Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 29, 2011

Obama the Imaginary Leader

During his press conference today, President Obama repeatedly invoked the theme of leadership. “Leaders lead,” he helpfully informed. “Leaders rise to the occasion,” he added. They are willing to make “tough decisions,” to “do the tough things” and to “do the responsible thing.” By the end I was reminded by the line from Emerson: “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

The reality is that Mr. Obama has provided very nearly the opposite of leadership. He has not only refused to tackle entitlement reform during his presidency; he has attacked those who do, employing dishonest arguments that are at this stage are almost impossible to keep track of.

My seven-year-old son loves to play what he calls “imagination games.” It allows him to pretend to be whatever he wants to be – a superhero, a warrior, a secret agent, and so forth. To see that trait in a young boy is sweet; to see it in president of the United States is somewhat disconcerting. And for a president who inhabits an imaginary world to lecture all the rest of us about his virtues adds to the oddity of the whole thing.

In his inaugural address Mr. Obama said, “the time has come to set aside childish things.”

Amen to that.

During his press conference today, President Obama repeatedly invoked the theme of leadership. “Leaders lead,” he helpfully informed. “Leaders rise to the occasion,” he added. They are willing to make “tough decisions,” to “do the tough things” and to “do the responsible thing.” By the end I was reminded by the line from Emerson: “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

The reality is that Mr. Obama has provided very nearly the opposite of leadership. He has not only refused to tackle entitlement reform during his presidency; he has attacked those who do, employing dishonest arguments that are at this stage are almost impossible to keep track of.

My seven-year-old son loves to play what he calls “imagination games.” It allows him to pretend to be whatever he wants to be – a superhero, a warrior, a secret agent, and so forth. To see that trait in a young boy is sweet; to see it in president of the United States is somewhat disconcerting. And for a president who inhabits an imaginary world to lecture all the rest of us about his virtues adds to the oddity of the whole thing.

In his inaugural address Mr. Obama said, “the time has come to set aside childish things.”

Amen to that.

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ObamaRevenueMix

During his press conference today, President Obama tried as best he could to avoid using the term “tax increase.” He favors a “balanced approach that looks at everything.” He wants “revenue in the mix.” He wants to “eliminate subsidies” for using company planes or discovering oil and gas. He wants to reduce “spending in the tax code,” etc. 

It is reminiscent of the ObamaCare debate, when Obama assured George Stephanopoulos the penalty enforcing the individual mandate was not a “tax.” Currently, he is defending ObamaCare in the courts by arguing it is an exercise of the federal taxing power. ObamaCare also included a “Medicare contribution” that was not a contribution and had nothing to do with Medicare

So do not worry about ObamaRevenueMix. If you like your existing money, you can keep it! If you are not a millionaire or billionaire, do not worry. The administration wants a trillion more dollars withdrawn from the private economy, and the economic consequences will be felt only by the targeted few. It is just a balanced approach. 

George Orwell, your office is trying to reach you. Again.

During his press conference today, President Obama tried as best he could to avoid using the term “tax increase.” He favors a “balanced approach that looks at everything.” He wants “revenue in the mix.” He wants to “eliminate subsidies” for using company planes or discovering oil and gas. He wants to reduce “spending in the tax code,” etc. 

It is reminiscent of the ObamaCare debate, when Obama assured George Stephanopoulos the penalty enforcing the individual mandate was not a “tax.” Currently, he is defending ObamaCare in the courts by arguing it is an exercise of the federal taxing power. ObamaCare also included a “Medicare contribution” that was not a contribution and had nothing to do with Medicare

So do not worry about ObamaRevenueMix. If you like your existing money, you can keep it! If you are not a millionaire or billionaire, do not worry. The administration wants a trillion more dollars withdrawn from the private economy, and the economic consequences will be felt only by the targeted few. It is just a balanced approach. 

George Orwell, your office is trying to reach you. Again.

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Senate Threatens to Cut Aid if Palestinians Push UN Vote

A Senate resolution warning the Palestinian Authority that attempts to seek a statehood vote at the UN will put its U.S. aid at risk  passed unanimously yesterday, after hitting a minor speed-bump on Monday.

The resolution was put forward by Sens. Ben Cardin and Susan Collins, and co-sponsored by 88 senators. In addition to threatening aid cuts, it also condemned the Hamas-Fatah unity government agreement. Here is the text of the legislation:

A resolution reaffirming the commitment of the United States to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, reaffirming opposition to the inclusion of Hamas in a unity government unless it is willing to accept peace with Israel and renounce violence, and declaring that Palestinian efforts to gain recognition of a state outside direct negotiations demonstrates absence of a good faith commitment to peace negotiations, and will have implications for continued United States aid.

The resolution was first introduced as a unanimous consent item on Monday, a process by which all senators have to approve of a bill in order for it to go through. While it didn’t pass the first time, it ended up receiving unanimous support yesterday.

AIPAC, which lobbied for the resolution, praised the outcome in a press statement today, saying the “measure ‘reaffirms’ U.S. law that prohibits American assistance to a Palestinian Authority that ‘shares power with Hamas unless that Authority and all of its ministers publicly accept the right of Israel to exist and all prior agreements and understandings with the governments of the United States and Israel.'”

AIPAC is correct the resolution is a good start, though it would be even better to hear a strong affirmation of its message from President Obama.

A Senate resolution warning the Palestinian Authority that attempts to seek a statehood vote at the UN will put its U.S. aid at risk  passed unanimously yesterday, after hitting a minor speed-bump on Monday.

