Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Gerson

A Moment for Political Courage

According to media accounts, in his State of the Union address, President Obama is going to avoid dealing with our entitlement crisis. The question is: will Republicans?

That is setting up to be the key debate of the next several months.

There is one line of argument, articulated by Ramesh Ponnuru, that insists that for House Republicans to take on entitlement reform would be noble but politically suicidal. The reasoning is that (a) for the next two years, reform is impossible unless and until President Obama takes the lead on it; (b) Republicans have no mandate for reform even if they wanted to; and (c) every time they have tried to reform entitlements in the past (George W. Bush on Social Security and Newt Gingrich on Medicare), they have paid a high political price.

The more responsible approach would be to champion cuts in discretionary spending and continue to insist on the repeal of ObamaCare. That would be entirely enough, this argument goes; to do more will require a Republican president willing to educate the nation on the entitlement crisis and to do something about it.

The counterargument is that we are in a new and different moment when it comes to entitlement reform. Due to the financial crisis of 2008 and the spending habits of President Obama and the 111th Congress, what was a serious problem has become an acute one. In the past, the deficit and debt were manageable; now, every serious person who has studied this matter concedes, the situation is unsustainable. The public understands this in one way or another; and if they’re not yet ready to take on entitlement reforms, they are certainly educable in a way that has never been the case before. Read More

According to media accounts, in his State of the Union address, President Obama is going to avoid dealing with our entitlement crisis. The question is: will Republicans?

That is setting up to be the key debate of the next several months.

There is one line of argument, articulated by Ramesh Ponnuru, that insists that for House Republicans to take on entitlement reform would be noble but politically suicidal. The reasoning is that (a) for the next two years, reform is impossible unless and until President Obama takes the lead on it; (b) Republicans have no mandate for reform even if they wanted to; and (c) every time they have tried to reform entitlements in the past (George W. Bush on Social Security and Newt Gingrich on Medicare), they have paid a high political price.

The more responsible approach would be to champion cuts in discretionary spending and continue to insist on the repeal of ObamaCare. That would be entirely enough, this argument goes; to do more will require a Republican president willing to educate the nation on the entitlement crisis and to do something about it.

The counterargument is that we are in a new and different moment when it comes to entitlement reform. Due to the financial crisis of 2008 and the spending habits of President Obama and the 111th Congress, what was a serious problem has become an acute one. In the past, the deficit and debt were manageable; now, every serious person who has studied this matter concedes, the situation is unsustainable. The public understands this in one way or another; and if they’re not yet ready to take on entitlement reforms, they are certainly educable in a way that has never been the case before.

The way to frame this argument, according to those who want to take on entitlement programs, is to simply state the reality of the situation: we can act now, in a relatively incremental and responsible way, in order to avoid the painful austerity measures that are occurring in Europe and elsewhere. Or we can delay action and, at some point not far into the future, be unable to avoid cuts that will cause a great deal of social unrest.

So we’re clear, the entitlement that really matters is Medicare. “The fact is,” my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin told Michael Gerson, “Medicare is going to crush the government, and if Republicans leave it unreformed then the debt picture is very, very ugly. They might never — literally never — show the budget reaching balance. Not in the 10-year window and not if they take their graphs out a hundred years. Obama could probably show balance just past the budget window in the middle of the next decade because of the massive Medicare cuts he proposes, even if in practice they will never actually happen.”

To get a sense of what we’re talking about, Veronique de Rugy has put together a very useful chart that can be found here.

It makes the point that cutting discretionary spending only makes a small difference in the overall budget picture. She lays out the difference between the Republican Study Committee plan, which cuts $2 trillion over 10 years and is therefore a good deal more aggressive than the House Republican leadership proposal, and where spending would be without those cuts over the next 10 years. As you will see, it’s a small difference. Spending keeps growing rapidly either way. Without entitlement reform, then, this is about as much as we could reasonably do — and it just isn’t that much.

In other words, if Republicans don’t take on Medicare, their credibility as a party of fiscal responsibility and limited government will be shattered. The math guarantees it. The GOP, having made the 2010 election largely (though not exclusively) a referendum on the deficit and the debt, will be viewed as fraudulent.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, as Gerson explains, if Republicans don’t touch Medicare, their budget approach — on paper, at least — will have less long-term debt reduction than Obama’s, both because Obama supports tax increases and he uses a slew of budget gimmicks to make his health-care plan appear to be far more affordable than it really is.

It’s a pretty good bet that the president will advance the same kind of gimmicks in his 2012 budget. If so, then unless Republicans are willing to champion Medicare reform (meaning changing it from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution program), Obama will be able to position himself as a budget hawk, at least compared to the GOP. This could have devastating political effects, including dispiriting the Republican base and the Tea Party movement. Having just elected Republicans in large measure to stop the financial hemorrhage and to restore fiscal balance, voters will not react well when they are told, in so many words, “Never Mind.”

So count me as one who believes Republicans need to embrace entitlement reform in general, and Medicare reforms in particular, because not doing so is irresponsible. It means willfully avoiding what everyone knows needs to be done in the hope that at some future, as-yet-to-be-determined date, a better and easier moment will arrive.

Sometime a political party needs to comfort itself with the axiom that good policy makes good politics. That isn’t always the case, certainly, but often it is. In any event, if the GOP avoids reforming Medicare, there is no way any Republican lawmaker, when pressed by reporters on fiscal matters, can make a plausible argument that their actions are remotely consistent with their stated philosophy.

They will hem and haw and duck and dodge and try to change the subject — and they will emerge as counterfeit, deceptive, and unserious. Here it’s worth recalling the words of the columnist Walter Lippmann, who wrote:

With exceptions so rare that they are regarded as miracles and freaks of nature, successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding and threatening elements in their constituencies. The decisive consideration is not whether the proposition is good but whether it is popular — not whether it will work well and prove itself but whether the active talking constituents like it immediately.

Perhaps I’m asking GOP lawmakers to prove themselves to be miracles and freaks of nature. But if I am right in my analysis, that is what is called for. It would mean Republicans have an enormous public-education campaign ahead of them. They will have to explain why their policies are the most responsible and humane. They will need to articulate the case not simply for entitlement reform but also for limited government. And they will need to explain, in a compelling and accessible way, why limited government is crucial to civic character.

None of this is easy — but lawmakers weren’t elected to make easy decisions. They were elected to make the right ones. And reforming Medicare is, in our time, the right decision.

Let’s get on with it.

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Some Thoughts on Civility

There is a lot of talk about civility in public discourse these days. This is a matter on which Michael Gerson and I have written about before, including in COMMENTARY (see the end of this essay) and in City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (see chapter 6, “Persuasion and the Public Square”).

On this topic, then, I would make several points.

First, there are eminently practical reasons for public figures to use reasonably civil language. After all, they are engaged in efforts to persuade people, not browbeat them. Language that is reasonable, judicious, and sober tends to be preferred to language that is abrasive and abusive. People tend to be drawn to political movements and political parties whose representatives are winsome rather than enraged, who radiate a sense of self-possession and good cheer rather than what Nietzsche, in On The Genealogy of Morals, called ressentiment, or resentment.

Lincoln put it as well as anyone when he said:

When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and true maxim “that a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what you will, is the great high road to reason.

Among the gifts that political figures like Ronald Reagan and intellectual figures like Irving Kristol gave to conservatism was help in shedding its attitude of defensiveness toward the world. That is not a place to which conservatism wants to return.

In addition, treating people with civility is connected to a view of human beings and their inherent dignity. Making bad arguments obviously doesn’t make someone a bad person; and even when one is on the receiving end of ad hominem attacks (as many people in politics have been), there are still standards one ought to adhere to.

Now, I wouldn’t pretend for a moment this is easy or that I myself haven’t edged up to, or even at times crossed, the line separating spirited debate from inappropriate remarks. Readers of CONTENTIONS are free to review my exchanges with Joe Klein, Jonathan Chait, John Derbyshire, and others and decide for themselves. Suffice it to say that what St. Paul called the “fruit of the Spirit” — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — are not in oversupply in politics. And for those of us who are engaged in politics and the philosophies and ideas behind it, the temptation to be drawn into the mud pit is a strong one. Read More

There is a lot of talk about civility in public discourse these days. This is a matter on which Michael Gerson and I have written about before, including in COMMENTARY (see the end of this essay) and in City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (see chapter 6, “Persuasion and the Public Square”).

On this topic, then, I would make several points.

First, there are eminently practical reasons for public figures to use reasonably civil language. After all, they are engaged in efforts to persuade people, not browbeat them. Language that is reasonable, judicious, and sober tends to be preferred to language that is abrasive and abusive. People tend to be drawn to political movements and political parties whose representatives are winsome rather than enraged, who radiate a sense of self-possession and good cheer rather than what Nietzsche, in On The Genealogy of Morals, called ressentiment, or resentment.

Lincoln put it as well as anyone when he said:

When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and true maxim “that a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what you will, is the great high road to reason.

Among the gifts that political figures like Ronald Reagan and intellectual figures like Irving Kristol gave to conservatism was help in shedding its attitude of defensiveness toward the world. That is not a place to which conservatism wants to return.

In addition, treating people with civility is connected to a view of human beings and their inherent dignity. Making bad arguments obviously doesn’t make someone a bad person; and even when one is on the receiving end of ad hominem attacks (as many people in politics have been), there are still standards one ought to adhere to.

Now, I wouldn’t pretend for a moment this is easy or that I myself haven’t edged up to, or even at times crossed, the line separating spirited debate from inappropriate remarks. Readers of CONTENTIONS are free to review my exchanges with Joe Klein, Jonathan Chait, John Derbyshire, and others and decide for themselves. Suffice it to say that what St. Paul called the “fruit of the Spirit” — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — are not in oversupply in politics. And for those of us who are engaged in politics and the philosophies and ideas behind it, the temptation to be drawn into the mud pit is a strong one.

Still, it’s not self-evident, at least to me, how one should respond when on the receiving end of unfairly personal, and even slanderous, attacks. I imagine the answer lies somewhere on the continuum between silence and a seething, equally libelous rejoinder.

A few other caveats are in order. Among them is that too often, civility is itself used cynically, as a conversation stopper, as a means to end debate. For others, civility is a synonym for lack of principles, for hollowed-out convictions, for those who believe in nothing and are unwilling to fight for anything. And still others make the mistake in believing that civility is the antithesis of passionately held principles, passionately expressed.

