Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 10, 2011

Civilization, Barbarism and the Burning Streets of London

Watching the streets of London and other British cities burn is painful for anyone who has visited that great nation. Abe has a fine post on how to explain what has unfolded in Great Britain during the last four  days. “There are parts of our society that are not just broken but frankly sick,” Prime Minister David Cameron said. “When we see children of 12 or 13 looting it’s clear there are things that are badly wrong in our society. There is a complete lack of responsibility in some parts of our society. People are allowed to feel the world owes them something and that their actions don’t have consequences.”

But what is happening in Great Britain has also happened, to one degree or another, in Greece, in France and in other European nations. One can sense a growing fear that what is occurring is not isolated but a deeper discontent afflicting the West.

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Watching the streets of London and other British cities burn is painful for anyone who has visited that great nation. Abe has a fine post on how to explain what has unfolded in Great Britain during the last four  days. “There are parts of our society that are not just broken but frankly sick,” Prime Minister David Cameron said. “When we see children of 12 or 13 looting it’s clear there are things that are badly wrong in our society. There is a complete lack of responsibility in some parts of our society. People are allowed to feel the world owes them something and that their actions don’t have consequences.”

But what is happening in Great Britain has also happened, to one degree or another, in Greece, in France and in other European nations. One can sense a growing fear that what is occurring is not isolated but a deeper discontent afflicting the West.

I have written elsewhere that what is unfolding in nations throughout the West, including in America, are the predictable effects of increasing dependency on the state, which creates certain expectations and patterns of thought, including an entitlement mentality, and where every concession that has ever been gained is viewed as an unalienable right and therefore irreversible. This may also be the result of an increasingly large underclass out of which rises a tangle of pathologies.

But what may also be at play here is something else: the danger of democratic mediocrity and the erosion of understanding of what it means to be a citizen in a free nation, the de-linkage between rights and responsibilities, and the weakening of society’s allegiance to what is true and good.

In another age, but one with some similarities to our own, the Scottish writer and politician John Buchan wrote, “My fear was not barbarism, which is civilisation submerged or not yet born, but de-civilisation, which is civilisation gone rotten.” Buchan went on to say, “It was not the return of the Dark Ages that I feared, but the coming of a too garish age, when life would be lived in the glare of neon lamps and the spirit would have no solitude… a civilization bemused by an opulent materialism has been met by a rude challenge.”

One needs to be careful not to overstate the matter. It would be too easy to declare the West is irredeemably corrupt, that free societies contain the seeds of their own destruction, and democracy will turn out to be, as Jean-Francois Revel wrote in 1983, “a historical accident, a brief parenthesis that is closing before our eyes.” Whittaker Chambers famously said in leaving communism and joining the West, he joined the losing side. In fact, free societies have proven to be resilient and adaptable, able to summon will and resolve at key moments. America in particular finds ways to rise to the challenge time and again.

Still, it would be foolish to ignore what political philosophers have long known: the membrane separating civilization and barbarism is thinner than we might think and can be ruptured more easily than we might hope. See scenes  from the London riots for more.

 

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Congress to Investigate White House Involvement with Bin Laden Film

The normally tight-lipped Obama administration is reportedly giving a Hollywood production company access to sensitive intelligence information, in an effort to help produce a film about the Osama bin Laden raid. Why would the White House do something like this, you might wonder? It could have something to do with the movie’s well-timed release date – a month before the 2012 election.

At the moment, there aren’t many details about what type of information is actually being given to the production company. We only know that Maureen Dowd (who broke the story) characterized it as “top-level access” to the mission, which could encompass a whole range of possibilities.

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The normally tight-lipped Obama administration is reportedly giving a Hollywood production company access to sensitive intelligence information, in an effort to help produce a film about the Osama bin Laden raid. Why would the White House do something like this, you might wonder? It could have something to do with the movie’s well-timed release date – a month before the 2012 election.

At the moment, there aren’t many details about what type of information is actually being given to the production company. We only know that Maureen Dowd (who broke the story) characterized it as “top-level access” to the mission, which could encompass a whole range of possibilities.

Fortunately, House Homeland Security Chair Peter King is trying to get some answers:

“[The] Administration’s first duty in declassifying material is to provide full reporting to Congress and the American people, in an effort to build public trust through transparency of government.  In contrast, this alleged collaboration belies a desire of transparency in favor of a cinematographic view of history.”

King’s letter includes a list of questions, which you can read in full on his website. But the gist of it is he’s trying to find out whether military and CIA officials are on board with the plan, or whether they’ve been pressured into allowing access to the production company. King also asks whether a film will be provided to the military and CIA for pre-approval and what steps the administration has taken to ensure no harmful information was released.

There are several concerns here. The first is obviously the risk to national security by allowing a Hollywood production company access to such a sensitive operation. If any information gets out that identifies the SEALs involved or reveals classified strategy, it could easily be exploited by terrorist groups and complicate future operations.

Then there’s the potential ethical ramifications. Even if no damaging information was accessed by the filmmakers, there’s still the question of whether there was a risk of this happening. Is it possible the administration could have actually put our national security in jeopardy for some good pre-election publicity?

With the movie’s planned release date just a month before the 2012 election, there’s no doubt the White House has a political interest here. The film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow, was reportedly also a major Obama supporter in 2008. At a showing for her last big film, the controversial Iraq war picture “Hurt Locker,” Bigelow gushed to the crowd she “hoped and prayed” U.S. troops would return home “immediately,” according to a Sept. 4, 2008 Agence France Presse article.

