Commentary Magazine


Topic: Joe Biden

2016 and the Shutdown: Joe Biden Edition

Yesterday I wrote about Harry Reid’s attempt to bench President Obama in the ongoing shutdown showdown. Reid’s justification for this power trip was, according to Democrats, that Reid’s party is concerned Obama might negotiate in good faith and end the shutdown. That put them in direct competition: the president’s responsibility is to govern, and Reid sees his current role as protecting Democrats from having to vote on anything remotely controversial and marginalizing the Republican minority. His aims are incompatible with the president’s.

But removing Obama from the equation seems misdirected. After all, Obama has terrible relationships with the Hill and has made a career out of torpedoing major bipartisan deals rather than implementing them. When the administration needed to make a deal with Republicans in Obama’s first term, the president had to be sidelined so a deal could be struck. It was Vice President Joe Biden who stepped in to negotiate. Wouldn’t Reid, then, have more to gain by keeping Biden away from this showdown? As Politico notes today, he’s done that too:

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Yesterday I wrote about Harry Reid’s attempt to bench President Obama in the ongoing shutdown showdown. Reid’s justification for this power trip was, according to Democrats, that Reid’s party is concerned Obama might negotiate in good faith and end the shutdown. That put them in direct competition: the president’s responsibility is to govern, and Reid sees his current role as protecting Democrats from having to vote on anything remotely controversial and marginalizing the Republican minority. His aims are incompatible with the president’s.

But removing Obama from the equation seems misdirected. After all, Obama has terrible relationships with the Hill and has made a career out of torpedoing major bipartisan deals rather than implementing them. When the administration needed to make a deal with Republicans in Obama’s first term, the president had to be sidelined so a deal could be struck. It was Vice President Joe Biden who stepped in to negotiate. Wouldn’t Reid, then, have more to gain by keeping Biden away from this showdown? As Politico notes today, he’s done that too:

When President Barack Obama laid out his strategy for the current debt-limit fight in a private meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this past summer, Reid stipulated one condition: No Joe Biden.

And while Biden attended the White House dog-and-pony show meeting last week with congressional leaders, Reid has effectively barred him from the backrooms, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The vice president’s disappearance has grown ever more noticeable as the government shutdown enters its eighth day with no resolution in sight and a debt limit crisis looms. Biden was once Democrats’ deal-maker-in-chief, designing budget pacts with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the summer of 2011 and New Year’s Eve 2013.

Coverage of the shutdown showdown has framed it as a battle of wits between President Obama and congressional Republicans (especially those in the House). The shutdown is centered on the GOP’s efforts to defund ObamaCare and undo what the president considers his signature legacy. In that respect, this is absolutely a contest between the House GOP and Obama personally.

But it doesn’t explain all the factors involved. Reid’s behavior fills in the blanks. Today’s Politico story claims Democrats think the White House–represented by Biden–gave away too much in previous deals. The first question to ask in response to this is: So what? Is the president not the leader of his party? Is it not his name on the policy that’s causing all this friction? And since when does Barack Obama (and by extension, Joe Biden) take orders from Harry Reid?

The answer has a lot to do with the timeline. The 2011 deal that Biden helped strike was before the president’s reelection. The New Year’s deal was right after Obama and Biden won the election and the political capital that comes with it. But Obama isn’t running again. It may seem strange, but Obama’s own party is treating the president as a lame duck far more than Republicans are. The sixth-year midterms traditionally can be uphill elections for the party that holds the White House. And this time it’s Reid’s legacy (somewhat) on the line.

Reid may be an unappealing spokesman for his cause, but his political instincts are still sharp. He’s right that the 2014 congressional elections have supplanted the 2016 presidential primaries as the reference point for trying to gauge the motivations of Republicans. Reid preferred not to vote on separate, piecemeal legislation to fund certain parts of the government during the shutdown, fearing it would cascade into a line-item frenzy that favored the GOP. But when Republicans in the House passed a bill to fund active-service military personnel, Reid allowed the bill to move forward in the Senate. As Byron York writes at the Washington Examiner, Republicans plan to do exactly what Reid hoped to prevent:

GOP rebels want to focus on red-state Democrats, particularly those up for re-election in 2014, and make the shutdown a question of support for veterans. (It’s a tactic that certainly wasn’t hurt by the Park Service’s ham-handed attempts to close down the World War II and Vietnam War memorials on the National Mall.) Cruz’s Growth and Freedom Fund PAC has created a new website, Fundourvets.com, that urges people to tell Senate Democrats that “legislation to fully fund the Department of Veterans Affairs…needs their support.”

The GOP rebels believe those vulnerable Democrats will eventually cave on veterans’ funding. And if they do, having voted once to keep the military going, and then again to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs, what is the rationale for resisting other funding measures?

This dynamic also explains why sidelining Biden was more significant than sidelining Obama. The president may not have another election coming up, but Reid isn’t the only Democrat with electoral considerations. Biden appears to be strongly considering running for president in 2016, and his work in helping craft bipartisan deals in the administration’s first term was seen as resume building.

Obama doesn’t have much to lose by being excluded from these negotiations, especially because Reid would never sacrifice ObamaCare to the Republicans. That’s not the case with Biden, who is enough of a loose cannon to push back on Reid if he deems it necessary. Thus the 2016 presidential election may not be motivating Republicans’ current strategy, but it could easily be a source of conflict for Democrats.

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Biden’s Not Bluffing About 2016

The consensus among political pundits and Democratic operatives is that there is only one way for Vice President Joe Biden to avoid being the first sitting veep since Alben Barkley to be denied his party’s nomination for president: don’t run. Barkley, whose grandchildren invented the term veep to refer to the vice presidency, was a typical example of a No. 2 of that era. He had been put on the Democratic ticket in 1948 for the purpose of geographic balance and was given nothing to do other than to preside over the Senate and go to funerals. The reason why the 74-year-old former Kentucky  senator thought he could win the presidency has been lost to antiquity, but in those days the idea that the post, which was held in general disrepute, was a stepping-stone for the presidency was an eccentric notion. Since then several veeps have won their party’s nominations and a couple have won the presidency (Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush). Since Barkley’s day, presidents have given their running mates much more responsibility and the job has become far more visible and influential rather than the source of humor.

But with Hillary Clinton gearing up for another presidential run that has most of her party already enthused about the prospect of the first female commander in chief, what chance has Biden got? Polls already show her leading other Democrats by huge margins. So what exactly was Biden’s camp up to feeding the Wall Street Journal the line that the vice president is “confident” and plans to run in 2016 no matter what Hillary does? The front-page story in today’s Journal that cites sources close to Biden and his political team might be interpreted as a tactical message to Democrats that the vice president is ready to run if the former first lady and secretary of state disappoints her loyalists and doesn’t try. Given that most Democrats think the real competition will be for Hillary’s choice to replace Biden rather than the top spot, that makes sense. But I think that’s a mistake. Biden may be a huge underdog who would be at a clear disadvantage against Clinton, but I think his camp’s effort to get this message out in such a prominent forum should be seen as a shot fired over the bow of the Clinton juggernaut. It’s a reminder to Democrats that the man whose ego is bigger than the small state that sent him to the Senate for 36 years isn’t inclined to go quietly into the night as the Obama presidency winds down. The vice president has spent his life itching for the Oval Office and if you think he will be deterred from running by long odds, you don’t know Joe Biden.

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The consensus among political pundits and Democratic operatives is that there is only one way for Vice President Joe Biden to avoid being the first sitting veep since Alben Barkley to be denied his party’s nomination for president: don’t run. Barkley, whose grandchildren invented the term veep to refer to the vice presidency, was a typical example of a No. 2 of that era. He had been put on the Democratic ticket in 1948 for the purpose of geographic balance and was given nothing to do other than to preside over the Senate and go to funerals. The reason why the 74-year-old former Kentucky  senator thought he could win the presidency has been lost to antiquity, but in those days the idea that the post, which was held in general disrepute, was a stepping-stone for the presidency was an eccentric notion. Since then several veeps have won their party’s nominations and a couple have won the presidency (Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush). Since Barkley’s day, presidents have given their running mates much more responsibility and the job has become far more visible and influential rather than the source of humor.

But with Hillary Clinton gearing up for another presidential run that has most of her party already enthused about the prospect of the first female commander in chief, what chance has Biden got? Polls already show her leading other Democrats by huge margins. So what exactly was Biden’s camp up to feeding the Wall Street Journal the line that the vice president is “confident” and plans to run in 2016 no matter what Hillary does? The front-page story in today’s Journal that cites sources close to Biden and his political team might be interpreted as a tactical message to Democrats that the vice president is ready to run if the former first lady and secretary of state disappoints her loyalists and doesn’t try. Given that most Democrats think the real competition will be for Hillary’s choice to replace Biden rather than the top spot, that makes sense. But I think that’s a mistake. Biden may be a huge underdog who would be at a clear disadvantage against Clinton, but I think his camp’s effort to get this message out in such a prominent forum should be seen as a shot fired over the bow of the Clinton juggernaut. It’s a reminder to Democrats that the man whose ego is bigger than the small state that sent him to the Senate for 36 years isn’t inclined to go quietly into the night as the Obama presidency winds down. The vice president has spent his life itching for the Oval Office and if you think he will be deterred from running by long odds, you don’t know Joe Biden.

Handicapping Biden’s intentions for 2016 are really no different than understanding why he ran in 2008. Few gave him much of a chance and his abortive campaign to win the Democratic nomination was a colossal flop. Back in 1988 when he made his first run for the presidency, he had been briefly considered a first-tier contender in a race that was eventually won by Michael Dukakis. But his candidacy didn’t survive when Biden was exposed as a serial plagiarizer. His stump speech was found to be a copy of the one used by Neil Kinnock, then the head of Britain’s Labor Party. It soon came out that he had also plagiarized a law school paper. That seemed to put an end to his presidential ambition, but the fever still burned inside him. When, seemingly close to the end of a lengthy political career, he tried again, it was not the result of any groundswell on his behalf. Rather, it was the act of a politician with enormous self-regard. The 2008 run was not so much his last hurrah as it was Biden deciding to make a sacrifice and give the American people one last chance to do the right thing and make him president. Unfortunately for him, nobody else felt that way.

