Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 7, 2010

Challenge at Sea

At the end of August, the Royal Navy gave the UK Telegraph a rare glimpse of what’s going on today in the arcane world of the submariner, under the Northern Atlantic’s restless surface. The report includes the nugget that “British submariners … are experiencing the highest number of ‘contacts’ with Russian submarines since 1987.”

It’s no surprise that Russian attack submarines are trying to trail British ballistic-missile submarines, as the Telegraph reports. But the reference to 1987 is informative. In the annals of the Cold War, 1987 was the last year the Soviet Navy maintained the very active global profile it assumed in the early 1970s. The Royal Navy’s disclosures last month indicate that the reversal of a two-decade trend is gathering steam — and more so than was evident when Russian submarines were reported off the U.S. east coast a year ago.

The Royal Navy had 38 submarines in 1987, compared with its 12 today. The U.S. force of attack submarines — “hunter-killer” submarines — has declined in the same period, from 98 to 53, with a target number of 48 being argued by budget cutters. But numbers are only one aspect of the issue. Equally important, as suggested by the Royal Navy’s recent encounters with Russian submarines, is how our would-be rivals are behaving on the seas.

In that regard, China’s profile constitutes a steadily expanding challenge, particularly to regional stability in the Far East. Tuesday morning, a Chinese fishing vessel was challenged by the Japanese coast guard in the waters of the Senkaku Islands, a chain disputed by Beijing and Tokyo. The Chinese vessel proceeded to collide with not one but two Japanese patrol ships — something that, given the Japanese military’s exemplary tradition of seamanship, had to be deliberate and was probably sanctioned by authorities in China.

China has operated through maritime provocation and bullying in recent years, but usually with smaller nations like Vietnam and the Philippines; very rarely in confrontations with Japan. In the wake of China’s most aggressive naval exercise ever, which penetrated the Japanese islands this past spring, as well as Beijing’s securing of rights to use a North Korean port on the Sea of Japan, the latest incident looks more like part of a trend than an isolated, strategically meaningless event.

This is how maritime dominance is lost: incrementally and off the public’s radar. The U.S. Navy, as an oceangoing sea-control force, has shrunk from 568 ships and submarines in 1987 to 285 today. Our NATO allies’ navies have shrunk significantly as well, some of them by greater percentages. Among our key allies, only Japan and Australia are investing in larger and more diverse naval forces. The U.S. military, under Defense Secretary Gates, is looking at reducing further the inventory of warships — aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines — that perform sea-control missions and maintain maritime dominance. Equally troubling, DoD proposes to eliminate entirely the two major U.S. commands most closely linked with NATO and maritime power in the Atlantic: Joint Forces Command and the U.S. Second Fleet. Events, on the other hand, continue to warn us against this irresponsible course. We can expect more of them.

At the end of August, the Royal Navy gave the UK Telegraph a rare glimpse of what’s going on today in the arcane world of the submariner, under the Northern Atlantic’s restless surface. The report includes the nugget that “British submariners … are experiencing the highest number of ‘contacts’ with Russian submarines since 1987.”

It’s no surprise that Russian attack submarines are trying to trail British ballistic-missile submarines, as the Telegraph reports. But the reference to 1987 is informative. In the annals of the Cold War, 1987 was the last year the Soviet Navy maintained the very active global profile it assumed in the early 1970s. The Royal Navy’s disclosures last month indicate that the reversal of a two-decade trend is gathering steam — and more so than was evident when Russian submarines were reported off the U.S. east coast a year ago.

The Royal Navy had 38 submarines in 1987, compared with its 12 today. The U.S. force of attack submarines — “hunter-killer” submarines — has declined in the same period, from 98 to 53, with a target number of 48 being argued by budget cutters. But numbers are only one aspect of the issue. Equally important, as suggested by the Royal Navy’s recent encounters with Russian submarines, is how our would-be rivals are behaving on the seas.

In that regard, China’s profile constitutes a steadily expanding challenge, particularly to regional stability in the Far East. Tuesday morning, a Chinese fishing vessel was challenged by the Japanese coast guard in the waters of the Senkaku Islands, a chain disputed by Beijing and Tokyo. The Chinese vessel proceeded to collide with not one but two Japanese patrol ships — something that, given the Japanese military’s exemplary tradition of seamanship, had to be deliberate and was probably sanctioned by authorities in China.

China has operated through maritime provocation and bullying in recent years, but usually with smaller nations like Vietnam and the Philippines; very rarely in confrontations with Japan. In the wake of China’s most aggressive naval exercise ever, which penetrated the Japanese islands this past spring, as well as Beijing’s securing of rights to use a North Korean port on the Sea of Japan, the latest incident looks more like part of a trend than an isolated, strategically meaningless event.

This is how maritime dominance is lost: incrementally and off the public’s radar. The U.S. Navy, as an oceangoing sea-control force, has shrunk from 568 ships and submarines in 1987 to 285 today. Our NATO allies’ navies have shrunk significantly as well, some of them by greater percentages. Among our key allies, only Japan and Australia are investing in larger and more diverse naval forces. The U.S. military, under Defense Secretary Gates, is looking at reducing further the inventory of warships — aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines — that perform sea-control missions and maintain maritime dominance. Equally troubling, DoD proposes to eliminate entirely the two major U.S. commands most closely linked with NATO and maritime power in the Atlantic: Joint Forces Command and the U.S. Second Fleet. Events, on the other hand, continue to warn us against this irresponsible course. We can expect more of them.

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The Recovery Summer That Wasn’t

This National Republican Senatorial Committee ad about President Obama’s much-ballyhooed “Recovery Summer” is a fairly effective one. Of course, Obama has given the GOP a whole lot of material to work with.

The “Recovery Summer” is rapidly on its way to becoming one of the worst public-relations disasters in modern American politics. As Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey points out, even Gerald Ford’s Whip Inflation Now (WIN) buttons “didn’t promise 500,000 new jobs a month if people wore buttons on their shirts.”

This National Republican Senatorial Committee ad about President Obama’s much-ballyhooed “Recovery Summer” is a fairly effective one. Of course, Obama has given the GOP a whole lot of material to work with.

The “Recovery Summer” is rapidly on its way to becoming one of the worst public-relations disasters in modern American politics. As Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey points out, even Gerald Ford’s Whip Inflation Now (WIN) buttons “didn’t promise 500,000 new jobs a month if people wore buttons on their shirts.”

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Podesta: OK, It’s Not Working

John Podesta, of the leftist Center for American Progress (and Obama’s transition-team leader), is trying to assure voters that after November, Obama really will listen to them. Honest. Podesta says (my comments in brackets):

“After November, you’ll see some soul-searching and some changes particularly in the way that he’s talked to the American people and really communicated [because a "communication" failure sounds so much better than a policy failure], particularly, I think, with the business community [which the Center for American Progress is more than happy to bash],” Podesta said Tuesday morning on MSNBC.

“You’ll see, I think, at least a willingness to kind of listen to ideas to move forward with people,” he added. “And you know, I think that the president does level with people [well, except for the sort of howlers like "ObamaCare will save money"]. He’s pretty straightforward about what he thinks works, what he thinks doesn’t [it's just that his judgment is so off-kilter, I guess].” …

“After the election, there’s no question … that the public mood, the public spirit is asking for a conversation around kitchen tables and boardrooms about how the country can get together to move forward,” Podesta said.

Didn’t Obama run on this promise – in 2008? Well, now he really means it, we are told. Maybe Podesta, who I don’t recall opposing any part of Obama’s agenda, is telling the Obami they won’t have any choice but to listen to voters. Or maybe Podesta is jockeying for Rahm Emanuel’s job, given that he’s assuring the president that all he needs is a better “message” and some platitudes.

Nevertheless, if you have one of the party’s most influential liberals saying it’s time for a makeover of more than the furniture in the White House, then it’s time for Democrats to start planning ahead for the electoral avalanche.

John Podesta, of the leftist Center for American Progress (and Obama’s transition-team leader), is trying to assure voters that after November, Obama really will listen to them. Honest. Podesta says (my comments in brackets):

“After November, you’ll see some soul-searching and some changes particularly in the way that he’s talked to the American people and really communicated [because a "communication" failure sounds so much better than a policy failure], particularly, I think, with the business community [which the Center for American Progress is more than happy to bash],” Podesta said Tuesday morning on MSNBC.

