Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 9, 2011

Obama Outreach to Burmese Junta Undermines Dissidents

The Senate unanimously confirmed a U.S. special envoy to Burma last week. This is a big policy reversal; the United States has historically avoided high-level diplomatic presence in Myanmar, refusing to engage such a dictatorial regime. The military junta has repeatedly shown it won’t be persuaded to change its ways, regardless of diplomatic engagement. Despite the United States’ good intentions, by honoring Burma with the attention of a senior diplomat, we lend an air of legitimacy to a regime lacking it.

Sending a special envoy makes even less sense in light of the last three years. In 2009, the Obama administration re-evaluated U.S. policy, deciding to devote more aid to Burma and to begin direct, high-level dialogue. Practically, this meant the Obama administration engaged with the junta at a level unprecedented since the 1988 military coup.

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The Senate unanimously confirmed a U.S. special envoy to Burma last week. This is a big policy reversal; the United States has historically avoided high-level diplomatic presence in Myanmar, refusing to engage such a dictatorial regime. The military junta has repeatedly shown it won’t be persuaded to change its ways, regardless of diplomatic engagement. Despite the United States’ good intentions, by honoring Burma with the attention of a senior diplomat, we lend an air of legitimacy to a regime lacking it.

Sending a special envoy makes even less sense in light of the last three years. In 2009, the Obama administration re-evaluated U.S. policy, deciding to devote more aid to Burma and to begin direct, high-level dialogue. Practically, this meant the Obama administration engaged with the junta at a level unprecedented since the 1988 military coup.

The results have not been encouraging. The junta has still gone after dissidents, holding captive an estimated 2,100 political prisoners. It released the most famous, Aung San Suu Kyi, but it has warned her to limit her political activities. The regime even expelled an actress who will portray her in a film. Last November, Burma held its first election in 20 years, but they were rigged and condemned by the international community as a farce. The junta terrorizes not only members of any political opposition but also everyday citizens–raping, torturing and killing them. Human Rights Watch estimated about 500,000 people from eastern Burma are displaced. Many try to flee to other countries, frequently falling into the hands of traffickers. It’s clear the diplomatic effort has done little to address the plight of Burma’s innocents.

The junta hasn’t behaved any better as an international actor. Reports abound suggesting Rangoon is pursuing nuclear weapons. The junta has purportedly sent rice shipments to North Korea. Burma is also a major drug exporter.

Finally, it’s worth noting a senior Burmese envoy to the U.S. defected in July, offering further proof engagement with the junta has been a total failure, yielding nothing productive whatsoever. In a letter pleading for amnesty, the envoy wrote: “Senior military officials are consolidating their grip on power and seeking to stamp out the voices of those seeking democracy, human rights and individual liberties.”

If this is the result of three years of heightened engagement, we shudder to think what the new U.S. envoy will see during his tenure.

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Avoiding Anarchy in Jerusalem

Jonathan is right the president’s policies on Jerusalem are not going to bring anyone closer to a peace agreement, and in fact they only muddy the waters. But there’s an extra dose of irony in all this. As Daniel Halper reports, the State Department released a statement today reaffirming their official position that they have no idea what this thing called “Jerusalem” is or where it might be found. In a follow-up post, Halper shows that after his blog post made the rounds, the White House scrubbed the word “Israel” from photographs that used to read “Jerusalem, Israel.”

This is pure amateur hour at this point. Is the president so stubborn he will scrub all references to Jerusalem being in Israel from the public record just to be consistent with a separate but equally asinine policy? Additionally, while the president certainly does seem within his rights to decide “Jerusalem, Israel” cannot be put on U.S. passports, the decision not to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the parts of Jerusalem no one disputes only encourages more building in the city.

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Jonathan is right the president’s policies on Jerusalem are not going to bring anyone closer to a peace agreement, and in fact they only muddy the waters. But there’s an extra dose of irony in all this. As Daniel Halper reports, the State Department released a statement today reaffirming their official position that they have no idea what this thing called “Jerusalem” is or where it might be found. In a follow-up post, Halper shows that after his blog post made the rounds, the White House scrubbed the word “Israel” from photographs that used to read “Jerusalem, Israel.”

This is pure amateur hour at this point. Is the president so stubborn he will scrub all references to Jerusalem being in Israel from the public record just to be consistent with a separate but equally asinine policy? Additionally, while the president certainly does seem within his rights to decide “Jerusalem, Israel” cannot be put on U.S. passports, the decision not to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the parts of Jerusalem no one disputes only encourages more building in the city.

The truth is, if the American government recognized part of Jerusalem as Israeli, they would be able to exert far more control over Israeli policy in the city. The reason is simple: right now, the American policy is that the city is up for grabs–it belongs to no one (and everyone!). If you were an Israeli official, what would you suggest be done? If you were an Arab who wanted part of the city to be put in the hands of the Palestinian Authority, what would you do? The answer is the same in both cases: build, as much and as fast as you can.

Like so many of the administration’s attempts at “evenhandedness,” it only results in less cooperation from both sides. The administration and its defenders may believe their policy on Jerusalem is–like their policy on the settlement freeze–the “right thing to do.” But they cannot deny that in practice it quite predictably falls apart. The administration doesn’t want anyone to claim authority over the city. This is the definition of–and a recipe for–anarchy.

If the administration continues to refute any and all recognition of sovereignty over the city, Israel is going to naturally demonstrate that anarchy does not, in fact, reign in Jerusalem.

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Pawlenty’s Presidential Campaign Legacy

Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign has endured a summer of misery and disappointment. But the question before us now is whether this once promising first-tier contender has come to the end of his tether. It is possible a good performance at the televised debate in Ames on Thursday night or a better than expected showing in the straw poll on Saturday will resurrect his candidacy. But don’t count on it.

The expected entry of Rick Perry into the race this weekend further complicates an already barely tenable situation for Pawlenty. In May, he looked to be the main rival to Mitt Romney and hoped to get strong support from conservative Christians and Tea Partiers. Three months later, he’s become an afterthought in the wake of the rise of Michele Bachmann and the anticipated push from Perry. Indeed, in a poll published today, he finished dead last among Michigan Republicans trailing even Thaddeus McCotter, a first that provoked a cascade of satirical remarks about Pawlenty on Twitter (though McCotter has nothing to brag about since the same poll showed a majority of Republicans in his home state had never heard of him).

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Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign has endured a summer of misery and disappointment. But the question before us now is whether this once promising first-tier contender has come to the end of his tether. It is possible a good performance at the televised debate in Ames on Thursday night or a better than expected showing in the straw poll on Saturday will resurrect his candidacy. But don’t count on it.

