Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 1, 2010

Immigration and the Golden State

I am delighted that my friend Peter Robinson has spent time pondering my latest piece for COMMENTARY, “California, There It Went.” I am immensely gratified by his kind words. He poses a series of questions on immigration and asks whether immigration, illegal immigration more specifically, isn’t a significant factor in California’s woeful condition.

I’ll start by summarizing where I stand on the more general topic: I am unabashedly pro-immigration. As Peter eloquently argued, the spiritual and economic life of America and its reputation as a beacon of freedom and opportunity depend on an influx of new immigrants to revitalize and replenish ourselves. (As Dan Senor and Saul Singer observe in Start Up Nation, immigrants are risk takers, entrepreneurial by their nature. A dynamic, modern society wants such people.)

Tamar Jacoby wrote during the height of the immigration-reform debate that “immigrants don’t just keep the economy going, they grow it, making us all richer and more productive.” She explained that “if there’d been no immigrants in the past decade, the U.S. economy would have grown by less than half as much as it did. Think about it: half as many new houses built, half as many businesses opened, half as many new jobs created, half as much new tax revenue collected—and much less economic vitality.”

In “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime” from the December 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, CATO’s Daniel Griswold wrote that immigrants are looking for a good job, not a drug deal. That said, the problem of illegal immigration and the burden it imposes on states like California is real. In Griswold’s earlier work on the subject, he explained that anti-immigration activists have exaggerated and distorted the burdens immigrants place on state governments:

The 1997 National Research Council study found that, although the fiscal impact of a typical immigrant and his or her descendants is strongly positive at the federal level, it is negative at the state and local level.

State and local fiscal costs, while real, must be weighed against the equally real and positive effect of immigration on the overall economy. Low-skilled immigrants allow important sectors of the U.S. economy, such as retail, cleaning, food preparation, construction, and other services, to expand to meet the needs of their customers. They help the economy produce a wider array of more affordably priced goods and services, raising the real wages of most Americans. By filling gaps in the U.S. labor market, such immigrants create investment opportunities and employment for native-born Americans. Immigrants are also consumers, increasing demand for American-made goods and services.

Griswold cites two studies, which “found that the increased economic activity created by lower-skilled, mostly Hispanic immigrants far exceeds the costs to state and local governments.” A 2006 study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found Hispanics “many of them undocumented immigrants, had indeed imposed a net cost on the state government of $61 million, but… had increased the state’s economy by $9 billion.” A Texas study concluded its 1.4 million undocumented immigrants imposed $504 million in costs to state and local governments in 2005 but “was dwarfed by the estimated positive impact on the state’s economy of $17.7 billion.”

Although I start, therefore, from the premise that immigrants are a net positive, that doesn’t mean there are not serious issues, especially for California. Peter smartly zeroes in on them. I’ll address the first here and the next two in a subsequent post. Peter asks:

No less a figure than  Harvard professor Samuel Huntington suggested that the Southwestern United  States, including, of course, southern California, runs the danger of  becoming culturally and linguistically more Mexican than American.   With Mexicans moving into the state while whites leave California for the interior of the country, is Huntington’s fear being borne out?

California isn’t there yet. California has the highest number of illegal immigrants in the country. But that still amounts to just 6.9 percent of the population. We are a very, very long way from seeing the culture become “more Mexican than American.” The schools, as rotten as they are, teach some facsimile of American history, American literature, etc., as the mainstays of their curriculum. (And to its credit, California was among the first to take a stab at doing away with bilingual education.) Pop culture, much of which emanates from California, is “American.” With 93 percent of the population made up of legal immigrants and citizens by birth, we’re not in any danger of getting “swamped” culturally.

This does, however, touch on a pet peeve of mine. Some of the concern that is referenced by Huntington relates to the impact of legal immigrants and those Hispanics born here. And that raises the question: what does “American” culture mean? Many anti-immigration activists assume American culture is fixed and that new immigrants will make us into something we aren’t. But that has never been what America is about. America wasn’t “fixed” in 1776, nor after the surge of immigration in the mid-1800s. It wasn’t set in stone after the huge influx of immigrants from Europe at the turn of the century. We evolve, we absorb, and we grow richer with each wave of immigrants.

However – and it’s a big “however” – we need to get real about assimilation. The reason immigration has been a positive factor is that each generation of immigrants learned English and learned to operate within, not apart, from American society. Tamar Jacoby, again: “We need more English classes. We need to guide newcomers toward becoming citizens. We need to help them help themselves – navigating the system, putting down roots, getting their kids to college, getting ahead.” (She also points to statistics indicating we’re doing better by objective measures of assimilation than many think.)

To answer Huntington, then, I’d rather improve our assimilation efforts than exclude and/or remove immigrants. That means not letting the leftist elites and professional ethnic-grievance mongers (both of whom encourage ethnic separatism) run the show. It means rejecting the argument that efforts to maintain our common language are “racist.”

But that’s only part of my answer. In Part 2, I’ll argue that the real answer to this and other concerns is comprehensive immigration reform.

I am delighted that my friend Peter Robinson has spent time pondering my latest piece for COMMENTARY, “California, There It Went.” I am immensely gratified by his kind words. He poses a series of questions on immigration and asks whether immigration, illegal immigration more specifically, isn’t a significant factor in California’s woeful condition.

I’ll start by summarizing where I stand on the more general topic: I am unabashedly pro-immigration. As Peter eloquently argued, the spiritual and economic life of America and its reputation as a beacon of freedom and opportunity depend on an influx of new immigrants to revitalize and replenish ourselves. (As Dan Senor and Saul Singer observe in Start Up Nation, immigrants are risk takers, entrepreneurial by their nature. A dynamic, modern society wants such people.)

Tamar Jacoby wrote during the height of the immigration-reform debate that “immigrants don’t just keep the economy going, they grow it, making us all richer and more productive.” She explained that “if there’d been no immigrants in the past decade, the U.S. economy would have grown by less than half as much as it did. Think about it: half as many new houses built, half as many businesses opened, half as many new jobs created, half as much new tax revenue collected—and much less economic vitality.”

