…no school choice, nothing that will anger teachers’ unions. Money for community college.
Posts For: January 27, 2010
Obama says he’s not giving up his big dreams. Again, was he not president this year? He wants to get “serious” about our problems. He says he’s not interested in punishing banks. Wait. Didn’t he say he was going to sock them with a big tax? Oh, well. Yes. So he’s railing against the “lobbyists” ( like those sitting with Nancy Pelosi?) to get financial reform “right.”
…for the United States of America. He will not allow America to be second place when it comes to statist measures!
If you didn’t know that Obama’s robust defense of the stimulus plan would seem credible. Democrats in the room cheered but can they run on it? No. So Obama proceeds to explain that “jobs” is the Number One issue. We spent the last year on something else. But now he’s going to take money from banks and give it to small businesses. Because if we learned anything it is that moving money from one pocket to the next creates wealth, right? He also reels off a list of small business tax breaks. Super! Now what about the Bush tax cuts? Hmm. Nothing there. Wonder if that will come up in the 2010 elections.
Why? Didn’t he just say he was going to create or save 2 million more jobs this year? Two million. That’s a lot. Hard to top that.
Obama tells us: “We do not give up. We do not quit. We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit. In this new decade, it’s time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength.” Was he not president this year? Is he a bystander? And then he goes on to cheer in the opposition to the bank bailout. He says he didn’t run to do what was popular. He succeeded beyond his wildest imagination on that front.
Really? Why? Didn’t he just say it pulled us back from the precipice? That he saved the country? Why wouldn’t he be proud of it? You don’t get it both ways. Oh, wait, he made it “more transparent” and “more accountable.” So now it’s good.
“America moved forward because we chose to move forward as one nation, as one people.” He cites the Union loss at Bull Run in the Civil War and the landing at Omaha Beach as examples of this. But of course Bull Run was about unifying the nation by force, not about a “choice” to move forward. And the victory in World War II had nothing to do with it. Sounds nice; has the substance of cotton candy. That is Obama’s greatest problem.
It has been a long year. But still. And now he reminds us of Bull Run, WWII and the 1929 crash. Well, I’m not sure the demise of ObamaCare really ranks up there.
…for a minute and say that it remains an extraordinarily moving thing to see a black man standing at the podium as president of the United States. Not for what it says about Obama, but what it says about the United States.
All day today at National Review Online’s The Corner, posters have been denouncing the State of the Union speech. Boring and pointless, they say. Not until the media age did it occur to anyone to deliver the constitutionally-mandated “message” as a speech. Too long. Too boring. Not enough memorable is said.
The truth is, the State of the Union is a grand American event—a moment of specific ceremonial pomp, with traditions of announcement and greeting and rhetorical patterns dating back nearly 100 years. It is true that the speech has become a boring laundry list over the past 30 years or so, but that is the fault of the permanent government system of the modern Washington, where executive agencies all but demand their moment in the sun with a paragraph or two of their wish lists.
What we learn from States of the Union is what the temperature of the American polity is—whether the minority party, or the party that is not the president’s, feels it must behave with utmost respect and decorum or whether it can show its displeasure and discomfort and disrespect. In that way alone, it is an important indicator of a president’s perceived power and standing in a way that few events outside of, say, a special election in Massachusetts can be. That’s one of the reasons I like them and am fascinated by them, and think the attack on the SOTU is little more than attitudinal snark.
You really have to marvel at the fix Obama finds himself in. He’s desperate to win back independents so he makes a baby step toward fiscal sanity with a freeze on a fraction of the federal budget. Speaker Nancy Pelosi leaps into the fray before the SOTU is even delivered:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that defense spending shouldn’t be exempt from President Barack Obama’s proposal for a three-year freeze on federal spending. In his State of the Union address Wednesday night, Obama is expected to address worries about the federal deficit by proposing a three-year freeze on all “non-security” spending. But just hours before the speech, Pelosi told POLITICO that any spending freeze should be “across the board.”
Well, that’s crazy talk, given that we are at war and face ongoing terrorist attacks. But it’s a measure of just how acrimonious the environment has become — on the Democratic side of the aisle. This is what happens when the president shrinks before our eyes. His own party is up in arms, the opposition smells blood and the perception is that he is no longer in control of events. Maybe he can reverse that. But he sure dug himself a deep hole.
