Commentary Magazine


Topic: Merrill Lynch

Maureen Dowd Is Right

… well, about practically nothing. But even a broken clock is right twice a day. Her time has come:

The Oval Office was done over by chi-chi decorator Michael Smith, who was paid $800,000 to refurnish the lair of the former Merrill Lynch C.E.O. John Thain to the tune of $1.22 million — an effort that featured the notorious $35,000 antique commode.

The Oval Office, the classiest, most powerful place on earth, is now suffused with browns and beiges and leather and resembles an upscale hotel conference room or a ’70s conversation pit.

My first reaction was – $800,000 for that! And she’s right, you know, the place looks pretty bleh. And really brown. She doesn’t care for the rug either:

The cream-of-wheat colored rug is made of 25 percent recycled wool and features 100 percent recycled quotes around the border that have significance for President Obama. (Which means, of course, that the next chief executive will want to carpet copy-edit and put his or her own special quotes on the Oval rug. If the Tea Party triumphs, it might be “Don’t Tread on Me.” If Sarah Palin ascends, it will no doubt be a mama grizzly bear rug, personally bagged by her.) …

Sidetracked by the mosque fight and now admirably plunging into brokering a Middle East peace, Obama clearly needs a reminder about what really counts as the Democrats prepare to get their clocks cleaned. The rug should quote James Carville’s famous admonition: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

(OK, the bear rug would be cool. But I personally think Palin should forgo any animal heads on the walls.)

Dowd thinks the message is off-key:

The recession redo, paid for by the nonprofit White House Historical Association, was the latest tone-deaf move by a White House that was supposed to excel at connection and communication. Message: I care, but not enough to stop the fancy vacations and posh renovations.

Listen, it’s not taxpayers’ money, so I suppose people can give cash for whatever they want. But it does sort of reinforce the impression that the man doesn’t know the value of a dollar.

… well, about practically nothing. But even a broken clock is right twice a day. Her time has come:

The Oval Office was done over by chi-chi decorator Michael Smith, who was paid $800,000 to refurnish the lair of the former Merrill Lynch C.E.O. John Thain to the tune of $1.22 million — an effort that featured the notorious $35,000 antique commode.

The Oval Office, the classiest, most powerful place on earth, is now suffused with browns and beiges and leather and resembles an upscale hotel conference room or a ’70s conversation pit.

My first reaction was – $800,000 for that! And she’s right, you know, the place looks pretty bleh. And really brown. She doesn’t care for the rug either:

The cream-of-wheat colored rug is made of 25 percent recycled wool and features 100 percent recycled quotes around the border that have significance for President Obama. (Which means, of course, that the next chief executive will want to carpet copy-edit and put his or her own special quotes on the Oval rug. If the Tea Party triumphs, it might be “Don’t Tread on Me.” If Sarah Palin ascends, it will no doubt be a mama grizzly bear rug, personally bagged by her.) …

Sidetracked by the mosque fight and now admirably plunging into brokering a Middle East peace, Obama clearly needs a reminder about what really counts as the Democrats prepare to get their clocks cleaned. The rug should quote James Carville’s famous admonition: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

(OK, the bear rug would be cool. But I personally think Palin should forgo any animal heads on the walls.)

Dowd thinks the message is off-key:

The recession redo, paid for by the nonprofit White House Historical Association, was the latest tone-deaf move by a White House that was supposed to excel at connection and communication. Message: I care, but not enough to stop the fancy vacations and posh renovations.

Listen, it’s not taxpayers’ money, so I suppose people can give cash for whatever they want. But it does sort of reinforce the impression that the man doesn’t know the value of a dollar.

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Zuckerman Candidacy Would Change Everything in New York Senate Race

Well-heeled New York Democrats dismayed at the prospect of even another two years of Kirsten Gillibrand in the United States Senate have been floating the candidacy of former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. But the floundering candidacy of Ford may be bolstered by the appearance of a new Republican candidate for the seat: publisher and real-estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman.

According to the New York Times, the 72-year-old Zuckerman is considering a run for the Senate this year. It is assumed that if he  throws his hat in the ring, the 72-year-old billionaire will have the GOP nomination for the asking. But if Zuckerman runs, it will also have an impact on the Democrats.

Until Ford’s boomlet appeared last month, Gillibrand appeared to be cruising to an easy primary victory simply because Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, has very much enjoyed his last year in office. That’s because Gillibrand, unlike her predecessor Hillary Clinton, not only does whatever Schumer asks her to do, but is also content to let the legendary Brooklyn publicity hound hog have all the media attention. So Schumer has used his considerable fund-raising power to not only help build Gillibrand’s campaign account, but to also intimidate possible foes such as Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from pursuing the race. But the problem with this scheme is that Gillibrand has made such a poor impression in the Senate that despite Schumer’s best efforts, some Democrats still think that not only can they do better but also that she is potentially vulnerable in November. Gillibrand’s weakness is accentuated by the possibility that the mid-term election this fall will feature a Republican tide sweeping the country.

