Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 23, 2010

Consensus Forms: Obama’s Terror Approach Is Mindless

Broad-based criticism is mounting in response to the Obami’s unthinking fixation on handling terrorists within the criminal-justice model. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair got the ball rolling in a testimony concerning the Christmas Day bomber. Stephen Hayes quotes his testimony, in which he acknowledges that no thought was given to designating Abdulmutallab for questioning by the high-value interrogation unit:

Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people and—duh! [here Blair theatrically slaps palm to forehead]—we didn’t put it [into effect] then. That’s what we will do now. .  .  .I was not consulted; the decision was made on the scene. It seemed logical to the people there, but it should have been taken using this HIG format at a higher level.

Hayes explains: “We had a load of information on Abdulmutallab—his background, his movements, his contacts—that never came into play in the cursory questioning of him. And we missed a chance to get a load of information from him which could have greatly aided efforts to head off future attacks and destroy al Qaeda assets in Yemen and elsewhere.”

He is not alone in his condemnation of the Obami’s approach. The Washington Post editors agree that “the decision to try Mr. Abdulmutallab turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process but as a knee-jerk default to a crime-and-punishment model. . . The administration claims Mr. Abdulmutallab provided valuable information — and probably exhausted his knowledge of al-Qaeda operations — before he clammed up. This was immediately after he was read his Miranda rights and provided with a court-appointed lawyer. The truth is, we may never know whether the administration made the right call or whether it squandered a valuable opportunity.”

How could this be, you ask? Well, it’s simple. Obama made the call. This is his vision of how we should respond to terrorism. He is the author of the “not Bush” anti-terror approach. He has empowered Eric Holder to wage war on the intelligence community and to put Justice Department lawyers, rather than intelligence officials, in the driver seat. If this seems to have been foolhardy and fraught with peril, it will take bipartisan action to reverse it. Oversight hearings, use of the power of the purse, and ultimately legislation to determine the jurisdiction of the federal course are all within the purview of Congress. As Democratic lawmakers have learned on domestic policy, following Obama’s lead is politically unwise. Perhaps it is time they showed some independence and exercised their own constitutional responsibilities to think through our approach and set a sensible policy for handling terrorists whom we capture. The White House sure isn’t doing so.

Broad-based criticism is mounting in response to the Obami’s unthinking fixation on handling terrorists within the criminal-justice model. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair got the ball rolling in a testimony concerning the Christmas Day bomber. Stephen Hayes quotes his testimony, in which he acknowledges that no thought was given to designating Abdulmutallab for questioning by the high-value interrogation unit:

Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people and—duh! [here Blair theatrically slaps palm to forehead]—we didn’t put it [into effect] then. That’s what we will do now. .  .  .I was not consulted; the decision was made on the scene. It seemed logical to the people there, but it should have been taken using this HIG format at a higher level.

Hayes explains: “We had a load of information on Abdulmutallab—his background, his movements, his contacts—that never came into play in the cursory questioning of him. And we missed a chance to get a load of information from him which could have greatly aided efforts to head off future attacks and destroy al Qaeda assets in Yemen and elsewhere.”

He is not alone in his condemnation of the Obami’s approach. The Washington Post editors agree that “the decision to try Mr. Abdulmutallab turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process but as a knee-jerk default to a crime-and-punishment model. . . The administration claims Mr. Abdulmutallab provided valuable information — and probably exhausted his knowledge of al-Qaeda operations — before he clammed up. This was immediately after he was read his Miranda rights and provided with a court-appointed lawyer. The truth is, we may never know whether the administration made the right call or whether it squandered a valuable opportunity.”

How could this be, you ask? Well, it’s simple. Obama made the call. This is his vision of how we should respond to terrorism. He is the author of the “not Bush” anti-terror approach. He has empowered Eric Holder to wage war on the intelligence community and to put Justice Department lawyers, rather than intelligence officials, in the driver seat. If this seems to have been foolhardy and fraught with peril, it will take bipartisan action to reverse it. Oversight hearings, use of the power of the purse, and ultimately legislation to determine the jurisdiction of the federal course are all within the purview of Congress. As Democratic lawmakers have learned on domestic policy, following Obama’s lead is politically unwise. Perhaps it is time they showed some independence and exercised their own constitutional responsibilities to think through our approach and set a sensible policy for handling terrorists whom we capture. The White House sure isn’t doing so.

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Obama Doubles Down

This report on Obama’s trip to Ohio is telling for several reasons. Both the president’s rhetoric and the mainstream media’s coverage should alarm Democrats who need to figure out how to plug the leak in their political boat.

