Commentary Magazine


Topic: Fred Hiatt

Mocking Conservative Victims of Violence

The cynicism of the Washington, D.C., press toward national politics has become so profound that when a politician gives a detailed speech about a serious issue with immediate ramifications, the journalists splashing around in the kiddy pool of Beltway conventional wisdom don’t know how to react. Such was the case on Friday when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a thorough indictment of the Democratic Party’s attempts to bully, punish, and silence its political opponents.

The speech, delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, was more than 4,000 words long, yet Politico’s write-up of it found the one word it wanted–Koch–and repeated it over and over as if that was the point of the speech. Yet Politico isn’t the only outlet that assumes any time a Republican defends free speech he is covering for moneyed interests. Fred Hiatt’s latest column in the Washington Post is a disturbing example of what free speech advocates are up against when it comes to a national media obsessed with smearing conservatives instead of doing its job.

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The cynicism of the Washington, D.C., press toward national politics has become so profound that when a politician gives a detailed speech about a serious issue with immediate ramifications, the journalists splashing around in the kiddy pool of Beltway conventional wisdom don’t know how to react. Such was the case on Friday when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a thorough indictment of the Democratic Party’s attempts to bully, punish, and silence its political opponents.

The speech, delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, was more than 4,000 words long, yet Politico’s write-up of it found the one word it wanted–Koch–and repeated it over and over as if that was the point of the speech. Yet Politico isn’t the only outlet that assumes any time a Republican defends free speech he is covering for moneyed interests. Fred Hiatt’s latest column in the Washington Post is a disturbing example of what free speech advocates are up against when it comes to a national media obsessed with smearing conservatives instead of doing its job.

McConnell said he favors donor disclosure for those who give to candidates and parties–a position he has held consistently. He also said everyone should have to play by the same rules with regard to disclosure, rather than allow those in power to exempt their donors while singling out those of their opponents. But Hiatt, attempting to peer into the dark Republican soul of his imagined adversaries, has divined what McConnell and the Republicans really want:

They want unlimited contributions, in secret.

“Republicans are in favor of disclosure,” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in 2000 on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” making clear he was including issue advocacy — campaign ads with a thin veil of policy — as well as candidate spending. “Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

That first sentence is undone by McConnell’s own speech. But what about that second part–is that the Beltway’s favorite piece of evidence, the smoking gun of hypocrisy?

No, of course not. Hiatt wants Republicans to drop their opposition to the DISCLOSE Act, which would protect liberal interest groups while removing protections from conservative groups. Here’s McConnell in his own words:

This is the Democrats’ legislative response to Citizens United, in which the Supreme Court correctly ruled that Congress may not ban political speech based on the identity of the speaker. The DISCLOSE Act aims to get around this ruling by compelling certain targeted groups to disclose the names of their donors, while excluding others, such as unions, from doing the same….

Because if disclosure is forced upon some but not all, it’s not an act of good government, it’s a political weapon. And that’s precisely what those who are pushing this legislation have in mind. This is nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies. And that should concern every one of us.

Hiatt says nothing has changed except an influx of money to the GOP, suggesting that McConnell has been bought off by, I don’t know, the infamous Free Speech Lobby? But then Hiatt moves on to defending the indefensible. Part of McConnell’s speech was calling attention to the strategy of liberal groups, sometimes aided by government agencies such as the IRS, of intimidating donors to conservative grassroots causes.

Hiatt, in the most shameful sentence of a shameful column, writes off these intimidation tactics as conservatives merely “being called mean names by liberals.” But McConnell reminded his audience that conservatives have received death threats (I know private citizens personally who have been subjected to this), had their private information made public, had their children harassed by liberal bloggers, and have been the victims of a new liberal tactic called SWATting, in which a liberal blogger or activist will make a fake 9-1-1 call reporting a murder at the house of his target, to which law enforcement (often SWAT teams) will show up with guns out ready for a firefight.

Hiatt presumably does not need the danger of this explained to him, nor would he need a primer on why death threats are not merely “mean things” people say. He just doesn’t care. But he should at least stop dismissing acts of violence and mocking the victims.

