Commentary Magazine


Topic: Frank Rich

Liberals’ Civility Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Will Rewriting History Silence Conservatives?

Chris Matthews writes in the Washington Post about the friendship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Matthews wants us to believe that those were the Good Old Days, years characterized by civility and comity among political opponents, an era when high-minded disagreements were stated in the most irenic way possible.

In short, a time when after-hours lions and lambs laid down beside each other.

Steven Hayward does us a public service by reminding us of what things were really like, with O’Neill saying, among other things, that “evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”

To Hayward’s examples I would add a January 30, 1984, Associated Press story, which reported this: “Ronald Reagan has been a divider, not a uniter. He has divided our country between rich and poor, between the hopeful and the hopeless, between the comfortable and the miserable. He has not been fair and the people know it. The American people will reject four more years of danger, four more years of pain,’ [Thomas P.] O’Neill said.”

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a deeply hated figure by liberals when he was president.

The effort to pretty up the past is not simply evidence of nostalgia or selective memories. It is an effort by liberals to portray this current moment in our history, when conservatives have, for the first time, a wide array of media outlets at their disposal, as a period of unprecedented incivility. The unstated argument goes like this: for the first time in modern history, conservatives dominate a few media precincts (cable news and talk radio). It is also a period of vitriolic public discourse, unmatched in the annals of American history. We’ll leave it to you, the American voters, to connect the dots.

In fact, liberals are inventing a false correlation in order to assert a false causation.

And it’s an easy enough one to disprove. Those who lived through the 1980s merely need to dust off their own memories or read contemporaneous news accounts from that period (at the New York Times, the predecessor of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman was Anthony Lewis). An older generation can do the same thing for the 1970s, when Richard Nixon was a reviled figure by the left; and the 1960s, when there were riots in the streets and on American campuses and students chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

This is simply part of an ongoing effort by liberals to disfigure American history in order to advance their post-Tucson fairy tale. It’s really quite regrettable — and, because it’s untrue, I rather doubt it will work.

Chris Matthews writes in the Washington Post about the friendship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Matthews wants us to believe that those were the Good Old Days, years characterized by civility and comity among political opponents, an era when high-minded disagreements were stated in the most irenic way possible.

In short, a time when after-hours lions and lambs laid down beside each other.

Steven Hayward does us a public service by reminding us of what things were really like, with O’Neill saying, among other things, that “evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”

To Hayward’s examples I would add a January 30, 1984, Associated Press story, which reported this: “Ronald Reagan has been a divider, not a uniter. He has divided our country between rich and poor, between the hopeful and the hopeless, between the comfortable and the miserable. He has not been fair and the people know it. The American people will reject four more years of danger, four more years of pain,’ [Thomas P.] O’Neill said.”

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a deeply hated figure by liberals when he was president.

The effort to pretty up the past is not simply evidence of nostalgia or selective memories. It is an effort by liberals to portray this current moment in our history, when conservatives have, for the first time, a wide array of media outlets at their disposal, as a period of unprecedented incivility. The unstated argument goes like this: for the first time in modern history, conservatives dominate a few media precincts (cable news and talk radio). It is also a period of vitriolic public discourse, unmatched in the annals of American history. We’ll leave it to you, the American voters, to connect the dots.

In fact, liberals are inventing a false correlation in order to assert a false causation.

And it’s an easy enough one to disprove. Those who lived through the 1980s merely need to dust off their own memories or read contemporaneous news accounts from that period (at the New York Times, the predecessor of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman was Anthony Lewis). An older generation can do the same thing for the 1970s, when Richard Nixon was a reviled figure by the left; and the 1960s, when there were riots in the streets and on American campuses and students chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

This is simply part of an ongoing effort by liberals to disfigure American history in order to advance their post-Tucson fairy tale. It’s really quite regrettable — and, because it’s untrue, I rather doubt it will work.

Read Less

Was It Time or Bias that Caused the Media to Slant the Story?

Since Daniel Okrent left the post, the men who have served as the public editor of the New York Times haven’t caused much trouble for the journalists they are supposed to be monitoring. That has certainly been true of Arthur Brisbane, the latest to sit in that seat. However, when confronted with a colossal case of journalistic malpractice, even a Brisbane can’t ignore it. Thus, Brisbane was forced to address the fact that, like much of the mainstream media, the Times‘s coverage of the Arizona tragedy led with and assumed that the shooting was the result of conservative incitement, which would lead to serious political repercussions.

Unfortunately, Brisbane’s analysis of the Times coverage ignores the real problems while focusing on the one element that journalists have always had to deal with: time. Brisbane seems to think that the Times’s initial report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead was terrible. It was an error but one that was an understandable result of a chaotic situation. Brisbane is more forgiving of the bigger mistake: “The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.”

While he rightly deplores the instinctive decision of both reporters and editors to “frame” the Arizona shooting as an event that was a direct result of conservative dissent against the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, Brisbane still thinks there “were some good reasons to steer the coverage in this direction.” But the only “good reason” he cites is the assumption that any violence directed at a politician must be the result of the fact that a lot of people disagree with her policies.

Brisbane acknowledges that a better focus of the Times coverage would have been one that highlighted the fact that the shooter was mentally ill. Yet he blames the false assumptions that caused the newspaper to “frame” all its coverage around a false belief that this was a political event for which conservatives must pay on the lack of time. But that is no excuse. Journalists never have enough time. But that’s no reason to take an event and shoehorn it into a fabricated story line that is based on the delegitimization of those who espouse political views that the Times opposes. Read More

Since Daniel Okrent left the post, the men who have served as the public editor of the New York Times haven’t caused much trouble for the journalists they are supposed to be monitoring. That has certainly been true of Arthur Brisbane, the latest to sit in that seat. However, when confronted with a colossal case of journalistic malpractice, even a Brisbane can’t ignore it. Thus, Brisbane was forced to address the fact that, like much of the mainstream media, the Times‘s coverage of the Arizona tragedy led with and assumed that the shooting was the result of conservative incitement, which would lead to serious political repercussions.

