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Posts For: April 18, 2013

Liberal Incivility and the Gun Debate

As I noted earlier, yesterday’s Senate votes on the Manchin-Toomey amendment as well as other provisions ended the chances that any gun control legislation will pass Congress this year. While Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California Senator Dianne Feinstein have vowed to keep pushing for assault weapon bans and other proposals that have zero chance of passage, from this point forward the debate will be conducted solely with an eye toward public opinion and next year’s midterm election, not any specific legislation. That means that while some may dismiss yesterday’s bitter post-vote comments by President Obama and other gun control advocates as mere posturing, they are actually quite significant.

Obama, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords and other supporters of various new restrictions were not shy about lambasting the National Rifle Association during the last four months. The Newtown massacre gave the White House an excuse to resurrect gun control as a national issue, yet he was sufficiently interested in attracting the votes of wavering members of Congress that he tended to restrict his demagoguery to the stock villains of the National Rifle Association leadership. But yesterday’s defeat changed all that. The rejection of Manchin-Toomey has set off a wave of almost hysterical denunciations of gun rights advocates from Obama, Giffords and media figures like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski today that has lowered the discourse on the issue to a level that has rarely been seen before. After spending much of the last few years accusing right-wing Tea Party members of incivility that was at the heart of the dysfunction of our political system, liberals have now raised the stakes in this game to a point where dialogue is now impossible.

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As I noted earlier, yesterday’s Senate votes on the Manchin-Toomey amendment as well as other provisions ended the chances that any gun control legislation will pass Congress this year. While Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California Senator Dianne Feinstein have vowed to keep pushing for assault weapon bans and other proposals that have zero chance of passage, from this point forward the debate will be conducted solely with an eye toward public opinion and next year’s midterm election, not any specific legislation. That means that while some may dismiss yesterday’s bitter post-vote comments by President Obama and other gun control advocates as mere posturing, they are actually quite significant.

Obama, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords and other supporters of various new restrictions were not shy about lambasting the National Rifle Association during the last four months. The Newtown massacre gave the White House an excuse to resurrect gun control as a national issue, yet he was sufficiently interested in attracting the votes of wavering members of Congress that he tended to restrict his demagoguery to the stock villains of the National Rifle Association leadership. But yesterday’s defeat changed all that. The rejection of Manchin-Toomey has set off a wave of almost hysterical denunciations of gun rights advocates from Obama, Giffords and media figures like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski today that has lowered the discourse on the issue to a level that has rarely been seen before. After spending much of the last few years accusing right-wing Tea Party members of incivility that was at the heart of the dysfunction of our political system, liberals have now raised the stakes in this game to a point where dialogue is now impossible.

I think the Toomey-Manchin proposal was a reasonable compromise that Republicans should have embraced, if only because it could have put this issue to rest without compromising Second Amendment rights. But the refusal of many conservatives as well as some Democrats to accept this idea was not entirely the fault of NRA pressure tactics. The reason why so many that care about gun rights thought of Manchin-Toomey as the thin edge of the wedge of an effort to undermine the Second Amendment was because so many liberals made it clear that was their intention. While the NRA may have mischaracterized Manchin-Toomey, there was little doubt most liberal Democrats considered even an assault weapons ban as just the start of their efforts to make it harder to legally own weapons in this country.

One may consider this belief to be mistaken, but what has happened in the last 24 hours is that liberals have decided this issue is no longer one on which reasonable people can disagree. Today, Ms. Giffords published an op-ed in the New York Times in which she framed those who would not support gun legislation as not caring about keeping children safe. One of the Newtown victim family members went on MSNBC and said senators who didn’t vote as she liked didn’t care about those who died in the massacre. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” hosts Scarborough and Brzezinski, who have used their popular show to campaign non-stop for gun legislation, similarly sought to stigmatize opponents and, as usual, offered no rationale offered for the failure of the bill other than the lack of character by the 46 Senators who opposed it.

There are two points that must be emphasized here.

One is that the language used by these people as well as the president who lashed out at his antagonists as liars and cowards wasn’t merely frustration; it was an effort to demonize opponents. Doing this pretty much puts an end to an effort to conduct dialogue on these issues or to convince people. Confident that they represent the majority, they are now solely intent on branding anyone who opposed these bills as not just wrong, but bad people.

Second is that by employing shooting victims in this manner, the president is actually minimizing their impact on the discussion. So long as the Newtown families or others associated with other such crimes remain above the fray, their status is akin to that of national heroes. But by injecting themselves into what is becoming a nasty partisan argument they have become just another set of talking heads. As Kevin Williamson said of Giffords on National Review’s website today, “being shot in the head by a lunatic does not give one any special grace to pronounce upon public-policy questions.”

That may sound insensitive, but it points out that while she and the Newtown relatives are entitled to a respectful hearing, their story does not give them the right to expect that everyone in the country must agree with their pronouncements on political issues. That is especially true since the great failure of the administration over these past few months was its inability to draw any specific link between any of the measures they proposed and the Newtown tragedy.

