Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 28, 2010

No Climate Concession Here

Obama’s State of the Union offered what is being lauded by both liberals and conservatives as a climate-change compromise. The will to compromise is a necessary but welcome development, but don’t be fooled. Obama said:

… we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. And this year I’m eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate.

Though Republicans have supported offshore drilling and nuclear energy, this rhetoric pushes toward the same old goal. Such Democratic concessions are the cheap candy offered to entice Republicans toward more efforts like the stalled House cap-and-trade bill. And that sort of cap-and-trade bill is in no way a win for conservatives or for Americans.

The foreign media are reading Obama’s call for a “comprehensive energy and climate bill” as “code in Washington for a broad set of proposals that would also include establishment of a cap and trade program.” And only last week, the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s deputy director said, “There continues to be very strong support among a range of legislators for comprehensive climate legislation that includes cap and trade.” By “range,” he must mean shades of Left.

Obama’s State of the Union offered what is being lauded by both liberals and conservatives as a climate-change compromise. The will to compromise is a necessary but welcome development, but don’t be fooled. Obama said:

… we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. And this year I’m eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate.

Though Republicans have supported offshore drilling and nuclear energy, this rhetoric pushes toward the same old goal. Such Democratic concessions are the cheap candy offered to entice Republicans toward more efforts like the stalled House cap-and-trade bill. And that sort of cap-and-trade bill is in no way a win for conservatives or for Americans.

The foreign media are reading Obama’s call for a “comprehensive energy and climate bill” as “code in Washington for a broad set of proposals that would also include establishment of a cap and trade program.” And only last week, the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s deputy director said, “There continues to be very strong support among a range of legislators for comprehensive climate legislation that includes cap and trade.” By “range,” he must mean shades of Left.

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Don’t Hit Your Head, Nancy

Nancy Pelosi is on a mission. She’s going pass health-care reform no matter what. Doesn’t matter if the country doesn’t want it and the Senate wants to do something else. Doesn’t matter if her members are desperate to move on. Here’s what she said on the subject today:

You go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, you go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole-vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in. But we’re going to get health care reform passed for the American people.

Translation: But they don’t want it, Madame Speaker. They just don’t know what’s good for them!

Pelosi isn’t likely to lose her seat, despite the track-and-field events she has planned for her caucus. A lot of them will, and those on the cusp probably would rather she let the whole thing drop. But she’s bound and determined. Republicans can hardly believe their good fortune. Perhaps, they wonder, weeks and months more can be spent on this. After all if the parachutes don’t work, they could be shot out of a canon. Or something.

Nancy Pelosi is on a mission. She’s going pass health-care reform no matter what. Doesn’t matter if the country doesn’t want it and the Senate wants to do something else. Doesn’t matter if her members are desperate to move on. Here’s what she said on the subject today:

You go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, you go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole-vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in. But we’re going to get health care reform passed for the American people.

Translation: But they don’t want it, Madame Speaker. They just don’t know what’s good for them!

Pelosi isn’t likely to lose her seat, despite the track-and-field events she has planned for her caucus. A lot of them will, and those on the cusp probably would rather she let the whole thing drop. But she’s bound and determined. Republicans can hardly believe their good fortune. Perhaps, they wonder, weeks and months more can be spent on this. After all if the parachutes don’t work, they could be shot out of a canon. Or something.

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What Do They Do Now?

John Harris of Politico observes that Obama is in new, uncharted territory: “With the big-bang strategy officially a failure, Obama’s speech revealed in real-time a president groping for a new and more effective one. The speech was woven with frequent acknowledgements that the laws of political gravity applied to him after all.” Well, that – and a deep and abiding desire to pass the buck (e.g., to Congress, to “special interests”). On his signature domestic issue, he has left a void and much confusion. He urged Congress to keep at it, but to what end and when wasn’t clear:

Obama offered no clarity at all on exactly when or how this would happen after the stalemate caused by the Republican capture of Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat in Massachusetts. His tepid rallying cry: “As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed.”

There is understandably concern in the Democratic ranks. What are they to do now? They are going to have to run on something, after all. Yet their electoral position continues to deteriorate. The Cook Political Report’s e-mail tells us:

In the districts of Democratic Reps. Baron Hill (IN-09), Mark Schauer (MI-07), Dina Titus (NV-03), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), and Glenn Nye (VA-02), we no longer see the incumbent Democrats as clear favorites for reelection. We now rate 50 Democratic-held seats as Lean Democratic or more vulnerable, including 20 Democratic seats in the Toss Up column. Republicans need to pick up 40 seats to take back the House majority.

Perhaps the Democrats will figure it out in time, but it is far from clear what signature issue or issues will take the place of health care. The president made many small suggestions ill-suited to tackle a very big problem — high unemployment. Unless he can make headway on that big issue and provide direction to his party, we will see, I suspect, further erosion of support for Democrats who have now acquired a dual and electorally disastrous reputation. Conservatives and independents consider them too liberal and irresponsible; their base finds them inept. That’s not a recipe for holding majority control of both houses.

John Harris of Politico observes that Obama is in new, uncharted territory: “With the big-bang strategy officially a failure, Obama’s speech revealed in real-time a president groping for a new and more effective one. The speech was woven with frequent acknowledgements that the laws of political gravity applied to him after all.” Well, that – and a deep and abiding desire to pass the buck (e.g., to Congress, to “special interests”). On his signature domestic issue, he has left a void and much confusion. He urged Congress to keep at it, but to what end and when wasn’t clear:

Obama offered no clarity at all on exactly when or how this would happen after the stalemate caused by the Republican capture of Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat in Massachusetts. His tepid rallying cry: “As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed.”

There is understandably concern in the Democratic ranks. What are they to do now? They are going to have to run on something, after all. Yet their electoral position continues to deteriorate. The Cook Political Report’s e-mail tells us:

In the districts of Democratic Reps. Baron Hill (IN-09), Mark Schauer (MI-07), Dina Titus (NV-03), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), and Glenn Nye (VA-02), we no longer see the incumbent Democrats as clear favorites for reelection. We now rate 50 Democratic-held seats as Lean Democratic or more vulnerable, including 20 Democratic seats in the Toss Up column. Republicans need to pick up 40 seats to take back the House majority.

Perhaps the Democrats will figure it out in time, but it is far from clear what signature issue or issues will take the place of health care. The president made many small suggestions ill-suited to tackle a very big problem — high unemployment. Unless he can make headway on that big issue and provide direction to his party, we will see, I suspect, further erosion of support for Democrats who have now acquired a dual and electorally disastrous reputation. Conservatives and independents consider them too liberal and irresponsible; their base finds them inept. That’s not a recipe for holding majority control of both houses.

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J.D. Salinger, Dead at 91

The news that J.D. Salinger, since Greta Garbo’s passing the world’s most notable silent-by-choice person, has died comes as a bit of a shock even though he has hardly been seen and barely been heard from in 45 years. Perhaps that is because one doesn’t think of Salinger as Salinger, but rather as Holden Caulfield, the most famous fictional American teenager. Catcher in the Rye was published, think of it, 59 years ago. Reading it now, the novel certainly shows its age — what teenage boy would take a teenage girl to have hot chocolate by the Rockefeller Center Skating Rink? — but the brilliant conversational voice with which Salinger imbued Holden can be heard in every single effort by an adult to render the sensibility of adolescence.

But perhaps what is most interesting about the shock of Salinger’s passing is how his very long life reveals the philosophical weakness at the heart of his work. He was concerned almost exclusively with the travails and wounds of the very young, notably the children of the Glass family. And it was clear that his sympathy lay entirely with them, with their moods and despairs and fears and sense of the world’s impurity and falsity. To that end, Salinger was guilty of the worst kind of romanticism, with his idealization of suicide in particular.

To be sure, the wounds of youth are “sensitive as a fresh burn,” to quote the writer Isaac Rosenfeld, and therefore very powerful. But Salinger’s continuing concern with those wounds may well have been the reason he fell silent as a writer when he himself hit middle age. The life of an adult is actually so much more complex and interesting, and so much the better source of material for a writer as supernaturally gifted as Salinger was (as his own masterful youthful story, “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut,” demonstrates), that his evident refusal to grapple with it and his continued emotional investment in the increasingly distant ways of the not-yet-adult may have been what silenced him.

Perhaps there is gold to be mined in his New Hampshire home in the form of the manuscripts he was said to labor over. Maybe they will reveal the maturity that eluded him, that they will show he was a pure artist who did not need an audience to explore the deeper truths available to those who grow as they age. That would be a wonderful capstone. It’s doubtful, but just think of it — Salinger with a happy ending, at long last.

The news that J.D. Salinger, since Greta Garbo’s passing the world’s most notable silent-by-choice person, has died comes as a bit of a shock even though he has hardly been seen and barely been heard from in 45 years. Perhaps that is because one doesn’t think of Salinger as Salinger, but rather as Holden Caulfield, the most famous fictional American teenager. Catcher in the Rye was published, think of it, 59 years ago. Reading it now, the novel certainly shows its age — what teenage boy would take a teenage girl to have hot chocolate by the Rockefeller Center Skating Rink? — but the brilliant conversational voice with which Salinger imbued Holden can be heard in every single effort by an adult to render the sensibility of adolescence.

But perhaps what is most interesting about the shock of Salinger’s passing is how his very long life reveals the philosophical weakness at the heart of his work. He was concerned almost exclusively with the travails and wounds of the very young, notably the children of the Glass family. And it was clear that his sympathy lay entirely with them, with their moods and despairs and fears and sense of the world’s impurity and falsity. To that end, Salinger was guilty of the worst kind of romanticism, with his idealization of suicide in particular.

