Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 14, 2012

Want a Mubarak Rerun? Be Careful What You Wish For.

For the past year, many in the United States and Israel have mourned the toppling of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Many of the same people who lamented his fall were quick to point out he was a corrupt despot who turned his country’s treaty with Israel into a “cold peace.” But once it became clear the main beneficiaries of the Arab Spring protests would not be the tiny faction of Egyptian liberals but the Muslim Brotherhood, the demise of a man who was once rightly derided for never losing an opportunity to make mischief at Israel’s expense was treated as a calamity. Yet, with today’s decision by Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court that dissolved the parliament that was elected in the aftermath of the change in regime, those who longed for a Mubarak rerun may get their wish. Let’s see if they like the result any better than the Brotherhood’s power grab via elections.

As Michael wrote earlier today, the Egyptian military may be seeking to emulate the example of Algeria, where in 1991 an election victory by Islamists was overturned by the government, leading to a long and bloody civil war. If, as he points out, that means a conflict that will prevent the Brotherhood from attaining total power in Cairo, it may be worth the chaos and suffering that will ensue from the court’s decision. But those hoping presidential candidate Ahmid Shafik, a Mubarak-era retread, in combination with the Egyptian military will put down the Brotherhood, should be careful what they wish for. As awful as the prospect of the election of an Brotherhood president along with the deposed parliament might be, Israelis should be extremely wary about the possibility of a civil war taking place next door in Egypt.

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For the past year, many in the United States and Israel have mourned the toppling of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Many of the same people who lamented his fall were quick to point out he was a corrupt despot who turned his country’s treaty with Israel into a “cold peace.” But once it became clear the main beneficiaries of the Arab Spring protests would not be the tiny faction of Egyptian liberals but the Muslim Brotherhood, the demise of a man who was once rightly derided for never losing an opportunity to make mischief at Israel’s expense was treated as a calamity. Yet, with today’s decision by Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court that dissolved the parliament that was elected in the aftermath of the change in regime, those who longed for a Mubarak rerun may get their wish. Let’s see if they like the result any better than the Brotherhood’s power grab via elections.

As Michael wrote earlier today, the Egyptian military may be seeking to emulate the example of Algeria, where in 1991 an election victory by Islamists was overturned by the government, leading to a long and bloody civil war. If, as he points out, that means a conflict that will prevent the Brotherhood from attaining total power in Cairo, it may be worth the chaos and suffering that will ensue from the court’s decision. But those hoping presidential candidate Ahmid Shafik, a Mubarak-era retread, in combination with the Egyptian military will put down the Brotherhood, should be careful what they wish for. As awful as the prospect of the election of an Brotherhood president along with the deposed parliament might be, Israelis should be extremely wary about the possibility of a civil war taking place next door in Egypt.

The problem for the West is that there are no good alternatives. In an ideal world, Mubarak would have been replaced by a genuine democracy whose leaders were not intent on turning the most populous Arab country into an Islamist fief. But we don’t live in an ideal world. The myth of the Arab Spring being a Facebook or Twitter revolution was always bunk. Egypt’s streets are ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, the only real organized party in Egypt that can stand up to the remnants of the old regime. The army is rightly wary of the Brotherhood and fears that, at best, an Islamist-led government will emulate Turkey’s path in which the military loses power and a gradual path to religious despotism is set in motion.

Unfortunately, the idea that there can be a return to Mubarak’s authoritarian rule without the now comatose former leader is also a myth. Now that the democratic genie that has unleashed the Brotherhood has been let out of the bottle, the only way to put it back in is with the brute force that the Egyptian Army was clearly unwilling to use last year as Mubarak fell. If they do crack down and the Islamist mob resists, the result may make Assad’s massacres in Syria look like family picnics. No one can know what would follow the enactment of such a scenario. But if the best case is a repeat of the Algerian nightmare, the impact on Israel and the rest of the Middle East will be considerable.

Israel’s border with Egypt is enough of a problem now. If the Nile Valley becomes a war zone of some kind, the spillover into Gaza and other countries will make the whole region more dangerous and threaten the stability of other regimes, especially the shaky Hashemite monarchy in Jordan.

Such a scenario is enough to make a democratic transition to a Muslim Brotherhood government that would have had to make an uneasy alliance with the military to some extent look like an attractive alternative.

Despite the unfair criticism President Obama has gotten on the issue, it was never true that the United States could have saved Mubarak. If anything, the United States has even less leverage now. Those who have been carping about the loss of Mubarak need to pipe down and watch with the rest of us as we see which of the unpleasant possibilities for Egypt becomes reality.

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Obama Needs an Elevator Pitch

As tech savvy and streamlined as the Obama campaign wants to depict itself, its reelection message is remarkably clunky. Take the candidates’ dueling economic speeches today. Romney kept his to a concise 20 minutes. Obama’s dragged on for nearly an entire excruciating hour.

At the beginning of his speech, Obama told us the election would be about the fundamental differences between his economic vision and Romney’s. Then he rephrased this same idea about a dozen different times, just to make sure we all got it. Then he droned on about the origins of the economic crisis, veered off into Bush-blaming, threw in a class warfare interlude and rambled for awhile about how the recovery is moving in the right direction.

