Commentary Magazine


Topic: Democratic congressman

Washington Post Confirms More Than a Year of Conservative Reporting

Yes, that’s right. On Saturday’s front page, in a well-documented piece, the Washington Post did a very credible job in reporting the details of the New Black Party Panther case and, in large part, vindicating the witnesses and conservative outlets which have reported that: 1) the administration concealed that political appointees influenced the decision to dismiss a blatant case of voter intimidation; 2) the Obama administration does not believe in equal enforcement of civil rights laws; and 3) this single incident is indicative of a much larger problem than one case of voter intimidation.

As to the administration’s mindset:

Civil rights officials from the Bush administration have said that enforcement should be race-neutral. But some officials from the Obama administration, which took office vowing to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement, thought the agency should focus primarily on cases filed on behalf of minorities.

“The Voting Rights Act was passed because people like Bull Connor were hitting people like John Lewis, not the other way around,” said one Justice Department official not authorized to speak publicly, referring to the white Alabama police commissioner who cracked down on civil rights protesters such as Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia.

Translation: J. Christian Adams and Chris Coates, two former trial attorneys, testified truthfully under oath on this point; civil rights chief Thomas Perez did not.

Likewise, Adams and Coates are vindicated in their version of a case filed against an African American official:

Three Justice Department lawyers, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from their supervisors, described the same tensions, among career lawyers as well as political appointees. Employees who worked on the [Ike]Brown case were harassed by colleagues, they said, and some department lawyers anonymously went on legal blogs “absolutely tearing apart anybody who was involved in that case,” said one lawyer.

“There are career people who feel strongly that it is not the voting section’s job to protect white voters,” the lawyer said. “The environment is that you better toe the line of traditional civil rights ideas or you better keep quiet about it, because you will not advance, you will not receive awards and you will be ostracized.”

Translation: Wow.

As for the involvement of higher-ups:

Asked at a civil rights commission hearing in May whether any of the department’s political leadership was “involved in” the decision to dismiss the Panthers case, assistant attorney general for civil rights Thomas E. Perez said no.

“This is a case about career people disagreeing with career people,” said Perez, who was not in the department at the time. He also said that political appointees are regularly briefed on civil rights cases and, whenever there is a potentially controversial decision, “we obviously communicate that up the chain.”

Justice Department records turned over in a lawsuit to the conservative group Judicial Watch show a flurry of e-mails between the Civil Rights Division and the office of Associate Attorney General Thomas Perelli, a political appointee who supervises the division.

Translation: Perez did not exactly say the truth under oath.

What about orders not to enforce the law in a race-neutral fashion?

In the months after the case ended, tensions persisted. A new supervisor, Julie Fernandes, arrived to oversee the voting section, and Coates testified that she told attorneys at a September 2009 lunch that the Obama administration was interested in filing cases – under a key voting rights section – only on behalf of minorities.

“Everyone in the room understood exactly what she meant,” Coates said. “No more cases like the Ike Brown or New Black Panther Party cases.”

Fernandes declined to comment through a department spokeswoman.

Translation: Perez and Fernandes will have to go.

The administration must be awfully panicky. Lots of DOJ  attorneys assisted in preparing false responses to discovery requests from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The administration repeatedly misrepresented the facts in public. The Justice Department tried to prevent percipient witnesses from testifying pursuant to subpoenas. Perez testified under oath untruthfully. The  Obama administration stonewalled both the commission and congressmen trying to uncover the facts which conservative outlets and now the Post have revealed. The DOJ tried to bully attorneys who were prepared to tell the truth. There is a term for that: obstruction of justice.

And what’s more, GOP committee chairmen with subpoena power will take over in January when the new Congress convenes. Expect hearings, some resignations, and maybe a prosecution or two. The “small potatoes” story the mainstream media pooh-poohed will be the first serious scandal of the last two years of Obama’s term. Do I hear that Eric Holder wants to spend “more time with his family”?

Two final notes. Conservatives who caught wind of this story being underway expressed concern that the Post reporters might end up pulling their punches, given this Post editorial from several weeks ago. That fear turned out to be unfounded. This is one instance in which the wall between the editorial and news sections held firm. (It often works the other way, of course. The Post’s opinion editors, for example, were on top of the Chas Freeman story, which its news reporters ignored.) And secondly, sources who spoke to the reporters tells me that the Post was under severe pressure from the DOJ not to run this sort of story. It seems as though the Post‘s reporters find the current crew at the DOJ quite “unprofessional”. One must give credit to those two reporters for withstanding the pressure — and see it as a sign that the administration’s bark isn’t scaring anyone these days.

Yes, that’s right. On Saturday’s front page, in a well-documented piece, the Washington Post did a very credible job in reporting the details of the New Black Party Panther case and, in large part, vindicating the witnesses and conservative outlets which have reported that: 1) the administration concealed that political appointees influenced the decision to dismiss a blatant case of voter intimidation; 2) the Obama administration does not believe in equal enforcement of civil rights laws; and 3) this single incident is indicative of a much larger problem than one case of voter intimidation.

As to the administration’s mindset:

Civil rights officials from the Bush administration have said that enforcement should be race-neutral. But some officials from the Obama administration, which took office vowing to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement, thought the agency should focus primarily on cases filed on behalf of minorities.

“The Voting Rights Act was passed because people like Bull Connor were hitting people like John Lewis, not the other way around,” said one Justice Department official not authorized to speak publicly, referring to the white Alabama police commissioner who cracked down on civil rights protesters such as Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia.

Translation: J. Christian Adams and Chris Coates, two former trial attorneys, testified truthfully under oath on this point; civil rights chief Thomas Perez did not.

Likewise, Adams and Coates are vindicated in their version of a case filed against an African American official:

Three Justice Department lawyers, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from their supervisors, described the same tensions, among career lawyers as well as political appointees. Employees who worked on the [Ike]Brown case were harassed by colleagues, they said, and some department lawyers anonymously went on legal blogs “absolutely tearing apart anybody who was involved in that case,” said one lawyer.

“There are career people who feel strongly that it is not the voting section’s job to protect white voters,” the lawyer said. “The environment is that you better toe the line of traditional civil rights ideas or you better keep quiet about it, because you will not advance, you will not receive awards and you will be ostracized.”

