Commentary Magazine


Topic: Alberto Gonzales

Man Up, Mr. Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder, in a speech to the National Action Network, accused his congressional critics of launching “unprecedented, unwarranted, ugly and divisive” attacks on him and the Obama administration.

“Forget about me [specifically]. Look at the way the attorney general of the United States was treated yesterday by a House committee,” Holder said. “What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?”

Let’s take these topics in reverse order. What president has been on the receiving end of such ugly and divisive attacks? Try George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, just for openers. For example, Senator Ted Kennedy declared, from the well of the United States Senate, that “before the [Iraq] war, week after week after week after week, we were told lie after lie after lie after lie.” He also accused President Bush of hatching a phony war, “a fraud … made up in Texas” to boost his political career. Prominent Democrats made these kind of charges all the time against Bush. President Reagan was attacked as a warmonger, a racist, a man who celebrated in the misery of others. The personal, ad hominem nature of the attacks against our current president are less, I would say, than was the case with Bush and Reagan. What’s happening certainly isn’t “unprecedented.” 

As for Holder’s Woe Is Me portrayal of his tenure as attorney general, I’d point him (for starters) to Alberto Gonzales and Edwin Meese. Both were treated viciously by Democrats and (unlike Holder) by many in the press.

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Attorney General Eric Holder, in a speech to the National Action Network, accused his congressional critics of launching “unprecedented, unwarranted, ugly and divisive” attacks on him and the Obama administration.

“Forget about me [specifically]. Look at the way the attorney general of the United States was treated yesterday by a House committee,” Holder said. “What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?”

Let’s take these topics in reverse order. What president has been on the receiving end of such ugly and divisive attacks? Try George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, just for openers. For example, Senator Ted Kennedy declared, from the well of the United States Senate, that “before the [Iraq] war, week after week after week after week, we were told lie after lie after lie after lie.” He also accused President Bush of hatching a phony war, “a fraud … made up in Texas” to boost his political career. Prominent Democrats made these kind of charges all the time against Bush. President Reagan was attacked as a warmonger, a racist, a man who celebrated in the misery of others. The personal, ad hominem nature of the attacks against our current president are less, I would say, than was the case with Bush and Reagan. What’s happening certainly isn’t “unprecedented.” 

As for Holder’s Woe Is Me portrayal of his tenure as attorney general, I’d point him (for starters) to Alberto Gonzales and Edwin Meese. Both were treated viciously by Democrats and (unlike Holder) by many in the press.

While I’m at it, let me add this point: Mr. Holder is part of an administration notable for its partisanship, divisive rhetoric, ugliness, and polarization. As I’ve pointed out before, Mr. Obama has accused Republicans of being social Darwinists and members of the “flat earth society,” of putting their party ahead of their country, and of wanting dirty air and dirty water. He says Republicans want autistic and Down syndrome children to “fend for themselves.” He accuses his opponents of not simply being wrong but of being his “enemies.” During the 2012 election, Obama’s vice president said Republicans want to put African-Americans “back in chains” while Obama’s top aides and allies implied Governor Romney was a felon and flat-out stated that he was responsible for the cancer-death of a steelworker’s wife. The list goes on and on. Mr. Obama is the most polarizing president in the history of polling.

It’s bad enough that Eric Holder is incompetent, that he’s misled Congress on multiple occasions, that he considers America to be a “nation of cowards” on race, and that he’s engaged in covering up for the administration (including the current IRS scandal). But can the Attorney General of the United States please quit feeling so sorry for himself? So put upon?

Man up, Mr. Holder.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

There is no hero in this racial food fight.

There is no sign of a Democratic comeback in Ohio: “Little has changed in the gubernatorial race in Ohio this month, with Republican John Kasich continuing to hold a small lead over incumbent Ted Strickland. The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voter shows Kasich picking up 48% support, while the current governor earns 43% of the vote. Three percent (3%) prefer a different candidate, and another five percent (5%) are undecided.”

There is no real GOP challenge to Sen. David Vitter in Louisiana, says Stu Rothenberg. “Reporters like to write about Vitter because it gives them the opportunity each time to detail his juicy past problems, but until there is evidence that [Supreme Court Justice Chet] Traylor is making headway in his uphill bid, the Republican primary isn’t much of a story.”

There is no love loss between Alan Dershowitz and J Street. Dershowitz is very mad about J Street’s hit piece, which includes him among its foes (conservative Zionists, of course): “J Street continues to destroy its credibility by posting deceptive and divisive ads of this kind. If they are willing to mislead the public in this manner, they should not be trusted to tell the truth about anything relating to Israel. They are more interested in increasing their own power and contributions than they are in supporting Israel or promoting truthful dialogue. If they want to have any chance at restoring their credibility, they must begin to tell the truth. A good first step would be to remove this ad and admit that it was fraudulent. Otherwise, everyone will begin to understand what the J in J Street stands for: Joe McCarthy.”

There is no inaccuracy in that J Street ad, the New York Times declares! “Nothing is in dispute,” the Gray Lady says. Hmm. Maybe they should talk to Dershowitz.

There is no crime, the Democrats finally admit. Quin Hillyer: “The Bush Justice Department, hamhanded as it became once Alberto Gonzales took over from the excellent John Ashcroft, was guilty of nothing other than political idiocy in its handling of the firing of eight US attorneys. No crime was committed. I await the apologies from the breathless, moronic, biased, leftists in the establishment media who went ape over this almost-non-story in the first place.”

There is no shocker that Laura Rozen, now of Politico and J Street’s favorite scribe (always good for a blind quote on dual-loyalty slams against Jews), was on Journolist whacking conservatives (“Can you imagine if these bozos had won?”).

There is no fond feelings between Obama and House Democrats: “The White House’s appearance of institutional and personal arrogance has left congressional Democrats divided and discontent going into the midterms. It weakens Democratic efforts not only this year, but well into the future. Having once fostered the impression that it’s every Democrat for himself, the president will find it hard to undo the damage when his own name is on the ballot.”

There is no hero in this racial food fight.

There is no sign of a Democratic comeback in Ohio: “Little has changed in the gubernatorial race in Ohio this month, with Republican John Kasich continuing to hold a small lead over incumbent Ted Strickland. The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voter shows Kasich picking up 48% support, while the current governor earns 43% of the vote. Three percent (3%) prefer a different candidate, and another five percent (5%) are undecided.”

There is no real GOP challenge to Sen. David Vitter in Louisiana, says Stu Rothenberg. “Reporters like to write about Vitter because it gives them the opportunity each time to detail his juicy past problems, but until there is evidence that [Supreme Court Justice Chet] Traylor is making headway in his uphill bid, the Republican primary isn’t much of a story.”

There is no love loss between Alan Dershowitz and J Street. Dershowitz is very mad about J Street’s hit piece, which includes him among its foes (conservative Zionists, of course): “J Street continues to destroy its credibility by posting deceptive and divisive ads of this kind. If they are willing to mislead the public in this manner, they should not be trusted to tell the truth about anything relating to Israel. They are more interested in increasing their own power and contributions than they are in supporting Israel or promoting truthful dialogue. If they want to have any chance at restoring their credibility, they must begin to tell the truth. A good first step would be to remove this ad and admit that it was fraudulent. Otherwise, everyone will begin to understand what the J in J Street stands for: Joe McCarthy.”

There is no inaccuracy in that J Street ad, the New York Times declares! “Nothing is in dispute,” the Gray Lady says. Hmm. Maybe they should talk to Dershowitz.

