Commentary Magazine


Topic: Harvard Law Review

Blame Time

The Democrats have discovered that Obama is out of touch:

“In his own assessments of what went wrong, the president has lamented his inability to persuade voters on the merits of what he has done, and blamed the failure on his preoccupation with a full plate of crises. But a broad sample of Democratic officeholders and strategists said in interviews that the disconnect goes far deeper than that.”

And now the Clinton (Bill, not Hillary) nostalgia, which periodically has wafted through GOP ranks, is gripping forlorn Dems:

Obama “is not Bill Clinton in the sense that he’s not an extrovert. He doesn’t gain energy by connecting with people,” said a Democratic strategist, who worked in the Clinton White House and asked not to be named while offering a candid criticism. “He needs to be forced to do it, either by self-discipline or others. There’s no one around him who will do that. They accommodate him, and that is a bad thing.”

He’s also not Clinton in the sense that Obama is ideologically rigid, while Clinton was anything but. But Democrats are conflicted: go to the center or double down on the agenda that wiped out so many of them? Hmm. What to do, what to do? (Republicans are biting their lips and laughing into their sleeves. “Double down — puleeze,” they whisper knowingly to each other.)

The less-deluded Democrats are furious now, convinced that the White House is on a political suicide mission. The defeated Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink is beside herself:

“They got a huge wake-up call [on election day], but unfortunately they took a lot of Democrats down with them,” said Sink of the White House.

She added: “They just need to be better listeners and be better at reaching out to people who are on the ground to hear about the realities of their policies as well as politics.” …

“I think they were tone-deaf,” she said. “They weren’t interested in hearing my opinion on what was happening on the ground with the oil spill. And they never acknowledged that they had problems with the acceptance of health care reform.”

The new law, she said, is “unpopular particularly among seniors” — a key voting bloc in the Sunshine State.

None of this was hidden from view before the election, but Democratic officials and operatives were understandably reluctant to come forward. Now, with election returns in hand, they are pointing the finger at the White House. But let’s be fair. Much of the credit goes to Nancy Pelosi — who wants to continue her reign over what’s left of the Democratic House caucus. (To which Republicans say, “Go for it!”)

The White House seems unconvinced that the problem is the agenda, not just a remote and increasingly unlikable president. They’ll try to “warm him up” and do more feel-your-pain moments. But the core problem remains: Obama is infatuated with his own agenda and it is that agenda that is the recipe for the minority-status of his party.

And in all of this, one wonders what the left-leaning intelligentsia has learned. A Harvard Law Review editor, a law professor, a garden-variety leftist, a talker-not-a-doer, and a proponent of American un-exceptionalism is a bust as president. In short, someone like them is utterly incapable of leading the country, and to rescue himself he will have to shed the very qualities and beliefs they hold dear. You can understand why they’d prefer to label the rest of the country “crazy.”

The Democrats have discovered that Obama is out of touch:

“In his own assessments of what went wrong, the president has lamented his inability to persuade voters on the merits of what he has done, and blamed the failure on his preoccupation with a full plate of crises. But a broad sample of Democratic officeholders and strategists said in interviews that the disconnect goes far deeper than that.”

And now the Clinton (Bill, not Hillary) nostalgia, which periodically has wafted through GOP ranks, is gripping forlorn Dems:

Obama “is not Bill Clinton in the sense that he’s not an extrovert. He doesn’t gain energy by connecting with people,” said a Democratic strategist, who worked in the Clinton White House and asked not to be named while offering a candid criticism. “He needs to be forced to do it, either by self-discipline or others. There’s no one around him who will do that. They accommodate him, and that is a bad thing.”

He’s also not Clinton in the sense that Obama is ideologically rigid, while Clinton was anything but. But Democrats are conflicted: go to the center or double down on the agenda that wiped out so many of them? Hmm. What to do, what to do? (Republicans are biting their lips and laughing into their sleeves. “Double down — puleeze,” they whisper knowingly to each other.)

The less-deluded Democrats are furious now, convinced that the White House is on a political suicide mission. The defeated Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink is beside herself:

“They got a huge wake-up call [on election day], but unfortunately they took a lot of Democrats down with them,” said Sink of the White House.

She added: “They just need to be better listeners and be better at reaching out to people who are on the ground to hear about the realities of their policies as well as politics.” …

“I think they were tone-deaf,” she said. “They weren’t interested in hearing my opinion on what was happening on the ground with the oil spill. And they never acknowledged that they had problems with the acceptance of health care reform.”

The new law, she said, is “unpopular particularly among seniors” — a key voting bloc in the Sunshine State.

None of this was hidden from view before the election, but Democratic officials and operatives were understandably reluctant to come forward. Now, with election returns in hand, they are pointing the finger at the White House. But let’s be fair. Much of the credit goes to Nancy Pelosi — who wants to continue her reign over what’s left of the Democratic House caucus. (To which Republicans say, “Go for it!”)

The White House seems unconvinced that the problem is the agenda, not just a remote and increasingly unlikable president. They’ll try to “warm him up” and do more feel-your-pain moments. But the core problem remains: Obama is infatuated with his own agenda and it is that agenda that is the recipe for the minority-status of his party.

And in all of this, one wonders what the left-leaning intelligentsia has learned. A Harvard Law Review editor, a law professor, a garden-variety leftist, a talker-not-a-doer, and a proponent of American un-exceptionalism is a bust as president. In short, someone like them is utterly incapable of leading the country, and to rescue himself he will have to shed the very qualities and beliefs they hold dear. You can understand why they’d prefer to label the rest of the country “crazy.”

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Voters to Obama: Stop Already. No Fast Choo-Choos.

