Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 14, 2011

More Dem Fear-Mongering: Schools Will Shut Down!

Yesterday, the president told us he might have to cut off Social Security checks for seniors unless a debt deal is reached by August 2. And today Sen. Harry Reid turned the fear-mongering up a notch, declaring that failing to come to an agreement by the deadline will mean “no schools for our children.”

“If we don’t reach agreement, it could mean no Soc Sec checks, no paychks 4 troops, no schools for our children,” Reid wrote on Twitter.

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Yesterday, the president told us he might have to cut off Social Security checks for seniors unless a debt deal is reached by August 2. And today Sen. Harry Reid turned the fear-mongering up a notch, declaring that failing to come to an agreement by the deadline will mean “no schools for our children.”

“If we don’t reach agreement, it could mean no Soc Sec checks, no paychks 4 troops, no schools for our children,” Reid wrote on Twitter.

At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein writes Reid’s claim is nothing but pure fantasy and hyperbole:

Continuing to ratchet up his rhetoric, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid falsely claimed on Thursday that a failure to raise the debt limit could mean “no schools for our children.”

But in reality, federal funding only pays for 8.5 percent of the cost of the nation’s elementary and secondary schools, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education (for 2006 to 2007).

And in case that’s not convincing enough for Reid’s supporters, Phil also points out  public schools won’t be open on August 2 anyway, because of something called summer vacation. Indisputable logic.

Obama’s and Reid’s attempts to mislead and gratuitously frighten the public not only make them seem desperate, but also undermines any trust they may have built with the other party. If they’re actually interested in reaching an agreement, it might help if they at least start making good faith arguments.

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Another Cyberattack: 24,000 Files Stolen From Pentagon Computers

Consider this a followup to yesterday’s post about the abysmal state of our cyberdefenses, and about how the last thing we should be doing is cutting the budget for electronic warfare. This morning, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III rolled out the Pentagon’s newest new cyberstrategy (cue this post about DOD’s fixation on changing management schemes), and as part of the rollout, he related an anecdote from March.

Apparently, someone penetrated the Pentagon’s computers and transferred 24,000 files to parts unknown. Oops:

The Defense Department lost 24,000 files to “foreign intruders” in the spring in what appears to be one of the most damaging cyberattacks to date on the U.S. military, a top Pentagon official acknowledged Thursday. But Lynn said that, over the past few years, all manner of data has been stolen, some of it mundane, some of it concerning “our most sensitive systems, including aircraft avionics, surveillance technologies, satellite communications systems, and network security protocols… It is a significant concern that over the past decade, terabytes of data have been extracted by foreign intruders from corporate networks of defense companies,” Lynn said.

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Consider this a followup to yesterday’s post about the abysmal state of our cyberdefenses, and about how the last thing we should be doing is cutting the budget for electronic warfare. This morning, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III rolled out the Pentagon’s newest new cyberstrategy (cue this post about DOD’s fixation on changing management schemes), and as part of the rollout, he related an anecdote from March.

Apparently, someone penetrated the Pentagon’s computers and transferred 24,000 files to parts unknown. Oops:

The Defense Department lost 24,000 files to “foreign intruders” in the spring in what appears to be one of the most damaging cyberattacks to date on the U.S. military, a top Pentagon official acknowledged Thursday. But Lynn said that, over the past few years, all manner of data has been stolen, some of it mundane, some of it concerning “our most sensitive systems, including aircraft avionics, surveillance technologies, satellite communications systems, and network security protocols… It is a significant concern that over the past decade, terabytes of data have been extracted by foreign intruders from corporate networks of defense companies,” Lynn said.

The article goes on to note how in 2008 malicious code penetrated classified Pentagon servers after someone stuck an infected thumb drive into their laptops. The phrase “digital beachhead” makes an appearance, as does the phrase “spread undetected.” Terrific.

In other news, the hacking group Anonymous stole 90,000 military emails and passwords from Booz Allen Hamilton last week and released them on Monday. Someone in the company forgot to lock down a server properly, and that was all it took. The concern is that those same email/password combinations will work on multiple systems – because no one ever listens to security specialists who advise against reusing passwords on multiple accounts – which would expose classified systems. Presumably that risk has been mitigated, and everyone affected has changed vulnerable passwords. But the incident begs a more fundamental question: given that this unsecured server was just sitting there on the Internet, how many “foreign intruders” got there before Anonymous did? And how long did they have to test out the emails and passwords they lifted?

I’m borrowing this analogy from a CSIS briefing paper, but if someone backed a truck into the Pentagon, smashed out all the windows, loaded the truck with 24,000 files, and then drove away – that’s something that would make the news. People would mention it. But because we don’t appreciate the extent or impact of ongoing cyberwarfare, the March incident won’t even be a blip in the news cycle. It’s positively surreal.

The only thing that’s more surreal is the suggestion we should shift resources away from cybersecurity and into entitlements, lest someone ask seniors to wait a few more months before they become eligible for Medicare. What an unmitigated disaster that would be.

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Netanyahu’s Right to Back Away From Another Superfluous Bill

It was to be expected the Knesset’s passage on Monday of an ill-considered law allowing citizens to sue those who advocate boycotts of Israel or Israeli regions and institution would generate criticism of the Jewish state. The best that can be said of this episode is that the rebukes issued by both the United States and the European Union were fairly mild, and that appears to be as far as it will go. Even better news is that Prime Minister Netanyahu, who took responsibility for the legislation’s success, seems to understand that however justifiable the law may seem to most Israelis, further measures are a mistake.

Though (as I wrote on Tuesday), this legislation was a mistake, worries about the future of Israeli democracy are absurd. Israel remains a vibrant and free democracy, especially when compared to the civil liberties records of other democracies when they are at war. Anti-boycott laws are quite common around the democratic world, and though this particular legislation is wrong-headed because it allows speech rather than material acts enforcing an illegal boycott to be punished, the idea it represents an effort to stifle legitimate dissent cannot be sustained.

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It was to be expected the Knesset’s passage on Monday of an ill-considered law allowing citizens to sue those who advocate boycotts of Israel or Israeli regions and institution would generate criticism of the Jewish state. The best that can be said of this episode is that the rebukes issued by both the United States and the European Union were fairly mild, and that appears to be as far as it will go. Even better news is that Prime Minister Netanyahu, who took responsibility for the legislation’s success, seems to understand that however justifiable the law may seem to most Israelis, further measures are a mistake.

