Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 8, 2011

The Debate About Truman and the Bomb

If it’s the first week of August, it’s time for the annual session of American breast-beating about President Harry Truman’s decision to launch the first nuclear weapons attack on Japan. For decades, leftist revisionists have sought to brand Truman as a war criminal for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whose anniversaries are commemorated this week. Those critics have generally ignored the facts concerning Japan’s intransigence about surrender while wrongly seeking to portray as immoral a reasonable American decision-making process in the summer of 1945 about how best to achieve a quick end to the war while shedding the least blood.

But there is a new theory about why Japan surrendered that avoids the naïveté of Truman’s traditional critics while still insisting he was wrong to drop the bomb. A fascinating feature in yesterday’s Boston Globe outlines the theories of historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, who argues in a new book it was not the A-bomb but the last minute entry of the Soviet Union into the war in the Pacific that convinced the Japanese to give up. This thesis provides plenty of food for thought but is ultimately unpersuasive as a critique of Truman.

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If it’s the first week of August, it’s time for the annual session of American breast-beating about President Harry Truman’s decision to launch the first nuclear weapons attack on Japan. For decades, leftist revisionists have sought to brand Truman as a war criminal for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whose anniversaries are commemorated this week. Those critics have generally ignored the facts concerning Japan’s intransigence about surrender while wrongly seeking to portray as immoral a reasonable American decision-making process in the summer of 1945 about how best to achieve a quick end to the war while shedding the least blood.

But there is a new theory about why Japan surrendered that avoids the naïveté of Truman’s traditional critics while still insisting he was wrong to drop the bomb. A fascinating feature in yesterday’s Boston Globe outlines the theories of historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, who argues in a new book it was not the A-bomb but the last minute entry of the Soviet Union into the war in the Pacific that convinced the Japanese to give up. This thesis provides plenty of food for thought but is ultimately unpersuasive as a critique of Truman.

Stalin’s effort to gain a share of the postwar spoils in the Far East has long been seen as a cynical power grab that helped solidify communist rule in northern Asia. The Japanese were shocked by this turnabout, because they thought the Russians would help broker a peace that would grant them better terms than they could otherwise hope for.

Hasegawa is also right when he says Japanese leaders were not particularly concerned about the massive casualties caused by the American strategic bombing campaign that had leveled most of their cities. As the Globe notes, a February 1945 firebombing of Tokyo by the U.S. Air Force actually killed more people than either A-bomb.

Those who have long argued a continuation of this bombing campaign with conventional weapons and the accompanying U.S. naval blockade of the Japanese home islands would have forced them to surrender without either a costly invasion or atomic weapons are misinformed. Strategic bombing was a devastating weapon, even more so in the case of the U.S. assault on Japan than the earlier Allied offensive against Germany, but conventional bombs and blockades do not win wars by themselves. Nothing short of American boots on the ground (with the certainty of hundreds of thousands of U.S. casualties and perhaps millions for the Japanese) would have forced surrender.

But the then-unimaginable idea that one bomb alone could wipe a city completely off the map did get the attention of  Japan’s high command and its emperor. The science fiction nature of the bomb gave them the excuse to surrender, which a conventional attack could never provide without a complete loss of face and honor. That is something the lightening Russian offensive in Asia, as horrifying as it must have been for the Japanese to contemplate, could never have accomplished. After all, even if the Russians had been given the time to complete their sweep through Manchuria and Korea, that would have just put them in the same position as the United States vis-à-vis the Japanese heartland. And unlike the Americans, the Soviets did not have a Navy in the Pacific worth the name. That means they would have been unable to launch a massive amphibious assault that could have threatened the Japanese government’s existence.

As some historians have argued, maybe we should give a bit more weight to the impact of the Soviet attack when analyzing the final and by no means easily achieved Japanese decision to give up even after the eradication of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Perhaps the combined effect of both the A-bomb and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria helped tip them over the edge. But to argue the Soviets alone forced a Japanese surrender is as misleading as any of the other revisionist claims.

The false narrative in which the bombs transform the aggressor into the victim has helped Japan evade its historical responsibility for the atrocities its armies committed in China, the Philippines and the rest of Asia. As gruesome as the results of the A-bombs were, Truman’s decision must be judged in the context of the imperative to end the war quickly. Without the bombs, the fighting may well have dragged on for months with a toll of Japanese, American and even Russian casualties that would have dwarfed the number of those killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As popular as it may be for some to criticize America, Truman’s decision was both militarily and ethically correct.

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RE: Obama’s Downgrade Rhetoric

The market obviously agrees with Jonathan. When the president spoke at one o’clock, the market was at 11,128, down a little over 430 points from Friday’s close, 200 points from Monday’s opening. His speech did not reassure the market at all, as it continued its slide unabated and closed down 634 points at 10,822.

It was not a good day for the stock market (although the bond market held up well). But it was a worse day for the president. I must be getting used to them and he better, as he has many more ahead of him, I believe.

The market obviously agrees with Jonathan. When the president spoke at one o’clock, the market was at 11,128, down a little over 430 points from Friday’s close, 200 points from Monday’s opening. His speech did not reassure the market at all, as it continued its slide unabated and closed down 634 points at 10,822.

It was not a good day for the stock market (although the bond market held up well). But it was a worse day for the president. I must be getting used to them and he better, as he has many more ahead of him, I believe.

