Commentary Magazine


Topic: E.J. Dionne Jr.

New-Found Rage for “Judicial Dictatorship”

Columnists often fall into familiar patterns. For E.J. Dionne Jr., one of those patterns goes like this: if conservatives don’t act like liberals they’re not really conservatives. The latest example of this writing tic can be found in E.J.’s column today, in which he argues that the conservative Justices on the Supreme Court should – if they’re really and truly conservative – find an unconstitutional law to be constitutional.

There are some amusing elements to Dionne’s column, including his new-found concern about “a judicial dictatorship.” I’m delighted the scales have fallen from Dionne’s eyes, that he has embraced with passionate intensity the belief that “legislative power is supposed to rest in our government’s elected branches” and not with the judiciary. But I’m tempted to point out that a columnist who heretofore has been enchanted with the idea of a “living Constitution” – rootless, ever-evolving, with no fixed meaning, that is busy inventing new rights and jettisoning old ones – has lost the philosophical ground on which to make this objection (particularly when his objections are in fact baseless). Dionne also says that “conservative justices were obsessed with weird hypotheticals” – yet he fails to realize those “weird hypotheticals” served their purpose perfectly. They illustrated that there is no limiting principle for liberals when it comes to the power and reach of the federal government. (For more, see here.)

Read More

Columnists often fall into familiar patterns. For E.J. Dionne Jr., one of those patterns goes like this: if conservatives don’t act like liberals they’re not really conservatives. The latest example of this writing tic can be found in E.J.’s column today, in which he argues that the conservative Justices on the Supreme Court should – if they’re really and truly conservative – find an unconstitutional law to be constitutional.

There are some amusing elements to Dionne’s column, including his new-found concern about “a judicial dictatorship.” I’m delighted the scales have fallen from Dionne’s eyes, that he has embraced with passionate intensity the belief that “legislative power is supposed to rest in our government’s elected branches” and not with the judiciary. But I’m tempted to point out that a columnist who heretofore has been enchanted with the idea of a “living Constitution” – rootless, ever-evolving, with no fixed meaning, that is busy inventing new rights and jettisoning old ones – has lost the philosophical ground on which to make this objection (particularly when his objections are in fact baseless). Dionne also says that “conservative justices were obsessed with weird hypotheticals” – yet he fails to realize those “weird hypotheticals” served their purpose perfectly. They illustrated that there is no limiting principle for liberals when it comes to the power and reach of the federal government. (For more, see here.)

But the most revealing thing about Dionne’s column is its tone: snide, angry, and condescending toward the conservatives on the Court. It is evidence that he and other progressives are beginning to lash out as they see Barack Obama’s health care law – an unworkable, unconstitutional monstrosity they were convinced was a permanent part of the American political landscape – slip through their fingers. If that in fact occurs – and I’ll believe it when I see it – then prepare for a level of rage from the left that we haven’t seen since the worst days of Bush Derangement Syndrome.

 

Read Less

Old Rhetorical Tricks

In his column today, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. asserts, “Obama will thus be the conservative in 2012, in the truest sense of that word.” This is a silly claim, of course, but also a revealing one. When a liberal like Dionne insists that a liberal like Obama is the “true” conservative in the 2012 race, it shows the broad appeal of conservatism. It also shows the enormous damage liberalism has inflicted on itself when no one, not even Obama, wants to run on what he is. There is a reason reactionary liberalism in America has been discredited. It has been a failure in almost every significant way.

There are two other things worth noting in Dionne’s column, one of which is that like Sam Tanenhaus, he believes the role of conservatism is to ratify every radical gain of liberalism. Once ObamaCare is the law of the land, for example, repeal efforts become antithetical to conservatism. It’s also why Dionne was a passionate opponent of welfare reform in the mid-1990s; he believed that any effort to undo the welfare state achievements of liberalism was by definition un-conservative. This was (and remains) a terribly simplistic interpretation of conservatism.

Read More

In his column today, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. asserts, “Obama will thus be the conservative in 2012, in the truest sense of that word.” This is a silly claim, of course, but also a revealing one. When a liberal like Dionne insists that a liberal like Obama is the “true” conservative in the 2012 race, it shows the broad appeal of conservatism. It also shows the enormous damage liberalism has inflicted on itself when no one, not even Obama, wants to run on what he is. There is a reason reactionary liberalism in America has been discredited. It has been a failure in almost every significant way.

There are two other things worth noting in Dionne’s column, one of which is that like Sam Tanenhaus, he believes the role of conservatism is to ratify every radical gain of liberalism. Once ObamaCare is the law of the land, for example, repeal efforts become antithetical to conservatism. It’s also why Dionne was a passionate opponent of welfare reform in the mid-1990s; he believed that any effort to undo the welfare state achievements of liberalism was by definition un-conservative. This was (and remains) a terribly simplistic interpretation of conservatism.

The other statement worth noting from Dionne is when he writes, “[Obama] is the candidate defending the modestly redistributive and regulatory  government the country has relied on since the New Deal, and that neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush dismantled. The rhetoric of the 2012 Republicans suggests they want to go far beyond where Reagan or Bush ever went.”

This is a rhetorical trick Dionne has been relying on for years now. When a conservative and/or Republican is president, he is a ferocious critic of that individual. And yet that individual’s reputation is restored by Dionne from time to time, if only to argue that every new Republican candidate for president is far more radical and dangerous than the ones who came before him. So Reagan, who looked very bad during his presidency, looked very good compared to George W. Bush. And now Reagan and Bush look responsible compared to the radicalism of the likes of Mitt Romney. And so it goes, like clockwork. And if Romney were fortunate enough to win the presidency, you can be sure that he would be portrayed as the most radical and destructive figure imaginable — until a new Republican monster comes down the road to replace him.

 

Read Less

Liberals’ Civility Test

A week after President Obama’s stirring remarks at the Tucson memorial service comes an important Civility Test for liberals.

ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that Democratic Representative Steve Cohen went to the well of the House and compared what Republicans are saying on health care to the work of the infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

“They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels,” Cohen said. “You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like ‘blood libel.’ That’s the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it and you had the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again. We heard on this floor, government takeover of health care.”

In our post-Tucson world, I’m eager to see people like E.J. Dionne Jr., Dana Milbank, and Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post; George Packer of the New Yorker; James Fallows of the Atlantic; Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and the editorial page of the New York Times; Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and Ed Schultz of MSNBC, and scores of other commentators and reporters all across America both publicize and condemn Representative Cohen’s slander.