Finally — 40 minutes after the cable news stations cut him off and the committed political junkies were forced to switch to C-SPAN — Obama circled back to the original point about his economic vision. I think. In the daze of boredom, it was hard to tell.

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As tech savvy and streamlined as the Obama campaign wants to depict itself, its reelection message is remarkably clunky. Take the candidates’ dueling economic speeches today. Romney kept his to a concise 20 minutes. Obama’s dragged on for nearly an entire excruciating hour.

At the beginning of his speech, Obama told us the election would be about the fundamental differences between his economic vision and Romney’s. Then he rephrased this same idea about a dozen different times, just to make sure we all got it. Then he droned on about the origins of the economic crisis, veered off into Bush-blaming, threw in a class warfare interlude and rambled for awhile about how the recovery is moving in the right direction.

Finally — 40 minutes after the cable news stations cut him off and the committed political junkies were forced to switch to C-SPAN — Obama circled back to the original point about his economic vision. I think. In the daze of boredom, it was hard to tell.

We already knew Obama was long-winded. But his overly-complicated reelection message actually necessitates these sort of brutally long, technical, lawyerly speeches — and that’s a big problem when his opponent has what amounts to a straightforward elevator pitch.

Obama’s message requires him to juggle several arguments. First, that his predecessor is solely to blame for the economic problems, and that experts did not realize how extensive the crisis was when Obama first took office. Second, that Obama’s policies put the economy back on the path to recovery, but were not extensive enough. Third, that the recovery is lagging because of Republican obstructionism and global events out of his control. Fourth is that, if reelected, Obama will be able to overcome the gridlock and put policies in place that will speed the recovery.

And he needs to persuade the public to believe all of that.

The fourth argument is the one Obama would be smart to focus on, but as we saw from his speech today, it’s the one he’s giving the least attention to. If Obama is persistent, he may be able to convince the American people that the stalled recovery isn’t due to his own incompetence. But they want to hear what he is going to do about it, and why his second term policies would be more effective than his first term policies.

Romney’s message, in contrast, is straightforward: Obama had his chance and failed. If you give me a chance, I will succeed.

The first part of that is self-evident. The economy has not recovered, and the recovery is lagging. Even top Democrats will admit that. All Romney needs to worry about is convincing voters on the second point. Instead of mocking the GOP for having a message that can “fit in a Tweet,” Obama would be better off taking a lesson from it: Keep it simple.

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Only FDR Could Sell Obama’s Reset

As we noted yesterday and earlier today, President Obama’s attempt to make the election a referendum on George W. Bush is a rather slender reed to use as the foundation for his re-election campaign. As expected, the president’s speech in Ohio today on the economy pushed the idea that the choice this year was between his policies and those of the preceding decade, for which he blamed all of the nation’s problems. Obama’s call for a “reset” may have satisfied panicked liberals who want him to be nastier about his opponents. In a nearly hour-long rant, the president sought to refute criticisms of his administration as being too dependent on government intervention to save the economy, but at the same time claimed the way forward was to spend a lot more on public sector jobs. Predictably, he also threw in a red herring about Mitt Romney ending Medicare without reference to any ideas of his own about reforming the entitlement spending that is dragging the country into insolvency.

But the attacks on Romney and his personal wealth and branding Republicans in Congress as heartless wretches who want to throw grandma under the bus is still secondary to persuading the nation that even though he has been president for three and a half years, he should be held blameless for a bad economy. Gaining re-election by avoiding discussion of his failures and focusing solely on those of his predecessor is a difficult task, but it is not impossible. Franklin D. Roosevelt did exactly that in 1936 when, despite the fact that his policies hadn’t been enough to pull the country out of the Great Depression, the overwhelming majority of Americans were still prepared to blame Herbert Hoover for their woes. But this notable precedent shouldn’t provide much reassurance for Democrats who worry about the prospects of a president who thinks a troubled private sector is doing “just fine” and (as he showed again today) has no new ideas to present about the economy.

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As we noted yesterday and earlier today, President Obama’s attempt to make the election a referendum on George W. Bush is a rather slender reed to use as the foundation for his re-election campaign. As expected, the president’s speech in Ohio today on the economy pushed the idea that the choice this year was between his policies and those of the preceding decade, for which he blamed all of the nation’s problems. Obama’s call for a “reset” may have satisfied panicked liberals who want him to be nastier about his opponents. In a nearly hour-long rant, the president sought to refute criticisms of his administration as being too dependent on government intervention to save the economy, but at the same time claimed the way forward was to spend a lot more on public sector jobs. Predictably, he also threw in a red herring about Mitt Romney ending Medicare without reference to any ideas of his own about reforming the entitlement spending that is dragging the country into insolvency.

But the attacks on Romney and his personal wealth and branding Republicans in Congress as heartless wretches who want to throw grandma under the bus is still secondary to persuading the nation that even though he has been president for three and a half years, he should be held blameless for a bad economy. Gaining re-election by avoiding discussion of his failures and focusing solely on those of his predecessor is a difficult task, but it is not impossible. Franklin D. Roosevelt did exactly that in 1936 when, despite the fact that his policies hadn’t been enough to pull the country out of the Great Depression, the overwhelming majority of Americans were still prepared to blame Herbert Hoover for their woes. But this notable precedent shouldn’t provide much reassurance for Democrats who worry about the prospects of a president who thinks a troubled private sector is doing “just fine” and (as he showed again today) has no new ideas to present about the economy.