“And only one man is capable of doing that, and that’s Mr. Barack Obama,” Bigelow said, adding she hopes “war becomes obsolete and diplomacy replaces it.”

Bigelow being in the tank for the president is troubling enough. But it also seems wildly irresponsible to allow someone with her politicized and naïve view of national security to access sensitive intelligence information. Especially when she’s admitted her previous work had political goals.

I’m all for government transparency, but there are way too many red flags in this story. I hope we find out Dowd’s definition of “top-level intelligence access” turns out to be something totally innocuous. But for now, Rep. King’s right to be raising alarms.

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Obama Administration Leaves Captured Americans Behind

Last week, an appeals “court” in Cuba rejected the request of an American citizen, Alan Gross, to be freed from the 15-year sentence he was given in March of this year after being convicted of subversion. The 61-year-old Gross, a tourist who worked as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was arrested in March of 2009 after bringing communications equipment to a small Jewish community on the communist island. The paranoid government sees these openings to the outside world as subversive and punishes them with prison terms long enough to be death sentences.

Throughout Gross’s imprisonment, the Obama administration has attempted quietly, through backdoor channels, to secure his release. After two American journalists were captured in North Korea two years ago, the Obama administration sent former President Bill Clinton to secure their release. With Gross, they tried something similar, sending President Jimmy Carter, but this time the former president came home empty-handed.

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Last week, an appeals “court” in Cuba rejected the request of an American citizen, Alan Gross, to be freed from the 15-year sentence he was given in March of this year after being convicted of subversion. The 61-year-old Gross, a tourist who worked as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was arrested in March of 2009 after bringing communications equipment to a small Jewish community on the communist island. The paranoid government sees these openings to the outside world as subversive and punishes them with prison terms long enough to be death sentences.

Throughout Gross’s imprisonment, the Obama administration has attempted quietly, through backdoor channels, to secure his release. After two American journalists were captured in North Korea two years ago, the Obama administration sent former President Bill Clinton to secure their release. With Gross, they tried something similar, sending President Jimmy Carter, but this time the former president came home empty-handed.

The incarceration of Gross sends a message to dictators everywhere: If you capture our citizens, we might send an aging former president to get them back, but if we don’t succeed–c’est la vie. While the use of soft negotiation techniques and bribes might have worked on Kim Jong Il, it clearly has not on Castro or Ahmadinejad (who is currently holding two American hikers captive in Iran).

What happened to the president who ordered the Navy to aim sniper rifles at pirates who captured Americans off the Somali coast? When media attention isn’t focused sharply on Obama, travelers should know that their U.S. passport doesn’t carry nearly as much protection as it used to. When faced with a lack of public outcry, our president will stand idly by as foreign dictators hold American citizens in nightmarish prisons to be tortured, or worse.

We are no longer respected or feared by others worldwide. Since President Obama has taken office, the United States has undergone a downgrade in more ways than one.

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Probing Perry’s Foreign Policy

With Texas Governor Rick Perry seemingly on the verge of declaring his candidacy for the presidency, he can expect to be the object of more scrutiny in the coming days and weeks. But along with the inevitable attempts to dig up dirt on every aspect of his career as well as his family, there will also be an attempt to understand his positions on vital issues. Foreign Policy has tried to decipher what positions a Perry administration might take abroad, and the results will probably encourage most conservatives.

According to FP, Perry has been listening to briefings from former Bush administration officials like Doug Feith, William Luti and even former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The upshot is Perry might have more in common with the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party than the isolationists.

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With Texas Governor Rick Perry seemingly on the verge of declaring his candidacy for the presidency, he can expect to be the object of more scrutiny in the coming days and weeks. But along with the inevitable attempts to dig up dirt on every aspect of his career as well as his family, there will also be an attempt to understand his positions on vital issues. Foreign Policy has tried to decipher what positions a Perry administration might take abroad, and the results will probably encourage most conservatives.

According to FP, Perry has been listening to briefings from former Bush administration officials like Doug Feith, William Luti and even former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The upshot is Perry might have more in common with the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party than the isolationists.

As governor of Texas, the only foreign policy issue in which Perry has taken an active role is our complicated relationship with Mexico. Perry’s hard line on immigration issues and calls for reinforcing the border will be popular with most GOP voters, but it has caused concerns it will hurt the party with Hispanics. He’s also visited China to promote trade. That is good for his state’s booming economy, but he has said little about human rights issues.

As for the Middle East, Perry seems to be very much part of the pro-Israel consensus that embraces virtually all Republicans these days outside of libertarian extremists. He rightly blasted President Obama’s Middle East policy speech in May as harmful to the U.S.-Israel alliance while touting his superior knowledge of the situation due to his “numerous” trips to Israel. He went even further than most in the pro-Israel community by actually calling on the Justice Department to prosecute Americans who joined the flotilla to break the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza.

All this will probably provoke comparisons with George W. Bush, whom President Obama accused of being too close to Israel. The Bush connection is probably Perry’s biggest liability as a candidate, because it is presumed Americans don’t want a rerun of the last GOP administration. Perry has many differences with Bush, especially when it comes to immigration and his far more overt advocacy of religious faith. But by placing himself within the traditional Republican foreign policy and defense consensus, Perry has done himself no harm with most GOP primary and caucus voters.

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Is Michael Gove the British Chris Christie?