In fact, forceful arguments (like witty ones) are often the best arguments. Rhetorical tough-mindedness is not only appropriate but welcomed. Clarity often emerges in the wake of conflicting views. Too often, those who tell us to “tone down the arguments” simply want the arguments themselves to go away. But politics is, in its deepest and best sense, a series of ongoing arguments about perennially important matters like justice. (See the debate between Thrasymachus and Socrates for more.)

There is, in the end, no neat or easy prescription on how to conduct oneself in public life at any given moment. As a general matter, though, grace and generosity of spirit are to be prized. And if we’re lucky, they can even move us several steps away from a political culture based on enmity to one based on greater understanding and even, from time to time, a measure of respect and forgiveness.

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In Dialogue: Religion, Politics, Wealth, Justice

The American Enterprise Institute’s Nick Schulz interviewed me about two of my recent publications, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (co-authored with Michael Gerson) and Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism (co-authored with Arthur Brooks).

Nick and I cover a lot of ground; the interview can be found here.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Nick Schulz interviewed me about two of my recent publications, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (co-authored with Michael Gerson) and Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism (co-authored with Arthur Brooks).

Nick and I cover a lot of ground; the interview can be found here.

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Time to Be the Not-Not Bush Commander in Chief

Michael Gerson sums up where the moral preener has left us: “Under Holder’s influence, American detainee policy is a botched, hypocritical, politicized mess.” Botched because a mass murderer has been acquitted of all murder-related charges. Hypocritical because the Obama administration is unlikely to release him after his sentence is up. (In other words, who cares what the judicial system says: the man’s a terrorist!) And politicized because decisions were made by the agenda-driven leftist intention of proving that the Bush administration was composed of a bunch of knuckle-draggers — legally and morally unsophisticated.

But as it turns out, the things that work in the war against Islamic fascism are the policies that the Bush team employed (staying the course in Iraq, indefinite detention — Bagram or Guantanamo, what’s the difference?), and the things that don’t work (closing Guantanamo, using civilian courtrooms for terrorists, second- and third-guessing intelligence operatives) are generally the missteps the Bush team sidestepped. Who’s the more unsophisticated commander in chief?

Bush had no trouble deciding that waterboarding in limited circumstances to extract actionable information was preferable to letting Americans die. The press is still horrified. Obama concludes that the use of drones to kill terrorists and, inadvertently, some civilians is a necessary wartime strategy. He’s commended for his no-nonsense approach to the war. Does Obama occupy any higher moral ground?

The lesson of the past two years is that there is no benefit in playing to the sensitivities of European elites and university professors. If the administration is going to lose its reputation for being feckless and inconsistent, it should drop those tactics designed merely to distinguish it from the previous administration and stop applying the American legal system in inappropriate contexts in order to demonstrate its superiority. Oh, and of course, Eric Holder needs to go. He has proved politically tone-deaf and legally incompetent. What good is he to the administration, or to the country?

Michael Gerson sums up where the moral preener has left us: “Under Holder’s influence, American detainee policy is a botched, hypocritical, politicized mess.” Botched because a mass murderer has been acquitted of all murder-related charges. Hypocritical because the Obama administration is unlikely to release him after his sentence is up. (In other words, who cares what the judicial system says: the man’s a terrorist!) And politicized because decisions were made by the agenda-driven leftist intention of proving that the Bush administration was composed of a bunch of knuckle-draggers — legally and morally unsophisticated.

But as it turns out, the things that work in the war against Islamic fascism are the policies that the Bush team employed (staying the course in Iraq, indefinite detention — Bagram or Guantanamo, what’s the difference?), and the things that don’t work (closing Guantanamo, using civilian courtrooms for terrorists, second- and third-guessing intelligence operatives) are generally the missteps the Bush team sidestepped. Who’s the more unsophisticated commander in chief?

Bush had no trouble deciding that waterboarding in limited circumstances to extract actionable information was preferable to letting Americans die. The press is still horrified. Obama concludes that the use of drones to kill terrorists and, inadvertently, some civilians is a necessary wartime strategy. He’s commended for his no-nonsense approach to the war. Does Obama occupy any higher moral ground?

The lesson of the past two years is that there is no benefit in playing to the sensitivities of European elites and university professors. If the administration is going to lose its reputation for being feckless and inconsistent, it should drop those tactics designed merely to distinguish it from the previous administration and stop applying the American legal system in inappropriate contexts in order to demonstrate its superiority. Oh, and of course, Eric Holder needs to go. He has proved politically tone-deaf and legally incompetent. What good is he to the administration, or to the country?

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Will Obama Learn Anything from the Midterms?

Michael Gerson conducts a must-read interview with Charlie Cook. In addition to predictions of a massive GOP wave, there is this discussion about Obama and the Democratic agenda:

Question: What lessons should Obama’s aides take away from these likely political reverses?

“It was the political aides,” counters Cook, “who lost the arguments. Rahm [Emanuel] knew they should cut a deal on health care, get to the economy.” But Obama held a different view of himself and his presidency. “He had already been first at everything. He wanted to be something other than the first — to be historical, game-changing, to have grand influence like FDR or LBJ. But he missed out on the day job,” which was jobs and economic growth.

Some, Cook says, “are told all their lives that they are the most brilliant people on the planet. They don’t get less bright, but hubris kicks in. [Obama] just assumed that he was going to be a success, as he had always been in life.”

According to Cook, this reflects a lack of experience. “Experience is not an end, it is a means to an end: judgment.” Cook said that a few years in the Senate “don’t give an understanding of institutions and their dynamics. If [Obama] had been in the Senate six or eight years, he might have accumulated the wisdom to match the intelligence.”

That’s about as devastating a critique as you are going to get from a neutral observer. Obama’s arrogance got the better of him; he knew better than everyone and will now pay the price.

But there was more going on than simply picking the wrong agenda items or refusing to temper his own ego. Obama’s ideological rigidity and policy preferences ran headlong into Americans’ skepticism about big government and their sense of moral outrage. The Tea Party is a movement grounded in the belief in limited government. But it was also born out of a sense that we have lost track of fundamental values — thrift, discipline, and humility, for starters — and as a result are seeing irresponsible spending, massive debt, and liberal statism.

Obama did not listen to the health-care town-hall attendees or to the voters of New Jersey, Virginia, or Massachusetts. Why should he? He didn’t pay attention to more sober-minded aides, polls, or his own nervous congressional allies. His absolute certainty in his own vision combined with his lack of understanding of the American polity and substantive policy (from economics to the Middle East). As his poll ratings and party’s electoral prospects continue to dive, he reacts with annoyance at the rubes in America who fail to appreciate his brilliance. Will such a president actually reverse course after an election? I have my doubts.

Michael Gerson conducts a must-read interview with Charlie Cook. In addition to predictions of a massive GOP wave, there is this discussion about Obama and the Democratic agenda:

Question: What lessons should Obama’s aides take away from these likely political reverses?

“It was the political aides,” counters Cook, “who lost the arguments. Rahm [Emanuel] knew they should cut a deal on health care, get to the economy.” But Obama held a different view of himself and his presidency. “He had already been first at everything. He wanted to be something other than the first — to be historical, game-changing, to have grand influence like FDR or LBJ. But he missed out on the day job,” which was jobs and economic growth.

Some, Cook says, “are told all their lives that they are the most brilliant people on the planet. They don’t get less bright, but hubris kicks in. [Obama] just assumed that he was going to be a success, as he had always been in life.”

According to Cook, this reflects a lack of experience. “Experience is not an end, it is a means to an end: judgment.” Cook said that a few years in the Senate “don’t give an understanding of institutions and their dynamics. If [Obama] had been in the Senate six or eight years, he might have accumulated the wisdom to match the intelligence.”

That’s about as devastating a critique as you are going to get from a neutral observer. Obama’s arrogance got the better of him; he knew better than everyone and will now pay the price.

But there was more going on than simply picking the wrong agenda items or refusing to temper his own ego. Obama’s ideological rigidity and policy preferences ran headlong into Americans’ skepticism about big government and their sense of moral outrage. The Tea Party is a movement grounded in the belief in limited government. But it was also born out of a sense that we have lost track of fundamental values — thrift, discipline, and humility, for starters — and as a result are seeing irresponsible spending, massive debt, and liberal statism.

Obama did not listen to the health-care town-hall attendees or to the voters of New Jersey, Virginia, or Massachusetts. Why should he? He didn’t pay attention to more sober-minded aides, polls, or his own nervous congressional allies. His absolute certainty in his own vision combined with his lack of understanding of the American polity and substantive policy (from economics to the Middle East). As his poll ratings and party’s electoral prospects continue to dive, he reacts with annoyance at the rubes in America who fail to appreciate his brilliance. Will such a president actually reverse course after an election? I have my doubts.

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Obama Is No FDR

Jen references Michael Gerson’s devastating Washington Post column in which he calls President Obama an intellectual snob. Equally interesting, I think, is a front-page article in today’s New York Times, with its simply astonishing opening sentence: “It took President Obama 18 months to invite the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, to the White House for a one-on-one chat.” Who was it who ran for president as a “post-partisan,” and who was going to bring a new way of doing things to Washington?

The Times notes that, “Mr. Obama came to office vowing to reach across the aisle and change the tone in Washington, a goal he quickly abandoned when Republicans stood in lockstep against his stimulus bill.” The Republicans, of course, “stood in lockstep” against the stimulus bill because they were completely frozen out of any role in shaping it. (By the way, my inner copy editor shudders at the metaphor “stood in lockstep.” “Lockstep” is a mode of marching, not standing, but…) It was needless, counterproductive, and, alas, typical behavior on Obama’s part.

As Gershon points out, Franklin Roosevelt was an aristocrat to his fingertips, complete with Mayflower ancestors, a mansion overlooking the Hudson, a large trust fund, the right schools, the right clubs, and a “Park Avenue Oxford” accent. But he “was able to convince millions of average Americans that he was firmly on their side.” Obama has convinced millions of Americans that he regards them as fools, too scared to think straight.

