Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lincoln

ObamaCare Doesn’t Justify Secession

First, Republican Rand Paul wanted to revisit the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Now Representative Zach Wamp, following the lead of Texas Governor Rick Perry, wants to revisit the Civil War. “I hope that the American people will go to the ballot box in 2010 and 2012 so that states are not forced to consider separation from this government,” Wamp said during a recent interview with Hotline OnCall.

Representative Wamp praised Perry, who first floated the idea of secession in April 2009, for leading the push-back against health-care reform. “Patriots like Rick Perry have talked about these issues because the federal government is putting us in an untenable position at the state level,” said Wamp, who is competing with Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey in an August 5 GOP primary race. (The winner will face Mike McWherter in November to decide who will replace Tennessee Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen.)

This kind of talk from Wamp and Perry is stupid and reckless. For one thing, it is evidence of a stunning inability to distinguish different historical moments. For some people, the times in which we live don’t appear to be dramatic enough; they have to equate the events we’re going through to the clash with Nazism, the hardships of the Great Depression, the Bolshevik Revolution, the American Revolution, or the stakes involved in the Civil War. It all tends to be quite silly and unhelpful.

Beyond that, though, is the fevered mindset that would suggest that “separation from this government” may be necessary. Do Wamp and Perry have any grasp of what they are talking about? Do they understand that the South seceded from the Union to maintain chattel slavery as a way of life? Or that Lincoln, our greatest president (and the first Republican president), waged the Civil War — which cost America around 620,000 lives (the equivalent of around 5 million lives today) — to keep the Union whole and free? Are Wamp and Perry really suggesting we take up, in a serious manner, the issue of secession again? Because of ObamaCare?

I am no shrinking violet when it comes to criticizing Barack Obama. I believe he’s doing great damage to the country, and conservatives need to check him at almost every point along the way. But to argue that differences in policy ought to lead us to consider secession is lunacy. It also shows a (presumably) unwitting contempt for America, for its history, and for its role and purpose in the world. When schoolchildren across America recite the Pledge of Allegiance, here are the words they say: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Our loyalty is to the United States of America. It is one nation. And it is indivisible.

America is a sublime achievement — an “inestimable jewel,” in the words of Lincoln. Lawmakers who speak about “separation from this government” are doing a great disservice to themselves, to their party, and to their country. They ought to cease and desist, now, before they embarrass themselves further.

First, Republican Rand Paul wanted to revisit the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Now Representative Zach Wamp, following the lead of Texas Governor Rick Perry, wants to revisit the Civil War. “I hope that the American people will go to the ballot box in 2010 and 2012 so that states are not forced to consider separation from this government,” Wamp said during a recent interview with Hotline OnCall.

Representative Wamp praised Perry, who first floated the idea of secession in April 2009, for leading the push-back against health-care reform. “Patriots like Rick Perry have talked about these issues because the federal government is putting us in an untenable position at the state level,” said Wamp, who is competing with Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey in an August 5 GOP primary race. (The winner will face Mike McWherter in November to decide who will replace Tennessee Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen.)

This kind of talk from Wamp and Perry is stupid and reckless. For one thing, it is evidence of a stunning inability to distinguish different historical moments. For some people, the times in which we live don’t appear to be dramatic enough; they have to equate the events we’re going through to the clash with Nazism, the hardships of the Great Depression, the Bolshevik Revolution, the American Revolution, or the stakes involved in the Civil War. It all tends to be quite silly and unhelpful.

Beyond that, though, is the fevered mindset that would suggest that “separation from this government” may be necessary. Do Wamp and Perry have any grasp of what they are talking about? Do they understand that the South seceded from the Union to maintain chattel slavery as a way of life? Or that Lincoln, our greatest president (and the first Republican president), waged the Civil War — which cost America around 620,000 lives (the equivalent of around 5 million lives today) — to keep the Union whole and free? Are Wamp and Perry really suggesting we take up, in a serious manner, the issue of secession again? Because of ObamaCare?

I am no shrinking violet when it comes to criticizing Barack Obama. I believe he’s doing great damage to the country, and conservatives need to check him at almost every point along the way. But to argue that differences in policy ought to lead us to consider secession is lunacy. It also shows a (presumably) unwitting contempt for America, for its history, and for its role and purpose in the world. When schoolchildren across America recite the Pledge of Allegiance, here are the words they say: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Our loyalty is to the United States of America. It is one nation. And it is indivisible.

America is a sublime achievement — an “inestimable jewel,” in the words of Lincoln. Lawmakers who speak about “separation from this government” are doing a great disservice to themselves, to their party, and to their country. They ought to cease and desist, now, before they embarrass themselves further.

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Journolisters Risked Their Integrity

When you read those who were part of the now infamous Journolist group — hundreds of mostly liberal journalists and academics who joined an online listserv — they present their discussions as inoffensive, unexceptional, and even high-minded. Here’s how Time‘s Joe Klein describes Journolist:

[Ezra Klein and I] became friends and he asked me to join his list-serve–which, he said, would be the kind of place to have the sort of creative discussion we’d had over breakfast. It turned out to be exactly that…and more, a place to chat about music and sports, a place to meet some spectacularly smart academics I’d not met before–and, not least, a chance to interact with the latest generation of opinion journalists, most of whom didn’t have a very high opinion of me…. These conversations were private, as most good ones are. We were taking risks, testing our ideas against others…

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When you read those who were part of the now infamous Journolist group — hundreds of mostly liberal journalists and academics who joined an online listserv — they present their discussions as inoffensive, unexceptional, and even high-minded. Here’s how Time‘s Joe Klein describes Journolist:

[Ezra Klein and I] became friends and he asked me to join his list-serve–which, he said, would be the kind of place to have the sort of creative discussion we’d had over breakfast. It turned out to be exactly that…and more, a place to chat about music and sports, a place to meet some spectacularly smart academics I’d not met before–and, not least, a chance to interact with the latest generation of opinion journalists, most of whom didn’t have a very high opinion of me…. These conversations were private, as most good ones are. We were taking risks, testing our ideas against others…

It sounds positively Platonic: great minds gathering to discuss great issues of the day. Iron sharpening iron. Who could object? And then, thanks to the groundbreaking work of the Daily Caller, we have the chance to read what Journolisters actually wrote. Creative and spectacularly smart things like this:

LAURA ROZEN: People we no longer have to listen to: would it be unwise to start a thread of people we are grateful we no longer have to listen to? If not, I’ll start off: Michael Rubin.

MICHAEL COHEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Mark Penn and Bob Shrum. Anyone who uses the expression “Real America.” We should send there a** to Gitmo!

JESSE TAYLOR, PANDAGON.NET: Michael Barone?  Please?

LAURA ROZEN: Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich (afraid it’s not true), Drill Here Drill Now, And David Addington, John Yoo, we’ll see you in court?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, THE NEW YORKER: As a side note, does anyone know what prompted Michael Barone to go insane?

MATT DUSS: LEDEEN.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Let’s just throw Ledeen against a wall. Or, pace Dr. Alterman, throw him through a plate glass window. I’ll bet a little spot of violence would shut him right the f*** up, as with most bullies.

JOE KLEIN, TIME: Pete Wehner…these sort of things always end badly.

ERIC ALTERMAN, AUTHOR, WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA: F****** Nascar retards…

Ah, but there’s more.

NPR producer Sarah Spitz wrote that that if Rush Limbaugh went into cardiac arrest, she would “laugh loudly like a maniac and watch his eyes bug out” as Limbaugh writhed in torment.

Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics, Ackerman wrote — “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”

Bloomberg’s Ryan Donmoyer adds this: “You know, at the risk of violating Godwin’s law, is anyone starting to see parallels here between the teabaggers and their tactics and the rise of the Brownshirts? Esp. Now that it’s getting violent? Reminds me of the Beer Hall fracases of the 1920s.”

And, of course, there is Fox News. “I am genuinely scared” of Fox, wrote Guardian columnist Daniel Davies, because it “shows you that a genuinely shameless and unethical media organisation *cannot* be controlled by any form of peer pressure or self-regulation, and nor can it be successfully cold-shouldered or ostracised. In order to have even a semblance of control, you need a tought legal framework.”

“I agree,” said Michael Scherer of Time. “[Roger] Ailes understands that his job is to build a tribal identity, not a news organizations. You can’t hurt Fox by saying it gets it wrong, if Ailes just uses the criticism to deepen the tribal identity.”

I understand people speaking candidly in e-mail exchanges and wanting to create a group of like-minded people to exchange ideas. And I accept that Journolist was started with good intentions. But somewhere along the line, it slipped off track.

What we had were journalists creating a “community” in which we see expressions of hatred that are both comically adolescent and almost psychopathic. We have them endorsing slander of innocent people simply because they hold a different point of view, comparing the Tea Party movement to Nazism, and participating in a post thread with the subject, “The line on Palin.” And we have journalists endorsing a “tough legal framework” to control what a news organization says.

What we have, in short, is intellectual corruption of a fairly high order. From what we have seen and from what those like Tucker Carlson and his colleagues (who have read the exchanges in detail) say, Journolist was — at least in good measure — a hotbed of hatred, political hackery, banality, and juvenile thuggery. It is the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from troubled, towel-snapping junior high boys. (It’s worth pointing out that if a principal got a hold of e-mails like the ones produced by Journolist, he would punish and probably suspend the offending eighth graders.)

Journolist provides a window into the mindset of the journalistic and academic left in this country. It is not a pretty sight. The demonization and dehumanization of critics is arresting. Those who hold contrary views to the Journolist crowd aren’t individuals who have honest disagreements; they are evil, malignant, and their voices need to be eliminated from the public square. It is illiberal in the extreme.

