Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 2, 2010

Springtime for Dubya?

I’m sure you’re looking forward to the new off-Broadway musical, “Signs of Life,” which offers what promises to be a wonderfully tuneful look at the Thereseinstadt concentration camp. But it turns out, according to tomorrow’s New York Times, that the musical really isn’t about the Holocaust after all, which is probably a wise thing, since The Producers got there first with its signature number, “Springtime for Hitler.” No, it turns out, the Holocaust exists as a dramatic trope to teach us lessons about America in the age of Bush:

That show, which had its premiere on Thursday, centers on Lorelei, an artist who agrees to create pretty pictures of the camp for Nazi propaganda but who, with other prisoners, schemes to get her drawings of the real horrors to the outside world.

“The message of our show is not ‘Killing Jews is bad,’ ” Mr. Derfner said. “It’s: ‘What do you do when you find out you’ve been lied to? What is telling the truth worth?’ In the last 30 years this question has been vital to American life and especially so in the last nine years.”

No, this is not, as they say, from The Onion.

I’m sure you’re looking forward to the new off-Broadway musical, “Signs of Life,” which offers what promises to be a wonderfully tuneful look at the Thereseinstadt concentration camp. But it turns out, according to tomorrow’s New York Times, that the musical really isn’t about the Holocaust after all, which is probably a wise thing, since The Producers got there first with its signature number, “Springtime for Hitler.” No, it turns out, the Holocaust exists as a dramatic trope to teach us lessons about America in the age of Bush:

That show, which had its premiere on Thursday, centers on Lorelei, an artist who agrees to create pretty pictures of the camp for Nazi propaganda but who, with other prisoners, schemes to get her drawings of the real horrors to the outside world.

“The message of our show is not ‘Killing Jews is bad,’ ” Mr. Derfner said. “It’s: ‘What do you do when you find out you’ve been lied to? What is telling the truth worth?’ In the last 30 years this question has been vital to American life and especially so in the last nine years.”

No, this is not, as they say, from The Onion.

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Sorry, Obama, but Russia and China Are Never Going to Help You on Iran

The headline says it all: “Clinton appears to extend timeline for Iran sanctions.” The Secretary of State told reporters aboard her flight to Argentina:

“We are moving expeditiously and thoroughly in the Security Council. I can’t give you an exact date, but I would assume sometime in the next several months.”

Why all the delays? The reason is that China and Russia are refusing to join a sanctions resolution. Obama’s response is becoming increasingly clear: deny that the Security Council is a dead end, extend deadlines, say that everyone’s coming around, and submerge the Iranian nuclear crisis in the interminable machinations of the “international community.”

China and Russia won’t play ball because they have no good strategic reason to help relieve America’s burden of global leadership. But it’s not so clear why the Obama administration is eager to participate in this charade.

There are two reasons, I think. The first is that acknowledging Russia and China’s unwillingness to help would strike the most powerful blow yet to Obama’s central foreign-policy message: that his personality and eagerness for engagement would open up doors for America that were slammed shut by the Bush administration’s alleged arrogance and quickness to go to war. Acknowledging that the Security Council will never allow strong sanctions would be tantamount to admitting that the very logic and premises of Obama’s foreign policy is flawed. Thus, this isn’t really about Iran. It’s about the politics of failure and Obama’s increasingly desperate attempt to shield his presidency from the hard realities of the world.

And there is a practical reason why Obama may never admit that the Security Council is a dead end: doing so would force him to move to a new strategy — and there is no new strategy. So instead of thinking seriously about a Plan B, the administration is simply burying Plan A in a process with no chance of success and no expiration date. This is passivity, and it puts Obama in the position of reacting to events instead of shaping them. That’s not a good position for the American president to be in.

The headline says it all: “Clinton appears to extend timeline for Iran sanctions.” The Secretary of State told reporters aboard her flight to Argentina:

“We are moving expeditiously and thoroughly in the Security Council. I can’t give you an exact date, but I would assume sometime in the next several months.”

Why all the delays? The reason is that China and Russia are refusing to join a sanctions resolution. Obama’s response is becoming increasingly clear: deny that the Security Council is a dead end, extend deadlines, say that everyone’s coming around, and submerge the Iranian nuclear crisis in the interminable machinations of the “international community.”

China and Russia won’t play ball because they have no good strategic reason to help relieve America’s burden of global leadership. But it’s not so clear why the Obama administration is eager to participate in this charade.

There are two reasons, I think. The first is that acknowledging Russia and China’s unwillingness to help would strike the most powerful blow yet to Obama’s central foreign-policy message: that his personality and eagerness for engagement would open up doors for America that were slammed shut by the Bush administration’s alleged arrogance and quickness to go to war. Acknowledging that the Security Council will never allow strong sanctions would be tantamount to admitting that the very logic and premises of Obama’s foreign policy is flawed. Thus, this isn’t really about Iran. It’s about the politics of failure and Obama’s increasingly desperate attempt to shield his presidency from the hard realities of the world.

And there is a practical reason why Obama may never admit that the Security Council is a dead end: doing so would force him to move to a new strategy — and there is no new strategy. So instead of thinking seriously about a Plan B, the administration is simply burying Plan A in a process with no chance of success and no expiration date. This is passivity, and it puts Obama in the position of reacting to events instead of shaping them. That’s not a good position for the American president to be in.

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How Big a Wave?

Last week, Charlie Cook wrote:

In my view, Democrats have been in a free fall since summer, and unless something significant changes, they are headed toward the losses of the magnitude we saw in the midterm elections of 1958, 1966, 1974, 1994, and 2006. One difference between this year and 1994 and 2006 is that the party in power started developing serious problems more than a year ahead of the election.

Although no two cycles are exactly alike, history suggests that the indicators we’re now seeing mean that the Democratic majority in the House is in grave danger and that Senate Democrats could easily see their ranks shrink to 52 or 53 seats. Today’s signs are much like those that led me to predict in August 2006 that “unless something dramatic happens before Election Day, Democrats will take control of the House. And the chances that they’ll seize the Senate are rising toward 50-50.”

He concedes that the public perception of health care could improve, but it really hasn’t. (Obama’s mini-outreach to Republicans is unlikely, I think, to do the trick.) Nor is it likely that unemployment will drop significantly by November. So Cook remains doubtful that the Democrats can hold back the tide.

But here’s the thing: there are waves and then there are waves. Perhaps individual members (Rep. Bart Stupak’s committed pro-life House Democrats come to mind) who can maintain their standing with the voters. Simply because Obama is taking the party down the tubes doesn’t mean all must follow. Democrats may go down to 52 seats in the Senate — but they could also go down to 49. In other words, the gloom and doom predictions don’t tell us which Democrats will be lost, nor do they tell us the magnitude of the wave. What Democrats do between now and November will determine that. In short, how many will be canny enough to save themselves? Stay tuned.

Last week, Charlie Cook wrote:

In my view, Democrats have been in a free fall since summer, and unless something significant changes, they are headed toward the losses of the magnitude we saw in the midterm elections of 1958, 1966, 1974, 1994, and 2006. One difference between this year and 1994 and 2006 is that the party in power started developing serious problems more than a year ahead of the election.

Although no two cycles are exactly alike, history suggests that the indicators we’re now seeing mean that the Democratic majority in the House is in grave danger and that Senate Democrats could easily see their ranks shrink to 52 or 53 seats. Today’s signs are much like those that led me to predict in August 2006 that “unless something dramatic happens before Election Day, Democrats will take control of the House. And the chances that they’ll seize the Senate are rising toward 50-50.”

He concedes that the public perception of health care could improve, but it really hasn’t. (Obama’s mini-outreach to Republicans is unlikely, I think, to do the trick.) Nor is it likely that unemployment will drop significantly by November. So Cook remains doubtful that the Democrats can hold back the tide.

But here’s the thing: there are waves and then there are waves. Perhaps individual members (Rep. Bart Stupak’s committed pro-life House Democrats come to mind) who can maintain their standing with the voters. Simply because Obama is taking the party down the tubes doesn’t mean all must follow. Democrats may go down to 52 seats in the Senate — but they could also go down to 49. In other words, the gloom and doom predictions don’t tell us which Democrats will be lost, nor do they tell us the magnitude of the wave. What Democrats do between now and November will determine that. In short, how many will be canny enough to save themselves? Stay tuned.

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Peace in Our Time: Hope as a Method

Laura Rozen has a piece in Politico today on Russia’s heel-dragging approach to the “New START” arms-control talks. “Sources in and out of the [Obama] administration are saying Russia may not feel it needs to sign a new agreement soon,” she reports. “And perhaps not in time for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference that the Obama administration is hosting in New York in May.” Predictably, her analysis focuses on Russian domestic politics (“haggling, fighting internally”) and the Russians’ persistent objections to U.S. missile-defense proposals. Obama hasn’t succeeded in satisfying Moscow’s skepticism about the latter; shifting our concept from silo-based interceptors in Poland to road-mobile launchers in Romania has failed to change Russian minds.

But considering only these factors is like trying to account for the rain without looking up at the sky. What’s driving Russia’s lack of urgency about a new arms-control treaty is Obama’s determination to reduce our nuclear arsenal unilaterally. The Russians have no reason to sweat out a treaty agreement that’s binding on them if they’re going to get effective U.S. commitments without one.

The policy reportedly emerging from Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), outlined in a New York Times article this weekend, appears full of reasons for Russia to hang back on New START. Obama’s intention to halve the existing inventory of about 5,400 nuclear warheads goes well beyond the mutual reduction goal of the Bush-Putin SORT Treaty of 2002, which envisioned 4,600 warheads for the U.S. by 2012. Obama has also cut funding to the Pentagon’s development program for a low-yield nuclear weapon to attack hardened and deeply-buried targets, and he reportedly will scrap the development altogether with implementation of his NPR. This, of course, is the kind of weapon needed to deal effectively with suspect underground facilities in Iran and North Korea.

