Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 30, 2013

Will the White House Spike Iran Sanctions?

Two years ago Senator Robert Menendez pitched a fit at a committee hearing when Obama administration figures came to the Senate to try and persuade it not to adopt tougher sanctions on Iran. The New Jersey Democrat was especially put out because prior to proposing legislation on the issue with Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, he had agreed to water down the bill at the request of the White House. Having bargained Menendez and Kirk down, the White House then sought to torpedo the weaker bill that was on the verge of passage. Despite that intervention, the bill passed and it became part of a raft of laws the president had consistently opposed but for which he took credit during his reelection campaign. Fast-forward to today and we are about to see the exercise repeated.

As Politico reported earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Capitol Hill on Thursday to try and talk Congress out of once again strengthening sanctions on Iran. They claim such a move would harm the chances of progress in the P5+1 talks with Iran that will reconvene next week. But the arguments against tougher sanctions make no more sense today than they did two years ago.

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Two years ago Senator Robert Menendez pitched a fit at a committee hearing when Obama administration figures came to the Senate to try and persuade it not to adopt tougher sanctions on Iran. The New Jersey Democrat was especially put out because prior to proposing legislation on the issue with Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, he had agreed to water down the bill at the request of the White House. Having bargained Menendez and Kirk down, the White House then sought to torpedo the weaker bill that was on the verge of passage. Despite that intervention, the bill passed and it became part of a raft of laws the president had consistently opposed but for which he took credit during his reelection campaign. Fast-forward to today and we are about to see the exercise repeated.

As Politico reported earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Capitol Hill on Thursday to try and talk Congress out of once again strengthening sanctions on Iran. They claim such a move would harm the chances of progress in the P5+1 talks with Iran that will reconvene next week. But the arguments against tougher sanctions make no more sense today than they did two years ago.

That the administration is going all out to halt the drive to toughen sanctions was apparent yesterday when it called a group of Jewish leaders (without, as is their usual practice, of including more marginal left-wing groups) into the White House to try and get them to back their opposition to the new legislation. They seem to have failed, though the Democrats’ Jewish support group, the National Jewish Democratic Council, appears to be succumbing to the presidential pressure in this respect.

The excuse for the new negotiations with Iran is the supposed moderation of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that is alleged to have created an opening for diplomacy. But the Iranian charm offensive has not impelled Tehran to change its position one bit. The Iranians are still defending their “right” to enrich uranium and refusing to let their stockpile of nuclear fuel out of their country. Both of these points would allow the Iranians to easily cheat on a nuclear deal despite any assurances to the contrary. This was confirmed again today when Iran’s top nuclear official denied the claim that they had already stopped enriching uranium to the 20 percent mark that makes it viable for a weapon.

The past has shown that the only thing that has caused Iran to even talk about the nuclear issue is the threat of increased sanctions. It was the sanctions that the administration belatedly enforced in the last two years that brought about the pain in the Iranian economy that is the impetus of the charm offensive that has fooled so many Westerners. By again trying to stall more sanctions, the president is sending yet another signal to Tehran that he doesn’t intend to keep pressing them, let alone credibly threaten force once the talks prove futile, as they have every previous time in the last decade.

Indeed, if the president were serious about gaining a satisfactory resolution to the dispute with Iran he would be demanding more sanctions from Congress in order to strengthen his hand in the talks, not trying to weaken it.

All this means that, as it has had to do in the past, Congress must rise to the challenge and ignore the advice from Obama, Kerry, and Lew. Just as it forced the president’s hand throughout a five-year period when Obama was more interested in engaging the Iranians than pressuring them, the House and the Senate must act now to finish the economic isolation of the Islamist regime and boost the otherwise dim chances for a diplomatic solution that will prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon rather than merely delaying it.

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GOP Purge? A Tempest in a Tea Pot

The aftermath of the government shutdown has left the Republican Party badly divided. Some in the GOP are still wondering how they were suckered into letting Senator Ted Cruz and his supporters in the House shut down the government in a hopeless attempt to stop ObamaCare. But those who cheered the effort are not so much licking their wounds as they are licking their chops waiting for a chance to knock off some of the Senate Republicans who opposed Cruz’s rerun of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Though he is far from the only Republican to draw the ire of the Tea Party, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham seems to be at the top of their enemies list. Graham earned the ire of some on the right for his sponsorship of the bipartisan immigration reform bill, his support for U.S. military intervention in Libya and Syria, and his open opposition to Rand Paul’s isolationist demagoguery about drone attacks. But most of all he is despised for his occasional willingness to work with Democrats and even President Obama on certain issues. As such, their problems with him are, as with much of the motivations for the call for internal GOP bloodletting, more attitudinal than anything else. And while there is good reason for skepticism about the willingness of most conservatives to jettison such effective advocates like Mitch McConnell, there seems to be a consensus that if there is any Republican who will be forced to walk the plank by his party, it is Graham. However, two new polls show that the claims of Tea Partiers that Graham will be toast in 2014 may be empty boasts. If these numbers hold up, it may be fair to say that if Graham can survive in the ultra-conservative Palmetto State, it’s not clear that any so-called member of the GOP establishment need fear crossing Cruz.

