Commentary Magazine


Topic: GOP Congress

Obama Rebounds in December After Devastating November

President Obama has had a heckuva December, especially considering how dismal his November was. Just a month after suffering a midterm-election drubbing, he has bounced back with a renewal of the Bush tax cuts, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and now ratification of New START. Oh, and he also issued his AfPak review, which endorsed the counterinsurgency plan being implemented by General Petraeus.

It is hard to imagine a more skillful triangulation, offering something to both the right (tax cuts, toughness on the war effort) and the left (letting gays serve openly, passing an arms-control treaty). Actually, I’m not sure how left-wing even his liberal achievements are, since a number of conservatives (myself included) endorsed DADT repeal and New START passage. Considering that he is probably the most liberal occupant of the Oval Office, he has done a surprisingly good job of moving to the center, as witnessed by the Republican votes he has managed to garner on DADT and New START — votes that were notably absent when he rammed his health-care bill through Congress.

The biggest challenge for the president in the 684 days remaining until the 2012 election is to address the two biggest threats to our long-term well-being: the ballooning national debt and the anemic pace of economic growth. He needs to work with the GOP Congress to cut spending, which will alienate his Democratic base; the economy will, I assume, rebound more or less on its own barring any more onerous regulatory or tax bills from Washington.

As for foreign policy, his biggest challenges are to make sure that the military campaign in Afghanistan progresses and that Iraq does not regress. He has caught an extraordinarily lucky break thanks to the Stuxnet virus, probably engineered by the Israelis, which seems to have set the Iranian program back another year or two. That means it’s very unlikely that Iran will go nuclear before the 2012 election — a calamity for which Obama would shoulder the blame. The biggest threat he faces is an unexpected crisis: e.g., war on the Korean peninsula or between India and Pakistan or a devastating terrorist strike on the American homeland as a result of a security breakdown. Barring such a calamity, and notwithstanding his weak poll numbers, I’d say he is looking like a prohibitively strong candidate for re-election — especially because there is not an obvious candidate of stature in the Republican ranks.

But of course, it’s still early. It is salutary to recall that in December 1990, George H.W. Bush had considerably higher poll numbers than Obama has today — 61 percent for Bush vs. 46 percent for Obama.

President Obama has had a heckuva December, especially considering how dismal his November was. Just a month after suffering a midterm-election drubbing, he has bounced back with a renewal of the Bush tax cuts, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and now ratification of New START. Oh, and he also issued his AfPak review, which endorsed the counterinsurgency plan being implemented by General Petraeus.

It is hard to imagine a more skillful triangulation, offering something to both the right (tax cuts, toughness on the war effort) and the left (letting gays serve openly, passing an arms-control treaty). Actually, I’m not sure how left-wing even his liberal achievements are, since a number of conservatives (myself included) endorsed DADT repeal and New START passage. Considering that he is probably the most liberal occupant of the Oval Office, he has done a surprisingly good job of moving to the center, as witnessed by the Republican votes he has managed to garner on DADT and New START — votes that were notably absent when he rammed his health-care bill through Congress.

The biggest challenge for the president in the 684 days remaining until the 2012 election is to address the two biggest threats to our long-term well-being: the ballooning national debt and the anemic pace of economic growth. He needs to work with the GOP Congress to cut spending, which will alienate his Democratic base; the economy will, I assume, rebound more or less on its own barring any more onerous regulatory or tax bills from Washington.

As for foreign policy, his biggest challenges are to make sure that the military campaign in Afghanistan progresses and that Iraq does not regress. He has caught an extraordinarily lucky break thanks to the Stuxnet virus, probably engineered by the Israelis, which seems to have set the Iranian program back another year or two. That means it’s very unlikely that Iran will go nuclear before the 2012 election — a calamity for which Obama would shoulder the blame. The biggest threat he faces is an unexpected crisis: e.g., war on the Korean peninsula or between India and Pakistan or a devastating terrorist strike on the American homeland as a result of a security breakdown. Barring such a calamity, and notwithstanding his weak poll numbers, I’d say he is looking like a prohibitively strong candidate for re-election — especially because there is not an obvious candidate of stature in the Republican ranks.

But of course, it’s still early. It is salutary to recall that in December 1990, George H.W. Bush had considerably higher poll numbers than Obama has today — 61 percent for Bush vs. 46 percent for Obama.

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Alan Wolfe’s Silly Essay

Sometimes, well-educated people can write the silliest essays. Take Boston College professor Alan Wolfe, who has written an article — “Why Conservatives Won’t Govern” — in the Winter 2011 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

According to Wolfe:

There is much to be learned from the way Republicans behaved during the first two years of the Obama Administration. If that history is any indication, the problem will no longer be that conservatives cannot govern. We are instead in for an era in which conservatives will not govern. [emphasis in the original]

The problem with the GOP, you see, isn’t that it is cynical, because even a cynic cares. “What we witness instead is nihilism,” Wolfe writes, “and in the most literal sense of the term.”

Nihilism, we are told,

is as dangerous a political stance as one can find. Unlike polarization, it guarantees that words become divorced from any underlying reality they are meant to describe, that those watching the spectacle turn away in disgust, that tactical maneuvering replaces all discussion of substantive policy issues, and that political opponents are to be treated as enemies to be conquered. Lacking regenerative qualities of its own, nihilism can never produce new sources of political energy.