The expected entry of Rick Perry into the race this weekend further complicates an already barely tenable situation for Pawlenty. In May, he looked to be the main rival to Mitt Romney and hoped to get strong support from conservative Christians and Tea Partiers. Three months later, he’s become an afterthought in the wake of the rise of Michele Bachmann and the anticipated push from Perry. Indeed, in a poll published today, he finished dead last among Michigan Republicans trailing even Thaddeus McCotter, a first that provoked a cascade of satirical remarks about Pawlenty on Twitter (though McCotter has nothing to brag about since the same poll showed a majority of Republicans in his home state had never heard of him).

Pawlenty entered the race not taking Bachmann very seriously. Even a few weeks ago, after it had already been demonstrated that she had overtaken and even lapped him, the former Minnesota governor was still heaping scorn on her record. But this week in the lead-up to Ames, Pawlenty’s people are doing their best to hype their rival’s chances so as to create a situation where anything less than a Bachmann landslide will be perceived as a loss for her. At the same time, they’ve tried to lower expectations for their own man, hoping even a distant second or third-place finish in the poll could be represented as a manifestation of his “comeback kid” hopes.

But once Perry is formally into the battle, we can expect Pawlenty to fade even further into the background. Unlike some of the more marginal candidates whose campaigns have always operated on a small scale and been unburdened by high expectations, Pawlenty raised money on the premise he was a viable contender, not a long shot. It’s unclear whether he has the ability to procure enough funds to keep him going through the rest of the year with such poor prospects. While it seems absurd for anything as undemocratic as the Ames straw poll to finish a presidential candidacy, that is what may happen to Pawlenty.

If indeed these are the last days of Tim Pawlenty’s presidential hopes, future candidates will be able to use his campaign as tutorial. Pawlenty had–and still has–a great deal going for him. He’s got a good resume, strong, coherent positions on both the economy and foreign policy and a likeable personality. He appeared to be an ideal candidate. But even though he seemed to have every advantage over Bachmann, he lacked what she seems to have in abundance: the ability to connect with voters and to engender enthusiasm. His “Minnesota Nice” approach paled in comparison to her passionate advocacy.

And yes, we’ll never forget that awful moment in the New Hampshire debate when Pawlenty choked when offered an opportunity to blast Mitt Romney on the health care issue to his face. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Pawlenty probably never recovered from the perception he just didn’t have the guts to stand toe-to-toe with his rival.

Soon the Pawlenty campaign may be just another footnote in presidential campaign history. If it is remembered, it will be as an object lesson instructing us that good position papers on the issues are no substitute for personality and charisma.

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It’s Going to Get Ugly for Obama

According to Gallup, “Americans’ economic confidence plunged to -53 in the week ending Aug. 7, a level not seen since the recession days of March 2009.” The survey goes on to report economic confidence deteriorated even faster in July and the first week of August than it did in June compared with May. “This plunge in confidence contrasts with the relatively flat trend in 2010,” according to Gallup. “It also places consumer perceptions of the economy in the range of March 2009 during the recession.”

In addition — and not coincidentally — the president’s job approval rating has dropped to 40 percent, tying his low from a week ago, and his disapproval rating is now 50 percent. It’s only a matter of time before Obama’s approval rating sinks below 40 percent, at which point the rising concern among Democrats will turn to panic.

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According to Gallup, “Americans’ economic confidence plunged to -53 in the week ending Aug. 7, a level not seen since the recession days of March 2009.” The survey goes on to report economic confidence deteriorated even faster in July and the first week of August than it did in June compared with May. “This plunge in confidence contrasts with the relatively flat trend in 2010,” according to Gallup. “It also places consumer perceptions of the economy in the range of March 2009 during the recession.”

In addition — and not coincidentally — the president’s job approval rating has dropped to 40 percent, tying his low from a week ago, and his disapproval rating is now 50 percent. It’s only a matter of time before Obama’s approval rating sinks below 40 percent, at which point the rising concern among Democrats will turn to panic.

They understand the enormous wave building against the president and his party. They saw what it did in 2010. They know what it might do to them in 2012. And there’s just not much they can do to stop it.

It’s going to get very, very ugly–very, very soon.

 

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“Iowans Won’t Forget This”

Rick Perry’s reported decision to announce his candidacy on the same day as the Ames straw poll apparently isn’t playing well with some Iowans. In particular, Craig Robinson, editor of The Iowa Republican, seems to be taking the news remarkably hard:

Stealing some of the media attention away from the straw poll and the candidates that are participating on Saturday may seem like a savvy thing to do, but it comes at a high price.  Perry now risks alienating the very people he needs to support him in order to win the nomination.  It also seems arrogant to think that he can steal the some of the spotlight from Ames.  National members of the media are already in Iowa to cover the lead up to the straw poll and Thursday night’s Fox News debate.  Perry is basically going to attempt inject himself in to the national news story, but his speech and entrance into the race will not match the excitement of Ames.

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Rick Perry’s reported decision to announce his candidacy on the same day as the Ames straw poll apparently isn’t playing well with some Iowans. In particular, Craig Robinson, editor of The Iowa Republican, seems to be taking the news remarkably hard:

Stealing some of the media attention away from the straw poll and the candidates that are participating on Saturday may seem like a savvy thing to do, but it comes at a high price.  Perry now risks alienating the very people he needs to support him in order to win the nomination.  It also seems arrogant to think that he can steal the some of the spotlight from Ames.  National members of the media are already in Iowa to cover the lead up to the straw poll and Thursday night’s Fox News debate.  Perry is basically going to attempt inject himself in to the national news story, but his speech and entrance into the race will not match the excitement of Ames.

There were bound to be some bruised egos from Perry’s reported decision, but here’s where Robinson loses me:

Perry is acting as if he is the 800-pound gorilla that is about to enter the race, but he’s not.  He has a great resume and looks the part, but the TIR poll conducted in late June showed him at only eight percent in Iowa.  Perry’s decision to forgo competing in the Fox News debate and the straw poll is also a sign of weakness, not one of strength and conviction.

A bit dramatic considering the circumstances. First of all, the whole announcement story is just based on unconfirmed news reports right now. Second, Perry can’t compete in the Fox News debate since he hasn’t made his candidacy official yet. And third, Perry’s supporters tried to get him included in the Ames poll, but were reportedly turned down by the Iowa GOP.

Robinson’s gratuitous shot at Giuliani (“We shouldn’t be surprised.  The candidate [Perry] endorsed for president in 2008, Rudy Giuliani, never could figure out Iowa either.”), is also a total non sequitur. There’s someone else who has trouble letting go of Perry’s Giuliani endorsement, and coincidentally, it’s the same person who won the last Iowa caucus and still has a lot of clout in the state.

Is there a potential drawback in Perry bigfooting the Iowa poll? Yes – the Des Moines Register warned it could irritate certain circles in the state GOP. But it sounds more likely an Ames-day announcement would have negative long-term consequences for Iowa than for Perry’s own campaign. If his announcement makes the straw poll look insignificant or meaningless, it could change the way future GOP candidates view the state. Which may explain why some Iowa Republicans are on edge.

