Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 3, 2012

The Ideals of the Glorious Fourth

The past week was not a good one for those who care about personal liberty and restraining the expanding power of the federal government. Chief Justice John Roberts’ perplexing and contradictory opinion upholding ObamaCare was a discouraging blow to those who had assumed the Court would uphold its responsibility to defend the Constitution. However, as Americans prepare to celebrate the birthday of our republic, it is an appropriate moment to remember that while the battle to preserve our freedoms requires constant vigilance, it is not a fight that is anywhere close to being conclusively lost. The genius of our framers was that they designed a political system which was set up to frustrate the efforts of those who would attempt radical political departures from the values that are dear to Americans. Though ObamaCare will be a critical step in the wrong direction, the final answer belongs not to the Court, but to the people.

In the past two years, there has been a remarkable revival of a constituency dedicated to defending the cause of individual freedom. Though the Tea Party has been subjected to unprecedented abuse, it helped change the nature of the national conversation about the entire spectrum of topics dealing with the power of government. In a separate though not unrelated battle, the Catholic Church and its friends have, when confronted with intolerable intrusions into its liberty of conscience, spoken up and actively resisted the imposition of the HHS Mandate that would force it to fund activities that contradict the teachings of their faith. Rather than acquiesce to restrictions on religious freedom, people of faith are refusing to knuckle under the dictates of the federal government.

All of this reminds us that while democracy may be a difficult and often frustrating system of government, it is not a spectator sport.

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The past week was not a good one for those who care about personal liberty and restraining the expanding power of the federal government. Chief Justice John Roberts’ perplexing and contradictory opinion upholding ObamaCare was a discouraging blow to those who had assumed the Court would uphold its responsibility to defend the Constitution. However, as Americans prepare to celebrate the birthday of our republic, it is an appropriate moment to remember that while the battle to preserve our freedoms requires constant vigilance, it is not a fight that is anywhere close to being conclusively lost. The genius of our framers was that they designed a political system which was set up to frustrate the efforts of those who would attempt radical political departures from the values that are dear to Americans. Though ObamaCare will be a critical step in the wrong direction, the final answer belongs not to the Court, but to the people.

In the past two years, there has been a remarkable revival of a constituency dedicated to defending the cause of individual freedom. Though the Tea Party has been subjected to unprecedented abuse, it helped change the nature of the national conversation about the entire spectrum of topics dealing with the power of government. In a separate though not unrelated battle, the Catholic Church and its friends have, when confronted with intolerable intrusions into its liberty of conscience, spoken up and actively resisted the imposition of the HHS Mandate that would force it to fund activities that contradict the teachings of their faith. Rather than acquiesce to restrictions on religious freedom, people of faith are refusing to knuckle under the dictates of the federal government.

All of this reminds us that while democracy may be a difficult and often frustrating system of government, it is not a spectator sport.

Just as American freedom was won in 1776 through the valor of our Founders, so, too can it only be preserved through the activity of those to whom this gift has been handed down through the generations. We are not guaranteed to win every such battle, but Americans must understand that while our challenges are many, our faith in the ultimate triumph of freedom on these shores should not be doubted.

American exceptionalism is no myth. It is the fruit of 236 years of sacrifice, courage and perseverance. On this date we celebrate not just America but the ideals this great country stands for.

To all of our readers from all of us at COMMENTARY, a Happy, Glorious Fourth!

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Likely Voters Are Awful at Ranking Presidents

At the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey Anderson compiled two lists ranking the 10 best presidents and 10 worst presidents, based on the net opinions of likely voters in the latest Newsweek/Daily Beast poll. Both are worth reading. President Obama comes in second on the “worst president” list, right after George W. Bush. Richard Nixon is rated the third worst and Jimmy Carter is fourth.

But any conservatives tempted to gloat about Obama’s low score might want to reconsider. The real story here is that likely voters are appallingly bad at ranking presidents, and, in a just world, would be discouraged from getting anywhere near a voting booth. Brace yourself before reading their list of the 10 best presidents:

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At the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey Anderson compiled two lists ranking the 10 best presidents and 10 worst presidents, based on the net opinions of likely voters in the latest Newsweek/Daily Beast poll. Both are worth reading. President Obama comes in second on the “worst president” list, right after George W. Bush. Richard Nixon is rated the third worst and Jimmy Carter is fourth.

But any conservatives tempted to gloat about Obama’s low score might want to reconsider. The real story here is that likely voters are appallingly bad at ranking presidents, and, in a just world, would be discouraged from getting anywhere near a voting booth. Brace yourself before reading their list of the 10 best presidents:

1. Abraham Lincoln, +27 points (28 percent place in top-2, 1 percent place in bottom-2)

2. Ronald Reagan, +25 points (31 percent place in top-2, 6 percent place in bottom-2)

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt, +22 points (23 percent place in top-2, 1 percent place in bottom-2)

4. John F. Kennedy, +19 points (19 percent place in top-2, 0 percent place in bottom-2)

5. (tie) George Washington, +15 points (16 percent place in top-2, 1 percent place in bottom-2)

5. (tie) Bill Clinton, +15 points (28 percent place in top-2, 13 percent place in bottom-2)

7. Thomas Jefferson, +6 points (6 percent place in top-2, 0 percent place in bottom-2)

8. (tie) Teddy Roosevelt, +5 points (5 percent place in top-2, 0 percent place in bottom-2)

8. (tie) Harry S Truman, +5 points (5 percent place in top-2, 0 percent place in bottom-2)

10. Dwight D. Eisenhower, +4 points (5 percent place in top-2, 1 percent place in bottom-2)

Lincoln — great; Reagan — good; FDR — definitely not my choice, but okay, let liberals have their guy in the top three. But hold on here, JFK beats out George Washington? Bill Clinton outranks Jefferson, TR, Truman and Eisenhower? What is Bill Clinton even doing on this list, and how is it that he’s tied with the Father of Our Country in fifth place?

