Commentary Magazine


Topic: Alice in Wonderland

You Have to Perform

After the election you have to govern. That is an opportunity for some and the undoing of others. Recall Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. He won the governorship of a key swing state, was on the short list for Obama’s VP, accomplished virtually nothing as governor, presided as head of the DNC over a disastrous run of high-profile Democratic losses, and is now everyone’s favorite whipping boy. What ever happened to Tim Kaine? Well, he couldn’t do his job well. So he ends, at least for now, a promising political career.

Last year, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell won high-profile gubernatorial races. McDonnell is sticking to his no-tax pledge and has unveiled an impressive charter-school program. He’s setting out to do precisely what he said he would, including selling off state-owned liquor stores. He seems serious about governance. If he is, he’ll avoid his predecessor’s fate.

Then there is Chris Christie. He’s also doing what he promised. He appointed a school-choice advocate to the howls of the teachers’ union. And he has announced a real spending freeze:

Announcing the freeze on $1.6 billion of unspent money, Mr. Christie was blunt: “Today, we come to terms with the fact that we cannot spend money on everything we want. Today, the days of Alice in Wonderland budgeting in Trenton end.”

That seems like a better idea than hiking taxes, if the aim here is to fix the gaping hole in the state budget. The liberal tax-and-spend policies of his predecessors have been stark and debilitating for his state:

From 2004-2008, author John Havens found “a large decline in the number of wealthy households entering New Jersey” as well as “a moderate increase in the outflow of wealthy households leaving.” The result: a net decline of $70 billion in household wealth while the “expected giving” became a net outflow of $1.132 billion.

So what happened in 2004? The study doesn’t purport to explain what caused the wealth movements. But the state’s most notable economic policy event that year was an increase in its top income tax rate to 8.97% from 6.37%, on incomes starting at $500,000. That’s a 40% increase.

Christie also seems to be in the “sober about governance” category. The lesson here for politicians of both parties is quite simple: you have to deliver. If McDonnell and Christie make good on their promises and continue their early focus on smart reform, fiscal sobriety, and conservative economic policy, they will become the models for the next generation of conservative governors and presidential hopefuls.

And, yes, that brings us back to Obama. At this point he seems headed for Tim Kaine-like flash-in-the-pan status. All that anticipation and so little ability. So much hype was followed by virtually no interest in doing the job to which he was elected. Challengers have the luxury of convincing voters to take a leap of faith; incumbents must defend what they have done. And if they don’t deliver, no amount of hype and no blame-shifting is going to rescue them. That is why, I suspect, Obama now thinks out loud about a single term. It could not have escaped his notice that he is not remotely pulling a ” B+” in the presidency.

After the election you have to govern. That is an opportunity for some and the undoing of others. Recall Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. He won the governorship of a key swing state, was on the short list for Obama’s VP, accomplished virtually nothing as governor, presided as head of the DNC over a disastrous run of high-profile Democratic losses, and is now everyone’s favorite whipping boy. What ever happened to Tim Kaine? Well, he couldn’t do his job well. So he ends, at least for now, a promising political career.

Last year, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell won high-profile gubernatorial races. McDonnell is sticking to his no-tax pledge and has unveiled an impressive charter-school program. He’s setting out to do precisely what he said he would, including selling off state-owned liquor stores. He seems serious about governance. If he is, he’ll avoid his predecessor’s fate.

Then there is Chris Christie. He’s also doing what he promised. He appointed a school-choice advocate to the howls of the teachers’ union. And he has announced a real spending freeze:

Announcing the freeze on $1.6 billion of unspent money, Mr. Christie was blunt: “Today, we come to terms with the fact that we cannot spend money on everything we want. Today, the days of Alice in Wonderland budgeting in Trenton end.”

That seems like a better idea than hiking taxes, if the aim here is to fix the gaping hole in the state budget. The liberal tax-and-spend policies of his predecessors have been stark and debilitating for his state:

From 2004-2008, author John Havens found “a large decline in the number of wealthy households entering New Jersey” as well as “a moderate increase in the outflow of wealthy households leaving.” The result: a net decline of $70 billion in household wealth while the “expected giving” became a net outflow of $1.132 billion.

