Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 12, 2011

Tom Ridge: Bachmann Too Inexperienced to be President

Tim Pawlenty isn’t the only Republican blasting Rep. Michele Bachmann as unqualified for the presidency. Former Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge bluntly told the Washington Times today that Bachmann has little chance of winning a national election and compared her lack of experience to President Obama’s when he first took office:

“We have a pretty inexperienced president right now,” Mr. Ridge said. “You see the range of issues in the 21st century world: We are interconnected, we are integrated. Our ability to connect for both security and prosperity reasons now and forever more, I think, requires a set of experiences that she just doesn’t have in her portfolio.” …

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Tim Pawlenty isn’t the only Republican blasting Rep. Michele Bachmann as unqualified for the presidency. Former Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge bluntly told the Washington Times today that Bachmann has little chance of winning a national election and compared her lack of experience to President Obama’s when he first took office:

“We have a pretty inexperienced president right now,” Mr. Ridge said. “You see the range of issues in the 21st century world: We are interconnected, we are integrated. Our ability to connect for both security and prosperity reasons now and forever more, I think, requires a set of experiences that she just doesn’t have in her portfolio.” …

But Mr. Ridge said he thought she could not win a national election and warned his fellow Republicans against sacrificing a White House victory on the altar of ideological purity.

“We have to say to ourselves as a party: Consistent with principles that we have, do we want to win or are we into Pyrrhic victories?” he said. “Do we want to appoint Supreme Court justices? Do we want to appoint a Cabinet? Do we want to set a domestic and foreign policy agenda? If the answer is yes, then I think we’re going to have to be a little more tolerant of differences in the party.

As if that wasn’t enough evidence Ridge thinks Bachmann is unserious, when Washington Times reporter Ben Birnbaum asked Ridge if he thought it was unfair to compare the congresswoman with Sarah Palin, he “chuckled” and said, “I think she compares quite well.”

In defense of Bachmann, the current frontrunner in the race — Mitt Romney — isn’t particularly seasoned in foreign policy either. But Romney campaign has also amassed a strong team of advisers to educate him on the issues. It’s still unclear who is assisting Bachmann in this area, though her judgment seems to be on-target so far.

It was obvious from the beginning that establishment Republicans weren’t going to jump onboard with Bachmann, but her campaign will still need to fight back against this “lack of experience” narrative before it becomes too pervasive.

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How Soft is Obama’s Jewish Support?

The debate of whether and by how much President Obama’s Jewish support has declined has heated up in the wake of his May ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The latest poll of Jewish opinion supports the notion he is slipping, but leaves open the question of by how much. The poll (h/t to COMMENTARY contributor Tevi Troy at the National Review), conducted by McLaughlin & Associates for the SecureAmericaNow.org group, provides an in-depth view of Jewish opinions on a variety of issues. But due to the open-ended nature of certain questions, the poll cannot serve as definitive proof of a significant shift in Jewish voting patterns.

Pollsters asked 600 likely American Jewish voters, “Would you vote to re-elect Barack Obama as president or would you consider voting for someone else?” Only 43 percent answered they would vote for Obama, while 48 percent said they would consider another candidate. Perhaps after decades of Democrats winning the Jewish vote by landslide proportions, such a response ought to encourage Republicans, since slightly less than half of likely Jewish voters would even “consider” an alternative to the incumbent. But this is a long way from a result that shows Obama actually losing the Jewish vote. It says something about the rabidly partisan nature of Jewish Democrats that 43 percent of all likely voters would not even “consider” the possibility of casting a ballot for someone other than the president. Yet Democrats shouldn’t laugh too hard about these figures or other results from this survey.

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The debate of whether and by how much President Obama’s Jewish support has declined has heated up in the wake of his May ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The latest poll of Jewish opinion supports the notion he is slipping, but leaves open the question of by how much. The poll (h/t to COMMENTARY contributor Tevi Troy at the National Review), conducted by McLaughlin & Associates for the SecureAmericaNow.org group, provides an in-depth view of Jewish opinions on a variety of issues. But due to the open-ended nature of certain questions, the poll cannot serve as definitive proof of a significant shift in Jewish voting patterns.

Pollsters asked 600 likely American Jewish voters, “Would you vote to re-elect Barack Obama as president or would you consider voting for someone else?” Only 43 percent answered they would vote for Obama, while 48 percent said they would consider another candidate. Perhaps after decades of Democrats winning the Jewish vote by landslide proportions, such a response ought to encourage Republicans, since slightly less than half of likely Jewish voters would even “consider” an alternative to the incumbent. But this is a long way from a result that shows Obama actually losing the Jewish vote. It says something about the rabidly partisan nature of Jewish Democrats that 43 percent of all likely voters would not even “consider” the possibility of casting a ballot for someone other than the president. Yet Democrats shouldn’t laugh too hard about these figures or other results from this survey.

The data reveals that the vast majority of American Jews still care a great deal about Israel and are concerned about its security and the threats to its existence—threats from Iran, as well as from Arab countries and terrorist groups. Large majorities disapprove of pressures on Israel to return to its 1967 borders or to divide Jerusalem. They worry about terrorism at home and terrorism directed toward Israel. Contrary to the positions of many American Jewish groups, 58 percent oppose the building of a mosque near the site of Ground Zero in New York City. More ominously for Democrats, only 26 percent said they thought Obama favored Israel versus the Palestinians.

But the news isn’t all bad for the Democrats. The poll indicates a large majority of Jews believe Obama is doing a good job—both overall and in terms of defense and security policies. Even more encouraging for Democrats, 75 percent still rank economic and social issues as their top priorities, positions that make it difficult for the GOP to leverage Obama’s record on Israel as a wedge issue. Nevertheless, given the perilous state of the economy, the Jewish vote may be in play–concerns about Israel notwithstanding.

Even if you take the “would you consider” question about support for Obama with a shovelful of salt, it must be admitted that Obama’s Jewish backing appears soft at best. While the fights he has picked with Israel’s government may not convince a majority of Jews to vote for the GOP, it will probably influence enough votes to diminish his final numbers. Next year, if Republicans nominate a candidate not linked to the Christian right, then the 48 percent not committed to Obama will be taken more seriously. Either way, it will be difficult for the president to even approach the smashing 77 percent of Jewish voters who chose him in 2008.

