Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 15, 2011

Rick Perry’s Serious Unforced Error

Today in Iowa, Rick Perry was asked about the Federal Reserve and, in a halting 45-second answer, went off on chairman Ben Bernanke: “If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost teacherous…treasonous in my opinion.” The clip is here.  Liberals on Twitter exploded immediately in outrage after Think Progress posted it, with the economist Nouriel Roubini actually comparing Perry to the Norwegian mass murderer and saying he should be put in a mental institution.

I think it’s pretty clear from the clip that Perry was trying to play folksy straight-talkin’ populist guy while taking up a complicated issue, using colorful dirt-kicker language to connect to his al-fresco audience as he might in his home town of Paint Creek. And in the early going on Twitter, I suggested the harrumphers were knowingly making a mountain out of a molehill to bring him down a notch. I was wrong.

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Today in Iowa, Rick Perry was asked about the Federal Reserve and, in a halting 45-second answer, went off on chairman Ben Bernanke: “If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost teacherous…treasonous in my opinion.” The clip is here.  Liberals on Twitter exploded immediately in outrage after Think Progress posted it, with the economist Nouriel Roubini actually comparing Perry to the Norwegian mass murderer and saying he should be put in a mental institution.

I think it’s pretty clear from the clip that Perry was trying to play folksy straight-talkin’ populist guy while taking up a complicated issue, using colorful dirt-kicker language to connect to his al-fresco audience as he might in his home town of Paint Creek. And in the early going on Twitter, I suggested the harrumphers were knowingly making a mountain out of a molehill to bring him down a notch. I was wrong.

He’s trying to be the next president, and he needs to be judged on that standard. What Perry did was make a thoughtless blunder, an unforced error; we’re now going to spend a couple of days discussing whether he was summoning violence on Ben Bernanke’s head or not, which is of absolutely no use to Perry. He is, or was, moments away from becoming the race’s frontrunner, and what is in his interest is to harness the excitement of his late entry with qualities of leadership and control that will rally the majority of Republicans unhappy with the choices facing them to his side. Rick Perry made that more difficult today; this was a serious rookie mistake on the national stage.

Taking up the issue of the Fed’s behavior is entirely legitimate. Many think the Fed’s loose-money policy has been, at worst, ineffectual; others are more worried about it and fearful of a third round of money printing. And it’s not an outre wild-man idea at all; Bill Kristol and I share a friend, a prominent businessman and investor of unimpeachable reputation, whose eloquent thoughts about what he believes to be Bernanke’s gross irresponsibility can be read here. But if Perry is going to talk about these things, he needs to do it with care and not like a caller to a radio show.

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Jewish or Not, the Pitcher Was a Mensch

Sixty years ago Ralph Branca earned baseball immortality by throwing the pitch that Bobby Thomson hit for a home run that ended the 1951 National League playoff in which the New York Giants broke the hearts of Brooklyn Dodger fans. Images of Branca lying face down weeping in the Dodger clubhouse after the game ran in newspapers around the country. But Branca was no sore loser. He is remembered today as much for the fact that he always reacted to his unwanted celebrity with grace and good humor and even become friends with Thomson in later years.

But despite all the ink that was spilled about him over the years a feature in today’s New York Times by Joshua Prager reveals that there is an angle to his story that has never been revealed until now: Branca’s mother was Jewish and many of his aunts, uncles and cousins perished in the Holocaust.

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Sixty years ago Ralph Branca earned baseball immortality by throwing the pitch that Bobby Thomson hit for a home run that ended the 1951 National League playoff in which the New York Giants broke the hearts of Brooklyn Dodger fans. Images of Branca lying face down weeping in the Dodger clubhouse after the game ran in newspapers around the country. But Branca was no sore loser. He is remembered today as much for the fact that he always reacted to his unwanted celebrity with grace and good humor and even become friends with Thomson in later years.

But despite all the ink that was spilled about him over the years a feature in today’s New York Times by Joshua Prager reveals that there is an angle to his story that has never been revealed until now: Branca’s mother was Jewish and many of his aunts, uncles and cousins perished in the Holocaust.

Prager is the author of a book about the 1951 playoff published 10 years ago that revealed the fact that the Giants were stealing opponents’ signs at home games that year. This was a piece of history that retrospectively dimmed the luster of the Giants victory and made Branca’s fateful pitch seem a bit less culpable. The material he found about Branca’s family subsequently prompted questions and after some digging Prager discovered that, unknown to the pitcher, his mother was born and raised a Jew in pre-World War Two Hungary. But when she married an Italian-American Catholic she concealed the truth about her identity from her 17 children as well as never mentioning the fate of the family that she left behind.

This is particularly interesting not just because it might add another name to the set of Jewish Baseball Cards but because Branca was just as much a symbol of the power of faith as he was of failure. In the immediate aftermath of the home run, a Jesuit priest told Branca that perhaps God had chosen him to throw the fateful pitch because He knew his faith was strong enough to sustain him. The priest was right about that as Branca’s unfailing patience and civility enabled him to survive the opprobrium to which he was subjected then and in the years since.

