Commentary Magazine


Topic: federal government

I’m Crazy Ponzi-Man, Now Gimme That Money

In a letter to the New York Times, CPA John Carrick succinctly summarizes a governmental scheme that would send private citizens to jail if they did the same thing:

Social Security is in effect a giant Ponzi scheme. Today’s contributions are used to pay beneficiaries who contributed yesterday, and the surplus of current contributions is “lent” to the federal government and used for general spending.

The Ponzi scheme underlying the Medicare system is even more blatant. Consider the new “Medicare Contribution,” enacted as part of ObamaCare in the name of “fairness,” which extended the 3.8 percent Medicare tax to the investment income of those making more than $200,000 ($250,000 in the case of a couple). The legislation dispensed with the interim step of sending the money to the Medicare Trust Fund, to then be “lent” to the general fund and spent on non-Medicare programs. Instead, the money from the new “contribution” will go straight to the general fund; Medicare will not even get a government IOU to hold in “trust.” Privately run Ponzi schemes are generally less brazen.

Later this month, Democrats will attempt to increase the “fairness” of the most progressive income-tax system in the world (under which about half of American households pay no tax at all and the top 1 percent pay of earners pay about 40 percent of the total) by increasing taxes on the “rich” to help finance the trillion-dollar deficits Obama has made the new norm. The plan is to withdraw hundreds of billions more dollars from the private economy while assuring citizens that the economic consequences will be felt only by the targeted few. The public seems to understand that the economic effect will be somewhat broader.

It is a shame that there isn’t more money in the Social Security and Medicare trust funds to “borrow.” That is such a simpler system — and there is no pesky criminal law to prevent it, since only private Ponzi schemes are banned. But the federal government has exhausted its current Ponzi possibilities and now seems more like Adam Sandler in a tax-fairness costume.

In a letter to the New York Times, CPA John Carrick succinctly summarizes a governmental scheme that would send private citizens to jail if they did the same thing:

Social Security is in effect a giant Ponzi scheme. Today’s contributions are used to pay beneficiaries who contributed yesterday, and the surplus of current contributions is “lent” to the federal government and used for general spending.

The Ponzi scheme underlying the Medicare system is even more blatant. Consider the new “Medicare Contribution,” enacted as part of ObamaCare in the name of “fairness,” which extended the 3.8 percent Medicare tax to the investment income of those making more than $200,000 ($250,000 in the case of a couple). The legislation dispensed with the interim step of sending the money to the Medicare Trust Fund, to then be “lent” to the general fund and spent on non-Medicare programs. Instead, the money from the new “contribution” will go straight to the general fund; Medicare will not even get a government IOU to hold in “trust.” Privately run Ponzi schemes are generally less brazen.

Later this month, Democrats will attempt to increase the “fairness” of the most progressive income-tax system in the world (under which about half of American households pay no tax at all and the top 1 percent pay of earners pay about 40 percent of the total) by increasing taxes on the “rich” to help finance the trillion-dollar deficits Obama has made the new norm. The plan is to withdraw hundreds of billions more dollars from the private economy while assuring citizens that the economic consequences will be felt only by the targeted few. The public seems to understand that the economic effect will be somewhat broader.

It is a shame that there isn’t more money in the Social Security and Medicare trust funds to “borrow.” That is such a simpler system — and there is no pesky criminal law to prevent it, since only private Ponzi schemes are banned. But the federal government has exhausted its current Ponzi possibilities and now seems more like Adam Sandler in a tax-fairness costume.

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The Revolt Against the TSA: It’s the Election, Part 2

And all of a sudden, people are going bananas about the inconveniences and unpleasantnesses of airport security. Why? Well, yes, it appears the Transportation Safety Administration has tightened up its procedures, including pat-downs. And it has, in recent months, stepped up its testing of full-body scanners — which are extremely inconvenient devices, because they don’t work very well yet. But while no one should doubt the sincerity of people’s anger and disgust, I think something else is going on here.

It may be that the TSA story has taken on a life of its own because Obama and the Democrats have refused to hear the very plain message coming from the November election — as the failure to depose Nancy Pelosi last week and the president’s gobsmacking declaration to people who had volunteered in the November election debacle that they had converted “Yes, we can” into “Yes, we did” suggest.

The message of the election was: No, stop, enough. The federal government has gotten too big, is doing too much, and may be acting in ways that are impinging on our freedoms. Through a coincidence unfortunate for the Obama administration’s political future, it just so happens that the same month in which the public was explaining this to the political class, the terror threat rose, and the TSA instituted tougher measures to counter it. And where do people outside Washington encounter the federal government directly? At the airport.

I do not share the negative emotions here. I have been through both a pat-down and full-body screen (twice in the latter case), and found them both deeply annoying. But it was nothing personal. It seemed to me that the TSA employees were just doing their jobs, and they are tough jobs, especially since some members of the inconvenienced traveling public blame them unfairly for the inconvenience.

That is exactly what the Obama people seem to have expected when they tightened things without telling anybody — that nobody would take it personally, that it would all be understood as part of the public interest. And who knows — under other conditions, that expectation might well have been met. But the libertarian outrage expressed by the electorate on November 2 seems not to have made a dent in the way the Democratic leadership is pursuing power or handling itself, and so the TSA has been left wide open and exposed to a pretty thoroughgoing and unpleasant public pat-down of its own.

When populist issues bubble up and take government officials by surprise, it’s often a sign of how profoundly out of touch the politicians and the people who work for them are getting. It happens to every administration. Reagan had Bitburg in 1985; Bush the Elder had his note card reading, “Message: I Care“; Bill Clinton had midnight basketball; George W. Bush had Dubai Ports World. What happens when these things blow up is that the government is so busy talking to itself and concerning itself with its own internal deliberations on policy that it forgets how these things might look or be experienced outside the executive branch.

They lose the benefit of the doubt. And once that is lost, it’s very hard to get back.

And all of a sudden, people are going bananas about the inconveniences and unpleasantnesses of airport security. Why? Well, yes, it appears the Transportation Safety Administration has tightened up its procedures, including pat-downs. And it has, in recent months, stepped up its testing of full-body scanners — which are extremely inconvenient devices, because they don’t work very well yet. But while no one should doubt the sincerity of people’s anger and disgust, I think something else is going on here.

It may be that the TSA story has taken on a life of its own because Obama and the Democrats have refused to hear the very plain message coming from the November election — as the failure to depose Nancy Pelosi last week and the president’s gobsmacking declaration to people who had volunteered in the November election debacle that they had converted “Yes, we can” into “Yes, we did” suggest.

The message of the election was: No, stop, enough. The federal government has gotten too big, is doing too much, and may be acting in ways that are impinging on our freedoms. Through a coincidence unfortunate for the Obama administration’s political future, it just so happens that the same month in which the public was explaining this to the political class, the terror threat rose, and the TSA instituted tougher measures to counter it. And where do people outside Washington encounter the federal government directly? At the airport.

I do not share the negative emotions here. I have been through both a pat-down and full-body screen (twice in the latter case), and found them both deeply annoying. But it was nothing personal. It seemed to me that the TSA employees were just doing their jobs, and they are tough jobs, especially since some members of the inconvenienced traveling public blame them unfairly for the inconvenience.

That is exactly what the Obama people seem to have expected when they tightened things without telling anybody — that nobody would take it personally, that it would all be understood as part of the public interest. And who knows — under other conditions, that expectation might well have been met. But the libertarian outrage expressed by the electorate on November 2 seems not to have made a dent in the way the Democratic leadership is pursuing power or handling itself, and so the TSA has been left wide open and exposed to a pretty thoroughgoing and unpleasant public pat-down of its own.

When populist issues bubble up and take government officials by surprise, it’s often a sign of how profoundly out of touch the politicians and the people who work for them are getting. It happens to every administration. Reagan had Bitburg in 1985; Bush the Elder had his note card reading, “Message: I Care“; Bill Clinton had midnight basketball; George W. Bush had Dubai Ports World. What happens when these things blow up is that the government is so busy talking to itself and concerning itself with its own internal deliberations on policy that it forgets how these things might look or be experienced outside the executive branch.

They lose the benefit of the doubt. And once that is lost, it’s very hard to get back.

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Violence and Anti-Semitism From the Left, Not the Right

The conventional wisdom of liberal America is that the Tea Party backlash against the Obama administration and its health-care law was fueled by racism, hate, and a veiled hint of violence. The idea that a grassroots movement of citizens appalled by the aggrandizement of the federal government and the administration’s overreach might rise up in protest is simply something that many, if not most, liberals can’t understand. Even the Anti-Defamation League tried to link the wackiest violent extremists and mainstream Republican critics of Obama in a controversial report.

And yet, for all the huffing and puffing about conservative hate, there was little or no evidence behind such accusations. Liberal politicians were often brusquely scolded about the Constitution at town-hall meetings by Tea Partiers — an indignity that some considered somehow non-democratic — but none were harmed.

Yet today comes a reminder that far from violence being the preserve of the right, the left is just as likely to be guilty of such incitement. As the New York Times reported on its political blog:

A Philadelphia man pleaded guilty on Tuesday to threatening Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 Republican in the House, earlier this year. Prosecutors said that the man, Norman LeBoon, declared in a video put on YouTube that he would shoot Mr. Cantor in the head and called him and his children “Lucifer’s abominations.” … The video, prosecutors said, was put on YouTube in late March — around the time the health care overhaul became law and amid a spell of threats and acts of vandalism directed at lawmakers.

If anything, this case illustrates the not-so-tenuous connection between left-wing extremism and anti-Semitism; singling out Cantor— the only Jewish Republican in the House at the time — and referencing him in terms straight out of the traditional stereotypes of Jew-hatred is the sort of thing that ought to send alarm bells ringing among those who monitor such hatred.

The conventional wisdom of liberal America is that the Tea Party backlash against the Obama administration and its health-care law was fueled by racism, hate, and a veiled hint of violence. The idea that a grassroots movement of citizens appalled by the aggrandizement of the federal government and the administration’s overreach might rise up in protest is simply something that many, if not most, liberals can’t understand. Even the Anti-Defamation League tried to link the wackiest violent extremists and mainstream Republican critics of Obama in a controversial report.

And yet, for all the huffing and puffing about conservative hate, there was little or no evidence behind such accusations. Liberal politicians were often brusquely scolded about the Constitution at town-hall meetings by Tea Partiers — an indignity that some considered somehow non-democratic — but none were harmed.