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Don’t Exaggerate Ron Paul’s Influence

Ron Paul’s announcement today that he won’t run for re-election to the House has kick-started the effort to evaluate his place in history. In the Atlantic, Chris Good starts the discussion by giving Paul credit for changing the Republican Party and pushing it closer to the libertarians and vice versa. But let’s not exaggerate Paul’s influence.

Though he has a dedicated and enthusiastic cadre of followers who have used the Internet to good effect, his crowd should not be confused with the broad-based Tea Party movement that emerged in reaction to the stimulus and Obamacare in 2009. There was, and is, some overlap between the dedicated libertarian ideologues and the Tea Partiers, but the latter is more of a traditional, small government, anti-tax revolt while Paul’s intrepid band of supporters represent not only a very different demographic but different views about a host of other issues. The difference between the two is best measured by the distinction between Paul and Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party heroine.

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Ron Paul’s announcement today that he won’t run for re-election to the House has kick-started the effort to evaluate his place in history. In the Atlantic, Chris Good starts the discussion by giving Paul credit for changing the Republican Party and pushing it closer to the libertarians and vice versa. But let’s not exaggerate Paul’s influence.

Though he has a dedicated and enthusiastic cadre of followers who have used the Internet to good effect, his crowd should not be confused with the broad-based Tea Party movement that emerged in reaction to the stimulus and Obamacare in 2009. There was, and is, some overlap between the dedicated libertarian ideologues and the Tea Partiers, but the latter is more of a traditional, small government, anti-tax revolt while Paul’s intrepid band of supporters represent not only a very different demographic but different views about a host of other issues. The difference between the two is best measured by the distinction between Paul and Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party heroine.

Paul and Bachmann may agree on some issues, but his take on drug laws, gay marriage and other libertarian touchstones is as different from her stands as night and day. The point is that although libertarian thinking within Republican circles did get a boost from Paul’s supporters, it’s unclear whether his influence has been all that profound. Good’s assertion that Paul libertarians have assumed an important role within the GOP is unsubstantiated (other than Paul’s Kentuckian son, Rand, who was elected to the U.S. Senate). Also unsubstantiated is Good’s belief that “without his [Paul’s] public campaign against the federal reserve and government interference in people’s lives, the Tea Party’s small-government flavor wouldn’t be the same.” Tea Party activists and social conservatives, who still make up the grass roots of the Republican Party, may agree with Paul’s suspicion of government, but they do not subscribe to his ideology.

The proof that Good puts forward for this point of view is the drift of the GOP toward an anti-war, neo-isolationist view about the conflicts in Afghanistan and Libya. This view bears the hallmark of Paul’s hostility to American entanglement in foreign affairs. In particular, he credits Paul’s influence for Mitt Romney’s contradictory positions on Afghanistan. But we have yet to see whether those who hold such views (and it’s far from clear that this list would include Romney) are even close to prevailing in the party. It’s important to note the two GOP candidates who are unabashed opponents of a strong U.S. foreign policy, Paul and Jon Huntsman (and Huntsman does so from a traditional “realist” point of view, rather than as a libertarian), have little chance to win. The surging Bachmann may oppose intervention in Libya, but aside from this foreign policy arena, she appears to be more closely aligned with the conservative mainstream than anything advocated by Paul.

The evaluation of Ron Paul’s place in American political history may need to wait until post-November 2012. If, as Alana speculates, Paul decides to run as an independent next year after losing badly (again) in the Republican primaries, he could have an outsize impact on the general election by siphoning just enough votes away from the GOP candidate to re-elect Barack Obama. If so, instead of changing the Republican Party, his legacy will be ensuring four more years of Democratic rule in Washington.

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Remember When I Said No Grand Bargains? I Was Right.

So this afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made an explicit proposal to raise the debt ceiling three times before the next election in an almost automatic fashion. The proposal separates the entire question of the credit-worthiness of the United States—the threat to which is the disaster the president and Tim Geithner have been warning about—from the partisan struggles over spending cuts and tax hikes. (Jen Rubin lays out how it works here.) In almost fiendishly clever fashion, McConnell is calling the president’s bluff. He is agreeing that the immediate crisis must be resolved, and so is taking steps to resolve it. And he is saying that the parties are just too far apart on questions of core principle to make a bigger deal.

McConnell’s ploy has the Left spluttering—”This proposal from McConnell is DC at its absolute worst. Screw solving problems; let’s see how to blame the other guy for my fecklessness,” writes one liberal think-tanker on Twitter. And it has some of the Right, notably Erick Erickson of Red State, screaming like banshees over McConnell’s “capitulation”—Erickson believing, apparently, that conservatives can somehow compel Obama and the Democrats, who hold the the majority in the Senate, to do their bidding.

The problem with the outrage is this: There is no consensus on deep spending cuts or tax increases. If it were otherwise, there would be a deal tonight.

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So this afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made an explicit proposal to raise the debt ceiling three times before the next election in an almost automatic fashion. The proposal separates the entire question of the credit-worthiness of the United States—the threat to which is the disaster the president and Tim Geithner have been warning about—from the partisan struggles over spending cuts and tax hikes. (Jen Rubin lays out how it works here.) In almost fiendishly clever fashion, McConnell is calling the president’s bluff. He is agreeing that the immediate crisis must be resolved, and so is taking steps to resolve it. And he is saying that the parties are just too far apart on questions of core principle to make a bigger deal.

McConnell’s ploy has the Left spluttering—”This proposal from McConnell is DC at its absolute worst. Screw solving problems; let’s see how to blame the other guy for my fecklessness,” writes one liberal think-tanker on Twitter. And it has some of the Right, notably Erick Erickson of Red State, screaming like banshees over McConnell’s “capitulation”—Erickson believing, apparently, that conservatives can somehow compel Obama and the Democrats, who hold the the majority in the Senate, to do their bidding.

The problem with the outrage is this: There is no consensus on deep spending cuts or tax increases. If it were otherwise, there would be a deal tonight.

