Commentary Magazine


Topic: Democratic president

RE: RE: Kagan Nominated

During her career, Elena Kagan, like Justice Roberts before her, seems to have kept her eye always on the possibility of getting to the Supreme Court. The one item in her résumé not consistent with that was her opposition to allowing military recruiters access to interview students at the Harvard Law School. She even signed an amicus brief backing a Third Circuit opinion that was overturned 8-0 by the Supreme Court.

As Bill Kristol points out, tracking Ed Whelan’s fifth point, Elena Kagan appears anti-military here, not just pro-gay. She has consistently blamed the military for implementing what was, in fact, an act of Congress (and a Democratic one at that) that had been signed into law by a Democratic president. Does she think the military has a moral obligation to mutiny in this case?

Why would she do this? I have no inside track on her thinking, but I wonder if she realized that failing to take this position could have cost her her job at Harvard. As Lawrence Summers found out, and Kagan’s successor as dean of the Harvard Law School, Martha Minow, is currently demonstrating, the Harvard faculty does not take kindly even to questioning liberal orthodoxy, let alone espousing apostasy. Perhaps she figured that getting canned as dean would look worse on her résumé than appearing anti-military, which was probably her inclination anyway.

During her career, Elena Kagan, like Justice Roberts before her, seems to have kept her eye always on the possibility of getting to the Supreme Court. The one item in her résumé not consistent with that was her opposition to allowing military recruiters access to interview students at the Harvard Law School. She even signed an amicus brief backing a Third Circuit opinion that was overturned 8-0 by the Supreme Court.

As Bill Kristol points out, tracking Ed Whelan’s fifth point, Elena Kagan appears anti-military here, not just pro-gay. She has consistently blamed the military for implementing what was, in fact, an act of Congress (and a Democratic one at that) that had been signed into law by a Democratic president. Does she think the military has a moral obligation to mutiny in this case?

Why would she do this? I have no inside track on her thinking, but I wonder if she realized that failing to take this position could have cost her her job at Harvard. As Lawrence Summers found out, and Kagan’s successor as dean of the Harvard Law School, Martha Minow, is currently demonstrating, the Harvard faculty does not take kindly even to questioning liberal orthodoxy, let alone espousing apostasy. Perhaps she figured that getting canned as dean would look worse on her résumé than appearing anti-military, which was probably her inclination anyway.

Read Less

Jewish Leaders Fall for the Obama Charm Offensive

When Obama penned a letter to the Conference of Jewish Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, I wondered whether this sort of puffery and rhetorical cotton candy would hush up American Jewish officialdom. Well, it seems it has, for the most part. As this report notes:

The Obama administration is projecting a new attitude when it comes to Israel, and is selling it hard: unbreakable, unshakeable bond going forward, whatever happens.

Jewish leaders have kicked the tires and they’re buying — although anxious still at what happens when the rubber hits the road.

“It’s a positive development,” Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents Of Major American Jewish Organizations, said of the recent Jewish outreach blitz by the administration. “There are two questions, though, that will only be answered over time: Will the outreach be sustained, and will the policy be consistent with the positions being expressed in the outreach?”

Apparently, that’s all it took — a few platitudes, an ill-conceived Jewish joke, a few back slaps — and back on the bandwagon climb the “leaders” of most Jewish organizations. Well, they want to see how it all turns out, but they seem not the least bit perturbed that the new sunny rhetoric bears no resemblance to the policy initiatives of the administration. Could it be that they are so anxious to clamber back on board with the Democratic president that they don’t much care what the administration does, so long as it doesn’t sound so overtly hostile to the Jewish state? They have nothing to say, it seems, about the invitation of Mahmoud Abbas following the multiple snubs to Bibi. It’s charm offensive time, so everyone is smiles again.

It doesn’t seem that the administration has given any substantive assurances to Jewish leaders. Indeed, they admit they will have to watch to see if the administration really intends to shift gears:

Jewish leaders said they would closely watch the aftermath of next month’s visit to Washington by Abbas, when the sides are expected to announce the resumption of talks. The nitty-gritty of the talks may yet derail the new good feelings; how that works depends on communications, said William Daroff, who heads the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“This charm offensive is part of a prefatory way of setting up the communications so that when we get to proximity talks we will all move forward instead,” he said.

But what about the administration’s ineffective Iran policy? What of the continued insistence on unilateral concessions by Israel? Oh, well, the Jewish leaders hope for the best. This is, to put it mildly, embarrassing. Unless Jewish “leaders” insist on more than platitudes, the Obami will keep right on doing what they have been — distancing themselves from Israel and inching toward a containment policy with Iran. But he writes lovely letters, so all is well.

When Obama penned a letter to the Conference of Jewish Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, I wondered whether this sort of puffery and rhetorical cotton candy would hush up American Jewish officialdom. Well, it seems it has, for the most part. As this report notes:

The Obama administration is projecting a new attitude when it comes to Israel, and is selling it hard: unbreakable, unshakeable bond going forward, whatever happens.

Jewish leaders have kicked the tires and they’re buying — although anxious still at what happens when the rubber hits the road.

“It’s a positive development,” Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents Of Major American Jewish Organizations, said of the recent Jewish outreach blitz by the administration. “There are two questions, though, that will only be answered over time: Will the outreach be sustained, and will the policy be consistent with the positions being expressed in the outreach?”

Apparently, that’s all it took — a few platitudes, an ill-conceived Jewish joke, a few back slaps — and back on the bandwagon climb the “leaders” of most Jewish organizations. Well, they want to see how it all turns out, but they seem not the least bit perturbed that the new sunny rhetoric bears no resemblance to the policy initiatives of the administration. Could it be that they are so anxious to clamber back on board with the Democratic president that they don’t much care what the administration does, so long as it doesn’t sound so overtly hostile to the Jewish state? They have nothing to say, it seems, about the invitation of Mahmoud Abbas following the multiple snubs to Bibi. It’s charm offensive time, so everyone is smiles again.