The 46 members of the Senate who opposed Manchin-Toomey will not, as Giffords wants, be put into Coventry and shunned by their constituents. Nor, as Scarborough suggested, will they all be defeated when they run for re-election. But the one thing we do know is that this sort of rhetoric has made it even less likely that the country can hold a civil debate on guns. For all of its mistakes, that is one unsettling development that can’t be blamed on the NRA.

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The Right Way to Reduce Inequality

The most recent Gallup poll, which shows a majority of Americans believe that some of their neighbors have too much money and that the government should therefore confiscate and redistribute some of it, is likely to please the president, who based his reelection campaign on class resentment. Though Gallup paints this as vindication for the president on the message, it does expose the problem with how we tend to conduct the conversation of basing policy on that message. Gallup pronounces:

Inequality is and will continue to be one of the most important domestic political issues. President Barack Obama has consistently pushed for measures that he believes would provide those at the bottom end of the socioeconomic spectrum a fairer chance to succeed, and has coupled that with consistent arguments for higher taxes on those with high incomes and wealth. At this point, the American public would generally agree with Obama that wealth should ideally be more evenly distributed — and a modest majority, consisting mainly of Democrats and independents, appears to support the idea of bringing about that redistribution through heavier taxes on the rich.

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The most recent Gallup poll, which shows a majority of Americans believe that some of their neighbors have too much money and that the government should therefore confiscate and redistribute some of it, is likely to please the president, who based his reelection campaign on class resentment. Though Gallup paints this as vindication for the president on the message, it does expose the problem with how we tend to conduct the conversation of basing policy on that message. Gallup pronounces:

Inequality is and will continue to be one of the most important domestic political issues. President Barack Obama has consistently pushed for measures that he believes would provide those at the bottom end of the socioeconomic spectrum a fairer chance to succeed, and has coupled that with consistent arguments for higher taxes on those with high incomes and wealth. At this point, the American public would generally agree with Obama that wealth should ideally be more evenly distributed — and a modest majority, consisting mainly of Democrats and independents, appears to support the idea of bringing about that redistribution through heavier taxes on the rich.

There are generally two weaknesses with how liberals talk about inequality. The first is that they usually begin by assuming inequality is detrimental to society without establishing that it is. They may be right, but it would be unwise to build redistributive policies on class warfare and demonization instead of data. An exception in this regard is the Washington Post’s Brad Plumer, who wrote an interesting piece a few weeks back about new research into “trickle-down consumption.” One example, according to Plumer: “In cities like New York, the wealthiest are competing for the most valuable apartments and bidding up prices — which has broader ripple effects.” The concept is not new, but Plumer’s post adds some interesting context.

Trickle-down consumption, of course, is really a problem in unequal spending which is enabled by, but not the same thing as, unequal income. Additionally, there are advantages to having the wealthy consume instead of save: they support businesses owned by the less wealthy, which increases the income of less well-off, and when they purchase property that will often result in an increase in their taxes. The latter is a result those on the left claim to want, and it comes about through consumption and sometimes job creation (construction, etc.) instead of confiscation. Nonetheless, the discussion is worth having and Plumer’s piece brings hard data to the table instead of stories about Warren Buffett’s secretaries.

Yet it also raises the second issue with how inequality is too often discussed: how it should be rectified. Gallup demonstrates this perfectly when it only proposes one way to redistribute income: by taxing “the rich” more. But there are all sorts of ways to try and level the playing field. Gallup is noticeably vague in giving Obama credit for proposing ways to give the poor a fair shake. There’s a good reason for that.

As I noted in December, referencing an important article on taxing the rich by Joel Kotkin, Obama’s soak-the-rich approach to taxation can easily exacerbate existing inequality. Many high-earners live in cities, where there are also a large number of low-income residents. As Kotkin explains, this makes these economies heavily dependent on the consumption of the wealthy, and raising taxes on them would hit the very industries that typically offer income-class mobility to the poor.

There’s also the issue of education. Obama sought to end the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which was designed to give low-income youth stuck in D.C.’s failing schools a chance at a better education. His party remains broadly hostile to school choice, siding with public union bosses instead.

And no discussion of inequality should omit crime. The successful policing innovations in New York City have benefited low-income neighborhoods above all. Yet politicians and leftist activists are falling all over themselves to find ways to undo the incredible work of the NYPD. As Fred Siegel wrote recently in the New York Observer:

The Kimani Gray case may fade, but the intertwined issues of crime and race will remain high on the electoral agenda. If the politicians fail to thread the needle, the danger ahead is that New York could regress to a Chicago-like situation, where the well-to-do areas are reasonably well-policed while the minority areas are left to fend for themselves regarding crime. The liberal champions of equality will have once again produced greater inequality.

So by all means, let’s talk about rectifying inequality. But Gallup’s refusal to connect any issue other than taxation with inequality mirrors the left’s own, and ensures that so many worthy policy objectives remain ignored.

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A Leader Who Wants to Understand Terror?

