Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 26, 2010

Senate Democrats’ Secret Plan? Yikes!

Lacking a single legislative accomplishment, fumbling the ball on health-care reform, wondering why the president seems to be operating in a parallel political universe, Senate Democrats are not going to do nothing, mind you. They have a new secret plan: don’t get blamed and try to divide the other side. Yup:

Democrats are looking for someone to blame for their electoral woes — and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez is working hard to make sure it’s not him. Showing that they’ve learned the lesson of Massachusetts, Menendez and his staff will distribute a memo Tuesday advising Democratic campaign managers to frame their opponents early — and to drive a wedge between moderate voters and tea-party-style conservatives.

The game plan is to force their opponents to answer wacky questions and then make them out to be extremist nuts:

“Do you believe that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen? Do you think the 10th Amendment bars Congress from issuing regulations like minimum health care coverage standards? Do you think programs like Social Security and Medicare represent socialism and should never have been created in the first place? Do you think President Obama is a socialist? Do you think America should return to a gold standard?”

Think it’ll work? Nope, me neither. And it does seem rather pathetic, craven, and oblivious to the real risk that the people harping on the gold standard will be the ones who look like the loonies. You’d think the Democrats would get to work on a positive centrist agenda of their own, perhaps follow the leads of Sens. Webb and Lincoln and oppose the Obami’s unwise anti-terror policies. But instead they come up with a cheesy plan that evidences the low regard in which they hold the public. Republicans no doubt have their fingers crossed that this is the sort of silliness they will come up against in November. But I wouldn’t count on it. At some point, some adults in the Democratic caucus may suggest a realistic legislative course adjustment. Otherwise, the discussion will quickly move from speculation over whether the House will change hands to whether both houses will. That’s the sort of thing that happens when the majority party acts irresponsibly and resorts to cheap political stunts.

Lacking a single legislative accomplishment, fumbling the ball on health-care reform, wondering why the president seems to be operating in a parallel political universe, Senate Democrats are not going to do nothing, mind you. They have a new secret plan: don’t get blamed and try to divide the other side. Yup:

Democrats are looking for someone to blame for their electoral woes — and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez is working hard to make sure it’s not him. Showing that they’ve learned the lesson of Massachusetts, Menendez and his staff will distribute a memo Tuesday advising Democratic campaign managers to frame their opponents early — and to drive a wedge between moderate voters and tea-party-style conservatives.

The game plan is to force their opponents to answer wacky questions and then make them out to be extremist nuts:

“Do you believe that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen? Do you think the 10th Amendment bars Congress from issuing regulations like minimum health care coverage standards? Do you think programs like Social Security and Medicare represent socialism and should never have been created in the first place? Do you think President Obama is a socialist? Do you think America should return to a gold standard?”

Think it’ll work? Nope, me neither. And it does seem rather pathetic, craven, and oblivious to the real risk that the people harping on the gold standard will be the ones who look like the loonies. You’d think the Democrats would get to work on a positive centrist agenda of their own, perhaps follow the leads of Sens. Webb and Lincoln and oppose the Obami’s unwise anti-terror policies. But instead they come up with a cheesy plan that evidences the low regard in which they hold the public. Republicans no doubt have their fingers crossed that this is the sort of silliness they will come up against in November. But I wouldn’t count on it. At some point, some adults in the Democratic caucus may suggest a realistic legislative course adjustment. Otherwise, the discussion will quickly move from speculation over whether the House will change hands to whether both houses will. That’s the sort of thing that happens when the majority party acts irresponsibly and resorts to cheap political stunts.

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Afghanistan Strategy: Getting on the Same Page

One of the key relationships that made the surge work in Iraq in 2007 was the close partnership between General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The two men put aside some personal and institutional prerogatives to work harmoniously together to implement a policy they both wholeheartedly believed in. A New York Times article  today suggests how far we are from this optimum situation in Afghanistan.

The Times runs the text of two cables by Karl Eikenberry, a former three-star general who is now the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, objecting to the counterinsurgency strategy advocated by General Stanley McChrystal, the four-star U.S. general and NATO commander. The existences of the memos had previously been reported in the fall, but their text indicates just how far apart the two men are — or at least were. Eikenberry indicates no confidence that a troop increase will make things better. Instead, he fears, it will only “increase Afghan dependency” — the same argument that was made by senior military and civilian commanders against increasing force levels in Iraq prior to 2007.

He is also damning about the leadership capacity of Hamid Karzai in ways that raise questions about whether he can work fruitfully with the Afghan president. He writes: “President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner. … Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. … It strains credulity to expect Karzai to change fundamentally this late in his life.”

Eikenberry makes some good points about the lack of funding for civilian efforts and the “inadequate civilian structure” to partner with military efforts. But then he bizarrely makes the claim that “a relatively small additional investment in programs for development and governance would yield results that, if not as visible as those from sending more troops, would move us closer to achieving our goals at far lesser cost and risk.” Yet nowhere does he explain how more development aid could accomplish so much given the lack of capacity on the part of the Afghan government and civilian aid agencies that he bemoans elsewhere in the memo. Nor does he explain how aid dollars could be spent productively in a climate of pervasive insecurity. No doubt that’s why President Obama essentially endorsed McChrystal’s recommendations over Eikenberry’s.

Leave aside the merit — or lack thereof — of Ambassador Eikenberry’s cables. The real issue is whether he functions effectively with McChrystal while holding views so much at odds with the general’s. I know that Eikenberry told Congress in December, while testifying on the Obama plan for Afghanistan: “I can say without equivocation that I fully support this approach.” But he has never said what elements of his previous analysis he believes are no longer valid. Therefore, his support for the policy looks more pro forma than genuine.

This is a very troubling situation that calls out for top-level resolution to make sure that somehow America’s senior civilian and military representatives in Kabul get on the same page — otherwise success will be harder to achieve than it needs to be.

One of the key relationships that made the surge work in Iraq in 2007 was the close partnership between General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The two men put aside some personal and institutional prerogatives to work harmoniously together to implement a policy they both wholeheartedly believed in. A New York Times article  today suggests how far we are from this optimum situation in Afghanistan.

The Times runs the text of two cables by Karl Eikenberry, a former three-star general who is now the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, objecting to the counterinsurgency strategy advocated by General Stanley McChrystal, the four-star U.S. general and NATO commander. The existences of the memos had previously been reported in the fall, but their text indicates just how far apart the two men are — or at least were. Eikenberry indicates no confidence that a troop increase will make things better. Instead, he fears, it will only “increase Afghan dependency” — the same argument that was made by senior military and civilian commanders against increasing force levels in Iraq prior to 2007.

He is also damning about the leadership capacity of Hamid Karzai in ways that raise questions about whether he can work fruitfully with the Afghan president. He writes: “President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner. … Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. … It strains credulity to expect Karzai to change fundamentally this late in his life.”

Eikenberry makes some good points about the lack of funding for civilian efforts and the “inadequate civilian structure” to partner with military efforts. But then he bizarrely makes the claim that “a relatively small additional investment in programs for development and governance would yield results that, if not as visible as those from sending more troops, would move us closer to achieving our goals at far lesser cost and risk.” Yet nowhere does he explain how more development aid could accomplish so much given the lack of capacity on the part of the Afghan government and civilian aid agencies that he bemoans elsewhere in the memo. Nor does he explain how aid dollars could be spent productively in a climate of pervasive insecurity. No doubt that’s why President Obama essentially endorsed McChrystal’s recommendations over Eikenberry’s.

Leave aside the merit — or lack thereof — of Ambassador Eikenberry’s cables. The real issue is whether he functions effectively with McChrystal while holding views so much at odds with the general’s. I know that Eikenberry told Congress in December, while testifying on the Obama plan for Afghanistan: “I can say without equivocation that I fully support this approach.” But he has never said what elements of his previous analysis he believes are no longer valid. Therefore, his support for the policy looks more pro forma than genuine.

This is a very troubling situation that calls out for top-level resolution to make sure that somehow America’s senior civilian and military representatives in Kabul get on the same page — otherwise success will be harder to achieve than it needs to be.

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Public Trusts Fox, Not So Much the White House

The Democratic polling outfit Public Policy Polling reveals:

Americans do not trust the major tv news operations in the country- except for Fox News. Our newest survey looking at perceptions of ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, and NBC News finds Fox as the only one that more people say they trust than distrust. 49% say they trust it to 37% who do not. CNN does next best at a 39/41 spread, followed by NBC at 35/44, CBS at 32/46, and ABC at 31/46.

This will certainly be unwelcome news to the White House, but it is also further evidence that the Obama administration may have the ability to lift its enemies to new heights of popularity. Perhaps all that vilification from the White House demonstrated that Fox wasn’t the patsy of the administration. Or maybe viewers can judge for themselves — and have long since tuned out the advice of the White House on everything from health care to which news outlet they should watch.

It is certainly one more bit of evidence that the White House is out of touch with the public and that its spin has ceased to move public opinion (at least in the intended direction). It is also a lesson to the mainstream media: sycophantic coverage doesn’t play well with public.

The Democratic polling outfit Public Policy Polling reveals:

Americans do not trust the major tv news operations in the country- except for Fox News. Our newest survey looking at perceptions of ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, and NBC News finds Fox as the only one that more people say they trust than distrust. 49% say they trust it to 37% who do not. CNN does next best at a 39/41 spread, followed by NBC at 35/44, CBS at 32/46, and ABC at 31/46.

This will certainly be unwelcome news to the White House, but it is also further evidence that the Obama administration may have the ability to lift its enemies to new heights of popularity. Perhaps all that vilification from the White House demonstrated that Fox wasn’t the patsy of the administration. Or maybe viewers can judge for themselves — and have long since tuned out the advice of the White House on everything from health care to which news outlet they should watch.

It is certainly one more bit of evidence that the White House is out of touch with the public and that its spin has ceased to move public opinion (at least in the intended direction). It is also a lesson to the mainstream media: sycophantic coverage doesn’t play well with public.