Barack Obama’s decision that he needed Biden’s gravitas and foreign-policy experience (a laughable notion since virtually every position Biden had taken had been largely discredited) got him closer to his goal than anybody (other than Biden) thought he would achieve. But Clinton’s strength is such that the general assumption is that she would clear the field and run as a virtual incumbent in the 2016 primaries. Given the fact that they would have to draw upon much of the same sources for funding and political support, conventional wisdom would indicate that Biden should step aside rather than get run over. But that sort of thinking does not take into account Biden’s hunger for the presidency or his sense that it is his destiny.

Does Biden have a chance to actually upset Hillary? Not really. He would probably be able to raise enough money to run and, as he has already shown with his trips to the early voting states, will work hard in Iowa and New Hampshire. But Clinton has too much going for her to be stopped by a man who, however much affection he has earned among the Democratic grass roots for his hyper-partisanship, is still generally regarded as an embarrassing gas bag in much of the country. But just as Biden is undeterred by his frequent gaffes, no one should be surprised if he persists in running despite the odds. Joe Biden thinks he should be president, and nothing the Clintons do is likely to persuade him otherwise.

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The Jihad Farm System

Eli Lake and Josh Rogin’s Daily Beast scoop on the big al-Qaeda conference call that shut down 22 American embassies contains an important little detail that shouldn’t go unnoticed:

Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official.

So much for that sophisticated distinction between big-time terror networks and what people like to downplay as “al-Qaeda inspired groups.” If you’ve got a bomb and a dream you’re halfway in the club. Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry and they’re doing transnational deals with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the global CEO of terror. According to Lake and Rogin, they weren’t the only “aspiring al Qaeda” types on the call.

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Eli Lake and Josh Rogin’s Daily Beast scoop on the big al-Qaeda conference call that shut down 22 American embassies contains an important little detail that shouldn’t go unnoticed:

Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official.

So much for that sophisticated distinction between big-time terror networks and what people like to downplay as “al-Qaeda inspired groups.” If you’ve got a bomb and a dream you’re halfway in the club. Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry and they’re doing transnational deals with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the global CEO of terror. According to Lake and Rogin, they weren’t the only “aspiring al Qaeda” types on the call.

After the Tsarnaev brothers bombed the Boston Marathon, the American vice president referred to them as “knock-off jihadis.” Never mind the real bombs, the real deaths, and the real Islamic radicalism—they were wannabe terrorists because only two confused posers could elude the sophisticated security apparatuses of at least two countries and successfully execute a deadly double bomb plot in broad daylight. The point is this: the knock-off-real-deal jihad distinction is one we make for political reasons—acknowledging the scope of the threat would mean expanding the scope of the fight. This distinction is wholly nonsensical to our enemy. Al-Zawahiri doesn’t use the Joe Biden jihad legitimacy test. Give a little, give a lot; the important thing is that you give.

It’s very enterprising of al-Qaeda proper to support and utilize lesser affiliates. It’s also likely to increase as the organization comes to see that Americans won’t wage war on mere knock-offs. 

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Dems Treat Hillary As Their Party Leader

The Hill reports that Democrats are trying to get Hillary Clinton to appear on the campaign trail for midterm elections next year. The second-term congressional elections are often trouble for the party that controls the White House, and the Obama administration is beset by scandals that may curb the enthusiasm of the party’s base and thus liberal turnout on Election Day.

Republicans continue to press their advantage in the House and Democrats will be on the defensive in the Senate as well. If the Democrats’ liberal base is in danger of apathy from the fuss over the NSA’s data collection, the other scandal–the IRS’s targeting of Tea Partiers–is likely to have the opposite effect for many Republicans. That means Democrats may need some extra help in many races, but those same races will be for districts or states where a visit from President Obama won’t help. Often Bill Clinton will pitch in to such efforts, but apparently that’s not the Clinton congressional Democrats have in mind:

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The Hill reports that Democrats are trying to get Hillary Clinton to appear on the campaign trail for midterm elections next year. The second-term congressional elections are often trouble for the party that controls the White House, and the Obama administration is beset by scandals that may curb the enthusiasm of the party’s base and thus liberal turnout on Election Day.

Republicans continue to press their advantage in the House and Democrats will be on the defensive in the Senate as well. If the Democrats’ liberal base is in danger of apathy from the fuss over the NSA’s data collection, the other scandal–the IRS’s targeting of Tea Partiers–is likely to have the opposite effect for many Republicans. That means Democrats may need some extra help in many races, but those same races will be for districts or states where a visit from President Obama won’t help. Often Bill Clinton will pitch in to such efforts, but apparently that’s not the Clinton congressional Democrats have in mind:

“It’s almost universal,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.). “Members would like her to drop by for a visit or two.”

He said he spoke to Clinton about helping Democrats retake the House. 

“I had a conversation with her where she said she needed time to see to some personal interests and I said, ‘The second you are ready — and I do not mean the minute and I do not mean the hour — but the second you are ready, I hope you will call me,’” Israel said.

[Ed] Rendell said if he were running again, he’d want Clinton over Obama to campaign for him because “President Obama is so identified with healthcare” and other controversial policy issues. 

“Hillary comes in as a white knight with little downside.”

That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s actually a lot to ask of Hillary Clinton. If a Democratic candidate is fighting an uphill battle to hold or win a seat, it doesn’t make much sense for Clinton to swoop in and get associated with the loss. If that happened on a large scale, Clinton would, to follow Rendell’s metaphor, dent her suit of armor. She wants to clear the field of serious primary competition for 2016, and she won’t do that by making the rounds on the campaign trail for losing efforts or controversial or unpopular candidates.

Some candidates will have more of a chance to get Clinton to show up for them, of course, for the same reason others won’t: self-interest. One such politician is New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who is running for reelection in 2014. As the Hill notes: “If reelected, Shaheen is expected to be a major player in the 2016 first-in-the-nation presidential primary in her home state. Her husband, William Shaheen, served as Clinton’s co-chairman of her national and New Hampshire campaigns in the 2008 contest.” In other words, they can call in Clinton because two years later she’ll be calling them for their help.

In fact, not to be cynical about it but the Hill annotates its quotes throughout the piece with helpful hints about the motivations of each person they spoke to on the record. As Jonathan wrote the other day, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill became the first high-profile endorsement for the Clinton campaign that the Clintons insist is not yet a campaign. The Hill notes that McCaskill made a nasty remark about Bill Clinton during her 2006 campaign, and adds:

Some have viewed the Missouri Democrat’s move as a way to make amends with the Clintons, who are known to have long memories. It’s likely that other Democrats who criticized the Clintons during the 2008 race will follow McCaskill’s lead. That group could include lawmakers, lobbyists and Hollywood figures.

Sure, put the band back together. The Hill gets a quote from Ed Rendell predicting a momentum shift within the party to Clinton. But Rendell, we are reminded, “as a staunch Clinton supporter, has an interest in seeing his forecast come true.”

Just as interesting as the names that appear in the story are the names that don’t–the most notable absentee being Joe Biden. Though he is currently the vice president, he doesn’t even merit a mention. Of course, in part that’s because he is representing this White House, but Biden can be much more useful to candidates away from the coasts where his Amtrak-riding, blue-collar appeal can actually help Democratic candidates distance themselves from their party’s coastal elites.

They may resort to asking Biden anyway since Hillary is unlikely to accept the invitations of her party’s underdog candidates. But in the meantime, the coronation of Hillary Clinton seems to be in full swing.

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Good Old Joe and Hillary’s Front Porch

The Washington Post’s flattering profile of Joe Biden that was published today didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know about the vice president and the consuming ambition that has driven his long career in politics. The big question hanging over the piece is whether Biden will run for president in 2016. But the only line you really had to read in the piece was the one attributed to several of his friends. While acknowledging the long odds facing him if he chose to run for president whether or not Hillary Clinton runs, “For Biden, who has been running for office since his 20s, not running would feel unnatural.”

Unnatural or not, the Post makes clear what has been increasingly apparent: Clinton’s entry into the field would make a Biden candidacy highly unlikely. Though the memory of her “inevitable” election to the presidency in 2008 must not be forgotten, Clinton’s absence from the political fray during four years as a popular if ineffectual secretary of state has given her the kind of commanding position that hasn’t been seen in presidential politics since Dwight Eisenhower bided his time waiting for his opportunity during the Truman administration. The former first lady may not be a hero of the greatest war in history, but her potential to be the first woman president gives her the kind of politically correct status in her party that will make it all but impossible for any serious Democrat to oppose her. That’s why all the speculation about Biden is largely pointless.

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The Washington Post’s flattering profile of Joe Biden that was published today didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know about the vice president and the consuming ambition that has driven his long career in politics. The big question hanging over the piece is whether Biden will run for president in 2016. But the only line you really had to read in the piece was the one attributed to several of his friends. While acknowledging the long odds facing him if he chose to run for president whether or not Hillary Clinton runs, “For Biden, who has been running for office since his 20s, not running would feel unnatural.”

Unnatural or not, the Post makes clear what has been increasingly apparent: Clinton’s entry into the field would make a Biden candidacy highly unlikely. Though the memory of her “inevitable” election to the presidency in 2008 must not be forgotten, Clinton’s absence from the political fray during four years as a popular if ineffectual secretary of state has given her the kind of commanding position that hasn’t been seen in presidential politics since Dwight Eisenhower bided his time waiting for his opportunity during the Truman administration. The former first lady may not be a hero of the greatest war in history, but her potential to be the first woman president gives her the kind of politically correct status in her party that will make it all but impossible for any serious Democrat to oppose her. That’s why all the speculation about Biden is largely pointless.

As the Post reminds us, the vice president has been an unexpected success in office. While most political observers had come to rightly view him as a poster child for term limits and a gasbag who had flopped miserably in two attempts to win the presidency, it was precisely his conviviality and decades of experience in Washington that made him an essential aide to President Obama. With the cerebral and ice-cold commander-in-chief unwilling or unable to deign to bargain, let alone banter, with members of Congress, it has fallen to Biden to be the prime minister of this administration. It is no exaggeration to say that without him, the slim roster of the president’s legislative achievements would be a great deal slimmer.

But the avuncular “good old Joe,” who can cut a deal with former Senate colleagues, rouse the rabble at Democratic rallies (often by engaging in outrageous hyperbole such as his classic warning to a black audience in Virginia that Republicans were planning to “put y’all back in chains”) and weep on cue when meeting family members of victims of mass shootings, is no match for Clinton in 2016.

The main takeaway from the talk about Biden or any of the lesser Democratic possibilities for 2016 is that Clinton’s continuing absence from the fray is only making her stronger. The more we talk about other Democrats, the more we realize that none of them are positioned to compete with her increasingly untouchable position as the person whose main qualification to be president will be her gender.

