Commentary Magazine


Topic: Joe Scarborough

GOP Doesn’t Live in Scarborough Country

I’ve been resisting even noticing this story line for a while, but now that both The Atlantic and Politico have assisted the trial presidential balloon being floated by Joe Scarborough, it’s time to deflate it and then never mention it again. Scarborough is the former Republican congressman from Florida who has parlayed good looks and a caustic sense of humor into a lucrative gig on MSNBC, and has been telling people he wants back into politics. After trying for years to get anyone to take the idea seriously some in the media have finally picked up on the hints and are giving some lip service to the notion that the star of Morning Joe is a legitimate long shot GOP candidate for president in 2016.

Scarborough was in New Hampshire last weekend to appear at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference and to sell his latest book. Organizers hoped to inspire a little extra publicity by putting his name on the ballot for a straw presidential poll. But MSNBC demanded that their employee’s name be taken off so Scarborough got the benefit of the buzz from the story without having to actually suffer the indignity of finishing last behind actual prospective candidates like Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, and Rick Santorum and another media-driven personality in the form of Dr. Ben Carson.

But despite the boost the Scarborough-for-president story got from this, anyone who indulges the Morning Joe host’s fantasy for more than a second has taken leave of their senses. While Scarborough is what passes for a Republican, nay, even a conservative, on some days at MSNBC, even he has to know that the overwhelming majority of Republican primary and caucus voters, be they Tea Partiers or establishment types, don’t live in Scarborough country.

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I’ve been resisting even noticing this story line for a while, but now that both The Atlantic and Politico have assisted the trial presidential balloon being floated by Joe Scarborough, it’s time to deflate it and then never mention it again. Scarborough is the former Republican congressman from Florida who has parlayed good looks and a caustic sense of humor into a lucrative gig on MSNBC, and has been telling people he wants back into politics. After trying for years to get anyone to take the idea seriously some in the media have finally picked up on the hints and are giving some lip service to the notion that the star of Morning Joe is a legitimate long shot GOP candidate for president in 2016.

Scarborough was in New Hampshire last weekend to appear at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference and to sell his latest book. Organizers hoped to inspire a little extra publicity by putting his name on the ballot for a straw presidential poll. But MSNBC demanded that their employee’s name be taken off so Scarborough got the benefit of the buzz from the story without having to actually suffer the indignity of finishing last behind actual prospective candidates like Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, and Rick Santorum and another media-driven personality in the form of Dr. Ben Carson.

But despite the boost the Scarborough-for-president story got from this, anyone who indulges the Morning Joe host’s fantasy for more than a second has taken leave of their senses. While Scarborough is what passes for a Republican, nay, even a conservative, on some days at MSNBC, even he has to know that the overwhelming majority of Republican primary and caucus voters, be they Tea Partiers or establishment types, don’t live in Scarborough country.

The pun is, of course, on the name of his old MSNBC show before the network tilted to the far left and, in an inspired piece of casting, he was paired with the insufferable Mika Brzezinski to anchor the network’s morning entertainment. It’s a good watch and even those who can’t stand the liberal tilt of almost all its talking heads can appreciate why it is has become successful. As Mollie Ball notes, its “air of chummy, Acela-corridor knowingness has made it destination viewing for the political class.”

Last year, the New York Times’s Alessandra Stanley captured the tone of the show better than any of its critics or admirers:

At its best, that rambunctious, fast-talking cable talk show, anchored by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, can sound like a screwball comedy set in a Washington think tank. On a bad day it turns into a C-Span edition of Eugene O’Neill: Mother is tuned out and the children sip their soup quietly to avoid arousing their choleric father. Mr. Scarborough can be funny and charming, but he occasionally goes on bullying, self-aggrandizing tears that are uninterrupted by a clique of yeasayers that includes Mike Barnicle, Donny Deutsch and Harold Ford Jr. Ms. Brzezinski acts as the foil, but she too often preens for the camera as if it were a mirror.

In the rarified air of Morning Joe, Scarborough’s pontifications are occasional reality checks for liberals, such as his rant about Senate Democrats’ all-night global warming fest that I noted last week. But anyone who thinks seriously about the Republican electorate must also take into account the fact that Scarborough has also spent a great deal of his time on the show not only flaying Republicans for their actual sins of overspending and damaging government shutdowns but also for stands on which they have the support of most conservatives. If he were to run for office again, Scarborough would have a very difficult time explaining to Republicans why he spent most of 2013 ranting about gun control when he was the hero of Vice President Joe Biden and other liberals for spending endless segments of Morning Joe flailing away at the National Rifle Association. No sale.

Scarborough says that if Chris Christie and Jeb Bush don’t run, he could become the establishment favorite in 2016. I don’t think that’s realistic as a host of other potential GOP candidates, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, make more sense to represent that constituency. But Scarborough has spent so much time hanging with liberals that he seems to be unaware that his over-the-top anti-NRA rants would make him the liberal RINO, not the establishment guy, in any GOP primary. Which is to say, he has zero chance.

Scarborough’s main selling point these days is that Republicans need to be pragmatic and focused on winning elections rather than engaged in Ted Cruz-style suicide attacks. There is a case to be made for such a point of view, but only if it comes in a package of solid conservative beliefs–and anyone who watches Morning Joe knows that Scarborough has long since become a liberal’s idea of a conservative rather than an actual one. In 2012 we saw exactly what Republicans thought of such a candidate when Jon Huntsman crashed and burned in one of the most embarrassing and costly presidential campaign failures of recent memory, and the former Utah governor was far more plausible than Scarborough, a point that William Kristol recently made on the show.

Ball says that so many former presidential candidates have transitioned from politics to the media that it was inevitable that one should try to move in the opposite direction. But Morning Joe fans shouldn’t worry about the host leaving the show to try his luck in 2016. Joe’s presidential boomlet is a figment of his imagination and his publisher’s business plan. The gap between the MSNBC/Acela axis and Republican primary voters is too great for even as successful a media personality as Scarborough to bridge.

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Note to Senate Democrats: We’ve Already Heard About Climate Change

Conservatives who avoid MSNBC like the plague missed a rare moment of clarity about our political culture this morning when his liberal partner Mika Brzezinksi fed Joe Scarborough one of the great straight lines of all time. While discussing last night’s Senate Democrats’ all-night talkathon devoted to climate change, Mika praised it by saying how glad she was that, “they’re trying to have a conversation.” That allowed the man who sometimes plays the role of the network’s token Republican while at others is its resident GOP critic of conservatives, to launch into a comic rant mocking both Brzezinski’s platitudes and the Democrats’ stunt.

Hollywood won’t talk about climate change. The media won’t talk about climate Nobody will talk about climate change. Thank God. Thank God, these brave Democratic senators are risking the wrath of the mainstream media and the Hollywood elites to talk about climate change …Damn the New York Times! They will not talk about climate change. It’s up to these men and women. This is 2014’s version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Scarborough’s sarcasm was, of course, right on target. No matter what you think about the question of human involvement in possible shifts in global temperatures, the idea that it was up to a few dozen Senate Democrats to get the issue on the national agenda is a joke. The mainstream media has spent the last decade or more highlighting the topic at every possible moment and treating the most extreme conclusions produced by alarmist environmentalists as unquestioned truth while popular culture has embraced the global warming agenda with a religious fervor that brooks no dissent.

