Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 2012

“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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Heritage Site is Jewish, Not Just Palestinian

On Monday, the New York Times reported about the effort by Palestinians to have the village of Battir designated as a World Heritage site because of the unique ecological nature of the ancient terraced irrigation system at work there. The terraces might be endangered by the construction of Israel’s security fence that in the area runs right along the 1949 armistice lines. While it is not clear that the barrier would actually damage the area, ironically the greatest obstacle to the designation of the site by UNESCO is that the Palestinians are also seeking to get the same honor for the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

But as bloggers Elli Fischer and Yisrael Medad have pointed out, the problem with the article isn’t so much its acceptance of the Palestinian argument against putting the fence there (which is also ironic because Israel’s critics have objected when the barrier was placed anywhere but at the old green line), but that it completely ignored the Jewish heritage of the area. Battir is not just a Palestinian village with an old irrigation system but was the site of the ancient Jewish fortress of Betar, the site of the last organized resistance to Roman rule in 135 C.E. during the Bar Kochba revolt. Moreover, far from the irrigation system being, as the Times claimed, a remnant of the Roman presence, it predates their presence in the country and is clearly the product of biblical-era Jewish settlement. As Medad put it, “Romans, Shmomans.”

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On Monday, the New York Times reported about the effort by Palestinians to have the village of Battir designated as a World Heritage site because of the unique ecological nature of the ancient terraced irrigation system at work there. The terraces might be endangered by the construction of Israel’s security fence that in the area runs right along the 1949 armistice lines. While it is not clear that the barrier would actually damage the area, ironically the greatest obstacle to the designation of the site by UNESCO is that the Palestinians are also seeking to get the same honor for the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

But as bloggers Elli Fischer and Yisrael Medad have pointed out, the problem with the article isn’t so much its acceptance of the Palestinian argument against putting the fence there (which is also ironic because Israel’s critics have objected when the barrier was placed anywhere but at the old green line), but that it completely ignored the Jewish heritage of the area. Battir is not just a Palestinian village with an old irrigation system but was the site of the ancient Jewish fortress of Betar, the site of the last organized resistance to Roman rule in 135 C.E. during the Bar Kochba revolt. Moreover, far from the irrigation system being, as the Times claimed, a remnant of the Roman presence, it predates their presence in the country and is clearly the product of biblical-era Jewish settlement. As Medad put it, “Romans, Shmomans.”

Medad also points out that a closer look at the accounts of the dispute there shows the villagers’ problem has more to do with their faulty sewage system than any threats from Israeli construction crews in a nearby valley.

But the main point here is not so much the argument about the location of the fence as it is the willful erasure of the Jewish connections of a place that Palestinians are seeking to have honored for its historical significance. Betar was the last gasp of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel for 1,800 years and a place where tens of thousands of Jews were slaughtered by the Romans.

As Fischer notes:

In fact, the Talmud offers an alternative explanation for the fertility of Battir: “For seven years [after the fall of Betar] the gentiles fertilized their vineyards with the blood of Israel without using manure.”

In this respect the promotion of Battir as a memorial to the supposed history of the Palestinians is stereotypical of the way their supporters have done their best to ignore or actually deny the Jewish connections to this land.

UNESCO stands alone as the only UN agency that recognizes the Palestinian Authority as an independent state. It has in the recent past recognized Jewish religious shrines such as the Tomb of Rachel outside Bethlehem as mosques, so there is little hope it will treat Israel or the Jews fairly. But if it is to grant this site the World Heritage designation, it should, at the very least, declare it to be important to the history of both Jews and Palestinians. In doing so, it would give the lie to the claim that Jews are usurpers or foreigners in the West Bank. And that is probably reason enough for it to continue denying Jewish history and heritage.

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GOP Shouldn’t Rush to Replace ObamaCare

With it a near certainty that sometime Thursday morning we will finally know whether the Supreme Court will strike down the Affordable Care Act, the political parties have spent much of this week pondering what they will do in the event the president’s signature legislation is ruled unconstitutional. The Democrats are fairly certain of their course of action if their side loses tomorrow. They will attack the Court and the GOP while attempting to change the narrative of the issue from one about a government power grab to the plight of the uninsured. Republicans are less certain; as the putative victors in the controversy, their inclination may be to sit back and gloat.

