Commentary Magazine


Topic: Dan Gerstein

Flotsam and Jetsam

AP reports: “Egypt’s government on Tuesday extended the country’s controversial emergency law for another two years, saying it would limit its use, a promise dismissed by human rights activists who warned the law would continue to be used to suppress dissent.” Will Obama be “deeply concerned” or zoom all the way to “profoundly troubled”?

Alan Dershowitz on Richard Goldstone’s “I was just following the law” defense of his record as a “hanging” apartheid judge: “It is interesting that Goldstone made a similar argument to friends as to why he accepted the chairmanship of the investigative commission offered to him by the United Nations Human Rights Council. He acknowledged that the Council was biased against Israel. Indeed, it treats Israel much the way Apartheid courts used to treat Black Africans: Just as there was special justice (really injustice) for blacks, so too there is special justice (really injustice) for Israel. Goldstone claims he took the job ‘to help Israel,’ just as he took his previous job to help blacks. In both cases he cynically hurt those he said he wanted to help while helping only himself. In both cases he was selected to legitimate bigotry. In both cases, better people than him refused to lend their credibility to an illegitimate enterprise. But Goldstone accepted, because it was good for his career.” Read the whole thing.

Dan Gerstein on the Kagan sales pitch: “This week, with their over-hyped and off-key ‘real world’ sales pitch for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, the president’s team is doing a bang-up job of outing their blinds spots themselves. In doing so, they are providing a big open window into why Obama continues to struggle in connecting with working-class voters.”

Megan McArdle on Kagan’s “pitch-perfect blandness”: “What’s disturbing is that this is what our nomination process now selects for: someone who appears to be in favor of nothing except self-advancement. Then we complain when the most passionate advocates for ideas are the lunatic fringe.”

Steve Kornacki asks, “Should Specter have run as an independent?” He still can!

Charles Krauthammer on Specter’s dilemma having voted against Kagan for solicitor general: “You almost feel sorry for Arlen Specter. I mean: Almost. This is a guy of so many twists and turns and retreats and swerves and reverses. It reminds me of a line in a Graham Greene novel where he speaks of his protagonist who says: ‘I prefer to tell the truth. It’s easier to memorize.’ Specter‘s got a lot of memorizing to do.”

Oops: “Congressional budget referees say President Barack Obama’s new health care law could potentially add another $115 billion over 10 years to government health care spending. If Congress approves all the additional spending, that would push the 10-year cost of the overhaul above $1 trillion — an unofficial limit the Obama administration set early on. The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday the added spending includes $10 billion to $20 billion in administrative costs to federal agencies carrying out the law, as well as $34 billion for community health centers and $39 billion for American Indian health care.”

But most voters have already figured that out: “The number of U.S. voters who expect the recently passed health care bill to increase the federal deficit is at its highest level yet, and most voters continue to favor its repeal. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 63% now believe the health care reform legislation signed into law is likely to increase the federal deficit. That’s up four points from last week.”

AP reports: “Egypt’s government on Tuesday extended the country’s controversial emergency law for another two years, saying it would limit its use, a promise dismissed by human rights activists who warned the law would continue to be used to suppress dissent.” Will Obama be “deeply concerned” or zoom all the way to “profoundly troubled”?

Alan Dershowitz on Richard Goldstone’s “I was just following the law” defense of his record as a “hanging” apartheid judge: “It is interesting that Goldstone made a similar argument to friends as to why he accepted the chairmanship of the investigative commission offered to him by the United Nations Human Rights Council. He acknowledged that the Council was biased against Israel. Indeed, it treats Israel much the way Apartheid courts used to treat Black Africans: Just as there was special justice (really injustice) for blacks, so too there is special justice (really injustice) for Israel. Goldstone claims he took the job ‘to help Israel,’ just as he took his previous job to help blacks. In both cases he cynically hurt those he said he wanted to help while helping only himself. In both cases he was selected to legitimate bigotry. In both cases, better people than him refused to lend their credibility to an illegitimate enterprise. But Goldstone accepted, because it was good for his career.” Read the whole thing.