According to Jewish religious law the fact of his mother’s Jewish birth makes Branca a Jew. Yet although, as Prager points out, Branca may now be considered to rank 8th on the list of lifetime wins by a Jewish pitcher in the Major Leagues with 88 (Ken Holtzman is first with 174 and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax is second with 165), nothing can change the fact that Branca was born, raised and has lived his 85 years as a faithful Catholic. But there is no question that no matter which group can lay claim to him, he was always a mensch.

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Obama’s Problem is Not Communication

According to E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, “a new Obama — or, in many ways, the old Obama of 2008 — is about to reappear.”

Into a phone booth Mr. Obama enters and out comes the Man of Steel.

According to Dionne, “The president’s speech last Thursday in Holland, Mich., was the first sign that the competitive Obama is reemerging. His target, like Harry Truman’s in 1948, was an obstructionist Republican Congress. He condemned ‘the refusal of some folks in Congress to put the country ahead of party’ and urged that it ‘start passing some bills that we all know will help our economy right now.’” (Set aside the fact that if a Republican had uttered these same words about Democrats, Dionne would be livid, saying that the GOP president was acting in a disgraceful manner by accusing his opponents of being “unpatriotic.”)

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According to E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, “a new Obama — or, in many ways, the old Obama of 2008 — is about to reappear.”

Into a phone booth Mr. Obama enters and out comes the Man of Steel.

According to Dionne, “The president’s speech last Thursday in Holland, Mich., was the first sign that the competitive Obama is reemerging. His target, like Harry Truman’s in 1948, was an obstructionist Republican Congress. He condemned ‘the refusal of some folks in Congress to put the country ahead of party’ and urged that it ‘start passing some bills that we all know will help our economy right now.’” (Set aside the fact that if a Republican had uttered these same words about Democrats, Dionne would be livid, saying that the GOP president was acting in a disgraceful manner by accusing his opponents of being “unpatriotic.”)

“With Obama,” Dionne goes on, “there is always the danger of a relapse into the passive, we’re-all-reasonable-people style. The fighting Obama has briefly appeared before, only to go back into hibernation. This time, the evidence suggests he’ll stick with it — and, in truth, he has no other choice.”

Dionne is among the fiercely loyal Obama supporters who believe that the president’s problems mostly have to do with communications, with optics, with theatrics. Mr. Obama, you see, needs to be more of a fighter, more of an attack dog, more of a political assassin. If he does that, the New Obama – who is really the Old Obama – will rise from the ashes.

Here’s a political rule of thumb: when the supporters of a politician start reaching for the Harry Truman model of comebacks, you know they’re in trouble.

What we’re seeing from Dionne is merely the latest in a long line of liberals who once believed Obama was their liberal Great Communicator, the rhetorical reincarnation of Lincoln, a man of supernatural political talents. Now we’re supposed to believe he’s clumsy and passive, too civilized, too cool, too distant, and not aggressive enough.

The uncomfortable truth for liberals is this: Obama is failing because his (liberal) policies are failing. It is that simple. Pouring old wine into new wineskin won’t do the trick. Neither will a bus tour. Neither will finger the Arab Spring and the Japanese tsunami for our economic troubles. Neither will employing what John Harwood calls “the hottest rhetoric of [Obama’s] tenure, blistering opponents for refusing ‘to put the country ahead of party’ because they would ‘rather see their opponents lose than see America win.’”

What we are witnessing are the desperate, angry and increasingly unappealing words of a desperate, angry, and increasingly unappealing politician. Those who are waiting for Superman will be waiting in vain.

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Barack Obama is Not Harry Truman

President Obama may be enduring a summer from hell as his approval numbers head south along with an economy on the brink of a double dip recession. But according to Norman Ornstein there is no need for Democrats to despair. Writing in the New Republic, the veteran think tank scribe says there is a clear precedent for Obama’s re-election: Harry Truman’s victory in 1948. Orenstein believes all we have to do is substitute Obama for Truman and the current GOP-controlled House of Representatives for the “do nothing” 80th Congress that FDR’s successor used as a punching bag on his way to re-election and you have formula for Democratic success.

Though the analogy breaks down in other ways the biggest problem with this scenario is that Barack Obama is not Harry Truman.

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President Obama may be enduring a summer from hell as his approval numbers head south along with an economy on the brink of a double dip recession. But according to Norman Ornstein there is no need for Democrats to despair. Writing in the New Republic, the veteran think tank scribe says there is a clear precedent for Obama’s re-election: Harry Truman’s victory in 1948. Orenstein believes all we have to do is substitute Obama for Truman and the current GOP-controlled House of Representatives for the “do nothing” 80th Congress that FDR’s successor used as a punching bag on his way to re-election and you have formula for Democratic success.

Though the analogy breaks down in other ways the biggest problem with this scenario is that Barack Obama is not Harry Truman.

The superficial similarity between 1948 and 2012 is that the prior midterm elections resulted in sweeping victories for a Republican party at the expense of Democrats who were led by an incumbent president.