So far, Ford’s tryout in the media hasn’t gone that well. His initial interview with the Times was almost as disastrous as a similar encounter with the press, in which Caroline Kennedy’s putative candidacy for the appointment that eventually went to Gillibrand went down in flames. Back in December 2008, Kennedy set new indoor records for a would-be politician saying “You know” and “um” when speaking to reporters. Last month Ford was more articulate but he probably would have done just as well saying “you know” and “um” rather than admitting that, as a vice president for Merrill Lynch, he rarely takes the subway, had only flown over the outer boroughs of New York, and likes pedicures and breakfast at swank hotels.

When the only Republicans considering a run for the Senate were unknowns with little chances of victory in November, Gillibrand’s cipher-like profile wasn’t an obstacle to a Democratic victory. But against a candidate like Zuckerman, whose vast fortune would make her considerable war chest look like a pittance, a safe Democratic seat might become a tossup. Indeed, given Zuckerman’s impeccable pro-Israel credentials (he’s a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and his command of both economic issues and foreign affairs has been demonstrated in the columns he has written and in appearances on talk shows); his candidacy has the potential to put a sizable percentage of the Jewish vote in question. It is true that Democrats will dismiss this possibility because the vast majority of Jews are liberals and loyal Democrats (see former COMMENTARY editor Norman Podhoretz’s insightful book Why Are Jews Liberal?). But in New York there is a larger percentage than in the rest of the country of Orthodox Jews and of those who care deeply about Israel. Though it should be conceded that even a weak Democrat could do well against a strong pro-Israel Jewish Republican in New York, there is little question that Zuckerman could cut into the expected huge Democratic majority in the Jewish vote. In a state where Jews still make up about 9 percent of the population (and a much larger percentage of those who actually vote) even a small shift in the Jewish vote could make the difference for a massively financed Zuckerman campaign.

It’s not clear yet that Ford could poll any better against Zuckerman than Gillibrand could, or that he can beat her in a primary even if he raises all the money he needs. Nor do we know yet whether Zuckerman is really interested in running. But with a billionaire GOP candidate looming in the wings, you’d have to expect that some Democrats who are reluctantly backing Gillibrand would re-examine their options.

Well-heeled New York Democrats dismayed at the prospect of even another two years of Kirsten Gillibrand in the United States Senate have been floating the candidacy of former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. But the floundering candidacy of Ford may be bolstered by the appearance of a new Republican candidate for the seat: publisher and real-estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman.

According to the New York Times, the 72-year-old Zuckerman is considering a run for the Senate this year. It is assumed that if he  throws his hat in the ring, the 72-year-old billionaire will have the GOP nomination for the asking. But if Zuckerman runs, it will also have an impact on the Democrats.

Until Ford’s boomlet appeared last month, Gillibrand appeared to be cruising to an easy primary victory simply because Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, has very much enjoyed his last year in office. That’s because Gillibrand, unlike her predecessor Hillary Clinton, not only does whatever Schumer asks her to do, but is also content to let the legendary Brooklyn publicity hound hog have all the media attention. So Schumer has used his considerable fund-raising power to not only help build Gillibrand’s campaign account, but to also intimidate possible foes such as Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from pursuing the race. But the problem with this scheme is that Gillibrand has made such a poor impression in the Senate that despite Schumer’s best efforts, some Democrats still think that not only can they do better but also that she is potentially vulnerable in November. Gillibrand’s weakness is accentuated by the possibility that the mid-term election this fall will feature a Republican tide sweeping the country.

So far, Ford’s tryout in the media hasn’t gone that well. His initial interview with the Times was almost as disastrous as a similar encounter with the press, in which Caroline Kennedy’s putative candidacy for the appointment that eventually went to Gillibrand went down in flames. Back in December 2008, Kennedy set new indoor records for a would-be politician saying “You know” and “um” when speaking to reporters. Last month Ford was more articulate but he probably would have done just as well saying “you know” and “um” rather than admitting that, as a vice president for Merrill Lynch, he rarely takes the subway, had only flown over the outer boroughs of New York, and likes pedicures and breakfast at swank hotels.

