Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Barone

The Spending-Limit Amendment

Last week, Representatives Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Jeb Henserling (R-Texas), and John Campbell (R-Calif.) introduced a joint resolution that would, if passed by two-thirds of each house and then by three-quarters of the states, amend the Constitution to limit federal spending to 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. Congress could waive the limit if a declaration of war was in effect (the last time Congress declared war was December 8, 1941, 68 years and two major and several minor wars ago). In peacetime it could override the limit by a two-thirds vote in each house.

As the congressmen explain at length here, 20 percent of GDP is the postwar historical average of federal spending. And, indeed, there is an inverse correlation between federal spending as a percentage of GDP and national economic prosperity. Michael Barone this morning has a good example of the relationship between government spending and prosperity. Current spending, enormously increased in the last year and a half, is currently about 24.7 percent of GDP. If ObamaCare etc. go through, federal spending will be at permanently higher levels.

Is this a way to go? Similar amendments have been around for at least 25 years and have never gone anywhere. Certainly the present Congress would pass a joint resolution against motherhood and apple pie before it passed this one. And even if it did, it is hard to imagine the legislatures of three-quarters of the states ratifying it. States have become ever more dependent on federal money over the past few decades and are especially so now, with state budgets bleeding red ink.

Even in prosperous times, it is not likely that state legislatures would vote to put limits on the federal gravy train. (Memo to the congressmen: the Constitution calls for amendments passed by Congress to be ratified either by state legislatures or by conventions called in each state for that purpose, at the option of Congress. The latter method has only been used once, to repeal Prohibition, when Congress knew that many state legislatures were under the thumb of “the preachers and the bootleggers.” If you’re serious about passing this amendment, conventions of citizens elected to address the matter are the answer. The Tea Partiers would have a field day.)

The proposed amendment also states that the “Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” By not specifying how to define GDP, that’s an open invitation to cook the books, something at which Congress is very expert.

Personally, I think this amendment is misguided and might seriously hamstring the federal government under certain circumstances and lead to even worse book-cooking. California’s requirement that taxes be raised only with a two-thirds vote in each house of the state legislature hasn’t restrained state spending and only caused a grand proliferation of accounting smoke and mirrors. California is facing fiscal ruin.

I’d prefer an amendment requiring the federal government to keep honest books and have those books audited by a genuinely independent authority, which would also “score” proposed legislation as the CBO does now. But an independent authority would have the power to ask the questions, not just answer the ones Congress asks. Congress wouldn’t like that idea any better than linking spending to GDP. But it is very hard to come up with an argument as to why the federal government should be allowed to use phony accounting.

Last week, Representatives Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Jeb Henserling (R-Texas), and John Campbell (R-Calif.) introduced a joint resolution that would, if passed by two-thirds of each house and then by three-quarters of the states, amend the Constitution to limit federal spending to 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. Congress could waive the limit if a declaration of war was in effect (the last time Congress declared war was December 8, 1941, 68 years and two major and several minor wars ago). In peacetime it could override the limit by a two-thirds vote in each house.

As the congressmen explain at length here, 20 percent of GDP is the postwar historical average of federal spending. And, indeed, there is an inverse correlation between federal spending as a percentage of GDP and national economic prosperity. Michael Barone this morning has a good example of the relationship between government spending and prosperity. Current spending, enormously increased in the last year and a half, is currently about 24.7 percent of GDP. If ObamaCare etc. go through, federal spending will be at permanently higher levels.

Is this a way to go? Similar amendments have been around for at least 25 years and have never gone anywhere. Certainly the present Congress would pass a joint resolution against motherhood and apple pie before it passed this one. And even if it did, it is hard to imagine the legislatures of three-quarters of the states ratifying it. States have become ever more dependent on federal money over the past few decades and are especially so now, with state budgets bleeding red ink.

Even in prosperous times, it is not likely that state legislatures would vote to put limits on the federal gravy train. (Memo to the congressmen: the Constitution calls for amendments passed by Congress to be ratified either by state legislatures or by conventions called in each state for that purpose, at the option of Congress. The latter method has only been used once, to repeal Prohibition, when Congress knew that many state legislatures were under the thumb of “the preachers and the bootleggers.” If you’re serious about passing this amendment, conventions of citizens elected to address the matter are the answer. The Tea Partiers would have a field day.)

The proposed amendment also states that the “Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” By not specifying how to define GDP, that’s an open invitation to cook the books, something at which Congress is very expert.

Personally, I think this amendment is misguided and might seriously hamstring the federal government under certain circumstances and lead to even worse book-cooking. California’s requirement that taxes be raised only with a two-thirds vote in each house of the state legislature hasn’t restrained state spending and only caused a grand proliferation of accounting smoke and mirrors. California is facing fiscal ruin.

I’d prefer an amendment requiring the federal government to keep honest books and have those books audited by a genuinely independent authority, which would also “score” proposed legislation as the CBO does now. But an independent authority would have the power to ask the questions, not just answer the ones Congress asks. Congress wouldn’t like that idea any better than linking spending to GDP. But it is very hard to come up with an argument as to why the federal government should be allowed to use phony accounting.

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The Perry Lesson: Run a Good Campaign

Gov. Rick Perry won big last night in the Texas gubernatorial primary. Michael Barone digs into the details and concludes:

(1) Perry won this not in rural and small town Texas but in metro Houston. This bodes well for him in the general election, since it indicates strength in the home base of the well regarded Democratic nominee, former Houston Mayor Bill White, who was nominated by an overwhelming margin. (2) Medina, the candidate who wouldn’t disrespect the truthers, did best in the supposedly most sophisticated part of Texas, the Metroplex. Go figure. (3) Hutchison, supposedly the candidate of urban sophisticates, did best in metro San Antonio and rural Texas. She held Perry below the 50% level needed to avoid a runoff in approximately half of Texas’s 254 counties; unfortunately for her, those counties didn’t give her nearly a big enough margin to offset Perry’s advantage in metro Houston

Barone also observes that turnout in the Republican primary was more than double that in Democratic primary, a reversal of the huge enthusiasm generated in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

Pundits are already picking through the returns to glean evidence of larger trends. Is this further proof that Washington incumbents have an uphill climb? Probably. Does this suggest that more traditionally conservative candidates have the upper hand in a GOP primary field? That too. And does Perry have the potential to be a presidential candidate? Perry is playing coy for now, as Jonathan Martin reports:

In an interview with POLITICO Monday, Perry insisted that he would not mount a White House bid.

“I’m really interested in who’s going to be the next president,” he said, before quickly adding: “I have no interest in it being me in any form or fashion.”

Yet as he claimed victory here Tuesday night, Perry’s message seemed as tailored for national GOP primary voters as Texas’s general electorate.

Speaking directly to Washington he said: “Quit spending all the money, stop trying to take over our lives and our businesses.”

He also sought to position himself squarely against President Obama, warning that, “It’s clear that the Obama administration and its allies already have Texas in their cross-hairs.”

But in the lesson-divining department, Martin is correct: Perry simply ran a better campaign and Hutchison bumbled along in a Hillary-like miscalculation about an electorate angry at the status quo. (“By asserting that she would step down from her Senate seat but never actually resigning, Hutchison amplified Perry’s message as much as the millions in his war chest.”) And it is noteworthy that endorsements from Texas political stars, including George H.W. Bush, didn’t help her one bit. (“In Hutchison’s case, the endorsements may have even worked against her, serving to underscore Perry’s message about her ties to Washington.”)

And that, I think, is the key takeaway and a reminder for pundits and candidates eyeing 2012. It really does matter what sort of campaign you put together, how you size up the electorate, and whether you devise an effective message. The front runners in 2008 (Clinton and Rudy Giuliani) crashed in no small part because they ran ineffective, if not disastrous, campaigns. We have learned the hard way that a great campaigner doesn’t necessarily make for a great or competent office holder. But you still have to win the campaign — and for that, nothing beats a sharp delivery, a well-organized team, and a timely message.

Gov. Rick Perry won big last night in the Texas gubernatorial primary. Michael Barone digs into the details and concludes:

(1) Perry won this not in rural and small town Texas but in metro Houston. This bodes well for him in the general election, since it indicates strength in the home base of the well regarded Democratic nominee, former Houston Mayor Bill White, who was nominated by an overwhelming margin. (2) Medina, the candidate who wouldn’t disrespect the truthers, did best in the supposedly most sophisticated part of Texas, the Metroplex. Go figure. (3) Hutchison, supposedly the candidate of urban sophisticates, did best in metro San Antonio and rural Texas. She held Perry below the 50% level needed to avoid a runoff in approximately half of Texas’s 254 counties; unfortunately for her, those counties didn’t give her nearly a big enough margin to offset Perry’s advantage in metro Houston

Barone also observes that turnout in the Republican primary was more than double that in Democratic primary, a reversal of the huge enthusiasm generated in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

Pundits are already picking through the returns to glean evidence of larger trends. Is this further proof that Washington incumbents have an uphill climb? Probably. Does this suggest that more traditionally conservative candidates have the upper hand in a GOP primary field? That too. And does Perry have the potential to be a presidential candidate? Perry is playing coy for now, as Jonathan Martin reports:

In an interview with POLITICO Monday, Perry insisted that he would not mount a White House bid.

“I’m really interested in who’s going to be the next president,” he said, before quickly adding: “I have no interest in it being me in any form or fashion.”

Yet as he claimed victory here Tuesday night, Perry’s message seemed as tailored for national GOP primary voters as Texas’s general electorate.

Speaking directly to Washington he said: “Quit spending all the money, stop trying to take over our lives and our businesses.”

He also sought to position himself squarely against President Obama, warning that, “It’s clear that the Obama administration and its allies already have Texas in their cross-hairs.”

But in the lesson-divining department, Martin is correct: Perry simply ran a better campaign and Hutchison bumbled along in a Hillary-like miscalculation about an electorate angry at the status quo. (“By asserting that she would step down from her Senate seat but never actually resigning, Hutchison amplified Perry’s message as much as the millions in his war chest.”) And it is noteworthy that endorsements from Texas political stars, including George H.W. Bush, didn’t help her one bit. (“In Hutchison’s case, the endorsements may have even worked against her, serving to underscore Perry’s message about her ties to Washington.”)

