Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 13, 2010

Second Thoughts on Israel-Bashing

It seems as though at least one of the 54 signatories on the “lift the Gaza blockade” letter is having second thoughts. This report explains that U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY) is pulling her support after a meeting with Jewish activists:

The result was an “open letter” issued by Clarke’s office disavowing her signature on the letter accusing Israel of collective punishment in Gaza. The open letter also disavowed her participation in another letter she had co-signed in support of the Goldstone report. The second letter came out against last November’s Congressional resolution calling on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to unequivocally oppose the United Nations’ Goldstone Report accusing Israel of guilt in committing war crimes in Gaza.

“These letters are uneven in their application of pressure and do not sufficiently present a balanced approach/path to peace,” Clarke wrote in her new letter. The Congresswoman claimed that the two earlier letters did not “reflect [her] record with regards to Israel” and “have a provocative and reactionary impact, as they do not provide a complete, and therefore accurate, picture of the situation.”

It will be interesting to see if others follow suit. If so, the J Street gang (which reportedly worked quietly behind the scenes on the Gaza letter) will be once again disappointed. It seems, just as we saw with the J Street “host” list last fall, that it is unfortunately easy to lure uninformed and distracted lawmakers into signing up for thinly disguised Israel-bashing gambits. It is not, however, so easy to keep them on board once they hear more about just what they are supporting. The question remains: how many more of the remaining 53 will jump off the Gaza letter? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: A helpful reader points out that all five of the members of Congress going on J Street’s jaunt to Israel  – Representatives Lois Capps (CA-23), Bill Delahunt (MA-10), Bob Filner (CA-51), Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15), and Donald Payne (NJ-10) — were signers of the Gaza blockade letter. Once again, J Street and the usual crowd of Israel-bashers seem to have a very cozy relationship.

It seems as though at least one of the 54 signatories on the “lift the Gaza blockade” letter is having second thoughts. This report explains that U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY) is pulling her support after a meeting with Jewish activists:

The result was an “open letter” issued by Clarke’s office disavowing her signature on the letter accusing Israel of collective punishment in Gaza. The open letter also disavowed her participation in another letter she had co-signed in support of the Goldstone report. The second letter came out against last November’s Congressional resolution calling on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to unequivocally oppose the United Nations’ Goldstone Report accusing Israel of guilt in committing war crimes in Gaza.

“These letters are uneven in their application of pressure and do not sufficiently present a balanced approach/path to peace,” Clarke wrote in her new letter. The Congresswoman claimed that the two earlier letters did not “reflect [her] record with regards to Israel” and “have a provocative and reactionary impact, as they do not provide a complete, and therefore accurate, picture of the situation.”

It will be interesting to see if others follow suit. If so, the J Street gang (which reportedly worked quietly behind the scenes on the Gaza letter) will be once again disappointed. It seems, just as we saw with the J Street “host” list last fall, that it is unfortunately easy to lure uninformed and distracted lawmakers into signing up for thinly disguised Israel-bashing gambits. It is not, however, so easy to keep them on board once they hear more about just what they are supporting. The question remains: how many more of the remaining 53 will jump off the Gaza letter? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: A helpful reader points out that all five of the members of Congress going on J Street’s jaunt to Israel  – Representatives Lois Capps (CA-23), Bill Delahunt (MA-10), Bob Filner (CA-51), Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15), and Donald Payne (NJ-10) — were signers of the Gaza blockade letter. Once again, J Street and the usual crowd of Israel-bashers seem to have a very cozy relationship.

Read Less

The Perils of Professors

Obama is getting flack from his own party for lacking the common touch, failing to connect with ordinary voters, and struggling to identify with Middle America. The mainstream media is baffled because, they say, he came from a middle-class background. What’s the problem? They are stumped.

Much of the problem is that his background isn’t so much middle class as it is academic. A large chunk of his adult life has been spent attending, teaching in, and living in close proximity to elite universities. The intellectual bent (e.g., disdainful of American exceptionalism, ignorant of the workings of free-market capitalism, infatuated with the public sector) and the posture (e.g., remote, condescending) of liberal academics are evident in Obama’s persona and governing style. And his saturation in Left-leaning elite schools certainly explain much of what ails him.

Jeffrey Anderson spots some evidence of this in Obama’s Super Bowl interview. Anderson recounts Obama’s explanation of the unwinding of his beloved health-care proposal:

Look, I would have loved nothing better than to simply come up with some very elegant, you know, academically approved approach to health care [that] didn’t have any kinds of legislative fingerprints on it, and just go ahead and have that passed. But that’s not how it works in our democracy. Unfortunately what we end up having to do is to do a lot of negotiations with a lot of different people.

