Commentary Magazine


Topic: Fred Barnes

Senate Shifts

Fred Barnes makes a key observation:

Ten Democrats whose seats are up in 2012 come from right-leaning states or saw their states scoot to the right this week: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jim Webb of Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Jon Tester of Montana, and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

It’s a good bet that some or all of them will be sympathetic to cutting spending, extending the Bush tax cuts, scaling back ObamaCare, and supporting other parts of the Republican agenda. With Democratic allies, Republicans will have operational control of the Senate more often than Majority Leader Harry Reid and Mr. Obama will.

And let’s not forget Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who ran and won by repudiating Obama’s agenda. You may be skeptical that self-styled moderate Democrats will buck the president. Certainly, their track record in that regard is poor. But the 2010 midterm elections and these lawmakers’ own re-election have a way of focusing Democrats on the perils of Obamaism. And to give you a sense of the danger these Democrats face, Ohio, Nebraska, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, and New Mexico will all have Republican governors — and, if those officials do their jobs properly, a taste of what a conservative reform agenda looks like.

Will the Democrats at risk in 2012 desert Obama all the time? Of course not. But in key areas, it certainly will appear that there is a bipartisan consensus on one side and the president on the other. With Harry Reid — he of gaffes and never a sunny disposition — leading the Senate Democrats, this could become quite entertaining and, for the electorate, illuminating.

Fred Barnes makes a key observation:

Ten Democrats whose seats are up in 2012 come from right-leaning states or saw their states scoot to the right this week: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jim Webb of Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Jon Tester of Montana, and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

It’s a good bet that some or all of them will be sympathetic to cutting spending, extending the Bush tax cuts, scaling back ObamaCare, and supporting other parts of the Republican agenda. With Democratic allies, Republicans will have operational control of the Senate more often than Majority Leader Harry Reid and Mr. Obama will.

And let’s not forget Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who ran and won by repudiating Obama’s agenda. You may be skeptical that self-styled moderate Democrats will buck the president. Certainly, their track record in that regard is poor. But the 2010 midterm elections and these lawmakers’ own re-election have a way of focusing Democrats on the perils of Obamaism. And to give you a sense of the danger these Democrats face, Ohio, Nebraska, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, and New Mexico will all have Republican governors — and, if those officials do their jobs properly, a taste of what a conservative reform agenda looks like.

Will the Democrats at risk in 2012 desert Obama all the time? Of course not. But in key areas, it certainly will appear that there is a bipartisan consensus on one side and the president on the other. With Harry Reid — he of gaffes and never a sunny disposition — leading the Senate Democrats, this could become quite entertaining and, for the electorate, illuminating.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It is getting worse, not better, for the Democrats in the congressional generic polling.

The recession has been worse for men than for women, but the Obama team needs female voters. So: “The National Economic Council released a report Thursday detailing women’s economic hardships and the different ways the administration is helping to alleviate their pain. … Economist Mark Perry, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller that the lack of attention to the economic problems of men has been foolish. ‘My initial impression of the report is that it completely ignores all of the significant and disproportionate hardships faced by men in the recession. We just went through an unprecedented ‘mancession,’ and it’s still not over.’”

There are worse things than being fired by NPR. “Fox News moved swiftly to turn the controversy over Juan Williams’s firing to its advantage, offering him an expanded role and a new three-year contract Thursday morning in a deal that amounts to nearly $2 million.”

What is worse — firing Juan Williams or concealing the underlying reason for it? Fred Barnes writes: “I have no doubt that Juan’s comments about Muslims were merely a pretext. There had been prior run-ins between NPR and Juan over his appearances on Fox. But fire him over remarks that most Americans would identify with? I didn’t think the loathing of Fox would cause NPR to do something so ideologically driven, unprofessional, and bigoted. … The motto is, Fox is fair and balanced. Mainstream media types sneer at this. Juan actually embodies it. He’s both fair and balanced. NPR is neither.”

He says he’s not running. But is there a worse nightmare for Obama in 2012? “In one long year, Mr. Christie, the governor of New Jersey, has gone from little-known prosecutor to GOP rock star. The Newark native won last November on a blunt promise to fix a ‘failed state.’ He’d stop the ‘madness’ of tax hikes and chronic overspending. He’d demand New Jersey ‘live within its means,’ tackling the rich public-employee benefits driving the state off the cliff. He’d be straight-up with voters. The promises won him election; it’s the follow-through that’s won him acclaim. Democrats were appalled when he impounded $2.2 billion in spending; taxpayers cheered. The liberal class gasped when he vetoed a ‘millionaire’s tax’; business owners hurrahed. He’s demanding government unions help close $46 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. He’s tough-talking but common-sense, and his approval rating keeps going up.”

Hard to recall a worse pre-election argument than Obama’s faux science explanation for the rise of anti-Obama sentiment. A real, former psychiatrist comments: “Faced with this truly puzzling conundrum, Dr. Obama diagnoses a heretofore undiscovered psychological derangement: anxiety-induced Obama Underappreciation Syndrome, wherein an entire population is so addled by its economic anxieties as to be neurologically incapable of appreciating the ‘facts and science’ undergirding Obamacare and the other blessings their president has bestowed upon them from on high.”

If anything, a change for the worse. “A majority of voters in key battleground races say President Obama has either brought no change to Washington or has brought change for the worse. In 10 competitive House districts, 41 percent of likely voters say Obama has brought change for the worse, and 30 percent say he has made no difference.”

It is getting worse, not better, for the Democrats in the congressional generic polling.

The recession has been worse for men than for women, but the Obama team needs female voters. So: “The National Economic Council released a report Thursday detailing women’s economic hardships and the different ways the administration is helping to alleviate their pain. … Economist Mark Perry, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller that the lack of attention to the economic problems of men has been foolish. ‘My initial impression of the report is that it completely ignores all of the significant and disproportionate hardships faced by men in the recession. We just went through an unprecedented ‘mancession,’ and it’s still not over.’”

There are worse things than being fired by NPR. “Fox News moved swiftly to turn the controversy over Juan Williams’s firing to its advantage, offering him an expanded role and a new three-year contract Thursday morning in a deal that amounts to nearly $2 million.”

What is worse — firing Juan Williams or concealing the underlying reason for it? Fred Barnes writes: “I have no doubt that Juan’s comments about Muslims were merely a pretext. There had been prior run-ins between NPR and Juan over his appearances on Fox. But fire him over remarks that most Americans would identify with? I didn’t think the loathing of Fox would cause NPR to do something so ideologically driven, unprofessional, and bigoted. … The motto is, Fox is fair and balanced. Mainstream media types sneer at this. Juan actually embodies it. He’s both fair and balanced. NPR is neither.”

He says he’s not running. But is there a worse nightmare for Obama in 2012? “In one long year, Mr. Christie, the governor of New Jersey, has gone from little-known prosecutor to GOP rock star. The Newark native won last November on a blunt promise to fix a ‘failed state.’ He’d stop the ‘madness’ of tax hikes and chronic overspending. He’d demand New Jersey ‘live within its means,’ tackling the rich public-employee benefits driving the state off the cliff. He’d be straight-up with voters. The promises won him election; it’s the follow-through that’s won him acclaim. Democrats were appalled when he impounded $2.2 billion in spending; taxpayers cheered. The liberal class gasped when he vetoed a ‘millionaire’s tax’; business owners hurrahed. He’s demanding government unions help close $46 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. He’s tough-talking but common-sense, and his approval rating keeps going up.”

Hard to recall a worse pre-election argument than Obama’s faux science explanation for the rise of anti-Obama sentiment. A real, former psychiatrist comments: “Faced with this truly puzzling conundrum, Dr. Obama diagnoses a heretofore undiscovered psychological derangement: anxiety-induced Obama Underappreciation Syndrome, wherein an entire population is so addled by its economic anxieties as to be neurologically incapable of appreciating the ‘facts and science’ undergirding Obamacare and the other blessings their president has bestowed upon them from on high.”

If anything, a change for the worse. “A majority of voters in key battleground races say President Obama has either brought no change to Washington or has brought change for the worse. In 10 competitive House districts, 41 percent of likely voters say Obama has brought change for the worse, and 30 percent say he has made no difference.”

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Journolisters Risked Their Integrity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MATT DUSS: LEDEEN.

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

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

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

Ah, but there’s more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Clueless. Tom Friedman has made a career — a lucrative one — ignoring the less-flattering side of certain regimes. So the obvious is always a revelation (“here he is, sojourning among the Turks again, explaining to us, in case we, too, have shunned the news, that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has joined the radical jihadi camp”).

Exasperated. From the Huffington Post: “I am really not entirely sure what the point to this Oval Office address was! Were you looking for something that resembled a fully-realized action plan, describing a detailed approach to containment and clean up?”

Fretful. From the Daily Beast’s Tina Brown: “His reinforcement of a six-month moratorium on deep-sea drilling for safety checks reprised my conviction, that Obama, for all his brilliance, has no real, felt understanding of management structures or of business.” Reprised? Funny, she hasn’t made a big deal of this before.

Hopeful (Republicans, that is). From Fred Barnes: “Dino Rossi is the 10th man. Republicans need to pick up 10 Democratic seats in the midterm election to take control of the Senate. And they probably can’t do it without Rossi, a top-tier challenger in Washington to three-term Democrat Patty Murray.”