The problem the Democrats were addressing was not a lack of information about the subject but the fact that while a majority may believe humans are involved with warming, they are either skeptical of the extremists’ claims or don’t care that much about it. That was one of the main conclusions to be drawn from a Pew Research Center poll published in January that showed that global warming ranked 19th on the list of top policy priorities for Americans. Indeed, even the amorphous concern about “dealing with moral breakdown” ranked higher than warming, which was embraced by only 29 percent of those polled as something that demanded immediate action. A separate NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that came out the same week in January showed that addressing climate change ranked dead last among the 13 topics listed with only 27 percent saying it was a priority.

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Conservatives who avoid MSNBC like the plague missed a rare moment of clarity about our political culture this morning when his liberal partner Mika Brzezinksi fed Joe Scarborough one of the great straight lines of all time. While discussing last night’s Senate Democrats’ all-night talkathon devoted to climate change, Mika praised it by saying how glad she was that, “they’re trying to have a conversation.” That allowed the man who sometimes plays the role of the network’s token Republican while at others is its resident GOP critic of conservatives, to launch into a comic rant mocking both Brzezinski’s platitudes and the Democrats’ stunt.

Hollywood won’t talk about climate change. The media won’t talk about climate Nobody will talk about climate change. Thank God. Thank God, these brave Democratic senators are risking the wrath of the mainstream media and the Hollywood elites to talk about climate change …Damn the New York Times! They will not talk about climate change. It’s up to these men and women. This is 2014’s version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Scarborough’s sarcasm was, of course, right on target. No matter what you think about the question of human involvement in possible shifts in global temperatures, the idea that it was up to a few dozen Senate Democrats to get the issue on the national agenda is a joke. The mainstream media has spent the last decade or more highlighting the topic at every possible moment and treating the most extreme conclusions produced by alarmist environmentalists as unquestioned truth while popular culture has embraced the global warming agenda with a religious fervor that brooks no dissent.

The problem the Democrats were addressing was not a lack of information about the subject but the fact that while a majority may believe humans are involved with warming, they are either skeptical of the extremists’ claims or don’t care that much about it. That was one of the main conclusions to be drawn from a Pew Research Center poll published in January that showed that global warming ranked 19th on the list of top policy priorities for Americans. Indeed, even the amorphous concern about “dealing with moral breakdown” ranked higher than warming, which was embraced by only 29 percent of those polled as something that demanded immediate action. A separate NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that came out the same week in January showed that addressing climate change ranked dead last among the 13 topics listed with only 27 percent saying it was a priority.

Why do Americans feel that way? Perhaps its because, as Scarborough noted, they’ve been having the Al Gore party line about the world on the verge of melting incessantly drilled into them for a decade and, even if they agree about the role of human activity, are sensibly skeptical about claims about Florida and Manhattan being under water in 20 years. Perhaps they also find a scientific theory championed by advocates who are unwilling to debate their findings and hell bent on silencing critics as members of the Flat Earth Society or worse to be somewhat suspicious. They also don’t like the fact that the discussion about the topic has taken on a theological rather than a scientific tone in which every conceivable weather event involving heat, cold, wind or precipitation is used to justify a preconceived conclusion about the climate that brooks no opposition rooted in reason or statistics.

Many also understand that some of the most popular measures associated with the climate change caucus would have a devastating impact on the American economy, particularly in states where coal is a major source of employment. Just as important, they have understandably come to associate this movement with Luddite objections to sensible projects like the Keystone XL pipeline that don’t hurt the environment but produce jobs and more energy to allow this country to become less dependent on oil from outside North America. That’s why the most Democratic senators up for re-election this year — Alaska’s Mark Begich, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, Arkansas’ Mark Pryor and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan — wanted no part of the show.

It should also be noted that the hours of talk and carefully prepared visual aids were unrelated to any upcoming legislative purpose. In other words, what the Democrat were doing was playing to their base without having to defend a specific proposal or to pretend that what they were about wouldn’t cost Americans dearly in exchange for vague and unproven promises about their future.

But whatever it is that they were doing, the most risible aspect of this spectacle was the notion that it was needed to raise awareness about climate change. As Scarborough’s sarcastic rant made clear, there are few topics on which Americans have heard more in recent years than this one. Their children are inculcated with the global warming catechism in schools. Their movies, plays and television shows are also peppered with references to what is considered right thinking on the issue and abuse for those who dissent.

Americans are smart enough to know that whatever might be slowing happening to the climate, it is a far less pressing matter than issues relating to the health of our economy, jobs, terrorism, education, ensuring the survival of entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, the budget deficit, health care, taxes and crime (to note the top 10 in the Pew poll).

If Senate Democrats want to devote their energies to something useful, they might try their hand at working just as hard on those issues (on most of which they have done nothing as part of their main task of thwarting all legislation passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives) rather than pulling an all-nighter to talk nonstop about an issue that Americans have had shoved down their throats for years.

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Liberal Incivility and the Gun Debate

As I noted earlier, yesterday’s Senate votes on the Manchin-Toomey amendment as well as other provisions ended the chances that any gun control legislation will pass Congress this year. While Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California Senator Dianne Feinstein have vowed to keep pushing for assault weapon bans and other proposals that have zero chance of passage, from this point forward the debate will be conducted solely with an eye toward public opinion and next year’s midterm election, not any specific legislation. That means that while some may dismiss yesterday’s bitter post-vote comments by President Obama and other gun control advocates as mere posturing, they are actually quite significant.

Obama, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords and other supporters of various new restrictions were not shy about lambasting the National Rifle Association during the last four months. The Newtown massacre gave the White House an excuse to resurrect gun control as a national issue, yet he was sufficiently interested in attracting the votes of wavering members of Congress that he tended to restrict his demagoguery to the stock villains of the National Rifle Association leadership. But yesterday’s defeat changed all that. The rejection of Manchin-Toomey has set off a wave of almost hysterical denunciations of gun rights advocates from Obama, Giffords and media figures like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski today that has lowered the discourse on the issue to a level that has rarely been seen before. After spending much of the last few years accusing right-wing Tea Party members of incivility that was at the heart of the dysfunction of our political system, liberals have now raised the stakes in this game to a point where dialogue is now impossible.

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As I noted earlier, yesterday’s Senate votes on the Manchin-Toomey amendment as well as other provisions ended the chances that any gun control legislation will pass Congress this year. While Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California Senator Dianne Feinstein have vowed to keep pushing for assault weapon bans and other proposals that have zero chance of passage, from this point forward the debate will be conducted solely with an eye toward public opinion and next year’s midterm election, not any specific legislation. That means that while some may dismiss yesterday’s bitter post-vote comments by President Obama and other gun control advocates as mere posturing, they are actually quite significant.

