Commentary Magazine


Topic: aide

Rep. Ackerman Throws J Street Under the Bus

Despite J Street’s eagerness to blame its “political enemies” for its public-relations troubles, all its image problems have been brought on by itself. Nobody forced the group the take money from George Soros, surreptitiously aide Richard Goldstone, and engage in unethical self-dealing. These actions are a sign of a deep-seated moral corruption within the organization, and they’re likely to keep occurring unless the group dismantles its leadership entirely.

This seems to be the realization that one of J Street’s strongest political allies, Rep. Gary Ackerman, came to today. Appalled that the organization is supporting the pending UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements, the congressman has told J Street in no uncertain terms that he wants nothing to do with them anymore:

“After learning of J-Street’s current public call for the Obama Administration to not veto a prospective UN Security Council resolution that, under the rubric of concern about settlement activity, would effectively and unjustly place the whole responsibility for the current impasse in the peace process on Israel, and—critically—would give fresh and powerful impetus to the effort to internationally isolate and delegitimize Israel, I’ve come to the conclusion that J-Street is not an organization with which I wish to be associated.”

And Ackerman is by no means opposed to progressive pro-Israel groups — he just notes that J Street isn’t one of them.

“America really does need a smart, credible, politically active organization that is as aggressively pro-peace as it is pro-Israel,” said the congressman. “Unfortunately, J-Street ain’t it.”

This is the strongest sign so far that J Street’s political support on Capitol Hill has completely dried up. Ackerman isn’t denouncing the group in a last-minute attempt to win an election, as other politicians have done. He’s doing it because being linked to J Street has become a political liability even when it’s not a campaign season.

He’s also doing it because J Street’s actions over the past year — culminating in its support for this UN resolution — have made it impossible to logically claim that the group is still pro-Israel.

Ackerman rightly notes that J Street’s support for the resolution “is not the choice of a concerned friend trying to help. It is rather the befuddled choice of an organization so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out.”

In a press release for a fundraiser that J Street held for Ackerman and a few other members of Congress just three months ago, the group called the politicians “excellent advocates for pro-Israel, pro-peace positions in Congress and courageous leaders on other progressive issues as well.”

And now Ackerman — lauded as “progressive” and “pro-Israel, pro-peace” by J Street — has concluded that J Street can no longer be considered pro-Israel. That should certainly give other J Street supporters in Congress pause (that is, if there are any of them still left).

Despite J Street’s eagerness to blame its “political enemies” for its public-relations troubles, all its image problems have been brought on by itself. Nobody forced the group the take money from George Soros, surreptitiously aide Richard Goldstone, and engage in unethical self-dealing. These actions are a sign of a deep-seated moral corruption within the organization, and they’re likely to keep occurring unless the group dismantles its leadership entirely.

This seems to be the realization that one of J Street’s strongest political allies, Rep. Gary Ackerman, came to today. Appalled that the organization is supporting the pending UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements, the congressman has told J Street in no uncertain terms that he wants nothing to do with them anymore:

“After learning of J-Street’s current public call for the Obama Administration to not veto a prospective UN Security Council resolution that, under the rubric of concern about settlement activity, would effectively and unjustly place the whole responsibility for the current impasse in the peace process on Israel, and—critically—would give fresh and powerful impetus to the effort to internationally isolate and delegitimize Israel, I’ve come to the conclusion that J-Street is not an organization with which I wish to be associated.”

And Ackerman is by no means opposed to progressive pro-Israel groups — he just notes that J Street isn’t one of them.

“America really does need a smart, credible, politically active organization that is as aggressively pro-peace as it is pro-Israel,” said the congressman. “Unfortunately, J-Street ain’t it.”

This is the strongest sign so far that J Street’s political support on Capitol Hill has completely dried up. Ackerman isn’t denouncing the group in a last-minute attempt to win an election, as other politicians have done. He’s doing it because being linked to J Street has become a political liability even when it’s not a campaign season.

He’s also doing it because J Street’s actions over the past year — culminating in its support for this UN resolution — have made it impossible to logically claim that the group is still pro-Israel.

Ackerman rightly notes that J Street’s support for the resolution “is not the choice of a concerned friend trying to help. It is rather the befuddled choice of an organization so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out.”

In a press release for a fundraiser that J Street held for Ackerman and a few other members of Congress just three months ago, the group called the politicians “excellent advocates for pro-Israel, pro-peace positions in Congress and courageous leaders on other progressive issues as well.”

And now Ackerman — lauded as “progressive” and “pro-Israel, pro-peace” by J Street — has concluded that J Street can no longer be considered pro-Israel. That should certainly give other J Street supporters in Congress pause (that is, if there are any of them still left).

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The South’s Past Haunts Barbour’s Candidacy

Haley Barbour may be among the smartest men in contemporary politics, as well as one of the most able governors in the country. But there’s no denying that his potential presidential candidacy has taken a hit as a result of his remarks about growing up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and the role of the Citizens Councils in the racial strife of that era.

A profile of Barbour in the Weekly Standard by Andrew Ferguson quoted the governor as characterizing the segregated Mississippi of his youth in a rosy light. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” said Barbour, who also went on to describe the Citizens Councils as being the good guys who kept the Ku Klux Klan out of his hometown while neglecting to also note that they were the local enforcers of the racial status quo and the oppression of blacks. Yesterday, Barbour attempted to put out the fire with a clarification, admitting that the Citizens Councils were “totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country and, especially, African-Americans who were persecuted in that time.”

But that wasn’t good enough for some of his critics, particularly the editorial page of the New York Times, which roasted Barbour in today’s edition for what they termed his recollection of a “hazy, dream-coated South” that shows he suffers “from the faulty memory all too common among those who stood on the sidelines during one of the greatest social upheavals in history.” The Times‘s goal here is not so much clarity about history but to draw a line in the sand about Barbour’s future as it declared that “his recent remarks on the period fit a well-established pattern of racial insensitivity that raises increasing doubts about his fitness for national office.”

Given that it was the Times and other liberal organs that were quick to make a meal of this brouhaha, many conservatives will reflexively defend Barbour. It is, after all, more than a little unfair to speak of the Mississippi governor as someone who “stood on the sidelines” of this battle, since he was merely a teenager during the drama of the early 1960s. No one has alleged that he has ever been guilty of an act of racism, either then or since. Indeed, the worst that the Times can say of him is that he once scolded an aide for making a racist remark with a joke about watermelons. And, as the perceptive Ferguson noted in his article, a big part of the problem is Barbour’s thick and “unapologetic” Southern drawl, which may be more than a bit off-putting for Northerners quick to make stereotypical generalizations about Southern whites while ignoring the racial past of their own region.

But as Barbour’s quick retreat from his Weekly Standard quotes indicates, this is not a problem that he can simply dismiss as liberal media bias. While Barbour may be innocent of any racism personally, denial of the truth about the essential ugliness of much of what some like to term the “heritage” of the South is unacceptable. As the nation celebrates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War over the next four years, the willingness of some to indulge in fantasies about the Confederacy is something that is bound to cause problems for Southern white Republicans, especially one who is thinking about running against the first African-American president of the United States. Read More

Haley Barbour may be among the smartest men in contemporary politics, as well as one of the most able governors in the country. But there’s no denying that his potential presidential candidacy has taken a hit as a result of his remarks about growing up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and the role of the Citizens Councils in the racial strife of that era.

A profile of Barbour in the Weekly Standard by Andrew Ferguson quoted the governor as characterizing the segregated Mississippi of his youth in a rosy light. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” said Barbour, who also went on to describe the Citizens Councils as being the good guys who kept the Ku Klux Klan out of his hometown while neglecting to also note that they were the local enforcers of the racial status quo and the oppression of blacks. Yesterday, Barbour attempted to put out the fire with a clarification, admitting that the Citizens Councils were “totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country and, especially, African-Americans who were persecuted in that time.”

But that wasn’t good enough for some of his critics, particularly the editorial page of the New York Times, which roasted Barbour in today’s edition for what they termed his recollection of a “hazy, dream-coated South” that shows he suffers “from the faulty memory all too common among those who stood on the sidelines during one of the greatest social upheavals in history.” The Times‘s goal here is not so much clarity about history but to draw a line in the sand about Barbour’s future as it declared that “his recent remarks on the period fit a well-established pattern of racial insensitivity that raises increasing doubts about his fitness for national office.”

Given that it was the Times and other liberal organs that were quick to make a meal of this brouhaha, many conservatives will reflexively defend Barbour. It is, after all, more than a little unfair to speak of the Mississippi governor as someone who “stood on the sidelines” of this battle, since he was merely a teenager during the drama of the early 1960s. No one has alleged that he has ever been guilty of an act of racism, either then or since. Indeed, the worst that the Times can say of him is that he once scolded an aide for making a racist remark with a joke about watermelons. And, as the perceptive Ferguson noted in his article, a big part of the problem is Barbour’s thick and “unapologetic” Southern drawl, which may be more than a bit off-putting for Northerners quick to make stereotypical generalizations about Southern whites while ignoring the racial past of their own region.

But as Barbour’s quick retreat from his Weekly Standard quotes indicates, this is not a problem that he can simply dismiss as liberal media bias. While Barbour may be innocent of any racism personally, denial of the truth about the essential ugliness of much of what some like to term the “heritage” of the South is unacceptable. As the nation celebrates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War over the next four years, the willingness of some to indulge in fantasies about the Confederacy is something that is bound to cause problems for Southern white Republicans, especially one who is thinking about running against the first African-American president of the United States.

Evidence of the possibilities for such problems was displayed on the Times‘s website this week with a troubling article about a “Secession Gala” held in Charleston, South Carolina, where 300 participants dressed up like extras from Gone With the Wind to celebrate the anniversary of that state’s decision to leave the Union in 1860. While the event and the NAACP-sponsored protest outside the party went off without violence, the comments from the secession celebrants — in which they claimed that the Civil War was not fought over slavery — reflected the fact that many in the South are still in denial about this epic moment in American history. Post–Civil War reconciliation between the regions was based on a willingness by both sides to acknowledge the bravery of the combatants, but surely enough time has passed since the fighting that Americans no longer have to pretend that the “lost cause” was a noble one in order to unify the nation.

Even if all of the above were not an issue, it is still far from clear that Barbour’s prodigious political skills can transform him into a serious presidential contender in 2012. But if Barbour is really determined to run, he is going to have to do more to dispel this negative perception than the sort of damage-control comments we heard from him this week.

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Morning Commentary

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

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A Most Curious Country It Is

Over at the Huffington Post, Sam Stein reports this:

Hoping to build support for the tax-cut deal that the president reached with Congressional Republicans, the White House has begun pressing Hill Democrats with polling data showing that extending the tax rates for the rich is politically popular.

A Senate aide sent over a copy of the email that an administration aide sent to offices on Wednesday morning. In it, the aide touts Gallup polling data showing that “Two-thirds of Americans (66%) favor extending the 2001/2003 tax cuts for all Americans for two years, and an identical number support extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.”

That an administration would promote polling data backing its policy preferences is normally not an astounding revelation. But the private push of the Gallup study struck the Senate aide as depressing if not counter-productive. Even as the president was insisting that he thought an extension of rates for the wealthy is poor economics — “I’m as opposed to the high-end tax cuts today as I’ve been for years,” Obama said on Tuesday — his aides were privately embracing the idea that extending the Bush tax cuts across the board was politically prudent.

“We are making the argument for them,” said the Senate aide, who sent over the email on condition that it could not be reprinted. “The White House now wants us to defend extending the Bush tax cuts.”

We have officially entered Looking-Glass Land, and a most curious country it is.

Over at the Huffington Post, Sam Stein reports this:

Hoping to build support for the tax-cut deal that the president reached with Congressional Republicans, the White House has begun pressing Hill Democrats with polling data showing that extending the tax rates for the rich is politically popular.

