A sharp reader reminds me Ambassador Ford has not yet been confirmed. So perhaps there will be some informed discussion and debate at his confirmation hearing. A senator or two might ask him, with all due respect, what he could possibly accomplish and whether it’s best to actually get something in return before he appears with hand outstretched before Assad.
Posts For: February 2010
The U.S. administration has asked Syrian President Bashar Assad to immediately stop transferring arms to Hezbollah. American officials made the request during a meeting Friday with the Syrian ambassador to Washington. …
The move was described as an opportunity to discuss the next steps following the visit to Damascus by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns on February 17.
The administration also said the meeting was part of its efforts to achieve a direct dialogue with Syria on issues of interest to both sides.
Haaretz has learned that Burns’ visit to Damascus ended unsatisfactorily for the U.S. administration. During Burns’ meeting with Assad, the Syrian leader denied all American claims that his regime was providing military aid to terrorists in Iraq, or to Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups.
Assad essentially told Burns that he had no idea what the American was talking about.
Well, why would it be, do you think, that Assad is playing dumb? After all, we sent our ambassador back without asking for anything in return, and we have been so mute… er… respectful of the Syrian government on the subject of human rights. Oh, wait. Could it be that having given Assad pretty much all he wants up front, we have no leverage to extract anything further from him? Could be.
And it’s not like this should come as any surprise. Last August, Elliott Abrams wrote that the Obama policy of unilateral diplomatic gestures was bearing no fruit:
Syria continues to support Hezbollah’s blocking of the formation of a government in Lebanon, backing Hezbollah in its demand for a “blocking third” that would prevent any decisions Hezbollah opposes in any new Cabinet. The Palestinian terrorist groups remain headquartered in Damascus, and under no visible restraints. And on August 19, President Bashar Asad paid a visit to President Ahmadinejad in Tehran, to showcase his support of the latter during the current Iranian political crisis.
So we tossed in more goodies – the return of Ambassador Ford — and lo and behold, still no results. In fact, Assad seems emboldened to defy American requests, secure in the knowledge there will be no downside to his snubbing of the administration. (What — we’re going to pull Ford out the week after he was sent? Hardly.) This is the appeasement game in action, of course. Defenders of the Obama policy, as they would do for all such gambits, insist we simply aren’t trying hard enough and have to do even more to encourage the Assad regime.
If we had not already sent Ford back to Damascus, would we have been more successful? Hard to know. But at least we would not have looked foolish in the process and convinced Assad he has the upper hand. And in the meantime, had we not been ingratiating ourselves with Damascus, we might have given some moral and political support to those Syrians under the boot of the despotic regime. Now we have the worst of all worlds — a defiant Assad, no leverage, and further erosion of America’s moral standing. That’s a regrettably familiar pattern with Obama’s “smart” diplomacy.
In case you thought Michael Crowley may have gotten it wrong (really, could any two supposedly sophisticated people have willingly revealed themselves to be pawns of a brutal dictatorship?), or in case you thought the Leveretts really hadn’t gone down the rabbit hole of shillery for the butchers of Tehran, think again. They have their own blog, a CONTENTIONS reader informs me. This particular post should be read in full, not so much for the suck-uppery for the University of Tehran or for giddy flattery bestowed on its students, who put American students to shame, tell Flynt and Hillary Mann. No, that’s sort of par for the course for the pair who find Tehran the happiest place on earth. Rather, it is this bit of jaw-dropping propaganda, putting Jane Fonda circa 1972 to shame, which deserves a gander:
Shortly before we arrived in Tehran, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Islamic Republic is turning into a “military dictatorship”. As we drove around Tehran, we looked hard to see a soldier anywhere on the street but did not see a single one—except for a couple at the entrance to the Behest-e Zahra cemetery just south of Tehran, where many of the Iranian soldiers killed in the Iran-Iraq War are buried. Over the years, we have spent a lot of time in a lot of Middle Eastern capitals. We have never been in one—including in Egypt and Israel—that has fewer guys in uniform on the streets than in Tehran right now.
Brutal military repression? What military repression? Amir Taheri, writing recently and not under the thrall of the Tehran regime, reminded us:
The pro-democracy movement had promised that last Thursday, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, would be a turning point for the cause of freedom. But Mr. Khamenei’s regime contained the mounting opposition.The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) controlled Tehran with the help of tens of thousands of club-wielding street fighters shipped in from all over the country. Opposition marchers, confined to the northern part of the city, were locked into hit-and-run battles with the regime’s professional goons. An opposition attempt at storming the Evin Prison, where more than 3,000 dissidents are being tortured, did not materialize. The would-be liberators failed to break a ring of steel the IRGC threw around the sprawling compound…
For the first time the regime had to transform Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry. The IRGC was in total control. Code-named “Simorgh,” after a bird in Persian mythology, its operation created an atmosphere of war in the divided city. Warned that his life may be in danger, Mr. Khamenei was forced to watch the events on TV rather than take his usual personal tour.
Foggy Bottom isn’t exactly home base for aggressive Iran analysis. But really, it’s well accepted at this point that the IRCG has infiltrated and is now controlling government ministries. But the Leveretts, surrounded by evil, see and hear and speak of none.