Lunacy. At the UN, of course, and confirmation we have no business being on the Human Rights Council: “Delegates from Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Egypt, told the United Nations Human Rights Council that treatment of Muslims in Western countries amounted to racism and discrimination and must be fought. ‘People of Arab origin face new forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance and experience discrimination and marginalisation,’ an Egyptian delegate said, according to a U.N. summary. And Pakistan, speaking for the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said the council’s special investigator into religious freedom should look into such racism ‘especially in Western societies.’” Let’s have an investigation of sexism and racism in Arab countries, shall we?

Disgusting. From Josh Rogin: “The U.S. taxpayer-funded Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, led by former Congressman Lee Hamilton, is giving out its annual award for public service Thursday, and the winner is … Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu! … The Turkish foreign minister has been in the news a lot lately, such as when he said the Israeli incident aboard the Gaza flotilla ‘is like 9/11 for Turkey.’ He was also a key figure in the Brazilian-Turkish drive to head off new U.N. sanctions on Iran by striking an 11th-hour fuel-swap deal, an agreement the Obama administration has dismissed as inadequate and unhelpful.” The runner-up was Ahmadinejad?

Welcomed (but overdue). The AJC calls for the removal of the UN Human Rights Council permanent investigator for his anti-Israel venom. But if that’s the standard, wouldn’t the council have to disband?

Wow. Chris Christie – again — impressive. Note how he can pull off both the “jovial warrior” against the media and liberals and the down-to-earth conversations with voters.

Clueless. Tom Friedman has made a career — a lucrative one — ignoring the less-flattering side of certain regimes. So the obvious is always a revelation (“here he is, sojourning among the Turks again, explaining to us, in case we, too, have shunned the news, that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has joined the radical jihadi camp”).

Exasperated. From the Huffington Post: “I am really not entirely sure what the point to this Oval Office address was! Were you looking for something that resembled a fully-realized action plan, describing a detailed approach to containment and clean up?”

Fretful. From the Daily Beast’s Tina Brown: “His reinforcement of a six-month moratorium on deep-sea drilling for safety checks reprised my conviction, that Obama, for all his brilliance, has no real, felt understanding of management structures or of business.” Reprised? Funny, she hasn’t made a big deal of this before.

Hopeful (Republicans, that is). From Fred Barnes: “Dino Rossi is the 10th man. Republicans need to pick up 10 Democratic seats in the midterm election to take control of the Senate. And they probably can’t do it without Rossi, a top-tier challenger in Washington to three-term Democrat Patty Murray.”

Lunacy. At the UN, of course, and confirmation we have no business being on the Human Rights Council: “Delegates from Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Egypt, told the United Nations Human Rights Council that treatment of Muslims in Western countries amounted to racism and discrimination and must be fought. ‘People of Arab origin face new forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance and experience discrimination and marginalisation,’ an Egyptian delegate said, according to a U.N. summary. And Pakistan, speaking for the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said the council’s special investigator into religious freedom should look into such racism ‘especially in Western societies.’” Let’s have an investigation of sexism and racism in Arab countries, shall we?

Disgusting. From Josh Rogin: “The U.S. taxpayer-funded Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, led by former Congressman Lee Hamilton, is giving out its annual award for public service Thursday, and the winner is … Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu! … The Turkish foreign minister has been in the news a lot lately, such as when he said the Israeli incident aboard the Gaza flotilla ‘is like 9/11 for Turkey.’ He was also a key figure in the Brazilian-Turkish drive to head off new U.N. sanctions on Iran by striking an 11th-hour fuel-swap deal, an agreement the Obama administration has dismissed as inadequate and unhelpful.” The runner-up was Ahmadinejad?

Welcomed (but overdue). The AJC calls for the removal of the UN Human Rights Council permanent investigator for his anti-Israel venom. But if that’s the standard, wouldn’t the council have to disband?

Wow. Chris Christie – again — impressive. Note how he can pull off both the “jovial warrior” against the media and liberals and the down-to-earth conversations with voters.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Will Arlen Specter get his comeuppance? Joe Sestak begins to pull away in the polls.

Will the Democrats lose in Colorado? “Republicans are now well positioned for a statewide resurgence, threatening several Democratic seats in the midterm elections and raising questions about whether the opening chapter of the Obama administration has eroded gains that Democrats had been making here for the previous six years.”

Will John Murtha’s district go Republican? “This once safely Democratic district where Murtha reigned for 35 years is now a toss-up. Longtime Murtha aide Mark Critz, 48, vows to carry on his former boss’s legacy, while Republican businessman Tim Burns, 42, tries to leverage anti-Washington passion by treating his opponent as an incumbent tied to the ‘liberal Pelosi-Obama agenda.’”

Will the Obama administration wise up? Even the Washington Post‘s editors fret that “the administration has not given more consideration to other approaches, including the possibility of designating suspects as enemy combatants to allow for lengthier interrogations, which could yield intelligence to thwart terrorist operations and future attacks. In part, this is a reflection of the administration’s mind-set. In explaining the handling of Mr. Shahzad, two administration officials told us that they believe that the law categorically bars them from holding a U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant. This is not correct.”

Sounds like there is hope. Will Eric Holder keep sounding like Andy McCarthy? Holder on This Week: “The [Miranda] system we have in place has proven to be effective,” Holder said. “I think we also want to look and determine whether we have the necessary flexibility — whether we have a system that deals with situations that agents now confront. … We’re now dealing with international terrorism. … I think we have to give serious consideration to at least modifying that public-safety exception [to the Miranda requirements]. And that’s one of the things that I think we’re going to be reaching out to Congress, to come up with a proposal that is both constitutional, but that is also relevant to our times and the threats that we now face.” Wow. The left will have a meltdown.

Will any White House adviser tell the president that this sort of thing makes them all sound crazy? “Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said Sunday that, despite the attempted Times Square attack orchestrated by the Pakistani Taliban in the heart of New York City, trying professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan is still an option that’s on the table.”

Will Republicans learn the right lesson from the British elections? Fred Barnes: “In the British election, this was one reason Labor was able to turn out its core vote and keep Conservatives from winning a majority. The lesson for Republican, facing an unpopular Democratic Party, is obvious: don’t expect circumstances to win for you. You need to run an aggressive campaign.”

On Richard Goldstone’s apartheid record, will anyone be surprised that Matthew Yglesias is “inclined to give him a pass”? Once you’ve vilified Israel, you earn a lifetime pass from the anti-Israel left. (By the way, credit to Ron Radosh for spotting Goldstone’s apartheid record a few months back.)

Will Arlen Specter get his comeuppance? Joe Sestak begins to pull away in the polls.

Will the Democrats lose in Colorado? “Republicans are now well positioned for a statewide resurgence, threatening several Democratic seats in the midterm elections and raising questions about whether the opening chapter of the Obama administration has eroded gains that Democrats had been making here for the previous six years.”

Will John Murtha’s district go Republican? “This once safely Democratic district where Murtha reigned for 35 years is now a toss-up. Longtime Murtha aide Mark Critz, 48, vows to carry on his former boss’s legacy, while Republican businessman Tim Burns, 42, tries to leverage anti-Washington passion by treating his opponent as an incumbent tied to the ‘liberal Pelosi-Obama agenda.’”

Will the Obama administration wise up? Even the Washington Post‘s editors fret that “the administration has not given more consideration to other approaches, including the possibility of designating suspects as enemy combatants to allow for lengthier interrogations, which could yield intelligence to thwart terrorist operations and future attacks. In part, this is a reflection of the administration’s mind-set. In explaining the handling of Mr. Shahzad, two administration officials told us that they believe that the law categorically bars them from holding a U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant. This is not correct.”

Sounds like there is hope. Will Eric Holder keep sounding like Andy McCarthy? Holder on This Week: “The [Miranda] system we have in place has proven to be effective,” Holder said. “I think we also want to look and determine whether we have the necessary flexibility — whether we have a system that deals with situations that agents now confront. … We’re now dealing with international terrorism. … I think we have to give serious consideration to at least modifying that public-safety exception [to the Miranda requirements]. And that’s one of the things that I think we’re going to be reaching out to Congress, to come up with a proposal that is both constitutional, but that is also relevant to our times and the threats that we now face.” Wow. The left will have a meltdown.

Will any White House adviser tell the president that this sort of thing makes them all sound crazy? “Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said Sunday that, despite the attempted Times Square attack orchestrated by the Pakistani Taliban in the heart of New York City, trying professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan is still an option that’s on the table.”

Will Republicans learn the right lesson from the British elections? Fred Barnes: “In the British election, this was one reason Labor was able to turn out its core vote and keep Conservatives from winning a majority. The lesson for Republican, facing an unpopular Democratic Party, is obvious: don’t expect circumstances to win for you. You need to run an aggressive campaign.”

On Richard Goldstone’s apartheid record, will anyone be surprised that Matthew Yglesias is “inclined to give him a pass”? Once you’ve vilified Israel, you earn a lifetime pass from the anti-Israel left. (By the way, credit to Ron Radosh for spotting Goldstone’s apartheid record a few months back.)

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Mitch Daniels Profile

One of America’s best political reporters, Fred Barnes, has a short piece on one of America’s best governors, Mitch Daniels. Barnes reports that Daniels has “dropped his Shermanesque stance of refusing to consider a presidential bid.” And he calls attention to Mitch’s two basic ideas for the next Republican presidential candidate:

One, the candidate should have a plan for solving the spending, deficit and debt crisis that has “intellectual credibility” and “holds water.” This mean the candidate would “campaign to govern, not merely to win” on what Daniels calls a “survival” issue for the country. The second idea: The candidate should “speak to Americans in a tone a voice that is unifying and friendly and therefore gives you a chance of unifying around some action.” In his campaigns for governor, Daniels never ran a single negative TV commercial attacking an opponent.

