Commentary Magazine


Topic: George Stephanopoulos

Newt Gingrich’s Advice to Palin

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Newt Gingrich had some unsolicited words of advice for Sarah Palin, whose poll numbers have been dropping after the Tucson tragedy.

“I think that she has got to slow down and be more careful and think through what she’s saying and how she’s saying it,” said Gingrich, who will likely challenge Palin for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

And while that’s a good recommendation for any politician — something Gingrich should probably work on himself — will it do any good for Palin?

Her political troubles over the past few weeks weren’t caused by a failure to slow down and think carefully. In fact, a lot of her most controversial remarks have been well thought out. Those gun references from last spring? She used them repeatedly in her statements, especially after she saw the furious reaction they elicited from the media and Democrats. Her “target” map was designed by a professional graphic artist, probably with a good deal of input from her PAC’s communications staff. And her recent comment about blood libel was part of a pre-written speech crafted with the help of PR experts.

Again, Gingrich’s words were good advice for any politician. But at this point, is there any indication that Palin has any interest in being a politician (as opposed to just running for political office)? Her increasingly eye-popping statements can only be looked at in two ways. Either she’s a “media-manipulation genius” (as that old meme goes) interested in a career as a professional conservative pundit, or she’s a serious politician who is breathtakingly clueless about media strategy.

The latter one seems unlikely. Not only is Palin incredibly savvy; so are the strategists around her. But in the past year, as a potential front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, she’s continued to make pre-planned comments that even the greenest City Hall candidate would have good sense to avoid. Promoting a map with crosshairs over Democratic districts during a debate as heated as the one last spring on health care? And writing the term “blood libel” into a speech? Yes, these controversies were blown way out of proportion by the media, but they were also completely unnecessary, avoidable scandals.

Conservatives who have seen how much potential Palin has as a candidate have advised her to get serious for almost two years. But is the problem that she hasn’t heard what they are saying? Or is it that she doesn’t want to hear it?

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Newt Gingrich had some unsolicited words of advice for Sarah Palin, whose poll numbers have been dropping after the Tucson tragedy.

“I think that she has got to slow down and be more careful and think through what she’s saying and how she’s saying it,” said Gingrich, who will likely challenge Palin for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

And while that’s a good recommendation for any politician — something Gingrich should probably work on himself — will it do any good for Palin?

Her political troubles over the past few weeks weren’t caused by a failure to slow down and think carefully. In fact, a lot of her most controversial remarks have been well thought out. Those gun references from last spring? She used them repeatedly in her statements, especially after she saw the furious reaction they elicited from the media and Democrats. Her “target” map was designed by a professional graphic artist, probably with a good deal of input from her PAC’s communications staff. And her recent comment about blood libel was part of a pre-written speech crafted with the help of PR experts.

Again, Gingrich’s words were good advice for any politician. But at this point, is there any indication that Palin has any interest in being a politician (as opposed to just running for political office)? Her increasingly eye-popping statements can only be looked at in two ways. Either she’s a “media-manipulation genius” (as that old meme goes) interested in a career as a professional conservative pundit, or she’s a serious politician who is breathtakingly clueless about media strategy.

The latter one seems unlikely. Not only is Palin incredibly savvy; so are the strategists around her. But in the past year, as a potential front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, she’s continued to make pre-planned comments that even the greenest City Hall candidate would have good sense to avoid. Promoting a map with crosshairs over Democratic districts during a debate as heated as the one last spring on health care? And writing the term “blood libel” into a speech? Yes, these controversies were blown way out of proportion by the media, but they were also completely unnecessary, avoidable scandals.

Conservatives who have seen how much potential Palin has as a candidate have advised her to get serious for almost two years. But is the problem that she hasn’t heard what they are saying? Or is it that she doesn’t want to hear it?

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Obama’s Cynical Maneuvering on the Health-Care Mandate

In his 42-page ruling that the keystone provision in President Obama’s health-care law — the mandate to force Americans to purchase health insurance — is unconstitutional, Judge Henry E. Hudson made several powerful arguments. But there is one to which I want to draw particular attention.

On page 25 of his decision, Judge Hudson writes, “Despite pre-enactment representations to the contrary by the Executive and Legislative branches, the Secretary now argues that the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision is, in essence, a ‘tax penalty.’”

That’s a polite way of saying that the Obama administration willfully misled the public during the health-care debate. In fact, President Obama repeatedly denied that the mandate was a tax — but now, in order to pass constitutional muster, his administration is insisting it is. I urge you to watch the president’s interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to see just how emphatic Obama was. When Stephanopoulos says that the mandate is a tax increase, Obama scolds Stephanopoulos. “That’s not true, George,” the president says. “[It] is absolutely not a tax increase.”

Now the president and his administration are arguing exactly the opposite.

This is a deeply cynical maneuver on the part of the man who promised to put an end to cynical political acts. Like so much of what Obama said, this promise was fraudulent. Perhaps the White House press corps will insist that the president and his spokesman explain the inconsistency between what Obama said and what his administration is now asserting.

In his 42-page ruling that the keystone provision in President Obama’s health-care law — the mandate to force Americans to purchase health insurance — is unconstitutional, Judge Henry E. Hudson made several powerful arguments. But there is one to which I want to draw particular attention.

On page 25 of his decision, Judge Hudson writes, “Despite pre-enactment representations to the contrary by the Executive and Legislative branches, the Secretary now argues that the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision is, in essence, a ‘tax penalty.’”

That’s a polite way of saying that the Obama administration willfully misled the public during the health-care debate. In fact, President Obama repeatedly denied that the mandate was a tax — but now, in order to pass constitutional muster, his administration is insisting it is. I urge you to watch the president’s interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to see just how emphatic Obama was. When Stephanopoulos says that the mandate is a tax increase, Obama scolds Stephanopoulos. “That’s not true, George,” the president says. “[It] is absolutely not a tax increase.”

Now the president and his administration are arguing exactly the opposite.

This is a deeply cynical maneuver on the part of the man who promised to put an end to cynical political acts. Like so much of what Obama said, this promise was fraudulent. Perhaps the White House press corps will insist that the president and his spokesman explain the inconsistency between what Obama said and what his administration is now asserting.

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Unpacking Bill Clinton’s Arguments

During the past week, former President Clinton has been granting a lot of interviews. In each of them, he is asked, in one form or another, what he would advise President Obama and Democrats to do given the current – and for them toxic – political environment.

During his interview with The News Hour, Clinton had this to offer:

What the American people need to do is to do what’s best for themselves and their family. The only things that really matter are: what are we going to do now? And once you settle on that, who is more likely to do it? If the election is about that, I think we’ll do fine.

In his interview with his former aide George Stephanopoulos, Clinton said this:

I would say, “I know a lot of people are mad, and a lot of people are tired. Apathetic. And I respect that. Because we’re not yet out of the hole we’ve got in. [Republicans] had eight years to dig the hole. They say we have 21 months, throw us out, put them back in. I just want you to understand that every election is a choice, not a referendum.  It’s a choice here.”

Clinton added:

I knew I’d done the right things in ’94. … I’d like to see him do something I didn’t do. I’d like to see him say, “Here’s what I think this election’s about. The only thing that matters is what we’re going to do now. Here are the three things I think we ought to do now.  Here’s why I think our side’s more likely to do it.  And let me tell you something, we couldn’t get out of this $3 trillion hole in 21 months.”

The options are limited for Democrats, so Clinton’s recommendation may be as good as any. And there’s a surface appeal to his “give us two more years and, if that doesn’t work out, fire us” gambit.

But here’s what’s wrong with Clinton’s recommendation. For people to have faith in what public officials promise, they have to be able to place a certain amount of credibility in them. And if they don’t trust what lawmakers have done to them in the past, they’re not likely to trust what they say about the future.

Obama and Democrats can’t simply wipe the slate clean and start over. “What are we going to do now” isn’t the only thing that matters. “What you have done to me” matters as well – and Democrats are exceedingly vulnerable in this respect. Also, the hole-was-bigger-than-we-ever-imagined excuse sounds plaintive and self-pitying, especially because the Obama administration made a series of predictions (unemployment won’t exceed 8 percent, 2010 will be the “Summer of Recovery” in which 500,000 jobs per month will be created, ObamaCare will bend the cost curve down, etc.) that were wrong and that are shattering their credibility.

A final point: it’s revealing how often Democrats reach for the formulation that every election is “a choice, not a referendum.” Actually, elections are often a combination of both, and that’s perfectly reasonable; it’s a form of accountability. When Ronald Reagan ran for reelection, it was based in large part on how much progress the country had made under his stewardship. The famous “Morning in America” ad highlighted a litany of economic statistics during the Reagan years to remind people just how much he had achieved. He wanted the 1984 election to be, in good measure, a referendum on what he had accomplished.

The fact that Democrats today are so eager to insist that the midterm election isn’t a referendum tells you everything you need to know. They don’t have a record to run on or to be proud of. They would prefer that the last two years of their legislative achievements disappear into a black hole. The problem for Democrats is that voters won’t allow that to happen.