Obama won’t say what spending cuts he will support; Republicans won’t say what form of tax increases they might accept. In other words, no deal is possible. The notion of using the threat of the debt ceiling to compel the other side to make a deal—originally a conservative conceit before Obama decided to use it for his own ends as well—was too clever by half. People can scream all they like, but some form of the McConnell proposal is what is almost certainly going to be the way we go. The 2012 election is the venue where this will all get sorted out.

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Is Ron Paul Setting the Stage for a Third-Party Run?

Rep. Ron Paul announced today, via Tweet, that he will not be seeking reelection after 22 years in office. Instead, he says he’ll be directing all of his attention toward his presidential campaign:

“I felt it was better that I concentrate on one election,” Paul said. “It’s about that time when I should change tactics.”

His announcement will give enough time for anyone with aspirations for his seat to think about running, he said. Paul didn’t want to wait for filing in the 2012 primary to let people know he wasn’t seeking reelection.

“I didn’t want to hold off until in December,” he said. “I thought it shouldn’t be any later than now.”

The announcement comes as a surprise — even Paul’s congressional staffers only found out this morning, Reason’s Mike Riggs reports. And it’s left some, including Riggs, to wonder whether Paul will run as a third-party candidate if he loses the Republican nomination.

I contacted Paul’s campaign spokesperson Gary Howard, who denied Paul was considering a third-party run. “No. Dr. Paul is running to win the GOP nomination for President,” Howard told me over email. “So that’s an option the congressman has completely taken off the table for 2012?” I asked, but haven’t received a reply.

During Paul’s long-shot Republican presidential campaign in 2008, there were rumors he might run as a third-party candidate. He never did, possibly because of a contractual obligation in the GOP primaries that prevented him from running under a different party if he failed to secure the nomination.

The congressman’s assertion that he wants to direct his attention to the presidential race is definitely understandable. But in 2008, Paul’s focus on the primaries didn’t seem to get in the way of his congressional reelection. He closed down his campaign in March, 2008 (long after it was clear he had no chance at winning the nomination), and won reelection to Congress easily. Of course, if he was simultaneously running as a third-party presidential candidate, then that would have been much more difficult to do.

Rep. Ron Paul announced today, via Tweet, that he will not be seeking reelection after 22 years in office. Instead, he says he’ll be directing all of his attention toward his presidential campaign:

“I felt it was better that I concentrate on one election,” Paul said. “It’s about that time when I should change tactics.”

His announcement will give enough time for anyone with aspirations for his seat to think about running, he said. Paul didn’t want to wait for filing in the 2012 primary to let people know he wasn’t seeking reelection.

“I didn’t want to hold off until in December,” he said. “I thought it shouldn’t be any later than now.”

The announcement comes as a surprise — even Paul’s congressional staffers only found out this morning, Reason’s Mike Riggs reports. And it’s left some, including Riggs, to wonder whether Paul will run as a third-party candidate if he loses the Republican nomination.

I contacted Paul’s campaign spokesperson Gary Howard, who denied Paul was considering a third-party run. “No. Dr. Paul is running to win the GOP nomination for President,” Howard told me over email. “So that’s an option the congressman has completely taken off the table for 2012?” I asked, but haven’t received a reply.

During Paul’s long-shot Republican presidential campaign in 2008, there were rumors he might run as a third-party candidate. He never did, possibly because of a contractual obligation in the GOP primaries that prevented him from running under a different party if he failed to secure the nomination.

The congressman’s assertion that he wants to direct his attention to the presidential race is definitely understandable. But in 2008, Paul’s focus on the primaries didn’t seem to get in the way of his congressional reelection. He closed down his campaign in March, 2008 (long after it was clear he had no chance at winning the nomination), and won reelection to Congress easily. Of course, if he was simultaneously running as a third-party presidential candidate, then that would have been much more difficult to do.

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Polygamists Challenge Utah Bigamy Law

The news that the Sister Wives reality show stars are filing a lawsuit challenging the anti-polygamy laws in Utah doesn’t come as a major shock. The show has always seemed like its agenda was to “normalize” polygamous relationships – “see how they have adorable children and chip in on the household responsibilities and have regular jobs, just like a real family?” – so an eventual legal challenge seemed like the logical course it would take.

If you’ve never seen the show, it follows a Utah ad salesman named Kody Brown who lives with his wife and three other women who he calls his “spiritual spouses,” as well as their brood of 16 kids. Unlike the fundamentalist Mormon polygamists you see marrying 15-year-old girls dressed in Pilgrim attire, the Browns strive to come across as the typical modern American family. They dress in regular clothes, the women aren’t blatantly subservient to their “husband,” and they all hold ordinary jobs.

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The news that the Sister Wives reality show stars are filing a lawsuit challenging the anti-polygamy laws in Utah doesn’t come as a major shock. The show has always seemed like its agenda was to “normalize” polygamous relationships – “see how they have adorable children and chip in on the household responsibilities and have regular jobs, just like a real family?” – so an eventual legal challenge seemed like the logical course it would take.

If you’ve never seen the show, it follows a Utah ad salesman named Kody Brown who lives with his wife and three other women who he calls his “spiritual spouses,” as well as their brood of 16 kids. Unlike the fundamentalist Mormon polygamists you see marrying 15-year-old girls dressed in Pilgrim attire, the Browns strive to come across as the typical modern American family. They dress in regular clothes, the women aren’t blatantly subservient to their “husband,” and they all hold ordinary jobs.

And unlike typical religious fundamentalists, they’re not challenging anti-polygamy statutes as a violation of their religious freedom. They’re opposing them on the same grounds gay activists overturned anti-sodomy laws in 2003:

Law enforcement officials in the Browns’ home state, Utah, announced soon after the show began that the family was under investigation for violating the state law prohibiting polygamy.

On Wednesday, the Browns are expected to file a lawsuit to challenge the polygamy law.

The lawsuit is not demanding that states recognize polygamous marriage. Instead, the lawsuit builds on a 2003 United States Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state sodomy laws as unconstitutional intrusions on the “intimate conduct” of consenting adults. It will ask the federal courts to tell states that they cannot punish polygamists for their own “intimate conduct” so long as they are not breaking other laws, like those regarding child abuse, incest or seeking multiple marriage licenses.

In Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent from Lawrence v. Texas, he predicted the Supreme Court’s conclusion could eventually open the door to polygamous relationships. Regardless of whether you agree with the court’s ruling, this news indicates that Scalia’s “slippery slope” argument was pretty accurate, as least as it relates to polygamy.

What makes this even more interesting is that the mainstream Mormon Church (LDS) has been one of the staunchest and most vocal opponents to gay rights, and helped fund the successful Proposition 8 campaign against gay marriage in California (LDS opposes polygamy as well). To have some fringe Mormon fundamentalists profiting off the victories of the gay rights movement – and at the same time giving credence to the “slippery slope” argument that’s often used by critics of gay marriage – is understandably distressing for both the LDS church and gay marriage advocates.

And it’s easy to see where this path may lead. If the Brown’s are successful in their lawsuit, is it a leap to see how polygamous marriage could be next? As Charles Krauthammer wrote back in 2006:

After all, if traditional marriage is defined as the union of (1) two people of (2) opposite gender, and if, as advocates of gay marriage insist, the gender requirement is nothing but prejudice, exclusion and an arbitrary denial of one’s autonomous choices in love, then the first requirement — the number restriction (two and only two) — is a similarly arbitrary, discriminatory and indefensible denial of individual choice.

Krauthammer is right. And while it may not be fair to equate polygamy with gay marriage (I believe polygamy is a lifestyle choice, while being gay is not), it seems likely polygamists can build a solid case on the basis of the legal victories of the gay rights movement. And this might be happening sooner than many people expected.

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Debt Ceiling Debate Has Heavy Element of Theatrics

The current debate about raising the debt ceiling is important, but there’s a heavy element of theatrics involved here that the media loves to contribute to. And like so many debates in Washington, its importance is exaggerated. For example, right now the media commentary would have you believe this is a pivotal moment in the Obama presidency, and that he’s taking steps to transform himself from a big-spending liberal to the Only Adult in Washington who wants to tackle the deficit.

Call him Obama the Budget Slayer.

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The current debate about raising the debt ceiling is important, but there’s a heavy element of theatrics involved here that the media loves to contribute to. And like so many debates in Washington, its importance is exaggerated. For example, right now the media commentary would have you believe this is a pivotal moment in the Obama presidency, and that he’s taking steps to transform himself from a big-spending liberal to the Only Adult in Washington who wants to tackle the deficit.

Call him Obama the Budget Slayer.

This storyline is as grounded in reality as Grimm’s Fairy Tale. But even if it were to take hold – and the press is doing all it can to see it does take hold – its significance will be less than many reporters and commentators think. And the reason is this: for all the posturing, for all the maneuvering, and all the front-page stories in Politico, what will matter, at the end of the day, are the conditions–and most especially the economic conditions–in America.

Deals matter, and so do optics. But this deal will not fundamentally re-shape the trajectory of American life or American politics. And once a debt ceiling deal is made and the legislation is passed, its positive effects (whatever they may be for Obama) will mostly fade away. And if we had, say, two more months of job growth like we saw in June, when only 18,000 new jobs were added and the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.2 percent, whatever good results Obama might get will evaporate like water droplets on a summer day.

Right now, the press is caught in the moment. But things will settle down, as they usually do; and Obama will be judged on his record, as presidents usually are.

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Obama’s True Position on the Budget

President Obama, with a tremendous assist by many within the media, is attempting to portray himself as a born-again budget cutter, a Man of the Center, a person willing to make a reasonable, grand compromise in the public interest. And the supposed proof of this is the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling.

But what Obama is putting forth is, as Yuval Levin points out here, essentially his budget, only this time with a few new rhetorical bows and ribbons attached. The main source of confusion is about Obama’s supposed willingness to cut entitlement spending in return for higher taxes. In fact, as best as we can tell, what Obama is offering in the main is several hundred billion dollars in Medicare and Medicaid cuts of the kind already embodied in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (e.g., regulatory tinkering of payment rates). That is not structural entitlement reform that Republicans have in mind; it is, in fact, an old and bad Democratic idea (for example, as payment rates to doctors are lowered, volume increases and quality goes down). If Obama were serious about entitlement reform, he would embrace, at least directionally, the Medicare and Medicaid reforms in the budget put forward by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. Read More

President Obama, with a tremendous assist by many within the media, is attempting to portray himself as a born-again budget cutter, a Man of the Center, a person willing to make a reasonable, grand compromise in the public interest. And the supposed proof of this is the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling.

But what Obama is putting forth is, as Yuval Levin points out here, essentially his budget, only this time with a few new rhetorical bows and ribbons attached. The main source of confusion is about Obama’s supposed willingness to cut entitlement spending in return for higher taxes. In fact, as best as we can tell, what Obama is offering in the main is several hundred billion dollars in Medicare and Medicaid cuts of the kind already embodied in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (e.g., regulatory tinkering of payment rates). That is not structural entitlement reform that Republicans have in mind; it is, in fact, an old and bad Democratic idea (for example, as payment rates to doctors are lowered, volume increases and quality goes down). If Obama were serious about entitlement reform, he would embrace, at least directionally, the Medicare and Medicaid reforms in the budget put forward by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

What Obama wants, in other words, is Republican approval of his previous proposals – though this time it would be accompanied by (a) more than a trillion dollars in tax increases; and (b) raising the debt ceiling. This is hardly a compromise, and Republicans would be fools to accept it.

I should add, by the way, that I for one would favor some increases in taxes for genuine reform of entitlements. I would even agree to some higher taxes if Obama agreed to pull the plug on his monstrous health care plan. But that is not what Obama is offering. He’s not giving ground on entitlement programs, and the GOP is not giving ground on taxes. The 2012 election will need to be a debate about what the nation wants to do on those two matters.

In the meantime, the outlines of a deal are fairly clear: after a staggering spending binge, in exchange for some caps on discretionary spending, Obama will get what he says in a moral imperative, raising the debt ceiling, without structural reforms of entitlement programs or tax increases.

It’s not a “grand bargain” or a perfect deal by any means. But it’s a fairly reasonable one, given where we are. And it has the added virtue of taking into account what President Obama’s true position is, as opposed to the mythological one being advanced by some reporters and commentators.

