Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 2010

Performance and Politics

Chris Christie’s latest YouTube hit demonstrates the qualities that are defining his public persona and causing many a conservative to wonder whether he is “the guy” to take on Obama. (He insists he isn’t, but the conservative buzz about him has only grown.) In this clip, Christie methodically reels off a list of nonsense bills on which the New Jersey legislature has spent time, all the while ignoring major issues like property-tax relief and pension reform. Yes, what he is saying is important, but it is the how he is saying it that makes him a rising star.

His background as a U.S. attorney certainly comes through: the use of vernacular, the good humor, the methodical pacing. If the GOP wants to deliver some tough medicine in the next few years — on entitlement reform, spending discipline, etc. — they’d better find an appealing messenger and a down-to-earth manner of delivering the message.

Christie may actually mean what he says and may refuse to run. But the other 2012 contenders should take note. If you want to win an election and a mandate, you will need more than a clipboard and PowerPoint presentation. Politics is serious stuff, but it is also about performance. And with the exception of Sarah Palin, there isn’t any Republican contender for 2012 in sight who looks like he is having fun out there. There’s more to politics than a telegenic personality, a good sense of humor, and a flair for the dramatic, but none of these qualities hurt. Republican voters should look for a suitably conservative message, but they will inevitably be swayed by the skill and appeal of the messenger himself.

Chris Christie’s latest YouTube hit demonstrates the qualities that are defining his public persona and causing many a conservative to wonder whether he is “the guy” to take on Obama. (He insists he isn’t, but the conservative buzz about him has only grown.) In this clip, Christie methodically reels off a list of nonsense bills on which the New Jersey legislature has spent time, all the while ignoring major issues like property-tax relief and pension reform. Yes, what he is saying is important, but it is the how he is saying it that makes him a rising star.

His background as a U.S. attorney certainly comes through: the use of vernacular, the good humor, the methodical pacing. If the GOP wants to deliver some tough medicine in the next few years — on entitlement reform, spending discipline, etc. — they’d better find an appealing messenger and a down-to-earth manner of delivering the message.

Christie may actually mean what he says and may refuse to run. But the other 2012 contenders should take note. If you want to win an election and a mandate, you will need more than a clipboard and PowerPoint presentation. Politics is serious stuff, but it is also about performance. And with the exception of Sarah Palin, there isn’t any Republican contender for 2012 in sight who looks like he is having fun out there. There’s more to politics than a telegenic personality, a good sense of humor, and a flair for the dramatic, but none of these qualities hurt. Republican voters should look for a suitably conservative message, but they will inevitably be swayed by the skill and appeal of the messenger himself.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Bill Clinton’s main task is getting people to drop out of Senate races. “Charlie Crist personally called a top adviser to Bill Clinton and asked if the former president would discuss with Kendrick Meek the possibility of dropping out of the Florida Senate race, according to a source close to Clinton.”

The Democrats’ main problem: their side is depressed, and their opponents are fired up. “The latest absentee ballot statistics released this afternoon by the state of Pennsylvania show a strong Republican tilt in the Keystone State, a bad sign for Democratic candidates up and down the ticket. According to the secretary of state’s office, 53,226 absentee ballots have been returned by registered Republicans in Pennsylvania compared with 37,631 by registered Democrats.”

The Dems’ main enemy has been their own agenda. “Regardless of whether the stimulus bill has helped the economy, or even prevented further losses, voters don’t believe the mammoth spending and tax cut bill has helped. And because no House Republicans voted for the bill, the perceived failure is wholly owned by Democrats. But a failed stimulus may have been forgivable, if Democrats had done something else to turn around the jobs picture. Instead, the party moved on to cap and trade and health care. … The party sealed its fate when Democrats cast a Sunday vote to pass health care reform, effectively alienating seniors and male voters. In the end, the 111th Congress has been one of the most effective in recent history. That efficiency, and their accomplishments, will cost them seats.”

Republicans’ main lesson from 2010 should be about candidate selection. Or, as Bill Kristol observed, it “would be nice to have Delaware.”

J Street’s main activity is whining now. Too much partisanship on Israel! Sort of odd for a group that spends its time (when not running interference for Richard Goldstone) attacking AIPAC and conservative pro-Israel supporters. Funny, though its policy director can’t manage to explain what’s wrong with “the Republican Jewish Coalition’s ad against Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, claiming that she ‘remained silent as the Obama administration pressured Israel and supported Israel’s enemies.'” B0xer hasn’t exactly stood up to the administration on anything, let alone Israel.

The Dems’ main mantra – not Bush! — is problematic. A new poll by Democrat Doug Schoen finds that by a 48-to-43 percent margin, voters think George W. Bush was a better president than Obama. (Umm, Jeb, are you listening?) Nothing like Obama to make the country appreciate his predecessor(s).

The main takeaway from Charlie Cook (subscription required): the House Dems are toast. “It’s now clear that this is largest House playing field since 1994 and Democrats’ losses may well exceed the 52 seats they lost that year. … Democrats can’t blame their losses on money. Democratic messages simply aren’t staving off GOP candidates. Democrats’ strategy of endlessly exploiting opponents’ personal baggage has failed to disqualify Republicans like retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West. … Democratic attempts to portray GOP foes as proponents of three different third rails — outsourcing, the Fair Tax, and Social Security privatization — have had limited success in isolated cases, but have likewise failed to salvage races across the board.”

The White House’s main dilemma: where can Obama do more good than harm? “They could send him to Wisconsin, but the Senate seat appeared to be slipping away despite a recent presidential visit. Maybe Colorado? The Senate contest there was much closer, but it wasn’t clear – given the state’s changing political sentiments – whether a visit by Obama would help. Washington, California and Nevada were out, given that he had just campaigned out West. The advisers easily eliminated West Virginia and Kentucky, two states that were hostile to Obama in the presidential race and have grown even more so.”

Bill Clinton’s main task is getting people to drop out of Senate races. “Charlie Crist personally called a top adviser to Bill Clinton and asked if the former president would discuss with Kendrick Meek the possibility of dropping out of the Florida Senate race, according to a source close to Clinton.”

The Democrats’ main problem: their side is depressed, and their opponents are fired up. “The latest absentee ballot statistics released this afternoon by the state of Pennsylvania show a strong Republican tilt in the Keystone State, a bad sign for Democratic candidates up and down the ticket. According to the secretary of state’s office, 53,226 absentee ballots have been returned by registered Republicans in Pennsylvania compared with 37,631 by registered Democrats.”

The Dems’ main enemy has been their own agenda. “Regardless of whether the stimulus bill has helped the economy, or even prevented further losses, voters don’t believe the mammoth spending and tax cut bill has helped. And because no House Republicans voted for the bill, the perceived failure is wholly owned by Democrats. But a failed stimulus may have been forgivable, if Democrats had done something else to turn around the jobs picture. Instead, the party moved on to cap and trade and health care. … The party sealed its fate when Democrats cast a Sunday vote to pass health care reform, effectively alienating seniors and male voters. In the end, the 111th Congress has been one of the most effective in recent history. That efficiency, and their accomplishments, will cost them seats.”

Republicans’ main lesson from 2010 should be about candidate selection. Or, as Bill Kristol observed, it “would be nice to have Delaware.”

J Street’s main activity is whining now. Too much partisanship on Israel! Sort of odd for a group that spends its time (when not running interference for Richard Goldstone) attacking AIPAC and conservative pro-Israel supporters. Funny, though its policy director can’t manage to explain what’s wrong with “the Republican Jewish Coalition’s ad against Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, claiming that she ‘remained silent as the Obama administration pressured Israel and supported Israel’s enemies.'” B0xer hasn’t exactly stood up to the administration on anything, let alone Israel.

The Dems’ main mantra – not Bush! — is problematic. A new poll by Democrat Doug Schoen finds that by a 48-to-43 percent margin, voters think George W. Bush was a better president than Obama. (Umm, Jeb, are you listening?) Nothing like Obama to make the country appreciate his predecessor(s).

The main takeaway from Charlie Cook (subscription required): the House Dems are toast. “It’s now clear that this is largest House playing field since 1994 and Democrats’ losses may well exceed the 52 seats they lost that year. … Democrats can’t blame their losses on money. Democratic messages simply aren’t staving off GOP candidates. Democrats’ strategy of endlessly exploiting opponents’ personal baggage has failed to disqualify Republicans like retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West. … Democratic attempts to portray GOP foes as proponents of three different third rails — outsourcing, the Fair Tax, and Social Security privatization — have had limited success in isolated cases, but have likewise failed to salvage races across the board.”

The White House’s main dilemma: where can Obama do more good than harm? “They could send him to Wisconsin, but the Senate seat appeared to be slipping away despite a recent presidential visit. Maybe Colorado? The Senate contest there was much closer, but it wasn’t clear – given the state’s changing political sentiments – whether a visit by Obama would help. Washington, California and Nevada were out, given that he had just campaigned out West. The advisers easily eliminated West Virginia and Kentucky, two states that were hostile to Obama in the presidential race and have grown even more so.”

