Commentary Magazine


Topic: Harry Reid

Hobby Lobby, Religious Liberty, and the Dangers of Complacence

It’s tempting, and easy, to dismiss Democrats’ legislative response to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. Senate Democrats say as soon as today they could bring up a bill that would, as Politico terms it, “override” the high court’s ruling, which followed the course set out in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Democrats want to push this as part of the “war on women” by making shameless false claims about the court’s ruling and trashing both RFRA and the First Amendment.

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It’s tempting, and easy, to dismiss Democrats’ legislative response to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. Senate Democrats say as soon as today they could bring up a bill that would, as Politico terms it, “override” the high court’s ruling, which followed the course set out in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Democrats want to push this as part of the “war on women” by making shameless false claims about the court’s ruling and trashing both RFRA and the First Amendment.

Conservatives have been generally dismissive of the White House’s “war on women,” and for good reason. Additionally, they may be further tempted to deride the left’s response now that they’ve won a limited victory at the Supreme Court. It also requires a heroic effort to take seriously any policymaking that begins with Harry Reid including Clarence Thomas in his category of “white men” who should be ignored. Reid is railing against the Supreme Court, but he does not appear to be terribly familiar with it. (As an aside, why mention the race of the justices at all if this is an issue about gender? Because leftists can’t speak, apparently, without accusing someone of being racist.)

But this attitude would be a mistake, with regard to the Hobby Lobby pushback. To be sure, conservatives should avoid getting drawn into a fictitious debate on birth control based on completely false premises and designed not to advance policy solutions but to give Democrats yet another chance to insult the intelligence of the nation’s women and to put Christianity–and by extension, religious belief in general–on trial. After all, it’s unlikely that yet another Reid-led Democratic effort to undo basic American rights will pass the House.

And getting drawn into this debate risks giving the Democrats what they actually want: a change of subject. As the Obama presidency plummets in popularity and the corruption and abuse of power scandals keep multiplying, the Democrats want to talk about anything but the issues dragging them down.

Nonetheless, conservatives should think twice about taking the debate over this bill–not the president’s executive action, but the Senate bill on which there would presumably be debate and a vote–too lightly. What the Democrats are trying to do is build a public-policy consensus that would erode religious liberty by holding a referendum on whether America’s first freedom, and the basis for the American project, should be undone in the service of left-wing culture-war extremism.

Is it worth undermining religious freedom just so Democrats can distract the electorate from their inability to govern with a public discussion about the economics of sex? For Democrats like Harry Reid, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Basic freedoms are fine in the abstract, according to Democratic policymakers, but they often infringe on Democrats’ quest for power. So they must be subverted.

Conservatives must understand that the risk here is not actual policy, since the bill won’t pass the House. The risk is that by ceding space in the public sphere to liberal demagogues, they won’t engage the important part of this debate. Since, as I’ve written previously, opposition to religious freedom is now a partisan Democratic position, conservatives are the last line of defense. What they don’t want is for the left to own a debate that could build a public consensus against those freedoms. If conservatives won’t speak up for religious freedom, nobody will, and it will be ignored and trampled.

It’s also important because none of this takes place in a vacuum. In a very smart piece for BuzzFeed, Chris Geidner tracks the evolving fight over religious exemptions in employee non-discrimination legislation. He notes that LGBT groups and their supporters are backing away from anti-discrimination legislation they were initially inclined to support because of the religious exemptions being added. The bill will probably not be advanced in the House this year, Geidner notes, and explains why these groups are fighting about it anyway.

He gives three reasons: to shape the next version of this legislation that comes through Congress in the next session; because the groups are unnerved by the Supreme Court’s upholding of religious freedom protections in the Hobby Lobby case; and to influence President Obama’s forthcoming executive order on the issue. In other words, these groups recognize that although the Democrats’ demand for employee-sponsored drugs that may act as abortifacients has nothing to do with gay rights, in some way it has everything to do with it.

Settling law and winning public debates over religious freedom affects other laws and other debates that follow it. Just as the Supreme Court sets precedent in legal rulings, so too the passage of laws and other actions set precedent in how the public understands the issues at play and how politicians can attract support for their own legislative projects. The left has always operated with the knowledge that there’s no off-season here. They are counting on conservative exhaustion, complacence, or both. Conservatives must demonstrate neither.

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Reid Sets a Trap for GOP on Earmarks

Harry Reid is making trouble again. With Republicans still squabbling over the establishment-Tea Party rift, the Senate’s top Democrat sat down with reporters from the Huffington Post to offer some comments perfectly designed to make Republicans even angrier at each other.

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Harry Reid is making trouble again. With Republicans still squabbling over the establishment-Tea Party rift, the Senate’s top Democrat sat down with reporters from the Huffington Post to offer some comments perfectly designed to make Republicans even angrier at each other.

According to HuffPo:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he expects congressional earmarks will be revived and insisted senior Republican Party members support the return of congressionally directed spending.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Reid argued that the prohibition on earmarks was a mistake that tipped the balance of power away from the legislative branch and toward the president. He said he wants the ability to approve specific spending projects to be put back under control of Congress.

Reid said top House Republicans have told him they support earmarks and would like to see the practice return. He said those he’s spoken to include “a very senior member of the House Republican caucus.” Reid wouldn’t name names, but said that the lawmaker is “still there” — meaning it’s likely not Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

Reid’s timing is almost certainly no coincidence. As political targets go, earmarks are the broad side of a barn. Because they explicitly direct taxpayer cash, it’s easy to find ridiculous pork-barrel projects and obvious wastes of money. During the Bush presidency, Majority Leader Tom DeLay used earmarks as a disciplinary tool. The more transparency that developed–that is, the more easily specific earmarks could be traced not only to their destination but back to their congressional source–the more easily they could be used much as campaign-finance regulation is used: as incumbent-protection plans.

Hence they came to be hated by conservatives even before the rise of the Tea Party. When Republicans gained and then lost control of Congress, much of it was blamed by the grassroots on GOPers falling prey to the lure of power and appropriations and forgetting its limited-government roots. Conservatives said Republicans deserved to lose because they began spending money just like Democrats.

The Tea Party’s arrival on the scene was part of this trend, and it’s easy to see why earmarks are a stand-in for precisely what drives budget hawks crazy about Washington. But they also posed a specific threat to the Tea Party: as districts became less competitive, the primary contests were where the real action was. And, in the House at least, winning a primary got you most of the way to punching your ticket to Congress. (The Senate has been a tougher party to crash.)

So Reid’s timing for dropping this hint about the return of earmarks was perfect, at least from his standpoint. Just a few years ago, an incumbent running against a self-described Tea Partier was an underdog. But this year, incumbents and establishment candidates have been able to push back. In part this has been because the Tea Party’s early victories have enabled it to shape the party’s congressional agenda, so primaries these days are often conservatives running against conservatives–Dave Brat against Eric Cantor is a much different matchup than Pat Toomey against Arlen Specter.

But the recent runoff victory by incumbent Thad Cochran over Chris McDaniel is highly relevant to the debate over earmarks. Cochran was expected to lose the runoff. Primary turnout is already lower than general-election turnout, and a runoff lower still. Usually.

Cochran turned the tables by crossing the aisle and making a successful pitch to Mississippi’s black voters, who are overwhelmingly Democratic. He did so by reminding black voters that he brings home the bacon for them, despite the fact that they don’t vote for him in general elections. Pro-Cochran groups hired black leaders to make the same plea. It worked, and Cochran won.

The lesson here is that Cochran’s record was not enough to placate the grassroots, but that he could win by emphasizing his spending on federal programs that help his state. If Republican leaders pine for the days of earmarks, it’s easy to see why. Not only could they help defeat conservative insurgents, but the House caucus has become far more difficult for the leadership to control–witness House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning loss to Brat, who had been abandoned even by Tea Party groups.

Reid is also handing his Republican counterparts a live grenade in offering a plausible-sounding justification for earmarks: they could help devolve spending power back to the Congress from the White House. It is, of course, a trap. Earmarks may not have been the budget poison they were sometimes made out to be, and they certainly weren’t all bridges to nowhere. But they will not stop this president from taking executive action, and they will not bring Democrats on board for the House GOP’s reform agenda.

Reid is trying to sucker the GOP leadership into a prolonged fight with its base that the establishment will eventually lose. At times earmarks got more attention than they warranted. But the GOP leadership doesn’t stand to gain from being their champion.

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Proroguing the Congress

The Supreme Court wimped out on the recess appointment power today.

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The Supreme Court wimped out on the recess appointment power today.

It ruled, unanimously, that President Obama had overstepped his powers when he made three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was holding pro-forma sessions. In other words, the Senate, not the president, gets to decide when it is in session.

I have not yet read the opinion, which is a long one, but five justices (the four liberal ones and Justice Kennedy), decided to sustain the long-standing practice of presidents making appointments during intra-session recesses (for holidays, etc.) not just inter-session recesses when the Senate has recessed sine die (Latin for “without a day,” i.e. without setting a date to resume). It also ruled that vacancies don’t need to occur during the recess to be filled by the recess appointment power. Again, this is long-standing practice, but it is not what the Constitution says.

The recess appointment clause (Article II, Section 2) says that “The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, …” and the D.C. Court of Appeals had ruled that it meant what it said: “the recess,” not “a recess,” and vacancies must occur during the recess, not simply exist during the recess. In today’s world, the recess of the Senate is very short. They rarely adjourn before the middle of December and the next session begins, under the 20th Amendment, on January 3. Had the Supreme Court followed that reasoning, and four justices led by Justice Scalia argued forcefully that it should have, the recess appointment power would have been, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Now the long-standing but unconstitutional practice has the imprimatur of the Supreme Court. All sorts of mischief can occur as a result. If the presidency and the two houses of Congress are in the hands of one party, there’s no problem. But if the Senate is in the hands of the other party, it can prevent recess appointments only by staying in pro-forma sessions. If the Senate is in the hands of the president’s party, but the House is not, as is the case presently, then the House can prevent a recess by simply staying in session itself. Neither house can adjourn for more than three days without the agreement of the other house (Article I, Section 5).

But there’s a little noticed clause in the Constitution (Article II, Section 3) that says, “… in Case of Disagreement between them [the two houses], with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he [the president] may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; …” As far as I know, this power has never been exercised. But here’s a scenario. Obama wants to appoint someone who would have trouble being approved by the Senate, so Harry Reid moves to adjourn the Senate for a week, the House refuses to go along, and the president then adjourns them for two weeks, and appoints his man.

The king of England lost his power to prorogue Parliament in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Supreme Court may well have given it back to the president of the United States.

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Iraq: What We Know Now and What We Knew Then

Along with the outbreak of the new war in Iraq has come a ferocious debate over who is to blame. Is it George W. Bush for getting us into Iraq in the first place or is it Barack Obama for getting us out without leaving any American troops there?