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Israeli Boycott Bill Furor Misses the Point

The passage by Israel’s Knesset yesterday of a bill that seeks redress against those who call for boycotts of the country or, institutions or regions under Israeli control is being blasted throughout the world as an assault on civil rights. Though the legislation does not, strictly speaking, “ban” advocacy for boycotts, it does have the potential to infringe upon freedom of speech. As such, it is a mistake, and yet another in a long history of unforced errors made by the Jewish state in the battle for international public opinion.

However, there is more to this issue than the mere assertion that Israel’s current parliamentary majority is seeking to infringe upon the civil liberties of its citizens. A proper understanding of the issue requires us to see that those seeking to implement boycotts are not merely expressing criticism of government policies but are, in fact, waging economic warfare on Israel. Moreover, such boycotts are not merely symbolic efforts to chide the Jewish state on a particular issue but part of an insidious international conspiracy to strangle a nation. If the majority of Israelis, and it would appear a majority of the country as well as the Knesset backs this measure, it is because they rightly see advocacy of boycotts as racist attacks on their very existence.

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The passage by Israel’s Knesset yesterday of a bill that seeks redress against those who call for boycotts of the country or, institutions or regions under Israeli control is being blasted throughout the world as an assault on civil rights. Though the legislation does not, strictly speaking, “ban” advocacy for boycotts, it does have the potential to infringe upon freedom of speech. As such, it is a mistake, and yet another in a long history of unforced errors made by the Jewish state in the battle for international public opinion.

However, there is more to this issue than the mere assertion that Israel’s current parliamentary majority is seeking to infringe upon the civil liberties of its citizens. A proper understanding of the issue requires us to see that those seeking to implement boycotts are not merely expressing criticism of government policies but are, in fact, waging economic warfare on Israel. Moreover, such boycotts are not merely symbolic efforts to chide the Jewish state on a particular issue but part of an insidious international conspiracy to strangle a nation. If the majority of Israelis, and it would appear a majority of the country as well as the Knesset backs this measure, it is because they rightly see advocacy of boycotts as racist attacks on their very existence.

The bill will allow citizens to sue individuals and groups that call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts. It also prevents the government from doing business with companies that initiate or comply with such boycotts. That will act as a restraint on the assertion of such views and would be considered blatantly unconstitutional in an American civil liberties context. The Israeli Supreme Court may find a way to invalidate it, but let’s remember the context. Unlike the United States, Israel remains a country still living in a state of war with some of its neighbors. Israel’s foes are not, as some in this country falsely assert, merely objecting to its possession of the West Bank and the city of Jerusalem but its very existence. It shouldn’t be too hard to understand why so many of its citizens view advocacy for isolating their nation in this manner to be beyond the pale.

There are, it must be admitted, better ways to fight the boycott than bans on its advocacy, irritating as such speech may be. It would be far better were the bill confined to penalties against those who actively conspire to create or comply with efforts to isolate the country. In a democracy, even a democracy at war, as Israel must be considered to be, mere speech ought not to be considered illegal so long as it does not directly lead to violence.

There will be those who will argue that boycotts of West Bank settlements and institutions located there are defensible. It is true Israelis are divided about the wisdom of the settlement enterprise and some wrongly assert that such communities are illegal. But the idea that the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live on the “wrong” side of the 1967 lines deserve to be singled out for boycotts or that violence against them can be rationalized is hardly an expression of civil debate.

The problem with the boycott bill is it makes those who support the vicious war to extinguish the Jewish state look like free speech martyrs. That’s a mistake. But it is not as great a mistake as a willingness on the part of some Americans to treat support for efforts to isolate, boycott or disinvest from Israel as something about which we can agree to disagree.

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Opting Out of the Murdoch Lynch Mob

I disagree with Roger Cohen on just about everything, but occasionally the New York Times columnist’s journalistic chops get the better of his hyper-liberal bias. Today’s piece by Cohen is an example of this, as he refuses to join the media lynch mob crying for Rupert Murdoch’s scalp. Murdoch is being pilloried for the crimes committed in the last decade by the News of the World, his British tabloid. The paper’s hacking of the e-mail accounts of crime victims and politicians alike is indefensible, and those involved in making those decisions deserve to be punished. But the price being exacted for this scandal seems incommensurate with the crimes that were committed. News Corp’s decision to shut down the paper was an attempt to put the story to sleep, but it didn’t succeed. It now appears as if Murdoch may be denied the right to purchase control of a satellite cable network, as a further penalty for what his critics believe is his malign influence on journalism and politics.

But as Cohen rightly points out, Rupert Murdoch was the best thing that ever happened to British newspapers and has been a positive force in the American media as well.  Rupert Murdoch was not the first press baron in Britain with political influence. Such figures have been key players in British history for more than a century. The idea that shaming Murdoch or depriving him of the right to own a network will fix this supposed problem is absurd. Moreover, although Murdoch is by no means a doctrinaire conservative, we all know that were he a liberal, few of the pundits who want his head would think cutting back his holdings should be an international priority.

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I disagree with Roger Cohen on just about everything, but occasionally the New York Times columnist’s journalistic chops get the better of his hyper-liberal bias. Today’s piece by Cohen is an example of this, as he refuses to join the media lynch mob crying for Rupert Murdoch’s scalp. Murdoch is being pilloried for the crimes committed in the last decade by the News of the World, his British tabloid. The paper’s hacking of the e-mail accounts of crime victims and politicians alike is indefensible, and those involved in making those decisions deserve to be punished. But the price being exacted for this scandal seems incommensurate with the crimes that were committed. News Corp’s decision to shut down the paper was an attempt to put the story to sleep, but it didn’t succeed. It now appears as if Murdoch may be denied the right to purchase control of a satellite cable network, as a further penalty for what his critics believe is his malign influence on journalism and politics.

But as Cohen rightly points out, Rupert Murdoch was the best thing that ever happened to British newspapers and has been a positive force in the American media as well.  Rupert Murdoch was not the first press baron in Britain with political influence. Such figures have been key players in British history for more than a century. The idea that shaming Murdoch or depriving him of the right to own a network will fix this supposed problem is absurd. Moreover, although Murdoch is by no means a doctrinaire conservative, we all know that were he a liberal, few of the pundits who want his head would think cutting back his holdings should be an international priority.