Yes, all that grubby democracy and so much compromise are such annoyances. If only they would swallow his prescribed syllabus whole, we’d be able to move on to the next round. (Micromanaging all carbon emissions, perhaps.) Anderson comments:

Our democratic process, our separation of powers, and our federalist design frustrate Obama. But, far from being unfortunate, the negotiations and multiple levels of approval that they require, from a myriad of different citizens, is largely what secures our liberty — protecting it from those who would otherwise impose their own comprehensive goals from their lofty theoretical perches. The Founders were surely not Obama’s intellectual inferiors, but they were practical men. The Constitutional Convention was nothing if not high-level give-and-take, tinkering and refining. One imagines Obama showing up at Independence Hall with his own plan in hand (probably adapted from Rousseau’s in The Social Contract, with Obama cast in the role of the Legislator) and being surprised when the other delegates resisted his eloquence and, correspondingly, his proposal.

In Obama, that mindset is combined with a prickly personality unaccustomed to criticism. So we get the insular, defensive, and often down-right nasty reaction to criticism from mere citizens and from news or polling outfits who don’t properly reflect the wisdom that the Obami believe is emanating from the White House. We’ve see the smarter-and-holier-than-thou attitude in everything, from the lectures on race in Gatesgate to the demonization of attendees at town-hall meetings.

And, of course, academics don’t do that much but write, converse among themselves, and lecture to unappreciative undergraduates. They aren’t responsible for achieving much of anything. They aren’t obligated to conform their theories to the realities of the world. So too with Obama, we see that his preference for grandiose regulatory and health-care schemes lacks a basic understanding of how private industry operates. He seems oblivious to the incentives and disincentives that motivate employers. And in foreign policy as well, grand theories (e.g., Iran engagement, the effort to put “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel to promote the “peace process”) collide with reality, leaving the smart diplomats bruised and embarrassed (if they had enough self-awareness to be ashamed of their results).

The media was mesmerized by an elite-credentialed author and law professor who seemed so very cool and so intellectually compatible with themselves. But the Harvard Law Review and Con Law 101 don’t prepare one for the presidency. Indeed, it turns out that those who are attracted to such endeavors may lack the stuff of successful presidents — common sense, appreciation for the private enterprise, toleration of criticism, attention to the bottom line, etc. Next time, maybe we should look for someone who fits less well into the Ivy League and more comfortably into the private sector and Middle America. The better presidents, after all, can hire academics — and learn when to ignore them when their advice proves impractical or downright foolish.

Obama is getting flack from his own party for lacking the common touch, failing to connect with ordinary voters, and struggling to identify with Middle America. The mainstream media is baffled because, they say, he came from a middle-class background. What’s the problem? They are stumped.

Much of the problem is that his background isn’t so much middle class as it is academic. A large chunk of his adult life has been spent attending, teaching in, and living in close proximity to elite universities. The intellectual bent (e.g., disdainful of American exceptionalism, ignorant of the workings of free-market capitalism, infatuated with the public sector) and the posture (e.g., remote, condescending) of liberal academics are evident in Obama’s persona and governing style. And his saturation in Left-leaning elite schools certainly explain much of what ails him.

Jeffrey Anderson spots some evidence of this in Obama’s Super Bowl interview. Anderson recounts Obama’s explanation of the unwinding of his beloved health-care proposal:

Look, I would have loved nothing better than to simply come up with some very elegant, you know, academically approved approach to health care [that] didn’t have any kinds of legislative fingerprints on it, and just go ahead and have that passed. But that’s not how it works in our democracy. Unfortunately what we end up having to do is to do a lot of negotiations with a lot of different people.

Yes, all that grubby democracy and so much compromise are such annoyances. If only they would swallow his prescribed syllabus whole, we’d be able to move on to the next round. (Micromanaging all carbon emissions, perhaps.) Anderson comments:

Our democratic process, our separation of powers, and our federalist design frustrate Obama. But, far from being unfortunate, the negotiations and multiple levels of approval that they require, from a myriad of different citizens, is largely what secures our liberty — protecting it from those who would otherwise impose their own comprehensive goals from their lofty theoretical perches. The Founders were surely not Obama’s intellectual inferiors, but they were practical men. The Constitutional Convention was nothing if not high-level give-and-take, tinkering and refining. One imagines Obama showing up at Independence Hall with his own plan in hand (probably adapted from Rousseau’s in The Social Contract, with Obama cast in the role of the Legislator) and being surprised when the other delegates resisted his eloquence and, correspondingly, his proposal.

In Obama, that mindset is combined with a prickly personality unaccustomed to criticism. So we get the insular, defensive, and often down-right nasty reaction to criticism from mere citizens and from news or polling outfits who don’t properly reflect the wisdom that the Obami believe is emanating from the White House. We’ve see the smarter-and-holier-than-thou attitude in everything, from the lectures on race in Gatesgate to the demonization of attendees at town-hall meetings.

