Commentary Magazine


Topic: Margaret Thatcher

Obama’s SOTU Borrowed from Other Famous Speeches

President Obama’s State of the Union on Tuesday was widely panned as “boring” by critics. But could the reason be because Americans have heard it all before?

U.S. News & World Report columnist Alvin Felzenberg argued that Obama’s speech was “tantamount to plagiarism” and that it “contained enough recycled ideas and lines lifted from speeches of others to make historians wince.”

And while it looks like that an overuse of clichés — as opposed to outright plagiarism — is responsible for the reused lines, Tuesday’s State of the Union does seem to have borrowed heavily from other famous speeches.

Here are some of the misappropriated lines, according to Felzenberg:

• Obama’s references to American as a “light to the world” were taken from Woodrow Wilson.

• The theme of the “American family” resembled Mario Cuomo’s proclamations of the New York “family” in 1993.

• At a 1991 speech in the U.S., Margaret Thatcher said that “no other nation has been built upon an idea.” Obama said something similar in his speech Tuesday.

• The reference to a “Sputnik Moment” channeled Dwight D. Eisenhower.

• By honoring “ordinary heroes,” Obama was taking a page from Ronald Reagan.

• Obama remarked that, “I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth,” which bears a striking resemblance to JFK’s assertion that “I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.”

It’s not unusual for politicians to quote or borrow from great historical leaders in speeches. But it’s noteworthy that Obama, who was supposed to be such a phenomenal communicator, is so reliant on the words of others. For all the rhetorical prowess attributed to him during the 2008 election, his speeches have consistently fallen short of public expectations since he’s taken office.

President Obama’s State of the Union on Tuesday was widely panned as “boring” by critics. But could the reason be because Americans have heard it all before?

U.S. News & World Report columnist Alvin Felzenberg argued that Obama’s speech was “tantamount to plagiarism” and that it “contained enough recycled ideas and lines lifted from speeches of others to make historians wince.”

And while it looks like that an overuse of clichés — as opposed to outright plagiarism — is responsible for the reused lines, Tuesday’s State of the Union does seem to have borrowed heavily from other famous speeches.

Here are some of the misappropriated lines, according to Felzenberg:

• Obama’s references to American as a “light to the world” were taken from Woodrow Wilson.

• The theme of the “American family” resembled Mario Cuomo’s proclamations of the New York “family” in 1993.

• At a 1991 speech in the U.S., Margaret Thatcher said that “no other nation has been built upon an idea.” Obama said something similar in his speech Tuesday.

• The reference to a “Sputnik Moment” channeled Dwight D. Eisenhower.

• By honoring “ordinary heroes,” Obama was taking a page from Ronald Reagan.

• Obama remarked that, “I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth,” which bears a striking resemblance to JFK’s assertion that “I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.”

It’s not unusual for politicians to quote or borrow from great historical leaders in speeches. But it’s noteworthy that Obama, who was supposed to be such a phenomenal communicator, is so reliant on the words of others. For all the rhetorical prowess attributed to him during the 2008 election, his speeches have consistently fallen short of public expectations since he’s taken office.

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Margaret Thatcher and Defensible Borders

Among the documents released last week by the British National Archives is a February 14, 1980, memorandum to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, entitled “Arab/Israel” — and another document showing her handwritten reaction to it. The documents should be read in connection with Harry Kanigel’s excellent article on defensible borders for Israel in yesterday’s American Thinker.

Lord Hailsham’s memorandum responded to a plan that the British foreign secretary, Lord Peter Carrington, wanted Thatcher to approve. Carrington argued that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan provided a “unique opportunity” for the West to form an alliance with Islamic countries but that the “main obstacle” was those countries’ dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the Arab/Israel conflict. He wanted to “build a bridge between the US and the Arabs” with a UN resolution endorsing a Palestinian “right of self-determination” and “the right of Palestinian refugees … to return to their homes,” while assuring Israel of its security “within its 1967 frontiers.”

The Lord Chancellor wrote to Thatcher that he did not share Carrington’s optimism on the prospects of his proposed initiative — “unless, of course, we are prepared to sacrifice things which are too important morally, and too valuable to our interest to sacrifice.”

Were [Israel] to be destroyed by an aggressive war the devastating effects on the rule of law throughout the world could hardly be exaggerated. … Prior to 1967 the physical boundaries of Israel were virtually untenable militarily. South of the Jezreel valley, the geography of Israel is starkly simple, consisting virtually of three parallel straight lines running North and South, the sea, the Judean hills and the Jordan valley. Whoever commands the hills commands the rest. Prior to 1967 the waist-line of Israel was only 10 miles broad, and its main centers of population [were] exposed to artillery fire as well as the prospect of devastating air raids. After 1967 Israel has enjoyed reasonably viable military frontiers consisting of the Judean hills (and the no less important frontier heights on the Syrian border). Jerusalem is built on the Judean hills. [emphasis added]

He also noted that Jewish opinion was “fanatically involved in the fate of Israel” and that Manchester, Leeds, and the whole of North London would be “profoundly affected” by Jewish hostility on this issue. Then he concluded as follows:

If there be a reasonable chance of success without losing our honor yet again over the Balfour declaration; go ahead. But have we not enough on our plate just now not to consider leaving this hot potato alone?

On reading the Hailsham memorandum, perhaps Thatcher recalled the confrontation with Menachem Begin eight months before, when Begin told her that without settlements, Israel could be “at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria.” Perhaps she was impressed by Lord Hailsham’s immense stature as Lord Chancellor and his reference to British honor. Perhaps she took his point about Jewish opinion.

In any event, the files contain a note apparently written to her by her cabinet secretary that appeared to side with Carrington, asserting that “losing our honor” was not involved and suggesting that Jewish hostility was “a different kind of problem.” On the note, Thatcher wrote a single-sentence rebuttal: “I agree with the Lord Chancellor.”

Among the documents released last week by the British National Archives is a February 14, 1980, memorandum to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, entitled “Arab/Israel” — and another document showing her handwritten reaction to it. The documents should be read in connection with Harry Kanigel’s excellent article on defensible borders for Israel in yesterday’s American Thinker.

Lord Hailsham’s memorandum responded to a plan that the British foreign secretary, Lord Peter Carrington, wanted Thatcher to approve. Carrington argued that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan provided a “unique opportunity” for the West to form an alliance with Islamic countries but that the “main obstacle” was those countries’ dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the Arab/Israel conflict. He wanted to “build a bridge between the US and the Arabs” with a UN resolution endorsing a Palestinian “right of self-determination” and “the right of Palestinian refugees … to return to their homes,” while assuring Israel of its security “within its 1967 frontiers.”

The Lord Chancellor wrote to Thatcher that he did not share Carrington’s optimism on the prospects of his proposed initiative — “unless, of course, we are prepared to sacrifice things which are too important morally, and too valuable to our interest to sacrifice.”

Were [Israel] to be destroyed by an aggressive war the devastating effects on the rule of law throughout the world could hardly be exaggerated. … Prior to 1967 the physical boundaries of Israel were virtually untenable militarily. South of the Jezreel valley, the geography of Israel is starkly simple, consisting virtually of three parallel straight lines running North and South, the sea, the Judean hills and the Jordan valley. Whoever commands the hills commands the rest. Prior to 1967 the waist-line of Israel was only 10 miles broad, and its main centers of population [were] exposed to artillery fire as well as the prospect of devastating air raids. After 1967 Israel has enjoyed reasonably viable military frontiers consisting of the Judean hills (and the no less important frontier heights on the Syrian border). Jerusalem is built on the Judean hills. [emphasis added]

He also noted that Jewish opinion was “fanatically involved in the fate of Israel” and that Manchester, Leeds, and the whole of North London would be “profoundly affected” by Jewish hostility on this issue. Then he concluded as follows:

If there be a reasonable chance of success without losing our honor yet again over the Balfour declaration; go ahead. But have we not enough on our plate just now not to consider leaving this hot potato alone?

On reading the Hailsham memorandum, perhaps Thatcher recalled the confrontation with Menachem Begin eight months before, when Begin told her that without settlements, Israel could be “at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria.” Perhaps she was impressed by Lord Hailsham’s immense stature as Lord Chancellor and his reference to British honor. Perhaps she took his point about Jewish opinion.

In any event, the files contain a note apparently written to her by her cabinet secretary that appeared to side with Carrington, asserting that “losing our honor” was not involved and suggesting that Jewish hostility was “a different kind of problem.” On the note, Thatcher wrote a single-sentence rebuttal: “I agree with the Lord Chancellor.”

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When Menachem Met Margaret

Under its “30-year rule,” the British National Archives has released a November 1979 cable quoting Margaret Thatcher telling French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing that she “never had a more difficult man to deal with” than Menachem Begin, whose West Bank policy was “absurd.”

But there was more to the 1979 meeting between Thatcher and Begin than is reflected in the cable, evidenced by Yehuda Avner’s account of the meeting in his extraordinary new book, The Prime Ministers.

Thatcher, with British Foreign Secretary Lord Peter Carrington, hosted Begin for a lunch in May 1979 that Avner attended as Begin’s note taker. The book is based on shorthand notes he transcribed at the time: “anything [in my book] in inverted commas are the words actually spoken.”

The lunch went well until Carrington suddenly confronted Begin about settlements:

“Your settlement policy is expansionist. It is intemperate. It is a barrier to peace. The settlements are built on occupied Arab soil. They rob Palestinians of their land. They unnecessarily arouse the animosity of the moderate Arabs. They are contrary to international law — the Geneva Convention. They are inconsistent with British interests.”

Begin responded that:

“The settlements, sir, are not an obstacle to peace. The Arabs refused to make peace before there was a single settlement anywhere. No Palestinian Arab sovereignty has ever existed in the biblical provinces of Judea and Samaria, where most of the new settlements are located, hence the Geneva Convention does not apply. Besides, we are building the settlements on state-owned, not Arab-owned land. Their construction is an assertion of our basic historic rights, not to speak of their critical importance to our national security.” Read More

Under its “30-year rule,” the British National Archives has released a November 1979 cable quoting Margaret Thatcher telling French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing that she “never had a more difficult man to deal with” than Menachem Begin, whose West Bank policy was “absurd.”

But there was more to the 1979 meeting between Thatcher and Begin than is reflected in the cable, evidenced by Yehuda Avner’s account of the meeting in his extraordinary new book, The Prime Ministers.

Thatcher, with British Foreign Secretary Lord Peter Carrington, hosted Begin for a lunch in May 1979 that Avner attended as Begin’s note taker. The book is based on shorthand notes he transcribed at the time: “anything [in my book] in inverted commas are the words actually spoken.”

The lunch went well until Carrington suddenly confronted Begin about settlements:

“Your settlement policy is expansionist. It is intemperate. It is a barrier to peace. The settlements are built on occupied Arab soil. They rob Palestinians of their land. They unnecessarily arouse the animosity of the moderate Arabs. They are contrary to international law — the Geneva Convention. They are inconsistent with British interests.”

Begin responded that:

“The settlements, sir, are not an obstacle to peace. The Arabs refused to make peace before there was a single settlement anywhere. No Palestinian Arab sovereignty has ever existed in the biblical provinces of Judea and Samaria, where most of the new settlements are located, hence the Geneva Convention does not apply. Besides, we are building the settlements on state-owned, not Arab-owned land. Their construction is an assertion of our basic historic rights, not to speak of their critical importance to our national security.”