And that, I think, is the key takeaway and a reminder for pundits and candidates eyeing 2012. It really does matter what sort of campaign you put together, how you size up the electorate, and whether you devise an effective message. The front runners in 2008 (Clinton and Rudy Giuliani) crashed in no small part because they ran ineffective, if not disastrous, campaigns. We have learned the hard way that a great campaigner doesn’t necessarily make for a great or competent office holder. But you still have to win the campaign — and for that, nothing beats a sharp delivery, a well-organized team, and a timely message.

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Bending the Cost Curve Down

As Jennifer pointed out this morning Warren Buffett thinks the Obama administration should “come up with new [health care] legislation that deals with the ‘cost, cost, cost,’ that he calls a ‘tapeworm eating at American competitiveness.’” So does everyone else who thinks health-care reform should be about reforming the wildly distorted health-care economics in this country and about not expanding government control over it — which is the sole purpose of ObamaCare.

If you want a textbook example of how to “bend the cost curve down,” I recommend taking a look at the state of Indiana and how it funds health care for its employees. The governor, Mitch Daniels, explained it yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. The state of Indiana puts $2,750 into a medical savings account for every state employee who signs up for this sort of coverage. (When it started five years ago, 4 percent signed up; this year 70 percent signed up.) The employee then pays all medical expenses out of that account. If there is money left over at the end of the year, it’s the employee’s to keep. If expenses exceed that sum, the state shares expenses up to an out-of-pocket maximum of $8,000 and covers all expenses above that sum.

The program has been a huge success, saving millions for both employees and the state. Why? As Governor Daniels explains,

It turns out that, when someone is spending his own money alone for routine expenses, he is far more likely to ask the questions he would ask if purchasing any other good or service: “Is there a generic version of that drug?” “Didn’t I take that same test just recently?” “Where can I get the colonoscopy at the best price?”

In other words, a system that incentivizes health-care consumers (that’s everybody) to ask the magic question, “How much is this going to cost?” will drain billions of wasted money out of the health-care system, as Indiana has already demonstrated.

The “great mentioner” is increasingly mentioning Governor Daniels as a possible 2012 Republican nominee for president. Michael Barone explains why. He’s a man to watch.

As Jennifer pointed out this morning Warren Buffett thinks the Obama administration should “come up with new [health care] legislation that deals with the ‘cost, cost, cost,’ that he calls a ‘tapeworm eating at American competitiveness.’” So does everyone else who thinks health-care reform should be about reforming the wildly distorted health-care economics in this country and about not expanding government control over it — which is the sole purpose of ObamaCare.

If you want a textbook example of how to “bend the cost curve down,” I recommend taking a look at the state of Indiana and how it funds health care for its employees. The governor, Mitch Daniels, explained it yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. The state of Indiana puts $2,750 into a medical savings account for every state employee who signs up for this sort of coverage. (When it started five years ago, 4 percent signed up; this year 70 percent signed up.) The employee then pays all medical expenses out of that account. If there is money left over at the end of the year, it’s the employee’s to keep. If expenses exceed that sum, the state shares expenses up to an out-of-pocket maximum of $8,000 and covers all expenses above that sum.

The program has been a huge success, saving millions for both employees and the state. Why? As Governor Daniels explains,

It turns out that, when someone is spending his own money alone for routine expenses, he is far more likely to ask the questions he would ask if purchasing any other good or service: “Is there a generic version of that drug?” “Didn’t I take that same test just recently?” “Where can I get the colonoscopy at the best price?”

In other words, a system that incentivizes health-care consumers (that’s everybody) to ask the magic question, “How much is this going to cost?” will drain billions of wasted money out of the health-care system, as Indiana has already demonstrated.

The “great mentioner” is increasingly mentioning Governor Daniels as a possible 2012 Republican nominee for president. Michael Barone explains why. He’s a man to watch.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

At the precise moment one of its own is collapsing in a puddle of his own ineptitude, the Left punditocracy congratulates itself that Democrats have the smartest presidents (“veritable geniuses—tops of their classes, brilliant orators, connoisseurs of facts, and champions of analysis”) who outshine the dummies the GOP produces. But let’s get real: “When you’re comparing the men who brought down the Berlin Wall and the Cold War along with it, liberated the people of Iraq from their butcher dictator and declared war against our terrorist enemies with the men who presided over the Iranian hostage crisis, gas lines, and our national malaise, and sullied the office of the president in a very big way, does it really matter who scored higher on his SATs?”

Another Nevada Senate poll, another double-digit deficit for Harry Reid. It might have something to do with the fact that Obama’s approval is only at 39 percent.

Michael Barone observes that even liberal pundits think the Republicans did quite well at the health-care summit. (Note to file: disregard Republican insiders who fear that every opportunity to talk to the American people is a “trap.”) He concludes: “Last month, we were told that Obama would switch his focus from health care to jobs. But Democrats have spent February and seem about to spend March focusing on health care. It’s hard to see how they can navigate the legislative process successfully — and even harder to see how they turn around public opinion. Summit flop indeed.”

I think most endorsements don’t matter very much. But some are downright absurd: Condi Rice backs Meg Whitman. What voter would be influenced by this?

Sometimes there is no right answer: “Republicans will win back Congress if Democrats use a majority-vote tactic on healthcare reform, according to the House GOP whip. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the second-ranking Republican in the House, tied the use of budget reconciliation rules on the healthcare bill to Democrats’ electoral fortunes this fall.” Then again, voters might punish the Democrats even if reconciliation isn’t used. You get the sense the Republicans are having fun taunting their opponents. It’s that kind of year.

Warren Buffet agrees with Republicans, suggesting that “President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats go back to the drawing board on health-care overhaul legislation and work with Republicans to come up with new legislation that deals with the ‘cost, cost, cost,’ that he calls a ‘tapeworm eating at American competitiveness.'” Not sure Obama listens to him, since Buffet went after most everything on Obama’s agenda, from card check to cap-and-trade. But really, didn’t Buffet know what Obama was all about when he backed him for president? I guess not.

Shocking, I know, but Steny Hoyer wants the deficit commission to raise taxes.

Must be George W. Bush’s fault: “Barack Obama now has a negative approval rating in every state he flipped from the Bush column to his in 2008. In each of those places his level of support is now in the 44-46% range. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t have to run for reelection this year. He can only hope things start turning around for him once the midterms are in the rear view mirror, much as they did for Bill Clinton.”

At the precise moment one of its own is collapsing in a puddle of his own ineptitude, the Left punditocracy congratulates itself that Democrats have the smartest presidents (“veritable geniuses—tops of their classes, brilliant orators, connoisseurs of facts, and champions of analysis”) who outshine the dummies the GOP produces. But let’s get real: “When you’re comparing the men who brought down the Berlin Wall and the Cold War along with it, liberated the people of Iraq from their butcher dictator and declared war against our terrorist enemies with the men who presided over the Iranian hostage crisis, gas lines, and our national malaise, and sullied the office of the president in a very big way, does it really matter who scored higher on his SATs?”

Another Nevada Senate poll, another double-digit deficit for Harry Reid. It might have something to do with the fact that Obama’s approval is only at 39 percent.

Michael Barone observes that even liberal pundits think the Republicans did quite well at the health-care summit. (Note to file: disregard Republican insiders who fear that every opportunity to talk to the American people is a “trap.”) He concludes: “Last month, we were told that Obama would switch his focus from health care to jobs. But Democrats have spent February and seem about to spend March focusing on health care. It’s hard to see how they can navigate the legislative process successfully — and even harder to see how they turn around public opinion. Summit flop indeed.”

I think most endorsements don’t matter very much. But some are downright absurd: Condi Rice backs Meg Whitman. What voter would be influenced by this?

Sometimes there is no right answer: “Republicans will win back Congress if Democrats use a majority-vote tactic on healthcare reform, according to the House GOP whip. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the second-ranking Republican in the House, tied the use of budget reconciliation rules on the healthcare bill to Democrats’ electoral fortunes this fall.” Then again, voters might punish the Democrats even if reconciliation isn’t used. You get the sense the Republicans are having fun taunting their opponents. It’s that kind of year.

Warren Buffet agrees with Republicans, suggesting that “President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats go back to the drawing board on health-care overhaul legislation and work with Republicans to come up with new legislation that deals with the ‘cost, cost, cost,’ that he calls a ‘tapeworm eating at American competitiveness.'” Not sure Obama listens to him, since Buffet went after most everything on Obama’s agenda, from card check to cap-and-trade. But really, didn’t Buffet know what Obama was all about when he backed him for president? I guess not.

Shocking, I know, but Steny Hoyer wants the deficit commission to raise taxes.

Must be George W. Bush’s fault: “Barack Obama now has a negative approval rating in every state he flipped from the Bush column to his in 2008. In each of those places his level of support is now in the 44-46% range. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t have to run for reelection this year. He can only hope things start turning around for him once the midterms are in the rear view mirror, much as they did for Bill Clinton.”

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No Intuition, No Judgment

Michael Barone writes that presidents must rely on “something intangible and unquantifiable, in determining what is within the realm of possibility and what is a bridge too far: intuition.” Alas, he finds Obama doesn’t have much of it: “On what he identified as the biggest foreign and domestic issues, Obama’s intuition has proved to be faulty. Things have not worked out as he hoped. And, though a president cannot micromanage everything, his deference to congressional Democratic leaders in determining the details of the stimulus, health care and cap-and-trade bills has proven politically disastrous.”