Obviously, running for president differs from running for governor. But I very much agree with Barnes’s two core points. (Michael Gerson and I touch on them in this COMMENTARY essay, “The Path to Republican Revival“). He has an impressive record and is one model for Republicans to look up to in the months and years ahead.

Having served with Mitch, I can testify as to what an impressive person he is. I hope he continues to keep the door ajar — and then, if he’s so inclined, I hope he walks through it. He would add a lot to a presidential campaign; and I imagine he’d do well. Maybe very well.

One of America’s best political reporters, Fred Barnes, has a short piece on one of America’s best governors, Mitch Daniels. Barnes reports that Daniels has “dropped his Shermanesque stance of refusing to consider a presidential bid.” And he calls attention to Mitch’s two basic ideas for the next Republican presidential candidate:

One, the candidate should have a plan for solving the spending, deficit and debt crisis that has “intellectual credibility” and “holds water.” This mean the candidate would “campaign to govern, not merely to win” on what Daniels calls a “survival” issue for the country. The second idea: The candidate should “speak to Americans in a tone a voice that is unifying and friendly and therefore gives you a chance of unifying around some action.” In his campaigns for governor, Daniels never ran a single negative TV commercial attacking an opponent.

Obviously, running for president differs from running for governor. But I very much agree with Barnes’s two core points. (Michael Gerson and I touch on them in this COMMENTARY essay, “The Path to Republican Revival“). He has an impressive record and is one model for Republicans to look up to in the months and years ahead.

Having served with Mitch, I can testify as to what an impressive person he is. I hope he continues to keep the door ajar — and then, if he’s so inclined, I hope he walks through it. He would add a lot to a presidential campaign; and I imagine he’d do well. Maybe very well.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Ruth Marcus explains: “So can a chastened Obama regain the lost sense of excitement and opportunity? Eventually, perhaps, but never entirely. The second time is never as thrilling.” Especially when the thrill was based on cotton-candy rhetoric and a blank slate onto which Obama told us we were projecting our hopes and dreams. If there is no there there, then the thrill is not likely to return.

Michael Barone says that if the election were held today, it would be worse for the Democrats than it was 1994 or 2002. He calls it “the makings of an epic party disaster.”

Charles Krauthammer on Obama and the KSM trial: “The president is not going to admit error. He never does. He does in the abstract, but he will never admit he actually makes a human error on anything. So he won’t on this. But he knows what’s going to happen, which is the Congress will rebel on this and it will pull the funding, [and] get him off the hook. And the issue [will] end up behind him even though he doesn’t do it himself.” Noting he never mentioned terrorism in the SOTU, Krauthammer adds: “In fact, because his two decisions — the KSM trial in Manhattan and the granting of Miranda rights to the guy who tried to blow up the airplane — are indefensible.”

Matt Continetti points out that it takes Speaker Nancy Pelosi to make Sen. Carl Levin look wise on national security. Levin says of Pelosi’s idea to apply Obama’s freeze to defense spending: “That’s kind of hard to do in the middle of a war.” But maybe if we hop over the Pentagon fence. And then pole vault in. And then. Yeah, she is Speaker of the House.

Liberals think Rahm Emanual’s kicking the can down the road on health-care reform (“Congress would deal first with jobs, then banking regulation, and then circle back around to health-care reform”) makes no sense. Well, only if you want to stave off an epic party disaster, I suppose.

But at least Obama still has the postgraduate-degree voters according to Gallup: “The support of postgraduates, who tend to be more liberal and Democratic in their political orientation, was important to Obama’s being elected president. Since he has become president, postgraduates have been among his more reliable supporters, backing him at higher levels than do those in other educational groups.” But that poll was taken before the SOTU and Obama flunked his midterm on the campaign-finance-reform law. That might lose him a few points.

Tom Bevan catches Obama sort of admitting that the health-care bills wouldn’t really, absolutely have allowed everyone to keep their existing health plans. Stuff “snuck in,” you see. If there has ever been a president less willing to take responsibility for anything, I’m hard pressed to recall who it was. And no — George W. Bush did admit error on the initial conduct of the Iraq war and on Katrina, so he’s not even in the ballpark of Obama blame-shifting.

Fred Barnes says Obama is trapped: “President Obama’s greatest need is to escape the ideological grip of congressional Democrats and the liberal base of the Democratic party (they’re one and the same). But he either doesn’t recognize this or, as a conventional liberal himself, isn’t so inclined. This self-inflicted difficulty has put Obama in worse political straits than President Clinton faced after the Republican landslide of 1994.” Unlike Clinton, however, Obama seems to lack the flexibility and ideological creativity to get himself out of his self-made jam.

Ruth Marcus explains: “So can a chastened Obama regain the lost sense of excitement and opportunity? Eventually, perhaps, but never entirely. The second time is never as thrilling.” Especially when the thrill was based on cotton-candy rhetoric and a blank slate onto which Obama told us we were projecting our hopes and dreams. If there is no there there, then the thrill is not likely to return.

Michael Barone says that if the election were held today, it would be worse for the Democrats than it was 1994 or 2002. He calls it “the makings of an epic party disaster.”

Charles Krauthammer on Obama and the KSM trial: “The president is not going to admit error. He never does. He does in the abstract, but he will never admit he actually makes a human error on anything. So he won’t on this. But he knows what’s going to happen, which is the Congress will rebel on this and it will pull the funding, [and] get him off the hook. And the issue [will] end up behind him even though he doesn’t do it himself.” Noting he never mentioned terrorism in the SOTU, Krauthammer adds: “In fact, because his two decisions — the KSM trial in Manhattan and the granting of Miranda rights to the guy who tried to blow up the airplane — are indefensible.”

Matt Continetti points out that it takes Speaker Nancy Pelosi to make Sen. Carl Levin look wise on national security. Levin says of Pelosi’s idea to apply Obama’s freeze to defense spending: “That’s kind of hard to do in the middle of a war.” But maybe if we hop over the Pentagon fence. And then pole vault in. And then. Yeah, she is Speaker of the House.

Liberals think Rahm Emanual’s kicking the can down the road on health-care reform (“Congress would deal first with jobs, then banking regulation, and then circle back around to health-care reform”) makes no sense. Well, only if you want to stave off an epic party disaster, I suppose.

But at least Obama still has the postgraduate-degree voters according to Gallup: “The support of postgraduates, who tend to be more liberal and Democratic in their political orientation, was important to Obama’s being elected president. Since he has become president, postgraduates have been among his more reliable supporters, backing him at higher levels than do those in other educational groups.” But that poll was taken before the SOTU and Obama flunked his midterm on the campaign-finance-reform law. That might lose him a few points.

Tom Bevan catches Obama sort of admitting that the health-care bills wouldn’t really, absolutely have allowed everyone to keep their existing health plans. Stuff “snuck in,” you see. If there has ever been a president less willing to take responsibility for anything, I’m hard pressed to recall who it was. And no — George W. Bush did admit error on the initial conduct of the Iraq war and on Katrina, so he’s not even in the ballpark of Obama blame-shifting.

Fred Barnes says Obama is trapped: “President Obama’s greatest need is to escape the ideological grip of congressional Democrats and the liberal base of the Democratic party (they’re one and the same). But he either doesn’t recognize this or, as a conventional liberal himself, isn’t so inclined. This self-inflicted difficulty has put Obama in worse political straits than President Clinton faced after the Republican landslide of 1994.” Unlike Clinton, however, Obama seems to lack the flexibility and ideological creativity to get himself out of his self-made jam.

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Why Is Obama Acting So Weird?

There are two explanations (maybe more) for the White House’s eerie indifference to all the available evidence concerning their own shoddy performance and the public’s reaction to the same, which has resulted in losses in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts and sent many Democrats fleeing from the 2010 races.

There is the Out-to-Lunch explanation. Fred Barnes observes:

Months of polls on the president and his policies, the Virginia and New Jersey governor’s elections, then last week’s momentous Massachusetts Senate race – all have sent the blunt message to Obama that, for now, he’s lost. But Obama and his team insist on pretending it’s not true. This is a bad sign. One of the important tests of a president, especially a relatively new one like Obama, is how he deals with a serious setback.  Does he respond rationally and realistically? In Obama’s case, the answer is no.”

Sounds like the Democrats need to stage an intervention if the president is that immune to evidence.

But maybe he does understand precisely what’s going on and doesn’t have the wherewithal to revisit his assumptions, get into the weeds of a new agenda, offend old allies on the Left, and morph — as Bill Clinton did — into an effective centrist. Maybe he’d just rather hang it up in three years. In a bizarre interview, that’s what it sounded like: “President Barack Obama said that he ‘would rather be a really good one-term president’ than have two mediocre terms.” Well, the danger here is his being a really bad one-term president. But after only a year in office, it is, to put it mildly, an odd comment. Of all the times to avoid sounding remote, nonchalant, and snooty, this is it. Yet that’s exactly how Obama sounded in an interview he must know will be widely picked over for clues as to the direction of his presidency. Even the New York Times concedes:

Mr. Obama is not the first president in trouble to frame the choice as sticking to his principles instead of worrying about his personal political fortunes. … But it is usually a measure of how much difficulty a president is facing when he starts talking about even the prospect of being a one-term president.

