Commentary Magazine


Topic: Democratic senator

Women Paved the Way for Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

I am in complete agreement with Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who writes today in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” To my mind, the most powerful argument in favor of repeal is that pretty much all of the arguments made against admitting openly gay service personnel were made against admitting women. Indeed, admitting women was probably more of a cultural shift than admitting gays — because gays already serve.

Given that the vast majority of people are heterosexual, it stands to reason that only in a small minority of cases will there be issues related to homosexual love and attraction. Putting a small number of women into a hitherto all-male community created many more possibilities for social tensions, with the added problem of pregnancy to boot. (At least gays and lesbians don’t get pregnant accidentally.)

Yet, after some early problems, the integration of women has been largely smooth. Most of the fears of early naysayers such as Jim Webb (now a Democratic Senator) have not come to pass. Certainly it is hard to argue with a straight face that admitting women into uniform has degraded the combat effectiveness of the U.S. armed forces over the past three decades — a time when, by all measures, they have reached their fighting peak.

While more and more military occupational specialties are opening up to women (the latest being submarine service), there are still a few billets in ground-combat units and Special Operations Units, which remain all-male in deference to concerns about unit cohesion and lack of privacy in the field. It may well make sense to also keep openly gay personnel out of these billets, at least for some time, as long as their presence might cause serious tensions.

But the overwhelming majority of military jobs are performed on large bases, either in the States or abroad, where a fair degree of privacy is attainable. Even in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, women (whether contractors or service personnel) are present on most forward-operating bases down to the brigade level and often below. After all, women serve in Military Police units, which are often on the front lines of counterinsurgency.  If women can make a useful contribution, there is little doubt that gays can as well. Indeed, they are already doing so, except that now they must guard their sexual identity, which makes them open, as Bret points out, to blackmail and forces them to violate the military’s honor code.

My sense is that most younger military personnel are comfortable with gays serving openly — as is the majority of American society at large.  That makes the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” inevitable and suggests that Republican opponents of the measure are fighting a losing battle.

I am in complete agreement with Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who writes today in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” To my mind, the most powerful argument in favor of repeal is that pretty much all of the arguments made against admitting openly gay service personnel were made against admitting women. Indeed, admitting women was probably more of a cultural shift than admitting gays — because gays already serve.

Given that the vast majority of people are heterosexual, it stands to reason that only in a small minority of cases will there be issues related to homosexual love and attraction. Putting a small number of women into a hitherto all-male community created many more possibilities for social tensions, with the added problem of pregnancy to boot. (At least gays and lesbians don’t get pregnant accidentally.)

Yet, after some early problems, the integration of women has been largely smooth. Most of the fears of early naysayers such as Jim Webb (now a Democratic Senator) have not come to pass. Certainly it is hard to argue with a straight face that admitting women into uniform has degraded the combat effectiveness of the U.S. armed forces over the past three decades — a time when, by all measures, they have reached their fighting peak.

While more and more military occupational specialties are opening up to women (the latest being submarine service), there are still a few billets in ground-combat units and Special Operations Units, which remain all-male in deference to concerns about unit cohesion and lack of privacy in the field. It may well make sense to also keep openly gay personnel out of these billets, at least for some time, as long as their presence might cause serious tensions.

But the overwhelming majority of military jobs are performed on large bases, either in the States or abroad, where a fair degree of privacy is attainable. Even in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, women (whether contractors or service personnel) are present on most forward-operating bases down to the brigade level and often below. After all, women serve in Military Police units, which are often on the front lines of counterinsurgency.  If women can make a useful contribution, there is little doubt that gays can as well. Indeed, they are already doing so, except that now they must guard their sexual identity, which makes them open, as Bret points out, to blackmail and forces them to violate the military’s honor code.

My sense is that most younger military personnel are comfortable with gays serving openly — as is the majority of American society at large.  That makes the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” inevitable and suggests that Republican opponents of the measure are fighting a losing battle.

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California Really Is in Play

Politico reports:

It looks like that demon sheep has showed up snarling on Sen. Barbara Boxer’s doorstep. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, the controversial Silicon Valley executive who exploded into the California Senate race with a series of colorful viral videos, is holding the Democratic senator to at least a tie, according to two polls released in the last week. An automated SurveyUSA poll published Monday showed Fiorina narrowly ahead of Boxer, leading the three-term senator, 47 percent to 45 percent. That’s within the poll’s four-point margin of error, but it comes just days after the Field Poll showed Boxer with only a narrow advantage in her fight for a new term, leading Fiorina by three percentage points.

At the very least, these polls will force the Democrats to spend millions (California is a mighty expensive state to campaign in) and will put pressure on Boxer to emerge from her cocoon and agree to Fiorina’s invitation to debate. Boxer has frankly coasted through many election cycles with candidates who were inept or underfunded (or both). Now that she has a viable, articulate opponent, she’ll have to explain her dogged pursuit of a far-left agenda. Maybe that is what California voters want, but I’m thinking they’ll be startled to see just how shrill and liberal their incumbent senator is.

Politico reports:

It looks like that demon sheep has showed up snarling on Sen. Barbara Boxer’s doorstep. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, the controversial Silicon Valley executive who exploded into the California Senate race with a series of colorful viral videos, is holding the Democratic senator to at least a tie, according to two polls released in the last week. An automated SurveyUSA poll published Monday showed Fiorina narrowly ahead of Boxer, leading the three-term senator, 47 percent to 45 percent. That’s within the poll’s four-point margin of error, but it comes just days after the Field Poll showed Boxer with only a narrow advantage in her fight for a new term, leading Fiorina by three percentage points.

At the very least, these polls will force the Democrats to spend millions (California is a mighty expensive state to campaign in) and will put pressure on Boxer to emerge from her cocoon and agree to Fiorina’s invitation to debate. Boxer has frankly coasted through many election cycles with candidates who were inept or underfunded (or both). Now that she has a viable, articulate opponent, she’ll have to explain her dogged pursuit of a far-left agenda. Maybe that is what California voters want, but I’m thinking they’ll be startled to see just how shrill and liberal their incumbent senator is.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

We finally have the perfect (and poetic) telling of the Tipper and Al saga.

Obama finally tries to undo some of the damage wrought by his troop-pullout deadline: “We did not say, starting in July 2011, suddenly there will be no troops from the United States or allied countries in Afghanistan. … We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. … We said we’d begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility.” Now he just needs an affirmative statement that we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.

The voters finally get to grade Obama and the Democrats in November. They won’t be getting a B+: “This year’s low approval ratings for Congress are a potentially ominous sign for President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress. Gallup has found greater party seat change in Congress in midterm elections when Congress has had low approval ratings.” Congress has a 20 percent approval rating; in 1994, Democrats scored 23 percent and lost 53 seats.

