The passage tonight in the House of Representatives of the Senate’s health-care bill is indeed a historic moment. It draws the brightest ideological and political line between the two parties since the end of the Cold War — which featured a profound conflict of visions about the question of confronting the Soviet Union or accommodating it — and revivifies the Republican party’s role in opposition to the state’s growing encroachment on the particulars of American life. The fighting has only just begun.
Posts For: March 21, 2010
I was at the policy conference today and must concur with Jen’s take: there was a palpable sense of raw emotion at the event, and I suspect that a lot of the worst feelings were held by people who had allowed candidate Obama’s soothing words on Israel to convince them that he would be kind to Israel.
I meandered among several panel discussions and heard regular rounds of applause from the audience in response to criticism of the administration. The attendees I spoke with were not simply upset by the administration’s rough treatment of Israel; they were also well aware that America’s most entrenched rivals have never received the criticism and lectures that Obama has directed at Israel. Even the liberals among them understood on a gut level that this is no way to conduct foreign policy.
Lee Rosenberg, AIPAC’s new president (and a major Obama fundraiser), gave a bluntly critical speech that received three standing ovations. Something tells me that pro-Israel dollars are going to be a little harder for Democrats to come by in the coming years.
The big question is: how will the crowd respond to Hillary Clinton on Monday? I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some booing, and I’d be shocked if there was hearty applause. Booing is something AIPAC officials hope doesn’t happen, because they want the policy conference to be the place where real fence-mending takes place. But I’m not sure it’d be a bad idea for Clinton to hear some boos — not because I think it’s great to boo people, but because Obama has already made clear the signals he responds to: the worse you treat him, the better he treats you, or at least the more he respects you.
Bill Kristol and former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer appeared on a panel at Sunday’s AIPAC session. The tone was academic and the conversation far-ranging. But one could see the fundamental divide in how Obama’s critics and supporters assess his foreign policy and America’s place in the world.
Kristol, although a tough critic of much of the Obama policy, took the glass-is-half-full approach, reminding the crowd that the U.S. remains quite powerful and that “if we stick with our allies and are clear and resolute,” we will remain so. He cautioned against too much nostalgia for the “American Century,” in which we lost (and then regained) half of Europe to Communism and fought multiple wars. Now we have many “strong and vibrant democracies,” including India, and are still the world’s main military guarantor. However, whatever successes we have had in avoiding nuclear war, combating terrorism, and containing regional conflicts, “all goes very fast if America is in retreat or perceived retreating.” For our success, Kristol credited ordinary Americans, who “haven’t turned xenophobic, isolationist, or protectionist.” He says that is a “tribute to them . . . and how good natured they are.”
Kurtzer spoke of the challenges we face, claiming that we have “devalued diplomacy” (more on that), don’t do intelligence analysis well, and risk eroding our economic position by mismanaging our finances. (“We don’t want to be a debtor country to China.”) There was considerable agreement on the need to bolster alliances.
There were differences, however, on the role of non-state actors. (Kurtzer thinks they are terribly important; Kristol argues that ”states matter most,” pointing out that ”unless sponsored or harbored,” these non-state groups are not a significant threat.) As for China, Kurtzer argued that it is heading for an inevitable conflict, as political repression will collide with economic liberalization. Kristol chose to stress the positive, the remarkable ability to lift a billion people out of poverty. He called the rise of India and China as economic powers an “amazing achievement.” He also cautioned that we have in recent years allowed “authoritarians to regroup.” There is now a “plausible model” — Iran, Venezuela, or China — that is not democratic. This, Kristol cautioned, is “very dangerous. We don’t want to tell regimes that bullying works.”
The biggest divergence came in the discussion of “smart power.” Kurtzer said we haven’t done enough. Here, to the audible gasps of some conservatives in the room, he proclaimed that we can’t aspire to promote American values when we have 30 million people without health insurance. (The woman next to me declared in a stage whisper, “And he teaches this at a university.”) And, citing the controversial CENTCOM report, he said that the U.S. military was implicitly arguing that the U.S. has been insufficiently dedicated to resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. (More crowd murmuring.) He then bemoaned the Iraq war, which had cost so much and in which we had lost so many lives. Kristol joked that he wanted to defend “dumb power” — that is, the indispensible role of American military power. The issue, Kristol said, is what types of policies work — citing the failure of Iran engagement and the Obami’s Middle East approach.
