Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Murtha

RE: Mitch Daniels Makes the Rounds

Reihan Salam writes that although he understands that I “am  troubled by the idea of nickel-and-diming national security,” he believes “we need to give serious thought to paring back our commitments, to the extent doing so is consonant with our long-term interests.  … [Like] a growing number of conservatives, including Sen. Tom Coburn, I’m concerned about profligacy in the defense budget.” This is an important debate, which candidates and office holders will have to address.

There are two issues. First, is our defense budget “profligate”? Certainly, there are excesses, and lawmakers such as Rep. John Murtha did a fine job of gumming up the budget with goodies for their constituents. But let’s put this in perspective: our defense budget, thanks to Obama, is below its 45-year average as a percentage of GDP. Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly write:

Compare for a moment the size of the Obama stimulus package in 2009 — nearly $800 billion — with the more than $300 billion Gates has already cut from the Pentagon’s budget and the planned “flat-lining” of defense expenditures in the years ahead. … Defense spending has gone up. But never in our history have we fought wars of this magnitude as cheaply. Take, for example, the percentage of the federal budget allocated to defense: In 1994, two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pentagon spending amounted to slightly more than 19 percent of the budget; in 2010, it is the same. And if the administration has its way, that figure will drop to 15.6 percent by 2015. Is any other part of the federal budget getting similarly whacked?

But there is a broader, philosophical question here: do we face one or two threats to our civilization? Conservatives and a great many others agree that there is at least one, the economic: the unsustainable debt burden, the decline in “dynamic destruction,” which is essential to a vibrant economy, the crushing weight of entitlements on future generations, and the resulting atrophying of growth and job creation. If that is the sole emergency, then everything else takes second place — a remote second.

But if you believe there are two threats to America and to the West, a second even more grievous than the first, then it is a different story. The other threat is, of course, that of Islamic jihadism — the actual war on the West. We are witnessing the expansion of that war from conventional battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan and from serial bombing runs, sponsored and inspired by jihadist networks, to a nuclear standoff against an Iran. That foe’s influence is increasing and its terrorist agents and allies are capable of inciting violence and instability from Indonesia to Lebanon to the western Sahara.

It would be grand to stand down from our commitments, take a “peace dividend.” But alas, there is no peace. The spending on defense is not optional if we and our allies are to survive. While it is true that our economic vitality is essential to maintain a robust defense, it is equally true that economic prosperity cannot exist in a world torn asunder by Islamic terror and war.

This is an important discussion, and the temptation to recede and husband our resources is strong. It was so after WWI and it was so in the Clinton years. We need to think carefully about what that means and whether we can take a holiday from history.

Reihan Salam writes that although he understands that I “am  troubled by the idea of nickel-and-diming national security,” he believes “we need to give serious thought to paring back our commitments, to the extent doing so is consonant with our long-term interests.  … [Like] a growing number of conservatives, including Sen. Tom Coburn, I’m concerned about profligacy in the defense budget.” This is an important debate, which candidates and office holders will have to address.

There are two issues. First, is our defense budget “profligate”? Certainly, there are excesses, and lawmakers such as Rep. John Murtha did a fine job of gumming up the budget with goodies for their constituents. But let’s put this in perspective: our defense budget, thanks to Obama, is below its 45-year average as a percentage of GDP. Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly write:

Compare for a moment the size of the Obama stimulus package in 2009 — nearly $800 billion — with the more than $300 billion Gates has already cut from the Pentagon’s budget and the planned “flat-lining” of defense expenditures in the years ahead. … Defense spending has gone up. But never in our history have we fought wars of this magnitude as cheaply. Take, for example, the percentage of the federal budget allocated to defense: In 1994, two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pentagon spending amounted to slightly more than 19 percent of the budget; in 2010, it is the same. And if the administration has its way, that figure will drop to 15.6 percent by 2015. Is any other part of the federal budget getting similarly whacked?

But there is a broader, philosophical question here: do we face one or two threats to our civilization? Conservatives and a great many others agree that there is at least one, the economic: the unsustainable debt burden, the decline in “dynamic destruction,” which is essential to a vibrant economy, the crushing weight of entitlements on future generations, and the resulting atrophying of growth and job creation. If that is the sole emergency, then everything else takes second place — a remote second.

But if you believe there are two threats to America and to the West, a second even more grievous than the first, then it is a different story. The other threat is, of course, that of Islamic jihadism — the actual war on the West. We are witnessing the expansion of that war from conventional battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan and from serial bombing runs, sponsored and inspired by jihadist networks, to a nuclear standoff against an Iran. That foe’s influence is increasing and its terrorist agents and allies are capable of inciting violence and instability from Indonesia to Lebanon to the western Sahara.

It would be grand to stand down from our commitments, take a “peace dividend.” But alas, there is no peace. The spending on defense is not optional if we and our allies are to survive. While it is true that our economic vitality is essential to maintain a robust defense, it is equally true that economic prosperity cannot exist in a world torn asunder by Islamic terror and war.

This is an important discussion, and the temptation to recede and husband our resources is strong. It was so after WWI and it was so in the Clinton years. We need to think carefully about what that means and whether we can take a holiday from history.

Read Less

Reading the Election Results

Obama ignored the Tea Party movement. He ignored polls on health-care reform. He ignored the election results in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts. And last night’s elections confirmed that now anyone associated with Washington insiderism and big-government spending is imperiled.

Arlen Specter proved that expediency and convictionless politics — as well as clinging to Obama — aren’t going to cut it with voters. Democrats wanted a dependable liberal and got one in Joe Sestak. Obama took yet another shot — showing that his political judgment is lacking and that any candidate who wraps his arms around the president is going to take a beating. In the end it wasn’t even close, with Sestak beating Specter by more than 7 points. It was an embarrassing end for an embarrassing political turncoat whose sole principle was his own political survival. Specter is finally out of the hair of both Democrats and Republicans. I wonder how he’ll vote on Elena Kagan now — who can tell? And Sestak will now have to answer some tough questions on Israel.

In Kentucky, Rand Paul embarrassed the Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who backed Rand’s opponent. It is a big win for the Tea Party movement and the fiscal conservative message. Paul also will face scrutiny on his foreign-policy views (he opposed the Iraq war). Again, if candidates want to win, they better convincingly paint themselves as outsiders.

Blanche Lincoln barely edged out Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, the darling of the left, but didn’t come close to the 50 percent mark needed to avoid a runoff, gathering less than 45 percent. If she makes it through the runoff, she has an uphill fight just to cement the Democratic vote. Her squishy moderation proved unappealing, and her stalwart defense of ObamaCare didn’t help her a bit. It seems that even for Democrats, ObamaCare is nothing to crow about.

And in the Pennsylvania 12th, the Democrats held John Murtha’s seat with a skilled candidate who ran a well-polished campaign. (Politico notes: “Republicans were quick to point out that Critz ran on a conservative platform, highlighting his opposition to abortion and to the health care reform legislation.”) There can be no better sign of Obama’s toxic impact on his party than the fact that Democrat Mark Critz survived by running against ObamaCare. And he was smart enough to keep Obama out of the district and bring Bill Clinton in to campaign with him. It’s a reminder that despite trends, specific candidates and campaigns matter. Perhaps Clinton — another irony — will be called on by Obama to save more seats and go where Obama would do more harm than good.

Big winners: the Tea Partiers, conviction politics, anti-Washington candidates, and fiscal conservatism. Big losers: Obama, Democratic incumbents, big spenders, and endorsements by office holders. Democrats who haven’t ingested the Obama Kool Aid will — or should — start fretting about less-than-stellar candidates. Many of them are going to lose in November.

Obama ignored the Tea Party movement. He ignored polls on health-care reform. He ignored the election results in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts. And last night’s elections confirmed that now anyone associated with Washington insiderism and big-government spending is imperiled.

Arlen Specter proved that expediency and convictionless politics — as well as clinging to Obama — aren’t going to cut it with voters. Democrats wanted a dependable liberal and got one in Joe Sestak. Obama took yet another shot — showing that his political judgment is lacking and that any candidate who wraps his arms around the president is going to take a beating. In the end it wasn’t even close, with Sestak beating Specter by more than 7 points. It was an embarrassing end for an embarrassing political turncoat whose sole principle was his own political survival. Specter is finally out of the hair of both Democrats and Republicans. I wonder how he’ll vote on Elena Kagan now — who can tell? And Sestak will now have to answer some tough questions on Israel.

