Commentary Magazine


Topic: energy

Three Months, Three Speeches

Mike Pence’s speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club was his third major address on national issues in three months. Combined with his speech at Hillsdale College in September and his speech in Iowa in October, Pence has been setting forth proposals that might engage an electorate that wants something more than “hope and change.”

Yesterday Pence proposed a program he labeled “S.T.A.R.T.” — Sound monetary policy, Tax relief and reform, Access to American energy, Regulatory reform, and Trade — with a lengthy discussion of each topic. The section on taxes was a 1,500-word discussion that read in part:

In an upcoming study written by the legendary Dr. Art Laffer, Wayne Winegarden and John Childs, they found the cost of compliance with today’s tax code to be over $540 billion annually and that individuals and businesses spend 7.6 billion hours on their taxes. … The Laffer study predicts that by simplifying the tax code and cutting complexity costs in half, our economy would grow $1.3 trillion more over ten years than if we maintain the status quo. …

There is one system that [provides the necessary revenue without discouraging economic growth and imposing undue compliance burdens] … a flat tax. …

Individuals would pay taxes on their wages or salary after receiving a basic income exemption and an exemption for any dependents, including children and elderly family members and others who you care for in your home. Imagine how easy this would be for people. Gross income minus a generous standard deduction minus any dependent exemptions and you’ve got your taxable income. Apply the rate and your taxes are done.  Everyone pays the same rate, and the more money you make, the more you pay. It’s fair, simple and effective.

We’ve heard this proposal before, and figures like $540 billion of compliance costs, 7.6 billion hours on taxes, and $1.3 trillion in projected economic growth deserve the same skepticism that properly greets projections of savings from eliminating “fraud, waste, and abuse” (or from enacting ObamaCare). The estimates are only as good as the assumptions underlying them — many of which are inherently speculative and none of which can be forecast accurately for 10 years (or even a few years). But Pence made the case that the time for a flat tax may be approaching:

A flat tax is in use in more than twenty countries around the world, and they have been proposed and supported by various legislators and economists in America over the past 30 years, such as Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka, Dick Armey, Steve Forbes, Art Laffer, Jack Kemp and Richard Gephardt. We don’t think about it, but we already use flat taxes in America as taxes for Social Security, Medicare taxes, sales and property taxes. …

If you look back at history, the Kennedy, Reagan and 2001/2003 tax reforms were all followed by strong economic growth.  The flat tax goes beyond these tax cuts and provides not just lower taxes but a greatly simplified system.

It is not clear that Pence wants to run for president; some think he plans to run for governor of Indiana (one of the other lessons of “hope and change” is that executive experience is at least as important for the presidency as the ability to give a good speech). He may simply want his ideas in the arena (a commentator who has written frequently about him describes him as fundamentally a man of ideas).

But we should know soon: the presidential race will start in roughly two months, if Barack Obama’s February 2007 presidential announcement is any indication of the lead time that now governs such a race.

Mike Pence’s speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club was his third major address on national issues in three months. Combined with his speech at Hillsdale College in September and his speech in Iowa in October, Pence has been setting forth proposals that might engage an electorate that wants something more than “hope and change.”

Yesterday Pence proposed a program he labeled “S.T.A.R.T.” — Sound monetary policy, Tax relief and reform, Access to American energy, Regulatory reform, and Trade — with a lengthy discussion of each topic. The section on taxes was a 1,500-word discussion that read in part:

In an upcoming study written by the legendary Dr. Art Laffer, Wayne Winegarden and John Childs, they found the cost of compliance with today’s tax code to be over $540 billion annually and that individuals and businesses spend 7.6 billion hours on their taxes. … The Laffer study predicts that by simplifying the tax code and cutting complexity costs in half, our economy would grow $1.3 trillion more over ten years than if we maintain the status quo. …

There is one system that [provides the necessary revenue without discouraging economic growth and imposing undue compliance burdens] … a flat tax. …

Individuals would pay taxes on their wages or salary after receiving a basic income exemption and an exemption for any dependents, including children and elderly family members and others who you care for in your home. Imagine how easy this would be for people. Gross income minus a generous standard deduction minus any dependent exemptions and you’ve got your taxable income. Apply the rate and your taxes are done.  Everyone pays the same rate, and the more money you make, the more you pay. It’s fair, simple and effective.

We’ve heard this proposal before, and figures like $540 billion of compliance costs, 7.6 billion hours on taxes, and $1.3 trillion in projected economic growth deserve the same skepticism that properly greets projections of savings from eliminating “fraud, waste, and abuse” (or from enacting ObamaCare). The estimates are only as good as the assumptions underlying them — many of which are inherently speculative and none of which can be forecast accurately for 10 years (or even a few years). But Pence made the case that the time for a flat tax may be approaching:

A flat tax is in use in more than twenty countries around the world, and they have been proposed and supported by various legislators and economists in America over the past 30 years, such as Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka, Dick Armey, Steve Forbes, Art Laffer, Jack Kemp and Richard Gephardt. We don’t think about it, but we already use flat taxes in America as taxes for Social Security, Medicare taxes, sales and property taxes. …

If you look back at history, the Kennedy, Reagan and 2001/2003 tax reforms were all followed by strong economic growth.  The flat tax goes beyond these tax cuts and provides not just lower taxes but a greatly simplified system.

It is not clear that Pence wants to run for president; some think he plans to run for governor of Indiana (one of the other lessons of “hope and change” is that executive experience is at least as important for the presidency as the ability to give a good speech). He may simply want his ideas in the arena (a commentator who has written frequently about him describes him as fundamentally a man of ideas).

But we should know soon: the presidential race will start in roughly two months, if Barack Obama’s February 2007 presidential announcement is any indication of the lead time that now governs such a race.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

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Ben Smith Spills the Beans: Obama’s Middle East Policy Is a Disaster

Ben Smith reveals what nearly every serious Middle East observer already knows: Obama has made things worse, not better, in that volatile region. He reports:

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape. …

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have refused American demands to hold peace talks with the Israelis before the freeze is extended. Talks with Arab states over gestures intended to build Israeli confidence – a key part of Obama’s early plan — have long since been scrapped.

The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and – increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Obama naturally blames everyone else. But the criticism is biting and personal: it is Obama and his misguided ideology that are at the root of the problem: Read More

Ben Smith reveals what nearly every serious Middle East observer already knows: Obama has made things worse, not better, in that volatile region. He reports:

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape. …

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have refused American demands to hold peace talks with the Israelis before the freeze is extended. Talks with Arab states over gestures intended to build Israeli confidence – a key part of Obama’s early plan — have long since been scrapped.

The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and – increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Obama naturally blames everyone else. But the criticism is biting and personal: it is Obama and his misguided ideology that are at the root of the problem:

[T]he American president has been diminished, even in an era without active hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. His demands on the parties appear to shrink each month, with the path to a grand peace settlement narrowing to the vanishing point. The lack of Israeli faith in him and his process has them using the talks to extract more tangible security assurances – the jets. And though America remains beloved, Obama is about as popular here as he is in Oklahoma. A Jerusalem Post poll in May found 9 percent of Israelis consider Obama “pro-Israel,” while 48 percent say he’s “pro-Palestinian.” …

“Israelis really hate Obama’s guts,” said Shmuel Rosner, a columnist for two leading Israeli newspapers. “We used to trust Americans to act like Americans, and this guy is like a European leader.”

Many senior Israeli leaders have concluded that Hillary Clinton and John McCain were right about Obama’s naivete and inexperience.

“The naïve liberals who are at the heart of the administration really believe in all the misconceptions the Palestinians and all their friends all over the world are trying to place,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, a former high-ranking military intelligence officer who is now deputy director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.

But in some sense, Ben Smith’s account is too generous. It is not merely that Obama has made hash out of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; it is that he has undermined American stature more broadly in the Middle East. Yes, the Israelis and the PA regard him as foolish, but what’s even more important is that so do the Syrians, Saudis, and Iranians. He has wasted time on the non-peace process and in fact exacerbated tensions as the other nations looked on. The aging Sunni leaders regard him with alarm: has he no idea what to do about Iran? The mullahs regard him with contempt: he has already told them that they need not worry about military action.

Obama is right — there is such a thing as linkage, but not in the way he imagined. The progress of the Middle East non-peace talks is irrelevant to the threat of an Iranian nuclear power. But what is highly relevant, and deeply troubling, is the perception of an American administration in over its head, disloyal to friends, and anxious to make a deal at any cost to preserve the patina of competency it is struggling to maintain. And to make matters worse, it’s fair to conclude that beyond the Middle East — in China, Russia, and North Korea — they are learning the same lesson.

One final note. The well-sourced and dead-on report comes from Ben Smith, not the nominal foreign affairs reporter for Politico. This is because the latter, a former Journo-list member, is among the worse and least-informative foreign affairs “reporters” out there. In fact, she’s no more than a scribe for the Obami and the J Street crowd. And that explains why none of the material, widely available to followers of the mainstream media, was ever reported by her. Maybe it’s time to get a full-time person on the foreign affairs beat who actually reports rather than regurgitates the left’s take on American foreign policy.

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Blame Time

The Democrats have discovered that Obama is out of touch:

“In his own assessments of what went wrong, the president has lamented his inability to persuade voters on the merits of what he has done, and blamed the failure on his preoccupation with a full plate of crises. But a broad sample of Democratic officeholders and strategists said in interviews that the disconnect goes far deeper than that.”

And now the Clinton (Bill, not Hillary) nostalgia, which periodically has wafted through GOP ranks, is gripping forlorn Dems:

Obama “is not Bill Clinton in the sense that he’s not an extrovert. He doesn’t gain energy by connecting with people,” said a Democratic strategist, who worked in the Clinton White House and asked not to be named while offering a candid criticism. “He needs to be forced to do it, either by self-discipline or others. There’s no one around him who will do that. They accommodate him, and that is a bad thing.”

He’s also not Clinton in the sense that Obama is ideologically rigid, while Clinton was anything but. But Democrats are conflicted: go to the center or double down on the agenda that wiped out so many of them? Hmm. What to do, what to do? (Republicans are biting their lips and laughing into their sleeves. “Double down — puleeze,” they whisper knowingly to each other.)

The less-deluded Democrats are furious now, convinced that the White House is on a political suicide mission. The defeated Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink is beside herself:

“They got a huge wake-up call [on election day], but unfortunately they took a lot of Democrats down with them,” said Sink of the White House.

She added: “They just need to be better listeners and be better at reaching out to people who are on the ground to hear about the realities of their policies as well as politics.” …

“I think they were tone-deaf,” she said. “They weren’t interested in hearing my opinion on what was happening on the ground with the oil spill. And they never acknowledged that they had problems with the acceptance of health care reform.”

The new law, she said, is “unpopular particularly among seniors” — a key voting bloc in the Sunshine State.

