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Posts For: February 23, 2014

Walker Scares Unions and GOP 2016 Rivals

This past week Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the target of a massive assault by the liberal media that sought to inflate a minor story about his administration as Milwaukee county executive into a scandal that could eliminate him as a 2016 presidential contender. The effort fell flat as the issues involved were insignificant and there was no link between the governor and any wrongdoing. Even a fishing expedition into 27,000 pages of emails revealed nothing more damning than an internal debate about whether a former thong model was a suitable candidate for a job. Liberals may have had a brief moment of elation when they thought this would remove Walker from the 2016 picture as effectively as Bridgegate turned Chris Christie’s presidential hopes to ashes. But Democrats would do well to ignore this distraction and instead take a deep dive into a story published today in the New York Times that centers on the real reason why the Wisconsin governor is so important: fiscal reform.

Though the slant of Steven Greenhouse’s lengthy feature is not so much Walker’s record but an attempt to engender sympathy for the unions he defeated in a 2011 legislative showdown, the governor still emerges as the hero of the saga. Wisconsin’s public-sector unions are telling their colleagues around the nation to worry about other states emulating Walker’s efforts to change the balance of power between labor and government. They’re right. Though Walker paid a high price in terms of vilification and a recall effort that failed to drive him from office, the results of his reforms are now apparent. As the Times reports, Wisconsin’s municipalities and school districts have saved more than $2 billion in the last two years. The nation confronts a future in which the costs of public-sector salaries and benefits could push a host of cities off the same fiscal cliff that landed Detroit in bankruptcy and civil ruin. Though the unions that lost their power to raid the public treasury will never forgive Walker, his courage in standing up to them and achieving results provides a compelling story that could very well inspire a run to the White House.

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This past week Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the target of a massive assault by the liberal media that sought to inflate a minor story about his administration as Milwaukee county executive into a scandal that could eliminate him as a 2016 presidential contender. The effort fell flat as the issues involved were insignificant and there was no link between the governor and any wrongdoing. Even a fishing expedition into 27,000 pages of emails revealed nothing more damning than an internal debate about whether a former thong model was a suitable candidate for a job. Liberals may have had a brief moment of elation when they thought this would remove Walker from the 2016 picture as effectively as Bridgegate turned Chris Christie’s presidential hopes to ashes. But Democrats would do well to ignore this distraction and instead take a deep dive into a story published today in the New York Times that centers on the real reason why the Wisconsin governor is so important: fiscal reform.

Though the slant of Steven Greenhouse’s lengthy feature is not so much Walker’s record but an attempt to engender sympathy for the unions he defeated in a 2011 legislative showdown, the governor still emerges as the hero of the saga. Wisconsin’s public-sector unions are telling their colleagues around the nation to worry about other states emulating Walker’s efforts to change the balance of power between labor and government. They’re right. Though Walker paid a high price in terms of vilification and a recall effort that failed to drive him from office, the results of his reforms are now apparent. As the Times reports, Wisconsin’s municipalities and school districts have saved more than $2 billion in the last two years. The nation confronts a future in which the costs of public-sector salaries and benefits could push a host of cities off the same fiscal cliff that landed Detroit in bankruptcy and civil ruin. Though the unions that lost their power to raid the public treasury will never forgive Walker, his courage in standing up to them and achieving results provides a compelling story that could very well inspire a run to the White House.

Not everyone in Wisconsin is happy about what happened there in 2011, when Walker pushed through his reform agenda despite the spectacle of union thugs and left-wing activists that descended on the state capitol in Madison in an effort to shut down the rule of law in the state. As Greenhouse writes, the unions that took for granted their right to run roughshod over state and municipal officials bitterly regret their defeat. They took for granted their right to demand and get pay and benefits that most of the taxpayers paying the bill couldn’t dream about. As Walker learned when he was Milwaukee’s county executive, the name of the game was union power. Budget shortfalls were mere details to leaders who would rather see workers laid off and services to the citizens curtailed than make concessions to balance the budget. If those unions are now demoralized, their regret is that they no longer have the whip hand over the government. Walker’s rollback of union power enabled the those elected by the people to function without the sort of union blackmail that make it impossible for mayors and governors around the country to stand up to threats of strikes and political payback.

Just as important, the changes brought about by Walker forces public sector unions to go back to their original purpose: serving their members rather than playing political power brokers. The provisions that force them to recertify compels the unions to demonstrate to their members that they are there to help them rather than to act as the storm troops of the Democratic Party. This accountability dethrones them as the tyrants of the workplace as well as of the public square.

While other Republicans (including Christie) shared his views about reform, it was only Walker who dared to directly take on public sector unions and their political allies. In 2011, the conventional wisdom was that he was a rash politician who tried to do too much and would fail. But where others made incremental gains at best, by carrying out his campaign promises Walker showed both his party and the nation that it was possible to tell the truth about the fiscal peril, do something about it and live to tell the tale.

