Commentary Magazine


Topic: Glenn Reynolds

Weak Leaks

When the first batch of WikiLeaks’s prize field reports was posted in July, I was underwhelmed by the strategic import of the content. This unauthorized disclosure was nothing like the “Pentagon Papers,” which revealed a marked difference between the Johnson administration’s public protestations about our policy in Vietnam and the policy it was actually pursuing. The significance of the Pentagon Papers leak lay in what it revealed — directly and explicitly — about the American executive.

The WikiLeaks document dumps this year have done no such thing. The leaked field reports contain no direct information about policy in Washington. The first batch of reports tended mainly to confirm that the American understanding of what was going on in the field, in Iraq and Afghanistan, was pretty accurate. The second batch of reports, which was provided to selected news outlets last week, appears to be going beyond that to vindicate key claims of the Bush administration and debunk one of the principal talking points of its critics.

The New York Times, given advance access to the new batch of documents, reported on Friday that they are full of references to Iranian involvement in the Shia insurgency in Iraq. As the Times observes, the Bush administration was strongly criticized for charging Iran with this interference, but the field reports indicate that Bush’s allegations comported with what he was hearing from the field. (h/t: Legal Insurrection)

Wired’s Danger Room notes that the reports are also full of references to the discovery and identification in Iraq of chemical weapons, weapons-making laboratories, and chemical-weapons experts among Iraq’s insurgents and terrorists. (h/t: Ed Morrissey at Hot Air) Many of the facts surrounding these discoveries have been public for years, but as several bloggers have pointed out, this documentary validation isn’t propaganda: it comes from field reports that were never intended to reach or persuade the public. Ironically, for a leak made with its particular political motives, this one validates precisely the concern with which George W. Bush went into Iraq — i.e., that the WMD components acquired by terrorism sponsors could fall into the hands of terrorists.

But there’s more irony in those leaked documents. They contain civilian casualty summaries that give the lie to the wild estimates from the 2006 Lancet study of 655,000 “excess deaths” in Iraq because of the war. The casualty total reflected in the documents is 109,032 through 2009. From a humanitarian perspective, any civilian casualties are assuredly “too many.” But the disingenuousness of urging the public to indignation over a particular number is thrown into strong relief when the number is revealed to have been a ridiculous and irresponsible exaggeration. As the Melbourne Herald Sun blogger observes, the Iraqi total from the WikiLeaks documents makes the civilian fatality rate from combat there lower than the murder rate in South Africa.

Glenn Reynolds points out at Instapundit that the timing of this fresh document dump is beneficial mainly to the impending release of George W. Bush’s presidential memoir. That’s probably an unintended consequence, too.

When the first batch of WikiLeaks’s prize field reports was posted in July, I was underwhelmed by the strategic import of the content. This unauthorized disclosure was nothing like the “Pentagon Papers,” which revealed a marked difference between the Johnson administration’s public protestations about our policy in Vietnam and the policy it was actually pursuing. The significance of the Pentagon Papers leak lay in what it revealed — directly and explicitly — about the American executive.

The WikiLeaks document dumps this year have done no such thing. The leaked field reports contain no direct information about policy in Washington. The first batch of reports tended mainly to confirm that the American understanding of what was going on in the field, in Iraq and Afghanistan, was pretty accurate. The second batch of reports, which was provided to selected news outlets last week, appears to be going beyond that to vindicate key claims of the Bush administration and debunk one of the principal talking points of its critics.

The New York Times, given advance access to the new batch of documents, reported on Friday that they are full of references to Iranian involvement in the Shia insurgency in Iraq. As the Times observes, the Bush administration was strongly criticized for charging Iran with this interference, but the field reports indicate that Bush’s allegations comported with what he was hearing from the field. (h/t: Legal Insurrection)

Wired’s Danger Room notes that the reports are also full of references to the discovery and identification in Iraq of chemical weapons, weapons-making laboratories, and chemical-weapons experts among Iraq’s insurgents and terrorists. (h/t: Ed Morrissey at Hot Air) Many of the facts surrounding these discoveries have been public for years, but as several bloggers have pointed out, this documentary validation isn’t propaganda: it comes from field reports that were never intended to reach or persuade the public. Ironically, for a leak made with its particular political motives, this one validates precisely the concern with which George W. Bush went into Iraq — i.e., that the WMD components acquired by terrorism sponsors could fall into the hands of terrorists.

But there’s more irony in those leaked documents. They contain civilian casualty summaries that give the lie to the wild estimates from the 2006 Lancet study of 655,000 “excess deaths” in Iraq because of the war. The casualty total reflected in the documents is 109,032 through 2009. From a humanitarian perspective, any civilian casualties are assuredly “too many.” But the disingenuousness of urging the public to indignation over a particular number is thrown into strong relief when the number is revealed to have been a ridiculous and irresponsible exaggeration. As the Melbourne Herald Sun blogger observes, the Iraqi total from the WikiLeaks documents makes the civilian fatality rate from combat there lower than the murder rate in South Africa.

Glenn Reynolds points out at Instapundit that the timing of this fresh document dump is beneficial mainly to the impending release of George W. Bush’s presidential memoir. That’s probably an unintended consequence, too.

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Oil Spill Looking More and More Like Katrina

Marc Ambinder, perhaps the most eager Obama-spinner in the blogosphere (unlike others on the left who take principled stances against Obama’s insufficiently extreme positions, Ambinder invariably has an excuse at the ready), says this about the BP oil spill:

If you watched the first block of the evening news programs, especially CBS Evening News and ABC’s World News, you can plainly see that the White House’s effort to pre-emptively choke off the assignment of blame for the continuing existentially-threatening oil spill has failed. The perceived problem: they’re not doing enough. They deferred too much to BP. The real problem: nothing like this has ever happened before. There is no script. Sadly, BP does seem to be the only entity remotely capable of doing anything. [emphasis in original]

Hmm. Was it an excuse for the Bush administration that a hurricane (Katrina) of that magnitude had never hit New Orleans? Was there a script then? Weren’t the local and state authorities the ones charged with the immediate response?

Moreover, Ambinder is simply wrong. From the very same ABC News report:

As thick oil flows into the sensitive marshes of the Louisiana coast, Gov. Bobby Jindal called on the White House and BP today to either stop the oil spill or get out of his way. Jindal is still waiting for the federal government to provide millions of feet in boom and to approve an emergency permit for a state plan to dredge and build new barrier islands to keep the oil from reaching the marshes and wetlands. Jindal is so desperate for the islands, he’s said he’ll build them even if it sends him to jail.

In fact, even the liberals’ favorite cable network, MSNBC, is starting to ask some tough questions. Ed Shultz (h/t Glenn Reynolds) queries whether there isn’t something the administration can do — send clean-up squads or at least work on keeping the oil offshore. Unlike Ambinder’s spin-a-thon, Shultz blasts:

It’s on your watch. We need to come up with some kind of huge plan on what we’re going to do, because we’ve spent thirty days waiting for BP, waiting for Transocean, who’ve done a great job of just washing their hands of all of this. Let me just say this, Washington: It’s time to get it on. It’s time to get real serious about this.