First, he seems to be doubling down on health care:

“I am not going to walk away just because it’s hard,” Obama said before a cheering crowd in a field house at Lorain County Community College. “We’re going to keep on working to get this done with Democrats, I hope also Republicans — anyone who is willing to step up. Because I am not going to watch more people get crushed by costs, or denied the care they need by insurance company bureaucrats, or partisan politics, or special-interest power in Washington.”

Is he serious? One wonders if he is going to pull this at the State of the Union, leaving his own congressional allies slack-jawed. There isn’t support there for this hooey and no one thinks that “special-interest power” is killing ObamaCare. Voters are — in large part because of the special-interest deal-making.

Second, it is rather obvious that he has no Plan-B agenda, only hyped-up rhetoric. (“Obama offered no new programs during his prepared remarks or in answers to audience questions, but the urgency of his job-creation message was striking.”) As a practical matter this makes it hard to “pivot” to something else.

Third, his new-found populism doesn’t even sell with the mainstream media:

The president continued the combative tone he has struck with Wall Street in recent weeks. He said about the tax he has proposed for large banks that are making huge profits and paying big bonuses just a year after being saved by government bailouts: “We want our money back.” He did not mention that the biggest banks had paid back their bailout money, often with the government reaping a profit, although that has not been the case with the large insurer AIG or the auto companies.

It’s not a good sign if once friendly reporters are rolling their eyes and pointing out the silliness — and dishonesty — of your latest gambit. Again, what is lacking is real substance, a coherent policy approach. Obama seems to think that the answer to a policy debacle and epic political defeat is not better policy, but a bevy of distractions and half-baked ideas. Unfortunately for him, not even the Washington Post is buying it.

And finally, Obama’s infatuation with big government and his condescension toward average Americans know no limits. It’s breath-taking really:

“Obama also shot back at political opponents who say that he is presiding over a massive increase in the size of government. ‘What kind of big government are we trying to perpetrate?’ Obama asked rhetorically. ‘People need help. We need to provide them a helping hand.’”

There is no recognition by Obama that voters are screaming for less government, don’t want statist solutions, and are capable of managing their lives by themselves if government would stop pursuing policies antithetical to job growth and economic recovery. Obama’s retort is always the same: the voters are children, government is here to help!

For Democrats this is a bit of a horror show. They’ve gotten thumped and the president is floundering both on the rhetoric and on the substance. Saner heads perhaps will prevail. Maybe some experienced lawmakers or outside political-triage gurus will step forward to provide guidance. If not it will be a very, very bad year for the Obami.

This report on Obama’s trip to Ohio is telling for several reasons. Both the president’s rhetoric and the mainstream media’s coverage should alarm Democrats who need to figure out how to plug the leak in their political boat.

First, he seems to be doubling down on health care:

“I am not going to walk away just because it’s hard,” Obama said before a cheering crowd in a field house at Lorain County Community College. “We’re going to keep on working to get this done with Democrats, I hope also Republicans — anyone who is willing to step up. Because I am not going to watch more people get crushed by costs, or denied the care they need by insurance company bureaucrats, or partisan politics, or special-interest power in Washington.”

Is he serious? One wonders if he is going to pull this at the State of the Union, leaving his own congressional allies slack-jawed. There isn’t support there for this hooey and no one thinks that “special-interest power” is killing ObamaCare. Voters are — in large part because of the special-interest deal-making.

Second, it is rather obvious that he has no Plan-B agenda, only hyped-up rhetoric. (“Obama offered no new programs during his prepared remarks or in answers to audience questions, but the urgency of his job-creation message was striking.”) As a practical matter this makes it hard to “pivot” to something else.

Third, his new-found populism doesn’t even sell with the mainstream media:

The president continued the combative tone he has struck with Wall Street in recent weeks. He said about the tax he has proposed for large banks that are making huge profits and paying big bonuses just a year after being saved by government bailouts: “We want our money back.” He did not mention that the biggest banks had paid back their bailout money, often with the government reaping a profit, although that has not been the case with the large insurer AIG or the auto companies.

It’s not a good sign if once friendly reporters are rolling their eyes and pointing out the silliness — and dishonesty — of your latest gambit. Again, what is lacking is real substance, a coherent policy approach. Obama seems to think that the answer to a policy debacle and epic political defeat is not better policy, but a bevy of distractions and half-baked ideas. Unfortunately for him, not even the Washington Post is buying it.

And finally, Obama’s infatuation with big government and his condescension toward average Americans know no limits. It’s breath-taking really:

“Obama also shot back at political opponents who say that he is presiding over a massive increase in the size of government. ‘What kind of big government are we trying to perpetrate?’ Obama asked rhetorically. ‘People need help. We need to provide them a helping hand.’”

There is no recognition by Obama that voters are screaming for less government, don’t want statist solutions, and are capable of managing their lives by themselves if government would stop pursuing policies antithetical to job growth and economic recovery. Obama’s retort is always the same: the voters are children, government is here to help!