The Q & A was revealing on two counts. Several questioners went after the Obami for beating up on friends and trying to ingratiate themselves with adversaries. Kristol admitted to a certain sympathy with the questioners. On Israel, Kurtzer proclaimed that the relationship was fine and we had only one difference with Israel — West Bank settlements. (Huh? This was about Jerusalem, of course.) In response to a question on Iran, Kurtzer said the real problem was that we had not engaged Iran enough. One meeting three months ago just isn’t enough, he opined. Kristol declared himself “dubious on sanctions and diplomacy,” and argued that if there is to be military action, it must be by the U.S., both for technical and geopolitical reasons. And that brought the loudest round of applause.
In between the lines, you see the debate now raging: Have we fallen in love with diplomacy for diplomacy’s sake? Have we forgotten friends? Well, at least on one subject, the need for the U.S. to utilize military action, if necessary, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran found consensus in the room. But the Obami clearly don’t agree. What do those activists do about that? That’s going to be the subject of some discussion this week, and thereafter, in the American Jewish community.
A mesmerizing discussion Sunday afternoon was held among Elliott Abrams, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Asher Susser of the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University as they examined the “sands of change in the Middle East.” Both Stephens and Susser traced the emergence of non-Arab states like Iran and Turkey (which is pivoting away from Europe as it becomes increasingly more Islamist in domestic policy and anti-Israel in its foreign policy), the decline of secular pan-Arabism, the tension between radicals and moderates, and the ascendancy of Shia regimes, which are displacing aging Sunni leaders as the region’s powerhouses.
Abrams made a different case: “The most important shift is in Washington.” He noted that in 1967, Israel won a tremendous, and the British left Aden, opening an era in which the U.S.-Israel alliance dominated the region. (“It took the 1973 war for the Arabs to learn that lesson.”) The question Arabs are asking now, Abrams said, is about what the American policy is on maintaining its dominance in the region. They want to know “whether the U.S. is prepared to maintain its position or let the region slip into a period of Iranian dominance.” On Iran’s nuclear ambitions specifically, Abrams reminded the crowd that the Obama administration says it is “unacceptable” if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. “But do they mean it’s unacceptable or just that it is a bummer?”
As for the Obami’s effort to separate the U.S. from Israel to increase our credibility with the Arabs, it is “no accident” Abrams said, that the Saudi’s 2002 peace plan, while not the basis for any viable peace agreement, would have ended with the recognition of Israel. When the Arab states realize that the U.S. commitment to Israel is unyielding and that they “can’t do anything about Israel, they begin to make peace.” If the U.S. should begin to change its position, Abrams cautioned, their attitude toward Israel will change as well. Then, Abrams added, citing Lee Smith’s book The Strong Horse, they will decide which is the weak and which is the strong horse in the region and act accordingly. How we act toward Israel affects how Arab states regard us. As we distance ourselves from Israel, the Arabs see that we “are proving to be an undependable ally.” So the place to determine the fate of the Middle East, he summed up, is “here.”
All the panelists in their presentations and the Q & A discussed the recent conflict and the “peace process.” Stephens noted that putting the “squeeze on our friends while coddling our enemies comes with a cost. Israel will take less risks for peace. The Palestinians are encouraged to make maximalist demands. Radicals in the region take comfort that the U.S. is slowly withdrawing.” Susser deemed the ruckus raised by the administration over a Jersulem housing project ”ludicrous.” The Obama team is focused on the “1967 file” — settlements and Jerusalem. But the Palestinians are still stuck on the “1948 file” — the right of return of refugees and “Israel’s being.” What’s working against us and serving as the reason that status quo is unsustainable, he says, are both the demography and the movement internationally to try to delegitimize Israel.
What to do about that international effort? Abrams: “It is not an accident that the worst challenges to Israel’s legitimacy have occurred in the last two years.” When the U.S. “condemns” Israel over a housing permit, the Quartet rushes in to do the same. The way to stop this, he said bluntly, is “for the U.S. to get 100% behind Israel.” Stephens took it up from there, arguing that Israel’s efforts at peace and its withdrawal from Gaza and Lebanon have not gained it applause. “The depth of the hatred increased with proof of Israel’s good intentions.” We need, he says, not to make a “defense case” but a “prosecutorial case” against powers that would find it acceptable to welcome Robert Mugabe with open arms but that would arrest Tzipi Livni, and against entities like the UN Human Rights Council, which is stocked with the likes of Libya, Egypt, and other human rights abusers. “Who are they to point fingers at Israel?”
The panel was greeted with great enthusiasm, as if a dose of reality had finally been served up after days and days of administration flailing and the resulting furor within the Jewish community. But if this crowd surely shares the Abrams-Stephens-Susser view, what then is to be done about the Obami? The issue isn’t a housing flap, but the Obami’s dangerous notion that distancing itself from Israel is “smart diplomacy.” It is anything but, and the AIPAC activists will have to devise a smart response for combating a dangerous and ill-advised approach.