In case the point isn’t clear enough, Wolfe goes on to write:

[C]onservative nihilism poisons the soil that allows any set of ideas, liberal or conservative, to grow … a party that will not govern does not wish to replace strong government with weak and decentralized government in order to show how often the public sector fails. It instead much prefers to make it impossible for government to carry out its functions in the first place. If its political strategy is nihilistic, its ultimate outcome is anarchistic … when it comes to government, [conservatives] are as nihilistic as Abbie Hoffman. … No 1960s radical ever went as far as so many twenty-first century conservatives are going now.

All told, Wolfe used some version of the word “nihilism” more than 30 times in describing Republicans and conservatives.

The editor who allowed this essay to be published did Professor Wolfe no favors. His arguments are not only foolish; they are delusional. Read More

Sometimes, well-educated people can write the silliest essays. Take Boston College professor Alan Wolfe, who has written an article — “Why Conservatives Won’t Govern” — in the Winter 2011 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

According to Wolfe:

There is much to be learned from the way Republicans behaved during the first two years of the Obama Administration. If that history is any indication, the problem will no longer be that conservatives cannot govern. We are instead in for an era in which conservatives will not govern. [emphasis in the original]

The problem with the GOP, you see, isn’t that it is cynical, because even a cynic cares. “What we witness instead is nihilism,” Wolfe writes, “and in the most literal sense of the term.”

Nihilism, we are told,

is as dangerous a political stance as one can find. Unlike polarization, it guarantees that words become divorced from any underlying reality they are meant to describe, that those watching the spectacle turn away in disgust, that tactical maneuvering replaces all discussion of substantive policy issues, and that political opponents are to be treated as enemies to be conquered. Lacking regenerative qualities of its own, nihilism can never produce new sources of political energy.

In case the point isn’t clear enough, Wolfe goes on to write:

[C]onservative nihilism poisons the soil that allows any set of ideas, liberal or conservative, to grow … a party that will not govern does not wish to replace strong government with weak and decentralized government in order to show how often the public sector fails. It instead much prefers to make it impossible for government to carry out its functions in the first place. If its political strategy is nihilistic, its ultimate outcome is anarchistic … when it comes to government, [conservatives] are as nihilistic as Abbie Hoffman. … No 1960s radical ever went as far as so many twenty-first century conservatives are going now.

All told, Wolfe used some version of the word “nihilism” more than 30 times in describing Republicans and conservatives.

The editor who allowed this essay to be published did Professor Wolfe no favors. His arguments are not only foolish; they are delusional.

According to Wolfe, “the shift from polarization to nihilism is well illustrated by the pre-election fate of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s ‘A Roadmap for America’s Future.’” During the campaign, Wolfe writes, “conservatives shunned Ryan’s plan like a virus.”

“Will Ryan become a conservative hero in the new House? Don’t bet on it,” Wolfe writes. “Once your purpose is to say no to everything the other side proposes, you do not want to put yourself in the position of saying yes to anything else, lest you actually have to spend your energy defending a position.”

In fact, many conservatives not only don’t shun Ryan’s plan; they enthusiastically embrace it. Sarah Palin did so as recently as a week ago. And while it’s true that the GOP leadership in the House hasn’t fully embraced the Roadmap, it is open to key elements of it. Any hesitancy in fully blessing Ryan’s roadmap doesn’t have to do with nihilism; it has to do with fear that reforming entitlements will be politically catastrophic.

More important, Ryan, the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, is going to present the GOP’s budget — in effect, its governing blueprint — in the spring. His plan will be far-reaching, bold, intellectually coherent — and it will have the support of the Republican caucus. Ryan will, in fact, be among the most important Republicans in America next year.

On the matter of judges, Professor Wolfe is terribly upset by the fact that fewer than half of Obama’s nominations for judgeships have been approved. “There can be little doubt that conservatives will now feel emboldened to continue and even ratchet-up their policy of judicial refusal in the next two years,” Wolfe writes. “It is, after all, a near-perfect expression of their nihilism; the best way to stop judges from interpreting the law, as conservatives like to call decisions they happen to disfavor, is to have fewer judges.” He goes on to say:

All this suggests that Elena Kagan will be the last judge Obama gets to place on the high court. This is not because openings are unlikely to occur. It is instead because Republicans, confident that Democrats will never come close to the 60 votes necessary to stop them, will use their veto power to block any Supreme Court nominee they dislike, which amounts to anyone Obama selects. On the court, if not in Congress, conservatives believe in an active government; they need judges who will say no to every piece of legislation they want to block.

It’s probably worth pointing out that it was Democrats, not Republicans, who did the most to politicize the appointment of judges and Supreme Court nominations, with their ferocious opposition to Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. No recent liberal nominee has been treated as disgracefully as were Bork and Thomas. It’s worth asking, too: was Senator Obama a nihilist for not only opposing the confirmation of Samuel Alito but also for supporting the filibuster of his nomination?

