Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barack Obama

A “Clinton Democrat” Runs in New York

Democrat Sean Maloney is running for reelection to Congress in New York’s 18th Congressional District. He beat the incumbent, Republican Nan Hayworth, in 2012, and she is now trying to unseat him in turn. He is ahead according to the only poll on Real Clear Politics, released September 17, at 50-40. While undecideds tend to break against incumbents, that’s a fairly comfortable lead, although RCP has it only “leans Democratic.” The district covers some of the exurbs of New York City in the lower Hudson Valley as well as rural areas farther north. (It’s my congressional district, by the way.)

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Democrat Sean Maloney is running for reelection to Congress in New York’s 18th Congressional District. He beat the incumbent, Republican Nan Hayworth, in 2012, and she is now trying to unseat him in turn. He is ahead according to the only poll on Real Clear Politics, released September 17, at 50-40. While undecideds tend to break against incumbents, that’s a fairly comfortable lead, although RCP has it only “leans Democratic.” The district covers some of the exurbs of New York City in the lower Hudson Valley as well as rural areas farther north. (It’s my congressional district, by the way.)

Maloney got into politics as a volunteer in Bill Clinton’s first campaign for president and then worked in the Clinton White House, rising to the position of staff secretary.

The 18th is pretty much a middle-of-the-road district, and Maloney is running as a centrist Democrat. How centrist? Well, consider this. Although New York is one of just five states where President Obama’s approval rating is at or above 50 percent, much of that support is concentrated in New York City. Upstate, as in most of the country, Obama is about as popular as Ebola. No Democratic politician wants to be anywhere near him.

So Maloney’s yard signs—and yard signs sprout like mushrooms in New York State in the weeks before election day—say only, “Maloney: A Clinton Democrat.”

Obama Democrats are pretty thin on the ground these days, even in deep-blue New York State.

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Deserving Nobel Recipients

The Nobel Peace Prize was easy to lampoon even before Barack Obama won the award at the start of his presidency for doing essentially nothing beyond giving a few grandiose speeches.  It has tended to go to people like French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand and Secretary of State Frank Kellogg  (co-authors of the Briand-Kellogg Pact outlawing war as an instrument of policy), author Norman Angell (who wrote The Great Illusion, claiming that war was obsolete right before the outbreak of World War I), the Quakers, and the Pugwash Conferences—those who dreamed of peace but who did not have much luck in implementing their dreams.

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The Nobel Peace Prize was easy to lampoon even before Barack Obama won the award at the start of his presidency for doing essentially nothing beyond giving a few grandiose speeches.  It has tended to go to people like French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand and Secretary of State Frank Kellogg  (co-authors of the Briand-Kellogg Pact outlawing war as an instrument of policy), author Norman Angell (who wrote The Great Illusion, claiming that war was obsolete right before the outbreak of World War I), the Quakers, and the Pugwash Conferences—those who dreamed of peace but who did not have much luck in implementing their dreams.

Some of the recipients have actually been warmongers, most notably North Vietnamese Foreign Minister Le Duc Tho and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. South Korean President Kim Dae Jung won for his failed Sunshine Policy, which included bribing North Korea’s Kim Jong-il into meeting with him.  Few and far in between have been worthy recipients, such as Teddy Roosevelt, George Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., Anwar Sadat, and Menachem Begin, and Mother Theresa. The U.S. armed forces, the greatest force for good in the world in the past century, have never won the prize.

But occasionally the Nobel committee gets it right—usually once a decade or so. This is one of those times, with the award going to Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India. Yousafzai is the 17-year-old girl who had the temerity to campaign for girls’ education in the Taliban-dominated area of Swat in Pakistan. To silence her, a Taliban gunman shot her in the head but she survived and is now reportedly living in Britain. Satyarthi is a longtime campaigner against child slavery in India and is credited with freeing some 50,000 children from quasi-slavery as indentured laborers.

There are lots of heroes like Yousafazai and Satyarthi around the world who are fighting for freedom. Another worthy recipient would have been Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old leader of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The Nobel Committee should stick to recognizing and elevating their efforts instead of awarding prizes, as they have so often done, to Westerners who are big on grand gestures that cost them nothing.

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The Unresolved Problem with Boots on the Ground

A growing chorus of analysts, generals, and even cabinet secretaries who served under President Obama suggest that Obama’s stated goal to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS is not going to occur by means of air power alone. That might be true, although it’s also true that Obama hasn’t used airpower to its full effect. To read a Pentagon press release is to read reports of five, six, or seven airstrikes. Given that an aircraft carrier can launch planes every 30 to 40 seconds, this suggests that the Obama administration is effectively committing the equivalent of three or four minutes of dedicated aircraft carrier time to achieve its goals. And even then, many of the strikes Obama has ordered (and the president has said that he approves every strike carried out inside Syria) attack empty buildings or equipment far away from the fronts of the fight.

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A growing chorus of analysts, generals, and even cabinet secretaries who served under President Obama suggest that Obama’s stated goal to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS is not going to occur by means of air power alone. That might be true, although it’s also true that Obama hasn’t used airpower to its full effect. To read a Pentagon press release is to read reports of five, six, or seven airstrikes. Given that an aircraft carrier can launch planes every 30 to 40 seconds, this suggests that the Obama administration is effectively committing the equivalent of three or four minutes of dedicated aircraft carrier time to achieve its goals. And even then, many of the strikes Obama has ordered (and the president has said that he approves every strike carried out inside Syria) attack empty buildings or equipment far away from the fronts of the fight.

But even if boots on the ground are necessary with an augmented air campaign, there is one problem that is unsolvable, and that is the personality and lack of commitment of the commander-in-chief. President Obama has the strategic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Despite his September 10 speech, it’s unclear whether he is truly committed to destroying ISIS or was simply reacting to the spike in public outrage following the murder of James Foley.

Now make no mistake: I personally feel that the defeat of ISIS is an overwhelming national interest, and that the goal should not simply be “deradicalization” for its fighters, but rather their death. That said, there is nothing more dangerous to any potential ground troops than to be inserted into a warzone without broad public consensus about their mission and to have a commander-in-chief who has consistently met the requests of forces in the field with indecision and a failure to deliver what ground commanders consider their minimum basic needs.

What can be done? Unfortunately, there’s no good answer with such lackluster leadership in the White House and Congress. But those serving in uniform and placing themselves in harm’s way should not be a political football. At present, however, that is exactly how the president and some members of both parties treat them and the ISIS problem. Until there is focus and responsibility in both the White House and Congress, and recognition that military action cannot be governed by polls or political timelines, it is foolhardy to insert ground forces.  Regardless of how they might be needed and how determined ISIS is to strike the United States, ground troops without serious leadership would be unwise. Never again should there be a deployment of ground forces without political consensus, broad public support. If these are lacking and we have to pay the consequence, then that will be a “teachable moment” for the public about the importance of freedom and the nature of the evil that the United State must confront.

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Keeping America Safe for the Middle Class

“If Republicans win, we know who they’ll be fighting for,” President Obama said on Tuesday. “Once again, the interests of billionaires will come before the needs of the middle class.”

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“If Republicans win, we know who they’ll be fighting for,” President Obama said on Tuesday. “Once again, the interests of billionaires will come before the needs of the middle class.”

Where did he say it? According to the New York Post, in the hyper-exclusive Conyers Farm area of very upscale Greenwich, Connecticut. Conyers Farm has ten-acre zoning. He was speaking at a fundraiser at the $26-million estate of a man named, believe it or not, Rich Richman. His audience consisted of people who had paid up to $32,400 a head to have dinner with him. He had flown up from New York City, where he had earlier attended a fundraiser hosted by George Soros (net worth $24 billion) and Paul Tudor Jones (net worth $4.3 billion). The flight was in a convoy of four helicopters and they landed at the Greenwich Polo Club. Polo, of course, is the most expensive sport you can play on land. (A polo field measures 300 by 160 yards, bigger than nine football fields.)

So the president was telling a bunch of millionaires and billionaires to pony up in order to prevent the country from being run for the benefit of millionaires and billionaires, the one segment of the American socioeconomic spectrum that has prospered exceedingly during the Obama administration.

And politicians wonder why people don’t like them or trust them.

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Obama’s Strategy May Turn the Islamic State into the “Strong Horse”

Those who early on said that President Obama’s strategy to “degrade and defeat” the Islamic State — the words and aims are Mr. Obama’s — was ludicrously insufficient are finding those concerns being borne out.