The resolution was put forward by Sens. Ben Cardin and Susan Collins, and co-sponsored by 88 senators. In addition to threatening aid cuts, it also condemned the Hamas-Fatah unity government agreement. Here is the text of the legislation:

A resolution reaffirming the commitment of the United States to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, reaffirming opposition to the inclusion of Hamas in a unity government unless it is willing to accept peace with Israel and renounce violence, and declaring that Palestinian efforts to gain recognition of a state outside direct negotiations demonstrates absence of a good faith commitment to peace negotiations, and will have implications for continued United States aid.

The resolution was first introduced as a unanimous consent item on Monday, a process by which all senators have to approve of a bill in order for it to go through. While it didn’t pass the first time, it ended up receiving unanimous support yesterday.

AIPAC, which lobbied for the resolution, praised the outcome in a press statement today, saying the “measure ‘reaffirms’ U.S. law that prohibits American assistance to a Palestinian Authority that ‘shares power with Hamas unless that Authority and all of its ministers publicly accept the right of Israel to exist and all prior agreements and understandings with the governments of the United States and Israel.'”

AIPAC is correct the resolution is a good start, though it would be even better to hear a strong affirmation of its message from President Obama.

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Aid to Libyan Rebels May Not Be Enough

After months of waiting to see whether air power alone would be enough to decide things in Libya, the French government has apparently decided to up the ante in the confrontation with dictator Muammar Qaddafi. This development, which was first reported by Le Figaro and since picked up by the New York Times and other papers, represents a slight escalation in the three-month-old conflict. A French military spokesman said they had “airdropped arms and ammunition several times, including assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades and launchers” to rebel forces.

NATO clearly is hoping the Libyan dissidents will now be strong enough to overcome Qaddafi’s forces hit hard by air strikes. Apparently, the turnaround in the fighting in which government troops went from being on the offensive to losing ground in the past few weeks coincided with the French arms drop to the rebels.

But the rebels still have a long way to go before they roust Qaddafi out of Tripoli. Given the fact they were barely able to hold onto their eastern strongholds prior to being given these weapons, the quality of their ragtag army is still very much in doubt. Though the rebels and some NATO sources have continuously predicted the imminent collapse of the Qaddafi regime ever since the foreign intervention began, the dictator still sits in his capital and has control over a diminished but still potent army.

With President Obama still intent on avoiding direct American participation in the fighting and with Congress nipping at his heels over the administration’s refusal to comply with the War Powers Act, there’s little doubt NATO is desperate to end this stalemate one way or the other. However, it may take more than a cargo of small arms to finally topple Qaddafi. That leaves the onus on the coalition to redouble its efforts to either decapitate his regime from the air or to start delivering even more firepower to the rebels. Both courses of action are potentially dangerous, especially since we still don’t know much about the opposition. But the idea the situation will soon resolve itself without further tough decisions by the West may be nothing more than wishful thinking.

After months of waiting to see whether air power alone would be enough to decide things in Libya, the French government has apparently decided to up the ante in the confrontation with dictator Muammar Qaddafi. This development, which was first reported by Le Figaro and since picked up by the New York Times and other papers, represents a slight escalation in the three-month-old conflict. A French military spokesman said they had “airdropped arms and ammunition several times, including assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades and launchers” to rebel forces.

NATO clearly is hoping the Libyan dissidents will now be strong enough to overcome Qaddafi’s forces hit hard by air strikes. Apparently, the turnaround in the fighting in which government troops went from being on the offensive to losing ground in the past few weeks coincided with the French arms drop to the rebels.

But the rebels still have a long way to go before they roust Qaddafi out of Tripoli. Given the fact they were barely able to hold onto their eastern strongholds prior to being given these weapons, the quality of their ragtag army is still very much in doubt. Though the rebels and some NATO sources have continuously predicted the imminent collapse of the Qaddafi regime ever since the foreign intervention began, the dictator still sits in his capital and has control over a diminished but still potent army.

With President Obama still intent on avoiding direct American participation in the fighting and with Congress nipping at his heels over the administration’s refusal to comply with the War Powers Act, there’s little doubt NATO is desperate to end this stalemate one way or the other. However, it may take more than a cargo of small arms to finally topple Qaddafi. That leaves the onus on the coalition to redouble its efforts to either decapitate his regime from the air or to start delivering even more firepower to the rebels. Both courses of action are potentially dangerous, especially since we still don’t know much about the opposition. But the idea the situation will soon resolve itself without further tough decisions by the West may be nothing more than wishful thinking.

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Has Perry Already Decided to Run?

Texas Governor Rick Perry is headed to California this week for meetings with business leaders and legislators that are doing nothing to quell speculation about a possible presidential run. According to the Washington Post, this is his second trip to California in three weeks. The question is whether these jaunts mean he is still testing the waters for a possible try at the Republican presidential nomination, or if they indicate he has already decided to do so and is in full pre-campaign mode raising money and gathering future endorsements.

For Republican National Committee member Shawn Steel, there’s no doubt about the answer to that question: “I sense that he is beyond considering running for president. He is now planning to run for president,” asserted Steel. That has yet to be proved, but Republicans like Steel can be forgiven for jumping to conclusions. Perry’s recent travels and statements have had all the earmarks of a presidential flirtation.

Of course, GOP activists who have spent much of the past year waiting for the perfect candidate to parachute into the race have been disappointed before. The buzz about Perry is highly reminiscent of the media swoon over Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who also spent the weeks preceding his announcement he wasn’t running acting very much like a man who had every intention of entering the race. Unlike Daniels, Perry’s indecision does not appear to be linked to misgivings on the part of his family. But the longer the Texas governor keeps his party waiting, the more many activists and donors may be inclined to think he really isn’t interested and commit themselves to candidates who need no coaxing.