Some Journolist defenders argue that what has been published doesn’t capture the true nature of what went on at Journolist and that the published exchanges were taken out of context. The Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson has a reasonable response:

So why don’t we publish whatever portions of the Journolist archive we have and end the debate? Because a lot of them have no obvious news value, for one thing. Gather 400 lefty reporters and academics on one listserv and it turns out you wind up with a strikingly high concentration of bitchiness. Shocking amounts, actually. So while it might be amusing to air threads theorizing about the personal and sexual shortcomings of various NewRepublic staffers, we’ve decided to pull back…. Anyone on Journolist who claims we quoted him “out of context” can reveal the context himself.

That is a fair challenge. If Journolist turns out to differ substantially from its portrayal, Journolisters should release the full exchanges. Ezra Klein, David Corn, Jonathan Chait, and Joe Klein have all offered defenses, though their efforts range from feeble to pathetic. (It was really and merely “an argument between moderate and left-wing journalists,” Chait assures us.) Assuming that Journolisters cannot provide a stronger defense, other members of the fourth estate should be troubled by what has been uncovered. After all, it is the probity of their profession that is being stripped away.

Those who participated in Journolist undoubtedly hope this story will fade away and be forgotten. I rather doubt it will. It is another episode in the long, downward slide of modern journalism. “We were taking risks,” Joe Klein writes in his own defense. And the Journolist participants surely were — not intellectual risks but risks with their integrity — and several of them have been caught dead-to-rights. “Broken eggs cannot be mended,” Lincoln said. Neither can some broken reputations.

In many respects, the whole thing is dispiriting. On the other hand, it has had a clarifying effect. It turns out that the worst caricatures of liberal journalists were not, at least in the case of some, a caricature at all.

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Former Clinton Officials Pessimistic About November

The Financial Times, in a story titled “Obama faces growing credibility crisis,” quotes two former Clinton administration officials. Their words will not reassure Democrats.

“If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” according to William Galston, a former domestic adviser to President Clinton. “Just as BP’s failure to cap the well has been so damaging, Obama’s failure to cap unemployment will be his undoing. There is nothing he can do to affect the jobless rate before November.”

Not to be outdone, Rob Shapiro, another former Clinton administration official and a supporter of Obama, said, “The bottom line here is that Americans don’t believe in President Obama’s leadership. He has to find some way between now and November of demonstrating that he is a leader who can command confidence and, short of a 9/11 event or an Oklahoma City bombing, I can’t think of how he could do that.”

Messrs. Galston’s and Shapiro’s pessimism is fully warranted. As was said earlier this week, sometimes the sky really is falling. That is the case right now for Democrats — and it’s hard to see how things will get better for them between now and November 2. All the data point to a crushing loss for Democrats in the midterm election. It turns out that to be a Democratic lawmaker in the Age of Obama is a very dangerous thing. And the days of referring to Barack Obama as the next Lincoln and FDR, a “sort of God,” and a “black Jesus” appear to be over, don’t they?

The Financial Times, in a story titled “Obama faces growing credibility crisis,” quotes two former Clinton administration officials. Their words will not reassure Democrats.

“If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” according to William Galston, a former domestic adviser to President Clinton. “Just as BP’s failure to cap the well has been so damaging, Obama’s failure to cap unemployment will be his undoing. There is nothing he can do to affect the jobless rate before November.”

Not to be outdone, Rob Shapiro, another former Clinton administration official and a supporter of Obama, said, “The bottom line here is that Americans don’t believe in President Obama’s leadership. He has to find some way between now and November of demonstrating that he is a leader who can command confidence and, short of a 9/11 event or an Oklahoma City bombing, I can’t think of how he could do that.”

Messrs. Galston’s and Shapiro’s pessimism is fully warranted. As was said earlier this week, sometimes the sky really is falling. That is the case right now for Democrats — and it’s hard to see how things will get better for them between now and November 2. All the data point to a crushing loss for Democrats in the midterm election. It turns out that to be a Democratic lawmaker in the Age of Obama is a very dangerous thing. And the days of referring to Barack Obama as the next Lincoln and FDR, a “sort of God,” and a “black Jesus” appear to be over, don’t they?

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It’s Obama’s War

Jennifer, Max, and Abe have been covering the McChrystal incident superbly. Beyond eschewing redundancy, however, I’ve been reticent about chiming in because I would be happier not to say what I really think, which is that President Obama’s current approach to Afghanistan wasn’t going to stand or fall with General McChrystal, and can’t be salvaged by General Petraeus.

A number of commentators have echoed Peter Wehner’s point that Obama did the right thing and chose the right man this week, and I agree with that. Obama did look decisive and presidential yesterday. I had John’s comments on the silly Maureen Dowd piece in mind as I watched Obama’s speech, thinking that it’s the military’s own traditions and character — distasteful as they are to Ms. Dowd — that endowed the removal of McChrystal with its air of statesmanlike decision. Everyone in uniform knew what the right answer was. There was absolute, uncomplaining loyalty from Obama’s senior military staffers to the boss and his decision, painful and unfortunate though it was.

As Jennifer has pointed out, looking decisive and presidential is out of character for this commander in chief. But loyal subordinates can and should make a boss look good. Even the best bosses would readily acknowledge how often the loyalty of the troops has saved their backsides. The military as an institution is particularly effective in this regard. I don’t grudge any president his recourse to the image-enhancing infrastructure of military culture.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t exaggerate the signal sent about Obama’s leadership by a personnel shift that was essentially thrust on him by a discipline problem. Unlike other celebrated personnel replacements made by war-time presidents — Lincoln, Truman, the younger Bush — the replacement of McChrystal was not prompted by this president’s strategic concern about the conduct of the war. That is Obama’s great failing; what he owes the armed forces that do his bidding is precisely that strategic concern.

George W. Bush gave Bob Gates, Ryan Crocker, and David Petraeus a level of strategic concern — attention, political investment, diplomatic cover — that enabled them to adopt an executable plan for Iraq and then execute it. What Obama has done, by contrast, is take McChrystal’s original executable plan and, after months of seemingly aimless deliberation, compromise its executability.

It’s quite true that the surge in Afghanistan has not truly begun yet; current events are not a judgment on the surge’s effectiveness. We can give Petraeus time and keep our hopes up. But there is already pressure being exerted against the surge by myriad factors in Afghanistan and the region, from Iran’s radical interests to Pakistan’s stability problems, India’s security concerns, Russia’s devious ambivalence about our presence, and the motley array of terrorists seeking their fortunes in the Afghan countryside. Many of these factors can’t be addressed with military force. They are outside Petraeus’s purview. Dealing with them requires a horse-trading, arm-twisting diplomacy that must be handled by ambassadors and envoys — actors who, up to now, are variously reported to be inert or dysfunctional — and can’t be successful without the president’s overt leadership.

I remain skeptical that Obama’s performance in this regard will change. The military specializes in executing big decisions efficiently, but Petraeus’s leadership is not enough to bring success out of a surge that carries an expiration date, supported half-heartedly by the Oval Office. The latter conditions still need to change, not just rhetorically but materially, if Petraeus is to have the chance he is unquestionably the best man to make use of.

Jennifer, Max, and Abe have been covering the McChrystal incident superbly. Beyond eschewing redundancy, however, I’ve been reticent about chiming in because I would be happier not to say what I really think, which is that President Obama’s current approach to Afghanistan wasn’t going to stand or fall with General McChrystal, and can’t be salvaged by General Petraeus.

A number of commentators have echoed Peter Wehner’s point that Obama did the right thing and chose the right man this week, and I agree with that. Obama did look decisive and presidential yesterday. I had John’s comments on the silly Maureen Dowd piece in mind as I watched Obama’s speech, thinking that it’s the military’s own traditions and character — distasteful as they are to Ms. Dowd — that endowed the removal of McChrystal with its air of statesmanlike decision. Everyone in uniform knew what the right answer was. There was absolute, uncomplaining loyalty from Obama’s senior military staffers to the boss and his decision, painful and unfortunate though it was.

As Jennifer has pointed out, looking decisive and presidential is out of character for this commander in chief. But loyal subordinates can and should make a boss look good. Even the best bosses would readily acknowledge how often the loyalty of the troops has saved their backsides. The military as an institution is particularly effective in this regard. I don’t grudge any president his recourse to the image-enhancing infrastructure of military culture.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t exaggerate the signal sent about Obama’s leadership by a personnel shift that was essentially thrust on him by a discipline problem. Unlike other celebrated personnel replacements made by war-time presidents — Lincoln, Truman, the younger Bush — the replacement of McChrystal was not prompted by this president’s strategic concern about the conduct of the war. That is Obama’s great failing; what he owes the armed forces that do his bidding is precisely that strategic concern.

George W. Bush gave Bob Gates, Ryan Crocker, and David Petraeus a level of strategic concern — attention, political investment, diplomatic cover — that enabled them to adopt an executable plan for Iraq and then execute it. What Obama has done, by contrast, is take McChrystal’s original executable plan and, after months of seemingly aimless deliberation, compromise its executability.

It’s quite true that the surge in Afghanistan has not truly begun yet; current events are not a judgment on the surge’s effectiveness. We can give Petraeus time and keep our hopes up. But there is already pressure being exerted against the surge by myriad factors in Afghanistan and the region, from Iran’s radical interests to Pakistan’s stability problems, India’s security concerns, Russia’s devious ambivalence about our presence, and the motley array of terrorists seeking their fortunes in the Afghan countryside. Many of these factors can’t be addressed with military force. They are outside Petraeus’s purview. Dealing with them requires a horse-trading, arm-twisting diplomacy that must be handled by ambassadors and envoys — actors who, up to now, are variously reported to be inert or dysfunctional — and can’t be successful without the president’s overt leadership.

I remain skeptical that Obama’s performance in this regard will change. The military specializes in executing big decisions efficiently, but Petraeus’s leadership is not enough to bring success out of a surge that carries an expiration date, supported half-heartedly by the Oval Office. The latter conditions still need to change, not just rhetorically but materially, if Petraeus is to have the chance he is unquestionably the best man to make use of.