To be sure, the wounds of youth are “sensitive as a fresh burn,” to quote the writer Isaac Rosenfeld, and therefore very powerful. But Salinger’s continuing concern with those wounds may well have been the reason he fell silent as a writer when he himself hit middle age. The life of an adult is actually so much more complex and interesting, and so much the better source of material for a writer as supernaturally gifted as Salinger was (as his own masterful youthful story, “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut,” demonstrates), that his evident refusal to grapple with it and his continued emotional investment in the increasingly distant ways of the not-yet-adult may have been what silenced him.

Perhaps there is gold to be mined in his New Hampshire home in the form of the manuscripts he was said to labor over. Maybe they will reveal the maturity that eluded him, that they will show he was a pure artist who did not need an audience to explore the deeper truths available to those who grow as they age. That would be a wonderful capstone. It’s doubtful, but just think of it — Salinger with a happy ending, at long last.

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The Media Spins More Nonsense About the Arms Trade Treaty

UPI is running a story that sums up a lot of bad reporting about a favorite liberal cause: the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty. The piece – headlined “Arms Trade Plagued By Corruption” – is halfway between reporting and editorializing. It’s occasioned by the arrest in Las Vegas, after a two-and-a-half-year undercover Department of Justice sting operation, of 22 Americans, Britons, Israelis, and others at an arms expo. They are charged with trying to bribe an individual they thought was an African defense minister to obtain a $15 million contract. Bribing foreign officials is a violation of the 1977 U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The story – dated from Beirut, which helps explain its emphasis on Western wrongdoings in general, especially directed at the Israelis, Americans, and British – emphasizes how international arms trade should be controlled by the UN, and how UN action has been stymied by the UN Security Council’s permanent members, especially the United States. According to UPI, the Obama administration’s support last fall for an arms-trade treaty, and its willingness to arrest the individuals in Las Vegas, shows that times and the mood of the U.S. are finally changing.

This is ridiculous. The DoJ investigation began under President George W. Bush, so the arrests tell us nothing about changing U.S. policy. It’s wrong to presume guilt, but if those arrested in Las Vegas did seek to violate the 1977 Act, then U.S. authorities did the right thing by arresting them. The tale of the U.S. as the preeminent hold-out against good and right is contradicted by the story’s emphasis on BAE’s legal difficulties in Britain over bribes that may have been paid to facilitate sales in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Saudi Arabia, and by its summary of the conviction in October of the son of Francois Mitterand, the late President of France, on charges of trafficking arms to Angola during its civil war. What is striking is that the U.S. is the only state that engaged in preemptive investigative action, which is in line with its reputation as one of the very few states that is serious about enforcing its export controls.

But the main nonsense is the story is simply this: the UN’s resolutions on the treaty say nothing about bribery. Their goal – supposedly – is to establish “common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.” Even if the UN gets its treaty, bribery will remain what it is today: a crime (or not) for various states to define, investigate, and prosecute (or not) as they see fit.

Supporters of the treaty, like Britain, point out the need for signatories to “subscribe to the highest standards of good governance, including the need to tackle bribery and corruption.” But if states do not do this now, there is no reason to believe that a treaty will make them behave. Far from demonstrating the need for a treaty, the Las Vegas arrests sum up why a treaty will be irrelevant: what matters is not the creation of new common international standards but the ability and willingness of states to make and enforce good laws. The U.S. does this. Regrettably, the vast majority of the states negotiating the UN’s treaty do not.

UPI is running a story that sums up a lot of bad reporting about a favorite liberal cause: the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty. The piece – headlined “Arms Trade Plagued By Corruption” – is halfway between reporting and editorializing. It’s occasioned by the arrest in Las Vegas, after a two-and-a-half-year undercover Department of Justice sting operation, of 22 Americans, Britons, Israelis, and others at an arms expo. They are charged with trying to bribe an individual they thought was an African defense minister to obtain a $15 million contract. Bribing foreign officials is a violation of the 1977 U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The story – dated from Beirut, which helps explain its emphasis on Western wrongdoings in general, especially directed at the Israelis, Americans, and British – emphasizes how international arms trade should be controlled by the UN, and how UN action has been stymied by the UN Security Council’s permanent members, especially the United States. According to UPI, the Obama administration’s support last fall for an arms-trade treaty, and its willingness to arrest the individuals in Las Vegas, shows that times and the mood of the U.S. are finally changing.

This is ridiculous. The DoJ investigation began under President George W. Bush, so the arrests tell us nothing about changing U.S. policy. It’s wrong to presume guilt, but if those arrested in Las Vegas did seek to violate the 1977 Act, then U.S. authorities did the right thing by arresting them. The tale of the U.S. as the preeminent hold-out against good and right is contradicted by the story’s emphasis on BAE’s legal difficulties in Britain over bribes that may have been paid to facilitate sales in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Saudi Arabia, and by its summary of the conviction in October of the son of Francois Mitterand, the late President of France, on charges of trafficking arms to Angola during its civil war. What is striking is that the U.S. is the only state that engaged in preemptive investigative action, which is in line with its reputation as one of the very few states that is serious about enforcing its export controls.

But the main nonsense is the story is simply this: the UN’s resolutions on the treaty say nothing about bribery. Their goal – supposedly – is to establish “common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.” Even if the UN gets its treaty, bribery will remain what it is today: a crime (or not) for various states to define, investigate, and prosecute (or not) as they see fit.

Supporters of the treaty, like Britain, point out the need for signatories to “subscribe to the highest standards of good governance, including the need to tackle bribery and corruption.” But if states do not do this now, there is no reason to believe that a treaty will make them behave. Far from demonstrating the need for a treaty, the Las Vegas arrests sum up why a treaty will be irrelevant: what matters is not the creation of new common international standards but the ability and willingness of states to make and enforce good laws. The U.S. does this. Regrettably, the vast majority of the states negotiating the UN’s treaty do not.

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No Stupid Bureaucrat Left Behind (Updated)

Joseph Abrams of Fox News – the most vilified and trusted news outlet in America — brings to light another episode in the annals of school bureaucrat inanity. He begins: “A California school district has added a new book to the controversial list of literature that is considered unfit for young eyes. It’s the dictionary.” What?! Yup. The offending entry, according to the geniuses entrusted to leave no child behind, comes in the “o’s”:

The trouble started when an inquisitive student got lost somewhere between “oralism” and “orang” and found a rather recent entry to the lexicon: “oral sex,” a phrase that has been in common parlance since 1973 but still makes many parents fairly hot under the collar.

A parent complained, and the bureaucracy lumbered into action to investigate the matter. But never fear, Abrams reports, there is a cumbersome committee on the way to resolve the matter: “a committee of principals, teachers and parents to pore over the book and determine whether it’s fit for young eyes. It could take a while: the unabridged edition available online contains over 470,000 entries.” First Amendment groups are rallying on the other side. The executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition says “If a public school were to remove every book because it contains one word deemed objectionable to some parent, then there would be no books at all in our public libraries. … I think common sense seems to be lacking in this school.” They’ll sort it out sooner or later. Abrams cracks, “One option they’re not likely to consider is Merriam-Webster’s interactive Visual Dictionary, which opens up for children a ‘visual world of information,’ and who knows how many more cans of worms?”

I wonder how much this is costing, by the way. The staff time, the alternative set of books, the mailings to the parents, and probably some lawyers on retainer — it all adds up. The liberal education establishment would have us believe our schools are suffering from lack of funds. Well, we’re spending more on schools than ever before and not getting much for our money. Perhaps the problem isn’t just (or even) money. It seems there is also, as the man said, a shortage of common sense, and a lot of people who are spending their time not teaching.

UPDATE: It seems that the school district dictionary police have retreated. Abrams’s follow-up report tells us:

California school district was embarrassed after it tried to ban America’s classic dictionary from 4th- and 5th-grade classrooms because it worried the book contained “age-inappropriate” words. After conducting an investigation of the very wordy book, Menifee Union School District has reversed its decision and invited Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary back into bookcases at Oak Meadows Elementary School.

School administrators can now presumably return to their usual activities (e.g., confiscating cold medication, running “sensitivity” workshops, and running recycling programs).

Joseph Abrams of Fox News – the most vilified and trusted news outlet in America — brings to light another episode in the annals of school bureaucrat inanity. He begins: “A California school district has added a new book to the controversial list of literature that is considered unfit for young eyes. It’s the dictionary.” What?! Yup. The offending entry, according to the geniuses entrusted to leave no child behind, comes in the “o’s”:

The trouble started when an inquisitive student got lost somewhere between “oralism” and “orang” and found a rather recent entry to the lexicon: “oral sex,” a phrase that has been in common parlance since 1973 but still makes many parents fairly hot under the collar.

A parent complained, and the bureaucracy lumbered into action to investigate the matter. But never fear, Abrams reports, there is a cumbersome committee on the way to resolve the matter: “a committee of principals, teachers and parents to pore over the book and determine whether it’s fit for young eyes. It could take a while: the unabridged edition available online contains over 470,000 entries.” First Amendment groups are rallying on the other side. The executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition says “If a public school were to remove every book because it contains one word deemed objectionable to some parent, then there would be no books at all in our public libraries. … I think common sense seems to be lacking in this school.” They’ll sort it out sooner or later. Abrams cracks, “One option they’re not likely to consider is Merriam-Webster’s interactive Visual Dictionary, which opens up for children a ‘visual world of information,’ and who knows how many more cans of worms?”