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Texas Governor Rick Perry is headed to California this week for meetings with business leaders and legislators that are doing nothing to quell speculation about a possible presidential run. According to the Washington Post, this is his second trip to California in three weeks. The question is whether these jaunts mean he is still testing the waters for a possible try at the Republican presidential nomination, or if they indicate he has already decided to do so and is in full pre-campaign mode raising money and gathering future endorsements.

For Republican National Committee member Shawn Steel, there’s no doubt about the answer to that question: “I sense that he is beyond considering running for president. He is now planning to run for president,” asserted Steel. That has yet to be proved, but Republicans like Steel can be forgiven for jumping to conclusions. Perry’s recent travels and statements have had all the earmarks of a presidential flirtation.

Of course, GOP activists who have spent much of the past year waiting for the perfect candidate to parachute into the race have been disappointed before. The buzz about Perry is highly reminiscent of the media swoon over Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who also spent the weeks preceding his announcement he wasn’t running acting very much like a man who had every intention of entering the race. Unlike Daniels, Perry’s indecision does not appear to be linked to misgivings on the part of his family. But the longer the Texas governor keeps his party waiting, the more many activists and donors may be inclined to think he really isn’t interested and commit themselves to candidates who need no coaxing.

Perry has to know that for all of the supposed discontent on the part of may Republicans with the existing field of candidates, time won’t stand still for anyone, even the governor of a state with a booming economy and a large Republican base. In particular, the emergence of Michele Bachmann as a serious contender for the nomination means someone who has at least as good a claim on Tea Party and social conservative support as the Texan is rapidly filling the alleged vacuum on the party’s right. Though Republican power brokers still speak of the need for the entry of a candidate who will be the alternative to Mitt Romney, Bachmann appears to be seizing that role. In addition, Tim Pawlenty may be ready to pull out of the nosedive that seemed to stall his campaign.

All this means that although Perry would enter the GOP race as a formidable force, the idea he could just waltz in and seize the mantle as the favorite of GOP conservatives may be a misreading of the situation. The point is, if Perry is going to run, it’s time for him to jump in before he finds himself hopelessly behind those who have made up their minds.

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Who Was Delaying Those Trade Deals?

During his press conference today, President Obama urged Congress to pass three trade deals with South Korea, Columbia and Panama, saying  these agreements would help create jobs.

“I think these trade deals will be important,” said Obama, when he was asked what the government could do to encourage job creation. “The reason I want to get these trade deals done is because you see a whole bunch of Korean cars here in the United States and you don’t see any American cars in Korea.”

These deals — which actually were inked during the Bush administration — are quite promising. But for all of the president’s urgency, you’d never guess he (and Senate Democrats) have been the ones holding up them for months. In fact, one of the reasons why lawmakers haven’t approved the trade agreements yet is because Obama only sent them to Congress yesterday.

So why the delay? Apparently it was because Obama refused to go forward with the deals unless Republicans agreed to tack on an unrelated and exorbitantly-priced worker-retraining program to the legislation. Despite the GOP’s reluctance over the price tag, the stalemate was finally broken yesterday, and the program will be included in the legislation.

So all of Obama’s eagerness to finish these trade agreements might have been more appropriate months ago, when he was the one holding up the job-creating legislation.

During his press conference today, President Obama urged Congress to pass three trade deals with South Korea, Columbia and Panama, saying  these agreements would help create jobs.

“I think these trade deals will be important,” said Obama, when he was asked what the government could do to encourage job creation. “The reason I want to get these trade deals done is because you see a whole bunch of Korean cars here in the United States and you don’t see any American cars in Korea.”

These deals — which actually were inked during the Bush administration — are quite promising. But for all of the president’s urgency, you’d never guess he (and Senate Democrats) have been the ones holding up them for months. In fact, one of the reasons why lawmakers haven’t approved the trade agreements yet is because Obama only sent them to Congress yesterday.

So why the delay? Apparently it was because Obama refused to go forward with the deals unless Republicans agreed to tack on an unrelated and exorbitantly-priced worker-retraining program to the legislation. Despite the GOP’s reluctance over the price tag, the stalemate was finally broken yesterday, and the program will be included in the legislation.

So all of Obama’s eagerness to finish these trade agreements might have been more appropriate months ago, when he was the one holding up the job-creating legislation.

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Climate Change Skepticism Now Considered ‘Harassment’?

First climate change advocates attempted to smear skeptics as akin to flat-Earthers, and since that tactic has failed, they’re playing the victimization card. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, which promotes the idea of anthropogenic global warming, released a statement yesterday alleging Freedom of Information Act requests and other legal challenges have created a “hostile environment” for climate scientists, and may lead to a “chilling effect” at research institutions.

“Reports of harassment, death threats, and legal challenges [emphasis mine] have created a hostile environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and ideas and makes it difficult for factual information and scientific analyses to reach policymakers and the public,” reads the statement. “This both impedes the progress of science and interferes with the application of science to the solution of global problems.”

The AAAS seems to be particularly concerned with FOIA requests against climate scientists. During the past few years, these requests have helped expose information that severely discredited the global warming advocacy movement. Read More

First climate change advocates attempted to smear skeptics as akin to flat-Earthers, and since that tactic has failed, they’re playing the victimization card. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, which promotes the idea of anthropogenic global warming, released a statement yesterday alleging Freedom of Information Act requests and other legal challenges have created a “hostile environment” for climate scientists, and may lead to a “chilling effect” at research institutions.

“Reports of harassment, death threats, and legal challenges [emphasis mine] have created a hostile environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and ideas and makes it difficult for factual information and scientific analyses to reach policymakers and the public,” reads the statement. “This both impedes the progress of science and interferes with the application of science to the solution of global problems.”

