Commentary Magazine


Topic: Megan McArdle

Flotsam and Jetsam

So much for the idea that the Democrats’ political fortunes are improving. New polls show Republicans ahead in Senate races in Nevada, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Colorado. Carly Fiorina has again pulled close to Barbara Boxer in California.

So much for the Democrats’ core message. Greg Sargent warns, “If Dems are going to avert a major bloodbath in November, they need independents to embrace two core Dem messages that seem particularly geared towards those voters: The claim that a vote for the GOP is a vote to return to Bush policies; and the assertion that the GOP has been hijacked by whackjob Tea Party extremists. But it appears that indy voters are not yet buying either of these messages in the numbers Dems need.” Think for a moment: that’s the best “message” the Dems can come up with — false accusations against their opponents. Sometimes a party deserves what it gets.

So much for Obama’s ability to gin up the base. “A new poll finds that Latinos — a key bloc in Democrats’ electoral coalition — are less enthusiastic than voters overall about the looming midterm elections.”

So much for excising the name of our enemy. “Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square on a crowded Saturday night, was sentenced to life in federal prison today. Before she pronounced sentence, Judge Miriam Cedarbaum said, ‘Mr. Shahzad, I think you should get up.’ Shahzad said ‘Allahu Akbar’ after hearing the sentence, and said he would ‘sacrifice a thousand lives for Allah.’ ‘War with Muslims has just begun,’ said Shahzad, who then predicted that ‘the defeat of the US is imminent, god willing.’”

So much for cowering to those who holler “Islamophobia!”: “As reports about an alleged al-Qaeda plot in Europe emerge, it is beginning to look as though a mosque in Hamburg where members of the 9/11 plot against the United States gathered once again has served as a crucial al-Qaeda recruiting ground. That raises an obvious question: Have Germany’s security services learned nothing in the last decade?” Have we? The FBI has likewise been cowed into forgoing undercover operations involving mosques here in the U.S.

So much for Obama rethinking his Afghanistan-war troop deadline. “US President Barack Obama has told congressional leaders he has no plans for any major changes in his Afghanistan war strategy for now, a letter released by the White House showed on Monday.”

So much for the campaign-reform maven: “Senator Russ Feingold, a leading voice for tight regulations on campaigns and elections, has been contacted by the National Football League today for using NFL footage without permission for a new campaign ad.”

So much for Obama’s pleading. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forum of senior ministers met Tuesday but did not discuss negotiations with the Palestinians, despite expectations that the forum would discuss a proposal to extend the settlement freeze in exchange for American guarantees.”

So much for “change.” Megan McArdle on “New GM, Same Old UAW?”: “The UAW just voted to allow an old GM stamping plant in Indianapolis to be shut down, rather than offer wage concessions necessary to attract a new owner. … Labor trouble has flared up at the plant where the new Chevy Cruze is being made. The Cruze is one of the things that is supposed to save the new GM: a high quality small car. If they can’t get this right without clashing with the union, what hope for the rest of GM?”

So much for the idea that the Democrats’ political fortunes are improving. New polls show Republicans ahead in Senate races in Nevada, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Colorado. Carly Fiorina has again pulled close to Barbara Boxer in California.

So much for the Democrats’ core message. Greg Sargent warns, “If Dems are going to avert a major bloodbath in November, they need independents to embrace two core Dem messages that seem particularly geared towards those voters: The claim that a vote for the GOP is a vote to return to Bush policies; and the assertion that the GOP has been hijacked by whackjob Tea Party extremists. But it appears that indy voters are not yet buying either of these messages in the numbers Dems need.” Think for a moment: that’s the best “message” the Dems can come up with — false accusations against their opponents. Sometimes a party deserves what it gets.

So much for Obama’s ability to gin up the base. “A new poll finds that Latinos — a key bloc in Democrats’ electoral coalition — are less enthusiastic than voters overall about the looming midterm elections.”

So much for excising the name of our enemy. “Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square on a crowded Saturday night, was sentenced to life in federal prison today. Before she pronounced sentence, Judge Miriam Cedarbaum said, ‘Mr. Shahzad, I think you should get up.’ Shahzad said ‘Allahu Akbar’ after hearing the sentence, and said he would ‘sacrifice a thousand lives for Allah.’ ‘War with Muslims has just begun,’ said Shahzad, who then predicted that ‘the defeat of the US is imminent, god willing.’”

So much for cowering to those who holler “Islamophobia!”: “As reports about an alleged al-Qaeda plot in Europe emerge, it is beginning to look as though a mosque in Hamburg where members of the 9/11 plot against the United States gathered once again has served as a crucial al-Qaeda recruiting ground. That raises an obvious question: Have Germany’s security services learned nothing in the last decade?” Have we? The FBI has likewise been cowed into forgoing undercover operations involving mosques here in the U.S.

So much for Obama rethinking his Afghanistan-war troop deadline. “US President Barack Obama has told congressional leaders he has no plans for any major changes in his Afghanistan war strategy for now, a letter released by the White House showed on Monday.”

So much for the campaign-reform maven: “Senator Russ Feingold, a leading voice for tight regulations on campaigns and elections, has been contacted by the National Football League today for using NFL footage without permission for a new campaign ad.”

So much for Obama’s pleading. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forum of senior ministers met Tuesday but did not discuss negotiations with the Palestinians, despite expectations that the forum would discuss a proposal to extend the settlement freeze in exchange for American guarantees.”

So much for “change.” Megan McArdle on “New GM, Same Old UAW?”: “The UAW just voted to allow an old GM stamping plant in Indianapolis to be shut down, rather than offer wage concessions necessary to attract a new owner. … Labor trouble has flared up at the plant where the new Chevy Cruze is being made. The Cruze is one of the things that is supposed to save the new GM: a high quality small car. If they can’t get this right without clashing with the union, what hope for the rest of GM?”

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Krugman: ‘Intellectually Lazy’

The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle sent a torpedo into the bow of the U.S.S. Paul Krugman. The damage is enormous and irreparable.

Professor Krugman, in trying to take on Rep. Paul Ryan, looks like an ideological fool — and he appears to be intentionally misleading, too. Ryan — who was my colleague at Empower America and who is a notoriously decent and civilized fellow — decided to characterize Krugman in the most innocuous way possible, calling him “intellectually lazy.”