Click on this link to watch something absolutely extraordinary. It’s an exchange on a British television show between two politicians—a Labourite named Harriet Harman and a Conservative named Michael Gove, a Scot who worked for many years as an editorial writer and editor at The Times in London. Gove puts on the single most impressive display of one-on-one ideological and moral combat I’ve ever seen, akin to watching Chris Christie go after a reporter. Only Christie speaks in the tones of a world-weary, no-bull kind of guy who’s sick of the nonsense. As the program goes on here, Gove becomes genuinely outraged, and for very good reason.

Click on this link to watch something absolutely extraordinary. It’s an exchange on a British television show between two politicians—a Labourite named Harriet Harman and a Conservative named Michael Gove, a Scot who worked for many years as an editorial writer and editor at The Times in London. Gove puts on the single most impressive display of one-on-one ideological and moral combat I’ve ever seen, akin to watching Chris Christie go after a reporter. Only Christie speaks in the tones of a world-weary, no-bull kind of guy who’s sick of the nonsense. As the program goes on here, Gove becomes genuinely outraged, and for very good reason.

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Republicans Appoint Fiscal and Defense Hawks to Super Committee

Mitch McConnell and John Boehner named their super committee appointments earlier today, and, other than the absence of Paul Ryan, the final list had few surprises.

Boehner avoided choosing any freshman or Tea Partiers, and instead tapped veteran Reps. Jeb Hensarling, Dave Camp and Fred Upton. When the Democrats call the House Republicans “hostage-takers,” these guys are not the ones they’re referring to. Upton and Camp are both members of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership, and Hensarling is closely aligned with House Republican leadership.

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Mitch McConnell and John Boehner named their super committee appointments earlier today, and, other than the absence of Paul Ryan, the final list had few surprises.

Boehner avoided choosing any freshman or Tea Partiers, and instead tapped veteran Reps. Jeb Hensarling, Dave Camp and Fred Upton. When the Democrats call the House Republicans “hostage-takers,” these guys are not the ones they’re referring to. Upton and Camp are both members of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership, and Hensarling is closely aligned with House Republican leadership.

Actually, Boehner’s choices might actually be more moderate than McConnell’s. The Senate Minority Leader appointed Sens. Pat Toomey, Rob Portman, and Jon Kyl – three senators who can be expected to hold the line on tax cuts or defense. Toomey and Portman are both strong fiscal hawks, and Kyl is arguably the most vocal and unyielding defense advocate in the Senate.

The Republican Senate picks also have another thing going for them: none of them will be weighed down by electoral politics. Toomey and Portman aren’t up for reelection until 2016, and Kyl has declined to run again in 2012. This could have two different effects on the negotiations. The senators might be more likely to compromise their conservative principles because they won’t have to worry about facing any primary challengers for at least another six years. Or, they could be more likely to stick to their principles because they don’t have an election looming over them.

Of course, it’s pretty impossible to predict what’s going to come out of these closed-door negotiations. Even lawmakers with perfect conservative records might end up signing onto an unpopular agreement, especially if it’s the only alternative to $600 billion in defense cuts. And with the Democrats also appointing hard-line liberals to the committee, there will have to be serious compromises somewhere. But at least we can assume these Republican appointees will do everything in their power to get the best possible deal out of it for conservatives.

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GOP Has Lessons to Learn from its “Victory” in Wisconsin

The results of last night’s recall elections in Wisconsin left the Republican governing authority intact, but the fact remains the GOP immediately lost two seats and came within a few thousand votes from losing its majority, while the Republican governor’s approval ratings continue to tank. The rallying cry of “hey–it could have been (and almost was) much worse” is not the best justification to celebrate.

That the state GOP was not completely steamrolled in recall elections is good for the party’s fight against public unions. But if this is celebrated as an unqualified “win,” the national Republican party will fail to learn important lessons from the public’s response to Scott Walker’s policies.

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The results of last night’s recall elections in Wisconsin left the Republican governing authority intact, but the fact remains the GOP immediately lost two seats and came within a few thousand votes from losing its majority, while the Republican governor’s approval ratings continue to tank. The rallying cry of “hey–it could have been (and almost was) much worse” is not the best justification to celebrate.

That the state GOP was not completely steamrolled in recall elections is good for the party’s fight against public unions. But if this is celebrated as an unqualified “win,” the national Republican party will fail to learn important lessons from the public’s response to Scott Walker’s policies.

It’s absolutely true if the results stand, Republicans in Wisconsin will have survived a ferocious union ground game and a challenge to their governing power. And it’s possible, as Alana suggests, Walker’s plans will gain popularity as time marches on. But so far that isn’t the case. Alana quotes a Washington Post report in which Republicans defend their losses last night: “Republicans acknowledge that they were essentially caught flat-footed by the whole thing.” That’s their defense? Republican state officials admit they were caught off-guard by the recall efforts Democrats had promised. So who will be fired over this? Someone surely ought to be. This issue has been on the national political radar for months, and the Wisconsin GOP leadership admits they took a nap at the wheel.

But the most important takeaway here is one the GOP seems utterly unwilling to process. It wasn’t all about the demand public employees pay into their benefit accounts. Sure, the unions didn’t like it, but it wasn’t what enraged them and made them think they were in a battle for their survival. It was the proposed limits to their collective-bargaining abilities that both Walker and the unions saw as essential to eroding the unions’ true source of power.