I wonder how much this is costing, by the way. The staff time, the alternative set of books, the mailings to the parents, and probably some lawyers on retainer — it all adds up. The liberal education establishment would have us believe our schools are suffering from lack of funds. Well, we’re spending more on schools than ever before and not getting much for our money. Perhaps the problem isn’t just (or even) money. It seems there is also, as the man said, a shortage of common sense, and a lot of people who are spending their time not teaching.

UPDATE: It seems that the school district dictionary police have retreated. Abrams’s follow-up report tells us:

California school district was embarrassed after it tried to ban America’s classic dictionary from 4th- and 5th-grade classrooms because it worried the book contained “age-inappropriate” words. After conducting an investigation of the very wordy book, Menifee Union School District has reversed its decision and invited Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary back into bookcases at Oak Meadows Elementary School.

School administrators can now presumably return to their usual activities (e.g., confiscating cold medication, running “sensitivity” workshops, and running recycling programs).

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Too Much of a “Light” Thing

The profile of Country A in Yemen associates it with domestic military raids by the corrupt, ineffective central government. Country B’s profile in Yemen involves contracts to build a railroad and new electric power plant and sell the Sanaa government billions in new military equipment. Country C is Yemen’s largest trading partner, representing more than a third of its foreign trade, its biggest source of foreign investment, and the majority of its oil and gas sales.

Country A is, of course, the United States of America. Countries B and C are Russia and China. The year is 2010, and the war on terror is relying as never before on assassination strikes against terrorist leaders in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Standoff drone attacks have increased in the AfPak theater – dramatically so this month. For the new push in Yemen against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), U.S. reliance is on facilitating strikes performed by the national government. America has promised to double security assistance to Yemen, offering $150 million in 2010 for fighting AQAP. Humanitarian assistance from USAID, meanwhile, is projected to increase to $50 million in 2010. The U.S. also proposes to help the Saleh government fight internal corruption and improve its democratic practices.

As a Voice of America reporter points out from on-scene in Sanaa, Yemenis are not taking the increase in outside intervention well. The Saleh government faces a serious challenge in its effort to downplay the dimensions of foreign involvement. The Obama administration’s preference for light-footprint, standoff antiterrorism operations would seem to accord nicely with the Yemeni government’s desires, but there is hardly a one-to-one correspondence in the size of our presence and its effective political profile. AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day airline bombing attempt, already seeks to attack Americans; it will not be appeased by the absence of conventionally organized U.S. ground troops in Yemen. Yemenis themselves are now associating their government’s attacks, in which civilians are being killed, with American backing.

Trying to play this game without “skin” in it is likely to backfire on us and on our partner in Yemen, the Saleh government. In the coming months, that already-weak government will face a cadre of American advisers urging it to do things that make it more and more unpopular. Three other foreign governments – in Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia – will be bringing cash and looking for opportunities that may conflict directly with the course we have chosen, including competition for Saleh’s favor and loyalty. Iran will continue to jockey for a surrogate foothold on the peninsula and will find our commitment there a made-to-order front on which to oppose and confound the U.S.

The latter factor alone ought to prompt formation of the interagency task force proposed on Jan. 14 by Frederick Kagan and Christopher Harnisch. But our administration’s emerging reliance on targeted “leadership” strikes – now to be conducted by proxy in Yemen – is also widening an uncomfortable gap between its actual policy and the ideal of constructive use of all forms of national power. There is a real risk of doing just enough to enrage AQAP and the Yemeni populace but not enough to improve conditions and promote a long-term favorable outcome. Now is the time to mount a more deliberate approach.

The profile of Country A in Yemen associates it with domestic military raids by the corrupt, ineffective central government. Country B’s profile in Yemen involves contracts to build a railroad and new electric power plant and sell the Sanaa government billions in new military equipment. Country C is Yemen’s largest trading partner, representing more than a third of its foreign trade, its biggest source of foreign investment, and the majority of its oil and gas sales.

Country A is, of course, the United States of America. Countries B and C are Russia and China. The year is 2010, and the war on terror is relying as never before on assassination strikes against terrorist leaders in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Standoff drone attacks have increased in the AfPak theater – dramatically so this month. For the new push in Yemen against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), U.S. reliance is on facilitating strikes performed by the national government. America has promised to double security assistance to Yemen, offering $150 million in 2010 for fighting AQAP. Humanitarian assistance from USAID, meanwhile, is projected to increase to $50 million in 2010. The U.S. also proposes to help the Saleh government fight internal corruption and improve its democratic practices.

As a Voice of America reporter points out from on-scene in Sanaa, Yemenis are not taking the increase in outside intervention well. The Saleh government faces a serious challenge in its effort to downplay the dimensions of foreign involvement. The Obama administration’s preference for light-footprint, standoff antiterrorism operations would seem to accord nicely with the Yemeni government’s desires, but there is hardly a one-to-one correspondence in the size of our presence and its effective political profile. AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day airline bombing attempt, already seeks to attack Americans; it will not be appeased by the absence of conventionally organized U.S. ground troops in Yemen. Yemenis themselves are now associating their government’s attacks, in which civilians are being killed, with American backing.

Trying to play this game without “skin” in it is likely to backfire on us and on our partner in Yemen, the Saleh government. In the coming months, that already-weak government will face a cadre of American advisers urging it to do things that make it more and more unpopular. Three other foreign governments – in Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia – will be bringing cash and looking for opportunities that may conflict directly with the course we have chosen, including competition for Saleh’s favor and loyalty. Iran will continue to jockey for a surrogate foothold on the peninsula and will find our commitment there a made-to-order front on which to oppose and confound the U.S.

The latter factor alone ought to prompt formation of the interagency task force proposed on Jan. 14 by Frederick Kagan and Christopher Harnisch. But our administration’s emerging reliance on targeted “leadership” strikes – now to be conducted by proxy in Yemen – is also widening an uncomfortable gap between its actual policy and the ideal of constructive use of all forms of national power. There is a real risk of doing just enough to enrage AQAP and the Yemeni populace but not enough to improve conditions and promote a long-term favorable outcome. Now is the time to mount a more deliberate approach.

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Not Even Bearing Witness

Max and I were not alone in noticing the pathetically inadequate remarks on Iran by the president. Obama suggested that we are actually in an improved position with Iran because the mullahs are “isolated,” not mentioning of course that they are less isolated than they would have been had he denied their regime recognition after the June 12 election and refused to spend a year frittering away our time on engagement while the mullahs moved ahead with their nuclear program. His limp admonition that the mullahs will “face growing consequences” certainly will raise cackles of derision in Tehran. John Noonan makes another key point:

What a wasted opportunity. One line mentioning the Iranian democratic movement would have emboldened the Islamic Republic’s freedom fighters to immeasurable proportions. One brief mention, “Iranians, we are with you,” on a soapbox as grand as the State of the Union would have raised the blood and spirits of the protesters beyond their grandest demonstration, and put the Mullahs on the defensive. Instead we were served with a tepid regurgitation of a failed talking point.

Obama did not even offer up his latest “bearing witness” formulation. Perhaps he feared the room might erupt in guffaws. At Oslo he tiptoed toward more robust human-rights language, raising the expectations of some eager analysts who so hoped he was turning the corner. But alas, those human-rights and democracy advocates are back under the bus. Obama has got no time, inclination to assist, or even words for them. He’s building his new foundation. The Iranians will need to build theirs on their own as far as he is concerned.

Max and I were not alone in noticing the pathetically inadequate remarks on Iran by the president. Obama suggested that we are actually in an improved position with Iran because the mullahs are “isolated,” not mentioning of course that they are less isolated than they would have been had he denied their regime recognition after the June 12 election and refused to spend a year frittering away our time on engagement while the mullahs moved ahead with their nuclear program. His limp admonition that the mullahs will “face growing consequences” certainly will raise cackles of derision in Tehran. John Noonan makes another key point:

What a wasted opportunity. One line mentioning the Iranian democratic movement would have emboldened the Islamic Republic’s freedom fighters to immeasurable proportions. One brief mention, “Iranians, we are with you,” on a soapbox as grand as the State of the Union would have raised the blood and spirits of the protesters beyond their grandest demonstration, and put the Mullahs on the defensive. Instead we were served with a tepid regurgitation of a failed talking point.

Obama did not even offer up his latest “bearing witness” formulation. Perhaps he feared the room might erupt in guffaws. At Oslo he tiptoed toward more robust human-rights language, raising the expectations of some eager analysts who so hoped he was turning the corner. But alas, those human-rights and democracy advocates are back under the bus. Obama has got no time, inclination to assist, or even words for them. He’s building his new foundation. The Iranians will need to build theirs on their own as far as he is concerned.

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Gambling with Israeli Lives

On January 21, some 54 Democratic congressmen — many familiar names in the never-have-a-good-word-or-positive-vote-for-Israel club — sent a letter to the president imploring him to force the lifting of “the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt” on Gaza. (As Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition points out, it’s troubling to see Rep. Joe Sestak, who is a candidate for U.S. Senate, also on the signatory list.) Citing the great suffering of the people of Gaza, they call for the resumption of access to a long list of materials for the Hamas-controlled territory.

And what if in lifting the blockade once again bombs and armaments flow to Gaza? What about the ordeal of those trapped in hellish conditions thanks to the Hamas overlords who use the misery of children and the deaths of innocents to increase their bargaining power? The congressmen don’t say. Or perhaps the rearmament of Gaza-based terrorists is a price they are willing to pay in order to strut before the “international community.”