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RE: We Are All Philosophical Pragmatists Now

I must thank Rick for finding that priceless passage from the James Kloppenberg book on Obama’s intellectual history. The patent absurdity of it – of Kloppenberg earnestly overinterpreting one banal sentence from an Obama speech – makes a fine emblem for the general impression I took away from Patricia Cohen’s account of the Kloppenberg address at CUNY. The impression is pretty straightforward: this particular academic environment is a self-licking ice cream cone.

Its definitions and terms of reference appear vacuum-sealed against the crass literalism of common sense. Ms. Cohen’s explication of “pragmatism” in the American philosophical tradition – a strain of which Kloppenberg finds so pronounced in Obama – runs counter to everything Americans have been observing and complaining about for the last 18 months. In developing the philosophy, she says, 19th-century Americans “were coming to believe that chance rather than providence guided human affairs, and that dogged certainty led to violence.” She continues:

Pragmatism maintains that people are constantly devising and updating ideas to navigate the world in which they live; it embraces open-minded experimentation and continuing debate. “It is a philosophy for skeptics, not true believers,” Mr. Kloppenberg said.

Obama, however, has behaved like nothing so much as a true believer, fully equipped with dogged certainty and inimical to continuing debate. His method of forcing ObamaCare through Congress, in the teeth of vociferous opposition and with the complacent assumption that losing control of Congress is not too high a price to pay, is evidence of dogged certainty about something. So are his jarring practices of selectively abasing himself before other heads of state, approaching his voting base through bargain-rack demographic filters, and psychoanalyzing the American people as an implied pretext for dismissing them. Parsing Obama through the indices of officially recognized “-isms” is an angels-on-pinheads project: sensible people recognize his behavior as that of an ideologue.

The conclave at CUNY seems to have had no sense of this. In a year in which millions of Americans feel their lives upended by Obama’s actions and policies – their financial circumstances, their health-care arrangements, and their perspective on the future all in a thoroughly alarming state – Kloppenberg’s audience was disappointed that Obama has been compromising too much. Sadly, in their view, he has slid from his philosophical pragmatism into the “vulgar pragmatism” of expedient centrism. As one man put it: “Several audience members, myself included, probably view Obama the president as a centrist like Clinton rather than a progressive intellectual as painted by Kloppenberg.”

It’s hard to imagine being that divorced from the reality inhabited by most Americans. To the less philosophically and more crudely pragmatic, it might seem that a useful step for the near future would be reviewing who pays for the utopia inhabited by the academics gathered at CUNY.

I must thank Rick for finding that priceless passage from the James Kloppenberg book on Obama’s intellectual history. The patent absurdity of it – of Kloppenberg earnestly overinterpreting one banal sentence from an Obama speech – makes a fine emblem for the general impression I took away from Patricia Cohen’s account of the Kloppenberg address at CUNY. The impression is pretty straightforward: this particular academic environment is a self-licking ice cream cone.

Its definitions and terms of reference appear vacuum-sealed against the crass literalism of common sense. Ms. Cohen’s explication of “pragmatism” in the American philosophical tradition – a strain of which Kloppenberg finds so pronounced in Obama – runs counter to everything Americans have been observing and complaining about for the last 18 months. In developing the philosophy, she says, 19th-century Americans “were coming to believe that chance rather than providence guided human affairs, and that dogged certainty led to violence.” She continues:

Pragmatism maintains that people are constantly devising and updating ideas to navigate the world in which they live; it embraces open-minded experimentation and continuing debate. “It is a philosophy for skeptics, not true believers,” Mr. Kloppenberg said.

Obama, however, has behaved like nothing so much as a true believer, fully equipped with dogged certainty and inimical to continuing debate. His method of forcing ObamaCare through Congress, in the teeth of vociferous opposition and with the complacent assumption that losing control of Congress is not too high a price to pay, is evidence of dogged certainty about something. So are his jarring practices of selectively abasing himself before other heads of state, approaching his voting base through bargain-rack demographic filters, and psychoanalyzing the American people as an implied pretext for dismissing them. Parsing Obama through the indices of officially recognized “-isms” is an angels-on-pinheads project: sensible people recognize his behavior as that of an ideologue.

The conclave at CUNY seems to have had no sense of this. In a year in which millions of Americans feel their lives upended by Obama’s actions and policies – their financial circumstances, their health-care arrangements, and their perspective on the future all in a thoroughly alarming state – Kloppenberg’s audience was disappointed that Obama has been compromising too much. Sadly, in their view, he has slid from his philosophical pragmatism into the “vulgar pragmatism” of expedient centrism. As one man put it: “Several audience members, myself included, probably view Obama the president as a centrist like Clinton rather than a progressive intellectual as painted by Kloppenberg.”

It’s hard to imagine being that divorced from the reality inhabited by most Americans. To the less philosophically and more crudely pragmatic, it might seem that a useful step for the near future would be reviewing who pays for the utopia inhabited by the academics gathered at CUNY.

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Snowing the Voters? Good Luck With That

Just like attacking an opponent’s religion (as Jack Conway did), cheating during a televised debate is never a good move. Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink “was caught breaking the debate’s ‘no notes’ rule during a commercial break when she read on stage a text message from a senior advisor that a makeup artist delivered to her on a cell phone.” The GOP has pounced with an ad that strikes a properly contemptuous tone:

“Did you see Alex Sink get caught cheating?” one woman asks in the add, adding, “Cheating. Hilarious.”

To make matters worse, she then seems to have made up a story to explain her cheating:

CNN’s John King on Tuesday pointed out that Sink’s suggestion that she thought the text message might have been from her daughter did not hold water. “We listened very closely to the audio, and the makeup artist, when she approached Alex Sink, said I have a message from the staff,” King said. “And at that point they looked, it was on a cell phone, it was two sentences. It was essentially advice after the last segment of the debate telling her if that question comes up again, remember this, and be more aggressive when Rick Scott questions you.”

Oops. Now, in this election, we’ve had candidates lying about their military record (Richard Blumenthal) and their job record (Joe Miller). These incidents may not determine the outcome of these races. Blumenthal is comfortably ahead; Sink was losing steam even before this debate incident. But they do serve as a reminder and a warning to the politician who thinks she or he can flim-flam the public or conceal embarrassing incidents. Getting away with it is not only unrealistic but indicative of an all-too-familiar arrogance we see in politics, an assumption that the public isn’t very bright and that a cleverly delivered excuse can snow the voters. The voters are paying a lot of attention these days; politicians should be forewarned.

Just like attacking an opponent’s religion (as Jack Conway did), cheating during a televised debate is never a good move. Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink “was caught breaking the debate’s ‘no notes’ rule during a commercial break when she read on stage a text message from a senior advisor that a makeup artist delivered to her on a cell phone.” The GOP has pounced with an ad that strikes a properly contemptuous tone:

“Did you see Alex Sink get caught cheating?” one woman asks in the add, adding, “Cheating. Hilarious.”

To make matters worse, she then seems to have made up a story to explain her cheating:

CNN’s John King on Tuesday pointed out that Sink’s suggestion that she thought the text message might have been from her daughter did not hold water. “We listened very closely to the audio, and the makeup artist, when she approached Alex Sink, said I have a message from the staff,” King said. “And at that point they looked, it was on a cell phone, it was two sentences. It was essentially advice after the last segment of the debate telling her if that question comes up again, remember this, and be more aggressive when Rick Scott questions you.”

Oops. Now, in this election, we’ve had candidates lying about their military record (Richard Blumenthal) and their job record (Joe Miller). These incidents may not determine the outcome of these races. Blumenthal is comfortably ahead; Sink was losing steam even before this debate incident. But they do serve as a reminder and a warning to the politician who thinks she or he can flim-flam the public or conceal embarrassing incidents. Getting away with it is not only unrealistic but indicative of an all-too-familiar arrogance we see in politics, an assumption that the public isn’t very bright and that a cleverly delivered excuse can snow the voters. The voters are paying a lot of attention these days; politicians should be forewarned.

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How Do You Regret Saved Lives?

In the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente writes of her regret at having supported the Iraq War as a liberal interventionist. She now claims she was “deluded” to think there was a sound humanitarian justification for the invasion in 2003. What has prompted this apologia? Details in the Iraq files just released by Wikileaks:

The abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison were mild compared with the atrocities inflicted by Iraqis on each other. The Shia-controlled Interior Ministry ran secret jails in which inmates, most of them Sunnis, endured the same kinds of torture as those inflicted by Saddam. They were burned with boiling water, had their fingers amputated, and had electroshock applied to their genitals. When U.S. forces discovered the brutalities, they simply filled out incident reports and forwarded them to the local authorities.

No human is immune to hearing about that kind of brutality. Which is why a little context actually strengthens the liberal-interventionist position.  The math is simple, if disturbing: According to estimates from human rights organizations, from 1979 to 2003, Saddam Hussein probably killed 800,000 to 1 million people, many through methods similar to the ones detailed above. This puts his annual average in the neighborhood of 45,000 murders. At that rate, if he were left in power, he would have killed 360,000 since 2003. As of today, the website Iraqbodycount.org puts the total number of civilian deaths caused by the Iraq War between 98,585 and 107,594. In what universe is 100,000 dead worse than 360,000?

