Commentary Magazine


Topic: car

Get Your GM Stock!

Get out your checkbook — GM’s IPO is just around the corner. This report explains:

The Treasury is seeking to sell roughly $6 billion to $8 billion of its GM stock through the IPO, with other sellers taking the entire deal to a total of roughly $10 billion to $12 billion.

The government paid $40 billion for its stake, and risks political fallout if the share price sinks due to releasing too many shares at once on the market. That could send a signal the Obama administration won’t recoup its investment.

Yes, contrary to the administration’s spin, there is a strong likelihood of the shareholders not even coming close to getting their money back. In the short term, the numbers could look particularly grim:

Linda Killian, a principal of Renaissance Capital LLC in Greenwich, Conn., which specializes in IPO research, estimates GM’s valuation at $50 billion to $70 billion, yet added that the chances of the government breaking even are “low.”

Because the IPO should take place at a discount to the market price, the government is likely to show a big loss in realized proceeds on its sales on IPO day. If the IPO is priced at the $50 billion level, that would equate to a U.S. loss of approximately 38% on the first batch of shares it sells.

But not to worry; the former car czar, Steve Rattner (who’s about to enter a settlement regarding a kickback arrangement with the New York State pension fund and “accept a multi-year ban from the securities industry and pay a fine of more than $5 million”), says that our losses will only be in the “single-digit” billions. I’ll hang on to that rosy scenario.

The real problem is that GM is not all that attractive so long as it remains a subsidiary of Obama, Inc.

“Would I jump at the GM deal? Probably not,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Harris Private Bank in Chicago. He said the “overhang of government ownership” results in a “management straitjacket” that could require GM executives to “get permission every time they want to extend a bonus to somebody.”

Robert Pavlik, a senior partner at investment advisers Banyan Partners LLC in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., said he “wouldn’t put my clients’ money into it” because GM still carries the “stigma” of both bankruptcy and government ownership as well as recent top-management turnover.

“What’s going to drive their sales? The Chevrolet Volt? I think that’s going to turn out to be more of a publicity stunt than anything else,” Mr. Pavlik said.

This raises at least two troubling issues. First, the UAW is also going to get some of its (that is, its members’) money back in the IPO. It has a 17.5 percent stake in the company. So where is that money going — directly into the pension plan, or is the union taking some off the top? You know, for political contributions, union bosses’ salaries, and the upkeep of its swank golf course.

But the bigger issue is this: by stepping into the car business, the government is now in the position of hawking GM stock, singing the praises of the GM Volt, and persuading investors to put their money in this company as opposed to other businesses. There is something unseemly in all that. The administration finds itself in a classic case of conflict of interest. On the one hand, it is the federal regulator/pension guarantor/SEC monitor, and on the other, it is running the GM “road show” to sell, sell, sell GM. It is the natural and inevitable result of a move that should have never been made — namely, the injection of the U.S. government into the car industry.

All of that, plus the potential for billions in losses, should remind us why the Obama car bailout is a lemon.

Get out your checkbook — GM’s IPO is just around the corner. This report explains:

The Treasury is seeking to sell roughly $6 billion to $8 billion of its GM stock through the IPO, with other sellers taking the entire deal to a total of roughly $10 billion to $12 billion.

The government paid $40 billion for its stake, and risks political fallout if the share price sinks due to releasing too many shares at once on the market. That could send a signal the Obama administration won’t recoup its investment.

Yes, contrary to the administration’s spin, there is a strong likelihood of the shareholders not even coming close to getting their money back. In the short term, the numbers could look particularly grim:

Linda Killian, a principal of Renaissance Capital LLC in Greenwich, Conn., which specializes in IPO research, estimates GM’s valuation at $50 billion to $70 billion, yet added that the chances of the government breaking even are “low.”

Because the IPO should take place at a discount to the market price, the government is likely to show a big loss in realized proceeds on its sales on IPO day. If the IPO is priced at the $50 billion level, that would equate to a U.S. loss of approximately 38% on the first batch of shares it sells.

But not to worry; the former car czar, Steve Rattner (who’s about to enter a settlement regarding a kickback arrangement with the New York State pension fund and “accept a multi-year ban from the securities industry and pay a fine of more than $5 million”), says that our losses will only be in the “single-digit” billions. I’ll hang on to that rosy scenario.

The real problem is that GM is not all that attractive so long as it remains a subsidiary of Obama, Inc.

“Would I jump at the GM deal? Probably not,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Harris Private Bank in Chicago. He said the “overhang of government ownership” results in a “management straitjacket” that could require GM executives to “get permission every time they want to extend a bonus to somebody.”

Robert Pavlik, a senior partner at investment advisers Banyan Partners LLC in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., said he “wouldn’t put my clients’ money into it” because GM still carries the “stigma” of both bankruptcy and government ownership as well as recent top-management turnover.

“What’s going to drive their sales? The Chevrolet Volt? I think that’s going to turn out to be more of a publicity stunt than anything else,” Mr. Pavlik said.

This raises at least two troubling issues. First, the UAW is also going to get some of its (that is, its members’) money back in the IPO. It has a 17.5 percent stake in the company. So where is that money going — directly into the pension plan, or is the union taking some off the top? You know, for political contributions, union bosses’ salaries, and the upkeep of its swank golf course.

But the bigger issue is this: by stepping into the car business, the government is now in the position of hawking GM stock, singing the praises of the GM Volt, and persuading investors to put their money in this company as opposed to other businesses. There is something unseemly in all that. The administration finds itself in a classic case of conflict of interest. On the one hand, it is the federal regulator/pension guarantor/SEC monitor, and on the other, it is running the GM “road show” to sell, sell, sell GM. It is the natural and inevitable result of a move that should have never been made — namely, the injection of the U.S. government into the car industry.

All of that, plus the potential for billions in losses, should remind us why the Obama car bailout is a lemon.