Then Begin turned to Thatcher:

“Madame Prime Minister, your foreign secretary dismisses my country’s historic rights and pooh-poohs our vital security needs. So I shall tell you why the settlements are vital: because I speak of the Land of Israel, a land redeemed, not occupied; because without those settlements Israel could be at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria. We would be living on borrowed time. And whenever we Jews are threatened or attacked we are always alone. Remember in 1944, how we came begging for our lives — begging at this very door?”

“Is that when you wanted us to bomb Auschwitz?”

“No, Madame, not Auschwitz. We asked you to bomb the railway lines leading to Auschwitz. In the summer of 1944, Eichmann was transporting to their deaths a hundred thousand Hungarian Jews a week along those lines to Auschwitz.”

Carrington abruptly challenged Begin again: “And what does this have to do with the settlements?”

“Lord Carrington, please have the goodness not to interrupt me when I am in the middle of a conversation with your prime minister. … As I said, whenever we are threatened or attacked, we have only our own fellow Jews to rely on.”

“Peter,” said Mrs. Thatcher softly, “I think an admission of regret is called for.” …

“Quite right, Prime Minister. … Somehow, your little country, Mr. Begin, evokes all sorts of high emotional fevers. Stirs up the blood, so to speak.”

Begin, his composure regained, smiled at him, the smile not reaching his eyes. “The story of our people is very much a tale of having to defend ourselves against bouts of irrationality and hysteria. It happens in every generation.”

In 1979, Begin signed a peace treaty with Egypt, returning land exceeding the size of Israel. He offered Palestinians a quasi-state autonomy; they rejected it. Thirty years later, we know, five times over, that settlements were not an obstacle to peace; to the contrary, their removal in Gaza resulted in a new rocket war.

In the West Bank, a holdover regime wants a state but repeatedly turns one down; refuses to recognize a Jewish state; insists that Israel retreat to the indefensible 1967 lines; demands a “right of return” to delegitimize it demographically; and demands compensation for Arab refugees from the 1948 war the Arabs commenced, but not for the larger number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The appropriate word for this collection of positions is “absurd.”

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Morning Commentary

Despite the beltway chatter about President Obama’s recent “moves to the center,” Charles Krauthammer points out that the “shift” was just for show. Far from embracing a more moderate course, the president has instead used administrative power to stealthily impose several unpopular left-wing policies: “Now as always, Obama’s heart lies left. For those fooled into thinking otherwise by the new Obama of Dec. 22, his administration’s defiantly liberal regulatory moves — on the environment, energy and health care — should disabuse even the most beguiled.”

The U.S. military’s recent crackdown on the Taliban in the Kunduz province of Afghanistan is paying dividends. Officials confirmed this morning that NATO forces took out the Taliban’s shadow governor of Kunduz, Mullah Mawlawi Bahadur, last night. But the Washington Examiner’s Sara Carter reports that the region has also seen a steady increase in insurgents over the past year.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board looks back on the 111th Congress — and the assessment is not pretty: “The real story of 2010 is that the voters were finally able to see and judge this liberal agenda in its unvarnished form. For once, there was no Republican President to muddle the message or divide the accountability.”

At the New Republic, Eric Weinberger wonders whether academic freedom will be protected at Yale’s new college in Singapore. The idea seems unlikely given the trial of Alan Shadrake, a British journalist facing prison in that country for publishing an allegedly “defamatory” book about Singapore’s justice system.

M. Zuhdi Jasser throws his support behind Rep. Peter King’s plans to hold hearings on Islamic radicalization before the House Homeland Security Council next year: “Our national inability to discuss religious issues honestly is keeping American Muslims from having to accept the reforms needed to defeat political Islam and bring our faith into modernity. The victimization mantra feeds more Muslim isolation and radicalization.”

Secret papers released by the National Archives reveal how strained was the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Menachem Begin, who clashed over Begin’s support of the settlements in the West Bank. According to the papers, “Margaret Thatcher believed that Menachem Begin was the ‘most difficult’ man she had to deal with in the early years of her premiership, and thought his West Bank policy ‘absurd.’”

Despite the beltway chatter about President Obama’s recent “moves to the center,” Charles Krauthammer points out that the “shift” was just for show. Far from embracing a more moderate course, the president has instead used administrative power to stealthily impose several unpopular left-wing policies: “Now as always, Obama’s heart lies left. For those fooled into thinking otherwise by the new Obama of Dec. 22, his administration’s defiantly liberal regulatory moves — on the environment, energy and health care — should disabuse even the most beguiled.”

The U.S. military’s recent crackdown on the Taliban in the Kunduz province of Afghanistan is paying dividends. Officials confirmed this morning that NATO forces took out the Taliban’s shadow governor of Kunduz, Mullah Mawlawi Bahadur, last night. But the Washington Examiner’s Sara Carter reports that the region has also seen a steady increase in insurgents over the past year.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board looks back on the 111th Congress — and the assessment is not pretty: “The real story of 2010 is that the voters were finally able to see and judge this liberal agenda in its unvarnished form. For once, there was no Republican President to muddle the message or divide the accountability.”

At the New Republic, Eric Weinberger wonders whether academic freedom will be protected at Yale’s new college in Singapore. The idea seems unlikely given the trial of Alan Shadrake, a British journalist facing prison in that country for publishing an allegedly “defamatory” book about Singapore’s justice system.

M. Zuhdi Jasser throws his support behind Rep. Peter King’s plans to hold hearings on Islamic radicalization before the House Homeland Security Council next year: “Our national inability to discuss religious issues honestly is keeping American Muslims from having to accept the reforms needed to defeat political Islam and bring our faith into modernity. The victimization mantra feeds more Muslim isolation and radicalization.”

Secret papers released by the National Archives reveal how strained was the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Menachem Begin, who clashed over Begin’s support of the settlements in the West Bank. According to the papers, “Margaret Thatcher believed that Menachem Begin was the ‘most difficult’ man she had to deal with in the early years of her premiership, and thought his West Bank policy ‘absurd.’”

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The Conservative Moment

One of the more interesting facts surrounding the midterm elections is that Barack Obama, the most activist, liberal president since Lyndon Johnson, is presiding over a collapse of confidence in government.

According to ABC News, optimism in the country’s system of government has dropped to a new low when measured against polls going back 36 years. In 1974 — shortly after Richard Nixon’s resignation in the Watergate scandal — 55 percent of Americans were optimistic about “our system of government and how well it works.” Today, 33 percent say that, the lowest number in nearly a dozen measurements taken through decades.

In addition, a Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll reported that 69 percent of independents say they have less faith in government now than they did just before Obama was elected.

A president who appears to have almost limitless faith in big government is the architect of growing public disdain for it. “Our ills are creating their own antibodies,” Margaret Thatcher said in 1977, as the conditions were being put in place that swept her to the position of prime minister in the United Kingdom.

In America today we are seeing something similar occur. Mr. Obama’s unchecked liberalism, combined with a struggling economy and a growing sense of governing ineptness, is creating a new conservative moment. The most powerful political idea in America today — the one that is creating the framework for today’s election — is the need to re-limit government as a means to restore economic growth.

Over the next several years, the task of the GOP will be to demonstrate that they have a plan that matches the gravity of this moment. Whether they achieve this or not is an open question. But the fact that they have this opportunity is not. Like Jimmy Carter before him, Barack Obama — by discrediting liberalism — is creating a large new opening for conservatives. It is up to them to seize it.

One of the more interesting facts surrounding the midterm elections is that Barack Obama, the most activist, liberal president since Lyndon Johnson, is presiding over a collapse of confidence in government.

According to ABC News, optimism in the country’s system of government has dropped to a new low when measured against polls going back 36 years. In 1974 — shortly after Richard Nixon’s resignation in the Watergate scandal — 55 percent of Americans were optimistic about “our system of government and how well it works.” Today, 33 percent say that, the lowest number in nearly a dozen measurements taken through decades.

In addition, a Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll reported that 69 percent of independents say they have less faith in government now than they did just before Obama was elected.

A president who appears to have almost limitless faith in big government is the architect of growing public disdain for it. “Our ills are creating their own antibodies,” Margaret Thatcher said in 1977, as the conditions were being put in place that swept her to the position of prime minister in the United Kingdom.

In America today we are seeing something similar occur. Mr. Obama’s unchecked liberalism, combined with a struggling economy and a growing sense of governing ineptness, is creating a new conservative moment. The most powerful political idea in America today — the one that is creating the framework for today’s election — is the need to re-limit government as a means to restore economic growth.

Over the next several years, the task of the GOP will be to demonstrate that they have a plan that matches the gravity of this moment. Whether they achieve this or not is an open question. But the fact that they have this opportunity is not. Like Jimmy Carter before him, Barack Obama — by discrediting liberalism — is creating a large new opening for conservatives. It is up to them to seize it.

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Time for Conservatives to Get Serious About Fiscal Responsibility

Tomorrow Prime Minister David Cameron, who heads a coalition government, is expected to announce the results of a Comprehensive Spending Review of all government expenditures — a review that will result in unprecedented cuts. The goal is to slash the budget deficit from over 10 percent of GDP to almost zero in five years — and in the process to (a) reduce the “crowding out” effect of big government, (b) restore market confidence in government finances, and (c) encourage private business to invest and hire people, which will in turn fuel economic growth.

The cuts in public spending will probably exceed anything either Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or President Reagan ever attempted.

In the past, David Cameron was chided by some American conservatives for being a faux conservative because of his stands on the environment, the National Health Service, and social issues like gay rights (see David Frum’s fine commentary here). But facing the preeminent domestic threat to the West these days — unsustainable budget deficits and the amassing debt – Cameron is wielding a budget axe. Unlike, say, David Stockman, it’s not something Cameron seemed terribly eager to do; he envisioned himself in a different role. But to Cameron’s credit, he is facing reality in a far more responsible manner than the president of the United States, who has made things considerably worse with his spending agenda (President Obama has added $3 trillion to the debt in his first two years in office).

In the end, the truest measure of how serious American conservatives are about governing will be how they address the entitlement crisis. Will they follow the path charted by David Cameron (with the caveat that the UK’s fiscal problems are somewhat different in scope and nature from ours)? Or will they wilt when it comes to reforming entitlement programs by raising the retirement age (for people under 55), tying benefits to prices rather than to wages, means-testing Social Security and Medicare, and turning Medicare into a defined contribution (instead of a defined benefit) program (see here).

Having served in three different administrations, I realize that dealing with entitlements is not an easy task. Republicans need to put forward plans that are gradual, responsible, and prudent. Impaling itself on entitlement reform is not a reasonable demand to make of a political party. Nevertheless, there needs to be a governing strategy that gets America from where we are (an unsustainable fiscal path) to where we need to be (reconfiguring entitlements).

That will need to be done incrementally rather than all at once. But what the Republican Party cannot do is to speak endlessly about the virtues of limited government and the need to cut spending in the abstract — but avoid the hard choices in the particulars. Sooner rather than later, the GOP is going to have to address head on this issue of entitlements (as Representative Paul Ryan has done). Failing to do so would damage its credibility, its cause (conservatism), and its claim that it is serious about fiscal responsibility.