The constitutional scholar in the White House might want to take a look at the Constitution’s preamble and refresh his memory as to who it was who ordained and established the government he heads. They’re going to be heard a week from tomorrow, and I don’t think President Obama is going to like what they have to say.

Jen references Michael Gerson’s devastating Washington Post column in which he calls President Obama an intellectual snob. Equally interesting, I think, is a front-page article in today’s New York Times, with its simply astonishing opening sentence: “It took President Obama 18 months to invite the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, to the White House for a one-on-one chat.” Who was it who ran for president as a “post-partisan,” and who was going to bring a new way of doing things to Washington?

The Times notes that, “Mr. Obama came to office vowing to reach across the aisle and change the tone in Washington, a goal he quickly abandoned when Republicans stood in lockstep against his stimulus bill.” The Republicans, of course, “stood in lockstep” against the stimulus bill because they were completely frozen out of any role in shaping it. (By the way, my inner copy editor shudders at the metaphor “stood in lockstep.” “Lockstep” is a mode of marching, not standing, but…) It was needless, counterproductive, and, alas, typical behavior on Obama’s part.

As Gershon points out, Franklin Roosevelt was an aristocrat to his fingertips, complete with Mayflower ancestors, a mansion overlooking the Hudson, a large trust fund, the right schools, the right clubs, and a “Park Avenue Oxford” accent. But he “was able to convince millions of average Americans that he was firmly on their side.” Obama has convinced millions of Americans that he regards them as fools, too scared to think straight.

The constitutional scholar in the White House might want to take a look at the Constitution’s preamble and refresh his memory as to who it was who ordained and established the government he heads. They’re going to be heard a week from tomorrow, and I don’t think President Obama is going to like what they have to say.

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Voters Poised to Make a Really Big Change

A week from tomorrow, voters go to the polls to throw out the Democrats. That’s the finding of the latest Battleground 2010 poll. Republicans have a 48 to 42 percent advantage in generic congressional polling. Forty-five percent approve of Obama’s performance; 50 percent do not. The public’s mood about Obama personally has shifted as well. Thirty-nine percent have a strongly unfavorable impression of him, while thirty-three percent have a strongly favorable impression. Perhaps voters don’t like being tagged as scared and irrational. (In a similar vein, 80 percent of the Washington Post‘s readers — which include many liberals — responding to Michael Gerson’s column on the subject agree that Obama is a “snob.”)

In a reversal from the past few years, the GOP’s favorable/unfavorable rating is 50 to 41 percent; for the Democrats, it is 42 to 50 percent. On individual issues, the GOP is ahead or statistically tied with the Democratic Party on its ability to handle every substantive issue listed, including health care. On the deficit, that advantage is 50 to 34 percent; for creating jobs, it is 50 to 39 percent. Fifty-nine percent think the stimulus didn’t work. Fifty-four percent disapprove of ObamaCare, 40 percent strongly so. An astounding 62 percent have less faith in government based on the experience of the last two years.

In sum, Obama and the congressional Democrats have frittered away their advantage on every significant policy issue. The public disapproves of Obama’s performance and likes him a whole lot less than they used to. And next Tuesday, they can and will express those sentiments.

A week from tomorrow, voters go to the polls to throw out the Democrats. That’s the finding of the latest Battleground 2010 poll. Republicans have a 48 to 42 percent advantage in generic congressional polling. Forty-five percent approve of Obama’s performance; 50 percent do not. The public’s mood about Obama personally has shifted as well. Thirty-nine percent have a strongly unfavorable impression of him, while thirty-three percent have a strongly favorable impression. Perhaps voters don’t like being tagged as scared and irrational. (In a similar vein, 80 percent of the Washington Post‘s readers — which include many liberals — responding to Michael Gerson’s column on the subject agree that Obama is a “snob.”)

In a reversal from the past few years, the GOP’s favorable/unfavorable rating is 50 to 41 percent; for the Democrats, it is 42 to 50 percent. On individual issues, the GOP is ahead or statistically tied with the Democratic Party on its ability to handle every substantive issue listed, including health care. On the deficit, that advantage is 50 to 34 percent; for creating jobs, it is 50 to 39 percent. Fifty-nine percent think the stimulus didn’t work. Fifty-four percent disapprove of ObamaCare, 40 percent strongly so. An astounding 62 percent have less faith in government based on the experience of the last two years.

In sum, Obama and the congressional Democrats have frittered away their advantage on every significant policy issue. The public disapproves of Obama’s performance and likes him a whole lot less than they used to. And next Tuesday, they can and will express those sentiments.

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We Are Not Defensive!

Yesterday, in typically measured and tightly reasoned fashion, Michael Gerson made the case that the president is a snob. This is not an observation unique to Gerson. Every outlet from the New York Times to the Daily Beast to the Weekly Standard has remarked on Obama’s serial habit of denigrating fellow Americans. But Obama’s defining characteristic may not be his snobbery.

It is, as we have seen in the nonstop attacks on all but the remaining true believers, his thin-skinnedness. The White House sees dupes or rabid enemies at Fox News, Gallup, the Chamber of Commerce, and Tea Party gatherings. So David Axelrod, perhaps the president’s adviser, feels compelled to come out and declare that the president is not a snob. Yes, a bit reminiscent of Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” And equally ineffective.

It is an error that the White House has repeated throughout its first two years: elevating critics while diminishing the president’s own standing. It makes one pine for a president with a superior temperament.

Yesterday, in typically measured and tightly reasoned fashion, Michael Gerson made the case that the president is a snob. This is not an observation unique to Gerson. Every outlet from the New York Times to the Daily Beast to the Weekly Standard has remarked on Obama’s serial habit of denigrating fellow Americans. But Obama’s defining characteristic may not be his snobbery.

It is, as we have seen in the nonstop attacks on all but the remaining true believers, his thin-skinnedness. The White House sees dupes or rabid enemies at Fox News, Gallup, the Chamber of Commerce, and Tea Party gatherings. So David Axelrod, perhaps the president’s adviser, feels compelled to come out and declare that the president is not a snob. Yes, a bit reminiscent of Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” And equally ineffective.

It is an error that the White House has repeated throughout its first two years: elevating critics while diminishing the president’s own standing. It makes one pine for a president with a superior temperament.

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A Snob, but Not Really an Intellectual

Michael Gerson writes of Obama’s last temper tantrum:

Obama clearly believes that his brand of politics represents “facts and science and argument.” His opponents, in disturbing contrast, are using the more fearful, primitive portion of their brains. Obama views himself as the neocortical leader — the defender, not just of the stimulus package and health-care reform but also of cognitive reasoning. His critics rely on their lizard brains — the location of reptilian ritual and aggression. Some, presumably Democrats, rise above their evolutionary hard-wiring in times of social stress; others, sadly, do not.

Though there is plenty of competition, these are some of the most arrogant words ever uttered by an American president.

From this, Gerson concludes that Obama is “an intellectual snob” and, alas, that snobs “don’t make very good politicians.” But there is another problem here: in no sense is Obama an intellectual. His understanding of free markets, international affairs, war strategy, and domestic policy evidences no originality. To the contrary, his vision is supported by myths and inaccuracies. (Recall the serial misstatements about history during the campaign.) It is not, then, the public that lacks reasoning skills; it is the president, whose rigid ideology prevents him from taking in new data, analyzing it dispassionately, and rendering decisions based on the facts before him.

He displays contempt for Americans who don’t agree with his flawed policies, in effect instructing them to shut up. But his arrogance is both unwise (these people vote!) and undeserved. Had he not spent trillions on a flawed Keynesian economics, had he not botched the Middle East peace talks, had he not misread the mullahs, had he not mistaken appeasement for “reset” with Russia, and had he not hired ill-prepared senior advisers (who now must be cast off), his self-satisfaction might be warranted. But to put it bluntly, where does a garden-variety leftist with a track record as bad as his get off telling the voters that they lack adequate reasoning skills?

Obama’s self-image is as distorted and unreliable as his political and policy judgments. Next time, perhaps the voters should select someone for the White House who has not merely been told he is an intellectual marvel but who actually has demonstrated that he deserves such praise.

Michael Gerson writes of Obama’s last temper tantrum:

Obama clearly believes that his brand of politics represents “facts and science and argument.” His opponents, in disturbing contrast, are using the more fearful, primitive portion of their brains. Obama views himself as the neocortical leader — the defender, not just of the stimulus package and health-care reform but also of cognitive reasoning. His critics rely on their lizard brains — the location of reptilian ritual and aggression. Some, presumably Democrats, rise above their evolutionary hard-wiring in times of social stress; others, sadly, do not.

Though there is plenty of competition, these are some of the most arrogant words ever uttered by an American president.

From this, Gerson concludes that Obama is “an intellectual snob” and, alas, that snobs “don’t make very good politicians.” But there is another problem here: in no sense is Obama an intellectual. His understanding of free markets, international affairs, war strategy, and domestic policy evidences no originality. To the contrary, his vision is supported by myths and inaccuracies. (Recall the serial misstatements about history during the campaign.) It is not, then, the public that lacks reasoning skills; it is the president, whose rigid ideology prevents him from taking in new data, analyzing it dispassionately, and rendering decisions based on the facts before him.

He displays contempt for Americans who don’t agree with his flawed policies, in effect instructing them to shut up. But his arrogance is both unwise (these people vote!) and undeserved. Had he not spent trillions on a flawed Keynesian economics, had he not botched the Middle East peace talks, had he not misread the mullahs, had he not mistaken appeasement for “reset” with Russia, and had he not hired ill-prepared senior advisers (who now must be cast off), his self-satisfaction might be warranted. But to put it bluntly, where does a garden-variety leftist with a track record as bad as his get off telling the voters that they lack adequate reasoning skills?

Obama’s self-image is as distorted and unreliable as his political and policy judgments. Next time, perhaps the voters should select someone for the White House who has not merely been told he is an intellectual marvel but who actually has demonstrated that he deserves such praise.

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The Permanent Things

The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson (co-author, with me, of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era) has written a lovely column about Christopher Hitchens, who is now enduring a journey to what Hitchens calls “the sick country.” The column ends with this:

At the Pew Forum, Hitchens was asked a mischievous question: What positive lesson have you learned from Christianity? He replied, with great earnestness: the transience and ephemeral nature of power and all things human. But some things may last longer than he imagines, including examples of courage, loyalty and moral conviction.

