifications: it opposed the upgrade because it saw “no academic need for another university.”

In truth, as researcher Dan Ben-David has documented, Israel desperately needs another university. From 1973 to 2005, Israel’s population doubled, yet the number of senior faculty per capita plunged 50 percent. At its two flagship universities, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University, the number of researchers fell 14 percent and 21 percent, respectively, while the Technion, Israel’s MIT, added exactly one position. The result is a huge brain drain: fully 25 percent of Israeli academics work overseas, compared to less than 4 percent of European academics.

So what’s the real objection? Money. Israel’s universities are almost wholly state-funded. And while many colleges also receive state funds, universities get much more. Hence a new university would mean a smaller share of the pie for existing ones. And since existing universities control the CHE, they are determined to block newcomers.

But for a country with no natural resources, dependent entirely on its brainpower, a system that prevents new institutions from flourishing is bad news. It is therefore vital to end the CHE’s stranglehold, and in parallel to encourage existing universities to develop nongovernmental funding sources. A school shouldn’t have to be located in the West Bank to obtain recognition as an Israeli university.

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The Middle East Has Always Been Hard

As Jennifer pointed out yesterday, President Barack Obama admitted in an interview with Joe Klein at Time magazine that he had been “too optimistic” about his ability to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that it’s “just really hard.” Those of us with experience in the region are thinking, “Well, duh,” right about now, but at the same time, I sympathize. In the first half of the last decade, I felt naively optimistic about the region myself.

Things were looking up after the demolition of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party regime in Iraq, the termination of the second Palestinian intifada, and the Beirut Spring that ousted the Syrian military occupation from Lebanon. I was hardly alone in getting carried away. Middle Easterners felt it too — or at least some did. “It’s strange for me to say it,” Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said shortly after the uprising against Bashar Assad’s overlordship in his country began, “but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”

The Middle East’s “Berlin Wall,” so to speak, may have cracked, but it didn’t fall.

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

As Jennifer pointed out yesterday, President Barack Obama admitted in an interview with Joe Klein at Time magazine that he had been “too optimistic” about his ability to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that it’s “just really hard.” Those of us with experience in the region are thinking, “Well, duh,” right about now, but at the same time, I sympathize. In the first half of the last decade, I felt naively optimistic about the region myself.

Things were looking up after the demolition of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party regime in Iraq, the termination of the second Palestinian intifada, and the Beirut Spring that ousted the Syrian military occupation from Lebanon. I was hardly alone in getting carried away. Middle Easterners felt it too — or at least some did. “It’s strange for me to say it,” Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said shortly after the uprising against Bashar Assad’s overlordship in his country began, “but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”

The Middle East’s “Berlin Wall,” so to speak, may have cracked, but it didn’t fall.

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

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Independents Abandon Obama

Public Policy Polling, which nailed the Massachusetts Senate vote, is out with a new survey:

Barack Obama’s approval rating is in negative territory. 47% of voters in the country express unhappiness with the job he’s doing while 46% give him good marks. 81% of Democrats, 43% of independents, and 11% of Republicans think he’s doing well. While he retains ratings over 70% with both African Americans and Hispanics, he’s now at a negative 36/57 spread with white voters. Obama’s health care plan continues to be part of his popularity problem. 49% of voters in the country are opposed to 40% in favor. Republicans are much stronger in their opposition than Democrats are in their support. 41% of voters say that Obama has lived up to their expectations while 49% think he has not. The biggest drop between his approval and the feeling that he’s met expectations is with independents.

It’s that collapse of support among independents that’s so alarming to Democrats. This is certainly not the only evidence we’ve seen of independents fleeing the president and his party. For months now, the president’s support among independents has been cratering. Moreover, in three successive high-profile elections — in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts — independents have voted in large numbers against the Obama agenda and for the Republican candidate. It’s a recipe for disaster for many Democrats who must rely to one degree or another on a coalition of independents and Democrats to keep them in office.

It’s the mirror image of the Republicans’ travails in 2006 and 2008, when they lost all but their core supporters, and so depressed those voters that they gave their opponents the turnout and enthusiasm advantage. It’s not impossible for Democrats to get these voters back. Bill Clinton did it with welfare reform and with a dramatic reorientation of his presidency. We’ll see if Obama can do so as well, and whether his party must first experience a drubbing in the midterm elections.