And, of course, academics don’t do that much but write, converse among themselves, and lecture to unappreciative undergraduates. They aren’t responsible for achieving much of anything. They aren’t obligated to conform their theories to the realities of the world. So too with Obama, we see that his preference for grandiose regulatory and health-care schemes lacks a basic understanding of how private industry operates. He seems oblivious to the incentives and disincentives that motivate employers. And in foreign policy as well, grand theories (e.g., Iran engagement, the effort to put “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel to promote the “peace process”) collide with reality, leaving the smart diplomats bruised and embarrassed (if they had enough self-awareness to be ashamed of their results).

The media was mesmerized by an elite-credentialed author and law professor who seemed so very cool and so intellectually compatible with themselves. But the Harvard Law Review and Con Law 101 don’t prepare one for the presidency. Indeed, it turns out that those who are attracted to such endeavors may lack the stuff of successful presidents — common sense, appreciation for the private enterprise, toleration of criticism, attention to the bottom line, etc. Next time, maybe we should look for someone who fits less well into the Ivy League and more comfortably into the private sector and Middle America. The better presidents, after all, can hire academics — and learn when to ignore them when their advice proves impractical or downright foolish.

Read Less

What You’d Find at a Real Tea Party

Unlike most of the mainstream media and punditocracy, Glenn Reynolds has been to a lot of tea party protests, interviewed scores of activists, and spent time to understand what they  are all about. Not surprisingly, the mainstream-media portrait bears only a passing resemblance to the real thing.

For starters, there is the tone. Reynolds writes of the Nashville gathering and the movement more generally:

Pundits claim the tea partiers are angry — and they are — but the most striking thing about the atmosphere in Nashville was how cheerful everyone seemed to be. I spoke with dozens of people, and the responses were surprisingly similar. Hardly any had ever been involved in politics before. Having gotten started, they were finding it to be not just worthwhile, but actually fun. Laughter rang out frequently, and when new-media mogul Andrew Breitbart held forth on a TV interview, a crowd gathered and broke into spontaneous applause.

Nor is the group merely waiting for Sarah Palin to sweep them off their feet. (“Press attention focused on Sarah Palin’s speech, which was well-received by the crowd. But the attendees I met weren’t looking to her for direction. They were hoping she would move in theirs. Right now, the tea party isn’t looking for leaders so much as leaders are looking to align themselves with the tea party.”) And these are hardly a bunch of racists, as Chris Matthews et al. would have us believe. It seems they are backing a number of African American candidates. (To echo Pete’s point, Tom Tancredo does the tea partiers no favors by spouting racial venom and peddling in conspiracy theories; activists as well as elected officials would do well to reject his eagerness to “play to people’s worst instincts.”)

What the tea party activists do have is a well formulated set of ideas — small government, debt reduction, spending restraint, and an aversion to hurried, secret deal making. It is an agenda that is resonating with conservatives and independent voters who see the opposite behavior in Washington.

This is, as much as anything else, yet another “mainstream media misses the boat” story. First they ignored and ridiculed the tea party activists. Now the media misrepresent them to the point of deliberate distortion. The media’s distorted characterization is not simply a matter of getting the details wrong, I think. This is, just as surely as that Big Labor slush fund, an effort to kill the movement in its crib and discredit it among average Americans. Treating them as rubes, extremists, religious nuts, and racists seems to be a bit of Saul Allinsky-type strategy. (“Pick the Target, Freeze It, Personalize It  and Polarize It,” was Alinsky’s mantra.)  But the media is less and less credible and the tea-party activists are doing a good job of getting their own message out.

In a contest between the elite media and the tea-party protesters for control of the message, I’m betting on the latter. For one thing, the tea-party activists’ numbers are increasing while the elite media is shrinking. That should tell you something about their relative health.

Unlike most of the mainstream media and punditocracy, Glenn Reynolds has been to a lot of tea party protests, interviewed scores of activists, and spent time to understand what they  are all about. Not surprisingly, the mainstream-media portrait bears only a passing resemblance to the real thing.

For starters, there is the tone. Reynolds writes of the Nashville gathering and the movement more generally:

Pundits claim the tea partiers are angry — and they are — but the most striking thing about the atmosphere in Nashville was how cheerful everyone seemed to be. I spoke with dozens of people, and the responses were surprisingly similar. Hardly any had ever been involved in politics before. Having gotten started, they were finding it to be not just worthwhile, but actually fun. Laughter rang out frequently, and when new-media mogul Andrew Breitbart held forth on a TV interview, a crowd gathered and broke into spontaneous applause.

Nor is the group merely waiting for Sarah Palin to sweep them off their feet. (“Press attention focused on Sarah Palin’s speech, which was well-received by the crowd. But the attendees I met weren’t looking to her for direction. They were hoping she would move in theirs. Right now, the tea party isn’t looking for leaders so much as leaders are looking to align themselves with the tea party.”) And these are hardly a bunch of racists, as Chris Matthews et al. would have us believe. It seems they are backing a number of African American candidates. (To echo Pete’s point, Tom Tancredo does the tea partiers no favors by spouting racial venom and peddling in conspiracy theories; activists as well as elected officials would do well to reject his eagerness to “play to people’s worst instincts.”)