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The aftermath of the government shutdown has left the Republican Party badly divided. Some in the GOP are still wondering how they were suckered into letting Senator Ted Cruz and his supporters in the House shut down the government in a hopeless attempt to stop ObamaCare. But those who cheered the effort are not so much licking their wounds as they are licking their chops waiting for a chance to knock off some of the Senate Republicans who opposed Cruz’s rerun of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Though he is far from the only Republican to draw the ire of the Tea Party, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham seems to be at the top of their enemies list. Graham earned the ire of some on the right for his sponsorship of the bipartisan immigration reform bill, his support for U.S. military intervention in Libya and Syria, and his open opposition to Rand Paul’s isolationist demagoguery about drone attacks. But most of all he is despised for his occasional willingness to work with Democrats and even President Obama on certain issues. As such, their problems with him are, as with much of the motivations for the call for internal GOP bloodletting, more attitudinal than anything else. And while there is good reason for skepticism about the willingness of most conservatives to jettison such effective advocates like Mitch McConnell, there seems to be a consensus that if there is any Republican who will be forced to walk the plank by his party, it is Graham. However, two new polls show that the claims of Tea Partiers that Graham will be toast in 2014 may be empty boasts. If these numbers hold up, it may be fair to say that if Graham can survive in the ultra-conservative Palmetto State, it’s not clear that any so-called member of the GOP establishment need fear crossing Cruz.

In the Winthrop University survey, Graham’s approval ratings were low, with 44.1 percent disapproving while only 39.7 in favor of his performance–though Republicans backed him 45.2 percent to 40.1 percent. Given that his approval ratings were in the 70s earlier in the year, that shows some real vulnerability. But when matched up against potential challengers, Graham doesn’t seem to have much to worry about.

These numbers were similar to the findings of a Harper/Conservative Intel poll about Graham’s approval ratings. But Harper also polled South Carolina Republicans about a possible primary matchup of Graham against his likely challengers and those results will give the senator’s critics little comfort. Graham leads the field of Republicans with 51 percent with his most formidable challengers, State Senator Lee Bright and Nancy Mace, trailing badly with 15 and 4 percent respectively. Graham also easily beats his most likely Democratic opponent in a general-election matchup 47 to 30 percent. None of this guarantees Graham reelection next year, as his challengers have plenty of time to raise more money and close the gap with the incumbent. But that gap is so large that their quest must still be termed a steep uphill climb at best.

What explains Graham’s seeming ability to hang on in one of the most conservative states in the union at a time when conservatives are calling for his blood? Well, one possible reason might be that even in South Carolina, the Tea Party is not as popular as some people assume it to be. The Winthrop poll showed that only 47 percent of Republicans had a positive view of it, a number that fell to only 28 percent when all South Carolinians are polled. It should also be noted that only ten percent of Republicans personally identify with the Tea Party.

That’s a stunning result in a state where, according to Harper, 69 percent of Republicans call themselves conservative. It also explains why the poll of Republicans about potential 2016 presidential candidates also showed that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was in first place, supported by 19 percent of South Carolinians while Cruz was in second with 17 percent, with the rest split among the various other GOP possibilities.

In other words, for all of Graham’s problems, he may not be in as much difficulty as his critics think. More to the point, South Carolina Republicans may not be marching to the beat of the Tea Party drummers calling for wholesale fratricide of GOP moderates in 2014. If it’s not going to happen there to Graham, that makes it difficult to argue that the calls for a Tea Party purge of “establishment” Republicans is anything more than a tempest in teapot.

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A Cultural Gulf Between Israel and Palestine

Last night there was a big party in Ramallah. As the Times of Israel described it, the gathering at the Muqata, the Palestinian Authority’s government compound in the city, was festive as people gathered to welcome home 21 of the 26 convicted terrorist murderers who were set free by Israel this week as part of the deal that got the Palestinians to agree to peace talks. Loudspeakers blasted songs, friends and relatives of those released danced, and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas proudly held their hands aloft in a victory gesture.

