Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 1, 2011

The Rasmussen Poll’s Hidden Bonus for Current GOP Candidates

One theme of the Republican primary season has been voters’ dissatisfaction with the candidates. The apparent unworthiness of the candidates has been intense enough for Chris Christie to be asked every other day if he plans on running–because he simply must, the Republicans need him, the country needs him, etc.

The speculation has continued, but softened–as it has for Paul Ryan. In fact, the idea primary voters were so unhappy with their current choices had evolved into fretting over the “weakness” of the field, and the idea President Obama is a weak incumbent but might be let off the hook by even weaker GOP challengers. But the latest Rasmussen poll suggests this concern–fueled mostly by circular fussing, allowing it to gain momentum–may have encountered its expiration date.

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One theme of the Republican primary season has been voters’ dissatisfaction with the candidates. The apparent unworthiness of the candidates has been intense enough for Chris Christie to be asked every other day if he plans on running–because he simply must, the Republicans need him, the country needs him, etc.

The speculation has continued, but softened–as it has for Paul Ryan. In fact, the idea primary voters were so unhappy with their current choices had evolved into fretting over the “weakness” of the field, and the idea President Obama is a weak incumbent but might be let off the hook by even weaker GOP challengers. But the latest Rasmussen poll suggests this concern–fueled mostly by circular fussing, allowing it to gain momentum–may have encountered its expiration date.

It has been noted the poll is good for Rick Perry, who places second. Romney leads with 22 percent, Perry follows with 18, and Michele Bachmann comes in third with 16. But the more important numbers for the field are 4 percent and 9 percent–the voters who support other candidates who didn’t even reach the 1 percent mark, and the number of undecided voters, respectively. But even the undecided number is good for this field, since the undecideds are, more than likely, torn between two or more of the candidates actually running.

Abe put it well after the first major GOP debate (it was the second debate overall), for which expectations were quite low, especially on the left:

But generations of liberal American elites have grown so comfortably and hermetically homogenous they can no longer recognize passionate conservatism as anything other than a vibrant perversion, a laugh-riot freakshow of extremism that can’t compete in the serious political arena. That’s what we were supposed to get on Monday night’s debate. Instead we got the kind of level talk and policy precision that our president abandoned long ago in the rubble of the ObamaCare disaster.

It might well be thanks to Rick Perry acting as though he is certain to enter the race, but GOP voters’ nerves about the current field seem to have settled. Perhaps voters saw what Abe noticed–the candidates had a pretty solid grasp of the issues and were quite capable of discussing and debating them. Though many would still love to see a Christie candidacy or a Ryan-Rubio ticket, the current candidates–as shown by the Rasmussen poll–have earned the respect of the primary voters.

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Obama’s Approval Ratings Hit New Low

Or as Gallup prefers to frame it in its desperately optimistic headline: Obama Weekly Approval at 42%; Liberal Support Remains High:

Although President Obama’s job approval rating hit the low point of his administration during the past week and is down among most subgroups, there are no signs yet that he has taken a disproportionate hit among his traditional base of liberals and Democrats. On a relative basis, both of these groups remain as loyal to Obama compared with Americans overall as they have been on average since he took office in January 2009.

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Or as Gallup prefers to frame it in its desperately optimistic headline: Obama Weekly Approval at 42%; Liberal Support Remains High:

Although President Obama’s job approval rating hit the low point of his administration during the past week and is down among most subgroups, there are no signs yet that he has taken a disproportionate hit among his traditional base of liberals and Democrats. On a relative basis, both of these groups remain as loyal to Obama compared with Americans overall as they have been on average since he took office in January 2009.

So his liberal Democratic base still supports him, with 83 percent giving him good marks on his job performance. And the president should enjoy that while it lasts. The poll was taken from July 25-31 — before Obama endorsed the Republican’s immoral Satan-sandwich deal and trampled all over the memory of John Maynard Keynes. Progressives have already revolted, and they won’t let him forget it anytime soon.

And while liberals aren’t disappointed with Obama yet, basically everyone else is. His job approval rating is at just 37 percent among independents, and 12 percent with Republicans. Depending on how the debt ceiling deal plays out, those numbers could improve after today – but they’re still pretty grim.

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U.S. Remains a Center-Right Country

According to the most recent Gallup Poll, 41 percent of Americans self-identify as conservative, 36 percent as moderate and 21 percent as liberal.

The most interesting finding isn’t that conservatives outnumber liberals by roughly two-to-one — that has been the case for decades now — but if this pattern continues, 2011 will be the third straight year conservatives significantly outnumber moderates, the next largest ideological bloc.

In addition, among Republicans, conservatives currently outnumber moderates by nearly three-to-one (72 percent v. 24 percent), while only four percent are liberal. On the flip side, about four in 10 Democrats are liberal, another four in 10 are moderate and about two in 10 are conservative. This data, taken together, confirm America remains a center-right country — and in the age of Obama, it is trending more toward the right than the center.

Margaret Thatcher once said our ills create their own anti-bodies, and Barack Obama’s liberalism is creating strong anti-bodies in the American polity. Barack Obama, like Jimmy Carter before him, is providing enormous assistance for those of us who argue the superiority of conservatism over liberalism. It  may be the only good thing Obama achieves in office.

 

According to the most recent Gallup Poll, 41 percent of Americans self-identify as conservative, 36 percent as moderate and 21 percent as liberal.

The most interesting finding isn’t that conservatives outnumber liberals by roughly two-to-one — that has been the case for decades now — but if this pattern continues, 2011 will be the third straight year conservatives significantly outnumber moderates, the next largest ideological bloc.

In addition, among Republicans, conservatives currently outnumber moderates by nearly three-to-one (72 percent v. 24 percent), while only four percent are liberal. On the flip side, about four in 10 Democrats are liberal, another four in 10 are moderate and about two in 10 are conservative. This data, taken together, confirm America remains a center-right country — and in the age of Obama, it is trending more toward the right than the center.

Margaret Thatcher once said our ills create their own anti-bodies, and Barack Obama’s liberalism is creating strong anti-bodies in the American polity. Barack Obama, like Jimmy Carter before him, is providing enormous assistance for those of us who argue the superiority of conservatism over liberalism. It  may be the only good thing Obama achieves in office.