Should we care that likely voters think Obama’s terrible, if they’re also this deluded about his predecessors?

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The Constitution, Court, and Fourth of July

It seems safe to say that no Supreme Court decision has ever been extolled more effusively by its admirers than the ObamaCare one, notwithstanding the fact that it was — in the words of the admirers — based on an unpersuasive argument whose coherence is easy to question.

Jeffrey Toobin at The New Yorker described Chief Justice Roberts upholding ObamaCare under the “tax” argument as a “singular act of courage” — although Toobin admitted, “[f]rankly, that argument is not a persuasive one.” Jeffrey Rosen at The New Republic described the chief justice’s action as an admirable legal “twistification,” comparable to those of Chief Justice John Marshall — even though it “would be easy, of course, to question the coherence of the combination of legal arguments that Roberts embraced.” Unpersuasive, incoherent, but what an act of courage!

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It seems safe to say that no Supreme Court decision has ever been extolled more effusively by its admirers than the ObamaCare one, notwithstanding the fact that it was — in the words of the admirers — based on an unpersuasive argument whose coherence is easy to question.

Jeffrey Toobin at The New Yorker described Chief Justice Roberts upholding ObamaCare under the “tax” argument as a “singular act of courage” — although Toobin admitted, “[f]rankly, that argument is not a persuasive one.” Jeffrey Rosen at The New Republic described the chief justice’s action as an admirable legal “twistification,” comparable to those of Chief Justice John Marshall — even though it “would be easy, of course, to question the coherence of the combination of legal arguments that Roberts embraced.” Unpersuasive, incoherent, but what an act of courage!

On the right, those defending the chief justice praise him for meeting the possible challenge to the Court’s legitimacy from a contentious 5-4 vote, for his skill in making ObamaCare the issue in the coming election rather than the Court, and for giving the people the chance to determine the ultimate fate of that legislation, rather than having it decided for them by a 5-4 vote. Then he joined in deciding the constitutionality of ObamaCare by a 5-4 vote. He apparently switched his vote to endorse the “tax” argument he had demolished at oral argument.

Something is wrong with that picture; perhaps it will be redrawn in November. The New York Sun, in a beautifully-written editorial, describes the Roberts opinion as unconvincing — “to put it mildly” — and suggests that holding the mandate (1) a “penalty” rather than a “tax” under the Anti-Injunction Act, but (2) a “tax” rather than a “penalty” under the Constitution, “will strike most people as a lawyer’s self-parody.” The Sun ends, however, on an optimistic note:

[W]e’re for bowing to the Court and throwing oneself into the political fray. The Court’s ruling sets up Governor Romney to remind us again that the taxing power is the most dangerous of the powers handed to the Congress. And that when the Democrats get a hold of the Congress, they will use it in every way they can — even in requiring an innocent, law-abiding citizen who is beyond the reach of the Commerce Clause to purchase health insurance. It is a moment to remember that if the Obamacare mandate is a tax, then it is something that can be cut or repealed, as thousands of other taxes have been in the history of our country, almost always to beneficial effect. That is, after all, the bedrock on which our entire revolution began.

As we head into the Fourth of July, that may be the proper approach to the constitutional situation in which we find ourselves — thankful for the Constitution, for the continuing discussions about it, and for the opportunity for the people to render their own judgment in about four months.

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Freedom is Mandatory Union Dues

There is something about conservatives using the word “freedom” that drives the left insane. Maybe because progressives like to see themselves as champions of the people, fighting against the system, rather than what they actually are: statists, attempting to impose their beliefs on individuals through government power.

At the Huffington Post, AFL-CIO  boss Richard Trumka reimagines the concept of “freedom” today in a column that is just as Orwellian as you would think (h/t Washington Examiner):

I do believe that freedom isn’t free — but today the corporate and political right wing is trying to cheapen this truly American value. They’ve been cynically using the word “freedom” to rally the American public against its own best interests.

When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, Sarah Palin tweeted, “Obama lies; freedom dies.”

She’s referring, I guess, to the freedom to go without health care when you’re sick.

In its otherwise positive decision, the Supreme Court gave states the “freedom” to deny Medicaid coverage to their poorest residents — even though the federal government would pick up the tab.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received the National Rifle Association’s “Defender of Freedom” award recently. I guess they meant Gov. Walker is defending teachers’ freedom from joining with coworkers to bargain fairly about things like class size. …

Let’s call this right-wing “freedom” catch phrase what it really is: a grossly political strategy to dupe the public, which holds the word “freedom” as something sacred.

This Independence Day, I say let’s go back to a truer use of the word “freedom.” Let’s start with President Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. I would add the freedom to bargain collectively.

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There is something about conservatives using the word “freedom” that drives the left insane. Maybe because progressives like to see themselves as champions of the people, fighting against the system, rather than what they actually are: statists, attempting to impose their beliefs on individuals through government power.

At the Huffington Post, AFL-CIO  boss Richard Trumka reimagines the concept of “freedom” today in a column that is just as Orwellian as you would think (h/t Washington Examiner):

I do believe that freedom isn’t free — but today the corporate and political right wing is trying to cheapen this truly American value. They’ve been cynically using the word “freedom” to rally the American public against its own best interests.

When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, Sarah Palin tweeted, “Obama lies; freedom dies.”

She’s referring, I guess, to the freedom to go without health care when you’re sick.