In 1955, William F. Buckley Jr. inaugurated National Review—the magazine that may come to be known in the 21st Century as motive force in the rise of Marco Rubio—with this immortal description of its mission: “It stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” On Tuesday, the voters stood athwart Obama, yelling Stop. Or so I argue today in my column in the New York Post:

There was a simple message in this election — perhaps too simple for the editor of the Harvard Law Review, who probably prefers his messages ornate and laboriously complex. The message: Stop. You’ve done too much — spent too much, grown government too much, involved yourself in the inner workings of business too much. Stop. Instead, Obama talked about doing more, and said there was a “message to Republicans” in the results that they needed to compromise with him. Astonishing.

The president spent his press conference yesterday talking about ways he might look to “improve” his health-care plan around the edges, the need for middle-class tax cuts, and his desire to have government build nicer airports, high speed choo-choos, and maybe a supercomputer. (I’m not kidding. Read the transcript.) He could have said all these things at any time in the past two years. In fact, he did say all these things in the past two years. Saying them again is not an adequate response to the results on Tuesday night, to put it mildly.

In 1955, William F. Buckley Jr. inaugurated National Review—the magazine that may come to be known in the 21st Century as motive force in the rise of Marco Rubio—with this immortal description of its mission: “It stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” On Tuesday, the voters stood athwart Obama, yelling Stop. Or so I argue today in my column in the New York Post:

There was a simple message in this election — perhaps too simple for the editor of the Harvard Law Review, who probably prefers his messages ornate and laboriously complex. The message: Stop. You’ve done too much — spent too much, grown government too much, involved yourself in the inner workings of business too much. Stop. Instead, Obama talked about doing more, and said there was a “message to Republicans” in the results that they needed to compromise with him. Astonishing.

The president spent his press conference yesterday talking about ways he might look to “improve” his health-care plan around the edges, the need for middle-class tax cuts, and his desire to have government build nicer airports, high speed choo-choos, and maybe a supercomputer. (I’m not kidding. Read the transcript.) He could have said all these things at any time in the past two years. In fact, he did say all these things in the past two years. Saying them again is not an adequate response to the results on Tuesday night, to put it mildly.

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The Erratic President

Now Obama looks like a fool and a liar. When confronted by Matt Lauer about why he hadn’t yet met with BP’s CEO, you could see the wheels clicking — excuse, excuse, what’s the excuse? — and Obama with a straight face said it would do no good to talk to the CEO, because he was just going to get spin from Tony Hayward (“[H]e’s going to say all the right things to me. I’m not interested in words, I’m interested in action.”) Even Chris Matthews was appalled.

So within days, Obama announces — he’s going to meet with the BP Chariman! Oh good grief. So forget the part about not needing to speak with BP. That was just a … um … er … hmm … lame excuse he cooked up on the spot.

There is a reason why the public is upset with Obama. It’s not merely a function of the unrealistic expectation that the president can solve all problems. The president looks fickle, confused, and erratic. Let’s have a drilling ban. No, let’s lift it and make BP pay for all the people we threw out of work! It becomes alarming with each passing day as we see how out of his depth the commander in chief (oh yes, he commands the armed forces too) is.

Harvard Law Review and a crease in the pants don’t signal readiness to be president. The voters have found out the hard way the price of electing someone who thought governing was just like campaigning and who had never run a city, a state, a military unit, or a profit-making firm.

Now Obama looks like a fool and a liar. When confronted by Matt Lauer about why he hadn’t yet met with BP’s CEO, you could see the wheels clicking — excuse, excuse, what’s the excuse? — and Obama with a straight face said it would do no good to talk to the CEO, because he was just going to get spin from Tony Hayward (“[H]e’s going to say all the right things to me. I’m not interested in words, I’m interested in action.”) Even Chris Matthews was appalled.

So within days, Obama announces — he’s going to meet with the BP Chariman! Oh good grief. So forget the part about not needing to speak with BP. That was just a … um … er … hmm … lame excuse he cooked up on the spot.

There is a reason why the public is upset with Obama. It’s not merely a function of the unrealistic expectation that the president can solve all problems. The president looks fickle, confused, and erratic. Let’s have a drilling ban. No, let’s lift it and make BP pay for all the people we threw out of work! It becomes alarming with each passing day as we see how out of his depth the commander in chief (oh yes, he commands the armed forces too) is.

Harvard Law Review and a crease in the pants don’t signal readiness to be president. The voters have found out the hard way the price of electing someone who thought governing was just like campaigning and who had never run a city, a state, a military unit, or a profit-making firm.

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Democrats and Media Turn on Obama

It is a measure of Obama’s declining popularity that his supporters — fellow Democrats and the media (not to be redundant) — are turning on him. Mary Landrieu complains:

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said Thursday that President Barack Obama will pay a political price for his lack of visibility in the Gulf region during the catastrophic BP oil spill. 

“The president has not been as visible as he should have been on this, and he’s going to pay a political price for it, unfortunately,” Landrieu told POLITICO. “But he’s going down tomorrow, he’s made some good announcements today, and if he personally steps up his activity, I think that would be very helpful.”

Ouch. The usually cheerleading James Carville is irate that Louisiana isn’t getting the help it needs, and he’s been venting nonstop on CNN for days. He laments that Obama isn’t getting the right advice, is inexplicably taking a “hands off” stance (he wants Obama to personally plug the gushing well?), and is politically “stupid.”

Reuters puts it this way:

Obama was already immersed in a long list of problems — pushing a financial regulation overhaul, prodding Europe to stem a financial crisis, pressuring Iran and North Korea. And don’t forget the 9.9 percent U.S. jobless rate, two wars and Obama’s hopes for immigration and energy legislation before Washington stops for Nov. 2 congressional elections. Now the greatest environmental calamity since the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 has fallen into his lap. He declared it “heartbreaking.”