What the tea party activists do have is a well formulated set of ideas — small government, debt reduction, spending restraint, and an aversion to hurried, secret deal making. It is an agenda that is resonating with conservatives and independent voters who see the opposite behavior in Washington.

This is, as much as anything else, yet another “mainstream media misses the boat” story. First they ignored and ridiculed the tea party activists. Now the media misrepresent them to the point of deliberate distortion. The media’s distorted characterization is not simply a matter of getting the details wrong, I think. This is, just as surely as that Big Labor slush fund, an effort to kill the movement in its crib and discredit it among average Americans. Treating them as rubes, extremists, religious nuts, and racists seems to be a bit of Saul Allinsky-type strategy. (“Pick the Target, Freeze It, Personalize It  and Polarize It,” was Alinsky’s mantra.)  But the media is less and less credible and the tea-party activists are doing a good job of getting their own message out.

In a contest between the elite media and the tea-party protesters for control of the message, I’m betting on the latter. For one thing, the tea-party activists’ numbers are increasing while the elite media is shrinking. That should tell you something about their relative health.

Read Less

Hunting Heads

If Christmas Day airline bomber Umar Abdulmutallab had been identified by Special Forces in Yemen, rather than being detained in Detroit, he could well have been summarily killed in a drone strike instead of being read his rights. Such are the features of the Obama approach to the war on terror.

The AP has a story today outlining something that has been apparent for months: that President Obama is relying to a much greater degree than Bush did on standoff drone attacks against terrorists in Asia and the Middle East. The AP piece presents this as a fresh, successful strategy, one applauded by Pakistani officials and made possible by the drawdown in Iraq, which is freeing up drones and intelligence assets for use elsewhere. In the AP analysis, moreover, Obama’s choice to leave behind terms such as “radical Islam” and “Islamo-fascism” is amplifying his effectiveness by abetting a policy of reaching out to Islamic allies.

This is one way of looking at it – but it’s a narrative that omits important context. Obama’s strategy isn’t a matter of increasing our reliance on drone strikes while at the same time maintaining the politically comprehensive Bush approach to combating Islamist terrorism. It involves instead shifting our approach away from Bush’s indispensable political element – fostering liberalization, consensual government, and civil security in the Islamic world – toward an emphasis on simply killing individual terrorists. But Obama has also adopted this strategy in the context of a kid-gloves policy toward foreign terrorists who happen to fall, still alive, into the clutches of the U.S. justice system.

We might certainly call the latter factor an ethical paradox, or perhaps simply a double standard. In neither guise does the Obama policy come off as principled from any universalist ethical sense. A policy of what amounts to assassination overseas, coupled with legalist zealotry for the rights of the accused at home, can’t help looking like a cynical combination tinged with domestic-constituency tending and rank hypocrisy.

Terrible things are done in war, of course; and the terrorists being targeted in standoff attacks are known to be ringleaders, most with ghastly bombings on their rap sheets. But the “big picture” justification for this tactic, the mitigating strategic objective of promoting a “better peace” in the Islamic societies, is something Obama has been at pains to shed. This policy trend must at some point call into question the purpose of our campaign of force. I’ve written here and here about Obama’s turn away from the core Bush tenet of fighting terrorism by means of promoting civil outcomes abroad. Whether by excising the promotion of freedom and democracy from our national objectives, or by envisioning for Afghanistan a “less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence” than in Iraq, the Obama administration has backed off significantly from Bush’s policy of shaping conditions for the better overseas.

It bears repeating that Bush chose to go all-in on that policy – with the surge decision in late 2006 – because the lighter-footprint approach favored by Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t working. There is a real risk with the light-footprint strategy that using head-hunting tactics against terrorists will begin to look more and more like taking the worst kind of law-enforcement approach: one that dispenses with the inconvenient constraints of law. Indeed, a diligent UN official has already made this point about our drone strike campaign.

Minimizing our own “skin in the game” may seem like a prudent policy in the short run. But it will not be to our advantage over the long run if Afghans, Pakistanis, or Yemenis come to see us as having arrived not to foster a better future for them, but rather to use their territory as a sniper perch.

If Christmas Day airline bomber Umar Abdulmutallab had been identified by Special Forces in Yemen, rather than being detained in Detroit, he could well have been summarily killed in a drone strike instead of being read his rights. Such are the features of the Obama approach to the war on terror.

The AP has a story today outlining something that has been apparent for months: that President Obama is relying to a much greater degree than Bush did on standoff drone attacks against terrorists in Asia and the Middle East. The AP piece presents this as a fresh, successful strategy, one applauded by Pakistani officials and made possible by the drawdown in Iraq, which is freeing up drones and intelligence assets for use elsewhere. In the AP analysis, moreover, Obama’s choice to leave behind terms such as “radical Islam” and “Islamo-fascism” is amplifying his effectiveness by abetting a policy of reaching out to Islamic allies.

