Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 12, 2011

The GOP’s Philosophical Straitjacket

One thing that jumped out at me — and perhaps (among conservatives) only me —from last night’s GOP debate was the question first posed by Byron York of the Washington Examiner to former Senator Rick Santorum. In discussing the next round of the deficit/debt reduction process, York said, “Democrats will demand that savings come from a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, maybe $3 in cuts for every $1 in higher taxes.” He went on to ask, “Is there any ratio of cuts to taxes that you would accept? Three to one? Four to one? Or even 10 to one?” To which Santorum replied, “No.” Fox News’ Bret Baier then posed the question up to all eight of the GOP candidates.

“I’m going to ask a question to everyone here on the stage,” Baier said. “Say you had a deal, a real spending cuts deal, 10-to-1, as Byron said, spending cuts to tax increases…. Who on this stage would walk away from that deal? Can you raise your hand if you feel so strongly about not raising taxes, you’d walk away on the 10-to-1 deal?”

Read More

One thing that jumped out at me — and perhaps (among conservatives) only me —from last night’s GOP debate was the question first posed by Byron York of the Washington Examiner to former Senator Rick Santorum. In discussing the next round of the deficit/debt reduction process, York said, “Democrats will demand that savings come from a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, maybe $3 in cuts for every $1 in higher taxes.” He went on to ask, “Is there any ratio of cuts to taxes that you would accept? Three to one? Four to one? Or even 10 to one?” To which Santorum replied, “No.” Fox News’ Bret Baier then posed the question up to all eight of the GOP candidates.

“I’m going to ask a question to everyone here on the stage,” Baier said. “Say you had a deal, a real spending cuts deal, 10-to-1, as Byron said, spending cuts to tax increases…. Who on this stage would walk away from that deal? Can you raise your hand if you feel so strongly about not raising taxes, you’d walk away on the 10-to-1 deal?”

All eight candidates raised their hand. The video can be found here.

Now on one level I understand this response. Republicans should not negotiate with themselves, and a willingness to reveal one’s demands in advance can weaken one’s position down the road. Indeed, if Republicans had signaled they would accept tax increases in the most recent debt-ceiling negotiations, we would have gotten them, thereby relieving the pressure to cut spending, which I believe is the source of the problem. I also understand that not all spending cuts are equal and that the key to solving our long-term fiscal crisis lies with reforming entitlement programs, and most especially Medicare, not targeting discretionary programs. In addition, if any of the candidates admitted he or she would raise taxes, regardless of the conditions, you can bet the other candidates would use it as a political club.

I get all that. But still.

What if what we saw on the stage last night revealed their authentic bottom line? What if there is no spending-cuts-to-tax-increases ratio that any of the GOP nominees would accept? If that were the case — and perhaps it is now the case — it would be serious indictment against the modern-day GOP mindset.

Remember, this thought experiment has to do with (a) a real spending cuts deal and (b) a compromise plan, not what one believes to be an ideal one. It is hard for me to imagine that any serious conservative who wants to limit government wouldn’t accept such a deal. The alternative, after all, would not be to reduce the size and scope of government without tax increases; it would be to keep Leviathan at its current size instead of significantly cutting it at the cost of a relatively small tax increase.

Remember this, too: in 1982 Ronald Reagan was willing to sign what was then the largest tax increase in American history (TEFRA) because he believed he’d get three dollars in cuts for one dollar in tax increase. Reagan came to regret his tax increase — but not because the ratio was wrong but because Democrats never delivered on the spending cuts. If Reagan had gotten the cuts he asked for — and the York/Baier question pre-supposes the spending cuts would be real – he would have taken that deal.

Are Republicans in 2011 saying that a deal that would be far better than one Reagan expected and agreed to is simply beyond the pale?

If so — if taxes cannot be raised under any circumstance — then we have veered from economic policy to religious catechism.

Now one may respond to this analysis by saying that what we saw on the stage in Iowa last night was a show, a pose, a position one takes in the campaign but which they would jettison if they actually had the responsibility of governing. To which I would say two things: First, it’s not a good idea to get in the habit of saying one thing during a campaign while knowing you would do another when you govern; and second, there is something amiss when the political pressure in a party, any party, is so intense that it prevents a serious intellectual conversation from even taking place.

Lower taxes are a very good idea, but it is not a talisman. And if we have reached a point where Republicans running for president cannot envision (or at least admit to) any scenario in which they would raise taxes, even if as a result they could roll back the modern welfare state, then it’s time to consider loosening the philosophical straightjacket they are in. It’s not healthy for the GOP, or the nation, or even conservatism.

Read Less

Cost of Government Subsidizing Rural Airports? $4,000+ Per Ticket

You’ll remember the ironically-named Essential Air Service program from the FAA extension debate. The $200 million program was one of two issues on which Senate Democrats refused to budge, opting to suspend infrastructure spending and revenue generation rather than to let Republicans cut subsidies for 13 airports. Finally a compromise was struck under which Republicans would formally eliminate the program — because Senate Democrats couldn’t really defend paying for empty planes to fly into empty rural airports — but Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood would be allowed to very quietly waive the cuts. Guess how that went.

The Associated Press followed up on the story today, using the town of Ely, Nevada as an illustration. There are plenty of days when the airport gets planes with exactly zero passengers, and across the entire year flights average 1 or 2 passengers per flight. Last year exactly 227 passengers departed from the Ely airport terminals, with each passenger paying between $70 and $90 for their heavily-subsidized one-way tickets. The difference between the full price and what each passenger paid was left for taxpayers to pick up. Average price per ticket: $4,107.

Read More

You’ll remember the ironically-named Essential Air Service program from the FAA extension debate. The $200 million program was one of two issues on which Senate Democrats refused to budge, opting to suspend infrastructure spending and revenue generation rather than to let Republicans cut subsidies for 13 airports. Finally a compromise was struck under which Republicans would formally eliminate the program — because Senate Democrats couldn’t really defend paying for empty planes to fly into empty rural airports — but Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood would be allowed to very quietly waive the cuts. Guess how that went.

The Associated Press followed up on the story today, using the town of Ely, Nevada as an illustration. There are plenty of days when the airport gets planes with exactly zero passengers, and across the entire year flights average 1 or 2 passengers per flight. Last year exactly 227 passengers departed from the Ely airport terminals, with each passenger paying between $70 and $90 for their heavily-subsidized one-way tickets. The difference between the full price and what each passenger paid was left for taxpayers to pick up. Average price per ticket: $4,107.