The AAAS seems to be particularly concerned with FOIA requests against climate scientists. During the past few years, these requests have helped expose information that severely discredited the global warming advocacy movement.

“The sharing of research data is vastly different from unreasonable, excessive Freedom of Information Act requests for personal information and voluminous data that are then used to harass and intimidate scientists,” said AAAS, which bills itself as the world’s largest scientific society. “The latter serve only as a distraction and make no constructive contribution to the public discourse.”

The group added it was concerned that “establishing a practice of aggressive inquiry into the professional histories of scientists whose findings may bear on policy in ways that some find unpalatable could well have a chilling effect on the willingness of scientists to conduct research that intersects with policy-relevant scientific questions.”

Of course, what the AAAS calls “personal information” actually appears to be public data. The group’s statement comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed against NASA by the conservative American Traditional Institute earlier this month, which is trying to force the agency to release information about scientist James Hansen.

And after years of watching climate change advocates demonizing global warming skeptics, it’s hard to have any sympathy for the AAAS on this issue. Not to mention, previously leaked emails have shown climate change scientists behaving in ways abusive to the public trust. Skeptics should absolutely work to expose any potential corruption in the global warming advocacy community — and the fact AAAS is so terrified of legal challenges is good reason to believe these skeptics might be onto something.

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Is Victory Unnecessary in Afghanistan?

President Obama didn’t cast much light on the war in Afghanistan in his press conference today, but it was interesting to note how uncomfortable he was when asked whether America’s goal there was “victory.”

Obama said his goal was “success,” not “victory.” According to the president, success could be defined by stopping more al-Qaeda terror attacks on the United States and the creation of an Afghan government that could defend itself. But “victory” doesn’t interest him. He says we’re in a position to radically draw down our forces in Afghanistan because of our “success” there. The problem is that by settling for an outcome in which the Taliban is still in the field and undefeated, Obama’s withdrawal policy is setting up the possibility all of the achievements U.S. troops have made since the surge began in 2009 could be lost.

The president seems to think talking about “victory” is macho posturing his administration is too mature to engage in. But the allure of “victory” has nothing to do with chest beating and everything to do with ensuring your opponents do not recover from setbacks and ultimately prevail. Victory means the enemy can no longer effectively fight, let alone win.

The president seems to want to simultaneously get credit for opposing further fighting in Afghanistan while also taking credit for “success” there. Perhaps Obama thinks if  defeat happens after U.S. troops withdraw, it won’t go on his permanent record. The problem is the only alternative to “victory” is eventual defeat.

President Obama didn’t cast much light on the war in Afghanistan in his press conference today, but it was interesting to note how uncomfortable he was when asked whether America’s goal there was “victory.”

Obama said his goal was “success,” not “victory.” According to the president, success could be defined by stopping more al-Qaeda terror attacks on the United States and the creation of an Afghan government that could defend itself. But “victory” doesn’t interest him. He says we’re in a position to radically draw down our forces in Afghanistan because of our “success” there. The problem is that by settling for an outcome in which the Taliban is still in the field and undefeated, Obama’s withdrawal policy is setting up the possibility all of the achievements U.S. troops have made since the surge began in 2009 could be lost.

The president seems to think talking about “victory” is macho posturing his administration is too mature to engage in. But the allure of “victory” has nothing to do with chest beating and everything to do with ensuring your opponents do not recover from setbacks and ultimately prevail. Victory means the enemy can no longer effectively fight, let alone win.

The president seems to want to simultaneously get credit for opposing further fighting in Afghanistan while also taking credit for “success” there. Perhaps Obama thinks if  defeat happens after U.S. troops withdraw, it won’t go on his permanent record. The problem is the only alternative to “victory” is eventual defeat.

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Class Warfare Won’t Fix the Economy

In his press conference today, President Obama threw down a challenge to Republicans over the debt limit. When asked how he could hope for a resolution to the current stalemate that could pass Congress when he is insisting a deal must include tax hikes the GOP oppose, Obama made it clear he thinks the Republican leadership will fold like a cheap suit.

As far as the president is concerned, the Republican position is “not sustainable.” His idea of “a balanced approach” involves minimal spending cuts along with a raft of soak-the-rich proposals he believes are good political weapons. Obama repeated again and again the issue was a matter of taking scholarships away from kids, eliminating research on food safety and health care for the elderly in order to continue giving, “millionaires and billionaires” and oil companies tax cuts on their “private corporate jets.”

While the president started off his talk by saying he was interested in reviewing government regulations of business that inhibit growth, not only could he not name a single regulation he doesn’t like, it’s clear the entire focus of his approach to both the deficit and the economic downturn is based on hostility toward the private sector. The president may think most Americans agree with him rich people should have their taxes raised, but he seems to be unaware of the link between job creation and the level of taxation on businesses and business owners.

The reason why the GOP position on debt limit negotiation is sustainable is that raising taxes on the private sector in the middle of an economic downturn with rising unemployment is a recipe for disaster. Speaker John Boehner not only knows he would face a full-scale revolt among his members if he does back down to the president, he also understands doing so would be bad for the economy.

Though the president continually bragged about how he had faced down his own constituency by embracing some minimal cuts in entitlements, he is still most comfortable when he is playing the class warfare card. Indeed, that seems to be the only card in his hand. Talking about private jets and oil companies may seem like a good re-election strategy, but it does nothing for the economy. The president needs to understand resentment of the wealthy won’t do anything about the rising unemployment numbers that are making Obama’s re-election an increasingly shaky bet.