To think that Krugman ranks as one of the most important columnists at the New York Times tells us a great deal, indeed.

The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle sent a torpedo into the bow of the U.S.S. Paul Krugman. The damage is enormous and irreparable.

Professor Krugman, in trying to take on Rep. Paul Ryan, looks like an ideological fool — and he appears to be intentionally misleading, too. Ryan — who was my colleague at Empower America and who is a notoriously decent and civilized fellow — decided to characterize Krugman in the most innocuous way possible, calling him “intellectually lazy.”

To think that Krugman ranks as one of the most important columnists at the New York Times tells us a great deal, indeed.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

AP reports: “Egypt’s government on Tuesday extended the country’s controversial emergency law for another two years, saying it would limit its use, a promise dismissed by human rights activists who warned the law would continue to be used to suppress dissent.” Will Obama be “deeply concerned” or zoom all the way to “profoundly troubled”?

Alan Dershowitz on Richard Goldstone’s “I was just following the law” defense of his record as a “hanging” apartheid judge: “It is interesting that Goldstone made a similar argument to friends as to why he accepted the chairmanship of the investigative commission offered to him by the United Nations Human Rights Council. He acknowledged that the Council was biased against Israel. Indeed, it treats Israel much the way Apartheid courts used to treat Black Africans: Just as there was special justice (really injustice) for blacks, so too there is special justice (really injustice) for Israel. Goldstone claims he took the job ‘to help Israel,’ just as he took his previous job to help blacks. In both cases he cynically hurt those he said he wanted to help while helping only himself. In both cases he was selected to legitimate bigotry. In both cases, better people than him refused to lend their credibility to an illegitimate enterprise. But Goldstone accepted, because it was good for his career.” Read the whole thing.

Dan Gerstein on the Kagan sales pitch: “This week, with their over-hyped and off-key ‘real world’ sales pitch for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, the president’s team is doing a bang-up job of outing their blinds spots themselves. In doing so, they are providing a big open window into why Obama continues to struggle in connecting with working-class voters.”

Megan McArdle on Kagan’s “pitch-perfect blandness”: “What’s disturbing is that this is what our nomination process now selects for: someone who appears to be in favor of nothing except self-advancement. Then we complain when the most passionate advocates for ideas are the lunatic fringe.”

Steve Kornacki asks, “Should Specter have run as an independent?” He still can!

Charles Krauthammer on Specter’s dilemma having voted against Kagan for solicitor general: “You almost feel sorry for Arlen Specter. I mean: Almost. This is a guy of so many twists and turns and retreats and swerves and reverses. It reminds me of a line in a Graham Greene novel where he speaks of his protagonist who says: ‘I prefer to tell the truth. It’s easier to memorize.’ Specter‘s got a lot of memorizing to do.”

Oops: “Congressional budget referees say President Barack Obama’s new health care law could potentially add another $115 billion over 10 years to government health care spending. If Congress approves all the additional spending, that would push the 10-year cost of the overhaul above $1 trillion — an unofficial limit the Obama administration set early on. The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday the added spending includes $10 billion to $20 billion in administrative costs to federal agencies carrying out the law, as well as $34 billion for community health centers and $39 billion for American Indian health care.”

But most voters have already figured that out: “The number of U.S. voters who expect the recently passed health care bill to increase the federal deficit is at its highest level yet, and most voters continue to favor its repeal. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 63% now believe the health care reform legislation signed into law is likely to increase the federal deficit. That’s up four points from last week.”

AP reports: “Egypt’s government on Tuesday extended the country’s controversial emergency law for another two years, saying it would limit its use, a promise dismissed by human rights activists who warned the law would continue to be used to suppress dissent.” Will Obama be “deeply concerned” or zoom all the way to “profoundly troubled”?

Alan Dershowitz on Richard Goldstone’s “I was just following the law” defense of his record as a “hanging” apartheid judge: “It is interesting that Goldstone made a similar argument to friends as to why he accepted the chairmanship of the investigative commission offered to him by the United Nations Human Rights Council. He acknowledged that the Council was biased against Israel. Indeed, it treats Israel much the way Apartheid courts used to treat Black Africans: Just as there was special justice (really injustice) for blacks, so too there is special justice (really injustice) for Israel. Goldstone claims he took the job ‘to help Israel,’ just as he took his previous job to help blacks. In both cases he cynically hurt those he said he wanted to help while helping only himself. In both cases he was selected to legitimate bigotry. In both cases, better people than him refused to lend their credibility to an illegitimate enterprise. But Goldstone accepted, because it was good for his career.” Read the whole thing.

Dan Gerstein on the Kagan sales pitch: “This week, with their over-hyped and off-key ‘real world’ sales pitch for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, the president’s team is doing a bang-up job of outing their blinds spots themselves. In doing so, they are providing a big open window into why Obama continues to struggle in connecting with working-class voters.”

Megan McArdle on Kagan’s “pitch-perfect blandness”: “What’s disturbing is that this is what our nomination process now selects for: someone who appears to be in favor of nothing except self-advancement. Then we complain when the most passionate advocates for ideas are the lunatic fringe.”

Steve Kornacki asks, “Should Specter have run as an independent?” He still can!

Charles Krauthammer on Specter’s dilemma having voted against Kagan for solicitor general: “You almost feel sorry for Arlen Specter. I mean: Almost. This is a guy of so many twists and turns and retreats and swerves and reverses. It reminds me of a line in a Graham Greene novel where he speaks of his protagonist who says: ‘I prefer to tell the truth. It’s easier to memorize.’ Specter‘s got a lot of memorizing to do.”

Oops: “Congressional budget referees say President Barack Obama’s new health care law could potentially add another $115 billion over 10 years to government health care spending. If Congress approves all the additional spending, that would push the 10-year cost of the overhaul above $1 trillion — an unofficial limit the Obama administration set early on. The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday the added spending includes $10 billion to $20 billion in administrative costs to federal agencies carrying out the law, as well as $34 billion for community health centers and $39 billion for American Indian health care.”

But most voters have already figured that out: “The number of U.S. voters who expect the recently passed health care bill to increase the federal deficit is at its highest level yet, and most voters continue to favor its repeal. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 63% now believe the health care reform legislation signed into law is likely to increase the federal deficit. That’s up four points from last week.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The ObamaCare votes don’t seem to be there. Could those “votes” have figured out that they are the sacrificial lambs in the Obami’s game plan?