“You’ll see, I think, at least a willingness to kind of listen to ideas to move forward with people,” he added. “And you know, I think that the president does level with people [well, except for the sort of howlers like "ObamaCare will save money"]. He’s pretty straightforward about what he thinks works, what he thinks doesn’t [it's just that his judgment is so off-kilter, I guess].” …

“After the election, there’s no question … that the public mood, the public spirit is asking for a conversation around kitchen tables and boardrooms about how the country can get together to move forward,” Podesta said.

Didn’t Obama run on this promise – in 2008? Well, now he really means it, we are told. Maybe Podesta, who I don’t recall opposing any part of Obama’s agenda, is telling the Obami they won’t have any choice but to listen to voters. Or maybe Podesta is jockeying for Rahm Emanuel’s job, given that he’s assuring the president that all he needs is a better “message” and some platitudes.

Nevertheless, if you have one of the party’s most influential liberals saying it’s time for a makeover of more than the furniture in the White House, then it’s time for Democrats to start planning ahead for the electoral avalanche.

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RE: Dems Sinking

Confirming the polling we have seen and the analysis of independent analysts such as Larry Sabato, the Cook Report (subscription required) tells us:

For the first time, our internal race-by-race model estimates a GOP gain of over 40 seats. We are revising our House forecast to a Republican gain of at least 40 seats, the minimum to give them majority status, and very possibly substantially more. …

Even Democrats in districts that gave President Obama 50 to 60 percent of the vote can’t be considered safe; in fact, as Obama’s approval has slid disproportionately in swing seats, many are in tough predicaments. By the time we release new House ratings this week, eight Democratic open seats will be in the Lean or Likely Republican columns, 45 Democratic seats will be in the Toss Up column, and 30 seats will be in the Lean Democratic column, for a total of over 80 Democratic seats at substantial risk.

This should come as no surprise, actually, if you have been following the generic congressional polling. With the addition of Rasmussen (GOP +12) and CNN (GOP +7), the RealClearPolitics.com average now shows an 8.4-percent advantage for the Republicans. Get out your thesaurus (wave, a tsunami, deluge) — there are a lot of Democrats who are about to get swept out of Congress.

Confirming the polling we have seen and the analysis of independent analysts such as Larry Sabato, the Cook Report (subscription required) tells us:

For the first time, our internal race-by-race model estimates a GOP gain of over 40 seats. We are revising our House forecast to a Republican gain of at least 40 seats, the minimum to give them majority status, and very possibly substantially more. …

Even Democrats in districts that gave President Obama 50 to 60 percent of the vote can’t be considered safe; in fact, as Obama’s approval has slid disproportionately in swing seats, many are in tough predicaments. By the time we release new House ratings this week, eight Democratic open seats will be in the Lean or Likely Republican columns, 45 Democratic seats will be in the Toss Up column, and 30 seats will be in the Lean Democratic column, for a total of over 80 Democratic seats at substantial risk.

This should come as no surprise, actually, if you have been following the generic congressional polling. With the addition of Rasmussen (GOP +12) and CNN (GOP +7), the RealClearPolitics.com average now shows an 8.4-percent advantage for the Republicans. Get out your thesaurus (wave, a tsunami, deluge) — there are a lot of Democrats who are about to get swept out of Congress.

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Lessons from Tony Blair’s Memoir

In his excellent memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, Tony Blair writes about his electoral victory in 1997:

We were very quickly appreciating the daunting revelation of the gap between saying and doing. In Opposition, the gap is nothing because “saying” is all you can do; in government, where “doing” is what it’s all about, the gap is suddenly revealed as a chasm of bureaucracy, frustration and disappointment … I was afraid because, at that instant, suddenly I thought of myself no longer as the up-and-coming, the challenger, the prophet, but the owner of the responsibility, the person not explaining why things were wrong but taking the decisions to put them right.

Blair’s words touch on a truth which those of us who have served in government, and especially in different administrations and in the White House, can attest:

A president’s capacity to control and influence events is often more limited than it’s imagined. It’s not unusual for presidential directives to be ignored or undermined by the bureaucracy. Thousands of personnel decisions, some seemingly insignificant, can come back to bite you. An administration is held responsible for what happens on its watch, whether or not that’s justified. Urgent, complex problems demand a response even if the information needed to act on them is incomplete. The political culture is unforgiving. And all presidents and their aides, like all people, are flawed and fallible.

When you’re out of power and in the opposition, these truths are quickly tossed aside or simply forgotten. Governing seems much easier when all one is doing is critiquing others in columns and blogs, in speeches and on television. Position papers are simpler to write than policies are to enact. This tendency is particularly pronounced among political commentators, many of whom have no first-hand experience at what it means to govern.

The appropriate role of the opposition party, as well as of the commentariat, is to hold those in power accountable. Some presidential decisions deserve criticism – at times scathing. So to argue that there should be a moratorium on expressing disapprobation would be unwise as well as unrealistic.

What is required, however, is perspective — the realization that being chief executive is more challenging than being a commentator on Hardball with Chris Matthews. And from time to time, it’s worth showing understanding and even some sympathy toward those who have, in Blair’s words, gone from “scaling the walls of the citadel, to sitting in the ruler’s palace in charge of all we surveyed.”

The Obama administration, which came to office after having set expectations at stratospheric levels, is now learning the wisdom of Blair’s words. There is some rough justice in seeing brought low by events a president bestowed with an unusual degree of vanity and who has been so unfair and unforgiving in his critique of others. Still, the truth is that Republicans, once they begin to take the reins of power again in November, will experience something similar. What Henry Kissinger called the “moment of charmed innocence” and the “exhilaration of imminent authority” is soon buffeted by events. And so all us, myself included, need to temper our judgments with the realization that explaining why things are wrong will always be a far easier task than putting them right.

In his excellent memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, Tony Blair writes about his electoral victory in 1997:

We were very quickly appreciating the daunting revelation of the gap between saying and doing. In Opposition, the gap is nothing because “saying” is all you can do; in government, where “doing” is what it’s all about, the gap is suddenly revealed as a chasm of bureaucracy, frustration and disappointment … I was afraid because, at that instant, suddenly I thought of myself no longer as the up-and-coming, the challenger, the prophet, but the owner of the responsibility, the person not explaining why things were wrong but taking the decisions to put them right.

Blair’s words touch on a truth which those of us who have served in government, and especially in different administrations and in the White House, can attest:

A president’s capacity to control and influence events is often more limited than it’s imagined. It’s not unusual for presidential directives to be ignored or undermined by the bureaucracy. Thousands of personnel decisions, some seemingly insignificant, can come back to bite you. An administration is held responsible for what happens on its watch, whether or not that’s justified. Urgent, complex problems demand a response even if the information needed to act on them is incomplete. The political culture is unforgiving. And all presidents and their aides, like all people, are flawed and fallible.

When you’re out of power and in the opposition, these truths are quickly tossed aside or simply forgotten. Governing seems much easier when all one is doing is critiquing others in columns and blogs, in speeches and on television. Position papers are simpler to write than policies are to enact. This tendency is particularly pronounced among political commentators, many of whom have no first-hand experience at what it means to govern.

The appropriate role of the opposition party, as well as of the commentariat, is to hold those in power accountable. Some presidential decisions deserve criticism – at times scathing. So to argue that there should be a moratorium on expressing disapprobation would be unwise as well as unrealistic.

What is required, however, is perspective — the realization that being chief executive is more challenging than being a commentator on Hardball with Chris Matthews. And from time to time, it’s worth showing understanding and even some sympathy toward those who have, in Blair’s words, gone from “scaling the walls of the citadel, to sitting in the ruler’s palace in charge of all we surveyed.”

