Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 10, 2012

Berkley Probe Could Cost Dems the Senate

This fall, Democrats are defending far more Senate seats than the Republicans, making the retention of their slender hold on the upper house highly questionable. Any opportunity to knock off a GOP incumbent is a matter of life for the Democrats’ hopes of keeping at least half of Congress in their possession. That has made the battle for Nevada’s Senate seat one of the most watched races in the country, especially because challenger Rep. Shelley Berkley has been widely seen as a formidable threat to the future of Republican incumbent Dean Heller.

So the news that the House Ethics Committee has voted unanimously to launch an investigation of the charge she used her political clout to help her husband’s business is especially damaging not just to her ambitions but to the Democrats’ hopes of remaining in charge of the Senate next year. Given the snail’s pace at which the committee generally works, which makes it unlikely she could be cleared before November, this could be a fatal blow to her candidacy and make it that much harder for her fellow Nevadan Harry Reid to hold on to the post of majority leader. But while the political effects of this case may gladden conservatives, this is not a case of venality as much as it is one that raises questions about whether it is possible for a member of Congress to have a spouse involved in any business that interacts with the government.

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This fall, Democrats are defending far more Senate seats than the Republicans, making the retention of their slender hold on the upper house highly questionable. Any opportunity to knock off a GOP incumbent is a matter of life for the Democrats’ hopes of keeping at least half of Congress in their possession. That has made the battle for Nevada’s Senate seat one of the most watched races in the country, especially because challenger Rep. Shelley Berkley has been widely seen as a formidable threat to the future of Republican incumbent Dean Heller.

So the news that the House Ethics Committee has voted unanimously to launch an investigation of the charge she used her political clout to help her husband’s business is especially damaging not just to her ambitions but to the Democrats’ hopes of remaining in charge of the Senate next year. Given the snail’s pace at which the committee generally works, which makes it unlikely she could be cleared before November, this could be a fatal blow to her candidacy and make it that much harder for her fellow Nevadan Harry Reid to hold on to the post of majority leader. But while the political effects of this case may gladden conservatives, this is not a case of venality as much as it is one that raises questions about whether it is possible for a member of Congress to have a spouse involved in any business that interacts with the government.

The issue, which was the subject of a New York Times feature last September, involves the federal decertification of a hospital transplant center in Nevada due to organizational disarray that is believed to have led to a patient’s death. Berkley is accused of materially aiding the financial interests of her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, who operates a chain of dialysis centers in Nevada as well as a nephrology practice at the hospital in question. While it can be argued that Berkley should have recused herself from any involvement in the issue of federal regulation of this business, the Democratic congresswoman wasn’t the only member to intervene. The entire Nevada delegation including Heller (who replaced John Ensign in the Senate after he resigned in disgrace last year) spoke up in order to keep the state’s only transplant unit as well as the dialysis centers.

Were she not married to Lehrner, no one would give a second thought to Berkley’s involvement in the issue. But her efforts to oppose budget cuts which would have affected his business and which were opposed by a political action committee he heads does raise ethical questions.

Berkley, who also has a well-earned reputation as one of the most ardent supporters of Israel in the Congress, can be said to have profited by her actions — or at least her husband did. But that is not the same thing as having stolen taxpayer dollars for double-billing or directing government business to a shady or bankrupt business (think the Obama administration’s federal loan guarantees to Solyndra). While conflict of interest regulations are there for a reason, the open nature of her advocacy for this cause means there was no criminal conspiracy or criminal intent. Those eager to make political hay about this should remember that being the champion of doctors who serve kidney patients in need is not quite the same thing as throwing your weight around on behalf of some oil contractor or other special interest.

This means that while Berkley may not be a victim, she is certainly no villain. Whatever the ultimate ruling of the House committee, the damage to Berkley probably cannot be undone. This should serve as a warning to all members of the House and the Senate as well as to those thinking about going into public service that if they have a spouse involved in business they should probably think about finding another line of work. Such lines may have to be drawn for the sake of preventing real cases of corruption, but this also means that more good people will be driven out of public life. And that’s not good for either party.

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Why Aren’t Anti-Romney Attacks Sticking?

The past three months have been President Obama’s window of opportunity, a time when he’s had both a spending advantage and bully pulpit advantage over Mitt Romney. But the fundraising gap is quickly closing, Obama’s burning through his cash reserves, and before long Romney will dominate news cycle with his VP decision and the convention speeches. If both candidates continue raising money at their current paces, Obama may be the one lagging financially after August.

With all that said, why — despite Obama’s extensive advantages — have his attacks on Romney failed to move the dial? NJ’s Josh Kraushaar reports on the lack of progress:

For all the attention paid to the effectiveness of President Obama’s Bain-themed attacks, it’s remarkable how Obama has been stuck right around 47 percent for a very long time. As the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza documented, the president’s team has handily outspent Romney and his allied super PACs, pouring in $91 million into eight swing states in an early spending barrage intended to make Romney seem an unacceptable challenger. But for all that effort, the numbers haven’t moved much at all: The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll out today shows the race deadlocked at 47 percent. Yesterday’s USA Today/Gallup swing state poll showed Obama statistically tied with Romney, the exact same result the survey showed one month ago.

