Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bernie Sanders

Bernie May Drive Hillary Nuts

As I noted yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s decision to criticize President Obama’s foreign-policy failures indicates that she believes the field has been cleared for her to take the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. But while there’s little doubt she will be her party’s choice, her shift to the center this early in the process guarantees that someone from the left will step up to challenge her. And though she may have scared all the credible contenders, it would be unwise for her camp to dismiss the impact of a Bernie Sanders candidacy on her chances to win the presidency.

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As I noted yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s decision to criticize President Obama’s foreign-policy failures indicates that she believes the field has been cleared for her to take the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. But while there’s little doubt she will be her party’s choice, her shift to the center this early in the process guarantees that someone from the left will step up to challenge her. And though she may have scared all the credible contenders, it would be unwise for her camp to dismiss the impact of a Bernie Sanders candidacy on her chances to win the presidency.

If Clinton isn’t shaking in her boots about the prospect of facing off against the Vermont senator, it’s hard to blame her. Even the self-proclaimed socialist with the thick New York accent doesn’t think he is likely to be elected president. In many ways, Sanders is a political consultant’s nightmare of a candidate with extreme views and about as much charisma as a soggy potato. But it is precisely because he has no plans for future runs at high office that he is potentially so dangerous to Clinton’s ultimate goal of winning the general election.

Sanders had already been making noises about his willingness to run in 2016 in order to ensure that the left’s issues are heard. But in an interview published on Yahoo News yesterday he made clear that Clinton’s attempt to leave her party’s base out in the cold would draw a stiff rebuke from liberals and ensure that the primary process will not be a coronation.

While Sanders did not go so far as to promise to try to stop Clinton or to change the direction of her candidacy, his criticism was pointed enough to encourage speculation that he is prepared to run. According to Sanders, Clinton is not sufficiently interested in the issue of income inequality:

“What is her agenda? I don’t know. You don’t know. She hasn’t said.”

Short of a tilt back to the left, it appears Sanders is willing to be the one to carry the water for the liberal base in 2016. While no one should think he is likely to beat out Clinton, a Sanders candidacy does have the potential to play havoc with Clinton’s strategy.

First, it should be understood that the very fact that Sanders isn’t serious about the presidency would make him dangerous. Unlike some other potential Democratic contenders, Sanders isn’t worried about offending the Clintons or anyone else in the party. Moreover, as a figure of the left and avowed independent, Sanders is more interested in ideology than Democratic Party unity or winning general elections.

That will mean he won’t shy away from hot button issues, both foreign and domestic, in an effort to either hammer the more centrist frontrunner for her apostasy or to embarrass her into tacking back to the left.

What Clinton and perhaps other Democrats who would prefer to avoid messy primaries may forget is that despite the discipline exhibited by so many liberals in recent years, there’s nothing like a hopeless underdog presidential challenge to engage the sympathies of primary voters. That means Sanders doesn’t have to appear presidential or even to make all that much sense in order to gain the sympathy of many Democrats. And, unlike conservative outliers running for the Republican nomination in recent years, Sanders won’t be pilloried as a nut case the way someone like Michele Bachmann was when she ran in 2012.

Instead, Sanders will be portrayed as a feisty truth-telling codger who won’t lie down for the Clinton machine. Though he has no chance of ever being nominated, he could roll up impressive totals in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire where minority voters—more inclined to support Clinton rather than an ideologue like Sanders—won’t play as much of a role.

That means Clinton’s strategy of attempting to run a general election-style campaign for president from start to finish may not play out the way she thinks. Indeed, her neoconservative tilt on foreign policy may only egg on Sanders and gain him votes from many Democrats who will feel that casting a symbolic ballot against Hillary will prevent her from straying too far from left-wing orthodoxy.

Rather than providing a stress-free primary season as Clinton thought, a Sanders challenge may actually be far more trouble for the former first lady than one from a more mainstream Democrat like former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who is more afraid of offending the Clintons and has an eye on the future.

As we saw in 2008, Clinton is not merely vulnerable to an attack from her left flank; she is also a poor candidate who finds it hard to avoid trouble on the stump or even with friendly interviewers. Though Sanders may not be able to stop Hillary, he could make her life miserable. The path back to the White House for Clinton seems smooth, but a spirited left-wing challenge could undo all her plans and force her to not only spend time and resources battling other Democrats but undermine the united party front that appears ready to back her effort to become the first female president.

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Government Health Care: The VA Prequel

The scandal at Veterans Administration hospitals and the indifferent response it has generated from the Obama administration has outraged the public. More than Benghazi, illegal discrimination at the IRS, and spying on the press never did, the mess at the VA is raising questions about President Obama’s detached management style as well as giving the public the impression that his second term is sinking slowly into a morass of lame duck incompetence. But while we hope that once the president and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki manage to muster some genuine anger about the situation and begin the process of unraveling the corruption and mistreatment of veterans, there’s a broader lesson to be learned here.

We are told that despite the problems that have undermined confidence in them, many veterans get good treatment at VA hospitals. Let’s hope that’s true, though the notion that the problems were isolated to one institution in Phoenix were quickly dispelled and it’s apparent that efforts by corrupt and/or incompetent administrators to game the system at the expense of patients were far more widespread than initially thought. But while no one is proposing to scrap the current system, coming as it does just as ObamaCare began to be rolled out by the federal government, the VA scandal is a reminder that long waits—which in this case led to the deaths of at least 40 veterans—are the hallmark of any inefficient federal bureaucracy. If, as liberals hope, the misnamed Affordable Care Act is the thin edge of the coming wedge of government health care, then what we are seeing now is merely a taste of what is to come as a new era of liberalism begins to flower.

