Commentary Magazine


Topic: Clinton

If Only King Arthur Had a Videographer Like Obama’s

Some 40 years ago, author Joe McGinniss shined a light on the way campaign imagery shapes our perceptions of politics with his The Selling of the President about Richard Nixon’s 1968 run for office. Though aimed at the evil geniuses behind the “new Nixon” who beat Hubert Humphrey, one of the most famous lines in the book recounted the way Nixon’s old nemesis John Kennedy had beguiled the American people with a White House that was sold as a new Camelot. As McGinniss put it: “We forgave, followed and accepted because we liked the way he looked. And he had a pretty wife. Camelot was fun, even for the peasants, as long as it was televised to their huts.”

American politics was played by different rules from 1961 to 1963. The image of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and their two adorable children was ubiquitous in American culture in those years, and the publication or broadcast of unpleasant truths about the president and his brother the attorney general was simply out of the question. Since then, no American president has received the same kid glove treatment from the press. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, and the second Bush were all treated with little deference and much cynicism by the media.

But the election of the first African-American president in 2008 has changed the way the presidency is treated in popular culture. In the past two years, the images coming out of Barack Obama’s White House of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and two adorable daughters have been highly reminiscent of Kennedy’s Camelot imagery. That’s a big part of the reason why, despite the administration’s well-documented troubles in selling its hyper-liberal policies to the public, Obama’s personal popularity remains high.

Part of Obama’s dream machine was highlighted yesterday in a puff piece in The New York Times about Arun Chaudhary, the former New York University film instructor who is Obama’s full-time videographer. Chaudhary’s “West Wing Week” films may not be sweeping the nation, but they are part of the way the president’s personal image — and that of his family — have been carefully burnished. The midterm elections illustrated the rejection of Obama’s political agenda by the voters. But anyone who thinks that the 2012 election, in which the president will be personally on the ballot, will not be heavily influenced by the Camelot factor is not paying attention. With such loving images of Obama being beamed out regularly — not merely to our huts but to the peasantry’s computers, iPads, and phones — the task of defeating even a president whose policies are unpopular will be that much harder. Obama’s Camelot may not be impregnable, but it is buttressed by the sort of stained-glass image that has not been seen since the days of John Kennedy.

Some 40 years ago, author Joe McGinniss shined a light on the way campaign imagery shapes our perceptions of politics with his The Selling of the President about Richard Nixon’s 1968 run for office. Though aimed at the evil geniuses behind the “new Nixon” who beat Hubert Humphrey, one of the most famous lines in the book recounted the way Nixon’s old nemesis John Kennedy had beguiled the American people with a White House that was sold as a new Camelot. As McGinniss put it: “We forgave, followed and accepted because we liked the way he looked. And he had a pretty wife. Camelot was fun, even for the peasants, as long as it was televised to their huts.”

American politics was played by different rules from 1961 to 1963. The image of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and their two adorable children was ubiquitous in American culture in those years, and the publication or broadcast of unpleasant truths about the president and his brother the attorney general was simply out of the question. Since then, no American president has received the same kid glove treatment from the press. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, and the second Bush were all treated with little deference and much cynicism by the media.

But the election of the first African-American president in 2008 has changed the way the presidency is treated in popular culture. In the past two years, the images coming out of Barack Obama’s White House of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and two adorable daughters have been highly reminiscent of Kennedy’s Camelot imagery. That’s a big part of the reason why, despite the administration’s well-documented troubles in selling its hyper-liberal policies to the public, Obama’s personal popularity remains high.

Part of Obama’s dream machine was highlighted yesterday in a puff piece in The New York Times about Arun Chaudhary, the former New York University film instructor who is Obama’s full-time videographer. Chaudhary’s “West Wing Week” films may not be sweeping the nation, but they are part of the way the president’s personal image — and that of his family — have been carefully burnished. The midterm elections illustrated the rejection of Obama’s political agenda by the voters. But anyone who thinks that the 2012 election, in which the president will be personally on the ballot, will not be heavily influenced by the Camelot factor is not paying attention. With such loving images of Obama being beamed out regularly — not merely to our huts but to the peasantry’s computers, iPads, and phones — the task of defeating even a president whose policies are unpopular will be that much harder. Obama’s Camelot may not be impregnable, but it is buttressed by the sort of stained-glass image that has not been seen since the days of John Kennedy.

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Netanyahu Isn’t the One Playing Politics on Iran

Israeli leaders are often rightly warned to avoid the temptation to tiptoe into the muddy waters of American partisan politics. That is a lesson that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned during his first term in office during the 1990s, when he answered the antipathy of the Clinton administration by cozying up to the Republicans. Though Clinton had done everything but go door to door asking Israeli voters to back Shimon Peres and Labor instead of Netanyahu and Likud in Israel’s 1996 parliamentary election, Netanyahu’s clear preference for the GOP was a mistake that did Israel no good and Clinton little harm.

That is the sort of mistake that Netanyahu has avoided since coming back to the prime minister’s office in 2009. Though President Obama has picked fights with Israel as he sought to distance the United States from its ally in a futile bid for popularity in the Muslim world and treated Netanyahu abominably, the prime minister has wisely never voiced a single complaint and has frustrated those in the White House who foolishly thought they could unseat him. But these rope-a-dope tactics are not only frustrating for the Obami. They are driving some Israeli left-wingers crazy, too.

That’s the spirit of a piece published yesterday at Politico by Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York City. He accuses Netanyahu of violating the unwritten rule prohibiting prime ministers from partisan activities here. What’s his evidence? The speech Netanyahu gave to the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations in which he called for the assertion of a threat of force to respond to the nuclear threat from Iran. Netanyahu said that while he hoped that sanctions would work to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, a credible threat of force must be on the table. Since U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon responded that sanctions are working (a position that no serious person actually believes), Pinkas concludes that Netanyahu violated a tradition of non-partisanship. After that, he goes on to switch gears and then rehearse the arguments often heard from Jewish Democrats that even raising the issue of support for Israel in U.S. elections is somehow not kosher.

Such arguments are nonsense.

First, worrying about Iran has never been the sole preserve of the Republicans. For example, a certain Democratic presidential candidate named Barack Obama made a number of pledges that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear on his watch. Many Democrats as well as Republicans have sounded the alarm about Iran as Obama spent his first year in office pursuing a feckless policy of “engagement” with the ayatollahs and then watched in dismay as he spent his second year assembling a coalition that could only muster support for tepid sanctions that have made no impression on the Iranians.

But what his piece illustrates is that it is Pinkas who is playing American party politics, not Netanyahu. By decrying the claim of some Republicans that some Democrats have been unsupportive of Israel, all Pinkas is doing is demonstrating that he dislikes the GOP and sympathizes with the Democrats. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s how he feels, then perhaps he should move here, become a citizen, and get a vote. (Oddly enough, a few years ago Pinkas actually made a bid to become the head of the American Jewish Congress and almost got the job, until it was learned that it was a violation of Israeli law for a diplomat to take such a position so soon after leaving his post. Eventually, even the members of that moribund organization realized that the idea of an unemployed Israeli diplomat becoming the head of an American group was ridiculous.)

Contrary to Pinkas’s assertion, accountability is the one thing all friends of Israel should welcome. If either a Democrat or a Republican takes stances that are unhelpful to Israel, he or she ought to pay a political price at the ballot box. Taking the issue of support for Israel off the table does nothing to encourage politicians of either party to make good on their campaign promises to defend the Jewish state.

By expressing the justified concerns of Israelis about the existential threat facing their country from Iran, Netanyahu was doing exactly what he should be doing. By injecting himself into party squabbles here on behalf of his friends in the Democratic Party and by attempting to undermine his prime minister’s mission with a false allegation of partisanship, Pinkas demonstrated how out of touch he is with the realities of both Israeli and American politics.

Israeli leaders are often rightly warned to avoid the temptation to tiptoe into the muddy waters of American partisan politics. That is a lesson that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned during his first term in office during the 1990s, when he answered the antipathy of the Clinton administration by cozying up to the Republicans. Though Clinton had done everything but go door to door asking Israeli voters to back Shimon Peres and Labor instead of Netanyahu and Likud in Israel’s 1996 parliamentary election, Netanyahu’s clear preference for the GOP was a mistake that did Israel no good and Clinton little harm.

That is the sort of mistake that Netanyahu has avoided since coming back to the prime minister’s office in 2009. Though President Obama has picked fights with Israel as he sought to distance the United States from its ally in a futile bid for popularity in the Muslim world and treated Netanyahu abominably, the prime minister has wisely never voiced a single complaint and has frustrated those in the White House who foolishly thought they could unseat him. But these rope-a-dope tactics are not only frustrating for the Obami. They are driving some Israeli left-wingers crazy, too.

That’s the spirit of a piece published yesterday at Politico by Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York City. He accuses Netanyahu of violating the unwritten rule prohibiting prime ministers from partisan activities here. What’s his evidence? The speech Netanyahu gave to the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations in which he called for the assertion of a threat of force to respond to the nuclear threat from Iran. Netanyahu said that while he hoped that sanctions would work to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, a credible threat of force must be on the table. Since U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon responded that sanctions are working (a position that no serious person actually believes), Pinkas concludes that Netanyahu violated a tradition of non-partisanship. After that, he goes on to switch gears and then rehearse the arguments often heard from Jewish Democrats that even raising the issue of support for Israel in U.S. elections is somehow not kosher.

Such arguments are nonsense.

First, worrying about Iran has never been the sole preserve of the Republicans. For example, a certain Democratic presidential candidate named Barack Obama made a number of pledges that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear on his watch. Many Democrats as well as Republicans have sounded the alarm about Iran as Obama spent his first year in office pursuing a feckless policy of “engagement” with the ayatollahs and then watched in dismay as he spent his second year assembling a coalition that could only muster support for tepid sanctions that have made no impression on the Iranians.

But what his piece illustrates is that it is Pinkas who is playing American party politics, not Netanyahu. By decrying the claim of some Republicans that some Democrats have been unsupportive of Israel, all Pinkas is doing is demonstrating that he dislikes the GOP and sympathizes with the Democrats. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s how he feels, then perhaps he should move here, become a citizen, and get a vote. (Oddly enough, a few years ago Pinkas actually made a bid to become the head of the American Jewish Congress and almost got the job, until it was learned that it was a violation of Israeli law for a diplomat to take such a position so soon after leaving his post. Eventually, even the members of that moribund organization realized that the idea of an unemployed Israeli diplomat becoming the head of an American group was ridiculous.)

Contrary to Pinkas’s assertion, accountability is the one thing all friends of Israel should welcome. If either a Democrat or a Republican takes stances that are unhelpful to Israel, he or she ought to pay a political price at the ballot box. Taking the issue of support for Israel off the table does nothing to encourage politicians of either party to make good on their campaign promises to defend the Jewish state.

By expressing the justified concerns of Israelis about the existential threat facing their country from Iran, Netanyahu was doing exactly what he should be doing. By injecting himself into party squabbles here on behalf of his friends in the Democratic Party and by attempting to undermine his prime minister’s mission with a false allegation of partisanship, Pinkas demonstrated how out of touch he is with the realities of both Israeli and American politics.

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LIVE BLOG: Reich Whistling Past the Graveyard

Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor and advocate of government industrial policy (that worked out wonderfully) whose Twitter feed is one of the more revealing left-liberal streams of consciousness I’ve seen, offers the following: “I recall White House the morning after ’94 election. All were in shock, like a morgue after a terrible accident. Won’t be as bad tomorrow.” Given that everyone now believes the results tonight will be far worse than the ’94 turnover for Democrats, this is an interesting perspective, to put it mildly. Meanwhile, Reich is saying that Obama must move Left — “Repeat: Obama’s next step isn’t to “move to the center.” It’s to have greater courage of conviction” — while Clinton saved himself from doom in 1996 by moving decisively to the Right. A fascinating glimpse into the confusion of the present moment.

Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor and advocate of government industrial policy (that worked out wonderfully) whose Twitter feed is one of the more revealing left-liberal streams of consciousness I’ve seen, offers the following: “I recall White House the morning after ’94 election. All were in shock, like a morgue after a terrible accident. Won’t be as bad tomorrow.” Given that everyone now believes the results tonight will be far worse than the ’94 turnover for Democrats, this is an interesting perspective, to put it mildly. Meanwhile, Reich is saying that Obama must move Left — “Repeat: Obama’s next step isn’t to “move to the center.” It’s to have greater courage of conviction” — while Clinton saved himself from doom in 1996 by moving decisively to the Right. A fascinating glimpse into the confusion of the present moment.

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The Generic Shock

So Gallup’s final read on the 2010 elections features a generic advantage for Republicans of 15 percent, 55-40. That’s been making people shake their heads in astonishment all day. Never before on election day have Republicans even led on the generic ballot (the question Gallup asks is whether the person polled will vote for a Republican or a Democrat). In 1994, the best midterm for Republicans in our time, the final Gallup tally had the two parties tied.

This is why people are saying something is happening here that has never happened before. The “poll of polls” at Real Clear Politics, which averages out all reputable surveys, has the Republican advantage tonight at 8.7 points. Which means even if you think Gallup is screwy, there’s still no way to avoid the conclusion that Democrats are in for a horrific day tomorrow.

But wait. There’s more. The Gallup number today is 55-40 assuming a voter turnout of 45 percent nationally. It is assumed that the higher the turnout, the better the number is for Democrats owing to the Democratic edge in the number of registered voters. Fine. 45 percent. Except that the midterm in which more voters participated than any other in the past 28 years was 1994 — and in that year, turnout was 41.1 percent. This year, a voting expert named Michael McDonald thinks the number could be a record-breaking 41.3 percent.

Think this through. An amazing number for turnout would be around 41 percent. Gallup is using a model predicting 45 percent turnout — that’s a differential of 10 percentage points. On other words, Gallup might be wildly overstating the size of tomorrow’s electorate. And what does this mean? It means that the Republican advantage of 15 points might be low. Might be very low. That the actual Republican advantage might be closer to 20 points.

The low end prediction by Gallup of the number of House seats Democrats will lose at a 45 percent turnout? 80 seats. (The best Democrats can hope for, according to Gallup, is 55.) But what if the turnout model is off significantly, as is likely? Could the Democrats actually be on track to lose 90 seats or more? Could the best they can hope for be a loss of 70? (Sean Trende, the impressive number-cruncher at Real Clear Politics, says the Gallup number translates into a Democratic loss of 98 seats.)

The problem with these percentage guesses is that the Republican advantage is not evenly distributed across the country; it might be close to 30 percent in the Southwest but only a point or two in the Northeast. Republicans can’t win many more than 90 seats because they don’t even have a sufficient number of candidates to do so.

But — and this is the big but — numbers this large, should they hold, presage doom for Democrats in the Senate. A wave this large is unlikely to tilt any close race into Democratic hands. And it might mean a shocking Republican victory in a Senate race no one has even paid attention to (Oregon? Vermont?)

Meanwhile, the story that has barely been told over the past 20 years is this: American elections have become the greatest public dramas I can think of. Clinton and Perot and Bush in 1992. The Republican Revolution of 1994. The 36 Days of Florida in 2000. The Bush-Kerry seesaw in 2004. The Democratic surge in 2006. The Year of Obama, guest-starring the surprise rookie phenom Sarah Palin, in 2008. And now this. Anybody who thinks he knows what 2012 is going to look like is living in a fantasy world. Reality is much too twisty for us to have any sense where all this will go after tomorrow night.

So Gallup’s final read on the 2010 elections features a generic advantage for Republicans of 15 percent, 55-40. That’s been making people shake their heads in astonishment all day. Never before on election day have Republicans even led on the generic ballot (the question Gallup asks is whether the person polled will vote for a Republican or a Democrat). In 1994, the best midterm for Republicans in our time, the final Gallup tally had the two parties tied.

This is why people are saying something is happening here that has never happened before. The “poll of polls” at Real Clear Politics, which averages out all reputable surveys, has the Republican advantage tonight at 8.7 points. Which means even if you think Gallup is screwy, there’s still no way to avoid the conclusion that Democrats are in for a horrific day tomorrow.

But wait. There’s more. The Gallup number today is 55-40 assuming a voter turnout of 45 percent nationally. It is assumed that the higher the turnout, the better the number is for Democrats owing to the Democratic edge in the number of registered voters. Fine. 45 percent. Except that the midterm in which more voters participated than any other in the past 28 years was 1994 — and in that year, turnout was 41.1 percent. This year, a voting expert named Michael McDonald thinks the number could be a record-breaking 41.3 percent.

Think this through. An amazing number for turnout would be around 41 percent. Gallup is using a model predicting 45 percent turnout — that’s a differential of 10 percentage points. On other words, Gallup might be wildly overstating the size of tomorrow’s electorate. And what does this mean? It means that the Republican advantage of 15 points might be low. Might be very low. That the actual Republican advantage might be closer to 20 points.

The low end prediction by Gallup of the number of House seats Democrats will lose at a 45 percent turnout? 80 seats. (The best Democrats can hope for, according to Gallup, is 55.) But what if the turnout model is off significantly, as is likely? Could the Democrats actually be on track to lose 90 seats or more? Could the best they can hope for be a loss of 70? (Sean Trende, the impressive number-cruncher at Real Clear Politics, says the Gallup number translates into a Democratic loss of 98 seats.)

The problem with these percentage guesses is that the Republican advantage is not evenly distributed across the country; it might be close to 30 percent in the Southwest but only a point or two in the Northeast. Republicans can’t win many more than 90 seats because they don’t even have a sufficient number of candidates to do so.

But — and this is the big but — numbers this large, should they hold, presage doom for Democrats in the Senate. A wave this large is unlikely to tilt any close race into Democratic hands. And it might mean a shocking Republican victory in a Senate race no one has even paid attention to (Oregon? Vermont?)

Meanwhile, the story that has barely been told over the past 20 years is this: American elections have become the greatest public dramas I can think of. Clinton and Perot and Bush in 1992. The Republican Revolution of 1994. The 36 Days of Florida in 2000. The Bush-Kerry seesaw in 2004. The Democratic surge in 2006. The Year of Obama, guest-starring the surprise rookie phenom Sarah Palin, in 2008. And now this. Anybody who thinks he knows what 2012 is going to look like is living in a fantasy world. Reality is much too twisty for us to have any sense where all this will go after tomorrow night.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

So naturally, she had to go. “[Michelle] Rhee added a new urgency and righteous anger to the school reform movement, one that she will now take to a national platform. She asked how the District could compile an abysmal academic record and yet rate most of their teachers as meeting or exceeding expectations. She decreed that poverty was no longer a reason for expecting less of a child in Anacostia than one in Tenleytown.”

So now the New York Times sounds like National Review: “Rather than entertaining the possibility that the program they have pursued is genuinely and even legitimately unpopular, the White House and its allies have concluded that their political troubles amount to mainly a message and image problem.” The Gray Lady has also discovered Obama has an “elitism” problem. Who knew?

So smart are these Obama diplomats, we were told. Alas: “The White House spent an hour Friday afternoon trying to convince angry Hill staffers and human rights activists that ‘naming and shaming’ governments that recruit child soldiers, rather than imposing Congressionally-mandated sanctions on them, will better address the problem. But advocacy leaders are upset with the administration and rejected top White House officials’ contention that removing sanctions against four troubled states will be a positive move. … Overall, the call showed that the White House realized it botched the rollout of the decision but is standing by the decision itself. Next, they will have to defend it on Capitol Hill, where staffers are set to receive a special briefing on the issue next week.”

So let me see if I got this straight? President Obama goes to Florida in August to campaign for Rep. Kendrick Meek. Then recently, former President Clinton goes in to ‘campaign’ for Meek by trying to get him to drop out of the race. And voters this year are being accused of being ‘radical’ and ‘too angry’ because they are rejecting politics as usual?” That, from Susan Molinari.

So the administration’s flunky on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights walks out to deny a quorum, preventing a vote on the interim report concerning the New Black Panther Party scandal. (But the vice chairman is no better — she didn’t show up.) Remember, your tax dollars are paying these people to play hide and seek.

So what is not to like about this man? Nothing yet.

So Obama is no George W. Bush. “Mr. Mubarak’s tightening sharply contrasts with his behavior during Egypt’s last major election season, in 2005. Then he loosened controls on the media, introduced a constitutional amendment allowing the first contested election for president, and released his principal secular challenger from jail. He did all this under heavy pressure from then-President George W. Bush, who had publicly called on Egypt to ‘lead the way’ in Arab political reform. … Mr. Mubarak’s actions reflect a common calculation across the Middle East: that this U.S. president, unlike his predecessor, is not particularly interested in democratic change.”

So what grade does he get? Obama said we should evaluate him on the economy: “An economy growing at a sluggish 2 percent, almost all economists agree, cannot produce nearly the demand needed to lower the nation’s painfully high 9.6 percent unemployment rate. And inventories continued to grow and the trade gap remained wide, as imports outpaced exports. The numbers are not likely to provide much of a morale boost for President Obama and Democrats, who are days away from crucial midterm elections. High unemployment and soaring foreclosure numbers in the Midwest and West already made this a particularly difficult election for Democrats. Friday’s numbers offer little relief.”

So what is missing from David Brooks’s excellent advice? “First, the president is going to have to win back independents. … Second, Obama needs to redefine his identity. … Third, Obama will need to respond to the nation’s fear of decline. … Fourth, Obama has to build an institutional structure to support a more moderate approach.” Well, a president who is moderate, flexible, and self-reflective.

So how did Obama get his reputation as an “intellectual”? James Taranto and I agree: “Professors imagine Obama is one of them because he shares their attitudes: their politically correct opinions, their condescending view of ordinary Americans, their belief in their own authority as an intellectual elite. He is the ideal product of the homogeneous world of contemporary academia. In his importance, they see a reflection of their self-importance.”

So naturally, she had to go. “[Michelle] Rhee added a new urgency and righteous anger to the school reform movement, one that she will now take to a national platform. She asked how the District could compile an abysmal academic record and yet rate most of their teachers as meeting or exceeding expectations. She decreed that poverty was no longer a reason for expecting less of a child in Anacostia than one in Tenleytown.”

So now the New York Times sounds like National Review: “Rather than entertaining the possibility that the program they have pursued is genuinely and even legitimately unpopular, the White House and its allies have concluded that their political troubles amount to mainly a message and image problem.” The Gray Lady has also discovered Obama has an “elitism” problem. Who knew?

So smart are these Obama diplomats, we were told. Alas: “The White House spent an hour Friday afternoon trying to convince angry Hill staffers and human rights activists that ‘naming and shaming’ governments that recruit child soldiers, rather than imposing Congressionally-mandated sanctions on them, will better address the problem. But advocacy leaders are upset with the administration and rejected top White House officials’ contention that removing sanctions against four troubled states will be a positive move. … Overall, the call showed that the White House realized it botched the rollout of the decision but is standing by the decision itself. Next, they will have to defend it on Capitol Hill, where staffers are set to receive a special briefing on the issue next week.”

So let me see if I got this straight? President Obama goes to Florida in August to campaign for Rep. Kendrick Meek. Then recently, former President Clinton goes in to ‘campaign’ for Meek by trying to get him to drop out of the race. And voters this year are being accused of being ‘radical’ and ‘too angry’ because they are rejecting politics as usual?” That, from Susan Molinari.

So the administration’s flunky on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights walks out to deny a quorum, preventing a vote on the interim report concerning the New Black Panther Party scandal. (But the vice chairman is no better — she didn’t show up.) Remember, your tax dollars are paying these people to play hide and seek.