Meanwhile, in the coming months, Romney should have a spending advantage, having significantly outraised Obama over the last two months. Along with the RNC, the campaign has $160 million cash-on-hand, a total that will likely be greater than the Obama team’s money. (The Obama campaign tellingly didn’t release their cash-on-hand figures.) That will allow Romney to match or surpass Obama on the airwaves, having survived a period when he was outgunned. The Romney campaign has already hinted it plans to counterattack by raising questions about Obama’s credibility. And American Crossroads announced it has reserved $40 million of television ad time in the final two months – when more voters are paying close attention.

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The past three months have been President Obama’s window of opportunity, a time when he’s had both a spending advantage and bully pulpit advantage over Mitt Romney. But the fundraising gap is quickly closing, Obama’s burning through his cash reserves, and before long Romney will dominate news cycle with his VP decision and the convention speeches. If both candidates continue raising money at their current paces, Obama may be the one lagging financially after August.

With all that said, why — despite Obama’s extensive advantages — have his attacks on Romney failed to move the dial? NJ’s Josh Kraushaar reports on the lack of progress:

For all the attention paid to the effectiveness of President Obama’s Bain-themed attacks, it’s remarkable how Obama has been stuck right around 47 percent for a very long time. As the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza documented, the president’s team has handily outspent Romney and his allied super PACs, pouring in $91 million into eight swing states in an early spending barrage intended to make Romney seem an unacceptable challenger. But for all that effort, the numbers haven’t moved much at all: The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll out today shows the race deadlocked at 47 percent. Yesterday’s USA Today/Gallup swing state poll showed Obama statistically tied with Romney, the exact same result the survey showed one month ago.

Meanwhile, in the coming months, Romney should have a spending advantage, having significantly outraised Obama over the last two months. Along with the RNC, the campaign has $160 million cash-on-hand, a total that will likely be greater than the Obama team’s money. (The Obama campaign tellingly didn’t release their cash-on-hand figures.) That will allow Romney to match or surpass Obama on the airwaves, having survived a period when he was outgunned. The Romney campaign has already hinted it plans to counterattack by raising questions about Obama’s credibility. And American Crossroads announced it has reserved $40 million of television ad time in the final two months – when more voters are paying close attention.

What’s the problem here? Is it that the attacks aren’t believable, that voters believe them but don’t care, or voters aren’t paying attention yet? Or some combination of all three?

It could be that the attacks on Romney aren’t particularly effective because they’re focused on personal issues — his time at Bain Capital, his tax returns, Swiss bank account, etc. — as opposed to policy. The Obama campaign wants to tarnish Romney on a human level, which makes sense considering the fact that voters still find Obama very likable. But Americans are primarily worried about the direction of the country and the economy. Unless the Obama campaign can make the case that Romney’s policies would be harmful, voters may not be swayed by the personal attacks. After all, most politicians use personal attacks, exaggerate and lie about their opponents, and play on public emotion. How much of this gets tuned out after a point?

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Administration Sticks to Israel’s Exclusion

Back in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton caught some flack for acquiescing to Israel’s exclusion from a global counter-terrorism forum. The event was held in Istanbul and the snub to the Israelis was widely believed to be the result of a demand from the event’s Turkish hosts that the Jewish state be kept out of the party even though it has unique expertise in the area. But apparently, the slight to the Israelis was not limited to the event’s initial venue.

As Adam Kredo reports at the Washington Free Beacon, Israel wasn’t invited to the session of the counter-terrorism forum held yesterday in Spain. That was especially telling as Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, delivered a speech at the Spanish conclave titled “Victims of Terrorism.” But not only was an Israeli delegation not present when she spoke, but during her address, Otero never even mentioned the experience of Israeli terror victims. Though Otero’s anti-terrorist sentiments were unexceptionable, the exclusion of Israel, one of the primary targets of international terrorists and among the leading experts in how to deal with the problem, was clearly intentional. As Kredo noted, the State Department spokesperson refused to answer when asked about the omission of Israel from the speech and the conference. Though the Obama administration has been touting the president as Israel’s best friend ever during the election year Jewish charm offensive that followed three years of constant fights with the Jewish state, American diplomats have not gotten with the White House’s political program.

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Back in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton caught some flack for acquiescing to Israel’s exclusion from a global counter-terrorism forum. The event was held in Istanbul and the snub to the Israelis was widely believed to be the result of a demand from the event’s Turkish hosts that the Jewish state be kept out of the party even though it has unique expertise in the area. But apparently, the slight to the Israelis was not limited to the event’s initial venue.

As Adam Kredo reports at the Washington Free Beacon, Israel wasn’t invited to the session of the counter-terrorism forum held yesterday in Spain. That was especially telling as Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, delivered a speech at the Spanish conclave titled “Victims of Terrorism.” But not only was an Israeli delegation not present when she spoke, but during her address, Otero never even mentioned the experience of Israeli terror victims. Though Otero’s anti-terrorist sentiments were unexceptionable, the exclusion of Israel, one of the primary targets of international terrorists and among the leading experts in how to deal with the problem, was clearly intentional. As Kredo noted, the State Department spokesperson refused to answer when asked about the omission of Israel from the speech and the conference. Though the Obama administration has been touting the president as Israel’s best friend ever during the election year Jewish charm offensive that followed three years of constant fights with the Jewish state, American diplomats have not gotten with the White House’s political program.