Tomorrow Prime Minister David Cameron, who heads a coalition government, is expected to announce the results of a Comprehensive Spending Review of all government expenditures — a review that will result in unprecedented cuts. The goal is to slash the budget deficit from over 10 percent of GDP to almost zero in five years — and in the process to (a) reduce the “crowding out” effect of big government, (b) restore market confidence in government finances, and (c) encourage private business to invest and hire people, which will in turn fuel economic growth.

The cuts in public spending will probably exceed anything either Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or President Reagan ever attempted.

In the past, David Cameron was chided by some American conservatives for being a faux conservative because of his stands on the environment, the National Health Service, and social issues like gay rights (see David Frum’s fine commentary here). But facing the preeminent domestic threat to the West these days — unsustainable budget deficits and the amassing debt – Cameron is wielding a budget axe. Unlike, say, David Stockman, it’s not something Cameron seemed terribly eager to do; he envisioned himself in a different role. But to Cameron’s credit, he is facing reality in a far more responsible manner than the president of the United States, who has made things considerably worse with his spending agenda (President Obama has added $3 trillion to the debt in his first two years in office).

In the end, the truest measure of how serious American conservatives are about governing will be how they address the entitlement crisis. Will they follow the path charted by David Cameron (with the caveat that the UK’s fiscal problems are somewhat different in scope and nature from ours)? Or will they wilt when it comes to reforming entitlement programs by raising the retirement age (for people under 55), tying benefits to prices rather than to wages, means-testing Social Security and Medicare, and turning Medicare into a defined contribution (instead of a defined benefit) program (see here).

Having served in three different administrations, I realize that dealing with entitlements is not an easy task. Republicans need to put forward plans that are gradual, responsible, and prudent. Impaling itself on entitlement reform is not a reasonable demand to make of a political party. Nevertheless, there needs to be a governing strategy that gets America from where we are (an unsustainable fiscal path) to where we need to be (reconfiguring entitlements).

That will need to be done incrementally rather than all at once. But what the Republican Party cannot do is to speak endlessly about the virtues of limited government and the need to cut spending in the abstract — but avoid the hard choices in the particulars. Sooner rather than later, the GOP is going to have to address head on this issue of entitlements (as Representative Paul Ryan has done). Failing to do so would damage its credibility, its cause (conservatism), and its claim that it is serious about fiscal responsibility.

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A Thatcherite Moment in America

President Obama, in attempting to gain traction just ahead of the midterm election, has homed in his message on taxes – and most especially, on “tax cut for the wealth.” Here is how Obama is framing his argument:

Ninety-seven percent of Americans make less than $250,000 a year — $250,000 a year or less. And I’m saying we can give those families — 97 percent permanent tax relief. And by the way, for those who make more than $250,000, they’d still get tax relief on the first $250,000; they just wouldn’t get it for income above that. Now, that seems like a common-sense thing to do. And what I’ve got is the Republicans holding middle-class tax relief hostage because they’re insisting we’ve got to give tax relief to millionaires and billionaires to the tune of about $100,000 per millionaire, which would cost over the course of 10 years, $700 billion, and that economists say is probably the worst way to stimulate the economy. That doesn’t make sense, and that’s an example of what this election is all about.

Let’s examine what the president said, starting with this observation: Obama’s sudden interest in the pernicious effects of large deficits is curious. There is no apparent limit to what Obama is willing to spend – yet when it comes to taxes, and almost only taxes, the president professes to be alarmed about the deficit. With that in mind, here’s a useful reference point: the $700 billion over 10 years that Obama is so eager to save is considerably less than Obama’s first (failed) stimulus package, which alone is estimated to have cost more than $860 billion. It would help Mr. Obama’s credibility if, in opposing taxes on fiscal grounds, he was not the most profligate president in American history. Read More

President Obama, in attempting to gain traction just ahead of the midterm election, has homed in his message on taxes – and most especially, on “tax cut for the wealth.” Here is how Obama is framing his argument:

Ninety-seven percent of Americans make less than $250,000 a year — $250,000 a year or less. And I’m saying we can give those families — 97 percent permanent tax relief. And by the way, for those who make more than $250,000, they’d still get tax relief on the first $250,000; they just wouldn’t get it for income above that. Now, that seems like a common-sense thing to do. And what I’ve got is the Republicans holding middle-class tax relief hostage because they’re insisting we’ve got to give tax relief to millionaires and billionaires to the tune of about $100,000 per millionaire, which would cost over the course of 10 years, $700 billion, and that economists say is probably the worst way to stimulate the economy. That doesn’t make sense, and that’s an example of what this election is all about.

Let’s examine what the president said, starting with this observation: Obama’s sudden interest in the pernicious effects of large deficits is curious. There is no apparent limit to what Obama is willing to spend – yet when it comes to taxes, and almost only taxes, the president professes to be alarmed about the deficit. With that in mind, here’s a useful reference point: the $700 billion over 10 years that Obama is so eager to save is considerably less than Obama’s first (failed) stimulus package, which alone is estimated to have cost more than $860 billion. It would help Mr. Obama’s credibility if, in opposing taxes on fiscal grounds, he was not the most profligate president in American history.

Second, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost for extending the Bush tax cuts to married taxpayers with income below $250,000 and single taxpayers with income below $200,000 – which Obama supports – would reduce revenues by almost $2 trillion over the 2011–2020 period. If Obama’s argument is that he should oppose tax cuts because of their adverse effect on the deficit, then presumably Obama should oppose extending any of the Bush tax cuts he has demonized for the better part of three years. Instead, Obama favors extending them to individuals making less than $200,000 per year.

Obama cannot have it both ways. He cannot on the one hand castigate Bush’s tax cuts as reckless, irresponsible, and ineffective while at the same time extending them for all but the highest income earners.

Third, Democrats assert that the Obama tax increase will hit only 3 percent of small businesses. “There aren’t 3 percent of small businesses in America that would qualify for that tax cut [one for families making more than $250,000],” Vice President Biden has said. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has chimed in as well, declaring that the tax increase on higher income earners would exempt “97 percent of small businesses.” In fact, it will hit fully half of all small-business income, since 85 percent of small-business owners are taxed on profits at individual tax rates.

Twenty months into his presidency, Barack Obama’s problems extend far beyond this particular tax debate. His problem is, in my estimation, conceptual and philosophical. He is trying to spur growth through extravagant government spending, which he believes will increase demand with its magic “multiplier effect.” If that theory worked, of course, we would not be experiencing economic deceleration with unemployment stuck at nearly 10 percent, the collapse of sales of new homes earlier this year, consumer confidence at an alarmingly low level, a “recovery summer” that saw us lose more than a quarter of a million jobs, and economic growth that is far lower than past post-recession recoveries. Yet Obama continues to double down, as if unchecked government spending, onerous new regulations, and higher tax rates on small businesses and our most productive workers is the road to prosperity.

The president is quite wrong about all of that – and it may be that Obama’s failures, for all their economic and human cost, serve a useful pedagogical function. Obama is reminding people, in fairly vivid ways, what works when it comes to economics – things such as rewarding effort and enterprise, recognizing the importance of incentives, creating certainty and stability that encourages investment and entrepreneurship, and honoring success and achievement.

In that sense, we might be reaching a moment similar to the one Margaret Thatcher faced when she was leader of the Opposition in Great Britain. The failures of the “old” Labour government were obvious to almost everyone – and that created a moment for Thatcher to become prime minister and for Thatcherism to take root.

“Where the state is too powerful,” Mrs. Thatcher told the Zurich Economic Society in 1977, “efficiency suffers and morality is threatened. Britain in the last two or three years provides a case-study of why collectivism will not work. It shows that ‘progressive’ theory was not progressive. On the contrary, it proved retrograde in practice. This is a lesson that democrats all over the world should heed.”

“Yet I face the future with optimism,” Thatcher went on to say. “Our ills are creating their own antibodies. Just as success generates problems, so failure breeds the will to fight back and the body politic strives to restore itself.”

It looks to me like we are seeing something similar taking place in America today. We’ll know more in seven weeks.

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RE: Brutal for Obama and Klein

Pete, that will be forthcoming right after the abject apology for opposing the surge.

But in the spirit of goodwill and comity, I will go first: I was wrong – I underestimated how badly Obama would harm his own party and how quickly the American people would turn on him. But in answer to your query, I am not holding my breath; the clique that scoffed at the notion that Ronald Reagan (or Margaret Thatcher or John Paul II) could win the Cold War and that has bowed before the false idol of Keynesianism should not be expected to reflect on its misjudgments. Unlike the Bourbons (who managed to remember everything), the left learns nothing and remembers nothing. It is why it is so drearily predictable and so often surprised.

Pete, that will be forthcoming right after the abject apology for opposing the surge.

But in the spirit of goodwill and comity, I will go first: I was wrong – I underestimated how badly Obama would harm his own party and how quickly the American people would turn on him. But in answer to your query, I am not holding my breath; the clique that scoffed at the notion that Ronald Reagan (or Margaret Thatcher or John Paul II) could win the Cold War and that has bowed before the false idol of Keynesianism should not be expected to reflect on its misjudgments. Unlike the Bourbons (who managed to remember everything), the left learns nothing and remembers nothing. It is why it is so drearily predictable and so often surprised.

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No Isn’t Enough for Republicans

A story in the Washington Post about the GOP’s growing optimism that its no votes will be sufficient to reclaim control of Congress includes this quote by Representative Tom Cole, a deputy whip in the House:

We’re very comfortable where we’re at; we have very few members who feel endangered. We feel like we are reflecting a broader mood of dissatisfaction. Right now, the American people want us saying no.

The story also reports this:

There has been little public criticism within GOP ranks of the continued opposition. At the same time, some Republicans would like the no votes combined with more discussion of the party’s positive vision. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said last week that Republicans were reluctant to adopt his comprehensive plan to bring down the federal deficit and reform Social Security and Medicare because “they are talking to their pollsters.”

Representative Cole is correct that the American people want Republicans to say no. It’s hard to come to any other conclusion when you analyze the polling data. But Representative Ryan is correct as well; Republicans need to combine their no votes — which are necessary and admirable — with a sufficiently detailed governing agenda. There are plenty of fine ideas out there — beginning with Ryan’s own plan, a Roadmap for America’s Future. That need not be the only one, by any means.

The danger Republicans face is that of developing a mindset that is defensive and de minimus; that of fearing that in offering up specific, concrete plans, they will open themselves up to criticisms and therefore win fewer House and Senate seats.

That is the perennial fear of politicians, and it needs to be resisted. For one thing, voters are looking for solutions rather than slogans. For another, the point of politics is not simply to gain power but also to govern responsibly once you attain it. Republicans need to have confidence in their ideas and, to the extent possible, win a mandate for them.

When Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, he was receiving a lot of counsel in favor of running a relatively content-free campaign. His supply-side agenda, it was said, would make him an enormous target for Jimmy Carter. The math didn’t add up. The public would never accept “voodoo economics.” Reagan wisely ignored that advice, won in a landslide, and — for the most part — governed based on the ideas he ran and won on. He is now considered among our greatest presidents. Reagan helped to transform his party and his nation. So did Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain. So, for that matter, did Abraham Lincoln.

These are the models Republican candidates should look to as they are told by pollsters and campaign advisers to say nothing substantive, to aim low, to play it safe. Republicans should be smart, aim high, and provide a clear alternative to Obamaism. It’s in their self-interest and in the nation’s best interests. Those are two pretty good reasons to do it.

