Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 28, 2012

Iran Worried? Obama Guts Sanctions

Three rounds of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran have proven President Obama’s “window of diplomacy” a colossal failure. But Secretary of State Clinton as well as various administration cheerleaders have been reminding us lately that the international sanctions on Tehran that have been belatedly put in place are just about to really bite. At the end of the month, the West will impose an oil embargo on Iran that could really hurt its economy and perhaps bring the regime to its knees if it is universally observed and vigorously enforced.

But today’s announcement that the Obama administration will grant China and Singapore a six-month exemption from the sanctions shows the confident manner the Iranians displayed at the nuclear talks was not a false front. Having forearmed themselves in the period leading up to the sanctions by securing more contracts with the Chinese, Iran dared the Americans to risk a confrontation with Beijing. The result is that Tehran’s belief President Obama and his Western allies are bluffing has been confirmed rather than debunked. This will act as a virtual green light for the Iranians to keep pushing ahead toward their nuclear goal while Western leaders posture but do little to stop them.

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Three rounds of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran have proven President Obama’s “window of diplomacy” a colossal failure. But Secretary of State Clinton as well as various administration cheerleaders have been reminding us lately that the international sanctions on Tehran that have been belatedly put in place are just about to really bite. At the end of the month, the West will impose an oil embargo on Iran that could really hurt its economy and perhaps bring the regime to its knees if it is universally observed and vigorously enforced.

But today’s announcement that the Obama administration will grant China and Singapore a six-month exemption from the sanctions shows the confident manner the Iranians displayed at the nuclear talks was not a false front. Having forearmed themselves in the period leading up to the sanctions by securing more contracts with the Chinese, Iran dared the Americans to risk a confrontation with Beijing. The result is that Tehran’s belief President Obama and his Western allies are bluffing has been confirmed rather than debunked. This will act as a virtual green light for the Iranians to keep pushing ahead toward their nuclear goal while Western leaders posture but do little to stop them.

The dirty secret about the Western sanctions on Iran is that their leader advocate has never bothered to enforce them. The weak sanctions that were in place were selectively policed by the United States, with the Treasury Department granting exemptions to thousands of firms that allowed them to go on doing business there. But that is nothing when compared to giving China and Singapore, two of Iran’s major business partners, a free pass to conduct business as usual.

It is true that Chinese imports from Iran dropped 25 percent in the first six months of 2012, a factor that the administration used as an excuse to justify their exemptions. But oil analysts are predicting that far more Iranian oil will be sold to China this summer due to the contracts that Tehran wisely signed with Beijing in order to compensate for any European losses. Though Clinton has argued that the world must be gradually weaned from Iranian oil, what is happening is that Iran is simply changing its customer list and counting on the enormous clout of the Chinese to deter the Americans from cracking down on those who violate the embargo.

Thus, rather than Iran spending the summer feeling even more isolated, the ayatollahs can point to the U.S. exemptions as yet another diplomatic victory that will allow them to continue on their nuclear path.

Even if the sanctions were enforced now, it may be too late to completely stop the Iranians without resorting to the use of force. Having wasted the first three and a half years of his administration on a comical attempt to “engage” Iran and in feckless negotiations, President Obama is now speaking as if he has Tehran just where he wants it. But all he has accomplished is to kick the can down the road just as his predecessor did. Though the sporadically enforced sanctions are hurting Iran, the Iranians don’t seem to be anywhere close to giving up.

To the contrary, the more the West talks about getting tough, the more Iran believes talk is all they will do. The exemptions will only reinforce their conviction that President Obama is a paper tiger who also only wishes to keep the diplomatic process going in order to deter Israel from attacking Iran and to keep the issue from bubbling up during his re-election campaign. Iran is acting as if it is winning the confrontation with the West over its quest for a nuclear weapon. But after today, who can blame them?

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Holder Found in Contempt of Congress

As expected, the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, largely along party lines, 255 to 67. Seventeen Democrats crossed over to vote for contempt with the GOP, while more than 100 Democrats sat out the vote in protest.

Now that the resolution has passed, the issue will be turned over to the Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen to decide whether he wants to pursue charges against Holder, who is, of course, Machen’s boss. Machen, as you may recall, is also leading the investigation into the White House national security leaks, and Republicans have already been raising alarms about that conflict of interest.

According to CNN, Machen has no obligation to do anything with the Holder dispute, and considering his position, he probably won’t. But the GOP will likely point out that the White House is blocking two investigations from independent scrutiny, a major deviation from its rhetoric on transparency.

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As expected, the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, largely along party lines, 255 to 67. Seventeen Democrats crossed over to vote for contempt with the GOP, while more than 100 Democrats sat out the vote in protest.

Now that the resolution has passed, the issue will be turned over to the Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen to decide whether he wants to pursue charges against Holder, who is, of course, Machen’s boss. Machen, as you may recall, is also leading the investigation into the White House national security leaks, and Republicans have already been raising alarms about that conflict of interest.

According to CNN, Machen has no obligation to do anything with the Holder dispute, and considering his position, he probably won’t. But the GOP will likely point out that the White House is blocking two investigations from independent scrutiny, a major deviation from its rhetoric on transparency.

The criminal charge isn’t the only avenue the House GOP is pursuing. They may be able to get some results through civil action, CNN reports:

House Republicans are well aware of this recent history, which helps explain the separate measure authorizing a civil action. That resolution, according to a GOP spokesman, would allow the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to file a lawsuit asking the courts to examine the Justice Department’s failure to produce certain subpoenaed documents, as well as the validity of the administration’s assertion of executive privilege.

Even then, it will take awhile before Republicans get any documents they may be owed — likely too long to matter in the upcoming election. But that doesn’t mean the White House is off the hook. Politically, this looks terrible. To have an attorney general held in contempt for withholding documents related to the murder of a border patrol officer is bad enough. To have a president who is seen as actively protecting this attorney general is much worse, particularly in an administration that already has a history of eschewing independent investigations.

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Entitlements Swallowing Up Federal Budget

The news today has been all health care, all the time. And understandably so. But amid the laser-like focus on the Supreme Court ruling  upholding President Obama’s new health care system, it is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Health care is merely the latest in a long line of social welfare expenditures, going all the way back to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which have swallowed up an ever-growing share of the federal budget—and the national economy.

As this useful Heritage Foundation chart shows, entitlement spending first exceeded defense spending in 1976. Ever since, the trend has been getting more lopsided with entitlements taking up ever more of the economy and defense ever less. That gap has become especially pronounced since President Obama took office in 2009. The percentage of GDP going to the federal government grew from 20.7 percent in 2008 to 25.1 percent in 2011 before dipping slightly to 23.2 percent this year. Meanwhile, the state governments are taking another 15 percent, which means that as a total share of the economy the government is now consuming roughly 40 percent, and of that, less than five percent is going to the military.