Put slightly differently, Obama lacks judgment. We were told during the campaign that he had loads of judgment, and it would offset his experience gap. But alas, he lacked the judgment to assess nearly every critical issue he faced — the Iranian nuclear threat, the Middle East “peace process,” health-care reform, and his entire domestic agenda. He might lack intuition — the ability to foresee how events will unfold — but more critically, he also lacks the ability to assess events once they do unfold. He lacked the foresight to see that Iran would not respond to video valentines, but then he persisted in frittering away a year on engagement and standing idly by when democratic protestors could have used our help. And he has compounded his error by taking military force off the table and seemingly laying the groundwork for itty-bitty, ineffective sanctions. In sum, he doesn’t learn.

That inability to assess events, make adjustments, and correct course promptly may be attributable to a lack of life experience (e.g., he has never seen his ideological assumptions rejected so thoroughly, nor has he had to shift course so abruptly). It may also stem from arrogance — the belief that he has a monopoly on virtue and wisdom and that his opponents are rubes and/or operate out of bad faith. And then again, he may simply be weighed down by silly ideas (e.g., government can create jobs) and a lack of executive acumen. We don’t know, and we don’t know whether he can improve.

His defenders are reduced to hoping that he will be forced to improve by a congressional wipeout. Eleanor Clift writes:

The advisers around Obama would never admit it, but losing one or even both houses of Congress might be better for Obama than the gridlock paralyzing his agenda. History in our partisan age suggests that for a president to be truly successful and get big legislative achievements, a divided Congress may be necessary. Only then does each party have some stake in governing, and maneuvering room to compromise.

Well, Obama might be forced to improve if he loses both Houses. But then he’d still have foreign policy to puzzle out, new policies to construct, and an agenda to execute. In other words, even with a lot of help, the president still matters. And if the president can neither anticipate events nor react wisely to them, there’s not much we can do about it. Other than elect a new one.

Michael Barone writes that presidents must rely on “something intangible and unquantifiable, in determining what is within the realm of possibility and what is a bridge too far: intuition.” Alas, he finds Obama doesn’t have much of it: “On what he identified as the biggest foreign and domestic issues, Obama’s intuition has proved to be faulty. Things have not worked out as he hoped. And, though a president cannot micromanage everything, his deference to congressional Democratic leaders in determining the details of the stimulus, health care and cap-and-trade bills has proven politically disastrous.”

Put slightly differently, Obama lacks judgment. We were told during the campaign that he had loads of judgment, and it would offset his experience gap. But alas, he lacked the judgment to assess nearly every critical issue he faced — the Iranian nuclear threat, the Middle East “peace process,” health-care reform, and his entire domestic agenda. He might lack intuition — the ability to foresee how events will unfold — but more critically, he also lacks the ability to assess events once they do unfold. He lacked the foresight to see that Iran would not respond to video valentines, but then he persisted in frittering away a year on engagement and standing idly by when democratic protestors could have used our help. And he has compounded his error by taking military force off the table and seemingly laying the groundwork for itty-bitty, ineffective sanctions. In sum, he doesn’t learn.

That inability to assess events, make adjustments, and correct course promptly may be attributable to a lack of life experience (e.g., he has never seen his ideological assumptions rejected so thoroughly, nor has he had to shift course so abruptly). It may also stem from arrogance — the belief that he has a monopoly on virtue and wisdom and that his opponents are rubes and/or operate out of bad faith. And then again, he may simply be weighed down by silly ideas (e.g., government can create jobs) and a lack of executive acumen. We don’t know, and we don’t know whether he can improve.

His defenders are reduced to hoping that he will be forced to improve by a congressional wipeout. Eleanor Clift writes:

The advisers around Obama would never admit it, but losing one or even both houses of Congress might be better for Obama than the gridlock paralyzing his agenda. History in our partisan age suggests that for a president to be truly successful and get big legislative achievements, a divided Congress may be necessary. Only then does each party have some stake in governing, and maneuvering room to compromise.

Well, Obama might be forced to improve if he loses both Houses. But then he’d still have foreign policy to puzzle out, new policies to construct, and an agenda to execute. In other words, even with a lot of help, the president still matters. And if the president can neither anticipate events nor react wisely to them, there’s not much we can do about it. Other than elect a new one.

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Breaking the Cynicism Meter

Republicans have long suspected that the Obama health-care summit is a setup. After all, the first ground rule seems to be: “I get ObamaCare.” But sometimes even the Democrats outdo themselves in the cynicism department. Roll Call reports:

Senate Democrats say they see no need to abandon the idea of using reconciliation to pass health care reform this year just because President Barack Obama has scheduled a bipartisan summit next week to try to break the impasse on Capitol Hill. . .Given the unified GOP opposition to their health care effort, Senate Democrats argued just before departing for the Presidents Day recess that Obama’s summit is no reason to shelve reconciliation as a potential strategy. The tactic would allow Democrats pass certain aspects of health care reform with just 51 votes.

“I think it should be constantly pursued,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Thursday when asked whether Democrats should take a break from drafting a reconciliation bill until after Obama’s summit.

“I think the Republicans are pretty committed to the notion that obstructing everything that President Obama would like to accomplish is very key to their base and their political success,” Whitehouse added. “I don’t see them departing from that strategy.”

Nevertheless, there is reason to believe they lack the votes to utilize reconciliation. (“Some moderate Senate Democrats have already announced their opposition to a reconciliation bill regardless of what is in it.”) And that is before we get to the merits. It isn’t at all clear that, post-Scott Brown, there are votes for what’s in ObamaCare (e.g., massive tax hikes, $500 billion in cuts to Medicare with no real reform element, forcing people to buy health-care plans they don’t want from Big Insurance). Wouldn’t Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln (and maybe others as well) jump at the chance to return to the good graces of voters whom they have enraged?

Then on the House side, we hear that Nancy Pelosi may be 100 votes short of a majority to pass ObamaCare. As Michael Barone explains:

So you, as a Democratic member with potentially serious opposition, do the political caucus. If you vote for the Senate bill, you’re voting for something that has 35% support nationwide and probably a little less than that in your district. You will have voted for the Cornhusker Hustle and the Louisiana Purchase. Your Republican opponent will ask why you voted for something that gave taxpayers in Nebraska and Louisiana better treatment than the people you represent (there are no Democratic House members running for reelection in those two states: Nebraska has only Republican House members and the single Louisiana House Democrat is running for the Senate). The only protection you have against this is the assurance that the Senate parliamentarian and scared incumbent senators will come through for you, and that Harry Reid will pursue a steady course.

So your response to the leadership is either, I gotta think about this, or, Hell no. The House Democratic leadership’s problem is that it cannot credibly promise that the Senate will keep its part of the bargain.

So the bottom line: it is hard to believe Obama is operating in good faith. But that’s OK with conservatives, independents, and the two-thirds of us who don’t want a government takeover of health care. Obama still doesn’t have the votes, and those lawmakers who see their careers passing before their eyes probably don’t even want a vote on it. Obama has done enough damage to their re-election prospects already.

Republicans have long suspected that the Obama health-care summit is a setup. After all, the first ground rule seems to be: “I get ObamaCare.” But sometimes even the Democrats outdo themselves in the cynicism department. Roll Call reports:

Senate Democrats say they see no need to abandon the idea of using reconciliation to pass health care reform this year just because President Barack Obama has scheduled a bipartisan summit next week to try to break the impasse on Capitol Hill. . .Given the unified GOP opposition to their health care effort, Senate Democrats argued just before departing for the Presidents Day recess that Obama’s summit is no reason to shelve reconciliation as a potential strategy. The tactic would allow Democrats pass certain aspects of health care reform with just 51 votes.

“I think it should be constantly pursued,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Thursday when asked whether Democrats should take a break from drafting a reconciliation bill until after Obama’s summit.

“I think the Republicans are pretty committed to the notion that obstructing everything that President Obama would like to accomplish is very key to their base and their political success,” Whitehouse added. “I don’t see them departing from that strategy.”

Nevertheless, there is reason to believe they lack the votes to utilize reconciliation. (“Some moderate Senate Democrats have already announced their opposition to a reconciliation bill regardless of what is in it.”) And that is before we get to the merits. It isn’t at all clear that, post-Scott Brown, there are votes for what’s in ObamaCare (e.g., massive tax hikes, $500 billion in cuts to Medicare with no real reform element, forcing people to buy health-care plans they don’t want from Big Insurance). Wouldn’t Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln (and maybe others as well) jump at the chance to return to the good graces of voters whom they have enraged?

Then on the House side, we hear that Nancy Pelosi may be 100 votes short of a majority to pass ObamaCare. As Michael Barone explains:

So you, as a Democratic member with potentially serious opposition, do the political caucus. If you vote for the Senate bill, you’re voting for something that has 35% support nationwide and probably a little less than that in your district. You will have voted for the Cornhusker Hustle and the Louisiana Purchase. Your Republican opponent will ask why you voted for something that gave taxpayers in Nebraska and Louisiana better treatment than the people you represent (there are no Democratic House members running for reelection in those two states: Nebraska has only Republican House members and the single Louisiana House Democrat is running for the Senate). The only protection you have against this is the assurance that the Senate parliamentarian and scared incumbent senators will come through for you, and that Harry Reid will pursue a steady course.

So your response to the leadership is either, I gotta think about this, or, Hell no. The House Democratic leadership’s problem is that it cannot credibly promise that the Senate will keep its part of the bargain.

So the bottom line: it is hard to believe Obama is operating in good faith. But that’s OK with conservatives, independents, and the two-thirds of us who don’t want a government takeover of health care. Obama still doesn’t have the votes, and those lawmakers who see their careers passing before their eyes probably don’t even want a vote on it. Obama has done enough damage to their re-election prospects already.

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Government Creates Wealth?

E.J. Dionne’s column touts Joe Biden’s newfound verve in defending American competitiveness. As Dionne puts it, at least Biden is done for now with defending the indefensible stimulus plan. He assures us that Biden is “more self-aware than people give him credit for.” Whatever. But Dionne then goes off the rails in a revealing bit of liberal demagoguery:

Beneath the predictable back-and-forth between Obama and his Republican adversaries over government spending lies a substantively important difference over how the United States can maintain its global leadership.