It’s apparent that the feds lack the expertise to cap the spill and that BP is trying an array of methods to cut off the flow. But that doesn’t mean Obama and his minions can’t assist rather than hinder local authorities in dealing with the aftermath. Moreover, the administration hasn’t been fulfilling its regulatory function:

The federal agency responsible for regulating U.S. offshore oil drilling repeatedly ignored warnings from government scientists about environmental risks in its push to approve energy exploration activities quickly, according to numerous documents and interviews. … Interviews and documents show numerous examples in which senior officials discounted scientific data and advice — even from scientists elsewhere in the federal government — that would have impeded oil and gas companies drilling offshore.

Yes, the problem existed under the Bush administration. “But the pattern of dismissing biologists’ input has continued under the Obama administration.”

In sum, Obama has grandstanded and excoriated BP but done nothing to help the situation. Setting up a commission to find fault doesn’t really count. That, after all, is Obama’s usual tact — blame others and give speeches. This time, not withstanding the helpful spin of a few devoted fans like Ambinder, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Marc Ambinder, perhaps the most eager Obama-spinner in the blogosphere (unlike others on the left who take principled stances against Obama’s insufficiently extreme positions, Ambinder invariably has an excuse at the ready), says this about the BP oil spill:

If you watched the first block of the evening news programs, especially CBS Evening News and ABC’s World News, you can plainly see that the White House’s effort to pre-emptively choke off the assignment of blame for the continuing existentially-threatening oil spill has failed. The perceived problem: they’re not doing enough. They deferred too much to BP. The real problem: nothing like this has ever happened before. There is no script. Sadly, BP does seem to be the only entity remotely capable of doing anything. [emphasis in original]

Hmm. Was it an excuse for the Bush administration that a hurricane (Katrina) of that magnitude had never hit New Orleans? Was there a script then? Weren’t the local and state authorities the ones charged with the immediate response?

Moreover, Ambinder is simply wrong. From the very same ABC News report:

As thick oil flows into the sensitive marshes of the Louisiana coast, Gov. Bobby Jindal called on the White House and BP today to either stop the oil spill or get out of his way. Jindal is still waiting for the federal government to provide millions of feet in boom and to approve an emergency permit for a state plan to dredge and build new barrier islands to keep the oil from reaching the marshes and wetlands. Jindal is so desperate for the islands, he’s said he’ll build them even if it sends him to jail.

In fact, even the liberals’ favorite cable network, MSNBC, is starting to ask some tough questions. Ed Shultz (h/t Glenn Reynolds) queries whether there isn’t something the administration can do — send clean-up squads or at least work on keeping the oil offshore. Unlike Ambinder’s spin-a-thon, Shultz blasts:

It’s on your watch. We need to come up with some kind of huge plan on what we’re going to do, because we’ve spent thirty days waiting for BP, waiting for Transocean, who’ve done a great job of just washing their hands of all of this. Let me just say this, Washington: It’s time to get it on. It’s time to get real serious about this.

It’s apparent that the feds lack the expertise to cap the spill and that BP is trying an array of methods to cut off the flow. But that doesn’t mean Obama and his minions can’t assist rather than hinder local authorities in dealing with the aftermath. Moreover, the administration hasn’t been fulfilling its regulatory function:

The federal agency responsible for regulating U.S. offshore oil drilling repeatedly ignored warnings from government scientists about environmental risks in its push to approve energy exploration activities quickly, according to numerous documents and interviews. … Interviews and documents show numerous examples in which senior officials discounted scientific data and advice — even from scientists elsewhere in the federal government — that would have impeded oil and gas companies drilling offshore.

Yes, the problem existed under the Bush administration. “But the pattern of dismissing biologists’ input has continued under the Obama administration.”

In sum, Obama has grandstanded and excoriated BP but done nothing to help the situation. Setting up a commission to find fault doesn’t really count. That, after all, is Obama’s usual tact — blame others and give speeches. This time, not withstanding the helpful spin of a few devoted fans like Ambinder, it doesn’t seem to be working.

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RE: Palin and the Media

Pete, I want to pick up on one point you made. There is no doubt that the liberal media is, well, liberal. The evidence is overwhelming, and Newsbusters and bloggers such as Glenn Reynolds do a fine job pointing it out on a regular basis. It’s important to do so and to pressure the media to play it straight, for the ombudsmen who populate most outlets rarely, if ever, conclude that there is bias at work.

But conservative candidates generally should not whine about the media. It’s not going to help them, and it often makes things worse. When John McCain’s 2008 campaign went on the attack against the New York Times, it was a low point in the campaign and only reinforced the sense that McCain was angry and thin-skinned.

Moreover, conservative candidates today have less to complain about than Ronald Reagan did. Reagan won the governorship of California and two presidential elections without the benefit of talk radio, the Internet, and social media, which have provided new outlets for conservatives and robust competition to the liberal media. And, of course, Fox News wasn’t around either. I sometimes get the impression that candidates use the media as an excuse for why they don’t do well and why their own difficulties are getting aired. Rand Paul tried this tact when his own words landed him in trouble.

The model for how conservatives should deal with the media is Chris Christie — pointing out the bias (for example, what an alternative headline would sound like), not complaining of being a victim, smiling, and exuding jovial confidence. That’s the way for candidates and elected leaders to handle the press — and to endear themselves to voters.

Pete, I want to pick up on one point you made. There is no doubt that the liberal media is, well, liberal. The evidence is overwhelming, and Newsbusters and bloggers such as Glenn Reynolds do a fine job pointing it out on a regular basis. It’s important to do so and to pressure the media to play it straight, for the ombudsmen who populate most outlets rarely, if ever, conclude that there is bias at work.

But conservative candidates generally should not whine about the media. It’s not going to help them, and it often makes things worse. When John McCain’s 2008 campaign went on the attack against the New York Times, it was a low point in the campaign and only reinforced the sense that McCain was angry and thin-skinned.

Moreover, conservative candidates today have less to complain about than Ronald Reagan did. Reagan won the governorship of California and two presidential elections without the benefit of talk radio, the Internet, and social media, which have provided new outlets for conservatives and robust competition to the liberal media. And, of course, Fox News wasn’t around either. I sometimes get the impression that candidates use the media as an excuse for why they don’t do well and why their own difficulties are getting aired. Rand Paul tried this tact when his own words landed him in trouble.

The model for how conservatives should deal with the media is Chris Christie — pointing out the bias (for example, what an alternative headline would sound like), not complaining of being a victim, smiling, and exuding jovial confidence. That’s the way for candidates and elected leaders to handle the press — and to endear themselves to voters.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

No kidding: “The White House was more focused on victory than on any plan in particular, and — once the battle had been engaged — than in the details of the plan,” writes Ben Smith on ObamaCare.

“No surprise,” says Glenn Reynolds about this: “College students taking racial and ethnic studies courses have lower respect for members of other groups.”

“No question,” says Nancy Pelosi about how voters are in an “anti-incumbent mood.” Actually, they seem to be especially aggrieved about Democratic incumbents — otherwise Democrats wouldn’t be at risk of losing control of the House.