That’s the genius of a Clinton strategy that centers on the candidate keeping quiet for as long as possible. Without her in the picture, the discussion about other candidates will remain more about Clinton than her rivals. As long as she is not engaging in the back and forth of political discourse during which her less than perfect temperament and conventional liberal beliefs would hamper her, as they did in 2008, she can sweep the field and persuade all serious opposition to evaporate.

If anything, all this should convince Clinton to keep under wraps these next two years. Other than sallying forth for lucrative speaking engagements, her advisors should be telling her to stay at home–at least until the fall of 2015 if not later. The longer she keeps Democrats waiting, the easier it will be for her to recreate what is essentially a 19th-century presidential campaign dynamic in which the party will beg her to be its nominee, rather than the other way around. There is no more certain template for a Clinton presidential nomination than for her to stay on her front porch and let the nation come to her. Absent ill health or some factor about which we currently know nothing, I think the chances of her not running are minimal. How could anyone as ambitious as Hillary resist a race that will be more of a queen’s coronation than a presidential nomination contest?

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“Knock-Off Jihadis” and Other Pests

Yesterday at a memorial service for Boston bombing victims, Joe Biden described the Tsarnaev brothers as “twisted, perverted, cowardly, knock-off jihadis.”

You know what they say. If it worships like a duck, radicalizes like a duck, plans like a duck, arms like a duck, bombs like a duck, and kills like a duck—it’s a knock-off.

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Yesterday at a memorial service for Boston bombing victims, Joe Biden described the Tsarnaev brothers as “twisted, perverted, cowardly, knock-off jihadis.”

You know what they say. If it worships like a duck, radicalizes like a duck, plans like a duck, arms like a duck, bombs like a duck, and kills like a duck—it’s a knock-off.

It would be nice if the burden of proof for receiving Massachusetts benefits was so tough. Since the only deranged systemic network that authorities have linked the brothers to is the state welfare agency, they’re just pretend jihadists incapable of disturbing Pax Obamacana.

Of course when al-Qaeda-linked groups claim credit for killing Americans these days, that too is deemed the product of inconsequential riff-raff. Jihadist all-stars Ansar al-Sharia bragged of committing the massacre at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. So naturally the administration blamed angry YouTube viewers and arrested a provocative American “filmmaker.” The State Department’s version of coming around to the truth was Hillary Clinton’s angry declaration before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January: “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”

And at this point? With another four dead Americans, these killed on Patriot’s Day in a great American city, one an 8-year-old, it makes a difference. When innocent Americans are slain in the name of an anti-American idea it demands a measure of bravery and honesty from the rest of us. Calling the suspected perpetrators “knock-off jihadists” is a pretty shabby way to dishonor the dead.

It’s also a poor way to protect civilization. No matter how many thousand bad guys you incinerate with drones, you can’t defeat what you’re too scared to speak of. Forget the words Islamism and jihad. It’s gotten to the point where the administration’s using the word terrorism is perceived as a dangerously aggressive counterterrorist initiative reminiscent of the Bush years.

Last Sunday the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg said that Boston plunged us into the “era of the suspicious package.” Not very resonant, as far as historical eras go. But it does cover the ideological depth of national security thinking in Obama’s America. We’ve moved on from the unacceptable war on terror to a war on luggage. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist is another’s knapsack.

An imitation of leadership can only handle an imitation of jihad. The specter of a committed enemy would bring into focus the commitment on our side, the side of “what difference does it make?” Better to fight knock-offs and luggage than get into all that.

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Obama’s Thatcher Snub

In February 1946, about a month before Winston Churchill’s famous “iron curtain” speech in Missouri, Churchill had dinner at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. Though it would serve both President Harry Truman and Churchill to downplay any hint that Truman approved the content of Churchill’s speech beforehand, neither wanted any surprises. At his dinner with the American ambassador to Cuba, R. Henry Norweb, Churchill spoke plainly about his thoughts on the Soviet Union and the United Nations. Norweb relayed the comments to Truman the following day, in which he described Churchill’s comments on the Soviet Union’s Communist threat as recalling Churchill’s “world-shaking oratory” about the Nazis years earlier. Norweb continued:

Mr. Churchill went on to express his conviction that the only escape from future disaster, the only hope for [the United Nations Organization], lies in the development over the years of some definite working agreement between the American and British Governments. He fully understands, he said, that any formal merger or alliance would doubtless now be impracticable, untimely and unpopular on both sides of the Atlantic–but he holds that the sheer pressure of events will of necessity force our two great commonwealths to come together in some workable manner if the peace and order of the world are to be preserved from chaos.

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In February 1946, about a month before Winston Churchill’s famous “iron curtain” speech in Missouri, Churchill had dinner at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. Though it would serve both President Harry Truman and Churchill to downplay any hint that Truman approved the content of Churchill’s speech beforehand, neither wanted any surprises. At his dinner with the American ambassador to Cuba, R. Henry Norweb, Churchill spoke plainly about his thoughts on the Soviet Union and the United Nations. Norweb relayed the comments to Truman the following day, in which he described Churchill’s comments on the Soviet Union’s Communist threat as recalling Churchill’s “world-shaking oratory” about the Nazis years earlier. Norweb continued:

Mr. Churchill went on to express his conviction that the only escape from future disaster, the only hope for [the United Nations Organization], lies in the development over the years of some definite working agreement between the American and British Governments. He fully understands, he said, that any formal merger or alliance would doubtless now be impracticable, untimely and unpopular on both sides of the Atlantic–but he holds that the sheer pressure of events will of necessity force our two great commonwealths to come together in some workable manner if the peace and order of the world are to be preserved from chaos.

Truman did not object to either point, and the speech became a pivotal moment in the early stages of the Cold War and of the post-war relationship between the U.S. and Britain. (It should be remembered that Churchill was accorded this honor from Truman despite the fact that he was no longer prime minister, though the British government that replaced him did not object to the speech.) In October 1947, Truman wrote to Churchill: “Your Fulton, Mo. speech becomes more nearly a prophecy every day. I hope conditions will warrant your paying me another visit. I certainly enjoyed your stay here immensely…. May you continue to enjoy health and happiness and a long life–the world needs you now as badly as ever.”

I recount this history because it is often forgotten that the special relationship between Britain and the U.S. after World War II and the countries’ close alliance against Soviet Communism was far from inevitable. On the contrary, it took painstaking diplomacy and bold gestures. Which is why the Obama administration’s decision to take the alliance with Britain for granted, marked by its repeated thoughtlessness and insulting behavior toward the British crown and government, is so foolish. And rather than learn from its blunders, the administration appears to be content to continue making such mistakes.

Following on its refusal to recognize British sovereignty over the Falklands or the Falklands residents’ own wishes, the Obama administration decided not to send a high-level official to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral service today. It did not go unnoticed.

Thatcher and Ronald Reagan carried to victory the Cold War partnership begun by Truman and Churchill. The Cold War has always been a sore subject for this administration, which has endlessly taunted those who want to remember the history at all. (This might have something to do with Vice President Joe Biden’s less-than-stellar record during the Cold War.) And since Thatcher rescued her country from the grips of suffocating union dominance and the Western left’s declinist fetish, it’s not too surprising the president would not want attention drawn to that either. But that’s still no excuse.

The whole episode recalls Obama’s decision to skip the ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall early in his first term. He sent a videotaped message instead (which he found a way to make about himself, using the message to celebrate the historic nature of his own election). The only upside to today’s absence in London is that, given Obama’s treatment of our British allies thus far, he probably wasn’t missed.

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Just How Weak Is the Democrats’ Bench?

In December, I wrote about the habits that keep the Democratic Party’s bench noticeably shallow. In contrast to the GOP, which is currently hooked on primary competition, the Democrats have relied on their own ruling class, going so far as to replace Barney Frank–who finally gave up his seat after two decades and helping to induce the disastrous housing crisis at the end of his controversial career–with a Kennedy. This was after Democrats had a few years earlier tried to replace Hillary Clinton with a Kennedy.

Now Democrats seem ready to anoint Clinton their nominee for 2016, just 15 years after her husband left the presidency. (To be fair, George W. Bush was elected less than eight years after his father left, but Hillary Clinton shared the White House with Bill Clinton during his presidency and even took part in policy development. So you could say Hillary will aim for the presidential nomination 15 years after she left the White House.)

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In December, I wrote about the habits that keep the Democratic Party’s bench noticeably shallow. In contrast to the GOP, which is currently hooked on primary competition, the Democrats have relied on their own ruling class, going so far as to replace Barney Frank–who finally gave up his seat after two decades and helping to induce the disastrous housing crisis at the end of his controversial career–with a Kennedy. This was after Democrats had a few years earlier tried to replace Hillary Clinton with a Kennedy.

Now Democrats seem ready to anoint Clinton their nominee for 2016, just 15 years after her husband left the presidency. (To be fair, George W. Bush was elected less than eight years after his father left, but Hillary Clinton shared the White House with Bill Clinton during his presidency and even took part in policy development. So you could say Hillary will aim for the presidential nomination 15 years after she left the White House.)

Recently, David Frum wrote about this theme, and responded to his critics here. The essential question here is whether nominating Hillary Clinton would hold back the development of the Democrats’ young talent in favor of a retread. And although I think the rush to coronate, instead of nominate, Clinton is absolutely part of this trend, in Clinton’s case specifically I will admit to the argument being slightly weaker because, well, there isn’t much young talent she’d be suppressing.

Nominating Clinton would certainly end Joe Biden’s presidential ambitions, but he is not young–he is older than Clinton, and currently the sitting vice president. (A fact many voters no doubt would like to forget, but must be remembered in this context at least.) That is not to say there aren’t young politicians waiting in the wings, but they do not contrast favorably with Hillary Clinton.

The other Democrat who has been most obvious about his desire to run for president in 2016 is Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. But his inability to govern is, as we’ve noted before, legendary. And he is running to the left of just about anyone else. As Politico notes:

O’Malley will end up signing a significant hike in the state’s gasoline tax to pay for transportation, though he argues the extra tax burden for an average motorist in 2016 ($1.40 a week) is dwarfed by the price of a cup of coffee. Should O’Malley embark upon a widely-expected 2016 presidential campaign, it’s unclear how other new additions to his record – getting rid of capital punishment and restricting the sale of firearms, for example – would be received by a national audience.

What this means is that O’Malley is charging more for a product of lower and lower quality each year. How much are Maryland residents willing to pay to follow California off the cliffs of fiscal insanity? O’Malley is trying to find out so he can pose the same question to the rest of the country.