Public Policy Polling, which nailed the Massachusetts Senate vote, is out with a new survey:

Barack Obama’s approval rating is in negative territory. 47% of voters in the country express unhappiness with the job he’s doing while 46% give him good marks. 81% of Democrats, 43% of independents, and 11% of Republicans think he’s doing well. While he retains ratings over 70% with both African Americans and Hispanics, he’s now at a negative 36/57 spread with white voters. Obama’s health care plan continues to be part of his popularity problem. 49% of voters in the country are opposed to 40% in favor. Republicans are much stronger in their opposition than Democrats are in their support. 41% of voters say that Obama has lived up to their expectations while 49% think he has not. The biggest drop between his approval and the feeling that he’s met expectations is with independents.

It’s that collapse of support among independents that’s so alarming to Democrats. This is certainly not the only evidence we’ve seen of independents fleeing the president and his party. For months now, the president’s support among independents has been cratering. Moreover, in three successive high-profile elections — in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts — independents have voted in large numbers against the Obama agenda and for the Republican candidate. It’s a recipe for disaster for many Democrats who must rely to one degree or another on a coalition of independents and Democrats to keep them in office.

It’s the mirror image of the Republicans’ travails in 2006 and 2008, when they lost all but their core supporters, and so depressed those voters that they gave their opponents the turnout and enthusiasm advantage. It’s not impossible for Democrats to get these voters back. Bill Clinton did it with welfare reform and with a dramatic reorientation of his presidency. We’ll see if Obama can do so as well, and whether his party must first experience a drubbing in the midterm elections.

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The Collapse

The headline reads: “Dem health care talks collapsing.” The Scott Brown epic upset has sent the Democrats scrambling:

Democrats struggled all year to maintain a coalition in support of health care reform without any GOP votes. Republican Scott Brown’s improbable win in Massachusetts on Tuesday now looks like it has the potential to end that almost-impossible balancing act. This post-Massachusetts confusion raises the stakes for President Barack Obama’s first official State of the Union address next week, which some now believe must be a last-ditch effort to get health care finished. On Thursday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a fierce proponent of health reform, said it wasn’t clear how the Senate should press ahead.

A scaled down bill? Nyet, say the liberals. Vote on the Senate bill? No votes, proclaims Nancy Pelosi. Maybe lots of mini-bills in itty-bitty pieces? Oh, puhleez. Do Democrats want to be at this until August? They’re looking for direction from the White House, we’re told. Well, they shouldn’t look too long. Obama says that Massachusetts had nothing to do with ObamaCare. But they’ve gotten one thing right: “Some Democrats also worried that voters would judge them out-of-touch for devoting so much energy to health care now.” It’s gotten so bad than even Olympia Snowe won’t play ball. (“To make matters worse, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, once a possible Republican vote, signaled Thursday that she was unlikely to rejoin negotiations with the White House and Democratic leaders unless they scaled back their ambitions.”) If it seems rather chaotic, it is. As Josh Marshall notes:

My strongest sense however is not so much that decisions have been made to drop reform as that it’s something like a matter of survivors walking around — half dazed — after some sort of natural disaster. There is no plan.

Conservatives are largely standing back, giddy with anticipation, wondering if this is actually transpiring before their eyes. They spent a year making cogent arguments, organizing town halls and tea parties, and making hay out of Democrats’ broken promises and corrupt backroom deals. But there was an underlying reality all along that nagged at them: the Democrats have the votes. Well, had the votes.

Democrats acted like the only majorities that mattered were in the House and the Senate and that they could act with impunity. Then Scott Brown deprived them of the 6oth vote and proved there was no free pass and the polls meant something. Almost instantly the ground beneath ObamaCare supporters began to crumble. The only thing ObamaCare had going for it was the illusion of inevitability and the willingness of members of Congress to avert their eyes from the popular rebellion mounting outside their offices. Once that was gone, what was left? There is no popular mandate to save it. There are no serious lawmakers who think this is a winning bill on which to run. It doesn’t even make sense on the merits (force people to buy plans they don’t want from Big Insurance?). And every Democrat on the ballot in 2010 (gubernatorial candidates included) wants this over.