The Obama administration, which came to office after having set expectations at stratospheric levels, is now learning the wisdom of Blair’s words. There is some rough justice in seeing brought low by events a president bestowed with an unusual degree of vanity and who has been so unfair and unforgiving in his critique of others. Still, the truth is that Republicans, once they begin to take the reins of power again in November, will experience something similar. What Henry Kissinger called the “moment of charmed innocence” and the “exhilaration of imminent authority” is soon buffeted by events. And so all us, myself included, need to temper our judgments with the realization that explaining why things are wrong will always be a far easier task than putting them right.

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RE: Take Half a Loaf, Demand the Rest

In addition to Republicans and business leaders, Obama’s recently departed head of the Office of Management and Budget also argues, in the New York Times, for a two year extension of the Bush tax cuts:

Higher taxes now would crimp consumer spending, further depressing the already inadequate demand for what firms are capable of producing at full tilt. And since financial markets don’t seem at the moment to view the budget deficit as a problem — take a look at the remarkably low 10-year Treasury bond yield — there is little reason not to extend the tax cuts temporarily.

Not only is there little reason not to — there is every reason to do so. Unless one is so locked into a “soak the rich” mentality that ideology trumps common sense.

In addition to Republicans and business leaders, Obama’s recently departed head of the Office of Management and Budget also argues, in the New York Times, for a two year extension of the Bush tax cuts:

Higher taxes now would crimp consumer spending, further depressing the already inadequate demand for what firms are capable of producing at full tilt. And since financial markets don’t seem at the moment to view the budget deficit as a problem — take a look at the remarkably low 10-year Treasury bond yield — there is little reason not to extend the tax cuts temporarily.

Not only is there little reason not to — there is every reason to do so. Unless one is so locked into a “soak the rich” mentality that ideology trumps common sense.

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Blind-Squirrel Alert for Beinart

In keeping with his tradition of trying to stay behind the pack on all issues, Peter Beinart has put his finger into the air and decided that Barack Obama is a lousy president. That isn’t news for the majority of Americans, who believe Obama is not doing a good job, but makes sense for a guy who supported the war in Iraq until it became unpopular.

Of course, unlike the rest of America, Beinart has a beef with the president not because he ran as a centrist and has tried to govern from the left. Rather, Beinart’s evaluation of the administration’s foreign policy is that it is too much like that of George W. Bush, since Obama rightly refused to immediately cut and run from Afghanistan.

But, like any blind liberal squirrel, Beinart is bound to find an acorn every now and then. In a column in the Daily Beast, while bashing Obama for being too much like Bush with regard to the Middle East for not appeasing Hamas, Beinart stumbles across a couple of obvious truths about the peace process:

Given his lack of democratic legitimacy, it is delusional to imagine that Abbas can carry out the brutally painful concessions a final peace deal would require. And it is delusional to imagine that Hamas will permit the success of a peace process meant to further marginalize it; indeed, it has already greeted the start of direct talks with terrorist attacks.

Beinart is right about that. Obama’s decision to strong-arm Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas into talks is an invitation to disaster. And he’s right to call Abbas’s government a “Potemkin Palestinian leadership.”

But that’s as much wisdom as Beinart is capable of, since his advice for Obama is to try engagement with Hamas. Beinart’s conviction that the only thing that prevents Obama from further empowering these murderers is “a political debate in Washington that dramatically constrains his ability to respond” — code words for the pro-Israel consensus in the United States that Beinart so deplores. But the only word to describe his belief that Hamas, an Islamist terrorist group closely allied with Iran, will make peace with Israel is the same one Beinart uses to describe Obama’s trust in Abbas: “delusional.”

In keeping with his tradition of trying to stay behind the pack on all issues, Peter Beinart has put his finger into the air and decided that Barack Obama is a lousy president. That isn’t news for the majority of Americans, who believe Obama is not doing a good job, but makes sense for a guy who supported the war in Iraq until it became unpopular.

Of course, unlike the rest of America, Beinart has a beef with the president not because he ran as a centrist and has tried to govern from the left. Rather, Beinart’s evaluation of the administration’s foreign policy is that it is too much like that of George W. Bush, since Obama rightly refused to immediately cut and run from Afghanistan.

But, like any blind liberal squirrel, Beinart is bound to find an acorn every now and then. In a column in the Daily Beast, while bashing Obama for being too much like Bush with regard to the Middle East for not appeasing Hamas, Beinart stumbles across a couple of obvious truths about the peace process:

Given his lack of democratic legitimacy, it is delusional to imagine that Abbas can carry out the brutally painful concessions a final peace deal would require. And it is delusional to imagine that Hamas will permit the success of a peace process meant to further marginalize it; indeed, it has already greeted the start of direct talks with terrorist attacks.

Beinart is right about that. Obama’s decision to strong-arm Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas into talks is an invitation to disaster. And he’s right to call Abbas’s government a “Potemkin Palestinian leadership.”

But that’s as much wisdom as Beinart is capable of, since his advice for Obama is to try engagement with Hamas. Beinart’s conviction that the only thing that prevents Obama from further empowering these murderers is “a political debate in Washington that dramatically constrains his ability to respond” — code words for the pro-Israel consensus in the United States that Beinart so deplores. But the only word to describe his belief that Hamas, an Islamist terrorist group closely allied with Iran, will make peace with Israel is the same one Beinart uses to describe Obama’s trust in Abbas: “delusional.”

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Jonathan Chait, Delusional Regarding ObamaCare

The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait continues his indefatigable political defense of ObmamCare. One of his recent efforts, “Health Care as Political Scapegoat,” can be found here. He writes, as proof of his thesis, that “a recent Gallup poll shows that Democrats fare about evenly (+1) versus Republicans on health care — it’s one of the only issues where they don’t have a disadvantage.”

Now what might be missing from Chait’s analysis? Context.

As I pointed out here, in October 2006, the Democrats held a 64-percent v. 25-percent advantage over Republicans regarding health care. Today the lead is 44 percent v. 43 percent — a 38-point swing in favor of the GOP. That is a substantially larger swing than we’ve seen on combating terrorism (29 points), the economy (27 points), and handling corruption in government (26 points).

There is no other issue, in fact, over which Democrats have lost as much ground as quickly as over health care. What was once the strongest issue in the Democratic arsenal — an issue on which Democrats enjoyed public support for generations — has now turned politically neutral with respect to the support each party enjoys on it. Politico reports that it appears as though no Democratic incumbent in the House or in the Senate has run a pro-health-care reform TV ad since April, while a handful of House Democrats are making health-care reform an election-year issue – by running against it. Senator Ron Wyden, one of the Democratic Party’s leading experts on health care, recently wrote a letter to Bruce Goldberg, the director of the Oregon health authority, encouraging Oregon to seek a waiver from the individual mandate, which is a fundamental feature of Obama’s health-care overhaul (Wyden is running for reelection). And last month more than 70 percent of Missouri primary voters rejected ObamaCare’s individual mandate. It’s no wonder that Charlie Cook declared that pushing ObamaCare was a “colossal miscalculation” for Democrats.

Given the weight of the evidence, it is bordering on delusional to argue that ObamaCare hasn’t damaged Obama or the Democrats politically.

Dogmatists such as Chait seem unable to rethink their views in light of reality; instead, they are contorting their arguments to defend flawed premises (ObamaCare would be a success and viewed by the public as a success). Mr. Chait wouldn’t be the first to do such a thing. But it is a transparent effort – and, at this stage, a discrediting one.

The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait continues his indefatigable political defense of ObmamCare. One of his recent efforts, “Health Care as Political Scapegoat,” can be found here. He writes, as proof of his thesis, that “a recent Gallup poll shows that Democrats fare about evenly (+1) versus Republicans on health care — it’s one of the only issues where they don’t have a disadvantage.”

Now what might be missing from Chait’s analysis? Context.

As I pointed out here, in October 2006, the Democrats held a 64-percent v. 25-percent advantage over Republicans regarding health care. Today the lead is 44 percent v. 43 percent — a 38-point swing in favor of the GOP. That is a substantially larger swing than we’ve seen on combating terrorism (29 points), the economy (27 points), and handling corruption in government (26 points).