It doesn’t seem that the administration has given any substantive assurances to Jewish leaders. Indeed, they admit they will have to watch to see if the administration really intends to shift gears:

Jewish leaders said they would closely watch the aftermath of next month’s visit to Washington by Abbas, when the sides are expected to announce the resumption of talks. The nitty-gritty of the talks may yet derail the new good feelings; how that works depends on communications, said William Daroff, who heads the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“This charm offensive is part of a prefatory way of setting up the communications so that when we get to proximity talks we will all move forward instead,” he said.

But what about the administration’s ineffective Iran policy? What of the continued insistence on unilateral concessions by Israel? Oh, well, the Jewish leaders hope for the best. This is, to put it mildly, embarrassing. Unless Jewish “leaders” insist on more than platitudes, the Obami will keep right on doing what they have been — distancing themselves from Israel and inching toward a containment policy with Iran. But he writes lovely letters, so all is well.

Read Less

Poll: An Overwhelming Majority of Jews Don’t Back Obama’s Israel Policy

President Obama’s cheerleaders in the media and the Jewish community have been resolute in asserting that, despite his clear animus for Israel, American Jews still back him. However, a new Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows that despite the undoubted loyalty of Jews for the Democratic Party, a majority of Jews polled dislike Obama’s handling of the Middle East conflict.

Regarding Obama’s “handling [of] the situation between Israel and Palestine,” Jews responded with a whopping 67 percent disapproval of the president, while only 28 percent approved.

Given that Obama received more than 70 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is an astounding result. It also shows that, despite the clear partisan edge Obama enjoys among Jews, his animus toward the Jewish state has not gone without notice. Indeed, after 16 months of distancing America from Israel, feckless engagement with Iran, picking pointless fights with Israel’s government over the future of Jerusalem, and placing the onus for lack of progress toward peace on Israel rather than on a Palestinian leadership that won’t even sit down and talk, the administration has clearly lost ground among its most ardent supporters on this issue. Overall, the poll’s results showed that Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian dispute by a margin of 44 to 35 percent.

That said, administration supporters could still point to two other questions in the poll to cheer the president. Among all those polled, only 34 percent said that Obama was a strong supporter of Israel, while 42 percent believe he is not. Yet among Jews, 50 percent said that he was a strong supporter, with 46 percent disagreeing. In addition, another question asked whether respondents approved of the president’s handling of Iran. The response among all polled was almost an even split, with 44 percent approving of his Iran policy and 43 percent disapproving. Yet 50 percent of Jews approved, while only 42 percent disapproved.

What are we to make of these numbers? Well, one can always just dismiss polls as snapshots of opinion and say this one really means nothing. And given that Obama can point to positive results among Jews about his level of support for Israel as well as his handling of the nation that currently presents a possible existential threat to the Jewish state, perhaps we shouldn’t make too much of any of this.

However, even the positive results to the latter two questions show a remarkably low level of support for a Democratic president among the overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish community. Given that Obama ran in 2008 claiming that he was a strong supporter of Israel, it is significant that only half of American Jews now believe that pledge. Moreover, the 67-28 negative rating on Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian issue among Jews clearly shows that his anger towards Israel and lack of sensitivity toward its concerns is not viewed kindly.

Whether any of this will affect Jewish votes in 2010 or 2012 is still an open question. In the aftermath of the 2008 vote, leftists were quick to assert that Obama’s strong showing among American Jewish voters showed that knee-jerk support for Israel was no longer the defining issue for Jews. They were certainly right when they asserted that most Jews are not single-issue voters who judge a candidate solely from a pro-Israel frame of reference. But past elections have shown that when a candidate places himself in opposition to Israel, there are negative consequences when it comes to obtaining Jewish votes. Though even Obama’s hostility would surely not be enough to tilt a majority of Jews to support a Republican challenger to the president, as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush can attest, a president who is not seen as a strong supporter will get fewer Jewish votes when he runs for re-election.

Much can change in the next two years. On the one hand, Obama might come to his senses and back away from a policy bent on confrontation with Israel. On the other, the administration’s obvious willingness to live with a nuclear Iran may set off a catastrophic series of events that could overshadow all of Obama’s previous actions.  But no matter what lies ahead, this latest Quinnipiac poll ought to give the president and his supporters pause as they contemplate a clear weakening of support for Obama among a demographic group that was once one of his strongholds.

President Obama’s cheerleaders in the media and the Jewish community have been resolute in asserting that, despite his clear animus for Israel, American Jews still back him. However, a new Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows that despite the undoubted loyalty of Jews for the Democratic Party, a majority of Jews polled dislike Obama’s handling of the Middle East conflict.

Regarding Obama’s “handling [of] the situation between Israel and Palestine,” Jews responded with a whopping 67 percent disapproval of the president, while only 28 percent approved.

Given that Obama received more than 70 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is an astounding result. It also shows that, despite the clear partisan edge Obama enjoys among Jews, his animus toward the Jewish state has not gone without notice. Indeed, after 16 months of distancing America from Israel, feckless engagement with Iran, picking pointless fights with Israel’s government over the future of Jerusalem, and placing the onus for lack of progress toward peace on Israel rather than on a Palestinian leadership that won’t even sit down and talk, the administration has clearly lost ground among its most ardent supporters on this issue. Overall, the poll’s results showed that Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian dispute by a margin of 44 to 35 percent.

That said, administration supporters could still point to two other questions in the poll to cheer the president. Among all those polled, only 34 percent said that Obama was a strong supporter of Israel, while 42 percent believe he is not. Yet among Jews, 50 percent said that he was a strong supporter, with 46 percent disagreeing. In addition, another question asked whether respondents approved of the president’s handling of Iran. The response among all polled was almost an even split, with 44 percent approving of his Iran policy and 43 percent disapproving. Yet 50 percent of Jews approved, while only 42 percent disapproved.