Though (as I wrote on Tuesday), this legislation was a mistake, worries about the future of Israeli democracy are absurd. Israel remains a vibrant and free democracy, especially when compared to the civil liberties records of other democracies when they are at war. Anti-boycott laws are quite common around the democratic world, and though this particular legislation is wrong-headed because it allows speech rather than material acts enforcing an illegal boycott to be punished, the idea it represents an effort to stifle legitimate dissent cannot be sustained.

That said, Netanyahu’s announcement today that he would not support a bill authorizing Knesset investigations of left-wing, non-profit and non-governmental organizations in the country that often seek to besmirch Israel’s reputation was the right decision. Though the criticisms of these NGOs that are often funded from abroad are entirely justified, the notion of creating a Knesset Star Chamber to grill them is unseemly and, as Netanyahu noted, unnecessary. This statement immediately set off a ruckus between the prime minister and his Yisrael Beitenu coalition partners, but Netanyahu was correct to say so.

However foolish the passage of this law may seem to Americans, it is vital they understand why Israelis feel it is necessary. As Israel Harel wrote in today’s Haaretz, the bill may be superfluous, but the driving force behind it wasn’t right wing politics but a natural reaction on the part of most Israelis to the relentless campaign to delegitimize their country. As Harel says:

The ones spurring these legislative initiatives are the organizations that use foreign funding to besmirch the state and its military, to prosecute Israel Defense Forces officers abroad and to change the state’s Jewish-Zionist identity.

Anyone who claims Israeli democracy is being subverted by such laws needs to reckon with the fact the attacks on the country make such measures seem entirely reasonable to the majority of Israelis.

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Re: The Strategic Storm-Out

John suggests President’s Obama’s walkout yesterday was not a fit of pique, but reflected polling showing Republicans will be blamed if the debt ceiling is not raised. Perhaps Obama has learned what Henry Kissinger once said was an important principle in negotiations: never get angry, except on purpose. But this anger seems childish: the president who asked 10 days ago that no one issue ultimatums is now issuing angry ones, telling Republicans they must raise the taxes he could not get a Democratic Congress to raise — or Grandma is toast.

Is there no one willing to get intentionally angry about the way laws are now being made: a Gang of [Enter Number] meets in secret, followed by secret talks with the Vice President, followed by secret talks at the White House, concluding with major legislation enacted a day after the legislative language is prepared, with the public finding out what’s in the law after that. Why not enact a 90-day extension of the debt ceiling, with a requirement that the President produce a public proposal with sufficient specificity that it can be scored, evaluated and debated — and then have negotiations on C-SPAN, as he once promised while in a calmer mood.

John suggests President’s Obama’s walkout yesterday was not a fit of pique, but reflected polling showing Republicans will be blamed if the debt ceiling is not raised. Perhaps Obama has learned what Henry Kissinger once said was an important principle in negotiations: never get angry, except on purpose. But this anger seems childish: the president who asked 10 days ago that no one issue ultimatums is now issuing angry ones, telling Republicans they must raise the taxes he could not get a Democratic Congress to raise — or Grandma is toast.

Is there no one willing to get intentionally angry about the way laws are now being made: a Gang of [Enter Number] meets in secret, followed by secret talks with the Vice President, followed by secret talks at the White House, concluding with major legislation enacted a day after the legislative language is prepared, with the public finding out what’s in the law after that. Why not enact a 90-day extension of the debt ceiling, with a requirement that the President produce a public proposal with sufficient specificity that it can be scored, evaluated and debated — and then have negotiations on C-SPAN, as he once promised while in a calmer mood.

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Re: Recent Gallup Poll Not Surprising

Pete is exactly right when he says that the Gallup poll finding low approval ratings for President Obama isn’t surprising, and that these numbers are clearly bad for his reelection hopes.

This helps explain the president’s obvious anxiety over the raising the debt limit. As John Sides explains, the conventional wisdom that Bill Clinton benefited from winning his showdown with Newt Gingrich in 1995 is only half-right. Clinton won by Gingrich losing, but the president himself didn’t experience much help in the polls at the time. So Mitch McConnell may be right that the Republican Congress will lose this showdown, but that is cold comfort to Obama, who isn’t running against McConnell or John Boehner or even Eric Cantor. Obama is running against, for now, “generic Republican,” who holds an eight-point lead over him.

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Pete is exactly right when he says that the Gallup poll finding low approval ratings for President Obama isn’t surprising, and that these numbers are clearly bad for his reelection hopes.

This helps explain the president’s obvious anxiety over the raising the debt limit. As John Sides explains, the conventional wisdom that Bill Clinton benefited from winning his showdown with Newt Gingrich in 1995 is only half-right. Clinton won by Gingrich losing, but the president himself didn’t experience much help in the polls at the time. So Mitch McConnell may be right that the Republican Congress will lose this showdown, but that is cold comfort to Obama, who isn’t running against McConnell or John Boehner or even Eric Cantor. Obama is running against, for now, “generic Republican,” who holds an eight-point lead over him.

So Boehner and McConnell want to raise the debt ceiling, and understandably so. But notice how unperturbed Mitt Romney seems about the possibility of missing that deadline. Same with Michele Bachmann.

Sides follows through on the thought experiment: “what if the meltdown led to, say, 1-2 months of bond rating markdowns, stock market convulsions, disruptions of key government services, and wall-to-wall media coverage of the same? What happens to Obama’s approval rating in that time? My bet is that, just as with Clinton in 1995, it goes down.”

That sounds about right. And I think Obama knows this. How much lower can he afford to have his ratings go? Voters may blame Cantor more than they blame Obama, but “generic Republican” had nothing to do with this. The unemployment rate in 1995 was 5.6 percent. It is currently 9.2 percent. If I were Obama, I’d be nervous too. I’d just try not to show it as much.

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Obama Owns America’s Funk

Earlier today, I highlighted a new Gallup poll showing that President Obama is trailing a generic Republican candidate by eight points. This poll helps to explain why.

Americans’ satisfaction with the way things are going in the country fell to 16 percent in July, the lowest in more than two years. (In February 2009, during the height of the Great Recession, satisfaction with the way things were going in the country was one point lower, at 15 percent.)

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Earlier today, I highlighted a new Gallup poll showing that President Obama is trailing a generic Republican candidate by eight points. This poll helps to explain why.

Americans’ satisfaction with the way things are going in the country fell to 16 percent in July, the lowest in more than two years. (In February 2009, during the height of the Great Recession, satisfaction with the way things were going in the country was one point lower, at 15 percent.)

Democrats’ satisfaction has dropped the most, from 35 percent in June to 25 percent this month. Independents’ satisfaction in July is only 14 percent, while the figure for Republicans was less than one in ten (9 percent).