Though President Obama has boasted of his friendship with Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, this is not a theme Democratic campaign surrogates like to discuss. Though the close relations with Turkey are sometimes explained as part of the administration’s efforts to isolate Iran, Erdoğan has made a fool of Obama by continuing his country’s lucrative trade with Tehran and using gold as a method to elude the Western sanctions on the Iranians. But rather than placing extra pressure on the Turks, the president has characteristically sought to appease them with the exclusion of Israel from the counter-terrorism conference as part of the down payment.

Though Israel wisely chose not to publicly complain about the snub, reportedly it did register its views privately and some members of Congress spoke up about the issue last month. But the complaints fell on deaf ears as Otero’s speech demonstrated.

Though this is not a major issue, it is one more sign of the administration’s attitude toward the Israelis. Should the president be re-elected and get the “flexibility” that he has said he would then have to act on foreign affairs, Israel should expect a lot more of this sort of thing if not worse.

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Church of England Doesn’t Like Pushy Jews

While Americans have successfully fought back against the attempts of Israel-haters to get mainline Christian churches here to support boycotts of the Jewish state, their English cousins are not as successful. As Miriam Shaviv reports in the Times of Israel, the Church of England not only refused to back off its endorsement of a biased program that sought to indoctrinate Christians visiting the Middle East to support the Palestinians against Israel, many of its members took offense at the efforts of English Jews to get them to change their minds.

This controversy showed the level of animosity for Israel that is entrenched in the culture of the state-supported Anglican hierarchy. But it also may betray the barely disguised anti-Semitism that runs through European and English discourse about Israel and Jews. This story may sum up in a nutshell the starkly different predicaments of American and English Jews. As one bishop pointed out, the problem wasn’t just that the Anglican bishops, clerics and laity are predisposed to think ill of Israel. It was also that they were offended by the lobbying efforts of Jews to get them to look at the issue differently. Apparently, the spectacle of Jews standing up for themselves rather than keeping quiet or, as is the case with a vocal but not insubstantial minority of British Jews, joining the chorus of Israel-bashers, was too much for them to stand.

As Shaviv writes, the Bishop of Manchester pointed out that the defeat was at least partially the fault of the Jews:

“A few people said that all the lobbying from the Jewish side led us to vote the other way,” said the Rt. Revd. Nigel McCulloch, who is chair of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), the UK’s oldest Jewish-Christian interfaith group. “There was over-lobbying by some members of the Jewish community. The CCJ actually warned against this, as we know how the Synod works and it’s not a good way to get things done.”

Though McCulloch denies that anti-Semitism was in play, he admitted the debate about the issue and his attempts to forge a compromise included references to the influence of a “powerful lobby,” which is an allusion to Jewish efforts to persuade the Church not to take sides against Israel.

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While Americans have successfully fought back against the attempts of Israel-haters to get mainline Christian churches here to support boycotts of the Jewish state, their English cousins are not as successful. As Miriam Shaviv reports in the Times of Israel, the Church of England not only refused to back off its endorsement of a biased program that sought to indoctrinate Christians visiting the Middle East to support the Palestinians against Israel, many of its members took offense at the efforts of English Jews to get them to change their minds.

This controversy showed the level of animosity for Israel that is entrenched in the culture of the state-supported Anglican hierarchy. But it also may betray the barely disguised anti-Semitism that runs through European and English discourse about Israel and Jews. This story may sum up in a nutshell the starkly different predicaments of American and English Jews. As one bishop pointed out, the problem wasn’t just that the Anglican bishops, clerics and laity are predisposed to think ill of Israel. It was also that they were offended by the lobbying efforts of Jews to get them to look at the issue differently. Apparently, the spectacle of Jews standing up for themselves rather than keeping quiet or, as is the case with a vocal but not insubstantial minority of British Jews, joining the chorus of Israel-bashers, was too much for them to stand.

As Shaviv writes, the Bishop of Manchester pointed out that the defeat was at least partially the fault of the Jews:

“A few people said that all the lobbying from the Jewish side led us to vote the other way,” said the Rt. Revd. Nigel McCulloch, who is chair of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), the UK’s oldest Jewish-Christian interfaith group. “There was over-lobbying by some members of the Jewish community. The CCJ actually warned against this, as we know how the Synod works and it’s not a good way to get things done.”

Though McCulloch denies that anti-Semitism was in play, he admitted the debate about the issue and his attempts to forge a compromise included references to the influence of a “powerful lobby,” which is an allusion to Jewish efforts to persuade the Church not to take sides against Israel.

What’s curious about this excuse for the victory for Israel’s foes is everyone admitted that the pro-Palestinian forces were lobbying just as hard as the Jews, only no one seemed to mind that or to think there was something sinister about their efforts.

So while Israel-haters in the United States allude to the supposedly all-powerful “Israel lobby” immortalized by the conspiracy theories floated by authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, their counterparts in Britain are a lot stronger. While Jews were rightly disappointed by the narrow margin by which a BDS motion was rejected by the Presbyterian Church USA last week, McCulloch thought the fact that some English clerics actually voted against the anti-Israel measure there was encouraging.

But the real difference is that while most Americans see nothing wrong with Jews assertively standing up for Israel (a stance in which they are joined by the vast majority of their countrymen), many English seem to think there’s something wrong with them doing so.