In “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime” from the December 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, CATO’s Daniel Griswold wrote that immigrants are looking for a good job, not a drug deal. That said, the problem of illegal immigration and the burden it imposes on states like California is real. In Griswold’s earlier work on the subject, he explained that anti-immigration activists have exaggerated and distorted the burdens immigrants place on state governments:

The 1997 National Research Council study found that, although the fiscal impact of a typical immigrant and his or her descendants is strongly positive at the federal level, it is negative at the state and local level.

State and local fiscal costs, while real, must be weighed against the equally real and positive effect of immigration on the overall economy. Low-skilled immigrants allow important sectors of the U.S. economy, such as retail, cleaning, food preparation, construction, and other services, to expand to meet the needs of their customers. They help the economy produce a wider array of more affordably priced goods and services, raising the real wages of most Americans. By filling gaps in the U.S. labor market, such immigrants create investment opportunities and employment for native-born Americans. Immigrants are also consumers, increasing demand for American-made goods and services.

Griswold cites two studies, which “found that the increased economic activity created by lower-skilled, mostly Hispanic immigrants far exceeds the costs to state and local governments.” A 2006 study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found Hispanics “many of them undocumented immigrants, had indeed imposed a net cost on the state government of $61 million, but… had increased the state’s economy by $9 billion.” A Texas study concluded its 1.4 million undocumented immigrants imposed $504 million in costs to state and local governments in 2005 but “was dwarfed by the estimated positive impact on the state’s economy of $17.7 billion.”

Although I start, therefore, from the premise that immigrants are a net positive, that doesn’t mean there are not serious issues, especially for California. Peter smartly zeroes in on them. I’ll address the first here and the next two in a subsequent post. Peter asks:

No less a figure than  Harvard professor Samuel Huntington suggested that the Southwestern United  States, including, of course, southern California, runs the danger of  becoming culturally and linguistically more Mexican than American.   With Mexicans moving into the state while whites leave California for the interior of the country, is Huntington’s fear being borne out?

California isn’t there yet. California has the highest number of illegal immigrants in the country. But that still amounts to just 6.9 percent of the population. We are a very, very long way from seeing the culture become “more Mexican than American.” The schools, as rotten as they are, teach some facsimile of American history, American literature, etc., as the mainstays of their curriculum. (And to its credit, California was among the first to take a stab at doing away with bilingual education.) Pop culture, much of which emanates from California, is “American.” With 93 percent of the population made up of legal immigrants and citizens by birth, we’re not in any danger of getting “swamped” culturally.

This does, however, touch on a pet peeve of mine. Some of the concern that is referenced by Huntington relates to the impact of legal immigrants and those Hispanics born here. And that raises the question: what does “American” culture mean? Many anti-immigration activists assume American culture is fixed and that new immigrants will make us into something we aren’t. But that has never been what America is about. America wasn’t “fixed” in 1776, nor after the surge of immigration in the mid-1800s. It wasn’t set in stone after the huge influx of immigrants from Europe at the turn of the century. We evolve, we absorb, and we grow richer with each wave of immigrants.

However – and it’s a big “however” – we need to get real about assimilation. The reason immigration has been a positive factor is that each generation of immigrants learned English and learned to operate within, not apart, from American society. Tamar Jacoby, again: “We need more English classes. We need to guide newcomers toward becoming citizens. We need to help them help themselves – navigating the system, putting down roots, getting their kids to college, getting ahead.” (She also points to statistics indicating we’re doing better by objective measures of assimilation than many think.)

To answer Huntington, then, I’d rather improve our assimilation efforts than exclude and/or remove immigrants. That means not letting the leftist elites and professional ethnic-grievance mongers (both of whom encourage ethnic separatism) run the show. It means rejecting the argument that efforts to maintain our common language are “racist.”

But that’s only part of my answer. In Part 2, I’ll argue that the real answer to this and other concerns is comprehensive immigration reform.

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How To Undo Success

If Iraq falls apart it will result from political unraveling, not car bombs. The latter makes for lurid American headlines, but will not draw a post-traumatic population into another civil war. The country’s ability to absorb attacks and resume the business of statehood is a thoroughly ignored dimension of all the car-bomb stories. As a people, Iraqis have shed the local malady of tribal revenge. It has been replaced, at least in some instances, by a taste for consensual governance. But Iraqi leaders are only first exploring the regional malady of outsized power politics.

After seven months of parliamentary stalemate in the wake of a close election, there is a dismaying report from Baghdad about Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki:

Mr. Maliki’s party, State of Law, and another Shiite party with ties to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr shut out a third, the Iraqi National Alliance, and its contender, Adel Abdelmehdi, in negotiations within the Shiite bloc, alliance officials said Friday. State of Law, the Sadrists and their allies command 148 seats in Parliament and need another 15 to win a majority and establish a new government. That support is expected to come from the Kurds.

This represents a potential ruling alliance of strong-arm statists and radical Islamists. To get the full measure of how depressing that is, recall that one of the best strategic justifications for the initial invasion of Iraq was to head-off this very same toxic fraternization. There is always the chance that this story is being blown out of proportion in an otherwise static political landscape. But if not, it could mean much greater Iranian influence in Iraqi politics.

Let us not tragically lose sight of the following: This is not even close to the inevitable outcome of Iraqi elections. In the March election, the moderate Iraqiya alliance enjoyed a modest victory. What followed was parliamentary horse-trading Middle East style. Now the moderates are being sidelined.

Washington is far from blameless. In Barack Obama’s eagerness to “responsibly” hand over full sovereignty to Iraq and close the curtain on the Bush years, he has very nearly abandoned the fledgling Mesopotamian democracy to the depredations of regional thugs and radicals. Surely, the Kurds, upon whom the solidification of the next Iraqi government may rest, would be less inclined to submit to extremists out of self preservation if they were reassured of America’s continued support. In no sane reckoning, should the U.S. be done with Iraq’s political future. Americans gave their lives to turn a murderous dictatorship into a struggling democracy. Many Iraqis also gave their lives in service of the same. We still have more leverage there than do any of Iraq’s neighbors; yet, the administration is loath to use it.