There is no crime, the Democrats finally admit. Quin Hillyer: “The Bush Justice Department, hamhanded as it became once Alberto Gonzales took over from the excellent John Ashcroft, was guilty of nothing other than political idiocy in its handling of the firing of eight US attorneys. No crime was committed. I await the apologies from the breathless, moronic, biased, leftists in the establishment media who went ape over this almost-non-story in the first place.”

There is no shocker that Laura Rozen, now of Politico and J Street’s favorite scribe (always good for a blind quote on dual-loyalty slams against Jews), was on Journolist whacking conservatives (“Can you imagine if these bozos had won?”).

There is no fond feelings between Obama and House Democrats: “The White House’s appearance of institutional and personal arrogance has left congressional Democrats divided and discontent going into the midterms. It weakens Democratic efforts not only this year, but well into the future. Having once fostered the impression that it’s every Democrat for himself, the president will find it hard to undo the damage when his own name is on the ballot.”

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RE: Forcing a Vote on Jobs-Gate

As I noted yesterday, House Republicans introduced a resolution earlier in the month to require the Justice Department to turn over any documents on the job offers to Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff. Predictably, the Democrats voted down the resolution in the House Judiciary Committee by a 15-12 vote. Ranking member Lamar Smith had this to say after the vote:

I’m disappointed that Judiciary Committee Democrats today voted against requiring the Obama administration to make good on its promise of openness and transparency.  Allegations of unethical and possibly criminal conduct by Administration officials should be taken seriously by Congress.  Unfortunately, when it’s comes to possible misconduct by the Obama administration, Democrats in Congress seem eager to sweep the allegations under the rug. … I am disappointed that this Resolution of Inquiry is even necessary.  But the Administration has ignored all efforts to conduct meaningful oversight. If the Administration has nothing to hide, why not provide Congress with the requested documents and restore integrity to our election process?

The Democrats say that the resolution was “political.” Oh, puhleez. The White House tenders jobs to get two candidates out of primary races and then House Democrats vote in lockstep not to force it to disclose even what was said to whom. But the Republicans are playing politics? And so what if they are? What’s the excuse for not turning over the information — it would look bad? It would be embarrassing? When Democrats skewered the hapless Alberto Gonzales for firing the U.S. attorney, they were playing politics too; but that’s an observation, not an excuse for refusing to turn over relevant documents.

This is a powerful advertisement for divided government. If the administration isn’t going to allow scrutiny of its behavior, and House Democrats aren’t going to demand it, then voters who have come to loathe backroom deals and self-serving pols may conclude either that the House needs new management or that the White House does. Maybe both.

As I noted yesterday, House Republicans introduced a resolution earlier in the month to require the Justice Department to turn over any documents on the job offers to Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff. Predictably, the Democrats voted down the resolution in the House Judiciary Committee by a 15-12 vote. Ranking member Lamar Smith had this to say after the vote:

I’m disappointed that Judiciary Committee Democrats today voted against requiring the Obama administration to make good on its promise of openness and transparency.  Allegations of unethical and possibly criminal conduct by Administration officials should be taken seriously by Congress.  Unfortunately, when it’s comes to possible misconduct by the Obama administration, Democrats in Congress seem eager to sweep the allegations under the rug. … I am disappointed that this Resolution of Inquiry is even necessary.  But the Administration has ignored all efforts to conduct meaningful oversight. If the Administration has nothing to hide, why not provide Congress with the requested documents and restore integrity to our election process?

The Democrats say that the resolution was “political.” Oh, puhleez. The White House tenders jobs to get two candidates out of primary races and then House Democrats vote in lockstep not to force it to disclose even what was said to whom. But the Republicans are playing politics? And so what if they are? What’s the excuse for not turning over the information — it would look bad? It would be embarrassing? When Democrats skewered the hapless Alberto Gonzales for firing the U.S. attorney, they were playing politics too; but that’s an observation, not an excuse for refusing to turn over relevant documents.

This is a powerful advertisement for divided government. If the administration isn’t going to allow scrutiny of its behavior, and House Democrats aren’t going to demand it, then voters who have come to loathe backroom deals and self-serving pols may conclude either that the House needs new management or that the White House does. Maybe both.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

No Henry Waxman bullying session for the corporate execs who are legally required to write down tax losses from ObamaCare. Must not be such a winning issue after all.

No victory in sight for Arlen Specter. “Republican hopeful Pat Toomey for the first time registers 50% support in his race against incumbent Democrat Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania’s contest for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state shows Specter earning 40% of the vote.”

No respect for Eric Holder — even from Chuck Schumer. “Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) doesn’t believe Attorney General Eric Holder is being genuine when he says the Obama administration still is considering New York City as a site for the terror trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. ‘We know the administration is not going to hold the trial in New York. They should just say it already,’ Schumer said in a statement.” When it was Alberto Gonzales, Schumer said an attorney general who lawmakers couldn’t trust should step down. But that was totally different — Gonzales was an incompetent Republican; Holder’s a Democrat.

No way that the Democrats follow Harry Reid on this one: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) reelection interests are putting him at odds with the centrists he has vigorously protected over the past year and a half on the issue of immigration reform. Vulnerable senators like Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) want to stay away from immigration reform during an election year, but political experts in Nevada say mobilizing Hispanic voters could be the key to a reelection victory for Reid, whose favorability rating is below 40 percent.”

No bounce for Obama: “PPP’s first national poll since the passage of the health care bill finds Barack Obama’s approval rating basically unchanged, with 46% of voters giving him good marks to 48% who disapprove. A month ago it was a 47/48 spread. This is the 4th out of 5 national surveys in 2010 that has put Obama in negative territory. The same basic dynamics in Obama’s national polling continue to be at play — Democrats pretty universally still love him (84% approval), Republicans don’t (87% disapproval), and independents are split pretty evenly. This month they go slightly against Obama by a 45/41 margin and that leads to his overall net negative standing.” And 50 percent oppose ObamaCare, while only 45 percent support it.

No good news for congressional Democrats from Sean Trende: “I think those who suggest that the House is barely in play, or that we are a long way from a 1994-style scenario are missing the mark. A 1994-style scenario is probably the most likely outcome at this point. Moreover, it is well within the realm of possibility — not merely a far-fetched scenario — that Democratic losses could climb into the 80 or 90-seat range. The Democrats are sailing into a perfect storm of factors influencing a midterm election, and if the situation declines for them in the ensuing months, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Democratic losses eclipse 100 seats.”

No help from the Chinese on isolating Iran: “A state-owned Chinese refiner plans to ship 30,000 metric tons of gasoline to Iran after European traders halted shipments ahead of possible new UN sanctions, according to Singapore ship brokers.”

No support for Israel-bashing: “In an open letter to President Obama, the president of the World Jewish Congress expressed concern over the deterioration in relations between Israel and the United States. Ronald Lauder called on Obama to ‘end our public feud with Israel and to confront the real challenges that we face together,’ most importantly the Iranian nuclear threat. … ‘Why does the thrust of this Administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks? After all, it is the Palestinians, not Israel, who refuse to negotiate. … The Administration’s desire to improve relations with the Muslim world is well known. But is friction with Israel part of this new strategy? Is it assumed worsening relations with Israel can improve relations with Muslims? History is clear on the matter: appeasement does not work. It can achieve the opposite of what is intended.”

No Henry Waxman bullying session for the corporate execs who are legally required to write down tax losses from ObamaCare. Must not be such a winning issue after all.

