Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jon Corzine

The Christie Scandal and Journalism 101

Chris Christie’s rough winter has followed a reliable pattern in politics. Though he has yet to be tied directly to the closing of the George Washington Bridge, the whiff of scandal has put him on the defensive and invited the type of scrutiny that usually follows politically wounded frontrunners. Because it dented his image, there have been, and likely will be more, stories of the “maybe we got this guy all wrong” variety. And because it takes place in famously corrupt New Jersey, journalists will instinctively reach for the Soprano State storyline—and not without plenty of justification.

Enter the New Republic’s Alec MacGillis, who has a lengthy article on Christie’s career. It is several thousand words long, and runs out of gas well before the finish line. The headline is “Chris Christie’s Entire Career Reeks,” which aptly sums up the article: throughout Christie’s career, he builds alliances, and as his fortunes rise those of his enemies fall. Something doesn’t smell right to MacGillis, and no doubt there are instances in his career when questions were raised about his knack for playing hardball. But MacGillis gets drawn so far into the complicated world of Jersey politics that he loses his bearings and starts to see corruption everywhere, at some points ditching any pretense of searching for the facts and in the process unfairly maligning not only Christie but others.

This paragraph, on Christie’s reelection campaign, is a good example:

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Chris Christie’s rough winter has followed a reliable pattern in politics. Though he has yet to be tied directly to the closing of the George Washington Bridge, the whiff of scandal has put him on the defensive and invited the type of scrutiny that usually follows politically wounded frontrunners. Because it dented his image, there have been, and likely will be more, stories of the “maybe we got this guy all wrong” variety. And because it takes place in famously corrupt New Jersey, journalists will instinctively reach for the Soprano State storyline—and not without plenty of justification.

Enter the New Republic’s Alec MacGillis, who has a lengthy article on Christie’s career. It is several thousand words long, and runs out of gas well before the finish line. The headline is “Chris Christie’s Entire Career Reeks,” which aptly sums up the article: throughout Christie’s career, he builds alliances, and as his fortunes rise those of his enemies fall. Something doesn’t smell right to MacGillis, and no doubt there are instances in his career when questions were raised about his knack for playing hardball. But MacGillis gets drawn so far into the complicated world of Jersey politics that he loses his bearings and starts to see corruption everywhere, at some points ditching any pretense of searching for the facts and in the process unfairly maligning not only Christie but others.

This paragraph, on Christie’s reelection campaign, is a good example:

For those who got behind the governor, there were incentives. To give but one example: The close-knit Orthodox community in Lakewood had endorsed Corzine in 2009. In March, a coalition of the town’s rabbis and businessmen announced it would be backing Christie this time around. Two months later, the state granted $10.6 million in building funds to an Orthodox rabbinical school in Lakewood, one of the largest expenditures for any private college in the state. (The yeshiva was not exactly cash-strapped: A copy of its application I obtained noted that its endowment “far exceeded” the $1.84 million it was expected to contribute to the project.)

The combination of complex stories and questions of Jewish financial influence on elections almost guarantees that liberal journalists will slip on their biases and their quest for simplicity and fall flat on their faces. Add in the involvement of a Republican, and you have a recipe for journalistic disaster. And that paragraph is a model of journalistic disaster.

The problems with such negligence are manifold, but one surely is that to smear by suspicion and implication an entire religious community because of an obsession with taking down a Republican officeholder is quite obviously morally problematic. But there’s a way to figure this all out. If you weren’t an axe-grinding partisan actor but instead a reporter trying to get the facts, what would you find in this instance?

You would start by wondering, for example, whether it is unique for the Lakewood yeshiva to get state education funding. And you would quickly find that no, it isn’t unique. Christie himself tried to point this out when the state’s leftists, such as Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, criticized him for supporting religious education:

“The speaker is one of the biggest proponents of the [Tuition Aid Grant] program in the state, and I approved the TAG grant program as well,” Christie said today. “From 2000-2012, the Beth Medrash Govoha has gotten $46 million in TAG grants. That’s state money. And the speaker has never raised an objection to that. But now all of a sudden, she objects to her own bill.”

Next, you would probably look into how the Orthodox community in Lakewood, through its rabbinical leadership at the Vaad, goes about making gubernatorial endorsements. You would find, within minutes if not seconds, that the Vaad has a very clearly delineated process for making endorsements at that level: the policy is generally to endorse the incumbent, so as not to get the Jewish community involved in high-stakes partisan politics.

MacGillis would have his readers think the Orthodox community did something unusual in endorsing Christie for reelection when they endorsed his opponent last time around. But it’s no mystery: Christie was the incumbent. In 2009, when they endorsed Corzine, he was the incumbent. The Vaad endorsed Jim McGreevey in 2001, when there was no incumbent. Four years prior, the Vaad did not endorse McGreevey; his opponent that year was Christine Todd Whitman, the incumbent. You get the idea.

I grew up in Lakewood, though I did not attend the yeshiva’s school, instead attending Conservative and modern Orthodox Hebrew day schools. So perhaps I can more easily catch such atrocious mistakes. But the real story, as I explained, would have been very easy to find for anyone looking to get the story right. There are certainly legitimate questions to ask about Christie—having spent much of my life in New Jersey, including working as a reporter, I readily grant that it’s a state whose politics reward, and then perpetuate and produce, cynicism. But it also rewards an honest quest for the truth for those interested in it.

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What Barbara Buono’s Ad Says About Chris Christie’s Popularity

When Chris Christie retained his high approval numbers into 2013, it threw a wrench into the plans and expectations of the New Jersey Democratic Party. Because Christie was something of a political novice (he served as a county freeholder in the 1990s), they thought he might stumble early on. He didn’t. Because he started off taking on a pervasive New Jersey institution in the public education unions, they hoped he would prove too divisive for blue Jersey. He didn’t. Because, despite Christie’s fundraising, his party failed to make gains in the state legislature’s midterm elections, it looked as if he was running out of steam. He wasn’t.

So a gubernatorial election that was supposed to be celebrity Mayor Cory Booker’s perfectly timed transition out of Newark and into the governor’s mansion instead looked liked an intimidating challenge–especially in a state where high-level Democrats are rarely challenged. So Booker seems to have decided to move over to the Senate, to take Frank Lautenberg’s seat. But a Lautenberg retirement was supposed to clear the way for Congressman Frank Pallone, who would now face an uphill battle against Booker. And who will run against Christie on the Democratic ticket? It will be State Senator Barbara Buono, who has just put out an ad taking a self-deprecating shot at her own lack of name ID:

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When Chris Christie retained his high approval numbers into 2013, it threw a wrench into the plans and expectations of the New Jersey Democratic Party. Because Christie was something of a political novice (he served as a county freeholder in the 1990s), they thought he might stumble early on. He didn’t. Because he started off taking on a pervasive New Jersey institution in the public education unions, they hoped he would prove too divisive for blue Jersey. He didn’t. Because, despite Christie’s fundraising, his party failed to make gains in the state legislature’s midterm elections, it looked as if he was running out of steam. He wasn’t.

So a gubernatorial election that was supposed to be celebrity Mayor Cory Booker’s perfectly timed transition out of Newark and into the governor’s mansion instead looked liked an intimidating challenge–especially in a state where high-level Democrats are rarely challenged. So Booker seems to have decided to move over to the Senate, to take Frank Lautenberg’s seat. But a Lautenberg retirement was supposed to clear the way for Congressman Frank Pallone, who would now face an uphill battle against Booker. And who will run against Christie on the Democratic ticket? It will be State Senator Barbara Buono, who has just put out an ad taking a self-deprecating shot at her own lack of name ID:

 

This situation, in which the New Jersey Democrats can’t field a candidate voters have heard of to run for governor, was simply unthinkable just a few years ago, when Jon Corzine was in office and Booker was waiting in the wings. Incidentally, Buono had a close brush with Christie previously when it seemed likely that Corzine would pick Buono to run as his lieutenant governor against Christie in 2009. Corzine passed on Buono in part because of her perceived ambition to be governor, which would have taken the Democratic Party machine out of the process of choosing Corzine’s successor and, most of all, stood in Booker’s way.

Ironically, almost a decade ago Buono opposed a plan that would have enabled Corzine to ascend to the governor’s mansion right away after Jim McGreevey’s resignation, because it would have allowed the state Democratic machine to go over the heads of the voters and the local party organizations. And that connection, unfortunately for Buono, brings us to the one reason voters outside her district may know of her. In 2009, the New York Times reported Corzine’s choice for lieutenant governor this way:

For days, it had appeared certain that Mr. Corzine would choose State Senator Barbara Buono of Metuchen, an expert on the state budget. But Ms. Buono was a protégée of former Senator John Lynch, whom Mr. Christie sent to jail for taking bribes.

As background, Lynch was a state senator and longtime mayor of New Brunswick, the county seat of Middlesex County, in which Buono’s district is located. He was also, as the Times story notes, corrupt. But the Times’s characterization of Buono’s relationship to Lynch isn’t quite fair. First of all, not to excuse anyone’s association with John Lynch, but in New Jersey–as in many states, I’m sure–with regard to party bigwigs, there are protégées and then there are protégées. In one sense, almost anyone in state politics in the dominant party would fall into that category at least superficially, as no one can really advance very far without the right approval. Then there are those who fall under the classic understanding of the term, with much closer professional ties to party bigwigs.

Buono stood up to Lynch twice (if not more). The first time was when she ran against Lynch’s handpicked candidate and won–her victory was at least a temporary defeat for Lynch. The second time was the aforementioned plan to benefit Corzine’s ambitions; it was Lynch’s plan. It’s also quite possible that that helped cost her the lieutenant governorship nod in 2009.