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The Human Rights “Charm Offensive”

Fred Hiatt is hopeful — as so many observers have been during the Obama administration — that the president is “turning the corner” on his foreign policy, specifically in the area of human rights and democracy promotion. Hiatt recounts some of the administration’s failings:

The administration criticized the narrowing of freedom in Russia, but cooperation on Iran was a higher priority. It chided Hosni Mubarak for choking civil society in Egypt, but the autocrat’s cooperation on Israel-Palestine mattered more.

Sadly, in fact, it seemed fellow democracies often paid a higher price for real or supposed human-rights failings: Colombia, for example, where human rights was the excuse for not promoting a free-trade agreement.

But it’s worse than that, really. We stiffed the Green movement and cut funding to groups that monitor Iranian human rights abuses. We facilitated the egregious behavior of the UN Human Rights Council. Our Sudan policy has been widely condemned by the left and right. Our record on promotion of religious freedom has been shoddy. We acquiesced as Iran was placed on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We turned a blind eye toward serial human rights atrocities in the Muslim World. We flattered and cajoled Assad in Syria with nary a concern for human rights. We told China that human rights wouldn’t stand in the way of relations between the countries. We’ve suggested that Fidel Castro might enjoy better relations and an influx of U.S. tourist dollars without any improvement in human rights. And the administration ludicrously sided with a lackey of Hugo Chavez against the democratic institutions of Honduras. The list goes on and on.

As I and other observers have noted, the Obama human rights policy has more often than not focused on America’s ills – supposed Islamophobia, homophobia, racism, and the like: “Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have found some victims of rights-transgression who are of very great interest to them — indeed, since some of them are here at home, and sinned against by America herself!”

But Hiatt thinks Obama is turning over a new leaf: “[A]couple of weeks ago, in his second annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama declared that ‘freedom, justice and peace in the lives of individual human beings’ are, for the United States, ‘a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity.'” Yes, but we’ve heard pretty words before. What makes Hiatt think that this time around Obama honestly means it? He concedes that the proof will be in what Obama actually does:

If Obama’s speech signals a genuine shift, we will see the administration insist on election monitors in Egypt or withhold aid if Mubarak says no. It will wield real tools — visa bans, bank account seizures — to sanction human-rights abusers in Russia and China. It will not only claim to support a U.N. inquiry into Burma’s crimes against humanity but will call in chits from friends in Thailand, Singapore or India to make such an inquiry happen.

And maybe the administration will stop sabotaging Obama’s message on his most active foreign policy front: the war in Afghanistan. There, in its almost aggressive insistence that the war is about protecting the U.S. homeland — and only about protecting the U.S. homeland — the administration undercuts its claim to be a champion of “universal values.”

You’ll excuse me if I’m skeptical, but we’ve been down this road before. And to really be serious about human rights, Obama would need to undo and revise his entire Muslim-outreach scheme. Instead of ingratiating himself with despots, he would need to challenge them. Instead of telling Muslim audiences in Cairo that the most significant women’s rights issue was “for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear,” he would need to start challenging regimes that countenance and promote violence against women, child marriages, stonings, lashings, honor killings, etc. He would likewise need to revisit systematically our “reset” with Russia and our indifference to Chavez’s shenanigans in this hemisphere. Is this president going to do all that?

It’s lovely that the president is planning a trip “through Asia designed in part to put meat on the bones of his new rhetoric … [where] he will announce grants for nongovernmental organizations that the administration hopes will flower into the kind of domestic lobbies that can push their own governments to promote democracy abroad.” But unless there is a fundamental rethinking and reworking of foreign policy, this will be simply another PR effort that does little for the oppressed souls around the world.

Fred Hiatt is hopeful — as so many observers have been during the Obama administration — that the president is “turning the corner” on his foreign policy, specifically in the area of human rights and democracy promotion. Hiatt recounts some of the administration’s failings:

The administration criticized the narrowing of freedom in Russia, but cooperation on Iran was a higher priority. It chided Hosni Mubarak for choking civil society in Egypt, but the autocrat’s cooperation on Israel-Palestine mattered more.

Sadly, in fact, it seemed fellow democracies often paid a higher price for real or supposed human-rights failings: Colombia, for example, where human rights was the excuse for not promoting a free-trade agreement.