Unfortunately, Brisbane’s analysis of the Times coverage ignores the real problems while focusing on the one element that journalists have always had to deal with: time. Brisbane seems to think that the Times’s initial report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead was terrible. It was an error but one that was an understandable result of a chaotic situation. Brisbane is more forgiving of the bigger mistake: “The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.”

While he rightly deplores the instinctive decision of both reporters and editors to “frame” the Arizona shooting as an event that was a direct result of conservative dissent against the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, Brisbane still thinks there “were some good reasons to steer the coverage in this direction.” But the only “good reason” he cites is the assumption that any violence directed at a politician must be the result of the fact that a lot of people disagree with her policies.

Brisbane acknowledges that a better focus of the Times coverage would have been one that highlighted the fact that the shooter was mentally ill. Yet he blames the false assumptions that caused the newspaper to “frame” all its coverage around a false belief that this was a political event for which conservatives must pay on the lack of time. But that is no excuse. Journalists never have enough time. But that’s no reason to take an event and shoehorn it into a fabricated story line that is based on the delegitimization of those who espouse political views that the Times opposes.

It wasn’t time that caused the editors at the Times and other broadcast media to falsely accuse conservatives of inciting the shooter; it was their own very obvious political bias. Like the pundits who write on the paper’s op-ed page who have continued to link the crime to politics, even after President Obama urged his followers to stop doing so, the paper’s news editors live in a world where conservative opinions simply aren’t legitimate. Indeed, on the same page where Brisbane’s apologia for the paper appears was a column by Frank Rich that again sought to falsely link Palin to the shooting. Rich spoke of the widespread public anger against the Obama administration’s policies as a violent “insurrection” that threatens the rule of law rather than a grassroots movement that led to an overwhelming Republican victory at the polls last November. Like so many other liberals, Rich thinks it doesn’t matter than Jared Loughner was insane. As far as he is concerned, those who oppose the Democrats are still responsible, even though Rich has produced as much “hate” of President Bush and the Republicans as even the most rabid conservative talk-radio hosts have of Obama.

It is noteworthy that Brisbane even bothered to notice how badly his newspaper got the story wrong. But until he addresses the political bias that was the primary cause of that error, accountability at the Times is still not in the cards.

Read Less

Olbermann Pitches Fit Over Obama’s Tax-Cut Deal

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann is really, really mad at President Obama for his deal with Republicans on taxes. Set aside, if you can, the melodrama, the ad hominem attacks on the GOP (“treacherous and traitorous”), and the reliance on Bartlett’s Quotations; Olbermann — like the New York Times’s Paul Krugman and  Frank Rich — reflects the sentiments of Mr. Obama’s hard-core liberal base. And it’s now on the warpath against him. See for yourself.

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann is really, really mad at President Obama for his deal with Republicans on taxes. Set aside, if you can, the melodrama, the ad hominem attacks on the GOP (“treacherous and traitorous”), and the reliance on Bartlett’s Quotations; Olbermann — like the New York Times’s Paul Krugman and  Frank Rich — reflects the sentiments of Mr. Obama’s hard-core liberal base. And it’s now on the warpath against him. See for yourself.

Read Less

Double Standards Regarding Political Civility

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Liberalism’s Existential Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

On Ken Mehlman

The announcement that former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman is gay is garnering a fair amount of attention in the political world.

I suppose that’s predictable. He is, after all, the most powerful Republican ever to identify himself as gay. But my sense is that it’ll be a lot less of a big deal to conservatives than it might be to liberals like (just to choose one name at random) Frank Rich, for whom the political is also the personal. While it’s something that runs counter to the stereotype, most of the conservatives I know are largely to completely indifferent to a person’s sexual orientation. They are the kind of people who might even invite Elton John to perform at their weddings and not give a second thought to the fact that John is gay.

For my part, I knew Ken in the Bush White House and after that, when he was the campaign manager of the re-election campaign and RNC chairman. I’ve always liked him and found his counsel to be wise. He’s a person with very impressive political gifts and talents. Yet by his own account, the personal road he’s traveled has not been an easy one; rather than activists and commentators directing wrath and ridicule at him, I hope some measure of grace and understanding are accorded to him. I realize these qualities aren’t in oversupply in politics, but they should be more common than they are.

It’s fair to say, I think, that all sides in the same-sex marriage debate need to strive for greater respect and civility, for grounding this discussion in reason and empirical facts, in what advances self-government and the common good. And regardless of whether or not one agrees with Ken’s position, he will add to, rather than subtract from, the substance of the discussion. That is more than can be said for the haters.

The announcement that former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman is gay is garnering a fair amount of attention in the political world.

I suppose that’s predictable. He is, after all, the most powerful Republican ever to identify himself as gay. But my sense is that it’ll be a lot less of a big deal to conservatives than it might be to liberals like (just to choose one name at random) Frank Rich, for whom the political is also the personal. While it’s something that runs counter to the stereotype, most of the conservatives I know are largely to completely indifferent to a person’s sexual orientation. They are the kind of people who might even invite Elton John to perform at their weddings and not give a second thought to the fact that John is gay.