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Obama Grasps at Straws

Barack Obama is learning the hard way about the limits of the power of the presidency.

Obama told Louisiana residents, who are confronting the worst environmental disaster in history because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that he couldn’t “suck it up with a straw.” “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama told residents from Grand Isle as they sat around a table together. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

When a major American city was 80 percent under water due to a breached levee caused by one of the worst hurricanes in our history, then-Senator Obama was silent about the limits on the power of the president. In fact, he excoriated his predecessor for his “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina, despite the fact that George W. Bush had to deal with local and state leaders far more incompetent than the ones facing Obama. “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe,” Obama said in 2008.

There was no mention of straws.

Obama’s comments to Louisiana residents come on top of what Obama told Politco’s Roger Simon in an interview. “The overwhelming majority of the American people” have reasonable expectations, Obama said. “What they hope and expect is for the president to do everything that’s within his power. They don’t expect us to be magicians.”

I think most American do have reasonable expectations of what a president can and cannot do. But if their expectations are reasonable, it is not because of anything Barack Obama has ever said before. In fact, you can review his speeches during the campaign, and you will find a lot about what a magical, transformational, hopeful, and historical moment his election would be. Even when offering a perfunctory acknowledgement of his own limitations, what Obama promised America was, even by campaign standards, extraordinary (see here and here.)

Yet almost 17 months into his presidency, the man who was going to remake this nation, who was going to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, who was going to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, who was going to open doors of opportunities to our kids and replace cynicism with hope and stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet — this man has come up short. None of this has come to pass. It turns out he cannot even, in his own words, “plug the damn hole.” He has not issued waivers that he should, nor has he provided Gulf Coast governors with the requests they need, nor coordinated the clean-up effort that the people of the Louisiana are begging for. He can do nothing, it seems, except blame others. The man whom, we were told, was the next Lincoln and FDR is coming to grips with his own impotence and ineptitude. From Iran to the Gulf of Mexico, from Middle East peace to job creation, from uniting our country to cleansing our politics, Barack Obama is being brought to his knees.

This doesn’t mean the Obama presidency is broken or beyond repair. And Obama’s admission of the limits to the power of the presidency is justified. The problem for the president is that his comments now were preceded by so much hubris. Obama and his aides set mythic expectations. Those expectations now lie in ruin. What we’re seeing was, therefore, inevitable and predictable. Barack Obama is reaping what he has sown. Let’s hope for the sake of the country that he learns from the punishing blows reality has dealt him.

Barack Obama is learning the hard way about the limits of the power of the presidency.

Obama told Louisiana residents, who are confronting the worst environmental disaster in history because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that he couldn’t “suck it up with a straw.” “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama told residents from Grand Isle as they sat around a table together. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

When a major American city was 80 percent under water due to a breached levee caused by one of the worst hurricanes in our history, then-Senator Obama was silent about the limits on the power of the president. In fact, he excoriated his predecessor for his “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina, despite the fact that George W. Bush had to deal with local and state leaders far more incompetent than the ones facing Obama. “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe,” Obama said in 2008.

There was no mention of straws.

Obama’s comments to Louisiana residents come on top of what Obama told Politco’s Roger Simon in an interview. “The overwhelming majority of the American people” have reasonable expectations, Obama said. “What they hope and expect is for the president to do everything that’s within his power. They don’t expect us to be magicians.”

I think most American do have reasonable expectations of what a president can and cannot do. But if their expectations are reasonable, it is not because of anything Barack Obama has ever said before. In fact, you can review his speeches during the campaign, and you will find a lot about what a magical, transformational, hopeful, and historical moment his election would be. Even when offering a perfunctory acknowledgement of his own limitations, what Obama promised America was, even by campaign standards, extraordinary (see here and here.)

Yet almost 17 months into his presidency, the man who was going to remake this nation, who was going to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, who was going to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, who was going to open doors of opportunities to our kids and replace cynicism with hope and stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet — this man has come up short. None of this has come to pass. It turns out he cannot even, in his own words, “plug the damn hole.” He has not issued waivers that he should, nor has he provided Gulf Coast governors with the requests they need, nor coordinated the clean-up effort that the people of the Louisiana are begging for. He can do nothing, it seems, except blame others. The man whom, we were told, was the next Lincoln and FDR is coming to grips with his own impotence and ineptitude. From Iran to the Gulf of Mexico, from Middle East peace to job creation, from uniting our country to cleansing our politics, Barack Obama is being brought to his knees.

This doesn’t mean the Obama presidency is broken or beyond repair. And Obama’s admission of the limits to the power of the presidency is justified. The problem for the president is that his comments now were preceded by so much hubris. Obama and his aides set mythic expectations. Those expectations now lie in ruin. What we’re seeing was, therefore, inevitable and predictable. Barack Obama is reaping what he has sown. Let’s hope for the sake of the country that he learns from the punishing blows reality has dealt him.

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The Less Obama Talks, the More Popular His Issues Become?

My former White House colleague Peter Feaver, in examining the latest CNN polling data, makes this incisive point:

What interests me about this poll, however, is not the overall number, but rather that for the most part President Obama scores the lowest on the issues he has made centermost and about which he has talked the most:

  • Health Care: 40 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove
  • The economy: 43 percent approve and 54 percent disapprove
  • Unemployment: 45 percent approve and 53 percent disapprove
  • The federal budget deficit: 36 percent approve and 62 percent disapprove

And he scores the highest on the issues that he talks about the least:

  • The situation in Afghanistan: 55 percent approve and 42 percent disapprove
  • Terrorism: 53 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove
  • The situation in Iraq: 51 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove

There are several conclusions one might draw from this data; none of them are particularly good for the administration. And one in particular, if it is in fact accurate, should alarm the White House: “perhaps,” Feaver writes, “the more the president talks about an issue the more he drives his own numbers on that issue down.”

This is not quite the effect our next Lincoln or FDR was supposed to have. Perhaps if Obama ceases talking about health care, it might get somewhat greater support.

My former White House colleague Peter Feaver, in examining the latest CNN polling data, makes this incisive point:

What interests me about this poll, however, is not the overall number, but rather that for the most part President Obama scores the lowest on the issues he has made centermost and about which he has talked the most:

  • Health Care: 40 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove
  • The economy: 43 percent approve and 54 percent disapprove
  • Unemployment: 45 percent approve and 53 percent disapprove
  • The federal budget deficit: 36 percent approve and 62 percent disapprove

And he scores the highest on the issues that he talks about the least:

  • The situation in Afghanistan: 55 percent approve and 42 percent disapprove
  • Terrorism: 53 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove
  • The situation in Iraq: 51 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove

There are several conclusions one might draw from this data; none of them are particularly good for the administration. And one in particular, if it is in fact accurate, should alarm the White House: “perhaps,” Feaver writes, “the more the president talks about an issue the more he drives his own numbers on that issue down.”

This is not quite the effect our next Lincoln or FDR was supposed to have. Perhaps if Obama ceases talking about health care, it might get somewhat greater support.

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RE: Tom Ricks’s Quote

Peter Wehner quotes Tom Ricks as writing that the liberation of Iraq was “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” and Joe Klein as writing that it was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history.”

Well, they’re journalists, not historians, but really. How about:

1) The Embargo Act of 1807 that forbade foreign trade. In order to teach the high-handed British and French a lesson, we went to war with ourselves and blockaded our own ports. New England, deeply dependent on trade and shipping (we had the second largest merchant fleet in the world after Britain at that time) was economically devastated. Smuggling over the Canadian border became so commonplace that northern New England was declared to be in a state of insurrection. The British and French just laughed at us. When Napoleon seized American ships in French ports he said he was just helping enforce the embargo act.

2) In 1811 Congress killed the Bank of the United States, the prime borrowing mechanism of the federal government. The next year it declared war on the only power on earth capable of attacking the United States, Great Britain, raised soldiers’ pay and enlistment bonuses, and adjourned without figuring out how to pay for the war. By March 1813, there was not enough money in the treasury to pay government salaries, let alone fight a war, and only when the Secretary of the Treasury went hat in hand to Stephen Girard, the richest man in the country, to beg him to take most of a bond issue, did we raise enough money to carry on. In 1814 the British occupied and burned the nation’s capital.

3) In 1861, an American naval captain seized two Confederate agents off a British-flagged vessel. It was only when Prince Albert — already dying, it was his last good deed — cooled down Lord Palmerston and provided the means for a diplomatic climb down by the U.S. (which Lincoln gratefully grasped — “one war at a time,” he explained) did we avoid a war with Great Britain when we were already fighting for the life of the Union.

4) After World War I, with Europe devastated and the United States by far the strongest economic and financial power in the world, we withdrew and refused to take on the world leadership that only we could provide. But we insisted that the European powers pay back the money they had borrowed, which they could only do by extracting reparations from an already broken Germany. The Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II were the result.

Peter Wehner quotes Tom Ricks as writing that the liberation of Iraq was “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” and Joe Klein as writing that it was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history.”

Well, they’re journalists, not historians, but really. How about:

1) The Embargo Act of 1807 that forbade foreign trade. In order to teach the high-handed British and French a lesson, we went to war with ourselves and blockaded our own ports. New England, deeply dependent on trade and shipping (we had the second largest merchant fleet in the world after Britain at that time) was economically devastated. Smuggling over the Canadian border became so commonplace that northern New England was declared to be in a state of insurrection. The British and French just laughed at us. When Napoleon seized American ships in French ports he said he was just helping enforce the embargo act.

