Commentary Magazine


Topic: Dick Cheney

Cheney’s Critics and Moral Clarity in War

As far as America’s political left is concerned, Dick Cheney isn’t merely a wrong-headed Republican; he’s the spawn of the devil. The liberal mainstream media always treated Cheney as George W. Bush’s whipping boy during his administration and this week he’s been continuing that tradition by being willing to get out in front of the cameras after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture. Cheney’s unrepentant and unapologetic defense of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques during his appearance yesterday on Meet the Press, where he was closely questioned by host Chuck Todd, has sent his detractors over the cliff into heights of rhetorical excess and rage that make this debate take on the appearance of a Medieval theological disputation. But while Cheney may be accused of sounding insensitive about some of the very nasty things that were done to al-Qaeda prisoners, he nevertheless seems to posses a degree of moral clarity that few of his critics seem to have.

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As far as America’s political left is concerned, Dick Cheney isn’t merely a wrong-headed Republican; he’s the spawn of the devil. The liberal mainstream media always treated Cheney as George W. Bush’s whipping boy during his administration and this week he’s been continuing that tradition by being willing to get out in front of the cameras after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture. Cheney’s unrepentant and unapologetic defense of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques during his appearance yesterday on Meet the Press, where he was closely questioned by host Chuck Todd, has sent his detractors over the cliff into heights of rhetorical excess and rage that make this debate take on the appearance of a Medieval theological disputation. But while Cheney may be accused of sounding insensitive about some of the very nasty things that were done to al-Qaeda prisoners, he nevertheless seems to posses a degree of moral clarity that few of his critics seem to have.

The discussion about torture reminds us of the qualities that always annoyed his opponents most about Cheney. It’s not just that he does things they hate, it’s his air of defiance in which he doesn’t even accept the premise of the questions posed to him that makes them think he is evil. One example comes from New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait who commented on an earlier appearance by the former vice president on Fox News during which he wouldn’t budge from his stance even when asked about some particularly brutal conditions imposed on the terror suspects:

The host, Bret Baier, asked Cheney about Bush’s reported discomfort when told of a detainee’s having been chained to a dungeon ceiling, clothed only in a diaper, and forced to urinate and defecate on himself. “What are we supposed to do? Kiss him on both cheeks and say ‘Please, please, tell us what you know’?” Cheney said. “Of course not. We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack, and we were successful on both parts.”

Here, finally, was the brutal moral logic of Cheneyism on bright display. The insistence by his fellow partisans on averting their eyes from the horrible truth at least grows out of a human reaction. Cheney does not even understand why somebody would look away. His soul is a cold, black void.

Chait’s argument rests on the notion that even if you thought torture might be necessary, the decent thing to do is to act shocked or horrified by the ill treatment of even the bad guys of al-Qaeda. Cheney won’t play that game and that makes him not only infuriating to liberals but a poster child for the necessity of prosecuting Bush administration figures involved in the practice because, as the New York Times’s Juliet Lapidos wrote, he is “among those looking forward—to a time when, under a different administration, it might be possible to “do it again.” They believe his steely resolution that the right thing was done and lack of qualms about these admittedly tough measures show he lacks a soul that even people like Chait are willing to concede Bush might have possessed.

But while in private life the characteristics Cheney is exhibiting might seem egregious, they are also evidence of exactly what we need from wartime leaders.

What Cheney remembers and all of those who are carrying on about the one-sided and often misleading Senate report forget, is that the Bush administration’s primary responsibility after 9/11 was ensuring that another atrocity didn’t occur and that the U.S. didn’t lose the war that al-Qaeda was waging against it. Throughout the history of this republic, wartime leaders have always been forced to do some things that don’t look too good outside of the context of the time and the situation. As I wrote last week after the report was released, war is, at best, a morally ambiguous affair and always involves brutality and bloodshed even waged for moral causes.

When pressed about specifics about torture, Cheney stands his ground and answers that the real definition of torture is what happened to the victims of 9/11, not the temporary discomfort of their murderers. That can rightly be put down as sophistry. As Chait writes, there is a difference between mass murder and torture. But to those charged with the responsibility of defending America, the only real bottom line is whether the enemy is stopped and defeated. According to most of those in the know, the committee’s report is wrong to assert that the controversial interrogations did not provide useful intelligence. As long as that is true, Cheney won’t be squeamish or play the hypocrite. He believes it was the right thing to do and won’t avert his gaze from the behavior that helped achieve this result.

That may not strike most people as the sort of public attitude they want our leaders to display since Americans have always clung to the notion that they never had to stoop to the level of their enemies to win wars even if that was always a myth. But is Cheney’s attitude really any different from the defiant defense of drone attacks that we hear from the Obama administration? In the last several years, America has fought the war against Islamist terror mainly by waging remote-control war with bombs that kill civilians along with the bad guys. Everyone knows this, but somehow this preference for killing rather than capturing and then interrogating prisoners is somehow considered more moral.

Dick Cheney’s soul isn’t any less than that of Barack Obama because he was willing to unflinchingly defend torture to extract intelligence while the latter prefers to order strikes that kill rather than merely harm civilians along with terrorists.

This quality may not make Cheney likeable but it was the reason why he was the right man for the job at the time. It may not be easy for liberals to admit, but he helped keep us safe and ensured that al-Qaeda would be beaten. The tactics aren’t easy to look at, but as he can rightly assert, the only thing in war that counts in the long run is the results. That’s all the moral clarity history ever asks of wartime leaders.

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Torture Focus Is Poison Pill for Democrats

Liberal Democrats and their media allies are having a field day. The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture has allowed the political left to go back to its favorite pastime: bashing the Bush administration and their pet demon Vice President Dick Cheney. But as good as this feels to them, Democrats should be worried about the possibility that this issue will not only carry over into the new year but become part of the left’s standard foreign-policy talking points as we head into the 2016 presidential election cycle. Though anything that allows them to relive their glory days when hatred for all things Bush was their excuse for a political platform seems enticing, it’s actually a trap. The more the torture issue is allowed to play out as a partisan fight, the more trouble it will be for Democrats in the long run.

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Liberal Democrats and their media allies are having a field day. The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture has allowed the political left to go back to its favorite pastime: bashing the Bush administration and their pet demon Vice President Dick Cheney. But as good as this feels to them, Democrats should be worried about the possibility that this issue will not only carry over into the new year but become part of the left’s standard foreign-policy talking points as we head into the 2016 presidential election cycle. Though anything that allows them to relive their glory days when hatred for all things Bush was their excuse for a political platform seems enticing, it’s actually a trap. The more the torture issue is allowed to play out as a partisan fight, the more trouble it will be for Democrats in the long run.

It’s true that reigniting a debate about the use of torture on al-Qaeda prisoners enables liberals to go back to that happy time when they could concentrate all their energy attacking Bush and Cheney as lying, torturing warmongers. It also allows them to channel their 2006 and 2008 outrage about the GOP without having to acknowledge that the man they elected to reverse everything done by the 43rd president has, without the exception of enhanced interrogation, largely kept in place the policies they thought made the last GOP president and his team liable for either prosecution as unconstitutional law breakers or even war criminals.

But, like some isolationists on the right who might be deceived into thinking the discussion about torture will help undermine support within the Republican Party for an aggressive fight against Islamist terrorism, so, too, are Democrats wrong to think talking about this will do much to enhance their prospects in 2016. To the contrary, the more the left helps focus the country on the renewed war against a brutal Islamist foe, not only are they not playing to their party’s strength, but they are also failing to understand that the national mood is very different today from where it was when Bush and Cheney were popular piñatas for the left.

It needs to be understood that the reason why the Obama administration has undertaken the half-hearted offensive it launched against ISIS was that the terror group’s atrocities reminded Americans why they were pretty comfortable with the Bush-Cheney policies before the Iraq War soured. When they were rightly afraid of another 9/11, most people weren’t terribly interested in asking questions about how the intelligence community was acting to avert another atrocity. ISIS’s beheadings of American captives revived those fears and even if that group is currently more intent on asserting control of territory than in launching spectacular terror operations, the possibility that it or another group might strike Western targets is a possibility that can’t be safely discounted.

That’s why President Obama is trying to thread the political needle by disassociating himself from both the use of torture as well as attacks on the CIA and the calls for prosecution of Bush administration officials from his party’s political base. Though he has continued much of what Bush and Cheney started, the dependence on signal rather than human intelligence combined with an emphasis on assassinating terrorists rather than capturing them and getting them to talk has undermined confidence in the ability of the security apparatus to know what the enemy is thinking or planning.

All too many on the left approach these issues as if it is always September 10, 2001. So long as terror and a Middle East made more dangerous by Obama’s retreats from Iraq and Afghanistan are not issues, they can indulge in Bush-bashing to their heart’s content. But miring themselves in the politics of the Bush administration hurts the ability of Democrats to put themselves forward as a serious foreign-policy party at a time when terror is back on the national radar and likely to remain there for the next two years. It will also hamstring Hillary Clinton’s attempt to position herself again as a more responsible foreign-policy leader than Obama. The torture debate will bring to the fore exactly those figures in the Democratic Party who are most likely to make centrist voters think they shouldn’t be trusted with the country’s security. That’s good news for MSNBC and its dwindling band of viewers but bad for a party that needs to spend more time trying to appeal to white middle and working class independent voters rather than its left-wing core.

Just as important, Democrats gang tackling Republicans who are part of the nation’s past will mean less time spent trying to demonize the GOP figures they should be afraid of among the large field of credible presidential candidates. Those on the left that think that’s smart politics are setting their party up for a long, comfortable stay in opposition rather than winning in 2016.

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The Media McCarthyites

The op-ed in the Wall Street Journal from former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter, former State Department official Liz Cheney, has set off a fire storm of criticism on the left about why they should be allowed to comment, or why their views should be considered. Here, for example, is Brian Beutler, senior editor of the New Republic, commenting on that journal’s website. At the Washington Post’s “Plum Line,” here is Paul Waldman. Jimmy Carter speechwriter James Fallows, not with a touch of irony given the Carter administration’s foreign-policy track record, writes, “a number of prominent officials who had set the stage for today’s disaster in Iraq deserved respect for their silence.” And, of course, the New York Times chimes in. James Wolcott at Vanity Fair advises tuning out anyone with the last name “Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith, Boot, or, how apt, Slaughter.” The irony, of course, is that the names he puts forward often do not agree on policy prescriptions.