The article goes on to quote Prof. Severin Borenstein of the University of California, Berkeley, who helped design EAS and who now thinks that there is a “big problem” with giving subsidies to airports like Ely. That’s one way of putting it.

Defenders of the program insist that, actually, the government funds transportation projects that are even more expensive and even more wasteful. They also emphasize that the subsidized airports boost communities that would otherwise not see activity on account of broad public disinterest. That’s the level of debate we’ve reached. The argument against cutting pork out of the budget is that there’s pork in the budget, and we justify sending money to communities because they’re demographically unsustainable.

You kind of have to admire the shamelessness involved. If these airports weren’t in the states of powerful senators they wouldn’t exist, and everyone kind of knows that. But at some point we really will have to stop letting politicians say things that obviously don’t make sense just because they like spending taxpayer money.

Read Less

Candidates Did Fine, Fox News Did Better

More than a few commentators argue that Newt Gingrich helped himself during last night’s debate by his feisty attacks on Fox’s Chris Wallace and Bret Baier. Maybe, but I rather doubt it. The confrontations appeared to me to be defensive and even contrived, the kind of thing a poorly performing candidate does when he’s in search of creating a memorable moment. It was a pale imitation of Ronald Reagan’s “I am paying for this microphone” comments in 1980.

What’s not clear to me is why questions about Gingrich’s campaign meltdown qualify and his impossible-to-follow positions on Libya qualify as “gotcha questions”? The answer is: They don’t. Gingrich should not be imitating Sarah Palin when it comes to his attacks on the press.

Read More

More than a few commentators argue that Newt Gingrich helped himself during last night’s debate by his feisty attacks on Fox’s Chris Wallace and Bret Baier. Maybe, but I rather doubt it. The confrontations appeared to me to be defensive and even contrived, the kind of thing a poorly performing candidate does when he’s in search of creating a memorable moment. It was a pale imitation of Ronald Reagan’s “I am paying for this microphone” comments in 1980.

What’s not clear to me is why questions about Gingrich’s campaign meltdown qualify and his impossible-to-follow positions on Libya qualify as “gotcha questions”? The answer is: They don’t. Gingrich should not be imitating Sarah Palin when it comes to his attacks on the press.

The truth is that both the reporters from Fox News (and the Washington Examiner’s Byron York and Susan Ferrechio) did a very good job, asking tough but fair questions, keeping things moving along, and not, as CNN’s John King did at a previous GOP debate, interrupting the candidates incessantly or asking them whether they like deep dish or thin crust pizza.

Even those who are not particular fans of Fox News, like The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik, conceded “the channel presented a first-class, rousing and illuminating debate among GOP candidates Thursday night. Most of the credit has to go to anchorman Bret Baier and Sunday show host Chris Wallace who were superb in their preparation and questions.”

The GOP candidates for the most part did fine; but Fox News did better.

Read Less

Who’s Paying For Turkey’s Ruling Party?

Six years ago, I penned a piece for the Middle East Quarterly about Turkey’s “Green Money” problem, basically putting pen to paper about a problem which Turkish journalists, politicians, and economists all whispered about, but which because of the chill on press freedom in Turkey, could not write: Basically, billions of dollars from Persian Gulf states and financiers had flooded into Turkey illegally and appeared to be funding the ruling Islamist party and the pet projects of its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Alas, it seems the problem continues. According to the Turkish press, almost $10 billion in unexplained money entered the Turkish economy in the first six months of the year. Alas, with no more separation of power in Turkey, such discrepancies can no longer be investigated. Some of the money might have gone to give the ruling party a competitive advantage over its competitors, other money might have been used to pay off judges and prosecutors, and still others might have gone to the prime minister’s favorite Islamist causes.

Read More

Six years ago, I penned a piece for the Middle East Quarterly about Turkey’s “Green Money” problem, basically putting pen to paper about a problem which Turkish journalists, politicians, and economists all whispered about, but which because of the chill on press freedom in Turkey, could not write: Basically, billions of dollars from Persian Gulf states and financiers had flooded into Turkey illegally and appeared to be funding the ruling Islamist party and the pet projects of its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Alas, it seems the problem continues. According to the Turkish press, almost $10 billion in unexplained money entered the Turkish economy in the first six months of the year. Alas, with no more separation of power in Turkey, such discrepancies can no longer be investigated. Some of the money might have gone to give the ruling party a competitive advantage over its competitors, other money might have been used to pay off judges and prosecutors, and still others might have gone to the prime minister’s favorite Islamist causes.

Rather than promote Turkey as a model for the Middle East, responsible American diplomacy would push Turkey toward accountability and transparency. Perhaps then more democratic forces would prevail. Alas, such hopes are impossible during the Obama administration. In the meantime, Erdoğan will continue to laugh all the way to the bank.

Read Less

Christie’s Approval Rating Hits a Milestone

Chris Christie is attracting some grudging respect from New Jersey residents for his efforts to rein in state spending and his tough approach to this year’s budget. His approval rating among registered voters is at 50 percent—the first time his approval has hit that milestone. Among all New Jersey residents, his approval stands at 48 percent.

Those numbers are up from when Christie revealed his budget plan this spring. According to Monmouth University, which conducted this poll as well, in May Christie’s approval/disapproval was 46/49. His approval has increased by four points while his disapproval has decreased by eight points, to 41 percent.

Read More

Chris Christie is attracting some grudging respect from New Jersey residents for his efforts to rein in state spending and his tough approach to this year’s budget. His approval rating among registered voters is at 50 percent—the first time his approval has hit that milestone. Among all New Jersey residents, his approval stands at 48 percent.

Those numbers are up from when Christie revealed his budget plan this spring. According to Monmouth University, which conducted this poll as well, in May Christie’s approval/disapproval was 46/49. His approval has increased by four points while his disapproval has decreased by eight points, to 41 percent.

Voters’ sympathy for the Democratic legislature—evident after Christie’s heavy-handed use of the line-item veto brought the Democrats’ budget more in line with Christie’s prerogatives—has waned:

Christie’s decision to veto the nearly $1 billion in spending from the Legislature’s budget may have caused an uproar among Democrats, but most New Jerseyans appear to accept his decision even if they may not like it. Among residents who followed the budget debate, 33 percent say they were dissatisfied with the governor’s line-item cuts compared to 22 percent who say they were satisfied by his veto choices. Another 42 percent say they can live the cuts he made even though they are not particularly satisfied with them.