Excerpts are circulating of the president’s speech. The lawmakers are assembling. (Which incumbents want to rush to the aisle to shake the president’s hand, knowing that image wind up in some challenger’s campaign ad?) But this report sort of sums up where we are:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s guest list includes the expected array of family, political friends and a few union chiefs, including Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO and Anna Burger of SEIU. But interestingly, Pelosi’s guest list includes the last sitting speaker to lose election: former Rep. Tom Foley.
Nothing like having those special, special-interest folks with you when the president decries corruption and lobbyists. As for Foley, I’m sure he’s telling Pelosi she has nothing to fear so long as the president doesn’t double down on healthcare, insist her members vote on repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and attack the Supreme Court for defending the First Amendment. Oh, wait.
UPDATE: A reader sends this along: “Foley worked as a lobbyist for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld after serving as U.S. ambassador to Japan, representing clients such as AT&T, Walt Disney Co., CSX Corp. and the State University of New York. Jim Wright, a Texas Democrat who was speaker from 1987 to 1989, was a consultant for Arch Petroleum Co., although it is unclear if he was ever a registered lobbyist, said the Office of the Historian of the House.” Great image, Nancy.
Jennifer Rubin and I will be live-blogging the State of the Union, beginning at 9 pm Eastern time. Join us, won’t you?
Those who wondered how Climategate and Himalayagate would affect public opinion need look no further. A new study released today by Yale and George Mason researchers reports that since fall 2008, “public concern about global warming has dropped sharply.” Notably, the study finds public trust in both scientists and politicians has also decreased, as has confidence that a climate-change consensus exists among scientists.
Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, says the results are not the consequence of Climategate alone — or, as he wryly puts it, “a set of emails stolen from climate scientists and used by critics to allege scientific misconduct.” Instead, he suggests that unemployment, the health-care debate, and general frustration with Washington have “largely push[ed] climate change out of the news.”
But that’s an unlikely hypothesis, especially given high-profile events like Copenhagen. In fact, the Google News Archives graph seems to show, if anything, an uptick in news coverage about climate change. The fact is, there has been effulgent coverage on climate change lately — and this study suggests that the public doesn’t like what it sees.
Perhaps most interesting is the statement made by Edward Maibach, director of George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication:
The scientific evidence is clear that climate change is real, human-caused and a serious threat to communities across America. … The erosion in both public concern and public trust about global warming should be a clarion call for people and organizations trying to educate the public about this important issue.
If Mr. Maibach really believes that the evidence is so clear-cut, he’s absolutely right; in light of the climate-change community’s recent woes, the public would welcome an education from scientists who both present and defend the evidence for climate change.
The New York Times reports:
In a conference call today with Congressional staff, the White House communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, said that President Obama would reiterate his commitment to a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s health care system in his State of the Union address on Wednesday night. Mr. Pfeiffer said that the president will share “additional details” but that the thrust of his message would be that he remains as resolute and committed to revamping the health care system as he was when he gave a speech to a joint session of Congress in early September.
They gotta be kidding, right? This is not a president who likes to admit error, but it seems rather risky to take this approach. What if everyone laughs? Really, Congress has already declared itself ready to move on. Less than a third of the country likes ObamaCare. And Obama lost his filibuster-proof majority on this issue. So he’s going to say he’s just as committed as ever. Even — especially — if he doesn’t mean it, he shouldn’t say it. It makes him look foolish, detached, and weak. If a president is really committed to something he’s not going to get, then he’s simply irrelevant.
Maybe the White House spin got ahead of itself. Maybe Obama is only going to say health care is real important, and we’ll get to it soon. If not, the self-delusion problem is much worse than we imagined.
Obama isn’t the only one musing about a single term. Now Hillary Clinton gets into the act, declaring, ”I don’t wanna make any predictions sitting here, I’m honored to serve, I serve at the pleasure of the President, but it’s a, it’s a 24/7 job, and I think at some point, I will be very happy to LAUGHS pass it on to someone else.” Hmm. (She assures us she isn’t, however, interested in running for president.) Is this not everything she hoped it would be? Maybe not anything.
She can claim not a single foreign-policy accomplishment (escaping the corner she painted herself into on Honduras doesn’t count). She was going to restore our standing in the world, but who thinks our relations with Britain, Eastern Europe, and Israel (to name just a few key allies) are better now than during the Bush administration? Seriously, we went from the most robust and productive relationship with Israel of any administration to the worst. We’ve offended and rebuffed the Brits at multiple turns. And we’ve pulled the rug out from under the Poles and the Czechs. Are we being smart diplomats yet?