Translation: Wow.

As for the involvement of higher-ups:

Asked at a civil rights commission hearing in May whether any of the department’s political leadership was “involved in” the decision to dismiss the Panthers case, assistant attorney general for civil rights Thomas E. Perez said no.

“This is a case about career people disagreeing with career people,” said Perez, who was not in the department at the time. He also said that political appointees are regularly briefed on civil rights cases and, whenever there is a potentially controversial decision, “we obviously communicate that up the chain.”

Justice Department records turned over in a lawsuit to the conservative group Judicial Watch show a flurry of e-mails between the Civil Rights Division and the office of Associate Attorney General Thomas Perelli, a political appointee who supervises the division.

Translation: Perez did not exactly say the truth under oath.

What about orders not to enforce the law in a race-neutral fashion?

In the months after the case ended, tensions persisted. A new supervisor, Julie Fernandes, arrived to oversee the voting section, and Coates testified that she told attorneys at a September 2009 lunch that the Obama administration was interested in filing cases – under a key voting rights section – only on behalf of minorities.

“Everyone in the room understood exactly what she meant,” Coates said. “No more cases like the Ike Brown or New Black Panther Party cases.”

Fernandes declined to comment through a department spokeswoman.

Translation: Perez and Fernandes will have to go.

The administration must be awfully panicky. Lots of DOJ  attorneys assisted in preparing false responses to discovery requests from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The administration repeatedly misrepresented the facts in public. The Justice Department tried to prevent percipient witnesses from testifying pursuant to subpoenas. Perez testified under oath untruthfully. The  Obama administration stonewalled both the commission and congressmen trying to uncover the facts which conservative outlets and now the Post have revealed. The DOJ tried to bully attorneys who were prepared to tell the truth. There is a term for that: obstruction of justice.

And what’s more, GOP committee chairmen with subpoena power will take over in January when the new Congress convenes. Expect hearings, some resignations, and maybe a prosecution or two. The “small potatoes” story the mainstream media pooh-poohed will be the first serious scandal of the last two years of Obama’s term. Do I hear that Eric Holder wants to spend “more time with his family”?

Two final notes. Conservatives who caught wind of this story being underway expressed concern that the Post reporters might end up pulling their punches, given this Post editorial from several weeks ago. That fear turned out to be unfounded. This is one instance in which the wall between the editorial and news sections held firm. (It often works the other way, of course. The Post’s opinion editors, for example, were on top of the Chas Freeman story, which its news reporters ignored.) And secondly, sources who spoke to the reporters tells me that the Post was under severe pressure from the DOJ not to run this sort of story. It seems as though the Post‘s reporters find the current crew at the DOJ quite “unprofessional”. One must give credit to those two reporters for withstanding the pressure — and see it as a sign that the administration’s bark isn’t scaring anyone these days.

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Going After Pelosi

Here’s an idea for the White House spin squad: the wipeout of 2010 is a rejection of Nancy Pelosi, not Obama. Politico tries it out:

In the home stretch of the 2010 campaign, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, more than even President Barack Obama, is emerging as the heaviest drag on Democratic hopes of holding on to the House.

In district after district, from Florida’s Gold Coast to central Ohio, in the Ozark Mountains, on the Minnesota prairie and in retiree-laden Arizona, Pelosi’s face, plastered on billboards, recorded in video clips and emblazoned on mailers, is casting a pall over her colleagues’ chances of winning reelection.

Conventional wisdom holds that midterm elections are referendums on the president — and Obama is certainly the central figure in the unfolding drama of the 2010 election. But if Democrats lose the House, it’s likely to be as much a rejection of the policies and politics of a woman who has managed to simultaneously become one of the most powerful speakers in congressional history and one of the most unpopular figures in American politics today.

Now wait a sec. Aren’t those “policies and politics” Obama’s as well? In what regard did Pelosi and Obama ever disagree? True, Pelosi’s demeanor is even more grating than the president’s, but the agenda she jammed through was Obama’s — and his villains are hers.

Certainly the Republicans are using her image and record against her own members. She, after all, has an approval rating much worse than Obama’s. But she is also a useful reminder that no matter how “independent” a Democratic congressman claims to be, he still votes with the extreme leftist leadership that runs the House. And it was she who refused to allow her members to take a vote on the Bush tax cuts, providing a vivid example of just what a Democratic majority means in the House. (I don’t rule out the possibility that, in addition to these factors, some GOP candidates are hesitant to go after the president personally with the same zeal they can direct at his ideological twin.)

But regardless of the number of posters bearing her photograph, the target of most GOP candidates is indeed the president. They are promising to repeal ObamaCare. They are promising to act as a check on the administration’s agenda. Make no mistake, Pelosi may be a useful foil, but the ultimate target is Obama and his agenda. But after the returns are in, watch the finger-pointing epidemic that will break out. You can be certain that the White House will be all too pleased to blame this on Pelosi.

Here’s an idea for the White House spin squad: the wipeout of 2010 is a rejection of Nancy Pelosi, not Obama. Politico tries it out:

In the home stretch of the 2010 campaign, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, more than even President Barack Obama, is emerging as the heaviest drag on Democratic hopes of holding on to the House.

In district after district, from Florida’s Gold Coast to central Ohio, in the Ozark Mountains, on the Minnesota prairie and in retiree-laden Arizona, Pelosi’s face, plastered on billboards, recorded in video clips and emblazoned on mailers, is casting a pall over her colleagues’ chances of winning reelection.

Conventional wisdom holds that midterm elections are referendums on the president — and Obama is certainly the central figure in the unfolding drama of the 2010 election. But if Democrats lose the House, it’s likely to be as much a rejection of the policies and politics of a woman who has managed to simultaneously become one of the most powerful speakers in congressional history and one of the most unpopular figures in American politics today.

Now wait a sec. Aren’t those “policies and politics” Obama’s as well? In what regard did Pelosi and Obama ever disagree? True, Pelosi’s demeanor is even more grating than the president’s, but the agenda she jammed through was Obama’s — and his villains are hers.