Now what’s interesting is the extent of the overlap between the pro-Gaza blockade lifters and the roster of J Street–supported congressmen. The following appear on both the Gaza letter and the recently released J Street list:

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Rep. Michael Capuano (MA-08), Rep. Lois Capps (CA-23),  Rep. William Delahunt (MA-10),Rep. Donna Edwards (MD-04), Rep.  Keith Ellison (MN-05), Rep. Bob Filner (CA-51), Rep. Jim Himes (CT-04),Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12),  Rep. Jay Inslee (WA-01), Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15),  Rep. Eric Massa (NY-29),  Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-04),Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-03), Rep. George Miller (CA-07), Rep. David Price (NC-04), Rep. Peter Welch (VT-At Large),   and Rep. John Yarmuth (KY-03).

Inveterate Israel bashers who have not yet appeared on the J Street list but who did sign the Gaza letter include Reps. John Conyers, James Moran, and John Dingell.  No Republicans signed the Gaza letter.

Well, at least we know the sort of congressmen that J Street supports and the sort that are only too glad to accept J Street’s largesse. What is most disturbing, however, is that 54 Democrats are more than happy to gamble with the security and lives of Israelis to curry favor with … well, with whom? Are they, like Obama, under the impression that the “Muslim world” would be impressed? Or is their aim to bolster Hamas even further, hoping to blur the stark differences between the Hamas-induced squalor of Gaza and the emerging economy of the West Bank? It’s hard to say. The Obama administration, we hope, will ignore their pleas and direct its attention to the true cause of Gazans’ suffering — Hamas and the state sponsors of terrorism.

On January 21, some 54 Democratic congressmen — many familiar names in the never-have-a-good-word-or-positive-vote-for-Israel club — sent a letter to the president imploring him to force the lifting of “the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt” on Gaza. (As Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition points out, it’s troubling to see Rep. Joe Sestak, who is a candidate for U.S. Senate, also on the signatory list.) Citing the great suffering of the people of Gaza, they call for the resumption of access to a long list of materials for the Hamas-controlled territory.

And what if in lifting the blockade once again bombs and armaments flow to Gaza? What about the ordeal of those trapped in hellish conditions thanks to the Hamas overlords who use the misery of children and the deaths of innocents to increase their bargaining power? The congressmen don’t say. Or perhaps the rearmament of Gaza-based terrorists is a price they are willing to pay in order to strut before the “international community.”

Now what’s interesting is the extent of the overlap between the pro-Gaza blockade lifters and the roster of J Street–supported congressmen. The following appear on both the Gaza letter and the recently released J Street list:

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Rep. Michael Capuano (MA-08), Rep. Lois Capps (CA-23),  Rep. William Delahunt (MA-10),Rep. Donna Edwards (MD-04), Rep.  Keith Ellison (MN-05), Rep. Bob Filner (CA-51), Rep. Jim Himes (CT-04),Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12),  Rep. Jay Inslee (WA-01), Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15),  Rep. Eric Massa (NY-29),  Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-04),Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-03), Rep. George Miller (CA-07), Rep. David Price (NC-04), Rep. Peter Welch (VT-At Large),   and Rep. John Yarmuth (KY-03).

Inveterate Israel bashers who have not yet appeared on the J Street list but who did sign the Gaza letter include Reps. John Conyers, James Moran, and John Dingell.  No Republicans signed the Gaza letter.

Well, at least we know the sort of congressmen that J Street supports and the sort that are only too glad to accept J Street’s largesse. What is most disturbing, however, is that 54 Democrats are more than happy to gamble with the security and lives of Israelis to curry favor with … well, with whom? Are they, like Obama, under the impression that the “Muslim world” would be impressed? Or is their aim to bolster Hamas even further, hoping to blur the stark differences between the Hamas-induced squalor of Gaza and the emerging economy of the West Bank? It’s hard to say. The Obama administration, we hope, will ignore their pleas and direct its attention to the true cause of Gazans’ suffering — Hamas and the state sponsors of terrorism.

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RE: RE: Surprises

I confess I was profoundly shocked when President Obama attacked the recent Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC at the State of the Union last night.

It was, if nothing else, extremely unpresidential—indeed downright unseemly—to dress down a co-equal branch of the federal government, to their faces, in a forum in which they could not reply. (Although it seems as though Justice Alito did reply, and in a way that provides the perfect soundbite to ensure that it be repeated and discussed over and over on television today.) Worse, he treated the Supreme Court as though it were a policy-making body that had come up with a bad policy that needed to be changed rather than a decision as to whether a law squared with the Constitution.

But as Jennifer has referred to, it was something else: it was wrong. He misconstrued the reach of the decision. Citizens United does not allow foreign corporations to contribute to American political campaigns.

For someone who has presented himself as a constitutional scholar, this is all very embarrassing. And it is likely to erase everything else he had to say in the public’s perception of the speech.

The White House positively crawls with lawyers and has instant access to any scholar in the country. Couldn’t it have run this part of the speech passed someone who knew what he was talking about before the president stood before the entire country and showed that he didn’t know what he was talking about?

Ira Stoll gives four reasons why he didn’t like the speech, calling the president a phony. The president is also, it seems, incompetent.

I confess I was profoundly shocked when President Obama attacked the recent Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC at the State of the Union last night.

It was, if nothing else, extremely unpresidential—indeed downright unseemly—to dress down a co-equal branch of the federal government, to their faces, in a forum in which they could not reply. (Although it seems as though Justice Alito did reply, and in a way that provides the perfect soundbite to ensure that it be repeated and discussed over and over on television today.) Worse, he treated the Supreme Court as though it were a policy-making body that had come up with a bad policy that needed to be changed rather than a decision as to whether a law squared with the Constitution.

But as Jennifer has referred to, it was something else: it was wrong. He misconstrued the reach of the decision. Citizens United does not allow foreign corporations to contribute to American political campaigns.

For someone who has presented himself as a constitutional scholar, this is all very embarrassing. And it is likely to erase everything else he had to say in the public’s perception of the speech.

The White House positively crawls with lawyers and has instant access to any scholar in the country. Couldn’t it have run this part of the speech passed someone who knew what he was talking about before the president stood before the entire country and showed that he didn’t know what he was talking about?

Ira Stoll gives four reasons why he didn’t like the speech, calling the president a phony. The president is also, it seems, incompetent.

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The Return of “Defensible Borders”?

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told foreign journalists last week that under any peace agreement, Israel would insist on maintaining a presence along the Palestinian-Jordanian border to thwart arms smuggling, he provoked some predictably negative responses. Writing in the Jerusalem Post this week, for instance, Ben-Gurion University Professor David Newman termed this “a return to a way of thinking … thought to have disappeared over a decade ago.” Claiming that “most generals” no longer consider this necessary, he accused Netanyahu of simply trying “to hammer the nails even more strongly into the coffin of peace.”

In fact, Newman is almost entirely wrong but through no fault of his own — because the one thing he’s right about is that Netanyahu’s statement “reinserted the defensible border concept into public discourse,” whence it had virtually disappeared. And since Israeli premiers stopped talking about it more than a decade ago, how was anyone to know that every prime minister, and the defense establishment, continued to insist on defensible borders in practice?

Two weeks ago, Haaretz’s veteran diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn detailed the security demands that Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert received from the defense establishment, which Olmert approved, forwarded to then president George Bush, and later asked Bush to pass on to Barack Obama. These demands included “the rights to supervise Palestine’s border crossings, to fly in Palestinian airspace, to regulate radio frequencies and to build hilltop warning stations.”

And Olmert is the prime minister who offered the most far-reaching concessions in Israel’s history, including the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount.

Indeed, as Benn noted yesterday, “Netanyahu’s political positions, which call for annexing the major West Bank settlement blocs and maintaining military control over the Jordan Valley, are no different from those of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak.”

This invites an obvious question: if all Israeli prime ministers agreed that Israel needs defensible borders under any agreement, why did they stop saying so — thereby leading the world, and their own citizens, to assume that this demand had been dropped and that the security issue could thus be easily resolved, whereas in fact, as one veteran negotiator told Benn, it’s the hardest of all, the one on which “the agreement will stand or fall”? Did they assume the world would oppose these demands and want to avoid opening yet another front of international criticism of Israel? Or did they simply consider it irrelevant, given that Israeli-Palestinian disagreements on other issues show no signs of being resolved anytime soon?

Whatever the reason, it was a disastrous negotiating tactic. If Israel is to have any hope of achieving these demands, it cannot spring them as a surprise at the last minute, when an agreement is otherwise at hand; it must state them upfront — clearly, forcefully, and consistently — both to prepare international public opinion and to make it clear that Israel deems this issue critical.

It is therefore encouraging that Netanyahu has finally started reviving the “defensible borders” concept. Now he must ensure that it remains on the public agenda.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told foreign journalists last week that under any peace agreement, Israel would insist on maintaining a presence along the Palestinian-Jordanian border to thwart arms smuggling, he provoked some predictably negative responses. Writing in the Jerusalem Post this week, for instance, Ben-Gurion University Professor David Newman termed this “a return to a way of thinking … thought to have disappeared over a decade ago.” Claiming that “most generals” no longer consider this necessary, he accused Netanyahu of simply trying “to hammer the nails even more strongly into the coffin of peace.”

In fact, Newman is almost entirely wrong but through no fault of his own — because the one thing he’s right about is that Netanyahu’s statement “reinserted the defensible border concept into public discourse,” whence it had virtually disappeared. And since Israeli premiers stopped talking about it more than a decade ago, how was anyone to know that every prime minister, and the defense establishment, continued to insist on defensible borders in practice?

