Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jonah Goldberg

More on Statecraft as Soulcraft

My post on the intellectual evolution of George Will created some interesting reactions, including this one from NRO’s Jonah Goldberg. This is probably as good a time as any to elaborate on my views related to Will’s 1983 book Statecraft As Soulcraft and the broader political philosophy it touches on.

There are two separate issues to consider. One is the size of government. As anyone who reads Contentions knows, on this matter, my views are pretty clear. The federal government needs to be re-limited. It’s too large, it spends too much, and (to borrow from a formulation by Margaret Thatcher) it takes too much from us in order to do too much for us.

The second issue has to do with the purpose of politics. Some, like Goldberg—whose writings I enjoy and admire—are left cold by the claim that “the state must take it upon itself to create better people.” My argument is that (i) politics is an extension of ethics and (ii) whether one likes it or not, there is a moral component to many of our laws. Hence government is involved in affecting the habits, values and sensibilities of the citizenry.

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My post on the intellectual evolution of George Will created some interesting reactions, including this one from NRO’s Jonah Goldberg. This is probably as good a time as any to elaborate on my views related to Will’s 1983 book Statecraft As Soulcraft and the broader political philosophy it touches on.

There are two separate issues to consider. One is the size of government. As anyone who reads Contentions knows, on this matter, my views are pretty clear. The federal government needs to be re-limited. It’s too large, it spends too much, and (to borrow from a formulation by Margaret Thatcher) it takes too much from us in order to do too much for us.

The second issue has to do with the purpose of politics. Some, like Goldberg—whose writings I enjoy and admire—are left cold by the claim that “the state must take it upon itself to create better people.” My argument is that (i) politics is an extension of ethics and (ii) whether one likes it or not, there is a moral component to many of our laws. Hence government is involved in affecting the habits, values and sensibilities of the citizenry.

For example, the 1996 welfare reform bill is perhaps the most successful piece of social legislation in generations. At the heart of the law was a moral, not an economic, argument: welfare is creating dependency, which is enervating character, which in turn is harming individuals and society. The goal with welfare reform was not to save money; it was to foster self-reliance and dignity. That was the state taking upon itself the task of creating better people, and having some success at it.

That doesn’t mean that the state is always, or even often, successful in this undertaking. But that’s an argument for modesty of expectations and to get the policies right; it’s not an argument against the role government inevitably plays in shaping conduct and character. As Will argues in his book, we frequently “legislate morality” in ways that influences actions, dispositions, and values. That’s been the case, to one degree or another, with desegregation, drug use, smoking, incarceration, sexual assault, abortion, adoption, movie and video-game ratings, marriage and family structure, child support payments, child tax credits, and charitable deductions, to name just a few.

The law is one way society sends a signal as to what it deems to be appropriate and lawful v. what is inappropriate and unlawful. To illustrate the point: My wife and I are the most important influences on our children when it comes to the matter of drug use. Their friends matter a lot, too. But so does the law. It helps to be able to say that drug use is wrong and harmful—and that’s why they are illegal. The law reinforces (or not) a moral message. As the great political scientist James Q. Wilson put it in COMMENTARY, “If we believe—as I do—that dependency on certain mind-altering drugs is a moral issue and that their illegality rests in part on their immorality, then legalizing them undercuts, if it does not eliminate altogether, the moral message.”

George Will, during the question-and-answer period of the speech I cited, suggests that a large welfare state has a crowding out effect that may diminish charitable giving, since citizens assume the state will take care of the most vulnerable members of the human community. (We’ve seen that phenomenon in Europe.)

This doesn’t mean laws are more important than parents and relatives and friends. It doesn’t mean laws have a greater shaping influence on the character of the young than churches and synagogues, than teachers and coaches, than the Boy Scouts and Bible Studies. What it does mean is that the state acts in ways that shape behaviors and attitudes that make us somewhat better or somewhat worse people. I’d rather we act in ways that make us somewhat better.

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Jonah Goldberg and Rob Long and I…

….talk for a long time on this Ricochet podcast about Tina Brown and Niall Ferguson and Todd Akin and focus groups and the professional composition of Congress, not to mention Game of Thrones, demographics, and all manner of other nonsense. Plus a preview of the next “Enter Laughing” in the September issue. Jonah and Rob are both COMMENTARY contributors whose work I have edited, but judging from how I go on here, I’m the one in need of editing—verbal editing. Even so, perhaps you will enjoy it. This is scheduled to be a monthly endeavor, and the podcast needs a name, so feel free to suggest one in the Comments. If you win, you will find yourself garlanded on the next podcast.

….talk for a long time on this Ricochet podcast about Tina Brown and Niall Ferguson and Todd Akin and focus groups and the professional composition of Congress, not to mention Game of Thrones, demographics, and all manner of other nonsense. Plus a preview of the next “Enter Laughing” in the September issue. Jonah and Rob are both COMMENTARY contributors whose work I have edited, but judging from how I go on here, I’m the one in need of editing—verbal editing. Even so, perhaps you will enjoy it. This is scheduled to be a monthly endeavor, and the podcast needs a name, so feel free to suggest one in the Comments. If you win, you will find yourself garlanded on the next podcast.

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Paul Ryan and the Role of “Ideology”

One year in college, I had a roommate who liked to talk about the implications of the idea of the “multiverse”—the existence of multiple universes—and the often accompanying theory of trans-world identity, which holds that probability suggests that these different universes likely contain identical objects. My roommate would explain that there was probably another planet out there with identical people in it, but they could be expected to react to the same events and stimuli in ways wholly different from us—a sort of bizarro Earth.

I couldn’t help thinking of that roommate’s expositions when I read the New York Times’s explanation of why Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate and how that changes the election. The Times writes:

In the midst of an election in which few voters have not already taken sides, he is now running a campaign more focused on energizing an anti-Obama coalition than on trying to expand the universe of Romney voters with an argument that he is the most qualified economic steward….

Persuasion, especially on the Republican side, has given way to partisan stimulation. A sharp focus on the economy is giving way to ideology and personality.

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One year in college, I had a roommate who liked to talk about the implications of the idea of the “multiverse”—the existence of multiple universes—and the often accompanying theory of trans-world identity, which holds that probability suggests that these different universes likely contain identical objects. My roommate would explain that there was probably another planet out there with identical people in it, but they could be expected to react to the same events and stimuli in ways wholly different from us—a sort of bizarro Earth.

I couldn’t help thinking of that roommate’s expositions when I read the New York Times’s explanation of why Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate and how that changes the election. The Times writes:

In the midst of an election in which few voters have not already taken sides, he is now running a campaign more focused on energizing an anti-Obama coalition than on trying to expand the universe of Romney voters with an argument that he is the most qualified economic steward….