So what is not to like about this man? Nothing yet.

So Obama is no George W. Bush. “Mr. Mubarak’s tightening sharply contrasts with his behavior during Egypt’s last major election season, in 2005. Then he loosened controls on the media, introduced a constitutional amendment allowing the first contested election for president, and released his principal secular challenger from jail. He did all this under heavy pressure from then-President George W. Bush, who had publicly called on Egypt to ‘lead the way’ in Arab political reform. … Mr. Mubarak’s actions reflect a common calculation across the Middle East: that this U.S. president, unlike his predecessor, is not particularly interested in democratic change.”

So what grade does he get? Obama said we should evaluate him on the economy: “An economy growing at a sluggish 2 percent, almost all economists agree, cannot produce nearly the demand needed to lower the nation’s painfully high 9.6 percent unemployment rate. And inventories continued to grow and the trade gap remained wide, as imports outpaced exports. The numbers are not likely to provide much of a morale boost for President Obama and Democrats, who are days away from crucial midterm elections. High unemployment and soaring foreclosure numbers in the Midwest and West already made this a particularly difficult election for Democrats. Friday’s numbers offer little relief.”

So what is missing from David Brooks’s excellent advice? “First, the president is going to have to win back independents. … Second, Obama needs to redefine his identity. … Third, Obama will need to respond to the nation’s fear of decline. … Fourth, Obama has to build an institutional structure to support a more moderate approach.” Well, a president who is moderate, flexible, and self-reflective.

So how did Obama get his reputation as an “intellectual”? James Taranto and I agree: “Professors imagine Obama is one of them because he shares their attitudes: their politically correct opinions, their condescending view of ordinary Americans, their belief in their own authority as an intellectual elite. He is the ideal product of the homogeneous world of contemporary academia. In his importance, they see a reflection of their self-importance.”

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RE: We Are All Philosophical Pragmatists Now

I must thank Rick for finding that priceless passage from the James Kloppenberg book on Obama’s intellectual history. The patent absurdity of it – of Kloppenberg earnestly overinterpreting one banal sentence from an Obama speech – makes a fine emblem for the general impression I took away from Patricia Cohen’s account of the Kloppenberg address at CUNY. The impression is pretty straightforward: this particular academic environment is a self-licking ice cream cone.

Its definitions and terms of reference appear vacuum-sealed against the crass literalism of common sense. Ms. Cohen’s explication of “pragmatism” in the American philosophical tradition – a strain of which Kloppenberg finds so pronounced in Obama – runs counter to everything Americans have been observing and complaining about for the last 18 months. In developing the philosophy, she says, 19th-century Americans “were coming to believe that chance rather than providence guided human affairs, and that dogged certainty led to violence.” She continues:

Pragmatism maintains that people are constantly devising and updating ideas to navigate the world in which they live; it embraces open-minded experimentation and continuing debate. “It is a philosophy for skeptics, not true believers,” Mr. Kloppenberg said.

Obama, however, has behaved like nothing so much as a true believer, fully equipped with dogged certainty and inimical to continuing debate. His method of forcing ObamaCare through Congress, in the teeth of vociferous opposition and with the complacent assumption that losing control of Congress is not too high a price to pay, is evidence of dogged certainty about something. So are his jarring practices of selectively abasing himself before other heads of state, approaching his voting base through bargain-rack demographic filters, and psychoanalyzing the American people as an implied pretext for dismissing them. Parsing Obama through the indices of officially recognized “-isms” is an angels-on-pinheads project: sensible people recognize his behavior as that of an ideologue.

The conclave at CUNY seems to have had no sense of this. In a year in which millions of Americans feel their lives upended by Obama’s actions and policies – their financial circumstances, their health-care arrangements, and their perspective on the future all in a thoroughly alarming state – Kloppenberg’s audience was disappointed that Obama has been compromising too much. Sadly, in their view, he has slid from his philosophical pragmatism into the “vulgar pragmatism” of expedient centrism. As one man put it: “Several audience members, myself included, probably view Obama the president as a centrist like Clinton rather than a progressive intellectual as painted by Kloppenberg.”

It’s hard to imagine being that divorced from the reality inhabited by most Americans. To the less philosophically and more crudely pragmatic, it might seem that a useful step for the near future would be reviewing who pays for the utopia inhabited by the academics gathered at CUNY.

I must thank Rick for finding that priceless passage from the James Kloppenberg book on Obama’s intellectual history. The patent absurdity of it – of Kloppenberg earnestly overinterpreting one banal sentence from an Obama speech – makes a fine emblem for the general impression I took away from Patricia Cohen’s account of the Kloppenberg address at CUNY. The impression is pretty straightforward: this particular academic environment is a self-licking ice cream cone.

Its definitions and terms of reference appear vacuum-sealed against the crass literalism of common sense. Ms. Cohen’s explication of “pragmatism” in the American philosophical tradition – a strain of which Kloppenberg finds so pronounced in Obama – runs counter to everything Americans have been observing and complaining about for the last 18 months. In developing the philosophy, she says, 19th-century Americans “were coming to believe that chance rather than providence guided human affairs, and that dogged certainty led to violence.” She continues:

Pragmatism maintains that people are constantly devising and updating ideas to navigate the world in which they live; it embraces open-minded experimentation and continuing debate. “It is a philosophy for skeptics, not true believers,” Mr. Kloppenberg said.

Obama, however, has behaved like nothing so much as a true believer, fully equipped with dogged certainty and inimical to continuing debate. His method of forcing ObamaCare through Congress, in the teeth of vociferous opposition and with the complacent assumption that losing control of Congress is not too high a price to pay, is evidence of dogged certainty about something. So are his jarring practices of selectively abasing himself before other heads of state, approaching his voting base through bargain-rack demographic filters, and psychoanalyzing the American people as an implied pretext for dismissing them. Parsing Obama through the indices of officially recognized “-isms” is an angels-on-pinheads project: sensible people recognize his behavior as that of an ideologue.

The conclave at CUNY seems to have had no sense of this. In a year in which millions of Americans feel their lives upended by Obama’s actions and policies – their financial circumstances, their health-care arrangements, and their perspective on the future all in a thoroughly alarming state – Kloppenberg’s audience was disappointed that Obama has been compromising too much. Sadly, in their view, he has slid from his philosophical pragmatism into the “vulgar pragmatism” of expedient centrism. As one man put it: “Several audience members, myself included, probably view Obama the president as a centrist like Clinton rather than a progressive intellectual as painted by Kloppenberg.”

It’s hard to imagine being that divorced from the reality inhabited by most Americans. To the less philosophically and more crudely pragmatic, it might seem that a useful step for the near future would be reviewing who pays for the utopia inhabited by the academics gathered at CUNY.

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A Better Choice for the Peace Prize

Aside from giving it to Richard Goldstone (you think I jest, but he was on the short list), the Nobelians could hardly have done worse than last year’s choice for the Peace Prize. In fact, they did a whole lot better, honoring someone who is actually doing something for the cause of human rights, justice, and democracy:

Jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for decades of non-violent struggle for human rights, infuriating China, which called the award “an obscenity.”

The prize puts China’s human rights record in the spotlight at a time when it is starting to play a bigger role on the global stage as a result of its growing economic might.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Liu for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China” and reiterated its belief in a “close connection between human rights and peace.”

Liu is serving an 11-year jail term for helping to draw up a manifesto calling for free speech and multi-party elections.

Whenever a totalitarian regime calls something an “obscenity,” you know you’re on the right track. But the irony is great here. During his 2009 visit to China, Obama drew howls of protest from activists because of his lack of focus on human rights. In February of this year, Kelly Currie wrote:

On Christmas Day 2009, the Chinese regime sentenced writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison for “incitement to subvert state power.” His crime was co-authoring and circulating on-line a manifesto for democratic change in China called Charter 08, an intentional homage to the Czech dissident movement’s Charter 77. Charter 08 got Mr. Liu into trouble because it challenged the legitimacy of one-party rule by the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr. Liu’s trial was the usual Kafkaesque totalitarian exercise: brief, closed, and one-sided, with a pre-determined outcome cleared at the highest level of the Chinese regime. The official U.S. response to this outrageous detention was a mild December 24 statement from the Acting Press Spokesman at the State Department. There has been nothing further from either Secretary Clinton or President Obama, despite Liu being among the most prominent dissidents in China and having received one of the harshest sentences in recent memory for a non-violent political crime.

And just yesterday, U.S. lawmakers were pressing Obama to speak out on Chinese human rights abuses:

US lawmakers have urged President Barack Obama to speak up to China to ensure the safety of two prominent dissidents, one of whom is a favorite to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thirty lawmakers asked Obama to raise the cases of writer Liu Xiaobo, thought to be in contention when the Nobel is announced Friday, and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, when he meets next month with Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.

“We write to ask that you urge President Hu to release two emblematic Chinese prisoners of conscience, Liu Xiaobo and Gao Zhisheng,” 29 of the House members across party lines wrote in a letter released Wednesday. …

Obama has sought to broaden relations with a growing China on issues ranging from climate change to the global economy. His administration has claimed success, with China last week agreeing to resume military ties with Washington.

But human rights activists have accused the administration of downplaying human rights. In a break with past practice, China did not release any dissidents when Obama paid his maiden visit to Beijing last year.

Could it be that the 2009 Peace Prize winner has done nothing to advance the causes for which the 2010 winner is sacrificing so much?

Aside from giving it to Richard Goldstone (you think I jest, but he was on the short list), the Nobelians could hardly have done worse than last year’s choice for the Peace Prize. In fact, they did a whole lot better, honoring someone who is actually doing something for the cause of human rights, justice, and democracy:

Jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for decades of non-violent struggle for human rights, infuriating China, which called the award “an obscenity.”

The prize puts China’s human rights record in the spotlight at a time when it is starting to play a bigger role on the global stage as a result of its growing economic might.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Liu for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China” and reiterated its belief in a “close connection between human rights and peace.”

Liu is serving an 11-year jail term for helping to draw up a manifesto calling for free speech and multi-party elections.

Whenever a totalitarian regime calls something an “obscenity,” you know you’re on the right track. But the irony is great here. During his 2009 visit to China, Obama drew howls of protest from activists because of his lack of focus on human rights. In February of this year, Kelly Currie wrote:

On Christmas Day 2009, the Chinese regime sentenced writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison for “incitement to subvert state power.” His crime was co-authoring and circulating on-line a manifesto for democratic change in China called Charter 08, an intentional homage to the Czech dissident movement’s Charter 77. Charter 08 got Mr. Liu into trouble because it challenged the legitimacy of one-party rule by the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr. Liu’s trial was the usual Kafkaesque totalitarian exercise: brief, closed, and one-sided, with a pre-determined outcome cleared at the highest level of the Chinese regime. The official U.S. response to this outrageous detention was a mild December 24 statement from the Acting Press Spokesman at the State Department. There has been nothing further from either Secretary Clinton or President Obama, despite Liu being among the most prominent dissidents in China and having received one of the harshest sentences in recent memory for a non-violent political crime.

And just yesterday, U.S. lawmakers were pressing Obama to speak out on Chinese human rights abuses:

US lawmakers have urged President Barack Obama to speak up to China to ensure the safety of two prominent dissidents, one of whom is a favorite to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thirty lawmakers asked Obama to raise the cases of writer Liu Xiaobo, thought to be in contention when the Nobel is announced Friday, and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, when he meets next month with Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.

“We write to ask that you urge President Hu to release two emblematic Chinese prisoners of conscience, Liu Xiaobo and Gao Zhisheng,” 29 of the House members across party lines wrote in a letter released Wednesday. …

Obama has sought to broaden relations with a growing China on issues ranging from climate change to the global economy. His administration has claimed success, with China last week agreeing to resume military ties with Washington.

But human rights activists have accused the administration of downplaying human rights. In a break with past practice, China did not release any dissidents when Obama paid his maiden visit to Beijing last year.