The comments below the Leveretts’ inanity are worth a read. One of the Leveretts’ readers remarks: “As far as your jab on Iran being a militarized state — only a fool would have derived at the Clinton’s comments and more importantly the actions of Sepah in the past years that what was meant was that if one drives around Tehran with a government guide s/he will see tanks and soldiers! … Are you two really analysts or politicians?” Hmm. Propagandists, I think.
UPDATE: Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism and Islamism, reacts to the Leverett’s observations: “It is astonishing that people who consider themselves political scientists have concluded that the Revolutionary Guards are not in control because ‘as they drove around Tehran’ they didn’t see in many soldiers in the streets. One wonders: If they had visited the Soviet Union in the 1960s and not seen members of the KGB in the streets, would they have included the USSR was not a police state?”
There will be a radio debate with California Republican Senate candidates Carly Fiorina, Chuck DeVore and Tom Campbell on Friday. The topics will be national security, foreign affairs, and terrorism. Sure to come up will be Campbell’s record. The controversy concerning his past voting record, campaign donors, and positions on Israel and the Middle East certainly will not subside so long as new facts continue to come to light.
For example, in a 2000 report for the Forward (subscription required), Eli Lake, now a national security correspondent for the Washington Times, wrote:
The California Republican who hopes to unseat Senator Feinstein this fall in the general election raised $35,000 last month at a fundraiser in Brooklyn hosted by Arab American and Muslim grateful for his efforts to cut aid to Israel, ease sanctions on Iraq and weaken counterterrorism legislation.
The report quotes the event’s invitation: “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Mercy-Giving, the American Muslim Coordinating Council and the American Muslim Alliance of New York request the honor of your presence at the Support for Tom Campbell for Senate Fundraising Dinner. … Requested Donation $250 per person.” Lake explains that the invitation explicitly praised Campbell for “votes to cut aid to Israel and weaken anti-terrorism legislation. It also stressed his support for a Palestinian-Arab state and opposition to sanctions on Iraq.” Lake noted that the American Muslim Alliance website boasted that the event raised $35,000 for Campbell.
The report also says the groups represented in the Campbell fundraiser include those who held “such events as a protest organized by the Southern California chapter of CAIR in 1998 outside a special televised event marking Israel’s 50th anniversary. According to the CAIR website, protestors held signs that said, ’50 years of Palestinian Blood’ and ’50 years of Palestinian Disposession.’ In 1996, the American Muslim Council took out a newspaper advertisement accusing the Israeli Defense Force of ‘genocide’ in Southern Lebanon for the bombing commissioned by Prime Minister Peres.”
At the time, the campaign manager of Campbell’s opponent made the argument that ”Senator Feinstein’s votes on the Middle East are much more in the mainstream than Congressman Campbell’s, and I would like their records to be evaluated by the voters of California.” One can imagine Sen. Boxer’s campaign manager is readying the same spiel should Campbell be the Republican nominee.
But this, of course, was not an isolated event. Campbell was not rewarded with a lifetime achievement award by the American Muslim Alliance for nothing. He was there with the likes of Sami Al-Arian at rallies and advocated the position of these Muslim organizations in Congress. In October 2000, the Los Angeles Times reported:
Calling themselves a “sleeping giant,” Muslims gathered Saturday in Irvine to brainstorm ways to increase their clout in the U.S. political system and the November elections. . .
“When we first started this, no one stood with us,” said Sami Al-Arian, a professor at University of Southern Florida. He told the crowd of more than 100 people that the campaign against secret evidence took persistence and eventually generated more than 55 supportive editorials and 200 positive articles in U.S. newspapers that were instrumental in raising public awareness.
Campbell, delivering the keynote luncheon address, told the Muslim crowd that such political victories could be replicated–such as fighting to end sanctions on Iraq. Campbell, who is challenging Democrat Dianne Feinstein for a Senate seat, urged Muslims to set up volunteer networks to support candidates of both major parties in every congressional district.
While Campbell now says he was unaware of the extremism of his supporters, the facts suggest otherwise. Yesterday, Philip Klein had yet another report detailing a Campbell donor, “Abdurahman Alamoudi of the American Muslim Council, whose views in support of Hamas and Hezbollah were well known — and captured on videotape back in 2000. Yet Campbell was still defending him even as other politicians were running for cover.” Alamoudi appeared at a rally extolling the crowd: “We are all supporters of Hamas. … I am also a supporter of Hezbollah.” But as Phil notes, a week later, Campbell defended Alamoudi and refused to return the donation.
Campbell has yet to explain fully his connection to these Islamic organizations, from whom he took money and for whom he was a dependable advocate at a time when these groups did not bother to hide their extreme rhetoric and views. California voters will have to decide for themselves whether they feel comfortable with Campbell’s record. But I think there is little doubt that the portrait Campbell now paints of himself bears little resemblance to the one he was peddling up through 2001.
Maybe it was the health-care summit: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday shows that 22% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-three percent (43%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -21. That matches the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for President Obama. … Overall, 43% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance. That is the lowest level of total approval yet measured for this President.”
In RealClearPolitics.com, Obama’s average disapproval reaches an all-time high of 47.2 percent.