Obama, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords and other supporters of various new restrictions were not shy about lambasting the National Rifle Association during the last four months. The Newtown massacre gave the White House an excuse to resurrect gun control as a national issue, yet he was sufficiently interested in attracting the votes of wavering members of Congress that he tended to restrict his demagoguery to the stock villains of the National Rifle Association leadership. But yesterday’s defeat changed all that. The rejection of Manchin-Toomey has set off a wave of almost hysterical denunciations of gun rights advocates from Obama, Giffords and media figures like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski today that has lowered the discourse on the issue to a level that has rarely been seen before. After spending much of the last few years accusing right-wing Tea Party members of incivility that was at the heart of the dysfunction of our political system, liberals have now raised the stakes in this game to a point where dialogue is now impossible.

I think the Toomey-Manchin proposal was a reasonable compromise that Republicans should have embraced, if only because it could have put this issue to rest without compromising Second Amendment rights. But the refusal of many conservatives as well as some Democrats to accept this idea was not entirely the fault of NRA pressure tactics. The reason why so many that care about gun rights thought of Manchin-Toomey as the thin edge of the wedge of an effort to undermine the Second Amendment was because so many liberals made it clear that was their intention. While the NRA may have mischaracterized Manchin-Toomey, there was little doubt most liberal Democrats considered even an assault weapons ban as just the start of their efforts to make it harder to legally own weapons in this country.

One may consider this belief to be mistaken, but what has happened in the last 24 hours is that liberals have decided this issue is no longer one on which reasonable people can disagree. Today, Ms. Giffords published an op-ed in the New York Times in which she framed those who would not support gun legislation as not caring about keeping children safe. One of the Newtown victim family members went on MSNBC and said senators who didn’t vote as she liked didn’t care about those who died in the massacre. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” hosts Scarborough and Brzezinski, who have used their popular show to campaign non-stop for gun legislation, similarly sought to stigmatize opponents and, as usual, offered no rationale offered for the failure of the bill other than the lack of character by the 46 Senators who opposed it.

There are two points that must be emphasized here.

One is that the language used by these people as well as the president who lashed out at his antagonists as liars and cowards wasn’t merely frustration; it was an effort to demonize opponents. Doing this pretty much puts an end to an effort to conduct dialogue on these issues or to convince people. Confident that they represent the majority, they are now solely intent on branding anyone who opposed these bills as not just wrong, but bad people.

Second is that by employing shooting victims in this manner, the president is actually minimizing their impact on the discussion. So long as the Newtown families or others associated with other such crimes remain above the fray, their status is akin to that of national heroes. But by injecting themselves into what is becoming a nasty partisan argument they have become just another set of talking heads. As Kevin Williamson said of Giffords on National Review’s website today, “being shot in the head by a lunatic does not give one any special grace to pronounce upon public-policy questions.”

That may sound insensitive, but it points out that while she and the Newtown relatives are entitled to a respectful hearing, their story does not give them the right to expect that everyone in the country must agree with their pronouncements on political issues. That is especially true since the great failure of the administration over these past few months was its inability to draw any specific link between any of the measures they proposed and the Newtown tragedy.

The 46 members of the Senate who opposed Manchin-Toomey will not, as Giffords wants, be put into Coventry and shunned by their constituents. Nor, as Scarborough suggested, will they all be defeated when they run for re-election. But the one thing we do know is that this sort of rhetoric has made it even less likely that the country can hold a civil debate on guns. For all of its mistakes, that is one unsettling development that can’t be blamed on the NRA.

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What Would Bill Buckley Do?

The Republican Party has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections and is currently stuck in what may be a losing fight with Barack Obama over the budget and the debt ceiling. It also failed to take back the United States Senate in the past two election cycles because GOP primary voters chose poor candidates who were easily branded as extremists by vulnerable Democrats. This sorry situation has led to an orgy of soul searching by Republicans that has produced a raft of suggestions for how to do better in 2014 and 2016. Some of the ideas put forward for a GOP re-launch, such as a shift on immigration, are worth debating. So, too, is the notion that the party should do a better job recruiting and marketing candidates. But anyone who is trying to push the party to become a bland, and more moderate, alternative to the Democrats is selling a bill of goods.

That’s exactly what Joe Scarborough is doing in a piece published today by Politico in which he has the gall to invoke the shade of William F. Buckley on behalf of a campaign to make the GOP the sort of mushy moderate party that would embrace the 2013 version of Colin Powell. Scarborough is a former Republican congressman who has made a good living playing the cranky partner to Mika Brzezinski on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC where he spends most mornings agreeing with a roster of mostly liberal guests about how bad conservatives have become. In that guise he gives cover to liberal slanders about the Tea Party and neoconservatives while embracing the likes of Powell and Chuck Hagel. That Powell and Hagel are his kind of Republicans in spite of the fact that between the two of them they’ve cast four votes for Obama for president tells you a lot about his idea of where the party should be heading. But his attempt to dragoon the late National Review editor into this argument is particularly misleading. Far from following Buckley’s example, what Scarborough does every day on TV is a classic example of the kind of Republican that Buckley despised and fought against.

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The Republican Party has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections and is currently stuck in what may be a losing fight with Barack Obama over the budget and the debt ceiling. It also failed to take back the United States Senate in the past two election cycles because GOP primary voters chose poor candidates who were easily branded as extremists by vulnerable Democrats. This sorry situation has led to an orgy of soul searching by Republicans that has produced a raft of suggestions for how to do better in 2014 and 2016. Some of the ideas put forward for a GOP re-launch, such as a shift on immigration, are worth debating. So, too, is the notion that the party should do a better job recruiting and marketing candidates. But anyone who is trying to push the party to become a bland, and more moderate, alternative to the Democrats is selling a bill of goods.

That’s exactly what Joe Scarborough is doing in a piece published today by Politico in which he has the gall to invoke the shade of William F. Buckley on behalf of a campaign to make the GOP the sort of mushy moderate party that would embrace the 2013 version of Colin Powell. Scarborough is a former Republican congressman who has made a good living playing the cranky partner to Mika Brzezinski on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC where he spends most mornings agreeing with a roster of mostly liberal guests about how bad conservatives have become. In that guise he gives cover to liberal slanders about the Tea Party and neoconservatives while embracing the likes of Powell and Chuck Hagel. That Powell and Hagel are his kind of Republicans in spite of the fact that between the two of them they’ve cast four votes for Obama for president tells you a lot about his idea of where the party should be heading. But his attempt to dragoon the late National Review editor into this argument is particularly misleading. Far from following Buckley’s example, what Scarborough does every day on TV is a classic example of the kind of Republican that Buckley despised and fought against.

Scarborough quotes, as I have myself at times, the famous WFB dictum that conservatives must be, above all, realistic. As he often pointed out, the person to support in an election was the most conservative candidate who could win. That means when faced, as Delaware Republicans were in 2010, with a choice of a moderate in Representative Mike Castle who was a shoe-in to win a Senate seat and a wacky Tea Party outlier like Christine O’Donnell, conservatives should have backed Castle since adding another vote to the Republican caucus, even one that was not reliably conservative, was better than electing another liberal Democrat.

Were Scarborough to stick with a critique of primary voters who prefer pure conservatives to more electable and slightly more moderate GOP veterans he’d be on firm ground. But, as anyone who has heard his daily rants on MSNBC knows, he doesn’t stop there. His complaint is not so much with people like O’Donnell, Todd Akin or Sharon Angle as it is with the contemporary conservative movement. The problem with applying Buckley’s lesson to contemporary politics is that it can be misinterpreted to mean that the party must make a philosophical choice to move to the center in order to be more acceptable to the chattering classes among whom Scarborough lives and works these days. And that is exactly the sort of thing WFB couldn’t tolerate.

