Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ezra Klein

Vox: Old Media’s Best Friend?

Should the hoary institutions of mainstream American print media be concerned about the rise of web-only, technology-driven “explanatory journalism”? Judging by the highly anticipated launch of Ezra Klein’s Vox.com, which added its signature features Sunday night, they might be less alarmed than they were yesterday. That’s because Vox’s launch has shown the limits of its own vision. Technology is no substitute for information, as Vox’s early projects demonstrate.

Take, for example, its backgrounder of the Ukraine crisis. Vox claims to provide “explanatory journalism,” and sets up its backgrounders as a series of flash cards with highlighted terms, which link to explanations of those terms. It’s a smooth and readable interface, but the product itself basically comes across as targeting those without the attention span for Wikipedia. Klein has hired the Washington Post’s foreign-affairs blogger Max Fisher to “explain” foreign policy to Vox’s readers. And the Ukraine explainer has a somewhat surprising conclusion.

The backgrounder on the Ukraine crisis has (at least as I write this) 20 “cards,” each with a subheader meant to answer a specific question about the issue. Because the Ukraine crisis is evolving and escalating in real time, readers will wonder what to expect in the near future. Card 17 presents this opportunity, titled “Is Russia going to invade eastern Ukraine?” Good question. The answer, however, was revealing not about Ukraine but about Vox itself.

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Should the hoary institutions of mainstream American print media be concerned about the rise of web-only, technology-driven “explanatory journalism”? Judging by the highly anticipated launch of Ezra Klein’s Vox.com, which added its signature features Sunday night, they might be less alarmed than they were yesterday. That’s because Vox’s launch has shown the limits of its own vision. Technology is no substitute for information, as Vox’s early projects demonstrate.

Take, for example, its backgrounder of the Ukraine crisis. Vox claims to provide “explanatory journalism,” and sets up its backgrounders as a series of flash cards with highlighted terms, which link to explanations of those terms. It’s a smooth and readable interface, but the product itself basically comes across as targeting those without the attention span for Wikipedia. Klein has hired the Washington Post’s foreign-affairs blogger Max Fisher to “explain” foreign policy to Vox’s readers. And the Ukraine explainer has a somewhat surprising conclusion.

The backgrounder on the Ukraine crisis has (at least as I write this) 20 “cards,” each with a subheader meant to answer a specific question about the issue. Because the Ukraine crisis is evolving and escalating in real time, readers will wonder what to expect in the near future. Card 17 presents this opportunity, titled “Is Russia going to invade eastern Ukraine?” Good question. The answer, however, was revealing not about Ukraine but about Vox itself.

As John Tabin noticed last night, Vox’s answer seemed to change within the hour, from “At this point it looks pretty unlikely” to “there are growing reasons to worry that Russia may also try to annex some parts of eastern Ukraine as well.” Why the sudden change? Read on, and it becomes clear. The next card is titled, accurately, “You didn’t answer my question!” Indeed Vox did not answer your question. “This is very much a work in progress,” Fisher continues. “It will continue to be updated as events unfold, new research gets published, and fresh questions emerge.” (Vox added the 20th card to explain that previous cards had in fact changed without acknowledgement.)

So is Vox explaining the news, or explaining why it can’t explain the news? All signs point to the latter. But the 19th card–which was the final card, until the disclaimer was added as card 20–is where the reader will really feel cheated. Card 19 offers further reading about the Ukraine crisis. Thus far we have seen that Vox’s foreign-policy explainers are simply bullet-pointed versions of someone else’s reporting. But whose? Card 19 gives us an idea.

Suggestions for further reading about the Ukraine crisis include five major publications: the Washington Post, the New York Times, the New Republic, the New Yorker, and the New York Review of Books. Now, there’s nothing wrong with reading these publications–indeed, the New Republic’s Julia Ioffe is a great source for Russia-related material and the NYRB contributor Vox suggests is Timothy Snyder, certainly an expert on the region.

But if you’ve slogged through 19 cards for a Vox explainer, what was your reward? A suggestion that if you want your questions answered, you should really be reading actual reporters and experts. Vox, then, appears to be a collection of road signs, pointing you in the right direction. And those media institutions Vox sends you to are old, East Coast liberal establishment fixtures. Vox is not replacing the New York Times; it’s reading the New York Times to you. Old media is the essential lifeblood of publications like Vox. The latter desperately needs the former, while the former mostly considers the latter an expensive parasite.

This is not to dismiss new media challenges to old media–those are, in general, quite real, as are the weaknesses in the business model of the kinds of stodgy newspapers that writers must leave in order to innovate. It would also be more valuable if Vox were to broaden its own horizons. If you followed Vox’s reading list on Ukraine, you would have a decent start. But you would be confined the narrow worldview that produced the Vox backgrounder in the first place.

And you would be surprisingly chained to print publications–a bizarre choice for a site hoping to be an online-only trendsetter. For example, Vox’s explainer ignores the great reporting on the conflict from Eli Lake and Jamie Kirchick at the Daily Beast. And it doesn’t recommend checking out the running Ukraine live-blog at the Interpreter, Michael Weiss’s latest project. Perhaps online publications are Vox’s competitors and are therefore not endorsed with the gusto reserved for the New York Times. But that would only reinforce the impression that Vox is simply explaining the sermon to the choir.

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Morning Commentary

President Obama’s decision to tap former banker William Daley as his next chief of staff is angering all the right people: “This was a real mistake by the White House,” [Adam] Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “Bill Daley consistently urges the Democratic Party to pursue a corporate agenda that alienates both Independent and Democratic voters. If President Obama listens to that kind of political advice from Bill Daley, Democrats will suffer a disastrous 2012.” Other liberals grumbling over the president’s choice are Jane Hamsher, Ezra Klein, and MoveOn.org’s executive director, Justin Rubin.

The filibuster rule changes wouldn’t just weaken the minority party by lowering the vote threshold. According to Ramesh Ponnuru, the alterations would also weaken the minority by handing the majority more control over the Senate calendar — a major source of power in the chamber.

Could the anti-Israel delegitimization activities on college campuses have a long-term impact on America’s relationship with Israel? While most students are opposed to the delegitimization campaign, the David Project’s David Bernstein is concerned that it may prompt students to become less supportive of the Jewish state: “While young people and particularly mainstream Democrats exposed to hostility on campus may not now or ever join the movement to boycott Israel, over time they may feel less sympathetic toward the Jewish state and more ambivalent about the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. When these young leaders become the next generation of Democratic Party representatives, it may become much tougher to garner those large bipartisan majorities.”

Michael Moynihan discusses how significantly the fight for free speech has changed since Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses elicited calls for his death from the Ayatollah: “In 1989, when Iran’s theocracy suborned the murder of novelist Salman Rushdie for having written a supposedly blasphemous book, The Satanic Verses, only a handful of intellectuals, habitués of both left and right, attacked the author for being impolite to ‘a billion’ religious adherents. Author Roald Dahl whimpered that ‘In a civilized world we all have a moral obligation to apply a modicum of censorship to our own work in order to reinforce this principle of free speech.’ Twenty years ago this was a shockingly contrarian sentiment, today it’s depressingly de rigueur.

Supporters of the man who assassinated Salman Taseer cheered him as he was transferred inside a courthouse on Thursday. The traitorous bodyguard has been hailed as a hero by many across the Muslim world, including a group of 500 Islamic scholars: “For a second day, sympathizers showed their support for Mumtaz Qadri by chanting slogans, with some throwing rose petals when police finally brought him to the Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi. Authorities had tried to bring Qadri to the court from the nearby capital of Islamabad earlier Thursday, but sympathizers prevented his transfer.”

President Obama’s decision to tap former banker William Daley as his next chief of staff is angering all the right people: “This was a real mistake by the White House,” [Adam] Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “Bill Daley consistently urges the Democratic Party to pursue a corporate agenda that alienates both Independent and Democratic voters. If President Obama listens to that kind of political advice from Bill Daley, Democrats will suffer a disastrous 2012.” Other liberals grumbling over the president’s choice are Jane Hamsher, Ezra Klein, and MoveOn.org’s executive director, Justin Rubin.

The filibuster rule changes wouldn’t just weaken the minority party by lowering the vote threshold. According to Ramesh Ponnuru, the alterations would also weaken the minority by handing the majority more control over the Senate calendar — a major source of power in the chamber.