Beyond that, assume that Obama nominates centrist-to-conservative judges. Republicans would support them in the blink of an eye. The problem Obama would face would be with his liberal base, not with conservatives. This explodes the theory that Republicans are nihilists; if they were, they would oppose for the sake of opposition, as a means to achieving anarchy. But, of course, Republicans have no interest in such a thing.

And note well: the tax bill that was just agreed to was the product of a compromise between President Obama and the GOP leadership — precisely the kind of compromise that Wolfe says Republicans and conservatives oppose in principle and in every instance.

Professor Wolfe’s essay is instructive in this respect: it shows the kind of paranoia and diseased thinking that afflicts some liberals and progressives. He acts as if no conservative policy world exists and exerts any influence on lawmakers. This is flatly untrue. Professor Wolfe might, for starters, consider visiting the website of National Affairs in order to become acquainted with arguments and ideas he is now blind to.

Moreover, progressives like Wolfe seem to genuinely believe the cartoonish image they have created of Republicans and conservatives, portraying them as if they were characters out of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. They cannot seem to fathom that the differences between conservatives and liberals, between the incoming GOP Congress and Barack Obama, are rooted in different governing philosophies, not nihilism vs. non-nihilism. They do not even entertain the possibility that opposition to ObamaCare is based on the belief that a more sustainable, market-based, and patient-centered version of health reform is better for our nation. Conservatives may be wrong about this; but to hold this view does not mean they are pining for anarchy.

The Alan Wolfe approach, of course, makes governing in America much more difficult. If you view your opponents not simply as wrong but as a disciple of Nietzsche, eager to burn down the village, it changes almost everything about politics. It would be all to the good, I think, if people on both sides resisted the temptation — unless the evidence is overwhelming and to the contrary — to refer to one’s political opponents as Nazis, as terrorists, as nihilists, and so forth. This is almost always a sign of the weakness, not the strength, of one’s arguments.

In Fathers and Sons, the protagonist, Bazarov, says to the woman he loves, and hated himself for loving, “Breathe on the dying flame and let it go out. Enough!”

The same can be said about Professor Wolfe’s essay.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Imagine if the Bush administration had pulled this. “An inspector general says the White House edited a report about the administration’s moratorium on offshore oil drilling to make it appear that scientists and experts supported the idea of a six-month ban on new drilling. The Interior Department’s inspector general says the changes resulted ‘in the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer reviewed.’ But it hadn’t been.” Reminds you of Elena Kagan’s stunt about the outside experts’ report on partial-birth abortion, doesn’t it?

Imagine if our president sounded like Canada’s prime minister on Israel. “We must be relentless in exposing this new anti-Semitism for what it is. Of course, like any country, Israel may be subjected to fair criticism. And like any free country, Israel subjects itself to such criticism — healthy, necessary, democratic debate. But when Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack — is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand. Demonization, double standards, delegitimization, the three D’s, it is the responsibility of us all to stand up to them.” Read the whole thing.

Imagine if the media scrutinized Obama on Afghanistan the way it did his predecessor on Iraq. “A White House review of President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy next month will judge ‘how this current approach is working’ but will not suggest alternatives if aspects of the policy are found to be failing, a senior administration official said Tuesday.” Appalling.

Imagine if Chris Christie were given a chance to get the federal government’s fiscal house in order. Oh my! He keeps this up and there will be “Draft Christie!” movements in every state.

Imagine how much the debt commission could have saved if it had recommended shelving ObamaCare. “The Bowles-Simpson proposal would leave in place the entire trillion-dollar monstrosity. … The fundamental problem here is that it is not possible to build a bipartisan budget framework on a foundation that includes a partisan health-care plan with sweeping implications for future spending levels. To have a bipartisan budget requires a bipartisan health plan. And that means repealing Obamacare and starting over.”

Imagine if Obama had pulled the plug on this months ago. Eric Holder says he’s “close to a decision” on a civilian trial for KSM. With the new GOP Congress, I think there is no chance KSM is going to see the inside of an Article III courtroom, and the Obami know it. Get ready for an about-face on this one.

Imagine if Obama listened to sane advice on the Middle East. “Why does the president continue to harp on settlements in East Jerusalem, as opposed to expansion of West Bank settlements that would be dismantled under the terms of any peace agreement between the parties? Obama may feel that he has crossed a Rubicon and must push forward. Or he may feel that he must put Netanyahu in his place. … Whatever the reason, Obama’s behavior in Indonesia, and his constant harping on the construction issue, has complicated his avowed search for an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. … The peace process is stalemated, and it is up to the president, who has, perhaps unwittingly, brought on this latest dead end on the long-standing saga of Israeli-Palestinian misery, to come up with a way that lets both sides move forward, even if it means that he personally has to take several steps back in order to do so.”

Imagine if the Bush administration had pulled this. “An inspector general says the White House edited a report about the administration’s moratorium on offshore oil drilling to make it appear that scientists and experts supported the idea of a six-month ban on new drilling. The Interior Department’s inspector general says the changes resulted ‘in the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer reviewed.’ But it hadn’t been.” Reminds you of Elena Kagan’s stunt about the outside experts’ report on partial-birth abortion, doesn’t it?