Moreover, key Congressional Democrats are demanding NPR language that would explicitly commit the U.S. to using our nuclear arsenal solely for the deterrence of nuclear strikes – a short-sighted posture that could not be reversed in the future without precipitating political crises. The Pentagon prefers a more ambiguous formulation, and the outcome of this policy debate is uncertain. But the unprecedented political momentum of the Capitol Hill “deterrence-only” advocates will have the attention of foreign observers from Moscow to Beijing to Tehran.

Obama’s express hope is to set an example for the world with these unilateral reductions and renunciations. By making them, however, he thoroughly undermines the New START negotiations. Cuts of this magnitude would require the Russians to rethink their own policy in order to match them. But with Obama proposing to make the cuts unilaterally, Russia has no incentive to pay the cost of participating. The only bargaining chip left for leveraging Russian concessions is our missile-defense program.

George W. Bush achieved major reductions in our nuclear arsenal; it’s clearly possible to do so while also retaining a viable negotiating position with Moscow. Obama’s approach to nuclear disarmament, on the other hand, is a particularly dangerous form of unilateralism. His concrete achievements so far are conceding Russia’s objections to the silo-based missile defense in Europe and letting the original START Treaty lapse in December 2009, which leaves the U.S. and Russia with no on-site verification measures to monitor subsequent developments in our nuclear programs. The tether of START’s verification and mutual-reduction principles has been cut. In one year, Obama has relinquished the bases for nuclear stability and American security that his predecessors fought for more than 40 years to establish. What we and Obama are counting on now is hope.

Laura Rozen has a piece in Politico today on Russia’s heel-dragging approach to the “New START” arms-control talks. “Sources in and out of the [Obama] administration are saying Russia may not feel it needs to sign a new agreement soon,” she reports. “And perhaps not in time for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference that the Obama administration is hosting in New York in May.” Predictably, her analysis focuses on Russian domestic politics (“haggling, fighting internally”) and the Russians’ persistent objections to U.S. missile-defense proposals. Obama hasn’t succeeded in satisfying Moscow’s skepticism about the latter; shifting our concept from silo-based interceptors in Poland to road-mobile launchers in Romania has failed to change Russian minds.

But considering only these factors is like trying to account for the rain without looking up at the sky. What’s driving Russia’s lack of urgency about a new arms-control treaty is Obama’s determination to reduce our nuclear arsenal unilaterally. The Russians have no reason to sweat out a treaty agreement that’s binding on them if they’re going to get effective U.S. commitments without one.

The policy reportedly emerging from Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), outlined in a New York Times article this weekend, appears full of reasons for Russia to hang back on New START. Obama’s intention to halve the existing inventory of about 5,400 nuclear warheads goes well beyond the mutual reduction goal of the Bush-Putin SORT Treaty of 2002, which envisioned 4,600 warheads for the U.S. by 2012. Obama has also cut funding to the Pentagon’s development program for a low-yield nuclear weapon to attack hardened and deeply-buried targets, and he reportedly will scrap the development altogether with implementation of his NPR. This, of course, is the kind of weapon needed to deal effectively with suspect underground facilities in Iran and North Korea.

Moreover, key Congressional Democrats are demanding NPR language that would explicitly commit the U.S. to using our nuclear arsenal solely for the deterrence of nuclear strikes – a short-sighted posture that could not be reversed in the future without precipitating political crises. The Pentagon prefers a more ambiguous formulation, and the outcome of this policy debate is uncertain. But the unprecedented political momentum of the Capitol Hill “deterrence-only” advocates will have the attention of foreign observers from Moscow to Beijing to Tehran.

Obama’s express hope is to set an example for the world with these unilateral reductions and renunciations. By making them, however, he thoroughly undermines the New START negotiations. Cuts of this magnitude would require the Russians to rethink their own policy in order to match them. But with Obama proposing to make the cuts unilaterally, Russia has no incentive to pay the cost of participating. The only bargaining chip left for leveraging Russian concessions is our missile-defense program.

George W. Bush achieved major reductions in our nuclear arsenal; it’s clearly possible to do so while also retaining a viable negotiating position with Moscow. Obama’s approach to nuclear disarmament, on the other hand, is a particularly dangerous form of unilateralism. His concrete achievements so far are conceding Russia’s objections to the silo-based missile defense in Europe and letting the original START Treaty lapse in December 2009, which leaves the U.S. and Russia with no on-site verification measures to monitor subsequent developments in our nuclear programs. The tether of START’s verification and mutual-reduction principles has been cut. In one year, Obama has relinquished the bases for nuclear stability and American security that his predecessors fought for more than 40 years to establish. What we and Obama are counting on now is hope.

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Jonathan Chait’s Hokum

Jonathan Chait continues his tireless attempt to defend the indefensible: ObamaCare. In his latest iteration, titled “Paul Ryan’s Hokum,” he criticizes Ryan and those who have praised him, including Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard, Investor’s Business Daily, and me.

According to Chait, “Ryan’s argument holds a lot of superficial appeal to people who are looking for reasons to oppose the health care plan but lack a firm grasp of the details. On close examination it falls apart.”

Actually, the arguments that are superficial and misleading, and which fall of their own weight, are Chait’s.

Mr. Chait argues two things. First,

Ryan claims that the [Obama] plan is phony because it ignores the fact that Congress is going to have to increase reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients. The problem is, that reimbursement fix is going to happen anyway, regardless of whether reform occurs. So to count that cost as a hidden cost of health care reform is simply incorrect.

Second, Chait insists that “Ryan misleadingly portrayed the health care plan as hiding its costs, by phasing in benefits more slowly than costs.” Chait proceeds to quote himself from an earlier posting:

Ryan objected that the Senate health care bill does not really reduce the deficit, because it raises taxes and reduces spending over ten years, but pays out benefits over just six. If that was true, it would be a sharp rebuttal to Obama’s claim of reducing the deficit. And you could certainly design a bill like that. By spreading out the savings over a long time and delaying the benefits, you’d have a bill that technically saves money over a ten year window, but starts to lose money by year ten, and to bleed more red ink after that.

But it’s not true. The benefits do phase in slowly, but so do the savings. The CBO finds that the Senate bill reduces the deficit in year ten. It would reduce the deficit by more than a trillion dollars in the next ten years.

Let’s deal with these arguments in order. The so-called “doc fix” — which would restore reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients — is most certainly a hidden cost. It was originally in the House bill but was stripped out in the summer and treated as a separate bill precisely because keeping it in the original health-care legislation would (rightly) balloon the total cost. By stripping the “doc fix” provision out, it allowed ObamaCare to be scored at a much lower figure. The more honest way to proceed would have been to add the cost of “doc fix” to ObamaCare, since the costs will be paid by the federal government. So Ryan is correct; what we’re dealing with is, in fact, a hidden cost. That was the whole purpose behind the Democrats’ strategy.

Second, no one with any knowledge of this situation — not even Jonathan Chait — believes that future Congresses will effect over half a trillion dollars of in cuts to Medicare. Yet the Democrats’ health-care bill relies for its claim of cutting the deficit beyond 2020 on — you guessed it — those huge Medicare cuts. Think of it as a giant “magic asterisk.” Baking fictional cuts into the cake is why the Congressional Budget Office says the bill will save more money in the long term. They are forced to score plans based on the premises they are given, including fictional ones. Ryan’s point is that the cuts won’t happen, so the savings won’t, either.

A final point: “doc fix” is itself a good example of why Medicare cuts on the scale we are talking about will never happen. “Doc fix” refers to a provision of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. It called on cuts in reimbursements to physicians treating Medicare patients. The reality, though, is that those cuts have been rescinded year after year after year. The supposed cost savings haven’t materialized — and neither will massive cuts in Medicare. But defenders of ObamaCare need to pretend they will, in order to argue that their plan will reduce the deficit.

In sum: Ryan is right and Chait wrong. This may be because Chait lacks a firm grasp of the details. But there are other possibilities, too.

If this is the best Chait and his allies can do in defending Obama and criticizing Ryan, the GOP is in better shape than even I imagined.

Jonathan Chait continues his tireless attempt to defend the indefensible: ObamaCare. In his latest iteration, titled “Paul Ryan’s Hokum,” he criticizes Ryan and those who have praised him, including Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard, Investor’s Business Daily, and me.

According to Chait, “Ryan’s argument holds a lot of superficial appeal to people who are looking for reasons to oppose the health care plan but lack a firm grasp of the details. On close examination it falls apart.”

Actually, the arguments that are superficial and misleading, and which fall of their own weight, are Chait’s.

Mr. Chait argues two things. First,

Ryan claims that the [Obama] plan is phony because it ignores the fact that Congress is going to have to increase reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients. The problem is, that reimbursement fix is going to happen anyway, regardless of whether reform occurs. So to count that cost as a hidden cost of health care reform is simply incorrect.

Second, Chait insists that “Ryan misleadingly portrayed the health care plan as hiding its costs, by phasing in benefits more slowly than costs.” Chait proceeds to quote himself from an earlier posting:

Ryan objected that the Senate health care bill does not really reduce the deficit, because it raises taxes and reduces spending over ten years, but pays out benefits over just six. If that was true, it would be a sharp rebuttal to Obama’s claim of reducing the deficit. And you could certainly design a bill like that. By spreading out the savings over a long time and delaying the benefits, you’d have a bill that technically saves money over a ten year window, but starts to lose money by year ten, and to bleed more red ink after that.

But it’s not true. The benefits do phase in slowly, but so do the savings. The CBO finds that the Senate bill reduces the deficit in year ten. It would reduce the deficit by more than a trillion dollars in the next ten years.

Let’s deal with these arguments in order. The so-called “doc fix” — which would restore reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients — is most certainly a hidden cost. It was originally in the House bill but was stripped out in the summer and treated as a separate bill precisely because keeping it in the original health-care legislation would (rightly) balloon the total cost. By stripping the “doc fix” provision out, it allowed ObamaCare to be scored at a much lower figure. The more honest way to proceed would have been to add the cost of “doc fix” to ObamaCare, since the costs will be paid by the federal government. So Ryan is correct; what we’re dealing with is, in fact, a hidden cost. That was the whole purpose behind the Democrats’ strategy.