 

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A Natural Experiment in Economics

As Pete pointed out this morning, Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker predicts economic calamity to come from the debt deal, because it will be restraining  federal spending in a time of economic weakness, which by Keynesian lights is exactly the wrong thing to do. And, just to show how up-to-date he is, he takes the conventional–and entirely erroneous–liberal swipe at “Herbert Hoover economics,” as opposed to New-Deal pump priming. (Just for the record, federal government expenditures in 1929 were $3.1 billion. In 1932 they were $4.6 billion, a whopping 48 percent increase, despite swiftly falling federal revenues,  which were down 50 percent in that same period. Obama is borrowing 40 cents out of every federal dollar spent in 2011. Herbert Hoover in 1932 was  borrowing 58 cents out of every dollar spent.)

Paul Krugman of the New York Times has also been saying insistently that any deviation from the Keynesian true faith will result in renewed recession and economic disaster. As Pete also points out, he does so with his characteristic restraint and evenhandedness.

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As Pete pointed out this morning, Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker predicts economic calamity to come from the debt deal, because it will be restraining  federal spending in a time of economic weakness, which by Keynesian lights is exactly the wrong thing to do. And, just to show how up-to-date he is, he takes the conventional–and entirely erroneous–liberal swipe at “Herbert Hoover economics,” as opposed to New-Deal pump priming. (Just for the record, federal government expenditures in 1929 were $3.1 billion. In 1932 they were $4.6 billion, a whopping 48 percent increase, despite swiftly falling federal revenues,  which were down 50 percent in that same period. Obama is borrowing 40 cents out of every federal dollar spent in 2011. Herbert Hoover in 1932 was  borrowing 58 cents out of every dollar spent.)

Paul Krugman of the New York Times has also been saying insistently that any deviation from the Keynesian true faith will result in renewed recession and economic disaster. As Pete also points out, he does so with his characteristic restraint and evenhandedness.

Dick Durbin, number two Democrat in the Senate, says at the Huffington Post, the deal represents the final interment of Lord Keynes (who actually died in 1946).

So what we have here, it seems, is an upcoming natural experiment in economics, a science (if that’s the word) in which it is notoriously difficult to conduct experiments, at least on the macroeconomic level. Keynesian orthodoxy, to these three, is the only way to go, and yet, we are about to go the other way. Therefore, if they are right, the economy should immediately begin a downward spiral. If, instead, it begins to improve with the reductions of government borrowing and spending, then Keynesian orthodoxy will have been shown to have been flawed and they will have to revise their economic thinking. (Free advice: don’t hold your breath waiting for them to do that.)

As a nice little irony here, President Obama had better hope Keynesianism is wrong. If Hertzberg, Krugman and Durbin are correct, he won’t have a ghost of a chance of being re-elected.

Just ask Herbert Hoover.

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Tax Hikes and Noble Lies

Nobody can blame House Speaker John Boehner for trying to keep his members in line on the debt ceiling deal, but who is he kidding by claiming tax hikes will be off the table in the “super committee” negotiations?

On Boehner’s PowerPoint aimed at selling the plan to GOP House members, he wrote the plan “requires baseline to be current law, effectively making it impossible for joint committee to increase taxes.” But his argument seems pretty rickety.

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Nobody can blame House Speaker John Boehner for trying to keep his members in line on the debt ceiling deal, but who is he kidding by claiming tax hikes will be off the table in the “super committee” negotiations?

On Boehner’s PowerPoint aimed at selling the plan to GOP House members, he wrote the plan “requires baseline to be current law, effectively making it impossible for joint committee to increase taxes.” But his argument seems pretty rickety.

The “current law” baseline can’t account for future changes to the law, so it assumes the Bush tax cuts will expire on schedule at the end of 2012. That would bring in an additional $3.5 trillion in revenues. According to Boehner’s argument, unless Democrats on the committee propose tax hikes that go beyond $3.5 trillion, raising taxes won’t technically count as a deficit reduction.

But does that mean it’s “impossible”? Not really:

There’s no disagreement on this point: the Committee can take up tax reform if it chooses to. The dispute is whether the deal is structured in a way that motivates the committee to do it.

Motivation is the key point here. Republicans don’t want to hash out tax hikes in these negotiations, and would much rather wait to debate the Bush tax cuts before they expire at the end of 2012. The argument is that Democrats have no reason to push for tax increases in the super committee, because the baseline assumes they’ll happen anyway.

It might give cover to Republicans to support this plan – which is possibly their last chance to avoid being blamed for an economic calamity – but it’s not something they should bet on.

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The Left’s Apocalyptic Budget Hysteria

Peter poked fun at Paul Krugman’s apocalyptic hand-wringing, but in fairness, the NYT economist is just following the tone set by the Democratic leadership. It’s not just Emanuel Cleaver talking about Satan sandwiches, although that’s fairly risible given the liberal smirks that arise whenever conservatives claim to be guided by their faith. Explicit, actual, that’s-what-the-word-means apocalyptic announcements came from Rep. Pelosi herself, who quite literally described Democrats as being on a quest to “save the world from the Republican budget.”

What’s notable about Pelosi specifically is how easily she indulges in that sort of rhetoric, and how easily it fits into the rest of the Democrats’ campaigning. During the 2008 election, she declared choosing Obama over McCain was imperative because “we’ve got a planet to save [and] nothing less is at stake other than civilization as we know it.” It’s easy to laugh at the overwrought hyperbole – and by all means, do – but it’s also worth noting how well it lines up with what historian Richard Hofstadter identified as the paranoid style:

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Peter poked fun at Paul Krugman’s apocalyptic hand-wringing, but in fairness, the NYT economist is just following the tone set by the Democratic leadership. It’s not just Emanuel Cleaver talking about Satan sandwiches, although that’s fairly risible given the liberal smirks that arise whenever conservatives claim to be guided by their faith. Explicit, actual, that’s-what-the-word-means apocalyptic announcements came from Rep. Pelosi herself, who quite literally described Democrats as being on a quest to “save the world from the Republican budget.”

What’s notable about Pelosi specifically is how easily she indulges in that sort of rhetoric, and how easily it fits into the rest of the Democrats’ campaigning. During the 2008 election, she declared choosing Obama over McCain was imperative because “we’ve got a planet to save [and] nothing less is at stake other than civilization as we know it.” It’s easy to laugh at the overwrought hyperbole – and by all means, do – but it’s also worth noting how well it lines up with what historian Richard Hofstadter identified as the paranoid style:

The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date for the apocalypse.