America is in a funk, and Barack Obama owns the funk.

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Pollsters Slam WaPo’s “Hit Job” on Jewish Poll

Pollsters John McLaughlin and Pat Caddell defended their Jewish voters poll against heavy criticism today, charging that a recent Washington Post article disputing their findings was a biased “hit job.”

“I probably know more about polling in my little finger, over 40 years, than that person [Washington Post polling manager Peyton Craighill] has ever,” Caddell told me during a conference call with reporters.

On Greg Sargent’s Washington Post blog, Craighill claimed the McLaughlin-Caddell survey was “a clear example of advocacy polling” that did not “represent neutral, independent research.”

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Pollsters John McLaughlin and Pat Caddell defended their Jewish voters poll against heavy criticism today, charging that a recent Washington Post article disputing their findings was a biased “hit job.”

“I probably know more about polling in my little finger, over 40 years, than that person [Washington Post polling manager Peyton Craighill] has ever,” Caddell told me during a conference call with reporters.

On Greg Sargent’s Washington Post blog, Craighill claimed the McLaughlin-Caddell survey was “a clear example of advocacy polling” that did not “represent neutral, independent research.”

The poll — which found that only 42 percent of Jewish Americans would vote for Obama in 2012 – stirred controversy because it was released at a time when Obama has been trying to downplay the perception he’s losing Jewish support.

Caddell stood by his findings during the conference call, and said the Post’s Craighill is in no position to attack other pollsters.

“The Washington Post poll for 20-some years has been at the extreme outlier of results between their polling in presidential election racing and where the results were,” said Caddell. “I hardly need a lecture from them.”

The Democratic pollster and Fox News contributor also challenged Sargent and Craighill to a public debate saying, “I have no problem arguing this.”

Caddell and McLaughlin went on to respond to the two major criticisms of their poll: that it allegedly had a skewed sample, and that it asked unfair and leading questions. For example, only 65 percent of their poll respondents said they voted for Obama in 2008, which conflicts with the exit polling data claiming 79 percent of Jews voted for him. Caddell said the sample’s demographics were solid, but  it’s common for many people not to admit voting for a president when he becomes less popular.

In a Washington Post blog, Adam Serwer alleged that certain questions in the poll “primed” respondents to view Obama negatively. For example, one question seemed to suggest Obama had called on Israel to return to the 1967 borders, divide Jerusalem, and accept the right of return. According to Serwer, this question may have tainted the rest of the answers from respondents.

McLaughlin denied this, saying the question was asked late in the poll and wouldn’t have had a big impact. Caddell said the question was simply meant to gauge the respondents’ reaction to a particular argument.

As for the substance of the question, McLaughlin said, “Whether the president supports those ideas or not, we’ll see. But he definitely raised those issues at his speech at the State Department.”

The pollsters have already issued a lengthy Power Point that goes into the details of the survey, but they said they will also post the full questions and the order the questions were asked on the McLaughlin & Associates website. Jewish community polls are notoriously tricky to carry out, and judging the reliability of a poll with such a small sample size (600) is always difficult. But the results do support recent anecdotal evidence that the Jewish community is growing uneasy with Obama’s Israel policies. Maybe Caddell and Sargent can hash these issues out at their debate.

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Re: The Strategic Storm-Out: Obama’s Hand Improves

I agree with John that Obama misspoke when he cautioned Eric Cantor, “don’t call my bluff.” But was it because he meant to say, “don’t call my bet,” thinking he has a winning hand, or because he botched the metaphor, not understanding poker? Poker, after all, is a quintessentially American game, with origins going back to the 18th century and which reached its modern form in the mid-19th on river boats plying the Mississippi and its tributaries. There is so much about this country and its character that seems alien or unfamiliar to the president.

I’m not sure he holds the winning hand. Imagine this scenario. It’s August 1 with no agreement. World financial markets are as jumpy as can be, with wild swings in equities, gold, U.S.  treasuries and commodities. The House passes a bill that raises borrowing authority for three months and imposes spending cuts of $90 billion, a billion a day. Such a bill would, surely, pass the House easily. The bill goes to the Senate. There Harry Reid can keep it off the floor. Would he, and take on the sole responsibility for the impending default? I don’t think so. Would the 53 Democrats in the Senate then vote it down? Not with many of them up for re-election in states that went strongly Republican in 2010. So it goes to the White House. Does Obama sign it, or veto it? If he signs it, he just folded his hand, i.e. he was bluffing. If he vetoes it, he has sole ownership for the consequences of an American default, and they would be ugly. A stroke of the pen and financial markets breathe a huge collective sigh of relief, and we dub it the Obama rally.

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I agree with John that Obama misspoke when he cautioned Eric Cantor, “don’t call my bluff.” But was it because he meant to say, “don’t call my bet,” thinking he has a winning hand, or because he botched the metaphor, not understanding poker? Poker, after all, is a quintessentially American game, with origins going back to the 18th century and which reached its modern form in the mid-19th on river boats plying the Mississippi and its tributaries. There is so much about this country and its character that seems alien or unfamiliar to the president.

I’m not sure he holds the winning hand. Imagine this scenario. It’s August 1 with no agreement. World financial markets are as jumpy as can be, with wild swings in equities, gold, U.S.  treasuries and commodities. The House passes a bill that raises borrowing authority for three months and imposes spending cuts of $90 billion, a billion a day. Such a bill would, surely, pass the House easily. The bill goes to the Senate. There Harry Reid can keep it off the floor. Would he, and take on the sole responsibility for the impending default? I don’t think so. Would the 53 Democrats in the Senate then vote it down? Not with many of them up for re-election in states that went strongly Republican in 2010. So it goes to the White House. Does Obama sign it, or veto it? If he signs it, he just folded his hand, i.e. he was bluffing. If he vetoes it, he has sole ownership for the consequences of an American default, and they would be ugly. A stroke of the pen and financial markets breathe a huge collective sigh of relief, and we dub it the Obama rally.

 

There is one data point supporting the Republicans. The Minnesota government has been shut down since July 1 for lack of a budget. The governor, Mark Dayton–like so many Democratic office holders these days, very rich, thanks in his case to inherited wealth from a department store fortune–demanded new taxes and increased government spending. The Republican controlled legislature refused any new taxes but did increase spending by seven percent, not enough to satisfy Dayton. Now it seems Dayton has just caved and dropped his demand for new taxes, accepting the legislature’s last offer with a few face-saving caveats. John Hinderaker, a Minnesotan and close student of its politics, thinks it’s because he was getting some bad internal polling numbers.