In New Jersey–a bluer state than Wisconsin–Chris Christie passed similar legislation that forced employees to pay into their very generous benefits, but left untouched the collective-bargaining facet of the unions’ power. And Christie had a compelling explanation for why he didn’t seek to limit the collective-bargaining process, even though the practice has destroyed so much of the state’s municipal balance sheets:

I love collective bargaining…. I’ve said let’s get rid of civil service and let everything be collectively bargained, as long as collective bargaining is fair, tough, adversarial and there’s someone in that room representing you.

Christie, in other words, won the public relations battle by showing he truly represents the taxpayers. It was such a landslide PR victory, in fact, that the state’s heavily Democratic legislature went along with the bills. Last night, the Wisconsin GOP barely held on. If they don’t learn the right lessons from this battle, they might not be so lucky next time.

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On, Wisconsin!

The union crusade against Republican state senators in Wisconsin came a cropper last night when four of the six who were subjected to a recall election were re-elected. Of the two who were defeated, one was from a basically Democratic district and the other had personal issues, involving a mistress and wife who supported the recall.

So the Wisconsin state senate will stay in Republican hands, and the recall election against Governor Scott Walker planned for next year will probably be abandoned.

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The union crusade against Republican state senators in Wisconsin came a cropper last night when four of the six who were subjected to a recall election were re-elected. Of the two who were defeated, one was from a basically Democratic district and the other had personal issues, involving a mistress and wife who supported the recall.

So the Wisconsin state senate will stay in Republican hands, and the recall election against Governor Scott Walker planned for next year will probably be abandoned.

The unions spent millions on these recall elections in order to demonstrate their clout. But instead, they demonstrated their essential weakness. They failed to stop the enactment of the reforms. They failed to defeat Justice David Prosser when he ran for re-election to the state Supreme Court this spring. They failed to flip control of the senate.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin school districts are saving tons of money, and the Wisconsin economy is growing and adding jobs.

This year Wisconsin, next year the country.

 

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Time to Call the Palestinians’ UN Bluff

Both the United States and Israel are expending a great deal of time and effort trying to convince United Nations member states to oppose the Palestinian effort to gain the world body’s recognition for their independence in the 1967 lines. The UN gambit has been viewed as a terrible threat to Israel, where leaders have warned a vote on the Palestinians’ request could set off a “diplomatic tsunami.” But as harmful as this debate may be to Israel’s standing in the world, it is becoming increasingly clear the effort is a gigantic bluff.

Haaretz noted yesterday the London-based Arab daily Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper reported the Palestinian Authority was planning to delay its UN bid. The article said they feared setting off an economic crisis in the territories because the effort was bound to cause a cutoff of American aid. Though this was quickly denied by the PA’s Saeb Erekat, who claimed the “train had already left the station,” the disastrous implications for the Palestinians of this effort to evade peace talks and escalate the conflict are clear.

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Both the United States and Israel are expending a great deal of time and effort trying to convince United Nations member states to oppose the Palestinian effort to gain the world body’s recognition for their independence in the 1967 lines. The UN gambit has been viewed as a terrible threat to Israel, where leaders have warned a vote on the Palestinians’ request could set off a “diplomatic tsunami.” But as harmful as this debate may be to Israel’s standing in the world, it is becoming increasingly clear the effort is a gigantic bluff.

Haaretz noted yesterday the London-based Arab daily Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper reported the Palestinian Authority was planning to delay its UN bid. The article said they feared setting off an economic crisis in the territories because the effort was bound to cause a cutoff of American aid. Though this was quickly denied by the PA’s Saeb Erekat, who claimed the “train had already left the station,” the disastrous implications for the Palestinians of this effort to evade peace talks and escalate the conflict are clear.

For all of the scare mongering that has been going on in Israel and the United States about the PA’s UN plans, it is the Palestinians who have the most to lose from this strategy.

It is true a U.S. veto of Palestinian statehood in the UN Security Council will cause trouble for the United States. The possibility of a nonbinding General Assembly vote that will endorse Palestinian statehood will also make life more difficult for Israel, especially its diplomats. But the opposition of the United States and the West to the PA effort dooms it from the start. Even Western European nations unsympathetic to Israel understand what is going on here. The PA has turned to the UN because it fears going back to peace talks where their unwillingness to accept a deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn will again be exposed.

However, the consequences of this move will be catastrophic for both the Palestinian people and their leadership. The aftermath of the certain failure of this initiative may lead to more violence. Perhaps the PA leadership believes another intifada would be preferable to peace talks, but they must also fear another round of bloodshed will strengthen their Hamas rivals.

Just as important is the fact this initiative is rightly viewed by the Obama administration as a direct challenge to its leadership. The PA’s tactics are sufficiently insulting to the United States that it just may motivate the administration to make good on threats to cut off American aid. Since the PA and its ruling Fatah faction cannot exist without the foreign funds to pay off supporters via government jobs, closing the spigot of U.S. money could create a crisis that could sink the already shaky Palestinian economy and the hopes of its ruling elite.

No matter what Erekat or his boss Mahmoud Abbas says, their UN plan is a bold bluff they cannot back up. The United States and Israel must stand firm in their refusal to be bulldozed into concessions that might tempt the Palestinians to back off.  In particular, Israel must not succumb to pressure to pay dearly for a Palestinian decision to stay away from the UN. Doing so would reward the Palestinians and give them something they couldn’t win on their own. If they follow through on their UN threat, the Palestinians, not Israel or the United States, will be the big loser.

