Commentary Magazine


Topic: Brian Lamb

Flotsam and Jetsam

From Fox News on your government at work: “The State Department is planning to welcome thousands of immigrants from terror-watch list countries into the United States this year through a ‘diversity visa’ lottery — a giant legal loophole some lawmakers say is a ‘serious national security threat’ that has gone unchecked for years. Ostensibly designed to increase ethnic diversity among immigrants, the program invites in thousands of poorly educated laborers with few job skills — and that’s only the beginning of its problems, according to lawmakers and government investigations.”

C-SPAN isn’t pleased with Obama’s reneging on his promise to televise the health-care debates: “C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb accused President Obama of using his network as a ‘political football’ during the presidential campaign, citing the president’s broken pledge to televise health care reform negotiations on the nonpartisan channel which is devoted to covering Washington.”

Harry Reid is trying to chase Harold Ford out of the New York Senate race.

Is Martha Coakley in trouble in Massachusetts? The New York Times frets: “The news that two senior Democratic senators will retire this year in the face of bleak re-election prospects has created anxiety and, even in this bluest of states, a sense that the balance of power has shifted dramatically from just a year ago. With the holidays over and public attention refocused on the race, Ms. Coakley’s insistence on debating her Republican opponent, Scott P. Brown, only with a third-party candidate present has drawn mounting criticism.” There is also that Rasmussen poll. The Gray Lady seems to be worrying that even a close race is bad news for the Democrats: “a tighter-than-expected margin in the closely watched race would still prompt soul-searching among Democrats nationally, since the outcome will be the first real barometer of whether problems facing the party will play out in tangible ways at the polls later this year.”

The Cook Report lists Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut as toss-up Senate races. North Dakota is “leans Republican.” Four GOP seats are listed as toss-up, but that includes New Hampshire, where the GOP candidate in the latest poll had a 7-point lead.

Max Baucus says health-care negotiations have “got a lot to cover.” Doesn’t sound like it’s a done deal yet.

Charles Krauthammer thinks Obama isn’t giving up his fixation on closing Guantanamo quite yet: “Obama will not change his determination to close Guantanamo. He is too politically committed. The only hope is that perhaps now he is offering his ‘recruiting’ rationale out of political expediency rather than real belief. With suicide bombers in the air, cynicism is far less dangerous to the country than naivete.”

But will anything really change? “The lesson of Abdulmuttalab is that rearranging the bureaucratic furniture is always the first resort of politicians who want to be seen ‘doing something’ about a problem, but it almost never works. A President has to drive the bureaucracy by making the fight against terrorism a daily, personal priority.” Yet one always senses that Obama has something else he’d rather be doing.

From Fox News on your government at work: “The State Department is planning to welcome thousands of immigrants from terror-watch list countries into the United States this year through a ‘diversity visa’ lottery — a giant legal loophole some lawmakers say is a ‘serious national security threat’ that has gone unchecked for years. Ostensibly designed to increase ethnic diversity among immigrants, the program invites in thousands of poorly educated laborers with few job skills — and that’s only the beginning of its problems, according to lawmakers and government investigations.”

C-SPAN isn’t pleased with Obama’s reneging on his promise to televise the health-care debates: “C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb accused President Obama of using his network as a ‘political football’ during the presidential campaign, citing the president’s broken pledge to televise health care reform negotiations on the nonpartisan channel which is devoted to covering Washington.”

Harry Reid is trying to chase Harold Ford out of the New York Senate race.

Is Martha Coakley in trouble in Massachusetts? The New York Times frets: “The news that two senior Democratic senators will retire this year in the face of bleak re-election prospects has created anxiety and, even in this bluest of states, a sense that the balance of power has shifted dramatically from just a year ago. With the holidays over and public attention refocused on the race, Ms. Coakley’s insistence on debating her Republican opponent, Scott P. Brown, only with a third-party candidate present has drawn mounting criticism.” There is also that Rasmussen poll. The Gray Lady seems to be worrying that even a close race is bad news for the Democrats: “a tighter-than-expected margin in the closely watched race would still prompt soul-searching among Democrats nationally, since the outcome will be the first real barometer of whether problems facing the party will play out in tangible ways at the polls later this year.”