What are we to make of these numbers? Well, one can always just dismiss polls as snapshots of opinion and say this one really means nothing. And given that Obama can point to positive results among Jews about his level of support for Israel as well as his handling of the nation that currently presents a possible existential threat to the Jewish state, perhaps we shouldn’t make too much of any of this.

However, even the positive results to the latter two questions show a remarkably low level of support for a Democratic president among the overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish community. Given that Obama ran in 2008 claiming that he was a strong supporter of Israel, it is significant that only half of American Jews now believe that pledge. Moreover, the 67-28 negative rating on Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian issue among Jews clearly shows that his anger towards Israel and lack of sensitivity toward its concerns is not viewed kindly.

Whether any of this will affect Jewish votes in 2010 or 2012 is still an open question. In the aftermath of the 2008 vote, leftists were quick to assert that Obama’s strong showing among American Jewish voters showed that knee-jerk support for Israel was no longer the defining issue for Jews. They were certainly right when they asserted that most Jews are not single-issue voters who judge a candidate solely from a pro-Israel frame of reference. But past elections have shown that when a candidate places himself in opposition to Israel, there are negative consequences when it comes to obtaining Jewish votes. Though even Obama’s hostility would surely not be enough to tilt a majority of Jews to support a Republican challenger to the president, as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush can attest, a president who is not seen as a strong supporter will get fewer Jewish votes when he runs for re-election.

Much can change in the next two years. On the one hand, Obama might come to his senses and back away from a policy bent on confrontation with Israel. On the other, the administration’s obvious willingness to live with a nuclear Iran may set off a catastrophic series of events that could overshadow all of Obama’s previous actions.  But no matter what lies ahead, this latest Quinnipiac poll ought to give the president and his supporters pause as they contemplate a clear weakening of support for Obama among a demographic group that was once one of his strongholds.

Read Less

Litmus Tests for Supreme Court Nominees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

More on the Jewish Vote

John McLaughlin, who recently conducted a poll of American Jews, reviewed his results in a conference call today. He stressed that although exit polls showed 78 percent of Jews voted for Obama, it is significant that 46 percent would now consider voting for someone else. That number is dramatically higher among Orthodox voters (69 percent) and somewhat higher among denominationally Conservative Jews (50 percent) as well as those with family in Israel (48 percent) or those who had been to Israel (49 percent). This pattern – linking criticism of Obama with religious observance and affiliation with Israel — held on virtually all questions, including Obama’s job approval, the imposition of a peace plan, and the division of Jerusalem. On Obama’s job performance, for example, 80 percent of Orthodox Jews disapprove, and 50 of Conservatives disapprove, but only 26 percent of Reform Jews.

I asked McLaughlin if Reform Jews were also more liberal. He answered, “They are definitely more Democratic, more liberal and more concerned about domestic issues.”  I also asked about the correlation between support for Obama and age. His poll screened for likely voters in the coming November and suggested there will be a drop-off in general among younger voters from 2008, which brought many new voters to the poll. Within American Jewry, older voters are more loyal to Obama and to the party. Among voters over 55 years old, only 42 percent would consider voting for someone other than Obama, while 52 percent under 55 would. In the sample, among voters over 55 years old, 64 percent were Democrats, while “only” 53 percent under 55 identified as Democrats. As a group, however, Jews remain far more liberal (40 percent identified as such in the poll, only 21 percent as conservative) than voters in general.

McLaughlin stressed that it is unusual for a Democratic president to potentially lose the support of Jews and that the issue with Israel has created a potential wedge between Obama and this constituency. He advises to keep an eye on some key Congressional races for signs of dissatisfaction with Democrats among Jewish voters — the special election in Pennsylvania’s District 12 and some New York races, including in District 4, as well as Mark Kirk’s seat in Illinois.

Is there an opening for Republicans to make headway with Jewish voters? Among Orthodox, Conservative, and young voters, most certainly. But stay tuned, as we have learned it takes a lot to separate overwhelmingly liberal Jews from their Democratic affiliation.

John McLaughlin, who recently conducted a poll of American Jews, reviewed his results in a conference call today. He stressed that although exit polls showed 78 percent of Jews voted for Obama, it is significant that 46 percent would now consider voting for someone else. That number is dramatically higher among Orthodox voters (69 percent) and somewhat higher among denominationally Conservative Jews (50 percent) as well as those with family in Israel (48 percent) or those who had been to Israel (49 percent). This pattern – linking criticism of Obama with religious observance and affiliation with Israel — held on virtually all questions, including Obama’s job approval, the imposition of a peace plan, and the division of Jerusalem. On Obama’s job performance, for example, 80 percent of Orthodox Jews disapprove, and 50 of Conservatives disapprove, but only 26 percent of Reform Jews.

I asked McLaughlin if Reform Jews were also more liberal. He answered, “They are definitely more Democratic, more liberal and more concerned about domestic issues.”  I also asked about the correlation between support for Obama and age. His poll screened for likely voters in the coming November and suggested there will be a drop-off in general among younger voters from 2008, which brought many new voters to the poll. Within American Jewry, older voters are more loyal to Obama and to the party. Among voters over 55 years old, only 42 percent would consider voting for someone other than Obama, while 52 percent under 55 would. In the sample, among voters over 55 years old, 64 percent were Democrats, while “only” 53 percent under 55 identified as Democrats. As a group, however, Jews remain far more liberal (40 percent identified as such in the poll, only 21 percent as conservative) than voters in general.