While the governor’s job rating has gone up, the Legislature’s has remained flat — 35 percent approve to 47 percent disapproves.

I wrote earlier this week that Christie’s ability to win the argument—and therefore public and Democratic approval for his initiatives—stood in contrast to some of his fellow GOP governors trying to enact similar legislation in more conservative states. This latest poll is more evidence that even in a blue state like New Jersey, voters will appreciate an honest assessment of the budget crisis and solutions that will clearly address them—even if that entails sacrifices on their part.

“Overall, the public has never been particularly happy with the size of the cuts Governor Christie has made in either of his budgets,” Patrick Murray, the poll’s director, told New Jersey Newsroom. “However, they recognize New Jersey is in dire economic straits and continue to give the governor positive marks for leadership. How he performs on the individual issues important to state residents is still very much up in the air.”

Read Less

Another Court Strikes Down Obamacare Mandate

During the course of the debt ceiling debate, Obamacare, the largest expansion of government-funded entitlements was kept off the table by the president and the Democrats. But it appears that Obama’s signature legislation may be on its way to the scrapheap anyway. Yet another federal appeals court has ruled that the individual mandate that is at the core of President Obama’s healthcare legislation is unconstitutional. The decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals today in Atlanta that all Americans must buy health insurance or face penalties makes it even more certain that the legality of Obamacare will wind up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Though the 11th Circuit decision did not go as far as Florida’s U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson’s ruling this was a crucial victory for Obamacare critics.  Though other courts have ruled against the mandate, this was the first time a judge appointed by a Democrat has voted to strike it down. In the 2-1-majority decision, Judge Frank Hull, who was nominated by President Clinton, cast one of the two votes against the mandate.

Read More

During the course of the debt ceiling debate, Obamacare, the largest expansion of government-funded entitlements was kept off the table by the president and the Democrats. But it appears that Obama’s signature legislation may be on its way to the scrapheap anyway. Yet another federal appeals court has ruled that the individual mandate that is at the core of President Obama’s healthcare legislation is unconstitutional. The decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals today in Atlanta that all Americans must buy health insurance or face penalties makes it even more certain that the legality of Obamacare will wind up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Though the 11th Circuit decision did not go as far as Florida’s U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson’s ruling this was a crucial victory for Obamacare critics.  Though other courts have ruled against the mandate, this was the first time a judge appointed by a Democrat has voted to strike it down. In the 2-1-majority decision, Judge Frank Hull, who was nominated by President Clinton, cast one of the two votes against the mandate.

The decision did not rule the entire bill unconstitutional but it did say that Congress’ decision to force virtually citizens to buy health insurance exceeded the power given to the legislature in the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. The suit against the bill was brought by 26 states that are led by Republican governors and attorneys general. They rightly argued that the mandate is an unconscionable violation of individual liberty that could open the door to all sorts of other mandated state-approved activity.

While the ultimate judicial fate of Obamacare is yet to be determined this defeat for the administration may be a harbinger of worse to come for them. Though Republicans, especially the presidential candidates have vowed to repeal Obamacare, it may well be that the courts will dispose of this question long before any GOP president or the next Congress has a chance to do so.

Read Less

If Obama Wants Trade Deals Passed, Why Won’t He Send Them to Congress?

For months, President Obama has been urging Congress to approve three pending free-trade agreements, which are pretty much the only constructive job-creating proposal he’s recommended so far.

“Right now congress can advance a set of trade agreements that would allow American businesses to sell more of their goods and services to countries in Asia and South America,” Obama said at a press conference back in June.

Read More

For months, President Obama has been urging Congress to approve three pending free-trade agreements, which are pretty much the only constructive job-creating proposal he’s recommended so far.

“Right now congress can advance a set of trade agreements that would allow American businesses to sell more of their goods and services to countries in Asia and South America,” Obama said at a press conference back in June.

Last week, the president chose the day after lawmakers left town for August recess to issue a somewhat pointless plea for immediate action: “It’s time Congress finally passed a set of trade deals that would help displaced workers looking for new jobs.”

And campaigning in Michigan yesterday, Obama continued to berate Congress for not passing the deals. “Those trade bills are teed up; they’re ready to go.  Let’s get it done,” he told the crowd.

So with all of Obama’s urgency and badgering, you’d assume that he’s already submitted these agreements to Congress, right? Actually, no:

For the deals to go into effect, the president must officially submit them to Congress for consideration. But Democrats in Congress blocked any possibility of a debate on the agreements until President Barack Obama took office. Now he has refused to send them down Pennsylvania Avenue to Congress.

That was from an op-ed by Sen. John Thune in Politico, who is calling on Obama to “submit the trade agreements for consideration immediately.” The president will likely do so once congress returns from recess in September. But meanwhile, he’s still out on the campaign trail acting as if congress has had the deals sitting in front of them for months.

The agreements already have bipartisan support in the senate, according to both Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid. Of course, that doesn’t mean much until the White House actually submits them.

“This agreement between the Leaders reflects a strong, bipartisan commitment to pass these agreements into law as soon as the President sends them up,” said Michael Brumas, communications director for McConnell. “Senator McConnell has repeatedly called for the President to send these long-pending agreements up, and looks forward to acting on them when Congress returns.”

Read Less

Abbas’ Vision of an Ethnically Cleansed Palestinian State

A delegation of Democratic members of Congress met with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas yesterday and received a blunt message about his vision for the state he hopes to lead. If he gets the independent Palestinian he says he wants, it will have no Jewish settlements.

This demand for an ethnically cleansed Palestine would mean the forced removal of all Jews living in the territories. Since he is calling for that state to exist in all of the territory of the West Bank, Gaza and the part of Jerusalem that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967, that would mean in theory the eviction of over a half a million Jews to accommodate his ambition.

Read More

A delegation of Democratic members of Congress met with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas yesterday and received a blunt message about his vision for the state he hopes to lead. If he gets the independent Palestinian he says he wants, it will have no Jewish settlements.

This demand for an ethnically cleansed Palestine would mean the forced removal of all Jews living in the territories. Since he is calling for that state to exist in all of the territory of the West Bank, Gaza and the part of Jerusalem that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967, that would mean in theory the eviction of over a half a million Jews to accommodate his ambition.

While Israel has in the past said that it would not wish to leave Jews behind in a Palestinian state, the motivation was quite different. Any Jew left at the mercy of Palestinians would probably last about as long as the greenhouses that were left behind in Gaza when Israel withdrew from there in 2005. No Israeli government would wish to be held responsible for the inevitable slaughter of Jews in Palestinian territory.