A story in the Washington Post about the GOP’s growing optimism that its no votes will be sufficient to reclaim control of Congress includes this quote by Representative Tom Cole, a deputy whip in the House:

We’re very comfortable where we’re at; we have very few members who feel endangered. We feel like we are reflecting a broader mood of dissatisfaction. Right now, the American people want us saying no.

The story also reports this:

There has been little public criticism within GOP ranks of the continued opposition. At the same time, some Republicans would like the no votes combined with more discussion of the party’s positive vision. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said last week that Republicans were reluctant to adopt his comprehensive plan to bring down the federal deficit and reform Social Security and Medicare because “they are talking to their pollsters.”

Representative Cole is correct that the American people want Republicans to say no. It’s hard to come to any other conclusion when you analyze the polling data. But Representative Ryan is correct as well; Republicans need to combine their no votes — which are necessary and admirable — with a sufficiently detailed governing agenda. There are plenty of fine ideas out there — beginning with Ryan’s own plan, a Roadmap for America’s Future. That need not be the only one, by any means.

The danger Republicans face is that of developing a mindset that is defensive and de minimus; that of fearing that in offering up specific, concrete plans, they will open themselves up to criticisms and therefore win fewer House and Senate seats.

That is the perennial fear of politicians, and it needs to be resisted. For one thing, voters are looking for solutions rather than slogans. For another, the point of politics is not simply to gain power but also to govern responsibly once you attain it. Republicans need to have confidence in their ideas and, to the extent possible, win a mandate for them.

When Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, he was receiving a lot of counsel in favor of running a relatively content-free campaign. His supply-side agenda, it was said, would make him an enormous target for Jimmy Carter. The math didn’t add up. The public would never accept “voodoo economics.” Reagan wisely ignored that advice, won in a landslide, and — for the most part — governed based on the ideas he ran and won on. He is now considered among our greatest presidents. Reagan helped to transform his party and his nation. So did Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain. So, for that matter, did Abraham Lincoln.

These are the models Republican candidates should look to as they are told by pollsters and campaign advisers to say nothing substantive, to aim low, to play it safe. Republicans should be smart, aim high, and provide a clear alternative to Obamaism. It’s in their self-interest and in the nation’s best interests. Those are two pretty good reasons to do it.

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The New British Government Is “Wobbly” on Afghanistan

I had low expectations for the Conservative-Liberal Democratic government in the UK, but the coalition is turning out to be even worse than I expected on foreign policy. Witness the comments from new Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defense Minister Liam Fox, according to which Britain is eager to withdraw its 10,000 troops from Afghanistan, where they form the second-largest foreign contingent:

In an interview with The Times newspaper before arriving in Kabul, Fox made clear the visit would focus on speeding up the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, and that no new troops would be deployed.

“We need to accept we are at the limit of numbers now and I would like the forces to come back as soon as possible,” he was quoted as saying.

“We have to reset expectations and timelines.

“National security is the focus now. We are not a global policeman. We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened,” Fox said.

What a terrible message to send at precisely the wrong time, when American forces under the command of a British general in Regional Command-South are gearing up for a major offensive to retake control of Kandahar! President Obama has already blundered badly by suggesting that U.S. troops would start coming home next summer. The message from the incoming British government only reinforces the sense, which many Taliban no doubt already have, that insurgents can simply wait out coalition forces. This development places another obstacle in the way of ordinary Afghans who might be considering siding with the coalition. Why would they want to risk life and limb if their protectors are searching for an exit strategy?

In an ideal world, a Conservative government in London would press the American president not to go “wobbly” — as Margaret Thatcher famously did with George H.W. Bush after Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq. In this case, it seems that the Conservatives are bent on reinforcing Obama’s worst wobbly instincts. That’s not the kind of trans-Atlantic cooperation I would like to see.

I had low expectations for the Conservative-Liberal Democratic government in the UK, but the coalition is turning out to be even worse than I expected on foreign policy. Witness the comments from new Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defense Minister Liam Fox, according to which Britain is eager to withdraw its 10,000 troops from Afghanistan, where they form the second-largest foreign contingent:

In an interview with The Times newspaper before arriving in Kabul, Fox made clear the visit would focus on speeding up the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, and that no new troops would be deployed.

“We need to accept we are at the limit of numbers now and I would like the forces to come back as soon as possible,” he was quoted as saying.

“We have to reset expectations and timelines.

“National security is the focus now. We are not a global policeman. We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened,” Fox said.

What a terrible message to send at precisely the wrong time, when American forces under the command of a British general in Regional Command-South are gearing up for a major offensive to retake control of Kandahar! President Obama has already blundered badly by suggesting that U.S. troops would start coming home next summer. The message from the incoming British government only reinforces the sense, which many Taliban no doubt already have, that insurgents can simply wait out coalition forces. This development places another obstacle in the way of ordinary Afghans who might be considering siding with the coalition. Why would they want to risk life and limb if their protectors are searching for an exit strategy?

In an ideal world, a Conservative government in London would press the American president not to go “wobbly” — as Margaret Thatcher famously did with George H.W. Bush after Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq. In this case, it seems that the Conservatives are bent on reinforcing Obama’s worst wobbly instincts. That’s not the kind of trans-Atlantic cooperation I would like to see.

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The Worst Brit PM: Loser of the Colonies or Appeaser of Hitler?

As we await the results of today’s British elections, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm about the outcome, given the dismal choices facing the voters there. David Cameron, the not-very-conservative Conservative leader who doesn’t appear to be much of a friend to the United States, might be the best of the lot compared with Gordon Brown and Labour, and especially with the hard-left anti-Israel venom emanating from the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, but that is to damn Cameron with faint praise.

But whoever the next resident of No. 10 Downing Street may be, the Times of London has provided readers with an interesting feature about his predecessors, ranking the top 50 British prime ministers. A panel of political writers and journalists — not historians — composed the list, but it still is enough to spark a lively conversation about the subject.

At the top of the list (no surprise here) is Winston Churchill, though it should be noted that the panel wasn’t unanimous about the choice, with one of the members voting for the overall No. 2 choice: David Lloyd George, who led Britain to victory during World War One. The rest of the top 10 were: William Gladstone, William Pitt the Younger, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Robert Peel, Clement Atlee, Earl Grey (it pays to have a tea named after you), Robert Walpole, and Benjamin Disraeli. (In case his buddy George W. Bush is interested, Tony Blair was ranked number 16, tied with the elder William Pitt.)

More curious than the leaders in the poll, most of whom are obvious choices, were the ones at the bottom. For those of us whose view of 20th century British history was primarily formed by our interest in the battle between Churchill and the “guilty men” who appeased Hitler, it is fascinating to note that while Neville Chamberlain’s name is synonymous with infamy, the Times panel thinks that he wasn’t really all that bad, ranking him at 34th, which is not so good but far from the bottom. Interestingly, fellow appeaser Stanley Baldwin, who preceded Chamberlain, was ranked fairly high at 14th, apparently because of the slick way he handled the abdication of Queen Elizabeth’s uncle the Duke of Windsor.

So who did the panel think were the worst prime ministers? Interestingly, the bottom three of this list of 49 men and one woman were the three Brits who lost the American colonies: Lord George Granville, the Duke of Grafton, and Lord North (1770-1782), who was the last and the least. There’s no question that these three were terrible British leaders, but I’m not exactly sure what it says about the Times of London — or Britain for that matter — that their panel thinks the creation of the United States was a greater disaster for their country than a policy of appeasement that led to a global war and to Auschwitz. I’d have thought that our friends across the pond had gotten over the results of the Battle of Yorktown a long while ago, but perhaps now that President Obama has put an end to the “special relationship” with Britain, the chasm between our two nations — divided, as G.B. Shaw said, by “a common language,” is even greater than we could have imagined.

As we await the results of today’s British elections, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm about the outcome, given the dismal choices facing the voters there. David Cameron, the not-very-conservative Conservative leader who doesn’t appear to be much of a friend to the United States, might be the best of the lot compared with Gordon Brown and Labour, and especially with the hard-left anti-Israel venom emanating from the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, but that is to damn Cameron with faint praise.

But whoever the next resident of No. 10 Downing Street may be, the Times of London has provided readers with an interesting feature about his predecessors, ranking the top 50 British prime ministers. A panel of political writers and journalists — not historians — composed the list, but it still is enough to spark a lively conversation about the subject.

At the top of the list (no surprise here) is Winston Churchill, though it should be noted that the panel wasn’t unanimous about the choice, with one of the members voting for the overall No. 2 choice: David Lloyd George, who led Britain to victory during World War One. The rest of the top 10 were: William Gladstone, William Pitt the Younger, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Robert Peel, Clement Atlee, Earl Grey (it pays to have a tea named after you), Robert Walpole, and Benjamin Disraeli. (In case his buddy George W. Bush is interested, Tony Blair was ranked number 16, tied with the elder William Pitt.)

More curious than the leaders in the poll, most of whom are obvious choices, were the ones at the bottom. For those of us whose view of 20th century British history was primarily formed by our interest in the battle between Churchill and the “guilty men” who appeased Hitler, it is fascinating to note that while Neville Chamberlain’s name is synonymous with infamy, the Times panel thinks that he wasn’t really all that bad, ranking him at 34th, which is not so good but far from the bottom. Interestingly, fellow appeaser Stanley Baldwin, who preceded Chamberlain, was ranked fairly high at 14th, apparently because of the slick way he handled the abdication of Queen Elizabeth’s uncle the Duke of Windsor.

So who did the panel think were the worst prime ministers? Interestingly, the bottom three of this list of 49 men and one woman were the three Brits who lost the American colonies: Lord George Granville, the Duke of Grafton, and Lord North (1770-1782), who was the last and the least. There’s no question that these three were terrible British leaders, but I’m not exactly sure what it says about the Times of London — or Britain for that matter — that their panel thinks the creation of the United States was a greater disaster for their country than a policy of appeasement that led to a global war and to Auschwitz. I’d have thought that our friends across the pond had gotten over the results of the Battle of Yorktown a long while ago, but perhaps now that President Obama has put an end to the “special relationship” with Britain, the chasm between our two nations — divided, as G.B. Shaw said, by “a common language,” is even greater than we could have imagined.

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What Lesson Will David Cameron Teach Americans?

The prospect of Florida Governor Charlie Crist pulling out of the Florida Republican Senate primary will, no doubt, send into a tizzy those who want the GOP to move to the center and away from the dreaded Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin. While this is more a matter of a flabby, pointless Crist campaign being knocked out of the box by a hugely popular and principled opponent in Marco Rubio than of a “moderate” being driven from the party by so-called extremists, there’s no question that this race is an indication of where the Republicans are headed.

While an independent candidacy by Crist might pose a challenge to Rubio in November, those who have advocated for Republican to move closer to the Democrats on health care and a host of other issues must come to grips with the fact that all the energy and emotion in Florida has come from those who want the GOP to challenge the Obama administration, not to copy it. The point is, when Republicans lose touch with their base and find themselves bogged down in the mushy middle, they tend to lose and lose badly.