This is one way of looking at it – but it’s a narrative that omits important context. Obama’s strategy isn’t a matter of increasing our reliance on drone strikes while at the same time maintaining the politically comprehensive Bush approach to combating Islamist terrorism. It involves instead shifting our approach away from Bush’s indispensable political element – fostering liberalization, consensual government, and civil security in the Islamic world – toward an emphasis on simply killing individual terrorists. But Obama has also adopted this strategy in the context of a kid-gloves policy toward foreign terrorists who happen to fall, still alive, into the clutches of the U.S. justice system.

We might certainly call the latter factor an ethical paradox, or perhaps simply a double standard. In neither guise does the Obama policy come off as principled from any universalist ethical sense. A policy of what amounts to assassination overseas, coupled with legalist zealotry for the rights of the accused at home, can’t help looking like a cynical combination tinged with domestic-constituency tending and rank hypocrisy.

Terrible things are done in war, of course; and the terrorists being targeted in standoff attacks are known to be ringleaders, most with ghastly bombings on their rap sheets. But the “big picture” justification for this tactic, the mitigating strategic objective of promoting a “better peace” in the Islamic societies, is something Obama has been at pains to shed. This policy trend must at some point call into question the purpose of our campaign of force. I’ve written here and here about Obama’s turn away from the core Bush tenet of fighting terrorism by means of promoting civil outcomes abroad. Whether by excising the promotion of freedom and democracy from our national objectives, or by envisioning for Afghanistan a “less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence” than in Iraq, the Obama administration has backed off significantly from Bush’s policy of shaping conditions for the better overseas.

It bears repeating that Bush chose to go all-in on that policy – with the surge decision in late 2006 – because the lighter-footprint approach favored by Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t working. There is a real risk with the light-footprint strategy that using head-hunting tactics against terrorists will begin to look more and more like taking the worst kind of law-enforcement approach: one that dispenses with the inconvenient constraints of law. Indeed, a diligent UN official has already made this point about our drone strike campaign.

Minimizing our own “skin in the game” may seem like a prudent policy in the short run. But it will not be to our advantage over the long run if Afghans, Pakistanis, or Yemenis come to see us as having arrived not to foster a better future for them, but rather to use their territory as a sniper perch.

Read Less

Pleasing None of the People, None of the Time

As Pete aptly described, the Left is in a tizzy. Angry at their floundering idol, they are increasingly aware they have gotten precious little from their wish list. That rage is directed now at both the public and the president, who is getting more and more push back from previously loyal congressional leaders.

Now, in the hands of a skilled politician, this might actually be an opportunity. Having strayed so far Left, Obama now can separate himself, “triangulate,” as Bill Clinton put it, to demonstrate that he really is the model of moderation and sobriety. He might call out the excesses on his own side, both rhetorical and substantive, to reconnect with the Center-Right coalition. But oddly, Obama seems incapable or unwilling to do just that.

Obama is doggedly pursuing health care — the same plan that the public has rejected overwhelmingly. He proposed an extraordinarily irresponsible budget. In short, he is not making an effort to separate himself from those extreme voices in the party who are now quite angry at him. We therefore see the remarkable situation in which independents are alienated, conservatives are enraged, and liberals are aggrieved. It’s hard in politics to please everyone, but it takes a certain talent to displease everyone. Yet Obama has managed to do so. How did that happen?

This, I think, has resulted from the collision of extreme ideology, grand ambition, and plain old incompetence. The Center-Right sees what Obama wants to do (pass a government takeover of health care, regulate carbon emissions, grow the size of government, raise taxes) and is frightened. The Left sees what Obama has done (practically nothing) and is frustrated, if not apoplectic. The Left wants him to be more effective in his extremism (and theirs) but that will further enrage the already motivated Center-Right.

It is quite a dilemma. Moreover, it is a reminder that electing someone very new to the national stage is quite a gamble. Unfortunately, it hasn’t paid off for his supporters. And we all must live with the consequences.

As Pete aptly described, the Left is in a tizzy. Angry at their floundering idol, they are increasingly aware they have gotten precious little from their wish list. That rage is directed now at both the public and the president, who is getting more and more push back from previously loyal congressional leaders.

Now, in the hands of a skilled politician, this might actually be an opportunity. Having strayed so far Left, Obama now can separate himself, “triangulate,” as Bill Clinton put it, to demonstrate that he really is the model of moderation and sobriety. He might call out the excesses on his own side, both rhetorical and substantive, to reconnect with the Center-Right coalition. But oddly, Obama seems incapable or unwilling to do just that.