2) In 1811 Congress killed the Bank of the United States, the prime borrowing mechanism of the federal government. The next year it declared war on the only power on earth capable of attacking the United States, Great Britain, raised soldiers’ pay and enlistment bonuses, and adjourned without figuring out how to pay for the war. By March 1813, there was not enough money in the treasury to pay government salaries, let alone fight a war, and only when the Secretary of the Treasury went hat in hand to Stephen Girard, the richest man in the country, to beg him to take most of a bond issue, did we raise enough money to carry on. In 1814 the British occupied and burned the nation’s capital.

3) In 1861, an American naval captain seized two Confederate agents off a British-flagged vessel. It was only when Prince Albert — already dying, it was his last good deed — cooled down Lord Palmerston and provided the means for a diplomatic climb down by the U.S. (which Lincoln gratefully grasped — “one war at a time,” he explained) did we avoid a war with Great Britain when we were already fighting for the life of the Union.

4) After World War I, with Europe devastated and the United States by far the strongest economic and financial power in the world, we withdrew and refused to take on the world leadership that only we could provide. But we insisted that the European powers pay back the money they had borrowed, which they could only do by extracting reparations from an already broken Germany. The Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II were the result.

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LIVE BLOG: Obama the Self-Defeater

Having been exposed to the president’s actions and rhetoric for close to six hours now, I better understand one of the most interesting facts of recent American politics: the more Mr. Obama speaks, the more unpopular his cause becomes. He is a man who talks a lot — and who has very little to show for it. I suspect today’s event won’t move the dial one bit for Democrats; if anything, it will help the Republican case. Barack Obama has the capacity to discredit many of the causes in whose behalf he speaks out. That’s unusual for an American president — and especially one who, we were told, would be the next FDR or even the next Lincoln.

Not quite.

Having been exposed to the president’s actions and rhetoric for close to six hours now, I better understand one of the most interesting facts of recent American politics: the more Mr. Obama speaks, the more unpopular his cause becomes. He is a man who talks a lot — and who has very little to show for it. I suspect today’s event won’t move the dial one bit for Democrats; if anything, it will help the Republican case. Barack Obama has the capacity to discredit many of the causes in whose behalf he speaks out. That’s unusual for an American president — and especially one who, we were told, would be the next FDR or even the next Lincoln.

Not quite.

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Ridiculous Writings on Totalitarian Countries

I don’t know why, but I am still amazed by the credulity of some reporters. In researching my history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism (tentatively titled Invisible Armies), I have been running across some startling quotes from Western journalists who visited Communist-held areas of China in the 1930s and ‘40s. Sample:

The Chinese Communists are not Communists — not according to the Russian definition of the term. They do not, at the present time, either advocate or practice Communism…. Today the  Chinese Communists are no more Communistic than we Americans are.

That’s from the 1945 book, Report from Red China, written by the photojournalist Harrison Forman. He took seriously Mao Zedong’s statements to him that “we are not striving for the social and political Communism of Soviet Russia. Rather, we prefer to think of what we are doing as something that Lincoln fought for in your Civil War: the liberation of slaves. In China today, we have many millions of slaves, shackled by feudalism.” He also reported uncritically about Mao’s vow that the Communists would not establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat” and would instead set up a “democratic government” that would include “landlords, merchants, capitalists, and petit bourgeois as well as peasants and workers.” Apparently, Forman was unaware of the bloody campaigns the Communists had already carried out against “landlords” and “rich peasants.” Forman couldn’t understand why Mao didn’t change the party’s name to “Neo-Democracy” or “Democraticism” or “some such” name! (Mao’s canny non-reply: “If we were to change suddenly to some other name, there are those in China today — and abroad, too — who would make capital out of it, would accuse us of trying to cover up something.”)

And then, of course, there was the infamous Edgar Snow, whose Red Star Over China (1938) introduced Mao & Co. to much of the world — including to much of China.  Snow actually thought Mao, who would become arguably history’s worst mass-murder, was “a moderating influence in the Communist movement where life and death were concerned.”

This is hardly an isolated phenomenon, given how many boosters Stalin and Castro, Ho Chi Minh and even Pol Pot had among the Western press corps. The tradition continues today with some prominent writers (like Roger Cohen of the New York Times) offering apologetics on behalf of Iran, while his colleague, Tom Friedman, exalts China’s current lack of democracy. Someday, I trust their writings will be as ridiculed as Forman’s and Snow’s deserve to be.

I don’t know why, but I am still amazed by the credulity of some reporters. In researching my history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism (tentatively titled Invisible Armies), I have been running across some startling quotes from Western journalists who visited Communist-held areas of China in the 1930s and ‘40s. Sample:

The Chinese Communists are not Communists — not according to the Russian definition of the term. They do not, at the present time, either advocate or practice Communism…. Today the  Chinese Communists are no more Communistic than we Americans are.

That’s from the 1945 book, Report from Red China, written by the photojournalist Harrison Forman. He took seriously Mao Zedong’s statements to him that “we are not striving for the social and political Communism of Soviet Russia. Rather, we prefer to think of what we are doing as something that Lincoln fought for in your Civil War: the liberation of slaves. In China today, we have many millions of slaves, shackled by feudalism.” He also reported uncritically about Mao’s vow that the Communists would not establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat” and would instead set up a “democratic government” that would include “landlords, merchants, capitalists, and petit bourgeois as well as peasants and workers.” Apparently, Forman was unaware of the bloody campaigns the Communists had already carried out against “landlords” and “rich peasants.” Forman couldn’t understand why Mao didn’t change the party’s name to “Neo-Democracy” or “Democraticism” or “some such” name! (Mao’s canny non-reply: “If we were to change suddenly to some other name, there are those in China today — and abroad, too — who would make capital out of it, would accuse us of trying to cover up something.”)

And then, of course, there was the infamous Edgar Snow, whose Red Star Over China (1938) introduced Mao & Co. to much of the world — including to much of China.  Snow actually thought Mao, who would become arguably history’s worst mass-murder, was “a moderating influence in the Communist movement where life and death were concerned.”

This is hardly an isolated phenomenon, given how many boosters Stalin and Castro, Ho Chi Minh and even Pol Pot had among the Western press corps. The tradition continues today with some prominent writers (like Roger Cohen of the New York Times) offering apologetics on behalf of Iran, while his colleague, Tom Friedman, exalts China’s current lack of democracy. Someday, I trust their writings will be as ridiculed as Forman’s and Snow’s deserve to be.

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The Repulsive Politics of Tom Tancredo

I consider the Tea Party movement to be, on balance, a positive force in American politics. It is a spontaneous and fully justified response to the reckless policies, the fiscal ones in particular, of the Obama administration. It is comprised of admirable and civic-minded Americans. And as Ramesh Ponnuru and Kate O’Beirne point out in National Review, it is, for the GOP, an opportunity rather than a threat.

But it is a movement, like many movements, that carries with it some risks. This weekend we learned, for example, that some Tea Party members are apparently receptive to appeals from the worst angels of our nature. I have in mind the comments at last week’s Tea Party Convention by former Representative Tom Tancredo, who told a cheering audience that “people who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. His name is Barack Hussein Obama.” The reason we elected “Barack Hussein Obama,” Tancredo went on, is “mostly because I think that we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country.”

This is ugly (to say nothing of stupid and ignorant) stuff. It is the manifestation of a person filled with rage and obsessions, bitter and brittle, eager to play to people’s worst instincts. Tancredo — who was a Member of the House of Representatives and ran for president in 2008 — should be condemned by all Republicans who believe that such an individual does not represent the GOP, which, after all, is the party of Lincoln and Reagan. It is inconceivable that either man on his worst day would utter anything remotely this offensive. Both Lincoln and Reagan were politicians of conviction, whose words and conduct were most often marked by grace and civility, who came across as irenic rather than enraged. They were, in other words, the polar opposite of Mr. Tancredo.

There are plenty of legitimate ways to criticize President Obama and his agenda. Leave it to Tom Tancredo to cross the line, not by inches but by miles.

No party, and no movement, should provide a home or a platform to a man who practices this kind of repulsive politics.

I consider the Tea Party movement to be, on balance, a positive force in American politics. It is a spontaneous and fully justified response to the reckless policies, the fiscal ones in particular, of the Obama administration. It is comprised of admirable and civic-minded Americans. And as Ramesh Ponnuru and Kate O’Beirne point out in National Review, it is, for the GOP, an opportunity rather than a threat.

But it is a movement, like many movements, that carries with it some risks. This weekend we learned, for example, that some Tea Party members are apparently receptive to appeals from the worst angels of our nature. I have in mind the comments at last week’s Tea Party Convention by former Representative Tom Tancredo, who told a cheering audience that “people who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. His name is Barack Hussein Obama.” The reason we elected “Barack Hussein Obama,” Tancredo went on, is “mostly because I think that we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country.”

This is ugly (to say nothing of stupid and ignorant) stuff. It is the manifestation of a person filled with rage and obsessions, bitter and brittle, eager to play to people’s worst instincts. Tancredo — who was a Member of the House of Representatives and ran for president in 2008 — should be condemned by all Republicans who believe that such an individual does not represent the GOP, which, after all, is the party of Lincoln and Reagan. It is inconceivable that either man on his worst day would utter anything remotely this offensive. Both Lincoln and Reagan were politicians of conviction, whose words and conduct were most often marked by grace and civility, who came across as irenic rather than enraged. They were, in other words, the polar opposite of Mr. Tancredo.

There are plenty of legitimate ways to criticize President Obama and his agenda. Leave it to Tom Tancredo to cross the line, not by inches but by miles.

No party, and no movement, should provide a home or a platform to a man who practices this kind of repulsive politics.