For the PA, the desire to remove the Jews stems more from ideology than pragmatism. Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders bemoan the security precautions that Israel has been forced to put in place in order to prevent another wave of Arab terror as humiliating. But it is the mere presence of Jews living anywhere in the country that is the real source of Arab humiliation. Palestinian nationalism grew up in the last century purely as a reaction to the influx of Jewish immigrants. Thus expunging every vestige of the Jewish presence is inextricably tied up in the enterprise of Palestinian sovereignty and it is no surprise that it has become a priority for the PA.

What makes this demand so outrageous is the fact that any Israeli who would call for the expulsion of Arabs from Israel is rightly branded as an extremist whose views are out of touch with the democratic values of the nation. Yet few in the West think there is anything odd about the fact that the Palestinians vision of a two-state solution is to have one state with both Jews and Arabs and one Arab state where all Jews have been thrown out. Nor have they figured out that the Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state is linked to their desire to throw all Jews out of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Even in the unlikely event that the Palestinians would ever be willing to sign a treaty recognizing the legitimacy of Israel within any borders, Abbas’ terms makes it difficult to envision the end of the conflict.

Read Less

If Obama Can’t Make It in New York, He Can’t Make It Anywhere

This article in National Journal is, for Obama supporters everywhere, depressing.

Perhaps nothing sums up the precariousness of President Obama’s reelection chances better than a Quinnipiac Poll released on Thursday morning. In “the most heavily Democratic large state” (in the estimation of National Journal’s Almanac of American Politics), 49 percent of voters disapprove of the job the president is doing, while only 45 percent approve–the first time that Obama has received a negative score in New York, according to Quinnipiac.

Read More

This article in National Journal is, for Obama supporters everywhere, depressing.

Perhaps nothing sums up the precariousness of President Obama’s reelection chances better than a Quinnipiac Poll released on Thursday morning. In “the most heavily Democratic large state” (in the estimation of National Journal’s Almanac of American Politics), 49 percent of voters disapprove of the job the president is doing, while only 45 percent approve–the first time that Obama has received a negative score in New York, according to Quinnipiac.

Voters split 48 percent to 46 percent over whether he deserves reelection. That’s a terrible result considering that this in a state that Obama won with 63 percent of the vote three years ago. Still, he has managed to hold onto a lead over a generic Republican, with 49 percent saying they would vote for him to 34 percent for the GOP candidate.

“The debt-ceiling hullaballoo devastated President Barack Obama’s numbers even in true-blue New York,” said Quinnipiac Poll Director Maurice Carroll.

The poll clearly reflected the toll that the summer long debate on the debt ceiling took on the president’s popularity. The high disapproval rate represented a huge drop from his June 29 approval rating of 57 percent, compared with 38 percent disapproval. Disapproval rose among all three party identifications: Democrats (a 7-point increase), Republicans (a 12-point increase), and independents (a 9-point increase).

In any event, if a liberal president who carried New York with 63 percent of the vote has an underwater approval rating, with almost half of New Yorkers disapproving of the job he’s doing, then his perilous political state is undeniable. If he can’t make it there, he can’t make it anywhere.

What a few of us thought in advance, which is that the debt ceiling debate would hurt everyone involved but especially the president, has come to pass. The damage he has sustained is considerable; and when combined with the decision by S&P to downgrade America’s credit rating and the ongoing weakness of the American economy, it’s not clear how the president will recover. Indeed, my guess is that he has yet to reach his nadir. Can an approval rating in the 30s be far away?

If and when Obama reaches that terrain, the desperation and rage on the part of Democrats will be quite a spectacle to behold.

Read Less

Planning For Post-Qaddafi Libya

The non-war against the Qaddafi regime in Libya continues to languish. Feuding among the rebels that led to the killing of their military commander, Gen. Abdel Fatah Younis, has further put off the day when Moammar Qaddafi will finally have to yield power. It hardly helps that President Obama, after getting the U.S. involved in this conflict, has taken such a laid-back attitude that he seems barely to notice that we are at war at all. Nevertheless the likelihood is that Qaddafi will have to step down sooner or later, and it is important to plan for that day.

Thus it is encouraging to see the rebels’ National Transitional Council drawing up plans for administering a post-Qaddafi state. The key challenge—as it was in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other states were dictatorial regimes were toppled—will be maintaining order. The rebel government will obviously have an important role to play in this task but it is doubtful that it will have sufficient resources, at least not right away. It is therefore incumbent on NATO states that have been waging war on Qaddafi to make plans to send in a stabilization force after he is gone.
Read More

The non-war against the Qaddafi regime in Libya continues to languish. Feuding among the rebels that led to the killing of their military commander, Gen. Abdel Fatah Younis, has further put off the day when Moammar Qaddafi will finally have to yield power. It hardly helps that President Obama, after getting the U.S. involved in this conflict, has taken such a laid-back attitude that he seems barely to notice that we are at war at all. Nevertheless the likelihood is that Qaddafi will have to step down sooner or later, and it is important to plan for that day.

Thus it is encouraging to see the rebels’ National Transitional Council drawing up plans for administering a post-Qaddafi state. The key challenge—as it was in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other states were dictatorial regimes were toppled—will be maintaining order. The rebel government will obviously have an important role to play in this task but it is doubtful that it will have sufficient resources, at least not right away. It is therefore incumbent on NATO states that have been waging war on Qaddafi to make plans to send in a stabilization force after he is gone.

The Council on Foreign Relations, where I work, has just released a valuable memo through its Center for Preventative Action by Johns Hopkins University professor Daniel Serwer that calls for “the European Union (EU) to lead an international post-Qaddafi stabilization effort, preferably under a UN umbrella, to facilitate participation by members of the Arab League and the African Union (AU).” It would be great if the EU could in fact take on this mission, although I am less optimistic that Serwer that “a paramilitary police force of up to three thousand personnel” will be sufficient to stabilize a country of 6.4 million people. I would be more comfortable with at least 50,000 peacekeepers (still well short of the 130,000 that would be necessary if one took seriously the counterinsurgency formula of one soldier or cop per 50 civilians), and I have some real doubts as to whether the EU will be able to handle the mission; NATO will undoubtedly need to get involved.

But whatever the origin and numbers of the peacekeepers, the key point is that they need to be ready to go when Qaddafi falls—and for that to happen we need to have more of a public conversation on the subject. Serwer is to be commended for helping to spark some of that discussion.

