Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 17, 2011

Study Smears Tea Party Again

The Left is having a hard time coping with Herman Cain’s rise to Tea Party favorite and top-tier GOP candidate. After all, if you presume the Tea Party to be racist, there does indeed seem to be a dissonance with the reality of a black candidate enjoying so much grassroots support. To reassure themselves, they dismiss Cain as some sort of token exception or misconceived PR stunt and continue to peddle the same tired allegations, hoping nobody will notice.

One particular study claims to indisputably capture the latent racism among Tea Partiers. Upon examination, however, the survey is far less sensational than its advocates would have us believe, and is actually far more revealing of their unsubstantiated impressions of conservative politics. For instance, the attention devoted to race by Tea Party websites is less than that of the mainstream conservative media – according to their own survey – unless one inexplicably includes, as the drafters do, “personal attacks on President Obama and content on race, immigration and gays and lesbians” in one pseudo-analytic race category.

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The Left is having a hard time coping with Herman Cain’s rise to Tea Party favorite and top-tier GOP candidate. After all, if you presume the Tea Party to be racist, there does indeed seem to be a dissonance with the reality of a black candidate enjoying so much grassroots support. To reassure themselves, they dismiss Cain as some sort of token exception or misconceived PR stunt and continue to peddle the same tired allegations, hoping nobody will notice.

One particular study claims to indisputably capture the latent racism among Tea Partiers. Upon examination, however, the survey is far less sensational than its advocates would have us believe, and is actually far more revealing of their unsubstantiated impressions of conservative politics. For instance, the attention devoted to race by Tea Party websites is less than that of the mainstream conservative media – according to their own survey – unless one inexplicably includes, as the drafters do, “personal attacks on President Obama and content on race, immigration and gays and lesbians” in one pseudo-analytic race category.

Those who routinely complain about the political discourse in this country would be wise to direct their ire at those who denounce any personal attack on  the president and any skepticism towards prevailing immigration policy as racist.

As for the claims that, upon being asked, Tea Partiers reveal more discriminatory inclinations than other groups, this can be put down to narrow interpretation and the limitations of such surveys. For instance, respondents were confronted with the statement, “Irish, Italians, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without special favors.” Tea Partiers agreed in greater number than those in the “middle of road.”

With only the choice to agree or disagree, however, it comes as no surprise more conservative respondents agreed, and that is not necessarily because they are racist, but because of a general conservative intuition that no demographic should be entitled to any particularly special treatment. Indeed, mainstream conservatives object to affirmative action for those very reasons. And though liberals are welcome to disagree with this position, to reduce it, again, to mere racism, is a vulgar mischaracterization. Fundamentally, the Left cannot reconcile to its worldview the reality that conservatives in this country care less about race than liberals do, and conservatives refuse to view every political issue in racial terms.

The Left is fond of finding fault in its own country before seeing it abroad. Perhaps it might extend that proclivity to the easy task of seeing the fault in its own camp, down at Wall Street, before imagining it elsewhere.

 

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Is John Edwards’ Phony Populism the Right Rhetorical Model for Obama?

As I wrote earlier today, the New York Times wants Barack Obama to be more like Elizabeth Warren. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza has his own suggestion: be more like John Edwards.

Of course, Cillizza doesn’t want the president to emulate the self-destructive personal behavior that torpedoed what was left of an already faltering political career when the former Democratic vice presidential nominee’s lies and infidelities were revealed. Rather, he’d like the president to excavate Edwards’s “Two Americas” stump speech in which he depicted the country as a savage place divided between haves and have-nots. Cillizza thinks that Edwards’s signature piece of economic populism strikes just the right tone for a president desperate to change the topic of conversation from a failed economy to evil plutocrats who are protected by Republicans. But what Cillizza seems to forget is that Edwards’s screed about inequality came across as blatantly insincere. For Obama, who unlike Edwards cannot pose as the “son of a millworker,” to adopt this tone would not only be hypocritical it would come across as patently fake.

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As I wrote earlier today, the New York Times wants Barack Obama to be more like Elizabeth Warren. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza has his own suggestion: be more like John Edwards.

Of course, Cillizza doesn’t want the president to emulate the self-destructive personal behavior that torpedoed what was left of an already faltering political career when the former Democratic vice presidential nominee’s lies and infidelities were revealed. Rather, he’d like the president to excavate Edwards’s “Two Americas” stump speech in which he depicted the country as a savage place divided between haves and have-nots. Cillizza thinks that Edwards’s signature piece of economic populism strikes just the right tone for a president desperate to change the topic of conversation from a failed economy to evil plutocrats who are protected by Republicans. But what Cillizza seems to forget is that Edwards’s screed about inequality came across as blatantly insincere. For Obama, who unlike Edwards cannot pose as the “son of a millworker,” to adopt this tone would not only be hypocritical it would come across as patently fake.

It bears recalling that Edwards’s fall from grace came after his political career had ended in failure and played no part in the series of humiliating defeats that he suffered. Though his origins may have been humble, by the time he entered the political fray, Edwards was the poster child for tort reform: a blow-dried millionaire ambulance chaser. Though his soak the rich rhetoric pleased some on the left, his attempt to position himself as the spokesman for the disadvantage flopped because most Democrats, let alone the rest of the electorate, regarded him as a phony.