Where are the critics of the war who told us that mere elections do not ensure democracy? Is it not time they spoke up to demand closer American stewardship of Baghdad’s parliamentary progress and the Kurdish aspiration. Barack Obama himself said in 2006, freedoms “do not just come from deposing a tyrant and handing out ballots.” Yet today, he is among the most simplistic, if ironic, defenders of the war’s achievements and also the most dismissive of the need for further democratic nurturance. Here, as on other fronts, the president courts disaster for the worst possible reason: blind political rigidity.

If Iraq falls apart it will result from political unraveling, not car bombs. The latter makes for lurid American headlines, but will not draw a post-traumatic population into another civil war. The country’s ability to absorb attacks and resume the business of statehood is a thoroughly ignored dimension of all the car-bomb stories. As a people, Iraqis have shed the local malady of tribal revenge. It has been replaced, at least in some instances, by a taste for consensual governance. But Iraqi leaders are only first exploring the regional malady of outsized power politics.

After seven months of parliamentary stalemate in the wake of a close election, there is a dismaying report from Baghdad about Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki:

Mr. Maliki’s party, State of Law, and another Shiite party with ties to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr shut out a third, the Iraqi National Alliance, and its contender, Adel Abdelmehdi, in negotiations within the Shiite bloc, alliance officials said Friday. State of Law, the Sadrists and their allies command 148 seats in Parliament and need another 15 to win a majority and establish a new government. That support is expected to come from the Kurds.

This represents a potential ruling alliance of strong-arm statists and radical Islamists. To get the full measure of how depressing that is, recall that one of the best strategic justifications for the initial invasion of Iraq was to head-off this very same toxic fraternization. There is always the chance that this story is being blown out of proportion in an otherwise static political landscape. But if not, it could mean much greater Iranian influence in Iraqi politics.

Let us not tragically lose sight of the following: This is not even close to the inevitable outcome of Iraqi elections. In the March election, the moderate Iraqiya alliance enjoyed a modest victory. What followed was parliamentary horse-trading Middle East style. Now the moderates are being sidelined.

Washington is far from blameless. In Barack Obama’s eagerness to “responsibly” hand over full sovereignty to Iraq and close the curtain on the Bush years, he has very nearly abandoned the fledgling Mesopotamian democracy to the depredations of regional thugs and radicals. Surely, the Kurds, upon whom the solidification of the next Iraqi government may rest, would be less inclined to submit to extremists out of self preservation if they were reassured of America’s continued support. In no sane reckoning, should the U.S. be done with Iraq’s political future. Americans gave their lives to turn a murderous dictatorship into a struggling democracy. Many Iraqis also gave their lives in service of the same. We still have more leverage there than do any of Iraq’s neighbors; yet, the administration is loath to use it.

Where are the critics of the war who told us that mere elections do not ensure democracy? Is it not time they spoke up to demand closer American stewardship of Baghdad’s parliamentary progress and the Kurdish aspiration. Barack Obama himself said in 2006, freedoms “do not just come from deposing a tyrant and handing out ballots.” Yet today, he is among the most simplistic, if ironic, defenders of the war’s achievements and also the most dismissive of the need for further democratic nurturance. Here, as on other fronts, the president courts disaster for the worst possible reason: blind political rigidity.

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Not a Parody: Tikkun Goes to the March

This just in, from the “Network of Spiritual Progressives” at Tikkun, regarding the “One Nation” march of liberal and leftist activists tomorrow in Washington:

While we in the Network of Spiritual Progressives have been distressed at the absence of any understanding of how a spiritual transformation of values in America must be central to the struggles that the One Nation March articulates, and unhappy at the lack of any coherent thinking that links the actual demands of this march to some larger coherent worldview (thereby providing very little in the way of an alternative to the Right), the NSP has nevertheless joined in support of the March, and in the hope that at some point the rather sketchy demands could be contextualized within a deeper understanding of what is needed to turn America from the center of globalized capitalism with its ethos of selfishness and materialism to the center of a global movement for The Caring Society (see for example our Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, neither of which are likely to even get a mention at this March).

Yet what this  coalition does stand for is a set of concerns we all share,  and it’s important for us to be in solidarity with these liberal movements whenever they choose to move into public political action. So we’ll be there (except those of us in the Jewish world who are Shabbat-observing and hence cannot get there). But we also urge you to read our Spiritual Covenant with America and raise it to the liberal forces assembled tomorrow–because it presents a model of what a coherent progressive worldview could be (and no, you don’t have to believe in God or be religious to find the Netowrk [sic] of Spiritual Progressives’  platform appealing and coherent with your hightest [sic] values).

“Hightest values”? Isn’t using premium leaded gas a violation of the”Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the Constitution”?

This just in, from the “Network of Spiritual Progressives” at Tikkun, regarding the “One Nation” march of liberal and leftist activists tomorrow in Washington:

While we in the Network of Spiritual Progressives have been distressed at the absence of any understanding of how a spiritual transformation of values in America must be central to the struggles that the One Nation March articulates, and unhappy at the lack of any coherent thinking that links the actual demands of this march to some larger coherent worldview (thereby providing very little in the way of an alternative to the Right), the NSP has nevertheless joined in support of the March, and in the hope that at some point the rather sketchy demands could be contextualized within a deeper understanding of what is needed to turn America from the center of globalized capitalism with its ethos of selfishness and materialism to the center of a global movement for The Caring Society (see for example our Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, neither of which are likely to even get a mention at this March).

Yet what this  coalition does stand for is a set of concerns we all share,  and it’s important for us to be in solidarity with these liberal movements whenever they choose to move into public political action. So we’ll be there (except those of us in the Jewish world who are Shabbat-observing and hence cannot get there). But we also urge you to read our Spiritual Covenant with America and raise it to the liberal forces assembled tomorrow–because it presents a model of what a coherent progressive worldview could be (and no, you don’t have to believe in God or be religious to find the Netowrk [sic] of Spiritual Progressives’  platform appealing and coherent with your hightest [sic] values).

“Hightest values”? Isn’t using premium leaded gas a violation of the”Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the Constitution”?