AIPAC’s annual conference got under way today in Washington D.C. The crowd was, in contrast to past years, more on edge, more distressed, and, frankly, more anti-administration. The conference comes after an eye-opening (for some) clash between the Obami and the Israeli government. In the talk in the halls, the questions at the panels, and the crowd reaction to speakers’ remarks, one senses that these people have had quite enough of the Obami’s approach to Israel.
I spoke to a rabbi of a New Jersey Conservative synagogue and a group of his congregants. They had 65 attendees before the Obami’s war of words. That number went up to 76. What was their reaction to the Obami offensive? “Disappointed,” responded several in the group. One congregant said, “This is going to have to blow over. Everyone understands East Jerusalem is not negotiable.” I asked, “You think the administration does?” He replied, “This is just to show the Arabs how tough he is.” I asked if they were concerned about the administration’s approach on Iran. “This has all been a step backward,” another answered. “The blowup is to distract attention from the fact we’ve done nothing on Iran.” And how will they greet Hillary Clinton on Monday? The rabbi said with great deliberations: “With respect.” Another added, “She’s not getting a standing ovation.”
A woman from Atlanta, a first-time attendee, says she votes Democratic. She was obviously pained over the recent flap. “Why is Israel the only one we tell what to do?” Her group’s attendance set an all-time high of 120. (Overall, the conference has a record 7,500.)
An elderly couple from Florida were agitated by recent events. The wife explained she that had fled Nazi Germany as a child for Shanghai. “There are parallels,” she said. “This is depressing. It’s scary.” She said that she had argued with her liberal friends during the campaign about Obama’s associations with anti-Israel figures. “My mother always said where there is smoke, there is fire,” she explained, then added wearily, “They didn’t listen.” She bemoaned the fact that Jews’ political activities are fragmented on issues like global warming. “There are plenty of people to do that,” she said. “Where are they on Israel?”
That’s just a sampling, but it gives you a sense of the angst. This is not a crowd that is celebrating. They are worried. Very worried.
The Hill reports:
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said Sunday morning that he is close to striking a deal with the Obama administration on abortion provisions. “We are close to getting something done,” Stupak said in an interview with MSNBC. Stupak said he engaged in talks late into the night on Saturday night. The possible deal would focus on an executive order that would specify there would be no public funding for abortions in the healthcare bill.
In the list of deceptions and worm-like maneuvers, this one ranks up there. No, you haven’t forgotten your basic civics. An executive order cannot countermand a statute passed by Congress and signed by the president. If ObamaCare says, “We will subsidize abortion,” no executive order can effectively say, “but not really.” And if it were so, then every pro-choice member of Congress who is voting for this is deceiving the public by voting to “preserve reproductive choice.” Certainly Rep. Bart Stupak and his cohorts know this. He and his gang of seven or so are now simply looking for cover to sell out. Just as Sen. Ben Nelson voted for a measure that plainly didn’t preserve the Hyde Amendment, so too we see the Stupak Gang willing to use the skimpiest of fig leaves to hide their willingness to abandon principle.
Let’s be clear: the pro-life movement will never fall for this, and Stupak and his ilk will be the subject of his pro-life constituents’ ire. If he pushes this through, he will become the poster boy for the anti-incumbent, anti-ObamaCare campaign this November. And he will have earned that honor.
A Jewish Republican activist recently asked me whether I thought the House Republicans would come up with a Contract with America. My answer: yes, with only one plank — repeal ObamaCare. That will dwarf all other issues, in part because it encompasses so many of the grievances accumulated by the Center-Right coalition in a little more than a year of Obamaism.
It simply isn’t the particulars of the bill that are so noxious. It is the perfect encapsulation of big-government liberalism. There are the gross fiscal recklessness, the massive spending, the huge tax hikes, the micromanagement of business, and the imposition of federal power in what was a realm previous left to states and private decision-makers. And if that weren’t enough, the bill and the road to its passage reflected the attitude of the Left toward the public — contemptuous and indifferent to its concerns and aspirations. In the accounting shenanigans and the loopy explanations, the Left could not conceal the rubes-will-buy-anything attitude.
So it should not surprise anyone that running against that will be the Republican message for 2010 and likely for 2012, as well. Yes, there is the high unemployment, but again, the argument will be that while voters wanted job creation, Democrats were passing health-care reform that constituents didn’t want. Yes, there is the corruption of individual House members, but the greatest corruption will be those members who sold out the voters for some special deal. (Uncovering the backrooms deals will be a full-time exercise.) You see the pattern here.