Put it this way: “Obama turned out to be quite an effective community organizer. But the community he organized was a majority of the American people in opposition to his agenda of big-government liberalism.”
David Wasserman of Cook Political Report, as quoted by the New York Times: “The concern among Democrats right now is that there are more yes votes reconsidering than no votes. … My sense is that for Democrats to pass this bill, they would have to convince several members who are already in serious jeopardy, even after voting no on the first health care bill, to put passage of the bill ahead of their own chances of being competitive in the fall.”
On the money: “In a GOP that the mainstream media loves to portray as ‘intensely divided’, we would do well to follow the [Bob] McDonnell model when approaching upcoming elections. For the first time in a long while, Republicans of all stripes appear united in their dislike for President Obama’s fiscal, regulatory, health care proposals and environmental policies. Focusing on the issues, and not on religious or social warfare, as Gov. McDonnell did, is the most likely pathway to success for Republicans in 2010.”
“Under the Obami Bus” would be a shorter headline. But this one does the job: “President Barack Obama abandons Rep. Charles Rangel against ethics charges.”
The good thing about being a former president is that you can tell off Jimmy Carter. George W. Bush: “I have no desire to see myself on television. I don’t want to be a panel of formers instructing the currents on what to do… I’m trying to regain a sense of anonymity. I didn’t like it when a certain former president — and it wasn’t 41 or 42 — made my life miserable.” Actually, the current ones should do the same.
Republicans are probably wise to harp on reconciliation because so many Americans oppose it, and it does seem to reinforce their point that Democrats are trying to steamroll an unpopular bill. Sen. Tom Coburn used the GOP weekly radio address to bash Democrats for “procedural tricks and backroom deals to ram through a new bill that combines the worst aspects of the bills the Senate and House passed last year. … If the president and the leaders in Congress are serious about finding common ground they should continue this debate, not cut it off by rushing through a partisan bill the American people have already rejected.”
Both before and after the health-care summit there were those on the Left and on the Right who declared it to be a “waste of time.” On a superficial level this might be the case. After all, there was no agreement reached and no breakthrough moment (unless we are talking about the emergence of Rep. Paul Ryan as an impressive new conservative figure). But when one considers what the summit revealed, the “waste of time” complainers — I think — have it quite wrong, and the complaint reveals much about the complainers.
On the Left many have lost patience with discussion and with democracy itself. The problem, they have convinced themselves, is that Obama isn’t rude and bullying enough. No, really. Dana Milbank encapsulates the thinking:
But now, the world’s most powerful man too often plays the 98-pound weakling; he gets sand kicked in his face and responds with moot-court zingers. That’s what Mr. Cool did at the White House health-care summit on Thursday. For seven hours, he racked up debating points as he parried Republican attacks without so much as raising his voice, but the performance didn’t exactly intimidate his foes.
Actually he tried to bully the Republicans, hog the time, put down John McCain, and glare at Ryan — but he simply failed to out- debate and outshine his opponents, whose demeanor and fluidity trumped his own.
The Left doesn’t want debate in the Senate either. They want this muscled through by reconciliation. The time for debate is over, they keep saying, because — of course — they have lost the debate.
On the Right many didn’t want the summit and some grouched about it afterward. They seem to be in perpetual fear that Obama might actually make some headway with the public, or that the Republicans might reveal themselves to be what their critics accuse them of being — dull-witted, ill-informed, and unattractive. But the Republicans proved to be none of those things and Obama had a surly outing.
The aversion to making a detailed defense in a less than ideal setting is an unfortunate inclination of some on the Right. Listen, they are in the minority; so no setting other than a national convention in which they micromanage everything will be ideal. Politics requires that you show up to do battle in whatever setting you find yourself, so as to convince the persuadable, rally your side, and knock your opponents on their heels.
The “waste of time” set on the Right forget the necessity of explaining again and again the “why” behind conservative principles and values. Following the gubernatorial campaign of Bob McDonnell, his chairman Ed Gillespie explained to me why McDonnell was such an effective candidate:
We say we are for lower taxes. Vote for us, damn it! Figure it out! Bob explains he is for lower taxes because he wants to encourage more businesses and jobs. He is for charter schools because it makes all schools better. He is for offshore drilling because it can help plug the revenue hole and generate high-paying jobs. He spent a lot of time talking to independent voters about what is in it for them.
Conservatives make the mistake of assuming that the generally Center-Right country doesn’t need to be told why the liberal approach (be it on health care or other issues) is flawed; they wrongly assume that everyone understands that when the government federalizes health care, regulates and taxes insurance and the rest, bad things will result. The health-care summit was a reminder of the importance of explaining one’s positions in sober, concrete terms to the American people.
The health-care summit didn’t turn out to be a waste of time. The country learned a lot about its president (mostly not favorable), about what’s wrong with ObamaCare, about the Republicans (mostly favorable), and about the Democratic congressional leadership (mostly awful to the point of being cringe-inducing). Compared to most of what politicians do, you would be hard pressed to find a better use of their time.