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Riding the Bachmann Roller Coaster

When a presidential candidate learns she is holding on to her slim lead in polling for Iowa’s first in the nation caucus, you’d be hard pressed to characterize it as a bad day. But along with the good news from Rasmussen about Iowa, Michele Bachmann learned Rick Perry will seek to overshadow her hoped-for victory in the Ames straw poll by scheduling the presumed announcement of his candidacy on the same day. She was also the subject of an unflattering profile in Newsweek and an even lengthier hit job in The New Yorker that were both published today.

While the two articles can be interpreted as yet another sign Bachmann is a sufficiently important enough conservative for the liberal media to seek her destruction, the Perry announcement will be a signal her quick ascent to the top tier of the GOP field will be followed by a tough battle to stay there.

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When a presidential candidate learns she is holding on to her slim lead in polling for Iowa’s first in the nation caucus, you’d be hard pressed to characterize it as a bad day. But along with the good news from Rasmussen about Iowa, Michele Bachmann learned Rick Perry will seek to overshadow her hoped-for victory in the Ames straw poll by scheduling the presumed announcement of his candidacy on the same day. She was also the subject of an unflattering profile in Newsweek and an even lengthier hit job in The New Yorker that were both published today.

While the two articles can be interpreted as yet another sign Bachmann is a sufficiently important enough conservative for the liberal media to seek her destruction, the Perry announcement will be a signal her quick ascent to the top tier of the GOP field will be followed by a tough battle to stay there.

Bachmann and Perry both represent the synthesis of a new breed of conservatives who mix socially conservative religious views with a strain of Tea Party libertarianism. Despite occasional gaffes, Bachmann’s performance has shown her to be head and shoulders above most of the field when it comes to not only campaign skills but in connecting with voters. Perry’s record of success, both in terms of politics and economic performance in Texas, is already established. While he seems like the more formidable of the two, he will have to prove that on the stump.

Though Perry has been subjected to intense scrutiny by the press in Texas, especially by liberal gadflies in Austin, he is yet to be put under the microscope of the national media the way Bachmann has been in the last couple of months. The Newsweek and New Yorker stories about Bachmann represent two different approaches to the task of trashing a conservative.

The Newsweek piece is a more straightforward attack on the candidate that takes the point of view Bachman is merely the embodiment of Tea Party extremism. It treats the assumption–shared by many Americans–that government is too big and the massive entitlements bankrupting our states and cities as well as the federal government must be reformed before we are all sunk, as a form of extremism that is basically crazy. While Bachmann will have to account for her absolutist position on the debt ceiling, this is an attempt to brand the views of a large chunk of the electorate as crazy. That’s not exactly an argument that will damage Bachmann with Republicans or even most voters of either party.

On the other hand, the New Yorker profile by Ryan Lizza wastes little time trying to debunk the Tea Party. Instead, he concentrates his fire on the candidate herself, seeking to tie her to every right-wing radical idea or scholar she has ever read or studied under. This is exactly the sort of attack decried as scurrilous when the same methods were applied to Barack Obama and his left-wing connections when he was running four years ago.

Some of these revelations do pose some serious questions. If she makes it to the later primaries or the general election, she’ll have to explain her views about church and state in such a way as to assure those who don’t share her particular religious beliefs that her views of the Constitution are well within the legal and political mainstream.

But most of the anecdotes collected by Lizza aren’t likely to cause Bachmann much discomfort. Neither her fight to establish a charter school or her background as a conservative activist yield the sort of biographical nuggets that might disqualify her for high office. As for her personal life, the fact some fellow IRS employees resented she took pregnancy leave twice while working for the government is more politically incorrect than anything Bachmann has ever said. The only one of her 23 foster children that Lizza was able to track down gave her a glowing endorsement. If the worst thing said of her personally is she doesn’t want to be photographed when dressed informally (as Lizza tells it, that’s the main rule for journalists who ride the Bachmann campaign plane), she’ll pass inspection.

Rick Perry may be planning on stealing Bachmann’s thunder on Saturday, and he may well do it. But the Newsweek and New Yorker profiles are merely two more indications Bachmann is a serious Republican contender. Whether her associations will hurt in a general election campaign is a question for another day. But anyone, including Rick Perry, who underestimates her appeal to conservatives is making a mistake.

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Disillusioned Democrats Search for Obama Primary Challenger

The Daily Beast reports Democrats are beginning to seriously regret choosing President Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008 – and who can blame them after the president’s performance today and during the last few weeks? Throughout the debt ceiling debate, Obama has regularly swooped in to play “referee” between Republican and Democratic lawmakers but has shied away from proposing any serious debt-cutting plans of his own.

Today, Obama once again blamed partisan gridlock for blocking progress, while refusing to acknowledge any personal fault. He claimed he’s been aware of the severity of the debt problem since his first day in office. So why has he done practically nothing so far to address it? If Republicans hadn’t taken up the debt ceiling fight, does anyone actually believe Obama would have taken any serious steps to deal with the deficit crisis?

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The Daily Beast reports Democrats are beginning to seriously regret choosing President Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008 – and who can blame them after the president’s performance today and during the last few weeks? Throughout the debt ceiling debate, Obama has regularly swooped in to play “referee” between Republican and Democratic lawmakers but has shied away from proposing any serious debt-cutting plans of his own.