Another big name on the Democratic side for 2016 is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. But not only is Cuomo also running to what would likely be Clinton’s left, he has just shown New York residents why he is temperamentally unsuited to be a political executive. After the Newtown massacre in Connecticut, Cuomo tried to exploit the tragedy to rush through a gun ban no one had time to read. The gun ban was almost certainly unconstitutional (though that wouldn’t matter to Cuomo), but it was also unworkable–as Cuomo admitted after signing the bill and, presumably, doing some googling on guns.

The crass exploitation of others’ grief combined with the uninformed policymaking and rash legislating represents all the wrong qualities in a potential president.

There are some intriguing Democratic candidates in the Senate, such as Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. But Gillibrand now holds the Senate seat Clinton vacated and is unlikely to challenge Clinton. Would Warren? It’s difficult to say for sure, but she is a freshman senator without prior political experience. She is also the quintessential class warrior, and the country may be sick of such nonsense by 2016.

Other names would surely emerge, especially if Clinton chooses not to run. And the argument can certainly be made that opening up the process would give younger candidates a chance to get some campaign experience and hone their message with voters. But if Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley are the best of the rest, it’s pretty clear why Democrats seem so set on Clinton.

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Why Biden Won’t Fold on the Gun Ban

Yahoo News reports that Vice President Joe Biden met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–the leading proponent of a theory of liberal governing known as “banning stuff I don’t much like”–to try to revive the gun ban that Harry Reid dropped from the Senate’s push for gun control legislation. Biden and Bloomberg “issued a joint appeal to members of Congress, urging lawmakers to ignore politics and do the ‘right thing’ by passing new federal gun-control laws.”

The phrase “ignore politics” means ignore the voters, to whom members of Congress are answerable and who they expect to punish them for going too far on this issue. As I wrote yesterday, in pushing the assault weapons ban, the White House put Reid in a difficult position. Reid rarely permits the Senate to carry out anything resembling responsible governance because he doesn’t want Democrats to have to vote on anything troublesome. Since most liberal policy ideas are terrible, Reid ensures they rarely have to come to the floor for a vote. But President Obama made gun control an issue, and wanted a whip count on a gun ban. So Reid gave him the whip count–publicly–which embarrassed the gun ban’s supporters because it showed that Democrats don’t like the legislation either, which is why it was dropped.

Which leads to a question we find ourselves asking an awful lot these days: What is Joe Biden doing?

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Yahoo News reports that Vice President Joe Biden met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–the leading proponent of a theory of liberal governing known as “banning stuff I don’t much like”–to try to revive the gun ban that Harry Reid dropped from the Senate’s push for gun control legislation. Biden and Bloomberg “issued a joint appeal to members of Congress, urging lawmakers to ignore politics and do the ‘right thing’ by passing new federal gun-control laws.”

The phrase “ignore politics” means ignore the voters, to whom members of Congress are answerable and who they expect to punish them for going too far on this issue. As I wrote yesterday, in pushing the assault weapons ban, the White House put Reid in a difficult position. Reid rarely permits the Senate to carry out anything resembling responsible governance because he doesn’t want Democrats to have to vote on anything troublesome. Since most liberal policy ideas are terrible, Reid ensures they rarely have to come to the floor for a vote. But President Obama made gun control an issue, and wanted a whip count on a gun ban. So Reid gave him the whip count–publicly–which embarrassed the gun ban’s supporters because it showed that Democrats don’t like the legislation either, which is why it was dropped.

Which leads to a question we find ourselves asking an awful lot these days: What is Joe Biden doing?

The vice president is following a script heavy on emotion and symbolism and light on practicality. Of course, that’s national politics much of the time. But it hasn’t had much success thus far on the gun control debate. The best example of this failure is not Reid’s decision to pull the gun ban from a bill that might otherwise pass the Senate and at least enact some additional regulation of gun purchases, but rather what happened when New York State passed a gun bun.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo appealed to emotion after the Newtown tragedy and created a crisis atmosphere to force through a restrictive gun ban. The bill Cuomo proudly signed was a perfectly contemptible example of bad governing. He would like it to go on his resume has having taken action on an issue of import, but it really attests to how ill-served voters are to have someone like Cuomo represent them in office. At Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson explains:

The NY Gun law effectively banned the purchase of new pistols because pistols are not generally made to hold 7-round magazines, and even if some manufacturers would produce such magazines for the NY market, it still presented a constitutional problem:  Under the Heller and McDonald cases, the state cannot effectively ban handguns either outright or by setting up irrational and onerous obstacles.

Such a law can only be written and supported by someone who doesn’t know much about handguns, constitutional law, or reasonable policy enforcement. So says Cuomo himself, about his own bill:

But after weeks of criticism from gun owners, Mr. Cuomo said on Wednesday that he would seek to ease the restriction, which he said had proved unworkable even before it was scheduled to take effect on April 15.

The gun-control law, approved in January, banned the sale of magazines that hold more than seven rounds of ammunition. But, Mr. Cuomo said Wednesday, seven-round magazines are not widely manufactured. And, although the new gun law provided an exemption for the use of 10-round magazines at firing ranges and competitions, it did not provide a legal way for gun owners to purchase such magazines.

The obvious question is: Couldn’t Cuomo have found all this out before signing the bill? And the obvious answer is: Absolutely. But Cuomo saw an opportunity to “do something” and took it. Which brings us back to Biden. The vice president and Bloomberg gave a press conference surrounded by family of victims of the Newtown massacre and urged the political class to pass a gun ban in the name of those victims. Isn’t this exactly what ran aground both in New York and in the U.S. Senate?

It is. But Biden has much more of a stake in passing hearty gun control than even Cuomo, and certainly than his boss in the White House or Harry Reid. Biden was tasked by President Obama with leading the way on gun control in the wake of the mass shooting in Connecticut. Biden is trying to build his own White House resume, independent of Obama’s, because while Obama never has to face the voters again, Biden may want to run for president to succeed Obama. To do that, he’ll need to prove he’s more than just a schmoozer. The only way Biden has a shot is by establishing competence and authority. Biden, unlike Obama, Reid, and even, to a lesser extent, Cuomo, has too much riding on this losing hand to fold.

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No Alternative to Appeasing Morsi?

I wrote earlier today about the way Vice President Biden seemed to take the United States half a step closer to an eventual confrontation with Iran in his speech to the annual AIPAC conference. Also noteworthy was the absence of any criticism of Israel’s presence in the West Bank or settlements. Biden extolled the two-state solution for the conflict with the Palestinians, but as has been the case with the Obama administration since the start of the 2012 presidential campaign, there was an effort to steer clear of any real argument with Israel and its supporters on the peace process. But as much as Biden seemed anxious to agree with the pro-Israel community on a host of issues, such as isolating Hezbollah and treating it as a terrorist organization, there was one point of real disagreement with many of the Jewish state’s supporters.

While surveying the Middle East and denouncing threats to Israel, Biden insisted that the Obama administration’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt was not the mistake that many critics have claimed:

We’re not looking at what’s happening in Egypt through rose-colored glasses. Again, our eyes are wide open. We have no illusions about the challenges that we face, but we also know this: There’s no legitimate alternative at this point to engagement.

Only through engagement — it’s only through engagement with Egypt that we can focus Egypt’s leaders on the need to repair international obligations — respect their international obligations, including and especially its peace treaty with Israel. It’s only through active engagement that we can help ensure that Hamas does not re-arm through the Sinai and put the people of Israel at risk. It’s only through engagement that we can concentrate Egypt’s government on the imperative of confronting the extremists. And it’s only through engagement that we can encourage Egypt’s leaders to make reforms that will spark economic growth and stabilize the democratic process. And it’s all tough, and there’s no certainty.

While the concerns that Biden raises about the possibility that the Morsi government will break the treaty with Israel are real, his insistence that there are no alternatives to coddling the Brotherhood with arms sales and a virtual blank check to continue its quest for total power in Egypt is wrong. So, too, is his belief that making nice with the Islamists is altering their behavior.

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I wrote earlier today about the way Vice President Biden seemed to take the United States half a step closer to an eventual confrontation with Iran in his speech to the annual AIPAC conference. Also noteworthy was the absence of any criticism of Israel’s presence in the West Bank or settlements. Biden extolled the two-state solution for the conflict with the Palestinians, but as has been the case with the Obama administration since the start of the 2012 presidential campaign, there was an effort to steer clear of any real argument with Israel and its supporters on the peace process. But as much as Biden seemed anxious to agree with the pro-Israel community on a host of issues, such as isolating Hezbollah and treating it as a terrorist organization, there was one point of real disagreement with many of the Jewish state’s supporters.

While surveying the Middle East and denouncing threats to Israel, Biden insisted that the Obama administration’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt was not the mistake that many critics have claimed:

We’re not looking at what’s happening in Egypt through rose-colored glasses. Again, our eyes are wide open. We have no illusions about the challenges that we face, but we also know this: There’s no legitimate alternative at this point to engagement.

Only through engagement — it’s only through engagement with Egypt that we can focus Egypt’s leaders on the need to repair international obligations — respect their international obligations, including and especially its peace treaty with Israel. It’s only through active engagement that we can help ensure that Hamas does not re-arm through the Sinai and put the people of Israel at risk. It’s only through engagement that we can concentrate Egypt’s government on the imperative of confronting the extremists. And it’s only through engagement that we can encourage Egypt’s leaders to make reforms that will spark economic growth and stabilize the democratic process. And it’s all tough, and there’s no certainty.

While the concerns that Biden raises about the possibility that the Morsi government will break the treaty with Israel are real, his insistence that there are no alternatives to coddling the Brotherhood with arms sales and a virtual blank check to continue its quest for total power in Egypt is wrong. So, too, is his belief that making nice with the Islamists is altering their behavior.

I have always thought those who blamed the Obama administration for the fall of the Mubarak regime were giving it too much credit. Mubarak was on his way out no matter what Washington did. But the administration does bear a good deal of the blame for the way that the Brotherhood has risen to power since then. The president had no scruples about using the leverage provided by the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid that Egypt gets annually to force the army to accede to a Brotherhood government. But when offered the opportunity to use that same influence to stop the Brotherhood from seeking to eliminate any checks on that power from either the judiciary or the military, he has refused to do so.

Without a demonstrated willingness to cut off aid to the Morsi government or to cancel arms shipments, the engagement policy that Biden defended is just talk–and the Brotherhood has shown in the last year it considers American talk to be very cheap indeed.