Congress should finally defund this position: “Rashad Hussain, America’s special envoy to the Organization for the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Saudi-based body formed in 1969 to ‘protect’ Jerusalem from the Israelis, announced a new title this week for President Barack Obama. According to Hussain, Obama is America’s ‘Educator-in-Chief on Islam.'” Unfortunately, until we have a new president, there’s nothing to be done — other than object loudly to this: “Hussain has now divulged that the U.S. will support the OIC in the latter’s United Nations effort to criminalize ‘defamation of religion’ — widely perceived as a measure to suppress criticism of Muslim practices that violate human rights.”

Will the Washington Post finally admit that the paper was snookered into hiring David Weigel as an authentic conservative voice? The latest: he apologizes to readers — for comments made on the lefty Journolist. Ahh … doesn’t that meant that … ? Even the Post should be able to figure that out now.

Will Democrats (and the rest of the country) finally be rid of Harry Reid? “The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Nevada shows [Sharon] Angle earning 48% support, while Reid, the state’s longtime Democratic senator, picks up 41% of the vote.”

Jonathan Chait finally stumbles onto the truth. On Rand Paul’s obfuscation regarding the BP fund: “He’s intellectually honest enough that he doesn’t want to lie about his views. But he’s not quite intellectually honest enough to actually say what his views are. So he just keeps talking about issues related to the question without answering it.”

We finally have the perfect (and poetic) telling of the Tipper and Al saga.

Obama finally tries to undo some of the damage wrought by his troop-pullout deadline: “We did not say, starting in July 2011, suddenly there will be no troops from the United States or allied countries in Afghanistan. … We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. … We said we’d begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility.” Now he just needs an affirmative statement that we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.

The voters finally get to grade Obama and the Democrats in November. They won’t be getting a B+: “This year’s low approval ratings for Congress are a potentially ominous sign for President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress. Gallup has found greater party seat change in Congress in midterm elections when Congress has had low approval ratings.” Congress has a 20 percent approval rating; in 1994, Democrats scored 23 percent and lost 53 seats.

Congress should finally defund this position: “Rashad Hussain, America’s special envoy to the Organization for the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Saudi-based body formed in 1969 to ‘protect’ Jerusalem from the Israelis, announced a new title this week for President Barack Obama. According to Hussain, Obama is America’s ‘Educator-in-Chief on Islam.'” Unfortunately, until we have a new president, there’s nothing to be done — other than object loudly to this: “Hussain has now divulged that the U.S. will support the OIC in the latter’s United Nations effort to criminalize ‘defamation of religion’ — widely perceived as a measure to suppress criticism of Muslim practices that violate human rights.”

Will the Washington Post finally admit that the paper was snookered into hiring David Weigel as an authentic conservative voice? The latest: he apologizes to readers — for comments made on the lefty Journolist. Ahh … doesn’t that meant that … ? Even the Post should be able to figure that out now.

Will Democrats (and the rest of the country) finally be rid of Harry Reid? “The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Nevada shows [Sharon] Angle earning 48% support, while Reid, the state’s longtime Democratic senator, picks up 41% of the vote.”

Jonathan Chait finally stumbles onto the truth. On Rand Paul’s obfuscation regarding the BP fund: “He’s intellectually honest enough that he doesn’t want to lie about his views. But he’s not quite intellectually honest enough to actually say what his views are. So he just keeps talking about issues related to the question without answering it.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not what the Obami were spinning to AIPAC: “Well the Obama administration’s leverage is beginning to sound like ‘hard power’ — brutal even — to get Israel to toe the line. I have no doubt that in President Obama’s eyes, this is the way to promote U.S. interests. As non-objective as I am, I have the impression that it is not only a mistaken policy, but one that isn’t advancing the peace process. In effect, it is making it almost impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table, because he has to insist he has no choice but to wait until the conditions that the U.S. is setting are met by Israel before he does,” says Moshe Arens, former Knesset member, defense minister, foreign minister, and ambassador to the United States. (Read the rest of the revealing interview.)

Not what any clear-eyed pro-Israel activist is going to buy from the Obami’s furious spin on their assault on Israel : “‘No crisis. Media reports are wrong. More agreement than disagreement’ inside the administration, regarding how to advance the Middle East peace process. [The administration’s] ‘hand was forced [with regard to] Jerusalem by circumstances during Biden’s trip,’ the source said, referring to the Israeli government’s announcement last month during Vice President Joe Biden’s good-will trip to Israel that it had approved construction of another 1,600 homes to be built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.” This is simply pathetic.

Not what the Democrats were selling us for over a year (from Howard Fineman): “A Democratic senator I can’t name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.”

Not what the Obami had in mind when they took their victory lap: “President Obama’s overall job approval rating has fallen to an alltime low of 44%, down five points from late March, just before the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives. It is down 24 points since his all-time high last April. 41% now disapprove. . . . When it comes to health care, the President’s approval rating is even lower – and is also a new all-time low. Only 34% approve, while a majority of 55% disapprove.”

Not what you’d expect from the “most transparent administration in history” (unless you didn’t buy the label in the first place): “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is accusing Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan of interfering with Congress’s oversight on key intelligence matters. King’s latest frustration came Friday morning when he read news accounts about the new Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) aviation security measures before being briefed on the program from anyone in the administration.”

Not what “bringing us all together” was supposed to mean: “The perplexing irony of Barack Obama’s presidency is that even as conservatives attack him as a crazed socialist, many on the left are frustrated with what they see as the president’s accommodationist backtracking from campaign promises.”

Not what is going to help the Democrats retain control over the Senate: “The family bank of Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias loaned a pair of Chicago crime figures about $20 million during a 14-month period when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer, according to a Tribune examination that provides new details about the bank’s relationship with the convicted felons.”

Not what the Obami and their elite media handmaidens want us to hear (especially from Juan Williams): “There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the tea party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt. Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats’ left-wing base. But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism.”

Not what the Obami were spinning to AIPAC: “Well the Obama administration’s leverage is beginning to sound like ‘hard power’ — brutal even — to get Israel to toe the line. I have no doubt that in President Obama’s eyes, this is the way to promote U.S. interests. As non-objective as I am, I have the impression that it is not only a mistaken policy, but one that isn’t advancing the peace process. In effect, it is making it almost impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table, because he has to insist he has no choice but to wait until the conditions that the U.S. is setting are met by Israel before he does,” says Moshe Arens, former Knesset member, defense minister, foreign minister, and ambassador to the United States. (Read the rest of the revealing interview.)