If Obama were to try to copy from Edwards’s playbook, he’d likely get the same result. Obama’s appeal in 2008 came from his pose as a post-partisan problem solver who would change the nature of our political discourse from the sort of fevered partisanship that the “Two Americas” speech represents. Were he to adopt this rhetorical style, it would be just as fake as Edwards’s shtick.

The Occupy Wall Street protests seem to have brought on a wave of nostalgia for the leftist rhetoric of the past in much of the mainstream media. Yet even in 2003 when Edwards first rolled out this talk, “Two Americas” was already a museum piece that spoke to the political culture of an America that no longer really existed. Yet another revival won’t change that fact or allow Obama to escape responsibility for the failures of his time in the White House.

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Obama’s Unbroken String of Failures

In addition to Alana’s post, there are a number of excellent commentaries (see here; here; here; and here) that have been written on a devastating late Friday afternoon admission by the Obama administration: The Community Living Assistance Services and Support (CLASS) Act, has been deemed unworkable.

In a letter to congressional leaders, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, wrote, “Despite our best analytical efforts, I do not see a viable path forward for CLASS implementation at this time.”

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In addition to Alana’s post, there are a number of excellent commentaries (see here; here; here; and here) that have been written on a devastating late Friday afternoon admission by the Obama administration: The Community Living Assistance Services and Support (CLASS) Act, has been deemed unworkable.

In a letter to congressional leaders, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, wrote, “Despite our best analytical efforts, I do not see a viable path forward for CLASS implementation at this time.”

The CLASS Act was supposed to function as a self-sustaining, purely voluntary insurance plan, open to all working Americans of any age or health. The idea behind it was workers would pay a monthly premium during their careers and then collect a modest daily cash benefit of at least $50 if they became disabled later in life. As the New York Times describes it, “It would have been financed with premiums paid by workers, through voluntary payroll deductions, with no federal subsidy. Premiums were supposed to have ensured the solvency of the program over 75 years.”

It didn’t quite turn out that way, did it?

We now know the Obama administration ignored repeated warnings, including from Democrats like Senator Kent Conrad, about the financial solvency of this massive new entitlement. Anyone who could do basic math knew this program was unsustainable and unworkable – and many conservative policy experts said so at the time (see here).

In addition, the CLASS Act had been projected to reduce the federal deficit by $86 billion during the next 10 years, so the termination of the program rips away one of the many budget gimmicks the administration has relied on in order to pretend Obamacare would save money. It’s becoming undeniable, even to the architects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Acts, that it is a budget-busting monstrosity.

The final thing to say about the CLASS Act collapse is that it is the latest monument to the remarkable ineptitude of the Obama administration. We have seen examples of its incompetence time and time again, including (a) the administration’s promise unemployment would not rise above 8 percent if the stimulus package was passed; (b) the president’s admission that “shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected”; (c) Vice President Biden’s claim that we would see 500,000 new jobs created during last year’s “recovery summer”; (d) insisting that the bankrupt company Solyndra was a model for the Obama “green jobs” agenda; (e) the lethal missteps surrounding Operation Fast and Furious; (f) the president’s commitment to close Guantanamo Bay within a year after taking office; (g) the Attorney General’s doomed (by Democrats) effort to try Khalid Sheik Mohammad in a civilian court; (h) the president’s failed personal intervention to secure the 2016 Summer Olympics for Chicago, to name just a few things that jump to mind.

There are many more. And while we can all agree near-flawless execution is impossible for any administration, it’s also fair to say, I think, that no administration since the Carter years has stumbled so badly in the first term and found itself in over its head on so many different issues. One wonders whether, in their quiet moments, the Obama White House and the president himself have reflected at all on their nearly unbroken string of failures.

Whether they have or not, it may simply be that community organizing in the south side of Chicago–not being chief executive of the United States–is what Barack Obama was qualified to do. The fact that he’s been elevated far above his abilities is costing this country dearly–and on a daily basis.

 

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Will the World Ask Why Palestinians Celebrate Murder?

The painful debate about Israel’s decision to trade 1,000 imprisoned Palestinian terrorists for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit continues this week with the families of terror victims attempting to sue the government to prevent the swap. Though the vast majority of Israelis support the trade and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s willingness to pay the ransom for Shalit, the impending release of so many murderers is nothing to celebrate. That is, unless you are a Palestinian.

Mass rallies and celebrations are being planned in Ramallah to celebrate the freedom of those who were convicted of mass murders. Who will they be cheering? As the New York Times reports:

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The painful debate about Israel’s decision to trade 1,000 imprisoned Palestinian terrorists for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit continues this week with the families of terror victims attempting to sue the government to prevent the swap. Though the vast majority of Israelis support the trade and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s willingness to pay the ransom for Shalit, the impending release of so many murderers is nothing to celebrate. That is, unless you are a Palestinian.

Mass rallies and celebrations are being planned in Ramallah to celebrate the freedom of those who were convicted of mass murders. Who will they be cheering? As the New York Times reports:

Those being freed include the founders of Hamas’s armed wing and militants who kidnapped and killed Israeli soldiers and civilians. A mastermind of the 2001 bombing of a Jerusalem pizzeria who killed 15 will walk out of prison, as will a woman who used the Internet to lure a lovesick Israeli teenager to a Palestinian city and had him murdered.

Most of the prisoners were serving life sentences, some for being involved in attacks like the 2001 bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub that killed 21 people and a suicide bombing a year later of a Netanya hotel in which 29 died.