No love among the Democratic base for party switcher Arlen Specter: he falls nine points behind Joe Sestak in the latest Suffolk University poll.

No relief for the Democrats in Illinois, as Mob banker Alexi Giannoulias declared that “we didn’t need wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” I’m thinking Obama is going to write off this seat and not appear next to Giannoulias. Some candidates just can’t be saved, and why give the president’s 2012 opponent footage for campaign ads?

No indication that Republicans are extinct in New England: “The U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire looks largely the same way it has for months, with two of the three top Republican candidates holding double-digit leads over Democratic hopeful Paul Hodes. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in New Hampshire shows former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte at 50% for the second month in a row, with Hodes earning 38% support. Three percent (3%) favor some other candidate, and nine percent(9%) are undecided.”

No better example of the farce that is the UN: Libya has been elected to the Human Rights Council.

No “reset” here: “Calling Hamas ‘a terror organization in every way,’ Israel’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday it was ‘deeply disappointed’ that [President Dmitry] Medvedev met the group’s exiled leader Khaled Meshal during a visit to Syria this week. Russia, the United States, European Union and the United Nations make up a quartet of Middle East mediators. The U.S., EU and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group. Russia insists that Hamas should not be isolated.”

No love lost between Jeffrey Goldberg and the obsessed Beagle Blogger: Goldberg looks at “whether it is right for a journalist working for an institution that prides itself on careful journalism to float rumors about a public figure’s sexual orientation.” But if an institution houses such a “journalist,” does it really pride itself on careful journalism?

No kidding: “The White House was more focused on victory than on any plan in particular, and — once the battle had been engaged — than in the details of the plan,” writes Ben Smith on ObamaCare.

“No surprise,” says Glenn Reynolds about this: “College students taking racial and ethnic studies courses have lower respect for members of other groups.”

“No question,” says Nancy Pelosi about how voters are in an “anti-incumbent mood.” Actually, they seem to be especially aggrieved about Democratic incumbents — otherwise Democrats wouldn’t be at risk of losing control of the House.

No love among the Democratic base for party switcher Arlen Specter: he falls nine points behind Joe Sestak in the latest Suffolk University poll.

No relief for the Democrats in Illinois, as Mob banker Alexi Giannoulias declared that “we didn’t need wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” I’m thinking Obama is going to write off this seat and not appear next to Giannoulias. Some candidates just can’t be saved, and why give the president’s 2012 opponent footage for campaign ads?

No indication that Republicans are extinct in New England: “The U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire looks largely the same way it has for months, with two of the three top Republican candidates holding double-digit leads over Democratic hopeful Paul Hodes. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in New Hampshire shows former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte at 50% for the second month in a row, with Hodes earning 38% support. Three percent (3%) favor some other candidate, and nine percent(9%) are undecided.”

No better example of the farce that is the UN: Libya has been elected to the Human Rights Council.

No “reset” here: “Calling Hamas ‘a terror organization in every way,’ Israel’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday it was ‘deeply disappointed’ that [President Dmitry] Medvedev met the group’s exiled leader Khaled Meshal during a visit to Syria this week. Russia, the United States, European Union and the United Nations make up a quartet of Middle East mediators. The U.S., EU and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group. Russia insists that Hamas should not be isolated.”

No love lost between Jeffrey Goldberg and the obsessed Beagle Blogger: Goldberg looks at “whether it is right for a journalist working for an institution that prides itself on careful journalism to float rumors about a public figure’s sexual orientation.” But if an institution houses such a “journalist,” does it really pride itself on careful journalism?

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RE: Lawyers Should Cheer

Jan Crawford (h/t Glenn Reynolds), among the best of the mainstream media Supreme Court reporters, socks it to the White House for its juvenile insistence on getting the last word on its running spat with the Court. After Chief Justice John Roberts made the fine suggestion that the Court should abstain from the State of the Union, Robert Gibbs seemed to make Roberts’ point for him by replaying the president’s slap at the Court. (“What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections – drowning out the voices of average Americans.”) Crawford thinks this is ridiculous:

But after Chief Justice John Roberts made some entirely reasonable remarks yesterday — and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs just had to respond — it’s now getting ridiculous. Whether the White House has a short-term or long-term strategy or no strategy at all, it’s flat-out absurd and ill-advised for the administration to think it should always have the last word. It’s like my 6-year-old: “I don’t LIKE your idea. I like MY idea.”

She continues:

This administration is going to have to be dealing with this Supreme Court for at least three more years, if not more. Its lawyers are going to have to appear before these justices to defend presidential initiatives or federal laws in case after case, big and small.

I’m not suggesting they won’t get a fair shake simply because the White House is trying to stick it to the conservative justices. George Bush repeatedly got slapped down by this Court, even though he never lashed out at the justices.

But at some point — and I’d say that point is now — the Obama Administration is working against its interests.

They’d do well to remember that on a lot of the issues they care about, the Supreme Court gets to decide. No matter how much they stomp their feet and shout, “I don’t LIKE your idea; I like MY idea,” the Supreme Court is going to get the last word.

This is par for the course at this White House. It’s the perpetual rat-tat-tat, the quintessential campaign quick-response mode. There is no respect for the Chief Justice or the Court as an institution, nor for the point the Chief Justice was making: that it’s unseemly for the Court to appear and to get dragged into partisan brawls. In their partisan vitriol, the Obami, of course, proved the Chief Justice’s case. But then, self-awareness was never the White House’s strong suit.

Jan Crawford (h/t Glenn Reynolds), among the best of the mainstream media Supreme Court reporters, socks it to the White House for its juvenile insistence on getting the last word on its running spat with the Court. After Chief Justice John Roberts made the fine suggestion that the Court should abstain from the State of the Union, Robert Gibbs seemed to make Roberts’ point for him by replaying the president’s slap at the Court. (“What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections – drowning out the voices of average Americans.”) Crawford thinks this is ridiculous:

But after Chief Justice John Roberts made some entirely reasonable remarks yesterday — and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs just had to respond — it’s now getting ridiculous. Whether the White House has a short-term or long-term strategy or no strategy at all, it’s flat-out absurd and ill-advised for the administration to think it should always have the last word. It’s like my 6-year-old: “I don’t LIKE your idea. I like MY idea.”

She continues:

This administration is going to have to be dealing with this Supreme Court for at least three more years, if not more. Its lawyers are going to have to appear before these justices to defend presidential initiatives or federal laws in case after case, big and small.

I’m not suggesting they won’t get a fair shake simply because the White House is trying to stick it to the conservative justices. George Bush repeatedly got slapped down by this Court, even though he never lashed out at the justices.

But at some point — and I’d say that point is now — the Obama Administration is working against its interests.

They’d do well to remember that on a lot of the issues they care about, the Supreme Court gets to decide. No matter how much they stomp their feet and shout, “I don’t LIKE your idea; I like MY idea,” the Supreme Court is going to get the last word.