In its otherwise positive decision, the Supreme Court gave states the “freedom” to deny Medicaid coverage to their poorest residents — even though the federal government would pick up the tab.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received the National Rifle Association’s “Defender of Freedom” award recently. I guess they meant Gov. Walker is defending teachers’ freedom from joining with coworkers to bargain fairly about things like class size. …

Let’s call this right-wing “freedom” catch phrase what it really is: a grossly political strategy to dupe the public, which holds the word “freedom” as something sacred.

This Independence Day, I say let’s go back to a truer use of the word “freedom.” Let’s start with President Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. I would add the freedom to bargain collectively.

The “freedom to go without health care when we’re sick” isn’t the issue, unless Trumka is arguing that the state should force every sick person in the country to get medical attention. We all have the freedom to decide whether or not to see a doctor when we are sick, just like we should all have the freedom to decide not to pay for health care (insurance) when we are well. We have the freedom to move if we disagree with our state’s decision to not participate in Medicare expansion. And we also have the freedom to elect a new state governor who will participate in it, or lobby the current governor to do it, if that’s our preference.

We should all have the freedom to decide whether or not to pay monthly dues to a union, instead of having the money automatically pulled from our paychecks. Trumka opposes “teachers’ freedom from joining with coworkers to bargain” — in other words, he thinks teachers should be forced to join with coworkers to bargain. Shouldn’t someone who professes to care about teachers support their freedom to make their own choices regarding their paychecks and their workplaces?

Trumka seems to grasp that this statist mentality is unpopular with the public, and that labor’s messaging strategy in Wisconsin was a failure. That’s why he’s so adamant about trying to reframe his positions as “pro-freedom,” as illogical as it sounds. The conservative arguments are working, and the left has very little ammunition to fight back.

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U.S.-Pakistan Relations Still Bizarre

So it appears the standoff which led to the closing of the NATO supply line through Pakistan in November has finally been resolved. After resisting offering an apology for an incident in which a cross-border firefight led to the deaths of two dozen Pakistani soldiers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has finally delivered language that would satisfy Pakistan. As she said in a statement:

“I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.”

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So it appears the standoff which led to the closing of the NATO supply line through Pakistan in November has finally been resolved. After resisting offering an apology for an incident in which a cross-border firefight led to the deaths of two dozen Pakistani soldiers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has finally delivered language that would satisfy Pakistan. As she said in a statement:

“I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.”

That simple statement was, of course, the subject of many months of contentious negotiations. It is hard to blame the administration for finally kowtowing, at least in a limited way, toward Pakistani sensitivities. After all, the closure of the “GLOC” (ground line of communications), even if it did not disrupt NATO operations, was costing us an extra $100 million a month to ferry goods from Central Asia. But this should not make anyone think relations with Pakistan have been restored to normal–a term tough to even apply to our bizarre relationship with this state which claims to be an ally and yet sponsors terrorist groups which regularly kill American soldiers.

Nor should this deal lead us to shy away from taking some of the tough steps–such as using drones to target Taliban and Haqqani leaders inside Pakistan–that will still arouse Pakistani ire and that could lead to a closure of the GLOC once again. If we don’t do more to strike at the insurgent leadership, we will not be able to leave even minimal stability behind in Afghanistan after 2014.

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Preserve Bethlehem’s Christians as Well as the Church of the Nativity

Last week’s decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to designate the Church of the Nativity as a world heritage site was rightly opposed by the United States because it was seen as merely a ploy to boost the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood. UNESCO was the only UN agency to recognize the PA as an independent state, and this announcement was merely a jab at Israel as part of a campaign to falsely claim the Jewish state is endangering the future of the shrine as well as the Christian population in the West Bank.

But if UNESCO and those who applauded the decision were truly interested in the well-being of Palestinian Christians, they would have recognized that not only has the PA been the one desecrating the Church of the Nativity, but it has been assisting the efforts to transform Bethlehem from a traditional stronghold of Christianity into one where Christians no longer have a future.

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Last week’s decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to designate the Church of the Nativity as a world heritage site was rightly opposed by the United States because it was seen as merely a ploy to boost the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood. UNESCO was the only UN agency to recognize the PA as an independent state, and this announcement was merely a jab at Israel as part of a campaign to falsely claim the Jewish state is endangering the future of the shrine as well as the Christian population in the West Bank.

But if UNESCO and those who applauded the decision were truly interested in the well-being of Palestinian Christians, they would have recognized that not only has the PA been the one desecrating the Church of the Nativity, but it has been assisting the efforts to transform Bethlehem from a traditional stronghold of Christianity into one where Christians no longer have a future.

The manipulation of the Church by the Palestinians and their friends in the UN bureaucracy is shameful. By putting the place Christians venerate as the birthplace of Jesus on the list of places that are “World Heritage in Danger,” the Arabs may have thought they were embarrassing Israel. But, they are just drawing attention to the fact that it was the PA that used the sacred site as a hideout for terrorist murderers in 2002 when Israel sought to arrest those involved in a number of vicious attacks on Jewish targets during the second intifada. Out of respect for the Church, Israel agreed to let those criminals inside the church avoid prosecution so as to avoid bloodshed or possible damage.

The current state of the Church, which is suffering from water leaks, is the result of the mismanagement of the area by the PA, not Israel. But far more important is the fact that under the PA’s administration, Christians have been pushed out of the city as Islamist factions started to throw their weight around. Christians have been fleeing Bethlehem for a better life elsewhere for the past 19 years since the Oslo Accords. The same is true of the rest of the West Bank.

Palestinian Christians know better than to criticize Muslim authorities for their problems, as doing so puts them in great danger. So they too join the chorus blaming Israel, but the reality is that as Hamas and other extremist factions gain greater influence and Fatah seeks to compete with them to maintain its popularity, Palestinian society has become an even more hostile place for religious minorities.