For Democrats this is a bit of a horror show. They’ve gotten thumped and the president is floundering both on the rhetoric and on the substance. Saner heads perhaps will prevail. Maybe some experienced lawmakers or outside political-triage gurus will step forward to provide guidance. If not it will be a very, very bad year for the Obami.

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The Engine of Spending

As Jennifer referred to this morning, Andy Stern, the head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is not happy with the idea of scaling back health-care “reform.” It is not exactly hard to see why Stern is upset. He represents over one million health-care workers. He also represents over a million government workers and a government takeover of health care is very much in his interest.

Andy Stern and the SEIU are the exemplars of the modern union movement, as the old union movement, personified by Walter Reuther and John L. Lewis, that was so influential in the mid-20th century is a shadow of its former self. Union membership peaked in the early 1950′s at about 35 percent of the nation’s workforce, virtually all of them in the private sector. It’s been declining ever since and is now at 7.2 percent of the workforce in the private sector, about where it was in 1900. What has been growing is union membership among government workers and non-profits such as hospitals: 37.4 percent of the public sector workforce is now unionized and these public-sector workers now constitute more than 50 percent of all union members.

As Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal made clear on Thursday, this is a very dangerous situation. The public service unions have acquired disproportionate political influence, pouring millions in dues money (more than $100 million in 2008) into political campaigns to elect Democrats, the party of government. They pour millions more into ads opposing any reform in government spending, even in states on the brink of bankruptcy, and pushing for higher taxes instead. In Massachusetts public safety spending is up by 139 percent in the last twenty years, education up by 44 percent, Medicaid up by 163 percent.

A big part of the problem is that the laws in place that cover collective bargaining were devised in the 1930′s when public-sector unions didn’t exist. A corporation is a wealth-creation machine and collective bargaining is a negotiation over how to divide the profits between stockholders and labor. Each side knows that if they drive too hard a bargain, they will injure the goose that lays the profit eggs. If labor is paid too much, the company will be less competitive. If it is paid too little, good workers will leave for better-paying jobs elsewhere. But in the public sector, unions and the bureaucrats who negotiate with them are playing with someone else’s money (yours, to be precise), and have overlapping interests in spending more of it. Bureaucrats, after all, measure their prestige by the size of the budget they control and the number of people who report to them.

The result has been an explosion in public-sector compensation. Federal workers now earn, in wages and benefits, about twice what their private-sector equivalents get paid. State workers often have Cadillac health plans and retirement benefits far above the private sector average: 80 percent of public-sector workers have pension benefits, only 50 percent in the private sector. Many can retire at age 50.

The public-sector unions have become the engine behind ballooning state and federal budgets. There will be no cure for excess government spending until their power is decisively curbed. It would be a winning issue for a Republican presidential candidate in 2012. The Democratic candidate, deeply beholden to Andy Stern, who has visited the White House more than anyone else not in government since Obama has been in office, will be very hard pressed to defend against such an attack but will have no option but to try.

As Jennifer referred to this morning, Andy Stern, the head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is not happy with the idea of scaling back health-care “reform.” It is not exactly hard to see why Stern is upset. He represents over one million health-care workers. He also represents over a million government workers and a government takeover of health care is very much in his interest.

Andy Stern and the SEIU are the exemplars of the modern union movement, as the old union movement, personified by Walter Reuther and John L. Lewis, that was so influential in the mid-20th century is a shadow of its former self. Union membership peaked in the early 1950′s at about 35 percent of the nation’s workforce, virtually all of them in the private sector. It’s been declining ever since and is now at 7.2 percent of the workforce in the private sector, about where it was in 1900. What has been growing is union membership among government workers and non-profits such as hospitals: 37.4 percent of the public sector workforce is now unionized and these public-sector workers now constitute more than 50 percent of all union members.

As Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal made clear on Thursday, this is a very dangerous situation. The public service unions have acquired disproportionate political influence, pouring millions in dues money (more than $100 million in 2008) into political campaigns to elect Democrats, the party of government. They pour millions more into ads opposing any reform in government spending, even in states on the brink of bankruptcy, and pushing for higher taxes instead. In Massachusetts public safety spending is up by 139 percent in the last twenty years, education up by 44 percent, Medicaid up by 163 percent.

A big part of the problem is that the laws in place that cover collective bargaining were devised in the 1930′s when public-sector unions didn’t exist. A corporation is a wealth-creation machine and collective bargaining is a negotiation over how to divide the profits between stockholders and labor. Each side knows that if they drive too hard a bargain, they will injure the goose that lays the profit eggs. If labor is paid too much, the company will be less competitive. If it is paid too little, good workers will leave for better-paying jobs elsewhere. But in the public sector, unions and the bureaucrats who negotiate with them are playing with someone else’s money (yours, to be precise), and have overlapping interests in spending more of it. Bureaucrats, after all, measure their prestige by the size of the budget they control and the number of people who report to them.