During the past week, former President Clinton has been granting a lot of interviews. In each of them, he is asked, in one form or another, what he would advise President Obama and Democrats to do given the current – and for them toxic – political environment.

During his interview with The News Hour, Clinton had this to offer:

What the American people need to do is to do what’s best for themselves and their family. The only things that really matter are: what are we going to do now? And once you settle on that, who is more likely to do it? If the election is about that, I think we’ll do fine.

In his interview with his former aide George Stephanopoulos, Clinton said this:

I would say, “I know a lot of people are mad, and a lot of people are tired. Apathetic. And I respect that. Because we’re not yet out of the hole we’ve got in. [Republicans] had eight years to dig the hole. They say we have 21 months, throw us out, put them back in. I just want you to understand that every election is a choice, not a referendum.  It’s a choice here.”

Clinton added:

I knew I’d done the right things in ’94. … I’d like to see him do something I didn’t do. I’d like to see him say, “Here’s what I think this election’s about. The only thing that matters is what we’re going to do now. Here are the three things I think we ought to do now.  Here’s why I think our side’s more likely to do it.  And let me tell you something, we couldn’t get out of this $3 trillion hole in 21 months.”

The options are limited for Democrats, so Clinton’s recommendation may be as good as any. And there’s a surface appeal to his “give us two more years and, if that doesn’t work out, fire us” gambit.

But here’s what’s wrong with Clinton’s recommendation. For people to have faith in what public officials promise, they have to be able to place a certain amount of credibility in them. And if they don’t trust what lawmakers have done to them in the past, they’re not likely to trust what they say about the future.

Obama and Democrats can’t simply wipe the slate clean and start over. “What are we going to do now” isn’t the only thing that matters. “What you have done to me” matters as well – and Democrats are exceedingly vulnerable in this respect. Also, the hole-was-bigger-than-we-ever-imagined excuse sounds plaintive and self-pitying, especially because the Obama administration made a series of predictions (unemployment won’t exceed 8 percent, 2010 will be the “Summer of Recovery” in which 500,000 jobs per month will be created, ObamaCare will bend the cost curve down, etc.) that were wrong and that are shattering their credibility.

A final point: it’s revealing how often Democrats reach for the formulation that every election is “a choice, not a referendum.” Actually, elections are often a combination of both, and that’s perfectly reasonable; it’s a form of accountability. When Ronald Reagan ran for reelection, it was based in large part on how much progress the country had made under his stewardship. The famous “Morning in America” ad highlighted a litany of economic statistics during the Reagan years to remind people just how much he had achieved. He wanted the 1984 election to be, in good measure, a referendum on what he had accomplished.

The fact that Democrats today are so eager to insist that the midterm election isn’t a referendum tells you everything you need to know. They don’t have a record to run on or to be proud of. They would prefer that the last two years of their legislative achievements disappear into a black hole. The problem for Democrats is that voters won’t allow that to happen.

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Misinformation, Disinformation, and ObamaCare

In a recent story in the New York Times, we learned this:

When Congress required most Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, Democrats denied that they were creating a new tax. But in court, the Obama administration and its allies now defend the requirement as an exercise of the government’s “power to lay and collect taxes.”

And that power, they say, is even more sweeping than the federal power to regulate interstate commerce.

Administration officials say the tax argument is a linchpin of their legal case in defense of the health care overhaul and its individual mandate, now being challenged in court by more than 20 states and several private organizations.

The story goes on to explain that under the legislation signed by President Obama in March, most Americans will have to maintain “minimum essential coverage” starting in 2014. In a brief defending the law, the Justice Department says the requirement for people to carry insurance or pay the penalty is “a valid exercise” of Congress’s power to impose taxes.

DOJ argues that the penalty is a tax because it will raise substantial revenue: $4 billion a year by 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And according to the Times, the penalty is imposed and collected under the Internal Revenue Code, and people must report it on their tax returns “as an addition to income tax liability.” Because the penalty is a tax, the department says, no one can challenge it in court before paying it and seeking a refund.

Well, well, well, this does pose a problem for our president, doesn’t it?

In addition to being yet one more violation of his pledge not to tax families making less than $250,000, Obama, during the health-care debate, insisted that a mandate to buy insurance, enforced by financial penalties, was not a tax.

In an exchange with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos last September (h/t Ed Morrisey), Stephanopoulos pressed Obama on admitting that what he was advocating was a tax increase. “For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase,” Obama assured us. Elsewhere in the interview, Obama said, “George, you — you can’t just make up that language and decide that that’s called a tax increase.” And when Stephanopoulos read the definition of a tax increase from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, Obama came back with this condescending and foolish response:

George, the fact that you looked up Merriam’s Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you’re stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition.

It turns out the truth is exactly the opposite of what Obama said. Jack M. Balkin, a professor at Yale Law School who supports the new health-care law, stated the obvious at a meeting last month: “[Mr. Obama] has not been honest with the American people about the nature of this bill. This bill is a tax.”

This is just one example of a systematic pattern of misinformation and disinformation related to the health-care campaign. We have seen similarly dishonest claims related to funding abortion (ObamaCare is doing exactly that), bending the cost curve down (it will bend it up), lowering premiums (they will rise), and to allowing Americans to keep the coverage they currently have (many won’t).

In many respects, the Obama administration has shown itself to be thoroughly postmodern; words have no objective meaning. Reality can be molded to the whims of the most powerful. We can each construct our own narrative.

In the case of the president, the narrative is fairly simply: whatever advances his own aims and objectives is defensible. The ends justify the means. If false claims have to be used to advance a larger truth, so be it.

This attitude pervades the Obama administration and appears to be especially concentrated in the chief executive. He thinks he can get away with almost anything, including the corruption of language. He can’t, and if he isn’t careful, this kind of distortion of truth and reality is going to cost him a very great deal.

In a recent story in the New York Times, we learned this:

When Congress required most Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, Democrats denied that they were creating a new tax. But in court, the Obama administration and its allies now defend the requirement as an exercise of the government’s “power to lay and collect taxes.”

And that power, they say, is even more sweeping than the federal power to regulate interstate commerce.

Administration officials say the tax argument is a linchpin of their legal case in defense of the health care overhaul and its individual mandate, now being challenged in court by more than 20 states and several private organizations.

The story goes on to explain that under the legislation signed by President Obama in March, most Americans will have to maintain “minimum essential coverage” starting in 2014. In a brief defending the law, the Justice Department says the requirement for people to carry insurance or pay the penalty is “a valid exercise” of Congress’s power to impose taxes.

DOJ argues that the penalty is a tax because it will raise substantial revenue: $4 billion a year by 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And according to the Times, the penalty is imposed and collected under the Internal Revenue Code, and people must report it on their tax returns “as an addition to income tax liability.” Because the penalty is a tax, the department says, no one can challenge it in court before paying it and seeking a refund.

Well, well, well, this does pose a problem for our president, doesn’t it?

In addition to being yet one more violation of his pledge not to tax families making less than $250,000, Obama, during the health-care debate, insisted that a mandate to buy insurance, enforced by financial penalties, was not a tax.

In an exchange with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos last September (h/t Ed Morrisey), Stephanopoulos pressed Obama on admitting that what he was advocating was a tax increase. “For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase,” Obama assured us. Elsewhere in the interview, Obama said, “George, you — you can’t just make up that language and decide that that’s called a tax increase.” And when Stephanopoulos read the definition of a tax increase from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, Obama came back with this condescending and foolish response:

George, the fact that you looked up Merriam’s Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you’re stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition.

It turns out the truth is exactly the opposite of what Obama said. Jack M. Balkin, a professor at Yale Law School who supports the new health-care law, stated the obvious at a meeting last month: “[Mr. Obama] has not been honest with the American people about the nature of this bill. This bill is a tax.”

This is just one example of a systematic pattern of misinformation and disinformation related to the health-care campaign. We have seen similarly dishonest claims related to funding abortion (ObamaCare is doing exactly that), bending the cost curve down (it will bend it up), lowering premiums (they will rise), and to allowing Americans to keep the coverage they currently have (many won’t).

In many respects, the Obama administration has shown itself to be thoroughly postmodern; words have no objective meaning. Reality can be molded to the whims of the most powerful. We can each construct our own narrative.

In the case of the president, the narrative is fairly simply: whatever advances his own aims and objectives is defensible. The ends justify the means. If false claims have to be used to advance a larger truth, so be it.

This attitude pervades the Obama administration and appears to be especially concentrated in the chief executive. He thinks he can get away with almost anything, including the corruption of language. He can’t, and if he isn’t careful, this kind of distortion of truth and reality is going to cost him a very great deal.

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Obama’s Problem Isn’t Leadership — It’s Liberal Policy

In the endless wake of the BP oil spill, the new word is leadership. Everyone from Mitt Romney to James Carville to Maureen Dowd says that Barack Obama is in desperate need of some. In the New York Times, Dowd questioned how Obama came to “lose control of his own narrative.” On Good Morning America, Carville told George Stephanopoulos that Obama “looks like he’s not in control.” Romney penned a USA Today column about the absence of presidential command. “When a crisis is upon us,” he wrote, “America wants a leader, not a politician.” Go to any source and you’ll learn that Obama plays too much golf, shows too little anger, and is far too aloof to be a successful leader.

