Word is that President Obama either stormed out of budget talks today or left abruptly or spoke sharply and ended the meeting—or something. The Democrats say they’ve put $1.7 trillion in cuts on the table, and all they want is some new revenue. The Republicans say those cuts aren’t real and they’re not going to be suckered into agreeing that the cuts are real. Watching from the outside, liberals believe the White House and think that Republicans are, at best, insane and at worst, cravenly negotiating in bad faith. Watching from the outside, conservatives believe Obama has demonstrated unseriousness and petulance because he is bluffing and he is having his bluff called and he feels cornered and is lashing out.
How can these people make a deal? They can’t, not on anything substantive. And so, in the end, the much-reviled McConnell option or something very close to it—some series of temporary debt-ceiling increases that take us past Election 2012—will almost certainly be what happens.
In May, the White House moved new media staffer Jesse Lee into a comfy, $72,000-a-year job as Director of Progressive Media & Online Response to deal with President Obama’s social media critics. Lee promptly began using the perch to heckle conservative Twitter users. It was another sign of the president’s thin skin, and it always looks petty when Lee goes after the twitterati.
But he seems to have impressed and inspired one person: Tim Pawlenty, who for some reason has decided what his campaign needs the most is some good old fashioned new media snark.
When Obama was in Europe for the G-8 summit in May, Pawlenty tweeted: “@BarackObama sorry to interrupt the European pub crawl, but what was your Medicare plan?” Yes, the president should put forth a serious plan to address Medicare’s bleak future, but if Pawlenty really wants to become president he might want to find a different way to characterize a G-8 summit during a global financial crisis than “European pub crawl.”
As Jonathan wrote this morning, President Obama hauled in an impressive $47 million for his campaign this quarter (or $86 million, if you include the money raised by the DNC).
But, as some pundits have already pointed out, the number falls short of what the Obama campaign will need to average each quarter to meet its $1 billion goal. Perhaps realizing this, Jim Messina sent out an email earlier today, urging Obama supports not to focus on “the sum total we raised.”
The left still has plenty of time to Palin-ize Michele Bachmann (which they’re already working overtime on this week), but Quinnipiac’s new 2012 poll out today has some hopeful news for the congresswoman – and it isn’t just that she’s gaining ground on Mitt Romney with primary voters.
One of the most persuasive criticisms of Bachmann is that she’d be toxic in a general election, and the Quinnipiac poll today reiterated she would lose to Obama 38-50 percent if an election were held today. But it also found that Mitt Romney – whose major draw is that he’s apparently “electable” – only does three points better than Bachmann in an Obama match-up. He would lose to the president 41-50 percent.
James Zogby, the anti-Israel pollster who released these findings today, blames the drop in support for Obama in the Arab world on Obama’s failure to put the amount of pressure on Israel the Arab world wanted and expected. But according to the poll, the Arab world doesn’t seem to be happy with any of America’s foreign policy positions. Respondents rated Obama’s policies as the least popular, when compared with other leaders, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Killing Osama bin Laden also contributed to the Arab world’s negative views of Obama. In all six countries surveyed – Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia – the majority of respondents said killing bin Laden made them “less favorable toward the U.S.” Notably, in Egypt, only 2 percent said the al Qaeda leader’s death made them view America more positively.
I was not one of those conservatives who was vocal in opposing the appointment of Robert Ford as ambassador to Syria. I could see the case for not sending another ambassador to signal our displeasure with the Syrian regime. But I had also met Ford in Baghdad and had been deeply impressed. He was an Arabist in the best sense of the word: someone who spoke Arabic and understood the Arab world without ever losing sight of the fact his job was to represent American interests in the Middle East, not Arab interests in Washington. He was a highly effective diplomat in Iraq, and I figured he could be equally effective in Syria.
As this Washington Post profile makes clear, he has not disappointed. By journeying along with the French ambassador to Hama–the city where so much of the opposition to Bashar al-Assad is centered–Ford has positioned the U.S. on the side of the demonstrators and against the odious regime. The regime struck back by sending a mob to assault the U.S. and French embassies, but this only provoked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to issue a statement she should have made earlier: namely that Assad has lost the legitimacy to rule and the U.S. has no stake in his continuation in power.
So with the exception of Jennifer Rubin and the editors of the Wall Street Journal, the emerging consensus on the Right is that Sen. Mitch McConnell’s proposal to decouple raising the debt ceiling from spending cuts or tax hikes is a bad idea. Indeed, after sputtering with rage about it in the early going, some on the Left are positively gleeful. McConnell’s concession to reality—the GOP is not going to get the tax cuts it wants or the spending cuts it wants—is an acknowledgement that the GOP “anti-tax hegemony” is dead. See this masterpiece of illogic on Talking Points Memo for this argument, which is like saying that an acknowledgement of a painful political reality at the present moment is equivalent to announcing you have changed your mind about a point of deep principle. The GOP will remain the tax-cut party.
There seems to be a sense on the Right that McConnell’s concession to reality was far too broad, far too soon, and far too permissive—that Obama and the Democrats must be made to account for the increase in the debt limit with significant spending cuts that will at least mitigate in some way the damage they did by piling on new debt in 2009 and 2010, and that McConnell is letting them off the hook. Fair enough; maybe he was. But the question he was attempting to answer is which will be more damaging to the GOP and conservatives generally: Raising the debt limit without making Obama pay or failing to raise the debt limit? McConnell is betting that failing to raise the debt limit, or even contributing to the general uncertainty about whether the debt limit will be raised, is worse for him and his party.