For my part, I knew Ken in the Bush White House and after that, when he was the campaign manager of the re-election campaign and RNC chairman. I’ve always liked him and found his counsel to be wise. He’s a person with very impressive political gifts and talents. Yet by his own account, the personal road he’s traveled has not been an easy one; rather than activists and commentators directing wrath and ridicule at him, I hope some measure of grace and understanding are accorded to him. I realize these qualities aren’t in oversupply in politics, but they should be more common than they are.

It’s fair to say, I think, that all sides in the same-sex marriage debate need to strive for greater respect and civility, for grounding this discussion in reason and empirical facts, in what advances self-government and the common good. And regardless of whether or not one agrees with Ken’s position, he will add to, rather than subtract from, the substance of the discussion. That is more than can be said for the haters.

Read Less

Talk About a Cartoon Controversy

Why is no one questioning the media’s sham portrait of the Cordoba House/Park 51 mosque detractors? On Sunday, the New York Times’ Frank Rich leveled a flurry of nasty accusations at those on “the neocon and the Fox News Right” who object to the placement of the mosque near Ground Zero.  He substantiated none of them.

Every movement, Left and Right, has its embarrassing and inconsequential fringe. But what serious neoconservatives have been, as Rich claims, “calling Muslims every filthy name in the book”?  He never gets around to telling us. One assumes that if he had a name and a quote, Rich would be eager to furnish them.

His deliberate and cartoonish mischaracterization is doubly ignoble in light of his larger point. The column asserts that these phantom name-calling neoconservatives have, with their undocumented bigotry, nullified Gen. David Petraeus’s efforts at counterinsurgency and nation building in Afghanistan. When Muslims worldwide catch wind of all the anti-Islam obscenity, Rich claims, they will refuse to cooperate with Americans. He may well be right about the second part, but the only people broadcasting this undermining fiction are liberal-media types like Rich. And it is becoming, I fear, the lie big enough to be believed.

This same crowd has served to undermine American efforts in similar ways before. The liberal assertion that the Iraq War was an oil grab was adopted whole as jihadist propaganda. So too were hysterical claims of the Bush administration’s missionary purpose in remaking the Middle East.  How many times have witty liberal columns and progressive “documentary” scripts been played back to us as crude communiqués from mountain hideouts.

Reliance on slander is the sign of a weak position. Liberals have every right to voice their support for the mosque, but their case would be stronger if it were made on its own merits. The demonization of neoconservatives as bigots and the shell game that substitutes a defense of property rights and religious freedoms for matters of voluntary decency and good citizenship constitute a farce. Rich and his compatriots have ceded the argument by ignoring it.  But slander and subterfuge serve darker purposes in parts of the world where parties don’t have access to much analysis past sensational headlines and words from on high. Frank Rich scores his points at his, and our own, peril.

Why is no one questioning the media’s sham portrait of the Cordoba House/Park 51 mosque detractors? On Sunday, the New York Times’ Frank Rich leveled a flurry of nasty accusations at those on “the neocon and the Fox News Right” who object to the placement of the mosque near Ground Zero.  He substantiated none of them.

Every movement, Left and Right, has its embarrassing and inconsequential fringe. But what serious neoconservatives have been, as Rich claims, “calling Muslims every filthy name in the book”?  He never gets around to telling us. One assumes that if he had a name and a quote, Rich would be eager to furnish them.

His deliberate and cartoonish mischaracterization is doubly ignoble in light of his larger point. The column asserts that these phantom name-calling neoconservatives have, with their undocumented bigotry, nullified Gen. David Petraeus’s efforts at counterinsurgency and nation building in Afghanistan. When Muslims worldwide catch wind of all the anti-Islam obscenity, Rich claims, they will refuse to cooperate with Americans. He may well be right about the second part, but the only people broadcasting this undermining fiction are liberal-media types like Rich. And it is becoming, I fear, the lie big enough to be believed.

This same crowd has served to undermine American efforts in similar ways before. The liberal assertion that the Iraq War was an oil grab was adopted whole as jihadist propaganda. So too were hysterical claims of the Bush administration’s missionary purpose in remaking the Middle East.  How many times have witty liberal columns and progressive “documentary” scripts been played back to us as crude communiqués from mountain hideouts.

Reliance on slander is the sign of a weak position. Liberals have every right to voice their support for the mosque, but their case would be stronger if it were made on its own merits. The demonization of neoconservatives as bigots and the shell game that substitutes a defense of property rights and religious freedoms for matters of voluntary decency and good citizenship constitute a farce. Rich and his compatriots have ceded the argument by ignoring it.  But slander and subterfuge serve darker purposes in parts of the world where parties don’t have access to much analysis past sensational headlines and words from on high. Frank Rich scores his points at his, and our own, peril.

Read Less

If You Cannot Bring Back Hope and Change, Bring Back Bush

Unemployment remains officially at 9.5 percent (with the real rate higher). The stimulus is still dead. There is no budget to debate. The next big Democratic idea is a huge transfer of funds from the private economy to the government (by letting current tax rates “expire”). A commission is working on even more taxes. Two prominent Democrats in the most-ethical-Congress-in-history face ethics charges. An already wide enthusiasm gap between the parties is widening. 59 percent of Americans favor repeal of ObamaCare. (45 percent strongly favor repeal.) 71 percent believe the federal government is itself a “special interest group.” And the president refuses to hold news conferences, is suing a state for trying to enforce existing immigration law, has an obsession with golf during the worst-recession-since-the-Depression, and just issued a silent apology to Japan for the way World War II ended.

But the Democrats think they have hit on a winning theme: blame Bush. The New York Times endorses the strategy in “In Search of a New Playbook.” Frank Rich writes that they should argue “Republicans – Worse Than Bush.”

