Commentary Magazine


Topic: “Game Change

ObamaCare Exemption Is GOP Landmine

Now that President Obama’s humiliation at the hands of Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons has made it safe for Americans to go back to ignoring foreign policy, conservatives are set to resume their own civil war on funding ObamaCare. The efforts of some on the right to try and force the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to play chicken with the administration on defunding ObamaCare implementation remains a priority for Tea Partiers. In the unlikely event that they succeed in buffaloing the House leadership into going along with a plan that has zero chance of success in stopping ObamaCare, it would give a faltering President Obama the only chance he has of reversing the downward spiral of his lame-duck presidency. But the members of the suicide caucus that back this mad plan aren’t the only Republicans who are blind to political reality. Those Republicans and their staffers who are seeking to aid Democrats in stopping Senator David Vitter’s drive to prevent Congress from giving itself an exemption from ObamaCare are just as stupid. Should the GOP go along with the inside-the-beltway campaign to protect the generous federal subsidies given to congressional employees, it is playing with political dynamite.

As I wrote last Friday, the fight about the subsidies has gotten personal. Anger over Vitter’s efforts to tie up the Senate in order to derail the Democratic majority’s efforts to protect the subsidies—which are illegal under current legislation that mandates that Congress must live by the same flawed ObamaCare system it has imposed on the rest of the country—crosses party lines. Both members of Congress and, just importantly, their staffs, will suffer financially should they be forced into Obama-created health exchanges. According to Politico:

 Sources said that multiple Republican offices have reached out to Democrats to ensure that either the [Vitter] amendment doesn’t get a vote or that if it does, it fails.

If this is true, and I don’t doubt that it is, that poses an interesting question for Republicans. While they may believe that defying an ill-considered Tea Party campaign to force them to defund the government over ObamaCare will not lead to a revolt from the grass roots, do they really think they can get away with exempting themselves from the consequences of ObamaCare? If so, they may be in for a rude surprise.

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Now that President Obama’s humiliation at the hands of Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons has made it safe for Americans to go back to ignoring foreign policy, conservatives are set to resume their own civil war on funding ObamaCare. The efforts of some on the right to try and force the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to play chicken with the administration on defunding ObamaCare implementation remains a priority for Tea Partiers. In the unlikely event that they succeed in buffaloing the House leadership into going along with a plan that has zero chance of success in stopping ObamaCare, it would give a faltering President Obama the only chance he has of reversing the downward spiral of his lame-duck presidency. But the members of the suicide caucus that back this mad plan aren’t the only Republicans who are blind to political reality. Those Republicans and their staffers who are seeking to aid Democrats in stopping Senator David Vitter’s drive to prevent Congress from giving itself an exemption from ObamaCare are just as stupid. Should the GOP go along with the inside-the-beltway campaign to protect the generous federal subsidies given to congressional employees, it is playing with political dynamite.

As I wrote last Friday, the fight about the subsidies has gotten personal. Anger over Vitter’s efforts to tie up the Senate in order to derail the Democratic majority’s efforts to protect the subsidies—which are illegal under current legislation that mandates that Congress must live by the same flawed ObamaCare system it has imposed on the rest of the country—crosses party lines. Both members of Congress and, just importantly, their staffs, will suffer financially should they be forced into Obama-created health exchanges. According to Politico:

 Sources said that multiple Republican offices have reached out to Democrats to ensure that either the [Vitter] amendment doesn’t get a vote or that if it does, it fails.

If this is true, and I don’t doubt that it is, that poses an interesting question for Republicans. While they may believe that defying an ill-considered Tea Party campaign to force them to defund the government over ObamaCare will not lead to a revolt from the grass roots, do they really think they can get away with exempting themselves from the consequences of ObamaCare? If so, they may be in for a rude surprise.

Much of the discussion about the Vitter amendment has focused on the personal attacks launched by Democrats against the Louisiana senator. In an effort to humiliate Vitter and/or to blackmail him into dropping his objections to the exemption, the Senate majority is considering including its own amendment to the bill preventing any member who is suspected of soliciting prostitutes from getting a subsidy. Since Vitter’s disgraceful role in the “D.C. Madam” scandal makes him the only senator that we know of that fits into that category, there is no doubt of its purpose. The public already holds Congress in low repute, but this sort of thing can only make things worse.