It’s not hard to see why FDR managed to beat Hoover twice, although the “Great Engineer” was not on the ballot in 1936. The suffering caused by the Great Depression was on a scale that is almost unimaginable to us today. Under the circumstances, a Roosevelt plea for more time seemed reasonable. Moreover, even after four years of the New Deal, Republicans still seem to own the country’s problems. Hoover was wrongly blasted at the time as a do-nothing though his ill-advised interventions in the crisis did more harm than good. But because the collapse occurred in his first year in office (1929), his identification with the Depression was so thorough that it would be another decade (which would include a World War that would finally end the Depression) before Republicans would be able to shake off Hoover’s taint.

But FDR’s ability to go to the people in 1936 without being held accountable for the continuance of the disaster on his watch wasn’t simply a matter of blaming the GOP. It was just as much due to the way he persuaded the country that he knew the way forward and that their only hope was to trust in him. We can look back now dispassionately and understand, as Amity Shlaes wrote in her classic history of the Depression, The Forgotten Man, that the New Deal failed in large measure to heal the economy. In fact, Roosevelt’s policies could fairly be blamed for the severe downturn in his second term that mired the country even deeper in the ditch from which it was extricated by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But Roosevelt’s leadership skills were such that he gave Americans the impression things would get better. As Jonah Goldberg has rightly pointed out, some of the ideas of the New Deal had more in common with fascism than democracy, but it could not be said in 1936 that FDR was going back to the people without any new proposals or by merely castigating Hoover.

Things are thankfully not nearly so bad today, but the contrast between FDR’s ability to galvanize the nation with the 44th president’s lackluster appeals for support could not be greater. Having been swept into office as much by the Wall Street collapse that occurred in the fall of 2008 as by the “hope and change” mantra that focused on the historic nature of Obama’s candidacy, he hasn’t much to offer to solve the nation’s problems other than a deeply unpopular health care bill and a stimulus that few outside of the left would even think of repeating.

As history shows, the White House’s plan to shift blame for the economy to the president who left office four years ago is not unprecedented. But even if Americans could be persuaded that George W. Bush was another Hoover, getting them to believe that Obama is another FDR is a bridge too far even for the Democrats.

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Clinton Advises Americans to Vote Against Obama (sort of)

As Alana noted earlier, back in September 2010, former President Bill Clinton – in making what at the time seemed like an effective case for Democrats – said this:

And [Republicans] say [Democrats] had 21 months, put us back in. The Democrats are saying something like this: Look, we found a big hole that we did not dig, and we didn’t get out of it in 21 months, but at least we quit digging. So, so, so, don’t go back in reverse. Give us two more years. If it doesn’t work you have another election in just two years, you can vote us all out then. But for goodness sakes, we quit digging don’t bring back the shovel brigade.

Here’s the thing, though: that “other election” isn’t just two years away any more. It’s now less than five months away. And I for one believe the standard set out by Bill Clinton is an entirely reasonable one. We’ve given the president 21 additional months to turn things around. And guess what? It’s still not working.

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As Alana noted earlier, back in September 2010, former President Bill Clinton – in making what at the time seemed like an effective case for Democrats – said this:

And [Republicans] say [Democrats] had 21 months, put us back in. The Democrats are saying something like this: Look, we found a big hole that we did not dig, and we didn’t get out of it in 21 months, but at least we quit digging. So, so, so, don’t go back in reverse. Give us two more years. If it doesn’t work you have another election in just two years, you can vote us all out then. But for goodness sakes, we quit digging don’t bring back the shovel brigade.

Here’s the thing, though: that “other election” isn’t just two years away any more. It’s now less than five months away. And I for one believe the standard set out by Bill Clinton is an entirely reasonable one. We’ve given the president 21 additional months to turn things around. And guess what? It’s still not working.

This year’s first quarter growth rate was downgraded to 1.9 percent. The most recent jobs report was dismal (in May we gained less than 70,000 new jobs, while the jobs reports in March and April were revised downward). Long-term unemployment increased from 5.1 million to 5.4 million. The average work week fell to 34.4 hours. And new orders for factory goods fell in April for the third time in four months as demand slipped for everything from cars and machinery to computers, indicating alarming weakness in a sector that has carried the economic recovery, such as it is.

If we pull back the lens a bit, we find that Americans have experienced 40 consecutive months of unemployment above 8 percent, the longest such stretch since the Great Depression. (If the work force participation rate today was what it was when Obama was sworn in, the unemployment rate would be right around 11 percent.) That Obama is overseeing the weakest recovery on record. That he’s on track to have the worst jobs record of any president in the modern era. That the standard of living for Americans has fallen more dramatically during his presidency than during any since the government began recording it five decades ago. That home values are nearly 35 percent lower than they were five years ago. That we’re seeing a record number of home foreclosures. That a record number of Americans are now living in poverty. That a record 46.4 million Americans are receiving food stamps. And that under Obama’s watch, health care premiums have gone up significantly.