Analogies between different eras are always deceiving but none more so than between our time and that of Truman. The political landscape of 1948 was still one in which the Democrats had natural advantages that neither party could claim today. Orenstein is right when he says the GOP misread its 1946 triumph. Republicans thought the public was rejecting the New Deal and all the Democrats had accomplished under Franklin Roosevelt. But it was instead a more limited reaction to the postwar situation. But only 16 years after Herbert Hoover’s defeat, the country was not ready to trust the Republicans. The New Deal coalition was still very much in place and along with the unions that were a major political force, Democrats were able to win back in 1948 everything they lost two years before. It would be another two decades before that coalition would finally splinter and two more after that until the Democratic stranglehold on Congress would be irrevocably broken.

But while 1948 was a reaction to what was perceived as overreach by a GOP Congress, it must be understood that the current Republican-controlled House was the result of the country rejecting Democratic overreach on the part of the president. Congress is, if anything, more unpopular than Obama, and the president will, no doubt, seek to run against it, the Tea Party and conservatives in general. But that will only work so long as the issue is not his leadership and the measures such as Obamacare that, with the help of a Democratic Congress, he was able to ram down the country’s throat. The Truman victory restored the status quo. An Obama victory would be a vote for his radical agenda and failed leadership. Voters weren’t personally rejecting Truman in 1946 as much as they were Obama in 2010.

Most importantly, those who look to 1948 must also concede that Obama is no Truman. Truman was a feisty man of the people took easily to the role of battling underdog. Obama may have many gifts but  his arrogance and his enormous self-regard make him ill suited to take plays from Truman’s playbook.

While those who completely write off an incumbent president’s chances 14 months before he faces the voters are probably jumping to conclusions, President Obama is a very different sort of leader than the 33rd president and he has problems that a Truman-style whistle stop campaign can’t fix.

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Al-Qaeda’s Beating the U.S. to the Arab Spring

Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s leader, has released a new video. In it, Zawahiri covers the usual ground about destroying America, the “criminal country which has spread corruption in the world.” But he also offers some tactical analysis regarding the Arab Spring: “In Tunisia and Egypt, opportunities for preaching have been opened and only God knows until when these opportunities will last,” he said. “Therefore, the Muslims and the mujahedeen should benefit and take advantage of them to reveal the truth.”

In exploiting the Arab Spring, Zawahiri is far ahead of the thinking of our own leaders. While Barack Obama is content to say things like “The future of Egypt will be determined by its people” and hope for the best, our enemies recognize an urgent opportunity in these popular revolts. Arab autocracy kept the same lid on both jihadist and democratic aspirations, but only proponents of the former are capitalizing on their new circumstances. Coercive Gulf money is pouring into Egypt by the billions; regional Islamists, too, are heading in to stake a claim in the country’s future; and, yet, Obama clings to the doctrine of American Butt-Outism. The war on terror remains fundamentally a battle of ideas. And in that battle, as in our actual fights, only our side has determined that it’s time to stop.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s leader, has released a new video. In it, Zawahiri covers the usual ground about destroying America, the “criminal country which has spread corruption in the world.” But he also offers some tactical analysis regarding the Arab Spring: “In Tunisia and Egypt, opportunities for preaching have been opened and only God knows until when these opportunities will last,” he said. “Therefore, the Muslims and the mujahedeen should benefit and take advantage of them to reveal the truth.”

In exploiting the Arab Spring, Zawahiri is far ahead of the thinking of our own leaders. While Barack Obama is content to say things like “The future of Egypt will be determined by its people” and hope for the best, our enemies recognize an urgent opportunity in these popular revolts. Arab autocracy kept the same lid on both jihadist and democratic aspirations, but only proponents of the former are capitalizing on their new circumstances. Coercive Gulf money is pouring into Egypt by the billions; regional Islamists, too, are heading in to stake a claim in the country’s future; and, yet, Obama clings to the doctrine of American Butt-Outism. The war on terror remains fundamentally a battle of ideas. And in that battle, as in our actual fights, only our side has determined that it’s time to stop.

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Obama: “Bad Luck” to Blame for Economy

Mitt Romney christened Obama’s Midwest jobs campaign the “Magical Misery Tour” this morning, and that description’s starting to sound pretty accurate. In Minnesota today, Obama brought the doom and gloom as he scolded congress for the slumping economy, and spouted half-hearted appeals for optimism (“We’ve got so much going for us, that folks [around the world] would gladly trade places with us,” he assured the crowd).

The president also blamed a “string of bad luck” over the past few months – including the Arab Spring, the debt problems in Europe and the Japanese Tsunami – for his failure to boost the economy:

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Mitt Romney christened Obama’s Midwest jobs campaign the “Magical Misery Tour” this morning, and that description’s starting to sound pretty accurate. In Minnesota today, Obama brought the doom and gloom as he scolded congress for the slumping economy, and spouted half-hearted appeals for optimism (“We’ve got so much going for us, that folks [around the world] would gladly trade places with us,” he assured the crowd).