As Rich Lowry wrote earlier this week in Politico Magazine, “the VA is an island of socialism in American health care.” It is exactly what many liberals want for everyone else in that it is a single-payer system that purports to provide free care for those in need but, as Lowry notes, they pay for it with long waits that often endanger the lives of the very ill. Nor is it a coincidence that the only avowed socialist in the Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who chairs the committee overseeing the VA, seems to be the least outraged member of Congress about this disaster.

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The scandal at Veterans Administration hospitals and the indifferent response it has generated from the Obama administration has outraged the public. More than Benghazi, illegal discrimination at the IRS, and spying on the press never did, the mess at the VA is raising questions about President Obama’s detached management style as well as giving the public the impression that his second term is sinking slowly into a morass of lame duck incompetence. But while we hope that once the president and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki manage to muster some genuine anger about the situation and begin the process of unraveling the corruption and mistreatment of veterans, there’s a broader lesson to be learned here.

We are told that despite the problems that have undermined confidence in them, many veterans get good treatment at VA hospitals. Let’s hope that’s true, though the notion that the problems were isolated to one institution in Phoenix were quickly dispelled and it’s apparent that efforts by corrupt and/or incompetent administrators to game the system at the expense of patients were far more widespread than initially thought. But while no one is proposing to scrap the current system, coming as it does just as ObamaCare began to be rolled out by the federal government, the VA scandal is a reminder that long waits—which in this case led to the deaths of at least 40 veterans—are the hallmark of any inefficient federal bureaucracy. If, as liberals hope, the misnamed Affordable Care Act is the thin edge of the coming wedge of government health care, then what we are seeing now is merely a taste of what is to come as a new era of liberalism begins to flower.

As Rich Lowry wrote earlier this week in Politico Magazine, “the VA is an island of socialism in American health care.” It is exactly what many liberals want for everyone else in that it is a single-payer system that purports to provide free care for those in need but, as Lowry notes, they pay for it with long waits that often endanger the lives of the very ill. Nor is it a coincidence that the only avowed socialist in the Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who chairs the committee overseeing the VA, seems to be the least outraged member of Congress about this disaster.

Though it has been plagued by scandal for many years—a point that presidential candidate Barack Obama seized upon but then promptly forgot about for the first five and a half years of his presidency—the VA system is a political sacred cow which both parties have sought half-heartedly to reform but none have dared question the wisdom of creating a parallel health-care system for veterans.

Even if a growing number of Americans are beginning to wonder about how smart the decision to create an empire of government-run hospitals is, the VA system is a classic example of something that is too big to fail. Too many people are already dependent on it and divesting the government of this problem waiting to happen simply isn’t on the table for the foreseeable future.

But if the public doesn’t like what it sees in the VA hospitals, it should think long and hard about what this portends for the future of American health care. Liberals confidently predict that we are heading inevitably toward more government involvement in this sector of the economy. Waving the flag of fairness and the need to ensure that all are covered by health insurance and can count on getting the care they require, there is little doubt that ObamaCare is merely one chapter in a long march toward government health care that could, if Obama’s Democratic successors are able to get their way, lead to the sort of single-payer system that exists in other democracies such as Britain and Canada. Those systems have their virtues but they also have their problems. And the chief of them is a scheme that basically rations care and requires those with serious problems to endure long waits for operations or special procedures.

That’s something that the left says it can live with, but if Americans are angry about 40 veterans being left to die because of an inefficient and corrupt socialist health-care plan created just for them, what does the public think will happen if we move from an already disastrous ObamaCare rollout to something far more ambitious?

The VA isn’t going anywhere, but a scandal that may do more damage to the Obama presidency than he could have imagined is more than just an example of the incompetence of his appointees and his inability to manage them. It is a prequel of the future of American health care if resurgent liberalism gets its way.

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The Obama West Wing and Me

Peter Baker and Jeremy Peters of the New York Times have a story in which they report that now deep in his fifth year in office, “Mr. Obama finds himself frustrated by members of his own party weary of his leadership and increasingly willing to defy him.”

In the article I’m (accurately) quoted as saying, “It makes it a lot harder when it’s your own party. You can’t fire back with the same intensity and vehemence as when it’s the other party. And it just changes the dynamics — people expect you to be criticized by the other party. When your own party does it, it’s an indication of weakness.”

So what was the West Wing’s reaction to my comments? A source told Mike Allen of Politico, “Bernie Sanders and Peter Wehner — not Democrats.”

This strikes me as a silly response. Let’s begin by pointing out that while Senator Sanders isn’t a Democrat–he’s an Independent and self-described democratic socialist–he caucuses with the Democrats. Which makes him a de facto member of the Democratic Party.

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Peter Baker and Jeremy Peters of the New York Times have a story in which they report that now deep in his fifth year in office, “Mr. Obama finds himself frustrated by members of his own party weary of his leadership and increasingly willing to defy him.”

In the article I’m (accurately) quoted as saying, “It makes it a lot harder when it’s your own party. You can’t fire back with the same intensity and vehemence as when it’s the other party. And it just changes the dynamics — people expect you to be criticized by the other party. When your own party does it, it’s an indication of weakness.”

So what was the West Wing’s reaction to my comments? A source told Mike Allen of Politico, “Bernie Sanders and Peter Wehner — not Democrats.”

This strikes me as a silly response. Let’s begin by pointing out that while Senator Sanders isn’t a Democrat–he’s an Independent and self-described democratic socialist–he caucuses with the Democrats. Which makes him a de facto member of the Democratic Party.

Beyond that, the claims made by Messrs. Baker and Peters are clearly true. They point out that in recent weeks:

disgruntled Democrats, particularly liberals, have bolted from the White House on issues like National Security Agency surveillance policies, a planned military strike on Syria and the potential choice of Lawrence H. Summers to lead the Federal Reserve. In private, they often sound exasperated describing Mr. Obama’s operation; in public, they are sometimes only a little more restrained.