Today, Obama once again blamed partisan gridlock for blocking progress, while refusing to acknowledge any personal fault. He claimed he’s been aware of the severity of the debt problem since his first day in office. So why has he done practically nothing so far to address it? If Republicans hadn’t taken up the debt ceiling fight, does anyone actually believe Obama would have taken any serious steps to deal with the deficit crisis?

The president conceded today that “moderate” entitlement reform has to take place. If he’s known that to be true, then why hasn’t he been spearheading it? And why have his policies only added to the entitlement problem since taking office? Instead of showing leadership, Obama has tried to play the role of the impartial mediator. He offers blame for both sides but few solutions. And when his proposals fail, he ducks responsibility.

Instead of bringing both parties together, this finger pointing has only added to the antagonism between the two sides. In the process, Obama has also lost the trust of his fellow Democrats, who resent him for trying to shift his share of the blame for the gridlock onto them.

It’s no wonder disgusted Democrats have started whispering about a primary challenger to Obama. After all, if he’s done this much damage to the party’s brand in three years, imagine what he can do in eight.

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The Real Brilliance of Perry’s Saturday Speech

Rick Perry supposedly plans to upstage the Iowa straw poll on Saturday with a speech that “will remove any doubt about his White House intentions,” as the Politico story phrases it.

The strategy here is clearly to compete with Iowa rather than compete in Iowa:

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Rick Perry supposedly plans to upstage the Iowa straw poll on Saturday with a speech that “will remove any doubt about his White House intentions,” as the Politico story phrases it.

The strategy here is clearly to compete with Iowa rather than compete in Iowa:

It’s uncertain whether Saturday will mark a formal declaration, but Perry’s decision to disclose his intentions the same day as the Ames straw poll—and then hours later make his first trip to New Hampshire— will send shockwaves through the race and upend whatever results come out of the straw poll.

[…]

Whether the Ames winner is Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty or someone else, they will immediately have to compete for Perry for attention in the aftermath of his kickoff, particularly given his plans to visit Iowa.

This is a pretty good idea. But I do think the understanding of the move has been slightly off-target so far. Perry is not trying to make the public forget about the winner of the straw poll. In fact, to have the intended effect, Perry wants the Iowa straw poll to be magnified in the public’s mind. The goal of his competing announcement is to highlight the winner of the straw poll at the same time he makes a (sure to be) well-covered speech.

Perry wants to say: Look–here are your two choices. The reason is because his chief rival, Mitt Romney, is unlikely to win the straw poll. That means an effective Perry campaign ploy will elevate the winner (most likely Bachmann) to a space that should be occupied by Romney. The news cycle will pit Perry against the Not Romney candidate.

The report states Perry may not officially announce his candidacy at the speech. Why not? Because this is a two-step process to becoming the Not Romney candidate. First, he must outshine the winner of the Iowa straw poll even though he’s not yet a candidate. Then, when he officially launches his candidacy, he will begin the campaign as the Not Romney candidate, giving him plenty of time to challenge Romney for frontrunner status without having to go through Bachmann first.

In all likelihood, Perry wants to share the media spotlight on Saturday with the winner of the straw poll. He will assume–and he is probably correct–the comparison will work in his favor among GOP primary voters.

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In Honor of the Fallen

The death of 30 American troops, including 22 Navy SEALS, and eight Afghans in eastern Afghanistan is a sickening and grievous loss. These were individuals of extraordinary valor and patriotism who died defending the nation they loved and revered. Too many of us, who aren’t part of the military, will read this story, feel sad for a time and then move forward. Our lives will go on as before. But those in the military, and especially the friends and families of the fallen, will carry this wound to their graves. They will never forget what happened on Saturday morning south of Kabul.

“I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death,” General MacArthur said in his West Point address in 1962, speaking of the fallen American soldier. “They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood and sweat and tears as we sought the way and the truth and the light.”

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The death of 30 American troops, including 22 Navy SEALS, and eight Afghans in eastern Afghanistan is a sickening and grievous loss. These were individuals of extraordinary valor and patriotism who died defending the nation they loved and revered. Too many of us, who aren’t part of the military, will read this story, feel sad for a time and then move forward. Our lives will go on as before. But those in the military, and especially the friends and families of the fallen, will carry this wound to their graves. They will never forget what happened on Saturday morning south of Kabul.

“I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death,” General MacArthur said in his West Point address in 1962, speaking of the fallen American soldier. “They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood and sweat and tears as we sought the way and the truth and the light.”

“However horrible the incidents of war may be,” MacArthur went on to say, “the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country, is the
noblest development of mankind.”

A few days ago in Afghanistan, 30 Americans serving there died gloriously on the field of battle. They perished sacrificing upon the altar of freedom. Their loss is overwhelming; so is their example of courage and honor.

They were the noblest among us.

Requiescat in pace.

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Obama’s Downgrade Rhetoric Just More of the Same

In the aftermath of the disastrous downgrading of the credit rating of the United States, President Obama had nothing new to offer. Rather than speaking in a presidential manner and taking responsibility for what has occurred, Obama merely reverted to the same rhetoric we heard over and over during the debt ceiling debate. After a few words disagreeing with the eminently debatable decision by Standard and Poor’s, Obama spent most of his time addressing the subject in his speech to the country today, blaming those who sought to restrain his out-of-control spending. All he had to offer the nation was more of his demands for a “balanced” approach to the deficit while saying nothing about his own vast expansion of spending and entitlements via the stimulus and Obamacare.