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Jon Stewart: “Shame on You, Newsweek”

One of the reasons I like Jon Stewart, apart from his comedic talent (which is considerable), is that while he’s admittedly liberal, there can also be an impressive fair-mindedness to him. A case in point is Stewart taking Tina Brown and Newsweek to task for their deliberately unflattering photo of Representative Michele Bachmann. He exposes Brown’s blatantly false explanation the photo is meant to capture the “intensity” of Bachmann: “Be honest, Newsweek, you used that photo in a petty attempt to make Michele Bachmann look crazy.” Stewart added, “You’ve got to go pretty far out of your way to find a crappy photo of Michele Bachmann, and you did.”

Stewart is no fan of Michele Bachmann, as he makes clear. But he’s more honest exposing bias in the media than most of the media is. Which makes Stewart not only funnier than most journalists but more intellectually honest than many of them, too. (h/t: mediaite.com)

One of the reasons I like Jon Stewart, apart from his comedic talent (which is considerable), is that while he’s admittedly liberal, there can also be an impressive fair-mindedness to him. A case in point is Stewart taking Tina Brown and Newsweek to task for their deliberately unflattering photo of Representative Michele Bachmann. He exposes Brown’s blatantly false explanation the photo is meant to capture the “intensity” of Bachmann: “Be honest, Newsweek, you used that photo in a petty attempt to make Michele Bachmann look crazy.” Stewart added, “You’ve got to go pretty far out of your way to find a crappy photo of Michele Bachmann, and you did.”

Stewart is no fan of Michele Bachmann, as he makes clear. But he’s more honest exposing bias in the media than most of the media is. Which makes Stewart not only funnier than most journalists but more intellectually honest than many of them, too. (h/t: mediaite.com)

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Where’s Paul Ryan?

House Speaker John Boehner has released his three appointments for the super committee, and one name is conspicuously missing:

  • House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)
  • House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI)
  • House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI)

          Speaker Boehner has tapped Chairman Hensarling to serve as a co-chair of the joint select committee.

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House Speaker John Boehner has released his three appointments for the super committee, and one name is conspicuously missing:

  • House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)
  • House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI)
  • House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI)

          Speaker Boehner has tapped Chairman Hensarling to serve as a co-chair of the joint select committee.

Why no Paul Ryan? It’s hard to believe he wouldn’t have been one of Boehner’s first choices, so could it be Ryan wasn’t interested in the position?

It’s possible. As it becomes more apparent the super committee will probably be forced to choose between tax hikes and defense cuts, conservative leaders in the House and Senate have been increasingly voicing their uneasiness with the idea. One of the most prominent critics of the committee has been Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions, who has taken issue with its lack of transparency and the fact just 12 lawmakers will be saddled with a job that’s supposed to be performed by the entire Congress.

Ryan hasn’t been completely dismissive of the committee, but he hasn’t been an enthusiastic supporter of it either. And there could be a good reason why: He would potentially be risking his spotless fiscal conservative credentials if he accepted an appointment, because if the agreement ends up including any tax hikes or serious defense cuts, the Republicans seated on the committee will get the blame. That raises a question: Are the super committee seats – thought of as the most-wanted appointments in town just a short time ago – now becoming toxic with some conservative Republicans?

Maybe. Of course, there’s always the (very slim) chance we’ll find out Ryan’s absence from the committee is based on a completely different reason altogether. He’s still got time!

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GOP Within Striking Distance in Race to Replace Weiner

A Siena College New York Poll released today brings encouraging news for Republicans hoping for an upset win in the special congressional election to replace Anthony Weiner. The survey shows Republican Robert Turner trailing Democrat David Weprin by only six percentage points with the latter holding a 48-42 percent lead.

This puts Turner within striking distance with five weeks to go before the vote, a development that ought to worry Democrats. However, the one issue some believed might help turn the election might not be as important as we thought. Though former New York City Mayor Ed Koch has called upon Jewish voters to abandon the Democrats in the election in order to send a message protesting President Obama’s pressure on Israel, the poll shows the Jewish vote is still firmly in Weprin’s pocket with the latter holding a 56-35 percentage point lead.

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A Siena College New York Poll released today brings encouraging news for Republicans hoping for an upset win in the special congressional election to replace Anthony Weiner. The survey shows Republican Robert Turner trailing Democrat David Weprin by only six percentage points with the latter holding a 48-42 percent lead.

This puts Turner within striking distance with five weeks to go before the vote, a development that ought to worry Democrats. However, the one issue some believed might help turn the election might not be as important as we thought. Though former New York City Mayor Ed Koch has called upon Jewish voters to abandon the Democrats in the election in order to send a message protesting President Obama’s pressure on Israel, the poll shows the Jewish vote is still firmly in Weprin’s pocket with the latter holding a 56-35 percentage point lead.

The reasons for this aren’t all that complicated. Weprin is in as good a position to withstand a Jewish backlash against Obama as any Democrat in the country. He is an Orthodox Jew and a staunch supporter of Israel who has actually indicated he has not yet decided whether to endorse Obama’s re-election. While saying something like that might be fatal for most New York Democrats, the 9th New York Congressional District is a genuine anomaly in that the bulk of its Democratic voters, including many of the Jews, are not knee-jerk liberals. Which makes Weprin, who is the scion of a local political dynasty, something of a Blue Dog, at least when it comes to Middle East policy.

As for Turner, he received 41 percent of the vote when he ran a relatively strong race against Weiner in 2010. But it will be no easy task for him to gain more ground. The Siena Poll showed a relatively small number of undecided or wavering voters, and the Israel wedge issue is not showing much traction even for the 29 percent of likely voters who identify as Jewish.