The reasons for the president’s reaction to his self-made predicament – defiance, anger, stubborn indifference — are at some point unknowable. For the country and for his party, the reason is less important than the specter of a president who seems disconnected from the public and somewhat lost.

Forget the tone for a moment — what’s the new agenda? A grab bag of small trinkets for the middle class? That sounds like a ripoff of Bill Clinton, which works well in good times but seems, again, out to lunch when unemployment is in double digits. A new populist fury that may spook the very businesses that must regain confidence and hire workers? Sounds rather self-defeating. A doubling-down on health care? It’s not clear he has even bare majorities in Congress for Son of ObamaCare.

Unfortunately, we’ve come to see that Obama doesn’t shine in a crisis. Not in the aftermath of Iran’s June election and revolt. Not after Fort Hood. Not after the Christmas Day bombing. Not after his own political wipeout. It takes him multiple chances to sound serious and engaged. He doesn’t relate on a visceral level with the public. It should no longer come as a surprise, but it is of concern. If he really does want a second term and wants to be more than a mediocre president, he’s going to have to step it up. And quickly.

There are two explanations (maybe more) for the White House’s eerie indifference to all the available evidence concerning their own shoddy performance and the public’s reaction to the same, which has resulted in losses in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts and sent many Democrats fleeing from the 2010 races.

There is the Out-to-Lunch explanation. Fred Barnes observes:

Months of polls on the president and his policies, the Virginia and New Jersey governor’s elections, then last week’s momentous Massachusetts Senate race – all have sent the blunt message to Obama that, for now, he’s lost. But Obama and his team insist on pretending it’s not true. This is a bad sign. One of the important tests of a president, especially a relatively new one like Obama, is how he deals with a serious setback.  Does he respond rationally and realistically? In Obama’s case, the answer is no.”

Sounds like the Democrats need to stage an intervention if the president is that immune to evidence.

But maybe he does understand precisely what’s going on and doesn’t have the wherewithal to revisit his assumptions, get into the weeds of a new agenda, offend old allies on the Left, and morph — as Bill Clinton did — into an effective centrist. Maybe he’d just rather hang it up in three years. In a bizarre interview, that’s what it sounded like: “President Barack Obama said that he ‘would rather be a really good one-term president’ than have two mediocre terms.” Well, the danger here is his being a really bad one-term president. But after only a year in office, it is, to put it mildly, an odd comment. Of all the times to avoid sounding remote, nonchalant, and snooty, this is it. Yet that’s exactly how Obama sounded in an interview he must know will be widely picked over for clues as to the direction of his presidency. Even the New York Times concedes:

Mr. Obama is not the first president in trouble to frame the choice as sticking to his principles instead of worrying about his personal political fortunes. … But it is usually a measure of how much difficulty a president is facing when he starts talking about even the prospect of being a one-term president.

The reasons for the president’s reaction to his self-made predicament – defiance, anger, stubborn indifference — are at some point unknowable. For the country and for his party, the reason is less important than the specter of a president who seems disconnected from the public and somewhat lost.

Forget the tone for a moment — what’s the new agenda? A grab bag of small trinkets for the middle class? That sounds like a ripoff of Bill Clinton, which works well in good times but seems, again, out to lunch when unemployment is in double digits. A new populist fury that may spook the very businesses that must regain confidence and hire workers? Sounds rather self-defeating. A doubling-down on health care? It’s not clear he has even bare majorities in Congress for Son of ObamaCare.

Unfortunately, we’ve come to see that Obama doesn’t shine in a crisis. Not in the aftermath of Iran’s June election and revolt. Not after Fort Hood. Not after the Christmas Day bombing. Not after his own political wipeout. It takes him multiple chances to sound serious and engaged. He doesn’t relate on a visceral level with the public. It should no longer come as a surprise, but it is of concern. If he really does want a second term and wants to be more than a mediocre president, he’s going to have to step it up. And quickly.

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GOP Strife? Hardly!

Fred Barnes notes that Scott Brown’s victory exploded “the fable about a death struggle pitting tea party populists and angry conservatives against moderates and the Republican hierarchy.” Brown – like Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie — succeeded in a state that went for Obama in 2008 by snatching those voters in the middle of the political spectrum and energizing his own base. The notion that this was an impossible task and that these groups were somehow in opposition to one another was spin propagated by liberals looking for solace and by snooty Beltway pundits who disparaged the tea-party populists with little understanding of their actual concerns.

What brought all these groups together? Limited government, economic conservatism, and antipathy toward backroom special-interest deal making. Rather than a conflict, there is remarkable convergence among these groups. Back in April 2009, tea-party protesters were inveighing against the stimulus plan, excess spending, and the prospect of government-run health care. There was nothing then, and nothing now, antithetical to the message that the GOP leadership has been putting forth. Recall that there was not a single GOP House vote for the stimulus plan and that no Republican senators — not even the accommodating senators from Maine — could be induced to vote for ObamaCare. In Obamaism they have found common cause and reason to put aside other topics (e.g., immigration, social issues) on which there is far less agreement.

The fable of Republican divisiveness was a convenient narrative for pundits who aimed to chase out challengers from primaries (e.g., Marco Rubio) or convince themselves that the Republicans couldn’t really seize the initiative. Those divisions on the Right (otherwise known as healthy primary competition to find the best candidates) are slight compared to the food fight that has broken out on the Left. There Democrats and their blog cheerleaders-turned-vicious-critics are forming the circular firing squad, arguing over whether to dump health care altogether, and trying to figure out how to restyle themselves as populists. (Mostly by condescendingly acknowledging that there are “angry” people out there, it seems.) You can see why they’d rather concoct a tale of Republican strife.

Fred Barnes notes that Scott Brown’s victory exploded “the fable about a death struggle pitting tea party populists and angry conservatives against moderates and the Republican hierarchy.” Brown – like Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie — succeeded in a state that went for Obama in 2008 by snatching those voters in the middle of the political spectrum and energizing his own base. The notion that this was an impossible task and that these groups were somehow in opposition to one another was spin propagated by liberals looking for solace and by snooty Beltway pundits who disparaged the tea-party populists with little understanding of their actual concerns.

What brought all these groups together? Limited government, economic conservatism, and antipathy toward backroom special-interest deal making. Rather than a conflict, there is remarkable convergence among these groups. Back in April 2009, tea-party protesters were inveighing against the stimulus plan, excess spending, and the prospect of government-run health care. There was nothing then, and nothing now, antithetical to the message that the GOP leadership has been putting forth. Recall that there was not a single GOP House vote for the stimulus plan and that no Republican senators — not even the accommodating senators from Maine — could be induced to vote for ObamaCare. In Obamaism they have found common cause and reason to put aside other topics (e.g., immigration, social issues) on which there is far less agreement.

The fable of Republican divisiveness was a convenient narrative for pundits who aimed to chase out challengers from primaries (e.g., Marco Rubio) or convince themselves that the Republicans couldn’t really seize the initiative. Those divisions on the Right (otherwise known as healthy primary competition to find the best candidates) are slight compared to the food fight that has broken out on the Left. There Democrats and their blog cheerleaders-turned-vicious-critics are forming the circular firing squad, arguing over whether to dump health care altogether, and trying to figure out how to restyle themselves as populists. (Mostly by condescendingly acknowledging that there are “angry” people out there, it seems.) You can see why they’d rather concoct a tale of Republican strife.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

At one time, this was thought to be a seat at risk for Republicans: “Former Congressman Rob Portman continues to have the edge on both his chief Democratic rivals in this year’s race for the U.S. Senate in Ohio.”

Charlie Cook has the Massachusetts Senate race as a toss-up, too: “Coakley has run an overly-cautious, somewhat clumsy campaign, only recently hitting the panic button. Some astute political observers note that even in attacking Brown, her campaign’s ads have been less impressive than the attacks on Brown launched by other entities. … To the extent Coakley may still have a tiny advantage, it appears not to meet the normal standard we have for a ‘lean’ rating: a competitive race but one in which one party has a clear advantage. We see no clear advantage.” This is Massachusetts, folks.

Why is it so close in Massachusetts? “Massachusetts politicos said that while anti-Washington sentiment is an element of what is happening in their state, they also blame state political dynamics in combination with presumption by the Democrats and the party’s candidate — Attorney General Martha Coakley — that the seat would be theirs without much of an effort. The Kennedy-anointed Coakley took nearly a week off from the campaign around Christmas. ‘A lot of Democrats in Massachusetts and certainly the Coakley campaign and myself thought this was going to be a lot easier than it’s turning out to be,’ said David Kravitz, a Boston lawyer and opera singer who runs a liberal political blog called bluemassgroup.com.”

It’s all a “political smear campaign,” he says: “Former UN weapons inspector turned Iraq war critic Scott Ritter has been caught in a police sex sting.” And his arrest (the charge was subsequently dismissed) in a 2001 Internet sex scandal was just a coincidence, I suppose.

Fred Barnes thinks ObamaCare isn’t a done deal yet in the House: “Republicans have a target-rich environment of 39 Democrats who voted in favor of Obamacare last year as possible defectors. Republicans will try to persuade as many of them as possible to switch, forcing Pelosi to find new Obamacare backers or see the health care bill die. … The 39 possible switchers include 11 pro-life Democrats who voted for Obamacare after a tough anti-abortion amendment was added. The compromise with the Senate bill isn’t likely to have as strong a provision barring the use of public funds to pay for abortions. Thus some of the pro-lifers could defect.”