Imagine if our president sounded like Canada’s prime minister on Israel. “We must be relentless in exposing this new anti-Semitism for what it is. Of course, like any country, Israel may be subjected to fair criticism. And like any free country, Israel subjects itself to such criticism — healthy, necessary, democratic debate. But when Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack — is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand. Demonization, double standards, delegitimization, the three D’s, it is the responsibility of us all to stand up to them.” Read the whole thing.

Imagine if the media scrutinized Obama on Afghanistan the way it did his predecessor on Iraq. “A White House review of President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy next month will judge ‘how this current approach is working’ but will not suggest alternatives if aspects of the policy are found to be failing, a senior administration official said Tuesday.” Appalling.

Imagine if Chris Christie were given a chance to get the federal government’s fiscal house in order. Oh my! He keeps this up and there will be “Draft Christie!” movements in every state.

Imagine how much the debt commission could have saved if it had recommended shelving ObamaCare. “The Bowles-Simpson proposal would leave in place the entire trillion-dollar monstrosity. … The fundamental problem here is that it is not possible to build a bipartisan budget framework on a foundation that includes a partisan health-care plan with sweeping implications for future spending levels. To have a bipartisan budget requires a bipartisan health plan. And that means repealing Obamacare and starting over.”

Imagine if Obama had pulled the plug on this months ago. Eric Holder says he’s “close to a decision” on a civilian trial for KSM. With the new GOP Congress, I think there is no chance KSM is going to see the inside of an Article III courtroom, and the Obami know it. Get ready for an about-face on this one.

Imagine if Obama listened to sane advice on the Middle East. “Why does the president continue to harp on settlements in East Jerusalem, as opposed to expansion of West Bank settlements that would be dismantled under the terms of any peace agreement between the parties? Obama may feel that he has crossed a Rubicon and must push forward. Or he may feel that he must put Netanyahu in his place. … Whatever the reason, Obama’s behavior in Indonesia, and his constant harping on the construction issue, has complicated his avowed search for an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. … The peace process is stalemated, and it is up to the president, who has, perhaps unwittingly, brought on this latest dead end on the long-standing saga of Israeli-Palestinian misery, to come up with a way that lets both sides move forward, even if it means that he personally has to take several steps back in order to do so.”

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Finding Out What Is in ObamaCare

Obama said he is only interested in tweaking ObamaCare. But what if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do? What if employers start dumping people from their existing health care, premiums go up, and the cost projections — shockingly! — are proved to have been entirely fraudulent? Well, no never mind as far as the president is concerned. He’s not an evidence man. He didn’t want the generals coming back to tell him more troops were needed in Afghanistan. He doesn’t want to alter his failed approach to the Middle East. And he’s not about to mess with his “historic” achievement.

Obama supporters, and those concerned that there own reputations may be at risk, are rushing forth to defend ObamaCare. However, the facts aren’t on their side. Veronique de Rugy takes issue with former OMB chief Peter Orszag, who declares that it is imperative to keep ObamaCare in order to control health-care costs. But de Rugy says that this is nonsense. Using CBO’s own data, she explains that ObamaCare will leave “the cost curve of federal healthcare spending virtually unchanged over the next 25 years.” In fact, ObamaCare makes things a whole lot worse:

The CBO finds that the effect of the healthcare legislation has been to increase government spending by $3.8 trillion between 2010 and 2020. From 2020 to 2035, federal spending under the two projections [ObamaCare and no ObamaCare] are equal percentages of GDP. If Orszag is arguing that the real cost-containment provisions kick in around 2036, such futuristic projections are simply not worth taking seriously. …

What we can be certain of is that this legislation increases the amount of money taxpayers will be forced by law to pay for health insurance to the tune of $420 billion over the next 10 years. Claims about ObamaCare’s deficit-reduction effects depend on new taxes growing even faster than new spending. Read More

Obama said he is only interested in tweaking ObamaCare. But what if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do? What if employers start dumping people from their existing health care, premiums go up, and the cost projections — shockingly! — are proved to have been entirely fraudulent? Well, no never mind as far as the president is concerned. He’s not an evidence man. He didn’t want the generals coming back to tell him more troops were needed in Afghanistan. He doesn’t want to alter his failed approach to the Middle East. And he’s not about to mess with his “historic” achievement.

Obama supporters, and those concerned that there own reputations may be at risk, are rushing forth to defend ObamaCare. However, the facts aren’t on their side. Veronique de Rugy takes issue with former OMB chief Peter Orszag, who declares that it is imperative to keep ObamaCare in order to control health-care costs. But de Rugy says that this is nonsense. Using CBO’s own data, she explains that ObamaCare will leave “the cost curve of federal healthcare spending virtually unchanged over the next 25 years.” In fact, ObamaCare makes things a whole lot worse:

The CBO finds that the effect of the healthcare legislation has been to increase government spending by $3.8 trillion between 2010 and 2020. From 2020 to 2035, federal spending under the two projections [ObamaCare and no ObamaCare] are equal percentages of GDP. If Orszag is arguing that the real cost-containment provisions kick in around 2036, such futuristic projections are simply not worth taking seriously. …

What we can be certain of is that this legislation increases the amount of money taxpayers will be forced by law to pay for health insurance to the tune of $420 billion over the next 10 years. Claims about ObamaCare’s deficit-reduction effects depend on new taxes growing even faster than new spending.