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The news today has been all health care, all the time. And understandably so. But amid the laser-like focus on the Supreme Court ruling  upholding President Obama’s new health care system, it is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Health care is merely the latest in a long line of social welfare expenditures, going all the way back to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which have swallowed up an ever-growing share of the federal budget—and the national economy.

As this useful Heritage Foundation chart shows, entitlement spending first exceeded defense spending in 1976. Ever since, the trend has been getting more lopsided with entitlements taking up ever more of the economy and defense ever less. That gap has become especially pronounced since President Obama took office in 2009. The percentage of GDP going to the federal government grew from 20.7 percent in 2008 to 25.1 percent in 2011 before dipping slightly to 23.2 percent this year. Meanwhile, the state governments are taking another 15 percent, which means that as a total share of the economy the government is now consuming roughly 40 percent, and of that, less than five percent is going to the military.

We are, in short, becoming more like Europe—and not just because it’s now possible to get tasty croissants and frothy cappuccinos on this side of the Atlantic. In Europe, governments now consume more than 50 percent of GDP. Hence, it is no surprise that few European states are spending even as much as two percent of GDP on defense—the baseline established by NATO for its member states. The Europeans simply can’t afford to spend more on defense without cutting back social welfare programs, which the political class cannot do because it sparks riots in the streets.

This is where we are currently heading—and if ObamaCare survives political as well as legal challenges, with its estimated cost of more than a trillion dollars, we will arrive at this destination all the more quickly. We will simply not be able to pay for our defense as we have been doing. And that will be a calamity. The Europeans could afford to stint on their defense because we protect them. But who will protect us?

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Can Obama Avoid Refighting 2010?

When President Obama spoke in the aftermath of his victory at the Supreme Court, he never mentioned the word “tax.” The ruling that saved his signature health care legislation made it clear his pledge the bill was not a tax was a clear deception. But while not acknowledging that the Affordable Care Act was passed by means of a political subterfuge, he did expressly ask Americans not to “refight the political battles of two years ago.” That was not so much a plea that the debate about the bill not be revisited but a worry that what will ensue will be a rematch of the 2010 midterm elections which were fought largely on the question of ObamaCare. While the president has every reason to exult today, the biggest question about his re-election effort now becomes whether he can indeed avoid a replay of a contest that ended in a rout of the Democrats.

Though the president is the clear winner today, the Court did hand Republicans an issue on which they can put Democrats at a disadvantage. The ruling established that ObamaCare constitutes a massive across-the-board tax increase that will come down hardest on the middle class, a group of voters who the president insists are exempt from his efforts to hike levies on the rich. But GOP optimists need to understand that presidential elections are very different animals from midterms. Although the Court may have helped revive the Tea Party, circumstances have changed since their heyday in 2010. Nevertheless, the stage has been set for the rematch that the president dreads.

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When President Obama spoke in the aftermath of his victory at the Supreme Court, he never mentioned the word “tax.” The ruling that saved his signature health care legislation made it clear his pledge the bill was not a tax was a clear deception. But while not acknowledging that the Affordable Care Act was passed by means of a political subterfuge, he did expressly ask Americans not to “refight the political battles of two years ago.” That was not so much a plea that the debate about the bill not be revisited but a worry that what will ensue will be a rematch of the 2010 midterm elections which were fought largely on the question of ObamaCare. While the president has every reason to exult today, the biggest question about his re-election effort now becomes whether he can indeed avoid a replay of a contest that ended in a rout of the Democrats.

Though the president is the clear winner today, the Court did hand Republicans an issue on which they can put Democrats at a disadvantage. The ruling established that ObamaCare constitutes a massive across-the-board tax increase that will come down hardest on the middle class, a group of voters who the president insists are exempt from his efforts to hike levies on the rich. But GOP optimists need to understand that presidential elections are very different animals from midterms. Although the Court may have helped revive the Tea Party, circumstances have changed since their heyday in 2010. Nevertheless, the stage has been set for the rematch that the president dreads.

For now, that places the onus on Mitt Romney. The Republican presidential candidate has spent the last two months more or less on cruise control as he allowed the dreadful economic situation, poor jobs reports and a series of administration scandals (the cyber warfare leaks and Fast and Furious) to damage the White House without much effort on his part.

But the Supreme Court’s decision now makes it incumbent on Romney to do more than just let Obama lose the election on his own. If he is to replicate the grass roots revolution that created the 2010 landslide, he needs to start acting less like the C.E.O. of the GOP but as the leader of a movement intent on halting a historic power grab by the federal government.

Given his own spotty record on health care issues, it is an understatement to say this is not exactly in his wheelhouse. And while the Democrats’ recent sallies on his record at Bain Capital are distortions, they have scored some points in making him appear as an out-of-touch plutocrat.

Nevertheless, Romney still has the ability to tap into the fact that most Americans didn’t want ObamaCare and are sure to be dismayed by the Court’s decision. Just as a Court ruling against the bill would have allowed the president to campaign on a platform of expanding health care, the White House victory sets the stage for a Republican groundswell that can tap into widespread dissatisfaction with the tax increase the president has imposed on all Americans. That means President Obama will, almost by definition, be put on the defensive on the two most important issues facing the electorate: the economy and the ObamaCare tax increase.

Though he may be confident about his ability to go toe-to-toe with Romney, the Democrats were swamped two years ago by disgust with his spending and tax policies. Though the terms of the fight may be a bit more advantageous for the president, a rematch of 2010 is exactly what he is going to get.

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The Behavioral Modification Tax

“Don’t give them any ideas” may be one of the most overused phrases, but I think, despite its ubiquity, it sums up today’s Supreme Court decision quite well. And it’s why I disagree slightly–perhaps only rhetorically–with John Steele Gordon’s take on ObamaCare’s survival. John writes that the decision today “greatly expanded the taxing power” of the government by ruling the individual mandate is constitutional as a massive tax. It seems, however, that Congress really does have this expansive taxing power to begin with—John Roberts merely “gave them the idea.” It’s best to think of this less as an unprecedented interpretation of existing law and more as an unprecedented application of existing law.

But nonetheless, John’s point is sound. The Commerce Clause of the Constitution was left intact–but also made virtually irrelevant. What the Supreme Court did today was offer a ludicrously simple—and expensive—way around it. Want to force individuals to do something from which the Constitution protects them? Just add a financial penalty to it. This way, you can increase your control over people and help yourself to some of their cash.