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Senators to Obama: Forget the KSM Trial

Perhaps the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts has had a liberating effect on Democrats. No longer do they cling to the notion that their political survival depends on adhering to the Obama position on everything from health care to national security. Indeed, now might be just the time to demonstrate some independence and clearheaded thinking. In that vein, a bipartisan group of senators has now called for a reversal of the decision to try KSM in civilian court. Sens. Joe Lieberman, Jim Webb, Blanche Lincoln, Susan Collins, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham have written to Eric Holder. The letter reads in part:

We and many others have already expressed serious concerns about whether a trial in civilian court might compromise classified evidence, including revealing sources and methods used by our intelligence community.  We are also very concerned that, by bringing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other terrorists responsible for 9/11 to the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, only blocks away from where the Twin Towers once stood, you will be providing them one of the most visible platforms in the world to exalt their past acts and to rally others in support of further terrorism.  Such a trial would almost certainly become a recruitment and radicalization tool for those who wish us harm.

The security and other risks inherent in holding the trial in New York City are reflected in Mayor Bloomberg’s recent letter to the administration advising that New York City will be required to spend more than $200 million per year in security measures for the trial.  As Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly know too well, the threat of terrorist acts in New York City is a daily challenge.  Holding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s trial in that city, and trying other enemy combatants in venues such as Washington, DC and northern Virginia, would unnecessarily increase the burden of facing those challenges, including the increased risk of terrorist attacks.

The bottom line, say the senators: “Given the risks and costs, it is far more logical, cost-effective, and strategically wise to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the military commissions that Congress and the President have now established for that very purpose.”

It is noteworthy that the junior senator from New York is not among the signatories. Perhaps her new primary opponent will weigh in.

This is the first serious bipartisan challenge to the ill-conceived decision to extend the benefits of a civilian trial to the 9/11 terrorists. The number of Democrats who now feel compelled to step forward is also noteworthy. And what will their colleagues say if this comes to a vote? Will they rise to the defense of  Holder and Obama, or will they concede this was a misguided experiment?

Perhaps the time has come for Congress to assert itself, declare its intentions regarding the jurisdiction of the federal courts, and put some daylight between the unpopular and dangerous “not-Bush” anti-terror policies of the Obami. If so, this is a critical and welcomed development and the beginning of a sane reversal of Obama policies that have proven unworkable and politically unpalatable beyond the confines of the campaign trail. There is much Congress can do: resolutions, funding, and legislation. It is not too late to correct the errors of the Obami’s first year.

Perhaps the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts has had a liberating effect on Democrats. No longer do they cling to the notion that their political survival depends on adhering to the Obama position on everything from health care to national security. Indeed, now might be just the time to demonstrate some independence and clearheaded thinking. In that vein, a bipartisan group of senators has now called for a reversal of the decision to try KSM in civilian court. Sens. Joe Lieberman, Jim Webb, Blanche Lincoln, Susan Collins, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham have written to Eric Holder. The letter reads in part:

We and many others have already expressed serious concerns about whether a trial in civilian court might compromise classified evidence, including revealing sources and methods used by our intelligence community.  We are also very concerned that, by bringing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other terrorists responsible for 9/11 to the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, only blocks away from where the Twin Towers once stood, you will be providing them one of the most visible platforms in the world to exalt their past acts and to rally others in support of further terrorism.  Such a trial would almost certainly become a recruitment and radicalization tool for those who wish us harm.

The security and other risks inherent in holding the trial in New York City are reflected in Mayor Bloomberg’s recent letter to the administration advising that New York City will be required to spend more than $200 million per year in security measures for the trial.  As Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly know too well, the threat of terrorist acts in New York City is a daily challenge.  Holding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s trial in that city, and trying other enemy combatants in venues such as Washington, DC and northern Virginia, would unnecessarily increase the burden of facing those challenges, including the increased risk of terrorist attacks.

The bottom line, say the senators: “Given the risks and costs, it is far more logical, cost-effective, and strategically wise to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the military commissions that Congress and the President have now established for that very purpose.”

It is noteworthy that the junior senator from New York is not among the signatories. Perhaps her new primary opponent will weigh in.

This is the first serious bipartisan challenge to the ill-conceived decision to extend the benefits of a civilian trial to the 9/11 terrorists. The number of Democrats who now feel compelled to step forward is also noteworthy. And what will their colleagues say if this comes to a vote? Will they rise to the defense of  Holder and Obama, or will they concede this was a misguided experiment?

Perhaps the time has come for Congress to assert itself, declare its intentions regarding the jurisdiction of the federal courts, and put some daylight between the unpopular and dangerous “not-Bush” anti-terror policies of the Obami. If so, this is a critical and welcomed development and the beginning of a sane reversal of Obama policies that have proven unworkable and politically unpalatable beyond the confines of the campaign trail. There is much Congress can do: resolutions, funding, and legislation. It is not too late to correct the errors of the Obami’s first year.

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A New York Battle

This is going to be fun. The “this” is the New York Democratic Senate primary, which is going to make up for that Rudy Giuliani vs. Hillary Clinton matchup that political fans were deprived of when Giuliani decided not to make a Senate run in 2000. A sample:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is finally heeding New York Democrats’ advice that she get tough with Harold Ford Jr. — slamming the former Memphis congressman as an anti-gay-rights, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant tool of Wall Street money lords. The problem for Gillibrand: Ford is embracing New York’s slappy-face politics faster than she can generate the comebacks. On Monday, Ford dismissed Gillibrand as a party-controlled “parakeet.” For good measure, his spokesman told POLITICO that Gillibrand is a “desperate liar.”

Yowser. And it’s only January.

Now Gillibrand has some problems. She’s an incumbent when incumbents are out of favor. She hasn’t done anything memorable. And to a degree, Ford is right: she morphed from a moderate, somewhat independent-minded congresswoman into a loyal cog in the Reid-Pelosi-Obama machine, never raising a  fuss about the KSM trial or objecting to the ObamaCare deals that would have cost her state billions had we not been saved by the Massachusetts voters. (“The 39-year-old Ford, who relocated to New York after losing a 2006 Senate race in Tennessee, has repeatedly lampooned Gillibrand as being protected by her ‘party bosses,’ an argument that Ford advisers believe resonates with nationwide anti-Washington sentiment.”) Her gibes about Ford’s expedient transformation on hot-button issues ring a bit hollow given her conversion on Second Amendment rights (she became enamored of gun regulation only after her appointment to the Senate). You can see why Ford might think he’s got a real chance.

But Ford is not without his problems. The liberal-Democratic establishment has decided he’s too moderate and untrustworthy. For example, he eschews business-bashing at a time when that is de rigueur for Democrats.

The Republicans have yet to come up with a top-tier candidate, despite the giddy optimism circulating in Republican circles post–Scott Brown. But before we get to the general election, there should be plenty to watch and enjoy for those who love a good show. In some ways, it’s an interesting test for Democrats, just as the Florida Senate primary race is for Republicans. (Marco Rubio has come from far back to now lead the establishment favorite Crist in the latest poll.) No, neither is evidence of a “civil war” within the respective party. Rather, both will convey some key political information: whether the association with Beltway-establishment types is the kiss of death and whether a skilled challenger without that taint (Ford in New York and Rubio in Florida) can overcome the money and name recognition that also come with it.

This is going to be fun. The “this” is the New York Democratic Senate primary, which is going to make up for that Rudy Giuliani vs. Hillary Clinton matchup that political fans were deprived of when Giuliani decided not to make a Senate run in 2000. A sample:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is finally heeding New York Democrats’ advice that she get tough with Harold Ford Jr. — slamming the former Memphis congressman as an anti-gay-rights, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant tool of Wall Street money lords. The problem for Gillibrand: Ford is embracing New York’s slappy-face politics faster than she can generate the comebacks. On Monday, Ford dismissed Gillibrand as a party-controlled “parakeet.” For good measure, his spokesman told POLITICO that Gillibrand is a “desperate liar.”

Yowser. And it’s only January.

Now Gillibrand has some problems. She’s an incumbent when incumbents are out of favor. She hasn’t done anything memorable. And to a degree, Ford is right: she morphed from a moderate, somewhat independent-minded congresswoman into a loyal cog in the Reid-Pelosi-Obama machine, never raising a  fuss about the KSM trial or objecting to the ObamaCare deals that would have cost her state billions had we not been saved by the Massachusetts voters. (“The 39-year-old Ford, who relocated to New York after losing a 2006 Senate race in Tennessee, has repeatedly lampooned Gillibrand as being protected by her ‘party bosses,’ an argument that Ford advisers believe resonates with nationwide anti-Washington sentiment.”) Her gibes about Ford’s expedient transformation on hot-button issues ring a bit hollow given her conversion on Second Amendment rights (she became enamored of gun regulation only after her appointment to the Senate). You can see why Ford might think he’s got a real chance.

But Ford is not without his problems. The liberal-Democratic establishment has decided he’s too moderate and untrustworthy. For example, he eschews business-bashing at a time when that is de rigueur for Democrats.

The Republicans have yet to come up with a top-tier candidate, despite the giddy optimism circulating in Republican circles post–Scott Brown. But before we get to the general election, there should be plenty to watch and enjoy for those who love a good show. In some ways, it’s an interesting test for Democrats, just as the Florida Senate primary race is for Republicans. (Marco Rubio has come from far back to now lead the establishment favorite Crist in the latest poll.) No, neither is evidence of a “civil war” within the respective party. Rather, both will convey some key political information: whether the association with Beltway-establishment types is the kiss of death and whether a skilled challenger without that taint (Ford in New York and Rubio in Florida) can overcome the money and name recognition that also come with it.

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Memo to the White House: Check Out YouTube

As the health-care debate approached a climax in the Senate a few weeks ago, it became widely noted that the negotiations were going on behind closed doors, even though as a candidate, Obama had promised numerous times to put those negotiations on C-Span. His campaign promises were all over YouTube, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs refused even to discuss questions about the discrepancy.

Now, it seems the Obama administration is at it again. The lead story in today’s New York Times reports that Obama will call for a freeze on discretionary spending (excepting military spending, the Veterans Administration, homeland security, and foreign aid). Guess what his opinion of a spending freeze was during the campaign?

And the spending freeze he proposes would save what? Nick Gillespie at Reason, estimates, at most, $15 billion in fiscal year 2011. Compare that to the $1.4 trillion deficit in fiscal year 2009.

This is what Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously called “boob bait for bubbas.” The people have made it abundantly clear (as in last week’s Massachusetts Senate election) that they regard federal spending as out of control. So the Obama administration will toss the public a bone, knowing that it will be meaningless in size and easily evaded with special appropriations and other budget gimmicks.