Because of all that, Buono can make a credible case that she is the former kind of protégée, if at all, and not the better connected kind. She can also make the case that she’s received scant assistance from the party machine to take her shot at Christie. But that will change, because the New Jersey Democrats will not abandon a gubernatorial campaign. And Buono’s relative independence from her party–and it is relative, not significant or absolute–is unlikely to benefit her in a general election. Not being corrupt is a low bar to clear (though unfortunately not low enough in Jersey) and might have been enough to beat Christie in 2009, but it’s less of an advantage against a popular incumbent of either party.

Additionally, beyond the humor of her first ad, it’s an acknowledgement that no one with any name recognition had any desire to challenge Christie. That will only serve to reinforce the existing narrative centered on Christie’s popularity.

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Chris Christie’s Troubling Appointment

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has earned legions of fans with his take-no-prisoners style over the last year as he defied the unions and other entrenched interests in his drive to return his state to fiscal sanity. But while Christie has sought to silence the buzz about a possible presidential run, it appears that there might be a better reason to abandon this fantasy than his understandable reluctance: the governor has some explaining to do about his cozying up to an Islamist group in the state both before and after his election.

Christie’s decision to appoint attorney Sohail Mohammed to a state Superior Court judgeship has raised questions not only about his nominee’s record but also about the governor’s own stand. Mohammed is mainly known for the fact that he was the defense attorney for Muslims who were arrested in the wake of 9/11 because of their ties to terror organizations. In one case, Mohammed fought the government’s effort to deport Mohammed Qatanani, the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County and an influential member of the extremist — though well-connected — American Muslim Union. Though the New York Times praised him in 2008 during his deportation trial as a “revered imam” and portrayed the case as an overreaction to 9/11, Qatanani, a Palestinian, is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and admitted to being a member of Hamas when he was arrested by Israeli authorities in 1993 before coming to the United States. Though he claimed to be an advocate of interfaith dialogue (and was accepted as such by some liberal Jews), Qatanani was no moderate on the Middle East. His ties to Hamas were well known, and just the year before his deportation trial, Qatanani endorsed Israel’s absorption into an Islamic “Greater Syria.” Qatanani clearly lied about his record as an Islamist on documents that he used to enter the country. But he was nevertheless able to evade justice in the immigration courts because the judge accepted his undocumented claim that the Israelis tortured him.

Qatanani also benefited from having some highly placed friends in the justice system as a result of the political pull of the American Muslim Union, which boasts Sohail Mohammed as one of its board members. The AMU was able to get former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell, and then U.S. attorney Chris Christie to intervene on Qatanani’s behalf during the trial. As far as Christie was concerned, this was not a matter of merely signing a letter or making a phone call. The day before the Immigration Court announced its decision, Christie actually spoke at Qatanani’s mosque (Qatanani’s predecessor had boasted of raising at the mosque $2 million for Hamas via the now banned Holy Land Foundation) at a Ramadan breakfast dinner, where he embraced the imam while praising him as “a man of great good will.” Read More

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has earned legions of fans with his take-no-prisoners style over the last year as he defied the unions and other entrenched interests in his drive to return his state to fiscal sanity. But while Christie has sought to silence the buzz about a possible presidential run, it appears that there might be a better reason to abandon this fantasy than his understandable reluctance: the governor has some explaining to do about his cozying up to an Islamist group in the state both before and after his election.

Christie’s decision to appoint attorney Sohail Mohammed to a state Superior Court judgeship has raised questions not only about his nominee’s record but also about the governor’s own stand. Mohammed is mainly known for the fact that he was the defense attorney for Muslims who were arrested in the wake of 9/11 because of their ties to terror organizations. In one case, Mohammed fought the government’s effort to deport Mohammed Qatanani, the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County and an influential member of the extremist — though well-connected — American Muslim Union. Though the New York Times praised him in 2008 during his deportation trial as a “revered imam” and portrayed the case as an overreaction to 9/11, Qatanani, a Palestinian, is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and admitted to being a member of Hamas when he was arrested by Israeli authorities in 1993 before coming to the United States. Though he claimed to be an advocate of interfaith dialogue (and was accepted as such by some liberal Jews), Qatanani was no moderate on the Middle East. His ties to Hamas were well known, and just the year before his deportation trial, Qatanani endorsed Israel’s absorption into an Islamic “Greater Syria.” Qatanani clearly lied about his record as an Islamist on documents that he used to enter the country. But he was nevertheless able to evade justice in the immigration courts because the judge accepted his undocumented claim that the Israelis tortured him.

Qatanani also benefited from having some highly placed friends in the justice system as a result of the political pull of the American Muslim Union, which boasts Sohail Mohammed as one of its board members. The AMU was able to get former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell, and then U.S. attorney Chris Christie to intervene on Qatanani’s behalf during the trial. As far as Christie was concerned, this was not a matter of merely signing a letter or making a phone call. The day before the Immigration Court announced its decision, Christie actually spoke at Qatanani’s mosque (Qatanani’s predecessor had boasted of raising at the mosque $2 million for Hamas via the now banned Holy Land Foundation) at a Ramadan breakfast dinner, where he embraced the imam while praising him as “a man of great good will.”

Terror researcher Steve Emerson was quoted at the time as calling Christie’s involvement in the case “a disgrace and an act of pure political corruption,” especially since “I know for certain that Christie and the FBI had access to information about Qatanani’s background, involvement with and support of Hamas.”

Why would a man who was otherwise tasked as a U.S. attorney with defending America against such Islamists intervene on behalf of a Hamas supporter? The answer was obvious. Christie was already looking ahead to his race for governor against Corzine in 2009 and wanted the enthusiastic support of the state’s not-insignificant Muslim population. Christie’s record in the Qatanani case is a troubling chapter in his biography, and his willingness to further solidify his friendship with the American Muslim Union with his appointment of Sohail Mohammed to the court shows that his judgment on the issue of support for terrorism is highly questionable. If Christie’s name is mentioned again in the context of a presidential politics or even as a possible nominee for vice president, he is going to have to answer some tough questions about all this.

(Hat tip to Daniel Greenfield’s Sultan Knish blog)

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Bush’s Book Triumph

According to the UK’s Daily Mail, President George W. Bush’s book, Decision Points, has sold 2 million copies since it was released early last month. By way of comparison, President Clinton’s memoir, My Life, has sold 2.2 million since it was published in 2004. A spokesman for Crown, which published Decision Points, called the performance “remarkable” and said that he could not think of any other non-fiction hardback book that has sold even a million copies in 2010.

At the end of the Bush presidency, some people argued that no publisher worth its salt would publish Bush’s memoir — and if it did, Bush should be paid much less than Clinton. The argument was that Bush was terribly unpopular and no one would have any interest in revisiting the Bush years. There was even speculation by a few that if Decision Points leaked out prior to the 2010 mid-term election, it would damage GOP prospects of taking back the House. And there were even a few who believed that Democrats who ran against Mr. Bush after his presidency would triumph (for example, the New York Times‘s Paul Krugman thought running against Bush would be the path to victory for Jon Corzine against Chris Christie).

All of this turned out to be complete nonsense. President Bush’s memoir is extremely well done, particularly for a presidential memoir (they tend to be poorly written and not terribly revealing). It provides readers with keen insights into the decision-making process that defined the Bush presidency, from stem cells to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the Freedom Agenda to AIDS and malaria initiatives and much more.

As has often been the case with this two-term president, Mr. Bush’s critics misunderestimated him. His presidency is in the process of undergoing a significant reevaluation; the success of Decision Points is simply more testimony to this.

According to the UK’s Daily Mail, President George W. Bush’s book, Decision Points, has sold 2 million copies since it was released early last month. By way of comparison, President Clinton’s memoir, My Life, has sold 2.2 million since it was published in 2004. A spokesman for Crown, which published Decision Points, called the performance “remarkable” and said that he could not think of any other non-fiction hardback book that has sold even a million copies in 2010.

At the end of the Bush presidency, some people argued that no publisher worth its salt would publish Bush’s memoir — and if it did, Bush should be paid much less than Clinton. The argument was that Bush was terribly unpopular and no one would have any interest in revisiting the Bush years. There was even speculation by a few that if Decision Points leaked out prior to the 2010 mid-term election, it would damage GOP prospects of taking back the House. And there were even a few who believed that Democrats who ran against Mr. Bush after his presidency would triumph (for example, the New York Times‘s Paul Krugman thought running against Bush would be the path to victory for Jon Corzine against Chris Christie).

All of this turned out to be complete nonsense. President Bush’s memoir is extremely well done, particularly for a presidential memoir (they tend to be poorly written and not terribly revealing). It provides readers with keen insights into the decision-making process that defined the Bush presidency, from stem cells to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the Freedom Agenda to AIDS and malaria initiatives and much more.

As has often been the case with this two-term president, Mr. Bush’s critics misunderestimated him. His presidency is in the process of undergoing a significant reevaluation; the success of Decision Points is simply more testimony to this.

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A Novel Idea: Pay-as-You-Go Government

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still acting as if he means what he says about controlling the costs of government. By canceling the long-planned construction of a second commuter tunnel under the Hudson River today, Christie has reaffirmed the principle that government should not try to do more than it can afford. A close look at the finances of the scheme showed that cost overruns were likely to send the bill on the project to as much as $14 billion, almost $6 billion more than the original estimate. That means that New Jersey — which is to say, New Jersey’s taxpayers — would have to pay at least $8 billion of that amount, the remainder being contributed by New York’s Port Authority and the federal government. But in the absence of givebacks by the state’s civil-service unions, whose contracts and pensions threaten to send the state into the red even if the tunnel were not to be paid for, Christie said no, to the utter consternation of the unions, the rest of the political class, and New York Times‘s columnist Paul Krugman.