The notion that Morsi can be encouraged to confront “extremists,” as Biden claims, is itself an absurdity. While there are groups that are even more extreme than Morsi and the Brotherhood, they are extreme enough to present a clear threat not only to secular Egyptians but also to regional stability and American interests. It’s all well and good for Biden to say that the administration isn’t wearing rose-colored glasses, but a policy that is based on the notion that the Brotherhood is a moderate organization or that it can be trusted not to impose Sharia-style law on Egyptian society or to move away from a cold yet working relationship with Israel is the one that is not realistic.

Those Egyptians, including the non-Islamists in the military, are waiting for America to show some sign that it is not willing to continue subsidizing the Brotherhood. If Morsi has not already broken the treaty with Israel, it is not because of Obama’s engagement but because he knows a return to war or warlike conditions is unsustainable given his country’s weakness. But the longer he stays in power with America’s approval, the more likely it is that he will grow bolder and the result will be bad for Egyptians and the United States.

The rabid anti-Semite at the head of the Cairo government isn’t interested in the administration’s concerns. So long as the money keeps coming and the U.S. is not actively seeking to encourage the opposition to the Islamist movement, they know they have nothing to fear. Obama’s engagement with Morsi is no more likely to succeed than the similarly named policy he tried with the Islamist leaders of Iran.

While the vice president tried to portray the current policy toward Egypt as pragmatic, it is actually a path to further problems and violence. Time is running out for the U.S. to start trying to remedy a situation in Cairo that is rapidly moving past the point of no return. Any more American engagement with Morsi will put an end to any hope for progress in Egypt or for retrieving the U.S. influence that Obama has already lost.

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Is Iran Listening to Biden’s Threat?

The Obama administration may now have among its members a secretary of defense who can’t get its position on containment of a nuclear Iran straight. But the administration continues to lay down markers on its commitment to stopping Tehran’s nuclear ambitions as if Chuck Hagel’s nomination was an aberration, rather than a signal that is being interpreted in Iran to mean that it need not worry about President Obama’s threats. Vice President Biden’s speech at the annual AIPAC conference today in Washington contained more pledges that the president wasn’t bluffing on Iran. While nothing Biden said, let alone the utterances of the president on this subject, guarantees that the U.S. will ever act to stop Iran, the accumulation of their rhetoric is going to make it even harder for them to back away from their promises.

The vice president arguably went even further than the statement President Obama made at last year’s AIPAC conference when he specifically disavowed containment as an option. While Biden’s typically long-winded and meandering speech contained some highly questionable statements, such as his defense of engagement with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, his remarks also took the administration another step down the road to confrontation with Iran. Instead of merely alluding to the use of force by saying that all options were on the table, he made the case that the current futile diplomatic process with Tehran was defensible because it gave the administration the ability to tell the world that it had done everything possible to avoid conflict before resorting to force.

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The Obama administration may now have among its members a secretary of defense who can’t get its position on containment of a nuclear Iran straight. But the administration continues to lay down markers on its commitment to stopping Tehran’s nuclear ambitions as if Chuck Hagel’s nomination was an aberration, rather than a signal that is being interpreted in Iran to mean that it need not worry about President Obama’s threats. Vice President Biden’s speech at the annual AIPAC conference today in Washington contained more pledges that the president wasn’t bluffing on Iran. While nothing Biden said, let alone the utterances of the president on this subject, guarantees that the U.S. will ever act to stop Iran, the accumulation of their rhetoric is going to make it even harder for them to back away from their promises.

The vice president arguably went even further than the statement President Obama made at last year’s AIPAC conference when he specifically disavowed containment as an option. While Biden’s typically long-winded and meandering speech contained some highly questionable statements, such as his defense of engagement with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, his remarks also took the administration another step down the road to confrontation with Iran. Instead of merely alluding to the use of force by saying that all options were on the table, he made the case that the current futile diplomatic process with Tehran was defensible because it gave the administration the ability to tell the world that it had done everything possible to avoid conflict before resorting to force.

The “if we will be forced to use force” phrasing can, of course, be represented as an empty promise or just a cheap political point being made on the eve of the president’s trip to Israel. The U.S. decision to go along with the West’s decision to make concessions to Iran at the most recent P5+1 talks last week is hardly indicative of strength or resolve. Yet by spelling out a scenario in which, as the vice president said, “God forbid” the Iranians don’t give in on their nuclear ambition, the administration has raised the possibility of using force against Iran from the purely speculative to a rational scenario.

Hagel’s confirmation places a man who was an opponent of sanctions–let alone the use of force–against Iran in a position as a senior advisor to the president. That may have encouraged the Iranians to think that Obama doesn’t mean what he says about never allowing them to gain nuclear capability. But by sketching out a scenario in which four years of feckless engagement and a reliance on failed diplomacy and often unenforced sanctions was justified as a necessary preliminary to a last resort attack on Iran, Biden has turned up the heat on the Iranians and laid the foundation for public support for another Middle East conflict. If, as the New York Times reports today, Biden is going to play an outsized role in foreign policy during the president’s second term, his AIPAC speech may be looked back on as a moment when that claim was validated.

It is certainly possible to doubt Obama’s word–or Biden’s–on this subject. The Iranians may wise up and accept a weak offer from the P5+1 group that will defuse the crisis and allow them to eventually go nuclear anyway in the same manner that their North Korean allies did after signing nuclear agreements with the West. But if they continue, as they have for the last decade, counting on their ability to run out the clock with the U.S. via diplomatic delays and deceptions, Biden offered some hope that this administration might actually be considering taking action to end this farce before an inevitable announcement of an Iranian bomb. It must be hoped that Tehran was listening and drawing the appropriate conclusions about the need to abandon their nuclear gambit before American threats become reality.

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What the French and Saudis Understand but Obama Doesn’t

The Almaty talks between Iran and the G5+1 have come and gone. And, despite statements to the contrary by American officials, there is no reason for optimism.

(In one chapter in my forthcoming book, Dancing with the Devil, a history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes which Encounter will publish next year, I compare all the State Department statements evaluating its high stakes diplomacy with Iran, North Korea, and the PLO with declassified contemporaneous accounts and find that in most cases, the State Department spokesman simply lied in order to suggest momentum for future talks).

The United States offered concessions, which Iranian negotiators pocketed before walking away. While Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s swatting down of Vice President Biden’s offer of negotiations made brief headlines, neither the New York Times nor Washington Post had the institutional memory to recall that, in the wake of President Obama’s outstretched hand, Khamenei had used a speech on the 30th anniversary of the U.S. embassy seizure to say much the same thing and to issue the demand that the United States withdraw its forces from the Persian Gulf as a precondition to talks.

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The Almaty talks between Iran and the G5+1 have come and gone. And, despite statements to the contrary by American officials, there is no reason for optimism.

(In one chapter in my forthcoming book, Dancing with the Devil, a history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes which Encounter will publish next year, I compare all the State Department statements evaluating its high stakes diplomacy with Iran, North Korea, and the PLO with declassified contemporaneous accounts and find that in most cases, the State Department spokesman simply lied in order to suggest momentum for future talks).

The United States offered concessions, which Iranian negotiators pocketed before walking away. While Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s swatting down of Vice President Biden’s offer of negotiations made brief headlines, neither the New York Times nor Washington Post had the institutional memory to recall that, in the wake of President Obama’s outstretched hand, Khamenei had used a speech on the 30th anniversary of the U.S. embassy seizure to say much the same thing and to issue the demand that the United States withdraw its forces from the Persian Gulf as a precondition to talks.

Secretary of State John Kerry considers himself an internationalist, and President Obama believes strongly in listening to the will of America’s international partners. Perhaps, then, they might want to consider Saudi and French assessments of the talks in Kazakhstan.

Take this February 27 editorial from Al-Madinah, a paper published out of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with a translation from the Arabic provided by the Open Source Center:

What Iran wants to get from these talks is to waste more time that would allow it to complete its nuclear program, i.e. reaching the capability to produce nuclear bombs. This does not provide much optimism that the new talks would achieve any breakthroughs toward reaching an agreement between the two parties in which Iran would stop proceeding with uranium enrichment beyond 20%.  In view of this reality, the superpowers should by now realize very well that Iran has no intention whatsoever to change its position, especially since the new talks take place a few months before the Iranian presidential elections, making it difficult to imagine that Tehran would offer any concessions.

Or this recent column from Paris’ Le Figaro:

…While maintaining a steadfast posture on the ground, Tehran has not softened its position on the diplomatic front either.  Just two days before the meeting in Kazakhstan, the Iranian authorities warned that they did not intend to make any concessions on their positions.  They set the same two preconditions for starting discussions on their nuclear program — the immediate lifting of the sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council and recognition of their “nuclear rights.”  The authorities are resolved to approach the Almaty talks from a “position of strength.”  In Kazakhstan, the major powers will have to take care “not to repeat past errors,” Said Jalili said, criticizing the sanctions introduced by the international community against his country. At the beginning of the month, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also rejected the proposal made by American Vice President Joe Biden of engaging in bilateral negotiations….

There is a pattern to American diplomacy in which keeping adversaries at the table trumps the cost of doing so. In this case, Obama and Kerry are so determined to pursue a diplomatic path with Iran that they have failed to realize that previous incentives have retrenched Iranian behavior rather than resolved it. Iran can, at any time, resolve the crisis by fulfilling its commitments. The issue really is that simple. How ironic it is that France and Saudi Arabia recognize this, but Obama refuses to recognize any observations or arguments that contradict an ill-thought-out strategy. Not only is he empowering Iran, but he is antagonizing American allies. There was certainly tension between Europe and America’s Arab allies during the Bush years, but whatever the arguments at the time, they recognized that when push came to shove, the United States had their back. No longer.

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On the Dangers of Listening to Joe Biden

In April 2009, Politico dryly reported that Vice President Joe Biden had once again tripped over his words: “These sorts of comments are what the Obama administration fears from Biden, who after more than three decades in Washington is known for making gaffes.” It sounded like it must have been harmless enough–if this is what the administration “fears” from Biden, but nevertheless chose him to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, it couldn’t have been much more than an honest mistake or maybe an unintentionally offensive comment, the latter being Biden’s specialty.