The criticisms have merit but are, in the end, secondary. If Obama’s policies — in the Gulf and beyond — were demonstrably effective, the same leadership style would be overlooked or reflexively praised. Reclaiming your own narrative — whatever that means — won’t get results; nor will looking like you’re in control or projecting bottomless empathy. Successful policy implementation gets results.

The popular exemplar here is Rudolph Giuliani. Yet national memory has skipped over important mundane details because New York City did, in fact, pull through after it was attacked. “We saw leadership on Sept. 11, 2001,” Romney wrote. “Rudy camped out at Ground Zero — he didn’t hole up in his office or retreat to his residence.” But if that’s all Giuliani did, his 9/11 performance would have gone down as hollow grandstanding. As Michael Powell reported in the New York Times, “There was garbage pickup on Sept. 12. City payroll checks went out on Sept. 13. On the sixth day, the stock exchange opened. Security was omnipresent.”

Speeches aside, had trash piled up on street corners and security been wanting, no one would have called Giuliani “America’s mayor.” Leadership isn’t an impressionistic art form in which symbols are aligned and tones calibrated in a decision-free vacuum. Leadership, rather, is public perception alongside the fact of concrete accomplishment.

And is it really accurate to say that Obama lacks the ability to head up a crusade, anyway? Even if we discount his force-of-nature presidential campaign, it wasn’t long ago that pundits were calling him unstoppable for ramming through transformative health-care legislation with barely a handful of true supporters.

Blaming Americans’ sense of uncertainty on the absence of a vaporous trait called presidential leadership isn’t only wrong; it’s detrimental to recovery because it lets bad policy off the hook. Obama believes in the power of government to fix the glitches and hazards of the free market. But every day, as the country watches the furious leak on the BP spill-cam juxtaposed with the manufactured fury of the White House, it’s more convinced of the limitations of big government. And as Americans learn of Washington’s pressure to push offshore drilling farther out into more risky depths, faith in regulation becomes its opposite. All this leaves Obama selling unrealistic policy. No amount of press conferences or beachfront photo-ops will change that. Giuliani simply held fast to what he knew the government could reasonably deliver: police protection and basic municipal services.

Most critical, the policy failings highlighted by the reaction to the spill reinforce Americans’ misgivings about the administration’s larger policy direction. People want jobs and, despite Obama’s claim of “saving” them, the most recent job-growth numbers prove that federal spending is insufficient to the task of raising employment levels. (Nevertheless, the president has just asked Congress for an additional $50 billion in recovery funds.) If Obama was successfully creating jobs, no one would dream of saddling him with the responsibility for a piece of commercial machinery that went bad 5,000 feet under the ocean. On top of unemployment worries, new independent reports on ObamaCare have cast credible doubts on its claims to consumer choice, expanded senior coverage, and general affordability. Not least damaging to Obama’s vision of a more activist federal government is the historic economic collapse of the European entitlement state.

On June 13, the New York Times’s Caucus blog noted, “Polls show that American voters give Mr. Obama the same mixed evaluation as before the spill. They like him personally but have reservations about his policies.” So, for all the convictions of the pundit class, this isn’t about the president’s personal qualities, leadership included. If Obama’s policies were enjoying success, Americans would be happy to call him a new kind of leader, a stealth leader, a reluctant leader, something. But with his agenda in such disrepair, it’s hard even to imagine what exactly Obama is expected to lead. The candidate who had promised to lower the sea levels is now stuck on the ocean floor.

In the endless wake of the BP oil spill, the new word is leadership. Everyone from Mitt Romney to James Carville to Maureen Dowd says that Barack Obama is in desperate need of some. In the New York Times, Dowd questioned how Obama came to “lose control of his own narrative.” On Good Morning America, Carville told George Stephanopoulos that Obama “looks like he’s not in control.” Romney penned a USA Today column about the absence of presidential command. “When a crisis is upon us,” he wrote, “America wants a leader, not a politician.” Go to any source and you’ll learn that Obama plays too much golf, shows too little anger, and is far too aloof to be a successful leader.

The criticisms have merit but are, in the end, secondary. If Obama’s policies — in the Gulf and beyond — were demonstrably effective, the same leadership style would be overlooked or reflexively praised. Reclaiming your own narrative — whatever that means — won’t get results; nor will looking like you’re in control or projecting bottomless empathy. Successful policy implementation gets results.

The popular exemplar here is Rudolph Giuliani. Yet national memory has skipped over important mundane details because New York City did, in fact, pull through after it was attacked. “We saw leadership on Sept. 11, 2001,” Romney wrote. “Rudy camped out at Ground Zero — he didn’t hole up in his office or retreat to his residence.” But if that’s all Giuliani did, his 9/11 performance would have gone down as hollow grandstanding. As Michael Powell reported in the New York Times, “There was garbage pickup on Sept. 12. City payroll checks went out on Sept. 13. On the sixth day, the stock exchange opened. Security was omnipresent.”

Speeches aside, had trash piled up on street corners and security been wanting, no one would have called Giuliani “America’s mayor.” Leadership isn’t an impressionistic art form in which symbols are aligned and tones calibrated in a decision-free vacuum. Leadership, rather, is public perception alongside the fact of concrete accomplishment.

And is it really accurate to say that Obama lacks the ability to head up a crusade, anyway? Even if we discount his force-of-nature presidential campaign, it wasn’t long ago that pundits were calling him unstoppable for ramming through transformative health-care legislation with barely a handful of true supporters.

Blaming Americans’ sense of uncertainty on the absence of a vaporous trait called presidential leadership isn’t only wrong; it’s detrimental to recovery because it lets bad policy off the hook. Obama believes in the power of government to fix the glitches and hazards of the free market. But every day, as the country watches the furious leak on the BP spill-cam juxtaposed with the manufactured fury of the White House, it’s more convinced of the limitations of big government. And as Americans learn of Washington’s pressure to push offshore drilling farther out into more risky depths, faith in regulation becomes its opposite. All this leaves Obama selling unrealistic policy. No amount of press conferences or beachfront photo-ops will change that. Giuliani simply held fast to what he knew the government could reasonably deliver: police protection and basic municipal services.

Most critical, the policy failings highlighted by the reaction to the spill reinforce Americans’ misgivings about the administration’s larger policy direction. People want jobs and, despite Obama’s claim of “saving” them, the most recent job-growth numbers prove that federal spending is insufficient to the task of raising employment levels. (Nevertheless, the president has just asked Congress for an additional $50 billion in recovery funds.) If Obama was successfully creating jobs, no one would dream of saddling him with the responsibility for a piece of commercial machinery that went bad 5,000 feet under the ocean. On top of unemployment worries, new independent reports on ObamaCare have cast credible doubts on its claims to consumer choice, expanded senior coverage, and general affordability. Not least damaging to Obama’s vision of a more activist federal government is the historic economic collapse of the European entitlement state.

On June 13, the New York Times’s Caucus blog noted, “Polls show that American voters give Mr. Obama the same mixed evaluation as before the spill. They like him personally but have reservations about his policies.” So, for all the convictions of the pundit class, this isn’t about the president’s personal qualities, leadership included. If Obama’s policies were enjoying success, Americans would be happy to call him a new kind of leader, a stealth leader, a reluctant leader, something. But with his agenda in such disrepair, it’s hard even to imagine what exactly Obama is expected to lead. The candidate who had promised to lower the sea levels is now stuck on the ocean floor.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Whoever wins the Democratic Senate run-off is in for a tough time: “A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Arkansas, taken Wednesday night, shows [Republican John] Boozman, the winner of Tuesday’s state GOP Primary, with 66% support in a match-up with Senator Blanche Lincoln. The Democratic incumbent picks up just 28% of the vote.”

The New York Times digs up another instance in which Richard Blumenthal lied about his Vietnam service. (“In Vietnam we had to endure taunts and insults, and no one said, ‘Welcome home.’ I say welcome home.”)

Obama sees nothing wrong with Blumenthal’s serial lying about his Vietnam service. The Democrats, every one of them, it seems, have lost their moral compass (perhaps they’ve taken it out of the vault and jumped up and down, shattering it) – and their political horse sense.

Not exactly what the left had in mind: “A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that prisoners being held without trial in Afghanistan by the military have no right to challenge their imprisonment in American civilian courts. The decision, overturning a lower court ruling in the detainees’ favor, was a victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to hold terrorism suspects overseas for extended periods without judicial oversight.” So they want to close Guantanamo so they can hold detainees indefinitely in Bagram?

The spirit of Arlen Specter appears in the Senate race in Florida: “Charlie Crist offered his support today for Elena Kagan, saying he’s ‘impressed’ with her so far. … But pressed to explain why he would support Kagan but opposed Sonia Sotomayor while he was a member of the Republican party, Crist was at a loss for words.” He’s impressed with her treatment of military recruiters at Harvard?