Apologists for the Palestinians will argue those in Israeli jails were resisting the “occupation” of the country, though few will own up to the fact that as far as the prisoners are concerned, the territory of pre-June 1967 Israel is just as “occupied” as the West Bank. But even if you think the Palestinian cause is just, how can anyone justify the slaughter of innocents such as at the Sbarro bombing in Jerusalem? Even if you think Israel should withdraw back to the 1967 lines, how can any civilized person condone the Palestinian decision to treat those who committed such atrocities as heroes?

What is on trial this week is not the moral calculus by which Netanyahu decided that saving the life of one Jewish soldier was worth the subversion of justice–freeing murderers as ransom. What ought to be discussed is the upside-down ethos of Palestinian political culture in which the spilling of Jewish blood grants the killer not only absolution but also heroic status.

The world turned away in horror a decade ago when a photograph captured the moment when one of the ringleaders of a Palestinian lynch mob showed his bloodstained hands to a cheering crowd after he had helped murder an Israeli. Yet today, the Palestinian political elite, including many whom our government deems “moderates,” will not only facilitate the release of this miscreant but treat him like a conquering hero.

The prisoner swap has unfortunately reminded us of the depths of degradation to which the Palestinian political culture sank during the second intifada, as mass slaughter became not merely a tool of war but the touchstone of a people’s identity. We would have hoped the passage of years and the realization of the cost in Palestinian suffering that this terror war incurred would have sobered them up. It would be one thing if these murderers were taken back in an atmosphere that showed some recognition their crimes were nothing to emulate. But instead, the release is proving to be yet another indication nothing has changed.

Those, like the Obama administration, who repeat tired clichés about the need for Israel to take risks for peace, never seem to own up to the costs of those risks. The second intifada and the 1,000 Jewish lives lost to terrorists were the price of earlier risks previous Israeli governments took in the hope of securing peace. The celebration that will convulse Palestinian society tomorrow is sad proof that similar risks taken today will also be paid for in blood.

Rather than ask why Israel is willing to trade so many terrorists for one soldier, the world should be asking why the Palestinians are cheering the release of sociopaths.

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Obama Rewards Erdoğan for Calling Him “Israel’s Lawyer”

If there’s one lesson both Democrats and Republican officials should learn with regard to Turkey, it is that no confidential conversation will ever remain secret. It doesn’t take a Wikileaks-like event for Turkish officials to divulge the topics of telephone calls with the White House; it only takes the prime minister’s bravado, and the indiscretion of his Israel-bashing, Hamas-sympathizing foreign minister.

During a retreat for the ruling party, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu discussed an Erdoğan -Obama phone call:

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If there’s one lesson both Democrats and Republican officials should learn with regard to Turkey, it is that no confidential conversation will ever remain secret. It doesn’t take a Wikileaks-like event for Turkish officials to divulge the topics of telephone calls with the White House; it only takes the prime minister’s bravado, and the indiscretion of his Israel-bashing, Hamas-sympathizing foreign minister.

During a retreat for the ruling party, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu discussed an Erdoğan -Obama phone call:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told U.S. President Barack Obama that his government “acted as Israel’s lawyer,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said yesterday… The Turkish foreign minister said Obama had phoned Erdoğan 11 times during the last nine months and a brief encounter took place during one of their conversations, when Obama complained about Turkey’s role in Iran’s uranium swap deal, asking why Erdoğan protected Iran. Erdoğan denied Obama’s claims, Davutoğlu said, and responded, “I do not protect Iran, but you [the United States] act as Israel’s lawyer.”

Well, actually Turkey does protect Iran, running interference for Iran’s nuclear program and diplomatic positions in exchange for cold, hard cash.

Beyond whining to Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, how does the Obama administration respond?

Something here just doesn’t compute. The worse Turkey acts, the more Obama embraces the country.

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Obama Admin Flip-Flops on CLASS Act

Last Friday, the Obama administration quietly announced it was suspending progress on the CLASS Act, an unsustainable long-term care insurance program that was supposed to help offset the cost of Obamacare. But now that the CBO and House GOP are readying for the program’s presumable repeal, the Obama administration is balking:

President Obama is against repealing the health law’s long-term care CLASS Act and might veto Republican efforts to do so, an administration official tells The Hill, despite the government’s announcement Friday that the program was dead in the water.

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Last Friday, the Obama administration quietly announced it was suspending progress on the CLASS Act, an unsustainable long-term care insurance program that was supposed to help offset the cost of Obamacare. But now that the CBO and House GOP are readying for the program’s presumable repeal, the Obama administration is balking:

President Obama is against repealing the health law’s long-term care CLASS Act and might veto Republican efforts to do so, an administration official tells The Hill, despite the government’s announcement Friday that the program was dead in the water.

“We do not support repeal,” the official said Monday. “Repealing the CLASS Act isn’t necessary or productive. What we should be doing is working together to address the long-term care challenges we face in this country.”

And just for a refresher, here’s the announcement Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee gave last Friday:

“We won’t be working further to implement the CLASS Act … We don’t see a path forward to be able to do that,” Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee told reporters on Friday.

It’s kind of hard to reconcile that statement with today’s “we do not support repeal” line. Both supporters and opponents of the CLASS Act are downright baffled, reports the AP.