By contrast, the mood in Israel was somber as the relatives of the people who had been killed by those treated as heroes in Ramallah mourned anew. The New York Times described the difference between the two reactions as “an emotional gulf” and that is, to some extent, certainly true. One group of people was happy as murderers went free while others wept. But the gulf here is more than emotional or merely, as the Times seemed to describe it, a difficult process that is part of the price Israel must pay for the chance of peace. In fact, the “emotional gulf” is indicative of a vast cultural divide between these two peoples that explains more about the absence of peace than any lecture about history, borders, or refugees. Simply put, so long as the Palestinians honor murderers, there is no reason to believe they are willing to end the conflict.

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Last night there was a big party in Ramallah. As the Times of Israel described it, the gathering at the Muqata, the Palestinian Authority’s government compound in the city, was festive as people gathered to welcome home 21 of the 26 convicted terrorist murderers who were set free by Israel this week as part of the deal that got the Palestinians to agree to peace talks. Loudspeakers blasted songs, friends and relatives of those released danced, and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas proudly held their hands aloft in a victory gesture.

By contrast, the mood in Israel was somber as the relatives of the people who had been killed by those treated as heroes in Ramallah mourned anew. The New York Times described the difference between the two reactions as “an emotional gulf” and that is, to some extent, certainly true. One group of people was happy as murderers went free while others wept. But the gulf here is more than emotional or merely, as the Times seemed to describe it, a difficult process that is part of the price Israel must pay for the chance of peace. In fact, the “emotional gulf” is indicative of a vast cultural divide between these two peoples that explains more about the absence of peace than any lecture about history, borders, or refugees. Simply put, so long as the Palestinians honor murderers, there is no reason to believe they are willing to end the conflict.

The accounts of the aftermath of the release sought to balance the embarrassing ceremony in Ramallah by highlighting the decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow the building of 1,500 apartments in Jerusalem. There’s no question that the move was motivated by a desire on Netanyahu’s part to pacify the anger felt by many of his supporters about the release of terrorists. Even members of his coalition called it cynical and they are probably right about that, even though they, like most Israelis, see nothing wrong with Israel building in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods in their capital that would remain in the Jewish state even if there were a peace treaty that created a Palestinian state. Some would have preferred a building freeze to the disgrace of allowing the killers out of jail and that, too, is understandable.

But the lesson here isn’t so much about whether Netanyahu is playing political games or the false charge that building in Jerusalem is any way an obstacle to peace. It is that the two peoples in this conflict seem to be driven by values that are not merely at odds but which represent a gulf between civilizations.

The focus of Palestinian nationalism is not on building up their putative state, making it a better place to live, or even in creating a political process that would allow them to express their views freely. None of that was on display in Ramallah as a “president” serving the ninth year of the four-year term to which he was elected did his utmost to identify his political fortunes with people who had stabbed, shot, and blown up Jews in cold blood. Abbas did so because the political culture of the Palestinians still venerates the shedding of blood as the essential bona fides of any patriot. That is why terrorists are Palestinian heroes rather than shameful remnants of a violent past that is supposedly finished. He successfully demanded the release of the killers because that is something that makes him more popular.

Among Israelis, there is a debate about the wisdom of West Bank settlements even though few dispute the right of their country to build in any part of their capital. But Israelis don’t treat that tiny minority of Jews who have committed acts of lawless violence against Arabs as heroes. They are punished, not cheered. Until the same is true of the Palestinians, peace is nowhere in sight.

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Dems: Maybe We Should Let People Keep Their Insurance

You can tell the ObamaCare rollout is going miserably when the best news for Democrats is that their major reform law is not dropping even lower in the polls. Yet. That’s the takeaway from the latest Gallup polling, as the Washington Post points out. That “yet” is key, though. As Sean Sullivan notes:

Overall, Americans remain more likely to say the law will make things worse, not better. A new Gallup poll shows Americans’ views of how the law effects [sic] both them and the country more broadly have barely budged since the summer. In August, nearly a quarter of Americans (24 percent) said they think the law will make things better for their family, while 38 percent said they believe it will make things worse. The better/worse split is now 25/34 percent.

On the question of how the law will affect the heath-care situation across the country, the numbers are also nearly identical to where they were in August.

