Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 31, 2013

Beating the Brotherhood Isn’t Impossible

Last summer when Egypt’s military intervened in a conflict between a protest movement composed of what appeared to be tens of millions of citizens and the country’s Muslim Brotherhood government, critics of the coup warned the generals not to exclude the Islamist party from government. While there was a case to be made against overturning the results of an election, the Brotherhood’s use of the power it gained to try to transform Egypt and to ensure it could never be challenged galvanized public opinion against it. But those calling for a cutoff of U.S. aid to Cairo to punish the military for usurping Mohamed Morsi also warned that any effort to defeat the Brotherhood rather than to bring it into the next government would backfire. The Brotherhood would, we were told, go quickly underground and be impossible to root out. The assumption was that the Islamists would not only survive but that it would transform Egypt into another Algeria where, in a similar fashion, the military denied power to Islamists and plunged that country into a bloody conflict.

But more than three months later, it appears that the predictions of doom were exaggerated. As the New York Times reports, the military just announced the arrest of one more Muslim Brotherhood leader, Essam el-Erian, a senior leader and advisor to ousted president Morsi. With el-Erian, the military has now effectively decapitated the Brotherhood with virtually every member of the group’s leadership now in prison. The capture of this particular figure is especially satisfying for the military since he is thought of as being, along with Morsi, a symbol of Islamist overreach and a key figure in the group’s attempt to establish hegemony over Egypt. But the main point is that, without much in the way of resistance from the Brotherhood and its vaunted underground capabilities, the military looks to have won its battle. Indeed, as the Daily Beast reported earlier this month, Gen. General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi has become a popular figure. This is especially true since the Obama administration foolishly cut off most of the aid the U.S. sends to Egypt annually.

There are two conclusions that may be drawn from this.

Read More

Last summer when Egypt’s military intervened in a conflict between a protest movement composed of what appeared to be tens of millions of citizens and the country’s Muslim Brotherhood government, critics of the coup warned the generals not to exclude the Islamist party from government. While there was a case to be made against overturning the results of an election, the Brotherhood’s use of the power it gained to try to transform Egypt and to ensure it could never be challenged galvanized public opinion against it. But those calling for a cutoff of U.S. aid to Cairo to punish the military for usurping Mohamed Morsi also warned that any effort to defeat the Brotherhood rather than to bring it into the next government would backfire. The Brotherhood would, we were told, go quickly underground and be impossible to root out. The assumption was that the Islamists would not only survive but that it would transform Egypt into another Algeria where, in a similar fashion, the military denied power to Islamists and plunged that country into a bloody conflict.

But more than three months later, it appears that the predictions of doom were exaggerated. As the New York Times reports, the military just announced the arrest of one more Muslim Brotherhood leader, Essam el-Erian, a senior leader and advisor to ousted president Morsi. With el-Erian, the military has now effectively decapitated the Brotherhood with virtually every member of the group’s leadership now in prison. The capture of this particular figure is especially satisfying for the military since he is thought of as being, along with Morsi, a symbol of Islamist overreach and a key figure in the group’s attempt to establish hegemony over Egypt. But the main point is that, without much in the way of resistance from the Brotherhood and its vaunted underground capabilities, the military looks to have won its battle. Indeed, as the Daily Beast reported earlier this month, Gen. General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi has become a popular figure. This is especially true since the Obama administration foolishly cut off most of the aid the U.S. sends to Egypt annually.

There are two conclusions that may be drawn from this.

One is that those who warned that the Islamists were, if not invincible, at least impossible to defeat, were wrong. It is true that the last word has not been spoken on the conflict in Egypt and the Brotherhood may well rally itself to cause more harm. But it is also clear that, at least for the moment, it doesn’t appear that the group is capable of mounting an insurgency that could threaten the military. Rather than make the country unstable, as critics of the coup warned, it seems to have had exactly the effect the military hoped it would have. While democracy is nowhere in sight in Egypt, it has also not descended into chaos, let alone civil war.

Also instructive is the fact that the Brotherhood is not as popular as its American cheerleaders (including, unfortunately, much of the administration) thought it was.

When the Mubarak regime fell in 2011, the Brotherhood was the only organized opposition party and took full advantage of its advantage in the rush to transform the country into a democracy. With powerful friends in Turkey and in Gaza (where its ideological offshoot Hamas ruled), the Brotherhood was popular and powerful. Other new parties, especially those that were secular or liberal, were no match for it and it breezed to victory in the elections that followed.

The assumption was that not only would the Brotherhood quickly adapt to the coup and resume its status as the leader of the opposition in the underground but that it could still count on the backing of a critical mass of Egyptians.

But the year in power may have degraded the Brotherhood’s ability to pose a terrorist threat to the new regime in Cairo.

On the one hand, assuming office took them public in a way they had never done before. That makes it much harder for them to operate underground. But their time in power, and the enormous hostility they generated among ordinary Egyptians, may have also made it impossible for them to lead any kind of clandestine effort. Not only are they more visible but their unpopularity—tens of millions took to the streets to protest against them—may have rendered it impossible for them to practice the classic technique of the guerilla and to hide in plain sight.

This should also call into question the judgment of the Obama administration’s policies toward Egypt. Not only, as the New York Times reported last weekend, is the United States still laboring under the burden of the president’s embrace of the Brotherhood during its year of power. But it is also now deeply resented by most Egyptians for its disdain for a change in power that most of them approved. And the military, which was long a bastion of sympathy for America, is now alienated and perhaps tempted by Russia’s efforts to revive the ties it had with Egypt until Anwar Sadat dumped them.

The U.S. miscalculated badly in Egypt. Not only is the military firmly established in power, but the most populous Arab nation may also be drifting out of the U.S. orbit. But as bad as that may be, there is something in this tale of failure that should encourage the West. The Arab spring may have turned in many places into an Islamist winter, but their eventual triumph is not certain. Totalitarian movements like the Brotherhood can be defeated.

Read Less

A Truly Wicked Blow: Jimmy Carter Hammers Obama for Ineptness

I’ve been quite critical of President Obama over the course of his presidency. Earlier this week, for example, I wrote a piece in which I accused Mr. Obama of mendacity. So I take a back seat to no one when it comes to leveling harsh judgments against the president. But even I, an Obama critic, believe there are some lines one should not cross, some things that should never be said, some blows that are too brutal even for American politics.