My old friend George Will, who was one of the most eloquent proponents of the invasion in 2003 but who later changed his mind, has not surprisingly made the best case for the anti-Bush party. Addressing all Republicans vying for the presidential nomination in 2016, he asks:

Given the absence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and given that we now know how little we know about “nation-building” and about the promotion of democracy in nations that need to be “built,” and given that Saddam Hussein’s horrific tyranny at least controlled Iraq’s sectarian furies, and given that Iraq under him was Iran’s adversary, and given that ten-year wars make Americans indiscriminately averse to military undertakings—given all this, if you could rewind history to March 2003, would you favor invading Iraq?

Well, I was as passionate, if not as eloquent, a supporter of the invasion as George Will was, and my own answer to his question would be that if I had been able to foresee the unintended consequences of a fair number of actions I have taken in my life, I would most certainly not have taken them. But I would then go on to say that, looking back at the situation in 2003 when I unfortunately lacked prophetic powers, my answer to his question would be that, yes, I would still have supported the invasion.

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Along with the outbreak of the new war in Iraq has come a ferocious debate over who is to blame. Is it George W. Bush for getting us into Iraq in the first place or is it Barack Obama for getting us out without leaving any American troops there?

My old friend George Will, who was one of the most eloquent proponents of the invasion in 2003 but who later changed his mind, has not surprisingly made the best case for the anti-Bush party. Addressing all Republicans vying for the presidential nomination in 2016, he asks:

Given the absence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and given that we now know how little we know about “nation-building” and about the promotion of democracy in nations that need to be “built,” and given that Saddam Hussein’s horrific tyranny at least controlled Iraq’s sectarian furies, and given that Iraq under him was Iran’s adversary, and given that ten-year wars make Americans indiscriminately averse to military undertakings—given all this, if you could rewind history to March 2003, would you favor invading Iraq?

Well, I was as passionate, if not as eloquent, a supporter of the invasion as George Will was, and my own answer to his question would be that if I had been able to foresee the unintended consequences of a fair number of actions I have taken in my life, I would most certainly not have taken them. But I would then go on to say that, looking back at the situation in 2003 when I unfortunately lacked prophetic powers, my answer to his question would be that, yes, I would still have supported the invasion.

“Given the absence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction,” his indictment of Bush begins, but the only “given” in 2003 was the exact opposite. All fifteen agencies involved in gathering intelligence for the United States agreed “with high confidence” that “Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs contrary to UN resolutions.” So did the intelligence agencies of Britain, Germany, Russia, China, Israel, and France.

“Given” also that the Democrats would later accuse Bush of lying about this, here is a (partial) list of Democrats who had previously joined in the consensus: Bill Clinton; his Vice President Al Gore; his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; his Secretary of Defense William Cohen; and his National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. In the Senate, there were Teddy Kennedy, Harry Reid, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John Edwards, Jay Rockefeller, Robert Byrd, and Bob Graham–not to mention Nancy Pelosi, among scores of others, in the House, as well as liberal papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post. Each and every one of them saw Saddam Hussein as a threat, and they all advocated taking action against him.

“Given” all this, I would go so far as to say that not only was George W. Bush justified in ordering the invasion, but that if he had failed to do so, he would have deserved to be impeached for violating his oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” this country against any and all foreign enemies.    

As to the other items in George Will’s parade of horribles, they all belong to the period that followed the successful military phase of the invasion itself. I am willing to stipulate that many mistakes were made in the three years that followed, and that the entire operation would very likely have ended in defeat if Bush had not finally found in David Petraeus a general who wanted to win and knew how to do it. The upshot was that by the time Barack Obama took office, American casualties were all the way down, and that the Iraq turned over to him was a country largely at peace and living under a nascent democratic regime. So much for the case for blaming Bush.

Turning now to the case for blaming Obama, a commensurately eloquent one has been made by another old friend of mine, David Pryce Jones, the eminent British authority on the Arab world. After explaining why and how the al-Qaeda affiliate ISIS has been able to capture city after city in Iraq and is now only about fifty miles from Baghdad, David flatly declares that “President George W. Bush is vindicated. The sole way Iraq could have continued was under a permanent American presence that gave and guaranteed state functions. President Obama’s withdrawal of American forces is already a historic error. They alone could have kept the peace. Arabs have a phrase to the effect that some mistake has opened the doors of Hell. President Obama has opened those doors.”

Obama evidently now thinks that a de facto alliance with Iran—Iran!—is the way to close those doors, but such an alliance would only guarantee that they would open even wider than they are now. It would also solidify Iran’s influence over Iraq while giving a green light to an Iranian nuclear bomb. 

Alas, none of the other proposals for getting us out of this fix seems fully persuasive. Which means that it may be too late to prevent Iraq from joining Syria as part of a new Iranian empire. It is not too late, however, to keep that empire from building a nuclear arsenal, and neither is it too late to keep Afghanistan from reverting to the al-Qaeda haven it was before 9/11. The problem is that doing those things would require Barack Obama to acknowledge that his policies are exposing us to an infinitely greater danger than we were in before 9/11. In my opinion–and I express it with fear and trembling–it would take something close to a miracle for him to undergo so radical a change of heart and mind. God help us then.

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The Mann/Ornstein Thesis Is Even Worse Than It Looks

In 2012, When Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein published their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, primarily blaming Republicans for congressional gridlock, they began a campaign of writing op-eds laying out their thesis in various political publications. The two complained, however, that none of the political talk shows wanted to have them on to sell the book. As they told the Washington Post:

“Not a single one of the Sunday shows has indicated an interest, and I do find it curious,” Ornstein told me, adding that the Op ed (sic) had well over 200,000 Facebook recommends and has been viral for weeks. “This is a level of attention for a book that we haven’t received before. You would think it would attract some attention from the Sunday shows.’

Over 200,00 Facebook recommendations and still no takers on the Sunday shows! But in fact it wasn’t so strange. The thesis they laid out in column after column was just plain wrong, and unambiguously so. It might have sold books and fooled the occasional liberal commentator, but those who worked in Washington had at least a basic knowledge of congressional politics, which was all that was needed to know Mann and Ornstein were peddling nonsense on stilts.

In the last couple of weeks, we got additional reminders of that. First came the revelation that Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, after having effectively dismantled the filibuster, was removing yet one more way for the minority party to have any participation in the legislating process: blocking amendments on a bipartisan bill. Reid’s well-established role in perpetuating congressional gridlock is easy enough to disregard for partisans fully committed to their own blissful ignorance.

Enter Thomas Mann. On Monday he published a long piece at the Atlantic in which he continued pushing his long-debunked thesis. Unfortunately for Mann, today we received yet another indication–this time from President Obama himself–that the talks shows that ignored Mann and Ornstein were doing their viewers a favor. This time the subject was immigration reform.

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In 2012, When Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein published their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, primarily blaming Republicans for congressional gridlock, they began a campaign of writing op-eds laying out their thesis in various political publications. The two complained, however, that none of the political talk shows wanted to have them on to sell the book. As they told the Washington Post:

“Not a single one of the Sunday shows has indicated an interest, and I do find it curious,” Ornstein told me, adding that the Op ed (sic) had well over 200,000 Facebook recommends and has been viral for weeks. “This is a level of attention for a book that we haven’t received before. You would think it would attract some attention from the Sunday shows.’

Over 200,00 Facebook recommendations and still no takers on the Sunday shows! But in fact it wasn’t so strange. The thesis they laid out in column after column was just plain wrong, and unambiguously so. It might have sold books and fooled the occasional liberal commentator, but those who worked in Washington had at least a basic knowledge of congressional politics, which was all that was needed to know Mann and Ornstein were peddling nonsense on stilts.

In the last couple of weeks, we got additional reminders of that. First came the revelation that Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, after having effectively dismantled the filibuster, was removing yet one more way for the minority party to have any participation in the legislating process: blocking amendments on a bipartisan bill. Reid’s well-established role in perpetuating congressional gridlock is easy enough to disregard for partisans fully committed to their own blissful ignorance.

Enter Thomas Mann. On Monday he published a long piece at the Atlantic in which he continued pushing his long-debunked thesis. Unfortunately for Mann, today we received yet another indication–this time from President Obama himself–that the talks shows that ignored Mann and Ornstein were doing their viewers a favor. This time the subject was immigration reform.

Today’s edition of the New York Times reports that President Obama “has directed the secretary of Homeland Security to delay until after the summer a deportation enforcement review that officials feared would anger House Republicans and doom any lingering hopes for an immigration overhaul in Congress this year, officials said Tuesday night.” The president was contemplating, once again, taking executive action that would preempt Congress on immigration.

Obama’s habit of using executive action has consistently undermined congressional lawmaking authority–the kind of thing that those who are truly concerned about a “broken Congress” would be up in arms about. Those obsessed with blaming Republicans for everything, however, have forgiven such action because they have chosen sides in a partisan battle. (Which is certainly their right, of course.) Obama did this once before: heading into his reelection, he torpedoed Marco Rubio’s bipartisan immigration reform with executive action to keep the issue alive for his party’s base.

And all indications were that he would do so again. His congressional allies such as Chuck Schumer were openly threatening Republicans that if they didn’t pass a bill the White House liked within a defined period, the president would take executive action again. Having killed immigration reform twice now (once as senator, to the chagrin of Ted Kennedy, and once as president), Obama seems hesitant to do so yet again.

But more than that, he’s also making clear that he understands that such executive action–and the threats that come with it, even implicit ones like the deportation review–only serve to further grind Congress to a halt and impede the business of legislating public policy. And so he’s backing off this time.

This argument may sound like it goes around in circles, but actually Mann’s latest contribution is quite revealing. While President Obama thinks the solution to partisan deadlock is to stop impeding bipartisan legislation and enable the two sides the space to find common ground–which they’ve already done on this issue–Mann thinks the solution is:

Perhaps more promising are approaches that focus directly on the parties as they exist within our constitutional system. One-party government seems an essential first step, one that can sustain itself in office long enough to put in place and begin to implement a credible governing program. The second is nudging the Republican Party back into being a genuinely conservative, not radical, party that aspires to win presidential as well as congressional elections over the long haul. The third is dampening the intense and unrelenting competition for control of Congress and the White House, which is itself an historical anomaly.

That’s right–one-party rule, which he makes clear would be the Democrats. During the time when the Democratic Party can do whatever it wants with no accountable check on power save the high court, Republicans would be “nudged” to … become more like Democrats. That would be followed by the “dampening” of electoral competition.

Welcome to the brave new world of Thomas Mann, where a balance of power is replaced by hundreds of immensely powerful lawmakers who agree with him. Maybe if he phrases it that way he’ll get those TV invitations he’s been waiting for.