No victory in sight for Arlen Specter. “Republican hopeful Pat Toomey for the first time registers 50% support in his race against incumbent Democrat Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania’s contest for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state shows Specter earning 40% of the vote.”

No respect for Eric Holder — even from Chuck Schumer. “Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) doesn’t believe Attorney General Eric Holder is being genuine when he says the Obama administration still is considering New York City as a site for the terror trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. ‘We know the administration is not going to hold the trial in New York. They should just say it already,’ Schumer said in a statement.” When it was Alberto Gonzales, Schumer said an attorney general who lawmakers couldn’t trust should step down. But that was totally different — Gonzales was an incompetent Republican; Holder’s a Democrat.

No way that the Democrats follow Harry Reid on this one: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) reelection interests are putting him at odds with the centrists he has vigorously protected over the past year and a half on the issue of immigration reform. Vulnerable senators like Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) want to stay away from immigration reform during an election year, but political experts in Nevada say mobilizing Hispanic voters could be the key to a reelection victory for Reid, whose favorability rating is below 40 percent.”

No bounce for Obama: “PPP’s first national poll since the passage of the health care bill finds Barack Obama’s approval rating basically unchanged, with 46% of voters giving him good marks to 48% who disapprove. A month ago it was a 47/48 spread. This is the 4th out of 5 national surveys in 2010 that has put Obama in negative territory. The same basic dynamics in Obama’s national polling continue to be at play — Democrats pretty universally still love him (84% approval), Republicans don’t (87% disapproval), and independents are split pretty evenly. This month they go slightly against Obama by a 45/41 margin and that leads to his overall net negative standing.” And 50 percent oppose ObamaCare, while only 45 percent support it.

No good news for congressional Democrats from Sean Trende: “I think those who suggest that the House is barely in play, or that we are a long way from a 1994-style scenario are missing the mark. A 1994-style scenario is probably the most likely outcome at this point. Moreover, it is well within the realm of possibility — not merely a far-fetched scenario — that Democratic losses could climb into the 80 or 90-seat range. The Democrats are sailing into a perfect storm of factors influencing a midterm election, and if the situation declines for them in the ensuing months, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Democratic losses eclipse 100 seats.”

No help from the Chinese on isolating Iran: “A state-owned Chinese refiner plans to ship 30,000 metric tons of gasoline to Iran after European traders halted shipments ahead of possible new UN sanctions, according to Singapore ship brokers.”

No support for Israel-bashing: “In an open letter to President Obama, the president of the World Jewish Congress expressed concern over the deterioration in relations between Israel and the United States. Ronald Lauder called on Obama to ‘end our public feud with Israel and to confront the real challenges that we face together,’ most importantly the Iranian nuclear threat. … ‘Why does the thrust of this Administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks? After all, it is the Palestinians, not Israel, who refuse to negotiate. … The Administration’s desire to improve relations with the Muslim world is well known. But is friction with Israel part of this new strategy? Is it assumed worsening relations with Israel can improve relations with Muslims? History is clear on the matter: appeasement does not work. It can achieve the opposite of what is intended.”

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Holder’s No Good, Horrible Performance

As we’ve noted for sometime, Eric Holder is not exactly wowing either the Right or the Left. As Michael Gerson observes:

Attorney General Eric Holder is controversial on the left for preserving much of the Bush administration’s legal structure for conducting the war on terror. He is controversial on the right for overturning portions of that structure in ways that seem both clueless and reckless. But Holder is the most endangered member of the Obama Cabinet for a different reason: Just about everything he has touched has backfired.

We had the decision to release the enhanced interrogation memos and reinvestigate previously cleared CIA operatives. Result: widespread criticism. Then we had the recommendation to release the detainee-abuse photos. Result: countermanded. We had the advice to close Guantanamo prior to a full review. Result: stalled. We had the recommendation to relocate Guantanamo detainees to Illinois and to hold a public trial for KSM. Result: on hold. There was the Mirandizing of the Christmas Day bomber. Result: ridiculed. This week Holder suggested that we’d never capture Osama bin Laden, because, of course, we’d kill him if we found him. Result: rebuffed by two national-security officials. We also witnessed the ongoing legal persecution of John Yoo and Jay Bybee. Result: reversal by a career attorney who found gross incompetence within the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. Then there is the race issue: the dismissal of the New Black Panther case and the accusation that we are a nation of “cowards.” Quite a track record, eh?

As Gerson concludes:

Sometimes haplessness can provoke sympathy. But Holder mixes ineptness with self-righteousness. Critics of his questionable choices, he says, “cower.” They lack “confidence in the American system of justice.” But there is another possibility. Perhaps Holder’s critics — in Congress, in the country and even within the White House — just lack confidence in his judgment.

For now, Holder doesn’t appear to be in immediate peril, in no small part because he has been spared (with a Democrat-controlled Congress) the humiliating oversight hearings of the sort Alberto Gonzales received. But one doubts whether he’ll be around at year’s end. At some point, he and the Obami will want to cut their losses.

As we’ve noted for sometime, Eric Holder is not exactly wowing either the Right or the Left. As Michael Gerson observes:

Attorney General Eric Holder is controversial on the left for preserving much of the Bush administration’s legal structure for conducting the war on terror. He is controversial on the right for overturning portions of that structure in ways that seem both clueless and reckless. But Holder is the most endangered member of the Obama Cabinet for a different reason: Just about everything he has touched has backfired.

We had the decision to release the enhanced interrogation memos and reinvestigate previously cleared CIA operatives. Result: widespread criticism. Then we had the recommendation to release the detainee-abuse photos. Result: countermanded. We had the advice to close Guantanamo prior to a full review. Result: stalled. We had the recommendation to relocate Guantanamo detainees to Illinois and to hold a public trial for KSM. Result: on hold. There was the Mirandizing of the Christmas Day bomber. Result: ridiculed. This week Holder suggested that we’d never capture Osama bin Laden, because, of course, we’d kill him if we found him. Result: rebuffed by two national-security officials. We also witnessed the ongoing legal persecution of John Yoo and Jay Bybee. Result: reversal by a career attorney who found gross incompetence within the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. Then there is the race issue: the dismissal of the New Black Panther case and the accusation that we are a nation of “cowards.” Quite a track record, eh?

As Gerson concludes:

Sometimes haplessness can provoke sympathy. But Holder mixes ineptness with self-righteousness. Critics of his questionable choices, he says, “cower.” They lack “confidence in the American system of justice.” But there is another possibility. Perhaps Holder’s critics — in Congress, in the country and even within the White House — just lack confidence in his judgment.

For now, Holder doesn’t appear to be in immediate peril, in no small part because he has been spared (with a Democrat-controlled Congress) the humiliating oversight hearings of the sort Alberto Gonzales received. But one doubts whether he’ll be around at year’s end. At some point, he and the Obami will want to cut their losses.

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Re: Time to Throw Holder Under the Bus

The Washington Post editors actually like the idea of a civilian trial for KSM, but not even they can defend the incompetence of Eric Holder. They write:

The failure to solicit input from the Bloomberg administration is inexcusable. Federal prosecutors normally do not — and are not required to — consult with local jurisdictions before filing charges. But this is not a typical case, and New York is not a typical venue.

The breach of common sense also goes a long way toward explaining why Mr. Bloomberg changed his mind about the wisdom of holding a trial in Manhattan after his administration conducted its own review and crafted a security plan.