Persuasion, especially on the Republican side, has given way to partisan stimulation. A sharp focus on the economy is giving way to ideology and personality.

Ryan is just about the most knowledgeable and charismatic advocate for his party’s policy proposals, and persuading the undecided voters—not, as the Times has it, the base–tops the list of his priorities. The base doesn’t need to be persuaded to vote against President Obama, and the base doesn’t need to be persuaded of the importance of reducing the federal debt, easing the tax burden on small businesses, or reforming entitlements.

I think the key to understanding the Times’s analysis, though, is the use of the word “ideology.” It’s deployed here because Ryan is a conservative. It might be a better label for the GOP ticket if Ryan hadn’t been selected as Romney’s running mate, however, because in such a case it would have been more likely that the campaign would have relied on sloganeering more than concrete policy proposals. But Ryan authored a budget, and that budget passed the House of Representatives. By choosing Ryan, Romney has made the race less about vague ideological principles and more about putting solutions in writing. You can call those solutions “conservative” if you want, but once you put legislation out there, its ideological genesis becomes more abstract and less relevant.

In Jonah Goldberg’s latest book, The Tyranny of Clichés, ideology is the first such cliché dealt with. Goldberg begins the first chapter with a quote from then-president-elect Obama before his inauguration, in which Obama called for “a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives—from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry.” It’s a telling categorization, Goldberg notes, to include ideology with other clearly negative traits.

Obama does this, Goldberg points out, because he doesn’t associate himself with ideology—a common leftist pretension. According to the left, conservatives are the dogmatic ones, while liberals just follow what works. The fact that the liberal experiment in governing is failing spectacularly all around us, and that Paul Ryan has dedicated his career and now this campaign to enacting specific plans to fix those failures, has left some political reporters at a loss for how to describe this campaign in a way that flatters not just President Obama but their own liberal self-regard.

It turns out that’s a pretty tall order. Somewhere in the multiverse, the president stood above cheap insults and partisan closed-mindedness and the Republicans nominated a flamethrowing ideologue. And the New York Times coverage got it exactly right.

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CNN’s Failing Biased Business Model

The news that CNN’s ratings are at a ten-year low should come as no surprise to viewers of the cable news channel. The consensus is the downward spiral of the network’s viewership is due to the fact that it is caught in the middle between two supposedly hyper-partisan competitors — Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left — with the result that their brand of nonpartisan news is being marginalized.

But this interpretation of events is not only incorrect, it misses the point about why audiences aren’t thrilled by CNN. When given a choice between channels that don’t pretend to be totally even-handed like Fox and MSNBC and one that is masquerading as above such things, most will inevitably choose the former over the latter. Contrary to the self-serving excuse that CNN’s professionalism doesn’t sell as well as the partisanship exhibited on Fox and MSNBC, the viewers aren’t being fooled. They know that most of the hosts on CNN tilt sharply to the left and are put off by the pretense of objectivity.

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The news that CNN’s ratings are at a ten-year low should come as no surprise to viewers of the cable news channel. The consensus is the downward spiral of the network’s viewership is due to the fact that it is caught in the middle between two supposedly hyper-partisan competitors — Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left — with the result that their brand of nonpartisan news is being marginalized.

But this interpretation of events is not only incorrect, it misses the point about why audiences aren’t thrilled by CNN. When given a choice between channels that don’t pretend to be totally even-handed like Fox and MSNBC and one that is masquerading as above such things, most will inevitably choose the former over the latter. Contrary to the self-serving excuse that CNN’s professionalism doesn’t sell as well as the partisanship exhibited on Fox and MSNBC, the viewers aren’t being fooled. They know that most of the hosts on CNN tilt sharply to the left and are put off by the pretense of objectivity.

Just as is the case with Fox, much of the straight news coverage on CNN is pretty fair. It should also be specified that their primary night coverage throughout the Republican nomination race led by Wolf Blitzer was actually superior to what was broadcast on Fox.

But does anyone really think that most of CNN’s on-air hosts are any less biased than those on Fox or lean to the left any less than their competitors on MSNBC? Two recent examples, Piers Morgan’s ambush of Jonah Goldberg and Soledad O’Brien’s illiterate riff on race theory during what turned into a debate with Breitbart.com’s Joel Pollak, illustrate the network’s liberal bias.

In both cases, the interviewers didn’t just challenge conservative guests, they debated them and did their best to shut out and denigrate views they disliked. Morgan didn’t even want to talk about Goldberg’s book, let alone allow the author to explain his thesis. O’Brien pretended to act as an authority on something she clearly didn’t understand in order to defend President Obama and one of his radical mentors. We expect that sort of thing from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews or from a Bill O’Reilly on the right at Fox, but it gives the lie to CNN’s much-hyped stance of nonpartisanship.

If CNN wants to broadcast liberal shows, that’s their right. But what viewers don’t like is the same thing they despise elsewhere in the mainstream media: partisans pretending to be objective. The genius of Fox was that it gave people fed up with liberal bias being passed off as even-handed coverage a place to go to get an alternative. MSNBC profits from being a channel where liberals can go to get left-wing punditry without the gloss of faux objectivity. As Dylan Byers writes at Politico, it isn’t just that its harder for viewers to feel an affinity for someone in the middle of the road; it’s that personalities who act as if they are something different from what they obviously are inspire animus, not viewer loyalty.

 

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Comparing the Obama and Palin Speeches

The ridiculous media reaction to the speeches made by President Obama and Sarah Palin yesterday is just a glimpse of the type of coverage we’ll see if Palin becomes the Republican nominee for 2012. Today’s theme is obviously that Obama is a post-partisan unifier/masterful orator and Palin is a divisive megalomaniac. And so far, the message has been quite extensive in its reach.

Politico picked it up this morning in a headline story. “At sunrise in the East on Wednesday, Sarah Palin demonstrated that she has little interest — or capacity — in moving beyond her brand of grievance-based politics,” wrote Jonathan Martin. “And at sundown in the West, Barack Obama reminded even his critics of his ability to rally disparate Americans around a message of reconciliation.”

The New York Times and the Washington Post also piled on. “Obama has proven to be a polarizing figure in office, but on Wednesday he sought to unify,” wrote the Post’s Dan Balz. “Palin ended up dividing. On a day of scripted messages, presumably carefully considered, Obama made the most of his. Palin did not.”

And then the “tone” — which seems to be the word of the week — of the criticism disintegrated quickly from there.