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RE: Some Polls You Can Ignore

As I said earlier, the 2012 GOP field is far from set. Watch John Bolton, who seems to be considering a run, dissect Obama’s performance on foreign policy.

Even if he doesn’t win, he’s going to force other Republicans to focus on national security. For those who are planning on “using talking-point platitudes,” that could be a problem. You see, a presidential primary is not simply about who can win over the base; it is about who can convince the base that the other guys and gals aren’t up to speed.

As I said earlier, the 2012 GOP field is far from set. Watch John Bolton, who seems to be considering a run, dissect Obama’s performance on foreign policy.

Even if he doesn’t win, he’s going to force other Republicans to focus on national security. For those who are planning on “using talking-point platitudes,” that could be a problem. You see, a presidential primary is not simply about who can win over the base; it is about who can convince the base that the other guys and gals aren’t up to speed.

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The Incompetence of Robert Gibbs

If you were uncertain about just how inept a press secretary Robert Gibbs is, watch this clip. It shows the White House media corps (to its credit) pressing Gibbs to explain how he can blame Republicans for holding middle-class tax relief “hostage” when: (a) no bill has been introduced; and (b) House Democrats have enough votes to pass legislation without any GOP support.

The problem Gibbs faces, of course, is widespread Democratic defections from Obama and Pelosi’s agenda, not GOP intransigence.

Mr. Gibbs is not only making a transparently partisan and indefensible argument; he does so with his typical condescension and eye-rolling exasperation, as if it is painful for him to engage with lesser beings. This attitude is prevalent in the Obama White House – and for many people, including I suspect the media corps, it’s all getting rather tiresome.

It helps a bit if a person’s arrogance is at least tied to real merit and achievement. In this case, we have vanity and incompetence melding together.

It’s not a pretty sight to behold.

If you were uncertain about just how inept a press secretary Robert Gibbs is, watch this clip. It shows the White House media corps (to its credit) pressing Gibbs to explain how he can blame Republicans for holding middle-class tax relief “hostage” when: (a) no bill has been introduced; and (b) House Democrats have enough votes to pass legislation without any GOP support.

The problem Gibbs faces, of course, is widespread Democratic defections from Obama and Pelosi’s agenda, not GOP intransigence.

Mr. Gibbs is not only making a transparently partisan and indefensible argument; he does so with his typical condescension and eye-rolling exasperation, as if it is painful for him to engage with lesser beings. This attitude is prevalent in the Obama White House – and for many people, including I suspect the media corps, it’s all getting rather tiresome.

It helps a bit if a person’s arrogance is at least tied to real merit and achievement. In this case, we have vanity and incompetence melding together.

It’s not a pretty sight to behold.

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It Has Come to This

George Mitchell is still obsessing about the settlement moratorium. Bibi says he wants to continue direct talks. And the voice of sanity — get this — comes from Egypt:

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Gheit criticized the Palestinian Authority for its “insistence” on a moratorium on building in the settlements.

In an interview with London-based newspaper Al-Hayat, Aboul Gheit said waiting for a renewed freeze will only complicate peace talks, and that the most important issue is borders. Aboul Gheit also hinted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas does not think a settlement freeze is essential.

Mitchell and his boss are clearly the least savvy operators in the Middle East. Maybe the best thing for the peace “process” — aside from calling an end to it — would be for the Obama administration to get out of the picture. Before the Obami came along, settlements were not a make-or-break issue, talks without preconditions were continuing, economic and security progress were evident in the West Bank, and our relations with Israel actually were “rock-solid,” to borrow Hillary Clinton’s disingenuous description of her administration’s relationship with Israel. I suspect if Mitchell packed up and left, and if Obama focused less on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and more on Iran, all the players in the Middle East would be a lot better off.

George Mitchell is still obsessing about the settlement moratorium. Bibi says he wants to continue direct talks. And the voice of sanity — get this — comes from Egypt:

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Gheit criticized the Palestinian Authority for its “insistence” on a moratorium on building in the settlements.

In an interview with London-based newspaper Al-Hayat, Aboul Gheit said waiting for a renewed freeze will only complicate peace talks, and that the most important issue is borders. Aboul Gheit also hinted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas does not think a settlement freeze is essential.

Mitchell and his boss are clearly the least savvy operators in the Middle East. Maybe the best thing for the peace “process” — aside from calling an end to it — would be for the Obama administration to get out of the picture. Before the Obami came along, settlements were not a make-or-break issue, talks without preconditions were continuing, economic and security progress were evident in the West Bank, and our relations with Israel actually were “rock-solid,” to borrow Hillary Clinton’s disingenuous description of her administration’s relationship with Israel. I suspect if Mitchell packed up and left, and if Obama focused less on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and more on Iran, all the players in the Middle East would be a lot better off.

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A District to Watch on Nov. 2

A 14-term incumbent who is chairman of one the most powerful committees in Congress would, in an ordinary election, be a shoe-in for a 15th term unless he were under indictment. Barney Frank hasn’t faced serious opposition in the 4th district of Massachusetts since 1982, winning his races by 30-50 points when he had any opposition at all. But he’s running scared this time around. He’s brought in Bill Clinton and has raised tons of money (no problem for the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee).

But Byron York is reporting that his little-known, 35-year-old Republican opponent, Sean Bielat, is within striking distance, only 10 points behind in a recent poll.

It might be a good idea to keep an eye on results in the 4th Massachusetts. The polls close in Massachusetts at 8 p.m. eastern time, and results should come in pretty quickly. If Bielat can pull off a win there, it will be a sure sign of a blow-out election for Republicans. If he even comes close, it will mean a very good night.

A 14-term incumbent who is chairman of one the most powerful committees in Congress would, in an ordinary election, be a shoe-in for a 15th term unless he were under indictment. Barney Frank hasn’t faced serious opposition in the 4th district of Massachusetts since 1982, winning his races by 30-50 points when he had any opposition at all. But he’s running scared this time around. He’s brought in Bill Clinton and has raised tons of money (no problem for the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee).

But Byron York is reporting that his little-known, 35-year-old Republican opponent, Sean Bielat, is within striking distance, only 10 points behind in a recent poll.