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Those who early on said that President Obama’s strategy to “degrade and defeat” the Islamic State — the words and aims are Mr. Obama’s — was ludicrously insufficient are finding those concerns being borne out.

On the front page of Wednesday’s USA Today is a picture with this caption: “ISIL close to seizing strategic Syrian town: Smoke rises from Kobani, Syria, as seen from the Turkish side of the border. Despite U.S.-led airstrikes, Islamic State militants are still encroaching, indicating President Obama’s no-ground-troops strategy may not be working.”

Reporting on the same event, the New York Times puts things this way:

A Kurdish official in Kobani, Assi Abdullah, said that despite the bombing, Islamic State fighters had managed to enter new areas of the town and move north, closer to the border.

That development, along with what could be seen of the fighting from across the border, suggested that two days of intensive airstrikes had failed to turn back the militants. Kurdish fighters, as well as Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have said that airstrikes alone will not stop the attackers.

These reports should be combined with this one, a Wall Street Journal story that reports, “Islamic State appears to have largely withstood the airstrikes so far and with scant pressure on the ground in Iraq and Syria, the militants have given up little of the territory they captured before the campaign began.”

“The strikes are useless so far,” said Mohammad Hassan, an activist in eastern Syria battling the regime of Bashar al-Assad. “Most of the training camps and the bases were empty when the coalition hit them.”

(On Saturday Islamic State fighters seized the Iraqi town of Kubaisa, located in western Anbar province, “its latest conquest in the desert region where it has chalked up a string of victories, a military official and people fleeing the scene said.” This comes two days after the fall of Hit and as the Islamic State sought to consolidate control in towns west of Ramadi.)

What’s happening was easy to predict when the president announced his plan to defeat the Islamic State without “boots on the ground”; it’s now being confirmed by facts on the ground.

Mr. Obama is waging this war in a slapdash fashion. (He is reluctant even to refer to this conflict as a war.) His approach is de minimis, a trifling, “defined mainly by its limitations,” according to the Washington Post. Unless he fundamentally alters his approach, the president has no chance to achieve his stated goal. The result may be the Islamic State, having withstood our strikes, will be seen as the “strong horse” in the Middle East. America, thanks to Mr. Obama, will be seen as the “weak horse.” And we know what that led to last time. “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” So said Osama bin Laden shortly after 9/11.

Has Barack Obama learned nothing since then?

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The President’s Emotional State Bears Watching

One of the more interesting political/psychological pastimes these days is to watch how President Obama deals with his crumbling presidency. The answer is: Not well.

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One of the more interesting political/psychological pastimes these days is to watch how President Obama deals with his crumbling presidency. The answer is: Not well.

Take (via The Daily Caller) his comments last night in which Mr. Obama blamed the press for his travails:

“Frankly, the press and Washington, all it does is feed cynicism,” he insisted, despite getting six years of favorable coverage from establishment newspapers and TV shows.

“Most of you don’t know the statistics I just gave you,” Obama said, after listing a series of cherry-picked data that ignored that roughly 10 million Americans who have given up looking for work, and the $7 trillion in added debt.

“The reason you don’t know [the favorable data] is because they elicit hope. They’re good news … and that’s not what we hear about,” he declared to the roughly 250 supporters who paid up to $1,000 to attend.

“We hear about phony scandals, and we hear about the latest shiny object, and we hear about how Washington will never work,” Obama insisted.

Pobrecito, as the Spanish say. Poor thing.

What is worth paying increasing attention to, I think, is the emotional state of the president. It’s in front of his donors that his most authentic feelings seem to surface, and it’s clear he’s becoming increasingly isolated, embittered, and thin skinned. His excuse making is now chronic and habitual. He’s even displaying some signs of paranoia. Everyone is against him.

Obama is becoming Nixonian.

The man who by a wide margin has received the most worshipful press coverage in at least the last half-century is complaining that the press is mistreating him. A president who routinely misleads the public on matters large and small, who first ran for president on the promise of unifying America but governs based on dividing it, and who allows the most important national-security matters to be decided by crass political considerations is blaming others for feeding cynicism.

Watching a narcissist struggle to deal with massive, multiplying failures can be a poignant thing, especially when everyone gets what’s going on except the narcissist and his enablers. When this happens to a sitting president, however, what is poignant becomes alarming. Because it’s always better that the president of the United States live in reality rather than creating his own.

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Dems Prepare for World Without Obama

After two presidential election victories that were won largely on the force of his personality and the historic nature of his candidacies, Barack Obama’s political stock is low and getting lower. But while the sidelining of the president in this year’s midterm elections is depressing for his many and adoring media cheerleaders, it is an important dry run for his party. Though much of the attention in the midterms is on the Democrats efforts to retain control of the Senate, they’re also attempting to do something else: prepare for a political world without Obama. Their success this year or lack thereof may go a long way toward answering the question as to whether Obama’s past victories truly transformed American politics or were just a passing phase.

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After two presidential election victories that were won largely on the force of his personality and the historic nature of his candidacies, Barack Obama’s political stock is low and getting lower. But while the sidelining of the president in this year’s midterm elections is depressing for his many and adoring media cheerleaders, it is an important dry run for his party. Though much of the attention in the midterms is on the Democrats efforts to retain control of the Senate, they’re also attempting to do something else: prepare for a political world without Obama. Their success this year or lack thereof may go a long way toward answering the question as to whether Obama’s past victories truly transformed American politics or were just a passing phase.

Heeding the call of his immense ego rather than the advice of his party’s political consultants, last week President Obama attempted to inject himself into this year’s midterm elections. But the unpopular president’s declaration that his policies, if not his name, was on the ballot in November was remarkable mainly for the fact that it was treated as a major political gaffe rather than as an inspiring call to arms for Democratic activists. This turn of events is a comedown for a man who entered the White House like a messiah but will spend his last years there as a lame duck. But, as the New York Times reports today, the real story here is whether the Obama coalition of young people, unmarried women, minorities, and educated elites that elected him twice is a foundation for his party’s future or something that stopped being relevant after 2012.

The president’s supporters believe he can still play a role in mobilizing key Democratic constituencies. In deep-blue states like Illinois, New York, and California that might be true. But as the president’s poll numbers head south, the idea that the magic of his personality can create a governing majority is no longer viable. With Democratic candidates in battleground states avoiding the unpopular chief executive like the plague, it is increasingly clear that his party is on its own.

It should be remembered that in the wake of the 2008 and 2012 elections, we were treated to a round of Democratic triumphalism about Obama having changed American politics in a way that gave his party what amounted to a permanent majority for the foreseeable future. That in turn generated a companion wave of Republican pessimism about their inability to win in a changing demographic environment in which minority voters would ensure GOP losses in national elections.

But like all such predictions (remember how George W. Bush’s victory in 2004 was thought to herald a permanent GOP majority?), these analyses failed to take into account that issues, candidates, and circumstances make each election a unique event. The Democrats’ victories were impressive and influenced heavily by the fact that the electorate is less white than it was only a decade ago. But if you take the Obama factor out of the equation, the notion of a permanent hope-and-change coalition seems more like science fiction than political science.

As the Times notes, the president isn’t only less popular among groups that are less inclined to support him but also among those that were crucial to the Democrats’ recent victories like young people and women. While no one thought that Obama would be anything but a liability to Democrats in red states like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, or Georgia, he’s also being politely asked to keep out of swing states like North Carolina and even light blue states like Michigan. All of which means that this midterm is shaping up as a preview of 2016 when Democrats will try to win a national election without the old Obama magic helping them.

One Democratic answer centers on their past and their likely 2016 nominee: the Clintons. Hillary Clinton will have her own coalition to build and can certainly count on enthusiasm for what may be our first major-party female candidate for president. But as much as Democrats in states like Arkansas are happy to welcome her husband in to help bolster their tickets, it may be too much to ask even of Bill Clinton to expect him to save incumbents like Mark Prior.

Without the Obama personality cult boosting Democratic turnout, they will have to fall back on their technological edge in turnout and organization. Yet in the end each election is decided more on the names on the ballots than anything else. It remains to be seen whether the Democrats’ shaky incumbents and weak bench is strong enough to build on what Obama accomplished. But those who are counting on the same sort of enthusiasm fueling future Democratic campaigns need to explain who, in the absence of a charismatic leader, can give a reason for voters to heed the social networking appeals and other strategies that have worked so well for them in the recent past.