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Obama at War With Niebuhr

I want to reinforce Jonathan’s excellent post on the efforts under way by the Obama campaign to begin a “ferocious personal assault on Mitt Romney’’s character and business background.”

The Politico story quotes a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House as saying, “Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney.” And Smith and Martin of Politico report Obama’s aides “are increasingly resigned to running for reelection in a glum nation. And so the candidate who ran on ‘hope’ in 2008 has little choice four years later but to run a slashing, personal campaign aimed at disqualifying his likeliest opponent.”

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I want to reinforce Jonathan’s excellent post on the efforts under way by the Obama campaign to begin a “ferocious personal assault on Mitt Romney’’s character and business background.”

The Politico story quotes a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House as saying, “Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney.” And Smith and Martin of Politico report Obama’s aides “are increasingly resigned to running for reelection in a glum nation. And so the candidate who ran on ‘hope’ in 2008 has little choice four years later but to run a slashing, personal campaign aimed at disqualifying his likeliest opponent.”

In fact, Obama does have a choice. He could do what he promised he would do during the campaign, which was to elevate American politics, build bridges of understanding among people of different views, and reject the “politics of personal destruction.” He could run on his record. He could run on the future. He could run on a raft of ambitious policy proposals to strengthen our nation.

He could do all sorts of things. The point is, there’s nothing forcing Obama to resort to political brass knuckles, personal attacks and religious bigotry in order to win re-election. Let’s just say it’s not the kind of approach Reinhold Niebuhr, whom Obama claims as his “favorite philosopher,” would endorse.

In one of his journal entries from 1928 (found in Leaves From the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic), Niebuhr wrote, “There is a discouraging pettiness about human nature which makes me hate myself each time I make an analysis of my inner motives and springs of action.” Niebuhr went on to write, “[A Christian] might well learn, better than I have learned, to be charitable with those who have made their adjustments to the right and to the left of his position. If I do not watch myself I will regard all who make their adjustments to my right as fanatics and all who make them to the left as cowards. There is a silly egotism about such attitudes.”

Elsewhere, Niebuhr wrote it is much easier to adore an ideal character than to emulate it. Which brings us back to Obama. He ran as a man of Niebuhrian sensibilities. But he turns out to be an individual who will embrace a discouraging pettiness in order to further his own extraordinary personal ambitions. If Obama has to unfairly destroy people to remain at the summit, so be it. It is, after all, the Chicago Way.

Obama may or may not come to hate himself for the path he has embarked on. I have come to believe, rather against my initial hope and expectation, that Obama is a man of boundless cynicism. So I rather doubt Obama will begin to question the wisdom and ethics of his ways. Perhaps I am wrong. I certainly hope so. But if I am right, it will be quite interesting (and revealing) to watch how journalists who once praised Obama for his message of “hope and change” deal with a man who stands to become–apparently with some relish–a political assassin.

 

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Obama Renews Assault on Jewish Jerusalem

The Obama administration renewed its attack on Jewish Jerusalem today by formally condemning the construction of apartments in part of the city. The approval last week of a housing project in the Har Homa neighborhood of the city was blasted by the State Department as being contrary to the peace process and an impediment to the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians.

But like previous statements from the administration, the complaint about apartments in Har Homa has little to do with the moribund peace process and everything to do with an Obama policy decision to treat the hundreds of thousands of existing Jews living in parts of Israel’s capital as being no different from the most remote hilltop settlements in the West Bank. Despite the rhetoric from Washington, Har Homa isn’t up for grabs in a theoretical peace deal, and housing there won’t stop a two-state solution if the Palestinians ever decide they want one. What it is an obstacle to is an effort to rip Jerusalem apart and to evict Jews from their homes.

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The Obama administration renewed its attack on Jewish Jerusalem today by formally condemning the construction of apartments in part of the city. The approval last week of a housing project in the Har Homa neighborhood of the city was blasted by the State Department as being contrary to the peace process and an impediment to the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians.

But like previous statements from the administration, the complaint about apartments in Har Homa has little to do with the moribund peace process and everything to do with an Obama policy decision to treat the hundreds of thousands of existing Jews living in parts of Israel’s capital as being no different from the most remote hilltop settlements in the West Bank. Despite the rhetoric from Washington, Har Homa isn’t up for grabs in a theoretical peace deal, and housing there won’t stop a two-state solution if the Palestinians ever decide they want one. What it is an obstacle to is an effort to rip Jerusalem apart and to evict Jews from their homes.

While no American government has ever recognized Israeli sovereignty over all of the city since it was reunified during the 1967 Six-Day War, only Obama has sought to exploit divisions about this issue in such a way as to weaken the Jewish state’s hold on its capital.  During the past two years, Obama has personally injected himself into this issue to try and undermine Israel’s position in Jerusalem. The 2010 spat in which the administration disingenuously tried to claim Vice President Biden was insulted by another Jerusalem building project was a lever by which Obama sought to pressure the Netanyahu government into agreeing to suspend all building in the city. The prime minister rightly refused, and to Obama’s consternation, was supported by the overwhelming majority of Israelis. It is true that Har Homa, a project that began in the 1990s, has always been a point of contention between the U.S. and Israel. But the notion control of this land will ever be conceded to the Palestinians is absurd.

Though apologists for Palestinian intransigence claim Israel’s building in Jerusalem is a blow to a potential two-state solution, this is utterly false. The Palestinians know if there is to be an accord, the Israelis won’t be leaving Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Treating those parts of the city illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 as “Arab territory” in which Jews may not build or live is a non-starter. Though a negotiation might theoretically give a Palestinian state control of some Arab sections of the city, it will not give them places like Har Homa or any of the other place where Jews are building.

Moreover, for the United States to seek to curb home building in Jerusalem at the very moment when Israelis are calling for a greater supply of housing in order to lower the high existing prices is ridiculous. Doing so would not only be against Israel’s security needs but a blow to its economy.

The Palestinians also argue Har Homa must be taken from the Israelis because it would give them a strategic edge along the city’s southern border and give them easier access to other parts of Jerusalem. But their call for territorial contiguity is merely an excuse to avoid talks.  The West Bank and Gaza are already separated by pre-1967 Israel. Contiguity for the Palestinians would mean an end to Israeli security as well as an unconscionable abrogation of Jewish rights in their ancient capital.

Today’s announcement may be seen as the administration throwing a bone to the Palestinians to bribe them to give up their effort to evade peace talks by asking the United Nations to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state. But statements such as these only encourage more intransigence.  So long as the Palestinians are allowed to nurture their ambition to take Jerusalem from Israel, peace will be unattainable. By condemning the building of Jewish homes in Har Homa, the Obama administration has poured more fuel on the fire of the conflict and once again staked out a position that undermines America’s alliance with Israel.