Moreover, consider how the annual Iraqi body count will likely continue to plummet in the coming years. Add to that, the prospect—shaky though it may be—of a functioning Iraqi democracy. Under Saddam, it would have been 360,000 dead with no chance of ebbing the slaughter and no hope for freedom.

There is no humanitarian justification for regretting Saddam’s ouster, even accounting for the coalition’s mistakes. There are other less quantifiably false arguments against the war. One might make the case that it cost too much to prosecute or turned world opinion against the U.S., for example. But hand-wringing over the net carnage just doesn’t compute. The facts are too easily obtained for Margaret Wente not to understand this. If she regrets her support for the war it can only mean she’s decided that the humanitarian component is not as important as she had once believed.

In the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente writes of her regret at having supported the Iraq War as a liberal interventionist. She now claims she was “deluded” to think there was a sound humanitarian justification for the invasion in 2003. What has prompted this apologia? Details in the Iraq files just released by Wikileaks:

The abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison were mild compared with the atrocities inflicted by Iraqis on each other. The Shia-controlled Interior Ministry ran secret jails in which inmates, most of them Sunnis, endured the same kinds of torture as those inflicted by Saddam. They were burned with boiling water, had their fingers amputated, and had electroshock applied to their genitals. When U.S. forces discovered the brutalities, they simply filled out incident reports and forwarded them to the local authorities.

No human is immune to hearing about that kind of brutality. Which is why a little context actually strengthens the liberal-interventionist position.  The math is simple, if disturbing: According to estimates from human rights organizations, from 1979 to 2003, Saddam Hussein probably killed 800,000 to 1 million people, many through methods similar to the ones detailed above. This puts his annual average in the neighborhood of 45,000 murders. At that rate, if he were left in power, he would have killed 360,000 since 2003. As of today, the website Iraqbodycount.org puts the total number of civilian deaths caused by the Iraq War between 98,585 and 107,594. In what universe is 100,000 dead worse than 360,000?

Moreover, consider how the annual Iraqi body count will likely continue to plummet in the coming years. Add to that, the prospect—shaky though it may be—of a functioning Iraqi democracy. Under Saddam, it would have been 360,000 dead with no chance of ebbing the slaughter and no hope for freedom.

There is no humanitarian justification for regretting Saddam’s ouster, even accounting for the coalition’s mistakes. There are other less quantifiably false arguments against the war. One might make the case that it cost too much to prosecute or turned world opinion against the U.S., for example. But hand-wringing over the net carnage just doesn’t compute. The facts are too easily obtained for Margaret Wente not to understand this. If she regrets her support for the war it can only mean she’s decided that the humanitarian component is not as important as she had once believed.

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Is the Joke on Them?

David Brooks, in his online conversation with Gail Collins, observes of the upcoming rally by Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart:

By the way, I’m totally confused about what the political impact of Stewart-stock and Colbert-palooza will be. On the one hand, watching their shows I get the impression they are generally mainstream liberals. On the other hand I do think their shows are unintentionally conservative. Just as the show “60 Minutes” sends the collective message that political institutions are corrupt, so the Comedy Central shows send the message that politicians are buffoons. Both messages undermine faith in political action and public sector endeavor and so cut right against the intentions of their founders.

But normally their audiences are self-selected, largely liberal viewers who enjoy the collective experience of mocking conservatives. So they don’t really do damage to their “cause.” Their goal is more cultural than political: to reaffirm that they are cooler, smarter, and more clever than those dim-witted right-wingers.

How that comes off to the “public” — that is, a larger audience that is not in on the joke but rather the butt of the joke — is what has so many liberals nervous. The title of the event — the Rally to Restore Sanity — tells it all. Like Obama (but funnier), Colbert and Stewart are quite certain that Americans, after demonstrating sheer brilliance in 2008, are suffering from some mental affliction. If the comedians really wanted to restore sanity, they’d start with those on the left who are convinced that foreign money, Karl Rove, and Fox News are to blame for their party’s woes. But I don’t see that happening.

David Brooks, in his online conversation with Gail Collins, observes of the upcoming rally by Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart:

By the way, I’m totally confused about what the political impact of Stewart-stock and Colbert-palooza will be. On the one hand, watching their shows I get the impression they are generally mainstream liberals. On the other hand I do think their shows are unintentionally conservative. Just as the show “60 Minutes” sends the collective message that political institutions are corrupt, so the Comedy Central shows send the message that politicians are buffoons. Both messages undermine faith in political action and public sector endeavor and so cut right against the intentions of their founders.

But normally their audiences are self-selected, largely liberal viewers who enjoy the collective experience of mocking conservatives. So they don’t really do damage to their “cause.” Their goal is more cultural than political: to reaffirm that they are cooler, smarter, and more clever than those dim-witted right-wingers.

How that comes off to the “public” — that is, a larger audience that is not in on the joke but rather the butt of the joke — is what has so many liberals nervous. The title of the event — the Rally to Restore Sanity — tells it all. Like Obama (but funnier), Colbert and Stewart are quite certain that Americans, after demonstrating sheer brilliance in 2008, are suffering from some mental affliction. If the comedians really wanted to restore sanity, they’d start with those on the left who are convinced that foreign money, Karl Rove, and Fox News are to blame for their party’s woes. But I don’t see that happening.

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“Yes We Can, But…”

President Obama’s interview with Jon Stewart is getting a lot of attention — and deservedly so. There were, I think, several things to note from the interview.

The first is that I wish that most news anchors and reporters were half as good at interviewing the president as Jon Stewart is. Stewart is, of course, a liberal and he came at Obama from a liberal perspective. But he asked penetrating questions in an engaging manner and, from time to time, succeeded in getting Obama to abandon his usual spin and talking points.

As for Obama himself: he was at times prickly and defensive, sounding almost insulted at having to answer questions that are critical rather than worshipful. Now, all politicians struggle with this; they are, after all, only human. But Obama seems to have a particularly thin skin — and is particularly dismissive of those who don’t buy into his Narrative of Greatness.

Throughout the interview, Obama also found himself hoisted with his own petard. It is Obama who created, by his words and promises, almost Messianic expectations for himself and his presidency. He was going to do so much, so fast, so well. Those expectations have come crashing down around Obama. Stewart’s line of questing was consistent. “Is the difficulty you have here the distance between what you ran on and what you’ve delivered,” Stewart asked the president. Mr. Obama did not seem happy with Stewart’s impertinence. But, at least, out of the interview emerged a new motto from the Obama White House. It’s based on what the president himself said: “Yes We Can — but…” as in “I think what I would say is ‘yes we can, but it’s not going to happen overnight.’”

Most of us missed the qualifiers during the campaign.

There was also the kind of vanity and self-justification we’ve come to expect from the president. ObamaCare is one of the most unpopular major pieces of legislation in American history. Virtually all of the promises Obama has made about it are unraveling. It is one of the reasons Democrats will be handed a devastating defeat on Tuesday. Yet Obama not only defended his health-care bill; he called it “as significant a piece of legislation as we’ve seen in this country’s history.”

Actually, no, at least not in the (positive) way Obama interprets it. But it is one of the worst and most politically damaging pieces of legislation we’ve seen in quite a long while.

Mr. Obama’s presidency is failing. Jon Stewart sees it. Seemingly, only the president does not.

President Obama’s interview with Jon Stewart is getting a lot of attention — and deservedly so. There were, I think, several things to note from the interview.

The first is that I wish that most news anchors and reporters were half as good at interviewing the president as Jon Stewart is. Stewart is, of course, a liberal and he came at Obama from a liberal perspective. But he asked penetrating questions in an engaging manner and, from time to time, succeeded in getting Obama to abandon his usual spin and talking points.

As for Obama himself: he was at times prickly and defensive, sounding almost insulted at having to answer questions that are critical rather than worshipful. Now, all politicians struggle with this; they are, after all, only human. But Obama seems to have a particularly thin skin — and is particularly dismissive of those who don’t buy into his Narrative of Greatness.

Throughout the interview, Obama also found himself hoisted with his own petard. It is Obama who created, by his words and promises, almost Messianic expectations for himself and his presidency. He was going to do so much, so fast, so well. Those expectations have come crashing down around Obama. Stewart’s line of questing was consistent. “Is the difficulty you have here the distance between what you ran on and what you’ve delivered,” Stewart asked the president. Mr. Obama did not seem happy with Stewart’s impertinence. But, at least, out of the interview emerged a new motto from the Obama White House. It’s based on what the president himself said: “Yes We Can — but…” as in “I think what I would say is ‘yes we can, but it’s not going to happen overnight.’”

Most of us missed the qualifiers during the campaign.

There was also the kind of vanity and self-justification we’ve come to expect from the president. ObamaCare is one of the most unpopular major pieces of legislation in American history. Virtually all of the promises Obama has made about it are unraveling. It is one of the reasons Democrats will be handed a devastating defeat on Tuesday. Yet Obama not only defended his health-care bill; he called it “as significant a piece of legislation as we’ve seen in this country’s history.”

Actually, no, at least not in the (positive) way Obama interprets it. But it is one of the worst and most politically damaging pieces of legislation we’ve seen in quite a long while.