Obama is doggedly pursuing health care — the same plan that the public has rejected overwhelmingly. He proposed an extraordinarily irresponsible budget. In short, he is not making an effort to separate himself from those extreme voices in the party who are now quite angry at him. We therefore see the remarkable situation in which independents are alienated, conservatives are enraged, and liberals are aggrieved. It’s hard in politics to please everyone, but it takes a certain talent to displease everyone. Yet Obama has managed to do so. How did that happen?

This, I think, has resulted from the collision of extreme ideology, grand ambition, and plain old incompetence. The Center-Right sees what Obama wants to do (pass a government takeover of health care, regulate carbon emissions, grow the size of government, raise taxes) and is frightened. The Left sees what Obama has done (practically nothing) and is frustrated, if not apoplectic. The Left wants him to be more effective in his extremism (and theirs) but that will further enrage the already motivated Center-Right.

It is quite a dilemma. Moreover, it is a reminder that electing someone very new to the national stage is quite a gamble. Unfortunately, it hasn’t paid off for his supporters. And we all must live with the consequences.

Read Less

It’s the Unemployment

The Obama team is predicting 8.2 percent unemployment — in 2012. Well, good luck to those trying to run for reelection on that economic record. As Christina Romer puts it, “The usual relationship between G.D.P. growth and the unemployment rate has broken down somewhat. The unemployment rate has risen much more than one would have predicted.” Perhaps if the Obama agenda didn’t include massive tax hikes, a batch of new mandates on job-creators, and red ink as far as the eye can see, we could re-establish that relationship. Just saying.

But, meanwhile, Gallup reports:

The percentage of Americans mentioning unemployment as the most important problem facing the United States rose nine percentage points in the past month, from 22% to 31%, and has nearly doubled since December. As recently as November 2008, the figure was in the single digits.

This sounds like a political train wreck for Obama and incumbent Democrats. By their own estimates, unemployment will remain sky-high, causing voters to focus on this issue as the most important among many. It will drown out, I suspect, many of the Democrats’ favorite ploys — blaming George W. Bush, pushing hot-button social issues (remember when conservatives did that?), etc. At some point ( this year’s elections for starters), the party that controls everything in Washington must be held accountable for the results it achieves. It is highly unlikely that many of its members will keep their jobs so long as so many Americans have lost theirs.

The Obama team is predicting 8.2 percent unemployment — in 2012. Well, good luck to those trying to run for reelection on that economic record. As Christina Romer puts it, “The usual relationship between G.D.P. growth and the unemployment rate has broken down somewhat. The unemployment rate has risen much more than one would have predicted.” Perhaps if the Obama agenda didn’t include massive tax hikes, a batch of new mandates on job-creators, and red ink as far as the eye can see, we could re-establish that relationship. Just saying.

But, meanwhile, Gallup reports:

The percentage of Americans mentioning unemployment as the most important problem facing the United States rose nine percentage points in the past month, from 22% to 31%, and has nearly doubled since December. As recently as November 2008, the figure was in the single digits.

This sounds like a political train wreck for Obama and incumbent Democrats. By their own estimates, unemployment will remain sky-high, causing voters to focus on this issue as the most important among many. It will drown out, I suspect, many of the Democrats’ favorite ploys — blaming George W. Bush, pushing hot-button social issues (remember when conservatives did that?), etc. At some point ( this year’s elections for starters), the party that controls everything in Washington must be held accountable for the results it achieves. It is highly unlikely that many of its members will keep their jobs so long as so many Americans have lost theirs.

Read Less

You Have to Perform

After the election you have to govern. That is an opportunity for some and the undoing of others. Recall Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. He won the governorship of a key swing state, was on the short list for Obama’s VP, accomplished virtually nothing as governor, presided as head of the DNC over a disastrous run of high-profile Democratic losses, and is now everyone’s favorite whipping boy. What ever happened to Tim Kaine? Well, he couldn’t do his job well. So he ends, at least for now, a promising political career.

Last year, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell won high-profile gubernatorial races. McDonnell is sticking to his no-tax pledge and has unveiled an impressive charter-school program. He’s setting out to do precisely what he said he would, including selling off state-owned liquor stores. He seems serious about governance. If he is, he’ll avoid his predecessor’s fate.

Then there is Chris Christie. He’s also doing what he promised. He appointed a school-choice advocate to the howls of the teachers’ union. And he has announced a real spending freeze:

Announcing the freeze on $1.6 billion of unspent money, Mr. Christie was blunt: “Today, we come to terms with the fact that we cannot spend money on everything we want. Today, the days of Alice in Wonderland budgeting in Trenton end.”

That seems like a better idea than hiking taxes, if the aim here is to fix the gaping hole in the state budget. The liberal tax-and-spend policies of his predecessors have been stark and debilitating for his state:

From 2004-2008, author John Havens found “a large decline in the number of wealthy households entering New Jersey” as well as “a moderate increase in the outflow of wealthy households leaving.” The result: a net decline of $70 billion in household wealth while the “expected giving” became a net outflow of $1.132 billion.