As Politico reports today, congressional Republicans have no plans to respond to the downfall of ObamaCare with legislation aimed at filling in the gap if the president’s plan goes down, even if it means allowing some of the more popular provisions in a profoundly unpopular bill are lost with the rest of the plan. While doing nothing may be dangerous as it risks losing the initiative to the left, the thinking here is they are right to pass on getting bogged down this year on an alternative. But a refusal to try to push through a new bill shouldn’t be confused with passivity. Conservatives must be ready to start pushing back against the left’s attempt to demonize the Court or allow them to make the public forget the issue here isn’t sympathy for the poor but the defense of liberty.

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With it a near certainty that sometime Thursday morning we will finally know whether the Supreme Court will strike down the Affordable Care Act, the political parties have spent much of this week pondering what they will do in the event the president’s signature legislation is ruled unconstitutional. The Democrats are fairly certain of their course of action if their side loses tomorrow. They will attack the Court and the GOP while attempting to change the narrative of the issue from one about a government power grab to the plight of the uninsured. Republicans are less certain; as the putative victors in the controversy, their inclination may be to sit back and gloat.

As Politico reports today, congressional Republicans have no plans to respond to the downfall of ObamaCare with legislation aimed at filling in the gap if the president’s plan goes down, even if it means allowing some of the more popular provisions in a profoundly unpopular bill are lost with the rest of the plan. While doing nothing may be dangerous as it risks losing the initiative to the left, the thinking here is they are right to pass on getting bogged down this year on an alternative. But a refusal to try to push through a new bill shouldn’t be confused with passivity. Conservatives must be ready to start pushing back against the left’s attempt to demonize the Court or allow them to make the public forget the issue here isn’t sympathy for the poor but the defense of liberty.

The temptation to come up with a comprehensive alternative to ObamaCare if it is struck down will be great. The Democrats will inevitably demand the GOP step into the vacuum left by the bill’s destruction, and there are some Republicans who have ready-made plans they’ll wish to put forward. But in doing so, they will just be providing the left with easy targets for criticism and perhaps render themselves vulnerable to the same problems that afflicted the Democrats’ rush to ram ObamaCare through Congress two years ago. The last thing Republicans need is to propose another bill that no one will have read or understood when it comes up for a vote.

However, Republicans do need to avoid sitting back and letting liberals get the better of them. So long as ObamaCare was on the books, conservatives could just fire away at its shortcomings and make the case that it was an unconscionable power grab by the federal government. Rather than just taking bows if the Court rules their way, they need to keep hammering away on this.

More to the point, they need to have the courage of their convictions and not fear the Democrats will have the better of the argument in the coming months. Though the left is acting as if a ruling that ObamaCare is unconstitutional will be a blow to Mitt Romney’s chances of defeating the president, that isn’t true. As liberal blogger/analyst Nate Silver points out in the New York Times, though Congress and the Supreme Court are widely disliked, ObamaCare is even more unpopular.

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We Still Need to Protect Oil Interests

The Wall Street Journal has the umpteenth article today trumpeting the technological advances–primarily fracking–that are allowing oil companies to uncover and exploit vast, untapped fields in North America. This is leading a dramatic decline in our need for imported oil, especially oil imported from the Middle East. As the Journal notes:

By 2020, nearly half of the crude oil America consumes will be produced at home, while 82 percent will come from this side of the Atlantic, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By 2035, oil shipments from the Middle East to North America “could almost be nonexistent,” the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries recently predicted, partly because more efficient car engines and a growing supply of renewable fuel will help curb demand.

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The Wall Street Journal has the umpteenth article today trumpeting the technological advances–primarily fracking–that are allowing oil companies to uncover and exploit vast, untapped fields in North America. This is leading a dramatic decline in our need for imported oil, especially oil imported from the Middle East. As the Journal notes:

By 2020, nearly half of the crude oil America consumes will be produced at home, while 82 percent will come from this side of the Atlantic, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By 2035, oil shipments from the Middle East to North America “could almost be nonexistent,” the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries recently predicted, partly because more efficient car engines and a growing supply of renewable fuel will help curb demand.