Yet today comes a reminder that far from violence being the preserve of the right, the left is just as likely to be guilty of such incitement. As the New York Times reported on its political blog:

A Philadelphia man pleaded guilty on Tuesday to threatening Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 Republican in the House, earlier this year. Prosecutors said that the man, Norman LeBoon, declared in a video put on YouTube that he would shoot Mr. Cantor in the head and called him and his children “Lucifer’s abominations.” … The video, prosecutors said, was put on YouTube in late March — around the time the health care overhaul became law and amid a spell of threats and acts of vandalism directed at lawmakers.

If anything, this case illustrates the not-so-tenuous connection between left-wing extremism and anti-Semitism; singling out Cantor— the only Jewish Republican in the House at the time — and referencing him in terms straight out of the traditional stereotypes of Jew-hatred is the sort of thing that ought to send alarm bells ringing among those who monitor such hatred.

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The Point About Earmarks

Now that Mitch McConnell has reluctantly given in to Republican insurgents and agreed that earmarks must be banned in the new Congress, wiseacres on the left are having a big laugh about how ineffectual the whole exercise will be. The New York Times pooh-poohs the measure in an editorial that dismisses the furor over earmarks as a ruse because the amount spent on all earmarks accounts for only a fraction of federal spending. In the blogosphere, at TPM, Josh Marshall dismisses the issue as “basically a crock,” because it won’t have “any real effect on the national fisc [sic].”

Both are right, in the sense that it is true that the abolition of earmarks won’t balance the budget, although it is a good start. But the Times editorialists and the lefty bloggers are as clueless about the importance of this issue as they were about the rise of the Tea Party insurgency itself. The point about earmarks is not the amount of money spent on them. It is the way they are used by members of the House and Senate, who spend much of their time in their districts and states swooping down on local institutions accompanied by aides carrying huge cardboard checks for photo ops to remind voters just who it was who paid for the new parking lot at the community center or the local hospital’s new equipment.

While defenders of the practice claim that these measures give Congress control over spending that would otherwise merely revert to the executive, what earmarks really do is they allow individual senators and congressmen to use the federal purse as a patronage machine. Though a fraction of the federal budget, earmarks are important symbols of the way the system has been crafted to shift power away from the taxpayers and into the hands of the political class. Not every earmark is a boondoggle. Many bring help to their constituents. But this is not free money from Washington. Earmarks return only a fraction of our tax dollars to us, an amount doled out with an eyedropper. Even more to the point, they serve the senders more than the recipients. Earmarks may be sold as constituent service, but they are the instruments of raw political power that make every incumbent a formidable campaign-fundraising machine. Earmarks turn everyone into members of the special-interest groups that compete for the favors of politicians who hand back a small percentage of the money government took from us in the first place. These politicians then expect votes and campaign contributions in return. Despite the furor over the abuses of lobbyists in Washington, earmarks are the true mark of Congressional corruption; they are the currency with which politicians of both parties are allowed to legally buy votes and to purchase them at cut-rate prices.

Obama’s billion-dollar “stimulus” didn’t fix the economy, but it did focus public attention on the way this budget buster was used by Congress to play the earmark game. The blow-back from that and the rest of the administration’s hyper-liberal plans to increase the power of the federal government gave new impetus to taxpayer anger. Ending earmarks won’t balance the budget or put a dent in the deficit. But that was never the point. Rather, it was the attempt to put a check on the ability of politicians to buy support with money they siphoned from the federal budget. Doing so will not fix the system by itself. But it is a start.

Now that Mitch McConnell has reluctantly given in to Republican insurgents and agreed that earmarks must be banned in the new Congress, wiseacres on the left are having a big laugh about how ineffectual the whole exercise will be. The New York Times pooh-poohs the measure in an editorial that dismisses the furor over earmarks as a ruse because the amount spent on all earmarks accounts for only a fraction of federal spending. In the blogosphere, at TPM, Josh Marshall dismisses the issue as “basically a crock,” because it won’t have “any real effect on the national fisc [sic].”

Both are right, in the sense that it is true that the abolition of earmarks won’t balance the budget, although it is a good start. But the Times editorialists and the lefty bloggers are as clueless about the importance of this issue as they were about the rise of the Tea Party insurgency itself. The point about earmarks is not the amount of money spent on them. It is the way they are used by members of the House and Senate, who spend much of their time in their districts and states swooping down on local institutions accompanied by aides carrying huge cardboard checks for photo ops to remind voters just who it was who paid for the new parking lot at the community center or the local hospital’s new equipment.

While defenders of the practice claim that these measures give Congress control over spending that would otherwise merely revert to the executive, what earmarks really do is they allow individual senators and congressmen to use the federal purse as a patronage machine. Though a fraction of the federal budget, earmarks are important symbols of the way the system has been crafted to shift power away from the taxpayers and into the hands of the political class. Not every earmark is a boondoggle. Many bring help to their constituents. But this is not free money from Washington. Earmarks return only a fraction of our tax dollars to us, an amount doled out with an eyedropper. Even more to the point, they serve the senders more than the recipients. Earmarks may be sold as constituent service, but they are the instruments of raw political power that make every incumbent a formidable campaign-fundraising machine. Earmarks turn everyone into members of the special-interest groups that compete for the favors of politicians who hand back a small percentage of the money government took from us in the first place. These politicians then expect votes and campaign contributions in return. Despite the furor over the abuses of lobbyists in Washington, earmarks are the true mark of Congressional corruption; they are the currency with which politicians of both parties are allowed to legally buy votes and to purchase them at cut-rate prices.

Obama’s billion-dollar “stimulus” didn’t fix the economy, but it did focus public attention on the way this budget buster was used by Congress to play the earmark game. The blow-back from that and the rest of the administration’s hyper-liberal plans to increase the power of the federal government gave new impetus to taxpayer anger. Ending earmarks won’t balance the budget or put a dent in the deficit. But that was never the point. Rather, it was the attempt to put a check on the ability of politicians to buy support with money they siphoned from the federal budget. Doing so will not fix the system by itself. But it is a start.

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Follow the States, But Only the Right Ones

This report makes the point that, unlike the federal government, state officials have had to make hard choices to balance their books. The impression one gets listening to the mainstream media and incumbent politicians is that budget balancing is nearly impossible. The states have shown otherwise:

In the past three years, 29 states have raised fees on, or cut services for, the elderly and people with disabilities, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group. Fifteen states raised sales or income taxes in 2009 or 2010, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning Washington research outfit.

Let’s see if you notice the pattern:

One popular state tactic has obvious—and ironic—national implications. New Jersey, Indiana and Minnesota, among others, have trimmed state spending by sending less money to local governments. That pushes onto local officials politically tough decisions about raising taxes, cutting spending or finding major money-saving efficiencies. …

Now, in Illinois and California, “the political system has done little more than lurch to the end of the fiscal year.” While in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Indiana, governors pushed for real fiscal reform. A sample:

New Jersey’s Chris Christie has cut pensions for future state and local employees, vetoed a tax increase on income over $1 million and cut $1.26 billion in aid to schools and municipalities, which local officials said would drive up property taxes. …

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a second-term Republican and the former White House budget director for President George W. Bush, moved the state from deficit to surplus by paring spending in good times. Indiana swung from a nearly $200 million deficit in 2004, the year Mr. Daniels was first elected, to a $1.3 billion surplus last year. It was not without controversy: On his second day in office, Mr. Daniels issued an executive order that ended collective-bargaining rights for state employees. …

In May, Minnesota lawmakers approved a budget widely seen as a victory for outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, because it ratified spending cuts he had made unilaterally and it didn’t raise taxes.

And, likewise, Bob McDonnell got elected in 2009 in Virginia on the promise to balance the budget without raising taxes. And he has done just that.

OK, you see point. These budget balancers and spending cutters are successful Republican governors, all of whom have been mentioned as 2012 presidential contenders. And in the 2010 midterms, their ranks expanded with Republicans elected in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. That’s a lot of GOP governors who have the opportunity to lead on fiscal discipline.

Not only does this dispel the liberal myths that we need massive taxes to balance our books or that the public won’t accept reduced services; but is provides Republicans with a wealth of talent for the 2012 and future presidential races. The country seems poised to get serious on tax and budget reform and has grown weary of a president whose not much into governance. That suggests a unique opportunity for these GOP governors — provided they stick to their  sober approach to governance.

And on the other hand, we have the example of California which has yet to get its spending and public employee unions under control. It’s the beauty of federalism — 50 labratories in which we can see what works and what doesn’t. So far a lot of GOP governors are showing how to do it right.

This report makes the point that, unlike the federal government, state officials have had to make hard choices to balance their books. The impression one gets listening to the mainstream media and incumbent politicians is that budget balancing is nearly impossible. The states have shown otherwise:

In the past three years, 29 states have raised fees on, or cut services for, the elderly and people with disabilities, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group. Fifteen states raised sales or income taxes in 2009 or 2010, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning Washington research outfit.

Let’s see if you notice the pattern:

One popular state tactic has obvious—and ironic—national implications. New Jersey, Indiana and Minnesota, among others, have trimmed state spending by sending less money to local governments. That pushes onto local officials politically tough decisions about raising taxes, cutting spending or finding major money-saving efficiencies. …

Now, in Illinois and California, “the political system has done little more than lurch to the end of the fiscal year.” While in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Indiana, governors pushed for real fiscal reform. A sample:

New Jersey’s Chris Christie has cut pensions for future state and local employees, vetoed a tax increase on income over $1 million and cut $1.26 billion in aid to schools and municipalities, which local officials said would drive up property taxes. …

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a second-term Republican and the former White House budget director for President George W. Bush, moved the state from deficit to surplus by paring spending in good times. Indiana swung from a nearly $200 million deficit in 2004, the year Mr. Daniels was first elected, to a $1.3 billion surplus last year. It was not without controversy: On his second day in office, Mr. Daniels issued an executive order that ended collective-bargaining rights for state employees. …

In May, Minnesota lawmakers approved a budget widely seen as a victory for outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, because it ratified spending cuts he had made unilaterally and it didn’t raise taxes.

And, likewise, Bob McDonnell got elected in 2009 in Virginia on the promise to balance the budget without raising taxes. And he has done just that.

OK, you see point. These budget balancers and spending cutters are successful Republican governors, all of whom have been mentioned as 2012 presidential contenders. And in the 2010 midterms, their ranks expanded with Republicans elected in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. That’s a lot of GOP governors who have the opportunity to lead on fiscal discipline.

Not only does this dispel the liberal myths that we need massive taxes to balance our books or that the public won’t accept reduced services; but is provides Republicans with a wealth of talent for the 2012 and future presidential races. The country seems poised to get serious on tax and budget reform and has grown weary of a president whose not much into governance. That suggests a unique opportunity for these GOP governors — provided they stick to their  sober approach to governance.