I’d add to that list the fact that it was the Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, who earlier this year pulled President Obama’s gun-control legislation after (as this Washington Post story reported) Mr. Obama’s comprehensive gun-control effort suffered defeat in the Democratically-controlled Senate, with all the major proposals he backed failing to gain enough votes. And it was a Democratic senator, Max Baucus, who in April referred to the Affordable Care Act as “a huge train wreck coming down.”

The Obama presidency is in a state of disrepair. The president’s support among Democrats is now below 80 percent, which is dangerous territory this early into a second term and doesn’t bode well for the mid-term election next year. There’s a widespread perception, rooted in reality, that the president is weak, out of touch, and out of gas. He’s become a tired and tiresome figure. Americans are tuning him out. 

In sum, then, it’s been quite a bad year for Mr. Obama. And it’s reasonable to assume that things will get worse, not better, for this most incompetent community-organizer-turned-commander-in-chief.

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The Estate Tax

The tax bill that passed the House last night and headed to the president’s desk (he’ll sign it this afternoon, apparently) raises the estate tax to 35 percent on estates over $5 million ($10 million for couples), from zero percent this year. Had nothing been done, however, it would have reverted to what it had been in 2000: 55 percent on estates over $1 million.

The estate tax goes all the way back to 1797, when Congress passed a stamp tax on wills to help finance the new American Navy. It was repealed in 1801. The Civil War and Spanish American War also saw estate taxes that were soon repealed when the wars were over. But the modern estate tax was not enacted as a revenue-raising measure so much as a social engineering one. Theodore Roosevelt was the first major politician to call for an estate tax to prevent the accumulation of great fortunes from one generation to the next. In 1906, he wrote:

As a matter of personal conviction, and without pretending to discuss the details or formulate the system, I feel that we shall ultimately have to consider the adoption of some such scheme as that of a progressive tax on all fortunes, beyond a certain amount, either given in life or devised or bequeathed upon death to any individual — a tax so framed as to put it out of the power of the owner of one of these enormous fortunes to hand on more than a certain amount to any one individual; the tax of course, to be imposed by the national and not the state government.

The colossal fortunes created by the industrialization of the country in the post–Civil War era caused many to worry about the development of a plutocracy, a few families with so much money, and thus power, that they could dictate policy. In 1916, the modern estate tax was passed. It called for a 1 percent tax on estates over $50,000 and going up to 10 percent on estates over $5 million (a very large fortune indeed in 1916). The tax was raised the next year, lowered but not eliminated in the 1920s, and then raised sky-high by Franklin Roosevelt, peaking at 71 percent for estates over $50 million in 1941. FDR made no bones about his reasons: “The transmission from generation to generation of vast fortunes by will, inheritance or gift is not consistent with the ideals and sentiments of the American people.” FDR, it turns out, was wrong. Read More

The tax bill that passed the House last night and headed to the president’s desk (he’ll sign it this afternoon, apparently) raises the estate tax to 35 percent on estates over $5 million ($10 million for couples), from zero percent this year. Had nothing been done, however, it would have reverted to what it had been in 2000: 55 percent on estates over $1 million.

The estate tax goes all the way back to 1797, when Congress passed a stamp tax on wills to help finance the new American Navy. It was repealed in 1801. The Civil War and Spanish American War also saw estate taxes that were soon repealed when the wars were over. But the modern estate tax was not enacted as a revenue-raising measure so much as a social engineering one. Theodore Roosevelt was the first major politician to call for an estate tax to prevent the accumulation of great fortunes from one generation to the next. In 1906, he wrote:

As a matter of personal conviction, and without pretending to discuss the details or formulate the system, I feel that we shall ultimately have to consider the adoption of some such scheme as that of a progressive tax on all fortunes, beyond a certain amount, either given in life or devised or bequeathed upon death to any individual — a tax so framed as to put it out of the power of the owner of one of these enormous fortunes to hand on more than a certain amount to any one individual; the tax of course, to be imposed by the national and not the state government.

The colossal fortunes created by the industrialization of the country in the post–Civil War era caused many to worry about the development of a plutocracy, a few families with so much money, and thus power, that they could dictate policy. In 1916, the modern estate tax was passed. It called for a 1 percent tax on estates over $50,000 and going up to 10 percent on estates over $5 million (a very large fortune indeed in 1916). The tax was raised the next year, lowered but not eliminated in the 1920s, and then raised sky-high by Franklin Roosevelt, peaking at 71 percent for estates over $50 million in 1941. FDR made no bones about his reasons: “The transmission from generation to generation of vast fortunes by will, inheritance or gift is not consistent with the ideals and sentiments of the American people.” FDR, it turns out, was wrong.

In the post–World War II era, the estate tax had little to do with revenues, never providing more than 2 percent of total federal income. Nor was it about plutocracy prevention. As I pointed out in a recent article in Philanthropy magazine, unlike European fortunes, American ones just don’t last, thanks to the tradition of dividing them among many heirs, new and larger fortunes being created in each generation, and the grand American tradition of the American rich making massive eleemosynary bequests. Of all names associated with the great fortunes of the Gilded Age, only Rockefeller, Mellon, and Hearst are to be found on the Forbes 400 list today. A considerable majority of the current list created their own fortunes.

Today only the liberal elite still subscribes to the idea of estate taxes. As William McGurn pointed out in the Wall Street Journal the other day, the American dream of getting rich and passing that wealth on to one’s children is very much alive and well. In the 1972 campaign, George McGovern called for a tax of 100 percent on estates over $500,000. The socialist Michael Harrington said to a friend who had been campaigning for McGovern in New York’s garment district that he must have had an easy time selling the idea to the poorly paid workers there:

The friend informed Harrington how wrong he was: “Those underpaid women … were outraged that the government would confiscate the money they would hand down to their children if they made a million dollars.” No matter how he tried to tell these garment workers how unlikely they ever were to see a million dollars in their lifetimes, they couldn’t get past the idea that the government would take it from them if they did.