The president also blamed a “string of bad luck” over the past few months – including the Arab Spring, the debt problems in Europe and the Japanese Tsunami – for his failure to boost the economy:

Over the last six months, we’ve had a string of bad luck. There have been some things that we could not control. You had an Arab Spring in the Middle East that promises more democracy and more human rights for people, but also drove up gas prices. Tough for the economy, a lot of uncertainty. And then you had the situation in Europe, where they’re dealing with all sorts of debt challenges. And that washes up on our shores. And then you had a tsunami in Japan, and that broke supply chains and created difficulties for the economy all across the globe. So there were a bunch of things taking place over the past six months that were not in our control.

The biggest problem, according to Obama, is that gridlock and partisanship in congress prevented the government from coping with these challenges.

“What’s been happening over the last six months, and a little bit longer than that if we’re honest with ourselves, is that we have a political culture that doesn’t seem willing to make the tough choices to move America forward,” said Obama, adding that the recent fight over the debt-ceiling “ended up creating more uncertainty and more damage to an economy that was already weak.”

But the more Obama points fingers over the struggling economy, the more it undermines his attempt to look like the “adult in the room.” Voters would probably respect him much more if he simply said the buck stopped with him, and actually presented some viable solutions.

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Answering Charles Murray on Taxes

Charles Murray had a different reaction than I did to the fact that at last week’s debate all of the GOP candidates said they would refuse to accept a “real spending cuts deal” that offered $10 in cuts for every $1 in increased taxes. “If taxes cannot be raised under any circumstances,” I wrote, “then we have veered from economic policy to religious catechism.”

Charles, on the other hand, was annoyed that none of the eight challenged the false premise of the question. “There is no such thing as a real spending cuts deal,” he writes. “Experience indicates that lawmakers do not yet know how to craft legislative language that irrevocably binds Congress to its fiscal promises. That’s why all eight candidates could properly refuse to support a 10:1 spending cuts deal, or even a 100:1 spending cuts deal. They are not deals that would be honored.”

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Charles Murray had a different reaction than I did to the fact that at last week’s debate all of the GOP candidates said they would refuse to accept a “real spending cuts deal” that offered $10 in cuts for every $1 in increased taxes. “If taxes cannot be raised under any circumstances,” I wrote, “then we have veered from economic policy to religious catechism.”

Charles, on the other hand, was annoyed that none of the eight challenged the false premise of the question. “There is no such thing as a real spending cuts deal,” he writes. “Experience indicates that lawmakers do not yet know how to craft legislative language that irrevocably binds Congress to its fiscal promises. That’s why all eight candidates could properly refuse to support a 10:1 spending cuts deal, or even a 100:1 spending cuts deal. They are not deals that would be honored.”

Set aside the fact that some deals between Republicans and Democrats, like the 1997 budget agreement, helped to rein in federal spending and led to a balanced budget (see Keith Hennessey’s excellent analysis here). I do agree with Charles to this extent: It would have been fine for any of the eight candidates to challenge the premise of the question. As Murray points out, there are certainly grounds to have done so. But what made the question by Byron York and Bret Baier interesting is that it was (to use a device Charles is very familiar with) a “thought experiment” – a mental exercise that accepts a hypothesis or premise in order to clarify a philosophical point of view. If one wants to reject the premise, okay; no conservative would accept real tax increases for imaginary cuts.

But the reason I thought the question posed by York and Baier was illuminating is because there are some within the GOP and conservative movement who believe that taxes should not be raised under any conditions, any time, for any reason. And so someone like Mitch Daniels, whom both Charles and I believe to be among the finest and most fiscally conservative governors in generations, was criticized by some on the right for having agreed to increase the Indiana sales tax by one percentage point and by proposing a budget that sought to close a $600 million budget gap by increasing taxes on high-income Hoosiers. For this Daniels was accused by some of “betraying” taxpayers with his budget proposal. He was considered an apostate.

The attacks on Daniels — who has cited two of Murray’s books as key in shaping his governing philosophy – were unfair and unwarranted. Under Daniels, Indiana property taxes were cut 30 percent. For the first time, Standard & Poor’s raised the state’s credit rating to AAA. He transformed a $200 million budget deficit into a $1.3 billion surplus. Indiana also has its fewest state employees since 1978, the nation’s lowest state-government employment per capita, the lowest effective property taxes and the third-lowest per capita spending. No matter; for some, what Daniels did was unforgivable.

For the record, I believe we should lower the current tax rates. I was against a debt ceiling deal that raised taxes. As a society I believe we’re overspending, not under-taxing. And I have warned that Democrats in Washington will attempt to lay traps for Republicans by offering mythical spending cuts in exchange for real tax increases.

With all that said, though, I do think that there is a cast of mind among some people in the GOP that would turn an admirable public figure like Mitch Daniels into a Republican pariah simply because, in the course of his governing career, he raised taxes, even while lowering others, even while cutting the size of the state government, and even while offering far-reaching reforms in education and health care. And to repeat what I argued before: 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.

My good friend Charles is of course free to reject the premise of the question asked of the eight GOP candidates last week. But given that he’s one of the best minds within the conservative movement (to say nothing of prescient regarding Tiger Woods), I’d be interested in what Charles has to say about a “thought experiment” in which we would see spending cuts that were 10 times, or 100 times, larger than every dollar in increased taxes. I suspect he would be right where I am. Beyond that, what does Charles think of the record and governing philosophy of Governor Daniels, who has said, “At some stage there could well be a tax increase. They say we can’t have grown-up conversations anymore. I think we can.”?