In Kentucky, Rand Paul embarrassed the Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who backed Rand’s opponent. It is a big win for the Tea Party movement and the fiscal conservative message. Paul also will face scrutiny on his foreign-policy views (he opposed the Iraq war). Again, if candidates want to win, they better convincingly paint themselves as outsiders.

Blanche Lincoln barely edged out Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, the darling of the left, but didn’t come close to the 50 percent mark needed to avoid a runoff, gathering less than 45 percent. If she makes it through the runoff, she has an uphill fight just to cement the Democratic vote. Her squishy moderation proved unappealing, and her stalwart defense of ObamaCare didn’t help her a bit. It seems that even for Democrats, ObamaCare is nothing to crow about.

And in the Pennsylvania 12th, the Democrats held John Murtha’s seat with a skilled candidate who ran a well-polished campaign. (Politico notes: “Republicans were quick to point out that Critz ran on a conservative platform, highlighting his opposition to abortion and to the health care reform legislation.”) There can be no better sign of Obama’s toxic impact on his party than the fact that Democrat Mark Critz survived by running against ObamaCare. And he was smart enough to keep Obama out of the district and bring Bill Clinton in to campaign with him. It’s a reminder that despite trends, specific candidates and campaigns matter. Perhaps Clinton — another irony — will be called on by Obama to save more seats and go where Obama would do more harm than good.

Big winners: the Tea Partiers, conviction politics, anti-Washington candidates, and fiscal conservatism. Big losers: Obama, Democratic incumbents, big spenders, and endorsements by office holders. Democrats who haven’t ingested the Obama Kool Aid will — or should — start fretting about less-than-stellar candidates. Many of them are going to lose in November.

Read Less

The PA-12

A friend of COMMENTARY who spent six days in the Pennsylvania 12th district reports that in the race to fill the seat of deceased Rep. John Murtha, the polls don’t necessarily reflect what is happening on the ground. (A recent poll had the Democrat up eight points; most polls have the race within the margin of error.) He e-mails that he has been going door-to-door for Republican Tim Burns: “The Republican base is more motivated than the other guys and it will be all about turn out. Scott Brown spoke here [Friday]. The Dems are pouring it on, and the SEIU is in this big time, but we’ll win this race.”

Democrat Mark Critz picked up the endorsements of local media, but let’s face it: this is meaningless. The overwhelming number of local media outlets also backed Jon Corzine, Creigh Deeds, and Martha Coakley. And there is a reason why Bill Clinton — who may be the most popular figure Democrats have with blue-collar crowds — came to the district on Sunday. A loss for the Democrats in what has been characterized as a “bellwether” district will likely intensify the panic building in Democratic ranks.

A friend of COMMENTARY who spent six days in the Pennsylvania 12th district reports that in the race to fill the seat of deceased Rep. John Murtha, the polls don’t necessarily reflect what is happening on the ground. (A recent poll had the Democrat up eight points; most polls have the race within the margin of error.) He e-mails that he has been going door-to-door for Republican Tim Burns: “The Republican base is more motivated than the other guys and it will be all about turn out. Scott Brown spoke here [Friday]. The Dems are pouring it on, and the SEIU is in this big time, but we’ll win this race.”

Democrat Mark Critz picked up the endorsements of local media, but let’s face it: this is meaningless. The overwhelming number of local media outlets also backed Jon Corzine, Creigh Deeds, and Martha Coakley. And there is a reason why Bill Clinton — who may be the most popular figure Democrats have with blue-collar crowds — came to the district on Sunday. A loss for the Democrats in what has been characterized as a “bellwether” district will likely intensify the panic building in Democratic ranks.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Will Arlen Specter get his comeuppance? Joe Sestak begins to pull away in the polls.

Will the Democrats lose in Colorado? “Republicans are now well positioned for a statewide resurgence, threatening several Democratic seats in the midterm elections and raising questions about whether the opening chapter of the Obama administration has eroded gains that Democrats had been making here for the previous six years.”

Will John Murtha’s district go Republican? “This once safely Democratic district where Murtha reigned for 35 years is now a toss-up. Longtime Murtha aide Mark Critz, 48, vows to carry on his former boss’s legacy, while Republican businessman Tim Burns, 42, tries to leverage anti-Washington passion by treating his opponent as an incumbent tied to the ‘liberal Pelosi-Obama agenda.'”

Will the Obama administration wise up? Even the Washington Post‘s editors fret that “the administration has not given more consideration to other approaches, including the possibility of designating suspects as enemy combatants to allow for lengthier interrogations, which could yield intelligence to thwart terrorist operations and future attacks. In part, this is a reflection of the administration’s mind-set. In explaining the handling of Mr. Shahzad, two administration officials told us that they believe that the law categorically bars them from holding a U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant. This is not correct.”

Sounds like there is hope. Will Eric Holder keep sounding like Andy McCarthy? Holder on This Week: “The [Miranda] system we have in place has proven to be effective,” Holder said. “I think we also want to look and determine whether we have the necessary flexibility — whether we have a system that deals with situations that agents now confront. … We’re now dealing with international terrorism. … I think we have to give serious consideration to at least modifying that public-safety exception [to the Miranda requirements]. And that’s one of the things that I think we’re going to be reaching out to Congress, to come up with a proposal that is both constitutional, but that is also relevant to our times and the threats that we now face.” Wow. The left will have a meltdown.

Will any White House adviser tell the president that this sort of thing makes them all sound crazy? “Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said Sunday that, despite the attempted Times Square attack orchestrated by the Pakistani Taliban in the heart of New York City, trying professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan is still an option that’s on the table.”

Will Republicans learn the right lesson from the British elections? Fred Barnes: “In the British election, this was one reason Labor was able to turn out its core vote and keep Conservatives from winning a majority. The lesson for Republican, facing an unpopular Democratic Party, is obvious: don’t expect circumstances to win for you. You need to run an aggressive campaign.”

On Richard Goldstone’s apartheid record, will anyone be surprised that Matthew Yglesias is “inclined to give him a pass”? Once you’ve vilified Israel, you earn a lifetime pass from the anti-Israel left. (By the way, credit to Ron Radosh for spotting Goldstone’s apartheid record a few months back.)

Will Arlen Specter get his comeuppance? Joe Sestak begins to pull away in the polls.

Will the Democrats lose in Colorado? “Republicans are now well positioned for a statewide resurgence, threatening several Democratic seats in the midterm elections and raising questions about whether the opening chapter of the Obama administration has eroded gains that Democrats had been making here for the previous six years.”

Will John Murtha’s district go Republican? “This once safely Democratic district where Murtha reigned for 35 years is now a toss-up. Longtime Murtha aide Mark Critz, 48, vows to carry on his former boss’s legacy, while Republican businessman Tim Burns, 42, tries to leverage anti-Washington passion by treating his opponent as an incumbent tied to the ‘liberal Pelosi-Obama agenda.'”

Will the Obama administration wise up? Even the Washington Post‘s editors fret that “the administration has not given more consideration to other approaches, including the possibility of designating suspects as enemy combatants to allow for lengthier interrogations, which could yield intelligence to thwart terrorist operations and future attacks. In part, this is a reflection of the administration’s mind-set. In explaining the handling of Mr. Shahzad, two administration officials told us that they believe that the law categorically bars them from holding a U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant. This is not correct.”

Sounds like there is hope. Will Eric Holder keep sounding like Andy McCarthy? Holder on This Week: “The [Miranda] system we have in place has proven to be effective,” Holder said. “I think we also want to look and determine whether we have the necessary flexibility — whether we have a system that deals with situations that agents now confront. … We’re now dealing with international terrorism. … I think we have to give serious consideration to at least modifying that public-safety exception [to the Miranda requirements]. And that’s one of the things that I think we’re going to be reaching out to Congress, to come up with a proposal that is both constitutional, but that is also relevant to our times and the threats that we now face.” Wow. The left will have a meltdown.