I had in mind what Jimmy Carter, who ranks with James Buchanan and a few others as among America’s worst and most inept presidents, said about Obama. When asked by Parade magazine how he would evaluate the Obama presidency so far, Carter said this:

Read More

I’ve been quite critical of President Obama over the course of his presidency. Earlier this week, for example, I wrote a piece in which I accused Mr. Obama of mendacity. So I take a back seat to no one when it comes to leveling harsh judgments against the president. But even I, an Obama critic, believe there are some lines one should not cross, some things that should never be said, some blows that are too brutal even for American politics.

I had in mind what Jimmy Carter, who ranks with James Buchanan and a few others as among America’s worst and most inept presidents, said about Obama. When asked by Parade magazine how he would evaluate the Obama presidency so far, Carter said this:

He’s done the best he could under the circumstances. His major accomplishment was Obamacare, and the implementation of it now is questionable at best.

This is, as Guy Benson points out, a withering indictment from Mr. Malaise. And on first blush, I thought, an unfair one, at least given the source. Who is Jimmy Carter to indict anyone on grounds of incompetence. And yet the more I reflect on it, the more I think Mr. Carter may be on to something.

What exactly are the impressive achievements of President Obama?  The revival of the American economy? Surging job growth? The success of the stimulus package and the number of “shovel ready jobs”? Moving us toward energy independence? Reducing the debt? Reducing poverty and the number of Americans on food stamps? His oversight of agencies like the IRS? The Fast and Furious program? Ending America’s political divisions and unifying his countrymen? Perhaps his skillful handling before, during, and after the terrorist assault on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi? His successes in Syria? Egypt? Iraq? Iran? Peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis? And don’t forget his signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act, which may rank among the worst major government programs in modern American history, a failure in both conception and implementation.

So it may be that Jimmy Carter has a right to sit in judgment of Barack Obama. Which is among the worst things that could be said about America’s 44th president.  

Read Less

Ted and Rand’s Father Problem

Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have a lot in common. Both senators have engaged in symbolic filibusters this year against Obama administration policies and have led the charge against ObamaCare and the so-called Republican establishment. And both would also like to be president, something that could, if they run, place them in a fierce competition for Tea Party primary voters in 2016. But they also have something else in common: problematic fathers. While Rand Paul has the advantage of inheriting his father Ron’s existing fan base and supporters for his presidential run, as I wrote earlier this year, the elder Paul also presents an ongoing liability for a politician who aspires to be more than the leader of an outlier faction of libertarian extremists.

But if, as I noted, Ron Paul could be his son’s Jeremiah Wright, that is even more the case with Cruz and his father, Pastor Rafael Cruz. While Rand and Ron Paul have had separate political lives in the last several years as the Kentucky senator struck out on his own and sought a slightly different image than his more extreme father, Ted and Rafael Cruz are pretty much joined at the hip. Pastor Cruz has been a frequent surrogate for his son and is popular in his own right as a sought-after speaker on the evangelical circuit. But the senator is now faced with the problem of having to delicately disassociate himself from his father’s recorded remarks in which he says he’d like to send President Obama “back to Kenya.”

As I wrote earlier today, racism is the third rail of American politics and liberals are always lying in wait seeking to brand conservatives as bigots. Most of the time this is a process that says more about liberal media bias than about the shortcomings of the right. But there is no denying that the elder Cruz’s crack about Kenya smacks of prejudice, not to mention a pander in the direction of irrational birther conspiracy theories. There ought to be no room in mainstream politics for this kind of thing and anyone who doesn’t push back strongly against it—and the left-wing equivalents—will deserve the flack that comes their way.

Read More

Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have a lot in common. Both senators have engaged in symbolic filibusters this year against Obama administration policies and have led the charge against ObamaCare and the so-called Republican establishment. And both would also like to be president, something that could, if they run, place them in a fierce competition for Tea Party primary voters in 2016. But they also have something else in common: problematic fathers. While Rand Paul has the advantage of inheriting his father Ron’s existing fan base and supporters for his presidential run, as I wrote earlier this year, the elder Paul also presents an ongoing liability for a politician who aspires to be more than the leader of an outlier faction of libertarian extremists.

But if, as I noted, Ron Paul could be his son’s Jeremiah Wright, that is even more the case with Cruz and his father, Pastor Rafael Cruz. While Rand and Ron Paul have had separate political lives in the last several years as the Kentucky senator struck out on his own and sought a slightly different image than his more extreme father, Ted and Rafael Cruz are pretty much joined at the hip. Pastor Cruz has been a frequent surrogate for his son and is popular in his own right as a sought-after speaker on the evangelical circuit. But the senator is now faced with the problem of having to delicately disassociate himself from his father’s recorded remarks in which he says he’d like to send President Obama “back to Kenya.”

As I wrote earlier today, racism is the third rail of American politics and liberals are always lying in wait seeking to brand conservatives as bigots. Most of the time this is a process that says more about liberal media bias than about the shortcomings of the right. But there is no denying that the elder Cruz’s crack about Kenya smacks of prejudice, not to mention a pander in the direction of irrational birther conspiracy theories. There ought to be no room in mainstream politics for this kind of thing and anyone who doesn’t push back strongly against it—and the left-wing equivalents—will deserve the flack that comes their way.

As was the case with Paul, who dodged questions about recent intolerant statements by his father who left Congress this year, Cruz is saying his father’s remark was taken out of context and that he’s his own man anyway. Everybody has embarrassing relatives, but when you’re talking about a mentor rather than a black sheep like Billy Carter, it’s not easy to put the problem to rest.

Many of Paul’s supporters objected when I compared Ron Paul to President Obama’s erstwhile pastor and mentor Jeremiah Wright. No doubt Cruz’s supporters feel the same way. But the truth is Ron Paul and Rafael Cruz are both a bigger problem for their sons than Wright ever was for Obama. It’s true that Obama had the advantage of a liberal media that largely ignored the issue in a manner that Paul and Cruz can’t expect. But he still had it easier in another respect. A radical America-hating minister who married you and whose sermons you listened for 20 years is bad enough. But a father who was your political guide and often your surrogate is much worse. Especially when you consider that it won’t be as easy or as comfortable making them go away or be quiet as it was for Obama to silence Wright.