Just as they did in 2012 when liberals made Walker’s recall a national priority, the left is once again hoping to end the governor’s career by defeating him for reelection this fall. But if he is favored to win in November it is not just because voters remember the irresponsible efforts of unions and Democrats to thwart reform or because Walker is a likeable and able politician. Rather, it is because he has demonstrated the kind of political courage that is very rare in our system today and produced results. While he is still a relative novice on the national stage and could well falter long before 2016, that is a record that should scare potential Republican presidential rivals as much as it does the unions and the Democrats.

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Rice’s “No Regrets” and Obama’s Arrogance

It’s hard to understand exactly why Susan Rice is still refusing to admit fault about her lies about the Benghazi attack. When asked this morning on Meet the Press by David Gregory whether she had any regrets about appearing on four network news shows the Sunday after the 9/11/12 attacks that took the lives of four Americans and telling the nation that what happened was the result of a demonstration against a video, Rice said she had none:

David, no. Because what I said to you that morning, and what I did every day since, was to share the best information that we had at the time. The information I provided, which I explained to you, was what we had at the moment. It could change. I commented that this was based on what we knew on that morning, was provided to me and my colleagues, and indeed, to Congress, by the intelligence community. And that’s been well validated in many different ways since. And that information turned out, in some respects, not to be 100% correct. But the notion that somehow I or anybody else in the administration misled the American people is patently false. And I think that that’s been amply demonstrated.

What point is served by this rearguard defense of the indefensible? We long since learned that senior intelligence officials, including the CIA station chief, had contradicted the demonstration myth before Rice made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to convince Americans that what had happened was not an al-Qaeda terror attack. We know that the talking points were the result of a stormy battle involving the White House, the State Department, and the CIA that led to Rice being handed material that was more the product of the administration’s political needs than the truth. But rather than simply say she’s sorry and move on—a stance that could be easily forgiven since Rice was completely uninvolved in the series of bad decisions made by the State Department under the leadership of Hillary Clinton that led to the disaster—she continues to play the loyal soldier and to parse words in order to deny that she deceived the American people. But there is something more significant here than her state of denial that is as embarrassing as it is ludicrous.

Democrats and liberals who want to “move on” from Benghazi are right to the extent that this is a controversy rooted in a specific time and place rather than a possible ongoing threat to constitutional rule such as that demonstrated in the IRS scandal or the various instances of government spying on the press and the public. But the reason why the anger about Benghazi has never dissipated is due to statements such as that of Rice that feed the cynicism of an American people that only wanted the truth in the first place and would now settle for a full accounting that the administration still seems incapable of providing. Like Clinton’s infamous “what difference does it make?” retort when asked about these deceptions, Rice’s lack of regret demonstrates the arrogance of an administration that is unwilling to own up to its faults even if doing so would serve its interests.

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It’s hard to understand exactly why Susan Rice is still refusing to admit fault about her lies about the Benghazi attack. When asked this morning on Meet the Press by David Gregory whether she had any regrets about appearing on four network news shows the Sunday after the 9/11/12 attacks that took the lives of four Americans and telling the nation that what happened was the result of a demonstration against a video, Rice said she had none:

David, no. Because what I said to you that morning, and what I did every day since, was to share the best information that we had at the time. The information I provided, which I explained to you, was what we had at the moment. It could change. I commented that this was based on what we knew on that morning, was provided to me and my colleagues, and indeed, to Congress, by the intelligence community. And that’s been well validated in many different ways since. And that information turned out, in some respects, not to be 100% correct. But the notion that somehow I or anybody else in the administration misled the American people is patently false. And I think that that’s been amply demonstrated.

What point is served by this rearguard defense of the indefensible? We long since learned that senior intelligence officials, including the CIA station chief, had contradicted the demonstration myth before Rice made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to convince Americans that what had happened was not an al-Qaeda terror attack. We know that the talking points were the result of a stormy battle involving the White House, the State Department, and the CIA that led to Rice being handed material that was more the product of the administration’s political needs than the truth. But rather than simply say she’s sorry and move on—a stance that could be easily forgiven since Rice was completely uninvolved in the series of bad decisions made by the State Department under the leadership of Hillary Clinton that led to the disaster—she continues to play the loyal soldier and to parse words in order to deny that she deceived the American people. But there is something more significant here than her state of denial that is as embarrassing as it is ludicrous.