Not what any clear-eyed pro-Israel activist is going to buy from the Obami’s furious spin on their assault on Israel : “‘No crisis. Media reports are wrong. More agreement than disagreement’ inside the administration, regarding how to advance the Middle East peace process. [The administration’s] ‘hand was forced [with regard to] Jerusalem by circumstances during Biden’s trip,’ the source said, referring to the Israeli government’s announcement last month during Vice President Joe Biden’s good-will trip to Israel that it had approved construction of another 1,600 homes to be built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.” This is simply pathetic.

Not what the Democrats were selling us for over a year (from Howard Fineman): “A Democratic senator I can’t name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.”

Not what the Obami had in mind when they took their victory lap: “President Obama’s overall job approval rating has fallen to an alltime low of 44%, down five points from late March, just before the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives. It is down 24 points since his all-time high last April. 41% now disapprove. . . . When it comes to health care, the President’s approval rating is even lower – and is also a new all-time low. Only 34% approve, while a majority of 55% disapprove.”

Not what you’d expect from the “most transparent administration in history” (unless you didn’t buy the label in the first place): “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is accusing Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan of interfering with Congress’s oversight on key intelligence matters. King’s latest frustration came Friday morning when he read news accounts about the new Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) aviation security measures before being briefed on the program from anyone in the administration.”

Not what “bringing us all together” was supposed to mean: “The perplexing irony of Barack Obama’s presidency is that even as conservatives attack him as a crazed socialist, many on the left are frustrated with what they see as the president’s accommodationist backtracking from campaign promises.”

Not what is going to help the Democrats retain control over the Senate: “The family bank of Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias loaned a pair of Chicago crime figures about $20 million during a 14-month period when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer, according to a Tribune examination that provides new details about the bank’s relationship with the convicted felons.”

Not what the Obami and their elite media handmaidens want us to hear (especially from Juan Williams): “There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the tea party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt. Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats’ left-wing base. But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism.”

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LIVE BLOG: “We May Be Closer Together”

Tom Harkin, the Democratic senator from Iowa, says he’s stunned to discover how Democrats and Republicans “may be closer together” than we thought. In saying this, he is echoing something Democrats, including Obama, have been saying all day. Indeed, when Republicans like John McCain and Eric Cantor disagree and say the differences are far more substantive, these are the moments that have triggered the president’s anger. Fascinating. Democrats are seeking to turn around their fortunes on health care by hugging the GOP. It’s one of the more peculiar political strategies in memory, but when you’re at 25 percent, it might be worth a shot. A long shot, but a shot. A very long shot.

Tom Harkin, the Democratic senator from Iowa, says he’s stunned to discover how Democrats and Republicans “may be closer together” than we thought. In saying this, he is echoing something Democrats, including Obama, have been saying all day. Indeed, when Republicans like John McCain and Eric Cantor disagree and say the differences are far more substantive, these are the moments that have triggered the president’s anger. Fascinating. Democrats are seeking to turn around their fortunes on health care by hugging the GOP. It’s one of the more peculiar political strategies in memory, but when you’re at 25 percent, it might be worth a shot. A long shot, but a shot. A very long shot.

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LIVE BLOG: “Before They Become Bad Lawsuits”

Max Baucus, the Montana Democratic senator, responds to the need for tort reform by pointing out that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius is working to come up with ways to end lawsuits “before they become bad lawsuits.” Doubtless there is a policy he is referring to here, but what on earth can an executive-branch official do on a matter that involves law — which is written by the legislative branch and adjudicated by the judicial branch? Baucus is attempting to make the case that the differences between Democrats and Republicans are not that serious, but his response is not a serious one.

Max Baucus, the Montana Democratic senator, responds to the need for tort reform by pointing out that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius is working to come up with ways to end lawsuits “before they become bad lawsuits.” Doubtless there is a policy he is referring to here, but what on earth can an executive-branch official do on a matter that involves law — which is written by the legislative branch and adjudicated by the judicial branch? Baucus is attempting to make the case that the differences between Democrats and Republicans are not that serious, but his response is not a serious one.

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Bayh the Way, You Guys Haven’t Done Anything

Try as they might to spin the Evan Bayh retirement as a sign of the generic failure of the political system or the nation’s ungovernability, the Democrats are seething. They aren’t thrilled that as gave the media yet another “Democrats in Distress!” headline, Bayh also handed the Republicans a pre-made political ad campaign. Politico reports: “In explaining his decision not to seek reelection, the Indiana Democrat has complained publicly about legislative gridlock, saying that Congress hasn’t done enough to prop up the economy and hasn’t created a single private-sector job in the past six months.”

Oops. Well, that’s certainly not going to help matters. Indeed, Democrats can’t understand why Bayh is dumping on them, as opposed to, you know, blaming the minority party for the nation’s woes:

“I just have no idea what he’s doing,” said one Democratic senator, whose face turned red as he threw up his hands after being asked about Bayh.

“We get some of the blame; we moved a little too slowly on health care,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “My only disappointment, and the only thing I’ll say about Sen. Bayh, is that I think a more accurate portrayal by him was how Republicans have tried to block everything that we’ve done.”

“It almost seems like he’s siding with” Republicans, said one top Democratic aide.

There are a few explanations for why Bayh is twisting the knife. Some think he’s out to build support for a 2012 primary challenge. Blaming Obama and the unpopular congressional leadership is one way to establish his challenger credentials. Yes, yes, Bayh was part of the Beltway establishment, but criticizing the leadership and the president is one way to establish a rationale for his own candidacy. A more immediate explanation for the dump-on-the-Democrats gambit is that Bayh is enjoying the limelight, relishing the media’s focus on the “Why is Obama failing?” storyline. He supplies a good answer: because they haven’t addressed voters’ most pressing issue.

But the real explanation, I think, is that Bayh is now free to speak his mind and tell the truth. It must be liberating not to have to spin the unspinnable tale of the stimulus plan’s success in creating all those jobs. After all the Democrats’ huffing and puffing, Bayh walked back his comment that if Obama could “create one job in the private sector by helping to grow a business, that would be one more than Congress has created in the last six months.” But there is no walking back his central message — this president and the Democratic Congress haven’t gotten much done on the issue that matters most to voters. (“South Dakota Sen. John Thune, No. 4 in GOP leadership, said Bayh’s comments were a ‘validation of what we’ve been saying’ — that the economic stimulus package and the Democratic Congress have failed to create jobs.”) And indeed, Bayh again stomped on his colleagues’ message, declaring that “some Democrats’ comments about the legislature’s productivity ‘show a major disconnect [between] what goes on in Washington and what goes on in the rest of the country.'”