Read Less

Smug Media Ignores Value of War Effort

I regularly work with American serviceman either preparing for deployment or in the early phase of their time away. It is hard for anyone to be away from their families for long. In my most recent work, I met a sailor who left a two-week-old new born at home, and could not talk about it without tearing up. One of the most moving experiences I have witnessed, however, was by chance: the return of soldiers at Camp Dodge, near Des Moines. Seeing the soldiers march amidst bagpipers in to a hall in which their families were sitting was impressive: To see little kids break from the pack to run to their moms and dads and the true happiness of their reunions was truly emotional.

Sitting at an airport lounge earlier today, I saw the tail end of a video on television about a returning army major who surprised his wife at a ball game in Mississippi. Unbeknownst to his wife, he arranged for his wife to throw out the first pitch, but he had switched places with the catcher. I googled the reunion so I could see the full clip and found the video here.

Read More

I regularly work with American serviceman either preparing for deployment or in the early phase of their time away. It is hard for anyone to be away from their families for long. In my most recent work, I met a sailor who left a two-week-old new born at home, and could not talk about it without tearing up. One of the most moving experiences I have witnessed, however, was by chance: the return of soldiers at Camp Dodge, near Des Moines. Seeing the soldiers march amidst bagpipers in to a hall in which their families were sitting was impressive: To see little kids break from the pack to run to their moms and dads and the true happiness of their reunions was truly emotional.

Sitting at an airport lounge earlier today, I saw the tail end of a video on television about a returning army major who surprised his wife at a ball game in Mississippi. Unbeknownst to his wife, he arranged for his wife to throw out the first pitch, but he had switched places with the catcher. I googled the reunion so I could see the full clip and found the video here.

Perhaps I don’t watch enough network television, but I was shocked to see the smug, self-righteousness of anchor Brian Williams. Introducing the clip, he says, “When you think about it, [reunion videos are] one of the few good things to emerge from our two wars.” Perhaps Mr. Williams does not see much good, but I’m not sure whether millions of Afghan women who embrace education once denied them, or millions of Iraqis—Shi‘a, Kurds, and Sunni—who have new opportunities would agree that their shot at freedom and liberty is not good. Nor am I as certain as Mr. Williams that the soldiers, sailors, pilots, and other serviceman who keep us safe and secure from terrorists sworn to destroy us believe that they have not done any good.

Network news is in decline for many reasons, but chief among them is the repulsion ordinary people feel for the condescension  of anchors. Anchors believe themselves sophisticated and cosmopolitan, but live within a tremendous bubble. Mr. Williams should report the news, not editorialize upon it. He also might want to reflect on why he does not count liberty, opportunity, and American national security  among the greater good.

Read Less

Obama Wants Credit For Texas Job Growth

Rick Perry hasn’t even officially entered the race yet but David Axelrod is already taking some preemptive strikes at his jobs record, Politico reports. Over the past two years, half of all national job creation has taken place in Texas, so the White House is right to be nervous. The Democratic talking point on Perry – which has already been gaining some traction in the media — is that the majority of the job growth was due to federal spending, not Perry’s policies.

On the CBS Early Show, Axelrod fired the Obama campaign’s first shot:

”I don’t think many people would attribute it to the leadership of the governor down there,” he said of jobs growth, citing federal spending on oil production and the military.

Read More

Rick Perry hasn’t even officially entered the race yet but David Axelrod is already taking some preemptive strikes at his jobs record, Politico reports. Over the past two years, half of all national job creation has taken place in Texas, so the White House is right to be nervous. The Democratic talking point on Perry – which has already been gaining some traction in the media — is that the majority of the job growth was due to federal spending, not Perry’s policies.

On the CBS Early Show, Axelrod fired the Obama campaign’s first shot:

”I don’t think many people would attribute it to the leadership of the governor down there,” he said of jobs growth, citing federal spending on oil production and the military.

Then he hammered it in during an interview with George Stephanopoulos:

“When you examine the entire record what’s happened to education in that state, what’s happened to health care in that state, it’s a record of decimation not of progress,” David Axelrod told me.

“I don’t think the picture of Texas is what people want for the country when you look at the whole array of things that happened there,” he said.

Texas’ record of job creation has more to do with profits from the oil industry, a growing military and receiving aid from the Recovery Act, according to Axelrod.

This attack-line may at least help muddy the waters on Perry’s jobs record, and give Obama supporters a counter-argument when Perry starts touting his economic successes on the campaign trail. But even if there’s truth to the Axelrod’s claims, will voters actually buy the idea that Obama’s the one who should get credit for job-creation in Texas? Especially when his job-creation policies have been so ineffective in the country as a whole? It’s a feeble argument, but it might be all Obama has right now.

Read Less

Huckabee’s Influence Still Strong in Iowa

In late 2007, three months before he would even go on to win the Iowa caucuses, Mike Huckabee was so popular among Christian conservative voters that he was encouraged to run a third-party campaign backed by Christian groups. Ironically, when Huckabee declined the invitation, he said it would split the vote and only help get Hillary Clinton elected (that’s how early in the process this was).

In January 2008, Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses and launched an energetic but ill-funded campaign that ultimately fell short of his goal. His support from Christian conservatives, however, suggested his endorsement in future elections would be a much sought-after feather in the cap of Republican candidates. While Huckabee’s endorsement in this year’s race for the GOP nomination is unlikely to come for a while, his voters and supporters, the Washington Post finds, are up for grabs:

Read More

In late 2007, three months before he would even go on to win the Iowa caucuses, Mike Huckabee was so popular among Christian conservative voters that he was encouraged to run a third-party campaign backed by Christian groups. Ironically, when Huckabee declined the invitation, he said it would split the vote and only help get Hillary Clinton elected (that’s how early in the process this was).

In January 2008, Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses and launched an energetic but ill-funded campaign that ultimately fell short of his goal. His support from Christian conservatives, however, suggested his endorsement in future elections would be a much sought-after feather in the cap of Republican candidates. While Huckabee’s endorsement in this year’s race for the GOP nomination is unlikely to come for a while, his voters and supporters, the Washington Post finds, are up for grabs:

The former Huckabee backers say they are concerned about the growing budget deficit and President Obama’s economic policies, like Republicans all over the country. Many support the aims of the tea party, and some consider themselves part of it.