Most Americans don’t pay attention to Canadian politics. Indeed most U.S. citizens probably can’t even name the prime minister of our neighbor to the north. But the leader of one of Canada’s opposition parties gave us a reason to have something of a rooting interest the next time residents of the Great White North go to the polls. Justin Trudeau, the new head of Canada’s Liberal Party, reacted to the terrorist bombing in Boston on Monday with a curious declaration about the need to understand the people who had committed the atrocity. In an interview with the CBC, Trudeau gave a textbook definition of how not to speak about terrorism:

We have to look at the root causes. Now, we don’t know now if it was terrorism or a single crazy or a domestic issue or a foreign issue. But there is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded. Completely at war with innocents. At war with a society. And our approach has to be, okay, where do those tensions come from?

For anyone to be speaking of “root causes” of a horrible crime whose perpetrators and/or cause was yet unknown illustrates a knee-jerk reflex to appease criminals that ought to render the speaker ineligible for responsibility for any nation’s defense. Fortunately, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government’s exemplary support of Israel we noted on Tuesday, was quick to respond in exactly the fashion that Americans appreciate:

“When you see this type of violent act, you do not sit around trying to rationalize it or make excuses for it or figure out its root causes,” Harper told reporters. “You condemn it categorically, and to the extent you can deal with the perpetrators, you deal with them as harshly as possible.”

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Most Americans don’t pay attention to Canadian politics. Indeed most U.S. citizens probably can’t even name the prime minister of our neighbor to the north. But the leader of one of Canada’s opposition parties gave us a reason to have something of a rooting interest the next time residents of the Great White North go to the polls. Justin Trudeau, the new head of Canada’s Liberal Party, reacted to the terrorist bombing in Boston on Monday with a curious declaration about the need to understand the people who had committed the atrocity. In an interview with the CBC, Trudeau gave a textbook definition of how not to speak about terrorism:

We have to look at the root causes. Now, we don’t know now if it was terrorism or a single crazy or a domestic issue or a foreign issue. But there is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded. Completely at war with innocents. At war with a society. And our approach has to be, okay, where do those tensions come from?

For anyone to be speaking of “root causes” of a horrible crime whose perpetrators and/or cause was yet unknown illustrates a knee-jerk reflex to appease criminals that ought to render the speaker ineligible for responsibility for any nation’s defense. Fortunately, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government’s exemplary support of Israel we noted on Tuesday, was quick to respond in exactly the fashion that Americans appreciate:

“When you see this type of violent act, you do not sit around trying to rationalize it or make excuses for it or figure out its root causes,” Harper told reporters. “You condemn it categorically, and to the extent you can deal with the perpetrators, you deal with them as harshly as possible.”

Harper is right. Talk about understanding such “root causes” of terror is merely left-wing code for thinking of terrorism as a justified response to the West. It is bad enough to use that sort of language when speaking of al-Qaeda or Palestinian attacks on Israelis and Jews. To do so when discussing a terrorist attack whose purpose remains a mystery can only be characterized as idiocy.

Trudeau is a relative political neophyte whose main qualification is that he is the son of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister for all but nine months of the period covering 1968 to 1984. He won a national party primary with 80 percent of the votes cast via the Internet and by phone to became the new Liberal leader this past weekend. Among the losing candidates was Deborah Coyne, his father’s mistress and the mother of the younger Trudeaus’s half-sister. Politics is clearly a complicated family business north of the border.

Under Harper’s leadership, Canada has assumed its rightful role as an American partner rather than a resentful smaller neighbor. Canadians tend to pride themselves on not being Americans, and Harper is often chided by his opponents for being too close to the United States as well as being Israel’s most faithful foreign friend. But one hopes that Canadians will recoil from a would-be prime minister who is more concerned with understanding the enemies of the West than in fighting them.

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Obama Downgrades “Special Relationship”

The once-“special relationship” between the UK and the U.S.–which as recently as the past decade produced remarkably close collaboration between George W. Bush and Tony Blair–grows less special by the day. President Obama began his term by exiling from the Oval Office a bust of Winston Churchill that had been displayed by Bush; although he kept an identical bust which has been in the presidential residence since the Johnson administration, this was a small, symbolic move that indicated Obama’s diminished regard for the greatest of British prime ministers.

Now Obama has snubbed the second-greatest British prime minister by refusing to send any members of his administration to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. The U.S. delegation was led by former secretaries of state George Shultz and Jim Baker–great men, to be sure, but they served in the Reagan administration. Where was Joe Biden? Isn’t the vice president’s chief job to attend funerals? But apparently he had more urgent things to do–as did, it seems, every single member of the Obama cabinet and even such unemployed politicians as Bill and Hillary Clinton.

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The once-“special relationship” between the UK and the U.S.–which as recently as the past decade produced remarkably close collaboration between George W. Bush and Tony Blair–grows less special by the day. President Obama began his term by exiling from the Oval Office a bust of Winston Churchill that had been displayed by Bush; although he kept an identical bust which has been in the presidential residence since the Johnson administration, this was a small, symbolic move that indicated Obama’s diminished regard for the greatest of British prime ministers.