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The Failures of TARP

Liberals would have us believe that government is more trustworthy and competent than the private sector to manage large sums of money. A gaping deficit, ham-handedness in reacting to natural disasters, and unsustainable entitlement problems tell us otherwise. Now we learn:

TARP bailouts are far from over, even though Treasury’s ability to invest more money in the program has expired, a new oversight report finds. The special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, Neil Barofsky, has prepared a report outlining problems, including rosy Treasury estimates for the program’s cost to taxpayers. …

The report criticizes TARP for failing to save enough struggling homeowners from foreclosure. The program has supported 207,000 permanent mortgage modifications intended to keep people in their homes. But 1.7 million homes have been foreclosed on since January 2009.

“The most specific of TARP’s Main Street goals, “preserving homeownership,” has so far fallen woefully short,” the report said.

The report also hit TARP for failing to increase lending for small businesses, going after the administration’s auto team for advocating to speed the rate of shuttering car dealerships in order to save General Motors.

As for Obama’s occasional claims that we have gotten our money back, the IG says it just isn’t so. At every turn we learn and relearn again that the government has no special expertise — in fact has no expertise — when it comes to running banks or car companies. It is no wonder that skepticism about government has grown. As it takes on more, spends more, and performs less well, voters get the idea that we should start taking responsibilities away from the government. We can start with ObamaCare. Imagine what an IG report on that would look like five or 10 years from now.

Liberals would have us believe that government is more trustworthy and competent than the private sector to manage large sums of money. A gaping deficit, ham-handedness in reacting to natural disasters, and unsustainable entitlement problems tell us otherwise. Now we learn:

TARP bailouts are far from over, even though Treasury’s ability to invest more money in the program has expired, a new oversight report finds. The special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, Neil Barofsky, has prepared a report outlining problems, including rosy Treasury estimates for the program’s cost to taxpayers. …

The report criticizes TARP for failing to save enough struggling homeowners from foreclosure. The program has supported 207,000 permanent mortgage modifications intended to keep people in their homes. But 1.7 million homes have been foreclosed on since January 2009.

“The most specific of TARP’s Main Street goals, “preserving homeownership,” has so far fallen woefully short,” the report said.

The report also hit TARP for failing to increase lending for small businesses, going after the administration’s auto team for advocating to speed the rate of shuttering car dealerships in order to save General Motors.

As for Obama’s occasional claims that we have gotten our money back, the IG says it just isn’t so. At every turn we learn and relearn again that the government has no special expertise — in fact has no expertise — when it comes to running banks or car companies. It is no wonder that skepticism about government has grown. As it takes on more, spends more, and performs less well, voters get the idea that we should start taking responsibilities away from the government. We can start with ObamaCare. Imagine what an IG report on that would look like five or 10 years from now.

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Litmus Tests for Supreme Court Nominees

One wonders how politicians are able to say, with conviction and solemnity, the most absurd things, which no one listening takes seriously. Obama has let loose with some doozies. He told us he didn’t want to take over the car companies. And he told us he didn’t like spending so much money on government. But when he says there is “no litmus test” for abortion when selecting his Supreme Court nominee, one is tempted to holler, “Enough!” Puhleez.

There is no issue more dearly embraced by the Democratic party than legalized abortion on demand and no greater fear — contrived or sincere — than of losing the judicial monopoly on the issue and — heavens! — be left to the mercy of voters to decide this issue of public policy. There is no Democratic president who won’t make absolutely certain that his nominee will doggedly defend the current abortion jurisprudence. Indeed, Obama couldn’t help but give away the game:

Obama said his nominee would be someone who interprets “our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women’s rights.”

“And that’s going to be something that’s very important to me,” Obama said. …

On abortion, Obama said that he is “somebody who believes that women should have the ability to make often very difficult decisions about their own bodies and issues of reproduction.”

But no “litmus test,” he hastened to add. We are not supposed to ask judges to predetermine matters. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg took this to absurd lengths and set a tradition of saying nothing much of interest during her confirmation hearings (“no hints, no forecasts, no previews”). So no president will ask and no judge should answer whether she’d uphold Roe v. Wade. The president doesn’t need to. The era of stealth Supreme Court candidates is over, and each potential Obama nominee certainly will be one inclined to roam through the constitutional terrain spotting rights and finding penumbras that neatly fit the political agenda of the Left. It is “living Constitution” time once again. There’s not a single judge with that jurisprudential inclination who isn’t going to find a constitutional right to abortion and consider the matter “settled.”

So feel free to laugh when the president says “no litmus test.” When the cameras leave, I am sure he does too.

One wonders how politicians are able to say, with conviction and solemnity, the most absurd things, which no one listening takes seriously. Obama has let loose with some doozies. He told us he didn’t want to take over the car companies. And he told us he didn’t like spending so much money on government. But when he says there is “no litmus test” for abortion when selecting his Supreme Court nominee, one is tempted to holler, “Enough!” Puhleez.

There is no issue more dearly embraced by the Democratic party than legalized abortion on demand and no greater fear — contrived or sincere — than of losing the judicial monopoly on the issue and — heavens! — be left to the mercy of voters to decide this issue of public policy. There is no Democratic president who won’t make absolutely certain that his nominee will doggedly defend the current abortion jurisprudence. Indeed, Obama couldn’t help but give away the game:

Obama said his nominee would be someone who interprets “our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women’s rights.”

“And that’s going to be something that’s very important to me,” Obama said. …

On abortion, Obama said that he is “somebody who believes that women should have the ability to make often very difficult decisions about their own bodies and issues of reproduction.”

But no “litmus test,” he hastened to add. We are not supposed to ask judges to predetermine matters. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg took this to absurd lengths and set a tradition of saying nothing much of interest during her confirmation hearings (“no hints, no forecasts, no previews”). So no president will ask and no judge should answer whether she’d uphold Roe v. Wade. The president doesn’t need to. The era of stealth Supreme Court candidates is over, and each potential Obama nominee certainly will be one inclined to roam through the constitutional terrain spotting rights and finding penumbras that neatly fit the political agenda of the Left. It is “living Constitution” time once again. There’s not a single judge with that jurisprudential inclination who isn’t going to find a constitutional right to abortion and consider the matter “settled.”

So feel free to laugh when the president says “no litmus test.” When the cameras leave, I am sure he does too.