Based on the counsel of America’s 42nd president, then, we should —  in the name of accountability and under the banner of meritocracy – vote Barack Obama and members of his party out of office. That, at least, is the indisputable logic of the Democratic party’s most politically successful president since FDR.

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Who Loses if ObamaCare is Overturned?

A popular argument lately has been if the Supreme Court overturns ObamaCare, it will actually be disastrous for Republicans by taking away a major motivating force that would have driven voters to the polls in November. That’s hard to believe. Voters routinely cite jobs and the economy as the top issues that influence their votes, with health care trailing well behind. Those who do list health care as a key voting priority are actually more likely to support Obama. Not to mention, anyone who was planning to vote based on their opposition to ObamaCare would likely be attracted to the GOP’s broader economic vision as well.

Democrats have by far the most to lose if the law is struck down, and their response will be hugely important. In the WSJ today, Karl Rove outlines the best case Obama can make if his signature legislative achievement is overturned:

If the court moves to invalidate part or all of the Affordable Care Act, what matters most politically is Mr. Obama’s response.

The president could pivot to the center and regain some of the high ground he occupied in his 2008 campaign. He could say that while he disagreed with the court’s decision, the justices had the responsibility under our system to decide whether the law was constitutional. Everyone needs to respect and accept the verdict.

He could then add that a big problem remains: Tens of millions of our fellow citizens lack affordable health insurance. Now it is the responsibility of Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives to come together and provide access to coverage. And the president could offer proposals to do that.

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A popular argument lately has been if the Supreme Court overturns ObamaCare, it will actually be disastrous for Republicans by taking away a major motivating force that would have driven voters to the polls in November. That’s hard to believe. Voters routinely cite jobs and the economy as the top issues that influence their votes, with health care trailing well behind. Those who do list health care as a key voting priority are actually more likely to support Obama. Not to mention, anyone who was planning to vote based on their opposition to ObamaCare would likely be attracted to the GOP’s broader economic vision as well.

Democrats have by far the most to lose if the law is struck down, and their response will be hugely important. In the WSJ today, Karl Rove outlines the best case Obama can make if his signature legislative achievement is overturned:

If the court moves to invalidate part or all of the Affordable Care Act, what matters most politically is Mr. Obama’s response.

The president could pivot to the center and regain some of the high ground he occupied in his 2008 campaign. He could say that while he disagreed with the court’s decision, the justices had the responsibility under our system to decide whether the law was constitutional. Everyone needs to respect and accept the verdict.

He could then add that a big problem remains: Tens of millions of our fellow citizens lack affordable health insurance. Now it is the responsibility of Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives to come together and provide access to coverage. And the president could offer proposals to do that.

The Obama campaign would be smart to take Rove’s advice and shift to the center if the law is overturned. But judging from the campaign’s strategical blunders so far, it seems more likely to take the opposite route. If ObamaCare is struck down (completely or in part), the Democratic base will go ballistic. The left already views Obama as a weak leader who has acquiesced to Republicans and failed to push through a more muscular progressive agenda. It would be devastating to have his single biggest accomplishment erased from the books. Unless the president publicly endorses an even more radical health care law to replace ObamaCare, progressives may be reluctant to support him for another term.

On the other hand, if ObamaCare is upheld by the Supreme Court, the left will have an additional reason to turn out and vote — if only to prevent Mitt Romney from taking office and dismantling the chief progressive accomplishment of the past four years.

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Is Egypt the New Algeria?

Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling dissolving the Islamist-dominated parliament elected just six months ago turns Egypt’s already rough-and-tumble political situation on its head. While all eyes have been on the presidential elections later this week, the parliament was in many ways more important: Charged with writing the new constitution, the parliament was about 80 percent Islamist. As the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi an-Nour Party were forced by their new positions to dispense with the opportunistic populism of opposition and get down to the hard business of governance, they found their support waning; the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate was unable to pass the 30 percent threshold in the first round of presidential elections.

It is this wakeup call upon which the Egyptian military hopes to capitalize. They believe that if they can have a “do-over” they can reverse the populist wave which the Islamists rode during their first electoral test and prevent a situation in which the Islamists, whose popularity has been on the same trajectory as Facebook stock, were able to lock in influence no longer matched by popular support.

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Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling dissolving the Islamist-dominated parliament elected just six months ago turns Egypt’s already rough-and-tumble political situation on its head. While all eyes have been on the presidential elections later this week, the parliament was in many ways more important: Charged with writing the new constitution, the parliament was about 80 percent Islamist. As the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi an-Nour Party were forced by their new positions to dispense with the opportunistic populism of opposition and get down to the hard business of governance, they found their support waning; the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate was unable to pass the 30 percent threshold in the first round of presidential elections.

It is this wakeup call upon which the Egyptian military hopes to capitalize. They believe that if they can have a “do-over” they can reverse the populist wave which the Islamists rode during their first electoral test and prevent a situation in which the Islamists, whose popularity has been on the same trajectory as Facebook stock, were able to lock in influence no longer matched by popular support.