Great news! We can all agree on that. But does this mean that in the future we will be able to ignore developments in the Middle East? That we will no longer have to spend some $50 billion a year (as estimated by Brookings’ Mike O’Hanlon) to protect the flow of oil? Were that it were so. In reality, as the article notes, oil is a global commodity, so supply disruptions in the Middle East–which our European and Asian trading partners remain reliant upon–would still drive up the cost of gasoline in the United States.

Another point worth keeping in mind, which goes unmentioned in this article: Much of the reason we remain concerned about the Middle East is because its oil supplies produce revenue streams that can be used for all sorts of nefarious purposes. Just think of the Saudis funding the promulgation of Wahhabi fundamentalist doctrines around the world–or of the Iranians building nuclear weapons. As long as oil is valuable–and there is scant prospect of that changing anytime in the foreseeable future–we will have to remain concerned about who controls it. And that means we will need to have a substantial military presence in the Middle East.

It’s not simply a defensive deployment either: Don’t forget that China is heavily dependent on the Middle East for its own oil. As long as our Navy can close its supply routes, we will hold a valuable cudgel that could be employed in the event of a crisis.

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Schneiderman’s Partisan Fishing Expedition

Liberals are still seething over the way the Supreme Court reaffirmed the Citizens United decision in the Montana campaign finance law case where state restrictions on political spending were rightly overruled. But this defense of free speech rights will not go unanswered by a Democratic Party that thinks allowing citizens and groups to support ideas and candidates is a scandal. That’s why New York’s left-wing attorney general is launching a brazenly partisan attack on the right of political speech in the guise of an investigation of alleged violations of the tax code.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is a hard-line liberal who has been itching to use his post to both fight for restrictive campaign finance laws and to garner the publicity that will enable him to advance his career. On the surface, Schneiderman is merely conducting a probe into contributions to tax-exempt groups. But by focusing his attention on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business conservative group, the political intent of the investigation is obvious.

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Liberals are still seething over the way the Supreme Court reaffirmed the Citizens United decision in the Montana campaign finance law case where state restrictions on political spending were rightly overruled. But this defense of free speech rights will not go unanswered by a Democratic Party that thinks allowing citizens and groups to support ideas and candidates is a scandal. That’s why New York’s left-wing attorney general is launching a brazenly partisan attack on the right of political speech in the guise of an investigation of alleged violations of the tax code.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is a hard-line liberal who has been itching to use his post to both fight for restrictive campaign finance laws and to garner the publicity that will enable him to advance his career. On the surface, Schneiderman is merely conducting a probe into contributions to tax-exempt groups. But by focusing his attention on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business conservative group, the political intent of the investigation is obvious.

Schneiderman isn’t the first Democrat to try to use the post of New York attorney general to conduct politicized prosecutions to burnish his reputation. The now disgraced Eliot Spitzer’s attacks on Wall Street paved the way for his path to the governorship of the state. Current Governor Andrew Cuomo also used the post in this manner. But Schneiderman is not just another New York Democrat on the make. He’s an ideologue who campaigned on support for campaign finance laws and now appears to be willing to use his power to conduct an inquisition of conservative non-profits that will make him the darling of the left around the nation.

There is no obvious evidence of wrongdoing of any kind or legal violations on the part of the National Chamber Foundation, the Starr Foundation or the Chamber itself, though all have received subpoenas from Schneiderman. There is nothing unusual in the financing of some of the group’s activities by non-profit foundations. But what they are guilty of is being conservative groups in the crosshairs of leftist opponents seeking to brand their donations as somehow running afoul of the laws governing non-profits because of their advocacy for tort-reform, a cause that doesn’t sit well with Democratic constituencies such as trial lawyers and unions.