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“Narrative Gap”?

Ronald Brownstein writes:

The Republicans’ “narrative” about Obama’s economic agenda — articulated again in Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s attack on financial reform — has been straightforward and unrelenting. In their telling, Obama is transforming the United States into a sclerotic European social-welfare state; forcing the strained middle class to fund both a “crony capitalism” of bailouts for the powerful (the charge McConnell leveled against the financial bill) and handouts for the poor (through health care reform); and impeding recovery by smothering the economy beneath stultifying federal spending, taxes, and regulation.

The fear among the Democracy contributors is that against this disciplined assault the White House is suffering from what could be called a “narrative gap.”

Translation: Republicans have done an excellent job pointing out what Obama is up to — and voters don’t like Obama’s efforts to transform America. There is not a “narrative gap” strictly speaking — that’s Washington spin, reducing everything to messaging. There is a gap between what Obama wants to do and what the voters want. After all, it is not as if Republicans made up the fact that Obama took over two car companies, passed a mammoth health-care bill, ran up the deficit, and is hiking taxes on capital and labor. Obama has done this and is going to do more of this if left to his own devices.

The dilemma for Democrats is that they have embarked on an unpopular program, and rather than receiving applause for expanding the scope of the federal government, they find they have provoked the Center-Right coalition and roused the populist, anti-Big-Government sentiments of many previously indifferent voters. The idea that health-care reform would, along with a slew of other leftist policies, provide a “new foundation” for recovery was a great non sequitur. If anything, these things  have freaked out employers and dulled their enthusiasm for expanding payrolls. But even if one thinks that business somehow ignores public policy and averts its eyes from regulatory and tax changes, you’d be hard pressed to make the argument that any of this has promoted economic recovery.

It’s comforting, I suppose, to blame all of this on messaging. That avoids the serious policy failures of the Keynesian stimulus debacle and the hugely unpopular health-care plan. But the voters don’t think there’s a “narrative gap.” They think there’s been a bait-and-switch —  the soothing candidate Obama has emerged as a dogged leftist. They can’t do much about him for now (especially because he’s indifferent to public opinion), but they can take away his Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. And that’s precisely what makes Democrats so nervous.  They should be.

Ronald Brownstein writes:

The Republicans’ “narrative” about Obama’s economic agenda — articulated again in Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s attack on financial reform — has been straightforward and unrelenting. In their telling, Obama is transforming the United States into a sclerotic European social-welfare state; forcing the strained middle class to fund both a “crony capitalism” of bailouts for the powerful (the charge McConnell leveled against the financial bill) and handouts for the poor (through health care reform); and impeding recovery by smothering the economy beneath stultifying federal spending, taxes, and regulation.

The fear among the Democracy contributors is that against this disciplined assault the White House is suffering from what could be called a “narrative gap.”

Translation: Republicans have done an excellent job pointing out what Obama is up to — and voters don’t like Obama’s efforts to transform America. There is not a “narrative gap” strictly speaking — that’s Washington spin, reducing everything to messaging. There is a gap between what Obama wants to do and what the voters want. After all, it is not as if Republicans made up the fact that Obama took over two car companies, passed a mammoth health-care bill, ran up the deficit, and is hiking taxes on capital and labor. Obama has done this and is going to do more of this if left to his own devices.

The dilemma for Democrats is that they have embarked on an unpopular program, and rather than receiving applause for expanding the scope of the federal government, they find they have provoked the Center-Right coalition and roused the populist, anti-Big-Government sentiments of many previously indifferent voters. The idea that health-care reform would, along with a slew of other leftist policies, provide a “new foundation” for recovery was a great non sequitur. If anything, these things  have freaked out employers and dulled their enthusiasm for expanding payrolls. But even if one thinks that business somehow ignores public policy and averts its eyes from regulatory and tax changes, you’d be hard pressed to make the argument that any of this has promoted economic recovery.

It’s comforting, I suppose, to blame all of this on messaging. That avoids the serious policy failures of the Keynesian stimulus debacle and the hugely unpopular health-care plan. But the voters don’t think there’s a “narrative gap.” They think there’s been a bait-and-switch —  the soothing candidate Obama has emerged as a dogged leftist. They can’t do much about him for now (especially because he’s indifferent to public opinion), but they can take away his Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. And that’s precisely what makes Democrats so nervous.  They should be.

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Both the Left and the Right Have Pegged Obama Correctly

David Brooks thinks Obama has gotten a bum rap:

Liberals are wrong to call him weak and indecisive. He’s just not always pursuing their aims. Conservatives are wrong to call him a big-government liberal. That’s just not a fair reading of his agenda.

According to Brooks, Obama is simply “a president trying to define a modern brand of moderate progressivism.” It’s those wacky partisans on both sides who don’t get the essence of the man — the moderate but not too leftiness of Obama. Brooks reaches this conclusion, in part, by ignoring the totality of the programs, spending, and ambition of Obama’ s agenda. (Leaving out cap-and-trade, the plan for a mammoth tax hike, the takeover of two car companies, the mound of spending, and the foreign-policy apology fetish makes Obama sound a whole lot less radical than he is.) And frankly, as Obama presides over the strangulation of the D.C. school-voucher program, it’s preposterous to argue that “Obama has been the most determined education reformer in the modern presidency.”

Brooks also ignores that it’s not only conservative partisans who have recoiled against Obama’s excesses. Obama has lost the middle of the country, as independents’ support has plummeted. These voters are freaked out by the spending and the fixation on a mammoth health-care plan. A great deal of the country has come to see Obama and the Democratic party as “too liberal.” And poll after poll shows a newfound appreciation for “fewer services, lower taxes” over “more services, higher taxes.” If Obama is horribly misunderstood, then a large segment of the country — not simply die-hard conservatives — have misread him.

It’s a mistake, I think, to conclude that Obama is not extremely liberal in his political bent. It’s that Obama’s extremism is tempered by ineptitude. He simply hasn’t been able to craft legislation that embodies that “new foundation” — a pretty leftist formulation, by the way.

