Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 12, 2011

Perry Loses Debate But Not the Nomination

Rick Perry complained last week that he was the piñata of Republican candidates. That was just as true at the Tampa Tea Party debate as it was at the Reagan Library. But his problem is not that his opponents were quick to pile on at the smallest indication of weakness on his part. It was that his weak showing came at a time when a confident performance might have solidified a stranglehold on the nomination.

Both Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann came out swinging at the frontrunner, and both rained blows on him on a variety of issues. In contrast to Perry’s vague pronouncements about his achievements in Texas, Romney came across as articulate and prepared while Bachmann was passionate and ready to fire up the Tea Party and conservative Christian base. Both may get a boost in the polls. But Perry’s basic strengths and their weaknesses are unchanged.

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Rick Perry complained last week that he was the piñata of Republican candidates. That was just as true at the Tampa Tea Party debate as it was at the Reagan Library. But his problem is not that his opponents were quick to pile on at the smallest indication of weakness on his part. It was that his weak showing came at a time when a confident performance might have solidified a stranglehold on the nomination.

Both Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann came out swinging at the frontrunner, and both rained blows on him on a variety of issues. In contrast to Perry’s vague pronouncements about his achievements in Texas, Romney came across as articulate and prepared while Bachmann was passionate and ready to fire up the Tea Party and conservative Christian base. Both may get a boost in the polls. But Perry’s basic strengths and their weaknesses are unchanged.

Both Romney and Bachmann were strong, often besting Perry on the issues. Romney grows more confident with each debate. Bachmann got her mojo back and was the most passionate candidate on the stage, beating Perry up on the Texas vaccination issue and claiming she was the one person most committed to repealing Obamacare. By contrast, Perry often sounded weak, even when he was in the right, as on immigration.

But Perry is not the frontrunner because most Republicans think he is a better speaker than either of those candidates. He is ahead because Romney’s record on health care and tendency to flip-flop and tilt toward the center on some issues renders him unlikely to be nominated no matter what he says. Bachmann faded out of the first tier in recent weeks in part because of Perry’s entrance into the race but also because her unrealistic stand on economic issues makes her even less likely to be nominated or elected than Romney.

Romney’s cool and Bachmann’s fire provided a strong contrast to Perry’s less assured and often faltering approach on the podium. But though the Texas governor is demonstrating weaknesses in his first appearances on the national stage, he still has an easier time than Romney or Bachmann appealing to the conservative mainstream that will decide the nomination.

More performances like tonight’s in Tampa will help Perry’s opponents cut into his lead. But the basic math of the Republican contest is unchanged. Perry’s weakness as a debater hurts him but doesn’t transform the field. Until Romney or Bachmann demonstrate they can win the nomination, Perry is still in the catbird seat.

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Perry Better Get Better

I don’t think Rick Perry lost the debate tonight, though he took obvious hits that might do him some harm on immigration and his handling of the Gardasil vaccine in Texas. He got off a bunch of good quick lines and jabs in the first half hour, though as was true in the last debate, he seemed to flag after the one-hour point and could barely compose a sentence without looking as though he might pass out from exhaustion. When pummeled by Michele Bachmann on Gardasil and the fact that he took a campaign contribution from Merck, he professed he was “offended” at the suggestion he would sell out for a $5,000 donation—apparently not understanding the implication that there was a price at which he might well sell out.

The main problem here, though, is that he seems to think he can wing these debates by referring to what he did in Texas here and what he did in Texas there. That is insufficient not just when it comes to giving voters a chance to judge him by the policy choices he might make; it’s insufficient because it suggests he thinks he can get away without getting specific and demonstrating a command of national and international issues.

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I don’t think Rick Perry lost the debate tonight, though he took obvious hits that might do him some harm on immigration and his handling of the Gardasil vaccine in Texas. He got off a bunch of good quick lines and jabs in the first half hour, though as was true in the last debate, he seemed to flag after the one-hour point and could barely compose a sentence without looking as though he might pass out from exhaustion. When pummeled by Michele Bachmann on Gardasil and the fact that he took a campaign contribution from Merck, he professed he was “offended” at the suggestion he would sell out for a $5,000 donation—apparently not understanding the implication that there was a price at which he might well sell out.

The main problem here, though, is that he seems to think he can wing these debates by referring to what he did in Texas here and what he did in Texas there. That is insufficient not just when it comes to giving voters a chance to judge him by the policy choices he might make; it’s insufficient because it suggests he thinks he can get away without getting specific and demonstrating a command of national and international issues.

If he comforts himself with the thought that GOP voters are so simple-minded or singularly focused on government spending they won’t care about his inability to speak with minimal coherence about the American mission in Afghanistan, for example—his worst answer—he misunderstands his own party, which is closer to the vigorous internationalism expressed by Rick Santorum last night than it is to the anti-Israel bilge spouted by Ron Paul.

Perry’s key challenge as he goes forward over the next six months is not appearing to be an empty suit. In the last hour of tonight’s debate, he seemed to shrink inside his finely tailored one. The suit wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t hanging comfortably on him, and he’d better fill it better. There are a lot more of these debates to go—at least seven, if memory serves. And a lot more press coverage. And a lot more controversy. And he’s not ready for it yet.

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Live Blog: The GOP Debate

The evening began with questions about Rick Perry’s ability to fend off attacks on his frontrunner status. Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann both had strong performances as did Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. But it’s still not clear whether Perry’s faltering debating style will hurt him in the polls or give a boost to either Romney or Bachmann.

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The debate is over with a silly question about additions to the White House.

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Perry tries to have it both ways on Afghanistan. Says he’s for bringing the boys home while keeping a presence. This was an opportunity for him to demonstrate a strong command of foreign policy issues. Instead, a weak response. This is not his night.

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Isolationist Huntsman is asked by an Afghan immigrant what he would do to help Afghan women from the Taliban. His answer: you’re on your own. Disgraceful.

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The evening began with questions about Rick Perry’s ability to fend off attacks on his frontrunner status. Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann both had strong performances as did Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. But it’s still not clear whether Perry’s faltering debating style will hurt him in the polls or give a boost to either Romney or Bachmann.

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The debate is over with a silly question about additions to the White House.

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Perry tries to have it both ways on Afghanistan. Says he’s for bringing the boys home while keeping a presence. This was an opportunity for him to demonstrate a strong command of foreign policy issues. Instead, a weak response. This is not his night.

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Isolationist Huntsman is asked by an Afghan immigrant what he would do to help Afghan women from the Taliban. His answer: you’re on your own. Disgraceful.

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Give credit to the Tampa Tea Party. For the first time, Paul is booed rather than cheered for his disgusting attacks on America.

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Paul off on his leftist rant again about American militarism. It’s ironic that this despicable rhetoric is being heard at a Republican debate. Santorum calls him out for rationalizing 9/11 as being caused by American actions. This is his Santorum’s finest moment.

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Perry’s position on immigration makes sense, especially if the GOP is going to try to appeal to Hispanics. But his defense of his position was weak. He came across as defensive, even laconic.