But it’s worse than that, really. We stiffed the Green movement and cut funding to groups that monitor Iranian human rights abuses. We facilitated the egregious behavior of the UN Human Rights Council. Our Sudan policy has been widely condemned by the left and right. Our record on promotion of religious freedom has been shoddy. We acquiesced as Iran was placed on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We turned a blind eye toward serial human rights atrocities in the Muslim World. We flattered and cajoled Assad in Syria with nary a concern for human rights. We told China that human rights wouldn’t stand in the way of relations between the countries. We’ve suggested that Fidel Castro might enjoy better relations and an influx of U.S. tourist dollars without any improvement in human rights. And the administration ludicrously sided with a lackey of Hugo Chavez against the democratic institutions of Honduras. The list goes on and on.

As I and other observers have noted, the Obama human rights policy has more often than not focused on America’s ills – supposed Islamophobia, homophobia, racism, and the like: “Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have found some victims of rights-transgression who are of very great interest to them — indeed, since some of them are here at home, and sinned against by America herself!”

But Hiatt thinks Obama is turning over a new leaf: “[A]couple of weeks ago, in his second annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama declared that ‘freedom, justice and peace in the lives of individual human beings’ are, for the United States, ‘a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity.'” Yes, but we’ve heard pretty words before. What makes Hiatt think that this time around Obama honestly means it? He concedes that the proof will be in what Obama actually does:

If Obama’s speech signals a genuine shift, we will see the administration insist on election monitors in Egypt or withhold aid if Mubarak says no. It will wield real tools — visa bans, bank account seizures — to sanction human-rights abusers in Russia and China. It will not only claim to support a U.N. inquiry into Burma’s crimes against humanity but will call in chits from friends in Thailand, Singapore or India to make such an inquiry happen.

And maybe the administration will stop sabotaging Obama’s message on his most active foreign policy front: the war in Afghanistan. There, in its almost aggressive insistence that the war is about protecting the U.S. homeland — and only about protecting the U.S. homeland — the administration undercuts its claim to be a champion of “universal values.”

You’ll excuse me if I’m skeptical, but we’ve been down this road before. And to really be serious about human rights, Obama would need to undo and revise his entire Muslim-outreach scheme. Instead of ingratiating himself with despots, he would need to challenge them. Instead of telling Muslim audiences in Cairo that the most significant women’s rights issue was “for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear,” he would need to start challenging regimes that countenance and promote violence against women, child marriages, stonings, lashings, honor killings, etc. He would likewise need to revisit systematically our “reset” with Russia and our indifference to Chavez’s shenanigans in this hemisphere. Is this president going to do all that?

It’s lovely that the president is planning a trip “through Asia designed in part to put meat on the bones of his new rhetoric … [where] he will announce grants for nongovernmental organizations that the administration hopes will flower into the kind of domestic lobbies that can push their own governments to promote democracy abroad.” But unless there is a fundamental rethinking and reworking of foreign policy, this will be simply another PR effort that does little for the oppressed souls around the world.

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Europeans Miss Cowboy Diplomacy

Fred Hiatt writes that Obama isn’t making friends in Europe. In fact, the Europeans are on to what many on the right in the U.S. have already figured out: Obama spends more time tending to our foes than cementing relationships with our friends. He notes that Alexandr Vondra (a former dissident and later the Czech Republic’s ambassador to Washington and then foreign minister and deputy prime minister) spoke to the Atlantic Council and declared that “President Obama’s ‘cool realism’ is putting long-standing ties at risk.” Hiatt explains:

Vondra said that the Obama administration rewards rivals — notably Russia and China — with “carrots” while handing out only “tasks” to its allies. He said the U.S. agenda with its allies seems to be driven by U.S. domestic needs and U.S. priorities, especially nuclear disarmament, Iran and Afghanistan, while neglecting the priorities of its allies.

Vondra said that the United States is actively approaching Russia with its offer to “reset” relations. Meanwhile Russia is assertively approaching the Czech Republic and other nations, driven by its enmity to NATO and its belief that it is entitled to hold sway in its own sphere of influence. But the third side of that triangle — between the United States and allies — is inactive, Vondra said, creating a danger that nations and policies less amenable to U.S. values will fill the vacuum.