How sad, silly, and reflective of the naked partisanship that has done more than anything else to undercut Iraq. I read more bloggers on the left than I do on the right, even if I disagree with them. The argument always matters more than the person who makes them. The arbitrariness of it can also be infuriating. Why single out Wolfowitz, Bremer, and Cheney, but not Crocker, Khalilzad, Armitage, Rice, Powell, and Wilkerson? All supported the conflict in Iraq. Some subsequently walked away but the nature of government is that when decisions are made, even if you disagree with them, you move on to get the best possible outcome. Zalmay Khalilzad, Ryan Crocker, and Stephen Hadley favored a longer occupation because they thought U.S. political leverage would be greater in the formation of a new Iraqi government with boots on the ground; Wolfowitz and Cheney opposed that. But once the decision was made, it was important to achieve the best that could be achieved.

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The op-ed in the Wall Street Journal from former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter, former State Department official Liz Cheney, has set off a fire storm of criticism on the left about why they should be allowed to comment, or why their views should be considered. Here, for example, is Brian Beutler, senior editor of the New Republic, commenting on that journal’s website. At the Washington Post’s “Plum Line,” here is Paul Waldman. Jimmy Carter speechwriter James Fallows, not with a touch of irony given the Carter administration’s foreign-policy track record, writes, “a number of prominent officials who had set the stage for today’s disaster in Iraq deserved respect for their silence.” And, of course, the New York Times chimes in. James Wolcott at Vanity Fair advises tuning out anyone with the last name “Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith, Boot, or, how apt, Slaughter.” The irony, of course, is that the names he puts forward often do not agree on policy prescriptions.

How sad, silly, and reflective of the naked partisanship that has done more than anything else to undercut Iraq. I read more bloggers on the left than I do on the right, even if I disagree with them. The argument always matters more than the person who makes them. The arbitrariness of it can also be infuriating. Why single out Wolfowitz, Bremer, and Cheney, but not Crocker, Khalilzad, Armitage, Rice, Powell, and Wilkerson? All supported the conflict in Iraq. Some subsequently walked away but the nature of government is that when decisions are made, even if you disagree with them, you move on to get the best possible outcome. Zalmay Khalilzad, Ryan Crocker, and Stephen Hadley favored a longer occupation because they thought U.S. political leverage would be greater in the formation of a new Iraqi government with boots on the ground; Wolfowitz and Cheney opposed that. But once the decision was made, it was important to achieve the best that could be achieved.

And while some who are counseling shutting Bush administration folks out of the debate might say they are free to speak—and so the charge of McCarthyism doesn’t apply—but simply that they should not be listened to, perhaps some reflection is needed about the merits of having a closed mind.

There’s a more nuanced argument put out there by Peter Beinart which essentially boils down to: “Let them speak, but only after they confess.” It really is the Spanish Inquisition philosophy of punditry: “I am so obviously right that anyone who disagrees with my interpretation should first confess or face punishment.” Left unsaid is that there are still debates about de-Baathification and the dissolution (and immediate rebuilding) of the Iraqi army. After all, the conscripts had deserted: Would the Beinarts and Beutlers of the world suggest bringing them back at gunpoint? Keeping the top brass with blood on their hands? (The actual problem had more to do with disorganized pension payments.)

Geoff Dyer at the Financial Times wrote rather cynically that the Bush team was using the Iraqi crisis only to defend their records. That’s a fair point to make, but there’s a less cynical spin: Many in the Bush team—at least those who have remained engaged in Iraq—know Iraqis and remain deeply committed to the country. It wasn’t simply a Washington career-ladder thing, but something more. Now I’ll be cynical: I believe President Obama made a naked political calculation: He would withdraw from Iraq. If it collapsed, he’d blame Bush and if it somehow stayed together, he’d brag about his own wisdom. The problem with that is that it treats Iraqis as pawns. The decisions Obama makes or doesn’t make are relevant.

Long story short: The howls of outrage about Vice President Cheney voicing his opinion reflect just how poisonous the Washington debate has become, and how negative it is to policymaking when personalities count more than ideas.

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Dick Cheney: Behind the Music

Thought you knew everything about Vice President Dick Cheney? Think again. From the COMMENTARY Roast of Dick Cheney:

              

Thought you knew everything about Vice President Dick Cheney? Think again. From the COMMENTARY Roast of Dick Cheney:

              

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Rubio’s No Cheney, But He’s Also Not Palin

Mitt Romney’s unopposed sweep of the five primaries yesterday brought him that much closer to the Republican presidential nomination that is already his in all but name. But it also will turn up the heat on the search for his running mate. With nothing else to discuss — other than the issues, that is — anyone whose name is under consideration can expect the sort of examination that has, up until now, been restricted to presidential contenders.

The chief recipient of this intense scrutiny will undoubtedly be the man many believe is the frontrunner for the number two spot on the GOP ticket: Marco Rubio. Along with the other main contenders, Paul Ryan, Rob Portman and Chris Christie, his career and life is going to get a going over with a fine tooth comb not just from Romney’s vetting team but from a press corps that no longer has a nomination battle to cover. One of the first shots at Rubio’s credentials came yesterday from John Dickerson at Slate, who attempted to tag the Florida senator as being another version of 2008 GOP veep pick Sarah Palin, which is about the most unflattering comparison possible.

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Mitt Romney’s unopposed sweep of the five primaries yesterday brought him that much closer to the Republican presidential nomination that is already his in all but name. But it also will turn up the heat on the search for his running mate. With nothing else to discuss — other than the issues, that is — anyone whose name is under consideration can expect the sort of examination that has, up until now, been restricted to presidential contenders.

The chief recipient of this intense scrutiny will undoubtedly be the man many believe is the frontrunner for the number two spot on the GOP ticket: Marco Rubio. Along with the other main contenders, Paul Ryan, Rob Portman and Chris Christie, his career and life is going to get a going over with a fine tooth comb not just from Romney’s vetting team but from a press corps that no longer has a nomination battle to cover. One of the first shots at Rubio’s credentials came yesterday from John Dickerson at Slate, who attempted to tag the Florida senator as being another version of 2008 GOP veep pick Sarah Palin, which is about the most unflattering comparison possible.

According to Dickerson, Rubio is similar to Palin in that he hasn’t any executive experience. Therefore, because Romney is running on the issue of competence, Rubio’s presence on the ticket will undermine the Republican campaign. Of course, it should be pointed out that Palin actually had a lot more executive experience (both as mayor of Wasilla and her 19 months on the job as governor of Alaska when John McCain tapped her for the nomination) than Rubio. But the problem with this argument is the issue with Palin was not so much her relatively thin resume (though not when compared to Barack Obama) but her lack of comfort discussing the major issues of the day in depth and at length. Rubio is a relative newcomer, but he is not someone who will flame out and play the fool in a one-on-one interview with Katie Couric.

Rubio may not be the second coming of Dick Cheney — a man who was picked to run with George W. Bush because of his extensive Washington resume and ability to govern — but he is ready to debate on the national stage, something that, for all of her considerable political gifts, Sarah Palin was not prepared to do in 2008.

But Dickerson is on to something when he hones in on Romney’s obvious desire to have someone run with him who has executive experience or at least possesses the ability to approach the issues with the same systematic method Romney prized during his business career. If that is what Romney is looking for — and Cheney is right when he says the priority should not be on superficial political advantages that might attach to possible running mates — then the edge will go to the only sitting governor on the presumed short list: Chris Christie.

However, the other two main contenders also bring something to the table in this regard that should not be discounted. As the chairman of the House Budget Committee and the architect of the Republican proposals for entitlement reform, Ryan clearly has the vision and the understanding of how the federal government works to help Romney govern. And Portman, who currently sits in the Senate but was George W. Bush’s budget director, has the same sort of credential. But both also have negatives attached to their resumes. Ryan is considered radioactive to some because of the way Democrats have demonized his proposals, and Portman’s service in the last administration will link Romney to Bush.

Dickerson is also right to discount the edge that Rubio would bring with Hispanic voters. As I wrote yesterday, most of what is assumed by pundits about that is probably untrue.

As for Rubio, the jury is still out on whether his efforts to tamp down speculation about his candidacy were genuine. He had me convinced when he repeatedly said that “it wasn’t going to happen,” which sounded like he had a reason why he didn’t want to run (or why Romney shouldn’t pick him) rather than the usual coyness that we expect from vice presidential contenders. But his recent efforts aimed at self-promotion as well as a memorable Freudian slip about the subject have left me thinking maybe he wants it after all.

In the first century of the history of this republic, it was customary for presidential contenders to pretend they weren’t candidates and bad form to do anything that could be construed as campaigning for the job. But though that silly masquerade is no longer part of the presidential election process, it is retained for would-be vice presidents. But we’d all be better off if there was more candor about the veep search.

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Dick Cheney Always Had Heart

The news that former Vice President Dick Cheney underwent a heart transplant procedure yesterday will be, no doubt, greeted with jokes, sniping about his age (at 71, he is near the upper limit for such an operation) and rehearsals of the laundry list of conspiratorial accusations that have always been thrown in his direction from the far left. Though we have grown use to seeing our leaders demonized by their opponents, no public servant in our time has been subjected to as much ill tempered imprecation as Dick Cheney. Yet throughout his long career Cheney has risen above such foolishness to compile an enviable record of achievement.

The power of popular culture is such that the mere mention of Cheney’s name is enough to conjure up images of Darth Vader-like villains and puppet-masters pulling the strings on a vast empire of evil right-wing minions. This is a tribute to the ability of the political left to manipulate opinion. His critics made him the whipping boy for all the second guesses about the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism policies. Cheney’s unapologetic approach to politics and to the causes to which he served made him the ideal target for such smears. But the truth was simple and readily understood by Americans who were not deceived by liberal conventional wisdom. Dick Cheney is a man who dedicated his life to serving his country, safeguarding its liberties and national defense.