Other politicians (like Christie’s predecessor Jon Corzine, who authorized ground breaking on the project without thinking about the costs to the taxpayers) are shocked by Christie’s chutzpah. The idea that government should only undertake those projects it can pay for without having to further bilk the taxpayers is considered a shocking concept.

Krugman, the Times editorial page, the unions, and many of the politicians who have worked for this project all think the mere fact that the tunnel is needed justifies any amount of debt to build it. They also seem to think that worrying about where the extra $6 billion will come from is just silly.

They are right in that a new tunnel is desperately needed. New Jersey Transit is currently forced to share one Hudson River tunnel that is owned by Amtrak. The result is massive congestion and delays that will only get worse in the years to come. Even worse, since Amtrak owns the tunnel, to the injury of those commuters who take NJ Transit, the worst commuter line in the region (in terms of its on-time record), is added the insult of often having to wait for long periods while Amtrak trains breeze through — Amtrak always getting priority from the dispatchers. This means that there is a large (and generally ill-tempered) constituency of commuters who would like to see the tunnel built. Among them is Krugman, who confessed on his blog that: “And yes, if anyone should mention it, I am a resident of New Jersey who often visits Manhattan, and therefore has a personal stake in this project. You got a problem with that?”

As it happens, I, too, am a daily NJ Transit commuter into New York. But as much as the prospect of a better train ride in the distant future appeals to me, I’d bet that the majority of disgruntled and delayed passengers would prefer not to have their taxes raised. Nor would they like Krugman’s suggestion that Christie radically raise gasoline taxes to pay for the cost overruns, since almost all of them drive their cars to the train stations from which they start and end their daily trek to work. Voters are sick and tired of tax-and-spend politicians who think nothing about the long-term consequences of their largesse, so long as someone else is paying for it.

Christie will probably take a lot of flak for his decision, perhaps even more than the criticism he took for his confrontation with the state’s teacher unions. But the bet here is that the majority of the people of New Jersey — including many of those unhappy souls who are forced to take NJ Transit — prefer to have a governor who doesn’t think he has a right to pick their pockets in order to play the hero by championing expensive projects. In case Krugman forgot, that’s the reason Christie was elected last year and why so many other fiscal conservatives will rout free-spending liberals in the congressional elections this fall. And whether or not Krugman has a problem with that, it’s what we Americans call democracy.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still acting as if he means what he says about controlling the costs of government. By canceling the long-planned construction of a second commuter tunnel under the Hudson River today, Christie has reaffirmed the principle that government should not try to do more than it can afford. A close look at the finances of the scheme showed that cost overruns were likely to send the bill on the project to as much as $14 billion, almost $6 billion more than the original estimate. That means that New Jersey — which is to say, New Jersey’s taxpayers — would have to pay at least $8 billion of that amount, the remainder being contributed by New York’s Port Authority and the federal government. But in the absence of givebacks by the state’s civil-service unions, whose contracts and pensions threaten to send the state into the red even if the tunnel were not to be paid for, Christie said no, to the utter consternation of the unions, the rest of the political class, and New York Times‘s columnist Paul Krugman.

Other politicians (like Christie’s predecessor Jon Corzine, who authorized ground breaking on the project without thinking about the costs to the taxpayers) are shocked by Christie’s chutzpah. The idea that government should only undertake those projects it can pay for without having to further bilk the taxpayers is considered a shocking concept.

Krugman, the Times editorial page, the unions, and many of the politicians who have worked for this project all think the mere fact that the tunnel is needed justifies any amount of debt to build it. They also seem to think that worrying about where the extra $6 billion will come from is just silly.

They are right in that a new tunnel is desperately needed. New Jersey Transit is currently forced to share one Hudson River tunnel that is owned by Amtrak. The result is massive congestion and delays that will only get worse in the years to come. Even worse, since Amtrak owns the tunnel, to the injury of those commuters who take NJ Transit, the worst commuter line in the region (in terms of its on-time record), is added the insult of often having to wait for long periods while Amtrak trains breeze through — Amtrak always getting priority from the dispatchers. This means that there is a large (and generally ill-tempered) constituency of commuters who would like to see the tunnel built. Among them is Krugman, who confessed on his blog that: “And yes, if anyone should mention it, I am a resident of New Jersey who often visits Manhattan, and therefore has a personal stake in this project. You got a problem with that?”

As it happens, I, too, am a daily NJ Transit commuter into New York. But as much as the prospect of a better train ride in the distant future appeals to me, I’d bet that the majority of disgruntled and delayed passengers would prefer not to have their taxes raised. Nor would they like Krugman’s suggestion that Christie radically raise gasoline taxes to pay for the cost overruns, since almost all of them drive their cars to the train stations from which they start and end their daily trek to work. Voters are sick and tired of tax-and-spend politicians who think nothing about the long-term consequences of their largesse, so long as someone else is paying for it.

Christie will probably take a lot of flak for his decision, perhaps even more than the criticism he took for his confrontation with the state’s teacher unions. But the bet here is that the majority of the people of New Jersey — including many of those unhappy souls who are forced to take NJ Transit — prefer to have a governor who doesn’t think he has a right to pick their pockets in order to play the hero by championing expensive projects. In case Krugman forgot, that’s the reason Christie was elected last year and why so many other fiscal conservatives will rout free-spending liberals in the congressional elections this fall. And whether or not Krugman has a problem with that, it’s what we Americans call democracy.

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Obama Sinks to a New Low … in the Polls

President Obama’s Gallup approval/disapproval rating is now 44 percent/48 percent, a new low.

As a reference point, Obama’s three-day average was 52 percent when Chris Christie beat Jon Corzine in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell destroyed Creigh Deeds in Virginia. And Obama’s approval/disapproval rating on January 20, 2010 — when Republican Scott Brown shocked the political world by winning the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy — Obama’s three-day average (January 19-21) was 49 percent/45 percent (it was 47/47 on January 20).

This matters because presidential approval ratings are an important, if not always a decisive, factor in political races — and right now Obama’s public standing is considerably below where it was last November and below where it was in January, when Democrats were getting pounded by GOP candidates.

The bad news for Democrats keeps rolling in, day by day. And as the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf continues unabated, the job picture remains bleak, trust in government reaches all-time lows, and disdain for Congress approaches all-time highs, there’s little reason for Democrats to view the midterm elections with anything less than anxiety bordering on panic.

That may change – but if it does, more likely than not it will change for the worse.

President Obama’s Gallup approval/disapproval rating is now 44 percent/48 percent, a new low.

As a reference point, Obama’s three-day average was 52 percent when Chris Christie beat Jon Corzine in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell destroyed Creigh Deeds in Virginia. And Obama’s approval/disapproval rating on January 20, 2010 — when Republican Scott Brown shocked the political world by winning the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy — Obama’s three-day average (January 19-21) was 49 percent/45 percent (it was 47/47 on January 20).

This matters because presidential approval ratings are an important, if not always a decisive, factor in political races — and right now Obama’s public standing is considerably below where it was last November and below where it was in January, when Democrats were getting pounded by GOP candidates.

The bad news for Democrats keeps rolling in, day by day. And as the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf continues unabated, the job picture remains bleak, trust in government reaches all-time lows, and disdain for Congress approaches all-time highs, there’s little reason for Democrats to view the midterm elections with anything less than anxiety bordering on panic.

That may change – but if it does, more likely than not it will change for the worse.

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Look Who’s Coming to the Tea Party

Andrew Cuomo announced his candidacy for governor of New York yesterday. According to the Daily News editorial, he says:

No to raising state taxes. No to borrowing to close historic budget deficits. Yes to capping state spending. Yes to capping local property-tax hikes. Yes to freezing the salaries of state workers. Yes to trimming “benefits and pensions that are out of line with economic reality.” Yes to charter schools. Yes to slashing by 20% a state government that has, by Cuomo’s count, 1,000 agencies. Yes to nonpartisan redistricting and full financial disclosure.

That’s the platform that Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey ran on as a Republican last November and beat the incumbent, deep-pocketed Jon Corzine, handily, despite the latter having President Obama campaigning for him. But Andrew Cuomo is, of course, a Democrat. He was married to a Kennedy. His father was governor from 1983 to 1995.

The father didn’t even try to reform Albany’s dysfunctional ways (although he gave nice speeches — in San Francisco and Terre Haute) but rather conducted business as usual with the state legislature and cooked the state books to hide the deepening fiscal crisis. Now his son has begun his campaign for his father’s old office by, effectively, declaring war on the legislature:

Cuomo is well aware that the Legislature — most especially [Assembly speaker Sheldon] Silver — has become expert in making stumblebums out of governors by acting as a defiantly obstructionist law unto itself. That’s why he plans to ask legislative candidates in this fall’s election to declare where they stand on his programs, with the intent of endorsing those who side with him.

I hope — for the sake of the state where I was born and have lived nearly all my life — that he means what he says. If I think he does, come November, I might even vote for him.

Andrew Cuomo announced his candidacy for governor of New York yesterday. According to the Daily News editorial, he says:

No to raising state taxes. No to borrowing to close historic budget deficits. Yes to capping state spending. Yes to capping local property-tax hikes. Yes to freezing the salaries of state workers. Yes to trimming “benefits and pensions that are out of line with economic reality.” Yes to charter schools. Yes to slashing by 20% a state government that has, by Cuomo’s count, 1,000 agencies. Yes to nonpartisan redistricting and full financial disclosure.

That’s the platform that Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey ran on as a Republican last November and beat the incumbent, deep-pocketed Jon Corzine, handily, despite the latter having President Obama campaigning for him. But Andrew Cuomo is, of course, a Democrat. He was married to a Kennedy. His father was governor from 1983 to 1995.