The only question that remains is whether Obama can keep the dam from breaking before he gets to his State of the Union address.

The headline reads: “Dem health care talks collapsing.” The Scott Brown epic upset has sent the Democrats scrambling:

Democrats struggled all year to maintain a coalition in support of health care reform without any GOP votes. Republican Scott Brown’s improbable win in Massachusetts on Tuesday now looks like it has the potential to end that almost-impossible balancing act. This post-Massachusetts confusion raises the stakes for President Barack Obama’s first official State of the Union address next week, which some now believe must be a last-ditch effort to get health care finished. On Thursday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a fierce proponent of health reform, said it wasn’t clear how the Senate should press ahead.

A scaled down bill? Nyet, say the liberals. Vote on the Senate bill? No votes, proclaims Nancy Pelosi. Maybe lots of mini-bills in itty-bitty pieces? Oh, puhleez. Do Democrats want to be at this until August? They’re looking for direction from the White House, we’re told. Well, they shouldn’t look too long. Obama says that Massachusetts had nothing to do with ObamaCare. But they’ve gotten one thing right: “Some Democrats also worried that voters would judge them out-of-touch for devoting so much energy to health care now.” It’s gotten so bad than even Olympia Snowe won’t play ball. (“To make matters worse, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, once a possible Republican vote, signaled Thursday that she was unlikely to rejoin negotiations with the White House and Democratic leaders unless they scaled back their ambitions.”) If it seems rather chaotic, it is. As Josh Marshall notes:

My strongest sense however is not so much that decisions have been made to drop reform as that it’s something like a matter of survivors walking around — half dazed — after some sort of natural disaster. There is no plan.

Conservatives are largely standing back, giddy with anticipation, wondering if this is actually transpiring before their eyes. They spent a year making cogent arguments, organizing town halls and tea parties, and making hay out of Democrats’ broken promises and corrupt backroom deals. But there was an underlying reality all along that nagged at them: the Democrats have the votes. Well, had the votes.

Democrats acted like the only majorities that mattered were in the House and the Senate and that they could act with impunity. Then Scott Brown deprived them of the 6oth vote and proved there was no free pass and the polls meant something. Almost instantly the ground beneath ObamaCare supporters began to crumble. The only thing ObamaCare had going for it was the illusion of inevitability and the willingness of members of Congress to avert their eyes from the popular rebellion mounting outside their offices. Once that was gone, what was left? There is no popular mandate to save it. There are no serious lawmakers who think this is a winning bill on which to run. It doesn’t even make sense on the merits (force people to buy plans they don’t want from Big Insurance?). And every Democrat on the ballot in 2010 (gubernatorial candidates included) wants this over.

The only question that remains is whether Obama can keep the dam from breaking before he gets to his State of the Union address.

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It’s Not Rush Limbaugh Who Should Apologize

In my new book, Why Are Jews Liberals?, I argue that it no longer makes any sense for so many of my fellow Jews to go on aligning themselves with the forces of the Left. I also try to show that our interests and our ideals, both as Americans and as Jews, have come in recent decades to be better served by the forces of the Right. In the course of describing and agreeing with the book the other day, Rush Limbaugh cited a few of the numerous reasons for the widespread puzzlement over the persistence of liberalism within the American Jewish community. And while discussing those reasons, he pointed to the undeniable fact that for “a lot of people” — prejudiced people, as he called them twice — the words “banker” and “Wall Street” are code words for “Jewish.” Was it possible, he wondered, that Obama’s attacks on bankers and Wall Street were triggering a certain amount of buyer’s remorse within the American Jewish community, which gave him 78 percent of its vote?

Finally, taking off from my observation that many Jewish liberals like to call themselves independents, he wondered whether a fair number of the self-described independents who deserted Obama and voted for Scott Brown might actually have been Jewish liberals. If so, he concluded, Brown’s “victory could be even more indicative of an even bigger change in the political temper of the country than has so far been recognized.”

