Commentary Magazine


Topic: E.J. Dionne

A Challenge to Liberals

In his column, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne once again issues a “challenge for conservatives.” This time his focus is on income inequality.

According to Dionne, “It’s good that conservatives are finally taking seriously the problems of inequality and declining upward mobility. It’s unfortunate that they often evade the ways in which structural changes in the economy, combined with conservative policies, have made matters worse.” Dionne goes on to praise European nations whose policies are more “’socialist’ or (to be precise) social democratic than ours” and which also have greater social mobility than we find in America today.

Dionne cites several factors for this – guaranteed health insurance, stronger union movements, more generous welfare states, and higher taxes. He then cites William Julius Wilson’s review of Timothy Noah’s book The Great Divergence, which mentions “the increasing importance of a college degree due to the shortage of better-educated workers; trade between the United States and low-wage nations; changes in government policy in labor and finance; and the decline of the labor movement. He also considers the extreme changes in the wage structure of corporations and the financial industry, in which American CEOs typically receive three times the salaries earned by their European counterparts.”

“Most conservatives accept the importance of education,” according to Dionne, “but then choose to ignore all the other forces Noah describes.”

In fact, some of us have written about income inequality in somewhat more detail than Dionne has. This essay in National Affairs, for example, is roughly 10 times longer than Dionne’s column – and is, I think it’s fair to say, less tendentious. (In reading Dionne and some others, I’m reminded of this description: “Like a magnet among iron filings, [his mind] either concentrated acceptable facts in a tight cluster, or repelled them and kept itself clean.”)

Read More

In his column, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne once again issues a “challenge for conservatives.” This time his focus is on income inequality.

According to Dionne, “It’s good that conservatives are finally taking seriously the problems of inequality and declining upward mobility. It’s unfortunate that they often evade the ways in which structural changes in the economy, combined with conservative policies, have made matters worse.” Dionne goes on to praise European nations whose policies are more “’socialist’ or (to be precise) social democratic than ours” and which also have greater social mobility than we find in America today.

Dionne cites several factors for this – guaranteed health insurance, stronger union movements, more generous welfare states, and higher taxes. He then cites William Julius Wilson’s review of Timothy Noah’s book The Great Divergence, which mentions “the increasing importance of a college degree due to the shortage of better-educated workers; trade between the United States and low-wage nations; changes in government policy in labor and finance; and the decline of the labor movement. He also considers the extreme changes in the wage structure of corporations and the financial industry, in which American CEOs typically receive three times the salaries earned by their European counterparts.”

“Most conservatives accept the importance of education,” according to Dionne, “but then choose to ignore all the other forces Noah describes.”

In fact, some of us have written about income inequality in somewhat more detail than Dionne has. This essay in National Affairs, for example, is roughly 10 times longer than Dionne’s column – and is, I think it’s fair to say, less tendentious. (In reading Dionne and some others, I’m reminded of this description: “Like a magnet among iron filings, [his mind] either concentrated acceptable facts in a tight cluster, or repelled them and kept itself clean.”)

The issue of income inequality is a good deal more complicated and less ideologically simplistic than Dionne acknowledges. Among the things the essay points out but Dionne ignores is that (a) income taxes in America are the most progressive among the rich nations in the world; (b) inequality is driven in part by the growing workforce participation rate of women; (c) federal old-age entitlement programs have become less progressive (which argues for means-testing Social Security and Medicare, a policy that has been fiercely rejected by liberals in the past); and (d) one of the quickest ways to increased income equality is a severe recession (because severe recessions destroy capital, which hurts top income earners more than average workers).

Still another factor has contributed to income inequality. In their book The Winner-Take-All Society, economists Robert Frank and Philip Cook argue that certain markets are defined by the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few top performers. The winner-take-all model has come to dominate not just the corporate and financial industry but a number of professional sectors, including sports, art, acting, and music. Yet Dionne never seems to be troubled by the amount someone like, say, Bruce Springsteen makes. (Springsteen is estimated to be worth around $200 million, though that matters not, as his politics are liberal and his songs are, according to Dionne, a paean to communitarianism.) The Washington Post columnist’s wrath is usually directed toward those who are successful in business. I’ll leave it to discerning readers to figure out why.

As for the issue of social mobility, the National Affairs essay I co-authored points out that “Whether one judges by intragenerational mobility (meaning movement within or between income brackets and social classes within an individual’s lifetime) or intergenerational mobility (movement within or between income brackets and social classes occurring from one generation to the next), the United States is less mobile than it should be.”

But here is one fundamental area in which I depart from Dionne, which is that the problem in America today is not wealth but rather persistent poverty. And the right way to deal with income inequality is not by punishing the rich, as the left is eager to do, but by doing more to help the poor become richer, chiefly by increasing their social capital. (Robert Beschel and I sketch out what the broad outlines of a real social-capital agenda might consist of.)

One cannot help but believe that many progressives, in the name of reducing income inequality, would be willing to see the poor get poorer so long as the rich lost ground as well. Whether or not Dionne fits in this category, it should be said that he has never adequately explained his passionate opposition to welfare reform in the 1990s, which ranks as one of the most successful social reforms in the last half-century and which decreased dependency and improved the condition of the poor. It’s curious, too, that Dionne would hold up Europe as a model for America, given the extraordinary fiscal crisis and human suffering that is now sweeping Europe.

In any event, Dionne’s column at least provides an example of the fundamentally different worldviews that are competing and clashing in our time. Dionne really does hold up the socialist/social democracies of Europe as a model. Conservatives do not. Greece is not what conservatives are hoping to replicate in America.

These are matters that really ought to be the subject of a vigorous national debate.