Republicans are likely licking their chops, with visions of that Evan Bayh commercial whacking the Democrats. But really, Bayh is simply saying what pretty much every non-Kool-Aid drinker knows: the Democrats have been spectacularly unsuccessful in doing what voters want them to do, and instead have spent their time on something — a monstrous health-care bill — that voters don’t want. Bayh or no Bayh, Democrats are going to have a hard time making the case that voters should send them back to do more of the same.

Try as they might to spin the Evan Bayh retirement as a sign of the generic failure of the political system or the nation’s ungovernability, the Democrats are seething. They aren’t thrilled that as gave the media yet another “Democrats in Distress!” headline, Bayh also handed the Republicans a pre-made political ad campaign. Politico reports: “In explaining his decision not to seek reelection, the Indiana Democrat has complained publicly about legislative gridlock, saying that Congress hasn’t done enough to prop up the economy and hasn’t created a single private-sector job in the past six months.”

Oops. Well, that’s certainly not going to help matters. Indeed, Democrats can’t understand why Bayh is dumping on them, as opposed to, you know, blaming the minority party for the nation’s woes:

“I just have no idea what he’s doing,” said one Democratic senator, whose face turned red as he threw up his hands after being asked about Bayh.

“We get some of the blame; we moved a little too slowly on health care,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “My only disappointment, and the only thing I’ll say about Sen. Bayh, is that I think a more accurate portrayal by him was how Republicans have tried to block everything that we’ve done.”

“It almost seems like he’s siding with” Republicans, said one top Democratic aide.

There are a few explanations for why Bayh is twisting the knife. Some think he’s out to build support for a 2012 primary challenge. Blaming Obama and the unpopular congressional leadership is one way to establish his challenger credentials. Yes, yes, Bayh was part of the Beltway establishment, but criticizing the leadership and the president is one way to establish a rationale for his own candidacy. A more immediate explanation for the dump-on-the-Democrats gambit is that Bayh is enjoying the limelight, relishing the media’s focus on the “Why is Obama failing?” storyline. He supplies a good answer: because they haven’t addressed voters’ most pressing issue.

But the real explanation, I think, is that Bayh is now free to speak his mind and tell the truth. It must be liberating not to have to spin the unspinnable tale of the stimulus plan’s success in creating all those jobs. After all the Democrats’ huffing and puffing, Bayh walked back his comment that if Obama could “create one job in the private sector by helping to grow a business, that would be one more than Congress has created in the last six months.” But there is no walking back his central message — this president and the Democratic Congress haven’t gotten much done on the issue that matters most to voters. (“South Dakota Sen. John Thune, No. 4 in GOP leadership, said Bayh’s comments were a ‘validation of what we’ve been saying’ — that the economic stimulus package and the Democratic Congress have failed to create jobs.”) And indeed, Bayh again stomped on his colleagues’ message, declaring that “some Democrats’ comments about the legislature’s productivity ‘show a major disconnect [between] what goes on in Washington and what goes on in the rest of the country.'”

Republicans are likely licking their chops, with visions of that Evan Bayh commercial whacking the Democrats. But really, Bayh is simply saying what pretty much every non-Kool-Aid drinker knows: the Democrats have been spectacularly unsuccessful in doing what voters want them to do, and instead have spent their time on something — a monstrous health-care bill — that voters don’t want. Bayh or no Bayh, Democrats are going to have a hard time making the case that voters should send them back to do more of the same.

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Democrats Seek Distance from Obama

The Associated Press is the latest to discover the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress:

Almost by the day, Republicans are sensing fresh opportunities to pick up ground. Just Wednesday, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats announced he would try to reclaim his old seat from Democrat Evan Bayh, who barely a year ago had been a finalist to be Barack Obama’s running mate. And Republicans nationwide are still celebrating Scott Brown’s January upset to take Edward Kennedy’s former seat in Massachusetts.

A Republican takeover on Capitol Hill is still a long shot. But strategists in both parties now see at least narrow paths by which the GOP could win the House and, if the troubled environment for Democrats deteriorates further, possibly even the Senate.

The AP is a little less candid about the reasons, however. You see, it’s “the persistent 10 percent unemployment rate, the country’s bitterness over Wall Street bailouts and voters’ anti-Washington fervor. Obama’s party, controlling both the White House and Congress, is likely to feel that fury the most. And it’s defending far more seats than the Republicans.” But why, then, is the generic congressional polling number tilting in the Republicans’ favor, a historic anomaly? Could it have something to do with what the Democrats have done in the last year? Read More

The Associated Press is the latest to discover the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress:

Almost by the day, Republicans are sensing fresh opportunities to pick up ground. Just Wednesday, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats announced he would try to reclaim his old seat from Democrat Evan Bayh, who barely a year ago had been a finalist to be Barack Obama’s running mate. And Republicans nationwide are still celebrating Scott Brown’s January upset to take Edward Kennedy’s former seat in Massachusetts.

A Republican takeover on Capitol Hill is still a long shot. But strategists in both parties now see at least narrow paths by which the GOP could win the House and, if the troubled environment for Democrats deteriorates further, possibly even the Senate.

The AP is a little less candid about the reasons, however. You see, it’s “the persistent 10 percent unemployment rate, the country’s bitterness over Wall Street bailouts and voters’ anti-Washington fervor. Obama’s party, controlling both the White House and Congress, is likely to feel that fury the most. And it’s defending far more seats than the Republicans.” But why, then, is the generic congressional polling number tilting in the Republicans’ favor, a historic anomaly? Could it have something to do with what the Democrats have done in the last year?

Well those incumbent Democrats struggling for their political lives don’t seem to be so confused. We’ve seen a steady drumbeat of criticism from Democrats on Obama’s anti-terrorism policies. We see that Democratic lawmakers are flexing their muscles, trying to put some daylight between themselves and the Obama-Reid-Pelosi ultra-liberal domestic agenda as well. As this report notes:

A Democratic Senate candidate in Missouri denounced the budget’s sky-high deficit. A Florida Democrat whose congressional district includes the Kennedy Space Center hit the roof over NASA budget cuts. And a headline on the 2010 campaign website of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) blares her opposition to Obama’s farm budget: “Blanche stands up for Arkansas farm families.”

And at least in the days following Scott Brown’s win, we heard a raft of Democrats suggest that maybe now it was time to move on from health-care reform to something voters actually like, maybe some pro-job measures.