There is no other issue, in fact, over which Democrats have lost as much ground as quickly as over health care. What was once the strongest issue in the Democratic arsenal — an issue on which Democrats enjoyed public support for generations — has now turned politically neutral with respect to the support each party enjoys on it. Politico reports that it appears as though no Democratic incumbent in the House or in the Senate has run a pro-health-care reform TV ad since April, while a handful of House Democrats are making health-care reform an election-year issue – by running against it. Senator Ron Wyden, one of the Democratic Party’s leading experts on health care, recently wrote a letter to Bruce Goldberg, the director of the Oregon health authority, encouraging Oregon to seek a waiver from the individual mandate, which is a fundamental feature of Obama’s health-care overhaul (Wyden is running for reelection). And last month more than 70 percent of Missouri primary voters rejected ObamaCare’s individual mandate. It’s no wonder that Charlie Cook declared that pushing ObamaCare was a “colossal miscalculation” for Democrats.

Given the weight of the evidence, it is bordering on delusional to argue that ObamaCare hasn’t damaged Obama or the Democrats politically.

Dogmatists such as Chait seem unable to rethink their views in light of reality; instead, they are contorting their arguments to defend flawed premises (ObamaCare would be a success and viewed by the public as a success). Mr. Chait wouldn’t be the first to do such a thing. But it is a transparent effort – and, at this stage, a discrediting one.

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Deconstructing Krugman

Among the left in particular, Paul Krugman is an influential writer on economics and politics. Fortunately there are reasonable and informed voices to counter his arguments, his economic theories, and his version of economic history. One such voice is Amity Shlaes, who deconstructs Krugman’s most recent column (“1938 in 2010”) over at the excellent (and increasingly influential) website e21.

Shlaes’s posting can be found here.

Among the left in particular, Paul Krugman is an influential writer on economics and politics. Fortunately there are reasonable and informed voices to counter his arguments, his economic theories, and his version of economic history. One such voice is Amity Shlaes, who deconstructs Krugman’s most recent column (“1938 in 2010”) over at the excellent (and increasingly influential) website e21.

Shlaes’s posting can be found here.

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On Burning the Koran

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the planned burning of Qurans on Sept. 11 by a Florida church could put the lives of American troops in danger and damage the war effort.

Gen. David Petraeus said the Taliban would exploit the demonstration for propaganda purposes, drumming up anger toward the U.S. and making it harder for allied troops to carry out their mission of protecting Afghan civilians.

“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort,” Gen. Petraeus said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.”

General Petraeus points out that hundreds of Afghans attended a demonstration in Kabul on Monday simply in anticipation of the plans of Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has said he will burn the Koran on September 11. Afghan protesters chanted “death to America” and speakers called on the U.S. to withdraw its military convoy. Military officials fear the protests are likely to spread beyond Kabul to other Afghan cities.

Some people may believe this is all overdone. Jones, after all, leads a church of just 50 people. He clearly does not speak for the overwhelming number of Christians in America. And of course, in a nation of more than 300 million people, there are a handful who can be found supporting every imaginable crazed cause.

But this incident has the capacity to be different. General Petraeus is a careful and cautious man; for him to speak out as he did means the danger is real enough. And there is precedent. As the Journal story reminds us, reports in Newsweek, later retracted, that a U.S. interrogator at the Guantanamo Bay prison had flushed a Koran down a toilet set off riots in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

If he carries through on his plan, then, the actions by Jones may undermine our mission in Afghanistan and threaten the lives of those serving in that theater. People with standing in Jones’s life need to stop him, in part because his actions are deeply antithetical to our founding principles. The Third Reich burned books; those who are citizens of the United States should not.

Jones’s actions would also be an offense against the Christian faith. From what we know, Jesus not only wasn’t an advocate of book-burning; he was a lover of them, most especially the Hebrew Bible, which he often quoted. Beyond that, Christianity is premised on evangelism, on spreading what the faithful believe to be truth about God, history, and the human person. There is nothing that would lead one to embrace coercion or to stoke (literally) the flames of hatred.

Whatever differences the Christian faith has with Islam, they are ones that followers of Jesus need to articulate with reason, with measured words, and with a spirit of grace and understanding. And whatever purpose Jones thinks he’s serving, it is not the purpose of the Prince of Peace. It is, in fact, very nearly its antithesis. We can only hope that this deeply misguided pastor is stopped before he does significant damage to his country, its gallant warriors, and the faith Jones claims as his own.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the planned burning of Qurans on Sept. 11 by a Florida church could put the lives of American troops in danger and damage the war effort.

Gen. David Petraeus said the Taliban would exploit the demonstration for propaganda purposes, drumming up anger toward the U.S. and making it harder for allied troops to carry out their mission of protecting Afghan civilians.

“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort,” Gen. Petraeus said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.”

General Petraeus points out that hundreds of Afghans attended a demonstration in Kabul on Monday simply in anticipation of the plans of Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has said he will burn the Koran on September 11. Afghan protesters chanted “death to America” and speakers called on the U.S. to withdraw its military convoy. Military officials fear the protests are likely to spread beyond Kabul to other Afghan cities.

Some people may believe this is all overdone. Jones, after all, leads a church of just 50 people. He clearly does not speak for the overwhelming number of Christians in America. And of course, in a nation of more than 300 million people, there are a handful who can be found supporting every imaginable crazed cause.

But this incident has the capacity to be different. General Petraeus is a careful and cautious man; for him to speak out as he did means the danger is real enough. And there is precedent. As the Journal story reminds us, reports in Newsweek, later retracted, that a U.S. interrogator at the Guantanamo Bay prison had flushed a Koran down a toilet set off riots in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

If he carries through on his plan, then, the actions by Jones may undermine our mission in Afghanistan and threaten the lives of those serving in that theater. People with standing in Jones’s life need to stop him, in part because his actions are deeply antithetical to our founding principles. The Third Reich burned books; those who are citizens of the United States should not.

Jones’s actions would also be an offense against the Christian faith. From what we know, Jesus not only wasn’t an advocate of book-burning; he was a lover of them, most especially the Hebrew Bible, which he often quoted. Beyond that, Christianity is premised on evangelism, on spreading what the faithful believe to be truth about God, history, and the human person. There is nothing that would lead one to embrace coercion or to stoke (literally) the flames of hatred.

Whatever differences the Christian faith has with Islam, they are ones that followers of Jesus need to articulate with reason, with measured words, and with a spirit of grace and understanding. And whatever purpose Jones thinks he’s serving, it is not the purpose of the Prince of Peace. It is, in fact, very nearly its antithesis. We can only hope that this deeply misguided pastor is stopped before he does significant damage to his country, its gallant warriors, and the faith Jones claims as his own.

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Take Half a Loaf, and Demand the Rest

Obama, eight weeks before the election, has decided to adopt one of many ideas the Republicans put forth in February 2009: a tax break for businesses. As this report explains:

Companies can now deduct new investment expenses, but over a longer period of time—three to 20 years. The proposed change, which would let companies keep more cash now, is meant to give companies who may be hesitant to invest an incentive to expand, acting as a spur to the overall economy. …

Under current law, if a company spends $10 million on a new factory, it gets to deduct the full amount of the cost over a period of between three and 20 years, depending on the investment. So it cuts its stated pre-tax profits by a varying amount each year, thus reducing taxes until the cost of the investment has been written off.

Under the new proposal, the company would get to deduct the full $10 million in the first year. That would give it an immediate cash infusion to offset the costs of investment. It would also give certainty that the full tax benefit would be realized. Companies often don’t get to write off the full cost of an investment over an extended time.

It is not a bad idea, but it simply isn’t as critical as an extension of the Bush tax cuts. Republicans and business leaders were quick to point this out:

“The White House is missing the big picture. These aren’t necessarily bad proposals, but they don’t address the two big problems that are hurting our economy—excessive government spending, and the uncertainty that Washington Democrats’ policies, especially their massive tax hike, are creating for small businesses,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R, Ohio). …

The best thing to do is to get rid of uncertainty, and that includes the cliff we’re falling off with all these [tax] provisions that are expiring,” said Bill Rys, tax counsel for the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business group.

Many NFIB members also are concerned about a new requirement for reporting purchases of more than $600 to the Internal Revenue Service, he added. He questioned whether many business owners would choose to buy more equipment, at least until sales pick up.