Could the anti-Israel delegitimization activities on college campuses have a long-term impact on America’s relationship with Israel? While most students are opposed to the delegitimization campaign, the David Project’s David Bernstein is concerned that it may prompt students to become less supportive of the Jewish state: “While young people and particularly mainstream Democrats exposed to hostility on campus may not now or ever join the movement to boycott Israel, over time they may feel less sympathetic toward the Jewish state and more ambivalent about the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. When these young leaders become the next generation of Democratic Party representatives, it may become much tougher to garner those large bipartisan majorities.”

Michael Moynihan discusses how significantly the fight for free speech has changed since Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses elicited calls for his death from the Ayatollah: “In 1989, when Iran’s theocracy suborned the murder of novelist Salman Rushdie for having written a supposedly blasphemous book, The Satanic Verses, only a handful of intellectuals, habitués of both left and right, attacked the author for being impolite to ‘a billion’ religious adherents. Author Roald Dahl whimpered that ‘In a civilized world we all have a moral obligation to apply a modicum of censorship to our own work in order to reinforce this principle of free speech.’ Twenty years ago this was a shockingly contrarian sentiment, today it’s depressingly de rigueur.

Supporters of the man who assassinated Salman Taseer cheered him as he was transferred inside a courthouse on Thursday. The traitorous bodyguard has been hailed as a hero by many across the Muslim world, including a group of 500 Islamic scholars: “For a second day, sympathizers showed their support for Mumtaz Qadri by chanting slogans, with some throwing rose petals when police finally brought him to the Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi. Authorities had tried to bring Qadri to the court from the nearby capital of Islamabad earlier Thursday, but sympathizers prevented his transfer.”

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Why the Constitution — and What It Means — Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Liberalism’s Existential Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ezra Klein Doesn’t Understand the Ground Zero Controversy?

Ezra Klein is stumped. (There’s a lot of that going on at his paper.) The man who couldn’t figure out the motive for the Times Square bomber — the mortgage crisis was his best guess — can’t figure out why Republicans are “trumpeting” the Ground Zero mosque issue. You mean like giving a speech from an iftar dinner at the White House? Oh, that wasn’t the sinister GOP. But, really, he’s supposed to be some sort of political pundit, and he can’t figure this out? Well — aside from it being the right position in the eyes of conservatives — 68 percent of the country is with the GOP. The issue highlights the chasm between liberal elites and the majority of Americans, and it has the Democrats tied up in knots. It’s so obvious that even Ezra Klein knows what is going on. So why the play-dumb routine?

It’s about keeping hope alive — giving liberals comfort (albeit, false comfort) that the issue is actually a loser for the GOP. (“It loses them long-term votes that they just don’t need to lose. It paints their party as intolerant and opportunistic. And it’s unnecessary: It’s not like they’re hurting for things to talk about.”) Well, it’s true that the GOP has an embarrassment of riches — the non-recovery, ObamaCare, the unemployment numbers, Obama’s anti-Israel stance, etc. — to talk about. But that would suggest the Ground Zero mosque is an issue that ranks up there with historic high dissatisfaction with president’s’ handling of the economy.

Moreover, it is odd to lob the Ground Zero mosque and immigration reform (“And why, a week or two ago, did they start talking about the 14th amendment?”) into the pot labeled “social issues.” Ah, but if you are trying to rile up the liberal base using ”social issues” and “conservatives” in the same sentence, it may be quite effective. And don’t get me wrong: I’ve made clear my opposition to mucking around in the 14th Amendment, but I can understand why they are doing it and backing the Arizona bill. (These are popular positions, to my dismay.)

This is the problem with the Post’s offering of Klein as a political pundit. He’s not engaged in any serious analysis; rather, he’s using the Post to gin up his base. He is pretending to be confused about the phenomena the Post is paying him to cover. He ends with this missive to the home team:

Is the mosque — and the social issues more generally — driven by elites? Or by rank-and-file? Does the GOP want to talk about the social issues because they prefer it to talking about the economy or because they don’t feel like they have a choice?

No one other than a Democratic flack thinks the Republicans don’t want to talk about the economy. There’s nothing wrong with opining analysis (I of all people acknowledge that) — even for a publication that pretends to be a straight-news outlet. But when it becomes the very thing that Klein’s JournoListers were criticized for (partisan politics in aid of the Obama team under the guise of “journalism”), isn’t it time for the Post to rethink its jump into the leftist blogosphere?

Ezra Klein is stumped. (There’s a lot of that going on at his paper.) The man who couldn’t figure out the motive for the Times Square bomber — the mortgage crisis was his best guess — can’t figure out why Republicans are “trumpeting” the Ground Zero mosque issue. You mean like giving a speech from an iftar dinner at the White House? Oh, that wasn’t the sinister GOP. But, really, he’s supposed to be some sort of political pundit, and he can’t figure this out? Well — aside from it being the right position in the eyes of conservatives — 68 percent of the country is with the GOP. The issue highlights the chasm between liberal elites and the majority of Americans, and it has the Democrats tied up in knots. It’s so obvious that even Ezra Klein knows what is going on. So why the play-dumb routine?

It’s about keeping hope alive — giving liberals comfort (albeit, false comfort) that the issue is actually a loser for the GOP. (“It loses them long-term votes that they just don’t need to lose. It paints their party as intolerant and opportunistic. And it’s unnecessary: It’s not like they’re hurting for things to talk about.”) Well, it’s true that the GOP has an embarrassment of riches — the non-recovery, ObamaCare, the unemployment numbers, Obama’s anti-Israel stance, etc. — to talk about. But that would suggest the Ground Zero mosque is an issue that ranks up there with historic high dissatisfaction with president’s’ handling of the economy.

Moreover, it is odd to lob the Ground Zero mosque and immigration reform (“And why, a week or two ago, did they start talking about the 14th amendment?”) into the pot labeled “social issues.” Ah, but if you are trying to rile up the liberal base using ”social issues” and “conservatives” in the same sentence, it may be quite effective. And don’t get me wrong: I’ve made clear my opposition to mucking around in the 14th Amendment, but I can understand why they are doing it and backing the Arizona bill. (These are popular positions, to my dismay.)

This is the problem with the Post’s offering of Klein as a political pundit. He’s not engaged in any serious analysis; rather, he’s using the Post to gin up his base. He is pretending to be confused about the phenomena the Post is paying him to cover. He ends with this missive to the home team:

Is the mosque — and the social issues more generally — driven by elites? Or by rank-and-file? Does the GOP want to talk about the social issues because they prefer it to talking about the economy or because they don’t feel like they have a choice?

No one other than a Democratic flack thinks the Republicans don’t want to talk about the economy. There’s nothing wrong with opining analysis (I of all people acknowledge that) — even for a publication that pretends to be a straight-news outlet. But when it becomes the very thing that Klein’s JournoListers were criticized for (partisan politics in aid of the Obama team under the guise of “journalism”), isn’t it time for the Post to rethink its jump into the leftist blogosphere?

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Voices of Restraint and Civility Among the Crackpots and Haters

Having offered my thoughts on some of the more disturbing things that have emerged from Journolisters, it’s worth linking to this story in the Daily Caller, which commends several people — Dan Froomkin, James Surowiecki, Jeffrey Toobin, Michael Tomasky, and Ezra Klein — for acting responsibly.

Even among the crackpots and the haters, there were some voices of restraint and civility. Good for them. I only wish there were more names to add to their ranks.

Having offered my thoughts on some of the more disturbing things that have emerged from Journolisters, it’s worth linking to this story in the Daily Caller, which commends several people — Dan Froomkin, James Surowiecki, Jeffrey Toobin, Michael Tomasky, and Ezra Klein — for acting responsibly.

Even among the crackpots and the haters, there were some voices of restraint and civility. Good for them. I only wish there were more names to add to their ranks.