A Senate aide sent over a copy of the email that an administration aide sent to offices on Wednesday morning. In it, the aide touts Gallup polling data showing that “Two-thirds of Americans (66%) favor extending the 2001/2003 tax cuts for all Americans for two years, and an identical number support extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.”

That an administration would promote polling data backing its policy preferences is normally not an astounding revelation. But the private push of the Gallup study struck the Senate aide as depressing if not counter-productive. Even as the president was insisting that he thought an extension of rates for the wealthy is poor economics — “I’m as opposed to the high-end tax cuts today as I’ve been for years,” Obama said on Tuesday — his aides were privately embracing the idea that extending the Bush tax cuts across the board was politically prudent.

“We are making the argument for them,” said the Senate aide, who sent over the email on condition that it could not be reprinted. “The White House now wants us to defend extending the Bush tax cuts.”

We have officially entered Looking-Glass Land, and a most curious country it is.

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Debating the Middle East Debacle

Politico devotes part of its Arena discussion to Ben Smith’s compelling report on Obama’s Middle East blunders. What is interesting is that, aside from the executive director of the notoriously anti-Israel group the Jerusalem Fund, no one from this ideologically diverse bunch differs with the premise of the article (Obama has made things much worse) or cheers the president’s latest desperation move.

From David Aaron Miller: “[I]n the face of this difficult situation, the administration came out loud, hard and fast — focused largely on a settlements freeze it had no chance of producing or sustaining. Twenty months in, the president — a wartime leader with a Nobel Peace Prize (only the second in American history) finds himself with no freeze, no negotiations, no agreement and no process to get there.”

Bob Zelnick adds: “It takes some effort to mess things up as quickly and completely as the Obama team. But if you let settlements — a final status issue — put in a position to queer the whole deal, if it takes 20 fighter planes to make sure Netanyahu shows up for class, and if you have no coherent plan to build on the diplomatic path plowed by George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the chances are you will not get the parties to move much beyond their opening positions and that those at the table will begin to view your opinions as having little more than nuisance value.”

James Carafano reminds us: “Figure out the right thing to do, do the opposite … that pretty much defines the Obama Middle East strategy. The White House fell for the most obvious trap — that negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine is the ‘easy button’ and that a settlement will make that whole part of the world blossom into a land of milk and honey. The White House should have started at the other end — standing tall as a firm friend of Israel and focusing like a laser on the key problem Iran. Trumping Iran and backing Israel marginalizes Hamas and makes peace possible, not the other way round.”

The Obami remain impervious, however, to the near-unanimous criticism of their approach. It is among the Obama team’s most curious undertakings. As faulty as many of Obama’s foreign policy gambits may be, there are few (perhaps human rights is another) that have been so universally panned as his Middle East maneuvering. There is no pivot and no recognition that he is sowing additional discord and reducing America’s stature. Why do we suppose he is so immune to advice? I suspect it is because this particular policy is near and dear to the president’s heart and nearly entirely the product of his own ego and mistaken diagnosis of the region’s problems. He is tragically and completely lacking in an appreciation for the political realities, and apparently not an aide in his entire administration is willing or able to dissuade him. At most, the mission now is to try to spare him a personal humiliation.

You wonder what Dennis Ross, peace-processor extraordinaire, is telling himself. Things would be worse without him? Hardly seems possible. If you just keep processing, the peace “momentum” will build? It’s hard to fathom. But history’s judgment will be especially severe, both for him and for others who should know better. A heck of a way to end a career in Middle East diplomacy, no?

Politico devotes part of its Arena discussion to Ben Smith’s compelling report on Obama’s Middle East blunders. What is interesting is that, aside from the executive director of the notoriously anti-Israel group the Jerusalem Fund, no one from this ideologically diverse bunch differs with the premise of the article (Obama has made things much worse) or cheers the president’s latest desperation move.

From David Aaron Miller: “[I]n the face of this difficult situation, the administration came out loud, hard and fast — focused largely on a settlements freeze it had no chance of producing or sustaining. Twenty months in, the president — a wartime leader with a Nobel Peace Prize (only the second in American history) finds himself with no freeze, no negotiations, no agreement and no process to get there.”

Bob Zelnick adds: “It takes some effort to mess things up as quickly and completely as the Obama team. But if you let settlements — a final status issue — put in a position to queer the whole deal, if it takes 20 fighter planes to make sure Netanyahu shows up for class, and if you have no coherent plan to build on the diplomatic path plowed by George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the chances are you will not get the parties to move much beyond their opening positions and that those at the table will begin to view your opinions as having little more than nuisance value.”

James Carafano reminds us: “Figure out the right thing to do, do the opposite … that pretty much defines the Obama Middle East strategy. The White House fell for the most obvious trap — that negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine is the ‘easy button’ and that a settlement will make that whole part of the world blossom into a land of milk and honey. The White House should have started at the other end — standing tall as a firm friend of Israel and focusing like a laser on the key problem Iran. Trumping Iran and backing Israel marginalizes Hamas and makes peace possible, not the other way round.”

The Obami remain impervious, however, to the near-unanimous criticism of their approach. It is among the Obama team’s most curious undertakings. As faulty as many of Obama’s foreign policy gambits may be, there are few (perhaps human rights is another) that have been so universally panned as his Middle East maneuvering. There is no pivot and no recognition that he is sowing additional discord and reducing America’s stature. Why do we suppose he is so immune to advice? I suspect it is because this particular policy is near and dear to the president’s heart and nearly entirely the product of his own ego and mistaken diagnosis of the region’s problems. He is tragically and completely lacking in an appreciation for the political realities, and apparently not an aide in his entire administration is willing or able to dissuade him. At most, the mission now is to try to spare him a personal humiliation.

You wonder what Dennis Ross, peace-processor extraordinaire, is telling himself. Things would be worse without him? Hardly seems possible. If you just keep processing, the peace “momentum” will build? It’s hard to fathom. But history’s judgment will be especially severe, both for him and for others who should know better. A heck of a way to end a career in Middle East diplomacy, no?

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Democrats’ Tax Dilemma

Where are we on an extension of the Bush tax cuts? It’s hard to know, given that the Democrats have no game plan at this point:

Obama favors renewing the tax cuts only for those at or below those level, saying the nation cannot afford to renew them for wealthier Americans.

Despite a number of options — including renewing all tax cuts or only those for the middle class or tying any extension to a renewal of jobless benefits — there is no indication a consensus is near.

“How the hell should we know when we will figure this out?” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. “This is the Democratic Party,” long known for internal struggles and diverse views.

The lack of agreement is, at bottom, a sign of the mistrust that now characterizes the relationship between Obama and what is left of his Democratic allies in the House and Senate:

“A lot of our guys, the progressives, don’t want to extend these tax cuts for anyone,” said a senior House Democratic aide. “They never liked them in the first place.” The aide said some Democrats are now wary of Obama, who convinced them to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system — a landmark achievement that backfired and hurt them with voters. “Our guys aren’t sure what comes next. Will Obama help them in 2012, or will just be focused on getting himself re-elected?” the aide said.

The liberal pro-tax-hike Democrats can posture all they like, but they don’t seem to have the votes to soak the rich. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the perennial voice of sanity in the Senate, patiently explains to his colleagues that although they might want to raise taxes on the “rich” — investors, small businesses, employers — the fact remains that “the votes are not there to do that.”

Oh, in that case, they might simply kick the can down the road and let the GOP extend all the Bush tax cuts. Well, that wouldn’t make much sense, allowing their opponents to claim credit for keeping voters’ taxes from going up. But these days, the Dems seem to specialize in not making much sense. So don’t bet against their doing just that.

Where are we on an extension of the Bush tax cuts? It’s hard to know, given that the Democrats have no game plan at this point:

Obama favors renewing the tax cuts only for those at or below those level, saying the nation cannot afford to renew them for wealthier Americans.

Despite a number of options — including renewing all tax cuts or only those for the middle class or tying any extension to a renewal of jobless benefits — there is no indication a consensus is near.

“How the hell should we know when we will figure this out?” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. “This is the Democratic Party,” long known for internal struggles and diverse views.

The lack of agreement is, at bottom, a sign of the mistrust that now characterizes the relationship between Obama and what is left of his Democratic allies in the House and Senate:

“A lot of our guys, the progressives, don’t want to extend these tax cuts for anyone,” said a senior House Democratic aide. “They never liked them in the first place.” The aide said some Democrats are now wary of Obama, who convinced them to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system — a landmark achievement that backfired and hurt them with voters. “Our guys aren’t sure what comes next. Will Obama help them in 2012, or will just be focused on getting himself re-elected?” the aide said.

The liberal pro-tax-hike Democrats can posture all they like, but they don’t seem to have the votes to soak the rich. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the perennial voice of sanity in the Senate, patiently explains to his colleagues that although they might want to raise taxes on the “rich” — investors, small businesses, employers — the fact remains that “the votes are not there to do that.”

Oh, in that case, they might simply kick the can down the road and let the GOP extend all the Bush tax cuts. Well, that wouldn’t make much sense, allowing their opponents to claim credit for keeping voters’ taxes from going up. But these days, the Dems seem to specialize in not making much sense. So don’t bet against their doing just that.

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The Art of Discontent

Peter Baker, one of the nation’s finest and fairest political reporters, has written an illuminating story for the New York Times Magazine. “Education of a President” is based on interviews with Barack Obama and a dozen of his advisers.

There are three overriding impression I took away from the piece, beginning with how much events are humbling the president and his top aides. “This is an administration that feels shellshocked,” Baker writes. “Many officials worry, they say, that the best days of the Obama presidency are behind them.” One aide confessed to Baker, “We’re all a lot more cynical now.” In their darkest moments, Baker informs us, “White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed.”

The second takeaway from Baker’s piece is how the blame for Obama’s failures rests with everyone else. “Washington is even more broken than we thought,” one aide tells Baker. The system “is not on the level” — a phrase commonly used around the West Wing meaning “Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems.” Obama himself says, “Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” (Read: we were too virtuous for our own good.)

The third impression from Baker’s article is the degree of self-pity and moral and intellectual superiority that remains so prevalent in the Obama White House. “The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra,” Baker writes. “Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history.” Obama does little to disguise his disdain for Washington and the conventions of modern politics, Baker writes. He has little patience for what Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, calls “the inevitable theatrics of Washington.” And in his conversation with Baker, Obama used some variation of the phrase “they’re not serious” four times in referring to Republican budget plans. One prominent Democratic lawmaker told Baker that Obama “always believes he is the smartest person in any room.”

The White House, then, is characterized by habitual vanity, rising cynicism, collapsing morale, and increasing resentment toward politics and governing, itself. Having worked in the White House for most of two terms, I understand that life there can present an array of challenges. Still, those working in the Obama White House seem utterly devoid of any enchantment and joy rooted in an appreciation of history — the kind of that that makes working in the White House, even on the worst days, an honor beyond measure.

In writing about Edward Grey, John Buchan told about how he had been the most fortunate of mortals, for he had everything — health, beauty, easy means, a great reputation, innumerable friends. One by one, the sources of his happiness vanished, yet Grey persevered. “Under the buffetings of life he never winced or complained,” Buchan writes, “and the spectacle of his gentle fortitude was . . . an inspiration.”

Later in Pilgrim’s Way, Buchan, in describing himself, says, “I was brought up in times when one was not ashamed to be happy, and I have never learned the art of discontent.”

The White House today seems to be inhabited by people who have learned the art of discontent. Some day, it may dawn on them what a privilege and gift their White House years really were. But by then, the moment will be gone with the wind.

Peter Baker, one of the nation’s finest and fairest political reporters, has written an illuminating story for the New York Times Magazine. “Education of a President” is based on interviews with Barack Obama and a dozen of his advisers.

There are three overriding impression I took away from the piece, beginning with how much events are humbling the president and his top aides. “This is an administration that feels shellshocked,” Baker writes. “Many officials worry, they say, that the best days of the Obama presidency are behind them.” One aide confessed to Baker, “We’re all a lot more cynical now.” In their darkest moments, Baker informs us, “White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed.”