The tension between the Reid-Pelosi-Obama trio, fueled by ideological determination and the fear of offending their base, and those Democrats who think that a good deal of the problem they face stems from the very agenda set out by Reid-Pelosi-Obama will, I suspect, increase throughout the year. Obama wants to “punch through” on health care; Red State Democrats want to run for their lives. Obama is touting a massive budget; Sen. Kent Conrad is already throwing cold water on it. And so it will go. The more the leadership pushes to the Left, the greater the risk for those members nervously watching the polls. And the result may well be legislative gridlock. But if the alternative is more big-government power grabs, that might not be a bad thing for at-risk Democrats.

Moreover, there is a growing realization among Democrats that the White House is vamping it — that it lacks a plan to achieve much of anything. The Hill reports that after the TV cameras left, the Democratic senators pounced on the White House aides:

Democrats expressed their frustration with the lack of a clear plan for passing healthcare reform, according to one person in the room. One Democratic senator even grew heated in his remarks, according to the source. “It wasn’t a discussion about how to get from Point A to Point B; it was a discussion about the lack of a plan to get from Point A to Point B,” said a person who attended the meeting. “Many of the members were frustrated, but one person really expressed his frustration.” Senators did not want to press Obama on healthcare reform in front of television cameras for fear of putting him in an awkward spot. “There was a vigorous discussion about that afterward with some of his top advisers and others,” Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said regarding the healthcare discussion.

Not unlike the debacle in Copenhagen (the first one mostly, but really both), the Democrats are coming to see that the White House lacks a game plan. It is not merely ideologically out of step with the country; it is also incapable of governing, and of leading the party. And that will make already skittish incumbents more likely to make their own political judgments, quite apart from whatever suggestions Obama doles out.

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The Democrats’ Dilemma

With wars, terrorism, and a recession, Howard Fineman worries:

Given the urgency of those challenges, underscored by the Nigerian bomber, was it wise for the president to spend most of his first year and political capital on a monumentally complicated overhaul of the nation’s health-care system? And will the results of that gamble—not fundamental reform, but rather an expensive set of patches, bypasses, and trusses bolted onto the existing system—improve the lives of Americans enough to help him or his fellow Democrats politically?

Fineman’s point is especially well taken, given the fact that all the Democrats have been able to come up with is a monstrous tax-and-spend bill, which the public hates. Fineman sounds peculiarly like Obama’s conservative critics:

The result is a 10-year, trillion-dollar contraption full of political risk and unintended consequences for a health-care system that constitutes one sixth of the economy. Many of the people who will benefit directly from the reforms, the uninsured, don’t vote. Insurance premiums will continue to shoot up for most of us; Democrats fret that they will be blamed for those increases in the 2010 elections. Some regulations on the industry kick in immediately, but most don’t begin until at least 2013. And yet, to allow the bill to “save” money in the first decade, most new taxes and fees go into effect immediately. “We’re collecting money before we’re giving all the benefits!” lamented a Democratic senator facing reelection. “That is a political disaster.”

While it is true that Obama isn’t up for re-election, many Democrats are. They might consider Fineman’s warning that “even simple things in government never go as planned; a project as large and complex as his health-care ‘fix’ is certain to be more costly and disruptive than anticipated, and in ways no one can predict.” So why risk it? Why not get back to the business of spurring an economic recovery, defending Americans, and showing that they are not big spending, fiscally irresponsible, ultra liberals? (Well, unless they actually are, and in that case, that would be the root of the problem.) Many Democrats will be mulling over their options: jump ship or get pulled under in a wave election in 2010? If the new Newsweek can figure out which option makes sense, certainly some of them should also be able to.

With wars, terrorism, and a recession, Howard Fineman worries:

Given the urgency of those challenges, underscored by the Nigerian bomber, was it wise for the president to spend most of his first year and political capital on a monumentally complicated overhaul of the nation’s health-care system? And will the results of that gamble—not fundamental reform, but rather an expensive set of patches, bypasses, and trusses bolted onto the existing system—improve the lives of Americans enough to help him or his fellow Democrats politically?

Fineman’s point is especially well taken, given the fact that all the Democrats have been able to come up with is a monstrous tax-and-spend bill, which the public hates. Fineman sounds peculiarly like Obama’s conservative critics:

The result is a 10-year, trillion-dollar contraption full of political risk and unintended consequences for a health-care system that constitutes one sixth of the economy. Many of the people who will benefit directly from the reforms, the uninsured, don’t vote. Insurance premiums will continue to shoot up for most of us; Democrats fret that they will be blamed for those increases in the 2010 elections. Some regulations on the industry kick in immediately, but most don’t begin until at least 2013. And yet, to allow the bill to “save” money in the first decade, most new taxes and fees go into effect immediately. “We’re collecting money before we’re giving all the benefits!” lamented a Democratic senator facing reelection. “That is a political disaster.”

While it is true that Obama isn’t up for re-election, many Democrats are. They might consider Fineman’s warning that “even simple things in government never go as planned; a project as large and complex as his health-care ‘fix’ is certain to be more costly and disruptive than anticipated, and in ways no one can predict.” So why risk it? Why not get back to the business of spurring an economic recovery, defending Americans, and showing that they are not big spending, fiscally irresponsible, ultra liberals? (Well, unless they actually are, and in that case, that would be the root of the problem.) Many Democrats will be mulling over their options: jump ship or get pulled under in a wave election in 2010? If the new Newsweek can figure out which option makes sense, certainly some of them should also be able to.

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The Consequences of Being the 60th Health-Care Vote

Senate Democrats from less-than-pristine Blue States are banking that their constituents won’t mind that they voted with their party leadership for a controversial health-care power grab. But that may be a bad bet:

A new poll suggests that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) seriously endangered his political prospects by becoming the decisive 60th vote allowing health care legislation to pass through the Senate. The Rasmussen survey shows Nelson, who isn’t up for re-election until 2012, badly trailing Gov. Dave Heineman by 31 points in a hypothetical matchup, 61 to 30 percent. A 55 percent majority of Nebraska voters now hold an unfavorable view of the two-term senator, with 40 percent viewing him favorably. The health care bill is currently very unpopular in Nebraska, according to the Rasmussen poll. Nearly two-thirds of voters (64 percent) oppose the legislation while just 17 percent approve.

Now of course each and every Democratic senator is the 60th vote, so this poll should cause some heartburn for Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and his troops. Somehow the White House and their more liberal colleagues convinced the so-called moderate Democrats that they could vote with the liberal pack, and their skeptical constituents would eventually come to appreciate their “historic” vote. But that seems not to be the case. What if, in the next few weeks, other polls mirroring this result appear in state after state? Do the lawmakers still plunge ahead with the conference committee and once again vote for a hugely unpopular measure?