So what happened in 2004? The study doesn’t purport to explain what caused the wealth movements. But the state’s most notable economic policy event that year was an increase in its top income tax rate to 8.97% from 6.37%, on incomes starting at $500,000. That’s a 40% increase.

Christie also seems to be in the “sober about governance” category. The lesson here for politicians of both parties is quite simple: you have to deliver. If McDonnell and Christie make good on their promises and continue their early focus on smart reform, fiscal sobriety, and conservative economic policy, they will become the models for the next generation of conservative governors and presidential hopefuls.

And, yes, that brings us back to Obama. At this point he seems headed for Tim Kaine-like flash-in-the-pan status. All that anticipation and so little ability. So much hype was followed by virtually no interest in doing the job to which he was elected. Challengers have the luxury of convincing voters to take a leap of faith; incumbents must defend what they have done. And if they don’t deliver, no amount of hype and no blame-shifting is going to rescue them. That is why, I suspect, Obama now thinks out loud about a single term. It could not have escaped his notice that he is not remotely pulling a ” B+” in the presidency.

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Wheels Coming off Obama Anti-Terror Approach

Democratic Sens. Jim Webb and Blanche Lincoln are joining Republicans to up-end plans for a civilian trial for KSM by denying funding to transport and try them in the U.S. ABC News reports:

It is unclear when or how this measure would come to a vote, but it is abundantly clear that President Obama’s plan to use the American justice system to try suspected 9/11 conspirators is in serious jeopardy.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark, who faces a tough reelection bid, was asked by a reporter at a press conference today if the President is being “tone deaf” in asking moderate Democrats to support his plan.

“I’d be tone deaf if I didn’t speak for the people,” said Lincoln, questioning the “cost, security and appropriateness” of using civilian courts to try suspected terrorists. . .

“It’s hard to bring the people of New York City and Little Rock together but they have done that,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, of the growing opposition to civilian trials. Graham favors trying suspected 9/11 conspirators like Khalid Sheikh Mohamed in military trials at Guantanamo Bay, where they are currently held. . .

Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain were there as well. (“Lieberman said the trial of suspected 9/11 conspirators in civilian court as ‘common criminals’ would be like ‘justice in Alice in Wonderland. . . The rule of law that should be tried according to is the rule of the law of war. Justice can’t be blind to terror threat.”) McCain took the opportunity to also voice criticism of the 50-minute interrogation of the Christmas Day bomber: “I have some experience with interrogation and 50 minutes does not get you what you need.”

Meanwhile, in a senate hearing today, Secretary of Defense Gates, under questioning from McCain, was cagey about the decision to try KSM in New York, deferring to Eric Holder. McCain and Gates also went back and forth on the interrogation of Abdulmutallab.

Gates said “I think we did not have the high-level interrogators there that we now have protocols in place” to assure their presence. But he added: “I believe that a team of highly experienced FBI and other interrogators could be as effective in interrogating the prisoner as anyone operating under the (Army) field manual.”

McCain asked Gates if he agreed with an assertion by Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, that better, more complete or more useful information might have been gleaned from the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, if he had been subjected to a more intense style of interrogation.

“I’m just not in a position to know the answer to that, senator,” Gates replied. But he did reply, “Yes,” when asked if he thought a special group of more qualified interrogators, members of the High Value Interrogation Group, should have been present.

McCain said that Holder “has obviously botched this thing very, very badly,” and said he would continue to question how the man’s interrogation was handled.

It is hard to see that there is much support for the Obama anti-terror gambits. Whether discussing the KSM trial or the interrogation decisions, the Obama team is increasingly on the defensive and without vocal support even from fellow Democrats. And why would the Democrats defend Obama’s approach? It defies common sense and has proven to be politically toxic. If Obama is going to persist in applying the criminal-justice model to the war against Islamic fundamentalists, he will find himself increasingly isolated. And if Democrats actually mean what they say, they’ll act to cut off funding as well as court jurisdiction in order to prevent Obama and his Justice Department lefty lawyers from continuing on this ill-advised lark.