Certainly the Republicans are using her image and record against her own members. She, after all, has an approval rating much worse than Obama’s. But she is also a useful reminder that no matter how “independent” a Democratic congressman claims to be, he still votes with the extreme leftist leadership that runs the House. And it was she who refused to allow her members to take a vote on the Bush tax cuts, providing a vivid example of just what a Democratic majority means in the House. (I don’t rule out the possibility that, in addition to these factors, some GOP candidates are hesitant to go after the president personally with the same zeal they can direct at his ideological twin.)

But regardless of the number of posters bearing her photograph, the target of most GOP candidates is indeed the president. They are promising to repeal ObamaCare. They are promising to act as a check on the administration’s agenda. Make no mistake, Pelosi may be a useful foil, but the ultimate target is Obama and his agenda. But after the returns are in, watch the finger-pointing epidemic that will break out. You can be certain that the White House will be all too pleased to blame this on Pelosi.

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The Voters Won’t Notice?

The Hill, in two separate reports, details the efforts by Democrats to run from their party. First, pretend you are neither a Democrat nor an incumbent:

With voters in an anti-incumbent mood and a national headwind against their party, some freshman Democrats are touting themselves as unaffiliated outsiders — and it may help them win reelection.

Running against Washington isn’t easy when you’ve got an office on Capitol Hill. But Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.) has effectively positioned herself as a challenger in her race against Republican Mike Kelly.

So far, it’s not working — Kelly leads in the polls.

Then the candidates from the mystery party who have occupied a job of unknown origin try to flee from the Democratic agenda:

House Democrats in tough races are running away from their party’s legislative record as they face an electorate that’s skeptical of what the party has accomplished over the past two years and rates Congress at historic lows.

A Gallup tracking poll from the end of September shows that only 18 percent of voters approve of the job Congress is doing while landmark legislation like healthcare reform and the stimulus remains unpopular.

My Democratic congressman person running for office, who has been in office somewhere, is a case in point:

“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who is a Republican target this fall. “Moderates and Blue Dogs in our caucus have grown increasingly antsy about that agenda and whether it was or is overly ambitious.”

Connolly voted in favor of healthcare reform, the stimulus and Wall Street reform, but over the past two months the Virginia Democrat has emerged as one of the loudest Democratic voices urging the leadership to extend the George W. Bush tax cuts, even for the wealthiest Americans.

He also voted against adjourning without a vote on the Bush tax cuts. But Connolly’s elective-eve conversion isn’t carrying the day. Here, too, the challenger, Keith Fimian, is leading, running tough ads pinning Connolly down on his record.

It is rather silly to suppose that the most engaged voters — those who turn out for a midterm election — can’t figure out who the incumbent Democrats are and can’t recall what the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda has been for the past two years. It does suggest, however, that any survivors from the mystery party will be wary of once again putting their careers on the line by following the White House’s lead.

The Hill, in two separate reports, details the efforts by Democrats to run from their party. First, pretend you are neither a Democrat nor an incumbent:

With voters in an anti-incumbent mood and a national headwind against their party, some freshman Democrats are touting themselves as unaffiliated outsiders — and it may help them win reelection.

Running against Washington isn’t easy when you’ve got an office on Capitol Hill. But Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.) has effectively positioned herself as a challenger in her race against Republican Mike Kelly.

So far, it’s not working — Kelly leads in the polls.

Then the candidates from the mystery party who have occupied a job of unknown origin try to flee from the Democratic agenda:

House Democrats in tough races are running away from their party’s legislative record as they face an electorate that’s skeptical of what the party has accomplished over the past two years and rates Congress at historic lows.

A Gallup tracking poll from the end of September shows that only 18 percent of voters approve of the job Congress is doing while landmark legislation like healthcare reform and the stimulus remains unpopular.

My Democratic congressman person running for office, who has been in office somewhere, is a case in point:

“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who is a Republican target this fall. “Moderates and Blue Dogs in our caucus have grown increasingly antsy about that agenda and whether it was or is overly ambitious.”

Connolly voted in favor of healthcare reform, the stimulus and Wall Street reform, but over the past two months the Virginia Democrat has emerged as one of the loudest Democratic voices urging the leadership to extend the George W. Bush tax cuts, even for the wealthiest Americans.

He also voted against adjourning without a vote on the Bush tax cuts. But Connolly’s elective-eve conversion isn’t carrying the day. Here, too, the challenger, Keith Fimian, is leading, running tough ads pinning Connolly down on his record.

It is rather silly to suppose that the most engaged voters — those who turn out for a midterm election — can’t figure out who the incumbent Democrats are and can’t recall what the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda has been for the past two years. It does suggest, however, that any survivors from the mystery party will be wary of once again putting their careers on the line by following the White House’s lead.

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Time to Jump Off the J Street Bandwagon

JTA has an exceptionally odd report up on the J Street–Soros connection. On one hand, the generally liberal publication argues that it was not a big deal to be funded by Soros, so the gaffe was in hiding the connection:

A senior staffer for a Democratic congressman who has accepted J Street’s endorsement agreed, saying that Soros’ support for J Street would not have been “a major factor” in deciding whether to accept the organization’s endorsement.

“People have to know first who George Soros is and, second, why it would be bad for a pro-Israel group — in some circles — to be associated with him,” the staffer said. “There are a lot of people like that in the Jewish macherocracy — but not in our district.”

But then again, maybe it really is a big deal:

It didn’t help that MoveOn was erroneously associated with a Web advertisement that likened Bush to Hitler, and that Soros himself said the times reminded him of aspects of his Nazi-era childhood in Hungary.

But, several observers said, the fraught politics of just a few years ago — when Soros was seen as an unhinged provocateur baiting the Bush administration and Republicans — were a thing of the past, with Democrats now controlling the White House and the U.S. Congress.

And then there is the whole Human Rights Watch thing:

In recent weeks, conservatives and other critics of Soros have noted the recent $100 million donation to Human Rights Watch, a group that is seen by Israel and many of the country’s supporters as biased in its treatment of abuses in the Middle East.

The donation “makes it a fine fit for George Soros, whose own biases are well established,” Gerald Steinberg, NGO Monitor’s director, wrote in a New York Post op-ed before the J Street controversy broke. “In the Middle East, for example, his Open Society Institute exclusively supports advocacy groups that campaign internationally to undermine the elected governments of Israel — organizations such as Adalah, Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Gisha and Yesh Din.”