One benefit of the GOP House majority is that there can now be hearings on exactly the impact of ObamaCare. Nancy Pelosi said we’d have to pass it to find out what’s in it. Now we can. James Capretta gives us a peek at what we will find. No “death panels,” the Democrats insist?

But Obamacare does create the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB. … [T]he fifteen-member IPAB has the authority to implement cost-cutting mechanisms in Medicare without further congressional approval. Indeed, IPAB’s proponents have been quite explicit in their hope that the panel will use government-funded “comparative effectiveness research” as the basis to terminate Medicare reimbursement for items and services deemed not “cost effective” by budget cutters. So, here we have an unelected board of so-called experts with the authority to unilaterally decide that certain treatments should not be funded by Medicare.

Medicare will be just fine, they say? Capretta explains:

But Medicare’s chief actuary — who works for the president of the United States — has stated repeatedly that these cuts are so deep and arbitrary that they will force many hospitals and other institutions to stop seeing Medicare patients. In fact, the cuts in Obamacare would drive Medicare’s payment rates for services below those of Medicaid by 2019, and Medicaid’s network of willing suppliers of care and services is already very constrained. It’s quite clear that pushing Medicare’s rates to such low levels would drastically reduce access to care for many beneficiaries.

But don’t take de Rugy’s and Caparetta’s word for it. Beginning in January, the GOP Congress should explain exactly what is in the bill, how much it’s going to cost, how high the tax hike will be ($700B, most agree), and the short- and long-term impact on Americans’ health care. Will Democrats rush forth to defend their handiwork? Or will the evidence be compelling, and embarrassing? Pelosi’s rump liberal caucus in the House will never abandon ObamaCare, but will the Red State senators? Don’t bet on them going down with the ObamaCare ship. Especially after we find out what is in it.

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A Surplus of Enemies

A flock of liberal pundits is now trying to convince its members — and us — that losing the House and maybe the Senate is a really good thing for Obama. It’s not because he might moderate his views. Oh no, for in their book, Obama wasn’t radical enough. They suggest he’ll look better because he’ll have an “enemy” — John Boehner.

First, it would be nice if the punditocracy and the president, himself, talked more about the real enemies — Islamic terrorists, mullahs with nuclear ambitions, human-rights abusers, etc. For a gang who whimpered when their “patriotism was questioned” and decried “divisiveness” (i.e., the refusal to capitulate to the Obama agenda), this is rich.

But more important, the president’s problem is hardly a lack of “enemies.” The problem is, he has too many — Republicans, Wall Street, talk-show hosts, 24/7 media outlets, Fox, pollsters, insurance companies, Islamaphobe opponents of the Ground Zero mosque, the Chamber of Commerce, and, ultimately, the voters themselves, who are too irrational and too scared to appreciate his greatness. The “no-blue-states-no-red-states” candidate has morphed into an angry figure who treats opposition as illegitimate and opponents as “enemies.” Or as P.J. O’Rourke said of the Democrats, “They hate our guts.” And now the president can’t hide his feelings.

As Mickey Kaus points out, the growing enemies’ list isn’t helping Obama. Quite the opposite:

It’s amazing that the Blues don’t understand that all BHO’s comments, particularly the “punish your enemies” meme, are on FOX, talk radio, and the Internet. Your trash talk goes right into the other guy’s locker room. … It’s not just that rousing the Dem base also rouses the GOP base (which can hardly be roused more than it already is anyway). It’s that rousing the Dem base alienates the middle.

If he intends to base his last two years on vilifying Republicans, he may succeed — in solidifying the not-Obama, center-right coalition.

Bill Clinton ran circles around the GOP Congress following the 1994 midterm debacle because he was more amiable, flexible, and adroit than his opponents. Whatever his faults, Clinton didn’t hate our guts. He loved being president, and he loved being praised by his fellow citizens. Obama suffers us — first in silence, and now in public. And flexibility has really not been his strong suit. In short, Democrats long for a repeat of post-1994, but they lack the Bill Clinton part of the equation. (Frankly, they also lack the Newt Gingrich villain figure. Whatever their shortcomings, the current GOP leadership generally avoids personal displays of grandiosity and lacks a compulsion to say whatever ludicrously daft thought pops into their heads.)

So for those Democrats licking their chops at the prospect of an Obama-GOP face-off, they might want to reconsider. Isn’t it just as likely Obama will make the Republicans look better than the other way around? He’s sure done that during the midterm campaign.

A flock of liberal pundits is now trying to convince its members — and us — that losing the House and maybe the Senate is a really good thing for Obama. It’s not because he might moderate his views. Oh no, for in their book, Obama wasn’t radical enough. They suggest he’ll look better because he’ll have an “enemy” — John Boehner.

First, it would be nice if the punditocracy and the president, himself, talked more about the real enemies — Islamic terrorists, mullahs with nuclear ambitions, human-rights abusers, etc. For a gang who whimpered when their “patriotism was questioned” and decried “divisiveness” (i.e., the refusal to capitulate to the Obama agenda), this is rich.