Mr. Obama’s presidency is failing. Jon Stewart sees it. Seemingly, only the president does not.

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Best Supporting Role in a Civil Rights Cover-Up

Hollywood is not the only place where self-congratulatory awards are plentiful. Andrew Malcolm notes that the Obama Department of Justice has handed out a slew of these — more than 300 (if you didn’t get one, start updating your resume) — to their attorneys and staffers. He empathizes (no, not really) with the “workload” all this entails:

Dropping the Black Panther voter intimidation case. Not closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Suing Arizona for trying to do the federal job of securing the porous Mexican border against drug and human smugglers. Fighting in federal court to uphold the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law on gays in the military that Obama often says he really, really opposes and will certainly change someday on his watch. Ditto for the department’s ongoing legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. Even though top Obama aide Valerie Jarrett got caught on an interview video recently kinda letting the cat out of the bag about the White House view of gay being a lifestyle choice. But she apologized for the revelation.

Let’s not forget about hiring attorneys who previously represented al-Qaeda terrorists, refusing to enforce portions of the Voting Rights Act (which would head off fraud), and giving rotten advice (later countermanded) with respect to the release of detainee-abuse photos. You wonder what these awards were for. Best misleading answer to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Most egregious case of conflict of interest in matters of national security. The mind reels.

Hollywood is not the only place where self-congratulatory awards are plentiful. Andrew Malcolm notes that the Obama Department of Justice has handed out a slew of these — more than 300 (if you didn’t get one, start updating your resume) — to their attorneys and staffers. He empathizes (no, not really) with the “workload” all this entails:

Dropping the Black Panther voter intimidation case. Not closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Suing Arizona for trying to do the federal job of securing the porous Mexican border against drug and human smugglers. Fighting in federal court to uphold the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law on gays in the military that Obama often says he really, really opposes and will certainly change someday on his watch. Ditto for the department’s ongoing legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. Even though top Obama aide Valerie Jarrett got caught on an interview video recently kinda letting the cat out of the bag about the White House view of gay being a lifestyle choice. But she apologized for the revelation.

Let’s not forget about hiring attorneys who previously represented al-Qaeda terrorists, refusing to enforce portions of the Voting Rights Act (which would head off fraud), and giving rotten advice (later countermanded) with respect to the release of detainee-abuse photos. You wonder what these awards were for. Best misleading answer to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Most egregious case of conflict of interest in matters of national security. The mind reels.

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Man of the Left vs. America

Shelby Steele’s must-read column in the Wall Street Journal correctly notes that there is more going on in the country than a rejection of Obama’s “grandiose, thoughtless, and bullying” policymaking. It is a reaction to Obama’s pose as distinct from, and often in opposition to, fellow citizens and American values. At home, he treats fellow citizens as sociological case studies. On the international stage, he views his job as rising above provincial interests (i.e., ours and those of our closet allies). Steele explains that while there is an “otherness” about Obama, it has nothing to do with his birthplace or religion:

Barack Obama is not an “other” so much as he is a child of the 1960s. His coming of age paralleled exactly the unfolding of a new “counterculture” American identity. And this new American identity — and the post-1960s liberalism it spawned — is grounded in a remarkable irony: bad faith in America as virtue itself, bad faith in the classic American identity of constitutional freedom and capitalism as the way to a better America. So Mr. Obama is very definitely an American, and he has a broad American constituency. He is simply the first president we have seen grounded in this counterculture American identity. When he bows to foreign leaders, he is not displaying “otherness” but the counterculture Americanism of honorable self-effacement in which America acknowledges its own capacity for evil as prelude to engagement.

Obama is, as many of us on the right have argued, a cookie-cutter leftist, enamored of the mindset cultivated in universities and among liberal intelligentsia, among whom he repeatedly chose to work and live. The telltale signs are all there — an aversion to projection of American power, a hyper-critical stance toward America’s record on civil rights, a disdain for Wall Street, and, most of all, a fair amount of contempt for average Americans. Or, as Steele puts it:

Among today’s liberal elite, bad faith in America is a sophistication, a kind of hipness. More importantly, it is the perfect formula for political and governmental power. It rationalizes power in the name of intervening against evil — I will use the government to intervene against the evil tendencies of American life (economic inequality, structural racism and sexism, corporate greed, neglect of the environment and so on), so I need your vote.

And Obama, the liberal intelligentsia never tires of telling us, is as sophisticated and as hip as they come. The results of all this are inevitable:

The great weakness of bad faith is that it disallows American exceptionalism as a rationale for power. It puts Mr. Obama and the Democrats in the position of forever redeeming a fallen nation, rather than leading a great nation. They bet on America’s characterological evil and not on her sense of fairness, generosity, or ingenuity.

When bad faith is your framework (Michelle Obama never being proud of her country until it supported her husband), then you become more a national scold than a real leader.

And what is more, it puts the president in the position of assuming that opposition stems from ill motives, nefarious funding sources, racism, Islamaphobia, and ignorance. We don’t appreciate him because we are confused and scared. We are, in this view, recalcitrant children at best and an unhinged mob at worst.

No wonder he didn’t care what we thought about ObamaCare. What do we know? There’s just one hitch in his approach: Americans get to vote.

Shelby Steele’s must-read column in the Wall Street Journal correctly notes that there is more going on in the country than a rejection of Obama’s “grandiose, thoughtless, and bullying” policymaking. It is a reaction to Obama’s pose as distinct from, and often in opposition to, fellow citizens and American values. At home, he treats fellow citizens as sociological case studies. On the international stage, he views his job as rising above provincial interests (i.e., ours and those of our closet allies). Steele explains that while there is an “otherness” about Obama, it has nothing to do with his birthplace or religion:

Barack Obama is not an “other” so much as he is a child of the 1960s. His coming of age paralleled exactly the unfolding of a new “counterculture” American identity. And this new American identity — and the post-1960s liberalism it spawned — is grounded in a remarkable irony: bad faith in America as virtue itself, bad faith in the classic American identity of constitutional freedom and capitalism as the way to a better America. So Mr. Obama is very definitely an American, and he has a broad American constituency. He is simply the first president we have seen grounded in this counterculture American identity. When he bows to foreign leaders, he is not displaying “otherness” but the counterculture Americanism of honorable self-effacement in which America acknowledges its own capacity for evil as prelude to engagement.

Obama is, as many of us on the right have argued, a cookie-cutter leftist, enamored of the mindset cultivated in universities and among liberal intelligentsia, among whom he repeatedly chose to work and live. The telltale signs are all there — an aversion to projection of American power, a hyper-critical stance toward America’s record on civil rights, a disdain for Wall Street, and, most of all, a fair amount of contempt for average Americans. Or, as Steele puts it:

Among today’s liberal elite, bad faith in America is a sophistication, a kind of hipness. More importantly, it is the perfect formula for political and governmental power. It rationalizes power in the name of intervening against evil — I will use the government to intervene against the evil tendencies of American life (economic inequality, structural racism and sexism, corporate greed, neglect of the environment and so on), so I need your vote.

And Obama, the liberal intelligentsia never tires of telling us, is as sophisticated and as hip as they come. The results of all this are inevitable:

The great weakness of bad faith is that it disallows American exceptionalism as a rationale for power. It puts Mr. Obama and the Democrats in the position of forever redeeming a fallen nation, rather than leading a great nation. They bet on America’s characterological evil and not on her sense of fairness, generosity, or ingenuity.

When bad faith is your framework (Michelle Obama never being proud of her country until it supported her husband), then you become more a national scold than a real leader.

And what is more, it puts the president in the position of assuming that opposition stems from ill motives, nefarious funding sources, racism, Islamaphobia, and ignorance. We don’t appreciate him because we are confused and scared. We are, in this view, recalcitrant children at best and an unhinged mob at worst.

No wonder he didn’t care what we thought about ObamaCare. What do we know? There’s just one hitch in his approach: Americans get to vote.

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New York’s Silk-Stocking District

Carolyn Maloney has been the congresswoman from New York’s Upper East Side since 1993. (The district now includes a chunk of Queens, as well.) Known as the silk-stocking district, it was once as safely Republican as could be found in New York, and it still has more Republicans than anywhere else in solid-blue Manhattan. But it has been safely Democratic now for quite a while. It still is, but Maloney has had to spend more money this year than in her last three elections combined — a good example of how the Democrats have been forced to use resources just to hold their own.

Last night, she had the last of three debates with her Republican opponent, Ryan Brumberg. The fact that an incumbent facing a relatively unknown opponent felt that she had to agree to three debates is itself a sign of perceived weakness. And as the New York Observer reports, Brumberg held his own and even got off a nice piece of political theater:

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the debate occurred during the Q&A portion, when an audience member asked Maloney how she could justify supporting the health care reform bill, which the audience member called “an abomination.”

“I am proud to have been a part of that,” Maloney responded.

“Every single President has tried to get health coverage for the 33 million Americans who are uninsured.”

About half the audience applauded loudly, with a few shouts of “Yeah!” peppered in.

Then a member of audience shouted, “Nobody read it!”

“I read it,” Maloney quickly shot back. “It was read and discussed for at least three to six days before the caucus.”