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Journolisters Risked Their Integrity

When you read those who were part of the now infamous Journolist group — hundreds of mostly liberal journalists and academics who joined an online listserv — they present their discussions as inoffensive, unexceptional, and even high-minded. Here’s how Time‘s Joe Klein describes Journolist:

[Ezra Klein and I] became friends and he asked me to join his list-serve–which, he said, would be the kind of place to have the sort of creative discussion we’d had over breakfast. It turned out to be exactly that…and more, a place to chat about music and sports, a place to meet some spectacularly smart academics I’d not met before–and, not least, a chance to interact with the latest generation of opinion journalists, most of whom didn’t have a very high opinion of me…. These conversations were private, as most good ones are. We were taking risks, testing our ideas against others…

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When you read those who were part of the now infamous Journolist group — hundreds of mostly liberal journalists and academics who joined an online listserv — they present their discussions as inoffensive, unexceptional, and even high-minded. Here’s how Time‘s Joe Klein describes Journolist:

[Ezra Klein and I] became friends and he asked me to join his list-serve–which, he said, would be the kind of place to have the sort of creative discussion we’d had over breakfast. It turned out to be exactly that…and more, a place to chat about music and sports, a place to meet some spectacularly smart academics I’d not met before–and, not least, a chance to interact with the latest generation of opinion journalists, most of whom didn’t have a very high opinion of me…. These conversations were private, as most good ones are. We were taking risks, testing our ideas against others…

It sounds positively Platonic: great minds gathering to discuss great issues of the day. Iron sharpening iron. Who could object? And then, thanks to the groundbreaking work of the Daily Caller, we have the chance to read what Journolisters actually wrote. Creative and spectacularly smart things like this:

LAURA ROZEN: People we no longer have to listen to: would it be unwise to start a thread of people we are grateful we no longer have to listen to? If not, I’ll start off: Michael Rubin.

MICHAEL COHEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Mark Penn and Bob Shrum. Anyone who uses the expression “Real America.” We should send there a** to Gitmo!

JESSE TAYLOR, PANDAGON.NET: Michael Barone?  Please?

LAURA ROZEN: Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich (afraid it’s not true), Drill Here Drill Now, And David Addington, John Yoo, we’ll see you in court?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, THE NEW YORKER: As a side note, does anyone know what prompted Michael Barone to go insane?

MATT DUSS: LEDEEN.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Let’s just throw Ledeen against a wall. Or, pace Dr. Alterman, throw him through a plate glass window. I’ll bet a little spot of violence would shut him right the f*** up, as with most bullies.

JOE KLEIN, TIME: Pete Wehner…these sort of things always end badly.

ERIC ALTERMAN, AUTHOR, WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA: F****** Nascar retards…

Ah, but there’s more.

NPR producer Sarah Spitz wrote that that if Rush Limbaugh went into cardiac arrest, she would “laugh loudly like a maniac and watch his eyes bug out” as Limbaugh writhed in torment.

Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics, Ackerman wrote — “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”

Bloomberg’s Ryan Donmoyer adds this: “You know, at the risk of violating Godwin’s law, is anyone starting to see parallels here between the teabaggers and their tactics and the rise of the Brownshirts? Esp. Now that it’s getting violent? Reminds me of the Beer Hall fracases of the 1920s.”

And, of course, there is Fox News. “I am genuinely scared” of Fox, wrote Guardian columnist Daniel Davies, because it “shows you that a genuinely shameless and unethical media organisation *cannot* be controlled by any form of peer pressure or self-regulation, and nor can it be successfully cold-shouldered or ostracised. In order to have even a semblance of control, you need a tought legal framework.”

“I agree,” said Michael Scherer of Time. “[Roger] Ailes understands that his job is to build a tribal identity, not a news organizations. You can’t hurt Fox by saying it gets it wrong, if Ailes just uses the criticism to deepen the tribal identity.”

I understand people speaking candidly in e-mail exchanges and wanting to create a group of like-minded people to exchange ideas. And I accept that Journolist was started with good intentions. But somewhere along the line, it slipped off track.

What we had were journalists creating a “community” in which we see expressions of hatred that are both comically adolescent and almost psychopathic. We have them endorsing slander of innocent people simply because they hold a different point of view, comparing the Tea Party movement to Nazism, and participating in a post thread with the subject, “The line on Palin.” And we have journalists endorsing a “tough legal framework” to control what a news organization says.

What we have, in short, is intellectual corruption of a fairly high order. From what we have seen and from what those like Tucker Carlson and his colleagues (who have read the exchanges in detail) say, Journolist was — at least in good measure — a hotbed of hatred, political hackery, banality, and juvenile thuggery. It is the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from troubled, towel-snapping junior high boys. (It’s worth pointing out that if a principal got a hold of e-mails like the ones produced by Journolist, he would punish and probably suspend the offending eighth graders.)

Journolist provides a window into the mindset of the journalistic and academic left in this country. It is not a pretty sight. The demonization and dehumanization of critics is arresting. Those who hold contrary views to the Journolist crowd aren’t individuals who have honest disagreements; they are evil, malignant, and their voices need to be eliminated from the public square. It is illiberal in the extreme.

Some Journolist defenders argue that what has been published doesn’t capture the true nature of what went on at Journolist and that the published exchanges were taken out of context. The Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson has a reasonable response:

So why don’t we publish whatever portions of the Journolist archive we have and end the debate? Because a lot of them have no obvious news value, for one thing. Gather 400 lefty reporters and academics on one listserv and it turns out you wind up with a strikingly high concentration of bitchiness. Shocking amounts, actually. So while it might be amusing to air threads theorizing about the personal and sexual shortcomings of various NewRepublic staffers, we’ve decided to pull back…. Anyone on Journolist who claims we quoted him “out of context” can reveal the context himself.

That is a fair challenge. If Journolist turns out to differ substantially from its portrayal, Journolisters should release the full exchanges. Ezra Klein, David Corn, Jonathan Chait, and Joe Klein have all offered defenses, though their efforts range from feeble to pathetic. (It was really and merely “an argument between moderate and left-wing journalists,” Chait assures us.) Assuming that Journolisters cannot provide a stronger defense, other members of the fourth estate should be troubled by what has been uncovered. After all, it is the probity of their profession that is being stripped away.

Those who participated in Journolist undoubtedly hope this story will fade away and be forgotten. I rather doubt it will. It is another episode in the long, downward slide of modern journalism. “We were taking risks,” Joe Klein writes in his own defense. And the Journolist participants surely were — not intellectual risks but risks with their integrity — and several of them have been caught dead-to-rights. “Broken eggs cannot be mended,” Lincoln said. Neither can some broken reputations.

In many respects, the whole thing is dispiriting. On the other hand, it has had a clarifying effect. It turns out that the worst caricatures of liberal journalists were not, at least in the case of some, a caricature at all.

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A Whole Litter of Beagles

The Beagle Blogger was not the only one obsessed with Sarah Palin’s pregnancy and her son Trig; it just turns out he was the only Obama cheerleader foolish enough to make an issue of it. If you want to see just how inane is the blogospheric left, take a gander at the pages and pages and pages of discussion on the Palin pregnancy and her son Trig in the latest installation of the Journolist Chronicles. It’s not a pretty sight, although it’s nice to know that even Ezra Klein could figure out it was a topic they all should stay away from (because like the Borg, they do not think independently). Yes, children, it’s either her son or, if not, (because they can spend hours mulling if it’s all a hoax) there really is no upside for the Obama camp in making a big deal of a politician who welcomes a Down Syndrome child into her home.

The important thing is to get their stories straight:

Moira Whelan
Sept 1, 2008, 8:49am

I dont think anyone from this list is running with it, but as I see it, the task is to set the frame that the Palin pick showed bad judgment on McCain’s part. That way when/if it does pop, it gets into that meme without people having to express outrage.

Yes, that was the “task” all along — to figure out how to shape and slant, spin and pedal, all for the greater good of electing Obama. And, you know, until he proved to be an imperfect warrior for the loony left, they didn’t stop after election day.

The Beagle Blogger was not the only one obsessed with Sarah Palin’s pregnancy and her son Trig; it just turns out he was the only Obama cheerleader foolish enough to make an issue of it. If you want to see just how inane is the blogospheric left, take a gander at the pages and pages and pages of discussion on the Palin pregnancy and her son Trig in the latest installation of the Journolist Chronicles. It’s not a pretty sight, although it’s nice to know that even Ezra Klein could figure out it was a topic they all should stay away from (because like the Borg, they do not think independently). Yes, children, it’s either her son or, if not, (because they can spend hours mulling if it’s all a hoax) there really is no upside for the Obama camp in making a big deal of a politician who welcomes a Down Syndrome child into her home.

The important thing is to get their stories straight:

Moira Whelan
Sept 1, 2008, 8:49am

I dont think anyone from this list is running with it, but as I see it, the task is to set the frame that the Palin pick showed bad judgment on McCain’s part. That way when/if it does pop, it gets into that meme without people having to express outrage.