What Scarborough forgets to mention is that one of the major political projects of Buckley’s career was the creation of the Conservative Party in New York state. The Conservatives were in their days very much the moral equivalent of the Tea Party in that the driving force behind them was the anger that Buckley and others who agreed with him felt about Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits and other moderate and liberal New York Republicans who ran the party in that state. Rockefeller and Javits were exactly the sort of people that Scarborough and Colin Powell seem to be telling the GOP to nominate. But Buckley felt that a party whose leaders were hostile to conservative principles of good governance was not worthy of support. So he backed a splinter party whose purpose was not to elect moderates but to champion conservative ideas that Republicans had abandoned.

In the short term, that didn’t help the GOP win elections in New York. But it did help transform the party into one that was willing to speak up on behalf of the ideas that Buckley believed in. The Conservatives in New York were the forerunners of the revolution that transformed the GOP from a collection of office seekers willing to stand for the Democratic Platform minus five or 10 percent into the Republican Party that elected Ronald Reagan in 1980 and elected a Republican Congress in 1994.

Scarborough wants the GOP to reach out to moderates in order to win in the future. That is a reasonable suggestion, but when he says Powell must be romanced back into the party what he is calling for is an abandonment of the principles of limited government, individual freedom and strength abroad that Reagan and Buckley stood for. That is a clear path to disaster and irrelevance.

Some, though not Scarborough, have made an analogy between the efforts Buckley made to chase the John Birch Society out of the conservative movement and those who would like to do the same to the Tea Party today. But there is no comparison between the two. The Tea Party may have its share of marginal figures, but it stands for conservative principles. The Birchers were anti-Semites and outside the mainstream. As the Tea Party proved in 2010, they were a grass-roots movement that represented the views of many in the GOP base.

What Buckley taught Republicans in the 1950s when he created NR and sought to stand athwart history and say no to the advance of liberalism is that there are sometimes more important things than winning elections. The future of conservatism and the country hinges on beating the Democrats in 2014 and 2016. But returning the party to the likes of a Rockefeller or his ideological godchildren that claim to want to save the GOP from itself will not do it. If Republicans are to return to the winners’ circle it will only be as conservatives, not the sort of people who hawk the conventional wisdom of the day on MSNBC.

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The Backlash

Mark Halperin, co-author of a very good campaign book, Game Change, is usually a reasonable political reporter. But yesterday he made comments on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that were irresponsible and deeply (and unintentionally) revealing.

In discussing the political reaction to the Tucson massacre, Halperin said: “I just want to single out one thing. I don’t want to over-generalize. But I think the media and the politicians have behaved pretty well so far. The thing I’m most concerned about now is the anger on the right-wing commentariat. On Fox and George Will and other conservatives are in some cases justifiably upset at liberals. But they’re turning this right now, in the last 24 hours, back into the standard operating procedure of ‘all this is war and fodder for content’ rather than trying to bring the country together.”

“Wait a second, Mark,” Joe Scarborough responded. “I think they would say that you have that backwards, that a shooting was turned into fodder to attack conservatives.”

“And I’ve already made that criticism as well,” Halperin said. “They’re right. But rather than seizing on it and turning the other cheek, they’re back at their war stations. And that’s not going to help us.”

Let’s examine Halperin’s arguments in turn.

What’s not going to “bring the country together” is a grotesque effort by some liberals to implicate conservatives in the shooting death of six innocent people. And perhaps if the network Mr. Halperin appears on (MSNBC) and the magazine he writes for (Time) had not allowed, and in some cases advanced, that narrative, conservatives would not have to go “back to their war stations.” (For more, see this.)

Mr. Halperin concedes that conservatives are right in believing that the Tucson shooting was turned into fodder against conservatives. Yet he seems quite untroubled by it all. In fact, he counsels conservatives to “turn the other cheek.” Now isn’t that touching? Conservatives have been on the receiving end of a remarkable slander campaign — and Halperin is most upset that they are responding to it. It’s not advancing the civilized public discourse conversation that Halperin says he wants to have. What he doesn’t seem to grasp — and it really isn’t all that hard to grasp — is that when the left attempts to make conservatives moral accessories to a massacre, it isn’t likely to drain our political dialogue of anger. And the blame for this doesn’t rest with those who are on the receiving end of the slander. Read More

Mark Halperin, co-author of a very good campaign book, Game Change, is usually a reasonable political reporter. But yesterday he made comments on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that were irresponsible and deeply (and unintentionally) revealing.

In discussing the political reaction to the Tucson massacre, Halperin said: “I just want to single out one thing. I don’t want to over-generalize. But I think the media and the politicians have behaved pretty well so far. The thing I’m most concerned about now is the anger on the right-wing commentariat. On Fox and George Will and other conservatives are in some cases justifiably upset at liberals. But they’re turning this right now, in the last 24 hours, back into the standard operating procedure of ‘all this is war and fodder for content’ rather than trying to bring the country together.”

“Wait a second, Mark,” Joe Scarborough responded. “I think they would say that you have that backwards, that a shooting was turned into fodder to attack conservatives.”

“And I’ve already made that criticism as well,” Halperin said. “They’re right. But rather than seizing on it and turning the other cheek, they’re back at their war stations. And that’s not going to help us.”

Let’s examine Halperin’s arguments in turn.

What’s not going to “bring the country together” is a grotesque effort by some liberals to implicate conservatives in the shooting death of six innocent people. And perhaps if the network Mr. Halperin appears on (MSNBC) and the magazine he writes for (Time) had not allowed, and in some cases advanced, that narrative, conservatives would not have to go “back to their war stations.” (For more, see this.)

Mr. Halperin concedes that conservatives are right in believing that the Tucson shooting was turned into fodder against conservatives. Yet he seems quite untroubled by it all. In fact, he counsels conservatives to “turn the other cheek.” Now isn’t that touching? Conservatives have been on the receiving end of a remarkable slander campaign — and Halperin is most upset that they are responding to it. It’s not advancing the civilized public discourse conversation that Halperin says he wants to have. What he doesn’t seem to grasp — and it really isn’t all that hard to grasp — is that when the left attempts to make conservatives moral accessories to a massacre, it isn’t likely to drain our political dialogue of anger. And the blame for this doesn’t rest with those who are on the receiving end of the slander.

What I think we’re seeing in Halperin’s reaction is upset that the rules that once applied in journalism no longer do.

Once upon a time, a libel by liberals, amplified by the press, would have worked. The narrative would have been locked into place. Conservatives could complain about it here and there, but it wouldn’t really matter much (think Reed Irvine). The rise of the “new media,” which is not really so new anymore, has changed all that.

Today there are a variety of outlets — tweets, blogs, websites, conservative talk radio, and cable news, as well as columnists and even a few editorial pages — that are quite able and willing to push back, to deconstruct bad arguments, to point out factual errors, and to change the trajectory of a story.

We’ve seen that with the Tucson massacre. During the first 24 hours, the left, aided by many in the “mainstream media,” argued that the killings were fostered by a political (read: conservative) climate of hate. That was a completely unjustified and bigoted assumption; and in every hour since then, it has been exposed as such. We are now seeing a public backlash against that calumny. It will grow with time.