None of this was hidden from view before the election, but Democratic officials and operatives were understandably reluctant to come forward. Now, with election returns in hand, they are pointing the finger at the White House. But let’s be fair. Much of the credit goes to Nancy Pelosi — who wants to continue her reign over what’s left of the Democratic House caucus. (To which Republicans say, “Go for it!”)

The White House seems unconvinced that the problem is the agenda, not just a remote and increasingly unlikable president. They’ll try to “warm him up” and do more feel-your-pain moments. But the core problem remains: Obama is infatuated with his own agenda and it is that agenda that is the recipe for the minority-status of his party.

And in all of this, one wonders what the left-leaning intelligentsia has learned. A Harvard Law Review editor, a law professor, a garden-variety leftist, a talker-not-a-doer, and a proponent of American un-exceptionalism is a bust as president. In short, someone like them is utterly incapable of leading the country, and to rescue himself he will have to shed the very qualities and beliefs they hold dear. You can understand why they’d prefer to label the rest of the country “crazy.”

The Democrats have discovered that Obama is out of touch:

“In his own assessments of what went wrong, the president has lamented his inability to persuade voters on the merits of what he has done, and blamed the failure on his preoccupation with a full plate of crises. But a broad sample of Democratic officeholders and strategists said in interviews that the disconnect goes far deeper than that.”

And now the Clinton (Bill, not Hillary) nostalgia, which periodically has wafted through GOP ranks, is gripping forlorn Dems:

Obama “is not Bill Clinton in the sense that he’s not an extrovert. He doesn’t gain energy by connecting with people,” said a Democratic strategist, who worked in the Clinton White House and asked not to be named while offering a candid criticism. “He needs to be forced to do it, either by self-discipline or others. There’s no one around him who will do that. They accommodate him, and that is a bad thing.”

He’s also not Clinton in the sense that Obama is ideologically rigid, while Clinton was anything but. But Democrats are conflicted: go to the center or double down on the agenda that wiped out so many of them? Hmm. What to do, what to do? (Republicans are biting their lips and laughing into their sleeves. “Double down — puleeze,” they whisper knowingly to each other.)

The less-deluded Democrats are furious now, convinced that the White House is on a political suicide mission. The defeated Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink is beside herself:

“They got a huge wake-up call [on election day], but unfortunately they took a lot of Democrats down with them,” said Sink of the White House.

She added: “They just need to be better listeners and be better at reaching out to people who are on the ground to hear about the realities of their policies as well as politics.” …

“I think they were tone-deaf,” she said. “They weren’t interested in hearing my opinion on what was happening on the ground with the oil spill. And they never acknowledged that they had problems with the acceptance of health care reform.”

The new law, she said, is “unpopular particularly among seniors” — a key voting bloc in the Sunshine State.

None of this was hidden from view before the election, but Democratic officials and operatives were understandably reluctant to come forward. Now, with election returns in hand, they are pointing the finger at the White House. But let’s be fair. Much of the credit goes to Nancy Pelosi — who wants to continue her reign over what’s left of the Democratic House caucus. (To which Republicans say, “Go for it!”)

The White House seems unconvinced that the problem is the agenda, not just a remote and increasingly unlikable president. They’ll try to “warm him up” and do more feel-your-pain moments. But the core problem remains: Obama is infatuated with his own agenda and it is that agenda that is the recipe for the minority-status of his party.

And in all of this, one wonders what the left-leaning intelligentsia has learned. A Harvard Law Review editor, a law professor, a garden-variety leftist, a talker-not-a-doer, and a proponent of American un-exceptionalism is a bust as president. In short, someone like them is utterly incapable of leading the country, and to rescue himself he will have to shed the very qualities and beliefs they hold dear. You can understand why they’d prefer to label the rest of the country “crazy.”

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Dems and GOP Both Have Their Issues

Democrats and Republicans each have their problems. On the Democratic side, the head of the party cannot fathom that there is a link between his statist agenda (and the red ink and anemic growth that accompanies it) and the voters’ insistence on dumping those responsible for the agenda’s passage. As the Washington Post‘s editors delicately put it:

[W]e would have preferred to see more in the way of a presidential acknowledgement that voters’ reaction might be more than simple misperception on their part or failure to communicate adequately on his. Certainly, Mr. Obama’s description of his new administration coping with a flurry of emergencies does not extend to his decision to launch an ambitious health-reform agenda in the midst of the maelstrom. Mr. Obama said voters were understandably disappointed that the change in atmosphere he had promised had failed to materialize. But the examples he cited — the “ugly mess” of getting health reform passed, or the fact that he, “in the rush to get things done, had to sign a bunch of bills that had earmarks in them” — involved hard-headed decisions on the part of administration strategists to do what it took to achieve their ends.

Or, if you prefer the bluntness of Charles Krauthammer:

The Republicans won by default. And their prize is nothing more than a two-year lease on the House. The building was available because the previous occupant had been evicted for arrogant misbehavior and, by rule, alas, the House cannot be left vacant.

The president, however, remains clueless. In his next-day news conference, he had the right demeanor — subdued, his closest approximation of humility — but was uncomprehending about what just happened. The “folks” are apparently just “frustrated” that “progress” is just too slow. Asked three times whether popular rejection of his policy agenda might have had something to do with the shellacking he took, he looked as if he’d been asked whether the sun had risen in the West. Why, no, he said.

In short, the Democrats are in denial, the worst culprits responsible for the leftist jag remain in the House (the lucky possessors of the Bluest districts one could gerrymander), and the country is in no mood to see them defend the Obama agenda that voters just rejected en masse. Read More

Democrats and Republicans each have their problems. On the Democratic side, the head of the party cannot fathom that there is a link between his statist agenda (and the red ink and anemic growth that accompanies it) and the voters’ insistence on dumping those responsible for the agenda’s passage. As the Washington Post‘s editors delicately put it:

[W]e would have preferred to see more in the way of a presidential acknowledgement that voters’ reaction might be more than simple misperception on their part or failure to communicate adequately on his. Certainly, Mr. Obama’s description of his new administration coping with a flurry of emergencies does not extend to his decision to launch an ambitious health-reform agenda in the midst of the maelstrom. Mr. Obama said voters were understandably disappointed that the change in atmosphere he had promised had failed to materialize. But the examples he cited — the “ugly mess” of getting health reform passed, or the fact that he, “in the rush to get things done, had to sign a bunch of bills that had earmarks in them” — involved hard-headed decisions on the part of administration strategists to do what it took to achieve their ends.

Or, if you prefer the bluntness of Charles Krauthammer:

The Republicans won by default. And their prize is nothing more than a two-year lease on the House. The building was available because the previous occupant had been evicted for arrogant misbehavior and, by rule, alas, the House cannot be left vacant.

The president, however, remains clueless. In his next-day news conference, he had the right demeanor — subdued, his closest approximation of humility — but was uncomprehending about what just happened. The “folks” are apparently just “frustrated” that “progress” is just too slow. Asked three times whether popular rejection of his policy agenda might have had something to do with the shellacking he took, he looked as if he’d been asked whether the sun had risen in the West. Why, no, he said.

In short, the Democrats are in denial, the worst culprits responsible for the leftist jag remain in the House (the lucky possessors of the Bluest districts one could gerrymander), and the country is in no mood to see them defend the Obama agenda that voters just rejected en masse.

As for the Republicans, their problem is in recognizing that two component parts of the GOP — the Tea Partiers and the establishment (i.e., professional pols) — are dependent on one another. It might satisfy some would-be leaders of the Tea Party contingent to attack Karl Rove or Ed Gillespie, but is that what building a governing majority is all about? The Tea Party brought energy, ideological firmness, and grassroots organization to a moribund Republican Party. But the Republican Party provided many of the most electable, sober conservatives (e.g., Rob Portman, Dan Coats, John Boozman) who can translate the Tea Party agenda into legislation. If the party had run only Sharron Angles and Christine O’Donnells, there would have been no “shellacking”; without the Tea Party, there would have been no unifying theme and no electoral wave to put those seasoned conservatives into office.

The GOP, therefore, could use some unifiers — namely those who understand that the name of the game is not to spend time poking their fingers in the eye of half of the conservative coalition. The challenge now is to devise a strategy that first stops the Obama onslaught and then offers a thoughtful conservative alternative. The GOP is badly in need of such unifying figures — both to navigate the next two years and to lead the party in 2012. Those who find it personally satisfying to bicker with their allies do damage to their cause — and ultimately their own career objectives.

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EU Undercuts U.S. Sanctions on Iran

Remember that the administration and its enablers told us that, sure, the UN sanctions weren’t that biting, but the EU would really lower the boom on Tehran. Well, not so much:

The European Union issued regulations this week that went well beyond a UN Security Council resolution passed in June, outlining tough restrictions on the sale of equipment and technology to the Iranian oil and gas industry, as well as on investment in those sectors. But the regulations — unlike legislation passed by the U.S. Congress — allow for the import and export of oil and gas to the Islamic Republic.

This, of course, is the most critical and probably the only effective aspect of economic sanctions. An EU official explained: “We don’t want any negative effect on the Iranian population or to deprive them of energy, so we do not follow U.S. measures that go beyond United Nations sanctions.” Well, then how are sanctions to be effective? Hmm. I guess they won’t be.

Remember that the administration and its enablers told us that, sure, the UN sanctions weren’t that biting, but the EU would really lower the boom on Tehran. Well, not so much:

The European Union issued regulations this week that went well beyond a UN Security Council resolution passed in June, outlining tough restrictions on the sale of equipment and technology to the Iranian oil and gas industry, as well as on investment in those sectors. But the regulations — unlike legislation passed by the U.S. Congress — allow for the import and export of oil and gas to the Islamic Republic.

This, of course, is the most critical and probably the only effective aspect of economic sanctions. An EU official explained: “We don’t want any negative effect on the Iranian population or to deprive them of energy, so we do not follow U.S. measures that go beyond United Nations sanctions.” Well, then how are sanctions to be effective? Hmm. I guess they won’t be.

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Counterinsurgency 101

A number of commentators such as Fred Kaplan, David Ignatius, and Joe Klein have claimed that General Petraeus is abandoning counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan in favor of a more kinetic counterterrorism approach designed to generate faster results. As evidence, they can point to an increase in air strike and Special Operations raids. This represents a fundamental misreading of counterinsurgency doctrine, which hardly eschews killing the enemy; rather, a proper counterinsurgency strategy has to be about more than simply killing the enemy — it has to have political, economic, diplomatic, legal, communications, and other elements to be successful. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the imperative to kill or lock up insurgents — and Petraeus hasn’t, in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Paula Broadwell, an Army reservist who has written a biography of Petraeus, sets the commentators straight in this post on Tom Ricks’s blog. She writes:

Since Petraeus has arrived in Afghanistan, he has increased the intensity of every element of a comprehensive civil-military COIN campaign, not just the so-called CT element. After my trip to Afghanistan last month, during which I visited at the battalion, division, and ISAF headquarters levels, it is clear to me that the “shift” is not one of focus, but of energy and increased intensity across all lines of the counterinsurgency effort.