Obama seems stuck on automatic pilot when it comes to speaking publicly of the disastrous economy he has presided over. He appears incapable of dealing with this manner in any but a campaign mode, casting blame on others while ignoring his own crucial mistakes.

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In the aftermath of the disastrous downgrading of the credit rating of the United States, President Obama had nothing new to offer. Rather than speaking in a presidential manner and taking responsibility for what has occurred, Obama merely reverted to the same rhetoric we heard over and over during the debt ceiling debate. After a few words disagreeing with the eminently debatable decision by Standard and Poor’s, Obama spent most of his time addressing the subject in his speech to the country today, blaming those who sought to restrain his out-of-control spending. All he had to offer the nation was more of his demands for a “balanced” approach to the deficit while saying nothing about his own vast expansion of spending and entitlements via the stimulus and Obamacare.

Obama seems stuck on automatic pilot when it comes to speaking publicly of the disastrous economy he has presided over. He appears incapable of dealing with this manner in any but a campaign mode, casting blame on others while ignoring his own crucial mistakes.

The president is right when he says the United States is a better country than the one S&P trashed on Friday for no good reason. He’s also right other factors we can’t necessarily control–such as earthquakes and unrest in the Middle East–have helped create this result.

“Markets may rise and fall,” as he said, but it appears the one constant is the president’s refusal to take responsibility for what has happened on his watch.

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U.S.-Israel Alliance Tops Recess Agenda

Anyone tempted to underestimate the support Israel retains in Congress ought to think again. During the three-week congressional recess, an astounding 81 members of the House of Representatives will visit the Jewish state. The Jerusalem Post reports 55 Republicans (including half of the 47 GOP freshman members elected last year) and 26 Democrats will take part in the trips sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a group affiliated with the AIPAC lobby. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor as well as the Democrat’s Minority Whip Steny Hoyer will also be along for the ride. The members will be offered an opportunity to see the country up close as well as to meet with Israel’s leaders. For many of them, it will be their first visit to the country.

While one could dismiss this item as merely business as usual for a Congress that has never wavered in its backing for Israel, that’s the point. As I wrote in the July issue of COMMENTARY, at a time when Israel is confronted by a White House cooler to the Jewish state than any in the last two decades, Congress is the backstop that gives Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu the ability to say “no” to President Obama on security concessions. Far from being a minority point of view imposed on the country, the broad-based nature of the pro-Israel coalition cuts across the deep partisan divide in Washington and is deeply ingrained in the political culture of the United States.

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Anyone tempted to underestimate the support Israel retains in Congress ought to think again. During the three-week congressional recess, an astounding 81 members of the House of Representatives will visit the Jewish state. The Jerusalem Post reports 55 Republicans (including half of the 47 GOP freshman members elected last year) and 26 Democrats will take part in the trips sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a group affiliated with the AIPAC lobby. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor as well as the Democrat’s Minority Whip Steny Hoyer will also be along for the ride. The members will be offered an opportunity to see the country up close as well as to meet with Israel’s leaders. For many of them, it will be their first visit to the country.

While one could dismiss this item as merely business as usual for a Congress that has never wavered in its backing for Israel, that’s the point. As I wrote in the July issue of COMMENTARY, at a time when Israel is confronted by a White House cooler to the Jewish state than any in the last two decades, Congress is the backstop that gives Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu the ability to say “no” to President Obama on security concessions. Far from being a minority point of view imposed on the country, the broad-based nature of the pro-Israel coalition cuts across the deep partisan divide in Washington and is deeply ingrained in the political culture of the United States.

Obama has followed up on his May ambush of Netanyahu with a summer of diplomatic pressure on Jerusalem. But the Congress, which in this case is a good reflection of American public opinion on the Middle East, stands ready to act as a brake on the confused foreign policies put forward by Obama. These trips are merely the tangible signs of an alliance that is too strong for any administration–even one as problematic as the present one–to destroy.

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Tea Partiers Should Police Phillips

“I will tell you ladies and gentlemen, I detest and despise everything the left stands for,” Tea Party Nation CEO Judson Phillips said at a Saturday rally in Wisconsin in support of one of the six Republican state senators facing a recall election Tuesday. “How anybody can endorse and embrace an ideology that has killed a billion people in the last century is beyond me.”

Many of us who are conservative have real concerns about modern-day liberalism. But the notion liberalism is responsible for killing a billion people in the 20th century is grossly irresponsible and ludicrous. I assume Phillips is saying American liberalism is synonymous with Nazism and Communism, that it is the animating ideology of Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, the Khmer Rouge, the Hutu militia, and countless other 20th century genocidal killers and movements.

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“I will tell you ladies and gentlemen, I detest and despise everything the left stands for,” Tea Party Nation CEO Judson Phillips said at a Saturday rally in Wisconsin in support of one of the six Republican state senators facing a recall election Tuesday. “How anybody can endorse and embrace an ideology that has killed a billion people in the last century is beyond me.”