So maybe there was a reason Jeremy Ben-Ami repeatedly lied about the Soros connection. Nevertheless, the JTA folks keep up their habit of sourcing (obsessively so) to Soros Street and its supporters, concluding that Soros Street will be just fine.

At a time when virtually all the mainstream Jewish media and leadership have shown some mettle in condemning the Soros Street charade, it remains a mystery why JTA is still carrying water for it. I suppose they have invested a lot in J Street’s credibility as a legitimate organization, but the jig is up. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge the obvious: J Street was a front for a hard-core leftist whose views and rhetoric are unacceptable to the majority of Americans. And Soros’s creation, which allied itself with Richard Goldstone (drafting his defense) and a raft of Israel-haters, was never the “pro-Israel” grassroots organization it made itself out to be. Surely JTA’s readers could accept that?

A final note: JTA quotes Abe Foxman at length saying all sorts of sweet things about J Street and Soros. Well, no one is ever going to confuse him with Nathan Perlmutter.

JTA has an exceptionally odd report up on the J Street–Soros connection. On one hand, the generally liberal publication argues that it was not a big deal to be funded by Soros, so the gaffe was in hiding the connection:

A senior staffer for a Democratic congressman who has accepted J Street’s endorsement agreed, saying that Soros’ support for J Street would not have been “a major factor” in deciding whether to accept the organization’s endorsement.

“People have to know first who George Soros is and, second, why it would be bad for a pro-Israel group — in some circles — to be associated with him,” the staffer said. “There are a lot of people like that in the Jewish macherocracy — but not in our district.”

But then again, maybe it really is a big deal:

It didn’t help that MoveOn was erroneously associated with a Web advertisement that likened Bush to Hitler, and that Soros himself said the times reminded him of aspects of his Nazi-era childhood in Hungary.

But, several observers said, the fraught politics of just a few years ago — when Soros was seen as an unhinged provocateur baiting the Bush administration and Republicans — were a thing of the past, with Democrats now controlling the White House and the U.S. Congress.

And then there is the whole Human Rights Watch thing:

In recent weeks, conservatives and other critics of Soros have noted the recent $100 million donation to Human Rights Watch, a group that is seen by Israel and many of the country’s supporters as biased in its treatment of abuses in the Middle East.

The donation “makes it a fine fit for George Soros, whose own biases are well established,” Gerald Steinberg, NGO Monitor’s director, wrote in a New York Post op-ed before the J Street controversy broke. “In the Middle East, for example, his Open Society Institute exclusively supports advocacy groups that campaign internationally to undermine the elected governments of Israel — organizations such as Adalah, Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Gisha and Yesh Din.”

So maybe there was a reason Jeremy Ben-Ami repeatedly lied about the Soros connection. Nevertheless, the JTA folks keep up their habit of sourcing (obsessively so) to Soros Street and its supporters, concluding that Soros Street will be just fine.

At a time when virtually all the mainstream Jewish media and leadership have shown some mettle in condemning the Soros Street charade, it remains a mystery why JTA is still carrying water for it. I suppose they have invested a lot in J Street’s credibility as a legitimate organization, but the jig is up. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge the obvious: J Street was a front for a hard-core leftist whose views and rhetoric are unacceptable to the majority of Americans. And Soros’s creation, which allied itself with Richard Goldstone (drafting his defense) and a raft of Israel-haters, was never the “pro-Israel” grassroots organization it made itself out to be. Surely JTA’s readers could accept that?

A final note: JTA quotes Abe Foxman at length saying all sorts of sweet things about J Street and Soros. Well, no one is ever going to confuse him with Nathan Perlmutter.

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Run Away! … From Obama, That Is

Obama is so toxic that he has to assure Democrats he will stay away from their districts if need be. At a meeting with nine Democratic congressman Obama all but acknowledged that he’s become the Typhoid Mary of politics:

“You may not even want me to come to your district,” Mr. Obama said, according to guests, nearly all of whom hold seats that Republicans are aggressively seeking. …

It is a vivid shift from the last two elections, when Mr. Obama was the hottest draw for Democratic candidates in red and blue states alike. And it highlights the tough choices Democrats face as they head toward Election Day with the president’s approval ratings depressed, Republicans energized, the economic slump still lingering and two veteran House Democrats now facing public hearings on ethics charges.

When fellow Democrats grumble that “the Obama political team was too insular” and wonder aloud “whether the president sees himself as the head of the party,” you know Obama has taken his party over the cliff (“precipice” was the word Obama preferred in the health-care debate).

You can bet that as much as the Democrats “hope to make the election about issues other than Mr. Obama,” the Republicans would be happy to focus on precisely that. Did Democrat X rubber-stamp the Obama agenda (say, 98.7 percent of the time)? Did Democrat X resist the mammoth run-up in debt? That’s what many GOP candidates will be asking. Unfortunately for the Democrats struggling to survive the initial two years of Obama, the answers will generally be yes and no, respectively. There is a price to be paid for blindly following party leaders and the White House while ignoring the concerns of one’s constituents. Now the only question is how high that price will be.

Obama is so toxic that he has to assure Democrats he will stay away from their districts if need be. At a meeting with nine Democratic congressman Obama all but acknowledged that he’s become the Typhoid Mary of politics:

“You may not even want me to come to your district,” Mr. Obama said, according to guests, nearly all of whom hold seats that Republicans are aggressively seeking. …

It is a vivid shift from the last two elections, when Mr. Obama was the hottest draw for Democratic candidates in red and blue states alike. And it highlights the tough choices Democrats face as they head toward Election Day with the president’s approval ratings depressed, Republicans energized, the economic slump still lingering and two veteran House Democrats now facing public hearings on ethics charges.

When fellow Democrats grumble that “the Obama political team was too insular” and wonder aloud “whether the president sees himself as the head of the party,” you know Obama has taken his party over the cliff (“precipice” was the word Obama preferred in the health-care debate).