Perhaps the anger is a function of the accumulated gripes and disappointment about Obama’s performance as well as the growing realization that Obama is sinking all Democrats’ political fortunes. As all this sets in, the panic and the anger builds. Democrats shove Obama aside and join the chorus of shrieking critics, while the media frets that the editor of Harvard Law Review doesn’t really know how to do much of anything but give speeches. It is not as if there isn’t blame to be accorded the president, as I and others have pointed out. But I suspect that the reaction would be far less frenzied and the criticism much more muted if Obama were riding high in the polls and overseeing an era of Democratic successes.

It is a measure of Obama’s declining popularity that his supporters — fellow Democrats and the media (not to be redundant) — are turning on him. Mary Landrieu complains:

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said Thursday that President Barack Obama will pay a political price for his lack of visibility in the Gulf region during the catastrophic BP oil spill. 

“The president has not been as visible as he should have been on this, and he’s going to pay a political price for it, unfortunately,” Landrieu told POLITICO. “But he’s going down tomorrow, he’s made some good announcements today, and if he personally steps up his activity, I think that would be very helpful.”

Ouch. The usually cheerleading James Carville is irate that Louisiana isn’t getting the help it needs, and he’s been venting nonstop on CNN for days. He laments that Obama isn’t getting the right advice, is inexplicably taking a “hands off” stance (he wants Obama to personally plug the gushing well?), and is politically “stupid.”

Reuters puts it this way:

Obama was already immersed in a long list of problems — pushing a financial regulation overhaul, prodding Europe to stem a financial crisis, pressuring Iran and North Korea. And don’t forget the 9.9 percent U.S. jobless rate, two wars and Obama’s hopes for immigration and energy legislation before Washington stops for Nov. 2 congressional elections. Now the greatest environmental calamity since the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 has fallen into his lap. He declared it “heartbreaking.”

Perhaps the anger is a function of the accumulated gripes and disappointment about Obama’s performance as well as the growing realization that Obama is sinking all Democrats’ political fortunes. As all this sets in, the panic and the anger builds. Democrats shove Obama aside and join the chorus of shrieking critics, while the media frets that the editor of Harvard Law Review doesn’t really know how to do much of anything but give speeches. It is not as if there isn’t blame to be accorded the president, as I and others have pointed out. But I suspect that the reaction would be far less frenzied and the criticism much more muted if Obama were riding high in the polls and overseeing an era of Democratic successes.

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The Gray Lady Is Nervous

The New York Times editors, even before the revelation of her abortion advice during the Clinton administration, were nervous about the stealth nominee. They fret:

President Obama may know that his new nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, shares his thinking on the multitude of issues that face the court and the nation, but the public knows nothing of the kind. Whether by ambitious design or by habit of mind, Ms. Kagan has spent decades carefully husbanding her thoughts and shielding her philosophy from view. Her lack of a clear record on certain issues makes it hard to know whether Mr. Obama has nominated a full-throated counterweight to the court’s increasingly aggressive conservative wing. … But where, precisely, has Ms. Kagan been during the legal whirlwinds of the last few years, as issues like executive power, same-sex marriage, the rights of the accused and proper application of the death penalty have raged through the courts?

Why, hiding her views to position herself for the Court, of course. It is ironic that the president, who got to office concealing his own views, now is unsettling his base for selecting someone who has concealed hers. The lefty Times editors find this most troubling:

In a 2001 Harvard Law Review article, Ms. Kagan defended a robust assertion of presidential power unless specifically limited by Congress — albeit in the service of “progressive goals” on the domestic front. She told the Senate last year that she agreed the government has the right to indefinitely detain enemy combatants captured around the world. As Mr. Obama’s solicitor general, she has supported his administration’s positions, little changed since the Bush administration, on the use of military force against Al Qaeda, the habeas corpus rights of military detainees and the state secrets privilege.

Conservatives may roll their eyes, convinced that no Harvard Law School dean is going to cross the left. But the issue here is the rather paranoid and perpetually aggrieved left. Obama in their eyes has been a disappointment. Indeed, it was their apathy that convinced the Democrats that they had to roll the dice on ObamaCare in order to turn out the liberal base in November. Now he gives them a nominee — for the seat of the sainted leftist Justice Stevens — who’s a squish? Hmm. Obama may have been too clever by half on this. The right will probably still not embrace her, and the left will, once again, be peeved. Sort of the worst of all worlds, no?

The New York Times editors, even before the revelation of her abortion advice during the Clinton administration, were nervous about the stealth nominee. They fret:

President Obama may know that his new nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, shares his thinking on the multitude of issues that face the court and the nation, but the public knows nothing of the kind. Whether by ambitious design or by habit of mind, Ms. Kagan has spent decades carefully husbanding her thoughts and shielding her philosophy from view. Her lack of a clear record on certain issues makes it hard to know whether Mr. Obama has nominated a full-throated counterweight to the court’s increasingly aggressive conservative wing. … But where, precisely, has Ms. Kagan been during the legal whirlwinds of the last few years, as issues like executive power, same-sex marriage, the rights of the accused and proper application of the death penalty have raged through the courts?

Why, hiding her views to position herself for the Court, of course. It is ironic that the president, who got to office concealing his own views, now is unsettling his base for selecting someone who has concealed hers. The lefty Times editors find this most troubling:

In a 2001 Harvard Law Review article, Ms. Kagan defended a robust assertion of presidential power unless specifically limited by Congress — albeit in the service of “progressive goals” on the domestic front. She told the Senate last year that she agreed the government has the right to indefinitely detain enemy combatants captured around the world. As Mr. Obama’s solicitor general, she has supported his administration’s positions, little changed since the Bush administration, on the use of military force against Al Qaeda, the habeas corpus rights of military detainees and the state secrets privilege.