The intellectual bankruptcy is remarkable. Less than three months before a national election, the Democrats cannot even argue “stay the course.” They are left trying to bring back the bogeyman to scare the kids.

Unemployment remains officially at 9.5 percent (with the real rate higher). The stimulus is still dead. There is no budget to debate. The next big Democratic idea is a huge transfer of funds from the private economy to the government (by letting current tax rates “expire”). A commission is working on even more taxes. Two prominent Democrats in the most-ethical-Congress-in-history face ethics charges. An already wide enthusiasm gap between the parties is widening. 59 percent of Americans favor repeal of ObamaCare. (45 percent strongly favor repeal.) 71 percent believe the federal government is itself a “special interest group.” And the president refuses to hold news conferences, is suing a state for trying to enforce existing immigration law, has an obsession with golf during the worst-recession-since-the-Depression, and just issued a silent apology to Japan for the way World War II ended.

But the Democrats think they have hit on a winning theme: blame Bush. The New York Times endorses the strategy in “In Search of a New Playbook.” Frank Rich writes that they should argue “Republicans – Worse Than Bush.”

The intellectual bankruptcy is remarkable. Less than three months before a national election, the Democrats cannot even argue “stay the course.” They are left trying to bring back the bogeyman to scare the kids.

Read Less

The Widening Rift Between Obama and the Left

I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis, Jen, as I almost always do. I’d simply add a prediction into the mix. We will see the split between Obama and the Left continue to widen. This will occur not because Obama’s agenda isn’t liberal; it is, with a few exceptions. No, what will fuel the revolt on the Left is Obama’s sinking political fortunes. Liberals don’t want their cause to go down with him, so they’ll increasingly separate themselves from him, allowing them to say that the reason he failed is that he wasn’t liberal enough. That is the line of argument one is beginning to hear (with varying degrees of incoherence) from Paul Krugman, Jonathan Chait, Frank Rich, E.J. Dionne, and others.

In this fantasy world, Obama is failing because his stimulus package wasn’t expensive enough. Right-oh, and if Obama doesn’t jam through health-care legislation, his will be a broken presidency. Only ObamaCare can salvage it. Agreed, and of course Obama’s other problem is that he was too bipartisan during his first year. He needs to fight harder, to be more aggressive, to get in our faces more frequently, to lecture us more often. Et cetera. Et cetera.

This view of things is utterly detached from reality, of course, and in that sense it probably helps conservatives. It’s always useful when the movement one is competing against is deluded about the nature and depth of its problems.

Watching this split, which is now only in its early phases, is going to be endless interesting.

I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis, Jen, as I almost always do. I’d simply add a prediction into the mix. We will see the split between Obama and the Left continue to widen. This will occur not because Obama’s agenda isn’t liberal; it is, with a few exceptions. No, what will fuel the revolt on the Left is Obama’s sinking political fortunes. Liberals don’t want their cause to go down with him, so they’ll increasingly separate themselves from him, allowing them to say that the reason he failed is that he wasn’t liberal enough. That is the line of argument one is beginning to hear (with varying degrees of incoherence) from Paul Krugman, Jonathan Chait, Frank Rich, E.J. Dionne, and others.

In this fantasy world, Obama is failing because his stimulus package wasn’t expensive enough. Right-oh, and if Obama doesn’t jam through health-care legislation, his will be a broken presidency. Only ObamaCare can salvage it. Agreed, and of course Obama’s other problem is that he was too bipartisan during his first year. He needs to fight harder, to be more aggressive, to get in our faces more frequently, to lecture us more often. Et cetera. Et cetera.

This view of things is utterly detached from reality, of course, and in that sense it probably helps conservatives. It’s always useful when the movement one is competing against is deluded about the nature and depth of its problems.

Watching this split, which is now only in its early phases, is going to be endless interesting.

Read Less

Would the White House Fall for This?

Conservatives must hope that the White House takes this sort of gibberish about the Massachusetts debacle from Frank Rich seriously:

It was not a referendum on Barack Obama, who in every poll remains one of the most popular politicians in America. It was not a rejection of universal health care, which Massachusetts mandated (with Scott Brown’s State Senate vote) in 2006. It was not a harbinger of a resurgent G.O.P., whose numbers remain in the toilet. Brown had the good sense not to identify himself as a Republican in either his campaign advertising or his victory speech.

Everything is fine, perfectly fine. According to Rich, the real issue is that Obama was not angry enough or  wasn’t everywhere enough. Or Left-leaning enough. You can almost sense Republican candidates and operatives holding their collective breath, smilingly nervously and whispering to each other, “They couldn’t be that obtuse, could they?”

As if the Democrats didn’t have enough problems, Rich and many other of his ilk are counseling Obama to go hard Left and shed any facade of bipartisanship. This certainly will test just how low the Democrats’ standing with independent voters can go. If Massachusetts proved anything, it is that the course that Rich counsels — gin up the base — is a losing proposition. Should the White House and Democratic congressional candidates follow that advice, they will cede the entire Center of the political spectrum to the Republicans, who will gladly scoop up those voters, forge a coalition with enthusiastic conservatives, and roll to victory in race after race. That is precisely what happened in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

It remains to be seen whether Obama is going to follow Rich’s advice, and more important, whether anyone on the ballot in 2010 will be dim enough to do so as well. Republicans can dream that Democrats will plunge over the political cliff, but they shouldn’t count on it. Unlike New York Times columnists, members of Congress get out now and then, read local press, and pay attention to polls. Their future depends on it. And when they do, they might realize that the problem is not too little leftism, but too much, and not too little political demagoguery, but too much.