Murdoch is the quintessential anti-establishment figure, a visionary risk taker whose goal has been to create markets not merely to make money (though he certainly has made a great deal of it). Though liberals despise his Fox News Channel, he rightly understood that the liberal monopoly of the mainstream media left a vacuum on the right that the public demanded be filled with content. Like Cohen, I’d bet on Murdoch not only to survive this crisis but to sooner or later come out far ahead.

After all, as bad as the crimes committed by some of Murdoch’s employees were, are they really any worse than a columnist for one of the most influential publications in the world acting as an apologist for a despotic regime and whitewashing its anti-Semitic actions? The point is, if Roger Cohen kept his job after doing just that for Iran, there’s no reason why the employees of the News of the World or Rupert Murdoch should be deprived of either the right to work as journalists or to own media outlets.

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Police Story Shows Anti-Bachmann Bias

Rep. Michele Bachmann called the police after she was assaulted by protesters, had her campaign materials stolen, and her house vandalized, according to police reports obtained by the Miami Herald. Most people would see her reaction as “common sense.” But the Herald apparently sees it as a sign Bachmann is a paranoid/crybaby/controversy-magnet. Seriously:

With a penchant for tough talk and polarizing positions, Republican presidential contender Michele Bachmann is a magnet for controversy — and there’s a trail of police reports to prove it.

She and her staff over the years have requested police protection or investigations when her house was egged; when protesters threw glitter on her or held up critical signs; when her campaign yard signs were stolen; when a man wrote an email perceived as a threat; and when she screamed that two women were holding her hostage “against my will” in a city hall restroom.

The series of police reports from the Stillwater Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota show a side of a candidate rarely seen on the campaign trail, where Bachmann has described herself as having a “titanium spine.”

Get it? So not only is Bachmann a sissy, she’s also a phony for pretending to act tough on the campaign trail.

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Rep. Michele Bachmann called the police after she was assaulted by protesters, had her campaign materials stolen, and her house vandalized, according to police reports obtained by the Miami Herald. Most people would see her reaction as “common sense.” But the Herald apparently sees it as a sign Bachmann is a paranoid/crybaby/controversy-magnet. Seriously:

With a penchant for tough talk and polarizing positions, Republican presidential contender Michele Bachmann is a magnet for controversy — and there’s a trail of police reports to prove it.

She and her staff over the years have requested police protection or investigations when her house was egged; when protesters threw glitter on her or held up critical signs; when her campaign yard signs were stolen; when a man wrote an email perceived as a threat; and when she screamed that two women were holding her hostage “against my will” in a city hall restroom.

The series of police reports from the Stillwater Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota show a side of a candidate rarely seen on the campaign trail, where Bachmann has described herself as having a “titanium spine.”

Get it? So not only is Bachmann a sissy, she’s also a phony for pretending to act tough on the campaign trail.

The Herald even went so far as to track down the man accused of sending Bachmann a threatening email, and interview him about whether he thought Bachmann was crazy:

“She seems paranoid,” said Brad Trandem, a Lakeland, Minn., resident who excoriated Bachmann in an email this year, only to face investigators. “She does all this criticism of other people’s lives and talks about how people should be ‘armed and dangerous.’ But then someone says something critical about her and she calls the police.”

Tandem’s email to Bachmann read: “I would also keep a little closer tabs on the dear hubby if I were you.” It was sent the day after the Gabbie Giffords shooting, when Capitol Hill police urged members of Congress to send them any potentially threatening emails promptly — which Bachmann promptly did.

The absurdly biased Bachmann article gives just a hint of what the Republican nominee will face during the general election. Of course, these sorts of blatantly outrageous media smears will probably end up helping Bachmann’s campaign at this point with conservative voters.

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Obama’s False Premise: This Isn’t 1996

As the debt ceiling talks continue, some in the mainstream media are acting as if President Obama’s attempt to pose as the only grown up in Washington is working. For example, Matt Bai writes in the New York Times political blog, the president is getting the upper hand over the Republican leadership in large part because as unpopular as Obama is, the Congress is even less liked. There’s some truth to that assertion but to assume, as Bai does, this means Obama will be able to emulate Bill Clinton’s victory over a previous generation of House Republicans is far fetched.

While no one, especially the GOP leadership, should underestimate the power of the presidency and the ability of any resident of the White House to upstage and wrong foot members of Congress, the differences between that memorable butt-kicking of Newt Gingrich by Clinton and today’s situation far outweigh any similarities.

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As the debt ceiling talks continue, some in the mainstream media are acting as if President Obama’s attempt to pose as the only grown up in Washington is working. For example, Matt Bai writes in the New York Times political blog, the president is getting the upper hand over the Republican leadership in large part because as unpopular as Obama is, the Congress is even less liked. There’s some truth to that assertion but to assume, as Bai does, this means Obama will be able to emulate Bill Clinton’s victory over a previous generation of House Republicans is far fetched.

While no one, especially the GOP leadership, should underestimate the power of the presidency and the ability of any resident of the White House to upstage and wrong foot members of Congress, the differences between that memorable butt-kicking of Newt Gingrich by Clinton and today’s situation far outweigh any similarities.

The biggest difference is the political savvy of the players on both sides of this battle. Barack Obama is no fool but, as we have seen again and again the past two and a half years, he can’t hold a candle to Clinton when it comes to the basic business of politics. Where Clinton’s appeals to the American people’s basic moderation were effortless, the far more doctrinaire Obama is clearly forcing it when he self-consciously plays the guy who can see both sides of the issue.

On the other hand, while John Boehner and Eric Cantor are not exactly the most brilliant politicians of the era, they are light years ahead of the hubristic and petulant Newt Gingrich, whom Clinton beat like a drum. Boehner and Cantor’s innate caution can make them seem less than inspiring at times, but they understand what their party is supposed to stand for and haven’t forgotten who put them into office. Obama is trying hard to box them in, but the idea the president who broke the bank with the stimulus and Obamacare can sell the public on the notion he is a fiscal conservative is more than a stretch.

As even a new Pew Center poll shows, even after several weeks of relentless pounding on the dangers of not raising the debt ceiling on the part of the president and his cheering section in the media, more Americans are still more worried about the consequences of doing so then they are about the prospect of a default.