When the only Republicans considering a run for the Senate were unknowns with little chances of victory in November, Gillibrand’s cipher-like profile wasn’t an obstacle to a Democratic victory. But against a candidate like Zuckerman, whose vast fortune would make her considerable war chest look like a pittance, a safe Democratic seat might become a tossup. Indeed, given Zuckerman’s impeccable pro-Israel credentials (he’s a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and his command of both economic issues and foreign affairs has been demonstrated in the columns he has written and in appearances on talk shows); his candidacy has the potential to put a sizable percentage of the Jewish vote in question. It is true that Democrats will dismiss this possibility because the vast majority of Jews are liberals and loyal Democrats (see former COMMENTARY editor Norman Podhoretz’s insightful book Why Are Jews Liberal?). But in New York there is a larger percentage than in the rest of the country of Orthodox Jews and of those who care deeply about Israel. Though it should be conceded that even a weak Democrat could do well against a strong pro-Israel Jewish Republican in New York, there is little question that Zuckerman could cut into the expected huge Democratic majority in the Jewish vote. In a state where Jews still make up about 9 percent of the population (and a much larger percentage of those who actually vote) even a small shift in the Jewish vote could make the difference for a massively financed Zuckerman campaign.

It’s not clear yet that Ford could poll any better against Zuckerman than Gillibrand could, or that he can beat her in a primary even if he raises all the money he needs. Nor do we know yet whether Zuckerman is really interested in running. But with a billionaire GOP candidate looming in the wings, you’d have to expect that some Democrats who are reluctantly backing Gillibrand would re-examine their options.

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Tennessee Harold Ford’s Not Your Ordinary “Joe”

Harold Ford isn’t scared of Chuck Schumer or Barack Obama, let alone Kirsten Gillibrand. That’s nice, but is it enough to supply the former up-and-coming African-American star of Tennessee politics a raison d’être to run for the Senate in New York?  There’s reason to be skeptical of such a claim, but judging from today’s New York Times profile on Ford, it appears he thinks “independence” from his party’s leaders is enough to topple Gillibrand in a primary.

Finding issues on which to oppose the woman appointed to the Senate by Governor David Paterson isn’t easy for Ford. Both he and Gillibrand have flipped from being moderates to espousing the sort of hard-line liberal positions on guns, abortion, and immigration that win Democratic primaries. But Ford touts his unwillingness to take orders from New York’s senior senator as his main qualification. That’s certainly a virtue, at least in the eyes of independents and Republicans, but do Democrats really care?

Even worse, though Ford appears on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” television show from time to time, the story also paints him as anything but a regular Joe. According to the Times, Ford, who landed a seven-figure job at Merrill Lynch after losing a race for the Senate from Tennessee, lives a life that most New Yorkers wouldn’t recognize:

On many days, he is driven to an NBC television studio in a chauffeured car. He and his wife, Emily, a 29-year-old fashion executive, live a few blocks from the Lexington Avenue subway line in the Flatiron district. But Mr. Ford said he takes the subway only occasionally in the winter, to avoid the cold when he cannot hail a cab. … Asked whether he had visited all five boroughs, he mentioned taking a helicopter ride across the city … Asked about his baseball loyalties, he responded: “I am a Yankees fan,” and added that he had yet to visit Citi Field, the home of the Mets. … He has breakfast most mornings at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, and he receives regular pedicures.

Of course, if leading the life of a spoiled member of the moneyed set were a bar to high office, most of the current members of the Senate would be forced to resign. But nevertheless, it does seem as if Ford is giving new meaning to the term “limousine liberal.” However, if supporters of his opponent are trying to disqualify him as a rich carpetbagger, that is more than hypocritical. This is Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat that we’re talking about. Ford may not be a native, but at least he’s lived here for three years, which is more than you can say about Clinton when she parachuted into New York to be anointed junior senator on her way to what she thought was a return to the White House. Put in that context, perhaps Ford seems like a regular New Yorker after all.

Harold Ford isn’t scared of Chuck Schumer or Barack Obama, let alone Kirsten Gillibrand. That’s nice, but is it enough to supply the former up-and-coming African-American star of Tennessee politics a raison d’être to run for the Senate in New York?  There’s reason to be skeptical of such a claim, but judging from today’s New York Times profile on Ford, it appears he thinks “independence” from his party’s leaders is enough to topple Gillibrand in a primary.

Finding issues on which to oppose the woman appointed to the Senate by Governor David Paterson isn’t easy for Ford. Both he and Gillibrand have flipped from being moderates to espousing the sort of hard-line liberal positions on guns, abortion, and immigration that win Democratic primaries. But Ford touts his unwillingness to take orders from New York’s senior senator as his main qualification. That’s certainly a virtue, at least in the eyes of independents and Republicans, but do Democrats really care?

Even worse, though Ford appears on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” television show from time to time, the story also paints him as anything but a regular Joe. According to the Times, Ford, who landed a seven-figure job at Merrill Lynch after losing a race for the Senate from Tennessee, lives a life that most New Yorkers wouldn’t recognize:

On many days, he is driven to an NBC television studio in a chauffeured car. He and his wife, Emily, a 29-year-old fashion executive, live a few blocks from the Lexington Avenue subway line in the Flatiron district. But Mr. Ford said he takes the subway only occasionally in the winter, to avoid the cold when he cannot hail a cab. … Asked whether he had visited all five boroughs, he mentioned taking a helicopter ride across the city … Asked about his baseball loyalties, he responded: “I am a Yankees fan,” and added that he had yet to visit Citi Field, the home of the Mets. … He has breakfast most mornings at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, and he receives regular pedicures.