For Republicans, American power is rooted largely in military might and showing a tough and resolute face to the world. They would rely on tax cuts as the one and only spur to economic growth.

Obama, Biden and the Democrats, on the other hand, believe that American power depends ultimately on the American economy, and that government has an essential role to play in fostering the next generation of growth.

Republicans don’t care about economic growth? Just military might? Hard to see where he gets that, considering that the post-Reagan conservative movement and the Republican party have been devoted to market capitalism. Indeed, the slur on Republicans has been that all they cared about was wealth creation. Oh, but they are just interested in “tax cuts.” Well, that and free trade, modest regulation, legal reform, and other conditions that spur economic growth, investment, and wealth creation.

Dionne considers this all trivial or dim because he and liberals are convinced that government creates wealth, that public spending creates jobs, and that expansion of the public sector is the way to a brighter future. In fact, he congratulates the president for cheering on the competition in statism with other powers. In the State of the Union, Dionne recalls, the president vowed that no nation would get the jump on us when it comes to government programs. (“Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.”)

Dionne gets one thing right, however: there is, indeed, a healthy debate to be had. The Obama budget, which presumably represents his economic vision, sees an ever-rising level of taxes and government spending (also debt because the taxes can’t keep pace with the spending). It includes many expensive programs liberals tell us will increase our competitiveness and spur growth — green jobs, federal education money, and the like.

Conservatives say this is a recipe for continuous high unemployment and low growth, and the experience of high-tax and high-spending countries is not one we want to replicate. Looking around the world and at our own recent past, there’s plenty of evidence that the liberal formula simply doesn’t work. We can become more like our Western European allies, but then we can expect employment, growth, and wealth creation to approximate those countries.

In addition to its economic shortcomings, Democrats might want to think twice about whether touting the wonders of lots of government is a winning economic message. As Michael Barone explains in his tour through the history of American populism:

[Americans] tend to believe that there is a connection between effort and reward and that people can work their way up economically. If people do something to earn their benefits, like paying Social Security taxes, that’s fine. But giving money to those who have not in some way earned it is a no-no. Moreover, like Andrew Jackson, most Americans suspect that some of the income that is redistributed will end up in the hands not of the worthy but of the well-connected. Last year Mr. Obama and his policy strategists seem to have assumed that the financial crisis and deep recession would make Americans look more favorably on big government programs. But it turns out that economic distress did not make us Western Europeans.

So if Biden now wants to become the official spokesman for the premise that “big government creates wealth,” I’m sure the Republicans would be delighted. They’d be even happier if every Democratic incumbent ran on that platform. But somehow I think they won’t get that lucky. Lawmakers are generally more “self-aware” than that.

E.J. Dionne’s column touts Joe Biden’s newfound verve in defending American competitiveness. As Dionne puts it, at least Biden is done for now with defending the indefensible stimulus plan. He assures us that Biden is “more self-aware than people give him credit for.” Whatever. But Dionne then goes off the rails in a revealing bit of liberal demagoguery:

Beneath the predictable back-and-forth between Obama and his Republican adversaries over government spending lies a substantively important difference over how the United States can maintain its global leadership.

For Republicans, American power is rooted largely in military might and showing a tough and resolute face to the world. They would rely on tax cuts as the one and only spur to economic growth.

Obama, Biden and the Democrats, on the other hand, believe that American power depends ultimately on the American economy, and that government has an essential role to play in fostering the next generation of growth.

Republicans don’t care about economic growth? Just military might? Hard to see where he gets that, considering that the post-Reagan conservative movement and the Republican party have been devoted to market capitalism. Indeed, the slur on Republicans has been that all they cared about was wealth creation. Oh, but they are just interested in “tax cuts.” Well, that and free trade, modest regulation, legal reform, and other conditions that spur economic growth, investment, and wealth creation.

Dionne considers this all trivial or dim because he and liberals are convinced that government creates wealth, that public spending creates jobs, and that expansion of the public sector is the way to a brighter future. In fact, he congratulates the president for cheering on the competition in statism with other powers. In the State of the Union, Dionne recalls, the president vowed that no nation would get the jump on us when it comes to government programs. (“Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.”)

Dionne gets one thing right, however: there is, indeed, a healthy debate to be had. The Obama budget, which presumably represents his economic vision, sees an ever-rising level of taxes and government spending (also debt because the taxes can’t keep pace with the spending). It includes many expensive programs liberals tell us will increase our competitiveness and spur growth — green jobs, federal education money, and the like.

Conservatives say this is a recipe for continuous high unemployment and low growth, and the experience of high-tax and high-spending countries is not one we want to replicate. Looking around the world and at our own recent past, there’s plenty of evidence that the liberal formula simply doesn’t work. We can become more like our Western European allies, but then we can expect employment, growth, and wealth creation to approximate those countries.

In addition to its economic shortcomings, Democrats might want to think twice about whether touting the wonders of lots of government is a winning economic message. As Michael Barone explains in his tour through the history of American populism:

[Americans] tend to believe that there is a connection between effort and reward and that people can work their way up economically. If people do something to earn their benefits, like paying Social Security taxes, that’s fine. But giving money to those who have not in some way earned it is a no-no. Moreover, like Andrew Jackson, most Americans suspect that some of the income that is redistributed will end up in the hands not of the worthy but of the well-connected. Last year Mr. Obama and his policy strategists seem to have assumed that the financial crisis and deep recession would make Americans look more favorably on big government programs. But it turns out that economic distress did not make us Western Europeans.

So if Biden now wants to become the official spokesman for the premise that “big government creates wealth,” I’m sure the Republicans would be delighted. They’d be even happier if every Democratic incumbent ran on that platform. But somehow I think they won’t get that lucky. Lawmakers are generally more “self-aware” than that.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Ruth Marcus explains: “So can a chastened Obama regain the lost sense of excitement and opportunity? Eventually, perhaps, but never entirely. The second time is never as thrilling.” Especially when the thrill was based on cotton-candy rhetoric and a blank slate onto which Obama told us we were projecting our hopes and dreams. If there is no there there, then the thrill is not likely to return.

Michael Barone says that if the election were held today, it would be worse for the Democrats than it was 1994 or 2002. He calls it “the makings of an epic party disaster.”

Charles Krauthammer on Obama and the KSM trial: “The president is not going to admit error. He never does. He does in the abstract, but he will never admit he actually makes a human error on anything. So he won’t on this. But he knows what’s going to happen, which is the Congress will rebel on this and it will pull the funding, [and] get him off the hook. And the issue [will] end up behind him even though he doesn’t do it himself.” Noting he never mentioned terrorism in the SOTU, Krauthammer adds: “In fact, because his two decisions — the KSM trial in Manhattan and the granting of Miranda rights to the guy who tried to blow up the airplane — are indefensible.”

Matt Continetti points out that it takes Speaker Nancy Pelosi to make Sen. Carl Levin look wise on national security. Levin says of Pelosi’s idea to apply Obama’s freeze to defense spending: “That’s kind of hard to do in the middle of a war.” But maybe if we hop over the Pentagon fence. And then pole vault in. And then. Yeah, she is Speaker of the House.

Liberals think Rahm Emanual’s kicking the can down the road on health-care reform (“Congress would deal first with jobs, then banking regulation, and then circle back around to health-care reform”) makes no sense. Well, only if you want to stave off an epic party disaster, I suppose.

But at least Obama still has the postgraduate-degree voters according to Gallup: “The support of postgraduates, who tend to be more liberal and Democratic in their political orientation, was important to Obama’s being elected president. Since he has become president, postgraduates have been among his more reliable supporters, backing him at higher levels than do those in other educational groups.” But that poll was taken before the SOTU and Obama flunked his midterm on the campaign-finance-reform law. That might lose him a few points.

Tom Bevan catches Obama sort of admitting that the health-care bills wouldn’t really, absolutely have allowed everyone to keep their existing health plans. Stuff “snuck in,” you see. If there has ever been a president less willing to take responsibility for anything, I’m hard pressed to recall who it was. And no — George W. Bush did admit error on the initial conduct of the Iraq war and on Katrina, so he’s not even in the ballpark of Obama blame-shifting.

Fred Barnes says Obama is trapped: “President Obama’s greatest need is to escape the ideological grip of congressional Democrats and the liberal base of the Democratic party (they’re one and the same). But he either doesn’t recognize this or, as a conventional liberal himself, isn’t so inclined. This self-inflicted difficulty has put Obama in worse political straits than President Clinton faced after the Republican landslide of 1994.” Unlike Clinton, however, Obama seems to lack the flexibility and ideological creativity to get himself out of his self-made jam.

Ruth Marcus explains: “So can a chastened Obama regain the lost sense of excitement and opportunity? Eventually, perhaps, but never entirely. The second time is never as thrilling.” Especially when the thrill was based on cotton-candy rhetoric and a blank slate onto which Obama told us we were projecting our hopes and dreams. If there is no there there, then the thrill is not likely to return.

Michael Barone says that if the election were held today, it would be worse for the Democrats than it was 1994 or 2002. He calls it “the makings of an epic party disaster.”

Charles Krauthammer on Obama and the KSM trial: “The president is not going to admit error. He never does. He does in the abstract, but he will never admit he actually makes a human error on anything. So he won’t on this. But he knows what’s going to happen, which is the Congress will rebel on this and it will pull the funding, [and] get him off the hook. And the issue [will] end up behind him even though he doesn’t do it himself.” Noting he never mentioned terrorism in the SOTU, Krauthammer adds: “In fact, because his two decisions — the KSM trial in Manhattan and the granting of Miranda rights to the guy who tried to blow up the airplane — are indefensible.”

Matt Continetti points out that it takes Speaker Nancy Pelosi to make Sen. Carl Levin look wise on national security. Levin says of Pelosi’s idea to apply Obama’s freeze to defense spending: “That’s kind of hard to do in the middle of a war.” But maybe if we hop over the Pentagon fence. And then pole vault in. And then. Yeah, she is Speaker of the House.