Conveniently, the paranoid style makes it much easier to explain away policy failures as somebody else’s fault. Anyone can obfuscate America’s unsustainable fiscal situation by blaming conservatives for conditioning the debt ceiling increase. But to really get citizens to pay attention you have to talk about “destroying rights” and “dictatorships” and “repealing the 20th century” and “terminating the American Dream” and “joining the villains of American history.” Whole political orders. It’s not for nothing Pelosi long ago linked conservative economic policies to House GOP members being “unpatriotic.”

Now in fairness, outlining politicians’ over-exuberant paranoia isn’t really a neat trick, even if in the Democrats’ case, it goes all the way to the top. In contemporary American political culture we have a paranoid right, a paranoid left and even a paranoid center. There’s also not that much to be gained by pointing out all sides engage in rhetorical excesses. Tea Party conservatives and national security conservatives and – as of recently – the far left all think the Obama administration is endangering something fundamental about American power and values. Sometimes those claims are tenable, sometimes less so. Certainly, the sheer magnitude of proposed defense cuts makes long-term decline a frightening and very real risk.

But there’s a difference between that and insisting the failure to service our debts for a couple of weeks – maybe – is the equivalent of rolling back time itself. Either Democrats thought they were fighting Batman villains or they’re not the reality-based Scholastics they keep telling the rest of us they are. So in the future, can we at least be spared the journalists and social scientists who insist liberals are just too darn rational for their own good?

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Discerning Media Bias—or Over-Discerning It?

A mini-storm has erupted in news circles over an item by my colleague Seth Mandel here about Norah O’Donnell of CBS News and whether, in questioning Jay Carney about the debt-ceiling deal, she revealed a bias when she said to him, “We got nothing.” ABC’s Jake Tapper and my friend Steve Hayes of the Weekly Standard have both taken us to task for misrepresenting the exchange, because despite some coughing and simultaneous talking by Carney, O’Donnell used the words “Democrats are saying” before she said “we got nothing.” We have amended the item to take account of the attribution.

Seth explains why he believes the item stands in his updated version. As the editor who suggested it and approved it in the first place, I think it’s proper for me to explain why I think it stands as well.

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A mini-storm has erupted in news circles over an item by my colleague Seth Mandel here about Norah O’Donnell of CBS News and whether, in questioning Jay Carney about the debt-ceiling deal, she revealed a bias when she said to him, “We got nothing.” ABC’s Jake Tapper and my friend Steve Hayes of the Weekly Standard have both taken us to task for misrepresenting the exchange, because despite some coughing and simultaneous talking by Carney, O’Donnell used the words “Democrats are saying” before she said “we got nothing.” We have amended the item to take account of the attribution.

Seth explains why he believes the item stands in his updated version. As the editor who suggested it and approved it in the first place, I think it’s proper for me to explain why I think it stands as well.

Tapper and Hayes say O’Donnell was taking an adversarial tone, that this is what the White House press corps does, that it was totally appropriate, and that it was “scurrilous” (Tapper’s word) to suggest otherwise. These are reporters I respect and like, and they have a point about style—that baiting is a way of trying to get news out of a flak. But what Seth perceived and what I perceive in O’Donnell’s words (discernible in the 45 seconds before she said the words that we made controversial) is the revelation—through tone and comportment—of her own view. This is something to which I, as a conservative member of the media and watcher of media for three decades now, have long since been hypersensitive. The raised eyebrow, the cynical half-glance, the ironic turn of phrase, some inappropriate anger—these are all behavioral cues that reveal a supposedly objective reporter’s true feelings and in which they unconsciously express their ideological fealties.

Hayes, who is himself a conservative, did not see that in O’Donnell’s questioning. So obviously the opinion is debatable. By definition, the hypersensitive can maybe be oversensitive. And the debate was obviously complicated by the fact that we opened ourselves up to fair criticism in our original item because we did not feature the qualifying quote, which was and is very difficult to hear. It’s up to you to judge whether Seth and I are right that O’Donnell inadvertently added a note of emotional urgency to the point she was making that came out of unguarded personal conviction.

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Two Problem Areas for Defense in Debt Ceiling Deal

Defense hawks have two areas of concern in the debt ceiling deal. The first is the initial $917 billion savings, which includes $350 billion in cuts during the next 10 years to a wide swath of “security” agencies, ranging from the Department of Defense to the Department of Homeland Security.

On the plus side, this means these reductions won’t necessarily be confined to the Pentagon, and agencies conservatives loathe – like the TSA – could see their budgets slashed as well. On the other hand, the broadness of the category means the departments covered under the “security category” may have to duke it out every year over how much money each of them gets:

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Defense hawks have two areas of concern in the debt ceiling deal. The first is the initial $917 billion savings, which includes $350 billion in cuts during the next 10 years to a wide swath of “security” agencies, ranging from the Department of Defense to the Department of Homeland Security.

On the plus side, this means these reductions won’t necessarily be confined to the Pentagon, and agencies conservatives loathe – like the TSA – could see their budgets slashed as well. On the other hand, the broadness of the category means the departments covered under the “security category” may have to duke it out every year over how much money each of them gets:

“Appropriators will determine each year how money is allocated under the cap,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in reference to a $684 billion limit for spending by all security agencies, including the Department of Defense, the compromise bill would put in place.

A House Appropriations source confirmed “there is no specific DOD-only number in the bill for any year, and not for the 10-year span.”

The initial cuts are a problem, but they aren’t as much of a worry as the potential “revised security category” reductions – solely targeting the national defense budget – which would be triggered into effect if lawmakers are unable to agree on $1.5 trillion in additional savings by December.

If a “super committee” of Republicans and Democrats can’t come to a resolution, then $1.2 trillion will automatically be cut across the board. Half of that – $600 billion – will come from national defense. That’s in addition to the original $350 billion.

National security officials have already warned reductions of this size would endanger the country. Which is why the most crucial part of this deal will be who gets appointed to the bipartisan “super committee.” It’s important to members to stand their ground on entitlement reform and tax breaks, but at some point, they’ll actually have to compromise and reach a deal – or force a trigger that would have a devastating impact on our national security.