Florida’s politics couldn’t be much more different from those of Britain, but the way the general election in that country is going has to give pause to those who believe that a nonideological candidate and party of the Right is the only way to fight the Left. Conservative Party leader David Cameron thought he was coasting to inevitable victory after 13 years of Labor government. But Cameron, a telegenic upper-class swell, believed that Tories who were actually conservatives couldn’t possibly win. So he recast his party to be advocates of global-warming alarmism, criticized the closeness of the Labor government to that of George W. Bush (Obama’s disdain for Brits of any political persuasion has taken the juice out of this issue), and proposed an approach to domestic issues based on a communitarian idea of a “Big Society,” which sounds suspiciously similar to Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” liberal boondoggles of the 1960s.

Yet far from greasing the skids to victory, trying to be liberal has actually derailed his campaign. A third party, the Liberal Democrats, is further to the Left than Labor on many issues and has in Nick Clegg, a far more focused leader than either Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Labor or the good-looking but feckless Cameron. Cameron thought that fudging the differences with Labor would make it easier for him to win. But, instead, it has given Clegg and the Lib Dems an opening to be the party of change in Britain. Thus, rather than a Tory cakewalk, the May 6 election looks increasingly like a dead heat that could leave Labor in power by itself or even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

It could be that by discarding genuine Conservative ideology (this is the party of Margaret Thatcher, after all), Cameron may be pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. It may be too late for Cameron to tack to the Right and give voters a reason to vote for his party. As it is, a watered-down Conservative Party is rightly seen as no different from the incumbent Laborites to an electorate desperate for a real alternative.

Last November, David Frum wrote in COMMENTARY that Cameron’s tactics provided a good lesson for American conservatives as they sought to rebuild from their 2008 defeat. He believed that by tacking to the Left, Cameron had aligned his priorities with those of the country and had essentially volunteered to do what political necessity would have forced him to do anyway. As Frum put it, “the leader you want is someone who appeals to the voters you need to gain, not the voters you already have.” Since “educated and professional voters, once the backbone of the Republican party,” had swung away from conservatism, Frum believed that Republicans must follow them as Cameron had done.

David Cameron’s fate is not yet decided. And we are months away from the proof of whether a candidate like Marco Rubio will lead Republicans to victory in a key state like Florida. But if in abandoning conservative principles Cameron has set the Tories up for a colossal reversal of fortune, it may be that the lesson the handsome Brit will teach his American brethren is how to lose an election that was considered in his pocket — not how to win one.

The prospect of Florida Governor Charlie Crist pulling out of the Florida Republican Senate primary will, no doubt, send into a tizzy those who want the GOP to move to the center and away from the dreaded Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin. While this is more a matter of a flabby, pointless Crist campaign being knocked out of the box by a hugely popular and principled opponent in Marco Rubio than of a “moderate” being driven from the party by so-called extremists, there’s no question that this race is an indication of where the Republicans are headed.

While an independent candidacy by Crist might pose a challenge to Rubio in November, those who have advocated for Republican to move closer to the Democrats on health care and a host of other issues must come to grips with the fact that all the energy and emotion in Florida has come from those who want the GOP to challenge the Obama administration, not to copy it. The point is, when Republicans lose touch with their base and find themselves bogged down in the mushy middle, they tend to lose and lose badly.

Florida’s politics couldn’t be much more different from those of Britain, but the way the general election in that country is going has to give pause to those who believe that a nonideological candidate and party of the Right is the only way to fight the Left. Conservative Party leader David Cameron thought he was coasting to inevitable victory after 13 years of Labor government. But Cameron, a telegenic upper-class swell, believed that Tories who were actually conservatives couldn’t possibly win. So he recast his party to be advocates of global-warming alarmism, criticized the closeness of the Labor government to that of George W. Bush (Obama’s disdain for Brits of any political persuasion has taken the juice out of this issue), and proposed an approach to domestic issues based on a communitarian idea of a “Big Society,” which sounds suspiciously similar to Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” liberal boondoggles of the 1960s.

Yet far from greasing the skids to victory, trying to be liberal has actually derailed his campaign. A third party, the Liberal Democrats, is further to the Left than Labor on many issues and has in Nick Clegg, a far more focused leader than either Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Labor or the good-looking but feckless Cameron. Cameron thought that fudging the differences with Labor would make it easier for him to win. But, instead, it has given Clegg and the Lib Dems an opening to be the party of change in Britain. Thus, rather than a Tory cakewalk, the May 6 election looks increasingly like a dead heat that could leave Labor in power by itself or even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

It could be that by discarding genuine Conservative ideology (this is the party of Margaret Thatcher, after all), Cameron may be pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. It may be too late for Cameron to tack to the Right and give voters a reason to vote for his party. As it is, a watered-down Conservative Party is rightly seen as no different from the incumbent Laborites to an electorate desperate for a real alternative.

Last November, David Frum wrote in COMMENTARY that Cameron’s tactics provided a good lesson for American conservatives as they sought to rebuild from their 2008 defeat. He believed that by tacking to the Left, Cameron had aligned his priorities with those of the country and had essentially volunteered to do what political necessity would have forced him to do anyway. As Frum put it, “the leader you want is someone who appeals to the voters you need to gain, not the voters you already have.” Since “educated and professional voters, once the backbone of the Republican party,” had swung away from conservatism, Frum believed that Republicans must follow them as Cameron had done.

David Cameron’s fate is not yet decided. And we are months away from the proof of whether a candidate like Marco Rubio will lead Republicans to victory in a key state like Florida. But if in abandoning conservative principles Cameron has set the Tories up for a colossal reversal of fortune, it may be that the lesson the handsome Brit will teach his American brethren is how to lose an election that was considered in his pocket — not how to win one.

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Cameron Willing to Take Obama’s Shilling to Be a Loyal Soldier Against Israel

Jewish Ideas Daily provides a brief guide to the upcoming British elections for supporters of Israel, but the short answer to the question of which of the three contending political parties will be friendlier to the Jewish state is “None of the Above.” The current Labour government has shown itself to be no friend to Israel, and the Liberal Democrats who hope to play the spoilers on May 6 is home to an even greater proportion of Israel-haters than is the Labour hard-Left. As for the Conservatives, JID gives them some credit: “The tone of party pronouncements on Israel are notably sympathetic. William Hague, a former party leader and now Shadow Foreign Secretary, criticized Labor for not voting against the Goldstone Report.”

However, Melanie Phillips points out in her Spectator blog that Tory leader David Cameron, whom she prefers to call “David Obameron,” is promising to line up as a loyal soldier in the Obama administration’s diplomatic war on Israel. As evidence she cites the following in an interview with Cameron in the Financial Times published on March 31 (subscription required):

FT: Yes. You managed to tell Mr. Netanyahu that he might want to revise his position on settlements.

DC: I have. Unlike a lot of politicians from Britain who visit Israel, when I went, I did stand in occupied East Jerusalem and actually referred to it as occupied East Jerusalem. The Foreign Office bod who was with me said, most ministers don’t dare say. So, yes, I thought I had quite an argument when I was in Israel with Tzipi Livni about settlements and I think Obama is right to take a robust line. I think we have to but it is depressing how little progress is being made right now.

So Cameron — whose skimmed-milk New Age version of conservatism may wind up pulling defeat from the jaws of victory in the coming ballot — not only brags about his disdain for a united Jerusalem and his disagreement with the leader of the opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on the fate of Jerusalem but expresses support for Obama’s diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state. It may well be that trying to identify himself with Obama may be good British politics right now, but this stand seems to conform with the rest of Cameron’s worldview, which is anything but friendly to Israel or the long-term interests of the West. Barack Obama may well be able to count on him in his campaign against Israel while doing nothing about the nuclear threat from Iran.

The bottom line: while some American conservatives may instinctively favor the defeat of a Labour government by the party of Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron is no Thatcher. As for friends of Israel, they’ve no rooting interest at all in the outcome.

Jewish Ideas Daily provides a brief guide to the upcoming British elections for supporters of Israel, but the short answer to the question of which of the three contending political parties will be friendlier to the Jewish state is “None of the Above.” The current Labour government has shown itself to be no friend to Israel, and the Liberal Democrats who hope to play the spoilers on May 6 is home to an even greater proportion of Israel-haters than is the Labour hard-Left. As for the Conservatives, JID gives them some credit: “The tone of party pronouncements on Israel are notably sympathetic. William Hague, a former party leader and now Shadow Foreign Secretary, criticized Labor for not voting against the Goldstone Report.”

However, Melanie Phillips points out in her Spectator blog that Tory leader David Cameron, whom she prefers to call “David Obameron,” is promising to line up as a loyal soldier in the Obama administration’s diplomatic war on Israel. As evidence she cites the following in an interview with Cameron in the Financial Times published on March 31 (subscription required):

FT: Yes. You managed to tell Mr. Netanyahu that he might want to revise his position on settlements.

DC: I have. Unlike a lot of politicians from Britain who visit Israel, when I went, I did stand in occupied East Jerusalem and actually referred to it as occupied East Jerusalem. The Foreign Office bod who was with me said, most ministers don’t dare say. So, yes, I thought I had quite an argument when I was in Israel with Tzipi Livni about settlements and I think Obama is right to take a robust line. I think we have to but it is depressing how little progress is being made right now.

So Cameron — whose skimmed-milk New Age version of conservatism may wind up pulling defeat from the jaws of victory in the coming ballot — not only brags about his disdain for a united Jerusalem and his disagreement with the leader of the opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on the fate of Jerusalem but expresses support for Obama’s diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state. It may well be that trying to identify himself with Obama may be good British politics right now, but this stand seems to conform with the rest of Cameron’s worldview, which is anything but friendly to Israel or the long-term interests of the West. Barack Obama may well be able to count on him in his campaign against Israel while doing nothing about the nuclear threat from Iran.

The bottom line: while some American conservatives may instinctively favor the defeat of a Labour government by the party of Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron is no Thatcher. As for friends of Israel, they’ve no rooting interest at all in the outcome.

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They Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

If you wanted a sound bite that embodied much of what is wrong with contemporary liberalism, you could do worse than listen to the words of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on health care:

We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in but we’re going to get health-care reform passed for the America people.

Set aside the fact that Ms. Pelosi sounds like Tareq and Michaele Salahi trying to crash a White House State dinner. She seems to view herself as part of the guardian class, as one of our philosopher kings who knows better than the great, unwashed masses what is good for them. It is of a piece with the collectivist mindset, one that believes that it is with the ruling class that wisdom resides. They know best – and they will give you not what you may want but what they believe you need.

This view is exceedingly arrogant and, if it is indulged in often enough, it becomes, in some sense, anti-democratic.

There is a long history in America to dictate the proper role of its legislators. Some argue they ought to mirror public opinion all the time; others argue that we elect people to political posts based on our confidence in their judgment. They therefore have a relatively free hand to pursue the agenda they deem appropriate. But even those who subscribe to the views of the second group understand that in the end, ours is a representative form of government. The will of the people matters. We are, after all, a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The public has seen how Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and President Obama want to jam health-care legislation down its throat despite its obvious wishes. The public has ways of fighting back against such things. They are known as elections. Three of them have happened recently, in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts. The Democrats have lost each one – and in the process they have lost independent voters by a margin of at least two-to-one. In each of those elections, local issues obviously played an important role in the outcome of the races. But framing each of these elections was the sense that the federal government has become too large, too intrusive, too expensive, and too incompetent. It has not earned the right to run one-sixth of the American economy.