The same amorphous questions could be put to any non-profit involved in public advocacy. But political observers on both sides of the aisle understand that when probes like this are conducted, the only possible motivation is not respect for the law but a desire to criminalize political opponents.

Local political payback is also involved here because the Starr Group is headed by former AIG chair Maurice R. Greenberg, who was driven out of the country by a vindictive and ultimately failed prosecution launched by Spitzer during his climb up the greasy pole of New York politics.

Above all, the Schneiderman fishing expedition is an attempt to supply some proof that the Citizens United decision has unleashed a wave of political corruption, a key talking point for liberal critics of the landmark free speech case. In spite of their allegations that allowing organizations, including labor unions and other left-wing groups, to spend to promote their ideas, has despoiled politics, all Citizens United has done is to increase the amount of political speech. That is antithetical to leftists who wish to regulate the marketplace of ideas and repress the efforts of grassroots groups to fight back against big government initiatives.

Given the almost unlimited power of Schneiderman to conduct his probe, conservative groups should expect to be harassed in the coming months and years. But while Schneiderman and his cheerleaders in the mainstream press will represent this investigation as a public spirited attempt to rein in corruption, there can be no doubt that it is merely an unprincipled political witch hunt whose purpose is to cripple the efforts of conservative groups.

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NRA to Score Holder Contempt Vote

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has leverage with House Democrats running for reelection in conservative districts, and its decision to score the Eric Holder contempt vote (in favor of it) will complicate Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s attempts to keep Democrats united in opposition (h/t HotAir):

“I think there are some members that will consider the recommendations of the NRA,” Hoyer said to reporters today. “Whether they think those recommendations are founded or not, I don’t know at this point.”

The number of Democratic defections could reach 31, according to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose committee voted last Wednesday to move the contempt citation to a full House vote.

Issa cites a letter sent from 31 Democrats to the Obama administration last year asking for them to be forthcoming with details of the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation as a template for possible Democratic “yes” votes.

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The National Rifle Association (NRA) has leverage with House Democrats running for reelection in conservative districts, and its decision to score the Eric Holder contempt vote (in favor of it) will complicate Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s attempts to keep Democrats united in opposition (h/t HotAir):

“I think there are some members that will consider the recommendations of the NRA,” Hoyer said to reporters today. “Whether they think those recommendations are founded or not, I don’t know at this point.”

The number of Democratic defections could reach 31, according to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose committee voted last Wednesday to move the contempt citation to a full House vote.

Issa cites a letter sent from 31 Democrats to the Obama administration last year asking for them to be forthcoming with details of the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation as a template for possible Democratic “yes” votes.

So far, Rep. Matheson is the first Democratic defector. Getting 31 Democrats to cross the aisle still seems like a long-shot for Issa, but the NRA scoring will certainly help. The lobbying group does appear to have had some interest or involvement in the Fast and Furious letter Issa mentions that had 31 Democratic signatories last year, since it was posted on the NRA website under “media.” If the Democrats lose 31 members on this vote, their argument that the GOP is using it as a ploy to tie Holder’s hands on voting rights becomes even more absurd.

The NRA, meanwhile, outlined its justification for scoring the vote in a recent letter to House GOP leadership, making the case that this is about gun rights, not partisanship (h/t Moe Lane):

It is no secret that the NRA does not admire Attorney General Holder. For years, we have pointed out his history of anti-Second Amendment advocacy and enforcement actions. Since taking office, Attorney General Holder has seized on the violence in Mexico to promote the lie that “90 percent” of firearms used in Mexican crime come from the U.S.; to call for bringing back the 1994 Clinton gun ban; and to justify the illegal multiple sales reporting scheme, which amounts to gun registration for honest Americans who buy long guns in southwest border states.

But our support of this contempt resolution is not about those issues — nor is it a partisan decision, for we have also expressed our strong policy disagreements with Attorney General Holder’s predecessors of both parties. The reason we support the contempt resolution is the same reason we first called for Attorney General Holder’s resignation more than a year ago: the Department’s obstruction of congressional oversight of a program that cost lives in support of an anti-gun agenda.