Although not the first to look at the mullahs’ favorite Washington power couple, Michael Crowley does a particularly adept job at revealing the depths of Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett’s shilling for the Iranian regime and for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, personally:
I asked the Leveretts why, if Ahmadinejad enjoys such broad support, his regime has cracked down so brutally. In fact, they told me, Ahmadinejad has shown restraint. “It’s become politically incorrect and impossible to say it, but … this government hasn’t even begun to deploy the force it’s capable of using,’”says Hillary. (Even the videotaped shooting of Neda Agha-Soltan on a Tehran street was an ‘exceptional’ and ‘isolated’ case, she says.) . … The Leveretts also sought to account for Ahmadinejad’s threats against Israel as shrewd regional politics. “It does get to him when he’s described to the outside world as anti-Semitic. He would describe himself as anti-Zionist,” Flynt explains. ‘Resistance to Israel is an important theme to him. … If it’s crazy, it’s crazy like a fox.’”
Flynt still denies, in the face of multiple credible accounts, that he was fired by the Bush administration. And then there is a curious reference by the Leveretts to matters that one would think are not for public discussion. Crowley writes: “By last spring, they were warning that Obama had already ‘lost’ Iran, complaining that he had not halted Bush-era covert programs against Iran’s nuclear program.” Are the Leveretts going so far as to comment on covert operations, however obliquely? Certainly, they would know the peril in which they might find themselves for commenting publicly on top-secret matters.
But Flynt and Hillary are remarkably candid about their about-face on Iran and Israel:
Hillary says her dealings with Iranian diplomats as a Bush White House aide at the start of the Afghanistan war made her understand Tehran’s willingness to engage. “It seems that the Leveretts are almost frozen in time circa 2003 on this,” says Tufts University professor Daniel Drezner. The Leveretts have also come to accept the realist critique that Israel occupies too great a role in America’s foreign policy calculus; Flynt clashed with fellow Bush officials about what peace-process concessions Israel should be asked to make, for instance. “For a lot of pro-Israel groups, these [views of Iran] are non-starters,” he says.
Or perhaps, on some level, they have actually grown to admire Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In our meeting, I pressed them to say just how they feel about the Iranian leader. Geopolitics aside, did they consider him a despicable human being? “I think he’s actually a quite intelligent man,” Flynt replied. “I think he also has really extraordinary political skills.” “[T]he idea that he’s stupid or doesn’t understand retail politics is also pretty divorced from reality,” Hillary added. But that wasn’t the question.
Crowley notes that the Leveretts’ act is too much even for some of their former admirers. But alas, there must be other rewards for those who so gleefully cheerlead for the butchers of Tehran. And when wounded allies ask, “What are Flynt and Hillary doing?” the answer is simple: making a handsome living, creating a profile, and basking in the glow of J Street and of the other enablers of the anti-anti-mullah brigade.
Mark Halperin joins the chorus of those who found Obama dismissive and condescending toward the Republicans — to his own detriment. As Halperin observes, Obama is so convinced “he is right and they are wrong” that he cannot disguise his contempt. As a result, I would venture to say, there is not a single Republican who feels inclined, let alone obligated, to help Obama out of his dilemma, namely his inability to pass his signature agenda item.
Now we will put aside for a moment the question of why Obama has such an elevated sense of his own virtue and correctness (after all, he could give no response to Rep. Paul Ryan and could only offer a snotty comeback to John McCain’s critique of the backroom deals). But Obama has had this problem before. Recall the condescending performance in the New Hampshire Democratic primary? It might well have goosed up the sympathy factor for Hillary Clinton. Recall the “cling to guns or religion” comment during the campaign? Again, he can’t quite keep his contempt for his fellow citizens in check.
And this sense of superiority, which in turn has led him repeatedly to discount and ignore legitimate criticism, has proven to be his undoing. He and his equally arrogant advisers feigned ignorance about the tea party protests, wrote off the health-care town-hall attendees, sneered at Fox News, belittled the pollsters, and rolled their eyes at election returns in three states. No amount of adverse information — be it poll numbers or Ryan’s fiscal analysis — permeates the hermetically sealed bubble of hubris. Obama won, he keeps reminding us.
That’s not an attractive personality profile. And it’s a disaster in a president who must build support and alliances to achieve his objectives. He has proven exquisitely inept in governance and, to a large degree, the fault lies with his inability to cultivate a relationship of trust and afffection with voters or enlist wary skeptics. He has hardened and infuriated the opposition. And now, the reservoir of goodwill and trust which he enjoyed at the beginning of his term, is slowly running out.
In the weeks ahead he may wish he had not alienated so many. When, if the vote-counters are right, ObamaCare II comes up short, he will need to find an alternative game plan, a face saver, to prevent humiliation. And then he may wish that he had not been quite so dismissive of the Republicans, who proved themselves in a day-long summit, every bit his intellectual equals and, in a year, much more adept at rallying public opinion. Moreover, come November there will be many, many more of them and Obama will have to figure out how to make peace with those at whom he spent two years sneering.
The day after the health-care summit: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Friday shows that 23% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-three percent (43%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -20. For President Obama, the Approval Index has been lower only once.” (Only a third of the response was post-summit, so we don’t know if he’s going downhill again because of or in spite of his latest “game changing” event.)
Not a headline the Obami want to see: “The aftermath of the health-care summit: Confusion, conflict.”