The quasi-media monopoly was broken some time ago. A relatively few journalists with a strikingly similar ideological disposition are no longer able to dictate the story lines they want. In this case, they desperately wanted to use the Tucson massacre as a way to indict conservatives for their supposed part in creating a “climate of hate.” But this effort is backfiring. The response from conservatives (along with a few reporters and left-leaning commentators) has been swift, comprehensive, sustained, and effective. Liberal-minded journalists see that and are rattled by it. In response, they are making silly arguments that, on reflection, they probably wish they hadn’t made. But those arguments are themselves instructive. Many journalists are lamenting the loss of a world that no longer exists.

Liberals wanted to use the Tucson massacre to smear conservatives. In the end, it will further discredit them and journalism itself. We are seeing, in a somewhat different form, the Dan Rather/National Guard story all over again. And we know how that turned out.

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“No Labels” Is Also a Label

My friend COMMENTARY contributor David Frum (who has a piece in our upcoming January issue) is a writer both tough and fearless in his judgments. It’s one of the many reasons he’s always worth reading, disagree or no: he does not prevaricate or trim his sails. He says what he says. He is a believer in intellectual honesty, and his brief against the right over the past two years is that it is in danger of sacrificing that honesty in pursuit of a populist politics he thinks is both wrongheaded and self-defeating.

He says so in unvarnished prose and takes no prisoners, going after Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and others with a clear-eyed ferocity — just as he did at the onset of the Iraq war in a National Review piece that effectively wrote paleoconservative critics of the war out of the movement: “They began by hating the neoconservatives. They came to hate their party and this president. They have finished by hating their country.”

It is a matter of no small intellectual interest that David has now decided to embrace the concept that American politics should move beyond ideological camps. He joined the distinguished liberal political scientist William Galston in an op-ed piece describing and advocating a new movement called “No Labels” that is to be brought into existence next week with Michael Bloomberg and Joe Scarborough as its major lead figures. They write:

Our political system does not work if politicians treat the process as a war in which the overriding goal is to thwart the adversary. … Nor does the political system work if politicians treat members of the other party as enemies to be destroyed. Labeling legitimate policy differences as “socialist” or “racist” undermines democratic discourse.

Over the next 12 months, No Labels plans to organize citizens’ groups in every state and congressional district. Among other activities, these citizens will carefully monitor the conduct of their elected representatives. They will highlight those officials who reach across the aisle to help solve the country’s problems and criticize those who do not. They will call out politicians whose rhetoric exacerbates those problems, and they will establish lines that no one should cross. Politicians, media personalities and opinion leaders who recklessly demonize their opponents should be on notice that they can no longer do so with impunity.

In the name of broadening the political discussion, a group called No Labels will come into being with the purpose of … labeling. If you “recklessly demonize” your “opponents,” you will “no longer” be able to “do so with impunity.” They will “establish bright lines no one should cross.” In other words, cross the line and we will label you a “reckless demonizer.” Dare to call Barack Obama a socialist and stand accused of exacerbating problems rather than solving them.

Nobody should be for reckless demonization, but one man’s reckless demonization is another man’s truth-telling, as the design of No Labels itself would seem to suggest. Does the No Labels style mean that, should you find Rush Limbaugh abhorrent, it is therefore acceptable to discuss his views in relation to his past prescription-drug addiction? Or Glenn Beck’s alcoholism? That would seem to be the idea, and you can see how the incivility required by the No Labels concept deconstructs it like a Rube Goldberg machine.

The drawing of bright lines is something David Frum does surpassingly well. But a group called No Labels would seem by definition to stand for the opposite — for an entirely freewheeling public conversation, which should be the opposite of a bright-line-drawing exercise. Instead, No Labels would appear to be a movement designed to give politicians space and room to hammer out compromises with each other in pursuit of the common good. That sounds nice, but it’s actually the abnegation of what a movement — an intellectual movement, a political movement, a partisan movement, or an ideological movement — actually is.

Movements arise because people believe in something in common, believe in it wholeheartedly, and want their ideas to prevail. They don’t believe in swapping out some of them for others in order to make nice to the other side. They want the other side to lose and their side to win because they believe their ideas are good and the other side’s ideas are bad.

That is why it is an oxymoron to talk about movements of the middle, or of the radical center, or whatever you want to call it, and why No Labels will never work. In the end, such movements are primarily defined by distaste. That is a powerful emotion. But in the end, distaste is primarily an aesthetic feeling, not a moral or political or ideological one. An aesthetic is not an organizing principle, because it is a principle of exclusion, not of inclusion — those bright lines are designed to keep things out, not bring them in.

David Frum, you stand accused of being an aesthete!

My friend COMMENTARY contributor David Frum (who has a piece in our upcoming January issue) is a writer both tough and fearless in his judgments. It’s one of the many reasons he’s always worth reading, disagree or no: he does not prevaricate or trim his sails. He says what he says. He is a believer in intellectual honesty, and his brief against the right over the past two years is that it is in danger of sacrificing that honesty in pursuit of a populist politics he thinks is both wrongheaded and self-defeating.

He says so in unvarnished prose and takes no prisoners, going after Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and others with a clear-eyed ferocity — just as he did at the onset of the Iraq war in a National Review piece that effectively wrote paleoconservative critics of the war out of the movement: “They began by hating the neoconservatives. They came to hate their party and this president. They have finished by hating their country.”

It is a matter of no small intellectual interest that David has now decided to embrace the concept that American politics should move beyond ideological camps. He joined the distinguished liberal political scientist William Galston in an op-ed piece describing and advocating a new movement called “No Labels” that is to be brought into existence next week with Michael Bloomberg and Joe Scarborough as its major lead figures. They write:

Our political system does not work if politicians treat the process as a war in which the overriding goal is to thwart the adversary. … Nor does the political system work if politicians treat members of the other party as enemies to be destroyed. Labeling legitimate policy differences as “socialist” or “racist” undermines democratic discourse.

Over the next 12 months, No Labels plans to organize citizens’ groups in every state and congressional district. Among other activities, these citizens will carefully monitor the conduct of their elected representatives. They will highlight those officials who reach across the aisle to help solve the country’s problems and criticize those who do not. They will call out politicians whose rhetoric exacerbates those problems, and they will establish lines that no one should cross. Politicians, media personalities and opinion leaders who recklessly demonize their opponents should be on notice that they can no longer do so with impunity.

In the name of broadening the political discussion, a group called No Labels will come into being with the purpose of … labeling. If you “recklessly demonize” your “opponents,” you will “no longer” be able to “do so with impunity.” They will “establish bright lines no one should cross.” In other words, cross the line and we will label you a “reckless demonizer.” Dare to call Barack Obama a socialist and stand accused of exacerbating problems rather than solving them.

Nobody should be for reckless demonization, but one man’s reckless demonization is another man’s truth-telling, as the design of No Labels itself would seem to suggest. Does the No Labels style mean that, should you find Rush Limbaugh abhorrent, it is therefore acceptable to discuss his views in relation to his past prescription-drug addiction? Or Glenn Beck’s alcoholism? That would seem to be the idea, and you can see how the incivility required by the No Labels concept deconstructs it like a Rube Goldberg machine.