A world without Obama is terra incognita for a Democratic Party that must prove it can win a victory without the aid of a boogeyman like George W. Bush or a hope-and-change messiah. Moreover, eight years of a largely failed presidency has altered the political landscape just as much as the changing demographics. Next month we will get the first indication whether Democrats are equipped to deal with that dilemma. If the polls that currently give the GOP an edge are any indication, they might not like the answer.

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Bobby Jindal: One Wonk to Rule Them All?

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is continuing to write the preamble to his 2016 presidential candidacy. In April, Jindal released a health-care reform plan. Last month, he offered an energy plan. And yesterday, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, he laid out his approach to defense policy. All of them have one thing in common: Jindal is not just part of the new breed of reform conservatives; he is hoping to be the first conservative wonk to win the Republican presidential nomination.

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Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is continuing to write the preamble to his 2016 presidential candidacy. In April, Jindal released a health-care reform plan. Last month, he offered an energy plan. And yesterday, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, he laid out his approach to defense policy. All of them have one thing in common: Jindal is not just part of the new breed of reform conservatives; he is hoping to be the first conservative wonk to win the Republican presidential nomination.

Jindal is obviously smart, experienced, and fluent in policy. He’s also taken on the kind of “happy warrior” persona Republicans should embrace: outrage is not the same thing as anger. And seems to understand the importance of perceived authenticity, so he’s dropped the faux-folksiness he once wore on his sleeve and appears more comfortable in his own skin. But for the revenge of the nerds to be successful, Jindal is going to have to overcome the key challenge posed by how Republicans and Democrats see American electoral politics today.

On the Republican side, few if any doubt Jindal’s obvious intelligence and undeniable competence. But in a wide-open race for the nomination, it will be crucial for each candidate to have their own base within the conservative movement. In this respect, Jindal’s identity as a jack of all trades is less beneficial than it first appears.

Jindal’s defense plan is hawkish, but Marco Rubio long beat him to the punch in terms of establishing his political identity as a learned advocate for a robust American presence in the world. If the party’s hawks are to latch onto any prospective candidate, Rubio is likely to be the one. Most of the party’s potential nominees are hawkish and even Rand Paul has embraced the plain fact that President Obama’s unthinking retrenchment has been a disaster. (So have the president’s Cabinet secretaries; no one wants to take any credit for Obama’s colossal mishandling of world affairs.)

The same is generally true of the other major streams of American conservatism, as I’ve written in the past. But Jindal’s official identification as a hawk does not change the calculus.

The other challenge for Jindal here is how the two parties have reacted to the failure of the Obama presidency. When Obama was a candidate, he was built up by the media and his supporters (but I repeat myself) as a very smart, nuanced thinker. When that turned out not to be true, and when it became clear he also didn’t have the intellectual curiosity necessary to remedy his broad lack of knowledge, the right and the left each reacted differently.

Conservatives responded by turning forcefully against the pretensions of the academic elite. Rule by experts was always under suspicion because of the folly of treating people as science experiments and the repellant culture of eugenics so many of the policies seek to legitimize. But with Obama it became perfectly clear that the experts weren’t actually experts. Liberals just pretended to know what they were talking about, and hid behind credentialism when questioned.

Who is better positioned to take advantage of the discovery that the professor has no clothes, someone like Jindal or someone like, say, Scott Walker, the successful reformist governor without even a college degree? To conservatives, the answer seems clear. They will almost surely end up nominating someone more knowledgeable than the current president, just because the bar is so low. But they would take special pleasure in nominating precisely the kind of politician who would be looked down upon by the Democrats but who would nonetheless run circles around their Democratic opponent intellectually.

Liberals responded to Obama’s failure in a different way: by reverting to the mean of left-liberal politics. Democratic Party politics is traditionally a method of organizing a coalition of interested parties in such a way as to reward them for their support. There is not much of a coherent ideological component outside of the extremely ideological character of the party’s positions on social and cultural issues. Ben Domenech touched on this in last month’s COMMENTARY by noting that:

History may ultimately consider Obama’s 2008 nomination as a representation not of progressivism’s resurgent appeal, but as its death rattle—a speed bump along the way to the Democratic Party’s becoming a fully corporatist, Clinton-owned entity. In practice, the party now resembles a protection racket with an army of volunteers, with friends who never suffer and enemies who never relax.

Political science has begun to catch up with this reality as well. In a recent paper, Matt Grossman and his coauthor David A. Hopkins studied the way Democrats and Republicans each seek to govern, and explain that Republicans tend to govern according to ideological principles while Democrats govern by rewarding constituencies. They write:

The partisan asymmetry in the governing style of political elites has its roots in the mass public. Party identifiers in the electorate perceive political choices differently: Republicans are more likely to reason ideologically whereas Democrats are more likely to think of politics as a competition among groups over benefits. This difference is durable over time.

The authors add that “Republican politicians and interest groups thus represent both their partisan base and a wider public majority when they think, speak, and act ideologically, advocating restrictions on government activity in a broad sense. By contrast, Democratic politicians and affiliated interests prefer to stress their advocacy of particular policies that have wider public support and that offer targeted benefits to members of their electoral coalition, placing themselves on the side of social groups favoring government action to ameliorate perceived disadvantages.”

That also helps explain the proliferation of put-upon groups in the constellation of liberal identity politics. If Democrats need more votes, they stoke resentment and create a new category for taxpayer-funded benefits. Their response to the revelation that their experts can’t be trusted, in other words, was to go back to inviting enough voters to raid the treasury to win national elections.

What does that mean for Jindal and the wonks? It means an uphill battle. Republicans believe they nominated a competent managerial technocrat last time around–and lost decisively. And Democrats aren’t particularly interested in intellectual prowess–they simply want to divide and conquer the electorate. Jindal is obviously qualified to be the nation’s chief executive. But it’s lonely out there for a wonk.

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Obama Writes His Own Ballot Epitaph

The debate continued today over whether President Obama made a colossal gaffe when he said last week that while he wasn’t on the ballot, his policies were. Even though former Obama political guru David Axelrod admitted this was a mistake, White House spokesman Josh Earnest loyally claimed the statement wouldn’t hurt Democrats. But like most of Earnest’s duties rationalizing, excusing, or downright lying about the administration’s failures, the official party line was unpersuasive. But now that Republicans are starting to put the video clip to good use, the pertinent question are not about its wisdom but concern just how much damage it will do in close Senate races and whether it will serve as a fitting epitaph for a failed presidency.

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The debate continued today over whether President Obama made a colossal gaffe when he said last week that while he wasn’t on the ballot, his policies were. Even though former Obama political guru David Axelrod admitted this was a mistake, White House spokesman Josh Earnest loyally claimed the statement wouldn’t hurt Democrats. But like most of Earnest’s duties rationalizing, excusing, or downright lying about the administration’s failures, the official party line was unpersuasive. But now that Republicans are starting to put the video clip to good use, the pertinent question are not about its wisdom but concern just how much damage it will do in close Senate races and whether it will serve as a fitting epitaph for a failed presidency.

The irony about the president’s challenge is that his party’s best, if not only chance to hang onto the Senate this year rested in the ability of Democrats or even independents like Kansan Greg Orman to distance themselves from Obama. That’s a task that some members of his party are finding easier than others.

North Carolina’s Kay Hagan has spent much of the last year trying to point out her differences with the president and making her reelection fight a referendum on the record of her GOP opponent Thom Tillis, the speaker of the unpopular North Carolina legislature. To the extent that other Democrats like Colorado’s Mark Udall, Arkansas’s Mark Prior, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, and Alaska’s Mark Begich have given themselves a fighting chance in their uphill reelection fights it was by playing the same “I’m not Obama” card. That also applies to those Democratic challengers like Georgia’s Michelle Nunn and Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes who have a chance to knock off Republican opponents.

As for the nominally independent Orman, as Seth noted earlier today, his likely victory is based on the notion that the midterms will be about Senator Pat Roberts’ desultory record and not whether the GOP needs to be given the Senate in order to thwart the Democrats’ plans.

It is true that the Republicans have been trying to make the president the central issue in the campaign all along with middling success. In the second term of a presidency, the midterm inevitably revolves around the incumbent in the White House and his policies. But midterms are by their very definition statewide contests and not national elections. And if there has been any consistent theme sounded by liberal pundits it is that the GOP has clearly failed to make issues closely associated with the president such as ObamaCare central to the contest this fall. But with one stray ill-considered line, Obama may have tossed away his party’s key advantage.