The result has been an explosion in public-sector compensation. Federal workers now earn, in wages and benefits, about twice what their private-sector equivalents get paid. State workers often have Cadillac health plans and retirement benefits far above the private sector average: 80 percent of public-sector workers have pension benefits, only 50 percent in the private sector. Many can retire at age 50.

The public-sector unions have become the engine behind ballooning state and federal budgets. There will be no cure for excess government spending until their power is decisively curbed. It would be a winning issue for a Republican presidential candidate in 2012. The Democratic candidate, deeply beholden to Andy Stern, who has visited the White House more than anyone else not in government since Obama has been in office, will be very hard pressed to defend against such an attack but will have no option but to try.

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GOP Strife? Hardly!

Fred Barnes notes that Scott Brown’s victory exploded “the fable about a death struggle pitting tea party populists and angry conservatives against moderates and the Republican hierarchy.” Brown – like Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie — succeeded in a state that went for Obama in 2008 by snatching those voters in the middle of the political spectrum and energizing his own base. The notion that this was an impossible task and that these groups were somehow in opposition to one another was spin propagated by liberals looking for solace and by snooty Beltway pundits who disparaged the tea-party populists with little understanding of their actual concerns.

What brought all these groups together? Limited government, economic conservatism, and antipathy toward backroom special-interest deal making. Rather than a conflict, there is remarkable convergence among these groups. Back in April 2009, tea-party protesters were inveighing against the stimulus plan, excess spending, and the prospect of government-run health care. There was nothing then, and nothing now, antithetical to the message that the GOP leadership has been putting forth. Recall that there was not a single GOP House vote for the stimulus plan and that no Republican senators — not even the accommodating senators from Maine — could be induced to vote for ObamaCare. In Obamaism they have found common cause and reason to put aside other topics (e.g., immigration, social issues) on which there is far less agreement.

The fable of Republican divisiveness was a convenient narrative for pundits who aimed to chase out challengers from primaries (e.g., Marco Rubio) or convince themselves that the Republicans couldn’t really seize the initiative. Those divisions on the Right (otherwise known as healthy primary competition to find the best candidates) are slight compared to the food fight that has broken out on the Left. There Democrats and their blog cheerleaders-turned-vicious-critics are forming the circular firing squad, arguing over whether to dump health care altogether, and trying to figure out how to restyle themselves as populists. (Mostly by condescendingly acknowledging that there are “angry” people out there, it seems.) You can see why they’d rather concoct a tale of Republican strife.

Fred Barnes notes that Scott Brown’s victory exploded “the fable about a death struggle pitting tea party populists and angry conservatives against moderates and the Republican hierarchy.” Brown – like Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie — succeeded in a state that went for Obama in 2008 by snatching those voters in the middle of the political spectrum and energizing his own base. The notion that this was an impossible task and that these groups were somehow in opposition to one another was spin propagated by liberals looking for solace and by snooty Beltway pundits who disparaged the tea-party populists with little understanding of their actual concerns.

What brought all these groups together? Limited government, economic conservatism, and antipathy toward backroom special-interest deal making. Rather than a conflict, there is remarkable convergence among these groups. Back in April 2009, tea-party protesters were inveighing against the stimulus plan, excess spending, and the prospect of government-run health care. There was nothing then, and nothing now, antithetical to the message that the GOP leadership has been putting forth. Recall that there was not a single GOP House vote for the stimulus plan and that no Republican senators — not even the accommodating senators from Maine — could be induced to vote for ObamaCare. In Obamaism they have found common cause and reason to put aside other topics (e.g., immigration, social issues) on which there is far less agreement.

The fable of Republican divisiveness was a convenient narrative for pundits who aimed to chase out challengers from primaries (e.g., Marco Rubio) or convince themselves that the Republicans couldn’t really seize the initiative. Those divisions on the Right (otherwise known as healthy primary competition to find the best candidates) are slight compared to the food fight that has broken out on the Left. There Democrats and their blog cheerleaders-turned-vicious-critics are forming the circular firing squad, arguing over whether to dump health care altogether, and trying to figure out how to restyle themselves as populists. (Mostly by condescendingly acknowledging that there are “angry” people out there, it seems.) You can see why they’d rather concoct a tale of Republican strife.

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Moving on from ObamaCare

The Wall Street Journal editors crack: “Progressives of the world are demanding that the House stage a Pickett’s charge and pass the Senate’s Christmas Eve bill, as if it were all merely a matter of political will.” But alas, there is the matter of the votes. And there is no majority in or out of Congress for a massive health-care bill of the type Obama spent a year pushing. The editors dryly observe, “The real problem is that ObamaCare is a deeply unpopular bill—even in Massachusetts.”