The sheer cynicism is breathtaking, if not unexpected at this point. What is unexpected in this self-proclaimed post-modern administration is that Obama and his staff don’t seem to have realized yet that YouTube has changed everything. Yesterday’s newspapers, notoriously, were used to wrap fish, their content forgotten. Today’s news clip lives forever on the Internet.

As the health-care debate approached a climax in the Senate a few weeks ago, it became widely noted that the negotiations were going on behind closed doors, even though as a candidate, Obama had promised numerous times to put those negotiations on C-Span. His campaign promises were all over YouTube, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs refused even to discuss questions about the discrepancy.

Now, it seems the Obama administration is at it again. The lead story in today’s New York Times reports that Obama will call for a freeze on discretionary spending (excepting military spending, the Veterans Administration, homeland security, and foreign aid). Guess what his opinion of a spending freeze was during the campaign?

And the spending freeze he proposes would save what? Nick Gillespie at Reason, estimates, at most, $15 billion in fiscal year 2011. Compare that to the $1.4 trillion deficit in fiscal year 2009.

This is what Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously called “boob bait for bubbas.” The people have made it abundantly clear (as in last week’s Massachusetts Senate election) that they regard federal spending as out of control. So the Obama administration will toss the public a bone, knowing that it will be meaningless in size and easily evaded with special appropriations and other budget gimmicks.

The sheer cynicism is breathtaking, if not unexpected at this point. What is unexpected in this self-proclaimed post-modern administration is that Obama and his staff don’t seem to have realized yet that YouTube has changed everything. Yesterday’s newspapers, notoriously, were used to wrap fish, their content forgotten. Today’s news clip lives forever on the Internet.

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The Health-Care Tipping Point

It is an irony worthy of a Greek drama that the moment ObamaCare appeared to overcome one of the final hurdles to passage may have been the one that sealed its rejection a few days later in Massachusetts. That moment occurred on the Thursday before the Massachusetts vote, as union leaders emerged from two days of secret discussions in the White House to announce that they had gotten a five-year $60 billion exemption from the “Cadillac tax” on their health-care plans. That may have been the tipping point.

The exemption — call it the Union-Label Insurance Exemption (U-LIE) — marked the culmination of a process that violated multiple Obama promises about the changes he would bring to Washington: it was not transparent, it was not post-partisan, and it did not eliminate the Blue State/Red State dichotomy. On the contrary, it followed a parade of buy-offs, kickbacks, and exemptions given to Blue State senators to garner their participation in the “historic” process: Mary Landrieu (D-La.) got her Louisiana Purchase; Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) got his Cornhusker Kickback; Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) got his Gator Aid; Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) got his Longshoreman Carve-Out, etc. Then unions got a massive exemption not accorded nonunion workers, with the cost to be shifted to unknown others.

The process had previously featured bills placed in print only hours before votes were called, their text shielded not only from the public but also from those responsible for voting. The unpopularity of what was known about the pending legislation was said to be soluble by learning about it later: David Axelrod asserted Sunday that “people will never know what’s in that bill until we pass it,” but they will like it after that.

What made U-LIE the likely tipping point was that it was a quantum leap in an already corrupt process — not simply quantitatively, as a buy-off in the tens of billions on top of the hundreds of millions offered seriatim to individual senators, but qualitatively as well: this time it was not an individual buy-off in some legislative backroom over which Obama could argue (although implausibly) he had no control, but a secret conference committee in the White House, in an eight-hour meeting with Obama in attendance much of the day, ending with a massive transfer to a favored constituency, with no hearings at all, much less ones on C-SPAN. It was then simply announced to the public, including the portion residing in Massachusetts.

Coming on top of a process already appalling, U-LIE may have been the final straw, cementing a perception of Obama as a president committed to a nontransparent, partisan push of unpopular legislation, loaded with kickbacks and buy-offs and complete with assurances that people would appreciate it all later. It is not clear what tone or tack Obama will take in his State of the Union address tomorrow evening about the process over which he presided. As of yesterday, the speech was reportedly still being written. But the problem he now confronts may be one that can no longer be solved with a speech.

It is an irony worthy of a Greek drama that the moment ObamaCare appeared to overcome one of the final hurdles to passage may have been the one that sealed its rejection a few days later in Massachusetts. That moment occurred on the Thursday before the Massachusetts vote, as union leaders emerged from two days of secret discussions in the White House to announce that they had gotten a five-year $60 billion exemption from the “Cadillac tax” on their health-care plans. That may have been the tipping point.

The exemption — call it the Union-Label Insurance Exemption (U-LIE) — marked the culmination of a process that violated multiple Obama promises about the changes he would bring to Washington: it was not transparent, it was not post-partisan, and it did not eliminate the Blue State/Red State dichotomy. On the contrary, it followed a parade of buy-offs, kickbacks, and exemptions given to Blue State senators to garner their participation in the “historic” process: Mary Landrieu (D-La.) got her Louisiana Purchase; Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) got his Cornhusker Kickback; Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) got his Gator Aid; Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) got his Longshoreman Carve-Out, etc. Then unions got a massive exemption not accorded nonunion workers, with the cost to be shifted to unknown others.

The process had previously featured bills placed in print only hours before votes were called, their text shielded not only from the public but also from those responsible for voting. The unpopularity of what was known about the pending legislation was said to be soluble by learning about it later: David Axelrod asserted Sunday that “people will never know what’s in that bill until we pass it,” but they will like it after that.

What made U-LIE the likely tipping point was that it was a quantum leap in an already corrupt process — not simply quantitatively, as a buy-off in the tens of billions on top of the hundreds of millions offered seriatim to individual senators, but qualitatively as well: this time it was not an individual buy-off in some legislative backroom over which Obama could argue (although implausibly) he had no control, but a secret conference committee in the White House, in an eight-hour meeting with Obama in attendance much of the day, ending with a massive transfer to a favored constituency, with no hearings at all, much less ones on C-SPAN. It was then simply announced to the public, including the portion residing in Massachusetts.

Coming on top of a process already appalling, U-LIE may have been the final straw, cementing a perception of Obama as a president committed to a nontransparent, partisan push of unpopular legislation, loaded with kickbacks and buy-offs and complete with assurances that people would appreciate it all later. It is not clear what tone or tack Obama will take in his State of the Union address tomorrow evening about the process over which he presided. As of yesterday, the speech was reportedly still being written. But the problem he now confronts may be one that can no longer be solved with a speech.

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What Would Bill Clinton Say?

Bill McGurn looks back on Bill Clinton’s presidency (as many of us have done of late) with some enhanced appreciation:

Yet for all his undeniable weaknesses, Mr. Clinton does seem to understand something that eludes Mr. Obama: In a center-right nation, a liberal doesn’t want to get too far ahead of the voters. At times (and HillaryCare was one) Mr. Clinton got himself too far out in front—but when he had, he’d generally been careful to respond by scurrying back to the center and appropriating his opponents’ most appealing messages.

As McGurn notes, Clinton showed some contrition in his State of the Union address following his party’s 1994 midterm election wipeout and began his migration to the center of the political spectrum. Alas, Obama is no Bill Clinton. McGurn observes that Obama, unlike Clinton, seems unaware of the country’s Center-Right orientation and so far evidences none of Clinton’s wily ability to adjust to new political circumstances. Moreover, Obama’s arrogance in the wake of defeat is increasingly off-putting:

His team argues, apparently oblivious to the inherent condescension, that no intelligent American could possibly oppose his health-care agenda on substance. It’s all just a big misunderstanding, says the White House. We just need to explain it better—like recasting a second stimulus as a “jobs bill,” selling health-care reform as “deficit reduction,” and throwing in a lot of speech references to the “middle class.”

It’s foreign territory for Obama, to be sure. He’s never experienced real political defeat or a personal rebuke of this magnitude. He’s lived a charmed political life by dint of his rhetoric and persona, neither of which is wearing well. He’s never much deviated from statist, liberal ideology and now seems frustrated that the voters don’t appreciate all that the Obama administration is trying to do for them. You can see why he’s testy, defensive, and mulling over whether one term might be enough.

He’s also increasingly isolated. The Left is fed up. After all, he’s delivered none of the items on their wish list — nationalized health care, repeal of don’t-ask-don’t tell, closing of Guantanamo, withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, and cap-and-trade. His Supreme Court pick was neither wise nor has proved to be of any use in the essential task of luring Justice Kennedy to their side (at least not yet). While the Left might have nowhere to go in a presidential election, they may well stay home in 2010, adding to Democrats’ woes. (“The unrest among liberals comes at a perilous political time. Party strategists worry that anger on the left could depress turnout in this year’s midterm elections and cost the party congressional seats and state governorships. The most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC survey found 55% of Republicans ‘very interested’ in the November elections, compared with 38% of Democrats.”)

The Right, of course, has him on the run and sees him as a less-than-competent, rigid ideologue. Meanwhile, Independents are running at breakneck speed away from the Democratic camp. Again, it’s hard to know where he should start in rebuilding a base of support.

As we have come to expect, Obama now seems inclined to offer more spin than substance. On tap is some fake populist rhetoric mixed in with a spending “freeze” on a sliver of the federal budget, which reportedly excludes “the military, veterans, homeland security and international affairs … [and] big entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.” He’ll claim he’s not giving up on ObamaCare and let Reid and Pelosi worry about the details later. (He always lets them worry about the details later, which is part of the problem, of course.) But the fundamental issues remain: unemployment is high, the economy is fragile, he’s worn out his welcome, he lacks any significant first-year legislative accomplishment, his approach to national security is proving to be a flop, and he’s revealed himself to be an ultra-leftist who lacks the common touch.

Still, he’s president for the next three years, and he might as well make something of it. Some humility, a robust defense of America’s role in the world, and some pro-growth initiatives (why not a moratorium on tax hikes?) would be a start. It would be Clinton-esque if he could pull it off.

Bill McGurn looks back on Bill Clinton’s presidency (as many of us have done of late) with some enhanced appreciation:

Yet for all his undeniable weaknesses, Mr. Clinton does seem to understand something that eludes Mr. Obama: In a center-right nation, a liberal doesn’t want to get too far ahead of the voters. At times (and HillaryCare was one) Mr. Clinton got himself too far out in front—but when he had, he’d generally been careful to respond by scurrying back to the center and appropriating his opponents’ most appealing messages.