Now Obama has snubbed the second-greatest British prime minister by refusing to send any members of his administration to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. The U.S. delegation was led by former secretaries of state George Shultz and Jim Baker–great men, to be sure, but they served in the Reagan administration. Where was Joe Biden? Isn’t the vice president’s chief job to attend funerals? But apparently he had more urgent things to do–as did, it seems, every single member of the Obama cabinet and even such unemployed politicians as Bill and Hillary Clinton.

This snub has been noted across the Atlantic where Tories are seething about the lack of love for the Irony Lady–and by implication the lack of regard for the “special relationship” which has been the bedrock on which the security of the post-1945 world has been constructed.

This is not just an issue of symbolism, either: The Obama administration is maintaining a studious neutrality over the renewed dispute over the Falkland Islands, which Argentina once again appears bent on claiming in spite of its centuries under the Union Jack. The rights and wrongs of the situation are crystal clear: 99 percent of the islanders have just voted to remain part of Britain. Yet Obama has refused to offer any support to Britain in the face of renewed Argentine saber-rattling.

Don’t be surprised if the next time Washington wants British support in a future crisis, that backing will be mysteriously lacking.

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Will Obama Heed Push to Appease Iran?

Over the course of the last year, President Obama has escalated his rhetoric against Iran. His repudiation of a policy of containment of a nuclear Iran and his repeated promise never to allow the Islamist regime to gain such a weapon has left him little room to maneuver. Tehran continues to stonewall the diplomatic process initiated by the United States and its partners in the P5+1 process. Just as ominously, the ayatollahs have doubled down on their efforts to strengthen their nuclear program. The number of centrifuges spinning away to enrich uranium to bomb-level grade in their underground mountain bunker facility has increased while international inspectors continue to be kept away from sites where military applications of nuclear technology can be found.

But with the clock ticking down toward the moment when the Iranians will have enough fuel to make bombs, much of the foreign policy establishment in the United States is still trying to influence the president to back away from his pledge. The Iran Project has assembled a formidable array of former diplomats and political figures to urge Obama to not just stop talking about force but also to move away from the economic sanctions he has belatedly implemented to pressure Tehran. The group, which has strong ties to the administration, has issued a new report, “Strategic Options for Iran: Balancing Pressure with Diplomacy,” that is aimed at providing a rationale for Obama to embark on yet another attempt at engagement with Iran that would effectively assure the ayatollahs that they have nothing to fear from the West.

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Over the course of the last year, President Obama has escalated his rhetoric against Iran. His repudiation of a policy of containment of a nuclear Iran and his repeated promise never to allow the Islamist regime to gain such a weapon has left him little room to maneuver. Tehran continues to stonewall the diplomatic process initiated by the United States and its partners in the P5+1 process. Just as ominously, the ayatollahs have doubled down on their efforts to strengthen their nuclear program. The number of centrifuges spinning away to enrich uranium to bomb-level grade in their underground mountain bunker facility has increased while international inspectors continue to be kept away from sites where military applications of nuclear technology can be found.

But with the clock ticking down toward the moment when the Iranians will have enough fuel to make bombs, much of the foreign policy establishment in the United States is still trying to influence the president to back away from his pledge. The Iran Project has assembled a formidable array of former diplomats and political figures to urge Obama to not just stop talking about force but also to move away from the economic sanctions he has belatedly implemented to pressure Tehran. The group, which has strong ties to the administration, has issued a new report, “Strategic Options for Iran: Balancing Pressure with Diplomacy,” that is aimed at providing a rationale for Obama to embark on yet another attempt at engagement with Iran that would effectively assure the ayatollahs that they have nothing to fear from the West.

The timing of the release of this report couldn’t be any worse. It comes only weeks after the president reaffirmed his commitment to stopping Iran during his visit to Israel and in the direct aftermath of the latest diplomatic fiasco in which the P5+1 group’s attempt to entice Tehran to give up its nukes with concessions flopped. But given the influence that signatories such as Thomas Pickering, Zbigniew Brezezinski, Daniel Kurtzer, Lee Hamilton, and Richard Lugar have with the Obama foreign policy team—especially former Iran Project board member and current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel—it’s an open question as to whether this document will provide a template for a new round of appeasement of Iran.

While the report is couched in language that agrees with the objective of preventing Iran from going nuclear, its recommendations are primarily aimed at convincing Americans to embrace Tehran’s goals rather than the other way around. Reading it one quickly realizes that the author’s main fear is not so much the likelihood that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons as it is the possibility that the United States may be obligated to use force to prevent that from happening.

While the use of force, which a previous Iran Project paper signed by Hagel sought to prevent, would entail grave risks, it is increasingly clear that the alternative is not a diplomatic solution by which Iran renounces its nuclear ambition but the containment policy that Obama has specifically rejected.

But rather than endorse a strengthening of the sanctions regime which has at least inflicted some pain on the Iranian economy and given the ayatollahs at least a theoretical incentive to negotiate, the Iran Project seeks to abandon this track. Their focus is solely on negotiations.