Will this prove decisive? The extent of the damage may be more than Democrats will currently admit. In 2012 Mitt Romney carried all of the states where battleground contests are being fought. The last thing Kay Hagan or any other Democrat needed this year was a reminder that the president thinks the election is all about him and not a Democrat who keeps telling the voters that they are not named Barack Obama. A month is a lifetime in politics and it may seem that long to Democratic incumbents who will be forced to endure endless repetitions of the Obama clip in their opponents’ campaign ads.

But rather than attempting to estimate the carnage this foolish remark will cause for his supporters, perhaps the better question to ask is why he did it. About that there doesn’t seem much room for debate.

The defining characteristic of this presidency remains the arrogance of Barack Obama. Having come into office on the strength of a campaign that presented him as not merely a breath of fresh air but as a messiah who could turn back the oceans and renew American society, the president’s inflated opinion of his abilities and his appeal is hardly surprising. Nor after two elections won on the strength of his personal appeal is it at all astonishing that he would think injecting himself into the midterms would be to his party’s advantage.

But along with the self-assurance that comes with two presidential victories is the reality that the Obama White House remains an echo chamber where bad news or telling the truth about the president’s mistakes are not welcome. In the same bubble where it is OK for Obama to blame the intelligence community for underestimating ISIS when it was he who would make that error despite his advisors warning him of the danger, the news about the president’s staggering unpopularity in his second term has also not penetrated the commander-in-chief’s inner sanctum.

But even if some are telling our emperor–who believes he can govern without the consent of Congress on issues like immigration and is arrogant enough to warn the voters he will do just that after they are done casting their ballots—that he has no clothes, this is not a man who is likely to listen to such advice. If he has lengthened what was almost certainly going to be a longer than average lame duck period of his presidency with last week’s statement, it is in a way fitting that this should happen as a result of his outsized ego rather than anything else.

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What’s Wrong with the American Economy?

Growth in the American economy since the year 2000 has averaged 1.7 percent per annum. That’s about half of what it averaged in the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton years. Unemployment, especially in the broader measures, remains stubbornly high five years after the recession of 2007-2009 ended. What’s going on?

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Growth in the American economy since the year 2000 has averaged 1.7 percent per annum. That’s about half of what it averaged in the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton years. Unemployment, especially in the broader measures, remains stubbornly high five years after the recession of 2007-2009 ended. What’s going on?

According to Peter Morici, an economics professor at the University of Maryland (and the bow-tied star of TV commercials for Kyocera office equipment) the problems lie in five key areas. 1) Poorly enforced trade agreements that allow China to manipulate its currency and export more goods to the United States, costing U.S. jobs. 2) Counterproductive energy policies that reduce domestic production, and therefore jobs, and cause more oil to be imported. 3) Burdensome regulations and taxation, such as restrictive licensing requirements and the highest corporate tax in the developed world. 4) Crony capitalism that reduces competition in the private sector in exchange for political contributions. 5) Disincentives to work, such as ever-expanding entitlements.

The good news is that, unlike the economic problems faced by many countries, all of these problems are amenable to reform. The bad news is that reforming the status quo, which always has determined defenders, requires strong presidential leadership and a Congress capable of acting in the national interest, not just in its members’ interests.

Right now, of course, we have neither. Even Democrats are beginning to notice that the Obama presidency is notably lacking in leadership. And Congress is more dysfunctional than it has been in a very long time. The latter problem can be at least partially ameliorated in a month. The former will have to wait until 2017.

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ISIS Withstanding U.S. Counteroffensive

The limited bombing that President Obama has unleashed against ISIS is, predictably, having little impact. As one would expect, ISIS has adjusted its tactics to make itself a hard target to hit from the air–there will be fewer columns of vehicles flying the black flag and fewer chances to see ISIS leaders in the open. The Wall Street Journal notes, “Islamic State appears to have largely withstood the airstrikes so far and with scant pressure on the ground in Iraq and Syria, the militants have given up little of the territory they captured before the campaign began.”

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The limited bombing that President Obama has unleashed against ISIS is, predictably, having little impact. As one would expect, ISIS has adjusted its tactics to make itself a hard target to hit from the air–there will be fewer columns of vehicles flying the black flag and fewer chances to see ISIS leaders in the open. The Wall Street Journal notes, “Islamic State appears to have largely withstood the airstrikes so far and with scant pressure on the ground in Iraq and Syria, the militants have given up little of the territory they captured before the campaign began.”

Actually it’s worse than that–far from giving up ground, ISIS continues to take fresh territory. There are recent reports that “the black flag of ISIS was raised on the outskirts of the Kurdish Syrian town of Kobani on Monday afternoon”; that ISIS fighters “have become a major presence in Abu Ghraib,” a town only 15 miles from Baghdad International Airport; and that ISIS fighters have also “seized weapons and besieged hundreds of Iraqi soldiers after overrunning … the Albu Aytha military camp, 50 miles outside of Baghdad.”

And the situation could get more dire still: “With U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq failing to halt the advance of the Islamic State, opposition forces in neighboring Syria warn that the Obama administration risks losing the Iraqi capital of Baghdad unless Washington helps the rebels open up new fronts against the militants in both countries.” Actually it’s unlikely that Baghdad will fall anytime soon to ISIS simply because there are so many Shiite residents of the capital, but it is quite plausible to expect a battle in the streets that will increase the already high death toll.

What is to be done about all this? Robert Ford, who resigned in disgust as Obama’s ambassador to Syria, offers useful suggestions. These include: “The United States and its partners must supply more ammunition and equipment to moderate groups in northern and southern Syria…. We must support a unified Syrian command structure by channeling our assistance through it, and we need to insist that our Arab allies do the same… We should be doing more to coordinate our attacks with opposition commanders.”

All good ideas. Beyond that, Obama needs to relax his prohibition on “boots on the ground.” While there are undoubtedly some Special Operations and CIA forces already running around Iraq and possibly Syria, a much larger commitment of Special Operators and advisers is needed to work as combat advisers alongside Kurdish pesh merga, Sunni tribes, and select units of the Iraqi army and Free Syrian Army. This will make it possible to push back ISIS from the town of Kobani, whereas if the U.S. doesn’t have eyes on the ground it will be hard to bomb accurately.

The U.S. must also recommit to toppling Assad–a move that could finally entice President Erdogan of Turkey to commit Turkish troops to carve out safe zones in northern Syria where the more moderate Syrian opposition can begin to govern and thus offer an alternative to the terror of both Assad and ISIS.

In short, Obama needs to overcome his illusions and understand the limits of air power. Bombing is a good first step, but by itself it is not going to roll back the fanatical empire that ISIS is constructing.

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Obama, Media Call for Segregation in Israel

The most concerning aspect to the periodic arguments between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is not that they fight, but what they fight about. No one expects a disagreement about how to approach the Iranian nuclear program not to raise the temperature a bit; it’s something many Israelis consider an existential threat and it would shift the balance of power in global politics further away from the West while isolating Israel even more. If the two are going to argue, in other words, argue over something important.

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The most concerning aspect to the periodic arguments between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is not that they fight, but what they fight about. No one expects a disagreement about how to approach the Iranian nuclear program not to raise the temperature a bit; it’s something many Israelis consider an existential threat and it would shift the balance of power in global politics further away from the West while isolating Israel even more. If the two are going to argue, in other words, argue over something important.

But you can tell the relationship is really on the rocks by the fights the Obama administration chooses to pick, most recently on two issues: Jewish construction in Givat Hamatos, a Jerusalem community just over the green line, and the private sale of existing homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan from Arabs to Jews. The case of Givat Hamatos is standard fare for fights over settlements: although the Obama administration is wrong here (as usual), it’s a petty but classic fight to pick for American officials looking to take potshots at Israel. (Though the optics of telling black Ethiopian immigrants they must live in substandard housing is not the Obama administration’s proudest moment, to be sure.)

The Givat Hamatos tiff, therefore, doesn’t speak well of Obama, but doesn’t really break any new ground. That’s not true of Silwan. Obama’s objection to a Jew legally buying a home from an Arab in Jerusalem is nothing less than ethnic segregationism, and press secretary Josh Earnest’s classification of such a home as an “occupation” is the kind of pro-Palestinian propaganda the parroting of which is, quite frankly, evidence of a level of surpassing ignorance shocking even for the Obama administration. (Discrimination which the New York Times endorsed as well.) On that note, this nugget from an earlier Times of Israel story about the controversy jumps out:

When asked about Netanyahu’s allegations that the US was telling Jews that they could not buy houses in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which several Jewish families moved into earlier the week, Psaki did not clarify Washington’s position regarding the Ir David group’s independent purchase of Arab-owned houses there.