Liberals think Rahm Emanual’s kicking the can down the road on health-care reform (“Congress would deal first with jobs, then banking regulation, and then circle back around to health-care reform”) makes no sense. Well, only if you want to stave off an epic party disaster, I suppose.

But at least Obama still has the postgraduate-degree voters according to Gallup: “The support of postgraduates, who tend to be more liberal and Democratic in their political orientation, was important to Obama’s being elected president. Since he has become president, postgraduates have been among his more reliable supporters, backing him at higher levels than do those in other educational groups.” But that poll was taken before the SOTU and Obama flunked his midterm on the campaign-finance-reform law. That might lose him a few points.

Tom Bevan catches Obama sort of admitting that the health-care bills wouldn’t really, absolutely have allowed everyone to keep their existing health plans. Stuff “snuck in,” you see. If there has ever been a president less willing to take responsibility for anything, I’m hard pressed to recall who it was. And no — George W. Bush did admit error on the initial conduct of the Iraq war and on Katrina, so he’s not even in the ballpark of Obama blame-shifting.

Fred Barnes says Obama is trapped: “President Obama’s greatest need is to escape the ideological grip of congressional Democrats and the liberal base of the Democratic party (they’re one and the same). But he either doesn’t recognize this or, as a conventional liberal himself, isn’t so inclined. This self-inflicted difficulty has put Obama in worse political straits than President Clinton faced after the Republican landslide of 1994.” Unlike Clinton, however, Obama seems to lack the flexibility and ideological creativity to get himself out of his self-made jam.

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The President, the New Republic, and Dramatic Decline

In the afterglow of Barack Obama’s election, liberals were peddling a lot of bad ideas. Among them was the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, who in December 2008 wrote this:

The practical import of the Obama mandate debate has fallen on the question of whether he should pursue his goal of comprehensive health care reform, which numerous pundits and even some Democrats have tagged as dangerously ambitious. But this is one area where undiluted liberalism enjoys overwhelming public support. The public, by a roughly two-to-one margin, thinks the government has a responsibility to make sure that every American has adequate health care. Congressional Democrats fear a repeat of 1994–when, as they see it, Bill Clinton over-interpreted his mandate and therefore failed to pass health care reform. This reading has it backward. Clinton’s health care plan failed because Congress decided he didn’t have a mandate and refused to pass it. If the Democrats fail this time, it will probably be because they psyched themselves out once again.

Thirteen months later, Chait’s “undiluted liberalism” enjoys something less than overwhelming public support.

In fact, the United States has become more, not less, conservative during the Obama presidency (by a margin of 2-to-1, Americans describe themselves as conservative rather than liberal). And Obama and the Democrats, having followed Chait’s counsel, find themselves in a terrible political ditch. After a year in office, Mr. Obama has become, by a wide margin, our most polarizing president. He has the highest disapproval ratings ever recorded for an elected president beginning his second year. No other president has seen his Gallup job-approval rating drop as far as Obama’s has (21 points) in his first year. And the public overwhelmingly opposes Obama’s signature domestic initiative, health care (the approve-disapprove spread ranges from 15 to 20 points).

In addition, Democrats have suffered crushing losses in gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia — and last week they suffered a particularly devastating loss in the Massachusetts Senate race. Independents are voting for Republicans by a 2-to-1 (or better) margin. Republicans are now polling better than Democrats on most issues. They are ahead on most generic congressional vote polls. The GOP’s recruiting efforts are going gangbusters, while Democrats are either withdrawing from midterm races in November or not throwing their hat into the ring at all. “I have not seen a party’s fortunes collapse so suddenly since Richard Nixon got caught up in the Watergate scandal and a president who carried 49 states was threatened with impeachment and removal from office,” according to the political analyst Michael Barone.

Democrats, rightly sensing what awaits them in November, are nearly panic-stricken.

In light of what has come to pass, Mr. Chait’s writings look comical. After a disastrous August for ObamaCare, Chait declared, against all evidence, “August moved the ball pretty far down the field.” He was issuing ominous warnings about a GOP overreach on health care in September. And in October he wrote, “We’ve had months of sturm and drang, and massive attention focused on the question, Whither health care reform? It’s just quietly turned into a fait accompli.”

Au contraire. ObamaCare, while not yet dead, is in critical and perhaps terminal condition. And the damaging effects it has had on the president and the Democratic party is beyond serious dispute. Charlie Cook of National Journal put it this way:

Honorable and intelligent people can disagree over the substance and details of what President Obama and congressional Democrats are trying to do on health care reform and climate change. But nearly a year after Obama’s inauguration, judging by where the Democrats stand today, it’s clear that they have made a colossal miscalculation.

Clear, that is, to everyone but Jonathan Chait. He is in the uncomfortable position of having to explain how the Obama presidency and liberalism have gone off the rails in the past year, a year devoted to trying to pass massively unpopular health-care legislation championed by people like Chait. Rather than coming to grips with reality, though, Chait has opted for self-delusion. In his January 19 column, for example, Jonathan was reduced to writing things like this:

The perception has formed, perhaps indelibly, that the reason Democrats will get hammered in the 2010 elections is that the party moved too far left in general and tried to reform health care in particular. This perception owes itself, above all, to the habit that political analysts in the media and other outposts of mainstream thought have of ignoring structural factors.

So Obama and the Democrats find themselves on the precipice, not because of health care, but because of “structural factors.” Of course. Scott Brown famously won his Massachusetts Senate race by promising to be the 41st vote against “structural factors.”

It is all rather pathetic.

The New Republic was once one of the nation’s leading journals of opinion. It was the home of first-rate thinkers and first-rate writers. Today it is the home of Jonathan Chait.

It has been a long and dramatic decline.

In the afterglow of Barack Obama’s election, liberals were peddling a lot of bad ideas. Among them was the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, who in December 2008 wrote this:

The practical import of the Obama mandate debate has fallen on the question of whether he should pursue his goal of comprehensive health care reform, which numerous pundits and even some Democrats have tagged as dangerously ambitious. But this is one area where undiluted liberalism enjoys overwhelming public support. The public, by a roughly two-to-one margin, thinks the government has a responsibility to make sure that every American has adequate health care. Congressional Democrats fear a repeat of 1994–when, as they see it, Bill Clinton over-interpreted his mandate and therefore failed to pass health care reform. This reading has it backward. Clinton’s health care plan failed because Congress decided he didn’t have a mandate and refused to pass it. If the Democrats fail this time, it will probably be because they psyched themselves out once again.

Thirteen months later, Chait’s “undiluted liberalism” enjoys something less than overwhelming public support.

In fact, the United States has become more, not less, conservative during the Obama presidency (by a margin of 2-to-1, Americans describe themselves as conservative rather than liberal). And Obama and the Democrats, having followed Chait’s counsel, find themselves in a terrible political ditch. After a year in office, Mr. Obama has become, by a wide margin, our most polarizing president. He has the highest disapproval ratings ever recorded for an elected president beginning his second year. No other president has seen his Gallup job-approval rating drop as far as Obama’s has (21 points) in his first year. And the public overwhelmingly opposes Obama’s signature domestic initiative, health care (the approve-disapprove spread ranges from 15 to 20 points).

In addition, Democrats have suffered crushing losses in gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia — and last week they suffered a particularly devastating loss in the Massachusetts Senate race. Independents are voting for Republicans by a 2-to-1 (or better) margin. Republicans are now polling better than Democrats on most issues. They are ahead on most generic congressional vote polls. The GOP’s recruiting efforts are going gangbusters, while Democrats are either withdrawing from midterm races in November or not throwing their hat into the ring at all. “I have not seen a party’s fortunes collapse so suddenly since Richard Nixon got caught up in the Watergate scandal and a president who carried 49 states was threatened with impeachment and removal from office,” according to the political analyst Michael Barone.

Democrats, rightly sensing what awaits them in November, are nearly panic-stricken.

In light of what has come to pass, Mr. Chait’s writings look comical. After a disastrous August for ObamaCare, Chait declared, against all evidence, “August moved the ball pretty far down the field.” He was issuing ominous warnings about a GOP overreach on health care in September. And in October he wrote, “We’ve had months of sturm and drang, and massive attention focused on the question, Whither health care reform? It’s just quietly turned into a fait accompli.”

Au contraire. ObamaCare, while not yet dead, is in critical and perhaps terminal condition. And the damaging effects it has had on the president and the Democratic party is beyond serious dispute. Charlie Cook of National Journal put it this way:

Honorable and intelligent people can disagree over the substance and details of what President Obama and congressional Democrats are trying to do on health care reform and climate change. But nearly a year after Obama’s inauguration, judging by where the Democrats stand today, it’s clear that they have made a colossal miscalculation.

Clear, that is, to everyone but Jonathan Chait. He is in the uncomfortable position of having to explain how the Obama presidency and liberalism have gone off the rails in the past year, a year devoted to trying to pass massively unpopular health-care legislation championed by people like Chait. Rather than coming to grips with reality, though, Chait has opted for self-delusion. In his January 19 column, for example, Jonathan was reduced to writing things like this:

The perception has formed, perhaps indelibly, that the reason Democrats will get hammered in the 2010 elections is that the party moved too far left in general and tried to reform health care in particular. This perception owes itself, above all, to the habit that political analysts in the media and other outposts of mainstream thought have of ignoring structural factors.

So Obama and the Democrats find themselves on the precipice, not because of health care, but because of “structural factors.” Of course. Scott Brown famously won his Massachusetts Senate race by promising to be the 41st vote against “structural factors.”

It is all rather pathetic.

The New Republic was once one of the nation’s leading journals of opinion. It was the home of first-rate thinkers and first-rate writers. Today it is the home of Jonathan Chait.

It has been a long and dramatic decline.

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Other than That, Mr. Reid, How’s the Senate?

Well, now that Beau Biden has left the playing field, it looks like Delaware has joined North Dakota on the list of  lost Democratic Senate seats: “A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely Delaware voters shows longtime GOP congressman Mike Castle leading New Castle County Executive Chris Coons 56% to 27%. Five percent (5%) prefer some other candidate, and 13% are undecided.” So if you’re keeping track, the loss of those two would bring the Democrats down to 57.