Conservatives may roll their eyes, convinced that no Harvard Law School dean is going to cross the left. But the issue here is the rather paranoid and perpetually aggrieved left. Obama in their eyes has been a disappointment. Indeed, it was their apathy that convinced the Democrats that they had to roll the dice on ObamaCare in order to turn out the liberal base in November. Now he gives them a nominee — for the seat of the sainted leftist Justice Stevens — who’s a squish? Hmm. Obama may have been too clever by half on this. The right will probably still not embrace her, and the left will, once again, be peeved. Sort of the worst of all worlds, no?

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No Denying White House Animus Toward Israel

This White House likes symbolism. After Barack Obama moved in, one of the first things his staff did was to unceremoniously remove the bronze bust of Winston Churchill that had been in the Oval Office and return it to Great Britain, thus signaling that this president no longer valued the special relationship with the UK, which had been a cornerstone of American diplomacy from the days of FDR to those of George W. Bush. And when Obama finally met with the Dalai Lama last month, the visit was kept low key, with no official welcome and no media allowed to witness the event for fear of offending China. The one picture that was released of the meeting appeared to show the president lecturing the exiled Tibetan so no one might think that a former editor of the Harvard Law Review had anything to learn from a legendary spiritual leader.

But the cold reception of the Dalai Lama now seems like a wild party compared to the way Obama received Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House this week. Oh, I know, Bibi is in the doghouse because we’re all supposed to think that Israel gravely insulted Vice President Joe Biden by allowing the announcement of a housing-project start in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to coincide with his recent visit there. But the reason this is such a “big f@!%ing deal,” as the vice president might put it, is not because it was a real insult but because it was an excuse for the administration to renew its war on Netanyahu.

This is not the first president to dislike an Israeli prime minister or even Israel itself. The elder George Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@!% the Jews” Baker despised Yitzhak Shamir. But never has the leader of America’s ally Israel been treated with such open contempt as shown by Obama to Netanyahu. The Israeli’s visit to the White House was closed to the press — with not even one photo released of their encounter. The fact is that Obama didn’t even want his picture taken with Netanyahu. That’s particularly strange since the president has never any qualms about getting snapped next to a wide variety of international leaders on his travels. In yesterday’s press briefing, spokesman Robert Gibbs was quizzed on this startling behavior by Jake Tapper. In response to repeated questions as to why the White House chose to treat a democratically elected head of the government of a close U.S. ally in this manner, Gibbs did not try very hard to pretend that it was anything but an indication of Obama’s dislike for the Israeli and the country he represents. Coming from a president that has spent his time in office making non-stop efforts to reach out to and engage America’s enemies around the world, this open hostility to Israel is breathtaking in its brazenness.

As for the policy fallout of the meetings, the whole point of the get-together was to bludgeon Netanyahu into conceding that Jews may no longer build homes in parts of their capital. Wisely, the prime minister did not give in to this unprecedented demand, which is something that not even the elder Bush and James Baker ever tried to shove down Shamir’s throat. There was no joint statement released after the talks ended but the White House let it be known that they expected the Israelis to make further concessions as an indication of their willingness to build confidence. Pointedly, the Palestinians, who have refused to even negotiate directly with Israel and who refused only a year and a half ago to accept an Israeli offer of an independent state that would have included part of Jerusalem, have not been asked by Obama to make any gestures of their own to enhance the non-existent chances of peace.

This White House’s cold shoulder to Netanyahu may be just an act of symbolism but not even the most shameless Obama apologist can pretend that it was anything but an indication of the president’s hostility. When the first president Bush used the occasion of an AIPAC conference in Washington in 1991 to show his contempt for Israel, even Jewish Republicans were aghast. Many deserted him at the next election — the GOP’s share of the Jewish vote dropped to a record low in 1992. The question for Jewish Democrats and other liberal friends of Israel is whether they are prepared to hold Barack Obama accountable in the same fashion.

This White House likes symbolism. After Barack Obama moved in, one of the first things his staff did was to unceremoniously remove the bronze bust of Winston Churchill that had been in the Oval Office and return it to Great Britain, thus signaling that this president no longer valued the special relationship with the UK, which had been a cornerstone of American diplomacy from the days of FDR to those of George W. Bush. And when Obama finally met with the Dalai Lama last month, the visit was kept low key, with no official welcome and no media allowed to witness the event for fear of offending China. The one picture that was released of the meeting appeared to show the president lecturing the exiled Tibetan so no one might think that a former editor of the Harvard Law Review had anything to learn from a legendary spiritual leader.

But the cold reception of the Dalai Lama now seems like a wild party compared to the way Obama received Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House this week. Oh, I know, Bibi is in the doghouse because we’re all supposed to think that Israel gravely insulted Vice President Joe Biden by allowing the announcement of a housing-project start in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to coincide with his recent visit there. But the reason this is such a “big f@!%ing deal,” as the vice president might put it, is not because it was a real insult but because it was an excuse for the administration to renew its war on Netanyahu.

This is not the first president to dislike an Israeli prime minister or even Israel itself. The elder George Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@!% the Jews” Baker despised Yitzhak Shamir. But never has the leader of America’s ally Israel been treated with such open contempt as shown by Obama to Netanyahu. The Israeli’s visit to the White House was closed to the press — with not even one photo released of their encounter. The fact is that Obama didn’t even want his picture taken with Netanyahu. That’s particularly strange since the president has never any qualms about getting snapped next to a wide variety of international leaders on his travels. In yesterday’s press briefing, spokesman Robert Gibbs was quizzed on this startling behavior by Jake Tapper. In response to repeated questions as to why the White House chose to treat a democratically elected head of the government of a close U.S. ally in this manner, Gibbs did not try very hard to pretend that it was anything but an indication of Obama’s dislike for the Israeli and the country he represents. Coming from a president that has spent his time in office making non-stop efforts to reach out to and engage America’s enemies around the world, this open hostility to Israel is breathtaking in its brazenness.