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Tuning Out Obama

One problem among many that Obama has is that the public has learned not to take him seriously. Part of this problem, of course, stems form his overexposure. The urge to tune him out is inevitable when he is everywhere opining on everything from Cambridge race relations to basketball to global warming. (By the way, not much remarked upon but noteworthy was his snidely delivered defense of climate-control hysteria in the SOTU. This is not a man amenable to any course correction when confronted with new data that conflicts with old assumptions.) And part of the problem derives from repeating things that aren’t so. Americans don’t think we can cover millions more with expensive health care run by the government and save money doing so. They don’t buy that “engagement” is a credible policy with Iranian state sponsors of terror. They don’t think everything is George W. Bush’s fault.

So when Obama comes up with a plan that has a kernel of a good idea, the public isn’t interested. They assume he’s peddling snake oil. (Statistically, it’s not a bad bet.) Rasmussen reports:

One of the key new initiatives in President Obama’s State of the Union speech is a three-year freeze on discretionary government spending, but voters overwhelmingly believe the freeze will have little or no impact on the federal deficit. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just nine percent (9%) think the freeze will reduce the deficit a lot. Eighty-one percent (81%) disagree, including 42% who say it will have no impact. Another 39% say the freeze in nearly all areas except defense, national security, veterans affairs and entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will reduce the deficit a little.

In other words, more than eight in ten think it’s not going to do much and more than four in ten say it’ll do nothing. Now, they don’t mind the idea. In fact a majority say “go ahead and do it.” But they are unwilling to be taken in by the bravado of this being a grown-up response to the spending spree that Obama and his Democrats have been on for a year. Meanwhile Obama’s overall approval rating continues its downward skid.

Unfortunately Obama seems oblivious to his credibility problem and exacerbates it by repeating untruths. The stimulus saved two million jobs. His health-care plan lets you keep your current  insurance. The Supreme Court is going to allow “foreign entities” to control elections. None of it is accurate. The public is learning not to trust their president. On one hand it is refreshing and heartening that Lincoln’s adage about fooling all of us is as true today as it was in the 19th century. But it’s more than a little disturbing and sad. We were hoping for a new kind of politician. Instead we got the very worst of the old.

One problem among many that Obama has is that the public has learned not to take him seriously. Part of this problem, of course, stems form his overexposure. The urge to tune him out is inevitable when he is everywhere opining on everything from Cambridge race relations to basketball to global warming. (By the way, not much remarked upon but noteworthy was his snidely delivered defense of climate-control hysteria in the SOTU. This is not a man amenable to any course correction when confronted with new data that conflicts with old assumptions.) And part of the problem derives from repeating things that aren’t so. Americans don’t think we can cover millions more with expensive health care run by the government and save money doing so. They don’t buy that “engagement” is a credible policy with Iranian state sponsors of terror. They don’t think everything is George W. Bush’s fault.

So when Obama comes up with a plan that has a kernel of a good idea, the public isn’t interested. They assume he’s peddling snake oil. (Statistically, it’s not a bad bet.) Rasmussen reports:

One of the key new initiatives in President Obama’s State of the Union speech is a three-year freeze on discretionary government spending, but voters overwhelmingly believe the freeze will have little or no impact on the federal deficit. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just nine percent (9%) think the freeze will reduce the deficit a lot. Eighty-one percent (81%) disagree, including 42% who say it will have no impact. Another 39% say the freeze in nearly all areas except defense, national security, veterans affairs and entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will reduce the deficit a little.

In other words, more than eight in ten think it’s not going to do much and more than four in ten say it’ll do nothing. Now, they don’t mind the idea. In fact a majority say “go ahead and do it.” But they are unwilling to be taken in by the bravado of this being a grown-up response to the spending spree that Obama and his Democrats have been on for a year. Meanwhile Obama’s overall approval rating continues its downward skid.

Unfortunately Obama seems oblivious to his credibility problem and exacerbates it by repeating untruths. The stimulus saved two million jobs. His health-care plan lets you keep your current  insurance. The Supreme Court is going to allow “foreign entities” to control elections. None of it is accurate. The public is learning not to trust their president. On one hand it is refreshing and heartening that Lincoln’s adage about fooling all of us is as true today as it was in the 19th century. But it’s more than a little disturbing and sad. We were hoping for a new kind of politician. Instead we got the very worst of the old.

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RE: State of the Union Advice

I certainly agree with Jennifer (and Lisa Schiffren) that President Obama should hold the speech to 25 minutes. In oratory, shorter is almost always better. The greatest inaugural speech in American history, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, took only a few minutes to deliver. (Do yourself a favor and read it here.) William Henry Harrison’s inaugural speech, on the other hand, is remembered only for being the longest in American history, lasting an hour and forty-five minutes. He delivered it in a snow storm and died a month later of pneumonia.

To be sure, State of the Union speeches are usually boring and utterly unmemorable. Of all the ones I have listened to, the only two lines I can remember are: “the state of the Union is not good” (Gerald Ford in 1976); and “the era of big government is over” (Bill Clinton, 1996).  Come to think of it, perhaps President Obama should start off his first State of the Union speech quoting Bill Clinton. That would certainly get everyone’s attention.

I certainly agree with Jennifer (and Lisa Schiffren) that President Obama should hold the speech to 25 minutes. In oratory, shorter is almost always better. The greatest inaugural speech in American history, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, took only a few minutes to deliver. (Do yourself a favor and read it here.) William Henry Harrison’s inaugural speech, on the other hand, is remembered only for being the longest in American history, lasting an hour and forty-five minutes. He delivered it in a snow storm and died a month later of pneumonia.

To be sure, State of the Union speeches are usually boring and utterly unmemorable. Of all the ones I have listened to, the only two lines I can remember are: “the state of the Union is not good” (Gerald Ford in 1976); and “the era of big government is over” (Bill Clinton, 1996).  Come to think of it, perhaps President Obama should start off his first State of the Union speech quoting Bill Clinton. That would certainly get everyone’s attention.

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Senate Democrats’ Secret Plan? Yikes!

Lacking a single legislative accomplishment, fumbling the ball on health-care reform, wondering why the president seems to be operating in a parallel political universe, Senate Democrats are not going to do nothing, mind you. They have a new secret plan: don’t get blamed and try to divide the other side. Yup:

Democrats are looking for someone to blame for their electoral woes — and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez is working hard to make sure it’s not him. Showing that they’ve learned the lesson of Massachusetts, Menendez and his staff will distribute a memo Tuesday advising Democratic campaign managers to frame their opponents early — and to drive a wedge between moderate voters and tea-party-style conservatives.

The game plan is to force their opponents to answer wacky questions and then make them out to be extremist nuts:

“Do you believe that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen? Do you think the 10th Amendment bars Congress from issuing regulations like minimum health care coverage standards? Do you think programs like Social Security and Medicare represent socialism and should never have been created in the first place? Do you think President Obama is a socialist? Do you think America should return to a gold standard?”

Think it’ll work? Nope, me neither. And it does seem rather pathetic, craven, and oblivious to the real risk that the people harping on the gold standard will be the ones who look like the loonies. You’d think the Democrats would get to work on a positive centrist agenda of their own, perhaps follow the leads of Sens. Webb and Lincoln and oppose the Obami’s unwise anti-terror policies. But instead they come up with a cheesy plan that evidences the low regard in which they hold the public. Republicans no doubt have their fingers crossed that this is the sort of silliness they will come up against in November. But I wouldn’t count on it. At some point, some adults in the Democratic caucus may suggest a realistic legislative course adjustment. Otherwise, the discussion will quickly move from speculation over whether the House will change hands to whether both houses will. That’s the sort of thing that happens when the majority party acts irresponsibly and resorts to cheap political stunts.

Lacking a single legislative accomplishment, fumbling the ball on health-care reform, wondering why the president seems to be operating in a parallel political universe, Senate Democrats are not going to do nothing, mind you. They have a new secret plan: don’t get blamed and try to divide the other side. Yup:

Democrats are looking for someone to blame for their electoral woes — and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez is working hard to make sure it’s not him. Showing that they’ve learned the lesson of Massachusetts, Menendez and his staff will distribute a memo Tuesday advising Democratic campaign managers to frame their opponents early — and to drive a wedge between moderate voters and tea-party-style conservatives.

The game plan is to force their opponents to answer wacky questions and then make them out to be extremist nuts:

“Do you believe that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen? Do you think the 10th Amendment bars Congress from issuing regulations like minimum health care coverage standards? Do you think programs like Social Security and Medicare represent socialism and should never have been created in the first place? Do you think President Obama is a socialist? Do you think America should return to a gold standard?”

Think it’ll work? Nope, me neither. And it does seem rather pathetic, craven, and oblivious to the real risk that the people harping on the gold standard will be the ones who look like the loonies. You’d think the Democrats would get to work on a positive centrist agenda of their own, perhaps follow the leads of Sens. Webb and Lincoln and oppose the Obami’s unwise anti-terror policies. But instead they come up with a cheesy plan that evidences the low regard in which they hold the public. Republicans no doubt have their fingers crossed that this is the sort of silliness they will come up against in November. But I wouldn’t count on it. At some point, some adults in the Democratic caucus may suggest a realistic legislative course adjustment. Otherwise, the discussion will quickly move from speculation over whether the House will change hands to whether both houses will. That’s the sort of thing that happens when the majority party acts irresponsibly and resorts to cheap political stunts.

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Obama vs. Political Reality

The Cook Political Report sends an e-mail, explaining:

If there was any doubt before the Democrats’ loss of the Senate seat in Massachusetts last week, it’s gone now. This is a nationalized election. Look no further than the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted January 10-14 among 1,002 registered voters by veteran pollsters Democrat Peter Hart and Republican Bill McInturff. On the generic Congressional ballot test, which measures the potential popular vote for the House, the two parties run even, 41-41. This should be troubling for Democrats because this poll question historically skews about three points in favor of Democrats. But more significantly was that among those voters with the most intense interest in this election (those who rated their interest as either a 9 or a 10), Republicans held a 15-point lead, 50-35 percent. This is the second consecutive month of huge GOP advantages among those voters most interested in the election. If this level remains constant, you can count on the Democratic majority in the House being toast this fall.