It is, on the one hand, a giant concession that tax cuts matter. On the other hand, it leaves the Obama team without any reasoned defense for letting the Bush tax cuts expire — or, for that matter, loading up employers with new mandates. (“Many NFIB members also are concerned about a new requirement for reporting purchases of more than $600 to the Internal Revenue Service.”) As one businesswoman put it, “If this will be offered as a tradeoff for raising the top two rates, it’s a non-starter.”

Nor is it even clear that this is all that helpful at this point:

N. Gregory Mankiw, of Harvard University, and another former CEA chairman under President Bush, questioned whether the Obama proposal would have a big impact. Businesses can already take out a bank loan at extremely low interest rates to pay for new investments in plants and equipment, but they are not doing so, he said. It’s unclear why they would make those investments for a tax break.

And it is even less clear why we should be giving with one hand and taking away with the other. (Jay Timmons, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers: ”The good news [is that] the administration recognizes that manufacturing is key to getting the economy back on track and ensuring we are able to sustain economic growth and job creation. But you can’t do that if you’re penalizing one sector of manufacturing while trying to incent another.”)

The most principled position for conservatives is to accept the president’s tax cut (on the Milton Friedman theory that we should support any tax cut, any time) and demand that the Bush tax cuts be retained. Really, if tax cuts are good and the economy is in the tank, why not?

Obama, eight weeks before the election, has decided to adopt one of many ideas the Republicans put forth in February 2009: a tax break for businesses. As this report explains:

Companies can now deduct new investment expenses, but over a longer period of time—three to 20 years. The proposed change, which would let companies keep more cash now, is meant to give companies who may be hesitant to invest an incentive to expand, acting as a spur to the overall economy. …

Under current law, if a company spends $10 million on a new factory, it gets to deduct the full amount of the cost over a period of between three and 20 years, depending on the investment. So it cuts its stated pre-tax profits by a varying amount each year, thus reducing taxes until the cost of the investment has been written off.

Under the new proposal, the company would get to deduct the full $10 million in the first year. That would give it an immediate cash infusion to offset the costs of investment. It would also give certainty that the full tax benefit would be realized. Companies often don’t get to write off the full cost of an investment over an extended time.

It is not a bad idea, but it simply isn’t as critical as an extension of the Bush tax cuts. Republicans and business leaders were quick to point this out:

“The White House is missing the big picture. These aren’t necessarily bad proposals, but they don’t address the two big problems that are hurting our economy—excessive government spending, and the uncertainty that Washington Democrats’ policies, especially their massive tax hike, are creating for small businesses,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R, Ohio). …

The best thing to do is to get rid of uncertainty, and that includes the cliff we’re falling off with all these [tax] provisions that are expiring,” said Bill Rys, tax counsel for the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business group.

Many NFIB members also are concerned about a new requirement for reporting purchases of more than $600 to the Internal Revenue Service, he added. He questioned whether many business owners would choose to buy more equipment, at least until sales pick up.

It is, on the one hand, a giant concession that tax cuts matter. On the other hand, it leaves the Obama team without any reasoned defense for letting the Bush tax cuts expire — or, for that matter, loading up employers with new mandates. (“Many NFIB members also are concerned about a new requirement for reporting purchases of more than $600 to the Internal Revenue Service.”) As one businesswoman put it, “If this will be offered as a tradeoff for raising the top two rates, it’s a non-starter.”

Nor is it even clear that this is all that helpful at this point:

N. Gregory Mankiw, of Harvard University, and another former CEA chairman under President Bush, questioned whether the Obama proposal would have a big impact. Businesses can already take out a bank loan at extremely low interest rates to pay for new investments in plants and equipment, but they are not doing so, he said. It’s unclear why they would make those investments for a tax break.

And it is even less clear why we should be giving with one hand and taking away with the other. (Jay Timmons, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers: ”The good news [is that] the administration recognizes that manufacturing is key to getting the economy back on track and ensuring we are able to sustain economic growth and job creation. But you can’t do that if you’re penalizing one sector of manufacturing while trying to incent another.”)

The most principled position for conservatives is to accept the president’s tax cut (on the Milton Friedman theory that we should support any tax cut, any time) and demand that the Bush tax cuts be retained. Really, if tax cuts are good and the economy is in the tank, why not?

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Dems Sinking

ABC and NBC are out with surveys today showing a similar picture: there is a substantial lead in congressional generic polling for the GOP among likely voters. In the NBC poll, that gap is 9 percent; among voters who are very interested, the number soars to 18 percent. In the ABC poll, the GOP lead is 13 percent.

Obama’s personal poll numbers continue to sink (46 percent approval in ABC’s poll, a new low; down two points to 45 percent in the NBC poll). Obama has lost ground with virtually every group. (NBC: “Among seniors, his favorable/unfavorable rating is 39 percent to 53 percent; among blue-collar workers, it’s 36 percent to 45 percent; among suburban residents, it’s 39 percent to 48 percent; and among independents, it’s 39 percent to 45 percent.”)

On the most important issue, the economy, the public is deeply unhappy with Obama’s performance. NBC tells us:

Perhaps more ominous for Democrats, the number of Americans who approve of Obama’s handling of the economy — the top issue in the country — has declined below 40 percent for the first time.

“We all know that there is a hurricane coming for the Democrats,” says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “We just don’t know if it will be a Category 4 or a Category 5.” …

What’s more, only 39 percent approve of his handling of the economy — his lowest mark on this question. “That is a huge danger sign,” McInturff says.

ABC’s poll tells a similar story: “On two big issues, disapproval of the president’s performance has reached new highs: Fifty-seven percent now disapprove of his handling of the economy and 58 percent give him low marks on dealing with the deficit.”

The one ray of sunshine is actually on foreign policy. In the ABC poll, voters approve of the president’s handling of Iraq by a 49 to 45 percent margin. This is also the issue on which Obama has strayed the least from Bush’s policies.

It is really a stunning repudiation of Obama and his Democratic congressional allies. The election is eight weeks away. Those Democrats who survive will have to ponder whether it is time for them to also “refudiate” Obama and save their own political skins. Following the president has proved hazardous to individual Dems’ political health; it may well be time to try something new.

ABC and NBC are out with surveys today showing a similar picture: there is a substantial lead in congressional generic polling for the GOP among likely voters. In the NBC poll, that gap is 9 percent; among voters who are very interested, the number soars to 18 percent. In the ABC poll, the GOP lead is 13 percent.

Obama’s personal poll numbers continue to sink (46 percent approval in ABC’s poll, a new low; down two points to 45 percent in the NBC poll). Obama has lost ground with virtually every group. (NBC: “Among seniors, his favorable/unfavorable rating is 39 percent to 53 percent; among blue-collar workers, it’s 36 percent to 45 percent; among suburban residents, it’s 39 percent to 48 percent; and among independents, it’s 39 percent to 45 percent.”)

On the most important issue, the economy, the public is deeply unhappy with Obama’s performance. NBC tells us:

Perhaps more ominous for Democrats, the number of Americans who approve of Obama’s handling of the economy — the top issue in the country — has declined below 40 percent for the first time.

“We all know that there is a hurricane coming for the Democrats,” says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “We just don’t know if it will be a Category 4 or a Category 5.” …

What’s more, only 39 percent approve of his handling of the economy — his lowest mark on this question. “That is a huge danger sign,” McInturff says.

ABC’s poll tells a similar story: “On two big issues, disapproval of the president’s performance has reached new highs: Fifty-seven percent now disapprove of his handling of the economy and 58 percent give him low marks on dealing with the deficit.”

The one ray of sunshine is actually on foreign policy. In the ABC poll, voters approve of the president’s handling of Iraq by a 49 to 45 percent margin. This is also the issue on which Obama has strayed the least from Bush’s policies.

It is really a stunning repudiation of Obama and his Democratic congressional allies. The election is eight weeks away. Those Democrats who survive will have to ponder whether it is time for them to also “refudiate” Obama and save their own political skins. Following the president has proved hazardous to individual Dems’ political health; it may well be time to try something new.

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When Do We Get Around to Containing Iran?