Well, as Steny Hoyer says, “At this point in time we don’t have a bill. … It’s a little difficult to count votes if you don’t have a bill.”

Republicans can’t quite believe their good fortune. “First, it has allowed what is a relatively fractious group of Republicans Senators to appear entirely united — a sharp contrast to the divisions that have played out publicly between the moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic party. Second, Republicans argue, the health care focus is the main reason for the abandonment of Democratic candidates by independent voters in gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey as well as in Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) special election victory in January.”

You need a lineup card: Rangel is out, Stark is out: “Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) will be the acting chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced to her caucus on Thursday. … [Rep. Pete] Stark was the next in line for the post in terms of seniority, but some panel members recoiled at the idea of his leading the committee. Stark is known for making controversial and eccentric remarks, and in 2007 he apologized on the House floor for comments about President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.”

Phil Klein proves once again that all wisdom is contained in the Bible and The Godfather (I and II, definitely not III). It’s the Frankie Pentangeli moment — get the brother. “Obama has just awarded a judicial appointment to the brother of Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, who voted against the health care bill in November but who is now undecided.”

DNC chairman Tim Kaine says that something other than merit may be at work here. After all, “Life is life.” I imagine Republicans are collecting these pearls for their ad campaigns.

Speaking of criminal intrigue: did the White House violate federal statutes by dangling federal jobs in front of Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff to try to get them out of Senate primaries? “The real question, of course, is whether Eric Holder, who was so quick to reopen an investigation into CIA employees dedicated to trying to protect this country, will open an investigation into his political patrons in the White House who, in their dedication to furthering political objectives, may have violated several federal criminal laws.” I’m not holding my breath either.

I think there’s something to Megan McArdle’s theory of the Democrats’ scandal-a-thon: “The more members you have, the more members you have who can do something disastrous to your party’s public image. … Any party is going to have a given percentage of people in it doing fairly appalling things. If you up the numbers, and the transparency, you get about what we’re seeing now. And no doubt will see again, once the Republicans are back in power. ” Which will be fairly soon, many predict.

Andrew Roberts (a COMMENTARY contributor) goes after his own Israel-bashing Financial Times on its coverage of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s assassination: “All that the Dubai operation will do is remind the world that the security services of states at war — and Israel’s struggle with Hamas, Fatah and Hizbollah certainly constitutes that — occasionally employ targeted assassination as one of the weapons in their armoury, and that this in no way weakens their legitimacy. … The intelligence agents of states — sometimes operating with direct authority, sometimes not — have carried out many assassinations and assassination attempts in peacetime without the legitimacy of those states being called into question, or their being described as ‘rogue.’ … No, that insult is reserved for only one country: Israel.”

The ObamaCare votes don’t seem to be there. Could those “votes” have figured out that they are the sacrificial lambs in the Obami’s game plan?

Well, as Steny Hoyer says, “At this point in time we don’t have a bill. … It’s a little difficult to count votes if you don’t have a bill.”

Republicans can’t quite believe their good fortune. “First, it has allowed what is a relatively fractious group of Republicans Senators to appear entirely united — a sharp contrast to the divisions that have played out publicly between the moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic party. Second, Republicans argue, the health care focus is the main reason for the abandonment of Democratic candidates by independent voters in gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey as well as in Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) special election victory in January.”

You need a lineup card: Rangel is out, Stark is out: “Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) will be the acting chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced to her caucus on Thursday. … [Rep. Pete] Stark was the next in line for the post in terms of seniority, but some panel members recoiled at the idea of his leading the committee. Stark is known for making controversial and eccentric remarks, and in 2007 he apologized on the House floor for comments about President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.”

Phil Klein proves once again that all wisdom is contained in the Bible and The Godfather (I and II, definitely not III). It’s the Frankie Pentangeli moment — get the brother. “Obama has just awarded a judicial appointment to the brother of Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, who voted against the health care bill in November but who is now undecided.”

DNC chairman Tim Kaine says that something other than merit may be at work here. After all, “Life is life.” I imagine Republicans are collecting these pearls for their ad campaigns.

Speaking of criminal intrigue: did the White House violate federal statutes by dangling federal jobs in front of Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff to try to get them out of Senate primaries? “The real question, of course, is whether Eric Holder, who was so quick to reopen an investigation into CIA employees dedicated to trying to protect this country, will open an investigation into his political patrons in the White House who, in their dedication to furthering political objectives, may have violated several federal criminal laws.” I’m not holding my breath either.

I think there’s something to Megan McArdle’s theory of the Democrats’ scandal-a-thon: “The more members you have, the more members you have who can do something disastrous to your party’s public image. … Any party is going to have a given percentage of people in it doing fairly appalling things. If you up the numbers, and the transparency, you get about what we’re seeing now. And no doubt will see again, once the Republicans are back in power. ” Which will be fairly soon, many predict.

Andrew Roberts (a COMMENTARY contributor) goes after his own Israel-bashing Financial Times on its coverage of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s assassination: “All that the Dubai operation will do is remind the world that the security services of states at war — and Israel’s struggle with Hamas, Fatah and Hizbollah certainly constitutes that — occasionally employ targeted assassination as one of the weapons in their armoury, and that this in no way weakens their legitimacy. … The intelligence agents of states — sometimes operating with direct authority, sometimes not — have carried out many assassinations and assassination attempts in peacetime without the legitimacy of those states being called into question, or their being described as ‘rogue.’ … No, that insult is reserved for only one country: Israel.”

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The Left: Pass Health Care and Go Out in a Blaze of Glory

In the endless search for justifying political suicide — that is, continuing with the quest to pass ObamaCare — many on the Left argue that the “damage has been done.” In other words, they are already going to be punished by conservatives and independents for almost passing ObamaCare, so they might as well go through with it and please their base. Well, for starters, it’s nice to see that they finally realize that the bill is unpopular, that it was a lie that Democrats could pass it and “sell it later,” and that it’s going to cost many Democrats their seats. But is it really true that there’s no harm in going forward and passing a noxious bill that 70 percent of the electorate hates?