We’ll see what happens next in Washington. It sure will be interesting. It’s going to make the World Series of Poker look like a couple of old ladies playing cribbage for pennies.

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Palestinians to Obama: Don’t Force A State On Us

As the wave of Arab popular protests swept through the Middle East, we heard the disingenuous calls for the Arab Spring to “come to Israel”—as if the Palestinians in Gaza weren’t being ruled by a murderous Palestinian theocracy and those in the West Bank by the corrupt authoritarian Mahmoud Abbas.

But it seems the Palestinians—especially the youth—were unmoved by the anti-Israel incitement and instead have begun to lash out at the stifling and discriminatory state they would be handed over to if Palestinian national independence were fully realized.

Writing at ForeignPolicy.com, Rachel Shabi tries to put as much of the blame on Israel as possible, but she has exposed a central flaw in the drive to create a Palestinian state: There is almost no support among the younger generations of Palestinians for the United States to enable the creation of a Mubarak-like dictatorship in the West Bank and Gaza.

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As the wave of Arab popular protests swept through the Middle East, we heard the disingenuous calls for the Arab Spring to “come to Israel”—as if the Palestinians in Gaza weren’t being ruled by a murderous Palestinian theocracy and those in the West Bank by the corrupt authoritarian Mahmoud Abbas.

But it seems the Palestinians—especially the youth—were unmoved by the anti-Israel incitement and instead have begun to lash out at the stifling and discriminatory state they would be handed over to if Palestinian national independence were fully realized.

Writing at ForeignPolicy.com, Rachel Shabi tries to put as much of the blame on Israel as possible, but she has exposed a central flaw in the drive to create a Palestinian state: There is almost no support among the younger generations of Palestinians for the United States to enable the creation of a Mubarak-like dictatorship in the West Bank and Gaza.

“We see that a dictatorship of over 30 years was gone in two weeks. So why not for Palestinians?” Diana Alzeer, a 23-year-old activist from Ramallah, told Shabi. And Lina, a 27-year-old Jerusalem Arab woman, notices the rights that Israeli women have, and doesn’t think it should be any different for Palestinian women. “It is about complete, dynamic change, rather than the same people running the system,” Lina said. “This is not about territory any more, but about rights—and the same rights for women.”

And what do these young activists think of their leadership’s threat to unilaterally declare statehood via the UN? “If there is a huge fuss and a declaration of statehood, a lot of Palestinians will say it is a big joke and that we are sick of people playing with our destiny,” says Fadi Quran.

This presents President Obama with yet another challenge to his foreign policy. He has inconsistently and cynically supported democracy for some Arabs and not for others. Where do the Palestinians fall? Do they deserve human rights? If so, establishing a state under the current Palestinian Authority, without serious reform, should be off the table.

This also supports Benjamin Netanyahu’s hesitant approach to striking a deal with Abbas. If Mubarak’s fall has taught the Israelis anything, it is that they cannot sign a deal, opposed by the people, with a dictator who is here today but may be gone tomorrow.

So the question remains: Will Obama force an authoritarian state on a freedom-minded Palestinian people?

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Recent Gallup Poll Not Surprising

According to the most recent Gallup Poll,  registered voters by a “significant margin” now say they are more likely to vote for the “Republican Party’s candidate for president” than for President  Obama in the 2012 election. The margin is eight points — 47 percent v. 39 percent. And among the all-important Independents, Obama’s gap is double digits (44 percent v. 34 percent).

In Gallup’s understated conclusion, “President Obama’s re-election prospects do not look very favorable at this point — if the election were held today, as measured by the generic presidential ballot.”

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According to the most recent Gallup Poll,  registered voters by a “significant margin” now say they are more likely to vote for the “Republican Party’s candidate for president” than for President  Obama in the 2012 election. The margin is eight points — 47 percent v. 39 percent. And among the all-important Independents, Obama’s gap is double digits (44 percent v. 34 percent).

In Gallup’s understated conclusion, “President Obama’s re-election prospects do not look very favorable at this point — if the election were held today, as measured by the generic presidential ballot.”

That’s quite right. It’s highly unusual for an incumbent president to be trailing by this large a margin in the summer of his third year. And it’s not good for his re-election prospects to be drawing support from less than 40 percent of the public.

None of this is surprising. Our sickly economy continues to exert a downward pull on this president, just as it would on any president. Obama is not exempt from the rules that apply to everyone else.

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Fitting Cantor for the Gingrich Clown Suit

As I wrote on Tuesday, it has become increasingly clear the goal of President Obama and the Democrats in the debt-ceiling crisis has been to force a seemingly catastrophic event like a default or a facsimile thereof, in order to paint their Republican antagonists as extremists who prize their ideology over the good of the nation. The model for this is the 1995 government shutdown in which President Clinton outmaneuvered the leaders of the Republican Congress. But the one thing they lacked that would allow them to duplicate that turn of events was someone to play the role of Newt Gingrich, the petulant foil who made Clinton’s victory possible.

But in the last couple of days, Democrats are acting as if they’ve found a stand-in for Gingrich: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Today, Majority Leader Harry Reid tore into Cantor in an ad hominem rant on the floor of the Senate that may set back even further the always-testy relationship between the two Houses of Congress. Reid said Cantor was too “childish” to be at the negotiating table at the White House with other leaders and blasted him for leaving previous talks about the debt-ceiling crisis with Vice President Biden. Another member of the Senate leadership, Chuck Schumer, issued a separate attack on Cantor.

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As I wrote on Tuesday, it has become increasingly clear the goal of President Obama and the Democrats in the debt-ceiling crisis has been to force a seemingly catastrophic event like a default or a facsimile thereof, in order to paint their Republican antagonists as extremists who prize their ideology over the good of the nation. The model for this is the 1995 government shutdown in which President Clinton outmaneuvered the leaders of the Republican Congress. But the one thing they lacked that would allow them to duplicate that turn of events was someone to play the role of Newt Gingrich, the petulant foil who made Clinton’s victory possible.

But in the last couple of days, Democrats are acting as if they’ve found a stand-in for Gingrich: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Today, Majority Leader Harry Reid tore into Cantor in an ad hominem rant on the floor of the Senate that may set back even further the always-testy relationship between the two Houses of Congress. Reid said Cantor was too “childish” to be at the negotiating table at the White House with other leaders and blasted him for leaving previous talks about the debt-ceiling crisis with Vice President Biden. Another member of the Senate leadership, Chuck Schumer, issued a separate attack on Cantor.

