He’s resorting to the dramatic whisper quite a bit. Every sentence can’t contain the secret to unlocking the universe.
Posts For: January 25, 2011
Obama: “Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today. Every business can write off the full cost of the new investments they make this year.” I guess tonight isn’t the time to return to complaints about “tax cuts for the rich.”
Obama: “The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.” Alas, that isn’t what we were hearing from liberals the past couple of weeks as they sought to blame conservatives for the crime of an apolitical lunatic.
Watching the lovefest on TV as we wait for President Obama to arrive makes me wonder whether the assembled members of Congress can keep up the conviviality all night. As I wrote last week about the question of Republicans and Democrats sitting together, I don’t see how this will end the normal pattern of one party standing and cheering while the other sits in silence since there are bound to be times when they will disagree about the speech.
Recalling the 1996 SOTU, as John has done, brings to mind Joe Lieberman’s quip after one of Clinton’s speeches: “At least he finished before Letterman.”
Of Obama’s partial spending freeze, the former GE chief writes on Twitter: “Increasing expenses 10-20 percent over a couple of years and then promising to ‘freeze’ them going forward is old management trick.”
1. Obama’s text is 6,700 words. Clinton’s 1996 SOTU was, if I count right, 500 words shorter. And it took an hour and 15 minutes. Bush in 2004: 5,400 words.
2. Obama is citing the roaring recovery of the stock market, and indeed, it is an indicator of something important: its recovery was due to the pricing in of the 2010 anti-Obama tsunami and the extension of the tax cuts.
3. He can continue to try to make the case that government spending is equivalent to private-sector investment, but it didn’t work for him before, to put it mildly. And at a time when his poll numbers were much higher.
Twitter is abuzz with this leaked excerpt from tonight’s State of the Union address:
Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik¸ we had no idea how we’d beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t there yet. NASA didn’t even exist.
But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.
This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.
So, naturally, Obama is dramatically shrinking our ambitions for space exploration.
According to media accounts, in his State of the Union address, President Obama is going to avoid dealing with our entitlement crisis. The question is: will Republicans?
That is setting up to be the key debate of the next several months.
There is one line of argument, articulated by Ramesh Ponnuru, that insists that for House Republicans to take on entitlement reform would be noble but politically suicidal. The reasoning is that (a) for the next two years, reform is impossible unless and until President Obama takes the lead on it; (b) Republicans have no mandate for reform even if they wanted to; and (c) every time they have tried to reform entitlements in the past (George W. Bush on Social Security and Newt Gingrich on Medicare), they have paid a high political price.
The more responsible approach would be to champion cuts in discretionary spending and continue to insist on the repeal of ObamaCare. That would be entirely enough, this argument goes; to do more will require a Republican president willing to educate the nation on the entitlement crisis and to do something about it.
The counterargument is that we are in a new and different moment when it comes to entitlement reform. Due to the financial crisis of 2008 and the spending habits of President Obama and the 111th Congress, what was a serious problem has become an acute one. In the past, the deficit and debt were manageable; now, every serious person who has studied this matter concedes, the situation is unsustainable. The public understands this in one way or another; and if they’re not yet ready to take on entitlement reforms, they are certainly educable in a way that has never been the case before. Read More
Members of Congress may be searching across the aisle for dates for the State of the Union speech tonight (Yes, we’re talking about you, Eric Cantor — there has to be somebody other than Nancy Pelosi for you to sit with!), but readers of CONTENTIONS don’t have that problem. Tonight at 9 p.m., join CONTENTIONS contributors Alana Goodman, Abe Greenwald, and Jonathan Tobin for a live-blog session during President Obama’s State of the Union speech. See you tonight!
During her Senate confirmation hearing in January of 2009, Hillary Clinton described smart power — her preferred approach to American foreign policy — as “picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation.” Two years later, we’re finally getting a sense of what this means. Recent events and statements have been clarifying.
When the situation is a conference on democracy, the right tool is a pro-democracy statement. Thus Clinton said to the attendees at this year’s Forum for the Future in Doha, Qatar, “While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. . . . The region’s foundations are sinking into the sand.”
But when the situation is an actual and potentially democratic Arab revolt, the right tool is fence-sitting. When Clinton was asked for her thoughts on the popular uprising against the corrupt regime in Tunisia, she said, “We are not taking sides in it, we just hope there can be a peaceful resolution of it.”