As for the policy fallout of the meetings, the whole point of the get-together was to bludgeon Netanyahu into conceding that Jews may no longer build homes in parts of their capital. Wisely, the prime minister did not give in to this unprecedented demand, which is something that not even the elder Bush and James Baker ever tried to shove down Shamir’s throat. There was no joint statement released after the talks ended but the White House let it be known that they expected the Israelis to make further concessions as an indication of their willingness to build confidence. Pointedly, the Palestinians, who have refused to even negotiate directly with Israel and who refused only a year and a half ago to accept an Israeli offer of an independent state that would have included part of Jerusalem, have not been asked by Obama to make any gestures of their own to enhance the non-existent chances of peace.

This White House’s cold shoulder to Netanyahu may be just an act of symbolism but not even the most shameless Obama apologist can pretend that it was anything but an indication of the president’s hostility. When the first president Bush used the occasion of an AIPAC conference in Washington in 1991 to show his contempt for Israel, even Jewish Republicans were aghast. Many deserted him at the next election — the GOP’s share of the Jewish vote dropped to a record low in 1992. The question for Jewish Democrats and other liberal friends of Israel is whether they are prepared to hold Barack Obama accountable in the same fashion.

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Brooks: Elites Are Letting Us Down

David Brooks observes, “As we’ve made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. We’ve increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower. It’s not even clear that society is better led.” He finds a number of reasons for this, the first (and I think most critical) has some bearing on the current predicament in which the country finds itself. He explains:

The meritocracy is based on an overly narrow definition of talent. Our system rewards those who can amass technical knowledge. But this skill is only marginally related to the skill of being sensitive to context. It is not related at all to skills like empathy. Over the past years, we’ve seen very smart people make mistakes because they didn’t understand the context in which they were operating.

Or “very smart” people lack real-world experience in leading other people. Or they lack core qualities like resoluteness and decisiveness. Or they delegate too much responsibility and blame others for their failings. You see where I’m heading, right?

We elected a president who was indisputably a member of the educated elite in America. It matters not at all that he wasn’t rich growing up. He spent his adult life at Ivy League institutions, chalked up the résumé entries (Harvard Law Review), and thoroughly adopted the intellectual bent and attributes of the academic Left in America.

What did all this have to do with being president? It turns out not all that much. But other elites — New York Times columnists, for example — swooned and vouched for him. They confused literary finesse with presidential timber. They mistook fluency in philosophy with grounding in common sense, moderation, and wisdom.

In looking for other reasons why elites are doing so badly these days, Brooks writes:

To leave a mark in a fast, competitive world, leaders seek to hit grandiose home runs. Clinton tried to transform health care. Bush tried to transform the Middle East. Obama has tried to transform health care, energy and much more. There’s less emphasis on steady, gradual change and more emphasis on the big swing. This produces more spectacular failures and more uncertainty. Many Americans, not caught up on the romance of this sort of heroism, are terrified.

Well, that sounds like a particular kind of elite leader working on a short time frame before voters have a chance to put a halt to his august plans. But not all leaders operate this way. There are many successful governors, business professionals, and others who set modest goals and work competently toward them. No one is compelled to achieve grandiose objectives unless he has a grandiose conception of himself, a messiah complex, if you will. For those who come to believe they represent the “New Politics” and have the ability to lay a “new foundation” (i.e., radically restructure the country), then, yes, they’re going to run into trouble when the rest of us freak out and don’t want to be restructured out of the health care we enjoy and the economic system we’re rather fond of.

Next time around, voters may want to assess the credentials of the presidential candidates more closely. Elite degrees may be evidence of a sharp mind and keen intellect. But they also teach a lot of foolish things at Ivy League institutions, and it behooves voters to consider which ones a graduate has adopted. Moreover, voters would also do well to look for a candidate’s accomplishments — evidence — of intellectual prowess and personal character. If the candidate hasn’t done much other than run for office, make speeches, and extol his own greatness, that should be a red flag.

David Brooks observes, “As we’ve made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. We’ve increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower. It’s not even clear that society is better led.” He finds a number of reasons for this, the first (and I think most critical) has some bearing on the current predicament in which the country finds itself. He explains:

The meritocracy is based on an overly narrow definition of talent. Our system rewards those who can amass technical knowledge. But this skill is only marginally related to the skill of being sensitive to context. It is not related at all to skills like empathy. Over the past years, we’ve seen very smart people make mistakes because they didn’t understand the context in which they were operating.

Or “very smart” people lack real-world experience in leading other people. Or they lack core qualities like resoluteness and decisiveness. Or they delegate too much responsibility and blame others for their failings. You see where I’m heading, right?

We elected a president who was indisputably a member of the educated elite in America. It matters not at all that he wasn’t rich growing up. He spent his adult life at Ivy League institutions, chalked up the résumé entries (Harvard Law Review), and thoroughly adopted the intellectual bent and attributes of the academic Left in America.

What did all this have to do with being president? It turns out not all that much. But other elites — New York Times columnists, for example — swooned and vouched for him. They confused literary finesse with presidential timber. They mistook fluency in philosophy with grounding in common sense, moderation, and wisdom.