As McGurn notes, Clinton showed some contrition in his State of the Union address following his party’s 1994 midterm election wipeout and began his migration to the center of the political spectrum. Alas, Obama is no Bill Clinton. McGurn observes that Obama, unlike Clinton, seems unaware of the country’s Center-Right orientation and so far evidences none of Clinton’s wily ability to adjust to new political circumstances. Moreover, Obama’s arrogance in the wake of defeat is increasingly off-putting:

His team argues, apparently oblivious to the inherent condescension, that no intelligent American could possibly oppose his health-care agenda on substance. It’s all just a big misunderstanding, says the White House. We just need to explain it better—like recasting a second stimulus as a “jobs bill,” selling health-care reform as “deficit reduction,” and throwing in a lot of speech references to the “middle class.”

It’s foreign territory for Obama, to be sure. He’s never experienced real political defeat or a personal rebuke of this magnitude. He’s lived a charmed political life by dint of his rhetoric and persona, neither of which is wearing well. He’s never much deviated from statist, liberal ideology and now seems frustrated that the voters don’t appreciate all that the Obama administration is trying to do for them. You can see why he’s testy, defensive, and mulling over whether one term might be enough.

He’s also increasingly isolated. The Left is fed up. After all, he’s delivered none of the items on their wish list — nationalized health care, repeal of don’t-ask-don’t tell, closing of Guantanamo, withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, and cap-and-trade. His Supreme Court pick was neither wise nor has proved to be of any use in the essential task of luring Justice Kennedy to their side (at least not yet). While the Left might have nowhere to go in a presidential election, they may well stay home in 2010, adding to Democrats’ woes. (“The unrest among liberals comes at a perilous political time. Party strategists worry that anger on the left could depress turnout in this year’s midterm elections and cost the party congressional seats and state governorships. The most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC survey found 55% of Republicans ‘very interested’ in the November elections, compared with 38% of Democrats.”)

The Right, of course, has him on the run and sees him as a less-than-competent, rigid ideologue. Meanwhile, Independents are running at breakneck speed away from the Democratic camp. Again, it’s hard to know where he should start in rebuilding a base of support.

As we have come to expect, Obama now seems inclined to offer more spin than substance. On tap is some fake populist rhetoric mixed in with a spending “freeze” on a sliver of the federal budget, which reportedly excludes “the military, veterans, homeland security and international affairs … [and] big entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.” He’ll claim he’s not giving up on ObamaCare and let Reid and Pelosi worry about the details later. (He always lets them worry about the details later, which is part of the problem, of course.) But the fundamental issues remain: unemployment is high, the economy is fragile, he’s worn out his welcome, he lacks any significant first-year legislative accomplishment, his approach to national security is proving to be a flop, and he’s revealed himself to be an ultra-leftist who lacks the common touch.

Still, he’s president for the next three years, and he might as well make something of it. Some humility, a robust defense of America’s role in the world, and some pro-growth initiatives (why not a moratorium on tax hikes?) would be a start. It would be Clinton-esque if he could pull it off.

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America’s WMD Vulnerability

Even as the Obama administration faces continuing fallout from its mishandling of the underwear bomber, it is taking a new hit today on the national security front.  The bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, co-chaired by former Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and former Republican Sen. Jim Talent, had previously reported: “Unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.”

Now, the commission has issued a report card on how the U.S. government is dealing with this looming threat. Its findings are not reassuring: “Of 17 grades, the report card includes three failing ‘F’ grades on rapid and effective response to bioterrorism; Congressional oversight of homeland security and intelligence; and national security workforce recruitment.”

Granted, this is not all Obama’s fault. Congress shares the blame. To some extent, so does the Bush administration. But Obama can’t continue passing the buck after a year in office. And he has certainly not given these urgent issues the attention they deserve, no doubt because he has preferred to concentrate his first year on addressing health care and climate change — issues that, even the worst-case scenario, will not reach crisis levels for decades to come. Meanwhile, the U.S. remains unnecessarily vulnerable to the most devastating kind of terrorist attack imaginable.

Even as the Obama administration faces continuing fallout from its mishandling of the underwear bomber, it is taking a new hit today on the national security front.  The bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, co-chaired by former Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and former Republican Sen. Jim Talent, had previously reported: “Unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.”

Now, the commission has issued a report card on how the U.S. government is dealing with this looming threat. Its findings are not reassuring: “Of 17 grades, the report card includes three failing ‘F’ grades on rapid and effective response to bioterrorism; Congressional oversight of homeland security and intelligence; and national security workforce recruitment.”

Granted, this is not all Obama’s fault. Congress shares the blame. To some extent, so does the Bush administration. But Obama can’t continue passing the buck after a year in office. And he has certainly not given these urgent issues the attention they deserve, no doubt because he has preferred to concentrate his first year on addressing health care and climate change — issues that, even the worst-case scenario, will not reach crisis levels for decades to come. Meanwhile, the U.S. remains unnecessarily vulnerable to the most devastating kind of terrorist attack imaginable.

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Eugene Robinson Warns Obama: Enough Words

I don’t see eye to eye with Eugene Robinson on the direction Obama should take to repair his presidency (Robinson is a card-carrying member of the double-down on ObamaCare club). But I heartily concur with him on two points.

First, he thinks the populist hooey isn’t very convincing: “Obama just doesn’t give off that guy-next-door vibe. Even if he were to roll up his sleeves, loosen his tie and start talkin’ like his predecessor, droppin’ his final g’s left and right, nobody would buy the act.” Like Obama’s “37” bowling score — it’s embarrassing to watch Obama fake being a non-elitist. As Robinson argues, Obama can use “fight” 20 times in a speech, but it doesn’t amount to much if it doesn’t correlate with any actions — or results. It’s hard to tell which is worse — the artifice of anger or the fact that Obama thinks that artifice will help.

Second — and here’s the bad news for the Obami — Obama can’t get by on campaign happy talk. Or any kind of talk. Robinson warns, “In the end, voters will respect Obama’s accomplishments, not his aspirations.” Uh oh. There are no accomplishments so far. (Racking up more debt than any other president in such a short time doesn’t count.) He ran on aspirations and New Agey inspiration. (Plus a whole lot of Bush-bashing.) Now it’s not enough? That’s right. And that’s what his most loyal defenders are telling him. They feel compelled to repeat it, I suspect, because they have a queasy feeling that Obama doesn’t grasp this.

Tomorrow Obama will have to give a speech — a big speech that’s the sort of crutch he’s resorted to again and again. (Recall the “game changer” September health-care address?) He might think that this is the chance to reset his presidency. But his speech won’t change much of anything unless the content and the actions that follow amount to a real revision of his agenda. Obama often seems convinced that if he could give just one more speech, one more interview, maybe that would do it. They listened during the campaign. Well, that was then. Now they expect him to do something — something different from what he’s been doing. The country will be listening. But then they’ll watch to see if anything comes of it.

I don’t see eye to eye with Eugene Robinson on the direction Obama should take to repair his presidency (Robinson is a card-carrying member of the double-down on ObamaCare club). But I heartily concur with him on two points.

First, he thinks the populist hooey isn’t very convincing: “Obama just doesn’t give off that guy-next-door vibe. Even if he were to roll up his sleeves, loosen his tie and start talkin’ like his predecessor, droppin’ his final g’s left and right, nobody would buy the act.” Like Obama’s “37” bowling score — it’s embarrassing to watch Obama fake being a non-elitist. As Robinson argues, Obama can use “fight” 20 times in a speech, but it doesn’t amount to much if it doesn’t correlate with any actions — or results. It’s hard to tell which is worse — the artifice of anger or the fact that Obama thinks that artifice will help.

Second — and here’s the bad news for the Obami — Obama can’t get by on campaign happy talk. Or any kind of talk. Robinson warns, “In the end, voters will respect Obama’s accomplishments, not his aspirations.” Uh oh. There are no accomplishments so far. (Racking up more debt than any other president in such a short time doesn’t count.) He ran on aspirations and New Agey inspiration. (Plus a whole lot of Bush-bashing.) Now it’s not enough? That’s right. And that’s what his most loyal defenders are telling him. They feel compelled to repeat it, I suspect, because they have a queasy feeling that Obama doesn’t grasp this.

Tomorrow Obama will have to give a speech — a big speech that’s the sort of crutch he’s resorted to again and again. (Recall the “game changer” September health-care address?) He might think that this is the chance to reset his presidency. But his speech won’t change much of anything unless the content and the actions that follow amount to a real revision of his agenda. Obama often seems convinced that if he could give just one more speech, one more interview, maybe that would do it. They listened during the campaign. Well, that was then. Now they expect him to do something — something different from what he’s been doing. The country will be listening. But then they’ll watch to see if anything comes of it.

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Iran’s Private Army Digs in for a Wider Lebanon War

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” — Henry David Thoreau

The Obama administration needs to start paying attention to Lebanon again before it explodes.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Hezbollah is moving long-range rockets and missiles away from the Israeli border and even north of Beirut in a move that would make a Third Lebanon War much more destructive over a much larger area than the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The previous conflict was mostly, but not exclusively, confined to the Hezbollah-controlled Shia areas in the south and in Beirut’s southern suburbs. Israel Defense Forces Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi says Hezbollah is now capable of firing rockets all the way to Tel Aviv from as far north as Beirut. Depending on where Hezbollah is placing its arsenal, taking out launch sites from the air might endanger America’s allies and Hezbollah’s enemies in the Christian, Sunni, and Druze parts of the country.

IDF Major General Giora Eiland says if a third war does in fact start, “Israel will not contain that war against Hezbollah. We cannot.” The last Lebanon war didn’t end well, and as Dwight Eisenhower once said, “If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it.” The problem, though, must be enlarged in just the right way and to just the right size.

“The only way to deter the other side and prevent the next round,” Eiland continued, “or if it happens, to win — is to have a military confrontation with the state of Lebanon.” Read More

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” — Henry David Thoreau

The Obama administration needs to start paying attention to Lebanon again before it explodes.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Hezbollah is moving long-range rockets and missiles away from the Israeli border and even north of Beirut in a move that would make a Third Lebanon War much more destructive over a much larger area than the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The previous conflict was mostly, but not exclusively, confined to the Hezbollah-controlled Shia areas in the south and in Beirut’s southern suburbs. Israel Defense Forces Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi says Hezbollah is now capable of firing rockets all the way to Tel Aviv from as far north as Beirut. Depending on where Hezbollah is placing its arsenal, taking out launch sites from the air might endanger America’s allies and Hezbollah’s enemies in the Christian, Sunni, and Druze parts of the country.