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Obama’s “Dramatic and Unabashedly Negative Turn” Looks Like 2008

Much will be said about today’s Politico story on President Obama’s strategy for the 2012 election: “kill Romney,” according to one White House-aligned strategist. But it should also be noted the story makes one gargantuan mistake.

Here is how the authors present it: “The dramatic and unabashedly negative turn is the product of political reality…. And so the candidate who ran on ‘hope’ in 2008 has little choice four years later but to run a slashing, personal campaign aimed at disqualifying his likeliest opponent.” This portrayal of the Obama plan to use dirty tricks and character assassination to win as something new–as a change in direction–is a frankly astonishing thing to say. What Politico describes in the article could easily be mistaken for a wrap-up of Obama’s 2008 election strategy. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?

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Much will be said about today’s Politico story on President Obama’s strategy for the 2012 election: “kill Romney,” according to one White House-aligned strategist. But it should also be noted the story makes one gargantuan mistake.

Here is how the authors present it: “The dramatic and unabashedly negative turn is the product of political reality…. And so the candidate who ran on ‘hope’ in 2008 has little choice four years later but to run a slashing, personal campaign aimed at disqualifying his likeliest opponent.” This portrayal of the Obama plan to use dirty tricks and character assassination to win as something new–as a change in direction–is a frankly astonishing thing to say. What Politico describes in the article could easily be mistaken for a wrap-up of Obama’s 2008 election strategy. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?

One of the most memorable ads from the Obama campaign–and so dishonest it took ABC’s Jake Tapper more than 1,000 words to lay out all the distortions–was his Spanish-language ad intended to scare Latino voters into voting for Obama. Here is Tapper’s translation of the ad:

Obama’s ad features a narrator saying: “They want us to forget the insults we’ve put up with…the intolerance…they made us feel marginalized in this country we love so much.”

The screen then shows these two quotes from Limbaugh:

“…stupid and unskilled Mexicans”
—Rush Limbaugh

“You shut your mouth or you get out!”
—Rush Limbaugh

The narrator then says, “John McCain and his Republican friends have two faces. One that says lies just to get our vote…and another, even worse, that continues the policies of George Bush that put special interests ahead of working families. John McCain…more of the same old Republican tricks.”

As Tapper (and everyone else who saw it) noted, McCain and Limbaugh are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to immigration. In fact, McCain has been a frequent target of Limbaugh’s, since McCain favors (and led the way trying to pass) comprehensive immigration reform opposed by immigration hawks. McCain is a favorite whipping boy of conservative talk radio, and McCain’s advocacy of immigration reform that would help illegal immigrants who are already here is one of the reasons.

But there was a lot more to say about the ad. Tapper writes the quotes from Limbaugh are both taken completely out of context–especially the second quote, in which Limbaugh was actually describing Mexican immigration law. The Obama campaign put all that at the feet of McCain.

We should also mention the time the Obama campaign released an ad that mocked McCain’s injuries sustained when he was tortured as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam. The ad begins with these words: “1982: John McCain goes to Washington. Things have changed in the last 26 years, but McCain hasn’t. He admits he still doesn’t know how to use a computer, can’t send an email….” McCain, as everyone knows, has difficulty typing because of the limited range of movement he has in his arms and shoulders from his war injuries. Obama spokesman Bill Burton went on Fox News to defend the ad–yes, he defended the ad, even after McCain’s injuries were discussed.

Another troubling Obama tactic was his attempt to silence Milt Rosenberg, the respected Chicago radio host. Rosenberg had Stanley Kurtz on his program to discuss what Kurtz had found in public records about Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers. Guy Benson was at the studio, and described what happened:

As I arrived at the downtown Chicago studios a few hours before show time, the phones began ringing off the hook with irate callers demanding Kurtz be axed from the program. It didn’t take long to discover that the Obama campaign—which had declined invitations to join the show for its duration to offer rebuttals to Kurtz’s points—had sent an “Obama Action Wire” e-mail to its supporters, encouraging them to deluge the station with complaints.

Why? Because, naturally, Kurtz is a “right-wing hatchet man,” a “smear merchant” and a “slimy character assassin” who is perpetrating one of the “most cynical and offensive smears ever launched against Barack.”

Evidently, much of Obama nation is composed of obedient and persistent sheep. They jammed all five studio lines for nearly the entire show while firing off dozens of angry emails. Many vowed to kick their grievances up the food chain to station management. After 90 minutes of alleged smear peddling, Milt Rosenberg (a well-respected host whose long-form interview show has aired in Chicago for decades) opened the phone lines, and blind ignorance soon began to crackle across the AM airwaves. The overwhelming message was clear: The interview must be put to an end immediately, and the station management should prevent similar discussions from taking place.

It was “surreal, amusing, and chilling,” Benson said. And part of a pattern. The campaign did the same to a radio station which hosted David Freddoso and to stations that ran advertisements the campaign didn’t like.

There were the threats to bring criminal libel charges against private citizens making statements the campaign wanted to portray as false. We saw the Chicago Tribune catch the Obama campaign misleadingly cutting video. And who can forget the accusations of racism against McCain from Obama’s allies and even Obama himself.

And there is much, much more, obviously. The point here is not to accuse Obama of being the dirtiest campaigner in presidential history, but rather that he was never the lofty political saint he was made out to be. The Politico article claims the Obama campaign will be learning from past efforts, but never mentions the successful campaign from which they seemingly plan to appropriate the most material: Obama’s.

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Restaurants Brace for Job-Killing Obamacare Regulations

As if the job market hasn’t suffered enough recently, chain restaurants are now bracing themselves for the additional financial hardship of enforcing an Obamacare policy requiring them to include calorie information on their in-store menus.

The new rule might now sound expensive in theory, but Phil Klein explains the unintended impact it’s already having on small, individually-run franchises:

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As if the job market hasn’t suffered enough recently, chain restaurants are now bracing themselves for the additional financial hardship of enforcing an Obamacare policy requiring them to include calorie information on their in-store menus.

The new rule might now sound expensive in theory, but Phil Klein explains the unintended impact it’s already having on small, individually-run franchises:

While it’s easy to assume that a large corporation can afford to make such changes, most of the burden for complying with the new rules falls on franchisees, who are essentially small-business owners.

Domino’s individual stores average $40,000 in profits each year and the new rules could cost up to $4,700 at a given location, the company says.

Charlie Malament started working at Domino’s as a delivery driver in the 1980s while a senior in college. He moved up the ladder and now owns four Domino’s outlets in Maryland

Under the new rules, if Malament wanted to introduce a new item, such as a crab cake pizza, he’d have to replace the signs in all of his stores, sucking time and money that could otherwise be used to build his business.