Still, the Egyptian military is playing a very dangerous game. It has shown few new ideas during the campaign. Egyptians will not allow their mantra of restoring law-and-order replace genuine desire for reform. Indeed, Egyptians are right to be cynical about their military. While Americans celebrate generals for wartime success, Egyptians have never won a war, unless one counts their intervention in the Yemeni civil war, where Egypt’s greatest legacy now is the spread of giardia from Egyptian soldiers relieving themselves in wells nearly a half century ago. Rather, most Egyptians know their generals as businessmen. It is simply the Egyptian military elites’ desire to preserve the status quo and their bank accounts which guide their positions.

The danger, however, is popular outrage. Islamist clerics have already made clear they would take to the streets to fight any election which did not go their way. It has been more than two decades since the Algerian government, stunned by an Islamist victory in their 1991 elections and the victors’ promise to revise the constitution, decided to cancel the elections, unleashing a brutal civil war that killed perhaps 200,000. The major reason why Algerians did not get caught up in the Arab Spring protests was that the scars of violence during the 1990s remain too fresh. That an Arab socialist rather than an Islamist regime now holds sway may convince the Egyptian military that the risks and costs were worth it.

In Algeria, however, the population is largely spread along its 600-mile coastline. In Egypt, most of the 80 million are crammed into the narrow Nile River Valley. Egypt’s court and its generals are taking a large risk, indeed. If history repeats, the cost could be much higher.

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Will Broccoli Preserve American Liberty?

If sometime this month the Supreme Court rules ObamaCare unconstitutional liberals will need a scapegoat to blame for what would be not just a defeat for the president’s signature legislative achievement but a historic turning point in the struggle against the aggregation of federal power. But according to the New York Times, the culprit won’t be congressional Republicans or the Tea Party. Instead, it will be the humble green vegetable that many Americans profess to hate: broccoli.

According to the Times’s James Stewart, the turning point in the battle to overturn the health care law was the moment a simple argument illustrating the way liberals have been using the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to expand federal power took hold of the public imagination. It is, as he writes, the “defining symbol” of the debate. As Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out from the bench during oral arguments on the issue earlier this year, if Congress can require every citizen to purchase health insurance simply because it was perceived to be in the national interest, then it could make people buy broccoli, too. Stewart traces the origins of the analogy that has been raised repeatedly by libertarians since President Clinton’s attempt to ram a national health insurance bill through Congress in the 1990s. But while liberals dismiss it as simplistic, it actually goes straight to the heart of the issue. Indeed, if ObamaCare is overturned and the Court begins a rollback of the way liberals have been abusing the Constitution for a century, it may be that broccoli will have played a key role in preserving American liberty.

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If sometime this month the Supreme Court rules ObamaCare unconstitutional liberals will need a scapegoat to blame for what would be not just a defeat for the president’s signature legislative achievement but a historic turning point in the struggle against the aggregation of federal power. But according to the New York Times, the culprit won’t be congressional Republicans or the Tea Party. Instead, it will be the humble green vegetable that many Americans profess to hate: broccoli.

According to the Times’s James Stewart, the turning point in the battle to overturn the health care law was the moment a simple argument illustrating the way liberals have been using the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to expand federal power took hold of the public imagination. It is, as he writes, the “defining symbol” of the debate. As Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out from the bench during oral arguments on the issue earlier this year, if Congress can require every citizen to purchase health insurance simply because it was perceived to be in the national interest, then it could make people buy broccoli, too. Stewart traces the origins of the analogy that has been raised repeatedly by libertarians since President Clinton’s attempt to ram a national health insurance bill through Congress in the 1990s. But while liberals dismiss it as simplistic, it actually goes straight to the heart of the issue. Indeed, if ObamaCare is overturned and the Court begins a rollback of the way liberals have been abusing the Constitution for a century, it may be that broccoli will have played a key role in preserving American liberty.

As Stewart writes, libertarians pointed out during the Clinton-era debate that if the government could force people to do something or participate in commerce that they had not already engaged in (as opposed to regulating activity already commenced), then there was nothing it could not force them to do including eating certain foods or not eating them. This argument was greeted with “howls of derision” by the legal establishment, but it helped convince some jurists and politicians (including a conservative like Sen. Orrin Hatch who originally supported the idea of an individual mandate) that the drive to impose health care was about more than just insurance.

Liberals continue to argue that the talk of broccoli and a nanny state compelling us to eat our vegetables is a diversion from the important question of how to provide health care for all Americans. But the broccoli analogy has initiated exactly the sort of debate about the constitutional limits of government power that have been ignored or stifled for much of the past century.

The point is not about whether health insurance is a good idea or the value of any other potential government service or program. It is whether there is anything, no matter how great its intrinsic worth, that the Congress cannot impose on the nation under the loose authority granted to it by the Commerce Clause? Though Justice Elena Kagan conceded during her confirmation hearing that legislation that would require Americans to eat fruits and vegetables would be a “dumb law,” alluding to the egregious nature of the requirement still begs the question of whether the liberal interpretation of the Constitution would still allow it or any other similarly absurd proposal to stand as constitutional.