Could it be that the 2009 Peace Prize winner has done nothing to advance the causes for which the 2010 winner is sacrificing so much?

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Don’t Let the Door Hit You, Rahm

Rahm Emanuel is leaving, and American Jewish leaders couldn’t care less. In this regard, they have figured out who is running the U.S.-Israel policy (and hence, where the problem is):

“A lot of people like to think this Israeli-Palestinian policy has been Rahm Emanuel’s and it’s not. It’s Barack Obama’s,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton administration aide. …

Noted William Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s vice president for public policy and director of its Washington Office: “The buck stops at the desk of the president of the United States, so any staff change shouldn’t impact the relationship [Obama] has with the state of Israel or the Jewish community.”

The savviest remark comes from a “Jewish community professional” who observes:

“In some ways,” that professional added, Emanuel’s belief that he could effortlessly handle the Jewish community due to his deep connections has “been a detriment to the White House [because Emanuel's] saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got that,’ but then he doesn’t.”

Well, he didn’t. And there’s a smidgen of candor — well, what passes for candor in Washington (a blind quote, in other words):

“That hasn’t always been of a great benefit to Israel,” noted one of the Jewish leaders previously quoted on background. “In an American government, a friend of Israel is more important a factor than whether they’re Jewish.”

Emanuel’s religion, in fact, already seems to be having a negative net impact on his bid to become Chicago’s next mayor.

According to the Chicago Tribune, some politically conservative Jews tend to blame Emanuel, the son of an Israeli doctor, for some of the Obama administration’s tensions with Israel, while Orthodox Jews quibbled with his decision to announce his resignation on Friday of last week, Simchat Torah.

Alas, that’s Rahm’s problem now. As for American Jewish leaders and pro-Israel pundits, it’s about time they wised up. They have learned the hard way that the president’s naming a Jew as chief of staff doesn’t mean that his heart is in the right place on Israel. The departure of one adviser out of many selected by a president convinced of his own wisdom on the Middle East is virtually meaningless. What matters is that a president was elected who lacks empathy toward and understanding of the nature of the Zionist enterprise, who imagines kicking a democratic ally will impress its despotic foes, who is convinced he can engage the mullahs and then contain them after they rebuff his entreaties, and who fails to grasp that serial weakness by the U.S. places both the U.S. and Israel at risk.

That such an overwhelming majority of American Jewish leaders cheered, vouched and raised money for candidate Obama explains, in large part, their reluctance to come to terms with what a disaster he has been for U.S.-Israel relations and for the West’s security in the face of an Islamic revolutionary state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Let’s see if they can now work strenuously — as strenuously as they did to elect him – to limit the damage their chosen candidate will inflict on both American and Israeli security, which the president seems not to fully comprehend are inextricably linked. And then the real test will come in 2012, when they will have the opportunity to shed their “sick addiction” to the president and his party. Or will “a woman’s right to choose,” government-run health care, and the supposed scourge of global warming once more take precedence over the fate of the Jewish state?

Rahm Emanuel is leaving, and American Jewish leaders couldn’t care less. In this regard, they have figured out who is running the U.S.-Israel policy (and hence, where the problem is):

“A lot of people like to think this Israeli-Palestinian policy has been Rahm Emanuel’s and it’s not. It’s Barack Obama’s,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton administration aide. …

Noted William Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s vice president for public policy and director of its Washington Office: “The buck stops at the desk of the president of the United States, so any staff change shouldn’t impact the relationship [Obama] has with the state of Israel or the Jewish community.”

The savviest remark comes from a “Jewish community professional” who observes:

“In some ways,” that professional added, Emanuel’s belief that he could effortlessly handle the Jewish community due to his deep connections has “been a detriment to the White House [because Emanuel's] saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got that,’ but then he doesn’t.”

Well, he didn’t. And there’s a smidgen of candor — well, what passes for candor in Washington (a blind quote, in other words):

“That hasn’t always been of a great benefit to Israel,” noted one of the Jewish leaders previously quoted on background. “In an American government, a friend of Israel is more important a factor than whether they’re Jewish.”

Emanuel’s religion, in fact, already seems to be having a negative net impact on his bid to become Chicago’s next mayor.

According to the Chicago Tribune, some politically conservative Jews tend to blame Emanuel, the son of an Israeli doctor, for some of the Obama administration’s tensions with Israel, while Orthodox Jews quibbled with his decision to announce his resignation on Friday of last week, Simchat Torah.

Alas, that’s Rahm’s problem now. As for American Jewish leaders and pro-Israel pundits, it’s about time they wised up. They have learned the hard way that the president’s naming a Jew as chief of staff doesn’t mean that his heart is in the right place on Israel. The departure of one adviser out of many selected by a president convinced of his own wisdom on the Middle East is virtually meaningless. What matters is that a president was elected who lacks empathy toward and understanding of the nature of the Zionist enterprise, who imagines kicking a democratic ally will impress its despotic foes, who is convinced he can engage the mullahs and then contain them after they rebuff his entreaties, and who fails to grasp that serial weakness by the U.S. places both the U.S. and Israel at risk.

That such an overwhelming majority of American Jewish leaders cheered, vouched and raised money for candidate Obama explains, in large part, their reluctance to come to terms with what a disaster he has been for U.S.-Israel relations and for the West’s security in the face of an Islamic revolutionary state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Let’s see if they can now work strenuously — as strenuously as they did to elect him – to limit the damage their chosen candidate will inflict on both American and Israeli security, which the president seems not to fully comprehend are inextricably linked. And then the real test will come in 2012, when they will have the opportunity to shed their “sick addiction” to the president and his party. Or will “a woman’s right to choose,” government-run health care, and the supposed scourge of global warming once more take precedence over the fate of the Jewish state?

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Avoiding a Huge Mistake

Some have surmised that President Obama’s request for a 60-day extension of Israel’s settlement moratorium — combined with a promise not to request any further extensions — is simply a transparent attempt to avoid an embarrassing collapse of the peace process a month before U.S. elections. But Leslie Susser reports that Benjamin Netanyahu has a “major strategic concern” regarding the request:

According to confidants, [Netanyahu] fears that as soon as any new 60-day freeze ends, the Americans will put a “take it or leave it peace plan” of their own on the table. With the U.S. midterm elections over, Obama might feel able to publicly present parameters for a peace deal that Netanyahu would find impossible to accept.

Israel might then find itself totally isolated and under intolerable international pressure. That is a scenario Netanyahu hopes the current negotiations with the Americans will help him avoid.

The continuing failure of the Obama administration to endorse the 2004 Bush letter — a document negotiated at great length, line by line, between the U.S. and Israel, and then  endorsed by both houses of Congress in a concurrent resolution, and then relied upon by Israel both in approving and proceeding with the Gaza withdrawal – is obviously one of the causes for Netanyahu’s concern. The proposed Obama letter lacks assurances to Israel of the “defensible borders” to which both the Bush and Clinton administrations committed the United States (as well as the other commitments memorialized in the Bush letter).

Susser writes that the U.S. might have to “sweeten the pot” to secure the approval of the seven-member Israeli “Septet,” the 19-member Israeli Security Cabinet, and the full 29-member Cabinet, all of which currently oppose the proposed deal. What is necessary, however, is not simply a “sweetened pot” but an acknowledgment of obligations the U.S. has already incurred.

And there is an even more fundamental point involved: a peace agreement that does not involve defensible borders will be one that repositions the parties for another war. As Elliott Abrams wrote in August, the 1967 lines will not produce peace, and those who back away from the idea of defensible borders are “making a huge mistake.”

Some have surmised that President Obama’s request for a 60-day extension of Israel’s settlement moratorium — combined with a promise not to request any further extensions — is simply a transparent attempt to avoid an embarrassing collapse of the peace process a month before U.S. elections. But Leslie Susser reports that Benjamin Netanyahu has a “major strategic concern” regarding the request:

According to confidants, [Netanyahu] fears that as soon as any new 60-day freeze ends, the Americans will put a “take it or leave it peace plan” of their own on the table. With the U.S. midterm elections over, Obama might feel able to publicly present parameters for a peace deal that Netanyahu would find impossible to accept.

Israel might then find itself totally isolated and under intolerable international pressure. That is a scenario Netanyahu hopes the current negotiations with the Americans will help him avoid.

The continuing failure of the Obama administration to endorse the 2004 Bush letter — a document negotiated at great length, line by line, between the U.S. and Israel, and then  endorsed by both houses of Congress in a concurrent resolution, and then relied upon by Israel both in approving and proceeding with the Gaza withdrawal – is obviously one of the causes for Netanyahu’s concern. The proposed Obama letter lacks assurances to Israel of the “defensible borders” to which both the Bush and Clinton administrations committed the United States (as well as the other commitments memorialized in the Bush letter).

Susser writes that the U.S. might have to “sweeten the pot” to secure the approval of the seven-member Israeli “Septet,” the 19-member Israeli Security Cabinet, and the full 29-member Cabinet, all of which currently oppose the proposed deal. What is necessary, however, is not simply a “sweetened pot” but an acknowledgment of obligations the U.S. has already incurred.

And there is an even more fundamental point involved: a peace agreement that does not involve defensible borders will be one that repositions the parties for another war. As Elliott Abrams wrote in August, the 1967 lines will not produce peace, and those who back away from the idea of defensible borders are “making a huge mistake.”

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Empty Promises to Bibi

Josh Rogin reports on the non-progress in restoring the non-peace talks:

Special Envoy George Mitchell is back in the U.S. after a tour through the Middle East that included stop in Qatar, Egypt and Jordan. No progress reported on saving the peace talks and the key meeting of the Arab League where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will speak has been postponed until Friday. Clinton phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend.

[State Department spokesman P.J.] Crowley couldn’t and therefore didn’t answer persistent questions coming from one press corps member seeking to know when was the last time the U.S. failed to back up Israel at the U.N. The questioner was ostensibly referencing reports that the administration was trying to convince the Israelis to extend the settlement freeze by promising to veto any future attacks on Israel in international fora. “I’m not sure that is a question that can possibly be answered,” Crowley said.

Actually, reports during the Obami’s temper tantrum over housing permits in Jerusalem suggested that the administration was threatening not to veto such resolutions in the future. So we actually did have such a situation in March. But the Obami said they were “confused” and couldn’t  manage to veto a statement singling out Israel that surely would have been vetoed under the Bush and Clinton administrations.

So to put this in context, the administration is trying to lure Bibi into extending a freeze with the promise not to do (refrain from anti-Israel vetoes) what previously would never have been done — and therefore would never have been considered a bargaining chip. You can understand why Bibi is not jumping at the offer.

Josh Rogin reports on the non-progress in restoring the non-peace talks:

Special Envoy George Mitchell is back in the U.S. after a tour through the Middle East that included stop in Qatar, Egypt and Jordan. No progress reported on saving the peace talks and the key meeting of the Arab League where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will speak has been postponed until Friday. Clinton phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend.

[State Department spokesman P.J.] Crowley couldn’t and therefore didn’t answer persistent questions coming from one press corps member seeking to know when was the last time the U.S. failed to back up Israel at the U.N. The questioner was ostensibly referencing reports that the administration was trying to convince the Israelis to extend the settlement freeze by promising to veto any future attacks on Israel in international fora. “I’m not sure that is a question that can possibly be answered,” Crowley said.

Actually, reports during the Obami’s temper tantrum over housing permits in Jerusalem suggested that the administration was threatening not to veto such resolutions in the future. So we actually did have such a situation in March. But the Obami said they were “confused” and couldn’t  manage to veto a statement singling out Israel that surely would have been vetoed under the Bush and Clinton administrations.

So to put this in context, the administration is trying to lure Bibi into extending a freeze with the promise not to do (refrain from anti-Israel vetoes) what previously would never have been done — and therefore would never have been considered a bargaining chip. You can understand why Bibi is not jumping at the offer.