“What America has witnessed in the last 24 hours is a president of the United States who acted like a president of the United States, a Speaker of the House who acted like a Speaker of the House — and Sarah Palin, a pretender to the presidency who acted like a divisive, selfish, small-minded self-promoter,” wrote Brent Budowsky at the Hill.

Radio host Bill Press, in a column that could have been excellent satire if it wasn’t written in earnest, wrote that Obama’s speech “was one of the most powerful speeches I’ve heard any president give. Like the Gettysburg Address in its lasting message.”

“What a contrast with the sickening, self-serving video released the same day by the dropout governor of Alaska,” Press continued. “In his remarks, President Obama expressed the hope that some good will come out of the tragedy in Tucson. If we’re lucky, one good thing will be the end of the already-too-long political career of Sarah Palin. She can make plenty of money at Fox News. That’s where she belongs, not with the rest of America.”

So Sarah Palin’s “divisive” speech was so sickening that she (and Fox News) shouldn’t be allowed to belong with the rest of America. Got it. Read More

The ridiculous media reaction to the speeches made by President Obama and Sarah Palin yesterday is just a glimpse of the type of coverage we’ll see if Palin becomes the Republican nominee for 2012. Today’s theme is obviously that Obama is a post-partisan unifier/masterful orator and Palin is a divisive megalomaniac. And so far, the message has been quite extensive in its reach.

Politico picked it up this morning in a headline story. “At sunrise in the East on Wednesday, Sarah Palin demonstrated that she has little interest — or capacity — in moving beyond her brand of grievance-based politics,” wrote Jonathan Martin. “And at sundown in the West, Barack Obama reminded even his critics of his ability to rally disparate Americans around a message of reconciliation.”

The New York Times and the Washington Post also piled on. “Obama has proven to be a polarizing figure in office, but on Wednesday he sought to unify,” wrote the Post’s Dan Balz. “Palin ended up dividing. On a day of scripted messages, presumably carefully considered, Obama made the most of his. Palin did not.”

And then the “tone” — which seems to be the word of the week — of the criticism disintegrated quickly from there.

“What America has witnessed in the last 24 hours is a president of the United States who acted like a president of the United States, a Speaker of the House who acted like a Speaker of the House — and Sarah Palin, a pretender to the presidency who acted like a divisive, selfish, small-minded self-promoter,” wrote Brent Budowsky at the Hill.

Radio host Bill Press, in a column that could have been excellent satire if it wasn’t written in earnest, wrote that Obama’s speech “was one of the most powerful speeches I’ve heard any president give. Like the Gettysburg Address in its lasting message.”

“What a contrast with the sickening, self-serving video released the same day by the dropout governor of Alaska,” Press continued. “In his remarks, President Obama expressed the hope that some good will come out of the tragedy in Tucson. If we’re lucky, one good thing will be the end of the already-too-long political career of Sarah Palin. She can make plenty of money at Fox News. That’s where she belongs, not with the rest of America.”

So Sarah Palin’s “divisive” speech was so sickening that she (and Fox News) shouldn’t be allowed to belong with the rest of America. Got it.

But back to the more substantive articles. While I wouldn’t go so far as to compare Obama’s speech with the Gettysburg Address, it deserves all the praise that it’s gotten from the media. It was emotional, inspiring, and comforting. In sum, it was everything a presidential speech should be in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

Palin’s speech, in comparison, didn’t seem as presidential. And so what? She’s not the president — and moreover, she wasn’t speaking at a memorial service — so there was no reason why she should have pretended otherwise.

Abe has already pointed to Jonah Goldberg’s post at the Corner; Goldberg also makes an apt point about Palin’s lack of a presidential demeanor:

I think the president was more presidential in no small part because he is the president. Palin’s video statement was something else because she is not the president. And the criticism that she should have turned the other cheek and not defended herself at all strikes me as beyond absurd. The woman was being accused of being a willful co-conspirator in murder. It is just unfair and flatly dishonest to expect her not to address that.

I second his other point as well. It’s particularly sleazy for the media to level false charges at Palin and then scold her for having the nerve to defend herself. Moreover, she barely even made any references to the criticisms leveled at her. The address struck me as more of a defense of free speech in general, something that is much more important to a democratic society than the protection of civil “tone.”

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Morning Commentary

On a trip to China this weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the country’s military capabilities are more advanced than previously thought: “China’s investment in new ballistic missiles designed to destroy naval vessels, as well as its pursuit of a stealth fighter, has raised concern in the Pentagon that China’s military is seeking the capability to destroy U.S. warships and aircraft operating off China’s coast.”

Former classmates of Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, paint a picture of a very disturbed individual who was disruptive in class, posted nonsensical and rambling messages online, and was obsessed with trying to manipulate his own dreams: “Loughner’s online accounts contain some political comments but are dominated by bizarre discussions of his desire to establish a new currency and his disdain for what he considered the public’s low literacy rates. He also wrote threatening and despairing messages.”

From what little we know about the alleged shooter, it doesn’t appear that the motive was political, Ben Smith writes: “Jared Lee Loughner’s YouTube and MySpace pages don’t offer much evidence that he was drinking from the main streams of American politics. The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.”

And if left-wingers want to blame Sarah Palin’s supposed “heated rhetoric” for the Arizona shooting, then they should blame journalists as well, writes Howard Kurtz: “Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?”

Fanatics may have silenced Salmaan Taseer, but his assassination was not the death knell for Pakistani liberalism, writes his son Shehrbano Taseer in the New York Times: “It may sound odd, but I can’t imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihoods to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country’s potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honor his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.”

Who are the real hijackers of Islam — the radicals or the moderates? Jonah Goldberg writes that Taseer’s assassination makes it abundantly clear that extremists, not peaceful Muslims, make up the majority of the Islamic world: “For years we’ve been hearing about how the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists. What if it’s the other way around? Worse, what if the peaceful hijackers are losing their bid to take over the religion? That certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan.”

On a trip to China this weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the country’s military capabilities are more advanced than previously thought: “China’s investment in new ballistic missiles designed to destroy naval vessels, as well as its pursuit of a stealth fighter, has raised concern in the Pentagon that China’s military is seeking the capability to destroy U.S. warships and aircraft operating off China’s coast.”

Former classmates of Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, paint a picture of a very disturbed individual who was disruptive in class, posted nonsensical and rambling messages online, and was obsessed with trying to manipulate his own dreams: “Loughner’s online accounts contain some political comments but are dominated by bizarre discussions of his desire to establish a new currency and his disdain for what he considered the public’s low literacy rates. He also wrote threatening and despairing messages.”

From what little we know about the alleged shooter, it doesn’t appear that the motive was political, Ben Smith writes: “Jared Lee Loughner’s YouTube and MySpace pages don’t offer much evidence that he was drinking from the main streams of American politics. The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.”