In fact, Biden’s comment was a suggestion that with the so-called swine flu spreading, this was the appropriate moment for the entire country to panic, assume a bunker mentality, and perhaps–just to be safe–put mass transit out of business during a global economic crisis when unemployment in the United States was 9 percent and rising:

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In April 2009, Politico dryly reported that Vice President Joe Biden had once again tripped over his words: “These sorts of comments are what the Obama administration fears from Biden, who after more than three decades in Washington is known for making gaffes.” It sounded like it must have been harmless enough–if this is what the administration “fears” from Biden, but nevertheless chose him to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, it couldn’t have been much more than an honest mistake or maybe an unintentionally offensive comment, the latter being Biden’s specialty.

In fact, Biden’s comment was a suggestion that with the so-called swine flu spreading, this was the appropriate moment for the entire country to panic, assume a bunker mentality, and perhaps–just to be safe–put mass transit out of business during a global economic crisis when unemployment in the United States was 9 percent and rising:

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued an apology Thursday for Vice President Joe Biden’s comments that he wouldn’t recommend taking a commercial flight or riding in a subway car because swine flu virus can spread in confined places.

“Obviously, if anybody was unduly alarmed for whatever reason, we would apologize for that. And I hope that my remarks and remarks of people at CDC and Secretary Napolitano have appropriately cleared up what he meant to say,” Gibbs said during the daily briefing at the White House.

Just to be clear: that was the president’s press secretary reminding the press that Biden’s comments necessitated statements of correction and clarification from the head of the Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control. It’s why, as popular and productive as Biden can sometimes appear, American voters have generally been unwilling to vote for Biden for president. (He’s given them plenty of chances by now, and a recent poll out of Iowa shows him trailing Hillary Clinton by a modest 50 points.)

But Biden may have topped that one. Ed Morrissey points out that Biden’s recent exhortation to Americans to buy and fire into the air a double-barrel shotgun for defense was pretty terrible legal advice, as well as counterproductive from a safety standpoint:

Anyone who has gone through a firearms safety course knows this basic rule: Never fire a “warning shot” into the air — especially when it means you have to reload immediately, as you would with two blasts from a double-barreled shotgun; you’ve just effectively disarmed yourself.

But more to the point, it ignores the physics of the ammunition.  What goes up must come down, and when it does, it can kill — and often does….

Morrissey goes on to quote today’s U.S. News and World Report story explaining that “this specific behavior has been the cause of many negligent homicides over the years,” according to a gun-rights activist. It would land the unfortunate soul who took the vice president’s exceedingly unsafe and ill-conceived advice in big legal trouble: “aggravated menacing, a felony, and reckless endangering in the first degree,” according to the story.

Morrissey closes with a fair question:

If Biden doesn’t have the common sense to understand any of the above, let alone all of the above, why should anyone trust his efforts to rewrite gun laws that limit our legal rights to self-defense?

The good news on that front is that Biden would “write” gun legislation about as much as Obama “wrote” health care reform legislation. That is to say, he wouldn’t write a word of it, and probably wouldn’t actually know what’s in it without a neat, one-page talking point summary provided by the same people who have to periodically go before the public and remind people how thoroughly dangerous–and at times, illegal–it is to follow the advice of their vice president.

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The Point of Obama’s Gun Tour

With President Obama heading out on the road today for another campaign stop to promote his gun control package, thanks go, as they often have in the past, to Vice President Biden for helping to put the issue in perspective with some unscripted candor. The tenor of the discussion about the proposals has, since the president first unveiled them last month, been largely emotional as it seeks to tap into the universal horror felt by Americans about the Newtown shooting. But Biden made it clear that any thought that the White House’s advocacy on guns was geared to prevent a recurrence of that massacre is something between a fib and a forlorn hope. Speaking Thursday at the Capitol, Biden told reporters the following:

Nothing we are going to do is fundamentally going to alter or eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting or guarantee that we will bring gun deaths down.

This is both fair and honest. But it also raises an important question. If the new measures, even the parts of the package, like universal background checks on gun sales, that most Americans view as both reasonable and appropriate, are not going to “bring gun deaths down,” then why are we being asked to support them and told that opponents of this legislation are extremists who don’t care about the children who were gunned down in Newtown? And it is exactly the answer to that question that makes some people regard the assurances coming from the administration of their unswerving support of the Second Amendment as being disingenuous.

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With President Obama heading out on the road today for another campaign stop to promote his gun control package, thanks go, as they often have in the past, to Vice President Biden for helping to put the issue in perspective with some unscripted candor. The tenor of the discussion about the proposals has, since the president first unveiled them last month, been largely emotional as it seeks to tap into the universal horror felt by Americans about the Newtown shooting. But Biden made it clear that any thought that the White House’s advocacy on guns was geared to prevent a recurrence of that massacre is something between a fib and a forlorn hope. Speaking Thursday at the Capitol, Biden told reporters the following:

Nothing we are going to do is fundamentally going to alter or eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting or guarantee that we will bring gun deaths down.

This is both fair and honest. But it also raises an important question. If the new measures, even the parts of the package, like universal background checks on gun sales, that most Americans view as both reasonable and appropriate, are not going to “bring gun deaths down,” then why are we being asked to support them and told that opponents of this legislation are extremists who don’t care about the children who were gunned down in Newtown? And it is exactly the answer to that question that makes some people regard the assurances coming from the administration of their unswerving support of the Second Amendment as being disingenuous.

The president and the vice president both say they view the proposed legislation about assault weapons and ammunition as well as background checks as a necessary response to Newtown. Yet, almost in the same breath they are forced to admit that none of it would have prevented the tragedy had it already been in place. Nor would it do much, if anything, to prevent other forms of gun violence.

To concede that point is not to render all forms of gun control as being beyond the pale. The state has the right to regulate the sale of guns in a manner consistent with public safety (for instance, private ownership of machine guns has always been illegal) and actions that would make it harder for criminals or the insane to get such weapons is not likely to be opposed by most Americans. Yet the insistence on making it harder for law-abiding individuals to buy and own guns has always been motivated more by an ideological prejudice against gun ownership on the left more than by a rational response to Newtown or any other outrageous crime.

The president and his supporters continually assure us that any further attempt to limit the right to own guns is off the table and prevented by the Second Amendment. Yet the lack of a rationale for the post-Newtown legislation leads many to not unreasonably conclude that the incident was merely the excuse that liberals are using to resurrect old proposals that have always been motivated by anti-gun sentiment.

Though there is nothing unreasonable about limits on certain types of military-style weapons or ammunition, so long as these proposals are unconnected to any plausible hope of saving lives it is quite reasonable to think that once these restrictions are made law, they will be followed by other more draconian bills that are also not tethered to a measurable goal. Under those circumstances, it will be harder to deny that what is going on is a campaign to steadily erode Second Amendment rights, not a way to stop another Newtown from happening. So long as the administration cannot assert that their gun package will actually make the country safer, it is hardly paranoid for gun rights advocates to think this is merely the thin edge of the wedge of a legislative campaign that will ultimately lead to something that will infringe on the constitutional rights of Americans.

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Ambition Always Gets a Vote

When Barack Obama announced the selection of Joe Biden to be his running mate in 2008, the New York Times, echoing the conventional wisdom at the time, included among Biden’s attributes the following: “it appears unlikely that Mr. Biden would be in a position to run for president should Mr. Obama win and serve two terms. Shorn of any remaining ambition to run for president on his own, he could find himself in a less complex political relationship with Mr. Obama than most vice presidents have with their presidents.”

That was a widely held view and reportedly something the Obama team considered a significant mark in Biden’s favor. And it was sensible of them to do so. Sharing the White House with Hillary Clinton, for example, or a popular moderate Democrat like then-Senator Evan Bayh, would have almost surely meant nominating his successor who would want an agenda and to perhaps even share in the credit for Obama’s legacy. So instead Obama nominated Biden to be his vice president and Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state. And wouldn’t you know it, they may both run for president anyway, touting their respective legacies and sharing in the glory of Obama’s own legislative victories. The only difference–and what might be the source of endless future headaches for Obama–is that he has a clear preference for Clinton over his own vice president, the latter now launching his own possible bid from the White House and simultaneously in need of restraining.

So what did Obama miss when he nominated this pair of Washington insiders? He forgot about something he really shouldn’t have: the natural ambition of politicians and the way access to the White House only magnifies it. And it’s what makes stories like this National Journal piece arguing against the likelihood of either Clinton or Biden running in 2016 less than convincing:

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When Barack Obama announced the selection of Joe Biden to be his running mate in 2008, the New York Times, echoing the conventional wisdom at the time, included among Biden’s attributes the following: “it appears unlikely that Mr. Biden would be in a position to run for president should Mr. Obama win and serve two terms. Shorn of any remaining ambition to run for president on his own, he could find himself in a less complex political relationship with Mr. Obama than most vice presidents have with their presidents.”

That was a widely held view and reportedly something the Obama team considered a significant mark in Biden’s favor. And it was sensible of them to do so. Sharing the White House with Hillary Clinton, for example, or a popular moderate Democrat like then-Senator Evan Bayh, would have almost surely meant nominating his successor who would want an agenda and to perhaps even share in the credit for Obama’s legacy. So instead Obama nominated Biden to be his vice president and Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state. And wouldn’t you know it, they may both run for president anyway, touting their respective legacies and sharing in the glory of Obama’s own legislative victories. The only difference–and what might be the source of endless future headaches for Obama–is that he has a clear preference for Clinton over his own vice president, the latter now launching his own possible bid from the White House and simultaneously in need of restraining.

So what did Obama miss when he nominated this pair of Washington insiders? He forgot about something he really shouldn’t have: the natural ambition of politicians and the way access to the White House only magnifies it. And it’s what makes stories like this National Journal piece arguing against the likelihood of either Clinton or Biden running in 2016 less than convincing:

Her most famous speech as first lady catalogued abuses against women and hammered home the message: “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” As notable as what she said was where she said it — a United Nations women’s conference in Beijing. It is easy to imagine her setting up her own organization, or a branch of her husband’s Clinton Global Initiative, to focus full-time on issues affecting women.

It’s more difficult to envision a post-politics role for Biden, who has spent his life inside the Beltway as a senator and as vice president. But he has proven such a valuable White House asset on such a range of issues, and such a constructive bipartisan negotiator, that future presidents of either party would likely press him into service to help solve knotty problems at home and abroad.

Which leads to the next reason neither Biden nor Clinton will run. Their reputations will never be better than they are now.