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Huntsman finally gets into the debate and says Santorum’s charge that the border can’t be secured is treasonous. So much for civility but I guess he needed to do something to get attention. But at least that means Perry isn’t alone in using that term.

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Perry gets his chance to talk about border security. Says it’s the federal government’s responsibility to secure the border. Santorum then bashes him for Texas giving illegals some benefits. Perry gets booed for standing up for treating immigrants fairly. Then Bachmann piles on. She’s fired up now.

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Now we’re back in Bachmann’s wheelhouse on the need to repeal Obamacare. She says 2012 is the election when we’ll decide whether we’ll have socialized medicine. Passionately declares that she’s the one who’s committed to fighting it. This is her finest moment.

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Finally we get back to Romney and health care. Perry scores by remind us that Romney’s plan was the model for Obamacare. Romney is glib in defense but as long as this is the topic, Romney is losing.

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Santorum plays to his right-to-life base claiming that the vaccinations were wrong in principle. I said it last week but it’s still true.  If the worst thing you can say about Perry is that he was over-zealous in fighting cancer, that is, as they say in Texas, a dog that won’t hunt.

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Bachmann finally fires at Perry on the vaccination issue and then segues to abortion and Obamacare. That plays to her right-to-life base but Perry fires back by saying he will always err on the side of life. Bachmann then hits him with the charge that it was motivated by donations from a drug company. Perry then replies he can’t be bought for $5,000.

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Perry says he was wrong on his vaccination executive order, but again makes the point about fighting cancer. Then promises to use an executive order to get rid of Obamacare.

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Romney won’t bite on a “fair tax” but promises to get rid of taxes on investment.

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Newt gets laughs and applause for mentioning GE’s tax breaks. He’s right that green tax credits are loopholes too. No, this debate isn’t on MSNBC.

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Romney gives a responsible answer about the Fed and the need for a strong currency. Rightly says that Congress couldn’t be trusted with the responsibility.

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Bachmann’s agnostic about Bernanke treason charge. Perry says that using the Fed for political purposes would be treasonous. Won’t apologize for nasty quip.

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Mention of Perry’s line about Bernanke being tried for treason gets applause. Bachmann rightly notes that the Fed has unlimited power given to it by Congress.

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Uh oh. A question about the Fed. Please Wolf, don’t turn to Ron Paul.

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While Newt, Caine and Huntsman fillibuster, Michele Bachmann is still way behind in face time. It’s got to be killing her.

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Ron Paul’s vendetta against Perry is an interesting sideshow but it doesn’t hurt the Texas governor or help Romney.

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Romney says Obama is jamming quarters into the pay phone. Then says Rick Perry was dealt four aces in running the Texas economy. He’s not short on sound bytes. But the whole discussion about whether Perry deserves credit for job creation in Texas only works to make Perry look good. Point to Perry.

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Bachmann gets applause for bragging about opposing raising the debt ceiling. Then tells us that it would be “easy” to turn around the economy by cutting spending and entitlements. The Tea Party loves it. But it reminds us how tenuous her grasp of economics is.

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Perry’s not a good debater but he’s got soundbytes that win applause: “People are tired of spending money we don’t have for programs we don’t want.”

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While Perry speaks, Romney looks at him and smiles. Bachmann looks away.

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Perry goes after Obama and the second stimulus.

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At the first commercial break. Romney is clearly sounding like the best debater. Bachmann coming across as well as she did in New Hampshire, albeit with less face time. Perry just okay. The question is, does he have to do any better than that?

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Bachmann goes back to basics, opposing government promising people free stuff. That’s what fired up the base about her in the first place.

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Perry promises not to repeal the Medicare prescription benefits for seniors.

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Santorum invokes Paul Ryan on Medicare and drug benefits but claims he thought of it all first.

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Rick Santorum is still bragging about winning elections in Pennsylvania. I guess his landslide loss in 2006 was a mulligan.

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Jon Huntsman says Romney’s line could have been written by Kurt Cobain. How many there got it? He’s still trying to play the moderate. Wrong crowd. Wrong party.

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Perry gets applause for saying that government has made mistakes. And then is later applauded for saying that Romney is trying to scare seniors. Romney is making a strong attack but Perry is shrugging it off. Then fires back with a quote from Romney’s book. Slight edge to Romney in the argument but Perry isn’t shaken.

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Romney opens fire on Pery on Social Security quoting his book on it being unconstitutional.

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Rick Perry sticks to his guns on social security while guaranteeing that seniors will get their money.

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Michele Bachmann was given the first opportunity to attack Perry on Social Security. Instead she sticks to the Tea Party line about the need for entitlement reform.

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Rick Perry’s line about making Washington inconsequential in our lives is still a perfect slogan for Republicans.

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It’s pretty clear that Michele Bachmann is determined to exploit her home court advantage with the Tea Party. Let’s see if she can hold it through the evening.

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Let’s hope a badly sung anthem is the low point of the debate.

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The way CNN has partnered with the Tea Party makes at least one thing clear: the group isn’t the band of lunatics that the liberal press and their Democratic allies have been claiming.

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The opening to the debate tonight made it seem as if the network knows they are competing with football tonight.

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Will Perry Be the Piñata Again?

Tonight’s CNN/Tea Party Express debate in Tampa will afford the rest of the Republican field another chance to gang up on frontrunner Rick Perry. In the aftermath of his debut at the Reagan Library, the Texas governor has been taking heat about his stand on Social Security. So it’s expected that his closest rival Mitt Romney will be hammering him on that issue and that others, such as Michele Bachmann will join in the fun.

Tonight’s gathering might afford Bachmann an opportunity to make up some ground on Perry who has largely stole her thunder among the Tea Partiers who make up her base. But if she fails to gain ground or become the center of attention as she was in earlier debates, Bachmann, who has slipped badly in the polls since Perry’s entry, may be finished.

Most of all, the proceedings will give the public another good long look at Perry. Will he attack again as he did last week? Will he stumble or make a gaffe that will give Romney or the others an opening? Or will he solidify his impressive lead in the polls. We’re about to find out.

Tonight’s CNN/Tea Party Express debate in Tampa will afford the rest of the Republican field another chance to gang up on frontrunner Rick Perry. In the aftermath of his debut at the Reagan Library, the Texas governor has been taking heat about his stand on Social Security. So it’s expected that his closest rival Mitt Romney will be hammering him on that issue and that others, such as Michele Bachmann will join in the fun.

Tonight’s gathering might afford Bachmann an opportunity to make up some ground on Perry who has largely stole her thunder among the Tea Partiers who make up her base. But if she fails to gain ground or become the center of attention as she was in earlier debates, Bachmann, who has slipped badly in the polls since Perry’s entry, may be finished.

Most of all, the proceedings will give the public another good long look at Perry. Will he attack again as he did last week? Will he stumble or make a gaffe that will give Romney or the others an opening? Or will he solidify his impressive lead in the polls. We’re about to find out.

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Rumsfeld Decides to “Go Timesless”

The news that Donald Rumsfeld canceled his subscription to the New York Times over Paul Krugman’s rancid, paranoid attack on America’s response to 9/11 prompted some gasps of surprise Rumsfeld even had a subscription.