I certainly don’t agree with everything Hitchens has stood for over the years — but Gerson’s tribute to him is both insightful and well-deserved.

The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson (co-author, with me, of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era) has written a lovely column about Christopher Hitchens, who is now enduring a journey to what Hitchens calls “the sick country.” The column ends with this:

At the Pew Forum, Hitchens was asked a mischievous question: What positive lesson have you learned from Christianity? He replied, with great earnestness: the transience and ephemeral nature of power and all things human. But some things may last longer than he imagines, including examples of courage, loyalty and moral conviction.

I certainly don’t agree with everything Hitchens has stood for over the years — but Gerson’s tribute to him is both insightful and well-deserved.

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More Disappointed Voters

Michael Gerson deftly explains another dashed hope of the Obama administration:

As a candidate, it was a measure of Barack Obama’s political innovation and ambition that he set out to win religious voters, including evangelical Christians. As president, his failure in this effort is equally revealing. … It was a beginning — that quickly ended. Growing percentages of Americans have described the Democratic Party as “unfriendly” toward religion.

Gerson identifies some reasons for the collapse of Obama’s religious outreach:

There are a number of reasons for the believers’ remorse. Social issues blurred during a campaign naturally become more vivid and divisive in the process of governing. Obama’s campaign appeal to reconciliation — which impressed many religious voters — has dissolved into prickly partisanship.

But the failure of Obama’s religious appeal is also ideological. … By identifying with expanded government, Obama fed long-standing evangelical fears of the aggressive, secular state.

There is another explanation, of course. Obama was never serious or sincere about faith-based outreach, any more than he was serous about going “line by line” through the budget or pursuing a traditional, pro-Zionist Middle East policy. The proof is not only in policies that are overtly hostile to the concerns of evangelicals (e.g. stem cell research, Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell) but also in the contempt he displays for those who holds opposing views. He sneers at those who “didn’t respect science,” and he scorns those who he claims don’t respect “religious freedom” (i.e., opponents of a Ground Zero mosque).

It is also his laxity and indifference to promoting and protecting religious freedom abroad, which impacts, in particular, Christians in Muslim countries. (See here and here and here.) And I would also suggest that Obama’s animus toward Israel has been a further affront to evangelicals, who are among Israel’s most fervent supporters.

In sum, what is at work here is more than a failure to fulfill the campaign expectations of some trusting faith-based voters. We have also seen the unveiling of a president who personally doesn’t speak the language of faith, whose rhetoric is often insulting to religious voters, and whose policies are hostile to their concerns. As with so many other disappointed voters, faith-based voters, it is fair to conclude, were misled by candidate Obama, who has turned out to be, as his critics predicted, a run-of-the-mill leftist.

Michael Gerson deftly explains another dashed hope of the Obama administration:

As a candidate, it was a measure of Barack Obama’s political innovation and ambition that he set out to win religious voters, including evangelical Christians. As president, his failure in this effort is equally revealing. … It was a beginning — that quickly ended. Growing percentages of Americans have described the Democratic Party as “unfriendly” toward religion.

Gerson identifies some reasons for the collapse of Obama’s religious outreach:

There are a number of reasons for the believers’ remorse. Social issues blurred during a campaign naturally become more vivid and divisive in the process of governing. Obama’s campaign appeal to reconciliation — which impressed many religious voters — has dissolved into prickly partisanship.

But the failure of Obama’s religious appeal is also ideological. … By identifying with expanded government, Obama fed long-standing evangelical fears of the aggressive, secular state.

There is another explanation, of course. Obama was never serious or sincere about faith-based outreach, any more than he was serous about going “line by line” through the budget or pursuing a traditional, pro-Zionist Middle East policy. The proof is not only in policies that are overtly hostile to the concerns of evangelicals (e.g. stem cell research, Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell) but also in the contempt he displays for those who holds opposing views. He sneers at those who “didn’t respect science,” and he scorns those who he claims don’t respect “religious freedom” (i.e., opponents of a Ground Zero mosque).

It is also his laxity and indifference to promoting and protecting religious freedom abroad, which impacts, in particular, Christians in Muslim countries. (See here and here and here.) And I would also suggest that Obama’s animus toward Israel has been a further affront to evangelicals, who are among Israel’s most fervent supporters.

In sum, what is at work here is more than a failure to fulfill the campaign expectations of some trusting faith-based voters. We have also seen the unveiling of a president who personally doesn’t speak the language of faith, whose rhetoric is often insulting to religious voters, and whose policies are hostile to their concerns. As with so many other disappointed voters, faith-based voters, it is fair to conclude, were misled by candidate Obama, who has turned out to be, as his critics predicted, a run-of-the-mill leftist.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Good advice to conservative pundits from Michael Gerson (in defending Karl Rove): “[A commentator] owes his readers or viewers his best judgment — which means he cannot simply be a tool of someone else’s ideological agenda. Some conservatives have adopted the Bolshevik approach to information and the media: Every personal feeling, every independent thought, every inconvenient fact, must be subordinated to the party line — the Tea Party line.” Read the whole thing.

Good time, actually, for those ferocious Rove critics to apologize. It seems she is a loon: “The story of Christine O’Donnell’s past got a little stranger Friday. Bill Maher — on whose former show, ‘Politically Incorrect,’ O’Donnell appeared repeatedly in the late 1990s — showed a previously unaired clip from Oct. 29, 1999, on his current HBO program, ‘Real Time,’ in which the GOP Senate nominee from Delaware said she ‘dabbled into witchcraft.”’

Good line from Mitt Romney at the Value Voters Summit: “Welcome to the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid-President Obama farewell party. This has been a pretty tough year for those three—their numbers have gone down the chute faster than a Jet Blue flight attendant.” And a good speech on Obamanomics.

Good critique of the problem(s) with Newt Gingrich: “Like the former and would-be next California governor [Jerry Brown], Gingrich talks big, but has no loyalty to his ideas. He was for tax cuts before he was against them. He supported a $35,000 congressional pay raise and leaner government. Like Brown, Gingrich’s real skill has been in seeing a trend early and jumping on it, unencumbered by any past positions. … The last time Gingrich set out to save America, he ended up burning his career. He taught a college course called ‘Renewing American Civilization.’ That would not have been a problem except that this modern-day John Adams felt the need to raise $300,000 and $450,000 to bankroll his discourses on American ‘core values.’ That’s a long pricey schlep from the log cabin.”

Good move. “Since General Petraeus took on the commander’s job in June, several aides said, the president has struck a more deferential tone toward him than he used with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, General Petraeus’s predecessor. Often during pauses in meetings, one White House official said, Mr. Obama will stop and say, ‘Dave, what do you think?'” Less Axelrod and Emanuel and more Petraeus, and we might win this.

Good golly. “Two Los Angeles departments have received $111 million in federal stimulus funds yet have created only 55 jobs so far, according to a pair of reports issued Thursday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.”

Good luck to Tom Joscelyn trying to explain to David Ignatius (and the Obami): “For the umpteenth time, Iran is not on our side in Afghanistan. They are currently allied with the Taliban, the mullahs’ one-time enemy. Iran is not going to help us ‘undermine the Taliban.’ They are working with the Taliban to undermine the U.S.-led coalition.”

Good job, Madam Speaker! Now 38 Democrats favor full extension of the Bush tax cuts. Maybe more: “Other Democrats have indicated privately that they prefer an extension instead of allowing rates to expire for top earners, and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who heads Democratic campaign efforts, has argued behind closed doors for taking a political issue off the table by giving a short reprieve to wealthy folks before the midterm elections.”

Good for her. “A politically vulnerable Democratic lawmaker blasted her party’s House leadership as she demanded a vote to cut the salaries of lawmakers by $8,700 next year. In a letter sent Thursday afternoon, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) pressured Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to hold a vote on her bill to cut congressional pay by five percent and save taxpayers $4.7 million next year before Congress breaks for its fall recess.”

Good for him. Greg Sargent rises above partisan cheerleading: “It isn’t every day that Democrats target Latino challengers with nasty anti-immigrant ads, but these are apparently desperate times for certain embattled Dems. … [Rep. Walt] Minnick apparently sees the need to run an ad that stinks of fear and desperation. Quite a specimen.”

Good news for Republicans in the Hoosier state: “The Indiana Senate seat now held by Democrat Evan Bayh remains a likely Republican pickup on Election Day. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Indiana finds Republican Dan Coats leading Democratic Congressman Brad Ellsworth 50% to 34% in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Goodbye, Charlie: “Gov. Charlie Crist and the disgraced former chairman of the Florida Republican Party took family vacations on party money, an audit released Friday shows. The two men and their families vacationed at Disney World in June 2009 and put the $13,435.99 bill on the party’s American Express credit card, the audit found. Greer also took three personal vacations to fashionable Fisher Island near Miami Beach, one including Crist, at a cost of $10,992.17, auditors reported.”

Good advice to conservative pundits from Michael Gerson (in defending Karl Rove): “[A commentator] owes his readers or viewers his best judgment — which means he cannot simply be a tool of someone else’s ideological agenda. Some conservatives have adopted the Bolshevik approach to information and the media: Every personal feeling, every independent thought, every inconvenient fact, must be subordinated to the party line — the Tea Party line.” Read the whole thing.

Good time, actually, for those ferocious Rove critics to apologize. It seems she is a loon: “The story of Christine O’Donnell’s past got a little stranger Friday. Bill Maher — on whose former show, ‘Politically Incorrect,’ O’Donnell appeared repeatedly in the late 1990s — showed a previously unaired clip from Oct. 29, 1999, on his current HBO program, ‘Real Time,’ in which the GOP Senate nominee from Delaware said she ‘dabbled into witchcraft.”’

Good line from Mitt Romney at the Value Voters Summit: “Welcome to the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid-President Obama farewell party. This has been a pretty tough year for those three—their numbers have gone down the chute faster than a Jet Blue flight attendant.” And a good speech on Obamanomics.

Good critique of the problem(s) with Newt Gingrich: “Like the former and would-be next California governor [Jerry Brown], Gingrich talks big, but has no loyalty to his ideas. He was for tax cuts before he was against them. He supported a $35,000 congressional pay raise and leaner government. Like Brown, Gingrich’s real skill has been in seeing a trend early and jumping on it, unencumbered by any past positions. … The last time Gingrich set out to save America, he ended up burning his career. He taught a college course called ‘Renewing American Civilization.’ That would not have been a problem except that this modern-day John Adams felt the need to raise $300,000 and $450,000 to bankroll his discourses on American ‘core values.’ That’s a long pricey schlep from the log cabin.”