Forget about ObamaCare for a moment, Nancy Pelosi may not have votes for the jobs bill: “Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) praised the $15 billion measure at a Friday news conference. But behind the scenes, House leaders were working to assuage Democratic members on the Reft and Right, whose very objections could doom the bill before it is placed on the schedule.”
Republican senate candidate Mike Castle is cruising in Delaware. House Democratic leaders are struggling to get their members to back the Senate-passed jobs bill, leadership aides said Friday.
Hillary Clinton on the administration’s efforts to aid the Iranian pro-democracy protesters doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence: “State is looking at what more we can do to work in partnership with the private sector to unblock Internet and to speak out against the abuses going on.” Looking at ways, you see. It seems there is always an excuse: “Some technology that we’d like to see used to unblock the Iranian Internet is very valuable technology. We have to be careful how it’s utilized so it doesn’t get in the wrong hands.” Like Chinese dissidents?
Phil Klein on Tom Campbell’s travails: “So, in 2000, Campbell was raising money from Muslim groups on the basis of his votes against Israel and his views on foreign policy, and now he’s claiming those same positions are being misrepresented. Meanwhile, a month after Sept. 11, he was willing to accept an award from a group that was pushing the view that the root causes of the attacks were poverty in the Muslim world as well as U.S. support for Israel. Either Campbell was misrepresenting himself then, or he’s misrepresenting himself now. It can’t be both.”
The Carly Fiorina campaign points to four Campbell donors from his 2000 failed senate campaign: “The campaign manager for former Hewlett Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina on Thursday criticized past donations to Campbell from four men. One was arrested for spying on Congress for Saddam Hussein. Another pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid a Palestinian terrorist group. Campaign manager Marty Wilson said the donations reinforce a congressional voting record by Campbell that was decidedly anti-Israel. He noted that Campbell had voted to cut foreign aid to the country while he served in the House.”
After more than a year: “For the first time, former President George W. Bush has said publicly that he approves of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s high-profile role in defending the past administration’s national security policies. ‘I’m glad Cheney is out there,’ Bush said Friday morning at a reunion breakfast that was the inaugural event for the Bush-Cheney Alumni Association.”
J Street will be so disappointed if it loses a reliable Israel basher. Democrats seem to have another retirement: ”Rep. William Delahunt blew nearly $560,000 in campaign cash last year — much of it on lavish meals and a family-friendly payroll that includes his ex-wife, son-in-law and daughter — stoking speculation the Quincy Democrat is emptying his war chest and won’t seek re-election.”
Desiree Rogers probably got lucky to leave on the same day Gov. David Paterson announced that he won’t run for re-election. Most people won’t be focused, then, on this sort of coverage: “The security fiasco at the state dinner for the prime minister of India proved to be an embarrassment, and when she tried to reassert herself, she was quickly shot down, forced into a lower profile. ‘Once the state dinner deal went down,’ said the official, ‘people who had other political agendas started micromanaging every part of her business.’” Ouch. Maybe it was the invocation of executive privilege that rubbed people the wrong way.
As John outlined, there are no great or even good options for Democrats, unless of course they were to regroup, come up with a more modest package of health-care reforms, and get a solid but unassuming bill passed. But, no. The Democrats won’t entertain anything of the sort. Jake Tapper reports:
Before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., brings the Senate Democrats’ health care reform legislation to the floor for a vote, she and her team are currently assessing whether or not they have the votes to pass it.
They need 217 votes, a majority of the 432 members currently in Congress. They don’t have them right now.
If the House doesn’t have the votes, senior White House officials say they would like Congress to pursue a more modest health care reform bill.
But there seems little desire for that among House Democrats, who would like to focus on jobs.
“We are NOT doing scaled back bill,” a senior House leadership source emails ABC News.
Tapper goes through the math, as many of us have, ticking off the loss of some “yes” votes from last year’s vote. So non-deluded political pundits and politicians all are reaching the same conclusion: there is no there there. Observers scratch their heads, shuffle their feet, and wonder: just how is Obama-Reid-Pelosi going to get out of this one?
Because the troika has egged on its base and refused to come to terms with the political reality, it will be mighty hard to go to what Tapper calls “Plan C” (a scaled-down bill) until ObamaCare finally loses. And by then, in the wake of a humiliating defeat, it’s not clear there will be the stomach to regroup and do it all again. (In 1994, once HillaryCare couldn’t garner enough votes, health-care reform was kaput and Bill Clinton moved on to other things.)
Obama and the Democrats are giving themselves four weeks — another inexplicable move. What will occur in that time? Why Republicans, Tea Party activists, and other anti-ObamaCare forces will work themselves into a fevered pitch, and the Reid-Pelosi-Obama brain trust will twist in the wind. It is yet another nearly unimaginable move in a series of calamitous political decisions. If Obama and the Democrats had tried, they couldn’t have come up with an approach better designed to invigorate their opponents and dispirit their own base.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s imperviousness to reality knows no bounds. The Hill reports:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she’s once again sticking by embattled Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) — at least for now.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during a Thursday press conference that she had not yet read the full report from the ethics committee, which admonished Rangel, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, for improperly accepting reimbursement for two trips to the Caribbean.
“All I saw was the press release where they said he did not violate the rules of the House,” Pelosi said. “And I think that’s an important statement that they made.”