Chris Christie’s star will continue to rise if he keeps this up: in his veto of a tax hike, he declared: “I told everybody that if this got sent here that I’d veto it, and I have … New Jersey does not have a tax problem, that we don’t have enough tax revenue. We have a spending and size of government problem and we need to start saying ‘no.’ And today is another one of those examples of saying ‘no.’”

Uh, I don’t think this helps Rand Paul any: “‘When does my honeymoon period start? I had a big victory,’ Paul told George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today. ‘I’ve just been trashed up and down and they have been saying things that are untrue. And when they say I’m for repealing the Civil Rights Act, it’s absolutely false. It’s never been my position and something that I basically just think is politics.’”

Actually CONTENTIONS contributor Pete Wehner and conservative columnist Michael Gerson are dissecting him very efficiently.

Whoever wins the Democratic Senate run-off is in for a tough time: “A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Arkansas, taken Wednesday night, shows [Republican John] Boozman, the winner of Tuesday’s state GOP Primary, with 66% support in a match-up with Senator Blanche Lincoln. The Democratic incumbent picks up just 28% of the vote.”

The New York Times digs up another instance in which Richard Blumenthal lied about his Vietnam service. (“In Vietnam we had to endure taunts and insults, and no one said, ‘Welcome home.’ I say welcome home.”)

Obama sees nothing wrong with Blumenthal’s serial lying about his Vietnam service. The Democrats, every one of them, it seems, have lost their moral compass (perhaps they’ve taken it out of the vault and jumped up and down, shattering it) – and their political horse sense.

Not exactly what the left had in mind: “A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that prisoners being held without trial in Afghanistan by the military have no right to challenge their imprisonment in American civilian courts. The decision, overturning a lower court ruling in the detainees’ favor, was a victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to hold terrorism suspects overseas for extended periods without judicial oversight.” So they want to close Guantanamo so they can hold detainees indefinitely in Bagram?

The spirit of Arlen Specter appears in the Senate race in Florida: “Charlie Crist offered his support today for Elena Kagan, saying he’s ‘impressed’ with her so far. … But pressed to explain why he would support Kagan but opposed Sonia Sotomayor while he was a member of the Republican party, Crist was at a loss for words.” He’s impressed with her treatment of military recruiters at Harvard?

Chris Christie’s star will continue to rise if he keeps this up: in his veto of a tax hike, he declared: “I told everybody that if this got sent here that I’d veto it, and I have … New Jersey does not have a tax problem, that we don’t have enough tax revenue. We have a spending and size of government problem and we need to start saying ‘no.’ And today is another one of those examples of saying ‘no.’”

Uh, I don’t think this helps Rand Paul any: “‘When does my honeymoon period start? I had a big victory,’ Paul told George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today. ‘I’ve just been trashed up and down and they have been saying things that are untrue. And when they say I’m for repealing the Civil Rights Act, it’s absolutely false. It’s never been my position and something that I basically just think is politics.’”

Actually CONTENTIONS contributor Pete Wehner and conservative columnist Michael Gerson are dissecting him very efficiently.

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How We Slow Walk to Containment

Back on March 21 at an AIPAC Conference panel, Elliott Abrams wondered aloud what the Obami meant by the oft-repeated declaration that a nuclear-armed Iran was “unacceptable”: “But do they mean it’s unacceptable or just that it is a bummer?” Now, several weeks later, we have a good idea that it means the latter. For one thing Obama now has twice suggested that really, who can guarantee that Iran won’t go nuclear? Bill Kristol notes Obama’s que sera, sera attitude toward Iranian nukes:

Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America, Obama told George Stephanopoulos:

“If the question is do we have a guarantee [that] the sanctions we are able to institute at this stage are automatically going to change Iranian behavior, of course we don’t. I mean, the history of the Iranian regime, like the North Korean regime, is that, you know, you apply international pressure on these countries, sometimes they choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.”

You try to do your thing with your buddies in the international community, and, you know, sometimes people choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.

This was not unlike his statement a few days earlier in a New York Times interview: “‘We’re not naïve that any single set of sanctions automatically is going to change Iranian behavior,’ he said, adding ‘there’s no light switch in this process.’” Translation: it would be a bummer, but we’re not doing anything decisive.

Had Obama not tipped his hand, it would nevertheless have been obvious that “unacceptable” meant something considerably less ironclad than wishful listeners imagined. When the means for achieving a goal are so wildly at odds with the goal, one of two things is going on: either the goal isn’t the goal or the means are designed by incompetent, un-serious people. In either case, the goal isn’t going to be reached. Here, Obama’s advisers have loudly disclaimed interest in military action (i.e., the ultimate “light switch”). And neither he nor his advisers will refer to planned sanctions as “crippling”; they instead seem to have settled for the lowest-common-denominator sort of sanctions that might attract the support of Russia and, if we are very fortunate,  the Chinese support as well.

We therefore have new goals — ones that the Obami will insist are intermediary to the final objective of stopping Iran’s nuclear program, but in fact are diversions and barriers to that objective. First, we want to block unilateral action by Israel. So we set about to isolate Israel, rough up the prime minister, and create ambiguity as to whether the U.S. would endorse or countenance such a move. Second, we prepare the groundwork for a sanctions agreement by the “international community” that will be trumpeted as a great “success” — because, after all, it’s international and it’s an agreement. That it will be greeted with derision and ignored by the mullahs is irrelevant. The Obami will make the case that they delivered on the promise of sanctions and can’t really be blamed if Iran doesn’t “choose to change behavior.” But the passage of the new sanctions will, the Obami insist, require that we give them time “to work,” so, in the meantime, no unilateral sanctions by Congress and definitely no unilateral military action by Israel. In other words, the intermediary goal — an international agreement — becomes a barrier to decisive action to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions.

When looking back on the last fifteen months, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a better designed plan to delay confrontation and lay the ground work for the acceptance of a nuclear armed Iran. The nonsensical engagement policy, a series of ephemeral deadlines, the quietude on the Green Movement, the watering down of sanctions, and the warnings to Israel are all means that fit a specific end — not that of preventing a nuclear armed Iran, but rather that of preventing a confrontation with a regime desirous of obtaining nuclear weapons. If that wasn’t the game plan all along, it’s a remarkable coincidence that it all lines up so neatly. And in the final analysis, it doesn’t matter whether this was the primary plan or the back-up plan. We have reached the point in which the only chance to block Iran’s nuclear plans is a change of heart by a recalcitrant Obama administration convinced of its own virtue, or an Israeli military strike. We better hope there is a workable plan for the latter, for the former is exceptionally unlikely.

Back on March 21 at an AIPAC Conference panel, Elliott Abrams wondered aloud what the Obami meant by the oft-repeated declaration that a nuclear-armed Iran was “unacceptable”: “But do they mean it’s unacceptable or just that it is a bummer?” Now, several weeks later, we have a good idea that it means the latter. For one thing Obama now has twice suggested that really, who can guarantee that Iran won’t go nuclear? Bill Kristol notes Obama’s que sera, sera attitude toward Iranian nukes:

Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America, Obama told George Stephanopoulos:

“If the question is do we have a guarantee [that] the sanctions we are able to institute at this stage are automatically going to change Iranian behavior, of course we don’t. I mean, the history of the Iranian regime, like the North Korean regime, is that, you know, you apply international pressure on these countries, sometimes they choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.”

You try to do your thing with your buddies in the international community, and, you know, sometimes people choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.

This was not unlike his statement a few days earlier in a New York Times interview: “‘We’re not naïve that any single set of sanctions automatically is going to change Iranian behavior,’ he said, adding ‘there’s no light switch in this process.’” Translation: it would be a bummer, but we’re not doing anything decisive.

Had Obama not tipped his hand, it would nevertheless have been obvious that “unacceptable” meant something considerably less ironclad than wishful listeners imagined. When the means for achieving a goal are so wildly at odds with the goal, one of two things is going on: either the goal isn’t the goal or the means are designed by incompetent, un-serious people. In either case, the goal isn’t going to be reached. Here, Obama’s advisers have loudly disclaimed interest in military action (i.e., the ultimate “light switch”). And neither he nor his advisers will refer to planned sanctions as “crippling”; they instead seem to have settled for the lowest-common-denominator sort of sanctions that might attract the support of Russia and, if we are very fortunate,  the Chinese support as well.

We therefore have new goals — ones that the Obami will insist are intermediary to the final objective of stopping Iran’s nuclear program, but in fact are diversions and barriers to that objective. First, we want to block unilateral action by Israel. So we set about to isolate Israel, rough up the prime minister, and create ambiguity as to whether the U.S. would endorse or countenance such a move. Second, we prepare the groundwork for a sanctions agreement by the “international community” that will be trumpeted as a great “success” — because, after all, it’s international and it’s an agreement. That it will be greeted with derision and ignored by the mullahs is irrelevant. The Obami will make the case that they delivered on the promise of sanctions and can’t really be blamed if Iran doesn’t “choose to change behavior.” But the passage of the new sanctions will, the Obami insist, require that we give them time “to work,” so, in the meantime, no unilateral sanctions by Congress and definitely no unilateral military action by Israel. In other words, the intermediary goal — an international agreement — becomes a barrier to decisive action to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions.