The Obama administration obviously doesn’t want to be seen as endorsing the CLASS Act repeal, especially since it sounds like it’s getting serious pushback from its base over the suspension. But HHS didn’t have much choice in the matter. There was literally no way to defend the reality-suspending economics of the CLASS Act, an opt-in program to insure the long-term ill and disabled. It’s only sustainable if everybody who takes benefits from the program chooses to opt-in long before they become sick, injured or elderly.

UPDATE. A GOP aide emails, speculating that this is a way for Obama to avoid admitting defeat:

“It’s understandable why President Obama wouldn’t want repeal of his signature health care reform bill.  Even his own Health and Human Services’ Secretary has now rejected part of Obamacare. Instead of repealing this fiscally disastrous bill, the president would rather have it languish on the books, so he doesn’t have to admit defeat.”

A fair point, considering that Democrats have staked quite a bit of reputation on the Class ACT. For a particularly timely example of this, go read Phil Klein, who dug up a 2009 video clip of Harry Reid promising that the program was “fully paid for…decades and decades into the future.” What a difference two years can make.

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Iran Says Plot was Mujahedin Put-Up Job

In the fight between supporters of the Islamic Republic and partisans of the Mujahedin, I side with neither: Partisans of Tehran support a terror-sponsoring Islamist dictatorship that claims to be a democracy, while the Mujahedin al-Khalq aspires to lead a terror-sponsoring Islamist dictatorship that claims to be a democracy.

Now that the smoke has cleared as to the allegations of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, the Iranian government has come up with its line of defense: According to both Mehr News in Persian and PressTV in English, the Iranian government is saying that Gholam Shakuri, the deputy to the cousin in the Qods Force who Mansour Arbabsiar allegedly telephoned, is actually a member of the Mujahedin al-Khalq. To see how Shakuri allegedly fits in, see Maseh Zarif’s able outline of the plot:

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In the fight between supporters of the Islamic Republic and partisans of the Mujahedin, I side with neither: Partisans of Tehran support a terror-sponsoring Islamist dictatorship that claims to be a democracy, while the Mujahedin al-Khalq aspires to lead a terror-sponsoring Islamist dictatorship that claims to be a democracy.

Now that the smoke has cleared as to the allegations of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, the Iranian government has come up with its line of defense: According to both Mehr News in Persian and PressTV in English, the Iranian government is saying that Gholam Shakuri, the deputy to the cousin in the Qods Force who Mansour Arbabsiar allegedly telephoned, is actually a member of the Mujahedin al-Khalq. To see how Shakuri allegedly fits in, see Maseh Zarif’s able outline of the plot:

The network behind the plot included: Arbabsiar; Arbabsiar’s Iran-based cousin who is an unnamed “high-ranking member” of the Qods Force; an Iran-based member of the Qods Force named Gholam Shakuri who served as the cousin’s deputy and one of Arbabsiar’s interlocutors in Iran; and a third unnamed high-ranking member of the Qods Force.

It would be useful for the Islamic Republic to provide some proof to the allegation, but at the same time it would behoove the Department of Justice and Department of State to disprove the Iranian claim. Certainly, we can add a lack of information about Iranian MKO members to the list of our intelligence failures regarding Iran.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It would not be the first time the Mujahedin al-Khalq has forced intelligence agencies and the press to scramble with an elaborate hoax. And, even if the evidence against the Islamic Republic is overwhelming, the fact that Iranian leaders can seize on past Mujahedin al-Khalq fabrications is ample reason not to trust anything the MKO says today either, no matter how many American and European officials are willing to embrace them.

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“Occupy” Movement to Picket Obama?

President Obama launched another campaign-heavy jobs tour across battleground states today, and the News-Record reports activists from the “Occupy Greensboro” movement may greet him with a protest at his North Carolina hotel:

A day after staging a 600-person march through town protesting financial inequities, about 200 campers and part-time demonstrators agreed by unanimous consent Sunday evening to pursue other tactics, including the possible picketing of the Proximity Hotel where they expect President Barack Obama to stay tonight during his two-day visit to North Carolina and Virginia.

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President Obama launched another campaign-heavy jobs tour across battleground states today, and the News-Record reports activists from the “Occupy Greensboro” movement may greet him with a protest at his North Carolina hotel:

A day after staging a 600-person march through town protesting financial inequities, about 200 campers and part-time demonstrators agreed by unanimous consent Sunday evening to pursue other tactics, including the possible picketing of the Proximity Hotel where they expect President Barack Obama to stay tonight during his two-day visit to North Carolina and Virginia.

The group voted to ask Obama to meet tonight with some members — a delegation bearing letters of “individual grievances.”

Occupy Greensboro has reportedly sent a letter to Obama requesting a meeting. “We wished to invite you to visit with our assembly and hear why the people gathered here are upset with our government,” read the letter.

Obama has been increasingly open about his support for Occupy Wall Street, but actually meeting with the protesters would be a huge step, definitively linking him to the controversial movement. On the other hand, rebuffing the movement’s invitation will also send a pointed message to Obama’s base, which largely supports the protests.

If Occupy Greensboro does decide to picket Obama, it will at least give us more insight into whether the activists will be harmful or beneficial for the president’s reelection bid. Up until now, the movement has resisted overtures from the Democratic Party. But if the demonstration outside Obama’s hotel is favorable to the president, he may have found a reliable source of political momentum for his campaign.