You can bet that as much as the Democrats “hope to make the election about issues other than Mr. Obama,” the Republicans would be happy to focus on precisely that. Did Democrat X rubber-stamp the Obama agenda (say, 98.7 percent of the time)? Did Democrat X resist the mammoth run-up in debt? That’s what many GOP candidates will be asking. Unfortunately for the Democrats struggling to survive the initial two years of Obama, the answers will generally be yes and no, respectively. There is a price to be paid for blindly following party leaders and the White House while ignoring the concerns of one’s constituents. Now the only question is how high that price will be.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The local Pennsylvania media find Joe Sestak’s answers on earmarks to be all wet (“a vague, disingenuous attempt to polish his own credentials”): “The Democratic congressman and Senate candidate should work a little harder to reconcile taking campaign contributions from those benefiting from federal ‘earmarks’ (which direct money to be spent on specific projects) while claiming ‘a personal policy’ against doing so.”

As hopes for direct peace talks slip away, Hillary frantically “burns up the phone lines” to the players in the Middle East.

Obama’s approval ratings in Gallup continue to nosedive (45% approval, 49% disapproval).

A federal-court judge torpedoes the Arizona immigration law (a ruling certain to be appealed): “Judge [Susan] Bolton took aim at the parts of the law that have generated the most controversy, issuing a preliminary injunction against sections that called for police officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times. Judge [Susan] Bolton put those sections on hold while she continued to hear the larger issues in the challenges to the law. ‘Preserving the status quo through a preliminary injunction is less harmful than allowing state laws that are likely pre-empted by federal law to be enforced,’ she said. ‘There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens.'”

Democrats are awaiting the November wave – so what’s the message for avoiding a wipeout? The other guys are wackos. This is the argument: “The Republicans want to be mayors of crazy-town. They’ve embraced a fringe and proto-racist isolationist and ignorant conservative populism that has no solutions for fixing anything and the collective intelligence of a wine flask.” How can the voters resist?

Al Gore is in hot water: “Before all the unpleasantness, the former vice president was mainly known as the planet’s premiere environmentalist and anti-global-warming crusader. He has been a bestselling author, Oscar-winning filmmaker, successful businessman and, lest we forget, the man millions still believe should have been sworn in as president in January 2001. But now the 62-year-old Gore is tabloid fodder—notorious as a ‘crazed sex poodle.'”

Obama’s plea that he really isn’t anti-business is being drowned out: “Republicans and business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have driven home the message that the Obama administration is curtailing private-sector growth. They point to tax increases proposed by the White House as well as an uncertain regulatory environment brought about by massive reforms to the healthcare sector and Wall Street. Businesses are said to be sitting on $2 trillion in income but are not hiring, partly because of the administration’s policies, according to Republicans.”

The local Pennsylvania media find Joe Sestak’s answers on earmarks to be all wet (“a vague, disingenuous attempt to polish his own credentials”): “The Democratic congressman and Senate candidate should work a little harder to reconcile taking campaign contributions from those benefiting from federal ‘earmarks’ (which direct money to be spent on specific projects) while claiming ‘a personal policy’ against doing so.”

As hopes for direct peace talks slip away, Hillary frantically “burns up the phone lines” to the players in the Middle East.

Obama’s approval ratings in Gallup continue to nosedive (45% approval, 49% disapproval).

A federal-court judge torpedoes the Arizona immigration law (a ruling certain to be appealed): “Judge [Susan] Bolton took aim at the parts of the law that have generated the most controversy, issuing a preliminary injunction against sections that called for police officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times. Judge [Susan] Bolton put those sections on hold while she continued to hear the larger issues in the challenges to the law. ‘Preserving the status quo through a preliminary injunction is less harmful than allowing state laws that are likely pre-empted by federal law to be enforced,’ she said. ‘There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens.'”

Democrats are awaiting the November wave – so what’s the message for avoiding a wipeout? The other guys are wackos. This is the argument: “The Republicans want to be mayors of crazy-town. They’ve embraced a fringe and proto-racist isolationist and ignorant conservative populism that has no solutions for fixing anything and the collective intelligence of a wine flask.” How can the voters resist?

Al Gore is in hot water: “Before all the unpleasantness, the former vice president was mainly known as the planet’s premiere environmentalist and anti-global-warming crusader. He has been a bestselling author, Oscar-winning filmmaker, successful businessman and, lest we forget, the man millions still believe should have been sworn in as president in January 2001. But now the 62-year-old Gore is tabloid fodder—notorious as a ‘crazed sex poodle.'”

Obama’s plea that he really isn’t anti-business is being drowned out: “Republicans and business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have driven home the message that the Obama administration is curtailing private-sector growth. They point to tax increases proposed by the White House as well as an uncertain regulatory environment brought about by massive reforms to the healthcare sector and Wall Street. Businesses are said to be sitting on $2 trillion in income but are not hiring, partly because of the administration’s policies, according to Republicans.”

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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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Another Times Fishing Expedition

The New York Times yesterday served notice once again that it will grasp at even the slimmest of straws in its transparent effort to derail John McCain’s bid for the White House.

In an article titled “Two McCain Moments, Rarely Mentioned,” reporter Elisabeth Bumiller floated the notion that McCain’s Republican loyalties leave something to be desired, implying that McCain is well, you know, maybe just a little bit untrustworthy, unpredictable–perhaps even unstable.

Bumiller’s piece revolved around what she called “two extraordinary moments in [McCain’s] political past that are at odds with the candidate of the present,” the two being “[h]is discussions in 2001 with Democrats about leaving the Republican Party, and his conversations in 2004 with Senator John Kerry about becoming Mr. Kerry’s running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket.”

But as Bumiller herself acknowledged, “There are wildly divergent versions of both episodes, depending on whether Democrats or Mr. McCain and his advisers are telling the story. The Democrats, including Mr. Kerry, say that not only did Mr. McCain express interest but that it was his camp that initially reached out to them. Mr. McCain and his aides counter that in both cases the Democrats were the suitors and Mr. McCain the unwilling bride.”

Now, when you’ve got “widely divergent” accounts of a story, it would seem tendentious at best -particularly in the news pages of an ostensibly serious media organ — to try to explicate from that story any meaningful insight into the character or politics of the story’s protagonist. But Elisabeth Bumiller had her agenda, and she was off to the races:

Either way, the episodes shed light on a bitter period on Mr. McCain’s life. . . . They also offer a glimpse into his psychological makeup and the difficulties in putting a label on his political ideology over many years in the Senate.