Dan Gerstein on the Kagan sales pitch: “This week, with their over-hyped and off-key ‘real world’ sales pitch for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, the president’s team is doing a bang-up job of outing their blinds spots themselves. In doing so, they are providing a big open window into why Obama continues to struggle in connecting with working-class voters.”

Megan McArdle on Kagan’s “pitch-perfect blandness”: “What’s disturbing is that this is what our nomination process now selects for: someone who appears to be in favor of nothing except self-advancement. Then we complain when the most passionate advocates for ideas are the lunatic fringe.”

Steve Kornacki asks, “Should Specter have run as an independent?” He still can!

Charles Krauthammer on Specter’s dilemma having voted against Kagan for solicitor general: “You almost feel sorry for Arlen Specter. I mean: Almost. This is a guy of so many twists and turns and retreats and swerves and reverses. It reminds me of a line in a Graham Greene novel where he speaks of his protagonist who says: ‘I prefer to tell the truth. It’s easier to memorize.’ Specter‘s got a lot of memorizing to do.”

Oops: “Congressional budget referees say President Barack Obama’s new health care law could potentially add another $115 billion over 10 years to government health care spending. If Congress approves all the additional spending, that would push the 10-year cost of the overhaul above $1 trillion — an unofficial limit the Obama administration set early on. The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday the added spending includes $10 billion to $20 billion in administrative costs to federal agencies carrying out the law, as well as $34 billion for community health centers and $39 billion for American Indian health care.”

But most voters have already figured that out: “The number of U.S. voters who expect the recently passed health care bill to increase the federal deficit is at its highest level yet, and most voters continue to favor its repeal. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 63% now believe the health care reform legislation signed into law is likely to increase the federal deficit. That’s up four points from last week.”

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But Why Should House Democrats Listen to Nonsense?

Gary Andres summarizes the reasons why congressional leaders feel compelled to try to cram through a massive health-care bill the public hates:

Passing health care reform is a bit of a Holy Grail for Democrats.  It is one of the most important debates and potential accomplishments for the party’s most ardent partisans — and has been for many years.  Failure to enact this legislation would render a crippling blow to those most apt to volunteer, talk to their friends about politics, give money and vote in the upcoming midterm election.  These base voters may not always guarantee the party’s victory, but without them defeat is assured.

Oh, and they’ll sell the dupes — the voters, that is, who don’t know what’s best for them — on it later, convincing them how wrong they were to oppose the heroic efforts of  lawmakers. Or something like that.

This and complete cluelessness about what the public’s objections are to the bill and a pattern of ultra-liberal excess explain a lot. As Democratic consultant Dan Gerstein put it, “the Democrats have seemed to be operating in a hermetically sealed political vacuum, impervious to the public’s changing post-crash priorities and diminishing tolerance for big government solutions.” He thinks its political madness to plunge ahead:

Those hell-or-high-water Democrats are banking on the context to change again once they pass their bill. Their theory is that once the program benefits kick in, the political benefits will soon do the same. Public support will grow over time, the system will become as ingrained and untouchable as Medicare and Medicaid, and this year’s election liability will gradually become a campaign asset. It might be a plausible argument–if this were any other year, if health care were the only issue dragging down the Democrats’ credibility, if the anti-government Tea Party movement had not gotten such traction, and of course, if the bill ends up working reasonably well. …

The best course for Democrats would be to skip the all-or-nothing trap and pass a center-out bill that contains the 80% of insurance reforms on which both sides already agree. But that’s a moot point: The Democrats are going for broke (in more ways than one). The more salient question is when will the Democrats start connecting the dots–and recognize that the American people are not going to accept a government that is not willing to heed their doubts.

Now Pelosi-Reid-Obama are plainly not taking Gerstein’s advice, but that’s not what matters at this point. (Well, for many who will meekly accept their assignment to walk the plank for the greater good of Obama’s ego, I suppose it matters.) What really matters to the outcome is whether those one or two dozen House Democrats whose votes are still in play connect the dots and assess the arguments of their leadership in light of their own constituents.