And if left-wingers want to blame Sarah Palin’s supposed “heated rhetoric” for the Arizona shooting, then they should blame journalists as well, writes Howard Kurtz: “Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?”

Fanatics may have silenced Salmaan Taseer, but his assassination was not the death knell for Pakistani liberalism, writes his son Shehrbano Taseer in the New York Times: “It may sound odd, but I can’t imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihoods to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country’s potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honor his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.”

Who are the real hijackers of Islam — the radicals or the moderates? Jonah Goldberg writes that Taseer’s assassination makes it abundantly clear that extremists, not peaceful Muslims, make up the majority of the Islamic world: “For years we’ve been hearing about how the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists. What if it’s the other way around? Worse, what if the peaceful hijackers are losing their bid to take over the religion? That certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan.”

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Why the Constitution — and What It Means — Matters

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter. Read More

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter.

For many modern-day liberals, the Constitution is, at best, a piece of quaint, even irrelevant, parchment. As Jonah Goldberg reminds us in his excellent column:

“Are you serious?” was Nancy Pelosi’s response to a question over the constitutionality of health care reform. Third-ranking House Democrat Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina famously declared that “there’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do.” Rep. Phil Hare of Illinois, before he was defeated by a Tea Party–backed candidate, told a town hall meeting, “I don’t worry about the Constitution” on health care reform.

At the core of the differences between contemporary liberals and conservatives, then, is the power of the federal government in our lives. The Constitution was designed as a check on the power of government, done in order to protect individual liberties. The Founders designed a federal government with limited, delegated, and enumerated powers, a theory of government that conservatives embrace and consider paradigmatic. (How that theory works itself out in practice is, of course, not always clear.)

The progressive/liberal disposition, on the other hand, believes that this view of the Constitution is obsolete and unwise; it is constantly, even relentlessly, looking for ways to increase the powers of the federal government (witness the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010). In order to achieve this, the Constitution needs to be ignored or, better yet, re-invented as a Living Constitution, constantly evolving, morphing from age to age, interpreted in light of the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

But as Justice Antonin Scalia has written, “Perhaps the most glaring defect of Living Constitutionalism, next to its incompatibility with the whole antievolutionary purpose of a constitution, is that there is no agreement, and no chance of agreement, upon what is to be the guiding principle of the evolution. Panta rei [“all things are in flux”] is not a sufficiently informative principle of constitutional interpretation.”

When determining when and in what direction the evolution should occur, Scalia asks:

Is it the will of the majority, discerned from newspapers, radio talk shows, public opinion polls, and chats at the country club? Is it the philosophy of Hume, or of John Rawls, or of John Stuart Mill, or of Aristotle? As soon as the discussion goes beyond the issue of whether the Constitution is static, the evolutionists divide into as many camps as there are individual views of the good, the true, and the beautiful. I think that is inevitably so, which means that evolutionism is simply not a practicable constitutional philosophy.

For those on the left, the answer to Scalia’s question is: The Constitution means whatever we say it means. And in order for this subjective, ad hoc interpretation to prevail, the left must control the levers of political and judicial power.

There is an effort today to reassert the primacy of the traditional, rather than the Living, Constitution. Liberals understand this, which explains why they are reacting in the manner they are.

The controversy about members of the 112th Congress reading the Constitution is not really about that; it is about something much deeper and more significant. It has to do with how we understand and interpret our charter of government, the product of what John Adams called “the greatest single effort of national deliberations that the world has ever seen.” I suspect that this debate, which conservatives should welcome, will only intensify.

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Morning Commentary

The Iraqi parliament finally approves a diverse new unity government, ending nine months of political stalemate and concern for the fledgling democracy: “Although Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds were represented in the previous government, this is the first time that all the major factions have been included, lending hope that Iraq can put behind it the bitter sectarian struggles and divisive politics of the past five years.”

More than nine Senate Republicans are expected to support New START when it’s brought up for ratification today, which is enough to approve the treaty. So what’s the GOP getting in return for its support? According to the Washington Times, Sen. Jon Kyl’s negotiations with President Obama have secured $85 billion to modernize and maintain our nuclear arsenal, as well as a commitment to build robust missile defenses.

In the New York Post, Jonah Goldberg analyzes the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates.

In USA Today, Sarah Palin discusses the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran: “Some have said the Israelis should undertake military action on their own if they are convinced the Iranian program is approaching the point of no return. But Iran’s nuclear weapons program is not just Israel’s problem; it is the world’s problem. I agree with the former British prime minister Tony Blair, who said recently that the West must be willing to use force ‘if necessary’ if that is the only alternative.”

Is Michele Bachmann considering a presidential run? Her $31,000 in contributions to Iowa candidates over the past year has some bloggers asking that question. Iowa’s campaign-finance report shows that Sarah Palin gave only $15,000 during the same time period.

Has it really come to this? Robert Gibbs is now seeking political help from Jon Stewart.

Ron Radosh sees similarities between Hugo Chavez’s recent power grab and the rise of Nazi power: “By passing the Enabling Act — the same term used by Chavez today — Hitler sought to abolish democracy by formally democratic means. … By banning opposition Communist delegates who had all been arrested, and preventing Social-Democrats from taking seats to which they were elected after the Reichstag fire, the Nazis now had the necessary votes to pass the Act. Clearly, Hugo Chavez must have studied Hitler’s tactics before commencing upon a similar road.”

The Iraqi parliament finally approves a diverse new unity government, ending nine months of political stalemate and concern for the fledgling democracy: “Although Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds were represented in the previous government, this is the first time that all the major factions have been included, lending hope that Iraq can put behind it the bitter sectarian struggles and divisive politics of the past five years.”

More than nine Senate Republicans are expected to support New START when it’s brought up for ratification today, which is enough to approve the treaty. So what’s the GOP getting in return for its support? According to the Washington Times, Sen. Jon Kyl’s negotiations with President Obama have secured $85 billion to modernize and maintain our nuclear arsenal, as well as a commitment to build robust missile defenses.

In the New York Post, Jonah Goldberg analyzes the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates.

In USA Today, Sarah Palin discusses the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran: “Some have said the Israelis should undertake military action on their own if they are convinced the Iranian program is approaching the point of no return. But Iran’s nuclear weapons program is not just Israel’s problem; it is the world’s problem. I agree with the former British prime minister Tony Blair, who said recently that the West must be willing to use force ‘if necessary’ if that is the only alternative.”