Each of them will have plenty of opportunities to do so. I hope they take advantage of it. I hope, too, that reporters ask White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs what his reaction is. And I trust President Obama, who spoke so eloquently last week about the importance of civility in our national life, has something to say about this ugly episode as well. If the president were to repudiate Mr. Cohen quickly and publicly, it would be good for him, good for politics, and good for the nation.

But if the president and his liberal allies remain silent or criticize Cohen in the gentlest way possible, it’s only reasonable to conclude that their expressions of concern about incivility in public discourse are partisan rather than genuine, that what they care about isn’t public discourse but gamesmanship, not restoring civility but gaining power.

I’m sure conservatives will face similar tests in the months ahead — and they should be held to the same standard.

For now, though — in light of the libel by Representative Cohen — it is liberals who have the opportunity to take a stand on the matter of civility in public discourse, and in the process, to clarify their intentions and demonstrate the seriousness of their commitments.

A week after President Obama’s stirring remarks at the Tucson memorial service comes an important Civility Test for liberals.

ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that Democratic Representative Steve Cohen went to the well of the House and compared what Republicans are saying on health care to the work of the infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

“They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels,” Cohen said. “You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like ‘blood libel.’ That’s the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it and you had the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again. We heard on this floor, government takeover of health care.”

In our post-Tucson world, I’m eager to see people like E.J. Dionne Jr., Dana Milbank, and Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post; George Packer of the New Yorker; James Fallows of the Atlantic; Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and the editorial page of the New York Times; Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and Ed Schultz of MSNBC, and scores of other commentators and reporters all across America both publicize and condemn Representative Cohen’s slander.

Each of them will have plenty of opportunities to do so. I hope they take advantage of it. I hope, too, that reporters ask White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs what his reaction is. And I trust President Obama, who spoke so eloquently last week about the importance of civility in our national life, has something to say about this ugly episode as well. If the president were to repudiate Mr. Cohen quickly and publicly, it would be good for him, good for politics, and good for the nation.

But if the president and his liberal allies remain silent or criticize Cohen in the gentlest way possible, it’s only reasonable to conclude that their expressions of concern about incivility in public discourse are partisan rather than genuine, that what they care about isn’t public discourse but gamesmanship, not restoring civility but gaining power.

I’m sure conservatives will face similar tests in the months ahead — and they should be held to the same standard.

For now, though — in light of the libel by Representative Cohen — it is liberals who have the opportunity to take a stand on the matter of civility in public discourse, and in the process, to clarify their intentions and demonstrate the seriousness of their commitments.

Read Less

The Left Is Still Unwilling to Work Toward Balance and Moderation

In his column today, E.J. Dionne Jr. writes, “It’s disappointing that the House did not wait a bit longer before bringing up an issue [health care] that has aroused so much division, acrimony and disinformation.” He added, “It was the acidic tone of the original health-care debate the led Giffords, in her widely discussed interview last March, to suggest that we ‘stand back when things get too fired up and say, “Whoa, let’s take a step back here.”‘”

Dionne adds, “Putting off this largely symbolic vote a few more weeks would have been a nice gesture.”

Set aside the fact that most of the disinformation came not from the right but from the left (the assertion that ObamaCare would bend the cost curve downward; that premiums would not go up; that people would not be forced off their existing coverage; etc.).

Set aside, too, the fact that the “acidic tone” of the original health-care debate was led in large measure by those on the left, like then-Representative Alan Grayson, who said that the GOP’s health-care plan was for people to “die quickly.”

What’s worth noting in his column is that Dionne (and those who share his mindset) is using the Tucson massacre to advance their liberal agenda in yet new ways. The left has decided to build on the slander that conservatives were moral accessories to murder. This week they are using the death of six innocent people in Arizona as a means to advance their policy agenda — even though that policy agenda had nothing on earth to do with the terrible events in Tucson.

What we’re witnessing among some liberals are minds that are so thoroughly and completely politicized that they will use any human tragedy, create any set of arguments, and invent any narrative they can in order to advance The Cause.

When Aristotle spoke about virtue, he meant in part finding balance and moderation in life. The Golden Mean was interpreted to mean a balance between extremes.

In the wake of the Tucson massacre, most of us hoped that we would have moved passed this extreme, grotesque politicization of the event. We had hoped that President Obama’s wonderful speech would be understood by the left that it was to cease and desist, and work to regain its balance after nearly a week of slander. But apparently, some on the left are so consumed by politics that it tints every lens they look through; it impacts every act in life; and it colors every living, breathing thought they have. And so the forthcoming health-care debate is now being framed in the context of the Tucson massacre (the not-so-subtle argument is that health care contributed to the “climate of hate” that the left still wants to insist contributed to the violence on that awful day).

The fact that liberals are acting disgracefully in the process seems not to bother them at all. It should.

In his column today, E.J. Dionne Jr. writes, “It’s disappointing that the House did not wait a bit longer before bringing up an issue [health care] that has aroused so much division, acrimony and disinformation.” He added, “It was the acidic tone of the original health-care debate the led Giffords, in her widely discussed interview last March, to suggest that we ‘stand back when things get too fired up and say, “Whoa, let’s take a step back here.”‘”

Dionne adds, “Putting off this largely symbolic vote a few more weeks would have been a nice gesture.”

Set aside the fact that most of the disinformation came not from the right but from the left (the assertion that ObamaCare would bend the cost curve downward; that premiums would not go up; that people would not be forced off their existing coverage; etc.).

Set aside, too, the fact that the “acidic tone” of the original health-care debate was led in large measure by those on the left, like then-Representative Alan Grayson, who said that the GOP’s health-care plan was for people to “die quickly.”

What’s worth noting in his column is that Dionne (and those who share his mindset) is using the Tucson massacre to advance their liberal agenda in yet new ways. The left has decided to build on the slander that conservatives were moral accessories to murder. This week they are using the death of six innocent people in Arizona as a means to advance their policy agenda — even though that policy agenda had nothing on earth to do with the terrible events in Tucson.

What we’re witnessing among some liberals are minds that are so thoroughly and completely politicized that they will use any human tragedy, create any set of arguments, and invent any narrative they can in order to advance The Cause.

When Aristotle spoke about virtue, he meant in part finding balance and moderation in life. The Golden Mean was interpreted to mean a balance between extremes.