The spark for this effort to demonize Cantor was a testy exchange between the Virginia congressman and President Obama. But while Cantor did nothing more than stand his ground with the president when they clashed over the question of tax increases, it was Obama who did the childish thing and walked out of the talks. This was odd behavior for the man who is posing as the sole adult in the room. But as one reader said in reaction to a previous post of mine in which I referred to Obama’s “wildly inconsistent” way of conducting the negotiations, such actions are entirely consistent with that of a labor negotiator who is intent on provoking a lockout or a strike. Obama’s goal here is not compromise but a debacle he can blame on the Republicans.

It’s going to take more than a few swipes from Reid or Schumer to fit Cantor for the Gingrich clown suit. Unlike the egotistical Gingrich, whose self-importance and hubris made him the perfect punching bag for the note-perfect Clinton, Cantor is a far more careful politician and not one who has identified himself with extremist members of his caucus. Rather than acting on his own hook as Gingrich seemed to do, Cantor’s role has been one of representing the views of the House majority and, indeed, arguably that of a public at least as wary of more debt and higher taxes as they are of the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling. While he is a tough, experienced political operator, the sober Cantor isn’t sufficiently flamboyant or enough of a wild-eyed radical to be passed off as another egomaniac intent on wrecking the government.

Cantor simply doesn’t give the Democrats enough material to be their all-purpose punching bag. That’s a problem, because without one, their 1995 reprise scenario won’t work.

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The Growing Scandal of Public School Politicking

The battles between teachers unions and Republican governors have had several consistent elements, one of which is the open and inappropriate anti-reform politicking at public schools. Last year, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie proposed cutting state aid to school districts and asked teachers to make minor contributions to their health benefits, he encouraged voters to reject their school budgets (which are subject to public referendum) if their local teachers refused to make the contributions and accept a one-year pay freeze. The Monroe Township School District responded by saddling students with a mandatory homework assignment: They were instructed to interview their parents as to why they were voting against their education. Christie responded with one of the most famous quotes of his tenure, accusing the schools of “using the students like drug mules to carry information back to the classroom.”

Earlier this year, during the fight over Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s proposals to limit union organizing and bargaining power, it came to light that University of Wisconsin professor William J. Cronon may have used his university email account to organize opposition to Walker.

But the most egregious violation of professional ethics–and quite possibly state election laws—was revealed yesterday.

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The battles between teachers unions and Republican governors have had several consistent elements, one of which is the open and inappropriate anti-reform politicking at public schools. Last year, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie proposed cutting state aid to school districts and asked teachers to make minor contributions to their health benefits, he encouraged voters to reject their school budgets (which are subject to public referendum) if their local teachers refused to make the contributions and accept a one-year pay freeze. The Monroe Township School District responded by saddling students with a mandatory homework assignment: They were instructed to interview their parents as to why they were voting against their education. Christie responded with one of the most famous quotes of his tenure, accusing the schools of “using the students like drug mules to carry information back to the classroom.”

Earlier this year, during the fight over Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s proposals to limit union organizing and bargaining power, it came to light that University of Wisconsin professor William J. Cronon may have used his university email account to organize opposition to Walker.

But the most egregious violation of professional ethics–and quite possibly state election laws—was revealed yesterday.

The Lawrence Public School District in Michigan used its robocall alert system to tell students and parents about the effort to recall Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who has joined nationwide efforts to reform public unions. Schools Superintendent John Overley admitted it was a “big mistake” and said “It will never happen again.” More than a mistake, however, the stunt seems to have run afoul of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

Snyder’s reforms bear scant resemblance to those of either Christie or Walker, but they do give the state the power to intervene when districts fall into financial crisis. His reforms deserve far more attention than they are getting—a sentiment that has been expressed by both proud conservatives and hapless Michigan Democrats.

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Stop the Steroids Prosecution Crusade

The mistrial that has been declared today in the federal perjury trial of former baseball great Roger Clemens is an apt moment for both the government and the public to reassess Washington’s ongoing efforts to prosecute suspected steroid users. Now that the wave of superficial moral outrage against those who used so-called performance enhancing drugs is petering out, it is to be hoped that more Americans will see the enormous effort being expended by the federal government to punish men like Barry Bonds, Clemens and cycling star Lance Armstrong as prosecutorial overkill.

Let’s stipulate upfront that steroids are bad and the use of an illegal substance that may or may not actually help you win games or races is not a good thing. But it should never have been made a federal issue, let alone the launching point for a crusade to imprison famous athletes. The government has yet to demonstrate why the use of these substances is so terrible that it justifies the enormous resources that have been marshaled in order to build cases against Bonds, Clemens and Armstrong.

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The mistrial that has been declared today in the federal perjury trial of former baseball great Roger Clemens is an apt moment for both the government and the public to reassess Washington’s ongoing efforts to prosecute suspected steroid users. Now that the wave of superficial moral outrage against those who used so-called performance enhancing drugs is petering out, it is to be hoped that more Americans will see the enormous effort being expended by the federal government to punish men like Barry Bonds, Clemens and cycling star Lance Armstrong as prosecutorial overkill.

Let’s stipulate upfront that steroids are bad and the use of an illegal substance that may or may not actually help you win games or races is not a good thing. But it should never have been made a federal issue, let alone the launching point for a crusade to imprison famous athletes. The government has yet to demonstrate why the use of these substances is so terrible that it justifies the enormous resources that have been marshaled in order to build cases against Bonds, Clemens and Armstrong.

This effort, which was launched by a passage in President George W. Bush’s 2004 State of the Union Address, was initially well-intentioned but misguided from the start. Though Bush and others who have pontificated on the subject claim it posed a danger to children, even if we accept that premise, it is minuscule when compared to hundreds of other possible threats to kids who play sports. The notion this is some sort of national peril was always a myth. But it was a myth that has served to justify the expenditure of a great deal of time, effort and money on the part of both Congress and the Justice Department to try and set up perjury traps for these players and then put them in jail for evasive statements or attempts to defend their tattered reputations.

Let’s understand the real reason why politicians and U.S. attorneys subjected these men to a full-court press. It is because prosecuting wealthy, obnoxious athletes generates enormous publicity, which is something both members of Congress and federal prosecutors live for. No real purpose was served by the decade-long struggle of the Department of Justice to convict home run king Barry Bonds of something. In the end, he was acquitted of lying to a federal grand jury but inexplicably convicted of obstructing justice. The same can be said of the effort to nail Clemens, because he contradicted the testimony of a former trainer who, unlike Barry Bonds’ longtime assistant, readily dropped the dime on the pitching great in exchange for being let off on charges of distributing the illegal drugs.