McLaughlin stressed that it is unusual for a Democratic president to potentially lose the support of Jews and that the issue with Israel has created a potential wedge between Obama and this constituency. He advises to keep an eye on some key Congressional races for signs of dissatisfaction with Democrats among Jewish voters — the special election in Pennsylvania’s District 12 and some New York races, including in District 4, as well as Mark Kirk’s seat in Illinois.

Is there an opening for Republicans to make headway with Jewish voters? Among Orthodox, Conservative, and young voters, most certainly. But stay tuned, as we have learned it takes a lot to separate overwhelmingly liberal Jews from their Democratic affiliation.

Read Less

Obama’s Financial Failure

It’s impossible to know with certainty at this point because we’re only about 30 percent through President Obama’s first term, but I suspect he will be judged quite harshly by history and his countrymen for not simply avoiding but dramatically accelerating the major domestic concern facing the United States: our unsustainable and soon-to-be debilitating deficit and debt.

I don’t lay all, or even most, of the blame on President Obama for the debt he faced upon taking office. While his party, like the GOP, was clearly complicit in the situation, and Obama’s own actions in the Senate (especially blocking reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which played a role in the collapse of the housing market) contributed to what went wrong, much of the river of red ink he inherited was due to a financial and credit implosion for which he wasn’t chiefly responsible.

What I do hold President Obama responsible for is that he took office when it was clear that our debt and deficit had reached crisis proportions. While that situation wasn’t the case when he decided to run for the presidency, it was the situation when he assumed the presidency. And rather than rethink the core purpose of his presidency, he decided to pursue his agenda in a state of denial, as if the financial collapse that began in September 2008 never happened, as if our ominous new fiscal reality had never occurred.

At the moment when history demanded one thing of Mr. Obama, he did another.

What the president should have done, in the wake of market collapse, was to create his own Nixon-to-China moment: trimming and reforming our middle-class-welfare state. It is the type of thing that a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress have much greater latitude to do than a Republican president and a Republican Congress. Instead, Obama used this moment to create a new middle-class entitlement, ObamaCare, at precisely the moment when our other ones are falling into bankruptcy. On top of that, of course, was the president’s $860 billion-plus stimulus package, his $410 billion omnibus spending bill, and his decision to spend hundreds of billions of TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) repayment dollars rather than to pay down the deficit.

Consider where we are and where we are headed. The deficit in 2009 was $1.4 trillion — the equivalent of 10 percent of the nation’s economic output and the highest percentage since the end of World War II. The president’s 2011 budget will generate a combined $9.75 trillion in deficits over the next decade. Our publicly held debt, which was $6.3 trillion when Obama entered office, now totals $8.2 trillion. According to the CBO, it’s headed to more than $20 trillion in 2020, equaling 90 percent of the estimated gross domestic product that year. (As a reference point, nations that comprise the European Union are required to keep their debt levels below 60 percent.) Interest rates alone would consume some $900 billion per year, almost five times what they were last year. In addition, the total unfunded liability (the gap between projected assets and benefit obligations) for Medicare and Social Security is $43 trillion; in five years, the total is estimated to grow to $57 trillion. (For more, see this, this, and this.

Confronting figures like this, Mr. Obama should have made spending restraint and entitlement reform his top domestic priority. And yet the president has taken us in exactly the opposite direction, engineering the passage of ObamaCare (over its first ten years of full implementation, it will cost at least $2 trillion). That is the equivalent of dropping plane loads of lighter fluid onto a fire that is raging out of control.

Why Mr. Obama made this fateful decision is hard to tell. He is a person of unusual ideological rigidity. The president is undeniably committed to expanding the size, scope, and reach of government. Like any 21st century Man of the Left, his ambition is to make more and more citizens wards of the state, to create greater dependency on the federal government. That, at least, is what Obama’s actions indicate his intentions to be. But whatever his motivations, the results are what matter. Whether or not we can ever undo the fiscal damage that is being inflicted on us is an open question. It will require us to take steps that we as a society have been exceedingly reluctant to take, including means-testing entitlements and increasing the retirement age. It will require fiscal self-discipline, restraint, and what Adam Smith called “self-command.” (For an enlightening analysis of Smith, see this essay by Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague and National Affairs Yuval Levin.

This is what this moment demanded of this president and this Congress. Instead, we got the opposite. Rather than tapping the fiscal brakes and eventually nudging us into reverse, they have hit the accelerator and are leading us over a cliff. I suppose there are worse things for the political leadership of a nation to do, though it’s hard to come up with them just now.

I have little doubt that Obama, having helped to engineer this fiscal calamity, will, later in his term, try to portray himself as a model of fiscal rectitude and Republicans as the party unconcerned with the mind-bending levels of deficit and debt he’s saddled us with. I am skeptical this trick will work. Family members are surely happy if a gambling addict gives up habit, but they aren’t about to be lectured on financial responsibility by a person whose gambling ruined the family finances.

The majority of the Obama presidency is still before us. Nevertheless, it’s not too early to say that on this vital front, Barack Obama has been, and will eventually be judged to be, a significant failure. He not only missed history’s calling, he mocked it. He placed his own statist ambitions above the needs of the nation he was elected to serve. Soon enough, and perhaps on a scale he cannot now imagine, Obama and his party will be held accountable for having done so.

It’s impossible to know with certainty at this point because we’re only about 30 percent through President Obama’s first term, but I suspect he will be judged quite harshly by history and his countrymen for not simply avoiding but dramatically accelerating the major domestic concern facing the United States: our unsustainable and soon-to-be debilitating deficit and debt.

I don’t lay all, or even most, of the blame on President Obama for the debt he faced upon taking office. While his party, like the GOP, was clearly complicit in the situation, and Obama’s own actions in the Senate (especially blocking reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which played a role in the collapse of the housing market) contributed to what went wrong, much of the river of red ink he inherited was due to a financial and credit implosion for which he wasn’t chiefly responsible.

