Here at COMMENTARY/CONTENTIONS, we’re taking a three-day breather. Barring major news events requiring our attention, we’ll see you on Monday.
Posts For: April 12, 2012
From the staggering statistic released by the Republican National Committee that found women have lost 92.3 percent of all jobs lost since Obama took office, to yesterday’s scathing story on the gender pay gap in the Obama White House by the Washington Free Beacon, the GOP has started throwing the “war on women” rhetoric back into the faces of the Democrats who coined it.
And that was before the Hilary Rosen controversy erupted last night. Rosen has since apologized, and her statement appears to be more of a plea for a truce than a mea culpa:
“Let’s put the faux ‘war against stay at home moms’ to rest once and for all. As a mom I know that raising children is the hardest job there is. As a pundit, I know my words on CNN last night were poorly chosen. In response to Mitt Romney on the campaign trail referring to his wife as a better person to answer questions about women than he is, I was discussing his poor record on the plight of women’s financial struggles. Here is my more fulsome view of the issues. As a partner in a firm full of women who work outside of the home as well as stay at home mothers, all with plenty of children, gender equality is not a talking point for me. It is an issue I live every day. I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended. Let’s declare peace in this phony war and go back to focus on the substance.”
Everyone from President Obama to Jason Furman, the principal deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, to the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank to Politico’s Jim VandeHei, agree that the so-called Buffett Rule is a gimmick that has almost no bearing on the budget deficit. And for good reason. The Treasury Department confirms that the tax would raise at most $5 billion a year—or less than 0.5 percent of the $1.2 trillion fiscal 2012 budget deficit and, over the next decade, 0.1 percent of the $45.43 trillion the federal government will spend (for more, see here). By one estimate, the “Buffett Rule” would cover 17 days of the president’s next decade of deficits. So it’s not, in any sense, a serious or meaningful proposal. And yet it has, as the New York Times reports, become a “centerpiece” of the Obama re-election campaign.
So there you have it. The Obama presidency has reached the point where a policy that virtually everyone (including the president) concedes is a gimmick is now a centerpiece of Obama’s campaign.
There are many ways to measure the intellectual exhaustion of the Obama presidency. This isn’t a bad place to start.
Last year, at a fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign (a lobbying organization for LGBT Americans) President Obama said:
“We don’t believe in a small America. We don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s okay for a stage full of political leaders — one of whom could end up being the president of the United States — being silent when an American soldier is booed. We don’t believe in that. We don’t believe in standing silent when that happens. We don’t believe in them being silent since. You want to be commander-in-chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient.”
The firestorm over Hilary Rosen’s Ann Romney comments spilled over into a conference call with Republican congresswomen this morning, as they shot back at the Democratic strategist and claimed the Obama campaign bears some responsibility for her remarks.
The Wall Street Journal reported in February Rosen was brought on as a consultant for Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. According to Romney-backer Rep. Cynthia Lummis, Rosen gave no indication that she was “freelancing” when she attacked Ann Romney’s work record on “Anderson Cooper 360″ last night.
“Clearly [the Obama campaign is] using surrogate women, including Hilary Rosen who is a paid spokesperson, to deliver messages about Republicans that the president does not want to deliver himself for fear of the backlash,” she said.
All it took was an ill-advised quip from Rush Limbaugh to turn the national debate about ObamaCare from concerns about religious freedom to one about an imaginary Republican war on women. But the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops are trying to refocus Americans on the threats to their religious liberty with a “Fortnight for Freedom” program planned for July in which they hope to get people discussing the ways in which the government is seeking to infringe on their rights to worship. Though predictably liberals are branding this as an effort to help Republicans, this is exactly the sort of project in which all faiths ought to participate.
The manifesto issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is an important document that is neither partisan nor an attempt to inflame sentiments on divisive issues. Rather, it is a sensible alarm issued to arouse Catholics to the insidious manner various government orders and legislation has sought to abridge religious rights. Examples include draconian immigration laws that conservatives have promulgated in Alabama. But is inevitable that the lion’s share of attention will be given to their citation of the way President Obama’s signature health care bill will force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs as well as the way various municipalities have driven Catholic agencies out of adoption and foster care services because of its stand on same-sex couples. Though non-Catholics, as well as many Catholics, may not agree with the church’s beliefs, it is vital they stand in solidarity with its call for freedom.