Klein reports Domino’s Pizza stores will be forced to spend up to $5 million combined to institute the changes. The estimated $4,700 cost per franchise makes up 12 percent of the average store’s annual profits. But unlike stand alone restaurants, which would immediately pass the cost onto consumers, chain stores typically offer more standardized pricing.

This could drive owners to make cuts from other areas. Replacing full-time workers with part-time employees in order to avoid paying extra benefits is one potential outcome of the regulations. And it could even lead to shutting down franchises if owners don’t think they’re worth the expense.

The impact this will have on the job market was highlighted by Andrew Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, during his testimony before the House Oversight Committee.

Not to mention, the new rules stifle innovation and advertising. If chain restaurants want to offer a new promotional product, the steep cost of updating the menus each time might cause them to reconsider.

“So what it comes down to is this: The federal government has passed a law requiring us to build new signs, or buy new menu boards, and to put on those signs and menu boards information which we already provide, even though it is unlikely to change eating habits, at a cost of over a million dollars we will divert from and be unable to spend on jobs,” cautioned Puzder.

And this is just one of the many anti-business policies included in Obamacare. If something as simple as adding calorie information to the menus has such a negative unintended impact, think of the burden other portions of the law will force onto business owners.

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Withdrawing Ambassador to Syria Would Send a Strong Signal of U.S. Disapproval

How pathetic is it that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain are taking a stronger stand on Syria than the United States? On Monday, those three Gulf nations–none of them a paragon of democratic virtue, to put it mildly–all withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus in protest against Bashar al-Assad’s massacres of his own people.

There is, of course, a sectarian edge to this act–Assad and the ruling clique are Alawites, an Shiite offshoot, while most of those who are getting massacred are Sunnis. The Saudi, Kuwaiti and Bahraini ruling families are of course, Sunnis, too. One might even cynically conclude they see nothing wrong with slaughtering Shiites–as the Bahraini security forces have been doing lately with Saudi help–but, Sunnis are a different story.

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How pathetic is it that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain are taking a stronger stand on Syria than the United States? On Monday, those three Gulf nations–none of them a paragon of democratic virtue, to put it mildly–all withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus in protest against Bashar al-Assad’s massacres of his own people.

There is, of course, a sectarian edge to this act–Assad and the ruling clique are Alawites, an Shiite offshoot, while most of those who are getting massacred are Sunnis. The Saudi, Kuwaiti and Bahraini ruling families are of course, Sunnis, too. One might even cynically conclude they see nothing wrong with slaughtering Shiites–as the Bahraini security forces have been doing lately with Saudi help–but, Sunnis are a different story.

Leave all that aside, however. What matters is they are taking a strong stand against Assad’s brutality, and we are not.

I have been ambivalent about whether we should have an ambassador in Damascus. Robert Ford, our current representative, is a great diplomat who knows Arabic and knows the region; he performed heroically by going to the embattled city of Hama to call attention to regime abuses. But his movements are increasingly curtailed by the regime, and it is not clear how much more he can accomplish. At this point withdrawing him–while also enacting tougher sanctions as demanded by more than 200 members of Congress–would send a stronger signal of U.S. disapproval for Assad’s criminal policies.

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Why It’s Happening in Britain

The brilliant and pseudonymous British social worker who blogs under the name “Winston Smith”—he won a major commentating prize last year called the Orwell Prize—has a stinging post this morning about the events tearing his country apart. It’s worth reading in full, but in the middle is a quote that crystallizes the reasons why Britain was so ripe for this bizarre crime spree: “This morning on Sky News, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, dismissed the option of using water cannon when she said: “The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon…the way we police in Britain is through consent of communities.”

The Home Secretary is, effectively, the national chief of police. What this quote reveals is that the reason Britain has gone lawless is that the law is not actually enforced. Policing is ultimately not about “consent.” That is what the political process is for, to write the laws with the consent of the governed. The police department is to enforce those laws on behalf of the communities that might—as if happening right now—be destroyed by the failure to do so.

If May keeps her job, David Cameron will lose his.

The brilliant and pseudonymous British social worker who blogs under the name “Winston Smith”—he won a major commentating prize last year called the Orwell Prize—has a stinging post this morning about the events tearing his country apart. It’s worth reading in full, but in the middle is a quote that crystallizes the reasons why Britain was so ripe for this bizarre crime spree: “This morning on Sky News, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, dismissed the option of using water cannon when she said: “The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon…the way we police in Britain is through consent of communities.”

The Home Secretary is, effectively, the national chief of police. What this quote reveals is that the reason Britain has gone lawless is that the law is not actually enforced. Policing is ultimately not about “consent.” That is what the political process is for, to write the laws with the consent of the governed. The police department is to enforce those laws on behalf of the communities that might—as if happening right now—be destroyed by the failure to do so.

If May keeps her job, David Cameron will lose his.

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Not a Parody: Iran Asks Britain to Show “Restraint” With Looters

In what must be considered one of the most ridiculous statements uttered recently in the already absurd world of international diplomacy, Iran today called upon Britain to show “restraint” with the rioters who are looting and burning in London. The Iranian Foreign Ministry also called for the British government to open a “dialogue” with demonstrators and for human rights groups to investigate the behavior of the London police.

This is, of course, the same Iranian government that rigged a presidential election so as to ensure the continuance in power of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and then launched a brutal crackdown against demonstrators who took to the streets of Tehran to protest the theft. Iran is a brutal, theocratic tyranny where human rights are conspicuous by their absence. Opponents of the mullah’s regime, religious minorities and other dissidents have all faced violence and repression from the government. Britain is a democracy where the police have the duty to enforce the rule of law and do so with what objective observers have noted might be a little too much “restraint.” But as much as we may well laugh at Iran’s chutzpah, this idiotic statement should remind us hypocrisy of this sort is not an anomaly in international discourse. It is enshrined in the institutions of the United Nations.

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In what must be considered one of the most ridiculous statements uttered recently in the already absurd world of international diplomacy, Iran today called upon Britain to show “restraint” with the rioters who are looting and burning in London. The Iranian Foreign Ministry also called for the British government to open a “dialogue” with demonstrators and for human rights groups to investigate the behavior of the London police.

This is, of course, the same Iranian government that rigged a presidential election so as to ensure the continuance in power of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and then launched a brutal crackdown against demonstrators who took to the streets of Tehran to protest the theft. Iran is a brutal, theocratic tyranny where human rights are conspicuous by their absence. Opponents of the mullah’s regime, religious minorities and other dissidents have all faced violence and repression from the government. Britain is a democracy where the police have the duty to enforce the rule of law and do so with what objective observers have noted might be a little too much “restraint.” But as much as we may well laugh at Iran’s chutzpah, this idiotic statement should remind us hypocrisy of this sort is not an anomaly in international discourse. It is enshrined in the institutions of the United Nations.

