Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 12, 2010

Dunking for Dollars

An enterprising journalism school might want to start offering a one-day seminar in the effective staging of videotaped waterboarding. Getting under a wet towel is a surefire way to put your name out there. It’s sort of like the reality TV of journalism. Get a cheap camera, do something unpleasant, and welcome your new audience.

Before today, I had never heard of the Sun’s Oliver Harvey. But now that he got wet and held his breath for 12 seconds while being videotaped he’s become the subject of this post. Harvey is the latest in a string of writers who’ve taken this shortcut to a larger readership. Of all the volunteer splashees, Christopher Hitchens got the most mileage when he submitted himself to the whims of fake interrogators in 2008. This produced an immediately forgettable Vanity Fair article and an immortal YouTube video.

Apparently it eludes these eager bathers that as more of them get dunked for dough, the case for the unspeakable inhumanity of waterboarding becomes increasingly weak.  In fact, there’s something wonderfully pro-American in all this. So evil are the wartime methods of the United States that they’ve inspired a succession of entrepreneurial self-administering copycats to capitalize on them in the free market. Tell me there’s no poetry in that. You don’t see the denizens of Fleet Street offering themselves up to the interrogation methods of the regimes they’re so eager to defend, do you? When you see an Iran apologist suffering the identical treatment of an Evin prison captive then we’ll talk.

An enterprising journalism school might want to start offering a one-day seminar in the effective staging of videotaped waterboarding. Getting under a wet towel is a surefire way to put your name out there. It’s sort of like the reality TV of journalism. Get a cheap camera, do something unpleasant, and welcome your new audience.

Before today, I had never heard of the Sun’s Oliver Harvey. But now that he got wet and held his breath for 12 seconds while being videotaped he’s become the subject of this post. Harvey is the latest in a string of writers who’ve taken this shortcut to a larger readership. Of all the volunteer splashees, Christopher Hitchens got the most mileage when he submitted himself to the whims of fake interrogators in 2008. This produced an immediately forgettable Vanity Fair article and an immortal YouTube video.

Apparently it eludes these eager bathers that as more of them get dunked for dough, the case for the unspeakable inhumanity of waterboarding becomes increasingly weak.  In fact, there’s something wonderfully pro-American in all this. So evil are the wartime methods of the United States that they’ve inspired a succession of entrepreneurial self-administering copycats to capitalize on them in the free market. Tell me there’s no poetry in that. You don’t see the denizens of Fleet Street offering themselves up to the interrogation methods of the regimes they’re so eager to defend, do you? When you see an Iran apologist suffering the identical treatment of an Evin prison captive then we’ll talk.

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Obama — a Weak Advocate for Free Trade

Obama’s international endeavors are going about as well as his party’s electoral efforts. The latest flop: “The presidents of the U.S. and South Korea were unable to overcome disputes over cars, cattle and domestic politics, potentially killing the biggest bilateral trade deal the U.S. has taken up in more than a decade.” It is worth examining why the president couldn’t make a deal.

In essence, Obama has refused to stand up to domestic advocates of protectionism — a failure that stands in contrast to the actions of past presidents from both parties. And, no doubt, the South Koreans calculated that they might as well try to wait him out. It sure doesn’t seem that Obama was on the side of the angels — or of free trade. This tells you all you need to know:

Labor leaders and some powerful politicians from both parties praised Mr. Obama for not going ahead with a deal they characterized as bad for U.S. workers. “President Obama is exactly right in holding out for a deal that puts working people’s interests first,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

Translation: Obama caved to protectionist elements in the U.S.

As a result of this and Ben Bernanke’s printing press, we are increasingly isolated and becoming the object of our trading partners’ criticism:

The trade-talk failure came on top of criticism from other G-20 nations concerning the Federal Reserve’s move to pump billions into the U.S. economy, potentially weakening the dollar.

“This reinforces the opinion of many key global and business leaders that the U.S. isn’t really committed to global engagement and is instead pushing mercantilist, beggar-thy-neighbor policies,” said Matthew Slaughter, a former member of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.

As for the particulars, it seems as though Obama wanted to hang on to some protectionist provisions just a little longer. (“One stumbling block was Korea’s refusal to change a provision in the 2007 pact that provided an immediate end to a 2.5% tariff the U.S. levies on imports of Korean cars. … The U.S. wanted the tariff reduced gradually, while Korea eliminates safety and environmental rules that U.S. auto makers, led by Ford, said help keep Korea the world’s most closed car market.”)

Congress has traditionally been more protectionist than the White House, the result of intense lobbying by both U.S. businesses and Big Labor. A strong presidential hand has been required to rebuff protectionist sentiment and negotiate free-trade agreements that are essential to America’s prosperity. To his credit, Bill Clinton did just that. But Obama has neither the will nor the interest in following this approach. This spells trouble for the U.S.:

Meanwhile, the European Union and other nations have signed far more bilateral deals than the U.S. since 1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect, displeasing some U.S. industrial companies. “We as a country have essentially taken two years off” from pursuing trade agreements while the rest of the world goes full speed ahead, said Eaton Corp. Chief Executive Alexander Cutler on Thursday. “If you want to have a vibrant economy, you have to have access to the fastest-growing parts of the world.”

You would think a president who ran on the promise to “restore our standing” in the world and end the supposed cowboy unilateralism of his predecessor would understand this.

Obama’s international endeavors are going about as well as his party’s electoral efforts. The latest flop: “The presidents of the U.S. and South Korea were unable to overcome disputes over cars, cattle and domestic politics, potentially killing the biggest bilateral trade deal the U.S. has taken up in more than a decade.” It is worth examining why the president couldn’t make a deal.

In essence, Obama has refused to stand up to domestic advocates of protectionism — a failure that stands in contrast to the actions of past presidents from both parties. And, no doubt, the South Koreans calculated that they might as well try to wait him out. It sure doesn’t seem that Obama was on the side of the angels — or of free trade. This tells you all you need to know:

Labor leaders and some powerful politicians from both parties praised Mr. Obama for not going ahead with a deal they characterized as bad for U.S. workers. “President Obama is exactly right in holding out for a deal that puts working people’s interests first,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

Translation: Obama caved to protectionist elements in the U.S.

As a result of this and Ben Bernanke’s printing press, we are increasingly isolated and becoming the object of our trading partners’ criticism:

The trade-talk failure came on top of criticism from other G-20 nations concerning the Federal Reserve’s move to pump billions into the U.S. economy, potentially weakening the dollar.

“This reinforces the opinion of many key global and business leaders that the U.S. isn’t really committed to global engagement and is instead pushing mercantilist, beggar-thy-neighbor policies,” said Matthew Slaughter, a former member of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.

As for the particulars, it seems as though Obama wanted to hang on to some protectionist provisions just a little longer. (“One stumbling block was Korea’s refusal to change a provision in the 2007 pact that provided an immediate end to a 2.5% tariff the U.S. levies on imports of Korean cars. … The U.S. wanted the tariff reduced gradually, while Korea eliminates safety and environmental rules that U.S. auto makers, led by Ford, said help keep Korea the world’s most closed car market.”)