Got that? “Either way.” In other words, she has a case to make, and no matter where the truth lies – “either way” – she’ll make it.

Read More

The New York Times yesterday served notice once again that it will grasp at even the slimmest of straws in its transparent effort to derail John McCain’s bid for the White House.

In an article titled “Two McCain Moments, Rarely Mentioned,” reporter Elisabeth Bumiller floated the notion that McCain’s Republican loyalties leave something to be desired, implying that McCain is well, you know, maybe just a little bit untrustworthy, unpredictable–perhaps even unstable.

Bumiller’s piece revolved around what she called “two extraordinary moments in [McCain’s] political past that are at odds with the candidate of the present,” the two being “[h]is discussions in 2001 with Democrats about leaving the Republican Party, and his conversations in 2004 with Senator John Kerry about becoming Mr. Kerry’s running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket.”

But as Bumiller herself acknowledged, “There are wildly divergent versions of both episodes, depending on whether Democrats or Mr. McCain and his advisers are telling the story. The Democrats, including Mr. Kerry, say that not only did Mr. McCain express interest but that it was his camp that initially reached out to them. Mr. McCain and his aides counter that in both cases the Democrats were the suitors and Mr. McCain the unwilling bride.”

Now, when you’ve got “widely divergent” accounts of a story, it would seem tendentious at best -particularly in the news pages of an ostensibly serious media organ — to try to explicate from that story any meaningful insight into the character or politics of the story’s protagonist. But Elisabeth Bumiller had her agenda, and she was off to the races:

Either way, the episodes shed light on a bitter period on Mr. McCain’s life. . . . They also offer a glimpse into his psychological makeup and the difficulties in putting a label on his political ideology over many years in the Senate.

Got that? “Either way.” In other words, she has a case to make, and no matter where the truth lies – “either way” – she’ll make it.

Later in the piece, after recounting former Democratic congressman Thomas J. Downey’s claim that longtime McCain aide John Weaver approached him shortly after George W. Bush took office with the possibility–expressed in rather vague terms even in Downey’s telling – that McCain might be willing to defect to the Democrats, Bumiller acknowledged that Weaver’s recollection was at odds with Downey’s.

According to Weaver, Downey was the one who broached the subject and his–Weaver’s–response was primarily one of bemusement.

So just who did initiate the conversation, and how seriously did Weaver take it? On such details do stories hang, especially a story that promises to plumb the inner recesses of a potential president’s psyche–his “psychological makeup,” as Bumiller herself put it. But our trusty reporter can’t be bothered with such trivia: “Whatever transpired, Mr. Downey raced home and immediately called” former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle.

“Whatever transpired”?! If Bumiller doesn’t know “whatever transpired” between Downey and Weaver, then what was the point of her piece? After all, “whatever transpired” is so much more important to the story than what Downey did or whom he contacted immediately afterward.

Still later in the article, after offering contradictory accounts of who approached whom in the matter of a possible 2004 Kerry-McCain ticket, Bumiller wrote, “But however Mr. McCain reacted, he ultimately decided [according to McCain adviser Mark Salter] . . . that the idea would never work.”

“However Mr. McCain reacted.” Yes, the reader wanted to scream–how, exactly, did he react? Alas, we learned nothing about McCain’s actual reaction to the idea of running on a cross-party ticket–just more of the same He Said, He Said back and forth.

McCain may very well have given thought to–even seriously flirted with–the idea of switching parties in 2001 or running with Kerry in 2004. But readers were no closer to knowing the truth after finishing Bumiller’s fishing expedition of an article than they were before starting it.

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Brooks on Clinton

David Brooks has a fascinating and important column today. In it he recounts how in 1992 Jim Cooper, a Democratic congressman from Tennessee, came up with a health care reform plan that drew bipartisan support but differed from Hillary Clinton’s plan (Cooper’s plan did not include employer mandates to force universal coverage). When Cooper met with Mrs. Clinton to discuss their differences, he found her “ice cold,” in his words. “It was the coldest reception of my life,” he said. “I was excoriated.”

When on June 15, 1993 Cooper told Mrs. Clinton (correctly) that her plan would never get through Congress, Clinton’s response, according to Cooper, was, “We’ll crush you. You’ll wish you never mentioned this to me.”

A war room was set up to oppose Cooper, who was planning to run for the Senate in 1994. His motivations were questioned by the Clinton crowd. People were dispatched to Tennessee to attack his plan. Mrs. Clinton denounced the Cooper plan as “dangerous and threatening” – and according to Newsweek, she brought an aide with a video camera to a meeting with senators and asked the senators to denounce Cooper on the spot.

“We’ll crush you” is an anthem for the Clintons. It, and “war rooms,” embody their approach to politics and governing. The record on this matter is clear and overwhelming: Team Clinton will try to destroy people whom they oppose and believe are a threat to their “political viability.” Of all the reasons to oppose Mrs. Clinton for president, this one ranks near the top. People like her and her husband should not be entrusted with power – and especially with the power of the presidency.

I would add this observation to David’s column. He uses his opening paragraph to declare he is not a “Hillary-hater” – and he supports this declaration by writing this:

She’s been an outstanding senator. She hung tough on Iraq through the dark days of 2005. In this campaign, she has soldiered on bravely even though she has most of the elected Democrats, news media and the educated class rooting against her.

David clearly isn’t a Hillary-hater – he’s not a hater, period, which is one of the reasons he’s liked and respected by so many people – but he overstates things in order to purchase the right to criticize her. Brooks may feel Hillary Clinton is a fine senator – but to say she is “outstanding” is not warranted. If her name was Hillary Jones (D-Idaho) instead of Hillary Clinton, she would be viewed as a capable, liberal-leaning person who has served in the Senate for less than eight years and has no great legislative achievements to her name. On the merits, she probably ranks near the middle or slightly above among the 100 senators.