His chief of staff, Keith Urbahn, explained to the Daily Caller: “Mr. Rumsfeld canceled his personal subscription to the New York Times years ago. We still had a subscription for our office, but after reading Paul Krugman, he decided to cancel it. We may not be getting the New York Times anymore, but I doubt we’ll be missing much.” It reminded me of the great Jay Nordlinger column from 2007 about people who stopped reading the Times:

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The news that Donald Rumsfeld canceled his subscription to the New York Times over Paul Krugman’s rancid, paranoid attack on America’s response to 9/11 prompted some gasps of surprise Rumsfeld even had a subscription.

His chief of staff, Keith Urbahn, explained to the Daily Caller: “Mr. Rumsfeld canceled his personal subscription to the New York Times years ago. We still had a subscription for our office, but after reading Paul Krugman, he decided to cancel it. We may not be getting the New York Times anymore, but I doubt we’ll be missing much.” It reminded me of the great Jay Nordlinger column from 2007 about people who stopped reading the Times:

Last fall, President Bush caused something of a scandal when he made an admission to Fox News’s Brit Hume: He is not much of a newspaper-reader or TV-watcher; he prefers to get his news from his staff, with no opinion mixed in. For many people, this revelation was further proof that our president is a dolt, too abnormal to serve in that job.

I have an even more shocking revelation: Many people in this country don’t read the New York Times, and by “people,” I don’t mean Ma and Pa, I mean major writers and journalists, plenty of whom live in Manhattan.

Among the more amusing explanations for “going Timesless” was Peter Kirsanow’s: “I’ve gone long, blissful stretches without reading the Times and have found that during such periods I remain as well-informed as when I read it regularly — but without the residual anger, anxiety, and irritability.” Michael Barone told Nordlinger the paper’s notorious inaccuracies–often corrected weeks later in notices longer than the original article–made it too risky to go on reading the paper: “and I thought, ‘I have to go on television, I have to be accurate, and this isn’t helping.’”

I wonder at what point people like Krugman become a liability for the paper’s bottom line. Surely the choir would make do with less offensive preachers.

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Perry Trumps Romney With Jindal

On a day when, as Alana wrote earlier, Mitt Romney got a mild boost from the endorsement of former rival Tim Pawlenty, Rick Perry still emerged the victor. Endorsements don’t decide presidential races anymore, but the minimal aid Pawlenty will bring to Romney is more than matched by the decision of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to back Perry. As a sitting governor with something of a national following which, unlike the positive buzz about Pawlenty, wasn’t destroyed by a spectacularly unsuccessful presidential bid, Jindal might actually help his colleague from Texas.

Pawlenty’s limited appeal (amply demonstrated during his lackluster campaign) makes his endorsement less valuable, but it is doubtful he will do anything other than to remind voters of the awful moment during the New Hampshire debate in June when the Minnesotan lacked the guts to confront Romney face to face with his scathing criticism of his Obamneycare health legislation. Given that Pawlenty’s stands on the issues appeared to be closer to those of Perry, it’s not clear what really motivated the former Minnesota governor to support Romney.

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On a day when, as Alana wrote earlier, Mitt Romney got a mild boost from the endorsement of former rival Tim Pawlenty, Rick Perry still emerged the victor. Endorsements don’t decide presidential races anymore, but the minimal aid Pawlenty will bring to Romney is more than matched by the decision of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to back Perry. As a sitting governor with something of a national following which, unlike the positive buzz about Pawlenty, wasn’t destroyed by a spectacularly unsuccessful presidential bid, Jindal might actually help his colleague from Texas.

Pawlenty’s limited appeal (amply demonstrated during his lackluster campaign) makes his endorsement less valuable, but it is doubtful he will do anything other than to remind voters of the awful moment during the New Hampshire debate in June when the Minnesotan lacked the guts to confront Romney face to face with his scathing criticism of his Obamneycare health legislation. Given that Pawlenty’s stands on the issues appeared to be closer to those of Perry, it’s not clear what really motivated the former Minnesota governor to support Romney.

It’s way too early to talk about a “stop Perry” movement, especially since the Texan is thought by many to have stumbled in the last few days. But the Pawlenty endorsement only confirmed the nature of the Perry juggernaut, because it is par for the course for failed contenders to try and band together to stop the inevitable winner. Perry will have to survive more debates and win some primaries for that to become a reality, but he need not fear Pawlenty’s minimal influence within the GOP.

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Live Blogging the GOP Debate Tonight

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the Republican presidential debate from Tampa, Florida. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the GOP contenders have at it once again.

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the Republican presidential debate from Tampa, Florida. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the GOP contenders have at it once again.

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Then and Now: Obama Officials React to Enron, Solyndra

At the National Review, Rich Lowry makes the connection between the Bush/Enron and Obama/Solyndra controversies. He also notes the difference in the media coverage of the two stories (guess which one was hyped more?):

President Bush was flayed for the Enron bankruptcy, based on his tenuous ties to the firm. If the same media rules applied, Solyndra would be Obama’s Enron, given his active promotion of the company and his lavish funding of it. A prodigious Obama-Biden fundraiser is a major backer of the failed concern.

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At the National Review, Rich Lowry makes the connection between the Bush/Enron and Obama/Solyndra controversies. He also notes the difference in the media coverage of the two stories (guess which one was hyped more?):

President Bush was flayed for the Enron bankruptcy, based on his tenuous ties to the firm. If the same media rules applied, Solyndra would be Obama’s Enron, given his active promotion of the company and his lavish funding of it. A prodigious Obama-Biden fundraiser is a major backer of the failed concern.

It’s not just the media that has lost its appetite for wild speculation about the cozy connection between the (Bush) White House and scandal-ridden corporations. Several current Obama administration officials were also eager to make political hay out of Enron in 2002, despite the fact there was zero evidence Bush had given assistance to the company.

Here’s then-Senator Biden appearing to relish the thought of a Bush-Enron connection during a January 13, 2002 interview with Tim Russert on “Meet the Press”:

“My sense is this could be very big, Tim…If it turns out to be true that the Enron execs got out and they let the bag be held by their employees and the average stockholder then there’s going to be heck to pay, number one. Number two, if there was any, any involvement because of the incredible help the Bush campaign got from Enron here, it will be–I don’t know that there has been–but it will be devastating,” said Biden.

And what about White House spokesperson Jay Carney, who said earlier this month failures like Solyndra are “just the way business works, and everybody recognizes that?”

Back when Carney was reporting on the Enron case for Time magazine, he seemed slightly more concerned about the ties between the Bush administration and the failing company:

At the White House last week junior aides were asking Washington veterans whether they will have to hire lawyers because they attended meetings in which Enron issues were discussed. Answer: probably not—but the question shows the level of concern. Though there has been no evidence of anything illegal, Enron enjoyed considerable influence from the start of the Bush administration.