Vitter has largely escaped any accountability for his involvement in the scandal (and thanks to Louisiana’s ethically challenged political culture was reelected in 2010), but the use of his past against him in this manner is more of an ethical violation than his misdeeds. Though it’s hard to believe that the Senate would actually pass legislation that would be the moral equivalent of a bill of attainder, the willingness to play hardball with Vitter shows just how determined many in Congress are to keep their sweet health-care deals even as the rest of the country is forced into ObamaCare.

But as dangerous as such a double standard would be for the entire institution, it would be doubly so for Republicans, especially those facing reelection next year. Whatever anyone thinks of Vitter as an individual, he is dead right about opposing the exemption. He’s also right that the law should be extended to requiring White House officials and other federal political appointees to be forced into the exchanges along with the rest of the hoi polloi.

Should he fail and the exemption is preserved and if Republicans had a hand in such a crooked, self-interested deal, you can bet that everyone that supports it will face a primary opponent that will use such a vote as a cudgel to beat them.

While many Republicans rightly fear the consequences of such a bloodletting that might lead to the defeat of many GOP members and candidates who are far more electable than their Tea Party opponents, this is the sort of issue that will not go away or be explained.

Those who say that forcing Congress into ObamaCare will cost the institution many skilled and experienced staffers are right. That would be a shame. Any further financial hardships imposed on them and on members, most of whom labor under the burden of having to maintain two households on an inadequate salary (even though it is more than most voters make) would also be unfortunate. But like state legislatures that raise their pay on the assumption that the public understands that the measure is reasonable, Republicans who preserve the ObamaCare exemption will learn that there are some sins that the public just doesn’t forgive.

Instead of joining efforts to sandbag Vitter, GOP members need to stand with him. If they don’t, they will live to regret it.

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What Exactly Does Obama Like About Being President?

As John’s earlier post points out, there’s a revealing paragraph in today’s New York Times article on Obama’s dismal debate performance:

Mr. Obama does not like debates to begin with, aides have long said, viewing them as media-driven gamesmanship. He did not do all that well in 2008 but benefited from Senator John McCain’s grumpy performances. Mr. Obama made clear to advisers that he was not happy about debating Mr. Romney, whom he views with disdain. It was something to endure, rather than an opportunity, aides said

Notice that it’s Romney himself who Obama reportedly “views with disdain,” not Romney’s policies. Disdain is a harsh word, and in this instance it’s very personal. What exactly has Romney done to inspire such feelings in Obama? Clearly Romney does not feel the same way about his opponent (or is much better at hiding it).

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As John’s earlier post points out, there’s a revealing paragraph in today’s New York Times article on Obama’s dismal debate performance:

Mr. Obama does not like debates to begin with, aides have long said, viewing them as media-driven gamesmanship. He did not do all that well in 2008 but benefited from Senator John McCain’s grumpy performances. Mr. Obama made clear to advisers that he was not happy about debating Mr. Romney, whom he views with disdain. It was something to endure, rather than an opportunity, aides said

Notice that it’s Romney himself who Obama reportedly “views with disdain,” not Romney’s policies. Disdain is a harsh word, and in this instance it’s very personal. What exactly has Romney done to inspire such feelings in Obama? Clearly Romney does not feel the same way about his opponent (or is much better at hiding it).

According to the Times, Obama also deeply dislikes debates. It might be understandable if this was because he found them challenging and outside of his comfort zone. But that’s not what the Times reports. Obama apparently dislikes debates because he views them as “media-driven gamesmanship… something to endure, rather than an opportunity.” In other words, debates are below him. It’s not that he’s a weak debater, it’s that the debate format is too trivial for the likes of Barack Obama

This isn’t the first major aspect of the presidency (and campaigns) that Obama reportedly disdains. George W. Bush wasn’t a fantastic debater, but he was considered a great communicator in person. Obama, in contrast, doesn’t appear to enjoy personal interaction in general. He knocks debates as “gamesmanship,” but he also doesn’t like socializing. And as the New Yorker reported, he’s alienated major donors because he hasn’t been able to build relationships with them.

Obama’s interpersonal struggles have also caused him problems in the policy realm. He dislikes working with members of congress, and his disengagement from the legislative side of the political process has been criticized routinely by both Republicans and Democrats. The same goes for foreign policy. The New York Times reported that Obama’s difficulty dealing with the Arab Spring has stemmed from his “impatience with old-fashioned back-room diplomacy” and “failure to build close personal relationships with foreign leaders.”

According to Game Change author John Heilemann, Obama is one of those rare politicians who “don’t like people…[and] don’t like politics.”