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The news that former Vice President Dick Cheney underwent a heart transplant procedure yesterday will be, no doubt, greeted with jokes, sniping about his age (at 71, he is near the upper limit for such an operation) and rehearsals of the laundry list of conspiratorial accusations that have always been thrown in his direction from the far left. Though we have grown use to seeing our leaders demonized by their opponents, no public servant in our time has been subjected to as much ill tempered imprecation as Dick Cheney. Yet throughout his long career Cheney has risen above such foolishness to compile an enviable record of achievement.

The power of popular culture is such that the mere mention of Cheney’s name is enough to conjure up images of Darth Vader-like villains and puppet-masters pulling the strings on a vast empire of evil right-wing minions. This is a tribute to the ability of the political left to manipulate opinion. His critics made him the whipping boy for all the second guesses about the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism policies. Cheney’s unapologetic approach to politics and to the causes to which he served made him the ideal target for such smears. But the truth was simple and readily understood by Americans who were not deceived by liberal conventional wisdom. Dick Cheney is a man who dedicated his life to serving his country, safeguarding its liberties and national defense.

Over the last two years as Cheney’s health worsened, his public appearances and statements were few and far between. As we now know, he had been waiting for a possible heart transplant for 20 months. During this time, we have missed his voice of wisdom and common sense. Though Cheney, whose career in public service stretches back to the 1970s, has earned the right to relax and to leave the battle of ideas to others, we pray that his surgery not only allows him long life but the strength to return to the fray. Though no man is irreplaceable, Cheney has a special place in the hearts of conservatives and others who value his ability to cut through the nonsense and articulate the principles of limited government as well as his vision of America’s necessary role in defending the values and the security of the West against the forces of totalitarianism and radical Islam.

Dick Cheney may not have been willing to stoop to win the applause of the chattering classes but his heart was always in the right place when it came to defending America. Let us hope that his new heart will ensure that he will be with us for many years to come. Our hearts as well as our prayers are with him and his family.

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Why Is Jim Wallis Polishing the Windows on His Glass House?

Jim Wallis of Sojourners co-wrote, with Charles Colson, a piece in Christianity Today titled “Conviction and Civility.” According to Wallis and Colson, “when we disagree, especially when we strongly disagree, we should have robust debate but not resort to personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, assaulting their character, questioning their faith, or doubting their patriotism.”

“Demonizing our opponents poisons the public square,” the twosome inform us.

Agreed. But what is worth noting, I think, is that Wallis (as opposed to Colson) has repeatedly violated his commitment to civility. For example, in 2007, Wallis said: “I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this [Iraq] war and the shameful way they have fought it.”

Americans and Iraqis died “because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.” Wallis went on to say he favors investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on “official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges.” And if they were found guilty of these “high crimes,” Wallis wrote, “I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison. … Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.”

As I showed here, these statements are slanderous. Given that, how does Wallis square what he wrote with his counsel not to resort to “personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, [and] assaulting their character”?

More recently, Wallis strongly implied that the Tea Party movement was animated by racism. Is this the kind of thing Wallis has in mind when he cautions us against “demonizing our opponents,” which in turn “poisons the public square”?

These episodes are not isolated ones. Wallis recently accused World magazine’s Marvin Olasky of being a liar — a claim Wallis had to retract after Olasky provided indisputable evidence that it was Olasky, not Wallis, who was telling the truth.

My point here isn’t so much to call attention to the hypocrisy of Wallis, though that’s worth taking into account. Nor is it to argue that Wallis, based on his shrill outbursts, should never be able to make the case for civility in public discourse, though it would help if Wallis were to acknowledge his complicity in what he now decries. Read More

Jim Wallis of Sojourners co-wrote, with Charles Colson, a piece in Christianity Today titled “Conviction and Civility.” According to Wallis and Colson, “when we disagree, especially when we strongly disagree, we should have robust debate but not resort to personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, assaulting their character, questioning their faith, or doubting their patriotism.”

“Demonizing our opponents poisons the public square,” the twosome inform us.

Agreed. But what is worth noting, I think, is that Wallis (as opposed to Colson) has repeatedly violated his commitment to civility. For example, in 2007, Wallis said: “I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this [Iraq] war and the shameful way they have fought it.”

Americans and Iraqis died “because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.” Wallis went on to say he favors investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on “official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges.” And if they were found guilty of these “high crimes,” Wallis wrote, “I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison. … Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.”

As I showed here, these statements are slanderous. Given that, how does Wallis square what he wrote with his counsel not to resort to “personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, [and] assaulting their character”?

More recently, Wallis strongly implied that the Tea Party movement was animated by racism. Is this the kind of thing Wallis has in mind when he cautions us against “demonizing our opponents,” which in turn “poisons the public square”?

These episodes are not isolated ones. Wallis recently accused World magazine’s Marvin Olasky of being a liar — a claim Wallis had to retract after Olasky provided indisputable evidence that it was Olasky, not Wallis, who was telling the truth.

My point here isn’t so much to call attention to the hypocrisy of Wallis, though that’s worth taking into account. Nor is it to argue that Wallis, based on his shrill outbursts, should never be able to make the case for civility in public discourse, though it would help if Wallis were to acknowledge his complicity in what he now decries.

Perhaps the deeper thing to take away from this is that civility is difficult to achieve unless we gain some mental and emotional distance from political disputes. People on both sides of the divide employ double standards to advance their cause. What a reasonable person would consider an ad hominem attack is, for an ideologue, considered a self-evident truth. If  you’re a person on the hard left, as Wallis is, accusing Rumsfeld, Cheney, a conservative journalist and the Tea Party Movement of being liars, corrupt, war criminals, and racists is giving expression to what you consider to be a self-evident truth. Wallis even goes so far as to portray himself as a force moving us to a “kinder and gentler public square.” This is self-deception of a high order.

Those on the right are susceptible to the same temptations. They can accuse Barack Obama of hating white people and of being committed to destroying the country while also believing no lines have been crossed, that the charges are themselves incontestable.

This doesn’t mean that harsh judgments are never called for. Some people are knaves, while others are fools. My point is simply that all of us in the public arena come to it with certain predispositions and tendencies through which we interpret events. As a conservative, I would be among the last people in the world to reject the use of a philosophical system, of a worldview, to help us make sense of things.

On the other hand, people like Jim Wallis provide a cautionary tale of the blinding effects of zealotry. It can become so acute that even dispensers of libel can fashion themselves as peacemakers.

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Morning Commentary

I’m going to guess that, for President Obama, getting praised by Dick Cheney is a whole lot worse than being criticized by him. During an interview that aired on the Today show this morning, the former vice president noted that Obama has continued many of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies (“I think he’s learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate”). Cheney also spoke about how he was perceived by the public during his last few years in office (“I was there to do a job. And if it meant I had to break some china to get the job done, I did it”).

Does Hillary Clinton’s speech on Tunisia last Thursday indicate a return of the freedom agenda? Lee Smith wonders whether her tough talk on human rights helped bring down Ben Ali: “Over the last two years the Obama administration has rightly been excoriated for ignoring human rights issues throughout the Arabic-speaking Middle East. … But Thursday afternoon in Doha Secretary Clinton fired a shot across the bow of the Arab political order.”

Ahead of Saturday’s nuclear talks between P5+1 and Tehran, Iran’s nuclear negotiator has accused the U.S. of launching a “cyberattack” against the country’s facilities and claims to have documentation of U.S. involvement in Stuxnet (where would he have gotten that impression?): “‘Those who have done that could see now that they were not successful in that and we are following our success,’ he said. He added that Iran is not the only country vulnerable to cyberattacks, as evidenced by the WikiLeaks release of U.S. diplomatic cables. ‘They are also weak and vulnerable,’ he said of the United States.”

In an interview with Just Journalism, Dr. Avner Cohen took a swipe at Jeffrey Goldberg’s Iran article from last summer, which estimated that Israel had more than a 50 percent chance of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities by next July: “I never believed the alarmist story by Jeffrey Goldberg in July — I thought that he was speculating (or led by others to advance a highly speculative view) about issues that were not decided then, and surely much less so today.” Cohen also criticized the recent suggestion that Iran won’t be capable of building a bomb until 2015: “I think that anybody who suggests a concrete timetable is a fool. I do not take seriously any timetable.”

National Review’s Katrina Trinko explains why you should take those two new ObamaCare polls with a grain of salt: “Take the AP poll, which shows that 40 percent of adults support Obamacare and 41 percent oppose it. In November, the last time the AP polled this question, 38 percent supported Obamacare and 47 percent opposed it.  But the sample in November was very different: 38 percent Republican and 39 percent Democrat. The sample in January wasn’t so balanced, with 42 percent of the responders Democrat and 36 percent Republican.”

I’m going to guess that, for President Obama, getting praised by Dick Cheney is a whole lot worse than being criticized by him. During an interview that aired on the Today show this morning, the former vice president noted that Obama has continued many of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies (“I think he’s learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate”). Cheney also spoke about how he was perceived by the public during his last few years in office (“I was there to do a job. And if it meant I had to break some china to get the job done, I did it”).

Does Hillary Clinton’s speech on Tunisia last Thursday indicate a return of the freedom agenda? Lee Smith wonders whether her tough talk on human rights helped bring down Ben Ali: “Over the last two years the Obama administration has rightly been excoriated for ignoring human rights issues throughout the Arabic-speaking Middle East. … But Thursday afternoon in Doha Secretary Clinton fired a shot across the bow of the Arab political order.”

Ahead of Saturday’s nuclear talks between P5+1 and Tehran, Iran’s nuclear negotiator has accused the U.S. of launching a “cyberattack” against the country’s facilities and claims to have documentation of U.S. involvement in Stuxnet (where would he have gotten that impression?): “‘Those who have done that could see now that they were not successful in that and we are following our success,’ he said. He added that Iran is not the only country vulnerable to cyberattacks, as evidenced by the WikiLeaks release of U.S. diplomatic cables. ‘They are also weak and vulnerable,’ he said of the United States.”