That certainly confirms my impression of what’s going on. It is not a shift of focus but an intensified commitment to counterinsurgency in all its facets — which includes but is not limited to the counterterrorism “line of operation.” It is this sort of comprehensive approach that worked in Iraq and can work in Afghanistan, given sufficient time and commitment — whereas attempting to implement counterterrorism in isolation (as many critics want to do) is almost guaranteed to fail.

A number of commentators such as Fred Kaplan, David Ignatius, and Joe Klein have claimed that General Petraeus is abandoning counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan in favor of a more kinetic counterterrorism approach designed to generate faster results. As evidence, they can point to an increase in air strike and Special Operations raids. This represents a fundamental misreading of counterinsurgency doctrine, which hardly eschews killing the enemy; rather, a proper counterinsurgency strategy has to be about more than simply killing the enemy — it has to have political, economic, diplomatic, legal, communications, and other elements to be successful. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the imperative to kill or lock up insurgents — and Petraeus hasn’t, in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Paula Broadwell, an Army reservist who has written a biography of Petraeus, sets the commentators straight in this post on Tom Ricks’s blog. She writes:

Since Petraeus has arrived in Afghanistan, he has increased the intensity of every element of a comprehensive civil-military COIN campaign, not just the so-called CT element. After my trip to Afghanistan last month, during which I visited at the battalion, division, and ISAF headquarters levels, it is clear to me that the “shift” is not one of focus, but of energy and increased intensity across all lines of the counterinsurgency effort.

That certainly confirms my impression of what’s going on. It is not a shift of focus but an intensified commitment to counterinsurgency in all its facets — which includes but is not limited to the counterterrorism “line of operation.” It is this sort of comprehensive approach that worked in Iraq and can work in Afghanistan, given sufficient time and commitment — whereas attempting to implement counterterrorism in isolation (as many critics want to do) is almost guaranteed to fail.

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A Friend on a Friend

Bret Stephens, our valued contributor and Wall Street Journal columnist, has a wonderful profile in the new Philanthropy of Roger Hertog, a longtime COMMENTARY board member. Bret’s portrait of Roger Hertog’s classic American story — from a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx to City College and then into an improbable career as a full-time banker and passionate Muse of intellectual causes, ideas, and institutions — is brilliantly done. Perhaps most interesting, given the tenor of the times, is that Roger Hertog’s professional career was largely spent at an investment bank that prided itself on its scrupulous treatment of its clients and rigorously impartial research that ensured no conflicts of interest arose between the bank’s bottom line and the furtherance of the goals of those who had entrusted their money to it.

Among Hertog’s many projects are Jewish Ideas Daily, a website under the management of COMMENTARY’s former editor and now editor-at-large Neal Kozodoy, a peerless examination of intellectual, political, and cultural trends in Jewish life, and — just out with a sensational third issue — the Jewish Review of Books. Its editor, Abe Socher, has a terrific piece on the Lubavitch movement, and there are sterling contributions by the literary critic Ruth Franklin (which you can only read by subscribing, and you should), and the historians Anthony Grafton and Jon D. Levenson.

Roger Hertog was recently awarded the William E. Simon Prize from the Philanthropy Roundtable. In his acceptance speech, he explained his expansive view of the role of philanthropy in the furtherance of ideas:

At 68 years of age, in the final chapter of my life, my full-time occupation is investing in the world of ideas.   It is hard work — requiring the same creativity, judgment, and strategic sense that were necessary in business. My governing purpose is to find, support, and hopefully influence the next generation of leaders, be it in politics, the academy, history, religion, or national security.  [There must be] the willingness to speculate.  To take chances of making a mistake.  There’s irony in the fact that most entrepreneurs make their money by taking risks – betting on what they believe in, even though they may be wrong.  Then, when they become philanthropists, they forget what sparked their success in the first place.  They become too risk-averse.

My greatest worry, however, is that conservatives like me haven’t invested enough time, energy and treasure in the many spaces where young minds – and even more mature adults — are influenced.  History teaches that political philosophers, both when they’re right and when they’re wrong, have more impact on the way the world goes than is commonly understood.  Over time, the world is often shaped by the greatest thoughts—or most destructive theories—of the most powerful minds. But even the greatest minds begin life as young people. They need mentors. They need teachers. They need to be introduced to bodies of thought and worlds of ideas that might enable them to become great thinkers themselves.

This job—the education of the young—should reside with the universities.  Every single year, the smartest, most capable young men and women – those who will be the leaders of the next generation – are to be found at the top hundred or so campuses around the country. One only needs to check on where our Congressmen, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet members, and business and religious leaders have studied or taught.  Then you recognize why the top universities are so important.

The teachers at those places are the arbiters, maybe not the final arbiters, of what our children learn and believe.  If their teaching is one sided, in either direction, it does a tremendous disservice to these young men and women. Unless we populate the humanities with an alternative to the ascendant ideology, conservative ideas about limited government, rule of law, individual liberty and the role of religion will over time lose out. This doesn’t mean we should indulge in indoctrination.  That shouldn’t be necessary!  If we can simply get our ideas on the table, we’ll win our fair share of minds….If educational programs are the essential long-term investment, think tanks, small magazines, books and other free-standing institutions are the best middle-term investment, especially if the aim is to develop and disseminate ideas. There are many good think tanks and magazines around the country, both left- and right-of-center.  They don’t usually have much overhead either. They’re all about ideas.

So is Roger Hertog.

Bret Stephens, our valued contributor and Wall Street Journal columnist, has a wonderful profile in the new Philanthropy of Roger Hertog, a longtime COMMENTARY board member. Bret’s portrait of Roger Hertog’s classic American story — from a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx to City College and then into an improbable career as a full-time banker and passionate Muse of intellectual causes, ideas, and institutions — is brilliantly done. Perhaps most interesting, given the tenor of the times, is that Roger Hertog’s professional career was largely spent at an investment bank that prided itself on its scrupulous treatment of its clients and rigorously impartial research that ensured no conflicts of interest arose between the bank’s bottom line and the furtherance of the goals of those who had entrusted their money to it.

Among Hertog’s many projects are Jewish Ideas Daily, a website under the management of COMMENTARY’s former editor and now editor-at-large Neal Kozodoy, a peerless examination of intellectual, political, and cultural trends in Jewish life, and — just out with a sensational third issue — the Jewish Review of Books. Its editor, Abe Socher, has a terrific piece on the Lubavitch movement, and there are sterling contributions by the literary critic Ruth Franklin (which you can only read by subscribing, and you should), and the historians Anthony Grafton and Jon D. Levenson.

Roger Hertog was recently awarded the William E. Simon Prize from the Philanthropy Roundtable. In his acceptance speech, he explained his expansive view of the role of philanthropy in the furtherance of ideas:

At 68 years of age, in the final chapter of my life, my full-time occupation is investing in the world of ideas.   It is hard work — requiring the same creativity, judgment, and strategic sense that were necessary in business. My governing purpose is to find, support, and hopefully influence the next generation of leaders, be it in politics, the academy, history, religion, or national security.  [There must be] the willingness to speculate.  To take chances of making a mistake.  There’s irony in the fact that most entrepreneurs make their money by taking risks – betting on what they believe in, even though they may be wrong.  Then, when they become philanthropists, they forget what sparked their success in the first place.  They become too risk-averse.

My greatest worry, however, is that conservatives like me haven’t invested enough time, energy and treasure in the many spaces where young minds – and even more mature adults — are influenced.  History teaches that political philosophers, both when they’re right and when they’re wrong, have more impact on the way the world goes than is commonly understood.  Over time, the world is often shaped by the greatest thoughts—or most destructive theories—of the most powerful minds. But even the greatest minds begin life as young people. They need mentors. They need teachers. They need to be introduced to bodies of thought and worlds of ideas that might enable them to become great thinkers themselves.

This job—the education of the young—should reside with the universities.  Every single year, the smartest, most capable young men and women – those who will be the leaders of the next generation – are to be found at the top hundred or so campuses around the country. One only needs to check on where our Congressmen, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet members, and business and religious leaders have studied or taught.  Then you recognize why the top universities are so important.

The teachers at those places are the arbiters, maybe not the final arbiters, of what our children learn and believe.  If their teaching is one sided, in either direction, it does a tremendous disservice to these young men and women. Unless we populate the humanities with an alternative to the ascendant ideology, conservative ideas about limited government, rule of law, individual liberty and the role of religion will over time lose out. This doesn’t mean we should indulge in indoctrination.  That shouldn’t be necessary!  If we can simply get our ideas on the table, we’ll win our fair share of minds….If educational programs are the essential long-term investment, think tanks, small magazines, books and other free-standing institutions are the best middle-term investment, especially if the aim is to develop and disseminate ideas. There are many good think tanks and magazines around the country, both left- and right-of-center.  They don’t usually have much overhead either. They’re all about ideas.

So is Roger Hertog.

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Starstruck Clooney Misses the Point About Disastrous Sudan Policy

George Clooney’s visit to the White House yesterday sent the press corps into something like a swoon as press secretary Robert Gibbs cut short the daily press conference so all present could ogle the actor and pepper him with a few easy questions. Clooney was there to talk to President Obama about the trip he had just taken to southern Sudan, a place that may soon replace Darfur as the focus of fears about the genocidal behavior of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s criminal regime.

To Clooney’s credit, his interest in Sudan seems genuine. He has lent his name and support to the Enough Project (which is run out of the left-wing Center for American Progress), a group that seeks to prevent African genocides such as the ones that have taken place in Darfur and Rwanda. But as much as Clooney’s concern about the imminent threat of war in southern Sudan between the largely Christian inhabitants of the region and the Muslim government in Khartoum is justified, his prescription for preventing it is a bit vague.

As for his reception by President Obama, Clooney was rapturous in describing his joy at what he thought was Obama’s intense interest in the subject — “You could feel the energy in the room” — and the sharpness of his questions. But what Clooney and the similarly starstruck press coverage of his visit failed to understand is that the current mess and the strength of Bashir’s current position stems in no small measure from the lack of “energy” demonstrated by the administration on this issue in the last year and a half. In case Clooney hasn’t noticed, human rights concerns have been accorded the lowest possible foreign policy priority by the Obama administration, as its stances toward Iran and China have demonstrated.

Even more to the point, the president’s special envoy to Sudan, Scot Gration, has placed the United States firmly on the side of appeasing Bashir, to the dismay of many advocates for the Darfuri people. That policy has set up the southern Sudanese as Bashir’s next likely victims, since the only way to ensure that such genocides don’t take place is by helping to get rid of Bashir and his Islamist gang, not by buying them off.