Second, no one with any knowledge of this situation — not even Jonathan Chait — believes that future Congresses will effect over half a trillion dollars of in cuts to Medicare. Yet the Democrats’ health-care bill relies for its claim of cutting the deficit beyond 2020 on — you guessed it — those huge Medicare cuts. Think of it as a giant “magic asterisk.” Baking fictional cuts into the cake is why the Congressional Budget Office says the bill will save more money in the long term. They are forced to score plans based on the premises they are given, including fictional ones. Ryan’s point is that the cuts won’t happen, so the savings won’t, either.

A final point: “doc fix” is itself a good example of why Medicare cuts on the scale we are talking about will never happen. “Doc fix” refers to a provision of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. It called on cuts in reimbursements to physicians treating Medicare patients. The reality, though, is that those cuts have been rescinded year after year after year. The supposed cost savings haven’t materialized — and neither will massive cuts in Medicare. But defenders of ObamaCare need to pretend they will, in order to argue that their plan will reduce the deficit.

In sum: Ryan is right and Chait wrong. This may be because Chait lacks a firm grasp of the details. But there are other possibilities, too.

If this is the best Chait and his allies can do in defending Obama and criticizing Ryan, the GOP is in better shape than even I imagined.

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Only a Detour Now and Then

The New York Times tells us that Obama took a “detour” from health-care reform to talk about the economy today. He is pushing Son of Stimulus that is to include the “cash of caulkers” program — modeled on the notoriously expensive and ineffective “cash for clunkers” (billions to shift car sales from September to August) — for weatherizing homes. Republicans point to an Inspector General’s Report, which suggests that a similar program in the original stimulus plan didn’t get much bang for the buck in economic acitvity. But any day Obama is not talking about ObamaCare, even for a little while, is a good one for incumbent Democrats, as the Times reports:

Representative Sanford Bishop, Democrat of Georgia, said he was delighted to hear the president change the subject from health care. “Health care is important,” Mr. Bishop said after the president’s speech. “But it’s jobs – period. The economy is on the rebound, but it won’t be there until we re-establish employment for every American who is able to work.”

And indeed, the latest Rasmussen poll shows that most Americans are glum about the state of the economy:

Views of the country’s short- and long-term economic future are gloomier these days than they have been at any time since President Obama took office in January of last year. Forty-two percent (42%) of American adults now expect the U.S. economy to be weaker in one year’s time, up three points from January and the highest level found in 14 months of regular tracking on the question, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.
Thirty-six percent (36%) believe the economy will be stronger in a year, down two points from last month. That’s the lowest level of confidence measured since tracking began in January 2009. Another 13% expect the state of the economy to be about the same in one year’s time.

After Scott Brown’s victory, Obama promised a “pivot” toward jobs. That never really happened, as Obama has, with the exception of occaisional “detours,” remained obsessed with ObamaCare. The debate on that issue, on which Americans think he’s spending too much time and for which he has devised a plan they intensely dislike, is going to take us through the end of the month. It seems as though no matter what the American people tell them, the Obami think they know best. In November the voters get to correct that misimpression.

The New York Times tells us that Obama took a “detour” from health-care reform to talk about the economy today. He is pushing Son of Stimulus that is to include the “cash of caulkers” program — modeled on the notoriously expensive and ineffective “cash for clunkers” (billions to shift car sales from September to August) — for weatherizing homes. Republicans point to an Inspector General’s Report, which suggests that a similar program in the original stimulus plan didn’t get much bang for the buck in economic acitvity. But any day Obama is not talking about ObamaCare, even for a little while, is a good one for incumbent Democrats, as the Times reports:

Representative Sanford Bishop, Democrat of Georgia, said he was delighted to hear the president change the subject from health care. “Health care is important,” Mr. Bishop said after the president’s speech. “But it’s jobs – period. The economy is on the rebound, but it won’t be there until we re-establish employment for every American who is able to work.”

And indeed, the latest Rasmussen poll shows that most Americans are glum about the state of the economy:

Views of the country’s short- and long-term economic future are gloomier these days than they have been at any time since President Obama took office in January of last year. Forty-two percent (42%) of American adults now expect the U.S. economy to be weaker in one year’s time, up three points from January and the highest level found in 14 months of regular tracking on the question, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.
Thirty-six percent (36%) believe the economy will be stronger in a year, down two points from last month. That’s the lowest level of confidence measured since tracking began in January 2009. Another 13% expect the state of the economy to be about the same in one year’s time.

After Scott Brown’s victory, Obama promised a “pivot” toward jobs. That never really happened, as Obama has, with the exception of occaisional “detours,” remained obsessed with ObamaCare. The debate on that issue, on which Americans think he’s spending too much time and for which he has devised a plan they intensely dislike, is going to take us through the end of the month. It seems as though no matter what the American people tell them, the Obami think they know best. In November the voters get to correct that misimpression.

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Why Tea Partiers Should Drink Coffee, Too

In a copycat response to the Tea Party movement, a Facebook-founded group called The Coffee Party USA has been gaining momentum and followers. Its ideological line is obscure, though apparently more Left-leaning than the Tea Partiers. Nevertheless, the Coffee Party could be a boon to conservatives, if only they’re smart enough to capitalize on it.

Tea Partiers aren’t fighting against totalitarianism. They’re fighting against what Alexis de Tocqueville would have called soft despotism — when citizens trade their personal liberties for comfortable dependence on the state.

But Tocqueville’s best defense against soft despotism was civil and political organizations formed and joined by citizens. Through association, Americans learned to appreciate their community in addition to their individuality. They discovered what they were capable of accomplishing without the help of government.

Ultimately, such civil and political associations actually prepare citizens for self-government.

Ironically, the Coffee Party’s mission states that “we recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans.” Despite its enthusiasm for the federal scale, the Coffee Party will be most effective if it sticks to the Tea Party model and remains local.

The Tea Party movement has been groundbreaking because it helped the little guy find his political voice — one that proved as loud as the president’s, in some respects. Already garnering national media attention, the Coffee Party could promote the same enthusiasm for local political involvement.

The biggest criticism against Tea Partiers has been their tone — at times judgmental, hostile, and uncouth. The Coffee Party has extended the invitation for Tea Partiers to join and discuss the issues with them. It’s an offer that should be accepted — a nice middle ground between the twin tendencies to preach to the choir and rail against the establishment.

If Tea Partiers can show their civil, logical side, this is a great opportunity for persuasion. Likewise, if conservative leaders attend and listen, it’s a great opportunity to expand their constituency. (Remember how effective Hillary Clinton’s listening tour was.)

Civil and political associations matter, but so do the ideas they advocate. The past year has shown an encouraging surge in ground-level political involvement. That suggests a citizenry uncomfortable with top-down governance. The Tea Party movement has demonstrated that public opinion does not originate in Washington but on Main Street. Now, if conservatives can politically engage with average citizens whose views are moderate or even liberal, they’ll do much to protect American liberty. Lucky for the Right, that’s a discussion that can be had over coffee or tea.

In a copycat response to the Tea Party movement, a Facebook-founded group called The Coffee Party USA has been gaining momentum and followers. Its ideological line is obscure, though apparently more Left-leaning than the Tea Partiers. Nevertheless, the Coffee Party could be a boon to conservatives, if only they’re smart enough to capitalize on it.

Tea Partiers aren’t fighting against totalitarianism. They’re fighting against what Alexis de Tocqueville would have called soft despotism — when citizens trade their personal liberties for comfortable dependence on the state.

But Tocqueville’s best defense against soft despotism was civil and political organizations formed and joined by citizens. Through association, Americans learned to appreciate their community in addition to their individuality. They discovered what they were capable of accomplishing without the help of government.

Ultimately, such civil and political associations actually prepare citizens for self-government.

Ironically, the Coffee Party’s mission states that “we recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans.” Despite its enthusiasm for the federal scale, the Coffee Party will be most effective if it sticks to the Tea Party model and remains local.

The Tea Party movement has been groundbreaking because it helped the little guy find his political voice — one that proved as loud as the president’s, in some respects. Already garnering national media attention, the Coffee Party could promote the same enthusiasm for local political involvement.

The biggest criticism against Tea Partiers has been their tone — at times judgmental, hostile, and uncouth. The Coffee Party has extended the invitation for Tea Partiers to join and discuss the issues with them. It’s an offer that should be accepted — a nice middle ground between the twin tendencies to preach to the choir and rail against the establishment.

If Tea Partiers can show their civil, logical side, this is a great opportunity for persuasion. Likewise, if conservative leaders attend and listen, it’s a great opportunity to expand their constituency. (Remember how effective Hillary Clinton’s listening tour was.)

Civil and political associations matter, but so do the ideas they advocate. The past year has shown an encouraging surge in ground-level political involvement. That suggests a citizenry uncomfortable with top-down governance. The Tea Party movement has demonstrated that public opinion does not originate in Washington but on Main Street. Now, if conservatives can politically engage with average citizens whose views are moderate or even liberal, they’ll do much to protect American liberty. Lucky for the Right, that’s a discussion that can be had over coffee or tea.

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Quite a Legacy

For those of us accustomed to watching the Obami try very hard to do as little as possible on Iran, this should come as no surprise:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday it could take months for new UN sanctions against Iran, as she prepared for talks in Argentina and Brazil about the perceived Iranian nuclear threat. Speaking on the plane to Buenos Aires, the chief US diplomat appeared to back away from her contention before the US Senate last week that a new resolution could be obtained in the “next 30 to 60 days.”

“We are moving expeditiously and thoroughly in the Security Council. I can’t give you an exact date, but I would assume sometime in the next several months,” she said before landing in the Argentine capital.