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Cheering Warren’s Collectivist Battle Cry

Trying to get re-elected in a country where most people still see big government and high taxes as evils to be avoided is a big problem for Barack Obama. But it’s not a dilemma that interests the New York Times. Obama’s recent turn to class warfare encourages the newspaper, but as far as they are concerned, Obama’s soak-the-rich rhetoric pales beside the advocacy of Elizabeth Warren.

For the Times, the former Harvard Law professor isn’t just a viable Democratic alternative to Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. As the paper editorialized yesterday, Warren’s collectivist battle cry ought to serve as the model for Obama and his party in 2012. The Times editorial page’s crush on Warren is such that they have proclaimed a YouTube video of one of her campaign speeches as exactly what every Democrat ought to be saying. But before Democrats go down this road, they should think clearly about whether they really want to go to the American people next year running on a platform that channels the Great Society liberalism of the 1960s as reimagined by the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

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Trying to get re-elected in a country where most people still see big government and high taxes as evils to be avoided is a big problem for Barack Obama. But it’s not a dilemma that interests the New York Times. Obama’s recent turn to class warfare encourages the newspaper, but as far as they are concerned, Obama’s soak-the-rich rhetoric pales beside the advocacy of Elizabeth Warren.

For the Times, the former Harvard Law professor isn’t just a viable Democratic alternative to Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. As the paper editorialized yesterday, Warren’s collectivist battle cry ought to serve as the model for Obama and his party in 2012. The Times editorial page’s crush on Warren is such that they have proclaimed a YouTube video of one of her campaign speeches as exactly what every Democrat ought to be saying. But before Democrats go down this road, they should think clearly about whether they really want to go to the American people next year running on a platform that channels the Great Society liberalism of the 1960s as reimagined by the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

While the paper describes her position as “informed and measured populism,” Warren’s full-throated defense of the idea that every citizen ought to consider themselves thralls of the state is remarkable chiefly for the way it assumes voters will ignore the results of what a half-century of liberal governance wrought in this country.

Warren’s basic premise is every individual owes the state for the right to conduct economic activity. While all but the most extreme libertarians would agree basic government services must be paid for with taxes, Warren goes further than that in her belief a “big chunk” of an individual’s income belongs to the state that can then “pay it forward” to help others. But the paying forward isn’t to help children, as she asserts. It is to the government and its public worker unions and other structures that exist to hinder the ability of businesses to create wealth. This is the same mindset that drove American governance from the New Deal until the collapse of the welfare state in the late 20th century. But like all bad ideas, this collectivist blueprint is resurfacing. The Times is absolutely correct when it characterizes Warren’s speeches as a cleaned-up version of the same socialist claptrap spouted at Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

If Democrats really want to contest the next election by demanding a bigger government with its hands in the taxpayers’ pockets, they are free to listen to Warren and the Times. The idea that Americans want to go back to this unabashed liberalism is one that has no basis but the political prejudices of leftists who long for Obama to stop trying to appeal to mainstream opinion. It is unlikely to deceive a public that understands the Democrats have taken a bad situation and made it much worse with a trillion dollar stimulus and Obamacare. But it is amusing to see a newspaper that so often chides Republicans for appealing to their right-wing base urging Democrats to walk off the cliff while reciting liberal talking points of the past.

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Is Romney the Favorite, Underdog, or Both?

The new Pew study out today highlights one of the challenges Mitt Romney has had to overcome simply to maintain his status at or near the top of the GOP primary polls. Not only do conservative grassroots voters fall into the “anyone but Romney” camp, but the former Massachusetts governor has also been on the wrong side of the free media war.

Alexander Burns grabs the relevant portion of the study’s results: “Mitt Romney remains the one constant—portrayed as the ever-present if not passionately embraced alternative in the GOP field. Despite often leading in the polls, Romney has typically received less coverage and less positive coverage than his chief rival of the moment—and that remained true in early October after [Rick] Perry faltered. Overall, he is second in the amount of attention received and the tone of that narrative has been unwaveringly mixed.”

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The new Pew study out today highlights one of the challenges Mitt Romney has had to overcome simply to maintain his status at or near the top of the GOP primary polls. Not only do conservative grassroots voters fall into the “anyone but Romney” camp, but the former Massachusetts governor has also been on the wrong side of the free media war.

Alexander Burns grabs the relevant portion of the study’s results: “Mitt Romney remains the one constant—portrayed as the ever-present if not passionately embraced alternative in the GOP field. Despite often leading in the polls, Romney has typically received less coverage and less positive coverage than his chief rival of the moment—and that remained true in early October after [Rick] Perry faltered. Overall, he is second in the amount of attention received and the tone of that narrative has been unwaveringly mixed.”

While Romney has inherited John McCain’s standing within the Republican party as the moderate and electable candidate who seemingly has the best chance to beat President Obama, he hasn’t inherited McCain’s famous ability to milk his maverick status for positive press.

Instead, Romney receives “less positive coverage than his chief rival of the moment,” whoever that happens to be. The media, always enamored of an underdog, appears to have hit Romney with negative press both as Obama’s assumed opponent and (especially from conservative outlets) the reviled “inevitable” nominee within the party. Romney might otherwise receive positive coverage from the mainstream media for his many conservative heresies, but he was designated as Obama’s opponent by the president’s campaign operatives early on, and so there’s been no grace period.

Remember the story detailing how the Obama campaign wanted to make Romney’s Mormonism an issue in the general election, should Romney win the nomination? After a pastor close to Rick Perry called Mormonism a cult, the New York Times appropriately reported that story and then two days later devoted another story to Romney’s religion, and over the weekend ran a story about Romney’s time as a Mormon leader in Massachusetts.