Will any White House adviser tell the president that this sort of thing makes them all sound crazy? “Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said Sunday that, despite the attempted Times Square attack orchestrated by the Pakistani Taliban in the heart of New York City, trying professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan is still an option that’s on the table.”

Will Republicans learn the right lesson from the British elections? Fred Barnes: “In the British election, this was one reason Labor was able to turn out its core vote and keep Conservatives from winning a majority. The lesson for Republican, facing an unpopular Democratic Party, is obvious: don’t expect circumstances to win for you. You need to run an aggressive campaign.”

On Richard Goldstone’s apartheid record, will anyone be surprised that Matthew Yglesias is “inclined to give him a pass”? Once you’ve vilified Israel, you earn a lifetime pass from the anti-Israel left. (By the way, credit to Ron Radosh for spotting Goldstone’s apartheid record a few months back.)

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Ouch: Charlie Crist’s campaign manager and handpicked Senate appointee dumps him.

Yikes (for Democrats): “Republican Congressman Mark Kirk has earned a modest pick-up in support, while his Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, appears stalled in the first Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in the state following the government’s seizure of the failed Broadway Bank, the institution owned by Giannoulias’ family. Kirk now attracts 46% support in Illinois’ race for the U.S. Senate, up from 41% in early April.”

More yikes (for Democrats): “A new poll has businessman Tim Burns (R) leading former Murtha aide Mark Critz (D) 46-40. Republicans appear to have a real opportunity to take over the seat of the late Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.), as another poll shows their candidate in the lead.”

Still: “Iran will never agree to exchange its low-level enriched uranium for nuclear fuel rods enriched abroad, a top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Friday.”

Bunk — is the claim that GM has paid back its taxpayer bailout, says Rep. Paul Ryan: “These claims struck me as odd and misleading. The federal government still owns over 60% of this auto company. This so-called repayment is actually a transfer of $6.7 billion from one taxpayer-funded bailout account to another.”

Fine: “Jewish groups are calling on U.N. member representatives to walk out in protest when Iran’s president speaks next week at the United Nations. Mahmoud Ahmadenijad’s plans to address the U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference on May 3 makes a mockery of the proceedings, Jewish groups said.” But why don’t they call for the administration to leave the Human Rights Council or the Commission on the Status of Women?

Uh-oh: “The nation’s gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced, grew at an annual rate of 3.2% after climbing 5.6% in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday. That’s not nearly fast enough to bring down stubbornly high unemployment. In addition, threats ranging from turmoil in Europe to the difficulty smaller businesses face in borrowing money are clouding the prospects for continued recovery.”

Yup: “Crist still does not grasp that the country wants a check on Obama, not an enabler in Republican or independent skin. The backlash over spending, soaring debt, government take-over of major industries, and Obamacare calls for a new breed of GOP leaders who are unafraid to stand in the gap and stop the Obama agenda. Crist’s failure to understand that is what sunk his candidacy in the GOP and will likely do so in the general election.”

Ouch: Charlie Crist’s campaign manager and handpicked Senate appointee dumps him.

Yikes (for Democrats): “Republican Congressman Mark Kirk has earned a modest pick-up in support, while his Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, appears stalled in the first Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in the state following the government’s seizure of the failed Broadway Bank, the institution owned by Giannoulias’ family. Kirk now attracts 46% support in Illinois’ race for the U.S. Senate, up from 41% in early April.”

More yikes (for Democrats): “A new poll has businessman Tim Burns (R) leading former Murtha aide Mark Critz (D) 46-40. Republicans appear to have a real opportunity to take over the seat of the late Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.), as another poll shows their candidate in the lead.”

Still: “Iran will never agree to exchange its low-level enriched uranium for nuclear fuel rods enriched abroad, a top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Friday.”

Bunk — is the claim that GM has paid back its taxpayer bailout, says Rep. Paul Ryan: “These claims struck me as odd and misleading. The federal government still owns over 60% of this auto company. This so-called repayment is actually a transfer of $6.7 billion from one taxpayer-funded bailout account to another.”

Fine: “Jewish groups are calling on U.N. member representatives to walk out in protest when Iran’s president speaks next week at the United Nations. Mahmoud Ahmadenijad’s plans to address the U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference on May 3 makes a mockery of the proceedings, Jewish groups said.” But why don’t they call for the administration to leave the Human Rights Council or the Commission on the Status of Women?

Uh-oh: “The nation’s gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced, grew at an annual rate of 3.2% after climbing 5.6% in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday. That’s not nearly fast enough to bring down stubbornly high unemployment. In addition, threats ranging from turmoil in Europe to the difficulty smaller businesses face in borrowing money are clouding the prospects for continued recovery.”

Yup: “Crist still does not grasp that the country wants a check on Obama, not an enabler in Republican or independent skin. The backlash over spending, soaring debt, government take-over of major industries, and Obamacare calls for a new breed of GOP leaders who are unafraid to stand in the gap and stop the Obama agenda. Crist’s failure to understand that is what sunk his candidacy in the GOP and will likely do so in the general election.”

Read Less

How an Election Is Nationalized

Two races in Illinois and Pennsylvania exemplify the difficulties  Democrats are having these days. Regarding the Illinois Senate race, the Chicago Sun Times reports:

U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk said the arrest this week of a Giannoulias family friend and bank customer brings the amount of money Broadway Bank has lent to criminals to $52 million.

State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Kirk’s Democratic opponent for U.S. Senate, has said that as chief loan officer of his family’s bank from 2002 to 2006, he did not check loan applicants’ arrest records.

Kirk, a North Shore Republican, calls that “reckless.”

And in a Friday news dump, Giannoulias announced he was giving back all the campaign funds he received from “bank fraudster Nick Giannis and his family.” So to sum up: to fill the seat of  Roland Burris, the Blago appointee (whose seat and the potential purchase thereof is the subject of the criminal trial later this year), the Democrats have nominated a banker who lent millions to mobsters, whose bank is on the verge of going under, and who pleads ignorance about his clients’ criminality. This is in a year in which backdoor deals, a series of ethics issues (e.g. Charlie Rangel, Eric Massa), and a general anti-insider sentiment has ensnared the Democrats. It’s hard to imagine a less appealing candidate for the Democrats. And frankly, if they aren’t lucky, Giannoulias and the other ethically challenged Democrats are going to become the poster boys — and the unifying message — for many Republicans outside Illinois.

Then there is Pennsylvania. Before we get to the Senate and gubernatorial races, both of which look promising for Republicans, there is a House special election. As Politico reports:

The special election to fill the House seat of the late Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha will pit a candidate who fully embraces Murtha’s legacy against a Republican political newcomer who’s aiming to nationalize the election. Pennsylvania Republicans anointed businessman Tim Burns on Thursday as their candidate to face Murtha’s former district director, Mark Critz, in the May 18 election. Burns has been running on a down-the-line conservative platform of opposition to the stimulus, health care legislation and government spending.

And if the Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika push through ObamaCare, this may be an early warning sign (well, another warning sign after Scott Brown) as to  just how angry the electorate is and how willing the voters are to flip a seat that, in a normal election year, would be relatively safe for Democrats.

This is the stuff of wave elections — the collision of ethics scandals, voter anger, fiscal mismanagement, and, don’t forget, a floundering president. How big the wave will be depends, I think, on just how serious the Democrats are about dealing with their ethically challenged members and how determined they are to take the plunge on a monstrous health-care bill that voters generally loathe.

Two races in Illinois and Pennsylvania exemplify the difficulties  Democrats are having these days. Regarding the Illinois Senate race, the Chicago Sun Times reports:

U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk said the arrest this week of a Giannoulias family friend and bank customer brings the amount of money Broadway Bank has lent to criminals to $52 million.

State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Kirk’s Democratic opponent for U.S. Senate, has said that as chief loan officer of his family’s bank from 2002 to 2006, he did not check loan applicants’ arrest records.

Kirk, a North Shore Republican, calls that “reckless.”