On the Senate side, Charlie Cooks joins other analysts in predicting major losses for the Democrats. (“I suspect a Republican gain of between five and seven seats, predicated on the Democrats’ being unlikely to capture any more than one, at most, of the currently toss-up Republican Senate seats. . . and not being able to hold onto more than one, at most, of the five Democratic toss-up seats [Sen. Lincoln in Arkansas, Sen. Bennet in Colorado, Sen. Burris in Illinois, Sen. Reid in Nevada and Sen. Specter in Pennsylvania]). He calls the Democratic seats in Delaware and North Dakota “goners.”

Cook doesn’t seem to have Obama’s confidence that the president’s presence on the political stage makes all the difference in the world. Or maybe it does. Maybe it is the national environment, which has emerged in response to Obama’s far-Left agenda, that’s dragging the Democrats under. Their choice: put forth a different agenda or every lawmaker for himself, distancing himself from the Obama agenda. In either case, the political reality seems to bear little resemblance to the country as envisioned from the Oval Office. That, more than anything else, must concern the Democrats, who must battle not only Republicans but their own tone-deaf president.

The Cook Political Report sends an e-mail, explaining:

If there was any doubt before the Democrats’ loss of the Senate seat in Massachusetts last week, it’s gone now. This is a nationalized election. Look no further than the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted January 10-14 among 1,002 registered voters by veteran pollsters Democrat Peter Hart and Republican Bill McInturff. On the generic Congressional ballot test, which measures the potential popular vote for the House, the two parties run even, 41-41. This should be troubling for Democrats because this poll question historically skews about three points in favor of Democrats. But more significantly was that among those voters with the most intense interest in this election (those who rated their interest as either a 9 or a 10), Republicans held a 15-point lead, 50-35 percent. This is the second consecutive month of huge GOP advantages among those voters most interested in the election. If this level remains constant, you can count on the Democratic majority in the House being toast this fall.

On the Senate side, Charlie Cooks joins other analysts in predicting major losses for the Democrats. (“I suspect a Republican gain of between five and seven seats, predicated on the Democrats’ being unlikely to capture any more than one, at most, of the currently toss-up Republican Senate seats. . . and not being able to hold onto more than one, at most, of the five Democratic toss-up seats [Sen. Lincoln in Arkansas, Sen. Bennet in Colorado, Sen. Burris in Illinois, Sen. Reid in Nevada and Sen. Specter in Pennsylvania]). He calls the Democratic seats in Delaware and North Dakota “goners.”

Cook doesn’t seem to have Obama’s confidence that the president’s presence on the political stage makes all the difference in the world. Or maybe it does. Maybe it is the national environment, which has emerged in response to Obama’s far-Left agenda, that’s dragging the Democrats under. Their choice: put forth a different agenda or every lawmaker for himself, distancing himself from the Obama agenda. In either case, the political reality seems to bear little resemblance to the country as envisioned from the Oval Office. That, more than anything else, must concern the Democrats, who must battle not only Republicans but their own tone-deaf president.

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Happy Anniversary

This week Obama did not celebrate the one-year anniversary of his presidency. That is understandable. Who, on either side of the political aisle, would have imagined that at the one-year mark, his nationalized health-care plan would be failing, card check and cap-and-trade would be off the radar, and Obama’s approval rating would be under 50 percent? Couple that with the widespread repudiation of his approach to foreign policy (the exception, more or less, being the prosecution of the war against Islamic fascists in Afghanistan and Iraq), the growth of a grassroots conservative movement, and the victories for Republicans in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, and you can appreciate how little there is for the Obama team to cheer. Obama has proved unable to move legislation or persuade voters in diverse locales. His base is annoyed and now skewers the president. This is all the more amazing, given his huge congressional majorities and the overwhelmingly sympathetic media coverage he received for much of the year.

Obama was compared to Lincoln and FDR (not to mention the Almighty); now the analogy is to Jimmy Carter. Last year the chatter was of a permanent Democratic majority; now the pundits are weighing whether one or both houses of Congress will flip to the Republicans. He was a political colossus and the harbinger of a new era in politics; now fellow Democrats would be wise to steer clear of him.

The reasons are many — ideological overreach, hubris, and sheer incompetence, to name a few. But the magnitude of the reversal of political fortunes should not be overlooked. It is a reminder that nothing in politics is “permanent” and that winning an election does not obviate the need to proceed with caution and being mindful of public consensus when tackling complex and far-reaching policy issues. It is a lesson — or should be — in an era of ubiquitous media spin that the substance of governance matters and that on matters that affect their lives, ordinary citizens can be relied upon to engage, participate, and affect the outcome of the national debate. It is confirmation that the liberal media may be heavily invested in elections and policy debates but do not predetermine the results. And above all, it is an affirmation of the inherent conservatism and common sense of the American people, who may be swept up in the passion of a campaign but retain a healthy aversion to statism and a fondness for freedom.

There are three years more in Obama’s first term. It would be a mistake to predict how it will all come out. But for now, unlike for the president, there is much for conservatives to celebrate.

This week Obama did not celebrate the one-year anniversary of his presidency. That is understandable. Who, on either side of the political aisle, would have imagined that at the one-year mark, his nationalized health-care plan would be failing, card check and cap-and-trade would be off the radar, and Obama’s approval rating would be under 50 percent? Couple that with the widespread repudiation of his approach to foreign policy (the exception, more or less, being the prosecution of the war against Islamic fascists in Afghanistan and Iraq), the growth of a grassroots conservative movement, and the victories for Republicans in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, and you can appreciate how little there is for the Obama team to cheer. Obama has proved unable to move legislation or persuade voters in diverse locales. His base is annoyed and now skewers the president. This is all the more amazing, given his huge congressional majorities and the overwhelmingly sympathetic media coverage he received for much of the year.

Obama was compared to Lincoln and FDR (not to mention the Almighty); now the analogy is to Jimmy Carter. Last year the chatter was of a permanent Democratic majority; now the pundits are weighing whether one or both houses of Congress will flip to the Republicans. He was a political colossus and the harbinger of a new era in politics; now fellow Democrats would be wise to steer clear of him.

The reasons are many — ideological overreach, hubris, and sheer incompetence, to name a few. But the magnitude of the reversal of political fortunes should not be overlooked. It is a reminder that nothing in politics is “permanent” and that winning an election does not obviate the need to proceed with caution and being mindful of public consensus when tackling complex and far-reaching policy issues. It is a lesson — or should be — in an era of ubiquitous media spin that the substance of governance matters and that on matters that affect their lives, ordinary citizens can be relied upon to engage, participate, and affect the outcome of the national debate. It is confirmation that the liberal media may be heavily invested in elections and policy debates but do not predetermine the results. And above all, it is an affirmation of the inherent conservatism and common sense of the American people, who may be swept up in the passion of a campaign but retain a healthy aversion to statism and a fondness for freedom.

There are three years more in Obama’s first term. It would be a mistake to predict how it will all come out. But for now, unlike for the president, there is much for conservatives to celebrate.

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Falling From Grace

In the aftermath of Republican Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, panic has set in among the Democrats. Different factions are reacting in different ways. The Left is arguing that Obama was not liberal or aggressive enough. Moderates are saying Obama’s agenda was too liberal and ambitious. Some are saying it’s more imperative than ever to pass health-care legislation; others are saying that would be the worst thing to do in light of the results in the Bay State. But what they all agree on is that the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party are in a heap of trouble.

“The Republican victory in Massachusetts has sent a wave of fear through the halls of the Senate, with moderate and liberal Democrats second-guessing their party’s agenda,” Politico reports, “and worrying that they’ll be the next victims of voters’ anger… ‘Every state is now in play,’ said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).”

It is now worth asking whether, in the wake of three pulverizing electoral losses for the Democrats — the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey and the Senate race in Massachusetts — any president has done more damage to his party in a shorter period of time than has Barack Obama.

All this wreckage from the man we were told would be the next Lincoln and FDR, a “sort of God,” in the words of Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas. A year ago today the liberal Harold Meyerson wrote a column in the Washington Post titled “Words Made Flesh,” referring to the description of Jesus in the gospel according to John.

Other presidents, having driven themselves into a ditch, have recovered. Whether or not Obama does depends on things we do not know. What we do know, and what we can assess, is what has unfolded over the course of the past year. And it has been — for Mr. Obama and his administration, his agenda and party, and liberalism itself — brutal.

Falls from grace usually are.

In the aftermath of Republican Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, panic has set in among the Democrats. Different factions are reacting in different ways. The Left is arguing that Obama was not liberal or aggressive enough. Moderates are saying Obama’s agenda was too liberal and ambitious. Some are saying it’s more imperative than ever to pass health-care legislation; others are saying that would be the worst thing to do in light of the results in the Bay State. But what they all agree on is that the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party are in a heap of trouble.

“The Republican victory in Massachusetts has sent a wave of fear through the halls of the Senate, with moderate and liberal Democrats second-guessing their party’s agenda,” Politico reports, “and worrying that they’ll be the next victims of voters’ anger… ‘Every state is now in play,’ said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).”

It is now worth asking whether, in the wake of three pulverizing electoral losses for the Democrats — the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey and the Senate race in Massachusetts — any president has done more damage to his party in a shorter period of time than has Barack Obama.

All this wreckage from the man we were told would be the next Lincoln and FDR, a “sort of God,” in the words of Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas. A year ago today the liberal Harold Meyerson wrote a column in the Washington Post titled “Words Made Flesh,” referring to the description of Jesus in the gospel according to John.

Other presidents, having driven themselves into a ditch, have recovered. Whether or not Obama does depends on things we do not know. What we do know, and what we can assess, is what has unfolded over the course of the past year. And it has been — for Mr. Obama and his administration, his agenda and party, and liberalism itself — brutal.