This is par for the course at this White House. It’s the perpetual rat-tat-tat, the quintessential campaign quick-response mode. There is no respect for the Chief Justice or the Court as an institution, nor for the point the Chief Justice was making: that it’s unseemly for the Court to appear and to get dragged into partisan brawls. In their partisan vitriol, the Obami, of course, proved the Chief Justice’s case. But then, self-awareness was never the White House’s strong suit.

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Liberal Legal Pundit Behaving Badly?

It’s not quite John Edwards territory, but it’s close. The New York Daily News (h/t Glenn Reynolds) reports:

One of the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals went public Wednesday when married CNN correspondent Jeffrey Toobin squared off with a woman who says he’s the father of her baby. Yale-educated lawyer Casey Greenfield — the daughter of eminent CBS News analyst Jeff Greenfield — had a chilly faceoff with Toobin in Manhattan Family Court. … Toobin, who glumly sat several rows away from Casey Greenfield before the hearing, is said to have privately admitted to fathering the child, believed to have been born last summer, sources said. A friend of Greenfield’s said the outspoken Toobin has resisted putting his name on the infant’s birth certificate and hasn’t given his former lover the child support she’s requested.

(Toobin is married to his “college sweetheart,” we are told, and has two teenage daughters.) Well this is a little embarrassing for someone who opines on others’ legal obligations.

And then there is the deliciously revealing suggestion (“One of  the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals”) that the media, again, were not reporting a sex scandal that the media would rather not report on. Is this a protect-their-own racket or just the run-of-the-mill “give liberals a break” rule? Hard to say. I’m sure the Gray Lady’s Clark Hoyt and the rest of the mainstream media ombudspeople will get on it right away. Because, after all, they have no problem reporting on Republican sex scandals, no matter how sketchy the sourcing.

It’s not quite John Edwards territory, but it’s close. The New York Daily News (h/t Glenn Reynolds) reports:

One of the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals went public Wednesday when married CNN correspondent Jeffrey Toobin squared off with a woman who says he’s the father of her baby. Yale-educated lawyer Casey Greenfield — the daughter of eminent CBS News analyst Jeff Greenfield — had a chilly faceoff with Toobin in Manhattan Family Court. … Toobin, who glumly sat several rows away from Casey Greenfield before the hearing, is said to have privately admitted to fathering the child, believed to have been born last summer, sources said. A friend of Greenfield’s said the outspoken Toobin has resisted putting his name on the infant’s birth certificate and hasn’t given his former lover the child support she’s requested.

(Toobin is married to his “college sweetheart,” we are told, and has two teenage daughters.) Well this is a little embarrassing for someone who opines on others’ legal obligations.

And then there is the deliciously revealing suggestion (“One of  the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals”) that the media, again, were not reporting a sex scandal that the media would rather not report on. Is this a protect-their-own racket or just the run-of-the-mill “give liberals a break” rule? Hard to say. I’m sure the Gray Lady’s Clark Hoyt and the rest of the mainstream media ombudspeople will get on it right away. Because, after all, they have no problem reporting on Republican sex scandals, no matter how sketchy the sourcing.

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What You’d Find at a Real Tea Party

Unlike most of the mainstream media and punditocracy, Glenn Reynolds has been to a lot of tea party protests, interviewed scores of activists, and spent time to understand what they  are all about. Not surprisingly, the mainstream-media portrait bears only a passing resemblance to the real thing.

For starters, there is the tone. Reynolds writes of the Nashville gathering and the movement more generally:

Pundits claim the tea partiers are angry — and they are — but the most striking thing about the atmosphere in Nashville was how cheerful everyone seemed to be. I spoke with dozens of people, and the responses were surprisingly similar. Hardly any had ever been involved in politics before. Having gotten started, they were finding it to be not just worthwhile, but actually fun. Laughter rang out frequently, and when new-media mogul Andrew Breitbart held forth on a TV interview, a crowd gathered and broke into spontaneous applause.

Nor is the group merely waiting for Sarah Palin to sweep them off their feet. (“Press attention focused on Sarah Palin’s speech, which was well-received by the crowd. But the attendees I met weren’t looking to her for direction. They were hoping she would move in theirs. Right now, the tea party isn’t looking for leaders so much as leaders are looking to align themselves with the tea party.”) And these are hardly a bunch of racists, as Chris Matthews et al. would have us believe. It seems they are backing a number of African American candidates. (To echo Pete’s point, Tom Tancredo does the tea partiers no favors by spouting racial venom and peddling in conspiracy theories; activists as well as elected officials would do well to reject his eagerness to “play to people’s worst instincts.”)

What the tea party activists do have is a well formulated set of ideas — small government, debt reduction, spending restraint, and an aversion to hurried, secret deal making. It is an agenda that is resonating with conservatives and independent voters who see the opposite behavior in Washington.

This is, as much as anything else, yet another “mainstream media misses the boat” story. First they ignored and ridiculed the tea party activists. Now the media misrepresent them to the point of deliberate distortion. The media’s distorted characterization is not simply a matter of getting the details wrong, I think. This is, just as surely as that Big Labor slush fund, an effort to kill the movement in its crib and discredit it among average Americans. Treating them as rubes, extremists, religious nuts, and racists seems to be a bit of Saul Allinsky-type strategy. (“Pick the Target, Freeze It, Personalize It  and Polarize It,” was Alinsky’s mantra.)  But the media is less and less credible and the tea-party activists are doing a good job of getting their own message out.

In a contest between the elite media and the tea-party protesters for control of the message, I’m betting on the latter. For one thing, the tea-party activists’ numbers are increasing while the elite media is shrinking. That should tell you something about their relative health.

Unlike most of the mainstream media and punditocracy, Glenn Reynolds has been to a lot of tea party protests, interviewed scores of activists, and spent time to understand what they  are all about. Not surprisingly, the mainstream-media portrait bears only a passing resemblance to the real thing.

For starters, there is the tone. Reynolds writes of the Nashville gathering and the movement more generally:

Pundits claim the tea partiers are angry — and they are — but the most striking thing about the atmosphere in Nashville was how cheerful everyone seemed to be. I spoke with dozens of people, and the responses were surprisingly similar. Hardly any had ever been involved in politics before. Having gotten started, they were finding it to be not just worthwhile, but actually fun. Laughter rang out frequently, and when new-media mogul Andrew Breitbart held forth on a TV interview, a crowd gathered and broke into spontaneous applause.

Nor is the group merely waiting for Sarah Palin to sweep them off their feet. (“Press attention focused on Sarah Palin’s speech, which was well-received by the crowd. But the attendees I met weren’t looking to her for direction. They were hoping she would move in theirs. Right now, the tea party isn’t looking for leaders so much as leaders are looking to align themselves with the tea party.”) And these are hardly a bunch of racists, as Chris Matthews et al. would have us believe. It seems they are backing a number of African American candidates. (To echo Pete’s point, Tom Tancredo does the tea partiers no favors by spouting racial venom and peddling in conspiracy theories; activists as well as elected officials would do well to reject his eagerness to “play to people’s worst instincts.”)

What the tea party activists do have is a well formulated set of ideas — small government, debt reduction, spending restraint, and an aversion to hurried, secret deal making. It is an agenda that is resonating with conservatives and independent voters who see the opposite behavior in Washington.