And in a Friday news dump, Giannoulias announced he was giving back all the campaign funds he received from “bank fraudster Nick Giannis and his family.” So to sum up: to fill the seat of  Roland Burris, the Blago appointee (whose seat and the potential purchase thereof is the subject of the criminal trial later this year), the Democrats have nominated a banker who lent millions to mobsters, whose bank is on the verge of going under, and who pleads ignorance about his clients’ criminality. This is in a year in which backdoor deals, a series of ethics issues (e.g. Charlie Rangel, Eric Massa), and a general anti-insider sentiment has ensnared the Democrats. It’s hard to imagine a less appealing candidate for the Democrats. And frankly, if they aren’t lucky, Giannoulias and the other ethically challenged Democrats are going to become the poster boys — and the unifying message — for many Republicans outside Illinois.

Then there is Pennsylvania. Before we get to the Senate and gubernatorial races, both of which look promising for Republicans, there is a House special election. As Politico reports:

The special election to fill the House seat of the late Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha will pit a candidate who fully embraces Murtha’s legacy against a Republican political newcomer who’s aiming to nationalize the election. Pennsylvania Republicans anointed businessman Tim Burns on Thursday as their candidate to face Murtha’s former district director, Mark Critz, in the May 18 election. Burns has been running on a down-the-line conservative platform of opposition to the stimulus, health care legislation and government spending.

And if the Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika push through ObamaCare, this may be an early warning sign (well, another warning sign after Scott Brown) as to  just how angry the electorate is and how willing the voters are to flip a seat that, in a normal election year, would be relatively safe for Democrats.

This is the stuff of wave elections — the collision of ethics scandals, voter anger, fiscal mismanagement, and, don’t forget, a floundering president. How big the wave will be depends, I think, on just how serious the Democrats are about dealing with their ethically challenged members and how determined they are to take the plunge on a monstrous health-care bill that voters generally loathe.

Read Less

The Charge of the Democratic Health-Care Brigade

“Where are we now?” This seems to be the question in the wake of yesterday’s health-care summit. The scenarios going forward indicate the amazing political condundra facing the president and his party.

1) Pass the health-care bill without Republican support. Well, OK, but which bill and how? The House has already passed a bill. In order to secure passage, which came with just a margin of five votes, House leaders agreed to remove abortion coverage from it (the so-called Stupak amendment). Now, try to follow this. The bill that has been voted out of the Senate committee for consideration of the full Senate features abortion coverage. Republicans have enough votes to filibuster this bill. That’s why there’s talk of passing it through the process called “reconciliation,” which needs only 51 votes, which Democrats have.

2) Make the House vote for the Senate bill. The way to muscle this legislation into law is for the House to give up its bill, bring the Senate bill (after it’s passed with 51 votes) up for a vote, pass it, and have Obama sign it. But here’s the thing. The Senate bill doesn’t have the Stupak amendment, so the dozen or so House Democrats who insisted on taking abortion out of the bill so that they could vote for it face a terrible choice. They will either have to vote for it and betray their principles and their voters and the fight they waged before. Or they can say no and risk torpedoing the bill.

It’s even more interesting than that, because three votes for the bill will not be recorded for it the next time it comes up — one due to death (John Murtha), two due to resignations (Neil Abercrombie and Robert Wexler). So what will House Democratic leaders do? They can try to put the arm on leftist Democrats who resisted voting for the original bill on the grounds it didn’t go far enough. In which case, they can win this.

Ah, but here’s the rub. They can’t possibly believe that the political situation last fall, when the House voted for its version of the bill, is the same today. Every House member is up for re-election, and polling suggests a catastrophe in the making for Democrats, in part due to the meltdown in support for health-care legislation (now 25 percent, according to CNN this week). Pelosi and Co. surely know they will not get  every single one of the 215 votes they scored last time (absent the Stupak dozen). They may be grasping at straws, but simple survival instinct will cause a major panic at the prospect of having to cast this vote. And there’s no knowing what people will do in a panic except that they will try at all cost to save their own skins.

3) Let it die in committee. Even if the Senate does pass the bill through the 51-vote reconciliation process — a big “if,” because it will ignite a major populist revolt that could have terrible consequences for Democrats in shaky Senate seats up for re-election in November —  the combination of bad poll numbers and the Stupak problem probably mean that the “pass the Senate bill” option is off the table, and so the normal Washington process will go forward. House and Senate negotiators will have to meet to harmonize their two bills. They will then agree on a single unitary piece of legislation. That unitary piece of legislation must then go back to the full House and the full Senate for final passage, at which point it is sent to the president, who can sign it into law.

The chances this will happen are increasingly remote. The attempt to pass the harmonized bill would reignite every firestorm over health care, at a time when support is only likely to decline still further. Tea Parties would erupt. Republicans will build forts with the 2,000-page bills and stack them to the inside of the Capitol Dome. Avoiding this horror show is the reason for the “pass the Senate bill” strategy. Democrats cannot allow it to happen. It would be best, at that point, to let the bill die in committee, with serious claims that the differences between the bills just couldn’t be breached. That will look terrible, but it’s the better of the two options.

4) The suicide mission. If the health-care bill collapses, the Obama presidency will be dealt a staggering blow from which it could recover, I would guess, only with a really extraordinary economic turnaround. The political calamity for Democrats in November will still take place; the president will lose the entirety of his capital with elected officials in his party; the media, sniffing a loser, will turn slowly but surely on him; and the conviction inside his own camp that he can work wonders with his silver-tongued patter will dissipate, causing a complete crisis of confidence inside the White House.

It would be better for him, unquestionably, for the legislation to pass, as a practical political matter. One could argue that the fate of his party really does rest on Obama’s shoulders, so it would be better for Democrats as well. But not for individual Democrats. So what happens if the Obama-Pelosi-Reid strategy for health-care passage is an order to House Democrats to carry out a suicide mission? That is hard to say. ObamaCare is the Democratic object of desire. One imagines that even those Democrats who don’t want to vote for it support it in their heart of hearts. So perhaps they can be appealed to on the grounds of liberal principle.

I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like this in American political history. Every way you look at it, Democrats are boxed in, forced to choose between extraordinarily unattractive options. What makes it especially noteworthy is that this was a calamity they summoned entirely upon themselves.

“Where are we now?” This seems to be the question in the wake of yesterday’s health-care summit. The scenarios going forward indicate the amazing political condundra facing the president and his party.

1) Pass the health-care bill without Republican support. Well, OK, but which bill and how? The House has already passed a bill. In order to secure passage, which came with just a margin of five votes, House leaders agreed to remove abortion coverage from it (the so-called Stupak amendment). Now, try to follow this. The bill that has been voted out of the Senate committee for consideration of the full Senate features abortion coverage. Republicans have enough votes to filibuster this bill. That’s why there’s talk of passing it through the process called “reconciliation,” which needs only 51 votes, which Democrats have.

2) Make the House vote for the Senate bill. The way to muscle this legislation into law is for the House to give up its bill, bring the Senate bill (after it’s passed with 51 votes) up for a vote, pass it, and have Obama sign it. But here’s the thing. The Senate bill doesn’t have the Stupak amendment, so the dozen or so House Democrats who insisted on taking abortion out of the bill so that they could vote for it face a terrible choice. They will either have to vote for it and betray their principles and their voters and the fight they waged before. Or they can say no and risk torpedoing the bill.

It’s even more interesting than that, because three votes for the bill will not be recorded for it the next time it comes up — one due to death (John Murtha), two due to resignations (Neil Abercrombie and Robert Wexler). So what will House Democratic leaders do? They can try to put the arm on leftist Democrats who resisted voting for the original bill on the grounds it didn’t go far enough. In which case, they can win this.

Ah, but here’s the rub. They can’t possibly believe that the political situation last fall, when the House voted for its version of the bill, is the same today. Every House member is up for re-election, and polling suggests a catastrophe in the making for Democrats, in part due to the meltdown in support for health-care legislation (now 25 percent, according to CNN this week). Pelosi and Co. surely know they will not get  every single one of the 215 votes they scored last time (absent the Stupak dozen). They may be grasping at straws, but simple survival instinct will cause a major panic at the prospect of having to cast this vote. And there’s no knowing what people will do in a panic except that they will try at all cost to save their own skins.