Falls from grace usually are.

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Is Reconciliation “Soft”?

Conservative bloggers such as Bill Roggio, Andrew McCarthy, and our own Jennifer Rubin, are understandably irate over news that U.S. forces have released imprisoned terrorist leader Qais Qazali (also spelled Khazali) at the same time that his group, the Asaib al-Haq (AAH), has released British hostage Peter Moore. They see this as another sign of the Obama administration’s weakness in the face of terrorism. “No conceivable justification for this one” reads the headline over Jen’s blog item.

Whether this deal is justified or not remains to be seen, but I do think there is a reasonable justification for it and I don’t see this as evidence of Obama’s supineness in dealing with Iran. (There’s plenty of other evidence to make that case.) The fact is that under the U.S.-Iraq security accord brokered by the Bush administration, our forces’ legal right to hold detainees in Iraq has essentially expired. We have released most of our detainees. We are still holding a few hard-core terrorists at the sufferance of the Iraqi government but even that arrangement will not last long, with U.S. forces drawing down to 50,000 in September and to zero (or close to it) by the end of 2011. While U.S. forces have been moving into an “over-watch” role, Iraqis have stepped forward with a fair extent of success, notwithstanding some high-profile bombings in Baghdad. As General David Petraeus noted at a ceremony in Baghdad marking the inauguration of a new U.S. command, U.S. Forces-Iraq, “insurgent attacks have dropped from more than 200 a day two years ago to approximately 15 a day,” and no U.S. troops were killed in combat in December.

Part of this improvement is attributable to better security operations. But part is also due to a process of reconciliation that has been happening behind the scenes. We all know about the former Sunni insurgents who, as part of the Sons of Iraq, have joined the governmental side in fighting against al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have received amnesty for attacks carried out when they were on the other side. (Some have subsequently been arrested on charges of breaking the law after joining the Sons of Iraq.)

Less well known is the fact that most Shiite insurgents have also laid down their arms, including most of the former Mahdist movement. Moqtada al-Sadr’s decline has led to the establishment of various breakaway factions, including the AAH, which is led by the Qazali brothers, supported by Iran’s Quds Force, and responsible for some gruesome attacks on U.S. forces in the past. The most notorious of them was a well-organized raid on the government center in Karbala in January 2007, which killed five American service members. In the spring of 2009, Laith Qazali was released from custody as part of a provisional arrangement whereby AAH agreed to stop mounting violent attacks. When I was in Iraq in October, I was told by American intelligence analysts that they believed AAH has largely stuck by its word. Hence the turnover of Qais to the Iraqis and his probable release.

All of these deals have been brokered by Prime Minister Maliki with the close oversight of General Ray Odierno, now the U.S. Forces-Iraq commander, and his boss, General Petraeus. They can hardly be accused of being “soft” on terrorism, yet they know that in the end warfare alone will not suffice to end an insurgency. There must be a process of political reconciliation, which involves accommodating even vile figures such as the Qazali brothers, who have American blood on their hands. It is the same realization reached by Lincoln, Churchill, and other great wartime commanders who understood that after the guns fell silent they would have to learn to live with former enemies.

Conservative bloggers such as Bill Roggio, Andrew McCarthy, and our own Jennifer Rubin, are understandably irate over news that U.S. forces have released imprisoned terrorist leader Qais Qazali (also spelled Khazali) at the same time that his group, the Asaib al-Haq (AAH), has released British hostage Peter Moore. They see this as another sign of the Obama administration’s weakness in the face of terrorism. “No conceivable justification for this one” reads the headline over Jen’s blog item.

Whether this deal is justified or not remains to be seen, but I do think there is a reasonable justification for it and I don’t see this as evidence of Obama’s supineness in dealing with Iran. (There’s plenty of other evidence to make that case.) The fact is that under the U.S.-Iraq security accord brokered by the Bush administration, our forces’ legal right to hold detainees in Iraq has essentially expired. We have released most of our detainees. We are still holding a few hard-core terrorists at the sufferance of the Iraqi government but even that arrangement will not last long, with U.S. forces drawing down to 50,000 in September and to zero (or close to it) by the end of 2011. While U.S. forces have been moving into an “over-watch” role, Iraqis have stepped forward with a fair extent of success, notwithstanding some high-profile bombings in Baghdad. As General David Petraeus noted at a ceremony in Baghdad marking the inauguration of a new U.S. command, U.S. Forces-Iraq, “insurgent attacks have dropped from more than 200 a day two years ago to approximately 15 a day,” and no U.S. troops were killed in combat in December.

Part of this improvement is attributable to better security operations. But part is also due to a process of reconciliation that has been happening behind the scenes. We all know about the former Sunni insurgents who, as part of the Sons of Iraq, have joined the governmental side in fighting against al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have received amnesty for attacks carried out when they were on the other side. (Some have subsequently been arrested on charges of breaking the law after joining the Sons of Iraq.)

Less well known is the fact that most Shiite insurgents have also laid down their arms, including most of the former Mahdist movement. Moqtada al-Sadr’s decline has led to the establishment of various breakaway factions, including the AAH, which is led by the Qazali brothers, supported by Iran’s Quds Force, and responsible for some gruesome attacks on U.S. forces in the past. The most notorious of them was a well-organized raid on the government center in Karbala in January 2007, which killed five American service members. In the spring of 2009, Laith Qazali was released from custody as part of a provisional arrangement whereby AAH agreed to stop mounting violent attacks. When I was in Iraq in October, I was told by American intelligence analysts that they believed AAH has largely stuck by its word. Hence the turnover of Qais to the Iraqis and his probable release.

All of these deals have been brokered by Prime Minister Maliki with the close oversight of General Ray Odierno, now the U.S. Forces-Iraq commander, and his boss, General Petraeus. They can hardly be accused of being “soft” on terrorism, yet they know that in the end warfare alone will not suffice to end an insurgency. There must be a process of political reconciliation, which involves accommodating even vile figures such as the Qazali brothers, who have American blood on their hands. It is the same realization reached by Lincoln, Churchill, and other great wartime commanders who understood that after the guns fell silent they would have to learn to live with former enemies.

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Re: Obama’s Missed Moment

When once pundits squabbled over how great  Obama was (Lincoln, or just FDR?) and what made him so wonderful, the debate now has turned to why he is so lacking in presidential qualities at key moments. It is not only conservatives who are aghast at Obama’s listless performance. From the Left, Maureen Dowd, sounding like she’s given up on the Gray Lady’s dreamboat, seethes:

Before he left for vacation, Obama tried to shed his Spock mien and juice up the empathy quotient on jobs. But in his usual inspiring/listless cycle, he once more appeared chilly in his response to the chilling episode on Flight 253, issuing bulletins through his press secretary and hitting the links. At least you have to seem concerned. On Tuesday, Obama stepped up to the microphone to admit what Janet Napolitano (who learned nothing from an earlier Janet named Reno) had first tried to deny: that there had been “a systemic failure” and a “catastrophic breach of security.” But in a mystifying moment that was not technically or emotionally reassuring, there was no live video and it looked as though the Obama operation was flying by the seat of its pants.

It didn’t just look that way. The Obama operation — that would be he — is obviously flying by the seat of its pants. The system worked. No it didn’t. The bomber was an isolated extremist. No he wasn’t. Part of the answer to “what is wrong” with Obama and why he is lacking in commander in chief-ness is that he frankly doesn’t seem to know what he is doing. As Dowd puts it: “In his detached way, Spock was letting us know that our besieged starship was not speeding into a safer new future, and that we still have to be scared. Heck of a job, Barry.”

Then from the Right, in a devastating column, Shelby Steele posits why Obama seems so lacking in substance and oomph:

I think that Mr. Obama is not just inexperienced; he is also hampered by a distinct inner emptiness—not an emptiness that comes from stupidity or a lack of ability but an emptiness that has been actually nurtured and developed as an adaptation to the political world.

The nature of this emptiness becomes clear in the contrast between him and Ronald Reagan. Reagan reached the White House through a great deal of what is called “individuating”—that is he took principled positions throughout his long career that jeopardized his popularity, and in so doing he came to know who he was as a man and what he truly believed.

Skating through on his appeal as a “benign — and therefore desirable” racial symbol, Obama, in Steele’s estimation, is therefore lacking a key ingredient of leadership: “He has not had to gamble his popularity on his principles, and it is impossible to know one’s true beliefs without this. In the future he may stumble now and then into a right action, but there is no hard-earned center to the man out of which he might truly lead.”

Whatever the reason, the consensus is building: Obama is not leading. In a post 9/11 world with two wars and an Iranian nuclear threat looming, this is not a comforting conclusion. Worse yet, if everyone from Dowd to Steele can figure that out, so can our enemies.

When once pundits squabbled over how great  Obama was (Lincoln, or just FDR?) and what made him so wonderful, the debate now has turned to why he is so lacking in presidential qualities at key moments. It is not only conservatives who are aghast at Obama’s listless performance. From the Left, Maureen Dowd, sounding like she’s given up on the Gray Lady’s dreamboat, seethes:

Before he left for vacation, Obama tried to shed his Spock mien and juice up the empathy quotient on jobs. But in his usual inspiring/listless cycle, he once more appeared chilly in his response to the chilling episode on Flight 253, issuing bulletins through his press secretary and hitting the links. At least you have to seem concerned. On Tuesday, Obama stepped up to the microphone to admit what Janet Napolitano (who learned nothing from an earlier Janet named Reno) had first tried to deny: that there had been “a systemic failure” and a “catastrophic breach of security.” But in a mystifying moment that was not technically or emotionally reassuring, there was no live video and it looked as though the Obama operation was flying by the seat of its pants.