The Iranian announcement is not a joke. It is a symptom of a sick system that has rendered the words “human rights” as being without meaning. So long as tyrannical regimes such as Iran are allowed to be members in good standing of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, we must expect that human rights will never be respected anywhere. Until that changes, Iranian hypocrisy must be considered sanctioned by the world body.

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Why a Wisconsin Union Victory Would Spell Trouble for Obama

Somehow, the prospect of a double-dip recession has only caused the left to double-down on its delusion.

In their minds, Standard & Poor’s downgrade is unrelated to the years of runaway federal spending and fiscal impropriety – it’s merely a statement about the heated politics of the moment, driven largely by Tea Party divisiveness/obstructionism/extremism. In comparison to these mental gymnasts, President Obama’s halfhearted suggestions we may have to do something about entitlements almost look responsible and self-aware.

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Somehow, the prospect of a double-dip recession has only caused the left to double-down on its delusion.

In their minds, Standard & Poor’s downgrade is unrelated to the years of runaway federal spending and fiscal impropriety – it’s merely a statement about the heated politics of the moment, driven largely by Tea Party divisiveness/obstructionism/extremism. In comparison to these mental gymnasts, President Obama’s halfhearted suggestions we may have to do something about entitlements almost look responsible and self-aware.

That could all change if the national labor unions succeed at recalling six Republican state senators today in Wisconsin.

Because as inadequate as Obama’s economic proposals have been, the unions have tried to pressure him into taking positions that would be even more disastrous. The one decent recommendation Obama’s presented so far – enacting job-promoting foreign trade agreements – is fiercely opposed by Big Labor. The unions want no entitlement reductions, more stimulus spending, and crippling taxes on private businesses.

Obama hasn’t exactly fought against these ideas, but by sitting on the sidelines of the economic debate, he’s drawn the ire of the labor movement. While the unions reportedly raised close to $400 million to help elect Obama in 2008, they’re now turning their backs on him. According to reports, the AFL-CIO isn’t planning to contribute to his 2012 campaign, and will instead work to advance its own agenda items with the left-wing grassroots.

Which is why a massive display of national union power – especially if it includes a lot of grassroots engagement – could embolden the movement and create a big problem for Obama. The president has counted on the unions to eventually fall in line once Republicans choose a nominee. But labor has a ton of feet on the ground and money to burn in the upcoming election, and if they decide to use these tools to pressure the president to the left, then he’ll have to make a tough decision. Either reject the demands of the unions, and risk their wrath and the political influence they hold with his base. Or tack to the left and lose both independent voters and the economy.

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COMMENTARY Forum: Ten Years of the War on Terror

Remember real terrorism? The kind that hit us almost ten years ago? With the turmoil of collapsing markets and climbing joblessness, it’s easy to forget that Americans went into this decade worrying first and foremost about another 9/11-scale al-Qaeda attack. Being weeks away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it’s striking to note that the U.S. has not suffered an organized terrorist attack in all this time. And, boy, have we come to take it for granted.

In American political discussion the term terrorist has been downgraded to a metaphor. It’s now applied without shame to conservatives fighting on the front lines of the spending debate. It was half a century after the total defeat of the Third Reich before Jerry Seinfeld could jokingly refer to a grouchy soup vendor as Nazi; ten years after 9/11, the Tea Party is a jihad organization.

Because we haven’t been attacked over these years a delusional sense of inevitable security has set in, as if we were never really going to be attacked again anyway. The truth, however, is another matter. In a recent column in the Daily News, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly lists 13 terrorist plots against New York alone that have been thwarted. These include a scheme to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, a bomb plot aimed at the Herald Square subway station, and several others targeting synagogues and Jewish centers. Why didn’t these plots, or many others, come to fruition? Because, for all the tragedy, controversy, and regret, America got a lot right in the past ten years of the war on terror. That’s a fact.

With that in mind, New Yorkers are invited to a COMMENTARY Forum on this important and neglected topic, Tuesday, August 16 at the Ethical Culture Society in Manhattan. COMMENTARY’s Editor, John Podhoretz, is moderating, and the participants are Ross Douthat, Andrew C. McCarthy, and yours truly. Click here for tickets and information. I hope to see all of you there.

Remember real terrorism? The kind that hit us almost ten years ago? With the turmoil of collapsing markets and climbing joblessness, it’s easy to forget that Americans went into this decade worrying first and foremost about another 9/11-scale al-Qaeda attack. Being weeks away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it’s striking to note that the U.S. has not suffered an organized terrorist attack in all this time. And, boy, have we come to take it for granted.

In American political discussion the term terrorist has been downgraded to a metaphor. It’s now applied without shame to conservatives fighting on the front lines of the spending debate. It was half a century after the total defeat of the Third Reich before Jerry Seinfeld could jokingly refer to a grouchy soup vendor as Nazi; ten years after 9/11, the Tea Party is a jihad organization.

Because we haven’t been attacked over these years a delusional sense of inevitable security has set in, as if we were never really going to be attacked again anyway. The truth, however, is another matter. In a recent column in the Daily News, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly lists 13 terrorist plots against New York alone that have been thwarted. These include a scheme to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, a bomb plot aimed at the Herald Square subway station, and several others targeting synagogues and Jewish centers. Why didn’t these plots, or many others, come to fruition? Because, for all the tragedy, controversy, and regret, America got a lot right in the past ten years of the war on terror. That’s a fact.

With that in mind, New Yorkers are invited to a COMMENTARY Forum on this important and neglected topic, Tuesday, August 16 at the Ethical Culture Society in Manhattan. COMMENTARY’s Editor, John Podhoretz, is moderating, and the participants are Ross Douthat, Andrew C. McCarthy, and yours truly. Click here for tickets and information. I hope to see all of you there.

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“Kill Romney” a Dangerous Obama Strategy

Politico reports today the Obama White House thinks they have found the key to the president’s re-election: a campaign strategy whose purpose is to “kill Romney.” Democrats will not only seek to besmirch the record of the former Massachusetts governor, but they will also slime his character in a conscious effort to model their campaign after Republican attacks on John Kerry in 2004.

That Democrats resort to such tactics is a clear indication of the desperation Obama’s operatives must be feeling as they contemplate trying to re-elect a president who is giving a good impression of Herbert Hoover as the economy sinks on his watch. But the decision has two major drawbacks Obama’s advisers seem not to understand. Far from aiding the president’s 2012 hopes, the “kill Romney” approach may actually hurt Obama far more than it may help.

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Politico reports today the Obama White House thinks they have found the key to the president’s re-election: a campaign strategy whose purpose is to “kill Romney.” Democrats will not only seek to besmirch the record of the former Massachusetts governor, but they will also slime his character in a conscious effort to model their campaign after Republican attacks on John Kerry in 2004.