In his post this morning on Liberals, Conservatives, and Tax Fairness, Peter Wehner writes,
Liberals are correct about this: income inequality has increased over recent decades. The task of conservatives is to give a full and fair picture of income gaps in America, to explain what is behind it, and to point out the injustice of the left’s remedies and the degree to which their proposals represent a radical departure from America’s ideals.
I could hardly agree more, and agree that his excellent article in National Affairs, “How to Think About Inequality,” is a great place to start.
I would add one more reason why income inequality has grown in recent decades, and it’s not a small one: technology. Whenever a major new technology develops, it causes a marked and sudden inflorescence of new fortunes that greatly exceed the old fortunes. This happened with railroads (Vanderbilt, Gould, Harriman, Hill, etc.), steel (Carnegie, Phipps, Frick, Schwab, etc.), automobiles (Ford, Dodge, Sloan, Kettering, Mott, etc.), petroleum (Rockefeller, Flagler, Archbold, etc.) For each of those megafortunes, there were hundreds of others whose possessors were merely very rich, not Forbes-400 rich.
President Obama, who recently vowed to bypass the Washington gridlock by churning out executive orders, has suddenly decided he can wait for Congress to do its job, at least when it comes to controversial laws that he’d prefer not to make unilateral decisions on. The New York Times reports:
President Obama disappointed and vexed gay supporters on Wednesday with his decision, conveyed to activists by a senior adviser, not to sign an executive order banning discrimination by employers with federal contracts.
The executive order, which activists said had support from the Labor and Justice Departments, would have applied to gay, bisexual and transgender people working for or seeking employment from federal contractors. Current law does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and legislation to do so, which Mr. Obama endorses, lacks sufficient votes in Congress.
A funny thing happened recently on the road to China’s supposedly inexorable rise to global power. Actually, a couple of funny things.
First and most prominent has been the scandal swirling around Bo Xilai, onetime Politburo member and party boss in Chonqqing, who has now been removed from power–and from sight–because of a variety of corruption and abuse-of-power allegations. The latest twist is the news that his wife, Gu Kailai, is a suspect in the murder of the mysterious upper-class British expatriate and fixer Neil Heywood, a character who seems to have wandered straight out of a Graham Greene novel. The whole affair is causing major embarrassment to the ruling class in China for the way it brings into the open the shady machinations and rich deals that are a regular part of life for Communist mandarins. While Bo Xilai’s fall is being used to spread the message that no one is above the law, in fact no one knows exactly what led to his downfall; there is widespread suspicion it was not the result of his crimes per se, whatever they may have been, but rather of a murky behind-the-scenes power struggle whose features can be glimpsed only dimly by outsiders.
The second news item of note is this standoff in disputed waters of the South China Sea between a Philippine Navy gunboat and two Chinese “surveillance” ships. It seems that the Philippine warship had arrived to discover Chinese fishing vessels operating in waters claimed by Manila. Filipino sailors found plenty of illegally harvested clams, corals and other sea treasures aboard the ships before being blocked from further access by the arrival of two Chinese “surveillance” ships–presumably unmarked vessels belonging to the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
Why are these two news items so important? Because both cast doubts about whether China’s rise is as inevitable as the pundits have it.
Yesterday’s decision by Florida prosecutors to put George Zimmerman on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin may serve to calm some of the racially charged anger about the incident in which an unarmed African-American youth was killed. Though some are already claiming the Zimmerman case will resemble the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the way it divides the public, it’s clear most Americans are content to let the justice system sift through the evidence and hope that justice will be done. Outside of the usual suspects seeking to inflame racial tensions (i.e., Al Sharpton, a veteran huckster whose efforts along these lines received the bizarre praise of Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday), there is another political agenda that is being pushed forward by the Martin killing: derailing efforts of the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups to enhance the right of self-defense via “Stand Your Ground” statutes or the “Castle Doctrine.”
Though we have yet to learn the full account of what happened between Zimmerman and Martin on the night of the latter’s death, it’s fairly clear that neither of those legal principles had much to do with the neighborhood watch volunteer’s shooting of the young man in the hoodie except in the most general sense, as the shooter asserted he was attacked first. But the effort to associate laws that back up citizens’ rights to defend themselves on their own property with Martin’s killing is becoming a touchstone of liberal rhetoric and reportage, as today’s New York Times feature on the subject illustrates. The conceit of the piece is to pin the nationwide drive to enact such legislation on the NRA and along with it the responsibility for any innocent blood shed because of these measures. Yet, what the Times and liberal critics of the laws fail to understand is that the popularity of such laws has to do with what most Americans believe is the defense of their liberty and safety and not race.