The Obami’s “deadlines” and “timelines” come and go with nary a backward glance. There is no resolve, no determination to draw a line, for that would require action and raise the prospect of conflict, something Obama studiously tries to avoid on the foreign-policy front, no doubt so he can pursue his true passions: health care and climate change, which also are going nowhere.

We seem to have no game plan for those crippling sanctions and no intention of using military force. Obama refuses to pursue regime change. So we sit and wait as the mullahs inch closer to obtaining a nuclear-weapons capability. And this, it seems, more than the catastrophic failure of his domestic agenda, will be the Obama legacy: a revolutionary Islamic state with nuclear weapons.

For those of us accustomed to watching the Obami try very hard to do as little as possible on Iran, this should come as no surprise:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday it could take months for new UN sanctions against Iran, as she prepared for talks in Argentina and Brazil about the perceived Iranian nuclear threat. Speaking on the plane to Buenos Aires, the chief US diplomat appeared to back away from her contention before the US Senate last week that a new resolution could be obtained in the “next 30 to 60 days.”

“We are moving expeditiously and thoroughly in the Security Council. I can’t give you an exact date, but I would assume sometime in the next several months,” she said before landing in the Argentine capital.

The Obami’s “deadlines” and “timelines” come and go with nary a backward glance. There is no resolve, no determination to draw a line, for that would require action and raise the prospect of conflict, something Obama studiously tries to avoid on the foreign-policy front, no doubt so he can pursue his true passions: health care and climate change, which also are going nowhere.

We seem to have no game plan for those crippling sanctions and no intention of using military force. Obama refuses to pursue regime change. So we sit and wait as the mullahs inch closer to obtaining a nuclear-weapons capability. And this, it seems, more than the catastrophic failure of his domestic agenda, will be the Obama legacy: a revolutionary Islamic state with nuclear weapons.

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The Civil War

The media and liberal punditocracy has been searching for a civil war on the Right. Tea Party protestors vs. the GOP! Marco Rubio vs. Charlie Crist! But the divide isn’t really as significant as the Left would hope, and the primary fights on the GOP side, far from being a bloodbath, look rather tame (and in Florida, one-sided). There really is a fight breaking out — but it’s in the Democratic Party. Politico reports:

With Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s announcement Monday that he will run against Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Senate Democrats now have three colleagues facing serious primary challenges from candidates embracing distinctly anti-Washington platforms at a time when Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress…. In Pennsylvania, where Rep. Joe Sestak is battling White House-backed Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter, Sestak has criticized the party establishment for supporting a party-switcher and for focusing too much on the political calculus of adding another Democratic Senate vote.

“The Real Arlen Specter has been a longtime Republican for 45 years and has spent the past 29 years in Washington, D.C.,” reads a website Sestak’s campaign launched, titled “The Real Arlen Specter.”

In Colorado, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who is challenging appointed Sen. Michael Bennet, has gone so far as to denounce his own party for failing to denounce backroom deal making in health care reform negotiations. In New York, former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr. branded Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a “parakeet” for party higher-ups before announcing Monday he wasn’t running.

Rather civil war-like, I would say. And then there is the fight over reconciliation, if we ever get that far. Roll Call reports: “Knowledgeable Senate Democratic aides have warned for weeks of the difficulty of drafting a complex health care reform bill under reconciliation rules. The challenge is to construct legislation that can satisfy Democrats, withstand Republican resistance and pass muster with the Senate Parliamentarian.” But the leadership is pressing on, despite the objections of prominent Democrats like Sen. Kent Conrad.

In the short term, the primary challengers on the Left will likely jerk the besieged Democrats even further Leftward in an effort to survive their primaries. But that then leaves the playing field wide open for Republican contenders to appeal to the Center-Right majority, the very voters inflamed by the Obami’s extremist agenda.

It is the very tale the Left was pushing, but in reverse. Now it is the Democrats, beset by internal divides and ideological extremism, who are heading for a smash-up.  It is what Obama has wrought, not so long after he promised to bring us into a great post-partisan era. It seems he has instead stirred up quite a fight, in his own party no less.

The media and liberal punditocracy has been searching for a civil war on the Right. Tea Party protestors vs. the GOP! Marco Rubio vs. Charlie Crist! But the divide isn’t really as significant as the Left would hope, and the primary fights on the GOP side, far from being a bloodbath, look rather tame (and in Florida, one-sided). There really is a fight breaking out — but it’s in the Democratic Party. Politico reports:

With Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s announcement Monday that he will run against Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Senate Democrats now have three colleagues facing serious primary challenges from candidates embracing distinctly anti-Washington platforms at a time when Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress…. In Pennsylvania, where Rep. Joe Sestak is battling White House-backed Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter, Sestak has criticized the party establishment for supporting a party-switcher and for focusing too much on the political calculus of adding another Democratic Senate vote.

“The Real Arlen Specter has been a longtime Republican for 45 years and has spent the past 29 years in Washington, D.C.,” reads a website Sestak’s campaign launched, titled “The Real Arlen Specter.”

In Colorado, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who is challenging appointed Sen. Michael Bennet, has gone so far as to denounce his own party for failing to denounce backroom deal making in health care reform negotiations. In New York, former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr. branded Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a “parakeet” for party higher-ups before announcing Monday he wasn’t running.

Rather civil war-like, I would say. And then there is the fight over reconciliation, if we ever get that far. Roll Call reports: “Knowledgeable Senate Democratic aides have warned for weeks of the difficulty of drafting a complex health care reform bill under reconciliation rules. The challenge is to construct legislation that can satisfy Democrats, withstand Republican resistance and pass muster with the Senate Parliamentarian.” But the leadership is pressing on, despite the objections of prominent Democrats like Sen. Kent Conrad.

In the short term, the primary challengers on the Left will likely jerk the besieged Democrats even further Leftward in an effort to survive their primaries. But that then leaves the playing field wide open for Republican contenders to appeal to the Center-Right majority, the very voters inflamed by the Obami’s extremist agenda.

It is the very tale the Left was pushing, but in reverse. Now it is the Democrats, beset by internal divides and ideological extremism, who are heading for a smash-up.  It is what Obama has wrought, not so long after he promised to bring us into a great post-partisan era. It seems he has instead stirred up quite a fight, in his own party no less.

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Der Spiegel: “An Israeli Affront Against Germany”

The headline is breathless, and the article is stupid. The German paper claims that both the failure of the Shalit talks and the Dubai assassination were grave Israeli insults to Germany.

This marks the second time that the Germans have been snubbed. [The first time, Der Spiegel says, was when the Mossad did not tell the German mediator in the Shalit talks that the Dubai assassination was about to take place. No, that doesn’t make sense to me either — NP] In late December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected at the last moment a detailed agreement that his negotiator Hagai Hadas had hammered out with Hamas via the German intelligence agency. …

Zahar said it had been difficult to convince Khalid Mashaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas in Damascus, Syria, to approve the deal. Netanyahu’s subsequent rejection seriously damaged his reputation within Hamas, says Zahar. “I have suffered a lot internally,” he adds. “I am not ready to negotiate anymore.”

So Israel rejected a prisoner swap and hung Mahmoud Zahar out to dry? This is pure Hamas spin — and therefore very attractive to Western journalists. The reality of the negotiations is that Israel has been waiting on a Hamas answer on the prisoner swap since December, an answer that has not been forthcoming because of a rift between Hamas’s Gaza and Damascus leadership. The Gazans want to do the swap; the Syrian leadership does not:

Last December, at the conclusion of a round of mediated negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the deal to the inner cabinet on security matters, which gave a conditional approval to the German offer.

Since then, Hamas has avoided providing its own response to the offer. It may be that this was part of an effort to avoid having the blame for failure directed at the organization. However, the absence of a response also reflected genuine disagreement between al-Zahar and others in the organization.

Intelligence sources in the West and Israel have said that al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip, are aware of the severity of the crisis that the organization is experiencing as a result of more than three years of siege on the Gaza Strip, and are eager to reach a compromise that would permit them to also show some gain in the form of a large prisoner release.

It is not unusual in the least for leaders of Palestinian terrorist groups to baldly lie about any number of things; holy warriors grant themselves many indulgences. What should be unusual is the willingness of Western reporters to reprint these lies as journalistic fact. One would think that a German paper should be especially careful about breathlessly repeating false allegations against the Jewish state.

The headline is breathless, and the article is stupid. The German paper claims that both the failure of the Shalit talks and the Dubai assassination were grave Israeli insults to Germany.

This marks the second time that the Germans have been snubbed. [The first time, Der Spiegel says, was when the Mossad did not tell the German mediator in the Shalit talks that the Dubai assassination was about to take place. No, that doesn’t make sense to me either — NP] In late December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected at the last moment a detailed agreement that his negotiator Hagai Hadas had hammered out with Hamas via the German intelligence agency. …

Zahar said it had been difficult to convince Khalid Mashaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas in Damascus, Syria, to approve the deal. Netanyahu’s subsequent rejection seriously damaged his reputation within Hamas, says Zahar. “I have suffered a lot internally,” he adds. “I am not ready to negotiate anymore.”

So Israel rejected a prisoner swap and hung Mahmoud Zahar out to dry? This is pure Hamas spin — and therefore very attractive to Western journalists. The reality of the negotiations is that Israel has been waiting on a Hamas answer on the prisoner swap since December, an answer that has not been forthcoming because of a rift between Hamas’s Gaza and Damascus leadership. The Gazans want to do the swap; the Syrian leadership does not:

Last December, at the conclusion of a round of mediated negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the deal to the inner cabinet on security matters, which gave a conditional approval to the German offer.

Since then, Hamas has avoided providing its own response to the offer. It may be that this was part of an effort to avoid having the blame for failure directed at the organization. However, the absence of a response also reflected genuine disagreement between al-Zahar and others in the organization.

Intelligence sources in the West and Israel have said that al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip, are aware of the severity of the crisis that the organization is experiencing as a result of more than three years of siege on the Gaza Strip, and are eager to reach a compromise that would permit them to also show some gain in the form of a large prisoner release.