What President Obama has succeeded in doing is to boil down politics to a fairly basic and elementary level, including the role of the state in the lives of its citizenry. Ms. Pelosi and Messrs. Reid and Obama are advocates of what Margaret Thatcher called a “nanny state” – the state that takes too much from you in order to do too much for you. Those who believe the American people are prepared to embrace such a thing are badly misguided. Democrats are learning that lesson the hard way. And with the mid-term elections approaching, they should keep in mind the words of Bachman Turner Overdrive: They ain’t seen nothing yet.

If you wanted a sound bite that embodied much of what is wrong with contemporary liberalism, you could do worse than listen to the words of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on health care:

We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in but we’re going to get health-care reform passed for the America people.

Set aside the fact that Ms. Pelosi sounds like Tareq and Michaele Salahi trying to crash a White House State dinner. She seems to view herself as part of the guardian class, as one of our philosopher kings who knows better than the great, unwashed masses what is good for them. It is of a piece with the collectivist mindset, one that believes that it is with the ruling class that wisdom resides. They know best – and they will give you not what you may want but what they believe you need.

This view is exceedingly arrogant and, if it is indulged in often enough, it becomes, in some sense, anti-democratic.

There is a long history in America to dictate the proper role of its legislators. Some argue they ought to mirror public opinion all the time; others argue that we elect people to political posts based on our confidence in their judgment. They therefore have a relatively free hand to pursue the agenda they deem appropriate. But even those who subscribe to the views of the second group understand that in the end, ours is a representative form of government. The will of the people matters. We are, after all, a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The public has seen how Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and President Obama want to jam health-care legislation down its throat despite its obvious wishes. The public has ways of fighting back against such things. They are known as elections. Three of them have happened recently, in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts. The Democrats have lost each one – and in the process they have lost independent voters by a margin of at least two-to-one. In each of those elections, local issues obviously played an important role in the outcome of the races. But framing each of these elections was the sense that the federal government has become too large, too intrusive, too expensive, and too incompetent. It has not earned the right to run one-sixth of the American economy.

What President Obama has succeeded in doing is to boil down politics to a fairly basic and elementary level, including the role of the state in the lives of its citizenry. Ms. Pelosi and Messrs. Reid and Obama are advocates of what Margaret Thatcher called a “nanny state” – the state that takes too much from you in order to do too much for you. Those who believe the American people are prepared to embrace such a thing are badly misguided. Democrats are learning that lesson the hard way. And with the mid-term elections approaching, they should keep in mind the words of Bachman Turner Overdrive: They ain’t seen nothing yet.

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On a Letter from London

Geoff Dyer’s column “My American Friends” in the New York Times is hitting my mailbox from every direction at once. If you’ve not read it, you should: it’s fun. It’s got, of course, a few swipes at George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair, but it’s really a love letter from Britain to the United States. Dyer points out that many of the British clichés voiced about America reflect either ignorance or a barely-disguised, liberal-elite desire to bring the U.S. down a peg or two because, as too many Britons are grumpy and desperate to feel superior about something, Americans must be made out to be inferior.

He’s certainly right about the grumpiness. I’ve written about this myself, pointing out that “Britain is a more self-absorbed, less expansive, society than it was in the post-war era, and while it is more prosperous, it is also less happy and less sure of itself.” The Economist writes this week along the same lines, noting the British, of all the citizens of the advanced democracies, are among the least satisfied with the state of their nation. Of course, given the parlous condition of Britain’s economy, their dissatisfaction may be a sign of rationality, but Dyer is not alone in thinking that it’s not just the economy getting Britain down. Read More

Geoff Dyer’s column “My American Friends” in the New York Times is hitting my mailbox from every direction at once. If you’ve not read it, you should: it’s fun. It’s got, of course, a few swipes at George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair, but it’s really a love letter from Britain to the United States. Dyer points out that many of the British clichés voiced about America reflect either ignorance or a barely-disguised, liberal-elite desire to bring the U.S. down a peg or two because, as too many Britons are grumpy and desperate to feel superior about something, Americans must be made out to be inferior.

He’s certainly right about the grumpiness. I’ve written about this myself, pointing out that “Britain is a more self-absorbed, less expansive, society than it was in the post-war era, and while it is more prosperous, it is also less happy and less sure of itself.” The Economist writes this week along the same lines, noting the British, of all the citizens of the advanced democracies, are among the least satisfied with the state of their nation. Of course, given the parlous condition of Britain’s economy, their dissatisfaction may be a sign of rationality, but Dyer is not alone in thinking that it’s not just the economy getting Britain down.

My own reaction to Dyer’s piece is twofold. First, I do think he’s onto something when he writes that Americans have better manners and are more freespoken because “deep down, everyone is agreed on the premise that America is better than anyplace else.” Of course, traditional American openness isn’t based just on this: the fact that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, and relatively classless, has a lot to do with it. But it is easier to be civil when you’re optimistic about your nation and inclined -– partially because of religious faith -– to think well of your fellow man than it is if you think poorly of everyone.

But it’s just not true that “everyone is agreed” on the premise that the U.S. is best. The President’s oft-quoted remark that “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism” implies that, at best, he has a distinctly posmodern approach to this belief. If everyone thinks they’re special, then presumably no one really is. The poorly hidden declinism of his administration, which implies that the greatest service the U.S. can do the world is to plan a graceful exit from its role as the hegemon, also clashes with Dyer’s assessment. For my part, I think Dyer’s got a better grasp of the American people, and of reality, than Obama does, and that Obama’s unexceptional approach will be what trips him up.

Second, in the British context, Dyer is a bit glib when he argues that, because Britain’s Muslims are among the most unsatisfied in Europe, this proves that they’ve assimilated very well — in that they’re just as unhappy as everyone else. But again, he’s not totally wrong. The traditional American approach to assimilation was to be proud of the United States, to invite immigrants to restrict their Old World customs to their private lives, and to expect them to conform publicly to existing American norms and beliefs. As bin Laden might have expected, that “strong horse” approach was quite attractive: being invited to join a self-confident, assertive, and successful community is a great compliment because it implies that you, yourself, possess those qualities and will be welcomed as an equal.

Britain has done the opposite: it has tried the “weak horse” approach, consisting of lots of multiculturalism and plenty of welfare payments. Again, not surprising, this hasn’t worked terribly well: there are few reasons to want to join a community that beats itself up so relentlessly. Where Dyer is totally wrong is when he writes that “the qualities that make us indubitably British . . . are no longer conducive to Greatness.” According to Dyer, those qualities consist mostly of a mustn’t-grumble spirit that allows the British public to put up with poor quality service and to accept apologies as a substitute for actual improvements.

But this has nothing to do with the qualities the British actually displayed in the formative era of British identity, the late-Hanoverian to mid-Victorian era. Britons in those days were relentless improvers -– in the quality of government, in public services, in industry, and through charity. Not for nothing did Asa Briggs title his great history of the era “The Age of Improvement.

One of those improvements, of course, was in British manners, where Dyer now celebrates the U.S. and gripes about the U.K. But English manners before the Victorian era were nothing special: only in the nineteenth century did the idea take hold that Britain was a nation of line-formers, of forthright “manly” speakers, and of courteous, “evenin’ all” bobbies. Maybe what made Britain British above all in that era was its political pride: in the Commons, in its freedom of the press and of trade, in its religious toleration, in its limited and liberal government, and in its contributions to the spread of civilization. Those are all still great qualities. The problem is that, since the 1960s, too many Britons have forgotten about them, or even cooperated in slandering or traducing them, which in turn has made the problem of assimilation -– or simply maintaining social order -– a lot more formidable.

What Dyer is basically and accurately complaining about is the collapse of the Victorian model in Britain; he is basically praising its partial survival in the U.S. He’s not wrong to dismiss the febrile leftism that has taken its place. But in one sense, his complaints are part of the problem because the model is so far gone that even a sympathetic and obviously careful observer like Dyer no longer recognizes that it ever existed in the first place.

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The Economy Drive

The parlous state of Britain’s economy and budget and the necessity of cuts in government spending should be common knowledge. The British public certainly grasps the situation. Its one manifestation is the data by the polling firm Ipsos-MORI. In its latest monthly “Issues Index,” which invites interviewees to name as many issues of concern as they care to, “Economy/Economic Situation” stands at 49%.

By contrast, issues that Labour might be thought to own, such as “Pollution/Environment” (8%), “Poverty/Inequality” (7%), and “Low Pay” (3%) are of distinctly tertiary importance to the public. Given today’s statement by Pimco’s Head of Global Portfolio Management that Britain stands a better than 80% chance of losing its AAA credit rating, on the grounds that the government’s debt reduction plan “is lacking in conviction and . . . is lacking in details,” focusing on the economy makes a good deal of sense.

As Pimco’s criticism of the government implies, the only man not willing to grasp the nettle of reality is Gordon Brown. Mike Smithson, the proprietor of the lively Political Betting blog, points out that in a weekend interview with Andrew Marr, Brown refused to acknowledge even the possibility of cuts in government spending.  As Smithson puts it, “The interviewing trait where Mr. Brown is at his most vulnerable is when he seeks to deny something that is clearly the case. Less charitable people than me might use the word ‘porkie.’ The problem is that he does this when it is so obvious.”

A big part of dealing with the problem of government spending will be reducing the size and cost of the British civil service. This is a problem in the U.S. as well, as publications such as the Economist and columnists like Michael Barone have pointed out recently, but anything the U.S. does in this context, the UK can do worse. The most recent Sunday Times notes that in 2009, 21.1% of all UK labor was employed by the state, and that – measured by hours on the job, rate of wage inflation, or salary – it is almost always better to be paid by the government than by a private employer. Even in the highest paid job, the private sector pays better salaries, but the government offers a much larger pension.

What’s more, some British ministries have become increasingly top heavy: more generals, fewer privates. In the Ministry of Defense, for instance, the number of workers in the lowest two pay grades has fallen by about 19,000 since 1997, while the upper tiers have increased by 2,000. I have my suspicions about just how real the headcount reductions are – you can achieve seeming miracles by contracting out, as the MoD has done extensively under Labour – but even if you take the cuts seriously, they’ve not stopped total civilian pay from rising 13% from 2003/04 to 2008/09, as against a 12% rise for pay to the forces. The cost of the senior grade pay and pensions must be a major part of that increase, which is particularly scandalous given Labour’s general cheapness when it comes to defense spending, and what should have been the effect of a substantial decrease in the size of the MoD.

The pension question is particularly interesting and dangerous. The Institute of Directors estimates that the unfunded cost of public-sector pensions in Britain over the next 50 years is about 335 billion pounds. Given the relative sizes of their economies, that’s even larger than the $2 trillion shortfall the U.S. faces, according to the Financial Times. And every time Brown or Obama hires someone else, that shortfall gets a little bigger, and the size of the productive economy gets a little smaller.

It makes me think, first, of the superb “Yes Minister” episode on “The Economy Drive,” in which Sir Humphrey proves to Jim Hacker that, in order to achieve increased efficiency, you have to hire more people. And, second, of Margaret Thatcher.  The UK National Archives have just released some of her early Prime Ministerial memos. Her first priority: cut the civil service by at least 5%, and preferably by 20%. “What,” she asked, “are we doing with 566,000 that can’t be done with 500,000?” An excellent question, then and now.