And the Washington Post’s Lisa Miller also helpfully chimed in, advising Romney how he should, once again, publicly address his religion. The original Politico story revealed how the attacks on Romney’s religion would be dressed up as talk of his “weirdness.” Miller was paying attention in class. “People think Mormons are weird,” she reminded Romney (and the readers).

Given all this, Romney’s lead in the polls is pretty impressive. The fact so many consider him the favorite both in the primaries and the general election has paradoxically made him something of an underdog, uniting both his own party and the Democrats against him. If Romney goes on to win the nomination, he may prove tougher politically than his nice-guy image indicates.

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Obama Losing the ‘”Media Primary?”

In 2008, Obama rode to victory on a wave of fawning media coverage. He shouldn’t expect a repeat of that in 2012, according to a Pew Research Center study:

One man running for president has suffered the most unrelentingly negative treatment of all, the study found: Barack Obama. Though covered largely as president rather than a candidate, negative assessments of Obama have outweighed positive by a ratio of almost 4-1. Those assessments of the president have also been substantially more negative than positive every one of the 23 weeks studied. And in no week during these five months was more than 10 percent of the coverage about the president positive in tone.

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In 2008, Obama rode to victory on a wave of fawning media coverage. He shouldn’t expect a repeat of that in 2012, according to a Pew Research Center study:

One man running for president has suffered the most unrelentingly negative treatment of all, the study found: Barack Obama. Though covered largely as president rather than a candidate, negative assessments of Obama have outweighed positive by a ratio of almost 4-1. Those assessments of the president have also been substantially more negative than positive every one of the 23 weeks studied. And in no week during these five months was more than 10 percent of the coverage about the president positive in tone.

Pew looked at the coverage for Obama and the major GOP candidates, and rated each news story as either “positive,” “negative,” or “neutral.” While 9 percent of the Obama coverage was reportedly positive, candidates like Rick Perry (32 percent positive) and Mitt Romney (26 percent positive) trump him. In all, Pew claims Obama fares worse than any of his GOP rivals when it comes to positive coverage.

But these numbers can’t just be accepted at face value. First, the idea of what constitutes a “positive” or “negative” story is inherently subjective, despite Pew’s attempts to quantify the study with a computer algorithm. News articles that focused on Obama’s sagging poll numbers and various administration scandals were labeled “negative” in the study, even though they’re really just reporting on fundamental facts.

It’s also really too early in the election to fairly compare Obama to the GOP field. While the Republican candidates share the negative campaign press among themselves, Obama shoulders all of it for the Democrats. That will probably even out once the GOP chooses a nominee.

The news stories about Republicans also tend to focus on the horserace, while stories on Obama span a wide range of topics, from the flailing economy to the Solyndra and “Fast and Furious” controversies. As the president, Obama bears the brunt of the coverage for these national issues – and with the majority of Americans unhappy with Obama and the direction of the country, it’s no surprise the news isn’t all pro-White House puff pieces.

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Right’s Failure Makes Romney Inevitable

Politico leads with an interesting piece today about whether Mitt Romney is too unloved by the Republican grass roots to win his party’s nomination. Resistance to Romney is still strong, leading some to question the wisdom of pundits who have anointed him as the inevitable GOP standard-bearer.

The points raised there about conservative qualms about a man who has flip-flopped on social issues and still must explain why he championed a government mandated health care law in Massachusetts are all on target. But the lack of enthusiasm for Romney among many conservatives doesn’t mean the pundits predicting his triumph are wrong. To focus only on Romney’s shortcomings at this point is to ask the wrong question. His inevitability is a function of the collapse of every viable conservative alternative. Had any of the more conservative GOP candidates panned out, Romney would have had no chance at the nomination. But they didn’t.

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Politico leads with an interesting piece today about whether Mitt Romney is too unloved by the Republican grass roots to win his party’s nomination. Resistance to Romney is still strong, leading some to question the wisdom of pundits who have anointed him as the inevitable GOP standard-bearer.

The points raised there about conservative qualms about a man who has flip-flopped on social issues and still must explain why he championed a government mandated health care law in Massachusetts are all on target. But the lack of enthusiasm for Romney among many conservatives doesn’t mean the pundits predicting his triumph are wrong. To focus only on Romney’s shortcomings at this point is to ask the wrong question. His inevitability is a function of the collapse of every viable conservative alternative. Had any of the more conservative GOP candidates panned out, Romney would have had no chance at the nomination. But they didn’t.

First Tim Pawlenty exploded in the wake of his timorous failure to challenge Romney on health care during a June debate. Michele Bachmann surged and then fizzled as her predilection for making goofy statements undermined her credibility. Then Rick Perry, who seemed to have everything conservatives could ask for, literally shrank before their eyes during four debates that proved he was just not ready for prime time.

The current conservative flavor of the month is Herman Cain, who charmed debate viewers with catchy one-liners and who has the advantage of being a completely fresh face. But it’s hard to believe the Cain boomlet will survive the scrutiny that comes with being a first-tier candidate, especially because he is as given to foolish misstatements as some of his competitors. His surge in the polls won’t be translated into primary victories simply because Republicans are not likely to want to replace Barack Obama with a candidate with even less experience in government and only a superficial grasp of policy.