What I do hold President Obama responsible for is that he took office when it was clear that our debt and deficit had reached crisis proportions. While that situation wasn’t the case when he decided to run for the presidency, it was the situation when he assumed the presidency. And rather than rethink the core purpose of his presidency, he decided to pursue his agenda in a state of denial, as if the financial collapse that began in September 2008 never happened, as if our ominous new fiscal reality had never occurred.

At the moment when history demanded one thing of Mr. Obama, he did another.

What the president should have done, in the wake of market collapse, was to create his own Nixon-to-China moment: trimming and reforming our middle-class-welfare state. It is the type of thing that a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress have much greater latitude to do than a Republican president and a Republican Congress. Instead, Obama used this moment to create a new middle-class entitlement, ObamaCare, at precisely the moment when our other ones are falling into bankruptcy. On top of that, of course, was the president’s $860 billion-plus stimulus package, his $410 billion omnibus spending bill, and his decision to spend hundreds of billions of TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) repayment dollars rather than to pay down the deficit.

Consider where we are and where we are headed. The deficit in 2009 was $1.4 trillion — the equivalent of 10 percent of the nation’s economic output and the highest percentage since the end of World War II. The president’s 2011 budget will generate a combined $9.75 trillion in deficits over the next decade. Our publicly held debt, which was $6.3 trillion when Obama entered office, now totals $8.2 trillion. According to the CBO, it’s headed to more than $20 trillion in 2020, equaling 90 percent of the estimated gross domestic product that year. (As a reference point, nations that comprise the European Union are required to keep their debt levels below 60 percent.) Interest rates alone would consume some $900 billion per year, almost five times what they were last year. In addition, the total unfunded liability (the gap between projected assets and benefit obligations) for Medicare and Social Security is $43 trillion; in five years, the total is estimated to grow to $57 trillion. (For more, see this, this, and this.

Confronting figures like this, Mr. Obama should have made spending restraint and entitlement reform his top domestic priority. And yet the president has taken us in exactly the opposite direction, engineering the passage of ObamaCare (over its first ten years of full implementation, it will cost at least $2 trillion). That is the equivalent of dropping plane loads of lighter fluid onto a fire that is raging out of control.

Why Mr. Obama made this fateful decision is hard to tell. He is a person of unusual ideological rigidity. The president is undeniably committed to expanding the size, scope, and reach of government. Like any 21st century Man of the Left, his ambition is to make more and more citizens wards of the state, to create greater dependency on the federal government. That, at least, is what Obama’s actions indicate his intentions to be. But whatever his motivations, the results are what matter. Whether or not we can ever undo the fiscal damage that is being inflicted on us is an open question. It will require us to take steps that we as a society have been exceedingly reluctant to take, including means-testing entitlements and increasing the retirement age. It will require fiscal self-discipline, restraint, and what Adam Smith called “self-command.” (For an enlightening analysis of Smith, see this essay by Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague and National Affairs Yuval Levin.

This is what this moment demanded of this president and this Congress. Instead, we got the opposite. Rather than tapping the fiscal brakes and eventually nudging us into reverse, they have hit the accelerator and are leading us over a cliff. I suppose there are worse things for the political leadership of a nation to do, though it’s hard to come up with them just now.

I have little doubt that Obama, having helped to engineer this fiscal calamity, will, later in his term, try to portray himself as a model of fiscal rectitude and Republicans as the party unconcerned with the mind-bending levels of deficit and debt he’s saddled us with. I am skeptical this trick will work. Family members are surely happy if a gambling addict gives up habit, but they aren’t about to be lectured on financial responsibility by a person whose gambling ruined the family finances.

The majority of the Obama presidency is still before us. Nevertheless, it’s not too early to say that on this vital front, Barack Obama has been, and will eventually be judged to be, a significant failure. He not only missed history’s calling, he mocked it. He placed his own statist ambitions above the needs of the nation he was elected to serve. Soon enough, and perhaps on a scale he cannot now imagine, Obama and his party will be held accountable for having done so.

Read Less

The Legion of the Disappointed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

In Big Trouble

John Judis at the New Republic doesn’t mince words:

Bill Clinton didn’t know he was in big trouble until the very eve of the November 1994 election. Barack Obama knows now, barely a year into his presidency. While the party loyalists can blame Martha Coakley’s defeat on her ignorance of Red Sox baseball, it was clearly a message to the president and his party. Yes, a less inept candidate might have beaten Scott Brown, but if Obama and his program had been more popular in Massachusetts, even Coakley could have won–and by ten points or more.

He makes a smart observation that most liberals refuse to recognize: it’s the substance of the health-care bill and the backroom dealings that have driven the enthusiasm gap on the other side and dispirited Obama’s own base:

Obama’s health care plan has provoked a combination of right-wing and left-wing populism. The middle class and senior citizens see it as a program that taxes and takes benefits away from them in order to help those without insurance–the out groups–and to enrich the insurance companies themselves. They didn’t invent this perception out of thin air: It derived in part from the plan to tax “Cadillac” health care plans (which are sometimes held by unionized middle class workers), penalize workers who don’t buy insurance, and cut future Medicare spending, while providing new subscribers and profits for the insurance companies. Undoubtedly, the prior perception of Obama’s financial policies reinforced these suspicions about his health care plan, which is now as unpopular as the bank bailout.

Oblivious White House spinners and equally dense lefty bloggers keep insisting that the answer is “More of the same!” But there’s a price to be paid for rushing through behind closed doors a bill so atrocious that it has brought together Jane Hamsher and Bill Kristol, the Nation and National Review, and other political odd couples.