Democrats and liberals who want to “move on” from Benghazi are right to the extent that this is a controversy rooted in a specific time and place rather than a possible ongoing threat to constitutional rule such as that demonstrated in the IRS scandal or the various instances of government spying on the press and the public. But the reason why the anger about Benghazi has never dissipated is due to statements such as that of Rice that feed the cynicism of an American people that only wanted the truth in the first place and would now settle for a full accounting that the administration still seems incapable of providing. Like Clinton’s infamous “what difference does it make?” retort when asked about these deceptions, Rice’s lack of regret demonstrates the arrogance of an administration that is unwilling to own up to its faults even if doing so would serve its interests.

Rice should have regrets about being shoved into the public square with a false cover story. As Gregory noted in a follow-up question, the lies almost certainly made it impossible for President Obama to nominate her to be secretary of state. And considering the follies committed by John Kerry—the man who got the job that was denied Rice—on Iran, the Middle East peace process, Syria, and the disastrous and humiliating “resets” with Russia—the nation should have some too. We’ll never know whether Rice would have been smart enough to avoid some of the traps set by Vladimir Putin, Iran, and the Palestinians, that Kerry has fallen into, but it’s not likely she could have done any worse.

But her thwarted ambition is a mere footnote to history. What is relevant is what this arrogant denial tells us about the animating spirit inside the bubble of the White House inner circle that surrounds President Obama. Just like their boss, officials like Rice seem to think what they believe to be their good intentions gives them a permanent hall pass to deceive and to fudge the truth. In their world, the president never makes a misstep, the economy is always on the rebound and threats to national security are always receding in the face of Obama’s magical personality. In that world, you never have to account to the American people for falsehoods or say you’re sorry.

That’s the same mentality that leads the president to deny that the IRS contretemps was a scandal, that he lied when he told the American people they could keep their insurance coverage and their doctors, or that ObamaCare is causing at least as much pain as it is doing good. The president’s second term is stuck in neutral because there is so much that should be regretted and redressed but he and his minions continue to tell us to not believe our lying eyes and ears. Susan Rice’s lack of regrets not only tells us about her out-of-kilter moral compass but why her boss has arrogantly doomed himself to lame-duck status so early in his second term.

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A Response on the Common Core

On Thursday, I wrote about the problematic rollout of the Common Core and its parallels to the process by which ObamaCare ran into similar trouble, noting the difficulty of significant reform at the national level. I received the following response from Michael J. Petrilli, who served in the George W. Bush administration and is the executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The COMMENTARY blog is my absolute favorite, so I was more than a little crestfallen when I read Seth Mandel’s recent entry. “Wherever you stand on the Common Core,” he declared, “it can’t be good news for the program that it has begun to so resemble the disastrous process and rollout of this administration’s last federal reform, ObamaCare. Yet the opposition to the Common Core has followed a familiar pattern.”

Mandel is right that the debates have unmistakable parallels. But, as he acknowledges, “none of this is to suggest that the Common Core is nearly the disaster–or constitutionally suspect power grab–that ObamaCare is.”

Lest that point get lost, let me reiterate the vast differences between ObamaCare and the Common Core when it comes to federal involvement.

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On Thursday, I wrote about the problematic rollout of the Common Core and its parallels to the process by which ObamaCare ran into similar trouble, noting the difficulty of significant reform at the national level. I received the following response from Michael J. Petrilli, who served in the George W. Bush administration and is the executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The COMMENTARY blog is my absolute favorite, so I was more than a little crestfallen when I read Seth Mandel’s recent entry. “Wherever you stand on the Common Core,” he declared, “it can’t be good news for the program that it has begun to so resemble the disastrous process and rollout of this administration’s last federal reform, ObamaCare. Yet the opposition to the Common Core has followed a familiar pattern.”

Mandel is right that the debates have unmistakable parallels. But, as he acknowledges, “none of this is to suggest that the Common Core is nearly the disaster–or constitutionally suspect power grab–that ObamaCare is.”

Lest that point get lost, let me reiterate the vast differences between ObamaCare and the Common Core when it comes to federal involvement.

ObamaCare is a federal program through and through. Created by an act of Congress, it puts federal bureaucrats in charge of one-sixth of the economy, overrules state regulatory bodies (regarding insurance and much else), involves a massive redistribution of public and private dollars, and excludes any sort of “opt out” provision for states. (Thanks to the Supreme Court, states can refuse the Medicaid expansion, but they are stuck with everything else.)

The contrast with the Common Core could not be starker. This was an initiative launched by the governors and state school leaders well before Barack Obama was even a serious contender for the presidency, much less seated in the White House. It had momentum prior to the 2008 election as state policymakers came to understand that their own academic standards for public schooling were far too low—and sadly uneven—and that a joint effort to create common standards might provide the political cover to aim higher. Smartly, the federal government was kept out of the standards-drafting process, which was funded by the states and by private entities like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

But then, yes, the Obama administration fatefully decided to award extra points to states adopting the Common Core when deciding which would get big grants under its stimulus-funded Race to the Top program. So 45 states plus D.C. quickly did so—surely more than otherwise would. And Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put $300 million into the development of common assessments to go along with the standards.