I think we can, too.

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Tonight: Commentary Forum in New York City

Tonight, COMMENTARY is hosting a public forum, “Ten Years of the War on Terror,” at the Ethical Culture Society in New York City, centering on our own Abe Greenwald’s article, “What We Got Right in the War on Terror,” which you can read here. Please join me, Abe, Andrew C. McCarthy of National Review and Ross Douthat of the New York Times for the discussion. The forum is from 6-8 pm. You can get your ticket in advance by clicking here for $10, or pay $15 at the door.

Tonight, COMMENTARY is hosting a public forum, “Ten Years of the War on Terror,” at the Ethical Culture Society in New York City, centering on our own Abe Greenwald’s article, “What We Got Right in the War on Terror,” which you can read here. Please join me, Abe, Andrew C. McCarthy of National Review and Ross Douthat of the New York Times for the discussion. The forum is from 6-8 pm. You can get your ticket in advance by clicking here for $10, or pay $15 at the door.

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Why Bachmann and Perry Both Need Iowa

The buzz that greeted Rick Perry’s entrance into the GOP primary race has yet to dissipate, and continues to overshadow Michele Bachmann’s victory in the Iowa straw poll. In fact, reading some of the stories about the race, you’d think Bachmann had already dropped out.

There is certainly a lot to support the contention that Perry has passed Bachmann immediately—including plenty of solid polling. But there is one aspect of the election that isn’t playing into Perry’s hands: the primary schedule. While Perry should be a contender in the early states, he’s far from a sure thing in any of them. He’ll be expected to win South Carolina—but that will likely be the fourth primary, and one could argue Perry needs a win before that. This means that the Perry-Bachmann rivalry may have just given Iowa back its relevance.

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The buzz that greeted Rick Perry’s entrance into the GOP primary race has yet to dissipate, and continues to overshadow Michele Bachmann’s victory in the Iowa straw poll. In fact, reading some of the stories about the race, you’d think Bachmann had already dropped out.

There is certainly a lot to support the contention that Perry has passed Bachmann immediately—including plenty of solid polling. But there is one aspect of the election that isn’t playing into Perry’s hands: the primary schedule. While Perry should be a contender in the early states, he’s far from a sure thing in any of them. He’ll be expected to win South Carolina—but that will likely be the fourth primary, and one could argue Perry needs a win before that. This means that the Perry-Bachmann rivalry may have just given Iowa back its relevance.

One of the knocks on Iowa—especially the straw poll—was that the frontrunner (Mitt Romney) and the presumptive soon-to-be frontrunner (Perry) didn’t bother to compete. So there has been limited momentum for Bachmann, despite winning the poll. But this past weekend, Iowa probably saved Bachmann’s candidacy, and it may do it again in January.

I think Perry should be considered the favorite in Iowa at this point, but Bachmann is by no means a long shot. The reason I have doubts about Bachmann in Iowa—the state of her birth and whose straw poll she won—is that when Bachmann is speaking one-on-one, say in a TV interview, she has a way of answering questions that gives the impression her head is elsewhere. She always seems to be addressing the nation at-large, as if the questions trigger a prerecorded response. This is the way to answer questions in a debate—but at the Iowa fairgrounds?

Perry’s ability to connect with voters is legendary. But like the rest of Perry’s persona, it will be tested on a national level. Bachmann has a head start and remains popular with the subset of primary voters that Perry is just beginning to court. If he loses Iowa to Bachmann, it will be read—fairly—as a blow to his campaign. New Hampshire will follow. Nevada will follow New Hampshire. Only then will South Carolina voters get a chance to give Perry some momentum—by which time he could potentially be enduring three straight weeks of the kind of bad press that comes with high expectations and yawn-inducing results.

Ironically, coupled with Perry’s entrance into the race, Bachmann’s straw poll win—once perceived as a mark against the state’s credibility—may elevate Iowa to a level of consequence it rarely enjoys.

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Supreme Court Obamacare Case Could Overshadow Election

It’s only Monday, but this isn’t shaping up to be a good week for President Obama. Peter writes that his approval ratings have dipped to 39 percent, and it’s looking increasingly likely that the Supreme Court will take up the case on the constitutionality of Obamacare before the 2012 election.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, making it a virtual certainty that the case will end up before the Supreme Court at some point in the near future.

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It’s only Monday, but this isn’t shaping up to be a good week for President Obama. Peter writes that his approval ratings have dipped to 39 percent, and it’s looking increasingly likely that the Supreme Court will take up the case on the constitutionality of Obamacare before the 2012 election.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, making it a virtual certainty that the case will end up before the Supreme Court at some point in the near future.

The Obama administration can now request that the entire 11th Circuit hear the case in what’s known as an “en banc” hearing. But the grounds for such a request are shaky, since the three-judge panel was bipartisan (it included two Democrats, both Clinton appointees). It’s also rare that an en banc hearing results in a different ruling – but at least it could potentially delay a high-profile Supreme Court battle during an election year.