But unfortunately, Clooney’s idea of “robust diplomacy” is not designed to generate much pressure on the White House. He wants America to do something, but he’s not sure what. At one point, Clooney discussed the possibility for increased sanctions on the Sudanese government and the indicted war criminal at its head. At others, he mooted the possibility of a U.S. decision to normalize relations with Bashir and even consent to the suspension of his indictment by the International Criminal Court if the Sudanese leader makes peace with both southern Sudan and Darfur. As a last resort, he spoke of U.S. military action to interdict the Sudanese government’s forces and prevent another mass slaughter.

The answer for Clooney is that Gration has already proved that appeasement won’t work and that getting Bashir off the hook on war-crimes charges will merely give him impunity to commit future atrocities. As for the prospect of American intervention, Clooney ought not to hold his breath waiting for Obama to act. Having come in to office decrying the “neoconservative” agenda of trying to promote human rights and democracy around the world, the president has demonstrated that such causes are unlikely to generate action from this White House.

The disconnect between the sincere desire of liberals like Clooney to do something to help the Sudanese and their unwillingness to draw serious conclusions about how America should deal with Islamist mass murderers like Bashir is the problem here. If Clooney wants something more than lip service from Obama, he’s going to have to confront the administration, not lend his star power to the White House media strategy.

George Clooney’s visit to the White House yesterday sent the press corps into something like a swoon as press secretary Robert Gibbs cut short the daily press conference so all present could ogle the actor and pepper him with a few easy questions. Clooney was there to talk to President Obama about the trip he had just taken to southern Sudan, a place that may soon replace Darfur as the focus of fears about the genocidal behavior of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s criminal regime.

To Clooney’s credit, his interest in Sudan seems genuine. He has lent his name and support to the Enough Project (which is run out of the left-wing Center for American Progress), a group that seeks to prevent African genocides such as the ones that have taken place in Darfur and Rwanda. But as much as Clooney’s concern about the imminent threat of war in southern Sudan between the largely Christian inhabitants of the region and the Muslim government in Khartoum is justified, his prescription for preventing it is a bit vague.

As for his reception by President Obama, Clooney was rapturous in describing his joy at what he thought was Obama’s intense interest in the subject — “You could feel the energy in the room” — and the sharpness of his questions. But what Clooney and the similarly starstruck press coverage of his visit failed to understand is that the current mess and the strength of Bashir’s current position stems in no small measure from the lack of “energy” demonstrated by the administration on this issue in the last year and a half. In case Clooney hasn’t noticed, human rights concerns have been accorded the lowest possible foreign policy priority by the Obama administration, as its stances toward Iran and China have demonstrated.

Even more to the point, the president’s special envoy to Sudan, Scot Gration, has placed the United States firmly on the side of appeasing Bashir, to the dismay of many advocates for the Darfuri people. That policy has set up the southern Sudanese as Bashir’s next likely victims, since the only way to ensure that such genocides don’t take place is by helping to get rid of Bashir and his Islamist gang, not by buying them off.

But unfortunately, Clooney’s idea of “robust diplomacy” is not designed to generate much pressure on the White House. He wants America to do something, but he’s not sure what. At one point, Clooney discussed the possibility for increased sanctions on the Sudanese government and the indicted war criminal at its head. At others, he mooted the possibility of a U.S. decision to normalize relations with Bashir and even consent to the suspension of his indictment by the International Criminal Court if the Sudanese leader makes peace with both southern Sudan and Darfur. As a last resort, he spoke of U.S. military action to interdict the Sudanese government’s forces and prevent another mass slaughter.

The answer for Clooney is that Gration has already proved that appeasement won’t work and that getting Bashir off the hook on war-crimes charges will merely give him impunity to commit future atrocities. As for the prospect of American intervention, Clooney ought not to hold his breath waiting for Obama to act. Having come in to office decrying the “neoconservative” agenda of trying to promote human rights and democracy around the world, the president has demonstrated that such causes are unlikely to generate action from this White House.

The disconnect between the sincere desire of liberals like Clooney to do something to help the Sudanese and their unwillingness to draw serious conclusions about how America should deal with Islamist mass murderers like Bashir is the problem here. If Clooney wants something more than lip service from Obama, he’s going to have to confront the administration, not lend his star power to the White House media strategy.

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Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, and America’s “Crisis in Spirit”

I’ve certainly had my run-ins with Joe Klein in recent years. But this story, written after a four-week road trip across America, is worth reading. “Topic A is the growing sense that our best days as a nation are behind us,” Klein writes, “that our kids won’t live as well as we did, that China is in the driver’s seat. … I found the same themes dominant everywhere — a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection.”

The reasons for this anxiety and national introspection are complicated — based in part, but certainly not solely, on the failure of our political class. Yet in the coming years, this cast of mind is going to frame politics in America, much like Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of spirit” speech framed politics at the end of the 1970s. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave his most memorable, and disastrous, speech – declaring, in part, this:

But after listening to the American people I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

In the end, the public will (rightfully) insist that its political leaders not simply diagnosis such problems, but do something to solve them. Ronald Reagan did this for the country as a whole, which is one reason he’s now widely seen as having been a great president. On a smaller scale, Rudy Giuliani could have lamented the desiccated state of New York City when he became mayor. Instead, he took steps to repair it. The result was a better, stronger, prouder city. New York became great again.

So far, President Obama has fallen terribly short of what the citizenry expects of him. He has contributed rather than ameliorated the anxieties and concerns people have. His policies, especially on the economy, are holding us down. Mr. Obama doesn’t seem able to tap into America’s remarkable strengths, spirit, and resilience, which are unique in the world and virtually unmatched in history. Indeed, in some deep way, he doesn’t even seem to recognize them and can therefore hardly acknowledge them.

If the president doesn’t correct these things relatively soon – if this “crisis of confidence” continues to spread and the president seems impotent to deal with the problems we face – then Barack Obama will share a fate similar to that of Jimmy Carter.

I’ve certainly had my run-ins with Joe Klein in recent years. But this story, written after a four-week road trip across America, is worth reading. “Topic A is the growing sense that our best days as a nation are behind us,” Klein writes, “that our kids won’t live as well as we did, that China is in the driver’s seat. … I found the same themes dominant everywhere — a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection.”

The reasons for this anxiety and national introspection are complicated — based in part, but certainly not solely, on the failure of our political class. Yet in the coming years, this cast of mind is going to frame politics in America, much like Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of spirit” speech framed politics at the end of the 1970s. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave his most memorable, and disastrous, speech – declaring, in part, this:

But after listening to the American people I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

In the end, the public will (rightfully) insist that its political leaders not simply diagnosis such problems, but do something to solve them. Ronald Reagan did this for the country as a whole, which is one reason he’s now widely seen as having been a great president. On a smaller scale, Rudy Giuliani could have lamented the desiccated state of New York City when he became mayor. Instead, he took steps to repair it. The result was a better, stronger, prouder city. New York became great again.

So far, President Obama has fallen terribly short of what the citizenry expects of him. He has contributed rather than ameliorated the anxieties and concerns people have. His policies, especially on the economy, are holding us down. Mr. Obama doesn’t seem able to tap into America’s remarkable strengths, spirit, and resilience, which are unique in the world and virtually unmatched in history. Indeed, in some deep way, he doesn’t even seem to recognize them and can therefore hardly acknowledge them.

If the president doesn’t correct these things relatively soon – if this “crisis of confidence” continues to spread and the president seems impotent to deal with the problems we face – then Barack Obama will share a fate similar to that of Jimmy Carter.

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Time to Delink

Not too long ago the administration and its spinners were telling us that the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was critical to our national security. The president suggested that American blood and treasure were at risk. But this is nonsense on stilts. As Max Boot pointed out in reference to Hezbollah, which is more aggressive than ever, “it [is] all the more astonishing that the Obama administration is devoting so much energy to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even if the probability of a successful outcome to those talks were high (and it’s not), it would do nothing to end the menace posed by Hamas or Hezbollah.” And Max is entirely correct that beating back terrorists should be “a bigger priority for the administration than beating an allied government over the head to get it to extend a moratorium on new housing construction.”

But that’s only true if you reject linkage — which provides the basis for much of the Obama foreign-policy agenda and what passes for conventional wisdom. If you listen to the Obami — or, more recently, to Bill Clinton — they will tell you that the “peace process” is the precondition to solving all these other problems, a nuclear-armed Iran included. It’s illogical in the extreme, and indeed the manner in which we have conducted ourselves (i.e., bullying Israel) has arguably emboldened all the other bad actors in the region.

There are many reasons to end the peace process. But there is no better one than to strip away the Obama administration’s excuse and decoy for avoiding the tough issues and the hard choices. It is our obliviousness to the real dangers and our obsession with the unattainable that convinces friends and foes we are deeply unserious.

Not too long ago the administration and its spinners were telling us that the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was critical to our national security. The president suggested that American blood and treasure were at risk. But this is nonsense on stilts. As Max Boot pointed out in reference to Hezbollah, which is more aggressive than ever, “it [is] all the more astonishing that the Obama administration is devoting so much energy to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even if the probability of a successful outcome to those talks were high (and it’s not), it would do nothing to end the menace posed by Hamas or Hezbollah.” And Max is entirely correct that beating back terrorists should be “a bigger priority for the administration than beating an allied government over the head to get it to extend a moratorium on new housing construction.”

But that’s only true if you reject linkage — which provides the basis for much of the Obama foreign-policy agenda and what passes for conventional wisdom. If you listen to the Obami — or, more recently, to Bill Clinton — they will tell you that the “peace process” is the precondition to solving all these other problems, a nuclear-armed Iran included. It’s illogical in the extreme, and indeed the manner in which we have conducted ourselves (i.e., bullying Israel) has arguably emboldened all the other bad actors in the region.

There are many reasons to end the peace process. But there is no better one than to strip away the Obama administration’s excuse and decoy for avoiding the tough issues and the hard choices. It is our obliviousness to the real dangers and our obsession with the unattainable that convinces friends and foes we are deeply unserious.

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Hezbollah: A Bigger Menace than Ever

The New York Times has a chilling if not surprising report on how strong Hezbollah is getting. It has managed to more than rebuild its capacities since the 2006 war against Israel. As the Times notes: “According to Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s leader, Hezbollah has increased its missile stocks to 40,000, compared with 13,000 during the 2006 war; Israeli defense officials do not dispute the estimate. (In 2006, Hezbollah fired about 4,000 missiles.)”

Meanwhile, across southern Lebanon, new apartment blocks, roads, and bunkers have gone up with Iranian money. Hezbollah’s rearmament shows how predictably toothless the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon is. As the Times notes:

Party supporters have constructed dozens of enormous houses along the strategic hills that face the Israeli border, in areas that used to be mostly farmland. The houses, Hezbollah officials say, will complicate a future Israeli advance and could give Hezbollah fighters cover during ground combat.