Instead, Psaki said that there were questions involving building permits and construction — an answer that seemed to address the municipality’s involvement in Givat Hamatos rather than the private initiative in Silwan.

It wasn’t clear that Jen Psaki even knew what she was being asked about. The degree to which this administration’s advisors and spokesmen are uninformed about issues on which they pronounce judgment is simply incredible.

It’s indefensible, so it’s strange for the Obama administration and its allies in the press to continue pushing the segregationist line. Netanyahu can’t quite believe it either, saying over the weekend that ethnic segregationism is “against the American values.” This is obviously true. But it caused a bit of a stir in part because of how news organizations chose to play the story. And here we have a great example of the split in Israel over journalistic ethics, between honest publications and publications like Haaretz. Both Haaretz and the Times of Israel ran the AP story on Netanyahu’s comments. Here’s the Times of Israel’s headline:

PM: US East Jerusalem critique is ‘against American values’

Accurate and precise. And here’s Haaretz’s headline:

Netanyahu: It’s un-American to rebuke Israel over Jewish homes in Jerusalem

Clearly false and intentionally provocative. Now, to be fair to Haaretz, they weren’t the only ones to run with a false headline. They appear to have run a modified version of the original headline but keeping the formulation. The Times of Israel chose to say something true instead. The Associated Press did not exactly cover itself in glory this weekend.

But Netanyahu’s comments were less an attempt to escalate a bizarre diplomatic incident and more a way of throwing up his hands, as if to say, “Mr. President, what do you honestly expect me to do about this?” Can the Israeli prime minister possibly–assuming he even wants to comply with the American president’s order–intervene to overturn a legal sale because it was made from an Arab to a Jew? What on earth could Obama be expecting here? That Israel be the one Western country to legally restrict Jewish property rights? In the year 2014? In Jerusalem? Does the president even understand what he’s asking here?

The safe bet is generally to answer such questions in the negative: no, Obama does not understand what he’s saying. That is usually the case, especially with regard to the Middle East, where his knowledge of history and politics has always been alarmingly limited. But at some point, ignorance ceases to be an excuse. These are important issues, and they have immediate ramifications not just for geopolitics but also for the safety of those involved, the Middle East being the tinderbox it is. It’s time for the president to swallow his pride, crack open a book and a map, and start making sense.

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Obama Should Apologize, Not Biden

For most casual observers, it will be filed under the category of “Biden being Biden.” But the story of the apology to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tells us more about the Obama administration’s dysfunctional foreign policy than it does about the vice president’s predilection for saying embarrassing things. But rather than apologizing to Erdoğan for telling the truth about the Turks facilitating the rise of ISIS by letting Islamists enter Syria, it is Biden’s boss, President Obama, who should admit that it was his foolish decisions that did more to create the disaster in Iraq and Syria that allowed the rise of Islamist terrorists.

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For most casual observers, it will be filed under the category of “Biden being Biden.” But the story of the apology to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tells us more about the Obama administration’s dysfunctional foreign policy than it does about the vice president’s predilection for saying embarrassing things. But rather than apologizing to Erdoğan for telling the truth about the Turks facilitating the rise of ISIS by letting Islamists enter Syria, it is Biden’s boss, President Obama, who should admit that it was his foolish decisions that did more to create the disaster in Iraq and Syria that allowed the rise of Islamist terrorists.

Biden’s statement at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government was the textbook definition of a gaffe: telling an embarrassing truth. He was quoted as saying that Erdoğan admitted to him that Turkey had erred by letting Islamists flood over the border when it was aiding Syrian rebels against the Assad regime and that they are now trying to be more selective about the people that are allowed to cross into the war zone. Since Turkey was willing to aid anyone who said they were willing to fight Assad, they deserve some blame for allowing ISIS to be armed and giving them the time and the space needed to begin their offensive that ultimately brought much of Syria and Iraq under the control.

That hit a little too close to the truth for Erdoğan, who demanded an apology and the always biddable Biden complied even though he also wrongly praised the Turks for their belated decision to join the anti-ISIS alliance, something that our Michael Rubin pointed out didn’t mean exactly what Biden thought it did.

Turkey’s status as a NATO ally and their geo-strategic position means that Washington will always need to tread carefully around Ankara’s interests even though it is clear that the goals of Erdoğan’s Islamist government are antithetical to those of the United States.

But if high-ranking Obama administration officials are so eager to apportion blame for ISIS’s ongoing strength they should look at a mirror rather than at Turkey.

Erdoğan’s desire to overthrow the Assad regime was no secret and led Turkey to make common cause with many undesirable elements. Indeed, as Michael Rubin noted, the authorization of the use of force in Syria by Turkey is about their desire to suppress Kurds, not to battle ISIS.

But Turkey’s unchecked mischief making in Syria was only made possible by Erdoğan’s erstwhile best buddy Barack Obama, who stood by and did nothing about Syria when U.S. intervention early on would have toppled Assad more easily while also making it far less likely that ISIS would have arisen in this fashion.

More to the point, while the president blamed U.S. intelligence for failing to anticipate ISIS gaining strength—something that is a blatant lie since it warned Obama of the dangers of the course he was following—it is more than obvious that the administration chose to let the Turks run amok because of its reluctance to face up to the need for America to lead in the region. By ignoring the advice of his more sober senior advisers like Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, and pulling out of Iraq and dithering on Syria while he was cozying up to Erdoğan, it was Obama who created the power vacuum that gave ISIS its opportunity.

But as we survey the unfolding tragicomedy of the administration’s relations with Turkey, we’d also do well to ponder what the loose-lipped vice president will be saying about our current problems a year or two from now. If President Obama sticks to his current policy of desultory bombing of ISIS with no effective ground forces opposing the Islamists, the threat from these terrorists will grow rather than recede. Since the president is still more interested in withdrawing from the region and striking deals with its more dangerous actors such as Iran rather than in backing our endangered moderate Arab allies or Israel, before too long it will be necessary to construct another cover story to account for the disasters that will follow.

When Biden is asked in late 2015 or in 2016 who or what created the disaster in Iraq and Syria or the next domino to fall, there’s no telling who the scapegoat will be. But no matter which country receives the veep’s inevitable apology, the real answer will always be Barack Obama.

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Obama Deportation Pledge Is Dem Dilemma

When it comes to immigration, President Obama and his party are between a rock and a hard place. But the president’s efforts to finesse the issue of deportations of illegal immigrants are creating as many problems for Democrats as they are solving. By postponing plans to issue executive orders that would effectively legalize millions of illegals, the president alienated Hispanics. But by publicly promising to do so only after the midterm elections in November, as he did last night in a speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute gala, he may be dooming the red-state Democratic incumbents he sought to help by putting off the moves in the first place.

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When it comes to immigration, President Obama and his party are between a rock and a hard place. But the president’s efforts to finesse the issue of deportations of illegal immigrants are creating as many problems for Democrats as they are solving. By postponing plans to issue executive orders that would effectively legalize millions of illegals, the president alienated Hispanics. But by publicly promising to do so only after the midterm elections in November, as he did last night in a speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute gala, he may be dooming the red-state Democratic incumbents he sought to help by putting off the moves in the first place.

No matter where you come down on the issue of immigration reform, the president’s plans to effectively nullify existing laws by executive fiat and allow millions of people to stay who might otherwise be deported is an egregious abuse of power. Those who want Congress to act to repair the country’s broken immigration system may well criticize the House of Representatives for failing to either pass the bipartisan comprehensive reform bill produced by the Senate or to move their own bill or bills. But their decision to hold off on such legislation does not entitle the president to act as if he can govern on his own without congressional consent.

But that is exactly what his restive Hispanic supporters have been demanding that he do for the last six years. Democrats need Hispanic voters to vote this fall in something like the same huge numbers that turned out for the president in 2012 in order to have a shot at holding on to the Senate. But many who blame the president for the high number of deportations of illegals that have been carried out on his watch have lost patience and see no reason to flock to the polls. That’s especially true in states where Democrats have opposed unilateral action by the president because they understand just how unpopular such moves are with most voters.