But more important, the president’s problem is hardly a lack of “enemies.” The problem is, he has too many — Republicans, Wall Street, talk-show hosts, 24/7 media outlets, Fox, pollsters, insurance companies, Islamaphobe opponents of the Ground Zero mosque, the Chamber of Commerce, and, ultimately, the voters themselves, who are too irrational and too scared to appreciate his greatness. The “no-blue-states-no-red-states” candidate has morphed into an angry figure who treats opposition as illegitimate and opponents as “enemies.” Or as P.J. O’Rourke said of the Democrats, “They hate our guts.” And now the president can’t hide his feelings.

As Mickey Kaus points out, the growing enemies’ list isn’t helping Obama. Quite the opposite:

It’s amazing that the Blues don’t understand that all BHO’s comments, particularly the “punish your enemies” meme, are on FOX, talk radio, and the Internet. Your trash talk goes right into the other guy’s locker room. … It’s not just that rousing the Dem base also rouses the GOP base (which can hardly be roused more than it already is anyway). It’s that rousing the Dem base alienates the middle.

If he intends to base his last two years on vilifying Republicans, he may succeed — in solidifying the not-Obama, center-right coalition.

Bill Clinton ran circles around the GOP Congress following the 1994 midterm debacle because he was more amiable, flexible, and adroit than his opponents. Whatever his faults, Clinton didn’t hate our guts. He loved being president, and he loved being praised by his fellow citizens. Obama suffers us — first in silence, and now in public. And flexibility has really not been his strong suit. In short, Democrats long for a repeat of post-1994, but they lack the Bill Clinton part of the equation. (Frankly, they also lack the Newt Gingrich villain figure. Whatever their shortcomings, the current GOP leadership generally avoids personal displays of grandiosity and lacks a compulsion to say whatever ludicrously daft thought pops into their heads.)

So for those Democrats licking their chops at the prospect of an Obama-GOP face-off, they might want to reconsider. Isn’t it just as likely Obama will make the Republicans look better than the other way around? He’s sure done that during the midterm campaign.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Even Obama’s old seat may be lost. Mark Kirk has a small lead in two recent polls.

Even the White House couldn’t spin this one: “All signs point to huge Republican victories in two weeks, with the GOP now leading Democrats on virtually every measure in an Associated Press-GfK poll of people likely to vote in the first major elections of Barack Obama’s presidency … 50 percent say they will back the GOP candidate in their House district; 43 percent say they’ll support the Democrat … 54 percent disapprove of Obama’s job performance; 45 percent approve.” No wonder Obama wants to talk about the Chamber of Commerce.

Even the VP spot in 2012 is out, says Chris Christie. “Christie also once again said there’s ‘no way’ he’d run for president in 2012. But his wife suggested the freshman governor would be good in the role. ‘Oh, absolutely,’ Mary Pat Christie told MSNBC when asked if she thought her husband would make for a ‘good president.’” Hey, Obama changed his mind about running in 2008.

Even Christine O’Donnell (probably) knows it by heart: “At a Democratic fundraiser on Monday night, President Obama once again misquoted the Declaration of Independence’s most famous sentence and once again omitted its reference to our ‘Creator.’” If you are counting, this is the third time he edited the Preamble. “Other presidents didn’t deliberately misquote the Declaration, and they didn’t leave out (or rewrite) the words about our rights being endowed by our Creator.” But he’s an intellectual, don’t you see?

Even William Galston can’t convince me that Obama will “reach across the aisle” to work cooperatively with a GOP Congress. He should, but he sure isn’t laying the groundwork now.

Even the “unambiguous success” of the GM bailout really isn’t. Charles Lane explains that GM has $27 billion in unfunded pension-plan obligations. “Long term, the bailout can’t work unless the public buys GM’s cars. But the company’s share of the U.S. market was 19 percent in September 2010, down from 19.6 percent at the beginning of the year. Hence, [independent ratings agency] Fitch says, GM’s bonds deserve a ‘junk’ rating: BB-. That, too, is not a big surprise. But it does suggest that the success of the bailout is still, well, ambiguous. GM is not out of the woods yet, and neither are the taxpayers.”

Even the Harvard Club of New York has higher standards than CNN. “This year, the Midtown club turned down Mr. Spitzer’s application for membership — a rare snub by the club — because officials there did not want to be associated with Mr. Spitzer and the prostitution scandal that forced him from the governorship of New York in 2008, according to a person told of the decision by Harvard officials.” Shunning is a much-underrated tool in maintaining ethical standards. (Speaking of which, why did the same Harvard University have Spitzer speak last year on ethics?)

Even unacceptable to Human Rights Watch: “Human Rights Watch has slammed a ruling by an Emirati court which condones the beating of wives by their husbands, saying it sends out a signal that violence against women and children is acceptable.” Would be nice if Obama and his secretary of state would do so as well, since they’re all about human rights these days.

Even liberal Matthew Duss concedes that George Bush was on to something with his “freedom agenda.” In a backhanded way, he advises: “But just because the Bush administration latched onto this critique as a justification for its attempt to reorder the Middle East doesn’t mean it was necessarily wrong. A focus on security at the expense of democracy does generate bad consequences, and acknowledgement of this fact, by anyone, however late coming, is a good thing.” In all his suck-uppery to the PA, Obama has ignored this truism: “Political freedom is not a peripheral concern in Palestine — it is central to the U.S. goal of a functioning, viable, and democratic Palestinian state at peace with Israel.”