Congress has traditionally been more protectionist than the White House, the result of intense lobbying by both U.S. businesses and Big Labor. A strong presidential hand has been required to rebuff protectionist sentiment and negotiate free-trade agreements that are essential to America’s prosperity. To his credit, Bill Clinton did just that. But Obama has neither the will nor the interest in following this approach. This spells trouble for the U.S.:

Meanwhile, the European Union and other nations have signed far more bilateral deals than the U.S. since 1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect, displeasing some U.S. industrial companies. “We as a country have essentially taken two years off” from pursuing trade agreements while the rest of the world goes full speed ahead, said Eaton Corp. Chief Executive Alexander Cutler on Thursday. “If you want to have a vibrant economy, you have to have access to the fastest-growing parts of the world.”

You would think a president who ran on the promise to “restore our standing” in the world and end the supposed cowboy unilateralism of his predecessor would understand this.

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Bureaucracy 101

A college course could be built around the new UN report on North Korea’s continuing proliferation activities. The report, released on Friday, was ready for publication in May 2010 but was delayed for six months by China’s Security Council veto. That veto having been lifted, the report is now available to the public.

The news stories surrounding the report are focused on North Korea’s attempts to ship weapons and their components to Iran and Syria, in the months after the “tough” sanctions adopted by the UN in mid-2009. (Pyongyang’s underground nuclear test in May 2009 prompted the newest sanctions.) The UN report cites four instances of cargo being interdicted by other nations, including episodes in Thailand and the UAE that were widely reported in the Western media.

But the real story in this report is its dryly precise account of the implementation of sanctions. Read More

A college course could be built around the new UN report on North Korea’s continuing proliferation activities. The report, released on Friday, was ready for publication in May 2010 but was delayed for six months by China’s Security Council veto. That veto having been lifted, the report is now available to the public.

The news stories surrounding the report are focused on North Korea’s attempts to ship weapons and their components to Iran and Syria, in the months after the “tough” sanctions adopted by the UN in mid-2009. (Pyongyang’s underground nuclear test in May 2009 prompted the newest sanctions.) The UN report cites four instances of cargo being interdicted by other nations, including episodes in Thailand and the UAE that were widely reported in the Western media.

But the real story in this report is its dryly precise account of the implementation of sanctions. As of April 30, 2010, for example, the panel compiling the report found that only 48 UN member nations had submitted their “national implementation reports” for the provisions of the 2009 round of sanctions. The national reports, according to the panel, “vary considerably in content, detail, and format.” The panel acknowledges that this is at least partly because the original UN resolutions didn’t specify that certain significant measures be reported (e.g., withholding pier services from North Korean ships or refusing training to North Korean specialists).

The UN panel observes – without editorializing – that North Korea basically remains free to operate shell companies in a number of other nations. As outside investment in North Korea declines, however, Pyongyang’s economic reliance on China is growing. It’s evident from the incidents recounted in the report that the typical maritime shipment of prohibited cargo from North Korea makes its first stop in China – but the report doesn’t explicitly make that point.

It does, on the other hand, convey the good news that vigilant officials in Japan and Italy have been able to prevent the delivery of two yachts, four Mercedes-Benzes, and 37 pianos to North Korea. Unfortunately, these are rare instances; the UN panel states, on a regretful note, that the interdiction of luxury goods “continues to lag.” In general, successful interdiction of goods both into and out of North Korea is hampered, in the panel’s view, by a lack of uniformity in shipping documentation and the lack of a single, all-encompassing list of prohibited items. Apparently, member states have to consult multiple lists to determine what is prohibited.

The wonder here is that any cargo interdiction happens at all. The bottom line is something we knew already: G-8 governments are acting with some level of vigilance, but there are big, unplugged holes in the sanctions; China is an unacknowledged vulnerability; and there are large swaths of territory in Asia and Africa where no attempt at enforcement is being made. This is our approach, as a collective of nations, to preventing the proliferation of WMD.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Soros Is No Good Guy, but Beck’s Holocaust Remarks Are Dead Wrong

There has been a lot of criticism of George Soros on COMMENTARY’s blog. The financier has bankrolled a great many left-wing groups and candidates. He wrongly views the United States, his adopted country, as “the main obstacle to a stable and just world order.” His ambivalence toward the state of Israel is also well-known. Indeed, despite the fact that he is well-known for his philanthropy, the only Jewish cause this Hungarian-born Jew is associated with is J Street, the left-wing lobbying group that seeks to build support for crippling American pressure on Israel. Throw in a career filled with tawdry episodes of currency manipulation and insider trading, and it isn’t a pretty picture.

But even George Soros does not deserve some of the opprobrium heaped upon him by Glenn Beck this week. Beck has devoted much of his TV and radio programs in the past few days to detailing Soros’s sins. But instead of sticking to the issues and rightly flaying him for the stands he has taken and the bad causes he supports, Beck painted him as a teenage Nazi collaborator on his Nov. 10 show.

Read the rest of this Web exclusive here.

There has been a lot of criticism of George Soros on COMMENTARY’s blog. The financier has bankrolled a great many left-wing groups and candidates. He wrongly views the United States, his adopted country, as “the main obstacle to a stable and just world order.” His ambivalence toward the state of Israel is also well-known. Indeed, despite the fact that he is well-known for his philanthropy, the only Jewish cause this Hungarian-born Jew is associated with is J Street, the left-wing lobbying group that seeks to build support for crippling American pressure on Israel. Throw in a career filled with tawdry episodes of currency manipulation and insider trading, and it isn’t a pretty picture.

But even George Soros does not deserve some of the opprobrium heaped upon him by Glenn Beck this week. Beck has devoted much of his TV and radio programs in the past few days to detailing Soros’s sins. But instead of sticking to the issues and rightly flaying him for the stands he has taken and the bad causes he supports, Beck painted him as a teenage Nazi collaborator on his Nov. 10 show.

Read the rest of this Web exclusive here.

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The Entitlement Crisis

On Meet the Press, Sen. Jim DeMint – widely admired by conservatives and the Tea Party for his passionate advocacy for limited government – spent a good deal of time condemning earmarks. That’s a fine idea, but it would barely begin to right our fiscal imbalance. When asked about cuts in Social Security, however, DeMint was emphatic:

Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting–I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. …

We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don’t need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big Obamacare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors.

DeMint has been a relentless critic of big government and has rung the alarm bell on the size of our debt and the deficit. Yet on the overwhelming fiscal threat of our time – the entitlement crisis – DeMint not only doesn’t have anything constructive to say; he actually is arguing against any cuts for Social Security and Medicare. (Bear in mind that entitlements, excluding net interest, account for 56 percent of all federal spending and 14 percent of GDP — up from 10 percent of GDP three years ago.) Read More

On Meet the Press, Sen. Jim DeMint – widely admired by conservatives and the Tea Party for his passionate advocacy for limited government – spent a good deal of time condemning earmarks. That’s a fine idea, but it would barely begin to right our fiscal imbalance. When asked about cuts in Social Security, however, DeMint was emphatic:

Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting–I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. …

We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don’t need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big Obamacare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors.

DeMint has been a relentless critic of big government and has rung the alarm bell on the size of our debt and the deficit. Yet on the overwhelming fiscal threat of our time – the entitlement crisis – DeMint not only doesn’t have anything constructive to say; he actually is arguing against any cuts for Social Security and Medicare. (Bear in mind that entitlements, excluding net interest, account for 56 percent of all federal spending and 14 percent of GDP — up from 10 percent of GDP three years ago.)

DeMint might consider doing two things. The first is to be a bit less sweeping in his condemnation of government. I certainly share his concerns about the size, scope, reach, and cost of the federal government, especially in the Age of Obama. At the same time, precise, rigorous arguments are important, too – and so DeMint and other Republicans need to be careful not to use rhetoric that puts them in the company of “a small breed of men whose passionate distrust for the state has developed into a theology of sorts.” (The words are William F. Buckley Jr.’s).