It might be a good idea to keep an eye on results in the 4th Massachusetts. The polls close in Massachusetts at 8 p.m. eastern time, and results should come in pretty quickly. If Bielat can pull off a win there, it will be a sure sign of a blow-out election for Republicans. If he even comes close, it will mean a very good night.

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Why Hasn’t He Been Fired Yet?

We’ve written quite a bit about defining anti-Semitism downward on the list of public sins — that is, establishing a much different standard for bigotry against Jews than against other groups. Ben Smith relates the latest Jew-hating incident from CNN’s Rick Sanchez.

Will he be fired? If not, why not?

We’ve written quite a bit about defining anti-Semitism downward on the list of public sins — that is, establishing a much different standard for bigotry against Jews than against other groups. Ben Smith relates the latest Jew-hating incident from CNN’s Rick Sanchez.

Will he be fired? If not, why not?

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Obama’s Impact on the Democratic Party

Obama’s presence in the Oval Office has contributed to the most vibrant grassroots conservative movement in a generation. His party is about to get thumped at the polls and lose its majority in one or both houses of Congress. The number of self-identifying conservatives is on the upswing. And now this:

In September, 34.6% of American Adults identified themselves as Democrats. That’s down nearly half a percentage point from a month ago, a full percentage point from two months ago, and is the smallest percentage of Democrats ever recorded in nearly eight years of monthly tracking.

It would have taken decades for conservatives to have accomplished all this without Obama. Americans are getting a look at what it means to be a “Democrat” these days, for the president is the head of his party as well as the chief executive. And more and more voters are saying, “Well if that’s a Democrat, I’m not.”

Obama’s presence in the Oval Office has contributed to the most vibrant grassroots conservative movement in a generation. His party is about to get thumped at the polls and lose its majority in one or both houses of Congress. The number of self-identifying conservatives is on the upswing. And now this:

In September, 34.6% of American Adults identified themselves as Democrats. That’s down nearly half a percentage point from a month ago, a full percentage point from two months ago, and is the smallest percentage of Democrats ever recorded in nearly eight years of monthly tracking.

It would have taken decades for conservatives to have accomplished all this without Obama. Americans are getting a look at what it means to be a “Democrat” these days, for the president is the head of his party as well as the chief executive. And more and more voters are saying, “Well if that’s a Democrat, I’m not.”

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A Sign of the Times

What could possibly be a more local concern than the design and lettering of street signs? And yet the New York Daily News is reporting that the federal government’s Federal Highway Administration (whose website opening page is entirely devoted to touting the glories of the Stimulus bill) is requiring that New York City replace its street signs with new ones that will be more readable and, therefore, presumably safer. In Frozen Sneakers, Iowa, (the late William F. Buckley’s mythical Nowheresville) that unfunded mandate would not amount to much. But the vast rabbit warren of New York City has a quarter of a million street signs, and they cost $110 apiece to manufacture and install. New York’s mayor didn’t know anything about it but didn’t seem concerned, as the state, in far worse fiscal shape than the city, will be paying the $27 million cost.

I haven’t the faintest idea if the new signs are more readable than the old ones, although that strikes me as easily testable. What bothers me is another question. Exactly what provision of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government authority over street signs? The answer, of course, is that none does, unless you count Article I, Section 8, which empowers Congress to lay taxes in order to provide for the “general Welfare of the United States.” But in 1936 the Supreme Court ruled (United States v. Butler) that the general welfare clause was limited to matters of “national, as distinguished from local welfare.” Of course, the Supreme Court in recent decades has allowed the commerce clause, giving the federal government control over interstate commerce, to be used to justify nearly any action of the federal government.

Meanwhile, today marks the start of the new fiscal year for the federal government. How many appropriations bills has Congress passed to fund the government for fiscal year 2011, its most basic responsibility? Exactly none. They couldn’t even come up with a budget resolution.

What could possibly be a more local concern than the design and lettering of street signs? And yet the New York Daily News is reporting that the federal government’s Federal Highway Administration (whose website opening page is entirely devoted to touting the glories of the Stimulus bill) is requiring that New York City replace its street signs with new ones that will be more readable and, therefore, presumably safer. In Frozen Sneakers, Iowa, (the late William F. Buckley’s mythical Nowheresville) that unfunded mandate would not amount to much. But the vast rabbit warren of New York City has a quarter of a million street signs, and they cost $110 apiece to manufacture and install. New York’s mayor didn’t know anything about it but didn’t seem concerned, as the state, in far worse fiscal shape than the city, will be paying the $27 million cost.

I haven’t the faintest idea if the new signs are more readable than the old ones, although that strikes me as easily testable. What bothers me is another question. Exactly what provision of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government authority over street signs? The answer, of course, is that none does, unless you count Article I, Section 8, which empowers Congress to lay taxes in order to provide for the “general Welfare of the United States.” But in 1936 the Supreme Court ruled (United States v. Butler) that the general welfare clause was limited to matters of “national, as distinguished from local welfare.” Of course, the Supreme Court in recent decades has allowed the commerce clause, giving the federal government control over interstate commerce, to be used to justify nearly any action of the federal government.

Meanwhile, today marks the start of the new fiscal year for the federal government. How many appropriations bills has Congress passed to fund the government for fiscal year 2011, its most basic responsibility? Exactly none. They couldn’t even come up with a budget resolution.

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RE: The Half-Hearted Commander in Chief

In the Charles Krauthammer column that Jen refers to, Krauthammer ends by quoting Bob Woodward, author of Obama’s War, who earlier this week said of the president, “He is out of Afghanistan psychologically.”

Here’s the full Woodward quote:

The president’s committed to 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan but in these secret meetings in the Situation Room in the White House, he repeatedly says, “We need a plan to get out. There can be no wiggle room. I’m not going to do 10 years.” He is out of Afghanistan psychologically and the question is, for a commander-in-chief, don’t you have to be kind of the guy who’s up there, “Yes, we can, we’re going to win.”?