Is Michele Bachmann considering a presidential run? Her $31,000 in contributions to Iowa candidates over the past year has some bloggers asking that question. Iowa’s campaign-finance report shows that Sarah Palin gave only $15,000 during the same time period.

Has it really come to this? Robert Gibbs is now seeking political help from Jon Stewart.

Ron Radosh sees similarities between Hugo Chavez’s recent power grab and the rise of Nazi power: “By passing the Enabling Act — the same term used by Chavez today — Hitler sought to abolish democracy by formally democratic means. … By banning opposition Communist delegates who had all been arrested, and preventing Social-Democrats from taking seats to which they were elected after the Reichstag fire, the Nazis now had the necessary votes to pass the Act. Clearly, Hugo Chavez must have studied Hitler’s tactics before commencing upon a similar road.”

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Morning Commentary

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

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Obama from the Oval Office

First, a visual observation: he looked scrawny and ill-at-ease at the large, empty desk. There were no funny hand gestures this time, as there was for the Oil Spill address. This speech did have some good moments, which I will start with.

First, he clearly debunked the notion that we are bugging out of Iraq:

Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraq’s Security Forces; supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our civilians. Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year. As our military draws down, our dedicated civilians — diplomats, aid workers, and advisors — are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world. And that is a message that Vice President Biden is delivering to the Iraqi people through his visit there today.

This new approach reflects our long-term partnership with Iraq — one based upon mutual interests, and mutual respect. Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission. Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife. But ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals. Iraqis are a proud people. They have rejected sectarian war, and they have no interest in endless destruction. They understand that, in the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets. Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders. What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.

And he put forth a positive statement on the Afghanistan war:

As we speak, al Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense. In fact, over the last 19 months, nearly a dozen al Qaeda leaders –and hundreds of Al Qaeda’s extremist allies–have been killed or captured around the world.

Within Afghanistan, I have ordered the deployment of additional troops who — under the command of General David Petraeus — are fighting to break the Taliban’s momentum. As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future.

But those comments were, regrettably, far outweighed by a number of unhelpful, ungracious, and downright inaccurate moments.

First, in his recap and praise of George W. Bush’s administration, he never explained how it was that we succeeded in Iraq. It was of course that same surge that we are now using in Afghanistan. He said this about Bush:

This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq’s future.

But Mr. President, Bush was not just a great guy — he was right. It was one more instance of the lack of introspection and grace that has characterized Obama’s entire presidency.

Next, he reiterated the Afghanistan deadline, trying to fuzz it up rather than revoke it:

[A]s was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin — because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.

You see, Obama’s not into open-ended commitment. This is the same counterproductive claptrap that has been roundly criticized and that reveals him to be fundamentally disinterested in foreign policy. It is also why both friends and enemies doubt our staying power.

But most of all, the bulk of the speech had nothing to do with either Iraq or Afghanistan — it was a pep talk for his domestic agenda. This cements the sense that he simply wants out of messy foreign commitments. He also repeated a number of domestic policy canards. This was among the worst, blaming our debt on wars rather than on domestic fiscal gluttony: “We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform.”

He is arguing for more spending.

Obama is still candidate Obama, never tiring of reminding us that he kept his campaign pledge and ever eager to push aside foreign policy challenges so he can get on with the business of remaking America. All in all, it was what we were promised it would not be — self-serving, disingenuous, ungracious, and unreassuring.

UPDATE: COMMENTARY contributor Jonah Goldberg’s smart take is here.

UPDATE II: Charles Krauthammer’s reaction is here.

First, a visual observation: he looked scrawny and ill-at-ease at the large, empty desk. There were no funny hand gestures this time, as there was for the Oil Spill address. This speech did have some good moments, which I will start with.

First, he clearly debunked the notion that we are bugging out of Iraq:

Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraq’s Security Forces; supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our civilians. Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year. As our military draws down, our dedicated civilians — diplomats, aid workers, and advisors — are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world. And that is a message that Vice President Biden is delivering to the Iraqi people through his visit there today.

This new approach reflects our long-term partnership with Iraq — one based upon mutual interests, and mutual respect. Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission. Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife. But ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals. Iraqis are a proud people. They have rejected sectarian war, and they have no interest in endless destruction. They understand that, in the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets. Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders. What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.

And he put forth a positive statement on the Afghanistan war:

As we speak, al Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense. In fact, over the last 19 months, nearly a dozen al Qaeda leaders –and hundreds of Al Qaeda’s extremist allies–have been killed or captured around the world.

Within Afghanistan, I have ordered the deployment of additional troops who — under the command of General David Petraeus — are fighting to break the Taliban’s momentum. As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future.

But those comments were, regrettably, far outweighed by a number of unhelpful, ungracious, and downright inaccurate moments.

First, in his recap and praise of George W. Bush’s administration, he never explained how it was that we succeeded in Iraq. It was of course that same surge that we are now using in Afghanistan. He said this about Bush:

This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq’s future.

But Mr. President, Bush was not just a great guy — he was right. It was one more instance of the lack of introspection and grace that has characterized Obama’s entire presidency.

Next, he reiterated the Afghanistan deadline, trying to fuzz it up rather than revoke it:

[A]s was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin — because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.

You see, Obama’s not into open-ended commitment. This is the same counterproductive claptrap that has been roundly criticized and that reveals him to be fundamentally disinterested in foreign policy. It is also why both friends and enemies doubt our staying power.

But most of all, the bulk of the speech had nothing to do with either Iraq or Afghanistan — it was a pep talk for his domestic agenda. This cements the sense that he simply wants out of messy foreign commitments. He also repeated a number of domestic policy canards. This was among the worst, blaming our debt on wars rather than on domestic fiscal gluttony: “We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform.”

He is arguing for more spending.

Obama is still candidate Obama, never tiring of reminding us that he kept his campaign pledge and ever eager to push aside foreign policy challenges so he can get on with the business of remaking America. All in all, it was what we were promised it would not be — self-serving, disingenuous, ungracious, and unreassuring.

UPDATE: COMMENTARY contributor Jonah Goldberg’s smart take is here.

UPDATE II: Charles Krauthammer’s reaction is here.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

But they are supposed to go into harm’s way for their country: the Navy takes away the lard and water hoses from a 60-year tradition in which plebes climb a greased 21-foot monument. Why? They might get hurt. A former Naval Academy graduate chimes in: “We’re going to send these guys to war but they can’t climb a monument because they might get hurt? Come on.” Next thing you know, they’ll be allowing proper names in Scrabble.

But don’t we have a First Amendment or something? “Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accused the president of being in the pocket of Big Oil, a charge usually leveled by Democrats at the GOP. ‘You’ve got to have a license to drive a car in this country, but, regrettably, you can get on a TV show and say virtually anything,’ White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.” Gosh, if we only licensed talking heads.