Conservatives must hope that the White House takes this sort of gibberish about the Massachusetts debacle from Frank Rich seriously:

It was not a referendum on Barack Obama, who in every poll remains one of the most popular politicians in America. It was not a rejection of universal health care, which Massachusetts mandated (with Scott Brown’s State Senate vote) in 2006. It was not a harbinger of a resurgent G.O.P., whose numbers remain in the toilet. Brown had the good sense not to identify himself as a Republican in either his campaign advertising or his victory speech.

Everything is fine, perfectly fine. According to Rich, the real issue is that Obama was not angry enough or  wasn’t everywhere enough. Or Left-leaning enough. You can almost sense Republican candidates and operatives holding their collective breath, smilingly nervously and whispering to each other, “They couldn’t be that obtuse, could they?”

As if the Democrats didn’t have enough problems, Rich and many other of his ilk are counseling Obama to go hard Left and shed any facade of bipartisanship. This certainly will test just how low the Democrats’ standing with independent voters can go. If Massachusetts proved anything, it is that the course that Rich counsels — gin up the base — is a losing proposition. Should the White House and Democratic congressional candidates follow that advice, they will cede the entire Center of the political spectrum to the Republicans, who will gladly scoop up those voters, forge a coalition with enthusiastic conservatives, and roll to victory in race after race. That is precisely what happened in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

It remains to be seen whether Obama is going to follow Rich’s advice, and more important, whether anyone on the ballot in 2010 will be dim enough to do so as well. Republicans can dream that Democrats will plunge over the political cliff, but they shouldn’t count on it. Unlike New York Times columnists, members of Congress get out now and then, read local press, and pay attention to polls. Their future depends on it. And when they do, they might realize that the problem is not too little leftism, but too much, and not too little political demagoguery, but too much.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama tells us that we are “bearing witness”? Hard to see how that differs from enabling a murderous regime to avoid scrutiny: “At the height of Iran’s bloody civil unrest this year, a young doctor named Ramin Pourandarjani defied his superiors. He refused to sign death certificates at a Tehran prison that he said were falsified to cover up murder. He testified to a parliamentary committee that jailers were torturing and raping protesters, his family says. He told friends and family he feared for his life. And on Nov. 10, the 26-year-old doctor was found dead in the military clinic where he lived and worked.” 

The editorially liberal Seattle Times says “no” to ObamaCare: “The public option is in then out; the Medicare buy-in for 55-year-olds is in, then out. When the congressional dance stops, the Senate may have 60 votes, but for what? It will satisfy neither Obama’s frugal promise nor progressives’ lavish hopes. Already the Democratic Party’s former chairman, Howard Dean, says the bill is not worth passing in this form.”

You can see why the Daily Kos kids feel betrayed: “Senate Democratic leaders say last-minute changes to the health care bill include giving nonprofit health insurance companies an exemption from the excise tax on insurers, a revision pushed by Sen. Carl Levin, who is a major recipient of campaign contributions form mega nonprofit Blue Cross Blue Shield.”

On the Right, they are mad too. I think he means Ben Nelson: “Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oka.) said it is ‘absolutely fictitious’ that there is an anti-abortion provision in the Senate Democrats’ reworked healthcare reform bill. ‘The negotiations, whoever did them, threw unborn babies under the bus,’ Coburn said.” From Sen. Richard Burr: “You have to compliment Ben Nelson for playing the price is right. . This isn’t the Louisiana Purchase. This is the Nebraska windfall.” Well, Nelson couldn’t have thought he’d keep his conservative supporters, right?

Huffington Post or National Review? “With unemployment at 10%, the idea that you can pass a bill whose only merit is that ‘liberals hate it’ just because the media will eat it up and print your talking points in the process is so cynical and short-sighted it’s hard to comprehend anyone would pursue it. It reflects a total insensitivity to the rage that is brewing on the popular front, which is manifest in every single poll out there.”

Headline from the Washington Post or Washington Times? “Health-care debate wearing on Democrats’ unity, popularity.”

Frank Rich or Rich Lowry? “Though the American left and right don’t agree on much, they are both now coalescing around the suspicion that Obama’s brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger’s public image — a marketing scam designed to camouflage either his covert anti-American radicalism (as the right sees it) or spineless timidity (as the left sees it).”

James Carafano sums up the Obami’s spending priorities: “The White House priority is to push through a symbolic deal at Copenhagen which will justify spending hundreds-of-billions, cost up to two million American jobs and won’t actually really make us safe from the dangers of climate change…but they say we can’t afford spending two percent of the defense budget on missile defense which would provide real protection to a 13 trillion dollar economy.” Yup.

The Walpin scandal bubbles up to the surface of the mainstream media: “Congressional Republicans raised new concerns this week about the Obama administration’s firing of Gerald Walpin, who served as inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service. GOP lawmakers said White House visitors logs contradict statements made by the former chairman of CNCS, the agency that oversees AmeriCorps.”

Robert Wexler’s pro-Obami spin on the settlement-freeze debacle is too much even for Lestlie Gelb, who asks incredulously “So the Administration never asked Israel for freeze across the board — West Bank, East Jerusalem — on every and all kind of settlement activity?”

Kathleen Parker has figured out that Obama has a “grandiosity” problem, “an inflated self-confidence and a sense of power exceeding one’s means.” So he is reduced to passing a shlock health-care bill: “Thus, the man who was going to remain above the political fray has revealed himself as pluperfectly political, ready to settle for the very kind of mandate (without the public option) that he opposed as a candidate challenging Hillary Clinton. Rather than inspiring confidence, he has inspired a groundswell of disapproval and a populist uprising that may allow Republicans to clean House come November. In the meantime, left and right finally have discovered a common foe. Too bad for the country that his name is Obama.” And too bad so many pundits flacked for him during the campaign.