Holder’s lack of due diligence does not extend merely to the trial’s logistics. You will recall that when testifying shortly after the decision had been made, he seemed not to have considered how serious was the break from past legal precedent nor consulted with anyone with past experience in terrorism trials. Likewise, when he made the decision to reinvestigate CIA operatives who employed enhanced interrogation techniques, it does not appear that he consulted with career prosecutors who previously had declined to prosecute. Holder also did not review their declination memos, which set forth the reasons why successful prosecutions could not be obtained. And let’s not forget that the Justice Department told the president he had to release the detainee-abuse photos, only to see a perfectly acceptable solution be devised to prevent their release once a firestorm of protest erupted.

There are two explanations for such serial malpractice. First, he may have an incompetent or hopelessly biased staff that failed to present complete information and raise key issues for Holder’s consideration. Second, he may not care about getting the law right so long as he is doing the bidding of the Left’s extreme agenda and furthering what he perceives are the president’s policy goals. In either case, there is no excuse for an attorney general who gets the law wrong and continually embroils the administration in one fiasco after another.

Holder is, in a very real sense, becoming as much of a liability to Obama as Alberto Gonzales was to George W. Bush. The difference, of course, is that Obama is still early in his presidency, with an unfulfilled agenda and ample time to recover his political standing. Now, of course, Bush eventually fired Gonzales and replaced him with one of the most distinguished men to occupy that office. Maybe this is one time Obama should follow his predecessor’s example.

The Washington Post editors actually like the idea of a civilian trial for KSM, but not even they can defend the incompetence of Eric Holder. They write:

The failure to solicit input from the Bloomberg administration is inexcusable. Federal prosecutors normally do not — and are not required to — consult with local jurisdictions before filing charges. But this is not a typical case, and New York is not a typical venue.

The breach of common sense also goes a long way toward explaining why Mr. Bloomberg changed his mind about the wisdom of holding a trial in Manhattan after his administration conducted its own review and crafted a security plan.

Holder’s lack of due diligence does not extend merely to the trial’s logistics. You will recall that when testifying shortly after the decision had been made, he seemed not to have considered how serious was the break from past legal precedent nor consulted with anyone with past experience in terrorism trials. Likewise, when he made the decision to reinvestigate CIA operatives who employed enhanced interrogation techniques, it does not appear that he consulted with career prosecutors who previously had declined to prosecute. Holder also did not review their declination memos, which set forth the reasons why successful prosecutions could not be obtained. And let’s not forget that the Justice Department told the president he had to release the detainee-abuse photos, only to see a perfectly acceptable solution be devised to prevent their release once a firestorm of protest erupted.

There are two explanations for such serial malpractice. First, he may have an incompetent or hopelessly biased staff that failed to present complete information and raise key issues for Holder’s consideration. Second, he may not care about getting the law right so long as he is doing the bidding of the Left’s extreme agenda and furthering what he perceives are the president’s policy goals. In either case, there is no excuse for an attorney general who gets the law wrong and continually embroils the administration in one fiasco after another.

Holder is, in a very real sense, becoming as much of a liability to Obama as Alberto Gonzales was to George W. Bush. The difference, of course, is that Obama is still early in his presidency, with an unfulfilled agenda and ample time to recover his political standing. Now, of course, Bush eventually fired Gonzales and replaced him with one of the most distinguished men to occupy that office. Maybe this is one time Obama should follow his predecessor’s example.

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Democrats Not Interested in Voter Intimidation Case Scandal

The House Judiciary Committee took up a resolution forced by Rep. Frank Wolf, calling on the Justice Department to fork over information on its endless, secretive, and (sources with direct knowledge tell me) quite lackadaisical investigation of the Obama Justice Department’s decision to dismiss the New Black Panther Party case. As expected, the resolution was voted down on a party-line vote of 15-14. The House Democrats don’t really seem as though they need to know why the Justice Department wouldn’t enforce the law fully against all defendants (for whom the U.S. government had a default judgment in hand) who intimidated voters at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day, 2008. As Ranking Minority Leader Rep. Lamar Smith explained in his prepared remarks:

No facts had changed. No new evidence was uncovered. The only thing that did change is the political party in charge of the Justice Department. So why would the Obama Administration suddenly drop charges in a case that had effectively been won? It appears that the Justice Department gave a free pass to its political allies—one of the defendants against whom charges were dropped was a Democratic poll watcher. Despite continued requests from Congress, the Justice Department has refused to give any explanation for dropping the charges. The Department’s silence appears to be an admission of guilt. According to media reports, senior political appointees may have overridden the decision of career attorneys. The decision to dismiss charges against political allies who allegedly intimidated voters on Election Day 2008 reeks of political interference.

An observer at the hearing tells me that only Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee bothered to speak out against the motion, claiming that this was just an isolated incident of intimidation (is this a new standard for the enforcement of civil rights?) and going as far as to defend the New Black Panther Party as a good and honorable organization. (I suppose there may be some in the Obama Justice Department who are sympathetic to this view.) She thinks the Obama Justice Department will prosecute anyone guilty of voter intimidation. (Except in this case?)

Republicans took a different position. Rep. Trent Franks wanted to know what the Obama team is hiding and, contrary to his colleague, labeled the New Black Panther Party as a racist organization. Rep. James Sensenbrenner blasted the Justice Deaprtments invocation of privilege as reason to refuse cooperation and said Congress needs to press for answers. (That’s not happening unless the House changes control in November.) Other Republicans emphasized the egregious nature of the case, which was there for all to see on video tape, and went after the recent testimony of Civil Rights chief Thomas Perez, who claimed there was no interference with career lawyers.

This is what passes for congressional oversight these days. As Rep. Smith says, there are certainly grounds for probing further:

Yesterday, 24 hours before this markup, the Justice Department provided the Committee with responses to the Civil Rights Commission’s information requests. These comprise more of the same non-responsive replies the Justice Department provided the Commission and Congress earlier this year. The Department refused to answer, either wholly or in part, 31 of the Commission’s 49 written questions.

The Department is still either unwilling or unable to answer one simple question: what changed between January 2009 and May 2009 to justify walking away from a case of blatant voter intimidation?

But don’t hold your breath. The Democrats who railed against Alberto Gonzales and insisted on investigation after investigation during the Bush administration to uncover some alleged politicization of the administration of justice are now silent. Trust the Obama team, they say. It seems as though if anything is to be learned about this case, it will come from the efforts of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights or those within the Justice Department who are offended by Obama political appointees’ meddling in what should have been a slam-dunk victory for the U.S. government in enforcing civil rights laws.

The House Judiciary Committee took up a resolution forced by Rep. Frank Wolf, calling on the Justice Department to fork over information on its endless, secretive, and (sources with direct knowledge tell me) quite lackadaisical investigation of the Obama Justice Department’s decision to dismiss the New Black Panther Party case. As expected, the resolution was voted down on a party-line vote of 15-14. The House Democrats don’t really seem as though they need to know why the Justice Department wouldn’t enforce the law fully against all defendants (for whom the U.S. government had a default judgment in hand) who intimidated voters at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day, 2008. As Ranking Minority Leader Rep. Lamar Smith explained in his prepared remarks:

No facts had changed. No new evidence was uncovered. The only thing that did change is the political party in charge of the Justice Department. So why would the Obama Administration suddenly drop charges in a case that had effectively been won? It appears that the Justice Department gave a free pass to its political allies—one of the defendants against whom charges were dropped was a Democratic poll watcher. Despite continued requests from Congress, the Justice Department has refused to give any explanation for dropping the charges. The Department’s silence appears to be an admission of guilt. According to media reports, senior political appointees may have overridden the decision of career attorneys. The decision to dismiss charges against political allies who allegedly intimidated voters on Election Day 2008 reeks of political interference.