For this, Rush Limbaugh has been subjected to a vile attack by Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Of course, Mr. Foxman has a long history of seeing an anti-Semite under every conservative bed while blinding himself to the blatant fact that anti-Semitism has largely been banished from the Right in the past 40 years, and that it has found a hospitable new home on the Left, especially where Israel is concerned. This makes Foxman a perfect embodiment of the phenomenon I analyze in Why Are Jews Liberals? Now Foxman has the chutzpah to denounce Rush Limbaugh as an anti-Semite and to demand an apology from him to boot. Well, if an apology is owed here, it is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League who should apologize for the defamatory accusation of anti-Semitism that he himself has hurled against so loyal a friend of Israel as Rush Limbaugh.

In my new book, Why Are Jews Liberals?, I argue that it no longer makes any sense for so many of my fellow Jews to go on aligning themselves with the forces of the Left. I also try to show that our interests and our ideals, both as Americans and as Jews, have come in recent decades to be better served by the forces of the Right. In the course of describing and agreeing with the book the other day, Rush Limbaugh cited a few of the numerous reasons for the widespread puzzlement over the persistence of liberalism within the American Jewish community. And while discussing those reasons, he pointed to the undeniable fact that for “a lot of people” — prejudiced people, as he called them twice — the words “banker” and “Wall Street” are code words for “Jewish.” Was it possible, he wondered, that Obama’s attacks on bankers and Wall Street were triggering a certain amount of buyer’s remorse within the American Jewish community, which gave him 78 percent of its vote?

Finally, taking off from my observation that many Jewish liberals like to call themselves independents, he wondered whether a fair number of the self-described independents who deserted Obama and voted for Scott Brown might actually have been Jewish liberals. If so, he concluded, Brown’s “victory could be even more indicative of an even bigger change in the political temper of the country than has so far been recognized.”

For this, Rush Limbaugh has been subjected to a vile attack by Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Of course, Mr. Foxman has a long history of seeing an anti-Semite under every conservative bed while blinding himself to the blatant fact that anti-Semitism has largely been banished from the Right in the past 40 years, and that it has found a hospitable new home on the Left, especially where Israel is concerned. This makes Foxman a perfect embodiment of the phenomenon I analyze in Why Are Jews Liberals? Now Foxman has the chutzpah to denounce Rush Limbaugh as an anti-Semite and to demand an apology from him to boot. Well, if an apology is owed here, it is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League who should apologize for the defamatory accusation of anti-Semitism that he himself has hurled against so loyal a friend of Israel as Rush Limbaugh.

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Can Obama Avoid Failure?

Charles Krauthammer writes:

Democrats, if they wish, can write off their Massachusetts humiliation to high unemployment, to Coakley or, the current favorite among sophisticates, to generalized anger. That implies an inchoate, unthinking lashing-out at whoever happens to be in power — even at your liberal betters who are forcing on you an agenda that you can’t even see is in your own interest.

Democrats must so rationalize, otherwise they must take democracy seriously, and ask themselves: If the people really don’t want it, could they possibly have a point?

There is, it seems, a divide developing between Democrats inclined to so rationalize and those who are panicking. The panickers are the realists, the congressmen and senators on the ballot in November or in 2012 who never quite accepted the invitation to throw caution to the wind for the sake of a “historical achievement.” The rationalizers are gathered at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue spinning furiously. “How could we have been wrong? We’re not wrong! This is about the economy. The voters will get over this!”

One has to think that when the cameras finally depart the White House (they do leave sometime, right?) and there’s no one left to beguile, Obama will look over his first year in office and understand that he’s accomplished virtually nothing (other than sacrificing some congressional allies, losing two gubernatorial races, taking over a couple of car companies, appointing a mediocre Supreme Court justice, running up the debt, and racking up a foreign-policy record rivaled only by Jimmy Carter) with the largest congressional majority in decades. He must see his influence diminishing daily and wonder if this is really it – the last chance to do something, anything.

If he’s reflective enough to sense there is failure looming, he has two choices: roll the dice and go for broke on some health-care scheme (however slimmed down it must be), or leave health care by the wayside, as Bill Clinton did, and go do something else with his presidency. He could, after all, successfully prosecute the war against Islamic fascism, work on economic recovery, or get serious about real education reform. We’ll find out which he prefers. Or maybe, as with his entire domestic agenda to date, the scene will be set for him by Congress. Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and their troops could collectively make the decision whether to throw in the towel on ObamaCare. Maybe they already have, as they deliver the news piecemeal (no delay on seating Brown, no House vote on the Senate bill).