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An Idea for Bibi: Never Mind

Jeffrey Goldberg has revised his position not only on Soros Street but also on settlements. On September 27, in “An Idea for Bibi,” he offered a “modest suggestion” for Benjamin Netanyahu:

Why not risk your governing coalition and impose a total freeze on settlement growth outside of the greater Jerusalem area? This way, you’ll show the world, and the Palestinians — who are governed, on the West Bank, at least, by a group of true moderates, who have done a great deal for your security over the past year – that you are serious about grappling with the challenges before you. …

It was not a very good suggestion: (1) Netanyahu’s center-right coalition is the only one with sufficient credibility to persuade a skeptical Israeli public to accept a peace agreement, assuming there is ever a peace agreement; (2) the prospects for such an agreement do not likely depend on Bibi showing he is “serious about grappling with the challenges” — not after he agreed to new negotiations without preconditions, publicly endorsed a two-state solution as demanded by Obama, implemented an unprecedented ten-month moratorium, and received nothing in return from Arab states or the PA; and (3) the “true moderates” have yet to make any concessions of their own, continually telling their public that they will make none about borders or the right of return.

Goldberg’s post resulted in dissent from Robert Satloff, who argued that while there might come a time for Bibi to break his coalition to approve a “real, lasting, and secure” peace agreement (whatever that means), it is “probably not wise to do it to satisfy a shortsighted fixation by the Obama administration to be the first in history to have made the pursuit of peace contingent on a settlement freeze”:

The Palestinians’ Woody Allen argument that they should be compensated just for showing up for negotiations that are designed, in the end, to provide them with major territorial concessions, the end of Israeli occupation and the creation of an independent state is, on the face of it, more than a bit odd.

In a post this afternoon, Goldberg effectively withdrew his modest suggestion:

On certain days of the week, and in certain moods, I used to think that the U.S. could pressure Israel out of the settlements. … But it doesn’t work. Israel wants the settlements to be a subject of negotiation with the Palestinians, along with everything else — and not the subject of a preemptive concession – and it seems that it is during negotiations (as President Clinton showed during Camp David) that the U.S. could best make the case against settlements, just as it is during negotiations that the U.S. could move the Palestinians away from their position on the so-called right-of-return.

In other words, what Netanyahu has been arguing every day of the week, in every mood, for a year and a half — that all issues need to be negotiated without preconditions, and without demanding concessions from only one side, particularly prior to negotiations — has been right.

Jeffrey Goldberg has revised his position not only on Soros Street but also on settlements. On September 27, in “An Idea for Bibi,” he offered a “modest suggestion” for Benjamin Netanyahu:

Why not risk your governing coalition and impose a total freeze on settlement growth outside of the greater Jerusalem area? This way, you’ll show the world, and the Palestinians — who are governed, on the West Bank, at least, by a group of true moderates, who have done a great deal for your security over the past year – that you are serious about grappling with the challenges before you. …

It was not a very good suggestion: (1) Netanyahu’s center-right coalition is the only one with sufficient credibility to persuade a skeptical Israeli public to accept a peace agreement, assuming there is ever a peace agreement; (2) the prospects for such an agreement do not likely depend on Bibi showing he is “serious about grappling with the challenges” — not after he agreed to new negotiations without preconditions, publicly endorsed a two-state solution as demanded by Obama, implemented an unprecedented ten-month moratorium, and received nothing in return from Arab states or the PA; and (3) the “true moderates” have yet to make any concessions of their own, continually telling their public that they will make none about borders or the right of return.

Goldberg’s post resulted in dissent from Robert Satloff, who argued that while there might come a time for Bibi to break his coalition to approve a “real, lasting, and secure” peace agreement (whatever that means), it is “probably not wise to do it to satisfy a shortsighted fixation by the Obama administration to be the first in history to have made the pursuit of peace contingent on a settlement freeze”:

The Palestinians’ Woody Allen argument that they should be compensated just for showing up for negotiations that are designed, in the end, to provide them with major territorial concessions, the end of Israeli occupation and the creation of an independent state is, on the face of it, more than a bit odd.

In a post this afternoon, Goldberg effectively withdrew his modest suggestion:

On certain days of the week, and in certain moods, I used to think that the U.S. could pressure Israel out of the settlements. … But it doesn’t work. Israel wants the settlements to be a subject of negotiation with the Palestinians, along with everything else — and not the subject of a preemptive concession – and it seems that it is during negotiations (as President Clinton showed during Camp David) that the U.S. could best make the case against settlements, just as it is during negotiations that the U.S. could move the Palestinians away from their position on the so-called right-of-return.

In other words, what Netanyahu has been arguing every day of the week, in every mood, for a year and a half — that all issues need to be negotiated without preconditions, and without demanding concessions from only one side, particularly prior to negotiations — has been right.

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The Human Rights “Charm Offensive”

Fred Hiatt is hopeful — as so many observers have been during the Obama administration — that the president is “turning the corner” on his foreign policy, specifically in the area of human rights and democracy promotion. Hiatt recounts some of the administration’s failings:

The administration criticized the narrowing of freedom in Russia, but cooperation on Iran was a higher priority. It chided Hosni Mubarak for choking civil society in Egypt, but the autocrat’s cooperation on Israel-Palestine mattered more.

Sadly, in fact, it seemed fellow democracies often paid a higher price for real or supposed human-rights failings: Colombia, for example, where human rights was the excuse for not promoting a free-trade agreement.

But it’s worse than that, really. We stiffed the Green movement and cut funding to groups that monitor Iranian human rights abuses. We facilitated the egregious behavior of the UN Human Rights Council. Our Sudan policy has been widely condemned by the left and right. Our record on promotion of religious freedom has been shoddy. We acquiesced as Iran was placed on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We turned a blind eye toward serial human rights atrocities in the Muslim World. We flattered and cajoled Assad in Syria with nary a concern for human rights. We told China that human rights wouldn’t stand in the way of relations between the countries. We’ve suggested that Fidel Castro might enjoy better relations and an influx of U.S. tourist dollars without any improvement in human rights. And the administration ludicrously sided with a lackey of Hugo Chavez against the democratic institutions of Honduras. The list goes on and on.

As I and other observers have noted, the Obama human rights policy has more often than not focused on America’s ills – supposed Islamophobia, homophobia, racism, and the like: “Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have found some victims of rights-transgression who are of very great interest to them — indeed, since some of them are here at home, and sinned against by America herself!”

But Hiatt thinks Obama is turning over a new leaf: “[A]couple of weeks ago, in his second annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama declared that ‘freedom, justice and peace in the lives of individual human beings’ are, for the United States, ‘a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity.’” Yes, but we’ve heard pretty words before. What makes Hiatt think that this time around Obama honestly means it? He concedes that the proof will be in what Obama actually does:

If Obama’s speech signals a genuine shift, we will see the administration insist on election monitors in Egypt or withhold aid if Mubarak says no. It will wield real tools — visa bans, bank account seizures — to sanction human-rights abusers in Russia and China. It will not only claim to support a U.N. inquiry into Burma’s crimes against humanity but will call in chits from friends in Thailand, Singapore or India to make such an inquiry happen.

And maybe the administration will stop sabotaging Obama’s message on his most active foreign policy front: the war in Afghanistan. There, in its almost aggressive insistence that the war is about protecting the U.S. homeland — and only about protecting the U.S. homeland — the administration undercuts its claim to be a champion of “universal values.”

You’ll excuse me if I’m skeptical, but we’ve been down this road before. And to really be serious about human rights, Obama would need to undo and revise his entire Muslim-outreach scheme. Instead of ingratiating himself with despots, he would need to challenge them. Instead of telling Muslim audiences in Cairo that the most significant women’s rights issue was “for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear,” he would need to start challenging regimes that countenance and promote violence against women, child marriages, stonings, lashings, honor killings, etc. He would likewise need to revisit systematically our “reset” with Russia and our indifference to Chavez’s shenanigans in this hemisphere. Is this president going to do all that?

It’s lovely that the president is planning a trip “through Asia designed in part to put meat on the bones of his new rhetoric … [where] he will announce grants for nongovernmental organizations that the administration hopes will flower into the kind of domestic lobbies that can push their own governments to promote democracy abroad.” But unless there is a fundamental rethinking and reworking of foreign policy, this will be simply another PR effort that does little for the oppressed souls around the world.

Fred Hiatt is hopeful — as so many observers have been during the Obama administration — that the president is “turning the corner” on his foreign policy, specifically in the area of human rights and democracy promotion. Hiatt recounts some of the administration’s failings:

The administration criticized the narrowing of freedom in Russia, but cooperation on Iran was a higher priority. It chided Hosni Mubarak for choking civil society in Egypt, but the autocrat’s cooperation on Israel-Palestine mattered more.

Sadly, in fact, it seemed fellow democracies often paid a higher price for real or supposed human-rights failings: Colombia, for example, where human rights was the excuse for not promoting a free-trade agreement.

But it’s worse than that, really. We stiffed the Green movement and cut funding to groups that monitor Iranian human rights abuses. We facilitated the egregious behavior of the UN Human Rights Council. Our Sudan policy has been widely condemned by the left and right. Our record on promotion of religious freedom has been shoddy. We acquiesced as Iran was placed on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We turned a blind eye toward serial human rights atrocities in the Muslim World. We flattered and cajoled Assad in Syria with nary a concern for human rights. We told China that human rights wouldn’t stand in the way of relations between the countries. We’ve suggested that Fidel Castro might enjoy better relations and an influx of U.S. tourist dollars without any improvement in human rights. And the administration ludicrously sided with a lackey of Hugo Chavez against the democratic institutions of Honduras. The list goes on and on.

As I and other observers have noted, the Obama human rights policy has more often than not focused on America’s ills – supposed Islamophobia, homophobia, racism, and the like: “Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have found some victims of rights-transgression who are of very great interest to them — indeed, since some of them are here at home, and sinned against by America herself!”

But Hiatt thinks Obama is turning over a new leaf: “[A]couple of weeks ago, in his second annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama declared that ‘freedom, justice and peace in the lives of individual human beings’ are, for the United States, ‘a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity.’” Yes, but we’ve heard pretty words before. What makes Hiatt think that this time around Obama honestly means it? He concedes that the proof will be in what Obama actually does:

If Obama’s speech signals a genuine shift, we will see the administration insist on election monitors in Egypt or withhold aid if Mubarak says no. It will wield real tools — visa bans, bank account seizures — to sanction human-rights abusers in Russia and China. It will not only claim to support a U.N. inquiry into Burma’s crimes against humanity but will call in chits from friends in Thailand, Singapore or India to make such an inquiry happen.

And maybe the administration will stop sabotaging Obama’s message on his most active foreign policy front: the war in Afghanistan. There, in its almost aggressive insistence that the war is about protecting the U.S. homeland — and only about protecting the U.S. homeland — the administration undercuts its claim to be a champion of “universal values.”

You’ll excuse me if I’m skeptical, but we’ve been down this road before. And to really be serious about human rights, Obama would need to undo and revise his entire Muslim-outreach scheme. Instead of ingratiating himself with despots, he would need to challenge them. Instead of telling Muslim audiences in Cairo that the most significant women’s rights issue was “for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear,” he would need to start challenging regimes that countenance and promote violence against women, child marriages, stonings, lashings, honor killings, etc. He would likewise need to revisit systematically our “reset” with Russia and our indifference to Chavez’s shenanigans in this hemisphere. Is this president going to do all that?

It’s lovely that the president is planning a trip “through Asia designed in part to put meat on the bones of his new rhetoric … [where] he will announce grants for nongovernmental organizations that the administration hopes will flower into the kind of domestic lobbies that can push their own governments to promote democracy abroad.” But unless there is a fundamental rethinking and reworking of foreign policy, this will be simply another PR effort that does little for the oppressed souls around the world.