So the Left and Right are not both wrong about Obama. To the contrary, they both have it right. Obama is, as the Left bemoans, emotionally remote, indecisive, and lacking in deal-making interest and skills. He is, as the Right decries, a “big government liberal … arrogant toward foes, condescending toward allies and runs a partisan political machine.” The two are not mutually exclusive. It is the confluence of both that has whittled his support and rendered him, at least for now, an unsuccessful president.

David Brooks thinks Obama has gotten a bum rap:

Liberals are wrong to call him weak and indecisive. He’s just not always pursuing their aims. Conservatives are wrong to call him a big-government liberal. That’s just not a fair reading of his agenda.

According to Brooks, Obama is simply “a president trying to define a modern brand of moderate progressivism.” It’s those wacky partisans on both sides who don’t get the essence of the man — the moderate but not too leftiness of Obama. Brooks reaches this conclusion, in part, by ignoring the totality of the programs, spending, and ambition of Obama’ s agenda. (Leaving out cap-and-trade, the plan for a mammoth tax hike, the takeover of two car companies, the mound of spending, and the foreign-policy apology fetish makes Obama sound a whole lot less radical than he is.) And frankly, as Obama presides over the strangulation of the D.C. school-voucher program, it’s preposterous to argue that “Obama has been the most determined education reformer in the modern presidency.”

Brooks also ignores that it’s not only conservative partisans who have recoiled against Obama’s excesses. Obama has lost the middle of the country, as independents’ support has plummeted. These voters are freaked out by the spending and the fixation on a mammoth health-care plan. A great deal of the country has come to see Obama and the Democratic party as “too liberal.” And poll after poll shows a newfound appreciation for “fewer services, lower taxes” over “more services, higher taxes.” If Obama is horribly misunderstood, then a large segment of the country — not simply die-hard conservatives — have misread him.

It’s a mistake, I think, to conclude that Obama is not extremely liberal in his political bent. It’s that Obama’s extremism is tempered by ineptitude. He simply hasn’t been able to craft legislation that embodies that “new foundation” — a pretty leftist formulation, by the way.

So the Left and Right are not both wrong about Obama. To the contrary, they both have it right. Obama is, as the Left bemoans, emotionally remote, indecisive, and lacking in deal-making interest and skills. He is, as the Right decries, a “big government liberal … arrogant toward foes, condescending toward allies and runs a partisan political machine.” The two are not mutually exclusive. It is the confluence of both that has whittled his support and rendered him, at least for now, an unsuccessful president.

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The Legion of the Disappointed

Labor bosses are joining the ranks of the grumpy Obama backers who have come to discover that all their millions and all their boosterism have gotten them precious little. The New York Times has even figured it out:

The nation’s union leaders said on Tuesday that they were “appalled” at remarks made by President Obama condoning the mass firing of teachers at a Rhode Island high school. Coming the day after union presidents sharply complained to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. over stubbornly high unemployment, stagnant wages and the administration’s failure to do more to create jobs, the statement — voicing a rare vehemence toward a Democratic president — underlined the disillusionment of an important Democratic constituency. Because unions have been so crucial to the Democrats election after election, political experts say labor’s ambivalence, or worse, toward the Democrats could greatly deepen that party’s woes this fall.

Big Labor, we are told by Charlie Cook, is “very disappointed, whether it’s about card check or the effort to tax Cadillac health plans. … They’re really disillusioned. I think one by one unions will start getting engaged and helping out the Democrats, but it could be half-hearted.” For some $200M or more that they spent electing Obama, not to mention millions for Democratic congressional candidates, labor bosses thought they’d get something. Card check? Nope. Jobs? Not unless you count the two car companies Obama rescued. A sweetheart deal on health care? Unlikely. (But before the Obami fret too much, it seems that union bosses are still willing to pony up $53M of their members’ dues to help save the Democrats in Congress.)

Even if union bosses threw more millions into the Democratic coffers, the question remains whether they really can get their members engaged on behalf of a president and a Congress that has done so little for them. After all, union households went for Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Nor is Big Labor the only aggrieved member of the Democratic coalition:

Mr. Obama and the Democrats face problems among much of their base. Women’s groups are angry that some Democrats are pushing new restrictions on abortion as part of the health care overhaul. Many Hispanic groups are upset that Mr. Obama has not pressed for immigration reform this year. And gay and lesbian groups are unhappy he has not ended “don’t ask, don’t tell” as a military policy.

Hmm. So union leaders and members, liberal women, gays, and Hispanics, plus independents, fiscal conservatives, foreign-policy-establishment types, business groups, and Tea Party protesters have all had it with Obama. Some are angry because he’s proved to be ineffectual in pushing their liberal agenda, while others are miffed to discover that he’s, in fact, a statist (albeit incompetent) liberal.

Any president is bound to disappoint some supporters, but this one has disappointed more than his share. Granted, once the blank slate Obama maintained during the campaign was finally written on, some of the deluded Obamaphiles were bound to be disappointed. For those who fell for the candidate who promised to go line-by-line through the budget and pledged not to let Iran develop nuclear weapons, there’s a queasy realization that they were snowed. And for those like Big Labor who overestimated Obama’s ability to get their wish list fulfilled, there’s an awakening that they too were had. They thought they were getting a transformational president. Right now they’d settle for a minimally competent one.

Not all of the Obama-miffed will stay home or vote Republican. But many will. And if it’s a wave election, sweeping in Republican majorities or near-majorities in both houses, Obama may yet prove to be transformational. In just a couple of years he will have fundamentally altered the political landscape and shaken apart the Democratic coalition that was essential to his victory. Not the transformation he had in mind, of course.

Labor bosses are joining the ranks of the grumpy Obama backers who have come to discover that all their millions and all their boosterism have gotten them precious little. The New York Times has even figured it out:

The nation’s union leaders said on Tuesday that they were “appalled” at remarks made by President Obama condoning the mass firing of teachers at a Rhode Island high school. Coming the day after union presidents sharply complained to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. over stubbornly high unemployment, stagnant wages and the administration’s failure to do more to create jobs, the statement — voicing a rare vehemence toward a Democratic president — underlined the disillusionment of an important Democratic constituency. Because unions have been so crucial to the Democrats election after election, political experts say labor’s ambivalence, or worse, toward the Democrats could greatly deepen that party’s woes this fall.