When looking back on the last fifteen months, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a better designed plan to delay confrontation and lay the ground work for the acceptance of a nuclear armed Iran. The nonsensical engagement policy, a series of ephemeral deadlines, the quietude on the Green Movement, the watering down of sanctions, and the warnings to Israel are all means that fit a specific end — not that of preventing a nuclear armed Iran, but rather that of preventing a confrontation with a regime desirous of obtaining nuclear weapons. If that wasn’t the game plan all along, it’s a remarkable coincidence that it all lines up so neatly. And in the final analysis, it doesn’t matter whether this was the primary plan or the back-up plan. We have reached the point in which the only chance to block Iran’s nuclear plans is a change of heart by a recalcitrant Obama administration convinced of its own virtue, or an Israeli military strike. We better hope there is a workable plan for the latter, for the former is exceptionally unlikely.

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Obama to Follow the North Korean Model on Iran

There hasn’t been much reason for anyone to have confidence about Barack Obama’s seriousness of purpose when it comes to trying to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capability. But the president’s statement today on ABC’s Good Morning America appeared to remove any doubt about whether the administration was prepared to live with a nuclear Iran.

When asked by George Stephanopoulos about Russian President Medvedev’s promise to cooperate with U.S. diplomatic efforts on Iran, Obama tried to trumpet this shaky agreement as a great American triumph while at the same time lowering expectations that it will actually lead to any action, let alone a modification of Iranian behavior.

“If the question is do we have a guarantee as to the sanctions we are able to institute at this stage are automatically going to change Iranian behavior, of course we don’t,” Obama said. “The history of the Iranian regime, like the North Korean regime is that, you know, you apply international pressure on these countries, sometimes they choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.”

Since the only sorts of sanctions on Iran that Russia will agree to will make no impression on Tehran, Obama is right to lower our expectations. But his invocation of the example of North Korea is particularly ominous. Nearly two decades of alternating meaningless sanctions with appeasement and engagement have led to a depressing situation where the West has been left with no option but acquiescence to a nuclear North Korea. If the best the president of the United States can do in response to Iran’s intransigence is to merely say that his efforts might or might not succeed, why should anyone doubt that he is prepared to live with a nuclear Iran as he is with North Korea?

Despite Obama’s talk about his optimism about the Iranian regime being smart enough to see that they will benefit from abandoning their nuclear quest, it’s more than obvious that what Tehran will glean from this interview — as well as everything else the administration has said and done on this issue — will be that they have nothing to lose by continuing on their current path. With Russia and China effectively blocking any hope for crippling sanctions, with the threat of force off the table, and with the president now openly preparing the nation for America’s failure, why should the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime do anything but use all the extra time Obama has gifted them with to forge ahead toward their nuclear goal?

It should also be noted that when asked by Stephanopoulos about the latest round of vicious personal insults directed at him by Ahmadinejad, Obama responded with his stereotypical cool and merely spoke about “unproductive” remarks. Indeed, the worst thing Obama could say about the Iranian was to compare him with Sarah Palin, whose spot-on criticism of the administration’s nuclear policy he dismissed with contempt. A man who doesn’t see much of a distinction between a domestic political opponent and a Holocaust-denying anti-Semitic tyrant is missing a moral compass. But then again, this is the same person who has chosen to wage diplomatic war on Israel while engaging Iran and appeasing Russia.

There hasn’t been much reason for anyone to have confidence about Barack Obama’s seriousness of purpose when it comes to trying to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capability. But the president’s statement today on ABC’s Good Morning America appeared to remove any doubt about whether the administration was prepared to live with a nuclear Iran.

When asked by George Stephanopoulos about Russian President Medvedev’s promise to cooperate with U.S. diplomatic efforts on Iran, Obama tried to trumpet this shaky agreement as a great American triumph while at the same time lowering expectations that it will actually lead to any action, let alone a modification of Iranian behavior.

“If the question is do we have a guarantee as to the sanctions we are able to institute at this stage are automatically going to change Iranian behavior, of course we don’t,” Obama said. “The history of the Iranian regime, like the North Korean regime is that, you know, you apply international pressure on these countries, sometimes they choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.”

Since the only sorts of sanctions on Iran that Russia will agree to will make no impression on Tehran, Obama is right to lower our expectations. But his invocation of the example of North Korea is particularly ominous. Nearly two decades of alternating meaningless sanctions with appeasement and engagement have led to a depressing situation where the West has been left with no option but acquiescence to a nuclear North Korea. If the best the president of the United States can do in response to Iran’s intransigence is to merely say that his efforts might or might not succeed, why should anyone doubt that he is prepared to live with a nuclear Iran as he is with North Korea?

Despite Obama’s talk about his optimism about the Iranian regime being smart enough to see that they will benefit from abandoning their nuclear quest, it’s more than obvious that what Tehran will glean from this interview — as well as everything else the administration has said and done on this issue — will be that they have nothing to lose by continuing on their current path. With Russia and China effectively blocking any hope for crippling sanctions, with the threat of force off the table, and with the president now openly preparing the nation for America’s failure, why should the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime do anything but use all the extra time Obama has gifted them with to forge ahead toward their nuclear goal?

It should also be noted that when asked by Stephanopoulos about the latest round of vicious personal insults directed at him by Ahmadinejad, Obama responded with his stereotypical cool and merely spoke about “unproductive” remarks. Indeed, the worst thing Obama could say about the Iranian was to compare him with Sarah Palin, whose spot-on criticism of the administration’s nuclear policy he dismissed with contempt. A man who doesn’t see much of a distinction between a domestic political opponent and a Holocaust-denying anti-Semitic tyrant is missing a moral compass. But then again, this is the same person who has chosen to wage diplomatic war on Israel while engaging Iran and appeasing Russia.

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Joe Klein’s Almost Pathological Love Affairs

Time magazine’s Joe Klein is angry. Again. This time his animus is aimed at the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami and yours truly. Again. And so, one more time — just for the fun of it — let’s take a look at what is fueling Joe’s fury and see if we can make some sense of it.

Here’s what Klein writes:

But there is another, more troubling and outrageous aspect of the Ajami argument: the conservative fetish about the President’s ”self-regard.” Ajami is not alone here. Former Bush Deputy Minister of Propaganda–and now a daily predictor of falling skies and presidential implosions–Pete Wehner referred to Obama’s “pathological self-regard” a few weeks ago. Pathological? Where on earth does that come from? And where on earth does Ajami’s notion that Obama “succumbed” to the “Awaited One” expectations that his followers had of him? Where’s the evidence?

Oh, I dunno. But if I had to pick some examples, I might begin with the fact that (according to the book Game Change) during the campaign Obama surrounded himself with aides who referred to Obama as a “Black Jesus.” Obama didn’t appear to object. Or I might mention Obama’s comment to a Chicago Tribune reporter a few hours before his 2004 convention speech. “I’m LeBron, baby,” Obama said. “I can play on this level. I got some game.” Or I might point people to Obama’s comments made during the campaign, when he said:

I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal, this was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.

Let’s see: Jesus, LeBron, and King Canute. That’s quite a threesome.  I won’t even mention Obama’s campaign slogan, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

On second thought, maybe I will.

Perhaps Klein’s unhappiness with Ajami and me is rooted in the fact that, from time to time, Joe succumbs to an almost pathological love affair when it comes to presidents. Well, Democratic presidents, anyway. That was certainly the case with Bill Clinton, at least for a time. In his book All Too Human, George Stephanopoulos, in recounting a Clinton speech during the 1992 campaign, wrote this:

Joe Klein and I took it all in from the back of the room with tears in our eyes – moved by the emotional moment, expectation, and apprehension. Reporters are paid to be dispassionate, but Joe was either smitten with Clinton or doing a smooth job of spinning me. We talked openly and often now, either on the phone or when we hooked up with us on the road. As the paying guests sat down to dinner, we retreated to the basement. The campaign was going so well that we slipped into what Joe called a ‘dark-off,’ whispering fears of  future misfortune like a couple of black-robed crones spitting in the wind to ward off the evil eye. We’re peaking too early. It can’t stay this good. Too tempting a target. What goes up must come down.

“I come from Russian Jews,” Joe said. “Whenever things are good, we start to hear hoofbeats — the Cossacks.”

Fast-forward to the Age of Obama when Klein, in a recent interview with our 44th president, had this blistering exchange:

Klein: Let me ask you one foreign policy question. My sense is that — just my own personal sense, but also from people I talk to — the overall conception of your foreign policy has been absolutely right. Necessary, corrective. Subtle, comprehensive.

Obama: We have a good team.

Klein: But there have been some problems in execution.

Obama: Well, I would not deny that, but let me say that given what’s on our plate — and you know the list. I don’t need to tick them off.

I guess this qualifies as speaking truth to power.