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Dems Won’t Be Saved Again by the Tea Party

Yesterday’s primary results in Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon, and Idaho confirmed what has already become an obvious trend this year. Tea Party-backed candidates would not sweep to victory in Republican primary fights across the nation as they largely did in 2010 and 2012. That was good news for the so-called GOP establishment as well as for incumbents like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who crushed his Tea Party challenger in a Kentucky landslide. But it is even worse news for President Obama and the Democrats. Republicans blew golden opportunities to take winnable Senate seats from vulnerable Democratic incumbents in both the last two federal elections.

The results in Kentucky as well as in Oregon where the GOP nominated its strongest possible candidate in Dr. Monica Wehby and even in Georgia, where two mainstream candidates will face off in runoff, doesn’t mean that the Republicans are a lock to get to 51 Senate seats. McConnell is in for the fight of his life with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Wehby faces a tough incumbent in Jeff Merkley, and whoever wins the GOP nod in Georgia will not have an easy time beating Democrat Michelle Nunn. But if Harry Reid does hang on as majority leader it won’t be because the GOP was saddled with the kind of outlier candidates like the one that was largely responsible for reelecting the Nevada senator.

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Yesterday’s primary results in Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon, and Idaho confirmed what has already become an obvious trend this year. Tea Party-backed candidates would not sweep to victory in Republican primary fights across the nation as they largely did in 2010 and 2012. That was good news for the so-called GOP establishment as well as for incumbents like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who crushed his Tea Party challenger in a Kentucky landslide. But it is even worse news for President Obama and the Democrats. Republicans blew golden opportunities to take winnable Senate seats from vulnerable Democratic incumbents in both the last two federal elections.

The results in Kentucky as well as in Oregon where the GOP nominated its strongest possible candidate in Dr. Monica Wehby and even in Georgia, where two mainstream candidates will face off in runoff, doesn’t mean that the Republicans are a lock to get to 51 Senate seats. McConnell is in for the fight of his life with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Wehby faces a tough incumbent in Jeff Merkley, and whoever wins the GOP nod in Georgia will not have an easy time beating Democrat Michelle Nunn. But if Harry Reid does hang on as majority leader it won’t be because the GOP was saddled with the kind of outlier candidates like the one that was largely responsible for reelecting the Nevada senator.

It bears repeating that those in the media who are treating this as an ideological shift in which moderates have triumphed over conservatives are mistaken. Though individual groups that claimed the Tea Party banner have attempted to transform a broad grassroots movement into something with a specific address and card-carrying members (while liberals have falsely imagined it to be the function of a few large conservative donors like the Koch brothers pulling the puppet strings of political operatives), the Tea Party movement was always something far more amorphous. It began as an inchoate push across the board from conservatives who were angry about the betrayal of what they felt were the party’s principles from big government Republicans in Congress as well as about the Obama administration’s billion-dollar stimulus boondoggle and ObamaCare.

In its first bloom in 2010 and to a lesser degree in 2012 that rise led to the nomination of people like Nevada’s Sharron Angle and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, who had no business getting major party nods. That happened because of the perception that their opponents were somehow part of the permanent governing class that had no compunction about increasing the debt in order to keep funding a government with no limits. But what has happened in recent years is that virtually the entire Republican Party has embraced Tea Party ideology when it comes to the big issues of taxing and spending. While the liberal mainstream media has always labeled Tea Partiers as being a bunch of wild-eyed extremists who were liable to be racists as well as at war with the federal government, the reality is that most of the voters and candidates who identify with the term are simply conservatives who are tired of business as usual Republicans.

What happened on Tuesday is not a situation where mainstream Republicans bested Tea Partiers and beat them on the issues. Rather, it was that voters were faced with candidates that largely shared the same views but understandably preferred more electable Republicans to those who were unlikely to prevail in November.

Indeed, this ideological shift is noticeable even among the Democrats who are being nominated to oppose these conservatives. Candidates like Grimes and Nunn are doing everything to distance themselves from President Obama and seeking to appeal to mainstream voters. While Democrats in blue states are veering to the left, those in the rest of the country understand that they must come across as being comfortable with the basic conservatism of most Americans. That’s good politics, and if the GOP lets them get away with obscuring their dedication to failed liberal policies, the Democrats will prevail.

But after years of the media echo chamber flaying the Republicans for being in thrall to extremists, GOP primary voters have taken that issue off the table. Without it, Democrats will be hard-pressed to hold the Senate.

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Sorry Harry, ObamaCare Debate Isn’t Over

Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor of the Senate yesterday to gloat about the fact that he hasn’t been hearing as much Republican rhetoric about ObamaCare in recent weeks. Parsing some partially favorable poll figures and attempting to connect the dots between those figures and President Obama’s touchdown dance over enrollment in the Affordable Care Act, the Democrat concluded that the GOP is in full retreat on the issue. In doing so, Reid spoke for many fellow liberals who think the long debate about the law is over or are least praying that it is. With, according to some sources, Democratic chances of retaining the Senate improving, the president’s party seems to think the crisis over ObamaCare has passed.

But before they start celebrating too loudly, Reid and the rest of the president’s cheering section in the Congress and the media should think again. Though the administration has managed to convince many in the press that the enrollment figures are synonymous with voter satisfaction with the scheme, there’s little reason to believe that public sentiment on the law has changed much. The current lull in the health-care debate should not be seen as a temporary cease-fire after months of furious discussion as both parties prepare for the midterms. If Reid thinks his endangered red state incumbent colleagues will be doing much campaigning about how proud they are of the law or that their opponents will not be attempting to saddle the Democrats with responsibility for it, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell him. Moreover, as Reid and Obama ought to know, no matter how much impact health care has on the outcome in November, the fact that most of the onerous regulations and mandates of ObamaCare will only go into effect next year virtually guarantees that the arguments will not only continue but will probably increase in virulence in 2015.

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Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor of the Senate yesterday to gloat about the fact that he hasn’t been hearing as much Republican rhetoric about ObamaCare in recent weeks. Parsing some partially favorable poll figures and attempting to connect the dots between those figures and President Obama’s touchdown dance over enrollment in the Affordable Care Act, the Democrat concluded that the GOP is in full retreat on the issue. In doing so, Reid spoke for many fellow liberals who think the long debate about the law is over or are least praying that it is. With, according to some sources, Democratic chances of retaining the Senate improving, the president’s party seems to think the crisis over ObamaCare has passed.

But before they start celebrating too loudly, Reid and the rest of the president’s cheering section in the Congress and the media should think again. Though the administration has managed to convince many in the press that the enrollment figures are synonymous with voter satisfaction with the scheme, there’s little reason to believe that public sentiment on the law has changed much. The current lull in the health-care debate should not be seen as a temporary cease-fire after months of furious discussion as both parties prepare for the midterms. If Reid thinks his endangered red state incumbent colleagues will be doing much campaigning about how proud they are of the law or that their opponents will not be attempting to saddle the Democrats with responsibility for it, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell him. Moreover, as Reid and Obama ought to know, no matter how much impact health care has on the outcome in November, the fact that most of the onerous regulations and mandates of ObamaCare will only go into effect next year virtually guarantees that the arguments will not only continue but will probably increase in virulence in 2015.

Reid says that he’s always been puzzled about how it is that polls have always showed that a majority of Americans disapprove of ObamaCare but are wary of scrapping it. He interprets these results as most waiting to see if it will succeed or fail. But as is the case with the attempt to assert that the numbers of those enrolled prove its success, this effort falls flat. That’s because a large number of those who are now relying on ObamaCare are also unhappy about losing their previous coverage and perhaps their doctors. They also don’t like the lack of choices available to them and are now paying more for services they never asked for or needed.

It’s clear that many of those who are now part of the scheme were not previously uninsured. While a minority of Americans are benefitting from the law, most have not yet been personally affected by the way it will transform the health-care system. Many are aware of the potential change that will occur in the next year and that has fueled anxiety about the law. Though, as Byron York noted in the Washington Examiner earlier this week, up until now most of those who have run up against ObamaCare haven’t liked it, that not insignificant number may increase exponentially in 2015.

Thus while a non-stop barrage of anti-ObamaCare efforts probably doesn’t make sense this far out from November, Democrats should expect Republicans to double down on their previous attacks as the midterms approach. Given the trouble the law has already caused, the coming dislocations will not be accepted passively by either the public or the president’s opposition. With so much of the law’s provisions yet to be implemented because of postponements designed to increase the Democrats’ chances of winning this year, the debate over ObamaCare is not only not finished, it has only just begun. 

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Dems’ Plan to Counter Criticism: Outlaw It

A common pattern in American political discourse is for conservatives to accuse liberals of some statist extremism, liberals to insist the complaint has no merit whatsoever, and then when it’s clear conservatives are on to something liberals lament, more in sorrow than in anger, that conservatives had a point but took it way too far. How vindicated conservatives then feel if information comes to light to back up their warnings about the slippery slope of state power.

The evolution of the Democrats’ deranged attacks on the Koch brothers and political participation in general has followed precisely this pattern. The trickle of mentions of the Kochs turned into a flood, as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid became thoroughly incapable of discussing any topic–campaign finance, Ukraine, the minimum wage–without calling out the libertarian philanthropists. He called their participation in the political process “un-American” in an ever-escalating crusade to declare them former people and seek to pressure the judiciary into permitting limitations on free speech rights.

Conservatives warned that high-profile Democrats’ hostility to the First Amendment was liable to result in the curbing of Americans’ constitutional rights. Liberals scoffed. Yet now, the Hill reports, Democrats–who haven’t exactly been models of subtlety, but who at least permitted liberals some plausible deniability–are through beating around the bush. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has announced his party’s newest midterm election strategy: amend the Constitution to rein in its free speech protections. From the Hill:

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A common pattern in American political discourse is for conservatives to accuse liberals of some statist extremism, liberals to insist the complaint has no merit whatsoever, and then when it’s clear conservatives are on to something liberals lament, more in sorrow than in anger, that conservatives had a point but took it way too far. How vindicated conservatives then feel if information comes to light to back up their warnings about the slippery slope of state power.

The evolution of the Democrats’ deranged attacks on the Koch brothers and political participation in general has followed precisely this pattern. The trickle of mentions of the Kochs turned into a flood, as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid became thoroughly incapable of discussing any topic–campaign finance, Ukraine, the minimum wage–without calling out the libertarian philanthropists. He called their participation in the political process “un-American” in an ever-escalating crusade to declare them former people and seek to pressure the judiciary into permitting limitations on free speech rights.

Conservatives warned that high-profile Democrats’ hostility to the First Amendment was liable to result in the curbing of Americans’ constitutional rights. Liberals scoffed. Yet now, the Hill reports, Democrats–who haven’t exactly been models of subtlety, but who at least permitted liberals some plausible deniability–are through beating around the bush. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has announced his party’s newest midterm election strategy: amend the Constitution to rein in its free speech protections. From the Hill:

Democratic leaders on Wednesday unveiled a plan to vote on a constitutional amendment “very soon” to overturn the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, which have empowered wealthy donors such as Charles and David Koch.