The father didn’t even try to reform Albany’s dysfunctional ways (although he gave nice speeches — in San Francisco and Terre Haute) but rather conducted business as usual with the state legislature and cooked the state books to hide the deepening fiscal crisis. Now his son has begun his campaign for his father’s old office by, effectively, declaring war on the legislature:

Cuomo is well aware that the Legislature — most especially [Assembly speaker Sheldon] Silver — has become expert in making stumblebums out of governors by acting as a defiantly obstructionist law unto itself. That’s why he plans to ask legislative candidates in this fall’s election to declare where they stand on his programs, with the intent of endorsing those who side with him.

I hope — for the sake of the state where I was born and have lived nearly all my life — that he means what he says. If I think he does, come November, I might even vote for him.

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Crist Comes Down to Earth

Rasmussen reports:

Charlie Crist received a bounce in the polls when he left the Republican Party to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent. New numbers suggest that the bounce for the governor is over.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in Florida finds Republican Marco Rubio with 39% support, while Crist earns 31% of the vote and Democrat Kendrick Meek trails at 18%. Twelve percent (12%) are undecided.

When one considers that he’s lost his professional staff, will have very little money to combat the onslaught of negative ads coming his way, and doesn’t really have a message (other than “I have no principles”), one suspects that it may go downhill from here. The next move for the White House is tricky. Do they stick with the Democrat Meek, who’s plummeting? Or do they try to prop up Crist? It’s not clear that Obama “helps” anyone these days — he surely didn’t do much for Creigh Deeds, Jon Corzine, or Martha Coakley. (And Bill Clinton, not Obama, went into the Pennsylvania 12th district yesterday.) Perhaps Obama will sit this one out — which might make Crist and Meek happy.

Rasmussen reports:

Charlie Crist received a bounce in the polls when he left the Republican Party to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent. New numbers suggest that the bounce for the governor is over.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in Florida finds Republican Marco Rubio with 39% support, while Crist earns 31% of the vote and Democrat Kendrick Meek trails at 18%. Twelve percent (12%) are undecided.

When one considers that he’s lost his professional staff, will have very little money to combat the onslaught of negative ads coming his way, and doesn’t really have a message (other than “I have no principles”), one suspects that it may go downhill from here. The next move for the White House is tricky. Do they stick with the Democrat Meek, who’s plummeting? Or do they try to prop up Crist? It’s not clear that Obama “helps” anyone these days — he surely didn’t do much for Creigh Deeds, Jon Corzine, or Martha Coakley. (And Bill Clinton, not Obama, went into the Pennsylvania 12th district yesterday.) Perhaps Obama will sit this one out — which might make Crist and Meek happy.

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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.

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Obama Hides from Giannoulias

Obama isn’t about to waste political capital on Tony Rezko’s banker. That’s the gist of this report:

Sen. Dick Durbin slipped into the West Wing last week to ask Rahm Emanuel for White House help in saving Barack Obama’s old Senate seat. But he didn’t leave with any ironclad commitments. Durbin told Emanuel that Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias could use some serious presidential intervention in his uphill race against Republican Rep. Mark Kirk. At the moment, the White House seems open to the idea of losing Obama’s old seat rather than putting the president’s prestige on the line for Giannoulias, the brash and boyish Illinois state treasurer — and onetime Obama basketball buddy — whose campaign has been rocked by the financial meltdown of his family’s bank.

There are good reasons for Obama’s reticence. For starters, Obama has enough sticky connections to the Illinois corruption racket, so he’s wise to stay away from his former hometown. It seems he might, in fact, have had a conversation with the former governor about that Senate seat and another with a union official to relay his preferences to Blago. (If true, this is at odds with what Obama and his “internal review” related to the public when the Blago story first broke.) Blago’s lawyers are now trying to drag the president in to testify in Blago’s case — which will be going to trial this fall. Yikes!

Moreover, Giannoulias is in deep trouble, and it’s far from certain that Obama can help him. After all, he didn’t help Martha Coakley, Creigh Deeds, or Jon Corzine. Coming up short in his own state would prove embarrassing and tend to confirm that he lacks political mojo. Sometimes it’s better to just stay home.

It’s remarkable that a year and a half after Obama celebrated his victory before a throng in Grant Park, he needs to hide from the Democratic candidate seeking to fill his old Senate seat. That’s as much a comment on the shortcomings of Giannoulias as it is on those of Obama.

Obama isn’t about to waste political capital on Tony Rezko’s banker. That’s the gist of this report:

Sen. Dick Durbin slipped into the West Wing last week to ask Rahm Emanuel for White House help in saving Barack Obama’s old Senate seat. But he didn’t leave with any ironclad commitments. Durbin told Emanuel that Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias could use some serious presidential intervention in his uphill race against Republican Rep. Mark Kirk. At the moment, the White House seems open to the idea of losing Obama’s old seat rather than putting the president’s prestige on the line for Giannoulias, the brash and boyish Illinois state treasurer — and onetime Obama basketball buddy — whose campaign has been rocked by the financial meltdown of his family’s bank.

There are good reasons for Obama’s reticence. For starters, Obama has enough sticky connections to the Illinois corruption racket, so he’s wise to stay away from his former hometown. It seems he might, in fact, have had a conversation with the former governor about that Senate seat and another with a union official to relay his preferences to Blago. (If true, this is at odds with what Obama and his “internal review” related to the public when the Blago story first broke.) Blago’s lawyers are now trying to drag the president in to testify in Blago’s case — which will be going to trial this fall. Yikes!

Moreover, Giannoulias is in deep trouble, and it’s far from certain that Obama can help him. After all, he didn’t help Martha Coakley, Creigh Deeds, or Jon Corzine. Coming up short in his own state would prove embarrassing and tend to confirm that he lacks political mojo. Sometimes it’s better to just stay home.

It’s remarkable that a year and a half after Obama celebrated his victory before a throng in Grant Park, he needs to hide from the Democratic candidate seeking to fill his old Senate seat. That’s as much a comment on the shortcomings of Giannoulias as it is on those of Obama.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Katie Couric will interview Obama live from the Super Bowl because we haven’t seen enough of him, and what he really needs is to communicate more with the American people. Well, that’s apparently what they think inside the White House cocoon. More cowbell!

Mickey Kaus thinks Obama’s excuse mongering about the health-care bill (“we were just about to clean those up [objections to the bill], and then Massachusetts’ election happened”) is a “stunning admission of incompetence.” So maybe the president does have a communications problem, after all. If you can’t read a calendar or follow election polls, you should keep it to yourself.

The Hill: “The House is unlikely to extend President George W. Bush’s cuts for taxpayers earning more than $250,000, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday. … Allowing the tax breaks to expire at the end of the year will spark election-year criticism that Democrats are raising taxes. Congress approved the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Democrats are worried about losing seats in November’s midterm election, but Hoyer discounted the idea of his party losing seats solely because of a tax increase.” Well, he’s right — there is also all the red ink, ObamaCare, cap-and-trade, and the sleazy backroom dealings.

Foaming at the mouth and comparing Republicans to Hitler is not such a winning TV-ratings combination anymore. Andrew Malcolm tells us: “Olbermann’s showboat is sinking. Listing in you-know-which direction. It’s as if he thinks talking LOUDER will keep his low cell battery from dying. Worst, Olbermann’s network president, Phil Griffin, is publicly praising him, always an ominous sign in television.”

Dana Perino reminds us: “The context in which the Bush administration was operating is important. President Bush authorized detaining terrorists as enemy combatants in November 2001, two months or so after 9/11. The Shoe Bomber was arrested in December 2001, only a month after President Bush’s order. At that point, there was no system in place to handle enemy combatants. … Perhaps the more interesting context is how months after the administration announced a High Value Detainee Interrogation Group they could not meet after Abdulmutallab’s attempt because … it hadn’t even been set up yet.”

Karl Rove points out: “The budget is filled with gimmicks. For example, the president is calling for a domestic, nonsecurity, discretionary spending freeze. But that freeze doesn’t apply to a $282 billion proposed second stimulus package. It also doesn’t apply to the $519 billion that has yet to be spent from the first stimulus bill. The federal civilian work force is also not frozen. It is projected to rise to 1.43 million employees in 2010, up from 1.2 million in 2008.” And it seems that the mainstream media and the public are increasingly on to this sort of stunt. That may account for all the Democratic retirements: “Democrats are in the midst of the painful realization: Mr. Obama’s words cannot save them from the power of bad ideas.”

But Obama is telling Senate Democrats that “I think the natural political instinct is to tread lightly, keep your head down and to play it safe.” Translation: go ahead, pass ObamaCare, and join Martha Coakley, Jon Corzine, Creigh Deeds, Chris Dodd, and Byron Dorgan. The president tells them “the answer is not to do nothing.” I think “nothing” is looking like the best of bad options for the beleaguered Senate Democrats, who are now contemplating a serious reduction in their ranks.

The gamesmanship finally ends: “Massachusetts Senator-elect Scott Brown will be sworn in Thursday, according to Jim Manley, the spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Brown’s lawyer today asked that the election results in his state be immediately certified so that he can be sworn in right away. Initially Brown was scheduled to take office next week, but has since decided he wants to vote on upcoming nominations for solicitor general, the General Services Administration and the National Labor Relations Board.” That probably means that Harold Craig Becker’s nomination is in trouble.

Katie Couric will interview Obama live from the Super Bowl because we haven’t seen enough of him, and what he really needs is to communicate more with the American people. Well, that’s apparently what they think inside the White House cocoon. More cowbell!

Mickey Kaus thinks Obama’s excuse mongering about the health-care bill (“we were just about to clean those up [objections to the bill], and then Massachusetts’ election happened”) is a “stunning admission of incompetence.” So maybe the president does have a communications problem, after all. If you can’t read a calendar or follow election polls, you should keep it to yourself.