For his rebuttal, Brumberg dragged a large white cardboard box from beneath the debate table. He pulled stacks and stacks of paper out of the box and placed them onto the table. The stack stood two to three feet tall. It was the health-care reform bill.

“I tried to read it,” he said. “It’s not a quick read — I’ll let that stand for itself.”

From the same box, he picked up two packets of paper, each about the thickness of a college essay. They were the Social Security bill and the Civil Rights Act, he said. Then he pulled a small booklet from his breast pocket.

“The Constitution,” he said.

Real Clear Politics regards the seat as safe. But while a recent poll had Maloney ahead by 20 points, she was below 50 percent, usually a sign of trouble for an incumbent, especially one who has been in for almost two decades.

So if Brumberg wins or even comes close in NY 14, it would be as clear a sign in the political world as the precipitate withdrawal of the sea from the shore is in the physical world: a tsunami is coming.

Carolyn Maloney has been the congresswoman from New York’s Upper East Side since 1993. (The district now includes a chunk of Queens, as well.) Known as the silk-stocking district, it was once as safely Republican as could be found in New York, and it still has more Republicans than anywhere else in solid-blue Manhattan. But it has been safely Democratic now for quite a while. It still is, but Maloney has had to spend more money this year than in her last three elections combined — a good example of how the Democrats have been forced to use resources just to hold their own.

Last night, she had the last of three debates with her Republican opponent, Ryan Brumberg. The fact that an incumbent facing a relatively unknown opponent felt that she had to agree to three debates is itself a sign of perceived weakness. And as the New York Observer reports, Brumberg held his own and even got off a nice piece of political theater:

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the debate occurred during the Q&A portion, when an audience member asked Maloney how she could justify supporting the health care reform bill, which the audience member called “an abomination.”

“I am proud to have been a part of that,” Maloney responded.

“Every single President has tried to get health coverage for the 33 million Americans who are uninsured.”

About half the audience applauded loudly, with a few shouts of “Yeah!” peppered in.

Then a member of audience shouted, “Nobody read it!”

“I read it,” Maloney quickly shot back. “It was read and discussed for at least three to six days before the caucus.”

For his rebuttal, Brumberg dragged a large white cardboard box from beneath the debate table. He pulled stacks and stacks of paper out of the box and placed them onto the table. The stack stood two to three feet tall. It was the health-care reform bill.

“I tried to read it,” he said. “It’s not a quick read — I’ll let that stand for itself.”

From the same box, he picked up two packets of paper, each about the thickness of a college essay. They were the Social Security bill and the Civil Rights Act, he said. Then he pulled a small booklet from his breast pocket.

“The Constitution,” he said.

Real Clear Politics regards the seat as safe. But while a recent poll had Maloney ahead by 20 points, she was below 50 percent, usually a sign of trouble for an incumbent, especially one who has been in for almost two decades.

So if Brumberg wins or even comes close in NY 14, it would be as clear a sign in the political world as the precipitate withdrawal of the sea from the shore is in the physical world: a tsunami is coming.

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Get Your GM Stock!

Get out your checkbook — GM’s IPO is just around the corner. This report explains:

The Treasury is seeking to sell roughly $6 billion to $8 billion of its GM stock through the IPO, with other sellers taking the entire deal to a total of roughly $10 billion to $12 billion.

The government paid $40 billion for its stake, and risks political fallout if the share price sinks due to releasing too many shares at once on the market. That could send a signal the Obama administration won’t recoup its investment.

Yes, contrary to the administration’s spin, there is a strong likelihood of the shareholders not even coming close to getting their money back. In the short term, the numbers could look particularly grim:

Linda Killian, a principal of Renaissance Capital LLC in Greenwich, Conn., which specializes in IPO research, estimates GM’s valuation at $50 billion to $70 billion, yet added that the chances of the government breaking even are “low.”

Because the IPO should take place at a discount to the market price, the government is likely to show a big loss in realized proceeds on its sales on IPO day. If the IPO is priced at the $50 billion level, that would equate to a U.S. loss of approximately 38% on the first batch of shares it sells.

But not to worry; the former car czar, Steve Rattner (who’s about to enter a settlement regarding a kickback arrangement with the New York State pension fund and “accept a multi-year ban from the securities industry and pay a fine of more than $5 million”), says that our losses will only be in the “single-digit” billions. I’ll hang on to that rosy scenario.

The real problem is that GM is not all that attractive so long as it remains a subsidiary of Obama, Inc.

“Would I jump at the GM deal? Probably not,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Harris Private Bank in Chicago. He said the “overhang of government ownership” results in a “management straitjacket” that could require GM executives to “get permission every time they want to extend a bonus to somebody.”

Robert Pavlik, a senior partner at investment advisers Banyan Partners LLC in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., said he “wouldn’t put my clients’ money into it” because GM still carries the “stigma” of both bankruptcy and government ownership as well as recent top-management turnover.

“What’s going to drive their sales? The Chevrolet Volt? I think that’s going to turn out to be more of a publicity stunt than anything else,” Mr. Pavlik said.

This raises at least two troubling issues. First, the UAW is also going to get some of its (that is, its members’) money back in the IPO. It has a 17.5 percent stake in the company. So where is that money going — directly into the pension plan, or is the union taking some off the top? You know, for political contributions, union bosses’ salaries, and the upkeep of its swank golf course.

But the bigger issue is this: by stepping into the car business, the government is now in the position of hawking GM stock, singing the praises of the GM Volt, and persuading investors to put their money in this company as opposed to other businesses. There is something unseemly in all that. The administration finds itself in a classic case of conflict of interest. On the one hand, it is the federal regulator/pension guarantor/SEC monitor, and on the other, it is running the GM “road show” to sell, sell, sell GM. It is the natural and inevitable result of a move that should have never been made — namely, the injection of the U.S. government into the car industry.

All of that, plus the potential for billions in losses, should remind us why the Obama car bailout is a lemon.

Get out your checkbook — GM’s IPO is just around the corner. This report explains:

The Treasury is seeking to sell roughly $6 billion to $8 billion of its GM stock through the IPO, with other sellers taking the entire deal to a total of roughly $10 billion to $12 billion.

The government paid $40 billion for its stake, and risks political fallout if the share price sinks due to releasing too many shares at once on the market. That could send a signal the Obama administration won’t recoup its investment.

Yes, contrary to the administration’s spin, there is a strong likelihood of the shareholders not even coming close to getting their money back. In the short term, the numbers could look particularly grim:

Linda Killian, a principal of Renaissance Capital LLC in Greenwich, Conn., which specializes in IPO research, estimates GM’s valuation at $50 billion to $70 billion, yet added that the chances of the government breaking even are “low.”

Because the IPO should take place at a discount to the market price, the government is likely to show a big loss in realized proceeds on its sales on IPO day. If the IPO is priced at the $50 billion level, that would equate to a U.S. loss of approximately 38% on the first batch of shares it sells.

But not to worry; the former car czar, Steve Rattner (who’s about to enter a settlement regarding a kickback arrangement with the New York State pension fund and “accept a multi-year ban from the securities industry and pay a fine of more than $5 million”), says that our losses will only be in the “single-digit” billions. I’ll hang on to that rosy scenario.

The real problem is that GM is not all that attractive so long as it remains a subsidiary of Obama, Inc.

“Would I jump at the GM deal? Probably not,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Harris Private Bank in Chicago. He said the “overhang of government ownership” results in a “management straitjacket” that could require GM executives to “get permission every time they want to extend a bonus to somebody.”

Robert Pavlik, a senior partner at investment advisers Banyan Partners LLC in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., said he “wouldn’t put my clients’ money into it” because GM still carries the “stigma” of both bankruptcy and government ownership as well as recent top-management turnover.

“What’s going to drive their sales? The Chevrolet Volt? I think that’s going to turn out to be more of a publicity stunt than anything else,” Mr. Pavlik said.

This raises at least two troubling issues. First, the UAW is also going to get some of its (that is, its members’) money back in the IPO. It has a 17.5 percent stake in the company. So where is that money going — directly into the pension plan, or is the union taking some off the top? You know, for political contributions, union bosses’ salaries, and the upkeep of its swank golf course.

But the bigger issue is this: by stepping into the car business, the government is now in the position of hawking GM stock, singing the praises of the GM Volt, and persuading investors to put their money in this company as opposed to other businesses. There is something unseemly in all that. The administration finds itself in a classic case of conflict of interest. On the one hand, it is the federal regulator/pension guarantor/SEC monitor, and on the other, it is running the GM “road show” to sell, sell, sell GM. It is the natural and inevitable result of a move that should have never been made — namely, the injection of the U.S. government into the car industry.

All of that, plus the potential for billions in losses, should remind us why the Obama car bailout is a lemon.

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EU Undercuts U.S. Sanctions on Iran

Remember that the administration and its enablers told us that, sure, the UN sanctions weren’t that biting, but the EU would really lower the boom on Tehran. Well, not so much:

The European Union issued regulations this week that went well beyond a UN Security Council resolution passed in June, outlining tough restrictions on the sale of equipment and technology to the Iranian oil and gas industry, as well as on investment in those sectors. But the regulations — unlike legislation passed by the U.S. Congress — allow for the import and export of oil and gas to the Islamic Republic.