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Liberals: Debt Debate “Damaged” U.S. Image

Liberals, deflated by the right’s debt ceiling victory, have seized on a new accusation against the Tea Partiers and conservatives who effected a seismic shift in Washington. “Among foreign leaders and in global markets,” writes the New York Times’ David E. Sanger, “the political histrionics have eroded America’s already diminishing aura as the world’s economic haven and the sole country with the power to lead the rest of the world out of financial crisis and recession.” So the unruly policy debate itself has hurt the U.S.

Not quite. In Greece, leaders enacted an austerity program that produced a season of violent riots; In Spain, spending cuts led to a nationwide squat-in; In France, where the semi-permanent retiree class is always on a low-boil, riots and strikes followed announced changes in entitlements; In Britain, new spending cuts met mass-vandalism. And in the U.S., elected representatives wrangled, negotiated, and ultimately voted in a new borrowing and spending paradigm—one that has the support of their constituents and that will begin to take on the monstrous national debt. Read More

Liberals, deflated by the right’s debt ceiling victory, have seized on a new accusation against the Tea Partiers and conservatives who effected a seismic shift in Washington. “Among foreign leaders and in global markets,” writes the New York Times’ David E. Sanger, “the political histrionics have eroded America’s already diminishing aura as the world’s economic haven and the sole country with the power to lead the rest of the world out of financial crisis and recession.” So the unruly policy debate itself has hurt the U.S.

Not quite. In Greece, leaders enacted an austerity program that produced a season of violent riots; In Spain, spending cuts led to a nationwide squat-in; In France, where the semi-permanent retiree class is always on a low-boil, riots and strikes followed announced changes in entitlements; In Britain, new spending cuts met mass-vandalism. And in the U.S., elected representatives wrangled, negotiated, and ultimately voted in a new borrowing and spending paradigm—one that has the support of their constituents and that will begin to take on the monstrous national debt.

This was, by definition, proof of American exceptionalism. Barack Obama once said, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Okay, but what does the objective record tell us? The Brits tore up streets and buildings when spending cuts came down the pike, and the Greeks set off bombs. The rest of Europe followed the same model. Objectively, the exception here is America.

This is no accident. It is in the American political DNA to resist the centralized redistribution of individual earnings.  Where Europeans see government largess, Americans see the state’s parasitism. That’s why today’s popular American protest movement—the Tea Party—objects to federal spending, not federal cuts.

There was never cause to riot in the U.S. because our political system allows for swift and effective popular redress. In 2009, a CNBC business analyst talked on air about throwing a tea party. In 2010, Tea Party candidates swept midterm elections. And in 2011, the U.S. has been set on a new course. Let this episode—even with its absurd theater and unnerving brinksmanship—show the world what American representative government really is. During this whole period, Europe’s popular political movements have only grown more violent and less coherent.

What has done damage to the U.S.’s reputation around the world—lots and lots of damage—are the two-plus years Obama has spent distancing himself from American values and snubbing American allies. Our antagonists want nothing else than to see the U.S. back away from its principles and leave our friends hanging in the wind. And little would warm their hearts more than watching the U.S. sign up for endless suicidal borrowing. The reclaiming of American fiscal sanity, as witnessed in the final debt deal, will be welcomed by our friends, regretted by our enemies, and envied by nations whose financial trials keep them on the brink of chaos.  It will also continue to irritate American liberals, who’ve never been quite so out of step with the times.

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CBS’s O’Donnell to Carney: “We got nothing” (2nd Update)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was clearly in an upbeat mood during today’s press briefing. Many of the reporters in the room, however, were not feeling the love.

Specifically, CBS’s Norah O’Donnell peppered Carney with terse, accusatory questions about the lack of tax revenue (read: tax increases) in the debt ceiling deal. O’Donnell complained about how many GOP demands were met by the deal, and then said to Carney: “You have Democrats saying you gave them everything they wanted and we got nothing.” [Second update: I've added the words "you have Democrats saying..." from the transcript since this item was first published.] That “we” is very telling. It was a tense moment in the room, and O’Donnell seemed to give voice to frustrated liberals who feel the deal gave significantly more to Republicans than Democrats, and included no tax increases–something President Obama had demanded be included for most of the negotiations.

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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was clearly in an upbeat mood during today’s press briefing. Many of the reporters in the room, however, were not feeling the love.

Specifically, CBS’s Norah O’Donnell peppered Carney with terse, accusatory questions about the lack of tax revenue (read: tax increases) in the debt ceiling deal. O’Donnell complained about how many GOP demands were met by the deal, and then said to Carney: “You have Democrats saying you gave them everything they wanted and we got nothing.” [Second update: I've added the words "you have Democrats saying..." from the transcript since this item was first published.] That “we” is very telling. It was a tense moment in the room, and O’Donnell seemed to give voice to frustrated liberals who feel the deal gave significantly more to Republicans than Democrats, and included no tax increases–something President Obama had demanded be included for most of the negotiations.

[Update: Some readers are objecting that O'Donnell was relaying to Carney what liberals are saying about the deal. If you watch the whole clip, she asks a question before this statement that is clearly in her voice, not that of agitated liberals: “Two weeks ago the president talked about shared sacrifice, and he talked about ending subsidies for oil companies and he talked about ending tax breaks for corporate jet owners. He talked about that this was a very fair deal where he was offering three-to-one, spending cuts for one in tax revenues. Where are the tax revenues?” She then asks the question where her defenders insist she is quoting others. Watch the delivery of her question--it's both hostile and dramatic, and was made only after questioning Carney along the same lines in which there is no contention that she is speaking for anyone other than herself. Viewers can decide.]

O’Donnell asked Carney about this a couple times, in a confrontational tone. Fox’s Ed Henry broke the tension by jokingly asking, “But Jay, where is the tax revenue?” to laughter from the room (and especially from a relieved Carney, suddenly more comfortable with Fox than usual). The moment encapsulated the left’s reaction to the deal. The New Republic’s John Judis wrote this morning: “Democrats in Congress, and any Republicans who have not lost their senses, should turn this deal down.”

It’s possible O’Donnell’s outburst will make Republicans more at ease with supporting the bill, but it certainly won’t help the president. Even if enough Democrats vote for the bill in the end (and they are signaling that will be the case) the left, led by the liberal press, do not seem to be through communicating their hostility to a president who would otherwise find in them a bit more sympathy. O’Donnell, meanwhile, may have to answer to her bosses at CBS for peeling back the veneer of impartiality to reveal the liberal advocacy just beneath the surface of the mainstream networks.