In the wake of the Tucson massacre, most of us hoped that we would have moved passed this extreme, grotesque politicization of the event. We had hoped that President Obama’s wonderful speech would be understood by the left that it was to cease and desist, and work to regain its balance after nearly a week of slander. But apparently, some on the left are so consumed by politics that it tints every lens they look through; it impacts every act in life; and it colors every living, breathing thought they have. And so the forthcoming health-care debate is now being framed in the context of the Tucson massacre (the not-so-subtle argument is that health care contributed to the “climate of hate” that the left still wants to insist contributed to the violence on that awful day).

The fact that liberals are acting disgracefully in the process seems not to bother them at all. It should.

Read Less

Read the Great Thinkers You Quote Before You Quote Them

In his column, E.J. Dionne Jr. cites the founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, in order to criticize Republicans. Unfortunately for Dionne, there are some Burke scholars out there who are actually familiar with Burke’s words and the context in which they were spoken. They don’t rely on Bartlett’s when they invoke Burke. And in this instance, Burke was making quite a different argument than Dionne portrays.

Dionne also writes this:

Alas for all of us and for American conservatism in particular, the new Republican majority that took control of the House on Wednesday is embarked on an experiment in government by abstractions. Many in its ranks pride themselves on being practical business people, but they behave as professors in thrall to a few thrilling ideas.

Here Dionne is reverting to what is, for him, a polemical reflex: citing conservatives in the past to berate conservatives of the present, usually for not being “true” conservatives. I recall in the 1990s discussing welfare reform with E.J., who was a passionate critics of it. In making his argument against welfare reform, Dionne invoked … Edmund Burke. I didn’t find that argument persuasive then, and it’s even less persuasive now. Welfare reform turns out to have been one of the great social policy successes of the last half-century. That’s worth bearing in mind when, down the road, Dionne once again casts himself in the role of the arbiter of true conservatism.

In his column, E.J. Dionne Jr. cites the founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, in order to criticize Republicans. Unfortunately for Dionne, there are some Burke scholars out there who are actually familiar with Burke’s words and the context in which they were spoken. They don’t rely on Bartlett’s when they invoke Burke. And in this instance, Burke was making quite a different argument than Dionne portrays.

Dionne also writes this:

Alas for all of us and for American conservatism in particular, the new Republican majority that took control of the House on Wednesday is embarked on an experiment in government by abstractions. Many in its ranks pride themselves on being practical business people, but they behave as professors in thrall to a few thrilling ideas.

Here Dionne is reverting to what is, for him, a polemical reflex: citing conservatives in the past to berate conservatives of the present, usually for not being “true” conservatives. I recall in the 1990s discussing welfare reform with E.J., who was a passionate critics of it. In making his argument against welfare reform, Dionne invoked … Edmund Burke. I didn’t find that argument persuasive then, and it’s even less persuasive now. Welfare reform turns out to have been one of the great social policy successes of the last half-century. That’s worth bearing in mind when, down the road, Dionne once again casts himself in the role of the arbiter of true conservatism.

Read Less

Why the Constitution — and What It Means — Matters

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter. Read More

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter.

For many modern-day liberals, the Constitution is, at best, a piece of quaint, even irrelevant, parchment. As Jonah Goldberg reminds us in his excellent column:

“Are you serious?” was Nancy Pelosi’s response to a question over the constitutionality of health care reform. Third-ranking House Democrat Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina famously declared that “there’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do.” Rep. Phil Hare of Illinois, before he was defeated by a Tea Party–backed candidate, told a town hall meeting, “I don’t worry about the Constitution” on health care reform.

At the core of the differences between contemporary liberals and conservatives, then, is the power of the federal government in our lives. The Constitution was designed as a check on the power of government, done in order to protect individual liberties. The Founders designed a federal government with limited, delegated, and enumerated powers, a theory of government that conservatives embrace and consider paradigmatic. (How that theory works itself out in practice is, of course, not always clear.)

The progressive/liberal disposition, on the other hand, believes that this view of the Constitution is obsolete and unwise; it is constantly, even relentlessly, looking for ways to increase the powers of the federal government (witness the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010). In order to achieve this, the Constitution needs to be ignored or, better yet, re-invented as a Living Constitution, constantly evolving, morphing from age to age, interpreted in light of the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

But as Justice Antonin Scalia has written, “Perhaps the most glaring defect of Living Constitutionalism, next to its incompatibility with the whole antievolutionary purpose of a constitution, is that there is no agreement, and no chance of agreement, upon what is to be the guiding principle of the evolution. Panta rei [“all things are in flux”] is not a sufficiently informative principle of constitutional interpretation.”

When determining when and in what direction the evolution should occur, Scalia asks:

Is it the will of the majority, discerned from newspapers, radio talk shows, public opinion polls, and chats at the country club? Is it the philosophy of Hume, or of John Rawls, or of John Stuart Mill, or of Aristotle? As soon as the discussion goes beyond the issue of whether the Constitution is static, the evolutionists divide into as many camps as there are individual views of the good, the true, and the beautiful. I think that is inevitably so, which means that evolutionism is simply not a practicable constitutional philosophy.

For those on the left, the answer to Scalia’s question is: The Constitution means whatever we say it means. And in order for this subjective, ad hoc interpretation to prevail, the left must control the levers of political and judicial power.

There is an effort today to reassert the primacy of the traditional, rather than the Living, Constitution. Liberals understand this, which explains why they are reacting in the manner they are.

The controversy about members of the 112th Congress reading the Constitution is not really about that; it is about something much deeper and more significant. It has to do with how we understand and interpret our charter of government, the product of what John Adams called “the greatest single effort of national deliberations that the world has ever seen.” I suspect that this debate, which conservatives should welcome, will only intensify.

Read Less

The Extremism of E.J. Dionne Jr.

E.J. Dionne Jr. has a column registering his concerns about the “No Labels” group. But he isn’t entirely critical. Dionne makes it clear that there are some things he’s sympathetic to, including this:

The No Labelers are also right to be repulsed by the replacement of real argument with a vicious brand of name-calling. When a president of the United States is attacked simultaneously as an “extreme liberal liar” and a “Nazi,” there is a sick irrationality at work in our discourse.