Democratic Sens. Jim Webb and Blanche Lincoln are joining Republicans to up-end plans for a civilian trial for KSM by denying funding to transport and try them in the U.S. ABC News reports:

It is unclear when or how this measure would come to a vote, but it is abundantly clear that President Obama’s plan to use the American justice system to try suspected 9/11 conspirators is in serious jeopardy.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark, who faces a tough reelection bid, was asked by a reporter at a press conference today if the President is being “tone deaf” in asking moderate Democrats to support his plan.

“I’d be tone deaf if I didn’t speak for the people,” said Lincoln, questioning the “cost, security and appropriateness” of using civilian courts to try suspected terrorists. . .

“It’s hard to bring the people of New York City and Little Rock together but they have done that,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, of the growing opposition to civilian trials. Graham favors trying suspected 9/11 conspirators like Khalid Sheikh Mohamed in military trials at Guantanamo Bay, where they are currently held. . .

Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain were there as well. (“Lieberman said the trial of suspected 9/11 conspirators in civilian court as ‘common criminals’ would be like ‘justice in Alice in Wonderland. . . The rule of law that should be tried according to is the rule of the law of war. Justice can’t be blind to terror threat.”) McCain took the opportunity to also voice criticism of the 50-minute interrogation of the Christmas Day bomber: “I have some experience with interrogation and 50 minutes does not get you what you need.”

Meanwhile, in a senate hearing today, Secretary of Defense Gates, under questioning from McCain, was cagey about the decision to try KSM in New York, deferring to Eric Holder. McCain and Gates also went back and forth on the interrogation of Abdulmutallab.

Gates said “I think we did not have the high-level interrogators there that we now have protocols in place” to assure their presence. But he added: “I believe that a team of highly experienced FBI and other interrogators could be as effective in interrogating the prisoner as anyone operating under the (Army) field manual.”

McCain asked Gates if he agreed with an assertion by Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, that better, more complete or more useful information might have been gleaned from the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, if he had been subjected to a more intense style of interrogation.

“I’m just not in a position to know the answer to that, senator,” Gates replied. But he did reply, “Yes,” when asked if he thought a special group of more qualified interrogators, members of the High Value Interrogation Group, should have been present.

McCain said that Holder “has obviously botched this thing very, very badly,” and said he would continue to question how the man’s interrogation was handled.

It is hard to see that there is much support for the Obama anti-terror gambits. Whether discussing the KSM trial or the interrogation decisions, the Obama team is increasingly on the defensive and without vocal support even from fellow Democrats. And why would the Democrats defend Obama’s approach? It defies common sense and has proven to be politically toxic. If Obama is going to persist in applying the criminal-justice model to the war against Islamic fundamentalists, he will find himself increasingly isolated. And if Democrats actually mean what they say, they’ll act to cut off funding as well as court jurisdiction in order to prevent Obama and his Justice Department lefty lawyers from continuing on this ill-advised lark.

Read Less

Alice in Wonderland Justice

The decision to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a federal courthouse in Manhattan, where he and his four co-conspirators will receive the full array of rights enjoyed by American citizens, will show the world that our system of justice is an enlightened model for the rest of the world. It will “vindicate this country’s basic values” and “stand as a symbol in the world of something different from what the terrorists represent.” We will be adhering to the “rule of law.” Or so Obama defenders argue.

But imagine KSM being found not guilty, which is a possibility. What happens then? According to Democratic Senator Jack Reed, “under basic principles of international law, as long as these individuals pose a threat, they can be detained, and they will.” Come again? You mean if KSM is acquitted he will still be detained? Yes indeed, according to Senator Reed. He will not be released, “because under the principle of preventive detention, which is recognized during hostilities,” we can continue to hold KSM.

Well, now. It seems to me as though President Obama and Attorney General Holder need to be asked whether they agree with Senator Reed. If not — if they believe that the proud, self-confessed mastermind of the deadliest attack in history on the American homeland should be able to walk free if acquitted in this trial — then Obama and Holder should certainly say so. If KSM were acquitted, the president and his attorney general should proclaim from the rooftops that Mohammed is a free man, found innocent in a civilian court of law, and then allow voters to render a judgment on their decision.

If, on the other hand, Obama and Holder agree with Senator Reed, they should state that as well.