When the situation is the announcement of planned elections after said uprising, the right tool is, once again, a pro-democracy statement. Today, after Clinton spoke with Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane and interim Tunisian leader Mohammed Ghannouchi, she told the press, “I’m encouraged by the direction that they are setting towards inclusive elections that will be held as soon as practicable.”
But when the situation is once again a potentially democratic Arab uprising, the right tool is urging restraint and giving cover to the repressive Arab regime being opposed. Today thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest the Mubarak government, and Reuters reports the following: “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged all sides in Egypt to exercise restraint following street protests and said she believed the Egyptian government was stable and looking for ways to respond to its people’s aspirations.”
For those playing along at home, that’s defending democracy and Hosni Mubarak in the same day. Imagine how difficult it would be to practice smart power if you actually believed in something.
Despite J Street’s eagerness to blame its “political enemies” for its public-relations troubles, all its image problems have been brought on by itself. Nobody forced the group the take money from George Soros, surreptitiously aide Richard Goldstone, and engage in unethical self-dealing. These actions are a sign of a deep-seated moral corruption within the organization, and they’re likely to keep occurring unless the group dismantles its leadership entirely.
This seems to be the realization that one of J Street’s strongest political allies, Rep. Gary Ackerman, came to today. Appalled that the organization is supporting the pending UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements, the congressman has told J Street in no uncertain terms that he wants nothing to do with them anymore:
“After learning of J-Street’s current public call for the Obama Administration to not veto a prospective UN Security Council resolution that, under the rubric of concern about settlement activity, would effectively and unjustly place the whole responsibility for the current impasse in the peace process on Israel, and—critically—would give fresh and powerful impetus to the effort to internationally isolate and delegitimize Israel, I’ve come to the conclusion that J-Street is not an organization with which I wish to be associated.”
And Ackerman is by no means opposed to progressive pro-Israel groups — he just notes that J Street isn’t one of them.
“America really does need a smart, credible, politically active organization that is as aggressively pro-peace as it is pro-Israel,” said the congressman. “Unfortunately, J-Street ain’t it.”
This is the strongest sign so far that J Street’s political support on Capitol Hill has completely dried up. Ackerman isn’t denouncing the group in a last-minute attempt to win an election, as other politicians have done. He’s doing it because being linked to J Street has become a political liability even when it’s not a campaign season.
He’s also doing it because J Street’s actions over the past year — culminating in its support for this UN resolution — have made it impossible to logically claim that the group is still pro-Israel.
Ackerman rightly notes that J Street’s support for the resolution “is not the choice of a concerned friend trying to help. It is rather the befuddled choice of an organization so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out.”
In a press release for a fundraiser that J Street held for Ackerman and a few other members of Congress just three months ago, the group called the politicians “excellent advocates for pro-Israel, pro-peace positions in Congress and courageous leaders on other progressive issues as well.”
And now Ackerman — lauded as “progressive” and “pro-Israel, pro-peace” by J Street — has concluded that J Street can no longer be considered pro-Israel. That should certainly give other J Street supporters in Congress pause (that is, if there are any of them still left).
There was one thing members of Congress and advocates for UN reform all agreed on at the House Foreign Affairs Committee discussion on UN funding today: the United Nations is an expensive disaster. Not only are some of its committees used as platforms to vilify Israel and undermine U.S. interests, but the American taxpayers are also subsidizing this equivalent of a frat house for totalitarian leaders.
Each year, the U.S. finances 20 percent of the UN’s total budget, plus billions in additional funds. And while some have proposed that the U.S. withhold an amount of money that’s equal to the budgets of committees that work against our interests — such as Human Rights Council and the Relief and Works Agency — this would be a largely symbolic move. Currently, these committees are funded out of the main contribution we give the UN, so any cuts would be spread around to all the programs and dull the financial blow.
In his testimony before the congressional committee, the Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer suggested that the U.S. lobby for these committees to be spun out of the regular UN funding so that Congress would be able to target them easier.
This appears to be the best proposal, but it will also require a lot of support from Congress. Despite the U.S.’s significant contributions to the UN, its vote on budgetary matters doesn’t hold any more weight than other member countries. So the task at this point would be to increase the U.S.’s voting power at the UN.
And getting that done might require putting more pressure on the UN than some Democrats are comfortable with — including cutting our contributions significantly or defunding it completely. But based on House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s statements today, this sounds like a fight that Republicans are eager to have.