The second takeaway from Baker’s piece is how the blame for Obama’s failures rests with everyone else. “Washington is even more broken than we thought,” one aide tells Baker. The system “is not on the level” — a phrase commonly used around the West Wing meaning “Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems.” Obama himself says, “Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” (Read: we were too virtuous for our own good.)

The third impression from Baker’s article is the degree of self-pity and moral and intellectual superiority that remains so prevalent in the Obama White House. “The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra,” Baker writes. “Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history.” Obama does little to disguise his disdain for Washington and the conventions of modern politics, Baker writes. He has little patience for what Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, calls “the inevitable theatrics of Washington.” And in his conversation with Baker, Obama used some variation of the phrase “they’re not serious” four times in referring to Republican budget plans. One prominent Democratic lawmaker told Baker that Obama “always believes he is the smartest person in any room.”

The White House, then, is characterized by habitual vanity, rising cynicism, collapsing morale, and increasing resentment toward politics and governing, itself. Having worked in the White House for most of two terms, I understand that life there can present an array of challenges. Still, those working in the Obama White House seem utterly devoid of any enchantment and joy rooted in an appreciation of history — the kind of that that makes working in the White House, even on the worst days, an honor beyond measure.

In writing about Edward Grey, John Buchan told about how he had been the most fortunate of mortals, for he had everything — health, beauty, easy means, a great reputation, innumerable friends. One by one, the sources of his happiness vanished, yet Grey persevered. “Under the buffetings of life he never winced or complained,” Buchan writes, “and the spectacle of his gentle fortitude was . . . an inspiration.”

Later in Pilgrim’s Way, Buchan, in describing himself, says, “I was brought up in times when one was not ashamed to be happy, and I have never learned the art of discontent.”

The White House today seems to be inhabited by people who have learned the art of discontent. Some day, it may dawn on them what a privilege and gift their White House years really were. But by then, the moment will be gone with the wind.

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Don’t Let the Door Hit You, Rahm

Rahm Emanuel is leaving, and American Jewish leaders couldn’t care less. In this regard, they have figured out who is running the U.S.-Israel policy (and hence, where the problem is):

“A lot of people like to think this Israeli-Palestinian policy has been Rahm Emanuel’s and it’s not. It’s Barack Obama’s,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton administration aide. …

Noted William Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s vice president for public policy and director of its Washington Office: “The buck stops at the desk of the president of the United States, so any staff change shouldn’t impact the relationship [Obama] has with the state of Israel or the Jewish community.”

The savviest remark comes from a “Jewish community professional” who observes:

“In some ways,” that professional added, Emanuel’s belief that he could effortlessly handle the Jewish community due to his deep connections has “been a detriment to the White House [because Emanuel’s] saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got that,’ but then he doesn’t.”

Well, he didn’t. And there’s a smidgen of candor — well, what passes for candor in Washington (a blind quote, in other words):

“That hasn’t always been of a great benefit to Israel,” noted one of the Jewish leaders previously quoted on background. “In an American government, a friend of Israel is more important a factor than whether they’re Jewish.”

Emanuel’s religion, in fact, already seems to be having a negative net impact on his bid to become Chicago’s next mayor.

According to the Chicago Tribune, some politically conservative Jews tend to blame Emanuel, the son of an Israeli doctor, for some of the Obama administration’s tensions with Israel, while Orthodox Jews quibbled with his decision to announce his resignation on Friday of last week, Simchat Torah.

Alas, that’s Rahm’s problem now. As for American Jewish leaders and pro-Israel pundits, it’s about time they wised up. They have learned the hard way that the president’s naming a Jew as chief of staff doesn’t mean that his heart is in the right place on Israel. The departure of one adviser out of many selected by a president convinced of his own wisdom on the Middle East is virtually meaningless. What matters is that a president was elected who lacks empathy toward and understanding of the nature of the Zionist enterprise, who imagines kicking a democratic ally will impress its despotic foes, who is convinced he can engage the mullahs and then contain them after they rebuff his entreaties, and who fails to grasp that serial weakness by the U.S. places both the U.S. and Israel at risk.

That such an overwhelming majority of American Jewish leaders cheered, vouched and raised money for candidate Obama explains, in large part, their reluctance to come to terms with what a disaster he has been for U.S.-Israel relations and for the West’s security in the face of an Islamic revolutionary state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Let’s see if they can now work strenuously — as strenuously as they did to elect him — to limit the damage their chosen candidate will inflict on both American and Israeli security, which the president seems not to fully comprehend are inextricably linked. And then the real test will come in 2012, when they will have the opportunity to shed their “sick addiction” to the president and his party. Or will “a woman’s right to choose,” government-run health care, and the supposed scourge of global warming once more take precedence over the fate of the Jewish state?

Rahm Emanuel is leaving, and American Jewish leaders couldn’t care less. In this regard, they have figured out who is running the U.S.-Israel policy (and hence, where the problem is):

“A lot of people like to think this Israeli-Palestinian policy has been Rahm Emanuel’s and it’s not. It’s Barack Obama’s,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton administration aide. …

Noted William Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s vice president for public policy and director of its Washington Office: “The buck stops at the desk of the president of the United States, so any staff change shouldn’t impact the relationship [Obama] has with the state of Israel or the Jewish community.”

The savviest remark comes from a “Jewish community professional” who observes:

“In some ways,” that professional added, Emanuel’s belief that he could effortlessly handle the Jewish community due to his deep connections has “been a detriment to the White House [because Emanuel’s] saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got that,’ but then he doesn’t.”

Well, he didn’t. And there’s a smidgen of candor — well, what passes for candor in Washington (a blind quote, in other words):

“That hasn’t always been of a great benefit to Israel,” noted one of the Jewish leaders previously quoted on background. “In an American government, a friend of Israel is more important a factor than whether they’re Jewish.”

Emanuel’s religion, in fact, already seems to be having a negative net impact on his bid to become Chicago’s next mayor.

According to the Chicago Tribune, some politically conservative Jews tend to blame Emanuel, the son of an Israeli doctor, for some of the Obama administration’s tensions with Israel, while Orthodox Jews quibbled with his decision to announce his resignation on Friday of last week, Simchat Torah.

Alas, that’s Rahm’s problem now. As for American Jewish leaders and pro-Israel pundits, it’s about time they wised up. They have learned the hard way that the president’s naming a Jew as chief of staff doesn’t mean that his heart is in the right place on Israel. The departure of one adviser out of many selected by a president convinced of his own wisdom on the Middle East is virtually meaningless. What matters is that a president was elected who lacks empathy toward and understanding of the nature of the Zionist enterprise, who imagines kicking a democratic ally will impress its despotic foes, who is convinced he can engage the mullahs and then contain them after they rebuff his entreaties, and who fails to grasp that serial weakness by the U.S. places both the U.S. and Israel at risk.

That such an overwhelming majority of American Jewish leaders cheered, vouched and raised money for candidate Obama explains, in large part, their reluctance to come to terms with what a disaster he has been for U.S.-Israel relations and for the West’s security in the face of an Islamic revolutionary state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Let’s see if they can now work strenuously — as strenuously as they did to elect him — to limit the damage their chosen candidate will inflict on both American and Israeli security, which the president seems not to fully comprehend are inextricably linked. And then the real test will come in 2012, when they will have the opportunity to shed their “sick addiction” to the president and his party. Or will “a woman’s right to choose,” government-run health care, and the supposed scourge of global warming once more take precedence over the fate of the Jewish state?

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What’s Really Eating David Axelrod

In a New Republic cover story by Noam Scheiber, “What’s Really Eating David Axelrod? The Disillusionment of Obama’s Political Guru,” we are told this:

Obama and Axelrod both believe in changing Washington for its own sake. “It’s in the president’s nature, it’s also in David’s nature,” says Stephanie Cutter, a senior White House aide. … Whatever his tendency to fall in and out of love with politicians, there’s no evidence Axelrod has soured on Barack Obama. Quite the contrary — he is said to take enormous pride in the president’s legislative accomplishments. “When Obama rejects Axe’s political advice, David’s attitude is not like, ‘Why isn’t he listening to me?’” says one administra­tion official. “It’s more like, ‘This is why I love this guy. He’s willing to follow his heart even when the short-term politics are not with him.”’  Instead, the source of Axelrod’s disillusionment these days is Washington itself. … As long as he was a civilian, Axelrod could blame the pace of change on the flawed politicians he helped elect. He could always move on and invest his hopes in someone else. But now that he’s serving in government, it’s clear that the problem isn’t so much flawed people — though, like anyone, Obama has his flaws — as a ferociously stubborn, possibly irredeemable system. For an idealist like David Axelrod, that may be the most terrifying thought of all.

David Axelrod, like Obama’s other aides, begins with an unshakable premise: Barack Obama is a man of almost superhuman gifts and virtues. Yet even Axelrod cannot deny the beating the president and his party are being administered. The president has passed much of his agenda — and, in the process, he has become very nearly radioactive. Mr. Obama’s popularity is reaching new lows, distrust of the federal government is reaching new highs, independents are fleeing him and the Democratic party in striking numbers, and Democratic candidates are explicitly running against Obama and his record. The opposition to Obamaism is extraordinary in its depth and passion.

So how does someone like Axelrod reconcile his premise with this unpleasant reality? Why, blame Washington and the political establishment, of course. The system is not only “ferociously stubborn,” but quite possibly “irredeemable.” Barack Obama’s failures, you see, are the fault of the founders.

We have all heard this before — during the Carter years, when it was said the presidency was too large for any single person; and from Ronald Reagan’s first OMB director, David Stockman, who became deeply disillusioned when his budget-cutting agenda ran up against our system of checks and balances. In his book The Triumph of Politics, Stockman wrote this: “There is only one thing worse [than politicians with short time horizons], and that is ideological hubris. It is the assumption that the world can be made better by being remade overnight.”

This is precisely what Axelrod and many in Obama’s inner circle are afflicted with. And whatever problems plague Washington, they are not new. Nothing fundamental has changed about Washington since Obama ran for president in 2008, promising to drive the moneychangers out of the temple.

Governing always seems easier from afar — and every public official experiences a gap between his hopes and his achievements. But in this instance, a group of arrogant, zealous aides — devoted to an arrogant, ideological man — thought they could remake the world and transform Washington easily and instantaneously. But now that they have been at the helm for a bit more than 20 months, idealism is giving way to crushing disillusionment.

“The blind faith in, and passion for, Obama was like nothing [Anita] Dunn had ever seen before,” we read in Game Change. “Around Hopefund they joked about it all the time, praying it wouldn’t go to Obama’s head; his ego was robust enough already. They even conferred on the senator a new nickname: ‘Black Jesus.’”

Investing that much hope in a single individual was destined to end in disenchantment. There is a cautionary tale and an important reminder in all of this: The best public servants are individuals whose idealism is tempered with realism and maturity, who understand and appreciate the nature of American government, who are steady and well-grounded, and who understand the difference between politics and romantic dreams.

In a New Republic cover story by Noam Scheiber, “What’s Really Eating David Axelrod? The Disillusionment of Obama’s Political Guru,” we are told this:

Obama and Axelrod both believe in changing Washington for its own sake. “It’s in the president’s nature, it’s also in David’s nature,” says Stephanie Cutter, a senior White House aide. … Whatever his tendency to fall in and out of love with politicians, there’s no evidence Axelrod has soured on Barack Obama. Quite the contrary — he is said to take enormous pride in the president’s legislative accomplishments. “When Obama rejects Axe’s political advice, David’s attitude is not like, ‘Why isn’t he listening to me?’” says one administra­tion official. “It’s more like, ‘This is why I love this guy. He’s willing to follow his heart even when the short-term politics are not with him.”’  Instead, the source of Axelrod’s disillusionment these days is Washington itself. … As long as he was a civilian, Axelrod could blame the pace of change on the flawed politicians he helped elect. He could always move on and invest his hopes in someone else. But now that he’s serving in government, it’s clear that the problem isn’t so much flawed people — though, like anyone, Obama has his flaws — as a ferociously stubborn, possibly irredeemable system. For an idealist like David Axelrod, that may be the most terrifying thought of all.