Many of us who are conservative have real concerns about modern-day liberalism. But the notion liberalism is responsible for killing a billion people in the 20th century is grossly irresponsible and ludicrous. I assume Phillips is saying American liberalism is synonymous with Nazism and Communism, that it is the animating ideology of Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, the Khmer Rouge, the Hutu militia, and countless other 20th century genocidal killers and movements.

This is not simply an ignorant statement (how he arrives at the figure of a billion people is impossible to know; as a reference point World War II, the deadliest military conflict in history, took the lives of somewhere around 70 million); it’s quite an unhelpful one. The Tea Party, after all, is being routinely slandered these days, compared to terrorists and suicide bombers. The proper response isn’t to lash out at these voices by comparing them to the most malevolent ideologies of the last century or comparing Wisconsin liberals to Nazi storm troopers; it is to make the case for limited government in a calm, reasonable and precise manner.

To be fair to the Tea Party movement, Phillips is a highly controversial figure within it. This story, for example, reports, “People who once worked with Phillips call him a brazen and bungling opportunist.” See here: and here.  The temptation might be to dismiss Phillips as a crank, which he is, and therefore ignore his vituperative comments. But because of his association with the Tea Party, there will be an effort to link him to it in the hopes of discrediting the entire movement. Which is why I think it would be not just right but wise for responsible Tea Party figures, who have themselves been on the receiving end of slander, to speak out against Phillips. As William F.  Buckley taught us many decades ago, a political movement has to police its own ranks, and from time to time to make it clear who doesn’t speak for it.

Beyond that, it would be nice if we had a Stupid Historical Analogy Moratorium in America, with people on all sides of the debate resisting the temptation to compare one’s opponents to Nazis and to al-Qaeda, to Hitler and bin Laden. The nation is growing weary, I suspect, of rhetorical excesses and ad hominem attacks, which are themselves the product of rage, desperation and extremely lazy thinking.

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Lobbyists Swarm DC as “Super Committee” Appointments Loom

The members of the deficit-cutting “super committee” won’t be appointed until August 16, but K Street is already getting a head start on what’s sure to be the most high-pressure period of political lobbying in recent memory.

The National Journal has a roundup of some of the ways lobbyists are already working to influence the committee before it’s even formed. These tactics range from pressuring congressional leadership to appoint industry-friendly lawmakers to the committee, rallying grassroots activists, and trying to pinpoint the sub-panels that will be making recommendations to the super committee.

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The members of the deficit-cutting “super committee” won’t be appointed until August 16, but K Street is already getting a head start on what’s sure to be the most high-pressure period of political lobbying in recent memory.

The National Journal has a roundup of some of the ways lobbyists are already working to influence the committee before it’s even formed. These tactics range from pressuring congressional leadership to appoint industry-friendly lawmakers to the committee, rallying grassroots activists, and trying to pinpoint the sub-panels that will be making recommendations to the super committee.

The prospect of major cuts from such a wide swath of industries in such a short amount of time means Washington is bracing itself for the largest influx of influence-peddlers its seen in decades:

The size and scope of the task appear unprecedented. The closest comparison, Washington insiders say: 1986 tax reform. Except instead of having two years to finish the job, lawmakers have four months, putting the “normal congressional committee process on steroids,” as GOP lobbyist Jack Howard put it. “There are more nervous lobbyists in this town tonight than [anytime] since 1986,” Paul Bledsoe, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said. “It will be a feast for them in the short term, but a lot of them are going to lose.”

The super committee is set to hold its first meeting in mid-September, and its budget recommendations are due November 23. As of now, it looks like the negotiations will be conducted solely behind closed doors, with little-to-no transparency. With swarms of lobbyists injecting themselves into the debate, it becomes even more important for Congress and the White House to keep the public informed of the super committee’s deliberations. If special interest groups are going to try to guide the negotiations, then the average American should at least be aware of what’s going on at the table.

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Romney: When I Was Governor, S&P Upgraded Our Credit

Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the U.S. credit rating has given putative GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney a ready-made contrast to tout. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney said, his leadership on economic matters moved the state in the right direction. Therefore, he said today, “We had a credit upgrade (from the S&P) as proposed to what you’re seeing now, a downgrade.”

Romney made the comments to reporters before speaking to a business roundtable in New Hampshire. The comments highlight what Romney sees as his greatest advantage over not just the president, but his GOP primary rivals as well. What was once thought to be a major weakness–his tenure as governor of a liberal state during which he took moderate positions on social issues and enacted a universal health care plan–is starting to provide Romney with some valuable material for his campaign.

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Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the U.S. credit rating has given putative GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney a ready-made contrast to tout. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney said, his leadership on economic matters moved the state in the right direction. Therefore, he said today, “We had a credit upgrade (from the S&P) as proposed to what you’re seeing now, a downgrade.”

Romney made the comments to reporters before speaking to a business roundtable in New Hampshire. The comments highlight what Romney sees as his greatest advantage over not just the president, but his GOP primary rivals as well. What was once thought to be a major weakness–his tenure as governor of a liberal state during which he took moderate positions on social issues and enacted a universal health care plan–is starting to provide Romney with some valuable material for his campaign.

Romney actually told reporters President Obama wasn’t the only one to blame for the rating downgrade, but said the president owns most of the blame, especially for not taking action everyone knew had to be taken–cutting spending. “During the last two-and-a-half years, this president is primarily responsible for the failure of this economy to reignite, for his own failure to take action so obviously needed to restore our balance sheets,” he said.