Yes, that was the “task” all along — to figure out how to shape and slant, spin and pedal, all for the greater good of electing Obama. And, you know, until he proved to be an imperfect warrior for the loony left, they didn’t stop after election day.

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A Game of JournoList Chicken

Tucker Carlson at the Daily Caller is sitting in the catbird’s seat. He has reams of JournoList e-mails revealing how vicious the blogospheric left is. They wish their opponents dead (Rush Limbaugh). Their contempt for conservatives runneth over. And they plainly are all on the same “team” — plotting, delegating, and coordinating their cheerleading for the Obami, as well as attacks on Obama’s opponents. Moreover, we now have a great mystery, a sort of D.C. parlor game: what else does Carlson have?

“Journalists” — what do we call such people (undercover activists)? — and their editors are waiting for shoes to drop. A case in point: Ben Smith ran a story on the potential involvement of Politico reporters. I then spotted in one of the Daily Caller’s releases the name Laura Rozen, who covers foreign policy for Politico. Her use of a blind quote to relate an accusation of “dual loyalty” against Dennis Ross was widely criticized in a range of Jewish and conservative publications.

A sample via Daily Caller:

Nov. 5

ALYSSA ROSENBERG, GOVERNMENT EXECUTIVE: I’ve gotta be all non-partisan on GovExec, so I hope you’ll all indulge me a minute here. On Monday night in Manassas, the band warming up the crowd before Obama arrived played “I Need You To Survive.” I think the core lyrics are pretty good statement of principles for progressives, especially going forward from a victory like this one:

It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.

I pray for you, You pray for me.
I love you, I need you to survive.
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.
I love you, I need you to survive.

It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.

A lot of horribly ugly stuff got repudiated tonight. But it doesn’t end here. We need to keep making the case to the folks who disagreed with us, the folks who booed McCain during his concession speech tonight.

MATT DUSS, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: [Mccain aide] Randy Scheunemann Fired [last week]

LAURA ROZEN, MOTHER JONES (NOW POLITICO): Can you imagine if these bozos had won?

Nov. 7

LAURA ROZEN: People we no longer have to listen to: would it be unwise to start a thread of people we are grateful we no longer have to listen to? If not, I’ll start off: Michael Rubin.

MICHAEL COHEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Mark Penn and Bob Shrum. Anyone who uses the expression “Real America.” We should send there ass to Gitmo!

JESSE TAYLOR, PANDAGON.NET: Michael Barone?  Please?

LAURA ROZEN: Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich (afraid it’s not true), Drill Here Drill Now, And David Addington, John Yoo, we’ll see you in court?

I e-mailed Ben and asked if Rozen didn’t “count” because these comments predated her employment by Politico. He promptly answered that he hadn’t seen this particular e-mail and would have included it and asked his editor about it if he had. He directed me to Jim VanderHei, who asked if I had seen any Rozen JournoList comments after she was hired by Politico. I answered that we were all dealing with what Daily Caller was doling out. He provided this explanation of Politico’s  approach to this issue:

We have an unmistakably clear rule that anyone hired here check their ideology at the door. That means no political contributions or activism — and no partisan comments on air, on Twitter, on Facebook, in print, anywhere. We recognize the people we hire are not dull, blank slates — and that everyone has personal opinions. What we demand is that those opinions remain personal (and private) once hired — and that they fully understand we are a nonpartisan media outlet. We have hired some people with partisan backgrounds and had great success in getting them to go through ideological detox and become straight news reporters. The Laura Rozen emails the Daily Caller reported on pre-dated her work here. I have not seen any emails she wrote as a POLITICO employee that trouble me.

This raises at least two issues. First, it seems that the JournoList participants now have a very high standard of objectivity to maintain, especially if they now want to act as real reporters. Are they really checking their ideology at the door, or are they tipping the scales? The problem with baring one’s partisan views — especially ones so personally vindictive — is that it creates a cloud of doubt about everything you write. Second, VandeHei and every other editor with a JournoList participant is now waiting to see if there are any other e-mails that “trouble” them. If more pop up, will heads roll?

I use Rozen as an example, but the problem is far wider. The Washington Post has been mute. What if anything do they do about Ezra Klein? (Maybe if they were aware of his hyper-nasty attacks on the right, the Post editors wouldn’t have taken his recommendation on Dave Weigel.) The JournoList crowd have done a bang-up job of undermining not only their own credibility but also that of their employers. (Even those who are opinion writers are revealed not to be principled purveyors of ideas but meanspirited attack dogs.) How widespread the damage is has yet to be determined.

Tucker Carlson at the Daily Caller is sitting in the catbird’s seat. He has reams of JournoList e-mails revealing how vicious the blogospheric left is. They wish their opponents dead (Rush Limbaugh). Their contempt for conservatives runneth over. And they plainly are all on the same “team” — plotting, delegating, and coordinating their cheerleading for the Obami, as well as attacks on Obama’s opponents. Moreover, we now have a great mystery, a sort of D.C. parlor game: what else does Carlson have?

“Journalists” — what do we call such people (undercover activists)? — and their editors are waiting for shoes to drop. A case in point: Ben Smith ran a story on the potential involvement of Politico reporters. I then spotted in one of the Daily Caller’s releases the name Laura Rozen, who covers foreign policy for Politico. Her use of a blind quote to relate an accusation of “dual loyalty” against Dennis Ross was widely criticized in a range of Jewish and conservative publications.

A sample via Daily Caller:

Nov. 5

ALYSSA ROSENBERG, GOVERNMENT EXECUTIVE: I’ve gotta be all non-partisan on GovExec, so I hope you’ll all indulge me a minute here. On Monday night in Manassas, the band warming up the crowd before Obama arrived played “I Need You To Survive.” I think the core lyrics are pretty good statement of principles for progressives, especially going forward from a victory like this one:

It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.

I pray for you, You pray for me.
I love you, I need you to survive.
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.
I love you, I need you to survive.

It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.

A lot of horribly ugly stuff got repudiated tonight. But it doesn’t end here. We need to keep making the case to the folks who disagreed with us, the folks who booed McCain during his concession speech tonight.

MATT DUSS, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: [Mccain aide] Randy Scheunemann Fired [last week]

LAURA ROZEN, MOTHER JONES (NOW POLITICO): Can you imagine if these bozos had won?

Nov. 7

LAURA ROZEN: People we no longer have to listen to: would it be unwise to start a thread of people we are grateful we no longer have to listen to? If not, I’ll start off: Michael Rubin.

MICHAEL COHEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Mark Penn and Bob Shrum. Anyone who uses the expression “Real America.” We should send there ass to Gitmo!

JESSE TAYLOR, PANDAGON.NET: Michael Barone?  Please?

LAURA ROZEN: Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich (afraid it’s not true), Drill Here Drill Now, And David Addington, John Yoo, we’ll see you in court?

I e-mailed Ben and asked if Rozen didn’t “count” because these comments predated her employment by Politico. He promptly answered that he hadn’t seen this particular e-mail and would have included it and asked his editor about it if he had. He directed me to Jim VanderHei, who asked if I had seen any Rozen JournoList comments after she was hired by Politico. I answered that we were all dealing with what Daily Caller was doling out. He provided this explanation of Politico’s  approach to this issue:

We have an unmistakably clear rule that anyone hired here check their ideology at the door. That means no political contributions or activism — and no partisan comments on air, on Twitter, on Facebook, in print, anywhere. We recognize the people we hire are not dull, blank slates — and that everyone has personal opinions. What we demand is that those opinions remain personal (and private) once hired — and that they fully understand we are a nonpartisan media outlet. We have hired some people with partisan backgrounds and had great success in getting them to go through ideological detox and become straight news reporters. The Laura Rozen emails the Daily Caller reported on pre-dated her work here. I have not seen any emails she wrote as a POLITICO employee that trouble me.

This raises at least two issues. First, it seems that the JournoList participants now have a very high standard of objectivity to maintain, especially if they now want to act as real reporters. Are they really checking their ideology at the door, or are they tipping the scales? The problem with baring one’s partisan views — especially ones so personally vindictive — is that it creates a cloud of doubt about everything you write. Second, VandeHei and every other editor with a JournoList participant is now waiting to see if there are any other e-mails that “trouble” them. If more pop up, will heads roll?