So what happened in 2004? The study doesn’t purport to explain what caused the wealth movements. But the state’s most notable economic policy event that year was an increase in its top income tax rate to 8.97% from 6.37%, on incomes starting at $500,000. That’s a 40% increase.

Christie also seems to be in the “sober about governance” category. The lesson here for politicians of both parties is quite simple: you have to deliver. If McDonnell and Christie make good on their promises and continue their early focus on smart reform, fiscal sobriety, and conservative economic policy, they will become the models for the next generation of conservative governors and presidential hopefuls.

And, yes, that brings us back to Obama. At this point he seems headed for Tim Kaine-like flash-in-the-pan status. All that anticipation and so little ability. So much hype was followed by virtually no interest in doing the job to which he was elected. Challengers have the luxury of convincing voters to take a leap of faith; incumbents must defend what they have done. And if they don’t deliver, no amount of hype and no blame-shifting is going to rescue them. That is why, I suspect, Obama now thinks out loud about a single term. It could not have escaped his notice that he is not remotely pulling a ” B+” in the presidency.

After the election you have to govern. That is an opportunity for some and the undoing of others. Recall Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. He won the governorship of a key swing state, was on the short list for Obama’s VP, accomplished virtually nothing as governor, presided as head of the DNC over a disastrous run of high-profile Democratic losses, and is now everyone’s favorite whipping boy. What ever happened to Tim Kaine? Well, he couldn’t do his job well. So he ends, at least for now, a promising political career.

Last year, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell won high-profile gubernatorial races. McDonnell is sticking to his no-tax pledge and has unveiled an impressive charter-school program. He’s setting out to do precisely what he said he would, including selling off state-owned liquor stores. He seems serious about governance. If he is, he’ll avoid his predecessor’s fate.

Then there is Chris Christie. He’s also doing what he promised. He appointed a school-choice advocate to the howls of the teachers’ union. And he has announced a real spending freeze:

Announcing the freeze on $1.6 billion of unspent money, Mr. Christie was blunt: “Today, we come to terms with the fact that we cannot spend money on everything we want. Today, the days of Alice in Wonderland budgeting in Trenton end.”

That seems like a better idea than hiking taxes, if the aim here is to fix the gaping hole in the state budget. The liberal tax-and-spend policies of his predecessors have been stark and debilitating for his state:

From 2004-2008, author John Havens found “a large decline in the number of wealthy households entering New Jersey” as well as “a moderate increase in the outflow of wealthy households leaving.” The result: a net decline of $70 billion in household wealth while the “expected giving” became a net outflow of $1.132 billion.

So what happened in 2004? The study doesn’t purport to explain what caused the wealth movements. But the state’s most notable economic policy event that year was an increase in its top income tax rate to 8.97% from 6.37%, on incomes starting at $500,000. That’s a 40% increase.

Christie also seems to be in the “sober about governance” category. The lesson here for politicians of both parties is quite simple: you have to deliver. If McDonnell and Christie make good on their promises and continue their early focus on smart reform, fiscal sobriety, and conservative economic policy, they will become the models for the next generation of conservative governors and presidential hopefuls.

And, yes, that brings us back to Obama. At this point he seems headed for Tim Kaine-like flash-in-the-pan status. All that anticipation and so little ability. So much hype was followed by virtually no interest in doing the job to which he was elected. Challengers have the luxury of convincing voters to take a leap of faith; incumbents must defend what they have done. And if they don’t deliver, no amount of hype and no blame-shifting is going to rescue them. That is why, I suspect, Obama now thinks out loud about a single term. It could not have escaped his notice that he is not remotely pulling a ” B+” in the presidency.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Jim Geraghty observes: “Very few of the most memorable moments from Obama’s successful campaign involve him and another person, one-on-one or in a small group; generally it was he, alone, standing before the masses and keeping them enthralled.” Maybe one-on-one he just doesn’t have anything interesting to say.

What is so interesting about Robert Gibbs’s insistence that the Iraq War is one of the Obami’s greatest achievements is the new-found incredulity of the Washington press corps. The reporter asks, “Given that the Vice President was in favor of a partial partition of the country and the President opposed the surge that helped stabilize it, how is that one of the President’s great achievements?” and then follows up, “But the Status of Forces Agreement to bring troops home was signed before the President took office.” It’s almost as if the romance is over.

Diane Ravitch cracks: “I am happy to see that President Obama is taking charge of the decision about where to site the KSM trial. I hope he will put it in Chicago, his own home town. After all, Chicago missed put on the Olympics. Why not let it have what is sure to be the trial of the century? A great place to test Eric Holder’s theory about giving these terrorists civilian trials.”