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

Double Standards Regarding Political Civility

Courtesy of Hotair comes this clip of MSNBC’s Ed Schultz at the “One Nation” rally this weekend. I do hope that liberals who are so eager to argue for civility in public discourse might have a word or two to say about Mr. Schultz, who, among other things, refers to conservatives as the “forces of evil” and says that while conservatives talk about our forefathers, “they want discrimination.”

Now, I don’t expect much more from someone like Ed Schultz. But liberal commentators (E.J. Dionne, Jr., Eugene Robinson, Tom Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, Jonathan Alter, and Jim Wallis, for starters) who complain about political discourse only when the offending parties are on the right would do themselves and the nation a favor if they spoke out against haters such as Schultz and Representative Alan Grayson. (Grayson’s deeply dishonest and repulsive ad, accusing his opponent of being “Taliban Dan Webster,” can be found here.)

If pundits like E.J. Dionne and others remain silent when people who share their philosophical and ideological precepts cross the line, then it’s reasonable to assume, I think, that their counsel for civility is being driven by partisan impulses rather than a genuine concern about the quality of public discourse.

Courtesy of Hotair comes this clip of MSNBC’s Ed Schultz at the “One Nation” rally this weekend. I do hope that liberals who are so eager to argue for civility in public discourse might have a word or two to say about Mr. Schultz, who, among other things, refers to conservatives as the “forces of evil” and says that while conservatives talk about our forefathers, “they want discrimination.”

Now, I don’t expect much more from someone like Ed Schultz. But liberal commentators (E.J. Dionne, Jr., Eugene Robinson, Tom Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, Jonathan Alter, and Jim Wallis, for starters) who complain about political discourse only when the offending parties are on the right would do themselves and the nation a favor if they spoke out against haters such as Schultz and Representative Alan Grayson. (Grayson’s deeply dishonest and repulsive ad, accusing his opponent of being “Taliban Dan Webster,” can be found here.)

If pundits like E.J. Dionne and others remain silent when people who share their philosophical and ideological precepts cross the line, then it’s reasonable to assume, I think, that their counsel for civility is being driven by partisan impulses rather than a genuine concern about the quality of public discourse.

Read Less

Liberalism’s Existential Crisis

As the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party continue their journey into the Slough of Despond, it’s interesting to watch Obama’ supporters try to process the unfolding events.

Some blame it on a failure to communicate. E.J. Dionne, Jr., for example, ascribes the Democrats’ problems to the fact that Obama “has chosen not to engage the nation in an extended dialogue about what holds all his achievements together.” Joe Klein offers this explanation: “If Obama is not reelected, it will be because he comes across as disdaining what he does for a living.” And John Judis points to the Obama administration’s “aversion to populism.”

Others are aiming their sound and fury at the American people. According to Maureen Dowd, “Obama is the head of the dysfunctional family of America — a rational man running a most irrational nation, a high-minded man in a low-minded age. The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown.” Jonathan Alter argues that the American people “aren’t rationally aligning belief and action; they’re tempted to lose their spleens in the polling place without fully grasping the consequences.” And Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg has written that “the biggest culprit in our current predicament” is the “childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.” Read More

As the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party continue their journey into the Slough of Despond, it’s interesting to watch Obama’ supporters try to process the unfolding events.

Some blame it on a failure to communicate. E.J. Dionne, Jr., for example, ascribes the Democrats’ problems to the fact that Obama “has chosen not to engage the nation in an extended dialogue about what holds all his achievements together.” Joe Klein offers this explanation: “If Obama is not reelected, it will be because he comes across as disdaining what he does for a living.” And John Judis points to the Obama administration’s “aversion to populism.”

Others are aiming their sound and fury at the American people. According to Maureen Dowd, “Obama is the head of the dysfunctional family of America — a rational man running a most irrational nation, a high-minded man in a low-minded age. The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown.” Jonathan Alter argues that the American people “aren’t rationally aligning belief and action; they’re tempted to lose their spleens in the polling place without fully grasping the consequences.” And Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg has written that “the biggest culprit in our current predicament” is the “childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.”

For still others, Obama’s failures can be traced to James Madison. George Packer complains that Obama’s failures are in part institutional. He lists a slew of items on the liberal agenda items “the world’s greatest deliberative body is incapable of addressing.” Paul Krugman warns that the Senate is “ominously dysfunctional” and insists that the way it works is “no longer consistent with a functioning government.” For Vanity Fair’s Todd Purdum, “The evidence that Washington cannot function — that it’s ‘broken,’ as Vice President Joe Biden has said — is all around.” The modern presidency “has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives.”

Commentators such as the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein place responsibility on “powerful structural forces in American politics that seem to drag down first-term presidents” (though Klein does acknowledge other factors). The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait pins the blame on “structural factors” and “external factors” that have nothing to do with Obama’s policies.

Then there are those who see the pernicious vast right-wing conspiracy at work. Frank Rich alerts us to the fact that the problem lies with “the brothers David and Charles Koch,” the “sugar daddies” who are bankrolling the “white Tea Party America.” Newsweek‘s Michael Cohen has written that, “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain.” And Mr. Krugman offers this analysis: “What we learned from the Clinton years is that a significant number of Americans just don’t consider government by liberals — even very moderate liberals — legitimate. Mr. Obama’s election would have enraged those people even if he were white. Of course, the fact that he isn’t, and has an alien-sounding name, adds to the rage.” Krugman goes on to warn that “powerful forces are promoting and exploiting this rage” — including the “right-wing media.” And if they come to gain power, “It will be an ugly scene, and it will be dangerous, too.”