Of course, in some parts of the GOP base, Cruz’s remarks won’t be a problem. But that won’t help either man be nominated, let alone elected president.

Read Less

GOP Needs a Primary in Pennsylvania

In the wake of the government shutdown, some Tea Party supporters who are frustrated at the way their tactic not only failed but also hurt the conservative movement have been lashing out at so-called establishment Republicans who warned that this is exactly what would happen. The calls for primary challenges against GOP incumbents may or may not be an empty threat in some cases, as Tea Party public enemy Lindsey Graham of South Carolina leads any potential challenger by a mile. Others like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky may have a fight on their hands. However, there is one state in which an establishment Republican seems to be skating to the general election without an opponent. In Pennsylvania, there are still no announced challengers to Governor Tom Corbett, who will be facing the voters next November. But this isn’t something that party regulars should be celebrating.

The latest poll of Pennsylvania voters brings sobering news for the GOP. With a year to go before the midterm election, Corbett’s approval ratings are so bad, it’s hard to see how any Democrat, no matter how liberal or out of touch with many of the state’s voters they may be, could avoid beating the Republican (he trailed all five potential challengers in a survey conducted last spring). According to the Franklin and Marshall College poll of the state’s voters, only 19 percent of Pennsylvanians think he’s doing an excellent or good job while 76 percent think he’s done a fair or poor job. While all politicians, both national and statewide, fair poorly in the survey, there’s no denying that the governor appears to be the most unpopular man in the Keystone State. But nobody in the Tea Party or the more mainstream elements of the Republican Party can be found at present to contest Corbett’s nomination. There are reasons why it is politically dangerous to challenge an incumbent governor, but if Corbett is the GOP standard bearer next year, Democrats will be odds-on favorites to take back the statehouse and the legislature after being swept out of Harrisburg in 2010.

Read More

In the wake of the government shutdown, some Tea Party supporters who are frustrated at the way their tactic not only failed but also hurt the conservative movement have been lashing out at so-called establishment Republicans who warned that this is exactly what would happen. The calls for primary challenges against GOP incumbents may or may not be an empty threat in some cases, as Tea Party public enemy Lindsey Graham of South Carolina leads any potential challenger by a mile. Others like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky may have a fight on their hands. However, there is one state in which an establishment Republican seems to be skating to the general election without an opponent. In Pennsylvania, there are still no announced challengers to Governor Tom Corbett, who will be facing the voters next November. But this isn’t something that party regulars should be celebrating.

The latest poll of Pennsylvania voters brings sobering news for the GOP. With a year to go before the midterm election, Corbett’s approval ratings are so bad, it’s hard to see how any Democrat, no matter how liberal or out of touch with many of the state’s voters they may be, could avoid beating the Republican (he trailed all five potential challengers in a survey conducted last spring). According to the Franklin and Marshall College poll of the state’s voters, only 19 percent of Pennsylvanians think he’s doing an excellent or good job while 76 percent think he’s done a fair or poor job. While all politicians, both national and statewide, fair poorly in the survey, there’s no denying that the governor appears to be the most unpopular man in the Keystone State. But nobody in the Tea Party or the more mainstream elements of the Republican Party can be found at present to contest Corbett’s nomination. There are reasons why it is politically dangerous to challenge an incumbent governor, but if Corbett is the GOP standard bearer next year, Democrats will be odds-on favorites to take back the statehouse and the legislature after being swept out of Harrisburg in 2010.

Even if 2014 turns out to be a big Republican year due to anger about the ObamaCare fiasco rather than being one in which the Democrats will be able to cash in disgust over the government shutdown, Corbett’s unpopularity appears to be invulnerable to any positive trends for the GOP. The reasons for this are not that complicated. During his time as governor, Corbett has shown a tin ear to public opinion and alienated both liberals and conservatives. Unlike Chris Christie in neighboring New Jersey, he hasn’t established himself as a force for more accountable government or even as a truth teller. But no matter what else he had done, his role in the Penn State University sex crime scandal (he was attorney general when charges were not followed up) would doom his chances for reelection. In a state where support for Penn State football and the legacy of the late coach Joe Paterno are akin to an established religion, anyone who played any part in that sordid tale is political poison, no matter how tangential their involvement.

In other words, if the GOP is to hold Pennsylvania next year, Corbett has got to go. While national Republican institutions are loath to involve themselves in statehouse elections, especially where an incumbent is involved, the negative consequences for the party are unavoidable. A Corbett-fueled Democrat landslide in Pennsylvania next year could put in place a governor who also is the incumbent and likely the favorite in 2018. That will mean the next crucial process for drawing the state’s congressional districts could be in the control of the Democrats, something that could radically alter the favorable lines concocted by a GOP legislature and governor after 2010.

It is to be conceded that the talent pool for Republicans in Pennsylvania is shallow. The only viable alternatives are members of Congress who either a) want no part of Harrisburg, or b) may be tainted by public anger at Washington. Tea Party figure Tom Smith is one name put about as a challenger to Corbett, but it’s hard to see why he would generate any enthusiasm after his lackluster losing performance against Senator Bob Casey last year.

Nevertheless, Pennsylvania Republicans are badly in need of a gubernatorial primary, but Corbett’s party establishment ties have so far been enough to scare off challengers. Unless that changes, the GOP can kiss control of a crucial state goodbye. 

Read Less

Speaking of Failed Big-Government Programs…

The ongoing debacle that is the administration’s rollout of ObamaCare has reignited debate about technocracy and big-government liberalism. But Democrats who worry that their mode of coercive politics will be discredited by ObamaCare should be thankful it took this long.

A very well-timed reminder of this arrived yesterday from the Brookings Institution. Scholars at the left-leaning think tank analyzed the so-called “Cash for Clunkers” program, the 2009 “stimulus” program intended to get cleaner cars on the road by providing cash vouchers for those who trade in older gas guzzlers and buy newer, more efficient cars. The administration patted itself on the back when the program ran out of money, apparently pleasantly surprised that people took free money during an economic downturn. But Brookings confirms that this was, of course, a terrible program. Here are their major findings:

Read More

The ongoing debacle that is the administration’s rollout of ObamaCare has reignited debate about technocracy and big-government liberalism. But Democrats who worry that their mode of coercive politics will be discredited by ObamaCare should be thankful it took this long.