The liberal elite has been agonizing over the zero-percent estate tax rate this year, as most recently manifested in Bernie Sanders’s socialist cri de coeur in the Senate. But while the estate tax was zero in 2010 (Good timing, George Steinbrenner and John Kluge!), the capital-gains tax applied. Most great fortunes consist of unrealized capital gains, but after the estate tax is paid, the heirs’ cost basis for the stock they inherit is bumped up to the date of death. Not in 2010, when it remained at the decedent’s cost basis, which is often virtually zero. That strikes me as the only estate tax we should have in a country where even the poorest can dream of one day being rich.

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The Magic Bullet

Chris Van Hollen, who will be the ranking member of the House Budget Committee in the new Congress, was on Fox News Sunday this morning (transcript not yet available). To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, he decried extending the “tax cuts for the rich” and raising the estate tax from its present zero to 35 percent for estates over $5 million. That, too, according to Van Hollen, was an unconscionable giveaway of $26 billion to a few thousand families who already have far more than they need. John linked to Senator Bernie Sanders’s 8 1/2 hour rant on the Senate floor on Friday in which he said, less succinctly, the same. And Peter the same day linked to Congressman Alan Grayson (soon, mercifully, to be former congressman Alan Grayson) saying, again, much the same thing. Their animus against “the rich” is palpable and their adherence to the principle of high taxes on the rich (which dates back to Karl Marx in 1848) is religious rather than rational.

I carry no brief for “the rich,” although I’d be happy to be counted among them. But this all reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a close friend, now gone, on this subject. She was very liberal. (How liberal? In 1948, she not only voted for Henry Wallace; she went to the convention and worked in his campaign. That’s liberal.) I proposed a thought experiment. “Suppose,” I said, “there were an economic magic bullet — that if Congress would pass the necessary legislation and the president were to sign it, the effect would be to double everyone’s real take-home income. If you were living on $50,000 this year, you’d have $100,000 to spend next year.”

“Sounds great,” she said.

“But there’s a catch,” I answered. “The effect of the magic bullet would not double the take-home income of those earning over $1 million — it would quintuple it. In other words, the rich would make out far, far better than the average Joe. But there’s no way out, it’s all or nothing. Would you vote for the magic bullet if you were a member of Congress?”

“Certainly not!” she indignantly replied.

“Fine,” I said. “Now it’s six months later and you’re running for re-election. A constituent comes up to you and says, ‘I’m an English teacher at the local high school. I take home $50,000 a year. I have a daughter who needs serious orthodontics that’s not covered by insurance, my son has learning disabilities and has to be tutored, I’m driving a 10-year-old Buick that will have to be replaced very soon, and my mother-in-law will not be able to live on her own much longer. We never go away on vacation and seldom eat out. You voted against my earning an additional $50,000 a year because you objected to Mr. Bigbucks getting $5 million a year instead of $1 million. I don’t give a damn what the Rockefellers earn. I care about what I earn so I can take care of my family.’ What do you tell him, in order to win his vote?”

Her response: “It’s time for dinner.”

We have lowered the marginal rates on high incomes four times since the inception of the income tax — in the 1920s, the 1960s, the 1980s, and the 2000s. In each case, the result was a much more prosperous national economy, lower unemployment, and higher tax revenues for the government. If you do A (lower marginal rates) four times, and four times, despite differing economic circumstances, B (increased prosperity) happens, a rational person might conclude, at least tentatively, that B is the result of A. Not liberals.

As I said, high tax rates on the rich is a religious principle with the left. If the poor have to suffer because of it, so be it.

Chris Van Hollen, who will be the ranking member of the House Budget Committee in the new Congress, was on Fox News Sunday this morning (transcript not yet available). To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, he decried extending the “tax cuts for the rich” and raising the estate tax from its present zero to 35 percent for estates over $5 million. That, too, according to Van Hollen, was an unconscionable giveaway of $26 billion to a few thousand families who already have far more than they need. John linked to Senator Bernie Sanders’s 8 1/2 hour rant on the Senate floor on Friday in which he said, less succinctly, the same. And Peter the same day linked to Congressman Alan Grayson (soon, mercifully, to be former congressman Alan Grayson) saying, again, much the same thing. Their animus against “the rich” is palpable and their adherence to the principle of high taxes on the rich (which dates back to Karl Marx in 1848) is religious rather than rational.

I carry no brief for “the rich,” although I’d be happy to be counted among them. But this all reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a close friend, now gone, on this subject. She was very liberal. (How liberal? In 1948, she not only voted for Henry Wallace; she went to the convention and worked in his campaign. That’s liberal.) I proposed a thought experiment. “Suppose,” I said, “there were an economic magic bullet — that if Congress would pass the necessary legislation and the president were to sign it, the effect would be to double everyone’s real take-home income. If you were living on $50,000 this year, you’d have $100,000 to spend next year.”

“Sounds great,” she said.

“But there’s a catch,” I answered. “The effect of the magic bullet would not double the take-home income of those earning over $1 million — it would quintuple it. In other words, the rich would make out far, far better than the average Joe. But there’s no way out, it’s all or nothing. Would you vote for the magic bullet if you were a member of Congress?”

“Certainly not!” she indignantly replied.