Meanwhile, we’re in the process of missing a historic opportunity to affect a peaceful, popular revolution in Iran. We’ve given the cold shoulder to human rights advocates. And we’ve accomplished none of the items on the Obama multilateralist to-do list. (Climate-control efforts look eerily similar to the course taken by ObamaCare.) We didn’t even get the Olympics.
Hillary might well want to bug out. It’s nice to go out on a high note after some major achievement. But it might not be a good idea for her to wait that long. While her popularity is still high, she might want to flee. There are lots of Senate and gubernatorial races, after all. But then after a year of Obama, it’s not exactly the time to run if you have a “D” after your name. Poor Hillary. Another male politician has done her wrong.
It’s a good idea to create a “reintegration” program that will allow fighters to leave the Taliban with some prospect of employment, education, housing, and other essentials. That’s what the government of Afghanistan, in cooperation with the U.S., Britain, and other allies, is announcing today in London. Just don’t expect a lot of Taliban defectors to make use of the program until security conditions change on the ground.
As it stands now, former Taliban are more worried about their lives than their livelihoods, and for good reason: in the climate of pervasive insecurity that still exists in much of eastern and southern Afghanistan, Afghan and NATO forces do not have the ability to protect the people from Taliban retribution. That means that Taliban interested in self-preservation — which, it is safe to assume, means most of them — will not switch sides until the balance of power shifts, and it begins to look as if they are leaving the losing side for the winning side.
That calculus applies just as strongly to efforts to encourage high-level reconciliation — i.e., to lure high-level Taliban into the government — or tribal engagement. These are both good ideas that have scant chance of success right now. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week, “until the Taliban leadership sees a change in the momentum and begins to see that they are not going to win, the likelihood of significant reconciliation at senior levels is not terribly great.”
The problem is that it will take some time to change the momentum on the ground. All of the 30,000-plus reinforcements ordered to Afghanistan by President Obama will not arrive until the end of the summer, at best. Then they will have to go to villages where the Taliban lurk and win the trust of the people. Good counterinsurgency cannot be done quickly, yet the troops know that they are on the clock: Obama has said he will begin a drawdown beginning in the summer of 2011. The Taliban know it, too, and that makes it easier for them to keep wavering Afghans in line by telling them that they cannot trust the Americans to protect them. That very public deadline makes it harder to get momentum and thus sabotages the very efforts at reintegration, reconciliation, and tribal engagement that the administration is now promoting.
It is becoming the week for bipartisan foreign policy. We saw a group of Democratic and Republican senators call for the Christmas Day bomber to be treated as an enemy combatant. We saw the 9/11 commission chiefs call for a reexamination of our handling of terrorists. Now a large bipartsian group is demanding those “crippling sanctions” on Iran. Senators Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Chuck Schumer (D-New York), John McCain (R-Arizona), Robert Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), and David Vitter (R-Louisiana) sent a letter to the president calling for him to abide by his own one-year deadline on diplomacy and impose real pressure on the Iranian regime. The letter reads in part:
We believe that it is extremely important for the world to know that the United States means what it says, and that we in fact do what we say we are going to do. As you rightly stated in your Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, “If we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price.”
We understand that your Administration is likely to pursue a fifth sanctions resolution at the United Nations Security Council. We strongly support your Administration’s painstaking diplomacy in support of this goal and hope that it succeeds in securing measures that stand a reasonable chance of changing the behavior of Iran’s government for the better. However, based on previous experience, we are acutely aware of the limits of Security Council action, in particular given the likely resistance to meaningful sanctions by the People’s Republic of China. We note with dismay the recent statement of China’s ambassador to the United Nations that, “This is not the right time or right moment for sanctions, because the diplomatic efforts are still going on.”
The senators urge Obama to “pursue parallel and complementary measures, outside the Security Council, to increase the pressure on the Iranian government.” They note that the president already has authority to do so under existing law, and that the senators ”are also committed to quickly passing new comprehensive sanctions legislation in Congress that will provide you with additional authorities to pressure Iran, and urge you to make full use of them.”
Once again, it seems Obama is trailing, not leading. There is a bipartisan consensus to at least extract ourselves from the morass of engagement. One wonders what alternative course of action Obama really believes there is. Do pin-prick sanctions focused supposedly on only certain elements within the Iranian regime offer any realistic hope of success? Or is Obama edging closer to a containment strategy, in which meaningful sanctions and military action are ruled out, leaving only the option of living with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state? We will find out soon enough whether Obama intends to go down in history as the American president who allowed such a regime to go nuclear. In the meantime, these lawmakers would do well to keep up the drumbeat. I suspect it will have to get very loud before the administration acts.