It’s perhaps worth noting that during the Bush presidency, when George W. Bush was slandered by leading members of the Democratic Party as a “moral coward” (Vice President Al Gore), as a “loser” and a “liar” who had “betrayed his country” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and who “Week after week after week after week … told lie after lie after lie after lie” (Senator Edward Kennedy), Dionne, in an amazing feat of self-control, held his outrage in abeyance. Back then, it was not “sick irrationality at work in our discourse”; it was just the normal, good-spirited back and forth of American politics. And if E.J. has written a column reprimanding the loathsome Representative Alan Grayson for his vicious brand of name-calling, I missed it. (Grayson dubbed his opponent Daniel Webster “Taliban Dan” in a deeply dishonest ad. He has also said, “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: Die quickly.” And for good measure, Grayson has compared Republicans to “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals” and Nazis burning the Reichstag.)

In any event, in his column Dionne goes on to assure us that “I am still devoted to moderation.” Of course he is. But what’s really troubling him are those right-wing extremist Republicans and conservatives. Moderation, you see, is “very much alive on the center-left and among Democrats” — but it is “so dead in the Republican Party and on the right.” The No Labelers can yet be a constructive force, Dionne instructs us, “if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism.”

E.J. faces a bit of a problem, of course. The GOP he deems to be so radical, so zealous, and so outside the mainstream is barely a month removed from a historically successful midterm election. Republicans picked up more House seats (63) than in any election since 1938 and have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s. In addition, Americans, by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, self-identify as conservative rather than liberal. Public trust in government is at record lows; so is the approval rating for the Democratically controlled Congress. And the signature domestic initiative of the Obama presidency, health-care reform, is quite unpopular and falling short of virtually every promise its advocates made on its behalf. Read More

E.J. Dionne Jr. has a column registering his concerns about the “No Labels” group. But he isn’t entirely critical. Dionne makes it clear that there are some things he’s sympathetic to, including this:

The No Labelers are also right to be repulsed by the replacement of real argument with a vicious brand of name-calling. When a president of the United States is attacked simultaneously as an “extreme liberal liar” and a “Nazi,” there is a sick irrationality at work in our discourse.

It’s perhaps worth noting that during the Bush presidency, when George W. Bush was slandered by leading members of the Democratic Party as a “moral coward” (Vice President Al Gore), as a “loser” and a “liar” who had “betrayed his country” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and who “Week after week after week after week … told lie after lie after lie after lie” (Senator Edward Kennedy), Dionne, in an amazing feat of self-control, held his outrage in abeyance. Back then, it was not “sick irrationality at work in our discourse”; it was just the normal, good-spirited back and forth of American politics. And if E.J. has written a column reprimanding the loathsome Representative Alan Grayson for his vicious brand of name-calling, I missed it. (Grayson dubbed his opponent Daniel Webster “Taliban Dan” in a deeply dishonest ad. He has also said, “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: Die quickly.” And for good measure, Grayson has compared Republicans to “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals” and Nazis burning the Reichstag.)

In any event, in his column Dionne goes on to assure us that “I am still devoted to moderation.” Of course he is. But what’s really troubling him are those right-wing extremist Republicans and conservatives. Moderation, you see, is “very much alive on the center-left and among Democrats” — but it is “so dead in the Republican Party and on the right.” The No Labelers can yet be a constructive force, Dionne instructs us, “if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism.”

E.J. faces a bit of a problem, of course. The GOP he deems to be so radical, so zealous, and so outside the mainstream is barely a month removed from a historically successful midterm election. Republicans picked up more House seats (63) than in any election since 1938 and have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s. In addition, Americans, by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, self-identify as conservative rather than liberal. Public trust in government is at record lows; so is the approval rating for the Democratically controlled Congress. And the signature domestic initiative of the Obama presidency, health-care reform, is quite unpopular and falling short of virtually every promise its advocates made on its behalf.

If you want to place the Devoted-to-Moderation Dionne on the political spectrum, consider that he’s a great defender of the soon-to-be-ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose own extremism led to her registering an 8 percent favorability rating among independents just prior to the election (61 percent viewed her unfavorably).

The main problem for E.J., though, is that the 2010 midterm election was a massive repudiation of contemporary liberalism, as embodied by people like President Obama and E.J. Dionne. It was among the most nationalized midterm elections in our history. Having lived under liberal governance for two years, the public reacted to it like the human body reacts to food poisoning. This is something that Dionne doesn’t seem able to process; his ideology won’t allow it. And so he continues to bellow, week after week, about how radical the right has become.

It’s true that Dionne’s columns highlight political extremism of a sort. But the extremism is his, not conservatism’s.

Read Less

Note to E.J. Dionne: What’s Good for the Right Is Good for the Left

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. argues in his most recent column that it’s time to stand up to the right wing. Here’s a thought: how about, E.J., standing up, even just once, to the left wing?

Dionne has a long-time habit of praising conservatives whenever they make critical comments of other conservatives. He did that recently when he praised Michael Gerson for criticizing the “Tea Party excess” and pointing out the need to distinguish between “the injudicious from the outrageous.”

As it happens, I agreed with what Gerson wrote. But when will E.J. follow the example of his Washington Post colleague and deplore the “excess” and the “outrageous” comments and actions within liberalism and the modern Democratic Party? They have been amply documented on CONTENTIONS and elsewhere for a great long while now. It’s actually a fairly target-rich environment. He could start with some of what was said by Journolisters. Just a suggestion.

Yet Dionne never seems able to do to (and for) his side what he praises Gerson for doing to (and for) conservatism, which is to police its excesses.  Unless and until Dionne begins to do what he asks of others, it will be hard to take his pronouncements terribly seriously.

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. argues in his most recent column that it’s time to stand up to the right wing. Here’s a thought: how about, E.J., standing up, even just once, to the left wing?

Dionne has a long-time habit of praising conservatives whenever they make critical comments of other conservatives. He did that recently when he praised Michael Gerson for criticizing the “Tea Party excess” and pointing out the need to distinguish between “the injudicious from the outrageous.”

As it happens, I agreed with what Gerson wrote. But when will E.J. follow the example of his Washington Post colleague and deplore the “excess” and the “outrageous” comments and actions within liberalism and the modern Democratic Party? They have been amply documented on CONTENTIONS and elsewhere for a great long while now. It’s actually a fairly target-rich environment. He could start with some of what was said by Journolisters. Just a suggestion.

Yet Dionne never seems able to do to (and for) his side what he praises Gerson for doing to (and for) conservatism, which is to police its excesses.  Unless and until Dionne begins to do what he asks of others, it will be hard to take his pronouncements terribly seriously.