It didn’t just look that way. The Obama operation — that would be he — is obviously flying by the seat of its pants. The system worked. No it didn’t. The bomber was an isolated extremist. No he wasn’t. Part of the answer to “what is wrong” with Obama and why he is lacking in commander in chief-ness is that he frankly doesn’t seem to know what he is doing. As Dowd puts it: “In his detached way, Spock was letting us know that our besieged starship was not speeding into a safer new future, and that we still have to be scared. Heck of a job, Barry.”

Then from the Right, in a devastating column, Shelby Steele posits why Obama seems so lacking in substance and oomph:

I think that Mr. Obama is not just inexperienced; he is also hampered by a distinct inner emptiness—not an emptiness that comes from stupidity or a lack of ability but an emptiness that has been actually nurtured and developed as an adaptation to the political world.

The nature of this emptiness becomes clear in the contrast between him and Ronald Reagan. Reagan reached the White House through a great deal of what is called “individuating”—that is he took principled positions throughout his long career that jeopardized his popularity, and in so doing he came to know who he was as a man and what he truly believed.

Skating through on his appeal as a “benign — and therefore desirable” racial symbol, Obama, in Steele’s estimation, is therefore lacking a key ingredient of leadership: “He has not had to gamble his popularity on his principles, and it is impossible to know one’s true beliefs without this. In the future he may stumble now and then into a right action, but there is no hard-earned center to the man out of which he might truly lead.”

Whatever the reason, the consensus is building: Obama is not leading. In a post 9/11 world with two wars and an Iranian nuclear threat looming, this is not a comforting conclusion. Worse yet, if everyone from Dowd to Steele can figure that out, so can our enemies.

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A Political Earthquake

In today’s Rasmussen presidential poll, only 26 percent of the nation’s voters strongly approve of Barack Obama’s performance as president, while 43 percent strongly disapprove — giving him a Presidential Approval Index rating, a sum calculated by subtracting the number of strong disapprovals from the number of strong approvals, of negative 17. His overall disapproval rating is 53 percent (it has been 50 percent or more for over a month). But it is the extraordinarily high proportion of those who strongly disapprove that bears noting.

In January, George W. Bush left office with a “Strongly Disapprove” rating of … 43 percent. It took Bush eight years to achieve that level of strong disapproval, despite how the mainstream media pummeled him for years. Obama has reached that level in 11 months, despite a media that for months could not use his name in a sentence without also adding “Lincoln” and “FDR.”

To appreciate the magnitude of Obama’s ratings fall, consider that after his first full day in office, his presidential index was positive 30. Today’s index of negative 17 reflects a swing of 47 points in less than a year.

A commenter at the Huffington Post today observes that Obama has “accomplished the remarkable feat of both demoralizing the base and completely turning off voters in the center.” The president has also unified the Republican party and created a tea-party movement that in some polls is more popular than both the Democratic and Republican parties.

At this stage of the Clinton administration, voters were upset about a health-care reform being planned in secret by the president’s wife; today they appear even more upset by an administration pushing through an ultra-partisan restructuring of the economy in the dead of night. If this keeps up, there is going to be an electoral earthquake less than 11 months from now.

In today’s Rasmussen presidential poll, only 26 percent of the nation’s voters strongly approve of Barack Obama’s performance as president, while 43 percent strongly disapprove — giving him a Presidential Approval Index rating, a sum calculated by subtracting the number of strong disapprovals from the number of strong approvals, of negative 17. His overall disapproval rating is 53 percent (it has been 50 percent or more for over a month). But it is the extraordinarily high proportion of those who strongly disapprove that bears noting.

In January, George W. Bush left office with a “Strongly Disapprove” rating of … 43 percent. It took Bush eight years to achieve that level of strong disapproval, despite how the mainstream media pummeled him for years. Obama has reached that level in 11 months, despite a media that for months could not use his name in a sentence without also adding “Lincoln” and “FDR.”

To appreciate the magnitude of Obama’s ratings fall, consider that after his first full day in office, his presidential index was positive 30. Today’s index of negative 17 reflects a swing of 47 points in less than a year.

A commenter at the Huffington Post today observes that Obama has “accomplished the remarkable feat of both demoralizing the base and completely turning off voters in the center.” The president has also unified the Republican party and created a tea-party movement that in some polls is more popular than both the Democratic and Republican parties.

At this stage of the Clinton administration, voters were upset about a health-care reform being planned in secret by the president’s wife; today they appear even more upset by an administration pushing through an ultra-partisan restructuring of the economy in the dead of night. If this keeps up, there is going to be an electoral earthquake less than 11 months from now.

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Friedman’s Call for War

Let me get this straight: did Thomas Friedman just call for a literal civil war within the Arab and Muslim world, for the forces of moderation to rise up and physically destroy the jihadists once and for all?

His column in Tuesday’s New York Times is not fully clear on how violent he wants it. At first he talks about the problem of “Virtual Afghanistan,” the spread of anti-West ideas and the recruitment of jihadists via the Internet. “We don’t need more NATO allies to kill more Taliban and Al Qaeda. We need more Arab and Muslim allies to kill their extremist ideas, which, thanks to the Virtual Afghanistan, are now being spread farther than ever before.” That sounds like the Friedman we know.

But then something weird happens. Judge for yourself:

Only Arabs and Muslims can fight the war of ideas within Islam. We had a civil war in America in the mid-19th century because we had a lot of people who believed bad things — namely that you could enslave people because of the color of their skin. We defeated those ideas and the individuals, leaders and institutions that propagated them, and we did it with such ferocity that five generations later some of their offspring still have not forgiven the North.

Islam needs the same civil war. It has a violent minority that believes bad things: that it is O.K. to not only murder non-Muslims — “infidels,” who do not submit to Muslim authority — but to murder Muslims as well who will not accept the most rigid Muslim lifestyle and submit to rule by a Muslim caliphate.

Friedman starts with the “war of ideas within Islam,” uses the American Civil War as an example, and then goes on to focus on which ideas are legitimate in the Arab-Muslim world and which are not, and on how many fatwas have been issued against al-Qaeda. As though he hadn’t just said anything shocking.

Hello? The American Civil War was not only a battle of ideas. The “ferocity” he refers to, the lingering antipathy against the North today, was not because Lincoln issued a fatwa or recruited columnists in the South over the Internet or wrote a bestselling book. There was horrific, physical destruction involved. Is he saying that Islam “needs” a moderate-Islamic General Sherman to scorch the earth of Saudi-funded madrasses? Literally?

Because if he doesn’t mean it literally, the metaphor suddenly makes no sense. Certain ideas are deemed illegitimate in the Muslim world because simply expressing them can get you killed. Violence is a crucial component in the equation — that’s what it means not to be part of the democratic world. So if moderate voices are to turn violent against the extremists — even if the violence is not literal but only in the form of condemnation, stopping their funding, pursuing a “war of ideas,” and so forth — first you need to remove the threat of literal violence and create a free environment in which ideas can be aired without fear. But for that you need a much bigger change than just calling for the voices of moderation to wake up. There’s a good reason why they’re asleep in the first place.

So, Mr. Friedman, which is it? A literal civil war, like the one America endured? Or a figurative one, which you call on others to wage, bravely and at high cost, with little hope of victory?

Let me get this straight: did Thomas Friedman just call for a literal civil war within the Arab and Muslim world, for the forces of moderation to rise up and physically destroy the jihadists once and for all?

His column in Tuesday’s New York Times is not fully clear on how violent he wants it. At first he talks about the problem of “Virtual Afghanistan,” the spread of anti-West ideas and the recruitment of jihadists via the Internet. “We don’t need more NATO allies to kill more Taliban and Al Qaeda. We need more Arab and Muslim allies to kill their extremist ideas, which, thanks to the Virtual Afghanistan, are now being spread farther than ever before.” That sounds like the Friedman we know.

But then something weird happens. Judge for yourself:

Only Arabs and Muslims can fight the war of ideas within Islam. We had a civil war in America in the mid-19th century because we had a lot of people who believed bad things — namely that you could enslave people because of the color of their skin. We defeated those ideas and the individuals, leaders and institutions that propagated them, and we did it with such ferocity that five generations later some of their offspring still have not forgiven the North.

Islam needs the same civil war. It has a violent minority that believes bad things: that it is O.K. to not only murder non-Muslims — “infidels,” who do not submit to Muslim authority — but to murder Muslims as well who will not accept the most rigid Muslim lifestyle and submit to rule by a Muslim caliphate.

Friedman starts with the “war of ideas within Islam,” uses the American Civil War as an example, and then goes on to focus on which ideas are legitimate in the Arab-Muslim world and which are not, and on how many fatwas have been issued against al-Qaeda. As though he hadn’t just said anything shocking.

Hello? The American Civil War was not only a battle of ideas. The “ferocity” he refers to, the lingering antipathy against the North today, was not because Lincoln issued a fatwa or recruited columnists in the South over the Internet or wrote a bestselling book. There was horrific, physical destruction involved. Is he saying that Islam “needs” a moderate-Islamic General Sherman to scorch the earth of Saudi-funded madrasses? Literally?

Because if he doesn’t mean it literally, the metaphor suddenly makes no sense. Certain ideas are deemed illegitimate in the Muslim world because simply expressing them can get you killed. Violence is a crucial component in the equation — that’s what it means not to be part of the democratic world. So if moderate voices are to turn violent against the extremists — even if the violence is not literal but only in the form of condemnation, stopping their funding, pursuing a “war of ideas,” and so forth — first you need to remove the threat of literal violence and create a free environment in which ideas can be aired without fear. But for that you need a much bigger change than just calling for the voices of moderation to wake up. There’s a good reason why they’re asleep in the first place.

So, Mr. Friedman, which is it? A literal civil war, like the one America endured? Or a figurative one, which you call on others to wage, bravely and at high cost, with little hope of victory?

Read Less




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