I use Rozen as an example, but the problem is far wider. The Washington Post has been mute. What if anything do they do about Ezra Klein? (Maybe if they were aware of his hyper-nasty attacks on the right, the Post editors wouldn’t have taken his recommendation on Dave Weigel.) The JournoList crowd have done a bang-up job of undermining not only their own credibility but also that of their employers. (Even those who are opinion writers are revealed not to be principled purveyors of ideas but meanspirited attack dogs.) How widespread the damage is has yet to be determined.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Candid. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon’s interview should be read in full. A sample: “Yaalon said bluntly that he believes Iran’s regime is ‘not sure that there is a will’ on the part of the United States right now to exercise the military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities. … When asked if he felt the Obama administration was open to military action against Iran, Yaalon said that, according to the traditions of Israel’s forefathers, righteous people hope that the job might be done by others. On the other hand, he said, there is another old saying that goes like this: ‘If I’m not for myself, then who is for me?’ He added, ‘So we should be ready.’”

Intriguing. And the timing couldn’t be worse for him: “First it was President Barack Obama, then White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, now U.S. Senate Candidate Alexi Giannoulias is joining the Rod Blagojevich corruption trial subpoena list.” His opponent pours salt in the wound: “[Rep. Mark] Kirk’s campaign said the development is part of a ‘troubling pattern’ with Giannoulias that includes regulators shutting down his family’s Chicago bank in April after it failed to raise new capital. ‘Now we’ve learned Giannoulias’ name has come up on federal wire taps talking about the Illinois Senate seat and he has been subpoenaed in former and disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich’s public corruption trial. This revelation raises additional questions about Alexi Giannoulias that he needs to answer,’ Kirk spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement.”

Effective. Timothy Dalrymple dismantles the mischaracterizations by liberal Christians of the Tea Party movement, and includes this on taxation: “To resent a tax hike (or the prospect of one) is not to neglect the needy, and to wish to retain control over the funds one has secured in order to care for one’s family is not necessarily selfish. Conservatives generally are more generous with their giving than liberals, yet they resent it when a distant bureaucracy extracts their money in order to distribute public funds to the special interest groups on whose votes and donations they rely. Conservatives would prefer that care for the needy remain as local and personal as possible.”

Curious. Who are the 32% who view Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano favorably? “Forty-two percent (42%) regard the attorney general unfavorably, with 26% who have a Very Unfavorable opinion. One-in-four voters (26%) still don’t know enough about Holder to venture any kind of opinion of him. This marks a very slight worsening of the numbers for Holder from last August just after his announcement that the Justice Department was investigating how the Bush administration treated imprisoned terrorists.”

Explosive. A Justice Department trial team lawyer goes public: “Based on my firsthand experiences, I believe the dismissal of the Black Panther case was motivated by a lawless hostility toward equal enforcement of the law. Others still within the department share my assessment. The department abetted wrongdoers and abandoned law-abiding citizens victimized by the New Black Panthers. The dismissal raises serious questions about the department’s enforcement neutrality in upcoming midterm elections and the subsequent 2012 presidential election.”

Grouchy. The left is dismayed again: “On the eve of Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings her record on race in the Clinton White House and at Harvard Law School is producing discomfort among some leading civil rights organizations, leaving them struggling to decide whether they want her to join the Supreme Court.”

Frightful. From an MIT professor: ”The president should nominate Paul Krugman to replace Peter Orszag as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).” Because the deficit plainly isn’t big enough, and we’ve been too miserly in our spending.

Unfair? Maybe. Ezra Klein, who recommended Dave Weigel as a “conservative voice,” seems to have gotten away scot-free, while Weigel had to resign and his bosses had to scrape egg off their faces.

Candid. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon’s interview should be read in full. A sample: “Yaalon said bluntly that he believes Iran’s regime is ‘not sure that there is a will’ on the part of the United States right now to exercise the military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities. … When asked if he felt the Obama administration was open to military action against Iran, Yaalon said that, according to the traditions of Israel’s forefathers, righteous people hope that the job might be done by others. On the other hand, he said, there is another old saying that goes like this: ‘If I’m not for myself, then who is for me?’ He added, ‘So we should be ready.’”

Intriguing. And the timing couldn’t be worse for him: “First it was President Barack Obama, then White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, now U.S. Senate Candidate Alexi Giannoulias is joining the Rod Blagojevich corruption trial subpoena list.” His opponent pours salt in the wound: “[Rep. Mark] Kirk’s campaign said the development is part of a ‘troubling pattern’ with Giannoulias that includes regulators shutting down his family’s Chicago bank in April after it failed to raise new capital. ‘Now we’ve learned Giannoulias’ name has come up on federal wire taps talking about the Illinois Senate seat and he has been subpoenaed in former and disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich’s public corruption trial. This revelation raises additional questions about Alexi Giannoulias that he needs to answer,’ Kirk spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement.”

Effective. Timothy Dalrymple dismantles the mischaracterizations by liberal Christians of the Tea Party movement, and includes this on taxation: “To resent a tax hike (or the prospect of one) is not to neglect the needy, and to wish to retain control over the funds one has secured in order to care for one’s family is not necessarily selfish. Conservatives generally are more generous with their giving than liberals, yet they resent it when a distant bureaucracy extracts their money in order to distribute public funds to the special interest groups on whose votes and donations they rely. Conservatives would prefer that care for the needy remain as local and personal as possible.”

Curious. Who are the 32% who view Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano favorably? “Forty-two percent (42%) regard the attorney general unfavorably, with 26% who have a Very Unfavorable opinion. One-in-four voters (26%) still don’t know enough about Holder to venture any kind of opinion of him. This marks a very slight worsening of the numbers for Holder from last August just after his announcement that the Justice Department was investigating how the Bush administration treated imprisoned terrorists.”

Explosive. A Justice Department trial team lawyer goes public: “Based on my firsthand experiences, I believe the dismissal of the Black Panther case was motivated by a lawless hostility toward equal enforcement of the law. Others still within the department share my assessment. The department abetted wrongdoers and abandoned law-abiding citizens victimized by the New Black Panthers. The dismissal raises serious questions about the department’s enforcement neutrality in upcoming midterm elections and the subsequent 2012 presidential election.”

Grouchy. The left is dismayed again: “On the eve of Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings her record on race in the Clinton White House and at Harvard Law School is producing discomfort among some leading civil rights organizations, leaving them struggling to decide whether they want her to join the Supreme Court.”

Frightful. From an MIT professor: ”The president should nominate Paul Krugman to replace Peter Orszag as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).” Because the deficit plainly isn’t big enough, and we’ve been too miserly in our spending.

Unfair? Maybe. Ezra Klein, who recommended Dave Weigel as a “conservative voice,” seems to have gotten away scot-free, while Weigel had to resign and his bosses had to scrape egg off their faces.

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Refuse to Vote Until Kagan Shows Her Cards

On Fox News Sunday, Juan Williams underscored the buyer’s remorse that some on the left are experiencing over Elena Kagan’s nomination:

I think they are worried. I think they’re — they feel, in part because she doesn’t have a record as a judge, that there’s no way to say that she’s predictable and that she will be a stalwart in terms of liberal positions and values and a counterweight to Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, which is what the left really wants. They want somebody who’s going to make the case for that liberal position.

So if you look at issues ranging from death penalty, to the Citizens United case on campaign finance, the sense is, “You know, are we sure where Elena Kagan stands?”

There are a few possibilities here. One is that Obama “knows” her better than the rest of the left and is convinced she’s a dependable vote (i.e., the left is in a tizzy for nothing). Another is that Obama doesn’t know any more than his base and assumed that her moderate demeanor — like his own — was a cover for radical views (i.e., the left is in a tizzy for good reason). A third is that Obama and the left are in some choreographed dance to make her seem moderate but have no real qualms about her (i.e., the left’s tizzy is fake). The latter is a bit hard to buy given the blogospheric semi-meltdown over her non-record.

What we do have is a joint interest by the right and the left in forcing Kagan to be candid — and in voting no, or delaying her nomination, if she is not. Listing the litany of hot-button issues now in the purview of the Supreme Court, Ezra Klein writes:

So where does Elena Kagan fit into all this? You’ll have to ask her. Or, more to the point, the Senate will have to ask her. And hope she’ll answer. John Roberts’s famous “umpire speech” showed the appeal of a nonphilosophical judicial philosophy, but his unexpected activist streak on the bench has shown how little we actually learned from his confirmation process. In reality, the world is made of players, not umpires, and we deserve to know whom we’re drafting.