Good move. “Since General Petraeus took on the commander’s job in June, several aides said, the president has struck a more deferential tone toward him than he used with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, General Petraeus’s predecessor. Often during pauses in meetings, one White House official said, Mr. Obama will stop and say, ‘Dave, what do you think?'” Less Axelrod and Emanuel and more Petraeus, and we might win this.

Good golly. “Two Los Angeles departments have received $111 million in federal stimulus funds yet have created only 55 jobs so far, according to a pair of reports issued Thursday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.”

Good luck to Tom Joscelyn trying to explain to David Ignatius (and the Obami): “For the umpteenth time, Iran is not on our side in Afghanistan. They are currently allied with the Taliban, the mullahs’ one-time enemy. Iran is not going to help us ‘undermine the Taliban.’ They are working with the Taliban to undermine the U.S.-led coalition.”

Good job, Madam Speaker! Now 38 Democrats favor full extension of the Bush tax cuts. Maybe more: “Other Democrats have indicated privately that they prefer an extension instead of allowing rates to expire for top earners, and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who heads Democratic campaign efforts, has argued behind closed doors for taking a political issue off the table by giving a short reprieve to wealthy folks before the midterm elections.”

Good for her. “A politically vulnerable Democratic lawmaker blasted her party’s House leadership as she demanded a vote to cut the salaries of lawmakers by $8,700 next year. In a letter sent Thursday afternoon, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) pressured Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to hold a vote on her bill to cut congressional pay by five percent and save taxpayers $4.7 million next year before Congress breaks for its fall recess.”

Good for him. Greg Sargent rises above partisan cheerleading: “It isn’t every day that Democrats target Latino challengers with nasty anti-immigrant ads, but these are apparently desperate times for certain embattled Dems. … [Rep. Walt] Minnick apparently sees the need to run an ad that stinks of fear and desperation. Quite a specimen.”

Good news for Republicans in the Hoosier state: “The Indiana Senate seat now held by Democrat Evan Bayh remains a likely Republican pickup on Election Day. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Indiana finds Republican Dan Coats leading Democratic Congressman Brad Ellsworth 50% to 34% in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Goodbye, Charlie: “Gov. Charlie Crist and the disgraced former chairman of the Florida Republican Party took family vacations on party money, an audit released Friday shows. The two men and their families vacationed at Disney World in June 2009 and put the $13,435.99 bill on the party’s American Express credit card, the audit found. Greer also took three personal vacations to fashionable Fisher Island near Miami Beach, one including Crist, at a cost of $10,992.17, auditors reported.”

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Obama Unplugged — and Unintelligible

Before Obama’s presser on Friday, Michael Gerson wandered down the memory lane, recalling the 2008 campaign, when Obama’s “message had something to do with unity, healing and national purpose.” No more, he explained: “Obama’s initiatives … are not only unpopular; they have made it impossible for him to maintain the pretense of being a unifying, healing, once-in-a-generation leader. It is the agenda that undermined the idiom. With that image stripped away, Americans found Obama to be a somber, thoughtful, touchy, professorial, conventionally liberal political figure.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. For starters, it is hard to be “thoughtful” when you are touchy and prone to regurgitating leftist talking points. In fact, Obama’s Friday presser was at times rather incoherent — he didn’t change Washington, it’s the GOP’s fault, the stimulus isn’t really a stimulus but it is stimulating, and so forth. He insisted that, all along, he had warned that health-care costs would bend up (What!? When had that spasm of truth telling occurred?), and lamented that he couldn’t close Gitmo because of politics (i.e., there was no public support for it and no one solved the “where do we put them” problem.) At this point, all but the die-hard Obama supporters must be chagrined to find that the only straight answer he can give is on the Ground Zero mosque. (He is fine with it.)

Earlier in the week, it was pretty much the same story. In Thursday’s interview, Obama acknowledged: “If the election is a referendum on are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is, then we’re not going to do well. Because I think everybody feels like this economy needs to do better than it’s been doing.” Yup. And, after all, he said he’d be judged on the economy. That’s what a referendum is, after all — an opportunity for voters to give thumbs up or down on your performance.

Now, he wasn’t exactly taking responsibility for the economic mess. This is Obama, after all. So he insisted, “Well, look. If you’re asking are there mistakes that we made during the course of the last 19 months, I’m sure I make a mistake once a day. If you’re asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.” We’re still heading in the right direction, in his book. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asked which mistakes he made.

Even liberals are fed up with the excuses. Bob Herbert writes, “The Democrats are in deep, deep trouble because they have not effectively addressed the overwhelming concern of working men and women: an economy that is too weak to provide the jobs they need to support themselves and their families.” And Arianna Huffington neatly sums up:

[H]e admitted to making unspecified “mistakes,” but insisted, “if you are asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.”

Can he really believe that, with unemployment at 9.6 percent, underemployment at 16.7 percent, millions of homes foreclosed, millions more heading to foreclosure, and the middle class under assault?

In any case, this appears to be the administration’s story, and they are sticking to it — come hell or a double-dip recession.

The president’s comments were a continuation of the tack taken by Robert Gibbs who, when asked if the stimulus bill had been too small, offered this jaw-dropper: “I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. … Nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp of … what we were facing.”

In other words: who could have known? So much for changing the way Washington works. The Who Could Have Known mindset is at the very heart of the failure of our political system to address our mounting problems.

Even more telling than all that, however, was this nugget on extending the Bush tax cuts:

What I am saying is that if we are going to add to our deficit by $35 billion, $95 billion, $100 billion, $700 billion, if that’s the Republican agenda, then I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend that money.

“That” money is our money. But it sounds really horrid to say “I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend your money.” I’d be curious to know what better ways he has in mind. More billions on another flawed stimulus plan?

There is in his pre-election spin patrol a fundamental “cognitive dissonance,” as the Wall Street Journal editors put it. He feels compelled to toss a few limited tax breaks toward businesses but that hardly makes up for the incessant shin-kicking he delivers (“urging businesses to invest and lend more while attacking them for greed and sending jobs overseas”). The jabs are not merely rhetorical. In addition to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the administration has thrown at U.S. employers “a looming increase in capital gains and personal income tax rates, roughly half of which will come from noncorporate business profits; a minimum wage increase to $7.25 an hour from $6.55 in July 2009 when the jobless rate was 9%; the oil drilling moratorium, which has hit hundreds of small energy companies; the new health insurance mandate on employers with more than 50 employees; the new ObamaCare 1099 tax filing requirements; an increase in the death tax rate to 55% next year from zero today; a Medicare payroll tax increase to 3.8% from 2.9% starting in 2013; and compulsory unionism for government contractors and federal construction projects.”

To sum it all up, the voters are going to throw out his fellow Democrats if Americans follow Obama’s advice (hold the Democrats accountable for the economy). Despite control of both the White House and Congress, Obama whines that our problems are traceable to the Republican minority. He won’t concede that there is any connection between the massive burdens heaped on businesses and the paralysis on hiring by shell-shocked employers. And his underlying philosophy is that he knows best how to spend your money. No wonder Democrats don’t want to be seen campaigning with him.

Before Obama’s presser on Friday, Michael Gerson wandered down the memory lane, recalling the 2008 campaign, when Obama’s “message had something to do with unity, healing and national purpose.” No more, he explained: “Obama’s initiatives … are not only unpopular; they have made it impossible for him to maintain the pretense of being a unifying, healing, once-in-a-generation leader. It is the agenda that undermined the idiom. With that image stripped away, Americans found Obama to be a somber, thoughtful, touchy, professorial, conventionally liberal political figure.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. For starters, it is hard to be “thoughtful” when you are touchy and prone to regurgitating leftist talking points. In fact, Obama’s Friday presser was at times rather incoherent — he didn’t change Washington, it’s the GOP’s fault, the stimulus isn’t really a stimulus but it is stimulating, and so forth. He insisted that, all along, he had warned that health-care costs would bend up (What!? When had that spasm of truth telling occurred?), and lamented that he couldn’t close Gitmo because of politics (i.e., there was no public support for it and no one solved the “where do we put them” problem.) At this point, all but the die-hard Obama supporters must be chagrined to find that the only straight answer he can give is on the Ground Zero mosque. (He is fine with it.)

Earlier in the week, it was pretty much the same story. In Thursday’s interview, Obama acknowledged: “If the election is a referendum on are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is, then we’re not going to do well. Because I think everybody feels like this economy needs to do better than it’s been doing.” Yup. And, after all, he said he’d be judged on the economy. That’s what a referendum is, after all — an opportunity for voters to give thumbs up or down on your performance.

Now, he wasn’t exactly taking responsibility for the economic mess. This is Obama, after all. So he insisted, “Well, look. If you’re asking are there mistakes that we made during the course of the last 19 months, I’m sure I make a mistake once a day. If you’re asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.” We’re still heading in the right direction, in his book. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asked which mistakes he made.

Even liberals are fed up with the excuses. Bob Herbert writes, “The Democrats are in deep, deep trouble because they have not effectively addressed the overwhelming concern of working men and women: an economy that is too weak to provide the jobs they need to support themselves and their families.” And Arianna Huffington neatly sums up:

[H]e admitted to making unspecified “mistakes,” but insisted, “if you are asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.”

Can he really believe that, with unemployment at 9.6 percent, underemployment at 16.7 percent, millions of homes foreclosed, millions more heading to foreclosure, and the middle class under assault?

In any case, this appears to be the administration’s story, and they are sticking to it — come hell or a double-dip recession.

The president’s comments were a continuation of the tack taken by Robert Gibbs who, when asked if the stimulus bill had been too small, offered this jaw-dropper: “I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. … Nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp of … what we were facing.”

In other words: who could have known? So much for changing the way Washington works. The Who Could Have Known mindset is at the very heart of the failure of our political system to address our mounting problems.

Even more telling than all that, however, was this nugget on extending the Bush tax cuts:

What I am saying is that if we are going to add to our deficit by $35 billion, $95 billion, $100 billion, $700 billion, if that’s the Republican agenda, then I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend that money.