David Axelrod, like Obama’s other aides, begins with an unshakable premise: Barack Obama is a man of almost superhuman gifts and virtues. Yet even Axelrod cannot deny the beating the president and his party are being administered. The president has passed much of his agenda — and, in the process, he has become very nearly radioactive. Mr. Obama’s popularity is reaching new lows, distrust of the federal government is reaching new highs, independents are fleeing him and the Democratic party in striking numbers, and Democratic candidates are explicitly running against Obama and his record. The opposition to Obamaism is extraordinary in its depth and passion.

So how does someone like Axelrod reconcile his premise with this unpleasant reality? Why, blame Washington and the political establishment, of course. The system is not only “ferociously stubborn,” but quite possibly “irredeemable.” Barack Obama’s failures, you see, are the fault of the founders.

We have all heard this before — during the Carter years, when it was said the presidency was too large for any single person; and from Ronald Reagan’s first OMB director, David Stockman, who became deeply disillusioned when his budget-cutting agenda ran up against our system of checks and balances. In his book The Triumph of Politics, Stockman wrote this: “There is only one thing worse [than politicians with short time horizons], and that is ideological hubris. It is the assumption that the world can be made better by being remade overnight.”

This is precisely what Axelrod and many in Obama’s inner circle are afflicted with. And whatever problems plague Washington, they are not new. Nothing fundamental has changed about Washington since Obama ran for president in 2008, promising to drive the moneychangers out of the temple.

Governing always seems easier from afar — and every public official experiences a gap between his hopes and his achievements. But in this instance, a group of arrogant, zealous aides — devoted to an arrogant, ideological man — thought they could remake the world and transform Washington easily and instantaneously. But now that they have been at the helm for a bit more than 20 months, idealism is giving way to crushing disillusionment.

“The blind faith in, and passion for, Obama was like nothing [Anita] Dunn had ever seen before,” we read in Game Change. “Around Hopefund they joked about it all the time, praying it wouldn’t go to Obama’s head; his ego was robust enough already. They even conferred on the senator a new nickname: ‘Black Jesus.’”

Investing that much hope in a single individual was destined to end in disenchantment. There is a cautionary tale and an important reminder in all of this: The best public servants are individuals whose idealism is tempered with realism and maturity, who understand and appreciate the nature of American government, who are steady and well-grounded, and who understand the difference between politics and romantic dreams.

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Unpacking Bill Clinton’s Arguments

During the past week, former President Clinton has been granting a lot of interviews. In each of them, he is asked, in one form or another, what he would advise President Obama and Democrats to do given the current – and for them toxic – political environment.

During his interview with The News Hour, Clinton had this to offer:

What the American people need to do is to do what’s best for themselves and their family. The only things that really matter are: what are we going to do now? And once you settle on that, who is more likely to do it? If the election is about that, I think we’ll do fine.

In his interview with his former aide George Stephanopoulos, Clinton said this:

I would say, “I know a lot of people are mad, and a lot of people are tired. Apathetic. And I respect that. Because we’re not yet out of the hole we’ve got in. [Republicans] had eight years to dig the hole. They say we have 21 months, throw us out, put them back in. I just want you to understand that every election is a choice, not a referendum.  It’s a choice here.”

Clinton added:

I knew I’d done the right things in ’94. … I’d like to see him do something I didn’t do. I’d like to see him say, “Here’s what I think this election’s about. The only thing that matters is what we’re going to do now. Here are the three things I think we ought to do now.  Here’s why I think our side’s more likely to do it.  And let me tell you something, we couldn’t get out of this $3 trillion hole in 21 months.”

The options are limited for Democrats, so Clinton’s recommendation may be as good as any. And there’s a surface appeal to his “give us two more years and, if that doesn’t work out, fire us” gambit.

But here’s what’s wrong with Clinton’s recommendation. For people to have faith in what public officials promise, they have to be able to place a certain amount of credibility in them. And if they don’t trust what lawmakers have done to them in the past, they’re not likely to trust what they say about the future.

Obama and Democrats can’t simply wipe the slate clean and start over. “What are we going to do now” isn’t the only thing that matters. “What you have done to me” matters as well – and Democrats are exceedingly vulnerable in this respect. Also, the hole-was-bigger-than-we-ever-imagined excuse sounds plaintive and self-pitying, especially because the Obama administration made a series of predictions (unemployment won’t exceed 8 percent, 2010 will be the “Summer of Recovery” in which 500,000 jobs per month will be created, ObamaCare will bend the cost curve down, etc.) that were wrong and that are shattering their credibility.

A final point: it’s revealing how often Democrats reach for the formulation that every election is “a choice, not a referendum.” Actually, elections are often a combination of both, and that’s perfectly reasonable; it’s a form of accountability. When Ronald Reagan ran for reelection, it was based in large part on how much progress the country had made under his stewardship. The famous “Morning in America” ad highlighted a litany of economic statistics during the Reagan years to remind people just how much he had achieved. He wanted the 1984 election to be, in good measure, a referendum on what he had accomplished.

The fact that Democrats today are so eager to insist that the midterm election isn’t a referendum tells you everything you need to know. They don’t have a record to run on or to be proud of. They would prefer that the last two years of their legislative achievements disappear into a black hole. The problem for Democrats is that voters won’t allow that to happen.

During the past week, former President Clinton has been granting a lot of interviews. In each of them, he is asked, in one form or another, what he would advise President Obama and Democrats to do given the current – and for them toxic – political environment.

During his interview with The News Hour, Clinton had this to offer:

What the American people need to do is to do what’s best for themselves and their family. The only things that really matter are: what are we going to do now? And once you settle on that, who is more likely to do it? If the election is about that, I think we’ll do fine.

In his interview with his former aide George Stephanopoulos, Clinton said this:

I would say, “I know a lot of people are mad, and a lot of people are tired. Apathetic. And I respect that. Because we’re not yet out of the hole we’ve got in. [Republicans] had eight years to dig the hole. They say we have 21 months, throw us out, put them back in. I just want you to understand that every election is a choice, not a referendum.  It’s a choice here.”

Clinton added:

I knew I’d done the right things in ’94. … I’d like to see him do something I didn’t do. I’d like to see him say, “Here’s what I think this election’s about. The only thing that matters is what we’re going to do now. Here are the three things I think we ought to do now.  Here’s why I think our side’s more likely to do it.  And let me tell you something, we couldn’t get out of this $3 trillion hole in 21 months.”

The options are limited for Democrats, so Clinton’s recommendation may be as good as any. And there’s a surface appeal to his “give us two more years and, if that doesn’t work out, fire us” gambit.

But here’s what’s wrong with Clinton’s recommendation. For people to have faith in what public officials promise, they have to be able to place a certain amount of credibility in them. And if they don’t trust what lawmakers have done to them in the past, they’re not likely to trust what they say about the future.

Obama and Democrats can’t simply wipe the slate clean and start over. “What are we going to do now” isn’t the only thing that matters. “What you have done to me” matters as well – and Democrats are exceedingly vulnerable in this respect. Also, the hole-was-bigger-than-we-ever-imagined excuse sounds plaintive and self-pitying, especially because the Obama administration made a series of predictions (unemployment won’t exceed 8 percent, 2010 will be the “Summer of Recovery” in which 500,000 jobs per month will be created, ObamaCare will bend the cost curve down, etc.) that were wrong and that are shattering their credibility.

A final point: it’s revealing how often Democrats reach for the formulation that every election is “a choice, not a referendum.” Actually, elections are often a combination of both, and that’s perfectly reasonable; it’s a form of accountability. When Ronald Reagan ran for reelection, it was based in large part on how much progress the country had made under his stewardship. The famous “Morning in America” ad highlighted a litany of economic statistics during the Reagan years to remind people just how much he had achieved. He wanted the 1984 election to be, in good measure, a referendum on what he had accomplished.

The fact that Democrats today are so eager to insist that the midterm election isn’t a referendum tells you everything you need to know. They don’t have a record to run on or to be proud of. They would prefer that the last two years of their legislative achievements disappear into a black hole. The problem for Democrats is that voters won’t allow that to happen.

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The Irresponsible Commander in Chief

The Washington Post is teasing the release of Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses on the war in Afghanistan. Usually in Woodward’s offerings, those who cooperate with the author come off the best, and those who don’t — well, don’t. But in this case, Obama did agree to be interviewed, and it is therefore surprising, at least from the Post‘s telling, how poorly Obama comes across. And frankly, those who are forever  searching for some sign of maturity in the commander in chief and pronouncing that he really “gets it” look rather silly themselves.

First off, Obama was obsessed with an Afghanistan exit strategy, determined to get out no matter what the advice of his military advisers:

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.” … Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

The disregard for his responsibilities — the equivalent of putting his fingers in his ears and humming — is stunning. It also stands in sharp contrast with his predecessor, who insisted on a review of flawed policy and ultimately the implementation of a winning one:

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] … unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Imagine FDR telling General Eisenhower, “I don’t want to hear things aren’t going well in Italy.” It’s inconceivable that Obama’s supposed role model, Abraham Lincoln, would have said, “No more news about McClellan’s shortcomings.” But then Obama’s not much for “victory”:

Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

After Obama, it is his political advisers who come off worst:

National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama’s political aides as “the water bugs,” the “Politburo,” the “Mafia,” or the “campaign set.” Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod to be “a complete spin doctor.”

But then it is the president who put political hacks in the thick of war-planning.

Obama’s peevishness and determination to avoid facts that conflict with his ideological disposition are chilling. His apparent disinclination to pursue victory should frighten both allies and foes. Has he matured since the events detailed in the book? We have no evidence of that. I think it’s time to stop pretending that Obama is “growing” in the job and that he understands the responsibilities of a wartime president.

The Washington Post is teasing the release of Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses on the war in Afghanistan. Usually in Woodward’s offerings, those who cooperate with the author come off the best, and those who don’t — well, don’t. But in this case, Obama did agree to be interviewed, and it is therefore surprising, at least from the Post‘s telling, how poorly Obama comes across. And frankly, those who are forever  searching for some sign of maturity in the commander in chief and pronouncing that he really “gets it” look rather silly themselves.

First off, Obama was obsessed with an Afghanistan exit strategy, determined to get out no matter what the advice of his military advisers:

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.” … Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

The disregard for his responsibilities — the equivalent of putting his fingers in his ears and humming — is stunning. It also stands in sharp contrast with his predecessor, who insisted on a review of flawed policy and ultimately the implementation of a winning one:

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] … unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Imagine FDR telling General Eisenhower, “I don’t want to hear things aren’t going well in Italy.” It’s inconceivable that Obama’s supposed role model, Abraham Lincoln, would have said, “No more news about McClellan’s shortcomings.” But then Obama’s not much for “victory”:

Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

After Obama, it is his political advisers who come off worst:

National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama’s political aides as “the water bugs,” the “Politburo,” the “Mafia,” or the “campaign set.” Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod to be “a complete spin doctor.”

But then it is the president who put political hacks in the thick of war-planning.

Obama’s peevishness and determination to avoid facts that conflict with his ideological disposition are chilling. His apparent disinclination to pursue victory should frighten both allies and foes. Has he matured since the events detailed in the book? We have no evidence of that. I think it’s time to stop pretending that Obama is “growing” in the job and that he understands the responsibilities of a wartime president.

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Giving Too Much?

Minority Leader John Boehner was doing fairly well up to now in positioning his party for the election and shaping an agenda. He drew the White House into a spat in Ohio, called for the resignation of the Obama economic team, and put forth a two-point plan (spending cuts and no tax hikes). Then, on Sunday he muddied the waters on Face the Nation:

If the only option I have is to vote for those at 250 and below, of course I’m going to do that. … But I’m going to do everything I can to fight to make sure that we extend the current tax rates for all Americans.