Obama tells us that we are “bearing witness”? Hard to see how that differs from enabling a murderous regime to avoid scrutiny: “At the height of Iran’s bloody civil unrest this year, a young doctor named Ramin Pourandarjani defied his superiors. He refused to sign death certificates at a Tehran prison that he said were falsified to cover up murder. He testified to a parliamentary committee that jailers were torturing and raping protesters, his family says. He told friends and family he feared for his life. And on Nov. 10, the 26-year-old doctor was found dead in the military clinic where he lived and worked.” 

The editorially liberal Seattle Times says “no” to ObamaCare: “The public option is in then out; the Medicare buy-in for 55-year-olds is in, then out. When the congressional dance stops, the Senate may have 60 votes, but for what? It will satisfy neither Obama’s frugal promise nor progressives’ lavish hopes. Already the Democratic Party’s former chairman, Howard Dean, says the bill is not worth passing in this form.”

You can see why the Daily Kos kids feel betrayed: “Senate Democratic leaders say last-minute changes to the health care bill include giving nonprofit health insurance companies an exemption from the excise tax on insurers, a revision pushed by Sen. Carl Levin, who is a major recipient of campaign contributions form mega nonprofit Blue Cross Blue Shield.”

On the Right, they are mad too. I think he means Ben Nelson: “Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oka.) said it is ‘absolutely fictitious’ that there is an anti-abortion provision in the Senate Democrats’ reworked healthcare reform bill. ‘The negotiations, whoever did them, threw unborn babies under the bus,’ Coburn said.” From Sen. Richard Burr: “You have to compliment Ben Nelson for playing the price is right. . This isn’t the Louisiana Purchase. This is the Nebraska windfall.” Well, Nelson couldn’t have thought he’d keep his conservative supporters, right?

Huffington Post or National Review? “With unemployment at 10%, the idea that you can pass a bill whose only merit is that ‘liberals hate it’ just because the media will eat it up and print your talking points in the process is so cynical and short-sighted it’s hard to comprehend anyone would pursue it. It reflects a total insensitivity to the rage that is brewing on the popular front, which is manifest in every single poll out there.”

Headline from the Washington Post or Washington Times? “Health-care debate wearing on Democrats’ unity, popularity.”

Frank Rich or Rich Lowry? “Though the American left and right don’t agree on much, they are both now coalescing around the suspicion that Obama’s brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger’s public image — a marketing scam designed to camouflage either his covert anti-American radicalism (as the right sees it) or spineless timidity (as the left sees it).”

James Carafano sums up the Obami’s spending priorities: “The White House priority is to push through a symbolic deal at Copenhagen which will justify spending hundreds-of-billions, cost up to two million American jobs and won’t actually really make us safe from the dangers of climate change…but they say we can’t afford spending two percent of the defense budget on missile defense which would provide real protection to a 13 trillion dollar economy.” Yup.

The Walpin scandal bubbles up to the surface of the mainstream media: “Congressional Republicans raised new concerns this week about the Obama administration’s firing of Gerald Walpin, who served as inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service. GOP lawmakers said White House visitors logs contradict statements made by the former chairman of CNCS, the agency that oversees AmeriCorps.”

Robert Wexler’s pro-Obami spin on the settlement-freeze debacle is too much even for Lestlie Gelb, who asks incredulously “So the Administration never asked Israel for freeze across the board — West Bank, East Jerusalem — on every and all kind of settlement activity?”

Kathleen Parker has figured out that Obama has a “grandiosity” problem, “an inflated self-confidence and a sense of power exceeding one’s means.” So he is reduced to passing a shlock health-care bill: “Thus, the man who was going to remain above the political fray has revealed himself as pluperfectly political, ready to settle for the very kind of mandate (without the public option) that he opposed as a candidate challenging Hillary Clinton. Rather than inspiring confidence, he has inspired a groundswell of disapproval and a populist uprising that may allow Republicans to clean House come November. In the meantime, left and right finally have discovered a common foe. Too bad for the country that his name is Obama.” And too bad so many pundits flacked for him during the campaign.

Read Less

Integrity as Strategy

Here’s the standard take on how the dragged-out Democratic primary will effect the general election: As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama cut each other down, they do John McCain’s work for him. Those two continue to relentlessly bloody each other up, so that by the time one of them goes up against McCain he or she will be a publicly diminished and weakened Democrat with a considerable percentage of detractors within his or her own party ready to vote Republican or stay home. Furthermore, the Democratic Party itself will be in a state of convalescence and in no shape for battle.

Lately, some Democrats have offered a more optimistic interpretation of things. Frank Rich covers this alternative read in today’s New York Times:

The counterargument, advanced by Mrs. Clinton in justifying her “kitchen sink” attacks on Mr. Obama, is that the Democrats are better off being tested now by raising all the issues the Republicans will. It’s a fair point. The Wright, Rezko, Ayers, “bittergate” and flag-pin firestorms will all be revived by the opposition come fall.