“That” money is our money. But it sounds really horrid to say “I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend your money.” I’d be curious to know what better ways he has in mind. More billions on another flawed stimulus plan?

There is in his pre-election spin patrol a fundamental “cognitive dissonance,” as the Wall Street Journal editors put it. He feels compelled to toss a few limited tax breaks toward businesses but that hardly makes up for the incessant shin-kicking he delivers (“urging businesses to invest and lend more while attacking them for greed and sending jobs overseas”). The jabs are not merely rhetorical. In addition to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the administration has thrown at U.S. employers “a looming increase in capital gains and personal income tax rates, roughly half of which will come from noncorporate business profits; a minimum wage increase to $7.25 an hour from $6.55 in July 2009 when the jobless rate was 9%; the oil drilling moratorium, which has hit hundreds of small energy companies; the new health insurance mandate on employers with more than 50 employees; the new ObamaCare 1099 tax filing requirements; an increase in the death tax rate to 55% next year from zero today; a Medicare payroll tax increase to 3.8% from 2.9% starting in 2013; and compulsory unionism for government contractors and federal construction projects.”

To sum it all up, the voters are going to throw out his fellow Democrats if Americans follow Obama’s advice (hold the Democrats accountable for the economy). Despite control of both the White House and Congress, Obama whines that our problems are traceable to the Republican minority. He won’t concede that there is any connection between the massive burdens heaped on businesses and the paralysis on hiring by shell-shocked employers. And his underlying philosophy is that he knows best how to spend your money. No wonder Democrats don’t want to be seen campaigning with him.

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Why Does He Look So Uncomfortable?

Forget for a moment the substance of Obama’s Iraq war speech. A number of observers remarked that he looked plain uncomfortable and that his speech was “flat.” (Said one: “Why bother with a speech filled with the same vague generalizations he’s been saying about Iraq for the past nineteen months?”) And Michael Gerson (his excellent critique should be read in full) notes:

Obama’s speeches are oddly lacking in a sense of historical drama. His manner is always impressive and presidential. His words often are not. For the most part, the president’s language last night was flat and over-worn. The middle class is the “bedrock” of prosperity. We need to “shore up the foundation” of the economy. And when the rhetoric tried to rise, it strained — “a new beginning could be born,” “the steel in our ship of state.” Obama has a tendency to celebrate memorable historical moments with unmemorable speeches. There are exceptions — but this was not one of them.

So too with his BP oil spill speech, which was even more somnolent than Tuesday’s offer. Then the left piled on, distressed by the image of a once thrilling (to them) political figure shrunken and fairly dull.

It is no mystery why in the technical aspects of speech-giving Obama’s skills are so diminished, especially in the Oval Office. For starters, things are going poorly. Obama is — and seems — defensive. He is not a man who has shouldered adversity in public life, and it is to be expected that he now is prickly and tense.

Moreover, Obama has already told us, in a 60 Minutes interview, that he disapproves of “triumphalism.” So the speech Tuesday night, which was to recognize the successful conclusion (conservatives like “victory”) of our military operation after enormous adversity, was restrained, if not cramped. He did have words of praise for the troops, but then he demonstrated in his de minimus praise for George W. Bush that this is really not the standard for evaluating a president. Others, like Juan Williams, have conceded that Obama is not good in a crisis. And unfortunately, right now we have nothing but. Neither in war nor oil spills does he enjoy a comfort zone. He is in that regard the anti–Rudy Giuliani, who thrived in a crisis.

And we come back to the central Obama dilemma: he is much better on the stump than in office. When he goes out on the road in campaign-style gatherings, he may not be substantively any more convincing (e.g., no one has bought the “summer of recovery” despite a bazillion speeches), but he certainly is cheerier and more relaxed. Sitting behind that big desk, he is decidedly neither. Ed Morrissey aptly put it this way: “Barack Obama took office as supposedly one of the most well-read, inspirational figures of our time. With each speech, Obama diminishes in stature, essentially mailing in his efforts and seeming to care little if anyone notices it.”

The Obama phenomenon — great candidate/poor executive — can’t be concealed. When he speaks in the very place that personifies executive power, it becomes all too evident. Perhaps he should keep the Oval Office visits to a minimum and spend his time reflecting on why things have gone so badly. Then he might be able to regroup and rescue the final two years of his presidency.

Forget for a moment the substance of Obama’s Iraq war speech. A number of observers remarked that he looked plain uncomfortable and that his speech was “flat.” (Said one: “Why bother with a speech filled with the same vague generalizations he’s been saying about Iraq for the past nineteen months?”) And Michael Gerson (his excellent critique should be read in full) notes:

Obama’s speeches are oddly lacking in a sense of historical drama. His manner is always impressive and presidential. His words often are not. For the most part, the president’s language last night was flat and over-worn. The middle class is the “bedrock” of prosperity. We need to “shore up the foundation” of the economy. And when the rhetoric tried to rise, it strained — “a new beginning could be born,” “the steel in our ship of state.” Obama has a tendency to celebrate memorable historical moments with unmemorable speeches. There are exceptions — but this was not one of them.

So too with his BP oil spill speech, which was even more somnolent than Tuesday’s offer. Then the left piled on, distressed by the image of a once thrilling (to them) political figure shrunken and fairly dull.

It is no mystery why in the technical aspects of speech-giving Obama’s skills are so diminished, especially in the Oval Office. For starters, things are going poorly. Obama is — and seems — defensive. He is not a man who has shouldered adversity in public life, and it is to be expected that he now is prickly and tense.

Moreover, Obama has already told us, in a 60 Minutes interview, that he disapproves of “triumphalism.” So the speech Tuesday night, which was to recognize the successful conclusion (conservatives like “victory”) of our military operation after enormous adversity, was restrained, if not cramped. He did have words of praise for the troops, but then he demonstrated in his de minimus praise for George W. Bush that this is really not the standard for evaluating a president. Others, like Juan Williams, have conceded that Obama is not good in a crisis. And unfortunately, right now we have nothing but. Neither in war nor oil spills does he enjoy a comfort zone. He is in that regard the anti–Rudy Giuliani, who thrived in a crisis.

And we come back to the central Obama dilemma: he is much better on the stump than in office. When he goes out on the road in campaign-style gatherings, he may not be substantively any more convincing (e.g., no one has bought the “summer of recovery” despite a bazillion speeches), but he certainly is cheerier and more relaxed. Sitting behind that big desk, he is decidedly neither. Ed Morrissey aptly put it this way: “Barack Obama took office as supposedly one of the most well-read, inspirational figures of our time. With each speech, Obama diminishes in stature, essentially mailing in his efforts and seeming to care little if anyone notices it.”

The Obama phenomenon — great candidate/poor executive — can’t be concealed. When he speaks in the very place that personifies executive power, it becomes all too evident. Perhaps he should keep the Oval Office visits to a minimum and spend his time reflecting on why things have gone so badly. Then he might be able to regroup and rescue the final two years of his presidency.

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The Toxicity of Tolerance

In an article at the Daily Beast about the Cordoba House mosque and Islamic community center, Sam Harris wrote, “It goes without saying that tolerance is a value to which we should all be deeply committed.” Does it? Tolerance is not, in fact, a value at all. If Sue tolerates a kindly bore during a brief conversation is she employing the same moral standard as Tom who tolerates a stoppable violent crime in his presence? Moreover, does this standard qualify as one to which we should all be deeply committed?

By the way, Harris goes on to make some insightful points. But first he has his own faiths to defend—liberalism and atheism—and the above comes from early on in the piece, where he strives to distance himself from “those sincerely awaiting the Rapture, opportunistic Republican politicians, and utter lunatics who yearn to see Sarah Palin become the next president of the United States (note that Palin herself probably falls into several of these categories).” Tolerantly put, no?

That Harris is incapable of practicing in one sentence what he preaches in the preceding one should come as no surprise. Tolerance is not a context-free virtue; it is a simpleton’s word, an artificial political term used to indict those we cannot tolerate.

Tolerance scenarios are not merely hypothetical. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the New York Times that the mosque near Ground Zero will be “a monument to tolerance.” If by tolerance, Mayor Bloomberg is referring to the fact that the planned mosque’s Imam, Faisal Abdul Rauf is not judgmental of terrorist organizations, he is correct. Asked by WABC radio’s Aaron Klein if Hamas was a terrorist group, Rauf responded, “Look, I am not a politician. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” He hemmed and hawed and when the question was posed again, said, “I am a peace builder. I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.”

Sam Harris—still struggling with his own advice—writes in the Daily Beast of “religious stupidity.” But aren’t Rauf’s words the very embodiment of Harris’s exhortation that we commit deeply to the value of tolerance?

While Harris toils away at the intellectual knot tied from strands of his religious liberalism and his religious atheism, Bloomberg is gathering fellow travelers. Former speechwriter for George W. Bush, Michael Gerson praised President Obama’s tolerance of the mosque, noting that “the way to marginalize radicalism is to respect the best traditions of Islam and protect the religious liberty of Muslim Americans.” In itself, this is true. But are we now saying that an Imam who refuses to call Hamas a terrorist organization represents “the best traditions of Islam”?

There are those of us who have been hoping for the institutional influence of a truly moderate Islam; of an unequivocal anti-terrorist leader and a mosque to temper what is obviously an urgent crisis in the Muslim world. For us, the election of a Hamas-indifferent Imam as the paragon of Islamic moderation is dispiriting. But for the West’s individual moderate Muslims–and there are many–who have been waiting desperately on a modern, welcoming house of Islam, one in which to practice their religion alongside the like-minded, it is absolute invalidation. Rauf and Cordoba House, say tolerant Westerners, are as good as it gets.

In an article at the Daily Beast about the Cordoba House mosque and Islamic community center, Sam Harris wrote, “It goes without saying that tolerance is a value to which we should all be deeply committed.” Does it? Tolerance is not, in fact, a value at all. If Sue tolerates a kindly bore during a brief conversation is she employing the same moral standard as Tom who tolerates a stoppable violent crime in his presence? Moreover, does this standard qualify as one to which we should all be deeply committed?