But these one-time Huckabee voters are social conservatives who say a candidate must have a consistent record of limiting abortion and opposing gay marriage to get their support. Some are strongly critical of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who in the past has suggested that he supports abortion rights.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mike Huckabee’s daughter, is working on the campaign of Tim Pawlenty, perhaps one reason Huckabee himself is staying rather quiet on tomorrow’s straw poll. (Huckabee’s former press secretary, Alice Stewart, is working for Michele Bachmann.) But some activists who helped Huckabee in 2008 are getting calls from the candidates—even those who don’t live in or near Iowa:

Michael Farris, chairman of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association, said he has received calls from nearly every candidate and Huckabee Sanders even though he doesn’t live in Iowa and can’t vote in the straw poll. He has close ties to the thousands of parents who home-school their children in the state, and his organization’s endorsement on the eve of the 2007 straw poll helped Huckabee.

“It’s unlikely we are going to do anything this time,” before the straw poll, Farris said. “The situation is not as clear to us, with Rick Perry being the biggest issue.”

Perry, who by all accounts will announce his candidacy tomorrow, is not on the straw poll ballot. His supporters, however, have been encouraging voters to write him in. But Perry’s impending candidacy points to another reason Huckabee’s constituency is being so heavily courted: there are numerous social conservative candidates in the race this year.

Not only were social conservatives unhappy with Mitt Romney in 2007-08, but before the primaries began Rudy Giuliani was considered the frontrunner. John McCain’s candidacy looked over before it began, and he was thought to be a foreign policy candidate anyway. Huckabee was the consensus choice for social conservatives. This time, it’s not so simple:

Former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) is a home-schooling parent. Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) has spoken about when she “gave my heart to Jesus Christ” as a 16-year-old. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty speaks openly about his shift from Catholicism to evangelical Protestantism. Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) is eyeing the sizable group of Huckabee backers who are strongly affiliated with the tea party movement.

Throw in Perry, who just led a public prayer event in Texas, and social conservative voters have five attractive candidates. Huckabee’s influence is unlikely to wane after Iowa, however. As the field narrows, look for candidates to seek Huckabee’s approval. If they do so, Huckabee’s 2008 campaign will look less like a flash in the pan, and more like the beginning of a second career.

Read Less

Barack Obama’s Emotional State of Mind

I’ve developed an interest in President Obama’s speeches not because they are eloquent or uplifting — they are neither — but because of what they reveal about his emotional state of mind. And Mr. Obama’s remarks in Holland, Michigan yesterday are helpful in that respect.

After once again blaming the economic slowdown on (among other things) the Arab Spring and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Mr. Obama said this:

Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in Washington the last few months has been the worst kind of partisanship, the worst kind of gridlock — and that gridlock has undermined public confidence and impeded our efforts to take the steps we need for our economy…. This downgrade you’ve been reading about could have been entirely avoided if there had been a willingness to compromise in Congress. See, it didn’t happen because we don’t have the capacity to pay our bills — it happened because Washington doesn’t have the capacity to come together and get things done. It was a self-inflicted wound. That’s why people are frustrated. Maybe you hear it in my voice — that’s why I’m frustrated. Because you deserve better. You guys deserve better.

Read More

I’ve developed an interest in President Obama’s speeches not because they are eloquent or uplifting — they are neither — but because of what they reveal about his emotional state of mind. And Mr. Obama’s remarks in Holland, Michigan yesterday are helpful in that respect.

After once again blaming the economic slowdown on (among other things) the Arab Spring and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Mr. Obama said this:

Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in Washington the last few months has been the worst kind of partisanship, the worst kind of gridlock — and that gridlock has undermined public confidence and impeded our efforts to take the steps we need for our economy…. This downgrade you’ve been reading about could have been entirely avoided if there had been a willingness to compromise in Congress. See, it didn’t happen because we don’t have the capacity to pay our bills — it happened because Washington doesn’t have the capacity to come together and get things done. It was a self-inflicted wound. That’s why people are frustrated. Maybe you hear it in my voice — that’s why I’m frustrated. Because you deserve better. You guys deserve better.

Mr. Obama then added, “The only thing preventing these bills from being passed is the refusal of some folks in Congress to put the country ahead of party. There are some in Congress right now who would rather see their opponents lose than see America win.”

About these comments several things can be said, starting with this: There is something highly unusual in watching a president call attention to his own impotence. The president is declaring to the world that he is simply too weak to govern. Not only that, he wants all of America to know that he’s darn frustrated about it. You can even hear it in his voice. The president is frustrated that on his watch, and for the first time in history, America’s credit rating has been downgraded. He’s frustrated that the economy is getting worse rather than better. He’s frustrated taxes aren’t higher. He’s frustrated that his stewardship led to one of the worst mid-term election repudiations in history. And he’s frustrated that he’s overseeing what many people worry is the decline of the American empire.

The president, who is essentially admitting that he is unable to do anything about this, wants to make sure the country is keenly aware of the state of his emotions, the depth of his frustrations, the deep pain caused by his ineptness. But my guess is that the public isn’t particularly interested in Mr. Obama’s emotional exhibitionism. They care about jobs and growth; they don’t want to hear excuses or complaints, especially since Mr. Obama’s chief selling point in 2008 was that he alone would bring an end to partisanship and gridlock.

As for the president’s claim that some folks in Congress refuse to “put the country ahead of party” and that they would “rather see their opponents lose than see America win”: this repeats a nasty little Obama habit, which is not simply to disagree with his opponents but to impugn their character. The Tea Party and Republican Members of Congress can’t possibly believe that the federal government is too large, spending needs to be reduced, and taxes shouldn’t be raised. And they certainly can’t believe that the philosophy they hold and the policies they embrace are in the best interest of America. It’s easier to assume they are knaves and traitors to their country.

If there’s anything we have learned about Mr. Obama during the last two-and-a-half years, it is his obsessive need to advertise his moral superiority. He wants us to believe – he is desperate for us to believe – that his motivations are pure, that he is the only adult in Washington, that he is a champion for the national interest while his critics are champions of special interests. It is not enough for Obama to be president; he wants us to believe he’s Sir Galahad.

As Mr. Obama is increasingly overwhelmed by events, as he and his presidency shrink before our eyes, his worst tendencies are being exacerbated, his narcissism further exposed, his anger at an unaccommodating world more pronounced. A man of supreme self-regard is watching things crumble before his eyes. He is obviously not well equipped to process any of this. It is enough for one to feel, if only for a moment, some pity for Mr. Obama. These are not easy days for him, and certainly not for his country.