But he’s a “genius”! “Millions of Americans are out of work, the budget deficit is in the trillions and Europe is flirting with economic collapse. Fear not, says Larry Summers, the chief economic adviser to President Obama. It is merely a ‘fluctuation.'” His long-winded gobbledygook about moving from the G-7 to the G-20 “was vintage Summers: smart, esoteric — and utterly unhelpful.”

But isn’t it like allowing Keith Olbermann to review a George W. Bush biography? The Washington Post has David Frum (who’s carved out a niche in Limbaugh-bashing for the mainstream media) review the latest biography of Rush Limbaugh. Surprise, surprise, he concludes: “It might seem ominous for an intellectual movement to be led by a man who does not think creatively, who does not respect the other side of the argument and who frequently says things that are not intended as truth.”

But you didn’t really buy all that “transparency” jazz did you? “The Justice Department has rejected a Republican request to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations that the White House offered a job to Rep. Joe Sestak if he would drop out of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic primary. … In the letter to [Rep. Darrell] Issa, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote that the DOJ could handle the allegations without creating a special counsel. But Weich gave no indication that the department was looking into the Sestak matter.”

But if David Axelrod is right about there being “no evidence” of a deal, then Sestak is lying. Mark Hemingway: “There’s no good outcome here for the White House. Either the White House did something illegal here or their party’s Senate candidate in Pennsylvania is a delusional fabulist. But regardless, their prolonged foot-dragging here only appears to be making things worse.”

But the White House said, “Trust us”: “The number two Democrat in the Senate, who has close ties to the White House, is urging Rep. Joe Sestak to come clean. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN Tuesday that the Pennsylvania Democrat should fully explain whether Obama administration officials pressed him to drop his Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter in exchange for a job.”

But Democrats insisted we needed a humungous new uber-department! James Carafano on the BP response: “Explain to me why nine years after 9/11 we struggle with disasters. Well, the answer is easy. Homeland Security wastes its time on routine disaster; the secretary worries more about how to grant amnesty to illegals than battling terrorists and preparing for catastrophes. Congress dumps money in wasteful programs and uses 108 committees, sub-committees, and commissions to provide chaotic and incoherent oversight to the department.”

But (as a sharp colleague suggested) couldn’t we work out a deal where Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul both exit their races? Jonah Goldberg sums up why conservatives should carry no water for Paul: “[I]t’s certainly repugnant and bizarre for libertarians like Paul to lament the lost rights of bigots rather than to rejoice at the restored rights of integrationists.” (By the way, would Paul commend Obama for doing nothing at all about the BP spill?)

But they are supposed to go into harm’s way for their country: the Navy takes away the lard and water hoses from a 60-year tradition in which plebes climb a greased 21-foot monument. Why? They might get hurt. A former Naval Academy graduate chimes in: “We’re going to send these guys to war but they can’t climb a monument because they might get hurt? Come on.” Next thing you know, they’ll be allowing proper names in Scrabble.

But don’t we have a First Amendment or something? “Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accused the president of being in the pocket of Big Oil, a charge usually leveled by Democrats at the GOP. ‘You’ve got to have a license to drive a car in this country, but, regrettably, you can get on a TV show and say virtually anything,’ White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.” Gosh, if we only licensed talking heads.

But he’s a “genius”! “Millions of Americans are out of work, the budget deficit is in the trillions and Europe is flirting with economic collapse. Fear not, says Larry Summers, the chief economic adviser to President Obama. It is merely a ‘fluctuation.'” His long-winded gobbledygook about moving from the G-7 to the G-20 “was vintage Summers: smart, esoteric — and utterly unhelpful.”

But isn’t it like allowing Keith Olbermann to review a George W. Bush biography? The Washington Post has David Frum (who’s carved out a niche in Limbaugh-bashing for the mainstream media) review the latest biography of Rush Limbaugh. Surprise, surprise, he concludes: “It might seem ominous for an intellectual movement to be led by a man who does not think creatively, who does not respect the other side of the argument and who frequently says things that are not intended as truth.”

But you didn’t really buy all that “transparency” jazz did you? “The Justice Department has rejected a Republican request to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations that the White House offered a job to Rep. Joe Sestak if he would drop out of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic primary. … In the letter to [Rep. Darrell] Issa, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote that the DOJ could handle the allegations without creating a special counsel. But Weich gave no indication that the department was looking into the Sestak matter.”

But if David Axelrod is right about there being “no evidence” of a deal, then Sestak is lying. Mark Hemingway: “There’s no good outcome here for the White House. Either the White House did something illegal here or their party’s Senate candidate in Pennsylvania is a delusional fabulist. But regardless, their prolonged foot-dragging here only appears to be making things worse.”

But the White House said, “Trust us”: “The number two Democrat in the Senate, who has close ties to the White House, is urging Rep. Joe Sestak to come clean. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN Tuesday that the Pennsylvania Democrat should fully explain whether Obama administration officials pressed him to drop his Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter in exchange for a job.”

But Democrats insisted we needed a humungous new uber-department! James Carafano on the BP response: “Explain to me why nine years after 9/11 we struggle with disasters. Well, the answer is easy. Homeland Security wastes its time on routine disaster; the secretary worries more about how to grant amnesty to illegals than battling terrorists and preparing for catastrophes. Congress dumps money in wasteful programs and uses 108 committees, sub-committees, and commissions to provide chaotic and incoherent oversight to the department.”

But (as a sharp colleague suggested) couldn’t we work out a deal where Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul both exit their races? Jonah Goldberg sums up why conservatives should carry no water for Paul: “[I]t’s certainly repugnant and bizarre for libertarians like Paul to lament the lost rights of bigots rather than to rejoice at the restored rights of integrationists.” (By the way, would Paul commend Obama for doing nothing at all about the BP spill?)

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Sen. Mitch McConnell sounds the theme for Republicans in 2010: “Every single Democrat in the Senate provided the one vote that passed this 2,700-page monstrosity. It cuts Medicare by half a trillion dollars, raises taxes by half a trillion dollars, and instead of curbing the rate of increase of insurance premiums, most Americans’ insurance premiums are going to go up. This bill is a colossal failure, and that’s why the American people were literally screaming at us, you know, please, don’t pass this bill.”

Even the New York Times figured it out: a lot of Blue State senators blew it in the health-care bill by agreeing to help fund other states’ Medicaid obligations and doing little or nothing for their own states. Perhaps if they hadn’t been in such a mad rush, the Democrats wouldn’t have missed an issue worth billions to their states.