Once the administration appeals the ruling, the Supreme Court will have strong incentives to take up the case quickly, Politico reports:

The court has two very strong reasons to take the case now. First, there are two circuit courts that have ruled in opposite directions on the constitutionality of the law’s individual mandate. And second, because the Obama administration lost in the latest ruling, it is going to be the one filing the appeal. The Supreme Court rarely turns does such requests from the federal government, especially on an issue with the scope of the health reform law.

The Supreme Court may also need to move fast on this because many of the Obamacare provisions are supposed to go into effect soon. Obama already has a weak record of accomplishments, and an ongoing Supreme Court battle would make his one significant “achievement” even more of a liability on the campaign trail.

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Anti-Sharia Activists Split on Perry

Last week, Salon’s Justin Elliott highlighted Rick Perry’s ties to the Aga Khan, the leader of the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam, and predicted the relationship could rile up the conservative anti-Shariah movement, potentially becoming an obstacle to Perry’s bid.

“That’s a partnership that has already prompted a bit of grumbling in far-right corners of the blogosphere and could conceivably become a primary issue if, as expected, Perry enters the presidential race,” wrote Elliott, in an article provocatively titled “Rick Perry: The Pro-Shariah Candidate?” But at least one prominent member of the anti-Sharia movement is laughing off the suggestion Perry’s friendship with the Aga Khan is a major cause for concern.

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Last week, Salon’s Justin Elliott highlighted Rick Perry’s ties to the Aga Khan, the leader of the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam, and predicted the relationship could rile up the conservative anti-Shariah movement, potentially becoming an obstacle to Perry’s bid.

“That’s a partnership that has already prompted a bit of grumbling in far-right corners of the blogosphere and could conceivably become a primary issue if, as expected, Perry enters the presidential race,” wrote Elliott, in an article provocatively titled “Rick Perry: The Pro-Shariah Candidate?” But at least one prominent member of the anti-Sharia movement is laughing off the suggestion Perry’s friendship with the Aga Khan is a major cause for concern.

In an email, Center for Security Policy spokesperson Dave Reaboi dismissed Elliott’s article as a cynical and futile attempt to provoke anti-Sharia conservatives over a non-issue:

Politico’s Ben Smith amplified a Salon report about Perry’s relationship with Aga Khan of the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam. As Salon’s in-house apologist for Islamism and crusader against conservatives, Justin Elliott clearly believed such a story, breathlessly told, would cause a great deal of friction between the Texas governor and the GOP base—who are rightfully concerned about the anti-Constitutional aspects of Shariah law in our own country, and are watching as Shariah is the rallying-cry of jihadists around the globe. That said, Perry’s relationship to Khan and the Ismaili’s, I predict, will not cause much of a stir. The Islamailis are a persecuted Shia minority in Saudia Arabia; indeed, Perry’s meeting with Khan could not have won him many friends there. Rather than reaching out– as both presidents Bush and Obama mistakenly did—to problematic organizations associated with the Muslim Brotherhood’s expressly political agenda, Perry’s choice to engage with a more ‘progressive’ group is a good sign.

Reaboi added that both Elliott and Politico’s Ben Smith (who linked the story, but didn’t provide additional commentary) are insulting the intelligence of the anti-Shariah movement if they believe this issue will become a serious problem for Perry:

This story tells us more about Salon, Politico and other left-of-center media outlets than about Perry. Rather than engage on the substantive issues as regards to Islamism and the extent of the threat of groups with political motivations and histories of terrorist links, Elliott and Smith refuse to take their opponents seriously, thinking they’re ‘poking the cage’ of a Republican base too unsophisticated to know the difference between the Ismaili sect and, say, the Muslim Brotherhood.

That’s not to say Perry’s relationship with the Aga Khan hasn’t drawn fire from certain anti-Sharia agitators. Blogger Pam Geller published a column on Perry’s “problematic pals” at the American Thinker just this morning. But unless the leading anti-Sharia groups get on board with this criticism, it’s hard to see it gaining much traction with the conservative base.

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The Shark-Jumping Absurdity of “Primarying” Allen West

The report this morning that Florida Rep. Allen West may face a Tea Party primary challenge reminded me of the chat West had with us up in the bloggers’ lounge at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, just before heading down to the main stage to deliver his keynote address.

There were two questions in particular in which West’s answers revealed why anyone considering a primary challenge might want to rethink that plan. The first had to do with libertarian politics, and showed that West’s voters knew exactly what they were getting when they voted for him:

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The report this morning that Florida Rep. Allen West may face a Tea Party primary challenge reminded me of the chat West had with us up in the bloggers’ lounge at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, just before heading down to the main stage to deliver his keynote address.

There were two questions in particular in which West’s answers revealed why anyone considering a primary challenge might want to rethink that plan. The first had to do with libertarian politics, and showed that West’s voters knew exactly what they were getting when they voted for him:

Q: Where do you think libertarians fit in the Republican party?

West: When you study the Constitution, you understand what the founding fathers did. The Constitution puts us right in the center, OK. If you go too far to the left, that means great big government that is overarching. If you go too far to the right, you have too little government, you have anarchy. So I think what they did, they came up with a document that really does promote the liberty of the American people and the citizens, and restrain[s] the government. So I think that when you look at libertarians, I mean, you guys are just uber-conservatives on steroids.”