Pelosi’s liberal donors may have been pining away for socialized medicine since the days of their nuclear-free-zone sit-ins at Berkeley, but that doesn’t mean a Michigan or Arkansas congressman’s constituents harbor the same dreams. Pelosi may think she can explain it all later, but those congressmen on the fence saw her explain things at the summit and likely had the same reaction as Gerstein — oh my. (“Led by Pelosi, they repeated their same unpersuasive arguments for universal coverage, recycled the same hollow CBO numbers as a crutch and too often resorted to the same partisan defenses in responding to what sounded like substantive Republican criticisms.”) Pelosi may worry about turning off  Democratic activists, but a Democratic congressman from a district that voted for John McCain in 2008 knows it’s the independents and the Republicans he needs to mollify.

The motives and interests of the congressional leadership and their members have diverged sharply. Before Scott Brown’s election, the Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika was successful in getting members to disregard that divergence. Now it’s a lot harder to get Democratic House members to overlook the obvious: a vote for ObamaCare will cost them their seats. Pelosi will try, but her members have seen just how ineffective Obama is, both in convincing the public of the bill’s merits and in providing cover for Democratic candidates (e.g., Creigh Deeds, John Corzine, Martha Coakley). Now they need to decide whether it’s worth sacrificing their careers for the sake of an awful bill – which Republicans will spend the rest of the year (and years to come, if need be) trying to repeal.

Gary Andres summarizes the reasons why congressional leaders feel compelled to try to cram through a massive health-care bill the public hates:

Passing health care reform is a bit of a Holy Grail for Democrats.  It is one of the most important debates and potential accomplishments for the party’s most ardent partisans — and has been for many years.  Failure to enact this legislation would render a crippling blow to those most apt to volunteer, talk to their friends about politics, give money and vote in the upcoming midterm election.  These base voters may not always guarantee the party’s victory, but without them defeat is assured.

Oh, and they’ll sell the dupes — the voters, that is, who don’t know what’s best for them — on it later, convincing them how wrong they were to oppose the heroic efforts of  lawmakers. Or something like that.

This and complete cluelessness about what the public’s objections are to the bill and a pattern of ultra-liberal excess explain a lot. As Democratic consultant Dan Gerstein put it, “the Democrats have seemed to be operating in a hermetically sealed political vacuum, impervious to the public’s changing post-crash priorities and diminishing tolerance for big government solutions.” He thinks its political madness to plunge ahead:

Those hell-or-high-water Democrats are banking on the context to change again once they pass their bill. Their theory is that once the program benefits kick in, the political benefits will soon do the same. Public support will grow over time, the system will become as ingrained and untouchable as Medicare and Medicaid, and this year’s election liability will gradually become a campaign asset. It might be a plausible argument–if this were any other year, if health care were the only issue dragging down the Democrats’ credibility, if the anti-government Tea Party movement had not gotten such traction, and of course, if the bill ends up working reasonably well. …

The best course for Democrats would be to skip the all-or-nothing trap and pass a center-out bill that contains the 80% of insurance reforms on which both sides already agree. But that’s a moot point: The Democrats are going for broke (in more ways than one). The more salient question is when will the Democrats start connecting the dots–and recognize that the American people are not going to accept a government that is not willing to heed their doubts.

Now Pelosi-Reid-Obama are plainly not taking Gerstein’s advice, but that’s not what matters at this point. (Well, for many who will meekly accept their assignment to walk the plank for the greater good of Obama’s ego, I suppose it matters.) What really matters to the outcome is whether those one or two dozen House Democrats whose votes are still in play connect the dots and assess the arguments of their leadership in light of their own constituents.

Pelosi’s liberal donors may have been pining away for socialized medicine since the days of their nuclear-free-zone sit-ins at Berkeley, but that doesn’t mean a Michigan or Arkansas congressman’s constituents harbor the same dreams. Pelosi may think she can explain it all later, but those congressmen on the fence saw her explain things at the summit and likely had the same reaction as Gerstein — oh my. (“Led by Pelosi, they repeated their same unpersuasive arguments for universal coverage, recycled the same hollow CBO numbers as a crutch and too often resorted to the same partisan defenses in responding to what sounded like substantive Republican criticisms.”) Pelosi may worry about turning off  Democratic activists, but a Democratic congressman from a district that voted for John McCain in 2008 knows it’s the independents and the Republicans he needs to mollify.