Did he let the Democrats off the hook — give away too much? After all, doesn’t he have a shot at ensuring that Nancy Pelosi be the one with only one option?

I suspect you’ll see some push back this week. It is not a good idea to give your opponents an escape hatch and I bet conservatives in and out of office will wonder why Boehner seems to be doing just that. An unnamed Boehner aide tried to explain the gambit:

Despite what Obama says, Republicans are not holding middle-class tax cuts hostage, and we’re not going to let him get away with those types of false claims. Our focus remains on getting bipartisan support for a freeze on all current rates, because that is what is best for the economy and small-business job creation. Boehner’s words were calculated to deprive Obama of the ability to continue making those false claims, and as a result, we are in a better position rhetorically to pressure more Democrats to support a full freeze.

Uh, I think the way to put pressure on the president is to not give him what he wants without a fight. And by the end of the day, Boehner seemed to be toughening up, putting out a statement that read, in part, “If the president is serious about job creation, there’s a clear way forward, and that’s for us to come together and pass legislation immediately that cuts spending to 2008 levels for the next year and stops all of the coming tax hikes by freezing all current tax rates for the next two years. Anything short of that may selfishly check a political box for the president, but it fails the American people.” Precisely right — so it’s hard to see the purpose of his remarks on Face the Nation.

Minority Leader John Boehner was doing fairly well up to now in positioning his party for the election and shaping an agenda. He drew the White House into a spat in Ohio, called for the resignation of the Obama economic team, and put forth a two-point plan (spending cuts and no tax hikes). Then, on Sunday he muddied the waters on Face the Nation:

If the only option I have is to vote for those at 250 and below, of course I’m going to do that. … But I’m going to do everything I can to fight to make sure that we extend the current tax rates for all Americans.

Did he let the Democrats off the hook — give away too much? After all, doesn’t he have a shot at ensuring that Nancy Pelosi be the one with only one option?

I suspect you’ll see some push back this week. It is not a good idea to give your opponents an escape hatch and I bet conservatives in and out of office will wonder why Boehner seems to be doing just that. An unnamed Boehner aide tried to explain the gambit:

Despite what Obama says, Republicans are not holding middle-class tax cuts hostage, and we’re not going to let him get away with those types of false claims. Our focus remains on getting bipartisan support for a freeze on all current rates, because that is what is best for the economy and small-business job creation. Boehner’s words were calculated to deprive Obama of the ability to continue making those false claims, and as a result, we are in a better position rhetorically to pressure more Democrats to support a full freeze.

Uh, I think the way to put pressure on the president is to not give him what he wants without a fight. And by the end of the day, Boehner seemed to be toughening up, putting out a statement that read, in part, “If the president is serious about job creation, there’s a clear way forward, and that’s for us to come together and pass legislation immediately that cuts spending to 2008 levels for the next year and stops all of the coming tax hikes by freezing all current tax rates for the next two years. Anything short of that may selfishly check a political box for the president, but it fails the American people.” Precisely right — so it’s hard to see the purpose of his remarks on Face the Nation.

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Floyd Patterson, Call Your Office

In his remarks in Cleveland today, President Obama said so many things that are so misleading that it will take time to sort through the entire mess. But some claims — like “I’m committed to fiscal responsibility” — belong in a remake of The Twilight Zone.

What Obama said is not only untrue; it is the very opposite of the truth. And for the president to warn that “if we don’t get a handle on [the long-term deficit] soon, it can endanger our future” is particularly ludicrous, given that in 20 months, he has done so much to make our fiscal situation worse, from wasteful and expensive stimulus legislation to double-digit increases in non-defense discretionary spending to a huge new health-care entitlement. It is as if the president takes particular delight in not only saying things that are misleading but in saying things that are audaciously misleading.

Obama also has a habit of deriding not just the policies but also the motivations of his opponents. He almost never acknowledges the good faith of his critics; they are people to be mocked, ridiculed, derided. The only reason they oppose Obama is “politics pure and simple.” Republicans “prey on people’s fears and anxieties,” he said today. There is no room for genuine philosophical differences. It is as if Obama believes his ideas are so transparently brilliant and wise and beyond challenge that only the malicious and malevolent can oppose him.

And what is striking is how Obama, under growing political pressure, increasingly feels sorry for himself. “They talk about me like a dog,” the president told a crowd in Wisconsin earlier this week. “That’s not in my prepared remarks, it’s just — but it’s true.” And echoing the remarks made this morning by his top aide David Axelrod — who insisted “we didn’t create the mess we’re in” — Obama in his Cleveland speech said, “When I walked in [to the White House], wrapped in a nice bow, was a $1.3 trillion deficit sitting on my door step — a welcoming present.”

What’s so revealing about Obama is that comments about how terribly unfair life has been for him since he assumed office are extemporaneous, off the cuff, from the heart. For example, neither Obama’s claim that “they talk about me like a dog” nor his statement in Cleveland about his “welcoming present” were in the prepared text. (Here’s the “As Prepared for Delivery” version of the Cleveland remarks.)

What we are seeing, then, is Barack Obama unplugged. He is a man used to being cosseted and who believes negative comments about him are a violation of an unwritten moral code.

“This is more than an inconvenience,” David Axelrod wrote in a memo to Obama on November 28, 2006, in raising concerns about Obama’s thin skin. “It goes to your willingness and ability to put up with something you have never experienced on a sustained basis: criticism. At the risk of triggering the very reaction that concerns me, I don’t know if you are Muhammad Ali or Floyd Patterson when it comes to taking a punch. You care far too much what is written and said about you. … When the largely irrelevant Alan Keyes attacked you, you flinched.”

He did then, and he still does to this day.

It turns out that the president is more like Floyd Patterson than Muhammad Ali.

In his remarks in Cleveland today, President Obama said so many things that are so misleading that it will take time to sort through the entire mess. But some claims — like “I’m committed to fiscal responsibility” — belong in a remake of The Twilight Zone.

What Obama said is not only untrue; it is the very opposite of the truth. And for the president to warn that “if we don’t get a handle on [the long-term deficit] soon, it can endanger our future” is particularly ludicrous, given that in 20 months, he has done so much to make our fiscal situation worse, from wasteful and expensive stimulus legislation to double-digit increases in non-defense discretionary spending to a huge new health-care entitlement. It is as if the president takes particular delight in not only saying things that are misleading but in saying things that are audaciously misleading.

Obama also has a habit of deriding not just the policies but also the motivations of his opponents. He almost never acknowledges the good faith of his critics; they are people to be mocked, ridiculed, derided. The only reason they oppose Obama is “politics pure and simple.” Republicans “prey on people’s fears and anxieties,” he said today. There is no room for genuine philosophical differences. It is as if Obama believes his ideas are so transparently brilliant and wise and beyond challenge that only the malicious and malevolent can oppose him.

And what is striking is how Obama, under growing political pressure, increasingly feels sorry for himself. “They talk about me like a dog,” the president told a crowd in Wisconsin earlier this week. “That’s not in my prepared remarks, it’s just — but it’s true.” And echoing the remarks made this morning by his top aide David Axelrod — who insisted “we didn’t create the mess we’re in” — Obama in his Cleveland speech said, “When I walked in [to the White House], wrapped in a nice bow, was a $1.3 trillion deficit sitting on my door step — a welcoming present.”

What’s so revealing about Obama is that comments about how terribly unfair life has been for him since he assumed office are extemporaneous, off the cuff, from the heart. For example, neither Obama’s claim that “they talk about me like a dog” nor his statement in Cleveland about his “welcoming present” were in the prepared text. (Here’s the “As Prepared for Delivery” version of the Cleveland remarks.)

What we are seeing, then, is Barack Obama unplugged. He is a man used to being cosseted and who believes negative comments about him are a violation of an unwritten moral code.

“This is more than an inconvenience,” David Axelrod wrote in a memo to Obama on November 28, 2006, in raising concerns about Obama’s thin skin. “It goes to your willingness and ability to put up with something you have never experienced on a sustained basis: criticism. At the risk of triggering the very reaction that concerns me, I don’t know if you are Muhammad Ali or Floyd Patterson when it comes to taking a punch. You care far too much what is written and said about you. … When the largely irrelevant Alan Keyes attacked you, you flinched.”

He did then, and he still does to this day.

It turns out that the president is more like Floyd Patterson than Muhammad Ali.

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A Game of JournoList Chicken

Tucker Carlson at the Daily Caller is sitting in the catbird’s seat. He has reams of JournoList e-mails revealing how vicious the blogospheric left is. They wish their opponents dead (Rush Limbaugh). Their contempt for conservatives runneth over. And they plainly are all on the same “team” — plotting, delegating, and coordinating their cheerleading for the Obami, as well as attacks on Obama’s opponents. Moreover, we now have a great mystery, a sort of D.C. parlor game: what else does Carlson have?

“Journalists” — what do we call such people (undercover activists)? — and their editors are waiting for shoes to drop. A case in point: Ben Smith ran a story on the potential involvement of Politico reporters. I then spotted in one of the Daily Caller’s releases the name Laura Rozen, who covers foreign policy for Politico. Her use of a blind quote to relate an accusation of “dual loyalty” against Dennis Ross was widely criticized in a range of Jewish and conservative publications.

A sample via Daily Caller:

Nov. 5

ALYSSA ROSENBERG, GOVERNMENT EXECUTIVE: I’ve gotta be all non-partisan on GovExec, so I hope you’ll all indulge me a minute here. On Monday night in Manassas, the band warming up the crowd before Obama arrived played “I Need You To Survive.” I think the core lyrics are pretty good statement of principles for progressives, especially going forward from a victory like this one:

It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.

I pray for you, You pray for me.
I love you, I need you to survive.
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.
I love you, I need you to survive.

It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.

A lot of horribly ugly stuff got repudiated tonight. But it doesn’t end here. We need to keep making the case to the folks who disagreed with us, the folks who booed McCain during his concession speech tonight.

MATT DUSS, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: [Mccain aide] Randy Scheunemann Fired [last week]

LAURA ROZEN, MOTHER JONES (NOW POLITICO): Can you imagine if these bozos had won?

Nov. 7

LAURA ROZEN: People we no longer have to listen to: would it be unwise to start a thread of people we are grateful we no longer have to listen to? If not, I’ll start off: Michael Rubin.

MICHAEL COHEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Mark Penn and Bob Shrum. Anyone who uses the expression “Real America.” We should send there ass to Gitmo!

JESSE TAYLOR, PANDAGON.NET: Michael Barone?  Please?

LAURA ROZEN: Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich (afraid it’s not true), Drill Here Drill Now, And David Addington, John Yoo, we’ll see you in court?

I e-mailed Ben and asked if Rozen didn’t “count” because these comments predated her employment by Politico. He promptly answered that he hadn’t seen this particular e-mail and would have included it and asked his editor about it if he had. He directed me to Jim VanderHei, who asked if I had seen any Rozen JournoList comments after she was hired by Politico. I answered that we were all dealing with what Daily Caller was doling out. He provided this explanation of Politico’s  approach to this issue:

We have an unmistakably clear rule that anyone hired here check their ideology at the door. That means no political contributions or activism — and no partisan comments on air, on Twitter, on Facebook, in print, anywhere. We recognize the people we hire are not dull, blank slates — and that everyone has personal opinions. What we demand is that those opinions remain personal (and private) once hired — and that they fully understand we are a nonpartisan media outlet. We have hired some people with partisan backgrounds and had great success in getting them to go through ideological detox and become straight news reporters. The Laura Rozen emails the Daily Caller reported on pre-dated her work here. I have not seen any emails she wrote as a POLITICO employee that trouble me.