Beyond that, Brooks writes that she “hung tough on Iraq through the dark days of 2005.” Except that 2005 was not viewed as dark at the time. That was the year, after all, of the Iraqi elections and the “purple finger.” It was a year in which it appeared as if political progress was being made (in fact, the progress was largely illusory). The really dark year in Iraq was 2006 – and that is the year when Senator Clinton began to waiver and then went south on the war she once supported. Worse, she (along with Senator Obama) now supports a withdrawal of American troops and a counterinsurgency strategy that would undercut the enormous gains we have made since General Petraeus began his secure-the-population counter-insurgency operation. She wants to leave Iraq, come what may. It is a reckless plan that would do enormous damage to America, lead to mass death among Iraqis, and be a huge victory for everyone from jihadists to President Ahmadinejad.

As for soldiering on “bravely” in the campaign: she is, after all, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination and probably the favorite to be the next President. She travels well, her campaign is flush with cash, she speaks before mostly-adoring audiences, and for much of the campaign she has not endured harsh criticism. To the degree that she has, most of it is due to her and the words and actions of her husband. The fact that she is a dogged campaigner is impressive – but not anymore so than anyone else in the campaign. And to invoke the adverb “bravely” for what she is doing devalues the word.

But those are minor points in an excellent and illuminating column. It is a reminder, if we needed one, why her and her husband’s brand of politics ought to be put on the ash-heap.

David Brooks has a fascinating and important column today. In it he recounts how in 1992 Jim Cooper, a Democratic congressman from Tennessee, came up with a health care reform plan that drew bipartisan support but differed from Hillary Clinton’s plan (Cooper’s plan did not include employer mandates to force universal coverage). When Cooper met with Mrs. Clinton to discuss their differences, he found her “ice cold,” in his words. “It was the coldest reception of my life,” he said. “I was excoriated.”

When on June 15, 1993 Cooper told Mrs. Clinton (correctly) that her plan would never get through Congress, Clinton’s response, according to Cooper, was, “We’ll crush you. You’ll wish you never mentioned this to me.”

A war room was set up to oppose Cooper, who was planning to run for the Senate in 1994. His motivations were questioned by the Clinton crowd. People were dispatched to Tennessee to attack his plan. Mrs. Clinton denounced the Cooper plan as “dangerous and threatening” – and according to Newsweek, she brought an aide with a video camera to a meeting with senators and asked the senators to denounce Cooper on the spot.

“We’ll crush you” is an anthem for the Clintons. It, and “war rooms,” embody their approach to politics and governing. The record on this matter is clear and overwhelming: Team Clinton will try to destroy people whom they oppose and believe are a threat to their “political viability.” Of all the reasons to oppose Mrs. Clinton for president, this one ranks near the top. People like her and her husband should not be entrusted with power – and especially with the power of the presidency.

I would add this observation to David’s column. He uses his opening paragraph to declare he is not a “Hillary-hater” – and he supports this declaration by writing this:

She’s been an outstanding senator. She hung tough on Iraq through the dark days of 2005. In this campaign, she has soldiered on bravely even though she has most of the elected Democrats, news media and the educated class rooting against her.

David clearly isn’t a Hillary-hater – he’s not a hater, period, which is one of the reasons he’s liked and respected by so many people – but he overstates things in order to purchase the right to criticize her. Brooks may feel Hillary Clinton is a fine senator – but to say she is “outstanding” is not warranted. If her name was Hillary Jones (D-Idaho) instead of Hillary Clinton, she would be viewed as a capable, liberal-leaning person who has served in the Senate for less than eight years and has no great legislative achievements to her name. On the merits, she probably ranks near the middle or slightly above among the 100 senators.

Beyond that, Brooks writes that she “hung tough on Iraq through the dark days of 2005.” Except that 2005 was not viewed as dark at the time. That was the year, after all, of the Iraqi elections and the “purple finger.” It was a year in which it appeared as if political progress was being made (in fact, the progress was largely illusory). The really dark year in Iraq was 2006 – and that is the year when Senator Clinton began to waiver and then went south on the war she once supported. Worse, she (along with Senator Obama) now supports a withdrawal of American troops and a counterinsurgency strategy that would undercut the enormous gains we have made since General Petraeus began his secure-the-population counter-insurgency operation. She wants to leave Iraq, come what may. It is a reckless plan that would do enormous damage to America, lead to mass death among Iraqis, and be a huge victory for everyone from jihadists to President Ahmadinejad.

As for soldiering on “bravely” in the campaign: she is, after all, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination and probably the favorite to be the next President. She travels well, her campaign is flush with cash, she speaks before mostly-adoring audiences, and for much of the campaign she has not endured harsh criticism. To the degree that she has, most of it is due to her and the words and actions of her husband. The fact that she is a dogged campaigner is impressive – but not anymore so than anyone else in the campaign. And to invoke the adverb “bravely” for what she is doing devalues the word.

But those are minor points in an excellent and illuminating column. It is a reminder, if we needed one, why her and her husband’s brand of politics ought to be put on the ash-heap.

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Charlie Wilson’s War—and Ours

I once wrote a column congratulating a well-known Hollywood liberal—George Clooney—for making “neocon” movies, i.e., movies like “Three Kings,” “The Peacemaker,” and even “Syriana” that support active American intervention in the world in support of our ideals as well as our strategic interests.

Now we can add some more Hollywood liberals to the “who knew they were neocons?” club. To wit, Mike Nichols, Aaron Sorkin, and Tom Hanks.

This is the trio responsible for “Charlie Wilson’s War,” which I just saw and loved. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, the movie tells the story of how a conservative, hard-partying Texas Democratic Congressman named Charlie Wilson got together with a right-wing Texas socialite and a blue-collar CIA officer to vastly increase the amount of American covert aid being delivered in the 1980s to the mujahideen fighting the Red Army in Afghanistan.

Some conservatives have been caviling about “Charlie Wilson’s War” on the grounds that the role of President Reagan, CIA Director Bill Casey, and other Republicans has been slighted to make it appear as if a Democratic congressman defeated the Red Army all by himself. It’s true that the role of senior administration officials isn’t portrayed, and should have been. But it’s also true that Charlie Wilson pushed through a major increase in aid beyond what the administration had requested or what many clueless spooks at the CIA had supported. (There’s a great scene in the film where the smarmy CIA station chief in Islamabad explains to an incredulous Charlie Wilson why it would be a bad idea to increase support to the mujahideen.)