As Tom Joscelyn observes, news reports make clear that Iran is still helping to kill American soldiers, just as it did in Iraq:

So Iran was, according to an ISAF intelligence report, paying bounties for dead Americans in 2005. And in 2010 nothing has changed – except the price ($1,740 vs. $1,000). Throughout much of this time, we’ve heard over and over again that Iran could never, ever work with the Taliban because the two hate each other and theological differences preclude collusion. That has never been true. Their hatred of America trumps their animosity for each other.

Neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration has done anything about this. Both failed to “contain” a non-nuclear Iran as it and its Hamas and Hezbollah clients flexed their muscles, making clear there was little (no?) price to be paid for killing Americans and our allies.

The Obama team mulls whether or not to deploy a “military option” against Iran. (We at least hope that they are mulling and that the talk of keeping all options on the table is not entirely fraudulent.) In other words, should we defend our troops, prevent an aggressive, jihadist state from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and ensure that America does not suffer a blow to our stature and credibility? The Obama team finds it very hard to answer in the affirmative. After all, it sounds like another open-ended commitment.

As Tom Joscelyn observes, news reports make clear that Iran is still helping to kill American soldiers, just as it did in Iraq:

So Iran was, according to an ISAF intelligence report, paying bounties for dead Americans in 2005. And in 2010 nothing has changed – except the price ($1,740 vs. $1,000). Throughout much of this time, we’ve heard over and over again that Iran could never, ever work with the Taliban because the two hate each other and theological differences preclude collusion. That has never been true. Their hatred of America trumps their animosity for each other.

Neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration has done anything about this. Both failed to “contain” a non-nuclear Iran as it and its Hamas and Hezbollah clients flexed their muscles, making clear there was little (no?) price to be paid for killing Americans and our allies.

The Obama team mulls whether or not to deploy a “military option” against Iran. (We at least hope that they are mulling and that the talk of keeping all options on the table is not entirely fraudulent.) In other words, should we defend our troops, prevent an aggressive, jihadist state from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and ensure that America does not suffer a blow to our stature and credibility? The Obama team finds it very hard to answer in the affirmative. After all, it sounds like another open-ended commitment.

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Stop Him Before He Speaks Again?

It’s not just conservative grouches who find Obama unimpressive and somewhat lost in the Oval office. Richard Cohen writes:

In last week’s prime-time address to the nation, the president sat behind a massive and capaciously empty desk, looking somehow smaller than he ever has — a man physically reduced by sinking polls, a lousy economy and the prospect that his party might lose control of Congress. Behold something we never thought we’d see with Obama: The Incredible Shrinking Presidency.

Part of the problem is that we have heard it all before — most especially, the feint toward a more robust foreign policy immediately undercut by deadlines. We’ve grown to expect that he will strain to push war off the agenda so he can get back to his spend-a-thon. Cohen is right that Obama has no business giving “an Oval Office address unless he has something worthy of the Oval Office to say,” but Cohen is hesitant to get to the heart of the matter.

He wants Obama “to fire some key people.” (I think John Boehner suggested this a week or so ago.) But ObamaCare is the president’s jewel, spending is his true love, and being commander in chief is not. It’s foolish to hope that new staff can stop Obama from doing what he wants to do or invest him with new executive expertise. Is new staff going to remake the president’s demeanor from snippy to gracious? Cohen wants Obama to stop being Obama. A fine idea, but improbable.

It’s not just conservative grouches who find Obama unimpressive and somewhat lost in the Oval office. Richard Cohen writes:

In last week’s prime-time address to the nation, the president sat behind a massive and capaciously empty desk, looking somehow smaller than he ever has — a man physically reduced by sinking polls, a lousy economy and the prospect that his party might lose control of Congress. Behold something we never thought we’d see with Obama: The Incredible Shrinking Presidency.

Part of the problem is that we have heard it all before — most especially, the feint toward a more robust foreign policy immediately undercut by deadlines. We’ve grown to expect that he will strain to push war off the agenda so he can get back to his spend-a-thon. Cohen is right that Obama has no business giving “an Oval Office address unless he has something worthy of the Oval Office to say,” but Cohen is hesitant to get to the heart of the matter.

He wants Obama “to fire some key people.” (I think John Boehner suggested this a week or so ago.) But ObamaCare is the president’s jewel, spending is his true love, and being commander in chief is not. It’s foolish to hope that new staff can stop Obama from doing what he wants to do or invest him with new executive expertise. Is new staff going to remake the president’s demeanor from snippy to gracious? Cohen wants Obama to stop being Obama. A fine idea, but improbable.

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No Bang for Our Three Trillion Bucks

Yesterday the president proposed yet another stimulus — $50B in public works spending. Sound familiar? On one level, it seems simply absurd. Republicans lambasted the plan. Minority Whip Eric Cantor released a statement comparing this to “blindly throwing darts at the board.” But opposition may well be bipartisan: “Many congressional Democrats are also likely to be reluctant to boost expenditures and increase federal deficits just weeks before elections that will determine control of the Congress.” Not even the New York Times is impressed with Obama’s idea for an “infrastructure” bank:

But the notion of a government-run bank — indeed, a government-run anything — is bound to prove contentious during an election year in which voters are already furious over bank bailouts and over what many perceive as Mr. Obama pursuing a big government agenda. Even before the announcement Monday, some Republicans were expressing caution.

The assertion that a $50B program, after multiple stimulus plans, will improve our economic fortunes will strike some as nearly comic. As the Wall Street Journal editors observe, “never before has government spent so much and intervened so directly in credit allocation to spur growth, yet the results have been mediocre at best. In return for adding nearly $3 trillion in federal debt in two years, we still have 14.9 million unemployed.” The editors offer this explanation:

The Administration rejected marginal-rate tax cuts that worked in the 1960s and 1980s because they would have helped the rich, in favor of a Keynesian spending binge that has stimulated little except government. More broadly, Democrats purposely used the recession as a political opening to redistribute income, reverse the free-market reforms of the Reagan era, and put government at the commanding heights of economic decision-making.

Mr. Obama and the Democratic Congress have succeeded in doing all of this despite the growing opposition of the American people, who are now enduring the results. The only path back to robust growth and prosperity is to stop this agenda dead in its tracks, and then by stages to reverse it.

Or more succinctly: Refudiate Obamanomics!

And to top it off, Obama showed his peevish side one more time, claiming that his critics “talk about me like a dog.” No, they talk about him like he is an increasingly desperate and out of touch liberal pol whose main obsession remains his own image.

Yesterday the president proposed yet another stimulus — $50B in public works spending. Sound familiar? On one level, it seems simply absurd. Republicans lambasted the plan. Minority Whip Eric Cantor released a statement comparing this to “blindly throwing darts at the board.” But opposition may well be bipartisan: “Many congressional Democrats are also likely to be reluctant to boost expenditures and increase federal deficits just weeks before elections that will determine control of the Congress.” Not even the New York Times is impressed with Obama’s idea for an “infrastructure” bank:

But the notion of a government-run bank — indeed, a government-run anything — is bound to prove contentious during an election year in which voters are already furious over bank bailouts and over what many perceive as Mr. Obama pursuing a big government agenda. Even before the announcement Monday, some Republicans were expressing caution.

The assertion that a $50B program, after multiple stimulus plans, will improve our economic fortunes will strike some as nearly comic. As the Wall Street Journal editors observe, “never before has government spent so much and intervened so directly in credit allocation to spur growth, yet the results have been mediocre at best. In return for adding nearly $3 trillion in federal debt in two years, we still have 14.9 million unemployed.” The editors offer this explanation:

The Administration rejected marginal-rate tax cuts that worked in the 1960s and 1980s because they would have helped the rich, in favor of a Keynesian spending binge that has stimulated little except government. More broadly, Democrats purposely used the recession as a political opening to redistribute income, reverse the free-market reforms of the Reagan era, and put government at the commanding heights of economic decision-making.

Mr. Obama and the Democratic Congress have succeeded in doing all of this despite the growing opposition of the American people, who are now enduring the results. The only path back to robust growth and prosperity is to stop this agenda dead in its tracks, and then by stages to reverse it.

Or more succinctly: Refudiate Obamanomics!