Not all was bleak for the Democrats yesterday, however. Rep. Mike Pence told us he isn’t running for the Senate in Indiana. He explained why: “First because I have been given the responsibility to shape the Republican comeback as a member of the House Republican Leadership and, second, because I believe Republicans will win back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010.” Well, I suppose it’s not unalloyed good news for the Democrats when Pence’s rationale is that it looks like the House is going to flip to the Republicans. Still, Michael Barone says incumbent Evan Bayh is in big trouble in polling matchups against much lesser-known figures:

Evan Bayh is running far behind the way he ran once Indiana voters had a chance to observe his performance as governor, significantly behind the way he ran in his first race for governor, significantly behind his father’s winning percentages in three Senate races and close only to the percentage his father won when he was defeated in the heavily Republican year of 1980, when Ronald Reagan was carrying Indiana over Jimmy Carter by a margin of 56%-38%. …

Evan Bayh did not win five statewide races in Indiana, a state that tends to favor the other party, by being stupid. Now the question is whether he is smart enough to get himself out of the hole Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have dug for him—and which he was willing, when the Senate had 60 Democrats, to jump in himself.

And that, I think, is the real impact of the polls and the Democratic departures/retirements: those struggling not to be swept out in the 2010 wave will increasingly look at each and every vote through the prism of their own electorate and re-election self-interest. Yes, what a novel concept! But that was not the story in 2009, when congressmen and senators were persuaded over and over again to ignore everything else (e.g., polls, town hall attendees, jammed switchboards) and adhere to the Obama-Reid-Pelosi line. That dynamic is very likely to reverse itself — leaving the “leadership” to chase after members, while members attune themselves to voters back home. In this environment, it’s unclear how, if at all, the White House can set the agenda. After all, it was Obama who got his party into this position, and his fellow Democrats may be less than amenable to taking further direction from the guy that sunk their party’s fortunes.

Well, now that Beau Biden has left the playing field, it looks like Delaware has joined North Dakota on the list of  lost Democratic Senate seats: “A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely Delaware voters shows longtime GOP congressman Mike Castle leading New Castle County Executive Chris Coons 56% to 27%. Five percent (5%) prefer some other candidate, and 13% are undecided.” So if you’re keeping track, the loss of those two would bring the Democrats down to 57.

Not all was bleak for the Democrats yesterday, however. Rep. Mike Pence told us he isn’t running for the Senate in Indiana. He explained why: “First because I have been given the responsibility to shape the Republican comeback as a member of the House Republican Leadership and, second, because I believe Republicans will win back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010.” Well, I suppose it’s not unalloyed good news for the Democrats when Pence’s rationale is that it looks like the House is going to flip to the Republicans. Still, Michael Barone says incumbent Evan Bayh is in big trouble in polling matchups against much lesser-known figures:

Evan Bayh is running far behind the way he ran once Indiana voters had a chance to observe his performance as governor, significantly behind the way he ran in his first race for governor, significantly behind his father’s winning percentages in three Senate races and close only to the percentage his father won when he was defeated in the heavily Republican year of 1980, when Ronald Reagan was carrying Indiana over Jimmy Carter by a margin of 56%-38%. …

Evan Bayh did not win five statewide races in Indiana, a state that tends to favor the other party, by being stupid. Now the question is whether he is smart enough to get himself out of the hole Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have dug for him—and which he was willing, when the Senate had 60 Democrats, to jump in himself.

And that, I think, is the real impact of the polls and the Democratic departures/retirements: those struggling not to be swept out in the 2010 wave will increasingly look at each and every vote through the prism of their own electorate and re-election self-interest. Yes, what a novel concept! But that was not the story in 2009, when congressmen and senators were persuaded over and over again to ignore everything else (e.g., polls, town hall attendees, jammed switchboards) and adhere to the Obama-Reid-Pelosi line. That dynamic is very likely to reverse itself — leaving the “leadership” to chase after members, while members attune themselves to voters back home. In this environment, it’s unclear how, if at all, the White House can set the agenda. After all, it was Obama who got his party into this position, and his fellow Democrats may be less than amenable to taking further direction from the guy that sunk their party’s fortunes.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Robert Gibbs thinks the administration made the right call Mirandizing the Christmas Day bomber. Dennis Blair said no one really thought it through. One of them is off the reservation. Unfortunately, I think in this case it’s Blair. The Obami never make errors, don’t you know?

Not even on health care. Gibbs also says that the Massachusetts election doesn’t prove nuthin’ about nuthin’. (Democrats have to be praying that this is an act and that the White House doesn’t truly believe this.)

Back on planet Earth, Sen. Evan Bayh “gets cold feet” about pushing unpopular health-care legislation through Congress using parliamentary tricks on a party-line vote. It’s not clear whether he’s an outlier or the beginning of a trend toward political sanity in his party.

In a similar vein, Allahpundit catches Chris Matthews being sane, arguing for “reality” and against reconciliation to pass health care. Well, he was going up against Alan Grayson.

Noemie Emery thinks there’s a split on the Left: “Those edging their way toward the lifeboats are those members of the House and Senate who sooner or later have to be in touch with the voters. Those who want the bill passed (i.e., pushed down the throats of the howling public) are White House officials and pundits, bloggers, academicians, talk show hosts, and others who don’t face reelection in this year or any, and will even find their business improving if the bill passes and all hell breaks loose. The pundits, who have no skin in this game since they will not get fired, have transferred their soaring contempt for the American people to their beleaguered House members. ‘Jump! Jump!’ they cry to the quivering congressfolk. No sacrifice is too great for others to make for their dreams.” Unfortunately for the Democrats, the White House so far is with the “Jump! Jump!” crowd, raising the question as to whether Obama really wants a second term or simply thinks he’s immune to the same forces that are knocking down fellow Democrats one by one.

If the elections were held today, Larry Sabato and Nate Silver think the Democratic majority would shrink to 52 seats in the Senate (h/t Michael Barone). But the elections aren’t being held today, and lots can change in 10 months.

It’s Republican confidence and the loss of all those seats that may spare the country any more noxious legislation. The Washington Post agrees: “Obama’s biggest priorities — overhauling health care, expanding college aid, reducing climate change — are now in limbo, facing dim prospects as Republicans show little interest in cooperating, and Democrats brace for a 2010 midterm election year potentially as volatile as 1994, when the GOP captured the Senate and the House two years after Bill Clinton was elected president.” Probably didn’t help that, as Democrats now complain, Obama was “too hands-off, too absent.” Or that the country tuned him out.

Mickey Kaus points out that “comparative effectiveness” research is a crock. Obama, Kaus argues, either “has an average President’s shallow understanding of the subject,” is trying to make “bending the cost curve” look painless when it really involves making value judgments to deny care, or is practicing willful ignorance. Could be some combination of all three, of course.

In California, front-runner Meg Whitman is narrowing the gap with Jerry Brown in the gubernatorial race. Hey, if Massachusetts is in play, California is in play.

Robert Gibbs thinks the administration made the right call Mirandizing the Christmas Day bomber. Dennis Blair said no one really thought it through. One of them is off the reservation. Unfortunately, I think in this case it’s Blair. The Obami never make errors, don’t you know?

Not even on health care. Gibbs also says that the Massachusetts election doesn’t prove nuthin’ about nuthin’. (Democrats have to be praying that this is an act and that the White House doesn’t truly believe this.)

Back on planet Earth, Sen. Evan Bayh “gets cold feet” about pushing unpopular health-care legislation through Congress using parliamentary tricks on a party-line vote. It’s not clear whether he’s an outlier or the beginning of a trend toward political sanity in his party.

In a similar vein, Allahpundit catches Chris Matthews being sane, arguing for “reality” and against reconciliation to pass health care. Well, he was going up against Alan Grayson.

Noemie Emery thinks there’s a split on the Left: “Those edging their way toward the lifeboats are those members of the House and Senate who sooner or later have to be in touch with the voters. Those who want the bill passed (i.e., pushed down the throats of the howling public) are White House officials and pundits, bloggers, academicians, talk show hosts, and others who don’t face reelection in this year or any, and will even find their business improving if the bill passes and all hell breaks loose. The pundits, who have no skin in this game since they will not get fired, have transferred their soaring contempt for the American people to their beleaguered House members. ‘Jump! Jump!’ they cry to the quivering congressfolk. No sacrifice is too great for others to make for their dreams.” Unfortunately for the Democrats, the White House so far is with the “Jump! Jump!” crowd, raising the question as to whether Obama really wants a second term or simply thinks he’s immune to the same forces that are knocking down fellow Democrats one by one.

If the elections were held today, Larry Sabato and Nate Silver think the Democratic majority would shrink to 52 seats in the Senate (h/t Michael Barone). But the elections aren’t being held today, and lots can change in 10 months.

It’s Republican confidence and the loss of all those seats that may spare the country any more noxious legislation. The Washington Post agrees: “Obama’s biggest priorities — overhauling health care, expanding college aid, reducing climate change — are now in limbo, facing dim prospects as Republicans show little interest in cooperating, and Democrats brace for a 2010 midterm election year potentially as volatile as 1994, when the GOP captured the Senate and the House two years after Bill Clinton was elected president.” Probably didn’t help that, as Democrats now complain, Obama was “too hands-off, too absent.” Or that the country tuned him out.

Mickey Kaus points out that “comparative effectiveness” research is a crock. Obama, Kaus argues, either “has an average President’s shallow understanding of the subject,” is trying to make “bending the cost curve” look painless when it really involves making value judgments to deny care, or is practicing willful ignorance. Could be some combination of all three, of course.

In California, front-runner Meg Whitman is narrowing the gap with Jerry Brown in the gubernatorial race. Hey, if Massachusetts is in play, California is in play.