A very well-timed reminder of this arrived yesterday from the Brookings Institution. Scholars at the left-leaning think tank analyzed the so-called “Cash for Clunkers” program, the 2009 “stimulus” program intended to get cleaner cars on the road by providing cash vouchers for those who trade in older gas guzzlers and buy newer, more efficient cars. The administration patted itself on the back when the program ran out of money, apparently pleasantly surprised that people took free money during an economic downturn. But Brookings confirms that this was, of course, a terrible program. Here are their major findings:

  • The $2.85 billion program provided a short-term boost in vehicle sales, but the small increase in employment came at a far higher implied cost per job created ($1.4 million) than other fiscal stimulus programs, such as increasing unemployment aid, reducing employers’ and employees’ payroll taxes, or allowing the expensing of investment costs.
  • Total emissions reduction was not substantial because only about half a percent of all vehicles in the United States were the new, more energy-efficient CARS vehicles.
  • The program resulted in a small gasoline reduction equivalent only to about 2 to 8 days’ worth of current usage.
  • In terms of distributional effects, compared to households that purchased a new or used vehicle in 2009 without a voucher, CARS program participants had a higher before-tax income, were older, more likely to be white, more likely to own a home, and more likely to have a high-school and a college degree.

That last part just seems like pouring salt in the left’s wounds. Not only was the program a massive failure, but it was also, by the way, a taxpayer-funded subsidy for white homeowners–just in case the left reached for an “inequality” or race-based argument in a desperate attempt to shut down the debate on the program.

And along those lines, conservatives will especially like that first finding in the list above: a tax cut would have been a better stimulus than this program. Of course, that isn’t a very high bar to clear; here’s the headline from the Washington Post’s Wonkblog: “Almost anything would have been better stimulus than ‘Cash for Clunkers’.” It would have been difficult to come up with a worse idea for a stimulus than the program Obama chose.

It’s not like they weren’t warned, however. As the Post notes:

The program had something for everyone: It would lend a hand to the ailing U.S. auto industry. It would tamp down on oil consumption. And, once launched, the program proved so popular with consumers that it burned through $1 billion in its first five days. Sure, a few critics argued that the program wouldn’t be very cost-effective, but no one was really listening.

But, as it turns out, the critics were on to something.

Yet we’ve known for almost a year that some aspects of Cash for Clunkers were failures. Part of the rationale for the program was to help the environment. In early January of this year, the environmental-news website Grist.org reported that Cash for Clunkers “drove right into a brick wall of waste.” (It’s fair to say the program was at least a stimulus for headline writers.) Grist explained:

Billed as stimulus both for automakers and the environment, the Car Allowance Rebates System, better known as Cash for Clunkers, turned out to be clunker itself. Besides fueling more unsustainable new-car-buying consumerism, the program also destroyed thousands of older, functional vehicles — vehicles that, according to the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA), were almost 100 percent recyclable. Through Cash for Clunkers, about 690,000 vehicles had their engines destroyed and many were sent to junkyards, bypassing recycling companies altogether.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, auto dealers are speaking out to defend the boondoggle. Politico sums up their defense of the program: “And since many states and localities place high taxes on auto sales, the program generated $900 million for municipal and state coffers, according to the auto dealers.” That’s the defense: the program was a massive waste of taxpayer money whose benefit was to increase tax revenue during an economic downturn.

So yes, ObamaCare should serve to discredit big-government liberalism. But so should just about every other ill-conceived program dreamed up by the Obama administration.

Read Less

Race Shouldn’t Define American Politics

The magic bullet of American politics is no secret. When in doubt or when they are backed into a corner—as they are now with ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout compounded, by the exposure of the president’s lies about Americans being able to keep their health coverage—liberals know their best strategy is to change the topic and to start discussing racism. That’s the rather flimsy conceit of an opinion piece published in today’s New York Times as a news story under the rubric of a “Political Memo.” You don’t have to read between the lines to catch on to its not terribly subtle message. All you have to do is to read the headline: “Behind the Roar of Political Debates, Whispers of Race Persist.” According to the Times the proof of this is the fact that the largely liberal-leaning and pro-Obama African-American community backs the president’s signature health-care plan while whites don’t. Were author John Harwood interested in serious analysis of opinion about the issue, he would have noted that the percentage of blacks backing the bill—59 percent—was far lower than the percentage of that community that votes for Democrats, showing just how shaky backing for ObamaCare really is. But instead it was the lead-in for a lengthy dissertation about how Republicans are injecting race and racism into American politics.

The utter absence of racial incitement in American politics has forced the left to invent new forms of alleged racism, such as voter ID laws that are even supported by the majority of African Americans. Nor is the Democrats’ firm hold on the votes of minorities such as blacks and Hispanics terribly surprising, since groups comprising of those more likely to have lower incomes or to be immigrants will always skew to the left. Hyping this split, as the Times does, as being the result of Republican racism is disingenuous. This is a classic example of liberal media bias that seeks to interpret the strong support for limited government or opposition to the president as motivated by hate. But before conservatives completely dismiss it, they need to think long and hard about how they will approach the impending debate about immigration reform.

Read More

The magic bullet of American politics is no secret. When in doubt or when they are backed into a corner—as they are now with ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout compounded, by the exposure of the president’s lies about Americans being able to keep their health coverage—liberals know their best strategy is to change the topic and to start discussing racism. That’s the rather flimsy conceit of an opinion piece published in today’s New York Times as a news story under the rubric of a “Political Memo.” You don’t have to read between the lines to catch on to its not terribly subtle message. All you have to do is to read the headline: “Behind the Roar of Political Debates, Whispers of Race Persist.” According to the Times the proof of this is the fact that the largely liberal-leaning and pro-Obama African-American community backs the president’s signature health-care plan while whites don’t. Were author John Harwood interested in serious analysis of opinion about the issue, he would have noted that the percentage of blacks backing the bill—59 percent—was far lower than the percentage of that community that votes for Democrats, showing just how shaky backing for ObamaCare really is. But instead it was the lead-in for a lengthy dissertation about how Republicans are injecting race and racism into American politics.