If that’s the case, why is he running for reelection? The first time around, Obama could at least claim he was making the sacrifice because the country needed his brilliant leadership and phenomenal gifts so badly. But after four years, that’s far less believable. Honestly, it’s perplexing. Does Obama really want to be president, and if so, why?

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The “Game Change” Obama Never Existed

Yesterday, Alana asked a perceptive question about President Obama’s self-image as portrayed in Game Change. I think we have the answer. My favorite thing about Game Change–the book about the 2008 presidential campaign that was made into a much-maligned HBO film–is the index. Whoever created the index at the book’s publishing house assumed no one would read it from cover to cover, but instead that its target audience–people who are portrayed in the book–would scour the index for the references they were looking for. So the structure of the index is quintessentially Beltway.

What do I mean? The index entries are organized according to mainstream media conventional wisdom. So under “Obama, Barack Hussein,” there is an entry marked “calmness and self-possession of.” You know, just to help nudge book reviewers in the right direction. But the entry under Obama’s name that takes the cake is the one marked “conventional politics disdained by.” In case you haven’t heard, Barack Obama is a new kind of politician. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that accusing Mitt Romney of murder has become something of a central theme in the campaign to re-elect the president.

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Yesterday, Alana asked a perceptive question about President Obama’s self-image as portrayed in Game Change. I think we have the answer. My favorite thing about Game Change–the book about the 2008 presidential campaign that was made into a much-maligned HBO film–is the index. Whoever created the index at the book’s publishing house assumed no one would read it from cover to cover, but instead that its target audience–people who are portrayed in the book–would scour the index for the references they were looking for. So the structure of the index is quintessentially Beltway.

What do I mean? The index entries are organized according to mainstream media conventional wisdom. So under “Obama, Barack Hussein,” there is an entry marked “calmness and self-possession of.” You know, just to help nudge book reviewers in the right direction. But the entry under Obama’s name that takes the cake is the one marked “conventional politics disdained by.” In case you haven’t heard, Barack Obama is a new kind of politician. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that accusing Mitt Romney of murder has become something of a central theme in the campaign to re-elect the president.

Obama’s refusal to disavow the first ad in the death-by-Romney series was an indication that there would be more to come. And now there is. Today, several outlets have reported on the new AFL-CIO ad, which you can see here. Because of an item in a budget Romney hasn’t voted for and didn’t have anything to do with (Romney is not a member of Congress), Obama ally Richard Trumka is accusing Romney of eventually causing the deaths of many coal miners from black lung disease.

The media is getting in on the action as well. CNN went searching through its archives for footage of leftwing pundits describing Paul Ryan’s budget, and found a doozy: Paul Krugman telling CNN, “To be a little melodramatic, the budget would kill people, no question.”

“Melodramatic” is indeed one way to describe such a statement. Though perhaps Krugman isn’t the best pundit to make that accusation. The New Yorker profile of Krugman revealed that he and his wife threw an Election Day party with a strange theme: guests were directed to a fire pit into which they threw effigies of their most hated politicians. And then there was the Krugman column that opened thus: “A message to progressives: By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy.”

And of course, the addition of Paul Ryan to the GOP ticket practically guarantees the return of the Democrats’ ad in which they dress up as Ryan and throw an old lady off a cliff. But you can hardly blame the Democrats for being so “melodramatic.” It turns out the Ryan proposal is not so easy to attack honestly, especially because it doesn’t impact current retirees. Kirsten Powers tried to get around this yesterday on Fox by simply designating the entire country senior citizens, which led to the following exchange with Charles Krauthammer:

POWERS: It will affect old people, just they’re not old right now. So they will eventually be old.

KRAUTHAMMER: They’re called young people.

Powers says they’ll “eventually be old,” but according to Democratic talking points, Romney won’t let that happen. In any case, where is Obama the intellectual in all this? What happened to the disdaining of conventional politics?

It turns out that if you follow those entries in Game Change, you don’t get examples of Obama practicing a new kind of politics so much as examples of Obama saying he wants to practice a new kind of politics. And that is the most damaging part of the contrast between a Romney-Ryan ticket and an Obama-Biden ticket: the polite charm, policy expertise, and gutsy new politics of real reform in place of the status quo are on the GOP side. Obama’s opponents are everything the media pretended he was. He may have encouraged the flattering depiction, but it’s doubtful he fooled himself into believing it.

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