In his press conference today, President Obama threw down a challenge to Republicans over the debt limit. When asked how he could hope for a resolution to the current stalemate that could pass Congress when he is insisting a deal must include tax hikes the GOP oppose, Obama made it clear he thinks the Republican leadership will fold like a cheap suit.

As far as the president is concerned, the Republican position is “not sustainable.” His idea of “a balanced approach” involves minimal spending cuts along with a raft of soak-the-rich proposals he believes are good political weapons. Obama repeated again and again the issue was a matter of taking scholarships away from kids, eliminating research on food safety and health care for the elderly in order to continue giving, “millionaires and billionaires” and oil companies tax cuts on their “private corporate jets.”

While the president started off his talk by saying he was interested in reviewing government regulations of business that inhibit growth, not only could he not name a single regulation he doesn’t like, it’s clear the entire focus of his approach to both the deficit and the economic downturn is based on hostility toward the private sector. The president may think most Americans agree with him rich people should have their taxes raised, but he seems to be unaware of the link between job creation and the level of taxation on businesses and business owners.

The reason why the GOP position on debt limit negotiation is sustainable is that raising taxes on the private sector in the middle of an economic downturn with rising unemployment is a recipe for disaster. Speaker John Boehner not only knows he would face a full-scale revolt among his members if he does back down to the president, he also understands doing so would be bad for the economy.

Though the president continually bragged about how he had faced down his own constituency by embracing some minimal cuts in entitlements, he is still most comfortable when he is playing the class warfare card. Indeed, that seems to be the only card in his hand. Talking about private jets and oil companies may seem like a good re-election strategy, but it does nothing for the economy. The president needs to understand resentment of the wealthy won’t do anything about the rising unemployment numbers that are making Obama’s re-election an increasingly shaky bet.

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Bachmann’s Polling Can’t Be Dismissed

You know the Republican presidential race has changed when you start seeing headlines wondering “How To Stop Bachmann.” That was the title of a Jonathan Chait piece in the New Republic yesterday that came only a day after Ed Kilgore wrote on the same site asking whether Bachmann could “Survive Being Taken Seriously?”

The reason for this hysteria can be found in the poll numbers that demonstrate the Minnesota congresswoman has evolved in the last month from a marginal player in the GOP presidential race to a major contender. The latest such survey came from the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling that shows Bachmann leading in both Oregon and Montana. While it was possible to rationalize her surge in Iowa, a state where Christian conservative activists have always been highly influential and where she has some roots, it is difficult to dismiss her lead in Oregon.

The question for the moment is how seriously to take these polls.

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You know the Republican presidential race has changed when you start seeing headlines wondering “How To Stop Bachmann.” That was the title of a Jonathan Chait piece in the New Republic yesterday that came only a day after Ed Kilgore wrote on the same site asking whether Bachmann could “Survive Being Taken Seriously?”

The reason for this hysteria can be found in the poll numbers that demonstrate the Minnesota congresswoman has evolved in the last month from a marginal player in the GOP presidential race to a major contender. The latest such survey came from the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling that shows Bachmann leading in both Oregon and Montana. While it was possible to rationalize her surge in Iowa, a state where Christian conservative activists have always been highly influential and where she has some roots, it is difficult to dismiss her lead in Oregon.

The question for the moment is how seriously to take these polls.

On the one hand, any poll this far in advance of the first votes being cast has to be taken with a shovelful of salt. Four years ago at this time, Hillary Clinton was the certain Democratic nominee, John McCain’s candidacy had crashed and burned and Rudy Giuliani was looking like a strong contender in 2008.

Like those 2007 surveys, polls at this point in the election cycle say more about name recognition than anything else. That’s why Clinton and Giuliani were doing so well four years ago and why someone like Mitt Romney is considered a frontrunner today. But those arguments don’t tell us much about Bachmann’s surge. Unlike Romney, who has been running for president for more than five years, Bachmann was a relative unknown outside of the Tea Party movement until just a few weeks ago. Her poll numbers are not the product of longstanding name recognition. Rather, they say everything about the way she has burst upon the scene looking and sounding like a confident, smart woman who isn’t afraid to take on either Obama or her Republican rivals. While other candidates, such as Tim Pawlenty, have presented far stronger positions on the economy and foreign policy, there’s no getting around the fact Republicans seem to like Bachmann better so far.

Bachmann is clearly gaffe prone, and if that doesn’t change, it will hurt her. Her conservative Christian views will provide plenty of fodder for liberal gripes. She is now undergoing the kind of scrutiny the liberal media always give conservatives and is a process designed to demonize Bachmann. It will be up to Bachmann to keep her composure and to not only echo Ronald Reagan’s worldview in her speeches but also adopt the same sunny tone and tolerant attitude toward critics that characterized the Gipper’s attitude to the press.

But whether or not she falters over the course of the long slog to the first primaries and caucuses, it’s clear Bachmann appeals to GOP activists in a way few suspected. That’s what the polls are reflecting, and that’s something that can’t be wished away by those who dislike her politics or her personality.

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Has White House Misled Public About Troop Withdrawal?

Steve Hayes of the Weekly Standard  zeroes in on what appears to be an effort by the White House to mislead the public about the President’s decision to withdraw more than 30,000 troops from Afghanistan by next September.

During a June 22 briefing on Afghanistan, a senior Administration aide told reporters, “The president’s decision was fully within the range of options that were presented to him and has the full support of his national security team.”

Now fast forward to yesterday, when Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen, nominated to replace General David Petraeus as head of coalition forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged that President Obama’s decision to draw down 10,000 troops by the end of this year and the rest of the surge forces by September 2012 was not one of the options proposed to the president by Gen. Petraeus.