3) Let it die in committee. Even if the Senate does pass the bill through the 51-vote reconciliation process — a big “if,” because it will ignite a major populist revolt that could have terrible consequences for Democrats in shaky Senate seats up for re-election in November —  the combination of bad poll numbers and the Stupak problem probably mean that the “pass the Senate bill” option is off the table, and so the normal Washington process will go forward. House and Senate negotiators will have to meet to harmonize their two bills. They will then agree on a single unitary piece of legislation. That unitary piece of legislation must then go back to the full House and the full Senate for final passage, at which point it is sent to the president, who can sign it into law.

The chances this will happen are increasingly remote. The attempt to pass the harmonized bill would reignite every firestorm over health care, at a time when support is only likely to decline still further. Tea Parties would erupt. Republicans will build forts with the 2,000-page bills and stack them to the inside of the Capitol Dome. Avoiding this horror show is the reason for the “pass the Senate bill” strategy. Democrats cannot allow it to happen. It would be best, at that point, to let the bill die in committee, with serious claims that the differences between the bills just couldn’t be breached. That will look terrible, but it’s the better of the two options.

4) The suicide mission. If the health-care bill collapses, the Obama presidency will be dealt a staggering blow from which it could recover, I would guess, only with a really extraordinary economic turnaround. The political calamity for Democrats in November will still take place; the president will lose the entirety of his capital with elected officials in his party; the media, sniffing a loser, will turn slowly but surely on him; and the conviction inside his own camp that he can work wonders with his silver-tongued patter will dissipate, causing a complete crisis of confidence inside the White House.

It would be better for him, unquestionably, for the legislation to pass, as a practical political matter. One could argue that the fate of his party really does rest on Obama’s shoulders, so it would be better for Democrats as well. But not for individual Democrats. So what happens if the Obama-Pelosi-Reid strategy for health-care passage is an order to House Democrats to carry out a suicide mission? That is hard to say. ObamaCare is the Democratic object of desire. One imagines that even those Democrats who don’t want to vote for it support it in their heart of hearts. So perhaps they can be appealed to on the grounds of liberal principle.

I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like this in American political history. Every way you look at it, Democrats are boxed in, forced to choose between extraordinarily unattractive options. What makes it especially noteworthy is that this was a calamity they summoned entirely upon themselves.

Read Less

RE: President Obama, Meet Reality

Saner liberals are nervous. Ruth Marcus, who is rooting for ObamaCare to pass, can do the math. Yeah, there might be 50 votes to jam through the Senate whatever can be jammed through via reconciliation, but what about the House? She writes:

With the House down a few members, 217 votes will be needed for passage. The original House measure passed with 220 votes — with 39 Democrats defecting. But two of those yes votes are gone: John Murtha of Pennsylvania died; Robert Wexler of Florida resigned. A third, Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, is leaving at the end of the month to run for governor. The lone Republican voting for the measure, Joseph Cao of Louisiana, is no longer on board.

Meanwhile, the president’s proposal does not include the anti-abortion language inserted in the House-passed measure by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), largely because the Senate would have difficulty fiddling with abortion language under the restrictive rules of the reconciliation process. So Stupak will be gone, and with him another five votes, perhaps more.

There are, Marcus explains, a few liberals like Dennis Kucinich to be wooed back to vote for ObamaCare this time around and some retirees who don’t care if they enrage the voters by voting for a bill they hate. But it still probably doesn’t get Obama to a majority. So Marcus frets: “My worry is that going for broke and failing will leave no time or appetite for a fallback, scaled-down plan. And the moment to do something on health care — not everything, but something significant — will have evaporated, once again.”

This is the essence of Obama: filled with grand plans and a grandiose conception of himself, but short on workable plans, legislative prowess, and strategic thinking. And underneath it all is a deep contempt for the wishes and concerns of average Americans. As Michael Gerson aptly sums up:

Americans have taken every opportunity — the town hall revolt, increasingly lopsided polling, a series of upset elections culminating in Massachusetts — to shout their second thoughts. At this point, for Democratic leaders to insist on their current approach is to insist that Americans are not only misinformed but also dimwitted. And the proposed form of this insistence — enacting health reform through the quick, dirty shove of the reconciliation process — would add coercion to arrogance.

But that, too, is quintessential Obama, the Chicago pol who never much cares what the little people think, because they and critics can be written off, delegitimized, and shouted down.

Unfortunately, with such a political persona, you generally wind up with legislative flops (e.g., the stimulus) or nothing at all. That might suit conservatives, who frankly prefer the status quo to Obama’s Brave New World of health care, but it sure must come as a blow to those who thought Obama would be a transformative president.

Saner liberals are nervous. Ruth Marcus, who is rooting for ObamaCare to pass, can do the math. Yeah, there might be 50 votes to jam through the Senate whatever can be jammed through via reconciliation, but what about the House? She writes:

With the House down a few members, 217 votes will be needed for passage. The original House measure passed with 220 votes — with 39 Democrats defecting. But two of those yes votes are gone: John Murtha of Pennsylvania died; Robert Wexler of Florida resigned. A third, Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, is leaving at the end of the month to run for governor. The lone Republican voting for the measure, Joseph Cao of Louisiana, is no longer on board.

Meanwhile, the president’s proposal does not include the anti-abortion language inserted in the House-passed measure by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), largely because the Senate would have difficulty fiddling with abortion language under the restrictive rules of the reconciliation process. So Stupak will be gone, and with him another five votes, perhaps more.

There are, Marcus explains, a few liberals like Dennis Kucinich to be wooed back to vote for ObamaCare this time around and some retirees who don’t care if they enrage the voters by voting for a bill they hate. But it still probably doesn’t get Obama to a majority. So Marcus frets: “My worry is that going for broke and failing will leave no time or appetite for a fallback, scaled-down plan. And the moment to do something on health care — not everything, but something significant — will have evaporated, once again.”

This is the essence of Obama: filled with grand plans and a grandiose conception of himself, but short on workable plans, legislative prowess, and strategic thinking. And underneath it all is a deep contempt for the wishes and concerns of average Americans. As Michael Gerson aptly sums up:

Americans have taken every opportunity — the town hall revolt, increasingly lopsided polling, a series of upset elections culminating in Massachusetts — to shout their second thoughts. At this point, for Democratic leaders to insist on their current approach is to insist that Americans are not only misinformed but also dimwitted. And the proposed form of this insistence — enacting health reform through the quick, dirty shove of the reconciliation process — would add coercion to arrogance.

But that, too, is quintessential Obama, the Chicago pol who never much cares what the little people think, because they and critics can be written off, delegitimized, and shouted down.

Unfortunately, with such a political persona, you generally wind up with legislative flops (e.g., the stimulus) or nothing at all. That might suit conservatives, who frankly prefer the status quo to Obama’s Brave New World of health care, but it sure must come as a blow to those who thought Obama would be a transformative president.

Read Less

ObamaCare and Political Theater

The health-care summit on Thursday will garner a huge amount of media attention — and its effect on the health-care debate will be negligible to nonexistent. It is simple political theater, a transparent public-relations game. No one believes anything important will be done, any serious negotiations will take place, any concessions will be given, any significant compromises struck. All it will do is place a debate we’ve been engaged in for the better part of a year on another stage.

The important news from this week has to do not with political “summits” but political substance — and the Obama administration’s stunning decision to double down on health care. I say stunning because ObamaCare is doing to the Democratic party what a wrecking ball does to a condemned building.

ObamaCare is, for one thing, hugely unpopular. David Brooks reports that if you average the last 10 polls, 38 percent of voters support the reform plans and 53 percent oppose. Obama’s reform is more unpopular than Bill Clinton’s was as it died, Brooks points out. And of course the intensity of opposition to the plan is far more than the intensity of support. Health care also set the context for Democratic losses in New Jersey, in Virginia, and in Massachusetts. Yet, according to press reports, “after initially reeling from the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusetts, Obama’s chief political strategists came to believe that voters would punish Democrats more severely in this year’s elections for failing to try [to pass health care legislation], they said.”