What most of these commentators are missing, I think, are two essential points. First, the public is turning against Obama and the Democratic Party because the economy is sick and, despite his assurances and projections, the president hasn’t been able to make it well. And in some important respects, especially on fiscal matters, the president and the 111th Congress have made things considerably worse. Second, an increasing number of Americans believe Obama’s policies are unwise, ineffective, and much too liberal. They connect the bad results we are seeing in America to what Obama is doing to America.

But there’s something else, and something deeper, going on here. All of us who embrace a particular religious or philosophical worldview should be prepared to judge them in light of empirical facts and reality. What if our theories seem to be failing in the real world?

The truth is that it’s rather rare to find people willing to reexamine or reinterpret their most deeply held beliefs when the mounting evidence calls those beliefs into question. That is something most of us (myself included) battle with: How to be a person of principled convictions while being intellectually honest enough to acknowledge when certain propositions (and, in some instances, foundational policies) seem to be failing or falling short.

It’s quite possible, of course, that one’s basic convictions can remain true even when events go badly. Self-government is still the best form of government even if it might fail in one nation or another. And sometimes it is simply a matter of weathering storms until certain first principles are reaffirmed. At the same time, sometimes we hold to theories that are simply wrong, that are contrary to human nature and the way the world works, but we simply can’t let go of them. We have too much invested in a particular philosophy.

President Obama’s liberal supporters understand that he is in serious trouble right now; what they are doing is scrambling to find some way to explain his problems without calling into question their underlying political philosophy (modern liberalism). If what is happening cannot be a fundamental failure of liberalism, then it must be something else — from a “communications problem” to “structural factors” to a political conspiracy. And you can bet that if things continue on their present course, ideologues on the left will increasingly argue that Obama’s failures stem from his being (a) not liberal enough or (b) incompetent.

If the Obama presidency is seen as damaging the larger liberal project, they will abandon Obama in order to try to protect liberalism. They would rather do that than face an existential crisis.

Read Less

Media Clueless on the Tea Parties — Still

Noemie Emery traces the media coverage of the tea parties:

First, they were described as an ignorant rabble, much as the Washington Post had once pegged evangelicals. Then polls showed that they were a rabble that was better off and better informed than the public in general, and they became a selfish and privileged rabble: a privileged rabble parading as populists.

“An aggrieved elite,” Dana Milbank sniffed. “Race is part of the picture,” E.J. Dionne noted. “The Tea Partiers aren’t standing up for the little guy; they’re standing up TO the little guy,” Peter Beinart complained. “The Tea Partiers favor the economically and racially privileged. … What the Tea Partiers dislike about Barack Obama’s economic policies is that they don’t do enough for the rich.”

One sometimes gets the sense that you are watching Margaret Mead reporting on the newest tribe to appear in the wilderness. They seem to have primitive communication! One wonders what the emblems on their native garb are for! The media, of course, have no problem instantaneously recognizing liberal grassroots movements as the authentic voice of the people, but somehow they can’t quite comprehend an ideas-based, fiscally conservative popular movement. (As Emery notes: “The Tea Party is a popular, not a populist, movement, a grass-roots uprising against the cost and expansion of government power. It fears that the debt has become unsustainable.”) It’s not as if their philosophy is a secret; the media mavens, of course, could ask them what they think. But that would simply be written off, I suppose. False consciousness and all that.

Granted, the tea party movement is an oddity, sort of what CATO would be, with clever signs – a mix of popular political color and small (or smaller) government conservatism, based on a healthy skepticism about the reach and power of the federal government. These are foreign concepts to most in the liberal media so they continue to search for other explanations, each less credible than the last, for what can only be described as a great, popular revolt against Obamaism.

Noemie Emery traces the media coverage of the tea parties:

First, they were described as an ignorant rabble, much as the Washington Post had once pegged evangelicals. Then polls showed that they were a rabble that was better off and better informed than the public in general, and they became a selfish and privileged rabble: a privileged rabble parading as populists.

“An aggrieved elite,” Dana Milbank sniffed. “Race is part of the picture,” E.J. Dionne noted. “The Tea Partiers aren’t standing up for the little guy; they’re standing up TO the little guy,” Peter Beinart complained. “The Tea Partiers favor the economically and racially privileged. … What the Tea Partiers dislike about Barack Obama’s economic policies is that they don’t do enough for the rich.”

One sometimes gets the sense that you are watching Margaret Mead reporting on the newest tribe to appear in the wilderness. They seem to have primitive communication! One wonders what the emblems on their native garb are for! The media, of course, have no problem instantaneously recognizing liberal grassroots movements as the authentic voice of the people, but somehow they can’t quite comprehend an ideas-based, fiscally conservative popular movement. (As Emery notes: “The Tea Party is a popular, not a populist, movement, a grass-roots uprising against the cost and expansion of government power. It fears that the debt has become unsustainable.”) It’s not as if their philosophy is a secret; the media mavens, of course, could ask them what they think. But that would simply be written off, I suppose. False consciousness and all that.

Granted, the tea party movement is an oddity, sort of what CATO would be, with clever signs – a mix of popular political color and small (or smaller) government conservatism, based on a healthy skepticism about the reach and power of the federal government. These are foreign concepts to most in the liberal media so they continue to search for other explanations, each less credible than the last, for what can only be described as a great, popular revolt against Obamaism.

Read Less

Characterizing Republicans

In his column today, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. writes this:

In the short term, Democrats can argue reasonably that raising taxes or slashing programs before the economy has recovered would be bad policy. And they can assert that the commission Obama has named to grapple with the deficit will clarify the trade-offs between tax increases and program cuts. This, in turn, will open the way for a more rational argument about deficits.

It would be nice if things worked out this way. But between now and then lies an election campaign likely to be characterized more by anger than reason, and in which the opposition has the advantage of not being in charge at a moment of great discontent. Sisyphus would understand. And Obama will have to get used to it.