The utter absence of racial incitement in American politics has forced the left to invent new forms of alleged racism, such as voter ID laws that are even supported by the majority of African Americans. Nor is the Democrats’ firm hold on the votes of minorities such as blacks and Hispanics terribly surprising, since groups comprising of those more likely to have lower incomes or to be immigrants will always skew to the left. Hyping this split, as the Times does, as being the result of Republican racism is disingenuous. This is a classic example of liberal media bias that seeks to interpret the strong support for limited government or opposition to the president as motivated by hate. But before conservatives completely dismiss it, they need to think long and hard about how they will approach the impending debate about immigration reform.

While immigration is likely to remain on the back burner with the focus on the need for a budget deal and the ObamaCare rollout, the administration as well as key business groups will be pushing hard for it in the upcoming months. Many conservatives oppose reform because they think providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is wrong or because they don’t trust the government to enforce current laws or to, as the bipartisan compromise bill passed earlier this year by the Senate promises, secure the border. But if, as some prominent voices on the right seem inclined to believe, the rationale for opposing reform is that more Hispanic immigrant voters will hurt the Republican Party, then they will have effectively validated the premise of the Times hit piece on the GOP.

Back in June, writing in agreement with something I wrote on the subject, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg stated, “Republicans cannot allow themselves to fall into the argument that they don’t want to legalize illegal immigrants solely because they’re afraid they’ll become Democrats.” But unfortunately that’s exactly what some are still doing. Over the past year, a steady undercurrent of conservative voices have been claiming that the main consequence of passing immigration reform will be to doom the GOP because it will result in the creation of more Hispanic voters. Just this week, pundit Ann Coulter said it on William Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio program without being challenged by the show’s host even though he remains one of the most honorable and sensible conservatives in the country.

Those like Goldberg who argue that Republicans shouldn’t try and justify immigration reform by saying it will lead to Hispanics voting for the GOP are right. They are not one-issue voters, and the economic status of many of them means they will remain in the pockets of big-government tax-and-spend Democrats.

But the moment conservatives start talking about a political imperative to limit the number of Hispanics becoming citizens they render themselves vulnerable to accusations of prejudice such as the ones being floated by the Times. As with the entire issue of immigration, we’ve been here before as a nation. In the late 19th century, Republicans felt that immigrants from Ireland and Italy were natural supporters of urban Democrat machines. Had they taken the long view, they would have realized that eventually the descendants of those new citizens would be just as open to the GOP message as WASPs. But instead, they did their best to alienate them; with Republican presidential candidate James G. Blaine (whose anti-Catholic bigotry was the impetus for the passage of state constitutional amendments banning the funding of religious schools that today thwart school choice) denouncing the Democrats in 1884 as the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.” It would be decades before his party lived that down and began making inroads with these voters.

Immigration reform must be debated on its merits. Like Senator Marco Rubio, I believe “amnesty” is what we have now with unenforceable laws, not the prospect that law-abiding people who have been here for many years and are willing to pay a penalty will be given a chance to come in out of the shadows and become citizens. Others will argue that doing so undermines the rule of law. I think that’s wrong, but it is at least an argument rooted in principle. But the moment conservatives start talking about their fear of Hispanic votes, they really are dooming the Republicans to a bleak future and undermining their standing with the rest of the country as well.

Race and ethnicity should never be allowed to define American politics. That’s true for race baiting liberals like the ones at the Times as well as those on the right who speak of a Hispanic peril. The danger to the GOP in this debate is not so much the prospect of a split between those who disagree about the issue but the possibility of many conservatives sending a message to Hispanics that they are not welcome. That is a mistake for which their party could pay dearly.

Read Less

Obama’s Lies Will Continue to Haunt Him

Disingenuous. That’s the word President Obama used yesterday in Boston to describe those who are calling him out for promising Americans they could keep their existing health-care plans if they liked them. Rather than merely acknowledging that his repeated pledge came with a huge, unmentioned asterisk that was kept under wraps until it was passed and then about to be implemented, the president refused to give an inch. He asserted that not only has he kept his word despite the obvious fact that millions of Americans cannot keep the coverage they had in the age of ObamaCare whether they liked it or not, but that those who have pointed this out are the ones who are fibbing. The president believes he can get away with this because after five years in office during which the mainstream media has applauded his every move and ignored or rationalized his every misstep, why should he think it would be any different now?

But though the president may not be admitting it, the foundation of this complacent mendacity in the White House echo chamber may be crumbling. Even CNN, which has been home to many reliable Obama cheerleaders, is  beginning to catch on to the problem. When Jake Tapper — a relative newcomer to the network — interviewed a former House Democratic staffer who favored ObamaCare but who nonetheless was dismayed about how the changes it wrought had increased her insurance costs, a critical point was passed. The Washington Post‘s fact-checker column awarded the president four “Pinocchios” (the most egregious lie rating) yesterday. Even MSNBC hosts are admitting that an untruth was told even if they don’t think it’s a particularly big deal. No wonder the polls are showing that Obama’s boost from the government shutdown has quickly evaporated. The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows his approval rating down to 42 percent, an all-time low and within shouting distance of the abysmal 39 percent rating that George W. Bush had at the same point in his second term after the Hurricane Katrina fiasco. The president and minions like Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may think they can brazen out this crisis, but as more evidence is uncovered to show that the administration knew that Obama’s promises were lies, those numbers may sink even further.

As Avik Roy reports at Forbes, it turns out that as far back as 2010, when ObamaCare was passed, federal officials were already aware that the bill would cause a massive disruption of the existing insurance market. As Roy writes:

If you read the Affordable Care Act when it was passed, you knew that it was dishonest for President Obama to claim that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” as he did—and continues to do—on countless occasions. And we now know that the administration knew this all along. It turns out that in an obscure report buried in a June 2010 edition of the Federal Register, administration officials predicted massive disruption of the private insurance market.