This raises at least two issues. First, it seems that the JournoList participants now have a very high standard of objectivity to maintain, especially if they now want to act as real reporters. Are they really checking their ideology at the door, or are they tipping the scales? The problem with baring one’s partisan views — especially ones so personally vindictive — is that it creates a cloud of doubt about everything you write. Second, VandeHei and every other editor with a JournoList participant is now waiting to see if there are any other e-mails that “trouble” them. If more pop up, will heads roll?

I use Rozen as an example, but the problem is far wider. The Washington Post has been mute. What if anything do they do about Ezra Klein? (Maybe if they were aware of his hyper-nasty attacks on the right, the Post editors wouldn’t have taken his recommendation on Dave Weigel.) The JournoList crowd have done a bang-up job of undermining not only their own credibility but also that of their employers. (Even those who are opinion writers are revealed not to be principled purveyors of ideas but meanspirited attack dogs.) How widespread the damage is has yet to be determined.

Tucker Carlson at the Daily Caller is sitting in the catbird’s seat. He has reams of JournoList e-mails revealing how vicious the blogospheric left is. They wish their opponents dead (Rush Limbaugh). Their contempt for conservatives runneth over. And they plainly are all on the same “team” — plotting, delegating, and coordinating their cheerleading for the Obami, as well as attacks on Obama’s opponents. Moreover, we now have a great mystery, a sort of D.C. parlor game: what else does Carlson have?

“Journalists” — what do we call such people (undercover activists)? — and their editors are waiting for shoes to drop. A case in point: Ben Smith ran a story on the potential involvement of Politico reporters. I then spotted in one of the Daily Caller’s releases the name Laura Rozen, who covers foreign policy for Politico. Her use of a blind quote to relate an accusation of “dual loyalty” against Dennis Ross was widely criticized in a range of Jewish and conservative publications.

A sample via Daily Caller:

Nov. 5

ALYSSA ROSENBERG, GOVERNMENT EXECUTIVE: I’ve gotta be all non-partisan on GovExec, so I hope you’ll all indulge me a minute here. On Monday night in Manassas, the band warming up the crowd before Obama arrived played “I Need You To Survive.” I think the core lyrics are pretty good statement of principles for progressives, especially going forward from a victory like this one:

It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.

I pray for you, You pray for me.
I love you, I need you to survive.
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.
I love you, I need you to survive.

It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.

A lot of horribly ugly stuff got repudiated tonight. But it doesn’t end here. We need to keep making the case to the folks who disagreed with us, the folks who booed McCain during his concession speech tonight.

MATT DUSS, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: [Mccain aide] Randy Scheunemann Fired [last week]

LAURA ROZEN, MOTHER JONES (NOW POLITICO): Can you imagine if these bozos had won?

Nov. 7

LAURA ROZEN: People we no longer have to listen to: would it be unwise to start a thread of people we are grateful we no longer have to listen to? If not, I’ll start off: Michael Rubin.

MICHAEL COHEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Mark Penn and Bob Shrum. Anyone who uses the expression “Real America.” We should send there ass to Gitmo!

JESSE TAYLOR, PANDAGON.NET: Michael Barone?  Please?

LAURA ROZEN: Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich (afraid it’s not true), Drill Here Drill Now, And David Addington, John Yoo, we’ll see you in court?

I e-mailed Ben and asked if Rozen didn’t “count” because these comments predated her employment by Politico. He promptly answered that he hadn’t seen this particular e-mail and would have included it and asked his editor about it if he had. He directed me to Jim VanderHei, who asked if I had seen any Rozen JournoList comments after she was hired by Politico. I answered that we were all dealing with what Daily Caller was doling out. He provided this explanation of Politico’s  approach to this issue:

We have an unmistakably clear rule that anyone hired here check their ideology at the door. That means no political contributions or activism — and no partisan comments on air, on Twitter, on Facebook, in print, anywhere. We recognize the people we hire are not dull, blank slates — and that everyone has personal opinions. What we demand is that those opinions remain personal (and private) once hired — and that they fully understand we are a nonpartisan media outlet. We have hired some people with partisan backgrounds and had great success in getting them to go through ideological detox and become straight news reporters. The Laura Rozen emails the Daily Caller reported on pre-dated her work here. I have not seen any emails she wrote as a POLITICO employee that trouble me.

This raises at least two issues. First, it seems that the JournoList participants now have a very high standard of objectivity to maintain, especially if they now want to act as real reporters. Are they really checking their ideology at the door, or are they tipping the scales? The problem with baring one’s partisan views — especially ones so personally vindictive — is that it creates a cloud of doubt about everything you write. Second, VandeHei and every other editor with a JournoList participant is now waiting to see if there are any other e-mails that “trouble” them. If more pop up, will heads roll?

I use Rozen as an example, but the problem is far wider. The Washington Post has been mute. What if anything do they do about Ezra Klein? (Maybe if they were aware of his hyper-nasty attacks on the right, the Post editors wouldn’t have taken his recommendation on Dave Weigel.) The JournoList crowd have done a bang-up job of undermining not only their own credibility but also that of their employers. (Even those who are opinion writers are revealed not to be principled purveyors of ideas but meanspirited attack dogs.) How widespread the damage is has yet to be determined.

Read Less

It Is Certainly an Emergency

Politico has the scoop:

Leading conservatives will launch a new pro-Israel group this week with a scathing attack on Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, the first shot in what they say will be a confrontational campaign against the Obama administration’s Mideast policy and the Democrats who support it.

The Emergency Committee for Israel’s leadership unites two major strands of support for the Jewish state: The hawkish, neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, many of whom are Jewish; and conservative Evangelical Christians who have become increasingly outspoken in their support for Israel. The new group’s board includes Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Gary Bauer, the former Republican presidential candidate who leads the group American Values, as well as Rachel Abrams, a conservative writer and activist. Former McCain aide Michael Goldfarb is an adviser to the group.

“We’re the pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community,” said Kristol.

This group is not affiliated with COMMENTARY but in the interests of full disclosure, we note that Noah Pollak, who has contributed to this blog as well as to COMMENTARY, will be the ECI’s executive director. Pollak explained that the ECI will be entering the fray in this year’s races:

“We want to be hard-hitting — we want to get into the debate and shake things up and make some points in a firm way,” he said. The group will target races for the House and the Senate, but there’s little doubt the larger target is the Obama administration, which Bauer told Politico is “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States.”

To say that the ECI fills a niche would be a gross understatement. There is a gaping hole in the Jewish community’s response to the Obama administration and in its defense of Israel. In the past, these groups’ close relationship with incumbent administrations has served them well. But as I have written for nearly a year, that tactic is not suited to the current challenges and has proven counterproductive in the Obama era. The need is great to expose, confront, and challenge the administration when it, for example, eggs on an international flotilla investigation or excepts Russia and China from sanctions on Iran or mindlessly pursues engagement with Syria.

The establishment groups’ reaction was predictable, if restrained:

One official at an American Jewish organization welcomed the group to the degree that it would make “mainstream” criticism of Democrats, but also expressed concern that a group with such Republican origins would contribute to a deepening partisan cast to the debate over Israel, with Republicans lining up behind the Israeli government while some Democrats align themselves with Netanyahu’s American critics.

But the partisanship is a function not of the GOP’s rabble-rousing but rather of the stark decline in support for Israel on the left. The decades-old bipartisan coalition in support of Israel has become lopsided because one political party’s support has eroded. This was evident in polling on the Lebanon war, long before Obama got to the White House. But this administration, of course has exacerbated the problem. Many Democrats have placed party loyalty above support for the Jewish state, biting their tongues in the face of enormous provocation by the most anti-Israel administration in history. That may change as Obama’s political fortunes decline, but it has been at the root of mainly Jewish organizations’ dilemma in responding to the Obama administration.

Actually, the ECI has the potential to repair that bipartisan coalition by calling it straight on Israel and not letting ostensibly pro-Israel lawmakers avoid the dilemma: partisan loyalty or full-throated support for Israel:

I encourage our Democratic friends to have a competition with us on who can be more pro-Israel, because I think it’s in the interests of the United States and not a political party,” [Gary Bauer] said. “I’m really hoping that people like Senator [Chuck] Schumer and others will aggressively speak out for Israel at a time like this.”

And there is also the task of keeping neo-isolationists from gaining a foothold at the very time that Obama seems eager to withdrawal from our historic role as guarantor of the West’s security.

There is much to be done — take on the Obama administration’s lackadaisical approach to Iran, expose those who style themselves as pro-Israel but plainly aren’t, confront the administration’s refusal to stand up to Israel’s delegitimizors in international bodies, and keep the mainstream Jewish groups honest. That’s a tall order. In fact, it’s an emergency.

Politico has the scoop:

Leading conservatives will launch a new pro-Israel group this week with a scathing attack on Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, the first shot in what they say will be a confrontational campaign against the Obama administration’s Mideast policy and the Democrats who support it.

The Emergency Committee for Israel’s leadership unites two major strands of support for the Jewish state: The hawkish, neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, many of whom are Jewish; and conservative Evangelical Christians who have become increasingly outspoken in their support for Israel. The new group’s board includes Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Gary Bauer, the former Republican presidential candidate who leads the group American Values, as well as Rachel Abrams, a conservative writer and activist. Former McCain aide Michael Goldfarb is an adviser to the group.

“We’re the pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community,” said Kristol.

This group is not affiliated with COMMENTARY but in the interests of full disclosure, we note that Noah Pollak, who has contributed to this blog as well as to COMMENTARY, will be the ECI’s executive director. Pollak explained that the ECI will be entering the fray in this year’s races:

“We want to be hard-hitting — we want to get into the debate and shake things up and make some points in a firm way,” he said. The group will target races for the House and the Senate, but there’s little doubt the larger target is the Obama administration, which Bauer told Politico is “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States.”

To say that the ECI fills a niche would be a gross understatement. There is a gaping hole in the Jewish community’s response to the Obama administration and in its defense of Israel. In the past, these groups’ close relationship with incumbent administrations has served them well. But as I have written for nearly a year, that tactic is not suited to the current challenges and has proven counterproductive in the Obama era. The need is great to expose, confront, and challenge the administration when it, for example, eggs on an international flotilla investigation or excepts Russia and China from sanctions on Iran or mindlessly pursues engagement with Syria.

The establishment groups’ reaction was predictable, if restrained:

One official at an American Jewish organization welcomed the group to the degree that it would make “mainstream” criticism of Democrats, but also expressed concern that a group with such Republican origins would contribute to a deepening partisan cast to the debate over Israel, with Republicans lining up behind the Israeli government while some Democrats align themselves with Netanyahu’s American critics.

But the partisanship is a function not of the GOP’s rabble-rousing but rather of the stark decline in support for Israel on the left. The decades-old bipartisan coalition in support of Israel has become lopsided because one political party’s support has eroded. This was evident in polling on the Lebanon war, long before Obama got to the White House. But this administration, of course has exacerbated the problem. Many Democrats have placed party loyalty above support for the Jewish state, biting their tongues in the face of enormous provocation by the most anti-Israel administration in history. That may change as Obama’s political fortunes decline, but it has been at the root of mainly Jewish organizations’ dilemma in responding to the Obama administration.

Actually, the ECI has the potential to repair that bipartisan coalition by calling it straight on Israel and not letting ostensibly pro-Israel lawmakers avoid the dilemma: partisan loyalty or full-throated support for Israel:

I encourage our Democratic friends to have a competition with us on who can be more pro-Israel, because I think it’s in the interests of the United States and not a political party,” [Gary Bauer] said. “I’m really hoping that people like Senator [Chuck] Schumer and others will aggressively speak out for Israel at a time like this.”

And there is also the task of keeping neo-isolationists from gaining a foothold at the very time that Obama seems eager to withdrawal from our historic role as guarantor of the West’s security.

There is much to be done — take on the Obama administration’s lackadaisical approach to Iran, expose those who style themselves as pro-Israel but plainly aren’t, confront the administration’s refusal to stand up to Israel’s delegitimizors in international bodies, and keep the mainstream Jewish groups honest. That’s a tall order. In fact, it’s an emergency.