Big Labor, we are told by Charlie Cook, is “very disappointed, whether it’s about card check or the effort to tax Cadillac health plans. … They’re really disillusioned. I think one by one unions will start getting engaged and helping out the Democrats, but it could be half-hearted.” For some $200M or more that they spent electing Obama, not to mention millions for Democratic congressional candidates, labor bosses thought they’d get something. Card check? Nope. Jobs? Not unless you count the two car companies Obama rescued. A sweetheart deal on health care? Unlikely. (But before the Obami fret too much, it seems that union bosses are still willing to pony up $53M of their members’ dues to help save the Democrats in Congress.)

Even if union bosses threw more millions into the Democratic coffers, the question remains whether they really can get their members engaged on behalf of a president and a Congress that has done so little for them. After all, union households went for Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Nor is Big Labor the only aggrieved member of the Democratic coalition:

Mr. Obama and the Democrats face problems among much of their base. Women’s groups are angry that some Democrats are pushing new restrictions on abortion as part of the health care overhaul. Many Hispanic groups are upset that Mr. Obama has not pressed for immigration reform this year. And gay and lesbian groups are unhappy he has not ended “don’t ask, don’t tell” as a military policy.

Hmm. So union leaders and members, liberal women, gays, and Hispanics, plus independents, fiscal conservatives, foreign-policy-establishment types, business groups, and Tea Party protesters have all had it with Obama. Some are angry because he’s proved to be ineffectual in pushing their liberal agenda, while others are miffed to discover that he’s, in fact, a statist (albeit incompetent) liberal.

Any president is bound to disappoint some supporters, but this one has disappointed more than his share. Granted, once the blank slate Obama maintained during the campaign was finally written on, some of the deluded Obamaphiles were bound to be disappointed. For those who fell for the candidate who promised to go line-by-line through the budget and pledged not to let Iran develop nuclear weapons, there’s a queasy realization that they were snowed. And for those like Big Labor who overestimated Obama’s ability to get their wish list fulfilled, there’s an awakening that they too were had. They thought they were getting a transformational president. Right now they’d settle for a minimally competent one.

Not all of the Obama-miffed will stay home or vote Republican. But many will. And if it’s a wave election, sweeping in Republican majorities or near-majorities in both houses, Obama may yet prove to be transformational. In just a couple of years he will have fundamentally altered the political landscape and shaken apart the Democratic coalition that was essential to his victory. Not the transformation he had in mind, of course.

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The Left Gets Nothing

As I suggested a few days ago, the decision to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not, perhaps, turning out to be all the Left hoped it would be. There is a study to be convened, one that will last years. And in the meantime, don’t expect a quick vote. Speaker Nancy Pelosi spills the beans — this isn’t happening any time soon:

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi suggested Thursday that Democrats may wait on voting to repeal the ban on gays in the military until after the midterm elections and after the Pentagon has completed a full review of its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. “We’ve done a heavy lift, and I don’t know,” Pelosi told reporters. “I’ll have to examine it. We’ll take a look. We’ll sit down together and see. What is the advantage of going first with legislation? Or would the legislation more aptly reflect what is in the review? Or is it a two step-process?”

It seems that Pelosi has already pushed her members out on that plank enough times. (“Many House Democrats who are privately reluctant to take a vote on the issue have already been forced to defend several unpopular health care and spending measures that Pelosi and her leadership team essentially forced them to endorse.”) Her ultraliberal agenda is already so unpopular with many of her members. How can she force a vote on this — in an election year, no less?

There is something comical about the charade. Obama announces the repeal, or, more precisely, the study for the repeal. He knows he’ll get a few rounds of applause from the ever-gullible Left, but he can count on the bureaucratic process and the sweeping terror in Congressional ranks to prevent an actual vote. A vote in an election year would only become a lightning rod and distract from the rest of his agenda — which is also unpopular and going nowhere. Got it?

There is a giant legislative traffic jam underway. The Congress can’t work on health care because it’s impossible to round up the votes in a post-Scott Brown political environment. They can’t pass Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell because health care has freaked out much of the Democratic caucus. They can’t work on cap-and-trade because that vote was a semi-disaster last year and will only remind Blue Dogs how vulnerable they are. It is the perfect storm from a conservative standpoint — nothing awful is likely to happen anytime soon. Each element of the ultraliberal agenda blocks the other parts. The Reid-Pelosi-Obama machine is grinding to a halt.

But the Left must be wondering: don’t they get anything from this president and Congress? Well, there’s the Lilly Ledbetter law, a failed stimulus plan, and a couple nationalized car companies. My, that’s precious little. Meanwhile, we are waging the war against Islamic fundamentalists (not that Obama would call them that) in Afghanistan and Iraq. One wonders why the netroots aren’t more crazed than they already are.

As I suggested a few days ago, the decision to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not, perhaps, turning out to be all the Left hoped it would be. There is a study to be convened, one that will last years. And in the meantime, don’t expect a quick vote. Speaker Nancy Pelosi spills the beans — this isn’t happening any time soon:

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi suggested Thursday that Democrats may wait on voting to repeal the ban on gays in the military until after the midterm elections and after the Pentagon has completed a full review of its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. “We’ve done a heavy lift, and I don’t know,” Pelosi told reporters. “I’ll have to examine it. We’ll take a look. We’ll sit down together and see. What is the advantage of going first with legislation? Or would the legislation more aptly reflect what is in the review? Or is it a two step-process?”

It seems that Pelosi has already pushed her members out on that plank enough times. (“Many House Democrats who are privately reluctant to take a vote on the issue have already been forced to defend several unpopular health care and spending measures that Pelosi and her leadership team essentially forced them to endorse.”) Her ultraliberal agenda is already so unpopular with many of her members. How can she force a vote on this — in an election year, no less?