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“Don’t give them any ideas” may be one of the most overused phrases, but I think, despite its ubiquity, it sums up today’s Supreme Court decision quite well. And it’s why I disagree slightly–perhaps only rhetorically–with John Steele Gordon’s take on ObamaCare’s survival. John writes that the decision today “greatly expanded the taxing power” of the government by ruling the individual mandate is constitutional as a massive tax. It seems, however, that Congress really does have this expansive taxing power to begin with—John Roberts merely “gave them the idea.” It’s best to think of this less as an unprecedented interpretation of existing law and more as an unprecedented application of existing law.

But nonetheless, John’s point is sound. The Commerce Clause of the Constitution was left intact–but also made virtually irrelevant. What the Supreme Court did today was offer a ludicrously simple—and expensive—way around it. Want to force individuals to do something from which the Constitution protects them? Just add a financial penalty to it. This way, you can increase your control over people and help yourself to some of their cash.

As I wrote earlier, Mitt Romney will make the case that he is standing in ObamaCare’s way. But he can also argue that ObamaCare is just one example of myriad ways the Obama administration plans to exercise its expanded scope of power. Just imagine, Romney might say, what a completely unrestrained second term would look like. The “call everything a tax” idea, in the hands of today’s left, is like those invisible electric fences people use for their pets. Fido–that’s you, America–doesn’t see anything, but he gets a healthy shock whenever he tries to roam free. Pretty soon he learns his lesson.

The “intransigent” Republicans in Congress, targeted relentlessly by the media for refusing to be the tax collectors of the welfare state, can use this line of defense as well: The president and the Democratic Party have just taxed the middle-class for existing. How much cooperation on “raising revenue” would you like us to give them?

Most Americans have trouble imagining the extent to which this can be abused, now that there is precedent floating around. John asks what else the Obama administration could tax, and offers a few possibilities. I say: don’t give them any ideas.

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“Re-Evaluation” of Roberts Begins

For months, as liberals anticipated the Supreme Court would rule ObamaCare unconstitutional, there has been a constant drumbeat of criticism against what they assumed was a conservative majority that would thwart the president’s signature legislation. In particular, Chief Justice John Roberts was the focus of a great deal of uncomplimentary commentary, with many arguing that by leading the Court to the right he would establish a tainted legacy as a partisan judge who had damaged the institution he led. But within moments of the announcement that Roberts had sided with the four liberals on the Court, the “re-evaluation” of the chief justice had begun.

As the New York Times‘s Ethan Bronner wrote in the paper’s Caucus blog, previously, “He was seen by many, at least on the left, as a right-winger more devoted to conservative politics than the purity of the law. That could change.” Count on it.

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For months, as liberals anticipated the Supreme Court would rule ObamaCare unconstitutional, there has been a constant drumbeat of criticism against what they assumed was a conservative majority that would thwart the president’s signature legislation. In particular, Chief Justice John Roberts was the focus of a great deal of uncomplimentary commentary, with many arguing that by leading the Court to the right he would establish a tainted legacy as a partisan judge who had damaged the institution he led. But within moments of the announcement that Roberts had sided with the four liberals on the Court, the “re-evaluation” of the chief justice had begun.

As the New York Times‘s Ethan Bronner wrote in the paper’s Caucus blog, previously, “He was seen by many, at least on the left, as a right-winger more devoted to conservative politics than the purity of the law. That could change.” Count on it.

The way this process works is that whenever an avowed conservative crosses over to the left,, that person is lionized as attaining a new maturity and transcending partisanship. That was certainly the case with David Souter, whose appointment to the Supreme Court was among the greatest mistakes of George H.W. Bush’s presidency. And now that Roberts has saved President Obama’s bacon, we can expect those negative mainstream media profiles of his Court to be turned into glowing accolades for his respect for precedent and desire to preserve the integrity of the Court.

By contrast, Anthony Kennedy, who had received more than his share of liberal praise in recent years as the left courted the supposed swing vote, will start getting the same abuse that is customary for Justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas, because he joined them in a vigorous and principled dissenting opinion that would have ruled all of ObamaCare constitutional.

Nevertheless, the left’s enthusiasm for Roberts will be somewhat tempered. By ruling that the Affordable Care Act was a tax and therefore constitutional, the chief justice provided the legal rationale the law needed. But Roberts’ compromise was not what liberals wanted. By affirming that the law was a tax, Roberts made President Obama look like a liar because he had pledged it was no such thing. His opinion also meant there was a majority in favor of limiting the reach of the Commerce Clause, a principle conservative legal scholars have vainly advocated for for decades.

But that will provide no comfort for conservatives who understand all too well that Roberts could have joined the four dissenters in a decision that would have brought an abrupt halt to the expansion of the federal government’s power. Liberals do well to rejoice today, as this means a historic opportunity has been lost to restrain the growth of the federal leviathan.

Conservatives will bitterly remember this day and Roberts’ role in it. So, it is little surprise the right-wing blogosphere is bubbling over with bitter reproaches and even some over-the-top calls for the impeachment of the chief justice. Such chatter is a waste of time. But it’s clear that Roberts’ apparent desire to keep the Court out of the political fray has led him to make a decision that will forever ruin his reputation with the right while endearing him to the left.

But if Roberts thinks the left will embrace him the way they did other Republicans who joined the liberals, this will have to be only the first of a series of betrayals of conservative positions on his part. In particular, so long as the landmark Citizens United ruling that protected political speech and invalidated campaign finance restrictions stands, he will continue to be abused (though perhaps not as much as the other conservatives).

Roberts is wrong to think this decision will protect the Court from the kind of criticism it got after Citizens United, because political issues will always be part of the Court’s brief. Nevertheless, what happened today is a reminder to conservatives that liberals have a clear advantage in the judiciary that can only be counter-balanced by victories at the ballot box. Today’s decision can be rendered a footnote to history if a Republican Congress and president are able to repeal ObamaCare next January. But given the desire for some jurists to retain the good opinion of the mainstream media, the right must understand that winning judicial battles is not as simple as winning an election.

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New Holder Emails Raise More Questions

The Associated Press (AP) has reported on three emails from 2011 that Attorney General Eric Holder showed members of Congress at a Tuesday meeting, during his last-ditch effort to avert today’s contempt vote. The emails supposedly show Holder hadn’t known about Operation Fast and Furious until February 2011 and immediately set out to get to the bottom of the issue.

Keep in mind, the AP didn’t see the actual emails — the contents were “described” by people who had seen them — and there are few specific quotes given in the article. If this is supposed to be evidence that Holder was doing the right thing, it seems pretty flimsy:

CBS News ran a story on Feb. 23, 2011. On March 3, CBS followed up, and the non-profit Center for Public Integrity weighed in with its own online account.