That Democrats resort to such tactics is a clear indication of the desperation Obama’s operatives must be feeling as they contemplate trying to re-elect a president who is giving a good impression of Herbert Hoover as the economy sinks on his watch. But the decision has two major drawbacks Obama’s advisers seem not to understand. Far from aiding the president’s 2012 hopes, the “kill Romney” approach may actually hurt Obama far more than it may help.

First, it must be remembered Obama captured the imagination of the nation in 2008 largely because he was able to convince enough Americans he was willing to be a post-partisan president. That this was merely a pose adopted by a man who was a stalwart of the left who has spent much of his presidency engaging in demagoguery against his opponents doesn’t change the fact his “hope” shtick was not only effective but believed by many of those who voted for him. Switching from a positive tone to one in the gutter isn’t merely hypocritical. It undermines the president’s credibility at a time when he is already perceived as lacking this quality. And doing so will dampen the already diminished enthusiasm of his base.

As for the charges that may be brought up against Romney, it should be conceded there is plenty in his record that will supply ammunition for opponents in both parties. His business record provides embarrassing instances of his firm helping to lay off workers. He is also a chronic flip-flopper and has fumbled on many issues, especially foreign policy, because he seems to lack a foundation of firm guiding principles.

But the evil geniuses in the Obama campaign are aiming at something more fundamental than just the fact Romney changes his mind a lot. The leaking of the idea they intend to prove Romney is “weird” speaks to something more sinister than pointing out inconsistencies in his record. When people say “weird” about Romney, a man whose personal and professional life has been a picture of upright conformity, it can’t be a comment about his stances on abortion. It can only mean one thing: his religion.

Trying to tell voters to be wary of electing a Mormon without actually venturing into direct incitement of religious bigotry is a tricky business. But, it can be done given enough money and knowledge of the political dark arts. But doing so is incredibly dangerous for a president whose main political asset remains his iconic status as the first African-American president of the United States.

Unleashing the demons of prejudice is bad for the country under any circumstances. But for a president–whose historic status is based on the triumph over bias–to play this game would be political suicide.

The White House may think Romney is the greatest threat to the president’s getting a second term, but that might not turn out to be the case.  Republicans may not nominate him for a host of reasons, even if he is polling the best in head-to-head confrontations with Obama right now. While I’m sure the White House will have plenty of opposition research on the other GOP possibilities, they need to be careful about how they use it. As difficult as Obama’s re-election prospects may seem today as the economy continues to sink, the 2008 candidate of “hope and change” can’t be re-elected by “swift boating” his opponents.

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Despite Debacle, Our Standing Is Strong

If there is a silver lining in yesterday’s stock market crash–aside from the fact the markets are rebounding today–it is that other countries aren’t doing any better. The Dow Jones Industrial Average may be down 7% this year (as of yesterday’s close), but, as the Los Angeles Times reminds us, the major stock market indexes are down 14% in Germany, 16% in Australia, and 30% in Brazil. Germany and France are in danger of debt downgrades of their own.

Why is this a silver lining? It’s true our economy doesn’t benefit if other countries do poorly as well. But our standing as a nation does hinge in part on how other countries stand. If we are in a downward spiral while other countries are growing strongly, this can signal American decline. But if we decline slightly, while others decline even more, that will not hurt our relative standing.

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If there is a silver lining in yesterday’s stock market crash–aside from the fact the markets are rebounding today–it is that other countries aren’t doing any better. The Dow Jones Industrial Average may be down 7% this year (as of yesterday’s close), but, as the Los Angeles Times reminds us, the major stock market indexes are down 14% in Germany, 16% in Australia, and 30% in Brazil. Germany and France are in danger of debt downgrades of their own.

Why is this a silver lining? It’s true our economy doesn’t benefit if other countries do poorly as well. But our standing as a nation does hinge in part on how other countries stand. If we are in a downward spiral while other countries are growing strongly, this can signal American decline. But if we decline slightly, while others decline even more, that will not hurt our relative standing.

Thus, it is interesting to read in the Wall Street Journal: “Frustrated as it is over U.S. debt policy, China—America’s biggest foreign creditor—is expected to continue buying Treasury bonds, mostly because the alternatives for parking its giant pool of foreign reserve are limited.” Beijing clearly does not see Euro-bonds or another alternative that can absorb its vast savings. Nor do currency traders see a better alternative: the dollar remained strong despite Monday’s terrible stock market news.

In general, despite the recent debacle, our national standing remains strong. I agree with President Obama when he says: “No matter what some agency may say, we’ve always been and always will be a AAA country.  For all of the challenges we face, we continue to have the best universities, some of the most productive workers, the most innovative companies, the most adventurous entrepreneurs on Earth.”

The problem is not with our country–it’s with our politicians. Yet even that problem is neither fatal nor unprecedented. Lawmakers showed the ability to come together to produce a package that would raise the debt ceiling and avoid a ruinous default. Eventually, I am confident, they will show the capacity to bring our spending in closer proximity to our governmental revenues.

The problem is President Obama personally does not inspire much trust among investors–or increasingly the American public–as evident from the fact the market plunge worsened as he was speaking yesterday. And no wonder, when he was offering such unappealing nostrums as more boondoggle spending on highway projects. (“We should also help companies that want to repair our roads and bridges and airports, so that thousands of construction workers who’ve been without a job for the last few years can get a paycheck again.”)

What investors desperately want from Washington is a combination of proposals to gain control of entitlement spending and to get the economy moving again. They are not getting it, and thus they are reacting with fear and anger. But we should not let the strong emotions of the moment distract us from our country’s basic strengths, especially in relation to our competitors.

 

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Teleprompter of the United States

How bad was the president’s speech yesterday? So bad that Dana Perino, former press secretary for George Bush, dismissed it on Fox News last night as the work of TOTUS (Teleprompter Of The United States). Even the usually supportive Dana Milbank of the Washington Post was appalled by it: “It’’s not exactly fair to blame Obama for the rout: Almost certainly, the markets ignored him. And that’’s the problem: The most powerful man in the world seems strangely powerless, and irresolute, as larger forces bring down the country and his presidency.” His column’s ending is devastating:

“I don’’t want to get too far ahead of the process,” he [press secretary Jay Carney] explained to the Wall Street Journal’’s Laura Meckler, adding that Obama “will be contributing to that process, not driving it or directing it.”

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How bad was the president’s speech yesterday? So bad that Dana Perino, former press secretary for George Bush, dismissed it on Fox News last night as the work of TOTUS (Teleprompter Of The United States). Even the usually supportive Dana Milbank of the Washington Post was appalled by it: “It’’s not exactly fair to blame Obama for the rout: Almost certainly, the markets ignored him. And that’’s the problem: The most powerful man in the world seems strangely powerless, and irresolute, as larger forces bring down the country and his presidency.” His column’s ending is devastating:

“I don’’t want to get too far ahead of the process,” he [press secretary Jay Carney] explained to the Wall Street Journal’’s Laura Meckler, adding that Obama “will be contributing to that process, not driving it or directing it.”