Ben Nelson got booed at a pizza parlor. It seems his health-care vote has made him quite unpopular at home: “He used to be a popular figure back home, a Democrat who served eight years in the governor’s office and was elected twice to the Senate by a state that’s as red as the ‘N’ on football helmets. But Nelson has seen his approval ratings tumble in the wake of his wavering over the historic health care bill, his deal cutting with other Senate Democrats and, ultimately, his support to break a GOP filibuster and send the bill to a House-Senate conference committee.” Do other Red State Democrats think they’re immune from this reaction back home?

Elections have consequences: “The man once described by teachers’ union leaders as “the antithesis of everything we hold sacred about public education” was chosen to serve as state education commissioner by Governor-elect Christopher J. Christie on Wednesday. The nomination of Bret D. Schundler to the post underscored the governor’s determination to press ahead with his push for school vouchers, more charter schools and merit pay for teachers.”

Israel is helping in Haiti relief, though you won’t see much reporting on it.

Harry Reid is tanking: “36% approval to 58% disapproval, a 51-41 deficit against Sue Lowden, and a 50-42 one against Danny Tarkanian.” I suspect he’ll be joining Chris Dodd in retirement. You’d have thought that Democrats would have figured out how to dump him in the flap over his “Negro dialect” comments. But maybe it’s not too late. The Democratic Public Policy Polling outfit helpfully polls Democratic alternatives to Reid and finds that the Las Vegas mayor does best against GOP challengers.

At one time, this was thought to be a seat at risk for Republicans: “Former Congressman Rob Portman continues to have the edge on both his chief Democratic rivals in this year’s race for the U.S. Senate in Ohio.”

Charlie Cook has the Massachusetts Senate race as a toss-up, too: “Coakley has run an overly-cautious, somewhat clumsy campaign, only recently hitting the panic button. Some astute political observers note that even in attacking Brown, her campaign’s ads have been less impressive than the attacks on Brown launched by other entities. … To the extent Coakley may still have a tiny advantage, it appears not to meet the normal standard we have for a ‘lean’ rating: a competitive race but one in which one party has a clear advantage. We see no clear advantage.” This is Massachusetts, folks.

Why is it so close in Massachusetts? “Massachusetts politicos said that while anti-Washington sentiment is an element of what is happening in their state, they also blame state political dynamics in combination with presumption by the Democrats and the party’s candidate — Attorney General Martha Coakley — that the seat would be theirs without much of an effort. The Kennedy-anointed Coakley took nearly a week off from the campaign around Christmas. ‘A lot of Democrats in Massachusetts and certainly the Coakley campaign and myself thought this was going to be a lot easier than it’s turning out to be,’ said David Kravitz, a Boston lawyer and opera singer who runs a liberal political blog called bluemassgroup.com.”

It’s all a “political smear campaign,” he says: “Former UN weapons inspector turned Iraq war critic Scott Ritter has been caught in a police sex sting.” And his arrest (the charge was subsequently dismissed) in a 2001 Internet sex scandal was just a coincidence, I suppose.

Fred Barnes thinks ObamaCare isn’t a done deal yet in the House: “Republicans have a target-rich environment of 39 Democrats who voted in favor of Obamacare last year as possible defectors. Republicans will try to persuade as many of them as possible to switch, forcing Pelosi to find new Obamacare backers or see the health care bill die. … The 39 possible switchers include 11 pro-life Democrats who voted for Obamacare after a tough anti-abortion amendment was added. The compromise with the Senate bill isn’t likely to have as strong a provision barring the use of public funds to pay for abortions. Thus some of the pro-lifers could defect.”

Ben Nelson got booed at a pizza parlor. It seems his health-care vote has made him quite unpopular at home: “He used to be a popular figure back home, a Democrat who served eight years in the governor’s office and was elected twice to the Senate by a state that’s as red as the ‘N’ on football helmets. But Nelson has seen his approval ratings tumble in the wake of his wavering over the historic health care bill, his deal cutting with other Senate Democrats and, ultimately, his support to break a GOP filibuster and send the bill to a House-Senate conference committee.” Do other Red State Democrats think they’re immune from this reaction back home?

Elections have consequences: “The man once described by teachers’ union leaders as “the antithesis of everything we hold sacred about public education” was chosen to serve as state education commissioner by Governor-elect Christopher J. Christie on Wednesday. The nomination of Bret D. Schundler to the post underscored the governor’s determination to press ahead with his push for school vouchers, more charter schools and merit pay for teachers.”

Israel is helping in Haiti relief, though you won’t see much reporting on it.

Harry Reid is tanking: “36% approval to 58% disapproval, a 51-41 deficit against Sue Lowden, and a 50-42 one against Danny Tarkanian.” I suspect he’ll be joining Chris Dodd in retirement. You’d have thought that Democrats would have figured out how to dump him in the flap over his “Negro dialect” comments. But maybe it’s not too late. The Democratic Public Policy Polling outfit helpfully polls Democratic alternatives to Reid and finds that the Las Vegas mayor does best against GOP challengers.

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Again with the Bush Digs

In a smart take on the West Point speech Fred Barnes observes:

I couldn’t be the only person who thought Obama once again both scapegoated and slighted George W. Bush. Early on in his administration, Obama recalled that he had agreed to a “longstanding request for more troops” in Afghanistan, implying that Bush had turned that request down. I don’t think that’s quite accurate.

And Obama praised the military for the success of the “surge” in Iraq without mentioning the person who — against the advice of nearly everyone in Washington — ordered that troop increase, Bush. Obama tacitly acknowledged the surge had worked, though he didn’t seem to remember that he’d insisted that it would worsen conditions in Iraq.

No, he’s not alone. It has become a nervous tic with Obama. Something is wrong, people are upset — blame Bush! Obama is going to need to rely on conservative support to prosecute the war since his own crowd certainly won’t be cheerleading for him. So it would have been politically smart and classy to have credited Bush with the surge or with leaving him the assessment for the Afghanistan war, which he relied on in the spring (the one his team previously denied receiving). But that’s not this president’s style. For reasons that aren’t quite clear — either personal peevishness or political expediency — even in a wartime speech in which bipartisanship would have been essential, he felt compelled to get in his digs. If President Obama seems smaller than candidate Obama it’s because he allows pettiness to get the best of him. He should give it up. He’s now president after all.

In a smart take on the West Point speech Fred Barnes observes:

I couldn’t be the only person who thought Obama once again both scapegoated and slighted George W. Bush. Early on in his administration, Obama recalled that he had agreed to a “longstanding request for more troops” in Afghanistan, implying that Bush had turned that request down. I don’t think that’s quite accurate.

And Obama praised the military for the success of the “surge” in Iraq without mentioning the person who — against the advice of nearly everyone in Washington — ordered that troop increase, Bush. Obama tacitly acknowledged the surge had worked, though he didn’t seem to remember that he’d insisted that it would worsen conditions in Iraq.

No, he’s not alone. It has become a nervous tic with Obama. Something is wrong, people are upset — blame Bush! Obama is going to need to rely on conservative support to prosecute the war since his own crowd certainly won’t be cheerleading for him. So it would have been politically smart and classy to have credited Bush with the surge or with leaving him the assessment for the Afghanistan war, which he relied on in the spring (the one his team previously denied receiving). But that’s not this president’s style. For reasons that aren’t quite clear — either personal peevishness or political expediency — even in a wartime speech in which bipartisanship would have been essential, he felt compelled to get in his digs. If President Obama seems smaller than candidate Obama it’s because he allows pettiness to get the best of him. He should give it up. He’s now president after all.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Andy McCarthy writes: “A panel of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of my old adversary, Lynne Stewart, for providing material support to terrorism — i.e., helping the Blind Sheikh run his Egyptian terrorist organization from U.S. prison, where he is serving a life-sentence.” You mean terrorists run plots out of U.S. prisons? Oh yes, indeed. Another reason to keep the Guantanamo detainees where they are.

Democrats realize the problem with the phony stimulus numbers. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.): “The inaccuracies on recovery.gov that have come to light are outrageous and the Administration owes itself, the Congress, and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes. … Credibility counts in government and stupid mistakes like this undermine it.”  Indeed.

Tim Geithner is in trouble again. Fred Barnes explains: “Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is in trouble again, and this time he may not be able to save his job. You’ll recall that his confirmation was threatened by revelations of cheating on his income taxes. Now he’s accused of paying billions too much for the bailout of AIG and allowing the insurance firm’s Wall Street creditors — Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia — to be paid in full for their derivative contracts with $27.1 billion in taxpayers’ money.”

The dean of Harvard Medical School finds that “the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care’s dysfunctional delivery system. … Worse, currently proposed federal legislation would undermine any potential for real innovation in insurance and the provision of care. It would do so by over-regulating the health-care system in the service of special interests such as insurance companies, hospitals, professional organizations and pharmaceutical companies, rather than the patients who should be our primary concern.” Maybe the status quo is not so bad after all.

PelosiCare is so awful that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to “shield” his caucus from ever having to vote on it. Hmm. One wonders how all the Democrats forced to walk the plank in the House feel about that. Sort of like cap-and-trade, huh?

This, from Public Opinion Strategies poll, may explain why: “Opposition to President Obama’s health care plan is higher after the House vote than our previous tracks (29% favor/40% oppose). Voters’ net opposition to the plan has increased from -6% in September (31% favor/37% oppose) to -11% today.”

Ben Smith on the teleprompter jibes: “It’s a bad storyline for the president, and thoroughly in the bloodstream.”