United Nations peacekeepers and the Lebanese Army now patrol the hilly, wooded border, and under the terms of the United Nations resolution that ended the war, Hezbollah was supposed to demilitarize the area between the Israeli border and the Litani River, a distance of about 18 miles.

But Hezbollah appears to have done just the opposite. Its operatives roam strategic towns, interrogating foreigners and outsiders. New residents have been recruited to the border, and Hezbollah officials say they have recruited scores of new fighters, by their own estimates either doubling or tripling their ranks.

Oh, and if that weren’t bad enough, there is also this: “Hezbollah’s role in the government has paved the way for tighter cooperation with Lebanese intelligence units, and Lebanese officials have reportedly arrested more than 100 people suspected of being Israeli spies in the past two years.”

There is no doubt that an element of Hezbollah bluster is at play here — the group seeks to deter an Israeli strike on its Iranian sponsors. But there is little doubt that Hezbollah is a bigger menace than ever — not only to Israel but also to any hopes of regional peace. That makes it all the more astonishing that the Obama administration is devoting so much energy to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even if the probability of a successful outcome to those talks were high (and it’s not), it would do nothing to end the menace posed by Hamas or Hezbollah. Admittedly, there is no easy solution to these terrorist groups, but one would think that defeating them would be a bigger priority for the administration than beating an allied government over the head to get it to extend a moratorium on new housing construction, which should be the endpoint, rather than the beginning, of negotiations.

The New York Times has a chilling if not surprising report on how strong Hezbollah is getting. It has managed to more than rebuild its capacities since the 2006 war against Israel. As the Times notes: “According to Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s leader, Hezbollah has increased its missile stocks to 40,000, compared with 13,000 during the 2006 war; Israeli defense officials do not dispute the estimate. (In 2006, Hezbollah fired about 4,000 missiles.)”

Meanwhile, across southern Lebanon, new apartment blocks, roads, and bunkers have gone up with Iranian money. Hezbollah’s rearmament shows how predictably toothless the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon is. As the Times notes:

Party supporters have constructed dozens of enormous houses along the strategic hills that face the Israeli border, in areas that used to be mostly farmland. The houses, Hezbollah officials say, will complicate a future Israeli advance and could give Hezbollah fighters cover during ground combat.

United Nations peacekeepers and the Lebanese Army now patrol the hilly, wooded border, and under the terms of the United Nations resolution that ended the war, Hezbollah was supposed to demilitarize the area between the Israeli border and the Litani River, a distance of about 18 miles.

But Hezbollah appears to have done just the opposite. Its operatives roam strategic towns, interrogating foreigners and outsiders. New residents have been recruited to the border, and Hezbollah officials say they have recruited scores of new fighters, by their own estimates either doubling or tripling their ranks.

Oh, and if that weren’t bad enough, there is also this: “Hezbollah’s role in the government has paved the way for tighter cooperation with Lebanese intelligence units, and Lebanese officials have reportedly arrested more than 100 people suspected of being Israeli spies in the past two years.”

There is no doubt that an element of Hezbollah bluster is at play here — the group seeks to deter an Israeli strike on its Iranian sponsors. But there is little doubt that Hezbollah is a bigger menace than ever — not only to Israel but also to any hopes of regional peace. That makes it all the more astonishing that the Obama administration is devoting so much energy to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even if the probability of a successful outcome to those talks were high (and it’s not), it would do nothing to end the menace posed by Hamas or Hezbollah. Admittedly, there is no easy solution to these terrorist groups, but one would think that defeating them would be a bigger priority for the administration than beating an allied government over the head to get it to extend a moratorium on new housing construction, which should be the endpoint, rather than the beginning, of negotiations.

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More Cowbell!

It seems like just last week Obama was rallying the base in Wisconsin. Oh, wait. He was. But how could that be? This report from Madison tells us:

On a sunny and mild Sunday this weekend, there was no political paraphernalia to be seen and no campaign volunteers to be found along State Street, the main drag of this liberal-leaning college town.

Progressive young residents milling around the area expressed concerns that the energy they saw in 2008 was lacking this year, and Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold has not done enough to get their like-minded peers engaged in his race against self-funding Republican Ron Johnson.

What is the matter with these people! Didn’t they hear? It’s unacceptable –unacceptable, the president said — to sit at home. Plainly, the problem is that Obama did not stay long enough or holler at them with sufficient intensity. More Obama! More nagging!

It seems like just last week Obama was rallying the base in Wisconsin. Oh, wait. He was. But how could that be? This report from Madison tells us:

On a sunny and mild Sunday this weekend, there was no political paraphernalia to be seen and no campaign volunteers to be found along State Street, the main drag of this liberal-leaning college town.

Progressive young residents milling around the area expressed concerns that the energy they saw in 2008 was lacking this year, and Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold has not done enough to get their like-minded peers engaged in his race against self-funding Republican Ron Johnson.

What is the matter with these people! Didn’t they hear? It’s unacceptable –unacceptable, the president said — to sit at home. Plainly, the problem is that Obama did not stay long enough or holler at them with sufficient intensity. More Obama! More nagging!

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RE: Time to Jump Off the J Street Bandwagon

One of the most curious formulations presented in the JTA article that Jennifer referenced is the claim put forward by Rabbi Steve Gutow of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs that J Street had helped “suck the wind out of anti-Israel divestment efforts by presenting a credible left-wing, pro-Israel alternative.” Gutow said the group had been praised by “a number of the JCPA’s constituent network of local community relations councils” for its work on this issue.

In order to understand this statement, one has to understand that a great many, if not most, local Jewish community-relations councils have historically been the preserve of hard-core ideological liberals within the organized Jewish world. So it is not surprising that in this largely leftist bastion there would be many who identify with a group whose main purpose is to act as a Jewish cheering section for Obama-administration pressure on Israel.

But the notion that J Street has played much of a role in channeling leftist energy away from all-out anti-Zionism into the allegedly more productive stance of saving Israel from itself via U.S. pressure seems to be more a matter of the group’s spin cycle than anything else. While J Street was formed as something of a Jewish rump of leftist MoveOn.org activism, the idea that the organization spent any time or energy combating the divestment movement is pure fantasy. One would have thought that an organization that billed itself as being “pro-Israel” as well as “pro-peace” would have taken the lead in opposing anti-Israel hate around the country, but that was never J Street’s priority or even a minor aspect of its activity. Nor is there any evidence that there has been any shift in allegiance on the part of anti-Israel activists from those backing divestment and opposing the Jewish state’s very existence to J Street, as Gutow contends.

From its first day, J Street’s focus has always been on undermining AIPAC and usurping that umbrella group’s function as the voice of the Jewish community on Israel in Washington. But the group has spent the past two years busily burning bridges with mainstream pro-Israel liberals by opposing Israeli self-defense against Hamas in Gaza and defending the lies of the UN’s Goldstone Commission.

Its loss of influence in Washington predates the revelations that its leaders have consistently lied about their sources of financial support. Indeed, the Obama administration’s decision to embark on a “charm offensive” with the Jewish community in the wake of its disastrous attempts to pressure the Israeli government over Jewish rights in Jerusalem earlier this year illustrates that the White House knows that J Street is a Potemkin Village whose attempts to overturn the community’s pro-Israel consensus have been an utter failure. Moreover, contrary to Gutow’s assertions that the general disgust being expressed about J Street’s lies about George Soros are merely “legalisms,” they are indicative of a mendacity that extended beyond accounts of its finances to its policy prescriptions.

As for the manner in which some in the organized community have made nice with Soros, the explanation for this is not exactly a mystery. Numerous Jewish organizations have been trying to get in Soros’s good graces for many years for the same reason they flatter any potential wealthy contributor: they covet his money. That he has consistently stiffed them and instead given his money to Israel-bashers like Human Rights Watch and a leftist front group like J Street merely renders their obsequiousness embarrassing but hardly surprising.

One of the most curious formulations presented in the JTA article that Jennifer referenced is the claim put forward by Rabbi Steve Gutow of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs that J Street had helped “suck the wind out of anti-Israel divestment efforts by presenting a credible left-wing, pro-Israel alternative.” Gutow said the group had been praised by “a number of the JCPA’s constituent network of local community relations councils” for its work on this issue.

In order to understand this statement, one has to understand that a great many, if not most, local Jewish community-relations councils have historically been the preserve of hard-core ideological liberals within the organized Jewish world. So it is not surprising that in this largely leftist bastion there would be many who identify with a group whose main purpose is to act as a Jewish cheering section for Obama-administration pressure on Israel.

But the notion that J Street has played much of a role in channeling leftist energy away from all-out anti-Zionism into the allegedly more productive stance of saving Israel from itself via U.S. pressure seems to be more a matter of the group’s spin cycle than anything else. While J Street was formed as something of a Jewish rump of leftist MoveOn.org activism, the idea that the organization spent any time or energy combating the divestment movement is pure fantasy. One would have thought that an organization that billed itself as being “pro-Israel” as well as “pro-peace” would have taken the lead in opposing anti-Israel hate around the country, but that was never J Street’s priority or even a minor aspect of its activity. Nor is there any evidence that there has been any shift in allegiance on the part of anti-Israel activists from those backing divestment and opposing the Jewish state’s very existence to J Street, as Gutow contends.

From its first day, J Street’s focus has always been on undermining AIPAC and usurping that umbrella group’s function as the voice of the Jewish community on Israel in Washington. But the group has spent the past two years busily burning bridges with mainstream pro-Israel liberals by opposing Israeli self-defense against Hamas in Gaza and defending the lies of the UN’s Goldstone Commission.

Its loss of influence in Washington predates the revelations that its leaders have consistently lied about their sources of financial support. Indeed, the Obama administration’s decision to embark on a “charm offensive” with the Jewish community in the wake of its disastrous attempts to pressure the Israeli government over Jewish rights in Jerusalem earlier this year illustrates that the White House knows that J Street is a Potemkin Village whose attempts to overturn the community’s pro-Israel consensus have been an utter failure. Moreover, contrary to Gutow’s assertions that the general disgust being expressed about J Street’s lies about George Soros are merely “legalisms,” they are indicative of a mendacity that extended beyond accounts of its finances to its policy prescriptions.

As for the manner in which some in the organized community have made nice with Soros, the explanation for this is not exactly a mystery. Numerous Jewish organizations have been trying to get in Soros’s good graces for many years for the same reason they flatter any potential wealthy contributor: they covet his money. That he has consistently stiffed them and instead given his money to Israel-bashers like Human Rights Watch and a leftist front group like J Street merely renders their obsequiousness embarrassing but hardly surprising.