Ah, one longs for the days when the much vilified George W. Bush was cheered in the Knesset, welcomed warmly in Britain, and enjoyed a productive relationship with India. The about-face in the Obama administration is not going unnoticed among our allies and our enemies. The latter are learning to play us — as Russia did in extracting a free pass on UN sanctions. Our friends (Israel, Eastern Europe) are learning not to trust us. And those despotic states like Syria, China, and Iran realize that it’s not such a bad thing to be a foe of the U.S. — you get lots of inducements, endless offers to negotiate, and a hear-no-evil/see-no-evil stance toward, well, evil. Obama thinks everything is going swimmingly, so there is little chance he will change. But that, as he says, is what elections are for.

Fred Hiatt writes that Obama isn’t making friends in Europe. In fact, the Europeans are on to what many on the right in the U.S. have already figured out: Obama spends more time tending to our foes than cementing relationships with our friends. He notes that Alexandr Vondra (a former dissident and later the Czech Republic’s ambassador to Washington and then foreign minister and deputy prime minister) spoke to the Atlantic Council and declared that “President Obama’s ‘cool realism’ is putting long-standing ties at risk.” Hiatt explains:

Vondra said that the Obama administration rewards rivals — notably Russia and China — with “carrots” while handing out only “tasks” to its allies. He said the U.S. agenda with its allies seems to be driven by U.S. domestic needs and U.S. priorities, especially nuclear disarmament, Iran and Afghanistan, while neglecting the priorities of its allies.

Vondra said that the United States is actively approaching Russia with its offer to “reset” relations. Meanwhile Russia is assertively approaching the Czech Republic and other nations, driven by its enmity to NATO and its belief that it is entitled to hold sway in its own sphere of influence. But the third side of that triangle — between the United States and allies — is inactive, Vondra said, creating a danger that nations and policies less amenable to U.S. values will fill the vacuum.

Ah, one longs for the days when the much vilified George W. Bush was cheered in the Knesset, welcomed warmly in Britain, and enjoyed a productive relationship with India. The about-face in the Obama administration is not going unnoticed among our allies and our enemies. The latter are learning to play us — as Russia did in extracting a free pass on UN sanctions. Our friends (Israel, Eastern Europe) are learning not to trust us. And those despotic states like Syria, China, and Iran realize that it’s not such a bad thing to be a foe of the U.S. — you get lots of inducements, endless offers to negotiate, and a hear-no-evil/see-no-evil stance toward, well, evil. Obama thinks everything is going swimmingly, so there is little chance he will change. But that, as he says, is what elections are for.

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Mearsheimer Makes a List

John Mearsheimer gave a speech at the Palestine Center in Washington yesterday and called Israel an apartheid state that has practiced ethnic cleansing and will likely practice it in the future. For Mearsheimer, this is standard practice. But he added a new twist: he separated American Jews into three categories: “Righteous Jews,” “New Afrikaners,” and a middle group of Jews who aren’t quite sure whether they’re righteous or ethnic cleansers. These are Mearsheimer’s Righteous Jews:

To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.

And then there are America’s Afrikaner Jews, who are not just apologists for apartheid and ethnic cleansing, but are actually a fifth column. Note that he goes beyond the normal “dual loyalty” trope and says that these American Jews are “blindly loyal” only to Israel:

These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state. … I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic. It would be easy to add more names to this list.

I believe Mearsheimer left out a category: “Anti-Semites and Jew-Baiters.” I will leave it to you who to add to that list.

UPDATE: David Bernstein adds his thoughts over at Volokh.

John Mearsheimer gave a speech at the Palestine Center in Washington yesterday and called Israel an apartheid state that has practiced ethnic cleansing and will likely practice it in the future. For Mearsheimer, this is standard practice. But he added a new twist: he separated American Jews into three categories: “Righteous Jews,” “New Afrikaners,” and a middle group of Jews who aren’t quite sure whether they’re righteous or ethnic cleansers. These are Mearsheimer’s Righteous Jews:

To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.