The parlous state of Britain’s economy and budget and the necessity of cuts in government spending should be common knowledge. The British public certainly grasps the situation. Its one manifestation is the data by the polling firm Ipsos-MORI. In its latest monthly “Issues Index,” which invites interviewees to name as many issues of concern as they care to, “Economy/Economic Situation” stands at 49%.

By contrast, issues that Labour might be thought to own, such as “Pollution/Environment” (8%), “Poverty/Inequality” (7%), and “Low Pay” (3%) are of distinctly tertiary importance to the public. Given today’s statement by Pimco’s Head of Global Portfolio Management that Britain stands a better than 80% chance of losing its AAA credit rating, on the grounds that the government’s debt reduction plan “is lacking in conviction and . . . is lacking in details,” focusing on the economy makes a good deal of sense.

As Pimco’s criticism of the government implies, the only man not willing to grasp the nettle of reality is Gordon Brown. Mike Smithson, the proprietor of the lively Political Betting blog, points out that in a weekend interview with Andrew Marr, Brown refused to acknowledge even the possibility of cuts in government spending.  As Smithson puts it, “The interviewing trait where Mr. Brown is at his most vulnerable is when he seeks to deny something that is clearly the case. Less charitable people than me might use the word ‘porkie.’ The problem is that he does this when it is so obvious.”

A big part of dealing with the problem of government spending will be reducing the size and cost of the British civil service. This is a problem in the U.S. as well, as publications such as the Economist and columnists like Michael Barone have pointed out recently, but anything the U.S. does in this context, the UK can do worse. The most recent Sunday Times notes that in 2009, 21.1% of all UK labor was employed by the state, and that – measured by hours on the job, rate of wage inflation, or salary – it is almost always better to be paid by the government than by a private employer. Even in the highest paid job, the private sector pays better salaries, but the government offers a much larger pension.

What’s more, some British ministries have become increasingly top heavy: more generals, fewer privates. In the Ministry of Defense, for instance, the number of workers in the lowest two pay grades has fallen by about 19,000 since 1997, while the upper tiers have increased by 2,000. I have my suspicions about just how real the headcount reductions are – you can achieve seeming miracles by contracting out, as the MoD has done extensively under Labour – but even if you take the cuts seriously, they’ve not stopped total civilian pay from rising 13% from 2003/04 to 2008/09, as against a 12% rise for pay to the forces. The cost of the senior grade pay and pensions must be a major part of that increase, which is particularly scandalous given Labour’s general cheapness when it comes to defense spending, and what should have been the effect of a substantial decrease in the size of the MoD.

The pension question is particularly interesting and dangerous. The Institute of Directors estimates that the unfunded cost of public-sector pensions in Britain over the next 50 years is about 335 billion pounds. Given the relative sizes of their economies, that’s even larger than the $2 trillion shortfall the U.S. faces, according to the Financial Times. And every time Brown or Obama hires someone else, that shortfall gets a little bigger, and the size of the productive economy gets a little smaller.

It makes me think, first, of the superb “Yes Minister” episode on “The Economy Drive,” in which Sir Humphrey proves to Jim Hacker that, in order to achieve increased efficiency, you have to hire more people. And, second, of Margaret Thatcher.  The UK National Archives have just released some of her early Prime Ministerial memos. Her first priority: cut the civil service by at least 5%, and preferably by 20%. “What,” she asked, “are we doing with 566,000 that can’t be done with 500,000?” An excellent question, then and now.

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Andrew Roberts: On Iran, Israel Must Emulate Nelson and Churchill

Over at Melanie Phillips’s Spectator blog, she reprints in its entirety the speech delivered by the great British historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to the Anglo-Israel Association earlier this week.

Roberts’s brilliant speech makes for important reading and not just for students of the often difficult relationship between Britain and Israel, which he reviews in some detail, from the hopeful beginning of the Balfour Declaration to the infamy of Britain’s 1939 White Paper, which locked the gates of Palestine just as Hitler’s death machine was warming up in Europe. Add to this Britain’s futile effort to prevent the Jewish state from being born after World War II and the consistent record of bias against Israel on the part of London’s Foreign Office since 1948. While Roberts notes that Margaret Thatcher was the most philo-Semitic prime minister since Winston Churchill, he acknowledges that even the Iron Lady was stymied by the Foreign Office in her efforts to promote a better relationship with Israel.

What is his explanation for this record? He puts it down, in part, to:

The FO assumption that Britain’s relations with Israel ought constantly to be subordinated to her relations with other Middle Eastern states, especially the oil-rich ones, however badly those states behave in terms of human rights abuses, the persecution of Christians, the oppression of women, medieval practices of punishment, and so on. It seems to me that there is an implicit racism going on here. Jews are expected to behave better, goes the FO thinking, because they are like us. Arabs must not be chastised because they are not. So in warfare, we constantly expect Israel to behave far better than her neighbours, and chastise her quite hypocritically when occasionally under the exigencies of national struggle, she cannot. The problem crosses political parties today, just as it always has. [Conservative Party foreign policy spokesman] William Hague called for Israel to adopt a proportionate response in its struggle with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2007, as though proportionate responses ever won any victories against fascists. In the Second World War, the Luftwaffe killed 50,000 Britons in the Blitz, and the Allied response was to kill 600,000 Germans—twelve times the number and hardly a proportionate response, but one that contributed mightily to victory. Who are we therefore to lecture the Israelis on how proportionate their responses should be?

Roberts also notes that a prominent former British diplomat criticized the composition of the panel analyzing Britain’s entry into the Iraq war because two of its members, Martin Gilbert and Lawrence Freedman, are both Jewish and known supporters of Zionism. As Roberts put it, “If that’s the way that FO Arabists are prepared to express themselves in public, can you imagine the way that they refer to such people as Professors Gilbert and Freedman in private?”

Speaking of the Jewish state’s dilemma in facing a nuclear Iran and expressing no confidence in America’s ability or desire to prevent Ahmadinejad from obtaining a Bomb, Roberts concludes by exhorting the Israelis to follow the example of two famous Britons who boldly acted to stop a threat to their country:

None of us can pretend to know what lies ahead for Israel, but if she decides pre-emptively to strike against such a threat—in the same way that Nelson pre-emptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill pre-emptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran—then she can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office. She should ignore such criticism, because for all the fine work done by this Association over the past six decades – work that’s clearly needed as much now as ever before – Britain has only ever really been at best a fairweather friend to Israel. Although History does not repeat itself, its cadences do occasionally rhyme, and if the witness of History is testament to anything it is testament to this: That in her hopes of averting the threat of a Second Holocaust, only Israel can be relied upon to act decisively in the best interests of the Jews.

Over at Melanie Phillips’s Spectator blog, she reprints in its entirety the speech delivered by the great British historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to the Anglo-Israel Association earlier this week.

Roberts’s brilliant speech makes for important reading and not just for students of the often difficult relationship between Britain and Israel, which he reviews in some detail, from the hopeful beginning of the Balfour Declaration to the infamy of Britain’s 1939 White Paper, which locked the gates of Palestine just as Hitler’s death machine was warming up in Europe. Add to this Britain’s futile effort to prevent the Jewish state from being born after World War II and the consistent record of bias against Israel on the part of London’s Foreign Office since 1948. While Roberts notes that Margaret Thatcher was the most philo-Semitic prime minister since Winston Churchill, he acknowledges that even the Iron Lady was stymied by the Foreign Office in her efforts to promote a better relationship with Israel.

What is his explanation for this record? He puts it down, in part, to:

The FO assumption that Britain’s relations with Israel ought constantly to be subordinated to her relations with other Middle Eastern states, especially the oil-rich ones, however badly those states behave in terms of human rights abuses, the persecution of Christians, the oppression of women, medieval practices of punishment, and so on. It seems to me that there is an implicit racism going on here. Jews are expected to behave better, goes the FO thinking, because they are like us. Arabs must not be chastised because they are not. So in warfare, we constantly expect Israel to behave far better than her neighbours, and chastise her quite hypocritically when occasionally under the exigencies of national struggle, she cannot. The problem crosses political parties today, just as it always has. [Conservative Party foreign policy spokesman] William Hague called for Israel to adopt a proportionate response in its struggle with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2007, as though proportionate responses ever won any victories against fascists. In the Second World War, the Luftwaffe killed 50,000 Britons in the Blitz, and the Allied response was to kill 600,000 Germans—twelve times the number and hardly a proportionate response, but one that contributed mightily to victory. Who are we therefore to lecture the Israelis on how proportionate their responses should be?

Roberts also notes that a prominent former British diplomat criticized the composition of the panel analyzing Britain’s entry into the Iraq war because two of its members, Martin Gilbert and Lawrence Freedman, are both Jewish and known supporters of Zionism. As Roberts put it, “If that’s the way that FO Arabists are prepared to express themselves in public, can you imagine the way that they refer to such people as Professors Gilbert and Freedman in private?”

Speaking of the Jewish state’s dilemma in facing a nuclear Iran and expressing no confidence in America’s ability or desire to prevent Ahmadinejad from obtaining a Bomb, Roberts concludes by exhorting the Israelis to follow the example of two famous Britons who boldly acted to stop a threat to their country:

None of us can pretend to know what lies ahead for Israel, but if she decides pre-emptively to strike against such a threat—in the same way that Nelson pre-emptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill pre-emptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran—then she can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office. She should ignore such criticism, because for all the fine work done by this Association over the past six decades – work that’s clearly needed as much now as ever before – Britain has only ever really been at best a fairweather friend to Israel. Although History does not repeat itself, its cadences do occasionally rhyme, and if the witness of History is testament to anything it is testament to this: That in her hopes of averting the threat of a Second Holocaust, only Israel can be relied upon to act decisively in the best interests of the Jews.

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Why All This Fuss Over Sarah Palin?

For someone who is closely involved in politics, I guess I am a rarity: I don’t find Sarah Palin to be particularly interesting. I will be surprised if she runs for the GOP nomination in 2012; I would be more surprised if she wins it; and I would be shocked if she won the presidency. I have written before about why I don’t think she is the future of the GOP, including the fact that rebuilding its reputation depends on emerging public figures who are conservative and principled, who radiate intellectual depth and calmness of purpose. Representative Paul Ryan, Governor Mitch Daniels, and former Governor Jeb Bush are the kinds of figures we need, and the campaign by Governor-elect Bob McDonnell are the kind Republicans should run.

With that said, the degree to which Palin evokes fury, contempt, and anger among her critics is nothing short of amazing. It is visceral and almost clinical. And it cannot be based on what she has done (which as governor of Alaska is fairly limited and not terribly controversial), on the views she holds (which are mainstream conservative), or on her relative lack of experience when McCain picked her as his vice-presidential choice (Palin’s experience was comparable to Barack Obama’s, who after all was running for president). What explains the fierce reaction to her is, in part, I think, her affect, the way she talks (and winks), the background she has emerged from, the populism she seems to embody. Palinism, as I understand it, is less a coherent philosophy or set of ideas and more an attitude and spirit. In that sense, she is a cultural figure much more than a political one.