In an interview with Just Journalism, Dr. Avner Cohen took a swipe at Jeffrey Goldberg’s Iran article from last summer, which estimated that Israel had more than a 50 percent chance of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities by next July: “I never believed the alarmist story by Jeffrey Goldberg in July — I thought that he was speculating (or led by others to advance a highly speculative view) about issues that were not decided then, and surely much less so today.” Cohen also criticized the recent suggestion that Iran won’t be capable of building a bomb until 2015: “I think that anybody who suggests a concrete timetable is a fool. I do not take seriously any timetable.”

National Review’s Katrina Trinko explains why you should take those two new ObamaCare polls with a grain of salt: “Take the AP poll, which shows that 40 percent of adults support Obamacare and 41 percent oppose it. In November, the last time the AP polled this question, 38 percent supported Obamacare and 47 percent opposed it.  But the sample in November was very different: 38 percent Republican and 39 percent Democrat. The sample in January wasn’t so balanced, with 42 percent of the responders Democrat and 36 percent Republican.”

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Left Shamelessly Seeks to Exploit Arizona Tragedy

The shooting in Arizona is the sort of thing that obligates all sides in political debates to call a timeout. Right now our collective prayers are with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her family as she struggles for life, as well as with the families of those who were murdered in this senseless evil attack. But acting in the spirit of Rahm Emanuel’s belief that a crisis shouldn’t go to waste, some on the left are determined to exploit this tragedy to advance their own partisan interests.

One example is a post by the New Yorker’s George Packer, who writes today that “It doesn’t matter why he did it.” The “he” is the alleged Arizona murderer Jared Loughner, a mentally unstable creature who thinks that the government is imposing “mind control” on the public via “grammar.”

Packer concedes that Loughner is not an advocate of any coherent ideology or movement that has any real link to anything that is part of contemporary political debates, including the Tea Party activists. But to him that is irrelevant, because conservative activists and pundits have spent the last two years criticizing President Obama and his policies, making violence inevitable.

It is true that a few people on the margins have indulged in rhetoric that can be termed attempts at the “delegitimization” of Obama, including those who have irrationally focused on myths about the president’s birthplace and religion. But on the left it has become a piece of conventional wisdom that all conservatives are somehow guilty of rhetoric that crosses the bounds of decency. Indeed, so sensitive are Packer and those who think like him that even the public reading of the Constitution this past week by members of Congress (an exercise that included Rep. Giffords, who proudly read the First Amendment) is “an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.”

Speaking in the same spirit, the National Jewish Democratic Council asserted: “It is fair to say — in today’s political climate, and given today’s political rhetoric — that many have contributed to the building levels of vitriol in our political discourse that have surely contributed to the atmosphere in which this event transpired.”

Both Packer’s post and the NJDC statement reflect the liberal talking point of the last two years that has sought to maintain the pretense that the Tea Party and other fervent critics of Obama were nothing more than hate-filled nut cases rather than merely citizens who were asserting their constitutional right of dissent. But as the election in November proved, the Tea Party turned out in many respects to be more representative of mainstream America than the media and other elites who branded them as extremists.

It is true that the political debate in this country over the last two years has been heated, with President Obama and congressional Democrats being subjected to some particularly tough rhetoric. But the level of nastiness directed at Obama was no greater than the vicious attacks that had been leveled at President Bush, who along with Dick Cheney and other administration figures was regularly vilified not only by demonstrators but also by mainstream liberal politicians. Indeed, Packer acts as though left-wing talk-show hosts like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, who repeatedly seek to delegitimize Republicans and conservatives, didn’t exist. And it is not as if Republicans receive no threats; some, like Rep. Eric Cantor, the new House majority leader, have also been subjected to this sort of indecent behavior.

Despite all this, Packer and the NJDC are determined to use the tragedy in Arizona to resurrect this failed effort to besmirch conservatives and other Obama critics as violent haters. There is, after all, a precedent for this sort of thing. In 1995, President Clinton used the Oklahoma City bombing to strike back at his critics, including radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, even though Limbaugh and others critical of Clinton had nothing to do with the lunatics who perpetrated that crime.

Calls for civil debate are always appropriate, but those who wish to use this terrible crime to attempt to silence their opponents or to stifle legitimate public debate or activism are the ones who are crossing the bounds of decency today.

The shooting in Arizona is the sort of thing that obligates all sides in political debates to call a timeout. Right now our collective prayers are with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her family as she struggles for life, as well as with the families of those who were murdered in this senseless evil attack. But acting in the spirit of Rahm Emanuel’s belief that a crisis shouldn’t go to waste, some on the left are determined to exploit this tragedy to advance their own partisan interests.

One example is a post by the New Yorker’s George Packer, who writes today that “It doesn’t matter why he did it.” The “he” is the alleged Arizona murderer Jared Loughner, a mentally unstable creature who thinks that the government is imposing “mind control” on the public via “grammar.”

Packer concedes that Loughner is not an advocate of any coherent ideology or movement that has any real link to anything that is part of contemporary political debates, including the Tea Party activists. But to him that is irrelevant, because conservative activists and pundits have spent the last two years criticizing President Obama and his policies, making violence inevitable.

It is true that a few people on the margins have indulged in rhetoric that can be termed attempts at the “delegitimization” of Obama, including those who have irrationally focused on myths about the president’s birthplace and religion. But on the left it has become a piece of conventional wisdom that all conservatives are somehow guilty of rhetoric that crosses the bounds of decency. Indeed, so sensitive are Packer and those who think like him that even the public reading of the Constitution this past week by members of Congress (an exercise that included Rep. Giffords, who proudly read the First Amendment) is “an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.”

Speaking in the same spirit, the National Jewish Democratic Council asserted: “It is fair to say — in today’s political climate, and given today’s political rhetoric — that many have contributed to the building levels of vitriol in our political discourse that have surely contributed to the atmosphere in which this event transpired.”

Both Packer’s post and the NJDC statement reflect the liberal talking point of the last two years that has sought to maintain the pretense that the Tea Party and other fervent critics of Obama were nothing more than hate-filled nut cases rather than merely citizens who were asserting their constitutional right of dissent. But as the election in November proved, the Tea Party turned out in many respects to be more representative of mainstream America than the media and other elites who branded them as extremists.

It is true that the political debate in this country over the last two years has been heated, with President Obama and congressional Democrats being subjected to some particularly tough rhetoric. But the level of nastiness directed at Obama was no greater than the vicious attacks that had been leveled at President Bush, who along with Dick Cheney and other administration figures was regularly vilified not only by demonstrators but also by mainstream liberal politicians. Indeed, Packer acts as though left-wing talk-show hosts like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, who repeatedly seek to delegitimize Republicans and conservatives, didn’t exist. And it is not as if Republicans receive no threats; some, like Rep. Eric Cantor, the new House majority leader, have also been subjected to this sort of indecent behavior.

Despite all this, Packer and the NJDC are determined to use the tragedy in Arizona to resurrect this failed effort to besmirch conservatives and other Obama critics as violent haters. There is, after all, a precedent for this sort of thing. In 1995, President Clinton used the Oklahoma City bombing to strike back at his critics, including radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, even though Limbaugh and others critical of Clinton had nothing to do with the lunatics who perpetrated that crime.

Calls for civil debate are always appropriate, but those who wish to use this terrible crime to attempt to silence their opponents or to stifle legitimate public debate or activism are the ones who are crossing the bounds of decency today.

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Saving Private Pelosi: Nancy’s Spielberg Makeovers

The Washington Post reported today that film director Steven Spielberg may soon be serving as a consultant to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she attempts to “rebrand” House Democrats after a historic defeat in which they lost 61 seats to the Republicans. Though Spielberg’s spokesperson attempted to throw cold water on this item, as the Post noted, it was a “classic non-denial denial.”

Spielberg is well known to be a loyal Democrat who has in the past helped raise money and promote the candidacies of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But the idea that the famed moviemaker can pull something out of his hat — other, that is, than some more Hollywood cash — to change America’s mind about one of the least-liked political figures of the day may be asking a bit too much. Though Spielberg is not unfamiliar with epic disasters, such as his famous flop 1941, attempting to “rebrand” a shrill, unlikeable ideologue like Pelosi is a daunting task.

What advice could Spielberg offer to Pelosi? Changing the public’s mind about a woman whose unpopularity was a greater factor in this year’s GOP victory than the virtues of her opponents will require Spielberg to tap deep into his archive of film hits. In the hope of providing some insight into the machinations of this liberal brain trust, here are some possible previews of Spielberg-inspired TV commercials and short films that will air in the future in battleground states:

Saving Private Blue Dog: A picked squad of Democratic House members led by Pelosi venture deep into a Red State in order to extricate a beleaguered member from a GOP-dominated district, climaxing with the wounded Speaker urging the lost Democrat to “earn this” as she expires.

E.T.: The Sequel: The famous cuddly alien is about to be waterboarded by Republicans but is rescued by Pelosi, who makes off with him on her bicycle as the two discuss immigration reform.

Close Encounters with Democrats: A random group of Americans find themselves inexplicably drawn to gather at the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming to attend an indoctrination session with Pelosi about supporting ObamaCare.

Raiders of the Lost Democrat: Pelosi leads a multi-continental search for the lost copy of the Bill of Rights. After being captured by Dick Cheney and his band of evil Republicans, Pelosi witnesses the opening of the ark, which contains what is believed to be the artifact. Cheney and the GOPniks melt, but when Pelosi reads the artifact, it turns out to be merely a memo from Rahm Emanuel about earmarks.

Jaws V: The Democrats’ Revenge: Pelosi attempts to save the population of a beach community endangered by a ruthlessly pro-business Republican town council in cahoots with a shark believed to be responsible for an oil spill. Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Richard Dreyfuss (as himself) take to the sea to catch the shark. Pelosi and Dreyfuss swim to shore after the battle, determined to make peace in the Middle East.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World of Politicians: An attempt to clone famous Democrats of the past at a theme park goes tragically wrong as the reincarnated Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson attempt to reimpose Jim Crow on an unwilling America. Pelosi is forced to join forces with Republicans as they bring back Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt to counter the Dem icons. The conclusion is a sermon on bipartisanship.

Happy holidays to readers of all persuasions and parties!