The White House, according to A.P.’s Jennifer Loven, is worried about “getting ahead of the criticism” on the handling of our terrorist watch lists. (By the way, it seems that the “Free Mara!” campaign has plowed new ground, opening up Fox New Sunday to the A.P.’s White House reporter.) One senses that the Obami only perk up about the nature of the international threats we face after the fact, when the political fall-out mounts. And Bill Kristol points out that we are treating the bomber as a “one-off, law enforcement case.”

It is reapportionment time: “The Constitution requires, every decade, the redistribution of congressional districts to account for changes in the country’s population. The projections offer some long-term encouragement for Republicans. President Barack Obama won nine of the 10 states slated to lose seats, and Democrats hold congressional delegation majorities in all but one (Louisiana).”

Jonah Goldberg on the ever-hapless Secretary of Homeland Security: “I watched her on three shows and each time she was more annoying, maddening and absurd than the previous appearance. It is her basic position that the ‘system worked’ because the bureaucrats responded properly after the attack. That the attack was ‘foiled’ by a bad detonator and some civilian passengers is proof, she claims, that her agency is doing everything right. That is just about the dumbest thing she could say, on the merits and politically.” If not for Eric Holder, she’d be the worst cabinet secretary — by far.

Rep. Peter King doesn’t think the system worked: “One thing is clear about the attempted terror attack on Christmas Day — we need answers. There is obviously going to be a full-scale congressional investigation into how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was allowed to board Flight 253 and head to the United States with plans to incinerate 300 innocent people. Mere hours after it happened, I was told that this man was known to our government, and that there was a classified file on him that said he definitely was involved in terrorist activity. The exact words the authorities used when they told me were ‘terrorist nexus.'”

Undoing himself in the sycophantic spinning department, Marc Ambinder praises Obama for golfing the day after the Christmas bombing. It’s all part of a strategery. . .  er. . .  strategy, he says.

From Maureen Dowd’s column: “In dismissing the tea parties and pushing through plans the American people obviously don’t want, they have made the fatal disconnect between the representatives and the represented.” Okay, she subcontracted her column to her conservative brother, who apparently is the savvy political analyst in the family.

Noemie Emery explains: “The Left, which invented first ‘hate speech’ (opinions they didn’t like) and then ‘hate crimes’ (crimes judged less on the criminal’s actions than on what he was presumed to be thinking), has now gone on to its epiphany, which is “hate” defined not by your words or deeds but by what other people have decided you really think. ‘Hate’ is no longer what you do or say, but what a liberal says that you think and projects on to you. You are punished for what someone else claims you were thinking. It hardly makes sense, but it does serve a political purpose. You could call it Secondhand Hate.” And it’s all the rage, so to speak, in the Obama era.

Sen. Mitch McConnell sounds the theme for Republicans in 2010: “Every single Democrat in the Senate provided the one vote that passed this 2,700-page monstrosity. It cuts Medicare by half a trillion dollars, raises taxes by half a trillion dollars, and instead of curbing the rate of increase of insurance premiums, most Americans’ insurance premiums are going to go up. This bill is a colossal failure, and that’s why the American people were literally screaming at us, you know, please, don’t pass this bill.”

Even the New York Times figured it out: a lot of Blue State senators blew it in the health-care bill by agreeing to help fund other states’ Medicaid obligations and doing little or nothing for their own states. Perhaps if they hadn’t been in such a mad rush, the Democrats wouldn’t have missed an issue worth billions to their states.

The White House, according to A.P.’s Jennifer Loven, is worried about “getting ahead of the criticism” on the handling of our terrorist watch lists. (By the way, it seems that the “Free Mara!” campaign has plowed new ground, opening up Fox New Sunday to the A.P.’s White House reporter.) One senses that the Obami only perk up about the nature of the international threats we face after the fact, when the political fall-out mounts. And Bill Kristol points out that we are treating the bomber as a “one-off, law enforcement case.”

It is reapportionment time: “The Constitution requires, every decade, the redistribution of congressional districts to account for changes in the country’s population. The projections offer some long-term encouragement for Republicans. President Barack Obama won nine of the 10 states slated to lose seats, and Democrats hold congressional delegation majorities in all but one (Louisiana).”

Jonah Goldberg on the ever-hapless Secretary of Homeland Security: “I watched her on three shows and each time she was more annoying, maddening and absurd than the previous appearance. It is her basic position that the ‘system worked’ because the bureaucrats responded properly after the attack. That the attack was ‘foiled’ by a bad detonator and some civilian passengers is proof, she claims, that her agency is doing everything right. That is just about the dumbest thing she could say, on the merits and politically.” If not for Eric Holder, she’d be the worst cabinet secretary — by far.

Rep. Peter King doesn’t think the system worked: “One thing is clear about the attempted terror attack on Christmas Day — we need answers. There is obviously going to be a full-scale congressional investigation into how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was allowed to board Flight 253 and head to the United States with plans to incinerate 300 innocent people. Mere hours after it happened, I was told that this man was known to our government, and that there was a classified file on him that said he definitely was involved in terrorist activity. The exact words the authorities used when they told me were ‘terrorist nexus.'”

Undoing himself in the sycophantic spinning department, Marc Ambinder praises Obama for golfing the day after the Christmas bombing. It’s all part of a strategery. . .  er. . .  strategy, he says.

From Maureen Dowd’s column: “In dismissing the tea parties and pushing through plans the American people obviously don’t want, they have made the fatal disconnect between the representatives and the represented.” Okay, she subcontracted her column to her conservative brother, who apparently is the savvy political analyst in the family.

Noemie Emery explains: “The Left, which invented first ‘hate speech’ (opinions they didn’t like) and then ‘hate crimes’ (crimes judged less on the criminal’s actions than on what he was presumed to be thinking), has now gone on to its epiphany, which is “hate” defined not by your words or deeds but by what other people have decided you really think. ‘Hate’ is no longer what you do or say, but what a liberal says that you think and projects on to you. You are punished for what someone else claims you were thinking. It hardly makes sense, but it does serve a political purpose. You could call it Secondhand Hate.” And it’s all the rage, so to speak, in the Obama era.

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Why She’s So Angry With Tim Russert

In light of a Drudge story that the Clinton campaign is trying to put the fear of G-d into Wolf Blitzer about not going after Hillary in Thursday night’s debate in the aggressive manner of Tim Russert at the debate two weeks ago, Jonah Goldberg asks: “Can someone please explain to me how asking the junior Senator from New York state whether she agrees with the governor of the state (and a close political ally) on the question of drivers’ licenses for illegals is even remotely wrong, never mind some sort of vicious, Nazi-like, personal assault on truth, decency, and Hillary Clinton’s integrity? I really, really, don’t get it.”