The Cook Report lists Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut as toss-up Senate races. North Dakota is “leans Republican.” Four GOP seats are listed as toss-up, but that includes New Hampshire, where the GOP candidate in the latest poll had a 7-point lead.

Max Baucus says health-care negotiations have “got a lot to cover.” Doesn’t sound like it’s a done deal yet.

Charles Krauthammer thinks Obama isn’t giving up his fixation on closing Guantanamo quite yet: “Obama will not change his determination to close Guantanamo. He is too politically committed. The only hope is that perhaps now he is offering his ‘recruiting’ rationale out of political expediency rather than real belief. With suicide bombers in the air, cynicism is far less dangerous to the country than naivete.”

But will anything really change? “The lesson of Abdulmuttalab is that rearranging the bureaucratic furniture is always the first resort of politicians who want to be seen ‘doing something’ about a problem, but it almost never works. A President has to drive the bureaucracy by making the fight against terrorism a daily, personal priority.” Yet one always senses that Obama has something else he’d rather be doing.

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Obama’s Petard

President Obama promised at least eight times during the campaign to have the legislative negotiations over reforming health care televised on C-Span. That has not happened and, in the final sprint to the finish line, will not happen. The letter from Brian Lamb, the head of C-Span, merely brought the obvious out into the open.

Republicans, naturally, are having a field day comparing Obama’s oft-repeated promise of openness and transparency with the reality of a few congressional Pooh-Bahs (none of them Republican) and White House aides meeting at unannounced times behind very closed doors. When they are done, a vast bill will be rushed to each congressional floor and voted on with just as much dispatch as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid can manage. If no one except the negotiators even has a chance to read the bill, let alone consider it in depth, before the final vote, so much the better. It will then pass, unless some Democrats — looking over their shoulders at the increasing number of their fellow party members who have decided to spend more time with their families — figure out that their political survival requires defying the party bosses. And it will pass on a strictly party-line vote. The most significant piece of domestic legislation since the New Deal will pass without a single Republican vote.

Who is to blame for giving the Republicans such as wonderful cudgel with which to beat President Obama and the congressional Democrats over the head? Well, it was that political genius Barack Obama. It was a dumb political move on his part to have ever suggested open negotiations, let alone promising them over and over.

Real negotiations — as opposed to questioning witnesses and debating on the floor — are never held in public. If they were, political opponents and lobbyists would be hanging on every word. The give and take, the thinking out loud, the tentative suggestions, the horse-trading that are so much a part of any negotiation would be impossible when every casual phrase, recorded on C-Span’s camcorders, might be turned into an attack ad for the next election.

When the most momentous negotiations in American history — the Constitutional Convention of 1787 — met for the first time, the members of the convention agreed to strict secrecy. Sentries were posted at all doors. The windows — in a sweltering Philadelphia summer — were kept closed, a discreet member of the convention always attended Benjamin Franklin’s convivial dinner parties to make sure the great man did not talk too much. James Madison’s notes (by far the most important source we have for what went on) were not published until 1840, after all the delegates to the convention were dead.

The Founding Fathers did a pretty good job in those secret meetings 222 years ago. They created what is perhaps the only work of genius ever produced by a committee. The attendees at the secret negotiations over health care will probably not fare as well in the opinion of history. They are not founding a republic, after all; they are trying, with increasing desperation, to get a dirty deal done.

President Obama promised at least eight times during the campaign to have the legislative negotiations over reforming health care televised on C-Span. That has not happened and, in the final sprint to the finish line, will not happen. The letter from Brian Lamb, the head of C-Span, merely brought the obvious out into the open.

Republicans, naturally, are having a field day comparing Obama’s oft-repeated promise of openness and transparency with the reality of a few congressional Pooh-Bahs (none of them Republican) and White House aides meeting at unannounced times behind very closed doors. When they are done, a vast bill will be rushed to each congressional floor and voted on with just as much dispatch as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid can manage. If no one except the negotiators even has a chance to read the bill, let alone consider it in depth, before the final vote, so much the better. It will then pass, unless some Democrats — looking over their shoulders at the increasing number of their fellow party members who have decided to spend more time with their families — figure out that their political survival requires defying the party bosses. And it will pass on a strictly party-line vote. The most significant piece of domestic legislation since the New Deal will pass without a single Republican vote.