On Feb. 23, aides passed along to the attorney general the CBS story alleging gun-walking, and the attorney general shot back, “We need answers on this. Not defensive BS. Real answers.”

Five days later, Holder asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate.

On March 3…the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, emailed his staff: “We obviously need to get to the bottom of this.”

Holder was skeptical of any assurances.

“I hope the AG understands that we did not allow guns to walk,” an official at the ATF’s Washington headquarters said on March 10 in an email that Holder’s aides forwarded to the attorney general.

In a response, Holder wrote, “Do they really, really know” that there was no gun-walking?

A day earlier, at Holder’s instruction, the Justice Department had sent out a directive to the field reinforcing a longtime Justice Department policy against gun-walking. The directive said that agents must not allow guns to cross the border into Mexico.

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The Associated Press (AP) has reported on three emails from 2011 that Attorney General Eric Holder showed members of Congress at a Tuesday meeting, during his last-ditch effort to avert today’s contempt vote. The emails supposedly show Holder hadn’t known about Operation Fast and Furious until February 2011 and immediately set out to get to the bottom of the issue.

Keep in mind, the AP didn’t see the actual emails — the contents were “described” by people who had seen them — and there are few specific quotes given in the article. If this is supposed to be evidence that Holder was doing the right thing, it seems pretty flimsy:

CBS News ran a story on Feb. 23, 2011. On March 3, CBS followed up, and the non-profit Center for Public Integrity weighed in with its own online account.

On Feb. 23, aides passed along to the attorney general the CBS story alleging gun-walking, and the attorney general shot back, “We need answers on this. Not defensive BS. Real answers.”

Five days later, Holder asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate.

On March 3…the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, emailed his staff: “We obviously need to get to the bottom of this.”

Holder was skeptical of any assurances.

“I hope the AG understands that we did not allow guns to walk,” an official at the ATF’s Washington headquarters said on March 10 in an email that Holder’s aides forwarded to the attorney general.

In a response, Holder wrote, “Do they really, really know” that there was no gun-walking?

A day earlier, at Holder’s instruction, the Justice Department had sent out a directive to the field reinforcing a longtime Justice Department policy against gun-walking. The directive said that agents must not allow guns to cross the border into Mexico.

Not to nitpick, but AP writes that “Republicans have promoted the idea” that top DOJ officials knew about the gun-walking. That’s framed rather unfairly — this wasn’t some baseless idea pulled out of thin air by the GOP; emails we’ve already seen showed Holder’s top aides discussing F&F as early as December 2010. Holder himself claimed he’d heard about the gun-running a “few weeks” before his May 2011 hearing with Congress, but was forced to reverse himself later, after it became clear he must have known before that.

The latest letters Holder showed members of Congress seem to show he knew about the operation in February 2011, but where is the evidence that he’d just found about it at that point? Just because he allegedly sent out emails ordering an investigation and questioning others about the gunwalking, that hardly seems like proof he wasn’t aware of this earlier.

Plus — if he was so involved in the issue that he’d sent out field directives and vowed to “get to the bottom” of the case in February, then why was he so fuzzy on the timeline during questioning in May? Clearly, he had to have recalled that he knew about this for longer than “a few weeks.”

As I wrote, we already knew his office was aware of the gun-walking months before these emails were sent. If Holder wasn’t informed properly, then why haven’t heads rolled on this? And if the full electronic mail trail really shows Holder had no idea about F&F, why doesn’t the administration just let investigators take a look? Three vague emails we can’t even see tell us nothing, and they actually only make Holder’s defense seem weaker.

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Court Ruling Will Be Fundraising Boon

ObamaCare has lived to see another day. According to the Supreme Court ruling, the only substantial change is that the individual mandate is now considered a tax, something the Obama White House refused to admit it was.

Three hours after the decision was passed down, the Romney campaign’s spokeswoman announced they surpassed the $1 million mark in organic fundraising, mostly from small donors who, after hearing the Supreme Court’s ruling, made their way to the Romney website and clicked “Donate.” The average donation to the Romney campaign was for a little more than $115. As of yet, neither the Republican National Committee (RNC) nor the Romney campaign have sent a fundraising email based on the Supreme Court ruling. If these organic fundraising numbers are any indication, the Supreme Court’s decision on ObamaCare could be the biggest moneymaker for Republicans this election cycle.

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ObamaCare has lived to see another day. According to the Supreme Court ruling, the only substantial change is that the individual mandate is now considered a tax, something the Obama White House refused to admit it was.

Three hours after the decision was passed down, the Romney campaign’s spokeswoman announced they surpassed the $1 million mark in organic fundraising, mostly from small donors who, after hearing the Supreme Court’s ruling, made their way to the Romney website and clicked “Donate.” The average donation to the Romney campaign was for a little more than $115. As of yet, neither the Republican National Committee (RNC) nor the Romney campaign have sent a fundraising email based on the Supreme Court ruling. If these organic fundraising numbers are any indication, the Supreme Court’s decision on ObamaCare could be the biggest moneymaker for Republicans this election cycle.

During the ObamaCare debate in Congress in 2009, conservative groups saw a major uptick in donations. At the time, the Michael Steele led-RNC was dealing with high levels of donor mistrust after multiple stories about RNC wasteful spending and poor decision-making; thus, most conservatives chose to donate to organizations and campaigns directly. In 2009, the Heritage Foundation saw a 45 percent increase in donations and the American Enterprise Institute saw a 58 percent increase. Scott Brown ran as the 41st vote against ObamaCare and saw historic fundraising numbers for his election, raising over $1 million during a one-day moneybomb. These were incredibly strong fundraising numbers for an off-cycle year and were indicative of the high levels of donor discontent with the ObamaCare bill.

Every time it is polled, ObamaCare becomes more and more unpopular with the American people. As any good fundraiser knows, it’s easier to solicit donations from the discontented. While the Supreme Court decision may not be what conservatives were hoping for, the fundraising departments of conservative organizations and candidates are now in overdrive as Americans will now register their disappointment and frustration with their wallets.

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Lesson of ObamaCare: Get it Passed

That this morning’s ObamaCare decision is disastrous should go without saying. The government’s claim that the mandate is a tax should have been rejected as the Alice in Wonderland reasoning that it is–here’s Obama saying it’s not a tax and here he is saying he’s never raised any taxes–and the law should have been struck down.

Conservatives who are finding solace in potential political implications–that the decision will unite the Tea Party behind Mitt Romney, that Obama will get tagged for increasing taxes, etc.–are setting themselves up for disappointment. As of March, only half of Americans even knew that ObamaCare was still on the books. As of today, they’re going to be bombarded with the message that Obama won, that the Supreme Court  signed on to ObamaCare, and that anyway, the issue is closed and we need to be talking about jobs. It’s not clear that Romney should or will move off his all-economy-all-the-time messaging. This morning, he’s at least partly framing the decision in terms of jobs. With the exception of short-term fundraising, it’s uncertain how today’s decision will ultimately impact the election.