Pelosi is flat wrong. From the House Ethics Committee press release: “The Report further finds that Representative Charles B. Rangel violated the House gift rule by accepting payment or reimbursement for travel to the 2007 and 2008 conferences.”
Nor are Pelosi’s members as out to lunch as she is. Politico reports: “Early Friday, Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) told POLITICO he wants Rangel to quit his powerful committee post — and that was quickly followed by similar statements from a pair of deep south Democrats, Mississippi Rep. Gene Taylor and Alabama Rep. Bobby Bright.”
It is hard to see what Pelosi will achieve by this sort of performance — other than cement her reputation as someone who plays fast and loose with the facts and who has, after achieving the position of Speaker of the House, been rendered politically tone deaf.
“Where are we now?” This seems to be the question in the wake of yesterday’s health-care summit. The scenarios going forward indicate the amazing political condundra facing the president and his party.
1) Pass the health-care bill without Republican support. Well, OK, but which bill and how? The House has already passed a bill. In order to secure passage, which came with just a margin of five votes, House leaders agreed to remove abortion coverage from it (the so-called Stupak amendment). Now, try to follow this. The bill that has been voted out of the Senate committee for consideration of the full Senate features abortion coverage. Republicans have enough votes to filibuster this bill. That’s why there’s talk of passing it through the process called “reconciliation,” which needs only 51 votes, which Democrats have.
2) Make the House vote for the Senate bill. The way to muscle this legislation into law is for the House to give up its bill, bring the Senate bill (after it’s passed with 51 votes) up for a vote, pass it, and have Obama sign it. But here’s the thing. The Senate bill doesn’t have the Stupak amendment, so the dozen or so House Democrats who insisted on taking abortion out of the bill so that they could vote for it face a terrible choice. They will either have to vote for it and betray their principles and their voters and the fight they waged before. Or they can say no and risk torpedoing the bill.
It’s even more interesting than that, because three votes for the bill will not be recorded for it the next time it comes up — one due to death (John Murtha), two due to resignations (Neil Abercrombie and Robert Wexler). So what will House Democratic leaders do? They can try to put the arm on leftist Democrats who resisted voting for the original bill on the grounds it didn’t go far enough. In which case, they can win this.
Ah, but here’s the rub. They can’t possibly believe that the political situation last fall, when the House voted for its version of the bill, is the same today. Every House member is up for re-election, and polling suggests a catastrophe in the making for Democrats, in part due to the meltdown in support for health-care legislation (now 25 percent, according to CNN this week). Pelosi and Co. surely know they will not get every single one of the 215 votes they scored last time (absent the Stupak dozen). They may be grasping at straws, but simple survival instinct will cause a major panic at the prospect of having to cast this vote. And there’s no knowing what people will do in a panic except that they will try at all cost to save their own skins.
3) Let it die in committee. Even if the Senate does pass the bill through the 51-vote reconciliation process — a big “if,” because it will ignite a major populist revolt that could have terrible consequences for Democrats in shaky Senate seats up for re-election in November — the combination of bad poll numbers and the Stupak problem probably mean that the “pass the Senate bill” option is off the table, and so the normal Washington process will go forward. House and Senate negotiators will have to meet to harmonize their two bills. They will then agree on a single unitary piece of legislation. That unitary piece of legislation must then go back to the full House and the full Senate for final passage, at which point it is sent to the president, who can sign it into law.
The chances this will happen are increasingly remote. The attempt to pass the harmonized bill would reignite every firestorm over health care, at a time when support is only likely to decline still further. Tea Parties would erupt. Republicans will build forts with the 2,000-page bills and stack them to the inside of the Capitol Dome. Avoiding this horror show is the reason for the “pass the Senate bill” strategy. Democrats cannot allow it to happen. It would be best, at that point, to let the bill die in committee, with serious claims that the differences between the bills just couldn’t be breached. That will look terrible, but it’s the better of the two options.
4) The suicide mission. If the health-care bill collapses, the Obama presidency will be dealt a staggering blow from which it could recover, I would guess, only with a really extraordinary economic turnaround. The political calamity for Democrats in November will still take place; the president will lose the entirety of his capital with elected officials in his party; the media, sniffing a loser, will turn slowly but surely on him; and the conviction inside his own camp that he can work wonders with his silver-tongued patter will dissipate, causing a complete crisis of confidence inside the White House.
It would be better for him, unquestionably, for the legislation to pass, as a practical political matter. One could argue that the fate of his party really does rest on Obama’s shoulders, so it would be better for Democrats as well. But not for individual Democrats. So what happens if the Obama-Pelosi-Reid strategy for health-care passage is an order to House Democrats to carry out a suicide mission? That is hard to say. ObamaCare is the Democratic object of desire. One imagines that even those Democrats who don’t want to vote for it support it in their heart of hearts. So perhaps they can be appealed to on the grounds of liberal principle.
I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like this in American political history. Every way you look at it, Democrats are boxed in, forced to choose between extraordinarily unattractive options. What makes it especially noteworthy is that this was a calamity they summoned entirely upon themselves.