The amendment has virtually no chance of passing this year because it must garner two-thirds support from both chambers of Congress and receive ratification from three-quarters of the states. Democrats believe it will help them preserve their Senate majority, however.

Campaign finance reform traditionally rates low on voters’ lists of concerns, but Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist, believes a battle over a constitutional amendment will bolster their populist economic message.

“The constitutional amendment we know requires two-thirds, it’s a long hard road. But given the McCutcheon decision we have to begin it,” he said. “Most Americans don’t believe the system works in their favor. We are showing whose side you’re on.”

Now, of course the idea of amending the Constitution itself isn’t crazy, and Schumer should be commended for at least adhering to the process. But the First Amendment is rarely the target. Voters tend to be pretty fond of that one, though Democrats increasingly aren’t.

Campaign-finance restrictions of the sort Democrats favor are quite plainly incumbent protection plans. Democrats have been taking a beating lately in the polls, as public opinion has soured on their flailing agenda. So Schumer has proposed a solution: no need to change the policies to adhere to public opinion if you can just restrict the public’s ability to express that opinion.

A constitutional amendment to outlaw criticism is a bit heavyhanded even for someone like Schumer. But it has the effect of confirming, from the mouths of Democrats themselves, that yes, there is a slippery slope from criticizing the wealthy to explicitly targeting constitutional rights–and they intend to slide down it head-first.

Obviously the attempt will fail to get the votes; whatever their faults, it’s doubtful most of the Democrats running for reelection have completely lost their minds. Additionally, the Democrats have already sacrificed seats for The Cause, by voting for ObamaCare and then getting their clocks cleaned in the following midterms. I’m not sure how many times the White House and Democratic congressional leadership can hope to get their party to vote for abusive federal power grabs that are openly hostile to public opinion and individual rights.

The point, according to Schumer and Co., is really about messaging anyway. The message is this: they have to take away your rights in order to take away the Kochs’ rights. Democrats are keen on fairness, and it’s only fair to legally bar everyone from certain constitutionally protected political activism in order to weaken Democrats’ opponents. It’s possible this sounded less crazy in Schumer’s head before he announced it, but either way he seems pretty committed to it now, a fact which I imagine delights Republican candidates across the country.

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The Fierce Urgency of After the Midterms

The apocalyptic rhetoric from environmental groups has always put them in the spotlight, which can be a blessing and a curse: it helps their funding, though their dire predictions and alarmist proclamations are tested. But surely even worse for the greens’ prophetic pretensions than having to revise their forecasts of doom is their wavering sense of urgency when political expediency demands it.

And so while environmentalists make no secret of their fervent opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline extension, they’re also revealing that they are following the familiar trajectory of left-leaning interest groups by starting out as principled issue activists and becoming yet another Democratic Party adjunct. As the Hill reported yesterday:

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The apocalyptic rhetoric from environmental groups has always put them in the spotlight, which can be a blessing and a curse: it helps their funding, though their dire predictions and alarmist proclamations are tested. But surely even worse for the greens’ prophetic pretensions than having to revise their forecasts of doom is their wavering sense of urgency when political expediency demands it.

And so while environmentalists make no secret of their fervent opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline extension, they’re also revealing that they are following the familiar trajectory of left-leaning interest groups by starting out as principled issue activists and becoming yet another Democratic Party adjunct. As the Hill reported yesterday:

Centrist Democrats who support construction of the Keystone XL pipeline might not get the cold shoulder from green groups this fall. 

Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who’s challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), was the latest to buck her party’s leaders when she announced this week she supports construction of the pipeline. 

Democrats from conservative states have joined with Republicans in supporting Keystone XL, which they argue would create jobs and improve the country’s energy independence. In addition to Grimes, at least seven other Senate Democratic incumbents or candidates have supported its construction so far. 

But even though green groups have fought tooth and nail to block the oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. over environmental concerns, they aren’t making the issue into a litmus test for Democratic candidates they consider supporting.

Instead, organizations with environmental priorities are weighing Keystone along with other top environmental issues when deciding who to throw their weight behind.

They’ve spent a tremendous amount of effort on treating Keystone as a cause worth fighting for. And the fight has been good for their bottom line. As the New York Times reported back in January, “no one disputes that the issue has helped a new breed of environmental organizations build a mostly young army eager to donate money and time.” So why wouldn’t they live up to the hype and make this a litmus test issue?

Here’s the justification from the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, as reported by the Hill: “The action fund has made the strategic conclusion in this cycle to focus on climate change, and, specifically, the president’s climate plan.” So Keystone just isn’t much of a “climate change” issue then? On the contrary, says … the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Building the 875-mile northern segment of Keystone XL would lead to a dramatic increase in the carbon pollution that worsens the effects of climate change. Hence, construction of the pipeline fails the all-important carbon test the president laid out in his June 2013 climate address to the nation, when he said Keystone XL’s permit would be approved only if the pipeline “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

The dissembling makes it pretty clear just how the environmentalists choose their “litmus tests.” Another clue comes from the indications that President Obama has delayed a decision on Keystone in order to kill the pipeline deal after the midterm elections. That flies in the face of the science on Keystone, which effectively rebuts the greens’ anticommerce propaganda. But it is perfectly synchronous with the demands of Tom Steyer, the billionaire writing large checks to finance Democratic campaigns, especially those who fight Keystone.

Why wouldn’t Steyer demand–since he can, apparently–that the pipeline project get its rejection notice immediately, if it’s truly the right thing to do? Because while that would follow the professed principles of Steyer and others in the environmentalist far-left, it would also make life tougher for embattled Democrats in non-loony states who don’t want to oppose the commonsense job creator Keystone represents. This way, they can run in support of Keystone without suffering any consequences.

Now, you might say, that doesn’t sound quite so principled. Enabling Democrats to run in support of Keystone while plowing money into attacking Republicans because they also support Keystone would appear to elevate partisanship over principle. And aside from Steyer’s business interests, he appears to be mulling a political career of his own, possibly as a candidate for California governor. Initially, he seemed willing to attack Democrats who supported Keystone; as the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel noted, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu was, at first, on the list:

Mr. Steyer then spent some quality time with senior Democrats, who presumably explained that the establishment would not look kindly on a would-be governor who blew their control of the Senate. Ms. Landrieu came off the list, and Mr. Steyer has downgraded his criteria for playing in races to whether “something important” is at stake.

Despite the unhinged rhetoric from high-profile Democrats–for example, Harry Reid calling conservative political activism “un-American”–Steyer and the greens are perfectly entitled to participate in the electoral process. It’s just helpful to know that it’s about power and electing Democrats, not the Earth hanging in the balance.

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Closing the Coverage Gap on Harry Reid

Both professional and college sports fans have dealt with the “East Coast bias,” the way the location of major media outlets and the time zone difference across the country impact the attention paid to games. (What, you don’t want to burn the midnight oil to catch every moment of the early-season showdown between Gonzaga and Pepperdine?) The political version of this usually pits the “Acela corridor” against the “real America,” which has more to do with content bias. But as any media consumer can attest, there is a coverage gap as well.

Could that account for absurdly underreported whiff of scandal persistently swirling around Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? Whatever the reason, the press has certainly abdicated its basic responsibilities when it comes to Reid. There are, of course, exceptions, the superb Jon Ralston chief among them. And now RealClearPolitics’ Adam O’Neal has made a splash with the first installment of a two-part series on Reid, the first titled “Harry Reid’s Long, Steady Accretion of Power & Wealth.”

Those who have watched Reid’s career closely, O’Neal reports, “say that his political and economic ascendance has made him increasingly willing to use his power (and apparent electoral resilience) in ways that appear unsavory or nepotistic.” Recent revelations about Reid using his political campaign to his granddaughter’s financial benefit are perhaps a sign that in the current media landscape such activities are more difficult to hide and, according to one Reid watcher paraphrased by O’Neal, “not a product of him changing his style.”

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Both professional and college sports fans have dealt with the “East Coast bias,” the way the location of major media outlets and the time zone difference across the country impact the attention paid to games. (What, you don’t want to burn the midnight oil to catch every moment of the early-season showdown between Gonzaga and Pepperdine?) The political version of this usually pits the “Acela corridor” against the “real America,” which has more to do with content bias. But as any media consumer can attest, there is a coverage gap as well.

Could that account for absurdly underreported whiff of scandal persistently swirling around Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? Whatever the reason, the press has certainly abdicated its basic responsibilities when it comes to Reid. There are, of course, exceptions, the superb Jon Ralston chief among them. And now RealClearPolitics’ Adam O’Neal has made a splash with the first installment of a two-part series on Reid, the first titled “Harry Reid’s Long, Steady Accretion of Power & Wealth.”

Those who have watched Reid’s career closely, O’Neal reports, “say that his political and economic ascendance has made him increasingly willing to use his power (and apparent electoral resilience) in ways that appear unsavory or nepotistic.” Recent revelations about Reid using his political campaign to his granddaughter’s financial benefit are perhaps a sign that in the current media landscape such activities are more difficult to hide and, according to one Reid watcher paraphrased by O’Neal, “not a product of him changing his style.”

In other words, the more you look the more you’ll find with regard to Reid’s ethics experiments. O’Neal did just that, wondering in part how Reid became so fabulously wealthy on a politician’s salary:

Theoretically, working as a lawmaker should have severely limited Reid’s earning potential. In the early 1980s, members of Congress received a salary of about $70,000 per year. Though pay has generally risen — and Reid receives more than most lawmakers because of his leadership position — he has never earned more than $200,000 per year in salary.

Yet, his estimated net worth peaked at around $10 million just a few years ago, and he has remained consistently wealthier than when he entered Congress.

Perhaps Reid’s mysterious wealth has attracted more attention since most of his time on the Senate floor is spent denouncing private citizens who have made more money than he has while his party outlines various strategies to confiscate that wealth. Presumably Reid believes that if he were more forthright about his assets, Democrats would instinctively move to confiscate them.

Whatever the reason, here is some of what O’Neal has put together:

In 1998, Reid invested $400,000 in an undeveloped residential property located on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Reid’s partner in the deal was attorney Jay Brown, whom Ralston describes as a “master manipulator.” Reid transferred his share of the property to a company Brown controlled in 2001. By transferring the land to Brown’s firm, Reid avoided legal liability and some taxes. But Reid didn’t note the transfer — or that he had any stake in the company — in his financial disclosure forms, despite rules requiring such transfers to be reported. By 2004, Brown’s company sold the land, which had been rezoned for a shopping center, and Reid received $1.1 million. He reported the sale as if he had always had control of the property.

When the Associated Press asked Reid about the deal during a 2006 interview, he hung up on the reporter. A spokesman later said that “there were several legal steps associated with the investment during those years that did not alter Senator Reid’s actual ownership interest in the land.” However, there was no physical proof that Reid had any stake in Brown’s company. The story may have caused Reid public embarrassment — he amended his ethics reports to include the full history of the property — but he walked away from the deal some $700,000 richer.