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That this morning’s ObamaCare decision is disastrous should go without saying. The government’s claim that the mandate is a tax should have been rejected as the Alice in Wonderland reasoning that it is–here’s Obama saying it’s not a tax and here he is saying he’s never raised any taxes–and the law should have been struck down.

Conservatives who are finding solace in potential political implications–that the decision will unite the Tea Party behind Mitt Romney, that Obama will get tagged for increasing taxes, etc.–are setting themselves up for disappointment. As of March, only half of Americans even knew that ObamaCare was still on the books. As of today, they’re going to be bombarded with the message that Obama won, that the Supreme Court  signed on to ObamaCare, and that anyway, the issue is closed and we need to be talking about jobs. It’s not clear that Romney should or will move off his all-economy-all-the-time messaging. This morning, he’s at least partly framing the decision in terms of jobs. With the exception of short-term fundraising, it’s uncertain how today’s decision will ultimately impact the election.

Even if Romney did start pointing out that the president flip-flopped on ObamaCare being a tax, and even if that message penetrated the electorate, conservatives would still have traded removing a dagger aimed at the heart of the country’s fundamental notions of citizenship and its financial solvency for the off-chance that “Democrats pulled off a bait-and-switch” will swing five percent of Virginia voters. Not a great deal.

The lesson of ObamaCare remains the same as it’s been since the Democrats used exotic parliamentary maneuvers to pass it: success for a political movement lies in passing what you can, however you can, whenever you can, and on whatever basis is at hand. The presumption granted to facts on the ground–argumentatively and politically–is worth whatever short-term hits parties and movements take to their credibility. Once a law is passed, its proponents get to paint any change as upsetting rather than restoring the status quo. That’s how House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi could declare that ObamaCare had moved from a privilege to a right, with the New York Times insisting we have to let existing laws work. Meanwhile, liberals gained a strange new respect for judicial modesty, which was to be enforced by intimidation from the president and his water-carriers.

That presumption played out in the Court’s decision which, once you get past the literally surreal declaration that ObamaCare is a tax, isn’t terrible. Congress does have nearly unlimited taxation power, more or less by design. Judicial checks were erected, meanwhile, to limit expansive congressional mischief conducted under the umbrella of its enumerated powers.

Before this morning, that distinction was implicitly recognized, albeit badly mangled, by liberals such as Ezra Klein and Paul Krugman. They simply could not get past the argument that, because Congress can undeniably tax the country into a single-payer system, a less ambitious non-tax intervention should surely pass constitutional muster. That reasoning, which was delivered with typically inexplicable cocooned smugness and happens to be exactly backwards, simply misunderstands the kinds of checks built into the Constitution. The analogy here is to Congress’s power to raise an army. Citizens can be ordered to become soldiers but not ordered to become construction workers, even though building a wall is much less severe than being sent to war. The Framers placed fewer institutional checks on broad enumerated powers such as taxation and conscription because in a democracy over-taxation and needless war-making are electorally toxic. The check on Members of Congress in those contexts is that they’ll get voted out of office. The Framers erected institutional judicial checks on violations of liberty that were less publicly inflammatory, and which therefore required something beyond electoral oversight. Luckily, the Kleins and Krugmans of the world will no longer have to trouble themselves with those distinctions, now that they’ve been told ObamaCare is indeed a tax and not something structurally less than a tax.

Voters were supposed to prevent Congress from taxing them into a health care mandate. The Court was supposed to check Congress from abusing its Commerce Clause authority to create a health care mandate. Democrats dodged voter oversight on taxation in 2010 by insisting ObamaCare wasn’t a tax, and then they survived judicial rejection of their Commerce Clause reasoning in 2012 by insisting it is a tax. It’s a neat trick, and one they shouldn’t have been allowed to get away with. But again, presumption is powerful, and it lets you throw everything against the wall to see what sticks. Conservatives would do well to heed that lesson.

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Swing States are Neck-and-Neck

Today’s NBC News/Marist poll has President Obama and Mitt Romney virtually tied in New Hampshire, North Carolina and — most troubling for the president — Michigan. With little more than four months to go, the close race in the key Rust Belt state is the latest sign of turmoil in Obama’s reelection strategy.

A new round of NBC News-Marist polls shows President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney running almost neck-and-neck in three key battleground states, with Obama holding a slight advantage in Michigan and North Carolina, and the two candidates tied in New Hampshire.

In Michigan, Obama is ahead by four percentage points among registered voters, including those who are undecided but are still leaning toward a candidate, 47 to 43 percent.

In North Carolina, the president gets 46 percent to Romney’s 44 percent, which is within the survey’s margin of error.

And in New Hampshire, the two men are tied at 45 percent each.

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Today’s NBC News/Marist poll has President Obama and Mitt Romney virtually tied in New Hampshire, North Carolina and — most troubling for the president — Michigan. With little more than four months to go, the close race in the key Rust Belt state is the latest sign of turmoil in Obama’s reelection strategy.

A new round of NBC News-Marist polls shows President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney running almost neck-and-neck in three key battleground states, with Obama holding a slight advantage in Michigan and North Carolina, and the two candidates tied in New Hampshire.

In Michigan, Obama is ahead by four percentage points among registered voters, including those who are undecided but are still leaning toward a candidate, 47 to 43 percent.

In North Carolina, the president gets 46 percent to Romney’s 44 percent, which is within the survey’s margin of error.

And in New Hampshire, the two men are tied at 45 percent each.

In New Hampshire, the race has narrowed in Romney’s favor since mid-May. In 2008, Obama won the state by 10 points, but it was expected to be in play this year. The president’s go-negative strategy may be less effective in New Hampshire, as voters there are familiar with Romney and many already hold an opinion about him. Romney’s favorability ratings are also higher in New Hampshire than in the two other states in the survey.

Democrats hoped to hold onto North Carolina by holding the convention there, but so far that has seemed to be a colossal misstep. Rather than helping Obama, the attention on the scandal-ridden state Democratic Party has mainly resulted in negative publicity. The president’s gay marriage decision, which appeared to be a direct rebuke of North Carolina voters, didn’t help either. Obama beat John McCain by just .4 percent there in 2008, so he has a steep hill to climb.