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Pity the Spinners

We’ve reached the point in the Obama presidency where members of the administration are looking to rescue their own reputations. We saw some of this earlier when Rahm Emanuel or F of RE let it be known that none of the dopey war on terror moves were his idea. With Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s staff actually has a plausible excuse on foreign policy: their boss wouldn’t listen to the evidence and wanted an exit path more than a victory strategy. On that, they have a point.

The staffers who remain and the few hearty Obama spinners outside the White House will have their work cut out. He was a political messiah — so how did it all go wrong? The Republicans are impossible. Or, he’s too good for us. He hobbled our war effort in Afghanistan by setting a counterproductive deadline that smart conservatives were right to oppose — so what kind of commander in chief is he? He sent the troops, so what the leader of the Free World says is no big deal — everyone has tuned him out anyway. Disregard the military men complaining about it and Secretary Gates and Clinton trying to fuzz it up. ObamaCare is a millstone around the Democrats necks’ — isn’t his “achievement” worthless? Just you wait, any day now the public will begin to like it.

It’s not easy to defend the indefensible or to pretend that Obama did not have a unique opportunity both politically (to capture the middle of the political spectrum) and substantively (to wholeheartedly fight that “good” war, attack the entitlement programs, etc). He frittered it away — a function of his lack of managerial adeptness and his political extremism. You wonder whether Obama wishes he could leave with Rahm. Things are so much simpler in Chicago where all the pols are Democrats and you get kudos when the trash gets picked up and the buses are on time.

We’ve reached the point in the Obama presidency where members of the administration are looking to rescue their own reputations. We saw some of this earlier when Rahm Emanuel or F of RE let it be known that none of the dopey war on terror moves were his idea. With Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s staff actually has a plausible excuse on foreign policy: their boss wouldn’t listen to the evidence and wanted an exit path more than a victory strategy. On that, they have a point.

The staffers who remain and the few hearty Obama spinners outside the White House will have their work cut out. He was a political messiah — so how did it all go wrong? The Republicans are impossible. Or, he’s too good for us. He hobbled our war effort in Afghanistan by setting a counterproductive deadline that smart conservatives were right to oppose — so what kind of commander in chief is he? He sent the troops, so what the leader of the Free World says is no big deal — everyone has tuned him out anyway. Disregard the military men complaining about it and Secretary Gates and Clinton trying to fuzz it up. ObamaCare is a millstone around the Democrats necks’ — isn’t his “achievement” worthless? Just you wait, any day now the public will begin to like it.

It’s not easy to defend the indefensible or to pretend that Obama did not have a unique opportunity both politically (to capture the middle of the political spectrum) and substantively (to wholeheartedly fight that “good” war, attack the entitlement programs, etc). He frittered it away — a function of his lack of managerial adeptness and his political extremism. You wonder whether Obama wishes he could leave with Rahm. Things are so much simpler in Chicago where all the pols are Democrats and you get kudos when the trash gets picked up and the buses are on time.

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Back to the Future

Robert Reich, President Clinton’s secretary of Labor, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times in which he tries to explain why the recovery from the “Great Recession” has been so sluggish. He fails to do that, but the article is a window into why the Obama administration has failed so dismally in this area: liberals are hopelessly stuck in the past. And in order to remain so, they distort history and manipulate statistics.

As always, Reich blames the rich for making too much money, noting that while the top 1 percent had only 9 percent of total income in the late 1970s, today’s super-rich take in 23.5 percent. These figures are based on adjusted gross income reported in federal tax returns and so should be looked at carefully to see how they square with “compensation,” which is something very different. But Reich simply ignores the fact that whenever there has been a major technological development, from the full-rigged ship in the 15th century to the microprocessor in the 20th, there has always quickly followed an inflorescence of fortunes based on the new technology. This, inevitably, causes income inequality to widen. The poor don’t get poorer, the rich just get suddenly much richer. The more fundamental the new technology is, the more the gap will widen, and the microprocessor is the most fundamental new technology since agriculture 10,000 years ago.

Just look at the Forbes 400 list to see how many brand-new fortunes are based on the microprocessor. Seven of the top 10 are (neither Wal-Mart nor Bloomberg would have been possible without cheap computing power). Any attempt to flatten the income curve in these revolutionary terms and thus reduce inequality would inescapably reduce wealth creation.

He writes, “What’s more, the rich don’t necessarily invest their earnings and savings in the American economy; they send them anywhere around the globe where they’ll summon the highest returns — sometimes that’s here, but often it’s the Cayman Islands, China or elsewhere.” That’s perfectly true. But the rich living in the Cayman Islands, China, and elsewhere do exactly the same thing, often investing in America, which enjoys robust capital inflows as well as outflows. We now have a nearly total global economy, especially when it comes to capital. Any attempt to change that would be disastrous for both the United States and the world. Read More

Robert Reich, President Clinton’s secretary of Labor, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times in which he tries to explain why the recovery from the “Great Recession” has been so sluggish. He fails to do that, but the article is a window into why the Obama administration has failed so dismally in this area: liberals are hopelessly stuck in the past. And in order to remain so, they distort history and manipulate statistics.

As always, Reich blames the rich for making too much money, noting that while the top 1 percent had only 9 percent of total income in the late 1970s, today’s super-rich take in 23.5 percent. These figures are based on adjusted gross income reported in federal tax returns and so should be looked at carefully to see how they square with “compensation,” which is something very different. But Reich simply ignores the fact that whenever there has been a major technological development, from the full-rigged ship in the 15th century to the microprocessor in the 20th, there has always quickly followed an inflorescence of fortunes based on the new technology. This, inevitably, causes income inequality to widen. The poor don’t get poorer, the rich just get suddenly much richer. The more fundamental the new technology is, the more the gap will widen, and the microprocessor is the most fundamental new technology since agriculture 10,000 years ago.

Just look at the Forbes 400 list to see how many brand-new fortunes are based on the microprocessor. Seven of the top 10 are (neither Wal-Mart nor Bloomberg would have been possible without cheap computing power). Any attempt to flatten the income curve in these revolutionary terms and thus reduce inequality would inescapably reduce wealth creation.

He writes, “What’s more, the rich don’t necessarily invest their earnings and savings in the American economy; they send them anywhere around the globe where they’ll summon the highest returns — sometimes that’s here, but often it’s the Cayman Islands, China or elsewhere.” That’s perfectly true. But the rich living in the Cayman Islands, China, and elsewhere do exactly the same thing, often investing in America, which enjoys robust capital inflows as well as outflows. We now have a nearly total global economy, especially when it comes to capital. Any attempt to change that would be disastrous for both the United States and the world.

He writes:

Meanwhile, as the economy grows, the vast majority in the middle naturally want to live better. Their consequent spending fuels continued growth and creates enough jobs for almost everyone, at least for a time. But because this situation can’t be sustained, at some point — 1929 and 2008 offer ready examples — the bill comes due.

This time around, policymakers had knowledge their counterparts didn’t have in 1929; they knew they could avoid immediate financial calamity by flooding the economy with money. But, paradoxically, averting another Great Depression-like calamity removed political pressure for more fundamental reform. We’re left instead with a long and seemingly endless Great Jobs Recession.

The Great Depression and its aftermath demonstrate that there is only one way back to full recovery: through more widely shared prosperity. In the 1930s, the American economy was completely restructured. New Deal measures — Social Security, a 40-hour work week with time-and-a-half overtime, unemployment insurance, the right to form unions and bargain collectively, the minimum wage — leveled the playing field.

Where do I begin? The depression that began in 1929 came out of a severe depression in American agriculture, caused by a revival in European agriculture and falling food prices owing to land once devoted to fodder crops for horses and mules being turned over to production of human food as the internal combustion engine took over the transportation and farm-equipment sectors. It did not come out of excess personal debt and a real estate bubble.

They didn’t know in 1929 that you could avoid immediate financial calamity by flooding the economy with money? Here’s what Benjamin Strong, governor of the New York Federal Reserve and effectively head of the Fed, wrote in 1928. “The very existence of the Federal Reserve System is a safeguard against anything like a calamity growing out of money rates. … We have the power to deal with such an emergency instantly by flooding the Street with money.” The problem was that the Federal Reserve didn’t flood the economy with money after the crash in 1929 (Ben Strong died in late 1928) but kept interest rates high. An ordinary stock market crash and economic depression were turned into the Great Depression by horrendous government mistakes, of which the Fed’s was only one.

And if the New Deal was the way back to full recovery, why did it take 10 years (and suddenly vast orders for war materiél) to achieve it? Robert Reich should read Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, which pretty well demolishes the now ancient notions about the New Deal that liberals cling to, sort of like the way people in fly-over country cling to guns and religion.

He writes,

In the decades after World War II, legislation like the G.I. Bill, a vast expansion of public higher education and civil rights and voting rights laws further reduced economic inequality. Much of this was paid for with a 70 percent to 90 percent marginal income tax on the highest incomes.

Ah, the good old days of 91 percent tax rates on those rascally rich guys! Of course, those were mere nominal rates, the rich didn’t pay anything like that much, because deductions and other tax fiddles were nearly limitless in those days. All interest rates were deductible, for instance, allowing someone in the 91 percent bracket to borrow money and have Uncle Sam pay 91 percent of the interest costs.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

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RE: RE: Obama from the Oval Office

Peter Robinson, who certainly knows how to write a presidential speech, goes through Obama’s Oval Office address, grouping it into general categories. A sample from each:

Incoherent: … The president wants to have it both ways, associating himself with the victory we achieved in Iraq while distancing himself from the costs. As argument, this is incoherent. But of course it isn’t argument. It’s cheap manipulation.

Grudging: … Why [did we win]? Because in 2007, when many, including then senators Obama and Clinton, insisted that the United States should simply withdraw from Iraq, leaving behind a nation reduced to chaos, George W. Bush instead insisted on a new strategy, the surge. Let me repeat that. We won because President Bush insisted on the surge.

Did President Obama extend the courtesy to his predecessor of saying as much? He most certainly did not. … President Obama could bring himself to credit President Bush with nothing more than mere well-intentioned haplessness. How shabby. How tawdry.

Disgraceful: After having added $1 trillion to the deficit since taking office, President Obama suggested that somehow the $1 trillion the nation has spent in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade “short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits.” Take just a moment to do the math—something of which our chief executive apparently believes most Americans incapable.

Read the whole thing — the rest is just as perceptive and smart as these extracts.

As with all things Obama, the gap is always between expectations and performance. Peter sums up: “[T]onight the President of United States used what should have been a straightforward, big-hearted celebration of a remarkable feat of American force and diplomacy to pursue instead his own narrow and, it must be said, increasingly desperate, political ends.”

There were, as I pointed out, some things to be thankful for — the commitment to Iraq being the principal one. But Obama remains paralyzed by his own ego, leftist inclinations, and poor political judgment. So he can never get it right, or nearly right. Unfortunately, unlike baseball, a presidential speech that hits .400 means he’s done more harm than good — and missed an important opportunity.

And that brings us to the speech’s most important failing. In this interview, John McCain seems resigned to the fact that a lack of graciousness is in this president’s “DNA.” But the senator also emphasizes that the most damaging part of the speech was on Afghanistan. Just like at West Point, Obama neither relinquished the escape route nor comforted our allies. He insisted, instead, on reiterating the withdrawal — it’ll be conditions-based, but he’s going to guarantee it will begin. Even if conditions don’t allow?

It’s upsetting to see a president so lacking in class, but it’s scary to see one so unwilling to lead in war. When brave young men and women are risking their lives for a stable and terror-free Afghanistan, the least Obama can do is give them, yes, an open-ended commitment to achieve victory. Otherwise, he is, as a Marine commandant noted recently, simply giving encouragement to the enemy.