The drawing of bright lines is something David Frum does surpassingly well. But a group called No Labels would seem by definition to stand for the opposite — for an entirely freewheeling public conversation, which should be the opposite of a bright-line-drawing exercise. Instead, No Labels would appear to be a movement designed to give politicians space and room to hammer out compromises with each other in pursuit of the common good. That sounds nice, but it’s actually the abnegation of what a movement — an intellectual movement, a political movement, a partisan movement, or an ideological movement — actually is.

Movements arise because people believe in something in common, believe in it wholeheartedly, and want their ideas to prevail. They don’t believe in swapping out some of them for others in order to make nice to the other side. They want the other side to lose and their side to win because they believe their ideas are good and the other side’s ideas are bad.

That is why it is an oxymoron to talk about movements of the middle, or of the radical center, or whatever you want to call it, and why No Labels will never work. In the end, such movements are primarily defined by distaste. That is a powerful emotion. But in the end, distaste is primarily an aesthetic feeling, not a moral or political or ideological one. An aesthetic is not an organizing principle, because it is a principle of exclusion, not of inclusion — those bright lines are designed to keep things out, not bring them in.

David Frum, you stand accused of being an aesthete!

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ECI Makes Private Anger Public

This segment on ECI’s opening ad and the backlash against Obama’s Israel policy from Morning Joe should be mandatory viewing:

The domestic impact of Obama’s Israel policy and the potential influence of a group like ECI comes through clearly in that segment. First is the (unintended) comic reaction of Terry McAuliffe — “Out of bounds!” But isn’t it policy, isn’t the ad just quoting Joe Sestak’s own words? Er… um … You see the problem: Democrats are none too pleased that Obama’s Israel policy will have real consequences domestically. It wasn’t supposed to work this way, according to the Obami brain trust; is was Bibi who was supposed to crumble under political pressure.

Also interesting is Politico’s Mike Allen’s and host Joe Scarborough’s take that the ad may tap into liberal Jews’ anger over Obama’s assault on Israel. From time to time, an ad breaks through the clutter and in essence gives “permission” for dissatisfied groups to holler, “Enough!” As we’ve discussed at length, the reaction of American Jewry to Obama has, to put it mildly, been conflicted. A mix of wishful thinking (he doesn’t really mean it!), partisan loyalty, and misguided strategy (if we don’t challenge him in public, he’ll be nicer to Israel!) have dampened public criticism of Obama’s Israel policy. But the underlying unease, indeed fury, has not abated. As this and other ads circulate and as the Middle East gains prominence in the campaign, even liberal Jews may come to the realization that in the privacy of the voting booth, they can finally register their objections. Call it putting some “daylight” between themselves and a disappointing president.

Finally, this video highlights the gap in the pro-Israel community that ECI fills. A pro-Israel activist not associated with either ECI or AIPAC told me, “AIPAC is great at what they do on Capitol Hill. They have their toolbox. ECI has theirs.” It is in that regard an important division of labor in the Jewish community. Established Jewish organizations have never faced a president like this and have struggled to come up with a game plan for pushing back. They are reluctant and ill-equipped to engage in confrontational public advocacy, yet their membership fumes, “Why aren’t you doing something!” Well, along comes ECI. In essence, this alleviates the pressure on establishment Jewish leaders to do what they feel their organizations cannot.

Those who bemoan that foreign policy is “politicized” really mean that they don’t want to defend their own positions. But that’s not how democracy works. Every issue is fodder for debate. We’re now going to have a rip-roaring one on Middle East policy.

This segment on ECI’s opening ad and the backlash against Obama’s Israel policy from Morning Joe should be mandatory viewing:

The domestic impact of Obama’s Israel policy and the potential influence of a group like ECI comes through clearly in that segment. First is the (unintended) comic reaction of Terry McAuliffe — “Out of bounds!” But isn’t it policy, isn’t the ad just quoting Joe Sestak’s own words? Er… um … You see the problem: Democrats are none too pleased that Obama’s Israel policy will have real consequences domestically. It wasn’t supposed to work this way, according to the Obami brain trust; is was Bibi who was supposed to crumble under political pressure.

Also interesting is Politico’s Mike Allen’s and host Joe Scarborough’s take that the ad may tap into liberal Jews’ anger over Obama’s assault on Israel. From time to time, an ad breaks through the clutter and in essence gives “permission” for dissatisfied groups to holler, “Enough!” As we’ve discussed at length, the reaction of American Jewry to Obama has, to put it mildly, been conflicted. A mix of wishful thinking (he doesn’t really mean it!), partisan loyalty, and misguided strategy (if we don’t challenge him in public, he’ll be nicer to Israel!) have dampened public criticism of Obama’s Israel policy. But the underlying unease, indeed fury, has not abated. As this and other ads circulate and as the Middle East gains prominence in the campaign, even liberal Jews may come to the realization that in the privacy of the voting booth, they can finally register their objections. Call it putting some “daylight” between themselves and a disappointing president.

Finally, this video highlights the gap in the pro-Israel community that ECI fills. A pro-Israel activist not associated with either ECI or AIPAC told me, “AIPAC is great at what they do on Capitol Hill. They have their toolbox. ECI has theirs.” It is in that regard an important division of labor in the Jewish community. Established Jewish organizations have never faced a president like this and have struggled to come up with a game plan for pushing back. They are reluctant and ill-equipped to engage in confrontational public advocacy, yet their membership fumes, “Why aren’t you doing something!” Well, along comes ECI. In essence, this alleviates the pressure on establishment Jewish leaders to do what they feel their organizations cannot.

Those who bemoan that foreign policy is “politicized” really mean that they don’t want to defend their own positions. But that’s not how democracy works. Every issue is fodder for debate. We’re now going to have a rip-roaring one on Middle East policy.

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The GOP in the Wake of ObamaCare

We are now a week out from the passage of ObamaCare, so it’s worth considering what approach the Republican party might take in the months ahead.

The first thing is to understand that, politically speaking, the GOP is in extremely good shape. President Obama succeeded in passing health care legislation — but he has not succeeded in making it popular. If you analyze the different polls that have come out since the passage of ObamaCare, it shows several things: the president received a slight bump, less than usual for a legislative victory of this magnitude, and it is in the process of evaporating. And because both parties are determined to make the midterm elections a referendum on ObamaCare — Democrats because they don’t want to leave it undefended, Republicans because they believe the public’s dislike of this legislation is intense and won’t recede — that is what the elections will largely be about.

Second, Republicans and their allies need to ensure that the president and Democrats now have full ownership of ObamaCare. That means creating benchmarks, such as when we begin to see increases in premiums and taxes, cuts in Medicare Advantage, employers dumping employees into the exchange once it’s up and running, an increase in the oversight activity of the IRS (which is responsible for enforcing this new mandate), and more.

The GOP also needs to highlight the negative, radiating effects of ObamaCare, as companies adjust to the new world they inhabit. For example, Caterpillar said ObamaCare would cost the company at least $100 million more in the first year alone. Medical-device maker Medtronic said that new taxes on its products could force it to lay off a thousand workers. The telecom giant Verizon warned that its costs will increase in the short term. As the Wall Street Journal editorialized last week, “Businesses around the country are making the same calculations as Verizon and no doubt sending out similar messages. It’s only a small measure of the destruction that will be churned out by the rewrite of health, tax, labor and welfare laws that is ObamaCare, and only the vanguard of much worse to come.”