IDF Major General Giora Eiland says if a third war does in fact start, “Israel will not contain that war against Hezbollah. We cannot.” The last Lebanon war didn’t end well, and as Dwight Eisenhower once said, “If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it.” The problem, though, must be enlarged in just the right way and to just the right size.

“The only way to deter the other side and prevent the next round,” Eiland continued, “or if it happens, to win — is to have a military confrontation with the state of Lebanon.”

That would make for both too much and too little enlargement. Too much because Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s “March 14″ parliamentary majority is being held hostage by Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria and is not really part of the larger problem; too little because the problem is much larger than Lebanon. Hezbollah is but a piece of a region-wide resistance bloc. It can’t be effectively dealt with without acknowledging what it is — the Lebanese branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Syria is the logistical hub Iran uses to maintain its division abroad on the Mediterranean. Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah doesn’t answer to anyone in Beirut, but to his patrons and armorers in Tehran and Damascus.

It looks like he’s itching for a fight, but no war need be fought at all if Israel can convince Syria and Iran to back off. Jerusalem doesn’t strictly require American backup and support to enlarge the scope of the problem to include those two countries, but having it would certainly boost the deterrent effect.

Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei might be undeterrable, but Syria’s Bashar Assad certainly isn’t. Turkey convinced his more ruthless late father, Hafez Assad, to cease and desist supporting the Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) back in the 1990s, and did so without firing a shot by threatening to invade. Turkey didn’t want to invade, yet Turkey never had to. Syria, meanwhile, has continued sponsoring or even outright committing terrorism against the more “reasonable” Israelis, Iraqis, and Lebanese.

Syria is without question the junior partner in its relationship with Iran, but Tehran’s Islamic Republic regime would have a lot less power in the region — especially in Lebanon — if Assad were spooked into noncooperation. Without assistance from Syria, Hezbollah would develop serious logistics problems that might eventually render it as militarily weak as Hamas. Without support from Iran, Hezbollah would eventually run out of cash and ammunition entirely. No other government in the world would give money and guns to a totalitarian-minded Shia militia.

Hezbollah itself has been deterred from picking fights for a while, but that period seems to be winding down now that it’s better armed and equipped than ever before. Nasrallah has lately been threatening a war that will destroy Israel, “liberate” Jerusalem, and “change the face of the region.” I’d like to think he’s just throwing out “red meat” for his base, but Jonathan Spyer persuasively argues that there is “not a shred of evidence to suggest that these sentiments are intended for the printed page only” and that Hezbollah is “as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

There will most likely be no resolution to the Hezbollah problem as long as the Islamic Republic regime in Iran exists in its present form, but it may yet be possible to stop Hezbollah from doing something stupid again. Terrorist and guerrilla armies are hard to deter, but rational actors like Syria aren’t, and even Khamenei himself may pressure Nasrallah to take it easy if he thinks Tehran might get hit if he doesn’t.

The point here isn’t to ensure that the next war takes place in four countries instead of in two. The point is to prevent the next war entirely by making it cost more for those who would start it. If Damascus and Tehran can continue setting the region on fire without paying a price — without even fearing that they might pay a price — they will continue to do so.

The Obama administration may want to consider the Lebanon file a higher priority than an Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” that’s not going anywhere. The next Israeli-Hezbollah war could be bigger and more destructive than any Arab-Israeli hot war in decades, and could make last year’s war in Gaza look, by comparison, like a bar fight.

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The Democrats Cast Aspersions

The signs of a Democratic collapse have been obvious for many months now. Liberals and Obama supporters, though, ignored or denied the amassing evidence. The GOP was a rump party, it was said. Those attending Tea Parties and town hall meetings were angry and irrational; Obama would look good in contrast to them. The president’s falling poll numbers meant nothing. Obama and Democrats were actually doing well, given how bad the economy was. The loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race was because Creigh Deeds was a terrible candidate. The loss in the New Jersey gubernatorial race was because Jon Corzine was a weakened incumbent. Et cetera.

Then came Massachusetts.

Democrats have now gone from smug denial to absolute panic. And the explanations for what went wrong are cascading around us. Obama is suffering from an “inspiration gap.” He’s too cool and detached. He’s not angry enough. He’s not populist enough. He’s not aggressive enough. He didn’t spend enough. He wasn’t liberal enough. He didn’t jam through health-care legislation soon enough. He got into the weeds too much. Evan Thomas of Newsweek has gone from describing Obama as a “sort of God” to “being fundamentally dishonest.”

No, others say, the fault lies with the “nihilist” Right. Or Sarah Palin’s “death panel” tweet. Or the success of the obstructionist GOP in “stigmatizing” the wonders of the stimulus package. Still others, like the president, insist that because Obama was focused on so many different problems, doing good for so many people, he just plain overlooked the need to communicate with the public. Being a forgetful sort, the American public needs to be reminded how marvelous the 44th president has been.

Still others among the Democrats are turning with unalloyed fury against the American people. They were broad-minded and enlightened when they elected Barack Obama, you see — but they have suddenly become dolts. This view is embodied in the words of Joe Klein of Time, who refers to Americans as “flagrantly ill-informed” — and those watching Fox News, of course, are “misinformed.” In case that wasn’t clear enough, Joe adds this:

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.

Klein is the same fellow who, in the aftermath of Obama’s victory, said of America: “It may no longer be as dominant, economically or diplomatically, as it once was. But it is younger, more optimistic, less cynical. It is a country that retains its ability to startle the world — and in a good way, with our freedom.” And who wrote, after Obama was sworn in as president, that his ascension to power “could force everyone to argue more carefully, to think twice before casting aspersions.”

So we’ve gone from being young, optimistic, and uncynical, with the ability to startle the world in a good way, to being a nation of dodos.

I guess aspersion-casting is back in vogue.

The signs of a Democratic collapse have been obvious for many months now. Liberals and Obama supporters, though, ignored or denied the amassing evidence. The GOP was a rump party, it was said. Those attending Tea Parties and town hall meetings were angry and irrational; Obama would look good in contrast to them. The president’s falling poll numbers meant nothing. Obama and Democrats were actually doing well, given how bad the economy was. The loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race was because Creigh Deeds was a terrible candidate. The loss in the New Jersey gubernatorial race was because Jon Corzine was a weakened incumbent. Et cetera.

Then came Massachusetts.

Democrats have now gone from smug denial to absolute panic. And the explanations for what went wrong are cascading around us. Obama is suffering from an “inspiration gap.” He’s too cool and detached. He’s not angry enough. He’s not populist enough. He’s not aggressive enough. He didn’t spend enough. He wasn’t liberal enough. He didn’t jam through health-care legislation soon enough. He got into the weeds too much. Evan Thomas of Newsweek has gone from describing Obama as a “sort of God” to “being fundamentally dishonest.”

No, others say, the fault lies with the “nihilist” Right. Or Sarah Palin’s “death panel” tweet. Or the success of the obstructionist GOP in “stigmatizing” the wonders of the stimulus package. Still others, like the president, insist that because Obama was focused on so many different problems, doing good for so many people, he just plain overlooked the need to communicate with the public. Being a forgetful sort, the American public needs to be reminded how marvelous the 44th president has been.

Still others among the Democrats are turning with unalloyed fury against the American people. They were broad-minded and enlightened when they elected Barack Obama, you see — but they have suddenly become dolts. This view is embodied in the words of Joe Klein of Time, who refers to Americans as “flagrantly ill-informed” — and those watching Fox News, of course, are “misinformed.” In case that wasn’t clear enough, Joe adds this:

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.

Klein is the same fellow who, in the aftermath of Obama’s victory, said of America: “It may no longer be as dominant, economically or diplomatically, as it once was. But it is younger, more optimistic, less cynical. It is a country that retains its ability to startle the world — and in a good way, with our freedom.” And who wrote, after Obama was sworn in as president, that his ascension to power “could force everyone to argue more carefully, to think twice before casting aspersions.”

So we’ve gone from being young, optimistic, and uncynical, with the ability to startle the world in a good way, to being a nation of dodos.

I guess aspersion-casting is back in vogue.

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John Edwards Was Only the VP Nominee. Obama Is President

Richard Cohen’s weekly column spends seven paragraphs recitating the awfulness of John Edwards (I haven’t written about him because his loathsomeness has been aptly conveyed by others), the scariness of putting him on the 2004 presidential ticket, and the reaffirmation that liberals were right all along about Sarah Palin. (We know they were right because they obsessively keep telling us so: “I withdraw none of it; the better we got to know Palin, the more egregious a choice she became — astonishingly unprepared and unsuited for the presidency.” Never mind that she was on the money on health-care rationing, global-warming fakery, Guantanamo, and a great deal more. )

Then comes the kicker: Cohen suggests that Obama was as scary a choice and that we knew as little about him as we did about Edwards — or THAT woman:

The out-of-nowhere rise of Palin and Edwards in less than a decade is warning enough that something is wrong. I will also throw Barack Obama into the mix, not because I know something nefarious about him but because I realize more and more that I know so little about him.

When, for instance, the call goes out to let Obama be Obama, I’m not sure what that is. For the moment, it’s a tendentious populism, but the sound of it is tinny and inauthentic, a campaign tactic, nothing more. When, however, we were asked to “let Reagan be Reagan,” we could be certain it was a call for a hard-right turn. Ronald Reagan had devoted many years to the conservative cause. Obama, in contrast, was in the Illinois Senate just six years ago.

Well, it may not be nefarious — but we now know he’s rather ill-equipped to be president. (We hold out some hope that he might get up to speed.) And Cohen’s still not sure exactly what bill of goods we were sold by the Obama campaign. When Cohen complains that we “have substituted the camera — fame, celebrity — for both achievement and the studied judgment of colleagues,” he is not sparing this president, whose fame and celebrity were fanned by the not-very-studied judgment of media cheerleaders convinced there was something spectacular there.

There certainly is a spasm of honesty breaking out in the punditocracy. Perhaps there’s a trend to fess up. What did they know about Obama’s shortcomings and when did they know it? A support group (Regretful Flacks for Obama) might be formed. There they can confess the error of their ways. They mistook physical elegance and a nice speaking voice for profundity. They heard gibberish (“We are the change blah, blah …”) and spun it as pearls of wisdom. They saw a man of slight accomplishment and falsely inferred skills that weren’t there. They confused reserve and remoteness with calm under fire. They ignored signs that he had disdain for average Americans and their values. They ignored his associations and extremely liberal voting record while reciting his promises of “moderation.” And so on.