It is not unusual in the least for leaders of Palestinian terrorist groups to baldly lie about any number of things; holy warriors grant themselves many indulgences. What should be unusual is the willingness of Western reporters to reprint these lies as journalistic fact. One would think that a German paper should be especially careful about breathlessly repeating false allegations against the Jewish state.

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Where’s the Good Will?

Has Barack Obama lost the liberal elite? To hear Matt Damon tell it, yes. “I’m disappointed in the health care plan and in the troop buildup in Afghanistan. Everyone feels a little let down because, on some level, people expected all their problems to go away,” he said.

Matt Damon has problems? Sorry to hear it. He should get in touch with Nancy Pelosi. Next time she’s in front of a microphone pitching the government annexation of a fifth of the economy, she can relay the sad tale of Matt from Los Angeles, who needs this bill to pass immediately because the success of the Bourne franchise depends upon it. After all, the workaday folks at the center of the Democrats’ standard sob stories are now more fearful of — than desperate for — a health-care takeover. A majority of average Americans believe the federal government is so big it poses an immediate threat to their rights, so the Democrats are pretty much left with the Hollywood A-list as their support base. (Just imagine the procedures that will be covered by this health-care bill, should it pass.)

This is not a surprise. Progressivism is nothing if not the natural consequence of outsized prosperity. As Irving Kristol put it, “Those who benefit most from capitalism — and their children, especially — experience a withering away of the acquisitive impulse.”

Because progressives still want universal health care, they are, as Damon articulates, upset with Obama. He was supposed to make it happen. Left academia, like its showbiz counterpart, is disillusioned. The late Howard Zinn, weighing in at the Nation on Obama’s first year, suggested that “people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president — which means, in our time, a dangerous president — unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.”

Therein lies the progressives’ mistake. Obama’s direction has remained the same.  He’s still with them. His real problem is two-fold: he’s too incompetent and arrogant to make anything happen; and the country remains stubbornly Center-Right. What the Left considers some sort of ideological betrayal is really a combination of failed leadership strategy and the exceptional continuity of the American polity. Does Matt Damon really think the President is trying to intravenously force universal health care on an unwilling nation because he’s gone soft? Is the President watching his approval ratings and political capital nosedive because he’s a cynical compromiser?

After all Obama’s interregnum talk about how America was not a speedboat but an oceanliner whose course-changes required only incremental adjustments at the helm, he grabbed the wheel and plunged Left. In so doing, he sent the moderates and independents overboard. Whoever remains has been asked to walk the plank and let the captain take the ship into uncharted waters.

The policy traffic jam that has resulted has caused the pro-health-care crowd to declare America “ungovernable.” What they really mean is that America is undictatable. And they are deeply upset about it. Let’s not forget that Obama’s crestfallen celebrity groupies also constitute the Hollywood chapter of the Hugo Chavez fan club. The country doesn’t want universal health care? Well, what would Hugo do? For progressives, “ramming it through” is a far more noble process than all that messy checks-and-balances nonsense.

The Afghanistan complaint is even more baffling. The single unambiguous foreign-policy talking point of Obama’s campaign was that he planned to refocus the war effort on Afghanistan and Pakistan. If he failed to do that once in office, one could see how Damon and others who campaigned for Obama would be “disappointed.” But this is one of those rare political instances when an elected official has done exactly as promised during the campaign. Yet Michael Moore, who endorsed the “exceptional man” during the campaign, is now also “very disappointed” in Obama’s Afghanistan decision.

While the far-Left cries itself to sleep over the breakup with its soul mate, the rest of the country has come to its senses about what Obama really represented: a rebound relationship — a relationship in which, according to the gods of pop psychology, “you spend a significant amount of time focusing on your previous one.” Goodness knows we’ve done plenty of that.  What’s the problem in falling for Obama because he’s not George W. Bush? “The biggest danger of being in a rebound relationship is that you might commit to it when your partner really isn’t suitable for you. In any relationship in the early romantic stages there’s a danger that you’re going to think this is the best relationship you’ve ever had and you’ll want to commit too early.” As polls since last spring demonstrate: danger averted. And the truth is the Damons, Zinns, and Moores don’t know how good they have it.  If Obama had the nationwide support to institute the progressive policies they want, they’d first understand what disappointment really is.

Has Barack Obama lost the liberal elite? To hear Matt Damon tell it, yes. “I’m disappointed in the health care plan and in the troop buildup in Afghanistan. Everyone feels a little let down because, on some level, people expected all their problems to go away,” he said.

Matt Damon has problems? Sorry to hear it. He should get in touch with Nancy Pelosi. Next time she’s in front of a microphone pitching the government annexation of a fifth of the economy, she can relay the sad tale of Matt from Los Angeles, who needs this bill to pass immediately because the success of the Bourne franchise depends upon it. After all, the workaday folks at the center of the Democrats’ standard sob stories are now more fearful of — than desperate for — a health-care takeover. A majority of average Americans believe the federal government is so big it poses an immediate threat to their rights, so the Democrats are pretty much left with the Hollywood A-list as their support base. (Just imagine the procedures that will be covered by this health-care bill, should it pass.)

This is not a surprise. Progressivism is nothing if not the natural consequence of outsized prosperity. As Irving Kristol put it, “Those who benefit most from capitalism — and their children, especially — experience a withering away of the acquisitive impulse.”

Because progressives still want universal health care, they are, as Damon articulates, upset with Obama. He was supposed to make it happen. Left academia, like its showbiz counterpart, is disillusioned. The late Howard Zinn, weighing in at the Nation on Obama’s first year, suggested that “people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president — which means, in our time, a dangerous president — unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.”

Therein lies the progressives’ mistake. Obama’s direction has remained the same.  He’s still with them. His real problem is two-fold: he’s too incompetent and arrogant to make anything happen; and the country remains stubbornly Center-Right. What the Left considers some sort of ideological betrayal is really a combination of failed leadership strategy and the exceptional continuity of the American polity. Does Matt Damon really think the President is trying to intravenously force universal health care on an unwilling nation because he’s gone soft? Is the President watching his approval ratings and political capital nosedive because he’s a cynical compromiser?

After all Obama’s interregnum talk about how America was not a speedboat but an oceanliner whose course-changes required only incremental adjustments at the helm, he grabbed the wheel and plunged Left. In so doing, he sent the moderates and independents overboard. Whoever remains has been asked to walk the plank and let the captain take the ship into uncharted waters.

The policy traffic jam that has resulted has caused the pro-health-care crowd to declare America “ungovernable.” What they really mean is that America is undictatable. And they are deeply upset about it. Let’s not forget that Obama’s crestfallen celebrity groupies also constitute the Hollywood chapter of the Hugo Chavez fan club. The country doesn’t want universal health care? Well, what would Hugo do? For progressives, “ramming it through” is a far more noble process than all that messy checks-and-balances nonsense.

The Afghanistan complaint is even more baffling. The single unambiguous foreign-policy talking point of Obama’s campaign was that he planned to refocus the war effort on Afghanistan and Pakistan. If he failed to do that once in office, one could see how Damon and others who campaigned for Obama would be “disappointed.” But this is one of those rare political instances when an elected official has done exactly as promised during the campaign. Yet Michael Moore, who endorsed the “exceptional man” during the campaign, is now also “very disappointed” in Obama’s Afghanistan decision.

While the far-Left cries itself to sleep over the breakup with its soul mate, the rest of the country has come to its senses about what Obama really represented: a rebound relationship — a relationship in which, according to the gods of pop psychology, “you spend a significant amount of time focusing on your previous one.” Goodness knows we’ve done plenty of that.  What’s the problem in falling for Obama because he’s not George W. Bush? “The biggest danger of being in a rebound relationship is that you might commit to it when your partner really isn’t suitable for you. In any relationship in the early romantic stages there’s a danger that you’re going to think this is the best relationship you’ve ever had and you’ll want to commit too early.” As polls since last spring demonstrate: danger averted. And the truth is the Damons, Zinns, and Moores don’t know how good they have it.  If Obama had the nationwide support to institute the progressive policies they want, they’d first understand what disappointment really is.

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Bending the Cost Curve Down

As Jennifer pointed out this morning Warren Buffett thinks the Obama administration should “come up with new [health care] legislation that deals with the ‘cost, cost, cost,’ that he calls a ‘tapeworm eating at American competitiveness.’” So does everyone else who thinks health-care reform should be about reforming the wildly distorted health-care economics in this country and about not expanding government control over it — which is the sole purpose of ObamaCare.

If you want a textbook example of how to “bend the cost curve down,” I recommend taking a look at the state of Indiana and how it funds health care for its employees. The governor, Mitch Daniels, explained it yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. The state of Indiana puts $2,750 into a medical savings account for every state employee who signs up for this sort of coverage. (When it started five years ago, 4 percent signed up; this year 70 percent signed up.) The employee then pays all medical expenses out of that account. If there is money left over at the end of the year, it’s the employee’s to keep. If expenses exceed that sum, the state shares expenses up to an out-of-pocket maximum of $8,000 and covers all expenses above that sum.

The program has been a huge success, saving millions for both employees and the state. Why? As Governor Daniels explains,

It turns out that, when someone is spending his own money alone for routine expenses, he is far more likely to ask the questions he would ask if purchasing any other good or service: “Is there a generic version of that drug?” “Didn’t I take that same test just recently?” “Where can I get the colonoscopy at the best price?”

In other words, a system that incentivizes health-care consumers (that’s everybody) to ask the magic question, “How much is this going to cost?” will drain billions of wasted money out of the health-care system, as Indiana has already demonstrated.

The “great mentioner” is increasingly mentioning Governor Daniels as a possible 2012 Republican nominee for president. Michael Barone explains why. He’s a man to watch.