In response to questioning from Senator Lindsey Graham,  Allen testified Obama’s decision on the pace and size of of Afghanistan withdrawals was “a more aggressive option than that which was presented.” Senator Graham then pressed for clarification. “My question is: Was that a option?” To which General Allen replied, “It was not.”

There are two things going on here.

One is the president’s “strategy” was essentially made up on the back of an envelope, divorced from military considerations, and based almost entirely on the politics of Obama’s re-election, all of which are disgraceful enough. Beyond that, though, the administration appears to have dissembled in order to justify the president’s decision, hoping to add the appearance of military support to his terribly unwise plan.

There may be a more innocent explanation for what happened. But the burden is now on the White House to reveal the full story. And I hope the press corps is as aggressive with Obama as they would have been with his predecessor on this matter. It’s a big deal.


Steve Hayes of the Weekly Standard  zeroes in on what appears to be an effort by the White House to mislead the public about the President’s decision to withdraw more than 30,000 troops from Afghanistan by next September.

During a June 22 briefing on Afghanistan, a senior Administration aide told reporters, “The president’s decision was fully within the range of options that were presented to him and has the full support of his national security team.”

Now fast forward to yesterday, when Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen, nominated to replace General David Petraeus as head of coalition forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged that President Obama’s decision to draw down 10,000 troops by the end of this year and the rest of the surge forces by September 2012 was not one of the options proposed to the president by Gen. Petraeus.

In response to questioning from Senator Lindsey Graham,  Allen testified Obama’s decision on the pace and size of of Afghanistan withdrawals was “a more aggressive option than that which was presented.” Senator Graham then pressed for clarification. “My question is: Was that a option?” To which General Allen replied, “It was not.”

There are two things going on here.

One is the president’s “strategy” was essentially made up on the back of an envelope, divorced from military considerations, and based almost entirely on the politics of Obama’s re-election, all of which are disgraceful enough. Beyond that, though, the administration appears to have dissembled in order to justify the president’s decision, hoping to add the appearance of military support to his terribly unwise plan.

There may be a more innocent explanation for what happened. But the burden is now on the White House to reveal the full story. And I hope the press corps is as aggressive with Obama as they would have been with his predecessor on this matter. It’s a big deal.


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Dem Pollster to Obama: Don’t Campaign on Economic Achievements

That advice shouldn’t be too hard to follow, considering President Obama’s economic approval rating is at a record low. But the president has been touting his job creation “successes” during his stump speeches, as Time magazine notes. Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg tells the magazine this strategy could end up backfiring on Obama:

“No one is going to give you much credit for what you have done for this recovery,” says Greenberg, who has been testing messages in focus groups and polls for Democrats to use in the coming election. “Saying the economy is starting to make progress is bad.” …

When Greenberg tested messages trumpeting the recent rebound, or blaming the economy on Republican mismanagement before 2008, the results were dismal, he says. Voters did not want to hear it. They responded more positively to messages about long-term fixes, like rebuilding the middle class and taking on China, or moving beyond the politics of blame.

This raises some serious problems for Obama’s reelection campaign. It’s been clear for awhile blaming the Republicans for the economic crisis is a poor strategy, but at least that would allow the president to avoid discussing his own failure to reboot the economy. Messages about long-term solutions are great, but the American people have given Obama the past few years to implement these fixes. If he has these solutions, why hasn’t he gone ahead with them? And why should we trust him if  his previous policies haven’t worked?

Obama is in a bind for 2012. Without being able to point to accomplishments in office, it will be difficult for him to make the case for reelection. And focusing solely on solutions for the future doesn’t seem logical either, considering the president hasn’t succeeded at getting us out of our current crisis. While Greenberg’s polling seems to suggest forward-looking messaging is the best strategy for Obama, simply arguing he’ll do better next time just doesn’t seem convincing to voters.

That advice shouldn’t be too hard to follow, considering President Obama’s economic approval rating is at a record low. But the president has been touting his job creation “successes” during his stump speeches, as Time magazine notes. Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg tells the magazine this strategy could end up backfiring on Obama:

“No one is going to give you much credit for what you have done for this recovery,” says Greenberg, who has been testing messages in focus groups and polls for Democrats to use in the coming election. “Saying the economy is starting to make progress is bad.” …

When Greenberg tested messages trumpeting the recent rebound, or blaming the economy on Republican mismanagement before 2008, the results were dismal, he says. Voters did not want to hear it. They responded more positively to messages about long-term fixes, like rebuilding the middle class and taking on China, or moving beyond the politics of blame.

This raises some serious problems for Obama’s reelection campaign. It’s been clear for awhile blaming the Republicans for the economic crisis is a poor strategy, but at least that would allow the president to avoid discussing his own failure to reboot the economy. Messages about long-term solutions are great, but the American people have given Obama the past few years to implement these fixes. If he has these solutions, why hasn’t he gone ahead with them? And why should we trust him if  his previous policies haven’t worked?

Obama is in a bind for 2012. Without being able to point to accomplishments in office, it will be difficult for him to make the case for reelection. And focusing solely on solutions for the future doesn’t seem logical either, considering the president hasn’t succeeded at getting us out of our current crisis. While Greenberg’s polling seems to suggest forward-looking messaging is the best strategy for Obama, simply arguing he’ll do better next time just doesn’t seem convincing to voters.

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John Lennon the Reaganite: Spit-Take Story of the Day

This is from the Toronto Sun:

Fred Seaman worked alongside the music legend from 1979 to Lennon’s death at the end of 1980 and he reveals the star was a Ronald Reagan fan who enjoyed arguing with left-wing radicals who reminded him of his former self.

In new documentary Beatles Stories, Seaman tells filmmaker Seth Swirsky Lennon wasn’t the peace-loving militant fans thought he was while he was his assistant.