Two weeks ago, Haaretz’s veteran diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn detailed the security demands that Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert received from the defense establishment, which Olmert approved, forwarded to then president George Bush, and later asked Bush to pass on to Barack Obama. These demands included “the rights to supervise Palestine’s border crossings, to fly in Palestinian airspace, to regulate radio frequencies and to build hilltop warning stations.”

And Olmert is the prime minister who offered the most far-reaching concessions in Israel’s history, including the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount.

Indeed, as Benn noted yesterday, “Netanyahu’s political positions, which call for annexing the major West Bank settlement blocs and maintaining military control over the Jordan Valley, are no different from those of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak.”

This invites an obvious question: if all Israeli prime ministers agreed that Israel needs defensible borders under any agreement, why did they stop saying so — thereby leading the world, and their own citizens, to assume that this demand had been dropped and that the security issue could thus be easily resolved, whereas in fact, as one veteran negotiator told Benn, it’s the hardest of all, the one on which “the agreement will stand or fall”? Did they assume the world would oppose these demands and want to avoid opening yet another front of international criticism of Israel? Or did they simply consider it irrelevant, given that Israeli-Palestinian disagreements on other issues show no signs of being resolved anytime soon?

Whatever the reason, it was a disastrous negotiating tactic. If Israel is to have any hope of achieving these demands, it cannot spring them as a surprise at the last minute, when an agreement is otherwise at hand; it must state them upfront — clearly, forcefully, and consistently — both to prepare international public opinion and to make it clear that Israel deems this issue critical.

It is therefore encouraging that Netanyahu has finally started reviving the “defensible borders” concept. Now he must ensure that it remains on the public agenda.

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Re: Surprises

Last night a reader and I tried to recall if another president had lashed out at the Supreme Court in the way Obama went after the Court for its defense of the First Amendment in striking down portions of the McCain-Feingold statute. Obama suggested that the Court was somehow running to the aid of nefarious “foreign entities” and ignored entirely what was at issue in the case — the protection of core political speech. He proclaimed:

Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

Apparently, Obama is just wrong. The Court’s ruling didn’t impact the section of the statute that prohibits foreign corporations from making campaign donations or expenditures. (And the ban on direct corporate contributions remains in effect.) No wonder Justice Alito mouthed “not true.” (Even the New York Times’s notoriously liberal-leaning former court reporter Linda Greenhouse says Obama botched the case description.)

But aside from that, there’s the unseemly sight of the president berating the Court in this manner. Constitutional scholar Randy Barnett was thinking about the president’s attack too. He writes:

In the history of the State of the Union has any President ever called out the Supreme Court by name, and egged on the Congress to jeer a Supreme Court decision, while the Justices were seated politely before him surrounded by hundreds Congressmen? To call upon the Congress to countermand (somehow) by statute a constitutional decision, indeed a decision applying the First Amendment? What can this possibly accomplish besides alienating Justice Kennedy who wrote the opinion being attacked. Contrary to what we heard during the last administration, the Court may certainly be the object of presidential criticism without posing any threat to its independence. But this was a truly shocking lack of decorum and disrespect towards the Supreme Court for which an apology is in order. A new tone indeed.

This conduct is even more repellent given that Obama waves around his law school credentials and constitutional-law teaching background when it’s convenient to impress voters with his command of the fine points of our legal system, yet resorts to know-nothing political posturing on the judiciary when it serves his purposes. And what makes this particularly disingenuous is that the president said a great deal about tone and political posturing last night. He lectured us:

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions — our corporations, our media, and yes, our government — still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.

One of those institutions filled with honorable men and women doing important work is the Supreme Court. Obama proceeded to minimize a serious debate over the centrality of the First Amendment to the robust operation of our political system by resorting to a silly argument, from which serious citizens should surely turn away. He conveys not merely a lack of respect for a co-equal branch of government (and ignorance about the ruling he was vilifying) but for the Constitution itself, which he is sworn to uphold. For a lawyer, his conduct is embarrassing; for a president, it is inexcusable.

Last night a reader and I tried to recall if another president had lashed out at the Supreme Court in the way Obama went after the Court for its defense of the First Amendment in striking down portions of the McCain-Feingold statute. Obama suggested that the Court was somehow running to the aid of nefarious “foreign entities” and ignored entirely what was at issue in the case — the protection of core political speech. He proclaimed:

Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

Apparently, Obama is just wrong. The Court’s ruling didn’t impact the section of the statute that prohibits foreign corporations from making campaign donations or expenditures. (And the ban on direct corporate contributions remains in effect.) No wonder Justice Alito mouthed “not true.” (Even the New York Times’s notoriously liberal-leaning former court reporter Linda Greenhouse says Obama botched the case description.)

But aside from that, there’s the unseemly sight of the president berating the Court in this manner. Constitutional scholar Randy Barnett was thinking about the president’s attack too. He writes:

In the history of the State of the Union has any President ever called out the Supreme Court by name, and egged on the Congress to jeer a Supreme Court decision, while the Justices were seated politely before him surrounded by hundreds Congressmen? To call upon the Congress to countermand (somehow) by statute a constitutional decision, indeed a decision applying the First Amendment? What can this possibly accomplish besides alienating Justice Kennedy who wrote the opinion being attacked. Contrary to what we heard during the last administration, the Court may certainly be the object of presidential criticism without posing any threat to its independence. But this was a truly shocking lack of decorum and disrespect towards the Supreme Court for which an apology is in order. A new tone indeed.

This conduct is even more repellent given that Obama waves around his law school credentials and constitutional-law teaching background when it’s convenient to impress voters with his command of the fine points of our legal system, yet resorts to know-nothing political posturing on the judiciary when it serves his purposes. And what makes this particularly disingenuous is that the president said a great deal about tone and political posturing last night. He lectured us:

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions — our corporations, our media, and yes, our government — still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.

One of those institutions filled with honorable men and women doing important work is the Supreme Court. Obama proceeded to minimize a serious debate over the centrality of the First Amendment to the robust operation of our political system by resorting to a silly argument, from which serious citizens should surely turn away. He conveys not merely a lack of respect for a co-equal branch of government (and ignorance about the ruling he was vilifying) but for the Constitution itself, which he is sworn to uphold. For a lawyer, his conduct is embarrassing; for a president, it is inexcusable.

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Who Did That?!

Even Gail Collins doesn’t buy Obama’s act. She thinks the populist hooey and Beltway-bashing doesn’t really work coming from the Ivy League–educated president who’s been in office for a year:

Obama does not really do angry. Peeved, yes. He looked pretty peeved when he was being interviewed by Diane Sawyer of ABC News the other night. If he can’t manage mellow with Diane Sawyer, what’s he going to do on Friday when he has scheduled a meeting with the House Republicans? Have you ever seen all the House Republicans in one place? It’s like a herd of rabid otters.

Looking out at the motley crew seated before him for the big speech, the president seemed at times to be pretending that he had never seen these people before in his life. “Washington has been telling us to wait for decades,” he complained at one point, as if he was a visitor from the heartland with a petition that he wanted to deliver if only he could get an appointment with someone on the appropriations committee.

She attributes all this to an outbreak of crankiness. But really it’s phoniness – as phony as Bill Clinton biting his lower lip. Obama is play-acting, affecting anger he doesn’t really feel (otherwise we’d have seen it before Scott Brown’s victory, right?). And meanwhile he’s donning the mantle of outsider while occupying the Oval office.

He got to the presidency as the leader of a new sort of politics. Unburdened by ideology, more cerebral and less craven than all who ever came before him, he was going to leave pettiness and perpetual campaigning behind and institute a new way of governing based on respect for the public and his opponents and heightened transparency. Now he’s upset that some fellow’s been running things for a year, acting like “change” was just a campaign slogan, so he’s going to get to the bottom of it. You can get whiplash trying to figure out which role he’s playing and whether he could possibly believe we haven’t noticed that the practitioner of all this secrecy, inside dealing, and hard-ball politics is the man behind the curtain … er … podium.

Even Gail Collins doesn’t buy Obama’s act. She thinks the populist hooey and Beltway-bashing doesn’t really work coming from the Ivy League–educated president who’s been in office for a year:

Obama does not really do angry. Peeved, yes. He looked pretty peeved when he was being interviewed by Diane Sawyer of ABC News the other night. If he can’t manage mellow with Diane Sawyer, what’s he going to do on Friday when he has scheduled a meeting with the House Republicans? Have you ever seen all the House Republicans in one place? It’s like a herd of rabid otters.

Looking out at the motley crew seated before him for the big speech, the president seemed at times to be pretending that he had never seen these people before in his life. “Washington has been telling us to wait for decades,” he complained at one point, as if he was a visitor from the heartland with a petition that he wanted to deliver if only he could get an appointment with someone on the appropriations committee.

She attributes all this to an outbreak of crankiness. But really it’s phoniness – as phony as Bill Clinton biting his lower lip. Obama is play-acting, affecting anger he doesn’t really feel (otherwise we’d have seen it before Scott Brown’s victory, right?). And meanwhile he’s donning the mantle of outsider while occupying the Oval office.

He got to the presidency as the leader of a new sort of politics. Unburdened by ideology, more cerebral and less craven than all who ever came before him, he was going to leave pettiness and perpetual campaigning behind and institute a new way of governing based on respect for the public and his opponents and heightened transparency. Now he’s upset that some fellow’s been running things for a year, acting like “change” was just a campaign slogan, so he’s going to get to the bottom of it. You can get whiplash trying to figure out which role he’s playing and whether he could possibly believe we haven’t noticed that the practitioner of all this secrecy, inside dealing, and hard-ball politics is the man behind the curtain … er … podium.