Ultimately, voters are grown-ups and responsible for their own choices. But if Cohen is upset with the rise of a synthetic, overhyped candidate who’s turning out to be at best a mediocre president, he should talk to his media colleagues. They certainly did their part.

Richard Cohen’s weekly column spends seven paragraphs recitating the awfulness of John Edwards (I haven’t written about him because his loathsomeness has been aptly conveyed by others), the scariness of putting him on the 2004 presidential ticket, and the reaffirmation that liberals were right all along about Sarah Palin. (We know they were right because they obsessively keep telling us so: “I withdraw none of it; the better we got to know Palin, the more egregious a choice she became — astonishingly unprepared and unsuited for the presidency.” Never mind that she was on the money on health-care rationing, global-warming fakery, Guantanamo, and a great deal more. )

Then comes the kicker: Cohen suggests that Obama was as scary a choice and that we knew as little about him as we did about Edwards — or THAT woman:

The out-of-nowhere rise of Palin and Edwards in less than a decade is warning enough that something is wrong. I will also throw Barack Obama into the mix, not because I know something nefarious about him but because I realize more and more that I know so little about him.

When, for instance, the call goes out to let Obama be Obama, I’m not sure what that is. For the moment, it’s a tendentious populism, but the sound of it is tinny and inauthentic, a campaign tactic, nothing more. When, however, we were asked to “let Reagan be Reagan,” we could be certain it was a call for a hard-right turn. Ronald Reagan had devoted many years to the conservative cause. Obama, in contrast, was in the Illinois Senate just six years ago.

Well, it may not be nefarious — but we now know he’s rather ill-equipped to be president. (We hold out some hope that he might get up to speed.) And Cohen’s still not sure exactly what bill of goods we were sold by the Obama campaign. When Cohen complains that we “have substituted the camera — fame, celebrity — for both achievement and the studied judgment of colleagues,” he is not sparing this president, whose fame and celebrity were fanned by the not-very-studied judgment of media cheerleaders convinced there was something spectacular there.

There certainly is a spasm of honesty breaking out in the punditocracy. Perhaps there’s a trend to fess up. What did they know about Obama’s shortcomings and when did they know it? A support group (Regretful Flacks for Obama) might be formed. There they can confess the error of their ways. They mistook physical elegance and a nice speaking voice for profundity. They heard gibberish (“We are the change blah, blah …”) and spun it as pearls of wisdom. They saw a man of slight accomplishment and falsely inferred skills that weren’t there. They confused reserve and remoteness with calm under fire. They ignored signs that he had disdain for average Americans and their values. They ignored his associations and extremely liberal voting record while reciting his promises of “moderation.” And so on.

Ultimately, voters are grown-ups and responsible for their own choices. But if Cohen is upset with the rise of a synthetic, overhyped candidate who’s turning out to be at best a mediocre president, he should talk to his media colleagues. They certainly did their part.

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A Paragraph I Wish I’d Written

David Brooks, today:

Ever since I started covering politics, the Democratic ruling class has been driven by one fantasy: that voters will get so furious at people with M.B.A.’s that they will hand power to people with Ph.D.’s. The Republican ruling class has been driven by the fantasy that voters will get so furious at people with Ph.D.’s that they will hand power to people with M.B.A.’s. Members of the ruling class love populism because they think it will help their section of the elite gain power.

Read the whole thing.

David Brooks, today:

Ever since I started covering politics, the Democratic ruling class has been driven by one fantasy: that voters will get so furious at people with M.B.A.’s that they will hand power to people with Ph.D.’s. The Republican ruling class has been driven by the fantasy that voters will get so furious at people with Ph.D.’s that they will hand power to people with M.B.A.’s. Members of the ruling class love populism because they think it will help their section of the elite gain power.

Read the whole thing.

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The Worst Failure Isn’t Health Care

In the flurry over ObamaCare’s collapse, some have lost sight of a more serious and far-reaching failure by Obama. This report from Time‘s Massimo Calabresi observes that in addition to “his party’s loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts, the collapse of health care reform and a disorganized war against the banks,” Obama has a really big foreign-policy problem: his Iran policy is an abject failure. Engagement was supposed to wean the mullahs off their nukes, or at least demonstrate to recalcitrant powers like Russia and China that we had exhausted all reasonable options so we could proceed with those crippling sanctions. Calabresi asks: “So, how’s that working? Not very well, by all indications.” Not well at all.

We’ve blown through deadline after deadline. No progress has been made in rounding up support, even as Iran snubbed the West and murdered its own people. The Russians and Chinese still oppose sanctions:

But where Russia had previously taken the lead in blocking sanctions efforts, that role has now fallen to China, which has a rapidly growing stake in Iran’s energy sector. … Without China, which holds a Security Council veto, there is no prospect of meaningful sanctions at the U.N. That in turn means difficulty getting tough sanctions from all the European countries, some of whom can’t act without U.N. approval.

Meanwhile, the Obami are watering down the “crippling” sanctions before we even get to the process of negotiating with “our” side and/or the UN. And then, even if we did get some consensus on mild pinpricks, we’d have to roll them out, implement them, and see if they were “working.” But frankly, we’re not likely to get an agreement on anything worth implementing, even after all that genuflecting to the Chinese. The end result:

Now Obama faces the unpleasant reality that neither the engagement track nor the sanctions track appear to be going anywhere. His defenders at home and abroad say it was the right way to proceed, but skeptics of Obama’s policy are emerging, even in his own party. “What exactly did your year of engagement get you?” asks a Hill Democrat.

Good question: what did we get? Well the mullahs got time to consolidate their grip on the throats of the Iranian people while gaining some international legitimacy. The Iranian protesters got their funding cut and saw the United States go practically mute when it might have mattered the most. The U.S. seems only to have frittered away its moral standing in the world. What we got was another year in which Iran moved closer to membership in the international nuclear-arms club.

Compared to this, health care has been a triumph. But unlike harebrained domestic schemes, getting nowhere is not good enough when dealing with a revolutionary Islamic state bent on acquiring nuclear arms. Both the United States and Israel will soon be confronted with the choice that Obama’s policy was designed to avoid: engage in military action or live with a nuclear-armed Iran. (Who among us seriously thinks Obama won’t be inclined to do the latter?) Obama’s Iran-engagement strategy, among a host of misguided efforts and half-baked ideas, is arguably the most egregious policy failure of his first year. It certainly is the most dangerous.

In the flurry over ObamaCare’s collapse, some have lost sight of a more serious and far-reaching failure by Obama. This report from Time‘s Massimo Calabresi observes that in addition to “his party’s loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts, the collapse of health care reform and a disorganized war against the banks,” Obama has a really big foreign-policy problem: his Iran policy is an abject failure. Engagement was supposed to wean the mullahs off their nukes, or at least demonstrate to recalcitrant powers like Russia and China that we had exhausted all reasonable options so we could proceed with those crippling sanctions. Calabresi asks: “So, how’s that working? Not very well, by all indications.” Not well at all.

We’ve blown through deadline after deadline. No progress has been made in rounding up support, even as Iran snubbed the West and murdered its own people. The Russians and Chinese still oppose sanctions:

But where Russia had previously taken the lead in blocking sanctions efforts, that role has now fallen to China, which has a rapidly growing stake in Iran’s energy sector. … Without China, which holds a Security Council veto, there is no prospect of meaningful sanctions at the U.N. That in turn means difficulty getting tough sanctions from all the European countries, some of whom can’t act without U.N. approval.

Meanwhile, the Obami are watering down the “crippling” sanctions before we even get to the process of negotiating with “our” side and/or the UN. And then, even if we did get some consensus on mild pinpricks, we’d have to roll them out, implement them, and see if they were “working.” But frankly, we’re not likely to get an agreement on anything worth implementing, even after all that genuflecting to the Chinese. The end result:

Now Obama faces the unpleasant reality that neither the engagement track nor the sanctions track appear to be going anywhere. His defenders at home and abroad say it was the right way to proceed, but skeptics of Obama’s policy are emerging, even in his own party. “What exactly did your year of engagement get you?” asks a Hill Democrat.

Good question: what did we get? Well the mullahs got time to consolidate their grip on the throats of the Iranian people while gaining some international legitimacy. The Iranian protesters got their funding cut and saw the United States go practically mute when it might have mattered the most. The U.S. seems only to have frittered away its moral standing in the world. What we got was another year in which Iran moved closer to membership in the international nuclear-arms club.

Compared to this, health care has been a triumph. But unlike harebrained domestic schemes, getting nowhere is not good enough when dealing with a revolutionary Islamic state bent on acquiring nuclear arms. Both the United States and Israel will soon be confronted with the choice that Obama’s policy was designed to avoid: engage in military action or live with a nuclear-armed Iran. (Who among us seriously thinks Obama won’t be inclined to do the latter?) Obama’s Iran-engagement strategy, among a host of misguided efforts and half-baked ideas, is arguably the most egregious policy failure of his first year. It certainly is the most dangerous.

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Re: Divided Government Is Back in Fashion

The CNN poll, which showed 70 percent of the public happy that the Senate is no longer filibuster-proof, delivered more bad news for the Democrats:

According to the poll, 46 percent of the public has a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, with 44 percent viewing the Republican Party in a positive light. That’s a change from October, when 53 percent had a favorable opinion of Democrats and 36 percent saw the GOP in a positive light.

That’s also bad news for the Democratic spin machine — i.e., the mainstream media — which repeatedly told us that the Republicans weren’t making progress, because the public disliked them so much more than they did the Democrats. It seems that despite all the talk of its being the “party of no” that was in the midst of a supposed “civil war” and run by wacky talk-show hosts, the GOP has caught up to the Democrats. (We already knew this from generic polling, by the way.) The public now views the two parties identically — that is, within the margin of error, neither party is outpacing the other in popularity. (Democrats have a 46 percent favorable/46 percent unfavorable rating, while Republicans have a 44/45 percent split.) Thirty-eight percent view Massachusetts as a major setback to the Democrats, 44 only a minor one, and 17 percent (there are that many White House aides?) think it’s no reflection as all.