Democrats should not be too encouraged by the stagnant poll numbers for three reasons. First, the numbers remain terrible. Democrats need those numbers to go in the other direction, not tread water. Second, as Sullivan notes, the government shutdown served as something of a distraction from everything else, including the initial launch of the ObamaCare Web portal, since the two overlapped. Thus polls might not yet be registering the full reaction to the website debacle.

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You can tell the ObamaCare rollout is going miserably when the best news for Democrats is that their major reform law is not dropping even lower in the polls. Yet. That’s the takeaway from the latest Gallup polling, as the Washington Post points out. That “yet” is key, though. As Sean Sullivan notes:

Overall, Americans remain more likely to say the law will make things worse, not better. A new Gallup poll shows Americans’ views of how the law effects [sic] both them and the country more broadly have barely budged since the summer. In August, nearly a quarter of Americans (24 percent) said they think the law will make things better for their family, while 38 percent said they believe it will make things worse. The better/worse split is now 25/34 percent.

On the question of how the law will affect the heath-care situation across the country, the numbers are also nearly identical to where they were in August.

Democrats should not be too encouraged by the stagnant poll numbers for three reasons. First, the numbers remain terrible. Democrats need those numbers to go in the other direction, not tread water. Second, as Sullivan notes, the government shutdown served as something of a distraction from everything else, including the initial launch of the ObamaCare Web portal, since the two overlapped. Thus polls might not yet be registering the full reaction to the website debacle.

And third, and most important, the website “glitches” were far from the only–or the worst–aspects of the rollout that could anger the public. In the last twenty-four hours the debate over ObamaCare has shifted to the fact that the public is aware that the central promise of ObamaCare–if you like your plan, you can keep your plan–is not true; Obama knew it wasn’t true; and the administration rewrote the law’s regulations after the bill passed to maximize the number of people who would be kicked off their insurance policies.

When that information settles in, it’s certainly possible that the polling numbers not only on ObamaCare but on the Democrats in Congress could drop. And they seem to understand this. As Politico reported this afternoon:

Sen. Mary Landrieu said Wednesday she would propose legislation to ensure all Americans could keep their existing insurance coverage under Obamacare, a fresh sign of the political problems the law’s rollout has created for congressional Democrats.

Landrieu, a Democrat who faces a tough reelection in Louisiana in 2014, said she would either offer her own bill or formally sign onto another measure that would ensure that the law would not force anyone off of their existing health policies.

“The promise was made, and it should be kept,” Landrieu said in the Capitol Wednesday. “And it was our understanding when we voted for that bill that people when they have insurance could keep with what they had. So I’m going to be working on that fix.”

Those three paragraphs sum up the bind congressional Democrats are in at the moment. They expect voters will punish them for dishonestly shoving this law through Congress, and they seem to agree the voters have a case. After all, Landrieu’s bill would be unnecessary if the insured could keep their plans. They can’t, because ObamaCare is designed to prevent that. If millions more are to be protected from getting kicked off their plans, the government–which is the entity causing them to be kicked off their plans–will have to intervene.

That is an unfortunate but common pattern by now: government is expanded through well-meaning but preposterously ill-informed regulation, and the liberals responsible for it–Landrieu cast a significant vote for ObamaCare after receiving the “Louisiana Purchase” for her trouble–propose new regulations intended to fix what the old regulations broke.

Yet Landrieu likely faces an uphill battle precisely because she cast such a high-profile vote to pass ObamaCare. She has a credibility issue: why should voters trust her to save their insurance plans when she played such an important role in making sure they could not keep their insurance in the first place? A fundamental premise of ObamaCare’s sales pitch was a lie. Landrieu’s response seems to be the same excuse the president keeps employing: she had no idea; she learned about this from the media; and nobody’s more upset about it than she is.

But that brings us back to the credibility issue. Democrats knew the promise at the heart of ObamaCare was false, as Steny Hoyer admitted yesterday. And Landrieu’s bill amounts to simply a repeat of that promise. This time she means it, she’ll tell the voters. It’s not a great sales pitch, but at this point it’s all many Democrats have.

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Reality Intervenes in NSA Debate

Outraged Europeans would prefer to think that when it comes to privacy issues, they are the good guys and those nasty Americans are the bad guys. We have even been treated to the dubious spectacle in recent days of being lectured by the Germans, of all people, on how much they respect civil liberties and how little regard we have for them—which conveniently elides the inconvenient fact that the only reason that Germans have any civil liberties to enjoy is because of the U.S. Armed Forces which overthrew the Nazis and protected them from the Communists.