At the same time, DeMint should do more to close the gap between his words and his willingness to act on his words. It is simply not tenable for public officials to portray themselves as courageous voices for fiscal sanity while simultaneously fencing off cuts and reforms for entitlements. This doesn’t argue for recklessness or doing everything all at once. And it certainly doesn’t mean promoting austerity at the expense of pro-growth economic policies. But it does mean one should not declare entitlement programs off-limits. We have to deal with them; there’s no way around it. So there’s no point in making things more difficult or making commitments that are contrary to the national interest. Those who do open themselves to the charge that they are fundamentally unserious on this matter.

On the same program, by the way, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was interviewed by David Gregory. In contrast to DeMint, Christie was able to say this:

We told everybody there has to be shared sacrifice among everyone, and let me be specific. We cut every department of state government. We cut funding to K to 12 education. We are proposed real pension and benefit reforms on public sector workers, increasing the retirement age, eliminating COLAs, things that are really going to bring the pension problem back under control. We cut all of this spending in the state in every state department, David, every state department. From environmental protection, to military and veterans affairs, all the way through had to sustain a cut. Those are the type of things you have to do to show people you really mean shared sacrifice. Everyone came to the table and everybody had to contribute.

When asked how he’s advising Republicans on Capitol Hill, Christie said, “What I told them was they’d better come up with a plan that’s credible like we did in New Jersey, and the public’s going to be able to smell real quickly if you’re not credible.”

Indeed. And credibility, once lost, is hard to regain.

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The Genius of Madeleine Albright

My first reaction upon reading Madeleine Albright’s letter on foreign policy, co-signed by some other foreign ministers, was: this woman was secretary of state? She apparently now specializes in pablum. Her counsel consists of such blazing insights as this:

In almost every part of the globe, there continue to be people who have chosen — whether out of ignorance, fear, or ill will — to sow conflict where reconciliation is needed. It is up to responsible voices on all sides to make the case for constructive action based on shared interests and values. This is a duty that extends beyond governments alone, to include decision makers and other people of influence from all sectors of society. The standard we seek to achieve is not mere tolerance, but a widespread attitude of genuine mutual respect.

Not only is this boring and prosaic, it’s also wrong. The goal of American foreign policy should not be conflict resolution but the promotion of American interests and values. As her own writing aptly demonstrates, the notion that we should seek accommodation with everyone raises the question as to whether others want accommodation with us:

We favor policies and initiatives that will improve the environment for cooperation across the boundaries of nation and creed. We recognize, of course, that the present state of relations between Muslims and the West must be viewed within an historical context and that the terms “Muslim” and “the West” refer to entities that are resistant to easy generalization. We also acknowledge that the prospects for success will be profoundly affected by the future direction of events in such areas of conflict as Afghanistan and Pakistan, and by progress in the Middle East peace process. We believe, however, that certain broad steps can and should be taken to strengthen the foundation for intercultural understanding.

If you actually read all that (c’mon, you skimmed, right?), you’d wonder if there were a sale on empty platitudes. How can we hope to “strengthen the foundation for intercultural understanding,” and more important, what if others want to kill rather than understand us, or to oppress their people rather than to understand them, or to wipe out their neighbors rather than understand them?

Oh, no problem. Albright says that all we have to do is “not duck hard issues” (hmm, like the oppression of women?) and censor ourselves by cutting out terms like “Islam.” (Wait, wouldn’t this be ducking a hard question?) Then we need to “emphasize the firm connection that exists between democratic and Islamic values while also heeding the lesson of Iraq, which is that democracy must find its roots internally.” I couldn’t follow that either. And what lesson does she mean — that America can overthrow tyrants and introduce democracy to the Middle East? We also have to work on immigration (“search for answers that take into account economic and demographic realities, while discouraging reactions based on prejudice or fear”) and step up “business, scientific, academic, cultural and religious contact.”

OK, how is any of that going to keep Iran from getting the bomb? Where in there do we curb Putin’s aggressive tactics? Is there something that would help rebuff Hugo Chavez? I hope Pakistan wants to “understand us,” for if not, there is precious little to help us deal with a corrupt, unstable Islamic state. And, more important, was she this inane when she was in office?

I will say this: Albright reminds us that there could be worse choices than Hillary for secretary of state.

My first reaction upon reading Madeleine Albright’s letter on foreign policy, co-signed by some other foreign ministers, was: this woman was secretary of state? She apparently now specializes in pablum. Her counsel consists of such blazing insights as this:

In almost every part of the globe, there continue to be people who have chosen — whether out of ignorance, fear, or ill will — to sow conflict where reconciliation is needed. It is up to responsible voices on all sides to make the case for constructive action based on shared interests and values. This is a duty that extends beyond governments alone, to include decision makers and other people of influence from all sectors of society. The standard we seek to achieve is not mere tolerance, but a widespread attitude of genuine mutual respect.

Not only is this boring and prosaic, it’s also wrong. The goal of American foreign policy should not be conflict resolution but the promotion of American interests and values. As her own writing aptly demonstrates, the notion that we should seek accommodation with everyone raises the question as to whether others want accommodation with us:

We favor policies and initiatives that will improve the environment for cooperation across the boundaries of nation and creed. We recognize, of course, that the present state of relations between Muslims and the West must be viewed within an historical context and that the terms “Muslim” and “the West” refer to entities that are resistant to easy generalization. We also acknowledge that the prospects for success will be profoundly affected by the future direction of events in such areas of conflict as Afghanistan and Pakistan, and by progress in the Middle East peace process. We believe, however, that certain broad steps can and should be taken to strengthen the foundation for intercultural understanding.

If you actually read all that (c’mon, you skimmed, right?), you’d wonder if there were a sale on empty platitudes. How can we hope to “strengthen the foundation for intercultural understanding,” and more important, what if others want to kill rather than understand us, or to oppress their people rather than to understand them, or to wipe out their neighbors rather than understand them?

Oh, no problem. Albright says that all we have to do is “not duck hard issues” (hmm, like the oppression of women?) and censor ourselves by cutting out terms like “Islam.” (Wait, wouldn’t this be ducking a hard question?) Then we need to “emphasize the firm connection that exists between democratic and Islamic values while also heeding the lesson of Iraq, which is that democracy must find its roots internally.” I couldn’t follow that either. And what lesson does she mean — that America can overthrow tyrants and introduce democracy to the Middle East? We also have to work on immigration (“search for answers that take into account economic and demographic realities, while discouraging reactions based on prejudice or fear”) and step up “business, scientific, academic, cultural and religious contact.”

OK, how is any of that going to keep Iran from getting the bomb? Where in there do we curb Putin’s aggressive tactics? Is there something that would help rebuff Hugo Chavez? I hope Pakistan wants to “understand us,” for if not, there is precious little to help us deal with a corrupt, unstable Islamic state. And, more important, was she this inane when she was in office?

I will say this: Albright reminds us that there could be worse choices than Hillary for secretary of state.