This is, as much as anything else, yet another “mainstream media misses the boat” story. First they ignored and ridiculed the tea party activists. Now the media misrepresent them to the point of deliberate distortion. The media’s distorted characterization is not simply a matter of getting the details wrong, I think. This is, just as surely as that Big Labor slush fund, an effort to kill the movement in its crib and discredit it among average Americans. Treating them as rubes, extremists, religious nuts, and racists seems to be a bit of Saul Allinsky-type strategy. (“Pick the Target, Freeze It, Personalize It  and Polarize It,” was Alinsky’s mantra.)  But the media is less and less credible and the tea-party activists are doing a good job of getting their own message out.

In a contest between the elite media and the tea-party protesters for control of the message, I’m betting on the latter. For one thing, the tea-party activists’ numbers are increasing while the elite media is shrinking. That should tell you something about their relative health.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Lynn Sweet on Obama’s home state: “Never ending ethics scandals and the near insolvency of the state government burst the bubble of any post Obama euphoria months ago. On Saturday, Chicagoans awoke to these stories: a suburban mayor sentenced for bribery; a Chicago alderman taking a bribery plea deal, and a former alderman learning he may face prison time for a real estate kickback scheme. Illinois Democrats are splintered and frazzled in the wake of the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who will be tried this summer on federal public corruption charges for, among other items, trying to auction off Obama’s seat.” Probably doesn’t help that the likely Democratic Senate nominee for state treasurer, Alexi Giannoulias, is Tony Rezko’s banker.

Another precarious Blue State Senate seat: “Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) isn’t yet considered highly vulnerable in 2010. But a new poll, coupled with Scott Brown’s upset win in Massachusetts, has Republicans rethinking their chances against the three-term senator. A poll released Thursday from Moore Insight, an Oregon-based GOP polling firm, showed Dino Rossi, a two-time Republican candidate for governor, leading Murray 45 percent to 43 percent, with 9 percent undecided.”

Not even Chuck Schumer is holding up under the torrent of anti-incumbent anger: “Senator Chuck Schumer’s once rock solid approval rating has taken a slide. For the first time in nearly nine years, Schumer’s approval rating has fallen below 50%. According to the latest Marist Poll in New York, 47% of registered voters statewide report Schumer is doing either an excellent or good job in office. 31% rate the job he is doing as fair, and 17% view him as performing poorly. This is Schumer’s lowest job approval rating since April 2001 when 49% of voters approved of the job he was doing.”

The moment of reckoning: “President Barack Obama’s new $3.83 trillion budget is a chickens-come-home-to-roost moment for Democrats who skipped past the deficit to tackle health care last year and now risk paying a heavy price in November. The great White House political gamble was to act quickly — before the deficits hit home — and institute major changes which proponents say will serve the long-term fiscal health of the country. Instead, a year of wrangling and refusal to consider more incremental steps have brought Obama and Congress to this juncture, where waves of red ink threaten to swamp their boat and drown reform altogether.”

How vulnerable is Obama on the mega-deficit he is proposing? Glenn Reynolds: “One telling indicator is a growing effort by the remaining Obama partisans to paint Bush as an equivalent big spender, even though the Bush deficits were much smaller than Obama’s, and declining throughout most of his second term. Not that Bush was any prize, but Obama’s deficits are of an entirely different magnitude.” This raises another issue — who exactly is still an Obama partisan? Not even Chris Matthews and Jon Stewart are on board.

Shocking as it may be, the Obami are making stuff up. On the number of terrorists they claim to have convicted in the criminal justice system, Andy McCarthy explains: “The DOJ ‘fact sheet’ goes on to tell us there are 300 ‘terrorists’ in custody. But look at what they have to do to get there: (a) gone is the ‘since 9/11′ limitation — the 300 figure represents all terrorists ever convicted who are still in jail; and (b) they have to add in domestic terrorists to goose up the numbers — even though no one is contending that domestic terrorists should be treated as enemy combatants. We are at war with al-Qaeda, not PETA.” Even the lesser figure of 195 is highly suspect. McCarthy has a good idea: have the Justice Department release all the backup data. It would be the transparent thing to do.

Even those who like the idea of civilian trials for terrorists are furious with the Obami. Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations: “There is no question that the Obama administration blundered by failing to ensure that New York’s leaders were fully committed to a civilian trial for KSM in New York City. The result has been a dismal outcome — an embarrassing climb down that leaves the United States looking too scared to mete out justice to the architect of the worst mass murder in U.S. history.”

Unlike Bob McDonnell in Virginia, Rep. Joe Sestak says he’d be “open to the idea” of hosting the KSM trial in his state.

Lynn Sweet on Obama’s home state: “Never ending ethics scandals and the near insolvency of the state government burst the bubble of any post Obama euphoria months ago. On Saturday, Chicagoans awoke to these stories: a suburban mayor sentenced for bribery; a Chicago alderman taking a bribery plea deal, and a former alderman learning he may face prison time for a real estate kickback scheme. Illinois Democrats are splintered and frazzled in the wake of the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who will be tried this summer on federal public corruption charges for, among other items, trying to auction off Obama’s seat.” Probably doesn’t help that the likely Democratic Senate nominee for state treasurer, Alexi Giannoulias, is Tony Rezko’s banker.

Another precarious Blue State Senate seat: “Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) isn’t yet considered highly vulnerable in 2010. But a new poll, coupled with Scott Brown’s upset win in Massachusetts, has Republicans rethinking their chances against the three-term senator. A poll released Thursday from Moore Insight, an Oregon-based GOP polling firm, showed Dino Rossi, a two-time Republican candidate for governor, leading Murray 45 percent to 43 percent, with 9 percent undecided.”

Not even Chuck Schumer is holding up under the torrent of anti-incumbent anger: “Senator Chuck Schumer’s once rock solid approval rating has taken a slide. For the first time in nearly nine years, Schumer’s approval rating has fallen below 50%. According to the latest Marist Poll in New York, 47% of registered voters statewide report Schumer is doing either an excellent or good job in office. 31% rate the job he is doing as fair, and 17% view him as performing poorly. This is Schumer’s lowest job approval rating since April 2001 when 49% of voters approved of the job he was doing.”

The moment of reckoning: “President Barack Obama’s new $3.83 trillion budget is a chickens-come-home-to-roost moment for Democrats who skipped past the deficit to tackle health care last year and now risk paying a heavy price in November. The great White House political gamble was to act quickly — before the deficits hit home — and institute major changes which proponents say will serve the long-term fiscal health of the country. Instead, a year of wrangling and refusal to consider more incremental steps have brought Obama and Congress to this juncture, where waves of red ink threaten to swamp their boat and drown reform altogether.”

How vulnerable is Obama on the mega-deficit he is proposing? Glenn Reynolds: “One telling indicator is a growing effort by the remaining Obama partisans to paint Bush as an equivalent big spender, even though the Bush deficits were much smaller than Obama’s, and declining throughout most of his second term. Not that Bush was any prize, but Obama’s deficits are of an entirely different magnitude.” This raises another issue — who exactly is still an Obama partisan? Not even Chris Matthews and Jon Stewart are on board.