Rarely does a politician get near the top of the world and proclaim to be satisfied. “Dayenu” (the refrain from the Passover Hagaddah in which Jews proclaim “it would have been enough”) is not in the political lexicon. And voters reading those paragraphs above can be forgiven for interpreting them as Clinton’s record of global leadership and Biden’s record of getting things done when no one else could. Jill Lawrence, the author of the piece, makes other, more compelling arguments as well. Both Biden and Clinton would be in their 70s early in a hypothetical first term–Biden would be 74 on inauguration day if he won the election. And both have a history of some health issues. But Biden looks as energetic as ever, and Clinton’s health didn’t stop her from logging close to a million miles in four years.

Additionally, it’s hard to escape the notion that both are explicitly laying the groundwork for their candidacies. For Clinton, carefully chosen on-the-record speeches and interviews, plus an obvious desire to perpetuate the idea she is running, have spurred some activists into being confident enough to set up a Hillary 2016 PAC. And as for Biden, Obama and his advisors have found that the veep’s attention span is almost totally consumed by 2016 calculations. As Politico reported:

Officials working on the Obama-Biden campaign last year were struck by how the vice president always seemed to have one eye on a run, including aggressively courting the president’s donors. Obama aides at times had to actively steer Biden to places where he was needed — like Pennsylvania — because he kept asking to be deployed to Iowa, New Hampshire and other early states.

“He wasn’t just doing fundraising the campaign assigned to him,” said a campaign adviser. “He was inviting people to the mansion to hang out and have dinner.” Biden was way more into the donors than Obama was. “He embraced it with a tirelessness and a gusto that even the president didn’t,” another campaign official said.

We can and should keep in mind how much the political landscape is likely to change in three years. But they want people to think they’re running, and it won’t go unnoticed that even the cases against the two of them running for president seem to borrow liberally from the arguments in their favor.

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Joe Biden Told You So

In October 2008, in a highly publicized and eagerly anticipated vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, Biden said something that would have been notable were it not for his reputation for bluster and braggadocio. When moderator Gwen Ifill asked the candidates about the job description and value of the vice presidency of the United States, Biden said this:

With regard to the role of vice president, I had a long talk, as I’m sure the governor did with her principal, in my case with Barack. Let me tell you what Barack asked me to do. I have a history of getting things done in the United States Senate. John McCain would acknowledge that. My record shows that on controversial issues. I would be the point person for the legislative initiatives in the United States Congress for our administration. I would also, when asked if I wanted a portfolio, my response was, no. But Barack Obama indicated to me he wanted me with him to help him govern. So every major decision he’ll be making, I’ll be sitting in the room to give my best advice. He’s president, not me, I’ll give my best advice.

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In October 2008, in a highly publicized and eagerly anticipated vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, Biden said something that would have been notable were it not for his reputation for bluster and braggadocio. When moderator Gwen Ifill asked the candidates about the job description and value of the vice presidency of the United States, Biden said this:

With regard to the role of vice president, I had a long talk, as I’m sure the governor did with her principal, in my case with Barack. Let me tell you what Barack asked me to do. I have a history of getting things done in the United States Senate. John McCain would acknowledge that. My record shows that on controversial issues. I would be the point person for the legislative initiatives in the United States Congress for our administration. I would also, when asked if I wanted a portfolio, my response was, no. But Barack Obama indicated to me he wanted me with him to help him govern. So every major decision he’ll be making, I’ll be sitting in the room to give my best advice. He’s president, not me, I’ll give my best advice.

This was Biden promising–and on the heels of the tenure of Dick Cheney, criticized volubly by the left for his active role in the White House–that he would be an unusually powerful vice president. And it was Biden’s way of reassuring those who were concerned about Obama’s inexperience. Obama may not be ready for all the challenges of the presidency, Biden was saying, but don’t worry: I’ll be in the room. And Obama may not have the kind of relationships with Congress that can get difficult legislation passed, but don’t worry: Uncle Joe will get it done.

It’s striking just how correct Biden was. Obama has bungled one negotiation with Congress after another, and Biden has stepped in. And when it comes to national security decision making, Biden has, in fact, been in the room. Journalists and commentators are starting to pick up on what Jonathan wrote about a couple of weeks ago: Biden’s “prime minister”-like role in the current White House and the steam it may help him gather for a potential 2016 presidential run. Foreign Policy magazine CEO and former Clinton administration official David Rothkopf now says Biden is “the most influential vice president in American history,” and expands on the national security dimension of Biden’s power:

Obama’s incoming national security team is Biden’s favorite players from his days as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John Kerry and Chuck Hagel are seen as far closer to him than to the president. Tom Donilon, the president’s national security advisor, is also seen as close to the vice president, which should come as a surprise to no one since his wife, Catherine Russell, is the vice president’s current chief of staff. Biden’s previous chief of staff, Ron Klain, is one of two men considered likely to replace Jack Lew as Obama’s chief of staff. Biden’s top national security advisor, Tony Blinken, is seen as heading for a promotion….

But Rothkopf touches on a more important facet of Biden’s persona, and it’s the one that has always led the public to dismiss Biden as a goofball: his constant rambling, off-color, often offensive prolixity. Biden may not get much respect, but he’s everybody’s friend. In Washington, that’s usually good enough. It recalls the classic quote from Steve Carell’s character on “The Office,” Michael Scott: “Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy–both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”

In a possible Democratic primary, those relationships matter, especially when it comes to endorsements. And he’s coming from the White House, after all. Biden is playing an insider’s game. But the insider’s game has its limits. Biden has run for president in the past, and each time has been an unmitigated disaster, in terms of vote totals–and that’s just in Democratic primaries. The thought of President Biden seems to have remained a terrifying prospect for most Americans.

And Biden’s success in this White House has raised another uncomfortable truth: that President Obama so often needs to be saved from himself. As Pete wrote yesterday, Obama’s press conference on the debt ceiling was filled with reprehensible, shameful slanders about Obama’s political opponents. Such was the case when Obama called that absurd rally/standup comedy routine to taunt Republicans while a deal on the fiscal cliff was still being hammered out by those who were working instead of kicking dirt at their opponents. Obama’s behavior should embarrass both the president and the Democrats, but it’s also the result of a moral hazard: Obama can refuse to engage intellectually with is opponents because someone else will do it for him. And he can work to destroy any progress on the problem solving others are conducting because Biden will clean up his mess.

This bizarre role reversal allows Biden to make one more argument in his favor should he run in 2016: he has experience handling presidential responsibilities already because, well, someone had to.

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The Gun Control Bubble Pops

In the weeks since the Newtown shooting, the conventional wisdom has been that the country was so outraged about gun violence that the basic rules of Washington politics had been forever altered. The assumption was that a re-elected President Obama would get any sort of gun control legislation passed that he wanted and that the National Rifle Association would be powerless to stop him. But even before next Tuesday’s announcement of the recommendations made to the president by Vice President Biden, it appears as if everyone in the capital knows that it is highly unlikely that the administration will be able to pass any sort of major gun control bill. That’s the upshot of a New York Times article published this morning which, following up on the hints dropped by Biden yesterday, made it clear that the White House was probably more interested in lowering expectations about what they could achieve than bashing the NRA.

This has to leave a lot of liberals, who have been watching the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC spend the last month telling them that the Republicans would reinforce their status as the “stupid party” if they tried to obstruct Obama’s gun plans, wondering what happened. It turns out that the while most Americans probably support measures calling for more background checks or restrictions on ammunition, the massive shift in public opinion and among politicians that we were told had happened since Newtown is a figment of the liberal imagination. As even NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said on “Morning Joe” today, an attempt to reinstate an assault weapons ban or to pass a more far-reaching gun ban is never going to be passed.

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In the weeks since the Newtown shooting, the conventional wisdom has been that the country was so outraged about gun violence that the basic rules of Washington politics had been forever altered. The assumption was that a re-elected President Obama would get any sort of gun control legislation passed that he wanted and that the National Rifle Association would be powerless to stop him. But even before next Tuesday’s announcement of the recommendations made to the president by Vice President Biden, it appears as if everyone in the capital knows that it is highly unlikely that the administration will be able to pass any sort of major gun control bill. That’s the upshot of a New York Times article published this morning which, following up on the hints dropped by Biden yesterday, made it clear that the White House was probably more interested in lowering expectations about what they could achieve than bashing the NRA.

This has to leave a lot of liberals, who have been watching the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC spend the last month telling them that the Republicans would reinforce their status as the “stupid party” if they tried to obstruct Obama’s gun plans, wondering what happened. It turns out that the while most Americans probably support measures calling for more background checks or restrictions on ammunition, the massive shift in public opinion and among politicians that we were told had happened since Newtown is a figment of the liberal imagination. As even NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said on “Morning Joe” today, an attempt to reinstate an assault weapons ban or to pass a more far-reaching gun ban is never going to be passed.

That’s got to puzzle those who were certain that Newtown had fundamentally changed the discussion in this country about guns. But as the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel points out in an insightful analysis today, the president can’t even count on Democratic support for an assault weapons ban, let alone Republicans. Indeed, it’s far from clear that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or Joe Manchin, who was the media’s poster child for gun lovers who had seen the light, will back an assault weapons ban.

The president may talk about more gun control and Newtown in his second inaugural speech and hope it will be a useful stick with which to keep beating Republicans. But since the House will wait to see if anything passes the Senate before voting it down, the odds are that it will be Senate Democrats who fear being portrayed as foes of the Second Amendment that will be the ones administering the coup de grace on any far-reaching legislation that Biden puts forward.

Moreover, the notion that the White House will prioritize the gun issue in the coming months also fails to take into account that the president has a much more important fight on his hands with the budget and the upcoming debt ceiling showdown. Since he is in a stronger position on that one, not to mention that the state of the economy will have a lot more to do with whether his second term turns out to be a nightmare, gun control advocates are probably dreaming if they think Obama will spend much of his finite political capital on assault weapons.

This shouldn’t cause anyone to think that the NRA is totally out of the woods. Senate Democrats who don’t dare ban weapons will look to support some part of Biden’s proposals. That means the gun lobby will probably lose some part of this battle since the White House appears to be willing to take what they can get rather than waste the coming months pushing a forlorn hope.

But the main point to take away from this turnaround is the fashion in which media elites are disconnected from political reality.

The aftermath of Newtown did give gun control advocates an opening to refloat all of their old proposals with more traction than they have had in many years. And the NRA flubbed the aftermath of the shooting with a press conference that was remarkable for its tone and cluelessness.

But none of that changes the fact that there is still a reliable majority in Congress that is opposed to infringement on the right to possess guns and little proof that any such legislation would stop tragedies like Newtown from happening. There is probably a consensus that can be built on issues on the margin of this issue, like background checks, but nothing more.