The Washington Post reported today that film director Steven Spielberg may soon be serving as a consultant to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she attempts to “rebrand” House Democrats after a historic defeat in which they lost 61 seats to the Republicans. Though Spielberg’s spokesperson attempted to throw cold water on this item, as the Post noted, it was a “classic non-denial denial.”

Spielberg is well known to be a loyal Democrat who has in the past helped raise money and promote the candidacies of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But the idea that the famed moviemaker can pull something out of his hat — other, that is, than some more Hollywood cash — to change America’s mind about one of the least-liked political figures of the day may be asking a bit too much. Though Spielberg is not unfamiliar with epic disasters, such as his famous flop 1941, attempting to “rebrand” a shrill, unlikeable ideologue like Pelosi is a daunting task.

What advice could Spielberg offer to Pelosi? Changing the public’s mind about a woman whose unpopularity was a greater factor in this year’s GOP victory than the virtues of her opponents will require Spielberg to tap deep into his archive of film hits. In the hope of providing some insight into the machinations of this liberal brain trust, here are some possible previews of Spielberg-inspired TV commercials and short films that will air in the future in battleground states:

Saving Private Blue Dog: A picked squad of Democratic House members led by Pelosi venture deep into a Red State in order to extricate a beleaguered member from a GOP-dominated district, climaxing with the wounded Speaker urging the lost Democrat to “earn this” as she expires.

E.T.: The Sequel: The famous cuddly alien is about to be waterboarded by Republicans but is rescued by Pelosi, who makes off with him on her bicycle as the two discuss immigration reform.

Close Encounters with Democrats: A random group of Americans find themselves inexplicably drawn to gather at the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming to attend an indoctrination session with Pelosi about supporting ObamaCare.

Raiders of the Lost Democrat: Pelosi leads a multi-continental search for the lost copy of the Bill of Rights. After being captured by Dick Cheney and his band of evil Republicans, Pelosi witnesses the opening of the ark, which contains what is believed to be the artifact. Cheney and the GOPniks melt, but when Pelosi reads the artifact, it turns out to be merely a memo from Rahm Emanuel about earmarks.

Jaws V: The Democrats’ Revenge: Pelosi attempts to save the population of a beach community endangered by a ruthlessly pro-business Republican town council in cahoots with a shark believed to be responsible for an oil spill. Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Richard Dreyfuss (as himself) take to the sea to catch the shark. Pelosi and Dreyfuss swim to shore after the battle, determined to make peace in the Middle East.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World of Politicians: An attempt to clone famous Democrats of the past at a theme park goes tragically wrong as the reincarnated Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson attempt to reimpose Jim Crow on an unwilling America. Pelosi is forced to join forces with Republicans as they bring back Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt to counter the Dem icons. The conclusion is a sermon on bipartisanship.

Happy holidays to readers of all persuasions and parties!

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Liberal Lamentations and the Book of Job

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

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The Book of Sort of Job

Jon Meacham (whose former Newsweek colleague Evan Thomas last year gave us the description of Obama as “sort of God”) has an essay in today’s New York Times Book Review entitled “Obama and the Book of Job,” a review of Robert Alter’s new translation of one of the most remarkable books of the Bible. This time, Meacham portrays Obama not as sort of God but sort of Job:

[Obama] might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him. Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one. …

When God speaks from the whirlwind at the end of the Book of Job, it reminds Meacham “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse.”

Those interested in a more compelling reflection on the political meaning of the Book of Job might consider reading one of William Safire’s most brilliant books, The First Dissident: The Book of Job in Today’s Politics, published in 1993 and still relevant today (summarized slightly here and reviewed in the pages of COMMENTARY here).

As for Obama’s current problems, they do not seem biblical in proportion but rather simply those associated with the job he volunteered for and assured us he would solve (while bringing the sea level down). His situation seems less the work of a Cheney-like God than an illustration of the biblical admonition of what cometh before a fall.

Jon Meacham (whose former Newsweek colleague Evan Thomas last year gave us the description of Obama as “sort of God”) has an essay in today’s New York Times Book Review entitled “Obama and the Book of Job,” a review of Robert Alter’s new translation of one of the most remarkable books of the Bible. This time, Meacham portrays Obama not as sort of God but sort of Job:

[Obama] might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him. Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one. …

When God speaks from the whirlwind at the end of the Book of Job, it reminds Meacham “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse.”

Those interested in a more compelling reflection on the political meaning of the Book of Job might consider reading one of William Safire’s most brilliant books, The First Dissident: The Book of Job in Today’s Politics, published in 1993 and still relevant today (summarized slightly here and reviewed in the pages of COMMENTARY here).

As for Obama’s current problems, they do not seem biblical in proportion but rather simply those associated with the job he volunteered for and assured us he would solve (while bringing the sea level down). His situation seems less the work of a Cheney-like God than an illustration of the biblical admonition of what cometh before a fall.

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RE: Reassessing the Bush Presidency

I am so pleased that Pete linked to the video of Dick Cheney’s remarks. If you read the mainstream news accounts, you would have the sense that all he did was take a gentle poke at Obama — declaring the presidential center to be the “only-shovel ready project” in the country. What is interesting is that most of the seven minutes of remarks focused on George W. Bush, the man — a self-effacing, decent, “stand-up guy,” as Cheney described him. It’s important and not incidental to his legacy for a few reasons.

It is, quite frankly, a model of presidential behavior that has become obscured — by Clinton’s personal scandals, by Nixon’s criminality, and by Obama’s stand-offish partisanship. We expect our presidents to rise above the fray and not return invective in kind. Bush did this, unlike his successor, and it is a standard by which we should evaluate candidates and presidents.

Moreover, it was a fundamental part of his presidency and the substantive decisions he made. Why did he make such an effort to distinguish Islamic terrorists from ordinary, loyal American Muslims? Why did he refuse to cut and run in Iraq? Why did he hold allies dear and stand up to despots? It all comes, I would suggest, from a inner decency based on his religious faith. This is not to say that nonreligious people can’t be just as honorable. That’s not the point. The issue here is to understand why Bush would, for example, refuse to give in to anti-immigration sentiment, would put so much stock in faith-based programs, and would make the freedom agenda central to his foreign policy. All of these are reflections of his core personality.

Why was he so misunderstood? It wasn’t simply that liberal critics despised his policies. It is that they never “got” or took seriously his inner motives. They preferred to concoct arm-chair-psychology fictions about his relationship with his father or to paint him as a know-nothing.

It isn’t surprising, then, that the media didn’t report on the central message of Cheney’s speech. Many of those reporters consider it a fluff or boilerplate message. But once again, they miss the most important point — the explanation for who Bush is and why he did what he did. The media has a remarkable ability to ignore the obvious.

I am so pleased that Pete linked to the video of Dick Cheney’s remarks. If you read the mainstream news accounts, you would have the sense that all he did was take a gentle poke at Obama — declaring the presidential center to be the “only-shovel ready project” in the country. What is interesting is that most of the seven minutes of remarks focused on George W. Bush, the man — a self-effacing, decent, “stand-up guy,” as Cheney described him. It’s important and not incidental to his legacy for a few reasons.

It is, quite frankly, a model of presidential behavior that has become obscured — by Clinton’s personal scandals, by Nixon’s criminality, and by Obama’s stand-offish partisanship. We expect our presidents to rise above the fray and not return invective in kind. Bush did this, unlike his successor, and it is a standard by which we should evaluate candidates and presidents.

Moreover, it was a fundamental part of his presidency and the substantive decisions he made. Why did he make such an effort to distinguish Islamic terrorists from ordinary, loyal American Muslims? Why did he refuse to cut and run in Iraq? Why did he hold allies dear and stand up to despots? It all comes, I would suggest, from a inner decency based on his religious faith. This is not to say that nonreligious people can’t be just as honorable. That’s not the point. The issue here is to understand why Bush would, for example, refuse to give in to anti-immigration sentiment, would put so much stock in faith-based programs, and would make the freedom agenda central to his foreign policy. All of these are reflections of his core personality.

Why was he so misunderstood? It wasn’t simply that liberal critics despised his policies. It is that they never “got” or took seriously his inner motives. They preferred to concoct arm-chair-psychology fictions about his relationship with his father or to paint him as a know-nothing.

It isn’t surprising, then, that the media didn’t report on the central message of Cheney’s speech. Many of those reporters consider it a fluff or boilerplate message. But once again, they miss the most important point — the explanation for who Bush is and why he did what he did. The media has a remarkable ability to ignore the obvious.

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RE: Down to West Virginia and Washington

If the GOP were to pick up nine seats and neither Ben Nelson nor Joe Lieberman could be lured across the aisle, that would tie the Senate at 50-50. That last happened after the 2000 election (before Jim Jeffords of Vermont crossed the aisle in the other direction a few months later and gave the Democrats a 51-49 majority). In 2001, that meant that Vice President Dick Cheney was the deciding vote on how the Senate would be organized. Now it would be Joe Biden. It would also mean that Biden would have to stick pretty close to home while the Senate was in session to be available to break any ties. Whether that would be a net plus or minus for the Republic, I know not.

But how likely is it that Lieberman or Nelson would switch? I agree with James Taranto that it’s not likely.

And then there’s Alaska. It’s now a Republican seat, but the current holder, Lisa Murkowski, lost the primary and decided, in a fit of chutzpah, to run a write-in campaign. Some polls show her ahead, but do they have any predictive value? I doubt it. I think a lot of people who told the pollsters they were voting for her will, on arriving at the polling booth, decide a write-in vote is just too much trouble and vote for Joe Miller. Even if she wins, I imagine that she would caucus with the Republicans, despite the fact that she was roundly denounced by her Republican colleagues for not accepting the results of the primary and thus putting the seat in jeopardy by splitting the vote. If that were to happen, and the Democrat were to win thanks to Murkowski’s ego, thereby depriving the Republicans of the majority, I don’t think that Murkowski will be invited to many future Republican picnics.

If the GOP were to pick up nine seats and neither Ben Nelson nor Joe Lieberman could be lured across the aisle, that would tie the Senate at 50-50. That last happened after the 2000 election (before Jim Jeffords of Vermont crossed the aisle in the other direction a few months later and gave the Democrats a 51-49 majority). In 2001, that meant that Vice President Dick Cheney was the deciding vote on how the Senate would be organized. Now it would be Joe Biden. It would also mean that Biden would have to stick pretty close to home while the Senate was in session to be available to break any ties. Whether that would be a net plus or minus for the Republic, I know not.