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In Praise of Krugman’s Restrained Writing

I don’t always agree with Paul Krugman of the New York Times, but one of the things I appreciate about him is his equanimity, his measured words and his lack of hyperbole. As an example, take the conclusion to his most recent column:

What Republicans have just gotten away with calls our whole system of government into question. After all, how can American democracy work if whichever party is most prepared to be ruthless, to threaten the nation’s economic security, gets to dictate policy? And the answer is, maybe it can’t.

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I don’t always agree with Paul Krugman of the New York Times, but one of the things I appreciate about him is his equanimity, his measured words and his lack of hyperbole. As an example, take the conclusion to his most recent column:

What Republicans have just gotten away with calls our whole system of government into question. After all, how can American democracy work if whichever party is most prepared to be ruthless, to threaten the nation’s economic security, gets to dictate policy? And the answer is, maybe it can’t.

During the debt ceiling debate, some commentators have gotten caught up in the intensity of the moment, making sweeping claims that will, in retrospect, look ludicrous. Krugman, on the other hand, has resisted the temptation to become melodramatic, writing instead that what has unfolded during the last few weeks calls our whole system of government into question, that American democracy can no longer work, and the political Apocalypse has arrived. It’s no wonder his brand of liberalism is so popular. And today’s column is a reminder of why it’s simply impossible to view Krugman as a buffoonish figure. His restrained style of writing and calm, careful conclusions simply doesn’t allow for it.

 

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Rushing to War in Libya

In response to ideologues who insist the left has nothing to contribute to national security debates, I offer their Bush-era sloganeering about the ontological doom reserved for those who rush to war. The complaints were obviously not apt in the context of the seemingly interminable lead-up to the liberation of Iraq, but there’s definitely something to be said for the principle. Take, for example, the Libya campaign, which was launched after the president decided on a Tuesday to go to war that Friday. Neglected in the process, apparently, was any sustained analysis of how long it would take to overthrow Qaddafi or what would happen in the meantime or on whose behalf we were fighting.

The news this morning was the Libyan rebels have turned on each other–this in the aftermath of that totally insane killing of Libyan rebel general Abdel Fattah Younis. Younis was recalled from the front where he was leading the fight against Qaddafi’s forces, hauled before a rebel committee to answer charges of treason, and in the process somehow ended up dead. His followers and tribesmen are, suffice it to say, displeased. Given what CNN calls the fading of diplomatic hopes for a resolution to the conflict, the collapse of rebel unity does not bode well.

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In response to ideologues who insist the left has nothing to contribute to national security debates, I offer their Bush-era sloganeering about the ontological doom reserved for those who rush to war. The complaints were obviously not apt in the context of the seemingly interminable lead-up to the liberation of Iraq, but there’s definitely something to be said for the principle. Take, for example, the Libya campaign, which was launched after the president decided on a Tuesday to go to war that Friday. Neglected in the process, apparently, was any sustained analysis of how long it would take to overthrow Qaddafi or what would happen in the meantime or on whose behalf we were fighting.

The news this morning was the Libyan rebels have turned on each other–this in the aftermath of that totally insane killing of Libyan rebel general Abdel Fattah Younis. Younis was recalled from the front where he was leading the fight against Qaddafi’s forces, hauled before a rebel committee to answer charges of treason, and in the process somehow ended up dead. His followers and tribesmen are, suffice it to say, displeased. Given what CNN calls the fading of diplomatic hopes for a resolution to the conflict, the collapse of rebel unity does not bode well.

Taking advantage of the chaos on the ground, Hamas has been smuggling an array of weapons from Libya. Neither the Israelis or the Palestinians are disclosing the exact nature of the weapons, but you can get a sense of what’s gone missing from this mid-July story:

A large number of man-portable Russian made anti-aircraft missiles SA-7s have gone missing from Libya, raising fears that they could be obtained by terrorists to target civilian airliners. Stocks of these missiles have gone missing from arms depot abandoned by forces loyal to Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi as the rebels overran large parts of eastern and western Libya. The first batch of these missiles went missing in the early stages of the Libyan uprising. But the leakage had resumed recently with rebel gains in western Libya.

Instead of building up to war over a matter of weeks as we saw the humanitarian crisis developing–and putting our own forces on the ground to help secure things–we panicked at the last moment and cleared the way for rebels of unknown motive and loyalty to seize what they could. We did so in the context of a rushed humanitarian military mission that, because we had to justify its ongoing inconclusiveness, we expanded to include killing Qaddafi–something we’ve also failed to do. Meanwhile, the military costs of the under-planned and poorly executed adventure long ago exceeded the originally estimated $750 million price tag, an overrun that juxtaposes uncomfortably with the White House’s “let’s gut the military” contribution to the debt ceiling trigger.

And to imagine, Libya isn’t the most obvious example of liberal hypocrisy on national security principles. That prize goes to hailing the bin Laden raid–a unilateral anti-terror strike on foreign soil, outside the context of law enforcement, based partly on overseas intelligence gleaned from enhanced interrogations–as a Biblical vindication of the president’s foreign policy. The difference is the left is wrong on how to conduct the War on Terror, so ignoring them paid off.

This “rushing to war is a bad idea” notion–there might actually be something to that.

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Maureen Dowd, Neoconservative

According to Maureen Dowd of the New York Times:

The Democratic lawmakers worry that the Tea Party freshmen have already “neutered” the president, as one told me. They fret that Obama is an inept negotiator. They worry that he should have been out in the country selling a concrete plan, rather than once more kowtowing to Republicans and, as with the stimulus plan, health care and Libya, leading from behind.

As one Democratic senator complained: “The president veers between talking like a peevish professor and a scolding parent.” (Not to mention a jilted lover.) Another moaned: “We are watching him turn into Jimmy Carter right before our eyes.”

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According to Maureen Dowd of the New York Times:

The Democratic lawmakers worry that the Tea Party freshmen have already “neutered” the president, as one told me. They fret that Obama is an inept negotiator. They worry that he should have been out in the country selling a concrete plan, rather than once more kowtowing to Republicans and, as with the stimulus plan, health care and Libya, leading from behind.

As one Democratic senator complained: “The president veers between talking like a peevish professor and a scolding parent.” (Not to mention a jilted lover.) Another moaned: “We are watching him turn into Jimmy Carter right before our eyes.”