Read More

Disingenuous. That’s the word President Obama used yesterday in Boston to describe those who are calling him out for promising Americans they could keep their existing health-care plans if they liked them. Rather than merely acknowledging that his repeated pledge came with a huge, unmentioned asterisk that was kept under wraps until it was passed and then about to be implemented, the president refused to give an inch. He asserted that not only has he kept his word despite the obvious fact that millions of Americans cannot keep the coverage they had in the age of ObamaCare whether they liked it or not, but that those who have pointed this out are the ones who are fibbing. The president believes he can get away with this because after five years in office during which the mainstream media has applauded his every move and ignored or rationalized his every misstep, why should he think it would be any different now?

But though the president may not be admitting it, the foundation of this complacent mendacity in the White House echo chamber may be crumbling. Even CNN, which has been home to many reliable Obama cheerleaders, is  beginning to catch on to the problem. When Jake Tapper — a relative newcomer to the network — interviewed a former House Democratic staffer who favored ObamaCare but who nonetheless was dismayed about how the changes it wrought had increased her insurance costs, a critical point was passed. The Washington Post‘s fact-checker column awarded the president four “Pinocchios” (the most egregious lie rating) yesterday. Even MSNBC hosts are admitting that an untruth was told even if they don’t think it’s a particularly big deal. No wonder the polls are showing that Obama’s boost from the government shutdown has quickly evaporated. The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows his approval rating down to 42 percent, an all-time low and within shouting distance of the abysmal 39 percent rating that George W. Bush had at the same point in his second term after the Hurricane Katrina fiasco. The president and minions like Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may think they can brazen out this crisis, but as more evidence is uncovered to show that the administration knew that Obama’s promises were lies, those numbers may sink even further.

As Avik Roy reports at Forbes, it turns out that as far back as 2010, when ObamaCare was passed, federal officials were already aware that the bill would cause a massive disruption of the existing insurance market. As Roy writes:

If you read the Affordable Care Act when it was passed, you knew that it was dishonest for President Obama to claim that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” as he did—and continues to do—on countless occasions. And we now know that the administration knew this all along. It turns out that in an obscure report buried in a June 2010 edition of the Federal Register, administration officials predicted massive disruption of the private insurance market.

Roy goes on to detail the massive scale of these changes that were dismissed this week by White House press spokesman Jay Carney as affecting only a tiny percentage of Americans:

“The Departments’ mid-range estimate is that 66 percent of small employer plans and 45 percent of large employer plans will relinquish their grandfather status by the end of 2013,” wrote the administration on page 34,552 of the Register. All in all, more than half of employer-sponsored plans will lose their “grandfather status” and get canceled. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 156 million Americans—more than half the population—was covered by employer-sponsored insurance in 2013.

Another 25 million people, according to the CBO, have “nongroup and other” forms of insurance; that is to say, they participate in the market for individually-purchased insurance. In this market, the administration projected that “40 to 67 percent” of individually-purchased plans would lose their Obamacare-sanctioned “grandfather status” and get canceled, solely due to the fact that there is a high turnover of participants and insurance arrangements in this market. (Plans purchased after March 23, 2010 do not benefit from the “grandfather” clause.) The real turnover rate would be higher, because plans can lose their grandfather status for a number of other reasons.

How many people are exposed to these problems? 60 percent of Americans have private-sector health insurance—precisely the number that Jay Carney dismissed. As to the number of people facing cancellations, 51 percent of the employer-based market plus 53.5 percent of the non-group market (the middle of the administration’s range) amounts to 93 million Americans.

The president’s chutzpah about his broken health-care promise is impressive. He claims that even though you can’t necessarily keep the coverage you’ve got, if you’re sore about it, it is only because shyster insurance companies sold you a “substandard” plan. Since Obama and his federal bureaucrats know best, that means you have to buy a new plan that may cost a lot more for coverage of possible claims that you might never make. Though he hides behind a technicality that any plan bought after the passage of ObamaCare wasn’t covered by the promise, he also ignores the fact that he continued to repeat the claim with no ifs, ands, buts, or disclaimers for years afterward. That was deception, pure and simple.

But in this White House, telling the truth about administration promises and behavior is simply not allowed. So Obama and Sebelius spent the day spinning rather than confessing. They keep saying that the only responsible thing to do is to help improve ObamaCare rather than to wreck it, but the foundation of any possible reform must be honesty about what went wrong and the fraudulent sales pitch that was used to help shove it down the throat of a reluctant Congress via legislative trickery.

The administration’s credibility gap is huge and growing larger every day that the president continues to lie about his lies. And like every other past administration with a truth problem, the people in the West Wing don’t seem to understand that everybody but them and their most fervent supporters aren’t buying it anymore.

Some Democrats were dismayed that many of the House Republican questioners of Sebelius ignored the disastrous ObamaCare website problems and instead focused on the broken promises and the hardship they are causing many Americans. A president who has started to lose his loyal media cheerleaders and sinking in the polls needs to do better than to stick with a lie that has already been widely exposed. No matter how loudly the president proclaims his virtue and attempts to deflect charges of false statements onto his critics, this story isn’t going away. 

UPDATE:

In this piece, I originally referred to some of the normally reliable cheerleaders for the president Obama on CNN. I then followed it with a mention of Jake Tapper and his report on a dissatisfied ObamaCare customer. The juxtaposition could easily have been understood as accusing Tapper, who is a relative newcomer on the network, as being one of those cheerleaders. That was not my intent. But as originally written it did Tapper, who is a fair and dogged reporter, a disservice. For that I apologize. We need more reporters and network anchors like him.

Read Less

The PA’s Revealing Silence on Syria

Jonathan correctly pointed yesterday to Palestinian lionization of vicious killers as an indication of cultural attitudes that make peace impossible. But there’s another indicator that I find even more revealing–the Palestinian Authority’s deafening silence about the ongoing dispossession and slaughter of its countrymen in Syria.

As journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reported earlier this month, of the approximately 600,000 Palestinians in Syria, a whopping 250,000 have been displaced, according to no less a source than senior PA official Mohamed Shtayyeh. Additionally, over 1,600 have been killed and thousands more injured. Of the displaced, most remain in Syria, but some 93,000 have fled to neighboring countries, where they are uniquely unwelcome: Palestinians have been denied entry into both Jordan and Lebanon, and even when admitted, they face discriminatory treatment. In Jordan, for instance, they are strictly confined to camps, though other Syrian refugees are allowed to move about the country freely; in Lebanon, they are subject to numerous restrictions on employment, and often live in hiding for fear of being deported.