James Pinkerton: “Obama is betting his presidency on the proposition that what America needs is another Warren Court, bringing the wondrous benefits of Miranda warnings to Al Qaeda and other civilization-clashers.”

Republicans are finding it easier to recruit top-tier challengers for House races. The same thing happened in 1994 and for Democrats in 2006. When solid candidates think they can win, they are willing to throw their hats into the ring.

Andy McCarthy writes: “A panel of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of my old adversary, Lynne Stewart, for providing material support to terrorism — i.e., helping the Blind Sheikh run his Egyptian terrorist organization from U.S. prison, where he is serving a life-sentence.” You mean terrorists run plots out of U.S. prisons? Oh yes, indeed. Another reason to keep the Guantanamo detainees where they are.

Democrats realize the problem with the phony stimulus numbers. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.): “The inaccuracies on recovery.gov that have come to light are outrageous and the Administration owes itself, the Congress, and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes. … Credibility counts in government and stupid mistakes like this undermine it.”  Indeed.

Tim Geithner is in trouble again. Fred Barnes explains: “Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is in trouble again, and this time he may not be able to save his job. You’ll recall that his confirmation was threatened by revelations of cheating on his income taxes. Now he’s accused of paying billions too much for the bailout of AIG and allowing the insurance firm’s Wall Street creditors — Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia — to be paid in full for their derivative contracts with $27.1 billion in taxpayers’ money.”

The dean of Harvard Medical School finds that “the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care’s dysfunctional delivery system. … Worse, currently proposed federal legislation would undermine any potential for real innovation in insurance and the provision of care. It would do so by over-regulating the health-care system in the service of special interests such as insurance companies, hospitals, professional organizations and pharmaceutical companies, rather than the patients who should be our primary concern.” Maybe the status quo is not so bad after all.

PelosiCare is so awful that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to “shield” his caucus from ever having to vote on it. Hmm. One wonders how all the Democrats forced to walk the plank in the House feel about that. Sort of like cap-and-trade, huh?

This, from Public Opinion Strategies poll, may explain why: “Opposition to President Obama’s health care plan is higher after the House vote than our previous tracks (29% favor/40% oppose). Voters’ net opposition to the plan has increased from -6% in September (31% favor/37% oppose) to -11% today.”

Ben Smith on the teleprompter jibes: “It’s a bad storyline for the president, and thoroughly in the bloodstream.”

James Pinkerton: “Obama is betting his presidency on the proposition that what America needs is another Warren Court, bringing the wondrous benefits of Miranda warnings to Al Qaeda and other civilization-clashers.”

Republicans are finding it easier to recruit top-tier challengers for House races. The same thing happened in 1994 and for Democrats in 2006. When solid candidates think they can win, they are willing to throw their hats into the ring.

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Maybe Doing Nothing Is More Popular After All

The Hill reports:

As Democrats in Congress struggle with a healthcare bill, Democrats running for office are treating it as a political hot potato.

Few Democrats in big races are jumping headlong into supporting the healthcare bill the House passed last weekend. While those running in blue areas or in tough Democratic primaries quibble with its abortion-funding restrictions, those running in red areas worry about the cost of the package.

Has anyone told Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi? They, of course, are operating under the premise that it’s political death for the Democrats to do nothing; fellow Democrats, however, who are facing the wrath of voters see things differently. Democratic candidates are “expressing reservations” or “keeping their powder dry.” They like health-care reform in theory, but few are jumping on the bandwagon. So what then is a Democrat in the Senate or House who doesn’t have a slam-dunk election less than a year from now to do?

We’ve been told for months that health care was building momentum, that with each vote or procedural hurdle we were getting closer to passage of ObamaCare. But is that right? There’s been no rush to embrace it. Quite the opposite. Voters remain opposed to a government takeover of health care and are getting more skeptical of the notion that this is government’s responsibility. As Fred Barnes notes:

What if an undecided Democratic senator, in a private chat with the president, asks about the public’s distaste for liberal health care reform? “Mr. President, how will it help you and Democrats to pass an unpopular bill?” Obama may have a persuasive answer, but I can’t imagine what it might be.

Until Democrats are convinced that the public won’t punish them for ramming through a raft of new taxes and huge Medicare cuts and calling it health-care reform, I would suggest that at least the Obama version is not going to get past the “greatest deliberative body.” The Senate has a way of mulling these things over for a good long time when enough members would rather do nothing at all.

The Hill reports:

As Democrats in Congress struggle with a healthcare bill, Democrats running for office are treating it as a political hot potato.

Few Democrats in big races are jumping headlong into supporting the healthcare bill the House passed last weekend. While those running in blue areas or in tough Democratic primaries quibble with its abortion-funding restrictions, those running in red areas worry about the cost of the package.

Has anyone told Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi? They, of course, are operating under the premise that it’s political death for the Democrats to do nothing; fellow Democrats, however, who are facing the wrath of voters see things differently. Democratic candidates are “expressing reservations” or “keeping their powder dry.” They like health-care reform in theory, but few are jumping on the bandwagon. So what then is a Democrat in the Senate or House who doesn’t have a slam-dunk election less than a year from now to do?

We’ve been told for months that health care was building momentum, that with each vote or procedural hurdle we were getting closer to passage of ObamaCare. But is that right? There’s been no rush to embrace it. Quite the opposite. Voters remain opposed to a government takeover of health care and are getting more skeptical of the notion that this is government’s responsibility. As Fred Barnes notes:

What if an undecided Democratic senator, in a private chat with the president, asks about the public’s distaste for liberal health care reform? “Mr. President, how will it help you and Democrats to pass an unpopular bill?” Obama may have a persuasive answer, but I can’t imagine what it might be.

Until Democrats are convinced that the public won’t punish them for ramming through a raft of new taxes and huge Medicare cuts and calling it health-care reform, I would suggest that at least the Obama version is not going to get past the “greatest deliberative body.” The Senate has a way of mulling these things over for a good long time when enough members would rather do nothing at all.

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Good News for the GOP

Last night was an almost perfect outcome for the GOP. Hillary Clinton won by a wide enough margin to keep her in the hunt, infuse her campaign with much-needed cash, and keep super-delegates from breaking en masse to Obama. But the results by themselves are not enough to change–at least not yet–the eventual outcome. Barack Obama will probably still win the nomination. But he is looking far less formidable than he did even six weeks ago.

Senator Obama outspent Clinton by around 3 to 1–and he was wiped out. He lost badly among women, Catholics, union households, working class voters, and those who didn’t attend college. Clinton carried both white voters 45 and older and weekly churchgoers by more than 60 percent. Only six in ten Democratic Catholic voters said they would vote for Obama in a general election; more than one in five said they would vote for McCain. Nearly one-third of Clinton voters said they wouldn’t vote for Obama if he’s the nominee. As Fred Barnes wrote, “After Pennsylvania, Clinton’s argument that she’s a stronger opponent against McCain will be impossible to ignore or dismiss.”

The Democratic contest, which is already heated and personal, is only going to get worse. The anger that supporters of Obama and Clinton feel for the other candidate is palpable. The Democrats appear headed for what Andrew Sullivan calls a “death struggle.”

Senator Obama is still the favorite–the math, the rules, and the calendar are all in his favor–but he’s now on the ropes, cut and bleeding, and even a bit wobbly. He could have put Hillary Clinton away with victories in New Hampshire, in Texas, and in Pennsylvania, but he let those opportunities slip away. And now he’s paying a high price for it.

One of the problems faced by Obama is that his appeal has been largely stylistic and aesthetic, based on his personality and character. The core of his campaign is not built on his ideas, as was the case with Ronald Reagan. It’s based on his assertion that he embodies unity and change, a new era in politics, a way past the deep divisions and polarization that have characterized so much of our politics. Which is why this paragraph in today’s Washington Post is worth noting:

Unable once again to score a knockout, Sen. Barack Obama is likely to make his new negative tone even more negative…. the candidate who rocketed to stardom as the embodiment of a new kind of politics — hopeful, positive and inspiring — saw his image tarnished in the bruising fight for Pennsylvania. Provoked by Clinton’s repeated references to his remarks about the state’s voters and her charges that he is an “elitist,” Obama struck back in the closing days of the campaign.

Obama has no choice but to fire back against Clinton–but in doing so, he badly undercuts the rationale for his candidacy. He is discovering what many other sincere and even high-minded candidates have found: changing the tone in Washington is a lot harder than it seems. Politics in America has been a contact sport since about 1800, when Jefferson and Adams went after one another viciously. If one’s political purpose is philosophical and policy-driven rather than tonal, then “negative campaigning,” while regrettable, is not fundamentally harmful. But if, like Obama, hope, change, and unity are your main appeal, it can be lethal.

Barack Obama has presented himself as a fundamentally different kind of political figure. But he now looks more and more conventional–in his liberal policy positions, in how he is conducting his campaign, and in his associations (including Reverend Wright, William Ayers, and Antoin “Tony” Rezko). All of this is building a narrative quite problematic for the junior senator from Illinois. People are beginning to wonder whether his candidacy of transcendence was merely an illusion.

Politics constantly teaches us not to draw too many sweeping conclusions from particular moments in time. It’s true that Obama offers a far more target-rich environment than he did earlier this year, and his appeal to key constituencies is (from his perspective) troublingly limited. But the GOP temptation to write him off as a fatally flawed or easily beatable candidate ought to be resisted.