Shocking as it may be, the Obami are making stuff up. On the number of terrorists they claim to have convicted in the criminal justice system, Andy McCarthy explains: “The DOJ ‘fact sheet’ goes on to tell us there are 300 ‘terrorists’ in custody. But look at what they have to do to get there: (a) gone is the ‘since 9/11′ limitation — the 300 figure represents all terrorists ever convicted who are still in jail; and (b) they have to add in domestic terrorists to goose up the numbers — even though no one is contending that domestic terrorists should be treated as enemy combatants. We are at war with al-Qaeda, not PETA.” Even the lesser figure of 195 is highly suspect. McCarthy has a good idea: have the Justice Department release all the backup data. It would be the transparent thing to do.

Even those who like the idea of civilian trials for terrorists are furious with the Obami. Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations: “There is no question that the Obama administration blundered by failing to ensure that New York’s leaders were fully committed to a civilian trial for KSM in New York City. The result has been a dismal outcome — an embarrassing climb down that leaves the United States looking too scared to mete out justice to the architect of the worst mass murder in U.S. history.”

Unlike Bob McDonnell in Virginia, Rep. Joe Sestak says he’d be “open to the idea” of hosting the KSM trial in his state.

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The Pavlovian Response: Attack Cheney

Mark Hemingway (h/t Glenn Reynolds) writes:

But what I can’t wrap my head around is that it took the President four days to acknowledge what he termed a “catastrophic” national security failure, but Cheney criticizes the administration’s handling of the war on terror and they have a rapid response on the White House blog in a matter of hours? Priorities!Then again, it took six days to respond to the riots in the streets of Tehran during their election, so four days seems about right for a barely averted domestic catastrophe. Also, is the White House aware of how small they look when they are so obviously spooked by Cheney’s every utterance? Remember when the President rescheduled a press conference earlier this year to deliberately conflict with a pre-planned Cheney speech?

They remember, but they don’t learn. This gang makes the Clintons look high-minded and magnanimous by comparison. Part of this attitude stems from their lack of other, more appropriate governing skills. They don’t know how to craft an effective, bipartisan health-care bill, or make a swift decision on Afghanistan (or announce it without the need for days of “it really isn’t a timeline” statements), or put together an alternative to “engagement” on Iran that doesn’t smack of more of the same wishful thinking. But they do know how to win elections, feed the media machine, and attack their political foes. So that is what they do over and over again.

More important, they have defined themselves as being not Bush and not Cheney. They cling to the rhetoric after it has lost all meaning (“Closing Guantanamo will protect our values.”), and they feel compelled to be contrarians (“Lose ‘the war on terror!’”). When Cheney appears periodically to mess with their heads (Don’t we think there is quite a bit of that going on?), their eyes light up and they jump. Ah, something they can do well — attack Cheney! But doing it frequently or quickly doesn’t make it smart or presidential. Like attacking Rush Limbaugh (best wishes for a speedy recovery) or Fox News, it diminishes rather than elevates Obama and gives us the sense that these are small-time pols, in over their heads. That would be more annoying than scary if we didn’t live in a world with Islamic terrorists and an Iranian regime bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Mark Hemingway (h/t Glenn Reynolds) writes:

But what I can’t wrap my head around is that it took the President four days to acknowledge what he termed a “catastrophic” national security failure, but Cheney criticizes the administration’s handling of the war on terror and they have a rapid response on the White House blog in a matter of hours? Priorities!Then again, it took six days to respond to the riots in the streets of Tehran during their election, so four days seems about right for a barely averted domestic catastrophe. Also, is the White House aware of how small they look when they are so obviously spooked by Cheney’s every utterance? Remember when the President rescheduled a press conference earlier this year to deliberately conflict with a pre-planned Cheney speech?

They remember, but they don’t learn. This gang makes the Clintons look high-minded and magnanimous by comparison. Part of this attitude stems from their lack of other, more appropriate governing skills. They don’t know how to craft an effective, bipartisan health-care bill, or make a swift decision on Afghanistan (or announce it without the need for days of “it really isn’t a timeline” statements), or put together an alternative to “engagement” on Iran that doesn’t smack of more of the same wishful thinking. But they do know how to win elections, feed the media machine, and attack their political foes. So that is what they do over and over again.

More important, they have defined themselves as being not Bush and not Cheney. They cling to the rhetoric after it has lost all meaning (“Closing Guantanamo will protect our values.”), and they feel compelled to be contrarians (“Lose ‘the war on terror!’”). When Cheney appears periodically to mess with their heads (Don’t we think there is quite a bit of that going on?), their eyes light up and they jump. Ah, something they can do well — attack Cheney! But doing it frequently or quickly doesn’t make it smart or presidential. Like attacking Rush Limbaugh (best wishes for a speedy recovery) or Fox News, it diminishes rather than elevates Obama and gives us the sense that these are small-time pols, in over their heads. That would be more annoying than scary if we didn’t live in a world with Islamic terrorists and an Iranian regime bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

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Making the Wish List

Tim Cavanaugh (h/t Glenn Reynolds) writes:

I don’t understand the Washington cant that says [Larry] Summers, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and other manifest failures can’t be fired. Ronald Reagan, father of the debtorship society, fired six department heads in his first term, and made a point of first humiliating and then firing his deficit-hawk OMB director David Stockman. George W. Bush fired Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill on his way to winning re-election.

This is not only brilliant advice for the economic team, but it is worth considering on a broader basis. Multiple firings would serve many aims. First, they keep the media off of their new favorite storyline — namely, “Is this really the guy we went into the tank for?” Second, it cuts against the image of the president as the wimp in chief. Third, many people deserve to be fired — not just the obvious loonies and incompetents such as Van Jones and the fellow responsible for panicking New Yorkers with the Air Force One flyover. Fourth, Obama loves to play the “look ma, no hands game” so firing staff who “didn’t perform” maintains Obama’s aura as someone who really, honestly is the smartest, wisest president ever. He just had bad staff, you see.

So who’s on the list? Well, Joe Biden can’t be fired until 2012. Besides, he’s useful for reminding the country that we could be in worse hands. The obvious candidates: Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell, and James Jones. If there has been a worse trio of foreign-policy advisers who’ve made hash of just about everything they’ve touched I’d be hard pressed to name it. Their removal would be a big step toward “restoring our standing” in the world. (That’s what we were promised, you recall.) Think of it as a mega reset.

And then there are David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. After all, they’ve been running everything — from the Afghanistan war seminars, to Middle East strategy, to the stimulus and health care. Indeed, their fingerprints are all over many of the administration’s worst calls. Moreover, firing them would help dispel one of those “bad” storylines that John Harris pointed out:

The rap is that his West Wing is dominated by brass-knuckled pols. It does not help that many West Wing aides seem to relish an image of themselves as shrewd, brass-knuckled political types. In a Washington Post story this month, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, referring to most of Obama’s team, said, “We are all campaign hacks.” The problem is that many voters took Obama seriously in 2008 when he talked about wanting to create a more reasoned, non-partisan style of governance in Washington.