While the Church of the Nativity is worthy of the World Heritage site designation, those who are interested in preserving it and the community who has long lived in its shadow should not be playing into the hands of those who are driving Christians out of the country.

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Prescription for Geopolitical Disaster

We interrupt our commentary on the looming defense sequestration–which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called a potential “disaster”–to note that our most stalwart ally, Great Britain, is also hollowing out its armed forces.

The honorary colonel of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, which is set to lose a battalion as part of the continuing downsizing, has written a letter to the chief of the general staff blasting the decision: “If challenged or scrutinized by, for example the media, it cannot be presented as the best or most sensible military option.” In all, five British infantry battalions are being eliminated, with the loss of 12,000 soldiers.

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We interrupt our commentary on the looming defense sequestration–which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called a potential “disaster”–to note that our most stalwart ally, Great Britain, is also hollowing out its armed forces.

The honorary colonel of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, which is set to lose a battalion as part of the continuing downsizing, has written a letter to the chief of the general staff blasting the decision: “If challenged or scrutinized by, for example the media, it cannot be presented as the best or most sensible military option.” In all, five British infantry battalions are being eliminated, with the loss of 12,000 soldiers.

This is part of a bigger drawdown ordered by the Cameron government, which as the Wall Street Journal noted last year, means that “the number of personnel will fall around 10 percent, and about 40 percent of tanks will be retired and the country will lose its aircraft carriers, leaving it with no carrier-strike capability for almost 10 years, until a new carrier comes into service.”

Why should this be of concern to Americans? Because Britain is one of the few allies we can count on in a crunch. In the future, however, even if it wants to fight alongside our forces, it will have scant capability to do so. We will be increasingly on our own in the world–at the very time when our own resources are in rapid decline. This is a prescription for geopolitical disaster.

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GOP’s in a Wisconsin State of Mind

When Newt Gingrich led the Republicans back to power on Capitol Hill during Bill Clinton’s first midterms, the revolutionaries came with a famous to-do list. But the most successful item on that list by far was almost certainly their ability to get welfare reform enacted with a Democratic president. Such congressional victories are rare; this one remains celebrated by both parties. So it was an odd feeling for former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in 2007 when he ran for the GOP presidential nomination and seemed unable to get any traction with his reform credentials.

Gingrich may have passed welfare reform, and Clinton may have signed it, but Thompson enabled both. No one carried the ball farther down the field on welfare reform than Thompson did as governor of Wisconsin. He also wasted no time in reminding voters that he passed the nation’s first school vouchers program to include private schools. But if Thompson is far from the spotlight, even as these issues crop up once again, he can take solace in the fact that his state remains front and center in just about every major reform fight. In fact, when conservatives talk about states being “laboratories of democracy,” they seem to have Wisconsin in mind.

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When Newt Gingrich led the Republicans back to power on Capitol Hill during Bill Clinton’s first midterms, the revolutionaries came with a famous to-do list. But the most successful item on that list by far was almost certainly their ability to get welfare reform enacted with a Democratic president. Such congressional victories are rare; this one remains celebrated by both parties. So it was an odd feeling for former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in 2007 when he ran for the GOP presidential nomination and seemed unable to get any traction with his reform credentials.

Gingrich may have passed welfare reform, and Clinton may have signed it, but Thompson enabled both. No one carried the ball farther down the field on welfare reform than Thompson did as governor of Wisconsin. He also wasted no time in reminding voters that he passed the nation’s first school vouchers program to include private schools. But if Thompson is far from the spotlight, even as these issues crop up once again, he can take solace in the fact that his state remains front and center in just about every major reform fight. In fact, when conservatives talk about states being “laboratories of democracy,” they seem to have Wisconsin in mind.

Paul Ryan has taken the reins on budget issues for the GOP, but his public persona is inextricably tied to his proposed entitlement reforms, especially Medicare. Ryan’s ideas became the Republican Party’s budget. He became a standard-bearer at a level usually reserved for presidential nominees. (When Gingrich slammed Ryan’s proposal as “right-wing social engineering,” he was practically booed and hissed out of the race.) Ryan’s reforms became their own litmus test to see if conservative presidential candidates were “serious” about the country’s fiscal future.

And no one will soon forget the liberal reaction to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s public union reforms–the deepest in the country. To avoid even voting on legislation, Democratic members of the state’s Senate fled Wisconsin to live in a hotel in Illinois. It didn’t exactly do wonders for the Democratic Party’s credibility, but neither did the DNC-organized protests; the nicest protesters compared Walker to Hosni Mubarak, the less generous compared him to–who else–Hitler. In fact, Walker’s reforms were tough but smart, and have provided a much-needed boost to the state’s economy. Fearing the effect of fiscal restraint on their taxpayer-financed largesse, the unions helped organize recall elections for state senators and Walker himself. The GOP survived, and so did the reforms.

And today at National Review Online, Katrina Trinko profiles Reince Priebus, the first-term Republican National Committee chair who has improved the party’s fundraising, kept a lower profile, and stayed more on-message than his predecessor. Priebus is also from Wisconsin.

So what is it about the Badger State? At first glance, Wisconsin might seem an unlikely laboratory for conservative reforms. It hasn’t thrown its electoral votes into the Republican column since 1984–though George W. Bush nearly nabbed the state in 2004. And though it has become more competitive in recent years, that should only make it less given to producing politicians willing to take the political risks Ryan and Walker have. Washington, D.C., isn’t exactly famous for political courage, so reformers take the risk of being demagogued into the ground–having their voters and their caucus scared off. But Wisconsin’s voters aren’t so easily bullied by unions either.