The Republicans do have to be careful not to come across as obstructionist, but they also understand the electorate is also not the same as it was in prosperous 1996. The GOP core will not forgive them if they raise taxes, but it is Obama who must worry about being blamed next summer for the disastrous economy. As for the unlikely event of something that approaches a default, all would be blamed for the catastrophe, including the man at the head of the government.

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Iran Clash Much Ado About Nothing

Much is being written about the clash between Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. The two most important things about this spat have so far eluded even the most learned of analyses.

First, if this is a clash, it is more akin to Trotsky against Stalin than, say, Lech Walesa against General Jaruzelsky. The outcome will be a choice between bad and worse. And second, the outcome is a foregone conclusion – the Islamic Republic of Iran without a Supreme Leader (or with a Supreme Leader who has to bow to the president) is no longer the Islamic Republic of Iran – it’s a bit like the Soviet Union giving up Communism. When these two principles are taken into account, interpreting the clash becomes much easier – since the outcome is a foregone conclusion, and its implications are vastly less consequential than people would like them to be.

Much is being written about the clash between Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. The two most important things about this spat have so far eluded even the most learned of analyses.

First, if this is a clash, it is more akin to Trotsky against Stalin than, say, Lech Walesa against General Jaruzelsky. The outcome will be a choice between bad and worse. And second, the outcome is a foregone conclusion – the Islamic Republic of Iran without a Supreme Leader (or with a Supreme Leader who has to bow to the president) is no longer the Islamic Republic of Iran – it’s a bit like the Soviet Union giving up Communism. When these two principles are taken into account, interpreting the clash becomes much easier – since the outcome is a foregone conclusion, and its implications are vastly less consequential than people would like them to be.

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Obama: Unneeded Income Belongs to the Government

President Obama’s press conference yesterday—in which he only took questions from left-leaning reporters apparently–contained an amazing statement. It should be noted the first two instances of the first person singular pronoun in the sentence refer to Barack Obama, President of the United States. The second two refer to Barack Obama, taxpaying citizen:

And I do not want, and I will not accept, a deal in which I am asked to do nothing, in fact, I’m able to keep hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional income that I don’t need, while a parent out there who is struggling to figure out how to send their kid to college suddenly finds that they’ve got a couple thousand dollars less in grants or student loans.

There is, of course, nothing whatever stopping Barack Obama, taxpaying citizen, from donating his excess income to the United States Treasury. But his statement demonstrates an astonishing economic illiteracy. To be sure, someone earning a great deal of money has an income greater than what he spends. You can only spend so much on luxurious living however hard you try, a reality so rich with comic possibilities that a 1902 novel called Brewster’s Millions has been made into a movie no fewer than nine times.

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President Obama’s press conference yesterday—in which he only took questions from left-leaning reporters apparently–contained an amazing statement. It should be noted the first two instances of the first person singular pronoun in the sentence refer to Barack Obama, President of the United States. The second two refer to Barack Obama, taxpaying citizen:

And I do not want, and I will not accept, a deal in which I am asked to do nothing, in fact, I’m able to keep hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional income that I don’t need, while a parent out there who is struggling to figure out how to send their kid to college suddenly finds that they’ve got a couple thousand dollars less in grants or student loans.

There is, of course, nothing whatever stopping Barack Obama, taxpaying citizen, from donating his excess income to the United States Treasury. But his statement demonstrates an astonishing economic illiteracy. To be sure, someone earning a great deal of money has an income greater than what he spends. You can only spend so much on luxurious living however hard you try, a reality so rich with comic possibilities that a 1902 novel called Brewster’s Millions has been made into a movie no fewer than nine times.

But, unlike Scrooge McDuck, the rich do not put the excess in a vast money bin and frolic about in it. They invest it. What a concept! Where does Obama think new capital comes from, the tooth fairy? It’s nothing more than the excess of income over outgo. Take away the income the rich “don’t need” and spend it on social programs, and capital formation in this country drops to zero.

So determined is Obama to deprive “the rich” of excess income–as defined by him, of course–he is even willing to adversely impact government income in order to do so. Read this colloquy between Obama and ABC’s Charlie Gibson in a 2008 debate with Hillary Clinton:

MR. GIBSON: And in each instance, when the [capital gains tax] rate dropped, revenues from the tax increased. The government took in more money. And in the 1980s, when the tax was increased to 28 percent, the revenues went down. So why raise it at all, especially given the fact that 100 million people in this country own stock and would be affected?

SENATOR OBAMA:  Well, Charlie, what I’’ve said is that I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness.

MR. GIBSON:  But history shows that when you drop the capital gains tax, the revenues go up.

SENATOR OBAMA: Well, that might happen or it might not. It depends on what’’s happening on Wall Street and how business is going.

Actually, it doesn’t. Every time capital gains tax rates have gone up, revenues have gone down and vice versa. High capital gains tax rates, because the tax liability is only incurred when an asset is sold, have the effect of locking in capital, which is economically pernicious, preventing capital from flowing to its most productive, i.e wealth creating, use.

Shortly after Obama’s election in 2008, I wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal (irritatingly no longer available on their website, which archives back only two years) saying Obama might not turn out to be the vanguard of the future but rather the last liberal president. I am more confident in that prediction every day.

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Washington’s Stance on Maritime Border Makes Israel-Lebanon War More Likely

As Omri noted yesterday, Washington is backing Beirut against Jerusalem in their dispute over the Israel-Lebanon maritime border. But by doing so, it isn’t merely cozying up to Hezbollah. It’s actively rewarding aggression – and encouraging war.

Israel and Lebanon never had an agreed upon maritime border. But Lebanon did reach an as-yet unratified agreement with Cyprus in 2007, and Jerusalem and Nicosia later negotiated their own maritime border based on this Lebanon-Cyprus agreement. Last year, however, after Israel announced lucrative gas finds in the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon gave the UN a new map asserting a border well south of the line demarcated in its agreement with Cyprus. By moving the border south, Lebanon also intruded into territory that Israel claims as its Exclusive Economic Zone.