Right now Obama and Holder, in saying they are answering the “call to justice and fairness,” take great pride in presenting themselves as committed to equal justice under the law. That they are willing to try KSM in a civilian court is supposedly proof of their enlightened worldview. Except that if President Obama and Attorney General Holder agree with Senator Reed, it is all a fiction: If KSM is acquitted, he will not walk the streets of New York City or of any other place. He will be detained. The verdict in his trial will be rendered inoperative. And the justice and fairness that Obama and Holder speak about will turn out to be quite different from what most people who are praising Obama’s decision have in mind. The “rule of law” our president and his attorney general hope to showcase will actually be a game that has been rigged at the outset. It will be Alice in Wonderland justice (first the verdict, then the trial; and if the trial turns out differently from what you had hoped, ignore the verdict). If that’s the case, then what Obama and Holder are doing will turn out to be a very dangerous stunt done only for optics. Their actions will be revealed as cynical and misleading. And engaging in this charade in order to impress the rest of the world will do significant harm to our nation.

Every month the Obama administration seems to outdo itself in terms of making terribly unwise decisions. This one ranks high among them. It will add another damaging brushstroke to the Obama canvas. The current administration is revealing itself one act at a time; the curtain is being pulled back on it one decision at a time. The liberal, and in some cases the radical, actions of the Obama administration are piling up like cars in a rush-hour traffic accident. But a day of reckoning will come, I suspect; first to Mr. Obama’s party, and then to Mr. Obama himself.

The decision to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a federal courthouse in Manhattan, where he and his four co-conspirators will receive the full array of rights enjoyed by American citizens, will show the world that our system of justice is an enlightened model for the rest of the world. It will “vindicate this country’s basic values” and “stand as a symbol in the world of something different from what the terrorists represent.” We will be adhering to the “rule of law.” Or so Obama defenders argue.

But imagine KSM being found not guilty, which is a possibility. What happens then? According to Democratic Senator Jack Reed, “under basic principles of international law, as long as these individuals pose a threat, they can be detained, and they will.” Come again? You mean if KSM is acquitted he will still be detained? Yes indeed, according to Senator Reed. He will not be released, “because under the principle of preventive detention, which is recognized during hostilities,” we can continue to hold KSM.

Well, now. It seems to me as though President Obama and Attorney General Holder need to be asked whether they agree with Senator Reed. If not — if they believe that the proud, self-confessed mastermind of the deadliest attack in history on the American homeland should be able to walk free if acquitted in this trial — then Obama and Holder should certainly say so. If KSM were acquitted, the president and his attorney general should proclaim from the rooftops that Mohammed is a free man, found innocent in a civilian court of law, and then allow voters to render a judgment on their decision.

If, on the other hand, Obama and Holder agree with Senator Reed, they should state that as well.

Right now Obama and Holder, in saying they are answering the “call to justice and fairness,” take great pride in presenting themselves as committed to equal justice under the law. That they are willing to try KSM in a civilian court is supposedly proof of their enlightened worldview. Except that if President Obama and Attorney General Holder agree with Senator Reed, it is all a fiction: If KSM is acquitted, he will not walk the streets of New York City or of any other place. He will be detained. The verdict in his trial will be rendered inoperative. And the justice and fairness that Obama and Holder speak about will turn out to be quite different from what most people who are praising Obama’s decision have in mind. The “rule of law” our president and his attorney general hope to showcase will actually be a game that has been rigged at the outset. It will be Alice in Wonderland justice (first the verdict, then the trial; and if the trial turns out differently from what you had hoped, ignore the verdict). If that’s the case, then what Obama and Holder are doing will turn out to be a very dangerous stunt done only for optics. Their actions will be revealed as cynical and misleading. And engaging in this charade in order to impress the rest of the world will do significant harm to our nation.

Every month the Obama administration seems to outdo itself in terms of making terribly unwise decisions. This one ranks high among them. It will add another damaging brushstroke to the Obama canvas. The current administration is revealing itself one act at a time; the curtain is being pulled back on it one decision at a time. The liberal, and in some cases the radical, actions of the Obama administration are piling up like cars in a rush-hour traffic accident. But a day of reckoning will come, I suspect; first to Mr. Obama’s party, and then to Mr. Obama himself.

Read Less




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