An observer at the hearing tells me that only Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee bothered to speak out against the motion, claiming that this was just an isolated incident of intimidation (is this a new standard for the enforcement of civil rights?) and going as far as to defend the New Black Panther Party as a good and honorable organization. (I suppose there may be some in the Obama Justice Department who are sympathetic to this view.) She thinks the Obama Justice Department will prosecute anyone guilty of voter intimidation. (Except in this case?)

Republicans took a different position. Rep. Trent Franks wanted to know what the Obama team is hiding and, contrary to his colleague, labeled the New Black Panther Party as a racist organization. Rep. James Sensenbrenner blasted the Justice Deaprtments invocation of privilege as reason to refuse cooperation and said Congress needs to press for answers. (That’s not happening unless the House changes control in November.) Other Republicans emphasized the egregious nature of the case, which was there for all to see on video tape, and went after the recent testimony of Civil Rights chief Thomas Perez, who claimed there was no interference with career lawyers.

This is what passes for congressional oversight these days. As Rep. Smith says, there are certainly grounds for probing further:

Yesterday, 24 hours before this markup, the Justice Department provided the Committee with responses to the Civil Rights Commission’s information requests. These comprise more of the same non-responsive replies the Justice Department provided the Commission and Congress earlier this year. The Department refused to answer, either wholly or in part, 31 of the Commission’s 49 written questions.

The Department is still either unwilling or unable to answer one simple question: what changed between January 2009 and May 2009 to justify walking away from a case of blatant voter intimidation?

But don’t hold your breath. The Democrats who railed against Alberto Gonzales and insisted on investigation after investigation during the Bush administration to uncover some alleged politicization of the administration of justice are now silent. Trust the Obama team, they say. It seems as though if anything is to be learned about this case, it will come from the efforts of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights or those within the Justice Department who are offended by Obama political appointees’ meddling in what should have been a slam-dunk victory for the U.S. government in enforcing civil rights laws.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What would 1.5 million pennies look like? “It’s a school project spearheaded by seventh-grade Spotlight students currently studying World War II — with a significant focus on the Holocaust. Each penny would stand for one child lost in the Holocaust. ‘The pennies will be used in an online museum,’ Horn Lake Spotlight teacher Susan Powell said. ‘We will host a (virtual) room, and this is being done through an organization (Christian Friends of Israel) in Memphis. We are going to assist them. The kids are brainstorming on what to do with the pennies.’ ” Read the whole thing.

Arnold terminates his support for ObamaCare: “You’ve heard of the bridge to nowhere. This is health care to nowhere.” And the backroom deals this time are more noxious.

Liz Cheney has good advice for Obama: “If President Obama is serious about keeping the American people safe, he should reverse his irresponsible and ill-advised decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. He should reverse his decision to usher terrorists from Guantanamo onto U.S. soil. He should reverse his decision to bring the mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to New York. He should reverse his decision to give KSM and other terrorists the rights of Americans and the benefit of a criminal trial in an American civilian court. He should immediately classify Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, as an illegal enemy combatant, not a criminal defendant.” (She also has some advice for Eric Holder, including halting his investigations of CIA officials and lawyers who saved American lives.) I’d wager that very large majorities of Americans agree with her.

Haaretz reports that Rahm Emanuel said he is fed up with Israelis. (It’s mutual, pal.) And the Palestinians. And the whole Middle East peace process. The White House denies he said it.

Larry J. Sabato’s take: “A multi-seat gain for the GOP in the Senate is now the best bet. … Now we can all see clearly why President Obama is pushing so hard for his agenda in his first two years. He’s unlikely ever again to have anything approaching his current 20-seat margin in the Senate and 40-seat margin in the House.”

Alert David Brooks: Sarah Palin is headlining a Tea Party Convention.

Mickey Kaus thinks Janet Napolitano actually helps Obama. “Loyal cabinet secretaries should take the blame–and the PR hit–for their agency’s mistakes. The President stays as far away from the bad thing as possible, even when the White House is in reality intimately involved.” I dunno. I think having dopey advisers — e.g., Alberto Gonzales — just fuels the “executive incompetence” meme.

When he’s not bending the cost curve: “President Obama’s budget guru has a secret love child — with the woman he jilted before hooking up with his hot new fiance [sic], The Post has learned.”

Big Labor spent millions electing Obama, and this is the thanks it gets: “President Barack Obama signaled to House Democratic leaders Wednesday that they’ll have to drop their opposition to taxing high-end health insurance plans to pay for health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. In a meeting at the White House, Obama expressed his preference for the insurance tax contained in the Senate’s health overhaul bill, but largely opposed by House Democrats and organized labor, Democratic aides said.” Oh yes, that’s a lot of people making less than $200,000 who are going to get taxed, despite Obama’s campaign promise.

What would 1.5 million pennies look like? “It’s a school project spearheaded by seventh-grade Spotlight students currently studying World War II — with a significant focus on the Holocaust. Each penny would stand for one child lost in the Holocaust. ‘The pennies will be used in an online museum,’ Horn Lake Spotlight teacher Susan Powell said. ‘We will host a (virtual) room, and this is being done through an organization (Christian Friends of Israel) in Memphis. We are going to assist them. The kids are brainstorming on what to do with the pennies.’ ” Read the whole thing.

Arnold terminates his support for ObamaCare: “You’ve heard of the bridge to nowhere. This is health care to nowhere.” And the backroom deals this time are more noxious.

Liz Cheney has good advice for Obama: “If President Obama is serious about keeping the American people safe, he should reverse his irresponsible and ill-advised decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. He should reverse his decision to usher terrorists from Guantanamo onto U.S. soil. He should reverse his decision to bring the mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to New York. He should reverse his decision to give KSM and other terrorists the rights of Americans and the benefit of a criminal trial in an American civilian court. He should immediately classify Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, as an illegal enemy combatant, not a criminal defendant.” (She also has some advice for Eric Holder, including halting his investigations of CIA officials and lawyers who saved American lives.) I’d wager that very large majorities of Americans agree with her.

Haaretz reports that Rahm Emanuel said he is fed up with Israelis. (It’s mutual, pal.) And the Palestinians. And the whole Middle East peace process. The White House denies he said it.

Larry J. Sabato’s take: “A multi-seat gain for the GOP in the Senate is now the best bet. … Now we can all see clearly why President Obama is pushing so hard for his agenda in his first two years. He’s unlikely ever again to have anything approaching his current 20-seat margin in the Senate and 40-seat margin in the House.”

Alert David Brooks: Sarah Palin is headlining a Tea Party Convention.

Mickey Kaus thinks Janet Napolitano actually helps Obama. “Loyal cabinet secretaries should take the blame–and the PR hit–for their agency’s mistakes. The President stays as far away from the bad thing as possible, even when the White House is in reality intimately involved.” I dunno. I think having dopey advisers — e.g., Alberto Gonzales — just fuels the “executive incompetence” meme.

When he’s not bending the cost curve: “President Obama’s budget guru has a secret love child — with the woman he jilted before hooking up with his hot new fiance [sic], The Post has learned.”