Peter Robinson, who certainly knows how to write a presidential speech, goes through Obama’s Oval Office address, grouping it into general categories. A sample from each:

Incoherent: … The president wants to have it both ways, associating himself with the victory we achieved in Iraq while distancing himself from the costs. As argument, this is incoherent. But of course it isn’t argument. It’s cheap manipulation.

Grudging: … Why [did we win]? Because in 2007, when many, including then senators Obama and Clinton, insisted that the United States should simply withdraw from Iraq, leaving behind a nation reduced to chaos, George W. Bush instead insisted on a new strategy, the surge. Let me repeat that. We won because President Bush insisted on the surge.

Did President Obama extend the courtesy to his predecessor of saying as much? He most certainly did not. … President Obama could bring himself to credit President Bush with nothing more than mere well-intentioned haplessness. How shabby. How tawdry.

Disgraceful: After having added $1 trillion to the deficit since taking office, President Obama suggested that somehow the $1 trillion the nation has spent in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade “short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits.” Take just a moment to do the math—something of which our chief executive apparently believes most Americans incapable.

Read the whole thing — the rest is just as perceptive and smart as these extracts.

As with all things Obama, the gap is always between expectations and performance. Peter sums up: “[T]onight the President of United States used what should have been a straightforward, big-hearted celebration of a remarkable feat of American force and diplomacy to pursue instead his own narrow and, it must be said, increasingly desperate, political ends.”

There were, as I pointed out, some things to be thankful for — the commitment to Iraq being the principal one. But Obama remains paralyzed by his own ego, leftist inclinations, and poor political judgment. So he can never get it right, or nearly right. Unfortunately, unlike baseball, a presidential speech that hits .400 means he’s done more harm than good — and missed an important opportunity.

And that brings us to the speech’s most important failing. In this interview, John McCain seems resigned to the fact that a lack of graciousness is in this president’s “DNA.” But the senator also emphasizes that the most damaging part of the speech was on Afghanistan. Just like at West Point, Obama neither relinquished the escape route nor comforted our allies. He insisted, instead, on reiterating the withdrawal — it’ll be conditions-based, but he’s going to guarantee it will begin. Even if conditions don’t allow?

It’s upsetting to see a president so lacking in class, but it’s scary to see one so unwilling to lead in war. When brave young men and women are risking their lives for a stable and terror-free Afghanistan, the least Obama can do is give them, yes, an open-ended commitment to achieve victory. Otherwise, he is, as a Marine commandant noted recently, simply giving encouragement to the enemy.

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Fighting Corruption in Afghanistan

President Hamid Karzai’s firing of Afghanistan’s deputy attorney general, Fazel Ahmed Faqiryar, over his refusal to block investigations of high-level corruption is extremely troubling — but hardly surprising. I sympathize with those such as Congresswoman Nita Lowey who want to hold up aid to Afghanistan in protest against such blatant cover-ups. Such efforts may actually be useful, in that they provide American officials in Kabul with a stick they can use to threaten Karzai with in private.

But the reality is that there are few Third World countries where the judiciary and law-enforcement authorities are independent enough to allow investigations of corruption reaching into the president’s office. Even in the U.S., we have experience with high-level malfeasance going unpunished; recall LBJ’s notorious corruption or Clinton’s perjury. This should not cause us to throw up our hands in despair and declare that the mission in Afghanistan is hopeless. It’s not. Nor should we say that fighting corruption is impossible. It must be fought, and it’s possible to do — as long as we don’t limit our efforts to Afghan criminal justice, where Karzai and his cronies can all too easily frustrate investigations of their shenanigans.

There are other legal options available. Since much of the money in question comes from U.S. taxpayers to begin with, malefactors can be prosecuted in U.S. courts or they can have their funds frozen in foreign bank accounts, whether in the United Arab Emirates, Europe, or the U.S.  Moreover, with the growing U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, our commanders on the ground have ways of squeezing corrupt officials that don’t require a court order. The sort of thing I have in mind is a staple of cops-and-robbers movies, where the police tell some notorious gangster that until he does what they want, they will harass him: raid his businesses, interrogate his employees, scare away his customers. Such pressure is perfectly legal and can be applied against all sorts of malign actors in Afghanistan — or at least threatened. Senior officials have substantial financial interests that are highly vulnerable to Western pressure, and those interests can be manipulated to put pressure on them to clean up their act. That won’t eliminate corruption altogether, but it could reduce it to less catastrophic levels.

President Hamid Karzai’s firing of Afghanistan’s deputy attorney general, Fazel Ahmed Faqiryar, over his refusal to block investigations of high-level corruption is extremely troubling — but hardly surprising. I sympathize with those such as Congresswoman Nita Lowey who want to hold up aid to Afghanistan in protest against such blatant cover-ups. Such efforts may actually be useful, in that they provide American officials in Kabul with a stick they can use to threaten Karzai with in private.

But the reality is that there are few Third World countries where the judiciary and law-enforcement authorities are independent enough to allow investigations of corruption reaching into the president’s office. Even in the U.S., we have experience with high-level malfeasance going unpunished; recall LBJ’s notorious corruption or Clinton’s perjury. This should not cause us to throw up our hands in despair and declare that the mission in Afghanistan is hopeless. It’s not. Nor should we say that fighting corruption is impossible. It must be fought, and it’s possible to do — as long as we don’t limit our efforts to Afghan criminal justice, where Karzai and his cronies can all too easily frustrate investigations of their shenanigans.

There are other legal options available. Since much of the money in question comes from U.S. taxpayers to begin with, malefactors can be prosecuted in U.S. courts or they can have their funds frozen in foreign bank accounts, whether in the United Arab Emirates, Europe, or the U.S.  Moreover, with the growing U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, our commanders on the ground have ways of squeezing corrupt officials that don’t require a court order. The sort of thing I have in mind is a staple of cops-and-robbers movies, where the police tell some notorious gangster that until he does what they want, they will harass him: raid his businesses, interrogate his employees, scare away his customers. Such pressure is perfectly legal and can be applied against all sorts of malign actors in Afghanistan — or at least threatened. Senior officials have substantial financial interests that are highly vulnerable to Western pressure, and those interests can be manipulated to put pressure on them to clean up their act. That won’t eliminate corruption altogether, but it could reduce it to less catastrophic levels.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A nostalgic George W. Bush moment for the left. Nicholas Kristof: “Mr. Obama is presiding over an incoherent, contradictory and apparently failing Sudan policy. There is a growing risk that Sudan will be the site of the world’s bloodiest war in 2011, and perhaps a new round of genocide as well. This isn’t America’s fault, but neither are we using all of our leverage to avert it. … Regular readers know I was not a fan of President George W. Bush. But one of his signal accomplishments, against all odds, was a 2005 peace agreement that ended the last round of that war.”

A stirring story about Iraq. And a reminder of how thoroughly lacking in understanding and empathy this president is when it comes to the reasons so many sacrificed so much.

A “perfect description of the pro-mosque left” from James Taranto: “Oikophobia is fear of the familiar: ‘the disposition, in any conflict, to side with ‘them’ against ‘us’, and the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably ‘ours.’ … Yet the oiks’ vision of themselves as an intellectual aristocracy violates the first American principle ever articulated: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ … This cannot be reconciled with the elitist notion that most men are economically insecure bitter clinging intolerant bigots who need to be governed by an educated elite. Marxism Lite is not only false; it is, according to the American creed, self-evidently false. That is why the liberal elite finds Americans revolting.” Did we put an “oik” in the White House?

An angry mob – in Obama’s home state: “Sixty-five percent (65%) of Likely Voters in Illinois are at least somewhat angry at the current policies of the federal government, according to a new Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey. That finding matches the level measured nationally, and includes 41% who are Very Angry at the government’s policies.” Who’s funding them, I wonder?

A “bit”? “Democrats are undercutting their campaign message by condemning Republican economic policies while calling for the extension of Bush-era tax cuts. ‘It’s hard to say the Republican economic policies were bad, [and] then continue them,’ Paul Begala, Democratic strategist and former advisor to President Clinton, told The Hill. ‘That is a bit of a mixed message.’”

A forceful objection from Debra Burlingame to Mayor Bloomberg’s claim that 9/11 families support the Ground Zero mosque: “Mr. Bloomberg has now crossed the line from merely supporting the mosque to participating in a public campaign aimed at silencing its critics. He has improperly invoked private conversations of 9/11 family board members who, unfortunately, are all too aware of his power, both as chair of the foundation which will memorialize their loved ones and as mayor of a city where that memorial will be built. He is recklessly wreaking havoc among families, running from media event to radio interview to photo op to Comedy Central gagfest, shamelessly hawking this narrative that we, those whose family members were the true victims of religious intolerance, must also carry the burden of proving we’re not intolerant. He’s a disgrace.”

A sober take from Mara Liasson: “I think there is a lot of gloom and doom among Democrats. And their hope now is that individual races with candidates who have a lot of money and have good get-out-the-vote operations can somehow survive what is looking to be a really big anti-Democratic wave in November.” And from Liasson and Juan Williams on the midterms: “LIASSON: But the fact is it is a referendum. WILLIAMS: If it’s a referendum on Obama, the Democrats lose.” Yup. Big time.

A nostalgic George W. Bush moment for the left. Nicholas Kristof: “Mr. Obama is presiding over an incoherent, contradictory and apparently failing Sudan policy. There is a growing risk that Sudan will be the site of the world’s bloodiest war in 2011, and perhaps a new round of genocide as well. This isn’t America’s fault, but neither are we using all of our leverage to avert it. … Regular readers know I was not a fan of President George W. Bush. But one of his signal accomplishments, against all odds, was a 2005 peace agreement that ended the last round of that war.”

A stirring story about Iraq. And a reminder of how thoroughly lacking in understanding and empathy this president is when it comes to the reasons so many sacrificed so much.

A “perfect description of the pro-mosque left” from James Taranto: “Oikophobia is fear of the familiar: ‘the disposition, in any conflict, to side with ‘them’ against ‘us’, and the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably ‘ours.’ … Yet the oiks’ vision of themselves as an intellectual aristocracy violates the first American principle ever articulated: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ … This cannot be reconciled with the elitist notion that most men are economically insecure bitter clinging intolerant bigots who need to be governed by an educated elite. Marxism Lite is not only false; it is, according to the American creed, self-evidently false. That is why the liberal elite finds Americans revolting.” Did we put an “oik” in the White House?

An angry mob – in Obama’s home state: “Sixty-five percent (65%) of Likely Voters in Illinois are at least somewhat angry at the current policies of the federal government, according to a new Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey. That finding matches the level measured nationally, and includes 41% who are Very Angry at the government’s policies.” Who’s funding them, I wonder?

A “bit”? “Democrats are undercutting their campaign message by condemning Republican economic policies while calling for the extension of Bush-era tax cuts. ‘It’s hard to say the Republican economic policies were bad, [and] then continue them,’ Paul Begala, Democratic strategist and former advisor to President Clinton, told The Hill. ‘That is a bit of a mixed message.’”

A forceful objection from Debra Burlingame to Mayor Bloomberg’s claim that 9/11 families support the Ground Zero mosque: “Mr. Bloomberg has now crossed the line from merely supporting the mosque to participating in a public campaign aimed at silencing its critics. He has improperly invoked private conversations of 9/11 family board members who, unfortunately, are all too aware of his power, both as chair of the foundation which will memorialize their loved ones and as mayor of a city where that memorial will be built. He is recklessly wreaking havoc among families, running from media event to radio interview to photo op to Comedy Central gagfest, shamelessly hawking this narrative that we, those whose family members were the true victims of religious intolerance, must also carry the burden of proving we’re not intolerant. He’s a disgrace.”

A sober take from Mara Liasson: “I think there is a lot of gloom and doom among Democrats. And their hope now is that individual races with candidates who have a lot of money and have good get-out-the-vote operations can somehow survive what is looking to be a really big anti-Democratic wave in November.” And from Liasson and Juan Williams on the midterms: “LIASSON: But the fact is it is a referendum. WILLIAMS: If it’s a referendum on Obama, the Democrats lose.” Yup. Big time.