And then there are America’s Afrikaner Jews, who are not just apologists for apartheid and ethnic cleansing, but are actually a fifth column. Note that he goes beyond the normal “dual loyalty” trope and says that these American Jews are “blindly loyal” only to Israel:

These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state. … I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic. It would be easy to add more names to this list.

I believe Mearsheimer left out a category: “Anti-Semites and Jew-Baiters.” I will leave it to you who to add to that list.

UPDATE: David Bernstein adds his thoughts over at Volokh.

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Another Ally, Another Snub

It really doesn’t pay to be an ally of the U.S. these days. That status confers on a nation’s leaders the opportunity to be publicly berated and to see prior agreements evaporate (e.g., the Bush-Sharon settlement deal, the missile-defense arrangement with Eastern Europe). And when it comes to our allies’ security and economic needs, Obama nearly always has some higher priority. A case in point (another one) is South Korea. Fred Hiatt writes:

In a world of dangerously failed states and willful challengers to American leadership, South Korea is an astoundingly successful democracy that wants to be friends. But will America say yes? That seemed to be the question perplexing President Lee Myung-bak when I interviewed him here last Wednesday, though he described relations at the moment as excellent. …  The two nations have signed a free-trade agreement that Lee believes would — in addition to bringing obvious economic benefit to both sides — seal a crucial alliance and promote stability throughout Northeast Asia. But President Obama has yet to submit the agreement to Congress for ratification or say when he might do so…

Obama has expressed general support for increasing trade with South Korea but hasn’t committed to the pact that he and Lee inherited from their predecessors. Every analysis shows it would benefit most American consumers and industries, but it faces opposition from Ford Motor, some union leaders and some Democrats in Congress.

Unlike Bill Clinton, who took on his party’s special-interest groups, Obama has shown little stomach for standing up to Big Labor. Whether it’s a sweetheart deal on the health-care excise tax, an SEIU lawyer on the National Labor Relations Board, or a free-trade deal plainly in the interest of both the U.S. and a key ally, Obama is not one to tell the labor bosses no.

And so another ally gets the back of the hand. For a group that promised to “restore our standing in the world,” the Obami are going to be hard-pressed to show how it is we do that when their foreign policy consists of systematically stiffing our democratic friends around the world.

It really doesn’t pay to be an ally of the U.S. these days. That status confers on a nation’s leaders the opportunity to be publicly berated and to see prior agreements evaporate (e.g., the Bush-Sharon settlement deal, the missile-defense arrangement with Eastern Europe). And when it comes to our allies’ security and economic needs, Obama nearly always has some higher priority. A case in point (another one) is South Korea. Fred Hiatt writes:

In a world of dangerously failed states and willful challengers to American leadership, South Korea is an astoundingly successful democracy that wants to be friends. But will America say yes? That seemed to be the question perplexing President Lee Myung-bak when I interviewed him here last Wednesday, though he described relations at the moment as excellent. …  The two nations have signed a free-trade agreement that Lee believes would — in addition to bringing obvious economic benefit to both sides — seal a crucial alliance and promote stability throughout Northeast Asia. But President Obama has yet to submit the agreement to Congress for ratification or say when he might do so…

Obama has expressed general support for increasing trade with South Korea but hasn’t committed to the pact that he and Lee inherited from their predecessors. Every analysis shows it would benefit most American consumers and industries, but it faces opposition from Ford Motor, some union leaders and some Democrats in Congress.

Unlike Bill Clinton, who took on his party’s special-interest groups, Obama has shown little stomach for standing up to Big Labor. Whether it’s a sweetheart deal on the health-care excise tax, an SEIU lawyer on the National Labor Relations Board, or a free-trade deal plainly in the interest of both the U.S. and a key ally, Obama is not one to tell the labor bosses no.

And so another ally gets the back of the hand. For a group that promised to “restore our standing in the world,” the Obami are going to be hard-pressed to show how it is we do that when their foreign policy consists of systematically stiffing our democratic friends around the world.

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Not Happy to Have the Job?

I think Fred Hiatt is on to something. He muses “about why President Obama is having a tough political time right now: He doesn’t seem all that happy being president.” Well, he certainly is snarly — toward the media, the public, his political opponents, Israel, and Democrats who want to be re-elected. The list is long. He and his staff seem to forever be whining. The Middle East is “hard.” No one understands them. The public has been duped. A happy warrior he is not.