Though the Republican Party is more conservative today than it was in 2008, it is still not likely to nominate an implausible candidate. In 2008, most Republicans were queasy about John McCain and liked the more conservative and populist Mike Huckabee. But McCain still won. The same pattern may apply next year if the choice is between Romney and Cain. Granted, Romney isn’t a war hero as was McCain, but he is the sort of person most voters can imagine as president. Cain, like Huckabee, is widely understood to be unelectable.

This may be frustrating for Tea Partiers who were sure a few months ago their strength would mean it was impossible for a more moderate Republican to win. But the old political cliché that you can’t beat somebody with nobody still applies. Pondering Romney’s weaknesses won’t change that basic equation. The failure of GOP conservatives to produce a viable presidential candidate is the reason why Romney is on track to be the nominee.

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Obama’s Rising Bitterness

Politico reported that on Friday, CNBC’s John Harwood sat down with White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and asked about President Obama’s remark the previous day to Ed Henry of Fox News. Henry, you’ll recall, asked the president a question which included a critical comment of Obama by Mitt Romney, to which Obama said, “I didn’t know you were the spokesperson for Mitt Romney.”

“I want to ask you about the thinking within the White House,” Harwood said to Daley. “Yesterday at a press conference one of my colleagues asked the president to respond to something Mitt Romney said. The president said, ‘I didn’t realize you were a spokesman for Mitt Romney.’ Is the White House — you feeling — the president feeling under siege from events right now?”

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Politico reported that on Friday, CNBC’s John Harwood sat down with White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and asked about President Obama’s remark the previous day to Ed Henry of Fox News. Henry, you’ll recall, asked the president a question which included a critical comment of Obama by Mitt Romney, to which Obama said, “I didn’t know you were the spokesperson for Mitt Romney.”

“I want to ask you about the thinking within the White House,” Harwood said to Daley. “Yesterday at a press conference one of my colleagues asked the president to respond to something Mitt Romney said. The president said, ‘I didn’t realize you were a spokesman for Mitt Romney.’ Is the White House — you feeling — the president feeling under siege from events right now?”

Daley didn’t deal with the question, so Harwood pressed him a bit. “Why would the president respond that way to a reporter, though?” Harwood asked.

“I don’t think it was a colleague from your network,” Daley said, “but a colleague from another network.” And then Daley added this: “And — sometimes  as you — I know it may surprise people, some people that there are certain people in the media who do seem at times to carry the water for certain — piece of the political spectrum.”

Last week, I wrote how it’s a sad thing to watch Barack Obama morph into Richard Nixon. Daley’s comments are as good an opportunity as any to expand on that point.

In his wonderful book Before The Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House, William Safire – who worked for and in many respects admired Richard Nixon — wrote this (in a chapter titled, “The Press Is The Enemy”):

I was convinced that the President – though he got hopping mad at the unfairness inflicted on him so often by a largely hostile press corps – was at bottom realistic about the adversary relationship, and appreciated the attempts by loyal aides to get out and proselytize.

I was wrong about that. Some reflection on what happened during my White House years, buttressed by subsequent revelations, has persuaded me that Nixon’s attitude toward the press, though sometimes understandable, was neither justifiable nor defensible – especially when his hatred of the press carried him beyond the grounds of good sense.

When Nixon said, “The press is the enemy,” he was not saying, as some of us had hoped, “Be careful, its interest in gathering information is not our interest of developing policy” or “There is an ideological bias as well as an institutional opposition in the attitude of the press” or even “They’re a pain in the neck, and don’t waste your time with ‘em.” He was saying exactly what he meant: “The press is the enemy” to be hated and beaten, and in that vein of vengeance that ran through his relationship with another power center, in his indulgence of his most combative and abrasive instincts against what he saw to be an unelected and unrepresentative elite, lay Nixon’s greatest personal and political weakness and the cause of his downfall.

Among the differences between Nixon and Obama when it comes to the press is that the former was a maligned figure by many in the media, who didn’t particularly like Nixon and strongly disagreed with his policies (particularly his stance on the Cold War and in the Alger Hiss case). Obama, on the other hand, received press treatment that was as favorable as any presidential candidate we have seen. But for Obama, that has not been enough. He seems to believe that even as president he should not be challenged; and for a reporter to challenge him is a sign of disrespect, ignorance, and/or malice.

Obama, it seems, is under the impression he deserves veneration and reverence from all quarters and all institutions. He hasn’t received that, including from professionals like ABC’s Jake Tapper, and Obama seems to delight in critiquing the press, perhaps secretly wishing he was Howard Kurtz instead of the commander-in-chief. But it is Fox News for whom Obama and his team have special contempt. For them, Fox is clearly “the enemy,” to be hated and beaten. For those who doubt this verdict, it’s worth recalling the extraordinary campaign against Fox News carried about by Obama’s then communications director, Anita Dunn, which even Sam Stein of the Huffington Post characterized as a “brutal denunciation.” One can only imagine the howls of protest we would have heard from the fourth estate if, say, Karen Hughes had so explicitly and publicly targeted a news network during the Bush presidency. But in this instance, Dunn’s “War on Fox” was met mostly by silence and a shrug of the shoulders.

What we have seen exposed in the Obama White House is a vein of vengeance antithetical to the image put forward by Obama in 2008 – but fully consistent with what one would expect from a man well-versed in the Chicago Way.