So what’s next? Some Democrats actually would rather do nothing. Move on to jobs. Let the public cool down. Don’t remind the voters of why they hate closed-door deal makers. You can see their point. But it is not as if something couldn’t be done. And now, with ObamaCare finally at death’s door, alternative proposals could actually get some consideration:

An incremental reform could use targeted individual tax credits to help the uninsured buy coverage immediately—while gradually shifting the tax code away from its current bias for workplace insurance only, without cannibalizing people’s current coverage. States could be encouraged to experiment with Medicaid block grants, or to set up “exchanges” in which insurers would be held accountable but also compete to offer the benefit mix that consumers find most valuable.

And then there is tort reform, which to everyone — other than trial lawyers — makes eminent sense and can eliminate excess cost without adversely affecting care.

Republicans who have circulated numerous market-oriented proposals might actually get a hearing now. Reps. Paul Ryan and Tom Price and Sen. Jim DeMint, among others, had conservative plans that never got consideration as long as the Congress was fixated on an uber scheme with government in command of the health-care system. Ironically, it may be the Republicans who now want to let the public hear their ideas and the Democrats who’d rather lick their wounds and change the topic.

Whether an alternative, focused set of proposals emerge or not, remains to be seen. The Washington establishment is stunned and it will take some time, I suspect, for everyone to recover their bearings. However things progress from here, we should keep one thing in mind: As in medicine, the first rule of legislation should be “do no harm.” A great deal of harm has been averted and for that we should all be very grateful.

The Wall Street Journal editors crack: “Progressives of the world are demanding that the House stage a Pickett’s charge and pass the Senate’s Christmas Eve bill, as if it were all merely a matter of political will.” But alas, there is the matter of the votes. And there is no majority in or out of Congress for a massive health-care bill of the type Obama spent a year pushing. The editors dryly observe, “The real problem is that ObamaCare is a deeply unpopular bill—even in Massachusetts.”

So what’s next? Some Democrats actually would rather do nothing. Move on to jobs. Let the public cool down. Don’t remind the voters of why they hate closed-door deal makers. You can see their point. But it is not as if something couldn’t be done. And now, with ObamaCare finally at death’s door, alternative proposals could actually get some consideration:

An incremental reform could use targeted individual tax credits to help the uninsured buy coverage immediately—while gradually shifting the tax code away from its current bias for workplace insurance only, without cannibalizing people’s current coverage. States could be encouraged to experiment with Medicaid block grants, or to set up “exchanges” in which insurers would be held accountable but also compete to offer the benefit mix that consumers find most valuable.

And then there is tort reform, which to everyone — other than trial lawyers — makes eminent sense and can eliminate excess cost without adversely affecting care.

Republicans who have circulated numerous market-oriented proposals might actually get a hearing now. Reps. Paul Ryan and Tom Price and Sen. Jim DeMint, among others, had conservative plans that never got consideration as long as the Congress was fixated on an uber scheme with government in command of the health-care system. Ironically, it may be the Republicans who now want to let the public hear their ideas and the Democrats who’d rather lick their wounds and change the topic.

Whether an alternative, focused set of proposals emerge or not, remains to be seen. The Washington establishment is stunned and it will take some time, I suspect, for everyone to recover their bearings. However things progress from here, we should keep one thing in mind: As in medicine, the first rule of legislation should be “do no harm.” A great deal of harm has been averted and for that we should all be very grateful.

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Happy Anniversary

This week Obama did not celebrate the one-year anniversary of his presidency. That is understandable. Who, on either side of the political aisle, would have imagined that at the one-year mark, his nationalized health-care plan would be failing, card check and cap-and-trade would be off the radar, and Obama’s approval rating would be under 50 percent? Couple that with the widespread repudiation of his approach to foreign policy (the exception, more or less, being the prosecution of the war against Islamic fascists in Afghanistan and Iraq), the growth of a grassroots conservative movement, and the victories for Republicans in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, and you can appreciate how little there is for the Obama team to cheer. Obama has proved unable to move legislation or persuade voters in diverse locales. His base is annoyed and now skewers the president. This is all the more amazing, given his huge congressional majorities and the overwhelmingly sympathetic media coverage he received for much of the year.

Obama was compared to Lincoln and FDR (not to mention the Almighty); now the analogy is to Jimmy Carter. Last year the chatter was of a permanent Democratic majority; now the pundits are weighing whether one or both houses of Congress will flip to the Republicans. He was a political colossus and the harbinger of a new era in politics; now fellow Democrats would be wise to steer clear of him.