Read Less

Compromise Not the Flavor of the Month

For months we’ve been hearing that what the people want is for members of Congress to forget about ideology and concentrate on problem solving. But according to a feature in today’s New York Times, what most members are hearing as they head out to town hall meetings and to speak to constituency groups is that compromise is the last thing many citizens want them to do. On both the left and the right, what most people seem to want is for their representatives to fight harder for their principles, not to back down on them.

The message that many in Congress have been getting this month during their recess is the opposite of the lecture they have been getting from many in the mainstream media, not to mention President Obama, who have demanded that both parties back away from their dug in positions about taxes, spending and the debt ceiling. Instead, a lot of Americans are insisting that what they want is less compromise. While this may come as a surprise to media elites and the president, this belief goes a long way to explain the popularity of hard-core ideologues like Michele Bachmann as well as the persistent dissent against Obama that is coming from liberals.

Read More

For months we’ve been hearing that what the people want is for members of Congress to forget about ideology and concentrate on problem solving. But according to a feature in today’s New York Times, what most members are hearing as they head out to town hall meetings and to speak to constituency groups is that compromise is the last thing many citizens want them to do. On both the left and the right, what most people seem to want is for their representatives to fight harder for their principles, not to back down on them.

The message that many in Congress have been getting this month during their recess is the opposite of the lecture they have been getting from many in the mainstream media, not to mention President Obama, who have demanded that both parties back away from their dug in positions about taxes, spending and the debt ceiling. Instead, a lot of Americans are insisting that what they want is less compromise. While this may come as a surprise to media elites and the president, this belief goes a long way to explain the popularity of hard-core ideologues like Michele Bachmann as well as the persistent dissent against Obama that is coming from liberals.

While it is possible to give this trend too much weight, it makes sense. Though everyone wants Congress to get things done, most Americans have strong beliefs about the way they want the country run. Even more to the point, the idea that the public is enamored of compromising dealmakers who check their principles at the door when the enter Capitol Hill is a myth that is perpetuated by the political insiders who fear conviction politicians.

As dangerous as the standoff over the debt ceiling was to the economy, it was the product of a genuine debate over the issues that divide the republic. Many Americans believe, rightly to my way of thinking, that our government promises and spends too much. And they deplore the resort to confiscatory taxes to make up the inevitable shortfall. Others think the spending is fine so long as it goes to projects they approve of and believe wealthier Americans can be taxed as much as needed to pay for it all.

The idea of merely splitting the difference treats the profound differences between these two frames of reference with insufficient respect. While there are times when unsatisfactory deals must be accepted for the sake of allowing the government to function (and the debt ceiling was one such moment), the notion that the beliefs of their voters can be ignored with impunity is an affront to democracy. Elections do have consequences. Our divided government is the product of two contradictory results: the Democratic victory of 2008 and the Republican triumph in 2010. Next year will give the voters a chance to break the logjam or to continue it. Until then, the two parties must learn to live with each other but it is understandable, and even desirable, that the citizenry will react to it with some disgust.

What Americans want from their politicians is to show that they have principles and to stand up for their beliefs. That’s why candidates like Michele Bachmann resonate with the grass roots in a way that few expected. The establishment’s attempts to anathematize conviction politics will always fail.

Read Less

Pawlenty’s Kamikaze Raid on Bachmann May Be a Gift to Perry

Last night’s Iowa Republican presidential debate promised to be the most substantive confrontation so far between the candidates and that’s what we got. The result helped clarify the outline of the race as it stands today.

Romney stayed comfortably on top. Bachmann decisively beat back a suicidal charge from Pawlenty but did not emerge unscathed giving Rick Perry a change to parachute into the race at just the right moment.

Read More

Last night’s Iowa Republican presidential debate promised to be the most substantive confrontation so far between the candidates and that’s what we got. The result helped clarify the outline of the race as it stands today.

Romney stayed comfortably on top. Bachmann decisively beat back a suicidal charge from Pawlenty but did not emerge unscathed giving Rick Perry a change to parachute into the race at just the right moment.

The clear winner on the stage was Mitt Romney. Just as he did in New Hampshire back in June, Romney somehow managed to avoid the usual fate of frontrunners that are gang tackled by their opponents. He remained calm and confident throughout, sounding presidential even when some of his answers were less than forthright. Romney probably won’t be able to continue to glide through in this manner especially when a potential heavyweight like Rick Perry gets in. But for now he seems safely in front.

If there was a loser it had to be Pawlenty. Having virtually sunk his campaign back in June by choking at a crucial moment when he could have directly challenged Romney to his face on healthcare, Pawlenty was convinced he had to coming out breathing fire this time. He was also rightly convinced that he had to take down Michele Bachmann to keep his candidacy alive. He did come out swinging but the results were not what he needed. Though the Pawlenty-Bachmann smackdown was the highlight of the first half of the debate, he was the clear loser in the exchange.

Pawlenty’s denunciations of Bachmann’s lack of experience seemed more about him than her and repeatedly blaming her for the fact that the Democrats controlled Congress in 2009 and 2010 was absurd. Though her responses weren’t always accurate, she had the advantage throughout as she stood up to his ferocious assault and claimed the high ground as someone who was willing to fight the good fight even if sometimes she lost. He was left looking angry and somewhat foolish. By the time he was given a chance to make up for his lost opportunity with Romney on healthcare the steam had gone out of him and his dim hopes for the presidency.  It was a technical knockout. By contrast, he spent the second half of the debate sounding like the calm, thoughtful and knowledgeable candidate that many of us (including myself) believed could win the GOP nomination. But his strong statements on Iran, Israel and abortion went for nothing because the game was over for him by then.

But the night was not an unalloyed triumph for Bachmann. She got the better of the exchange with Pawlenty and showed poise and pluck under fire. But the battle seemed to wear her down a bit and her energy level flagged as the debate went on. She was also late back to the stage for the second half providing the evening’s most curious moment. It’s also not clear how well Bachmann’s absolutist position opposing any raise in the debt ceiling played even with most Republicans. While rhetoric about the debt is what Tea Partiers want to hear, her defense of her position was neither factual nor realistic. While Bachmann may hang on to win the straw poll, this evening might portend trouble for her candidacy especially once she has to compete with Rick Perry for religious conservatives and Tea Partiers.