James Taranto smells a “climb down” on civilian terrorist trials: “According to Holder, the location and forum for the trial are not very important. According to the [Washington] Post, they are so important that the president of the United States is actually getting involved with policy decisions (although come to think of it, isn’t that supposed to be part of his job?). This circle is easily enough squared. The administration’s actions suggest that it not view the matter as substantively important. It is now clear that Obama and Holder didn’t even take it seriously enough to bother thinking through such obvious questions as whether a New York trial was logistically feasible or what to do in the event of an acquittal or an overturned conviction.”

Lenny Ben-David spots the J Street connection to the letter signed by 54 Democrats, which seeks a lifting of the blockade on Gaza. He also says: “The ‘word on the street’ now is that several members of Congress are disassociating themselves from their letter, much the same way members pulled out of J Street’s national conference in October 2009.”

Another at-risk Democrat: “North Dakota may be shaping up to be dangerous territory for the state’s other longtime Democratic incumbent, too. Senator Byron Dorgan has already decided not to seek reelection, and now a new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state finds Congressman Earl Pomeroy in close match-ups with two of his three likeliest Republican challengers.”

I’m not sure slamming George W. Bush is the way for Tim Pawlenty to get in the graces of the conservative base. For one thing, many of those voters remain very loyal to Bush. And even to those who were critical of him, in retrospect, he looks pretty darn good. But Pawlenty sure has been “frenetic.”

Charles Krauthammer observes: “When President [Obama] spoke earlier in the week about [uranium] enrichment, he made a point of calling the regime ‘the Islamic Republic of Iran.’ There were demonstrators in the streets today shouting ‘Republic of Iran,’ leaving out ‘Islamic’ as a way of saying: We don’t want clerical rule. Why the president insists on this gratuitous giving of legitimacy by using the preferred term of the mullahs is beyond me.” Well, the one explanation that makes sense: Obama thinks that the protesters, not the mullahs, are on the losing side, and wants to keep up the ingratiation gambit with the regime.

Jim Geraghty observes: “Very few of the most memorable moments from Obama’s successful campaign involve him and another person, one-on-one or in a small group; generally it was he, alone, standing before the masses and keeping them enthralled.” Maybe one-on-one he just doesn’t have anything interesting to say.

What is so interesting about Robert Gibbs’s insistence that the Iraq War is one of the Obami’s greatest achievements is the new-found incredulity of the Washington press corps. The reporter asks, “Given that the Vice President was in favor of a partial partition of the country and the President opposed the surge that helped stabilize it, how is that one of the President’s great achievements?” and then follows up, “But the Status of Forces Agreement to bring troops home was signed before the President took office.” It’s almost as if the romance is over.

Diane Ravitch cracks: “I am happy to see that President Obama is taking charge of the decision about where to site the KSM trial. I hope he will put it in Chicago, his own home town. After all, Chicago missed put on the Olympics. Why not let it have what is sure to be the trial of the century? A great place to test Eric Holder’s theory about giving these terrorists civilian trials.”

James Taranto smells a “climb down” on civilian terrorist trials: “According to Holder, the location and forum for the trial are not very important. According to the [Washington] Post, they are so important that the president of the United States is actually getting involved with policy decisions (although come to think of it, isn’t that supposed to be part of his job?). This circle is easily enough squared. The administration’s actions suggest that it not view the matter as substantively important. It is now clear that Obama and Holder didn’t even take it seriously enough to bother thinking through such obvious questions as whether a New York trial was logistically feasible or what to do in the event of an acquittal or an overturned conviction.”

Lenny Ben-David spots the J Street connection to the letter signed by 54 Democrats, which seeks a lifting of the blockade on Gaza. He also says: “The ‘word on the street’ now is that several members of Congress are disassociating themselves from their letter, much the same way members pulled out of J Street’s national conference in October 2009.”

Another at-risk Democrat: “North Dakota may be shaping up to be dangerous territory for the state’s other longtime Democratic incumbent, too. Senator Byron Dorgan has already decided not to seek reelection, and now a new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state finds Congressman Earl Pomeroy in close match-ups with two of his three likeliest Republican challengers.”

I’m not sure slamming George W. Bush is the way for Tim Pawlenty to get in the graces of the conservative base. For one thing, many of those voters remain very loyal to Bush. And even to those who were critical of him, in retrospect, he looks pretty darn good. But Pawlenty sure has been “frenetic.”

Charles Krauthammer observes: “When President [Obama] spoke earlier in the week about [uranium] enrichment, he made a point of calling the regime ‘the Islamic Republic of Iran.’ There were demonstrators in the streets today shouting ‘Republic of Iran,’ leaving out ‘Islamic’ as a way of saying: We don’t want clerical rule. Why the president insists on this gratuitous giving of legitimacy by using the preferred term of the mullahs is beyond me.” Well, the one explanation that makes sense: Obama thinks that the protesters, not the mullahs, are on the losing side, and wants to keep up the ingratiation gambit with the regime.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.