The Hill: “The House is unlikely to extend President George W. Bush’s cuts for taxpayers earning more than $250,000, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday. … Allowing the tax breaks to expire at the end of the year will spark election-year criticism that Democrats are raising taxes. Congress approved the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Democrats are worried about losing seats in November’s midterm election, but Hoyer discounted the idea of his party losing seats solely because of a tax increase.” Well, he’s right — there is also all the red ink, ObamaCare, cap-and-trade, and the sleazy backroom dealings.

Foaming at the mouth and comparing Republicans to Hitler is not such a winning TV-ratings combination anymore. Andrew Malcolm tells us: “Olbermann’s showboat is sinking. Listing in you-know-which direction. It’s as if he thinks talking LOUDER will keep his low cell battery from dying. Worst, Olbermann’s network president, Phil Griffin, is publicly praising him, always an ominous sign in television.”

Dana Perino reminds us: “The context in which the Bush administration was operating is important. President Bush authorized detaining terrorists as enemy combatants in November 2001, two months or so after 9/11. The Shoe Bomber was arrested in December 2001, only a month after President Bush’s order. At that point, there was no system in place to handle enemy combatants. … Perhaps the more interesting context is how months after the administration announced a High Value Detainee Interrogation Group they could not meet after Abdulmutallab’s attempt because … it hadn’t even been set up yet.”

Karl Rove points out: “The budget is filled with gimmicks. For example, the president is calling for a domestic, nonsecurity, discretionary spending freeze. But that freeze doesn’t apply to a $282 billion proposed second stimulus package. It also doesn’t apply to the $519 billion that has yet to be spent from the first stimulus bill. The federal civilian work force is also not frozen. It is projected to rise to 1.43 million employees in 2010, up from 1.2 million in 2008.” And it seems that the mainstream media and the public are increasingly on to this sort of stunt. That may account for all the Democratic retirements: “Democrats are in the midst of the painful realization: Mr. Obama’s words cannot save them from the power of bad ideas.”

But Obama is telling Senate Democrats that “I think the natural political instinct is to tread lightly, keep your head down and to play it safe.” Translation: go ahead, pass ObamaCare, and join Martha Coakley, Jon Corzine, Creigh Deeds, Chris Dodd, and Byron Dorgan. The president tells them “the answer is not to do nothing.” I think “nothing” is looking like the best of bad options for the beleaguered Senate Democrats, who are now contemplating a serious reduction in their ranks.

The gamesmanship finally ends: “Massachusetts Senator-elect Scott Brown will be sworn in Thursday, according to Jim Manley, the spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Brown’s lawyer today asked that the election results in his state be immediately certified so that he can be sworn in right away. Initially Brown was scheduled to take office next week, but has since decided he wants to vote on upcoming nominations for solicitor general, the General Services Administration and the National Labor Relations Board.” That probably means that Harold Craig Becker’s nomination is in trouble.

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Now Here’s a Political “Civil War”

When the White House begins to sputter, when there is talk of a wave election, and when a party loses a state previously thought to be unlosable, it doesn’t take long for the backbiting and finger-pointing to start. Stuart Rothenberg picks up lots of it. What is wrong with the Obama operation? Well, Democrats have lots of answers:

“It’s hard when you live in this area to understand how bad it is out there,” one veteran Washington, D.C., Democrat told me recently. “People want jobs. They know that it will take time, but they want to be certain that we are working on it.”

The same Democrat noted that this administration, like others, can’t always count on people telling the president how bad things are outside the Beltway. “When the White House calls, most people figure that to get another call, they better give good news. Tell them how bad things are, and they’ll never call you again.”

Others say it’s Rahm Emanuel’s fault. Rothenberg asks: “Rahm Emanuel, whose successes at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are now part of Democratic Party lore and who was the ultimate Capitol Hill insider, missed Massachusetts? But isn’t he always obsessed with the politics of any issue?” The answer according to one Democrat: “It’s the Myth of Rahm.” Oh, we were told he was a political genius. What about David Axelrod? The Democrats don’t like him either. (“One problem, according to some observers, is that David Axelrod, a savvy political strategist who understands message and campaigns, has become an Obama ‘believer’ and has lost some of the perspective he once had.”)

The real problem may be that the sacrificial lambs have figured out they are the sacrificial lambs. (“‘They want to get the heavy lifting done,’ added another Democrat about the White House’s priorities. ‘They don’t care if it costs them the House, the Senate and governors.'”) Or maybe it’s not Obama’s fault. Maybe it’s Nancy Pelosi’s. “She is utterly tone-deaf. She is supposed to look out for her Members, not just make history. It’s reckless what she has done,” one Democratic consultant tells Rothenberg.

Yikes. That’s a lot of upset. We’ve been told there is great division, a near “civil war,” breaking out in Republican ranks. But let’s be honest, that’s nothing compared with what is happening on the Democratic side of the aisle.

Aside from the implications for 2010, it is also an indication that the White House may no longer control the agenda or can count on the support of its congressional allies. After months of hearing from the White House that hugely unpopular ObamaCare would be popular after it passed and watching the president campaign in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts with no impact (at least not a positive one for their party), Democrats have figured out that that White House’s political radar is on the fritz. Democrats who are in unsafe seats — that is virtually all of them — need to fend for themselves, consider what the public is telling them on everything from spending to terrorism, and be willing to tell their party leadership “no.” Otherwise, they now know they risk joining Jon Corzine, Creigh Deeds, and Martha Coakley — not to mention Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan — on the list of those who have learned the danger of being tied to the Obama agenda.

When the White House begins to sputter, when there is talk of a wave election, and when a party loses a state previously thought to be unlosable, it doesn’t take long for the backbiting and finger-pointing to start. Stuart Rothenberg picks up lots of it. What is wrong with the Obama operation? Well, Democrats have lots of answers:

“It’s hard when you live in this area to understand how bad it is out there,” one veteran Washington, D.C., Democrat told me recently. “People want jobs. They know that it will take time, but they want to be certain that we are working on it.”

The same Democrat noted that this administration, like others, can’t always count on people telling the president how bad things are outside the Beltway. “When the White House calls, most people figure that to get another call, they better give good news. Tell them how bad things are, and they’ll never call you again.”

Others say it’s Rahm Emanuel’s fault. Rothenberg asks: “Rahm Emanuel, whose successes at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are now part of Democratic Party lore and who was the ultimate Capitol Hill insider, missed Massachusetts? But isn’t he always obsessed with the politics of any issue?” The answer according to one Democrat: “It’s the Myth of Rahm.” Oh, we were told he was a political genius. What about David Axelrod? The Democrats don’t like him either. (“One problem, according to some observers, is that David Axelrod, a savvy political strategist who understands message and campaigns, has become an Obama ‘believer’ and has lost some of the perspective he once had.”)

The real problem may be that the sacrificial lambs have figured out they are the sacrificial lambs. (“‘They want to get the heavy lifting done,’ added another Democrat about the White House’s priorities. ‘They don’t care if it costs them the House, the Senate and governors.'”) Or maybe it’s not Obama’s fault. Maybe it’s Nancy Pelosi’s. “She is utterly tone-deaf. She is supposed to look out for her Members, not just make history. It’s reckless what she has done,” one Democratic consultant tells Rothenberg.

Yikes. That’s a lot of upset. We’ve been told there is great division, a near “civil war,” breaking out in Republican ranks. But let’s be honest, that’s nothing compared with what is happening on the Democratic side of the aisle.

Aside from the implications for 2010, it is also an indication that the White House may no longer control the agenda or can count on the support of its congressional allies. After months of hearing from the White House that hugely unpopular ObamaCare would be popular after it passed and watching the president campaign in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts with no impact (at least not a positive one for their party), Democrats have figured out that that White House’s political radar is on the fritz. Democrats who are in unsafe seats — that is virtually all of them — need to fend for themselves, consider what the public is telling them on everything from spending to terrorism, and be willing to tell their party leadership “no.” Otherwise, they now know they risk joining Jon Corzine, Creigh Deeds, and Martha Coakley — not to mention Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan — on the list of those who have learned the danger of being tied to the Obama agenda.

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The Democrats Cast Aspersions

The signs of a Democratic collapse have been obvious for many months now. Liberals and Obama supporters, though, ignored or denied the amassing evidence. The GOP was a rump party, it was said. Those attending Tea Parties and town hall meetings were angry and irrational; Obama would look good in contrast to them. The president’s falling poll numbers meant nothing. Obama and Democrats were actually doing well, given how bad the economy was. The loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race was because Creigh Deeds was a terrible candidate. The loss in the New Jersey gubernatorial race was because Jon Corzine was a weakened incumbent. Et cetera.

Then came Massachusetts.

Democrats have now gone from smug denial to absolute panic. And the explanations for what went wrong are cascading around us. Obama is suffering from an “inspiration gap.” He’s too cool and detached. He’s not angry enough. He’s not populist enough. He’s not aggressive enough. He didn’t spend enough. He wasn’t liberal enough. He didn’t jam through health-care legislation soon enough. He got into the weeds too much. Evan Thomas of Newsweek has gone from describing Obama as a “sort of God” to “being fundamentally dishonest.”

No, others say, the fault lies with the “nihilist” Right. Or Sarah Palin’s “death panel” tweet. Or the success of the obstructionist GOP in “stigmatizing” the wonders of the stimulus package. Still others, like the president, insist that because Obama was focused on so many different problems, doing good for so many people, he just plain overlooked the need to communicate with the public. Being a forgetful sort, the American public needs to be reminded how marvelous the 44th president has been.

Still others among the Democrats are turning with unalloyed fury against the American people. They were broad-minded and enlightened when they elected Barack Obama, you see — but they have suddenly become dolts. This view is embodied in the words of Joe Klein of Time, who refers to Americans as “flagrantly ill-informed” — and those watching Fox News, of course, are “misinformed.” In case that wasn’t clear enough, Joe adds this:

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.