That was a dose of West’s trademark bluntness. But it also tells you that West, from the beginning, never considered himself primarily a champion of libertarian interests, nor was he in Congress to erase our federal government completely. Many in the media were stunned when West vocally supported the deal John Boehner struck to raise the debt limit. They shouldn’t have been surprised. And the voters who elected him shouldn’t have been, either.

Yet they are, according to the Florida Sun-Sentinel: “Since West voted early this month to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling, activists from his tea party base are ‘shocked and disappointed,’ said Charles Robertson, co-founder of the Broward Tea Party.”

These activists are either feigning shock or they haven’t been listening to the man they elected.

The second question at CPAC came a few minutes later, and was exactly the type of answer West gives routinely to this sort of question:

Q: The mainstream media have been rather viciously attacking strong Republican women. After this keynote speech, do you expect the mainstream media to make you a particular target?

West: Where have you been?

He then proceeded to tick off a list of wacky conspiracy theories, false stories, and race-related attacks the left and the media began pushing the second he was sworn into office. He then continued: “You know, but what that is, that’s fear. And you never let a military guy know that you’re afraid of him, because I’ll just turn up the heat.”

It’s good advice, both for his Democratic opponents—who, according to the Sun-Sentinel, have been proclaiming West “the anti-Christ, as far as we’re concerned”—and for the tea party activists who are thinking of challenging West in a primary.

One more point to consider: The Tea Party needs its credibility to have an impact. The Florida Tea Party activists might want to ask themselves whether a conservative movement that organizes a primary challenge to Allen West hasn’t jumped the shark.

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Keith Olbermann’s Slide Into Obscurity

What if Keith Olbermann delivered a bellowing Special Comment in a forest and nobody heard it? We might soon find out.

Olbermann’s Countdown on Current TV hit an all-time low last week in the 25-54-year-old demographic. The show pulled in 85,000 viewers in the demo, which is slightly more than the number of people who attended the Washington Redskins’ first pre-season game against Pittsburgh. And Countdown averaged 208,000 total viewers. Olbermann’s summer seems to be going about as well as Obama’s.

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What if Keith Olbermann delivered a bellowing Special Comment in a forest and nobody heard it? We might soon find out.

Olbermann’s Countdown on Current TV hit an all-time low last week in the 25-54-year-old demographic. The show pulled in 85,000 viewers in the demo, which is slightly more than the number of people who attended the Washington Redskins’ first pre-season game against Pittsburgh. And Countdown averaged 208,000 total viewers. Olbermann’s summer seems to be going about as well as Obama’s.

Indeed, at the rate things are going, Current TV may be paying Olbermann around $50,000 per viewer.

I hope Al Gore finds it a worthwhile investment.

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The Perfect Candidate Isn’t Running

In today’s Wall Street Journal, the editorial page looks over the field of Republican presidential candidates and finds them all wanting. The Journal’s editors analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each of the three viable candidates remaining and worry whether any of them can unite the party and articulate policies that will put forward an agenda for growth and restraint of federal spending. They conclude saying that “if the current field isn’t up to that, perhaps someone still off the field will step in and run. Now would be the time.”

While the Journal is pretty much on target with all of its criticisms of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, conservatives who cling to the illusion someone better than these three will miraculously jump in from the sidelines are kidding themselves. The Republican nominee who will face off against Barack Obama in November 2012 will be named either Bachmann, Perry or Romney and whether they like it or not, those who believe the president ought not to be re-elected are going to have to make a choice among them.

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In today’s Wall Street Journal, the editorial page looks over the field of Republican presidential candidates and finds them all wanting. The Journal’s editors analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each of the three viable candidates remaining and worry whether any of them can unite the party and articulate policies that will put forward an agenda for growth and restraint of federal spending. They conclude saying that “if the current field isn’t up to that, perhaps someone still off the field will step in and run. Now would be the time.”

While the Journal is pretty much on target with all of its criticisms of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, conservatives who cling to the illusion someone better than these three will miraculously jump in from the sidelines are kidding themselves. The Republican nominee who will face off against Barack Obama in November 2012 will be named either Bachmann, Perry or Romney and whether they like it or not, those who believe the president ought not to be re-elected are going to have to make a choice among them.

The Journal is especially critical of Bachmann whom they accuse of opportunism for failing to enthusiastically back Paul Ryan’s budget proposal and of spinning fantasies during the course of her opposition to any compromise proposal (including those put forward by her own party), during the debt ceiling crisis. While the editors noted her propensity for gaffes that will make her a hard sell outside of those they describe as members of “Fox Nation,” their most serious accusation is she is an inexperienced ideologue who is, in effect, a conservative version of Barack Obama.

The editorial is less critical of Perry, whose experience as governor of Texas they praise. But they worry his “Lone Star swagger” will make it difficult to win over independents. They also see his “muscular religiosity” as a potential problem.