Mr. Woodward’s assertion seems to align with the facts as we now know them. So here is the situation we face: the president escalated a war about which he is profoundly ambivalent. His passion isn’t to succeed in Afghanistan; it is to leave from there. Mr. Obama clearly considers the war an unwelcome distraction from his domestic ambitions; he has devoted almost none of his time convincing the country and his party that the Afghanistan war is something that is worthy of our support. And the president’s statement that “I can’t lose the whole Democratic party” is damning.

How many times in American history have we had a president who was out of a war psychologically, even as he was sending more young men and women to fight and to die? And how many times has it ended well?

I have praised President Obama in the past for his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. New facts have come to light since then. And, arguably, I should have better understood the true nature of the man in the Oval Office. Either way, the president, rather than distancing himself from the July 2011 draw-down date, has doubled down on it. He has said things in meetings and on the record that underscore his equivocation, his doubt, and his lack of fortitude when it comes to this war. And so it is fair, I think, to render a judgment I much rather would not: What President Obama is now doing – both escalating and undermining a war at the very same time — is not only unwise; it is contemptible. He has a constitutional duty and a moral obligation to choose one path or the other – to prosecute the war with commitment and resolve or to leave.

The president still has time, but not much.

In the Charles Krauthammer column that Jen refers to, Krauthammer ends by quoting Bob Woodward, author of Obama’s War, who earlier this week said of the president, “He is out of Afghanistan psychologically.”

Here’s the full Woodward quote:

The president’s committed to 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan but in these secret meetings in the Situation Room in the White House, he repeatedly says, “We need a plan to get out. There can be no wiggle room. I’m not going to do 10 years.” He is out of Afghanistan psychologically and the question is, for a commander-in-chief, don’t you have to be kind of the guy who’s up there, “Yes, we can, we’re going to win.”?

Mr. Woodward’s assertion seems to align with the facts as we now know them. So here is the situation we face: the president escalated a war about which he is profoundly ambivalent. His passion isn’t to succeed in Afghanistan; it is to leave from there. Mr. Obama clearly considers the war an unwelcome distraction from his domestic ambitions; he has devoted almost none of his time convincing the country and his party that the Afghanistan war is something that is worthy of our support. And the president’s statement that “I can’t lose the whole Democratic party” is damning.

How many times in American history have we had a president who was out of a war psychologically, even as he was sending more young men and women to fight and to die? And how many times has it ended well?

I have praised President Obama in the past for his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. New facts have come to light since then. And, arguably, I should have better understood the true nature of the man in the Oval Office. Either way, the president, rather than distancing himself from the July 2011 draw-down date, has doubled down on it. He has said things in meetings and on the record that underscore his equivocation, his doubt, and his lack of fortitude when it comes to this war. And so it is fair, I think, to render a judgment I much rather would not: What President Obama is now doing – both escalating and undermining a war at the very same time — is not only unwise; it is contemptible. He has a constitutional duty and a moral obligation to choose one path or the other – to prosecute the war with commitment and resolve or to leave.

The president still has time, but not much.

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Woodward’s Forgettable Writings

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran my review of Bob Woodward’s latest epic of insiderdom. Since then, I have received some interesting e-mails from informed readers who make a few points that I think are worth sharing.

I poked fun at Battlefield Bob for writing about the war in Afghanistan while making only one perfunctory visit there, which he then hyped as if he were eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy. A veteran war correspondent points out that this isn’t at all unusual for Woodward:

As best I can tell he hasn’t gone to Iraq for a single day. Not even to the I.Z. [International Zone, or Green Zone] or to a FOB [Forward Operating Base]. I haven’t tried to confirm that, but there is no mention of it in his books that I recall. And he wrote five books on the subject if you count “The Commanders.”

This correspondent continued:

Your analytical points were on target, too. And they are related. If don’t go to these places and talk to the Iraqi or Afghan leaders, politicians, pretenders, warlords, army officers and citizens how can you begin to understand what is happening there. They and their countries become a distant backdrop for personality feuds among US officials and second-tier aides in DC.

Absolutely right, and it is this reason that, as a government official pointed out to me, “these books have no lasting impact.” Indeed, it is hard for me to remember anything about Woodward’s last dozen books. The last major revelation I remember from one of his tomes was CIA Director Bill Casey’s “deathbed confession” in Veil (1987) — and that is largely because Woodward was accused of making it up.

Woodward continues to churn out No. 1 best-sellers. But, after being avidly hyped (especially by his employer, the Washington Post), each one drops down the memory chute because his revelations about Washington infighting are so petty and so far removed from the factors that shape presidential reputations — namely how well policies work out in the real world. In the meantime, however, Woodward does real damage to our government’s ability to implement its policies — a point Eliot Cohen wittily makes in this Washington Post op-ed, which features fictional interior monologues a la Woodward.

The real question, to my mind, isn’t why Woodward does what he does — he makes jillions from his books. The question is why so many administrations so willingly cooperate with him. As Eliot notes, “Senior Washington officials, in this administration or its predecessors, talk to Bob Woodward for all kinds of reasons — to fluff up their vanity, to avenge slights, to neutralize rivals, to gratify egos or, most laughably, to shape the historical record. ” It’s high time for the Obama administration and its successors to rethink this policy of granting Woodward unlimited access.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran my review of Bob Woodward’s latest epic of insiderdom. Since then, I have received some interesting e-mails from informed readers who make a few points that I think are worth sharing.

I poked fun at Battlefield Bob for writing about the war in Afghanistan while making only one perfunctory visit there, which he then hyped as if he were eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy. A veteran war correspondent points out that this isn’t at all unusual for Woodward:

As best I can tell he hasn’t gone to Iraq for a single day. Not even to the I.Z. [International Zone, or Green Zone] or to a FOB [Forward Operating Base]. I haven’t tried to confirm that, but there is no mention of it in his books that I recall. And he wrote five books on the subject if you count “The Commanders.”

This correspondent continued:

Your analytical points were on target, too. And they are related. If don’t go to these places and talk to the Iraqi or Afghan leaders, politicians, pretenders, warlords, army officers and citizens how can you begin to understand what is happening there. They and their countries become a distant backdrop for personality feuds among US officials and second-tier aides in DC.