That isn’t the only problematic land deal Reid was involved with at the time. In 2002, he put $10,000 into a pension fund controlled by another friend, Clair Haycock. The payment gave Reid a sizable parcel of land in Bullhead City, Ariz. According to the Los Angeles Times, Reid purchased the land for one-tenth of its estimated value (and one-fortieth of what it had sold for a decade earlier). Two actions created suspicion afterward. First, Reid sponsored an $18 million earmark for a bridge that would connect Laughlin, Nev., and Bullhead City. This bridge would likely increase property values in the area. Reid also introduced legislation that would benefit Haycock’s lubricant company. Reid aides denied that his support for the earmark or lubricant dealer bill was related to the land purchase. By 2011, Reid’s initial $10,000 investment was valued at between $250,000 and $500,000. The property did not appear in his 2012 disclosure. 

While some of Reid’s most lucrative deals involved land, he also benefited from investments in stocks. Near the end of the 2005, he invested between $50,000 and $100,000 in the Dow Jones U.S. Energy Sector Fund, which held shares in several major oil companies. According to National Review, the fund closed at $29.15 on the day Reid purchased. Nearly three years later, in August 2008, Reid sold some of his shares, which closed that day at $41.82. Two months later, Reid-supported legislation that would cost oil companies billions in taxes and regulatory fees passed. The Energy Sector Fund’s shares plummeted to $24.41 each. 

There’s more, believe it or not, so read the whole thing. Reid’s career is an abject lesson in the need for transparency and accountability in government. The tools available to an elected official for self-enrichment are numerous and some politicians will avail themselves of them if they think no one’s watching. It’s good to see that dedicated lack of attention is no longer the case with Reid, whose questionable behavior should have been an open invitation long ago for the media to do its job.

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The Left’s Intellectual and Moral Corruption

Back in January 2009, at the dawn of the Age of Obama, I made four predictions, the first of which was this 

while Obama is riding high, race relations will be excellent. But once Obama goes down in the polls and he does things that elicit criticism, be prepared for the “race card” to be played. If it is, then race relations could be set back, because the charges will be so transparently false. If race was used by Obamacons against Bill Clinton, it will certainly be used against Republicans.

And so it has. Consider just the past few weeks. Representative Steve Israel, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was asked by CNN’s Candy Crowley, “Do you think your Republican colleagues are racists?” To which Israel replied, “Not all of them, no. Of course not. But to a significant extent, the Republican base does have elements that are animated by racism.”

When Representative Paul Ryan made the perfectly obvious observation that there’s a real culture problem plaguing America’s inner cities, Representative Barbara Lee issued a statement saying, “My colleague, Congressman Ryan’s comments about inner city poverty are thinly-veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated.”

Last week House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi blamed race issues for the GOP’s failure to act on comprehensive immigration legislation. “I think race has something to do with the fact that they’re not bringing up an immigration bill,” she told reporters at her regular weekly press conference.

On and on it goes, to the point that the charge has been used so promiscuously and indiscriminately used that it is virtually meaningless. It tells you something about the modern left’s desperation that they invoke the racism charge so recklessly. It also provides us with a glimpse into the deep intellectual and moral corruption that has occurred. Many progressives seem to thrive on ad hominem attacks; it is the first response they reach for.

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Back in January 2009, at the dawn of the Age of Obama, I made four predictions, the first of which was this 

while Obama is riding high, race relations will be excellent. But once Obama goes down in the polls and he does things that elicit criticism, be prepared for the “race card” to be played. If it is, then race relations could be set back, because the charges will be so transparently false. If race was used by Obamacons against Bill Clinton, it will certainly be used against Republicans.

And so it has. Consider just the past few weeks. Representative Steve Israel, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was asked by CNN’s Candy Crowley, “Do you think your Republican colleagues are racists?” To which Israel replied, “Not all of them, no. Of course not. But to a significant extent, the Republican base does have elements that are animated by racism.”

When Representative Paul Ryan made the perfectly obvious observation that there’s a real culture problem plaguing America’s inner cities, Representative Barbara Lee issued a statement saying, “My colleague, Congressman Ryan’s comments about inner city poverty are thinly-veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated.”

Last week House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi blamed race issues for the GOP’s failure to act on comprehensive immigration legislation. “I think race has something to do with the fact that they’re not bringing up an immigration bill,” she told reporters at her regular weekly press conference.

On and on it goes, to the point that the charge has been used so promiscuously and indiscriminately used that it is virtually meaningless. It tells you something about the modern left’s desperation that they invoke the racism charge so recklessly. It also provides us with a glimpse into the deep intellectual and moral corruption that has occurred. Many progressives seem to thrive on ad hominem attacks; it is the first response they reach for.

We saw it with the forced resignation of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich because a half-dozen years ago he supported an effort by California citizens to prevent the redefinition of traditional marriage, thereby making him (in the eyes of some on the left) a bigot. We’ve seen it as well with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid repeatedly attacking the Koch brothers for being “un-American” and accusing Mitt Romney of not paying income taxes; with allies of President Obama accusing Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign of being responsible for the cancer-related death of a steel worker’s wife; with Vice President Biden saying Republicans want to put African-Americans “back in chains;” and with Mr. Obama accusing Republicans of being “social Darwinists,” of putting their party ahead of their country, of wanting dirty air and dirty water, and of wanting autistic and Down syndrome children to “fend for themselves.”

I have no idea whether those making these charges are being incredibly cynical or whether they’ve actually convinced themselves that those with whom they disagree, simply because they disagree, must be malignant. Whatever the explanation, the eagerness for any political movement, whatever its philosophy, to demonize rather than engage in an honest debate has an acidic effect on our civic and political culture. To be sure, no political party, and neither the left nor the right, have a monopoly on virtue. (It would help if more people were willing to call out those on their own side when lines of decency and propriety have been crossed.) In addition, politics has been a contact sport since our founding. (For more, see the brutal election of 1800 between Jefferson and Adams.) Still, we can do better, much better than we are; and for the sake of our country, we really should. 

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Demonizing SCOTUS: The OCare Precedent

When Chief Justice John Roberts rewrote ObamaCare from the bench in order to save it, most of the ramifications were immediately apparent. But there was one aspect of the stunt that as a member of the Supreme Court Roberts should have been sensitive to: precedent. Having caved to a public intimidation campaign from the president and his congressional allies (as well as the media) Roberts signaled that the way to get a conservative justice to discard his better judgment and rule against constitutional law was to impugn the court’s reputation in the public square.

Be mean to John Roberts and his friends, in other words, and you can have your welfare state for all he cares. This was among the most damaging effects of Roberts’s call back in 2012. And unsurprisingly, Democrats have learned their lesson. I wrote at the time that within days of the decision the media had gone back to bashing Roberts and the high court’s poll numbers had dropped. But Democrats had a found a well they were certain to return to in times of desperation. And as the Hill reports today, that time has come:

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When Chief Justice John Roberts rewrote ObamaCare from the bench in order to save it, most of the ramifications were immediately apparent. But there was one aspect of the stunt that as a member of the Supreme Court Roberts should have been sensitive to: precedent. Having caved to a public intimidation campaign from the president and his congressional allies (as well as the media) Roberts signaled that the way to get a conservative justice to discard his better judgment and rule against constitutional law was to impugn the court’s reputation in the public square.

Be mean to John Roberts and his friends, in other words, and you can have your welfare state for all he cares. This was among the most damaging effects of Roberts’s call back in 2012. And unsurprisingly, Democrats have learned their lesson. I wrote at the time that within days of the decision the media had gone back to bashing Roberts and the high court’s poll numbers had dropped. But Democrats had a found a well they were certain to return to in times of desperation. And as the Hill reports today, that time has come:

Senate Democrats and liberal groups are mounting a pressure campaign against the Supreme Court, hoping to influence future decisions by blasting conservative justices for alleged political bias.

The effort from the left also portrays the high court as an instrument rigged to help the wealthy, and is intended to energize Democratic voters and increase turnout in the midterm elections.

Some legal experts see the effort as akin to basketball or soccer players “working the ref” in a high-stakes game.

Critics say Democratic leaders used a similar strategy in 2010, when they piled on the court for striking down the ban on political spending by corporations in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Some court watchers speculated that Chief Justice John Roberts felt chastened by the angry reaction and sought to avoid another uproar, when he crafted the majority decision in 2012 that largely upheld ObamaCare.

“The left clearly tried to work the refs on the Affordable Care Act,” said Randy Barnett, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. “They worked the refs after Citizens United, which helped set things up for the Affordable Care Act challenge. If it seems to work, why not continue? It’s unfortunate, I think, that they’ve been encouraged in this behavior by its apparent success.”

And it’s not just a public disinformation campaign:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) plan to hold hearings on the court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission striking down aggregate limits on campaign donations. …

Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) panned it for granting greater influence to wealthy donors, such as Charles and David Koch, the wealthy conservative donors, whom he again slammed on the Senate floor Monday.

Of course Reid would find a way to turn a complaint about the court into another tool in his quest to turn libertarian activists into former people. In one sense, this is irrational, because it has no intellectual merit and should be beneath the leaders of the world’s greatest deliberative body. But in another sense, it’s completely rational: people respond to incentives, and in his ObamaCare ruling Roberts incentivized demonizing–that’s the Hill’s word–the Supreme Court.

The story notes that chief among the left’s worries is the upcoming ruling on the ObamaCare contraception mandate. And on that note, the best line in the story has to be this: “Democrats say the present-day court lacks the experience to understand the corrupting influence of money in politics, because none of its members have held publicly elected office.” Democrats just don’t believe that law abiding, upstanding men and women who have never been offered a bribe could ever really understand ObamaCare. And you’ve got to admit, they have a point, don’t they?

We may or may not find out if the pressure campaign works. After all, a decision on the case may not be a result of the intimidation tactics, either as a concession to them or as an act of defiance against them. It may be just another ruling on the merits of the case. But that’s one of the consequences of the Democrats’ shenanigans: the idea that the court will rule on the merits of the case becomes only one of several possibilities. Roberts thought he was protecting the legitimacy of the court in his 2012 decision. It’s quite clear now that he has done precisely the opposite.

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Left Is Outraged Charles Koch Would Defend Himself

There are few things that seem to bother people more than hearing rich people complain. At times their complaints really are quite absurd: twice in the last few months a prominent billionaire has compared the plight of America’s wealthy to Nazi Germany’s victims. But that has also, unfortunately, led to a tendency on the part of the chattering classes to pretend that is what wealthy personalities always say, even when it plainly isn’t.

It’s some distant cousin of reductio ad Hitlerum. And it’s what happened when Charles Koch, chairman of Koch Industries, wrote an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal defending himself. The Kochs have been the subject of increasingly unhinged attacks from the left because they donate to libertarian political causes, and there are few things the left despises more than a robust defense of individual liberty in the age of Obama, whose nominating convention was treated to the creepy video proclaiming that “government is the only thing that we all belong to.”