The reasons are many — ideological overreach, hubris, and sheer incompetence, to name a few. But the magnitude of the reversal of political fortunes should not be overlooked. It is a reminder that nothing in politics is “permanent” and that winning an election does not obviate the need to proceed with caution and being mindful of public consensus when tackling complex and far-reaching policy issues. It is a lesson — or should be — in an era of ubiquitous media spin that the substance of governance matters and that on matters that affect their lives, ordinary citizens can be relied upon to engage, participate, and affect the outcome of the national debate. It is confirmation that the liberal media may be heavily invested in elections and policy debates but do not predetermine the results. And above all, it is an affirmation of the inherent conservatism and common sense of the American people, who may be swept up in the passion of a campaign but retain a healthy aversion to statism and a fondness for freedom.

There are three years more in Obama’s first term. It would be a mistake to predict how it will all come out. But for now, unlike for the president, there is much for conservatives to celebrate.

This week Obama did not celebrate the one-year anniversary of his presidency. That is understandable. Who, on either side of the political aisle, would have imagined that at the one-year mark, his nationalized health-care plan would be failing, card check and cap-and-trade would be off the radar, and Obama’s approval rating would be under 50 percent? Couple that with the widespread repudiation of his approach to foreign policy (the exception, more or less, being the prosecution of the war against Islamic fascists in Afghanistan and Iraq), the growth of a grassroots conservative movement, and the victories for Republicans in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, and you can appreciate how little there is for the Obama team to cheer. Obama has proved unable to move legislation or persuade voters in diverse locales. His base is annoyed and now skewers the president. This is all the more amazing, given his huge congressional majorities and the overwhelmingly sympathetic media coverage he received for much of the year.

Obama was compared to Lincoln and FDR (not to mention the Almighty); now the analogy is to Jimmy Carter. Last year the chatter was of a permanent Democratic majority; now the pundits are weighing whether one or both houses of Congress will flip to the Republicans. He was a political colossus and the harbinger of a new era in politics; now fellow Democrats would be wise to steer clear of him.

The reasons are many — ideological overreach, hubris, and sheer incompetence, to name a few. But the magnitude of the reversal of political fortunes should not be overlooked. It is a reminder that nothing in politics is “permanent” and that winning an election does not obviate the need to proceed with caution and being mindful of public consensus when tackling complex and far-reaching policy issues. It is a lesson — or should be — in an era of ubiquitous media spin that the substance of governance matters and that on matters that affect their lives, ordinary citizens can be relied upon to engage, participate, and affect the outcome of the national debate. It is confirmation that the liberal media may be heavily invested in elections and policy debates but do not predetermine the results. And above all, it is an affirmation of the inherent conservatism and common sense of the American people, who may be swept up in the passion of a campaign but retain a healthy aversion to statism and a fondness for freedom.

There are three years more in Obama’s first term. It would be a mistake to predict how it will all come out. But for now, unlike for the president, there is much for conservatives to celebrate.

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Populist Politics, Economic Panic

Obama imagines that political stratagems have no real-world consequences. On Afghanistan he threw a bone to the Left by imposing a deadline on the withdrawal of troops, not quite appreciating the unnerving effect it would have on allies and the resulting muddling of his policy message. On the economy in December Obama went to the Brookings Institute to say he understood that the private sector is where the jobs are. But now he is on a populist binge and that too has real-world consequences:

Wall Street tumbled for a third day on Friday as a three-day slide pushed the markets down almost 5 percent. For the Dow, Friday was the lowest close since early November. For a second day, shares declined on concerns about President Obama’s proposal for tighter restrictions on the activity of banks as the markets finished the week with a three-day losing streak. . .

Quincy M. Krosby, a markets strategist at Prudential Financial, said investors were also weighing news that Ben S. Bernanke’s confirmation for a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve faced growing opposition.
“What they’re sensing is this has taken on a political visceral momentum,” Ms. Krosby said. “They makes them hesitant about the future of the banking system.”

Pundits debate whether Obama’s new populist red meat will “work” — that is, allow him to recover his political footing. But if he unnerves the markets and spooks investors, he’ll be in further trouble. After all, he might insist that the economy is all George W. Bush’s fault, but fewer and fewer voters are buying that. And if his own policies — spending with abandon, pursuing a junk-a-thon stimulus plan, spending a year on the job-killing ObamaCare and cap-and-trade, and now frightening the financial markets – have paralyzed employers, then he surely is accountable for those results.

Even within the political realm, his populist jag is costly and self-defeating. Playing to the firebrand anti-business crowd has arguably inflamed opposition to his own Fed nominee and put Bernanke’s reappointment at risk. The “populist brushfire that has burned through Democratic fortunes this week [which] threatened Friday to claim Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke” has been fanned by none other than Obama himself.

That too will reflect on Obama, for it is his nominee after all. The resulting uncertainty that would follow Bernanke’s rejection will likely beget a new round of handwringing from investors.