For too long liberals intent on telling Americans what they should do or even think have assumed that the law would always be interpreted as giving them leeway to expand federal power wherever it served their interests. They are flummoxed if not infuriated by the way this elementary point about broccoli has brought their latest enterprise to a standstill. They rightly fear that if the courts begin to look at such cases from the frame of reference of preserving individual liberty, the intellectual house of cards that has buttressed their arguments for generations will soon collapse.

If the court strikes down ObamaCare, perhaps Tea Partiers should start displaying a new broccoli flag alongside the historic Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” banner they like to sport. Like it or not, more than anything else, broccoli has helped remind Americans that liberty is precious and must be defended against the government.

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Clinton in ’10: Vote Dems Out if Economy Doesn’t Rebound

Bill Clinton may be shaping up to be the worst surrogate of all time. Not only has he pummeled President Obama’s campaign’s economic message in present time, he also managed to plant this ticking time bomb back in 2010 (h/t Joe Schoffstall):

And [Republicans] say [Democrats] had 21 months, put us back in. The Democrats are saying something like this: Look, we found a big hole that we did not dig, and we didn’t get out of it in 21 months, but at least we quit digging. So, don’t go back in reverse, give us two more years and if it doesn’t work you have another election in just two years, you can vote us all out then. But for goodness sakes, we quit digging, don’t bring back the shovel brigade.”

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Bill Clinton may be shaping up to be the worst surrogate of all time. Not only has he pummeled President Obama’s campaign’s economic message in present time, he also managed to plant this ticking time bomb back in 2010 (h/t Joe Schoffstall):

And [Republicans] say [Democrats] had 21 months, put us back in. The Democrats are saying something like this: Look, we found a big hole that we did not dig, and we didn’t get out of it in 21 months, but at least we quit digging. So, don’t go back in reverse, give us two more years and if it doesn’t work you have another election in just two years, you can vote us all out then. But for goodness sakes, we quit digging, don’t bring back the shovel brigade.”

Clinton made this comment the September before the 2010 midterm elections, so the argument from Democrats will probably be that the economic recovery was set back after the obstructionist Republicans took back the House. Still, the GOP will more than likely hold onto the House even if Obama wins reelection, so what message does that send the public? If Obama is basically conceding that he can’t reboot the economy as long as there’s divided control of Congress, then he’s pretty much saying that the next two-to-four years of his second term would bring no progress either. Considering that Obama ran in 2008 as a bipartisan uniter, that’s an interesting case to make.

Clinton’s line is attack ad gold for the GOP. If they pair it with Obama’s “one-term proposition” comments, it will be doubly brutal.

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Mormon Issue Not New for Romney Adviser

Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski has unearthed a fascinating old C-SPAN clip from 1994, after Ted Kennedy defeated Mitt Romney in that year’s Massachusetts Senate race. The clip shows Stu Stevens, a GOP media strategist who is currently Romney’s chief strategist, discussing the Kennedy campaign’s conduct during the election. Kennedy elections are notoriously no-holds-barred affairs, and Stevens credited the Kennedy win in part to the Democrat’s repeated use of “the Mormon card”:

The Kennedy campaign very insidiously played the Mormon card in Massachusetts, by simply saying over and over again they weren’t going to talk about the fact that Romney was a Mormon. And this sort of worked. And the Romney campaign should’ve reacted more quickly to it. I think that they felt in Massachusetts it wouldn’t work because Massachusetts has a reputation of being a very tolerant state.

Romney’s rookie mistake, assuming the famous “liberal tolerance” was not the mirage it has always been, may not be a mistake the campaign will make again. That is all the more likely as Stevens is now a prominent campaign adviser. And it’s an important lesson to learn, because as Alana pointed out yesterday, Kaczynski’s colleague McKay Coppins is only the latest to produce a study showing that liberal anti-Mormon bigotry continues to rise.

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Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski has unearthed a fascinating old C-SPAN clip from 1994, after Ted Kennedy defeated Mitt Romney in that year’s Massachusetts Senate race. The clip shows Stu Stevens, a GOP media strategist who is currently Romney’s chief strategist, discussing the Kennedy campaign’s conduct during the election. Kennedy elections are notoriously no-holds-barred affairs, and Stevens credited the Kennedy win in part to the Democrat’s repeated use of “the Mormon card”:

The Kennedy campaign very insidiously played the Mormon card in Massachusetts, by simply saying over and over again they weren’t going to talk about the fact that Romney was a Mormon. And this sort of worked. And the Romney campaign should’ve reacted more quickly to it. I think that they felt in Massachusetts it wouldn’t work because Massachusetts has a reputation of being a very tolerant state.

Romney’s rookie mistake, assuming the famous “liberal tolerance” was not the mirage it has always been, may not be a mistake the campaign will make again. That is all the more likely as Stevens is now a prominent campaign adviser. And it’s an important lesson to learn, because as Alana pointed out yesterday, Kaczynski’s colleague McKay Coppins is only the latest to produce a study showing that liberal anti-Mormon bigotry continues to rise.