In any case, you’ve got to love a movie in which the Soviets are the bad guys and we’re the good guys, a movie in which the main characters talk unapologetically about how much they love killing Russians. How many other pro-American Cold War pictures has Hollywood made?

Even the ending is a perfect encapsulation of neocon foreign policy thinking. After the Red Army has been driven out, Charlie Wilson is trying to get his colleagues on Capitol Hill to fund schools and other projects to rebuild Afghanistan. They’re not interested. Neither was the administration of George Bush Sr., because they were governed by a realpolitik imperative: Now that the Soviets were out of Afghanistan, who cared what happened next in this backwater country? Of course we know that the inadvertent result was to allow the Taliban to take power—a fate that might have been averted had the United States stayed more actively involved in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. The movie’s closing line sums up my own view of U.S. policy in Afghanistan:

“These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. Then we fucked up the endgame.”

Let’s hope that we don’t similarly mess up the endgame today in Afghanistan or Iraq, countries where victory is within our grasp, if we’re willing to make a long-term commitment.

I once wrote a column congratulating a well-known Hollywood liberal—George Clooney—for making “neocon” movies, i.e., movies like “Three Kings,” “The Peacemaker,” and even “Syriana” that support active American intervention in the world in support of our ideals as well as our strategic interests.

Now we can add some more Hollywood liberals to the “who knew they were neocons?” club. To wit, Mike Nichols, Aaron Sorkin, and Tom Hanks.

This is the trio responsible for “Charlie Wilson’s War,” which I just saw and loved. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, the movie tells the story of how a conservative, hard-partying Texas Democratic Congressman named Charlie Wilson got together with a right-wing Texas socialite and a blue-collar CIA officer to vastly increase the amount of American covert aid being delivered in the 1980s to the mujahideen fighting the Red Army in Afghanistan.

Some conservatives have been caviling about “Charlie Wilson’s War” on the grounds that the role of President Reagan, CIA Director Bill Casey, and other Republicans has been slighted to make it appear as if a Democratic congressman defeated the Red Army all by himself. It’s true that the role of senior administration officials isn’t portrayed, and should have been. But it’s also true that Charlie Wilson pushed through a major increase in aid beyond what the administration had requested or what many clueless spooks at the CIA had supported. (There’s a great scene in the film where the smarmy CIA station chief in Islamabad explains to an incredulous Charlie Wilson why it would be a bad idea to increase support to the mujahideen.)

In any case, you’ve got to love a movie in which the Soviets are the bad guys and we’re the good guys, a movie in which the main characters talk unapologetically about how much they love killing Russians. How many other pro-American Cold War pictures has Hollywood made?

Even the ending is a perfect encapsulation of neocon foreign policy thinking. After the Red Army has been driven out, Charlie Wilson is trying to get his colleagues on Capitol Hill to fund schools and other projects to rebuild Afghanistan. They’re not interested. Neither was the administration of George Bush Sr., because they were governed by a realpolitik imperative: Now that the Soviets were out of Afghanistan, who cared what happened next in this backwater country? Of course we know that the inadvertent result was to allow the Taliban to take power—a fate that might have been averted had the United States stayed more actively involved in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. The movie’s closing line sums up my own view of U.S. policy in Afghanistan:

“These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. Then we fucked up the endgame.”

Let’s hope that we don’t similarly mess up the endgame today in Afghanistan or Iraq, countries where victory is within our grasp, if we’re willing to make a long-term commitment.

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The Politics of the Playground

Last month, in response to the overwhelming passage of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson had this to say:

Calling them names, labeling them terrorists, drawing up military options is just making the situation worse and inflaming the Muslim world.

That this utterance received so little attention might be due to the fact that it is only the latest in a string of Richardson gaffes, from a professed belief that homosexuality is a “choice” to calling Al Sharpton “governor” (woe betide the day Sharpton earns that title). Or perhaps the press largely ignored this statement because Richardson is a second-tier candidate. Either way, that a former Democratic Congressman, governor, potential Senator, and, most importantly, United Nations ambassador thinks that “calling [terrorists] names” is “making the situation [with Iran] worse” indicates that playground politics hold sway over an influential portion of the Democratic Party.

Read More

Last month, in response to the overwhelming passage of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson had this to say:

Calling them names, labeling them terrorists, drawing up military options is just making the situation worse and inflaming the Muslim world.

That this utterance received so little attention might be due to the fact that it is only the latest in a string of Richardson gaffes, from a professed belief that homosexuality is a “choice” to calling Al Sharpton “governor” (woe betide the day Sharpton earns that title). Or perhaps the press largely ignored this statement because Richardson is a second-tier candidate. Either way, that a former Democratic Congressman, governor, potential Senator, and, most importantly, United Nations ambassador thinks that “calling [terrorists] names” is “making the situation [with Iran] worse” indicates that playground politics hold sway over an influential portion of the Democratic Party.

It wasn’t always like this for the Democrats. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democratic Senator and, like Richardson, a United Nations ambassador, had no trouble calling authoritarians “names.” He famously called Idi Amin a “racist murderer” (which was actually letting the Ugandan strongman off lightly). Richardson’s mode of thinking represents a deep-seated and long-held belief on the Left: that America’s enemies have legitimate grievances and that every problem in the world ultimately can be laid at our feet. According to Richardson, it is not the Iranian regime’s killing of American soldiers, construction of a nuclear program, or decades-long international terrorism that is the root problem in our relationship with Tehran, but the United States’s “name calling.” We’re antagonizing “racist murderers” and “terrorists” by “calling them names,” and if we just cut it out Osama bin Laden would call off the jihad.

This is what many believed during the cold war: that the United States was “antagonizing” the Soviet Union with our calls for democracy and the funding of anti-Communist elements abroad. In this light, worldwide Soviet expansionism (violent and non-consensual) was an understandable reaction against the West’s “bellicosity.” It was on this basis that the muscular foreign policies of Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, Democrats both, were denounced by fringes on both the Right and Left.

While once a minority viewpoint, this aversion to the mere act of calling our enemies what they in fact are—terrorists or Islamic fascists—is a form of self-hatred that now reigns in the Democratic Party. Those Democrats who are serious about the threats America faces would do well to ensure that such self-hatred stays out of the White House.

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