More to the point, the narrative of European innocence on state-sponsored snooping can only be maintained by a complete denial of reality. The details are of course classified, but some tantalizing tidbits are now seeping into public discussion. For example this Wall Street Journal article: “Millions of phone records at the center of a firestorm in Europe over spying by the National Security Agency were secretly supplied to the U.S. by European intelligence services—not collected by the NSA, upending a furor that cast a pall over trans-Atlantic relations.”

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Outraged Europeans would prefer to think that when it comes to privacy issues, they are the good guys and those nasty Americans are the bad guys. We have even been treated to the dubious spectacle in recent days of being lectured by the Germans, of all people, on how much they respect civil liberties and how little regard we have for them—which conveniently elides the inconvenient fact that the only reason that Germans have any civil liberties to enjoy is because of the U.S. Armed Forces which overthrew the Nazis and protected them from the Communists.

More to the point, the narrative of European innocence on state-sponsored snooping can only be maintained by a complete denial of reality. The details are of course classified, but some tantalizing tidbits are now seeping into public discussion. For example this Wall Street Journal article: “Millions of phone records at the center of a firestorm in Europe over spying by the National Security Agency were secretly supplied to the U.S. by European intelligence services—not collected by the NSA, upending a furor that cast a pall over trans-Atlantic relations.”

Or this AP story: “A former foreign minister of Greece says the U.S. is not the only country eavesdropping on foreign diplomats: his country’s secret services did that to U.S. ambassadors in Athens and Ankara in the 1990s.”

What a surprise: The Europeans engage in espionage and surveillance too. And, as it turns out, their spy agencies often operate with less oversight than our own.

So perhaps, just perhaps, we will hear fewer smug lectures from across the Atlantic about the horrors of the NSA and more recognition of the complex realities, including the fact that NSA surveillance helps to protect the Europeans from terrorism and other threats.

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Liberalism’s Desperate Comparison

One of the life rafts liberals are reaching for these days, in the midst of the disastrous rollout of the ObamaCare exchanges, is that the rollout of President Bush’s prescription drug plan was just as problematic.

That charge is silly and false. 

People can go back and read contemporaneous accounts for themselves, but what they’ll find is that the open enrollment window was much shorter, it basically worked, and when benefits started there were only a few minor snags that got cleaned up in a matter of weeks. The Medicare prescription drug plan was nothing like the Affordable Care Act’s rolling disaster.

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One of the life rafts liberals are reaching for these days, in the midst of the disastrous rollout of the ObamaCare exchanges, is that the rollout of President Bush’s prescription drug plan was just as problematic.

That charge is silly and false. 

People can go back and read contemporaneous accounts for themselves, but what they’ll find is that the open enrollment window was much shorter, it basically worked, and when benefits started there were only a few minor snags that got cleaned up in a matter of weeks. The Medicare prescription drug plan was nothing like the Affordable Care Act’s rolling disaster.

Now this needs to be added: The Medicare Part D rollout started with the huge advantage of an existing program, with existing and ongoing communications with the beneficiaries. Part D could be built on top of that infrastructure, which was not possible with the Affordable Care Act. That said, the free-market reforms put forward by President Bush in Medicare worked (for the reasons why, you might take a look at this piece James Capretta and I wrote a few years ago). The same thing, I’m venturing to guess, won’t be said about ObamaCare at a comparable period. 

Desperate liberals reach for desperate comparisons. This is one of them.

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Madison’s Moment

He may not have a grand monument like Thomas Jefferson; the pop culture revival of John Adams; a name synonymous with courage and heroism like George Washington; or the institutional legacy of Alexander Hamilton. But James Madison has still managed to work his way back into the daily experience of Washington D.C.’s political conversation. Madison–constitutional framer, secretary of state, president–is being invoked furiously by both Republicans and Democrats because of his consistent advocacy for the separation of powers that produces compromise and gridlock by design.

Unfortunately for Madison (though he might not find it unfortunate at all), he is being invoked for his culpability in the recent government shutdown. From the Washington Post to National Review to the Washington Examiner to even the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, there is striking agreement that if you’re looking for someone to blame for the recent polarization in Washington, the culprit of choice is Madison.