And on the other hand, we have the example of California which has yet to get its spending and public employee unions under control. It’s the beauty of federalism — 50 labratories in which we can see what works and what doesn’t. So far a lot of GOP governors are showing how to do it right.

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The Entitlement Crisis

On Meet the Press, Sen. Jim DeMint – widely admired by conservatives and the Tea Party for his passionate advocacy for limited government – spent a good deal of time condemning earmarks. That’s a fine idea, but it would barely begin to right our fiscal imbalance. When asked about cuts in Social Security, however, DeMint was emphatic:

Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting–I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. …

We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don’t need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big Obamacare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors.

DeMint has been a relentless critic of big government and has rung the alarm bell on the size of our debt and the deficit. Yet on the overwhelming fiscal threat of our time – the entitlement crisis – DeMint not only doesn’t have anything constructive to say; he actually is arguing against any cuts for Social Security and Medicare. (Bear in mind that entitlements, excluding net interest, account for 56 percent of all federal spending and 14 percent of GDP — up from 10 percent of GDP three years ago.) Read More

On Meet the Press, Sen. Jim DeMint – widely admired by conservatives and the Tea Party for his passionate advocacy for limited government – spent a good deal of time condemning earmarks. That’s a fine idea, but it would barely begin to right our fiscal imbalance. When asked about cuts in Social Security, however, DeMint was emphatic:

Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting–I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. …

We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don’t need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big Obamacare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors.

DeMint has been a relentless critic of big government and has rung the alarm bell on the size of our debt and the deficit. Yet on the overwhelming fiscal threat of our time – the entitlement crisis – DeMint not only doesn’t have anything constructive to say; he actually is arguing against any cuts for Social Security and Medicare. (Bear in mind that entitlements, excluding net interest, account for 56 percent of all federal spending and 14 percent of GDP — up from 10 percent of GDP three years ago.)

DeMint might consider doing two things. The first is to be a bit less sweeping in his condemnation of government. I certainly share his concerns about the size, scope, reach, and cost of the federal government, especially in the Age of Obama. At the same time, precise, rigorous arguments are important, too – and so DeMint and other Republicans need to be careful not to use rhetoric that puts them in the company of “a small breed of men whose passionate distrust for the state has developed into a theology of sorts.” (The words are William F. Buckley Jr.’s).

At the same time, DeMint should do more to close the gap between his words and his willingness to act on his words. It is simply not tenable for public officials to portray themselves as courageous voices for fiscal sanity while simultaneously fencing off cuts and reforms for entitlements. This doesn’t argue for recklessness or doing everything all at once. And it certainly doesn’t mean promoting austerity at the expense of pro-growth economic policies. But it does mean one should not declare entitlement programs off-limits. We have to deal with them; there’s no way around it. So there’s no point in making things more difficult or making commitments that are contrary to the national interest. Those who do open themselves to the charge that they are fundamentally unserious on this matter.

On the same program, by the way, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was interviewed by David Gregory. In contrast to DeMint, Christie was able to say this:

We told everybody there has to be shared sacrifice among everyone, and let me be specific. We cut every department of state government. We cut funding to K to 12 education. We are proposed real pension and benefit reforms on public sector workers, increasing the retirement age, eliminating COLAs, things that are really going to bring the pension problem back under control. We cut all of this spending in the state in every state department, David, every state department. From environmental protection, to military and veterans affairs, all the way through had to sustain a cut. Those are the type of things you have to do to show people you really mean shared sacrifice. Everyone came to the table and everybody had to contribute.

When asked how he’s advising Republicans on Capitol Hill, Christie said, “What I told them was they’d better come up with a plan that’s credible like we did in New Jersey, and the public’s going to be able to smell real quickly if you’re not credible.”

Indeed. And credibility, once lost, is hard to regain.

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Helicopter Ben Is at It Again

Ben Bernanke is nicknamed “Helicopter Ben” for his propensity to dump dollars into the economy — the equivalent of dropping greenbacks out of a helicopter. He’s at it again, in yet another attempt to add liquidity to an economy already soaked with cash. The Wall Street Journal explains:

The Federal Reserve, in a dramatic effort to rev up a “disappointingly slow” economic recovery, said it will buy $600 billion of U.S. government bonds over the next eight months to drive down interest rates and encourage more borrowing and growth.

Many outside the Fed, and some inside, see the move as a “Hail Mary” pass by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. He embraced highly unconventional policies during the financial crisis to ward off a financial-system collapse. But a year and a half later, he confronts an economy hobbled by high unemployment, a gridlocked political system and the threat of a Japan-like period of deflation, or a debilitating fall in consumer prices.

In other words, the Fed will print money and buy up bonds, thereby pushing up the cost of bonds (supply and demand at work) and pushing down their yield. “The Fed hopes that will result in lower interest rates for homeowners, consumers and businesses, which in turn will encourage more of them to borrow, spend and invest. The Fed figures it will also drive investors into stocks, corporate bonds and other riskier investments offering higher returns.”

Well, gosh, if it was that easy, why not print a trillion dollars or three? Well, the scheme, as you might imagine, has its risks.

The first, of course, is inflation. The Fed says not to worry, because the economy is limp. There is “so much spare capacity in the economy—including an unemployment rate at 9.6%, a real-estate landscape littered with more than 14 million unoccupied homes, and manufacturers operating with 28% of their productive capacity going unused.” Umm. But that suggests that the problem isn’t lack of liquidity (the banks are sitting on piles of cash). Moreover, the Fed will eventually, as they say, need to take the punch bowl away from the party — that is, jack up interest rates to shut off inflation as the economy gathers steam.

By the way, have you noticed commodity prices going up? Oh, yes:

An inflationary tide is beginning to ripple through America’s supermarkets and restaurants, threatening to end the tamest year of food pricing in nearly two decades.

Prices of staples including milk, beef, coffee, cocoa and sugar have risen sharply in recent months. And food makers and retailers including McDonald’s Corp., Kellogg Co. and Kroger Co. have begun to signal that they’ll try to make consumers shoulder more of the higher costs for ingredients.

The problem will get worse. As we flood the economy with dollars, we devalue our currency, making the price of imported goods, including oil — have you noticed pump prices lately? — more expensive. It has already begun, in fact. “Crude oil futures shot higher on Thursday on the back of a weaker dollar following the Federal Reserve’s decision to inject $600 billion into the U.S. economy.” That’s what happens when you drive the value of the dollar downward.

The risk of creating new speculative bubbles is real, and our trading partners are none too pleased about the Fed’s move. (“U.S. trading partners, particularly in the developing world, openly worry that the Fed’s money pumping is creating inflation in their own economies and a risk of asset-price bubbles. … In recent weeks, China, India, Australia and others have pushed their own interest rates higher to tamp down inflation forces.”)

You can understand why some regard this as a “Hail Mary.” Maybe it will work, maybe not. And maybe it will make things worse. But in the meantime, the most obvious  steps — reducing the cost of capital and labor, lessening the regulatory burden on employers, and getting our fiscal house in order — go unaddressed. On that front, the new Congress and the president should get cracking. Betting on Helicopter Ben to rescue the economy is the riskiest proposition of them all.

Ben Bernanke is nicknamed “Helicopter Ben” for his propensity to dump dollars into the economy — the equivalent of dropping greenbacks out of a helicopter. He’s at it again, in yet another attempt to add liquidity to an economy already soaked with cash. The Wall Street Journal explains:

The Federal Reserve, in a dramatic effort to rev up a “disappointingly slow” economic recovery, said it will buy $600 billion of U.S. government bonds over the next eight months to drive down interest rates and encourage more borrowing and growth.

Many outside the Fed, and some inside, see the move as a “Hail Mary” pass by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. He embraced highly unconventional policies during the financial crisis to ward off a financial-system collapse. But a year and a half later, he confronts an economy hobbled by high unemployment, a gridlocked political system and the threat of a Japan-like period of deflation, or a debilitating fall in consumer prices.

In other words, the Fed will print money and buy up bonds, thereby pushing up the cost of bonds (supply and demand at work) and pushing down their yield. “The Fed hopes that will result in lower interest rates for homeowners, consumers and businesses, which in turn will encourage more of them to borrow, spend and invest. The Fed figures it will also drive investors into stocks, corporate bonds and other riskier investments offering higher returns.”

Well, gosh, if it was that easy, why not print a trillion dollars or three? Well, the scheme, as you might imagine, has its risks.

The first, of course, is inflation. The Fed says not to worry, because the economy is limp. There is “so much spare capacity in the economy—including an unemployment rate at 9.6%, a real-estate landscape littered with more than 14 million unoccupied homes, and manufacturers operating with 28% of their productive capacity going unused.” Umm. But that suggests that the problem isn’t lack of liquidity (the banks are sitting on piles of cash). Moreover, the Fed will eventually, as they say, need to take the punch bowl away from the party — that is, jack up interest rates to shut off inflation as the economy gathers steam.

By the way, have you noticed commodity prices going up? Oh, yes:

An inflationary tide is beginning to ripple through America’s supermarkets and restaurants, threatening to end the tamest year of food pricing in nearly two decades.

Prices of staples including milk, beef, coffee, cocoa and sugar have risen sharply in recent months. And food makers and retailers including McDonald’s Corp., Kellogg Co. and Kroger Co. have begun to signal that they’ll try to make consumers shoulder more of the higher costs for ingredients.

The problem will get worse. As we flood the economy with dollars, we devalue our currency, making the price of imported goods, including oil — have you noticed pump prices lately? — more expensive. It has already begun, in fact. “Crude oil futures shot higher on Thursday on the back of a weaker dollar following the Federal Reserve’s decision to inject $600 billion into the U.S. economy.” That’s what happens when you drive the value of the dollar downward.

The risk of creating new speculative bubbles is real, and our trading partners are none too pleased about the Fed’s move. (“U.S. trading partners, particularly in the developing world, openly worry that the Fed’s money pumping is creating inflation in their own economies and a risk of asset-price bubbles. … In recent weeks, China, India, Australia and others have pushed their own interest rates higher to tamp down inflation forces.”)

You can understand why some regard this as a “Hail Mary.” Maybe it will work, maybe not. And maybe it will make things worse. But in the meantime, the most obvious  steps — reducing the cost of capital and labor, lessening the regulatory burden on employers, and getting our fiscal house in order — go unaddressed. On that front, the new Congress and the president should get cracking. Betting on Helicopter Ben to rescue the economy is the riskiest proposition of them all.