But Obama’s failure to open a lead in Michigan is by far the worst news for his campaign, and a sign he’ll have to fight just for a chance to hold onto the Rust Belt. Since the beginning of June, the race has been tightening in the state (as well as Pennsylvania and Ohio), likely in response to the gloomy jobs numbers and stagnant recovery. The last NBC/Marist poll in February showed Obama up by 18 points in Michigan, but that was back when the unemployment situation appeared to be improving. A lot has changed since then–much of it for the worst for the president.

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Has the ObamaCare Ruling Given Us the Scott Brown Presidential Campaign?

When Scott Brown ran to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy, he had one overarching theme: he would cast what was then thought to be the deciding vote against ObamaCare. For all the liberal spin about his opponent running a clumsy campaign, the Senate election was the clearest referendum on ObamaCare yet. And in a liberal state, the Republican won the seat by winning the argument (or deploying the winning argument) against ObamaCare.

When the Senate Democrats used a procedural maneuver to get around the vote, Brown’s victory seemed to have been in vain. But now its value comes roaring back to Republicans–as a potential model for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the individual mandate may stand as a massive tax increase, Romney will deploy what was always going to be the strategy in this case: the claim that he is the last thing standing between ObamaCare and the people.

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When Scott Brown ran to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy, he had one overarching theme: he would cast what was then thought to be the deciding vote against ObamaCare. For all the liberal spin about his opponent running a clumsy campaign, the Senate election was the clearest referendum on ObamaCare yet. And in a liberal state, the Republican won the seat by winning the argument (or deploying the winning argument) against ObamaCare.

When the Senate Democrats used a procedural maneuver to get around the vote, Brown’s victory seemed to have been in vain. But now its value comes roaring back to Republicans–as a potential model for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the individual mandate may stand as a massive tax increase, Romney will deploy what was always going to be the strategy in this case: the claim that he is the last thing standing between ObamaCare and the people.

If Romney loses the election in November, it is doubtful the GOP would still gain enough seats in the Senate to overturn the health care reform law. And in either case, it is unlikely the GOP could take enough seats in the Senate to overturn an Obama veto. Only an election that produces a President Romney would carry with it the means to overturn the law. ObamaCare was unpopular enough for a Republican to win Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts, and it remains deeply unpopular. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled the law’s funding mechanism to be a massive nationwide tax increase, it’s possible the law may become even less popular.

That makes Romney’s argument, in theory, stronger than Brown’s was, at least in two ways: the country is far more conservative than Massachusetts, and the law’s tax increase is so politically radioactive that it never would have passed in the first place had it been described honestly as such from the beginning. Romney may not be able to authentically recreate the style of Brown’s campaign by driving around in a pickup truck, but he may otherwise have found his blueprint.

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Cue the Tea Party: Obama Raised Everybody’s Taxes

In ruling ObamaCare constitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court has handed President Obama a major victory. After months of bad news on the economy that has essentially turned his effort to gain re-election into a dead heat, this is a huge boost for his administration. But the grounds on which it has been validated is a poison pill that may come back to haunt him. The president and the Democrats claimed the expansion of government power was permitted by the Commerce Clause, but it survives only as a tax, something the president denied back in 2010 when he and the then Democrat-controlled Congress passed it.

Conservative legal scholars may console themselves about the fact that a Court majority placed some limits on the way the Commerce Clause could be interpreted. But the majority’s approval for it on the grounds the government’s power to tax citizens is virtually unlimited is actually a far graver blow to individual liberty than had it said the individual mandate was permitted under the power to regulate interstate commerce. The ruling has made plain what many said when the legislation was passed: ObamaCare is the biggest tax increase in history, and far from being limited to the wealthy, it applies to everyone across the board. As much as this is a victory for the president, it hands Republicans an issue with which they can flay him until November. The Tea Party movement is now routinely dismissed as yesterday’s news, but the Court may have just brought it back from the dead.

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In ruling ObamaCare constitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court has handed President Obama a major victory. After months of bad news on the economy that has essentially turned his effort to gain re-election into a dead heat, this is a huge boost for his administration. But the grounds on which it has been validated is a poison pill that may come back to haunt him. The president and the Democrats claimed the expansion of government power was permitted by the Commerce Clause, but it survives only as a tax, something the president denied back in 2010 when he and the then Democrat-controlled Congress passed it.

Conservative legal scholars may console themselves about the fact that a Court majority placed some limits on the way the Commerce Clause could be interpreted. But the majority’s approval for it on the grounds the government’s power to tax citizens is virtually unlimited is actually a far graver blow to individual liberty than had it said the individual mandate was permitted under the power to regulate interstate commerce. The ruling has made plain what many said when the legislation was passed: ObamaCare is the biggest tax increase in history, and far from being limited to the wealthy, it applies to everyone across the board. As much as this is a victory for the president, it hands Republicans an issue with which they can flay him until November. The Tea Party movement is now routinely dismissed as yesterday’s news, but the Court may have just brought it back from the dead.

In essence, the Court rolls the election calendar back to 2010 when the GOP was able to mobilize the country against the vast expansion of government power being undertaken by the Obama administration. Now Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republicans can argue that while the Court ruled it constitutional, its passage was the result of a deception, and the net result is a tax hike for the entire country as well as granting the government an unprecedented expansion of power.

The health care debate now switches from speculation about what the Court would do to one about whether the voters are prepared to re-elect a president who has snuck through a massive tax on the middle class on a technicality. While the president will attempt to spin this issue as one of helping the uninsured, Republicans can go back to the arguments that gained them a midterm landslide two years ago. Repeal of ObamaCare is now not a sidebar to the failing economy but an integral part of the GOP argument that the Democrats have not only worsened the nation’s finances but will sink it even deeper in the coming years as the bill is finally implemented.

The Court has illustrated that the real choice in 2012 is between two visions about the power of the government and its ability to tax and spend, and the only limit on that power comes from the voters, not the Constitution. It remains to be seen whether the result will be the same as in 2010, but Republicans can certainly argue that if the people want to place limits on federal power it must elect a Congress and a president who will take the country in a different direction.

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The Supreme Court’s Surprise

Well, the Supreme Court, as it has so often before, surprised nearly everybody. Most people thought Justice Kennedy was the pivotal vote. He wasn’t. He thought the whole Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, as did Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas. The four liberal justices would have upheld the whole act. It was Chief Justice Roberts who made all the difference, and his idiosyncratic reasoning will have profound constitutional implications far beyond ObamaCare. Here are three, a distinctly mixed bag.

1) He limited federal power under the Commerce Clause. It is not constitutional to require people to buy a product. The clause is limited to regulating commerce that is, not commerce the government wants to see. That’s a big deal, because had the requirement been upheld, the power of the federal government under the Commerce Clause would have become essentially unlimited. As was pointed out in oral argument, you could be required to buy broccoli.