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Doug Schoen Predicts

Here‘s Democratic strategist Doug Schoen:

Not only has President Obama systematically put forward unpopular policies and programs that are not producing real, long-lasting results that reflect the wishes of the American people, he has not generated a sense of competence in the electorate.

Indeed, Obama’s judgment and instincts have been called into question by a series of bad decisions since he has become president. Put simply, rather than emphasizing results and outcomes, he has opted for rhetorical parsing and political gamesmanship every time. Voters have grown disillusioned with the administration’s reactive and seemingly hypocritical governing style, in which the notion of unity of command and a cohesive strategy have proved alien.

Schoen concludes this way:

Obama needs to persuade voters that he did stabilize the economy, the banks, the financial system, and the auto industry-and that he has turned around month after month of massive job losses. Moreover, he must compellingly make the case that there has been a consistent strategy, plan, and consistent policy.

Also he must emphasize that he has clear policy prescriptions going forward to balance the budget, reduce spending, and reduce the national debt, while protecting key social programs, as President Clinton was able to do in the mid-to-late ’90s.

Absent that, the Democrats are facing an electoral defeat of potentially unprecedented magnitude.

Obama won’t be able to do what Schoen recommends; we are well past that point. So the fate Schoen fears will likely be visited upon the Democrats in less than 70 days.

Here‘s Democratic strategist Doug Schoen:

Not only has President Obama systematically put forward unpopular policies and programs that are not producing real, long-lasting results that reflect the wishes of the American people, he has not generated a sense of competence in the electorate.

Indeed, Obama’s judgment and instincts have been called into question by a series of bad decisions since he has become president. Put simply, rather than emphasizing results and outcomes, he has opted for rhetorical parsing and political gamesmanship every time. Voters have grown disillusioned with the administration’s reactive and seemingly hypocritical governing style, in which the notion of unity of command and a cohesive strategy have proved alien.

Schoen concludes this way:

Obama needs to persuade voters that he did stabilize the economy, the banks, the financial system, and the auto industry-and that he has turned around month after month of massive job losses. Moreover, he must compellingly make the case that there has been a consistent strategy, plan, and consistent policy.

Also he must emphasize that he has clear policy prescriptions going forward to balance the budget, reduce spending, and reduce the national debt, while protecting key social programs, as President Clinton was able to do in the mid-to-late ’90s.

Absent that, the Democrats are facing an electoral defeat of potentially unprecedented magnitude.

Obama won’t be able to do what Schoen recommends; we are well past that point. So the fate Schoen fears will likely be visited upon the Democrats in less than 70 days.

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Another Liberal with Radical Ties (Part Two)

Joe Sestak’s answers on the questionnaire from the extremist group Citizens for Global Solutions on a range of foreign-policy issues reveal him to be to the left of the vast majority of Americans, even the president. The entire questionnaire should be read in full, but some items are particularly noteworthy. It starts out this way:

Within the last decade, the U.S. role in the geopolitical landscape has shifted away from being seen as a constructive leader. What role do you believe the U.S. should play in the world today?

After eight years of counterproductive, unilateral policies under President Bush, I believe it is time once again for the United States to be a true leader on the world stage and to engage with other states, including those with interests which may be adverse to our own. I have supported President Obama’s efforts to engage with rogue states such as Iran and his efforts to reassert our role as a leader in multilateral forums, such as the United Nations. I strongly support the Administration’s demonstrated commitment to global nuclear non-proliferation, and believe that the successful negotiation of the START follow-on treaty and convening of a nuclear security summit in Washington are constructive steps.

Plainly, this is precisely what the militantly pro-UN group wants to hear.

What about America’s war on Islamic terror?

I support President Obama’s stated withdrawal time lines from Iraq. I believe the President should establish benchmarks for success or failure in Afghanistan which, upon the meeting of certain conditions, would trigger an alternative or exit strategy. I have also voted for legislation requiring the Secretary of Defense to promulgate an exit strategy from Afghanistan.

Not even the Obami talk this way anymore.

Sestak’s apparent infatuation with international organizations and, specifically, the International Criminal Court matches up nicely with CGS’s agenda as well:

5. Will you support greater U.S. cooperation with the ICC in situations where it is in the United States’ interest to bring to justice perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity?
Yes
6. Will you support the continued U.S. participation as an observer in the Court’s governing body (also known as the Assembly of States Parties)?
Yes
7. Do you support the reinstatement of the U.S. signature to the Rome Statute [that would submit the U.S. to the ICC's jurisdiction] and its eventual approval by the Senate for U.S. ratification?
Yes
I agree with President Clinton that eventual ratification should remain our goal, but that the United States should have the chance to observe and assess the functioning of the court before choosing to become subject to its jurisdiction.

He also says he wants to double foreign aid (presumably including aid to those countries that routinely vote against the U.S. and Israel in international bodies).

But of all his answers, the most troubling may be his unqualified yes to this one: “Will you support the call for the U.S. to refrain from the use or threat of a veto in the UN Security Council regarding situations involving ongoing genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes?” So, without knowing the context and without regard to the UN’s perpetual efforts to cast Israel as a criminal state, Sestak would call for the U.S. to tie its own hands. He’s ready — in advance — to throw away the one effective tool in its arsenal that allows it to defeat noxious UN Security Council actions. Good to know.

Sestak, then, is no garden-variety liberal on foreign policy. His association with CGS and his answers to its queries raise a number of questions. Recall Sestak’s odd letter calling not for the UN Human Rights Council to stay out of the flotilla incident but for it to conduct a “fair” investigation of Israel. It was ludicrous on its face. Now we wonder whether it was an effort to thread the needle between irate pro-Israel voters and his CGS backers (who fawn over the UNHRC). So don’t expect Sestak to support the U.S. withdrawal from that bile-gushing entity that his backers say “is direct, resultant, and demands accountability” and that vilifies Israel. Meanwhile, CGS declares that the U.S. is deriving such “goodwill” from sitting mutely on the council.

Does Sestak agree with CGS’s agenda? (In his answers No. 17 and No. 18, Sestak declares that he’d accept the group’s endorsement and its money.) If not, will he return the money, as Bob Casey did in 2006? And why, considering the group’s track record on Israel and its stance toward international bodies that routinely challenge Israel’s legitimacy, would he seek the group’s endorsement? I mean, if he really does “stand with Israel,” wouldn’t he recognize the danger to the Jewish state posed by such an extreme internationalist agenda? The Sestak campaign has not yet responded to these questions, but I’ll pass on any answers I receive.

In sum, Sestak is in a bind on foreign policy and a raft of other issues. The latest Democratic poll shows him nine points behind Pat Toomey. He’s getting hammered among independents (trailing by 50 to 23 percent). He’s had his hands full with the Emergency Committee for Israel ad attack, and now he faces a new ad assault by the Republican Jewish Coalition. (Sources tell me it will be one of the largest investments ever made in an ad campaign targeting the Jewish community, with an initial buy of two weeks with heavy cable in Philadelphia.) In other words, Sestak’s association with leftist groups may be far more damaging than helpful. To regain ground with Jewish voters and independents, will he shed some of his associations, perhaps give back money from the most objectionable of his donors? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Rasmussen also has the margin in the race at 9 points.

Joe Sestak’s answers on the questionnaire from the extremist group Citizens for Global Solutions on a range of foreign-policy issues reveal him to be to the left of the vast majority of Americans, even the president. The entire questionnaire should be read in full, but some items are particularly noteworthy. It starts out this way:

Within the last decade, the U.S. role in the geopolitical landscape has shifted away from being seen as a constructive leader. What role do you believe the U.S. should play in the world today?

After eight years of counterproductive, unilateral policies under President Bush, I believe it is time once again for the United States to be a true leader on the world stage and to engage with other states, including those with interests which may be adverse to our own. I have supported President Obama’s efforts to engage with rogue states such as Iran and his efforts to reassert our role as a leader in multilateral forums, such as the United Nations. I strongly support the Administration’s demonstrated commitment to global nuclear non-proliferation, and believe that the successful negotiation of the START follow-on treaty and convening of a nuclear security summit in Washington are constructive steps.

Plainly, this is precisely what the militantly pro-UN group wants to hear.

What about America’s war on Islamic terror?

I support President Obama’s stated withdrawal time lines from Iraq. I believe the President should establish benchmarks for success or failure in Afghanistan which, upon the meeting of certain conditions, would trigger an alternative or exit strategy. I have also voted for legislation requiring the Secretary of Defense to promulgate an exit strategy from Afghanistan.

Not even the Obami talk this way anymore.

Sestak’s apparent infatuation with international organizations and, specifically, the International Criminal Court matches up nicely with CGS’s agenda as well:

5. Will you support greater U.S. cooperation with the ICC in situations where it is in the United States’ interest to bring to justice perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity?
Yes
6. Will you support the continued U.S. participation as an observer in the Court’s governing body (also known as the Assembly of States Parties)?
Yes
7. Do you support the reinstatement of the U.S. signature to the Rome Statute [that would submit the U.S. to the ICC's jurisdiction] and its eventual approval by the Senate for U.S. ratification?
Yes
I agree with President Clinton that eventual ratification should remain our goal, but that the United States should have the chance to observe and assess the functioning of the court before choosing to become subject to its jurisdiction.

He also says he wants to double foreign aid (presumably including aid to those countries that routinely vote against the U.S. and Israel in international bodies).

But of all his answers, the most troubling may be his unqualified yes to this one: “Will you support the call for the U.S. to refrain from the use or threat of a veto in the UN Security Council regarding situations involving ongoing genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes?” So, without knowing the context and without regard to the UN’s perpetual efforts to cast Israel as a criminal state, Sestak would call for the U.S. to tie its own hands. He’s ready — in advance — to throw away the one effective tool in its arsenal that allows it to defeat noxious UN Security Council actions. Good to know.

Sestak, then, is no garden-variety liberal on foreign policy. His association with CGS and his answers to its queries raise a number of questions. Recall Sestak’s odd letter calling not for the UN Human Rights Council to stay out of the flotilla incident but for it to conduct a “fair” investigation of Israel. It was ludicrous on its face. Now we wonder whether it was an effort to thread the needle between irate pro-Israel voters and his CGS backers (who fawn over the UNHRC). So don’t expect Sestak to support the U.S. withdrawal from that bile-gushing entity that his backers say “is direct, resultant, and demands accountability” and that vilifies Israel. Meanwhile, CGS declares that the U.S. is deriving such “goodwill” from sitting mutely on the council.

Does Sestak agree with CGS’s agenda? (In his answers No. 17 and No. 18, Sestak declares that he’d accept the group’s endorsement and its money.) If not, will he return the money, as Bob Casey did in 2006? And why, considering the group’s track record on Israel and its stance toward international bodies that routinely challenge Israel’s legitimacy, would he seek the group’s endorsement? I mean, if he really does “stand with Israel,” wouldn’t he recognize the danger to the Jewish state posed by such an extreme internationalist agenda? The Sestak campaign has not yet responded to these questions, but I’ll pass on any answers I receive.

In sum, Sestak is in a bind on foreign policy and a raft of other issues. The latest Democratic poll shows him nine points behind Pat Toomey. He’s getting hammered among independents (trailing by 50 to 23 percent). He’s had his hands full with the Emergency Committee for Israel ad attack, and now he faces a new ad assault by the Republican Jewish Coalition. (Sources tell me it will be one of the largest investments ever made in an ad campaign targeting the Jewish community, with an initial buy of two weeks with heavy cable in Philadelphia.) In other words, Sestak’s association with leftist groups may be far more damaging than helpful. To regain ground with Jewish voters and independents, will he shed some of his associations, perhaps give back money from the most objectionable of his donors? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Rasmussen also has the margin in the race at 9 points.

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The Increasingly Self-Pitying Obama White House

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

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