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The D Handicap

Michael Barone thinks Martha Coakley showed her true stripes and may have tipped the race by ignoring the shoving of reporter John McCormack in front of her eyes. “Coakley, who took much of the month of December off and whose campaign didn’t even bother to run TV ads last week, seems to feel entitled to the Senate seat.” She feels entitled to hide behind an independent candidate at debates and to ignore legitimate questions on foreign policy. Barone thinks that her attitude is now plain for the voters to see — namely, “if little people get in my way, like the mild-mannered John McCormack, well, they just have to be taken out of the picture.”

In fact, as Barone points out, Coakley has proved to be an inept candidate running a weak campaign, raising the real potential for not only an upset win by Scott Brown but also a whole lot of second-guessing about how Democrats (in a state with no shortage of Democrats) wound up with such a mediocre candidate in the first place. Barone jokes, “Democrats might conclude that Martha Coakley was a Republican plant, a Manchurian candidate inserted into the race in order to deprive Democrats of their 60th vote in the Senate.”

Actually, Coakley is beginning to bear an uncanny resemblance to Creigh Deeds, who ran an atrocious campaign, got tied up in knots during debates, and failed to impress anyone. In both cases, the candidates really weren’t equipped to run competitive races with well-articulated positions on the issues. They simply assumed that being the Democrat in the race was enough.

In Virginia, New Jersey, and now Massachusetts we have learned, however, that being the Democrat this year is hardly an asset. It brings up troublesome questions about spending, ObamaCare, deficits, and being a rubber stamp for the Reid-Pelosi-Obama cabal. Playing defense in a year in which the president’s ratings are dropping and unemployment is sky-high isn’t easy. And to make matters worse, Democrats are having trouble keeping their A team on the field and recruiting other top candidates who might be able to bob and weave through hard campaigns. The prospect of a wave election is chasing the better Democratic candidates from the field. The result may be many more races with a Creigh Deeds– or Martha Coakley–type candidate in the race. And that, it turns out, makes for many a cringe-inducing moment for the Democratic faithful.

Michael Barone thinks Martha Coakley showed her true stripes and may have tipped the race by ignoring the shoving of reporter John McCormack in front of her eyes. “Coakley, who took much of the month of December off and whose campaign didn’t even bother to run TV ads last week, seems to feel entitled to the Senate seat.” She feels entitled to hide behind an independent candidate at debates and to ignore legitimate questions on foreign policy. Barone thinks that her attitude is now plain for the voters to see — namely, “if little people get in my way, like the mild-mannered John McCormack, well, they just have to be taken out of the picture.”

In fact, as Barone points out, Coakley has proved to be an inept candidate running a weak campaign, raising the real potential for not only an upset win by Scott Brown but also a whole lot of second-guessing about how Democrats (in a state with no shortage of Democrats) wound up with such a mediocre candidate in the first place. Barone jokes, “Democrats might conclude that Martha Coakley was a Republican plant, a Manchurian candidate inserted into the race in order to deprive Democrats of their 60th vote in the Senate.”

Actually, Coakley is beginning to bear an uncanny resemblance to Creigh Deeds, who ran an atrocious campaign, got tied up in knots during debates, and failed to impress anyone. In both cases, the candidates really weren’t equipped to run competitive races with well-articulated positions on the issues. They simply assumed that being the Democrat in the race was enough.

In Virginia, New Jersey, and now Massachusetts we have learned, however, that being the Democrat this year is hardly an asset. It brings up troublesome questions about spending, ObamaCare, deficits, and being a rubber stamp for the Reid-Pelosi-Obama cabal. Playing defense in a year in which the president’s ratings are dropping and unemployment is sky-high isn’t easy. And to make matters worse, Democrats are having trouble keeping their A team on the field and recruiting other top candidates who might be able to bob and weave through hard campaigns. The prospect of a wave election is chasing the better Democratic candidates from the field. The result may be many more races with a Creigh Deeds– or Martha Coakley–type candidate in the race. And that, it turns out, makes for many a cringe-inducing moment for the Democratic faithful.

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What Would Help?

The Hill asks the provocative question: “What can Obama say to restore confidence?” (Yes, there is always the LBJ speech.) Some of the answers offered by their commentators are certainly blunt. One physics professor offers this:

I don’t know of anything in Obama’s history, education, or experience that indicates that he knows anything at all about either national security or intelligence. So there is nothing he could say to the American people that would be credible. If he could find someone in his kingdom who does know something, that might be reassuring, but it is a telling fact that I can’t think of such a person.

Yikes. Then there is this one from a professor at the Univeristy of California at Irvine, Peter Navarro: “Obama has two communication problems that make this problematic: He has lost credibility on several other issues, particularly the economy, that he is no longer believable. He is way over-exposed in the media so any new appearance has less communicative value. End result: America is turned off and tuning him out.” Ouch.

Both of these gentlemen are, in essence, suggesting that the cure to what ails Obama cannot be cosmetic or simplistic. It would require more than spin and another round of Sunday talk-show appearances. Presidents do reinvent themselves, make adjustments, and recover their footing, however. Whether the Obami have the self-awareness and humility to do so is the big open question. Michael Barone tactfully recounts that Obama had an overabundance of “self-confidence” after his 2008 victory. (And who would not after toppling the Clintons and winning the presidency?) He observes:

Getting elected president of the United States must be an enormously confidence-building experience: So many people wanted the job, and you got it. Being president can be more chastening when events don’t turn out as you anticipated. The great presidents — Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt — faced events no one expected and in response changed policies and priorities without ever, so far as we know, losing their nerve. Lesser presidents, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, did so as well. Will Barack Obama?

Well, first, it would require some awareness that there is something amiss. Second, it would require that Obama gain back the attention of voters who have tuned him out. And finally, it would require that he have some improved set of policies or a new national-security vision. I’m not sure any of those are in the cards. Perhaps a jolting midterm election will help.


The Hill asks the provocative question: “What can Obama say to restore confidence?” (Yes, there is always the LBJ speech.) Some of the answers offered by their commentators are certainly blunt. One physics professor offers this:

I don’t know of anything in Obama’s history, education, or experience that indicates that he knows anything at all about either national security or intelligence. So there is nothing he could say to the American people that would be credible. If he could find someone in his kingdom who does know something, that might be reassuring, but it is a telling fact that I can’t think of such a person.

Yikes. Then there is this one from a professor at the Univeristy of California at Irvine, Peter Navarro: “Obama has two communication problems that make this problematic: He has lost credibility on several other issues, particularly the economy, that he is no longer believable. He is way over-exposed in the media so any new appearance has less communicative value. End result: America is turned off and tuning him out.” Ouch.

Both of these gentlemen are, in essence, suggesting that the cure to what ails Obama cannot be cosmetic or simplistic. It would require more than spin and another round of Sunday talk-show appearances. Presidents do reinvent themselves, make adjustments, and recover their footing, however. Whether the Obami have the self-awareness and humility to do so is the big open question. Michael Barone tactfully recounts that Obama had an overabundance of “self-confidence” after his 2008 victory. (And who would not after toppling the Clintons and winning the presidency?) He observes:

Getting elected president of the United States must be an enormously confidence-building experience: So many people wanted the job, and you got it. Being president can be more chastening when events don’t turn out as you anticipated. The great presidents — Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt — faced events no one expected and in response changed policies and priorities without ever, so far as we know, losing their nerve. Lesser presidents, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, did so as well. Will Barack Obama?

Well, first, it would require some awareness that there is something amiss. Second, it would require that Obama gain back the attention of voters who have tuned him out. And finally, it would require that he have some improved set of policies or a new national-security vision. I’m not sure any of those are in the cards. Perhaps a jolting midterm election will help.


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The Economy Drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Texas Bloom

The Census Bureau has come out with its annual state-by-state head count and it makes for interesting reading. There is no one better than Michael Barone at the art of looking at numbers and bringing them to life. He notes that Texas had the highest population gain (and third highest in percentage terms) and thinks he knows why:

Texas had above-average immigrant growth, but domestic in-migration was nearly twice as high. There may be lessons for public policy here. Texas over the decades has had low taxes (and no state income tax), low public spending and regulations that encourage job growth. It didn’t have much of a housing bubble or a housing price bust. Under Govs. George W. Bush and Rick Perry, it has placed tight limits on tort lawsuits and has seen an influx of both corporate headquarters and medical doctors.

Because of its population growth, Texas is likely to gain four new House seats in 2012. Florida, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada will each gain one. For the first time since it became a state in 1850, California will not gain any seats in the House, and New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois will all lose a seat and Ohio will probably lose two.

No wonder the Obama administration is in such a hurry to lock in its far-left policies. As Barone explains, “Americans have been moving, even in recession, away from Democratic strongholds and toward Republican turf.”

The Census Bureau has come out with its annual state-by-state head count and it makes for interesting reading. There is no one better than Michael Barone at the art of looking at numbers and bringing them to life. He notes that Texas had the highest population gain (and third highest in percentage terms) and thinks he knows why:

Texas had above-average immigrant growth, but domestic in-migration was nearly twice as high. There may be lessons for public policy here. Texas over the decades has had low taxes (and no state income tax), low public spending and regulations that encourage job growth. It didn’t have much of a housing bubble or a housing price bust. Under Govs. George W. Bush and Rick Perry, it has placed tight limits on tort lawsuits and has seen an influx of both corporate headquarters and medical doctors.

Because of its population growth, Texas is likely to gain four new House seats in 2012. Florida, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada will each gain one. For the first time since it became a state in 1850, California will not gain any seats in the House, and New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois will all lose a seat and Ohio will probably lose two.

No wonder the Obama administration is in such a hurry to lock in its far-left policies. As Barone explains, “Americans have been moving, even in recession, away from Democratic strongholds and toward Republican turf.”

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Hillary Soldiering On

Lake County, home of Gary and a stronghold for Barack Obama, is holding out. No votes reported until those last minute absentee ballots are hand counted. Hmm. Michael Barone and Bob Beckel have stories aplenty about “rough and ready” politics there from past elections. The upshot is that most of the morning papers won’t have a banner with “Hillary Wins Indiana.” As she delivers her speech she lacks the certainty of knowing that she won what her campaign is now touting as the “tie breaker,” a term Barack Obama in  a loose moment used to describe that contest.