That’s the good news–sort of–because whether or not you think Madison should be praised for his conception of the separation of powers (and he most certainly should), it is at least accurate to credit him with being a driving force behind the system. The bad news is that some of those who come to praise Madison do so based on a misreading of history that Madison would scarcely recognize. There has been much hyperbole aimed at conservatives from liberals who believe that the government shutdown was unprecedented–this view, keep in mind, relies on the idea that the history of the world began with Barack Obama’s election in 2008–and as such was the manifestation of a malevolent world view on the part of Republicans in Congress. Here is the opening paragraph from John Judis’s cover story in the New Republic:

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He may not have a grand monument like Thomas Jefferson; the pop culture revival of John Adams; a name synonymous with courage and heroism like George Washington; or the institutional legacy of Alexander Hamilton. But James Madison has still managed to work his way back into the daily experience of Washington D.C.’s political conversation. Madison–constitutional framer, secretary of state, president–is being invoked furiously by both Republicans and Democrats because of his consistent advocacy for the separation of powers that produces compromise and gridlock by design.

Unfortunately for Madison (though he might not find it unfortunate at all), he is being invoked for his culpability in the recent government shutdown. From the Washington Post to National Review to the Washington Examiner to even the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, there is striking agreement that if you’re looking for someone to blame for the recent polarization in Washington, the culprit of choice is Madison.

That’s the good news–sort of–because whether or not you think Madison should be praised for his conception of the separation of powers (and he most certainly should), it is at least accurate to credit him with being a driving force behind the system. The bad news is that some of those who come to praise Madison do so based on a misreading of history that Madison would scarcely recognize. There has been much hyperbole aimed at conservatives from liberals who believe that the government shutdown was unprecedented–this view, keep in mind, relies on the idea that the history of the world began with Barack Obama’s election in 2008–and as such was the manifestation of a malevolent world view on the part of Republicans in Congress. Here is the opening paragraph from John Judis’s cover story in the New Republic:

In the Federalist Papers, James Madison promised that a large republic with a representative government would avoid the “instability, injustice and confusion” that had plagued many nations in Europe. In a representative government, he reasoned, disruptive factions would be unable to gain sufficient power to dissolve the social contract. The people’s representatives would not necessarily be paragons of virtue, but they would be less likely to succumb to “local prejudices and schemes of injustice.” In the 225 intervening years, Madison has been proven correct, with two great exceptions. One was the Civil War. The other was the 16-day government shutdown of October 2013.

Madison would, of course, be appalled. He was, after all, president during the War of 1812. That war would split the nation so profoundly as to be dubbed, variously, a civil war all its own and a second war of independence. And as for succumbing to “local prejudices and schemes of injustice,” the war’s political polarization would crest with the Hartford Convention of 1814 at which Federalists from New England would either threaten secession openly or implicitly. They had already, as Richard Brookhiser notes, been “smuggling supplies to the British army in Canada.” Shy of secession, they made noises about striking a separate peace with the British.

The “or else” tacked on to these threats was a list of constitutional amendments the conventioneers wanted adopted, among them restrictions on presidential eligibility aimed specifically at curbing the electoral success of the sons of Virginia. For those who think Republicans engineered the 2013 shutdown because they could not win elections fair and square and therefore contrived to take the country “hostage,” one wonders what they would make of such personalities as Gouverneur Morris (“Unquestionably it is civil war. And what of it?”) and Timothy Pickering.

But of course Madison was far from blameless. One clever flourish of the conventioneers was in writing that “in cases of deliberate, dangerous and palpable infractions of the constitution” it is appropriate for “a state to interpose its authority” with the federal government. This language echoed nearly word for word a section of the Virginia Resolution of 1798, which was written by Madison himself. (Madison’s authorship was not yet publicly revealed, but as it was promulgated by his party in his home state, his affiliation with and approval of its ideas were widely assumed.)

The Virginia Resolution, in turn, along with Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolution, was a protest against the Alien and Sedition Acts which were put in place by the Federalists and used by President John Adams (and an enabling Supreme Court) to silence domestic criticism and stack the deck electorally against the Republicans. Madison talked Jefferson out of pushing secession in response to the Acts, but he would no doubt scoff at the idea that the government shutdown of 2013 was an unprecedented manifestation (aside from the Civil War) of partisan polarization, disrupting a history of harmony that he would not recognize.

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Sebelius and the Arrogance of Power

At one point early in her appearance before a House committee this morning, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave the country a moment of clarity in response to a question. “Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.” Yet almost every other thing she said in her testimony was aimed not only at evading her own responsibility for the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare but also to obfuscate the lies the administration has told about the program as well as the utter lack of accountability about the expenditure of vast sums on a website that is not only dysfunctional but insecure.