There is something comical about the charade. Obama announces the repeal, or, more precisely, the study for the repeal. He knows he’ll get a few rounds of applause from the ever-gullible Left, but he can count on the bureaucratic process and the sweeping terror in Congressional ranks to prevent an actual vote. A vote in an election year would only become a lightning rod and distract from the rest of his agenda — which is also unpopular and going nowhere. Got it?

There is a giant legislative traffic jam underway. The Congress can’t work on health care because it’s impossible to round up the votes in a post-Scott Brown political environment. They can’t pass Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell because health care has freaked out much of the Democratic caucus. They can’t work on cap-and-trade because that vote was a semi-disaster last year and will only remind Blue Dogs how vulnerable they are. It is the perfect storm from a conservative standpoint — nothing awful is likely to happen anytime soon. Each element of the ultraliberal agenda blocks the other parts. The Reid-Pelosi-Obama machine is grinding to a halt.

But the Left must be wondering: don’t they get anything from this president and Congress? Well, there’s the Lilly Ledbetter law, a failed stimulus plan, and a couple nationalized car companies. My, that’s precious little. Meanwhile, we are waging the war against Islamic fundamentalists (not that Obama would call them that) in Afghanistan and Iraq. One wonders why the netroots aren’t more crazed than they already are.

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Can Obama Avoid Failure?

Charles Krauthammer writes:

Democrats, if they wish, can write off their Massachusetts humiliation to high unemployment, to Coakley or, the current favorite among sophisticates, to generalized anger. That implies an inchoate, unthinking lashing-out at whoever happens to be in power — even at your liberal betters who are forcing on you an agenda that you can’t even see is in your own interest.

Democrats must so rationalize, otherwise they must take democracy seriously, and ask themselves: If the people really don’t want it, could they possibly have a point?

There is, it seems, a divide developing between Democrats inclined to so rationalize and those who are panicking. The panickers are the realists, the congressmen and senators on the ballot in November or in 2012 who never quite accepted the invitation to throw caution to the wind for the sake of a “historical achievement.” The rationalizers are gathered at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue spinning furiously. “How could we have been wrong? We’re not wrong! This is about the economy. The voters will get over this!”

One has to think that when the cameras finally depart the White House (they do leave sometime, right?) and there’s no one left to beguile, Obama will look over his first year in office and understand that he’s accomplished virtually nothing (other than sacrificing some congressional allies, losing two gubernatorial races, taking over a couple of car companies, appointing a mediocre Supreme Court justice, running up the debt, and racking up a foreign-policy record rivaled only by Jimmy Carter) with the largest congressional majority in decades. He must see his influence diminishing daily and wonder if this is really it — the last chance to do something, anything.

If he’s reflective enough to sense there is failure looming, he has two choices: roll the dice and go for broke on some health-care scheme (however slimmed down it must be), or leave health care by the wayside, as Bill Clinton did, and go do something else with his presidency. He could, after all, successfully prosecute the war against Islamic fascism, work on economic recovery, or get serious about real education reform. We’ll find out which he prefers. Or maybe, as with his entire domestic agenda to date, the scene will be set for him by Congress. Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and their troops could collectively make the decision whether to throw in the towel on ObamaCare. Maybe they already have, as they deliver the news piecemeal (no delay on seating Brown, no House vote on the Senate bill).

Finally it might be time for Obama to seize the reins of his own presidency and set the course he wants. It might be time to stop delegating his domestic agenda to Pelosi and Reid, who’ve managed to bollix up their signature issue and lose the critical 60th Senate vote along the way. Obama could tell them precisely what he wants. Unless, of course, he doesn’t know what he wants and just can’t get beyond the notion that the country no longer falls at his feet. As he said of the Middle East specifically, being president is “really hard.” A lot harder than campaigning.

Charles Krauthammer writes:

Democrats, if they wish, can write off their Massachusetts humiliation to high unemployment, to Coakley or, the current favorite among sophisticates, to generalized anger. That implies an inchoate, unthinking lashing-out at whoever happens to be in power — even at your liberal betters who are forcing on you an agenda that you can’t even see is in your own interest.

Democrats must so rationalize, otherwise they must take democracy seriously, and ask themselves: If the people really don’t want it, could they possibly have a point?

There is, it seems, a divide developing between Democrats inclined to so rationalize and those who are panicking. The panickers are the realists, the congressmen and senators on the ballot in November or in 2012 who never quite accepted the invitation to throw caution to the wind for the sake of a “historical achievement.” The rationalizers are gathered at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue spinning furiously. “How could we have been wrong? We’re not wrong! This is about the economy. The voters will get over this!”

One has to think that when the cameras finally depart the White House (they do leave sometime, right?) and there’s no one left to beguile, Obama will look over his first year in office and understand that he’s accomplished virtually nothing (other than sacrificing some congressional allies, losing two gubernatorial races, taking over a couple of car companies, appointing a mediocre Supreme Court justice, running up the debt, and racking up a foreign-policy record rivaled only by Jimmy Carter) with the largest congressional majority in decades. He must see his influence diminishing daily and wonder if this is really it — the last chance to do something, anything.

If he’s reflective enough to sense there is failure looming, he has two choices: roll the dice and go for broke on some health-care scheme (however slimmed down it must be), or leave health care by the wayside, as Bill Clinton did, and go do something else with his presidency. He could, after all, successfully prosecute the war against Islamic fascism, work on economic recovery, or get serious about real education reform. We’ll find out which he prefers. Or maybe, as with his entire domestic agenda to date, the scene will be set for him by Congress. Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and their troops could collectively make the decision whether to throw in the towel on ObamaCare. Maybe they already have, as they deliver the news piecemeal (no delay on seating Brown, no House vote on the Senate bill).

Finally it might be time for Obama to seize the reins of his own presidency and set the course he wants. It might be time to stop delegating his domestic agenda to Pelosi and Reid, who’ve managed to bollix up their signature issue and lose the critical 60th Senate vote along the way. Obama could tell them precisely what he wants. Unless, of course, he doesn’t know what he wants and just can’t get beyond the notion that the country no longer falls at his feet. As he said of the Middle East specifically, being president is “really hard.” A lot harder than campaigning.