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Daily Beast Swallows Newsweek

They call it a merger, but let’s not kid ourselves. Tina Brown will be running the show and is sure to offload the remaining deadwood at Newsweek and dispense with its un-navigable website. I sort of imagine Vanity Fair — the East Coast edition. Costumed members of Congress in large group photos by Annie Leibovitz. More slam pieces on Sarah Palin. And, of course, lots and lots of ads. The Daily Beast is editorially eclectic — running from the left-leaning anti-Israel rants of Peter Beinart to the conventional media wisdom of Howard Kurtz to the sharp essays of Mark McKinnon. And, for old times’ sake, she may throw in the conspiracy meanderings of Seymour Hersh, just in case the New Yorker crowd wants to take a peek now and then. So it will certainly be a less dreary and predictable publication than the newer Newsweek or the old Newsweek, for that matter.

Yes, her own politics are predictably left, but she has, at least in this round of her career, not imposed the sort of ideological rigidity that has branded the Huffington Post as the left’s cocoon (where nary a non-liberal opinion can be uttered). But what they say in a Tina Brown publication is much less important than how they say it. And how they dress.

It may not be a better class of journalism, but it will certainly make a splash and might well be commercially viable. Besides, I look forward to all the stories on politicians and their pets and to getting an inside look at the lavish homes of our elected leaders.

They call it a merger, but let’s not kid ourselves. Tina Brown will be running the show and is sure to offload the remaining deadwood at Newsweek and dispense with its un-navigable website. I sort of imagine Vanity Fair — the East Coast edition. Costumed members of Congress in large group photos by Annie Leibovitz. More slam pieces on Sarah Palin. And, of course, lots and lots of ads. The Daily Beast is editorially eclectic — running from the left-leaning anti-Israel rants of Peter Beinart to the conventional media wisdom of Howard Kurtz to the sharp essays of Mark McKinnon. And, for old times’ sake, she may throw in the conspiracy meanderings of Seymour Hersh, just in case the New Yorker crowd wants to take a peek now and then. So it will certainly be a less dreary and predictable publication than the newer Newsweek or the old Newsweek, for that matter.

Yes, her own politics are predictably left, but she has, at least in this round of her career, not imposed the sort of ideological rigidity that has branded the Huffington Post as the left’s cocoon (where nary a non-liberal opinion can be uttered). But what they say in a Tina Brown publication is much less important than how they say it. And how they dress.

It may not be a better class of journalism, but it will certainly make a splash and might well be commercially viable. Besides, I look forward to all the stories on politicians and their pets and to getting an inside look at the lavish homes of our elected leaders.

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Basic Truths of the Peace Process

Jeffrey Goldberg writes that one reason he does not post more on the peace process is that “there isn’t actually much of a peace process on which to post.” He suggests the problem is that Netanyahu won’t tell his coalition the “basic truth” that a peace deal requires a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and won’t yet make a specific proposal for the borders of a Palestinian state.

In a prior post entitled “Why I’m Not Blogging About the Peace Process,” Goldberg had a more even-handed theory: Netanyahu cannot offer the Clinton Parameters, and Abbas cannot accept anything less. But that theory does not survive the account of the Annapolis process in George W. Bush’s memoirs, and Goldberg’s current theory is several basic truths short of a plan.

At the end of the year-long Annapolis negotiation, Abbas received an offer that was the equivalent of the Clinton Parameters: a state on all of Gaza and the West Bank (after land swaps) with a capital in Jerusalem. In his book, Bush writes that he “devised a process to turn the private offer into a public agreement”: Olmert would travel to Washington and deposit the proposal with him; Abbas would “announce that the plan was in line with Palestinian interests”; and Bush would call the leaders together to finalize the deal.

But Abbas declined the offer because he “didn’t want to make an agreement with a prime minister on his way out of office.” Condoleezza Rice has said she told Abbas he should accept the deal because it would be binding on a future Israeli prime minister even if Olmert could not complete it himself, but Abbas still declined. The Palestinians have thus rejected the Clinton Parameters twice – in 2001 and 2008 – and there is no evidence to support the theory that the current problem is a failure to offer them a third time – just as there is no evidence that a new construction moratorium, following a 10-month one that produced nothing, would produce anything.

The fundamental problem of the “peace process” is the inability of the Palestinian peace partner, currently in the 71st month of his 48-month term, controlling only half his putative state, to tell his public certain basic truths: there will be no Palestinian state unless there is a Palestinian recognition of a Jewish one; Israel will not be returning to the “Auschwitz lines” of 1967 but rather to defensible borders with an effective means to secure them; and there is not going to be a “right of return” to Israel in either principle or practice. We are still waiting for Abbas’s Bir Zeit speech.

Jeffrey Goldberg writes that one reason he does not post more on the peace process is that “there isn’t actually much of a peace process on which to post.” He suggests the problem is that Netanyahu won’t tell his coalition the “basic truth” that a peace deal requires a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and won’t yet make a specific proposal for the borders of a Palestinian state.

In a prior post entitled “Why I’m Not Blogging About the Peace Process,” Goldberg had a more even-handed theory: Netanyahu cannot offer the Clinton Parameters, and Abbas cannot accept anything less. But that theory does not survive the account of the Annapolis process in George W. Bush’s memoirs, and Goldberg’s current theory is several basic truths short of a plan.

At the end of the year-long Annapolis negotiation, Abbas received an offer that was the equivalent of the Clinton Parameters: a state on all of Gaza and the West Bank (after land swaps) with a capital in Jerusalem. In his book, Bush writes that he “devised a process to turn the private offer into a public agreement”: Olmert would travel to Washington and deposit the proposal with him; Abbas would “announce that the plan was in line with Palestinian interests”; and Bush would call the leaders together to finalize the deal.

But Abbas declined the offer because he “didn’t want to make an agreement with a prime minister on his way out of office.” Condoleezza Rice has said she told Abbas he should accept the deal because it would be binding on a future Israeli prime minister even if Olmert could not complete it himself, but Abbas still declined. The Palestinians have thus rejected the Clinton Parameters twice – in 2001 and 2008 – and there is no evidence to support the theory that the current problem is a failure to offer them a third time – just as there is no evidence that a new construction moratorium, following a 10-month one that produced nothing, would produce anything.

The fundamental problem of the “peace process” is the inability of the Palestinian peace partner, currently in the 71st month of his 48-month term, controlling only half his putative state, to tell his public certain basic truths: there will be no Palestinian state unless there is a Palestinian recognition of a Jewish one; Israel will not be returning to the “Auschwitz lines” of 1967 but rather to defensible borders with an effective means to secure them; and there is not going to be a “right of return” to Israel in either principle or practice. We are still waiting for Abbas’s Bir Zeit speech.

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Verging on Irrelevancy

When looking for hopeful signs of a move to the center by the Obama administration, observers point to the about-face on the 2011 troop-withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan and to possible acquiescence in extending the Bush tax cuts. But is there progress on the latter front?

The New York Post editors observe:

Meanwhile, in the White House, the left hand seems not to know what the far left hand is doing. Within hours yesterday, senior adviser David Axelrod gave contradictory statements on the question of extending the Bush-era tax cuts. …

We have to deal with the world as we find it,” Axelrod told the Huffington Post. “The world of what it takes to get this done.” He continued: “There are concerns [over multiple temporary extensions for the wealthy], but I don’t want to trade away security for the middle class in order to make that point.” …

Except, Axelrod then did a 180-degree turn, later telling National Journal: “We’re willing to discuss how we move forward. But we believe that it’s imperative to extend the tax cuts for the middle class, and don’t believe we can afford a permanent extension of tax cuts for the wealthy.”