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James Capretta on the Modern Role and Purpose of Government

My colleague at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, James Capretta, has added his important voice to the ongoing debate about the role and purpose of government in the 21st century. As Jim puts it in this post over at e21:

What we are actually witnessing is the end of an economic era. The democratic capitalist countries of the West have all built welfare states of varying sizes and shapes. Europe’s is certainly much larger and more expensive than what has been built in the United States, but all are under severe strain. There is no escaping demographic reality. The aging of populations in the world’s most advanced economies will make it impossible to sustain government programs and protections at the level that exist today.

What’s needed now is an effort to harness the new national energy for reform and retrenchment to solve the nation’s entitlement problem. That will require a frank discussion with the American people about how to apply the enduring principle of limited government to the modern circumstances of a market-driven economy operating within a competitive global environment. That is the most pressing challenge in these early years of the 21st century.

The party that voters consider up to this task will win their votes. Once it does, though, it will need to perform. Promises are fine; but they are not nearly enough, as President Obama and Democratic lawmakers are discovering to their chagrin. If Republicans retake control of one or both branches of Congress — which certainly seems likely as this point — they will face the challenge of translating their pledges into reality.

It won’t be as easy once you’re in power as it is appears when you’re out of power.

My colleague at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, James Capretta, has added his important voice to the ongoing debate about the role and purpose of government in the 21st century. As Jim puts it in this post over at e21:

What we are actually witnessing is the end of an economic era. The democratic capitalist countries of the West have all built welfare states of varying sizes and shapes. Europe’s is certainly much larger and more expensive than what has been built in the United States, but all are under severe strain. There is no escaping demographic reality. The aging of populations in the world’s most advanced economies will make it impossible to sustain government programs and protections at the level that exist today.

What’s needed now is an effort to harness the new national energy for reform and retrenchment to solve the nation’s entitlement problem. That will require a frank discussion with the American people about how to apply the enduring principle of limited government to the modern circumstances of a market-driven economy operating within a competitive global environment. That is the most pressing challenge in these early years of the 21st century.

The party that voters consider up to this task will win their votes. Once it does, though, it will need to perform. Promises are fine; but they are not nearly enough, as President Obama and Democratic lawmakers are discovering to their chagrin. If Republicans retake control of one or both branches of Congress — which certainly seems likely as this point — they will face the challenge of translating their pledges into reality.

It won’t be as easy once you’re in power as it is appears when you’re out of power.

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The Tea Party’s Challenge

There is a lot of chatter these days about the effect of the Tea Party movement on American politics. In the short term, the answer is blindingly obvious: It’s a huge boost for Republicans. The energy and enthusiasm the Tea Party movement is generating will work for GOP candidates and against Democratic candidates in almost every race in the country. Democrats are on course to be administered an epic defeat, one that will exceed, perhaps by a sizeable margin, even the one they experienced in 1994.

What the longer-term effects of the Tea Party will be on the GOP and the country is harder to know. The Tea Party is, at this stage in its development, much more of a protest movement than a governing philosophy. There is plenty of talk about “constitutional conservatism” — an encouraging impulse that seeks to ground political efforts in the American tradition — but what that means in practice isn’t always clear. To the extent that we can discern what the fuel is behind the Tea Party movement, it has to do with bringing the deficit and debt under control and checking the size, role, and reach of the federal government.

That is, I think, all for the better. But the Tea Party’s passions need to be channeled in constructive ways, beyond simply electoral politics. It eventually needs to become a force in how we govern the nation. And in this respect, work still remains to be done.

Candidates will tell you that at town-hall meetings Tea Party activists aim their fire against the Department of Education, earmarks, bailouts, and congressional salaries. That’s fine as far as it goes; President Obama increased nondefense discretionary spending by 10 percent for the last half of fiscal year 2009 and another 12 percent for fiscal year 2010. That certainly can be trimmed back. But we all know that the solution to our fiscal crisis can only be found in reforming and cutting entitlements. And here the picture begins to blur a bit.

Take as an example Christine O’Donnell, who is now the toast of many Tea Party supporters and conservatives from coast to coast. Much of her support is based on understandable unhappiness with the man she defeated, Mike Castle. But what do we really know about O’Donnell’s governing philosophy? Well, one thing we do know is that she ran an ad late in the campaign against Castle claiming this: “Keeping ObamaCare and cuts in Medicare: Castle for it, O’Donnell against it.”

The first part of that equation is fine; it’s the second part — the one about cuts in Medicare — that troubles me.

Today an estimated 47.4 million people are enrolled in Medicare, up by 38 percent from 1990. And by 2030, the number is projected to be 80.4 million. And as Representative Paul Ryan points out in “A Roadmap for America ’s Future,” Medicare has an unfunded liability — the excess of projected spending in its programs over the amount of revenue currently estimated to be available for them — of $38 trillion over the next 75 years. In just the next 5 years, by 2014, Medicare’s unfunded liability is projected to grow to $52 trillion. And when Social Security and Medicare are taken together, the total unfunded liability in the next five years will grow to $57 trillion.

Yet when asked in a poll question, “Overall, do you think the benefits from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs of those programs for taxpayers, or are they not worth the costs?” 62 percent of Tea Party respondents answered “worth it” while only 33 percent answered “not worth it.” This won’t do.

Authentic political leadership means confronting the facts as they are, explaining to people the magnitude of the fiscal problems we face, and showing the wisdom and skill to build a political coalition that will begin the hard work of going after weak claims and not just weak clients, to use David Stockman’s formulation.

It won’t be easy. Cutting the deficit and the debt is undemanding and effortless in the abstract; it gets a good deal harder when you begin to talk about raising the retirement age, progressive indexing (meaning linking the initial Social Security benefits of high- and middle-income earners to prices rather than to wages, as is currently the case), and gradually and thoughtfully transitioning toward a means-tested system of benefits in place of the current Social Security and Medicare systems.

Yet this is what the times demand of our political class — and, frankly, it is what the times demand of the citizenry itself. The American people cannot will the end without willing the means to the end. The Tea Party can play a useful and constructive role in all this, I think; but that means it has to be serious about governing, not just spouting vague slogans embracing easy cuts, “constitutional conservatism,” and reciting the failures and evils of “big government.”

In that sense, my concern isn’t that the Tea Party is too conservative; it is that it’s not conservative enough.

There is a lot of chatter these days about the effect of the Tea Party movement on American politics. In the short term, the answer is blindingly obvious: It’s a huge boost for Republicans. The energy and enthusiasm the Tea Party movement is generating will work for GOP candidates and against Democratic candidates in almost every race in the country. Democrats are on course to be administered an epic defeat, one that will exceed, perhaps by a sizeable margin, even the one they experienced in 1994.

What the longer-term effects of the Tea Party will be on the GOP and the country is harder to know. The Tea Party is, at this stage in its development, much more of a protest movement than a governing philosophy. There is plenty of talk about “constitutional conservatism” — an encouraging impulse that seeks to ground political efforts in the American tradition — but what that means in practice isn’t always clear. To the extent that we can discern what the fuel is behind the Tea Party movement, it has to do with bringing the deficit and debt under control and checking the size, role, and reach of the federal government.

That is, I think, all for the better. But the Tea Party’s passions need to be channeled in constructive ways, beyond simply electoral politics. It eventually needs to become a force in how we govern the nation. And in this respect, work still remains to be done.

Candidates will tell you that at town-hall meetings Tea Party activists aim their fire against the Department of Education, earmarks, bailouts, and congressional salaries. That’s fine as far as it goes; President Obama increased nondefense discretionary spending by 10 percent for the last half of fiscal year 2009 and another 12 percent for fiscal year 2010. That certainly can be trimmed back. But we all know that the solution to our fiscal crisis can only be found in reforming and cutting entitlements. And here the picture begins to blur a bit.

Take as an example Christine O’Donnell, who is now the toast of many Tea Party supporters and conservatives from coast to coast. Much of her support is based on understandable unhappiness with the man she defeated, Mike Castle. But what do we really know about O’Donnell’s governing philosophy? Well, one thing we do know is that she ran an ad late in the campaign against Castle claiming this: “Keeping ObamaCare and cuts in Medicare: Castle for it, O’Donnell against it.”

The first part of that equation is fine; it’s the second part — the one about cuts in Medicare — that troubles me.

Today an estimated 47.4 million people are enrolled in Medicare, up by 38 percent from 1990. And by 2030, the number is projected to be 80.4 million. And as Representative Paul Ryan points out in “A Roadmap for America ’s Future,” Medicare has an unfunded liability — the excess of projected spending in its programs over the amount of revenue currently estimated to be available for them — of $38 trillion over the next 75 years. In just the next 5 years, by 2014, Medicare’s unfunded liability is projected to grow to $52 trillion. And when Social Security and Medicare are taken together, the total unfunded liability in the next five years will grow to $57 trillion.

Yet when asked in a poll question, “Overall, do you think the benefits from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs of those programs for taxpayers, or are they not worth the costs?” 62 percent of Tea Party respondents answered “worth it” while only 33 percent answered “not worth it.” This won’t do.

Authentic political leadership means confronting the facts as they are, explaining to people the magnitude of the fiscal problems we face, and showing the wisdom and skill to build a political coalition that will begin the hard work of going after weak claims and not just weak clients, to use David Stockman’s formulation.

It won’t be easy. Cutting the deficit and the debt is undemanding and effortless in the abstract; it gets a good deal harder when you begin to talk about raising the retirement age, progressive indexing (meaning linking the initial Social Security benefits of high- and middle-income earners to prices rather than to wages, as is currently the case), and gradually and thoughtfully transitioning toward a means-tested system of benefits in place of the current Social Security and Medicare systems.

Yet this is what the times demand of our political class — and, frankly, it is what the times demand of the citizenry itself. The American people cannot will the end without willing the means to the end. The Tea Party can play a useful and constructive role in all this, I think; but that means it has to be serious about governing, not just spouting vague slogans embracing easy cuts, “constitutional conservatism,” and reciting the failures and evils of “big government.”

In that sense, my concern isn’t that the Tea Party is too conservative; it is that it’s not conservative enough.

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Hillary the Has-Been

It’s the Mama Grizzly effect, says the Washington Post — lots of conservative women running for office:

Nearly two years after an anticipated gender bounce – with predictions that women in both parties would rush into politics inspired by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin — it turns out that the momentum is on the Republican side. If there is a Palin effect, it is not being matched by any Clinton effect at the other end of the ideological spectrum.

Ouch. Sorry, Hillary, you’re yesterday’s news. Even worse, Democratic women are enviously eyeing the Tea Party movement:

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said it is “very fair” to argue that the energy for female candidates is trending Republican, a view several other Democratic strategists shared.

“I’ve been struck by it,” said Dee Dee Myers, a former White House press secretary and author of “Why Women Should Rule the World.”

“All the momentum is on the tea party side, so why wouldn’t it also be with the women on the tea party side?”