Of course, if leading the life of a spoiled member of the moneyed set were a bar to high office, most of the current members of the Senate would be forced to resign. But nevertheless, it does seem as if Ford is giving new meaning to the term “limousine liberal.” However, if supporters of his opponent are trying to disqualify him as a rich carpetbagger, that is more than hypocritical. This is Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat that we’re talking about. Ford may not be a native, but at least he’s lived here for three years, which is more than you can say about Clinton when she parachuted into New York to be anointed junior senator on her way to what she thought was a return to the White House. Put in that context, perhaps Ford seems like a regular New Yorker after all.

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New York: The Carpetbagger State Welcomes Harold Ford

You would think that out of the nearly 20 million people who live in the Empire State, the two major parties would be able to find at least two distinguished citizens fit to represent New York in the United States Senate. But the state has a sorry recent tradition of outsourcing Senate seats as carpetbagger politicians parachute in to serve in the nation’s highest deliberative body on its behalf. In 1964, though he had not lived in New York for decades, Bobby Kennedy exploited his brother’s martyrdom and his own charisma to win a Senate seat that he would briefly warm (until his own tragic assassination) while plotting to recapture the White House for his family. Thirty-six years later, Hillary Clinton, a native of suburban Chicago and former first lady of Arkansas, arrived here to establish residency and “listen” to New Yorkers, who obediently elected her to the Senate just as her husband was vacating the executive mansion in Washington.

The latest immigrant to New York to consider himself qualified to represent it in the Senate is Harold Ford Jr., the former Tennessee congressman who was defeated by the citizens of his native state when he ran for a Senate seat in 2006. Since then, the young and handsome Ford moved to Manhattan, where he took a job as vice chairman of Merrill Lynch and appeared as an occasional talking head on MSNBC. The New York Times reports today that some New York Democrats want Ford to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand, the upstate senator who was appointed by Gov. David Paterson to fill the seat Clinton vacated when she left for the State Department a year ago.

Like Gillibrand, Ford will have to “adjust” his positions on a number of issues if he wants to be the standard-bearer for New York’s ultraliberal Democratic Party. In the House, Gillibrand was an opponent of illegal immigration and a supporter of the right to bear arms. Since coming to the Senate and accepting the role of female Sancho Panza to senior Senator Chuck Schumer, Gillibrand has flipped on immigration and gun control. Similarly, Ford will have to ditch his opposition to gay marriage to please liberal Dems. But though Ford is a relative newcomer to the Big Apple, he appears to have always been in an “Empire State of Mind” when it came to fundraising. According to the Times, a third of the $15 million he raised for his 2006 Senate run came from New York.

Ford’s challenge is an indication of Gillibrand’s weakness. Her lackluster performance in the Senate could give the Republicans a chance to knock off an incumbent, but with Rudy Giuliani opting out of the race, Long Island Rep. Peter King appears to be the only Republican with enough stature for a chance at winning the seat. Though any Democrat, even Gillibrand, ought to be favored to win in New York, the rumblings of support for Ford, who might become the only African-American in the Senate next year (with Roland Burris’s lease of the Illinois seat left by Barack Obama about to expire), show that the possibility of a GOP tide drowning weak liberal incumbents in 2010 is being taken seriously.

Schumer, who has been traveling the state twisting arms to ensure that his protégé goes unchallenged, has a lot to lose if a Ford victory ditches the notion that he is the kingmaker of New York politics. But however it turns out, let’s hope we are spared the spectacle of this son of Tennessee claiming to be a lifelong New York Yankees fan as Hillary did in 2000. But no matter which team he says he roots for, Ford has little to worry about when it comes to sincerity on such matters. Clinton’s victory illustrated that although New Yorkers pride themselves on being able to spot a phony from out of town from a mile away, it doesn’t mean they won’t vote for one.

You would think that out of the nearly 20 million people who live in the Empire State, the two major parties would be able to find at least two distinguished citizens fit to represent New York in the United States Senate. But the state has a sorry recent tradition of outsourcing Senate seats as carpetbagger politicians parachute in to serve in the nation’s highest deliberative body on its behalf. In 1964, though he had not lived in New York for decades, Bobby Kennedy exploited his brother’s martyrdom and his own charisma to win a Senate seat that he would briefly warm (until his own tragic assassination) while plotting to recapture the White House for his family. Thirty-six years later, Hillary Clinton, a native of suburban Chicago and former first lady of Arkansas, arrived here to establish residency and “listen” to New Yorkers, who obediently elected her to the Senate just as her husband was vacating the executive mansion in Washington.