For those who missed it — and for those who want to better understand how many gimmicks and false/misleading claims have been made by President Obama and other Democrats on health-care costs — I’d recommend you watch this six-minute video clip of Representative Paul Ryan. He is very factual, specific, and cogent in his presentation.
It’s a nice model of how to shred bad arguments and untrue claims. And it underscores why Ryan is a rising star in the GOP.
I heartily agree with your take, Michael. Yet the Obama administration, in its latest bout of fruitless and counterproductive suck-uppery, is returning its ambassador to Syria. How’s that going? Not well:
The presidents of Iran and Syria on Thursday ridiculed U.S. policy in the region and pledged to create a Middle East “without Zionists,” combining a slap at recent U.S. overtures and a threat to Israel with an endorsement of one of the region’s defining alliances. … The message delivered by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a joint news conference was sharp and spoke to a shared sense that Iran is gaining influence in the region despite U.S. efforts. Until the outcome of the broader struggle over Iran’s nuclear program becomes clear, analysts here say, it is unlikely Syria will change direction — or that progress can be made toward an Israel-Syria peace agreement.
But we are opening our hand to Syria, sending Robert Ford back to Damascus, reversing the decision to pull our representative following the murder in 2005 of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Isn’t that enough to begin to lure Syria from Iran, its partner in state-sponsored terrorism? It seems not:
The United States wants “to dominate the region, but they feel Iran and Syria are preventing that,” Ahmadinejad said. “We tell them that instead of interfering in the region’s affairs, to pack their things and leave.” Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier, spoke of Israel’s eventual “demise and annihilation” and said the countries of the region could create a future “without Zionists and without colonialists.” Assad criticized what he regarded as the United States’ “new situation of colonialism” in the region, with troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, and pressure on Syria to split from Iran, a friendship Assad emphasized was secure even given Syria’s faltering economy.
The notion that unilateral gestures and muteness on Syrian human-rights atrocities can break the bond between Tehran and Damascus is not new among Foggy Bottom types. But there are few true believers as devoted as Hillary Clinton. (“Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that the return of an ambassador marked a ‘slight opening’ toward Syria but that ultimately the United States expects Assad to curb his ties with Iran and his support for militant groups like the Lebanon-based Hezbollah and Hamas, based in the Gaza Strip.”) Nevertheless it is a gambit divorced from reality, as the two despots made clear for the umpteenth time. (“But Assad and Ahmadinejad on Thursday emphasized that their countries’ relationship had deepened with the signing of an agreement waiving visa restrictions for travel.”)
Alas, as in all things Obami on the foreign-policy front, we have moved the ball backward, not forward. As Iran flaunts its unchecked nuclear ambitions and as America continues to leave doors open to those who want not to be engaged, Syria draws ever closer to the perceived strong horse in the region. Once again, the Obami have nothing to show, and much to explain, in their serial foreign-policy malpractice.
Michael Gerson echoes what many of us observed yesterday:
President Obama, as usual, was fluent, professorial and occasionally prickly. Some are impressed by the president’s informed, academic manner. Others (myself included) find an annoying condescension in Obama’s never-ending seminar. All the students — I mean elected legislators — were informed if their arguments were “legitimate” or not. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was arrogantly instructed that the “election’s over.”
There was a stature gap in the room, but not between Obama and the Republicans (as at the House Republican retreat). The stature gap was between Obama and his fellow Democrats. I would bet against any legislative team that includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who turned in a nasty, embarrassing performance.
As Gerson notes, Republicans got the tone right. What is great fun and inspiring for the base on talk radio doesn’t necessarily do the trick in a nationally televised summit facing the President of the United States. Republicans took that to heart and conducted themselves with poise, decorum, and a certain policy sophistication we don’t always see on display. They didn’t need to beat Obama in the who-can-be-the-more-ponderous-wonk department. They needed to show they were not the know-nothings Obama had painted them to be. And in that, they succeeded handsomely. Or as David Gergen put it, the Republicans “intellectually had their best day in years.”
Nor is it so easy, as it becomes obvious that nothing has changed, to pretend there is broad-based support for Obama’s approach. It wasn’t just the poll numbers that Republicans recited at every chance. As Jake Tapper reported:
Unfortunately for President Obama, the bipartisan agreement is outside Blair House where today’s health care summit is taking place, and the agreement is among liberal and conservative protestors arguing for different reason that the Democrats’ current health care reform proposal isn’t the correct prescription. Conservatives argue that it’s too much government intrusion and socialism. Liberals argue that the various leading Democratic proposals don’t go far enough.
It took Obama and the inept duo of Reid and Pelosi to shove Dennis Kucinich, Jane Hamsher, Jim DeMint, and Olympia Snowe (who refused to show up yesterday) all on the same side of the debate – that is, in opposition to his monstrous plan. And it took the health-care summit to reveal that the rigid, unpleasant ones are not the members of “the party of no.” David Brooks observes:
The Republican leaders, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, were smart enough to stand back and let Senator Lamar Alexander lead the way, which he did genially and intelligently. While Alexander was speaking, Reid and Pelosi wouldn’t even deign to look at him. … f you thought Republicans were a bunch of naysayers who don’t know or care about health care, then this was not the event for you. They more than held their own.