But the very idea that a wealthy person would have the temerity to respond to public attacks on their reputation seems to take people by surprise. Hence, Koch’s Journal column includes the following paragraph:

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There are few things that seem to bother people more than hearing rich people complain. At times their complaints really are quite absurd: twice in the last few months a prominent billionaire has compared the plight of America’s wealthy to Nazi Germany’s victims. But that has also, unfortunately, led to a tendency on the part of the chattering classes to pretend that is what wealthy personalities always say, even when it plainly isn’t.

It’s some distant cousin of reductio ad Hitlerum. And it’s what happened when Charles Koch, chairman of Koch Industries, wrote an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal defending himself. The Kochs have been the subject of increasingly unhinged attacks from the left because they donate to libertarian political causes, and there are few things the left despises more than a robust defense of individual liberty in the age of Obama, whose nominating convention was treated to the creepy video proclaiming that “government is the only thing that we all belong to.”

But the very idea that a wealthy person would have the temerity to respond to public attacks on their reputation seems to take people by surprise. Hence, Koch’s Journal column includes the following paragraph:

Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.) This is the approach that Arthur Schopenhauer described in the 19th century, that Saul Alinsky famously advocated in the 20th, and that so many despots have infamously practiced. Such tactics are the antithesis of what is required for a free society—and a telltale sign that the collectivists do not have good answers.

Which led to this bizarre response from Dave Weigel, under the snarky headline “If You Criticize Wealthy Donors, You’re Basically Hitler”:

You know who else was a despot in the 20th century? The Charles Koch standard is problematic if you think (like I think) that campaign donations should be uncapped but totally disclosed. That, according to the donors (though not McCutcheon himself), leads to character assassination. Donors have a First Amendment right to give money, but their opponents flout that right when they criticize them. Why? That’s an excellent question.

That’s not what Koch said though. Apparently you don’t have to actually compare someone to Hitler to be accused of comparing someone to Hitler. You only have use the word “despot” and the phrase “20th century” in the same sentence. More importantly, when did Koch say his First Amendment rights are being flouted when people “criticize” him? That’s easy–he didn’t!

What Koch is talking about, and what Weigel surely knows, is that Koch is speaking up because he has been the target of constant attacks from the United States Senate majority leader from the chamber floor. Harry Reid actually worked an attack on the Kochs into his reaction to yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance, as he does for almost anything. Remember, he blamed the debate over aid to Ukraine on the Kochs too.

Even if the effort fails, part of the purpose of this is to find ways to limit political speech, legislatively if necessary. Though Koch doesn’t say it, this actually is a violation of First Amendment protections, which is why such challenges keep ending up in front of the Supreme Court. Additionally, naming and shaming conservative and libertarian donors has another purpose: as we saw recently, those who disagreed with the president were discriminated against by government agencies, including the IRS. They also had private information leaked to political opponents.

Does Weigel not think any of this is a problem? Of course he does–he wrote about it here. He’s less troubled by it than perhaps he should be, but that’s a matter of opinion, and anyway he didn’t ignore it.

Ironically, much of this makes Koch’s point for him. Why is it necessary for writers on the left to pretend Koch said something he didn’t? Because his actual argument is pretty unobjectionable. There seems to be this idea that the wealthy ought to be piñatas–silent as the staggering masses beat the stuffing out of them. Koch didn’t claim he’s deserving of anyone’s pity. But as a businessman whose reputation is being subject to repeated dishonest attacks by prominent politicians, it would be ridiculous for him–and irresponsible to his shareholders–not to defend himself in the public sphere.

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Kochs Shouldn’t Sink to Reid’s Level

I have made no secret of my disdain for Harry Reid’s continued unraveling. Reid’s practice of leveling false charges about other politicians and even private citizens–calling cancer patients liars, for example, because they have been hurt by ObamaCare–from the floor of the Senate is assuredly a new low for the upper chamber. And his demonization of his fellow citizens with whom he disagrees on policy as “un-American” for participating in the electoral process has shown him to be both a proper heir to the vengeful, debased politics of Ted Kennedy as well as a particularly odious opponent of the democratic process.

And so it is precisely because I find his loathsome attacks on the Koch brothers so contemptible that I think the Kochs’ attempt to hit back, however clever, misses the mark. It’s not that the Kochs shouldn’t hit back–they can handle this as they choose, and are certainly entitled to respond to Reid’s mindless demagoguery. But in the ad they apparently released today, they fight fire with fire, taking aim at Reid’s relationship with liberal billionaire donors. National Review’s Eliana Johnson has the video of the ad as well as a brief write-up on it, and it’s clear that the Kochs have decided two can play this game. It would be far preferable if neither did so:

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I have made no secret of my disdain for Harry Reid’s continued unraveling. Reid’s practice of leveling false charges about other politicians and even private citizens–calling cancer patients liars, for example, because they have been hurt by ObamaCare–from the floor of the Senate is assuredly a new low for the upper chamber. And his demonization of his fellow citizens with whom he disagrees on policy as “un-American” for participating in the electoral process has shown him to be both a proper heir to the vengeful, debased politics of Ted Kennedy as well as a particularly odious opponent of the democratic process.

And so it is precisely because I find his loathsome attacks on the Koch brothers so contemptible that I think the Kochs’ attempt to hit back, however clever, misses the mark. It’s not that the Kochs shouldn’t hit back–they can handle this as they choose, and are certainly entitled to respond to Reid’s mindless demagoguery. But in the ad they apparently released today, they fight fire with fire, taking aim at Reid’s relationship with liberal billionaire donors. National Review’s Eliana Johnson has the video of the ad as well as a brief write-up on it, and it’s clear that the Kochs have decided two can play this game. It would be far preferable if neither did so:

The ad, “Steyer Infection,” juxtaposes Harry Reid’s denunciation of the Koch brothers with a narrative about Reid’s relationship with billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and his brother Jim, who runs a ratings service for children’s products.

“This is about two very wealthy brothers who intend to buy their own Congress,” it shows Reid saying in a speech earlier this month on the Senate floor. “You see when you make billions of dollars a year, you can be I guess as immoral and dishonest as your money will allow you to be.”​

The narrator says, “Billionaires like Tom Steyer, who just hosted Reid and other Senate Democrats at his San Francisco mansion? Steyer has a history of ‘environmentally destructive business ventures.’ And he wants regulators to strangle energy opportunities here in America, even though he helped finance the second-largest coal company in Indonesia.”

Here’s the ad itself:

Again, it is rational to respond to allegations and to push back on Reid. There’s no question Reid’s a hypocrite, though that’s far from his worst quality. As Johnson’s report notes, the Kochs are apparently being targeted as “out-of-state billionaires” in ads funded in part by Michael Bloomberg–in other words, an out-of-state billionaire. And Reid’s unseemly brand of crony capitalism is certainly worth addressing.

But the Kochs’ ad doesn’t merely explain that Reid accepts support from prominent billionaires while slamming those who are supported by other, conservative billionaires. It turns into an attack ad on the Steyers. If the Kochs and Steyers take this game to its logical conclusion, the airwaves would be blanketed during election season by wealthy philanthropists attacking each other. No thank you.

Such a development would reinforce the notion–pushed by Reid, among others–that what is important in these statewide elections is not who is running for office but who is funding them. It actually embraces the stereotype of politicians as bought-and-paid-for agents of powerful moneyed interests. The Kochs presumably think this is a caricature–otherwise why take it so personally–but this would bring the caricature to life.

The national media’s lack of outrage, with rare notable exceptions, toward Reid’s McCarthyism is certainly dispiriting. The silver lining, I suppose, is that the next time the mainstream papers complain about a lack of civility in American politics the only appropriate response would be to laugh them out of the room. Indeed, the New York Times editorial board even gave its endorsement to this abuse of power. Apparently the problem with Joe McCarthy, in the Times’s estimation, was that he was simply working for the wrong political party.

Nonetheless, two wrongs don’t make a right. The ad attacking the Steyers attempts to prove Reid’s hypocrisy by applying Reid’s own floor speeches to the Steyers’ political and economic activity, implying the path of attack is fair game. Reid’s example is one that should not be followed. It would be quite troublesome if it instead became standard.

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The Odious Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough interviewed Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, asking him about the charge by Majority Leader Harry Reid that the conservative philanthropist David Koch is “un-American.” Scarborough asked Schumer whether he associated himself with Reid’s statement. 

Senator Schumer began his answer by ducking and weaving, shifting attention from Reid’s claim to Schumer’s disagreement with the Kochs’ preferred policies.

“But, senator, can’t we have a disagreement about how charity is funded without calling somebody un-American?” Scarborough countered. He continued to press Schumer to answer his question. “Do you think David Koch is un-American?”

Schumer finally said, “The commercials he runs are not part of the American mainstream. No two people [David Koch and his brother Charles] should have such a huge influence on our politics. That’s not First Amendment … I think the commercials he is running are against the American grain and un-American, yes …. I think what Harry Reid was saying was the actions are un-American. And they are, and they should change.”

I wonder if people quite appreciate how disgusting this all is. Here we have two Democratic senators labeling a private citizen as being “un-American” because that citizen is vocally advocating public policies they disagree with.

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MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough interviewed Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, asking him about the charge by Majority Leader Harry Reid that the conservative philanthropist David Koch is “un-American.” Scarborough asked Schumer whether he associated himself with Reid’s statement. 

Senator Schumer began his answer by ducking and weaving, shifting attention from Reid’s claim to Schumer’s disagreement with the Kochs’ preferred policies.

“But, senator, can’t we have a disagreement about how charity is funded without calling somebody un-American?” Scarborough countered. He continued to press Schumer to answer his question. “Do you think David Koch is un-American?”

Schumer finally said, “The commercials he runs are not part of the American mainstream. No two people [David Koch and his brother Charles] should have such a huge influence on our politics. That’s not First Amendment … I think the commercials he is running are against the American grain and un-American, yes …. I think what Harry Reid was saying was the actions are un-American. And they are, and they should change.”

I wonder if people quite appreciate how disgusting this all is. Here we have two Democratic senators labeling a private citizen as being “un-American” because that citizen is vocally advocating public policies they disagree with.

Can you imagine the media (and Hollywood) firestorm if Senator Ted Cruz went to the Senate floor and repeatedly accused, say, Jeffrey Katzenberg of being “un-American”–and Mike Lee echoed the charge?

It’s worth considering, too, the corrupting effect on language these charges have. If advocating cuts in record-high federal spending and running ads opposing the Affordable Care Act are deemed to be “un-American,” where exactly does this all end? Allowing powerful senators like Reid and Schumer to smear private citizens in this way further undermines our political and civic life. You might think members of the political class would speak out against such things. But you would be wrong (apart from honorable exceptions like Scarborough).