But that’s it. That’s the extent of federal involvement. I understand that, for many conservatives, these incentives and investments tainted the entire Common Core project. But they don’t come close to turning Common Core into “Fed Ed,” as pundits like Michelle Malkin like to say.

Let me be clear: I do not defend the administration’s actions on Common Core, the rest of its education agenda, or anything else. The charge of Obama’s being an “imperial presidency” has legs, in my view. Arne Duncan’s aggressive use of “conditional waivers” from the NCLB mandates is both unconstitutional and unwise, and his ham-handed push for test-based teacher evaluations and school discipline quotas is apt to cause serious harm to America’s schools. (That the Tea Party isn’t up in arms about the latter is completely baffling to me.)

But get beyond the surface debates and any fair-minded observer can plainly see that the Common Core doesn’t fit into this narrative. It started in the states. Many Republican governors still support it. Many prominent conservatives do, too. The federal government played a role, but a limited one.

My own theory is that many conservatives, including those at the state level, are rightly frustrated at ObamaCare, and doubly frustrated that they can’t pull their states out of it. But they can pull out of Common Core—precisely because it’s not a federal mandate!—and might do so to blow off some steam at the president.

But if you believe that these rigorous new academic standards for English and math are importantly stronger than what states had before, and are likely to improve teaching and learning in U.S. schools, then pulling out of the Common Core to spite the president starts to look like a pretty silly idea. It’s certainly not a conservative idea—and it’s definitely not good for kids. Conservatives should find another target.

Michael J. Petrilli

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Ukraine: What Comes Next?

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/ But to be young was very heaven!–Oh! times.”

So wrote William Wordsworth about the commencement of the French Revolution. His words, no doubt, are echoed by many in Kiev today as they contemplate the sudden and shocking success of their revolution.

President Viktor Yanukovych has been chased from power. His opulent palaces are now open to the public to see the extent of his enrichment at public expense. His leading political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, has been freed from prison. One of her allies, parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov, has assumed the powers of the president and a snap election has been called to elect a permanent successor. Remarkably enough there has been little violence or looting; this has been an unusually orderly revolution–so far.

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“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/ But to be young was very heaven!–Oh! times.”

So wrote William Wordsworth about the commencement of the French Revolution. His words, no doubt, are echoed by many in Kiev today as they contemplate the sudden and shocking success of their revolution.

President Viktor Yanukovych has been chased from power. His opulent palaces are now open to the public to see the extent of his enrichment at public expense. His leading political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, has been freed from prison. One of her allies, parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov, has assumed the powers of the president and a snap election has been called to elect a permanent successor. Remarkably enough there has been little violence or looting; this has been an unusually orderly revolution–so far.

But we have seen just in the past week how dizzying can be the twists and turns of Ukrainian politics, and there is no reason to believe that they are at the end of the journey. Recall that as recently as Thursday, Kiev was the scene of bloody fighting, which was brought to a halt by a power-sharing accord reached on Friday between Yanukovych and opposition leaders. That accord, in turn, was rendered irrelevant by the president’s decision to flee his capital on Saturday.

Whatever next? No one can say, but one quarter from which we can expect the unexpected is Moscow. Vladimir Putin has been seen, rightly or wrongly, as the puppet-master pulling Yanukovych’s strings. It was Putin who convinced Yanukovych to forego closer ties with the EU in return for a $15 billion loan from Russia. This was seen as a masterstroke at the time, but it sparked a revolution which has cast Yanukovych from power, at least for now, and instilled, no doubt, deep dread in the Kremlin.

If an autocrat can be ejected from power by popular action in Kiev, why not in Moscow? In reality, of course, there are numerous reasons why Putin’s hold on power is more secure, but dictators are habitually paranoid and Putin is no exception: He knows that the example of Ukraine is likely to embolden his opposition in Russia.

We can expect a riposte from Putin before long, and from his allies in Ukraine who are down but not defeated. How the revolution will unfold no one knows, but Ukraine has had plenty of experience of thwarted upheavals.

This is, after all, the second popular uprising against Yanukovych, the first being the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005. Although thwarted in his attempt to steal that election, Yanukovych returned to power in 2010, managing to win a fair election after his political adversaries failed to show results while in office.

This is a second chance for the pro-Western parties in Ukraine to deal with the deep-seated malaise of the economy, the pervasive corruption, and all the other ills that afflict this troubled land. They had better do better than last time–and all the while fending off what are sure to be determined attempts at sabotage emanating from Moscow. Let us hope that the U.S. and the EU will throw their weight on the scales to help prevent Putin’s puppets from slinking back into power.

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