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We Expect More of Presidents

In a story entitled “Obama’s First Year: What Went Wrong” (not a headline the Obami like to see), John F. Harris and Carol E. Lee opine that a key error was “the Obama team believed that there was something singular about the president’s appeal and ability to inspire.” In other words, they believed their own hype and imagined that the content of what they were selling was less important than the messiah-messenger.

How did the Obama team come to such a conclusion? Well, it’s easy, I suppose, when you slay the Clintons, win the presidency with virtually no experience, and hear nothing but approval from the devoted media day after day. Obama, described by observers after his election as supremely confident, conflated his ability to win office against hapless opponents with a near-mystical ability to motivate voters, persuade foreign powers, and humble enemies. No wonder his speechwriters didn’t bother to fact-check his health-care speeches and his Cairo speech was filled with historical half-truths and distortions. The Obami didn’t care if what the president said was accurate. That sort of fixation on accuracy is for mere mortal politicians. The White House had Him on its side. Besides, a sympathetic and lazy press wouldn’t hassle him over some made-up “facts.”

But it turned out that while a small band of devoted followers swooned before Candidate Obama, the country as a whole held the president to a higher standard. They expected results. They didn’t appreciate gobbledygook about blue and red pills and wanted a non-catatonic response to a terror attack. They heard him say unemployment would stay below 8 percent if the stimulus passed, and then watched in dismay as it hit double digits. They heard him say that he didn’t want to run car companies, only to see him take them over. They heard him say he’d let them keep their insurance, and then discovered that his “reform” would shove them out of “Cadillac plans,” cut their Medicare, and force their employers to provide Obama-approved health care.

In short, substance mattered. Obama’s hubris led him to believe he could say practically anything and get away with it. He did during the campaign, of course. But we expect more of our presidents. When the spell is broken and the campaign ends, we expect a president to be honest, accurate, and effective. Obama has been none of these things. No wonder his presidency is in crisis.

In a story entitled “Obama’s First Year: What Went Wrong” (not a headline the Obami like to see), John F. Harris and Carol E. Lee opine that a key error was “the Obama team believed that there was something singular about the president’s appeal and ability to inspire.” In other words, they believed their own hype and imagined that the content of what they were selling was less important than the messiah-messenger.

How did the Obama team come to such a conclusion? Well, it’s easy, I suppose, when you slay the Clintons, win the presidency with virtually no experience, and hear nothing but approval from the devoted media day after day. Obama, described by observers after his election as supremely confident, conflated his ability to win office against hapless opponents with a near-mystical ability to motivate voters, persuade foreign powers, and humble enemies. No wonder his speechwriters didn’t bother to fact-check his health-care speeches and his Cairo speech was filled with historical half-truths and distortions. The Obami didn’t care if what the president said was accurate. That sort of fixation on accuracy is for mere mortal politicians. The White House had Him on its side. Besides, a sympathetic and lazy press wouldn’t hassle him over some made-up “facts.”

But it turned out that while a small band of devoted followers swooned before Candidate Obama, the country as a whole held the president to a higher standard. They expected results. They didn’t appreciate gobbledygook about blue and red pills and wanted a non-catatonic response to a terror attack. They heard him say unemployment would stay below 8 percent if the stimulus passed, and then watched in dismay as it hit double digits. They heard him say that he didn’t want to run car companies, only to see him take them over. They heard him say he’d let them keep their insurance, and then discovered that his “reform” would shove them out of “Cadillac plans,” cut their Medicare, and force their employers to provide Obama-approved health care.

In short, substance mattered. Obama’s hubris led him to believe he could say practically anything and get away with it. He did during the campaign, of course. But we expect more of our presidents. When the spell is broken and the campaign ends, we expect a president to be honest, accurate, and effective. Obama has been none of these things. No wonder his presidency is in crisis.

Read Less

Not as Planned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

The Limits of Moderation

David Brooks, like many of us, is trying to see how the requirements of fighting a war mesh with what he generously refers to as Obama’s “calibrated prudence.” Brooks rightly notes that Obama at West Point was largely about “emphasizing limits — limited time, limited cost, limited troops. He didn’t talk about the moral atrocities of the Taliban or our obligation to make life better there.” But our enemies most likely aren’t much impressed with calibration. Brooks, with characteristic understatement, remarks: “I don’t know how this reserve will register among the Afghans, the Taliban, American people or our troops. The soldiers’ commitment can’t be limited because their sacrifice might be total. Are they supposed to fight in a calibrated spirit?” And that’s what’s got so many conservatives who really want to support the war and get behind the president scratching their heads. How’s this going to work?

War is different than domestic policy, of course. It was the promise (some would say, illusion) of moderation and calibration in domestic policy that convinced many voters that Obama was not some wide-eyed radical bent on reshaping the country. Unfortunately, that moderation hasn’t manifested itself on the domestic front. There is no sign of modesty or humility as to what government should attempt or is able to achieve. Run car companies, “create jobs,” take over health care, regulate carbon emissions — it’s all just a matter of rounding up the votes. There seems to be no recognition that government is an imperfect instrument or that much of this will turn to regulatory mush, retarding growth, running up a mound of crippling debt, and strangling economic dynamism. No, when it comes to domestic matters, it’s full steam ahead . . . er . . . to the Left, actually.

But wars and war-making aren’t like domestic horse-trading, or they shouldn’t be. Half a loaf sometimes is worse than the whole thing, and trying to patch together a wartime speech as if you were concocting an omnibus spending bill (a little bit for everyone and not too much for anyone) is not wise. And speaking of compromises: where’d that 2011 date come from, by the way? In all the leaks and discussions, we never heard about a transition date. Was that simply a poll-tested compromise or the product of some real analysis? Someone should find out when that got thrown into the mix.

Much as the president resists the notion, wars are all-in efforts. It still isn’t clear that the president understands and believes that. As a consequence, he won’t be able to project that he does. Along with Brooks, we’ll have to wait and see whether the president figures this out and maintains resolve when casualties go up and things don’t go well (as we know will occur in any major military undertaking). If Obama can pry himself away from his own peevishness, he would do well to examine his predecessor’s performance in this regard. It’s a good example of the sort of steely resolve we’ll need once again from the commander in chief.