But will they? That assumption puts John McCain’s objection to the North Carolina GOP ad featuring Rev. Wright and Obama in strategic perspective. If the Democrats’ slugfest is to serve as a sort of preemptive self-vetting, then McCain’s best bet is to attack the Democratic nominee from a different—untested—angle than any that’s been used during the primary. In this light, things are even worse for the Democrats than the standard interpretation conveys. One Democratic candidate will come to the general election having already taken a big hit on a critical front: character. (Obama would be plagued by the issues Rich mentions; Hillary would lumber under the weight of Snipergate, identity cynicism, dirty pool, and her husband’s outbursts.) With the public perception of his opponent’s character already so compromised, McCain can focus on policy differences—which is exactly what he said he hopes to do. This accomplishes at least two things: it frees up campaign energy to be used more efficiently on critical substantive points, and it makes him look like a breath of clean fresh air compared to the Dems’ nastiness. Not only will the Democrats have brought McCain’s opponents character flaws to the surface, they will have given McCain a campaign blueprint by contrast, saying essentially, “Don’t sully yourself like we did. After nearly a year spent harping on identity and playing ‘gotcha!’ we have nothing to show but an unexpected dip in Democratic support.”

For sure, many in the Republican establishment will continue to hammer at the Democrats on the lurid issues raised during the primary. But, as McCain demonstrated in objecting to the North Carolina ad, he has no problem calling party members out on this. That too can be put to use as an advantage. For every time John McCain tells a GOP mouthpiece to avoid cheap shots or divisiveness, he feeds the growing impression among Democratic voters that for a Republican he’s not that bad.

Here’s the standard take on how the dragged-out Democratic primary will effect the general election: As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama cut each other down, they do John McCain’s work for him. Those two continue to relentlessly bloody each other up, so that by the time one of them goes up against McCain he or she will be a publicly diminished and weakened Democrat with a considerable percentage of detractors within his or her own party ready to vote Republican or stay home. Furthermore, the Democratic Party itself will be in a state of convalescence and in no shape for battle.

Lately, some Democrats have offered a more optimistic interpretation of things. Frank Rich covers this alternative read in today’s New York Times:

The counterargument, advanced by Mrs. Clinton in justifying her “kitchen sink” attacks on Mr. Obama, is that the Democrats are better off being tested now by raising all the issues the Republicans will. It’s a fair point. The Wright, Rezko, Ayers, “bittergate” and flag-pin firestorms will all be revived by the opposition come fall.

But will they? That assumption puts John McCain’s objection to the North Carolina GOP ad featuring Rev. Wright and Obama in strategic perspective. If the Democrats’ slugfest is to serve as a sort of preemptive self-vetting, then McCain’s best bet is to attack the Democratic nominee from a different—untested—angle than any that’s been used during the primary. In this light, things are even worse for the Democrats than the standard interpretation conveys. One Democratic candidate will come to the general election having already taken a big hit on a critical front: character. (Obama would be plagued by the issues Rich mentions; Hillary would lumber under the weight of Snipergate, identity cynicism, dirty pool, and her husband’s outbursts.) With the public perception of his opponent’s character already so compromised, McCain can focus on policy differences—which is exactly what he said he hopes to do. This accomplishes at least two things: it frees up campaign energy to be used more efficiently on critical substantive points, and it makes him look like a breath of clean fresh air compared to the Dems’ nastiness. Not only will the Democrats have brought McCain’s opponents character flaws to the surface, they will have given McCain a campaign blueprint by contrast, saying essentially, “Don’t sully yourself like we did. After nearly a year spent harping on identity and playing ‘gotcha!’ we have nothing to show but an unexpected dip in Democratic support.”

For sure, many in the Republican establishment will continue to hammer at the Democrats on the lurid issues raised during the primary. But, as McCain demonstrated in objecting to the North Carolina ad, he has no problem calling party members out on this. That too can be put to use as an advantage. For every time John McCain tells a GOP mouthpiece to avoid cheap shots or divisiveness, he feeds the growing impression among Democratic voters that for a Republican he’s not that bad.

Read Less

What If He’s Not All That New?

Barack Obama makes two claims, aside from his post-racial appeal, which form the basis of his “change” message. The first is that he is will bring political unity and rescue “good ideas” which he claims “die” under mysterious circumstances in Washington. The second is that he will be a new type of politician, less divisive and more willing to rise above the endemic personal attacks which turn off so many voters. So far, it doesn’t appear there is much to either of Obama’s claims.

His repeated mantra that good ideas are savaged by special interests in Washington, of course, belies the real differences separating the parties. Republicans don’t have to be the prisoners of special interests to conclude that raising taxes is bad policy. Obama and the Democrats don’t have to be prisoners of their special interests to conclude the opposite. Moreover, by refusing to concede that he is even “liberal” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he leaves open the real question as to how a far-Left President would bridge very substantial policy differences with the Congress and the public. At least Bill Clinton had an approach (“the third way“) by which he attempted to lessen partisan differences.

Even more central to Obama’s appeal is the notion that, bluntly, he’s better than all the politicians who came before. He won’t deceive, he won’t lie, he won’t belittle his opponents, and he won’t stoop to strong arm tactics. I think it is only because his Democratic opponent is practically the archetype of a “partisan politician” (and because the media largely allows Obama to get away with it) that he has been able to disguise his utter failure, even at this early stage in his campaign and career, to live up to this billing.

It’s not “new politics” to strong-arm Michigan Democrats into dropping a plan for a re-vote (and to offer a cynical “compromise” to split the delegates 50-50). That’s good old-fashioned Chicago muscle. It’s not “new politics” to, day after day, repeat the lie, as he did again on Friday and through his hapless surrogate John Kerry today, that John McCain wants “to continue this war in Iraq for maybe 100 years.” (When Frank Rich calls that refrain “flat-out wrong,” maybe it’s time to try something else.) And it’s not “new politics” to fence for a day and refuse to condemn his warm-up act for labeling McCain a “warmonger.” (Recall that McCain did precisely this when the shoe was on the other foot.)