While we don’t doubt English Jews and their representatives will continue to speak up whenever possible about anti-Israel bias, the political culture in which they are forced to operate works against their efforts. In the United States, the efforts of AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups are not only more successful but widely admired by all but those marginal groups steeped in hatred of Israel and the Jews. The episode is one more proof that American exceptionalism is no myth.

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Does Romney Even Want to Define Himself?

One of the great ironies of the 2012 presidential campaign is the extent to which President Obama’s team is openly trying to paint Mitt Romney as a strange, vaguely un-American “other,” as Roger Simon writes today. We heard the reverse complaint virtually nonstop during the last four years, first during the 2008 election and then during Obama’s first three years in office. Nearly any critique of Obama doing things differently–another irony, as his campaign was built on hope and change–was construed as an offensive implication that Obama is alien to Americans. Here’s Simon:

Swiss banks accounts? Who has Swiss bank accounts? Others, that’s who.

Biden described Romney using classic terms of “otherness.” Romney, Biden said, was “out of touch” and “out of step” with basic American values….

Nobody is saying (as of yet) that Romney did anything illegal by keeping millions of dollars in Swiss and other foreign banks. It just seems … odd.

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One of the great ironies of the 2012 presidential campaign is the extent to which President Obama’s team is openly trying to paint Mitt Romney as a strange, vaguely un-American “other,” as Roger Simon writes today. We heard the reverse complaint virtually nonstop during the last four years, first during the 2008 election and then during Obama’s first three years in office. Nearly any critique of Obama doing things differently–another irony, as his campaign was built on hope and change–was construed as an offensive implication that Obama is alien to Americans. Here’s Simon:

Swiss banks accounts? Who has Swiss bank accounts? Others, that’s who.

Biden described Romney using classic terms of “otherness.” Romney, Biden said, was “out of touch” and “out of step” with basic American values….

Nobody is saying (as of yet) that Romney did anything illegal by keeping millions of dollars in Swiss and other foreign banks. It just seems … odd.

What’s happening here, and what has been the source of criticism of Romney from the right for the last two weeks, is not only that the Obama campaign is defining Romney before he gets a chance to define himself, but that Romney doesn’t seem that interested in defining himself at all.

That’s how Simon sees it: “This is the Republicans’ great hope, their great strategy: Forget about Romney. Romney is a cipher, a place holder. He has but one real quality: He is not Barack Obama.” That’s the other irony here: Obama, too, ran as a cipher. We didn’t even know the extent of it until this year, when we learned that Obama’s autobiography was actually a novel about a character Obama thought would be attractive to the Democratic electorate. He studied the identity politics of the left closely enough to discern a formula that could win him the nomination on biography alone. It worked–even though it wasn’t his biography.

So the Romney campaign may not be as lackadaisical as they are accused of being. Their seeming lack of a strategy may in itself be a strategy. But if so, they are misreading the Obama election. When Obama ran, he had a media establishment that steadfastly refused to vet him, wanting no part of debunking a story that won their hearts–facts and journalism be damned.

Romney does not have that luxury. Instead, the media will do what the Washington Post recently did. The Post ran a story accusing Romney of outsourcing jobs at Bain. As Jim Pethokoukis noted, the accusation was wrong—based on ignorance of outsourcing and business. But no matter—it promptly ended up in an Obama campaign ad. This two-pronged assault will continue.

Meanwhile, perhaps the most talented politician in America right now, Chris Christie, gave a speech at the Brookings Institution yesterday. Near the end of his speech, he told a familiar story about his mother’s deathbed reassurances that nothing between them had been “left unsaid.” Christie’s lesson was that when you form important relationships, you cannot be a cipher, a stand-in, a riddle:

We shouldn’t be listening to political consultants whispering in our ear to tell us, say as little as possible.  We shouldn’t be listening to those voices who say, just use the party doctrine and don’t stray. We tell people how we think and how we feel and let them judge us up or down… You can’t lead by being a mystery, you can’t lead by being an enigma, you can’t lead by being aloof, you can’t lead by being programmed.

Christie probably meant this more as a criticism of the president than of Romney, but Romney should take it to heart. According to recent polling, Obama’s supporters are voting for Obama, while a large number of Romney’s supporters are voting against Obama. Romney is not connecting–it’s as simple as that. But the solution is not so simple. It’s easy to produce campaign ads that successfully sow doubts about a candidate. It’s far less obvious how to convince an electorate, especially through advertising, that a candidate is someone they can relate to. This is an organic element of politics, something that tends to come naturally or not at all.

Simon is right that it’s possible Romney can win this way. But if Christie’s right, he can’t lead that way. The transformation of successful candidate Obama to fumbling, incompetent President Obama is a testament to both.

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Health Care Vote Not Just for Show?

Some conservatives have complained that the House vote to repeal ObamaCare tomorrow is just for show and has no chance of passing the Senate or — even if it miraculously did — surviving a presidential veto. True, but so what? Many voters are just starting to tune in to the general election, and it’s worth getting the latest positions of House lawmakers on the record. For Democrats running in conservative districts, this could be the last shot to oppose the unpopular health care law before the election. For Republicans, it’s a chance to show they’re on the side of the majority of Americans who oppose ObamaCare.