As for Mitt Romney, the Journal doesn’t so much criticize him as dismiss him. He is described as “weak” and a man who has provided “little evidence that he has convictions beyond faith in his own technocratic expertise.” Ouch.

All this may be true, but the Journal’s desire to seek a viable Republican alternative to the trio is just as much a fantasy as Michele Bachmann’s belief the S&P credit downgrade vindicated her refusal to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances. Though it is theoretically possible for someone like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio or Chris Christie (the trio of GOP heavy hitters who the Journal and likeminded conservatives still wish would run for president) to still get in, at this point it would be difficult if not impossible to do so successfully. And that is leaving aside the fact none of those three seem to want to run.

The time for dreaming about the perfect candidate is over. Even if such a person existed, they aren’t running. Bachmann, Perry and Romney all have drawbacks that might, under other circumstances, make it hard to imagine them being nominated, let alone elected president. Yet one of them will be nominated next year, and that person will, depending on the state of the economy, have a good chance of taking the oath in January 2013. Conservatives have a tough choice to make in the coming months. But choose they must.

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Does Perry’s “Texas Miracle” Have a “Minimum Wage” Problem?

It’s a testament to Rick Perry’s strength as a candidate that the left is already feverishly mounting a campaign to try to tear down his jobs record. The latest anti-Perry talking point is that the “Texas Miracle” is bunk because many of the jobs created in the state during the past year are minimum wage positions, and therefore, less significant than high-paying jobs. The Huffington Post’s Jason Cherkis reports:

The miracle is that anyone would call minimum-wage jobs a miracle. Of the all the jobs in Texas created last year, 37 percent paid at or below minimum wage — and the state leads the nation in total minimum wage workers, according to a recent New York Times report.

But this isn’t necessarily unique to Texas.

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It’s a testament to Rick Perry’s strength as a candidate that the left is already feverishly mounting a campaign to try to tear down his jobs record. The latest anti-Perry talking point is that the “Texas Miracle” is bunk because many of the jobs created in the state during the past year are minimum wage positions, and therefore, less significant than high-paying jobs. The Huffington Post’s Jason Cherkis reports:

The miracle is that anyone would call minimum-wage jobs a miracle. Of the all the jobs in Texas created last year, 37 percent paid at or below minimum wage — and the state leads the nation in total minimum wage workers, according to a recent New York Times report.

But this isn’t necessarily unique to Texas.

Quite the opposite – research actually suggests it’s a national trend. According to a July study by the liberal National Employment Law Project, 73 percent of nation-wide job growth during the past year has been in low-wage occupations. The New York Times reports:

The report by the National Employment Law Project, a liberal research and advocacy group, found that while 60 percent of the jobs lost during the downturn were in midwage occupations, 73 percent of the jobs added since the recession ended had been in lower-wage occupations, like cashier, stocking clerk or food preparation worker.

According to the report, “The Good Jobs Deficit,” the number of jobs in midwage and high-wage occupations remains significantly below the prerecession peak, while the number of jobs in lower-wage occupations has climbed back close to its former peak.

As you can imagine, this report actually got a lot of attention from liberal publications when it was released last month. And yet it hasn’t been cited in the hit-pieces about the percentage of minimum-wage jobs created in Texas.

Another fact that hasn’t been mentioned: the number of minimum wage jobs was actually decreasing steadily in Texas between 1998 and 2006. But when the federal minimum wage was raised from 2007 through 2009, many jobs previously considered above minimum wage in Texas automatically became classified as minimum wage.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes this in its recent report on lower-wage workers in Texas, and also points out that the number of workers making minimum wage increased in the state as well as the nation:

With the exception of 2003, the number of hourly-paid workers at or below the Federal minimum wage declined steadily in Texas from 1998 to 2006. (See chart 1.) However, annual increases in the Federal minimum wage from 2007 through 2009 contributed to increased numbers and higher percentages of workers in the State receiving pay at or below the mandated level. Although the Federal minimum wage was unchanged in 2010, the number of workers with pay at or below the minimum wage increased in both the State and the nation.

This might explain why the Obama campaign has avoided attacking Perry’s jobs record on the minimum wage issue so far. It’s true there may have been a lot of lower-paying jobs created in Texas since the recession ended — but the same also seems true of the job growth nationally.

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Obama Breaks New Ground in Unpopularity

According to Gallup, 39 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s job performance while 54 percent disapprove. Both data points are the worst numbers of his presidency. Philip Klein points out that no president since Harry Truman as been re-elected with approval ratings this low, this late into his first term. And no president since Franklin Roosevelt has been re-elected with unemployment this high. That sound you hear is of spreading panic among Democrats, who are lucky enough to get to run with the increasingly — and now massively — unpopular Mr. Obama at the top of the ticket.

According to Gallup, 39 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s job performance while 54 percent disapprove. Both data points are the worst numbers of his presidency. Philip Klein points out that no president since Harry Truman as been re-elected with approval ratings this low, this late into his first term. And no president since Franklin Roosevelt has been re-elected with unemployment this high. That sound you hear is of spreading panic among Democrats, who are lucky enough to get to run with the increasingly — and now massively — unpopular Mr. Obama at the top of the ticket.

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