Klein is the same fellow who, in the aftermath of Obama’s victory, said of America: “It may no longer be as dominant, economically or diplomatically, as it once was. But it is younger, more optimistic, less cynical. It is a country that retains its ability to startle the world — and in a good way, with our freedom.” And who wrote, after Obama was sworn in as president, that his ascension to power “could force everyone to argue more carefully, to think twice before casting aspersions.”

So we’ve gone from being young, optimistic, and uncynical, with the ability to startle the world in a good way, to being a nation of dodos.

I guess aspersion-casting is back in vogue.

The signs of a Democratic collapse have been obvious for many months now. Liberals and Obama supporters, though, ignored or denied the amassing evidence. The GOP was a rump party, it was said. Those attending Tea Parties and town hall meetings were angry and irrational; Obama would look good in contrast to them. The president’s falling poll numbers meant nothing. Obama and Democrats were actually doing well, given how bad the economy was. The loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race was because Creigh Deeds was a terrible candidate. The loss in the New Jersey gubernatorial race was because Jon Corzine was a weakened incumbent. Et cetera.

Then came Massachusetts.

Democrats have now gone from smug denial to absolute panic. And the explanations for what went wrong are cascading around us. Obama is suffering from an “inspiration gap.” He’s too cool and detached. He’s not angry enough. He’s not populist enough. He’s not aggressive enough. He didn’t spend enough. He wasn’t liberal enough. He didn’t jam through health-care legislation soon enough. He got into the weeds too much. Evan Thomas of Newsweek has gone from describing Obama as a “sort of God” to “being fundamentally dishonest.”

No, others say, the fault lies with the “nihilist” Right. Or Sarah Palin’s “death panel” tweet. Or the success of the obstructionist GOP in “stigmatizing” the wonders of the stimulus package. Still others, like the president, insist that because Obama was focused on so many different problems, doing good for so many people, he just plain overlooked the need to communicate with the public. Being a forgetful sort, the American public needs to be reminded how marvelous the 44th president has been.

Still others among the Democrats are turning with unalloyed fury against the American people. They were broad-minded and enlightened when they elected Barack Obama, you see — but they have suddenly become dolts. This view is embodied in the words of Joe Klein of Time, who refers to Americans as “flagrantly ill-informed” — and those watching Fox News, of course, are “misinformed.” In case that wasn’t clear enough, Joe adds this:

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.

Klein is the same fellow who, in the aftermath of Obama’s victory, said of America: “It may no longer be as dominant, economically or diplomatically, as it once was. But it is younger, more optimistic, less cynical. It is a country that retains its ability to startle the world — and in a good way, with our freedom.” And who wrote, after Obama was sworn in as president, that his ascension to power “could force everyone to argue more carefully, to think twice before casting aspersions.”

So we’ve gone from being young, optimistic, and uncynical, with the ability to startle the world in a good way, to being a nation of dodos.

I guess aspersion-casting is back in vogue.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Stuart Rothenberg moves the Nevada Senate race to “lean takeover.” (No wonder Republicans have stopped calling for Harry Reid to step down. Mitch McConnell doesn’t want Reid to go anywhere.) As for Massachusetts, he says: “We continue to believe that [Martha] Coakley will win, though her margin could be so narrow as to cause more jitters on the Democratic side.”

John Fund sure thinks Harry Reid is toast: “In the end, I don’t believe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will run for re-election. Whether or not the health care bill he muscled through the Senate becomes law, the 70-year-old will bow out of his race for a fifth term. The major reason has nothing to do with his many verbal gaffes, the latest of which exploded over the weekend. The simple fact is that he probably can’t win re-election — almost no incumbent senator as far down in the polls has come back to win. Asked if Mr. Reid is finished, NBC Political Director Chuck Todd said yesterday, ‘I think so. I do — absolutely.'”

Scott Rasmussen has the race in Massachusetts down to a 2-point margin. Here’s the kicker (and another sign of momentum for Scott Brown): “All polling indicates that a lower turnout is better for the Republican. The new Rasmussen Reports poll shows that Brown is ahead by two percentage points among those who are absolutely certain they will vote. A week ago, he trailed by two among those certain to vote.”

David Gergen, who moderated the Massachusetts Senate debate, tips his hat to Scott Brown for his sharp retort: “Well, with all due respect, it’s not the Kennedys’ seat, and it’s not the Democrats’ seat, it’s the people’s seat.”

You can understand why they’re jittery: “It’s hard for some Democrats to believe that the candidate running to replace Ted Kennedy is being attacked over health care reform — in one of the bluest states in the union, no less. But Republican Scott Brown has got Democrats nervous — not just for his opponent Martha Coakley but about the fact that a loss in Massachusetts would be a body blow to Democratic reform efforts in Washington.”

They should be, considering the Democrat’s campaign, says James Taranto: “Coakley and her Washington insiders are running a campaign that can only be described as incredibly stupid.” Between the negativity, the insistence on carting around the independent candidate to debates, and misspelling the state’s name in an ad, it’s hard to quibble with that conclusion. Plus: “All the talk about enacting ObamaCare as some sort of twisted tribute to Ted Kennedy is beginning to seem a bit reminiscent of the freakish Paul Wellstone funeral service in 2002–a spectacle that cost the Democrats a Senate seat they weren’t supposed to lose.”

John McCormack is apparently the designated punching bag for failing candidates. First, Dede Scozzafava’s husband calls the cops on him, and now Coakley’s flunky shoves him into a railing. Charlie Crist’s people better be on the lookout!

Michael Gerson: “Obama’s rhetorical challenge runs deeper than the recession. In the most unexpected development of his presidency, what was once universally recognized as Obama’s greatest political strength — his oratory — now seems a serious weakness. … People want their president to be both the father and the mother of his country — a talent shared by politicians as diverse as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (whose speeches I once helped write). Obama’s model, instead, is the coolness of Coolidge. It is old-fashioned. It may even be admirable. It is hard to call it effective. With every speech, a realization grows: A president lacking in drama may also be lacking in inspiration.”

On the way out, finally some honesty from Jon Corzine, who “acknowledged his inability to solve the state’s mounting fiscal problems.”

Stuart Rothenberg moves the Nevada Senate race to “lean takeover.” (No wonder Republicans have stopped calling for Harry Reid to step down. Mitch McConnell doesn’t want Reid to go anywhere.) As for Massachusetts, he says: “We continue to believe that [Martha] Coakley will win, though her margin could be so narrow as to cause more jitters on the Democratic side.”

John Fund sure thinks Harry Reid is toast: “In the end, I don’t believe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will run for re-election. Whether or not the health care bill he muscled through the Senate becomes law, the 70-year-old will bow out of his race for a fifth term. The major reason has nothing to do with his many verbal gaffes, the latest of which exploded over the weekend. The simple fact is that he probably can’t win re-election — almost no incumbent senator as far down in the polls has come back to win. Asked if Mr. Reid is finished, NBC Political Director Chuck Todd said yesterday, ‘I think so. I do — absolutely.'”

Scott Rasmussen has the race in Massachusetts down to a 2-point margin. Here’s the kicker (and another sign of momentum for Scott Brown): “All polling indicates that a lower turnout is better for the Republican. The new Rasmussen Reports poll shows that Brown is ahead by two percentage points among those who are absolutely certain they will vote. A week ago, he trailed by two among those certain to vote.”

David Gergen, who moderated the Massachusetts Senate debate, tips his hat to Scott Brown for his sharp retort: “Well, with all due respect, it’s not the Kennedys’ seat, and it’s not the Democrats’ seat, it’s the people’s seat.”

You can understand why they’re jittery: “It’s hard for some Democrats to believe that the candidate running to replace Ted Kennedy is being attacked over health care reform — in one of the bluest states in the union, no less. But Republican Scott Brown has got Democrats nervous — not just for his opponent Martha Coakley but about the fact that a loss in Massachusetts would be a body blow to Democratic reform efforts in Washington.”

They should be, considering the Democrat’s campaign, says James Taranto: “Coakley and her Washington insiders are running a campaign that can only be described as incredibly stupid.” Between the negativity, the insistence on carting around the independent candidate to debates, and misspelling the state’s name in an ad, it’s hard to quibble with that conclusion. Plus: “All the talk about enacting ObamaCare as some sort of twisted tribute to Ted Kennedy is beginning to seem a bit reminiscent of the freakish Paul Wellstone funeral service in 2002–a spectacle that cost the Democrats a Senate seat they weren’t supposed to lose.”

John McCormack is apparently the designated punching bag for failing candidates. First, Dede Scozzafava’s husband calls the cops on him, and now Coakley’s flunky shoves him into a railing. Charlie Crist’s people better be on the lookout!

Michael Gerson: “Obama’s rhetorical challenge runs deeper than the recession. In the most unexpected development of his presidency, what was once universally recognized as Obama’s greatest political strength — his oratory — now seems a serious weakness. … People want their president to be both the father and the mother of his country — a talent shared by politicians as diverse as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (whose speeches I once helped write). Obama’s model, instead, is the coolness of Coolidge. It is old-fashioned. It may even be admirable. It is hard to call it effective. With every speech, a realization grows: A president lacking in drama may also be lacking in inspiration.”

On the way out, finally some honesty from Jon Corzine, who “acknowledged his inability to solve the state’s mounting fiscal problems.”

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The Touch of Political Death?

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The White House is reaching into political races nationwide to urge its preferred candidates to seek election to competitive seats, while helping to nudge weak contenders out of the way, according to party officials familiar with the moves.

It isn’t unusual for a president to pick favorites, but the sense of urgency is heightened this year by Democrats’ sense that a difficult election year lies ahead.

Sometimes this might make sense, as with the effort to push Chris Dodd into retirement and potentially rescue the Connecticut Senate seat that had appeared lost as long as the senator from Countrywide remained in the race. But the danger of White House meddling is three-fold.