Nor should Blue State senators rest easy. Their handiwork is under attack as well, as this report makes clear:

The governors of the nation’s two largest Democratic states are leveling sharp criticism at the Senate health care bill, claiming that it would leave their already financially strapped states even deeper in the hole. New York Democratic Gov. David Paterson and California GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are urging congressional leaders to rework the Medicaid financing in the Senate-passed bill, warning that under that version their states will be crushed by billions in new costs.

In their rush for a “historic deal,” Blue State senators paid little or no attention to the details of what they were foisting on their own states. You can imagine what New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s general election opponent will have to say about this in November:

The problem is that New York and California, both of which already have expansive Medicaid programs, will pay a higher share of the new expansion costs than many other states that have traditionally limited coverage. “The inequity built into the bill puts hardship on states and would put them in the position of making cuts to providers,” said Susan Van Meter, vice president of federal relations for the Healthcare Association of New York State.

So where does that leave embattled senators and congressmen? Congress might “pivot” in many ways in January: to sanctions on Iran; hearings on our anti-terrorist policies; and a real pro-jobs agenda to encourage rather than retard the hiring of new workers. It might be beneficial for the country and for the political outlook of incumbent lawmakers to turn their attention to these very urgent issues rather than an artificially created “health-care crisis.” ObamaCare has become a political poltergeist, and lawmakers would do well to race to find something else to occupy their time. Especially those who don’t have the luxury, as Nelson does, of several more years before facing the angry voters.

Senate Democrats from less-than-pristine Blue States are banking that their constituents won’t mind that they voted with their party leadership for a controversial health-care power grab. But that may be a bad bet:

A new poll suggests that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) seriously endangered his political prospects by becoming the decisive 60th vote allowing health care legislation to pass through the Senate. The Rasmussen survey shows Nelson, who isn’t up for re-election until 2012, badly trailing Gov. Dave Heineman by 31 points in a hypothetical matchup, 61 to 30 percent. A 55 percent majority of Nebraska voters now hold an unfavorable view of the two-term senator, with 40 percent viewing him favorably. The health care bill is currently very unpopular in Nebraska, according to the Rasmussen poll. Nearly two-thirds of voters (64 percent) oppose the legislation while just 17 percent approve.

Now of course each and every Democratic senator is the 60th vote, so this poll should cause some heartburn for Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and his troops. Somehow the White House and their more liberal colleagues convinced the so-called moderate Democrats that they could vote with the liberal pack, and their skeptical constituents would eventually come to appreciate their “historic” vote. But that seems not to be the case. What if, in the next few weeks, other polls mirroring this result appear in state after state? Do the lawmakers still plunge ahead with the conference committee and once again vote for a hugely unpopular measure?

Nor should Blue State senators rest easy. Their handiwork is under attack as well, as this report makes clear:

The governors of the nation’s two largest Democratic states are leveling sharp criticism at the Senate health care bill, claiming that it would leave their already financially strapped states even deeper in the hole. New York Democratic Gov. David Paterson and California GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are urging congressional leaders to rework the Medicaid financing in the Senate-passed bill, warning that under that version their states will be crushed by billions in new costs.

In their rush for a “historic deal,” Blue State senators paid little or no attention to the details of what they were foisting on their own states. You can imagine what New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s general election opponent will have to say about this in November:

The problem is that New York and California, both of which already have expansive Medicaid programs, will pay a higher share of the new expansion costs than many other states that have traditionally limited coverage. “The inequity built into the bill puts hardship on states and would put them in the position of making cuts to providers,” said Susan Van Meter, vice president of federal relations for the Healthcare Association of New York State.

So where does that leave embattled senators and congressmen? Congress might “pivot” in many ways in January: to sanctions on Iran; hearings on our anti-terrorist policies; and a real pro-jobs agenda to encourage rather than retard the hiring of new workers. It might be beneficial for the country and for the political outlook of incumbent lawmakers to turn their attention to these very urgent issues rather than an artificially created “health-care crisis.” ObamaCare has become a political poltergeist, and lawmakers would do well to race to find something else to occupy their time. Especially those who don’t have the luxury, as Nelson does, of several more years before facing the angry voters.

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The Bloomberg Presidential Fantasy

With the coming of the New Year came major pieces in as all three New York papers on the growing possibility of an independent presidential big by the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg. He will attend a confab next week in Oklahoma, hosted by former Democratic Senator and current University of Oklahoma chancellor David Boren that will include many prominent current and former politicians who claim deep frustration with the partisan polarization of the present moment — including lude one-time Sens. Gary Hart, Sam Nunn, William Cohen, and Chuck Robb, and one sitting Senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

At lunch a few weeks ago, two prominent Democrats with long experience in electoral politics, both very sensible men not given to hysterical excitement, told me they they think he has a plausible chance of winning the presidency. This struck me as dumb-founding. After all, no independent has ever won the presidency. No independent candidate has even come remotely close to winning. So why would Bloomberg’s bid be different? The consultants said Americans have a profound sense that the political system is broken and that a candidate whose career transcends party and ideology — but who can make a strong case that he is a brilliant leader who gets things done — could bring something new to American politics.

It’s true Bloomberg, the 25th richest man in the United States, could bring something entirely new to politics, i.e., spending half a billion or more on his own candidacy. It’s hard to overestimate how attractive this makes him tos ome people who are intrigued by the possibility of a Bloomberg run, in part because they might actually personally profit by it. Who would pocket that half a billion anyway? A lot of it would go to consultants. Don’t think that’s not an element in the whispering campaign on Bloomberg’s behalf, because it very much is.

Otherwise, how to explain the theory whereby a Jewish billionaire liberal from New York who can claim to have managed New York City in an efficient but hardly inspired or inspiring fashion is the person to cause a revolution in American politics down to the cellular level? 

Here’s another possible reason: Bloomberg is thrilling to people because he’s nominally a Republican but actually a Democrat. Thus, he can gull foolish Republicans into believing he’s one of them while actually being one of us. Every one of the people who is gathering in Oklahoma next week has one thing in common: They were either Democrats who served in Republican states and therefore had to take on a more ambiguous coloration, or they were Republicans serving in Democratic states and had to do the same. They are all social liberals, but some of them have a dash of rightward-leaning thinking — a dislike of deficit spending, say, or a more hawkish bent — they sprinkle on their liberalism like tabasco on eggs. It’s no wonder Bloomberg has become their deus ex machina. He shares with them a passionate love for and worship of of his own political positioning, the conviction that there is something inherently superior about a person who stands at a remove from ideological conflict.