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The Campaign Trail Never Ends

The Washington Post editors noticed too: Obama was in campaign mode last night. It’s not fair to single out last night. He’s always in campaign mode because he doesn’t spend time thinking about how to solve policy questions, just political ones. The editors write:

What Mr. Obama actually provided was a little something for everyone, sometimes conciliatory, sometimes combative, often sounding much like a campaign speech, only longer. He took “my share of the blame” for “not explaining” health care better, but cast plenty of blame on the administration he replaced for problems he inherited. He boasted that the number of al-Qaeda fighters killed last year was “far more than in 2008.” He did not back away from his health-care drive, but neither did he offer a precise route to adopting legislation.

And then he made a fuss that everyone is too political inside the Beltway. (“But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent — a belief that if you lose, I win.”) He then proceeded to tell Republicans that because they have 41 seats in the Senate, they share the blame if he can’t get anything done. And rather than level with the public, he recycled the same silly canards — for example, that the stimulus “saved” (or was it “created”?) 2 million jobs and that his health-care plan would “preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan” (except if you have Medicare Advantage, a Cadillac plan, or an affordable high-deductible plan that didn’t get the ObamaCare seal of approval). And then, to top if off, he goes after the Supreme Court. Classy, Mr. President.

It’s the sort of spin factory and attack-dog approach that works on the campaign trail when the scrutiny is less exacting (especially if you’re a historic candidate who has tingled the media) and the expectations are lower because, after all, it’s a campaign, and everyone lies to get elected. But Obama has never divested himself of the habit of blaming others and making up “facts.” He unfortunately fails to see that the well of presidential credibility is not bottomless, that we expect our presidents to rise above the fray, and that if you keep telling the public things they know aren’t so, they will eventually tune you out, no matter what pearls of wisdom you impart.

The Washington Post editors noticed too: Obama was in campaign mode last night. It’s not fair to single out last night. He’s always in campaign mode because he doesn’t spend time thinking about how to solve policy questions, just political ones. The editors write:

What Mr. Obama actually provided was a little something for everyone, sometimes conciliatory, sometimes combative, often sounding much like a campaign speech, only longer. He took “my share of the blame” for “not explaining” health care better, but cast plenty of blame on the administration he replaced for problems he inherited. He boasted that the number of al-Qaeda fighters killed last year was “far more than in 2008.” He did not back away from his health-care drive, but neither did he offer a precise route to adopting legislation.

And then he made a fuss that everyone is too political inside the Beltway. (“But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent — a belief that if you lose, I win.”) He then proceeded to tell Republicans that because they have 41 seats in the Senate, they share the blame if he can’t get anything done. And rather than level with the public, he recycled the same silly canards — for example, that the stimulus “saved” (or was it “created”?) 2 million jobs and that his health-care plan would “preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan” (except if you have Medicare Advantage, a Cadillac plan, or an affordable high-deductible plan that didn’t get the ObamaCare seal of approval). And then, to top if off, he goes after the Supreme Court. Classy, Mr. President.

It’s the sort of spin factory and attack-dog approach that works on the campaign trail when the scrutiny is less exacting (especially if you’re a historic candidate who has tingled the media) and the expectations are lower because, after all, it’s a campaign, and everyone lies to get elected. But Obama has never divested himself of the habit of blaming others and making up “facts.” He unfortunately fails to see that the well of presidential credibility is not bottomless, that we expect our presidents to rise above the fray, and that if you keep telling the public things they know aren’t so, they will eventually tune you out, no matter what pearls of wisdom you impart.

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The Reality Deficit

Michael Gerson certainly nails the central issue for Obama. As he says, “Obama’s problem is not a vice president behind his right shoulder who can’t stop his distracting, sycophantic nodding — though it was certainly annoying.” (A slight disagreement: the inanity of his VP is a constant reminder that Obama is a terrible chief executive, one of whose key responsibilities is to select credible people to surround him.) What’s at stake, Gerson points out, is the economic future of the country:

The Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that unemployment will average more than 10 percent for the first half of this year, before declining at a slower pace than in past recoveries. On this economic path, Obama’s presidency will fail. Many Democrats in the House chamber tonight will lose their jobs. And the nation will enter a Carter-like period of stagnation and self-doubt.

All the measures he proposed either are unconnected to the economic recovery or may impede it (e.g., cap-and-trade). Gerson explains:

His proposal to cut the capital gains tax for small business investment seems positive. His other ideas — taking money from some bankers and giving it to other bankers and a temporary hiring tax credit — are a caricature of job-creation policy. For the most part, Obama defended a continuation and expansion of the stimulus package, which promises to bring prosperity on high-speed trains. Compare Obama’s speech to John Kennedy’s State of the Union in 1963, which called for permanent tax cuts that would allow America to move toward full employment. Some Democratic presidents have actually understood how the economy works.

There was no rendezvous with reality in the speech, no serious policy initiative or vision to restore private-sector growth. Maybe he imagines the economy will limp along and recover just enough by 2012 to give him a shot at that second term, provided he wants one. But that’s small consolation to Americans now and to his own party, which must run congressional, Senate, and state elections in a year in which the administration offers not a single serious measure commensurate with the nature of the economic problems we face. There is no one, apparently, in his administration with enough creativity and gumption to bring forth even the most obvious measures (a payroll tax cut, a corporate tax moratorium) that might induce businesses to relocate and hire here. And that “no one” includes the president, who seems to know even less about market economics than he does about the Supreme Court’s latest ruling.

Michael Gerson certainly nails the central issue for Obama. As he says, “Obama’s problem is not a vice president behind his right shoulder who can’t stop his distracting, sycophantic nodding — though it was certainly annoying.” (A slight disagreement: the inanity of his VP is a constant reminder that Obama is a terrible chief executive, one of whose key responsibilities is to select credible people to surround him.) What’s at stake, Gerson points out, is the economic future of the country:

The Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that unemployment will average more than 10 percent for the first half of this year, before declining at a slower pace than in past recoveries. On this economic path, Obama’s presidency will fail. Many Democrats in the House chamber tonight will lose their jobs. And the nation will enter a Carter-like period of stagnation and self-doubt.

All the measures he proposed either are unconnected to the economic recovery or may impede it (e.g., cap-and-trade). Gerson explains:

His proposal to cut the capital gains tax for small business investment seems positive. His other ideas — taking money from some bankers and giving it to other bankers and a temporary hiring tax credit — are a caricature of job-creation policy. For the most part, Obama defended a continuation and expansion of the stimulus package, which promises to bring prosperity on high-speed trains. Compare Obama’s speech to John Kennedy’s State of the Union in 1963, which called for permanent tax cuts that would allow America to move toward full employment. Some Democratic presidents have actually understood how the economy works.

There was no rendezvous with reality in the speech, no serious policy initiative or vision to restore private-sector growth. Maybe he imagines the economy will limp along and recover just enough by 2012 to give him a shot at that second term, provided he wants one. But that’s small consolation to Americans now and to his own party, which must run congressional, Senate, and state elections in a year in which the administration offers not a single serious measure commensurate with the nature of the economic problems we face. There is no one, apparently, in his administration with enough creativity and gumption to bring forth even the most obvious measures (a payroll tax cut, a corporate tax moratorium) that might induce businesses to relocate and hire here. And that “no one” includes the president, who seems to know even less about market economics than he does about the Supreme Court’s latest ruling.

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Foreign Policy AWOL in SOTU

I realize that Barack Obama, like most of his predecessors, came to the Oval Office primarily focused on his domestic agenda, not foreign policy, but I nevertheless find it stunning how little coverage national-security affairs received in this State of the Union. By my count, in a speech of 7,077 words, only 932 — 13 percent — were devoted to America’s role abroad, despite the fact that Obama’s most important responsibility is to act as commander in chief in wartime.

Not surprisingly, given how little room he devoted to foreign affairs, the State of the Union address was more remarkable for what he didn’t say than for what he did. This was his message on Afghanistan: “We are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.” Really? That’s why he sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing our troop total eventually to some 100,000 — so they can come home? If that was the goal, why not keep them in the United States? Obviously there are pressing reasons why the lives of these soldiers are being risked in combat, but Obama did not spell them out. He should have, because his West Point address raised more questions than it answered about what end-state the U.S. is seeking and what specific policies should be enacted to achieve it. But he did nothing to dispel that confusion, which is prevalent among U.S. commanders on the ground, as well as among both our allies and enemies in the region.

Nor, predictably, did he offer any objective in Iraq beyond “responsibly leaving Iraq to its people.” He did say something commendable — “We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity.” But he said nothing more about the promise of Iraqi democracy, which so many Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much to bring about. Instead he reiterated his top objective, which is heading for the exits: “But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.”

He then went on to plug his pet project — the utopian goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. He claimed without any evidence that “these diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons.” He suggested that North Korea “now faces increased isolation” — hard to imagine given that, if Pyongyang were any more isolated from the rest of the world, it would be located on the moon. He also claimed that Iran is getting “more isolated” and will face “growing consequences” that remain unspecified. The Green Movement in Iran, which offers the best chance of ending Iran’s nuclear program by overthrowing its despotic regime, got barely a mention — squeezed in between the (praiseworthy) effort to help Haiti and a puzzling reference to American advocacy on behalf of “the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea.” Is corruption in Guinea really on a par as an American foreign-policy priority with Tehran’s repression of human rights and support for terrorism and nuclear proliferation?