In looking for other reasons why elites are doing so badly these days, Brooks writes:

To leave a mark in a fast, competitive world, leaders seek to hit grandiose home runs. Clinton tried to transform health care. Bush tried to transform the Middle East. Obama has tried to transform health care, energy and much more. There’s less emphasis on steady, gradual change and more emphasis on the big swing. This produces more spectacular failures and more uncertainty. Many Americans, not caught up on the romance of this sort of heroism, are terrified.

Well, that sounds like a particular kind of elite leader working on a short time frame before voters have a chance to put a halt to his august plans. But not all leaders operate this way. There are many successful governors, business professionals, and others who set modest goals and work competently toward them. No one is compelled to achieve grandiose objectives unless he has a grandiose conception of himself, a messiah complex, if you will. For those who come to believe they represent the “New Politics” and have the ability to lay a “new foundation” (i.e., radically restructure the country), then, yes, they’re going to run into trouble when the rest of us freak out and don’t want to be restructured out of the health care we enjoy and the economic system we’re rather fond of.

Next time around, voters may want to assess the credentials of the presidential candidates more closely. Elite degrees may be evidence of a sharp mind and keen intellect. But they also teach a lot of foolish things at Ivy League institutions, and it behooves voters to consider which ones a graduate has adopted. Moreover, voters would also do well to look for a candidate’s accomplishments — evidence — of intellectual prowess and personal character. If the candidate hasn’t done much other than run for office, make speeches, and extol his own greatness, that should be a red flag.

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But He Was the Harvard Law Review Editor!

The chattering class was entranced with candidate Barack Obama. So literate. So polished. So cool. We were assured that his lack of executive experience was irrelevant. After all, he ran a campaign. And then there were his years as a community organizer and Harvard Law Review editor, which showed… well… it showed something about his magnificent intellectual skills. But it turns out he lacks some key abilities — executive leadership, decisiveness, deal-making prowess, flexibility, and basic people skills — that are essential to a successful presidency.

This is not simply the conclusion of conservatives. The entire country witnessed his agonizing decision-making process on the Afghanistan war strategy. Now on health-care reform, his own party is frustrated and dismayed with the non-governing president. As this report notes:

President Barack Obama has left Democrats as confused as ever over how the White House plans to deliver a health care reform bill this year, following two weeks of inconsistent statements, negligible hands-on involvement and a sudden shift to a jobs-first message. Democrats on Capitol Hill and beyond say they have no clear understanding of the White House strategy – or even whether there is one – and are growing impatient with Obama’s reluctance to guide them toward a legislative solution.

…And some Democrats feel that every time they look to White House for clarity, they hear something different, as though the strategy is whatever the president or his top advisers said that day.

His floundering is not surprising, considering that Obama never ran a state, a city, or a business, and during his brief time in the U.S. Senate, he was never front-and-center in any significant legislative undertaking. Yes, he’s touted as an author, and he won the presidency (beating two flawed candidates who ran awful campaigns). But it turns out that all this was insufficient preparation to be chief executive and commander in chief.

In 2012, Republicans will look for a standard-bearer to retake the White House. And while a grounding in conservative principles will be essential to winning the nomination, Republican voters might do well to consider what experience and what talents are essential for a successful presidency. They might look for candidates who have done something — other than graduating from Ivy League schools, writing memoirs, and giving frothy speeches. By 2012, the country might be ready for someone who knows how to get something done.

The chattering class was entranced with candidate Barack Obama. So literate. So polished. So cool. We were assured that his lack of executive experience was irrelevant. After all, he ran a campaign. And then there were his years as a community organizer and Harvard Law Review editor, which showed… well… it showed something about his magnificent intellectual skills. But it turns out he lacks some key abilities — executive leadership, decisiveness, deal-making prowess, flexibility, and basic people skills — that are essential to a successful presidency.

This is not simply the conclusion of conservatives. The entire country witnessed his agonizing decision-making process on the Afghanistan war strategy. Now on health-care reform, his own party is frustrated and dismayed with the non-governing president. As this report notes:

President Barack Obama has left Democrats as confused as ever over how the White House plans to deliver a health care reform bill this year, following two weeks of inconsistent statements, negligible hands-on involvement and a sudden shift to a jobs-first message. Democrats on Capitol Hill and beyond say they have no clear understanding of the White House strategy – or even whether there is one – and are growing impatient with Obama’s reluctance to guide them toward a legislative solution.

…And some Democrats feel that every time they look to White House for clarity, they hear something different, as though the strategy is whatever the president or his top advisers said that day.

His floundering is not surprising, considering that Obama never ran a state, a city, or a business, and during his brief time in the U.S. Senate, he was never front-and-center in any significant legislative undertaking. Yes, he’s touted as an author, and he won the presidency (beating two flawed candidates who ran awful campaigns). But it turns out that all this was insufficient preparation to be chief executive and commander in chief.

In 2012, Republicans will look for a standard-bearer to retake the White House. And while a grounding in conservative principles will be essential to winning the nomination, Republican voters might do well to consider what experience and what talents are essential for a successful presidency. They might look for candidates who have done something — other than graduating from Ivy League schools, writing memoirs, and giving frothy speeches. By 2012, the country might be ready for someone who knows how to get something done.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It would be nice to think:  “Just as they are beginning to realize their engagement strategy with Iran, North Korea, and other rogue regimes has yielded little progress, hopefully the failed Christmas Day attack will cause the Obama administration to realize that their terrorist engagement strategy is fatally flawed as well.” Remember this is the gang that thinks the Cairo speech was one of the top three things Obama did to combat terrorism. Huh?? Jamie Fly observes: “It makes you wonder what other actions round out the top three.  Pledging to close Guantanamo Bay?  Banning enhanced interrogation procedures?” The KSM trial!

As for that trial, it is a very dangerous decision and a very expensive one: “Security for the federal trial of self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four accused cohorts will run $200 million a year, sources told the Daily News.” And no one thinks this will take only a year.