The only way to force her to live up to her own self-proclaimed standard for candor (she previously wrote that it “is an embarrassment that Senators do not insist that any nominee reveal what kind of Justice she would make, by disclosing her views on important legal issues”) is to refrain from confirming her until she puts her cards on the table. Otherwise, both the left and the right are guessing blind on a critical, lifetime appointment.

On Fox News Sunday, Juan Williams underscored the buyer’s remorse that some on the left are experiencing over Elena Kagan’s nomination:

I think they are worried. I think they’re — they feel, in part because she doesn’t have a record as a judge, that there’s no way to say that she’s predictable and that she will be a stalwart in terms of liberal positions and values and a counterweight to Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, which is what the left really wants. They want somebody who’s going to make the case for that liberal position.

So if you look at issues ranging from death penalty, to the Citizens United case on campaign finance, the sense is, “You know, are we sure where Elena Kagan stands?”

There are a few possibilities here. One is that Obama “knows” her better than the rest of the left and is convinced she’s a dependable vote (i.e., the left is in a tizzy for nothing). Another is that Obama doesn’t know any more than his base and assumed that her moderate demeanor — like his own — was a cover for radical views (i.e., the left is in a tizzy for good reason). A third is that Obama and the left are in some choreographed dance to make her seem moderate but have no real qualms about her (i.e., the left’s tizzy is fake). The latter is a bit hard to buy given the blogospheric semi-meltdown over her non-record.

What we do have is a joint interest by the right and the left in forcing Kagan to be candid — and in voting no, or delaying her nomination, if she is not. Listing the litany of hot-button issues now in the purview of the Supreme Court, Ezra Klein writes:

So where does Elena Kagan fit into all this? You’ll have to ask her. Or, more to the point, the Senate will have to ask her. And hope she’ll answer. John Roberts’s famous “umpire speech” showed the appeal of a nonphilosophical judicial philosophy, but his unexpected activist streak on the bench has shown how little we actually learned from his confirmation process. In reality, the world is made of players, not umpires, and we deserve to know whom we’re drafting.

The only way to force her to live up to her own self-proclaimed standard for candor (she previously wrote that it “is an embarrassment that Senators do not insist that any nominee reveal what kind of Justice she would make, by disclosing her views on important legal issues”) is to refrain from confirming her until she puts her cards on the table. Otherwise, both the left and the right are guessing blind on a critical, lifetime appointment.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Heck of an ad campaign: “A threatening TV commercial appearing in Pennsylvania has residents of the state spooked by its ‘Orwellian’ overtones, and critics are calling it a government attempt to scare delinquent citizens into paying back taxes. In the 30-second ad, ominous mechanical sounds whir in the background as a satellite camera zooms in through the clouds and locks onto an average Pennsylvania.”

He may be on permanent vacation soon: “Despite White House claims of all hands being on deck to respond to the oil slick crisis in the Gulf, Department of the Interior chief of staff Tom Strickland was in the Grand Canyon with his wife last week participating in activities that included white-water rafting, ABC News has learned. Other leaders of the Interior Department, not to mention other agencies, were focused on coordinating the federal response to the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Strickland’s participation in a trip that administration officials insisted was ‘work-focused’ nonetheless raised eyebrows within even his own department, sources told ABC News.”

Chuck Schumer declares there are “better ways” than Joe Lieberman’s proposal (to strip terrorists of citizenship and forgo Miranda warnings) to obtain information from terrorists. True, but this administration already outlawed enhanced interrogation.

Not a “lone wolf” at all, it seems: “U.S. and Pakistani investigators are giving increased credence to possible links between accused Times Square bomb plotter Faisal Shahzad and the Pakistan Taliban, with one senior Pakistani official saying Mr. Faisal received instruction from the Islamist group’s suicide-bomb trainer. If the links are verified, it would mark a stark shift in how the Pakistan Taliban—an affiliate of the Taliban in Afghanistan—and related jihadist groups in Pakistan pursue their goals. Until now, they have focused on attacks within Pakistan and in India, but they appear to be ramping up efforts to attack the U.S.”

The crack reporters at the Washington Post couldn’t figure out that the conservative blogger they hired wasn’t conservative. Well, that’s what they get for listening to Ezra Klein.

You knew this was coming: “Major donors are asking Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to return money contributed to his Senate campaign now that he’s running as an independent candidate. In a letter sent Wednesday, the 20 donors say Crist broke the trust of his supporters by not staying in the Republican primary.”

The new Newsweek is a bust and goes on the auction block: “The Washington Post Co. is putting Newsweek up for sale in hopes that another owner can figure out how to stem losses at the 77-year-old weekly magazine.”

Alas, not including Michael Steele, three more people leaving the RNC, but not to worry: “The official stressed that the departures had nothing to do with the turmoil that has rocked the RNC in recent months. Several top officials were either fired or quit the committee last month in the wake of a spending scandal involving a risqué nightclub.”

Heck of an ad campaign: “A threatening TV commercial appearing in Pennsylvania has residents of the state spooked by its ‘Orwellian’ overtones, and critics are calling it a government attempt to scare delinquent citizens into paying back taxes. In the 30-second ad, ominous mechanical sounds whir in the background as a satellite camera zooms in through the clouds and locks onto an average Pennsylvania.”

He may be on permanent vacation soon: “Despite White House claims of all hands being on deck to respond to the oil slick crisis in the Gulf, Department of the Interior chief of staff Tom Strickland was in the Grand Canyon with his wife last week participating in activities that included white-water rafting, ABC News has learned. Other leaders of the Interior Department, not to mention other agencies, were focused on coordinating the federal response to the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Strickland’s participation in a trip that administration officials insisted was ‘work-focused’ nonetheless raised eyebrows within even his own department, sources told ABC News.”

Chuck Schumer declares there are “better ways” than Joe Lieberman’s proposal (to strip terrorists of citizenship and forgo Miranda warnings) to obtain information from terrorists. True, but this administration already outlawed enhanced interrogation.

Not a “lone wolf” at all, it seems: “U.S. and Pakistani investigators are giving increased credence to possible links between accused Times Square bomb plotter Faisal Shahzad and the Pakistan Taliban, with one senior Pakistani official saying Mr. Faisal received instruction from the Islamist group’s suicide-bomb trainer. If the links are verified, it would mark a stark shift in how the Pakistan Taliban—an affiliate of the Taliban in Afghanistan—and related jihadist groups in Pakistan pursue their goals. Until now, they have focused on attacks within Pakistan and in India, but they appear to be ramping up efforts to attack the U.S.”

The crack reporters at the Washington Post couldn’t figure out that the conservative blogger they hired wasn’t conservative. Well, that’s what they get for listening to Ezra Klein.

You knew this was coming: “Major donors are asking Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to return money contributed to his Senate campaign now that he’s running as an independent candidate. In a letter sent Wednesday, the 20 donors say Crist broke the trust of his supporters by not staying in the Republican primary.”

The new Newsweek is a bust and goes on the auction block: “The Washington Post Co. is putting Newsweek up for sale in hopes that another owner can figure out how to stem losses at the 77-year-old weekly magazine.”

Alas, not including Michael Steele, three more people leaving the RNC, but not to worry: “The official stressed that the departures had nothing to do with the turmoil that has rocked the RNC in recent months. Several top officials were either fired or quit the committee last month in the wake of a spending scandal involving a risqué nightclub.”

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Ezra Klein: The Foreclosure Made Him Do It

Ezra Klein is one of the lefty horde of bloggers the Washington Post has taken on board in an effort to remain relevant. Or get eyeballs on the Internet. Or something. Anyway, he writes mostly on domestic policy. I think that’s a good idea, if his latest offering is any indication.

It is, in a few short graphs, the perfect distillation of the left’s cockeyed take on terrorism, the nature of man, and evil. (I will assume Klein is not a clever comic out to skewer his ilk.) He writes: “The arrested subject of last weekend’s Times Square bomb plot is a homeowner in the midst of foreclosure.” Citing an MSNBC story, he notes that Faisal Shahzad bought a house in 2004 and was foreclosed.” (He leaves out the part that the home was abandoned “months ago.” More on why he actually stopped paying his mortgage later.) And what conclusion does Klein reach?