Finally it might be time for Obama to seize the reins of his own presidency and set the course he wants. It might be time to stop delegating his domestic agenda to Pelosi and Reid, who’ve managed to bollix up their signature issue and lose the critical 60th Senate vote along the way. Obama could tell them precisely what he wants. Unless, of course, he doesn’t know what he wants and just can’t get beyond the notion that the country no longer falls at his feet. As he said of the Middle East specifically, being president is “really hard.” A lot harder than campaigning.

Charles Krauthammer writes:

Democrats, if they wish, can write off their Massachusetts humiliation to high unemployment, to Coakley or, the current favorite among sophisticates, to generalized anger. That implies an inchoate, unthinking lashing-out at whoever happens to be in power — even at your liberal betters who are forcing on you an agenda that you can’t even see is in your own interest.

Democrats must so rationalize, otherwise they must take democracy seriously, and ask themselves: If the people really don’t want it, could they possibly have a point?

There is, it seems, a divide developing between Democrats inclined to so rationalize and those who are panicking. The panickers are the realists, the congressmen and senators on the ballot in November or in 2012 who never quite accepted the invitation to throw caution to the wind for the sake of a “historical achievement.” The rationalizers are gathered at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue spinning furiously. “How could we have been wrong? We’re not wrong! This is about the economy. The voters will get over this!”

One has to think that when the cameras finally depart the White House (they do leave sometime, right?) and there’s no one left to beguile, Obama will look over his first year in office and understand that he’s accomplished virtually nothing (other than sacrificing some congressional allies, losing two gubernatorial races, taking over a couple of car companies, appointing a mediocre Supreme Court justice, running up the debt, and racking up a foreign-policy record rivaled only by Jimmy Carter) with the largest congressional majority in decades. He must see his influence diminishing daily and wonder if this is really it – the last chance to do something, anything.

If he’s reflective enough to sense there is failure looming, he has two choices: roll the dice and go for broke on some health-care scheme (however slimmed down it must be), or leave health care by the wayside, as Bill Clinton did, and go do something else with his presidency. He could, after all, successfully prosecute the war against Islamic fascism, work on economic recovery, or get serious about real education reform. We’ll find out which he prefers. Or maybe, as with his entire domestic agenda to date, the scene will be set for him by Congress. Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and their troops could collectively make the decision whether to throw in the towel on ObamaCare. Maybe they already have, as they deliver the news piecemeal (no delay on seating Brown, no House vote on the Senate bill).

Finally it might be time for Obama to seize the reins of his own presidency and set the course he wants. It might be time to stop delegating his domestic agenda to Pelosi and Reid, who’ve managed to bollix up their signature issue and lose the critical 60th Senate vote along the way. Obama could tell them precisely what he wants. Unless, of course, he doesn’t know what he wants and just can’t get beyond the notion that the country no longer falls at his feet. As he said of the Middle East specifically, being president is “really hard.” A lot harder than campaigning.

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A Billion-Dollar Blunder

James Q. Wilson (a COMMENTARY contributor) reminds us of what the New York trial of KSM entails:

To protect the courthouse, the New York Police Department will establish a rigid inner circle bounded by Worth, Madison, Pearl and Centre streets. Vehicles entering the perimeter will be thoroughly screened and searched.

This secure perimeter will encompass several city blocks. Inside it will be a federal courthouse, the city’s police headquarters, a New York State Supreme Court building, other governmental buildings and St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church. Also inside the cordon will be Chatham Towers, two 25-story residential buildings with hundreds of residents and a public parking garage.

This means that everyone who wants to get to the city’s police headquarters, a court building or their homes in Chatham Towers will face road blocks, car searches, radiation monitors and pedestrian checks.

The cost of added personnel deployed year after year as the trial plays out is daunting. We’re talking over $200M per year. Wilson adds: “If the five defendants are found guilty, there will probably be an appeal that will be heard in a courthouse inside the secure area, which would require more months of stepped up security. And these figures do not count what the U.S. marshals, the FBI and other agencies will spend on activities related to the trial.”

You can understand that New York taxpayers might not want to get stuck with the tab. But neither should any American taxpayer. The solution, as Wilson points out, is simple: send KSM and his cohorts back to the military tribunal, where they can plead guilty or not and be dealt with in the safe confines of a military facility.