But how likely is it that Lieberman or Nelson would switch? I agree with James Taranto that it’s not likely.

And then there’s Alaska. It’s now a Republican seat, but the current holder, Lisa Murkowski, lost the primary and decided, in a fit of chutzpah, to run a write-in campaign. Some polls show her ahead, but do they have any predictive value? I doubt it. I think a lot of people who told the pollsters they were voting for her will, on arriving at the polling booth, decide a write-in vote is just too much trouble and vote for Joe Miller. Even if she wins, I imagine that she would caucus with the Republicans, despite the fact that she was roundly denounced by her Republican colleagues for not accepting the results of the primary and thus putting the seat in jeopardy by splitting the vote. If that were to happen, and the Democrat were to win thanks to Murkowski’s ego, thereby depriving the Republicans of the majority, I don’t think that Murkowski will be invited to many future Republican picnics.

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Not a Bush Comeback!

The left has plenty of reason to wig out. Their ideal liberal candidate is proving to be a bust as president. The public is still stubbornly center-right and suspicious of big government. The Tea Party crowd has invigorated and not divided the Republican Party. Obama has been forced to retreat, at least rhetorically, from Israel bashing. But there is one indignity too great to bear: the restoration of George W. Bush’s reputation.

Already voters in Ohio prefer Bush to Obama. Suddenly, “Bush-like” is no longer a political epithet. A chunk of Democrats are vowing to continue the Bush tax cuts. And when it comes to commander-in-chief talents and emotional connectivity to the American people, there is no contest. So be prepared for some screechy backlash.

And no one outdoes Maureen Dowd in the screechy department. She’s back to whining about Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, citing a new movie that bears as much relationship to actual events as Gone With the Wind did to the Civil War. It’s really no more than an excuse to rage against the public’s newfound appreciation of  Bush. As this wit put it:

This version of the lives of these two Washington celebutaries  provides the Pulitzer-prize-winning columnist and plagiarist an opportunity to re-douse her favorite targets, the torturing malefactors George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, etc., with more than even the usual amount of spewage from her sulphur pot.

But Dowd herself gave it away in her opening graph, declaring to be “pathetic” a CNN headline and poll suggesting that, in fact, the public might think Bush a better president than his successor. It’s not “pathetic” — it is a political reality. The public is re-evaluating Bush in light of his successor and coming to appreciate that he got many (nearly all, I would argue) of the big things right (e.g., tax cuts, the surge, two qualified Supreme Court justices).

Dowd accuses the country of short-term memory loss. But perhaps her memory is as faulty as her journalistic ethics. It was, after all, Richard Armitage who was the leaker in the Plame affair. Is he in the movie?

The left has plenty of reason to wig out. Their ideal liberal candidate is proving to be a bust as president. The public is still stubbornly center-right and suspicious of big government. The Tea Party crowd has invigorated and not divided the Republican Party. Obama has been forced to retreat, at least rhetorically, from Israel bashing. But there is one indignity too great to bear: the restoration of George W. Bush’s reputation.

Already voters in Ohio prefer Bush to Obama. Suddenly, “Bush-like” is no longer a political epithet. A chunk of Democrats are vowing to continue the Bush tax cuts. And when it comes to commander-in-chief talents and emotional connectivity to the American people, there is no contest. So be prepared for some screechy backlash.

And no one outdoes Maureen Dowd in the screechy department. She’s back to whining about Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, citing a new movie that bears as much relationship to actual events as Gone With the Wind did to the Civil War. It’s really no more than an excuse to rage against the public’s newfound appreciation of  Bush. As this wit put it:

This version of the lives of these two Washington celebutaries  provides the Pulitzer-prize-winning columnist and plagiarist an opportunity to re-douse her favorite targets, the torturing malefactors George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, etc., with more than even the usual amount of spewage from her sulphur pot.

But Dowd herself gave it away in her opening graph, declaring to be “pathetic” a CNN headline and poll suggesting that, in fact, the public might think Bush a better president than his successor. It’s not “pathetic” — it is a political reality. The public is re-evaluating Bush in light of his successor and coming to appreciate that he got many (nearly all, I would argue) of the big things right (e.g., tax cuts, the surge, two qualified Supreme Court justices).

Dowd accuses the country of short-term memory loss. But perhaps her memory is as faulty as her journalistic ethics. It was, after all, Richard Armitage who was the leaker in the Plame affair. Is he in the movie?

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Abuse of Power

It is astonishing, really.

The president of the United States has accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, despite its denial and without supporting evidence, of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. campaigns. “Just this week,” Barack Obama said recently about the chamber, “we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these [political] ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.”

On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, if there is any evidence to support their accusation. Axelrod responded this way: “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”

Likewise, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, wouldn’t back away from the incendiary charges yesterday. “The president will continue to make the argument that we don’t know where this money comes from and entities like the Chamber have said they get money from overseas,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House.

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It is astonishing, really.

The president of the United States has accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, despite its denial and without supporting evidence, of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. campaigns. “Just this week,” Barack Obama said recently about the chamber, “we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these [political] ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.”

On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, if there is any evidence to support their accusation. Axelrod responded this way: “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”

Likewise, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, wouldn’t back away from the incendiary charges yesterday. “The president will continue to make the argument that we don’t know where this money comes from and entities like the Chamber have said they get money from overseas,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House.

Set aside the hypocrisy of this whole episode. (My former White House colleague Ed Gillespie points out that no Democrats, least of all Obama, expressed concern about such outside spending in 2008, when more than $400 million was spent to help elect Barack Obama, much of it from undisclosed donors.) Set aside the fact that Mr. Axelrod concedes that the chamber is abiding by long-standing rules, that it doesn’t have to disclose its donors list, and that no other organizations are disclosing theirs. Set aside the fact that the chamber has 115 foreign-member affiliates who pay a total of less than $100,000 in membership dues to a group whose total budget is more than $200 million. And set aside the fact that various news organizations have dismissed the charges, including the New York Times, which reports, “a closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the chamber does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents.”

What we are witnessing is the abuse of power. We are now in a situation in which the president and his most senior advisers feel completely at liberty to throw out unsubstantiated charges and put the burden on people (and institutions) to prove their innocence. Liberals once referred to such tactics as McCarthyism. But Joseph McCarthy, for all his abuses, was “only” a United States senator, one member out of 100. The president and his advisers, on the other hand, have at their disposal far more power and the ability to inflict far more injury.

What Obama and his aides are demanding is that the Chamber of Commerce prove a negative — and in doing so, they are trying to intimidate the chamber into disclosing what is, by law, privileged information. “If the Chamber doesn’t have anything to hide about these contributions,” Mr. Axelrod says, “and I take them at their word that they don’t, then why not disclose? Why not let people see where their money is coming from?”

Let’s see if we can help Mr. Axelrod out by providing him with an explanation.

For one thing, he is employing the guilty-until-proven-innocent argument. For another, the White House’s standard is being selectively applied. And it encourages slanderous charges because it forces innocent people to disprove them. All this is troubling in any case; but it is triply pernicious when it is practiced by those with unmatched power, because they have an unparalleled capacity to intimidate American citizens.

In further answering Axelrod’s argument, consider this thought experiment. It’s the year 2021, and a partisan critic of a future president repeatedly asserts that the president is addicted to child pornography. It turns out that the critic has no proof of the charge — but when told he is asking the president to prove a negative, he responds: “I take the president at his word. But just to be sure, we’d like to examine his phone records and text messages, his computer accounts, and his credit card receipts. What we want, in other words, is full access to all the relevant information we need. After all, if he’s innocent, why not disclose this information? Why not let people see what you’re doing with your life and free time?”

It must be obvious to Messrs. Axelrod and Obama that what they are doing is irresponsible, dangerous, and deeply illiberal. It’s important to note, however, that this libel is taking place within a particular context. The attack on the Chamber of Commerce is only the most recent link in a long chain. The Obama White House has targeted Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie, and John Boehner; George W. Bush and Dick Cheney; conservative talk radio; Fox News; the state of Arizona; the Supreme Court (for its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission); members of the Tea Party; critics of ObamaCare who attended town hall meetings; pharmaceutical, insurance, and oil companies; corporate executives, Wall Street, and the “rich.”

All this ugliness comes to us courtesy of a man who said during the 2008 campaign that “the times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook”; who told us that we should “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long”; and who assured us, on the night of his election, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.”

Back in October 2009, I wrote about this White House’s burning anger and resentment toward its critics and what it foreshadowed. That inferno is burning hotter than ever – and if it goes unchecked, it will eventually lead to a crisis.

In an August 16, 1971, memorandum from White House Counsel John Dean to Lawrence Higby, titled “Dealing with our Political Enemies,” Dean wrote:

This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly – how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.

At comparable stages in their first terms, the Obama administration seems to be at least as eager as the Nixon administration to use the available federal machinery to “screw our political enemies.” We know how things turned out for the Nixon administration. President Obama cannot say he hasn’t been forewarned.

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Did Obama Say What Cheney Said? Oh, No.

In Slate, John Dickerson defends Obama from people like me who were horrified by his remark quoted yesterday that we could “absorb” another terrorist attack and come out “stronger” from it. A senior White House official told him Obama was talking to Bob Woodward about the panoply of threats:

Objectively, the president said, you would want to be able to stop every attack, but a president has to prioritize. So what does the president put at the top of the danger list? A nuclear weapon or a weapon of mass destruction. Why? Because—and here’s where the quote in question comes in—as bad as 9/11 was, the United States was not crippled. A nuclear attack or weapon of mass destruction, however, would be a “game changer”…

This line of reasoning is identical to what I heard regularly when I covered the Bush White House. Former Vice President Dick Cheney … said: “We have to assume there will be more attacks. And for the first time in our history, we will probably suffer more casualties here at home in America than will our troops overseas.”