In both these cases, the prosecutors did something unorthodox. In drug trials, it is usually the traffickers who are considered the villains, and the users, the victims, even if they are not necessarily innocent. But in these instances, the justice system has focused its efforts on crucifying the users, a decision motivated solely by the increased notoriety a trial of a famous athlete would generate.

The point isn’t to justify the athletes’ bad behavior but to understand the disproportionate effort to make them pay a federal criminal penalty is both bad law and bad public policy. Speak ill all you like of these three and deprive them–if you think it justified–of the honors they received. But let’s take the government out of this equation.

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Pollsters Divided Over Whether Americans Oppose Tax Hikes

A Quinnipiac poll received a lot of attention this morning after it found that voters favor tax hikes in any deficit plan 67 to 25 percent. Now Rasmussen has released a contradictory poll, indicating that voters oppose tax hikes 55 to 34 percent.

So why the discrepancy? Ed Morrissey points out it might have to do with the way the questions were worded in each of the polls:

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A Quinnipiac poll received a lot of attention this morning after it found that voters favor tax hikes in any deficit plan 67 to 25 percent. Now Rasmussen has released a contradictory poll, indicating that voters oppose tax hikes 55 to 34 percent.

So why the discrepancy? Ed Morrissey points out it might have to do with the way the questions were worded in each of the polls:

The difference might be in the way the questions were asked, being mindful of the Pollster-in-Chief’s warning on survey language.  Rasmussen’s question seems a little more straightforward, if generic:

As part of Legislation to Raise Debt Ceiling Should Congress and President Raise Taxes?

Quinnipiac is more specific:

Do you think any agreement to raise the national debt ceiling should include only spending cuts or should it also include an increase in taxes for the wealthy and corporations?

Morrissey suspects Quinnipiac’s use of the buzzword “wealthy” might have prompted more emotionally-charged responses.

“Quinnipiac would have been better off to have avoided the term — ‘higher income earners’ would have been more accurate, objective, and less prone to the emotional responses that come with “wealthy,” he wrote.

If that’s the case, the polls may tell us more about the power of messaging in this debate than anything else. Americans don’t seem to have any reservations about raising taxes on rich people, which is how the Democrats have been framing the issue. But when faced with the possibility they may be impacted by these tax increases — as Rasmussen’s vague wording suggests — they’re strongly opposed to it. Republicans have been trying to make the case the tax hikes Democrats support will have a disastrous impact on the average American, and this seems to be a compelling argument with voters. But until more affirmative polls come out, we won’t know which party’s narratives has gained the most ground.

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RE: Obama Lied About Mother’s Health Insurance

It isn’t just health insurance about which President Obama has trouble telling the truth. There’s automobile insurance as well.

As John Hinderaker reported last year on the Powerline Blog, during the “Health Summit” in February, 2010, Obama said the following:

OBAMA: … You know, when I was young, just got out of college, I had to buy auto insurance. I had a beat-up old car. And I won’t name the name of the insurance company, but there was a company, let’s call it Acme Insurance in — in Illinois. And I was paying my premiums every month. After about six months I got rear-ended, and I called up Acme and said, You know, I’d like to see if I can get my car repaired. And they laughed at me over the phone. Because really, this was set up not to actually provide insurance, what it was set up was to meet the legal requirements. But it really wasn’t serious insurance. Now, it’s one thing if you got an old beat-up car that you can’t get fixed. It’s another thing if your kid is sick or you’ve got breast cancer.

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It isn’t just health insurance about which President Obama has trouble telling the truth. There’s automobile insurance as well.

As John Hinderaker reported last year on the Powerline Blog, during the “Health Summit” in February, 2010, Obama said the following:

OBAMA: … You know, when I was young, just got out of college, I had to buy auto insurance. I had a beat-up old car. And I won’t name the name of the insurance company, but there was a company, let’s call it Acme Insurance in — in Illinois. And I was paying my premiums every month. After about six months I got rear-ended, and I called up Acme and said, You know, I’d like to see if I can get my car repaired. And they laughed at me over the phone. Because really, this was set up not to actually provide insurance, what it was set up was to meet the legal requirements. But it really wasn’t serious insurance. Now, it’s one thing if you got an old beat-up car that you can’t get fixed. It’s another thing if your kid is sick or you’ve got breast cancer.

Did Obama, just out of college, not know in many states you need only buy liability insurance, to cover other drivers in an accident that is your fault, while you can take your chances not buying collision insurance on your own “beat-up old car”? Did the insurance company he applied to not tell him that? It usually doesn’t make economic sense to buy collision insurance on a clunker, but insurance companies are more than happy to sell it. They are, after all, in the business of selling insurance. Did he not read the policy when it was issued to know what was covered and what was not? Did he not know when you are rear-ended, it’s almost always the other guy’s fault, and therefore his insurance would have covered the repairs? That would be pretty dumb for the world’s smartest man.

He is accusing the unnamed insurance company of what amounted to fraud, selling something that would fool the DMV, but not provide “serious insurance,”  when it sounds like he just didn’t know what he was talking about.

 

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Bachmann’s Rise Gives Her the Anti-Romney Lead—For Now

Yesterday’s Quinnipiac poll showing Michele Bachmann at 15 percent—only ten points behind Mitt Romney—may not have been surprising, but it has changed the dynamic. What was once the race between Not Romney and Not Palin has become Not Romney vs. Not Bachmann.

Conservative grassroots would love to have a serious challenger to Romney. Ironically, however, their search helps solidify Romney’s early lead because they can’t seem to settle on one that could peel off any of Romney’s establishment support.

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Yesterday’s Quinnipiac poll showing Michele Bachmann at 15 percent—only ten points behind Mitt Romney—may not have been surprising, but it has changed the dynamic. What was once the race between Not Romney and Not Palin has become Not Romney vs. Not Bachmann.

Conservative grassroots would love to have a serious challenger to Romney. Ironically, however, their search helps solidify Romney’s early lead because they can’t seem to settle on one that could peel off any of Romney’s establishment support.

Additionally, as was noted at Red State, the more anti-Romney candidates get in the race, the more diluted the anti-Romney coalition becomes:

There is a lot of money on the sidelines waiting to find who is going to be the legitimate leader of the anti-Romney coalition. Rick Perry getting in delays finding that leader, keeping that money on the sidelines, keeping Mitt Romney on top. It really is that simple.

The other side of the Rick Perry coin is that some believe Perry could be the one to encroach on Romney’s monopoly of elite support. So Perry’s participation prevents existing candidates like Bachmann from solidifying grassroots support. And Bachmann’s candidacy has been suffocating Tim Pawlenty, who was supposed be the acceptable alternative to Romney.

All this has caused the frustration of the anti-Romney caucus to become palpable. Leading the way has been the Wall Street Journal, which wrote an editorial in May calling Romney “Obama’s running mate.” It called for an ideological conservative nominee, not a problem solver. Romney remains incompatible with where the heart of the conservative movement is today. And unlike Perry, Bachmann is actually in the race, debating well thus far, and gaining on Romney steadily. There may not be a not-Bachmann. There may be only Bachmann.

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Final Nail in the Coffin of the Gingrich Campaign?

Before his campaign self-destructed, Newt Gingrich’s election strategy centered on going all-out in Iowa, with the Ames Straw Poll being a key part of that plan. Now he’s confirmed that he won’t be competing in the crucial event:

Gingrich, whose campaign has been hit with a series of setbacks including the mass resignation of senior staff, is opting for a low-budget, shoe leather campaign. That includes skipping the Aug. 13 straw poll to concentrate efforts on the Feb. 6 first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses.

He will participate in the Fox News debate Aug. 11 in Ames and plans to be in Iowa the day of the straw poll, but not in Ames.

That’s OK, his staff says, because Iowa Republicans know Gingrich from his days as speaker of the U.S. House as well as his frequent TV appearances and frequent Iowa visits on behalf of Iowa candidates.

It’s not like Gingrich really had a choice here. His polling numbers have plummeted in Iowa, going from 14 percent in August 2010 to just 4 percent in last month’s TIR survey. And his cash-strapped campaign declined to bid on a lot at the Ames Straw Poll, which is essential for competing seriously in the event. A poor showing in Ames would be a disaster for the campaign.

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Before his campaign self-destructed, Newt Gingrich’s election strategy centered on going all-out in Iowa, with the Ames Straw Poll being a key part of that plan. Now he’s confirmed that he won’t be competing in the crucial event:

Gingrich, whose campaign has been hit with a series of setbacks including the mass resignation of senior staff, is opting for a low-budget, shoe leather campaign. That includes skipping the Aug. 13 straw poll to concentrate efforts on the Feb. 6 first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses.

He will participate in the Fox News debate Aug. 11 in Ames and plans to be in Iowa the day of the straw poll, but not in Ames.

That’s OK, his staff says, because Iowa Republicans know Gingrich from his days as speaker of the U.S. House as well as his frequent TV appearances and frequent Iowa visits on behalf of Iowa candidates.

It’s not like Gingrich really had a choice here. His polling numbers have plummeted in Iowa, going from 14 percent in August 2010 to just 4 percent in last month’s TIR survey. And his cash-strapped campaign declined to bid on a lot at the Ames Straw Poll, which is essential for competing seriously in the event. A poor showing in Ames would be a disaster for the campaign.

But if Gingrich isn’t able to compete in Ames, many are wondering how he expects to compete in the primaries, which will require significantly more organizing:

[Cary] Covington [University of Iowa associate professor of political science], says the straw poll isn’t so much about popularity but a measure of organizational and financial strength.

“Can you find people to go and do you have the money to pay for their tickets?” he says. …

“Getting people to Ames may be a struggle, but that’s probably a lot easier than getting people to some 5,000 precinct locations on caucus night,” he says.

The only question left is how much longer Gingrich is going to drag out this dying campaign.

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Shed No Tears for the Death of JDUB

JTA reported earlier this week that JDUB, the Jewish music promoter, announced it is closing. Lamented by the doyens of the self-declared American Jewish innovation sector, it is one of a series of signs of a collapse in funding for similar creative “start-ups” founded in the early 2000s. Heeb magazine, the self-declared “new Jew review” whose contributions to Jewish culture include publishing a picture of Roseanne Barr dressed as Hitler cooking burnt gingerbread man cookies, recently announced it was discontinuing its print edition. Jewcy.com was similarly forced to abandon plans for profitability when its major funders pulled out in February 2009.

The turn against these outfits by their funders should be welcomed as a potential indication of growing seriousness in American Jewish priorities. It is no doubt true there is nothing wrong with innovation in itself. Yet we should be wary of the enthusiasm generated by unsustainable appeals to passing whims about the nature of Jewish commitment.

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JTA reported earlier this week that JDUB, the Jewish music promoter, announced it is closing. Lamented by the doyens of the self-declared American Jewish innovation sector, it is one of a series of signs of a collapse in funding for similar creative “start-ups” founded in the early 2000s. Heeb magazine, the self-declared “new Jew review” whose contributions to Jewish culture include publishing a picture of Roseanne Barr dressed as Hitler cooking burnt gingerbread man cookies, recently announced it was discontinuing its print edition. Jewcy.com was similarly forced to abandon plans for profitability when its major funders pulled out in February 2009.

The turn against these outfits by their funders should be welcomed as a potential indication of growing seriousness in American Jewish priorities. It is no doubt true there is nothing wrong with innovation in itself. Yet we should be wary of the enthusiasm generated by unsustainable appeals to passing whims about the nature of Jewish commitment.

From the start, these outfits were predicated on the idea that changes in personal identity and technology had made the traditional work of institutions like the Federations obsolete. Since young Jews saw themselves as “citizens of the world” and eschewed both denominational labels and the idea  Judaism could not be successfully mashed together with other forms of identity (witness the already passé “Buju” phenomenon), the future lied with organizations able to appeal to these ways of thinking.

The organized American Jewish world was spooked by population studies in 1990 and 2000-1 that showed many young Jews were alienated from Jewish life and increasingly marrying non-Jews. They subsequently grasped at the solution offered by JDUB and its cousins, who found themselves supported by philanthropists, which in turn increased their attractiveness for young Jews looking to make a name for themselves.

A media culture obsessed both with Jews and anything that claims to be new and convinced by the idea of a new “hybridity” in personal identity granted heaps of publicity on the efforts. As the initial promoter of Matisyahu and with a record that included attracting 150,000 young people to events in 472 cities, JDUB seemed to stand as the most successful organization, at least among those with a creative bent. Typical also was JDUB’s claim it could “forge vibrant connections to Judaism” for a population with anything but.

Of course, dodged entirely was the question of what was specifically “Jewish” about attending a rock concert, even if the performer wore payes. Also left unaddressed was the long-term sustainability of such a loosely defined Jewish identity.

Sooner than even optimists could have hoped to expect, these questions  have become unavoidable. Funders are largely answering them, thankfully, by directing their priorities elsewhere.