Cost is not the primary reason to oppose a civilian KSM trial, but neither is it insignificant. We’re talking about a tab approaching a billion dollars if a multiyear trial and subsequent appeal unfolds. It is yet another instance in which liberal elites, with an ideological bent toward expanding constitutional protections beyond any historical or legal necessity, seek to impose burdens on ordinary Americans. In this case, the burdens involve both their safety and their wallets.

James Q. Wilson (a COMMENTARY contributor) reminds us of what the New York trial of KSM entails:

To protect the courthouse, the New York Police Department will establish a rigid inner circle bounded by Worth, Madison, Pearl and Centre streets. Vehicles entering the perimeter will be thoroughly screened and searched.

This secure perimeter will encompass several city blocks. Inside it will be a federal courthouse, the city’s police headquarters, a New York State Supreme Court building, other governmental buildings and St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church. Also inside the cordon will be Chatham Towers, two 25-story residential buildings with hundreds of residents and a public parking garage.

This means that everyone who wants to get to the city’s police headquarters, a court building or their homes in Chatham Towers will face road blocks, car searches, radiation monitors and pedestrian checks.

The cost of added personnel deployed year after year as the trial plays out is daunting. We’re talking over $200M per year. Wilson adds: “If the five defendants are found guilty, there will probably be an appeal that will be heard in a courthouse inside the secure area, which would require more months of stepped up security. And these figures do not count what the U.S. marshals, the FBI and other agencies will spend on activities related to the trial.”

You can understand that New York taxpayers might not want to get stuck with the tab. But neither should any American taxpayer. The solution, as Wilson points out, is simple: send KSM and his cohorts back to the military tribunal, where they can plead guilty or not and be dealt with in the safe confines of a military facility.

Cost is not the primary reason to oppose a civilian KSM trial, but neither is it insignificant. We’re talking about a tab approaching a billion dollars if a multiyear trial and subsequent appeal unfolds. It is yet another instance in which liberal elites, with an ideological bent toward expanding constitutional protections beyond any historical or legal necessity, seek to impose burdens on ordinary Americans. In this case, the burdens involve both their safety and their wallets.

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The Public Tells Obama to Stop

“In case there was any doubt, a new poll confirms that the public really, Mr. President, honestly, no kidding, wants you to stop!” That’s what Obama’s staff should be telling him when they put this on his desk:

A 55% majority of Americans say President Obama and congressional Democrats should suspend work on the health care bill that has been on the verge of passage and consider alternatives that would draw more Republican support, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds. …

An overwhelming 72% of those surveyed Wednesday say Brown’s victory “reflects frustrations shared by many Americans, and the president and members of Congress should pay attention to it.” Just 18% say it “reflects political conditions in Massachusetts and doesn’t have a larger meaning for national politics.”

And if that isn’t enough to stir the president, the survey also shows that Democrats shouldn’t have made health care their top priority. (“Forty-six percent say health care is important but there are other problems they should address first, and 19% say health care shouldn’t be a major priority.”)

You’d think the White House would take all that to heart. But increasingly it seems that it matters less what Obama says and what his flacks echo. It’s the rank-and-file membership of the Democratic House and Senate caucuses who seem to be putting on the breaks, talking about slowing things down, looking for a “stripped down” version of health care (which “would amount to a major retreat from Obama’s initial vision of near-universal coverage — a stunning comedown made necessary by Republican Scott Brown’s Senate win”), and sounding like they really have digested the Massachusetts election results.

“In case there was any doubt, a new poll confirms that the public really, Mr. President, honestly, no kidding, wants you to stop!” That’s what Obama’s staff should be telling him when they put this on his desk:

A 55% majority of Americans say President Obama and congressional Democrats should suspend work on the health care bill that has been on the verge of passage and consider alternatives that would draw more Republican support, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds. …

An overwhelming 72% of those surveyed Wednesday say Brown’s victory “reflects frustrations shared by many Americans, and the president and members of Congress should pay attention to it.” Just 18% say it “reflects political conditions in Massachusetts and doesn’t have a larger meaning for national politics.”