Read Less

The Clown Show

The least controversial and most widely accepted comment in the Rolling Stone piece is this:

One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a “clown” who remains “stuck in 1985.”

This is the worst-kept secret in Washington. For some time now, we’ve been getting hints that Jones is less than effective. More than a year ago, Michael Goldfarb reviewed news reports that Jones was keeping bankers’ hours. (“It seems like Jones’s primary goal as National Security Adviser is to get home for dinner. He doesn’t want to ‘sacrifice his life for his career.’ Is this really the best and the brightest?) In TV interviews, he has not inspired confidence. He was downright incoherent in discussing Iran with Candy Crowley earlier this year.

Moreover, Jones is often front and center in the anti-Israel onslaughts. It was Jones who went to speak to J Street last fall. Again, it was Jones who assembled the “Why not an imposed peace plan on Israel?” confab, and then leaked it to the media.

If the Obama foreign policy team has failed to come up with an effective plan to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a good share of the blame is Jones’s. If we had a prolonged and agonized decision-making proces on Afghanistan war strategy, Jones again bears some of the responsibility. You say that the problem is with Obama? Well, certainly, but only the voters can do something about that. As for Jones, it is no laughing matter to have a national-security adviser who is widely perceived as being so ineffective — if not downright counterproductive to the formulation of “smart” national-security policy.

If Obama decides to follow John McCain’s advice and use the McChrystal gaffe as a housecleaning opportunity, he should include Jones. That move is long overdue. No joke.

The least controversial and most widely accepted comment in the Rolling Stone piece is this:

One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a “clown” who remains “stuck in 1985.”

This is the worst-kept secret in Washington. For some time now, we’ve been getting hints that Jones is less than effective. More than a year ago, Michael Goldfarb reviewed news reports that Jones was keeping bankers’ hours. (“It seems like Jones’s primary goal as National Security Adviser is to get home for dinner. He doesn’t want to ‘sacrifice his life for his career.’ Is this really the best and the brightest?) In TV interviews, he has not inspired confidence. He was downright incoherent in discussing Iran with Candy Crowley earlier this year.

Moreover, Jones is often front and center in the anti-Israel onslaughts. It was Jones who went to speak to J Street last fall. Again, it was Jones who assembled the “Why not an imposed peace plan on Israel?” confab, and then leaked it to the media.

If the Obama foreign policy team has failed to come up with an effective plan to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a good share of the blame is Jones’s. If we had a prolonged and agonized decision-making proces on Afghanistan war strategy, Jones again bears some of the responsibility. You say that the problem is with Obama? Well, certainly, but only the voters can do something about that. As for Jones, it is no laughing matter to have a national-security adviser who is widely perceived as being so ineffective — if not downright counterproductive to the formulation of “smart” national-security policy.

If Obama decides to follow John McCain’s advice and use the McChrystal gaffe as a housecleaning opportunity, he should include Jones. That move is long overdue. No joke.

Read Less

Should the General Be Called on the Carpet?

America’s top commander in the war in Afghanistan found himself in deep trouble this morning as the news spread about a profile in Rolling Stone magazine in which Gen. Stanley McChrystal and members of his staff were said to crack wise at the expense of several members of the administration and the president himself.

But having read the text of the article, which is not yet available in the magazine’s online edition, it is clear that the uproar about the general’s supposed insubordination is not justified by the text. The only direct quotes from McChrystal are hardly the sorts of things for which he deserves to be summoned, as he reportedly has been, to Washington for a dressing down by the commander in chief.

One supposedly damning quote was supposed to be a slur on Vice President Joe Biden, who opposed the surge and McChrystal’s recommendations for pursuing the war. But all it amounts to is an exchange in which an aide gives some ribald advice about how to avoid answering any questions about the vice president. The other was a quote in which the general did criticize Karl Eikenberry, America’s ambassador to Kabul. Last year Eikenberry leaked a memo criticizing McChrystal and his strategies to the press in an effort to derail Obama’s decision to send the general the reinforcements he asked for. McChrystal rightly called that act by a former military colleague a “betrayal.” Those expecting McChrystal to be sacked because of the fallout from the article should also remember that Eikenberry did not lose his job over that incident even though the president has made it clear that leaks are to be severely punished.

The rest of the article is a thinly veiled attack on the war effort and the idea that it can be won by the counterinsurgency tactics that McChrystal has championed. While the piece resurrects every unflattering incident in the general’s long career, the accounts of McChrystal’s own behavior in the field in Afghanistan portray him as a courageous soldier who cares for his men and sympathizes with their dilemmas in dealing with the highly restrictive rules of engagement he has designed, which often place them in danger so as to avoid civilian casualties.

As for the other controversial quotes, the contempt that the soldiers seem to have for National Security Adviser James Jones, special diplomatic envoy Richard Holbrooke, and Ambassador Eikenberry is justified. Their unhappiness with Vice President Biden’s influence on war policy is also understandable, as is their reaction to the president’s own uncertain grasp of military strategy. But however much one might sympathize with McChrystal’s plight today, allowing his aides to gripe about their civilian masters in the presence of a freelance writer for Rolling Stone, of all publications, is as dumb as anything Obama’s merry band of strategic incompetents might have done. In a democracy, civilian-military tensions can only be resolved in one way: in favor of the civilians, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George McClellan discovered to their great dismay. Right or wrong, it is not the place of a serving military commander to publicly question the wisdom of the president.

But if Obama takes the time to read the text of the article, he will see that McChrystal is not the disloyal soldier he is being painted as in the first press accounts of this story, such as in the New York Times’s account published today. Far from being evidence of McChrystal’s insubordination, the article actually says much more about the administration’s mistakes in the course of a war to which they have committed so much American blood and treasure. If there is dissension in the ranks about some of the political and diplomatic blunders of the past year and a half, it speaks more to Obama’s own failure to exert leadership than to McChrystal’s faults. While Obama may be annoyed at the publication of this piece, at a time when the outcome of the war is still very much in the balance the president’s focus now should be on how to help Stanley McChrystal win, not whether the general is sufficiently respectful of administration figures who are not helping him in that fight.

America’s top commander in the war in Afghanistan found himself in deep trouble this morning as the news spread about a profile in Rolling Stone magazine in which Gen. Stanley McChrystal and members of his staff were said to crack wise at the expense of several members of the administration and the president himself.

But having read the text of the article, which is not yet available in the magazine’s online edition, it is clear that the uproar about the general’s supposed insubordination is not justified by the text. The only direct quotes from McChrystal are hardly the sorts of things for which he deserves to be summoned, as he reportedly has been, to Washington for a dressing down by the commander in chief.

One supposedly damning quote was supposed to be a slur on Vice President Joe Biden, who opposed the surge and McChrystal’s recommendations for pursuing the war. But all it amounts to is an exchange in which an aide gives some ribald advice about how to avoid answering any questions about the vice president. The other was a quote in which the general did criticize Karl Eikenberry, America’s ambassador to Kabul. Last year Eikenberry leaked a memo criticizing McChrystal and his strategies to the press in an effort to derail Obama’s decision to send the general the reinforcements he asked for. McChrystal rightly called that act by a former military colleague a “betrayal.” Those expecting McChrystal to be sacked because of the fallout from the article should also remember that Eikenberry did not lose his job over that incident even though the president has made it clear that leaks are to be severely punished.

The rest of the article is a thinly veiled attack on the war effort and the idea that it can be won by the counterinsurgency tactics that McChrystal has championed. While the piece resurrects every unflattering incident in the general’s long career, the accounts of McChrystal’s own behavior in the field in Afghanistan portray him as a courageous soldier who cares for his men and sympathizes with their dilemmas in dealing with the highly restrictive rules of engagement he has designed, which often place them in danger so as to avoid civilian casualties.

As for the other controversial quotes, the contempt that the soldiers seem to have for National Security Adviser James Jones, special diplomatic envoy Richard Holbrooke, and Ambassador Eikenberry is justified. Their unhappiness with Vice President Biden’s influence on war policy is also understandable, as is their reaction to the president’s own uncertain grasp of military strategy. But however much one might sympathize with McChrystal’s plight today, allowing his aides to gripe about their civilian masters in the presence of a freelance writer for Rolling Stone, of all publications, is as dumb as anything Obama’s merry band of strategic incompetents might have done. In a democracy, civilian-military tensions can only be resolved in one way: in favor of the civilians, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George McClellan discovered to their great dismay. Right or wrong, it is not the place of a serving military commander to publicly question the wisdom of the president.

But if Obama takes the time to read the text of the article, he will see that McChrystal is not the disloyal soldier he is being painted as in the first press accounts of this story, such as in the New York Times’s account published today. Far from being evidence of McChrystal’s insubordination, the article actually says much more about the administration’s mistakes in the course of a war to which they have committed so much American blood and treasure. If there is dissension in the ranks about some of the political and diplomatic blunders of the past year and a half, it speaks more to Obama’s own failure to exert leadership than to McChrystal’s faults. While Obama may be annoyed at the publication of this piece, at a time when the outcome of the war is still very much in the balance the president’s focus now should be on how to help Stanley McChrystal win, not whether the general is sufficiently respectful of administration figures who are not helping him in that fight.

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The Military vs. Obama

The news of the day is certainly Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone magazine and the potential fallout. Fox News reports:

The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.” It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.” “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.

The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”

Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”

Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

If [Karl] Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘

Yeah, wow. There are two issues here — McChrystal’s behavior and the president’s management of the war.

As to the first, Dana Perino wisely advises, “Unless you’re Al Gore or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., if Rolling Stone calls, it’s not because they want to do a positive profile about you.” It was, as McChrystal concedes, a lapse in judgment and a very bad idea to spill his guts to any reporter. He’s been called to Washington to “explain” himself to Obama. Should he be fired? If he is doing his job and is essential to the war effort, then no. But Obama could well decide otherwise. The president is a notoriously thin-skinned man and may also see this as a strategic opportunity to show how tough he is. (Yes, he has the annoying habit of demonstrating how tough he is to someone/some country other than an enemy — Israel, not Iran, for example.)

The substance of what McChrystal is saying is obscured somewhat by the personalized tone (no doubt encouraged by the Rolling Stone reporter to whom the general should not have spoken). But the gravamen of what he is saying is serious and deeply troubling. He is giving voice to what many have been fretting about and what critics outside the administration have been harping on for some time: the White House and the civilian leadership are hampering our war effort. This is not a question of “civilian control”; the president has already declared, albeit with caveats and reservations, that he considers it vital to prevail in Afghanistan. The issue is whether the White House is competent enough and its advisers grown-up enough to support and not hinder the military.

At the very least, this demonstrates Obama’s complete failure to manage the war and to gain the confidence of the military. When this occurs, you can blame the general (again, he’s not disobeying operational orders but merely speaking out of school), but the fault lies with the commander in chief. McChrystal may resign or be fired, but his successor will have the same problems unless the White House gets it act together.

The news of the day is certainly Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone magazine and the potential fallout. Fox News reports:

The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.” It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.” “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.

The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”

Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”

Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

If [Karl] Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘

Yeah, wow. There are two issues here — McChrystal’s behavior and the president’s management of the war.

As to the first, Dana Perino wisely advises, “Unless you’re Al Gore or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., if Rolling Stone calls, it’s not because they want to do a positive profile about you.” It was, as McChrystal concedes, a lapse in judgment and a very bad idea to spill his guts to any reporter. He’s been called to Washington to “explain” himself to Obama. Should he be fired? If he is doing his job and is essential to the war effort, then no. But Obama could well decide otherwise. The president is a notoriously thin-skinned man and may also see this as a strategic opportunity to show how tough he is. (Yes, he has the annoying habit of demonstrating how tough he is to someone/some country other than an enemy — Israel, not Iran, for example.)