So in order to convince Hispanics to be good soldiers in the Democrat army, he is promising again that he will trash the rule of law and stop the deportations once the midterms are over. But the irony is that one of the Democrats most in need of those Hispanic voters not only opposed the president’s executive orders but also has demanded that he not use them even after November. North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan is one of the few embattled Democrats fighting for reelection this year that are still favored to win. But the more the president talks about overturning the laws and allowing millions of illegals to evade deportation, the worse her chances of holding onto a slim lead over Republican Thom Tillis look. Nor, even after Obama’s latest promises, is it likely that Hispanics will feel very enthusiastic about backing Hagan.

It should be understood that while a majority of Americans understand that the immigration system needs to be fixed and a solution found for the more than 11 million people who are already here illegally, they are not sanguine about measures that may invite even more illegal immigration in the future. The crisis at the Texas border this past summer highlighted the fact that reform efforts and the president’s statements have helped create a new surge of illegals. That has changed the debate about the issue in a way that places the president’s threats of unilateral action directly contrary to the will of the public and the Constitution.

The pledge to stop the deportations makes sense if the Democrats’ priority this year was to energize their base of minority voters. But the midterms are largely being fought in swing or red states where Republicans can just as easily batter their opponents by speaking of what the president has said he will do as they can by criticizing what he has already done. The GOP record on immigration isn’t good and ultimately they need to find a response to the issue that speaks of more than border security if they ever hope to make a dent in the Hispanic vote. But if Democrats think they can hold Congress by Obama acting in a manner that may well set off an even greater surge of illegals that will also hope to be eventually granted amnesty, they are mistaken.

The president’s plans undermine the rule of law while not really fixing the problem. But the more he talks about this sensitive issue, the more harm he is doing to the cause of his party.

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It’s Time to Talk About Serious IRS Reform

On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, the Washington Post noted an amusing coincidence: “Almost a quarter century ago, Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson served as Republican counsel on the Senate Watergate committee. Now he chairs the Senate panel investigating the current White House fund-raising scandal.” The timing was interesting because, as the Post explained, the “controversy came to light last year because of the reforms of Watergate, including requirements that campaigns and political parties regularly submit lists of their contributors to the Federal Election Commission.”

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On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, the Washington Post noted an amusing coincidence: “Almost a quarter century ago, Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson served as Republican counsel on the Senate Watergate committee. Now he chairs the Senate panel investigating the current White House fund-raising scandal.” The timing was interesting because, as the Post explained, the “controversy came to light last year because of the reforms of Watergate, including requirements that campaigns and political parties regularly submit lists of their contributors to the Federal Election Commission.”

The Post went on to list seven major reforms that stemmed either from the scandal itself or the atmosphere of distrust in government in the wake of Watergate. Of course these reforms had at best a mixed record. And some of them, like the campaign-finance reforms, ended up strengthening the government’s hand over Americans, reducing transparency, and infringing on voters’ constitutional rights. There was also the famed Church Committee, designed to expose abuses in the intel community and rein in its associated federal agencies.

And it is quite clear that while some have called for a new Church Committee in the wake of Moscow defector Edward Snowden’s theft and dissemination of American secrets to investigate the intel community, what is really needed is a full accounting and reform of a different federal agency: the IRS.

We have covered here exhaustively the massive abuse-of-power scandal surrounding the IRS’s targeting of conservatives ahead of the 2012 presidential election, and doing so at the encouragement of prominent Democrats. That surely should be enough to prompt a full investigation–especially since it was revealed that Eric Holder’s Justice Department is apparently coordinating with congressional Democrats to undermine the investigation and protect the IRS. But there’s another IRS scandal brewing, and it suggests the agency is long overdue for a reckoning.

John Fund notes that the private-jet company NetJets has been in a tax dispute with the IRS, and is claiming the IRS–you guessed it–destroyed evidence by having “wiped clean a number of computer hard drives containing emails and other electronic documents that the Government was required to produce.” Fund provides the background to the case:

NetJets sued the IRS in 2011, claiming that it improperly applied a ticket tax on users of its aircraft that is meant for commercial airline passengers. The IRS countersued claiming that NetJets “has failed, neglected or refused to pay its federal tax liabilities . . . in full.” But its argument was undercut in 2012 when Congress changed the tax code to make it clear the air-passenger-ticket tax doesn’t apply to private firms such as NetJets, whose customers buy time-shares in planes operated by the company.

In its latest court filing, NetJets claims the IRS has been concealing evidence. Its lawyers say the computers of three key IRS employees were wiped clean, including the computer of “an excise-tax policy manager and a key decision maker regarding the application of the section 4261 ticket tax to whole and fractional aircraft-management companies.”

Amazing. The agency assigned to take your money at will covers its tracks by destroying evidence, apparently routinely. I had noted in the past that destroying evidence seems to have become the IRS’s key strategy in the targeting scandal. It appears to be its policy with regard to disputes in general. It should go without saying that at this point there is really no denying the agency needs serious reform.

That poses its own challenges, to be sure. For one, high-level Democrats in the president’s Cabinet and in Congress are supporting and enabling the IRS here, so Democrats are unlikely to be very cooperative in the kind of investigation that would expose them to transparency and accountability as well.

Another challenge is the law of unintended consequences. As we saw with some of the post-Watergate reforms, giving politicians the power to pass sweeping regulations often just exacerbates existing problems. The regulatory regime is partly to blame for the current IRS scandal as it is, because the agency was tasked with being the gatekeeper to Americans’ political activism. Since the IRS is a creature of big-government bureaucracy, it went after the Americans who supported limited-government causes. The current regulatory regime governing the IRS pits the American government against the people, with the inevitable results.

Additionally, if the IRS has been routinely destroying evidence or deleting emails it’s supposed to save then it’s already breaking the law. There’s not much sense in going through a reform process if the result is only to take something that’s currently illegal and make it super-duper-illegal. That would be classic Washington behavior, and it should be avoided.

Perhaps the best answer is a much-simplified tax code and fewer rules limiting political speech. The IRS can’t abuse power it doesn’t have, after all. In fact, serious tax reform would be saving the IRS from itself–think of all the computers and phones it won’t have to completely destroy each year in an attempt to evade accountability.

Whatever the case, it would be criminal–figuratively, though very possibly also literally–for the scandals to pass without reforming the agency.

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The Jobs Report

This month’s jobs report is a distinct improvement over last month’s mediocre results. The economy created 248,000 jobs, somewhat above the recent average of about 228,000. Unemployment fell two-tenths of a percent to 5.9 percent, the lowest since July 2008, as the financial crisis was rapidly building. Previous months’ estimates were raised as well. The August estimate had originally been 148,000 jobs. That was raised to 180,000.

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This month’s jobs report is a distinct improvement over last month’s mediocre results. The economy created 248,000 jobs, somewhat above the recent average of about 228,000. Unemployment fell two-tenths of a percent to 5.9 percent, the lowest since July 2008, as the financial crisis was rapidly building. Previous months’ estimates were raised as well. The August estimate had originally been 148,000 jobs. That was raised to 180,000.

There are still 9.3 million unemployed. That is down 329,000 from the previous month. But notice that that number is well above the 248,000 new jobs created. So the unemployment rate is going down, at least in part, because of people dropping out of the work force, not because they found work. The labor force participation rate fell .1 percent to 62.7 percent. Before the recession, it was at about 66 percent. There are 7.1 million working part-time when they would prefer to be in full-time jobs.

Yesterday President Obama was at Northwestern University touting his administration’s economic performance. George Will, on last night’s Special Report with Bret Baier, was less than impressed:

The president went to the state of Illinois to brag about the economy. Illinois has 300,000 fewer jobs than it had in 2008. For the last four years in the state of Illinois, the number of new food stamp recipients has increased twice as fast as the number of new job recipients. He was speaking in Illinois on a college campus. He did not mention that 40 percent of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed — that is, in jobs that don’t require college degrees — and one in three recent college graduates is living at home with their parents.

No wonder that 58 percent of the country thinks that we’re still in recession when the recession, technically, ended over five years ago, in June 2009.

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Faltering Obama Still Blaming Messenger

Fox News may be demolishing its more liberal cable news rivals in the ratings but to Democrats it’s still the bogeyman. That’s why President Obama took the opportunity to criticize the network during a speech defending his economic record at Northwestern University today. But in doing so, the president not only demonstrated the weakness of his position but also why he doesn’t understand Fox’s appeal.