Even Obama’s old seat may be lost. Mark Kirk has a small lead in two recent polls.

Even the White House couldn’t spin this one: “All signs point to huge Republican victories in two weeks, with the GOP now leading Democrats on virtually every measure in an Associated Press-GfK poll of people likely to vote in the first major elections of Barack Obama’s presidency … 50 percent say they will back the GOP candidate in their House district; 43 percent say they’ll support the Democrat … 54 percent disapprove of Obama’s job performance; 45 percent approve.” No wonder Obama wants to talk about the Chamber of Commerce.

Even the VP spot in 2012 is out, says Chris Christie. “Christie also once again said there’s ‘no way’ he’d run for president in 2012. But his wife suggested the freshman governor would be good in the role. ‘Oh, absolutely,’ Mary Pat Christie told MSNBC when asked if she thought her husband would make for a ‘good president.’” Hey, Obama changed his mind about running in 2008.

Even Christine O’Donnell (probably) knows it by heart: “At a Democratic fundraiser on Monday night, President Obama once again misquoted the Declaration of Independence’s most famous sentence and once again omitted its reference to our ‘Creator.’” If you are counting, this is the third time he edited the Preamble. “Other presidents didn’t deliberately misquote the Declaration, and they didn’t leave out (or rewrite) the words about our rights being endowed by our Creator.” But he’s an intellectual, don’t you see?

Even William Galston can’t convince me that Obama will “reach across the aisle” to work cooperatively with a GOP Congress. He should, but he sure isn’t laying the groundwork now.

Even the “unambiguous success” of the GM bailout really isn’t. Charles Lane explains that GM has $27 billion in unfunded pension-plan obligations. “Long term, the bailout can’t work unless the public buys GM’s cars. But the company’s share of the U.S. market was 19 percent in September 2010, down from 19.6 percent at the beginning of the year. Hence, [independent ratings agency] Fitch says, GM’s bonds deserve a ‘junk’ rating: BB-. That, too, is not a big surprise. But it does suggest that the success of the bailout is still, well, ambiguous. GM is not out of the woods yet, and neither are the taxpayers.”

Even the Harvard Club of New York has higher standards than CNN. “This year, the Midtown club turned down Mr. Spitzer’s application for membership — a rare snub by the club — because officials there did not want to be associated with Mr. Spitzer and the prostitution scandal that forced him from the governorship of New York in 2008, according to a person told of the decision by Harvard officials.” Shunning is a much-underrated tool in maintaining ethical standards. (Speaking of which, why did the same Harvard University have Spitzer speak last year on ethics?)

Even unacceptable to Human Rights Watch: “Human Rights Watch has slammed a ruling by an Emirati court which condones the beating of wives by their husbands, saying it sends out a signal that violence against women and children is acceptable.” Would be nice if Obama and his secretary of state would do so as well, since they’re all about human rights these days.

Even liberal Matthew Duss concedes that George Bush was on to something with his “freedom agenda.” In a backhanded way, he advises: “But just because the Bush administration latched onto this critique as a justification for its attempt to reorder the Middle East doesn’t mean it was necessarily wrong. A focus on security at the expense of democracy does generate bad consequences, and acknowledgement of this fact, by anyone, however late coming, is a good thing.” In all his suck-uppery to the PA, Obama has ignored this truism: “Political freedom is not a peripheral concern in Palestine — it is central to the U.S. goal of a functioning, viable, and democratic Palestinian state at peace with Israel.”

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Widening Conservatives’ Vision

Matt Continetti makes an extraordinarily smart point about conservatives’ agenda:

Numbercrunching is a valuable skill, but it also has a tendency to crimp the political imagination. So Republicans must be careful as they trim expenses. Otherwise they’ll fall into the austerity trap.

In the austerity trap, Republican congressmen get so outraged over earmarks to fund studies of the mating patterns of red-bellied newts, they neglect legislation that would foster long-term growth. Deficit anxiety causes conservative lawmakers to rule out sensible policies like a payroll tax cut. A myopic focus on government spending causes Republican leaders to short-change the defense budget and renege on America’s global responsibilities. The entitlement nightmare frightens GOP candidates into framing their economic agenda in strictly negative terms.

To a degree, we have already seen this in the preliminary rounds of the 2012 campaign. As Michael Barone points out, Mitch Daniels is gaining visibility as a sober-minded skinflint. No one has a better command of numbers or can come up with more creative ways of taming entitlements. But he also exhibits the danger signs that Matt enumerates. When I asked Daniels about foreign policy, it was apparent that he regarded this as a line item. He cautioned that we need to prune defense spending and also that we the need to cut back on our overseas commitments. (Which ones?)

Matt suggests one way to avoid the “austerity trap”: “The best place to combine fiscal rectitude and pro-growth economics is the tax code. After repealing Obama-care, the second agenda item for the new GOP Congress is extending current tax rates. Then, go for tax reform.”

And there is something else that is needed: a positive message centered on faith in the common man, love of liberty, and restoration of America’s greatness. Americans may be overdosed on charisma and lofty messages, you say. But perhaps it’s just substanceless rhetoric that has worn out its welcome. Conservatism needs both the notes and the melody — smart policies combined with a reminder that the rationale for limited government isn’t found in accounting manuals, but in the Preamble to the Constitution.