Hoyer will try his best to keep his party in line, but the election is a little more than four months away, and some Democrats won’t be able to afford being on the wrong side of the NRA.

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News Bulletin: Obama Isn’t Perfect

In a campaign event in Atlanta, President Obama employed this argument on his behalf:

I’m not perfect and I’ll never be a perfect president but I told you that I’d always tell you what I thought, I’d always tell you what I believe and most importantly I told you I’d wake up every single day and fight as hard as I knew how for you. That I’d fight as hard as I knew how for all those folks who were doing the right thing out there. All those people who’ve kept the faith with this country and you know what? I’ve kept that promise. I have kept that promise. I believe in you. I hope you still believe in me.

These words, while banal (and somewhat plaintive), are also instructive. A general rule in politics is that when a chief executive says he hasn’t been a “perfect president,” it means he’s been dramatically less than perfect. It’s analogous to John Edwards claiming he hasn’t been a perfect husband.

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In a campaign event in Atlanta, President Obama employed this argument on his behalf:

I’m not perfect and I’ll never be a perfect president but I told you that I’d always tell you what I thought, I’d always tell you what I believe and most importantly I told you I’d wake up every single day and fight as hard as I knew how for you. That I’d fight as hard as I knew how for all those folks who were doing the right thing out there. All those people who’ve kept the faith with this country and you know what? I’ve kept that promise. I have kept that promise. I believe in you. I hope you still believe in me.

These words, while banal (and somewhat plaintive), are also instructive. A general rule in politics is that when a chief executive says he hasn’t been a “perfect president,” it means he’s been dramatically less than perfect. It’s analogous to John Edwards claiming he hasn’t been a perfect husband.

A second rule worth bearing in mind is this: When an incumbent’s case for re-election rests in large part on the fact that he wakes up every single day fighting hard for the American people, he’s in trouble. It means the incumbent can’t make a compelling defense of his record or sketch out a compelling second-term agenda. And the promises he says he’s kept don’t have to do with improving the objective conditions of the nation; they have to do with a subjective claim of good intentions.

“I tried hard” and “I meant well” are explanations a mother might take into account if her son failed in his Algebra I course. As a re-election slogan, however, it leaves something to be desired.

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Bigoted Candidate Crushed in NY Primary

It wasn’t even close when the AP called it last night: Democrat establishment favorite Hakeem Jeffries crushed former Black Panther Charles Barron in a landslide, 75 percent to 25 percent. The Daily News recaps:

State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries trounced City Councilman Charles Barron in a showdown for Brooklyn’s 8th congressional district.

With 54 percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press deemed Jeffries the easy winner, 75 percent of the vote to Barron’s 25 percent.

“The political pundits said that this was going to be a close race, but that was before the people had spoken,” Jeffries told his supporters after hearing early results. “The people spoke with one loud voice and that’s why we’re going to Washington.”

Jeffries landed almost every major endorsement, winning the backing of Sen. Chuck Schumer, Gov. Cuomo and most Democratic bigwigs.

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It wasn’t even close when the AP called it last night: Democrat establishment favorite Hakeem Jeffries crushed former Black Panther Charles Barron in a landslide, 75 percent to 25 percent. The Daily News recaps:

State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries trounced City Councilman Charles Barron in a showdown for Brooklyn’s 8th congressional district.

With 54 percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press deemed Jeffries the easy winner, 75 percent of the vote to Barron’s 25 percent.

“The political pundits said that this was going to be a close race, but that was before the people had spoken,” Jeffries told his supporters after hearing early results. “The people spoke with one loud voice and that’s why we’re going to Washington.”

Jeffries landed almost every major endorsement, winning the backing of Sen. Chuck Schumer, Gov. Cuomo and most Democratic bigwigs.