As Jennifer pointed out this morning Warren Buffett thinks the Obama administration should “come up with new [health care] legislation that deals with the ‘cost, cost, cost,’ that he calls a ‘tapeworm eating at American competitiveness.’” So does everyone else who thinks health-care reform should be about reforming the wildly distorted health-care economics in this country and about not expanding government control over it — which is the sole purpose of ObamaCare.

If you want a textbook example of how to “bend the cost curve down,” I recommend taking a look at the state of Indiana and how it funds health care for its employees. The governor, Mitch Daniels, explained it yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. The state of Indiana puts $2,750 into a medical savings account for every state employee who signs up for this sort of coverage. (When it started five years ago, 4 percent signed up; this year 70 percent signed up.) The employee then pays all medical expenses out of that account. If there is money left over at the end of the year, it’s the employee’s to keep. If expenses exceed that sum, the state shares expenses up to an out-of-pocket maximum of $8,000 and covers all expenses above that sum.

The program has been a huge success, saving millions for both employees and the state. Why? As Governor Daniels explains,

It turns out that, when someone is spending his own money alone for routine expenses, he is far more likely to ask the questions he would ask if purchasing any other good or service: “Is there a generic version of that drug?” “Didn’t I take that same test just recently?” “Where can I get the colonoscopy at the best price?”

In other words, a system that incentivizes health-care consumers (that’s everybody) to ask the magic question, “How much is this going to cost?” will drain billions of wasted money out of the health-care system, as Indiana has already demonstrated.

The “great mentioner” is increasingly mentioning Governor Daniels as a possible 2012 Republican nominee for president. Michael Barone explains why. He’s a man to watch.

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The Rahm Chronicles

The Washington Post runs another “It’s not Rahm Emanuel’s fault” piece, decrying Obama’s, and it seems David Axelrod’s, failure to heed the chief of staff’s advice. We’ve seen the drip, drip, drip of these stories already, making clear that the KSM trial was not Emanuel’s idea and that he has valiantly fought against the excesses of the Obami. (How this meshes with Emanuel’s own admonition that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste” isn’t clear. Wasn’t Emanuel fighting for the “do it all fast” ultra-liberal agenda?) On KSM, we’re told:

Emanuel made his case to Obama, articulating the political dangers of a civilian trial to congressional Democrats. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. presented a counterargument rooted in principle, for civilian trials.

David Axelrod, senior adviser to Obama, supported Holder, the source said. The president agreed that letting the Justice Department take the lead was the right thing to do.

“Axelrod has a strong view of the historic character Obama is supposed to be,” said an early Obama supporter who is close to the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity to give a frank assessment of frustration with the White House. The source blamed Obama’s charmed political life for creating a self-confidence and trust in principle that led to an “indifference to doing the small, marginal things a White House could do to mitigate the problems on the Hill. Rahm knows the geography better.”

Now that sort of I-know-better-than-the-president spin is going to get a chief of staff in trouble. And indeed it’s apparently ruffling some feathers. (“But the Rahm-knows-better-than-the-president notion, increasingly spread by his allies and articulated in a Washington Post column by Dana Milbank last month, is, regardless of its relation to reality, creating more tension for the chief of staff inside the White House and drawing more scrutiny from outside.”) But the fact remains that Emanuel and those close to him feel compelled to make clear to all who will listen that it’s not his fault. Honest.

Aside from the phalanx of Obama spinners who hoped for so much more from this president, the real fretters are congressional Democrats. The Post explains:

Another senior member of the House Democratic caucus put it more bluntly. “I don’t think the White House has listened to him enough,” said the member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss frustration with the White House. “There is this growing sense in the House that this White House is tone-deaf and doesn’t care about 2010, that it is sacrificing members for 2012 and that the president thinks he doesn’t need to get engaged, or that he thinks politics don’t matter and that he could care less about what is happening on the streets of our districts. That’s not Rahm.”

One early supporter of Obama, who has known Emanuel for years, did not give the chief of staff a pass. “The House members recruited by Rahm say to me, ‘He is supposed to know our needs; how come we are being cut off at the knees on so many issues?’ They don’t understand why Rahm is not being more aggressive.”

Implicit is the realization that Obama is seriously out to lunch on the implications of his agenda and the impact his presidency is having on his fellow Democrats. It’s all well and good to play the Washington version of Kremlinology, but in the end no set of advisers can counteract a president bound and determined to do foolish things or lacking in some essential executive skills. As frustrating as the Emanuel vs. Axelrod and Emanuel vs. Obama conflicts may be for them, the Democrats’ real beef is with the president. And unless he undergoes some serious self-evaluation and makes a dramatic course correction, their problems will only intensify. And after November, they will likely have far fewer colleagues with whom to commiserate.

The Washington Post runs another “It’s not Rahm Emanuel’s fault” piece, decrying Obama’s, and it seems David Axelrod’s, failure to heed the chief of staff’s advice. We’ve seen the drip, drip, drip of these stories already, making clear that the KSM trial was not Emanuel’s idea and that he has valiantly fought against the excesses of the Obami. (How this meshes with Emanuel’s own admonition that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste” isn’t clear. Wasn’t Emanuel fighting for the “do it all fast” ultra-liberal agenda?) On KSM, we’re told:

Emanuel made his case to Obama, articulating the political dangers of a civilian trial to congressional Democrats. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. presented a counterargument rooted in principle, for civilian trials.

David Axelrod, senior adviser to Obama, supported Holder, the source said. The president agreed that letting the Justice Department take the lead was the right thing to do.

“Axelrod has a strong view of the historic character Obama is supposed to be,” said an early Obama supporter who is close to the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity to give a frank assessment of frustration with the White House. The source blamed Obama’s charmed political life for creating a self-confidence and trust in principle that led to an “indifference to doing the small, marginal things a White House could do to mitigate the problems on the Hill. Rahm knows the geography better.”

Now that sort of I-know-better-than-the-president spin is going to get a chief of staff in trouble. And indeed it’s apparently ruffling some feathers. (“But the Rahm-knows-better-than-the-president notion, increasingly spread by his allies and articulated in a Washington Post column by Dana Milbank last month, is, regardless of its relation to reality, creating more tension for the chief of staff inside the White House and drawing more scrutiny from outside.”) But the fact remains that Emanuel and those close to him feel compelled to make clear to all who will listen that it’s not his fault. Honest.

Aside from the phalanx of Obama spinners who hoped for so much more from this president, the real fretters are congressional Democrats. The Post explains:

Another senior member of the House Democratic caucus put it more bluntly. “I don’t think the White House has listened to him enough,” said the member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss frustration with the White House. “There is this growing sense in the House that this White House is tone-deaf and doesn’t care about 2010, that it is sacrificing members for 2012 and that the president thinks he doesn’t need to get engaged, or that he thinks politics don’t matter and that he could care less about what is happening on the streets of our districts. That’s not Rahm.”

One early supporter of Obama, who has known Emanuel for years, did not give the chief of staff a pass. “The House members recruited by Rahm say to me, ‘He is supposed to know our needs; how come we are being cut off at the knees on so many issues?’ They don’t understand why Rahm is not being more aggressive.”

Implicit is the realization that Obama is seriously out to lunch on the implications of his agenda and the impact his presidency is having on his fellow Democrats. It’s all well and good to play the Washington version of Kremlinology, but in the end no set of advisers can counteract a president bound and determined to do foolish things or lacking in some essential executive skills. As frustrating as the Emanuel vs. Axelrod and Emanuel vs. Obama conflicts may be for them, the Democrats’ real beef is with the president. And unless he undergoes some serious self-evaluation and makes a dramatic course correction, their problems will only intensify. And after November, they will likely have far fewer colleagues with whom to commiserate.

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Ford Runs Over Democrats

Harold Ford Jr. has decided not to run for the Senate. But — in an Evan Bayh–like  move — he’s going out with guns blazing. He aims for the liberal Democratic leadership:

Voting for health care legislation that imposes billions in new taxes on New Yorkers and restricts federal financing for abortions is not good for the people of this state. Voting against critical funds necessary to ensure the survival of the financial services industry — the economic backbone of this state — is not good for the people of New York.

I was considered out of touch with mainstream Democrats when I argued against spending more than $200 million a year to hold the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed trial in New York. I was also labeled out of touch for advocating a payroll tax cut for small businesses and for putting a jobs bill before a scaled-down health reform bill. Though much more needs to be done to create jobs, I am pleased that these ideas have now become part of the Democratic mainstream.

And then he unleashes this:

Yet the party has been too slow to change. The effects of its lack of flexibility have been clear in a series of worrisome political events: Ted Kennedy’s “safe” Senate seat was lost to a Republican; Evan Bayh of Indiana and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota announced they weren’t running for re-election; Senate seats held by Democrats in Wisconsin and Delaware now seem to be in jeopardy; New York’s state government faces even more controversy and challenge. …

Our elected officials have spent too much time this past year supporting a national partisan political agenda — and not enough time looking out for their own constituents.

New Yorkers aren’t asking for much. A jobs bill that cuts taxes for the middle class and invests in the future; a health care system that doesn’t bankrupt people when they get sick; and public schools that lay the groundwork for children to take advantage of all the future holds.

Once again we can expect the liberal punditocracy, which has rooted for the very items Ford deplores, to either ignore or attack Ford. Carpetbagger! Spoilsport! Perhaps. But his views are more in line with public sentiment than with the rest of his party and, at this point, with the White House’s agenda. If Ford is an outcast in the Democratic party and Bayh can’t take it either, that should tell the Obami that something is amiss. But I doubt that lesson will be learned. They’ve invested too much in their ultra-liberal extremism. Only defeat of their cherished signature item, and then of many of their fellow Democrats in November, I think, will register. But as Obama told us, perhaps a one-term president is all he wants to be. Ignoring Ford and Bayh, not to mention the voters, is a recipe for just that.