The political environment still favors Democrats. And Obama is a money-making machine, his political operation is quite good, and he still possesses impressive skills. Every person who has run for the presidency goes through a period of trial and testing, when things seem bleak and sometimes even hopeless (like John McCain in the summer of ’07). But if and when Obama secures the nomination, he’ll receive a big boost. Democrats will begin to rally around him just as the GOP rallied around McCain and his poll ratings vis-à-vis McCain will get better. But what seemed improbable just three months ago now seems possible: a Republican victory in November.

Last night was an almost perfect outcome for the GOP. Hillary Clinton won by a wide enough margin to keep her in the hunt, infuse her campaign with much-needed cash, and keep super-delegates from breaking en masse to Obama. But the results by themselves are not enough to change–at least not yet–the eventual outcome. Barack Obama will probably still win the nomination. But he is looking far less formidable than he did even six weeks ago.

Senator Obama outspent Clinton by around 3 to 1–and he was wiped out. He lost badly among women, Catholics, union households, working class voters, and those who didn’t attend college. Clinton carried both white voters 45 and older and weekly churchgoers by more than 60 percent. Only six in ten Democratic Catholic voters said they would vote for Obama in a general election; more than one in five said they would vote for McCain. Nearly one-third of Clinton voters said they wouldn’t vote for Obama if he’s the nominee. As Fred Barnes wrote, “After Pennsylvania, Clinton’s argument that she’s a stronger opponent against McCain will be impossible to ignore or dismiss.”

The Democratic contest, which is already heated and personal, is only going to get worse. The anger that supporters of Obama and Clinton feel for the other candidate is palpable. The Democrats appear headed for what Andrew Sullivan calls a “death struggle.”

Senator Obama is still the favorite–the math, the rules, and the calendar are all in his favor–but he’s now on the ropes, cut and bleeding, and even a bit wobbly. He could have put Hillary Clinton away with victories in New Hampshire, in Texas, and in Pennsylvania, but he let those opportunities slip away. And now he’s paying a high price for it.

One of the problems faced by Obama is that his appeal has been largely stylistic and aesthetic, based on his personality and character. The core of his campaign is not built on his ideas, as was the case with Ronald Reagan. It’s based on his assertion that he embodies unity and change, a new era in politics, a way past the deep divisions and polarization that have characterized so much of our politics. Which is why this paragraph in today’s Washington Post is worth noting:

Unable once again to score a knockout, Sen. Barack Obama is likely to make his new negative tone even more negative…. the candidate who rocketed to stardom as the embodiment of a new kind of politics — hopeful, positive and inspiring — saw his image tarnished in the bruising fight for Pennsylvania. Provoked by Clinton’s repeated references to his remarks about the state’s voters and her charges that he is an “elitist,” Obama struck back in the closing days of the campaign.

Obama has no choice but to fire back against Clinton–but in doing so, he badly undercuts the rationale for his candidacy. He is discovering what many other sincere and even high-minded candidates have found: changing the tone in Washington is a lot harder than it seems. Politics in America has been a contact sport since about 1800, when Jefferson and Adams went after one another viciously. If one’s political purpose is philosophical and policy-driven rather than tonal, then “negative campaigning,” while regrettable, is not fundamentally harmful. But if, like Obama, hope, change, and unity are your main appeal, it can be lethal.

Barack Obama has presented himself as a fundamentally different kind of political figure. But he now looks more and more conventional–in his liberal policy positions, in how he is conducting his campaign, and in his associations (including Reverend Wright, William Ayers, and Antoin “Tony” Rezko). All of this is building a narrative quite problematic for the junior senator from Illinois. People are beginning to wonder whether his candidacy of transcendence was merely an illusion.

Politics constantly teaches us not to draw too many sweeping conclusions from particular moments in time. It’s true that Obama offers a far more target-rich environment than he did earlier this year, and his appeal to key constituencies is (from his perspective) troublingly limited. But the GOP temptation to write him off as a fatally flawed or easily beatable candidate ought to be resisted.

The political environment still favors Democrats. And Obama is a money-making machine, his political operation is quite good, and he still possesses impressive skills. Every person who has run for the presidency goes through a period of trial and testing, when things seem bleak and sometimes even hopeless (like John McCain in the summer of ’07). But if and when Obama secures the nomination, he’ll receive a big boost. Democrats will begin to rally around him just as the GOP rallied around McCain and his poll ratings vis-à-vis McCain will get better. But what seemed improbable just three months ago now seems possible: a Republican victory in November.

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Big News from Baghdad

ABC News’ Clarissa Ward reports that:

If you’re looking for one measure of the impact of last year’s troop surge in Iraq, look at Gen. David Petraeus as he walks through a Baghdad neighborhood, with no body armor, and no helmet. It’s been one year since the beginning of what’s known here as Operation Fardh Al Qadnoon. According to the U.S. military, violence is down 60 percent. One key to the success is reconciliation.

“A big part of the effort, over the last year, has been to determine who is reconcilable, who, literally, is willing to put down his rifle and talk, who is willing to shout, instead of shoot.” Petraeus said. I spent the day with Petraeus, touring Jihad, a predominantly Shiite area in western Baghdad. This place was formerly ravaged by sectarian violence, and militiamen wreaked havoc on the streets. In the last year, U.S. and Iraqi troops moved into the neighborhood, set up joint security stations, earned the trust of local people, and found those men willing to put down their guns and work with them. The results of the last year can be seen on the streets. A soccer team practices on the local pitch. The stalls in the market buzz with customers. I stop to talk to local residents, and ask if they feel a difference. Overwhelmingly, the answer is a resounding yes. “The situation in Jihad is certainly better than before,” a mechanic named Ali said. “Work is constant, shops are reopening, and people are coming back to their homes.” Notwithstanding significant progress, much work clearly remains. The Iraqi government has yet to capitalize on the relative peace and improve the local infrastructure. Sewage and trash fester in the streets. “We have very little electricity,” Ali said. The hope is, that with the passing of a budget this week, that will change. “That unlocks a substantial amount of money for the ministries of Iraq, so that they can start going about the jobs that are so essential, like patching roads that we bounced down today; over long term, improving electricity, fixing water systems, sewer systems,” Petraeus said. Normally very guarded in his assessments of the surge, Petraeus now expresses cautious optimism.

“I have to tell you that, having been here for a number of years, this is very encouraging, actually. I mean, this is, this is potentially a big moment.” he said.

A potentially big moment indeed. We are now seeing extraordinary security gains from the last year translate into both political reconciliation and legislative progress. Within the last week the Iraqi parliament passed key laws having to do with provincial elections (the law devolves power to the local level in a decentralization system that is groundbreaking for the region), the distribution of resources, and amnesty. And those laws follow ones passed in recent months having to do with pensions, investment, and de-Ba’athification.

American Ambassador Ryan Crocker told Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard that “the whole motivating factor” beyond the legislation was “reconciliation, not retribution.” This is “remarkably different” from six months ago, according to the widely respected, straight-talking Crocker.

Progress in Iraq means life is getting progressively more difficult for Democrats and their two presidential front-runners, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Having strongly opposed the surge, Obama and Clinton have been forced by events to concede that security progress has been made. But until now they have insisted that the surge is a failure because we’re not seeing political progress. That claim is now being shattered.

Soon Obama and Clinton will have no argument left to justify their position on Iraq. It will become increasingly clear that they are committed to leaving Iraq simply because they are committed to leaving Iraq, regardless of the awful consequences that would follow. It is an amazing thing to witness: two leading presidential candidates who are committed to engineering an American retreat, which would lead to an American defeat, despite the progress we are making on every conceivable front.

At the end of the day, this position will hurt Democrats badly, because their position will hurt America badly.

ABC News’ Clarissa Ward reports that:

If you’re looking for one measure of the impact of last year’s troop surge in Iraq, look at Gen. David Petraeus as he walks through a Baghdad neighborhood, with no body armor, and no helmet. It’s been one year since the beginning of what’s known here as Operation Fardh Al Qadnoon. According to the U.S. military, violence is down 60 percent. One key to the success is reconciliation.

“A big part of the effort, over the last year, has been to determine who is reconcilable, who, literally, is willing to put down his rifle and talk, who is willing to shout, instead of shoot.” Petraeus said. I spent the day with Petraeus, touring Jihad, a predominantly Shiite area in western Baghdad. This place was formerly ravaged by sectarian violence, and militiamen wreaked havoc on the streets. In the last year, U.S. and Iraqi troops moved into the neighborhood, set up joint security stations, earned the trust of local people, and found those men willing to put down their guns and work with them. The results of the last year can be seen on the streets. A soccer team practices on the local pitch. The stalls in the market buzz with customers. I stop to talk to local residents, and ask if they feel a difference. Overwhelmingly, the answer is a resounding yes. “The situation in Jihad is certainly better than before,” a mechanic named Ali said. “Work is constant, shops are reopening, and people are coming back to their homes.” Notwithstanding significant progress, much work clearly remains. The Iraqi government has yet to capitalize on the relative peace and improve the local infrastructure. Sewage and trash fester in the streets. “We have very little electricity,” Ali said. The hope is, that with the passing of a budget this week, that will change. “That unlocks a substantial amount of money for the ministries of Iraq, so that they can start going about the jobs that are so essential, like patching roads that we bounced down today; over long term, improving electricity, fixing water systems, sewer systems,” Petraeus said. Normally very guarded in his assessments of the surge, Petraeus now expresses cautious optimism.

“I have to tell you that, having been here for a number of years, this is very encouraging, actually. I mean, this is, this is potentially a big moment.” he said.