Obama then essentially failed to pin the blame on the Republicans, who generally seemed a bit more reasonable and genial than Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and company. (Political Rule No. 1: Get inept opponents.) As Gerson sums up: “The whole exercise, in short, was an ambush. But the quarry, it seems, got away.” And with it, mostly likely, did the Democrats’ dream of passing ObamaCare.
A new Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll is out. As is to be expected at this juncture, Obama’s approval is languishing at 47 percent; only on Afghanistan and terrorism do his ratings on individual issues hit the 50 percent mark. But the most eye-opening number is on the question of whether Obama is better at campaigning or governing. An astounding 62 percent of voters say “campaigning,” while only 38 percent pick “governing.” Independents pick “campaigning” by an even wider margin (67 to 11 percent — yes, 11 percent). Even Democrats say he is a better campaigner — by a narrower 38 to 32 percent margin.
This strikes me as a serious problem for Obama, given that so much of his narrative is structured around his own presumed superiority. In his view, it is always George W. Bush’s fault, his opponents are his intellectual inferiors, Congress is broken, the public is ill-informed, and the country is dysfunctional. The voters are saying in response: you don’t know how to do your job. And they have good reason to think so, of course.
Obama’s foreign policy is strewn with the wreckage of failed, bad ideas – an Israeli settlement freeze, a reset with Russia, and engagement with Iran. His domestic-policy “achievements” consist of one ineffective stimulus plan, one mediocre Supreme Court justice, and a sea of red ink. Voters expect the president to do things, yet this president has done precious little. The voters conclude that he is simply not good at his job. They don’t accept that he’s wonderful but powerless in the face of the Bush legacy or Republican opposition or public opinion. In their own lives, they are held responsible for the results they achieve, and they hold the president to the same standard. So they conclude: he’s just not very good at his job.
Americans love a comeback story and would, I think, welcome signs of competency. But until they see some evidence that Obama can produce positive results, they will continue to reach what is now a painfully obvious conclusion: his prowess as a candidate has not translated into effectiveness as president.
Well, the good news for the Democrats, I suppose, is that their unsuccessful effort to make the Republicans look bad at the summit may drown out this news:
A House panel has found that Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York broke Congressional rules by failing to properly disclose financial details of a trip to the Caribbean, a House official said. . . . The guilty finding led to quick condemnation from Republicans, who have made the powerful congressman a frequent target. “Once promised to be the ‘most ethical Congress in history,’ the Democratic majority now has a serious ethics scandal on its hands thanks in-part to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” said Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “For months, and even years, Nancy Pelosi has been promoting corrupt actors within her caucus ranks when she should have been punishing them.”
Recall that Republicans forced multiple votes on Rangel, getting Democrats on record as defending the ethically suspect Rangel. So we can expect the “culture of corruption” and the “enabling corruption” tags to appear in many a GOP ad this fall. Now the question remains: will Rangel fight to keep his chair on the Ways and Means Committee? That this should still be a question and that Rangel has kept his perch this long suggest just what a mess this has become for the Democrats.
In 1994, scandals and ideological overreach did in the Democrats. In 2006, scandals, an unpopular war, and fiscal sloth did in the Republicans. In 2010, Republicans will run against Democrats’ scandals, fiscal sloth, and failure to reduce unemployment. You can see why many see a takeover of the House by the GOP as more likely than not.
“Little sign of common ground at health-care summit,” reads the Washington Post headline. In other words, the entire spin of yesterday — that there was not that much separating Democrats and Republicans — didn’t survive 24 hours. But, of course, it was absurd for Obama to ever have claimed otherwise. He’s in favor of massive, expensive, and comprehensive legislation that will cost more than a trillion dollars, and Republicans are not. As the Post explains:
Republicans argued repeatedly that proposed Democratic legislation now stalled in Congress should be thrown out in favor of starting over with an incremental approach to solving the nation’s health care problems. Democrats rejected that idea and defended the legislation, saying that many issues are connected. They said reform demands a holistic approach that provides insurance coverage to more people while reducing the federal deficit.
Obama derided this as “baby steps,” but unless Nancy Pelosi has some extra votes, and no one thinks she does, that is precisely where we are heading. You see, it’s not just the chasm between the two parties, but the major differences among Democrats that has stalled ObamaCare. (“There were also major unresolved divisions within the Democratic Party, whose leaders were looking beyond a meeting they expected to amount to little more than political theater and focusing on a final round of negotiations within the party.”)
So what was accomplished yesterday? Republicans enlisted the president to make their point: they have ideas that are very different from Obama’s. Obama does not have the will or the legislative finesse, at least not now, to craft a more modest bill that would pick up bipartisan support. After the Massachusetts-election fiasco, he decided to double down, banking that he could somehow change minds or embolden his party to rally around a grossly unpopular plan. It defies common sense, and yet that was the course he chose. It was a strategy born of hubris and poor judgment. He and his party are now facing … what was it? … yes, a precipice. If he fails spectacularly, he may need to reconsider those “baby steps” and may regret having looked down his nose at what may be his only viable exit strategy.
In the meantime, the Party of No showed itself to be concerned and well-informed on health care and more in tune with the vast majority of voters. It was in a very real sense another Olympic moment. Instead of Rio, the big winner this time was the GOP.