If he was watching, Perry had to be grateful to Pawlenty and the other candidates, such as Santorum and Huntsman who pointed out Bachmann’s shortcomings. He comes in just at the right moment as her summer surges starts to loose its steam. His goal will be to directly challenge Romney and to make it a choice between the two as the only plausible candidates. Though the passion of her supporters may keep Bachmann in the first tier for now, Perry is now in good position to jump in ahead of her.

Read Less

Good Debate, Bad Candidates

Last night’s debate was immensely entertaining, as I relate in today’s New York Post. And it ought to put paid to the notion that the Fox News Channel is a Republican shill machine, since it featured the toughest and most pointed questioning in any presidential-primary debate ever. But the debate highlighted a very strange aspect of this race: Just how second-rate the candidates are. When it comes to speaking seriously about issues, showing appropriate demeanor, and connecting both to an actual political record, there are only two candidates in the race now that seem remotely plausible in the arena with Barack Obama, and one of them (sorry, Abe) knocked himself out of the race last night for good.

Read More

Last night’s debate was immensely entertaining, as I relate in today’s New York Post. And it ought to put paid to the notion that the Fox News Channel is a Republican shill machine, since it featured the toughest and most pointed questioning in any presidential-primary debate ever. But the debate highlighted a very strange aspect of this race: Just how second-rate the candidates are. When it comes to speaking seriously about issues, showing appropriate demeanor, and connecting both to an actual political record, there are only two candidates in the race now that seem remotely plausible in the arena with Barack Obama, and one of them (sorry, Abe) knocked himself out of the race last night for good.

Tim Pawlenty is a mystifying candidate. He’s fluent. He’s smart. He’s quick on his feet. He knows policy. He’s a conservative and he has mainstream credentials and a history of accomplishment. What he doesn’t have is…it. He’s lacking it, whatever the it is that a candidate who can connect to voters has. And when he decided last night to tussle with Michele Bachmann, who is a stone killer of a politician, he literally shrank before our eyes.

He shouldn’t have been fighting with her; he needed to fight with Mitt Romney, whose record as a governor is highly problematic and far less successful than Pawlenty’s. Bachmann is far too radical, in every sense of the word, to be anything but a third runner-up in this race, but she is this year’s exciting populist. So she is free to be wildly irresponsible and incoherent in her talk about the debt ceiling, for example, because what she says doesn’t actually matter.

So there was Pawlenty, vanishing. There was Newt Gingrich, complaining that Fox News wasn’t fair to him and that his seventeen different opinions on Libya (we should have funded Egyptian covert ops against Tripoli, evidently) weren’t receiving enough air time. There was Rick Santorum, to whom it fell to argue with Ron Paul about whether it was OK for Iran to have a nuke. And there was Herman Cain, who said he was really learning a whole heckuva lot running for president about issues and stuff.

So that leaves Romney, who is the luckiest man on earth to have been given this field to run against. This weekend we’ll begin to find out whether the new entrant, Rick Perry, just made the last eight months of the campaign entirely meaningless.

Read Less

Did Pawlenty Do Himself Some Good?

The Fox-Examiner crew was so strong that the debate signaled a new degree of serious in the GOP field. We heard tough and well-tailored questions that forced everyone to raise their game, including cynical onlookers.  Paradoxically, this revealed a lot in terms of character and core strength, but little in terms of policy distinction.  The best lines were broad appeals for laughs and cheers. Herman Cain said that America needs to learn to take a joke, Rick Santorum drew a distinction between showmanship and leadership, and Tim Pawlenty offered to cook dinner for anyone who could identify Obama’s policies on Medicare, Medicaid, and social security. These resonated more than any wonky flourishes could. This is in large part due to the fact that no one really understands what can actually be done to get us out of the current national predicament.

Michelle Bachmann, I think, showed a few cracks, and these might combine with this past week’s hit jobs to do her some harm.  I don’t entirely agree with Jonathan that she slaughtered Tim Pawlenty. Up until his fact-based challenges this evening she’d only been dealing with broad, cheap, and impressionistic character assassination. Calling her out on policy specifics took her to new untested ground, and her passionate pronouncements didn’t fully satisfy. She started out the night yelling and gesturing meaninglessly about Obama being a one-termer and ended up having to defend her record to another Republican. She was late coming back from a commercial break, as Jonathan noted, and that’s exactly the kind of curious and memorable lapse she didn’t need. Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, and Ron Paul gave hopeless and erratic performances. The intricacies of Paul’s libertarian vision are as wacky as his passion and vision are genuine. But that he believes sincerely in something so undiluted gives him a strange edge over the others

Read More

The Fox-Examiner crew was so strong that the debate signaled a new degree of serious in the GOP field. We heard tough and well-tailored questions that forced everyone to raise their game, including cynical onlookers.  Paradoxically, this revealed a lot in terms of character and core strength, but little in terms of policy distinction.  The best lines were broad appeals for laughs and cheers. Herman Cain said that America needs to learn to take a joke, Rick Santorum drew a distinction between showmanship and leadership, and Tim Pawlenty offered to cook dinner for anyone who could identify Obama’s policies on Medicare, Medicaid, and social security. These resonated more than any wonky flourishes could. This is in large part due to the fact that no one really understands what can actually be done to get us out of the current national predicament.

Michelle Bachmann, I think, showed a few cracks, and these might combine with this past week’s hit jobs to do her some harm.  I don’t entirely agree with Jonathan that she slaughtered Tim Pawlenty. Up until his fact-based challenges this evening she’d only been dealing with broad, cheap, and impressionistic character assassination. Calling her out on policy specifics took her to new untested ground, and her passionate pronouncements didn’t fully satisfy. She started out the night yelling and gesturing meaninglessly about Obama being a one-termer and ended up having to defend her record to another Republican. She was late coming back from a commercial break, as Jonathan noted, and that’s exactly the kind of curious and memorable lapse she didn’t need. Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, and Ron Paul gave hopeless and erratic performances. The intricacies of Paul’s libertarian vision are as wacky as his passion and vision are genuine. But that he believes sincerely in something so undiluted gives him a strange edge over the others

Rick Santorum grew dynamic and credible as the night went on, showing an unexpected mastery of Iran and being the only one to take on Ron Paul’s eccentricities. But, at most, this served to remind Americans he was there. Jon Huntsman, on the other hand, could have used that kind of reminder tonight.

Jonathan has it right: no one laid a glove on Mitt Romney, which means he remains frontrunner. But I can’t help but think that Pawlenty might have done himself some good by going effectively on the offensive tonight. Among other things, it revealed that he has what was otherwise sorely missing on that stage: an actual vision for America.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.