The Democrats are convinced the dim voters will learn to love ObamaCare. But they didn’t learn to love the stimulus. And the argument that they should love such a flawed piece of legislation soon became the object of derision and further fuel for populist anger. The reasons to hate ObamaCare are many and will resonate with a broad cross-section of voters. If the Democrats jam it through today, the 2010 campaign begins. And the anti-ObamaCare campaign will end only when it is repealed and when its supporters are bounced from office.
As the final arms were twisted, the Slaughter Rule was thrown overboard, and both sides strained to count the last undecided votes, The Hill reported:
Rep. Parker Griffith (R-Ala.), who switched from the Democratic Party in December over disagreement with party policies, ripped Democratic leadership and the White House on Saturday for pressuring members to push healthcare reform through.
“There are some good, good congresswomen and congressmen who are being asked to sacrifice their career and it’s a mistake for them to accept this sacrifice on the part of President Obama or Nancy Pelosi,” Griffith said on Fox News. “It is a huge mistake.
“These are good people and they’re being pressured unmercifully right now,” he continued. “I saw it on the floor 20 minutes ago before I walked into this studio. I could see it on their faces. These are people I’ve known over a year and it’s unfortunate, it’s unfair. And what’s unfair about it is Obama doesn’t hardly know their name. Nancy Pelosi doesn’t hardly know their name. They’re good for a vote and once they cast that vote it’s will you love me tomorrow and the answer is no.”
Griffith has a point, but only so far. Pelosi and Obama don’t care if many of these people lose their seats. And, yes, they are pulling out all the stops — threatening, cajoling, arm-twisting, deal-cutting, and the rest. But wait. These members are adults. They know their own constituents and can read the polls. They know that the public overwhelmingly opposes the bill. And moreover, they know the very real substantive objections to the bill. Whether it is the gross fiscal irresponsibility, the corrupt deals, or the abortion subsidies, they have good and valid reasons to hold out.
If they can’t stand up to their own leaders or avoid the lure of plum jobs should they lose in November, this is no cause for sympathy. It’s reason for contempt. It’s one thing to vote for a monstrous bill because you actually believe it virtuous. It’s another, however, to vote for it anyway, knowing the harm it may do but supporting it regardless because you couldn’t tell Nancy Pelosi to take a hike. Those people deserve to lose in November. And many of them will.
JTA makes a fine suggestion to the Beagle Blogger after yet another factual error in his Israel ranting: “Get an editor, dude.”
Congress is telling the Obami to knock off the Israel-bashing: “Two prominent US senators call on the US administration to resolve differences with Israel ‘amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies’ in the preamble to a letter thousands of American Israel Public Affairs Committee activists will be urging lawmakers to sign this week. The letter, written by Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) and addressed to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with its House companion will be centerpieces of Israel advocates’ lobbying as part of the AIPAC annual conference.”
Ben Smith explains the AIPAC agenda: “The group is throwing its weight behind ‘crippling sanctions’ against Iran — with or without U.N. action — according to the talking points, and behind a letter from legislators to Secretary of State Clinton calling on the U.S. to climb down from public confrontation with Benjamin Netanyahu. … Those causes do seem to be gathering steam on the Hill.” Now what about the not-so-public strong-arming and bullying of Israel?
Obama says ObamaCare is just like the 1964 Civil Rights Act. As Bill Kristol points out, all that’s missing is the huge bipartisan majority (not to mention the civil rights part). “This is what allows historic legislation to become historic — it achieves broad support, is passed without parliamentary tricks, and becomes the broadly accepted law of the land.”
And speaking of civil rights, ObamaCare has some pernicious racial preferences in it.
ObamaCare takes its toll on the president’s approval, according to Rasmussen: “Overall, 43% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance. That also matches the lowest level yet recorded for this President. Fifty-six percent (56%) disapprove.”
Matthew Continetti: “One cannot judge the full consequences of health care reform. What can be judged is the manner by which Democrats have governed over the last year. They have been partisan and ideological, derisive and dismissive. They try to legislate massive changes to American society and the American economy by the tiniest of margins and the most arcane of methods. The process has taken on a substance all its own. And it’s repellent.”
If you had any doubt, this was Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., in the House Rules Committee on Saturday: “There ain’t no rules here, we’re trying to accomplish something. … All this talk about rules… when the deal goes down… We make ‘em up as we go along.” No legislative rules (or grammatical ones, for that matter). This is the talk of tyranny.