That so many talking heads blithely assumed that all this would change after Newtown was merely wishful thinking on their part. That’s something to remember the next time liberals make similar assumptions about the conventional wisdom that they are trying to foist on the country.

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Biden to Present Gun Control Proposals Tuesday

The White House isn’t wasting any time on the gun control debate. After meeting with gun-rights advocates today, CBS News reports that Joe Biden will present his gun control proposals to President Obama as soon as Tuesday:

After consulting with a series of stakeholders in the ongoing debate over gun control, Vice President Joe Biden will present his recommendations for reducing gun-related violence in America to President Obama on Tuesday, he said today.

The vice president, speaking to reporters before a meeting on gun violence with sportsmen and women, and just minutes before another school shooting was reported, outlined a series of the recommendations he said are emerging in the course of his conversations with various stakeholders in the conversation. Among those possible proposals include universal background checks, restrictions on high-capacity magazines, and increased federal capabilities for effectively researching gun violence. Biden also stressed ongoing discussions about the importance of including the mental health community in the conversation.

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The White House isn’t wasting any time on the gun control debate. After meeting with gun-rights advocates today, CBS News reports that Joe Biden will present his gun control proposals to President Obama as soon as Tuesday:

After consulting with a series of stakeholders in the ongoing debate over gun control, Vice President Joe Biden will present his recommendations for reducing gun-related violence in America to President Obama on Tuesday, he said today.

The vice president, speaking to reporters before a meeting on gun violence with sportsmen and women, and just minutes before another school shooting was reported, outlined a series of the recommendations he said are emerging in the course of his conversations with various stakeholders in the conversation. Among those possible proposals include universal background checks, restrictions on high-capacity magazines, and increased federal capabilities for effectively researching gun violence. Biden also stressed ongoing discussions about the importance of including the mental health community in the conversation.

Increasing federal capabilities for “researching gun violence” sounds about as effective as Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board. A task force will be convened, funding will be allocated, reports will be written, and that will probably be the end of it. But it will give the appearance that the government is doing something, and it probably won’t get much opposition from the gun lobby.

A ban on high-capacity magazines will get pushback. The problem here is that the definition of high-capacity can be subjective, and apparently there are easy ways of getting around this type of ban. As for more rigorous background checks, it’s irrelevant to the Sandy Hook shooting, since Adam Lanza stole the weapon from his mother. However, it may have made a difference in the Tucson shooting, since Jared Lee Loughner appeared to show signs of mental illness before the attack. The question is, where do you draw the line? Loughner was behaving erratically at school and work, but he was never declared mentally ill by a court, nor did he undergo a psychiatric exam before the shooting. Gun control advocates may try to push for mental health reviews in the background check, but that sounds like it could raise constitutional issues.

Allahpundit also writes that this would be a tough policy to get past House Republicans:

Background checks, in particular, enjoy massive support, with one recent poll showing 92% in favor of requiring them at gun shows and a CNN poll taken last year finding 94% support for checks on all potential gun buyers.  That’d be a very tough vote for congressional Republicans and of course Biden knows it, which is why he’s talking it up today. If you can’t get your policies passed, you might as well use them as a way to make the opposition squirm. 

More evidence that the White House primarily views the gun control debate as a way to score political points, and is looking to make things as difficult for Republicans as possible.

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Obama’s “Throw Rocks at It” Approach to Capitol Hill

Today is Richard Nixon’s centennial, which will draw attention to relevant aspects of Nixon’s life and legacy besides Watergate. Nixon’s grasp of American politics was unusually sharp, and a Politico story today about President Obama’s striking disinterest in negotiating with Republicans calls to mind a piece of advice Nixon once gave to Ronald Reagan through William F. Buckley.

Despite the claims that Obama is “the Democrats’ Reagan,” Obama lacks Reagan’s best qualities, especially his temperament. Nixon and Buckley were having lunch when Nixon made a suggestion for Reagan: the president’s admirable affability shouldn’t preclude having someone else be tough on the Democrats for him, enabling Reagan to stay above the fray. Here is how Buckley relayed the advice to Reagan (“RN” is Nixon; “RR” is Reagan):

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Today is Richard Nixon’s centennial, which will draw attention to relevant aspects of Nixon’s life and legacy besides Watergate. Nixon’s grasp of American politics was unusually sharp, and a Politico story today about President Obama’s striking disinterest in negotiating with Republicans calls to mind a piece of advice Nixon once gave to Ronald Reagan through William F. Buckley.

Despite the claims that Obama is “the Democrats’ Reagan,” Obama lacks Reagan’s best qualities, especially his temperament. Nixon and Buckley were having lunch when Nixon made a suggestion for Reagan: the president’s admirable affability shouldn’t preclude having someone else be tough on the Democrats for him, enabling Reagan to stay above the fray. Here is how Buckley relayed the advice to Reagan (“RN” is Nixon; “RR” is Reagan):

“He needs an Agnew,” RN said. “He did it for me, and he was first-rate–check his ratings back then. I did it for Ike. Ike was smooth. But when I went all-out against the Dems, and they went to Ike, he’d sort of shrug his shoulders, but when he saw me, he’d say: ‘Attaboy, Dick. More of the same.’” What if [John] Connally wouldn’t? Well, RR would need to find somebody who would do it. The Dems are terrifically vulnerable, but there isn’t anybody out there in headline-country who’s skewering them with their own vulnerabilities. It’s got to be done.

Contrast that with how Obama approaches his political fights with the Republicans. A perfect example was Obama’s bizarre campaign-style event at which he taunted Republicans about the fiscal cliff deal before the deal was even done. Rather than use his vice president–Joe Biden can be as vicious as they come, and he’ll always get a pass from the media–to shove Republicans around, allowing Obama to stay above the fray and look presidential, Obama does this himself while tasking Biden with the actual work of governing. Here’s Politico:

His apparent conclusion, after watching the implosion of the House GOP’s effort to pass a modest tax increase before the final fiscal cliff deal, is that the best way to deal with the Capitol is to throw rocks at it — then send Vice President Joe Biden in to clean up the glass.

The result is that we only got a fiscal cliff deal, however imperfect, because Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reached out to Biden and the two put something together. Obama has always been uninterested in the details, which is why we had to pass the bill with his name on it–Obamacare–just to find out what’s in it. And as the New York Times has reported, Obama isn’t interested in building relationships with either party on Capitol Hill. With an air of entitlement, he dispenses demands and assumes someone will always be there to clean up the messes he makes in Washington.

That someone, these days, is Joe Biden. But the roles can’t be reversed so easily. The public looks to the president to set the tone of an administration, and what they’ve seen in Obama’s four years is mostly petty and vindictive behavior. And it’s only a matter of time before Biden reverts back to his old “put y’all back in chains” self. Reagan’s problem, according to Nixon, was that he didn’t have anybody “throwing rocks” at the other side. Obama’s problem is that he’s running out of people to clean up the glass.

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Prime Minister Biden on the Upswing

Among the big winners of the resolution of the congressional fiscal cliff debacle was Vice President Joe Biden. Rather than being relegated to funeral duty by a president who initially had little use for him, Biden’s decades of experience on the Hill have proven to be an invaluable resource in this administration. Since neither the president nor his top aides have any talent for or even interest in serious deal-making with Congress and with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid similarly sidelined by his own bull-headed manner, Biden has emerged as a key player in a time of DC gridlock.

Biden’s ability to craft a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that he, rather than the president or even Reid, has become an important Washington player in his own right. In effect, he is positioned to be the prime minister of a second Obama administration. That status will likely be reinforced by Biden’s lead role in pushing forward a new gun control initiative in the coming months. This should keep him in a spotlight that is brighter than is usual for a vice president even in an era when veeps are no longer the political equivalent of the missing persons bureau. And though 2016 is a long way off, these developments can only feed Biden’s still burning ambition to be president himself one day.

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Among the big winners of the resolution of the congressional fiscal cliff debacle was Vice President Joe Biden. Rather than being relegated to funeral duty by a president who initially had little use for him, Biden’s decades of experience on the Hill have proven to be an invaluable resource in this administration. Since neither the president nor his top aides have any talent for or even interest in serious deal-making with Congress and with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid similarly sidelined by his own bull-headed manner, Biden has emerged as a key player in a time of DC gridlock.

Biden’s ability to craft a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that he, rather than the president or even Reid, has become an important Washington player in his own right. In effect, he is positioned to be the prime minister of a second Obama administration. That status will likely be reinforced by Biden’s lead role in pushing forward a new gun control initiative in the coming months. This should keep him in a spotlight that is brighter than is usual for a vice president even in an era when veeps are no longer the political equivalent of the missing persons bureau. And though 2016 is a long way off, these developments can only feed Biden’s still burning ambition to be president himself one day.

Most serious observers initially laughed off the rumors first floated last year about Biden thinking about 2016. Biden was too old, too much a product of the country’s political past and a human gaffe machine. But Biden’s strong showing at the Democratic National Convention illustrated just how well his rabble-rousing style appeals to his party activists. While most Americans may have been turned off by his contemptuous attitude and weird grinning during the vice presidential debate with Paul Ryan, that was exactly what the liberal base wanted. When you figure in the fact that Biden’s prime ministerial relations with Congress will allow him to solidify alliances and do favors for influential party members, it’s hard to dismiss the possibility that he actually stands a fair chance of being the Democratic nominee to succeed Obama.

Part of the plausibility of the Biden 2016 scenario lies in the fact that, at least at present, there aren’t many viable alternatives for Democrats. Hillary Clinton is an obvious choice but her recent health problems and the fallout from the Benghazi disaster make any assumptions about her inevitability seem less certain. Outside of her there are no real big league prospects for the Democrats. Though that may change (in 2005 no one believed the then-freshman senator from Illinois would be elected president), Biden is justified in not being afraid of any possible rival.

It remains to be seen whether Biden will be able to spend the next four years taking credit for administration legislative successes and dodging blame for the inevitable second term failures. Biden has, after all, been wrong on virtually every major foreign policy stand he has taken and his populist style grates on many. Biden’s propensity for mistakes and long-winded speechifying will also make him a perfect target for opponents. He could well talk himself out of the race long before he enters it.

Nevertheless, Biden bears watching in the coming weeks and months. Rather than needing to strike out on his own, the best thing Biden can do to strengthen his standing among Democrats is to be Barack Obama’s loyal soldier. Though Republicans may be salivating at the thought of having to face Biden in 2016 after being beaten by the far more popular Obama the last two cycles, the vice president’s growing importance has made his long-cherished dream of the presidency a bit less fantastic.

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