The latest Quinnipiac poll showing Chris Christie’s approval rating at 59 percent in New Jersey has been raising eyebrows. As Aaron Blake writes at the Washington Post, “New Jersey is notoriously tough on its politicians – it’s rare that anybody cracks even 50 percent approval – and the state’s Democratic lean makes Christie’s success all the more notable. Despite his tough rhetoric, 54 percent say he’s a leader, while 39 percent (read: Democrats) say he’s a bully.”
Blake gets one thing backwards, though. New Jersey residents see Christie as a leader not “despite” his tough rhetoric, but in large part because of it–and because it’s backed up by action. Christie is popular because in a state known for crooked politicians he has earned such a reputation for honesty that he has begun to lift the heavy fog of cynicism that has been hanging for a decade or more over the state’s residents. As a Fairleigh Dickinson poll found last month, for the first time in ten years a majority of New Jerseyans say their state is moving in the right direction. And that leads to one other essential element of Christie’s popularity: the contrast with President Obama.
In defending President Obama’s effort to make as the centerpiece of his campaign the so-called Buffett Rule — which would require anyone earning at least $1 million a year to pay at least 30 percent of his income in taxes — Jason Furman, deputy director of Obama’s National Economic Council, said, “Our goal is to have a progressive tax system.”
Furman added that the tax was never intended “to bring the deficit down and the debt under control” (contradicting a past claim made by the president). The goal, according to Furman, is to establish “a basic issue of tax fairness.”
On “Anderson Cooper 360″ last night, Hilary Rosen slammed Ann Romney for “never actually work[ing] a day in her life.” Within two hours, both David Axelrod and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina were scrambling to distance themselves from Rosen’s comments on Twitter.
Why is the Obama campaign so concerned? Apparently Rosen was enlisted in February to advise Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on public relations (h/t Jim Geraghty’s invaluable Morning Jolt). The Wall Street Journal reported on Feb. 16 that Rosen was brought on to “tone down” DWS’s image:
Obama advisers have occasionally told [Wasserman Schultz] to “tone it down” and “back off a smidgen,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz says. She agreed with them to enlist two seasoned Democratic female pros, Anita Dunn and Hilary Rosen, to begin giving her occasional political advice and media training, advisers say. “I’m glad to get constructive criticism,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz says.
The media pros prepped her for an important Jan. 13 appearance on the “Bill Maher Show”—from her tone to her clothes (they know better than to suggest she blow out her curly hair, advisers say). Ms. Wasserman Schultz had lots of “don’t” instructions: Don’t make news, don’t try to be funny, don’t laugh at the comedian’s jokes, don’t use your hands (although she balled her fists at one point and did “karate chops” when making her points). Her biggest “do:” Attack Mitt Romney, which she managed to do despite the topic of discussion: Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters.
Jury selection starts today in the trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards on six felony charges of federal campaign finance law violations involving an alleged conspiracy and the making of false statements. Despite the mountain of evidence that they claim backs up these allegations, the prosecutors’ main weapon in the trial will be the fact that Edwards is generally held to be among the most repulsive politicians to stride across our national stage in a generation. He is a vain, puffed up politician who was always something of a fraud even in his heyday. He is also a liar who cheated on his terminally ill wife and did everything possible to deceive the public about his affair and the child he fathered with his mistress. But that’s also the problem with this case. Absent Edward’s reputation as bottom-feeder, there is no way that any prosecutor would seek to bring anyone else to court on such flimsy charges.
The irony here is that although John Edwards is the quintessential sleazy politician who has earned the public’s scorn, his trial will actually be a crucial test of a key principle: Whether the Justice Department can interpret the byzantine and vague campaign finance laws so as to treat virtually anything a candidate gets as an official contribution that can be regulated. The case illustrates a fundamental principle of the legal system that demands that even the most loathsome of citizens deserves the same protections and rights as the most righteous. Though Americans may well think Edwards deserves a possible sentence of up to 30 years and $1.5 million in fines for his reprehensible conduct toward his late wife, he must be acquitted if we are to prevent the government from assuming more power that it could use against worthier citizens.