He says, “John, basically, made it very clear that if he were an American he would vote for Reagan because he was really sour on (Democrat) Jimmy Carter.

“He’d met Reagan back, I think, in the 70s at some sporting event… Reagan was the guy who had ordered the National Guard, I believe, to go after the young (peace) demonstrators in Berkeley, so I think that John maybe forgot about that… He did express support for Reagan, which shocked me.

“I also saw John embark in some really brutal arguments with my uncle, who’s an old-time communist… He enjoyed really provoking my uncle… Maybe he was being provocative… but it was pretty obvious to me he had moved away from his earlier radicalism.

“He was a very different person back in 1979 and 80 than he’d been when he wrote Imagine. By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy’s naivete.”

Three years later, Bob Dylan found his inner Zionist hawk with the song “Neighborhood Bully.”

This is from the Toronto Sun:

Fred Seaman worked alongside the music legend from 1979 to Lennon’s death at the end of 1980 and he reveals the star was a Ronald Reagan fan who enjoyed arguing with left-wing radicals who reminded him of his former self.

In new documentary Beatles Stories, Seaman tells filmmaker Seth Swirsky Lennon wasn’t the peace-loving militant fans thought he was while he was his assistant.

He says, “John, basically, made it very clear that if he were an American he would vote for Reagan because he was really sour on (Democrat) Jimmy Carter.

“He’d met Reagan back, I think, in the 70s at some sporting event… Reagan was the guy who had ordered the National Guard, I believe, to go after the young (peace) demonstrators in Berkeley, so I think that John maybe forgot about that… He did express support for Reagan, which shocked me.

“I also saw John embark in some really brutal arguments with my uncle, who’s an old-time communist… He enjoyed really provoking my uncle… Maybe he was being provocative… but it was pretty obvious to me he had moved away from his earlier radicalism.

“He was a very different person back in 1979 and 80 than he’d been when he wrote Imagine. By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy’s naivete.”

Three years later, Bob Dylan found his inner Zionist hawk with the song “Neighborhood Bully.”

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Syrian President Suckers Kucinich

It’s bad enough Representative Dennis Kucinich ran off to visit Syria’s mass-murdering tyrant Bashar al-Assad while pools of blood are still warm on the streets. Now stories are appearing in Syria’s state-run media portraying our silliest Congressman as a mouthpiece for the dictatorship.

“There are some who want to give a wrong picture about what is going on in Syria,” he said,  according to the Syrian Arab News Agency, which is, I have to point out, beyond unreliable and unprofessional. “President al-Assad is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians,” he also supposedly said, though I doubt very much he actually did. SANA also claims he said, “President Bashar al-Assad cares so much about what is taking place in Syria, which is evident in his effort towards a new Syria and everybody who meets him can be certain of this.”

I’d say he sounds like a hostage, but there’s little chance those words are actually his. Syrian “journalism” is hardly more reality-based than North Korea’s official state broadcasts, so let’s just assume for now the only part of the story that’s true is the part where Kucinich took a plane to Damascus. That doesn’t mean he’s off the hook. Any foreign policy adviser familiar with the region could have warned him he’d be used by the regime, and Assad’s media minions are shameless professional fantasists.

I’m sure he means well and wishes we could all just get along, but he won’t make the Middle East a better place with this kind of stunt. Millions of Syrian citizens are well aware an elected U.S. official just met with their butcher, and now they’re being told Assad has a supportive friend in our Congress. That Kucinich likely blundered into his role as a mass-murderer’s prop rather than consciously choosing it does not change the fact  that is what he has become.

The Syrian regime has been wooing useful Western idiots to its capital for decades. That Assad can still pull this off even while the Obama administration talks about filing war crimes charges shows there’s a virtually limitless supply of unteachable people at the highest levels of our government who simply have no idea what a monster looks like when they see one.

It’s bad enough Representative Dennis Kucinich ran off to visit Syria’s mass-murdering tyrant Bashar al-Assad while pools of blood are still warm on the streets. Now stories are appearing in Syria’s state-run media portraying our silliest Congressman as a mouthpiece for the dictatorship.

“There are some who want to give a wrong picture about what is going on in Syria,” he said,  according to the Syrian Arab News Agency, which is, I have to point out, beyond unreliable and unprofessional. “President al-Assad is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians,” he also supposedly said, though I doubt very much he actually did. SANA also claims he said, “President Bashar al-Assad cares so much about what is taking place in Syria, which is evident in his effort towards a new Syria and everybody who meets him can be certain of this.”

I’d say he sounds like a hostage, but there’s little chance those words are actually his. Syrian “journalism” is hardly more reality-based than North Korea’s official state broadcasts, so let’s just assume for now the only part of the story that’s true is the part where Kucinich took a plane to Damascus. That doesn’t mean he’s off the hook. Any foreign policy adviser familiar with the region could have warned him he’d be used by the regime, and Assad’s media minions are shameless professional fantasists.

I’m sure he means well and wishes we could all just get along, but he won’t make the Middle East a better place with this kind of stunt. Millions of Syrian citizens are well aware an elected U.S. official just met with their butcher, and now they’re being told Assad has a supportive friend in our Congress. That Kucinich likely blundered into his role as a mass-murderer’s prop rather than consciously choosing it does not change the fact  that is what he has become.

The Syrian regime has been wooing useful Western idiots to its capital for decades. That Assad can still pull this off even while the Obama administration talks about filing war crimes charges shows there’s a virtually limitless supply of unteachable people at the highest levels of our government who simply have no idea what a monster looks like when they see one.