Read Less

Sometimes the Sky Really Is Falling

Once upon a time conservatives who, as far back as last year, analyzed polling data and political trends and argued what was fairly obvious — that Democrats were in a perilous political position and in danger of losing the House — were mocked by Obama courtiers in the press for declaring, “The sky is falling!” Now, as Jennifer points out, comes confirmation from President Obama’s own spokesman that indeed the sky is falling. On NBC’s Meet the Press, Robert Gibbs declared:

I think there’s no doubt that there are a lot of seats that will be up, a lot of contested seats. I think people are going to have a choice to make in the fall.  But I think there’s no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control.

And in his Washington Post column, E.J. Dionne Jr. – as reliable a liberal supporter of Obama as you will find — offers the same warning:

If the midterm elections were held now, Republicans would likely take control of the House of the Representatives.  It’s as hard these days to find a Democrat who’s not alarmed as it is to find a Cleveland Cavaliers fan who’s cheering for LeBron James.

The explanations Democrats and liberals offer for why they are in this predicament (a “communications” problem, a “false narrative” that has taken hold, the failure to spend more money on the stimulus package, a bad economy that is entirely unconnected to Obama’s policies, and so forth) are flawed and at times comical. Still, the fact that some of Obama’s strongest supporters now acknowledge the depth of opposition to his policies and the battering that awaits Democrats is, I suppose, a good thing. Reality trumping self-delusion usually is. But anticipating a political drubbing is one thing; being on the receiving end of it will be quite another.

Wait until November 3 to see what I mean.

Once upon a time conservatives who, as far back as last year, analyzed polling data and political trends and argued what was fairly obvious — that Democrats were in a perilous political position and in danger of losing the House — were mocked by Obama courtiers in the press for declaring, “The sky is falling!” Now, as Jennifer points out, comes confirmation from President Obama’s own spokesman that indeed the sky is falling. On NBC’s Meet the Press, Robert Gibbs declared:

I think there’s no doubt that there are a lot of seats that will be up, a lot of contested seats. I think people are going to have a choice to make in the fall.  But I think there’s no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control.

And in his Washington Post column, E.J. Dionne Jr. – as reliable a liberal supporter of Obama as you will find — offers the same warning:

If the midterm elections were held now, Republicans would likely take control of the House of the Representatives.  It’s as hard these days to find a Democrat who’s not alarmed as it is to find a Cleveland Cavaliers fan who’s cheering for LeBron James.

The explanations Democrats and liberals offer for why they are in this predicament (a “communications” problem, a “false narrative” that has taken hold, the failure to spend more money on the stimulus package, a bad economy that is entirely unconnected to Obama’s policies, and so forth) are flawed and at times comical. Still, the fact that some of Obama’s strongest supporters now acknowledge the depth of opposition to his policies and the battering that awaits Democrats is, I suppose, a good thing. Reality trumping self-delusion usually is. But anticipating a political drubbing is one thing; being on the receiving end of it will be quite another.

Wait until November 3 to see what I mean.

Read Less

A Sermon on Morality

For a fellow who presumably doesn’t much care for finger-wagging moralists, E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post has gotten quite good at that role over the years.

In his column today, Dionne deals with the fall from grace of Rep. Mark Souder, who resigned after admitting to an affair with an aide, as an opportunity to “shout as forcefully as I can to my conservative Christian friends: Enough! … Enough with pretending that personal virtue is connected with political creeds. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, and then insisting upon understanding after the failures of someone on your own side become known to the world.”

Dionne ends his column on Souder this way:

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines. How many more scandals will it take for people who call themselves Christian to rediscover the virtues of humility and solidarity?

And wouldn’t it be lovely if liberal Christians remembered Jesus’s words when they were tempted, as the prominent liberal evangelical Jim Wallis has been, to say words excoriating their political foes as war criminals. I have in mind, for example, what Wallis said here:

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. … Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

It’s worth noting that Dionne has had glowing things to say about Wallis, going so far as comparing him to the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, or Isaiah — something that, on reflection, even E.J. must cringe at.

Mr. Wallis doesn’t exhaust the list of offenders, by any means. Take the case of Randall Balmer, an influential professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, an editor for Christianity Today, author of a dozen books, and Emmy Award nominee. In his book To Change the World, the sociologist James Davison Hunter writes that in Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament:

[Balmer’s] disdain for the Christian Right lead him to engage in name-calling that is as one-dimensional and dehumanizing as the most extreme voices of the Christian Right, labeling his opponents “right-wing zealots” and “bullies” and their followers “minions,” who together are “intolerant,” “vicious,” “militaristic,” “bloviating,” and theocratic. In this regard, his perspective also matches the Manichaeism of the most extreme voices of the Christian Right for there is no shade or nuance in his description of the political realities with which he is wrestling.

I don’t recall Dionne often, or ever, specifically taking on liberal evangelicals for their slashing rhetoric — to say nothing of the left’s often uncivil and vicious attacks against conservatives, from George W. Bush on down. (Some examples can be found here.) The Outrage Meter seems to have been out of commission during that brief eight-year interlude.

And so let me take E.J.’s column to shout out as forcefully as I can to my liberal Christian friends: enough! Enough with the double standards. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, in a spirit that is markedly un-Christian. Enough with pretending that all the vices lie on one side rather than on both. Enough of the Manichaeism. Enough with the rigid ideology. Enough with the hypocrisy. Enough with pretending that you care about civility when what you really care about is advancing liberalism.

For a fellow who presumably doesn’t much care for finger-wagging moralists, E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post has gotten quite good at that role over the years.

In his column today, Dionne deals with the fall from grace of Rep. Mark Souder, who resigned after admitting to an affair with an aide, as an opportunity to “shout as forcefully as I can to my conservative Christian friends: Enough! … Enough with pretending that personal virtue is connected with political creeds. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, and then insisting upon understanding after the failures of someone on your own side become known to the world.”

Dionne ends his column on Souder this way:

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines. How many more scandals will it take for people who call themselves Christian to rediscover the virtues of humility and solidarity?

And wouldn’t it be lovely if liberal Christians remembered Jesus’s words when they were tempted, as the prominent liberal evangelical Jim Wallis has been, to say words excoriating their political foes as war criminals. I have in mind, for example, what Wallis said here:

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. … Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

It’s worth noting that Dionne has had glowing things to say about Wallis, going so far as comparing him to the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, or Isaiah — something that, on reflection, even E.J. must cringe at.