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Anti-Semitism Can Be a Civil Rights Violation After All

In the September 2010 issue of COMMENTARY, Kenneth Marcus documented the rise of anti-Semitic incidents on school campuses and found that the federal government had adopted a hands-off policy:

[I]t has finally become clear that the current policy of the office charged with enforcing civil rights at American universities involves treating anti-Jewish bias as being unworthy of attention—a state of affairs in stark contrast to the agency’s quite justified alacrity in responding to virtually every other possible case of discrimination. While one cannot identify the motive for this astonishing double standard with complete certainty, the justification for it involves an unwillingness to treat Jews as a distinct group beyond considerations of  religious adherence.

That situation, thanks to Ken and other advocates, including the Zionist Organization of America, has now been remedied. In an October 26 letter, Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education, set forth detailed guidelines on school harassment. In this section, the government reverses itself on its previous indifference to anti-Semitic incidents. Ali provides a hypothetical situation in which  a “junior high school received reports of several incidents of anti-Semitic conduct at the school. Anti-Semitic graffiti, including swastikas, was scrawled on the stalls of the school bathroom.” The conduct included “two ninth-graders trying to force two seventh-graders to give them money. The ninth-graders told the seventh-graders, ‘You Jews have all of the money, give us some.’ … At the same school, a group of eighth-grade students repeatedly called a Jewish student ‘Drew the dirty Jew.’”

The Education Department analyzed the case this way:

The school administrators failed to recognize that anti-Semitic harassment can trigger responsibilities under Title VI. …

Because the school failed to recognize that the incidents created a hostile environment, it addressed each only in isolation, and therefore failed to take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment and prevent its recurrence. In addition to disciplining the perpetrators, remedial steps could have included counseling the perpetrators about the hurtful effect of their conduct, publicly labeling the incidents as anti-Semitic, reaffirming the school’s policy against discrimination, and publicizing the means by which students may report harassment. …

The problem of anti-Semitism on campuses is growing. Perhaps this development will spur school administrators to re-examine their curious double standard when it comes to anti-Jewish incidents.

In the September 2010 issue of COMMENTARY, Kenneth Marcus documented the rise of anti-Semitic incidents on school campuses and found that the federal government had adopted a hands-off policy:

[I]t has finally become clear that the current policy of the office charged with enforcing civil rights at American universities involves treating anti-Jewish bias as being unworthy of attention—a state of affairs in stark contrast to the agency’s quite justified alacrity in responding to virtually every other possible case of discrimination. While one cannot identify the motive for this astonishing double standard with complete certainty, the justification for it involves an unwillingness to treat Jews as a distinct group beyond considerations of  religious adherence.

That situation, thanks to Ken and other advocates, including the Zionist Organization of America, has now been remedied. In an October 26 letter, Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education, set forth detailed guidelines on school harassment. In this section, the government reverses itself on its previous indifference to anti-Semitic incidents. Ali provides a hypothetical situation in which  a “junior high school received reports of several incidents of anti-Semitic conduct at the school. Anti-Semitic graffiti, including swastikas, was scrawled on the stalls of the school bathroom.” The conduct included “two ninth-graders trying to force two seventh-graders to give them money. The ninth-graders told the seventh-graders, ‘You Jews have all of the money, give us some.’ … At the same school, a group of eighth-grade students repeatedly called a Jewish student ‘Drew the dirty Jew.’”

The Education Department analyzed the case this way:

The school administrators failed to recognize that anti-Semitic harassment can trigger responsibilities under Title VI. …

Because the school failed to recognize that the incidents created a hostile environment, it addressed each only in isolation, and therefore failed to take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment and prevent its recurrence. In addition to disciplining the perpetrators, remedial steps could have included counseling the perpetrators about the hurtful effect of their conduct, publicly labeling the incidents as anti-Semitic, reaffirming the school’s policy against discrimination, and publicizing the means by which students may report harassment. …

The problem of anti-Semitism on campuses is growing. Perhaps this development will spur school administrators to re-examine their curious double standard when it comes to anti-Jewish incidents.

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Democratic Governor Dissects ObamaCare

Tennessee Gov. Philip Bredesen in an op-ed today explains:

Our federal deficit is already at unsustainable levels, and most Americans understand that we can ill afford another entitlement program that adds substantially to it. But our recent health reform has created a situation where there are strong economic incentives for employers to drop health coverage altogether. The consequence will be to drive many more people than projected—and with them, much greater cost—into the reform’s federally subsidized system. This will happen because the subsidies that become available to people purchasing insurance through exchanges are extraordinarily attractive. …

For a person starting a business in 2014, it will be logical and responsible simply to plan from the outset never to offer health benefits. Employees, thanks to the exchanges, can easily purchase excellent, fairly priced insurance, without pre-existing condition limitations, through the exchanges. As it grows, the business can avoid a great deal of cost because the federal government will now pay much of what the business would have incurred for its share of health insurance. The small business tax credits included in health reform are limited and short-term, and the eventual penalty for not providing coverage, of $2,000 per employee, is still far less than the cost of insurance it replaces.

As more Americans flood into the public system, the cost of all those additional highly subsidized patients will skyrocket. The cost of the new entitlement will balloon, as will our deficit.

Now, this is smart analysis by a Democrat. Could not senators and congressmen have seen precisely this result? Of course they could have — conservative analysts predicted this precise phenomenon. But the rush was on to pass something — anything — and call it “historic.” The result is not only politically distasteful but fiscally untenable. The move to repeal ObamaCare will, I think, have many Democratic advocates as Bredesen’s take becomes the new conventional wisdom. Well, that and the 2010 election returns should do the trick.

Tennessee Gov. Philip Bredesen in an op-ed today explains:

Our federal deficit is already at unsustainable levels, and most Americans understand that we can ill afford another entitlement program that adds substantially to it. But our recent health reform has created a situation where there are strong economic incentives for employers to drop health coverage altogether. The consequence will be to drive many more people than projected—and with them, much greater cost—into the reform’s federally subsidized system. This will happen because the subsidies that become available to people purchasing insurance through exchanges are extraordinarily attractive. …

For a person starting a business in 2014, it will be logical and responsible simply to plan from the outset never to offer health benefits. Employees, thanks to the exchanges, can easily purchase excellent, fairly priced insurance, without pre-existing condition limitations, through the exchanges. As it grows, the business can avoid a great deal of cost because the federal government will now pay much of what the business would have incurred for its share of health insurance. The small business tax credits included in health reform are limited and short-term, and the eventual penalty for not providing coverage, of $2,000 per employee, is still far less than the cost of insurance it replaces.

As more Americans flood into the public system, the cost of all those additional highly subsidized patients will skyrocket. The cost of the new entitlement will balloon, as will our deficit.

Now, this is smart analysis by a Democrat. Could not senators and congressmen have seen precisely this result? Of course they could have — conservative analysts predicted this precise phenomenon. But the rush was on to pass something — anything — and call it “historic.” The result is not only politically distasteful but fiscally untenable. The move to repeal ObamaCare will, I think, have many Democratic advocates as Bredesen’s take becomes the new conventional wisdom. Well, that and the 2010 election returns should do the trick.

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Swing Away from Obama

Two swing states tell the story of Obama’s radioactive effect on his party. Obama and his wife have been campaigning in Ohio for Gov. Ted Strickland. Here is the result:

Republican John Kasich remains in command of the Ohio governor’s race with a 51 – 41 percent likely voter lead over Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, statistically unchanged from Kasich’s 50 – 41 percent edge October 5, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today, two weeks before Election Day.

Kasich’s lead is built on a 59 – 32 percent margin among independent likely voters, and a 64 – 29 percent spread among white evangelical Christians, according to the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University survey conducted by live interviewers.

President Barack Obama remains unpopular among Ohio voters who disapprove 56 – 40 percent of the job he is doing and say 32 – 9 percent they are less likely rather than more likely to vote for Strickland because the President is campaigning for the governor. Independent voters say 35 – 4 percent that Obama’s campaigning makes them less likely to vote for Strickland.

So why did Obama go? Maybe his massive ego won’t allow him to get out of the way, or perhaps the White House suspected that the race was lost anyway and Obama could do no further damage.

Meanwhile, in the West Virginia race, Gov. Joe Manchin and John Raese faced off. Watching the debate on C-SPAN, I had trouble believing Manchin was the incumbent challenger, while Raese the amateur. The latter was fluid and forceful, mincing no words about his disdain for ObamaCare (“socialism”) and using “Obama” at least once in every sentence. Manchin seemed tepid and defensive, promising that he really, honestly, would be independent of the White House. But if the contest is to see who can be the most independent, Raese won hands down. This exchange was telling:

“I’m not prepared to scrap the entire bill, there are parts that need changed,” [Manchin] said, “but let me tell you, I’m not prepared to tell your child who had a pre-existing condition, that he or she can’t be covered. There’s a lot of good in the bill that basically Democrats and Republicans agree with.”

But not Raese. And he pulled no punches when discussing his issues with the legislation.

“It is pure, unadulterated Socialism, it is the worst bill that has ever come out of the United States Senate and House,” he said.

“I think right now, when you look at the gross domestic product in this country, with Obamacare, you’re looking at the fact that we’re over almost 51 percent of the GDP in this country will be controlled by the federal government, unacceptable.”

If the point is to be the least Obama-like, wouldn’t the voters take the repealer over the tinkerer?

In both these races, Obama’s presence looms large. Manchin pleaded that Obama is not on the ballot. True, but voters in these two states seem poised to do the next best thing and vote for candidates who are unalterably opposed to Obama’s policies.

Two swing states tell the story of Obama’s radioactive effect on his party. Obama and his wife have been campaigning in Ohio for Gov. Ted Strickland. Here is the result:

Republican John Kasich remains in command of the Ohio governor’s race with a 51 – 41 percent likely voter lead over Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, statistically unchanged from Kasich’s 50 – 41 percent edge October 5, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today, two weeks before Election Day.

Kasich’s lead is built on a 59 – 32 percent margin among independent likely voters, and a 64 – 29 percent spread among white evangelical Christians, according to the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University survey conducted by live interviewers.

President Barack Obama remains unpopular among Ohio voters who disapprove 56 – 40 percent of the job he is doing and say 32 – 9 percent they are less likely rather than more likely to vote for Strickland because the President is campaigning for the governor. Independent voters say 35 – 4 percent that Obama’s campaigning makes them less likely to vote for Strickland.

So why did Obama go? Maybe his massive ego won’t allow him to get out of the way, or perhaps the White House suspected that the race was lost anyway and Obama could do no further damage.