In the afterglow of Barack Obama’s election, liberals were peddling a lot of bad ideas. Among them was the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, who in December 2008 wrote this:
The practical import of the Obama mandate debate has fallen on the question of whether he should pursue his goal of comprehensive health care reform, which numerous pundits and even some Democrats have tagged as dangerously ambitious. But this is one area where undiluted liberalism enjoys overwhelming public support. The public, by a roughly two-to-one margin, thinks the government has a responsibility to make sure that every American has adequate health care. Congressional Democrats fear a repeat of 1994–when, as they see it, Bill Clinton over-interpreted his mandate and therefore failed to pass health care reform. This reading has it backward. Clinton’s health care plan failed because Congress decided he didn’t have a mandate and refused to pass it. If the Democrats fail this time, it will probably be because they psyched themselves out once again.
Thirteen months later, Chait’s “undiluted liberalism” enjoys something less than overwhelming public support.
In fact, the United States has become more, not less, conservative during the Obama presidency (by a margin of 2-to-1, Americans describe themselves as conservative rather than liberal). And Obama and the Democrats, having followed Chait’s counsel, find themselves in a terrible political ditch. After a year in office, Mr. Obama has become, by a wide margin, our most polarizing president. He has the highest disapproval ratings ever recorded for an elected president beginning his second year. No other president has seen his Gallup job-approval rating drop as far as Obama’s has (21 points) in his first year. And the public overwhelmingly opposes Obama’s signature domestic initiative, health care (the approve-disapprove spread ranges from 15 to 20 points).
In addition, Democrats have suffered crushing losses in gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia — and last week they suffered a particularly devastating loss in the Massachusetts Senate race. Independents are voting for Republicans by a 2-to-1 (or better) margin. Republicans are now polling better than Democrats on most issues. They are ahead on most generic congressional vote polls. The GOP’s recruiting efforts are going gangbusters, while Democrats are either withdrawing from midterm races in November or not throwing their hat into the ring at all. “I have not seen a party’s fortunes collapse so suddenly since Richard Nixon got caught up in the Watergate scandal and a president who carried 49 states was threatened with impeachment and removal from office,” according to the political analyst Michael Barone.
Democrats, rightly sensing what awaits them in November, are nearly panic-stricken.
In light of what has come to pass, Mr. Chait’s writings look comical. After a disastrous August for ObamaCare, Chait declared, against all evidence, “August moved the ball pretty far down the field.” He was issuing ominous warnings about a GOP overreach on health care in September. And in October he wrote, “We’ve had months of sturm and drang, and massive attention focused on the question, Whither health care reform? It’s just quietly turned into a fait accompli.”
Au contraire. ObamaCare, while not yet dead, is in critical and perhaps terminal condition. And the damaging effects it has had on the president and the Democratic party is beyond serious dispute. Charlie Cook of National Journal put it this way:
Honorable and intelligent people can disagree over the substance and details of what President Obama and congressional Democrats are trying to do on health care reform and climate change. But nearly a year after Obama’s inauguration, judging by where the Democrats stand today, it’s clear that they have made a colossal miscalculation.
Clear, that is, to everyone but Jonathan Chait. He is in the uncomfortable position of having to explain how the Obama presidency and liberalism have gone off the rails in the past year, a year devoted to trying to pass massively unpopular health-care legislation championed by people like Chait. Rather than coming to grips with reality, though, Chait has opted for self-delusion. In his January 19 column, for example, Jonathan was reduced to writing things like this:
The perception has formed, perhaps indelibly, that the reason Democrats will get hammered in the 2010 elections is that the party moved too far left in general and tried to reform health care in particular. This perception owes itself, above all, to the habit that political analysts in the media and other outposts of mainstream thought have of ignoring structural factors.
So Obama and the Democrats find themselves on the precipice, not because of health care, but because of “structural factors.” Of course. Scott Brown famously won his Massachusetts Senate race by promising to be the 41st vote against “structural factors.”
It is all rather pathetic.
The New Republic was once one of the nation’s leading journals of opinion. It was the home of first-rate thinkers and first-rate writers. Today it is the home of Jonathan Chait.
It has been a long and dramatic decline.