“Fine,” I said. “Now it’s six months later and you’re running for re-election. A constituent comes up to you and says, ‘I’m an English teacher at the local high school. I take home $50,000 a year. I have a daughter who needs serious orthodontics that’s not covered by insurance, my son has learning disabilities and has to be tutored, I’m driving a 10-year-old Buick that will have to be replaced very soon, and my mother-in-law will not be able to live on her own much longer. We never go away on vacation and seldom eat out. You voted against my earning an additional $50,000 a year because you objected to Mr. Bigbucks getting $5 million a year instead of $1 million. I don’t give a damn what the Rockefellers earn. I care about what I earn so I can take care of my family.’ What do you tell him, in order to win his vote?”

Her response: “It’s time for dinner.”

We have lowered the marginal rates on high incomes four times since the inception of the income tax — in the 1920s, the 1960s, the 1980s, and the 2000s. In each case, the result was a much more prosperous national economy, lower unemployment, and higher tax revenues for the government. If you do A (lower marginal rates) four times, and four times, despite differing economic circumstances, B (increased prosperity) happens, a rational person might conclude, at least tentatively, that B is the result of A. Not liberals.

As I said, high tax rates on the rich is a religious principle with the left. If the poor have to suffer because of it, so be it.

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And the Washington Madness Just Got Even Crazier

In the Senate, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders was in the seventh hour of a filibuster against the tax-cut deal, showing that when you give an old Socialist Jew a microphone, you do something more dangerous than you know. Then, suddenly, as Sanders was blathering on, the president appeared in the White House briefing room with Bill Clinton.

Clinton endorsed the tax-cut deal, and began leaning into the microphone and talking. And talking. And talking. And then…the president said, and I’m not kidding, “Michelle is waiting for me,” patted Clinton on the back, and left his predecessor there at the microphone. And he is talking and talking and talking.

“I’m out of politics now,” said Bill Clinton, two minutes after saying he did 133 events for Democrats in 2010. This is a treasure trove of self-revelatory stuff, as is Sanders’s filibuster, which features him praising a book on the Senate floor by Arianna Huffington, an article in Slate…

In the Senate, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders was in the seventh hour of a filibuster against the tax-cut deal, showing that when you give an old Socialist Jew a microphone, you do something more dangerous than you know. Then, suddenly, as Sanders was blathering on, the president appeared in the White House briefing room with Bill Clinton.

Clinton endorsed the tax-cut deal, and began leaning into the microphone and talking. And talking. And talking. And then…the president said, and I’m not kidding, “Michelle is waiting for me,” patted Clinton on the back, and left his predecessor there at the microphone. And he is talking and talking and talking.

“I’m out of politics now,” said Bill Clinton, two minutes after saying he did 133 events for Democrats in 2010. This is a treasure trove of self-revelatory stuff, as is Sanders’s filibuster, which features him praising a book on the Senate floor by Arianna Huffington, an article in Slate…

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sigh: “The heads of the Democratic and Republican parties on Sunday criticized controversial comments made by two Senate hopefuls in their own parties, but each stood behind their candidacies [Rand Paul and Richard Blumenthal].” Well, party chairmen are paid to defend the indefensible, I suppose. And really, does any ordinary voter care what Michael Steele and Tim Kaine say?

Aaargh! “‘I was offered a job, and I answered that,’ [Joe] Sestak said. ‘Anything that goes beyond that is for others to talk about.’” He was bribed by the White House to get out of the Senate primary race and isn’t going to talk about it? I think an ethics probe and a special prosecutor are in order. It is a crime, after all, to bribe a candidate.

What??! Marc Ambinder, who, as Mickey Kaus once put it, spins more furiously for Obama than a dreidel, has this to say about the alleged White House offer to Sestak: “In essence, if this White House ascribes to a higher ethical standard, then it might want to agree to some investigation even if it believes there is no legal merit.” Because after all, the administration’s own conclusion about its wrongdoing is basically conclusive, right?

Whoopee! (for Republicans): “Republican Charles Djou won a special congressional election in Hawaii Saturday night, giving the GOP a boost as it attempts to retake the U.S. House in the November elections. … Mr. Djou will become the first Republican to represent Hawaii in 20 years. Hawaii is a traditionally Democratic stronghold that is President Barack Obama’s native state.” Democrats say this doesn’t really matter because the votes were divided by two feuding Democratic candidates. Besides, only special elections that Democrats win are bellwethers.

Yikes! John Kerry is back in Syria sucking up to Bashar al-Assad. And this is no comfort: “Senator Kerry has emerged as one of the primary American interlocutors with the Syrian government.” Yes, that’s part of the problem.

Oooh: “Iran’s parliament speaker earlier Sunday repeated threats that Iran would abandon a nuclear fuel swap plan brokered by Brazil and Turkey if the United States imposes new sanctions on the Islamic state.” So don’t be passing any useless sanctions or the mullahs will reject the meaningless Brazil-Turkey deal. The only thing more absurd (and more dangerous) is Obama’s Iran policy. (Come to think of it, it’s not clear he has one.)

Ouch: “‘The oil is gushing and we’re being lied to by how much oil is gushing … and the administration has now named a commission,’ Cokie Roberts said derisively. ‘Now this is what you do when you really don’t have anything else to do: you name a commission,’ she said. ‘That’s not going to stop the oil.’” Donna Brazile had harsh criticism as well, and when Obama loses Donna Brazile, you know he’s hitting rock bottom.

Awww (subscription required): “The muted conservative response is in marked contrast to the unease among some liberal activists toward [the nomination of Elena] Kagan. Obama, they say, made a ‘safe choice’ that was more appropriate for a Senate with a 52-seat Democratic majority rather than the 59-seat advantage (counting independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont) that the party holds. These disappointed liberals say that Obama, once again, has turned his back on them.”

Thunk! Maureen Dowd writes a column on Richard Blumenthal that’s daft even for her: “‘I think that lies are like wishes,’ said Bella DePaulo, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. … But chronic puffer-uppers can have impressive public service careers.” I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I think lies are like lies.