This, of course, is what happens when everything is a matter of politics. At some point you have to get the policy right. Having failed to do that, Obama is only making things worse with yet another political gambit. He — and the country — will suffer the consequences.

Obama imagines that political stratagems have no real-world consequences. On Afghanistan he threw a bone to the Left by imposing a deadline on the withdrawal of troops, not quite appreciating the unnerving effect it would have on allies and the resulting muddling of his policy message. On the economy in December Obama went to the Brookings Institute to say he understood that the private sector is where the jobs are. But now he is on a populist binge and that too has real-world consequences:

Wall Street tumbled for a third day on Friday as a three-day slide pushed the markets down almost 5 percent. For the Dow, Friday was the lowest close since early November. For a second day, shares declined on concerns about President Obama’s proposal for tighter restrictions on the activity of banks as the markets finished the week with a three-day losing streak. . .

Quincy M. Krosby, a markets strategist at Prudential Financial, said investors were also weighing news that Ben S. Bernanke’s confirmation for a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve faced growing opposition.
“What they’re sensing is this has taken on a political visceral momentum,” Ms. Krosby said. “They makes them hesitant about the future of the banking system.”

Pundits debate whether Obama’s new populist red meat will “work” — that is, allow him to recover his political footing. But if he unnerves the markets and spooks investors, he’ll be in further trouble. After all, he might insist that the economy is all George W. Bush’s fault, but fewer and fewer voters are buying that. And if his own policies — spending with abandon, pursuing a junk-a-thon stimulus plan, spending a year on the job-killing ObamaCare and cap-and-trade, and now frightening the financial markets – have paralyzed employers, then he surely is accountable for those results.

Even within the political realm, his populist jag is costly and self-defeating. Playing to the firebrand anti-business crowd has arguably inflamed opposition to his own Fed nominee and put Bernanke’s reappointment at risk. The “populist brushfire that has burned through Democratic fortunes this week [which] threatened Friday to claim Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke” has been fanned by none other than Obama himself.

That too will reflect on Obama, for it is his nominee after all. The resulting uncertainty that would follow Bernanke’s rejection will likely beget a new round of handwringing from investors.

This, of course, is what happens when everything is a matter of politics. At some point you have to get the policy right. Having failed to do that, Obama is only making things worse with yet another political gambit. He — and the country — will suffer the consequences.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

In a must-read piece, Richard Haass, a self-described “card carrying realist,” gives up on “engagement,” declares himself to be a neocon when it comes to Iran and supports regime change there: “The nuclear talks are going nowhere. The Iranians appear intent on developing the means to produce a nuclear weapon; there is no other explanation for the secret uranium-enrichment facility discovered near the holy city of Qum. Fortunately, their nuclear program appears to have hit some technical snags, which puts off the need to decide whether to launch a preventive strike. Instead we should be focusing on another fact: Iran may be closer to profound political change than at any time since the revolution that ousted the shah 30 years ago.” Actually, the only “realistic” policy at this point is regime change.

More data for the Obami to ignore on how “dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, antipathy toward federal government activism and opposition to the Democrats’ health-care proposals” lifted Scott Brown to victory: “Health care topped jobs and the economy as the most important issue driving Massachusetts voters, but among Brown voters, ‘the way Washington is working’ ran a close second to the economy and jobs as a factor. Overall, just 43 percent of Massachusetts voters say they support the health-care proposals advanced by Obama and congressional Democrats; 48 percent oppose them. Among Brown’s supporters, however, eight in 10 said they were opposed to the measures, 66 percent of them strongly so.’”

Now Sen. Chris Dodd says the Democrats should take a break from health-care reform — “a breather for a month, six weeks, and quietly go back and say the door’s open again.”

For once the voters are with Dodd: “Sixty-one percent (61%) of U.S. voters say Congress should drop health care reform and focus on more immediate ways to improve the economy and create jobs.”

Not enough votes to confirm Ben Bernanke? Kind of seems as though all the wheels are coming off the bus.

In politics, winning is always better than losing: “The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) says Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts has yielded more interest and commitments from potential GOP House candidates to run for Congress in the midterms this year. . . . The Brown victory should give Republicans momentum going into 2010, as it will likely spur Republican political donations and conservative activism, as well as preventing Democrats from passing much of their agenda and putting President Obama and congressional Democratic leaders into a defensive mode. An influx of Republican House candidates would be an added boon.”

When it rains, it pours. Big Labor deserting the Democrats? “SEIU chief Andy Stern took a hard shot at Dem leaders just now for considering a scaled-down health care bill, strongly hinting that labor might not work as hard for Dem candidates in 2010 if they failed to deliver real and comprehensive reform.” Can’t blame them – unions spent millions and millions electing Obama as well as the Democratic congressional majorities and what have the Democrats delivered?