Absolutely right, and it is this reason that, as a government official pointed out to me, “these books have no lasting impact.” Indeed, it is hard for me to remember anything about Woodward’s last dozen books. The last major revelation I remember from one of his tomes was CIA Director Bill Casey’s “deathbed confession” in Veil (1987) — and that is largely because Woodward was accused of making it up.

Woodward continues to churn out No. 1 best-sellers. But, after being avidly hyped (especially by his employer, the Washington Post), each one drops down the memory chute because his revelations about Washington infighting are so petty and so far removed from the factors that shape presidential reputations — namely how well policies work out in the real world. In the meantime, however, Woodward does real damage to our government’s ability to implement its policies — a point Eliot Cohen wittily makes in this Washington Post op-ed, which features fictional interior monologues a la Woodward.

The real question, to my mind, isn’t why Woodward does what he does — he makes jillions from his books. The question is why so many administrations so willingly cooperate with him. As Eliot notes, “Senior Washington officials, in this administration or its predecessors, talk to Bob Woodward for all kinds of reasons — to fluff up their vanity, to avenge slights, to neutralize rivals, to gratify egos or, most laughably, to shape the historical record. ” It’s high time for the Obama administration and its successors to rethink this policy of granting Woodward unlimited access.

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Some Polls You Can Ignore

There is a trickle. Soon, there will be a flood. Polling for the 2012 GOP presidential contenders, that is. I’m going to ignore these for a very long time. They are meaningless at this stage. (Ask Rudy Giuliani.) They are a function of name identification. The field is not set, the candidates have not yet engaged, and the inevitable unflattering revelations haven’t come. As we learned in 2008, it is not necessarily money and a strong organization that prevail. John McCain had neither — and nearly fell out of the race altogether after the bruising immigration-reform debate. You actually have to see how the candidates perform and who cannabalizes whose voters.

And while we know the central domestic issues (e.g., economic recovery, repealing ObamaCare), we don’t yet know whether even more pressing issues will emerge. Where we will be on Iran six months or a year from now? Will the GOP manage to rip up ObamaCare, thus eliminating a huge problem for Mitt Romney? Will there be a serious terror incident? Moreover, it is very possible that some of the “I’d rather not” potential candidates (e.g., Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush) will decide, “Well if you insist…”

And the 2010 results will have much to tell us as well. If Sarah Palin’s picks cruise to victory, she’ll have bragging rights. If they do worse than “establishment” candidates, it will be one more point of criticism.

But one thing is clear: conservatives haven’t found their guy/gal yet. That will take months and months. So until then, forget about those polls. At some point they’ll become intriguing — but not for a long, long time.

There is a trickle. Soon, there will be a flood. Polling for the 2012 GOP presidential contenders, that is. I’m going to ignore these for a very long time. They are meaningless at this stage. (Ask Rudy Giuliani.) They are a function of name identification. The field is not set, the candidates have not yet engaged, and the inevitable unflattering revelations haven’t come. As we learned in 2008, it is not necessarily money and a strong organization that prevail. John McCain had neither — and nearly fell out of the race altogether after the bruising immigration-reform debate. You actually have to see how the candidates perform and who cannabalizes whose voters.

And while we know the central domestic issues (e.g., economic recovery, repealing ObamaCare), we don’t yet know whether even more pressing issues will emerge. Where we will be on Iran six months or a year from now? Will the GOP manage to rip up ObamaCare, thus eliminating a huge problem for Mitt Romney? Will there be a serious terror incident? Moreover, it is very possible that some of the “I’d rather not” potential candidates (e.g., Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush) will decide, “Well if you insist…”

And the 2010 results will have much to tell us as well. If Sarah Palin’s picks cruise to victory, she’ll have bragging rights. If they do worse than “establishment” candidates, it will be one more point of criticism.

But one thing is clear: conservatives haven’t found their guy/gal yet. That will take months and months. So until then, forget about those polls. At some point they’ll become intriguing — but not for a long, long time.

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The Half-Hearted Commander in Chief

Charles Krauthammer sums up conservatives’ horrified reaction to Bob Woodward’s book:

What kind of commander in chief sends tens of thousands of troops to war announcing in advance a fixed date for beginning their withdrawal? One who doesn’t have his heart in it. One who doesn’t really want to win but is making some kind of political gesture. One who thinks he has to be seen as trying but is preparing the ground — meaning, the political cover — for failure.

Until now, the above was just inference from the president’s public rhetoric. No longer. Now we have the private quotes.

You would think the left, which wasn’t game on the war anyway, would be equally horrified. But they are in a state of shock as it is. I suspect as Obama’s position erodes, they’ll be heard from, as well.

As Krauthammer notes, the president is concerned primarily, maybe exclusively, with keeping his party together. Aside from the impropriety of elevating partisanship over matters of national security, it is exceptionally passive:

Is it not Obama’s job as president and party leader to bring the party with him? This is the man who made Berlin coo, America swoon and the Nobel committee lose its mind. Yet he cannot get his own party to follow him on what he insists is a matter of vital national interest?

Did he even try? Obama spent endless hours cajoling and persuading individual members of Congress to garner every last vote for health-care reform. Has he done a fraction of that for Afghanistan — argued, pleaded, horse-traded, twisted even a single arm?

And what about persuading the country at large? Every war is arduous and requires continual presidential explication, inspiration and encouragement.

But he would do so only if he were committed to victory and understood the ramifications of defeat. Plainly, he doesn’t — and that is the source of the problem and the real lesson to be learned Woodward’s book. Where we go from here — a more fulsome devotion to victory, or a stubborn adherence to his 2011 deadline? We don’t know. We can only hope that with a Republican House (and possibly Senate) that his domestic agenda will be thwarted — and he therefore will turn to matters on which he can maintain his relevance and rescue his legacy. To do that, of course, he’s going to have to make sure we win.

Charles Krauthammer sums up conservatives’ horrified reaction to Bob Woodward’s book:

What kind of commander in chief sends tens of thousands of troops to war announcing in advance a fixed date for beginning their withdrawal? One who doesn’t have his heart in it. One who doesn’t really want to win but is making some kind of political gesture. One who thinks he has to be seen as trying but is preparing the ground — meaning, the political cover — for failure.