Wisconsin, then, is a peculiar kind of potential swing state. Wisconsin’s conservatives are not only enacting serious reforms, but are encouraging the national party to follow suit. (Compare this with Florida, where politicians walk a very careful line with regard to entitlement reform in an election year.) Is creative conservative reform the path to a Wisconsinite’s heart? Perhaps its liberal leanings have helped. Thompson’s reforms came just as the state was beginning to vote Democratic in presidential elections, and voters seemed to seek some kind of balance–the state hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential election since Thompson became governor, but it has also only had one Democratic governor in that same time (Walker’s predecessor).

Whatever the reason, the success of Wisconsin’s reform-minded politicians suggests the country isn’t as resigned to a welfare state future as many fear. Even without a candidate in a presidential election year, the state remains at the center–and often sets the terms–of the debate.

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Economic Forecast Bleak for Obama’s Recovery Bus Tour

The Hill reports President Obama will kick off his jobs-focused “Betting on America” bus tour this week, an odd choice of timing considering the dreary economic news out today and the likelihood of another bad jobs report on Friday. The real question is whether Obama will at least use an American-built bus this time around?

President Obama’s campaign is tagging his two-day bus trip in the Midwest later this week the “Betting on America” tour, an opportunity for the campaign to push its economic message against Mitt Romney in two key swing states.

In a statement released Tuesday, the campaign said the president intended to “talk about his efforts over the last three years to get our economy back on track, doubling down on American workers by saving the auto industry, investing in manufacturing and bringing jobs back to America,” as he travels through northern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

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The Hill reports President Obama will kick off his jobs-focused “Betting on America” bus tour this week, an odd choice of timing considering the dreary economic news out today and the likelihood of another bad jobs report on Friday. The real question is whether Obama will at least use an American-built bus this time around?

President Obama’s campaign is tagging his two-day bus trip in the Midwest later this week the “Betting on America” tour, an opportunity for the campaign to push its economic message against Mitt Romney in two key swing states.

In a statement released Tuesday, the campaign said the president intended to “talk about his efforts over the last three years to get our economy back on track, doubling down on American workers by saving the auto industry, investing in manufacturing and bringing jobs back to America,” as he travels through northern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

Manufacturing activity dropped in June for the first time in three years, an indication of economic downturn, according to Reuters. Obama is planning a protectionist message for his tour, emphasizing the outsourcing of jobs at Romney’s Bain Capital. Many of Obama’s claims are unsubstantiated; FactCheck.org found no evidence that Romney shipped American jobs overseas during his tenure at Bain. But even the false attacks won’t change the fact that the economic outlook dropped to a new low this month, or change the jobs numbers later this week, via Gallup:

Both components of the index — Americans’ ratings of current economic conditions and their perceptions of whether the economy is getting better or getting worse — declined slightly in June. The -18 economic outlook rating reflects 38 percent of Americans saying the economy is improving and 56 percent saying it is getting worse. At the same time, 15 percent of Americans say the economy is in excellent or good shape, while 41 percent consider it poor, resulting in a -26 current conditions rating.

Americans’ economic outlook in June averaged lower than in any month since January, while their rating of current conditions remained in the narrow range between -28 and -23 seen since March.

The protectionist message could be effective in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, but voters are already pessimistic about the direction of the economy and understand the problem is about much more than job outsourcing. If Obama’s message comes off as out-of-touch or an attempt to shift blame, it could actually end up backfiring.

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Iraq is Blowing Up

I take no joy from being proven right, but it appears that I–and other advocates of a continued American military presence in Iraq–were right to warn of the dangers of withdrawal. The Associated Press reports from Baghdad:

June was the second-deadliest month since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in mid-December as insurgents exploited the political struggles between the country’s ethnic and sectarian factions. More significant than the numbers was the fact that insurgents appeared able to sustain the level of violence over a longer period than usual. There was a major deadly bombing or shooting rampage almost every three days, many targeting Shiite pilgrims.

The violence has brought the weakness of Iraq’s security apparatus into sharp focus even as deepening political divisions dim the prospects that the country will emerge as a stable democracy after decades of war and dictatorship.

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I take no joy from being proven right, but it appears that I–and other advocates of a continued American military presence in Iraq–were right to warn of the dangers of withdrawal. The Associated Press reports from Baghdad:

June was the second-deadliest month since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in mid-December as insurgents exploited the political struggles between the country’s ethnic and sectarian factions. More significant than the numbers was the fact that insurgents appeared able to sustain the level of violence over a longer period than usual. There was a major deadly bombing or shooting rampage almost every three days, many targeting Shiite pilgrims.

The violence has brought the weakness of Iraq’s security apparatus into sharp focus even as deepening political divisions dim the prospects that the country will emerge as a stable democracy after decades of war and dictatorship.

Indeed, 50 more Iraqis died on Tuesday in a fresh round of bombings.

Not all is gloom and doom to be sure. The New York Times reports, for example, on the opening of new Western-style shopping malls in Baghdad. But with violence levels rising and with Prime Minister Maliki increasingly accumulating dictatorial powers–the two trends are related because the more the political system breaks down, the more likely it is that various parties will resort to violence–the outlook for Iraq is a good deal less bright than it was a year ago when it appeared likely there would be a residual American troop presence past 2011.

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No Vote Fraud? Tell it to Rangel’s Opponent.

In the last year as Democrats have tried to oppose all efforts to ensure the integrity of the vote in the fall election, they have derided voter ID laws as not only racist in motivation but also unnecessary. Though the basic proposition that anyone who shows up at the polls ought to be able to prove they are who they say they are and are registered voters seems like common sense, liberals have claimed such measures are utterly superfluous because voter fraud is not a problem in the United States. And because there is no problem to be fixed, any effort that might stop those not qualified to vote from casting ballots is, they claim, rooted in prejudice and aimed at “suppressing” the minority vote. One would think that the long history of election fraud in this country which dates back to the colonial era and was a staple of machine politics in the 20th century would have caused Democrats to stop making such weak claims. But they are undaunted and have even gone so far as to assert that efforts to hold Attorney General Eric Holder accountable for his failures and stonewalling in the Fast and Furious scandal are evidence of the Republicans’ desire to get back at him for opposing voter ID laws.