Big Labor spent millions electing Obama, and this is the thanks it gets: “President Barack Obama signaled to House Democratic leaders Wednesday that they’ll have to drop their opposition to taxing high-end health insurance plans to pay for health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. In a meeting at the White House, Obama expressed his preference for the insurance tax contained in the Senate’s health overhaul bill, but largely opposed by House Democrats and organized labor, Democratic aides said.” Oh yes, that’s a lot of people making less than $200,000 who are going to get taxed, despite Obama’s campaign promise.

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Not as Planned

Obama and the Left more generally expected the financial meltdown of 2008 and the resulting recession to undermine the public’s faith in the private sector. As they pushed the Great Depression narrative, they strived to make way for a new, New Deal, in which the public would be willing to accept (in what had heretofore been private-sector decision-making) a far greater degree of government intervention than had been attempted in decades. Government would be entrusted to seize car companies, regulate executive compensation, and direct lending practices. But the “cure” for what supposedly ailed the American economy would not be limited to economic matters or to financial regulation. Obama spoke of a “new foundation,” meaning that government would also seek to expand its reach into health care, as well as to regulate all industries’ carbon emissions. A larger government, higher taxes, and a shrunken realm of private decision making would ensue.

But the public remained stubbornly resistant to government power grabs. The increase in spending and massive accumulation of debt spooked them. The obvious inability of the government to “create or save” jobs and its scatterbrained rush to pass health-care reform (thus  taking over a sixth of the economy) did not endear to the public the prospect of a bigger, more powerful government. After less than a full year of Democratic control, the public’s faith in big government is on the decline.

It is not only Tea Party protestors and town-hall attendees who have recoiled against the overreach of the Obama agenda. It is the mass of ordinarily nonpartisan independents who have looked upon the corrupt Cash for Cloture deals and the government spend-a-thon with unease. They may not be enamored of big business, but neither are they excited by the prospect of big government, let alone a big government in league with big insurance companies.

Then along comes the Christmas Day bombing plot. The Obama team stumbles about like hapless bureaucrats. First denial that anything much was wrong and then the acknowledgment that yes, they had failed to do their jobs. The “solution” is a flurry of reports and reviews. And we expect to see a series of bureaucratic shuffling, some personnel departures, and some “reforms” that don’t amount to much at all other than vows to do what we thought the government was supposed to be doing since 9/11. Meanwhile, the public sees that the only real line of defense comes from private citizens. Their government is, in its most fundamental task, not to be trusted.

Obama’s new New Deal initiatives have not worked out as planned. Only a fraction of that ambitious agenda has been enacted. The public, including nonpartisan independents, has been jarred by the ambition of Obama’s designs. Large majorities are concerned about the prospect of tax hikes, a massive deficit, and an overactive government. Moreover, there is a growing sense, made worse by the bungling of the Christmas Day bombing, that rather than improve governance, the Obama administration has made things worse.

It is ironic in the extreme that Obama has been unable to dazzle the public with his effectiveness and, more generally, to impress Americans with the ability of the government to reorder society and improve their lives. It was, of course, the Democrats’ critique of the Bush administration’s competence – its handling of Katrina, the hapless Alberto Gonzales Justice Department, the Walter Reed scandal, the failure of financial oversight, and the mishandling of the pre-surge Iraq war – that formed the basis of their winning campaign rhetoric in 2006 and 2008. The Left assured us that sloth or distain for governance were at the root of the Bush administration’s failures but that its own candidates, graduated from the finest schools and enthusiastic proponents of government, would spare Americans from incompetence and corruption and would, moreover, rescue us from the excesses of the private sector. Washington was the place where “good ideas went to die,” Obama told us in the campaign. Puffed up with their own credentials and convinced that they were smarter than all who came before them, the members of Obama’s team assured us that this administration would be different. We were to get a cabinet of “geniuses.” Diplomacy was to be “smarter,” science would rule the day, and ideology was out. But alas it was not to be. The basic tasks of government — vetting, not scaring the populace (with a low Air Force One flyover), and rendering a timely decision on war strategy — seemed at times utterly beyond them.

It was perhaps unfortunate that Obama himself showed so little interest in the details of major domestic legislation. It became evident that, really, any health-care bill would do, so long as Obama got his signing ceremony. So we are on the verge of pasing a bill indefensible on the merits and which the public detests. And if Congress wanted to pass a junk-filled stimulus bill, that was alright with Obama as well. Now the public rightly regards it as a failure, a clumsily constructed waste of their tax dollars. We learned that the smart set really didn’t care about getting exquisitely crafted legislation passed; they simply wanted to demonstrate their own political muscle.

But the heart of the problem was not in a lack of competence or attention to detail but in arrogance – the hubris of believing that government bureaucracies could micromanage complex decisions and order the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans without severe adverse consequences. Never do Obama and his minions seem to recognize that centralizing and regulating millions and millions of intricate interactions is fraught with peril. They never do acknowledge that the track record of government in duplicating and supplanting free markets and individual decision-making is a poor one indeed. They certainly don’t seem to grasp the notion that expanding government and adding trillions to expenditures would merely multiply the opportunities for fraud, corruption, and waste.

So in the end the Obama team has not succeeded in persuading Americans that government should do more, spend more, and be trusted more. For decades, conservatives have made principled arguments as to the dangers of avaricious government, but experience is often the best teacher. After a year of governance by the Obama administration, the public has not learned to love big government but instead has relearned that it is wise to be wary of a growing and intrusive federal government. Had the Obama team been more competent and less ambitious, they might have, by small and irreversible steps, made the case for their ambitious agenda and inured the public to the steady expansion of the public sector. That didn’t happen, however, and the result is a new resurgence of anti-government populism and a fair amount of anger. Americans are reaching the conclusion that even when it comes to the most essential function of government, protecting them from foreign enemies, they are being ill-served. Perhaps if government did less, it would attend with greater focus to its most essential tasks.

The Bush administration never recovered the public’s confidence after Katrina. Americans had seen enough and thereafter tuned out. We will see if the Obama team can avoid that fate after its first year. It might help their cause if they tried to do less, focused more on the business of governing, and spent less time and effort attacking political enemies and recycling shopworn campaign rhetoric. They won’t likely again enjoy the level of goodwill and support that greeted them in the initial days of the administration, but they can perhaps recover a measure of the public’s respect by sober, modest, and competent governance.

Obama and the Left more generally expected the financial meltdown of 2008 and the resulting recession to undermine the public’s faith in the private sector. As they pushed the Great Depression narrative, they strived to make way for a new, New Deal, in which the public would be willing to accept (in what had heretofore been private-sector decision-making) a far greater degree of government intervention than had been attempted in decades. Government would be entrusted to seize car companies, regulate executive compensation, and direct lending practices. But the “cure” for what supposedly ailed the American economy would not be limited to economic matters or to financial regulation. Obama spoke of a “new foundation,” meaning that government would also seek to expand its reach into health care, as well as to regulate all industries’ carbon emissions. A larger government, higher taxes, and a shrunken realm of private decision making would ensue.

But the public remained stubbornly resistant to government power grabs. The increase in spending and massive accumulation of debt spooked them. The obvious inability of the government to “create or save” jobs and its scatterbrained rush to pass health-care reform (thus  taking over a sixth of the economy) did not endear to the public the prospect of a bigger, more powerful government. After less than a full year of Democratic control, the public’s faith in big government is on the decline.