It is, in part, understandable, since Obama doesn’t have any executive experience and seems uninterested or perhaps overwhelmed by the “doing the job” part of being president. Getting to be president — the sycophantic media coverage and the swooning crowds — was one thing. Sure, he had to put up with the gun-and-Bible huggers, as he confided to his San Francisco donors. But who doesn’t like adoring fans? At least he was good at the campaigning part. In office, however, there’s nonstop criticism. And then there are all those unpleasant facts (Paul Ryan’s, for one example; Climategate’s, for another) to which he seems ill-equipped to counter. He doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of legislation and doesn’t like to compromise (he only doubles down). The adoring fans have turned sullen. He’s not a practiced or skilled executive, so maybe the job is not what he imagined. Maybe it was the campaigning and winning that held the real attraction.

Hiatt remarks that “Americans might find it easier to root for or with Obama if he’d show us, despite everything, that he’s happy we hired him.” But maybe he isn’t. He told us he’d be happy with one term. That sounded like someone not all that happy in his current job.

I think Fred Hiatt is on to something. He muses “about why President Obama is having a tough political time right now: He doesn’t seem all that happy being president.” Well, he certainly is snarly — toward the media, the public, his political opponents, Israel, and Democrats who want to be re-elected. The list is long. He and his staff seem to forever be whining. The Middle East is “hard.” No one understands them. The public has been duped. A happy warrior he is not.

It is, in part, understandable, since Obama doesn’t have any executive experience and seems uninterested or perhaps overwhelmed by the “doing the job” part of being president. Getting to be president — the sycophantic media coverage and the swooning crowds — was one thing. Sure, he had to put up with the gun-and-Bible huggers, as he confided to his San Francisco donors. But who doesn’t like adoring fans? At least he was good at the campaigning part. In office, however, there’s nonstop criticism. And then there are all those unpleasant facts (Paul Ryan’s, for one example; Climategate’s, for another) to which he seems ill-equipped to counter. He doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of legislation and doesn’t like to compromise (he only doubles down). The adoring fans have turned sullen. He’s not a practiced or skilled executive, so maybe the job is not what he imagined. Maybe it was the campaigning and winning that held the real attraction.

Hiatt remarks that “Americans might find it easier to root for or with Obama if he’d show us, despite everything, that he’s happy we hired him.” But maybe he isn’t. He told us he’d be happy with one term. That sounded like someone not all that happy in his current job.

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Still Pointing Fingers

The Washington Post editors acknowledge the message of the Massachusetts race:

The hard truth for Democrats is that the Massachusetts election resonates with national polling results. Voters, not just in Massachusetts and certainly not just in the Republican Party, are worried about government spending. Budget deficits and the national debt alarm many Americans, and rightly so. Voters also are disappointed that President Obama’s promises of pragmatic, bipartisan cooperation have not been fulfilled. On that score, too, we sympathize.

(By the way, that’s a far cry from the preceding day’s take by Fred Hiatt, which Max pointed out was comically generous, even by grading-on-the-curve standards.) So the editors urge Obama to ignore his liberal base, which “will conclude that he needs to be more combative and ideological.” That’s a start.

But then they can’t pass up the opportunity to bash the other side, the party that has won an impressive string of victories and made that exact case against Obama’s overreach. The editors warn Republicans:

With their scare talk of a “government takeover” of health care, and their demagogic about-face on Medicare savings, they no doubt feel they’ve done well for themselves. But ultimately we don’t believe voters will reward a party that just says no, either; Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell won with a very different promise, of a pragmatic and cooperative conservatism.

Okay that takes some nerve. It was the Post that vilified McDonnell, portraying him as a whacked-out extremist bent on sending women back to the dark ages. But beyond the jaw-dropping hypocrisy, the editors seem a bit disingenuous in this equal-opportunity blame-mongering: don’t the conservatives have a point on health care? Obama is proposing to slash $500 billion from Medicare. And Obama is proposing a new entitlement program with unprecedented powers for the federal government. That explains, after all, why so many voters are freaked out.