The rationale for this puzzling strategy is an assumption that sanctions only alienate and isolate the Iranians and will never persuade them to give up positions they believe are essential to their national interests. They are probably right when they argue that the combination of diplomacy and sanctions will never convince Iran to surrender its nukes. But they fail to explain how or why Tehran would do so without the stick of sanctions or force hanging over their heads.

The report’s main interest is really not about the nuclear threat but in promoting some sort of a rapprochement between Iran and the United States. They acknowledge the wide gap between the two governments in terms of their positions on terrorism, Middle East peace and human rights. But they think it is possible for there to be mutually satisfying relations if only the Americans put to rest any fears in Tehran that the United States is interested in regime change in Iran.

It should be admitted that the chances that any putative American efforts to topple the tyrannical Islamist regime short of invasion (which not even those who advocate bombing their nuclear facilities advocate) would not meet with success given the ruthless nature of the Iranian government. But what these foreign policy “realists” are advocating is a U.S. endorsement of one of the most repressive and anti-Semitic governments in the world. This would be another betrayal of American values as well as of a suffering Iranian people, who waited in vain for the Obama administration to speak out against the 2009 crackdown against dissent.

While there are issues on which Iran and the United States might find common ground, such as the drug trade and Afghanistan, the nature of the Iranian regime is such that it is incapable of regarding America as anything but its enemy. So long as the Islamists are in charge hope of reconciliation or a restoration of the warm ties that existed prior to the 1979 revolution are absurd.

While the Obama administration was slow to enact sanctions and is still giving time to a diplomatic process that has only given the Iranians the opportunity to stall the West, it is nevertheless committed to doing the right thing on this issue. But we know the Iran Project’s siren call of appeasement resonates with many working inside Obama’s inner circle. The message between the lines in this report is one that will pave the way for a containment policy that would reward Iran for its flouting of the diplomatic process. If there is even the slightest hope left that diplomacy and sanctions will work, it is vital that the president reject this report and signal to the Iranians that they will wait in vain for the U.S. to start another bout of appeasement.

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Selling Immigration Reform

The president’s push for a gun control bill in the Senate had many weaknesses–which is why it ultimately failed–but one of those weaknesses surely was the fact that the bill would never become law anyway. Gun control was doomed in the House, even if it passed the Senate. The same cannot be said, however, for comprehensive immigration reform. And while the “gang of eight” immigration proposal is far from a sure thing in either house of Congress, the stakes are so high precisely because it may succeed.

And that also helps explain the sense of urgency displayed by the Republican half of the gang of eight. Those four Republicans include two veterans of the pro-immigration reform wing of the GOP, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, as well as McCain’s Arizona colleague Jeff Flake and Marco Rubio. Politico reports on the efforts of the GOP gang members, especially Graham and Rubio, to get out in front by working to define the bill first and by making the rounds on conservative talk radio shows. Those programs were credited with galvanizing conservative grassroots opposition to the last major immigration reform push in 2007. According to Politico:

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The president’s push for a gun control bill in the Senate had many weaknesses–which is why it ultimately failed–but one of those weaknesses surely was the fact that the bill would never become law anyway. Gun control was doomed in the House, even if it passed the Senate. The same cannot be said, however, for comprehensive immigration reform. And while the “gang of eight” immigration proposal is far from a sure thing in either house of Congress, the stakes are so high precisely because it may succeed.

And that also helps explain the sense of urgency displayed by the Republican half of the gang of eight. Those four Republicans include two veterans of the pro-immigration reform wing of the GOP, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, as well as McCain’s Arizona colleague Jeff Flake and Marco Rubio. Politico reports on the efforts of the GOP gang members, especially Graham and Rubio, to get out in front by working to define the bill first and by making the rounds on conservative talk radio shows. Those programs were credited with galvanizing conservative grassroots opposition to the last major immigration reform push in 2007. According to Politico:

The push is part of a broader strategy to smooth passage for the complex legislation in the Senate, where the idea is to lure more than just a handful of Republican senators. If a broadly backed bill passed the Senate, House Republicans would be hard pressed to reject it, proponents believe.

The talk-radio outreach is essential to the strategy because Rubio and McCain have plenty of sway in the Senate, where they will be able to lobby their colleagues face to face and develop a process for enabling amendments to the bill that could strengthen its appeal among conservatives without representing “poison pills” that would sink it instead. (The poison pill amendment threat is, if anything, underappreciated; it’s exactly how then-Senator Obama killed the 2007 immigration bill.)

The amendment process is crucial. Rand Paul, for example, is readying his own amendments to the bill. If Paul is able to get his amendments into the bill, it will help Rubio attract more conservative support and divide the skeptics. It’s more important to placate conservative skeptics than liberal skeptics because it’s unlikely liberal complaints about the bill would bring it down–ObamaCare, which was subject to comically empty threats from the left for not including a public option, is a good indication of the concerns to which legislation sponsors do and do not have to cater.

But even if the bill comes together and passes the Senate, Rubio and the others will have far less influence on what happens to it in the GOP-controlled House. And that is why Rubio is working so hard to dull conservative commentators’ unease with anything that resembles “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Rubio is scheduled to appear on Rush Limbaugh’s show today, and it will be Rubio’s second interview with Limbaugh since the push for immigration reform picked up steam after the November election.