It would be foolish, however, to think  the collapse of JDUB means its advocates have lost. Just this past April, a new cheerleading report, “The Jewish Innovation Economy,” was produced by three of the leading funders of Jewish start-ups, who reported that communal funding has now reached $200 million annually. And nearly wherever one looks in the organized Jewish world, one sees the influence of the thinking that gave JDUB its initial boost.

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The One Democratic Advantage: Unified Leadership

The debate about which side has the edge in the debt-ceiling showdown continues. A new Gallup poll shows that most Americans are still opposed to raising the debt ceiling, a position that buttresses the Republicans’ reluctance to do so under the current circumstances. But liberal New York Times analyst Nate Silver claims the same survey demonstrates the Obama administration’s bargaining position advocating some spending cuts along with tax increases is closer to what the public wants than the GOP’s adamant refusal to contemplate higher taxes. But however you interpret that data, there is one element in this dispute in which the Democrats do have a clear advantage: unified leadership.

President Obama’s behavior during the talks may be wildly inconsistent as he alternately proposes compromises and then angrily stalks out of talks. But there is no doubt as to who is leading his side. It’s Obama’s show, and whether or not Americans are buying his pose as the only adult in the room  (I doubt it), it’s still probably going over better than the mixed signals being sent by the Republicans.

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The debate about which side has the edge in the debt-ceiling showdown continues. A new Gallup poll shows that most Americans are still opposed to raising the debt ceiling, a position that buttresses the Republicans’ reluctance to do so under the current circumstances. But liberal New York Times analyst Nate Silver claims the same survey demonstrates the Obama administration’s bargaining position advocating some spending cuts along with tax increases is closer to what the public wants than the GOP’s adamant refusal to contemplate higher taxes. But however you interpret that data, there is one element in this dispute in which the Democrats do have a clear advantage: unified leadership.

President Obama’s behavior during the talks may be wildly inconsistent as he alternately proposes compromises and then angrily stalks out of talks. But there is no doubt as to who is leading his side. It’s Obama’s show, and whether or not Americans are buying his pose as the only adult in the room  (I doubt it), it’s still probably going over better than the mixed signals being sent by the Republicans.

It’s not clear from day to day who’s running the Republican team. At times it seems as if Speaker John Boehner is Obama’s counterpart, and other days it appears as if House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is supplanting him. It would be one thing if it were just Cantor playing bad cop to Boehner’s more compromise-friendly good cop in negotiations with Obama. But the vibe coming out of the House leadership appears to be a bit more complicated as tensions between the two seem to be more a matter of rivalry and ideology than just a division of roles. Boehner’s problem is that a large part of his caucus has no interest in raising the debt ceiling under any circumstances and Cantor, whose job is to count and manage those votes seems to be more in touch right now with the members than the Speaker. Throw in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose own compromise plan went over like a lead balloon in the House GOP caucus, and you have a real problem.

Part of this can’t be helped. The president is always going to have an edge over the leadership of Congress no matter which party runs either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. But the problem here is as we get closer to the August 2 deadline for a resolution of the debt ceiling problem, divided GOP counsels in which Cantor is portrayed as the hardliner undermining Boehner’s efforts to arrive at a solution are making it easier for Obama–who believes he is playing the stronger hand right now–to portray himself as a moderate being thwarted by GOP extremists.

There appears no easy solution to a showdown in which a principled GOP refusal to raise taxes is being met head on by a Democratic insistence on them. But whatever the next step, Boehner and Cantor need to work harder to have a unified message if they are to avoid taking the blame for the consequences of a problem they can’t fix on their own.

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The Continuing Education of Barack Obama

Alana rightly called attention to a new poll which shows America’s favorability rating across the Arab world has plummeted and that President Obama’s favorable ratings are 10 percent or less. In Egypt, for example, the favorable/unfavorable split for America is 5 percent v. 95 percent, while three percent agree with the policies pursued by the president as against 86 percent who disagree.

The United States under President Bush was more popular in the Arab world than it is under President Obama.

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Alana rightly called attention to a new poll which shows America’s favorability rating across the Arab world has plummeted and that President Obama’s favorable ratings are 10 percent or less. In Egypt, for example, the favorable/unfavorable split for America is 5 percent v. 95 percent, while three percent agree with the policies pursued by the president as against 86 percent who disagree.

The United States under President Bush was more popular in the Arab world than it is under President Obama.

Now isn’t that a twist? The one thing that was supposed to be a virtual given is that President Obama would – by virtue of his background, personality, and policies – improve America’s standing among Arab nations. George W. Bush, it was said by progressives, was a unilateralist, a war-monger, too pro-Israel, too pro-Freedom Agenda. The Obama presidency would be the balm. Obama would travel to the Arab world and apologize for America’s past sins, whether in 1953 in Iran or 2003 in Iraq. He would de-emphasize human rights and do away with “bullying.”  Obama would take into account Arab concerns. He would apply greater pressure on Israel. He would connect with the Arab street.

With that in mind, let’s return for a moment to the president’s June 4, 2009 “New Beginning” speech in Cairo. We were assured it would be “momentous,” “groundbreaking,” “epic,” and historic.” It would fulfill, in Obama’s words, his campaign commitment to “remake” relations with the Muslim world. Yet now, two-and-a-half years into the Obama presidency, what do we find? Unprecedented disenchantment with American foreign policy.

One could argue, with some justification, that this underscores the Obama administration’s ineptness. It has, after all, taken what was one of the president’s alleged strengths and converted it to a weakness. But there is a larger point to be drawn from the collapsing prestige of Obama in the Arab world.

When you run for president, the problems seem much simpler to manage than when you actually are president. Those who have the responsibility to govern find the world is less tidy, the conflicts more intractable, the solutions less obvious, and the pressures more intense than they imagined. The world is not as easy to shape as hot wax. And so it turns out it’s a good deal easier to give a speech in which you say you’ll cut the deficit in half, or keep unemployment below 8 percent, or eliminate earmarks, than it is to actually do these things.

“I can call spirits from the vasty deep,” Glendower says in Henry IV Part One. “Why, so can I, or so can any man,” Hotspur replies. “But will they come when you do call for them?”

What Obama is finding out — what most of us who have worked in the White House sooner or later find out — is that those whom you call for don’t always come; that to offer a solution as a commentator or candidate is easier than to actually implement one; and that to promise you will remake relations with the Arab and Muslim world isn’t the same thing as actually remaking relations with the Arab and Muslim world.

The education of Barack Obama continues. He won’t be the first person to have learned these lessons the hard way, nor the last.

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