And if that isn’t enough to stir the president, the survey also shows that Democrats shouldn’t have made health care their top priority. (“Forty-six percent say health care is important but there are other problems they should address first, and 19% say health care shouldn’t be a major priority.”)

You’d think the White House would take all that to heart. But increasingly it seems that it matters less what Obama says and what his flacks echo. It’s the rank-and-file membership of the Democratic House and Senate caucuses who seem to be putting on the breaks, talking about slowing things down, looking for a “stripped down” version of health care (which “would amount to a major retreat from Obama’s initial vision of near-universal coverage — a stunning comedown made necessary by Republican Scott Brown’s Senate win”), and sounding like they really have digested the Massachusetts election results.

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Obama Demagogues the Court’s Ruling

The president issued a written statement yesterday on the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down most of the McCain-Feingold campaign statute. It read:

With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington–while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That’s why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.

This is as noxious a statement concerning the Supreme Court that has, in my memory, ever been issued by the White House. Let’s count the ways. First, the president — who tells us he is a serious constitutional scholar – offers not a single word of substantive criticism about the Court’s analysis. He treats the Court — as most liberals do, frankly — as a policymaking body. In this case, he doesn’t like the outcome and blasts away at the result, transparently using the Court to regain his populist footing with the public.

Second, what in the world is a bipartisan response to a First Amendment ruling? He’s going to amend the Constitution? He’s going to pack the Court? The lack of acknowledgment that this is a principle of constitutional law, one at the foundation of our democracy, is jaw-dropping. You’ll notice what is not in the president’s statement — “First Amendment’ or “Constitution.” There isn’t a legislative “fix” to the First Amendment.

And finally, let’s just remember that liberals for years inveighed against any public figure who dared criticize a court ruling. They were doing damage to the political system, lessening respect for the rule of law and even encouraging violence against judges, they finger-wagged. Well, it seems the rules have changed. And from a law professor yet.

The president has many problems — a failing agenda, a public that has tuned him out, and a staff that serves him poorly. But at the root of much of what ails him is arrogance. He seems not to appreciate or frankly care what the public thinks. He deems criticism illegitimate and attributes bad motives to critics. His lawyers have invented new legal privileges and excuses to avoid scrutiny. He has populated his administration with unaccountable czars. And now he seems not to fully appreciate or respect a binding ruling of the Court. His politicization of a Court ruling for his own PR purposes and his utter lack of respect for the Court in its capacity as a check against, among other things, him is startling. And for those who hold dear notions of limited government and the protection of core political rights, this should be disturbing.

The president issued a written statement yesterday on the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down most of the McCain-Feingold campaign statute. It read:

With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington–while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That’s why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.

This is as noxious a statement concerning the Supreme Court that has, in my memory, ever been issued by the White House. Let’s count the ways. First, the president — who tells us he is a serious constitutional scholar – offers not a single word of substantive criticism about the Court’s analysis. He treats the Court — as most liberals do, frankly — as a policymaking body. In this case, he doesn’t like the outcome and blasts away at the result, transparently using the Court to regain his populist footing with the public.

Second, what in the world is a bipartisan response to a First Amendment ruling? He’s going to amend the Constitution? He’s going to pack the Court? The lack of acknowledgment that this is a principle of constitutional law, one at the foundation of our democracy, is jaw-dropping. You’ll notice what is not in the president’s statement — “First Amendment’ or “Constitution.” There isn’t a legislative “fix” to the First Amendment.

And finally, let’s just remember that liberals for years inveighed against any public figure who dared criticize a court ruling. They were doing damage to the political system, lessening respect for the rule of law and even encouraging violence against judges, they finger-wagged. Well, it seems the rules have changed. And from a law professor yet.

The president has many problems — a failing agenda, a public that has tuned him out, and a staff that serves him poorly. But at the root of much of what ails him is arrogance. He seems not to appreciate or frankly care what the public thinks. He deems criticism illegitimate and attributes bad motives to critics. His lawyers have invented new legal privileges and excuses to avoid scrutiny. He has populated his administration with unaccountable czars. And now he seems not to fully appreciate or respect a binding ruling of the Court. His politicization of a Court ruling for his own PR purposes and his utter lack of respect for the Court in its capacity as a check against, among other things, him is startling. And for those who hold dear notions of limited government and the protection of core political rights, this should be disturbing.

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