But in case the Democrats needed a reminder about why voter integrity laws are necessary, they have just gotten one from a stalwart of the Congressional Black Caucus and a leading opponent of such measures. Charles Rangel’s “victory” in the Democratic primary in which he sought to ensure for himself a 22nd consecutive term in Congress from New York is being disputed by his opponent, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who claims what took place last week was a “phantom election” in which Board of Elections officials may have “hidden” votes. Ironically, Espaillat also claims that not only is the vote count in question but that Rangel’s forces may have suppressed the Hispanic vote by reassigning bilingual poll watchers and turning some voters away by requesting they identify themselves.

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In the last year as Democrats have tried to oppose all efforts to ensure the integrity of the vote in the fall election, they have derided voter ID laws as not only racist in motivation but also unnecessary. Though the basic proposition that anyone who shows up at the polls ought to be able to prove they are who they say they are and are registered voters seems like common sense, liberals have claimed such measures are utterly superfluous because voter fraud is not a problem in the United States. And because there is no problem to be fixed, any effort that might stop those not qualified to vote from casting ballots is, they claim, rooted in prejudice and aimed at “suppressing” the minority vote. One would think that the long history of election fraud in this country which dates back to the colonial era and was a staple of machine politics in the 20th century would have caused Democrats to stop making such weak claims. But they are undaunted and have even gone so far as to assert that efforts to hold Attorney General Eric Holder accountable for his failures and stonewalling in the Fast and Furious scandal are evidence of the Republicans’ desire to get back at him for opposing voter ID laws.

But in case the Democrats needed a reminder about why voter integrity laws are necessary, they have just gotten one from a stalwart of the Congressional Black Caucus and a leading opponent of such measures. Charles Rangel’s “victory” in the Democratic primary in which he sought to ensure for himself a 22nd consecutive term in Congress from New York is being disputed by his opponent, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who claims what took place last week was a “phantom election” in which Board of Elections officials may have “hidden” votes. Ironically, Espaillat also claims that not only is the vote count in question but that Rangel’s forces may have suppressed the Hispanic vote by reassigning bilingual poll watchers and turning some voters away by requesting they identify themselves.

That voter fraud and other shenanigans might have taken place in the district which stretches from Harlem to The Bronx will surprise no one familiar with the grand traditions of New York politics. Nor is there anything particularly innovative about the allies of an establishment figure like Rangel working within the system to make it more difficult for a challenger to take him on.

Given the way these things generally work in New York, we may never know whether Espaillat actually beat Rangel. Nor can we be sure whether the voters allegedly turned away at the polls were really ineligible (in which case Espaillat’s camp was trying to game the results). But what we do know is that wherever politicians and their friends are tempted to cheat, that is exactly what they will do. The stakes involved in such races are high, and anyone who assumes Rangel or any other entrenched officeholder will not stoop to twist, bend or otherwise mutilate the results in order to hang on knows nothing about American political history or politicians.

All of which is a reminder of why voter integrity measures are necessary. Moreover, the fact that Rangel’s allies were prepared to challenge the identity of potential votes for Espaillat not only shows why such measures are reasonable, it also illustrates why greater attention to voter fraud–no matter who might be doing it–is vital. That a race involving the senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus should prove this point isn’t just a form of poetic justice. It also shows just how transparently fraudulent the claims made by Democrats against voter ID laws have been.

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John Roberts, Chief Sophist

In his Washington Post column, Michael Gerson writes this:

Even in a short time, Roberts’ decision has not worn well. What initially seemed wise now smacks of mere cleverness—less a judge’s prudence than a lawyer’s trick. To find the health care law constitutional, Roberts reimagined it. It was outcome-based jurisprudence, even if the intended outcome was institutional harmony. It was an act of judicial arrogance, even in the cause of judicial deference. And it raises deeper concerns. Unmoored from a reasonable interpretation of the law, institutionalism easily becomes the creed of the philosopher-king—hovering above the balance of powers, tinkering benevolently here and there, instead of living within the constraints of the system.

Mike is right on every particular. What Chief Justice Roberts did was supremely arrogant and unwise. Whatever motivated Roberts—he would undoubtedly insist it was his high-minded concern for the legitimacy of the Court; his critics would say it was his concern for winning the favor of the New York Times—he embraced a role that simply was not his to assume.

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In his Washington Post column, Michael Gerson writes this:

Even in a short time, Roberts’ decision has not worn well. What initially seemed wise now smacks of mere cleverness—less a judge’s prudence than a lawyer’s trick. To find the health care law constitutional, Roberts reimagined it. It was outcome-based jurisprudence, even if the intended outcome was institutional harmony. It was an act of judicial arrogance, even in the cause of judicial deference. And it raises deeper concerns. Unmoored from a reasonable interpretation of the law, institutionalism easily becomes the creed of the philosopher-king—hovering above the balance of powers, tinkering benevolently here and there, instead of living within the constraints of the system.

Mike is right on every particular. What Chief Justice Roberts did was supremely arrogant and unwise. Whatever motivated Roberts—he would undoubtedly insist it was his high-minded concern for the legitimacy of the Court; his critics would say it was his concern for winning the favor of the New York Times—he embraced a role that simply was not his to assume.

If Roberts wants to be a political philosopher, a law professor, or a politician, he is free to pursue those vocations. But if he wants to be a Supreme Court justice, he should take those duties seriously. In mixing and matching his responsibilities—in embracing the title of one thing and acting like another—John Roberts ended up as a sophist.