Sigh: “The heads of the Democratic and Republican parties on Sunday criticized controversial comments made by two Senate hopefuls in their own parties, but each stood behind their candidacies [Rand Paul and Richard Blumenthal].” Well, party chairmen are paid to defend the indefensible, I suppose. And really, does any ordinary voter care what Michael Steele and Tim Kaine say?

Aaargh! “‘I was offered a job, and I answered that,’ [Joe] Sestak said. ‘Anything that goes beyond that is for others to talk about.’” He was bribed by the White House to get out of the Senate primary race and isn’t going to talk about it? I think an ethics probe and a special prosecutor are in order. It is a crime, after all, to bribe a candidate.

What??! Marc Ambinder, who, as Mickey Kaus once put it, spins more furiously for Obama than a dreidel, has this to say about the alleged White House offer to Sestak: “In essence, if this White House ascribes to a higher ethical standard, then it might want to agree to some investigation even if it believes there is no legal merit.” Because after all, the administration’s own conclusion about its wrongdoing is basically conclusive, right?

Whoopee! (for Republicans): “Republican Charles Djou won a special congressional election in Hawaii Saturday night, giving the GOP a boost as it attempts to retake the U.S. House in the November elections. … Mr. Djou will become the first Republican to represent Hawaii in 20 years. Hawaii is a traditionally Democratic stronghold that is President Barack Obama’s native state.” Democrats say this doesn’t really matter because the votes were divided by two feuding Democratic candidates. Besides, only special elections that Democrats win are bellwethers.

Yikes! John Kerry is back in Syria sucking up to Bashar al-Assad. And this is no comfort: “Senator Kerry has emerged as one of the primary American interlocutors with the Syrian government.” Yes, that’s part of the problem.

Oooh: “Iran’s parliament speaker earlier Sunday repeated threats that Iran would abandon a nuclear fuel swap plan brokered by Brazil and Turkey if the United States imposes new sanctions on the Islamic state.” So don’t be passing any useless sanctions or the mullahs will reject the meaningless Brazil-Turkey deal. The only thing more absurd (and more dangerous) is Obama’s Iran policy. (Come to think of it, it’s not clear he has one.)

Ouch: “‘The oil is gushing and we’re being lied to by how much oil is gushing … and the administration has now named a commission,’ Cokie Roberts said derisively. ‘Now this is what you do when you really don’t have anything else to do: you name a commission,’ she said. ‘That’s not going to stop the oil.’” Donna Brazile had harsh criticism as well, and when Obama loses Donna Brazile, you know he’s hitting rock bottom.

Awww (subscription required): “The muted conservative response is in marked contrast to the unease among some liberal activists toward [the nomination of Elena] Kagan. Obama, they say, made a ‘safe choice’ that was more appropriate for a Senate with a 52-seat Democratic majority rather than the 59-seat advantage (counting independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont) that the party holds. These disappointed liberals say that Obama, once again, has turned his back on them.”

Thunk! Maureen Dowd writes a column on Richard Blumenthal that’s daft even for her: “‘I think that lies are like wishes,’ said Bella DePaulo, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. … But chronic puffer-uppers can have impressive public service careers.” I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I think lies are like lies.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Bill Kristol on enjoying the festivities in Copenhagen: “Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad giving anti-American speeches, huge applause from the delegates, snowing during this global warming conference. And I’m glad that it has done limited damage to the U.S. economy.” Mara Liasson (emboldened perhaps by the “Free Mara!” campaign) agrees: “I think, obviously, it was a disappointment for environmentalists who wanted something binding and wanted more firm targets, but I think what this means is that a very small step has been taken, and now we’ll see if the Senate will pass this treaty.”

In the rush to pass hugely unpopular and controversial legislation, errors are made: “The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) corrected its estimate of the Senate health bill’s costs on Sunday, saying it would reduce deficits slightly less than they’d predicted.”

The bill was so awful the payoffs had to be very high: “Nelson’s might be the most blatant – a deal carved out for a single state, a permanent exemption from the state share of Medicaid expansion for Nebraska, meaning federal taxpayers have to kick in an additional $45 million in the first decade. But another Democratic holdout, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), took credit for $10 billion in new funding for community health centers, while denying it was a “sweetheart deal.”

Megan McArdle: “Democrats are on a political suicide mission; I’m not a particularly accurate prognosticator, but I think this makes it very likely that in 2010 they will lost several seats in the Senate–enough to make it damn hard to pass any more of their signature legislation–and will lose the House outright.  In the case of the House, you can attribute it to the fact that the leadership has safe seats.  But three out of four of the Democrats on the podium today are in serious danger of losing their seats. No bill this large has ever before passed on a straight party-line vote, or even anything close to a straight party-line vote.  No bill this unpopular has ever before passed on a straight party-line vote.”

When do we get “change“? “The Senate Majority Leader has decided that the last few days before Christmas are the opportune moment for a narrow majority of Democrats to stuff ObamaCare through the Senate to meet an arbitrary White House deadline. Barring some extraordinary reversal, it now seems as if they have the 60 votes they need to jump off this cliff, with one-seventh of the economy in tow. Mr. Obama promised a new era of transparent good government, yet on Saturday morning Mr. Reid threw out the 2,100-page bill that the world’s greatest deliberative body spent just 17 days debating and replaced it with a new ‘manager’s amendment’ that was stapled together in covert partisan negotiations.” Well, voters may see their chance on Election Day 2010.