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Fox News may be demolishing its more liberal cable news rivals in the ratings but to Democrats it’s still the bogeyman. That’s why President Obama took the opportunity to criticize the network during a speech defending his economic record at Northwestern University today. But in doing so, the president not only demonstrated the weakness of his position but also why he doesn’t understand Fox’s appeal.

During his speech, the president said this about Fox and its audience:

A true opposition party should have the courage to lay out their agenda. Hopefully also grounded in facts. There’s a reason fewer Republicans are preaching doom on the deficits – because the deficits have come down at almost a record pace and they’re now manageable. There’s a reason fewer are running against ObamaCare – because while good, affordable health care might still be a fanged threat to freedom of the American people on Fox News, it turns out it’s working pretty well in the real world.

There’s a lot to unwrap in just one paragraph but let’s try to hit the major points.

First, the notion that Republicans are not running on their party’s principles on spending, taxes, and the deficit is the sort of thing only a person living inside the White House echo chamber could believe. Across the country, GOP candidates are doing just that as they continue to capitalize on the voters’ disillusionment with the president’s liberal agenda and failed leadership.

Though, due to the faltering economy and the nation’s focus on the president’s foreign-policy failures, ObamaCare is not as potent an issue this fall as it was in the past, he’s kidding himself if he thinks it is going away. As I noted yesterday, successful court challenges will ensure that it remains on the agenda in the coming year. And if the courts don’t eviscerate the law, skyrocketing insurance costs and the possibly devastating impact on employment as the employer mandate goes into effect will put it back on the national agenda.

If anybody is running away from their party and its leader this year, it’s Democrats. Most Democrats locked in tough fights are not only avoiding Obama like the plague; they are also denying any connection to him. In what may be a new low point of embarrassment for the Democrats, Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes refused to answer when repeatedly asked if she had voted for the president’s reelection in 2012.

But let’s forget about the specifics of the president’s boasts about the economy or his faux confidence on the staying power of the misnamed Affordable Care Act. Instead, let’s contemplate the dismaying spectacle of a sitting president of the United States obsessing about a cable network and treating it and its audience as if they were his enemy.

As Greg Gutfeld, one of the hosts of Fox’s The Five program quipped in response: “He [Obama] bashes FNC [Fox News Channel] more than ISIS, and we don’t behead anybody.” But jokes aside, the president’s continuing obsession with Fox is itself an interesting commentary on his disconnect with much of the nation.

The difference between Fox’s coverage of ObamaCare and that of much of the mainstream media is not so much that the network portrays ObamaCare as a “fanged threat to freedom” but that on MSNBC and CNN, not to mention the broadcast networks and the New York Times, critiques of the law or even discussions about its effectiveness, its impact on the economy, or on individual rights are often hard to find. Fox has become the dominant cable news network not so much because it is conservative as because it is the one place viewers know they can go to find alternative views to that of the liberal media establishment that has so often acted as the president’s unpaid cheering section.

The president may get a laugh from his liberal base and media sycophants when he attacks Fox but every time he does so he only betrays his weakness and his lack of comfort with opposing views. As his party heads toward a disastrous midterm defeat that will officially seal his fate as a powerless lame duck, the president would do better to stop blaming the media messengers and start pondering his own failures.

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Politicians Should Shut Up About Ebola

Dystopian nightmares have always been a staple of film and television but the producers of The Last Ship, a successful new television show, are probably grateful that the discovery of a case of the Ebola virus here in the United States didn’t happen when their program was having its debut this past summer. While a show about a pandemic that kills much of the world’s population didn’t seem too scary in July, it might have hit a little too close to home now. But even without more hysteria about the possible dangers from an out-of-control virus being whipped up by the entertainment industry, this is not the moment for the media or politicians to be encouraging panic or undermining confidence in government and health-care officials dealing with the crisis.

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Dystopian nightmares have always been a staple of film and television but the producers of The Last Ship, a successful new television show, are probably grateful that the discovery of a case of the Ebola virus here in the United States didn’t happen when their program was having its debut this past summer. While a show about a pandemic that kills much of the world’s population didn’t seem too scary in July, it might have hit a little too close to home now. But even without more hysteria about the possible dangers from an out-of-control virus being whipped up by the entertainment industry, this is not the moment for the media or politicians to be encouraging panic or undermining confidence in government and health-care officials dealing with the crisis.

Ebola is the perfect cable news story in that there is very little actual news to report but affords plenty of opportunities for talking heads and various kinds of experts to opine about minute details that don’t advance our understanding of what is going on. In that sense, Ebola is just like the aftermath of the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri or the Trayvon Martin murder trial. But rather than merely appealing to our appetite for crime stories or the political prejudices of the moment, the discussion of Ebola goes to the heart of some our primeval fears about disease and extinction. And that is exactly why those inclined to treat it as some kind of political football need to take it down a notch.

A classic example of the tendency to grasp at any chance to be part of the news cycle came yesterday when Senator Rand Paul stoked fears about the government’s handling of the disease while riding his favorite isolationist hobby horse:

The Kentucky Republican, appearing on “The Laura Ingraham Show” on Wednesday, said the CDC and the Obama administration are giving off a false sense of security.

“This could get beyond our control,” said Paul, an ophthalmologist. …

CDC Director Tom Frieden — emphasizing both the sophistication of the U.S. public health system and the difficulty of transmitting a disease like Ebola — has said repeatedly that he has “no doubt that we’ll stop this in its tracks in the U.S.”

Paul, though, on Wednesday questioned Frieden’s statements and said health officials might be underestimating the disease’s potential impact in the U.S. and worldwide.

“I think because of political correctness we’re not really making sound, rational, scientific decisions on this,” the senator said. “It’s a big mistake to underestimate the potential for problems worldwide.”

Paul, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, also expressed concern about President Barack Obama’s plan — announced earlier this month — to send up to 3,000 troops to combat Ebola in West Africa, the major hub of the disease.

“You also have to be concerned about 3,000 soldiers getting back on a ship,” he said, expressing concern about the spread of disease in close quarters. “Can you imagine if a whole ship full of our soldiers catch Ebola?” he asked later.

In this case, Ebola gave Paul a double whammy: an opportunity to claim the administration was failing and a chance to cast doubt on the wisdom of foreign deployments of U.S. troops.

But while it is entirely possible that an eye doctor knows more about pandemics than your average journalist, it’s not yet clear that there is any reason to doubt the ability of the government to handle what looks to be a problem that is not out of control or that there is any political advantage to be gained here for Republicans. Which means that rather than getting out front of the story, politicians, including potential presidential candidates, should probably be keeping their mouths shut.

That’s true even though it’s clear now that some of President Obama’s assurances about the threat have proven to be off base. As the Washington Examiner’s Byron York notes today, the president’s comments about the problem delivered two weeks ago during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control’s Atlanta headquarters don’t seem to have held up. It turns out that American hospitals were not as well prepared for the problem as he, and the rest of us, hoped and the result is that the person currently hospitalized with the Ebola virus in Dallas entered the country and may have infected others before his symptoms were diagnosed.

But even if we concede that the system wasn’t foolproof and health-care personnel not entirely ready to deal with it, the president was also probably right when he said America’s “world class facilities and professionals” can respond effectively to the outbreak and that there is no reason for anyone to be panicking. And while tough questions deserve to be asked about what happened in Dallas and the measures being implemented to deal with any other possible cases coming into the country, this is not the moment for opinion leaders to be sounding the doom and gloom theme or shoehorning Ebola into a grand narrative about the administration’s incompetence.

Of course, if a Republican were in the White House, we would probably be listening to lectures on CNN and MSNBC about how conservative racism was increasing the chances of an epidemic. But Barack Obama is no more responsible for Ebola than George W. Bush was for bad weather in the Gulf of Mexico or the flight of first responders in New Orleans and reasonable conservatives should not pretend otherwise.

It is interesting to note that the program I alluded to earlier in this piece is a perfect mixture of paranoia and patriotic faith. The Last Ship, which could best be described as The Andromeda Strain meets On the Beach with a heavy dose of Tom Clancy (a Navy destroyer is the real star of the show), was good if gruesome fun and celebrates the heroism of the U.S. Navy as much it indulges the viewing public’s desire to be scared and to jeer at villains whose nationality tends to reflect the news (in this case, the bad guys are Russians, thank you Vladimir Putin). In it, the dedication and courage of American sailors triumph over all obstacles to bring a cure home to a nation devastated by a plague.