I remember being a little shocked at how brutal the calculus was when I heard officials in Cheney’s office … say that they had to focus their energy first on “mass casualty” events. What were they talking about? The same thing the president was: a nuclear attack or one that used a weapon of mass destruction.

I generally like Dickerson’s reporting, but even if the White House official is telling the truth, and we don’t know that yet, this analysis is preposterous. I interviewed those people too, including in Cheney’s office, at the time, and I’m pretty sure there were no  “brutal” calculations about absorbing a second terrorist attack. The truth is that officials dealing with these matters were gripped with fear and anxiety about everything they were hearing and seeing in the intelligence. Every morning. For years. They were the opposite of certain that the country could absorb even a second major attack, though of course, as I said in my blog post yesterday, it could have and it can now in the narrowest possible sense. We would not roll over and die.

The last thing the Bush White House was airy and accepting about was the possibility of another terrorist attack. Why else were Bush’s critics screaming about the imposition of a fascist regime at home and a torture regime abroad? They were complaining of tactics and measures taken to interdict not only a “game changer” but anything — like the panoply of conventional attacks and ideas for them revealed to interrogators who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Abu Zubaydah. I know the logic of the most extreme of Bush’s critics seemed to be that the administration was doing it for sadistic kicks. But minimally rational people who strongly opposed the policy do acknowledge the fact that it arose from a true threat and that the people who instituted the policy did so out of a rational concern for preventing any conceivable attack, not just a nuclear one.

What was being sought was not only information on suitcase nukes. A colossal program of attack prevention was instituted over the objection from, among other people, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy. The United States didn’t institute Homeland Security measures in airports and ballparks and office buildings and the like because of fears of a nuclear attack. A conventional attack would suffice.

On the second day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed an executive order ending the CIA’s interrogation program. Since the White House official who talked to Dickerson told him Obama’s line — “we can absorb a terrorist attack … we absorbed it and we are stronger” — had to do with “the national security threats he faced upon becoming the president,” Obama’s quote to Woodward might prove even more damning.

In other words, it was acceptable to end the interrogation program in part because Obama had journeyed beyond the adrenalized alarm that characterized the condition of Bush national security officials for more than seven years. It was change Obama could believe in.

In Slate, John Dickerson defends Obama from people like me who were horrified by his remark quoted yesterday that we could “absorb” another terrorist attack and come out “stronger” from it. A senior White House official told him Obama was talking to Bob Woodward about the panoply of threats:

Objectively, the president said, you would want to be able to stop every attack, but a president has to prioritize. So what does the president put at the top of the danger list? A nuclear weapon or a weapon of mass destruction. Why? Because—and here’s where the quote in question comes in—as bad as 9/11 was, the United States was not crippled. A nuclear attack or weapon of mass destruction, however, would be a “game changer”…

This line of reasoning is identical to what I heard regularly when I covered the Bush White House. Former Vice President Dick Cheney … said: “We have to assume there will be more attacks. And for the first time in our history, we will probably suffer more casualties here at home in America than will our troops overseas.”

I remember being a little shocked at how brutal the calculus was when I heard officials in Cheney’s office … say that they had to focus their energy first on “mass casualty” events. What were they talking about? The same thing the president was: a nuclear attack or one that used a weapon of mass destruction.

I generally like Dickerson’s reporting, but even if the White House official is telling the truth, and we don’t know that yet, this analysis is preposterous. I interviewed those people too, including in Cheney’s office, at the time, and I’m pretty sure there were no  “brutal” calculations about absorbing a second terrorist attack. The truth is that officials dealing with these matters were gripped with fear and anxiety about everything they were hearing and seeing in the intelligence. Every morning. For years. They were the opposite of certain that the country could absorb even a second major attack, though of course, as I said in my blog post yesterday, it could have and it can now in the narrowest possible sense. We would not roll over and die.

The last thing the Bush White House was airy and accepting about was the possibility of another terrorist attack. Why else were Bush’s critics screaming about the imposition of a fascist regime at home and a torture regime abroad? They were complaining of tactics and measures taken to interdict not only a “game changer” but anything — like the panoply of conventional attacks and ideas for them revealed to interrogators who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Abu Zubaydah. I know the logic of the most extreme of Bush’s critics seemed to be that the administration was doing it for sadistic kicks. But minimally rational people who strongly opposed the policy do acknowledge the fact that it arose from a true threat and that the people who instituted the policy did so out of a rational concern for preventing any conceivable attack, not just a nuclear one.

What was being sought was not only information on suitcase nukes. A colossal program of attack prevention was instituted over the objection from, among other people, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy. The United States didn’t institute Homeland Security measures in airports and ballparks and office buildings and the like because of fears of a nuclear attack. A conventional attack would suffice.

On the second day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed an executive order ending the CIA’s interrogation program. Since the White House official who talked to Dickerson told him Obama’s line — “we can absorb a terrorist attack … we absorbed it and we are stronger” — had to do with “the national security threats he faced upon becoming the president,” Obama’s quote to Woodward might prove even more damning.

In other words, it was acceptable to end the interrogation program in part because Obama had journeyed beyond the adrenalized alarm that characterized the condition of Bush national security officials for more than seven years. It was change Obama could believe in.

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They Don’t Have George W. Bush to Kick Around Anymore

To a greater extent than any administration that preceded it, the Obama team has obsessively blamed its predecessor for everything and anything. The public, however, has not been distracted. Americans have a president, only one, who is responsible for domestic and foreign policy. Regardless of whether they consider George W. Bush at fault for some of our current ills, they are no less annoyed with Obama’s performance. (Similarly, blaming BP for the Gulf oil spill hasn’t gotten Obama a free pass from the voters. They can be mad at both.)

Recent polling shows that there is no mileage left in the “Bush did it” strategy:

New polling shows that Bush’s standing among the electorate remains weak, and that voters for the most part still fault him for the nation’s ailing economy. But as President Obama’s popularity has stagnated, Democratic strategists say that drawing simple comparisons between the two leaders is not a surefire strategy to move voters their way.

Our current data brings into question the notion that you can run against Bush and win,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Obviously Bush is not popular. The question is: Does it help Obama to run against the past in debating the future?”

The answer seems to be no. For one thing, Bush isn’t that much less popular than Obama:

A survey from Gallup released last week found that Bush’s personal favorability rating had increased 10 points since the last such poll in 2009. At 45%, it was just 7 points behind Obama’s, bringing into question whether attacking the Bush legacy would be very effective.

Moreover, with each passing month, Obama’s policies — from Israel to relations with allies to national security to taxes — compare unfavorably to Bush’s. If you take away the names and ask: “Close or keep open Gitmo?” or “Embrace or put daylight between the U.S. and Israel?” or “Raise or cut taxes?” the public doesn’t favor the policies of Obama. And by a wide margin:

A recent survey from Benenson Strategy Group, which has polled for the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee, specifically tested the potency of the Bush message. When asked to choose between a candidate who would support the Obama economic policies or one who “will start from scratch with new ideas to shrink government, cut taxes and grow the economy,” respondents preferred the latter by more than a 2-1 ratio.

It was, from the get-go, unseemly for Obama to blame his predecessor whenever his own policies didn’t turn out as advertised. (Maybe that is why no previous president resorted to this tactic for over a year into his term.) Now that it also has proven to be an ineffective tactic, we can only hope that Obama finally will stop employing it.

One final note: many conservatives have been miffed by Bush’s silence since he left office and by his steadfast refusal to defend his own record and that of those who worked long and hard for him. But perhaps there was great wisdom in that. The public needed time and distance to reacquaint themselves with Bush’s many positive attributes and accomplishments. (And Dick Cheney more than picked up the slack.) With the foil of the not-Bush president — one lacking in warmth for his fellow citizens, loyalty to allies, and magnanimity to foes —  the public has, in fact, grown fonder of Bush, the 43th president.

That is altogether fitting and deserved for a president who endured endless attacks and who was willing to sacrifice popularity for victory in war. It should also give some encouragement to those intrigued by the prospect of Bush the 45th president (Jeb). Maybe the Bush name isn’t so much of a liability after all.

To a greater extent than any administration that preceded it, the Obama team has obsessively blamed its predecessor for everything and anything. The public, however, has not been distracted. Americans have a president, only one, who is responsible for domestic and foreign policy. Regardless of whether they consider George W. Bush at fault for some of our current ills, they are no less annoyed with Obama’s performance. (Similarly, blaming BP for the Gulf oil spill hasn’t gotten Obama a free pass from the voters. They can be mad at both.)

Recent polling shows that there is no mileage left in the “Bush did it” strategy:

New polling shows that Bush’s standing among the electorate remains weak, and that voters for the most part still fault him for the nation’s ailing economy. But as President Obama’s popularity has stagnated, Democratic strategists say that drawing simple comparisons between the two leaders is not a surefire strategy to move voters their way.

Our current data brings into question the notion that you can run against Bush and win,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Obviously Bush is not popular. The question is: Does it help Obama to run against the past in debating the future?”

The answer seems to be no. For one thing, Bush isn’t that much less popular than Obama:

A survey from Gallup released last week found that Bush’s personal favorability rating had increased 10 points since the last such poll in 2009. At 45%, it was just 7 points behind Obama’s, bringing into question whether attacking the Bush legacy would be very effective.

Moreover, with each passing month, Obama’s policies — from Israel to relations with allies to national security to taxes — compare unfavorably to Bush’s. If you take away the names and ask: “Close or keep open Gitmo?” or “Embrace or put daylight between the U.S. and Israel?” or “Raise or cut taxes?” the public doesn’t favor the policies of Obama. And by a wide margin:

A recent survey from Benenson Strategy Group, which has polled for the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee, specifically tested the potency of the Bush message. When asked to choose between a candidate who would support the Obama economic policies or one who “will start from scratch with new ideas to shrink government, cut taxes and grow the economy,” respondents preferred the latter by more than a 2-1 ratio.

It was, from the get-go, unseemly for Obama to blame his predecessor whenever his own policies didn’t turn out as advertised. (Maybe that is why no previous president resorted to this tactic for over a year into his term.) Now that it also has proven to be an ineffective tactic, we can only hope that Obama finally will stop employing it.