Harry Reid’s precarious position with Nevada voters may get worse. Even the new Newsweek has figured out that much: “As the approval ratings of both Obama and Congress fall, Nevada’s political dynamics spell trouble for many incumbent Democrats. When you’re the majority leader, that’s seriously bad news. ‘Any politician who gets into a leadership role like that has a tough time because they have to balance the needs of their leadership role against their representation of a state,’ [Scott] Rasmussen says. Reid’s job as leader requires him to be a strict partisan even though he comes from a purple state.”

To no one’s surprise, James Webb falls in line with ObamaCare despite all his supposed “disappointment with some sections of the bill.” His Virginia constituents, who elected Bob McDonnell and are running against the Obama agenda by twenty points, are no doubt even more disappointed. That’s what the 2012 election will be all about.

Eric Cantor explains where health care will be decided: “Cantor predicts that abortion would be the key issue in the House’s debate of the Senate’s bill. Pro-life Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) ‘has outlined very clear language’ on abortion and ‘has made it clear that if it’s not included then he will vote against the bill,’  he says. ‘. . It’s unfathomable to think that pro-life Democrats would go for the Senate version. They know that the Senate’s bill is a 30-year record-breaking move to allow taxpayer dollars to fund abortion. I can’t imagine any of them supporting it.” We’ll see.

We are still “bearing witness,” I suppose: “Iran’s opposition on Sunday seized upon the death of one of the Islamic republic’s founding fathers — a revered ayatollah who was also a fierce critic of the nation’s leadership — to take to the streets in mourning. Fearing that mourners could quickly turn into antigovernment protesters, Iranian authorities tightened security across the country.”

Bill Kristol on enjoying the festivities in Copenhagen: “Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad giving anti-American speeches, huge applause from the delegates, snowing during this global warming conference. And I’m glad that it has done limited damage to the U.S. economy.” Mara Liasson (emboldened perhaps by the “Free Mara!” campaign) agrees: “I think, obviously, it was a disappointment for environmentalists who wanted something binding and wanted more firm targets, but I think what this means is that a very small step has been taken, and now we’ll see if the Senate will pass this treaty.”

In the rush to pass hugely unpopular and controversial legislation, errors are made: “The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) corrected its estimate of the Senate health bill’s costs on Sunday, saying it would reduce deficits slightly less than they’d predicted.”

The bill was so awful the payoffs had to be very high: “Nelson’s might be the most blatant – a deal carved out for a single state, a permanent exemption from the state share of Medicaid expansion for Nebraska, meaning federal taxpayers have to kick in an additional $45 million in the first decade. But another Democratic holdout, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), took credit for $10 billion in new funding for community health centers, while denying it was a “sweetheart deal.”

Megan McArdle: “Democrats are on a political suicide mission; I’m not a particularly accurate prognosticator, but I think this makes it very likely that in 2010 they will lost several seats in the Senate–enough to make it damn hard to pass any more of their signature legislation–and will lose the House outright.  In the case of the House, you can attribute it to the fact that the leadership has safe seats.  But three out of four of the Democrats on the podium today are in serious danger of losing their seats. No bill this large has ever before passed on a straight party-line vote, or even anything close to a straight party-line vote.  No bill this unpopular has ever before passed on a straight party-line vote.”

When do we get “change“? “The Senate Majority Leader has decided that the last few days before Christmas are the opportune moment for a narrow majority of Democrats to stuff ObamaCare through the Senate to meet an arbitrary White House deadline. Barring some extraordinary reversal, it now seems as if they have the 60 votes they need to jump off this cliff, with one-seventh of the economy in tow. Mr. Obama promised a new era of transparent good government, yet on Saturday morning Mr. Reid threw out the 2,100-page bill that the world’s greatest deliberative body spent just 17 days debating and replaced it with a new ‘manager’s amendment’ that was stapled together in covert partisan negotiations.” Well, voters may see their chance on Election Day 2010.

Harry Reid’s precarious position with Nevada voters may get worse. Even the new Newsweek has figured out that much: “As the approval ratings of both Obama and Congress fall, Nevada’s political dynamics spell trouble for many incumbent Democrats. When you’re the majority leader, that’s seriously bad news. ‘Any politician who gets into a leadership role like that has a tough time because they have to balance the needs of their leadership role against their representation of a state,’ [Scott] Rasmussen says. Reid’s job as leader requires him to be a strict partisan even though he comes from a purple state.”

To no one’s surprise, James Webb falls in line with ObamaCare despite all his supposed “disappointment with some sections of the bill.” His Virginia constituents, who elected Bob McDonnell and are running against the Obama agenda by twenty points, are no doubt even more disappointed. That’s what the 2012 election will be all about.

Eric Cantor explains where health care will be decided: “Cantor predicts that abortion would be the key issue in the House’s debate of the Senate’s bill. Pro-life Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) ‘has outlined very clear language’ on abortion and ‘has made it clear that if it’s not included then he will vote against the bill,’  he says. ‘. . It’s unfathomable to think that pro-life Democrats would go for the Senate version. They know that the Senate’s bill is a 30-year record-breaking move to allow taxpayer dollars to fund abortion. I can’t imagine any of them supporting it.” We’ll see.

We are still “bearing witness,” I suppose: “Iran’s opposition on Sunday seized upon the death of one of the Islamic republic’s founding fathers — a revered ayatollah who was also a fierce critic of the nation’s leadership — to take to the streets in mourning. Fearing that mourners could quickly turn into antigovernment protesters, Iranian authorities tightened security across the country.”

Read Less

Liberals in Revolt, Looking for Allies

The Left is having a meltdown. They might yet get nationalized health care, but they’re beside themselves with fury. As this report sums up:

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is mounting a campaign of sorts against the initiative in its current form. MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has declared, “This is not health. This is not care. This is certainly not reform.” Liberal blogs such as Daily Kos are blasting the Senate bill, especially since it dropped a government-run “public option” and killed a plan to expand Medicare. Liberal House members are venting their fury at senators who are lukewarm on the revamp, especially Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson. Labor unions are protesting proposed taxes on high-value insurance policies.