Judis connects the health-care debacle to a more fundamental failing of Obama: his inability to speak to and connect with Middle America. Really, how could a Democratic president push for a bill in which middle-class Americans are required under threat of prosecution to buy expensive health-care policies they don’t want from Big Insurance? We got there because Obama never put forth a coherent plan for what he wanted, and the bill that emerged was the remnants, the lowest common denominator, of what remained after the Senate had discounted the views of Republicans and given up on the pipe dream of the Left (i.e., the public option). The White House convinced itself that middle-class voters were dupes and fools who would celebrate this awful legislation.

Instead, Obama’s sloth (or was it lack of skill and know-how?) in ceding his key policy initiative to the Congress and his contempt for the intelligence of voters — who were expected to be “sold” on a bill so bad that it required closed-door bribery to pass — has cost him dearly. Judis is right: Obama is in big trouble, as are his Democratic allies in Congress. (How long before Harry Reid announces his retirement?) Martha Coakley was a victim, not the cause, of the debacle last night. Had Obama not mishandled a once-in-a-lifetime political opportunity, she’d be heading to the Senate.

John Judis at the New Republic doesn’t mince words:

Bill Clinton didn’t know he was in big trouble until the very eve of the November 1994 election. Barack Obama knows now, barely a year into his presidency. While the party loyalists can blame Martha Coakley’s defeat on her ignorance of Red Sox baseball, it was clearly a message to the president and his party. Yes, a less inept candidate might have beaten Scott Brown, but if Obama and his program had been more popular in Massachusetts, even Coakley could have won–and by ten points or more.

He makes a smart observation that most liberals refuse to recognize: it’s the substance of the health-care bill and the backroom dealings that have driven the enthusiasm gap on the other side and dispirited Obama’s own base:

Obama’s health care plan has provoked a combination of right-wing and left-wing populism. The middle class and senior citizens see it as a program that taxes and takes benefits away from them in order to help those without insurance–the out groups–and to enrich the insurance companies themselves. They didn’t invent this perception out of thin air: It derived in part from the plan to tax “Cadillac” health care plans (which are sometimes held by unionized middle class workers), penalize workers who don’t buy insurance, and cut future Medicare spending, while providing new subscribers and profits for the insurance companies. Undoubtedly, the prior perception of Obama’s financial policies reinforced these suspicions about his health care plan, which is now as unpopular as the bank bailout.

Oblivious White House spinners and equally dense lefty bloggers keep insisting that the answer is “More of the same!” But there’s a price to be paid for rushing through behind closed doors a bill so atrocious that it has brought together Jane Hamsher and Bill Kristol, the Nation and National Review, and other political odd couples.

Judis connects the health-care debacle to a more fundamental failing of Obama: his inability to speak to and connect with Middle America. Really, how could a Democratic president push for a bill in which middle-class Americans are required under threat of prosecution to buy expensive health-care policies they don’t want from Big Insurance? We got there because Obama never put forth a coherent plan for what he wanted, and the bill that emerged was the remnants, the lowest common denominator, of what remained after the Senate had discounted the views of Republicans and given up on the pipe dream of the Left (i.e., the public option). The White House convinced itself that middle-class voters were dupes and fools who would celebrate this awful legislation.

Instead, Obama’s sloth (or was it lack of skill and know-how?) in ceding his key policy initiative to the Congress and his contempt for the intelligence of voters — who were expected to be “sold” on a bill so bad that it required closed-door bribery to pass — has cost him dearly. Judis is right: Obama is in big trouble, as are his Democratic allies in Congress. (How long before Harry Reid announces his retirement?) Martha Coakley was a victim, not the cause, of the debacle last night. Had Obama not mishandled a once-in-a-lifetime political opportunity, she’d be heading to the Senate.

Read Less

Obama, Jewish Voters, and the Lessons of 1984

Turns out there are real questions about the accuracy of that recent Quinnipiac poll showing President Obama’s approval rating at just 52 percent among Jewish voters. As the JTA’s Eric Fingerhut pointed out, the Jewish sampling “was derived from a sample of just 71 respondents, for a margin of error of plus or minus 11.6 percent — a sample size that pollsters generally say makes such surveys unreliable.”

Actually, common sense and some knowledge of Jewish voting habits should be enough to render any such poll findings suspect at best. Obama enjoys two important advantages that make him almost a shoo-in to win another landslide among Jewish voters three years from now: he’s a well-spoken, nonthreatening black man (a factor not to be underestimated when considering the voting psychology of liberal and moderate Jews), and he’s adamantly opposed to and by the Christian Right. Read More

Turns out there are real questions about the accuracy of that recent Quinnipiac poll showing President Obama’s approval rating at just 52 percent among Jewish voters. As the JTA’s Eric Fingerhut pointed out, the Jewish sampling “was derived from a sample of just 71 respondents, for a margin of error of plus or minus 11.6 percent — a sample size that pollsters generally say makes such surveys unreliable.”

Actually, common sense and some knowledge of Jewish voting habits should be enough to render any such poll findings suspect at best. Obama enjoys two important advantages that make him almost a shoo-in to win another landslide among Jewish voters three years from now: he’s a well-spoken, nonthreatening black man (a factor not to be underestimated when considering the voting psychology of liberal and moderate Jews), and he’s adamantly opposed to and by the Christian Right.

To put those realities into historical context, it’s instructive to look back at the presidential election of 1984. For a Republican, Ronald Reagan had done exceedingly well among Jews in 1980, winning 39 percent of their votes and holding the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, to an unimpressive plurality of 45 percent. (Third-party candidate John Anderson got the rest.) And then came the 1984 National Survey of American Jews, conducted between April and August that year, which found that while 39 percent of respondents acknowledged voting for Reagan in 1980, some 53 percent said that, looking back, Reagan was the candidate they would have preferred.

Certainly Reagan seemed poised to at least hold on to his 1980 share of the Jewish vote — and quite possibly exceed it.