This, of course, is the most critical and probably the only effective aspect of economic sanctions. An EU official explained: “We don’t want any negative effect on the Iranian population or to deprive them of energy, so we do not follow U.S. measures that go beyond United Nations sanctions.” Well, then how are sanctions to be effective? Hmm. I guess they won’t be.

Remember that the administration and its enablers told us that, sure, the UN sanctions weren’t that biting, but the EU would really lower the boom on Tehran. Well, not so much:

The European Union issued regulations this week that went well beyond a UN Security Council resolution passed in June, outlining tough restrictions on the sale of equipment and technology to the Iranian oil and gas industry, as well as on investment in those sectors. But the regulations — unlike legislation passed by the U.S. Congress — allow for the import and export of oil and gas to the Islamic Republic.

This, of course, is the most critical and probably the only effective aspect of economic sanctions. An EU official explained: “We don’t want any negative effect on the Iranian population or to deprive them of energy, so we do not follow U.S. measures that go beyond United Nations sanctions.” Well, then how are sanctions to be effective? Hmm. I guess they won’t be.

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All the President’s Enemies

I had lunch yesterday with a long-time friend who is intelligent, well informed, and a life-long Democrat. In the course of our conversation I asked for his reaction to what the president said on Univision.

If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us,” if they don’t see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it’s going to be harder.

Given how out of sync the president’s words have been, compared with his high-minded campaign rhetoric, I asked my friend, “Help me to decode Obama.” I wanted to hear his perspective as someone who had invested great hopes in the president.

His response was arresting: “He’s ruthless.” My friend proceeded to tell me that Obama should be understood in the context of the Chicago Way.

This exchange was revealing on several levels. First, my friend’s disenchantment with the president is nearly off the charts. He told me he was as disappointed in Obama as he has ever been in a politician, to the point that on Tuesday he’s going to vote for almost a straight Republican ticket. Many more voters will undergo this same reversal of preferences come Tuesday, which is one reason why it will be a brutal night for the Democrats.

Second, Obama’s rhetoric — using the word “enemy” to describe members of the opposition party — has become nearly unhinged. For Obama there are, it seems, no honest or honorable critics; they are all dishonest, dishonorable, operating in bad faith, and now, apparently, out-and-out enemies. Mr. Obama’s rhetoric is more scorching toward Republicans than it is toward Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong-Il.

What Obama said on Univision is simply the latest in a massive and increasingly wearisome smear campaign aimed at Obama’s critics (the Chamber of Commerce, Fox News, conservative talk radio, Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, the Tea Party movement, critics of ObamaCare, the Supreme Court, the state of Arizona, etc.). As Democrats reach the last stretch of this campaign, invective is almost all they have to offer. And as the magnitude of the impending defeat on Tuesday sinks in, Obama is becoming more brittle, more small-minded, and more mean-spirited.

What makes this stand out all the more, of course, is that Obama is the man whose campaign, at its very core, was the antithesis to these sorts of attacks. During his inaugural address, for example, Obama said this:

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.

These are moving words and, like so much of what Obama said during the campaign, they turned out to be empty ones.

The president is right; the Scriptures do say to put away childish things. They also say by your fruits ye will be known. That is precisely Barack Obama’s problem.

I had lunch yesterday with a long-time friend who is intelligent, well informed, and a life-long Democrat. In the course of our conversation I asked for his reaction to what the president said on Univision.

If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us,” if they don’t see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it’s going to be harder.

Given how out of sync the president’s words have been, compared with his high-minded campaign rhetoric, I asked my friend, “Help me to decode Obama.” I wanted to hear his perspective as someone who had invested great hopes in the president.

His response was arresting: “He’s ruthless.” My friend proceeded to tell me that Obama should be understood in the context of the Chicago Way.

This exchange was revealing on several levels. First, my friend’s disenchantment with the president is nearly off the charts. He told me he was as disappointed in Obama as he has ever been in a politician, to the point that on Tuesday he’s going to vote for almost a straight Republican ticket. Many more voters will undergo this same reversal of preferences come Tuesday, which is one reason why it will be a brutal night for the Democrats.

Second, Obama’s rhetoric — using the word “enemy” to describe members of the opposition party — has become nearly unhinged. For Obama there are, it seems, no honest or honorable critics; they are all dishonest, dishonorable, operating in bad faith, and now, apparently, out-and-out enemies. Mr. Obama’s rhetoric is more scorching toward Republicans than it is toward Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong-Il.

What Obama said on Univision is simply the latest in a massive and increasingly wearisome smear campaign aimed at Obama’s critics (the Chamber of Commerce, Fox News, conservative talk radio, Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, the Tea Party movement, critics of ObamaCare, the Supreme Court, the state of Arizona, etc.). As Democrats reach the last stretch of this campaign, invective is almost all they have to offer. And as the magnitude of the impending defeat on Tuesday sinks in, Obama is becoming more brittle, more small-minded, and more mean-spirited.

What makes this stand out all the more, of course, is that Obama is the man whose campaign, at its very core, was the antithesis to these sorts of attacks. During his inaugural address, for example, Obama said this:

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.

These are moving words and, like so much of what Obama said during the campaign, they turned out to be empty ones.

The president is right; the Scriptures do say to put away childish things. They also say by your fruits ye will be known. That is precisely Barack Obama’s problem.

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Freaking Out J Street

Washington Jewish Week reports that the Emergency Committee for Israel is making quite a splash:

In the past few months, ECI has made a name for itself by assaulting Democrats in hotly contested congressional races over their support for Israel — or lack thereof, as ECI sees it. …

“There is some reason for Democrats to be concerned,” said one Democratic political strategist who would speak only on background. ECI is “going about this in an intelligent way and it’s likely to have an impact.”

“In a marginal and close race” in a niche market, the source added, “they could certainly move the needle.”

The ads, which [executive director Noah]Pollak said will air “hundreds” of times on several networks, target Pennsylvania Senate hopeful, Rep. Joe Sestak (D) — whom ECI pegged as anti-Israel in a spot that ran during the National League Championship Series between the Phillies and Giants — as well as Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and John Tierney (D-Mass.).

The notion that, as an ECI spokesman put it, the “free ride is over” and candidates will actually be held accountable for their views, associations, and votes on Israel has left Democrats whimpering. Ira Forman, the former head of the  National Jewish Democratic Council, (who could never muster a single bad word about Obama’s assault on Israel) asserts: “Either [ECI] knows very little about what will drive Jewish votes… or they’re just cynical and this is a good opportunity for them to build their own political operation.” I actually don’t know what that means — the ECI operation obviously is designed to hold lawmakers accountable for their voting records on Israel. But Forman has a point that the left has so downgraded Israel as a priority that exposing a lawmaker’s anti-Israel voting record might not shake its followers free of the “sick addiction” to the Democratic party. But then again, the rest of American voters, including a fair number of Jews, are quite pro-Israel, so it does make a difference. Odd, isn’t it, however, that Forman assumes that ECI is only going after Jewish voters?

But the whine-a-thon really revs up when J Street’s policy director, Hadar Susskind, (I guess the credibility-challenged Jeremy Ben-Ami is at an undisclosed location these days) insists that “ECI’s primary function as not to defend Israel or sway voters, but to ‘scare legislators.'” Well, I imagine many of the J Street endorsees, including Joe Sestak, are scared because their votes and actions don’t match their pro-Israel labeling. Then Susskind comes up with this howler:

“I could list out two dozen Republicans in Congress who take a much more nuanced view on” the peace process, but can’t express it “because the majority of campaign support they get is from folks who are on the far-right, neo-conservative, Israel-right-or-wrong crowd,” Susskind said.

To adopt that view, he explained, would mean sacrificing already scant Jewish support. ECI’s “game is really to keep Republicans in line.”

These alleged GOP lawmakers can’t express that they are secretly “more nuanced”? (So how do we know they are?) Who are these people, tailgunner Susskind? Perhaps there is a list to wave before the cameras. And by the way, in case the J Street kids hadn’t noticed, J Street’s game is to hold all lawmakers accountable — including Democrats Sestak, Holt, and Tierney.

Washington Jewish Week reports that the Emergency Committee for Israel is making quite a splash:

In the past few months, ECI has made a name for itself by assaulting Democrats in hotly contested congressional races over their support for Israel — or lack thereof, as ECI sees it. …

“There is some reason for Democrats to be concerned,” said one Democratic political strategist who would speak only on background. ECI is “going about this in an intelligent way and it’s likely to have an impact.”

“In a marginal and close race” in a niche market, the source added, “they could certainly move the needle.”

The ads, which [executive director Noah]Pollak said will air “hundreds” of times on several networks, target Pennsylvania Senate hopeful, Rep. Joe Sestak (D) — whom ECI pegged as anti-Israel in a spot that ran during the National League Championship Series between the Phillies and Giants — as well as Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and John Tierney (D-Mass.).