For the record, what Joe reports isn’t quite accurate. I wrote about Obama’s “almost pathological self-regard” in my piece [emphasis added]. (The context was a story in which Representative Marion Berry recounted his meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, Berry said, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs “off into that swamp” of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home. “I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’”)

But on reflection, and in light of Klein’s comments, I do think I phrased things in an inappropriate manner. I probably should have dropped the adverb “almost.”

Time magazine’s Joe Klein is angry. Again. This time his animus is aimed at the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami and yours truly. Again. And so, one more time — just for the fun of it — let’s take a look at what is fueling Joe’s fury and see if we can make some sense of it.

Here’s what Klein writes:

But there is another, more troubling and outrageous aspect of the Ajami argument: the conservative fetish about the President’s ”self-regard.” Ajami is not alone here. Former Bush Deputy Minister of Propaganda–and now a daily predictor of falling skies and presidential implosions–Pete Wehner referred to Obama’s “pathological self-regard” a few weeks ago. Pathological? Where on earth does that come from? And where on earth does Ajami’s notion that Obama “succumbed” to the “Awaited One” expectations that his followers had of him? Where’s the evidence?

Oh, I dunno. But if I had to pick some examples, I might begin with the fact that (according to the book Game Change) during the campaign Obama surrounded himself with aides who referred to Obama as a “Black Jesus.” Obama didn’t appear to object. Or I might mention Obama’s comment to a Chicago Tribune reporter a few hours before his 2004 convention speech. “I’m LeBron, baby,” Obama said. “I can play on this level. I got some game.” Or I might point people to Obama’s comments made during the campaign, when he said:

I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal, this was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.

Let’s see: Jesus, LeBron, and King Canute. That’s quite a threesome.  I won’t even mention Obama’s campaign slogan, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

On second thought, maybe I will.

Perhaps Klein’s unhappiness with Ajami and me is rooted in the fact that, from time to time, Joe succumbs to an almost pathological love affair when it comes to presidents. Well, Democratic presidents, anyway. That was certainly the case with Bill Clinton, at least for a time. In his book All Too Human, George Stephanopoulos, in recounting a Clinton speech during the 1992 campaign, wrote this:

Joe Klein and I took it all in from the back of the room with tears in our eyes – moved by the emotional moment, expectation, and apprehension. Reporters are paid to be dispassionate, but Joe was either smitten with Clinton or doing a smooth job of spinning me. We talked openly and often now, either on the phone or when we hooked up with us on the road. As the paying guests sat down to dinner, we retreated to the basement. The campaign was going so well that we slipped into what Joe called a ‘dark-off,’ whispering fears of  future misfortune like a couple of black-robed crones spitting in the wind to ward off the evil eye. We’re peaking too early. It can’t stay this good. Too tempting a target. What goes up must come down.

“I come from Russian Jews,” Joe said. “Whenever things are good, we start to hear hoofbeats — the Cossacks.”

Fast-forward to the Age of Obama when Klein, in a recent interview with our 44th president, had this blistering exchange:

Klein: Let me ask you one foreign policy question. My sense is that — just my own personal sense, but also from people I talk to — the overall conception of your foreign policy has been absolutely right. Necessary, corrective. Subtle, comprehensive.

Obama: We have a good team.

Klein: But there have been some problems in execution.

Obama: Well, I would not deny that, but let me say that given what’s on our plate — and you know the list. I don’t need to tick them off.

I guess this qualifies as speaking truth to power.

For the record, what Joe reports isn’t quite accurate. I wrote about Obama’s “almost pathological self-regard” in my piece [emphasis added]. (The context was a story in which Representative Marion Berry recounted his meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, Berry said, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs “off into that swamp” of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home. “I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’”)

But on reflection, and in light of Klein’s comments, I do think I phrased things in an inappropriate manner. I probably should have dropped the adverb “almost.”

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Squandering Mr. Obama’s Teachable Moment

In his interview with George Stephanopoulos yesterday, President Obama said this:

The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry, and they’re frustrated. Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.

He went on to say this as well:

If there’s one thing that I regret this year, is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us, that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values. And that I do think is a mistake of mine. I think the assumption was, if I just focus on policy, if I just focus on the, you know this provision, or that law, or are we making a good, rational decision here … that people will get it. … What they’ve ended up seeing is this feeling of remoteness and detachment where, you know, there’s these technocrats up here, these folks who are making decisions. … I think that I can do a better job of that and partly because I do believe that we’re in a stronger position now than we were in a year ago. That also means, by the way, that we can spread out what we do so it’s not so cram-packed. It doesn’t mean I back off the agenda of health care, or energy, or education, or financial regulatory reform, or dealing with our deficits. But it does mean that it doesn’t have to be all on top of the other piled on. And we’ve got a lot more time to explain to people why we’re doing what we’re doing. We have a lot more time to answer critics who argue that we’re not doing the right thing.

What a shame; the election in Massachusetts was a wonderful teachable moment for Mr. Obama — and he seems to have drawn all the wrong lessons from it.

First, the president is still engaged in whining and finger-pointing, an act that long ago became tiresome. Unable to master events, he increasingly looks for ways to scapegoat them. Blaming everything under the sun on the “last eight years” won’t cut it (especially since one of the last eight years now covers Obama’s tenure). It simply makes Mr. Obama look petty and small-minded.

Second, Mr. Obama and his press spokesman Robert Gibbs and his top aide David Axelrod are practicing psychiatry without a license. They speak about the need to “understand” the public’s “anger,” as if it was a rooted in something other than a reasonable verdict on Mr. Obama’s agenda so far. The polling data shows that what is costing the Democrats isn’t some kind of free-floating anger that has gripped voters in need of therapy; it is opposition to what Obama and the Democrats are trying to do to the nation.

Third, the president’s “mistake” is that he and his administration were just so busy doing so much good stuff for so many people that, well, they plainly forgot to explain to simple-minded Americans just how much good stuff the Obama administration is doing for them. I guess Rahm Emanuel needs to add “remind people how great I am” to the presidential “to do” list.

Fourth, Obama and his acolytes believe they have a “communications problem” when in fact they have a substance and competence problem. They are pushing proposals that are counterproductive and highly unpopular; that is why the American people are rising up against the president and his agenda.

Mr. Obama’s words are so laughably out of touch I’m not sure he really believes them. If he does, he is more self-deluded than I imagined. And his administration is in more trouble than I thought.

In his interview with George Stephanopoulos yesterday, President Obama said this:

The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry, and they’re frustrated. Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.

He went on to say this as well:

If there’s one thing that I regret this year, is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us, that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values. And that I do think is a mistake of mine. I think the assumption was, if I just focus on policy, if I just focus on the, you know this provision, or that law, or are we making a good, rational decision here … that people will get it. … What they’ve ended up seeing is this feeling of remoteness and detachment where, you know, there’s these technocrats up here, these folks who are making decisions. … I think that I can do a better job of that and partly because I do believe that we’re in a stronger position now than we were in a year ago. That also means, by the way, that we can spread out what we do so it’s not so cram-packed. It doesn’t mean I back off the agenda of health care, or energy, or education, or financial regulatory reform, or dealing with our deficits. But it does mean that it doesn’t have to be all on top of the other piled on. And we’ve got a lot more time to explain to people why we’re doing what we’re doing. We have a lot more time to answer critics who argue that we’re not doing the right thing.

What a shame; the election in Massachusetts was a wonderful teachable moment for Mr. Obama — and he seems to have drawn all the wrong lessons from it.

First, the president is still engaged in whining and finger-pointing, an act that long ago became tiresome. Unable to master events, he increasingly looks for ways to scapegoat them. Blaming everything under the sun on the “last eight years” won’t cut it (especially since one of the last eight years now covers Obama’s tenure). It simply makes Mr. Obama look petty and small-minded.

Second, Mr. Obama and his press spokesman Robert Gibbs and his top aide David Axelrod are practicing psychiatry without a license. They speak about the need to “understand” the public’s “anger,” as if it was a rooted in something other than a reasonable verdict on Mr. Obama’s agenda so far. The polling data shows that what is costing the Democrats isn’t some kind of free-floating anger that has gripped voters in need of therapy; it is opposition to what Obama and the Democrats are trying to do to the nation.

Third, the president’s “mistake” is that he and his administration were just so busy doing so much good stuff for so many people that, well, they plainly forgot to explain to simple-minded Americans just how much good stuff the Obama administration is doing for them. I guess Rahm Emanuel needs to add “remind people how great I am” to the presidential “to do” list.

Fourth, Obama and his acolytes believe they have a “communications problem” when in fact they have a substance and competence problem. They are pushing proposals that are counterproductive and highly unpopular; that is why the American people are rising up against the president and his agenda.

Mr. Obama’s words are so laughably out of touch I’m not sure he really believes them. If he does, he is more self-deluded than I imagined. And his administration is in more trouble than I thought.

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Re: They Don’t Like It

More evidence that they don’t like ObamaCare comes from the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, which George Stephanopoulos sums up:

The poll shows that public skepticism is hardening.  Most Americans believe that reform will make their own health care worse – especially on the key issue of cost – with 54 percent fearing their own costs will rise, and 56 percent believing the costs to the country will increase. … [The administration's] hope: once the bill is signed into law, the public will reward them for delivering on a big promise. But can they deliver on the details?