According to Carney circa 2002, the Enron scandal foiled Bush’s attempt to reach out to the common man:

It was supposed to be a week in which George Bush made common cause with the common man, a week of speeches and photo ops to show that the president who whipped the Taliban could also save our jobs and fix our schools. But when a gust of news blew the Enron mess from the business section to the front page, the country saw a tense, cautious president trying his best to distance himself from one of his biggest campaign contributors, the friend he used to call “Kenny Boy.” In the Oval Office on Thursday, Bush told reporters he hadn’t seen “Mr. Lay” since last spring.

Good thing the media isn’t sensing any similar problems on the horizon for Obama’s jobs push yet.

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Hypocrisy Alert: Bachmann to Attack Perry on Social Security

According to Byron York, Michele Bachmann is planning on attacking Rick Perry on Social Security at tonight’s CNN/Tea Party Express debate in Florida. Bachmann’s campaign has fizzled in recent weeks, and her placid approach at last week’s debate seemed to seal her fate as an also-ran, so it would be a surprise if the feisty Minnesota congresswoman didn’t come out fighting. But if she thinks she will gain ground against Perry among the Tea Party constituency he has stolen out from under her by playing the liberal Democrat, she’s lost touch with reality.

As Chris Moody writes, in an interview last year, Bachmann called Social Security a “tremendous fraud” and said anyone who ran anything like it would be “thrown in jail.” She also said young workers should be weaned off it. Any attack on Perry for saying essentially the same thing ought to earn the Tea Party heroine a gold medal for hypocrisy. Social Security may be Perry’s Achilles’ heal, but it’s hard to see how a candidate such as Bachmann, who has spent her entire career calling for entitlement reform, is any position to take advantage of that weakness.

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According to Byron York, Michele Bachmann is planning on attacking Rick Perry on Social Security at tonight’s CNN/Tea Party Express debate in Florida. Bachmann’s campaign has fizzled in recent weeks, and her placid approach at last week’s debate seemed to seal her fate as an also-ran, so it would be a surprise if the feisty Minnesota congresswoman didn’t come out fighting. But if she thinks she will gain ground against Perry among the Tea Party constituency he has stolen out from under her by playing the liberal Democrat, she’s lost touch with reality.

As Chris Moody writes, in an interview last year, Bachmann called Social Security a “tremendous fraud” and said anyone who ran anything like it would be “thrown in jail.” She also said young workers should be weaned off it. Any attack on Perry for saying essentially the same thing ought to earn the Tea Party heroine a gold medal for hypocrisy. Social Security may be Perry’s Achilles’ heal, but it’s hard to see how a candidate such as Bachmann, who has spent her entire career calling for entitlement reform, is any position to take advantage of that weakness.

The same is true for Mitt Romney, who criticized Social Security in his 2010 book No Apology.

Perry may be vulnerable to attacks on this issue from Democrats next fall in a general election, but it’s hard to imagine assuming the role of defender of Social Security in front of a Tea Party audience would do much good for any Republican, let alone a conservative like Bachmann.

Mitt Romney’s strategy to win the nomination is to pose as the most electable Republican who can win the votes of independents and Republicans. Yet the conceit of Bachmann’s candidacy has always been that she is an indefatigable fighter against liberalism and the institutions of big government. Her rise in politics and in the presidential polls until Perry’s entry was predicated on her own use of incendiary rhetoric. So how can she possibly profit from bashing Perry for the same tactics?

The obvious answer is, she can’t. Bachmann needs to show some life at the debate in order to revive her flagging hopes. But if she thinks she can survive by defending entitlements against even a vague prospect of reform, all she will demonstrate is how political ambition can distort the positions of even the most principled of hard-liners. The results may be some fireworks on CNN tonight, but Bachmann is not likely to improve her standing in the polls. As much as her supporters believe this debate will give her an opportunity to get back in the race, adopting this tactic may be the signal it is time to turn out the lights on her presidential bid.

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Big Labor Clashes With Green Groups

The disappointments just keep coming for Al Gore. Last week, Obama angered environmentalist groups by scrapping the administration’s proposed EPA clean air regulations. And now the St. Louis chapter of the AFL-CIO has also come out against the environmental regulations, which it says will have a detrimental impact on Missouri jobs:

Today, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) announced the formation of a new coalition, “Energy for Missouri Jobs,” that will promote policies that ensure Missouri’s ability to access affordable, reliable power through coal. Energy for Missouri Jobs supports reasonable environmental regulation that continues the pursuit of cleaner air while balancing economic priorities. …

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The disappointments just keep coming for Al Gore. Last week, Obama angered environmentalist groups by scrapping the administration’s proposed EPA clean air regulations. And now the St. Louis chapter of the AFL-CIO has also come out against the environmental regulations, which it says will have a detrimental impact on Missouri jobs:

Today, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) announced the formation of a new coalition, “Energy for Missouri Jobs,” that will promote policies that ensure Missouri’s ability to access affordable, reliable power through coal. Energy for Missouri Jobs supports reasonable environmental regulation that continues the pursuit of cleaner air while balancing economic priorities. …

“Missouri working families cannot afford regulations that will raise electricity costs and destroy jobs during this fragile economic recovery,” said Robert Kelley, president emeritus of the St. Louis Labor Council and member of Energy for Missouri Jobs. “The EPA needs to consider a balanced approach that gives us cleaner air without sacrificing jobs and increasing energy prices.”

In other words, the St. Louis AFL-CIO isn’t playing along with the environmental movement’s comically ridiculous argument that green regulations actually “create” jobs. And now they’re actually working with the dreaded coal industry to fight the regulations.

The relationship between the environmentalists and the unions has been a tenuous one for awhile, but the fact some labor groups are becoming more vocal with their criticism means this divide may become an election issue. And this is an area where the Obama administration will have to strike a delicate balance. Unions and environmentalists are two of the most die-hard segments of the president’s support base, and a major feud between them could complicate his reelection strategy.

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George Packer’s Existential Crisis

What do you do if you’re a passionate, committed follower of a political figure–Barack Obama–who has become, by almost every objective metric, a failure? If you’re George Packer, you revert to your middle school years and call the president’s critics names.

The most recent exhibit of this can be found in  Packer’s semi-regular thoughts posted at The New Yorker, where Packer writes this:

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What do you do if you’re a passionate, committed follower of a political figure–Barack Obama–who has become, by almost every objective metric, a failure? If you’re George Packer, you revert to your middle school years and call the president’s critics names.

The most recent exhibit of this can be found in  Packer’s semi-regular thoughts posted at The New Yorker, where Packer writes this:

In the past, Obama has always tried to reason with nihilism, to say, “You can’t really think that. Let’s find a way to compromise.” That’s his deepest instinct, and some version of it will resurface before long. He hates to draw bright lines and emphasize stark contrasts. But for now, he’s decided to take nihilism on directly (“Pass it right away”), hoping that the public will see the difference and choose sides.

Republicans, you see, aren’t simply wrong or misguided; they’re “nihilists.” This is silliness on stilts. Whatever you think of Messrs. Boehner, Cantor, McCarthy, Ryan, McConnell, Kyl, Alexander, Thune, and other Republicans, they are not nihilists. And the plan passed by the GOP House in April and the jobs plan (see here and here) proposed by the GOP House in the spring are governing blueprints, not something that emerged out of a novel by Turgenev.