What’s hard to understand about the Bloomberg fantasy is the assertion that the nation needs someone like him. The past four national elections have seen a startling increase in the level of engagement on the part of voters, with turnout rising to historic levels in 2000, only to rise 22 percent higher in 2004. This indicates not a withdrawal from politics because of a disgust with the possible choices, but the opposite. And the results reflect that. The midterm elections in 2002 and 2006 saw voters making clear ideological and practical distinctions between candidates and parties, to the benefit of Republicans in 2002 and to the benefit of Democrats in 2006. Washington’s fractious divide between Right and Left is a mark not of a failure in the system, but is a fair reflection of the nation’s divided political reality.

Obviously, voters get angry. They were angry about the Iraq war from two directions — people on the Left because we were fighting it in the first place and people on the Right because we weren’t winning it. They don’t like the behavior of Washington politicians. But they do see to it that things change when they get upset. Selling the White House to a billionaire whose sole promise is that he won’t make anybody too angry is not an answer to what ails us. My guess is that Bloomberg is smart enough to understand this.

With the coming of the New Year came major pieces in as all three New York papers on the growing possibility of an independent presidential big by the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg. He will attend a confab next week in Oklahoma, hosted by former Democratic Senator and current University of Oklahoma chancellor David Boren that will include many prominent current and former politicians who claim deep frustration with the partisan polarization of the present moment — including lude one-time Sens. Gary Hart, Sam Nunn, William Cohen, and Chuck Robb, and one sitting Senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

At lunch a few weeks ago, two prominent Democrats with long experience in electoral politics, both very sensible men not given to hysterical excitement, told me they they think he has a plausible chance of winning the presidency. This struck me as dumb-founding. After all, no independent has ever won the presidency. No independent candidate has even come remotely close to winning. So why would Bloomberg’s bid be different? The consultants said Americans have a profound sense that the political system is broken and that a candidate whose career transcends party and ideology — but who can make a strong case that he is a brilliant leader who gets things done — could bring something new to American politics.

It’s true Bloomberg, the 25th richest man in the United States, could bring something entirely new to politics, i.e., spending half a billion or more on his own candidacy. It’s hard to overestimate how attractive this makes him tos ome people who are intrigued by the possibility of a Bloomberg run, in part because they might actually personally profit by it. Who would pocket that half a billion anyway? A lot of it would go to consultants. Don’t think that’s not an element in the whispering campaign on Bloomberg’s behalf, because it very much is.

Otherwise, how to explain the theory whereby a Jewish billionaire liberal from New York who can claim to have managed New York City in an efficient but hardly inspired or inspiring fashion is the person to cause a revolution in American politics down to the cellular level? 

Here’s another possible reason: Bloomberg is thrilling to people because he’s nominally a Republican but actually a Democrat. Thus, he can gull foolish Republicans into believing he’s one of them while actually being one of us. Every one of the people who is gathering in Oklahoma next week has one thing in common: They were either Democrats who served in Republican states and therefore had to take on a more ambiguous coloration, or they were Republicans serving in Democratic states and had to do the same. They are all social liberals, but some of them have a dash of rightward-leaning thinking — a dislike of deficit spending, say, or a more hawkish bent — they sprinkle on their liberalism like tabasco on eggs. It’s no wonder Bloomberg has become their deus ex machina. He shares with them a passionate love for and worship of of his own political positioning, the conviction that there is something inherently superior about a person who stands at a remove from ideological conflict.

What’s hard to understand about the Bloomberg fantasy is the assertion that the nation needs someone like him. The past four national elections have seen a startling increase in the level of engagement on the part of voters, with turnout rising to historic levels in 2000, only to rise 22 percent higher in 2004. This indicates not a withdrawal from politics because of a disgust with the possible choices, but the opposite. And the results reflect that. The midterm elections in 2002 and 2006 saw voters making clear ideological and practical distinctions between candidates and parties, to the benefit of Republicans in 2002 and to the benefit of Democrats in 2006. Washington’s fractious divide between Right and Left is a mark not of a failure in the system, but is a fair reflection of the nation’s divided political reality.

Obviously, voters get angry. They were angry about the Iraq war from two directions — people on the Left because we were fighting it in the first place and people on the Right because we weren’t winning it. They don’t like the behavior of Washington politicians. But they do see to it that things change when they get upset. Selling the White House to a billionaire whose sole promise is that he won’t make anybody too angry is not an answer to what ails us. My guess is that Bloomberg is smart enough to understand this.

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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.

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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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Moving away from MoveOn.org

Below, Max Boot writes of the liberal pressure group MoveOn.org’s slanderous attack on General David Petraeus in yesterday’s New York Times, essentially accusing him of treason, which Boot rightly notes “will only further cement the impression in the minds of many soldiers, whether rightly or wrongly, that the leftist base of the Democratic Party is ‘anti-military.'”

Of course, legislators are entirely justified in criticizing General Petraeus’s assessment of the war. Civilian control of the military is a basic feature of any genuine democracy. Senator Clinton demonstrated this sort of constructive criticism yesterday when she told General Petraeus, “If this hearing were being held three years ago, I would have a much higher degree of optimism. It has nothing to do with the loyalty, the warrior skills, and the leadership of our men and women in uniform.” Her frustration is with the Bush administration, not with the individuals of the armed services. Which is how it should be.

The Bush administration’s diplomacy and war management, however, is a subject wholly separate from General Petraeus’s personal integrity or character. This is a distinction that the slanderers at MoveOn.org willingly ignore, in their desire to conflate General Petraeus’s motives with the allegedly nefarious motives of the Bush administration.

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Below, Max Boot writes of the liberal pressure group MoveOn.org’s slanderous attack on General David Petraeus in yesterday’s New York Times, essentially accusing him of treason, which Boot rightly notes “will only further cement the impression in the minds of many soldiers, whether rightly or wrongly, that the leftist base of the Democratic Party is ‘anti-military.'”

Of course, legislators are entirely justified in criticizing General Petraeus’s assessment of the war. Civilian control of the military is a basic feature of any genuine democracy. Senator Clinton demonstrated this sort of constructive criticism yesterday when she told General Petraeus, “If this hearing were being held three years ago, I would have a much higher degree of optimism. It has nothing to do with the loyalty, the warrior skills, and the leadership of our men and women in uniform.” Her frustration is with the Bush administration, not with the individuals of the armed services. Which is how it should be.

The Bush administration’s diplomacy and war management, however, is a subject wholly separate from General Petraeus’s personal integrity or character. This is a distinction that the slanderers at MoveOn.org willingly ignore, in their desire to conflate General Petraeus’s motives with the allegedly nefarious motives of the Bush administration.

But rather than following Senator Clinton’s lead, increasing segments of the Democratic congress—not just its activist base—are instead taking the cheapest possible shots against one of the most lauded generals in the field. Prior to yesterday’s testimony, an unnamed Democratic Senator told a reporter, “No one wants to call [Petraeus] a liar on national TV. . . . The expectation is that the outside groups will do this for us.” And, save for Senators Biden and Lieberman, no prominent Democrats have renounced MoveOn’s disgusting advertisement.