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As Omri noted yesterday, Washington is backing Beirut against Jerusalem in their dispute over the Israel-Lebanon maritime border. But by doing so, it isn’t merely cozying up to Hezbollah. It’s actively rewarding aggression – and encouraging war.

Israel and Lebanon never had an agreed upon maritime border. But Lebanon did reach an as-yet unratified agreement with Cyprus in 2007, and Jerusalem and Nicosia later negotiated their own maritime border based on this Lebanon-Cyprus agreement. Last year, however, after Israel announced lucrative gas finds in the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon gave the UN a new map asserting a border well south of the line demarcated in its agreement with Cyprus. By moving the border south, Lebanon also intruded into territory that Israel claims as its Exclusive Economic Zone.

This sequence of events makes it clear Lebanon is trying to grab territory it never previously considered its own solely to horn in on Israel’s newly discovered gas reserves. As such, the U.S. should have rejected it out of hand. Instead, it reportedly endorsed the new Lebanese map without  even seeking Israel’s response, then told Israel it should either accept the fait accompli or agree to mediation by the notoriously anti-Israel UN, in order to avoid creating an “underwater Shaba Farms.”

Shaba Farms is the territory Hezbollah claimed as Lebanese following Israel’s pullout from Lebanon in order to create a pretext for its continued attacks on Israel. The UN Security Council certified that withdrawal as complete to the last inch in 2000, as UN mapping experts concluded Shaba wasn’t Lebanese.

But after Hezbollah proved in 2006 it was willing to go to war to back its claim, the Security Council rewarded its aggression: Instead of upholding its previous decision, it adopted Resolution 1701, which ordered the UN to demarcate Lebanon’s border wherever it is “disputed or uncertain,” including in Shaba, and created a new mapping commission to do so. The Bush administration subsequently pressured Israel (unsuccessfully) to cede Shaba, bizarrely arguing that rewarding Hezbollah’s aggression would weaken the organization rather than strengthen it.

Beirut clearly learned the lesson: Aggression pays. So now, it’s repeating the tactic. And the Obama administration has adopted its predecessor’s bizarre theory that appeasement will end Lebanon’s aggression rather than encouraging it.

This is particularly irresponsible given the flammable regional context. Hezbollah, which controls Lebanon, has already threatened to go to war with Israel to relieve Western pressure on the Assad regime; Washington has now given it the ideal pretext by assuring it of America’s  backing on this issue.

Moreover, terrorists have just blown up the Egyptian-Israeli gas pipeline for the fourth time in six months. With only 20 percent to 30 percent of the contracted gas from Egypt actually arriving, Israel has had to purchase much more expensive substitutes and now faces an economically brutal 20 percent hike in electricity rates to cover these costs. Israel’s own maritime gas reserves have therefore become critical to its economy, meaning it will presumably fight to defend them.

Thus, by rewarding Lebanon’s aggression, Washington has made war more likely. Can anyone say “smart diplomacy”?

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Debt Ceilings and Grand Bargains: Yes to One, No to the Other

The logic of Barack Obama’s position regarding the debt ceiling is peculiar, to put it mildly. He and his people say it would be catastrophic not to raise the debt ceiling. Then he also says he wants to use the opportunity provided by the debt-ceiling showdown to make major changes in the country’s approach to the federal deficit. Obviously, if you want to avoid an imminent car crash, the thing to do is swerve; you don’t also attempt to re-engineer the engine while you’re driving it. I explore this theme in greater detail in today’s New York Post. You might call this the modest approach to the debt-ceiling issue, and while Obama has rejected a short-term deal, it’s preposterous to believe that faced with an imminent disaster, he wouldn’t sign one. The question is: Why the Grand Bargain? Why the Big Design?

It is increasingly clear that the upcoming election is going to be a national referendum on the future direction of the government and its relation to the economy, just as the 1980 and 1992 elections were; it’s what happens when incumbents are governing at times of economic uncertainty. (And while those elections saw the incumbent turned out, I’m not at all saying the same will happen to Barack Obama.) The parties have wildly divergent ideas about that, and the gap cannot be bridged without some more firm guidance from the electorate. This is not a time for wildly ambitious policy. You can see why Obama would want a deal that would give him the right to claim the mantle of fiscal prudence after his record over the past three years, but the reason Republicans cannot make that deal with him is that they were told without question by their voters last year not to do it.

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The logic of Barack Obama’s position regarding the debt ceiling is peculiar, to put it mildly. He and his people say it would be catastrophic not to raise the debt ceiling. Then he also says he wants to use the opportunity provided by the debt-ceiling showdown to make major changes in the country’s approach to the federal deficit. Obviously, if you want to avoid an imminent car crash, the thing to do is swerve; you don’t also attempt to re-engineer the engine while you’re driving it. I explore this theme in greater detail in today’s New York Post. You might call this the modest approach to the debt-ceiling issue, and while Obama has rejected a short-term deal, it’s preposterous to believe that faced with an imminent disaster, he wouldn’t sign one. The question is: Why the Grand Bargain? Why the Big Design?

It is increasingly clear that the upcoming election is going to be a national referendum on the future direction of the government and its relation to the economy, just as the 1980 and 1992 elections were; it’s what happens when incumbents are governing at times of economic uncertainty. (And while those elections saw the incumbent turned out, I’m not at all saying the same will happen to Barack Obama.) The parties have wildly divergent ideas about that, and the gap cannot be bridged without some more firm guidance from the electorate. This is not a time for wildly ambitious policy. You can see why Obama would want a deal that would give him the right to claim the mantle of fiscal prudence after his record over the past three years, but the reason Republicans cannot make that deal with him is that they were told without question by their voters last year not to do it.

Today, in the New York Times, my friend David Brooks writes the following: “The people in my group (you might call us conservatives) are more likely to embrace a low and steady approach to fiscal policy. Control debt. Control entitlements. Keep tax levels reasonable and the tax code simple. Work on the economic fundamentals: human capital, productivity, labor market flexibility, open trade, saving and investment….[W]e have been astonishingly passive during these budget negotiations. The tax cut brigades and the Medicare/Spending brigades are well organized. The people who believe in balance and the fundamentals sit piously on the sidelines. The tragedy is that in Barack Obama and John Boehner we have leaders who would like to do something big.”

They might like to. But the political system doesn’t want them to.

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