And after Barack Obama’s strikingly negative campaign in 2008, and the campaign’s record of playing the Mormon card already, it’s clear the Obama campaign will try to out-Kennedy Kennedy (surely a dubious honor). As Alana also noted, the media–especially the New York Times–have relentlessly pushed the anti-Mormon nonsense in just about every conceivable way. And David Axelrod has repeatedly signaled that this will be one element in the president’s reelection strategy.

The question, then, is what Stevens plans to do to counter it. The rising rates of liberal anti-Mormon bigotry combined with the institutional support for that bigotry offered by the media limits the effectiveness of using Kennedy’s campaign as a model. And it also means talking about his religion may work against Romney.

There is also another challenge to countering such bias. In 2008, the Obama campaign believed that part of what sunk John Kerry’s campaign in 2004 was the candidate’s slow response to criticism. (In reality, what sunk John Kerry was being John Kerry.) So the Obama campaign resolved to preemptively accuse Republicans of racism, on the record and often. And when President George W. Bush gave a moving speech in 2008 at the Israeli Knesset at which he denounced appeasers, the combination of Obama’s acute narcissism and overdeveloped sense of self-pity caused the campaign to have one of its lowest moments, announcing that when Bush mentioned appeasers he must have been talking about Obama, and how dare he.

Stevens would do well to learn his own lesson from that: It is off-putting to always be in complaint mode, and voters don’t really like being told they are bigots. So his desire to be proactive on the issue of Romney’s religion carries its own inherent risks. It’s not clear exactly what the right answer is, but we now know Stevens has been mulling over this very question for quite some time.

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Romney’s Psych Out Ad

Mitt Romney’s latest attack ad against President Obama (the first negative spot of the campaign, as Jim Geraghty points out) sends two messages. On the surface it’s a cut-and-dry ad criticizing Obama as out of touch on the economy, but there’s another message that seems aimed at psyching out the Obama campaign. See if you can catch it:

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Mitt Romney’s latest attack ad against President Obama (the first negative spot of the campaign, as Jim Geraghty points out) sends two messages. On the surface it’s a cut-and-dry ad criticizing Obama as out of touch on the economy, but there’s another message that seems aimed at psyching out the Obama campaign. See if you can catch it:

Look familiar? As the Huffington Post reports, Romney’s ad is a mirror image of one of Obama’s most effective attack ads against John McCain in 2008. Same music. Same format. Same kicker: “How can [he] expect to fix it…if he doesn’t understand what’s broken?” Take a look:

McCain’s “fundamentals of the economy are strong” gaffe helped kill him in 2008, and the Obama campaign hit him relentlessly on it. By putting out a nearly identical ad, the Romney campaign seems to be sending the message that it has learned the lessons of the last election and is not going to pull any punches this time around.

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Blame Bush Poll Won’t Help Obama

Much is being made of the new Gallup Poll that shows more Americans blame George W. Bush for the current state of the economy than Barack Obama. Sixty-eight percent of Americans think the 43rd president deserves a great deal or a moderate amount of blame for America’s economic problems. That’s more than the 52 percent who feel the same way about the 44th president. The Obama campaign is taking this to heart. In his recent speeches Obama has taken to more or less asking the public for a mulligan on the economy because even after three and a half years in office, the country’s problems are, he says, Bush’s fault. This poll would seem to validate his conclusion that this is a good campaign strategy. But the idea that Bush’s numbers should give much comfort to the Democrats as President Obama tries for a second term this fall is laughable.

The first reason why the president’s re-election team shouldn’t place much faith in this poll as a guide to their campaign tactics is obvious. While Bush is still deeply unpopular, he is not on the ballot in November. Obama is, and the idea that the president can be re-elected simply because he is not Bush makes no sense.

Second, Gallup has been asking this question since Obama took office. In July 2009, it was not unreasonable that 80 percent of those questioned blamed Bush while only 32 percent blamed Obama. But during the last three years, the gap between the two has narrowed dramatically, with a majority of those polled blaming Obama for the past two years even as the number of those pinning it on Bush has declined.

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Much is being made of the new Gallup Poll that shows more Americans blame George W. Bush for the current state of the economy than Barack Obama. Sixty-eight percent of Americans think the 43rd president deserves a great deal or a moderate amount of blame for America’s economic problems. That’s more than the 52 percent who feel the same way about the 44th president. The Obama campaign is taking this to heart. In his recent speeches Obama has taken to more or less asking the public for a mulligan on the economy because even after three and a half years in office, the country’s problems are, he says, Bush’s fault. This poll would seem to validate his conclusion that this is a good campaign strategy. But the idea that Bush’s numbers should give much comfort to the Democrats as President Obama tries for a second term this fall is laughable.

The first reason why the president’s re-election team shouldn’t place much faith in this poll as a guide to their campaign tactics is obvious. While Bush is still deeply unpopular, he is not on the ballot in November. Obama is, and the idea that the president can be re-elected simply because he is not Bush makes no sense.

Second, Gallup has been asking this question since Obama took office. In July 2009, it was not unreasonable that 80 percent of those questioned blamed Bush while only 32 percent blamed Obama. But during the last three years, the gap between the two has narrowed dramatically, with a majority of those polled blaming Obama for the past two years even as the number of those pinning it on Bush has declined.