Read More

Jonathan correctly pointed yesterday to Palestinian lionization of vicious killers as an indication of cultural attitudes that make peace impossible. But there’s another indicator that I find even more revealing–the Palestinian Authority’s deafening silence about the ongoing dispossession and slaughter of its countrymen in Syria.

As journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reported earlier this month, of the approximately 600,000 Palestinians in Syria, a whopping 250,000 have been displaced, according to no less a source than senior PA official Mohamed Shtayyeh. Additionally, over 1,600 have been killed and thousands more injured. Of the displaced, most remain in Syria, but some 93,000 have fled to neighboring countries, where they are uniquely unwelcome: Palestinians have been denied entry into both Jordan and Lebanon, and even when admitted, they face discriminatory treatment. In Jordan, for instance, they are strictly confined to camps, though other Syrian refugees are allowed to move about the country freely; in Lebanon, they are subject to numerous restrictions on employment, and often live in hiding for fear of being deported.

Ostensibly, this is an unbeatable argument for the urgency of creating a Palestinian state: Palestinians need a country to succor their refugees from Syria. Indeed, Jews used a similar argument to great effect in persuading the world of the need for a Jewish state after the Holocaust. Even today, Israelis routinely cite the world’s refusal to accept Jewish refugees, thereby abandoning them to the Nazi killing machine, as one of many arguments for why a Jewish state remains essential: There must be one country whose doors will always be open to persecuted Jews.

Yet rather than making this argument, the PA has gone to great lengths to ignore the Syrian crisis. As Abu Toameh noted, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s UN address in September devoted a mere two sentences to the subject, without ever even mentioning Syria by name (“This year and in the last few years, Palestine refugees continue to pay – despite their neutrality – the price of conflict and instability in our region. Tens of thousands are forced to abandon their camps and to flee in another exodus searching for new places of exile”). The rest of the speech was devoted to attacking Israel. Hence Abbas deplored the 27 Palestinians killed “by the bullets of the occupation,” but never mentioned the hundreds killed in Syria during this period; he excoriated the construction of new Jewish homes in Jerusalem, but never mentioned the wholesale destruction of Palestinian homes in Syria.

Nor are these omissions accidental–because in fact, the PA leadership doesn’t want a state to succor its refugees. If it did, it wouldn’t still be demanding that any deal allow Palestinian refugees to relocate to Israel instead of Palestine, nor would senior PA officials be publicly declaring that the refugees will be denied citizenship in a future Palestinian state. It also wouldn’t still be insisting on land swaps of no more than 1.9 percent, rather than the 4 to 6 percent needed to accommodate the major settlement blocs; it would view this minor compromise, which wouldn’t even reduce the Palestinian state’s total area, as well worth making to get a state quickly and start absorbing its refugees–just as the Jews were willing to make much larger territorial concessions in the 1930s and 1940s due to the urgent need for a state to absorb their refugees.

The Syrian crisis remains absent from Palestinian talking points because Palestinians are still far more intent on destroying the Jewish state–inter alia by flooding it with millions of Palestinian refugees–than in making the compromises needed to get a state of their own and absorb those refugees themselves. And that’s also precisely why peace remains impossible.

Read Less

Overestimating Putin

Forbes is out with its annual list of the world’s most powerful people, and the introduction leaves no doubt who tops the list this year: “Who’s more powerful: the autocratic leader of a former superpower or the handcuffed commander in chief of the most dominant country in the world?” The unsurprising list that follows puts Vladimir Putin at No. 1, with Barack Obama in second place.

But that description of the two leaders is a bit misleading. Putin is not, actually, the leader of a “former superpower.” He is the leader of one–albeit by far the most powerful–of the fifteen states that came into being with the dissolution of the former superpower, the Soviet Union. The Russian republic itself was not a superpower. It’s why stories like this New York Times piece from earlier this week even exist:

Read More

Forbes is out with its annual list of the world’s most powerful people, and the introduction leaves no doubt who tops the list this year: “Who’s more powerful: the autocratic leader of a former superpower or the handcuffed commander in chief of the most dominant country in the world?” The unsurprising list that follows puts Vladimir Putin at No. 1, with Barack Obama in second place.

But that description of the two leaders is a bit misleading. Putin is not, actually, the leader of a “former superpower.” He is the leader of one–albeit by far the most powerful–of the fifteen states that came into being with the dissolution of the former superpower, the Soviet Union. The Russian republic itself was not a superpower. It’s why stories like this New York Times piece from earlier this week even exist:

Mr. Rogozin, wrapping up a visit [to Moldova] last month, let fly a threat about the coming winter in this impoverished former Soviet republic, which is entirely dependent on Russian gas for heat. “We hope that you will not freeze,” he said.

The squeeze was just beginning. … Russian officials, citing vague health concerns, banned Moldovan wine, one of the country’s most important exports.

The bullying, which the Kremlin denies, is not directed at Moldova alone. Ahead of a conference next month where the European Union plans to advance political and trade accords with several ex-Soviet republics, Russia has been whispering threats and gripping throats, bluntly telling smaller neighbors that they would be better off joining Russia’s customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus.

The frantic push to retain influence, with its echoes of cold war jousting, reflects the still-palpable fury among Russian officials over NATO’s expansion into the former Soviet sphere and a desire to halt a similar, eastward extension of European economic power. The heavy-handed tactics have wreaked economic chaos throughout the region in recent months.

Whatever influence Putin projects over the post-Soviet sphere, he has already lost some of the countries to NATO. And even among the nations on which he can still exert pressure, it’s doubtful Putin wants to reconstitute the Soviet Union, even in reduced form. What he wants is likely much smarter than that: as the CEO of “Russia, Inc.” Putin would love to have his cake and eat it too by lording over countries without having to govern them.

Because Putin’s quest is non-ideological–he has no interest in spreading some kind of Communist revolution abroad–it is also limited. Gone are the days when far-off governments install an ideological carbon copy of their Russian paymasters and take orders directly from Moscow. Yet it’s also difficult to argue with the proposition that the American president, too, has seen his influence deteriorate.

