This is a terrible day. For the first time, the creditworthiness of the United States has been called into question by an independent entity, Standard and Poor’s, which has downgraded the country’s credit rating from AAA to AA+. Its statement features this terrifying phrase: “The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed.” S&P assigns blame to all players, and by seeing a “negative outlook” down the road, is saying it expects to downgrade to a simple AA within two years.
The Left will and is already blaming the Tea Party and Republicans. The Right will and is blaming the growth of the federal debt and the refusal to deal with the unsustainable path created by the entitlement programs. This is a grinding battle that will lead to an intellectual and ideological stalemate. There’s truth to the Leftist charge that the conservative Republican decision to use the debt ceiling fight as leverage to force a cut in the national debt at a particularly risky time was unsound. But that is nothing next to the liberal fantasy that the U.S. can stay on its current course—the most destructive notion in present-day politics.
But the ideological stalemate does not mean the political fallout will be evenly distributed. This is a colossal disaster for Barack Obama, and anybody who says otherwise is kidding himself or trying to spin you. We know that the election of 2012 is going to be fought on jobs, the economy, and the wisdom of health care. But now the GOP has an overarching theme that I predict will be at the core of a $500 million advertising campaign: “America needs its good name back.”
In the aftermath of the debt ceiling debate, there has been a renewed push from the left to demonize the Tea Party movement. It has become commonplace for members of the movement to be labeled as “terrorists.” This increasingly bad image for the group is reinforced by a New York Times/CBS poll that claims more Americans have a negative view of the Tea Party than at any time since April 2010. The survey said 40 percent of those polled had an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party while 20 percent were favorable. In response to another question, 18 percent of respondents said they considered themselves Tea Party supporters.
According to the Times’ article on the poll, “The Tea Party may have benefited early on from people not really knowing exactly what it was.” But the paper claims the debt ceiling debate changed this, and now most Americans see the group as being “inflexible” at a time when they wanted Congress to compromise on spending. But any discussion of the group’s image must be tempered by the fact it has been subjected to a campaign of non-stop demonization by media outlets such as the Times. The media have sought–since the inception of the Tea Party–to brand its adherents as extremists rather than as a genuine expression of popular opinion.
National Journal’s Ron Brownstein has written that independent voters are “expressing astronomical levels of discontent with President Obama, Congress and the Washington system itself.” He goes on to say “this towering wave of alienation” presages more volatility for our political system. Each party is experiencing a hemorrhaging of public support. What we are witnessing is “a simultaneous vote of no confidence from the public in both the American economy and its national government.”
Brownstein points out this is only the latest wave of alienation that has hit our shores. It’s actually been going on, to one degree or another, for several decades now. And while such antipathy might be justified in any particular moment in time, it’s also the case the current level of public discontent toward our governing class and its institutions carries some dangers. The framers of the American Constitution sought to confer legitimacy on the new government (which replaced the much weaker Articles of Confederation) in part because they understood such legitimacy was important to a free society.
The United Nations Security Council issued another statement yesterday calling for an end to the violent repression of protests in Syria by government forces. Oddly enough, the Assad regime found itself in partial compliance with that request by the end of the day by virtue of the fact its army appeared to have completely wiped out all traces of opposition in the city of Hama. According to the New York Times, Syria’s state-run media broadcast footage of the ruins of the city in the aftermath of the armored assault on Hama that began last Sunday. Hundreds of civilians were apparently killed in the crackdown that reestablished the personal rule of the Assad clan and its Alawite-run regime in a town that was a wellspring of dissent.
As many as 2,000 persons may have been killed in the last few months as Assad’s henchmen fought back against Arab Spring protests against the authoritarian government. But despite the lip service paid to the international condemnation of Syria by the UN, the world body has been preparing to help fund the “reforms” the regime has planned to help perpetuate its rule.
This is a bit unexpected, considering Americans are strongly in favor of spending cuts. But today’s Rasmussen poll found only 29 percent of voters support the automatic reductions (half of which will come from defense) that will go into effect if the congressional “super committee” fails to reach an agreement:
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows that 29 percent favor automatic spending cuts, including cuts from defense spending and Medicare, if Congress doesn’t reduce spending by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Fifty-two percent oppose these automatic spending cuts. Another 19 percent are undecided.
While few saw it coming, many observers are now speaking of the staying power of Israel’s economic protest movement as a major threat to the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Though the demonstrators seem devoid of a coherent alternative policy and seemingly ignorant of the tremendous damage out-of-control government spending has done in Europe, there is no denying they have tapped into popular discontent with the current state of affairs.
The question is how serious a threat does it pose to Netanyahu in the short term and what impact will it have on the next election.
Tzipi Livni is a generally well-liked, respected and intelligent person. But she is one of the least talented politicians ever to lead a major party in Israel. Her latest missed opportunity was her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg and James Bennet, published on The Atlantic’s website today.
Her main failure in the interview stemmed from her empty warning to the Atlantic duo the meeting was not to be an “oy vey conversation.” Livni presumably was well aware The Atlantic would be much more interested in getting her to criticize Benjamin Netanyahu than anything else, and indeed the interview progressed in exactly that fashion, making Livni look weak and opportunistic. There are no new ideas advanced, so Livni continues to give the impression she has none to offer. And the interviewers didn’t do themselves any favors either, as evidenced by the following exchange:
As Max wrote last night, the growing chorus of pundits and politicians who think they can erase the federal deficit through defense cuts are not only wrong on fiscal terms but are doing the country a great disservice. As we look forward to a budgetary process in which across-the-board defense cuts will be on the table, it bears asking whether there is still a strong constituency for national defense in the current economic environment.
Yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen held a press conference during which they urged Congress to spare the Pentagon from the ruinous cuts contemplated by the debt ceiling compromise. But the two sounded as if they were upholding the banner of a lost cause.
The Forward reported today the Israeli government has set in motion plans to raise the Altalena, an armed Jewish ship sunk by Palmach troops in the early days of Israel’s independence. The incident has long been recalled as the moment of potential civil war for the new state, when a challenge to its authority by the independent-minded (and terrorist to boot) Irgun led by Menachem Begin was forcibly put down by David Ben-Gurion, who understood that to function properly a state must have a monopoly on arms.
The current fight, though, has less to do with the Altalena itself than the more potent battle over historical memory.
This morning, the Labor Department reported payrolls rose by 117,000 workers in July after a 46,000 increase in June. The jobless rate also dropped from 9.2 percent to 9.1 percent – but that’s because more Americans left the labor force. Some 193,000 people left the labor force last month while the number of unemployed dropped by 156,000. (As a reference point, payrolls need to increase about 125,000 a month to keep the jobless rate steady and about 200,000 a month in order to bring the unemployment rate down a percentage point over a year.) And the so-called underemployment rate — which includes part-time workers who’d prefer a full-time position and people who want work but have given up looking — decreased to 16.1 percent from 16.2 percent. But here’s the most eye-catching data point of all: The share of the eligible population holding a job declined to 58.1 percent, the lowest since July 1983.
White House chief economist Austan Goolsbee said today’s figures are “encouraging news,” which shows you the degree to which we’re defining encouraging news these days. A more pessimistic, and perhaps a more realistic, appraisal comes to us courtesy of Floyd Norris, chief financial correspondent of the New York Times, who today writes, “Double dip may be back. It has been three decades since the United States suffered a recession that followed on the heels of the previous one. But it could be happening again. The unrelenting negative economic news of the past two weeks has painted a picture of a United States economy that fell further and recovered less than we had thought.”
Last month, when Bethany Murphy wandered over to the “No Labels” rally in Washington, she found a sparse crowd unenthusiastic about their “cause”–centrism, civility, nonpartisanship, etc. But she also found something there that teaches an important lesson for presidential candidates as we head into the 2012 election.
One of the attendees at the rally asked another what their next step was; the reply was, there wasn’t one. Bethany wrote: “Those at No Labels have no next step, because they have no base from which to demand action.” This is a crystal clear distillation of one of the most often debunked myths of presidential elections: that “nonpartisan independents” are the key to victory. Republicans should keep this in mind as the media scolds them for “pandering” to their base while Democrats smartly and loudly complain President Obama should stop ignoring his own base.
After a failed attempt to portray Republicans as “hostage-takers,” Senate Democrats finally decided to sit down and compromise with the GOP to end the temporary Federal Aviation Administration shutdown yesterday. And by “compromise,” I mean Democrats realized eliminating thousands of FAA jobs because Sen. Harry Reid didn’t want to give up millions in pork to his district probably wasn’t good for their public image – so they caved and decided to support the Republican bill:
Under the arrangement, the Democratic-controlled Senate on Friday will pass by unanimous consent a bill the Republican-led House passed in July that temporarily allows the FAA to conduct its business and slashes $16 million from the budget for subsidies paid to rural airports. That would allow the FAA to recall its furloughed employees and get up and running again at full strength – at least until Sept. 16, when the temporary extension would expire.
Two months after Menachem Zivotofsky was born in 2002 to American parents in West Jerusalem (at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, which has been in Jerusalem since 1902), his mother went to the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to get a passport for him, asking it show his place of birth as “Jerusalem, Israel.”
The embassy entered “Jerusalem” on the passport, but refused to enter “Israel,” despite the fact Congress enacted a law in 2002 directing the State Department to enter “Israel” if a citizen so requested.
As if the CIA linking the Russian government to a recent American embassy bombing in Georgia last week wasn’t evidence enough the “reset” never got off the ground, Eli Lake reports Russian intelligence agencies have began stepping up their intimidation campaign against U.S. diplomats:
U.S. diplomats and officials have found their homes broken into and vandalized, or altered in ways as trivial as bathroom use; faced anonymous or veiled threats; and in some cases found themselves set up in compromising photos or videos that are later leaked to the local press and presented as a sex scandal. …
They have become worse in just the past year, some U.S. officials said. Also, their targets are broadening to include human rights workers and nongovernmental organizations as well as embassy staff.
Coming on the heels of yesterday’s dramatic stock market plunge, today’s job numbers report may help steady the nation’s nerves for a while. The Department of Labor reported a better than expected total of new jobs created with the unemployment rate dropping just a bit to 9.1 percent in July. But reassurance for markets, businesses and consumers may be in short supply in the coming months. All the signs seem to be pointing toward the nation slipping into a double dip recession, which means we may well look back on this month as the calm before the storm hit with worse to follow. There’s little doubt the much-ballyhooed Obama recovery from the collapse of 2008 is officially over. The Obama recession is upon us.
Where this leaves the president and a divided Congress in the coming weeks is something of a puzzle. Obama responded to the last recession with mammoth expenditures in a failed billion-dollar stimulus and a vast expansion of entitlement spending via his health care bill and would probably like to try more of the same. The Democrats’ crushing defeat in the 2010 election ensured this experiment wouldn’t be repeated, leaving the president with no options but to spend the next 15 months ranting about the need for more taxes and blaming the Republican Congress for all that has gone wrong. Obama can’t evade his ownership for the economy, and unless there is a miraculous recovery in the next year, this will doom his re-election hopes. But he isn’t the only one with problems.