Michael Gerson writes that  “it is difficult to argue that the Obama administration has even attempted to create an atmosphere of urgency in the war on terror. The listless, coldblooded and clueless response of the Hawaii White House to the Christmas Day attack was only the most recent indication. Over the last year, nearly every rhetorical signal from the administration — from the use of war-on-terror euphemisms such as ‘overseas contingency operations’ and ‘man-caused disasters’ to its preference for immediately categorizing terrorism as the work of an ‘isolated extremist’ — has been designed to convey a return to normalcy, a contrast to the supposed fear-mongering of the past.”

Maybe it’s the terrorism or ObamaCare: “Republican candidates start the year by opening a nine-point lead over Democrats, the GOP’s biggest in several years, in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot.”

Nancy Pelosi gets snippy: “Pelosi emerged from a meeting with her leadership team and committee chairs in the Capitol to face an aggressive throng of reporters who immediately hit her with C-SPAN’s request that she permit closed-door final talks on the bill to be televised. A reporter reminded the San Francisco Democrat that in 2008, then-candidate Obama opined that all such negotiations be open to C-SPAN cameras. ‘There are a number of things he was for on the campaign trail,’ quipped Pelosi, who has no intention of making the deliberations public.”

But Obama was head of Harvard Law Review! We heard a lot of that during the campaign. It was supposed to be reassuring, I guess.  Wasilla’s most famous mayor isn’t impressed: “President Obama was right to change his policy and decide to send no more detainees to Yemen where they can be free to rejoin their war on America. Now he must back off his reckless plan to close Guantanamo, begin treating terrorists as wartime enemies not suspects alleged to have committed crimes, and recognize that the real nature of the terrorist threat requires a commander-in-chief, not a constitutional law professor.”

Tom Maquire wants to know if “terrorist-coddling liberal elites really believe that prisoners provide just as much (or as little) information whether we observe their rights under US criminal procedures or their rights as detainees of the US military?  Do terrorist-coddling liberal elites really believe that all these Miranda warnings and provision of access to lawyers really doesn’t [sic] encourage anyone to keep anyone quiet?” I imagine they think it’s all worth it because we’re impressing jihadists with the wonders of our constitutional system — which they want to replace with sharia. So it doesn’t really make much sense.

Uh-oh: “The number of people preparing to buy a home fell sharply in November, an unsettling new sign that the housing market may be headed for a “double-dip” downturn over the winter.The figures Tuesday came after a similarly discouraging report on new home sales, illustrating how heavily the housing market depends right now on government help.”

A helpful reminder here, “lest we forget just exactly with whom the Israelis are dealing.”

It would be nice to think:  “Just as they are beginning to realize their engagement strategy with Iran, North Korea, and other rogue regimes has yielded little progress, hopefully the failed Christmas Day attack will cause the Obama administration to realize that their terrorist engagement strategy is fatally flawed as well.” Remember this is the gang that thinks the Cairo speech was one of the top three things Obama did to combat terrorism. Huh?? Jamie Fly observes: “It makes you wonder what other actions round out the top three.  Pledging to close Guantanamo Bay?  Banning enhanced interrogation procedures?” The KSM trial!

As for that trial, it is a very dangerous decision and a very expensive one: “Security for the federal trial of self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four accused cohorts will run $200 million a year, sources told the Daily News.” And no one thinks this will take only a year.

Michael Gerson writes that  “it is difficult to argue that the Obama administration has even attempted to create an atmosphere of urgency in the war on terror. The listless, coldblooded and clueless response of the Hawaii White House to the Christmas Day attack was only the most recent indication. Over the last year, nearly every rhetorical signal from the administration — from the use of war-on-terror euphemisms such as ‘overseas contingency operations’ and ‘man-caused disasters’ to its preference for immediately categorizing terrorism as the work of an ‘isolated extremist’ — has been designed to convey a return to normalcy, a contrast to the supposed fear-mongering of the past.”

Maybe it’s the terrorism or ObamaCare: “Republican candidates start the year by opening a nine-point lead over Democrats, the GOP’s biggest in several years, in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot.”

Nancy Pelosi gets snippy: “Pelosi emerged from a meeting with her leadership team and committee chairs in the Capitol to face an aggressive throng of reporters who immediately hit her with C-SPAN’s request that she permit closed-door final talks on the bill to be televised. A reporter reminded the San Francisco Democrat that in 2008, then-candidate Obama opined that all such negotiations be open to C-SPAN cameras. ‘There are a number of things he was for on the campaign trail,’ quipped Pelosi, who has no intention of making the deliberations public.”

But Obama was head of Harvard Law Review! We heard a lot of that during the campaign. It was supposed to be reassuring, I guess.  Wasilla’s most famous mayor isn’t impressed: “President Obama was right to change his policy and decide to send no more detainees to Yemen where they can be free to rejoin their war on America. Now he must back off his reckless plan to close Guantanamo, begin treating terrorists as wartime enemies not suspects alleged to have committed crimes, and recognize that the real nature of the terrorist threat requires a commander-in-chief, not a constitutional law professor.”

Tom Maquire wants to know if “terrorist-coddling liberal elites really believe that prisoners provide just as much (or as little) information whether we observe their rights under US criminal procedures or their rights as detainees of the US military?  Do terrorist-coddling liberal elites really believe that all these Miranda warnings and provision of access to lawyers really doesn’t [sic] encourage anyone to keep anyone quiet?” I imagine they think it’s all worth it because we’re impressing jihadists with the wonders of our constitutional system — which they want to replace with sharia. So it doesn’t really make much sense.