I don’t recall politicians ever being so openly disdainful of the public. The poor dears don’t understand what is good for them, are befuddled, and will like it once they see our handiwork. That’s what the Democrats are telling themselves — and the voters.

Other little nuggets from the poll: 41 percent “strongly” disapprove of Obama’s handling of health care, and 60 percent think the public option will push private employers out of the market. By a 37-to-19 margin, people think the quality of their own health care will get worse. And more people say they’d oppose a candidate (29 percent, and 20 percent would “strongly” oppose) who backed ObamaCare than one who supported it (25 percent).

It’s quite a gamble that ObamaCare supporters are taking: they’re rolling the dice, hoping that voters don’t really mean what they say and that they’ll be rewarded for defying the public’s wishes, enacting new taxes, and slashing Medicare. I guess anything in politics is possible. But congressmen and senators facing elections may have their doubts, as well they should.

More evidence that they don’t like ObamaCare comes from the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, which George Stephanopoulos sums up:

The poll shows that public skepticism is hardening.  Most Americans believe that reform will make their own health care worse – especially on the key issue of cost – with 54 percent fearing their own costs will rise, and 56 percent believing the costs to the country will increase. … [The administration's] hope: once the bill is signed into law, the public will reward them for delivering on a big promise. But can they deliver on the details?

I don’t recall politicians ever being so openly disdainful of the public. The poor dears don’t understand what is good for them, are befuddled, and will like it once they see our handiwork. That’s what the Democrats are telling themselves — and the voters.

Other little nuggets from the poll: 41 percent “strongly” disapprove of Obama’s handling of health care, and 60 percent think the public option will push private employers out of the market. By a 37-to-19 margin, people think the quality of their own health care will get worse. And more people say they’d oppose a candidate (29 percent, and 20 percent would “strongly” oppose) who backed ObamaCare than one who supported it (25 percent).

It’s quite a gamble that ObamaCare supporters are taking: they’re rolling the dice, hoping that voters don’t really mean what they say and that they’ll be rewarded for defying the public’s wishes, enacting new taxes, and slashing Medicare. I guess anything in politics is possible. But congressmen and senators facing elections may have their doubts, as well they should.

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A Moment Of Clarity

Morton Kondracke stands apart from the media hysteria to explain Barack Obama’s fall to earth from Olympian heights:

He’s also now revealed as the most liberal Member of the U.S. Senate — and one who has never, ever departed from party orthodoxy to form the kind of bipartisan coalition he says — correctly — that it will take to solve America’s problems. It’s all about “vetting.” When somebody has been in national life for only three years and is running for the highest office in the land, it’s only natural that voters — and journalists — find out what the candidate is made of, what his character is. Which is why it was perfectly appropriate for ABC News interrogators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos to ask questions about Obama’s remark that small-town Pennsylvanians “cling” to their guns and religion because they are “bitter,” about his refusal to wear a flag pin and about his association with radicals such as former Weatherman Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

That seems all perfectly rational (Stuart Taylor has similar thoughts), but there is something more at work here. The promise that Obama would offer a post-racial and post-partisan vision of America has been revealed to be hokum. (Well, some of us from the start may have doubted that post-partisan anything is possible in a vigorous democracy.) It took a while, but now it is painfully obvious that Obama and his campaign don’t seem to believe their own “no division, no Red and Blue America” routine.

It’s getting harder and harder to recognize the Obama who said this after his victory in Iowa:

You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that’s consumed Washington; to end the political strategy that’s been all about division and instead make it about addition – to build a coalition for change that stretches through Red States and Blue States. Because that’s how we’ll win in November, and that’s how we’ll finally meet the challenges that we face as a nation. . . .That is what we started here in Iowa, and that is the message we can now carry to New Hampshire and beyond; the same message we had when we were up and when we were down; the one that can change this country brick by brick, block by block, calloused hand by calloused hand – that together, ordinary people can do extraordinary things; because we are not a collection of Red States and Blue States, we are the United States of America; and at this moment, in this election, we are ready to believe again.

Moving beyond the “bitterness” we surely have not done. Somewhere along the way we recognized the gap between a speech–a very uplifting one, but just a speech–and what Obama and his campaign operatives believe. That, I think, is why the Left blogosphere, in part, is so depressed: Obama, it turns out, is just like all the rest. (Only with less of a résumé.)

Morton Kondracke stands apart from the media hysteria to explain Barack Obama’s fall to earth from Olympian heights:

He’s also now revealed as the most liberal Member of the U.S. Senate — and one who has never, ever departed from party orthodoxy to form the kind of bipartisan coalition he says — correctly — that it will take to solve America’s problems. It’s all about “vetting.” When somebody has been in national life for only three years and is running for the highest office in the land, it’s only natural that voters — and journalists — find out what the candidate is made of, what his character is. Which is why it was perfectly appropriate for ABC News interrogators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos to ask questions about Obama’s remark that small-town Pennsylvanians “cling” to their guns and religion because they are “bitter,” about his refusal to wear a flag pin and about his association with radicals such as former Weatherman Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

That seems all perfectly rational (Stuart Taylor has similar thoughts), but there is something more at work here. The promise that Obama would offer a post-racial and post-partisan vision of America has been revealed to be hokum. (Well, some of us from the start may have doubted that post-partisan anything is possible in a vigorous democracy.) It took a while, but now it is painfully obvious that Obama and his campaign don’t seem to believe their own “no division, no Red and Blue America” routine.

It’s getting harder and harder to recognize the Obama who said this after his victory in Iowa:

You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that’s consumed Washington; to end the political strategy that’s been all about division and instead make it about addition – to build a coalition for change that stretches through Red States and Blue States. Because that’s how we’ll win in November, and that’s how we’ll finally meet the challenges that we face as a nation. . . .That is what we started here in Iowa, and that is the message we can now carry to New Hampshire and beyond; the same message we had when we were up and when we were down; the one that can change this country brick by brick, block by block, calloused hand by calloused hand – that together, ordinary people can do extraordinary things; because we are not a collection of Red States and Blue States, we are the United States of America; and at this moment, in this election, we are ready to believe again.

Moving beyond the “bitterness” we surely have not done. Somewhere along the way we recognized the gap between a speech–a very uplifting one, but just a speech–and what Obama and his campaign operatives believe. That, I think, is why the Left blogosphere, in part, is so depressed: Obama, it turns out, is just like all the rest. (Only with less of a résumé.)

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“Shameful”?

In an article today, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post cites various media figures–from Tom Shales of the Post to Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher to Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News to MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann–who are outraged at the performance of George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson during Wednesday’s Democratic debate. The ABC News duo’s performance, we are told, was “despicable,” “shameful,” and “disgraced democracy itself.”

And what did Stephanopoulos and Gibson do to earn this scorn? Why, they asked Barack Obama some probing questions, including one about his past relationships with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. and a former leader of the Weather Underground, William Ayers.

Consider this thought experiment: Assume that a conservative candidate for the GOP nomination spent two decades at a church whose senior pastor was a white supremacist who uttered ugly racial (as well as anti-American) epithets from the pulpit. Assume, too, that this minister wasn’t just the candidate’s pastor but also a close friend, the man who married the candidate and his wife, baptized his two daughters, and inspired the title of his best-selling book.

In addition, assume that this GOP candidate, in preparing for his entry into politics, attended an early organizing meeting at the home of a man who, years before, was involved in blowing up multiple abortion clinics and today was unrepentant, stating his wish that he had bombed even more clinics. And let’s say that the GOP candidate’s press spokesman described the relationship between the two men as “friendly.”

Do you think that if those moderating a debate asked the GOP candidate about these relationships for the first time, after 22 previous debates had been held, that other journalists would become apoplectic at the moderators for merely asking about the relationships? Not only would there be a near-universal consensus that those questions should be asked; there would be a moral urgency in pressing for answers. We would, I predict, be seeing an unprecedented media “feeding frenzy.”

The truth is that a close relationship with a white supremacist pastor and a friendly relationship with an abortion clinic bomber would, by themselves, torpedo a conservative candidate running for president. There is an enormous double standard at play here, one rooted in the fawning regard many journalists have for Barack Obama. They have a deep, even emotional, investment in his candidacy. And, as we are seeing, they will turn on anyone, even their colleagues, who dare raise appropriate and searching questions–the kind journalists are supposed to ask. The reaction to Stephanopoulos and Gibson is a revealing and depressing glimpse into the state of modern journalism.

In an article today, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post cites various media figures–from Tom Shales of the Post to Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher to Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News to MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann–who are outraged at the performance of George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson during Wednesday’s Democratic debate. The ABC News duo’s performance, we are told, was “despicable,” “shameful,” and “disgraced democracy itself.”

And what did Stephanopoulos and Gibson do to earn this scorn? Why, they asked Barack Obama some probing questions, including one about his past relationships with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. and a former leader of the Weather Underground, William Ayers.