For the record, the definition of McCarthyism is “the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.” Speaking of which, here is what Edward R. Murrow said of Senator Joseph McCarthy:

His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind … We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men …

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities.

Senators Reid and Schumer, small and mean men, are trying to usher in a new age of unreason. This is no time for those who oppose them to keep silent. Because we cannot escape responsibility for the result.

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Class Warfare Has Its Limits

In his entertaining book on the societal impact of James Bond on Britain, Simon Winder describes the Depression-era part of Ian Fleming’s life as so elite and disproportionately privileged that it seemed less realistic than a Soviet satire of Western capitalism would be. “Fleming wandered through life as a sort of walking reproach to capitalism as a rational system based on competitive Darwinian struggle,” Winder writes. “In many cradles of European civilization it had been okay for at least a hundred and fifty years to carve up people like Fleming and set fire to their mansions as a legitimate form of central heating. Somehow in Britain they survived.”

The lack of sufficient desire to eat the rich earned Britain a stability that eventually played a key role in saving Western civilization. “And if this stability was bought at the price of a few thousand Ian Flemings then that was surely an acceptable price,” Winder writes, adding: “Nobody really wanted Buckingham Palace to become People’s Sausage Factory No. 1.”

We have no such tradition of carving up successful people in America, so the affluent in the U.S. generally have less reason to worry when the non-affluent start getting antsy. But it also means that when they warn of grave societal consequences of extreme class warfare they must reach for comparisons to a bygone era in European affairs, and that means they sound like they’ve taken leave of their senses. That’s happened a couple of times recently, and the latest is contained in today’s Politico story on the rich trying to mitigate the Democrats’ unhinged politics of resentment:

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In his entertaining book on the societal impact of James Bond on Britain, Simon Winder describes the Depression-era part of Ian Fleming’s life as so elite and disproportionately privileged that it seemed less realistic than a Soviet satire of Western capitalism would be. “Fleming wandered through life as a sort of walking reproach to capitalism as a rational system based on competitive Darwinian struggle,” Winder writes. “In many cradles of European civilization it had been okay for at least a hundred and fifty years to carve up people like Fleming and set fire to their mansions as a legitimate form of central heating. Somehow in Britain they survived.”

The lack of sufficient desire to eat the rich earned Britain a stability that eventually played a key role in saving Western civilization. “And if this stability was bought at the price of a few thousand Ian Flemings then that was surely an acceptable price,” Winder writes, adding: “Nobody really wanted Buckingham Palace to become People’s Sausage Factory No. 1.”

We have no such tradition of carving up successful people in America, so the affluent in the U.S. generally have less reason to worry when the non-affluent start getting antsy. But it also means that when they warn of grave societal consequences of extreme class warfare they must reach for comparisons to a bygone era in European affairs, and that means they sound like they’ve taken leave of their senses. That’s happened a couple of times recently, and the latest is contained in today’s Politico story on the rich trying to mitigate the Democrats’ unhinged politics of resentment:

In two-dozen interviews, the denizens of Wall Street and wealthy precincts around the nation said they are still plenty worried about the shift in tone toward top earners and the popularity of class-based appeals. On the right, the rise of populists including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz still makes wealthy donors eyeing 2016 uncomfortable. But wealthy Republicans — who were having a collective meltdown just two months ago — also say they see signs that the political zeitgeist may be shifting back their way and hope the trend continues.

“I hope it’s not working,” Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot and major GOP donor, said of populist political appeals. “Because if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”

There are a great many foolish and irresponsible populist politicians in America, but they are not Nazis and they are not looking to put Ken Langone and his friends in camps. The class warfare, waged mostly by Democrats, is quite harmful enough without possessing any Hitlerite parallels. And certainly the well-to-do will not help their public image by casting themselves as victims.

But if successful Americans have begun to see the tide of class war retreat a bit, as the Politico story claims, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that their accusers on the left must themselves resort to demented behavior to try to sufficiently rile up their base because in America, like in Fleming’s Britain, the people just generally do not feel like murdering their neighbors. And this rhetorical excess does plenty on its own to dull its effects, because Americans are also not lunatics, and so are less susceptible to some of the petty frauds trying to stir up hate on a massive scale in order to remain in power.

Like Harry Reid, for example. Pete has discussed Reid’s McCarthyite campaign to tar politically conservative activists as “un-American”–a very important milestone in the Obama-era left’s use of government to assault the lives and careers of Americans who dare exercise their right to participate in the political process. Reid’s latest bout of conspiracist paranoia was to blame the Koch brothers for the American government’s debate over aid to Ukraine.

And so I have no doubt that, as Politico writes, American business owners are working to defend themselves from the creepy behavior of the Harry Reid/Elizabeth Warren/Bill de Blasio Democrats in power. But I would also submit that such attacks have limited purchase in the United States. There were not enough Harry Reids in Ian Fleming’s Britain to turn Buckingham Palace into People’s Sausage Factory No. 1, and I have enough faith in Americans to believe there aren’t enough Harry Reids here to do the same to the Kochs’ philanthropic empire.

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At Least Joe McCarthy Wasn’t Senate Majority Leader

The other day I was highly critical of Republicans for not being more vocal in their criticisms of the repulsive comments by rock guitarist Ted Nugent. But at least some Republicans were willing to distance themselves from them. I rather doubt the same will be said of Democrats when it comes to what Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor yesterday, when he targeted conservative philanthropists David and Charles Koch.

“It’s too bad that they’re trying to buy America, and it’s time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers who are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine,” Reid said.

Harry Reid is probably not the person who should be preaching against dishonesty, given his smear of Mitt Romney in 2012 (see here and here). Just the other day Reid accused Americans who say they’ve been harmed by the Affordable Care Act of being liars. And let’s not forget that Reid insisted the surge in Iraq was failing long after it was clear it was succeeding, leading one to reasonably conclude that Reid was intentionally trying to undermine the chances of an American success in the Iraq war. So he’s a loathsome figure to be sure. But even by Mr. Reid’s standards, what he did yesterday was fairly extraordinary: A majority leader of the United States Senate falsely accused two private citizens of being “un-American.” (The definition of “un-American” seems to be opposing Harry Reid, as the indispensable Ed Morrissey has put it.)

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The other day I was highly critical of Republicans for not being more vocal in their criticisms of the repulsive comments by rock guitarist Ted Nugent. But at least some Republicans were willing to distance themselves from them. I rather doubt the same will be said of Democrats when it comes to what Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor yesterday, when he targeted conservative philanthropists David and Charles Koch.

“It’s too bad that they’re trying to buy America, and it’s time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers who are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine,” Reid said.

Harry Reid is probably not the person who should be preaching against dishonesty, given his smear of Mitt Romney in 2012 (see here and here). Just the other day Reid accused Americans who say they’ve been harmed by the Affordable Care Act of being liars. And let’s not forget that Reid insisted the surge in Iraq was failing long after it was clear it was succeeding, leading one to reasonably conclude that Reid was intentionally trying to undermine the chances of an American success in the Iraq war. So he’s a loathsome figure to be sure. But even by Mr. Reid’s standards, what he did yesterday was fairly extraordinary: A majority leader of the United States Senate falsely accused two private citizens of being “un-American.” (The definition of “un-American” seems to be opposing Harry Reid, as the indispensable Ed Morrissey has put it.)

I’ll be interested to see if the elite media devote a fraction of the coverage or demonstrate near the outrage at Mr. Reid as they did at Ted Nugent–and whether they press other Democrats to defend or distance themselves from Reid’s calumny. After all, Ted Nugent is a rock musician, not a U.S. senator. 

What Harry Reid said is slander of a high order. But at least Joe McCarthy wasn’t majority leader.

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On Free Trade, Was Obama Looking for a Way Out?

Last week, I wrote about a particular bind President Obama had gotten himself into over his expansion of executive authority. Because he had established such a robust record of flouting duly-passed legislation and usurping congressional authority, not even Democrats in Congress trusted him to follow the law. This wasn’t a problem on many issues, because the president and Democrats in Congress agree on so much and congressional Democrats made it clear they believe the ends always justify the means when it comes to progressive rule making.

But it would be a problem on trade, because there the president wanted what’s known as fast-track authority to negotiate a trade deal that Congress could not amend. Democrats are generally opposed to trade despite the broad consensus on its economic benefits, so they wouldn’t easily fork over their authority to the president. Despite Obama’s plea in the State of the Union for the trade authority, Harry Reid immediately confirmed that no, Democrats wouldn’t give Obama free rein on trade. But it’s unclear just how much of a rebuke to the president this really is.

News reports took the basic outlines of the story at face value: Obama wanted trade deals, Reid said no, so this is a blow to the president’s economic agenda. But it’s not so plain. Yesterday Politico reported that Reid went to the White House for a long meeting with the president–and trade didn’t even come up:

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Last week, I wrote about a particular bind President Obama had gotten himself into over his expansion of executive authority. Because he had established such a robust record of flouting duly-passed legislation and usurping congressional authority, not even Democrats in Congress trusted him to follow the law. This wasn’t a problem on many issues, because the president and Democrats in Congress agree on so much and congressional Democrats made it clear they believe the ends always justify the means when it comes to progressive rule making.

But it would be a problem on trade, because there the president wanted what’s known as fast-track authority to negotiate a trade deal that Congress could not amend. Democrats are generally opposed to trade despite the broad consensus on its economic benefits, so they wouldn’t easily fork over their authority to the president. Despite Obama’s plea in the State of the Union for the trade authority, Harry Reid immediately confirmed that no, Democrats wouldn’t give Obama free rein on trade. But it’s unclear just how much of a rebuke to the president this really is.

News reports took the basic outlines of the story at face value: Obama wanted trade deals, Reid said no, so this is a blow to the president’s economic agenda. But it’s not so plain. Yesterday Politico reported that Reid went to the White House for a long meeting with the president–and trade didn’t even come up:

The majority leader returned to the Capitol about 75 minutes after a scheduled 2:30 p.m. meeting with the president and told reporters his opposition to fast-tracking trade pacts through Congress was not broached during his huddle with Obama.

“We’re on the same page with everything,” Reid said, rejecting a reporter’s question on whether the Democratic leader is in Obama’s “doghouse” after voicing disapproval of the trade legislation.

Asked whether they discussed trade, Reid curtly replied “no.”

So just how important does the president consider free trade–an economic boon but which unions don’t love–to his agenda if he won’t even broach the subject with Reid? A clue can probably be found in past coverage of Obama administration trade deals, which tend to embrace the same contradictions.

Take, for example, this October 2011 Washington Post story on the passage of free-trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama. The headline is: “Obama gets win as Congress passes free-trade agreements,” and the story tells us that “The South Korea deal has the potential to create as many as 280,000 American jobs” and is “widely hailed as the most consequential trade pact since the North American Free Trade Agreement was ratified in 1994.”