Megan McArdle neatly summarizes the argument on the side of “you gotta be kidding”:

Who are you more likely to leave:  the spouse who makes a pass at another woman, and then thinks the better of it, or the spouse who goes through with it?  Maybe you’ll leave them either way.  But it does not follow that they are better off going through with it.  I don’t think it is actually true that trying to pass a bill people hate, and then thinking the better of it because it turns out the electorate hates it, is no different from trying to pass a bill people hate, finding out that they really, really hate it, and then ignoring them and pushing it through anyway.

Moreover, passing ObamaCare would entail debating it and making more deals over an extended period of time, which is likely to remind everyone just why it was they hated the bill in the first place. Indeed, the threat of ObamaCare looming on the horizon is precisely what I suspect the Republicans are hoping for. It would keep the troops pumped up, send Democrats into a defensive crouch, and suck up time that could be better spent by Democrats doing things the voters might like better.

Now Public Policy Polling has a survey that Tom Jensen describes as follows:

The GOP leads 43-40 on the generic Congressional ballot. When you ask people how they’ll vote if the Democrats don’t pass their health care plan the GOP leads 43-38. That’s because the level of support from Democratic voters for their own party drops from 80% to 76% if there is no health care bill. The GOP level of support remains unchanged at this point whether it passes or not.

Well, that’s some evidence for the “go ahead and jump” advice. But the difference between passing and not passing the bill in the poll is within the margin. Moreover, it doesn’t account for how much madder independents will get in the interim as more attention is devoted to the bill. (Recall that with each vote in the House and Senate at the end of 2009, support for the bill went down.) In addition, the poll doesn’t consider a logical alternative that might actually help Democrats — passing a targeted set of reforms that many Republicans could support (e.g., tort reform, equalizing the tax treatment of individual- and employer-purchased health-care plans).

Elected lawmakers, I think, are reluctant to follow the advice of the Left (including those in the White House), which has driven its party’s fortunes into the ground in just a year. They see the results in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts and can read the polls for themselves. The double-down crowd may have appeal out in the blogosphere, but I don’t think there are too many takers among those still hoping to avoid being swept out in the wave election of 2010.

In the endless search for justifying political suicide — that is, continuing with the quest to pass ObamaCare — many on the Left argue that the “damage has been done.” In other words, they are already going to be punished by conservatives and independents for almost passing ObamaCare, so they might as well go through with it and please their base. Well, for starters, it’s nice to see that they finally realize that the bill is unpopular, that it was a lie that Democrats could pass it and “sell it later,” and that it’s going to cost many Democrats their seats. But is it really true that there’s no harm in going forward and passing a noxious bill that 70 percent of the electorate hates?

Megan McArdle neatly summarizes the argument on the side of “you gotta be kidding”:

Who are you more likely to leave:  the spouse who makes a pass at another woman, and then thinks the better of it, or the spouse who goes through with it?  Maybe you’ll leave them either way.  But it does not follow that they are better off going through with it.  I don’t think it is actually true that trying to pass a bill people hate, and then thinking the better of it because it turns out the electorate hates it, is no different from trying to pass a bill people hate, finding out that they really, really hate it, and then ignoring them and pushing it through anyway.

Moreover, passing ObamaCare would entail debating it and making more deals over an extended period of time, which is likely to remind everyone just why it was they hated the bill in the first place. Indeed, the threat of ObamaCare looming on the horizon is precisely what I suspect the Republicans are hoping for. It would keep the troops pumped up, send Democrats into a defensive crouch, and suck up time that could be better spent by Democrats doing things the voters might like better.

Now Public Policy Polling has a survey that Tom Jensen describes as follows:

The GOP leads 43-40 on the generic Congressional ballot. When you ask people how they’ll vote if the Democrats don’t pass their health care plan the GOP leads 43-38. That’s because the level of support from Democratic voters for their own party drops from 80% to 76% if there is no health care bill. The GOP level of support remains unchanged at this point whether it passes or not.

Well, that’s some evidence for the “go ahead and jump” advice. But the difference between passing and not passing the bill in the poll is within the margin. Moreover, it doesn’t account for how much madder independents will get in the interim as more attention is devoted to the bill. (Recall that with each vote in the House and Senate at the end of 2009, support for the bill went down.) In addition, the poll doesn’t consider a logical alternative that might actually help Democrats — passing a targeted set of reforms that many Republicans could support (e.g., tort reform, equalizing the tax treatment of individual- and employer-purchased health-care plans).

Elected lawmakers, I think, are reluctant to follow the advice of the Left (including those in the White House), which has driven its party’s fortunes into the ground in just a year. They see the results in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts and can read the polls for themselves. The double-down crowd may have appeal out in the blogosphere, but I don’t think there are too many takers among those still hoping to avoid being swept out in the wave election of 2010.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The mayor of Las Vegas, despite numbers from helpful (or is it desperate?) Democratic polling outfits showing he would do better against Republican challengers to Harry Reid, says he won’t run. Recruitment is hard for the side facing rather than riding the wave.

Surveying the Democratic retirements and opt-outs, it sure does seem that “Democrats are spooked at all levels. Beau Biden’s Delaware bid has always had a Coakleyesque Democratic entitlement aroma to it, and Massachusetts has now sensitized the noses of the rest of the nation. Much more so than Republicans, Democratic congressional candidates are often products of their urban party machines, but I sure wouldn’t want to be a machine candidate running for Congress anywhere in the country next fall.”

Speaking of machines, the Illinois Senate primary race has heated up. The Democratic front-runner, Alexi Giannoulias, is being attacked for his ties to Tony Rezko. You sort of see how that would be a problem in the general election.

Democrats in Illinois seem awfully jumpy: “A televised forum among the three leading Democrats for the Senate last week seemed to transform into a scuffle over which one would be least likely, come November, to repeat what happened in Massachusetts. (Along the way, they struck notes that sounded not so unlike Mr. Brown.)”

Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Politico reports: “White House advisers appearing on the Sunday talk shows gave three different estimates of how many jobs could be credited to President Obama’s Recovery Act.”

Liberals can barely disguise their disdain for the Obami’s muddled health-care stance. TNR complains: “The White House seems to agree that passing the Senate bill and fixing it with reconciliation would be the best way to proceed. But that doesn’t mean they’re pushing hard for that option. According to the same sources, the Obama administration sent vague, sometimes conflicting signals about its intentions for much of last week–making the task for reform advocates even harder.” (And he could have been such a fine editor for them!) Perhaps the Obami just want the whole health-care thing to go away. That they might finally accomplish.