The question for Turner is whether the bad economic news and the increasing perception President Obama is out of his depth can help put him over the top. If he can capitalize on the economic crisis, it will be a startling upset that will overshadow the Democrats’ win in Western New York’s 26th district back in May when their “Mediscare” offensive won a heretofore safe GOP seat.

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Is Door Closed on Palin?

In April, Human Events published a column offering ten reasons Sarah Palin will run for president. Last month, Fox News host Greta Van Susteren blogged about the seven reasons Palin will run for president. Then last week, Henry D’Andrea, writing in the Washington Times, offered three reasons he believes Palin will run for president.

Though I’ve been skeptical all along that Palin would run, I would imagine the entrance of Rick Perry into the race will give Palin one very good reason not to. Perry’s candidacy has, as many others have pointed out, put several of the Republican campaigns on life support. As I wrote last week, the latest Gallup poll numbers show once Perry is included, Republican primary voters show substantially less interest in candidates outside the field. There may still be calls for Paul Ryan or Chris Christie to get in the race, but Perry has quieted the clamoring for “someone else.” But the numbers also show why he easily replaces Palin.

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In April, Human Events published a column offering ten reasons Sarah Palin will run for president. Last month, Fox News host Greta Van Susteren blogged about the seven reasons Palin will run for president. Then last week, Henry D’Andrea, writing in the Washington Times, offered three reasons he believes Palin will run for president.

Though I’ve been skeptical all along that Palin would run, I would imagine the entrance of Rick Perry into the race will give Palin one very good reason not to. Perry’s candidacy has, as many others have pointed out, put several of the Republican campaigns on life support. As I wrote last week, the latest Gallup poll numbers show once Perry is included, Republican primary voters show substantially less interest in candidates outside the field. There may still be calls for Paul Ryan or Chris Christie to get in the race, but Perry has quieted the clamoring for “someone else.” But the numbers also show why he easily replaces Palin.

Perry has two impressive numbers in the Gallup polling: his overall placement (second, right behind Mitt Romney) and his “positive intensity score.” Gallup defines this as “the difference between strongly favorable and strongly unfavorable opinions among those who are familiar with him or her. This score provides an indication of the intensity of support among a candidate’s base of followers at any given point in the campaign.”

In the most recent Gallup polling, Perry’s positive intensity score is at 23, five points higher than Palin’s 18. The full poll, however, shows when Perry and Palin are in the race together, Perry polls at 15 percent to Palin’s 12. (The poll includes Rudy Giuliani as well.) Additionally, Perry has the kind of grassroots support, popularity with conservative new media and solid reputation among conservative evangelical voters from which Palin would build a campaign.

For Palin to run, she would need to focus her firepower on a moderate establishment candidate, like Romney. But Perry may well begin his official campaign as either the frontrunner or close to it. A Palin candidacy would seem unnecessary to primary voters once Perry is in the race. I’m sure speculation will continue, but Perry seems to have closed the door on a Palin candidacy this year.

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America’s Teenage President

In the last few weeks, President Obama and his administration have blamed our struggling economy and/or the downgrading of America’s credit rating on the Arab Spring, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, events in Europe, the GOP, the Tea Party, talk radio, Standard & Poor’s, the previous decade and his predecessor. Some of these excuses are familiar, predictable and a bit tiresome. But some of the excuses, like pinning blame for our fiscal crisis on protests in Tahrir Square and 130 foot waves that slammed the coast of Tohoku, shows a certain creativity.

If those responsible for America’s failures is an ever-expanding list, there is one person who escapes any responsibility, who is always fenced off from blame, who remains pure of heart, who alone rises above partisan squabbling, and whose analysis and decisions are unfailingly wise. That would be Obama. The president escapes blame despite the fact (a) his legislative agenda was implemented virtually whole during the first half of his presidency; and (b) he made a slew of promises regarding job growth, unemployment, our deficit and economic growth that have simply failed to materialize.

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In the last few weeks, President Obama and his administration have blamed our struggling economy and/or the downgrading of America’s credit rating on the Arab Spring, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, events in Europe, the GOP, the Tea Party, talk radio, Standard & Poor’s, the previous decade and his predecessor. Some of these excuses are familiar, predictable and a bit tiresome. But some of the excuses, like pinning blame for our fiscal crisis on protests in Tahrir Square and 130 foot waves that slammed the coast of Tohoku, shows a certain creativity.

If those responsible for America’s failures is an ever-expanding list, there is one person who escapes any responsibility, who is always fenced off from blame, who remains pure of heart, who alone rises above partisan squabbling, and whose analysis and decisions are unfailingly wise. That would be Obama. The president escapes blame despite the fact (a) his legislative agenda was implemented virtually whole during the first half of his presidency; and (b) he made a slew of promises regarding job growth, unemployment, our deficit and economic growth that have simply failed to materialize.

No matter. When Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner — who in April assured us there was “no risk” the U.S. would lose its top credit rating — was asked if the Obama administration bore any blame for S&P’s decision, he answered, “Oh, absolutely not.”

Parents of teenagers will immediately recognize this cast of mind. It isn’t a particularly admirable or attractive quality to find in adolescent children. But the hope is they will, over time, learn to take responsibility for their mistakes, replace self-delusion with individual responsibility, and at least stop blaming others for their slip ups. We expect teens to outgrow their childish ways. And we should expect American treasury secretaries and presidents to do the same.