The most egregious of her comments was to claim in an exchange with Rep. Joseph Pitts that “the website has never crashed.” Ironically, at the very moment that she was saying this, the website had crashed. That sort of denial is almost clinical in nature. But what was most telling about Sebelius’s performance was not so much the ongoing denial that uncounted millions are losing the coverage they were told they could keep or her difficulty in answering any detailed questions about why the website had been so poorly designed or why her department had failed to supervise the project adequately or account for its lack of functionality or security. Instead, it was the arrogant, cavalier nature of her responses to questions about the debacle.

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At one point early in her appearance before a House committee this morning, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave the country a moment of clarity in response to a question. “Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.” Yet almost every other thing she said in her testimony was aimed not only at evading her own responsibility for the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare but also to obfuscate the lies the administration has told about the program as well as the utter lack of accountability about the expenditure of vast sums on a website that is not only dysfunctional but insecure.

The most egregious of her comments was to claim in an exchange with Rep. Joseph Pitts that “the website has never crashed.” Ironically, at the very moment that she was saying this, the website had crashed. That sort of denial is almost clinical in nature. But what was most telling about Sebelius’s performance was not so much the ongoing denial that uncounted millions are losing the coverage they were told they could keep or her difficulty in answering any detailed questions about why the website had been so poorly designed or why her department had failed to supervise the project adequately or account for its lack of functionality or security. Instead, it was the arrogant, cavalier nature of her responses to questions about the debacle.

Sebelius came to the committee with plenty of notice after delaying her appearance by a week, but arrived armed with no firm answers on how the website problems had occurred, why the preparations for it were inadequate, and how her team had failed to note the questions that had been raised about its ability to function. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent, but no one in Sebelius’s department appears to have been capable of briefing her on this or even to supply simple answers to questions about the decision-making process that allowed the debacle to proceed. She tried to portray herself as a remote spectator to the process that led to the debacle even as she sought to pretend that she was the one to blame.

Sebelius contradicted herself almost continually. At one point she blamed crashes on Verizon and other times, as she told Pitts, she claimed there were no crashes. She claimed 700,000 persons had been enrolled, but when pressed for details about the numbers, she said that the website problems meant there was no reliable data to report. She said at one point that the problems would be fixed by November 30 but then qualified that to say that what we could expect was merely a gradual improvement with no end date at which all problems would be resolved.

Yet the consistent theme of her testimony was that a program the entire country knows is malfunctioning was working just fine. The cost increases and plan cancellations that so many Americans were facing in the coming months were mere technicalities. She denied that she and the president had lied about people keeping their coverage but then said that those who had lost their plans should just “go shopping.”

Sebelius could barely contain her contempt for the questions Republicans asked her about these points (since almost all the Democrats on the committee used their time to merely criticize the GOP for talking about the problems). Her eye rolling and barely concealed impatience with demands for accountability never stopped. While this was a stylistic failure, it betrayed more about ObamaCare and the spirit with which it is being imposed on the country than she may have thought.

ObamaCare was a bill that was rammed through Congress on a partisan vote in which the normal legislative process was ignored and questions were swept under the rug. It was sold to the public with lies and it is now being implemented in a fashion that is hurting at least as many citizens as those it is supposed to help. But at no point in this process has the administration shown itself willing to listen to the people being inconvenienced or harmed or even, as Sebelius repeated today, to give an exemption or a delay in the personal mandate as a result of the website debacle.

In a perverse way this makes sense, since it is in keeping with the top-down spirit of this attempt to have the government begin the process of taking over American health care. In the view of the president and Sebelius, the lies and the failures are mere details that are insignificant when compared to their ambitions and what they believe are their good intentions.

There is no better example of the arrogance of unchecked power than this legislation and the manner in which its authors have foisted it upon the country. While a divided Congress is unlikely to hold Sebelius or the administration accountable for this, it will be up to the American people to remember this awful, arrogant performance and the huge credibility gap of this administration the next chance they have to hold Washington, if not Sebelius, accountable.

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Giving Obama the Benefit of the Doubt

In a front-page story in the Washington Post, we read this:

A new controversy over the president’s health-care law is threatening to overshadow the messy launch of its Web site: Notices are going out to hundreds of thousands of Americans informing them that their health insurance policies are being canceled as of Dec. 31.

The notices appear to contradict President Obama’s promise that despite the changes resulting from the law, Americans can keep their health insurance if they like it.

Yes, those notices appear to contradict President Obama’s promise in the same way that it appears that if you release a hammer it drops toward the ground. But perhaps it’s all an optical illusion. Perhaps the hammer actually floats to the sky.

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In a front-page story in the Washington Post, we read this:

A new controversy over the president’s health-care law is threatening to overshadow the messy launch of its Web site: Notices are going out to hundreds of thousands of Americans informing them that their health insurance policies are being canceled as of Dec. 31.