It’s not hard to understand why “Axelrod [is] talking out of both sides of his face.” The White House doesn’t know what it wants to do and what it can get away with. Message control has broken down, so aides now freelance, trying to push the president in one direction or another. Not only does this create uncertainty for investors, employers, and consumers, but it also suggests that the president is an observer in his own administration.

Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum; with a shrinking presidency, others (advisers, Congress, 2012 contenders, wanna-be primary opponents, etc.) will rush forward to fill the void. After the 1994 midterms, Clinton memorably declared that the president was still relevant — and then proved it to be the case. So Obama had better get out of his funk and decide which direction he wants to go in the next two years. Otherwise, he will become increasingly irrelevant at home and dangerously ineffective overseas.

When looking for hopeful signs of a move to the center by the Obama administration, observers point to the about-face on the 2011 troop-withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan and to possible acquiescence in extending the Bush tax cuts. But is there progress on the latter front?

The New York Post editors observe:

Meanwhile, in the White House, the left hand seems not to know what the far left hand is doing. Within hours yesterday, senior adviser David Axelrod gave contradictory statements on the question of extending the Bush-era tax cuts. …

We have to deal with the world as we find it,” Axelrod told the Huffington Post. “The world of what it takes to get this done.” He continued: “There are concerns [over multiple temporary extensions for the wealthy], but I don’t want to trade away security for the middle class in order to make that point.” …

Except, Axelrod then did a 180-degree turn, later telling National Journal: “We’re willing to discuss how we move forward. But we believe that it’s imperative to extend the tax cuts for the middle class, and don’t believe we can afford a permanent extension of tax cuts for the wealthy.”

It’s not hard to understand why “Axelrod [is] talking out of both sides of his face.” The White House doesn’t know what it wants to do and what it can get away with. Message control has broken down, so aides now freelance, trying to push the president in one direction or another. Not only does this create uncertainty for investors, employers, and consumers, but it also suggests that the president is an observer in his own administration.

Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum; with a shrinking presidency, others (advisers, Congress, 2012 contenders, wanna-be primary opponents, etc.) will rush forward to fill the void. After the 1994 midterms, Clinton memorably declared that the president was still relevant — and then proved it to be the case. So Obama had better get out of his funk and decide which direction he wants to go in the next two years. Otherwise, he will become increasingly irrelevant at home and dangerously ineffective overseas.

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If Only King Arthur Had a Videographer Like Obama’s

Some 40 years ago, author Joe McGinniss shined a light on the way campaign imagery shapes our perceptions of politics with his The Selling of the President about Richard Nixon’s 1968 run for office. Though aimed at the evil geniuses behind the “new Nixon” who beat Hubert Humphrey, one of the most famous lines in the book recounted the way Nixon’s old nemesis John Kennedy had beguiled the American people with a White House that was sold as a new Camelot. As McGinniss put it: “We forgave, followed and accepted because we liked the way he looked. And he had a pretty wife. Camelot was fun, even for the peasants, as long as it was televised to their huts.”

American politics was played by different rules from 1961 to 1963. The image of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and their two adorable children was ubiquitous in American culture in those years, and the publication or broadcast of unpleasant truths about the president and his brother the attorney general was simply out of the question. Since then, no American president has received the same kid glove treatment from the press. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, and the second Bush were all treated with little deference and much cynicism by the media.

But the election of the first African-American president in 2008 has changed the way the presidency is treated in popular culture. In the past two years, the images coming out of Barack Obama’s White House of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and two adorable daughters have been highly reminiscent of Kennedy’s Camelot imagery. That’s a big part of the reason why, despite the administration’s well-documented troubles in selling its hyper-liberal policies to the public, Obama’s personal popularity remains high.

Part of Obama’s dream machine was highlighted yesterday in a puff piece in The New York Times about Arun Chaudhary, the former New York University film instructor who is Obama’s full-time videographer. Chaudhary’s “West Wing Week” films may not be sweeping the nation, but they are part of the way the president’s personal image — and that of his family — have been carefully burnished. The midterm elections illustrated the rejection of Obama’s political agenda by the voters. But anyone who thinks that the 2012 election, in which the president will be personally on the ballot, will not be heavily influenced by the Camelot factor is not paying attention. With such loving images of Obama being beamed out regularly — not merely to our huts but to the peasantry’s computers, iPads, and phones — the task of defeating even a president whose policies are unpopular will be that much harder. Obama’s Camelot may not be impregnable, but it is buttressed by the sort of stained-glass image that has not been seen since the days of John Kennedy.

Some 40 years ago, author Joe McGinniss shined a light on the way campaign imagery shapes our perceptions of politics with his The Selling of the President about Richard Nixon’s 1968 run for office. Though aimed at the evil geniuses behind the “new Nixon” who beat Hubert Humphrey, one of the most famous lines in the book recounted the way Nixon’s old nemesis John Kennedy had beguiled the American people with a White House that was sold as a new Camelot. As McGinniss put it: “We forgave, followed and accepted because we liked the way he looked. And he had a pretty wife. Camelot was fun, even for the peasants, as long as it was televised to their huts.”

American politics was played by different rules from 1961 to 1963. The image of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and their two adorable children was ubiquitous in American culture in those years, and the publication or broadcast of unpleasant truths about the president and his brother the attorney general was simply out of the question. Since then, no American president has received the same kid glove treatment from the press. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, and the second Bush were all treated with little deference and much cynicism by the media.

But the election of the first African-American president in 2008 has changed the way the presidency is treated in popular culture. In the past two years, the images coming out of Barack Obama’s White House of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and two adorable daughters have been highly reminiscent of Kennedy’s Camelot imagery. That’s a big part of the reason why, despite the administration’s well-documented troubles in selling its hyper-liberal policies to the public, Obama’s personal popularity remains high.

Part of Obama’s dream machine was highlighted yesterday in a puff piece in The New York Times about Arun Chaudhary, the former New York University film instructor who is Obama’s full-time videographer. Chaudhary’s “West Wing Week” films may not be sweeping the nation, but they are part of the way the president’s personal image — and that of his family — have been carefully burnished. The midterm elections illustrated the rejection of Obama’s political agenda by the voters. But anyone who thinks that the 2012 election, in which the president will be personally on the ballot, will not be heavily influenced by the Camelot factor is not paying attention. With such loving images of Obama being beamed out regularly — not merely to our huts but to the peasantry’s computers, iPads, and phones — the task of defeating even a president whose policies are unpopular will be that much harder. Obama’s Camelot may not be impregnable, but it is buttressed by the sort of stained-glass image that has not been seen since the days of John Kennedy.

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The Problem with Palin

“He is … endowed with a happy nature,” Edmund Morris wrote of Ronald Reagan, “his optimism unquenchable, his smile enchantingly crooked, his laughter impossible to resist. If these attributes, together with [others], do not constitute grace, in the old sense of favors granted by God, then the word has no meaning.”

While a fierce advocate for the causes he believed in, Reagan demonstrated passion without rancor and “aggression without anger,” in Morris’ words. This is particularly impressive given that Reagan was the object of repeated ad hominem attacks. He was derided as a dunce and accused of being a war-monger, a racist, a religious extremist, and indifferent to the suffering of the poor. Yet Reagan possessed a remarkable ability to rise above it, to resist returning insult for insult. Clearly at peace with himself and the world around him, Reagan helped conservatism shed its attitude of distrust and defensiveness.