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How Not to “Kill” Romney

Yesterday’s Politico report on the Obama campaign’s plan to “kill Romney” has had some interesting unintended consequences. While the premise of the president’s strategists is Mitt Romney is the Republican best placed to threaten the president’s re-election, their decision to leak their intention to do everything possible to destroy him has had the opposite effect.

Rather than scaring off Republicans who will hope to avoid the Democratic effort to brand him as “weird,” Romney has already used the attack as material for an effective campaign video and fundraiser titled “Civility.” Even more troubling for the president is that other journalists are beginning to pick up on the fact the “weird” charge is a thinly veiled incitement to religious prejudice.

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Yesterday’s Politico report on the Obama campaign’s plan to “kill Romney” has had some interesting unintended consequences. While the premise of the president’s strategists is Mitt Romney is the Republican best placed to threaten the president’s re-election, their decision to leak their intention to do everything possible to destroy him has had the opposite effect.

Rather than scaring off Republicans who will hope to avoid the Democratic effort to brand him as “weird,” Romney has already used the attack as material for an effective campaign video and fundraiser titled “Civility.” Even more troubling for the president is that other journalists are beginning to pick up on the fact the “weird” charge is a thinly veiled incitement to religious prejudice.

The video begins with President Obama’s heralded call for a more civil public discourse, in a speech at the memorial ceremony in Arizona this past January for those killed during the attempt to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. It then jumps forward to the Politico story and what the Romney campaign declares is a desperate attempt by the president to divert the electorate from a failing economy.

Though, as I noted yesterday, Romney’s record in business and flip-flopping on the issues gives opponents in both parties plenty of ammunition to use against him, the “weird” charge is likely to do Obama more harm than it does the former Massachusetts governor. While prejudice against Mormons is a factor that will affect Romney’s chances of becoming president, the willingness to play this card, even by inference, is a land mine that threatens to undermine Obama’s status as an iconic president. The blowback from this campaign can be incalculable, because it could transform Romney from a flawed challenger into a sympathetic victim of  White House smears.

While most journalists reacting to the Politico story concentrated on the hypocrisy of Obama going negative so early, the New York Times’ Ross Douthat also picked up on the prejudice behind the “weird” charge. As Douthat pointed out, the White House’s decision to model their attack on Romney on the GOP assault on 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is off the mark. Republican attempts to undermine Kerry’s standing as a war hero and to paint him as an effete Francophile elitist made sense in 2004, because it was an election fought on the issues of war and peace. But appealing to anti-Mormon bias in 2012 will be irrelevant to a contest that will be decided on economic issues.

If the president’s strategists were seeking to weaken Romney, they will soon discover they have done just the opposite.

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A Stinging Defeat for Big Labor

$20 million – that’s how much labor unions and their Democratic supporters reportedly poured into the recall elections in Wisconsin. They outspent Republicans two-to-one. And yet they fell short at taking control of the Wisconsin state senate, only winning two out of the six Republican seats they attempted to recall.

It’s a crushing blow to the unions, especially coming on the heels of their failure to oust Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser just a few months ago. The Washington Post’s “The Fix” blog reports this isn’t just a defeat for labor, but also for the progressive movement:

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$20 million – that’s how much labor unions and their Democratic supporters reportedly poured into the recall elections in Wisconsin. They outspent Republicans two-to-one. And yet they fell short at taking control of the Wisconsin state senate, only winning two out of the six Republican seats they attempted to recall.

It’s a crushing blow to the unions, especially coming on the heels of their failure to oust Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser just a few months ago. The Washington Post’s “The Fix” blog reports this isn’t just a defeat for labor, but also for the progressive movement:

If these results stand, it is an undeniable defeat for labor and for progressive activists.

Democrats and their allies are arguing taking down two incumbents is itself a victory, given that recalling an official is in­cred­ibly difficult and rare. But they invested very heavily in taking back the state senate and fell short.

The Democrats didn’t just outspend Republicans – they also had a strong head start in terms of organizing. The Post reports the GOP was caught off-guard by the amount of national Democratic money and support that flooded the elections:

As of a couple weeks ago, about two-thirds of that has gone to benefit Democrats, and Republicans acknowledge that they were essentially caught flat-footed by the whole thing. And because of that, they’ve been fighting from behind in recent weeks.

“This is a referendum on Walker, and the Democrats have everything to lose, and the Republicans did not have a plan for what they started,” said one Republican monitoring the recalls. “And the national folks never saw it for what it was, which is a proxy fight.”

And Republicans may be able to make up for the two seats they lost last night as early as next week, when two Democratic incumbents will face a recall.

There’s a lot for conservatives to feel good about here. But there are also reasons to remain cautious. At the Weekly Standard, John McCormack warns if there’s a recall election for Gov. Scott Walker, Republicans shouldn’t expect to win so easily:

But just because Republicans narrowly won rounds one (Prosser) and two (senate recalls) of the fight for Wisconsin, it doesn’t mean that round three–a potential recall of Scott Walker–will be an easy victory. Former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold would still be a formidable challenger. He lost during the 2010 GOP wave by 5 points, and has a certain appeal for some swing voters, though his mavericky image was tarnished in 2010.

Of course, after two high-profile failures, do the unions really want to risk the national humiliation of potentially losing a race against Walker himself? Last night was largely seen as a referendum of Walker’s policies, and so far voters are giving him the benefit of the doubt. And time is on his side here – the longer voters have to see the positive outcomes of his policies, the more favorably they’re likely to view him.