Romney is clearly hoping while such attacks will come from all the GOP primary candidates, his words will have more weight. He is the private sector success, a theme he will continue to hammer home. While there are other governors in this race, Romney will point out, he is the only one to have the business experience and economic savvy this national challenge requires.

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Despite Hype, GOP Candidates’ Fates May be Altered by Ames

This is a big week in Iowa as the candidates prepare for a televised debate in Ames on Thursday followed by the straw poll on Saturday. Although frontrunner Mitt Romney won’t compete in the poll, Iowa will still be the center of attention. Those who are in the mix will be seeking to, as in Michele Bachmann’s case, reinforce her first tier status or, as is the case with Tim Pawlenty, fight for survival. As to whether the straw poll deserves this much coverage, that’s a matter of opinion.

It is generally understood the poll doesn’t tell us much about who will win the Iowa caucuses this winter let alone the Republican presidential nomination. The Ames event will be a measure more of the candidates’ organizations than their ability to appeal to voters. In truth, the main reason why we pay so much attention to it is because a digital 24/7 news media desperate for material needs this story. But that doesn’t mean what will unfold in the next few days has no meaning. The debate on Thursday will be our first chance since June in New Hampshire to hear the candidates together. And it is precisely because there is no other even marginally objective measure of the candidates’ strength that Ames has taken on such significance. In the long slog to the first caucus, the straw poll is a benchmark by which we can assess how each of them is doing.

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This is a big week in Iowa as the candidates prepare for a televised debate in Ames on Thursday followed by the straw poll on Saturday. Although frontrunner Mitt Romney won’t compete in the poll, Iowa will still be the center of attention. Those who are in the mix will be seeking to, as in Michele Bachmann’s case, reinforce her first tier status or, as is the case with Tim Pawlenty, fight for survival. As to whether the straw poll deserves this much coverage, that’s a matter of opinion.

It is generally understood the poll doesn’t tell us much about who will win the Iowa caucuses this winter let alone the Republican presidential nomination. The Ames event will be a measure more of the candidates’ organizations than their ability to appeal to voters. In truth, the main reason why we pay so much attention to it is because a digital 24/7 news media desperate for material needs this story. But that doesn’t mean what will unfold in the next few days has no meaning. The debate on Thursday will be our first chance since June in New Hampshire to hear the candidates together. And it is precisely because there is no other even marginally objective measure of the candidates’ strength that Ames has taken on such significance. In the long slog to the first caucus, the straw poll is a benchmark by which we can assess how each of them is doing.

So, in spite of the fact the poll is actually meaningless, this week will produce some winners and some losers.

The biggest potential loser is Tim Pawlenty. Though his campaign may deny it, Pawlenty’s candidacy is on life support. After a summer during which he fell from the first tier to the second tier of candidates, Ames may be his last chance to reverse his slide. Because his map to the nomination requires him to win in Iowa, a dismal showing in the straw poll will pretty much kill his hopes and could conceivably lead to his withdrawal.

At the other end of the spectrum, Michele Bachmann enters as the frontrunner in the straw poll as well as leads in the latest Rasmussen poll of likely Republican caucus goers in the state. That means anything less than a victory will be viewed as something of a momentum stopper. That explains why her people are doing their best to lower expectations even as she stumps the state. But with Texas Governor Rick Perry still expected to enter the race, it is vital Bachmann do everything she can to establish herself as the leading candidate for the same conservative Christian and Tea Party factions that Perry needs to be a viable challenger to Romney. Anything that happens in the next few days that can be interpreted as a sign of Bachmann faltering will make it all the easier for Perry should he decide to finally get off the fence and run–as most expect him to do.

Though Ames is something of a manufactured story, at least this year there is more to it than just a fundraiser for the Iowa GOP and more stories for the media. A week from today, the prospects of Bachmann, Pawlenty and Perry may have been materially altered by what happens in the next few days.

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The Death of a Heroine

The Sydney Morning Herald passes along the sad news that Nancy Wake, a.k.a. the “White Mouse,” died yesterday. Wake grew up in Australia and then moved to Europe before World War II. She became a renowned anti-Nazi resistance fighter who received the U.S. Medal of Freedom, the French Legion of Honor, the British George Medal and was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2004.

Wake married a French millionaire, but was aghast at the complacency of her fellow wealthy countrymen when the Nazis invaded. So she joined the French Resistance as a courier, but it was soon clear she was cut out for tougher work:

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The Sydney Morning Herald passes along the sad news that Nancy Wake, a.k.a. the “White Mouse,” died yesterday. Wake grew up in Australia and then moved to Europe before World War II. She became a renowned anti-Nazi resistance fighter who received the U.S. Medal of Freedom, the French Legion of Honor, the British George Medal and was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2004.

Wake married a French millionaire, but was aghast at the complacency of her fellow wealthy countrymen when the Nazis invaded. So she joined the French Resistance as a courier, but it was soon clear she was cut out for tougher work:

Wake was so successful with the Resistance that she soon graduated to taking groups of refugees and downed Allied pilots or Jewish families from one “safe house” to another until they reached the base of the Pyrenees, where other guides would get them across into neutral Spain.