Bush left office on the heels of a dramatic economic downturn in his last year in office that culminated in a Wall Street collapse during the fall of 2008 which ensured that Republican presidential nominee John McCain had no chance of succeeding him. After the fallout from Hurricane Katrina and the bloody aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, Bush’s second term began to appear as a failed presidency, with even supporters of the GOP thinking ill of him. The hangover from those dark days still influences polling about Bush, who registers as even more unpopular than a truly failed president like Jimmy Carter.

It is certainly possible many Americans will go on blaming Bush for our problems in the coming years, even long after both he and Obama leave office. But that says more about the way the country thinks about him than it does about the 2012 election.

Were the Republican challenging the president someone closely associated with the Bush administration, a re-election campaign focused on blaming Bush for the nation’s problems might make some sense. But Mitt Romney is not such a figure. While his foreign policy approach seems broadly similar to that of Bush and rightly so from my point of view, that cannot truly be said of much of his economic and other domestic proposals. Conservatives compared Romney to Bush and called him a “big government Republican” during the GOP primaries. But the truth is, he is far more of a fiscal hawk and presents a different take on federalism issues as his rejection of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” education policies showed.

But a campaign that is still counting on animus toward George W. Bush being enough to carry Obama back to the White House this year is one that is clearly short on new ideas. More to the point, the reversion to blaming Bush is a tacit confession that nothing Obama has tried in the past three years has worked. Because his signature legislative accomplishments — ObamaCare and the billion-dollar stimulus boondoggle — are both deeply unpopular, the president has no domestic accomplishments to brag about except bogus economic statistics that ring hollow to a nation that knows how bad things still are.

The backlash against the president’s claim that the private sector is “doing just fine” shows just how badly he seems to have miscalculated the public’s mood. If he goes on spending the next five months trying to blame Bush rather than taking responsibility for his own failed administration, he will soon be joining the 43rd president on the sidelines as his successor gets a chance to fix the mess he leaves behind.

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The Lost Art of Mocking Dictators

As Seth noted earlier this week, Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s famous speech at the Brandenberg Gate in which he declared, “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan’s moral clarity chafed the State Department and stunned adversaries, but history demonstrates its effect.

Moral clarity was not his only weapon, however. Reagan, with his typical good nature and humor, would also gently mock America’s enemies. He had some fun at the expense of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and at the hardships of Soviet life. He made fun of the lack of free speech in the Soviet Union. A few years back, Free Republic compiled a non-exhaustive list. Reagan’s jokes weren’t just a warm up act; his gentle ridicule highlighted the illegitimacy of autocratic regimes and reinforced fissures between society and its oppressors.

Alas, amidst all the discussion today of sophisticated diplomacy, the reset of relations, and respect for regimes like Iran’s, and also against the cultural relativism and self-flagellation in which so many journalists and diplomats engage, American officials have lost the will and ability to mock our adversaries. It really is a shame, because—be they in Pyongyang, Tehran, Moscow, or Caracas, there really are some world leaders deserving biting ridicule.

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As Seth noted earlier this week, Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s famous speech at the Brandenberg Gate in which he declared, “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan’s moral clarity chafed the State Department and stunned adversaries, but history demonstrates its effect.

Moral clarity was not his only weapon, however. Reagan, with his typical good nature and humor, would also gently mock America’s enemies. He had some fun at the expense of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and at the hardships of Soviet life. He made fun of the lack of free speech in the Soviet Union. A few years back, Free Republic compiled a non-exhaustive list. Reagan’s jokes weren’t just a warm up act; his gentle ridicule highlighted the illegitimacy of autocratic regimes and reinforced fissures between society and its oppressors.

Alas, amidst all the discussion today of sophisticated diplomacy, the reset of relations, and respect for regimes like Iran’s, and also against the cultural relativism and self-flagellation in which so many journalists and diplomats engage, American officials have lost the will and ability to mock our adversaries. It really is a shame, because—be they in Pyongyang, Tehran, Moscow, or Caracas, there really are some world leaders deserving biting ridicule.

Many of the jokes Iranians tell about their leaders—including some I heard recently in Bahrain—frankly contradict President Ahmadinejad’s insistence that there is no homosexuality in the Islamic Republic. Many also make fun of the crass stupidity of Hezbollah. While no statesman would ever get up and tell these, there are others out there:

One involves a French doctor who brags that French medicine is so advanced that he can conduct a kidney transplant and have the patient out looking for work in six weeks. A German doctor hears that and says, “That’s nothing.” We can do a lung transplant and the patient will be looking for work in four weeks. A Russian doctor dismisses them by claiming, “We can do a heart transplant and the recipient will be looking for a job in two weeks.” The Iranian doctor hears all this and suggests, “That’s nothing: We took a man with no brain, made him the president, and now 20 million Iranians are looking for work!”

The Iranian regime’s nuclear program is serious business as is Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s tactical nuclear weaponry and the assistance he offers to all the world’s tin pot dictators. But, even as diplomats sit down across conference tables to try to resolve bilateral problems, there is no reason why American officials shouldn’t treat these regimes with the irreverence they deserve. Their citizens—not yet free to express their true opinions—will thank us later.

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