And to top it off, Obama showed his peevish side one more time, claiming that his critics “talk about me like a dog.” No, they talk about him like he is an increasingly desperate and out of touch liberal pol whose main obsession remains his own image.

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Obama’s Middle East Policy: Incompetence Continues

The Obami have, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at virtually every turn, made the wrong decision and then botched the execution of that decision. Beginning with the decision to focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than the Iranian nuclear threat and continuing through to the public bullying of Israel and the NPT declaration (and its walk-back), all followed by the charm campaign (when all that preceded it proved a bust and domestically harmful to boot), the Obami have made matters worse not better.

Now that they have struggled to pick up where the Bush team left off two years ago — direct talks – they are making new errors. Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser who helped devise and maintain productive and warm U.S.-Israeli relations for eight years, tries to help the Obami avoid more missteps. (He is too polite to mention his own handiwork, but the administration might start with recognizing and confirming the agreement that Bush and Sharon reached in 2004 on settlements.)

Abrams warns the Obami team that in direct talks between the parties, it is best not to “intrude too deeply and too often.” This is good advice even for an administration that is respected and trusted by the parties. (“The Israelis and Palestinians do not negotiate seriously when U.S. officials are in the room; instead, they take positions designed to elicit American approval.”) George Mitchell has not yet figured this out, however.

Abrams also warns (as Tony Blair did at the March AIPAC conference, in very similar language) that what really matters is what is going on in the West Bank. He explains, “A Palestinian state will be built not at Camp David or Sharm el-Sheikh but in the West Bank, which is where our greatest efforts should be focused.” Again, Mitchell has not yet grasped this essential truth.

But Abrams’s most important piece of advice is this: the decision to work on a framework agreement is wrong. He quotes Mitchell’s explanation of such an agreement: “It’s more detailed than a declaration of principles, but is less than a full-fledged treaty. Its purpose is to establish the fundamental compromises necessary to enable the parties to then flesh out and complete a comprehensive agreement that will end the conflict and establish a lasting peace.” Abrams writes:

The difficult compromises necessary for a final-status agreement that resolves all the core issues will be made at the very end. The only way Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can defend such compromises is by delivering to Palestinians their own state; the only way Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can do so is by saying Israel will now get peace, not only with Palestinians but with all Arab states.

All this cannot possibly happen until a final-status agreement is signed and implemented. Asking the parties to announce their “fundamental compromises” on the core issues when a final-status agreement is years away is asking them to commit political suicide.

In other words, whatever slim chance there might be for a peace deal (I personally think it’s close to zero) is reduced, once again, by an incompetent (is there any other adjective to describe him?) envoy and a flawed negotiating strategy. The most, I think, we can hope for is that the end of the talks don’t trigger another intifada, that the progress on the ground in the West Bank continues, and that sooner rather than later, a U.S. negotiating team will emerge that knows what it is doing.

The Obami have, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at virtually every turn, made the wrong decision and then botched the execution of that decision. Beginning with the decision to focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than the Iranian nuclear threat and continuing through to the public bullying of Israel and the NPT declaration (and its walk-back), all followed by the charm campaign (when all that preceded it proved a bust and domestically harmful to boot), the Obami have made matters worse not better.

Now that they have struggled to pick up where the Bush team left off two years ago — direct talks – they are making new errors. Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser who helped devise and maintain productive and warm U.S.-Israeli relations for eight years, tries to help the Obami avoid more missteps. (He is too polite to mention his own handiwork, but the administration might start with recognizing and confirming the agreement that Bush and Sharon reached in 2004 on settlements.)

Abrams warns the Obami team that in direct talks between the parties, it is best not to “intrude too deeply and too often.” This is good advice even for an administration that is respected and trusted by the parties. (“The Israelis and Palestinians do not negotiate seriously when U.S. officials are in the room; instead, they take positions designed to elicit American approval.”) George Mitchell has not yet figured this out, however.

Abrams also warns (as Tony Blair did at the March AIPAC conference, in very similar language) that what really matters is what is going on in the West Bank. He explains, “A Palestinian state will be built not at Camp David or Sharm el-Sheikh but in the West Bank, which is where our greatest efforts should be focused.” Again, Mitchell has not yet grasped this essential truth.

But Abrams’s most important piece of advice is this: the decision to work on a framework agreement is wrong. He quotes Mitchell’s explanation of such an agreement: “It’s more detailed than a declaration of principles, but is less than a full-fledged treaty. Its purpose is to establish the fundamental compromises necessary to enable the parties to then flesh out and complete a comprehensive agreement that will end the conflict and establish a lasting peace.” Abrams writes:

The difficult compromises necessary for a final-status agreement that resolves all the core issues will be made at the very end. The only way Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can defend such compromises is by delivering to Palestinians their own state; the only way Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can do so is by saying Israel will now get peace, not only with Palestinians but with all Arab states.

All this cannot possibly happen until a final-status agreement is signed and implemented. Asking the parties to announce their “fundamental compromises” on the core issues when a final-status agreement is years away is asking them to commit political suicide.

In other words, whatever slim chance there might be for a peace deal (I personally think it’s close to zero) is reduced, once again, by an incompetent (is there any other adjective to describe him?) envoy and a flawed negotiating strategy. The most, I think, we can hope for is that the end of the talks don’t trigger another intifada, that the progress on the ground in the West Bank continues, and that sooner rather than later, a U.S. negotiating team will emerge that knows what it is doing.

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The 2010 Electorate

You recall awhile back that Obama made a crass plea to his base — women, young, and minority voters — to get pumped up about the 2010 elections. It didn’t work. Gallup reports:

Minority and young voters made a significant mark on the 2008 presidential election with their high turnout; today, however, these groups appear to have reverted to previous levels of interest in voting in the context of midterm elections. Most notably, in contrast to 2008, when whites and blacks were about equally likely to say they were giving “quite a lot of” or “some” thought to the presidential election, whites are much more likely than blacks to be thinking about the 2010 elections: 42% vs. 25%, a gap exceeding those from recent midterm elections.

So much for the notion that measures unpopular with the rest of the electorate (e.g. ObamaCare) could stir up the base in sufficient numbers to offset the opposition that Obama was creating.

Recall also that the punditocracy has been saying that Republicans need to run on a specific platform to win. There is good reason to have a conservative reform agenda (especially if Republicans get control of one or two houses of Congress), but it doesn’t at this stage appear to be critical to beating the Democrats. Again, Gallup tells us:

The Republicans’ lead in the congressional generic ballot over the past month may be due as much to voters’ rejecting the Democrats as embracing the Republicans. Among voters backing Republican candidates, 44% say their preference is “more a vote against the Democratic candidate,” while 48% say it is “more a vote for the Republican candidate.” …

The 44% of Republican voters who say they are voting more against the Democratic candidate exceeds the level of negative voting against the incumbent party that Gallup measured in the 1994 and 2006 elections, when party control shifted (from the Democrats to the Republicans after the 1994 elections and from the Republicans to the Democrats after the 2006 elections).

In short, Obama’s extreme agenda has whipped up a ferocious backlash without exciting his own supporters. (Just as conservative critics warned.) The result will be a more conservative electorate with one goal in mind: kick the Democrats out. There is simply no way Republicans could have achieved this on their own.

You recall awhile back that Obama made a crass plea to his base — women, young, and minority voters — to get pumped up about the 2010 elections. It didn’t work. Gallup reports:

Minority and young voters made a significant mark on the 2008 presidential election with their high turnout; today, however, these groups appear to have reverted to previous levels of interest in voting in the context of midterm elections. Most notably, in contrast to 2008, when whites and blacks were about equally likely to say they were giving “quite a lot of” or “some” thought to the presidential election, whites are much more likely than blacks to be thinking about the 2010 elections: 42% vs. 25%, a gap exceeding those from recent midterm elections.

So much for the notion that measures unpopular with the rest of the electorate (e.g. ObamaCare) could stir up the base in sufficient numbers to offset the opposition that Obama was creating.

