The debate over the “fiscal cliff” is an important tactical one and could have widespread political ramifications. There are complicated issues to consider. Should the Republicans give in to Mr. Obama’s demand that we raise the top tax rates? If so, what should they demand in return? If they don’t get it, is it more prudent to retreat in order to fight another day on more advantageous ground for the GOP? Or should Republicans be willing to go cliff diving with the president, confident that in the end Obama will own any future recession?
Whatever the answer to these tactical questions, the fiscal cliff raises a broader question for conservatism: What do you do when you’ve lost an argument, at least for now? In the post-election ABC News/Washington Post poll, for example, 60 percent of respondents said they support raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 a year. That’s not surprising, since to the degree that there was a centerpiece to the president’s economic argument during the 2012 election, it was to do just that. Mr. Obama was not only re-elected on that platform; he won by a comfortable margin. In the Senate, Democrats gained two seats while in the House they gained eight seats.
So here’s something to consider. Assume for the sake of the argument that this debate has been engaged and adjudicated by the public–and the public prefers the liberal solution (raising taxes on the “rich” in the name of “fairness”). Does the conservative movement, in order to maintain its strength and appeal, make peace with the public’s view? Or attempt to change it? And if so, how?
PSY–the “Gangnam Style” rapper who performed a radical anti-American song in 2004–has now dragged President Obama into the controversy. The Atlantic reports that Obama is being criticized for shaking hands with the YouTube star after a charity concert last night:
After discovering on Friday that PSY had once spouted a lot of very not nice things about our troops, Americans may no no longer see him as the lovable horse-dancing star we thought we knew and loved — especially not American conservatives, and especially not after last night. Even though he’s apologized, PSY seems to have become (temporarily, at least) the kind of anti-American symbol that can only be killed with fire, and right-wing pundits especially want you to know that President Obama is still okay with him. The two met Sunday at the “Christmas in Washington” charity concert — two days after PSY had apologized for lyrics he rapped in 2004, which called for the killing of American servicemen. And according to the etiquette of the conservative chattering class, the president was not supposed to shake the pop singer’s hand. Of course, from the tone of the reaction, the right is actually kind of glad that he did, because it can accuse the president of more malicious intentions[.]
Apparently I am not the only one skeptical of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s plan to double the size of its human spy force. (I argued in this Los Angeles Times op-ed that we already have enough intelligence personnel–we need to focus on improving their quality.) The Senate has put a temporary hold on the DIA initiative pending a Defense Department explanation of how it will fix existing problems with its attempts to gather “human intelligence”–as opposed to the kind of technical intelligence capabilities at which the Pentagon and the entire U.S. government excel.
The Senate language says that the DIA “needs to demonstrate that it can improve the management of clandestine [human intelligence] before undertaking any further expansion.” The same might be said of the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community: They expanded tremendously after 9/11 and in the process they did manage to improve certain capabilities–in particular the kind of targeted intelligence needed to identify and eliminate terrorist kingpins. But there is little sign that our ability to gather broader strategic intelligence has improved and considerable reason for skepticism about the intelligence community’s ability to comprehend, much less affect, fast-moving, complex events such as the Arab Spring. Witness failures from the non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to the claim made by a now-discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran had stopped its nuclear program.
It is to be expected that whenever something alters the dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the world wonders aloud how this change will affect the peace process. And so it is with Israel’s Iron Dome, the missile defense system that kept so many Israelis safe during the recent rocket blizzard from the terrorist enclave of Gaza. But I wrote at the time that it was wishful thinking to assume that Iron Dome would fundamentally change the course of the conflict.
“It isn’t perfect, it’s expensive, and living under constant threat of rocket fire would still be hellish—it cannot be easy to get used to bombs exploding over your head all day long. The best solution, without a doubt, would be for the Palestinians to eschew terrorism and give up their mission to destroy Israel,” I wrote. Over the weekend, the Washington Post tackled this question at greater length, but still misses the point. The paper asks whether the relative safety brought about by systems like Iron Dome will make Israel more likely to agree to territorial compromise or more likely instead to ignore the conflict and the cause of peace and negotiations altogether. The answer, of course, is neither.
The most vocal opponent of Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination, John McCain, is joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just in time for the confirmation hearings. Josh Rogin reports:
MANAMA – The committee that will soon vet the next secretary of state will have a new Republican heavyweight next year: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the man leading the charge against potential nominee U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.
McCain told The Cable he will join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and also remain on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in an interview on the sidelines of the 2012 IISS Manama Security Dialogue. …
It’s unclear whether the five or six Senate Republicans who have come out against Rice’s potential nomination would succeed in their effort to thwart her nomination, if it materializes. McCain said the Senate should use the confirmation process to properly examine the president’s choice, and he pointed to her SFRC hearing as the place for the final showdown.
“I’ll wait and see if she’s nominated and we’ll move on from there. She has the right to have hearings. We’ll see what happens in the hearings,” he said.
I certainly agree with Alana that the Republicans are in a tough spot. But I’m not sure how valid any of these polls about public opinion on the issue are. Unlike when the choice is either A or B, as those are the only two candidates in an election, polls on public issues depend crucially on exactly how they are worded. And even when worded in a neutral manner (not an easy thing to achieve even when the pollster is trying to be honest), I’m not sure they mean that much in terms of political consequences down the road.
No matter what the Republicans do, the permanent Obama campaign—sorry, I mean the mainstream media—will hammer them. So they might as well do what’s right.