So what do the Post editors suggest? They seem reluctant to assign the full measure of blame where it rightly belongs. And it doesn’t belong to poor Martha Coakley or the mean Republicans. No, the president and his party have only themselves to blame. And the sooner they and their spinners stop looking for other targets, the faster they can get on with the business of political recovery.

The Washington Post editors acknowledge the message of the Massachusetts race:

The hard truth for Democrats is that the Massachusetts election resonates with national polling results. Voters, not just in Massachusetts and certainly not just in the Republican Party, are worried about government spending. Budget deficits and the national debt alarm many Americans, and rightly so. Voters also are disappointed that President Obama’s promises of pragmatic, bipartisan cooperation have not been fulfilled. On that score, too, we sympathize.

(By the way, that’s a far cry from the preceding day’s take by Fred Hiatt, which Max pointed out was comically generous, even by grading-on-the-curve standards.) So the editors urge Obama to ignore his liberal base, which “will conclude that he needs to be more combative and ideological.” That’s a start.

But then they can’t pass up the opportunity to bash the other side, the party that has won an impressive string of victories and made that exact case against Obama’s overreach. The editors warn Republicans:

With their scare talk of a “government takeover” of health care, and their demagogic about-face on Medicare savings, they no doubt feel they’ve done well for themselves. But ultimately we don’t believe voters will reward a party that just says no, either; Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell won with a very different promise, of a pragmatic and cooperative conservatism.

Okay that takes some nerve. It was the Post that vilified McDonnell, portraying him as a whacked-out extremist bent on sending women back to the dark ages. But beyond the jaw-dropping hypocrisy, the editors seem a bit disingenuous in this equal-opportunity blame-mongering: don’t the conservatives have a point on health care? Obama is proposing to slash $500 billion from Medicare. And Obama is proposing a new entitlement program with unprecedented powers for the federal government. That explains, after all, why so many voters are freaked out.

So what do the Post editors suggest? They seem reluctant to assign the full measure of blame where it rightly belongs. And it doesn’t belong to poor Martha Coakley or the mean Republicans. No, the president and his party have only themselves to blame. And the sooner they and their spinners stop looking for other targets, the faster they can get on with the business of political recovery.

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Overpraising the President

Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post is one of the great editorial-page editors in America (and not only because he occasionally runs my op-eds). He has assembled an interesting and thoughtful group of columnists for his op-ed page and turned his editorial columns into a courageous and morally farsighted champion of an internationalist foreign policy that promotes America’s ideals as well as its interests. In the process, he has not been afraid to take stands that are interpreted as conservative (e.g., backing the Iraq war and not backing down when the going got tough) while also holding President Bush accountable for his deviations from the high-minded ideals he espoused. He has continued that tradition of skepticism with President Obama. Unlike the rest of the MSM, he has not swooned over the president of hope and change, but I nevertheless think he is being a tad too kind in this column, which offers a largely positive assessment of Obama’s first year in office.

To be sure, Hiatt is right to give Obama credit for halting and reversing a financial/economic meltdown. That was the most important issue of his first year in office, and the president deserves enormous credit for getting the economy back onto a sounder footing — notwithstanding carping from both Left and Right. He also deserves a great degree of credit for largely coming out in the right place in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am less impressed than Hiatt is, however, with Obama’s handling of issues of “security and liberty.” Obama gets credit for not undoing most of Bush’s initiatives (e.g., the Patriot Act and Predator strikes in Pakistan), and I don’t even mind his plan to close Guantanamo. But by forcing all interrogations of terrorist suspects to be conducted without stress techniques and by rushing to push terrorist suspects, even Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, into the criminal-justice system, I think Obama is tilting the balance against effectiveness in the war on terror. So too with decisions that Hiatt doesn’t mention — Attorney General Eric Holder’s moves to release memos describing CIA interrogation techniques and to investigate supposed CIA abuses in the past. Both have undoubtedly had a chilling effect on our counterterrorist operatives, few of whom are willing to treat high-level directives as cavalierly as Jack Bauer routinely does.