And for the White House, it’s a potential political embarrassment, depending on how many Democrats switch over to the anti-ObamaCare side. The Hill reports:

Only three Democrats voted for repeal after the GOP took control of the House last year, but Republicans are confident they can add to this number on Wednesday in spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling that the law is constitutional.

Already, one politically vulnerable Democrat, Rep. Larry Kissell (N.C.), has said he will vote to repeal the health care law after opposing the same measure a year ago.

The GOP’s hope is that a strong House vote — and fresh Democratic opposition — will thwart the White House’s effort to boost political support for the law in light of the Court ruling, said one House Republican leadership aide. Conservatives complaining about symbolic votes are being unrealistic.

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Some conservatives have complained that the House vote to repeal ObamaCare tomorrow is just for show and has no chance of passing the Senate or — even if it miraculously did — surviving a presidential veto. True, but so what? Many voters are just starting to tune in to the general election, and it’s worth getting the latest positions of House lawmakers on the record. For Democrats running in conservative districts, this could be the last shot to oppose the unpopular health care law before the election. For Republicans, it’s a chance to show they’re on the side of the majority of Americans who oppose ObamaCare.

And for the White House, it’s a potential political embarrassment, depending on how many Democrats switch over to the anti-ObamaCare side. The Hill reports:

Only three Democrats voted for repeal after the GOP took control of the House last year, but Republicans are confident they can add to this number on Wednesday in spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling that the law is constitutional.

Already, one politically vulnerable Democrat, Rep. Larry Kissell (N.C.), has said he will vote to repeal the health care law after opposing the same measure a year ago.

The GOP’s hope is that a strong House vote — and fresh Democratic opposition — will thwart the White House’s effort to boost political support for the law in light of the Court ruling, said one House Republican leadership aide. Conservatives complaining about symbolic votes are being unrealistic.

ObamaCare isn’t going away unless President Obama is voted out of office, which means all the GOP can do at the moment is apply political pressure to Democrats and sympathize with voter anger about the law. Because House Democratic leaders are trying to change the subject away from health care, that means it’s probably working:

Democrats, meanwhile, are seeking to portray the GOP as myopically focused on health care at the expense of the economy and other problems. The office of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a video mocking the vote by using the mantra employed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio): “Where are the jobs?”

To refresh Pelosi’s memory, it wasn’t the Republicans who jammed through Obama’s health care law instead of focusing on job creation. Now that ObamaCare’s been spared by the Supreme Court, Democrats would prefer to ignore the unpopular law until after November. House votes like the one tomorrow won’t let them.

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Voter ID and 100+ Percent Turnout in Philly

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson gets on his favorite hobbyhorse today when he claims again in his column that voter ID laws are nothing more than a manifestation of racism. But in doing so, he demonstrates either his ignorance or his partisanship. Robinson and other liberals have long alleged that Republican support for laws intended to curb voter fraud are simply a way of suppressing the black vote for Democrats. To back this up, he seized on a statement made by Mike Turzai, the Republican Majority Leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, in which he said this about the state voter ID law passed by the GOP last year: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done.” Robinson represents this comment as giving away the game in which suppression of the black vote will steal Pennsylvania for the GOP as many inner city blacks don’t have driver’s licenses or a photo ID to present at the polls.

Robinson doesn’t mention that any voter can get a free photo ID from the state if they ask for one. But his recitation of statistics about those who don’t already have proof of identity leaves out a far more significant number that influenced the Pennsylvania legislature to pass the bill: 100 percent. That’s the percentage of registered voters who voted at a number of Philadelphia voter precincts in the last several elections. Indeed, as Republicans in the state capital pointed out during the debate about the voter ID law, in many parts of Philadelphia, a Democratic stronghold, voter turnout in contested elections routinely exceeds 100 percent of registered voters. But because the Democrats control the local elections board that supervises voting in the city, there is no accountability for this obvious fraud. If it is enforced, the voter ID law may make this rather flagrant method of cheating a bit more difficult this year.

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The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson gets on his favorite hobbyhorse today when he claims again in his column that voter ID laws are nothing more than a manifestation of racism. But in doing so, he demonstrates either his ignorance or his partisanship. Robinson and other liberals have long alleged that Republican support for laws intended to curb voter fraud are simply a way of suppressing the black vote for Democrats. To back this up, he seized on a statement made by Mike Turzai, the Republican Majority Leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, in which he said this about the state voter ID law passed by the GOP last year: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done.” Robinson represents this comment as giving away the game in which suppression of the black vote will steal Pennsylvania for the GOP as many inner city blacks don’t have driver’s licenses or a photo ID to present at the polls.

Robinson doesn’t mention that any voter can get a free photo ID from the state if they ask for one. But his recitation of statistics about those who don’t already have proof of identity leaves out a far more significant number that influenced the Pennsylvania legislature to pass the bill: 100 percent. That’s the percentage of registered voters who voted at a number of Philadelphia voter precincts in the last several elections. Indeed, as Republicans in the state capital pointed out during the debate about the voter ID law, in many parts of Philadelphia, a Democratic stronghold, voter turnout in contested elections routinely exceeds 100 percent of registered voters. But because the Democrats control the local elections board that supervises voting in the city, there is no accountability for this obvious fraud. If it is enforced, the voter ID law may make this rather flagrant method of cheating a bit more difficult this year.