The notion that, as an ECI spokesman put it, the “free ride is over” and candidates will actually be held accountable for their views, associations, and votes on Israel has left Democrats whimpering. Ira Forman, the former head of the  National Jewish Democratic Council, (who could never muster a single bad word about Obama’s assault on Israel) asserts: “Either [ECI] knows very little about what will drive Jewish votes… or they’re just cynical and this is a good opportunity for them to build their own political operation.” I actually don’t know what that means — the ECI operation obviously is designed to hold lawmakers accountable for their voting records on Israel. But Forman has a point that the left has so downgraded Israel as a priority that exposing a lawmaker’s anti-Israel voting record might not shake its followers free of the “sick addiction” to the Democratic party. But then again, the rest of American voters, including a fair number of Jews, are quite pro-Israel, so it does make a difference. Odd, isn’t it, however, that Forman assumes that ECI is only going after Jewish voters?

But the whine-a-thon really revs up when J Street’s policy director, Hadar Susskind, (I guess the credibility-challenged Jeremy Ben-Ami is at an undisclosed location these days) insists that “ECI’s primary function as not to defend Israel or sway voters, but to ‘scare legislators.'” Well, I imagine many of the J Street endorsees, including Joe Sestak, are scared because their votes and actions don’t match their pro-Israel labeling. Then Susskind comes up with this howler:

“I could list out two dozen Republicans in Congress who take a much more nuanced view on” the peace process, but can’t express it “because the majority of campaign support they get is from folks who are on the far-right, neo-conservative, Israel-right-or-wrong crowd,” Susskind said.

To adopt that view, he explained, would mean sacrificing already scant Jewish support. ECI’s “game is really to keep Republicans in line.”

These alleged GOP lawmakers can’t express that they are secretly “more nuanced”? (So how do we know they are?) Who are these people, tailgunner Susskind? Perhaps there is a list to wave before the cameras. And by the way, in case the J Street kids hadn’t noticed, J Street’s game is to hold all lawmakers accountable — including Democrats Sestak, Holt, and Tierney.

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We Are All Philosophical Pragmatists Now

The New York Times reports that Prof. James Kloppenberg, chair of Harvard’s history department, received prolonged applause after his standing-room-only lecture about his upcoming book, Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition, at a CUNY conference on intellectual history.

The book concludes, based on Kloppenberg’s review of Obama’s books, essays, and speeches, and interviews with former professors and classmates, that Obama is “a kind of philosopher president, a rare breed that can be found only a handful of times in American history.”

An extended excerpt of the book is here, but the following paragraph may suffice to indicate its flavor:

Obama is drawn toward the ideas of anti-foundationalism, historicism, and philosophical pragmatism. As an anti-foundationalist, he questions the existence of universal truths. As a historicist, he doubts that any ideas transcend the particularity of time and culture. Finally, as a philosophical pragmatist he insists that all propositions, positions, and policies must be subjected to continuing critical scrutiny. … He believes that anti-foundationalism, historicism, and philosophical pragmatism are consistent with the principles of civic republicanism and deliberative democracy on which America was built and for which it should stand.

Kloppenberg writes that he found a “single sentence [that] encapsulates Obama’s commitments to deliberative democracy and pragmatism,” which he says are the “signature features of [Obama’s] approach to American history and politics.” Are you ready? It is from Obama’s address to the nation on August 31, 2010, marking the end of American combat operations in Iraq:

Obama declared, “The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences, and to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead.” That single sentence encapsulates [etc.].

Who knew you could pack so much anti-foundationalism, historicism, and philosophical pragmatism into a single sentence? It may rank up there with the bromides in what David Brooks called the most profound speech of Obama’s life.

Next Tuesday, America’s deliberative democracy will hold what amounts to a referendum on Obama. The anti-foundationalist, historicist, philosophical pragmatist and his party are not expected to do well. The irony is that it will be because the electorate has subjected all his propositions, positions, and policies to continuing critical scrutiny and does not like them.

The New York Times reports that Prof. James Kloppenberg, chair of Harvard’s history department, received prolonged applause after his standing-room-only lecture about his upcoming book, Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition, at a CUNY conference on intellectual history.

The book concludes, based on Kloppenberg’s review of Obama’s books, essays, and speeches, and interviews with former professors and classmates, that Obama is “a kind of philosopher president, a rare breed that can be found only a handful of times in American history.”

An extended excerpt of the book is here, but the following paragraph may suffice to indicate its flavor:

Obama is drawn toward the ideas of anti-foundationalism, historicism, and philosophical pragmatism. As an anti-foundationalist, he questions the existence of universal truths. As a historicist, he doubts that any ideas transcend the particularity of time and culture. Finally, as a philosophical pragmatist he insists that all propositions, positions, and policies must be subjected to continuing critical scrutiny. … He believes that anti-foundationalism, historicism, and philosophical pragmatism are consistent with the principles of civic republicanism and deliberative democracy on which America was built and for which it should stand.

Kloppenberg writes that he found a “single sentence [that] encapsulates Obama’s commitments to deliberative democracy and pragmatism,” which he says are the “signature features of [Obama’s] approach to American history and politics.” Are you ready? It is from Obama’s address to the nation on August 31, 2010, marking the end of American combat operations in Iraq:

Obama declared, “The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences, and to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead.” That single sentence encapsulates [etc.].

Who knew you could pack so much anti-foundationalism, historicism, and philosophical pragmatism into a single sentence? It may rank up there with the bromides in what David Brooks called the most profound speech of Obama’s life.

Next Tuesday, America’s deliberative democracy will hold what amounts to a referendum on Obama. The anti-foundationalist, historicist, philosophical pragmatist and his party are not expected to do well. The irony is that it will be because the electorate has subjected all his propositions, positions, and policies to continuing critical scrutiny and does not like them.

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The Obama Coalition Crack-Up

The Obama coalition is breaking up, the New York Times tells us:

Republicans have wiped out the advantage held by Democrats in recent election cycles among women, Catholics, less affluent Americans and independents; all of those groups broke for Mr. Obama in 2008 and for congressional Democrats when they grabbed both chambers from the Republicans four years ago, according to exit polls.

The poll found that a greater proportion of women would choose Republicans over Democrats in House races than at any time since exit polls began tracking the breakdown in 1982.

And for the Times poll, which a savvy Democratic pundit confided to me does indeed historically “tip Democratic,” the numbers are horrible for the Democrats. Obama’s approval is at 43 percent. And then there is the speaker: “The Democratic House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has clearly emerged as a political liability for her party in the latest Times/CBS poll. Overall, 43 percent of all respondents had an unfavorable opinion of Ms. Pelosi; 15 percent had a favorable opinion, and 40 percent said they had no opinion.” Yowser. No wonder she’s in so many GOP ads.

Other figures evidence the electorate’s rightward shift. Women, who have of late tilted Democratic, are now evenly split between support for Democrats and Republicans. By a margin of 55 to 36 percent, respondents favored smaller government with fewer services over bigger government with more services. Fifty-three percent think Obama does not have a clear plan for creating jobs. Respondents think Republicans are more likely than Democrats to create jobs and reduce the deficit (by a 43 to 32 percent margin).

And oh, by the way, the polling sample — 38 percent Democrat and 27 percent Republican — is more dramatically skewed toward the Democrats than just about any other poll (OK, there’s Newsweek, but not even James Carville takes that seriously).

Obama has managed to lose his own standing, take his party down with him, and convince core Democratic constituencies to vote Republican. And it took him only two years.

The Obama coalition is breaking up, the New York Times tells us:

Republicans have wiped out the advantage held by Democrats in recent election cycles among women, Catholics, less affluent Americans and independents; all of those groups broke for Mr. Obama in 2008 and for congressional Democrats when they grabbed both chambers from the Republicans four years ago, according to exit polls.

The poll found that a greater proportion of women would choose Republicans over Democrats in House races than at any time since exit polls began tracking the breakdown in 1982.

And for the Times poll, which a savvy Democratic pundit confided to me does indeed historically “tip Democratic,” the numbers are horrible for the Democrats. Obama’s approval is at 43 percent. And then there is the speaker: “The Democratic House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has clearly emerged as a political liability for her party in the latest Times/CBS poll. Overall, 43 percent of all respondents had an unfavorable opinion of Ms. Pelosi; 15 percent had a favorable opinion, and 40 percent said they had no opinion.” Yowser. No wonder she’s in so many GOP ads.

Other figures evidence the electorate’s rightward shift. Women, who have of late tilted Democratic, are now evenly split between support for Democrats and Republicans. By a margin of 55 to 36 percent, respondents favored smaller government with fewer services over bigger government with more services. Fifty-three percent think Obama does not have a clear plan for creating jobs. Respondents think Republicans are more likely than Democrats to create jobs and reduce the deficit (by a 43 to 32 percent margin).

And oh, by the way, the polling sample — 38 percent Democrat and 27 percent Republican — is more dramatically skewed toward the Democrats than just about any other poll (OK, there’s Newsweek, but not even James Carville takes that seriously).

Obama has managed to lose his own standing, take his party down with him, and convince core Democratic constituencies to vote Republican. And it took him only two years.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Rep. Mark Kirk is stretching out his lead in Illinois. The last time his opponent led in a poll was October 11.

Pat Toomey is finishing strong in Pennsylvania.