This approach had enormous political benefits. Reagan understood that tone and bearing are undervalued commodities in American politics. He succeeded in part because he came across as agreeable rather than abrasive, genial rather than bitter, good-natured rather than self-pitying. He was a man blessedly free of resentments.

This is an example from which Sarah Palin can learn.

Governor Palin has undeniable appeal to the GOP base. She can deliver sharp, clever criticisms of President Obama. Her endorsement can catapult relatively unknown candidates to primary victories. And there is no doubt that she’s been on the receiving end of deeply unfair personal attacks. Many pundits and reporters have barely concealed — or completely unconcealed — disdain for her.

Unfortunately, she has allowed herself to be drawn into the mud pit. Earlier this month, for example, responding to a negative story in Politico that relied on unnamed sources Palin said this:

I suppose I could play their immature, unprofessional, waste-of-time game, too, by claiming these reporters and politicos are homophobe, child molesting, tax evading, anti-dentite, puppy-kicking, chain smoking porn producers. … Really, they are. … I’ve seen it myself. … But I’ll only give you the information off-the-record, on deep, deep background; attribute these ‘facts’ to an ‘anonymous source’ and I’ll give you more.

Those of a certain generation will recall that Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, was well known for lashing out at the media (“nattering nabobs of negativism”) as well as anti-war protesters (“choleric young intellectuals and tired, embittered elders”). In 1971, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served in the Nixon Administration, wrote to Agnew directly: “You cannot win the argument you are now engaged in. Frankly, the longer you pursue it, I expect the more you will lose.”

Moynihan went on to say this:

If you were to ask my advice it would be this. Cease attacking. Begin talking about the complex problems we must now face. … A great deal of charity and forgiveness is going to be required on all of our parts to come through this experience whole. You really can help in this, and I know you would want to do so.

Moynihan’s counsel, which went unheeded by Agnew, should be heeded by Palin. She sounds increasingly more like Agnew than Reagan — and in so doing, her brand of conservatism comes across as bitter rather than self-confident. This is not good for her or her party.

As Republicans look toward 2012, it would be wise to look to public figures who are not only philosophically conservative but who are also serious students of policy and display a measure of grace, equanimity, and good cheer. Right now, Sarah Palin is falling short of these standards. Lashing out at her critics may be understandable. It may even be cathartic. But it is not the Reagan way.

“He is … endowed with a happy nature,” Edmund Morris wrote of Ronald Reagan, “his optimism unquenchable, his smile enchantingly crooked, his laughter impossible to resist. If these attributes, together with [others], do not constitute grace, in the old sense of favors granted by God, then the word has no meaning.”

While a fierce advocate for the causes he believed in, Reagan demonstrated passion without rancor and “aggression without anger,” in Morris’ words. This is particularly impressive given that Reagan was the object of repeated ad hominem attacks. He was derided as a dunce and accused of being a war-monger, a racist, a religious extremist, and indifferent to the suffering of the poor. Yet Reagan possessed a remarkable ability to rise above it, to resist returning insult for insult. Clearly at peace with himself and the world around him, Reagan helped conservatism shed its attitude of distrust and defensiveness.

This approach had enormous political benefits. Reagan understood that tone and bearing are undervalued commodities in American politics. He succeeded in part because he came across as agreeable rather than abrasive, genial rather than bitter, good-natured rather than self-pitying. He was a man blessedly free of resentments.

This is an example from which Sarah Palin can learn.

Governor Palin has undeniable appeal to the GOP base. She can deliver sharp, clever criticisms of President Obama. Her endorsement can catapult relatively unknown candidates to primary victories. And there is no doubt that she’s been on the receiving end of deeply unfair personal attacks. Many pundits and reporters have barely concealed — or completely unconcealed — disdain for her.

Unfortunately, she has allowed herself to be drawn into the mud pit. Earlier this month, for example, responding to a negative story in Politico that relied on unnamed sources Palin said this:

I suppose I could play their immature, unprofessional, waste-of-time game, too, by claiming these reporters and politicos are homophobe, child molesting, tax evading, anti-dentite, puppy-kicking, chain smoking porn producers. … Really, they are. … I’ve seen it myself. … But I’ll only give you the information off-the-record, on deep, deep background; attribute these ‘facts’ to an ‘anonymous source’ and I’ll give you more.

Those of a certain generation will recall that Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, was well known for lashing out at the media (“nattering nabobs of negativism”) as well as anti-war protesters (“choleric young intellectuals and tired, embittered elders”). In 1971, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served in the Nixon Administration, wrote to Agnew directly: “You cannot win the argument you are now engaged in. Frankly, the longer you pursue it, I expect the more you will lose.”

Moynihan went on to say this:

If you were to ask my advice it would be this. Cease attacking. Begin talking about the complex problems we must now face. … A great deal of charity and forgiveness is going to be required on all of our parts to come through this experience whole. You really can help in this, and I know you would want to do so.

Moynihan’s counsel, which went unheeded by Agnew, should be heeded by Palin. She sounds increasingly more like Agnew than Reagan — and in so doing, her brand of conservatism comes across as bitter rather than self-confident. This is not good for her or her party.

As Republicans look toward 2012, it would be wise to look to public figures who are not only philosophically conservative but who are also serious students of policy and display a measure of grace, equanimity, and good cheer. Right now, Sarah Palin is falling short of these standards. Lashing out at her critics may be understandable. It may even be cathartic. But it is not the Reagan way.

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The Bush Book Sells

According to the Wall Street Journal, Decision Points, the new memoir by George W. Bush, sold 170,000 copies on its first day (and 50,000 ebooks as well, including to me). And a director of merchandising for Barnes & Noble told the Journal: “It’s done incredibly well for us, and it will be our fastest-selling adult hardcover for the year.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, Decision Points, the new memoir by George W. Bush, sold 170,000 copies on its first day (and 50,000 ebooks as well, including to me). And a director of merchandising for Barnes & Noble told the Journal: “It’s done incredibly well for us, and it will be our fastest-selling adult hardcover for the year.”

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Some Actual Editing at the New York Times!

This morning, Jen Rubin quoted a New York Times piece by Sheryl Gay Stolberg as follows: “For President Obama, the last-minute failure to seal a trade deal with South Korea that would expand American exports of automobiles and beef is an embarrassing setback that deprives him of a foreign policy trophy and demonstrates how the midterm elections may have weakened his position abroad.” I clicked on the link in Jen’s item to read the piece, and found the quote nowhere in it. A quick Google search indicated that the quote appeared yesterday on various blogs. Evidently someone at the New York Times decided he didn’t want those words to appear in the paper. That’s understandable; there is certainly an element of editorializing in them. Now to see the Times do the same to, oh, every other story in the front section.

This morning, Jen Rubin quoted a New York Times piece by Sheryl Gay Stolberg as follows: “For President Obama, the last-minute failure to seal a trade deal with South Korea that would expand American exports of automobiles and beef is an embarrassing setback that deprives him of a foreign policy trophy and demonstrates how the midterm elections may have weakened his position abroad.” I clicked on the link in Jen’s item to read the piece, and found the quote nowhere in it. A quick Google search indicated that the quote appeared yesterday on various blogs. Evidently someone at the New York Times decided he didn’t want those words to appear in the paper. That’s understandable; there is certainly an element of editorializing in them. Now to see the Times do the same to, oh, every other story in the front section.