David Brooks, like many of us, is trying to see how the requirements of fighting a war mesh with what he generously refers to as Obama’s “calibrated prudence.” Brooks rightly notes that Obama at West Point was largely about “emphasizing limits — limited time, limited cost, limited troops. He didn’t talk about the moral atrocities of the Taliban or our obligation to make life better there.” But our enemies most likely aren’t much impressed with calibration. Brooks, with characteristic understatement, remarks: “I don’t know how this reserve will register among the Afghans, the Taliban, American people or our troops. The soldiers’ commitment can’t be limited because their sacrifice might be total. Are they supposed to fight in a calibrated spirit?” And that’s what’s got so many conservatives who really want to support the war and get behind the president scratching their heads. How’s this going to work?

War is different than domestic policy, of course. It was the promise (some would say, illusion) of moderation and calibration in domestic policy that convinced many voters that Obama was not some wide-eyed radical bent on reshaping the country. Unfortunately, that moderation hasn’t manifested itself on the domestic front. There is no sign of modesty or humility as to what government should attempt or is able to achieve. Run car companies, “create jobs,” take over health care, regulate carbon emissions — it’s all just a matter of rounding up the votes. There seems to be no recognition that government is an imperfect instrument or that much of this will turn to regulatory mush, retarding growth, running up a mound of crippling debt, and strangling economic dynamism. No, when it comes to domestic matters, it’s full steam ahead . . . er . . . to the Left, actually.

But wars and war-making aren’t like domestic horse-trading, or they shouldn’t be. Half a loaf sometimes is worse than the whole thing, and trying to patch together a wartime speech as if you were concocting an omnibus spending bill (a little bit for everyone and not too much for anyone) is not wise. And speaking of compromises: where’d that 2011 date come from, by the way? In all the leaks and discussions, we never heard about a transition date. Was that simply a poll-tested compromise or the product of some real analysis? Someone should find out when that got thrown into the mix.

Much as the president resists the notion, wars are all-in efforts. It still isn’t clear that the president understands and believes that. As a consequence, he won’t be able to project that he does. Along with Brooks, we’ll have to wait and see whether the president figures this out and maintains resolve when casualties go up and things don’t go well (as we know will occur in any major military undertaking). If Obama can pry himself away from his own peevishness, he would do well to examine his predecessor’s performance in this regard. It’s a good example of the sort of steely resolve we’ll need once again from the commander in chief.

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Music from Kids of All Ages

Lunch-hour pedestrians in midtown Manhattan from June 4th to 8th may have stumbled across one of five consecutive mid-day recitals (part of Bryant Park’s Piano in the Park series) by Roy Eaton, an African-American musician born in Harlem in 1930, gifted with unusual poise and calm grace. Mr. Eaton, who has released CD’s of Chopin on Summit Records and Scott Joplin’s ragtime music on Sony, has a new Summit CD out, Keyboard Classics for Children, which reveals unusual insight into the world of childhood. The disc includes works by J.S. Bach and Claude Debussy, as well as Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen, played in deliberate (yet never heavy) tempos and with unshowy intimacy, in the spirit of the acclaimed British pianist Clifford Curzon (1907-1982).

Eaton was born, sadly, before it was possible for an African-American classical pianist seriously to envisage a concert career. Instead, he became an advertising executive for Young & Rubicam and Benton & Bowles. (Eaton is responsible for several popular TV jingles, including You can trust your car/ to the man that wears the star/ the big, bright, Texaco star and Beefaroni’s full of meat/ Beefaroni’s really neat./ Hooray for Beefaroni!). After being downsized in 1980, Eaton (who now teaches at the Manhattan School of Music) found time to rediscover his inner child and his musical ambitions.

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Lunch-hour pedestrians in midtown Manhattan from June 4th to 8th may have stumbled across one of five consecutive mid-day recitals (part of Bryant Park’s Piano in the Park series) by Roy Eaton, an African-American musician born in Harlem in 1930, gifted with unusual poise and calm grace. Mr. Eaton, who has released CD’s of Chopin on Summit Records and Scott Joplin’s ragtime music on Sony, has a new Summit CD out, Keyboard Classics for Children, which reveals unusual insight into the world of childhood. The disc includes works by J.S. Bach and Claude Debussy, as well as Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen, played in deliberate (yet never heavy) tempos and with unshowy intimacy, in the spirit of the acclaimed British pianist Clifford Curzon (1907-1982).

Eaton was born, sadly, before it was possible for an African-American classical pianist seriously to envisage a concert career. Instead, he became an advertising executive for Young & Rubicam and Benton & Bowles. (Eaton is responsible for several popular TV jingles, including You can trust your car/ to the man that wears the star/ the big, bright, Texaco star and Beefaroni’s full of meat/ Beefaroni’s really neat./ Hooray for Beefaroni!). After being downsized in 1980, Eaton (who now teaches at the Manhattan School of Music) found time to rediscover his inner child and his musical ambitions.

An equally moving expression of childhood in classical music can be heard in the merry, radiant works of Conrad Tao, a composer, pianist, and violinist born in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 1994. Tao, a student at Juilliard’s preparatory program, has produced a CD of his pieces, Silhouettes & Shadows, expressing a balletic musical grace. His Sonata for Cello and Piano ranges in mood from the impish to the searching. Another disc available on Tao’s website, a 2006 solo piano recital at Juilliard, includes tenderly exalted performances of works by Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt.

Tao has a sense of musical line—a conviction that each note is part of the total fabric of a given work—found only in the greatest musicians, like the conductor Arturo Toscanini and the tenor Peter Pears. This quality, plus the congenial sense of community endeavor that marks everything Tao does, augurs very well indeed for his future as a musician. He has nothing in common with the usual image of the child prodigy, an isolated misfit in a media fishbowl.

Whether an aging musician re-awakens a talent long ignored, or a child possessing unusual gifts writes music with adult acumen, it’s clear that music can provide an exception to the otherwise cruelly rigid laws of Father Time.

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