To be a sophist is no crime—but neither does one belong on the Supreme Court, and certainly not as chief justice.

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Drug War May Be Tackled in 2nd Term

It’s no secret that the country’s most famous Choom Gang member has been making a play for the stoner demographic, particularly in Colorado. Democrats hope a marijuana legalization ballot initiative in the swing state will draw young liberal-leaning voters to the polls, on the assumption that they’ll vote Obama. Still, many could actually end up voting third party — particularly because the Obama administration has dutifully carried on the “drug war” decried by libertarians.

Obama apparently wants to let these voters know he’ll have much more flexibility on these issues after the election. At GQ, Marc Ambinder transmits the message:

According to ongoing discussions with Obama aides and associates, if the president wins a second term, he plans to tackle another American war that has so far been successful only in perpetuating more misery: the four decades of The Drug War.

Don’t expect miracles. There is very little the president can do by himself. And pot-smokers shouldn’t expect the president to come out in favor of legalizing marijuana. But from his days as a state senator in Illinois, Obama has considered the Drug War to be a failure, a conflict that has exacerbated the problem of drug abuse, devastated entire communities, changed policing practices for the worse, and has led to a generation of young children, disproportionately black and minority, to grow up in dislocated homes, or in none at all. …

Beyond that, since the United States isn’t about to legalize or regulate the illegal narcotics markets, the best thing a president can do may be what Obama winds up doing if he gets re-elected: using the bully pulpit to draw attention to the issue.

But he won’t do so before November.

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It’s no secret that the country’s most famous Choom Gang member has been making a play for the stoner demographic, particularly in Colorado. Democrats hope a marijuana legalization ballot initiative in the swing state will draw young liberal-leaning voters to the polls, on the assumption that they’ll vote Obama. Still, many could actually end up voting third party — particularly because the Obama administration has dutifully carried on the “drug war” decried by libertarians.

Obama apparently wants to let these voters know he’ll have much more flexibility on these issues after the election. At GQ, Marc Ambinder transmits the message:

According to ongoing discussions with Obama aides and associates, if the president wins a second term, he plans to tackle another American war that has so far been successful only in perpetuating more misery: the four decades of The Drug War.

Don’t expect miracles. There is very little the president can do by himself. And pot-smokers shouldn’t expect the president to come out in favor of legalizing marijuana. But from his days as a state senator in Illinois, Obama has considered the Drug War to be a failure, a conflict that has exacerbated the problem of drug abuse, devastated entire communities, changed policing practices for the worse, and has led to a generation of young children, disproportionately black and minority, to grow up in dislocated homes, or in none at all. …

Beyond that, since the United States isn’t about to legalize or regulate the illegal narcotics markets, the best thing a president can do may be what Obama winds up doing if he gets re-elected: using the bully pulpit to draw attention to the issue.

But he won’t do so before November.

In other words: don’t expect Obama to actually do anything about the drug war, other than talk. And maybe not even that. Actually, if his record of broken promises is any indication, probably not even that. Go ask Hispanic voters about Obama’s 2008 promise to make immigration reform his top priority, or anti-war voters about Obama’s vows to close Guantanamo Bay and end extraordinary rendition.

At least Obama had the guts to make these pledges directly in 2008, so he could be called out when he broke them. Now his “aides and associates” are offering up these promises anonymously. Don’t believe it.

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Don’t Assume Embargo Will Make Iran Fold

With the tightening of international sanctions on Iran’s oil industry, there are some hopeful signs the pain being inflicted on the Islamist regime may have serious repercussions. As Amotz Asa-El writes in the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, the continued fall of oil prices despite the cuts in Iranian exports is a hopeful sign as is the regime’s admission that their output is dropping. More importantly, the hyperinflation afflicting Iran’s economy is causing unrest in Tehran, raising hopes the sanctions are destabilizing the country and calling into question the ability of the ayatollah’s government to hang on. All this could generate another rebuke from the Iranian people at the next scheduled presidential election next year that would create even more problems than the revolt that popped up when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rigged the vote in 2009.

But optimism about the impact the sanctions will have on Iran is not the same thing as an assurance they cannot endure them. As the Iranian attitude during the three rounds of the P5+1 talks with the West has illustrated, the ayatollahs are still under the impression that the pain inflicted on their people will not be enough to either topple the regime or bring the country to a standstill. Though Iran’s feeble attempt to flex its muscles in response to the sanctions by threatening oil tanker traffic in the Gulf of Hormuz isn’t scaring anyone — least of all the United States which is reinforcing its own naval presence in the region to remind the Iranians of their weakness — there is no reason to assume their belief they can hang on while continuing their progress toward the nuclear goal is not valid.

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With the tightening of international sanctions on Iran’s oil industry, there are some hopeful signs the pain being inflicted on the Islamist regime may have serious repercussions. As Amotz Asa-El writes in the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, the continued fall of oil prices despite the cuts in Iranian exports is a hopeful sign as is the regime’s admission that their output is dropping. More importantly, the hyperinflation afflicting Iran’s economy is causing unrest in Tehran, raising hopes the sanctions are destabilizing the country and calling into question the ability of the ayatollah’s government to hang on. All this could generate another rebuke from the Iranian people at the next scheduled presidential election next year that would create even more problems than the revolt that popped up when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rigged the vote in 2009.

But optimism about the impact the sanctions will have on Iran is not the same thing as an assurance they cannot endure them. As the Iranian attitude during the three rounds of the P5+1 talks with the West has illustrated, the ayatollahs are still under the impression that the pain inflicted on their people will not be enough to either topple the regime or bring the country to a standstill. Though Iran’s feeble attempt to flex its muscles in response to the sanctions by threatening oil tanker traffic in the Gulf of Hormuz isn’t scaring anyone — least of all the United States which is reinforcing its own naval presence in the region to remind the Iranians of their weakness — there is no reason to assume their belief they can hang on while continuing their progress toward the nuclear goal is not valid.