2) He greatly expanded the taxing power. Never before that I know of, has a federal tax been placed on inactivity. If you buy something, you pay a sales tax. If you earn income, you pay an income tax. If you do business as a corporation, you pay an excise tax. Now, if you don’t buy health insurance, you pay a tax on not doing so. What else then can be taxed? Not exercising? Not eating broccoli? Not agreeing with the president?

3) He considerably limited federal power over the states. The Tenth Amendment has been largely a dead letter for decades, declared a mere truism. (In which case, why did the Founding Fathers include it?) But Roberts ruled that while the federal government can tie strings to federal money given to the states—in this case additional Medicaid funds—it cannot coerce the states by threatening to take away other funds unless its will is complied with. This is a tactic the federal government has been using for years to, in effect, make states mere administrative districts of the federal government. For instance, it forced the states to adopt 21-to-drink laws or face the loss of federal highway funds. Roberts is arguing that the states are, indeed, sovereign within their own sphere. That is also a big deal.

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Well, the Supreme Court, as it has so often before, surprised nearly everybody. Most people thought Justice Kennedy was the pivotal vote. He wasn’t. He thought the whole Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, as did Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas. The four liberal justices would have upheld the whole act. It was Chief Justice Roberts who made all the difference, and his idiosyncratic reasoning will have profound constitutional implications far beyond ObamaCare. Here are three, a distinctly mixed bag.

1) He limited federal power under the Commerce Clause. It is not constitutional to require people to buy a product. The clause is limited to regulating commerce that is, not commerce the government wants to see. That’s a big deal, because had the requirement been upheld, the power of the federal government under the Commerce Clause would have become essentially unlimited. As was pointed out in oral argument, you could be required to buy broccoli.

2) He greatly expanded the taxing power. Never before that I know of, has a federal tax been placed on inactivity. If you buy something, you pay a sales tax. If you earn income, you pay an income tax. If you do business as a corporation, you pay an excise tax. Now, if you don’t buy health insurance, you pay a tax on not doing so. What else then can be taxed? Not exercising? Not eating broccoli? Not agreeing with the president?

3) He considerably limited federal power over the states. The Tenth Amendment has been largely a dead letter for decades, declared a mere truism. (In which case, why did the Founding Fathers include it?) But Roberts ruled that while the federal government can tie strings to federal money given to the states—in this case additional Medicaid funds—it cannot coerce the states by threatening to take away other funds unless its will is complied with. This is a tactic the federal government has been using for years to, in effect, make states mere administrative districts of the federal government. For instance, it forced the states to adopt 21-to-drink laws or face the loss of federal highway funds. Roberts is arguing that the states are, indeed, sovereign within their own sphere. That is also a big deal.

Judging by the signs being carried, the overwhelming majority of the crowd outside the Court this morning was anti-ObamaCare. With the upholding of the mandate, ObamaCare survives. For now. But I suspect the already energized anti-Obama forces in this year’s election will now be supercharged. The only way to get rid of this deeply pernicious piece of legislation will be to get rid of Obama. Requiring all candidates for federal office to sign a promise to repeal ObamaCare as a precondition of support would be a starter.

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Congressional Black Caucus Plans Walk Out on Holder Vote

Democrats are trying their best to turn the Eric Holder contempt vote into a racial issue, and Politico reports that the Congressional Black Caucus is planning a walk out protest during the floor vote today:

The Congressional Black Caucus plans to walk off the House floor during tomorrow’s votes to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress, according to a letter being circulated among members of Congress.

“We adamantly oppose this partisan attack and refuse to participate in any vote that would tarnish the image of Congress or of an attorney general who has done nothing but work tirelessly to protect the rights of the American people. We must reflect upon why we are elected to this body and choose now to stand up for justice,” the CBC members wrote in a copy of the letter obtained by Politico….

“Instead of focusing on job creation and other critical issues before this Congress, we have been asked to engage in a political stunt on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. Our constituents elected us to do real work, not to engage in meaningless partisan activity,” they wrote.

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Democrats are trying their best to turn the Eric Holder contempt vote into a racial issue, and Politico reports that the Congressional Black Caucus is planning a walk out protest during the floor vote today:

The Congressional Black Caucus plans to walk off the House floor during tomorrow’s votes to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress, according to a letter being circulated among members of Congress.

“We adamantly oppose this partisan attack and refuse to participate in any vote that would tarnish the image of Congress or of an attorney general who has done nothing but work tirelessly to protect the rights of the American people. We must reflect upon why we are elected to this body and choose now to stand up for justice,” the CBC members wrote in a copy of the letter obtained by Politico….

“Instead of focusing on job creation and other critical issues before this Congress, we have been asked to engage in a political stunt on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. Our constituents elected us to do real work, not to engage in meaningless partisan activity,” they wrote.

The CBC, of course, would never engage in these sort of “political stunts” and “meaningless partisan activities.” Speaking of which, how many Republicans do you think will be at the CBC’s meaningful bipartisan press conference condemning the Eric Holder contempt vote? I’m going to go with “zero.” When even Sen. Scott “Independent Voice of Massachusetts” Brown is calling for Holder’s resignation, it seems safe to assume the GOP is sticking together on this one.

In fact, the only real bipartisanship we’re likely to see today will be on the side supporting the contempt vote. Fox News reports that at least 11 House Democrats are expected to break rank and join the GOP on this one, but others have speculated that number could be as high as 31.

It’s also interesting that House Democrats are suddenly complaining about “sideshows” after wasting months on the “war on women” nonsense. Criticizing House Republicans for focusing on political stunts isn’t likely to sway public opinion, particularly as the Fast and Furious investigation has bipartisan support, and Holder isn’t exactly a sympathetic party in this conflict.

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Court Gives GOP Rallying Cry: Stop the Tax!

By joining the left of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts has upheld the Affordable Care Act. This is a clear victory for President Obama, and he can now go to the people in November with his signature legislative achievement intact and say he has fulfilled his promise to pass a comprehensive health care plan. But in doing so not on the grounds that it is valid under the Commerce Clause but as a tax, the court handed the Republicans a strong issue to run on this fall.

President Obama and the Democrats claimed throughout the debate over the legislation that it was not a tax. But the GOP can go to the voters with a rallying cry to stop the tax as it pledges to repeal ObamaCare next January. The issue now is no longer just the defense of the principle of individual liberty — endangered by this expansion of federal power — but whether to entrust the government to a party that is dedicated to taxing and spending without limit.

By joining the left of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts has upheld the Affordable Care Act. This is a clear victory for President Obama, and he can now go to the people in November with his signature legislative achievement intact and say he has fulfilled his promise to pass a comprehensive health care plan. But in doing so not on the grounds that it is valid under the Commerce Clause but as a tax, the court handed the Republicans a strong issue to run on this fall.