A potentially big moment indeed. We are now seeing extraordinary security gains from the last year translate into both political reconciliation and legislative progress. Within the last week the Iraqi parliament passed key laws having to do with provincial elections (the law devolves power to the local level in a decentralization system that is groundbreaking for the region), the distribution of resources, and amnesty. And those laws follow ones passed in recent months having to do with pensions, investment, and de-Ba’athification.

American Ambassador Ryan Crocker told Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard that “the whole motivating factor” beyond the legislation was “reconciliation, not retribution.” This is “remarkably different” from six months ago, according to the widely respected, straight-talking Crocker.

Progress in Iraq means life is getting progressively more difficult for Democrats and their two presidential front-runners, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Having strongly opposed the surge, Obama and Clinton have been forced by events to concede that security progress has been made. But until now they have insisted that the surge is a failure because we’re not seeing political progress. That claim is now being shattered.

Soon Obama and Clinton will have no argument left to justify their position on Iraq. It will become increasingly clear that they are committed to leaving Iraq simply because they are committed to leaving Iraq, regardless of the awful consequences that would follow. It is an amazing thing to witness: two leading presidential candidates who are committed to engineering an American retreat, which would lead to an American defeat, despite the progress we are making on every conceivable front.

At the end of the day, this position will hurt Democrats badly, because their position will hurt America badly.

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Looking Ahead To Tuesday And Beyond

As goes Nevada, so goes Maine. Yes, the delegates are non-binding, but it does show that Mitt Romney’s problem was not lack of organization, money or effort.

Elsewhere, there is good polling news for John McCain. A batch of Sunday McClatchy-MSNBC polls shows him ahead in California, Missouri, Georgia and New Jersey by comfortable margins. He holds a 2 to 1 advantage over Romney in the latest national polls. He collected endorsements in Georgia and Massachusetts (a number of names were on Rudy’s list previously) on Saturday. Romney has been trying to suggest that the race will not end on Tuesday, but the delegate math and Romney’s chosen campaign locales may suggest otherwise.

If this plays out as expected on Tuesday, there will be plenty still for McCain to do. Fred Barnes ends his thoughtful column on what McCain might do after Tuesday by quoting Barry Goldwater’s advice (“Let’s grow up, conservatives”), but not everyone has finished with their temper tantrums. (Sometimes it is wise to put up one’s hand and, in effect, say “count me out” of the ranting.)

McCain took a nice step in the right direction this morning on Fox News Sunday with a sunny, poised performance. He evinced every intention of reaching out to conservatives and committed to vetoing any Democratic tax hike and to appointing judges like Justices Alito and Roberts, even though they might strike down the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. (He had an amusing interchange with Hillary Clinton as well, as they both momentarily dispensed with their primary rivals and agreed they would have a spirited campaign. I’m sure Ann Coulter would be disappointed to see both agree what stark differences they would present.)

On the Democratic side, the proportional voting system in all states will lead to less decisive results on Tuesday. There are some signs that Barack Obama is making progress. He is within two points in California. He has narrowed the gap in national polls. Clinton, as the polls indicate, has an advantage in several states with large blocks of delegates. However, if Obama can win (or come close) in California and win in Illinois(where he leads comfortably), he will stay in the hunt and move on to friendlier territory in the following week’s contests in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

As goes Nevada, so goes Maine. Yes, the delegates are non-binding, but it does show that Mitt Romney’s problem was not lack of organization, money or effort.

Elsewhere, there is good polling news for John McCain. A batch of Sunday McClatchy-MSNBC polls shows him ahead in California, Missouri, Georgia and New Jersey by comfortable margins. He holds a 2 to 1 advantage over Romney in the latest national polls. He collected endorsements in Georgia and Massachusetts (a number of names were on Rudy’s list previously) on Saturday. Romney has been trying to suggest that the race will not end on Tuesday, but the delegate math and Romney’s chosen campaign locales may suggest otherwise.

If this plays out as expected on Tuesday, there will be plenty still for McCain to do. Fred Barnes ends his thoughtful column on what McCain might do after Tuesday by quoting Barry Goldwater’s advice (“Let’s grow up, conservatives”), but not everyone has finished with their temper tantrums. (Sometimes it is wise to put up one’s hand and, in effect, say “count me out” of the ranting.)

McCain took a nice step in the right direction this morning on Fox News Sunday with a sunny, poised performance. He evinced every intention of reaching out to conservatives and committed to vetoing any Democratic tax hike and to appointing judges like Justices Alito and Roberts, even though they might strike down the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. (He had an amusing interchange with Hillary Clinton as well, as they both momentarily dispensed with their primary rivals and agreed they would have a spirited campaign. I’m sure Ann Coulter would be disappointed to see both agree what stark differences they would present.)

On the Democratic side, the proportional voting system in all states will lead to less decisive results on Tuesday. There are some signs that Barack Obama is making progress. He is within two points in California. He has narrowed the gap in national polls. Clinton, as the polls indicate, has an advantage in several states with large blocks of delegates. However, if Obama can win (or come close) in California and win in Illinois(where he leads comfortably), he will stay in the hunt and move on to friendlier territory in the following week’s contests in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

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Rumsfeld’s (Not Bad) Idea

I hesitate to forward a suggestion made by Don Rumsfeld, who is likely to go down along with Robert McNamara as one of our worst secretaries of defense. While the United States was on the cusp of the worst military defeat since Vietnam, he seemed strangely disengaged—more focused on futuristic transformation than on reversing the sad course of events in Iraq.

That puzzling impression is only reinforced by Fred Barnes’s excellent Weekly Standard article on the origins of the surge. Barnes notes that “In September [2007], Rumsfeld had rejected the idea of a surge when retired general Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the Army and a member of the advisory Defense Policy Review Board, met with him and Pace.” But by December, “with Bush favoring a strategy nearly identical to Keane’s, he didn’t object.”
Fairly or not the conclusion one can draw is that Rumsfeld’s attitude was: “Surge, splurge. Who cares? I’m more interested in tinkering with the Future Combat System!”

But simply because Rumsfeld was overly focused on “transformation,” and often the wrong kind of transformation (favoring high-tech weapons systems of little use against guerrillas and terrorists), that doesn’t mean that all of his prescriptions were incorrect. Just last week he gave a speech suggesting that America needs a strategic communications agency—an idea that isn’t original to him but that he is right to advocate. Rumsfeld noted that Congress and the Clinton administration made a tragic mistake by folding the US Information Agency into the State Department in 1999. According to a news account of his speech:

A 21st-century version of the USIA is needed to harness new communications techniques—from blogs to online social-networking sites to talk radio—to counter a constant torrent of propaganda from radical organizations, particularly in the Middle East, he said.

I completely agree. In fact it’s an idea I’ve pushed in the past myself. (See, e.g., this New York Times article.) I would only add a point about the direction that this new USIA should take.

It would be a mistake to do as Charlotte Beers and Karen Hughes have done with the public diplomacy portfolio at the State Department and try to use their communications machinery to drive up America’s favorability ratings as if Uncle Sam were a candidate running for office. It would be nice if everyone around the world liked us, but that’s unlikely to happen, and it shouldn’t be our primary goal anyway. The strategic communications effort should have two objectives: (1) to help moderate Muslims battle the radicals; and (2) to increase respect for American power so as to send a firm message that it doesn’t pay to mess with us.

I hesitate to forward a suggestion made by Don Rumsfeld, who is likely to go down along with Robert McNamara as one of our worst secretaries of defense. While the United States was on the cusp of the worst military defeat since Vietnam, he seemed strangely disengaged—more focused on futuristic transformation than on reversing the sad course of events in Iraq.

That puzzling impression is only reinforced by Fred Barnes’s excellent Weekly Standard article on the origins of the surge. Barnes notes that “In September [2007], Rumsfeld had rejected the idea of a surge when retired general Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the Army and a member of the advisory Defense Policy Review Board, met with him and Pace.” But by December, “with Bush favoring a strategy nearly identical to Keane’s, he didn’t object.”
Fairly or not the conclusion one can draw is that Rumsfeld’s attitude was: “Surge, splurge. Who cares? I’m more interested in tinkering with the Future Combat System!”

But simply because Rumsfeld was overly focused on “transformation,” and often the wrong kind of transformation (favoring high-tech weapons systems of little use against guerrillas and terrorists), that doesn’t mean that all of his prescriptions were incorrect. Just last week he gave a speech suggesting that America needs a strategic communications agency—an idea that isn’t original to him but that he is right to advocate. Rumsfeld noted that Congress and the Clinton administration made a tragic mistake by folding the US Information Agency into the State Department in 1999. According to a news account of his speech:

A 21st-century version of the USIA is needed to harness new communications techniques—from blogs to online social-networking sites to talk radio—to counter a constant torrent of propaganda from radical organizations, particularly in the Middle East, he said.

I completely agree. In fact it’s an idea I’ve pushed in the past myself. (See, e.g., this New York Times article.) I would only add a point about the direction that this new USIA should take.

It would be a mistake to do as Charlotte Beers and Karen Hughes have done with the public diplomacy portfolio at the State Department and try to use their communications machinery to drive up America’s favorability ratings as if Uncle Sam were a candidate running for office. It would be nice if everyone around the world liked us, but that’s unlikely to happen, and it shouldn’t be our primary goal anyway. The strategic communications effort should have two objectives: (1) to help moderate Muslims battle the radicals; and (2) to increase respect for American power so as to send a firm message that it doesn’t pay to mess with us.

Read Less




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