Liberals like E.J. Dionne Jr. and Ezra Klein of the Washington Post argue that if Obama fails to pass health-care reform, his presidency will be crippled — but if he passes reform, it will be salvaged. “This week will determine the shape of American politics for the next three years,” Dionne wrote on Monday. “No, that’s not one of those journalistic exaggerations intended to catch your attention. … It’s an accurate description of the stakes at the health care summit President Obama has called for Thursday. The issue is whether the summit proves to be the turning point in a political year that, at the moment, is moving decisively in the Republicans’ direction. If the summit fails to shake things up and does not lead to the passage of a comprehensive health care bill, Democrats and Obama are in for a miserable time for the rest of his term.”

This strikes me as perfectly wrong. After a year of intense debate, the public has reacted to ObamaCare the way the human body reacts to food poisoning. It is rejecting it, utterly and completely. For Obama and the White House to convince themselves to ram through legislation that is, if anything, worse than the original House and Senate bills is an act of madness.

I rather doubt it will succeed. For one thing, there are now at least three people who voted for the House version of the bill who will not vote for a reconciliation bill (the late John Murtha, Bart Stupak, and Joseph Cao). For another, the Democrats plan is more unpopular now than it was when it passed in the House last year (by a vote of 220-215). We are also in an election year, when the Democrats are desperate to turn attention from health care to jobs. And finally, we live in a post–Scott Brown election world. Democrats have seen that ObamaCare is political hemlock. It is a cup Democrats would rather have pass from their lips.

No one is arguing that not passing Obama’s signature domestic initiative would reflect well on the president. A failure of this magnitude will undoubtedly damage him. But in this instance, with the White House having acted so ineptly, failing to pass ObamaCare is the best of bad options. Obstinacy on behalf of a bad and unpopular idea is a road to political ruin.

In redoubling his efforts to pass health-care legislation, Obama will be rejected — not simply by Republicans and the public but also, I suspect, by members of his own party. This in turn will further weaken his political standing. He will have looked obsessively out of touch, selfish, and narcissistic. But in the highly unlikely event that Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader Harry Reid succeed in passing health-care legislation through the reconciliation process — if Democrats in the House are foolish enough to hitch their hopes to this liberal troika — there will be an even more fearsome political price to pay.

Some Democrats may believe things can’t possibly get worse, so they may as well pass ObamaCare. They are wrong. As one of my least favorite political philosophers, Mao Zedong, said, “It’s always darkest before it’s totally black.”

The health-care summit on Thursday will garner a huge amount of media attention — and its effect on the health-care debate will be negligible to nonexistent. It is simple political theater, a transparent public-relations game. No one believes anything important will be done, any serious negotiations will take place, any concessions will be given, any significant compromises struck. All it will do is place a debate we’ve been engaged in for the better part of a year on another stage.

The important news from this week has to do not with political “summits” but political substance — and the Obama administration’s stunning decision to double down on health care. I say stunning because ObamaCare is doing to the Democratic party what a wrecking ball does to a condemned building.

ObamaCare is, for one thing, hugely unpopular. David Brooks reports that if you average the last 10 polls, 38 percent of voters support the reform plans and 53 percent oppose. Obama’s reform is more unpopular than Bill Clinton’s was as it died, Brooks points out. And of course the intensity of opposition to the plan is far more than the intensity of support. Health care also set the context for Democratic losses in New Jersey, in Virginia, and in Massachusetts. Yet, according to press reports, “after initially reeling from the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusetts, Obama’s chief political strategists came to believe that voters would punish Democrats more severely in this year’s elections for failing to try [to pass health care legislation], they said.”

Liberals like E.J. Dionne Jr. and Ezra Klein of the Washington Post argue that if Obama fails to pass health-care reform, his presidency will be crippled — but if he passes reform, it will be salvaged. “This week will determine the shape of American politics for the next three years,” Dionne wrote on Monday. “No, that’s not one of those journalistic exaggerations intended to catch your attention. … It’s an accurate description of the stakes at the health care summit President Obama has called for Thursday. The issue is whether the summit proves to be the turning point in a political year that, at the moment, is moving decisively in the Republicans’ direction. If the summit fails to shake things up and does not lead to the passage of a comprehensive health care bill, Democrats and Obama are in for a miserable time for the rest of his term.”

This strikes me as perfectly wrong. After a year of intense debate, the public has reacted to ObamaCare the way the human body reacts to food poisoning. It is rejecting it, utterly and completely. For Obama and the White House to convince themselves to ram through legislation that is, if anything, worse than the original House and Senate bills is an act of madness.

I rather doubt it will succeed. For one thing, there are now at least three people who voted for the House version of the bill who will not vote for a reconciliation bill (the late John Murtha, Bart Stupak, and Joseph Cao). For another, the Democrats plan is more unpopular now than it was when it passed in the House last year (by a vote of 220-215). We are also in an election year, when the Democrats are desperate to turn attention from health care to jobs. And finally, we live in a post–Scott Brown election world. Democrats have seen that ObamaCare is political hemlock. It is a cup Democrats would rather have pass from their lips.

No one is arguing that not passing Obama’s signature domestic initiative would reflect well on the president. A failure of this magnitude will undoubtedly damage him. But in this instance, with the White House having acted so ineptly, failing to pass ObamaCare is the best of bad options. Obstinacy on behalf of a bad and unpopular idea is a road to political ruin.

In redoubling his efforts to pass health-care legislation, Obama will be rejected — not simply by Republicans and the public but also, I suspect, by members of his own party. This in turn will further weaken his political standing. He will have looked obsessively out of touch, selfish, and narcissistic. But in the highly unlikely event that Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader Harry Reid succeed in passing health-care legislation through the reconciliation process — if Democrats in the House are foolish enough to hitch their hopes to this liberal troika — there will be an even more fearsome political price to pay.

Some Democrats may believe things can’t possibly get worse, so they may as well pass ObamaCare. They are wrong. As one of my least favorite political philosophers, Mao Zedong, said, “It’s always darkest before it’s totally black.”

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

With the death of John Murtha, the Cook Political Report moves his seat to a “toss-up.”

From Florida: “The Brevard County GOP held a straw poll Friday night that arguably is more reflective of the overall GOP electorate than other GOP straw polls in recent months, where voting was limited to executive committee members. In Brevard’s case, we’re told only about one in four voters were executive committee members. The results only include the top two vote-getters; U.S. Senate Marco Rubio: 321, Charlie Crist: 45.”

In Washington State: “Long-time WA state Sen. Don Benton (R) will challenge Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), giving GOPers their strongest challenger yet as he hopes to take a page from Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA).”

Obama’s approval drops to 44 percent, a new low, in the Marist poll. Also of concern for Obama: 57 percent of independents disapprove of his performance, and by a 47 to 42 percent margin, voters say he has fallen below their expectations. That helped push Obama’s overall RealClearPolitics approval to a new low — 47.9 percent, just a smidgen above the disapproval rating average of 47 percent.

Is this a good idea? “U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Sunday he’ll chair the Senate campaign of fellow Democrat Alexi Giannoulias as he takes on a better-funded and more experienced Republican foe.” Seems like a big risk for both. Giannoulias is already tagged with being too insidery, and Durbin, who’s gunning for Harry Reid’s job, will take a hit if he can’t drag Giannoulias across the finish line.

Matt Continetti thinks Obama gets points for reaching out, and the congressional Republicans may score a win in the proposed health-care summit, while congressional Democrats come out the losers. (Sounds Clintonian, doesn’t it?). “If Obama hasn’t been able to convince the public his way is the right way by now, one more event won’t make a difference. Nor will a single C-SPAN broadcast alter the political dynamic that is preventing Democrats from passing a final bill. What’s more, Republicans will have an opportunity to present their ideas to lower the cost of individual health insurance and increase consumer choice.”

The most vilified male Republican is also the most effective, as “political and security realities are forcing Mr. Obama’s antiterror policies ever-closer to the former Vice President’s. … As long as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were responsible for keeping Americans safe, Democrats could pander to the U.S. and European left’s anti-antiterror views at little political cost. But now that they are responsible, American voters are able to see what the left really has in mind, and they are saying loud and clear that they prefer the Cheney method.” Well, we’ll see how close Obama gets to Cheney’s policy preferences. For now, Guantanamo is open, and it looks likes there will be no civilian KSM trial, at least in New York.