You can already see the rift forming by comparing the early reactions of conservative senators with those of their House counterparts:

“Is that enough for me? I don’t want to say yet. But it was a lot better than I thought it was,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, about the border security measures….

“I’m very open-minded,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). “People want to do what’s right here, but there are lot of concerns on what is the best way to handle this problem and not create more.”

“Better than I thought” and “I’m very open-minded” may not be ringing endorsements of the bill, but they are leaps and bounds more optimistic than the grumbling that has already begun in the House:

“It’s worse than we thought,” said [Representative Lamar] Smith, who formerly chaired the Judiciary Committee. He added: “It’s amnesty on a massive scale, greater than we anticipated,” Smith said. “And we took their word that the border was going to be secured before the other reforms were implemented and that’s not the case.”…

The complaints aren’t limited to the substance of the bill, either. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said the comprehensive approach that the Senate took won’t fly in the House.

“We need to do this incrementally,” Chaffetz said in an interview. “If it’s a big bill, it’ll die under its own weight because there will be something for everybody to hate. All or nothing is a losing strategy.”

Complicating matters even further is the response from Jim DeMint, who left the Senate this year (where he was an early Rubio supporter) to take over the Heritage Foundation. DeMint has a very critical op-ed in USA Today on the bill, raising the once-surprising possibility that the Heritage Foundation–long a pro-business stalwart–will oppose and actively work to undermine legislation likely to be supported by the Chamber of Commerce. DeMint, a Tea Party favorite, even slams the “big business” participants in crafting the bill “behind closed doors.”

The media, the left, and supporters of immigration liberalization have often decried the influence of conservative talk radio on the political process. But conservative media is also a pipeline to the base, and Rubio’s decision to engage with such media may prove to be a turning point in favor of reform this time around.

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Obama’s Lear-Like Rage

In a Rose Garden statement in the aftermath of his failure to persuade the Senate to move on any of his gun control proposals, the president raged, Lear-like, against his opponents. It was a rather unpleasant mix–one part petulance and two parts anger.

In the course of his outburst, the president said this:

I’ve heard folks say that having the families of victims lobby for this legislation was somehow misplaced.  “A prop,” somebody called them.  “Emotional blackmail,” some outlet said.  Are they serious?  Do we really think that thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don’t have a right to weigh in on this issue?  Do we think their emotions, their loss is not relevant to this debate? So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington. 

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In a Rose Garden statement in the aftermath of his failure to persuade the Senate to move on any of his gun control proposals, the president raged, Lear-like, against his opponents. It was a rather unpleasant mix–one part petulance and two parts anger.

In the course of his outburst, the president said this:

I’ve heard folks say that having the families of victims lobby for this legislation was somehow misplaced.  “A prop,” somebody called them.  “Emotional blackmail,” some outlet said.  Are they serious?  Do we really think that thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don’t have a right to weigh in on this issue?  Do we think their emotions, their loss is not relevant to this debate? So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington. 

The unidentified “outlet” who used the phrase “emotional blackmail” was Charles Krauthammer, who on Fox News’s Special Report with Bret Baier said this about the background checks:

The question is: Would it have had any effect on Newtown? If you’re going to make all of these emotional appeals — you’re saying you’re betraying the families — you’ve got to show how if this had been law it would’ve stopped Newtown. It would not have. It’s irrelevant. 
I wouldn’t have objected, I might’ve gone the way of McCain or Toomey on this, but it’s a kind of emotional blackmail as a way of saying, “You have to do it for the children.” Not if there’s no logic in this. And that I think is what’s wrong with the demagoguery that we heard out of the president on this issue.

Krauthammer is once again right and the president is once again wrong. (At some point the president and his White House will discover that it’s not in their interest to get into a debate with Krauthammer. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer can explain why.)

What Mr. Obama has been attempting to do throughout this gun control debate is to build his case based on a false premise, which is that the laws he’s proposing would have stopped the mass killing in Newtown. The families of the Newtown massacre are being used by the president in an effort to frame the issue this way: If you’re with Obama, you’re on the side of saving innocent children from mass killings–and if you’re against Obama, you have the blood of the children of Newtown on your hands. But it actually does matter if what Obama is proposing would have made any difference when it came to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And the fact that it would not have is what makes Obama’s gambit so shameful and disturbing. (I say that as someone who is somewhat sympathetic to the expanded background checks.) 

Mr. Obama’s effort at emotional blackmail has failed, and in bitterly lashing out at those who called him out on his demagoguery, he went some distance toward confirming that he is, in fact, a demagogue. 

Three months into his second term, Mr. Obama is becoming an increasingly bitter and powerless figure. When a man who views himself as a world-historic figure and our Moral Superior commands things to happen and they don’t, it isn’t a pretty sight. See yesterday’s Rose Garden statement for more. 

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Will Grief and Rage on Guns Help Dems?

