I wanted to add to Alana’s post regarding what has been aptly termed the “lawless” recess appointments by President Obama. (The president has a right to make recess appointments, but the Constitution says the recess appointment can only happen when Congress is in recess, and the Senate was not in recess when Obama made his appointments. Even the liberal Obama supporter Timothy Noah of The New Republic has conceded, “I just don’t see how these appointments can be legal.”)
The actions by Obama were clearly driven by political calculations. And perhaps, as Alana argues, they were politically smart, though my guess is this decision will make no difference, and not sway a single vote, in 2012. But for now I simply want to focus on what this action tells us about the president.
First it was Alan Colmes; now it is Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, who went on MSNBC to mock Rick Santorum for how he and his wife Karen dealt with the death of their son Gabriel. (A severe prenatal development led to his very early delivery, and Gabriel died two hours after his birth.)
“He’s not a little weird, it’s that he’s really weird,” Robinson said of Santorum. “And some of his positions he’s taken are just so weird, um, that I think that some Republicans are gonna be off-put. Um, not everybody is going to, going to be down, for example, with the story of how he and his wife handled the, the, the stillborn ah, ah, child, ah, um, whose body they took home to, to kind of sleep with it, introduce to the rest of the family. It’s a very weird story.”
President Obama’s controversial “recess” appointment strategy was underhanded, politically-motivated, an abuse of power, potentially unconstitutional, and pretty much every other label Republicans have thrown at it. But perhaps the worst part for the GOP is that it was also clever – and Republicans could have a tricky time fighting back.
Charles Krauthammer touched on the crux of the problem on Fox News last night (transcript via NRO):
It’s cynical and it works. Look, [opponents like me are] talking about process and procedure and what would look like arcana. And [the president is] arguing “I am protecting the little guy against the Republicans, who [use] constitutional niceties to protect the rich and the 1 percent, the ones who have robbed you.” It’s a good argument [politically]. He wins it. But I think it’s disgraceful.
Lyndon LaRouche was a prolific writer who developed a cult-like following and eight times, between 1976 and 2004, sought the presidency, seven times for the Democratic ticket. He wrote and spoke often about the economy and spun wild conspiracy theories. For example, he said Queen Elizabeth was a drug dealer. The Nation’s Bob Dreyfuss, a LaRouche acolyte who dedicated his first book to his former boss and had it published by LaRouche’s publisher, argued in it that Bernard Lewis, perhaps the most influential living historian of the Middle East, was a nefarious force behind Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran’s Islamic Revolution.
LaRouche achieved a particularly loyal following among college students. He anchored enough of his writing in fact that the 30 percent or so that was pure bunk became, for the gullible or willingly blind, believable. His writings adhered to the idea that falsehoods spoken with conviction and precision became credible. Like Ron Paul, he certainly was consistent in his willingness to believe the worst motivations of government officials or his opponents. While LaRouche reached the pinnacle of his influence in the pre-internet age, he managed to spread his conspiracies not only through teaching classes, but also through myriad pamphlets, leaflets, and newspapers. LaRouche is still around, of course, but a conviction for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and tax code violations has undercut his credibility among the young and disaffected enough so that he has returned to purely marginal status.
Yes, Mitt Romney is pretty boring, but is Rick Santorum really in a position to be throwing punches like this? He only caught on with voters after they’d exhausted every other possible option, and could barely draw a crowd a few months ago. But it sounds like Santorum’s chalking up his newfound popularity to his own personal charisma, according to an email blast his campaign sent out earlier today:
No more sitting on the sidelines. Now is the time to act or get stuck with a bland, boring, career politician who will lose to Barack Obama. Tomorrow will be too late. Will you unite with me, merge conservative support, and help us hold our banner high?
In the new COMMENTARY, I write that the coming election will determine the future of America’s defense spending–and hence of our standing as a great power able to shape events around the world in ways conducive to our security interests. Today’s press conference at the Pentagon only makes the choice even more stark. President Obama unveiled a strategy documents whose title I can only assume is ironic: “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.” In fact, the $450 billion worth of cuts that will be spelled out in the coming weeks pose a serious threat to America’s ability to sustain our global leadership; if an extra $600 billion or so of cuts is added, as a result of the failure of the sequestration process, then America’s days as a superpower truly will be numbered.
Today’s event was heavy on questionable rhetoric. Obama, for instance, claimed the “tide of war is receding,” something that will be news to soldiers and Marines risking their necks every day in Afghanistan or to Iraqis whose countrymen are being blown up as an indirect result of America’s reckless withdrawal from their country.
The good news for Rick Santorum is that he spent less than a dollar for each vote he received in Iowa. The bad news is that the money he saved (and has raised since) still puts him at long odds to beat Mitt Romney in Florida.
The Palm Beach Post has a good write-up of Santorum’s chances in Florida, which will hold its primary January 31. While the timing of Santorum’s poll boost was perfect for Iowa, it will now work against him in two ways. First, he obviously hasn’t had much time build an organization yet, and early voting in Florida begins January 21. Second, “momentum” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, as the Postreports:
According to Newt Gingrich’s new ad, Mitt Romney is far too “timid” to take on President Obama. But this charge seems odd coming from the guy who has seen his polling numbers decimated by Romney’s brutal attack ads during the past month. Not to mention that Gingrich’s big complaint recently has been that Romney’s been fighting too aggressively against him.
The most telling comment I’ve yet seen on the fresh atrocities that have unfolded across Iraq–where someone, presumably Sunni insurgents, set off bombs that killed at least 60 Shiites today–comes from a humble bus driver in Sadr City. He is quoted in the New York Times as follows:
“When politicians have a problem, the citizens are usually the ones who pay,” said Abu Sajad, a minibus driver who was near the attack in Sadr City. “This has happened before and continues to happen.”
This week, a few hundred students and teachers at Manouba University in Tunisia demonstrated against the niqab, or veil, which is used by some ultra-conservative women to cover their faces. It has been outlawed in Tunisian schools and government offices for decades, ever since it was described by the modern republic’s secular founder Habib Bourguiba as “that odious rag.” One sign at the demonstration said “Science before the niqab.” Another said “no to shackles, no to niqab, knowledge is free.” The protest was a counter-demonstration against an Islamist sit-in at the humanities department.
I’ve seen a few women in Tunisian cities wearing niqabs, but not very many. That kind of headgear is far more common in the Persian Gulf nations than in North Africa. While having coffee at an outdoor café in downtown Tunis, the capital, a group of women with their faces covered walked past. All the locals sitting at tables near mine eyed the women as though they had been beamed in from another planet. I assumed these ladies weren’t even Tunisians, but Saudis. They could hardly have drawn more attention to themselves had they dressed like that in a small town in Bolivia.
One of the standard tropes of reporting on the Republican presidential contest is that the race has been tarnished by the plethora of negative advertisements paid for by independent committees. For liberals, harping on this theme kills two birds with one stone, because it allows them to trash the GOP field while at the same time opening up a discussion about the evils of campaign finance and the need to further “reform” the use of money in politics. That was the theme of a recent New York Timeseditorial deploring the impact of “Super PACs” in Iowa. These groups were, the paper said, “septic tanks” financed by the wealthy which do the dirty work of unscrupulous candidates. The paper lamented that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision had, in effect, opened the floodgates to a tsunami of political slime.
But as Bradley Smith points out in a brilliant takedown of the Times and other critics of the court ruling in National Review, all such liberal complaints are a desire to limit the amount of political speech, especially when it is used by conservatives. The idea that citizens could actually speak out on issues and candidates without restrictions, a privilege that the Times would like to see reserved for the media, frightens liberals.