I, for one, was unaware Maureen Dowd had become a contributor to CONTENTIONS.

Her critiques are a bit familiar and a bit late; many of us, after all, have been making these observations for many months now. No matter; I’m delighted to welcome Dowd to our (professional) family.

 

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Just How Bad Could a Syrian Collapse Get?

During the weekend, Bashar al-Assad’s forces rolled into the city of Hama–where his father once had up to 40,000 civilians murdered–and killed at least 140 residents. Twitter is overflowing with reports the assault continues today, and tanks are storming other towns. Protesters have flooded the streets across Syria in response, leading German intelligence to declare that actually, no, Assad’s regime is still probably going to survive.

But the continued stability of the Syrian regime is only one highly unpleasant option. The other side of that coin is Assad will conclude his power is finally slipping. Unable to ratchet up internal repression, he might try to provoke a war with Israel.

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During the weekend, Bashar al-Assad’s forces rolled into the city of Hama–where his father once had up to 40,000 civilians murdered–and killed at least 140 residents. Twitter is overflowing with reports the assault continues today, and tanks are storming other towns. Protesters have flooded the streets across Syria in response, leading German intelligence to declare that actually, no, Assad’s regime is still probably going to survive.

But the continued stability of the Syrian regime is only one highly unpleasant option. The other side of that coin is Assad will conclude his power is finally slipping. Unable to ratchet up internal repression, he might try to provoke a war with Israel.

We already know–thanks to Michael Weiss’ investigative work–Assad orchestrated the Nakba Day raids on the Golan Heights. The anti-Israel journalists and activists who tried to characterize the riots as a spontaneous show of Palestinian nationalism, and who declared them to be the beginning of a non-violent Third Intifada, have yet to apologize for what amounted to pro-Assad propagandizing. But nonetheless, facts remain facts, and Weiss’ work shows Assad is not beyond using civilians to heat up the border. Committing Syrian military assets is a different matter–Assad knows the IDF would destroy his military, and he actually cares about that–but if he thinks he’s facing a “use ‘em or lose ‘em” situation then obviously his decision calculus would change.

A war between Israel and Syria would be devastating. Fought in a context where Assad was making a self-perceived last-ditch effort at regime survival, it would likely escalate beyond conventional weapons and would certainly escalate beyond Israel and Syria’s borders.

There is a chance Assad would try to activate Hezbollah, but that Hezbollah would hang him out to dry. Israel has all but promised the next Israeli-Hezbollah conflict will be dealt with as a state-to-state war, and the Party of God might not want to gamble on the political aftermath of dragging Lebanon into another destructive confrontation with the IDF. That would be weighed against the damage their jihadist image would suffer if they stood silently by while Israel dismantled their patron, but maybe–maybe–they would confine themselves to a few token rockets, to which the IAF would respond with a few token air raids.

But if the IDF is literally rolling into Damascus, then it’s not just an Israeli-Syrian matter any more, but a matter of Iran losing a proxy. That’s a situation that might be intolerable for the Iranians, both as a geopolitical matter and as a matter of domestic “we’ve put the Zionists on the brink of destruction” ideology. Because Tehran has always been willing to battle Israel to the last Lebanese, it might order Hezbollah to unleash its 60,000 rockets, its long-range missiles, and even the air assets rumored to be in the militia’s possession. That’s an order that would be obeyed.

From Israel’s south, Hamas would be activated, and it’s not impossible to envision Iranian proxies managing to fire off rockets from the increasingly anarchic Sinai Peninsula. Israel would be faced with a multi-front war, a situation which would call for the IDF to quickly eliminate threats in one theater and then swing around to the next. The IDF’s usual diplomacy-friendly, limited approach would be superseded by the necessity of stopping the rockets raining down on Israeli cities, and confronting state-backed Arab armies for the first time in decades.

That’s not the worst case scenario, though. The worst case scenario is one where, as the IDF made quick work of Syria’s conventional forces and began to counter-attack, Damascus responded by unleashing its stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. The orthodox deterrence argument has always been that Assad would never use those missiles because the Israelis would end his regime in response, but that thinking wouldn’t apply if Assad already thought he was on the brink of losing his regime.

The Israelis, who are living in the shadow of Iranian nuclearization, would have to retaliate disproportionately to any non-conventional attack. Their response would be limited only by the nature of the Israeli arsenal and the diplomatic constraints faced by the Israeli government, and Jerusalem is unlikely to be receptive to Western calls for moderation. Years of lectures about how Assad is actually a “reformer” have not bought the West credibility on Syrian issues, and–besides–the domestic and military justifications for retaliation would be overwhelming.

And now we’re in a situation where the Jewish State is facing a multi-front conflict involving multiple Iranian proxies plus the specter of chemical and biological attack, with the diplomatic community and the international media undoubtedly blaming Jerusalem for overreacting–a desperate and surreal situation that will not cause Israeli politicians to overreact less.

Things never should have gotten this far. Syrian instability was always inevitable – no matter how dearly peace process obsessives pretended otherwise–but the region should never have been allowed to get this dangerous. The international community did not have to stop Lebanon II before the IDF dismantled Hezbollah, and it certainly did not have to look the other way while Hezbollah rebuilt its arsenal during the last half-decade. It wasn’t inevitable to have Iranian proxies entrenched from Gaza to Beirut, had the international community not consistently–and sometimes hysterically–blocked Israel’s military campaigns to uproot them. Concentrated international pressure might have been able to bring Syria to heel, as an alternative to the downward spiral the country now faces.

All of which is to say, looking the other way while lunatics arm themselves, make alliances and organize together for war is generally not a good way to ensure long-term stability. The potential consequences of Syria’s free fall are terrifying examples of just how counter-productive that strategy may turn out to be.

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What the Debt Crisis Is All About

Powerline, the great conservative blog, has been running a contest on how to explain the debt crisis, with a $100,000 prize to the winner. Here’s my winner: an immensely catchy song redolent of the tuneful punk stylings of the Ramones of the 1970s called “You’re Gonna Pay.” The video is a little juvenile, but as a whole it does exactly what popularizing should do: Makes something difficult to understand intelligible in a clever way.

Powerline, the great conservative blog, has been running a contest on how to explain the debt crisis, with a $100,000 prize to the winner. Here’s my winner: an immensely catchy song redolent of the tuneful punk stylings of the Ramones of the 1970s called “You’re Gonna Pay.” The video is a little juvenile, but as a whole it does exactly what popularizing should do: Makes something difficult to understand intelligible in a clever way.