At the White House yesterday afternoon, President Obama did not seek to disguise his anger about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks for gun purchases. The stage-managed ceremony, in which the families of the victims of the Newtown massacre were paraded along with former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was intended to fuel a backlash against the 42 Republicans and four Democratic members of the U.S. Senate who voted against the measure. The 46 no votes that prevented the adoption of the amendment were portrayed as the product of cowardice and the malign influence of the National Rifle Association and its allies who had thwarted the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans that polls say support expanded background checks.

The president’s threats—amplified elsewhere in the liberal media—made it clear he thinks the American people would soon rise up and smite the recalcitrant opponents of gun control. The decision of gun rights advocates not to embrace an inoffensive measure like Manchin-Toomey, which would not infringe on the Second Amendment, will help keep this issue alive for the 2014 midterms. We can expect the president to continue trotting out the Newtown families at every opportunity. But now that the Senate has effectively ended any chance of new gun legislation, the question is whether this vote will actually give the president and his party the sort of leverage in the 2014 midterms that could not only change the result on guns but also give Democrats the control of Congress that Obama wants to complete his legacy. Though liberals, anticipating a campaign fueled by rage and grief and funded by billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, think it will and conservatives are assuming it will flop, the answer is a bit more complicated than either side assumes.

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At the White House yesterday afternoon, President Obama did not seek to disguise his anger about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks for gun purchases. The stage-managed ceremony, in which the families of the victims of the Newtown massacre were paraded along with former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was intended to fuel a backlash against the 42 Republicans and four Democratic members of the U.S. Senate who voted against the measure. The 46 no votes that prevented the adoption of the amendment were portrayed as the product of cowardice and the malign influence of the National Rifle Association and its allies who had thwarted the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans that polls say support expanded background checks.

The president’s threats—amplified elsewhere in the liberal media—made it clear he thinks the American people would soon rise up and smite the recalcitrant opponents of gun control. The decision of gun rights advocates not to embrace an inoffensive measure like Manchin-Toomey, which would not infringe on the Second Amendment, will help keep this issue alive for the 2014 midterms. We can expect the president to continue trotting out the Newtown families at every opportunity. But now that the Senate has effectively ended any chance of new gun legislation, the question is whether this vote will actually give the president and his party the sort of leverage in the 2014 midterms that could not only change the result on guns but also give Democrats the control of Congress that Obama wants to complete his legacy. Though liberals, anticipating a campaign fueled by rage and grief and funded by billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, think it will and conservatives are assuming it will flop, the answer is a bit more complicated than either side assumes.

For all the talk being heard today about the anger of the American people about their will being thwarted by the nefarious maneuverings of the NRA, the news landscape the day after the defeat of the gun bill illustrates the problem with assuming that one issue can dominate the public consciousness. As much as the president and his media cheerleaders would like to assume that a Newtown victims-fueled fury can transform American politics, less than 24 hours later the gun issue is competing with other stories that are more compelling, such as the Boston terror attack and the massive deaths and damage that resulted from the fertilizer factory explosion in Texas. As much as many Americans are still deeply moved by Newtown and most think Manchin-Toomey made sense, the lines on gun issues are still largely drawn on regional and ideological lines that have not budged much in the past few months.

As Josh Kraushaar points out in the National Journal today, the electoral math in 2014 favors gun rights advocates, not President Obama and his allies. With so many Senate Democrats up for re-election in red states where guns remain popular, it’s hard to see how liberals will be able to harness the emotions of Newtown to elect people who will change the numbers on such issues. The fact that the amendment to the bill proposed by Texas Senator John Cornyn about states respecting each other’s concealed carry permits won more bipartisan support than Manchin-Toomey–although it, too, failed–is telling.

Red state Democrats, including the four who opposed Manchin-Toomey, may face primary challenges from the left. But the prospects of those senators being replaced by pro-gun control liberals are virtually non-existent, no matter how much money Bloomberg pours into those races. Nor is it likely that Republicans in the south or west are spending too much time worrying about Democrats beating them by waving the bloody shirt of Newtown.

But Republicans should not be too sanguine about the political landscape next year. They have been underestimating Obama’s appeal for years and next year may be no exception. What the president may be able to do next year in a campaign that will in part be aided by gun-violence victims’ families is to help increase turnout among the Democratic base that might change races in some states and hurt the GOP’s chances of winning back the Senate while holding onto the House.

The right is right to point out that many of the arguments being used by the president on guns are specious. The idea that al-Qaeda terrorists will be enabled to buy guns without background checks is pure baloney. And the premise that the Newtown victim families have the standing to impose their views on guns on the country even if the measures they support would not have made a difference in stopping the murders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School is also unfair.

However, conservatives would do well to get used to seeing those families, as they will be a constant presence on the campaign trail in the next two years. Any assumption that they will not help the president make political hay with his orchestrated rage may prove premature.