Rather than offer any specific support for Iranian democrats or call for the overthrow of their oppressors, Obama devoted far more time to promoting “our incredible diversity” at home — including an effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which may make sense but is sure to bring him into conflict with substantial numbers of the soldiers under his command.

I would have thought that by now Obama, like most presidents, would have made the pivot toward foreign policy — that he would have realized he needs to focus more on dealing with real crises abroad rather than manufactured crises, such as health care, at home. Judging by this State of the Union, that hasn’t happened yet.

I realize that Barack Obama, like most of his predecessors, came to the Oval Office primarily focused on his domestic agenda, not foreign policy, but I nevertheless find it stunning how little coverage national-security affairs received in this State of the Union. By my count, in a speech of 7,077 words, only 932 — 13 percent — were devoted to America’s role abroad, despite the fact that Obama’s most important responsibility is to act as commander in chief in wartime.

Not surprisingly, given how little room he devoted to foreign affairs, the State of the Union address was more remarkable for what he didn’t say than for what he did. This was his message on Afghanistan: “We are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.” Really? That’s why he sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing our troop total eventually to some 100,000 — so they can come home? If that was the goal, why not keep them in the United States? Obviously there are pressing reasons why the lives of these soldiers are being risked in combat, but Obama did not spell them out. He should have, because his West Point address raised more questions than it answered about what end-state the U.S. is seeking and what specific policies should be enacted to achieve it. But he did nothing to dispel that confusion, which is prevalent among U.S. commanders on the ground, as well as among both our allies and enemies in the region.

Nor, predictably, did he offer any objective in Iraq beyond “responsibly leaving Iraq to its people.” He did say something commendable — “We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity.” But he said nothing more about the promise of Iraqi democracy, which so many Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much to bring about. Instead he reiterated his top objective, which is heading for the exits: “But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.”

He then went on to plug his pet project — the utopian goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. He claimed without any evidence that “these diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons.” He suggested that North Korea “now faces increased isolation” — hard to imagine given that, if Pyongyang were any more isolated from the rest of the world, it would be located on the moon. He also claimed that Iran is getting “more isolated” and will face “growing consequences” that remain unspecified. The Green Movement in Iran, which offers the best chance of ending Iran’s nuclear program by overthrowing its despotic regime, got barely a mention — squeezed in between the (praiseworthy) effort to help Haiti and a puzzling reference to American advocacy on behalf of “the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea.” Is corruption in Guinea really on a par as an American foreign-policy priority with Tehran’s repression of human rights and support for terrorism and nuclear proliferation?

Rather than offer any specific support for Iranian democrats or call for the overthrow of their oppressors, Obama devoted far more time to promoting “our incredible diversity” at home — including an effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which may make sense but is sure to bring him into conflict with substantial numbers of the soldiers under his command.

I would have thought that by now Obama, like most presidents, would have made the pivot toward foreign policy — that he would have realized he needs to focus more on dealing with real crises abroad rather than manufactured crises, such as health care, at home. Judging by this State of the Union, that hasn’t happened yet.

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Health-Care Punt

Politico reports:

With Democrats in Congress looking for a way out of the health care impasse, President Barack Obama offered them words of encouragement but little else – no concrete plan to jump-start progress on a bill, no timeline for getting it done and no guidance on what he wants to see in his one-time top legislative initiative.

After days of speculation, Obama used Wednesday’s State of the Union address to attempt a jumpstart of the foundering health care talks. He defended the legislation that has passed both the House and Senate, and called on lawmakers to reexamine the plan “as temperatures cool.”

He seemed to finally invite the Republicans into the room (“But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know”), but he left a great many observers, not to mention members of Congress, scratching their heads. It’s not an inconsequential thing for the president to declare “Do not walk away from reform.” There’s at least some expectation he’ll accomplish it.

But as with so much else in the Obama administration, there’s no game plan for getting from speech to legislation. It’s startling in some ways that, as the report noted, “he broke little new ground, defending the bill with many of the same lines he has used for months to boost support for the initiative.” Meanwhile, the House and Senate Democratic leaders are at each other’s throats, with no prospect of real progress anytime soon.

Obama has simply dumped the whole mess back in the lap of Congress. That’s a recipe for getting through a speech and deflecting responsibility, but not for governing. Well, that’s pretty much par for the course in the Obama presidency.

Politico reports:

With Democrats in Congress looking for a way out of the health care impasse, President Barack Obama offered them words of encouragement but little else – no concrete plan to jump-start progress on a bill, no timeline for getting it done and no guidance on what he wants to see in his one-time top legislative initiative.

After days of speculation, Obama used Wednesday’s State of the Union address to attempt a jumpstart of the foundering health care talks. He defended the legislation that has passed both the House and Senate, and called on lawmakers to reexamine the plan “as temperatures cool.”

He seemed to finally invite the Republicans into the room (“But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know”), but he left a great many observers, not to mention members of Congress, scratching their heads. It’s not an inconsequential thing for the president to declare “Do not walk away from reform.” There’s at least some expectation he’ll accomplish it.

But as with so much else in the Obama administration, there’s no game plan for getting from speech to legislation. It’s startling in some ways that, as the report noted, “he broke little new ground, defending the bill with many of the same lines he has used for months to boost support for the initiative.” Meanwhile, the House and Senate Democratic leaders are at each other’s throats, with no prospect of real progress anytime soon.

Obama has simply dumped the whole mess back in the lap of Congress. That’s a recipe for getting through a speech and deflecting responsibility, but not for governing. Well, that’s pretty much par for the course in the Obama presidency.

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What Now?

Karl Rove writes: “Mr. Obama’s problems are not political management, but policy. They won’t be solved by faux fiscal restraint, mini-ball proposals for the middle class, and angry pretensions to populism.” And they probably won’t be solved by tossing a divisive social issue into the mix and throwing down a challenge on health care that his party’s not prepared to meet. Obama gives speeches like a rock star throws kisses — indiscriminately, with no lasting impact and with no care that further demands might be made on him.

What happens now on health care? He gives Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid a wink and a “no nevermind” so they can go on to something else? Or perhaps he really expects them to keep at it. What happens on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? He gives speeches and tries to force a vote? Or maybe that was the speech, and he expects to get an A for effort. It’s as if no one in the White House ever says, “But Mr. President, people will hold you accountable if you don’t deliver.”

In a sense, Obama, for all the “buck stops here” fluffery, still wears the mantle of a candidate, not a campaigner. Lobbyists run Washington. Earmarks are pervasive. There’s too much partisanship. Did he have another job last year, or was he in charge while all this old-style politics was running unchecked?

There is, moreover, one fundamental problem with his throw-all-the-darts-at-the-board domestic agenda. There isn’t really much of anything that’s going to be a jump-start for job creation. All the itty-bitty recycled job items are unlikely to provide the needed push for employers to resume hiring. And if unemployment remains at historic highs, as the CBO recently predicted, there’ll be no one in sight to blame and no amount of fake populism to disguise the Democrats’ failure to address the most important domestic issue.

In the end, the speeches really don’t matter. Obama, after a year in office, seems not to have grasped this. In many ways he recycled the September health-care speech and his February 2009 “new foundation” speech. But it’s 2010, and now the voters expect results.

Karl Rove writes: “Mr. Obama’s problems are not political management, but policy. They won’t be solved by faux fiscal restraint, mini-ball proposals for the middle class, and angry pretensions to populism.” And they probably won’t be solved by tossing a divisive social issue into the mix and throwing down a challenge on health care that his party’s not prepared to meet. Obama gives speeches like a rock star throws kisses — indiscriminately, with no lasting impact and with no care that further demands might be made on him.

What happens now on health care? He gives Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid a wink and a “no nevermind” so they can go on to something else? Or perhaps he really expects them to keep at it. What happens on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? He gives speeches and tries to force a vote? Or maybe that was the speech, and he expects to get an A for effort. It’s as if no one in the White House ever says, “But Mr. President, people will hold you accountable if you don’t deliver.”

In a sense, Obama, for all the “buck stops here” fluffery, still wears the mantle of a candidate, not a campaigner. Lobbyists run Washington. Earmarks are pervasive. There’s too much partisanship. Did he have another job last year, or was he in charge while all this old-style politics was running unchecked?

There is, moreover, one fundamental problem with his throw-all-the-darts-at-the-board domestic agenda. There isn’t really much of anything that’s going to be a jump-start for job creation. All the itty-bitty recycled job items are unlikely to provide the needed push for employers to resume hiring. And if unemployment remains at historic highs, as the CBO recently predicted, there’ll be no one in sight to blame and no amount of fake populism to disguise the Democrats’ failure to address the most important domestic issue.

In the end, the speeches really don’t matter. Obama, after a year in office, seems not to have grasped this. In many ways he recycled the September health-care speech and his February 2009 “new foundation” speech. But it’s 2010, and now the voters expect results.

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Left Goes Bonkers Over McDonnell’s Crowd

The Left is freaking out. Gov. Bob McDonnell gave an impressive, error-free, and remarkably effective response to the SOTU. He might be the next “It” on the Republican side. That means it’s time to attack! Over at Daily Kos, they don’t like the diverse crowd that was seated behind McDonnell:

And the teabagging, bipartisan response in front of an all GOP audience is over. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell had a “black woman”, “asian guy”, and “military guy” behind him. The seating chart for this thing must have been six months in the making.