Recall also that the punditocracy has been saying that Republicans need to run on a specific platform to win. There is good reason to have a conservative reform agenda (especially if Republicans get control of one or two houses of Congress), but it doesn’t at this stage appear to be critical to beating the Democrats. Again, Gallup tells us:

The Republicans’ lead in the congressional generic ballot over the past month may be due as much to voters’ rejecting the Democrats as embracing the Republicans. Among voters backing Republican candidates, 44% say their preference is “more a vote against the Democratic candidate,” while 48% say it is “more a vote for the Republican candidate.” …

The 44% of Republican voters who say they are voting more against the Democratic candidate exceeds the level of negative voting against the incumbent party that Gallup measured in the 1994 and 2006 elections, when party control shifted (from the Democrats to the Republicans after the 1994 elections and from the Republicans to the Democrats after the 2006 elections).

In short, Obama’s extreme agenda has whipped up a ferocious backlash without exciting his own supporters. (Just as conservative critics warned.) The result will be a more conservative electorate with one goal in mind: kick the Democrats out. There is simply no way Republicans could have achieved this on their own.

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Peace Process Progress Report

One week into the new peace process and the results so far: four Israeli civilians murdered (Yitzhak and Talya Ames, parents of six children, expecting their seventh; Kochava Even Chaim, a married teacher and mother whose husband was on the first-aid team that arrived to find that his wife was one of the victims; Avishai Shindler, a newly married 24-year-old); Talaya’s baby, a month from being born; seven new orphans, a new widow and widower; and their community (Beit Hagai, a small settlement of 95 families, formed 25 years ago near the biblical city of Hebron) without recourse.

A second attack occurred a day later, with two wounded, one seriously.

Yitzhak Rabin used to say that Israel would fight terrorism as if there were no peace process — and conduct the peace process as if there were no terrorism. Several peace processes later, only the latter part of that aphorism remains in effect. The first part has become a casualty of the peace process.

Israel cannot fight terrorism as if there were no peace process, because fighting terrorism would jeopardize the peace process. The peace process cannot progress as long as terrorism exists, but terrorism is safe from response as long as the peace process is in progress. Since the process is so important, any retaliation would by definition be disproportionate.

So it will not happen – even though the perpetrator is known, proudly claims responsibility, and promises to do it again. The peace process, which causes the deaths for which there cannot be any response other than to continue the peace process, will continue.

In other peace process news, the speeches in Washington last week were excellent.

One week into the new peace process and the results so far: four Israeli civilians murdered (Yitzhak and Talya Ames, parents of six children, expecting their seventh; Kochava Even Chaim, a married teacher and mother whose husband was on the first-aid team that arrived to find that his wife was one of the victims; Avishai Shindler, a newly married 24-year-old); Talaya’s baby, a month from being born; seven new orphans, a new widow and widower; and their community (Beit Hagai, a small settlement of 95 families, formed 25 years ago near the biblical city of Hebron) without recourse.

A second attack occurred a day later, with two wounded, one seriously.

Yitzhak Rabin used to say that Israel would fight terrorism as if there were no peace process — and conduct the peace process as if there were no terrorism. Several peace processes later, only the latter part of that aphorism remains in effect. The first part has become a casualty of the peace process.

Israel cannot fight terrorism as if there were no peace process, because fighting terrorism would jeopardize the peace process. The peace process cannot progress as long as terrorism exists, but terrorism is safe from response as long as the peace process is in progress. Since the process is so important, any retaliation would by definition be disproportionate.

So it will not happen – even though the perpetrator is known, proudly claims responsibility, and promises to do it again. The peace process, which causes the deaths for which there cannot be any response other than to continue the peace process, will continue.

In other peace process news, the speeches in Washington last week were excellent.

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Web Exclusive: Acceptable in Polite Society

The German word Salonfähig doesn’t have a precise English translation. The closest English can do is something along the lines of “acceptable in polite society.” Salonfähig came to mind when I got my first look at the outrageous cover of this week’s Time magazine. Against a light blue background is a Star of David composed of white daisies. “Blue and white” brought to you by Time. But in the middle of the star, in stark black letters, lies the title of this week’s cover story: “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.”

Here we are in the middle of peace negotiations that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, insisted upon, and to which the president of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, had to be dragged, and Time writes about “why Israel doesn’t care about peace.” Is there no limit to the Israel-bashing that now passes for serious conversion in polite society?

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

The German word Salonfähig doesn’t have a precise English translation. The closest English can do is something along the lines of “acceptable in polite society.” Salonfähig came to mind when I got my first look at the outrageous cover of this week’s Time magazine. Against a light blue background is a Star of David composed of white daisies. “Blue and white” brought to you by Time. But in the middle of the star, in stark black letters, lies the title of this week’s cover story: “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.”

Here we are in the middle of peace negotiations that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, insisted upon, and to which the president of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, had to be dragged, and Time writes about “why Israel doesn’t care about peace.” Is there no limit to the Israel-bashing that now passes for serious conversion in polite society?

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Voters Say the Iraq War Was Worth It

Just before the Labor Day weekend, Fox released a poll that provides evidence of just how far the American people have come — and how wide is the gap between Obama and the public. What is surprising is that the subject is Iraq.

Did we do the right thing by going to war with Iraq? Fifty-eight percent say yes, while only 35 percent say no.  This is a reversal of several years’ worth of survey data. A stunning 71 percent, including 58 percent of Democrats, think the Iraqi people are better off because of the war. Is the U.S. and the world safer? Again, 58 percent say yes. Who do they give credit for the success? Fifty-four percent say George W. Bush, only 19 percent say Obama. Did Obama give Bush enough credit in last Tuesday’s speech? A significant plurality (38 to 15 percent) say no. Independents by a 31 to 16 percent margin say Obama didn’t give Bush enough credit. (By the way, Obama gave Bush no credit — he merely said Bush loved the troops.) The poll is no outlier – NBC’s survey shows 53 percent think the war was a success; only 43 percent say it is not.

Well, Obama and the rest of the left must be chagrined to find out that – after years of running down the war effort (in fact declaring it a lost cause), inciting the public to oppose it, and vilifying the president who launched the war and made success possible — the majority of the country disagrees with them. As for Bush, this is vindication much sooner perhaps than any of us imagined. He refused to bend to the howls  and to give up on the Iraqi people. He didn’t care if it made him unpopular for a time — and it did. He knew that defeat was unacceptable and that success — a stable, democratic, pro-Western Iraq — would be a historic achievement. And it is. The president has been quiet for nearly two years, waiting for events to play out and history to render its verdict. At this point, he deserves a victory lap and the appreciation of the American people.

Provided Obama “doesn’t screw this up,” Bush and country can rightly say, ” Mission Accomplished.”

Just before the Labor Day weekend, Fox released a poll that provides evidence of just how far the American people have come — and how wide is the gap between Obama and the public. What is surprising is that the subject is Iraq.

Did we do the right thing by going to war with Iraq? Fifty-eight percent say yes, while only 35 percent say no.  This is a reversal of several years’ worth of survey data. A stunning 71 percent, including 58 percent of Democrats, think the Iraqi people are better off because of the war. Is the U.S. and the world safer? Again, 58 percent say yes. Who do they give credit for the success? Fifty-four percent say George W. Bush, only 19 percent say Obama. Did Obama give Bush enough credit in last Tuesday’s speech? A significant plurality (38 to 15 percent) say no. Independents by a 31 to 16 percent margin say Obama didn’t give Bush enough credit. (By the way, Obama gave Bush no credit — he merely said Bush loved the troops.) The poll is no outlier – NBC’s survey shows 53 percent think the war was a success; only 43 percent say it is not.

Well, Obama and the rest of the left must be chagrined to find out that – after years of running down the war effort (in fact declaring it a lost cause), inciting the public to oppose it, and vilifying the president who launched the war and made success possible — the majority of the country disagrees with them. As for Bush, this is vindication much sooner perhaps than any of us imagined. He refused to bend to the howls  and to give up on the Iraqi people. He didn’t care if it made him unpopular for a time — and it did. He knew that defeat was unacceptable and that success — a stable, democratic, pro-Western Iraq — would be a historic achievement. And it is. The president has been quiet for nearly two years, waiting for events to play out and history to render its verdict. At this point, he deserves a victory lap and the appreciation of the American people.

Provided Obama “doesn’t screw this up,” Bush and country can rightly say, ” Mission Accomplished.”

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