If Obama is thinking of dumping Joe Biden, he can select Katie Couric as his VP. She sounds just like him: “Couric has spent recent weeks in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is touring what she calls ‘this great unwashed middle of the country’ in an effort to divine the mood of the midterms.” Boston is the middle of the country?

Obama’s human rights policy is baffling. “On Monday, the Obama administration waived sections of a law meant to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers in Africa, paving the way for new military cooperation with four countries with poor human rights records — despite their use of underage troops. … So the Obama administration has determined that deepening military relationships with brutal dictatorships and unsavory regimes is the best way to reform them? That seems like a pretty big shift in policy. It still remains unclear what military assistance the United States actually plans to give to countries like Sudan, Chad, and Yemen, as well as how it will use its engagement to protect child soldiers.”

Rudy Giuliani (after one of the more bizarrely inept campaigns in recent memory) is considering another presidential run? I suppose this time he would compete before the Florida campaign.

Released from the hospital, Carly Fiorina is returning to the campaign. The race is still close, but no poll has shown her ahead.

If Obama is meeting with liberal bloggers less than a week before the election, the Dems are in a heap of trouble.

John Bolton sure is sounding presidential: “Dramatic developments in Europe in the past few weeks have graphically demonstrated the importance of America’s upcoming November 2 elections. Coming midway through President Obama’s term, there is little doubt these elections constitute a referendum on his philosophy, policies and performance. Any U.S. citizens who doubt the significance of their impending votes need only contemplate Europe to see the consequences of further pursuing the Obama agenda.”

Rep. Mark Kirk is stretching out his lead in Illinois. The last time his opponent led in a poll was October 11.

Pat Toomey is finishing strong in Pennsylvania.

If Obama is thinking of dumping Joe Biden, he can select Katie Couric as his VP. She sounds just like him: “Couric has spent recent weeks in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is touring what she calls ‘this great unwashed middle of the country’ in an effort to divine the mood of the midterms.” Boston is the middle of the country?

Obama’s human rights policy is baffling. “On Monday, the Obama administration waived sections of a law meant to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers in Africa, paving the way for new military cooperation with four countries with poor human rights records — despite their use of underage troops. … So the Obama administration has determined that deepening military relationships with brutal dictatorships and unsavory regimes is the best way to reform them? That seems like a pretty big shift in policy. It still remains unclear what military assistance the United States actually plans to give to countries like Sudan, Chad, and Yemen, as well as how it will use its engagement to protect child soldiers.”

Rudy Giuliani (after one of the more bizarrely inept campaigns in recent memory) is considering another presidential run? I suppose this time he would compete before the Florida campaign.

Released from the hospital, Carly Fiorina is returning to the campaign. The race is still close, but no poll has shown her ahead.

If Obama is meeting with liberal bloggers less than a week before the election, the Dems are in a heap of trouble.

John Bolton sure is sounding presidential: “Dramatic developments in Europe in the past few weeks have graphically demonstrated the importance of America’s upcoming November 2 elections. Coming midway through President Obama’s term, there is little doubt these elections constitute a referendum on his philosophy, policies and performance. Any U.S. citizens who doubt the significance of their impending votes need only contemplate Europe to see the consequences of further pursuing the Obama agenda.”

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More J Street Donors Revealed

The Jerusalem Post has the latest on J Street’s unusual donors:

According to records filed with the US Federal Election Committee on October 20 and October 21, J Street recorded hundreds of donations from Americans of all sorts, most Jewish and some Muslim. But several names jumped out from the 2,100 pages.

Lenny Ben David, who wrote the item, mentions Genevieve Lynch, a member of the National Iranian American Council’s board.

Lynch, the NIAC board member and a member of J Street’s Finance Committee, is listed contributing $10,000 in October. At one point last year, J Street and NIAC leaders worked together to block anti-Iran sanctions measures proposed by Congress. Belatedly, J Street changed its position and supported sanctions.

Nancy Dutton earmarked last week $250 for the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak. Her late husband Fred served as a Saudi foreign agent in Washington for 30 years. (During the 1982 AWACS debate he was believed to be responsible for the line, “Reagan or Begin?” which strongly suggested American Jews’ double loyalty.)  After Fred’s death, Nancy picked up the pricey Saudi gig.

Oddly enough, the donors have a decidedly anti-Israel perspective:

Another new name on the J Street PAC’s list of contributors is  M. Cherif Bassiouni, a well-known professor of law at DePaul University. Bassiouni is also an unlikely candidate to contribute to a purported “pro-Israel” organization.  Several years ago he complained in an article in the Harvard International Law Journal, “A large segment of the world population asks why Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people, which includes the commission of ‘grave breaches’ of the Geneva Convention and what the customary law of armed conflict considers ‘war crimes,’ is deemed justified, while Palestinians’ unlawful acts of targeting civilians are condemned? These are only some contemporary examples of the double standard that fuels terrorism.”

Now, the jig has been up for some time that J Street allies itself with foes of the Jewish state. The latest is simply more evidence, as if any were needed, that J Street’s pro-Israel label is fraudulent and its sponsored candidates are those it perceives to be most helpful to its — and its allies’ — mission.

The Jerusalem Post has the latest on J Street’s unusual donors:

According to records filed with the US Federal Election Committee on October 20 and October 21, J Street recorded hundreds of donations from Americans of all sorts, most Jewish and some Muslim. But several names jumped out from the 2,100 pages.

Lenny Ben David, who wrote the item, mentions Genevieve Lynch, a member of the National Iranian American Council’s board.

Lynch, the NIAC board member and a member of J Street’s Finance Committee, is listed contributing $10,000 in October. At one point last year, J Street and NIAC leaders worked together to block anti-Iran sanctions measures proposed by Congress. Belatedly, J Street changed its position and supported sanctions.

Nancy Dutton earmarked last week $250 for the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak. Her late husband Fred served as a Saudi foreign agent in Washington for 30 years. (During the 1982 AWACS debate he was believed to be responsible for the line, “Reagan or Begin?” which strongly suggested American Jews’ double loyalty.)  After Fred’s death, Nancy picked up the pricey Saudi gig.

Oddly enough, the donors have a decidedly anti-Israel perspective:

Another new name on the J Street PAC’s list of contributors is  M. Cherif Bassiouni, a well-known professor of law at DePaul University. Bassiouni is also an unlikely candidate to contribute to a purported “pro-Israel” organization.  Several years ago he complained in an article in the Harvard International Law Journal, “A large segment of the world population asks why Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people, which includes the commission of ‘grave breaches’ of the Geneva Convention and what the customary law of armed conflict considers ‘war crimes,’ is deemed justified, while Palestinians’ unlawful acts of targeting civilians are condemned? These are only some contemporary examples of the double standard that fuels terrorism.”

Now, the jig has been up for some time that J Street allies itself with foes of the Jewish state. The latest is simply more evidence, as if any were needed, that J Street’s pro-Israel label is fraudulent and its sponsored candidates are those it perceives to be most helpful to its — and its allies’ — mission.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Plame and Fortune

The Sean Penn–Naomi Watts take on the Joseph Wilson–Valerie Plame story, Fair Game, is coming to theaters on November 5, and though political movies almost always flop, and it’s likely to suffer much the same box-office fate as the instantly forgotten Nothing but the Truth, a fictionalized version from two years ago in which Kate Beckinsale played a Judith Miller–like character and Vera Farmiga was a stand-in for Plame, it’s important for those who actually read the newspapers and know the facts to point out the way Fair Game massages reality to suit its own purposes.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

The Sean Penn–Naomi Watts take on the Joseph Wilson–Valerie Plame story, Fair Game, is coming to theaters on November 5, and though political movies almost always flop, and it’s likely to suffer much the same box-office fate as the instantly forgotten Nothing but the Truth, a fictionalized version from two years ago in which Kate Beckinsale played a Judith Miller–like character and Vera Farmiga was a stand-in for Plame, it’s important for those who actually read the newspapers and know the facts to point out the way Fair Game massages reality to suit its own purposes.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Paul, R.I.P.

We are sad to report:

Paul the Octopus, who gained fame by predicting results at the World Cup, died in his tank on Tuesday morning at the Sea Life aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany. Paul correctly predicted the outcome of all seven of Germany’s World Cup matches.

Lest you think that 2 1/2 was too young and the “natural causes” explanation fishy, I can report that the octopus gurus at the National Zoo in Washington (on previous visits unrelated to Paul) told me that two to three years is the normal lifespan of these creatures. We hope he enjoys an eternity of soccer game predictions, far from the PETA protesters, who would have been all too happy to set him “free” into a wild in which he would have been ill-equipped to survive.

We are sad to report:

Paul the Octopus, who gained fame by predicting results at the World Cup, died in his tank on Tuesday morning at the Sea Life aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany. Paul correctly predicted the outcome of all seven of Germany’s World Cup matches.

Lest you think that 2 1/2 was too young and the “natural causes” explanation fishy, I can report that the octopus gurus at the National Zoo in Washington (on previous visits unrelated to Paul) told me that two to three years is the normal lifespan of these creatures. We hope he enjoys an eternity of soccer game predictions, far from the PETA protesters, who would have been all too happy to set him “free” into a wild in which he would have been ill-equipped to survive.

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