Who is to blame for giving the Republicans such as wonderful cudgel with which to beat President Obama and the congressional Democrats over the head? Well, it was that political genius Barack Obama. It was a dumb political move on his part to have ever suggested open negotiations, let alone promising them over and over.

Real negotiations — as opposed to questioning witnesses and debating on the floor — are never held in public. If they were, political opponents and lobbyists would be hanging on every word. The give and take, the thinking out loud, the tentative suggestions, the horse-trading that are so much a part of any negotiation would be impossible when every casual phrase, recorded on C-Span’s camcorders, might be turned into an attack ad for the next election.

When the most momentous negotiations in American history — the Constitutional Convention of 1787 — met for the first time, the members of the convention agreed to strict secrecy. Sentries were posted at all doors. The windows — in a sweltering Philadelphia summer — were kept closed, a discreet member of the convention always attended Benjamin Franklin’s convivial dinner parties to make sure the great man did not talk too much. James Madison’s notes (by far the most important source we have for what went on) were not published until 1840, after all the delegates to the convention were dead.

The Founding Fathers did a pretty good job in those secret meetings 222 years ago. They created what is perhaps the only work of genius ever produced by a committee. The attendees at the secret negotiations over health care will probably not fare as well in the opinion of history. They are not founding a republic, after all; they are trying, with increasing desperation, to get a dirty deal done.

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C-SPAN vs. the Obami

C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb has asked Congress and the president to keep their word on transparency and let C-SPAN cover the “critical stage of reconciliation between the Chambers.” The answer certainly will be “no.” After all, there is not likely to be an actual conference committee, so cameras would have to follow Reid and Pelosi around as they buttonhole members and offer up more Cornhusker Kickbacks. And that wouldn’t look too good.

Tom Bevan thinks Obama has a problem, given his own explicit promise to televise negotiations:

Today, when asked for the 3rd time whether President Obama believes that the “standard” he set during the campaign for transparency on health care negotiations is being met by the current process (which now appears to include bypassing the formal conference process), White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs gave a flaccid but telling response. “I do not believe the American people have lacked for information on what’s in these bills – the political and policy arguments around different people’s positions – I think that’s been well documented,” Gibbs said.

More and more of what comes out of the White House sounds like third-rate talking points. They seem to have grown accustomed to saying  just any old thing and getting away with it. Now, they are being challenged. We’ll see how they respond. That enemies list (e.g., Fox News, Gallup, Rasmussen, Chamber of Commerce) is getting pretty long. But who’s going to believe that C-SPAN can be dismissed as a partisan attack machine? Maybe Obama should stick to a few of his promises — or at least concede that he just doesn’t want to.

C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb has asked Congress and the president to keep their word on transparency and let C-SPAN cover the “critical stage of reconciliation between the Chambers.” The answer certainly will be “no.” After all, there is not likely to be an actual conference committee, so cameras would have to follow Reid and Pelosi around as they buttonhole members and offer up more Cornhusker Kickbacks. And that wouldn’t look too good.

Tom Bevan thinks Obama has a problem, given his own explicit promise to televise negotiations:

Today, when asked for the 3rd time whether President Obama believes that the “standard” he set during the campaign for transparency on health care negotiations is being met by the current process (which now appears to include bypassing the formal conference process), White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs gave a flaccid but telling response. “I do not believe the American people have lacked for information on what’s in these bills – the political and policy arguments around different people’s positions – I think that’s been well documented,” Gibbs said.

More and more of what comes out of the White House sounds like third-rate talking points. They seem to have grown accustomed to saying  just any old thing and getting away with it. Now, they are being challenged. We’ll see how they respond. That enemies list (e.g., Fox News, Gallup, Rasmussen, Chamber of Commerce) is getting pretty long. But who’s going to believe that C-SPAN can be dismissed as a partisan attack machine? Maybe Obama should stick to a few of his promises — or at least concede that he just doesn’t want to.

Read Less