Meanwhile, in the West Virginia race, Gov. Joe Manchin and John Raese faced off. Watching the debate on C-SPAN, I had trouble believing Manchin was the incumbent challenger, while Raese the amateur. The latter was fluid and forceful, mincing no words about his disdain for ObamaCare (“socialism”) and using “Obama” at least once in every sentence. Manchin seemed tepid and defensive, promising that he really, honestly, would be independent of the White House. But if the contest is to see who can be the most independent, Raese won hands down. This exchange was telling:

“I’m not prepared to scrap the entire bill, there are parts that need changed,” [Manchin] said, “but let me tell you, I’m not prepared to tell your child who had a pre-existing condition, that he or she can’t be covered. There’s a lot of good in the bill that basically Democrats and Republicans agree with.”

But not Raese. And he pulled no punches when discussing his issues with the legislation.

“It is pure, unadulterated Socialism, it is the worst bill that has ever come out of the United States Senate and House,” he said.

“I think right now, when you look at the gross domestic product in this country, with Obamacare, you’re looking at the fact that we’re over almost 51 percent of the GDP in this country will be controlled by the federal government, unacceptable.”

If the point is to be the least Obama-like, wouldn’t the voters take the repealer over the tinkerer?

In both these races, Obama’s presence looms large. Manchin pleaded that Obama is not on the ballot. True, but voters in these two states seem poised to do the next best thing and vote for candidates who are unalterably opposed to Obama’s policies.

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Obama’s Education, and Ours

The Obama administration has come to learn that its two most significant achievements — the stimulus and ObamaCare — are fundamentally flawed. President Obama’s admission that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” is to the stimulus what Ronald Reagan’s praising the freedoms of the Soviet Union would have been to the Cold War: a vitiation of the president’s political ideology. The same can be said for the administration’s granting waivers to big companies and unions, freeing almost 1 million employees from the ill effects of his health-care plan.

So the president is getting an education. Kind of like a school where the $862 billion tuition is picked up by the public and word problems describe real people in real circumstances. If unemployment is at 7.7 percent and you invest $7 billion of taxpayer money in the study of ant behavior, sage grouse mortality, and corporate travel and the refurbishment of abandoned forts, how many speeches attacking George W. Bush will you have to make before November?

Those opposed to the stimulus were not the reactive “party of no”; they were the party of knowing. They knew that warped incentives and listless bureaucracies make governments inefficient producers and employers. There is no such thing as a shovel-ready government project, because government cannot swing into therapeutic action the way liberals like to think. Conservatives know something else Barack Obama has yet to cover: there are shovel-ready jobs — in the private sector. At any given time, this country is bursting with entrepreneurs, Americans with blueprints and business plans on which they’re willing to stake everything. Perhaps next semester, Obama will learn about creating a friendly financial environment that allows small businesses to break ground, succeed, and hire. For now, it’s hampering regulations and looming taxes all the way.

The health-care-law exemptions granted to McDonald’s, the United Federation of Teachers, and 28 other employers expose the unfeasibility of ObamaCare at its core. The lucky parties didn’t want to incur the costs of phasing out annual caps on employee medical coverage. There is no reason to think doing so will be easier for employers who have not yet sought waivers. What did not work for McDonald’s and others will not work, period. The flood of objections has yet to begin. The waivers also threaten America’s claim to being a country of laws, not men. If every one of the president’s learned lessons results in a corresponding hall pass administered by the federal government, we will soon have compromised the legal framework vital to the conservation of an advanced and civilized society.

Even as Obama learns, he unlearns. He has not backed away from either the folly of stimulus or the debacle of ObamaCare. Similar to most educations today, his is as expensive as it is worthless. Like insuring more patients or cutting costs and surging forces or drawing down troops, the poles of ignorance and knowledge merely represent another false choice requiring no presidential decision. He’s seen the light but prefers the dark. “Obama 2.0,” as the administration conceives it, will involve more detailed explanations of the same bad policies. The rest of the country doesn’t enjoy this executive luxury. In a couple of weeks, concerned Americans will face a political choice that’s as real as it gets. It is unlikely that their education, hard earned these past 20 months, will go to waste.

The Obama administration has come to learn that its two most significant achievements — the stimulus and ObamaCare — are fundamentally flawed. President Obama’s admission that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” is to the stimulus what Ronald Reagan’s praising the freedoms of the Soviet Union would have been to the Cold War: a vitiation of the president’s political ideology. The same can be said for the administration’s granting waivers to big companies and unions, freeing almost 1 million employees from the ill effects of his health-care plan.

So the president is getting an education. Kind of like a school where the $862 billion tuition is picked up by the public and word problems describe real people in real circumstances. If unemployment is at 7.7 percent and you invest $7 billion of taxpayer money in the study of ant behavior, sage grouse mortality, and corporate travel and the refurbishment of abandoned forts, how many speeches attacking George W. Bush will you have to make before November?

Those opposed to the stimulus were not the reactive “party of no”; they were the party of knowing. They knew that warped incentives and listless bureaucracies make governments inefficient producers and employers. There is no such thing as a shovel-ready government project, because government cannot swing into therapeutic action the way liberals like to think. Conservatives know something else Barack Obama has yet to cover: there are shovel-ready jobs — in the private sector. At any given time, this country is bursting with entrepreneurs, Americans with blueprints and business plans on which they’re willing to stake everything. Perhaps next semester, Obama will learn about creating a friendly financial environment that allows small businesses to break ground, succeed, and hire. For now, it’s hampering regulations and looming taxes all the way.

The health-care-law exemptions granted to McDonald’s, the United Federation of Teachers, and 28 other employers expose the unfeasibility of ObamaCare at its core. The lucky parties didn’t want to incur the costs of phasing out annual caps on employee medical coverage. There is no reason to think doing so will be easier for employers who have not yet sought waivers. What did not work for McDonald’s and others will not work, period. The flood of objections has yet to begin. The waivers also threaten America’s claim to being a country of laws, not men. If every one of the president’s learned lessons results in a corresponding hall pass administered by the federal government, we will soon have compromised the legal framework vital to the conservation of an advanced and civilized society.

Even as Obama learns, he unlearns. He has not backed away from either the folly of stimulus or the debacle of ObamaCare. Similar to most educations today, his is as expensive as it is worthless. Like insuring more patients or cutting costs and surging forces or drawing down troops, the poles of ignorance and knowledge merely represent another false choice requiring no presidential decision. He’s seen the light but prefers the dark. “Obama 2.0,” as the administration conceives it, will involve more detailed explanations of the same bad policies. The rest of the country doesn’t enjoy this executive luxury. In a couple of weeks, concerned Americans will face a political choice that’s as real as it gets. It is unlikely that their education, hard earned these past 20 months, will go to waste.

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Another Group Turns on the Dems

Every day it’s a new problem for Democrats. First, independents, we hear, have deserted them in droves. Then Hispanics are soured. Young people aren’t enthusiastic. Jews are turned off. Ohio wants George W. Bush back. And on it goes.

Now it’s older voters:

Among seniors who say that they are very interested in the upcoming election, 51 percent prefer to see Republicans in control of the next Congress while 40 percent say they want Democrats in charge. …

Older voters — Democrats, Republicans or independents — are more pessimistic in their assessments of Washington’s performance than are younger voters. Based on historical voting patterns, they are also more likely to turn out in November — a potentially toxic combination for the Democrats.

Older voters say the federal government is not focused on the right priorities. They think Washington is working less well these days that it did in the past.

Three in 10 older voters give the government a failing grade, compared with 8 percent of voters younger than 30. Older voters also are much harsher in their judgments than they were a decade ago, when just more than one in 10 gave Washington an F … [O]lder Republicans and, crucially, older independents are more likely than their younger counterparts to say the administration has made things worse.

Let’s be candid — it’s increasingly hard to find a pro-Obama slice of the electorate that is going to turn out in large numbers for the midterms. Scaring them didn’t work. Cajoling them didn’t help. What do all these voters expect — results? And hence the problem for the Democratic incumbents.

Every day it’s a new problem for Democrats. First, independents, we hear, have deserted them in droves. Then Hispanics are soured. Young people aren’t enthusiastic. Jews are turned off. Ohio wants George W. Bush back. And on it goes.

Now it’s older voters:

Among seniors who say that they are very interested in the upcoming election, 51 percent prefer to see Republicans in control of the next Congress while 40 percent say they want Democrats in charge. …

Older voters — Democrats, Republicans or independents — are more pessimistic in their assessments of Washington’s performance than are younger voters. Based on historical voting patterns, they are also more likely to turn out in November — a potentially toxic combination for the Democrats.

Older voters say the federal government is not focused on the right priorities. They think Washington is working less well these days that it did in the past.

Three in 10 older voters give the government a failing grade, compared with 8 percent of voters younger than 30. Older voters also are much harsher in their judgments than they were a decade ago, when just more than one in 10 gave Washington an F … [O]lder Republicans and, crucially, older independents are more likely than their younger counterparts to say the administration has made things worse.

Let’s be candid — it’s increasingly hard to find a pro-Obama slice of the electorate that is going to turn out in large numbers for the midterms. Scaring them didn’t work. Cajoling them didn’t help. What do all these voters expect — results? And hence the problem for the Democratic incumbents.

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Recruiting for Conservatism

Gallup reports:

Record- or near-record-high percentages of Americans are critical of the size and scope of government, as measured by four Gallup trend questions updated in September. This sentiment stretches to 59% of Americans now believing the federal government has too much power, up eight percentage points from a year ago.

Nearly as many Americans also give the antigovernment response to a question asking whether government should do more to solve the country’s problems or whether it is doing too many things that should be left to businesses and individuals. Today’s 58% saying it is doing too much is just slightly below the 59% to 60% levels recorded in the mid- to late ’90s.

It is not simply Republicans who are recoiling from the size and growth of government. Sixty-five percent of independent respondents say the government has too much power, and 60 percent say it is doing too much.

The “opportunity” that Obama and his team perceived to grow the size and scope of government and reorder the relationship between the private and public sectors was ephemeral. The public was not prepared for and is now in rebellion against Obama’s statist agenda. The Tea Party movement is the quintessential expression of this aversion to big government, and these poll numbers explain why the movement and the candidates it has backed are resonating with the American people.

Modern conservatism is based above all else on the notion that government must be limited to ensure our freedom and prosperity. That Obama has been able to garner such a widespread following for this ideal makes him one of conservatism’s most effective recruiters.

Gallup reports:

Record- or near-record-high percentages of Americans are critical of the size and scope of government, as measured by four Gallup trend questions updated in September. This sentiment stretches to 59% of Americans now believing the federal government has too much power, up eight percentage points from a year ago.