The headlines tell us that Ahmed Wali Karzai, half brother of President Karzai and himself the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan, was shot dead by one of his longtime lieutenants. What the articles do not tell us is why. That is an indicator of how murky and often incomprehensible Afghan politics are to outsiders–and how difficult to manipulate.
AWK, as he was known, built up a formidable power base during the past decade not only because of his contacts with the president but also because of his contacts with us. He was given vast sums of money by the CIA to provide gunmen who could be deployed against the Taliban. Unfortunately, those payments swelled AWK’s power base and subsidized a vast, corrupt power structure in Kandahar. Tribes and factions that weren’t favored by AWK wound up defecting to the Taliban. Thus, our support for this powerbroker inadvertently fueled the insurgency.
Here’s an illuminating exchange between House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Chairman Ryan points out that injecting competition and choice into the Medicare prescription drug plan led to cost savings that are more than 40 percent below what the projections were. (James Capretta and I wrote about this a few years ago.) This is precisely the type of reform Republicans want to make to Medicare more broadly.
The success of the Medicare prescription drug plan is not only impressive but also instructive. It’s been said you can prove the possible by the actual, and in this case the actual savings — based on free-market reforms — are significant and undeniable. It eviscerates the argument made by liberal critics that the entitlement reforms conservatives are offering are untested theories, ones that are abstract and dangerous.
In fact, conservatives are simply building on what works. And even Secretary Sebelius cannot deny what we know to be true.
President Obama said yesterday he cannot guarantee Social Security checks will go out on August 3 if there is not a debt-ceiling agreement soon — because “there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it.” Senator Marco Rubio told Rush Limbaugh there was a concession implicit in the president’s remark that should trouble Americans:
SENATOR RUBIO: What Americans should realize, “Hold on a second, my Social Security check and my Medicare benefits are borrowed? The money that you’re using to pay for my Social Security are borrowed? I thought I paid into a trust fund. I thought I worked my whole life to pay into some system and now you’re paying my money back and you’re claiming that the money is being borrowed?” That’s what they’re basically conceding when they’re saying this.
RUSH: Yeah. You know, that’s exactly right. We always thought Social Security was in a lockbox.
SENATOR RUBIO: Well, maybe a Chinese lockbox because that’s what we’re borrowing the money from.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton gave Israel some good advice yesterday when he said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that it ought not to be obsessing about the Palestinians’ attempt to get the UN General Assembly to vote to recognize an independent Palestinian state. Bolton, who says he is considering entering the Republican presidential race later this year, advised the Israelis to ignore the General Assembly’s vote, because only the Security Council has any power to create such a state.
This flies in the face of much of the advice the Israelis have been getting, especially from an Obama administration that would prefer not to have to veto the Palestinian initiative in the Security Council. But Bolton, who said Barack Obama was “the most anti-Israel president in the history of the state,” could make this problem go away with the same ease the first president Bush defused a threat to allow the PLO membership to the world body in 1989: simply threaten to defund the UN. Bolton said all the effort expended on the Palestinians distract both Washington and Jerusalem from the real threat: Iran.
The United States’ cyberwarfare capabilities, especially our cyberdefense capabilities, suck. They’re just awful. They sucked in 2006 when someone – we don’t know who – broke into the State Department’s computers and hauled off terabytes of data. They sucked in 2007 when the Department of Commerce had to keep the Bureau of Industrial Security’s computers offline for months after they were compromised. They sucked in 2008 when several congressional offices and the campaigns of both presidential candidates were hacked by foreign intruders. They sucked so much in 2009 that Wired’s Danger Room posted an article titled “3 Reasons Why U.S. Cybersecurity Sucks.”
So naturally, there are now calls being made to cut the Pentagon’s electronic warfare budget. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that’s nonpartisan in that it has attacked both Democrats and Republicans for not raising taxes enough, doesn’t think the military has done enough to embrace austerity:
While most citizens of this blessed republic are pleased to know Anthony Weiner has, at least for the present, faded from the public eye, there appear to be some among the chattering classes who not only mourn his absence but consider the disgraced congressman to be a martyr to the digital age. The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen is one such scribe, and earlier this week, he devoted his column not only to bewailing the injustice done Weiner but also to the awful state of the media and the lack of due process and privacy accorded our elected representatives.
I share the general dismay about the low nature of much of our public discourse; I’m afraid I can’t share Cohen’s outrage about the obsessive scrutiny accorded politicians.
The news today that President Obama has raised $86 million for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee in the last three months has to encourage Democrats who will rightly feel this haul shows their party is well on their way to another record-breaking fundraising effort for a presidential election. But despite the efforts in some quarters to compare the combined totals of the Republican presidential candidates unfavorably to Obama’s figures, there is no reason for the GOP to be discouraged by these numbers.
First, despite the much ballyhooed number of $86 million, that should not be treated as Obama’s total when comparing his fundraising to that of his potential Republican opponents. The president raised a staggering $47 million for his campaign with the rest going to the DNC. It is true the figure dwarfs even the largest totals raised by a Republican — Mitt Romney’s $18.25 million — but that is exactly what you’d expect for an incumbent running against an open field of contenders from the other party. The party that has control of the White House always has an enormous advantage in raising money, so while Democrats can be glad they surpassed their goals for the last quarter, this ought not to be interpreted as an indication that 2012 will be a Democratic year. Nor is it necessarily a signal, as some would have it, of disinterest in the GOP candidates.