That’s the problem with the complaints made by Robinson and Attorney General Eric Holder and the rest of the liberal establishment about voter ID laws. They keep telling us there is no such thing as election fraud in the United States, a point Robinson makes again today in his column. But in Pennsylvania, to seize on the example Robinson thinks is so damning, the Democrats and the unions have always been able to manufacture as many votes as they need to swing a state that otherwise leans to the Republicans. That’s what Turzai was alluding to when he said the voter ID law he helped pass would help Mitt Romney.

Romney may or may not win the Keystone State this November. Polls still show him trailing. But if Pennsylvania Democrats are no longer able to turn out voters in parts of the city where the votes cast exceed the number of registered voters, then Republicans may have a fighting chance to take the state.

Robinson works in Washington, so the dirty little secret about the way Democrats have often gained an edge in Pennsylvania politics may be news to him. But as corrupt as Philadelphia may be — and it is a city whose political culture has long been more akin to the typical urban machine cliché of the early and mid-20th century than just about any other large metropolitan area in the country — it is hardly the only place in America where politicians cheat. As I’ve noted twice in the past week, New York Congressman Charles Rangel may have won a primary against a Hispanic challenger by cooking the numbers via various methods including having the election board collude with his campaign.

If there is a possibility that legitimate registered voters won’t be allowed to vote because they don’t have driver’s licenses or another photo ID then the state has a responsibility to make sure they can get those easily. Pennsylvania has done that, but Robinson ignores it in order to make his partisan point about racism. On the other hand, it’s time for Robinson and other liberals to stop pretending that voter fraud is a myth.

Unless Robinson is prepared to tell us how it is that Philadelphia Democrats are able to produce more than 100 percent of registered voters in precincts in which the turnout is generally miniscule anytime other than an election in which the Democrats need a huge margin without resorting to fraud, then it’s time for him to pipe down. We have other things to worry about in America besides corruption. But it is an all too real problem in contemporary politics, and voter ID is one way to keep political cheaters from gaming elections.

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Obama Can’t Buy Voter Enthusiasm

A Gallup poll out this morning found that Mitt Romney has an eight-point voter enthusiasm advantage over President Obama across 12 swing states, an edge that could make all the difference in a tight race:

The June swing-states poll showed 47 percent of registered voters across the 12 swing states backing President Barack Obama for president and 45 percent backing the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

However, voters in swing states who support Romney for president are more likely than those backing Obama to say they feel “extremely enthusiastic” about voting — 31 percent to 23 percent. The same pattern is seen by party, with 32 percent of Republicans in the swing states and 25 percent of Democrats reporting extreme enthusiasm. However, these candidate- and party-level differences disappear when one looks at total enthusiasm, defined as those either extremely or very enthusiastic.

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A Gallup poll out this morning found that Mitt Romney has an eight-point voter enthusiasm advantage over President Obama across 12 swing states, an edge that could make all the difference in a tight race:

The June swing-states poll showed 47 percent of registered voters across the 12 swing states backing President Barack Obama for president and 45 percent backing the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

However, voters in swing states who support Romney for president are more likely than those backing Obama to say they feel “extremely enthusiastic” about voting — 31 percent to 23 percent. The same pattern is seen by party, with 32 percent of Republicans in the swing states and 25 percent of Democrats reporting extreme enthusiasm. However, these candidate- and party-level differences disappear when one looks at total enthusiasm, defined as those either extremely or very enthusiastic.

Obama hasn’t been able to come up with a message that rallies his base yet, and the Romney scare tactics may not be enough to get these less-enthusiastic supporters out to the polls. Money isn’t the issue either, though Democrats may try to spin it that way. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, Obama has spent more than four times as much as Romney on swing state TV advertising so far:

President Obama has spent more than $91 million on television ads in eight swing states as of July 6, a massive sum that dwarfs the $23 million former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has disbursed on campaign commercials in those same places. Only heavy spending by Republican super PACs is keeping Romney within financial shouting distance of the incumbent on television at this point.

The data, which was provided to the Fix by a Republican media buyer, paints a fascinating picture of Obama’s overwhelming ad advantage in each of the states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia — where both campaigns are spending.

Yet more proof that money doesn’t guarantee an advantage. And considering Obama’s mediocre fundraising numbers and the way he’s been burning through cash, it’s hard to imagine he can keep up this pace of spending through the fall. Obama and the DNC reportedly had about $140 million on hand at the beginning of June. If they raise $70 million each month between now and the election (Obama’s largest monthly haul so far), that would give them about $420 million — with four months to go. If one thing is certain, it’s that Obama will not have the $300 million spending advantage on Romney that he had on John McCain in 2008.

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Lord Keynes and Human Nature

Robert Samuelson, the distinguished economics columnist for the Washington Post, has a column on one of the most important reasons for the anemic recovery. He blames, with very good reason, the fateful intersection of Lord Keynes’s economic paradigm and human nature, in this case the self-interests of politicians:

Until the 1960s, Americans generally believed in low inflation and balanced budgets. President John Kennedy shared the consensus but was persuaded to change his mind. His economic advisers argued that, through deficit spending and modest increases in inflation, government could raise economic growth, lower unemployment and smooth business cycles….Kennedy’s economists, fashioning themselves as heirs to John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), shattered…[the old] consensus. They contended that deficits weren’t immoral….This destroyed the intellectual and moral props for balanced budgets.