If you believe, as I do, that the GOP once again needs to become the “party of ideas” — as it did under Ronald Reagan — then Palin is not the solution to what ails it. At this stage, based on the interviews I have seen with her, she doesn’t seem able to articulate the case for conservatism in a manner that is compelling or even particularly persuasive. She is nothing like, to take three individuals I would hold up as public models, Margaret Thatcher, William Bennett, and Antonin Scalia — people brimming with ideas, knowledgeable and formidable, intellectually well-grounded, and impossible to dismiss. That, of course, doesn’t mean that Palin doesn’t have a role to play in the Republican party or contributions to make to it. And what Palin has revealed about some of her critics is, in the words of my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, “the unfortunate and unattractive propensity of the American cultural elite to treat those who are not deemed part of the elect with condescension and contumely.”

The intensity of feelings Sarah Palin evokes from almost all sides is remarkable — and for me, a bit puzzling. I don’t think she has earned either adoration or contempt. But as we’re seeing, she elicits plenty of both.

For someone who is closely involved in politics, I guess I am a rarity: I don’t find Sarah Palin to be particularly interesting. I will be surprised if she runs for the GOP nomination in 2012; I would be more surprised if she wins it; and I would be shocked if she won the presidency. I have written before about why I don’t think she is the future of the GOP, including the fact that rebuilding its reputation depends on emerging public figures who are conservative and principled, who radiate intellectual depth and calmness of purpose. Representative Paul Ryan, Governor Mitch Daniels, and former Governor Jeb Bush are the kinds of figures we need, and the campaign by Governor-elect Bob McDonnell are the kind Republicans should run.

With that said, the degree to which Palin evokes fury, contempt, and anger among her critics is nothing short of amazing. It is visceral and almost clinical. And it cannot be based on what she has done (which as governor of Alaska is fairly limited and not terribly controversial), on the views she holds (which are mainstream conservative), or on her relative lack of experience when McCain picked her as his vice-presidential choice (Palin’s experience was comparable to Barack Obama’s, who after all was running for president). What explains the fierce reaction to her is, in part, I think, her affect, the way she talks (and winks), the background she has emerged from, the populism she seems to embody. Palinism, as I understand it, is less a coherent philosophy or set of ideas and more an attitude and spirit. In that sense, she is a cultural figure much more than a political one.

If you believe, as I do, that the GOP once again needs to become the “party of ideas” — as it did under Ronald Reagan — then Palin is not the solution to what ails it. At this stage, based on the interviews I have seen with her, she doesn’t seem able to articulate the case for conservatism in a manner that is compelling or even particularly persuasive. She is nothing like, to take three individuals I would hold up as public models, Margaret Thatcher, William Bennett, and Antonin Scalia — people brimming with ideas, knowledgeable and formidable, intellectually well-grounded, and impossible to dismiss. That, of course, doesn’t mean that Palin doesn’t have a role to play in the Republican party or contributions to make to it. And what Palin has revealed about some of her critics is, in the words of my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, “the unfortunate and unattractive propensity of the American cultural elite to treat those who are not deemed part of the elect with condescension and contumely.”

The intensity of feelings Sarah Palin evokes from almost all sides is remarkable — and for me, a bit puzzling. I don’t think she has earned either adoration or contempt. But as we’re seeing, she elicits plenty of both.

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The Lady Is Not For Turning. . . Yet

She isn’t Margaret Thatcher, but Hillary Clinton is not “for turning”–that is, she is not going anywhere. At least not yet. If the speech last night did not convince you, her interview with The Washington Post should. Not until the final vote is cast on Tuesday, and maybe not even then, will she exit. Why should she, after all? Superdelegates could still change their minds, so there is no reason to depart quite yet. Does she know something, does she “have” something or is she just hoping against all odds at this point that her vaunted research team will turn up something or that some unforseen event will fundamentally alter the race?

Well, many eyes are turned toward Trinity United–actually toward YouTube–to see what else shows up. Obama’s resignation is unlikely to remove the doubts and concerns perculating even among Democrats. As a Baptist minister quoted in the Wall Street Journal put it:

The fact is he benefited from his relationship with that church early on and he talked about it a lot. When the same church becomes somewhat of a burden, rather than a blessing, he decides to separate himself from it.

It is not as if Obama has improved over the last few months or solved these nagging issues; Clinton just fell too far behind before the public learned of the Trinity Church cast of characters and Bittergate. As Juan Williams explained:

It seems to me that the problem is people coming to know Senator Obama at this point — and you know, when Father Pfleger goes off about, you know, white people this, and Hillary Clinton is this kind of white person, and white — she’s crying and he’s mocking her, and it’s not just her crying, it’s white people all over the country are crying — you know, Nina, I hope that Christ is a liberation figure for black people, for white people, for everybody. He should stand for the oppressed. But when it’s put in these terms, it’s divisive and it suggests that Barack Obama for 20 years was willing, out of political expedience, to embrace that kind of talk. And then it says, “Well, what kind of guy is he? Is this really the guy?” . . . I think the New York Times this morning said he’s wheezing to the finish line. He’s had less votes. He’s won only, I think, less than half of the most recent primaries. And he’s won less in terms of the popular vote.

But none of this in and of itself is likely sufficient to deprive Obama of the nomination, absent some major new event. The general election is another matter, however. And if he falters and fritters away the Democrats’ “no way we can lose” 2008 election Clinton will certainly say, “It’s not like I didn’t warn you.” (That’ll fit on her 2012 bumper sticker.)

She isn’t Margaret Thatcher, but Hillary Clinton is not “for turning”–that is, she is not going anywhere. At least not yet. If the speech last night did not convince you, her interview with The Washington Post should. Not until the final vote is cast on Tuesday, and maybe not even then, will she exit. Why should she, after all? Superdelegates could still change their minds, so there is no reason to depart quite yet. Does she know something, does she “have” something or is she just hoping against all odds at this point that her vaunted research team will turn up something or that some unforseen event will fundamentally alter the race?

Well, many eyes are turned toward Trinity United–actually toward YouTube–to see what else shows up. Obama’s resignation is unlikely to remove the doubts and concerns perculating even among Democrats. As a Baptist minister quoted in the Wall Street Journal put it:

The fact is he benefited from his relationship with that church early on and he talked about it a lot. When the same church becomes somewhat of a burden, rather than a blessing, he decides to separate himself from it.

It is not as if Obama has improved over the last few months or solved these nagging issues; Clinton just fell too far behind before the public learned of the Trinity Church cast of characters and Bittergate. As Juan Williams explained:

It seems to me that the problem is people coming to know Senator Obama at this point — and you know, when Father Pfleger goes off about, you know, white people this, and Hillary Clinton is this kind of white person, and white — she’s crying and he’s mocking her, and it’s not just her crying, it’s white people all over the country are crying — you know, Nina, I hope that Christ is a liberation figure for black people, for white people, for everybody. He should stand for the oppressed. But when it’s put in these terms, it’s divisive and it suggests that Barack Obama for 20 years was willing, out of political expedience, to embrace that kind of talk. And then it says, “Well, what kind of guy is he? Is this really the guy?” . . . I think the New York Times this morning said he’s wheezing to the finish line. He’s had less votes. He’s won only, I think, less than half of the most recent primaries. And he’s won less in terms of the popular vote.

But none of this in and of itself is likely sufficient to deprive Obama of the nomination, absent some major new event. The general election is another matter, however. And if he falters and fritters away the Democrats’ “no way we can lose” 2008 election Clinton will certainly say, “It’s not like I didn’t warn you.” (That’ll fit on her 2012 bumper sticker.)

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Brown Comes A Cropper

On Friday, the Daily Telegraph reported results “among the most devastating for any government in the history of opinion polling”: the proportion of voters satisfied with Gordon Brown as prime minister has fallen to 23 percent. As the New York Times put it yesterday, this is a complete “reversal of fortune” from Brown’s summer dominance. His only consolation is that he has time to recover before he has to call an election in May 2010.

We have seen this movie before. In April 1955, Anthony Eden, the prime minister in waiting since 1951, took over Number 10 from Winston Churchill. Eden won a general election in May 1955, but by January 1957, destroyed by the Suez Crisis, he was out of office, replaced by Harold Macmillan.

Brown’s error was to fail to do the one thing Eden did right: hold (and win) an election soon after coming to power. Tony Blair tripped Brown up by leaving in June: Brown could not have gone to the polls until early October. But Brown made matters worse first by dithering, and then by announcing on October 6 that he had decided against calling an
election. By late September, the Tories were making up ground; since then, they have sprinted ahead.

The parallel is not just between Eden and Brown. The Marquess of Salisbury was followed in 1902 by Arthur Balfour, who lasted only three years. Stanley Baldwin was replaced by Neville Chamberlain in 1937, who left in May 1940. Winston Churchill was followed by Eden, gone in 1957. Harold Macmillan’s successor was Alec Douglas-Home, who survived only a year. Harold Wilson made room in 1976 for James Callaghan, who lost to Thatcher in 1979. Margaret Thatcher dominated the 1980’s, but her heir John Major, though he won victory against the odds in 1992, was routed by Blair in 1997. And now Blair’s heir has run onto the rocks six months after ousting his former leader.

Read More

On Friday, the Daily Telegraph reported results “among the most devastating for any government in the history of opinion polling”: the proportion of voters satisfied with Gordon Brown as prime minister has fallen to 23 percent. As the New York Times put it yesterday, this is a complete “reversal of fortune” from Brown’s summer dominance. His only consolation is that he has time to recover before he has to call an election in May 2010.

We have seen this movie before. In April 1955, Anthony Eden, the prime minister in waiting since 1951, took over Number 10 from Winston Churchill. Eden won a general election in May 1955, but by January 1957, destroyed by the Suez Crisis, he was out of office, replaced by Harold Macmillan.

Brown’s error was to fail to do the one thing Eden did right: hold (and win) an election soon after coming to power. Tony Blair tripped Brown up by leaving in June: Brown could not have gone to the polls until early October. But Brown made matters worse first by dithering, and then by announcing on October 6 that he had decided against calling an
election. By late September, the Tories were making up ground; since then, they have sprinted ahead.

The parallel is not just between Eden and Brown. The Marquess of Salisbury was followed in 1902 by Arthur Balfour, who lasted only three years. Stanley Baldwin was replaced by Neville Chamberlain in 1937, who left in May 1940. Winston Churchill was followed by Eden, gone in 1957. Harold Macmillan’s successor was Alec Douglas-Home, who survived only a year. Harold Wilson made room in 1976 for James Callaghan, who lost to Thatcher in 1979. Margaret Thatcher dominated the 1980’s, but her heir John Major, though he won victory against the odds in 1992, was routed by Blair in 1997. And now Blair’s heir has run onto the rocks six months after ousting his former leader.

Historian David Cannadine has described this pattern in twentieth-century British history as “the village fiddler after Paganini”: a dominant leader followed by a supposedly heavyweight successor who immediately comes a cropper. Why? Bad luck is a political reality, and the Prime Ministerial successors, taken as a group, may simply have been less talented than their predecessors.

But fundamentally, the pattern exists because in parliamentary systems a government can fall with a single vote. Therefore, as Churchill put it, “the loyalties which centre upon number one are enormous. If he trips he must be sustained.” But though a British party will manifest intense loyalty to the leader that puts it into power, it never feels as strongly about his successor.

Occasionally, as in 1957, a party can discard the successor and rally around a new leader: Brown may be forced to make way for a new Labour leader at a time not of his choosing. But such successes are rare. The odds are that Brown, having turned down, will keep going that way and ride his party to defeat.

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