By the way, Harris goes on to make some insightful points. But first he has his own faiths to defend—liberalism and atheism—and the above comes from early on in the piece, where he strives to distance himself from “those sincerely awaiting the Rapture, opportunistic Republican politicians, and utter lunatics who yearn to see Sarah Palin become the next president of the United States (note that Palin herself probably falls into several of these categories).” Tolerantly put, no?

That Harris is incapable of practicing in one sentence what he preaches in the preceding one should come as no surprise. Tolerance is not a context-free virtue; it is a simpleton’s word, an artificial political term used to indict those we cannot tolerate.

Tolerance scenarios are not merely hypothetical. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the New York Times that the mosque near Ground Zero will be “a monument to tolerance.” If by tolerance, Mayor Bloomberg is referring to the fact that the planned mosque’s Imam, Faisal Abdul Rauf is not judgmental of terrorist organizations, he is correct. Asked by WABC radio’s Aaron Klein if Hamas was a terrorist group, Rauf responded, “Look, I am not a politician. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” He hemmed and hawed and when the question was posed again, said, “I am a peace builder. I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.”

Sam Harris—still struggling with his own advice—writes in the Daily Beast of “religious stupidity.” But aren’t Rauf’s words the very embodiment of Harris’s exhortation that we commit deeply to the value of tolerance?

While Harris toils away at the intellectual knot tied from strands of his religious liberalism and his religious atheism, Bloomberg is gathering fellow travelers. Former speechwriter for George W. Bush, Michael Gerson praised President Obama’s tolerance of the mosque, noting that “the way to marginalize radicalism is to respect the best traditions of Islam and protect the religious liberty of Muslim Americans.” In itself, this is true. But are we now saying that an Imam who refuses to call Hamas a terrorist organization represents “the best traditions of Islam”?

There are those of us who have been hoping for the institutional influence of a truly moderate Islam; of an unequivocal anti-terrorist leader and a mosque to temper what is obviously an urgent crisis in the Muslim world. For us, the election of a Hamas-indifferent Imam as the paragon of Islamic moderation is dispiriting. But for the West’s individual moderate Muslims–and there are many–who have been waiting desperately on a modern, welcoming house of Islam, one in which to practice their religion alongside the like-minded, it is absolute invalidation. Rauf and Cordoba House, say tolerant Westerners, are as good as it gets.

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Why Are So Many Conservatives Backing a Radical Immigration Solution?

Mike Huckabee is showing some political courage:

Former Arkansas GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee says he is against changing the 14th Amendment to remove birthright citizenship.

“The Supreme Court has decided that, I think, in three different centuries,” Huckabeee said in a radio interview Wednesday with NPR. “In every single instance, they have affirmed that if you are born in this country, you are considered to be a citizen. The only option there is to change the Constitution.” …

But asked Wednesday if he supported such a change, Huckabee responded simply: “No.”

“Let me tell you what I would favor. I would favor having controlled borders,” said the 2008 GOP presidential candidate. “But that’s where the federal government has miserably and hopelessly failed us.”

Now, there’s a dose of conservative common sense. It is rather strange to see so many conservatives blithely suggesting a major Constitutional revision for a problem that stems from the failure of the federal government to carry out its duties under existing law.

Michael Gerson provides some historical perspective on the meaning and intention of the 14th Amendment:

The amendment reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” This is not the only place in the Constitution where birth is decisive. Any “natural born citizen” who meets age and residency requirements can be elected president.

Critics of birthright citizenship are in revolt against the plain meaning of words. They sometimes assert that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” must exclude illegal immigrants. It doesn’t. Undocumented immigrants and their children are fully subject to American laws. The idea of “jurisdiction” had a specific meaning in the congressional debate surrounding approval of the 14th Amendment. “The language was designed,” says historian Garrett Epps, “to exclude two and only two groups: (1) children of diplomats accredited to the United States and (2) members of Indian tribes who maintained quasi-sovereign status under federal Indian law.”

As Gerson points out, it’s not as if this topic was ignored:

During the debate over the 14th Amendment, Sen. Edgar Cowan of Pennsylvania complained that birthright citizenship would include Gypsies, “who pay no taxes; who never perform military service; who do nothing, in fact, which becomes the citizen.” Others objected that the children of Chinese laborers would be covered. Supporters of the 14th Amendment conceded both cases — and defended them.

Of course, we can amend the Constitution. But conservatives should at least be honest: this would be a radical change, not simply an effort to fill in some missing gap in our Constitutional structure. Nor should conservatives underestimate the possibility that once the 14th Amendment is put into play, liberal interest groups would seek to expand and extend the amendment in a number of ways that conservatives would certainly find objectionable. The prospect of a Constitutional free-for-all should alarm sober conservatives.

We’ll see how far the discussion goes and who else has the nerve, from a conservative perspective, to resist an extreme solution to what is a rather simple problem. Rather than take a meat cleaver to the Constitution, why not get the federal government to do its job?

Mike Huckabee is showing some political courage:

Former Arkansas GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee says he is against changing the 14th Amendment to remove birthright citizenship.

“The Supreme Court has decided that, I think, in three different centuries,” Huckabeee said in a radio interview Wednesday with NPR. “In every single instance, they have affirmed that if you are born in this country, you are considered to be a citizen. The only option there is to change the Constitution.” …

But asked Wednesday if he supported such a change, Huckabee responded simply: “No.”

“Let me tell you what I would favor. I would favor having controlled borders,” said the 2008 GOP presidential candidate. “But that’s where the federal government has miserably and hopelessly failed us.”

Now, there’s a dose of conservative common sense. It is rather strange to see so many conservatives blithely suggesting a major Constitutional revision for a problem that stems from the failure of the federal government to carry out its duties under existing law.

Michael Gerson provides some historical perspective on the meaning and intention of the 14th Amendment:

The amendment reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” This is not the only place in the Constitution where birth is decisive. Any “natural born citizen” who meets age and residency requirements can be elected president.

Critics of birthright citizenship are in revolt against the plain meaning of words. They sometimes assert that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” must exclude illegal immigrants. It doesn’t. Undocumented immigrants and their children are fully subject to American laws. The idea of “jurisdiction” had a specific meaning in the congressional debate surrounding approval of the 14th Amendment. “The language was designed,” says historian Garrett Epps, “to exclude two and only two groups: (1) children of diplomats accredited to the United States and (2) members of Indian tribes who maintained quasi-sovereign status under federal Indian law.”

As Gerson points out, it’s not as if this topic was ignored:

During the debate over the 14th Amendment, Sen. Edgar Cowan of Pennsylvania complained that birthright citizenship would include Gypsies, “who pay no taxes; who never perform military service; who do nothing, in fact, which becomes the citizen.” Others objected that the children of Chinese laborers would be covered. Supporters of the 14th Amendment conceded both cases — and defended them.

Of course, we can amend the Constitution. But conservatives should at least be honest: this would be a radical change, not simply an effort to fill in some missing gap in our Constitutional structure. Nor should conservatives underestimate the possibility that once the 14th Amendment is put into play, liberal interest groups would seek to expand and extend the amendment in a number of ways that conservatives would certainly find objectionable. The prospect of a Constitutional free-for-all should alarm sober conservatives.

We’ll see how far the discussion goes and who else has the nerve, from a conservative perspective, to resist an extreme solution to what is a rather simple problem. Rather than take a meat cleaver to the Constitution, why not get the federal government to do its job?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Gloom and doom from the Democrats: “Dems are worried that a new feud between the WH and their liberal base is further endangering the party’s candidates during the midterms, exacerbating an already immense enthusiasm gap.”

Succinct brilliance from Charles Krauthammer: “No commercial tower over Gettysburg, no convent at Auschwitz — and no mosque at Ground Zero. Build it anywhere but there.”

Evasion from Rep. Anthony Weiner on the Ground Zero mosque. Is it too hard a question, or is his answer too unpopular?

A warning from the Democrats’ own ranks. Rick Sloan, acting executive director of UCubed, a community-service project of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers: “You can talk about deficit reduction, health-care reform—you can talk about all those things but you’re talking past the jobless voters.” And from a Democratic voting analyst: “Unemployment in the individual congressional districts ‘is the leading factor in determining the November elections. … The hope of the administration is it’s trending down when the elections are held, but they’re running out of time.”

A dose of reality from Colorado: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary telephone survey of Likely Voters in Colorado shows a close U.S. Senate race between Republican challenger Ken Buck and incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet. Buck attracts 46% support, while Bennet picks up 41% of the vote.” So much for the notion that Colorado proves Obama still has political mojo.

An effort to save Republicans from themselves on birthright citizenship, from Michael Gerson: “The Radical Republicans who wrote the 14th Amendment were, in fact, quite radical. … Their main goal was expressed in birthright citizenship: to prevent a future majority from stealing the rights of children of any background, as long as they were born in America. Today’s dispute over birthright citizenship reveals the immigration debate in its starkest form. Usually, opponents of illegal immigration speak of giving lawbreakers what they deserve. But this does not apply in the case of an infant. … The radical, humane vision of the 14th Amendment can be put another way: No child born in America can be judged unworthy by John Boehner, because each is his equal.”

Surprising sanity from the Gray Lady’s editors: “We believe that the United States has a powerful national interest in Afghanistan, in depriving Al Qaeda of a safe haven on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This country would also do enormous damage to its moral and strategic standing if it now simply abandoned the Afghan people to the Taliban’s brutalities. … But reports from the ground have been so relentlessly grim — July’s death toll of 66 American troops was the highest since the war began — that Mr. Obama needs to do a better job right now of explaining the strategy and how he is measuring progress.”

Gloom and doom from the Democrats: “Dems are worried that a new feud between the WH and their liberal base is further endangering the party’s candidates during the midterms, exacerbating an already immense enthusiasm gap.”

Succinct brilliance from Charles Krauthammer: “No commercial tower over Gettysburg, no convent at Auschwitz — and no mosque at Ground Zero. Build it anywhere but there.”

Evasion from Rep. Anthony Weiner on the Ground Zero mosque. Is it too hard a question, or is his answer too unpopular?

A warning from the Democrats’ own ranks. Rick Sloan, acting executive director of UCubed, a community-service project of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers: “You can talk about deficit reduction, health-care reform—you can talk about all those things but you’re talking past the jobless voters.” And from a Democratic voting analyst: “Unemployment in the individual congressional districts ‘is the leading factor in determining the November elections. … The hope of the administration is it’s trending down when the elections are held, but they’re running out of time.”