So busy was she that the Gestapo came to call her “the White Mouse”, in part, it seems, because whenever they felt they had this beautiful woman they had heard about cornered, she was able to disappear. Once, the Gestapo almost caught her — but she was able to escape while bullets whistled around her ears, before getting over the Pyrenees herself.

Wake soon went to Britain to train with munitions coordinator, and was put in charge of visiting units and determining the supply they needed–or deserved. She won the grudging respect of the officers with her ability to drink them under the table and once killed an SS officer with her bare hands. Her toughness became the stuff of legend.

One evening Wake was dining with friends in the reopened British Officers Club in Paris when she got into a blue — not for the first or last time — with an uppity waiter. This waiter thought he had won the confrontation by saying he would much prefer to serve the Germans than the likes of her and her noisy friends.

She reflected on this for perhaps half a second before leaping to her feet and knocking him senseless with a right hook. As she recounted, as soon as another alarmed waiter rushed to his fallen colleague with a glass of brandy, she grabbed it, drained it in two seconds, said “Merci,” and walked on out the door. That was Nancy Wake.

After the war, Wake went back to Australia but never really left the war behind. “I want to be cremated,” she told her biographer. “And I want my ashes to be scattered over the mountains where I fought with the Resistance.” She was 98.

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An Embarrassment of Riches

If you want a taste for how just difficult President Obama’s re-election efforts will be, watch this short exchange between CBS’s Bob Schieffer and Obama’s chief political strategist, David Axelrod. Schieffer played clips from an interview Obama did shortly after taking office, declaring that “We’re starting to make some progress. But there’s still gonna be some pain out there. If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s gonna be a one-term proposition.” Then this dialogue took place:

SCHIEFFER: So there you are Mr. Axelrod. That was the president at the start [of his term]. We’re getting right up to that three year point. Is this going to be a one-term presidency?

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If you want a taste for how just difficult President Obama’s re-election efforts will be, watch this short exchange between CBS’s Bob Schieffer and Obama’s chief political strategist, David Axelrod. Schieffer played clips from an interview Obama did shortly after taking office, declaring that “We’re starting to make some progress. But there’s still gonna be some pain out there. If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s gonna be a one-term proposition.” Then this dialogue took place:

SCHIEFFER: So there you are Mr. Axelrod. That was the president at the start [of his term]. We’re getting right up to that three year point. Is this going to be a one-term presidency?

AXELROD: I think the question is — what this election is … First of all, let’s certify that. We’re in a different place than where we were than the day he did that interview —

SCHIEFFER: Well, we are. Things are worse than they were.

The easiest job in America right now might be if you were a GOP ad man hired for the 2012 presidential campaign. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.

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A Crushing Political Blow

I agree with what John said. Standard & Poor’s downgrade of America’s credit rating is a crushing political blow to President Obama. It reinforces, perhaps like nothing else has, the impression Obama is overseeing, and in some respects engineering, the decline of the American republic.

There is a great deal that will unfold in the next 15 months, of course, and often events that seem monumental at the time are later seen as trivial and forgotten. That may be the case here, though I rather doubt it. What S&P did will have far-reaching psychological (and not simply economic) ramifications on the country. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if, when the history of the Obama presidency is written, what occurred on Friday night will be seen as the point of no return, a moment from which Barack Obama will never fully recover. The reason is because the downgrading of our credit rating isn’t an isolated event; for many people it
will be seen as the nearly inevitable outcome of an extraordinarily reckless set of policies, implemented by a man of unusual incompetence.

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I agree with what John said. Standard & Poor’s downgrade of America’s credit rating is a crushing political blow to President Obama. It reinforces, perhaps like nothing else has, the impression Obama is overseeing, and in some respects engineering, the decline of the American republic.

There is a great deal that will unfold in the next 15 months, of course, and often events that seem monumental at the time are later seen as trivial and forgotten. That may be the case here, though I rather doubt it. What S&P did will have far-reaching psychological (and not simply economic) ramifications on the country. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if, when the history of the Obama presidency is written, what occurred on Friday night will be seen as the point of no return, a moment from which Barack Obama will never fully recover. The reason is because the downgrading of our credit rating isn’t an isolated event; for many people it
will be seen as the nearly inevitable outcome of an extraordinarily reckless set of policies, implemented by a man of unusual incompetence.

Mark August 5, 2011 on your political calendar. I suspect David Axelrod, to his chagrin, already has.

 

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Roadblocks for Obama’s Pro-Jobs Bus Tour

As Obama prepares to hit the road for his taxpayer-funded pro-jobs bus tour later this month, it’s worth taking a look at his proposals for dealing with the country’s unemployment so far. What exactly will the president be promoting on his cross-state trip?

First, he’s likely to tout his most recent jobs pitch – an employment incentive and training program for veterans – which would give business tax breaks of $2,400 to $9,600 for hiring unemployed veterans. The $120 million plan would also reportedly provide some job training. But while the idea is obviously well-intentioned, it’s been has been panned by economists as a feel-good but ultimately ineffective plan. The Hill reports:

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As Obama prepares to hit the road for his taxpayer-funded pro-jobs bus tour later this month, it’s worth taking a look at his proposals for dealing with the country’s unemployment so far. What exactly will the president be promoting on his cross-state trip?