The motives and interests of the congressional leadership and their members have diverged sharply. Before Scott Brown’s election, the Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika was successful in getting members to disregard that divergence. Now it’s a lot harder to get Democratic House members to overlook the obvious: a vote for ObamaCare will cost them their seats. Pelosi will try, but her members have seen just how ineffective Obama is, both in convincing the public of the bill’s merits and in providing cover for Democratic candidates (e.g., Creigh Deeds, John Corzine, Martha Coakley). Now they need to decide whether it’s worth sacrificing their careers for the sake of an awful bill – which Republicans will spend the rest of the year (and years to come, if need be) trying to repeal.

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Fortunate to Have These Opponents

Give Democratic strategist Dan Gerstein credit. He doesn’t think much of the flap over Harry Reid’s racial remarks. He has bigger fish to fry:

But the most damning indictment to emerge from the mess was the Democrats’ relief at Reid’s survival. Our party knew of his severe limitations before we made him leader–same with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. We have watched them consistently hurt the party’s image and undermine its productivity. And while much of the country is now mocking Reid’s obvious liabilities, we cheer his staying in power. Talk about tone-deafness–Reid’s is nothing compared to the Democrats who continue to uncritically accept his and Pelosi’s chronic embarrassments and ineffectiveness.

Ouch. He likes Pelosi even less, declaring that she is “more divisive.” Echoing Republican complaints, he writes:

She doesn’t even bother with the pretense that she is Speaker for the entire House of Representatives. She treats Republicans as the enemy, and they respond in kind, creating a vicious partisan cycle that practically precludes any meaningful negotiating. It also leads much of the country to discount or tune out anything she says before she opens her mouth.

He thinks Obama needs to distance himself from Congress. But the criticism that Reid and Pelosi are hyper-partisan and now subject to being tuned out applies to a large degree to the president as well. All of that poses a problem, a giant one, for Democrats on the ballot in the fall. They can proclaim their “independence,” but when they elect Reid and Pelosi as leaders and vote for the Obama agenda, it will be hard for them to differentiate themselves from the increasingly unpopular triumvirate that is the face of the Democratic party. Republicans will need an agenda and some message refinement, but they have the good fortune to be able to run against the Democratic leadership. As everyone discovered in 2006 and 2008, running against the other guy can be a very effective strategy.

Give Democratic strategist Dan Gerstein credit. He doesn’t think much of the flap over Harry Reid’s racial remarks. He has bigger fish to fry:

But the most damning indictment to emerge from the mess was the Democrats’ relief at Reid’s survival. Our party knew of his severe limitations before we made him leader–same with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. We have watched them consistently hurt the party’s image and undermine its productivity. And while much of the country is now mocking Reid’s obvious liabilities, we cheer his staying in power. Talk about tone-deafness–Reid’s is nothing compared to the Democrats who continue to uncritically accept his and Pelosi’s chronic embarrassments and ineffectiveness.

Ouch. He likes Pelosi even less, declaring that she is “more divisive.” Echoing Republican complaints, he writes:

She doesn’t even bother with the pretense that she is Speaker for the entire House of Representatives. She treats Republicans as the enemy, and they respond in kind, creating a vicious partisan cycle that practically precludes any meaningful negotiating. It also leads much of the country to discount or tune out anything she says before she opens her mouth.

He thinks Obama needs to distance himself from Congress. But the criticism that Reid and Pelosi are hyper-partisan and now subject to being tuned out applies to a large degree to the president as well. All of that poses a problem, a giant one, for Democrats on the ballot in the fall. They can proclaim their “independence,” but when they elect Reid and Pelosi as leaders and vote for the Obama agenda, it will be hard for them to differentiate themselves from the increasingly unpopular triumvirate that is the face of the Democratic party. Republicans will need an agenda and some message refinement, but they have the good fortune to be able to run against the Democratic leadership. As everyone discovered in 2006 and 2008, running against the other guy can be a very effective strategy.

Read Less




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