On one hand, there’s reason to view all this with a great deal of skepticism. We haven’t seen, with the possible exception of Sen. Bernie Sanders, any indication that the Left will submarine the bill in the Senate. And virtually everyone suspects that whatever does get through the Senate will be jammed down the throats of House Democrats. They’ve shown no inclination to resist Nancy Pelosi on any significant vote.

However, there is reason for the White House and Democratic lawmakers to be very, very nervous. They need these angry liberals to support them, give money, and turn out to vote in 2010. The “angry Left” is useful to Democratic pols – so long as the Left’s anger is directed at others – and gets liberals to the polls for establishment Democrats. Should the liberal base stay home in a huff, the bleak 2010 picture will get bleaker.

What to do? Well, the White House and Democratic congressional leaders are convinced it will all work out in the end if the reviled health-care bill passes. Everyone — the Left included — will learn to love it, they keep telling themselves. Perhaps. But maybe there’s a strange convergence of interests. The Left wants to kill the bill. Conservatives want to kill the bill. Red State Democrats don’t really want to vote on the bill. What all these diverse groups need to do, then, is, well, kill the bill.

But then Democrats will need to look for someone to blame. (You don’t suppose they could blame George W. Bush? He’s come in so handy for so long, and on this one he almost surely wouldn’t mind.) Perhaps the Democrats should have held tight on the public option and let Sen. Joe Lieberman sink it. Come to think of it, that would have made a whole lot of people very happy. And it might have saved a lot of Democratic seats in 2010. Ah, well.

The Left is having a meltdown. They might yet get nationalized health care, but they’re beside themselves with fury. As this report sums up:

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is mounting a campaign of sorts against the initiative in its current form. MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has declared, “This is not health. This is not care. This is certainly not reform.” Liberal blogs such as Daily Kos are blasting the Senate bill, especially since it dropped a government-run “public option” and killed a plan to expand Medicare. Liberal House members are venting their fury at senators who are lukewarm on the revamp, especially Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson. Labor unions are protesting proposed taxes on high-value insurance policies.

On one hand, there’s reason to view all this with a great deal of skepticism. We haven’t seen, with the possible exception of Sen. Bernie Sanders, any indication that the Left will submarine the bill in the Senate. And virtually everyone suspects that whatever does get through the Senate will be jammed down the throats of House Democrats. They’ve shown no inclination to resist Nancy Pelosi on any significant vote.

However, there is reason for the White House and Democratic lawmakers to be very, very nervous. They need these angry liberals to support them, give money, and turn out to vote in 2010. The “angry Left” is useful to Democratic pols – so long as the Left’s anger is directed at others – and gets liberals to the polls for establishment Democrats. Should the liberal base stay home in a huff, the bleak 2010 picture will get bleaker.

What to do? Well, the White House and Democratic congressional leaders are convinced it will all work out in the end if the reviled health-care bill passes. Everyone — the Left included — will learn to love it, they keep telling themselves. Perhaps. But maybe there’s a strange convergence of interests. The Left wants to kill the bill. Conservatives want to kill the bill. Red State Democrats don’t really want to vote on the bill. What all these diverse groups need to do, then, is, well, kill the bill.

But then Democrats will need to look for someone to blame. (You don’t suppose they could blame George W. Bush? He’s come in so handy for so long, and on this one he almost surely wouldn’t mind.) Perhaps the Democrats should have held tight on the public option and let Sen. Joe Lieberman sink it. Come to think of it, that would have made a whole lot of people very happy. And it might have saved a lot of Democratic seats in 2010. Ah, well.

Read Less

Obama’s Broken Promises

As the political class focuses on President Obama’s efforts to jam through health-care legislation along party-line votes, it’s important that we not give him a pass for his string of broken promises. The one that jumps to mind today — as Obama is hosting a health-care meeting of only Democrats (plus Independents Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders), capping an approach that froze out Republicans from the get-go — is the promise Obama made during the campaign to work with those across the aisle. It was Obama, we were told (by Obama), who would repair the breach and “turn the page.” It is he who told us that “genuine bipartisanship assumes an honest process of give-and-take” and that the majority must be constrained “by an exacting press corps and ultimately an informed electorate” to “negotiate in good faith.” Obama would set aside politics as usual and listen carefully to others, “especially,” he said on the night of his election, “when we disagree.”

These promises — which were more than incidental; they were central to the Obama campaign and the Obama appeal — were fiction. It seems clear now that Mr. Obama never intended to act on what he said.

It is quite a distinction our 44th president has achieved as he ends his first year in office. He is both the most unpopular and the most polarizing and partisan president in our lifetime.

As the political class focuses on President Obama’s efforts to jam through health-care legislation along party-line votes, it’s important that we not give him a pass for his string of broken promises. The one that jumps to mind today — as Obama is hosting a health-care meeting of only Democrats (plus Independents Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders), capping an approach that froze out Republicans from the get-go — is the promise Obama made during the campaign to work with those across the aisle. It was Obama, we were told (by Obama), who would repair the breach and “turn the page.” It is he who told us that “genuine bipartisanship assumes an honest process of give-and-take” and that the majority must be constrained “by an exacting press corps and ultimately an informed electorate” to “negotiate in good faith.” Obama would set aside politics as usual and listen carefully to others, “especially,” he said on the night of his election, “when we disagree.”

These promises — which were more than incidental; they were central to the Obama campaign and the Obama appeal — were fiction. It seems clear now that Mr. Obama never intended to act on what he said.

It is quite a distinction our 44th president has achieved as he ends his first year in office. He is both the most unpopular and the most polarizing and partisan president in our lifetime.

Read Less




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