Nearly as many Americans also give the antigovernment response to a question asking whether government should do more to solve the country’s problems or whether it is doing too many things that should be left to businesses and individuals. Today’s 58% saying it is doing too much is just slightly below the 59% to 60% levels recorded in the mid- to late ’90s.

It is not simply Republicans who are recoiling from the size and growth of government. Sixty-five percent of independent respondents say the government has too much power, and 60 percent say it is doing too much.

The “opportunity” that Obama and his team perceived to grow the size and scope of government and reorder the relationship between the private and public sectors was ephemeral. The public was not prepared for and is now in rebellion against Obama’s statist agenda. The Tea Party movement is the quintessential expression of this aversion to big government, and these poll numbers explain why the movement and the candidates it has backed are resonating with the American people.

Modern conservatism is based above all else on the notion that government must be limited to ensure our freedom and prosperity. That Obama has been able to garner such a widespread following for this ideal makes him one of conservatism’s most effective recruiters.

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Another Attempt to Distract, Another Losing Issue

Obama’s attack on the Chamber of Commerce for its imaginary foreign donors hasn’t succeeded in distracting voters. Gallup reports:

Creating jobs and securing the country’s borders are most top-of-mind when Americans are asked what the federal government is currently not doing that it should be doing. …

The poll also asked the reverse question — what is the federal government currently doing that it should not be doing? Overall, Americans are somewhat less likely to offer a specific response on this question (71% do), with healthcare legislation most commonly mentioned, by 18%.

Let’s see, the items voters care most about are the items Obama has done nothing about (immigration reform) or has made worse through his policies (taxing, regulating, passing mandates on employers).

Aside from it’s falsity, the Chamber of Commerce attack is peculiar. It’s not directly aimed at the GOP. (What is he saying, “Don’t elect Republicans because they may have taken money from the chamber, which I am accusing without evidence has foreign contributors“?) And it blows to smithereens the White House’s claim that the administration isn’t anti-business. Liberal blogger Greg Sargent observes:

The full-scale assault from the White House and Dems on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s groups shows no signs of abating. But is it already a political flop?

Some commentators are rushing to proclaim this offensive a political failure. Mark Halperin, for instance, wondered allowed today: “I’m not sure how this appeals to voters.” Halperin then stated this as outright fact: “It’s just not relevant to voters.”

Republicans are now entering the fray — and they, too, agree it’s a political flop, claiming that it will make Dems look anti-business. “All that Democrats have done is remind people of their anti-business fervor while drawing attention to the fact that their anti-growth policies have failed to put Americans back to work,” reads a statement from Eric Cantor’s office.

Well, it’s not the first, nor I suspect the last, desperate stunt and irrelevant issue Obama will toss out in the next three weeks. And it sure isn’t going to help Chuck Schumer raise big bucks from Wall Street. Like much of what the White House does, the chamber gambit has very little upside and quite some downside for the Democrats. The GOP can hardly believe its good fortune.

Obama’s attack on the Chamber of Commerce for its imaginary foreign donors hasn’t succeeded in distracting voters. Gallup reports:

Creating jobs and securing the country’s borders are most top-of-mind when Americans are asked what the federal government is currently not doing that it should be doing. …

The poll also asked the reverse question — what is the federal government currently doing that it should not be doing? Overall, Americans are somewhat less likely to offer a specific response on this question (71% do), with healthcare legislation most commonly mentioned, by 18%.

Let’s see, the items voters care most about are the items Obama has done nothing about (immigration reform) or has made worse through his policies (taxing, regulating, passing mandates on employers).

Aside from it’s falsity, the Chamber of Commerce attack is peculiar. It’s not directly aimed at the GOP. (What is he saying, “Don’t elect Republicans because they may have taken money from the chamber, which I am accusing without evidence has foreign contributors“?) And it blows to smithereens the White House’s claim that the administration isn’t anti-business. Liberal blogger Greg Sargent observes:

The full-scale assault from the White House and Dems on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s groups shows no signs of abating. But is it already a political flop?

Some commentators are rushing to proclaim this offensive a political failure. Mark Halperin, for instance, wondered allowed today: “I’m not sure how this appeals to voters.” Halperin then stated this as outright fact: “It’s just not relevant to voters.”

Republicans are now entering the fray — and they, too, agree it’s a political flop, claiming that it will make Dems look anti-business. “All that Democrats have done is remind people of their anti-business fervor while drawing attention to the fact that their anti-growth policies have failed to put Americans back to work,” reads a statement from Eric Cantor’s office.

Well, it’s not the first, nor I suspect the last, desperate stunt and irrelevant issue Obama will toss out in the next three weeks. And it sure isn’t going to help Chuck Schumer raise big bucks from Wall Street. Like much of what the White House does, the chamber gambit has very little upside and quite some downside for the Democrats. The GOP can hardly believe its good fortune.

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ObamaCare’s Thorny Implementation

In interpreting a key Department of Health and Human Services announcement, the New York Times reported that so far, 30 insurers, employers, and union plans, responsible for covering about one million people, have been given one-year waivers by the government on the new rules that phase out annual limits on coverage for limited-benefit plans, also known as “mini-meds.” In the words of the Times, “the waivers have been issued in the last several weeks as part of a broader strategic effort to stave off threats by some health insurers to abandon markets, drop out of the business altogether or refuse to sell certain policies.”

This action highlights one of the great dangers of ObamaCare, which is that every health-care decision now has to run through the federal government. Private companies have to bow before its throne, asking for waivers and massively complicating their own lives. The federal government is now in a much stronger position to pick winners and losers and rig the game. This is the kind of expansion of federal power that many people feared and warned about – and it’s happening within weeks of the law taking effect.

The waivers are also the Obama administration’s attempt to minimize the negative impact of ObamaCare less than a month before the midterm election. It’s now clear that the new health-care law was very poorly constructed and is having enormous implementation problems. To issue waivers to undo the damaging effects of a new law is a very bad sign. No wonder so few Democratic candidates are running on their support for ObamaCare – and why so many Republican candidates are running hard against it.

This story is part of a broader, unfolding one: the collision between Obama’s promises on health care and reality. Promise after promise – including bending the health-care cost curve down, the cost of premiums being lower, and no person being forced to give up their existing coverage – is being shattered. On almost every particular, what Obama said would happen not only isn’t coming to pass; the opposite is occurring. I discussed some of this on my appearance on Special Report with Bret Bair last night.

The waivers are real trouble for Obama on health care – but they are also damaging his credibility. When the gap between what one says will happen and what actually happens becomes the size of a canyon, it has an acidic effect on one of the most important things an American president relies on: his trustworthiness, the belief that his word is good and he can be counted on.

In interpreting a key Department of Health and Human Services announcement, the New York Times reported that so far, 30 insurers, employers, and union plans, responsible for covering about one million people, have been given one-year waivers by the government on the new rules that phase out annual limits on coverage for limited-benefit plans, also known as “mini-meds.” In the words of the Times, “the waivers have been issued in the last several weeks as part of a broader strategic effort to stave off threats by some health insurers to abandon markets, drop out of the business altogether or refuse to sell certain policies.”

This action highlights one of the great dangers of ObamaCare, which is that every health-care decision now has to run through the federal government. Private companies have to bow before its throne, asking for waivers and massively complicating their own lives. The federal government is now in a much stronger position to pick winners and losers and rig the game. This is the kind of expansion of federal power that many people feared and warned about – and it’s happening within weeks of the law taking effect.

The waivers are also the Obama administration’s attempt to minimize the negative impact of ObamaCare less than a month before the midterm election. It’s now clear that the new health-care law was very poorly constructed and is having enormous implementation problems. To issue waivers to undo the damaging effects of a new law is a very bad sign. No wonder so few Democratic candidates are running on their support for ObamaCare – and why so many Republican candidates are running hard against it.

This story is part of a broader, unfolding one: the collision between Obama’s promises on health care and reality. Promise after promise – including bending the health-care cost curve down, the cost of premiums being lower, and no person being forced to give up their existing coverage – is being shattered. On almost every particular, what Obama said would happen not only isn’t coming to pass; the opposite is occurring. I discussed some of this on my appearance on Special Report with Bret Bair last night.

The waivers are real trouble for Obama on health care – but they are also damaging his credibility. When the gap between what one says will happen and what actually happens becomes the size of a canyon, it has an acidic effect on one of the most important things an American president relies on: his trustworthiness, the belief that his word is good and he can be counted on.

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A Novel Idea: Pay-as-You-Go Government

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still acting as if he means what he says about controlling the costs of government. By canceling the long-planned construction of a second commuter tunnel under the Hudson River today, Christie has reaffirmed the principle that government should not try to do more than it can afford. A close look at the finances of the scheme showed that cost overruns were likely to send the bill on the project to as much as $14 billion, almost $6 billion more than the original estimate. That means that New Jersey — which is to say, New Jersey’s taxpayers — would have to pay at least $8 billion of that amount, the remainder being contributed by New York’s Port Authority and the federal government. But in the absence of givebacks by the state’s civil-service unions, whose contracts and pensions threaten to send the state into the red even if the tunnel were not to be paid for, Christie said no, to the utter consternation of the unions, the rest of the political class, and New York Times‘s columnist Paul Krugman.

Other politicians (like Christie’s predecessor Jon Corzine, who authorized ground breaking on the project without thinking about the costs to the taxpayers) are shocked by Christie’s chutzpah. The idea that government should only undertake those projects it can pay for without having to further bilk the taxpayers is considered a shocking concept.

Krugman, the Times editorial page, the unions, and many of the politicians who have worked for this project all think the mere fact that the tunnel is needed justifies any amount of debt to build it. They also seem to think that worrying about where the extra $6 billion will come from is just silly.

They are right in that a new tunnel is desperately needed. New Jersey Transit is currently forced to share one Hudson River tunnel that is owned by Amtrak. The result is massive congestion and delays that will only get worse in the years to come. Even worse, since Amtrak owns the tunnel, to the injury of those commuters who take NJ Transit, the worst commuter line in the region (in terms of its on-time record), is added the insult of often having to wait for long periods while Amtrak trains breeze through — Amtrak always getting priority from the dispatchers. This means that there is a large (and generally ill-tempered) constituency of commuters who would like to see the tunnel built. Among them is Krugman, who confessed on his blog that: “And yes, if anyone should mention it, I am a resident of New Jersey who often visits Manhattan, and therefore has a personal stake in this project. You got a problem with that?”