Walter Heller, Kennedy’s chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, famously talked about “fine tuning” the American economy to keep it humming along smoothly, throwing off wealth and jobs like an engine throws off work-doing energy.

Keynes had argued that economies were machines, “a whole Copernican system, by which all the elements of the economic universe are kept in their places by mutual counterpoise and interaction.” Governments, thought Keynes, could keep an economy humming by deliberately running deficits in times of slack demand. Politicians, of course, were only too happy to have an intellectual justification for spending in deficit. This allowed them to spend money (“the mother’s milk of politics”) in order to satisfy various constituencies without having to raise the taxes needed to pay for the largesse.

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Robert Samuelson, the distinguished economics columnist for the Washington Post, has a column on one of the most important reasons for the anemic recovery. He blames, with very good reason, the fateful intersection of Lord Keynes’s economic paradigm and human nature, in this case the self-interests of politicians:

Until the 1960s, Americans generally believed in low inflation and balanced budgets. President John Kennedy shared the consensus but was persuaded to change his mind. His economic advisers argued that, through deficit spending and modest increases in inflation, government could raise economic growth, lower unemployment and smooth business cycles….Kennedy’s economists, fashioning themselves as heirs to John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), shattered…[the old] consensus. They contended that deficits weren’t immoral….This destroyed the intellectual and moral props for balanced budgets.

Walter Heller, Kennedy’s chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, famously talked about “fine tuning” the American economy to keep it humming along smoothly, throwing off wealth and jobs like an engine throws off work-doing energy.

Keynes had argued that economies were machines, “a whole Copernican system, by which all the elements of the economic universe are kept in their places by mutual counterpoise and interaction.” Governments, thought Keynes, could keep an economy humming by deliberately running deficits in times of slack demand. Politicians, of course, were only too happy to have an intellectual justification for spending in deficit. This allowed them to spend money (“the mother’s milk of politics”) in order to satisfy various constituencies without having to raise the taxes needed to pay for the largesse.

But Keynes had argued equally that governments needed to run surpluses in good times, both to keep the economy from overheating and in order to pay down the debt run up in bad times, so that the money could be borrowed again when needed. But with the old consensus on balanced budgets now shattered, that simply proved politically impossible. Politicians, after all, had elections to win. Keynes had been thinking long-term. Politicians always think short-term.

Between 1947 and 1960, the government had run deficits five times and surpluses nine times. Between 1961 and 2012, through boom and recession, war and peace, the government has run surpluses five times and deficits 47 times. (And even those surpluses were essentially accounting fiction: the national debt rose in every one of those “surplus” years.)

We are not yet at the point where Greece and Spain are—able to borrow only at very high rates. But we are approaching it rapidly, at the rate of a trillion plus dollars a year. And the reason is that Keynes, by far, the most famous and most influential economist of the 20th century, failed to take the messy, self-interested reality of human nature into account when he developed his proposals. So his theory works in theory, but not in fact.

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ObamaCare Driving Away Doctors?

Negative signs abound for the medical community today, as the House Oversight Committee prepares to hear testimony on the impact of ObamaCare on doctors and patients. First, there’s the recent Doctor Patient Medical Association poll, which found 90 percent of doctors say the medical system is on the wrong track and 83 percent are thinking about quitting (h/t Daily Caller):

KEY FINDINGS

  • 90% say the medical system is on the WRONG TRACK
  • 83% say they are thinking about QUITTING
  • 61% say the system challenges their ETHICS
  • 85% say the patient-physician relationship is in a TAILSPIN
  • 65% say GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT is most to blame for current problems
  • 72% say individual insurance mandate will NOT result in improved access care
  • 49% say they will STOP accepting Medicaid patients
  • 74% say they will STOP ACCEPTING Medicare patients, or leave Medicare completely
  • 52% say they would rather treat some Medicaid/Medicare patient for FREE
  • 57% give the AMA a FAILING GRADE representing them
  • 1 out of 3 doctors is HESITANT to voice an opinion
  • 2 out of 3 say they are JUST SQUEAKING BY OR IN THE RED financially
  • 95% say private practice is losing out to CORPORATE MEDICINE
  • 80% say DOCTORS/MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS are most likely to help solve things
  • 70% say REDUCING GOVERNMENT would be single best fix.
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Negative signs abound for the medical community today, as the House Oversight Committee prepares to hear testimony on the impact of ObamaCare on doctors and patients. First, there’s the recent Doctor Patient Medical Association poll, which found 90 percent of doctors say the medical system is on the wrong track and 83 percent are thinking about quitting (h/t Daily Caller):

KEY FINDINGS

  • 90% say the medical system is on the WRONG TRACK
  • 83% say they are thinking about QUITTING
  • 61% say the system challenges their ETHICS
  • 85% say the patient-physician relationship is in a TAILSPIN
  • 65% say GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT is most to blame for current problems
  • 72% say individual insurance mandate will NOT result in improved access care
  • 49% say they will STOP accepting Medicaid patients
  • 74% say they will STOP ACCEPTING Medicare patients, or leave Medicare completely
  • 52% say they would rather treat some Medicaid/Medicare patient for FREE
  • 57% give the AMA a FAILING GRADE representing them
  • 1 out of 3 doctors is HESITANT to voice an opinion
  • 2 out of 3 say they are JUST SQUEAKING BY OR IN THE RED financially
  • 95% say private practice is losing out to CORPORATE MEDICINE
  • 80% say DOCTORS/MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS are most likely to help solve things
  • 70% say REDUCING GOVERNMENT would be single best fix.