In addition to highlighting the damaging effects of ObamaCare, Republicans need to sear into public consciousness the many false promises and assurances Mr. Obama and Democrats made. Here the stimulus package offers some helpful guidance. In order to pass it, and shortly after he signed it into law, the president and his team made guarantees about how many jobs it would create, including how unemployment would not rise above 8 percent. But a strange thing happened along the way. Unemployment topped 10 percent last year. We have lost rather than gained millions of jobs. The high expectations Obama had created were shattered, and with it the beginning of Obama’s credibility. And this, in turn, begins the downward political slide of the Democratic party under Obama.

The same thing can happen, in spades, with health care. Democrats know it, too. Just a few days ago, for example, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri said her party has probably oversold the legislation that just became law. “The side on which I’m on, that voted for the bill, probably is overpromising, [has] not been clear enough about the fact that this is going to be an incremental approach over time, [and] the benefits aren’t going to be felt by most Americans immediately,” McCaskill told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough.

Memo to Ms. McCaskill: It’s a little late, Senator. The president has made, repeatedly and on the record, extravagant claims. He promised the moon and the stars. When those things not only don’t come to pass, but when people see that their lives are worse off thanks to ObamaCare, there will be a very high political price to pay.

Finally, the GOP needs to connect ObamaCare to the broader narrative it plays into: the modern-Democratic party is fiscally irresponsible to the point of recklessness, it is clueless when it comes to creating economic growth, and Democrats are enchanted with the prospect of centralizing power and control. At a time when trust in the federal government is near an all-time low and disgust with the federal government is near an all-time high, Barack Obama and Democrats have become, as never before, the party of big government.

This is something the GOP can work with.

What will matter, when all is said and done, are the real-world effects of ObamaCare. If it succeeds, then Obama and Democrats will have taken important strides to help them retain their majority status in America. If on the other hand you believe, as I do, that ObamaCare is a pernicious piece of legislation, one that will have terribly damaging consequences as its provisions uncoil, then Democrats will have inflicted on themselves enormous damage.

Both parties have waged everything on this fight. The midterm elections will give us an early indication of which one bet the right way.

We are now a week out from the passage of ObamaCare, so it’s worth considering what approach the Republican party might take in the months ahead.

The first thing is to understand that, politically speaking, the GOP is in extremely good shape. President Obama succeeded in passing health care legislation — but he has not succeeded in making it popular. If you analyze the different polls that have come out since the passage of ObamaCare, it shows several things: the president received a slight bump, less than usual for a legislative victory of this magnitude, and it is in the process of evaporating. And because both parties are determined to make the midterm elections a referendum on ObamaCare — Democrats because they don’t want to leave it undefended, Republicans because they believe the public’s dislike of this legislation is intense and won’t recede — that is what the elections will largely be about.

Second, Republicans and their allies need to ensure that the president and Democrats now have full ownership of ObamaCare. That means creating benchmarks, such as when we begin to see increases in premiums and taxes, cuts in Medicare Advantage, employers dumping employees into the exchange once it’s up and running, an increase in the oversight activity of the IRS (which is responsible for enforcing this new mandate), and more.

The GOP also needs to highlight the negative, radiating effects of ObamaCare, as companies adjust to the new world they inhabit. For example, Caterpillar said ObamaCare would cost the company at least $100 million more in the first year alone. Medical-device maker Medtronic said that new taxes on its products could force it to lay off a thousand workers. The telecom giant Verizon warned that its costs will increase in the short term. As the Wall Street Journal editorialized last week, “Businesses around the country are making the same calculations as Verizon and no doubt sending out similar messages. It’s only a small measure of the destruction that will be churned out by the rewrite of health, tax, labor and welfare laws that is ObamaCare, and only the vanguard of much worse to come.”

In addition to highlighting the damaging effects of ObamaCare, Republicans need to sear into public consciousness the many false promises and assurances Mr. Obama and Democrats made. Here the stimulus package offers some helpful guidance. In order to pass it, and shortly after he signed it into law, the president and his team made guarantees about how many jobs it would create, including how unemployment would not rise above 8 percent. But a strange thing happened along the way. Unemployment topped 10 percent last year. We have lost rather than gained millions of jobs. The high expectations Obama had created were shattered, and with it the beginning of Obama’s credibility. And this, in turn, begins the downward political slide of the Democratic party under Obama.

The same thing can happen, in spades, with health care. Democrats know it, too. Just a few days ago, for example, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri said her party has probably oversold the legislation that just became law. “The side on which I’m on, that voted for the bill, probably is overpromising, [has] not been clear enough about the fact that this is going to be an incremental approach over time, [and] the benefits aren’t going to be felt by most Americans immediately,” McCaskill told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough.

Memo to Ms. McCaskill: It’s a little late, Senator. The president has made, repeatedly and on the record, extravagant claims. He promised the moon and the stars. When those things not only don’t come to pass, but when people see that their lives are worse off thanks to ObamaCare, there will be a very high political price to pay.

Finally, the GOP needs to connect ObamaCare to the broader narrative it plays into: the modern-Democratic party is fiscally irresponsible to the point of recklessness, it is clueless when it comes to creating economic growth, and Democrats are enchanted with the prospect of centralizing power and control. At a time when trust in the federal government is near an all-time low and disgust with the federal government is near an all-time high, Barack Obama and Democrats have become, as never before, the party of big government.

This is something the GOP can work with.

What will matter, when all is said and done, are the real-world effects of ObamaCare. If it succeeds, then Obama and Democrats will have taken important strides to help them retain their majority status in America. If on the other hand you believe, as I do, that ObamaCare is a pernicious piece of legislation, one that will have terribly damaging consequences as its provisions uncoil, then Democrats will have inflicted on themselves enormous damage.

Both parties have waged everything on this fight. The midterm elections will give us an early indication of which one bet the right way.

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From the Fever Swamps of MSNBC…

If you want to see yet one more embarrassing performance from the circus act known as MSNBC, take a look at this exchange between Lawrence O’Donnell and former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen. O’Donnell is so unhinged that Joe Scarborough has to go to break and says he’ll finish the interview himself.

O’Donnell, like Keith Olbermann and the rest of MSNBC’s prime-time lineup, serves a useful public purpose. He demonstrates to the public the rage and bitterness that now consumes so much of the Left. It isn’t always pleasant to watch, and it certainly doesn’t further enlightened public discourse. But it does focus attention on a movement that has real influence on the Democratic party and on the president himself.

Obama and the Left remain joined at the hip; and if Obama is serious about wanting greater civility in our national dialogue, perhaps he can focus a bit more of his unhappiness and lectures on modern liberalism’s fever swamps.

If you want to see yet one more embarrassing performance from the circus act known as MSNBC, take a look at this exchange between Lawrence O’Donnell and former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen. O’Donnell is so unhinged that Joe Scarborough has to go to break and says he’ll finish the interview himself.