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How UNRWA Steals Money from Those Who Need It Most

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is threatening to end relief operations for Syrian refugees, who currently number 1.3 million and counting, if it doesn’t receive the necessary funds soon. The agency says it has received only a third of the $1 billion it needs through June, and only $400 million of the $1.5 billion donors pledged earlier this year. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned explicitly that absent more funds, UNHCR will have to stop distributing food to refugees in Lebanon next month. And Jordan, which has the largest population of Syrian refugees, is threatening to close its borders to new entrants unless more aid is forthcoming urgently.

Meanwhile, another UN agency enjoys comfortable funding of about $1 billion a year to help a very different group of refugees–refugees who generally live in permanent homes rather than flimsy tents in makeshift camps; who have never faced the trauma of flight and dislocation, having lived all their lives in the place where they were born; who often have jobs that provide an income on top of their refugee benefits; and who enjoy regular access to schooling, healthcare and all the other benefits of non-refugee life. In short, these “refugees” are infinitely better off than their Syrian brethren–yet their generous funding continues undisturbed even as Syrian refugees are facing the imminent loss of such basics as food and fresh water. I am talking, of course, about UNRWA.

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The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is threatening to end relief operations for Syrian refugees, who currently number 1.3 million and counting, if it doesn’t receive the necessary funds soon. The agency says it has received only a third of the $1 billion it needs through June, and only $400 million of the $1.5 billion donors pledged earlier this year. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned explicitly that absent more funds, UNHCR will have to stop distributing food to refugees in Lebanon next month. And Jordan, which has the largest population of Syrian refugees, is threatening to close its borders to new entrants unless more aid is forthcoming urgently.

Meanwhile, another UN agency enjoys comfortable funding of about $1 billion a year to help a very different group of refugees–refugees who generally live in permanent homes rather than flimsy tents in makeshift camps; who have never faced the trauma of flight and dislocation, having lived all their lives in the place where they were born; who often have jobs that provide an income on top of their refugee benefits; and who enjoy regular access to schooling, healthcare and all the other benefits of non-refugee life. In short, these “refugees” are infinitely better off than their Syrian brethren–yet their generous funding continues undisturbed even as Syrian refugees are facing the imminent loss of such basics as food and fresh water. I am talking, of course, about UNRWA.

It has long been clear that UNRWA–which deals solely with Palestinian refugees, while UNHCR bears responsibility for all other refugees on the planet–is a major obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Since, unlike UNHCR, it grants refugee status to the original refugees’ descendants in perpetuity, the number of Palestinian refugees has ballooned from under 700,000 in 1949 to over five million today, even as the world’s non-Palestinian refugee population has shrunk from over 100 million to under 30 million. Moreover, while UNHCR’s primary goal is to resettle refugees, UNRWA hasn’t resettled a single refugee in its history: By its definition, refugees remain refugees even after acquiring citizenship in another country. It has thereby perpetuated and exacerbated the Palestinian refugee problem to the point where it has become the single greatest obstacle to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement: Israel cannot absorb five million Palestinian refugees (though it could easily absorb the fewer than 50,000 original refugees who still remain alive), yet under UNRWA’s rules, refugee status can’t be ended except by resettlement in Israel.

But an even more basic reason for abolishing UNRWA is the harm it does to the world’s most vulnerable people–real refugees like the Syrians. Were the Palestinians handled by UNHCR like all other refugees are, UNHCR would have the budgetary flexibility to temporarily divert aid from the Palestinians, who need it far less, to people who need it more, like the Syrians today. Instead, it is forced to watch helplessly as Syrian refugees go roofless and hungry while $1 billion in aid is squandered on Palestinians with homes, jobs, and all the comforts of settled life.

Thus, anyone who claims to have a shred of genuine humanitarian concern ought to be agitating for UNRWA’s abolition and the Palestinians’ transfer to UNHCR’s auspices. Unfortunately for the Syrians, it seems that many of the world’s self-proclaimed humanitarians prefer harming Israel to helping those who need it most.

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Democrats Wake Up to Obama’s “Huge Train Wreck”

In a hearing on Wednesday, Democratic Senator Max Baucus, in speaking about enacting the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, “I just see a huge train wreck coming down.”

He’s not the only one.

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In a hearing on Wednesday, Democratic Senator Max Baucus, in speaking about enacting the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, “I just see a huge train wreck coming down.”

He’s not the only one.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll (cited here) shows that two-thirds of Democrats now believe the president’s heath care reform will either hurt them personally or have no effect on their daily lives. Just above a quarter of those surveyed (27 percent) said the reforms would help them. Just 15 percent of independents believe the Affordable Care Act will help them.

Democratic strategist Doug Schoen, in a burst of candor, admitted, “Obama is trying to make the next election a referendum on Republicans. But Obamacare will still be a drag on the Democratic ticket. Democrats supported it because Obama was attached to it, but they still have great skepticism about the real impact of the law.”

The real impact of the law is turning out to be profoundly negative, and the worst is yet to come. ObamaCare is an unworkable monstrosity, and its failure may be among the most important political facts of Mr. Obama’s second term. It alone will do a fair amount to revive the GOP’s political hopes, starting in 2014.  

The president and his party own this impending “huge train wreck,” and there’s nothing much they can do to avoid it at this stage.

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