“In the past, Congress has gone along by willingly paying what successive Administrations asked for — without enough oversight,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “This is one of the first true U.N. reform hearings held by this Committee in almost 4 years, but it won’t be the last.”
Ros-Lehtinen said that she would be introducing legislation that would allow Congress to defund the UN entirely, so that “U.S. taxpayers can pay for the U.N. programs and activities that advance our interests and values, and if other countries want different things to be funded, they can pay for it themselves.”
And with the renewed Republican focus on fiscal issues, a proposal like this is likely to resonate with both GOP lawmakers and the conservative base.
For some misleading language, there’s no excuse. Elder of Ziyon catches the UK Guardian misrepresenting the reality behind one of the most widely repeated claims about the Palestinian Papers: that they show Palestinian negotiators accepting the principle of Israel as a “Jewish state.” (H/T: Daled Amos)
The Guardian puts it this way: “Palestinian negotiators privately accepted Israel’s demand that it define itself as a Jewish state.” But here is the relevant passage of the 2009 Palestinian Paper cited by the Guardian (Saeb Erekat is in conversation with several Palestinian officials):
Xavier Abueid (XA): Mitchell said that the US will defend the right of Israel as a Jewish state.
Saeb Erekat (SE): Not a single American said Jewish State to our faces. I can’t stand guard on their lips.
X (Redacted): He [Mitchell] said it openly.
SE: In UN Resolution 181, it is mentioned a Jewish state and an Arab state.
Mohamed Shtayyeh (MS): “A majority of Jewish people” is how Americans might say it.
SE: I don’t care. This is a non-issue. I dare the Israelis to change name to write to the UN and change their name to the “Great Eternal Historic State of Israel.” This is their issue, not mine.
Elder of Ziyon points out that Erekat used language even more sarcastic and dismissive to address this question in a forum sponsored by Haaretz in 2009. The Guardian characterizes Erekat’s performance as “signaling acquiescence” to the proposition of Israel as a Jewish state. To my ears, it just sounds like Erekat had better hang on to his day job; he’d never get hired to write for South Park. Only biased journalism would pass his snide comments off as meaningful policy statements. Minus the dance routine, Erekat comes off like a Jets gang member taunting Officer Krupke in West Side Story.
On the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s pro-choice decision in Roe v. Wade, President Obama said in a statement that Roe “affirms a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.”
To which one might ask: since when is lethal violence used on the defenseless and the most vulnerable members of our society considered an intrusion on “private family matters”?
This line of argument is absurd. Would the president argue that our laws should be silent on matters of spousal and child abuse? After all, based on the Obama Criterion, those, too, might qualify as “private family matters.”
The president’s statement that abortion on demand affirms a “fundamental principle” is evidence of a man who is willing to corrupt the English language in order to advance an ideological agenda — and in this instance, a particularly vicious and brutal agenda.
In his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell wrote, “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.” He spoke about “the decadence of our language” and how “language can also corrupt thought.” And he alerted his readers to the fact that “Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Pure wind is not solid — and taking the life of the innocent unborn is neither a “fundamental principle” nor a “private family matter.”
My former CONTENTIONS colleague Jennifer Rubin wrote a post referring to “the usual crowd of Israel bashers” who had sent the president a letter urging him to go along with a UN resolution condemning Israel for its settlements. The usual crowd included Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, who was quite agitated because he was included in that company.
“I would like to know from Jennifer Rubin and from her editor — and from the Chairman of the Board of the Washington Post — what I have ever said, what I have ever written, what I have ever organized that deserves the characterization I received from Jennifer Rubin today at the Washington Post,” Clemons asks. “What does she consider makes me an Israel-basher?”
Rubin answers him chapter-and-verse here. It is a withering takedown.
Accusing Rubin of engaging in what is essentially libel (an “insidious character attack” is how Clemons puts it) when she was simply expressing an opinion, backed up by ample evidence, is both regrettable and perfectly predictable. Clemons is reacting in an affected and aggrieved manner. It is an obvious attempt not to dispute the charge but to delegitimize the person making it. And by appealing to Rubin’s editors and the chairman of the board at the Washington Post (!), there is an implicit effort to intimidate Rubin into silence.
Having worked with Jen, I have some advice for Clemons: it won’t work, and it shouldn’t be tried. And if Mr. Clemons is so eager to extinguish libel in public discourse, he might turn more of his attention to the effort on the left to link conservatives to the Tucson massacres.
Just a suggestion.