Seems as though union voters are already deserting the Democrats: “Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race was lifted by strong support from union households, in a sign of trouble for President Barack Obama and Democrats who are counting on union support in the 2010 midterm elections. A poll conducted on behalf of the AFL-CIO found that 49% of Massachusetts union households supported Mr. Brown in Tuesday’s voting, while 46% supported Democrat Martha Coakley.”

Obama complains of running into a “buzz saw” of opposition in Congress. Has no one ever disagreed with him? Did he expect everyone to simply sign on? I guess the presidency is really hard.

From the New York Times: “A Tennessee man accused of killing a soldier outside a Little Rock, Ark., military recruiting station last year has asked a judge to change his plea to guilty, claiming for the first time that he is affiliated with a Yemen-based affiliate of Al Qaeda. . .If evidence emerges that his claim is true, it will give the June 1, 2009, shooting in Little Rock new significance at a time when Yemen is being more closely scrutinized as a source of terrorist plots against the United States. Mr. Muhammad, 24, a Muslim convert from Memphis, spent about 16 months in Yemen starting in the fall of 2007, ostensibly teaching English and learning Arabic.”

In a must-read piece, Richard Haass, a self-described “card carrying realist,” gives up on “engagement,” declares himself to be a neocon when it comes to Iran and supports regime change there: “The nuclear talks are going nowhere. The Iranians appear intent on developing the means to produce a nuclear weapon; there is no other explanation for the secret uranium-enrichment facility discovered near the holy city of Qum. Fortunately, their nuclear program appears to have hit some technical snags, which puts off the need to decide whether to launch a preventive strike. Instead we should be focusing on another fact: Iran may be closer to profound political change than at any time since the revolution that ousted the shah 30 years ago.” Actually, the only “realistic” policy at this point is regime change.

More data for the Obami to ignore on how “dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, antipathy toward federal government activism and opposition to the Democrats’ health-care proposals” lifted Scott Brown to victory: “Health care topped jobs and the economy as the most important issue driving Massachusetts voters, but among Brown voters, ‘the way Washington is working’ ran a close second to the economy and jobs as a factor. Overall, just 43 percent of Massachusetts voters say they support the health-care proposals advanced by Obama and congressional Democrats; 48 percent oppose them. Among Brown’s supporters, however, eight in 10 said they were opposed to the measures, 66 percent of them strongly so.’”

Now Sen. Chris Dodd says the Democrats should take a break from health-care reform — “a breather for a month, six weeks, and quietly go back and say the door’s open again.”

For once the voters are with Dodd: “Sixty-one percent (61%) of U.S. voters say Congress should drop health care reform and focus on more immediate ways to improve the economy and create jobs.”

Not enough votes to confirm Ben Bernanke? Kind of seems as though all the wheels are coming off the bus.

In politics, winning is always better than losing: “The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) says Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts has yielded more interest and commitments from potential GOP House candidates to run for Congress in the midterms this year. . . . The Brown victory should give Republicans momentum going into 2010, as it will likely spur Republican political donations and conservative activism, as well as preventing Democrats from passing much of their agenda and putting President Obama and congressional Democratic leaders into a defensive mode. An influx of Republican House candidates would be an added boon.”

When it rains, it pours. Big Labor deserting the Democrats? “SEIU chief Andy Stern took a hard shot at Dem leaders just now for considering a scaled-down health care bill, strongly hinting that labor might not work as hard for Dem candidates in 2010 if they failed to deliver real and comprehensive reform.” Can’t blame them – unions spent millions and millions electing Obama as well as the Democratic congressional majorities and what have the Democrats delivered?

Seems as though union voters are already deserting the Democrats: “Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race was lifted by strong support from union households, in a sign of trouble for President Barack Obama and Democrats who are counting on union support in the 2010 midterm elections. A poll conducted on behalf of the AFL-CIO found that 49% of Massachusetts union households supported Mr. Brown in Tuesday’s voting, while 46% supported Democrat Martha Coakley.”

Obama complains of running into a “buzz saw” of opposition in Congress. Has no one ever disagreed with him? Did he expect everyone to simply sign on? I guess the presidency is really hard.

From the New York Times: “A Tennessee man accused of killing a soldier outside a Little Rock, Ark., military recruiting station last year has asked a judge to change his plea to guilty, claiming for the first time that he is affiliated with a Yemen-based affiliate of Al Qaeda. . .If evidence emerges that his claim is true, it will give the June 1, 2009, shooting in Little Rock new significance at a time when Yemen is being more closely scrutinized as a source of terrorist plots against the United States. Mr. Muhammad, 24, a Muslim convert from Memphis, spent about 16 months in Yemen starting in the fall of 2007, ostensibly teaching English and learning Arabic.”

Read Less




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