This should not be surprising. The normal pattern for a minority party is to define itself as the opposition, fight against policies it deems harmful, and only then offer full-blown alternatives. In doing the first two of these, the Republicans have regained political territory lost since 2006. Going forward, they can they tell the American people how they would do things differently. The White House derided the GOP for not jumping to Step 3. The Republicans (who, by the way, did offer many a proposal for the stimulus and for health care, which was rejected out of hand) were busy maintaining a united front against the Obama agenda, rallying their base, swaying independents, and winning three high-profile races. They will in due time need to get around to a positive agenda. But all in all, it’s been quite a successful year for the party over which the chattering class was pronouncing last rites.

The CNN poll, which showed 70 percent of the public happy that the Senate is no longer filibuster-proof, delivered more bad news for the Democrats:

According to the poll, 46 percent of the public has a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, with 44 percent viewing the Republican Party in a positive light. That’s a change from October, when 53 percent had a favorable opinion of Democrats and 36 percent saw the GOP in a positive light.

That’s also bad news for the Democratic spin machine — i.e., the mainstream media — which repeatedly told us that the Republicans weren’t making progress, because the public disliked them so much more than they did the Democrats. It seems that despite all the talk of its being the “party of no” that was in the midst of a supposed “civil war” and run by wacky talk-show hosts, the GOP has caught up to the Democrats. (We already knew this from generic polling, by the way.) The public now views the two parties identically — that is, within the margin of error, neither party is outpacing the other in popularity. (Democrats have a 46 percent favorable/46 percent unfavorable rating, while Republicans have a 44/45 percent split.) Thirty-eight percent view Massachusetts as a major setback to the Democrats, 44 only a minor one, and 17 percent (there are that many White House aides?) think it’s no reflection as all.

This should not be surprising. The normal pattern for a minority party is to define itself as the opposition, fight against policies it deems harmful, and only then offer full-blown alternatives. In doing the first two of these, the Republicans have regained political territory lost since 2006. Going forward, they can they tell the American people how they would do things differently. The White House derided the GOP for not jumping to Step 3. The Republicans (who, by the way, did offer many a proposal for the stimulus and for health care, which was rejected out of hand) were busy maintaining a united front against the Obama agenda, rallying their base, swaying independents, and winning three high-profile races. They will in due time need to get around to a positive agenda. But all in all, it’s been quite a successful year for the party over which the chattering class was pronouncing last rites.

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“It’s My Fault, but Not Really”

As Politico reports, Obama tip-toed up to an admission of error in the health-care debate and then, realizing what he had done, reverted to form, blaming the scoundrels in Congress. First, the feint:

“We had to make so many decisions quickly in a very difficult set of circumstances that after awhile, we started worrying more about getting the policy right than getting the process right,” Obama told ABC’s Diane Sawyer Monday. “But I had campaigned on process—part of what I had campaigned on was changing how Washington works, opening up, transparency. … The health care debate as it unfolded legitimately raised concerns not just among my opponents, but also amongst supporters that we just don’t know what’s going on. And it’s an ugly process and it looks like there are a bunch of back room deals.”

Then the passivity (“The process didn’t run the way I ideally would like it to and that we have to move forward in a way that recaptures that sense of opening things up more”) — as he suggested the “process” ran itself or that his own spokesperson was doing someone else’s bidding when he refused to respond to queries about the broken C-SPAN pledge. And finally the finger-pointing:

“Let’s just clarify. I didn’t make a bunch of deals,” Obama told ABC. “There is a legislative process that is taking place in Congress and I am happy to own up to the fact that I have not changed Congress and how it operates the way I would have liked.”

It’s a bit pathetic, the inability to simply say what everyone knows to be the case: The deal was unpopular and unworkable. Bribes were needed to lure wary lawmakers. The White House cheered the process on and defended the result. The White House spokesperson refused to even answer questions on the lack of transparency. The net result was to further undermine support for his signature piece of legislation and give Scott Brown one more reason for Massachusetts to make him the 41st vote against ObamaCare. To make matters worse, as the report notes, some of those deals were made directly by the White House. (“As the process unfolded last year, critics complained not just about closed Congressional negotiations on health care, but about deals the White House worked out behind closed doors with pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, hospitals and unions.”)

All in all, it’s what we’ve come to expect from Obama, who ran as a new-style politician and is proving to be a drearily familiar old-style one.

As Politico reports, Obama tip-toed up to an admission of error in the health-care debate and then, realizing what he had done, reverted to form, blaming the scoundrels in Congress. First, the feint:

“We had to make so many decisions quickly in a very difficult set of circumstances that after awhile, we started worrying more about getting the policy right than getting the process right,” Obama told ABC’s Diane Sawyer Monday. “But I had campaigned on process—part of what I had campaigned on was changing how Washington works, opening up, transparency. … The health care debate as it unfolded legitimately raised concerns not just among my opponents, but also amongst supporters that we just don’t know what’s going on. And it’s an ugly process and it looks like there are a bunch of back room deals.”

Then the passivity (“The process didn’t run the way I ideally would like it to and that we have to move forward in a way that recaptures that sense of opening things up more”) — as he suggested the “process” ran itself or that his own spokesperson was doing someone else’s bidding when he refused to respond to queries about the broken C-SPAN pledge. And finally the finger-pointing:

“Let’s just clarify. I didn’t make a bunch of deals,” Obama told ABC. “There is a legislative process that is taking place in Congress and I am happy to own up to the fact that I have not changed Congress and how it operates the way I would have liked.”

It’s a bit pathetic, the inability to simply say what everyone knows to be the case: The deal was unpopular and unworkable. Bribes were needed to lure wary lawmakers. The White House cheered the process on and defended the result. The White House spokesperson refused to even answer questions on the lack of transparency. The net result was to further undermine support for his signature piece of legislation and give Scott Brown one more reason for Massachusetts to make him the 41st vote against ObamaCare. To make matters worse, as the report notes, some of those deals were made directly by the White House. (“As the process unfolded last year, critics complained not just about closed Congressional negotiations on health care, but about deals the White House worked out behind closed doors with pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, hospitals and unions.”)

All in all, it’s what we’ve come to expect from Obama, who ran as a new-style politician and is proving to be a drearily familiar old-style one.

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Why a Commission?

The Washington Post editors chide Obama:

President Obama, on a Saturday afternoon more than a year into his presidency, issued a statement saying that “I strongly support” legislation for a commission to tackle the nation’s fiscal problems. If he does, you’ve got to wonder where that strong support has been for the past year.

It’s not as if Obama lacked the power to veto spending measures; he simply lacked the will. It’s not as if he refused to go along with a health-care scheme that cooked the books by putting the Medicare “Doc Fix” in a separate bill; he cheered and insisted it would not add one dime to the deficit. (The real cost was closer to $2.5 trillion, not the less-than-trillion-dollar price tag he was peddling.) And of course the real concern (aside from the likelihood that the commission will bless a batch of new jobs-killing taxes) is that this will simply encourage him to do more of the same. The editors note:

Indeed, on Monday, two days after endorsing the commission, Mr. Obama made proposals that would, to put it charitably, increase its workload: bigger tax credits for child care and retirement. We were unable to obtain from the administration Monday any estimated cost of these new goodies.

One wonders why Obama doesn’t simply do his job and insist his congressional allies do the same. Send up responsible budgets, veto excessive ones, refuse to entertain omnibus spending gambits with thousands of earmarks, and eschew new entitlement programs. In other words, don’t do anything like he did in the first year of his presidency.

The Washington Post editors chide Obama:

President Obama, on a Saturday afternoon more than a year into his presidency, issued a statement saying that “I strongly support” legislation for a commission to tackle the nation’s fiscal problems. If he does, you’ve got to wonder where that strong support has been for the past year.

It’s not as if Obama lacked the power to veto spending measures; he simply lacked the will. It’s not as if he refused to go along with a health-care scheme that cooked the books by putting the Medicare “Doc Fix” in a separate bill; he cheered and insisted it would not add one dime to the deficit. (The real cost was closer to $2.5 trillion, not the less-than-trillion-dollar price tag he was peddling.) And of course the real concern (aside from the likelihood that the commission will bless a batch of new jobs-killing taxes) is that this will simply encourage him to do more of the same. The editors note:

Indeed, on Monday, two days after endorsing the commission, Mr. Obama made proposals that would, to put it charitably, increase its workload: bigger tax credits for child care and retirement. We were unable to obtain from the administration Monday any estimated cost of these new goodies.

One wonders why Obama doesn’t simply do his job and insist his congressional allies do the same. Send up responsible budgets, veto excessive ones, refuse to entertain omnibus spending gambits with thousands of earmarks, and eschew new entitlement programs. In other words, don’t do anything like he did in the first year of his presidency.

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Why Is Obama Acting So Weird?

There are two explanations (maybe more) for the White House’s eerie indifference to all the available evidence concerning their own shoddy performance and the public’s reaction to the same, which has resulted in losses in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts and sent many Democrats fleeing from the 2010 races.

There is the Out-to-Lunch explanation. Fred Barnes observes:

Months of polls on the president and his policies, the Virginia and New Jersey governor’s elections, then last week’s momentous Massachusetts Senate race – all have sent the blunt message to Obama that, for now, he’s lost. But Obama and his team insist on pretending it’s not true. This is a bad sign. One of the important tests of a president, especially a relatively new one like Obama, is how he deals with a serious setback.  Does he respond rationally and realistically? In Obama’s case, the answer is no.”

Sounds like the Democrats need to stage an intervention if the president is that immune to evidence.

But maybe he does understand precisely what’s going on and doesn’t have the wherewithal to revisit his assumptions, get into the weeds of a new agenda, offend old allies on the Left, and morph — as Bill Clinton did — into an effective centrist. Maybe he’d just rather hang it up in three years. In a bizarre interview, that’s what it sounded like: “President Barack Obama said that he ‘would rather be a really good one-term president’ than have two mediocre terms.” Well, the danger here is his being a really bad one-term president. But after only a year in office, it is, to put it mildly, an odd comment. Of all the times to avoid sounding remote, nonchalant, and snooty, this is it. Yet that’s exactly how Obama sounded in an interview he must know will be widely picked over for clues as to the direction of his presidency. Even the New York Times concedes:

Mr. Obama is not the first president in trouble to frame the choice as sticking to his principles instead of worrying about his personal political fortunes. … But it is usually a measure of how much difficulty a president is facing when he starts talking about even the prospect of being a one-term president.