No matter; in the world inhabited by Packer, facts that are inconvenient need to be dismissed — less for cynical reasons, perhaps, than psychological ones. What I mean by this is that for Packer to acknowledge the manifold and manifest failures of President Obama would blow his circuits. It would simply not compute. Obama cannot fail because he cannot fail; any evidence to the contrary is hermetically sealed off.

And since Packer cannot defend the Obama record – it is almost literally indefensible at this juncture– Packer and liberals like him are reduced to calling their opponents names –nihilists, terrorists, suicide bombers, hostage takers, the Hezbollah wing of the GOP, inciters to violence, evil, sons of bitches who need to be taken out, racists, and people who want to hang blacks from trees. They are the modern-day equivalent of Hitler, of Stalin, and of Mussolini. And so forth and so on. This is what a desperate ideological movement, in the midst of a crack up, does. It resorts not simply to ad hominem attacks, but to comical rhetorical excess.

These tactics won’t work any more than they did during the run-up to the 2010 mid-terms elections, when Democrats, thanks in large part to Obama, were on the receiving end of a crushing political rebuke. In fact, this mindset will merely set back liberalism, which desperately needs a few intellectually honest figures to analyze, in a detached and objective manner, what accounts for its failures. But if those individuals are to emerge, they will appear in places and pages
other than The New Yorker.

Like many of his colleagues, Packer looks to be an individual who became a True Believer and, in the process, became a courtier for the president. He’s now suffering from a form of cognitive dissonance – watching a presidency decay that he believes simply cannot decay. The effect of reality colliding with ideology isn’t pretty. Like the main character in Fathers and Sons, life has introduced a level of despair Packer doesn’t appear quite able to deal with. Unfortunately for Packer, as the Obama presidency is shattered by events, he is using his perch at the New Yorker to write things that will, on calm reflection, embarrass him and his magazine.

 

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We Need Troops in Iraq

I am not the only one alarmed by the apparent White House decision to keep only 3,000 or so troops in Iraq. I have an editorial in the new Weekly Standard pointing out such a low troop figure has not been dictated by the Iraqis—it is a unilateral move on the part of the administration, which seems to suggest (wrongly) we have little stake in Iraq’s future. That point is reinforced in powerful op-eds by Ken Pollack of the Brookings Institution and Meghan O’Sullivan of Harvard (a former Bush White House staffer on Iraq).

O’Sullivan points out in the Washington Post  all the reasons why we need a continuing troop presence to solidify the gains made since 2007. Pollack argues in the Wall Street Journal  that 3,000 troops might not even be able to protect themselves adequately.

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I am not the only one alarmed by the apparent White House decision to keep only 3,000 or so troops in Iraq. I have an editorial in the new Weekly Standard pointing out such a low troop figure has not been dictated by the Iraqis—it is a unilateral move on the part of the administration, which seems to suggest (wrongly) we have little stake in Iraq’s future. That point is reinforced in powerful op-eds by Ken Pollack of the Brookings Institution and Meghan O’Sullivan of Harvard (a former Bush White House staffer on Iraq).

O’Sullivan points out in the Washington Post  all the reasons why we need a continuing troop presence to solidify the gains made since 2007. Pollack argues in the Wall Street Journal  that 3,000 troops might not even be able to protect themselves adequately.

Their points are well-taken. I only hope some of these arguments will get through to decision-makers—including the commander-in-chief. It is still not too late for the White House to reconsider what appears to be a politically driven decision to abandon Iraq. The irony is, it’s not even clear to me Obama will derive much political advantage from cutting our forces in Iraq down to 3,000 or suffer any consequences if he were to keep, say, 10,000 troops in Iraq rather than 3,000. On every level, the White House decision is baffling and short-sighted.

 

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Obama Itching for Fight With Congress

Word is Obama’s bill may not make it to Congress until at least 5 p.m. tonight. But he still gave a shorter version of his jobs speech from last Thursday at the White House today, complete with the constant “pass the bill” refrain.

As far as content goes, today’s speech was pretty pointless. There was nothing in it that Obama didn’t already say on Thursday. But it did give the GOP a taste of what they can expect when they oppose the bill. Obama’s strategy is to use the bully pulpit to constantly pummel the Republicans on this issue, and today he kicked off that line of attack.

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Word is Obama’s bill may not make it to Congress until at least 5 p.m. tonight. But he still gave a shorter version of his jobs speech from last Thursday at the White House today, complete with the constant “pass the bill” refrain.

As far as content goes, today’s speech was pretty pointless. There was nothing in it that Obama didn’t already say on Thursday. But it did give the GOP a taste of what they can expect when they oppose the bill. Obama’s strategy is to use the bully pulpit to constantly pummel the Republicans on this issue, and today he kicked off that line of attack.

He also threw in plenty of the typical strawmen and questionable assertions. Here’s one the AP thoroughly shredded last week:

“It is fully paid for,” said the president. “It’s not gonna add a dime to the deficit. Next week I’m laying out my plan, not only to pay for this jobs bill but also to [reduce] the deficit further.”

And Republicans in Congress can look forward to a whole lot of this in the weeks to come: “The only thing that’s stopping it is politics,” said Obama. “And we can’t afford these same political games, not now.”

Obama is clearly itching for a fight with Congress. The question now is how Congress should fight back. GOP lawmakers will need to figure out a way to defend themselves against Obama’s attacks while keeping out of the fray. Because right now, the president is hoping to set off a partisan battle that will distract Americans from his failed economic policies.

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Checks and Balances on the President

In his speech to a joint session of Congress last week, the president said this: “The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy; whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning.”

This is a repeated theme the president is using and will continue to use. It’s his effort to position himself as a modern-day Harry Truman, running against a do-nothing Congress.

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In his speech to a joint session of Congress last week, the president said this: “The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy; whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning.”

This is a repeated theme the president is using and will continue to use. It’s his effort to position himself as a modern-day Harry Truman, running against a do-nothing Congress.

About this strategy I have a couple of thoughts, beginning with this one: If a political circus describes what is happening in Washington  D.C., these days, who might you guess is the ringleader? Give yourself a gold star if you guessed Barack Obama.

Let’s see if we can follow the Obama Logic: (a) Politics is a wreck. (b) I have been presiding over politics since I took the presidential oath in January 2009. (c) Re-elect me so we can fix our dysfunctional politics. That and a 9 percent unemployment rate won’t be a terribly persuasive message to voters. Indeed, it’s somewhat amusing to watch Obama attempt to run against himself, acting as if some other mysterious, yet-to-be-named person has been president for the last two-and-three-quarter years.

But there is another, more substantial, point that needs to be made, and it’s this: what Obama calls a “political circus” is actually different political philosophies clashing in America’s system of government, with all its checks and balances.