Harold Ford Jr. has decided not to run for the Senate. But — in an Evan Bayh–like  move — he’s going out with guns blazing. He aims for the liberal Democratic leadership:

Voting for health care legislation that imposes billions in new taxes on New Yorkers and restricts federal financing for abortions is not good for the people of this state. Voting against critical funds necessary to ensure the survival of the financial services industry — the economic backbone of this state — is not good for the people of New York.

I was considered out of touch with mainstream Democrats when I argued against spending more than $200 million a year to hold the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed trial in New York. I was also labeled out of touch for advocating a payroll tax cut for small businesses and for putting a jobs bill before a scaled-down health reform bill. Though much more needs to be done to create jobs, I am pleased that these ideas have now become part of the Democratic mainstream.

And then he unleashes this:

Yet the party has been too slow to change. The effects of its lack of flexibility have been clear in a series of worrisome political events: Ted Kennedy’s “safe” Senate seat was lost to a Republican; Evan Bayh of Indiana and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota announced they weren’t running for re-election; Senate seats held by Democrats in Wisconsin and Delaware now seem to be in jeopardy; New York’s state government faces even more controversy and challenge. …

Our elected officials have spent too much time this past year supporting a national partisan political agenda — and not enough time looking out for their own constituents.

New Yorkers aren’t asking for much. A jobs bill that cuts taxes for the middle class and invests in the future; a health care system that doesn’t bankrupt people when they get sick; and public schools that lay the groundwork for children to take advantage of all the future holds.

Once again we can expect the liberal punditocracy, which has rooted for the very items Ford deplores, to either ignore or attack Ford. Carpetbagger! Spoilsport! Perhaps. But his views are more in line with public sentiment than with the rest of his party and, at this point, with the White House’s agenda. If Ford is an outcast in the Democratic party and Bayh can’t take it either, that should tell the Obami that something is amiss. But I doubt that lesson will be learned. They’ve invested too much in their ultra-liberal extremism. Only defeat of their cherished signature item, and then of many of their fellow Democrats in November, I think, will register. But as Obama told us, perhaps a one-term president is all he wants to be. Ignoring Ford and Bayh, not to mention the voters, is a recipe for just that.

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Rangel, Pelosi, and the Independent Vote

Liberals are jumpy these days. ObamaCare is teetering on the brink of collapse. The economy is languishing. And the president seems to have lost credibility with the voters and many within his own party. Then along comes the Charlie Rangel fiasco, and more thoughtful Democrats know enough to be panicky. Peter Beinart explains:

To understand why the Rangel scandals are so dangerous for Democrats, you need to understand something about midterm landslides: They’re usually composed of three parts. First, the other party’s activists are highly motivated. Second, your own activists are highly unmotivated. Third, independents want to burn Washington to the ground.

Beinart seems to think passing health-care reform will help keep Obama’s activists motivated, but he concedes that the independents are the real worry, and that’s where Rangel comes in:

Independents are the most fickle, the most cynical, and the least ideological people in the American electorate. When they’re unhappy with the state of the country, they tend to stampede the party in power—less because they disagree on the issues than because they decide that the folks running government must be malevolent and corrupt. In Washington, congressmen violate ethics rules all the time. But when independents get in one of their sour moods, these infractions become matches on dry tinder. In 1994, the scandals concerning [former Speaker Dan] Rostenkowski and the House bank helped sweep the Gingrichites into power. In 2006, according to exit polls, the scandals surrounding mega-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Rep. Mark Foley did more to lose the GOP control of Congress than did the Iraq war. Pelosi became speaker, in fact, by running against the GOP’s “culture of corruption” and promising the “most ethical Congress in history.”

As Beinart notes, some Democrats are pleading for Pelosi to toss Rangel overboard, but so far she’s not listening. That stubborn defiance is surely not going to sit well with those ready-to-stampede independents, who’ve had enough of self-dealing, backroom bargains and Beltway arrogance.

But if Beinart is right about the independents’ critical role, then perhaps he should reconsider that advice about passing health care. The activists might be mollified, but passing a bill hated by the electorate and especially independents increasingly concerned with the ongoing fiscal train wreck seems designed to make those independents even madder and more determined to “throw the bums out.”

So if Democrats want to keep the stampede at bay, they might bag Rangel and ObamaCare. But alas, Pelosi for now is determined to do the opposite. So keep an eye out for the thundering herd of independents — they seem poised to trample the Democrats.

Liberals are jumpy these days. ObamaCare is teetering on the brink of collapse. The economy is languishing. And the president seems to have lost credibility with the voters and many within his own party. Then along comes the Charlie Rangel fiasco, and more thoughtful Democrats know enough to be panicky. Peter Beinart explains:

To understand why the Rangel scandals are so dangerous for Democrats, you need to understand something about midterm landslides: They’re usually composed of three parts. First, the other party’s activists are highly motivated. Second, your own activists are highly unmotivated. Third, independents want to burn Washington to the ground.

Beinart seems to think passing health-care reform will help keep Obama’s activists motivated, but he concedes that the independents are the real worry, and that’s where Rangel comes in:

Independents are the most fickle, the most cynical, and the least ideological people in the American electorate. When they’re unhappy with the state of the country, they tend to stampede the party in power—less because they disagree on the issues than because they decide that the folks running government must be malevolent and corrupt. In Washington, congressmen violate ethics rules all the time. But when independents get in one of their sour moods, these infractions become matches on dry tinder. In 1994, the scandals concerning [former Speaker Dan] Rostenkowski and the House bank helped sweep the Gingrichites into power. In 2006, according to exit polls, the scandals surrounding mega-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Rep. Mark Foley did more to lose the GOP control of Congress than did the Iraq war. Pelosi became speaker, in fact, by running against the GOP’s “culture of corruption” and promising the “most ethical Congress in history.”

As Beinart notes, some Democrats are pleading for Pelosi to toss Rangel overboard, but so far she’s not listening. That stubborn defiance is surely not going to sit well with those ready-to-stampede independents, who’ve had enough of self-dealing, backroom bargains and Beltway arrogance.

But if Beinart is right about the independents’ critical role, then perhaps he should reconsider that advice about passing health care. The activists might be mollified, but passing a bill hated by the electorate and especially independents increasingly concerned with the ongoing fiscal train wreck seems designed to make those independents even madder and more determined to “throw the bums out.”

So if Democrats want to keep the stampede at bay, they might bag Rangel and ObamaCare. But alas, Pelosi for now is determined to do the opposite. So keep an eye out for the thundering herd of independents — they seem poised to trample the Democrats.

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Clintonistas Rub It In

I suppose the Clintonistas are entitled to gloat. They said Obama wasn’t ready for prime time. They tried to argue that “experience” mattered and that “change” was a cotton-candy campaign slogan. But the Democrats didn’t listen. And now Obama is running the party into the ground. So it shouldn’t surprise us that up pops James Carville, Clinton confidant extraordinaire, to rub it in:

Veteran Democratic strategist James Carville said Monday that if President Obama is unable to push a health-care bill through the Congress it will be his Waterloo.

Carville echoed the term used by Republican Sen. Jim Demint, of South Carolina, who last summer made the comparison between the health-care fight and the decisive 1815 battle in modern-day Belgium that broke the French army under Napoleon Bonaparte.

“If the bill loses, it proves Senator DeMint right. It will, I think, by and large, be a lot of the president’s Waterloo, and I think a lot of Democrats realize that,” Carville said, speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Nor was he willing to indulge in the Obami spin that the votes are there for the president’s wildly unpopular health-care scheme. Carville, on Nancy Pelosi’s vote-counting, pronounced: “I’m glad to hear that she’s confident. I guess she knows more about where our votes are than anybody else. … But the math is pretty daunting. I don’t think it’s impossible but it’s going to be difficult. This is going to be a real, real fight.” The only thing he didn’t slip in was a mention of that 3 a.m. phone call.

One can speculate that the Clintons are enjoying a bit of an I-told-you-so jag. But in all that glee, Bill and Hillary should recall that they didn’t get HillaryCare through either and that they lost to this guy. But it does suggest that there are those in the Democratic party — call them “realists” — who have figured out that Obama is on the verge of a humiliating defeat. They know that the spin about “getting the votes before bringing the bill to the floor” doesn’t mean that the votes are gettable, only that the bill could very well never come to a vote on the House floor.

If Obama suffers a massive defeat and can’t figure out a fallback plan to disguise the defeat, Hillary Clinton, Evan Bayh, and perhaps a few others may be contemplating how to position themselves, you know, just in case there’s a popular groundswell of Democratic support for a different candidate in 2012. We’re a long way from that, however. First we have to see if Obama and Pelosi know something no one else does, and if not, whether they can come up with an escape plan that doesn’t look like an escape plan. But in the meantime, the Clintonistas sure are having a good time of it.

I suppose the Clintonistas are entitled to gloat. They said Obama wasn’t ready for prime time. They tried to argue that “experience” mattered and that “change” was a cotton-candy campaign slogan. But the Democrats didn’t listen. And now Obama is running the party into the ground. So it shouldn’t surprise us that up pops James Carville, Clinton confidant extraordinaire, to rub it in:

Veteran Democratic strategist James Carville said Monday that if President Obama is unable to push a health-care bill through the Congress it will be his Waterloo.

Carville echoed the term used by Republican Sen. Jim Demint, of South Carolina, who last summer made the comparison between the health-care fight and the decisive 1815 battle in modern-day Belgium that broke the French army under Napoleon Bonaparte.

“If the bill loses, it proves Senator DeMint right. It will, I think, by and large, be a lot of the president’s Waterloo, and I think a lot of Democrats realize that,” Carville said, speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Nor was he willing to indulge in the Obami spin that the votes are there for the president’s wildly unpopular health-care scheme. Carville, on Nancy Pelosi’s vote-counting, pronounced: “I’m glad to hear that she’s confident. I guess she knows more about where our votes are than anybody else. … But the math is pretty daunting. I don’t think it’s impossible but it’s going to be difficult. This is going to be a real, real fight.” The only thing he didn’t slip in was a mention of that 3 a.m. phone call.