The Obama hangover sets in: “A year ago, Barack Obama’s true believers were euphoric. The huge and jubilant gathering in Chicago’s Grant Park on election night 2008 gave way to almost 2 million people on the Mall for the president’s inauguration. He took office as the most popular incoming president in a generation. A movement had become a mandate of nearly 70 million votes. People hoped the new president would bring change to Washington, the hallmark claim of his historic candidacy. Now, the mood through much of the nation seems restive, even sour. It is almost jarring to look at the photographs from Grant Park, to study those upturned beaming faces, many streaked with tears. Was that a movement? Or just a moment?”

With the death of John Murtha, the Cook Political Report moves his seat to a “toss-up.”

From Florida: “The Brevard County GOP held a straw poll Friday night that arguably is more reflective of the overall GOP electorate than other GOP straw polls in recent months, where voting was limited to executive committee members. In Brevard’s case, we’re told only about one in four voters were executive committee members. The results only include the top two vote-getters; U.S. Senate Marco Rubio: 321, Charlie Crist: 45.”

In Washington State: “Long-time WA state Sen. Don Benton (R) will challenge Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), giving GOPers their strongest challenger yet as he hopes to take a page from Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA).”

Obama’s approval drops to 44 percent, a new low, in the Marist poll. Also of concern for Obama: 57 percent of independents disapprove of his performance, and by a 47 to 42 percent margin, voters say he has fallen below their expectations. That helped push Obama’s overall RealClearPolitics approval to a new low — 47.9 percent, just a smidgen above the disapproval rating average of 47 percent.

Is this a good idea? “U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Sunday he’ll chair the Senate campaign of fellow Democrat Alexi Giannoulias as he takes on a better-funded and more experienced Republican foe.” Seems like a big risk for both. Giannoulias is already tagged with being too insidery, and Durbin, who’s gunning for Harry Reid’s job, will take a hit if he can’t drag Giannoulias across the finish line.

Matt Continetti thinks Obama gets points for reaching out, and the congressional Republicans may score a win in the proposed health-care summit, while congressional Democrats come out the losers. (Sounds Clintonian, doesn’t it?). “If Obama hasn’t been able to convince the public his way is the right way by now, one more event won’t make a difference. Nor will a single C-SPAN broadcast alter the political dynamic that is preventing Democrats from passing a final bill. What’s more, Republicans will have an opportunity to present their ideas to lower the cost of individual health insurance and increase consumer choice.”

The most vilified male Republican is also the most effective, as “political and security realities are forcing Mr. Obama’s antiterror policies ever-closer to the former Vice President’s. … As long as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were responsible for keeping Americans safe, Democrats could pander to the U.S. and European left’s anti-antiterror views at little political cost. But now that they are responsible, American voters are able to see what the left really has in mind, and they are saying loud and clear that they prefer the Cheney method.” Well, we’ll see how close Obama gets to Cheney’s policy preferences. For now, Guantanamo is open, and it looks likes there will be no civilian KSM trial, at least in New York.

The Obama hangover sets in: “A year ago, Barack Obama’s true believers were euphoric. The huge and jubilant gathering in Chicago’s Grant Park on election night 2008 gave way to almost 2 million people on the Mall for the president’s inauguration. He took office as the most popular incoming president in a generation. A movement had become a mandate of nearly 70 million votes. People hoped the new president would bring change to Washington, the hallmark claim of his historic candidacy. Now, the mood through much of the nation seems restive, even sour. It is almost jarring to look at the photographs from Grant Park, to study those upturned beaming faces, many streaked with tears. Was that a movement? Or just a moment?”

Read Less

John Murtha, R.I.P.

Rep. John Murtha has died at the age of 77. After a career as U.S. Marine and pro-defense Democrat in recent years he became the champion of the netroot Left and its anti-Iraq War crusade. Like all politicians he will be judged on the totality of his career.

He, of course, has been in the center of ethics scandals that have swirled around his cottage industry in pork for his district. His passing, to be blunt, may have one of two results: It may either help clear the decks for Nancy Pelosi to finally “drain the swamp” and root out those members who have misused their positions on key committees, or his passing may lead to a series of embarrassing revelations concerning the way he and colleagues conducted business. Time will tell.

Rep. John Murtha has died at the age of 77. After a career as U.S. Marine and pro-defense Democrat in recent years he became the champion of the netroot Left and its anti-Iraq War crusade. Like all politicians he will be judged on the totality of his career.

He, of course, has been in the center of ethics scandals that have swirled around his cottage industry in pork for his district. His passing, to be blunt, may have one of two results: It may either help clear the decks for Nancy Pelosi to finally “drain the swamp” and root out those members who have misused their positions on key committees, or his passing may lead to a series of embarrassing revelations concerning the way he and colleagues conducted business. Time will tell.

Read Less

The Day After

There were two positive developments in the aftermath of Obama’s West Point speech. As this report notes, no matter how loudly the liberal Democrats squawk, they aren’t going to be able to deprive the administration of funding for the Afghanistan surge:

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a vocal war critic who is a senior House Democrat overseeing military spending, predicted that Congress would pass a $40 billion war financing bill early next year to pay for the added deployments.

Murtha said he remains unconvinced the troop increase is a good idea but believes he and other anti-war Democrats will not be able to stop it. “It’s not likely that there would be any circumstances where the president would lose this battle this year,” he said.

Perhaps too much attention and effort was spent worrying about the Murtha contingent.

Second, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates did everything humanly possible to walk back and fuzz up that 2011 “deadline”:

At a Senate hearing Wednesday morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, under tough questioning, said the Pentagon will “evaluate” next year whether the military can meet its goal of starting to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by July 2011, signaling that the withdrawal date could move back if violence spirals out of control.

Under pressure from Sen. John McCain, Gates made clear this isn’t much of a deadline, honest:

Gates said U.S. forces should be able to move out of “uncontested areas” by the summer of 2011 but that the United States would not transfer security responsibility to the Afghans in any province until they can stand up on their own. He said the security team would review the situation at the end of 2010 to see whether the military “can meet that objective” with regard to the timeline.

“If it appears that the strategy’s not working and that we are not going to be able to transition in 2011 then we will take a hard look at the strategy itself,” he said, adding that the president reserves the right to adjust his decision. “We’re not going to just throw these guys into the swimming pool and then walk away.”

That message will need to be re-enforced by the president. He will have his war-funding from Congress, Gen. Stanley McChrystal will have his troops, and we appear to have a workable strategy. Perhaps we need a redo on the presidential speech — this time with feeling.

There were two positive developments in the aftermath of Obama’s West Point speech. As this report notes, no matter how loudly the liberal Democrats squawk, they aren’t going to be able to deprive the administration of funding for the Afghanistan surge:

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a vocal war critic who is a senior House Democrat overseeing military spending, predicted that Congress would pass a $40 billion war financing bill early next year to pay for the added deployments.

Murtha said he remains unconvinced the troop increase is a good idea but believes he and other anti-war Democrats will not be able to stop it. “It’s not likely that there would be any circumstances where the president would lose this battle this year,” he said.

Perhaps too much attention and effort was spent worrying about the Murtha contingent.

Second, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates did everything humanly possible to walk back and fuzz up that 2011 “deadline”:

At a Senate hearing Wednesday morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, under tough questioning, said the Pentagon will “evaluate” next year whether the military can meet its goal of starting to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by July 2011, signaling that the withdrawal date could move back if violence spirals out of control.

Under pressure from Sen. John McCain, Gates made clear this isn’t much of a deadline, honest:

Gates said U.S. forces should be able to move out of “uncontested areas” by the summer of 2011 but that the United States would not transfer security responsibility to the Afghans in any province until they can stand up on their own. He said the security team would review the situation at the end of 2010 to see whether the military “can meet that objective” with regard to the timeline.

“If it appears that the strategy’s not working and that we are not going to be able to transition in 2011 then we will take a hard look at the strategy itself,” he said, adding that the president reserves the right to adjust his decision. “We’re not going to just throw these guys into the swimming pool and then walk away.”