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Reflections on a One-Term Presidency

In a “news analysis” in today’s New York Times, Helene Cooper, the paper’s White House correspondent, let drop a phrase we’re going to be hearing a lot in the next 17 months: “one term presidency.” Playing off of President Obama’s vainglorious boast of a year ago that he would rather be a good one-term president than a mediocre two-term chief executive, Cooper asks whether he really meant it.

At this point, the question is irrelevant. The president has taken no heroic yet unpopular stands that will be vindicated by history. The reason why Obama’s chances for a second term are rapidly vanishing is that even many of his former admirers are coming to grips with the fact he wasn’t ready for the job. And with the economy sinking on his watch, even his cheerleaders at the Times are conceding there is little, if anything, he can do to change things. As the president demonstrated in his speech on Monday about the downgrading of the national credit rating, he is out of ideas and has nothing to offer but more of the same partisan wrangling he claims to wants to rise above. Though the outcome of the 2012 election will depend in large measure on the abilities and electability of his Republican opponent, that just means it will be the GOP’s race to lose.

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In a “news analysis” in today’s New York Times, Helene Cooper, the paper’s White House correspondent, let drop a phrase we’re going to be hearing a lot in the next 17 months: “one term presidency.” Playing off of President Obama’s vainglorious boast of a year ago that he would rather be a good one-term president than a mediocre two-term chief executive, Cooper asks whether he really meant it.

At this point, the question is irrelevant. The president has taken no heroic yet unpopular stands that will be vindicated by history. The reason why Obama’s chances for a second term are rapidly vanishing is that even many of his former admirers are coming to grips with the fact he wasn’t ready for the job. And with the economy sinking on his watch, even his cheerleaders at the Times are conceding there is little, if anything, he can do to change things. As the president demonstrated in his speech on Monday about the downgrading of the national credit rating, he is out of ideas and has nothing to offer but more of the same partisan wrangling he claims to wants to rise above. Though the outcome of the 2012 election will depend in large measure on the abilities and electability of his Republican opponent, that just means it will be the GOP’s race to lose.

Obama’s problem right now is not, as liberals would have it, that he compromises too much. Nor is he a victim of circumstances or the devilish machinations of the Tea Party activists Democrats nonsensically believe are terrorists seeking to wreck the economy. His dilemma is he never saw coming the double-dip recession that is sinking his presidency.

Obama came into office thinking all of the country’s problems, both domestic and foreign, were the fault of his predecessor, a myth he still clings to. Having been handed the reins of power along with comfortable Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, he had two years to do as he pleased. That’s exactly what he did as he rammed through a trillion dollar stimulus and a health care bill that vastly expanded federal entitlement spending. These measures were unpopular and cost him his majority in the House of Representatives. But worse than that, they were a failure, and burdened by his ideology-based inability to embrace policies that will promote growth, he has led the country to ruin.

If Obama appears clueless today it is because he has already played every card in his hand during the first half of his one term. All that is left to him now is the last resort of every political failure: to blackguard his opponents and hope that demonizing them, as he hopes to do with the populist Tea Party movement, or to incite prejudice against them, as he plans to do with Mitt Romney should he be the GOP nominee, will ensure his re-election. The trouble with this strategy is it is an attempt to divert the public’s attention from the one thing they can never be distracted from: an economic collapse he has helped bring about.

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Britain is Burning, Night Four

The rioting in England has moved from London to the cities of Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham. And if the violence started out as a localized and ethnically defined expression of rage over the police shooting of a black man, it has since become a hooligan’s free-for-all.

England has become a bonfire for every left-wing gripe and excuse you can name. There’s the claim of racial injustice, of course, but there’s also the call to class warfare. Young British looters explained to the BBC that they’ve been “showing the rich we do what we want.” There is the demand for the continuation of the unbridled welfare state. In the Guardian, Nina Power describes the riots as a response to “brutal cuts” in government spending. And anarchists have joined the fray. One self-proclaimed British anarchist told the Associated Press, “This is the uprising of the working class. We’re redistributing the wealth.” Read More

The rioting in England has moved from London to the cities of Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham. And if the violence started out as a localized and ethnically defined expression of rage over the police shooting of a black man, it has since become a hooligan’s free-for-all.

England has become a bonfire for every left-wing gripe and excuse you can name. There’s the claim of racial injustice, of course, but there’s also the call to class warfare. Young British looters explained to the BBC that they’ve been “showing the rich we do what we want.” There is the demand for the continuation of the unbridled welfare state. In the Guardian, Nina Power describes the riots as a response to “brutal cuts” in government spending. And anarchists have joined the fray. One self-proclaimed British anarchist told the Associated Press, “This is the uprising of the working class. We’re redistributing the wealth.”

The global economic downturn has made leftist ideology obsolete in the official political sphere, but that shift has left behind a nasty problem: Millions of people had expected leftism to make good on its myriad promises of contentment—equality of outcome, free goods and services, and less time spent slaving away at work. How do the post-war generations who were raised on modern liberal dreams—and who bought in to an ever-expanding entitlement state—come to terms with the realities of the left’s failure? (If you’re an American your leftism is likely an outgrowth of affluence, so you attend some anti-corporate documentary screenings and get on with the your life.) But if you’re in Europe, you’ve actually been let down by the system that was supposed to sustain you. Getting over that won’t be so easy. So without a viable leftist blueprint for actual political progress, you riot incoherently, collaboratively, and opportunistically. The abandoned orphans of the left are taking Britain by storm.

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