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Jewish Dems Start to Abandon Obama

It takes a lot to pry most American Jews away from their traditional loyalty to the Democratic Party. But give Barack Obama credit. In just two and a half years in office, he has managed to achieve just that. Though the rumblings about Jewish unhappiness with the president’s policy of pressure against Israel have been getting more noticeable with each fight the administration picks with the Jewish state, the last month has been the worst yet. And, as Politico reports today, the cracks in the heretofore solidly partisan wall of Jewish support for the Democrats are starting to widen.

The Politico feature largely concentrates on interviews done with Jewish Dems in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and what Ben Smith heard can’t be encouraging for Obama supporters. Fundraising is being affected with even those organizing pro-Obama events admitting to Politico they won’t meet their goals. The open talk of defection to the Republicans next year is getting loud enough that even the most rabidly partisan Democrats have been forced to take notice. Though they claim most Jews will never vote for a Republican, the dissatisfaction with Obama is no longer confined to the right. Even liberal Jews are starting to question why the president seems more inclined to get tough with America’s ally than with foes such as Syria.

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It takes a lot to pry most American Jews away from their traditional loyalty to the Democratic Party. But give Barack Obama credit. In just two and a half years in office, he has managed to achieve just that. Though the rumblings about Jewish unhappiness with the president’s policy of pressure against Israel have been getting more noticeable with each fight the administration picks with the Jewish state, the last month has been the worst yet. And, as Politico reports today, the cracks in the heretofore solidly partisan wall of Jewish support for the Democrats are starting to widen.

The Politico feature largely concentrates on interviews done with Jewish Dems in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and what Ben Smith heard can’t be encouraging for Obama supporters. Fundraising is being affected with even those organizing pro-Obama events admitting to Politico they won’t meet their goals. The open talk of defection to the Republicans next year is getting loud enough that even the most rabidly partisan Democrats have been forced to take notice. Though they claim most Jews will never vote for a Republican, the dissatisfaction with Obama is no longer confined to the right. Even liberal Jews are starting to question why the president seems more inclined to get tough with America’s ally than with foes such as Syria.

The response from pro-Obama Democrats is, the president’s policies have been portrayed unfairly. They claim if the situation is properly explained to voters and donors, they will be reassured. But such reassurance is not coming easily. Though a minority of Democrats might be sympathetic to the idea Israel must be pressured to make peace for its own good, even most liberals understand the Jewish state has spent the last two decades making concessions and peace offers in vain. They know the obstacle to peace is the refusal of the Palestinians to take yes for an answer.

The spin about Obama showing Israel “tough love” isn’t convincing people primarily because, unlike Democratic leaders of the past whose affection for Israel was not doubted, many Jews have been forced to come to the conclusion the president simply does not have the same warm feelings for Israel most Americans share.

Democrats are right to mock Jewish Republicans who predict a shift in Jewish voting patterns every four years. But the problem the Democrats face doesn’t stem from the fact the GOP has become a pro-Israel stronghold. The threat to the Democrats’ stranglehold on the Jewish vote comes from their own party’s leader.

It bears repeating the record 40 percent of the Jewish vote Ronald Reagan garnered in 1980 had more to do with Jimmy Carter’s hostility to Israel than his own appeal. Carter’s loyalists tried to convince Jews of his support back then too, but large numbers didn’t buy it. The same may be true of Obama. It’s true most Jewish Democrats are not one-issue voters and many truly would never vote for a Republican. But few are being fooled by Democratic attempts to get them to ignore their own gut feelings about the president. The Democrats are bleeding Jewish support and fundraising. The only question now is how great the decline in Jewish votes for Obama will be next year.

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Dennis Kucinich Responds: “I was misquoted”

Congressman Dennis Kucinich has issued a statement in response to his quotes in the Syrian Arab News Agency, and says he was misquoted. 

Here is his statement, and my response. I am not convinced Kucinich was misquoted, however. 

On any number of occasions, congressmen, diplomats, and politicians who have visited dictators have made ingratiating statements in the privacy of palace parlors that they believed would never be repeated.  Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie, for example, was much too deferential to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the run-up to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.  While ambassador to Egypt, Frank Ricciardone gave new meaning to sycophancy.  Former Representative Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) visited Libya and was videotaped praising Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi several years ago.

The issue, however, is not whether Kucinich was misquoted or is simply embarrassed to have his quotes repeated.  Whenever an official visits a murderous dictator, he or she can count on the fact the dictator is going to use his presence to imply an endorsement and to take the wind out of the opposition’s sails. Sometimes engagement can do far more harm than good. Visiting al-Assad as the Western-educated eye doctor mows down Syrians on the street demonstrates horrible judgment and a poor reflection of the self-described peace movement.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich has issued a statement in response to his quotes in the Syrian Arab News Agency, and says he was misquoted. 

Here is his statement, and my response. I am not convinced Kucinich was misquoted, however. 

On any number of occasions, congressmen, diplomats, and politicians who have visited dictators have made ingratiating statements in the privacy of palace parlors that they believed would never be repeated.  Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie, for example, was much too deferential to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the run-up to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.  While ambassador to Egypt, Frank Ricciardone gave new meaning to sycophancy.  Former Representative Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) visited Libya and was videotaped praising Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi several years ago.

The issue, however, is not whether Kucinich was misquoted or is simply embarrassed to have his quotes repeated.  Whenever an official visits a murderous dictator, he or she can count on the fact the dictator is going to use his presence to imply an endorsement and to take the wind out of the opposition’s sails. Sometimes engagement can do far more harm than good. Visiting al-Assad as the Western-educated eye doctor mows down Syrians on the street demonstrates horrible judgment and a poor reflection of the self-described peace movement.

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