This was not the only Lefty who went after McDonnell’s crowd. Walter Shapiro wades in: “After 70 minutes of seeing Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi nodding and clapping on cue behind Obama, it was strange to see four unknown Virginians (white, black, and Asian-American) nodding and clapping on cue behind McDonnell.” Another blogger harped: “Like tokens, he has four supporters strategically positioned behind him to fit in the television screen: an African American woman, a white male soldier, an Asian man, and a young woman.”

Actually, those people aren’t props. The white woman in the shot is Janet Polarek, secretary of the commonwealth. Above her is Jim Cheng, secretary of commerce and trade. The soldier is Staff Sargeant Robert Tenpenny, who served with the governor’s daughter Jeanine McDonnell in Iraq. Above him is Lisa Hick-Thomas, secretary of administration. That exquisitely diverse group, in other words, is mostly McDonnell’s cabinet. I think Bill Clinton called his Cabinet one that “looked like America.”

Well, it’s good of the Left to point out just how diverse are the people whom McDonnell has selected for key posts. And I suppose it’s some indication of just how well McDonnell did. Not only did he not have a Bobby Jindal moment but he also got all-around good reviews from mainstream pundits — and got the Left to embarrass itself. I guess the Republicans really did choose the right guy to respond.

The Left is freaking out. Gov. Bob McDonnell gave an impressive, error-free, and remarkably effective response to the SOTU. He might be the next “It” on the Republican side. That means it’s time to attack! Over at Daily Kos, they don’t like the diverse crowd that was seated behind McDonnell:

And the teabagging, bipartisan response in front of an all GOP audience is over. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell had a “black woman”, “asian guy”, and “military guy” behind him. The seating chart for this thing must have been six months in the making.

This was not the only Lefty who went after McDonnell’s crowd. Walter Shapiro wades in: “After 70 minutes of seeing Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi nodding and clapping on cue behind Obama, it was strange to see four unknown Virginians (white, black, and Asian-American) nodding and clapping on cue behind McDonnell.” Another blogger harped: “Like tokens, he has four supporters strategically positioned behind him to fit in the television screen: an African American woman, a white male soldier, an Asian man, and a young woman.”

Actually, those people aren’t props. The white woman in the shot is Janet Polarek, secretary of the commonwealth. Above her is Jim Cheng, secretary of commerce and trade. The soldier is Staff Sargeant Robert Tenpenny, who served with the governor’s daughter Jeanine McDonnell in Iraq. Above him is Lisa Hick-Thomas, secretary of administration. That exquisitely diverse group, in other words, is mostly McDonnell’s cabinet. I think Bill Clinton called his Cabinet one that “looked like America.”

Well, it’s good of the Left to point out just how diverse are the people whom McDonnell has selected for key posts. And I suppose it’s some indication of just how well McDonnell did. Not only did he not have a Bobby Jindal moment but he also got all-around good reviews from mainstream pundits — and got the Left to embarrass itself. I guess the Republicans really did choose the right guy to respond.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sometimes you get the sense that it won’t be the Democrats’ year: “Broadway Bank, the troubled Chicago lender owned by the family of Illinois Treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, has entered into a consent order with banking regulators requiring it to raise tens of millions in capital, stop paying dividends to the family without regulatory approval, and hire an outside party to evaluate the bank’s senior management.”

There’s no one to blame when you control both branches of government: “Twenty-nine percent (29%) of U.S. voters now say the country is heading in the right direction, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. This is the lowest level of voter confidence in the nation’s current course so far this year – and ties the findings for two weeks in December.”

I suspect he’ll be the first major adviser to go: “Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner came under fierce bipartisan criticism on Wednesday, with some House Republicans calling on him to resign. Democrats and Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform grilled Geithner about his role in the bailout of American International Group (AIG) and whether he was involved in decisions about the lack of public disclosure about complicated derivatives payments. Geithner faced repeated criticisms about his role in the government paying out $62 billion to AIG’s financial counterparties that represented the full value they were owed.” Remember, we had to have the tax cheat as treasury secretary because he was such a genius.

But in the list of awful appointees, Eric Holder is certainly near the top. “Top Senate Republicans want answers from the man they believe decided the FBI should read the suspected Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights: Attorney General Eric Holder. ‘It appears that the decision not to thoroughly interrogate Abdulmutallab was made by you or other senior officials in the Department of Justice,’ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) wrote in a letter to Holder Wednesday. ‘We remain deeply troubled that this paramount requirement of national security was ignored — or worse yet, not recognized — due to the administration’s preoccupation with reading the Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights.’” Sens. Kit Bond of Missouri, the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee; Susan Collins of  Maine, the ranking member on Homeland Security; Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee; and John McCain of Arizona, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, also signed.

Jeffrey Goldberg rips the Beagle Blogger for praising the “bravery” of Daniel Larison’s Israel-bashing. Says Goldberg: “How brave it is to stand athwart the Jews and yell ‘Stop!’ We are a dangerous group of people. Just look at what has happened to other critics who have gone where angels fear to tread and criticized Israel. Take, for example, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the authors of ‘The Israel Lobby.’  Walt, as many of you know, is in hiding in Holland, under round-the-clock protection of the Dutch police, after the chief rabbi of Wellesley, Mass., issued a fatwa calling for his assassination. Mearsheimer, of course, lost his job at the University of Chicago and was physically assaulted by a group of Hadassah ladies in what became known as the ‘Grapefruit Spoon Attack of 2009.’” Read the whole thing.

PETA wants an animatronic Punxsutawney Phil for Groundhog’s Day. The response from the Punxsutawney club president: “I mean, come on, this is just crazy. … Phil is probably treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania. … He’s got air conditioning in the summer, his pen is heated in winter. … He has everything but a TV in there. What more do you want?” Maybe the TV.

Mayor Bloomberg wakes up and finally opposes the KSM trial in New York. Robert Gibbs is noncommittal. Is this the beginning of a walk-back potentially more dramatic than not closing Guantanamo? Let’s hope.

Seems they’re now in the business of trying to win elections: “Members of a committee of state party chairmen voted unanimously today to oppose a so-called ‘purity test’ for GOP candidates, according to a source in the closed-press meeting.”

Chris Matthews is hooted down by the Left after putting his foot in his mouth once again. (“I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.”) Well, if the MSNBC gig doesn’t work out, he can write speeches for Harry Reid.

Sometimes you get the sense that it won’t be the Democrats’ year: “Broadway Bank, the troubled Chicago lender owned by the family of Illinois Treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, has entered into a consent order with banking regulators requiring it to raise tens of millions in capital, stop paying dividends to the family without regulatory approval, and hire an outside party to evaluate the bank’s senior management.”

There’s no one to blame when you control both branches of government: “Twenty-nine percent (29%) of U.S. voters now say the country is heading in the right direction, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. This is the lowest level of voter confidence in the nation’s current course so far this year – and ties the findings for two weeks in December.”

I suspect he’ll be the first major adviser to go: “Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner came under fierce bipartisan criticism on Wednesday, with some House Republicans calling on him to resign. Democrats and Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform grilled Geithner about his role in the bailout of American International Group (AIG) and whether he was involved in decisions about the lack of public disclosure about complicated derivatives payments. Geithner faced repeated criticisms about his role in the government paying out $62 billion to AIG’s financial counterparties that represented the full value they were owed.” Remember, we had to have the tax cheat as treasury secretary because he was such a genius.

But in the list of awful appointees, Eric Holder is certainly near the top. “Top Senate Republicans want answers from the man they believe decided the FBI should read the suspected Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights: Attorney General Eric Holder. ‘It appears that the decision not to thoroughly interrogate Abdulmutallab was made by you or other senior officials in the Department of Justice,’ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) wrote in a letter to Holder Wednesday. ‘We remain deeply troubled that this paramount requirement of national security was ignored — or worse yet, not recognized — due to the administration’s preoccupation with reading the Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights.’” Sens. Kit Bond of Missouri, the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee; Susan Collins of  Maine, the ranking member on Homeland Security; Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee; and John McCain of Arizona, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, also signed.

Jeffrey Goldberg rips the Beagle Blogger for praising the “bravery” of Daniel Larison’s Israel-bashing. Says Goldberg: “How brave it is to stand athwart the Jews and yell ‘Stop!’ We are a dangerous group of people. Just look at what has happened to other critics who have gone where angels fear to tread and criticized Israel. Take, for example, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the authors of ‘The Israel Lobby.’  Walt, as many of you know, is in hiding in Holland, under round-the-clock protection of the Dutch police, after the chief rabbi of Wellesley, Mass., issued a fatwa calling for his assassination. Mearsheimer, of course, lost his job at the University of Chicago and was physically assaulted by a group of Hadassah ladies in what became known as the ‘Grapefruit Spoon Attack of 2009.’” Read the whole thing.

PETA wants an animatronic Punxsutawney Phil for Groundhog’s Day. The response from the Punxsutawney club president: “I mean, come on, this is just crazy. … Phil is probably treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania. … He’s got air conditioning in the summer, his pen is heated in winter. … He has everything but a TV in there. What more do you want?” Maybe the TV.

Mayor Bloomberg wakes up and finally opposes the KSM trial in New York. Robert Gibbs is noncommittal. Is this the beginning of a walk-back potentially more dramatic than not closing Guantanamo? Let’s hope.

Seems they’re now in the business of trying to win elections: “Members of a committee of state party chairmen voted unanimously today to oppose a so-called ‘purity test’ for GOP candidates, according to a source in the closed-press meeting.”

Chris Matthews is hooted down by the Left after putting his foot in his mouth once again. (“I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.”) Well, if the MSNBC gig doesn’t work out, he can write speeches for Harry Reid.

Read Less




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