The latest immigrant to New York to consider himself qualified to represent it in the Senate is Harold Ford Jr., the former Tennessee congressman who was defeated by the citizens of his native state when he ran for a Senate seat in 2006. Since then, the young and handsome Ford moved to Manhattan, where he took a job as vice chairman of Merrill Lynch and appeared as an occasional talking head on MSNBC. The New York Times reports today that some New York Democrats want Ford to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand, the upstate senator who was appointed by Gov. David Paterson to fill the seat Clinton vacated when she left for the State Department a year ago.

Like Gillibrand, Ford will have to “adjust” his positions on a number of issues if he wants to be the standard-bearer for New York’s ultraliberal Democratic Party. In the House, Gillibrand was an opponent of illegal immigration and a supporter of the right to bear arms. Since coming to the Senate and accepting the role of female Sancho Panza to senior Senator Chuck Schumer, Gillibrand has flipped on immigration and gun control. Similarly, Ford will have to ditch his opposition to gay marriage to please liberal Dems. But though Ford is a relative newcomer to the Big Apple, he appears to have always been in an “Empire State of Mind” when it came to fundraising. According to the Times, a third of the $15 million he raised for his 2006 Senate run came from New York.

Ford’s challenge is an indication of Gillibrand’s weakness. Her lackluster performance in the Senate could give the Republicans a chance to knock off an incumbent, but with Rudy Giuliani opting out of the race, Long Island Rep. Peter King appears to be the only Republican with enough stature for a chance at winning the seat. Though any Democrat, even Gillibrand, ought to be favored to win in New York, the rumblings of support for Ford, who might become the only African-American in the Senate next year (with Roland Burris’s lease of the Illinois seat left by Barack Obama about to expire), show that the possibility of a GOP tide drowning weak liberal incumbents in 2010 is being taken seriously.

Schumer, who has been traveling the state twisting arms to ensure that his protégé goes unchallenged, has a lot to lose if a Ford victory ditches the notion that he is the kingmaker of New York politics. But however it turns out, let’s hope we are spared the spectacle of this son of Tennessee claiming to be a lifelong New York Yankees fan as Hillary did in 2000. But no matter which team he says he roots for, Ford has little to worry about when it comes to sincerity on such matters. Clinton’s victory illustrated that although New Yorkers pride themselves on being able to spot a phony from out of town from a mile away, it doesn’t mean they won’t vote for one.

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The Health-Care Backlash

Here are some thoughts on where things stand in the aftermath of the certain passage of the Senate health-care bill.

1. Few Democrats understand the depth and intensity of opposition that exists toward them and their agenda, especially regarding health care. Passage of this bill will only heighten the depth and intensity of the opposition. We’re seeing a political tsunami in the making, and passage of health-care legislation would only add to its size and force.

2. This health-care bill may well be historic, but not in the way the president thinks. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything quite like it: passage of a mammoth piece of legislation, hugely expensive and unpopular, on a strict party-line vote taken in a rush of panic because Democrats know that the more people see of ObamaCare, the less they like it.

3. The problem isn’t simply with how substantively awful the bill is but how deeply dishonest and (legally) corrupt the whole process has been. There’s already a powerful populist, anti-Washington sentiment out there, perhaps as strong as anything we’ve seen. This will add kerosene to that raging fire.

4. Democrats have sold this bill as a miracle-worker; when people see first-hand how pernicious health-care legislation will be, abstract concerns will become concrete. That will magnify the unhappiness of the polity.

5. The collateral damage to Obama from this bill is enormous. More than any candidate in our lifetime, Obama won based on the aesthetics of politics. It wasn’t because of his record; he barely had one. And it wasn’t because of his command of policy; few people knew what his top three policy priorities were. It was based instead on the sense that he was something novel, the embodiment of a “new politics” – mature, high-minded and gracious, intellectually serious. That was the core of his speeches and his candidacy. In less than a year, that core has been devoured, most of all by this health-care process.

Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a deeply partisan and polarizing figure. (“I have never been asked to engage in a single serious negotiation on any issue, nor has any other Republican,” Senator McCain reported over the weekend.) The lack of transparency in this process has been unprecedented and bordering on criminal. The president has been deeply misleading in selling this plan. Lobbyists, a bane of Obama during the campaign, are having a field day.

President Obama may succeed in passing a terribly unpopular piece of legislation – but in the process, he has shattered his carefully cultivated image. It now consists of a thousand shards.