Until now, the above was just inference from the president’s public rhetoric. No longer. Now we have the private quotes.

You would think the left, which wasn’t game on the war anyway, would be equally horrified. But they are in a state of shock as it is. I suspect as Obama’s position erodes, they’ll be heard from, as well.

As Krauthammer notes, the president is concerned primarily, maybe exclusively, with keeping his party together. Aside from the impropriety of elevating partisanship over matters of national security, it is exceptionally passive:

Is it not Obama’s job as president and party leader to bring the party with him? This is the man who made Berlin coo, America swoon and the Nobel committee lose its mind. Yet he cannot get his own party to follow him on what he insists is a matter of vital national interest?

Did he even try? Obama spent endless hours cajoling and persuading individual members of Congress to garner every last vote for health-care reform. Has he done a fraction of that for Afghanistan — argued, pleaded, horse-traded, twisted even a single arm?

And what about persuading the country at large? Every war is arduous and requires continual presidential explication, inspiration and encouragement.

But he would do so only if he were committed to victory and understood the ramifications of defeat. Plainly, he doesn’t — and that is the source of the problem and the real lesson to be learned Woodward’s book. Where we go from here — a more fulsome devotion to victory, or a stubborn adherence to his 2011 deadline? We don’t know. We can only hope that with a Republican House (and possibly Senate) that his domestic agenda will be thwarted — and he therefore will turn to matters on which he can maintain his relevance and rescue his legacy. To do that, of course, he’s going to have to make sure we win.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Wow. Chris Christie on the Democrats’ threat to shut down the government. “I said, ‘Listen, I’m going to get into a black Suburban and I’m going to drive back to the governor’s residence, go upstairs and order a pizza. I’m going to turn on a baseball game. You all can call me when you decide to reopen the government.'”

Bingo. Bob Zelnick on a replacement for Larry Summers: “I suspect the worst. This man thinks he knows everything about everything to the point where he is immune to fundamental laws of science and economics. What he needs is a person smart enough and with the confidence to say, ‘Mr. President, you are wrong.'”

Yesiree. On Peter Rouse: “[T]here is no reason to think he’ll be any more successful as a moderating force behind President Obama than was Emanuel. Consider, Rouse convinced then-Senator Obama to vote against the confirmation of John Roberts to the Supreme Court.” Until the president changes, or we change presidents, don’t expect anything to improve.

Yup. “It’s the president who showed the GOP a way out of the wilderness. He couldn’t have provided a better message. Republicans are always at their best, always throwing up the broadest tent, when they talk sense on the economy—free markets, the need for growth, the problems of overspending. … Mr. Obama is trying to rally his base; maybe he will. Republicans are trying not to blow it; maybe they will. But should this prove a Democratic bust-up, the least the GOP can do is send the president a thank you.”

No kidding. “Efforts to salvage Middle East peace talks were at full throttle on Thursday as American officials sought to persuade Israel to renew a West Bank settlement freeze with military hardware and diplomatic guarantees while urging the Palestinians to accept a partial end to Israeli building there through a separate set of inducements. So far, no formula had been found.”

Exactly. “President Obama’s latest interview with Rolling Stone magazine is revealing precisely because it is so typical. Everyone — really just about everyone in American politics — is chided, challenged, instructed, judged or admonished in one way or another. The president’s condescension is universal.”

Makes sense. “Pretty much across the board voters’ ill will toward Obama outweighs their ill will toward the Republican Senate candidates. But there is one exception- in Delaware Chris Coons leads Christine O’Donnell 51-21 with folks who don’t like her or Obama- I guess there’s only so far some voters are willing to go. The voters who hate everything and everyone are a key part of the electorate this year- and their support of the GOP is a big part of why the party’s headed for a big victory.”

Wow. Chris Christie on the Democrats’ threat to shut down the government. “I said, ‘Listen, I’m going to get into a black Suburban and I’m going to drive back to the governor’s residence, go upstairs and order a pizza. I’m going to turn on a baseball game. You all can call me when you decide to reopen the government.'”

Bingo. Bob Zelnick on a replacement for Larry Summers: “I suspect the worst. This man thinks he knows everything about everything to the point where he is immune to fundamental laws of science and economics. What he needs is a person smart enough and with the confidence to say, ‘Mr. President, you are wrong.'”

Yesiree. On Peter Rouse: “[T]here is no reason to think he’ll be any more successful as a moderating force behind President Obama than was Emanuel. Consider, Rouse convinced then-Senator Obama to vote against the confirmation of John Roberts to the Supreme Court.” Until the president changes, or we change presidents, don’t expect anything to improve.

Yup. “It’s the president who showed the GOP a way out of the wilderness. He couldn’t have provided a better message. Republicans are always at their best, always throwing up the broadest tent, when they talk sense on the economy—free markets, the need for growth, the problems of overspending. … Mr. Obama is trying to rally his base; maybe he will. Republicans are trying not to blow it; maybe they will. But should this prove a Democratic bust-up, the least the GOP can do is send the president a thank you.”

No kidding. “Efforts to salvage Middle East peace talks were at full throttle on Thursday as American officials sought to persuade Israel to renew a West Bank settlement freeze with military hardware and diplomatic guarantees while urging the Palestinians to accept a partial end to Israeli building there through a separate set of inducements. So far, no formula had been found.”

Exactly. “President Obama’s latest interview with Rolling Stone magazine is revealing precisely because it is so typical. Everyone — really just about everyone in American politics — is chided, challenged, instructed, judged or admonished in one way or another. The president’s condescension is universal.”

Makes sense. “Pretty much across the board voters’ ill will toward Obama outweighs their ill will toward the Republican Senate candidates. But there is one exception- in Delaware Chris Coons leads Christine O’Donnell 51-21 with folks who don’t like her or Obama- I guess there’s only so far some voters are willing to go. The voters who hate everything and everyone are a key part of the electorate this year- and their support of the GOP is a big part of why the party’s headed for a big victory.”

Read Less




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