It is not only Tea Party protestors and town-hall attendees who have recoiled against the overreach of the Obama agenda. It is the mass of ordinarily nonpartisan independents who have looked upon the corrupt Cash for Cloture deals and the government spend-a-thon with unease. They may not be enamored of big business, but neither are they excited by the prospect of big government, let alone a big government in league with big insurance companies.

Then along comes the Christmas Day bombing plot. The Obama team stumbles about like hapless bureaucrats. First denial that anything much was wrong and then the acknowledgment that yes, they had failed to do their jobs. The “solution” is a flurry of reports and reviews. And we expect to see a series of bureaucratic shuffling, some personnel departures, and some “reforms” that don’t amount to much at all other than vows to do what we thought the government was supposed to be doing since 9/11. Meanwhile, the public sees that the only real line of defense comes from private citizens. Their government is, in its most fundamental task, not to be trusted.

Obama’s new New Deal initiatives have not worked out as planned. Only a fraction of that ambitious agenda has been enacted. The public, including nonpartisan independents, has been jarred by the ambition of Obama’s designs. Large majorities are concerned about the prospect of tax hikes, a massive deficit, and an overactive government. Moreover, there is a growing sense, made worse by the bungling of the Christmas Day bombing, that rather than improve governance, the Obama administration has made things worse.

It is ironic in the extreme that Obama has been unable to dazzle the public with his effectiveness and, more generally, to impress Americans with the ability of the government to reorder society and improve their lives. It was, of course, the Democrats’ critique of the Bush administration’s competence – its handling of Katrina, the hapless Alberto Gonzales Justice Department, the Walter Reed scandal, the failure of financial oversight, and the mishandling of the pre-surge Iraq war – that formed the basis of their winning campaign rhetoric in 2006 and 2008. The Left assured us that sloth or distain for governance were at the root of the Bush administration’s failures but that its own candidates, graduated from the finest schools and enthusiastic proponents of government, would spare Americans from incompetence and corruption and would, moreover, rescue us from the excesses of the private sector. Washington was the place where “good ideas went to die,” Obama told us in the campaign. Puffed up with their own credentials and convinced that they were smarter than all who came before them, the members of Obama’s team assured us that this administration would be different. We were to get a cabinet of “geniuses.” Diplomacy was to be “smarter,” science would rule the day, and ideology was out. But alas it was not to be. The basic tasks of government — vetting, not scaring the populace (with a low Air Force One flyover), and rendering a timely decision on war strategy — seemed at times utterly beyond them.

It was perhaps unfortunate that Obama himself showed so little interest in the details of major domestic legislation. It became evident that, really, any health-care bill would do, so long as Obama got his signing ceremony. So we are on the verge of pasing a bill indefensible on the merits and which the public detests. And if Congress wanted to pass a junk-filled stimulus bill, that was alright with Obama as well. Now the public rightly regards it as a failure, a clumsily constructed waste of their tax dollars. We learned that the smart set really didn’t care about getting exquisitely crafted legislation passed; they simply wanted to demonstrate their own political muscle.

But the heart of the problem was not in a lack of competence or attention to detail but in arrogance – the hubris of believing that government bureaucracies could micromanage complex decisions and order the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans without severe adverse consequences. Never do Obama and his minions seem to recognize that centralizing and regulating millions and millions of intricate interactions is fraught with peril. They never do acknowledge that the track record of government in duplicating and supplanting free markets and individual decision-making is a poor one indeed. They certainly don’t seem to grasp the notion that expanding government and adding trillions to expenditures would merely multiply the opportunities for fraud, corruption, and waste.

So in the end the Obama team has not succeeded in persuading Americans that government should do more, spend more, and be trusted more. For decades, conservatives have made principled arguments as to the dangers of avaricious government, but experience is often the best teacher. After a year of governance by the Obama administration, the public has not learned to love big government but instead has relearned that it is wise to be wary of a growing and intrusive federal government. Had the Obama team been more competent and less ambitious, they might have, by small and irreversible steps, made the case for their ambitious agenda and inured the public to the steady expansion of the public sector. That didn’t happen, however, and the result is a new resurgence of anti-government populism and a fair amount of anger. Americans are reaching the conclusion that even when it comes to the most essential function of government, protecting them from foreign enemies, they are being ill-served. Perhaps if government did less, it would attend with greater focus to its most essential tasks.

The Bush administration never recovered the public’s confidence after Katrina. Americans had seen enough and thereafter tuned out. We will see if the Obama team can avoid that fate after its first year. It might help their cause if they tried to do less, focused more on the business of governing, and spent less time and effort attacking political enemies and recycling shopworn campaign rhetoric. They won’t likely again enjoy the level of goodwill and support that greeted them in the initial days of the administration, but they can perhaps recover a measure of the public’s respect by sober, modest, and competent governance.

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A Shabby Showing

George W. Bush’s attorney general Alberto Gonzales had some cringe-inducing performances before Congress. But let’s face it — most of what he was being raked over the coals about (e.g., firing U.S. attorneys who serve at the will of the president) was nonsense drummed up by Democrats who knew a sitting duck when they saw one. Eric Holder’s performance this week was arguably in a class by itself — the extent of his ignorance and the shabbiness of his preparation was all the more appalling given the gravity of the issue.

As Charles Krauthammer notes:

In his congressional testimony Wednesday, Holder was utterly incoherent in trying to explain. In his Nov. 13 news conference, he seemed to be saying that if you attack a civilian target, as in 9/11, you get a civilian trial; a military target like the Cole, and you get a military tribunal. What a perverse moral calculus. Which is the war crime — an attack on defenseless civilians or an attack on a military target such as a warship, an accepted act of war that the United States itself has engaged in countless times?

But at the most basic level, Holder appeared not to have wrestled with the fundamental legal issues at play here. He blithely asserted that a conviction would be best assured in civilian court — but had no reply when Sen. Jon Kyl noted that KSM had already pleaded guilty in a military commission: “How can you be more likely to get a conviction in a (civilian) court than that?” When Sen. Lindsey Graham asked about the last time an enemy combatant was scooped off the battlefield, Holder was stumped. The silence was painful. Didn’t he know? Hadn’t the Justice Department lawyers discussed that this had never been done? And to top it off, Holder was again flummoxed when asked if Osama bin Laden would need to be Mirandized if we finally snatched him. No one at Justice apparently had raised this or any other meaningful hypothetical with Holder. Or maybe his mind was already made up by the time anyone started puzzling through the ramifications of the decision.

It is remarkable, really. The president pretends that he left one of the most critical decisions of his presidency to the lawyers. The lawyers’ boss doesn’t really grasp the legal issues. Next time Obama wants to hide behind Holder’s skirts, he might suggest that his attorney general get up to speed. Otherwise, the American people might get the idea that this is all a lefty ideological lark without regard to national security and without serious legal analysis.

George W. Bush’s attorney general Alberto Gonzales had some cringe-inducing performances before Congress. But let’s face it — most of what he was being raked over the coals about (e.g., firing U.S. attorneys who serve at the will of the president) was nonsense drummed up by Democrats who knew a sitting duck when they saw one. Eric Holder’s performance this week was arguably in a class by itself — the extent of his ignorance and the shabbiness of his preparation was all the more appalling given the gravity of the issue.

As Charles Krauthammer notes:

In his congressional testimony Wednesday, Holder was utterly incoherent in trying to explain. In his Nov. 13 news conference, he seemed to be saying that if you attack a civilian target, as in 9/11, you get a civilian trial; a military target like the Cole, and you get a military tribunal. What a perverse moral calculus. Which is the war crime — an attack on defenseless civilians or an attack on a military target such as a warship, an accepted act of war that the United States itself has engaged in countless times?