6. This health-care bill shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It’s part of a train of events that include the stimulus package, the omnibus spending bill (complete with some 8,500 earmarks), and a record-sized budget. In addition, as Jim Manzi points out in the new issue of National Affairs:

[Under Obama] the federal government has also intervened aggressively in both the financial and industrial sectors of the economy in order to produce specific desired outcomes for particular corporations. It has nationalized America’s largest auto company (General Motors) and intervened in the bankruptcy proceedings of the third-largest auto company (Chrysler), privileging labor unions at the expense of bondholders. It has, in effect, nationalized what was America’s largest insurance company (American International Group) and largest bank (Citigroup), and appears to have exerted extra-legal financial pressure on what was the second-largest bank (Bank of America) to get it to purchase the ­country’s largest securities company (Merrill Lynch). The implicit government guarantees provided to home-loan giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been called in, and the federal government is now the largest de facto lender in the residential real-estate market. The government has selected the CEOs and is setting compensation at major automotive and financial companies across the country. On top of these interventions in finance and commerce, the administration and congressional Democrats are also pursuing both a new climate and energy strategy and large-scale health-care reform. Their agenda would place the government at the center of these two huge sectors of the economy…

Together, these actions tell quite a tale. Mr. Obama has revived the worst impressions of the Democratic party – profligate and undisciplined, arrogant, lovers of big government, increasers of taxes. The issues and narrative for American politics in the foreseeable future has been set — limited government versus exploding government, capitalism versus European style socialism, responsible and measured policies versus reckless and radical ones.

Barack Obama is in the process of inflicting enormous damage to his presidency and his party. And there is more, much more to come.

Here are some thoughts on where things stand in the aftermath of the certain passage of the Senate health-care bill.

1. Few Democrats understand the depth and intensity of opposition that exists toward them and their agenda, especially regarding health care. Passage of this bill will only heighten the depth and intensity of the opposition. We’re seeing a political tsunami in the making, and passage of health-care legislation would only add to its size and force.

2. This health-care bill may well be historic, but not in the way the president thinks. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything quite like it: passage of a mammoth piece of legislation, hugely expensive and unpopular, on a strict party-line vote taken in a rush of panic because Democrats know that the more people see of ObamaCare, the less they like it.

3. The problem isn’t simply with how substantively awful the bill is but how deeply dishonest and (legally) corrupt the whole process has been. There’s already a powerful populist, anti-Washington sentiment out there, perhaps as strong as anything we’ve seen. This will add kerosene to that raging fire.

4. Democrats have sold this bill as a miracle-worker; when people see first-hand how pernicious health-care legislation will be, abstract concerns will become concrete. That will magnify the unhappiness of the polity.

5. The collateral damage to Obama from this bill is enormous. More than any candidate in our lifetime, Obama won based on the aesthetics of politics. It wasn’t because of his record; he barely had one. And it wasn’t because of his command of policy; few people knew what his top three policy priorities were. It was based instead on the sense that he was something novel, the embodiment of a “new politics” – mature, high-minded and gracious, intellectually serious. That was the core of his speeches and his candidacy. In less than a year, that core has been devoured, most of all by this health-care process.

Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a deeply partisan and polarizing figure. (“I have never been asked to engage in a single serious negotiation on any issue, nor has any other Republican,” Senator McCain reported over the weekend.) The lack of transparency in this process has been unprecedented and bordering on criminal. The president has been deeply misleading in selling this plan. Lobbyists, a bane of Obama during the campaign, are having a field day.

President Obama may succeed in passing a terribly unpopular piece of legislation – but in the process, he has shattered his carefully cultivated image. It now consists of a thousand shards.

6. This health-care bill shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It’s part of a train of events that include the stimulus package, the omnibus spending bill (complete with some 8,500 earmarks), and a record-sized budget. In addition, as Jim Manzi points out in the new issue of National Affairs:

[Under Obama] the federal government has also intervened aggressively in both the financial and industrial sectors of the economy in order to produce specific desired outcomes for particular corporations. It has nationalized America’s largest auto company (General Motors) and intervened in the bankruptcy proceedings of the third-largest auto company (Chrysler), privileging labor unions at the expense of bondholders. It has, in effect, nationalized what was America’s largest insurance company (American International Group) and largest bank (Citigroup), and appears to have exerted extra-legal financial pressure on what was the second-largest bank (Bank of America) to get it to purchase the ­country’s largest securities company (Merrill Lynch). The implicit government guarantees provided to home-loan giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been called in, and the federal government is now the largest de facto lender in the residential real-estate market. The government has selected the CEOs and is setting compensation at major automotive and financial companies across the country. On top of these interventions in finance and commerce, the administration and congressional Democrats are also pursuing both a new climate and energy strategy and large-scale health-care reform. Their agenda would place the government at the center of these two huge sectors of the economy…

Together, these actions tell quite a tale. Mr. Obama has revived the worst impressions of the Democratic party – profligate and undisciplined, arrogant, lovers of big government, increasers of taxes. The issues and narrative for American politics in the foreseeable future has been set — limited government versus exploding government, capitalism versus European style socialism, responsible and measured policies versus reckless and radical ones.