In addition to Reagan’s performance in office, there was, in 1984, the Jesse Jackson factor. The longtime civil-rights firebrand was running for the Democratic nomination that year, and during the course of the campaign many of his past derogatory comments about Jews and Israel resurfaced, fueled both by his reference, in what he thought was an off-the-record conversation, to New York City as “Hymietown” and his reluctance to separate himself from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The Jackson factor was widely thought to threaten the Democratic party’s decades-old hold on Jewish loyalties, particularly when a Los Angeles Times poll of African-American delegates at the 1984 Democratic National Convention revealed that 75 percent of the delegates pledged to Jackson and almost 50 percent of those backing eventual nominee Walter Mondale felt no need to distance themselves from Farrakhan or his statements.

Come November, however, Reagan actually ended up losing significant ground among Jewish voters. “Exit polls taken the day of the election,” wrote Charles Silberman in his 1985 book A Certain People, “indicated that no more than 35 percent of American Jews, and perhaps as few as 31 percent, had voted for Reagan; the Jewish vote for Mondale was put at 65-69 percent … analysis of the polls indicated that between 25 and 35 percent of the Jews who had voted for Reagan in 1980 switched to Mondale in 1984.”

It seems that Reagan’s increasingly vocal embrace of the New — specifically, the Christian — Right scared Jews more than anything said by either Jackson or Farrakhan. Nearly 80 percent of Jews had an unfavorable opinion of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the most visible face of the Christian Right (never mind that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had presented Falwell with the Jabotinsky Prize in recognition of his strong support of the Jewish state). In fact, Silberman noted, “more Jewish voters indicated an unfavorable opinion of Falwell than of Jesse Jackson.”

The historian Stephen Whitfield elaborated on that point in 1986, writing: “The rise of the New Right has been more disturbing to Jews than the circulation within the Democratic Party of Third World sympathies that collide with Israeli interests.”

How does all this relate to Obama and Jewish support? For one thing, the Republican party’s identification with the Christian Right is immeasurably stronger today than it was 25 years ago, making it unlikely that liberal or moderate Jews will find a comfort level with the GOP anytime soon. For another, the current generation of American Jews is not nearly as supportive of Israel and Israeli policies as were their parents and grandparents — and support for Israel was the one factor that in the past might have swayed some liberal Jews to vote for a Republican.

If Jimmy Carter, fresh off a disastrous four years in office and displaying an increasingly palpable animus toward Israel, could still outpoll his Republican opponent among Jews (and absent the Anderson candidacy, Carter probably would have won at least 55 percent of the Jewish vote), there’s no reason to believe that even a mediocre Democratic president — particularly if he’s a likable African American who talks a good liberal game — need worry about Jewish voters.

Read Less

E.J. Dionne’s Glaring Double Standard

The Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. has a peculiar little habit. He discovers the importance of civility in political discourse only when a Democratic president is on the receiving end of heated attacks. That was true when Bill Clinton was president — and it’s true again now that Barack Obama is. “The most surprising and disappointing aspect of our politics,” Dionne writes, “is how little pushback there has been against the vile, extremist rhetoric that has characterized such a large part of the anti-Obama movement.” It’s all just so nasty, isn’t it?

And yet when President Bush was on the receiving end of attacks far worse than what Obama has had to endure — I document a few of the higher-profile examples of calumny here, including former Vice President Al Gore’s charges that Bush “brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon” and that Bush had “betrayed this country” and was a “moral coward” — E.J. was nowhere to be found. It would have been nice to hear from the defenders of civility at that time.

Mr. Dionne was, in fact, a fairly harsh and relentless critic of President Bush himself — and if Dionne ever upbraided influential Democrats and those on the Left for their vile, extremist attacks on Bush, it’s news to me. Assuming I’m right, Dionne’s newfound outrage should be ignored. For him, civility seems to be a means to an end, a tool to advance liberalism. Ideology and partisanship determine just how delicate his sensibilities are. After all, if that were not the case, we would have heard from E.J. sometime during the Bush era, when it would have required (to use a Dionne phrase from his most recent column) “an immoderate dose of courage.” We didn’t — and so his lectures on the vital role that comity should play in our civic life are now hard to take seriously.

There is a case to be made for civility in public discourse — but E.J. Dionne is not in the strongest position to make it.

The Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. has a peculiar little habit. He discovers the importance of civility in political discourse only when a Democratic president is on the receiving end of heated attacks. That was true when Bill Clinton was president — and it’s true again now that Barack Obama is. “The most surprising and disappointing aspect of our politics,” Dionne writes, “is how little pushback there has been against the vile, extremist rhetoric that has characterized such a large part of the anti-Obama movement.” It’s all just so nasty, isn’t it?

And yet when President Bush was on the receiving end of attacks far worse than what Obama has had to endure — I document a few of the higher-profile examples of calumny here, including former Vice President Al Gore’s charges that Bush “brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon” and that Bush had “betrayed this country” and was a “moral coward” — E.J. was nowhere to be found. It would have been nice to hear from the defenders of civility at that time.

Mr. Dionne was, in fact, a fairly harsh and relentless critic of President Bush himself — and if Dionne ever upbraided influential Democrats and those on the Left for their vile, extremist attacks on Bush, it’s news to me. Assuming I’m right, Dionne’s newfound outrage should be ignored. For him, civility seems to be a means to an end, a tool to advance liberalism. Ideology and partisanship determine just how delicate his sensibilities are. After all, if that were not the case, we would have heard from E.J. sometime during the Bush era, when it would have required (to use a Dionne phrase from his most recent column) “an immoderate dose of courage.” We didn’t — and so his lectures on the vital role that comity should play in our civic life are now hard to take seriously.

There is a case to be made for civility in public discourse — but E.J. Dionne is not in the strongest position to make it.

Read Less

Nice to Whom?