None of this seems to have bothered Fox News in the least; in fact, they have probably benefited from being on Obama’s enemies list, just as some of Nixon’s targets did. But the president’s hatred for elements of the press is a useful insight into his cast of mind. He is a man of growing grievances, of resentments he cannot contain. And so from time to time they spill out into his public statements. One can only imagine what is said in private as Obama – in his own cool, controlled way – rages against the many injustices he believes have befallen him.

Obama has become a bitter man – bitter at the GOP, bitter at some of his own liberal allies, bitter at the press, and even bitter at the public, whom he now says has “gone a bit soft” (a revelation that coincides with the public turning hard against the president and his policies).

For those of us who once thought better of Obama, it’s a disappointing – and increasingly worrisome – thing to watch.

 

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Voters Don’t Blame Wall Street for Economy

Forget the “99 percent.” Just 33 percent of Americans blame Wall Street for the financial crisis and recession, according to the latest poll by The Hill. But the majority of Americans do hold one institution responsible for the economy – the federal government:

The [Occupy Wall Street] movement appears to have struck a chord with progressive voters, but it does not seem to represent the feelings of the wider public.

The Hill poll found that only one in three likely voters blames Wall Street for the country’s financial troubles, whereas more than half — 56 percent — blame Washington.

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Forget the “99 percent.” Just 33 percent of Americans blame Wall Street for the financial crisis and recession, according to the latest poll by The Hill. But the majority of Americans do hold one institution responsible for the economy – the federal government:

The [Occupy Wall Street] movement appears to have struck a chord with progressive voters, but it does not seem to represent the feelings of the wider public.

The Hill poll found that only one in three likely voters blames Wall Street for the country’s financial troubles, whereas more than half — 56 percent — blame Washington.

So in other words, Americans have much more in common with the Tea Party than they do with the Occupy Wall Street crowd. A plurality of Americans – 38 percent – also believe that the OWS protests will end up hurting Obama and the Democrats in 2012. Another 28 percent say the movement will help their chances.

Those last numbers can be interpreted in several different ways. The protests have the ability to hurt Democrats not only with independent voters who see the movement as too radical, but also with left-wing voters who are becoming energized in opposition to Obama. As much as the Democrats are trying to co-opt the Occupy Wall Street movement, the protesters are similar to the Tea Party in that they’re directing anger at both political parties.

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Cain and the Importance of Curiosity

The key word in the headline of Jonathan’s post on Herman Cain’s evident disinterest in foreign policy is “proudly.” While it’s true that foreign policy will likely stay on the back burner for the coming election, it’s also true that Cain’s deficit on this issue would be easily remedied. The last three presidents (including President Obama) all possessed a basic but passable grasp of foreign affairs when they ran for their first terms. Cain doesn’t have that knowledge base yet and hasn’t shown any interest in acquiring it.

It’s instructive to remember that President Obama’s supporters in the foreign policy community resembled his other supporters—they really liked the idea of him, but even his admirers were unable to explain what Obama actually knew about the world aside from the fact that he would “represent” something different about the way the world looked at America. To be sure, Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war represented a tangible break from the Democratic party, which had been making the case for regime change in Iraq for a decade before the war. But the specifics were still vague, even to those close to him. This is the relevant paragraph from James Traub’s glowing New York Times Magazine profile of Obama in November 2007:

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The key word in the headline of Jonathan’s post on Herman Cain’s evident disinterest in foreign policy is “proudly.” While it’s true that foreign policy will likely stay on the back burner for the coming election, it’s also true that Cain’s deficit on this issue would be easily remedied. The last three presidents (including President Obama) all possessed a basic but passable grasp of foreign affairs when they ran for their first terms. Cain doesn’t have that knowledge base yet and hasn’t shown any interest in acquiring it.

It’s instructive to remember that President Obama’s supporters in the foreign policy community resembled his other supporters—they really liked the idea of him, but even his admirers were unable to explain what Obama actually knew about the world aside from the fact that he would “represent” something different about the way the world looked at America. To be sure, Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war represented a tangible break from the Democratic party, which had been making the case for regime change in Iraq for a decade before the war. But the specifics were still vague, even to those close to him. This is the relevant paragraph from James Traub’s glowing New York Times Magazine profile of Obama in November 2007:

The first of the Clinton people to notice this rising political star was Anthony Lake, national security adviser in Bill Clinton’s first term. Lake says that he was introduced to Obama in 2002 when the latter had just begun considering a run for a Senate seat. Impressed, he began contributing ideas. When Obama came to Washington as a senator and joined the Foreign Relations Committee, Lake continued to work with him on occasion. Like others, Lake was impressed not so much by Obama’s policy prescriptions as by his temperament and intellectual habits. “He has,” Lake says, “the kind of mind that works its way through complexities by listening and giving some edge of legitimacy to various points of view before he comes down on his, and that point of view embraces complexity.”

Here is President Clinton’s national security adviser throwing his support to a first-term senator–whose policy ideas Lake was not impressed by–because he considered Obama a thoughtful listener. That this was not an outrageous admission is testament to how surmountable Cain’s foreign policy weakness is–especially if he is willing to merely express a necessary curiosity in these subjects.

When economic concerns take center stage in a presidential election, a foreign policy novice like Bill Clinton can defeat someone like George H.W. Bush by 200 electoral votes. It’s not a terribly high threshold to clear, but Herman Cain isn’t there yet.

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