Barack Obama is in the process of inflicting enormous damage to his presidency and his party. And there is more, much more to come.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Andy McCarthy writes: “A panel of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of my old adversary, Lynne Stewart, for providing material support to terrorism — i.e., helping the Blind Sheikh run his Egyptian terrorist organization from U.S. prison, where he is serving a life-sentence.” You mean terrorists run plots out of U.S. prisons? Oh yes, indeed. Another reason to keep the Guantanamo detainees where they are.

Democrats realize the problem with the phony stimulus numbers. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.): “The inaccuracies on recovery.gov that have come to light are outrageous and the Administration owes itself, the Congress, and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes. … Credibility counts in government and stupid mistakes like this undermine it.”  Indeed.

Tim Geithner is in trouble again. Fred Barnes explains: “Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is in trouble again, and this time he may not be able to save his job. You’ll recall that his confirmation was threatened by revelations of cheating on his income taxes. Now he’s accused of paying billions too much for the bailout of AIG and allowing the insurance firm’s Wall Street creditors — Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia — to be paid in full for their derivative contracts with $27.1 billion in taxpayers’ money.”

The dean of Harvard Medical School finds that “the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care’s dysfunctional delivery system. … Worse, currently proposed federal legislation would undermine any potential for real innovation in insurance and the provision of care. It would do so by over-regulating the health-care system in the service of special interests such as insurance companies, hospitals, professional organizations and pharmaceutical companies, rather than the patients who should be our primary concern.” Maybe the status quo is not so bad after all.

PelosiCare is so awful that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to “shield” his caucus from ever having to vote on it. Hmm. One wonders how all the Democrats forced to walk the plank in the House feel about that. Sort of like cap-and-trade, huh?

This, from Public Opinion Strategies poll, may explain why: “Opposition to President Obama’s health care plan is higher after the House vote than our previous tracks (29% favor/40% oppose). Voters’ net opposition to the plan has increased from -6% in September (31% favor/37% oppose) to -11% today.”

Ben Smith on the teleprompter jibes: “It’s a bad storyline for the president, and thoroughly in the bloodstream.”

James Pinkerton: “Obama is betting his presidency on the proposition that what America needs is another Warren Court, bringing the wondrous benefits of Miranda warnings to Al Qaeda and other civilization-clashers.”

Republicans are finding it easier to recruit top-tier challengers for House races. The same thing happened in 1994 and for Democrats in 2006. When solid candidates think they can win, they are willing to throw their hats into the ring.

Andy McCarthy writes: “A panel of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of my old adversary, Lynne Stewart, for providing material support to terrorism — i.e., helping the Blind Sheikh run his Egyptian terrorist organization from U.S. prison, where he is serving a life-sentence.” You mean terrorists run plots out of U.S. prisons? Oh yes, indeed. Another reason to keep the Guantanamo detainees where they are.

Democrats realize the problem with the phony stimulus numbers. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.): “The inaccuracies on recovery.gov that have come to light are outrageous and the Administration owes itself, the Congress, and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes. … Credibility counts in government and stupid mistakes like this undermine it.”  Indeed.

Tim Geithner is in trouble again. Fred Barnes explains: “Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is in trouble again, and this time he may not be able to save his job. You’ll recall that his confirmation was threatened by revelations of cheating on his income taxes. Now he’s accused of paying billions too much for the bailout of AIG and allowing the insurance firm’s Wall Street creditors — Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia — to be paid in full for their derivative contracts with $27.1 billion in taxpayers’ money.”

The dean of Harvard Medical School finds that “the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care’s dysfunctional delivery system. … Worse, currently proposed federal legislation would undermine any potential for real innovation in insurance and the provision of care. It would do so by over-regulating the health-care system in the service of special interests such as insurance companies, hospitals, professional organizations and pharmaceutical companies, rather than the patients who should be our primary concern.” Maybe the status quo is not so bad after all.

PelosiCare is so awful that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to “shield” his caucus from ever having to vote on it. Hmm. One wonders how all the Democrats forced to walk the plank in the House feel about that. Sort of like cap-and-trade, huh?

This, from Public Opinion Strategies poll, may explain why: “Opposition to President Obama’s health care plan is higher after the House vote than our previous tracks (29% favor/40% oppose). Voters’ net opposition to the plan has increased from -6% in September (31% favor/37% oppose) to -11% today.”

Ben Smith on the teleprompter jibes: “It’s a bad storyline for the president, and thoroughly in the bloodstream.”

James Pinkerton: “Obama is betting his presidency on the proposition that what America needs is another Warren Court, bringing the wondrous benefits of Miranda warnings to Al Qaeda and other civilization-clashers.”