Here you will find, in two brief paragraphs, a nice embodiment of the attitude of modern-day liberals, whose frustration at the public’s intensifying unhappiness with Mr. Obama and his agenda has to be explained some way or another. What on earth to do? Why, here’s an idea: let’s frame the coming election campaign as one that is “likely to be characterized more by anger than reason.”

Funny how that happens, isn’t it? So often when Republicans and conservatives make political inroads, it’s fueled by irrational emotions, the product – let’s read between the lines, shall we? – of slightly unhinged people, being driven off the rails by “great discontent.”

It’s all nonsense, of course. The reality is that the opposition to Obama is based on a fairly reasonable understanding of what he and his agenda are doing to our country. The Left can continue to pretend it is opposition anchored in obscurantism, but this form of self-delusion will come at a high political cost.

In his column today, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. writes this:

In the short term, Democrats can argue reasonably that raising taxes or slashing programs before the economy has recovered would be bad policy. And they can assert that the commission Obama has named to grapple with the deficit will clarify the trade-offs between tax increases and program cuts. This, in turn, will open the way for a more rational argument about deficits.

It would be nice if things worked out this way. But between now and then lies an election campaign likely to be characterized more by anger than reason, and in which the opposition has the advantage of not being in charge at a moment of great discontent. Sisyphus would understand. And Obama will have to get used to it.

Here you will find, in two brief paragraphs, a nice embodiment of the attitude of modern-day liberals, whose frustration at the public’s intensifying unhappiness with Mr. Obama and his agenda has to be explained some way or another. What on earth to do? Why, here’s an idea: let’s frame the coming election campaign as one that is “likely to be characterized more by anger than reason.”

Funny how that happens, isn’t it? So often when Republicans and conservatives make political inroads, it’s fueled by irrational emotions, the product – let’s read between the lines, shall we? – of slightly unhinged people, being driven off the rails by “great discontent.”

It’s all nonsense, of course. The reality is that the opposition to Obama is based on a fairly reasonable understanding of what he and his agenda are doing to our country. The Left can continue to pretend it is opposition anchored in obscurantism, but this form of self-delusion will come at a high political cost.

Read Less

When Columnists Call Bipartisanship Good … and Bipartisanship Evil

In his Washington Post column today, E.J. Dionne, Jr. writes:

The word “partisanship” is typically accompanied by the word “mindless.” That’s not simply insulting to partisans; it’s also untrue. If we learn nothing else in 2010, can we please finally acknowledge that our partisan divisions are about authentic principles that lead to very different approaches to governing?

That’s a legitimate argument to make; the only problem is that it’s precisely the opposite argument E.J. was making when George W. Bush was in the White House. Back then, partisanship was the bane of our existence. On November 7, 2003, for example, Dionne wrote this:

It’s been a long time since partisanship was as deep as it is now. … Up in heaven, Abe Lincoln must be shaking his head in astonishment. The country he sought to keep united is pulling apart politically, and largely along the same lines that defined Honest Abe’s election victory in 1860.

A few months earlier – on May 30, 2003 – Dionne put it this way:

The rules of policymaking that have applied since the end of World War II are now irrelevant. A narrow Republican majority will work its partisan will no matter what. … Until now, Congress was a forcefully independent branch of government. … With a slim congressional majority, Bush would have been expected to seek genuine compromise – under the old rules. But Washington has become so partisan and Bush is so determined to push through a domestic program based almost entirely on tax cuts for the wealthy that a remarkably radical program is winning.

I have documented Dionne’s Bush-era paeans to bipartisanship and cross-party comity before. When Republicans were in control, he was citing Lincoln and Eisenhower as models of bipartisan governing; partisanship looked pretty mindless back then. Partisan divisions weren’t about “authentic principles that lead to very different approaches to governing”; they were divisive, unnecessary, and harmful to national unity.

What a difference a liberal shift in power can make to a fellow.

This kind of hypocrisy is humorous when it’s so obvious. But it underscores how easily arguments can be distorted in order to advance an ideological worldview — and how often discussions about things like “bipartisanship” are really shadow debates. What is driving E.J. Dionne and many of his colleagues is a commitment to liberalism. As we are seeing, the means to that end — in this case, the merits and demerits of “partisanship” — can be twisted like a pretzel if necessary. That’s worth factoring in as columnists moralize about the virtues of something they once considered a vice.

In his Washington Post column today, E.J. Dionne, Jr. writes:

The word “partisanship” is typically accompanied by the word “mindless.” That’s not simply insulting to partisans; it’s also untrue. If we learn nothing else in 2010, can we please finally acknowledge that our partisan divisions are about authentic principles that lead to very different approaches to governing?

That’s a legitimate argument to make; the only problem is that it’s precisely the opposite argument E.J. was making when George W. Bush was in the White House. Back then, partisanship was the bane of our existence. On November 7, 2003, for example, Dionne wrote this:

It’s been a long time since partisanship was as deep as it is now. … Up in heaven, Abe Lincoln must be shaking his head in astonishment. The country he sought to keep united is pulling apart politically, and largely along the same lines that defined Honest Abe’s election victory in 1860.

A few months earlier – on May 30, 2003 – Dionne put it this way:

The rules of policymaking that have applied since the end of World War II are now irrelevant. A narrow Republican majority will work its partisan will no matter what. … Until now, Congress was a forcefully independent branch of government. … With a slim congressional majority, Bush would have been expected to seek genuine compromise – under the old rules. But Washington has become so partisan and Bush is so determined to push through a domestic program based almost entirely on tax cuts for the wealthy that a remarkably radical program is winning.