First, the appearance on the scene of the White House political hacks has the aura of buzzards circling a bleeding beast. For example:

In Ohio, White House political director Patrick Gaspard has been in conversations with Gov. Ted Strickland, whose approval ratings have slipped and who is facing a challenge from former Republican Rep. John Kasich. Democrats there say the White House is backing Mr. Strickland’s re-election bid but is focused on reigniting the grassroots effort that helped Mr. Obama win there in 2008 and would be necessary for success again in 2012.

Translation: Strickland is in trouble (having gone from a huge double-digit lead to a 9-point deficit in the last Rasmussen poll in his matchup against John Kasich), and the White House has now advertised that to voters and donors alike. No doubt Strickland isn’t pleased to have it known that he’s been paid a visit by the White House fix-it team.

Second, this may not be the year to be the handpicked candidate of Barack Obama. It didn’t do Jon Corzine any good. And that was in a state in which Obama is still relatively popular. Do candidates in Michigan or Ohio really want to be tied to the White House and its agenda? That seemed to work out not at all for Creigh Deeds in Virginia.

And finally, it’s not clear that the White House has the magic touch. It seems that the White House is backing Kirsten Gillibrand against a potential challenge from Harold Ford Jr. (who doesn’t thrill the liberal base), but is Gillibrand really the strongest candidate in the field? (In December, the Quinnipiac poll reported: “New York City Comptroller William Thompson leads incumbent U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand 41 – 28 percent in a possible 2010 Democratic primary race.”) And recall it was the White House, with the keen political acumen of Joe Biden, that convinced Arlen Specter to switch parties and now is backing him in the Pennsylvania primary, though he’s now tied with Republican Pat Toomey in recent polling.

The White House’s triage efforts are understandable. Democrats may be headed for a shellacking in November, so it’s time to pull out all the stops. But it’s not at all clear that candidates selected by the White House will fare any better than those whom Democratic voters, through a normal primary process, may select. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that Democrats are in trouble in no small part because of the White House’s hyper-partisan tone, ultra-left-wing agenda, and fixation on a health-care bill the country doesn’t want. Democrats might do better if they distanced themselves from Obama and found candidates who weren’t propped up by the gang that thought ObamaCare and cap-and-trade were political winners.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The White House is reaching into political races nationwide to urge its preferred candidates to seek election to competitive seats, while helping to nudge weak contenders out of the way, according to party officials familiar with the moves.

It isn’t unusual for a president to pick favorites, but the sense of urgency is heightened this year by Democrats’ sense that a difficult election year lies ahead.

Sometimes this might make sense, as with the effort to push Chris Dodd into retirement and potentially rescue the Connecticut Senate seat that had appeared lost as long as the senator from Countrywide remained in the race. But the danger of White House meddling is three-fold.

First, the appearance on the scene of the White House political hacks has the aura of buzzards circling a bleeding beast. For example:

In Ohio, White House political director Patrick Gaspard has been in conversations with Gov. Ted Strickland, whose approval ratings have slipped and who is facing a challenge from former Republican Rep. John Kasich. Democrats there say the White House is backing Mr. Strickland’s re-election bid but is focused on reigniting the grassroots effort that helped Mr. Obama win there in 2008 and would be necessary for success again in 2012.

Translation: Strickland is in trouble (having gone from a huge double-digit lead to a 9-point deficit in the last Rasmussen poll in his matchup against John Kasich), and the White House has now advertised that to voters and donors alike. No doubt Strickland isn’t pleased to have it known that he’s been paid a visit by the White House fix-it team.

Second, this may not be the year to be the handpicked candidate of Barack Obama. It didn’t do Jon Corzine any good. And that was in a state in which Obama is still relatively popular. Do candidates in Michigan or Ohio really want to be tied to the White House and its agenda? That seemed to work out not at all for Creigh Deeds in Virginia.

And finally, it’s not clear that the White House has the magic touch. It seems that the White House is backing Kirsten Gillibrand against a potential challenge from Harold Ford Jr. (who doesn’t thrill the liberal base), but is Gillibrand really the strongest candidate in the field? (In December, the Quinnipiac poll reported: “New York City Comptroller William Thompson leads incumbent U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand 41 – 28 percent in a possible 2010 Democratic primary race.”) And recall it was the White House, with the keen political acumen of Joe Biden, that convinced Arlen Specter to switch parties and now is backing him in the Pennsylvania primary, though he’s now tied with Republican Pat Toomey in recent polling.

The White House’s triage efforts are understandable. Democrats may be headed for a shellacking in November, so it’s time to pull out all the stops. But it’s not at all clear that candidates selected by the White House will fare any better than those whom Democratic voters, through a normal primary process, may select. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that Democrats are in trouble in no small part because of the White House’s hyper-partisan tone, ultra-left-wing agenda, and fixation on a health-care bill the country doesn’t want. Democrats might do better if they distanced themselves from Obama and found candidates who weren’t propped up by the gang that thought ObamaCare and cap-and-trade were political winners.

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The Real Death Panel

Politico’s headline reads “Mammograms as political weapon.” A more accurate headline might have been “Mammogram Advisers Become ObamaCare Death Panel.” It was the pronouncement of that panel — which contained not a single oncologist or radiologist — that provided Americans with a vivid example of what happens when bureaucrats are given authority to insert themselves into health-care decisions previously made on a case-by-case basis by doctors. It has become a “weapon” only in the sense that facts are powerful things, still, in politics. The report explains:

“It resonates with 52 percent of the electorate,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for the Cook Political Report. “You can get yourself in a good bit of trouble being on the wrong side of the issue.” … “There’s sort of a ‘What?’ factor,” said Michael Dimock, a pollster for the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. [T]his struck so many as pulling the rug under people.”

More precisely, it showed people just how the rug is going to get pulled out from many of us once we set in place a government-centric system administered by “effectiveness research” proponents — panels of gurus who turn out to be not really expert in the field but who operate under huge pressure to shave costs by chiseling on care.

The report bends over backward to paint this as some sort of bipartisan problem, as if Republicans are pushing for panels of bureaucrats to run health care. Politico intones that in Virginia, Creigh Deeds “ripped into his opponent for supposedly supporting a policy that would have let the state’s employers drop breast cancer screenings from health plans.” That would be the guy who lost by 20 points. And yes, Jon Corzine tried to use the issue, suggesting that Chris Christie wanted to limit mammograms too. Corzine lost.

What actually happened is that people got a taste of ObamaCare. It’s sent Democrats into a defensive crouch and emboldened Republicans to attack ObamaCare as a threat to Americans’ health. Both Carly Fiorina, who’s running for the Senate in California, and Mark Kirk of Illinois have had an overwhelming response by tying the mammogram-guideline backlash to the larger issue of ObamaCare. (A Kirk message explained, “This Task Force features prominently in the health care legislation being considered by the Senate, and its recommendations will carry tremendous weight under any government takeover of healthcare.”)

In a sense, the mammogram advisers did us all a favor. They reminded us of just how dangerous it can be to turn over your health care to the government.

Politico’s headline reads “Mammograms as political weapon.” A more accurate headline might have been “Mammogram Advisers Become ObamaCare Death Panel.” It was the pronouncement of that panel — which contained not a single oncologist or radiologist — that provided Americans with a vivid example of what happens when bureaucrats are given authority to insert themselves into health-care decisions previously made on a case-by-case basis by doctors. It has become a “weapon” only in the sense that facts are powerful things, still, in politics. The report explains:

“It resonates with 52 percent of the electorate,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for the Cook Political Report. “You can get yourself in a good bit of trouble being on the wrong side of the issue.” … “There’s sort of a ‘What?’ factor,” said Michael Dimock, a pollster for the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. [T]his struck so many as pulling the rug under people.”

More precisely, it showed people just how the rug is going to get pulled out from many of us once we set in place a government-centric system administered by “effectiveness research” proponents — panels of gurus who turn out to be not really expert in the field but who operate under huge pressure to shave costs by chiseling on care.

The report bends over backward to paint this as some sort of bipartisan problem, as if Republicans are pushing for panels of bureaucrats to run health care. Politico intones that in Virginia, Creigh Deeds “ripped into his opponent for supposedly supporting a policy that would have let the state’s employers drop breast cancer screenings from health plans.” That would be the guy who lost by 20 points. And yes, Jon Corzine tried to use the issue, suggesting that Chris Christie wanted to limit mammograms too. Corzine lost.

What actually happened is that people got a taste of ObamaCare. It’s sent Democrats into a defensive crouch and emboldened Republicans to attack ObamaCare as a threat to Americans’ health. Both Carly Fiorina, who’s running for the Senate in California, and Mark Kirk of Illinois have had an overwhelming response by tying the mammogram-guideline backlash to the larger issue of ObamaCare. (A Kirk message explained, “This Task Force features prominently in the health care legislation being considered by the Senate, and its recommendations will carry tremendous weight under any government takeover of healthcare.”)

In a sense, the mammogram advisers did us all a favor. They reminded us of just how dangerous it can be to turn over your health care to the government.

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So Far, So Fast

Mitt Romney doesn’t have a book out or a Newsweek cover photo in bike shorts, but he’s plugging away to establish his 2012 presidential bona fides. Going after Obama’s campaign addiction, he writes:

A full year after being elected, Obama still does not have a strategy for Afghanistan. … What has he been doing for the past 12 months that took precedence over his responsibility for our soldiers? The answer is that he made 30 or more campaign trips for the Democratic Party and its candidates, including five events for defeated New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine alone. He repeatedly traveled around the country to keynote campaign-style town hall meetings that were carefully choreographed by his communications advisers. He appears to want to do what he knows best: campaign, rather than engage in what he was elected to do — lead and govern.