Clinton’s speech is somewhat meandering and she vows to go on to the White House. It does not have the feel of a victorious night. She and her campaign have the right to be peeved about the Lake County voting shenanigans but she has a bigger problem: she’s running out of time and races.

Lake County, home of Gary and a stronghold for Barack Obama, is holding out. No votes reported until those last minute absentee ballots are hand counted. Hmm. Michael Barone and Bob Beckel have stories aplenty about “rough and ready” politics there from past elections. The upshot is that most of the morning papers won’t have a banner with “Hillary Wins Indiana.” As she delivers her speech she lacks the certainty of knowing that she won what her campaign is now touting as the “tie breaker,” a term Barack Obama in  a loose moment used to describe that contest.

Clinton’s speech is somewhat meandering and she vows to go on to the White House. It does not have the feel of a victorious night. She and her campaign have the right to be peeved about the Lake County voting shenanigans but she has a bigger problem: she’s running out of time and races.

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Food For Thought For The Left

If nothing else, John McCain’s “Bio Tour” has gotten the MSM fretting over Barack Obama’s “patriotism problem.” Joe Klein correctly notes that this aversion to patriotic sentiment is a “chronic disease among Democrats.” He acknowledges:

Patriotism is, sadly, a crucial challenge for Obama now. His aides believe that the Wright controversy was more about anti-Americanism than it was about race. Michelle Obama’s unfortunate comment that the success of the campaign had made her proud of America “for the first time” in her adult life and the Senator’s own decision to stow his American-flag lapel pin — plus his Islamic-sounding name — have fed a scurrilous undercurrent of doubt about whether he is “American” enough.

Others not known to be enamored of McCain have figured it out:

There’s a deeper, more holistic messaging attempt at work. McCain often likes to say that the country owes him nothing, but McCain owes the country everything. By contrast, McCain advisers believe that Obama’s core message is arrogance: America has problems, and only Obama can fix them; he deserves the presidency. (An irony: the incarnation of JFK – Obama – cast as the foil to Kennedy’s most famous maxim.)

Will Obama recognize this as a problem and “correct” it ? Well, there is the problem of all those past writings and associations that show, at best, an indifference to patriotic fervor. (And it won’t be easy to disguise his comfort level with those who vilify America.)

But the more fundamental issue is that Obama, as Michael Barone noted, can no more embrace full-throated patriotism than he can conceal his “insouciance or even indifference” to the outcome of the Iraq War. That’s just not his thing. Doing so would undercut his message that we should look to him (not to our country’s values, institutions, and fellow citizens) to find cures for what ails us.

If nothing else, John McCain’s “Bio Tour” has gotten the MSM fretting over Barack Obama’s “patriotism problem.” Joe Klein correctly notes that this aversion to patriotic sentiment is a “chronic disease among Democrats.” He acknowledges:

Patriotism is, sadly, a crucial challenge for Obama now. His aides believe that the Wright controversy was more about anti-Americanism than it was about race. Michelle Obama’s unfortunate comment that the success of the campaign had made her proud of America “for the first time” in her adult life and the Senator’s own decision to stow his American-flag lapel pin — plus his Islamic-sounding name — have fed a scurrilous undercurrent of doubt about whether he is “American” enough.

Others not known to be enamored of McCain have figured it out:

There’s a deeper, more holistic messaging attempt at work. McCain often likes to say that the country owes him nothing, but McCain owes the country everything. By contrast, McCain advisers believe that Obama’s core message is arrogance: America has problems, and only Obama can fix them; he deserves the presidency. (An irony: the incarnation of JFK – Obama – cast as the foil to Kennedy’s most famous maxim.)

Will Obama recognize this as a problem and “correct” it ? Well, there is the problem of all those past writings and associations that show, at best, an indifference to patriotic fervor. (And it won’t be easy to disguise his comfort level with those who vilify America.)

But the more fundamental issue is that Obama, as Michael Barone noted, can no more embrace full-throated patriotism than he can conceal his “insouciance or even indifference” to the outcome of the Iraq War. That’s just not his thing. Doing so would undercut his message that we should look to him (not to our country’s values, institutions, and fellow citizens) to find cures for what ails us.

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Clinton Gets A Hand

Both Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi are now voicing the Clinton line that superdelegates should vote their conscience and not just rubber-stamp the pledged delegate outcome. Dean (accurately) states that this is precisely what party rules require. Pelosi previously sounded much more in tune with the Obama, insisting that superdelegates risk an angry uprising if they deviate from the pledged delegate vote.

Did the Clintons “get to” these two? It’s safe to say that neither one wants to step into the role of power broker or risk the wrath of either side. If the race were in the bag for Obama, as many in the media contend, I think you would see a different tone. But with Clinton leading in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia, who’s to say that she can’t pull it off? Or that the superdelegates won’t want to consider whether Obama’s base of support has crumbled by June? And superdelegates will, I think, be very concerned if Clinton continues to poll better than Obama in key must win states. Michael Barone’s electoral analysis is rarely wrong. (Meanwhile, the New York Times discovers that Dean is not exactly a problem solver, having taken no active role in trying to resolve the Michigan and Florida delegate fights.)

Both Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi are now voicing the Clinton line that superdelegates should vote their conscience and not just rubber-stamp the pledged delegate outcome. Dean (accurately) states that this is precisely what party rules require. Pelosi previously sounded much more in tune with the Obama, insisting that superdelegates risk an angry uprising if they deviate from the pledged delegate vote.

Did the Clintons “get to” these two? It’s safe to say that neither one wants to step into the role of power broker or risk the wrath of either side. If the race were in the bag for Obama, as many in the media contend, I think you would see a different tone. But with Clinton leading in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia, who’s to say that she can’t pull it off? Or that the superdelegates won’t want to consider whether Obama’s base of support has crumbled by June? And superdelegates will, I think, be very concerned if Clinton continues to poll better than Obama in key must win states. Michael Barone’s electoral analysis is rarely wrong. (Meanwhile, the New York Times discovers that Dean is not exactly a problem solver, having taken no active role in trying to resolve the Michigan and Florida delegate fights.)

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Some TV Tips

MSNBC has a color blind test masquerading as a state delegate map with each party’s candidates in a different shade. The “blue” Democrats are easy to discern (light and dark); the “red” ( mauve, pink, cherry, etc.) Republicans are not. After a few seconds your head will hurt. The CNN map is just plain cool. The Fox map oozes too much color (and their coverage seems to feature announcers under the age of 16). Fox, however, has Michael Barone, so he makes up for all other shortcomings.

MSNBC has a color blind test masquerading as a state delegate map with each party’s candidates in a different shade. The “blue” Democrats are easy to discern (light and dark); the “red” ( mauve, pink, cherry, etc.) Republicans are not. After a few seconds your head will hurt. The CNN map is just plain cool. The Fox map oozes too much color (and their coverage seems to feature announcers under the age of 16). Fox, however, has Michael Barone, so he makes up for all other shortcomings.

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This Year in Democracy

December 10 is as good a date as any to review democracy’s progress in 2007. Michael Barone does just that in today’s New York Sun and finds that “the world looks, safer, friendlier, more hopeful” than it did a year ago.

His tripartite assessment is solely predicated on recent developments in Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela. While I concur with Barone’s overall judgment that 2007 was a good year for the U.S. and its global democratizing influence, I’d offer a few additions and criticisms to his finer points.

He asserts that if the NIE is right then the Iraq invasion is the cause of Iran’s halted nuclear weapons program. I agree wholeheartedly, but I’m skeptical enough of the NIE to leave Iranian matters well off the plus side of the ledger for now.

As for Venezuela, I think the popular rejection of Hugo Chavez’s power grab is a critical evolutionary step in Latin American self determination, but as this must-read in the Wall Street Journal makes clear, Chavez’s “for now” is a most ominous stopgap. Barone’s exclusion of recent news from Russia and Pakistan is conspicuous. Putin’s United Russia party has ratcheted up the tyrannical tendencies that caused the human rights group Freedom House to downgrade Russia’s status from “partly free” to “unfree” in 2006. Musharraf’s asterisked martial law feels more and more like democracy on indefinite hold.

However, I think the turnaround in Iraq is so extraordinary as to outweigh those last two examples. There’s just no way to overemphasize the importance of an emerging consensually governed state in the heart of Mesopotamia. The outgrowth from a democratic Iraq could make next year’s assessment exponentially more impressive.

December 10 is as good a date as any to review democracy’s progress in 2007. Michael Barone does just that in today’s New York Sun and finds that “the world looks, safer, friendlier, more hopeful” than it did a year ago.

His tripartite assessment is solely predicated on recent developments in Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela. While I concur with Barone’s overall judgment that 2007 was a good year for the U.S. and its global democratizing influence, I’d offer a few additions and criticisms to his finer points.

He asserts that if the NIE is right then the Iraq invasion is the cause of Iran’s halted nuclear weapons program. I agree wholeheartedly, but I’m skeptical enough of the NIE to leave Iranian matters well off the plus side of the ledger for now.

As for Venezuela, I think the popular rejection of Hugo Chavez’s power grab is a critical evolutionary step in Latin American self determination, but as this must-read in the Wall Street Journal makes clear, Chavez’s “for now” is a most ominous stopgap. Barone’s exclusion of recent news from Russia and Pakistan is conspicuous. Putin’s United Russia party has ratcheted up the tyrannical tendencies that caused the human rights group Freedom House to downgrade Russia’s status from “partly free” to “unfree” in 2006. Musharraf’s asterisked martial law feels more and more like democracy on indefinite hold.

However, I think the turnaround in Iraq is so extraordinary as to outweigh those last two examples. There’s just no way to overemphasize the importance of an emerging consensually governed state in the heart of Mesopotamia. The outgrowth from a democratic Iraq could make next year’s assessment exponentially more impressive.

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