Megan McArdle explains how to do precisely that: “We want to pass health care, but we just have a few things to do first. … Once it goes on the back burner, it’s over. As time goes by, voters will be thinking less and less about the health care bill they hated, and more and more about other things in the news. There is not going to be any appetite among Democrats for returning to this toxic process and refreshing those bad memories. They’re going to want to spend the time between now and the election talking about things that voters, y’know, like.”

Victor Davis Hanson takes us down memory lane: “After Van Jones, Anita Dunn, the Skip Gates mess, the ‘tea-bagger’ slurs, the attacks on Fox News, the Copenhagen dashes, the bowing, the apologizing, the reordering of creditors, the NEA obsequiousness, the lackluster overseas-contingency-operation front, the deer-in-the-headlights pause on Afghanistan, the pseudo-deadlines on Iran, Guantanamo, and health care, the transparency and bipartisanship fraud, and dozens of other things, Obama simply does not have the popularity to carry unpopular legislation forward.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “a new report warns that al-Qaeda has not abandoned its goal of attacking the United States with a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon. The report, by a former senior CIA official who led the agency’s hunt for terrorists’ weapons of mass destruction, portrays al-Qaeda’s leaders as determined and patient, willing to wait for years to acquire the kinds of weapons that could inflict widespread casualties.” (Not even if we close Guantanamo? Give KSM his trial? No.) Seems like a good reminder that whenever we grab an al-Qaeda operative, we should be doing everything within our power to get every bit of data we can in order to prevent an attack with “widespread casualties.”

The mayor of Las Vegas, despite numbers from helpful (or is it desperate?) Democratic polling outfits showing he would do better against Republican challengers to Harry Reid, says he won’t run. Recruitment is hard for the side facing rather than riding the wave.

Surveying the Democratic retirements and opt-outs, it sure does seem that “Democrats are spooked at all levels. Beau Biden’s Delaware bid has always had a Coakleyesque Democratic entitlement aroma to it, and Massachusetts has now sensitized the noses of the rest of the nation. Much more so than Republicans, Democratic congressional candidates are often products of their urban party machines, but I sure wouldn’t want to be a machine candidate running for Congress anywhere in the country next fall.”

Speaking of machines, the Illinois Senate primary race has heated up. The Democratic front-runner, Alexi Giannoulias, is being attacked for his ties to Tony Rezko. You sort of see how that would be a problem in the general election.

Democrats in Illinois seem awfully jumpy: “A televised forum among the three leading Democrats for the Senate last week seemed to transform into a scuffle over which one would be least likely, come November, to repeat what happened in Massachusetts. (Along the way, they struck notes that sounded not so unlike Mr. Brown.)”

Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Politico reports: “White House advisers appearing on the Sunday talk shows gave three different estimates of how many jobs could be credited to President Obama’s Recovery Act.”

Liberals can barely disguise their disdain for the Obami’s muddled health-care stance. TNR complains: “The White House seems to agree that passing the Senate bill and fixing it with reconciliation would be the best way to proceed. But that doesn’t mean they’re pushing hard for that option. According to the same sources, the Obama administration sent vague, sometimes conflicting signals about its intentions for much of last week–making the task for reform advocates even harder.” (And he could have been such a fine editor for them!) Perhaps the Obami just want the whole health-care thing to go away. That they might finally accomplish.

Megan McArdle explains how to do precisely that: “We want to pass health care, but we just have a few things to do first. … Once it goes on the back burner, it’s over. As time goes by, voters will be thinking less and less about the health care bill they hated, and more and more about other things in the news. There is not going to be any appetite among Democrats for returning to this toxic process and refreshing those bad memories. They’re going to want to spend the time between now and the election talking about things that voters, y’know, like.”

Victor Davis Hanson takes us down memory lane: “After Van Jones, Anita Dunn, the Skip Gates mess, the ‘tea-bagger’ slurs, the attacks on Fox News, the Copenhagen dashes, the bowing, the apologizing, the reordering of creditors, the NEA obsequiousness, the lackluster overseas-contingency-operation front, the deer-in-the-headlights pause on Afghanistan, the pseudo-deadlines on Iran, Guantanamo, and health care, the transparency and bipartisanship fraud, and dozens of other things, Obama simply does not have the popularity to carry unpopular legislation forward.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “a new report warns that al-Qaeda has not abandoned its goal of attacking the United States with a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon. The report, by a former senior CIA official who led the agency’s hunt for terrorists’ weapons of mass destruction, portrays al-Qaeda’s leaders as determined and patient, willing to wait for years to acquire the kinds of weapons that could inflict widespread casualties.” (Not even if we close Guantanamo? Give KSM his trial? No.) Seems like a good reminder that whenever we grab an al-Qaeda operative, we should be doing everything within our power to get every bit of data we can in order to prevent an attack with “widespread casualties.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Bill Kristol on enjoying the festivities in Copenhagen: “Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad giving anti-American speeches, huge applause from the delegates, snowing during this global warming conference. And I’m glad that it has done limited damage to the U.S. economy.” Mara Liasson (emboldened perhaps by the “Free Mara!” campaign) agrees: “I think, obviously, it was a disappointment for environmentalists who wanted something binding and wanted more firm targets, but I think what this means is that a very small step has been taken, and now we’ll see if the Senate will pass this treaty.”

In the rush to pass hugely unpopular and controversial legislation, errors are made: “The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) corrected its estimate of the Senate health bill’s costs on Sunday, saying it would reduce deficits slightly less than they’d predicted.”

The bill was so awful the payoffs had to be very high: “Nelson’s might be the most blatant – a deal carved out for a single state, a permanent exemption from the state share of Medicaid expansion for Nebraska, meaning federal taxpayers have to kick in an additional $45 million in the first decade. But another Democratic holdout, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), took credit for $10 billion in new funding for community health centers, while denying it was a “sweetheart deal.”

Megan McArdle: “Democrats are on a political suicide mission; I’m not a particularly accurate prognosticator, but I think this makes it very likely that in 2010 they will lost several seats in the Senate–enough to make it damn hard to pass any more of their signature legislation–and will lose the House outright.  In the case of the House, you can attribute it to the fact that the leadership has safe seats.  But three out of four of the Democrats on the podium today are in serious danger of losing their seats. No bill this large has ever before passed on a straight party-line vote, or even anything close to a straight party-line vote.  No bill this unpopular has ever before passed on a straight party-line vote.”