Here’s an answer: There is a history here. Tim Russert moderated the only debate in 2000 between Senate candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival, Rick Lazio. While most remember that debate because Lazio crossed the stage to hand a piece of paper to Mrs. Clinton and was upbraided, preposterously but effectively, for somehow “violating her personal space,” Hillary and her people were enraged at Russert for what they took to be an extraordinarily hostile approach to her.
Here was Russert, opening the debate in 2000:

Mrs. Clinton, you have no voting record as such. People, in order to determine how you will behave as a legislator, look to your principal policy initiative: health care. I want to ask you a couple questions about that.
In 1993-94 you proposed a health care bill that was very controversial in this state. The man that you want to replace, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, had this to say…: ‘The administration’s solution was rationing. Cut the number of doctors by a quarter, specialists by a half.” And he went on to say,`Teaching hospitals would be at risk. The finance committee passed a bill in `94 to provide financing for the medical schools and the teaching hospitals. The Clinton administration rejected the committee bill.’ Why did you propose cutting the number of doctors by 25 percent, the number of specialists by 50 percent?

A fair question, to be sure, but very tough and, in fact, asked with more than a soupçon of hostility. To say the Clintons were furious about this would be an understatement. And to say the Clintons have a long memory for things they consider slights would be the understatement of the century. One thing is for sure: Don’t expect Russert to be invited to a state dinner at Hillary Clinton’s White House.

In light of a Drudge story that the Clinton campaign is trying to put the fear of G-d into Wolf Blitzer about not going after Hillary in Thursday night’s debate in the aggressive manner of Tim Russert at the debate two weeks ago, Jonah Goldberg asks: “Can someone please explain to me how asking the junior Senator from New York state whether she agrees with the governor of the state (and a close political ally) on the question of drivers’ licenses for illegals is even remotely wrong, never mind some sort of vicious, Nazi-like, personal assault on truth, decency, and Hillary Clinton’s integrity? I really, really, don’t get it.”

Here’s an answer: There is a history here. Tim Russert moderated the only debate in 2000 between Senate candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival, Rick Lazio. While most remember that debate because Lazio crossed the stage to hand a piece of paper to Mrs. Clinton and was upbraided, preposterously but effectively, for somehow “violating her personal space,” Hillary and her people were enraged at Russert for what they took to be an extraordinarily hostile approach to her.
Here was Russert, opening the debate in 2000:

Mrs. Clinton, you have no voting record as such. People, in order to determine how you will behave as a legislator, look to your principal policy initiative: health care. I want to ask you a couple questions about that.
In 1993-94 you proposed a health care bill that was very controversial in this state. The man that you want to replace, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, had this to say…: ‘The administration’s solution was rationing. Cut the number of doctors by a quarter, specialists by a half.” And he went on to say,`Teaching hospitals would be at risk. The finance committee passed a bill in `94 to provide financing for the medical schools and the teaching hospitals. The Clinton administration rejected the committee bill.’ Why did you propose cutting the number of doctors by 25 percent, the number of specialists by 50 percent?

A fair question, to be sure, but very tough and, in fact, asked with more than a soupçon of hostility. To say the Clintons were furious about this would be an understatement. And to say the Clintons have a long memory for things they consider slights would be the understatement of the century. One thing is for sure: Don’t expect Russert to be invited to a state dinner at Hillary Clinton’s White House.

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French Health Care for All?

Over the past week, David Gratzer of the Manhattan Institute and Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic have been engaged in a fascinating debate over health care reform, hosted at TNR’s website. The two agree that American health care has serious problems, including a large uninsured population and very high costs. But they disagree about whether government-funded systems in other countries offer a model America should follow.

Their debate basically comes down to a disagreement about health-quality statistics. But both Cohn and Gratzer ignore almost entirely the attitude of the American public toward bureaucracy in health care. Recent experience suggests that Americans would be very unlikely to put up with even the modest constraints on doctors and patients in the French system that Cohn proposes as a model (let alone the overwhelmingly burdensome constraints employed in some other state-funded systems, like those in Canada and Britain).

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Over the past week, David Gratzer of the Manhattan Institute and Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic have been engaged in a fascinating debate over health care reform, hosted at TNR’s website. The two agree that American health care has serious problems, including a large uninsured population and very high costs. But they disagree about whether government-funded systems in other countries offer a model America should follow.

Their debate basically comes down to a disagreement about health-quality statistics. But both Cohn and Gratzer ignore almost entirely the attitude of the American public toward bureaucracy in health care. Recent experience suggests that Americans would be very unlikely to put up with even the modest constraints on doctors and patients in the French system that Cohn proposes as a model (let alone the overwhelmingly burdensome constraints employed in some other state-funded systems, like those in Canada and Britain).

The American public’s rejection of the HMO model of health insurance offers some evidence on this point. Health maintenance organizations try to contain costs by using case managers to review physician referrals and care decisions, and so to avoid unnecessary procedures and expenses. They work: during the HMO craze in the mid-1990’s, private health-care spending per capita grew by just 2 percent annually, while today it grows by nearly 10 percent.

But as HMO’s became more popular, resentment grew too, among both doctors and patients, about the way health decisions were being made by bureaucrats rather than doctors. HMO’s quickly became some of the most hated institutions in America, participation declined sharply, and today many plans that still call themselves HMO’s don’t actually follow the case-manager model.

Everything Americans didn’t like about HMO’s would be worse under the kind of government-funded system many other Western democracies have. Americans have far less patience for intrusion into health-care choices than Europeans seem to (a point that elicited some broader reflection on government and culture by Jonah Goldberg last week).

In response to this concern, advocates of state-funded care might make the perfectly serious point that covering the uninsured is more important than playing to the selfish whims of the American middle class. That’s how wonks should think. But it’s not how any politician could allow himself to think, and so it’s not how any practical and plausible reform of the system could work.

The fact is, the American middle class would hate—and rebel against—the kind of reform Cohn has in mind, and that in turn would take the political wind out of the effort to help the uninsured. That means health-care reform needs to work by addressing some of the concerns of the (insured) middle class—concerns about stability and portability—while building ways of insuring the uninsured.

That latter effort, though, can’t proceed by creating new, more powerful middle-class anxieties about who makes medical decisions and the freedom of doctors. This also means it can’t proceed by replacing our private insurance system with a public one. It needs, rather, to use public resources to help those who can’t afford private insurance obtain private insurance.

French health care works for the French. But for cultural reasons as much as economic ones, it’s very hard to see how it could work here.

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