Mr. Wallis doesn’t exhaust the list of offenders, by any means. Take the case of Randall Balmer, an influential professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, an editor for Christianity Today, author of a dozen books, and Emmy Award nominee. In his book To Change the World, the sociologist James Davison Hunter writes that in Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament:

[Balmer’s] disdain for the Christian Right lead him to engage in name-calling that is as one-dimensional and dehumanizing as the most extreme voices of the Christian Right, labeling his opponents “right-wing zealots” and “bullies” and their followers “minions,” who together are “intolerant,” “vicious,” “militaristic,” “bloviating,” and theocratic. In this regard, his perspective also matches the Manichaeism of the most extreme voices of the Christian Right for there is no shade or nuance in his description of the political realities with which he is wrestling.

I don’t recall Dionne often, or ever, specifically taking on liberal evangelicals for their slashing rhetoric — to say nothing of the left’s often uncivil and vicious attacks against conservatives, from George W. Bush on down. (Some examples can be found here.) The Outrage Meter seems to have been out of commission during that brief eight-year interlude.

And so let me take E.J.’s column to shout out as forcefully as I can to my liberal Christian friends: enough! Enough with the double standards. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, in a spirit that is markedly un-Christian. Enough with pretending that all the vices lie on one side rather than on both. Enough of the Manichaeism. Enough with the rigid ideology. Enough with the hypocrisy. Enough with pretending that you care about civility when what you really care about is advancing liberalism.

Read Less

The Ideological-Purity Canard

At the conclusion of his column today, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne Jr. insists:

But all this [races leading up to the 2010 mid-term elections] underscores the real difference between the two parties. The Democrats will remain an intricate coalition that struggles to hold together the left, the center and bits of the right. Republicans, as Arlen Specter could tell you, are the ones opting for ideological purity.

Of course it does. The Democratic Party — led by those three well-known spokesmen for political centrism,  Obama, Pelosi, and Reid — is an extraordinarily intricate coalition characterized by amazing ideological diversity. It is a party that has given us (for starters) nationalized health care; nationalized student loans; record-breaking spending, deficits, and debt; a huge new entitlement program; the federal government essentially owning the nations’ largest bank and largest automaker; a federal “pay czar”; cap-and-trade; higher taxes (with much higher ones on the way); obeisance to labor unions; subsidization of abortions; liberal Supreme Court justices; unparalleled polarization; and unprecedented partisanship. You know, that centrist Democratic Party, that intricate political coalition.

In every election in which Democrats get hammered or are about to get hammered, it seems, liberals like E.J. return to their one-trick pony. They attempt to label the GOP as the party of “ideological purity” and worse. The Democrats are open-minded, flexible, pragmatic, moderate, don’t you know. Republicans, on the other hand, are narrow, dogmatic, mean-spirited, inflexible, rigid. Or so this stale narrative goes.

The truth is that the GOP is riding a fairly remarkable political wave right now, and the polling data tell us why: Obama and the Democrats are seen as profligate, ideological, and out-of-control liberals who need to be stopped. And as I pointed out here, even life-long Democrats, having witnessed Obama and Obamaism up close and personal, are planning to vote Republican.

In the age of Obama, and with astonishing speed, the nation is becoming more conservative and more Republican. Liberals like E.J. Dionne can’t stand this fact and are increasingly unable to process it.

For those of us on the right, it will be a fun few months watching all this play itself out — and it will culminate, I suspect, in a perfectly delightful November. Who knew ideological purity would turn out to be so darn popular?

At the conclusion of his column today, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne Jr. insists:

But all this [races leading up to the 2010 mid-term elections] underscores the real difference between the two parties. The Democrats will remain an intricate coalition that struggles to hold together the left, the center and bits of the right. Republicans, as Arlen Specter could tell you, are the ones opting for ideological purity.

Of course it does. The Democratic Party — led by those three well-known spokesmen for political centrism,  Obama, Pelosi, and Reid — is an extraordinarily intricate coalition characterized by amazing ideological diversity. It is a party that has given us (for starters) nationalized health care; nationalized student loans; record-breaking spending, deficits, and debt; a huge new entitlement program; the federal government essentially owning the nations’ largest bank and largest automaker; a federal “pay czar”; cap-and-trade; higher taxes (with much higher ones on the way); obeisance to labor unions; subsidization of abortions; liberal Supreme Court justices; unparalleled polarization; and unprecedented partisanship. You know, that centrist Democratic Party, that intricate political coalition.

In every election in which Democrats get hammered or are about to get hammered, it seems, liberals like E.J. return to their one-trick pony. They attempt to label the GOP as the party of “ideological purity” and worse. The Democrats are open-minded, flexible, pragmatic, moderate, don’t you know. Republicans, on the other hand, are narrow, dogmatic, mean-spirited, inflexible, rigid. Or so this stale narrative goes.

The truth is that the GOP is riding a fairly remarkable political wave right now, and the polling data tell us why: Obama and the Democrats are seen as profligate, ideological, and out-of-control liberals who need to be stopped. And as I pointed out here, even life-long Democrats, having witnessed Obama and Obamaism up close and personal, are planning to vote Republican.

In the age of Obama, and with astonishing speed, the nation is becoming more conservative and more Republican. Liberals like E.J. Dionne can’t stand this fact and are increasingly unable to process it.

For those of us on the right, it will be a fun few months watching all this play itself out — and it will culminate, I suspect, in a perfectly delightful November. Who knew ideological purity would turn out to be so darn popular?

Read Less

ObamaCare and Political Theater

The health-care summit on Thursday will garner a huge amount of media attention — and its effect on the health-care debate will be negligible to nonexistent. It is simple political theater, a transparent public-relations game. No one believes anything important will be done, any serious negotiations will take place, any concessions will be given, any significant compromises struck. All it will do is place a debate we’ve been engaged in for the better part of a year on another stage.

The important news from this week has to do not with political “summits” but political substance — and the Obama administration’s stunning decision to double down on health care. I say stunning because ObamaCare is doing to the Democratic party what a wrecking ball does to a condemned building.

ObamaCare is, for one thing, hugely unpopular. David Brooks reports that if you average the last 10 polls, 38 percent of voters support the reform plans and 53 percent oppose. Obama’s reform is more unpopular than Bill Clinton’s was as it died, Brooks points out. And of course the intensity of opposition to the plan is far more than the intensity of support. Health care also set the context for Democratic losses in New Jersey, in Virginia, and in Massachusetts. Yet, according to press reports, “after initially reeling from the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusetts, Obama’s chief political strategists came to believe that voters would punish Democrats more severely in this year’s elections for failing to try [to pass health care legislation], they said.”