I have documented Dionne’s Bush-era paeans to bipartisanship and cross-party comity before. When Republicans were in control, he was citing Lincoln and Eisenhower as models of bipartisan governing; partisanship looked pretty mindless back then. Partisan divisions weren’t about “authentic principles that lead to very different approaches to governing”; they were divisive, unnecessary, and harmful to national unity.

What a difference a liberal shift in power can make to a fellow.

This kind of hypocrisy is humorous when it’s so obvious. But it underscores how easily arguments can be distorted in order to advance an ideological worldview — and how often discussions about things like “bipartisanship” are really shadow debates. What is driving E.J. Dionne and many of his colleagues is a commitment to liberalism. As we are seeing, the means to that end — in this case, the merits and demerits of “partisanship” — can be twisted like a pretzel if necessary. That’s worth factoring in as columnists moralize about the virtues of something they once considered a vice.

Read Less

Dionne, Confused

The Washington Post‘s E.J. Dionne, Jr. wrote a deeply confused column today. I had several thoughts on it.

1. Dionne’s column quotes Martin Luther King, Jr.’s remarks in 1968, referring to Vietnam as a “senseless, unjust war” and saying, “We are criminals in that war.” Dionne then writes that he doesn’t cite King in order to justify “Wright’s damnation of America.” But of course he implicitly does. Dionne’s whole point in saying that “Right-wing commentators would use the material to argue that King was anti-American and to discredit his call for racial and class justice” and “King certainly angered a lot of people at the time” was to imply that Wright and King are comparable. Hence the title of Dionne’s column: “Another Angry Black Preacher.”

2. Does Dionne think “right-wing commentators” are wrong to use Wright’s comments to discredit him? Dionne seems to think they are-even as Dionne himself lacerates Wright for his “lunatic and pernicious theories.” Perhaps Dionne thinks it’s only appropriate for liberals to criticize Wright.

3. Martin Luther King, Jr. did have harsh things to say about America-and one can disagree profoundly with his words. But one key difference between King and Wright is that King, while he was a harsh critic of certain policies (like Vietnam and segregation), believed in the promise of America and its capacity for redemption and improvement. He tried to call it to its better self. Wright, from everything we can tell, presents a fundamental indictment of America. As I pointed out in a previous post, the thrust of King’s teachings was that America was falling short of its promise — but that America, perhaps alone in the world, was the place where the promissory note could be fulfilled.

And of course King did not believe in crazy conspiracy theories (for example, that America is responsible for AIDS and wants to use it to promote genocide). Nor did King ever ask God to “damn” America. Nor did he seem to delight in the injuries we suffered. In addition, King urged us not to drink from “the cup of bitterness and hatred.” Does Dionne believe the same can be said of that “other angry black preacher”?

4. Dionne insists he didn’t cite King “to justify Wright’s damnation of America or his lunatic and pernicious theories but to suggest that Obama’s pastor and his church are not as far outside the African American mainstream as many would suggest.” Dionne later writes that he “loathes the anti-American things Wright said.” What Dionne is arguing, then, is that lunatic and pernicious theories and loathsome anti-Americanism is near the African-American mainstream. Pace Dionne, I desperately hope that is not the case. But if it is, and if black liberation theology as embodied by Wright is as prevalent as Dionne suggests, then I hope Dionne, a leading liberal voice, will give up the argument that Wright is “operating within a long tradition of African American outrage.” The difference is that most of the tradition of African American outrage was justified and noble; Wright’s outrage is (to use Dionne’s words) “lunatic,” “pernicious,” and something we should “loathe.”

5. Dionne writes, “I would ask my conservative friends who praise King so lavishly to search their conscience and wonder if they would have stood up for him in 1968.” I would in turn ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly to search their conscience and wonder if they would have stood up for King in, say, 1963, when King argued for a color-blind society in law as well as attitudes (many contemporary liberals obsess on race and support racial quotas and preferences). I would also ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly if they would have stood up for King when he made explicit appeals to God’s law and natural law and tied morality to the Scriptures (many contemporary liberals are deeply secular and have utter contempt for those who link morality to religion). And I would ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly today if they would have stood up for King when he anchored his case for the American dream in an appeal to America’s common culture and common values and in King’s appeal to our founding principles and the Declaration of Independence (many contemporary liberals have embraced multiculturalism and have deep animus for “dead white men”).

In a desperate attempt to defend Barack Obama, intelligent liberals like E.J. Dionne, Jr. have to deal with the matter of Jeremiah Wright. It’s not an easy task — and in his attempt to both castigate Wright and tie him to Martin Luther King, Jr., Dionne demonstrates just how difficult their undertaking is. Wright and Obama have badly hurt themselves in this whole episode — and those who are attempting to come to their aid are as well.

The Washington Post‘s E.J. Dionne, Jr. wrote a deeply confused column today. I had several thoughts on it.

1. Dionne’s column quotes Martin Luther King, Jr.’s remarks in 1968, referring to Vietnam as a “senseless, unjust war” and saying, “We are criminals in that war.” Dionne then writes that he doesn’t cite King in order to justify “Wright’s damnation of America.” But of course he implicitly does. Dionne’s whole point in saying that “Right-wing commentators would use the material to argue that King was anti-American and to discredit his call for racial and class justice” and “King certainly angered a lot of people at the time” was to imply that Wright and King are comparable. Hence the title of Dionne’s column: “Another Angry Black Preacher.”

2. Does Dionne think “right-wing commentators” are wrong to use Wright’s comments to discredit him? Dionne seems to think they are-even as Dionne himself lacerates Wright for his “lunatic and pernicious theories.” Perhaps Dionne thinks it’s only appropriate for liberals to criticize Wright.