But at the most basic level, Holder appeared not to have wrestled with the fundamental legal issues at play here. He blithely asserted that a conviction would be best assured in civilian court — but had no reply when Sen. Jon Kyl noted that KSM had already pleaded guilty in a military commission: “How can you be more likely to get a conviction in a (civilian) court than that?” When Sen. Lindsey Graham asked about the last time an enemy combatant was scooped off the battlefield, Holder was stumped. The silence was painful. Didn’t he know? Hadn’t the Justice Department lawyers discussed that this had never been done? And to top it off, Holder was again flummoxed when asked if Osama bin Laden would need to be Mirandized if we finally snatched him. No one at Justice apparently had raised this or any other meaningful hypothetical with Holder. Or maybe his mind was already made up by the time anyone started puzzling through the ramifications of the decision.

It is remarkable, really. The president pretends that he left one of the most critical decisions of his presidency to the lawyers. The lawyers’ boss doesn’t really grasp the legal issues. Next time Obama wants to hide behind Holder’s skirts, he might suggest that his attorney general get up to speed. Otherwise, the American people might get the idea that this is all a lefty ideological lark without regard to national security and without serious legal analysis.

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Bad Ad

In yesterday’s “The Public Editor” column for the New York Times, Clark Hoyt informs us that the Times, after almost two weeks of insisting otherwise, now admits that it gave favorable treatment to the MoveOn.org ad defaming General David Petraeus—charging MoveOn.org $64,575 for the ad instead of the $142,083 MoveOn.org should have paid.

What a shocking revelation.

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In yesterday’s “The Public Editor” column for the New York Times, Clark Hoyt informs us that the Times, after almost two weeks of insisting otherwise, now admits that it gave favorable treatment to the MoveOn.org ad defaming General David Petraeus—charging MoveOn.org $64,575 for the ad instead of the $142,083 MoveOn.org should have paid.

What a shocking revelation.

The Hoyt article is full of insights into the mindset of those who work at the Times. For one thing, we learn that Steph Jespersen, the executive who approved the MoveOn.org ad, said that while it was “rough,” he regarded it as a “comment on a public official’s management of his office and therefore acceptable speech for the Times to print.” We also are told that Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the Times and chairman of its parent company, said this:

If we’re going to err, it’s better to err on the side of more political dialogue…. Perhaps we did err in this case. If we did, we erred with the intent of giving greater voice to people.

The trouble with this explanation, of course, is that what we are dealing with is not free speech so much as slander. The MoveOn.org ad accuses General Petraeus, a four-star general and war hero, of betraying his nation and “cooking the books.” These charges are false and malicious, yet in response, the best Sulzberger can say is that he believes that “perhaps”—perhaps!—the Times erred in this case. Sulzberger is almost Ratheresque in his ability to defend the journalistically indefensible.

One wonders if an organization ran a full-page ad accusing the publisher of the Times, without evidence, of being a traitor or a racist with strong ties to hate groups, he would view such charges as “giving greater voice to people.” Perhaps. And would those who work for him characterize such an ad as “rough” but “acceptable” speech for the Times to print? Perhaps.

We are also told that Jespersen, director of advertising acceptability, “bends over backward to accommodate advocacy ads, including ads from groups with which the newspaper disagrees editorially.” Of course he does. And Jespersen, we learn, has rejected an ad from the National Right to Life Committee—not, he said, because of its message, but because it pictured aborted fetuses.

Now isn’t that rich? The New York Times rejected an ad that is certainly “rough” but also has the virtue of being accurate—after all, it shows what aborted fetuses look like—but gave a huge discount rate to an ad that was “rough” but was also utterly false and slanderous. It’s worth bearing in mind that the Times—which took almost two weeks to correct its false claims and admit wrongdoing—is the same newspaper that regularly lacerates public officials (like former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales) for not being able to get their stories straight. Is it any wonder, then, that the New York Times is losing money, readers, respect, and credibility by the day?

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Fare Thee Well, Alberto Gonzales, and Good Riddance

Alberto Gonzales is leaving the Justice Department with a lot of sensitive business pending. One open case of exceptional importance concerns the leak of highly classified information about the National Security Agency’s terrorist-surveillance program. Details of the program were published in the New York Times in a series of articles beginning on December 16, 2005, and supplemented in State of War, a book by Times reporter James Risen, which came out the following month.

A grand jury has been investigating the leak since January 2006. Earlier this month, a former Justice Department lawyer by the name of Thomas M. Tamm had his home searched and his computers, including two of his children’s laptops, seized, along with his personal papers, in a raid by the FBI. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff reported that the raid was connected to a criminal probe into the NSA wiretapping leak.

Gonzales’s own participation in this case is of a piece with his overall performance: fecklessness combined with an inability to articulate a clear position. The fact is that the NSA leak in the Times occurred in the middle of a war. It concerned not secrets from the past, as in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case (also involving a leak to the Times), but an ongoing operational-intelligence program designed to prevent a second September 11. On its face, as I argued in COMMENTARY, the Times had violated Section 798 of Title 18, which makes it a crime to disclose classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.

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Alberto Gonzales is leaving the Justice Department with a lot of sensitive business pending. One open case of exceptional importance concerns the leak of highly classified information about the National Security Agency’s terrorist-surveillance program. Details of the program were published in the New York Times in a series of articles beginning on December 16, 2005, and supplemented in State of War, a book by Times reporter James Risen, which came out the following month.

A grand jury has been investigating the leak since January 2006. Earlier this month, a former Justice Department lawyer by the name of Thomas M. Tamm had his home searched and his computers, including two of his children’s laptops, seized, along with his personal papers, in a raid by the FBI. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff reported that the raid was connected to a criminal probe into the NSA wiretapping leak.

Gonzales’s own participation in this case is of a piece with his overall performance: fecklessness combined with an inability to articulate a clear position. The fact is that the NSA leak in the Times occurred in the middle of a war. It concerned not secrets from the past, as in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case (also involving a leak to the Times), but an ongoing operational-intelligence program designed to prevent a second September 11. On its face, as I argued in COMMENTARY, the Times had violated Section 798 of Title 18, which makes it a crime to disclose classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.

In making the argument in COMMENTARY for prosecution, I understood full well that the probability that the Justice Department would bring an indictment of the editors and reporters of our leading newspaper was close to nil, and I said so at the time. But at the very least, a competent and articulate Attorney General, even if he saw compelling reasons not to proceed with a prosecution, could have stood up to explain both the law and its significance in wartime. A proper and much-needed public discussion would have ensued.

Gonzales did neither. Instead, he issued a very general statement: “Our prosecutors are going to look to see all the laws that have been violated. And if the evidence is there, they’re going to prosecute those violations,” and he did not follow up with any sort of action or further explanation.

The nation was rewarded for Justice’s forbearance by the subsequent publication in the Times of details of still another highly classified counterterrorism program involving terrorist financing.

Gonzales is now gone, but it is obvious that, with respect to the NSA terrorist-surveillance program, he has left us in the worst of all possible worlds. Liberals continue to express outrage at what they regard as a mortal threat to the First Amendment. The Justice Department has let stand unrebutted the false proposition that our Constitution is incompatible with laws forbidding the media to publish vital secrets. And the press continues to feel free to publish counterterrorism secrets with abandon.

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