Liberals like E.J. Dionne Jr. and Ezra Klein of the Washington Post argue that if Obama fails to pass health-care reform, his presidency will be crippled — but if he passes reform, it will be salvaged. “This week will determine the shape of American politics for the next three years,” Dionne wrote on Monday. “No, that’s not one of those journalistic exaggerations intended to catch your attention. … It’s an accurate description of the stakes at the health care summit President Obama has called for Thursday. The issue is whether the summit proves to be the turning point in a political year that, at the moment, is moving decisively in the Republicans’ direction. If the summit fails to shake things up and does not lead to the passage of a comprehensive health care bill, Democrats and Obama are in for a miserable time for the rest of his term.”

This strikes me as perfectly wrong. After a year of intense debate, the public has reacted to ObamaCare the way the human body reacts to food poisoning. It is rejecting it, utterly and completely. For Obama and the White House to convince themselves to ram through legislation that is, if anything, worse than the original House and Senate bills is an act of madness.

I rather doubt it will succeed. For one thing, there are now at least three people who voted for the House version of the bill who will not vote for a reconciliation bill (the late John Murtha, Bart Stupak, and Joseph Cao). For another, the Democrats plan is more unpopular now than it was when it passed in the House last year (by a vote of 220-215). We are also in an election year, when the Democrats are desperate to turn attention from health care to jobs. And finally, we live in a post–Scott Brown election world. Democrats have seen that ObamaCare is political hemlock. It is a cup Democrats would rather have pass from their lips.

No one is arguing that not passing Obama’s signature domestic initiative would reflect well on the president. A failure of this magnitude will undoubtedly damage him. But in this instance, with the White House having acted so ineptly, failing to pass ObamaCare is the best of bad options. Obstinacy on behalf of a bad and unpopular idea is a road to political ruin.

In redoubling his efforts to pass health-care legislation, Obama will be rejected — not simply by Republicans and the public but also, I suspect, by members of his own party. This in turn will further weaken his political standing. He will have looked obsessively out of touch, selfish, and narcissistic. But in the highly unlikely event that Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader Harry Reid succeed in passing health-care legislation through the reconciliation process — if Democrats in the House are foolish enough to hitch their hopes to this liberal troika — there will be an even more fearsome political price to pay.

Some Democrats may believe things can’t possibly get worse, so they may as well pass ObamaCare. They are wrong. As one of my least favorite political philosophers, Mao Zedong, said, “It’s always darkest before it’s totally black.”

The health-care summit on Thursday will garner a huge amount of media attention — and its effect on the health-care debate will be negligible to nonexistent. It is simple political theater, a transparent public-relations game. No one believes anything important will be done, any serious negotiations will take place, any concessions will be given, any significant compromises struck. All it will do is place a debate we’ve been engaged in for the better part of a year on another stage.

The important news from this week has to do not with political “summits” but political substance — and the Obama administration’s stunning decision to double down on health care. I say stunning because ObamaCare is doing to the Democratic party what a wrecking ball does to a condemned building.

ObamaCare is, for one thing, hugely unpopular. David Brooks reports that if you average the last 10 polls, 38 percent of voters support the reform plans and 53 percent oppose. Obama’s reform is more unpopular than Bill Clinton’s was as it died, Brooks points out. And of course the intensity of opposition to the plan is far more than the intensity of support. Health care also set the context for Democratic losses in New Jersey, in Virginia, and in Massachusetts. Yet, according to press reports, “after initially reeling from the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusetts, Obama’s chief political strategists came to believe that voters would punish Democrats more severely in this year’s elections for failing to try [to pass health care legislation], they said.”

Liberals like E.J. Dionne Jr. and Ezra Klein of the Washington Post argue that if Obama fails to pass health-care reform, his presidency will be crippled — but if he passes reform, it will be salvaged. “This week will determine the shape of American politics for the next three years,” Dionne wrote on Monday. “No, that’s not one of those journalistic exaggerations intended to catch your attention. … It’s an accurate description of the stakes at the health care summit President Obama has called for Thursday. The issue is whether the summit proves to be the turning point in a political year that, at the moment, is moving decisively in the Republicans’ direction. If the summit fails to shake things up and does not lead to the passage of a comprehensive health care bill, Democrats and Obama are in for a miserable time for the rest of his term.”

This strikes me as perfectly wrong. After a year of intense debate, the public has reacted to ObamaCare the way the human body reacts to food poisoning. It is rejecting it, utterly and completely. For Obama and the White House to convince themselves to ram through legislation that is, if anything, worse than the original House and Senate bills is an act of madness.

I rather doubt it will succeed. For one thing, there are now at least three people who voted for the House version of the bill who will not vote for a reconciliation bill (the late John Murtha, Bart Stupak, and Joseph Cao). For another, the Democrats plan is more unpopular now than it was when it passed in the House last year (by a vote of 220-215). We are also in an election year, when the Democrats are desperate to turn attention from health care to jobs. And finally, we live in a post–Scott Brown election world. Democrats have seen that ObamaCare is political hemlock. It is a cup Democrats would rather have pass from their lips.

No one is arguing that not passing Obama’s signature domestic initiative would reflect well on the president. A failure of this magnitude will undoubtedly damage him. But in this instance, with the White House having acted so ineptly, failing to pass ObamaCare is the best of bad options. Obstinacy on behalf of a bad and unpopular idea is a road to political ruin.

In redoubling his efforts to pass health-care legislation, Obama will be rejected — not simply by Republicans and the public but also, I suspect, by members of his own party. This in turn will further weaken his political standing. He will have looked obsessively out of touch, selfish, and narcissistic. But in the highly unlikely event that Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader Harry Reid succeed in passing health-care legislation through the reconciliation process — if Democrats in the House are foolish enough to hitch their hopes to this liberal troika — there will be an even more fearsome political price to pay.

Some Democrats may believe things can’t possibly get worse, so they may as well pass ObamaCare. They are wrong. As one of my least favorite political philosophers, Mao Zedong, said, “It’s always darkest before it’s totally black.”

Read Less

All Local Politics Is National

Jen cites a USA Today/Gallup poll that finds an overwhelming 72 percent of those surveyed Wednesday say Brown’s victory “reflects frustrations shared by many Americans, and the president and members of Congress should pay attention to it.” Just 18 percent say it “reflects political conditions in Massachusetts and doesn’t have a larger meaning for national politics.”