3. Martin Luther King, Jr. did have harsh things to say about America-and one can disagree profoundly with his words. But one key difference between King and Wright is that King, while he was a harsh critic of certain policies (like Vietnam and segregation), believed in the promise of America and its capacity for redemption and improvement. He tried to call it to its better self. Wright, from everything we can tell, presents a fundamental indictment of America. As I pointed out in a previous post, the thrust of King’s teachings was that America was falling short of its promise — but that America, perhaps alone in the world, was the place where the promissory note could be fulfilled.

And of course King did not believe in crazy conspiracy theories (for example, that America is responsible for AIDS and wants to use it to promote genocide). Nor did King ever ask God to “damn” America. Nor did he seem to delight in the injuries we suffered. In addition, King urged us not to drink from “the cup of bitterness and hatred.” Does Dionne believe the same can be said of that “other angry black preacher”?

4. Dionne insists he didn’t cite King “to justify Wright’s damnation of America or his lunatic and pernicious theories but to suggest that Obama’s pastor and his church are not as far outside the African American mainstream as many would suggest.” Dionne later writes that he “loathes the anti-American things Wright said.” What Dionne is arguing, then, is that lunatic and pernicious theories and loathsome anti-Americanism is near the African-American mainstream. Pace Dionne, I desperately hope that is not the case. But if it is, and if black liberation theology as embodied by Wright is as prevalent as Dionne suggests, then I hope Dionne, a leading liberal voice, will give up the argument that Wright is “operating within a long tradition of African American outrage.” The difference is that most of the tradition of African American outrage was justified and noble; Wright’s outrage is (to use Dionne’s words) “lunatic,” “pernicious,” and something we should “loathe.”

5. Dionne writes, “I would ask my conservative friends who praise King so lavishly to search their conscience and wonder if they would have stood up for him in 1968.” I would in turn ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly to search their conscience and wonder if they would have stood up for King in, say, 1963, when King argued for a color-blind society in law as well as attitudes (many contemporary liberals obsess on race and support racial quotas and preferences). I would also ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly if they would have stood up for King when he made explicit appeals to God’s law and natural law and tied morality to the Scriptures (many contemporary liberals are deeply secular and have utter contempt for those who link morality to religion). And I would ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly today if they would have stood up for King when he anchored his case for the American dream in an appeal to America’s common culture and common values and in King’s appeal to our founding principles and the Declaration of Independence (many contemporary liberals have embraced multiculturalism and have deep animus for “dead white men”).

In a desperate attempt to defend Barack Obama, intelligent liberals like E.J. Dionne, Jr. have to deal with the matter of Jeremiah Wright. It’s not an easy task — and in his attempt to both castigate Wright and tie him to Martin Luther King, Jr., Dionne demonstrates just how difficult their undertaking is. Wright and Obama have badly hurt themselves in this whole episode — and those who are attempting to come to their aid are as well.

Read Less

How Long Before Gore Endorses Obama?

After Ted Kennedy’s endorsement, the only question is when Al Gore will throw his support behind Barack Obama.

Don’t think for a moment that Gore isn’t considering it. What happened this weekend was the most dramatic change of tenor we have seen since Iowa caucus night. A new front opened up in the Democratic primary race. Hillary Clinton is no longer just battling Obama. She is defending the legitimacy of the Clinton era against all those who know it and are sick of it. A Gore endorsement of the rival to the wife of the man who made him vice president would be an unprecedented blow.

South Carolina was supposed to be insignificant win for Obama – even a part of the Hillary strategy. Dick Morris and others audaciously suggested that the Clintons wanted Obama to have a huge showing among black voters, sending a signal to white voters in other southern states that the contest was shaping up along racial lines. As Obama has emerged as a shrewd campaigner and rhetorical powerhouse, the transparent Clinton maneuvers to insert race into the campaign has simply forced even one-time cheerleaders to admit that Lady Macbeth and her husband must be stopped. Pete Wehner has a terrific piece on National Review Online describing how liberal stalwarts E.J. Dionne and Bill Greider have turned on the Clintons.

Suddenly the blood lust among Democrats to put a stake through the heart of the Clinton regime is palpable. John Kerry was uncharacteristically ahead of curve. So was Robert Reich, who was not only Clinton’s Secretary of Labor but a friend dating back to their Oxford days in the late 1960s. The Ted Kennedy endorsement can only be read as a message to the Democratic establishment that it is safe to come outside and declare your disgust with the Clintons.

So who will be next? John Edwards, some time later this week, will drop out of the race and endorse Obama, if only to create the illusion that he is a king maker. But what about Bill Richardson? Or Jimmy Carter? Geraldine Ferraro? Michael Bloomberg? For Gore, this opportunity to crown the next Democratic leader and simultaneously stab the Clintons in the back is simply too much to resist. Surely he is considering Macduff’s words from Act V: “Make all our trumpets speak; give them all breath,/ Those clamorous harbingers of blood and death.”

After Ted Kennedy’s endorsement, the only question is when Al Gore will throw his support behind Barack Obama.

Don’t think for a moment that Gore isn’t considering it. What happened this weekend was the most dramatic change of tenor we have seen since Iowa caucus night. A new front opened up in the Democratic primary race. Hillary Clinton is no longer just battling Obama. She is defending the legitimacy of the Clinton era against all those who know it and are sick of it. A Gore endorsement of the rival to the wife of the man who made him vice president would be an unprecedented blow.

South Carolina was supposed to be insignificant win for Obama – even a part of the Hillary strategy. Dick Morris and others audaciously suggested that the Clintons wanted Obama to have a huge showing among black voters, sending a signal to white voters in other southern states that the contest was shaping up along racial lines. As Obama has emerged as a shrewd campaigner and rhetorical powerhouse, the transparent Clinton maneuvers to insert race into the campaign has simply forced even one-time cheerleaders to admit that Lady Macbeth and her husband must be stopped. Pete Wehner has a terrific piece on National Review Online describing how liberal stalwarts E.J. Dionne and Bill Greider have turned on the Clintons.