“Why?” inquired Politico’’s Glenn Thrush. “He’’s the leader of the free world. Why isn’’t he leading this process?”

That is the enduring mystery of Obama’’s presidency. He delivered his statement on the economy beneath a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, but that was as close as he came to forceful leadership. He looked grim and swallowed hard and frequently as he mixed fatalism (“markets will rise and fall”) with vague, patriotic exhortations (“this is the United States of America”).

“There will always be economic factors we can’’t control,” Obama said. Maybe. But it would be nice if the president gave it a try.

It was not only a portrait of Abraham Lincoln Obama was standing before when he spoke. On the mantel piece behind him are carved the words written in 1800 by the first inhabitant of the White House, John Adams, and placed there by order of Franklin Roosevelt in 1942: “I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this House, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”

Adams’ prayer has not always been answered, and some inhabitants of the White House were neither honest nor wise and some were only one of those, which is not enough. But when we needed an Abraham Lincoln or a Franklin Roosevelt, Heaven gave them to us.

If there is anybody who Obama does not remind me of, it is FDR. He made plenty of mistakes, but he always led, forcefully and with surpassing political skills, to bring the country through the trials of the Great Depression and the Second World War.

More and more, President Obama reminds me of one of the great characters in American fiction, Captain Francis Queeg of The Caine Mutiny. Queeg  (unforgettably portrayed by Humphrey Bogart in the movie version) wasn’t a bad man, just one who had been promoted above his level of competence and, paralyzed by fear of making a mistake, was unable to lead, which is what a ship’s captain must do. Evading responsibility was his sole concern. The result was near disaster when the ship encountered a typhoon.

We can only hope in the next 18 months, this country doesn’t face the equivalent of what Queeg faced.

 

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Geithner and Obama Going Down With the Ship Together

Loyalty to subordinates is a sign of character on the part of a leader. But under certain circumstances, it can also be an indication that a leader isn’t prepared to come to grips with a grim situation as well as having lost touch with political reality. The news that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has announced he will  stay on until the end of President Obama’s term in office is just such a situation.

Geithner is not the sole or even the principal author of our economic woes. Indeed, because he is one of the people in the administration who have pushed for deficit reduction, a good argument can be made that he needs to stay, because the alternatives would almost certainly be worse. But the downward spiral of the American economy and the feckless performance of the president himself when he spoke yesterday about the downgrade of the country’s credit rating is a set of circumstances that demands drastic action from the White House. Obama needs to do something to convince the public he understands this and is prepared to act.  Yesterday’s speech showed us that save for anti-Republican demagoguery, Obama is out of ideas. The announcement there will be no changes in his economic team is merely confirmation he his prepared to go down with the economic ship as his chances for re-election sink.

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Loyalty to subordinates is a sign of character on the part of a leader. But under certain circumstances, it can also be an indication that a leader isn’t prepared to come to grips with a grim situation as well as having lost touch with political reality. The news that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has announced he will  stay on until the end of President Obama’s term in office is just such a situation.

Geithner is not the sole or even the principal author of our economic woes. Indeed, because he is one of the people in the administration who have pushed for deficit reduction, a good argument can be made that he needs to stay, because the alternatives would almost certainly be worse. But the downward spiral of the American economy and the feckless performance of the president himself when he spoke yesterday about the downgrade of the country’s credit rating is a set of circumstances that demands drastic action from the White House. Obama needs to do something to convince the public he understands this and is prepared to act.  Yesterday’s speech showed us that save for anti-Republican demagoguery, Obama is out of ideas. The announcement there will be no changes in his economic team is merely confirmation he his prepared to go down with the economic ship as his chances for re-election sink.

The last thing Obama needs is a bruising confirmation process for a new secretary. But the recruitment of a new economic team could have given the administration some life and convinced the public, at least for a time, that Obama takes the situation seriously. Another 17 months of Geithner at the Treasury won’t save the nation, nor will he damage it much more than his boss. But the lack of energy at the top is yet another indication of how clueless this president is about the main issue facing the nation.

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Is Newsweek’s Bachmann Cover “Sexist”?

How many Newsweek cover mini-scandals have we been through since Tina Brown took charge of the magazine? There was the one about the resurrected Princess Diana, then Romney as a dancing Mormon, and now finally a supposedly sexist photo of Rep. Michele Bachmann channeling a young Charles Manson. There probably have been some others I missed.

But if there’s a trend here, it’s not sexism. Newsweek has had plenty of women on its front page since Brown took over, and none of them have been portrayed particularly unflatteringly (not even the conservative ones). Still, some conservatives, and liberal groups like the National Organization for Women, have argued this latest Bachmann cover exposes Newsweek as misogynistic. They say the magazine wouldn’t have used such an unflattering photo of a man, or dubbed him the “King of Rage” (Bachmann is called the “Queen of Rage” in the headline).

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How many Newsweek cover mini-scandals have we been through since Tina Brown took charge of the magazine? There was the one about the resurrected Princess Diana, then Romney as a dancing Mormon, and now finally a supposedly sexist photo of Rep. Michele Bachmann channeling a young Charles Manson. There probably have been some others I missed.

But if there’s a trend here, it’s not sexism. Newsweek has had plenty of women on its front page since Brown took over, and none of them have been portrayed particularly unflatteringly (not even the conservative ones). Still, some conservatives, and liberal groups like the National Organization for Women, have argued this latest Bachmann cover exposes Newsweek as misogynistic. They say the magazine wouldn’t have used such an unflattering photo of a man, or dubbed him the “King of Rage” (Bachmann is called the “Queen of Rage” in the headline).

“Who has ever called a man ‘The King of Rage’?” NOW President Terry O’Neill fumed to the Daily Caller. “They are basically casting her as a nut job.”

“[H]as it ever been done to a man? Surely this has never been done to a man.”

I don’t know whether anyone has phrased it exactly that way, but is it really that hard to imagine a magazine publishing an unflattering cover photo of a male political figure while portraying him as crazy? If NOW officials honestly think this is far-fetched, here’s a refresher.

Maybe if Bachmann was a mild-mannered moderate, one could argue depicting her as the “Queen of Rage” was motivated by sexism. But she’s a bomb-thrower and an avowed Tea Partier – so why should anyone be surprised she gets the same treatment the liberal media gives all right-wingers, from Rush Limbaugh to Jim DeMint to Glenn Beck? If it’s not sexist for the left to paint these guys as angry or crazy, why should it be sexist for them to do it to Bachmann, too?

Plus, if the cover is evidence of anything (besides Newsweek’s cries for attention), it’s that the magazine’s long-standing anti-conservative bias is continuing. I doubt we’ll see any covers depicting liberal Democrats in such an unflattering light anytime soon. Yes, it’s unfair and despicable. Calling it sexism, though, is a serious stretch.

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