First, he’s likely to tout his most recent jobs pitch – an employment incentive and training program for veterans – which would give business tax breaks of $2,400 to $9,600 for hiring unemployed veterans. The $120 million plan would also reportedly provide some job training. But while the idea is obviously well-intentioned, it’s been has been panned by economists as a feel-good but ultimately ineffective plan. The Hill reports:

But economists of all stripes are far from certain that jobs proposals aimed at veterans or other targeted groups will put much of a dent in the unemployment rate, which the Labor Department said Friday stood at 9.1 percent in July.

For their part, economic analysts say that the approach outlined by the White House would certainly give at least a little boost to the economy, but also stated that the benefits of the proposals seemed to be more political than economic.

According to economists, many of the firms likely to take up the government on this tax break are ones that would probably have been hiring anyway. “In one sense, it’s like rewarding the firms that are already doing the best,” the Tax Policy Center’s Roberton Williams told The Hill. In the end, while this may give a minor, temporary boost to the unemployment rate, it doesn’t tackle the long-term problems.

Another plan Obama’s likely to point to on the bus tour is the job-creating free-trade agreements, which he’s been promoting for a few months now. The deals were penned under the Bush administration, and Republicans have been trying to push them through Congress since last winter. However, the agreements are strongly opposed by the labor unions, and it’s likely they’ll meet serious resistance from Democratic lawmakers.

The Hill reports the AFL-CIO is ratcheting up its opposition campaign, hosting 450 anti-trade deal events across the country during August recess in an attempt to increase grassroots pressure on Democrats.

With those as the two most serious job-creating plans the president has proposed recently, it’s no wonder employers aren’t feeling much confidence right now.

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Perry Has More Than a Prayer

The Christian day of prayer and fasting Texas Governor Rick Perry organized this past weekend may have been apolitical in nature, but there’s little doubt it served notice on religious conservatives he intends to be their candidate for president. Perry was criticized in some quarters for inserting an overtly religious and specifically Christian theme into the national debate, but he doesn’t appear worried about any negative feedback. The Response, as the event was named, sounded all the right notes for a candidate who hopes to win GOP primaries. Rather than merely appeal to the large and influential evangelical voting bloc, Perry demonstrated  he was one of them.

Those who have worried about whether Perry’s candidacy would suffer because of the inevitable comparisons to his predecessor in Austin may have been overstating the case. Sounding more like a pastor than a politician, the governor’s speech at the event held at a Houston pro football stadium made Bush’s professions of faith seem tame by comparison. If the event held at a Houston pro football stadium raises the question of whether Americans would be comfortable with a candidate who stands up (as many in the audience appeared to think) for the Kingdom of God in a way no major party nominee has done since William Jennings Bryan (an admittedly bad precedent as he was both a Democrat and a three-time presidential loser), it appears Perry is not afraid of the answer.

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The Christian day of prayer and fasting Texas Governor Rick Perry organized this past weekend may have been apolitical in nature, but there’s little doubt it served notice on religious conservatives he intends to be their candidate for president. Perry was criticized in some quarters for inserting an overtly religious and specifically Christian theme into the national debate, but he doesn’t appear worried about any negative feedback. The Response, as the event was named, sounded all the right notes for a candidate who hopes to win GOP primaries. Rather than merely appeal to the large and influential evangelical voting bloc, Perry demonstrated  he was one of them.

Those who have worried about whether Perry’s candidacy would suffer because of the inevitable comparisons to his predecessor in Austin may have been overstating the case. Sounding more like a pastor than a politician, the governor’s speech at the event held at a Houston pro football stadium made Bush’s professions of faith seem tame by comparison. If the event held at a Houston pro football stadium raises the question of whether Americans would be comfortable with a candidate who stands up (as many in the audience appeared to think) for the Kingdom of God in a way no major party nominee has done since William Jennings Bryan (an admittedly bad precedent as he was both a Democrat and a three-time presidential loser), it appears Perry is not afraid of the answer.

While the rhetoric of faith has always been a part of American culture, the ground Perry staked out in The Response takes the pro forma “and may God bless America” lines even non-religious candidates employ to a different level. Perry’s willingness to invest the prestige of his office in a gathering solely devoted to religious themes was unusual even in Texas. Though the GOP race, which Perry has yet to formally enter, is one where virtually all of the contenders can claim a connection with Christian conservatives, the governor has clearly raised the religious stakes.

Those who wonder whether Perry is overplaying his hand are missing the point. A fair look at his life and career shows that Perry is not so much seeking to exploit the rising tide of conservative Christianity in much of the country, as he is the product of it. Though liberal elites may mock the tens of thousands who turned out to join Perry in prayer, their public expression of faith probably seems perfectly normal to many Americans and not just those who are right wing GOP activists. The idea of a “naked public square” in which faith is conspicuously absent has little support among most Americans.

While the tone of the event may cause discomfort for those who believe in a high and impenetrable wall of separation between church and state, so long as Perry doesn’t stray into any theocratic proclamations, he isn’t likely to be damaged by this stance.

Perry’s performance on the campaign trail once he actually gets into the race will have more impact on his chances of winning than one sermon in Houston. And being the governor of a state with a booming economy may be a stronger argument for his election than his religion. But given the enormous influence religious conservatives have on GOP caucuses and primaries, the governor’s willingness to wear his faith on his sleeve in this manner could help far more than hurt him.

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