Recall that Barron lost his 2006 congressional race against incumbent Ed Towns by a mere eight points, so how did he manage to lose so epically to a newer, lesser-known politician like Jeffries just six years later? The David Duke endorsement video might have had something to do with it, but it’s likely the last-minute deluge of cash and endorsements for the Jeffries’ campaign helped him build an impressive get-out-the-vote effort in the typically low-turnout district. The Daily News suggests as much in its article comparing Barron’s campaign HQ to Jeffries’:

Earlier in the day, about 20 volunteers donned bright yellow t-shirts inside Barron’s makeshift campaign headquarters in a transformed family owned diner, Sistas’ Place on 456 Nostrand Ave.

Meanwhile, an army of volunteers flooded a campaign office in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, where Jeffries’ father, Marland, 73, was patiently waiting for the election results.

Despite the drubbing, Barron reportedly refused to concede the race and is calling for a recount. Barron may be the sorest loser, but Crain’s New York makes the case that the biggest loser of the race is DC 37, the powerful city union that backed Barron and looked ineffective in the process:

DC 37. By backing Charles Barron for Congress, the city’s largest public employees’ union fueled speculation that the bomb-throwing councilman’s campaign was surging in its final weeks. But Barron’s crushing defeat by Jeffries was further proof of the union’s diminished political clout.

A stinging defeat for unions and David Duke fans all in the same day? Who could ask for anything more?

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Democrats Afraid to Be Seen with Obama?

Competing for a speaking slot at the Democratic and Republican parties’ presidential nominating conventions is a time-honored tradition every four years. The reason is simple: presidential nominees are generally popular within the party and may be the next leader of the free world, and the conventions provide an opportunity to be seen and heard by millions of Americans. (Nielsen keeps historical convention ratings for Democrats here, and Republicans here.)

So it is surely a sign of something close to panic that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee head Steve Israel is publicly advising Democrats to stay home from President Obama’s nominating convention this year:

The man responsible for getting Democrats elected to the Congress this fall has a message for his party’s candidates: Stay away from the Democratic National Convention in September.

“If they want to win an election, they need to be in their districts,” New York Congressman Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Reuters Washington Summit on Tuesday.

Read More

Competing for a speaking slot at the Democratic and Republican parties’ presidential nominating conventions is a time-honored tradition every four years. The reason is simple: presidential nominees are generally popular within the party and may be the next leader of the free world, and the conventions provide an opportunity to be seen and heard by millions of Americans. (Nielsen keeps historical convention ratings for Democrats here, and Republicans here.)

So it is surely a sign of something close to panic that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee head Steve Israel is publicly advising Democrats to stay home from President Obama’s nominating convention this year:

The man responsible for getting Democrats elected to the Congress this fall has a message for his party’s candidates: Stay away from the Democratic National Convention in September.

“If they want to win an election, they need to be in their districts,” New York Congressman Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Reuters Washington Summit on Tuesday.

Who would have guessed the clear favorite for “least convincing political spin of the year” would go to someone other than Jay Carney or Debbie Wasserman Schultz? Not a single person will buy this spin, for two reasons: First, even if the Democrats expected another wave election in favor of the GOP, the very candidates most susceptible to that wave–less experienced members of the House–would benefit most by appearing at the convention, as it would raise their profile. And second, the announcement from Israel came after Democratic politicians began heading for the lifeboats.

The most notable of these Democrats was Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, whose declaration that she would be caught nowhere near the president’s convention seems to have spooked her party into making a monumental unforced error. If Democrats think they’re headed for another shellacking at the polls, perhaps they know something the rest of the country doesn’t. Because there haven’t been any serious indicators of such a wave–at least nothing like 2010.

Volunteering that information won’t help them, because it won’t increase turnout and it will draw attention to the left’s sense of impending doom–something that occasionally develops into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It also forces media outlets to report a story that has thus far flown below the radar. If this were happening to a Republican administration, mainstream newspapers would be running story after story about how the president is so unpopular, even within his own party, that no one will be seen with him, his governance too radical even for the radicals.

But those stories had yet to appear this time, with the media’s election-year sensitivity to Obama’s image helpfully guiding them. Israel took a story the president’s allies were keeping under wraps and put it in neon lights. Don’t believe the polls showing Obama and Romney just about even, the DCCC itself seems to be saying, the president is politically toxic and everyone knows it.

Well, now everyone knows it.

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