When do we get “change“? “The Senate Majority Leader has decided that the last few days before Christmas are the opportune moment for a narrow majority of Democrats to stuff ObamaCare through the Senate to meet an arbitrary White House deadline. Barring some extraordinary reversal, it now seems as if they have the 60 votes they need to jump off this cliff, with one-seventh of the economy in tow. Mr. Obama promised a new era of transparent good government, yet on Saturday morning Mr. Reid threw out the 2,100-page bill that the world’s greatest deliberative body spent just 17 days debating and replaced it with a new ‘manager’s amendment’ that was stapled together in covert partisan negotiations.” Well, voters may see their chance on Election Day 2010.

Harry Reid’s precarious position with Nevada voters may get worse. Even the new Newsweek has figured out that much: “As the approval ratings of both Obama and Congress fall, Nevada’s political dynamics spell trouble for many incumbent Democrats. When you’re the majority leader, that’s seriously bad news. ‘Any politician who gets into a leadership role like that has a tough time because they have to balance the needs of their leadership role against their representation of a state,’ [Scott] Rasmussen says. Reid’s job as leader requires him to be a strict partisan even though he comes from a purple state.”

To no one’s surprise, James Webb falls in line with ObamaCare despite all his supposed “disappointment with some sections of the bill.” His Virginia constituents, who elected Bob McDonnell and are running against the Obama agenda by twenty points, are no doubt even more disappointed. That’s what the 2012 election will be all about.

Eric Cantor explains where health care will be decided: “Cantor predicts that abortion would be the key issue in the House’s debate of the Senate’s bill. Pro-life Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) ‘has outlined very clear language’ on abortion and ‘has made it clear that if it’s not included then he will vote against the bill,’  he says. ‘. . It’s unfathomable to think that pro-life Democrats would go for the Senate version. They know that the Senate’s bill is a 30-year record-breaking move to allow taxpayer dollars to fund abortion. I can’t imagine any of them supporting it.” We’ll see.

We are still “bearing witness,” I suppose: “Iran’s opposition on Sunday seized upon the death of one of the Islamic republic’s founding fathers — a revered ayatollah who was also a fierce critic of the nation’s leadership — to take to the streets in mourning. Fearing that mourners could quickly turn into antigovernment protesters, Iranian authorities tightened security across the country.”

Bill Kristol on enjoying the festivities in Copenhagen: “Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad giving anti-American speeches, huge applause from the delegates, snowing during this global warming conference. And I’m glad that it has done limited damage to the U.S. economy.” Mara Liasson (emboldened perhaps by the “Free Mara!” campaign) agrees: “I think, obviously, it was a disappointment for environmentalists who wanted something binding and wanted more firm targets, but I think what this means is that a very small step has been taken, and now we’ll see if the Senate will pass this treaty.”

In the rush to pass hugely unpopular and controversial legislation, errors are made: “The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) corrected its estimate of the Senate health bill’s costs on Sunday, saying it would reduce deficits slightly less than they’d predicted.”

The bill was so awful the payoffs had to be very high: “Nelson’s might be the most blatant – a deal carved out for a single state, a permanent exemption from the state share of Medicaid expansion for Nebraska, meaning federal taxpayers have to kick in an additional $45 million in the first decade. But another Democratic holdout, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), took credit for $10 billion in new funding for community health centers, while denying it was a “sweetheart deal.”

Megan McArdle: “Democrats are on a political suicide mission; I’m not a particularly accurate prognosticator, but I think this makes it very likely that in 2010 they will lost several seats in the Senate–enough to make it damn hard to pass any more of their signature legislation–and will lose the House outright.  In the case of the House, you can attribute it to the fact that the leadership has safe seats.  But three out of four of the Democrats on the podium today are in serious danger of losing their seats. No bill this large has ever before passed on a straight party-line vote, or even anything close to a straight party-line vote.  No bill this unpopular has ever before passed on a straight party-line vote.”

When do we get “change“? “The Senate Majority Leader has decided that the last few days before Christmas are the opportune moment for a narrow majority of Democrats to stuff ObamaCare through the Senate to meet an arbitrary White House deadline. Barring some extraordinary reversal, it now seems as if they have the 60 votes they need to jump off this cliff, with one-seventh of the economy in tow. Mr. Obama promised a new era of transparent good government, yet on Saturday morning Mr. Reid threw out the 2,100-page bill that the world’s greatest deliberative body spent just 17 days debating and replaced it with a new ‘manager’s amendment’ that was stapled together in covert partisan negotiations.” Well, voters may see their chance on Election Day 2010.

Harry Reid’s precarious position with Nevada voters may get worse. Even the new Newsweek has figured out that much: “As the approval ratings of both Obama and Congress fall, Nevada’s political dynamics spell trouble for many incumbent Democrats. When you’re the majority leader, that’s seriously bad news. ‘Any politician who gets into a leadership role like that has a tough time because they have to balance the needs of their leadership role against their representation of a state,’ [Scott] Rasmussen says. Reid’s job as leader requires him to be a strict partisan even though he comes from a purple state.”

To no one’s surprise, James Webb falls in line with ObamaCare despite all his supposed “disappointment with some sections of the bill.” His Virginia constituents, who elected Bob McDonnell and are running against the Obama agenda by twenty points, are no doubt even more disappointed. That’s what the 2012 election will be all about.

Eric Cantor explains where health care will be decided: “Cantor predicts that abortion would be the key issue in the House’s debate of the Senate’s bill. Pro-life Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) ‘has outlined very clear language’ on abortion and ‘has made it clear that if it’s not included then he will vote against the bill,’  he says. ‘. . It’s unfathomable to think that pro-life Democrats would go for the Senate version. They know that the Senate’s bill is a 30-year record-breaking move to allow taxpayer dollars to fund abortion. I can’t imagine any of them supporting it.” We’ll see.

We are still “bearing witness,” I suppose: “Iran’s opposition on Sunday seized upon the death of one of the Islamic republic’s founding fathers — a revered ayatollah who was also a fierce critic of the nation’s leadership — to take to the streets in mourning. Fearing that mourners could quickly turn into antigovernment protesters, Iranian authorities tightened security across the country.”