O’Donnell, like Keith Olbermann and the rest of MSNBC’s prime-time lineup, serves a useful public purpose. He demonstrates to the public the rage and bitterness that now consumes so much of the Left. It isn’t always pleasant to watch, and it certainly doesn’t further enlightened public discourse. But it does focus attention on a movement that has real influence on the Democratic party and on the president himself.

Obama and the Left remain joined at the hip; and if Obama is serious about wanting greater civility in our national dialogue, perhaps he can focus a bit more of his unhappiness and lectures on modern liberalism’s fever swamps.

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Where the Political Discourse Is Ugly

Yesterday I wrote that if Scott Brown wins the Massachusetts election, “it’s a safe bet that in response [Democrats] and their allies will lash out in rage, angry at the perceived injustice of it all, furious at the fate that has befallen them.”

Enter the increasingly bizarre Keith Olbermann, the public face of MSNBC. In his short commentary last night, Mr. Olbermann offered these measured thoughts:

In short, in Scott Brown we have an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against woman and against politicians with whom he disagrees. In any other time in our history, this man would have been laughed off the stage as an unqualified and a disaster in the making by the most conservative of conservatives. Instead, the commonwealth of Massachusetts is close to sending this bad joke to the Senate of the United States.

This was too much for Olbermann’s colleague Joe Scarborough, who called Olbermann’s comments “reckless” and “sad.” Olbermann’s comments come after MSNBC’s Ed Schultz said on his radio program:

I tell you what, if I lived in Massachusetts I’d try to vote 10 times. I don’t know if they’d let me or not, but I’d try to. Yeah, that’s right. I’d cheat to keep these bastards out. I would. ‘Cause that’s exactly what they are.

An impressive duo, no? Any network that makes Chris Matthews appear as a rock of stability, civility, and reason has achieved something that is not easy.

MSNBC, with a few exceptions (like Scarborough), long ago became a circus act. But it’s a circus act that serves a purpose. It reflects the temper and mindset of much of the Left. It is a movement fueled by paranoia and hate, even with Obama in the White House and Democrats in control of Congress. If Olbermann and Schultz’s comments are indicative of how the core of the Democratic Party is reacting simply in anticipation of a loss in Massachusetts, it’s hard to envision what will happen if Brown actually wins, let alone what would happen if Republicans make widespread gains in November.

Such ugliness by any political group or movement — whether from the Left or the Right — is not good for democratic discourse. It’s why each side needs to police its own ranks. But when the Left becomes as unhinged as Olbermann and some of his colleagues are — when the public gets to peer into their dark, angry, and bitter little world — it will have political ramifications, none of them good for Democrats.

Sometimes seeing ugliness on full display, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable, reveals certain realities. America can decide for itself if it wants to support an ideology that produces people like Keith Olbermann.

Yesterday I wrote that if Scott Brown wins the Massachusetts election, “it’s a safe bet that in response [Democrats] and their allies will lash out in rage, angry at the perceived injustice of it all, furious at the fate that has befallen them.”

Enter the increasingly bizarre Keith Olbermann, the public face of MSNBC. In his short commentary last night, Mr. Olbermann offered these measured thoughts:

In short, in Scott Brown we have an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against woman and against politicians with whom he disagrees. In any other time in our history, this man would have been laughed off the stage as an unqualified and a disaster in the making by the most conservative of conservatives. Instead, the commonwealth of Massachusetts is close to sending this bad joke to the Senate of the United States.

This was too much for Olbermann’s colleague Joe Scarborough, who called Olbermann’s comments “reckless” and “sad.” Olbermann’s comments come after MSNBC’s Ed Schultz said on his radio program:

I tell you what, if I lived in Massachusetts I’d try to vote 10 times. I don’t know if they’d let me or not, but I’d try to. Yeah, that’s right. I’d cheat to keep these bastards out. I would. ‘Cause that’s exactly what they are.

An impressive duo, no? Any network that makes Chris Matthews appear as a rock of stability, civility, and reason has achieved something that is not easy.

MSNBC, with a few exceptions (like Scarborough), long ago became a circus act. But it’s a circus act that serves a purpose. It reflects the temper and mindset of much of the Left. It is a movement fueled by paranoia and hate, even with Obama in the White House and Democrats in control of Congress. If Olbermann and Schultz’s comments are indicative of how the core of the Democratic Party is reacting simply in anticipation of a loss in Massachusetts, it’s hard to envision what will happen if Brown actually wins, let alone what would happen if Republicans make widespread gains in November.

Such ugliness by any political group or movement — whether from the Left or the Right — is not good for democratic discourse. It’s why each side needs to police its own ranks. But when the Left becomes as unhinged as Olbermann and some of his colleagues are — when the public gets to peer into their dark, angry, and bitter little world — it will have political ramifications, none of them good for Democrats.

Sometimes seeing ugliness on full display, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable, reveals certain realities. America can decide for itself if it wants to support an ideology that produces people like Keith Olbermann.

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Down the Memory Hole in New Hampshire

“Have you ever seen crowds like this in New Hampshire? Ever?” Joe Scarborough of MSNBC asked a representative of the Obama campaign, who, unsuprisingly, answered that Gee, no, he never ever had seen crowds like these, ever. Strange. I seem to remember in 2000 that there were crowds like these in New Hampshire for John McCain, who walked on water in exactly the same fashion Obama is walking on water these days. He had young people all excited, independents loved him, he offered a message of reform (the 2000 version of “change”), blah blah blah. McCain won 49 percent of the vote to George W. Bush’s 30 percent. It will be interesting to see if Obama’s expected victory matches McCain’s 19-point triumph, which clearly did not guarantee McCain the nomination he did not ultimately win. (I do think, for the record, that a huge Obama victory here is far more devastating to Clinton’s ambitions than the McCain victory was to George W. Bush’s, for Bush had at least won Iowa.) Oh, and in 1992 we heard a lot of the same blather about Pat Buchanan’s challenge to the sitting President Bush, when he got a stunning 38 percent of the vote against an incumbent in the White House. And yet, every single time, the media fall for the spin. And why not? They invent it anew for themselves every four or eight years.

“Have you ever seen crowds like this in New Hampshire? Ever?” Joe Scarborough of MSNBC asked a representative of the Obama campaign, who, unsuprisingly, answered that Gee, no, he never ever had seen crowds like these, ever. Strange. I seem to remember in 2000 that there were crowds like these in New Hampshire for John McCain, who walked on water in exactly the same fashion Obama is walking on water these days. He had young people all excited, independents loved him, he offered a message of reform (the 2000 version of “change”), blah blah blah. McCain won 49 percent of the vote to George W. Bush’s 30 percent. It will be interesting to see if Obama’s expected victory matches McCain’s 19-point triumph, which clearly did not guarantee McCain the nomination he did not ultimately win. (I do think, for the record, that a huge Obama victory here is far more devastating to Clinton’s ambitions than the McCain victory was to George W. Bush’s, for Bush had at least won Iowa.) Oh, and in 1992 we heard a lot of the same blather about Pat Buchanan’s challenge to the sitting President Bush, when he got a stunning 38 percent of the vote against an incumbent in the White House. And yet, every single time, the media fall for the spin. And why not? They invent it anew for themselves every four or eight years.

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