None of this is hugely out of bounds for partisan politics. But it just isn’t new. If that’s what he offers, how will electing him amount to “turning the page”?

Again, Clinton is in the worst position possible to make this argument. But at some point in the general election McCain will make the argument that he (who lauds Barry Goldwater and Mo Udall’s bipartisanship and shuts down the use of racial epithets in his own party) is the less conventional politician of the two. Or maybe, without the hubris of laying claim to have discovered bipartisanship, he already is making that argument

Barack Obama makes two claims, aside from his post-racial appeal, which form the basis of his “change” message. The first is that he is will bring political unity and rescue “good ideas” which he claims “die” under mysterious circumstances in Washington. The second is that he will be a new type of politician, less divisive and more willing to rise above the endemic personal attacks which turn off so many voters. So far, it doesn’t appear there is much to either of Obama’s claims.

His repeated mantra that good ideas are savaged by special interests in Washington, of course, belies the real differences separating the parties. Republicans don’t have to be the prisoners of special interests to conclude that raising taxes is bad policy. Obama and the Democrats don’t have to be prisoners of their special interests to conclude the opposite. Moreover, by refusing to concede that he is even “liberal” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he leaves open the real question as to how a far-Left President would bridge very substantial policy differences with the Congress and the public. At least Bill Clinton had an approach (“the third way“) by which he attempted to lessen partisan differences.

Even more central to Obama’s appeal is the notion that, bluntly, he’s better than all the politicians who came before. He won’t deceive, he won’t lie, he won’t belittle his opponents, and he won’t stoop to strong arm tactics. I think it is only because his Democratic opponent is practically the archetype of a “partisan politician” (and because the media largely allows Obama to get away with it) that he has been able to disguise his utter failure, even at this early stage in his campaign and career, to live up to this billing.

It’s not “new politics” to strong-arm Michigan Democrats into dropping a plan for a re-vote (and to offer a cynical “compromise” to split the delegates 50-50). That’s good old-fashioned Chicago muscle. It’s not “new politics” to, day after day, repeat the lie, as he did again on Friday and through his hapless surrogate John Kerry today, that John McCain wants “to continue this war in Iraq for maybe 100 years.” (When Frank Rich calls that refrain “flat-out wrong,” maybe it’s time to try something else.) And it’s not “new politics” to fence for a day and refuse to condemn his warm-up act for labeling McCain a “warmonger.” (Recall that McCain did precisely this when the shoe was on the other foot.)

None of this is hugely out of bounds for partisan politics. But it just isn’t new. If that’s what he offers, how will electing him amount to “turning the page”?

Again, Clinton is in the worst position possible to make this argument. But at some point in the general election McCain will make the argument that he (who lauds Barry Goldwater and Mo Udall’s bipartisanship and shuts down the use of racial epithets in his own party) is the less conventional politician of the two. Or maybe, without the hubris of laying claim to have discovered bipartisanship, he already is making that argument

Read Less

Frank Rich’s Minstrels

In his most recent New York Times column excoriating Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Frank Rich wrote:

The “compassionate conservative” [President Bush] who turned the 2000 GOP convention into a minstrel show to prove his love of diversity will exit the political stage as the man who tilted American jurisprudence against Brown v. Board of Education. He leaves no black Republican behind him in either the House or Senate.

That there are so few black Republicans is hardly for President Bush’s—or the Republican Party’s—lack of trying. In 2006, the GOP ran several black candidates for major office. Former NFL star Lynn Swann ran unsuccessfully for governor of Pennsylvania, and is now running for Congress. Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio Secretary of State, also ran for governor but lost (perhaps this is the reason why Rich only makes mention of the House and Senate, and not state-level offices). And in Maryland, former lieutenant governor Michael Steele ran for Senate and lost. At a 2002 gubernatorial debate, audience members allegedly rolled Oreo cookies on the floor to signify their disgust with a black man who would dare join the Republican Party. Granted, two of these three men ran for state, and not federal offices, but Rich’s point is to impute racism and “tokenism” onto Bush and the GOP.

To those who truly believe in the principles of the Civil Rights movement, the skin color of candidates should not matter. But this is something that obviously matters very much to Frank Rich—except, (or, perhaps, especially), when those black candidates are Republicans, and thus need to be defeated.

In his most recent New York Times column excoriating Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Frank Rich wrote:

The “compassionate conservative” [President Bush] who turned the 2000 GOP convention into a minstrel show to prove his love of diversity will exit the political stage as the man who tilted American jurisprudence against Brown v. Board of Education. He leaves no black Republican behind him in either the House or Senate.

That there are so few black Republicans is hardly for President Bush’s—or the Republican Party’s—lack of trying. In 2006, the GOP ran several black candidates for major office. Former NFL star Lynn Swann ran unsuccessfully for governor of Pennsylvania, and is now running for Congress. Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio Secretary of State, also ran for governor but lost (perhaps this is the reason why Rich only makes mention of the House and Senate, and not state-level offices). And in Maryland, former lieutenant governor Michael Steele ran for Senate and lost. At a 2002 gubernatorial debate, audience members allegedly rolled Oreo cookies on the floor to signify their disgust with a black man who would dare join the Republican Party. Granted, two of these three men ran for state, and not federal offices, but Rich’s point is to impute racism and “tokenism” onto Bush and the GOP.

To those who truly believe in the principles of the Civil Rights movement, the skin color of candidates should not matter. But this is something that obviously matters very much to Frank Rich—except, (or, perhaps, especially), when those black candidates are Republicans, and thus need to be defeated.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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