Suddenly the blood lust among Democrats to put a stake through the heart of the Clinton regime is palpable. John Kerry was uncharacteristically ahead of curve. So was Robert Reich, who was not only Clinton’s Secretary of Labor but a friend dating back to their Oxford days in the late 1960s. The Ted Kennedy endorsement can only be read as a message to the Democratic establishment that it is safe to come outside and declare your disgust with the Clintons.

So who will be next? John Edwards, some time later this week, will drop out of the race and endorse Obama, if only to create the illusion that he is a king maker. But what about Bill Richardson? Or Jimmy Carter? Geraldine Ferraro? Michael Bloomberg? For Gore, this opportunity to crown the next Democratic leader and simultaneously stab the Clintons in the back is simply too much to resist. Surely he is considering Macduff’s words from Act V: “Make all our trumpets speak; give them all breath,/ Those clamorous harbingers of blood and death.”

Read Less

Pelosi, Flailing

Yesterday the AP reported

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lashed out at Republicans on Thursday, saying they want the Iraq war to drag on and are ignoring the public’s priorities. “They like this war. They want this war to continue,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. She expressed frustration over Republicans’ ability to force majority Democrats to yield ground on taxes, spending, energy, war spending, and other matters. “We thought that they shared the view of so many people in our country that we needed a new direction in Iraq,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference in the Capitol. “But the Republicans have made it very clear that this is not just George Bush’s war. This is the war of the Republicans in Congress.” [When asked to clarify her remarks, Pelosi said, "I shouldn't say they like the war," she said. "They support the war, the course of action that the President is on."]

These are the words of a desperate woman who is the leader of an increasingly desperate party, one that is beginning to turn on itself. Even Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who is as reliable a voice as Democrats have, is worried. This morning he writes, “Congressional Democrats need a Plan B.” The problem, Dionne writes, is that Democrats just aren’t adept enough at the “blame game.”

Not quite. In fact, several things are converging to work against Democrats. The first is that early this year they placed a huge wager that the war to liberate Iraq was lost. It turns out that bet was misplaced. When Pelosi says she thought Republicans shared the view of so many people that we needed a “new direction” in Iraq, she (willfully) ignores the blazingly obvious: this year the President put in place a new military strategy in Iraq, under the leadership of General David Petraeus, and that new strategy is showing results faster than anyone could have anticipated.

Read More

Yesterday the AP reported

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lashed out at Republicans on Thursday, saying they want the Iraq war to drag on and are ignoring the public’s priorities. “They like this war. They want this war to continue,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. She expressed frustration over Republicans’ ability to force majority Democrats to yield ground on taxes, spending, energy, war spending, and other matters. “We thought that they shared the view of so many people in our country that we needed a new direction in Iraq,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference in the Capitol. “But the Republicans have made it very clear that this is not just George Bush’s war. This is the war of the Republicans in Congress.” [When asked to clarify her remarks, Pelosi said, "I shouldn't say they like the war," she said. "They support the war, the course of action that the President is on."]

These are the words of a desperate woman who is the leader of an increasingly desperate party, one that is beginning to turn on itself. Even Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who is as reliable a voice as Democrats have, is worried. This morning he writes, “Congressional Democrats need a Plan B.” The problem, Dionne writes, is that Democrats just aren’t adept enough at the “blame game.”

Not quite. In fact, several things are converging to work against Democrats. The first is that early this year they placed a huge wager that the war to liberate Iraq was lost. It turns out that bet was misplaced. When Pelosi says she thought Republicans shared the view of so many people that we needed a “new direction” in Iraq, she (willfully) ignores the blazingly obvious: this year the President put in place a new military strategy in Iraq, under the leadership of General David Petraeus, and that new strategy is showing results faster than anyone could have anticipated.

Having seen things get better in Iraq, Democrats compounded their problems immeasurably by ignoring the progress and having their leadership, on an almost daily basis, act as if they want to expedite an American loss. That’s a very bad place for a major American political party to be.

Second, Democrats have been extraordinarily ineffective at passing legislation. They were handed the reigns of legislative power—and they have produced almost nothing of consequence.

Third, the Democratic base, because of the war, is more radical, vocal, and freakish than usual, which is putting enormous pressure on Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid. Every time they attempt to appease the left fringe of their party, they turn off most of the rest of America. A steady diet of the rhetoric of Moveon.org and The Daily Kos will do that to people.

Fourth, the President, whose approval rating is now edging up toward 40 percent, is showing himself to be a pretty good political counter-puncher. Democrats are discovering that governing is more difficult than simply criticizing from the sidelines. The Democratic Congress is a target-rich environment—and President Bush is zeroing in on those targets.

The Democratic-led Congress has set record lows in approval ratings this year. As we approach its end, Democrats look increasingly powerless, angry, and irresponsible. The 2006 election was a repudiation of the GOP, after two very bad years. The Republican Party has to take steps to regain the trust and confidence of the polity. But it may be that the best tonic for Republicans is for the public to be reminded, all over again, about the modern-day Democratic Party’s core beliefs. Politics, after all, is about choices—and increasingly, Democrats look to be the less appealing choice.

Read Less

The Liberal Moment?

Washington Post columnist and Georgetown professor E. J. Dionne has written a thoughtful essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education on what he calls “The Liberal Moment.” With one eye on the polls—which show plunging support for Republicans among the young, Hispanics, and independent voters—Dionne writes that “American liberals and the Left now have their greatest political opening since the 1960’s and their greatest opportunity to alter the philosophical direction of the public debate since the 1930’s.” He’s right. But will liberals be able actually to seize the opening?