That message will need to be re-enforced by the president. He will have his war-funding from Congress, Gen. Stanley McChrystal will have his troops, and we appear to have a workable strategy. Perhaps we need a redo on the presidential speech — this time with feeling.

Read Less

Leaning towards Iran…

On Tuesday, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie announced that there would be no permanent U.S. military bases stationed in Iraq. “We need the United States in our war against terrorism, we need them to guard our border sometimes, we need them for economic support and we need them for diplomatic and political support,” he told al-Arabiyya television. “But I say one thing, permanent forces or bases in Iraq for any foreign forces is a red line that cannot be accepted by any nationalist Iraqi.”

For al-Rubaie, this marked a stunning change of tune. Earlier this year, he arrived in Washington to lobby Democratic critics of the war against a U.S. troop withdrawal, holding closed-door meetings with Senator Carl Levin and Congressman John Murtha, among others.

But with the surge now firmly in place and working, al-Rubaie has apparently taken U.S. support for granted. Most disturbingly, the Iraqi security establishment has set its sights on another partner for its future security needs. At a security conference in Bahrain earlier this week, al-Rubaie called for a regional security pact that would include Iran, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad naturally has welcomed.

To say the least, this a frightening prospect. Among other goals, the Iraq war sought to replace a most tyrannical regime with a democracy, with policymakers believing that a democratic government would be most inclined towards alignment with the United States. In the short-run, the chaos in Iraq created a military opening for Iran against U.S. forces, and the results have been deadly. But if the long-term outcome of the Iraq war is a Persian Gulf that is firmly united with Iran as its power center, a large chunk of the Middle East will be lost for many years to come.

On Tuesday, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie announced that there would be no permanent U.S. military bases stationed in Iraq. “We need the United States in our war against terrorism, we need them to guard our border sometimes, we need them for economic support and we need them for diplomatic and political support,” he told al-Arabiyya television. “But I say one thing, permanent forces or bases in Iraq for any foreign forces is a red line that cannot be accepted by any nationalist Iraqi.”

For al-Rubaie, this marked a stunning change of tune. Earlier this year, he arrived in Washington to lobby Democratic critics of the war against a U.S. troop withdrawal, holding closed-door meetings with Senator Carl Levin and Congressman John Murtha, among others.

But with the surge now firmly in place and working, al-Rubaie has apparently taken U.S. support for granted. Most disturbingly, the Iraqi security establishment has set its sights on another partner for its future security needs. At a security conference in Bahrain earlier this week, al-Rubaie called for a regional security pact that would include Iran, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad naturally has welcomed.

To say the least, this a frightening prospect. Among other goals, the Iraq war sought to replace a most tyrannical regime with a democracy, with policymakers believing that a democratic government would be most inclined towards alignment with the United States. In the short-run, the chaos in Iraq created a military opening for Iran against U.S. forces, and the results have been deadly. But if the long-term outcome of the Iraq war is a Persian Gulf that is firmly united with Iran as its power center, a large chunk of the Middle East will be lost for many years to come.

Read Less

Stemming the Tide

In today’s Guardian, we read:

The number of foreign jihadists entering Iraq has fallen by nearly half in recent months as a result of tougher action by the country’s neighbors and the rejection of the “al Qaeda brand” by ordinary Iraqis, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said yesterday. General David Petraeus told the Guardian in an interview that attacks in Iraq had fallen to levels not seen since early 2005, and that “ethno-sectarian violence” which had “surged off the charts” following the bombing of the Samara mosque in February 2006 had now “fallen dramatically.” “There is still a lot of hard work to be done,” Petraeus added by way of caution. Despite the damage inflicted on al Qaeda in Iraq, he said the group remained “a dangerous enemy.”

The sharp drop in foreign jihadists entering Iraq is one more data point to add to the progress we’ve seen in 2007, including a dramatic decrease in American combat casualties, Iraqi civilian casualties, suicide bombings, and roadside bombings; the increase in local population support for our efforts; the tremendous body blows al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has absorbed; the “Anbar Awakening” and the widespread rejection of bin Ladenism we are seeing among Sunni Iraqis; Shia in Baghdad turning against Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army; the continuation of “bottom up” reconciliation efforts and the distribution of oil revenues (even absent laws mandating it); and early signs that the huge refugee flow out of Iraq has begun to reverse itself.

In light of this, it’s important to underscore two things. The first is that General Petraeus is surely right to say that there is still a lot of hard work to do in Iraq. Progress that’s been made can be stalled or even reversed. There are ebbs and flows to war—and in Iraq we have seen things change dramatically for the worse and change dramatically for the better. Those of us who have supported the surge, then, need to heed his counsel when he says, as he did to the New York Times

Nobody says anything about turning corners, seeing lights at the ends of tunnels, any of those phrases. And I think when you’ve been doing this as long as some of us have, you just keep your head down and keep moving.

Read More

In today’s Guardian, we read:

The number of foreign jihadists entering Iraq has fallen by nearly half in recent months as a result of tougher action by the country’s neighbors and the rejection of the “al Qaeda brand” by ordinary Iraqis, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said yesterday. General David Petraeus told the Guardian in an interview that attacks in Iraq had fallen to levels not seen since early 2005, and that “ethno-sectarian violence” which had “surged off the charts” following the bombing of the Samara mosque in February 2006 had now “fallen dramatically.” “There is still a lot of hard work to be done,” Petraeus added by way of caution. Despite the damage inflicted on al Qaeda in Iraq, he said the group remained “a dangerous enemy.”

The sharp drop in foreign jihadists entering Iraq is one more data point to add to the progress we’ve seen in 2007, including a dramatic decrease in American combat casualties, Iraqi civilian casualties, suicide bombings, and roadside bombings; the increase in local population support for our efforts; the tremendous body blows al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has absorbed; the “Anbar Awakening” and the widespread rejection of bin Ladenism we are seeing among Sunni Iraqis; Shia in Baghdad turning against Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army; the continuation of “bottom up” reconciliation efforts and the distribution of oil revenues (even absent laws mandating it); and early signs that the huge refugee flow out of Iraq has begun to reverse itself.

In light of this, it’s important to underscore two things. The first is that General Petraeus is surely right to say that there is still a lot of hard work to do in Iraq. Progress that’s been made can be stalled or even reversed. There are ebbs and flows to war—and in Iraq we have seen things change dramatically for the worse and change dramatically for the better. Those of us who have supported the surge, then, need to heed his counsel when he says, as he did to the New York Times

Nobody says anything about turning corners, seeing lights at the ends of tunnels, any of those phrases. And I think when you’ve been doing this as long as some of us have, you just keep your head down and keep moving.

Iraq remains a fragile, traumatized, and in many respects a broken country. It is nowhere near where it needs to be. And the central government still needs to do more, much more, to advance political reconciliation. But across the board, repairs are being made. We should therefore take sober satisfaction for what General Petraeus, the American military, and the people of Iraq have achieved this year and continue building on it. We have, at long last, a formula for long-term success.

At the same time, leaders of the Democratic Party continue to act in a deeply irresponsible and politically reckless way. Earlier this week, for example, we read this on the Politico blog:

Democrats are increasingly bailing on their previously held view that the troop surge in Iraq has been a “failure,” but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn’t ready to jump on the bandwagon with other Democrats who say the surge has worked. The Senate re-opened for business on Monday after a two-week Thanksgiving break, during which key Democrats traveled to Iraq and declared that the surge is working, at least from a security and military perspective. Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), one the top war critics, stunned fellow Democrats late last week with his statement that “the surge is working,” even though he added that political reconciliation has been lagging. Murtha’s view was backed by Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), who also said the surge worked after he returned from Iraq. But Reid, in a Monday press conference, ceded no ground. “The surge hasn’t accomplished its goals,” Reid said. ” . . . We are involved, still, in an intractable civil war.”

So despite the extraordinary progress we’ve seen this year in Iraq, Majority Leader Reid still wants to deny it, in order to force a change in strategy that would have catastrophic consequences. More and more people, even in his own party, see how destructive, and self-destructive, this would be.

Soon Harry Reid may be standing alone.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.