One can speculate that the Clintons are enjoying a bit of an I-told-you-so jag. But in all that glee, Bill and Hillary should recall that they didn’t get HillaryCare through either and that they lost to this guy. But it does suggest that there are those in the Democratic party — call them “realists” — who have figured out that Obama is on the verge of a humiliating defeat. They know that the spin about “getting the votes before bringing the bill to the floor” doesn’t mean that the votes are gettable, only that the bill could very well never come to a vote on the House floor.

If Obama suffers a massive defeat and can’t figure out a fallback plan to disguise the defeat, Hillary Clinton, Evan Bayh, and perhaps a few others may be contemplating how to position themselves, you know, just in case there’s a popular groundswell of Democratic support for a different candidate in 2012. We’re a long way from that, however. First we have to see if Obama and Pelosi know something no one else does, and if not, whether they can come up with an escape plan that doesn’t look like an escape plan. But in the meantime, the Clintonistas sure are having a good time of it.

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The Harmony Isn’t the Problem

Granted, Leslie Gelb is frustrated with Obama. After all, many in the foreign-policy establishment (from Gelb to Colin Powell) were convinced that Obama would correct the misjudgments of the Bush administration, restore our standing in the world, practice smart diplomacy, and most of all, not embarrass foreign-policy establishment types who touted him. So one can understand that Gelb is upset, but that’s really no excuse for his theory that the problem with the Obami foreign policy is that there isn’t enough conflict among the central players.

His theory goes like this: other presidents had more dissension within their foreign-policy teams, and other presidents were more successful in conducting foreign policy — so Obama should have more dissension within his team, too. Gelb then really veers into the abyss:

To the extent that anyone within the administration is challenging the conventional or consensual wisdom on any major policy, it seems to be Biden himself. Probably the only real strategist among Obama’s senior advisers, he fought hard to keep the number of new troops heading to Afghanistan well below the 30,000 level Obama finally approved.

So we should be thankful that Biden is there to make inane suggestions that are overridden and that merely delay the decision-making process, causing the president to look irresolute? Hmm. (And if Biden is the “only real strategist” in the administration, that might be the root of the problem.)

All this is silliness on stilts, of course. The problem is not lack of conflict but bad, dangerous ideas carried out ineptly. It’s hard for some Obama-philes to acknowledge the obvious and so much easier for them to blame the staff or, as Obama has done, whine that issues like the Middle East are so darn hard. But in point of fact the Obama administration is a foreign-policy toxic-waste dump of awful ideas and tactics (e.g., Iran engagement, bullying Israel, cutting missile defense and pulling the rug out from allies, pushing aside human rights). Agreement or lack thereof is not the problem. The problem is that the president has some very mistaken ideas about how the world works, what motivates our foes, and how America can exercise its influence in the world. But acknowledging all that would mean that those who backed Obama and spun for him for a very long time got it very, very wrong. So better to come up with crackpot theories, I suppose.

Granted, Leslie Gelb is frustrated with Obama. After all, many in the foreign-policy establishment (from Gelb to Colin Powell) were convinced that Obama would correct the misjudgments of the Bush administration, restore our standing in the world, practice smart diplomacy, and most of all, not embarrass foreign-policy establishment types who touted him. So one can understand that Gelb is upset, but that’s really no excuse for his theory that the problem with the Obami foreign policy is that there isn’t enough conflict among the central players.

His theory goes like this: other presidents had more dissension within their foreign-policy teams, and other presidents were more successful in conducting foreign policy — so Obama should have more dissension within his team, too. Gelb then really veers into the abyss:

To the extent that anyone within the administration is challenging the conventional or consensual wisdom on any major policy, it seems to be Biden himself. Probably the only real strategist among Obama’s senior advisers, he fought hard to keep the number of new troops heading to Afghanistan well below the 30,000 level Obama finally approved.

So we should be thankful that Biden is there to make inane suggestions that are overridden and that merely delay the decision-making process, causing the president to look irresolute? Hmm. (And if Biden is the “only real strategist” in the administration, that might be the root of the problem.)

All this is silliness on stilts, of course. The problem is not lack of conflict but bad, dangerous ideas carried out ineptly. It’s hard for some Obama-philes to acknowledge the obvious and so much easier for them to blame the staff or, as Obama has done, whine that issues like the Middle East are so darn hard. But in point of fact the Obama administration is a foreign-policy toxic-waste dump of awful ideas and tactics (e.g., Iran engagement, bullying Israel, cutting missile defense and pulling the rug out from allies, pushing aside human rights). Agreement or lack thereof is not the problem. The problem is that the president has some very mistaken ideas about how the world works, what motivates our foes, and how America can exercise its influence in the world. But acknowledging all that would mean that those who backed Obama and spun for him for a very long time got it very, very wrong. So better to come up with crackpot theories, I suppose.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

At the precise moment one of its own is collapsing in a puddle of his own ineptitude, the Left punditocracy congratulates itself that Democrats have the smartest presidents (“veritable geniuses—tops of their classes, brilliant orators, connoisseurs of facts, and champions of analysis”) who outshine the dummies the GOP produces. But let’s get real: “When you’re comparing the men who brought down the Berlin Wall and the Cold War along with it, liberated the people of Iraq from their butcher dictator and declared war against our terrorist enemies with the men who presided over the Iranian hostage crisis, gas lines, and our national malaise, and sullied the office of the president in a very big way, does it really matter who scored higher on his SATs?”

Another Nevada Senate poll, another double-digit deficit for Harry Reid. It might have something to do with the fact that Obama’s approval is only at 39 percent.

Michael Barone observes that even liberal pundits think the Republicans did quite well at the health-care summit. (Note to file: disregard Republican insiders who fear that every opportunity to talk to the American people is a “trap.”) He concludes: “Last month, we were told that Obama would switch his focus from health care to jobs. But Democrats have spent February and seem about to spend March focusing on health care. It’s hard to see how they can navigate the legislative process successfully — and even harder to see how they turn around public opinion. Summit flop indeed.”

I think most endorsements don’t matter very much. But some are downright absurd: Condi Rice backs Meg Whitman. What voter would be influenced by this?

Sometimes there is no right answer: “Republicans will win back Congress if Democrats use a majority-vote tactic on healthcare reform, according to the House GOP whip. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the second-ranking Republican in the House, tied the use of budget reconciliation rules on the healthcare bill to Democrats’ electoral fortunes this fall.” Then again, voters might punish the Democrats even if reconciliation isn’t used. You get the sense the Republicans are having fun taunting their opponents. It’s that kind of year.

Warren Buffet agrees with Republicans, suggesting that “President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats go back to the drawing board on health-care overhaul legislation and work with Republicans to come up with new legislation that deals with the ‘cost, cost, cost,’ that he calls a ‘tapeworm eating at American competitiveness.’” Not sure Obama listens to him, since Buffet went after most everything on Obama’s agenda, from card check to cap-and-trade. But really, didn’t Buffet know what Obama was all about when he backed him for president? I guess not.

Shocking, I know, but Steny Hoyer wants the deficit commission to raise taxes.

Must be George W. Bush’s fault: “Barack Obama now has a negative approval rating in every state he flipped from the Bush column to his in 2008. In each of those places his level of support is now in the 44-46% range. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t have to run for reelection this year. He can only hope things start turning around for him once the midterms are in the rear view mirror, much as they did for Bill Clinton.”

At the precise moment one of its own is collapsing in a puddle of his own ineptitude, the Left punditocracy congratulates itself that Democrats have the smartest presidents (“veritable geniuses—tops of their classes, brilliant orators, connoisseurs of facts, and champions of analysis”) who outshine the dummies the GOP produces. But let’s get real: “When you’re comparing the men who brought down the Berlin Wall and the Cold War along with it, liberated the people of Iraq from their butcher dictator and declared war against our terrorist enemies with the men who presided over the Iranian hostage crisis, gas lines, and our national malaise, and sullied the office of the president in a very big way, does it really matter who scored higher on his SATs?”

Another Nevada Senate poll, another double-digit deficit for Harry Reid. It might have something to do with the fact that Obama’s approval is only at 39 percent.

Michael Barone observes that even liberal pundits think the Republicans did quite well at the health-care summit. (Note to file: disregard Republican insiders who fear that every opportunity to talk to the American people is a “trap.”) He concludes: “Last month, we were told that Obama would switch his focus from health care to jobs. But Democrats have spent February and seem about to spend March focusing on health care. It’s hard to see how they can navigate the legislative process successfully — and even harder to see how they turn around public opinion. Summit flop indeed.”

I think most endorsements don’t matter very much. But some are downright absurd: Condi Rice backs Meg Whitman. What voter would be influenced by this?

Sometimes there is no right answer: “Republicans will win back Congress if Democrats use a majority-vote tactic on healthcare reform, according to the House GOP whip. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the second-ranking Republican in the House, tied the use of budget reconciliation rules on the healthcare bill to Democrats’ electoral fortunes this fall.” Then again, voters might punish the Democrats even if reconciliation isn’t used. You get the sense the Republicans are having fun taunting their opponents. It’s that kind of year.

Warren Buffet agrees with Republicans, suggesting that “President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats go back to the drawing board on health-care overhaul legislation and work with Republicans to come up with new legislation that deals with the ‘cost, cost, cost,’ that he calls a ‘tapeworm eating at American competitiveness.’” Not sure Obama listens to him, since Buffet went after most everything on Obama’s agenda, from card check to cap-and-trade. But really, didn’t Buffet know what Obama was all about when he backed him for president? I guess not.

Shocking, I know, but Steny Hoyer wants the deficit commission to raise taxes.

Must be George W. Bush’s fault: “Barack Obama now has a negative approval rating in every state he flipped from the Bush column to his in 2008. In each of those places his level of support is now in the 44-46% range. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t have to run for reelection this year. He can only hope things start turning around for him once the midterms are in the rear view mirror, much as they did for Bill Clinton.”

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