The reasons for the president’s reaction to his self-made predicament — defiance, anger, stubborn indifference — are at some point unknowable. For the country and for his party, the reason is less important than the specter of a president who seems disconnected from the public and somewhat lost.

Forget the tone for a moment — what’s the new agenda? A grab bag of small trinkets for the middle class? That sounds like a ripoff of Bill Clinton, which works well in good times but seems, again, out to lunch when unemployment is in double digits. A new populist fury that may spook the very businesses that must regain confidence and hire workers? Sounds rather self-defeating. A doubling-down on health care? It’s not clear he has even bare majorities in Congress for Son of ObamaCare.

Unfortunately, we’ve come to see that Obama doesn’t shine in a crisis. Not in the aftermath of Iran’s June election and revolt. Not after Fort Hood. Not after the Christmas Day bombing. Not after his own political wipeout. It takes him multiple chances to sound serious and engaged. He doesn’t relate on a visceral level with the public. It should no longer come as a surprise, but it is of concern. If he really does want a second term and wants to be more than a mediocre president, he’s going to have to step it up. And quickly.

There are two explanations (maybe more) for the White House’s eerie indifference to all the available evidence concerning their own shoddy performance and the public’s reaction to the same, which has resulted in losses in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts and sent many Democrats fleeing from the 2010 races.

There is the Out-to-Lunch explanation. Fred Barnes observes:

Months of polls on the president and his policies, the Virginia and New Jersey governor’s elections, then last week’s momentous Massachusetts Senate race – all have sent the blunt message to Obama that, for now, he’s lost. But Obama and his team insist on pretending it’s not true. This is a bad sign. One of the important tests of a president, especially a relatively new one like Obama, is how he deals with a serious setback.  Does he respond rationally and realistically? In Obama’s case, the answer is no.”

Sounds like the Democrats need to stage an intervention if the president is that immune to evidence.

But maybe he does understand precisely what’s going on and doesn’t have the wherewithal to revisit his assumptions, get into the weeds of a new agenda, offend old allies on the Left, and morph — as Bill Clinton did — into an effective centrist. Maybe he’d just rather hang it up in three years. In a bizarre interview, that’s what it sounded like: “President Barack Obama said that he ‘would rather be a really good one-term president’ than have two mediocre terms.” Well, the danger here is his being a really bad one-term president. But after only a year in office, it is, to put it mildly, an odd comment. Of all the times to avoid sounding remote, nonchalant, and snooty, this is it. Yet that’s exactly how Obama sounded in an interview he must know will be widely picked over for clues as to the direction of his presidency. Even the New York Times concedes:

Mr. Obama is not the first president in trouble to frame the choice as sticking to his principles instead of worrying about his personal political fortunes. … But it is usually a measure of how much difficulty a president is facing when he starts talking about even the prospect of being a one-term president.

The reasons for the president’s reaction to his self-made predicament — defiance, anger, stubborn indifference — are at some point unknowable. For the country and for his party, the reason is less important than the specter of a president who seems disconnected from the public and somewhat lost.

Forget the tone for a moment — what’s the new agenda? A grab bag of small trinkets for the middle class? That sounds like a ripoff of Bill Clinton, which works well in good times but seems, again, out to lunch when unemployment is in double digits. A new populist fury that may spook the very businesses that must regain confidence and hire workers? Sounds rather self-defeating. A doubling-down on health care? It’s not clear he has even bare majorities in Congress for Son of ObamaCare.

Unfortunately, we’ve come to see that Obama doesn’t shine in a crisis. Not in the aftermath of Iran’s June election and revolt. Not after Fort Hood. Not after the Christmas Day bombing. Not after his own political wipeout. It takes him multiple chances to sound serious and engaged. He doesn’t relate on a visceral level with the public. It should no longer come as a surprise, but it is of concern. If he really does want a second term and wants to be more than a mediocre president, he’s going to have to step it up. And quickly.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The mayor of Las Vegas, despite numbers from helpful (or is it desperate?) Democratic polling outfits showing he would do better against Republican challengers to Harry Reid, says he won’t run. Recruitment is hard for the side facing rather than riding the wave.

Surveying the Democratic retirements and opt-outs, it sure does seem that “Democrats are spooked at all levels. Beau Biden’s Delaware bid has always had a Coakleyesque Democratic entitlement aroma to it, and Massachusetts has now sensitized the noses of the rest of the nation. Much more so than Republicans, Democratic congressional candidates are often products of their urban party machines, but I sure wouldn’t want to be a machine candidate running for Congress anywhere in the country next fall.”

Speaking of machines, the Illinois Senate primary race has heated up. The Democratic front-runner, Alexi Giannoulias, is being attacked for his ties to Tony Rezko. You sort of see how that would be a problem in the general election.

Democrats in Illinois seem awfully jumpy: “A televised forum among the three leading Democrats for the Senate last week seemed to transform into a scuffle over which one would be least likely, come November, to repeat what happened in Massachusetts. (Along the way, they struck notes that sounded not so unlike Mr. Brown.)”

Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Politico reports: “White House advisers appearing on the Sunday talk shows gave three different estimates of how many jobs could be credited to President Obama’s Recovery Act.”

Liberals can barely disguise their disdain for the Obami’s muddled health-care stance. TNR complains: “The White House seems to agree that passing the Senate bill and fixing it with reconciliation would be the best way to proceed. But that doesn’t mean they’re pushing hard for that option. According to the same sources, the Obama administration sent vague, sometimes conflicting signals about its intentions for much of last week–making the task for reform advocates even harder.” (And he could have been such a fine editor for them!) Perhaps the Obami just want the whole health-care thing to go away. That they might finally accomplish.

Megan McArdle explains how to do precisely that: “We want to pass health care, but we just have a few things to do first. … Once it goes on the back burner, it’s over. As time goes by, voters will be thinking less and less about the health care bill they hated, and more and more about other things in the news. There is not going to be any appetite among Democrats for returning to this toxic process and refreshing those bad memories. They’re going to want to spend the time between now and the election talking about things that voters, y’know, like.”

Victor Davis Hanson takes us down memory lane: “After Van Jones, Anita Dunn, the Skip Gates mess, the ‘tea-bagger’ slurs, the attacks on Fox News, the Copenhagen dashes, the bowing, the apologizing, the reordering of creditors, the NEA obsequiousness, the lackluster overseas-contingency-operation front, the deer-in-the-headlights pause on Afghanistan, the pseudo-deadlines on Iran, Guantanamo, and health care, the transparency and bipartisanship fraud, and dozens of other things, Obama simply does not have the popularity to carry unpopular legislation forward.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “a new report warns that al-Qaeda has not abandoned its goal of attacking the United States with a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon. The report, by a former senior CIA official who led the agency’s hunt for terrorists’ weapons of mass destruction, portrays al-Qaeda’s leaders as determined and patient, willing to wait for years to acquire the kinds of weapons that could inflict widespread casualties.” (Not even if we close Guantanamo? Give KSM his trial? No.) Seems like a good reminder that whenever we grab an al-Qaeda operative, we should be doing everything within our power to get every bit of data we can in order to prevent an attack with “widespread casualties.”

The mayor of Las Vegas, despite numbers from helpful (or is it desperate?) Democratic polling outfits showing he would do better against Republican challengers to Harry Reid, says he won’t run. Recruitment is hard for the side facing rather than riding the wave.

Surveying the Democratic retirements and opt-outs, it sure does seem that “Democrats are spooked at all levels. Beau Biden’s Delaware bid has always had a Coakleyesque Democratic entitlement aroma to it, and Massachusetts has now sensitized the noses of the rest of the nation. Much more so than Republicans, Democratic congressional candidates are often products of their urban party machines, but I sure wouldn’t want to be a machine candidate running for Congress anywhere in the country next fall.”

Speaking of machines, the Illinois Senate primary race has heated up. The Democratic front-runner, Alexi Giannoulias, is being attacked for his ties to Tony Rezko. You sort of see how that would be a problem in the general election.

Democrats in Illinois seem awfully jumpy: “A televised forum among the three leading Democrats for the Senate last week seemed to transform into a scuffle over which one would be least likely, come November, to repeat what happened in Massachusetts. (Along the way, they struck notes that sounded not so unlike Mr. Brown.)”

Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Politico reports: “White House advisers appearing on the Sunday talk shows gave three different estimates of how many jobs could be credited to President Obama’s Recovery Act.”

Liberals can barely disguise their disdain for the Obami’s muddled health-care stance. TNR complains: “The White House seems to agree that passing the Senate bill and fixing it with reconciliation would be the best way to proceed. But that doesn’t mean they’re pushing hard for that option. According to the same sources, the Obama administration sent vague, sometimes conflicting signals about its intentions for much of last week–making the task for reform advocates even harder.” (And he could have been such a fine editor for them!) Perhaps the Obami just want the whole health-care thing to go away. That they might finally accomplish.

Megan McArdle explains how to do precisely that: “We want to pass health care, but we just have a few things to do first. … Once it goes on the back burner, it’s over. As time goes by, voters will be thinking less and less about the health care bill they hated, and more and more about other things in the news. There is not going to be any appetite among Democrats for returning to this toxic process and refreshing those bad memories. They’re going to want to spend the time between now and the election talking about things that voters, y’know, like.”

Victor Davis Hanson takes us down memory lane: “After Van Jones, Anita Dunn, the Skip Gates mess, the ‘tea-bagger’ slurs, the attacks on Fox News, the Copenhagen dashes, the bowing, the apologizing, the reordering of creditors, the NEA obsequiousness, the lackluster overseas-contingency-operation front, the deer-in-the-headlights pause on Afghanistan, the pseudo-deadlines on Iran, Guantanamo, and health care, the transparency and bipartisanship fraud, and dozens of other things, Obama simply does not have the popularity to carry unpopular legislation forward.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “a new report warns that al-Qaeda has not abandoned its goal of attacking the United States with a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon. The report, by a former senior CIA official who led the agency’s hunt for terrorists’ weapons of mass destruction, portrays al-Qaeda’s leaders as determined and patient, willing to wait for years to acquire the kinds of weapons that could inflict widespread casualties.” (Not even if we close Guantanamo? Give KSM his trial? No.) Seems like a good reminder that whenever we grab an al-Qaeda operative, we should be doing everything within our power to get every bit of data we can in order to prevent an attack with “widespread casualties.”

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