The European oil embargo, which has been belatedly imposed in an effort to deter Israel from acting on its own to stop the Iranian nuclear threat, may well be feeding unrest in the streets of Tehran. But to assume that unhappiness about the country’s economy will translate into a willingness on the part of the regime to give up its nuclear ambitions requires a leap of faith not backed up by any evidence other than the hopes of Western onlookers. As the Islamist leaders of Iran showed in 2009, they are perfectly willing to use violence on their own people to repress dissent, and there is no sign they have weakened in their resolve. If anything, their backing of the massacres being carried out in Syria to prop up the government of their ally Bashar al-Assad ought to remind foreign observers that optimism about the demise of such regimes is unjustified.

For all of the hardships being inflicted on Iran, it should be remembered the sanctions are far from airtight, as even previous weaker measures were often unenforced by Western governments. Even this far more serious attempt to choke off the oil exports that keep the country afloat is being undermined by the waivers granted by the Obama administration to China and India that now buy 22 and 13 percent of Iran’s oil exports. As the Journal noted in an editorial, “thanks to lobbying by the Obama Administration, the sanctions law contained several loopholes you could drive a warhead through. ” It may be these countries will, as Asa-El hopes, eventually drop their business with Tehran. But given the good rates they are getting from the Iranians, there is every reason to believe this outlet will continue to exist and give the regime enough cash to limp along.

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Did Romney Just Strike Out on ObamaCare?

The only consolation left to conservatives after Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ puzzling decision to uphold ObamaCare was that Republican nominee Mitt Romney could have used the labeling of the bill’s individual mandate as a tax to hammer the president this fall on what many in the GOP have labeled as a huge tax increase on the American people. But yesterday, top Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom, the man who gave the Democrats the epithet “etch-a-sketch” with which to label his boss, stepped in it again. Fehrnstrom told MSNBC that the former Massachusetts governor doesn’t think the mandate is a tax, a point that dovetails nicely with Democratic talking points about the issue and flatly contradicts what most Republicans have been saying about it.

In his defense, Fehrnstrom was saying that Romney agreed with Justice Scalia’s dissent which, had it been joined by Roberts, would have struck down ObamaCare as unconstitutional and which dismissed the argument that it was a tax. But by rejecting the opening offered to the GOP by the Court, Romney has undermined the contrast between the two parties on the issue. If, as the Weekly Standard wrote, ObamaCare offered the Republican challenger “a hanging curveball waiting to be hit out of the park,” Romney may have just whiffed on it.

This is the first genuine misstep by the Romney campaign after months of behaving like a smoothly run machine destined for victory. But even worse than that is the obvious suspicion that the problem here is a desire on Romney’s part to cover his tracks on his Massachusetts health care bill — because the “penalties” in Romney’s bill can also be branded as a tax — and a sign he won’t be able to take advantage of the president’s vulnerability.

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The only consolation left to conservatives after Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ puzzling decision to uphold ObamaCare was that Republican nominee Mitt Romney could have used the labeling of the bill’s individual mandate as a tax to hammer the president this fall on what many in the GOP have labeled as a huge tax increase on the American people. But yesterday, top Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom, the man who gave the Democrats the epithet “etch-a-sketch” with which to label his boss, stepped in it again. Fehrnstrom told MSNBC that the former Massachusetts governor doesn’t think the mandate is a tax, a point that dovetails nicely with Democratic talking points about the issue and flatly contradicts what most Republicans have been saying about it.

In his defense, Fehrnstrom was saying that Romney agreed with Justice Scalia’s dissent which, had it been joined by Roberts, would have struck down ObamaCare as unconstitutional and which dismissed the argument that it was a tax. But by rejecting the opening offered to the GOP by the Court, Romney has undermined the contrast between the two parties on the issue. If, as the Weekly Standard wrote, ObamaCare offered the Republican challenger “a hanging curveball waiting to be hit out of the park,” Romney may have just whiffed on it.

This is the first genuine misstep by the Romney campaign after months of behaving like a smoothly run machine destined for victory. But even worse than that is the obvious suspicion that the problem here is a desire on Romney’s part to cover his tracks on his Massachusetts health care bill — because the “penalties” in Romney’s bill can also be branded as a tax — and a sign he won’t be able to take advantage of the president’s vulnerability.

Last summer many if not most conservatives dismissed Romney’s chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination because of his personal baggage on the one issue that appeared to be the most important at the time: ObamaCare. If Romney confounded those critics it was not because he convinced most Republicans by his arguments that RomneyCare was a completely differently animal than ObamaCare. Rather, it was because the sinking economy and what seemed to be a real chance the Court would strike down the president’s bill rendered health care a secondary issue.

If the Court’s upholding of ObamaCare on the grounds that it is a tax is the equivalent of an engraved invitation to the Tea Party to wake up and “refight the political battles of two years ago,” as the president fears, it is also an unwelcome reminder this is an issue on which Romney is not going to be able to hit the home run that conservatives rightly expect from the GOP standard-bearer.

Though this unwillingness to use the word tax doesn’t necessarily doom Romney, it does call into question his ability to rally his party on the issue. Those Republicans expecting their candidate to use last week’s decision to generate some momentum this summer may be sorely disappointed. As much as the unpopularity of ObamaCare presents the GOP with a golden opportunity to exploit, it may well be that the only way for Mitt Romney to be elected president is via general dissatisfaction about the economy and not via a wave of disgust about the president’s health care dictat.

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