As it happens, I, too, am a daily NJ Transit commuter into New York. But as much as the prospect of a better train ride in the distant future appeals to me, I’d bet that the majority of disgruntled and delayed passengers would prefer not to have their taxes raised. Nor would they like Krugman’s suggestion that Christie radically raise gasoline taxes to pay for the cost overruns, since almost all of them drive their cars to the train stations from which they start and end their daily trek to work. Voters are sick and tired of tax-and-spend politicians who think nothing about the long-term consequences of their largesse, so long as someone else is paying for it.

Christie will probably take a lot of flak for his decision, perhaps even more than the criticism he took for his confrontation with the state’s teacher unions. But the bet here is that the majority of the people of New Jersey — including many of those unhappy souls who are forced to take NJ Transit — prefer to have a governor who doesn’t think he has a right to pick their pockets in order to play the hero by championing expensive projects. In case Krugman forgot, that’s the reason Christie was elected last year and why so many other fiscal conservatives will rout free-spending liberals in the congressional elections this fall. And whether or not Krugman has a problem with that, it’s what we Americans call democracy.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still acting as if he means what he says about controlling the costs of government. By canceling the long-planned construction of a second commuter tunnel under the Hudson River today, Christie has reaffirmed the principle that government should not try to do more than it can afford. A close look at the finances of the scheme showed that cost overruns were likely to send the bill on the project to as much as $14 billion, almost $6 billion more than the original estimate. That means that New Jersey — which is to say, New Jersey’s taxpayers — would have to pay at least $8 billion of that amount, the remainder being contributed by New York’s Port Authority and the federal government. But in the absence of givebacks by the state’s civil-service unions, whose contracts and pensions threaten to send the state into the red even if the tunnel were not to be paid for, Christie said no, to the utter consternation of the unions, the rest of the political class, and New York Times‘s columnist Paul Krugman.

Other politicians (like Christie’s predecessor Jon Corzine, who authorized ground breaking on the project without thinking about the costs to the taxpayers) are shocked by Christie’s chutzpah. The idea that government should only undertake those projects it can pay for without having to further bilk the taxpayers is considered a shocking concept.

Krugman, the Times editorial page, the unions, and many of the politicians who have worked for this project all think the mere fact that the tunnel is needed justifies any amount of debt to build it. They also seem to think that worrying about where the extra $6 billion will come from is just silly.

They are right in that a new tunnel is desperately needed. New Jersey Transit is currently forced to share one Hudson River tunnel that is owned by Amtrak. The result is massive congestion and delays that will only get worse in the years to come. Even worse, since Amtrak owns the tunnel, to the injury of those commuters who take NJ Transit, the worst commuter line in the region (in terms of its on-time record), is added the insult of often having to wait for long periods while Amtrak trains breeze through — Amtrak always getting priority from the dispatchers. This means that there is a large (and generally ill-tempered) constituency of commuters who would like to see the tunnel built. Among them is Krugman, who confessed on his blog that: “And yes, if anyone should mention it, I am a resident of New Jersey who often visits Manhattan, and therefore has a personal stake in this project. You got a problem with that?”

As it happens, I, too, am a daily NJ Transit commuter into New York. But as much as the prospect of a better train ride in the distant future appeals to me, I’d bet that the majority of disgruntled and delayed passengers would prefer not to have their taxes raised. Nor would they like Krugman’s suggestion that Christie radically raise gasoline taxes to pay for the cost overruns, since almost all of them drive their cars to the train stations from which they start and end their daily trek to work. Voters are sick and tired of tax-and-spend politicians who think nothing about the long-term consequences of their largesse, so long as someone else is paying for it.

Christie will probably take a lot of flak for his decision, perhaps even more than the criticism he took for his confrontation with the state’s teacher unions. But the bet here is that the majority of the people of New Jersey — including many of those unhappy souls who are forced to take NJ Transit — prefer to have a governor who doesn’t think he has a right to pick their pockets in order to play the hero by championing expensive projects. In case Krugman forgot, that’s the reason Christie was elected last year and why so many other fiscal conservatives will rout free-spending liberals in the congressional elections this fall. And whether or not Krugman has a problem with that, it’s what we Americans call democracy.

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No Pop for the Poor

New York City’s mayor wants the federal government to say food stamps can’t be used to buy soda – a story that is less about the technicalities of welfare and more about political paternalism.

Now, there’s a strong argument to be made that if the government is setting the table and preparing the dinner, it should be able to choose the menu. But that argument is not being made; on the contrary, those who want soda omitted from the items obtainable by food stamps are making the link between health and public spending.

The New York Times ran an op-ed today by city and state health commissioners. In it, they point out that “some 57 percent of adults in New York City and 40 percent of children in New York City public schools are overweight or obese” and that “one in eight adult city residents now has diabetes, and the disease is nearly twice as common among poorer New Yorkers as it is among wealthier ones.”

Pay close attention to their following conclusion: “Obesity-related illnesses cost New York State residents nearly $8 billion a year in medical costs, or $770 per household. All of us pay the price through higher taxes.”

This story could be seen as some microscopic foreshadowing of what’s to come for everybody, not just for the surprisingly high number of food-stamp recipients — 1.7 million in New York City alone, or 35 percent of the city’s residents (who, by the way, will still be able to buy that soda on their own buck).

Granted, in New York City, two-thirds of the population does not rely on government to fill the pantry. But once everyone’s health care is a public-spending issue, it is logical to assume that, at least to some extent, private behaviors will be up for public scrutiny; they have become a public cost issue.

Never mind Tocqueville’s warning about the democratic danger of preferring comfort to freedom. For those willing to sacrifice some degree of liberty for a government that ensures their well-being, here’s a little reminder that paternalism isn’t always so comfortable. In addition to saying yes, it also says no sometimes.

New York City’s mayor wants the federal government to say food stamps can’t be used to buy soda – a story that is less about the technicalities of welfare and more about political paternalism.

Now, there’s a strong argument to be made that if the government is setting the table and preparing the dinner, it should be able to choose the menu. But that argument is not being made; on the contrary, those who want soda omitted from the items obtainable by food stamps are making the link between health and public spending.

The New York Times ran an op-ed today by city and state health commissioners. In it, they point out that “some 57 percent of adults in New York City and 40 percent of children in New York City public schools are overweight or obese” and that “one in eight adult city residents now has diabetes, and the disease is nearly twice as common among poorer New Yorkers as it is among wealthier ones.”

Pay close attention to their following conclusion: “Obesity-related illnesses cost New York State residents nearly $8 billion a year in medical costs, or $770 per household. All of us pay the price through higher taxes.”

This story could be seen as some microscopic foreshadowing of what’s to come for everybody, not just for the surprisingly high number of food-stamp recipients — 1.7 million in New York City alone, or 35 percent of the city’s residents (who, by the way, will still be able to buy that soda on their own buck).

Granted, in New York City, two-thirds of the population does not rely on government to fill the pantry. But once everyone’s health care is a public-spending issue, it is logical to assume that, at least to some extent, private behaviors will be up for public scrutiny; they have become a public cost issue.

Never mind Tocqueville’s warning about the democratic danger of preferring comfort to freedom. For those willing to sacrifice some degree of liberty for a government that ensures their well-being, here’s a little reminder that paternalism isn’t always so comfortable. In addition to saying yes, it also says no sometimes.

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OK, Obama Did Bollix the BP Oil Spill Response

Some on the right, joining the president’s usual defenders, were sympathetic to Obama’s handling of the BP oil spill. A president isn’t all-powerful. We can’t expect him to prevent or repair all mishaps. True, but there were well-founded criticisms (from the affected governors, for starters) about the federal government’s response. It turns out Obama did indeed mismanage things from start to finish:

The Obama administration was slow to ramp up its response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, then overreacted as public criticism turned the disaster into a political liability, the staff of a special commission investigating the disaster say in papers released Wednesday.

In four papers issued by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, commission investigators fault the administration for giving too much credence to initial estimates that just 1,000 barrels of oil a day were flowing from the ruptured BP PLC well, and for later allowing political concerns to drive decisions such as how to deploy people and material—such as oil-containing boom—to contain the spreading oil.

As howls of protest increased, the administration overreacted:

As the spill dragged on into late May, the spill commission staff wrote, the administration appears to have misdirected resources in its efforts to counter the public view that its response was inadequate. By May 27, polls showed that 60% of respondents thought the government was doing a poor job of responding to the spill, the commission staff wrote.

In late May, President Barack Obama said he would triple the federal manpower to respond to the spill. But Coast Guard personnel told the commission in interviews that they had enough equipment by the end of May.

“Tripling, or at least the arguable overreaction to the public perception of a slow response resulted in resources being thrown at the spill in general rather than being targeted in an efficient way,” the commission staff wrote.

And then there is the most egregious error — the drilling ban, which was legally suspect and economically disastrous for the region.

It is true, as in so many areas of policy, that expectations for the president are unreasonably high. For that, he has only himself and his advisers to blame, for constructing a messianic campaign and operating with an alarming degree of hubris. But the “unfair expectations” defense is a bit of a dodge. In truth, Obama and his team do not perform well in a crisis, lack management skills, and repeatedly fail to gauge public reaction. That’s not a matter of unreasonable expectations; that is a lack of competency and a failure to meet the minimum requirements of the job.

Some on the right, joining the president’s usual defenders, were sympathetic to Obama’s handling of the BP oil spill. A president isn’t all-powerful. We can’t expect him to prevent or repair all mishaps. True, but there were well-founded criticisms (from the affected governors, for starters) about the federal government’s response. It turns out Obama did indeed mismanage things from start to finish:

The Obama administration was slow to ramp up its response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, then overreacted as public criticism turned the disaster into a political liability, the staff of a special commission investigating the disaster say in papers released Wednesday.

In four papers issued by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, commission investigators fault the administration for giving too much credence to initial estimates that just 1,000 barrels of oil a day were flowing from the ruptured BP PLC well, and for later allowing political concerns to drive decisions such as how to deploy people and material—such as oil-containing boom—to contain the spreading oil.

As howls of protest increased, the administration overreacted:

As the spill dragged on into late May, the spill commission staff wrote, the administration appears to have misdirected resources in its efforts to counter the public view that its response was inadequate. By May 27, polls showed that 60% of respondents thought the government was doing a poor job of responding to the spill, the commission staff wrote.

In late May, President Barack Obama said he would triple the federal manpower to respond to the spill. But Coast Guard personnel told the commission in interviews that they had enough equipment by the end of May.

“Tripling, or at least the arguable overreaction to the public perception of a slow response resulted in resources being thrown at the spill in general rather than being targeted in an efficient way,” the commission staff wrote.