And finally there is Eric Holder, who has been front and center in some of the worst decisions of the administration — the ill-conceived and unresearched decision to close Guantanamo, the release of interrogation memos, the reinvestigation of CIA operatives, the now-reversed decision to release detainee-abuse photos, and the civilian trial of KSM (topped off by an Alberto Gonzales-like appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee). But I’m thinking it’s best to wait on that one. They’ll need a moment when the KSM trial is spinning out of control and Senate races in New York and Illinois are still winnable to announce that, by gosh, this handling of KSM is a mess and Holder is taking full responsibility on the way out the door.

Okay, it’s a lot of people to can. But it’s been a lousy first year.

Tim Cavanaugh (h/t Glenn Reynolds) writes:

I don’t understand the Washington cant that says [Larry] Summers, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and other manifest failures can’t be fired. Ronald Reagan, father of the debtorship society, fired six department heads in his first term, and made a point of first humiliating and then firing his deficit-hawk OMB director David Stockman. George W. Bush fired Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill on his way to winning re-election.

This is not only brilliant advice for the economic team, but it is worth considering on a broader basis. Multiple firings would serve many aims. First, they keep the media off of their new favorite storyline — namely, “Is this really the guy we went into the tank for?” Second, it cuts against the image of the president as the wimp in chief. Third, many people deserve to be fired — not just the obvious loonies and incompetents such as Van Jones and the fellow responsible for panicking New Yorkers with the Air Force One flyover. Fourth, Obama loves to play the “look ma, no hands game” so firing staff who “didn’t perform” maintains Obama’s aura as someone who really, honestly is the smartest, wisest president ever. He just had bad staff, you see.

So who’s on the list? Well, Joe Biden can’t be fired until 2012. Besides, he’s useful for reminding the country that we could be in worse hands. The obvious candidates: Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell, and James Jones. If there has been a worse trio of foreign-policy advisers who’ve made hash of just about everything they’ve touched I’d be hard pressed to name it. Their removal would be a big step toward “restoring our standing” in the world. (That’s what we were promised, you recall.) Think of it as a mega reset.

And then there are David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. After all, they’ve been running everything — from the Afghanistan war seminars, to Middle East strategy, to the stimulus and health care. Indeed, their fingerprints are all over many of the administration’s worst calls. Moreover, firing them would help dispel one of those “bad” storylines that John Harris pointed out:

The rap is that his West Wing is dominated by brass-knuckled pols. It does not help that many West Wing aides seem to relish an image of themselves as shrewd, brass-knuckled political types. In a Washington Post story this month, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, referring to most of Obama’s team, said, “We are all campaign hacks.” The problem is that many voters took Obama seriously in 2008 when he talked about wanting to create a more reasoned, non-partisan style of governance in Washington.

And finally there is Eric Holder, who has been front and center in some of the worst decisions of the administration — the ill-conceived and unresearched decision to close Guantanamo, the release of interrogation memos, the reinvestigation of CIA operatives, the now-reversed decision to release detainee-abuse photos, and the civilian trial of KSM (topped off by an Alberto Gonzales-like appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee). But I’m thinking it’s best to wait on that one. They’ll need a moment when the KSM trial is spinning out of control and Senate races in New York and Illinois are still winnable to announce that, by gosh, this handling of KSM is a mess and Holder is taking full responsibility on the way out the door.

Okay, it’s a lot of people to can. But it’s been a lousy first year.

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The Price of a Historic Vote

Glenn Reynolds writes:

I think Obama’s “charisma” was based on voter narcissism — people excited not just about electing a black President, but about themselves, voting for a black President. Now that’s over, and they’re stuck just with him, and emptied of their own narcissism there’s not much there to fill out the suit.

That’s fairly strong stuff. Plainly, Obama played to many voters’ needs — for whites to vote for a historic candidate, for urban intellectuals to vote for one of their own, and for younger voters to vote for a new generation of leadership. Obama quite purposefully did not fill in many of the blanks, leaving to everyone’s imagination what he might do once in the White House. Indeed, he had made a career and an art out of being just beyond definition so that everyone could form a pleasing portrait of the candidate they were voting for.

Now there is an emptiness at the center of the presidency, an odd passivity. Decisiveness and specific policy proposals are missing, creating a sense that Obama is fulfilling the role of head of state but not that of head of government. Part of this is accentuated by his own aversion to projecting American strength and power on the world stage. So whom is he representing (a new multilateral world order?), and what are his aims? Getting along with competitors and shrinking from conflict seem to be high on his list.

Obama clearly wanted to become president, defying many who suggested he hadn’t the experience and would get run over by the Clintons. The latter, at least, proved to be untrue. Now that he is president, he plainly has a domestic-policy vision of America at odds with the views of many who voted for him. Does he have the force of will and the know-how to accomplish that reordering of government — before he loses much of his congressional majority? It’s not clear. And on the international stage, meekness and incompetence have ruled the day, suggesting he’s not in control of events.

Obama, who was omnipresent and larger than life, now seems to be a bystander in his own presidency. And the public is left pondering whether this was the candidate they voted for. Well, yes, but it’s now becoming apparent the price to be paid for voting to make themselves feel enlightened.

Glenn Reynolds writes:

I think Obama’s “charisma” was based on voter narcissism — people excited not just about electing a black President, but about themselves, voting for a black President. Now that’s over, and they’re stuck just with him, and emptied of their own narcissism there’s not much there to fill out the suit.

That’s fairly strong stuff. Plainly, Obama played to many voters’ needs — for whites to vote for a historic candidate, for urban intellectuals to vote for one of their own, and for younger voters to vote for a new generation of leadership. Obama quite purposefully did not fill in many of the blanks, leaving to everyone’s imagination what he might do once in the White House. Indeed, he had made a career and an art out of being just beyond definition so that everyone could form a pleasing portrait of the candidate they were voting for.

Now there is an emptiness at the center of the presidency, an odd passivity. Decisiveness and specific policy proposals are missing, creating a sense that Obama is fulfilling the role of head of state but not that of head of government. Part of this is accentuated by his own aversion to projecting American strength and power on the world stage. So whom is he representing (a new multilateral world order?), and what are his aims? Getting along with competitors and shrinking from conflict seem to be high on his list.

Obama clearly wanted to become president, defying many who suggested he hadn’t the experience and would get run over by the Clintons. The latter, at least, proved to be untrue. Now that he is president, he plainly has a domestic-policy vision of America at odds with the views of many who voted for him. Does he have the force of will and the know-how to accomplish that reordering of government — before he loses much of his congressional majority? It’s not clear. And on the international stage, meekness and incompetence have ruled the day, suggesting he’s not in control of events.

Obama, who was omnipresent and larger than life, now seems to be a bystander in his own presidency. And the public is left pondering whether this was the candidate they voted for. Well, yes, but it’s now becoming apparent the price to be paid for voting to make themselves feel enlightened.