In fact, a great number of local Tea Party organizers are women, a phenomenon little remarked upon by the mainstream media, which is intent on painting the movement as the province of angry, racist white men.

And to the dismay of feminists, it is hard to deny Palin’s role in all this:

Palin has unquestionably played an outsize role in upping the Republican numbers, endorsing several women, including [Nikki] Haley and [Christine] O’Donnell, who might never have gained sufficient attention otherwise. She has brought to the Republican Party what some members had once complained did not exist: a concerted effort to tap female candidates for promotion and lift them out of obscurity.

And then there is this: The woman most capable of counteracting a Palin bounce for Democrats — Secretary of State Clinton- is not available to campaign.

You do wonder what Hillary is thinking. She’s traded in the title of Queen Bee of American politics for Foggy Bottom errand girl in an administration that is quickly going down the tubes. She’s been dutiful, loyal, responsible — and irrelevant these past 18 months. Meanwhile, whether a 2012 contender or a king and queen maker, Palin has become the most influential woman in American politics. She is not immune from error — far from it — and she remains a problematic figure. But who can doubt that she matters. You can’t say the same about Hillary.

It’s the Mama Grizzly effect, says the Washington Post — lots of conservative women running for office:

Nearly two years after an anticipated gender bounce – with predictions that women in both parties would rush into politics inspired by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin — it turns out that the momentum is on the Republican side. If there is a Palin effect, it is not being matched by any Clinton effect at the other end of the ideological spectrum.

Ouch. Sorry, Hillary, you’re yesterday’s news. Even worse, Democratic women are enviously eyeing the Tea Party movement:

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said it is “very fair” to argue that the energy for female candidates is trending Republican, a view several other Democratic strategists shared.

“I’ve been struck by it,” said Dee Dee Myers, a former White House press secretary and author of “Why Women Should Rule the World.”

“All the momentum is on the tea party side, so why wouldn’t it also be with the women on the tea party side?”

In fact, a great number of local Tea Party organizers are women, a phenomenon little remarked upon by the mainstream media, which is intent on painting the movement as the province of angry, racist white men.

And to the dismay of feminists, it is hard to deny Palin’s role in all this:

Palin has unquestionably played an outsize role in upping the Republican numbers, endorsing several women, including [Nikki] Haley and [Christine] O’Donnell, who might never have gained sufficient attention otherwise. She has brought to the Republican Party what some members had once complained did not exist: a concerted effort to tap female candidates for promotion and lift them out of obscurity.

And then there is this: The woman most capable of counteracting a Palin bounce for Democrats — Secretary of State Clinton- is not available to campaign.

You do wonder what Hillary is thinking. She’s traded in the title of Queen Bee of American politics for Foggy Bottom errand girl in an administration that is quickly going down the tubes. She’s been dutiful, loyal, responsible — and irrelevant these past 18 months. Meanwhile, whether a 2012 contender or a king and queen maker, Palin has become the most influential woman in American politics. She is not immune from error — far from it — and she remains a problematic figure. But who can doubt that she matters. You can’t say the same about Hillary.

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Obama Unplugged — and Unintelligible

Before Obama’s presser on Friday, Michael Gerson wandered down the memory lane, recalling the 2008 campaign, when Obama’s “message had something to do with unity, healing and national purpose.” No more, he explained: “Obama’s initiatives … are not only unpopular; they have made it impossible for him to maintain the pretense of being a unifying, healing, once-in-a-generation leader. It is the agenda that undermined the idiom. With that image stripped away, Americans found Obama to be a somber, thoughtful, touchy, professorial, conventionally liberal political figure.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. For starters, it is hard to be “thoughtful” when you are touchy and prone to regurgitating leftist talking points. In fact, Obama’s Friday presser was at times rather incoherent — he didn’t change Washington, it’s the GOP’s fault, the stimulus isn’t really a stimulus but it is stimulating, and so forth. He insisted that, all along, he had warned that health-care costs would bend up (What!? When had that spasm of truth telling occurred?), and lamented that he couldn’t close Gitmo because of politics (i.e., there was no public support for it and no one solved the “where do we put them” problem.) At this point, all but the die-hard Obama supporters must be chagrined to find that the only straight answer he can give is on the Ground Zero mosque. (He is fine with it.)

Earlier in the week, it was pretty much the same story. In Thursday’s interview, Obama acknowledged: “If the election is a referendum on are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is, then we’re not going to do well. Because I think everybody feels like this economy needs to do better than it’s been doing.” Yup. And, after all, he said he’d be judged on the economy. That’s what a referendum is, after all — an opportunity for voters to give thumbs up or down on your performance.

Now, he wasn’t exactly taking responsibility for the economic mess. This is Obama, after all. So he insisted, “Well, look. If you’re asking are there mistakes that we made during the course of the last 19 months, I’m sure I make a mistake once a day. If you’re asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.” We’re still heading in the right direction, in his book. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asked which mistakes he made.

Even liberals are fed up with the excuses. Bob Herbert writes, “The Democrats are in deep, deep trouble because they have not effectively addressed the overwhelming concern of working men and women: an economy that is too weak to provide the jobs they need to support themselves and their families.” And Arianna Huffington neatly sums up:

[H]e admitted to making unspecified “mistakes,” but insisted, “if you are asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.”

Can he really believe that, with unemployment at 9.6 percent, underemployment at 16.7 percent, millions of homes foreclosed, millions more heading to foreclosure, and the middle class under assault?

In any case, this appears to be the administration’s story, and they are sticking to it — come hell or a double-dip recession.

The president’s comments were a continuation of the tack taken by Robert Gibbs who, when asked if the stimulus bill had been too small, offered this jaw-dropper: “I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. … Nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp of … what we were facing.”

In other words: who could have known? So much for changing the way Washington works. The Who Could Have Known mindset is at the very heart of the failure of our political system to address our mounting problems.

Even more telling than all that, however, was this nugget on extending the Bush tax cuts:

What I am saying is that if we are going to add to our deficit by $35 billion, $95 billion, $100 billion, $700 billion, if that’s the Republican agenda, then I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend that money.

“That” money is our money. But it sounds really horrid to say “I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend your money.” I’d be curious to know what better ways he has in mind. More billions on another flawed stimulus plan?

There is in his pre-election spin patrol a fundamental “cognitive dissonance,” as the Wall Street Journal editors put it. He feels compelled to toss a few limited tax breaks toward businesses but that hardly makes up for the incessant shin-kicking he delivers (“urging businesses to invest and lend more while attacking them for greed and sending jobs overseas”). The jabs are not merely rhetorical. In addition to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the administration has thrown at U.S. employers “a looming increase in capital gains and personal income tax rates, roughly half of which will come from noncorporate business profits; a minimum wage increase to $7.25 an hour from $6.55 in July 2009 when the jobless rate was 9%; the oil drilling moratorium, which has hit hundreds of small energy companies; the new health insurance mandate on employers with more than 50 employees; the new ObamaCare 1099 tax filing requirements; an increase in the death tax rate to 55% next year from zero today; a Medicare payroll tax increase to 3.8% from 2.9% starting in 2013; and compulsory unionism for government contractors and federal construction projects.”

To sum it all up, the voters are going to throw out his fellow Democrats if Americans follow Obama’s advice (hold the Democrats accountable for the economy). Despite control of both the White House and Congress, Obama whines that our problems are traceable to the Republican minority. He won’t concede that there is any connection between the massive burdens heaped on businesses and the paralysis on hiring by shell-shocked employers. And his underlying philosophy is that he knows best how to spend your money. No wonder Democrats don’t want to be seen campaigning with him.

Before Obama’s presser on Friday, Michael Gerson wandered down the memory lane, recalling the 2008 campaign, when Obama’s “message had something to do with unity, healing and national purpose.” No more, he explained: “Obama’s initiatives … are not only unpopular; they have made it impossible for him to maintain the pretense of being a unifying, healing, once-in-a-generation leader. It is the agenda that undermined the idiom. With that image stripped away, Americans found Obama to be a somber, thoughtful, touchy, professorial, conventionally liberal political figure.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. For starters, it is hard to be “thoughtful” when you are touchy and prone to regurgitating leftist talking points. In fact, Obama’s Friday presser was at times rather incoherent — he didn’t change Washington, it’s the GOP’s fault, the stimulus isn’t really a stimulus but it is stimulating, and so forth. He insisted that, all along, he had warned that health-care costs would bend up (What!? When had that spasm of truth telling occurred?), and lamented that he couldn’t close Gitmo because of politics (i.e., there was no public support for it and no one solved the “where do we put them” problem.) At this point, all but the die-hard Obama supporters must be chagrined to find that the only straight answer he can give is on the Ground Zero mosque. (He is fine with it.)

Earlier in the week, it was pretty much the same story. In Thursday’s interview, Obama acknowledged: “If the election is a referendum on are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is, then we’re not going to do well. Because I think everybody feels like this economy needs to do better than it’s been doing.” Yup. And, after all, he said he’d be judged on the economy. That’s what a referendum is, after all — an opportunity for voters to give thumbs up or down on your performance.

Now, he wasn’t exactly taking responsibility for the economic mess. This is Obama, after all. So he insisted, “Well, look. If you’re asking are there mistakes that we made during the course of the last 19 months, I’m sure I make a mistake once a day. If you’re asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.” We’re still heading in the right direction, in his book. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asked which mistakes he made.

Even liberals are fed up with the excuses. Bob Herbert writes, “The Democrats are in deep, deep trouble because they have not effectively addressed the overwhelming concern of working men and women: an economy that is too weak to provide the jobs they need to support themselves and their families.” And Arianna Huffington neatly sums up:

[H]e admitted to making unspecified “mistakes,” but insisted, “if you are asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.”

Can he really believe that, with unemployment at 9.6 percent, underemployment at 16.7 percent, millions of homes foreclosed, millions more heading to foreclosure, and the middle class under assault?

In any case, this appears to be the administration’s story, and they are sticking to it — come hell or a double-dip recession.

The president’s comments were a continuation of the tack taken by Robert Gibbs who, when asked if the stimulus bill had been too small, offered this jaw-dropper: “I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. … Nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp of … what we were facing.”

In other words: who could have known? So much for changing the way Washington works. The Who Could Have Known mindset is at the very heart of the failure of our political system to address our mounting problems.

Even more telling than all that, however, was this nugget on extending the Bush tax cuts:

What I am saying is that if we are going to add to our deficit by $35 billion, $95 billion, $100 billion, $700 billion, if that’s the Republican agenda, then I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend that money.

“That” money is our money. But it sounds really horrid to say “I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend your money.” I’d be curious to know what better ways he has in mind. More billions on another flawed stimulus plan?