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Defense Hawks vs. Anti-Tax Hawks

At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein sees a potential war brewing between national security hawks and the anti-tax movement. While both groups avoided any immediate concessions in the debt ceiling deal – no defense cuts, no taxes – they may clash during the upcoming committee negotiations if it turns into an intra-conservative debate between defense reductions and tax hikes:

President Obama said during his brief remarks tonight that he would continue to push for a “balanced approach” (i.e. higher taxes). No doubt, Democrats on the congressional committee will be insisting on raising taxes as part of deficit reduction, and Republicans will be torn in both directions. Either they agree to tax increases, or they trigger automatic defense cuts on top of the cuts that they already agreed to.

No doubt, we’ll start to see more and more opposition from conservative defense hawks to slashing the military budget, while the Norquist crowd will continue to push Republicans to accept more defense cuts to avoid any increase in taxes.

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At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein sees a potential war brewing between national security hawks and the anti-tax movement. While both groups avoided any immediate concessions in the debt ceiling deal – no defense cuts, no taxes – they may clash during the upcoming committee negotiations if it turns into an intra-conservative debate between defense reductions and tax hikes:

President Obama said during his brief remarks tonight that he would continue to push for a “balanced approach” (i.e. higher taxes). No doubt, Democrats on the congressional committee will be insisting on raising taxes as part of deficit reduction, and Republicans will be torn in both directions. Either they agree to tax increases, or they trigger automatic defense cuts on top of the cuts that they already agreed to.

No doubt, we’ll start to see more and more opposition from conservative defense hawks to slashing the military budget, while the Norquist crowd will continue to push Republicans to accept more defense cuts to avoid any increase in taxes.

There’s no doubt the same people who have objected to robust national defense for years will use this as yet another pretense to handicap the military. But most conservatives would say there’s no acceptable outcome in the choice between national security and economic security. Higher taxes will ravage the already-flailing economy, and Obama’s incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has warned the military can’t endure additional defense cuts.

Citing this choice, the Heritage Foundation came out against the Budget Control Act this morning. The conservative group said it will include the act as a key vote on its congressional scorecard:

If the commission’s recommendations are not enacted, across-the-board spending cuts would be triggered, half of which (nearly $500 billion) would come from national security spending, and apparently none of which would come from the ever-growing, budget-busting entitlement programs. This provides Democrats on the committee a powerful bargaining position. Agree to their tax hikes or gut defense. It is a dangerous choice conservative lawmakers should not have to make. The defense cuts would compromise our nation’s security and the tax hikes would compromise our nation’s economy.

Boehner’s plan passed the House even with opposition from Heritage, so it seems unlikely the group will be able to block this one. Because both Republicans and Democrats had a hand in crafting the BCA, the vote probably won’t be split along party lines, so Heritage’s threats will also have less of an impact.

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Romney’s Record at Bain Capital

Mitt Romney’s executive experience, especially in the private sector, is the key pillar of his presidential campaign. As his advertisements already indicate, he will focus specifically on the national unemployment picture and work to convince voters President Obama’s policies have been job killers, and that he’ll be a job-creating president.

But the one obstacle in the way of that narrative is that for Romney, as head of the private equity firm Bain Capital, fixing companies’ finances often meant shedding jobs–at least at first. As Bloomberg put it, “It’s a facet of his career that presents a particular challenge for the Republican primary frontrunner: Tough business decisions don’t necessarily translate into good politics.” That fact will undoubtedly come up in the general election if Romney is the nominee–though it will probably be raised by one of Romney’s GOP rivals as the field narrows. Romney will have to have a defense at the ready, and it seems he has found that defense:

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Mitt Romney’s executive experience, especially in the private sector, is the key pillar of his presidential campaign. As his advertisements already indicate, he will focus specifically on the national unemployment picture and work to convince voters President Obama’s policies have been job killers, and that he’ll be a job-creating president.

But the one obstacle in the way of that narrative is that for Romney, as head of the private equity firm Bain Capital, fixing companies’ finances often meant shedding jobs–at least at first. As Bloomberg put it, “It’s a facet of his career that presents a particular challenge for the Republican primary frontrunner: Tough business decisions don’t necessarily translate into good politics.” That fact will undoubtedly come up in the general election if Romney is the nominee–though it will probably be raised by one of Romney’s GOP rivals as the field narrows. Romney will have to have a defense at the ready, and it seems he has found that defense:

I know that the Obama people would like to try and make an issue of the fact that in the private sector, sometimes jobs go. But that happens to be one more indication of their lack of understanding of how the private sector and the business sector work. Of course some businesses fail. During my tenure at Bain Capital, for instance, we invested in over 100 different companies. Not all of them succeeded. The great majority were able to add jobs, and on a total basis, we helped create tens of thousands of jobs.

Romney said this in an interview with the Des Moines Register. The interview was mostly about the economy and Romney’s campaign strategy in addressing the issue. He went on to say he’s learned from his time in the private sector–and from the conditions that led to some of those companies’ downsizing–what works and what doesn’t. In essence, his argument boils down to: I know how jobs are created and destroyed and can apply those lessons to both create jobs and ensure existing jobs aren’t destroyed.

He is also able to cite well-known successes while at Bain: Staples, Domino’s Pizza and the Sports Authority. Romney will likely tout his experience in turning around the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, as well as the fact the unemployment rate in Massachusetts dropped from 5.6 percent to 4.7 percent during his tenure, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. His message will be he has already shown he is able to successfully apply what he learned in the private sector to the public sector.

It may be his best option strategically. It remains to be seen whether it will win the hearts of anxious “Main Street” voters–or those currently unemployed–who may be wary of Romney’s record at Bain.

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Assad is Learning from Lesson of Libya

If there is one fact proven again and again in the Middle East, it is that what happens in one country affects other countries as well. Back in 2003, for example, when U.S. forces had just taken down the Baathist regime in Iraq and pulled Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi was eager to deal away his weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism in order to avoid a similar fate. More recently, the Arab Spring started with one fruit seller setting himself on fire in Tunisia. The firestorm of protest he ignited rapidly spread across the entire region.