And he jabs the president for spending time in the Situation Room with “[David] Axelrod, the president’s campaign adman. Polls, politics and perspectives on what the TV networks may think have no place at the national security table. Communications staff should be informed of security decisions after they are made, not invited to be a party to them.” And he makes a pitch for his own executive skills (“During my career in business and government, and in running the Olympics, I made many instructive mistakes and learned the lessons that come with experience”), arguing that Obama has flunked his on-the-job training.

Well, that’s the preview of the 2012 race, which the not-yet-but-certain-to-declare Romney and other GOP challengers will make: Obama was a swell campaigner but lacked the gravitas and judgment to govern. After nearly a year of his rally-stuffed agenda, much huffing and puffing (“I won”), and hyper-partisanship, Obama does seem less presidential than when he started. During the campaign, at least, he was employing lofty rhetoric and eschewing vindictive labeling (back when there was no Blue America, no Red America, just the United States of America). Now he seems a smaller, less imposing figure, and frankly much like every other not-very-effective ultra-liberal pol.

That doesn’t mean he can’t accomplish anything between now and 2012, or that he can’t elevate his tone before facing the voters again. But if he ran now, would he command the same dreamy devotion and drive new flocks of voters to the polls? Unlikely. And once the magic is gone, the rhetoric is debased, and the left-wing agenda reveals itself and then unwinds, it’s hard to get the magic back.

Mitt Romney doesn’t have a book out or a Newsweek cover photo in bike shorts, but he’s plugging away to establish his 2012 presidential bona fides. Going after Obama’s campaign addiction, he writes:

A full year after being elected, Obama still does not have a strategy for Afghanistan. … What has he been doing for the past 12 months that took precedence over his responsibility for our soldiers? The answer is that he made 30 or more campaign trips for the Democratic Party and its candidates, including five events for defeated New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine alone. He repeatedly traveled around the country to keynote campaign-style town hall meetings that were carefully choreographed by his communications advisers. He appears to want to do what he knows best: campaign, rather than engage in what he was elected to do — lead and govern.

And he jabs the president for spending time in the Situation Room with “[David] Axelrod, the president’s campaign adman. Polls, politics and perspectives on what the TV networks may think have no place at the national security table. Communications staff should be informed of security decisions after they are made, not invited to be a party to them.” And he makes a pitch for his own executive skills (“During my career in business and government, and in running the Olympics, I made many instructive mistakes and learned the lessons that come with experience”), arguing that Obama has flunked his on-the-job training.

Well, that’s the preview of the 2012 race, which the not-yet-but-certain-to-declare Romney and other GOP challengers will make: Obama was a swell campaigner but lacked the gravitas and judgment to govern. After nearly a year of his rally-stuffed agenda, much huffing and puffing (“I won”), and hyper-partisanship, Obama does seem less presidential than when he started. During the campaign, at least, he was employing lofty rhetoric and eschewing vindictive labeling (back when there was no Blue America, no Red America, just the United States of America). Now he seems a smaller, less imposing figure, and frankly much like every other not-very-effective ultra-liberal pol.

That doesn’t mean he can’t accomplish anything between now and 2012, or that he can’t elevate his tone before facing the voters again. But if he ran now, would he command the same dreamy devotion and drive new flocks of voters to the polls? Unlikely. And once the magic is gone, the rhetoric is debased, and the left-wing agenda reveals itself and then unwinds, it’s hard to get the magic back.

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Florida and Michigan Do-Overs

Ever so gradually, the notion of do-over primaries in Florida and Michigan is taking hold. It really is the only solution that avoids excluding two important states and preserves the DNC’s position that they have the right to set the primary schedule (and to penalize these two states which jumped the queue in violation of party rules). Even the question of who will pay for the re-votes seems moot, as Governors Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania (yes, two Hillary Clinton backers) have agreed to raise the money.

So now over 350 delegates may very well be put back in play. In the first Florida primary Clinton “won” with virtually no campaigning. A look at the exit polls tells us she may be able to do it again. (Yes, the primary did not “count,” but over 935,000 people voted in it all the same.) 61 percent of these voters were 50 years or older and 78 percent of the voters were Hispanic or white. (You can be sure that Barack Obama’s comments about his willingness to meet with Raul Castro will make an appearance in Clinton ads during the run-up to the re-vote.)

In Michigan, Clinton will be looking at an electorate (according to the first primary’s exit polls) with 65 percent non-college-educated voters, 83 percent of voters making less than $100,000 per year, and 73 percent of voters who are either Hispanic or white. Now, the Michigan exits may be less representative, given the smaller turnout on the first go-around. But if Ohio tells us that Clinton does well with downscale white voters in economically distressed states, then Michigan looks promising.

That Obama lead of 100 or so delegates? It may not be so secure after all.

Ever so gradually, the notion of do-over primaries in Florida and Michigan is taking hold. It really is the only solution that avoids excluding two important states and preserves the DNC’s position that they have the right to set the primary schedule (and to penalize these two states which jumped the queue in violation of party rules). Even the question of who will pay for the re-votes seems moot, as Governors Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania (yes, two Hillary Clinton backers) have agreed to raise the money.

So now over 350 delegates may very well be put back in play. In the first Florida primary Clinton “won” with virtually no campaigning. A look at the exit polls tells us she may be able to do it again. (Yes, the primary did not “count,” but over 935,000 people voted in it all the same.) 61 percent of these voters were 50 years or older and 78 percent of the voters were Hispanic or white. (You can be sure that Barack Obama’s comments about his willingness to meet with Raul Castro will make an appearance in Clinton ads during the run-up to the re-vote.)

In Michigan, Clinton will be looking at an electorate (according to the first primary’s exit polls) with 65 percent non-college-educated voters, 83 percent of voters making less than $100,000 per year, and 73 percent of voters who are either Hispanic or white. Now, the Michigan exits may be less representative, given the smaller turnout on the first go-around. But if Ohio tells us that Clinton does well with downscale white voters in economically distressed states, then Michigan looks promising.

That Obama lead of 100 or so delegates? It may not be so secure after all.

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Stem Cells in New Jersey

On Tuesday, New Jersey voters defeated a state ballot referendum that would have put $450 million of taxpayer funds into stem cell research. It was a rare electoral victory for opponents of embryo-destructive research—made all the more surprising by its Garden State venue. New Jersey, after all, has some of the most extreme pro-cloning and embryo research laws in the country, explicitly permitting, for instance, the creation of cloned embryos and their development in the womb until the moment of birth.

In search of an explanation, the New York Times offers up the absence of a massive media campaign with deep pockets, of the sort employed in similar referenda in California in 2004 and in Missouri in 2006. In both cases, tens of millions of dollars were spent on ads attempting to persuade voters of the promise of embryonic stem cells—often using starkly dishonest and distorted arguments.

In Missouri, for instance, the advertising campaign coined the clever term “early stem cell research” (as in this ad) to avoid using the word “embryo,” and asserted that embryonic stem cells would cure Alzheimer’s (despite a near consensus to the contrary among researchers). In California, where a similar effort resulted in the creation of a $3 billion stem cell institute in 2004, pre-election deceptions about how the project would work continue to plague the new institute, which has now gone through several difficult leadership changes. Most recently, the institute hired as its director an Australian scientist who was caught lying to the Australian parliament in 2002 in order to obtain support for stem cell research.

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On Tuesday, New Jersey voters defeated a state ballot referendum that would have put $450 million of taxpayer funds into stem cell research. It was a rare electoral victory for opponents of embryo-destructive research—made all the more surprising by its Garden State venue. New Jersey, after all, has some of the most extreme pro-cloning and embryo research laws in the country, explicitly permitting, for instance, the creation of cloned embryos and their development in the womb until the moment of birth.

In search of an explanation, the New York Times offers up the absence of a massive media campaign with deep pockets, of the sort employed in similar referenda in California in 2004 and in Missouri in 2006. In both cases, tens of millions of dollars were spent on ads attempting to persuade voters of the promise of embryonic stem cells—often using starkly dishonest and distorted arguments.

In Missouri, for instance, the advertising campaign coined the clever term “early stem cell research” (as in this ad) to avoid using the word “embryo,” and asserted that embryonic stem cells would cure Alzheimer’s (despite a near consensus to the contrary among researchers). In California, where a similar effort resulted in the creation of a $3 billion stem cell institute in 2004, pre-election deceptions about how the project would work continue to plague the new institute, which has now gone through several difficult leadership changes. Most recently, the institute hired as its director an Australian scientist who was caught lying to the Australian parliament in 2002 in order to obtain support for stem cell research.

These are just a few of the countless examples of exaggeration and outright deception in the political fight for embryonic stem cell funding. Recall, for instance, John Edwards’s promise in the 2004 presidential campaign that “when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.”

Such tactics have lent something of the stench of the snake oil salesman to stem cell advocacy, and this has clearly had an effect. Opponents of the 2006 Missouri initiative found in the closing days of the race that pointing out the dishonesty of the initiative’s supporters was the most effective arrow in their quiver, and when they began to focus their energies on that case they very nearly defeated the effort.

Opponents of the New Jersey referendum learned that lesson. Referring to New Jersey governor Jon Corzine (who invested $150,000 of his own money in the ballot initiative campaign), one commercial run by opponents showed a slick salesman enticing viewers with “Governor Feelgood’s Embryonic Stem Cell Elixir; just $450 million—why, that’s practically free!”

Another ad put the matter bluntly. The referendum, it said, “is about taking your tax dollars for something that Wall Street and the drug companies will not invest in.”

Clearly this combination of the whiff of fraud and the specter of waste—rather than ethical objections to the destruction of embryos—brought down the referendum. Garden State voters have not suddenly become pro-lifers. But the tricks and deceptions of stem cell advocates in recent years might just have become all too apparent in New Jersey.

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