And then there is the most egregious error — the drilling ban, which was legally suspect and economically disastrous for the region.

It is true, as in so many areas of policy, that expectations for the president are unreasonably high. For that, he has only himself and his advisers to blame, for constructing a messianic campaign and operating with an alarming degree of hubris. But the “unfair expectations” defense is a bit of a dodge. In truth, Obama and his team do not perform well in a crisis, lack management skills, and repeatedly fail to gauge public reaction. That’s not a matter of unreasonable expectations; that is a lack of competency and a failure to meet the minimum requirements of the job.

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A Sign of the Times

What could possibly be a more local concern than the design and lettering of street signs? And yet the New York Daily News is reporting that the federal government’s Federal Highway Administration (whose website opening page is entirely devoted to touting the glories of the Stimulus bill) is requiring that New York City replace its street signs with new ones that will be more readable and, therefore, presumably safer. In Frozen Sneakers, Iowa, (the late William F. Buckley’s mythical Nowheresville) that unfunded mandate would not amount to much. But the vast rabbit warren of New York City has a quarter of a million street signs, and they cost $110 apiece to manufacture and install. New York’s mayor didn’t know anything about it but didn’t seem concerned, as the state, in far worse fiscal shape than the city, will be paying the $27 million cost.

I haven’t the faintest idea if the new signs are more readable than the old ones, although that strikes me as easily testable. What bothers me is another question. Exactly what provision of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government authority over street signs? The answer, of course, is that none does, unless you count Article I, Section 8, which empowers Congress to lay taxes in order to provide for the “general Welfare of the United States.” But in 1936 the Supreme Court ruled (United States v. Butler) that the general welfare clause was limited to matters of “national, as distinguished from local welfare.” Of course, the Supreme Court in recent decades has allowed the commerce clause, giving the federal government control over interstate commerce, to be used to justify nearly any action of the federal government.

Meanwhile, today marks the start of the new fiscal year for the federal government. How many appropriations bills has Congress passed to fund the government for fiscal year 2011, its most basic responsibility? Exactly none. They couldn’t even come up with a budget resolution.

What could possibly be a more local concern than the design and lettering of street signs? And yet the New York Daily News is reporting that the federal government’s Federal Highway Administration (whose website opening page is entirely devoted to touting the glories of the Stimulus bill) is requiring that New York City replace its street signs with new ones that will be more readable and, therefore, presumably safer. In Frozen Sneakers, Iowa, (the late William F. Buckley’s mythical Nowheresville) that unfunded mandate would not amount to much. But the vast rabbit warren of New York City has a quarter of a million street signs, and they cost $110 apiece to manufacture and install. New York’s mayor didn’t know anything about it but didn’t seem concerned, as the state, in far worse fiscal shape than the city, will be paying the $27 million cost.

I haven’t the faintest idea if the new signs are more readable than the old ones, although that strikes me as easily testable. What bothers me is another question. Exactly what provision of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government authority over street signs? The answer, of course, is that none does, unless you count Article I, Section 8, which empowers Congress to lay taxes in order to provide for the “general Welfare of the United States.” But in 1936 the Supreme Court ruled (United States v. Butler) that the general welfare clause was limited to matters of “national, as distinguished from local welfare.” Of course, the Supreme Court in recent decades has allowed the commerce clause, giving the federal government control over interstate commerce, to be used to justify nearly any action of the federal government.

Meanwhile, today marks the start of the new fiscal year for the federal government. How many appropriations bills has Congress passed to fund the government for fiscal year 2011, its most basic responsibility? Exactly none. They couldn’t even come up with a budget resolution.

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What’s Really Eating David Axelrod

In a New Republic cover story by Noam Scheiber, “What’s Really Eating David Axelrod? The Disillusionment of Obama’s Political Guru,” we are told this:

Obama and Axelrod both believe in changing Washington for its own sake. “It’s in the president’s nature, it’s also in David’s nature,” says Stephanie Cutter, a senior White House aide. … Whatever his tendency to fall in and out of love with politicians, there’s no evidence Axelrod has soured on Barack Obama. Quite the contrary — he is said to take enormous pride in the president’s legislative accomplishments. “When Obama rejects Axe’s political advice, David’s attitude is not like, ‘Why isn’t he listening to me?’” says one administra­tion official. “It’s more like, ‘This is why I love this guy. He’s willing to follow his heart even when the short-term politics are not with him.”’  Instead, the source of Axelrod’s disillusionment these days is Washington itself. … As long as he was a civilian, Axelrod could blame the pace of change on the flawed politicians he helped elect. He could always move on and invest his hopes in someone else. But now that he’s serving in government, it’s clear that the problem isn’t so much flawed people — though, like anyone, Obama has his flaws — as a ferociously stubborn, possibly irredeemable system. For an idealist like David Axelrod, that may be the most terrifying thought of all.

David Axelrod, like Obama’s other aides, begins with an unshakable premise: Barack Obama is a man of almost superhuman gifts and virtues. Yet even Axelrod cannot deny the beating the president and his party are being administered. The president has passed much of his agenda — and, in the process, he has become very nearly radioactive. Mr. Obama’s popularity is reaching new lows, distrust of the federal government is reaching new highs, independents are fleeing him and the Democratic party in striking numbers, and Democratic candidates are explicitly running against Obama and his record. The opposition to Obamaism is extraordinary in its depth and passion.

So how does someone like Axelrod reconcile his premise with this unpleasant reality? Why, blame Washington and the political establishment, of course. The system is not only “ferociously stubborn,” but quite possibly “irredeemable.” Barack Obama’s failures, you see, are the fault of the founders.

We have all heard this before — during the Carter years, when it was said the presidency was too large for any single person; and from Ronald Reagan’s first OMB director, David Stockman, who became deeply disillusioned when his budget-cutting agenda ran up against our system of checks and balances. In his book The Triumph of Politics, Stockman wrote this: “There is only one thing worse [than politicians with short time horizons], and that is ideological hubris. It is the assumption that the world can be made better by being remade overnight.”

This is precisely what Axelrod and many in Obama’s inner circle are afflicted with. And whatever problems plague Washington, they are not new. Nothing fundamental has changed about Washington since Obama ran for president in 2008, promising to drive the moneychangers out of the temple.

Governing always seems easier from afar — and every public official experiences a gap between his hopes and his achievements. But in this instance, a group of arrogant, zealous aides — devoted to an arrogant, ideological man — thought they could remake the world and transform Washington easily and instantaneously. But now that they have been at the helm for a bit more than 20 months, idealism is giving way to crushing disillusionment.

“The blind faith in, and passion for, Obama was like nothing [Anita] Dunn had ever seen before,” we read in Game Change. “Around Hopefund they joked about it all the time, praying it wouldn’t go to Obama’s head; his ego was robust enough already. They even conferred on the senator a new nickname: ‘Black Jesus.’”

Investing that much hope in a single individual was destined to end in disenchantment. There is a cautionary tale and an important reminder in all of this: The best public servants are individuals whose idealism is tempered with realism and maturity, who understand and appreciate the nature of American government, who are steady and well-grounded, and who understand the difference between politics and romantic dreams.

In a New Republic cover story by Noam Scheiber, “What’s Really Eating David Axelrod? The Disillusionment of Obama’s Political Guru,” we are told this:

Obama and Axelrod both believe in changing Washington for its own sake. “It’s in the president’s nature, it’s also in David’s nature,” says Stephanie Cutter, a senior White House aide. … Whatever his tendency to fall in and out of love with politicians, there’s no evidence Axelrod has soured on Barack Obama. Quite the contrary — he is said to take enormous pride in the president’s legislative accomplishments. “When Obama rejects Axe’s political advice, David’s attitude is not like, ‘Why isn’t he listening to me?’” says one administra­tion official. “It’s more like, ‘This is why I love this guy. He’s willing to follow his heart even when the short-term politics are not with him.”’  Instead, the source of Axelrod’s disillusionment these days is Washington itself. … As long as he was a civilian, Axelrod could blame the pace of change on the flawed politicians he helped elect. He could always move on and invest his hopes in someone else. But now that he’s serving in government, it’s clear that the problem isn’t so much flawed people — though, like anyone, Obama has his flaws — as a ferociously stubborn, possibly irredeemable system. For an idealist like David Axelrod, that may be the most terrifying thought of all.

David Axelrod, like Obama’s other aides, begins with an unshakable premise: Barack Obama is a man of almost superhuman gifts and virtues. Yet even Axelrod cannot deny the beating the president and his party are being administered. The president has passed much of his agenda — and, in the process, he has become very nearly radioactive. Mr. Obama’s popularity is reaching new lows, distrust of the federal government is reaching new highs, independents are fleeing him and the Democratic party in striking numbers, and Democratic candidates are explicitly running against Obama and his record. The opposition to Obamaism is extraordinary in its depth and passion.

So how does someone like Axelrod reconcile his premise with this unpleasant reality? Why, blame Washington and the political establishment, of course. The system is not only “ferociously stubborn,” but quite possibly “irredeemable.” Barack Obama’s failures, you see, are the fault of the founders.

We have all heard this before — during the Carter years, when it was said the presidency was too large for any single person; and from Ronald Reagan’s first OMB director, David Stockman, who became deeply disillusioned when his budget-cutting agenda ran up against our system of checks and balances. In his book The Triumph of Politics, Stockman wrote this: “There is only one thing worse [than politicians with short time horizons], and that is ideological hubris. It is the assumption that the world can be made better by being remade overnight.”

This is precisely what Axelrod and many in Obama’s inner circle are afflicted with. And whatever problems plague Washington, they are not new. Nothing fundamental has changed about Washington since Obama ran for president in 2008, promising to drive the moneychangers out of the temple.

Governing always seems easier from afar — and every public official experiences a gap between his hopes and his achievements. But in this instance, a group of arrogant, zealous aides — devoted to an arrogant, ideological man — thought they could remake the world and transform Washington easily and instantaneously. But now that they have been at the helm for a bit more than 20 months, idealism is giving way to crushing disillusionment.

“The blind faith in, and passion for, Obama was like nothing [Anita] Dunn had ever seen before,” we read in Game Change. “Around Hopefund they joked about it all the time, praying it wouldn’t go to Obama’s head; his ego was robust enough already. They even conferred on the senator a new nickname: ‘Black Jesus.’”

Investing that much hope in a single individual was destined to end in disenchantment. There is a cautionary tale and an important reminder in all of this: The best public servants are individuals whose idealism is tempered with realism and maturity, who understand and appreciate the nature of American government, who are steady and well-grounded, and who understand the difference between politics and romantic dreams.

Read Less




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