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Michael Yon’s Moment of Truth

The indispensable independent journalist Michael Yon, whose on-the-ground, grunt’s-eye-view reporting in Iraq has been one of the highlights of American journalism this decade, has a new book out, and he discusses it in a podcast with Glenn Reynolds and Helen Smith that can be found here.

The indispensable independent journalist Michael Yon, whose on-the-ground, grunt’s-eye-view reporting in Iraq has been one of the highlights of American journalism this decade, has a new book out, and he discusses it in a podcast with Glenn Reynolds and Helen Smith that can be found here.

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Thompson Squares off Against McCain

At Hotair, Allahpundit can’t decide whether Fred Thompson’s latest shot at John McCain is a “good straight jab” or an uppercut, but in any case the punch landed flush. Glenn Reynolds asked Thompson about McCain’s support amongst conservative voters. Thompson struck where McCain’s guard will always be down: taxes, immigration, and global warming. Thompson wraps up:

You know, he has his strong suits and his weak suits. But I think that the direction that he and Huckabee and others really, I think Giuliani and where Romney has been in the past all are going in a so-called moderate direction, which is going to lead to, you know, so-called big government conservativism or bigger government conservativism anyway.

There’s no question that a Reagan coalition conservative can compile a quick and tidy anti-McCain checklist. But as David Brooks put it in his much praised, but not at all heeded, January 1 piece on Mitt Romney, “If any Republican candidate is going to win this year, he will have to offer a new brand of Republicanism.” Which kind of takes the sting out of Thompson’s shot.

Additionally, McCain has a unique ability to instill trust in those who disagree with him. As the most pro-Iraq War politician in the country polls show he swept up New Hampshire’s anti-war voters. No one should be shocked if he finds support amongst those who resent his “big government conservativism,” too. Call this mysterious trait character.

At Hotair, Allahpundit can’t decide whether Fred Thompson’s latest shot at John McCain is a “good straight jab” or an uppercut, but in any case the punch landed flush. Glenn Reynolds asked Thompson about McCain’s support amongst conservative voters. Thompson struck where McCain’s guard will always be down: taxes, immigration, and global warming. Thompson wraps up:

You know, he has his strong suits and his weak suits. But I think that the direction that he and Huckabee and others really, I think Giuliani and where Romney has been in the past all are going in a so-called moderate direction, which is going to lead to, you know, so-called big government conservativism or bigger government conservativism anyway.

There’s no question that a Reagan coalition conservative can compile a quick and tidy anti-McCain checklist. But as David Brooks put it in his much praised, but not at all heeded, January 1 piece on Mitt Romney, “If any Republican candidate is going to win this year, he will have to offer a new brand of Republicanism.” Which kind of takes the sting out of Thompson’s shot.

Additionally, McCain has a unique ability to instill trust in those who disagree with him. As the most pro-Iraq War politician in the country polls show he swept up New Hampshire’s anti-war voters. No one should be shocked if he finds support amongst those who resent his “big government conservativism,” too. Call this mysterious trait character.

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The Freedom Fetishists Strike Back

My article “Freedom Fetishists” in last month’s COMMENTARY (reprinted in OpinionJournal.com with the subtitle “The Cultural Contradictions of Libertarianism”) has provoked quite a bit of discussion in the libertarian blogosphere, and while some of it is cranky (in many senses of the word), much of it is thoughtful. But even those thoughtful responses expose a few misunderstandings that tend to prove my point about the limitations of libertarianism in dealing with the breakdown of the family.

Misunderstanding one: I equate libertarianism and libertinism.

Not at all. I do observe that the libertarian movement has attracted more than its share of crazies—an observation supported by Reason editor Brian Doherty in his Radicals for Capitalism. I also point out that some libertarians were silent in the face of post-60’s attacks on marriage. This is not the same as saying that libertarianism programmatically supports what Brink Lindsey calls the Aquarian lifestyle. (And for what it’s worth, my libertarian friends and acquaintances are a rather buttoned-up group.)

Interesting, isn’t it? Of those who view family breakdown as a major social problem, I don’t know any who argue that we should ban divorce and lock up single mothers. I actually agree with libertarians that many government policies have greatly harmed the family, and while I would probably go further than they would in supporting some government attempts to stem the tide—say, state laws that provide longer waiting periods before divorce—I believe that the state is pretty hamstrung in this regard.

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My article “Freedom Fetishists” in last month’s COMMENTARY (reprinted in OpinionJournal.com with the subtitle “The Cultural Contradictions of Libertarianism”) has provoked quite a bit of discussion in the libertarian blogosphere, and while some of it is cranky (in many senses of the word), much of it is thoughtful. But even those thoughtful responses expose a few misunderstandings that tend to prove my point about the limitations of libertarianism in dealing with the breakdown of the family.

Misunderstanding one: I equate libertarianism and libertinism.

Not at all. I do observe that the libertarian movement has attracted more than its share of crazies—an observation supported by Reason editor Brian Doherty in his Radicals for Capitalism. I also point out that some libertarians were silent in the face of post-60’s attacks on marriage. This is not the same as saying that libertarianism programmatically supports what Brink Lindsey calls the Aquarian lifestyle. (And for what it’s worth, my libertarian friends and acquaintances are a rather buttoned-up group.)

Interesting, isn’t it? Of those who view family breakdown as a major social problem, I don’t know any who argue that we should ban divorce and lock up single mothers. I actually agree with libertarians that many government policies have greatly harmed the family, and while I would probably go further than they would in supporting some government attempts to stem the tide—say, state laws that provide longer waiting periods before divorce—I believe that the state is pretty hamstrung in this regard.

But unlike many libertarians, I don’t think that’s all there is to say. Family breakdown is largely a consequence of changing cultural norms. And when it comes to culture, libertarians are of two impossibly contradictory minds. In their Hayek mode, they argue, like the Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin, that the “harmful effects of private choices . . . are best dealt with through the private sector,” a sentiment with which I strongly agree.

Unfortunately, in practice libertarians tend to see all criticism of personal behavior as a threat to liberty. Brian Doherty snarks about my “tut-tutting” over America’s (his wording) “parlous moral state.” Glenn Reynolds taunts that libertarians “can even think that traditional childrearing and marriage are generally a good thing without insisting on social mores that punish those who live differently.” Libertarians believe government shouldn’t say anything about the family problem. And neither should anyone else.

Forty years ago, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan raised the alarm about the rising number of nonmarital black births, critics charging racism and sexism hounded him into silence. (For a fuller description, see my Marriage and Caste in America.) Today, you’re extremely unlikely to find a married couple in the inner city. It’s entirely possible that this would have happened if the subject of the black family had not been off limits for over two decades after Moynihan’s warning. But if I am correct in thinking that the way we go about marriage and childbearing is determined by cultural norms, then it’s possible that a vigorous assertion of the value of the two-parent family from elite opinion-makers might have done some good.

No, libertarians are not libertines. Nor, pace Doherty in his rebuttal to my article, are they the cause of family breakdown. But their tendency to view individual personal liberty as The Good that should swallow up all others (a view admittedly shared by more Americans than I would wish) sure makes it hard to deal with this major social problem—one that harms their own cause above all.

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