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Obama Shouldn’t Bet on the GOP Messing Up

Gallup reports:

Americans’ opinions of House Republican Leader John Boehner, who is in line to be the speaker of the House in the new Congress, improved after the midterm elections. Though 4 in 10 Americans are still unfamiliar with Boehner, more Americans now rate him positively than negatively, a shift from three prior 2010 readings, including one taken in mid-October. …

Boehner’s counterpart in the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, is somewhat better known, though one in three still do not have an opinion of him. Unlike Boehner, Reid is viewed much more negatively than positively. In the latest poll, 25% have a favorable opinion of Reid and 43% an unfavorable one. That is little changed from the prior measurement of Reid from May.

We shouldn’t put too much stock in poll numbers, which come in advance of anyone doing anything. But still, this suggests the problem for the Dems: their leaders in Congress are the same old unlikeable figures; the president is exasperating even his own party; and, meanwhile, the GOP leadership is comprised of fresh faces to much of the electorate and is trying its best not to overplay its hand.

The Democrats would have been wise to dump Reid, but after the voters of Nevada refused to do their dirty work, neither Chuck Schumer nor Dick Durbin had the nerve to challenge him. And when you throw in the possibility of Nancy Pelosi in the minority leader’s chair, you see that the “change” party has become the defenders of the status quo. And, my, how negative they are – nixing the debt commission, nixing tax relief for Americans, nixing  revision of ObamaCare. It’s almost like they are the “party of no.”

Gallup reports:

Americans’ opinions of House Republican Leader John Boehner, who is in line to be the speaker of the House in the new Congress, improved after the midterm elections. Though 4 in 10 Americans are still unfamiliar with Boehner, more Americans now rate him positively than negatively, a shift from three prior 2010 readings, including one taken in mid-October. …

Boehner’s counterpart in the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, is somewhat better known, though one in three still do not have an opinion of him. Unlike Boehner, Reid is viewed much more negatively than positively. In the latest poll, 25% have a favorable opinion of Reid and 43% an unfavorable one. That is little changed from the prior measurement of Reid from May.

We shouldn’t put too much stock in poll numbers, which come in advance of anyone doing anything. But still, this suggests the problem for the Dems: their leaders in Congress are the same old unlikeable figures; the president is exasperating even his own party; and, meanwhile, the GOP leadership is comprised of fresh faces to much of the electorate and is trying its best not to overplay its hand.

The Democrats would have been wise to dump Reid, but after the voters of Nevada refused to do their dirty work, neither Chuck Schumer nor Dick Durbin had the nerve to challenge him. And when you throw in the possibility of Nancy Pelosi in the minority leader’s chair, you see that the “change” party has become the defenders of the status quo. And, my, how negative they are – nixing the debt commission, nixing tax relief for Americans, nixing  revision of ObamaCare. It’s almost like they are the “party of no.”

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RE: Debt Commission Surprises

As I observed yesterday, the debt commission came out with a preliminary report that was better than expected from the perspective of conservatives and an anathema to liberals. The Wall Street Journal editors outline some of the negative aspects of the report: adhering to ObamaCare, too much timidity on discretionary spending cuts and entitlements, and an anti-jobs hike in the payroll tax. But the editors are mildly impressed:

Everyone to the right of MoveOn.org knows that the 35% corporate tax rate is a disincentive to invest in America and has sent businesses pleading to Congress for this or that loophole. This is the second Obama-appointed outfit to recommend a cut in the corporate tax rate, following Paul Volcker’s economic advisory group this year, and it ought to be one basis for bipartisan agreement. …

Mr. Obama conceived the deficit commission as a form of political cover for his spending blowout—and to coax Republicans into a tax increase. So it’s notable that Democrats and liberals have been more critical of the chairmen’s draft than have Republicans. Having put the U.S. in a fiscal hole, Nancy Pelosi’s minority wants to oppose all spending cuts or entitlement reform to climb out.

House Republicans should react accordingly, which means taking what they like from the commission report and making it part of their own budget proposals. If Senate Democrats and Mr. Obama want to regain any fiscal credibility, they’ll be willing to listen and talk. If not, the voters will certainly have a choice in 2012.

To a large extent, then, the report is a useful political document for the right. It helps sniff out who is serious about spending restraint and who is not, and it embraces a methodology for tax reform that conservatives can support and liberals almost certainly can’t. (Let the “rich” pay have a top marginal rate of 24 percent? Oh the horror!)

To put it bluntly, the left got rolled here. This group of Democrats, for lack of a better term, was comprised mostly of “Third Wave”/Democratic Leadership Council types. The Former Fed vice chairman Alice Rivlin is a grown-up. Sen. Kent Conrad and Rep. John Spratt are about the most responsible Democrats you could  find. By contrast, the liberals who were there, as one Washington insider pointed out to me yesterday, are “unserious” people. You can’t get more of a lightweight and a un-influential Democrat than the hard left Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

The left is already fingering the commission’s executive director Bruce Reed as the culprit. Reed, of course, was the CEO of the DLC and later a top domestic-policy adviser and welfare-reform bill author under Bill Clinton. He personifies what the netroots and Obama disdain — a pro-business, split-the-baby style of Democratic politics.

But the most predictable and provincial reaction came from a news outlet with skin in the game. “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and NPR are denouncing the recommendation of the co-chairs of President Obama’s Fiscal Commission to eliminate funding for public broadcasting, long an objective of many conservatives.”  I’m sure that won’t affect their news coverage of the commission. Not in the least.

So the takeaway is that there are serious Democrats, just not in the White House (the Obama people were hiding under their desks yesterday) or many in the Congress. This presents a golden opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate they are the adults inside the Beltway. Unfortunately, the Democratic Senate and House caucuses with the exception of commissioner Conrad are not.

As I observed yesterday, the debt commission came out with a preliminary report that was better than expected from the perspective of conservatives and an anathema to liberals. The Wall Street Journal editors outline some of the negative aspects of the report: adhering to ObamaCare, too much timidity on discretionary spending cuts and entitlements, and an anti-jobs hike in the payroll tax. But the editors are mildly impressed:

Everyone to the right of MoveOn.org knows that the 35% corporate tax rate is a disincentive to invest in America and has sent businesses pleading to Congress for this or that loophole. This is the second Obama-appointed outfit to recommend a cut in the corporate tax rate, following Paul Volcker’s economic advisory group this year, and it ought to be one basis for bipartisan agreement. …

Mr. Obama conceived the deficit commission as a form of political cover for his spending blowout—and to coax Republicans into a tax increase. So it’s notable that Democrats and liberals have been more critical of the chairmen’s draft than have Republicans. Having put the U.S. in a fiscal hole, Nancy Pelosi’s minority wants to oppose all spending cuts or entitlement reform to climb out.

House Republicans should react accordingly, which means taking what they like from the commission report and making it part of their own budget proposals. If Senate Democrats and Mr. Obama want to regain any fiscal credibility, they’ll be willing to listen and talk. If not, the voters will certainly have a choice in 2012.

To a large extent, then, the report is a useful political document for the right. It helps sniff out who is serious about spending restraint and who is not, and it embraces a methodology for tax reform that conservatives can support and liberals almost certainly can’t. (Let the “rich” pay have a top marginal rate of 24 percent? Oh the horror!)