Read Less

The Crisis Bullies Are Losing

For months we’ve heard the Democrats rail against opponents of ObamaCare as “defenders of the status quo.” The current system is “unsustainable” or “unacceptable,” we were told, and those dirty dog Republicans want to keep things the way they are. Republicans denied the charge. “No, we want change too!” they retorted. “Who’s in favor of the status quo? Not us!” Well, now it turns out that the public likes the status quo better than what’s coming out of Congress.

As Megan McArdle observes:

You can argue that voters aren’t educated enough and that you can generate good poll numbers for individual components of the plan, but that’s not really relevant. You can generate support for nearly any program, if you poll it without mentioning the associated costs. When voters think about the health care plan, they’re not thinking public option + medicare advantage cuts + etc.  They’re making a judgment about what the entire package will mean. And the entire package has risks as well as benefits:  higher taxes, less generous health coverage for the majority of Americans who already have it.

In other words, the Democrats’ schemes for massive taxes, Medicare cuts, and government “advisory” boards (think about the mammogram guidelines) are going to make things worse for those who have care, without doing anything on the bend-the-cost-curve side. Americans’ support for the existing health-care system is at an all-time high. Why? They realize they might lose it and are scared that what is coming is going to be worse for them specifically and the country generally.

Backers of a government takeover of health care have been trying, not unlike the environmental hysterics, to tell us that we are in a dire crisis. For if one is in a crisis, something must be done. And in a crisis, one tends to be predisposed to accept all sorts of eye-popping power grabs and unbelievable statistics, because it’s a crisis after all. Alas, the public isn’t buying it. It sure doesn’t seem like a health-care crisis to most Americans. The vast majority of voters have insurance and like it. So the bullies holler louder. Now Harry Reid says that those who object are like those who defended slavery and Jim Crow. (That’s when the status quo really was unacceptable.)

What’s coming out of ObamaCare supporters sounds to ordinary voters not soothing or helpful but very expensive, scary, and most of all, arrogant. As Sen. Lamar Alexander explained:

“This bill is historic in its arrogance—arrogance that we in Congress are wise enough to take this complex health system, that is 17 percent of our economy and serves 300 million Americans, and think we can write a 2,000-page bill and change it all. … It’s arrogant to dump 15 million low-income Americans into a medical ghetto called Medicaid that none of us or any of our families would ever want to join.”

So perhaps it’s time to defend the status quo. The crisis mongers and bullies insist we must reinvent the entire health-care system. They are wrong, of course. The current system is not perfect, but the alternative is far worse. The president says we can keep the insurance we have? Yes, if the monstrous government takeover plan is defeated. That would suit most voters just fine.

For months we’ve heard the Democrats rail against opponents of ObamaCare as “defenders of the status quo.” The current system is “unsustainable” or “unacceptable,” we were told, and those dirty dog Republicans want to keep things the way they are. Republicans denied the charge. “No, we want change too!” they retorted. “Who’s in favor of the status quo? Not us!” Well, now it turns out that the public likes the status quo better than what’s coming out of Congress.

As Megan McArdle observes:

You can argue that voters aren’t educated enough and that you can generate good poll numbers for individual components of the plan, but that’s not really relevant. You can generate support for nearly any program, if you poll it without mentioning the associated costs. When voters think about the health care plan, they’re not thinking public option + medicare advantage cuts + etc.  They’re making a judgment about what the entire package will mean. And the entire package has risks as well as benefits:  higher taxes, less generous health coverage for the majority of Americans who already have it.

In other words, the Democrats’ schemes for massive taxes, Medicare cuts, and government “advisory” boards (think about the mammogram guidelines) are going to make things worse for those who have care, without doing anything on the bend-the-cost-curve side. Americans’ support for the existing health-care system is at an all-time high. Why? They realize they might lose it and are scared that what is coming is going to be worse for them specifically and the country generally.

Backers of a government takeover of health care have been trying, not unlike the environmental hysterics, to tell us that we are in a dire crisis. For if one is in a crisis, something must be done. And in a crisis, one tends to be predisposed to accept all sorts of eye-popping power grabs and unbelievable statistics, because it’s a crisis after all. Alas, the public isn’t buying it. It sure doesn’t seem like a health-care crisis to most Americans. The vast majority of voters have insurance and like it. So the bullies holler louder. Now Harry Reid says that those who object are like those who defended slavery and Jim Crow. (That’s when the status quo really was unacceptable.)

What’s coming out of ObamaCare supporters sounds to ordinary voters not soothing or helpful but very expensive, scary, and most of all, arrogant. As Sen. Lamar Alexander explained:

“This bill is historic in its arrogance—arrogance that we in Congress are wise enough to take this complex health system, that is 17 percent of our economy and serves 300 million Americans, and think we can write a 2,000-page bill and change it all. … It’s arrogant to dump 15 million low-income Americans into a medical ghetto called Medicaid that none of us or any of our families would ever want to join.”

So perhaps it’s time to defend the status quo. The crisis mongers and bullies insist we must reinvent the entire health-care system. They are wrong, of course. The current system is not perfect, but the alternative is far worse. The president says we can keep the insurance we have? Yes, if the monstrous government takeover plan is defeated. That would suit most voters just fine.

Read Less

What Happened to Bending the Cost Curve?

Megan McArdle has a typically thoughtful post on bending the cost curve, or not, through the Democrats’ health-care reforms. She explains:

What passes for delivery reform consists mostly of slashing reimbursement rates to providers, and then putting Medicare Advantage on the same plan. There are two problems with this.  The first is that there’s no reason to believe that providers will find ways to efficiently provide care at the new, lower rates, rather than just stop serving Medicare patients. That was the core point of the recent report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — and though a lot of bloggers developed sudden suspicions about the integrity of government reports, in fact, this pretty much jibes with the warnings that Doug Elmendorf has been issuing, and also, reality. . . The second is that the treatment cuts — and any further cuts recommended by the cost effectiveness commission — can be undone by Congress.

Well what about the tax on so-called Cadillac plans? Maybe that’s going to discourage overspending, but as McArdle points out, it’s also quite possible that it “ends up just being a heavy tax on a random group of people who happen to have expensive health insurance, [and] then it won’t cut health care costs, and also, will probably end up being repealed.”