Republicans are finding it easier to recruit top-tier challengers for House races. The same thing happened in 1994 and for Democrats in 2006. When solid candidates think they can win, they are willing to throw their hats into the ring.

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Sovereign Wealth Funds

Brian Williams of NBC asked the Democrats a substantive and a provocative question about sovereign wealth funds — giant pools of money controlled and managed by foreign governments like China, Singapore, and Gulf oil states — investing in American companies like Merrill Lynch and Citigroup. This issue will be a rallying point for the protectionist left and right this campaign season. John Edwards and Hillary Clinton gave a lot of boiler point about more transparency and the need to do something. Barack Obama, clearly knowing nothing about the topic, talked about alternative energy.

But the U.S. attitude toward sovereign wealth funds is going to be the most important test of American acceptance of globalization. By this fall, there will be many more companies that get their funding from government investment funds from the Gulf State, Singapore, and China. Irwin Stelzer has made the best case for being wary about having a foreign government holding the purse strings of American businesses. But the fact is, these funds are going to be the most important engine of finance and growth capital in a global economy whether we like it or not. As a political matter, this is probably a losing issue for free traders. Yet all those politicians who want to deter foreign financial investment in American companies have to tell us what Citi, and Merrill, and all the other cash-strapped companies should do when they need to find new sources of capital if they can’t get access to these pools of wealth.

Brian Williams of NBC asked the Democrats a substantive and a provocative question about sovereign wealth funds — giant pools of money controlled and managed by foreign governments like China, Singapore, and Gulf oil states — investing in American companies like Merrill Lynch and Citigroup. This issue will be a rallying point for the protectionist left and right this campaign season. John Edwards and Hillary Clinton gave a lot of boiler point about more transparency and the need to do something. Barack Obama, clearly knowing nothing about the topic, talked about alternative energy.

But the U.S. attitude toward sovereign wealth funds is going to be the most important test of American acceptance of globalization. By this fall, there will be many more companies that get their funding from government investment funds from the Gulf State, Singapore, and China. Irwin Stelzer has made the best case for being wary about having a foreign government holding the purse strings of American businesses. But the fact is, these funds are going to be the most important engine of finance and growth capital in a global economy whether we like it or not. As a political matter, this is probably a losing issue for free traders. Yet all those politicians who want to deter foreign financial investment in American companies have to tell us what Citi, and Merrill, and all the other cash-strapped companies should do when they need to find new sources of capital if they can’t get access to these pools of wealth.

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Pernicious Pentagon Software

Yesterday I wrote about the danger that the Pentagon might inadvertently purchase foreign-produced “malicious” software to run some of its most critical computer systems.

Now comes news that some new Pentagon software—pernicious if not malicious—is to be domestically produced, and on orders from the Pentagon itself.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.3-million contract to develop something called “the Predicting Stability through Analyzing Germane Events (PRESAGE) system.” Typical events that will be predicted “may include rebellions, insurgencies, ethnic/religious violence, civil war, and major economic crises.”

How will it work?

Read More

Yesterday I wrote about the danger that the Pentagon might inadvertently purchase foreign-produced “malicious” software to run some of its most critical computer systems.

Now comes news that some new Pentagon software—pernicious if not malicious—is to be domestically produced, and on orders from the Pentagon itself.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.3-million contract to develop something called “the Predicting Stability through Analyzing Germane Events (PRESAGE) system.” Typical events that will be predicted “may include rebellions, insurgencies, ethnic/religious violence, civil war, and major economic crises.”

How will it work?

According to the announcement, PRESAGE will “combine a portfolio of state-of-the-art and operationally deployed social-science models and technologies” that will let “military commanders anticipate and respond to world-wide political crises and predict events of interest and stability of countries of interest with greater than 80-percent accuracy.”

Eighty-percent accuracy? That’s far better than the CIA’s rate of accuracy in predicting  “political events of interest.” And it is far better than Merrill Lynch does in predicting economic ones (Stan O’Neal please call your former office).

Perhaps we should now do as my former boss, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, proposed: abolish the spy agency altogether. Moynihan wanted the State Department to take responsibility for gathering intelligence. But it seems we could let computers carry out our intelligence functions instead. 

There is only one small hitch. When it comes to predicting the future, computers are not likely to do a better job than the CIA, or Goldman Sachs, or even Connecting the Dots. I haven’t had a chance to examine the algorithms in PRESAGE, but as Vladimir Ilych Lenin said, when you see a heap of dung in the road, you don’t need to stick your nose in it to know what it is. And I know enough about junk political science to know it when I see it.

Does anyone disagree? The Lockheed team building PRESAGE includes specialists from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Kansas, University of Washington, and University of Georgia. Despite this stellar lineup, I can predict with more than 80-percent accuracy that the program will flop, at a cost of $1.3 million. That money would be far better spent repairing dangerous dams built by Saddam Hussein.

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