Remember that the president, in the aftermath of his election, was, as the Wall Street Journal put it, “the least obstructed president since LBJ in 1965 or FDR in 1933.” He got almost everything he wanted during the first half of his first term (the Journal’s list includes $830 billion in stimulus, $3 billion for cash for clunkers, $30 billion in small business loans, $30 billion for mortgage modification, the GM-Chrysler bailouts, ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank, credit card price controls, Build America Bonds, jobless benefits for a record 99 weeks, and more.)

The results have been abysmal (see here). In reaction, the public offered a brutal political rebuke to Obama’s party, handing control of the House, by a wide margin, to Republicans. The meaning was clear: they were to act as a check on Obamaism, which is precisely what they’re doing.

The president, not surprisingly, doesn’t like that. He continually reminds us he is “frustrated.” And that’s a darn shame. But greater presidents than Obama have been frustrated by James Madison’s handiwork. Indeed, he and the other founders designed our form of government in part to counterbalance ineffective and unwise chief executives. “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm,” Madison wrote in Federalist #10.

You might say Madison had Obama in mind.

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On Electability, GOP Voters Side with Perry

While the new CNN poll is, as Alana notes, discouraging for Michele Bachmann, it also contains the worst news for Mitt Romney since the beginning of the campaign. The rationale for a Romney nomination has always been the claim of electability. But the CNN poll shows GOP voters don’t believe Romney is more electable than Rick Perry.

In fact, it’s worth remembering what Romney adviser Stuart Stevens said via email to Ben Smith after the last GOP debate, during which Romney and Perry sparred over the latter’s claim Social Security is a Ponzi scheme: “He has lost. No federal candidate has ever won on the Perry program to kill Social Security. Never has. never (sic) will.” Though Romney may still make the broader claim the general electorate finds his position on Social Security more palatable, he must first win the Republican nomination. From CNN’s write-up of the results:

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While the new CNN poll is, as Alana notes, discouraging for Michele Bachmann, it also contains the worst news for Mitt Romney since the beginning of the campaign. The rationale for a Romney nomination has always been the claim of electability. But the CNN poll shows GOP voters don’t believe Romney is more electable than Rick Perry.

In fact, it’s worth remembering what Romney adviser Stuart Stevens said via email to Ben Smith after the last GOP debate, during which Romney and Perry sparred over the latter’s claim Social Security is a Ponzi scheme: “He has lost. No federal candidate has ever won on the Perry program to kill Social Security. Never has. never (sic) will.” Though Romney may still make the broader claim the general electorate finds his position on Social Security more palatable, he must first win the Republican nomination. From CNN’s write-up of the results:

But Perry’s biggest strength may be the electability factor, with 42 percent saying he has the best chance of beating Obama next year. Some 26 percent say Romney has the best chance of defeating the president.

“That may go a very long way toward explaining his rise in the polls, since three-quarters of all Republicans say they would prefer a candidate who can beat President Obama over one who agrees with them on major issues,” says [CNN Polling Director Keating] Holland.

And there’s more where that came from. Not only do voters think Perry is more electable; they also think he’s better suited than Romney to fix the economic mess, by a margin of 35 to 26–not insurmountable, of course, but surely a dispiriting sign for the candidate running on electability and his economic experience and expertise.

Republican voters simply don’t want to vote for Romney, and they’ve been waiting for the field to give them a reason not to. But this is more than Republicans voting for the Not Romney candidate–they had other options in the race before Perry jumped in. The latest poll results reveal Perry is much more than a default conservative candidate. He is, to many Republican voters, the real thing. And if Romney can’t chip away at Perry’s electability over Social Security, it will show GOP primary voters either don’t think entitlement reform is a general election liability, or they don’t care.

As the architect of a state-run universal health care program, Romney’s defense of Social Security makes him an all-around apologist for entitlements. That’s not what GOP voters seem to want in a president, and they’re sounding more and more confident it’s not what the rest of the country wants either.

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Liberals Called Social Security a Ponzi Before Perry

Rick Perry is taking a lot of heat for his refusal to back off on his accusation that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. But though liberals and some of his Republican rivals are blasting his statement as irresponsible, the Texas governor was far from the first to label the retirement plan in this manner. It turns out that many liberals called it that long before Perry left the farm to run for president.

In National Review, Stanley Kurtz provides a fascinating exploration of the history of the use of the label that ought to defuse some of the hypocritical outrage being directed at Perry. The first person to call Social Security a Ponzi wasn’t an anti-New Deal conservative Republican but Paul Samuelson, a Nobel Prize laureate liberal economist. Samuelson used the term in a 1967 Newsweek column praising the system. He believed an ever-expanding population would make a pyramid scheme of this sort both rational and fiscally sustainable. In the decades that followed, other liberals and Democrats, such as Jonathan Alter, Robert Kuttner, Michael Kinsley and many others have used the same term to describe the system.

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Rick Perry is taking a lot of heat for his refusal to back off on his accusation that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. But though liberals and some of his Republican rivals are blasting his statement as irresponsible, the Texas governor was far from the first to label the retirement plan in this manner. It turns out that many liberals called it that long before Perry left the farm to run for president.

In National Review, Stanley Kurtz provides a fascinating exploration of the history of the use of the label that ought to defuse some of the hypocritical outrage being directed at Perry. The first person to call Social Security a Ponzi wasn’t an anti-New Deal conservative Republican but Paul Samuelson, a Nobel Prize laureate liberal economist. Samuelson used the term in a 1967 Newsweek column praising the system. He believed an ever-expanding population would make a pyramid scheme of this sort both rational and fiscally sustainable. In the decades that followed, other liberals and Democrats, such as Jonathan Alter, Robert Kuttner, Michael Kinsley and many others have used the same term to describe the system.

While it is true the term Ponzi conjures up the image of an illegal plot–which Social Security is not–there is no denying it is a pyramid scheme and would be considered a scam if any entity other than the government operated it. The main difference is unlike Ponzis operated by criminals, Social Security can never really fail, because it is backed up by the power of the government to confiscate as much of the taxpayer’s money as needed.

The point here is objective observers on both sides of the political aisle have long understood Social Security was unsustainable and needed to be reformed if it was to survive in the long term without crippling tax increases.

Demagoguery aimed at Perry on this issue illustrates a belief Social Security remains a third-rail issue that will destroy any politician who is foolish enough to touch it. But with entitlements threatening to sink both the budget and the U.S. economy in the long run, the atmosphere has changed a bit. It is true no one could run for president on a platform of abolishing Social Security, and Rick Perry has no intention of doing any such thing. But the idea any discussion of reform is still off-limits, especially in a Republican primary, seems to reflect a depressing view of contemporary politics. Even liberal commentators were once unafraid to tell the truth about Social Security. If that has changed and Rick Perry is punished for raising questions about the system, then, as Kurtz says, that “may tell us more than we want to know, not only about Social Security, but also about who we are and what we have become.”

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Literary Fiction: An Autopsy

There are only two ways to use the word literature. Either it means everything that has been written (as in the “literary language” distinguished from the spoken language) or it means the best that has been written. Think of how the word is used in other contexts. In the sciences, a knowledge of the literature is a ready familiarity with everything that has been published on a subject — to know only some of it, to know only the “settled science” (in the partisan commonplace), is to admit to ignorance.