Matt Continetti makes an extraordinarily smart point about conservatives’ agenda:

Numbercrunching is a valuable skill, but it also has a tendency to crimp the political imagination. So Republicans must be careful as they trim expenses. Otherwise they’ll fall into the austerity trap.

In the austerity trap, Republican congressmen get so outraged over earmarks to fund studies of the mating patterns of red-bellied newts, they neglect legislation that would foster long-term growth. Deficit anxiety causes conservative lawmakers to rule out sensible policies like a payroll tax cut. A myopic focus on government spending causes Republican leaders to short-change the defense budget and renege on America’s global responsibilities. The entitlement nightmare frightens GOP candidates into framing their economic agenda in strictly negative terms.

To a degree, we have already seen this in the preliminary rounds of the 2012 campaign. As Michael Barone points out, Mitch Daniels is gaining visibility as a sober-minded skinflint. No one has a better command of numbers or can come up with more creative ways of taming entitlements. But he also exhibits the danger signs that Matt enumerates. When I asked Daniels about foreign policy, it was apparent that he regarded this as a line item. He cautioned that we need to prune defense spending and also that we the need to cut back on our overseas commitments. (Which ones?)

Matt suggests one way to avoid the “austerity trap”: “The best place to combine fiscal rectitude and pro-growth economics is the tax code. After repealing Obama-care, the second agenda item for the new GOP Congress is extending current tax rates. Then, go for tax reform.”

And there is something else that is needed: a positive message centered on faith in the common man, love of liberty, and restoration of America’s greatness. Americans may be overdosed on charisma and lofty messages, you say. But perhaps it’s just substanceless rhetoric that has worn out its welcome. Conservatism needs both the notes and the melody — smart policies combined with a reminder that the rationale for limited government isn’t found in accounting manuals, but in the Preamble to the Constitution.

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Media Quits Obama

An evaluation of Obama:

Barack Obama is being politically crushed in a vise. From above, by elite opinion about his competence. From below, by mass anger and anxiety over unemployment. And it is too late for him to do anything about this predicament until after November’s elections.

With the exception of core Obama Administration loyalists, most politically engaged elites have reached the same conclusions: the White House is in over its head, isolated, insular, arrogant and clueless about how to get along with or persuade members of Congress, the media, the business community or working-class voters. This view is held by Fox News pundits, executives and anchors at the major old-media outlets, reporters who cover the White House, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and governors, many Democratic business people and lawyers who raised big money for Obama in 2008, and even some members of the Administration just beyond the inner circle.

George Will? The Wall Street Journal editors? No, it’s Time‘s Mark Halperin, known for his talent in parroting Democratic conventional wisdom. The mainstream media, it seems, are cutting their losses. They invested enormous time, credibility, and emotion in bolstering their chosen candidate. But he hasn’t panned out, and new power players are headed to Washington. So it’s time to scramble back to some semblance of realistic coverage and concede that all those “accomplishments” in the past two years didn’t accomplish anything — not an economic recovery, not political ascendancy for Obama, not electoral success for Democrats, and not an era of bipartisan harmony. Just the opposite.

Now, don’t get your hopes up. As soon as viable 2012 presidential contenders appear on the stage or the GOP Congress faces off with Obama, expect the press to return to blocking and tackling for the president. But the magic is gone, the spell is broken. The press has figured out two years later than many of us that Obama is simply another liberal pol — and, as it turns out, an extraordinarily unpleasant and incompetent one.

An evaluation of Obama:

Barack Obama is being politically crushed in a vise. From above, by elite opinion about his competence. From below, by mass anger and anxiety over unemployment. And it is too late for him to do anything about this predicament until after November’s elections.

With the exception of core Obama Administration loyalists, most politically engaged elites have reached the same conclusions: the White House is in over its head, isolated, insular, arrogant and clueless about how to get along with or persuade members of Congress, the media, the business community or working-class voters. This view is held by Fox News pundits, executives and anchors at the major old-media outlets, reporters who cover the White House, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and governors, many Democratic business people and lawyers who raised big money for Obama in 2008, and even some members of the Administration just beyond the inner circle.

George Will? The Wall Street Journal editors? No, it’s Time‘s Mark Halperin, known for his talent in parroting Democratic conventional wisdom. The mainstream media, it seems, are cutting their losses. They invested enormous time, credibility, and emotion in bolstering their chosen candidate. But he hasn’t panned out, and new power players are headed to Washington. So it’s time to scramble back to some semblance of realistic coverage and concede that all those “accomplishments” in the past two years didn’t accomplish anything — not an economic recovery, not political ascendancy for Obama, not electoral success for Democrats, and not an era of bipartisan harmony. Just the opposite.

Now, don’t get your hopes up. As soon as viable 2012 presidential contenders appear on the stage or the GOP Congress faces off with Obama, expect the press to return to blocking and tackling for the president. But the magic is gone, the spell is broken. The press has figured out two years later than many of us that Obama is simply another liberal pol — and, as it turns out, an extraordinarily unpleasant and incompetent one.

Read Less




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