This guy is like string theory for the media: He brings together the seemingly incompatible stories that drove the past decade. That said, you of course don’t want to speculate on why someone “really” did something. The hearts of men are opaque, and motives are complex. But it’s a reminder that foreclosures generate an enormous amount of misery and anxiety and depression that can tip people into all sorts of dangerous behaviors that don’t make headlines but do ruin lives. And for all that we’ve done to save the financial sector, we’ve not done nearly enough to help struggling homeowners.

Thunk. Where to begin — how about the explanation for why he quit his job, stopped paying his mortgage, and started buying propane tanks, wires, and such? He stopped living a normal life — and paying his mortgage — to become a terrorist and train in Pakistan. Oh, yes. That. (His own paper has a fairly good account of the sequence of events, as does the Wall Street Journal, which notes that he hated Preisdent George W. Bush. I await his column excoriating Keith Olbermann for fomenting violence.)

But the disinclination to accept the obvious — as we saw in the Fort Hood shooting — is strong. “The hearts of men are opaque, and motives are complex,” Klein waxes lyrical. Do we really think a man who travels to Pakistan to get bomb training has an opaque heart? Really, maybe he was upset about global warming. Animal rights?

And the defense lawyer should take note. Klein presents the closing summation for the jury: “It’s a reminder that foreclosures generate an enormous amount of misery and anxiety and depression that can tip people into all sorts of dangerous behaviors that don’t make headlines but do ruin lives.” (Who knew that all those risky Fannie and Freddie loans to uncreditworthy buyers were breeding terrorists?)

This is the mentality that cheers ideas like closing Guantanamo, eschewing enhanced interrogation (if they had captured the suspect and the location of the bomb had been unknown, would the administration have stuck to the Army Field Manual?), Mirandizing terrorists, and tying ourselves in knots to avoid identifying the enemy as Islamic fundamentalists out to butcher Americans. Nothing opaque about that.

Ezra Klein is one of the lefty horde of bloggers the Washington Post has taken on board in an effort to remain relevant. Or get eyeballs on the Internet. Or something. Anyway, he writes mostly on domestic policy. I think that’s a good idea, if his latest offering is any indication.

It is, in a few short graphs, the perfect distillation of the left’s cockeyed take on terrorism, the nature of man, and evil. (I will assume Klein is not a clever comic out to skewer his ilk.) He writes: “The arrested subject of last weekend’s Times Square bomb plot is a homeowner in the midst of foreclosure.” Citing an MSNBC story, he notes that Faisal Shahzad bought a house in 2004 and was foreclosed.” (He leaves out the part that the home was abandoned “months ago.” More on why he actually stopped paying his mortgage later.) And what conclusion does Klein reach?

This guy is like string theory for the media: He brings together the seemingly incompatible stories that drove the past decade. That said, you of course don’t want to speculate on why someone “really” did something. The hearts of men are opaque, and motives are complex. But it’s a reminder that foreclosures generate an enormous amount of misery and anxiety and depression that can tip people into all sorts of dangerous behaviors that don’t make headlines but do ruin lives. And for all that we’ve done to save the financial sector, we’ve not done nearly enough to help struggling homeowners.

Thunk. Where to begin — how about the explanation for why he quit his job, stopped paying his mortgage, and started buying propane tanks, wires, and such? He stopped living a normal life — and paying his mortgage — to become a terrorist and train in Pakistan. Oh, yes. That. (His own paper has a fairly good account of the sequence of events, as does the Wall Street Journal, which notes that he hated Preisdent George W. Bush. I await his column excoriating Keith Olbermann for fomenting violence.)

But the disinclination to accept the obvious — as we saw in the Fort Hood shooting — is strong. “The hearts of men are opaque, and motives are complex,” Klein waxes lyrical. Do we really think a man who travels to Pakistan to get bomb training has an opaque heart? Really, maybe he was upset about global warming. Animal rights?

And the defense lawyer should take note. Klein presents the closing summation for the jury: “It’s a reminder that foreclosures generate an enormous amount of misery and anxiety and depression that can tip people into all sorts of dangerous behaviors that don’t make headlines but do ruin lives.” (Who knew that all those risky Fannie and Freddie loans to uncreditworthy buyers were breeding terrorists?)

This is the mentality that cheers ideas like closing Guantanamo, eschewing enhanced interrogation (if they had captured the suspect and the location of the bomb had been unknown, would the administration have stuck to the Army Field Manual?), Mirandizing terrorists, and tying ourselves in knots to avoid identifying the enemy as Islamic fundamentalists out to butcher Americans. Nothing opaque about that.

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LIVE BLOG: What Is Popular

The president says things that aren’t in the Republican plan are very popular. This is a very common liberal talking point; bloggers like Ezra Klein constantly point out that the “public option” is very popular. Well, if these ideas are popular, why is the Democratic plan garnering only 25 percent support? And if the “public option” is so popular, why is Obama’s chief talking point that there is no government takeover of health care and he shares so much common ground with Republicans?

The reason is that they are not popular, not really. Doubtless, if these various proposals could be magically imposed with no cost, no one would object and everybody would be happy. But the idea that you can give something for nothing is something the public does not believe in — and since most of these efforts involve insuring the uninsured, the already-insured have every reason to fear that the cost of such efforts is going to be imposed on them. The health-care bill began to falter due to the claim that Obama and friends could insure 30 million people and not increase costs.

In the end, though, what is being debated is not some putative Republican proposal. There are two bills, a Senate bill yet to pass and a House bill that has already passed. They were written by Democrats, and moved ahead by Democrats. Those bills are the issue, and they belong to Obama and his party, and they are loaded with things that frighten the public, and the only real question now is whether they will be jammed through.

The president says things that aren’t in the Republican plan are very popular. This is a very common liberal talking point; bloggers like Ezra Klein constantly point out that the “public option” is very popular. Well, if these ideas are popular, why is the Democratic plan garnering only 25 percent support? And if the “public option” is so popular, why is Obama’s chief talking point that there is no government takeover of health care and he shares so much common ground with Republicans?

The reason is that they are not popular, not really. Doubtless, if these various proposals could be magically imposed with no cost, no one would object and everybody would be happy. But the idea that you can give something for nothing is something the public does not believe in — and since most of these efforts involve insuring the uninsured, the already-insured have every reason to fear that the cost of such efforts is going to be imposed on them. The health-care bill began to falter due to the claim that Obama and friends could insure 30 million people and not increase costs.

In the end, though, what is being debated is not some putative Republican proposal. There are two bills, a Senate bill yet to pass and a House bill that has already passed. They were written by Democrats, and moved ahead by Democrats. Those bills are the issue, and they belong to Obama and his party, and they are loaded with things that frighten the public, and the only real question now is whether they will be jammed through.

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ObamaCare and Political Theater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hamas, Unrepentant

Remember, last month, when the credulosphere trembled in excitement at the thought that Hamas had given up its desire to destroy Israel? Khaled Meshaal muttered something about being reconciled to Israel, and the floodgates opened.

Gershom Gorenberg wrote long, breathless articles for the American Prospect and his blog announcing the good tidings, Ezra Klein wrote a shorter, dumber post earnestly heralding the “bombshell” in the peace process (if only the warmongers would notice!), Daniel Levy declared that Hamas now accepts Israel in pre-1967 borders, and the smug harrumphing about the reasonableness of Hamas pretty much foamed off your computer screen.

But killjoy, spoilsport, wet-blanket conservatives laughed at all of this: It is one thing to remain willing to pursue peace with honest interlocutors, and it is another altogether to behave like a desperate, manipulable fool. These thoughts came to mind today while reading the remarks of Mahmoud Zahar, one of Hamas’ highest-ranking officials, reported in the Jerusalem Post:

[We] “will continue to persecute the Zionists wherever they are, after we prove that the Zionist army can be defeated — contrary to what was believed in the past, that it is impossible to beat the Zionists.”

Speaking in the Gaza Strip, he went on to affirm Palestinian right of return, claiming that the “right of return of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians is closer than ever.”

“After we defeat the Zionists we will persecute them . . . we will persecute them to eternity, and the sun of the freedom and independence of the Palestinians will burn all of the Zionists,” he continued.

This will be rigorously ignored by Gorenberg, Klein, Levy et al. Nothing to see here, folks. Say, can I interest you in some diplomacy?

Remember, last month, when the credulosphere trembled in excitement at the thought that Hamas had given up its desire to destroy Israel? Khaled Meshaal muttered something about being reconciled to Israel, and the floodgates opened.