In certain clearly focused and well-defined fields, it is entirely possible to read and know the entire literature. You can master American slave literature or the literature of supraventricular and ventricular arrhythmias. In fact, the definition of the field eases the acquisition of the knowledge, because it gives rise to canons of relevance, levels of expectation, backgrounds of belief and agreement.

But there is writing that gives rise to a different kind of impulse altogether — the impulse to admire it, to express astonishment at it, to preserve it from loss or destruction, to pass it on to friends and family. This is writing that you like, quite apart from (or in addition to) any knowledge or benefit that you derive from it. As a class or category, as a field of human study, literature is simply that. Nothing more.

Critics have labored for centuries to single out the special qualities and necessary features of literature — it is mimesis, it is sublimity, it is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings — but even though it seems to refresh itself with each new effort, the labor has been defeated again and again. Give me a definition of literature and off the top of my head I can give you nine or ten literary masterpieces outside your borders.

Except as a way of saying “I like this book” (therefore it is literature) or “I don’t like that one” (therefore it isn’t), the word literature is feckless. Literature is simply good writing — where “good” has, by definition, no fixed definition.

For the past quarter century, though, the word has become attached to a species of prose fiction that can best be identified by the via negativa. “Literary fiction” is not “genre fiction” (crime fiction, science fiction); it is not thrilling, exciting, suspenseful, page-turning fiction, ripped from the headlines and set to serviceable prose for comfortable beach reading; it is, as Lev Raphael quoted a best-selling mystery author as saying, fiction where not very much happens to people who aren’t very interesting.

You know what I mean. Literary fiction is serious fiction, although the epithet serious has problems of its own. Some of the funniest writing on earth requires the most careful consideration and thought. The term literary fiction was popularized by the New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani, and it has become standard usage for distinguishing fiction of deep and earnest intent from bestsellers and “genre fiction.”

The distinction is bunk. As Catie Disabato pointed out in a wonderful little piece at Full Stop last week, genres are not the niche markets that publishers have cultivated in order to sell books to readers who want to know in advance just what they’re getting: a genre is a “literary tradition that has thrived longer than the modern construct of ‘literary’ fiction.” The tradition of the novel includes mysteries, fantasies, science fiction, romances, horror, even Westerns. The question is not to what subgenre a book belongs. The question is whether it is any good. And if it is good only according to the conventions of a subgenre, and not in the larger tradition of the novel, then it is not any good at all.

Literary fiction — or what the British novelist Linda Grant has taken to calling LitFic — ought to be a haughty way of saying “good fiction.” But that’s not how the term is used. What, then, is it? Easy. Literary fiction (like 98.5% of poetry these days) is written by and for the entrenched bureaucracy of the creative writing faculty in the universities. There is good fiction, there is bad fiction, and there is fiction written in creative writing workshops.

There are only two ways to use the word literature. Either it means everything that has been written (as in the “literary language” distinguished from the spoken language) or it means the best that has been written. Think of how the word is used in other contexts. In the sciences, a knowledge of the literature is a ready familiarity with everything that has been published on a subject — to know only some of it, to know only the “settled science” (in the partisan commonplace), is to admit to ignorance.

In certain clearly focused and well-defined fields, it is entirely possible to read and know the entire literature. You can master American slave literature or the literature of supraventricular and ventricular arrhythmias. In fact, the definition of the field eases the acquisition of the knowledge, because it gives rise to canons of relevance, levels of expectation, backgrounds of belief and agreement.

But there is writing that gives rise to a different kind of impulse altogether — the impulse to admire it, to express astonishment at it, to preserve it from loss or destruction, to pass it on to friends and family. This is writing that you like, quite apart from (or in addition to) any knowledge or benefit that you derive from it. As a class or category, as a field of human study, literature is simply that. Nothing more.

Critics have labored for centuries to single out the special qualities and necessary features of literature — it is mimesis, it is sublimity, it is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings — but even though it seems to refresh itself with each new effort, the labor has been defeated again and again. Give me a definition of literature and off the top of my head I can give you nine or ten literary masterpieces outside your borders.

Except as a way of saying “I like this book” (therefore it is literature) or “I don’t like that one” (therefore it isn’t), the word literature is feckless. Literature is simply good writing — where “good” has, by definition, no fixed definition.

For the past quarter century, though, the word has become attached to a species of prose fiction that can best be identified by the via negativa. “Literary fiction” is not “genre fiction” (crime fiction, science fiction); it is not thrilling, exciting, suspenseful, page-turning fiction, ripped from the headlines and set to serviceable prose for comfortable beach reading; it is, as Lev Raphael quoted a best-selling mystery author as saying, fiction where not very much happens to people who aren’t very interesting.

You know what I mean. Literary fiction is serious fiction, although the epithet serious has problems of its own. Some of the funniest writing on earth requires the most careful consideration and thought. The term literary fiction was popularized by the New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani, and it has become standard usage for distinguishing fiction of deep and earnest intent from bestsellers and “genre fiction.”

The distinction is bunk. As Catie Disabato pointed out in a wonderful little piece at Full Stop last week, genres are not the niche markets that publishers have cultivated in order to sell books to readers who want to know in advance just what they’re getting: a genre is a “literary tradition that has thrived longer than the modern construct of ‘literary’ fiction.” The tradition of the novel includes mysteries, fantasies, science fiction, romances, horror, even Westerns. The question is not to what subgenre a book belongs. The question is whether it is any good. And if it is good only according to the conventions of a subgenre, and not in the larger tradition of the novel, then it is not any good at all.

Literary fiction — or what the British novelist Linda Grant has taken to calling LitFic — ought to be a haughty way of saying “good fiction.” But that’s not how the term is used. What, then, is it? Easy. Literary fiction (like 98.5% of poetry these days) is written by and for the entrenched bureaucracy of the creative writing faculty in the universities. There is good fiction, there is bad fiction, and there is fiction written in creative writing workshops.

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A Reevaluation of President Bush

Melvyn Leffler is no conservative, or at least if he is, he’s  managed to conceal it well: A long-time history professor at the University of  Virginia, he is a past winner of the Bancroft Prize given by Columbia University and past president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Policy—the  kind of professional baubles that tend to be given to those who follow the  familiar politics of academia. So it is all the more interesting to read what he  has to say in the current issue of Foreign Affairs about President George W.  Bush and his post-9/11 policies.

The standard critique of Bush is that he engaged in unprecedented unilateralism and militarism. Not so, writes Leffler:

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Melvyn Leffler is no conservative, or at least if he is, he’s  managed to conceal it well: A long-time history professor at the University of  Virginia, he is a past winner of the Bancroft Prize given by Columbia University and past president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Policy—the  kind of professional baubles that tend to be given to those who follow the  familiar politics of academia. So it is all the more interesting to read what he  has to say in the current issue of Foreign Affairs about President George W.  Bush and his post-9/11 policies.