To put it bluntly, the left got rolled here. This group of Democrats, for lack of a better term, was comprised mostly of “Third Wave”/Democratic Leadership Council types. The Former Fed vice chairman Alice Rivlin is a grown-up. Sen. Kent Conrad and Rep. John Spratt are about the most responsible Democrats you could  find. By contrast, the liberals who were there, as one Washington insider pointed out to me yesterday, are “unserious” people. You can’t get more of a lightweight and a un-influential Democrat than the hard left Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

The left is already fingering the commission’s executive director Bruce Reed as the culprit. Reed, of course, was the CEO of the DLC and later a top domestic-policy adviser and welfare-reform bill author under Bill Clinton. He personifies what the netroots and Obama disdain — a pro-business, split-the-baby style of Democratic politics.

But the most predictable and provincial reaction came from a news outlet with skin in the game. “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and NPR are denouncing the recommendation of the co-chairs of President Obama’s Fiscal Commission to eliminate funding for public broadcasting, long an objective of many conservatives.”  I’m sure that won’t affect their news coverage of the commission. Not in the least.

So the takeaway is that there are serious Democrats, just not in the White House (the Obama people were hiding under their desks yesterday) or many in the Congress. This presents a golden opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate they are the adults inside the Beltway. Unfortunately, the Democratic Senate and House caucuses with the exception of commissioner Conrad are not.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Finally we get “not only the authoritative takedown of ‘Fair Game,’ Douglas Liman’s meretricious cinematic hagiography of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, but also the essential case, laid out with amazing meticulousness, for a presidential pardon for Scooter Libby.”

No final tally yet for Republicans in the House. From the Cook Political Report (subscription required): “Overall, Republicans have captured 238 seats, Democrats have won 189 seats, and eight still hang in the balance. We expect each party to win three of these seats, while the two New York races (NY-01 and NY-25) are genuinely too close to call. Depending on the final outcome of these contests, Republicans are likely to have scored a net gain of between 62 and 64 seats in the House, the most in a midterm since 1938.”

The final act for Michael Steele? “As he contemplates running for a second term, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is on the verge of losing his coalition of supporters. Even some of those closest to the controversial chairman have begun urging him to step aside. … Meanwhile, a group of prominent Republicans led by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie are searching for a consensus candidate capable of defeating Steele. Though they have not settled on a challenger, and in fact are unlikely to find a consensus choice, strategists who both support and oppose Steele say coalitions are forming now to deny Steele a second term.” Excuse me, but why not Ed Gillespie himself?

The final Senate race is nearly decided. “Sen. Lisa Murkowski is well on her way to pulling off a stunning upset victory in the Alaska Senate race after one day of counting write-in votes, despite Republican nominee Joe Miller’s legal challenges to the process. Murkowski took nearly 98 percent of the 19,203 write-in ballots counted Wednesday, with more than 8 percent of those awarded to her after an initial challenge by Miller over voters’ spelling abilities was thrown out.”

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick finally puts to rest the notion that “reset” has paid dividends for us. “The initial appeal of Russia’s assistance — that the country has knowledge of Afghanistan thanks to its own, decade-long engagement — is belied by its brutal record. … Moreover, the actual Russian commitment is small. … More important than any of these factors, however, is the cynical way in which Moscow will use its paltry assistance to the [International Security Assistance Force] as leverage with the West in negotiations over other matters, from NATO expansion to human rights to missile defense.” Read the whole thing, which should be entitled “How Putin Took Obama to the Cleaners.”

Christine O’Donnell may finally be seeking a job for which she is well-suited. It seems there is a reality-show opportunity. Perrrrrfect.

Was Obama’s tinkering with the gulf-oil-spill report the final straw for the principled left? “The oil spill that damaged the Gulf of Mexico’s reefs and wetlands is also threatening to stain the Obama administration’s reputation for relying on science to guide policy. Academics, environmentalists and federal investigators have accused the administration since the April spill of downplaying scientific findings, misrepresenting data and most recently misconstruing the opinions of experts it solicited.”

The final figures for another failed government subsidy are in. Not good: “Any possible housing market recovery hit a snag during the three months ended September 30, as a government tax credit for homebuyers wound down. Home prices fell only slightly during the quarter, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), but the number of homes sold plummeted more than 25%, compared with the previous quarter.”

This will not be the final foreign-policy rebuff. “For President Obama, the last-minute failure to seal a trade deal with South Korea that would expand American exports of automobiles and beef is an embarrassing setback that deprives him of a foreign policy trophy and demonstrates how the midterm elections may have weakened his position abroad.”

Finally we get “not only the authoritative takedown of ‘Fair Game,’ Douglas Liman’s meretricious cinematic hagiography of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, but also the essential case, laid out with amazing meticulousness, for a presidential pardon for Scooter Libby.”

No final tally yet for Republicans in the House. From the Cook Political Report (subscription required): “Overall, Republicans have captured 238 seats, Democrats have won 189 seats, and eight still hang in the balance. We expect each party to win three of these seats, while the two New York races (NY-01 and NY-25) are genuinely too close to call. Depending on the final outcome of these contests, Republicans are likely to have scored a net gain of between 62 and 64 seats in the House, the most in a midterm since 1938.”

The final act for Michael Steele? “As he contemplates running for a second term, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is on the verge of losing his coalition of supporters. Even some of those closest to the controversial chairman have begun urging him to step aside. … Meanwhile, a group of prominent Republicans led by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie are searching for a consensus candidate capable of defeating Steele. Though they have not settled on a challenger, and in fact are unlikely to find a consensus choice, strategists who both support and oppose Steele say coalitions are forming now to deny Steele a second term.” Excuse me, but why not Ed Gillespie himself?

The final Senate race is nearly decided. “Sen. Lisa Murkowski is well on her way to pulling off a stunning upset victory in the Alaska Senate race after one day of counting write-in votes, despite Republican nominee Joe Miller’s legal challenges to the process. Murkowski took nearly 98 percent of the 19,203 write-in ballots counted Wednesday, with more than 8 percent of those awarded to her after an initial challenge by Miller over voters’ spelling abilities was thrown out.”

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick finally puts to rest the notion that “reset” has paid dividends for us. “The initial appeal of Russia’s assistance — that the country has knowledge of Afghanistan thanks to its own, decade-long engagement — is belied by its brutal record. … Moreover, the actual Russian commitment is small. … More important than any of these factors, however, is the cynical way in which Moscow will use its paltry assistance to the [International Security Assistance Force] as leverage with the West in negotiations over other matters, from NATO expansion to human rights to missile defense.” Read the whole thing, which should be entitled “How Putin Took Obama to the Cleaners.”

Christine O’Donnell may finally be seeking a job for which she is well-suited. It seems there is a reality-show opportunity. Perrrrrfect.

Was Obama’s tinkering with the gulf-oil-spill report the final straw for the principled left? “The oil spill that damaged the Gulf of Mexico’s reefs and wetlands is also threatening to stain the Obama administration’s reputation for relying on science to guide policy. Academics, environmentalists and federal investigators have accused the administration since the April spill of downplaying scientific findings, misrepresenting data and most recently misconstruing the opinions of experts it solicited.”

The final figures for another failed government subsidy are in. Not good: “Any possible housing market recovery hit a snag during the three months ended September 30, as a government tax credit for homebuyers wound down. Home prices fell only slightly during the quarter, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), but the number of homes sold plummeted more than 25%, compared with the previous quarter.”

This will not be the final foreign-policy rebuff. “For President Obama, the last-minute failure to seal a trade deal with South Korea that would expand American exports of automobiles and beef is an embarrassing setback that deprives him of a foreign policy trophy and demonstrates how the midterm elections may have weakened his position abroad.”

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