Gershom Gorenberg wrote long, breathless articles for the American Prospect and his blog announcing the good tidings, Ezra Klein wrote a shorter, dumber post earnestly heralding the “bombshell” in the peace process (if only the warmongers would notice!), Daniel Levy declared that Hamas now accepts Israel in pre-1967 borders, and the smug harrumphing about the reasonableness of Hamas pretty much foamed off your computer screen.

But killjoy, spoilsport, wet-blanket conservatives laughed at all of this: It is one thing to remain willing to pursue peace with honest interlocutors, and it is another altogether to behave like a desperate, manipulable fool. These thoughts came to mind today while reading the remarks of Mahmoud Zahar, one of Hamas’ highest-ranking officials, reported in the Jerusalem Post:

[We] “will continue to persecute the Zionists wherever they are, after we prove that the Zionist army can be defeated — contrary to what was believed in the past, that it is impossible to beat the Zionists.”

Speaking in the Gaza Strip, he went on to affirm Palestinian right of return, claiming that the “right of return of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians is closer than ever.”

“After we defeat the Zionists we will persecute them . . . we will persecute them to eternity, and the sun of the freedom and independence of the Palestinians will burn all of the Zionists,” he continued.

This will be rigorously ignored by Gorenberg, Klein, Levy et al. Nothing to see here, folks. Say, can I interest you in some diplomacy?

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Gee Whiz, Superman!

“A Superman Approach to Foreign Policy.” That’s the title of this Ezra Klein essay over at The American Prospect, currently the feature piece on the homepage. (Comic books seem to be a popular analytical framework for the up-and-coming blogger set: Matthew Yglesias writes at length about “The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics” in his new book).

To be fair, TAP is a magazine that that has a former editor of Lyndon LaRouche’s newspaper on its masthead and publishes the work of a denier of the genocide in Cambodia. But Superman? Really? Here’s the core of the piece:

Yet the internationalist vision was more deeply interwoven into our cultural fabric than we often realize. Superman and Captain America were superheroes of an odd sort: tremendously powerful beings whose primary struggle was often to follow the self-imposed rules and strictures that lent their power a moral legitimacy. Neither allowed themselves to kill, and both sought to work within the law. Given their strength, either could have sought world domination, and even if they didn’t, they could have been viewed with deep suspicion and even hatred by those who were convinced that they one day would seek world domination. It was only by following ostentatiously strict moral codes that they could legitimize their power and thus exist cooperatively with a world that had every right to fear them. Indeed, soon enough, both were forming communities of like-minded super beings (The Justice League for Superman, the Avengers for Captain America) and generally operating much like, well, the nation that birthed them. As Spiderman — a later hero who, like so many heroes, bought into the idea that rules and restraint separated the good guys from the bad guys — liked to say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

That strain of foreign-policy thinking was largely abandoned in the rubble of the Twin Towers. As Yglesias puts it, “9/11 marked the beginning of an enormous psychological change on the part of the American people.” With a newfound sense of vulnerability, there was a newfound sense of fear. Restraint was a luxury, a nice ideal when we were primarily dealing with the problems of other people, but less desirable when our own lives were on the line. After 9-11, the country’s foreign-policy debate contracted, and liberal internationalists, who had always been better at pursuing their agenda than selling it politically, were largely left out. Instead, the conversation was dominated by those on the right who believed in unilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, and those on the left who believed in a superficially multilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, with the option to revert back to unilateralism if other countries proved disagreeable. It was Michael O’Hanlon versus Richard Perle, and few even seemed to find that strange.

This, too, saw its expression in a new type of hero: Jack Bauer. If Superman and Captain America were the emblems of the national mood directly after World War II, Bauer expressed the national anxieties uncovered by 9-11. Rather than an invincible superhero, Bauer was but a man, one who could perish like any other, and was aware of not only his own vulnerability, but that of his family, his government, and his country. Though there were laws he was supposed to follow, the enormity of the dangers he faced and the ruthlessness of the enemies he encountered led him to break them almost constantly, and so he tortured, killed, and generally let the ends lay claim to whatever means they could think of. Indeed, he did it so often, and with such abandon, that he’ll start Season 7 on trial for torture.

All very neat, indeed. But it has little to do with reality: America had been engaging in the kind of war-making putatively forbidden by the Superman model since well before the birth of DC and Marvel, and continued doing so in the years between Superman’s heyday and 9/11. Klein’s framework is cute–but very, very reductive.

When you attempt to force the paradigm of comic books onto something as inherently chaotic as global politics, your hopes of making sense are limited. And Klein’s essay doesn’t, in the end, cohere. But it does serve as a useful reminder of the intellectual vagaries of “the kind of whole bloggy progressive thing.” Serious people who want to engage in serious debate about foreign policy have no shortage of publications they can check out, offering any number of wildly conflicting views. Without, I might add, having recourse to infusions of inept popcult references.

“A Superman Approach to Foreign Policy.” That’s the title of this Ezra Klein essay over at The American Prospect, currently the feature piece on the homepage. (Comic books seem to be a popular analytical framework for the up-and-coming blogger set: Matthew Yglesias writes at length about “The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics” in his new book).

To be fair, TAP is a magazine that that has a former editor of Lyndon LaRouche’s newspaper on its masthead and publishes the work of a denier of the genocide in Cambodia. But Superman? Really? Here’s the core of the piece:

Yet the internationalist vision was more deeply interwoven into our cultural fabric than we often realize. Superman and Captain America were superheroes of an odd sort: tremendously powerful beings whose primary struggle was often to follow the self-imposed rules and strictures that lent their power a moral legitimacy. Neither allowed themselves to kill, and both sought to work within the law. Given their strength, either could have sought world domination, and even if they didn’t, they could have been viewed with deep suspicion and even hatred by those who were convinced that they one day would seek world domination. It was only by following ostentatiously strict moral codes that they could legitimize their power and thus exist cooperatively with a world that had every right to fear them. Indeed, soon enough, both were forming communities of like-minded super beings (The Justice League for Superman, the Avengers for Captain America) and generally operating much like, well, the nation that birthed them. As Spiderman — a later hero who, like so many heroes, bought into the idea that rules and restraint separated the good guys from the bad guys — liked to say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

That strain of foreign-policy thinking was largely abandoned in the rubble of the Twin Towers. As Yglesias puts it, “9/11 marked the beginning of an enormous psychological change on the part of the American people.” With a newfound sense of vulnerability, there was a newfound sense of fear. Restraint was a luxury, a nice ideal when we were primarily dealing with the problems of other people, but less desirable when our own lives were on the line. After 9-11, the country’s foreign-policy debate contracted, and liberal internationalists, who had always been better at pursuing their agenda than selling it politically, were largely left out. Instead, the conversation was dominated by those on the right who believed in unilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, and those on the left who believed in a superficially multilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, with the option to revert back to unilateralism if other countries proved disagreeable. It was Michael O’Hanlon versus Richard Perle, and few even seemed to find that strange.

This, too, saw its expression in a new type of hero: Jack Bauer. If Superman and Captain America were the emblems of the national mood directly after World War II, Bauer expressed the national anxieties uncovered by 9-11. Rather than an invincible superhero, Bauer was but a man, one who could perish like any other, and was aware of not only his own vulnerability, but that of his family, his government, and his country. Though there were laws he was supposed to follow, the enormity of the dangers he faced and the ruthlessness of the enemies he encountered led him to break them almost constantly, and so he tortured, killed, and generally let the ends lay claim to whatever means they could think of. Indeed, he did it so often, and with such abandon, that he’ll start Season 7 on trial for torture.

All very neat, indeed. But it has little to do with reality: America had been engaging in the kind of war-making putatively forbidden by the Superman model since well before the birth of DC and Marvel, and continued doing so in the years between Superman’s heyday and 9/11. Klein’s framework is cute–but very, very reductive.

When you attempt to force the paradigm of comic books onto something as inherently chaotic as global politics, your hopes of making sense are limited. And Klein’s essay doesn’t, in the end, cohere. But it does serve as a useful reminder of the intellectual vagaries of “the kind of whole bloggy progressive thing.” Serious people who want to engage in serious debate about foreign policy have no shortage of publications they can check out, offering any number of wildly conflicting views. Without, I might add, having recourse to infusions of inept popcult references.

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