Consider this thought experiment: Assume that a conservative candidate for the GOP nomination spent two decades at a church whose senior pastor was a white supremacist who uttered ugly racial (as well as anti-American) epithets from the pulpit. Assume, too, that this minister wasn’t just the candidate’s pastor but also a close friend, the man who married the candidate and his wife, baptized his two daughters, and inspired the title of his best-selling book.

In addition, assume that this GOP candidate, in preparing for his entry into politics, attended an early organizing meeting at the home of a man who, years before, was involved in blowing up multiple abortion clinics and today was unrepentant, stating his wish that he had bombed even more clinics. And let’s say that the GOP candidate’s press spokesman described the relationship between the two men as “friendly.”

Do you think that if those moderating a debate asked the GOP candidate about these relationships for the first time, after 22 previous debates had been held, that other journalists would become apoplectic at the moderators for merely asking about the relationships? Not only would there be a near-universal consensus that those questions should be asked; there would be a moral urgency in pressing for answers. We would, I predict, be seeing an unprecedented media “feeding frenzy.”

The truth is that a close relationship with a white supremacist pastor and a friendly relationship with an abortion clinic bomber would, by themselves, torpedo a conservative candidate running for president. There is an enormous double standard at play here, one rooted in the fawning regard many journalists have for Barack Obama. They have a deep, even emotional, investment in his candidacy. And, as we are seeing, they will turn on anyone, even their colleagues, who dare raise appropriate and searching questions–the kind journalists are supposed to ask. The reaction to Stephanopoulos and Gibson is a revealing and depressing glimpse into the state of modern journalism.

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Prediction Confirmed!

Me, here, last night:

Watch Out, ABC:  Early pulse-taking from Obama-centric blogs and bloggers indicates that Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos are in for a world of hurt over the next couple of days. Expect thumb-sucking pieces in the New York Times and the Washington Post about whether the debate questions were “fair.”

Tom Shales in this morning’s Washington Post:

“When Barack Obama met Hillary Clinton for another televised Democratic candidates’ debate last night, it was more than a step forward in the 2008 presidential election. It was another step downward for network news — in particular ABC News, which hosted the debate from Philadelphia and whose usually dependable anchors, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances.”

Despicable? 

Me, here, last night:

Watch Out, ABC:  Early pulse-taking from Obama-centric blogs and bloggers indicates that Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos are in for a world of hurt over the next couple of days. Expect thumb-sucking pieces in the New York Times and the Washington Post about whether the debate questions were “fair.”

Tom Shales in this morning’s Washington Post:

“When Barack Obama met Hillary Clinton for another televised Democratic candidates’ debate last night, it was more than a step forward in the 2008 presidential election. It was another step downward for network news — in particular ABC News, which hosted the debate from Philadelphia and whose usually dependable anchors, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances.”

Despicable? 

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Watch Out, ABC

Early pulse-taking from Obama-centric blogs and bloggers indicates that Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos are in for a world of hurt over the next couple of days. Expect thumb-sucking pieces in the New York Times and the Washington Post about whether the debate questions were “fair.”

Early pulse-taking from Obama-centric blogs and bloggers indicates that Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos are in for a world of hurt over the next couple of days. Expect thumb-sucking pieces in the New York Times and the Washington Post about whether the debate questions were “fair.”

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Live! From Inside Obama’s Shoe!

Andrew Sullivan whining, whining, whining about how badly his candidate is doing — including likening George Stephanopoulos to Karl Rove!

Andrew Sullivan whining, whining, whining about how badly his candidate is doing — including likening George Stephanopoulos to Karl Rove!

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Is a Terror “Spectacular” On the Way?

Is our domestic counterterrorism effort failing, and if so why?

We have not suffered an attack since September 11, which is obviously a critical indicator of success. Michael Chertoff, who heads the Department of Homeland Security, told George Stephanopoulos that he has no evidence of an impending attack on the territory of the United States. But news reports last week spoke of a secret warning by his department that al Qaeda is preparing a terror “spectacular” for this summer.

As always, the trouble is that Michael Chertoff, like the rest of us, doesn’t now what he doesn’t know. When it comes to terrorism, we cannot see around the corner. In this regard, there is a significant and little-discussed parallel between the latest plots uncovered in the United Kingdom and the planned attack on Fort Dix in New Jersey, uncovered back in May.

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Is our domestic counterterrorism effort failing, and if so why?

We have not suffered an attack since September 11, which is obviously a critical indicator of success. Michael Chertoff, who heads the Department of Homeland Security, told George Stephanopoulos that he has no evidence of an impending attack on the territory of the United States. But news reports last week spoke of a secret warning by his department that al Qaeda is preparing a terror “spectacular” for this summer.

As always, the trouble is that Michael Chertoff, like the rest of us, doesn’t now what he doesn’t know. When it comes to terrorism, we cannot see around the corner. In this regard, there is a significant and little-discussed parallel between the latest plots uncovered in the United Kingdom and the planned attack on Fort Dix in New Jersey, uncovered back in May.

In both cases, the authorities were not on top of the problem. In New Jersey, the most striking thing about the planned attack was that it was averted not by successful police work but by an alert video-rental clerk. In the United Kingdom, the bombers actually got through.

In London, it was only technical incompetence in bomb-building that kept the plotters from successfully causing mass carnage. In Glasgow, bollards kept a Jeep Cherokee from penetrating the airport building. Hardening the target there proved to be a critical step in saving lives. Still, there was a complete absence of intelligence on the plot. Until they were caught in the act, the main suspects in the case were only dimly on the radar scopes of Scotland Yard.

Why? At this juncture, we are only confined to supposition; hard facts are not yet established. Could one possibility be that these presumably well-informed perpetrators maintained effective operational security, and avoided behavior, like engaging in telephone conversations and sending emails, that was likely to get them caught? And could this have anything to with the steady stream of news reports detailing many, if not all, of the counterterrorism techniques used by the authorities?

Last week, here in the U.S., a federal appeals court reversed a lower-court’s injunction (that had been stayed on appeal) shutting down the National Security Agency’s terrorist surveillance program. That program permits the interception, without warrants, of telephone and email communications where one party to the communication is located outside the United States and the NSA has a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda or affiliated with al Qaeda.

The positive effects of last week’s reversal are limited, because the NSA program has already been modified and placed under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But the entire episode reminds us once again of the damage that was done by the program’s initial disclosure by the New York Times.

Aspiring terrorists, here and overseas, have been made well aware that they are facing highly sophisticated monitoring technology. They act accordingly. Is that one reason we are not learning about their identities and activities until their bombs are already in place?

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Hillary’s Undamaged Hopes

Republicans hoping that the two new biographies of Hillary Clinton (one with a first printing of 275,000, the other of 175,000) will throw the Democrats’ strongest candidate into a tailspin may be disappointed. I’ve yet to get my hands on either of the books, which will be published later this week. But to judge by the leaks to date, neither A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by Carl Bernstein, nor Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth (who was one of the first to write about the Whitewater scandal) and current Timesman Don Van Natta Jr., is likely to have an effect on the race.

The books appear to contain interesting details about Bill Clinton’s affairs, including one so serious that he nearly divorced Hillary to marry the other woman. And there are said to be juicy quotes, in particular one from George Stephanopoulos on Hillary’s Jesuitical lying about Travelgate. But these are familiar tropes.

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Republicans hoping that the two new biographies of Hillary Clinton (one with a first printing of 275,000, the other of 175,000) will throw the Democrats’ strongest candidate into a tailspin may be disappointed. I’ve yet to get my hands on either of the books, which will be published later this week. But to judge by the leaks to date, neither A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by Carl Bernstein, nor Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth (who was one of the first to write about the Whitewater scandal) and current Timesman Don Van Natta Jr., is likely to have an effect on the race.

The books appear to contain interesting details about Bill Clinton’s affairs, including one so serious that he nearly divorced Hillary to marry the other woman. And there are said to be juicy quotes, in particular one from George Stephanopoulos on Hillary’s Jesuitical lying about Travelgate. But these are familiar tropes.

The most interesting chapters may come from Gerth and Van Atta. These two are really the first to take an extended, in-depth look at Hillary’s record as a Senator. But that’s precisely the rub. Senator Clinton has played it close to the vest in Congress, emphasizing her competence and bi-partisan instincts largely to the exclusion of any political skywriting. And unless there are hitherto unsuspected revelations about her Senate career, any damage caused by Her Way may be minimal. The book comes early in the campaign; most likely voters already have a strong sense of what they think of Hillary.

As things now stand, the relentless, low-key emphasis on competence which served Hillary so well in her 2000 Senate campaign will also help her in 2008. Not least because it plays off of President Bush’s marked incompetence, the latest example of which is his ill-drafted immigration reform bill.

When it comes to the Clinton campaign it is important to remember that she’s engaged not in one but in two primary races (political consultant Craig Charney first formulated this idea). One is against Obama for the upper-middle-class vote; the other against John Edwards for the blue-collar vote. She can lose both and still likely win the nomination: neither of her rivals has any cross-class appeal. Which is why, these new exposés notwithstanding, Hillary still remains the favorite.

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