In a blistering column from Der Spiegel, we get another list of the disasters that comprise the Obama foreign-policy agenda. A Middle East gambit gone bad, spurned allies, a failed Iran-engagement plan, a widely ridiculed Asia trip, and on it goes. We’re told that Obama’s foreign policy has been too “nice,” and now his advisers fret about “a comparison with former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, even more than with [George W.] Bush.” (Because Bush was decisive in turning around a failing war strategy, presided over a robust relationship with Israel, got along swimmingly with the Eastern Europeans, and spoke passionately about human rights — so the chance of Obama’s being confused with Bush isn’t great, right?)

Well, it’s not actually a “niceness” problem. After all, Obama hasn’t been very “nice” to our ally Israel, our partners the Poles and the Czechs (who took on missile defense only to have the rug pulled out from under them), the many Iranians demonstrating in the streets, as well as the human-rights advocates of China, the unified civilian government of Honduras (which really preferred not to have a Hugo Chavez lackey running the place), the Brits (“Here’s your Churchill bust back, chaps”), and the French (who are frustrated over the president’s lack of resolve regarding the mullahs).

The problem, instead, is that Obama imagined that he could get our adversaries to give up their interests (e.g., acquiring nuclear weapons, intimidating neighbors) by being meek and accommodating, and by downplaying our interests and generally denigrating America’s track record. Throw in some unilateral disarmament, a huge helping of Obama’s cringey ingratiation (to the mullahs, any monarch in a receiving line), some very not-nice comments about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s being a small-picture kind of guy, and you have foreign-policy demolition derby, which has left both the U.S. and our allies nursing wounds.

Obama’s domestic record — a failed stimulus, a huge deficit, skyrocketing unemployment — is rather shabby. But compared with his foreign policy, it’s a brilliant record of achievement.

In a blistering column from Der Spiegel, we get another list of the disasters that comprise the Obama foreign-policy agenda. A Middle East gambit gone bad, spurned allies, a failed Iran-engagement plan, a widely ridiculed Asia trip, and on it goes. We’re told that Obama’s foreign policy has been too “nice,” and now his advisers fret about “a comparison with former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, even more than with [George W.] Bush.” (Because Bush was decisive in turning around a failing war strategy, presided over a robust relationship with Israel, got along swimmingly with the Eastern Europeans, and spoke passionately about human rights — so the chance of Obama’s being confused with Bush isn’t great, right?)

Well, it’s not actually a “niceness” problem. After all, Obama hasn’t been very “nice” to our ally Israel, our partners the Poles and the Czechs (who took on missile defense only to have the rug pulled out from under them), the many Iranians demonstrating in the streets, as well as the human-rights advocates of China, the unified civilian government of Honduras (which really preferred not to have a Hugo Chavez lackey running the place), the Brits (“Here’s your Churchill bust back, chaps”), and the French (who are frustrated over the president’s lack of resolve regarding the mullahs).

The problem, instead, is that Obama imagined that he could get our adversaries to give up their interests (e.g., acquiring nuclear weapons, intimidating neighbors) by being meek and accommodating, and by downplaying our interests and generally denigrating America’s track record. Throw in some unilateral disarmament, a huge helping of Obama’s cringey ingratiation (to the mullahs, any monarch in a receiving line), some very not-nice comments about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s being a small-picture kind of guy, and you have foreign-policy demolition derby, which has left both the U.S. and our allies nursing wounds.

Obama’s domestic record — a failed stimulus, a huge deficit, skyrocketing unemployment — is rather shabby. But compared with his foreign policy, it’s a brilliant record of achievement.

Read Less

Obama and the Virtues of Kowtowing

Reading the Washington Post‘s survey of Asia experts’ opinions on Obama’s swing through the region, I was struck by the general consensus that the trip was a failure. You would expect to hear such a view from conservatives like Misha Auslin and Dani Pletka at AEI, Michael Green at CSIS, or Victor Cha at Georgetown. But what’s striking is that this was also the view of liberals like Doug Schoen, the Democratic pollster, who writes, “President Obama was unable to secure any lasting agreements on climate change, free trade, revaluing the Chinese currency, or, most important, sanctions on Iran and North Korea…. The president’s failure to achieve any concrete results will impact his standing back at home and in his dealings with Congress over health care.”

Then there is the assessment of my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Liz Economy, another Democrat who offers an unvarnished assessment of this Democratic president’s foray abroad:

It was, optically, one of the worst U.S. presidential visits to Beijing in memory. … Lots of talk, little action — just the way the Chinese like it. Although I’d like to back the president, I’d place my own bet that being nice to the Chinese leadership isn’t going to get us very far. It never has.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the president will take some of these criticisms to heart and rethink the virtues of kowtowing before his next expedition abroad.

Reading the Washington Post‘s survey of Asia experts’ opinions on Obama’s swing through the region, I was struck by the general consensus that the trip was a failure. You would expect to hear such a view from conservatives like Misha Auslin and Dani Pletka at AEI, Michael Green at CSIS, or Victor Cha at Georgetown. But what’s striking is that this was also the view of liberals like Doug Schoen, the Democratic pollster, who writes, “President Obama was unable to secure any lasting agreements on climate change, free trade, revaluing the Chinese currency, or, most important, sanctions on Iran and North Korea…. The president’s failure to achieve any concrete results will impact his standing back at home and in his dealings with Congress over health care.”

Then there is the assessment of my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Liz Economy, another Democrat who offers an unvarnished assessment of this Democratic president’s foray abroad:

It was, optically, one of the worst U.S. presidential visits to Beijing in memory. … Lots of talk, little action — just the way the Chinese like it. Although I’d like to back the president, I’d place my own bet that being nice to the Chinese leadership isn’t going to get us very far. It never has.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the president will take some of these criticisms to heart and rethink the virtues of kowtowing before his next expedition abroad.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.