One final note: many conservatives have been miffed by Bush’s silence since he left office and by his steadfast refusal to defend his own record and that of those who worked long and hard for him. But perhaps there was great wisdom in that. The public needed time and distance to reacquaint themselves with Bush’s many positive attributes and accomplishments. (And Dick Cheney more than picked up the slack.) With the foil of the not-Bush president — one lacking in warmth for his fellow citizens, loyalty to allies, and magnanimity to foes —  the public has, in fact, grown fonder of Bush, the 43th president.

That is altogether fitting and deserved for a president who endured endless attacks and who was willing to sacrifice popularity for victory in war. It should also give some encouragement to those intrigued by the prospect of Bush the 45th president (Jeb). Maybe the Bush name isn’t so much of a liability after all.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Worst press secretary in recent memory? Chris Cillizza says he is at least the winner of the “worst week” designation: “It took only 17 words [‘there is no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control’ of the House] for White House press secretary Robert Gibbs to set off the circular firing squad. … Republicans, meanwhile, could barely contain their glee at seeing their message — ‘We can take the House back, really, we can’ — seconded by the official White House mouthpiece.”

Worst Middle East diplomacy rebuke to date? “Fatah spokesperson Muhammad Dahlan announced that Fatah had rejected the U.S.’s offer Saturday to broker direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Worst political advice to Obama? Mark Penn suggests: “Between now and the midterms, the administration has to focus on what it can do to provide a sense of economic recovery. Perhaps the best arena for that is in an energy bill that creates a wide array of incentives to produce new forms of energy.” You understand how Hillary lost the nomination.

Worst column ever from James Fallows? He hopes Dick Cheney recovers so he can change his mind and undermine all his prior views.

Worst political problem for Obama? Howard Fineman says it’s the loss of independent voters: “The Democrats’ support among this group has fallen to as low as 35 percent in some polls. The reasons are clear. They do not believe that Obama’s actions have produced results — and for these practical voters, nothing else matters. The $787 billion stimulus bill is widely regarded as an expensive, unfocused dud, even when measured against the cautious claims the Obama camp originally made for it. Health-care reform remains, for most voters, a 2,000-page, impenetrable, and largely irrelevant mystery. The BP oil spill has hurt Obama’s ability to fend off GOP charges that he’s ineffective as a leader.”

Worst thing Israel could do regarding Iran? In a definitive analysis of Israel’s options, Reuel Marc Gerecht argues it would be to do nothing: “Without a raid, if the Iranians get the bomb, Europe’s appeasement reflex will kick in and the EU sanctions regime will collapse, leaving the Americans alone to contain the Islamic Republic. Most of the Gulf Arabs will probably kowtow to Persia, having more fear of Iran than confidence in the defensive assurances of the United States. And Sunni Arabs who don’t view an Iranian bomb as a plus for the Muslim world will, at daunting speed, become much more interested in ‘nuclear energy'; the Saudis, who likely helped Islamabad go nuclear, will just call in their chits with the Pakistani military.” The best option, of course, would be for the U.S. to act, but that seems unlikely.

Worst time to have an electoral wipe-out? In a Census year: “Big Republican gains in November [in state legislative races] could have lasting consequences. Legislators elected in the fall will redraw congressional boundaries next year. Control over the redistricting process could sway outcomes in dozens of districts over the next decade. ‘If you’re going to have a good year, have it in a year that ends in zero,’ says Ed Gillespie, a former Republican Party chairman who is heading up the GOP’s state-level efforts this year.”

Worst Justice Department in history? No contest. The latest: “One of the nation’s leading producers of X-rated videos, John Stagliano, was acquitted on federal obscenity charges Friday afternoon after a series of stumbles by the prosecution. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ordered the acquittal of Stagliano and two companies related to his Evil Angel studio on a defense motion before the defense presented any rebuttal to several days of evidence from the Justice Department. Leon called the government’s case ‘woefully lacking’ or ‘woefully inadequate,’ depending on whose account you follow.”

Worst press secretary in recent memory? Chris Cillizza says he is at least the winner of the “worst week” designation: “It took only 17 words [‘there is no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control’ of the House] for White House press secretary Robert Gibbs to set off the circular firing squad. … Republicans, meanwhile, could barely contain their glee at seeing their message — ‘We can take the House back, really, we can’ — seconded by the official White House mouthpiece.”

Worst Middle East diplomacy rebuke to date? “Fatah spokesperson Muhammad Dahlan announced that Fatah had rejected the U.S.’s offer Saturday to broker direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Worst political advice to Obama? Mark Penn suggests: “Between now and the midterms, the administration has to focus on what it can do to provide a sense of economic recovery. Perhaps the best arena for that is in an energy bill that creates a wide array of incentives to produce new forms of energy.” You understand how Hillary lost the nomination.

Worst column ever from James Fallows? He hopes Dick Cheney recovers so he can change his mind and undermine all his prior views.

Worst political problem for Obama? Howard Fineman says it’s the loss of independent voters: “The Democrats’ support among this group has fallen to as low as 35 percent in some polls. The reasons are clear. They do not believe that Obama’s actions have produced results — and for these practical voters, nothing else matters. The $787 billion stimulus bill is widely regarded as an expensive, unfocused dud, even when measured against the cautious claims the Obama camp originally made for it. Health-care reform remains, for most voters, a 2,000-page, impenetrable, and largely irrelevant mystery. The BP oil spill has hurt Obama’s ability to fend off GOP charges that he’s ineffective as a leader.”

Worst thing Israel could do regarding Iran? In a definitive analysis of Israel’s options, Reuel Marc Gerecht argues it would be to do nothing: “Without a raid, if the Iranians get the bomb, Europe’s appeasement reflex will kick in and the EU sanctions regime will collapse, leaving the Americans alone to contain the Islamic Republic. Most of the Gulf Arabs will probably kowtow to Persia, having more fear of Iran than confidence in the defensive assurances of the United States. And Sunni Arabs who don’t view an Iranian bomb as a plus for the Muslim world will, at daunting speed, become much more interested in ‘nuclear energy'; the Saudis, who likely helped Islamabad go nuclear, will just call in their chits with the Pakistani military.” The best option, of course, would be for the U.S. to act, but that seems unlikely.

Worst time to have an electoral wipe-out? In a Census year: “Big Republican gains in November [in state legislative races] could have lasting consequences. Legislators elected in the fall will redraw congressional boundaries next year. Control over the redistricting process could sway outcomes in dozens of districts over the next decade. ‘If you’re going to have a good year, have it in a year that ends in zero,’ says Ed Gillespie, a former Republican Party chairman who is heading up the GOP’s state-level efforts this year.”

Worst Justice Department in history? No contest. The latest: “One of the nation’s leading producers of X-rated videos, John Stagliano, was acquitted on federal obscenity charges Friday afternoon after a series of stumbles by the prosecution. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ordered the acquittal of Stagliano and two companies related to his Evil Angel studio on a defense motion before the defense presented any rebuttal to several days of evidence from the Justice Department. Leon called the government’s case ‘woefully lacking’ or ‘woefully inadequate,’ depending on whose account you follow.”

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In Praise of David Brooks

On Jim Lehrer’s NewsHour, David Brooks — while properly castigating Rep. Joe Barton for his politically inept defense of BP and his muddled attempt to draw an important principle from what is happening — said this:

He actually had a kernel of truth at the core of what he said, which is that we’re a nation of laws. We have laws to protect the unpopular, and to even protect people who do bad things. And we have a set of laws, when somebody does something bad, does something negligent, to force them to pay and compensate those who were damaged. And that’s all on the books. And what President Obama did when he very publicly and very brutally strong-armed BP into setting aside this $20 billion, is, he went around those laws. And some people think, “Oh, it’s no problem. It’s only BP.” Well, if you’re upset about — I mean, if, imagine if Dick Cheney did it to somebody he didn’t like and said, “Oh, we don’t happen to like you. We’re going to set $20 billion aside, and I will appoint the person who is going to decide what is going to happen to that $20 billion.”

Now, I’m not personally worried about what’s going to happen to this $20 billion, because Ken Feinberg, who was on the show earlier, is a hero. He will be honest. He will be straight. So, I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about the erosion of the rule of law, which is a president using the vast powers of the federal government to strong-arm a company, no matter how unpopular and no matter how badly they may have behaved.

David’s point is well put, and, when passions among the polity are running high, it was a responsible observation to make.

In A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More and William Roper have an exchange in which Roper says to More, “So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!”

More answers: “Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?” Roper replies, “I’d cut down every law in England to do that!” And More answers this way:

Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

During this crisis, BP has acted horribly on almost every level; but the rule of law still matters, even — and maybe especially — in instances like this.

On Jim Lehrer’s NewsHour, David Brooks — while properly castigating Rep. Joe Barton for his politically inept defense of BP and his muddled attempt to draw an important principle from what is happening — said this:

He actually had a kernel of truth at the core of what he said, which is that we’re a nation of laws. We have laws to protect the unpopular, and to even protect people who do bad things. And we have a set of laws, when somebody does something bad, does something negligent, to force them to pay and compensate those who were damaged. And that’s all on the books. And what President Obama did when he very publicly and very brutally strong-armed BP into setting aside this $20 billion, is, he went around those laws. And some people think, “Oh, it’s no problem. It’s only BP.” Well, if you’re upset about — I mean, if, imagine if Dick Cheney did it to somebody he didn’t like and said, “Oh, we don’t happen to like you. We’re going to set $20 billion aside, and I will appoint the person who is going to decide what is going to happen to that $20 billion.”

Now, I’m not personally worried about what’s going to happen to this $20 billion, because Ken Feinberg, who was on the show earlier, is a hero. He will be honest. He will be straight. So, I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about the erosion of the rule of law, which is a president using the vast powers of the federal government to strong-arm a company, no matter how unpopular and no matter how badly they may have behaved.

David’s point is well put, and, when passions among the polity are running high, it was a responsible observation to make.

In A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More and William Roper have an exchange in which Roper says to More, “So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!”

More answers: “Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?” Roper replies, “I’d cut down every law in England to do that!” And More answers this way:

Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

During this crisis, BP has acted horribly on almost every level; but the rule of law still matters, even — and maybe especially — in instances like this.

Read Less




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