There is in his pre-election spin patrol a fundamental “cognitive dissonance,” as the Wall Street Journal editors put it. He feels compelled to toss a few limited tax breaks toward businesses but that hardly makes up for the incessant shin-kicking he delivers (“urging businesses to invest and lend more while attacking them for greed and sending jobs overseas”). The jabs are not merely rhetorical. In addition to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the administration has thrown at U.S. employers “a looming increase in capital gains and personal income tax rates, roughly half of which will come from noncorporate business profits; a minimum wage increase to $7.25 an hour from $6.55 in July 2009 when the jobless rate was 9%; the oil drilling moratorium, which has hit hundreds of small energy companies; the new health insurance mandate on employers with more than 50 employees; the new ObamaCare 1099 tax filing requirements; an increase in the death tax rate to 55% next year from zero today; a Medicare payroll tax increase to 3.8% from 2.9% starting in 2013; and compulsory unionism for government contractors and federal construction projects.”

To sum it all up, the voters are going to throw out his fellow Democrats if Americans follow Obama’s advice (hold the Democrats accountable for the economy). Despite control of both the White House and Congress, Obama whines that our problems are traceable to the Republican minority. He won’t concede that there is any connection between the massive burdens heaped on businesses and the paralysis on hiring by shell-shocked employers. And his underlying philosophy is that he knows best how to spend your money. No wonder Democrats don’t want to be seen campaigning with him.

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What Real Diplomacy Looks Like

Americans seldom think of Israel in the conventional terms of “alliance,” but Israelis must, perforce, think of America that way. In the most fundamental sense, alliances are formed for security benefits. We don’t have allies because we need them; we have allies because they need us. This works both ways. The benefit is inherently mutual in any alliance that two or more parties take the trouble to form.

When allies begin shopping for defense-cooperation agreements elsewhere, moreover, it always means something. Our pursuit of abstract multilateralism over the last two decades has blinded us to that reality. American diplomacy has tended to behave as if all bilateral developments were benign — a mere natural outgrowth of upbeat nations getting in touch with each other. But in the case of Israel in 2010, the meaning is specific and conventional.

Israel signed a framework agreement for defense cooperation with Russia on September 6 — the first ever between these two nations — and has been at work this year resurrecting its defense-cooperation agreement with China. The rapprochement with China is informative because Israel agreed in 2005, at the behest of the Bush administration, to back off from its military-related projects with Beijing. The U.S. concern at the time was technology proliferation, which is what the news and opinion media tend to focus on, particularly in America. (The new agreement with Russia is being discussed, in its turn, as a means for Russia to obtain cutting-edge UAVs from Israeli manufacturers.)

But Israel has bigger concerns than markets for military hardware. “Defense cooperation” portends more than military sales; it can mean conferences, intelligence and personnel exchanges, joint training, and shared weapons development. It’s a field of agreement with inherent implications for regional relations and security. And Israel’s defense-cooperation outreach this year is hardly random. Binyamin Netanyahu typically handles national security like a statesman in the Western classical mold, and it appears he is doing so here. Warming up ties with Russia and China is a way to gain leverage with the major outside powers that are putting down stakes in the Middle East as Obama’s America loses energy and presence.

The Netanyahu leadership has no illusions about the character of either Russia or China. But courting Russia gives Israel an entrée with a member of the Quartet other than the U.S. Rejuvenating cooperation with China creates the potential for leverage with one of Iran’s chief patrons; the link with Russia offers a similar benefit regarding not only Iran but also Syria, Turkey, Libya, and Algeria as well.

The impetus for Israel to do this now comes from the persistent inertia of the Obama administration. As painful as it is to say it, the potential is obvious for Obama’s role in the Quartet to produce disadvantages for Israel. There is no rational basis for assuming Obama will take effective action against Iran or revise his approach to Syria. Exclusive alignment with the policy trend of Obama’s America promises nothing but disaster for Israel. In the absence of American strength — across the whole Middle Eastern region — Israel’s security situation will change. Although it means inviting Russia further into the Middle East, Netanyahu must work with reality in 2010: he must look for support — for a balancing agent with the region’s radical regimes — where he can find it.

Americans seldom think of Israel in the conventional terms of “alliance,” but Israelis must, perforce, think of America that way. In the most fundamental sense, alliances are formed for security benefits. We don’t have allies because we need them; we have allies because they need us. This works both ways. The benefit is inherently mutual in any alliance that two or more parties take the trouble to form.

When allies begin shopping for defense-cooperation agreements elsewhere, moreover, it always means something. Our pursuit of abstract multilateralism over the last two decades has blinded us to that reality. American diplomacy has tended to behave as if all bilateral developments were benign — a mere natural outgrowth of upbeat nations getting in touch with each other. But in the case of Israel in 2010, the meaning is specific and conventional.

Israel signed a framework agreement for defense cooperation with Russia on September 6 — the first ever between these two nations — and has been at work this year resurrecting its defense-cooperation agreement with China. The rapprochement with China is informative because Israel agreed in 2005, at the behest of the Bush administration, to back off from its military-related projects with Beijing. The U.S. concern at the time was technology proliferation, which is what the news and opinion media tend to focus on, particularly in America. (The new agreement with Russia is being discussed, in its turn, as a means for Russia to obtain cutting-edge UAVs from Israeli manufacturers.)

But Israel has bigger concerns than markets for military hardware. “Defense cooperation” portends more than military sales; it can mean conferences, intelligence and personnel exchanges, joint training, and shared weapons development. It’s a field of agreement with inherent implications for regional relations and security. And Israel’s defense-cooperation outreach this year is hardly random. Binyamin Netanyahu typically handles national security like a statesman in the Western classical mold, and it appears he is doing so here. Warming up ties with Russia and China is a way to gain leverage with the major outside powers that are putting down stakes in the Middle East as Obama’s America loses energy and presence.

The Netanyahu leadership has no illusions about the character of either Russia or China. But courting Russia gives Israel an entrée with a member of the Quartet other than the U.S. Rejuvenating cooperation with China creates the potential for leverage with one of Iran’s chief patrons; the link with Russia offers a similar benefit regarding not only Iran but also Syria, Turkey, Libya, and Algeria as well.

The impetus for Israel to do this now comes from the persistent inertia of the Obama administration. As painful as it is to say it, the potential is obvious for Obama’s role in the Quartet to produce disadvantages for Israel. There is no rational basis for assuming Obama will take effective action against Iran or revise his approach to Syria. Exclusive alignment with the policy trend of Obama’s America promises nothing but disaster for Israel. In the absence of American strength — across the whole Middle Eastern region — Israel’s security situation will change. Although it means inviting Russia further into the Middle East, Netanyahu must work with reality in 2010: he must look for support — for a balancing agent with the region’s radical regimes — where he can find it.

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Senate Spin

Chris Cillizza’s column is headlined “In 2010 Obama’s poll numbers less of an asset for congressional Democrats.” Well, that’s one way of putting it. In fact, the president’s a millstone, right?

Despite the headline, the column is actually about Senate Democrats. The only mention of the House, where substantial losses are now expected by everyone but Joe Biden, is this: “Historically, Senate races tend to be less heavily influenced by the direction — and strength — of the national political winds than House races in which the candidates are less well known to the electorate and on which the national parties typically spend less money.” As for the Senate, the most Cillizza will concede is that “the president’s numbers could make a difference at the margins — where a handful of races are typically decided.”

It’s the sort of analysis — GOP wins in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Florida, Colorado, Delaware, and the rest would not be a reflection on Obama — that likely induces approving nods and smiles in the White House. And, in case we did not appreciate the Obamaphile view of things, Cillizza adds: “White House allies argue that in the handful of Senate races widely regarded as those that Republicans must win to take back the chamber, the president isn’t a neutral or negative force but a positive one.” So why are Senate contests in Washington, Wisconsin, and California so close — would Democrats actually be trailing if not for the alleged “positive” Obama effect?

A less Obama-friendly analysis would go like this: Losing the Senate Majority is no longer out of the question. (Al Hunt is now confessing: “Republicans have a real shot at taking control of the Senate, as well as the House, in the U.S. midterm elections. … Even with [the Bush] card it’s an uphill struggle to match the Republicans’ anger and energy, as evidenced by the higher turnouts in primaries around the country.”) Obama’s economy, the disaffection of independent voters, and the populist backlash against Obama’s left-leaning agenda have put into play states that usually aren’t (e.g., California, Wisconsin) and shifted into the GOP column states that two years ago were won by Obama (Pennsylvania, Colorado). The results will probably induce a monstrous game of finger-pointing, and Senate Democrats who survive and those who are up in 2012 will be disinclined to rubber-stamp what remains of his agenda.

I suspect that the more sober-minded in the Democratic Party with agree with that take and will be advising 2012 candidates to look after their own political fortunes and pay close attention to their constituents. Otherwise, they will join the ranks of the 2010 Obama victims.

Chris Cillizza’s column is headlined “In 2010 Obama’s poll numbers less of an asset for congressional Democrats.” Well, that’s one way of putting it. In fact, the president’s a millstone, right?

Despite the headline, the column is actually about Senate Democrats. The only mention of the House, where substantial losses are now expected by everyone but Joe Biden, is this: “Historically, Senate races tend to be less heavily influenced by the direction — and strength — of the national political winds than House races in which the candidates are less well known to the electorate and on which the national parties typically spend less money.” As for the Senate, the most Cillizza will concede is that “the president’s numbers could make a difference at the margins — where a handful of races are typically decided.”

It’s the sort of analysis — GOP wins in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Florida, Colorado, Delaware, and the rest would not be a reflection on Obama — that likely induces approving nods and smiles in the White House. And, in case we did not appreciate the Obamaphile view of things, Cillizza adds: “White House allies argue that in the handful of Senate races widely regarded as those that Republicans must win to take back the chamber, the president isn’t a neutral or negative force but a positive one.” So why are Senate contests in Washington, Wisconsin, and California so close — would Democrats actually be trailing if not for the alleged “positive” Obama effect?

A less Obama-friendly analysis would go like this: Losing the Senate Majority is no longer out of the question. (Al Hunt is now confessing: “Republicans have a real shot at taking control of the Senate, as well as the House, in the U.S. midterm elections. … Even with [the Bush] card it’s an uphill struggle to match the Republicans’ anger and energy, as evidenced by the higher turnouts in primaries around the country.”) Obama’s economy, the disaffection of independent voters, and the populist backlash against Obama’s left-leaning agenda have put into play states that usually aren’t (e.g., California, Wisconsin) and shifted into the GOP column states that two years ago were won by Obama (Pennsylvania, Colorado). The results will probably induce a monstrous game of finger-pointing, and Senate Democrats who survive and those who are up in 2012 will be disinclined to rubber-stamp what remains of his agenda.

I suspect that the more sober-minded in the Democratic Party with agree with that take and will be advising 2012 candidates to look after their own political fortunes and pay close attention to their constituents. Otherwise, they will join the ranks of the 2010 Obama victims.

Read Less




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