We need not have the same blind faith in the CDC or the government that we are asked to have in the protagonists of the show. But neither should we stand for politicians looking to exploit a health crisis that cannot be blamed on President Obama’s policy failures. The odds are, the country will survive this scare before the press moves on to the next big story. Those who think they can score points by betting on the opposite result may be relying on the public’s short attention span. But they would still be better off avoiding feeding panic when none is necessary.

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Obama’s Conflict with Israel Is Sidelined, Not Resolved

President Obama gritted his teeth yesterday and sat down for a meeting in the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even at the best of times, the president isn’t good at faking bonhomie and there was little evidence of the usual pretense of good fellowship during the media portion of the session. He doesn’t like Netanyahu, but given his current emphasis on the war against ISIS and the utter collapse of the peace process with the Palestinians, Obama had little choice but to try and downplay his difference with the prime minister. Yet as a scathing State Department statement about Jerusalem issued later in the day revealed, the administration’s conflict with Israel has been sidelined but is far from finished.

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President Obama gritted his teeth yesterday and sat down for a meeting in the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even at the best of times, the president isn’t good at faking bonhomie and there was little evidence of the usual pretense of good fellowship during the media portion of the session. He doesn’t like Netanyahu, but given his current emphasis on the war against ISIS and the utter collapse of the peace process with the Palestinians, Obama had little choice but to try and downplay his difference with the prime minister. Yet as a scathing State Department statement about Jerusalem issued later in the day revealed, the administration’s conflict with Israel has been sidelined but is far from finished.

As always, Netanyahu’s statement was a bit closer to reality than that of the president. He highlighted, as he did in his United Nations speech earlier this week, the prospect that the path to peace might come through the good offices of moderate Arab nations in the region rather than relying solely on direct talks with a reluctant Palestinian Authority. Obama pointedly ignored this possibility even though Secretary of State John Kerry is reportedly trying to revive his failed peace initiative using this very same strategy.

This ought to have been a moment for some reconciliation between the two feuding leaders. After nearly six years of non-stop bickering, the president had at least one moment of clarity last week when he told the UN General Assembly that the rise of ISIS and the conflicts in Iraq and Syria proved that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wasn’t the cause of all the trouble in the region. That’s a basic truth that it took him years to learn since he has acted and spoken for most of his time in the White House as if Israeli-Palestinian peace would magically transform the Middle East despite the myriad conflicts between Arabs and Muslims that would go on even if Israel disappeared.

The collapse of Kerry’s peace initiative after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas signed a unity pact with Hamas rather than a deal with Israel also should have signaled a course change for the administration. The 50-day war between Israel and Hamas illustrated both Abbas’s irrelevance and his inability to make peace even if he wanted to do it. Hamas’s increased popularity and its determination to use any territory under its control as a terror base also renders the U.S. pressure on Israel to surrender the West Bank, which might well become after such a move another stronghold of radical Islamists like Gaza, a mad scheme that is neither in the interests of the Jewish state or its superpower ally. Whatever the differences between the two governments, this was a good moment for stepping back and emphasizing their shared agenda against Islamist terror.

But this president can’t let go of his obsessions and no one in the Israeli government, least of all its leader, should be under the impression that the changed circumstances that forced Obama to alter his approach will mean smooth sailing until January 2017.

The chief source of tension is obviously Iran. Though Netanyahu tried to make the analogy between the threat from ISIS and that of the Islamist regime and Hamas, the U.S. is not buying it. Both Obama and Kerry are determined to make some sort of nuclear deal with Tehran. If the interim accord they signed last year is any indication, if they get their wish it will be a weak and unenforceable agreement that will do little to stop the Iranians from realizing their ambition. Nor is there any U.S. inducement that can or should cause the Israelis to cease to worry that such a strategy puts them and the West in mortal peril.

As for the Palestinians, though Obama will have his own reasons for thwarting any end run around the peace process by Abbas to get the UN to enact new anti-Israel measures, the administration looks as if it is determined to resume hounding Israel on settlements even though the Hamas war demonstrated anew that the Palestinian impulse to conflict has nothing to do with the location of a future border or the presence of Jews in any particular place. Moreover, even if talks with the Arab states do proceed, it should be clear even to the dullest staffer in the West Wing or Foggy Bottom that moderate Arab states want Israel’s help in fighting Islamists and have little interest in risking their own popularity trying to broker a deal that the Palestinians don’t want no matter how much the Israelis are prepared to give.

If there is anything we have learned about Barack Obama in the last six years it is that he is not a man prepared to admit mistakes (just ask Jim Clapper). For relations between Israel and the United States to really improve—as opposed to the arguments just cooling down every now and then—it will require the president to admit that his idée fixe about settlements won’t bring peace or help the U.S. rally allies in the fight against genuine threats to American security. He will also need to realize that his never-flagging desire for engagement with Iran is bringing the world closer to the nuclear brink, not averting that danger.

For now, Obama’s feud with Netanyahu is on his back burner as he tries to avoid disaster in Iraq and Syria and his party is poised to be beaten in the midterm elections. But it will be back soon. Israelis should be prepared for being back in his cross hairs sooner rather than later.

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The Debate We’re Not Having About Syria

There is a stunning gap in the public conversation about the war that President Obama is now waging on ISIS. We have paid some attention to the political future of Iraq, on the correct assumption that a longterm victory against ISIS in that country requires having a state in Baghdad capable of winning support from all of Iraq’s sectarian communities. Hence the administration’s successful push to replace Nouri al-Maliki with Haidar al-Abadi. Whether Abadi lives up to his billing as a more inclusive leader remains to be seen, but what is stunning to me is that we are not even having this conversation about Syria. What kind of political settlement would we like to see in Syria and how to achieve it?

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There is a stunning gap in the public conversation about the war that President Obama is now waging on ISIS. We have paid some attention to the political future of Iraq, on the correct assumption that a longterm victory against ISIS in that country requires having a state in Baghdad capable of winning support from all of Iraq’s sectarian communities. Hence the administration’s successful push to replace Nouri al-Maliki with Haidar al-Abadi. Whether Abadi lives up to his billing as a more inclusive leader remains to be seen, but what is stunning to me is that we are not even having this conversation about Syria. What kind of political settlement would we like to see in Syria and how to achieve it?

At the moment we are bombing ISIS a little bit in Syria as well as Iraq, while also planning to train on a very small scale elements of the Free Syrian Army–about 5,000 fighters are expected to be trained next year. How can anyone expect 5,000 fighters to defeat the 20,000-30,000 men under arms for ISIS? And if the Free Syrian Army doesn’t step forward, isn’t there a real danger of the Assad regime regaining lost ground because of the U.S. campaign against ISIS? Those are questions the administration has refused to answer, at least publicly.

Perhaps the Obama administration has reconciled itself to Assad staying in power indefinitely as the lesser evil, but the record of the past three years shows that Assad is incapable of ending the Syrian civil war. As long as he sticks around, the war will rage on with all of the catastrophic human cost that implies. It will also mean that there will be room for Salafist extremists to operate in ungoverned parts of the country where the government’s control does not extend. (In the parts of Syria under government control, a different set of extremists–the Shiite fanatics of Hezbollah and the Quds Forces–run wild.) As Frederic Hof, Obama’s former special representative for Syria, just wrote: “Blowing up Islamic State-related targets in Syria has intrinsic merit. Yet so long as the Assad regime exists, Syria will be fertile ground for jihadists and other criminals sporting political agendas. ”

The only way to rescue Syria from its nightmare is to overthrow Assad and install a government capable of keeping order and winning the assent of the country’s various constituent parts. As Hof writes, “The vacuum of state failure filled by the Islamic State will not be plugged until an inclusive national government in Syria replaces an Iranian- and Russian-abetted family business.” By this point, after three years of war fed by three years of American inaction, this admittedly seems a fantastic prospect. But just because we have trouble grappling with the enormity of the challenge doesn’t mean that it ceases to exist.

I commend Ken Pollack of the Brookings Institution for at least starting to think about the unthinkable in this essay entitled “We need to Begin Nation-Building in Syria Right Now.” Pollack points out that even if Assad doesn’t fall anytime soon, now is the time to make plans for a post-Assad Syria–the kind of plans we failed to make in Iraq and Libya. Pollack rightly suggests that the U.S. should lead an international effort under UN auspices. “If all of this is addressed in a determined fashion,” he suggests, “the U.S. should provide most of the muscle, the Gulf states most of the money, and the international community most of the know-how.” There is much room for discussion about how such a plan could be implemented, but that’s a discussion we need to have–and we’re not having it.

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