Dionne invokes the late social scientist Michael Harrington, arguing that the Left must embrace a program that “will radically improve the conditions of life of everyone in the society,” because “the politics of noblesse oblige simply will not mobilize a majority that includes a very large number of people who are not poor yet are still suffering from relative deprivation.” But the very mechanism by which the Left once was able to accomplish those goals—Keynesian pump-priming—has been obviated by the globalization of economies. And today the most frequent and vitriolic attacks on attempts by Democrats to use market mechanisms to advance liberal goals come from the Democrats: specifically, from the netroots activists. (The netroots, in other words, bring to the Democratic party the same blind and destructive partisanship Dionne rightly condemns in Karl Rove.)

Read More

Washington Post columnist and Georgetown professor E. J. Dionne has written a thoughtful essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education on what he calls “The Liberal Moment.” With one eye on the polls—which show plunging support for Republicans among the young, Hispanics, and independent voters—Dionne writes that “American liberals and the Left now have their greatest political opening since the 1960’s and their greatest opportunity to alter the philosophical direction of the public debate since the 1930’s.” He’s right. But will liberals be able actually to seize the opening?

Dionne invokes the late social scientist Michael Harrington, arguing that the Left must embrace a program that “will radically improve the conditions of life of everyone in the society,” because “the politics of noblesse oblige simply will not mobilize a majority that includes a very large number of people who are not poor yet are still suffering from relative deprivation.” But the very mechanism by which the Left once was able to accomplish those goals—Keynesian pump-priming—has been obviated by the globalization of economies. And today the most frequent and vitriolic attacks on attempts by Democrats to use market mechanisms to advance liberal goals come from the Democrats: specifically, from the netroots activists. (The netroots, in other words, bring to the Democratic party the same blind and destructive partisanship Dionne rightly condemns in Karl Rove.)

And while the Bush administration, as Dionne rightly notes, suffered serious setbacks when it pushed for more market-oriented social programs (such as privatizing social security), liberals need to ask themselves why it is that in the very areas where their policies are most dominant (such as New York, or Boston, or Los Angeles), the social order is the least egalitarian. As a group, they won’t reconsider a social security program/tax that’s not only regressive and a job killer, but far more onerous for the lower-middle class than the income tax. They come up similarly empty-handed on education, where the powerful NEA is wedded to failure, and no amount of new spending seems to be able to improve the outcome. Nor, as a group, do liberals seem to be able to come to grips with the Jihadist thread within Islam. In short, the failings of the Republicans notwithstanding, it’s hard to discern the basis for a liberal revival.

Columbia sociologist Todd Gitlin, commenting on Dionne’s article, insists that liberals and Democrats represent the “party of reason.” (Was it reason, then, that motivated MoveOn.org to call General Petraeus “General Betray-us” in a full-page New York Times ad?) As long as the Left is still capable of rhetoric like this, there is not likely to be a “Liberal Moment” in the sense that Dionne means—just a political opportunity for the Democrats. And I’d say that, as was the case with Bill Clinton, the success of any future Democratic administration will depend on the degree to which it can break with liberal dogma.

Read Less

Al Gore’s Hypothetical Candidacy

Al Gore’s Oscar was as predictable as the thunderous ovations he received at the Academy Awards last night. But it was also a reminder that there is nothing Democrats love more than a politician who isn’t actually running for President. Ever since liberals began mythologizing JFK, the party’s nominees invariably fail to measure up. It’s as if any politician who has the guts to enter the arena and dirty his hands immediately loses “purity,” and faces a cynical column from Joe Klein. As a result, come primary season, the Democratic chattering class always falls in love with a hypothetical candidate: Mario Cuomo, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Colin Powell, The West Wing’s Josiah Bartlett.
This is the real meaning behind last week’s Hillary-Obama feud. Hillary is the most successful fundraiser in the party’s history. Her name is known to 100 percent of voters—something that no Democrat has ever achieved this early in a presidential campaign. Yet no one should be surprised, now that she is in reach of becoming the party’s nominee, that the same political and financial backers who cheered her during her White House days are racing to tear her down.

Read More

Al Gore’s Oscar was as predictable as the thunderous ovations he received at the Academy Awards last night. But it was also a reminder that there is nothing Democrats love more than a politician who isn’t actually running for President. Ever since liberals began mythologizing JFK, the party’s nominees invariably fail to measure up. It’s as if any politician who has the guts to enter the arena and dirty his hands immediately loses “purity,” and faces a cynical column from Joe Klein. As a result, come primary season, the Democratic chattering class always falls in love with a hypothetical candidate: Mario Cuomo, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Colin Powell, The West Wing’s Josiah Bartlett.
This is the real meaning behind last week’s Hillary-Obama feud. Hillary is the most successful fundraiser in the party’s history. Her name is known to 100 percent of voters—something that no Democrat has ever achieved this early in a presidential campaign. Yet no one should be surprised, now that she is in reach of becoming the party’s nominee, that the same political and financial backers who cheered her during her White House days are racing to tear her down.

But this will be a short-lived story. It is a safe bet that buyer’s remorse over Barack Obama will set in by this fall as E.J. Dionne, Arianna Huffington, and Jonathan Alter complain about his failings. (In fact, Joe Klein has already started.)

In the meantime, these early grenades tossed in Hillary’s direction are, I would argue, ultimately good for her candidacy. A fractious, heated primary, with Obama, Edwards, and possibly Gore lining up to her Left allows her to pursue a centrist triangulation strategy that makes her seem measured, reasonable, and non-ideological. Were Hillary to be the party’s runaway favorite this early on, we would be reading nothing but stories about her shady dealings with cattle futures and the Rose law firm. Instead, we will be reading more about how this really ought to be Al Gore’s time.

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.