The substance of what McChrystal is saying is obscured somewhat by the personalized tone (no doubt encouraged by the Rolling Stone reporter to whom the general should not have spoken). But the gravamen of what he is saying is serious and deeply troubling. He is giving voice to what many have been fretting about and what critics outside the administration have been harping on for some time: the White House and the civilian leadership are hampering our war effort. This is not a question of “civilian control”; the president has already declared, albeit with caveats and reservations, that he considers it vital to prevail in Afghanistan. The issue is whether the White House is competent enough and its advisers grown-up enough to support and not hinder the military.

At the very least, this demonstrates Obama’s complete failure to manage the war and to gain the confidence of the military. When this occurs, you can blame the general (again, he’s not disobeying operational orders but merely speaking out of school), but the fault lies with the commander in chief. McChrystal may resign or be fired, but his successor will have the same problems unless the White House gets it act together.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Elections have consequences: “The White House was slow to embrace the movement — so much so that protesters held up signs last year asking President Obama, ‘Are you with them or with us?’ Lately, Mr. Obama has made some stronger statements, including one on Thursday that was delivered in his name by an aide before the National Endowment for Democracy, which gave its annual award to the Green Movement. But as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pointed out in a powerful speech before the group also on Thursday, the president has hesitated to ‘unleash America’s full moral power to support the Iranian people.’ Mr. Obama clings to the hope that the radical clique in Tehran will eventually agree to negotiate in good faith — ‘an assumption,’ Mr. McCain noted, that ‘seems totally at odds with the character of this Iranian regime.'”

The House Democrats have a shellacking coming their way. Realclearpolitics shows 201 “safe” or “leans Democratic” seats for Nancy Pelosi and company, 199 “safe” or “leans Republican” for the GOP, and 35 toss-ups.

Labor bosses have nothing to show — first, for their expensive efforts on card check, and now, in the Arkansas Democratic primary. On the latter, Chris Cillizza writes: “Organized labor, you had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.” When do you think union members will insist their hard-earned dollars not be wasted on these political larks?

The EU countries have every reason to go after Israel if the U.S. isn’t standing up for the Jewish state: “Spain will propose the European Union exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, the country’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Saturday. The Spanish prime minister said at a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Spain wants to ‘forge a strong common position’ with EU countries in the face of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

Republican establishment types have none of the influence of Sarah Palin in a GOP primary: “[Nikki] Haley’s attacks on the party caught Palin’s attention last summer. A fan sent Palin a YouTube clip of the candidate speaking at a July 4 tea party rally. ‘Who is that?’ Palin asked, according to a Haley adviser. ‘I want to help her.’ Palin kept an eye on Haley’s progress and then flew last month to Columbia, where she appeared on the steps of the Capitol with Haley and gave the candidate her blessing. … Palin’s endorsement worked: Haley’s poll numbers jumped.”

We have a means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions: “Some in Washington seem resigned to letting Israel take action. But a U.S. failure to act in response to what is perhaps the greatest threat to American interests in decades would be irresponsible. Israel, moreover, lacks our full capabilities to do the job. Despite our global commitments and our engagement in two ongoing wars, the U.S. military is fully able to carry out such a mission. Indeed, the success of President Bush’s 2007 surge of forces into Iraq and of President Obama’s sending additional resources to Afghanistan means we are on better footing to deal with Iran’s nuclear program than we were a few years ago.” What we don’t have is a president with the will to do it.

The mainstream news outlets have standards, unlike the blogospheric riffraff, they keep telling us. From its own ombudsman: “Too often it seems The [Washington] Post grants anonymity at the drop of a hat. … By casually agreeing to conceal the identities of those who provide non-critical information, the Post erodes its credibility and perpetuates Washington’s insidious culture of anonymity.”

Elections have consequences: “The White House was slow to embrace the movement — so much so that protesters held up signs last year asking President Obama, ‘Are you with them or with us?’ Lately, Mr. Obama has made some stronger statements, including one on Thursday that was delivered in his name by an aide before the National Endowment for Democracy, which gave its annual award to the Green Movement. But as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pointed out in a powerful speech before the group also on Thursday, the president has hesitated to ‘unleash America’s full moral power to support the Iranian people.’ Mr. Obama clings to the hope that the radical clique in Tehran will eventually agree to negotiate in good faith — ‘an assumption,’ Mr. McCain noted, that ‘seems totally at odds with the character of this Iranian regime.'”

The House Democrats have a shellacking coming their way. Realclearpolitics shows 201 “safe” or “leans Democratic” seats for Nancy Pelosi and company, 199 “safe” or “leans Republican” for the GOP, and 35 toss-ups.

Labor bosses have nothing to show — first, for their expensive efforts on card check, and now, in the Arkansas Democratic primary. On the latter, Chris Cillizza writes: “Organized labor, you had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.” When do you think union members will insist their hard-earned dollars not be wasted on these political larks?

The EU countries have every reason to go after Israel if the U.S. isn’t standing up for the Jewish state: “Spain will propose the European Union exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, the country’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Saturday. The Spanish prime minister said at a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Spain wants to ‘forge a strong common position’ with EU countries in the face of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

Republican establishment types have none of the influence of Sarah Palin in a GOP primary: “[Nikki] Haley’s attacks on the party caught Palin’s attention last summer. A fan sent Palin a YouTube clip of the candidate speaking at a July 4 tea party rally. ‘Who is that?’ Palin asked, according to a Haley adviser. ‘I want to help her.’ Palin kept an eye on Haley’s progress and then flew last month to Columbia, where she appeared on the steps of the Capitol with Haley and gave the candidate her blessing. … Palin’s endorsement worked: Haley’s poll numbers jumped.”

We have a means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions: “Some in Washington seem resigned to letting Israel take action. But a U.S. failure to act in response to what is perhaps the greatest threat to American interests in decades would be irresponsible. Israel, moreover, lacks our full capabilities to do the job. Despite our global commitments and our engagement in two ongoing wars, the U.S. military is fully able to carry out such a mission. Indeed, the success of President Bush’s 2007 surge of forces into Iraq and of President Obama’s sending additional resources to Afghanistan means we are on better footing to deal with Iran’s nuclear program than we were a few years ago.” What we don’t have is a president with the will to do it.

The mainstream news outlets have standards, unlike the blogospheric riffraff, they keep telling us. From its own ombudsman: “Too often it seems The [Washington] Post grants anonymity at the drop of a hat. … By casually agreeing to conceal the identities of those who provide non-critical information, the Post erodes its credibility and perpetuates Washington’s insidious culture of anonymity.”

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We Don’t Need Clint Eastwood

It’s now come to this.

In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, President Obama said this:

I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar; we talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose a** to kick.

This burst of a**-kicking anger comes after the White House leaked to the media that:

To those tasked with keeping the president apprised of the disaster, Obama’s clenched jaw is becoming an increasingly familiar sight. During one of those sessions in the Oval Office the first week after the spill, a president who rarely vents his frustration cut his aides short, according to one who was there.

“Plug the damn hole,” Obama told them.

And this, in turn, came after Senior White House aide David Axelrod told Bloomberg that the president’s outrage over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has reached “the upper scale” and is directed at both BP and federal regulators:

“His anger and frustration about those things, and his anger and frustration about any attempt to obfuscate the amount of damage that’s been done by the company is great,” Axelrod said in an interview. … Axelrod said the president’s outrage was “pretty great” when he learned of some of the “shortcomings” at the Minerals Management Service and its “coziness” with an industry it’s supposed to regulate. The president’s chief political adviser declined to quote Obama’s words, saying: “Knowing that Bloomberg is a family news service, I can’t share with you what he said.”

Just in case any of this has been lost on us, Robert Gibbs insisted that his boss was “enraged” at BP. CBS News’s Chip Reid asked Gibbs: “Have we really seen rage from the president on this? I think most people would say no.”

“I’ve seen rage from him, Chip,” Gibbs said. “I have.”

Message: I’m angry. I’m really, really anger. In fact, I’m “plug-the-damn-hole-and-whose-damn-a**-can-I-kick” angry.

This is what an impotent and increasingly desperate White House does when it has nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. It hopes that the public will grade Obama on his emotions rather than his managerial skills. But it won’t work. Having blasted the previous administration over its handling of Hurricane Katrina, and having insisted weeks ago that the federal government is firmly in control of this ecological catastrophe, the president will be judged – fairly or not – on the outcome of the oil spill. He owns it.

It is a characteristic of modern liberalism to want to be judged on feelings and intentions rather than on results and outcomes, on subjective emotions rather than on objective achievements. But many people will react to this PR offensive by wondering just how important Barack Obama’s emotional thermostat is in light of this unprecedented environmental disaster. Maureen Dowd may rank it high, but I’m not sure too many others do.

In attempting to create an image of America’s enraged commander in chief, the White House is jettisoning what was supposed to be one of the president’s impressive attributes: his calm demeanor, his detachment, his first-rate temperament. They are trying to remake Barack Obama to fit this moment. But it comes across to me, and I suspect to others, as somewhat forced, contrived, and inauthentic. It is a sign of a president who is thrashing about, frustrated he cannot extricate himself from an event that he cannot control and that is doing untold damage to him.

In the midst of this childish spin game, a person with standing in Obama’s life might whisper to him: “Mr. President, we already have one Clinton Eastwood. We don’t need you play-acting like you’re another.”

It’s now come to this.

In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, President Obama said this:

I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar; we talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose a** to kick.

This burst of a**-kicking anger comes after the White House leaked to the media that:

To those tasked with keeping the president apprised of the disaster, Obama’s clenched jaw is becoming an increasingly familiar sight. During one of those sessions in the Oval Office the first week after the spill, a president who rarely vents his frustration cut his aides short, according to one who was there.

“Plug the damn hole,” Obama told them.

And this, in turn, came after Senior White House aide David Axelrod told Bloomberg that the president’s outrage over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has reached “the upper scale” and is directed at both BP and federal regulators:

“His anger and frustration about those things, and his anger and frustration about any attempt to obfuscate the amount of damage that’s been done by the company is great,” Axelrod said in an interview. … Axelrod said the president’s outrage was “pretty great” when he learned of some of the “shortcomings” at the Minerals Management Service and its “coziness” with an industry it’s supposed to regulate. The president’s chief political adviser declined to quote Obama’s words, saying: “Knowing that Bloomberg is a family news service, I can’t share with you what he said.”

Just in case any of this has been lost on us, Robert Gibbs insisted that his boss was “enraged” at BP. CBS News’s Chip Reid asked Gibbs: “Have we really seen rage from the president on this? I think most people would say no.”

“I’ve seen rage from him, Chip,” Gibbs said. “I have.”

Message: I’m angry. I’m really, really anger. In fact, I’m “plug-the-damn-hole-and-whose-damn-a**-can-I-kick” angry.

This is what an impotent and increasingly desperate White House does when it has nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. It hopes that the public will grade Obama on his emotions rather than his managerial skills. But it won’t work. Having blasted the previous administration over its handling of Hurricane Katrina, and having insisted weeks ago that the federal government is firmly in control of this ecological catastrophe, the president will be judged – fairly or not – on the outcome of the oil spill. He owns it.

It is a characteristic of modern liberalism to want to be judged on feelings and intentions rather than on results and outcomes, on subjective emotions rather than on objective achievements. But many people will react to this PR offensive by wondering just how important Barack Obama’s emotional thermostat is in light of this unprecedented environmental disaster. Maureen Dowd may rank it high, but I’m not sure too many others do.

In attempting to create an image of America’s enraged commander in chief, the White House is jettisoning what was supposed to be one of the president’s impressive attributes: his calm demeanor, his detachment, his first-rate temperament. They are trying to remake Barack Obama to fit this moment. But it comes across to me, and I suspect to others, as somewhat forced, contrived, and inauthentic. It is a sign of a president who is thrashing about, frustrated he cannot extricate himself from an event that he cannot control and that is doing untold damage to him.

In the midst of this childish spin game, a person with standing in Obama’s life might whisper to him: “Mr. President, we already have one Clinton Eastwood. We don’t need you play-acting like you’re another.”

Read Less




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