The important question is: where does the Democratic Party—which was not always so enraged by the sight of a man in uniform—stand on this slander? At yesterday’s hearing, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen began her remarks by stating, “I offer my colleagues the opportunity to use this hearing to distance themselves from the despicable ad that was published today calling into question the patriotism of General Petraeus.” From off-screen, someone shouted “Point of order! No one has to distance themselves from something they weren’t associated with.” The Associated Press reports that it was Representative Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii.

Mr. Abercrombie in particular may not need to apologize, but the same cannot be said for his superiors. As a story in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine makes clear, MoveOn.org is closely tied to senior Democrats on the Hill, through a subsidiary group, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (A.A.E.I), which was founded shortly after last November’s congressional election. A.A.E.I’s leader Tom Matzzie, according to the Times, “communicates on a near-daily basis” with the “offices of Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill.” A.A.E.I “coordinates extensively with Democrats on Capitol Hill. Matzzie himself meets with Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, ‘maybe once a month,’ he says, adding that he talks to their staffs ‘once a day, or at least a couple times a week.’ (Senior Democratic aides sometimes even join A.A.E.I’s conference calls.)”

Perhaps the reason why more Democrats have not spoken out against MoveOn.org’s slander against General Petraeus is that they are complicit in disseminating it.

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In Re: James Webb

Unlike most of the men and women who populate the higher reaches of American politics, James Webb, the new Democratic Senator from Virginia, is a genuinely interesting person—and one who thinks and feels with some passion. Rare among U.S. Senators, he appears to have made decisions not solely directed toward maintaining his “political viability.” In his youth, he followed family tradition and joined the Marines. As a junior officer he was wounded in combat in Vietnam. Back home he worked on Capitol Hill and wrote a series of novels centered around military life in the 1960’s and 70’s. An Annapolis grad, he served as Reagan’s last Secretary of the Navy.

In my own youth, I happened to work in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Operations and Low-Intensity Warfare, which was set up in the aftermath of Vietnam to ensure that our forces would be ready for the next round of unconventional warfare. Early on an officer helpfully gave me a copy of the Marine commandant’s reading list, which I commend to anyone who wants to understand how the military thinks about itself. In addition to the expected Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and Mao, I found Webb’s novels on the list. They were far more readable than most of the other books, so I read them all. (For the record, my colleagues preferred Pat Conroy.)

Notwithstanding former Senator George Allen’s attempt to discredit Webb by publishing some of his novels’ sex scenes, the books contained a lot of extremely astute observation about living and striving among the D.C. political class. His heroes were all acutely articulate about the betrayal of soldiers by politicians during Vietnam—a war that Webb insisted was winnable well up until the end, had we wanted to do what it took. Indeed, he took the perspective of the eternal junior officer, brave and honorable, up against the perfidies of cynical and jaded politicians and generals who were no better than pols.

His real-life actions had the same impassioned cast: he resigned with great righteousness as Secretary of the Navy over a fairly minor cut in the planned “600-ship Navy.” As if the lower number challenged his honor. He appears to have left the GOP in similar pique.

It was a clever choice by the Democratic leadership to have the newly elected Senator Webb give the Democratic response to the State of the Union address. He is a solid orator with an impressively deep voice and the ability to formulate standard Democratic ideas in less clichéd language. Predictably he advocated the same economic populism that got him elected two months ago. On the higher-stakes matter of Iraq, the Senator carefully listed all of the members of his family who have served in the armed forces, announced that he had warned in advance that the war was a mistake, and demanded an immediate pullout of a large number of troops. His emotions were barely restrained. But neither feelings nor honorable military service and sacrifice are the ultimate arbiters of the rightness of a military policy, or the virtue of a hasty retreat.

Now that he is a powerful United States Senator it is past time for James Webb to stop thinking of himself as the only honest man in the room. Junior officers lead platoons. There are reasons that they don’t make the big decisions—and lacking the ability to think dispassionately is one of them.

Unlike most of the men and women who populate the higher reaches of American politics, James Webb, the new Democratic Senator from Virginia, is a genuinely interesting person—and one who thinks and feels with some passion. Rare among U.S. Senators, he appears to have made decisions not solely directed toward maintaining his “political viability.” In his youth, he followed family tradition and joined the Marines. As a junior officer he was wounded in combat in Vietnam. Back home he worked on Capitol Hill and wrote a series of novels centered around military life in the 1960’s and 70’s. An Annapolis grad, he served as Reagan’s last Secretary of the Navy.

In my own youth, I happened to work in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Operations and Low-Intensity Warfare, which was set up in the aftermath of Vietnam to ensure that our forces would be ready for the next round of unconventional warfare. Early on an officer helpfully gave me a copy of the Marine commandant’s reading list, which I commend to anyone who wants to understand how the military thinks about itself. In addition to the expected Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and Mao, I found Webb’s novels on the list. They were far more readable than most of the other books, so I read them all. (For the record, my colleagues preferred Pat Conroy.)

Notwithstanding former Senator George Allen’s attempt to discredit Webb by publishing some of his novels’ sex scenes, the books contained a lot of extremely astute observation about living and striving among the D.C. political class. His heroes were all acutely articulate about the betrayal of soldiers by politicians during Vietnam—a war that Webb insisted was winnable well up until the end, had we wanted to do what it took. Indeed, he took the perspective of the eternal junior officer, brave and honorable, up against the perfidies of cynical and jaded politicians and generals who were no better than pols.

His real-life actions had the same impassioned cast: he resigned with great righteousness as Secretary of the Navy over a fairly minor cut in the planned “600-ship Navy.” As if the lower number challenged his honor. He appears to have left the GOP in similar pique.

It was a clever choice by the Democratic leadership to have the newly elected Senator Webb give the Democratic response to the State of the Union address. He is a solid orator with an impressively deep voice and the ability to formulate standard Democratic ideas in less clichéd language. Predictably he advocated the same economic populism that got him elected two months ago. On the higher-stakes matter of Iraq, the Senator carefully listed all of the members of his family who have served in the armed forces, announced that he had warned in advance that the war was a mistake, and demanded an immediate pullout of a large number of troops. His emotions were barely restrained. But neither feelings nor honorable military service and sacrifice are the ultimate arbiters of the rightness of a military policy, or the virtue of a hasty retreat.

Now that he is a powerful United States Senator it is past time for James Webb to stop thinking of himself as the only honest man in the room. Junior officers lead platoons. There are reasons that they don’t make the big decisions—and lacking the ability to think dispassionately is one of them.

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