There’s really nothing in sight that will influence the cost of health care, because the Democrats refuse to address two issues: tort reform (with the ensuing problem of defensive medicine and unneeded procedures) and expanding markets (e.g., interstate sales, changing tax treatment of individually purchased plans).

What we are doing here is spending gobs of money, raising hundreds of billions in taxes, slashing Medicare payments, and empowering government bureaucrats to influence health-care treatment all in the name of expanding coverage. It isn’t remotely what Obama promised, and it’s not what voters seem to want. But we may get it anyway.

Megan McArdle has a typically thoughtful post on bending the cost curve, or not, through the Democrats’ health-care reforms. She explains:

What passes for delivery reform consists mostly of slashing reimbursement rates to providers, and then putting Medicare Advantage on the same plan. There are two problems with this.  The first is that there’s no reason to believe that providers will find ways to efficiently provide care at the new, lower rates, rather than just stop serving Medicare patients. That was the core point of the recent report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — and though a lot of bloggers developed sudden suspicions about the integrity of government reports, in fact, this pretty much jibes with the warnings that Doug Elmendorf has been issuing, and also, reality. . . The second is that the treatment cuts — and any further cuts recommended by the cost effectiveness commission — can be undone by Congress.

Well what about the tax on so-called Cadillac plans? Maybe that’s going to discourage overspending, but as McArdle points out, it’s also quite possible that it “ends up just being a heavy tax on a random group of people who happen to have expensive health insurance, [and] then it won’t cut health care costs, and also, will probably end up being repealed.”

There’s really nothing in sight that will influence the cost of health care, because the Democrats refuse to address two issues: tort reform (with the ensuing problem of defensive medicine and unneeded procedures) and expanding markets (e.g., interstate sales, changing tax treatment of individually purchased plans).

What we are doing here is spending gobs of money, raising hundreds of billions in taxes, slashing Medicare payments, and empowering government bureaucrats to influence health-care treatment all in the name of expanding coverage. It isn’t remotely what Obama promised, and it’s not what voters seem to want. But we may get it anyway.

Read Less

Words, Words, Words

Here at the horizon, Dara Mandle wonders about the death of reading. Over at The New Republic, James Wolcott offers a lengthy and vastly entertaining piece on the decline of book reviewing (the piece itself is a review of Gail Pool’s Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America), a topic also explored recently by Steve Wasserman in the Columbia Journalism Review. All seem to agree that reading (and serious thinking on it) is in a state of flux, and probably on the wane. Mandle’s post, for example, ends with the question, “Do electronics like the Kindle have what it takes to save reading?” The underlying assumption is that reading needs saving, and that recent cultural and technological shifts are part of what’s killing it.

It’s an easy assumption to make, of course, but as Wolcott’s essay points out, it’s hardly a novel idea. Academics, intellectuals, and ordinary book lovers have been fretting over the decline of serious writing and serious thinking about writing for decades. As always, reactions vary. Many, like Adam Kirsch in The New York Sun, have simply given up, pronouncing the internet-dominated literary scene a total loss. Others, including critics like Terry Teachout and journalists like Megan McArdle (now of the Atlantic), are more enthusiastic.

I lean towards enthusiasm, but I think some of the worries and criticisms are valid, if somewhat misplaced. The danger to reading, it seems to me, is less of the lack of respect for books and book criticism, or the uninformed opinions of amateurs replacing the thoughtful screeds of professionals, or the diminishing number of book reviews in newspapers, but instead, the glut of written material fighting for our collective attention. Even the most robust literary scene would have difficulty keeping up with the truckloads of books published each year. And although newspapers may be publishing fewer book reviews, the internet, by giving free and easy access to all those with internet access, has actually expanded access to top-tier reviews for nearly everyone.

Book review pages in medium sized newspapers have fallen off in large part because they are unnecessary in a world where nearly everyone can easily browse the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the L.A. Times. Meanwhile, smaller publications, including blogs, but also established print journals, are flourishing on the web, creating a wealth of easy-to-access material for every niche. The difficulty with reading these days is not that there is too little being written, or that no one is doing it, or even that no one is doing it well. It’s that there’s too much to read, too much to process. We are not short for words. We are drowning in them.

Here at the horizon, Dara Mandle wonders about the death of reading. Over at The New Republic, James Wolcott offers a lengthy and vastly entertaining piece on the decline of book reviewing (the piece itself is a review of Gail Pool’s Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America), a topic also explored recently by Steve Wasserman in the Columbia Journalism Review. All seem to agree that reading (and serious thinking on it) is in a state of flux, and probably on the wane. Mandle’s post, for example, ends with the question, “Do electronics like the Kindle have what it takes to save reading?” The underlying assumption is that reading needs saving, and that recent cultural and technological shifts are part of what’s killing it.

It’s an easy assumption to make, of course, but as Wolcott’s essay points out, it’s hardly a novel idea. Academics, intellectuals, and ordinary book lovers have been fretting over the decline of serious writing and serious thinking about writing for decades. As always, reactions vary. Many, like Adam Kirsch in The New York Sun, have simply given up, pronouncing the internet-dominated literary scene a total loss. Others, including critics like Terry Teachout and journalists like Megan McArdle (now of the Atlantic), are more enthusiastic.

I lean towards enthusiasm, but I think some of the worries and criticisms are valid, if somewhat misplaced. The danger to reading, it seems to me, is less of the lack of respect for books and book criticism, or the uninformed opinions of amateurs replacing the thoughtful screeds of professionals, or the diminishing number of book reviews in newspapers, but instead, the glut of written material fighting for our collective attention. Even the most robust literary scene would have difficulty keeping up with the truckloads of books published each year. And although newspapers may be publishing fewer book reviews, the internet, by giving free and easy access to all those with internet access, has actually expanded access to top-tier reviews for nearly everyone.

Book review pages in medium sized newspapers have fallen off in large part because they are unnecessary in a world where nearly everyone can easily browse the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the L.A. Times. Meanwhile, smaller publications, including blogs, but also established print journals, are flourishing on the web, creating a wealth of easy-to-access material for every niche. The difficulty with reading these days is not that there is too little being written, or that no one is doing it, or even that no one is doing it well. It’s that there’s too much to read, too much to process. We are not short for words. We are drowning in them.

Read Less




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