That will come to news to E.J. Dionne Jr., who, in a frantic pre-spin piece over at the Washington Post, wrote, “the important local factors of the sort [the Boston Globe‘s Joan] Vennochi underscores shouldn’t be overlooked in the effort to draw grand lessons about what this race means for the future of Obama, liberalism and our republic itself. Election results rarely have a single explanation.” Elsewhere in his PostPartisan piece, Dionne quotes Tip O’Neill’s line “All politics is still local.”

How convenient for E.J. to stumble across this insight just before the Democratic party’s historic loss in Massachusetts. Of course, every non-presidential election has some element of local politics involved; what made the Massachusetts race unusual is the degree to which it was nationalized and had national implications.

It should be said that Dionne’s track record is fairly spotty during the Age of Obama. Last week he predicted that the national attention of the race came just in the nick of time and that Martha Coakley would pull out a victory in his home state. And back in May, Dionne was counseling Republicans that they had to decide between “doctrinal purity” and winning — and that winning meant nominating “Obama huggers” — Republicans who had figuratively embraced the Obama agenda and literally embraced Obama himself.

Right now you can hardly find Democrats who want to hug Obama, figuratively or literally; and perhaps no non-presidential election in our lifetime has had larger meaning for national politics. The political ground has been shifting underneath us for many months now; much of the political class has ignored it. It will be interesting to see if liberals end their self-delusion in the wake of Brown’s epic win. I rather doubt they will.

Jen cites a USA Today/Gallup poll that finds an overwhelming 72 percent of those surveyed Wednesday say Brown’s victory “reflects frustrations shared by many Americans, and the president and members of Congress should pay attention to it.” Just 18 percent say it “reflects political conditions in Massachusetts and doesn’t have a larger meaning for national politics.”

That will come to news to E.J. Dionne Jr., who, in a frantic pre-spin piece over at the Washington Post, wrote, “the important local factors of the sort [the Boston Globe‘s Joan] Vennochi underscores shouldn’t be overlooked in the effort to draw grand lessons about what this race means for the future of Obama, liberalism and our republic itself. Election results rarely have a single explanation.” Elsewhere in his PostPartisan piece, Dionne quotes Tip O’Neill’s line “All politics is still local.”

How convenient for E.J. to stumble across this insight just before the Democratic party’s historic loss in Massachusetts. Of course, every non-presidential election has some element of local politics involved; what made the Massachusetts race unusual is the degree to which it was nationalized and had national implications.

It should be said that Dionne’s track record is fairly spotty during the Age of Obama. Last week he predicted that the national attention of the race came just in the nick of time and that Martha Coakley would pull out a victory in his home state. And back in May, Dionne was counseling Republicans that they had to decide between “doctrinal purity” and winning — and that winning meant nominating “Obama huggers” — Republicans who had figuratively embraced the Obama agenda and literally embraced Obama himself.

Right now you can hardly find Democrats who want to hug Obama, figuratively or literally; and perhaps no non-presidential election in our lifetime has had larger meaning for national politics. The political ground has been shifting underneath us for many months now; much of the political class has ignored it. It will be interesting to see if liberals end their self-delusion in the wake of Brown’s epic win. I rather doubt they will.

Read Less

Reid’s Bad History

Poor Harry Reid. With his health-care plan deeply unpopular and with him trailing Republican opponents in Nevada, he is beginning to show signs of cracking under the pressure. On the Senate floor, for example, he compared Republicans who oppose ObamaCare to those who opposed the abolition of slavery. In Reid’s words:

Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all Republicans can come up with is this: “Slow down, stop everything, let’s start over.” If you think you’ve heard these same excuses before, you’re right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, “Slow down, it’s too early, let’s wait, things aren’t bad enough.”

For one thing, the Senate majority leader’s retelling of history is a wee bit off. It was the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves. According to Stephen B. Oates’s With Malice Toward None, in the South, Democrats called Lincoln the greatest “ass” in the United States, a “sooty” and “scoundrelly” abolitionist. Lincoln and his “Black Republican, free love, free N—–” party were the object of fierce hatred by Democrats. And the only person serving in the Senate today who was an “Exalted Cyclops” — that is, the top officer in a local Ku Klux Klan unit — is former Democratic majority leader Robert Byrd.

For another thing, Harry Reid’s incivility has burst forth in the past. To take just one example: he called President George W. Bush a “liar” and a “loser.” Yet no words of condemnation by Democrats were heard.

Recently, I have taken both James Fallows here and here and E.J. Dionne Jr. to task for their glaring double standard on the issue of incivility in public discourse. Their outrage is expressed only when Republicans cross certain lines; they remain silent when Democrats do. A Dionne colleague wrote me to say I was being unfair to him. Well, then, here’s a fine opportunity for Dionne and Fallows — and for many other commentators — to condemn the kind of hateful rhetoric they say they find so distasteful. It’ll be instructive to see how many actually do.

Poor Harry Reid. With his health-care plan deeply unpopular and with him trailing Republican opponents in Nevada, he is beginning to show signs of cracking under the pressure. On the Senate floor, for example, he compared Republicans who oppose ObamaCare to those who opposed the abolition of slavery. In Reid’s words:

Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all Republicans can come up with is this: “Slow down, stop everything, let’s start over.” If you think you’ve heard these same excuses before, you’re right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, “Slow down, it’s too early, let’s wait, things aren’t bad enough.”

For one thing, the Senate majority leader’s retelling of history is a wee bit off. It was the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves. According to Stephen B. Oates’s With Malice Toward None, in the South, Democrats called Lincoln the greatest “ass” in the United States, a “sooty” and “scoundrelly” abolitionist. Lincoln and his “Black Republican, free love, free N—–” party were the object of fierce hatred by Democrats. And the only person serving in the Senate today who was an “Exalted Cyclops” — that is, the top officer in a local Ku Klux Klan unit — is former Democratic majority leader Robert Byrd.

For another thing, Harry Reid’s incivility has burst forth in the past. To take just one example: he called President George W. Bush a “liar” and a “loser.” Yet no words of condemnation by Democrats were heard.

Recently, I have taken both James Fallows here and here and E.J. Dionne Jr. to task for their glaring double standard on the issue of incivility in public discourse. Their outrage is expressed only when Republicans cross certain lines; they remain silent when Democrats do. A Dionne colleague wrote me to say I was being unfair to him. Well, then, here’s a fine opportunity for Dionne and Fallows — and for many other commentators — to condemn the kind of hateful rhetoric they say they find so distasteful. It’ll be instructive to see how many actually do.

Read Less

E.J. Dionne’s Glaring Double Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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