That’s the gist of Steve Forbes’s piece at the magazine’s website defending the list. Forbes has received plenty of criticism for ranking Putin over Obama. Steve Forbes has responded by accusing his critics of conflating these presidents with the countries they lead. Russia could not plausibly top a list of the most powerful nations in the world, and certainly wouldn’t be ranked above the United States, he noted. But that doesn’t mean Obama necessarily has to be ranked above Putin. After all, the American president doesn’t always top this list: in 2010, it was China’s Hu Jintao.

Though Forbes’s argument is not quite convincing enough on the matter of Putin v. Obama, he is on more solid ground when he writes:

Internationally, however, Obama is the weakest President of the post-World War II years. Even the in-over-his-head Jimmy Carter was more of a factor in foreign affairs than Barack Obama. Diplomats are still astonished, for instance, at how little prep work Obama engages in before international conferences. He doesn’t arrive with much of an agenda, nor does he interact with other leaders in advance to line up support. He more or less just shows up.

This is deliberate. …

And this gets to the real danger in President Obama’s deliberately weak overseas-power posture. He may wish he could take the U.S. off the world stage, but the world won’t let him; events will erupt that will force U.S. action. One such possibility is Iran reaching nuclear-bomb capability. Do you think Israel today, after Obama’s red line to Syria and his groveling before Iran, really believes that this White House has its back?

Even if Putin is not more powerful than Obama, the illusion that he is stems from Putin filling a vacuum in world affairs. Obama has made a choice about the proper role of the United States in the world. He has chosen the perception of weakness over the projection of power.

But I also think Forbes understates the degree to which we really can conflate presidents with their countries. When Putin protects and enables Iran’s nuclear program, it’s by using his country’s seat on the Security Council or exporting nuclear experts. Likewise, Putin isn’t personally fighting in the streets of Aleppo; he is aiding the Syrian regime’s war effort by mobilizing his country’s resources, not testing out his judo skills on the al-Nusra Front.

And that, in turn, should take Putin down a peg. In many ways the West has more to fear from a weak Russia than a strong one. The festering Islamist insurgency in the Caucasus; the vast swaths of abandoned or mostly ungoverned territory; the vulnerable borders; the astonishing corruption; the widespread health crises and epidemics; and of course the paranoid autocrat steering the ship. Putin doesn’t belong at the top of the list of the world’s most powerful people. But he does serve as a reminder of who steps forward when the American president steps back from the world stage.

Read Less

Cost-Free Accountability

A post-script to yesterday’s congressional testimony by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: In response to a question, she said, “Hold me accountable for the [federal health-care exchange] debacle. I’m responsible.”

This is among the oldest tricks in the book–to say you’re the responsible party as a way to avoid being held accountable. The words are meaningless. What exactly does holding her accountable mean? That she resign? Not a chance. That she be reprimanded by the president? No way. She has his “full confidence.” Nothing is different after her testimony than before it.

This is cost-free accountability.

Read More

A post-script to yesterday’s congressional testimony by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: In response to a question, she said, “Hold me accountable for the [federal health-care exchange] debacle. I’m responsible.”

This is among the oldest tricks in the book–to say you’re the responsible party as a way to avoid being held accountable. The words are meaningless. What exactly does holding her accountable mean? That she resign? Not a chance. That she be reprimanded by the president? No way. She has his “full confidence.” Nothing is different after her testimony than before it.

This is cost-free accountability.

What Secretary Sebelius is doing is making our society less, not more, accountable. How? By creating an Orwellian world in which asking to be held responsible for a massive error is the best and easiest way to duck responsibility for overseeing a massive error. And perhaps getting some credit in the process.

Secretary Sebelius certainly isn’t the first person to do this, and it’s a game played by people in both parties. It is, in fact, a common, if unadmirable, human trait.

So a modest suggestion: Let’s insist that from now on anyone who publicly asks to be held accountable is held accountable. That actions follow words. That the request to be held responsible is actually met. 

I’m not under any illusions that this wouldn’t stop debacles from occurring. But at least it would keep us from playing this ridiculous game and which everyone knows is a game. Especially Kathleen Sebelius. 

Read Less

The Budget Deficit

The good news is that the budget deficit of the federal government for fiscal 2013 fell by $309 billion, about 30 percent, to its lowest level in five years. It’s the first Obama deficit to be under a trillion dollars. But the bad news is that the deficit, $680.3 billion, is still 4.1 percent of GDP, well above what is considered a safe borrowing level by national governments for long-term fiscal health.

$680.3 billion is a lot of money. It is more than $2,100 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. It is greater than the total GDP of all but 20 countries. Taking inflation into account, it is about equal to the biggest budget deficit experienced in World War II (1943, when we were in the red to the tune of $54.7 billion). It is larger than the entire national debt as recently as 1976.

Read More

The good news is that the budget deficit of the federal government for fiscal 2013 fell by $309 billion, about 30 percent, to its lowest level in five years. It’s the first Obama deficit to be under a trillion dollars. But the bad news is that the deficit, $680.3 billion, is still 4.1 percent of GDP, well above what is considered a safe borrowing level by national governments for long-term fiscal health.

$680.3 billion is a lot of money. It is more than $2,100 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. It is greater than the total GDP of all but 20 countries. Taking inflation into account, it is about equal to the biggest budget deficit experienced in World War II (1943, when we were in the red to the tune of $54.7 billion). It is larger than the entire national debt as recently as 1976.

Absent serious entitlement reform, the deficits are bound to increase in future years as more and more baby boomers retire and begin to receive Medicare and Social Security. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that entitlements will drive the deficits above 6.5 percent of GDP within 25 years, regardless of how well the American economy is performing.

The heart of the problem is that the national debt is a long-term problem and politicians are incentivized to think short-term. It is tomorrow’s headline and next year’s election that politicians care about. A crisis that is ten or twenty years down the road, even though it is clearly discernible now, is going to be someone else’s problem.

But every year that serious fiscal reform is put off, means the crisis, when it hits, will be that much more severe. The people who constitute the federal government today, Republicans and Democrats alike, are committing slow-motion treason by doing nothing now.

Read Less