I also think that Hiatt, who is more liberal in domestic than in foreign policy, is being too kind in his treatment of Obama’s reckless attempts to take over the health-care sector and ineffectual attempts to deal with climate change. What is truly mystifying, however, is that Hiatt pens this tribute to Obama’s foreign policy: “And from Cairo to Oslo, and now to Haiti, he has sought to chart a path for America between arrogance and isolationism, neither denying nor boasting about the burdens of global leadership.”

I too applaud Obama’s efforts to help Haiti, just as I applauded his Nobel acceptance speech, but the fact remains that outside of Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama has no foreign-policy achievements to boast of. The first year was wasted with ineffectual attempts at outreach to Iran and North Korea and Russia, not to mention his ham-handed attempts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. All these efforts have failed — something that was completely predictable. In the meantime, Obama lost a valuable chance to stand with Iranian democrats and to put real pressure on the Iranian mullahs, something the Washington Post editorial page has been eloquent in condemning. Will Obama’s first-year efforts somehow bear fruit in his second year in office? Of that there is so far no evidence. If he doesn’t change course substantially in foreign affairs (when is he going to get tough on the Iranian nuclear program as promised?), the record of his first (and only?) term is likely to be even more dismal than his first-year record.

Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post is one of the great editorial-page editors in America (and not only because he occasionally runs my op-eds). He has assembled an interesting and thoughtful group of columnists for his op-ed page and turned his editorial columns into a courageous and morally farsighted champion of an internationalist foreign policy that promotes America’s ideals as well as its interests. In the process, he has not been afraid to take stands that are interpreted as conservative (e.g., backing the Iraq war and not backing down when the going got tough) while also holding President Bush accountable for his deviations from the high-minded ideals he espoused. He has continued that tradition of skepticism with President Obama. Unlike the rest of the MSM, he has not swooned over the president of hope and change, but I nevertheless think he is being a tad too kind in this column, which offers a largely positive assessment of Obama’s first year in office.

To be sure, Hiatt is right to give Obama credit for halting and reversing a financial/economic meltdown. That was the most important issue of his first year in office, and the president deserves enormous credit for getting the economy back onto a sounder footing — notwithstanding carping from both Left and Right. He also deserves a great degree of credit for largely coming out in the right place in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am less impressed than Hiatt is, however, with Obama’s handling of issues of “security and liberty.” Obama gets credit for not undoing most of Bush’s initiatives (e.g., the Patriot Act and Predator strikes in Pakistan), and I don’t even mind his plan to close Guantanamo. But by forcing all interrogations of terrorist suspects to be conducted without stress techniques and by rushing to push terrorist suspects, even Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, into the criminal-justice system, I think Obama is tilting the balance against effectiveness in the war on terror. So too with decisions that Hiatt doesn’t mention — Attorney General Eric Holder’s moves to release memos describing CIA interrogation techniques and to investigate supposed CIA abuses in the past. Both have undoubtedly had a chilling effect on our counterterrorist operatives, few of whom are willing to treat high-level directives as cavalierly as Jack Bauer routinely does.

I also think that Hiatt, who is more liberal in domestic than in foreign policy, is being too kind in his treatment of Obama’s reckless attempts to take over the health-care sector and ineffectual attempts to deal with climate change. What is truly mystifying, however, is that Hiatt pens this tribute to Obama’s foreign policy: “And from Cairo to Oslo, and now to Haiti, he has sought to chart a path for America between arrogance and isolationism, neither denying nor boasting about the burdens of global leadership.”

I too applaud Obama’s efforts to help Haiti, just as I applauded his Nobel acceptance speech, but the fact remains that outside of Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama has no foreign-policy achievements to boast of. The first year was wasted with ineffectual attempts at outreach to Iran and North Korea and Russia, not to mention his ham-handed attempts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. All these efforts have failed — something that was completely predictable. In the meantime, Obama lost a valuable chance to stand with Iranian democrats and to put real pressure on the Iranian mullahs, something the Washington Post editorial page has been eloquent in condemning. Will Obama’s first-year efforts somehow bear fruit in his second year in office? Of that there is so far no evidence. If he doesn’t change course substantially in foreign affairs (when is he going to get tough on the Iranian nuclear program as promised?), the record of his first (and only?) term is likely to be even more dismal than his first-year record.

Read Less




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