Previous surveys by other pollsters have also found dissatisfaction with ObamaCare among doctors, but not to the extent found in the DPMA poll. This could be because the survey sample was self-selected — only 4.3 percent of doctors contacted actually responded to the questions. That said, the poll is pretty useful for the open-ended answers from respondents, which are published on the website.

Not that it would come as a surprise if ObamaCare was becoming less popular with doctors. Even medical industry leaders who outwardly support the health care law have started raising alarms about its implementation. Health care executives warned again yesterday that it could lead to doctor shortages, a concern many conservatives have also raised:

“There are many unknowns, given the complexities of the act,” said Chester “Chet” Burrell, president and CEO of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. “There could be surprises and unintended effects because of the complexity. All of the regulations are still not out yet and so it’s hard to know how it will work out in the final analysis.”

Burrell was joined Monday by Ronald R. Peterson, president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins Health System, and Robert A. Chrencik, president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System, in talking about reform during a session with members of the Greater Baltimore Committee. …

But the executives, who will be responsible for the law’s implementation at their organizations, said they are concerned about costs and whether there will be enough doctors to treat millions of new patients. It remains unclear what the standard insurance plan will look like under reform and how the exchanges will work.  …

“We are on the one hand pleased the federal government is going to provide a substantial opportunity for states, including this one, to expand the Medicaid program,” Peterson said. “But nevertheless the underlying budget is already huge and then there will be that additional pressure. It is a concern.”

Add that to other troubling stories — like yesterday’s AP report on how the number of Texas doctors accepting Medicaid has plummeted since 2010 — and it’s clear the health care law is going to put significant strain on the medical community. ObamaCare will flood an already-overextended industry with a deluge of new Medicare patients and newly-insured people.

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Why the Draft Won’t Work

In theory, the idea of national service–making all young people donate a year or two to serve the country–sounds great. It has been endorsed by liberal and conservative luminaries alike. So why hasn’t it happened? Put another way: Why hasn’t the draft been revived since it expired in 1973?

Part of the obvious reason is that Americans are intensely individualistic and resist forced labor even at the government’s behest unless there is some pressing national emergency. There was indeed such an emergency during World War II and the height of the Cold War–but there isn’t now. That is not to say that we don’t face threats, but we have found since the 1970s that we have no trouble filling the military’s ranks with high-quality volunteers.

That has not stopped various thinkers from coming out with national service schemes. The military writer Tom Ricks has a particularly inventive approach on the New York Times op-ed page today. He  understands that there is no way the military could possibly incorporate four million 18-year-olds every year; there are only 1.4 million active-duty personnel in the entire U.S. armed forces. So he proposes that some of the 18-year-olds could choose 18 months of military service that would not involve the possibility of combat: “These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to.” As for the rest, they could “perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly.”

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In theory, the idea of national service–making all young people donate a year or two to serve the country–sounds great. It has been endorsed by liberal and conservative luminaries alike. So why hasn’t it happened? Put another way: Why hasn’t the draft been revived since it expired in 1973?

Part of the obvious reason is that Americans are intensely individualistic and resist forced labor even at the government’s behest unless there is some pressing national emergency. There was indeed such an emergency during World War II and the height of the Cold War–but there isn’t now. That is not to say that we don’t face threats, but we have found since the 1970s that we have no trouble filling the military’s ranks with high-quality volunteers.

That has not stopped various thinkers from coming out with national service schemes. The military writer Tom Ricks has a particularly inventive approach on the New York Times op-ed page today. He  understands that there is no way the military could possibly incorporate four million 18-year-olds every year; there are only 1.4 million active-duty personnel in the entire U.S. armed forces. So he proposes that some of the 18-year-olds could choose 18 months of military service that would not involve the possibility of combat: “These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to.” As for the rest, they could “perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly.”

Leave aside the high costs of this plan–Ricks says that all of the kids in question would qualify for free or partially free college tuition. How can we afford that at a time when entitlements are already bankrupting us?

The real problem is that his plan would not address the biggest issue raised by advocates of a draft–the need for fairness so that the risk of combat is not borne by less than one percent of the population. Under the Ricks plan, combat would still be limited to the same volunteers who serve today; nobody would suggest that a teenager who does clerical work in the Pentagon is serving his country in the same way as a teenager who carries an M-4 and walks a foot patrol in Helmand Province. Ricks thinks his plan would “make Americans think more carefully before going to war. Imagine the savings — in blood, tears and national treasure — if we had thought twice about whether we really wanted to invade Iraq.”

But it would have no such effect. To achieve what Ricks wants, the military, now contracting in size, would have to grow considerably and come to rely on conscripts who didn’t want to serve and who would push down the quality of the force. That is something few uniformed leaders would want to see and Congress would never pay for. So national service remains a nice idea–but one that is simply unworkable and unaffordable.

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