But later on in the story we get some more information about why the deals were signed nearly three years into Obama’s term:

The pacts were first negotiated under President George W. Bush but were updated by Obama to include more guarantees for labor and human rights and environmental protections. The pacts were recently held up in a dispute between Obama and congressional Republicans over renewing the worker assistance program.

During Obama’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, he tended to underscore the risks that free trade posed for U.S. workers and the environment rather than potential benefits.

So Obama really isn’t very high on free trade and campaigned against it. George W. Bush did the work of putting together the deals and the Democrats stalled it for years, finally conceding when Obama realized he was “facing a tough bid for reelection with unemployment stuck at 9.1 percent.”

Obama is, in fact, no fan of free trade. But the benefits are well known across the board. So a perfect situation for Obama is to have complete authority over the deals so he can better choose who to protect and which companies and industries to favor without getting a bipartisan deal in Congress that would be more sensible and economically beneficial but less to Obama’s liking.

This is what he’s asking for now, and what he was denied. He doesn’t seem too upset about it, probably because he isn’t. It’s possible that the president has decided that now, unlike with numerous controversial bills, he’s just going to let Harry Reid run the show. But that would be a change of pace for a president who thinks Congress is mostly cosmetic, a passé throwback to a time before the Lightbringer arrived.

And it’s unlikely. If Obama really wanted free trade he would press on, involving Congress grudgingly but elevating free trade over his own absolute power. It’s possible, then, that when Obama doesn’t treat free trade as a priority for him it’s because it isn’t.

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The Court Jesters

Easily the strangest moment in last night’s State of the Union address was when President Obama promised to ignore Congress and carry out his agenda without their legislative oversight or cooperation and was met with a hearty ovation from congressional Democrats. One possible explanation was that they weren’t listening, and responded to a vocal cue. Another is that they simply assumed it was their obligation to shower their king with praise.

But there’s actually a third explanation, which may be giving them too much credit but is also at least logical. Politico carries an interesting story today on the tension between congressional Democrats and Obama over the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare and its possible impact on the fall midterm elections. In the president’s address, he tried to ward off Republican attempts to undo the unpopular law by holding vote after vote to repeal it. Enough of those symbolic votes, Obama said: “The first forty were plenty. We got it.”

But it turns out that, as the Politico story shows, the president’s real problem on ObamaCare is not Republican opposition–which he can dismiss as partisan posturing–but the congressional Democrats:

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Easily the strangest moment in last night’s State of the Union address was when President Obama promised to ignore Congress and carry out his agenda without their legislative oversight or cooperation and was met with a hearty ovation from congressional Democrats. One possible explanation was that they weren’t listening, and responded to a vocal cue. Another is that they simply assumed it was their obligation to shower their king with praise.

But there’s actually a third explanation, which may be giving them too much credit but is also at least logical. Politico carries an interesting story today on the tension between congressional Democrats and Obama over the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare and its possible impact on the fall midterm elections. In the president’s address, he tried to ward off Republican attempts to undo the unpopular law by holding vote after vote to repeal it. Enough of those symbolic votes, Obama said: “The first forty were plenty. We got it.”

But it turns out that, as the Politico story shows, the president’s real problem on ObamaCare is not Republican opposition–which he can dismiss as partisan posturing–but the congressional Democrats:

With the Democratic grip on the Senate coming down to at least six seats, the White House is extremely sensitive to the concerns of in-cycle Democrats. The administration hopes to use the president’s authority to assuage voter anger over the law, as it did recently by exempting volunteer fire departments from health coverage mandates.

In addition to Landrieu, who faces a tough reelection this year, the effort is also being organized by Heidi Heitkamp, who won a bruising battle in North Dakota last cycle. And the discussions include a spate of Democrats facing potentially difficult races this year, including Begich, Pryor, Mark Udall of Colorado, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Warner of Virginia and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

While the private discussions consist of several senators who are not running for reelection — namely freshmen Democrats like Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Tim Kaine of Virginia, and the independent Angus King of Maine — at least nine senators facing voters in the fall are discussing whether to push legislation or pressure the White House to make administrative fixes they can then flag to voters back home.

The issue is this: the president doesn’t really want to talk about ObamaCare, because until coverage expands the White House will continue to lose the battle of the anecdotes. The law, thus far, is creating more “losers” than “winners.” The expansion of coverage under the law may not fix that because of Medicaid’s manifold weaknesses. Additionally, unless the employer mandate is repealed, its suspension will come to an end and inflict plenty of pain on the economy. And people will continue losing the plans they like.

However, the president has the bully pulpit and everyone who needs insurance and gets it under ObamaCare can have their story trumpeted by the traveling salesman in chief. The government will also claim, on behalf of ObamaCare, more credit for expanding coverage than it warrants while keeping the real numbers hidden for as long as possible, the way central planners always must in order to hide their incompetence.

The point is, the White House wants time to catch up. But Democrats up for reelection in November don’t have that time. They want to talk about ObamaCare–specifically, they want to talk about fixing it. Obama doesn’t, because that would admit its faults and failures.

Going through Congress is also a political minefield for the president, because Republicans still control the House and have enough seats in the Senate to make Democratic votes count. The president may be willing to make certain fixes to the law, but he doesn’t want to lose control of it.

Democrats have reason to be wary as well. The reason Harry Reid has been chipping away at minority rights and ignoring Senate rules and traditions is so Democrats can be spared from taking difficult votes. Tossing ObamaCare back into the Senate would mean some of these Democrats may get the votes they want–but they may also be forced to take votes they don’t, and the last thing they want is to have yet another vote in support of ObamaCare heading into the midterms. (That’s why they’re in this predicament in the first place.)

But there is a solution: The president can ignore the law and Congress and adjust the legislation accordingly, no votes necessary. Congressional Democrats are comfortable with this because they don’t want something as trifling as the law of the land or the Constitution to get in the way of their reelection and continued empowerment. The president is comfortable with this because he considers Congress’s main responsibility to be to stand and clap for him when he insults them to their faces. Which is what they, and he, did at last night’s address.

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Gates Defends the Troops from Harry Reid

The lack of outrage directed at Harry Reid’s procedural shenanigans has always been more than simply an indication of the hypocrisy of the mainstream media and zealous good-government types. Even liberals now understand that Ted Kennedy’s behavior during Robert Bork’s confirmation hearings not only forever wrecked the confirmation process but also degraded the judiciary. But it was not obvious at the time that the Senate and the courts would never recover from Kennedy’s debacle.

The same cannot be said for Reid, whose destruction of Senate institutions has been both gradual and obvious, yet goes unremarked upon by those who attack Republicans trying to assert the diminishing rights of the minority. Every so often, however, we get a glimpse of the contempt with which America’s public servants view Reid’s constant assault on them and their work. The low esteem Reid has for trusted institutions is requited, and Bob Gates’s memoir has once again brought this to light.

Gates harshly criticized one of Reid’s lowest moments in office (among many contenders): when, as the U.S. deployed the “surge” troops to stabilize Iraq, Reid publicly denigrated the troops, their prospects for success, and their mission more generally by preemptively judging their mission to be a failure. Gates, the former defense secretary, understandably took umbrage:

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The lack of outrage directed at Harry Reid’s procedural shenanigans has always been more than simply an indication of the hypocrisy of the mainstream media and zealous good-government types. Even liberals now understand that Ted Kennedy’s behavior during Robert Bork’s confirmation hearings not only forever wrecked the confirmation process but also degraded the judiciary. But it was not obvious at the time that the Senate and the courts would never recover from Kennedy’s debacle.

The same cannot be said for Reid, whose destruction of Senate institutions has been both gradual and obvious, yet goes unremarked upon by those who attack Republicans trying to assert the diminishing rights of the minority. Every so often, however, we get a glimpse of the contempt with which America’s public servants view Reid’s constant assault on them and their work. The low esteem Reid has for trusted institutions is requited, and Bob Gates’s memoir has once again brought this to light.

Gates harshly criticized one of Reid’s lowest moments in office (among many contenders): when, as the U.S. deployed the “surge” troops to stabilize Iraq, Reid publicly denigrated the troops, their prospects for success, and their mission more generally by preemptively judging their mission to be a failure. Gates, the former defense secretary, understandably took umbrage:

But, Gates continued, “When you have somebody like the Senate Majority Leader come out in the middle of the surge and say ‘this war is lost,’ I thought that was one of the most disgraceful things I’ve heard a politician say.”

“That sends a riveting message to kids who are putting their lives on the line every day that they’re doing it for nothing,” Gates noted, “and that was absolutely not the case.”

Indeed, it was certainly a disgraceful thing for Reid to say. It called to mind a time when Democrats in Congress openly slandered the troops in an effort to pander to their restive left-wing base. As a congressional leader of his party, Reid had a responsibility to try and rein in his party’s anti-military extremism. Instead, he joined in.

But it isn’t just the troops Reid disdains; he feels that way toward their civilian leadership as well. He shot back at Gates: “I’m surprised he would in effect denigrate everybody he came in contact with in an effort to make a buck,” Reid said yesterday.

Gates’s response was pitch-perfect:

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired back at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday night, quipping that “it’s common practice on the Hill to vote on bills you haven’t read, and it’s perfectly clear Sen. Reid has not read the book.”

Reid faulted Gates’s book in an interview with The Associated Press earlier in the day, charging Gates had denigrated him, Vice President Joe Biden and others “just to make a buck.” But Gates said he plans to donate most of what he makes to charities that work with wounded troops, and encouraged Reid and others to actually read his new memoir.

That doesn’t mean that Reid was wrong, however.

 “He will find I that do denigrate him, but I think he will find that, in fact, I have a lot of positive things to say about virtually everybody I wrote about,” Gates said. “As with myself, in the book, I’ve tried to critically appraise others. I call attention to mistakes I believe I made as secretary, things I could’ve done better, and I think I have positive things to say about virtually everybody else.”

In other words, Gates could find redeeming qualities in everyone he criticized–except Reid, apparently. Gates also defended himself against the accusation that he was being disloyal in releasing the book while President Obama was still in office:

“One of the charges is, that I’m hypocritical, that I’m speaking out about things now that I was quiet about when I was in office,” Gates said. “The reality is, if you talk with anybody in the administration, you’ll find I was as open in expressing my concerns directly, face to face, with the president, the White House chief of staff and other senior members of the administration about virtually every one of the issues I raised in the book. What I didn’t do was be disloyal to the president by taking those concerns public — or leaking.”

There’s plenty of room in there for honest disagreement–though, as I’ve written before, I don’t think the timing was particularly problematic and other suggested dates for release might have been more so. But it’s difficult not to sympathize with Gates’s defense of the troops and their mission in the face of Reid’s ignorant insults. The human element to the troops and their command is often forgotten or downplayed, especially since we have an all-volunteer army instead of a draft. Politicians are commonly told that the enemy can hear their statements. So can our troops, as Gates reminds us.

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