The standard critique of Bush is that he engaged in unprecedented unilateralism and militarism. Not so, writes Leffler:

[T]he Bush administration’s use of force to bring about regime change in countries perceived to be threatening in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks comported with what most Americans believed to be desirable at the time. The administration’s military buildup, meanwhile, was neither especially bold nor unprecedented. … It has become fashionable in some circles to excoriate the ideological fervor of the Bush team. But the affirmation of democratic values was hardly new. It was integral to the Wilsonian and Achesonian visions of the world, if not that of Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon. One  should recall Kennedy addressing the people of Berlin or launching the Alliance  for Progress, President Lyndon Johnson explaining U.S. actions in Vietnam,  President Jimmy Carter talking about human rights, and President Ronald Reagan  extolling the U.S. role in the world. Their rhetorical tropes resemble Bush’s, as do Obama’s in his recent speeches. And like his predecessors (and his successor), Bush had little trouble deviating from this message when it suited his administration’s strategic or material interests.

Many argue that U.S. policy after 9/11 was distinguished by its unilateralism. But the instinct to act independently, and to lead the world while doing so, is consonant with the long history of U.S. diplomacy, dating back to President George Washington’s Farewell Address and President Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural speech. During the Cold War, U.S. officials  always reserved the right to act unilaterally, even while they nurtured alliances.

Leffler is right to place Bush in the long sweep of  American history, and to find that his actions were in line with those of many of his predecessors. This should not be a great revelation—but to the legions of Bush haters it is. One wonders if Leffler’s article may be the start of a reevaluation of Bush by the historical profession similar to that undergone by Eisenhower, Reagan, and other conservative presidents widely derided by the cognoscenti during their terms in office.

 

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Saudi Bluff on Palestinians Fools No One

It appears the Palestinian Authority isn’t the only Middle East party playing liar’s bluff. In today’s New York Times op-ed page, former Saudi Ambassador to the United States Turki Al-Faisal writes if the Obama administration vetoes a motion recognizing a unilateral Palestinian declaration of an independent state, it will mean the end of the U.S.-Saudi alliance.

Al-Faisal’s threats are patently absurd. The Saudis need U.S. power as a shield against both Iran and al-Qaeda just as much if not more than Americans need Saudi oil. But the main conclusion to be drawn from this threat is not so much about the Saudi devotion to the Palestinian cause, which we know is mere lip service. The interesting thing is what it says about the Saudis’ opinion of President Obama. For such a threat — albeit one without much credibility — to be issued by a prominent member of the royal family and the regime illustrates how weak they think Obama really is.

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It appears the Palestinian Authority isn’t the only Middle East party playing liar’s bluff. In today’s New York Times op-ed page, former Saudi Ambassador to the United States Turki Al-Faisal writes if the Obama administration vetoes a motion recognizing a unilateral Palestinian declaration of an independent state, it will mean the end of the U.S.-Saudi alliance.

Al-Faisal’s threats are patently absurd. The Saudis need U.S. power as a shield against both Iran and al-Qaeda just as much if not more than Americans need Saudi oil. But the main conclusion to be drawn from this threat is not so much about the Saudi devotion to the Palestinian cause, which we know is mere lip service. The interesting thing is what it says about the Saudis’ opinion of President Obama. For such a threat — albeit one without much credibility — to be issued by a prominent member of the royal family and the regime illustrates how weak they think Obama really is.

As to Al-Faisal’s threat the Saudis will break their alliance with the United States for the sake of a doomed and counter-productive diplomatic gambit by the Palestinians, they’re fooling no one. Talk about a more “independent” foreign policy by Saudi Arabia is just that: talk. The Saudis desperately need to keep America engaged in the Persian Gulf to keep their Iranian rivals at bay. Without the United States, upon who will the Saudis depend to guarantee their security? Let’s remember that al-Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalists are a greater threat to the Saudi monarchy than anyone else. It is their shaky regime that will suffer the most if they pursue policies, as Al-Faisal threatens, that undermine stability in Iraq and Afghanistan merely for the sake of pique over the Palestinians.

Let’s also dispense with Al-Faisal’s eyewash about Saudi dedication to the rights of the Palestinians. The Saudis know the Palestinians’ UN gambit is an attempt to evade negotiations, not a path to peace.  Rather than wasting time trying to persuade the U.S. to back a plan that will guarantee conflict and further instability, the Saudis should have leaned on their Palestinian Authority clients to back off, because the only winners from this initiative will be Iran and Hamas. They will benefit from the violence that failure in New York will set off.

That brings us back to the Saudi evaluation of Obama. For them to believe the administration would even for a minute think about backing off on a veto that is as necessary to defend American interests in the region as it is for Israel because of a blatantly insincere threat from Riyadh is testimony to their low opinion of the president. Obama came into office believing he would transform the world’s opinion of America due to the force of his personality. Al-Faisal’s contemptuous essay is merely the latest evidence demonstrating how in less than three years he has won over no new friends and alienated virtually all of America’s allies.

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CNN Poll: Bachmann Trails Gingrich?

To be fair, that headline may be a little misleading. The latest CNN poll did find Michele Bachmann at 4 percent, trailing both Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, but that’s only when Sarah Palin is included in the race. When Palin’s excluded from the lineup, Bachmann ties Gingrich at 7 percent, and beats Cain by one point. Still, she’s dropped 5 percent since late August, a troubling trend for her campaign.

The poll, which was taken after the GOP debate last week, shows Perry and Romney are both holding their grounds. In the non-Palin lineup (a.k.a. the more likely scenario), Perry’s still at 32 percent, unchanged since late August, suggesting that the momentum he came into the race with may be waning. Romney is now at 21 percent, a 3-point increase since late August. And Ron Paul shot up to 13 percent, a 7-point bump since the last poll. He’s now knocked Bachmann out of the #3 slot.

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To be fair, that headline may be a little misleading. The latest CNN poll did find Michele Bachmann at 4 percent, trailing both Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, but that’s only when Sarah Palin is included in the race. When Palin’s excluded from the lineup, Bachmann ties Gingrich at 7 percent, and beats Cain by one point. Still, she’s dropped 5 percent since late August, a troubling trend for her campaign.

The poll, which was taken after the GOP debate last week, shows Perry and Romney are both holding their grounds. In the non-Palin lineup (a.k.a. the more likely scenario), Perry’s still at 32 percent, unchanged since late August, suggesting that the momentum he came into the race with may be waning. Romney is now at 21 percent, a 3-point increase since late August. And Ron Paul shot up to 13 percent, a 7-point bump since the last poll. He’s now knocked Bachmann out of the #3 slot.

Bachmann has made a comeback before, and she can still regain the ground she’s lost. It largely depends on her performance at tonight’s debate. She’s a skilled debater, so her challenge tonight will be to get as much speaking time as possible. The reason the last debate went poorly for her was because she wasn’t given many opportunities to talk.

As for Romney and Perry, one of them needs to have a breakout performance tonight. That their numbers have remained unchanged since August shows they haven’t been able to pull additional support away from the also-ran candidates, despite the fact they’ve been receiving the most attention.

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