President Obama and the Democrats claimed throughout the debate over the legislation that it was not a tax. But the GOP can go to the voters with a rallying cry to stop the tax as it pledges to repeal ObamaCare next January. The issue now is no longer just the defense of the principle of individual liberty — endangered by this expansion of federal power — but whether to entrust the government to a party that is dedicated to taxing and spending without limit.

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A COMMENTARY Guide to ObamaCare

While the country waits for the Supreme Court’s decision on ObamaCare, we invite readers to enjoy Tevi Troy’s recent series of COMMENTARY articles on American healthcare and its political and legal journey. Troy, a former deputy secretary of Health and Human Services, begins the incisive series with April 2010’s  “Health Care: A Two-Decade Blunder,” explaining how the issue first became so highly politicized, and ends with May 2012’s “Three Days that Shook ObamaCare,” detailing the pivotal Court arguments that took place in March. The articles make for a comprehensive resource on this pivotal national issue and, moreover, they’re all great reads.  See links below.

 

While the country waits for the Supreme Court’s decision on ObamaCare, we invite readers to enjoy Tevi Troy’s recent series of COMMENTARY articles on American healthcare and its political and legal journey. Troy, a former deputy secretary of Health and Human Services, begins the incisive series with April 2010’s  “Health Care: A Two-Decade Blunder,” explaining how the issue first became so highly politicized, and ends with May 2012’s “Three Days that Shook ObamaCare,” detailing the pivotal Court arguments that took place in March. The articles make for a comprehensive resource on this pivotal national issue and, moreover, they’re all great reads.  See links below.

 

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Obama Still Steamrollering Hillary

Though it seems like a long time ago, one of the most astonishing feats in modern American political history was how Barack Obama came from nowhere to beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. The historic nature of the Obama presidency has shaped our view of that contest to the extent that in retrospect it now seems inconceivable that almost everyone believed Clinton was the inevitable nominee. A reminder of why the former First Lady and senator didn’t have what it took to beat Obama comes through in a highly flattering profile of the secretary of state in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Though the piece by the Times’s State Department correspondent Steven Lee Myers is more of a public mash note than anything else, it still manages to remind us that though she may be a “rock star diplomat,” the main narrative of this administration’s foreign policy must speak of how Clinton has been steamrollered time and again on policy disputes just as she was during the 2008 campaign.

Myers opens with the account of how Clinton helped secure the freedom of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, which was certainly a neat bit of diplomacy on the secretary’s part. But this one tiny victory highlights the fact that Clinton’s years at Foggy Bottom have actually been short on achievements despite the adoring press coverage she continues to receive. Her work on the Middle East peace process, the Arab Spring, the Iranian nuclear threat and the comical Russian “reset” has been a record of consistent failure. Just as important, as even Myers is forced to admit, Clinton has been more of a “Girl Scout” than a genuine leader within the administration, as she has been overridden on Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia and most human rights controversies by the president and his foreign policy advisers.

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Though it seems like a long time ago, one of the most astonishing feats in modern American political history was how Barack Obama came from nowhere to beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. The historic nature of the Obama presidency has shaped our view of that contest to the extent that in retrospect it now seems inconceivable that almost everyone believed Clinton was the inevitable nominee. A reminder of why the former First Lady and senator didn’t have what it took to beat Obama comes through in a highly flattering profile of the secretary of state in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Though the piece by the Times’s State Department correspondent Steven Lee Myers is more of a public mash note than anything else, it still manages to remind us that though she may be a “rock star diplomat,” the main narrative of this administration’s foreign policy must speak of how Clinton has been steamrollered time and again on policy disputes just as she was during the 2008 campaign.

Myers opens with the account of how Clinton helped secure the freedom of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, which was certainly a neat bit of diplomacy on the secretary’s part. But this one tiny victory highlights the fact that Clinton’s years at Foggy Bottom have actually been short on achievements despite the adoring press coverage she continues to receive. Her work on the Middle East peace process, the Arab Spring, the Iranian nuclear threat and the comical Russian “reset” has been a record of consistent failure. Just as important, as even Myers is forced to admit, Clinton has been more of a “Girl Scout” than a genuine leader within the administration, as she has been overridden on Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia and most human rights controversies by the president and his foreign policy advisers.

Clinton’s achievements at the State Department have been few and far between. She can take some credit for the outcome in Libya, where the U.S. joined the rest of the West in ousting the Qaddafi regime. But even that was tainted by the spectacle of the U.S. “leading from behind” and the lack of a capable follow-up to the fighting in which the chaos in Libya has now spread to Mali.

But the Arab Spring protests have otherwise been an unmitigated disaster for the United States. Clinton’s much ballyhooed ability to make nice that stems from her eight years as First Lady hasn’t done much to advance American interests. Indeed, her faith in her schmoozing skills may have actually been a drawback to U.S. efforts to deal with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Being Clinton’s friend may be what some foreign leaders aspire to, but it didn’t do much for Suzanne Mubarak, a point few in the Middle East missed.

As Senator Lindsey Graham has said, Clinton may be both “classy” and “hard-working,” fine attributes for a middle-level bureaucrat. But her approach to U.S. foreign policy has been all about process and less concerned with tangible results. The international coalition she has assembled on behalf of sanctions against Iran that she often boasts about doesn’t mean much when you consider it took three years to assemble (during which Iran was able to continue working toward its nuclear goal while laughing at the administration’s attempt at “engagement”) and has done nothing to actually stop the Iranians.

Elsewhere, she has presided over foreign policy during a period where American influence over events in Egypt and elsewhere in the region declined. In particular, her sporadic attempts at reviving the Israel-Palestinian talks were disasters. Here again, the president’s “good soldier” loyally did his bidding in picking fights with Israel’s government that only served to reinforce Palestinian intransigence.

But of course, we don’t know what Clinton could really have accomplished if she had her way because as Myers is forced to point out, she has subordinated her own views to those of the president despite differences on keeping a strong American presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, the need to resist Putin and to promote human rights. In each case, Clinton’s instincts seem to have been on the right side of the issue, but as a dutiful servant of the president, she wound up being the public face of bad policies.

Of course, the president’s views ought to prevail as a matter of principle, but Clinton’s inability to get her way on most issues and willingness to go along to get along tells us a lot about why he won in 2008 and she didn’t. Her “rock star” status has to do with her fame and long stay in the public eye as well as having the smarts to suck up to the press. But for all of her intelligence and abilities, this is not the profile of someone who was ever likely to be president. Though Barack Obama has been a terrible president in most respects, even reading the most flattering coverage of Clinton reminds us why he’s sitting in the Oval Office and she never will.

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