Uh-oh: “The number of people preparing to buy a home fell sharply in November, an unsettling new sign that the housing market may be headed for a “double-dip” downturn over the winter.The figures Tuesday came after a similarly discouraging report on new home sales, illustrating how heavily the housing market depends right now on government help.”

A helpful reminder here, “lest we forget just exactly with whom the Israelis are dealing.”

Read Less

Why Isn’t He Better at Being President?

Obama was the subject of many a pundit’s admiration. So smart! So worldly! Harvard Law Review. And so eloquent. That his speeches upon further reflection were practically unintelligible or self-parodies (are we the ones we have been waiting for? are the oceans really going to recede?) didn’t much matter. He was so smart.

So why isn’t his presidency going better than it is? Seriously, if he’s so smart and well-educated, shouldn’t he have come up with something better than the stimulus boondoggle? Shouldn’t he have gotten sanctions passed on Iran or figured out how not to offend both sides in the Middle East non-peace process? As Bret Stephens points out, we have gotten “bloated government, deficits and health-care bills; paralysis over Afghanistan and Iran; the convulsions over Gitmo and the CIA torture memos.” And then the mind-numbingly idiotic decision to put KSM in a Manhattan courtroom to preach the wonders of jihad and go after his captors. None of this seems very smart.

Well, there are several answers to my headline question. First, the punditocracy confused credentials with knowledge or smarts. A Harvard Law degree does not necessarily confer on one the insight that even if we can try KSM in courtroom, we shouldn’t. Obama seems not at all familiar with the operation of free markets. He has only a dim grasp of how we won the Cold War. And it’s quite apparent that whatever credentials the president possesses, they didn’t enable him to perceive the motives of the mullahs.

Second, even intelligent and well-schooled people can be poor managers, bad decision makers, and indecisive leaders. They can be narcissistic and passive-aggressive. They can be impervious to constructive criticism. Indeed, these are the very qualities that have tripped up the president. And very smart people, come to think of it, may be susceptible to many of these faults because they believe they’re so darn smart.

And finally, as Ronald Reagan said, “The trouble with our liberal friends isn’t that they are ignorant; it is that they know so much that isn’t so.” In other words, they have a set of views at odds with the way the world operates (meekness will endear us to our enemies, terrorists will be impressed with American legal procedures), the American political scene (the public wanted a lurch to the Left), and basic economic realities (you can load mandates and taxes on employers without impacting employment). These views are a great impediment to a successful presidency.

This isn’t an argument against smart or well-educated people being president. But it is a reminder that being so darn smart isn’t everything, and in Obama’s case, it seems not to have gotten him very far. But he has time. Maybe with experience, he’ll wise up.

Obama was the subject of many a pundit’s admiration. So smart! So worldly! Harvard Law Review. And so eloquent. That his speeches upon further reflection were practically unintelligible or self-parodies (are we the ones we have been waiting for? are the oceans really going to recede?) didn’t much matter. He was so smart.

So why isn’t his presidency going better than it is? Seriously, if he’s so smart and well-educated, shouldn’t he have come up with something better than the stimulus boondoggle? Shouldn’t he have gotten sanctions passed on Iran or figured out how not to offend both sides in the Middle East non-peace process? As Bret Stephens points out, we have gotten “bloated government, deficits and health-care bills; paralysis over Afghanistan and Iran; the convulsions over Gitmo and the CIA torture memos.” And then the mind-numbingly idiotic decision to put KSM in a Manhattan courtroom to preach the wonders of jihad and go after his captors. None of this seems very smart.

Well, there are several answers to my headline question. First, the punditocracy confused credentials with knowledge or smarts. A Harvard Law degree does not necessarily confer on one the insight that even if we can try KSM in courtroom, we shouldn’t. Obama seems not at all familiar with the operation of free markets. He has only a dim grasp of how we won the Cold War. And it’s quite apparent that whatever credentials the president possesses, they didn’t enable him to perceive the motives of the mullahs.

Second, even intelligent and well-schooled people can be poor managers, bad decision makers, and indecisive leaders. They can be narcissistic and passive-aggressive. They can be impervious to constructive criticism. Indeed, these are the very qualities that have tripped up the president. And very smart people, come to think of it, may be susceptible to many of these faults because they believe they’re so darn smart.

And finally, as Ronald Reagan said, “The trouble with our liberal friends isn’t that they are ignorant; it is that they know so much that isn’t so.” In other words, they have a set of views at odds with the way the world operates (meekness will endear us to our enemies, terrorists will be impressed with American legal procedures), the American political scene (the public wanted a lurch to the Left), and basic economic realities (you can load mandates and taxes on employers without impacting employment). These views are a great impediment to a successful presidency.

This isn’t an argument against smart or well-educated people being president. But it is a reminder that being so darn smart isn’t everything, and in Obama’s case, it seems not to have gotten him very far. But he has time. Maybe with experience, he’ll wise up.

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Handguns

Obama, the editor of the Harvard Law Review, doesn’t have an opinion on the D.C. handgun ban. He denies that he ever favored a handgun ban. When Charlie Gibson pressed him on a questionnaire he answered as a state senator, he answers, “My handwriting wasn’t on that form.” Well, if there is no evidence. . .

After badgering from George Steph., Hillary allows that an absolute ban might not be Constitutional. Neither will likely give John McCain a run for his money with Second Amendment advocates.

Obama, the editor of the Harvard Law Review, doesn’t have an opinion on the D.C. handgun ban. He denies that he ever favored a handgun ban. When Charlie Gibson pressed him on a questionnaire he answered as a state senator, he answers, “My handwriting wasn’t on that form.” Well, if there is no evidence. . .

After badgering from George Steph., Hillary allows that an absolute ban might not be Constitutional. Neither will likely give John McCain a run for his money with Second Amendment advocates.

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