The notices appear to contradict President Obama’s promise that despite the changes resulting from the law, Americans can keep their health insurance if they like it.

Yes, those notices appear to contradict President Obama’s promise in the same way that it appears that if you release a hammer it drops toward the ground. But perhaps it’s all an optical illusion. Perhaps the hammer actually floats to the sky.

In this instance the Post need not be so qualified in what it reports. It doesn’t simply appear as if reality contradicts what the president said; it actually and without doubt does contract what the president said. And even liberal newspapers shouldn’t be shy about saying so.

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The Mendacious Mr. Obama

The latest parlor game in Washington D.C. is whether or not President Obama knowingly misled us when he repeatedly assured the American people that, in his words, “If you like your healthcare plan, you’ll be able to keep your healthcare plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

By now we all know that claim was completely false–and thanks to a report by NBC News, we know the Obama administration knew it was false years ago. (So did Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.) But what about the president? Did he know what he was saying was untrue?

I certainly think so. For one thing, it’s nearly impossible to believe that the president–who is hardly a stupid or ignorant man–was clueless about this despite the fact that many people in the administration knew years in advance that a large percentage of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans. Red flags had to have gone up, time and again, at least until the message was sent from on high: Don’t rock the boat and don’t raise objections.

Remember, what we’re talking about isn’t a minor feature of an obscure policy. It’s a central component of Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement. And as the Wall Street Journal points out in this editorial, the Affordable Care Act is “dismantling the individual insurance market, as its architects intended from the start … this month’s mass cancellation wave has been the President’s political goal since 2008. Liberals believe they must destroy the market in order to save it.”

Read More

The latest parlor game in Washington D.C. is whether or not President Obama knowingly misled us when he repeatedly assured the American people that, in his words, “If you like your healthcare plan, you’ll be able to keep your healthcare plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

By now we all know that claim was completely false–and thanks to a report by NBC News, we know the Obama administration knew it was false years ago. (So did Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.) But what about the president? Did he know what he was saying was untrue?

I certainly think so. For one thing, it’s nearly impossible to believe that the president–who is hardly a stupid or ignorant man–was clueless about this despite the fact that many people in the administration knew years in advance that a large percentage of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans. Red flags had to have gone up, time and again, at least until the message was sent from on high: Don’t rock the boat and don’t raise objections.

Remember, what we’re talking about isn’t a minor feature of an obscure policy. It’s a central component of Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement. And as the Wall Street Journal points out in this editorial, the Affordable Care Act is “dismantling the individual insurance market, as its architects intended from the start … this month’s mass cancellation wave has been the President’s political goal since 2008. Liberals believe they must destroy the market in order to save it.”

Beyond that, it’s helpful to bear in mind the characteristics of the Obama White House. This is the group that for weeks knowingly misled the public on the events surrounding the lethal attacks on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. That claimed that the Affordable Care Act was both a tax and not a tax, depending on what the circumstances required. That hatched the sequestration idea, then denied it, and then blamed Republicans for it. That has perfected the art of stonewalling. That is lawless. And that ran a campaign in 2012 that was unusually vicious and dishonest, up to and including blaming Mitt Romney for the cancer death of a steelworker’s wife.

We have as president a man who routinely slanders his political opponents, distorting what they believe, even as he bemoans the lack of civility in public discourse. He constantly makes assertions that are obviously untrue. And it doesn’t matter to him. He keeps doing it because, at least until now, the media has given him something approaching a free pass.

I have no idea if Mr. Obama was born mendacious or whether he learned the habit somewhere along the way. What I do know is that Barack Obama is thoroughly post-modern. Words and facts have no objective standing with him; they are socially constructed, unmoored, infinitely malleable, a way to create his own reality and advance his own self-interest.

Mr. Obama clearly believes that because his agenda is right and noble and his opponents are benighted and evil, he has license to say pretty much whatever he wants pretty much whenever he wants. After all, anything that advances his agenda while rebuffing the (choose your descriptor) nihilistic, anarchistic, heartless, ruthless, Taliban-like Republicans is allowable. Even encouraged. It’s the Chicago Way.

Mr. Obama, then, has a deeply defective public character. He simply makes things up as he goes along. He invents his own reality. And the fact that he is inflicting significant and durable harm to our political culture, and to America itself, seems to bother him not one bit.

There is something quite disturbing about this president’s capacity to mislead people with such ease and with such relish. He’s not a man who can be trusted with power.

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