Keep all this in mind as you read—or watch—the horrifying news about Bashar al-Assad’s brutal, bloodthirsty crackdown in Syria. His soldiers are massacring people across the entire country, and most recently in Hama, a traditional center of protest against the Alawite regime. What might give Assad the impression he has impunity to slaughter his own people? Perhaps he is watching as rulers from Bahrain to Libya do precisely that—and get away with it.

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If there is one fact proven again and again in the Middle East, it is that what happens in one country affects other countries as well. Back in 2003, for example, when U.S. forces had just taken down the Baathist regime in Iraq and pulled Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi was eager to deal away his weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism in order to avoid a similar fate. More recently, the Arab Spring started with one fruit seller setting himself on fire in Tunisia. The firestorm of protest he ignited rapidly spread across the entire region.

Keep all this in mind as you read—or watch—the horrifying news about Bashar al-Assad’s brutal, bloodthirsty crackdown in Syria. His soldiers are massacring people across the entire country, and most recently in Hama, a traditional center of protest against the Alawite regime. What might give Assad the impression he has impunity to slaughter his own people? Perhaps he is watching as rulers from Bahrain to Libya do precisely that—and get away with it.

The Libyan example might easily have gone the other way. The U.S. and our NATO allies intervened, after all, in March to stop Qaddafi from doing to Benghazi what Assad is now doing to Hama. We did manage to keep Benghazi free, but since then, NATO’s dithering and irresolution has allowed Qaddafi breathing room. By shooting his own people, the good colonel is managing to stay in power. Even with NATO committed to toppling him, he is managing to get away with further repression—largely because President Obama refuses to commit the full resources of the U.S. military to the task.

Make no mistake (as Obama would say): This is a lesson Assad is studying and learning from. No doubt he is being encouraged in his ruthlessness by the fecklessness of the U.S. and our allies in Libya. Thus, the people not only of Libya but of Syria—and the entire region—are paying the price for Obama’s “lead from behind” foreign policy.

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The Politicization of Faith

Yesterday, Democratic consultant Donna Brazile tweeted, “Last time I checked, God is above this partisan stuff. But I believe (as a woman of faith) Jesus  would be fair & support shared sacrifice.” And last time I checked, for a Christian to use Jesus as a pawn in the debt ceiling debate bordered on heresy.

The New Testament gives instructions on how to pray, on how congregations should function and deacons should manage their households, and on how husbands and wives should treat each other. Yet astonishingly, it says nothing at all about what a deal raising the debt ceiling debate should look like.

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Yesterday, Democratic consultant Donna Brazile tweeted, “Last time I checked, God is above this partisan stuff. But I believe (as a woman of faith) Jesus  would be fair & support shared sacrifice.” And last time I checked, for a Christian to use Jesus as a pawn in the debt ceiling debate bordered on heresy.

The New Testament gives instructions on how to pray, on how congregations should function and deacons should manage their households, and on how husbands and wives should treat each other. Yet astonishingly, it says nothing at all about what a deal raising the debt ceiling debate should look like.

This sort of politicization of faith occurs among both liberals and conservatives — and whenever it occurs, it’s discrediting. If Pat Robertson tried his hand at this type of crude proof-testing, Donna Brazile would be offended, and rightfully so. Subordinating faith to partisan aims is regrettable wherever we find it.

 

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Egypt Debate: Muslim Brotherhood Extremists Versus More Extreme Salafists

Islamists flooded Tahrir Square at the end of last week calling for the creation of a sharia state, the subjugation of women, the destruction of Israel, the banning of alcohol, and so on. Banners and chants filled the Square declaring “Islam, Islam, we do not want a liberal State” and “the people want Islamic law.”

Salafists to the right of the Muslim Brotherhood dominated the crowd, but the Brotherhood is confident their superior organizational capacity can overwhelm the Salafists’ demographic advantage in coming elections. The difference, according to an MB-sympathetic email posted by Jeffrey Goldberg, is that at least the Muslim Brotherhood will allow tourists to drink. So that’s where we’re at.

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Islamists flooded Tahrir Square at the end of last week calling for the creation of a sharia state, the subjugation of women, the destruction of Israel, the banning of alcohol, and so on. Banners and chants filled the Square declaring “Islam, Islam, we do not want a liberal State” and “the people want Islamic law.”

Salafists to the right of the Muslim Brotherhood dominated the crowd, but the Brotherhood is confident their superior organizational capacity can overwhelm the Salafists’ demographic advantage in coming elections. The difference, according to an MB-sympathetic email posted by Jeffrey Goldberg, is that at least the Muslim Brotherhood will allow tourists to drink. So that’s where we’re at.

You’ll note the absence of anyone seriously discussing the emergence of a liberal Egyptian state. Apparently, now that facts on the ground have been set, foreign policy experts and their media enablers can drop that pretense.

But remember when things were supposed to be different? The Muslim Brotherhood, we were told in a neat example of Freudian denial, was both (a) radical and marginal and (b) moderate and popular. And remember how, since that’s incoherent on its face, the pretexts were also insulated with a thick coat of sneering condescension?

“Don’t you know that the Muslim Brotherhood is only 20 percent of the country?” ran the “radical but marginal” line.

Meanwhile, the “moderate but popular” line – a favorite of foreign policy experts and J Street founders alike – warned us against irrational ikwanophobia, insisting the Muslim Brotherhood was actually “frequently the most effective bulwark against al-Qaeda-style extremism.” Eventually, we ended up with the director of National Intelligence describing the organization as “largely secular.”

Now we should be careful not to totally blame the Obama administration for Arab dynamics that have been decades if not centuries in the making, which would mimic the left’s pathetic parochialism from the Bush years. But if the foreign policy establishment is going to have anything approaching productive debates, there has to be an end to this weird combination of wishful vaguely pro-extremist advocacy defended with just flat out terrible arguments.

There were plenty of coherent neocon-ish arguments for supporting Mubarak’s popular overthrow even in the face of a medium-term Muslim Brotherhood takeover, from the need to drain the swamp of moderation-suffocating dictators to the moral obligation America has regarding liberal democratization. But the institutional and activist left didn’t want to make any of those arguments. Doing so would expose their Bush-era histrionics as cynical calculations that prioritized electoral considerations over solidarity with oppressed democrats, to say nothing of how recognizing the overarching reality of Islamism would mesh poorly with their “they hate us because of our actions” sensibility.

So instead, we got “the Muslim Brotherhood is disorganized and moderate.” Turns out, not so much.

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