A dose of reality from Colorado: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary telephone survey of Likely Voters in Colorado shows a close U.S. Senate race between Republican challenger Ken Buck and incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet. Buck attracts 46% support, while Bennet picks up 41% of the vote.” So much for the notion that Colorado proves Obama still has political mojo.

An effort to save Republicans from themselves on birthright citizenship, from Michael Gerson: “The Radical Republicans who wrote the 14th Amendment were, in fact, quite radical. … Their main goal was expressed in birthright citizenship: to prevent a future majority from stealing the rights of children of any background, as long as they were born in America. Today’s dispute over birthright citizenship reveals the immigration debate in its starkest form. Usually, opponents of illegal immigration speak of giving lawbreakers what they deserve. But this does not apply in the case of an infant. … The radical, humane vision of the 14th Amendment can be put another way: No child born in America can be judged unworthy by John Boehner, because each is his equal.”

Surprising sanity from the Gray Lady’s editors: “We believe that the United States has a powerful national interest in Afghanistan, in depriving Al Qaeda of a safe haven on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This country would also do enormous damage to its moral and strategic standing if it now simply abandoned the Afghan people to the Taliban’s brutalities. … But reports from the ground have been so relentlessly grim — July’s death toll of 66 American troops was the highest since the war began — that Mr. Obama needs to do a better job right now of explaining the strategy and how he is measuring progress.”

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Senator John McCain’s U-Turn on Immigration

According to Politico, Senator John McCain has added his voice to GOP calls for congressional hearings into altering the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. This just about completes a stunning turnabout by McCain (and by his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham) on immigration. As Politico reports, McCain was a champion in 2007 of a comprehensive immigration bill which would have provided a pathway to citizenship to illegal immigrants. But he has taken an increasingly hard-line position on the issue as he faces a conservative primary challenger, J.D. Hayworth, in a state that has become the epicenter for the nation’s battle over immigration reform.

On the merits of McCain’s position: As a general matter, the conservative starting point should be opposition to Constitutional amendments, especially as regards the 14th amendment (the so-called “citizenship clause” refers to the first sentence of Section 1 in the 14th amendment, which reversed the part of Chief Justice Taney’s decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford that declared that even free blacks like Dred Scott were not citizens of the United States and could never become so). Opposition to Constitutional amendments shouldn’t be absolute by any means; but it is, I think, a prudent predisposition.

Beyond that, though, McCain’s stand strikes me as political posturing — something that has no chance of passage and which may end up being distracting from the real problems we face and that we can far more easily address, including the reduction of the large number of illegal immigrants crossing our borders.

There is an argument according to which, if we were starting from scratch, children of illegal immigrants should not be granted automatic citizenship; after all, this was clearly not the use of the 14th amendment intended by its architects. But we’re not beginning from scratch — and revoking birthright citizenship now would, as Michael Gerson has written, “turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’ — arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital.”

Senator McCain’s U-turn is certainly not without precedent in American politics. But it is nevertheless fairly dramatic — and for a man who has long fancied himself a person of unusual political courage and independence, it is discouraging.

According to Politico, Senator John McCain has added his voice to GOP calls for congressional hearings into altering the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. This just about completes a stunning turnabout by McCain (and by his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham) on immigration. As Politico reports, McCain was a champion in 2007 of a comprehensive immigration bill which would have provided a pathway to citizenship to illegal immigrants. But he has taken an increasingly hard-line position on the issue as he faces a conservative primary challenger, J.D. Hayworth, in a state that has become the epicenter for the nation’s battle over immigration reform.

On the merits of McCain’s position: As a general matter, the conservative starting point should be opposition to Constitutional amendments, especially as regards the 14th amendment (the so-called “citizenship clause” refers to the first sentence of Section 1 in the 14th amendment, which reversed the part of Chief Justice Taney’s decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford that declared that even free blacks like Dred Scott were not citizens of the United States and could never become so). Opposition to Constitutional amendments shouldn’t be absolute by any means; but it is, I think, a prudent predisposition.

Beyond that, though, McCain’s stand strikes me as political posturing — something that has no chance of passage and which may end up being distracting from the real problems we face and that we can far more easily address, including the reduction of the large number of illegal immigrants crossing our borders.

There is an argument according to which, if we were starting from scratch, children of illegal immigrants should not be granted automatic citizenship; after all, this was clearly not the use of the 14th amendment intended by its architects. But we’re not beginning from scratch — and revoking birthright citizenship now would, as Michael Gerson has written, “turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’ — arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital.”

Senator McCain’s U-turn is certainly not without precedent in American politics. But it is nevertheless fairly dramatic — and for a man who has long fancied himself a person of unusual political courage and independence, it is discouraging.

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The Diffident President

Michael Gerson writes of Obama:

During the primaries, his cool detachment highlighted Sen. John McCain’s alarming excitability. As president, Obama’s rhetorical range runs from lecturing to prickly — the full gamut from A to C. His speeches are symphonies performed entirely with a tin whistle and an accordion. To switch metaphors, Obama is a pitcher with one pitch. He excels only at explanation. Initially this conveyed a chilly competence. But as the impression of competence has faded, we are left only with coldness.

Gerson, I think quite rightly, concludes that this is not a matter of communication skills but of Obama’s core beliefs — or lack of them. (“Obama’s limited rhetorical range raises questions about the content of his deepest beliefs. For this reason among others, the man who doesn’t need the love of crowds is gradually losing it.”)

Take the Ground Zero mosque. The president who has opined on everything from the Cambridge police department to college basketball cannot speak to his fellow citizens on a topic that has convulsed New York and ignited a fierce public debate. Moreover, isn’t it odd that the president — supposedly the explainer in chief on matters of Islam  — voices no opinion? Does he not care? Or are his views so politically unacceptable that they will only reinforce the perception that he stands apart from his countrymen on the most emotional issues of our time?

Honestly, a president can’t govern by “no comment” or practice what Gerson calls “appalling calm” when emotion is required. Obama has not been able to hide his disdain for ordinary Americans (Bible and gun huggers, he labeled them), the media, his political opponents, and a number of our most important allies. He holds himself apart and above it all. It is more than creepy; it’s a dereliction of duty. He was hired to lead, to rally his countrymen, and to — in his own words — bring us together and elevate America’s standing in the world. You don’t do that my mimicking a sullen teenager, contemptuous of those far more experienced and capable. If he doesn’t grow up and into the job, Americans will (maybe they have already) write him off and look for a true leader.

Michael Gerson writes of Obama:

During the primaries, his cool detachment highlighted Sen. John McCain’s alarming excitability. As president, Obama’s rhetorical range runs from lecturing to prickly — the full gamut from A to C. His speeches are symphonies performed entirely with a tin whistle and an accordion. To switch metaphors, Obama is a pitcher with one pitch. He excels only at explanation. Initially this conveyed a chilly competence. But as the impression of competence has faded, we are left only with coldness.

Gerson, I think quite rightly, concludes that this is not a matter of communication skills but of Obama’s core beliefs — or lack of them. (“Obama’s limited rhetorical range raises questions about the content of his deepest beliefs. For this reason among others, the man who doesn’t need the love of crowds is gradually losing it.”)

Take the Ground Zero mosque. The president who has opined on everything from the Cambridge police department to college basketball cannot speak to his fellow citizens on a topic that has convulsed New York and ignited a fierce public debate. Moreover, isn’t it odd that the president — supposedly the explainer in chief on matters of Islam  — voices no opinion? Does he not care? Or are his views so politically unacceptable that they will only reinforce the perception that he stands apart from his countrymen on the most emotional issues of our time?

Honestly, a president can’t govern by “no comment” or practice what Gerson calls “appalling calm” when emotion is required. Obama has not been able to hide his disdain for ordinary Americans (Bible and gun huggers, he labeled them), the media, his political opponents, and a number of our most important allies. He holds himself apart and above it all. It is more than creepy; it’s a dereliction of duty. He was hired to lead, to rally his countrymen, and to — in his own words — bring us together and elevate America’s standing in the world. You don’t do that my mimicking a sullen teenager, contemptuous of those far more experienced and capable. If he doesn’t grow up and into the job, Americans will (maybe they have already) write him off and look for a true leader.

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Note to E.J. Dionne: What’s Good for the Right Is Good for the Left

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. argues in his most recent column that it’s time to stand up to the right wing. Here’s a thought: how about, E.J., standing up, even just once, to the left wing?

Dionne has a long-time habit of praising conservatives whenever they make critical comments of other conservatives. He did that recently when he praised Michael Gerson for criticizing the “Tea Party excess” and pointing out the need to distinguish between “the injudicious from the outrageous.”

As it happens, I agreed with what Gerson wrote. But when will E.J. follow the example of his Washington Post colleague and deplore the “excess” and the “outrageous” comments and actions within liberalism and the modern Democratic Party? They have been amply documented on CONTENTIONS and elsewhere for a great long while now. It’s actually a fairly target-rich environment. He could start with some of what was said by Journolisters. Just a suggestion.

Yet Dionne never seems able to do to (and for) his side what he praises Gerson for doing to (and for) conservatism, which is to police its excesses.  Unless and until Dionne begins to do what he asks of others, it will be hard to take his pronouncements terribly seriously.

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. argues in his most recent column that it’s time to stand up to the right wing. Here’s a thought: how about, E.J., standing up, even just once, to the left wing?

Dionne has a long-time habit of praising conservatives whenever they make critical comments of other conservatives. He did that recently when he praised Michael Gerson for criticizing the “Tea Party excess” and pointing out the need to distinguish between “the injudicious from the outrageous.”

As it happens, I agreed with what Gerson wrote. But when will E.J. follow the example of his Washington Post colleague and deplore the “excess” and the “outrageous” comments and actions within liberalism and the modern Democratic Party? They have been amply documented on CONTENTIONS and elsewhere for a great long while now. It’s actually a fairly target-rich environment. He could start with some of what was said by Journolisters. Just a suggestion.

Yet Dionne never seems able to do to (and for) his side what he praises Gerson for doing to (and for) conservatism, which is to police its excesses.  Unless and until Dionne begins to do what he asks of others, it will be hard to take his pronouncements terribly seriously.

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