More bad fiscal cliff news for Republicans, from the Politico/GWU Battleground Poll today:
A new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll finds that 60 percent of respondents support raising taxes on households that earn more than $250,000 a year and 64 percent want to raise taxes on large corporations.
Even 39 percent of Republicans support raising taxes on households making more than $250,000. Independents favor such a move by 21 percentage points, 59 to 38 percent.
Only 38 percent buy the GOP argument that raising taxes on households earning over $250,000 per year will have a negative impact on the economy. Fifty-eight percent do not.
“Free, free, totally free,” Hugo Chavez bellowed at reporters during a July 9 press conference in Caracas, when asked about the treatment he’d been undergoing in Cuba for the cancer he was diagnozed with one year earlier. That claim of a miraculous cure sustained him throughout the summer, as he fought off a concerted opposition attempt to defeat his bid for a fourth presidential term in the October election.
In the end, Chavez pulled off a victory with 55 percent of the vote–though, as I wrote at the time, had the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, “been fighting in his campaign in a conventional democracy, he would have won handsomely.” But Venezuela under Chavez is much closer to a dictatorship, which means that state-run media outlets are closed to opposition voices, Chavista thugs roam the streets beating up opposition activists, and lying to the voters–as Chavez has done over his cancer–is perfectly acceptable in the name of the revolution.
Yesterday, the lie was laid bare for all to see. Chavez announced that he was returning to Cuba for further medical treatment, and that he was designating his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, as his successor. In naming Maduro, Chavez was faithfully following the playbook of his hero, the ailing Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who in 2006 preemptively anointed his brother, Raul, as the island’s next leader.
Politico reports that Obama’s second inaugural oath for the “most transparent administration in history” might be administered privately, without any media present (h/t Morning Jolt):
“Mindful of the historic nature of this occasion, we expect the White House will continue the long tradition of opening the President’s official swearing-in to full press access, and we as an organization are looking forward to working with the administration to make that happen,” Ed Henry, the Fox News correspondent and president of the White House Correspondents Association, said in a statement.
Because inauguration day falls on a Sunday in 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts will officially administer the official oath of office in a private ceremony that day. The public inauguration on the Capitol Building’s West Front — at which Roberts will administer a second, symbolic oath of office — will take place the next day.
In early meetings with the inaugural committee, officials privately indicated to reporters that the Jan. 20 event could be closed to reporters and cameras, with an official photograph supplied to press by White House photographer Pete Souza, sources familiar with the meeting told POLITICO.
One of the most pronounced recent changes in the attitudes toward leadership and order of the two major American political parties is the reversal in affection for handing off the baton to the next in line. Republicans had long bestowed the party’s presidential nomination on last time’s runner-up, or a candidate who had put in his time and whose turn, it was believed, had come.
But the battle for the 2016 GOP nomination is looking wide open, and will likely consist of a cast of young, more conservative candidates competing to set the party’s new direction. The Democrats, on the other hand, nominated Barack Obama in 2008 with the rallying cry of striking out against political entitlement, embodied by Hillary Clinton. Next time, however, Democrats seem to want a coronation, not a nomination. And they would like the beneficiary of this appointment with history to be Hillary Clinton. Here’s James Carville yesterday on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”:
Under other circumstances, I might enjoy watching “human rights” activists decry the very international justice system they lobbied so hard to establish. But not when reactions like this one, by David Harland of the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, show just how much resistance there will be to the important norms established last month by the appellate court of an international war crimes tribunal in the Hague. In a verdict ironically issued just as the world was obsessing over Palestinian civilians killed in the latest Hamas-Israel war, the court essentially upheld, in a Balkan context, all the arguments Israel routinely makes about the legitimacy of its own military operations. Consequently, the judges acquitted and freed two Croatian generals whom a trial court had convicted of war crimes and sentenced to 18 and 24 years, respectively.
The appellate court’s first important move was acknowledging the obvious fact that in wartime even the most careful army makes mistakes. The trial court had convicted the Croats of illegally shelling four towns they were trying to capture. The appeals court said the lower court’s criterion–“that any shell that landed more than 200 meters away from a military target must have been fired indiscriminately–was arbitrary and ‘devoid of any specific reasoning’,” to quote The Guardian’s apt summary. In short, it accepted the fact that soldiers are human beings who make mistakes, and errant shells don’t necessarily mean the soldiers fired indiscriminately.
On Friday, President Obama issued a second round of waivers, in theory to give countries more time to disentangle themselves from their financial dealings in Iran. Reuters reported:
The United States granted 180-day waivers on Iran sanctions to China, India and a number of other countries on Friday in exchange for their cutting purchases of oil from the Islamic Republic. President Barack Obama’s administration has now renewed waivers for all 20 of Iran’s major oil buyers, after granting them to Japan and 10 European Union countries in September. Friday’s action was the second renewal for all 20 after Obama signed the sanctions into law a year ago.
At Friday’s State Department press conference, spokesman Mark Toner was asked again about the U.S. commitment to get Israel involved in the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), which will be meeting again on December 13 without Israel. Reporter Matt Lee asked Toner “what exactly the Administration has done … since the last [GCTF] meeting, when you all said that you were going to try to get [Israel] included in this group, or at least some of this group’s work.”
Toner responded that “we’ve succeeded and agreed with our partners in the GCTF to have this issue as a formal agenda item on the – at the December 13 meeting.” That produced this colloquy: