Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mike Allen

Small Miracles in Tucson, Arizona

Mike Allen’s Playbook this morning has an incredibly poignant anecdote from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, about their visit with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the hospital yesterday.

While the two lawmakers sat at Giffords’s bedside, they joked about what the three of them would do once she recovered, and Giffords actually began to move in response.

“And the more we joked about what we were going to do, she started to open her eyes literally. And then you have to recognize, her eyes hadn’t opened — we didn’t know that — and so she started to struggle,” said Gillibrand.

Seeing this, Giffords’s husband, Mark, immediately jumped to her side and started urging her to keep her eyes open:

“And one of her eyes is covered with a bandage because it was damaged in the gunfire. So her eye is flickering. And Mark sees this and gets extremely excited. … And so he said, Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes. And he’s really urging her forward. And the doctor is like perking up and everyone is coming around the bed. And she’s struggling. … And then she finally opens her eyes and you could she was like desperately trying to focus and it took enormous strength from her. And Mark could just — can’t believe it. I mean, he’s so happy. And we’re crying because we’re witnessing something that we never imagined would happen in front of us. And so Mark says, he says — he said, Gabby, if you can see me, give us the thumbs up, give us the thumbs up.”

But instead of giving a thumbs-up sign, Giffords reached out to try to embrace her husband:

“And then she reaches out and starts grabbing Mark and is touching him and starts to nearly choke him — she was clearly trying to hug him. … And we were just in tears of joy watching this and beyond ourselves, honestly. And then Mark said, you know, touch my ring, touch my ring. And she touches his ring and then she grabs his whole watch and wrist. And then the doctor was just so excited. He said, you don’t understand, this is amazing, what’s she’s doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes.”

Imagine what a tremendous physical exertion it must have been for Giffords to simply raise an arm to touch her husband. She could have remained still, kept her eyes shut, saved the effort. But even this basic act of connecting was worth the struggle.

There has been a lot of talk in recent days about the mindset of the man who put a bullet through Giffords’s head. His friends called him a nihilist who would often ramble about the pointlessness of the world. It’s stories like this one that remind us how false that philosophy is, how even the smallest acts can be full of meaning.

Mike Allen’s Playbook this morning has an incredibly poignant anecdote from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, about their visit with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the hospital yesterday.

While the two lawmakers sat at Giffords’s bedside, they joked about what the three of them would do once she recovered, and Giffords actually began to move in response.

“And the more we joked about what we were going to do, she started to open her eyes literally. And then you have to recognize, her eyes hadn’t opened — we didn’t know that — and so she started to struggle,” said Gillibrand.

Seeing this, Giffords’s husband, Mark, immediately jumped to her side and started urging her to keep her eyes open:

“And one of her eyes is covered with a bandage because it was damaged in the gunfire. So her eye is flickering. And Mark sees this and gets extremely excited. … And so he said, Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes. And he’s really urging her forward. And the doctor is like perking up and everyone is coming around the bed. And she’s struggling. … And then she finally opens her eyes and you could she was like desperately trying to focus and it took enormous strength from her. And Mark could just — can’t believe it. I mean, he’s so happy. And we’re crying because we’re witnessing something that we never imagined would happen in front of us. And so Mark says, he says — he said, Gabby, if you can see me, give us the thumbs up, give us the thumbs up.”

But instead of giving a thumbs-up sign, Giffords reached out to try to embrace her husband:

“And then she reaches out and starts grabbing Mark and is touching him and starts to nearly choke him — she was clearly trying to hug him. … And we were just in tears of joy watching this and beyond ourselves, honestly. And then Mark said, you know, touch my ring, touch my ring. And she touches his ring and then she grabs his whole watch and wrist. And then the doctor was just so excited. He said, you don’t understand, this is amazing, what’s she’s doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes.”

Imagine what a tremendous physical exertion it must have been for Giffords to simply raise an arm to touch her husband. She could have remained still, kept her eyes shut, saved the effort. But even this basic act of connecting was worth the struggle.

There has been a lot of talk in recent days about the mindset of the man who put a bullet through Giffords’s head. His friends called him a nihilist who would often ramble about the pointlessness of the world. It’s stories like this one that remind us how false that philosophy is, how even the smallest acts can be full of meaning.

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Obama Reaches Out to the Chamber of Commerce

One of the low points of the midterm elections came when the Obama administration started darkly insinuating — without evidence — that the Chamber of Commerce was secretly funded by shady foreign corporations. Conservatives immediately denounced these attacks as cheap, desperate, and unsubstantiated.

Now President Obama seems finally to be conceding that his attacks on the Chamber were nothing more than baseless, cynical political maneuvering. According to Politico, Obama has begun reaching out to the Chamber and is planning to speak at one of its events next month:

Moving to repair a deep rift with leading CEOs, President Barack Obama plans to speak at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event next month and the two sides are trying to work out details, White House and Chamber officials said Saturday.

The talks mark a dramatic rapprochement between the Chamber, which spent tens of millions of dollars in the midterm election to defeat Democrats, and the president, who openly criticized the “world’s largest business federation” for accepting contributions from undisclosed donors.

Considering the fact that Obama referred to the Chamber as “a threat to our democracy” during the election, this move can’t be seen as anything other than a complete about-face. Mike Allen calls it “the White House’s clearest move to the center since the Nov. 2 elections,” and he’s right. Hopefully this is a sign that the Obama administration is going to begin heeding the message voters sent earlier this month.

But if Obama does start working more closely with pro-business groups, it will be interesting to see what the response will be from his left-leaning supporters, who are already becoming vocal about their lack of faith in the president.

One of the low points of the midterm elections came when the Obama administration started darkly insinuating — without evidence — that the Chamber of Commerce was secretly funded by shady foreign corporations. Conservatives immediately denounced these attacks as cheap, desperate, and unsubstantiated.

Now President Obama seems finally to be conceding that his attacks on the Chamber were nothing more than baseless, cynical political maneuvering. According to Politico, Obama has begun reaching out to the Chamber and is planning to speak at one of its events next month:

Moving to repair a deep rift with leading CEOs, President Barack Obama plans to speak at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event next month and the two sides are trying to work out details, White House and Chamber officials said Saturday.

The talks mark a dramatic rapprochement between the Chamber, which spent tens of millions of dollars in the midterm election to defeat Democrats, and the president, who openly criticized the “world’s largest business federation” for accepting contributions from undisclosed donors.

Considering the fact that Obama referred to the Chamber as “a threat to our democracy” during the election, this move can’t be seen as anything other than a complete about-face. Mike Allen calls it “the White House’s clearest move to the center since the Nov. 2 elections,” and he’s right. Hopefully this is a sign that the Obama administration is going to begin heeding the message voters sent earlier this month.

But if Obama does start working more closely with pro-business groups, it will be interesting to see what the response will be from his left-leaning supporters, who are already becoming vocal about their lack of faith in the president.

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ObamaCare Sinking in the Polls

“Nearly all of the gains Democrats have made in public approval of the health-care overhaul since it passed in March have been washed away, according to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll for August,” Politico’s Mike Allen reports. According to the Kaiser poll, Americans are about evenly divided on health reform this month, with 43 percent holding favorable views of the new law and 45 percent unfavorable views. This represents a 7-percent drop in support from July, and a 10-percent uptick in opposition.

It’s worth noting that the Kaiser poll has in general shown greater public support for ObamaCare than other polls — yet even Kaiser shows that opposition to President Obama’s signature domestic achievement is higher (and more intense) than support.

“Nearly all of the gains Democrats have made in public approval of the health-care overhaul since it passed in March have been washed away, according to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll for August,” Politico’s Mike Allen reports. According to the Kaiser poll, Americans are about evenly divided on health reform this month, with 43 percent holding favorable views of the new law and 45 percent unfavorable views. This represents a 7-percent drop in support from July, and a 10-percent uptick in opposition.

It’s worth noting that the Kaiser poll has in general shown greater public support for ObamaCare than other polls — yet even Kaiser shows that opposition to President Obama’s signature domestic achievement is higher (and more intense) than support.

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ECI Makes Private Anger Public

This segment on ECI’s opening ad and the backlash against Obama’s Israel policy from Morning Joe should be mandatory viewing:

The domestic impact of Obama’s Israel policy and the potential influence of a group like ECI comes through clearly in that segment. First is the (unintended) comic reaction of Terry McAuliffe — “Out of bounds!” But isn’t it policy, isn’t the ad just quoting Joe Sestak’s own words? Er… um … You see the problem: Democrats are none too pleased that Obama’s Israel policy will have real consequences domestically. It wasn’t supposed to work this way, according to the Obami brain trust; is was Bibi who was supposed to crumble under political pressure.

Also interesting is Politico’s Mike Allen’s and host Joe Scarborough’s take that the ad may tap into liberal Jews’ anger over Obama’s assault on Israel. From time to time, an ad breaks through the clutter and in essence gives “permission” for dissatisfied groups to holler, “Enough!” As we’ve discussed at length, the reaction of American Jewry to Obama has, to put it mildly, been conflicted. A mix of wishful thinking (he doesn’t really mean it!), partisan loyalty, and misguided strategy (if we don’t challenge him in public, he’ll be nicer to Israel!) have dampened public criticism of Obama’s Israel policy. But the underlying unease, indeed fury, has not abated. As this and other ads circulate and as the Middle East gains prominence in the campaign, even liberal Jews may come to the realization that in the privacy of the voting booth, they can finally register their objections. Call it putting some “daylight” between themselves and a disappointing president.

Finally, this video highlights the gap in the pro-Israel community that ECI fills. A pro-Israel activist not associated with either ECI or AIPAC told me, “AIPAC is great at what they do on Capitol Hill. They have their toolbox. ECI has theirs.” It is in that regard an important division of labor in the Jewish community. Established Jewish organizations have never faced a president like this and have struggled to come up with a game plan for pushing back. They are reluctant and ill-equipped to engage in confrontational public advocacy, yet their membership fumes, “Why aren’t you doing something!” Well, along comes ECI. In essence, this alleviates the pressure on establishment Jewish leaders to do what they feel their organizations cannot.

Those who bemoan that foreign policy is “politicized” really mean that they don’t want to defend their own positions. But that’s not how democracy works. Every issue is fodder for debate. We’re now going to have a rip-roaring one on Middle East policy.

This segment on ECI’s opening ad and the backlash against Obama’s Israel policy from Morning Joe should be mandatory viewing:

The domestic impact of Obama’s Israel policy and the potential influence of a group like ECI comes through clearly in that segment. First is the (unintended) comic reaction of Terry McAuliffe — “Out of bounds!” But isn’t it policy, isn’t the ad just quoting Joe Sestak’s own words? Er… um … You see the problem: Democrats are none too pleased that Obama’s Israel policy will have real consequences domestically. It wasn’t supposed to work this way, according to the Obami brain trust; is was Bibi who was supposed to crumble under political pressure.

Also interesting is Politico’s Mike Allen’s and host Joe Scarborough’s take that the ad may tap into liberal Jews’ anger over Obama’s assault on Israel. From time to time, an ad breaks through the clutter and in essence gives “permission” for dissatisfied groups to holler, “Enough!” As we’ve discussed at length, the reaction of American Jewry to Obama has, to put it mildly, been conflicted. A mix of wishful thinking (he doesn’t really mean it!), partisan loyalty, and misguided strategy (if we don’t challenge him in public, he’ll be nicer to Israel!) have dampened public criticism of Obama’s Israel policy. But the underlying unease, indeed fury, has not abated. As this and other ads circulate and as the Middle East gains prominence in the campaign, even liberal Jews may come to the realization that in the privacy of the voting booth, they can finally register their objections. Call it putting some “daylight” between themselves and a disappointing president.

Finally, this video highlights the gap in the pro-Israel community that ECI fills. A pro-Israel activist not associated with either ECI or AIPAC told me, “AIPAC is great at what they do on Capitol Hill. They have their toolbox. ECI has theirs.” It is in that regard an important division of labor in the Jewish community. Established Jewish organizations have never faced a president like this and have struggled to come up with a game plan for pushing back. They are reluctant and ill-equipped to engage in confrontational public advocacy, yet their membership fumes, “Why aren’t you doing something!” Well, along comes ECI. In essence, this alleviates the pressure on establishment Jewish leaders to do what they feel their organizations cannot.

Those who bemoan that foreign policy is “politicized” really mean that they don’t want to defend their own positions. But that’s not how democracy works. Every issue is fodder for debate. We’re now going to have a rip-roaring one on Middle East policy.

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What’s It Getting Us?

Mike Allen, who pouted over the weekend that readers were complaining about the lack of coverage of the “bow,” now seems to get it:

Greeting the Japanese emperor at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace last weekend, President Barack Obama bowed so low that he was looking straight at the stone floor. The next day, Obama shook hands with the prime minister of repressive Myanmar during a group meeting. The day after that, the president held a “town hall” with Chinese university students who had been selected by the regime.

The images from the president’s journey through Asia carried a potent symbolism that has riled critics back home. One conservative website called the episodes “Obamateurism.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney told POLITICO that Obama was advertising “weakness.”

But the Obami love all this. It is showing “modesty about our attitudes toward other countries,” our president tells us. No, it is submissiveness, not modesty. But modesty would be a good thing — for example, not telling Honduras what its constitution means and not bullying Israel on where Jews can live would be vast improvements. Allen tells us that Obama doesn’t like all those “bald assertions of American self-interest.” Yes, it’s a head scratcher because the American president is supposed to be doing everything in his power to advance American interests. Isn’t he? I thought that was in the job description.

Ah, but it’s all so clever. He really wants what is good for us, he’s just going to pretend he doesn’t all that much, thereby getting everyone to co-operate with us. The way to do this is by bowing, figuratively and literally, and showing we are in effect not only no better than others, but less deserving. (That’s the meaning of the low bow — the other guy has higher status.) Cheney explains: “There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone. Our friends and allies don’t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.” What a quaint idea — that the president does not scrape before foreign leaders.

But is it working? The plan is to appear meek and mild and lure other countries into giving us stuff. But alas, it’s been a bust:

The pageantry of his trip is also playing out against a parade of disappointment: Administration officials have acknowledged that a binding international climate agreement won’t emerge from the Copenhagen summit next month. An arms-reduction treaty with Russia is going to expire Dec. 5 without a new one in place, forcing the parties to scramble to sign an interim “bridging agreement.” And Iran and North Korea have yet to deliver on Obama’s promise that U.S. engagement will yield better behavior.

And we’ve not exactly bowled them over in the Middle East or gotten anything from Russia.

You’d think Obama, who wanted “smart” diplomacy and new “pragmatism” (determined to “leave ideology behind”) would take a look around and see what his team has accomplished: nothing. If they have no innate aversion, no skin-crawling reaction to the suck-uppery, perhaps the Obama team will at least recognize that it’s all been a failure. Then they can fire some people and start over. Unfortunately, that photo of the bow is forever.

Mike Allen, who pouted over the weekend that readers were complaining about the lack of coverage of the “bow,” now seems to get it:

Greeting the Japanese emperor at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace last weekend, President Barack Obama bowed so low that he was looking straight at the stone floor. The next day, Obama shook hands with the prime minister of repressive Myanmar during a group meeting. The day after that, the president held a “town hall” with Chinese university students who had been selected by the regime.

The images from the president’s journey through Asia carried a potent symbolism that has riled critics back home. One conservative website called the episodes “Obamateurism.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney told POLITICO that Obama was advertising “weakness.”

But the Obami love all this. It is showing “modesty about our attitudes toward other countries,” our president tells us. No, it is submissiveness, not modesty. But modesty would be a good thing — for example, not telling Honduras what its constitution means and not bullying Israel on where Jews can live would be vast improvements. Allen tells us that Obama doesn’t like all those “bald assertions of American self-interest.” Yes, it’s a head scratcher because the American president is supposed to be doing everything in his power to advance American interests. Isn’t he? I thought that was in the job description.

Ah, but it’s all so clever. He really wants what is good for us, he’s just going to pretend he doesn’t all that much, thereby getting everyone to co-operate with us. The way to do this is by bowing, figuratively and literally, and showing we are in effect not only no better than others, but less deserving. (That’s the meaning of the low bow — the other guy has higher status.) Cheney explains: “There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone. Our friends and allies don’t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.” What a quaint idea — that the president does not scrape before foreign leaders.

But is it working? The plan is to appear meek and mild and lure other countries into giving us stuff. But alas, it’s been a bust:

The pageantry of his trip is also playing out against a parade of disappointment: Administration officials have acknowledged that a binding international climate agreement won’t emerge from the Copenhagen summit next month. An arms-reduction treaty with Russia is going to expire Dec. 5 without a new one in place, forcing the parties to scramble to sign an interim “bridging agreement.” And Iran and North Korea have yet to deliver on Obama’s promise that U.S. engagement will yield better behavior.

And we’ve not exactly bowled them over in the Middle East or gotten anything from Russia.

You’d think Obama, who wanted “smart” diplomacy and new “pragmatism” (determined to “leave ideology behind”) would take a look around and see what his team has accomplished: nothing. If they have no innate aversion, no skin-crawling reaction to the suck-uppery, perhaps the Obama team will at least recognize that it’s all been a failure. Then they can fire some people and start over. Unfortunately, that photo of the bow is forever.

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Honor Among Superdelegates?

At the Politico, Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen say that, unless superdelegates pledged to Hillary Clinton essentially veto the will of the Democratic electorate in August, Hillary Clinton’s bid for the 2008 Democratic nomination is over. As best I can tell, the reasoning in this is air-tight, though I disagree with their conclusion. Every best-case scenario for Clinton still leaves her behind Obama in delegates. (Unless she can get do-overs in Michigan and Florida, which Vandehei and Allen rightly say “would take a political miracle.”) Barring that (or something literally disqualifying Obama), Hillary’s chances rest on the hopes of a superdelegate coup.

Where Vandehei and Allen are mistaken is in their conviction that such a coup won’t occur. They think that some sense of  decorum or party unity will prevent superdelegates from jumping Obama’s ship and boarding Hillary’s.

If this Democratic race has shown us anything, it’s that no such sense of decorum or unity exists. And if superdelegates merely served the purpose of seconding the will of the electorate, their position in the Democratic party would never have been created. The whole purpose of superdelegates is to strengthen the influence of party leadership, precisely so that votes cast throughout the primaries don’t hold too much sway. They are, in other words, designed to do exactly what the Politico piece claims they never would.

This isn’t an argument for the rightness of their function, only a reminder of the reasoning behind it. I’ll leave it to Hillary to make speeches about the valuable guidance and critical balance provided by this loose body of bigshots whose silly name I can’t bear to type any more.

At the Politico, Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen say that, unless superdelegates pledged to Hillary Clinton essentially veto the will of the Democratic electorate in August, Hillary Clinton’s bid for the 2008 Democratic nomination is over. As best I can tell, the reasoning in this is air-tight, though I disagree with their conclusion. Every best-case scenario for Clinton still leaves her behind Obama in delegates. (Unless she can get do-overs in Michigan and Florida, which Vandehei and Allen rightly say “would take a political miracle.”) Barring that (or something literally disqualifying Obama), Hillary’s chances rest on the hopes of a superdelegate coup.

Where Vandehei and Allen are mistaken is in their conviction that such a coup won’t occur. They think that some sense of  decorum or party unity will prevent superdelegates from jumping Obama’s ship and boarding Hillary’s.

If this Democratic race has shown us anything, it’s that no such sense of decorum or unity exists. And if superdelegates merely served the purpose of seconding the will of the electorate, their position in the Democratic party would never have been created. The whole purpose of superdelegates is to strengthen the influence of party leadership, precisely so that votes cast throughout the primaries don’t hold too much sway. They are, in other words, designed to do exactly what the Politico piece claims they never would.

This isn’t an argument for the rightness of their function, only a reminder of the reasoning behind it. I’ll leave it to Hillary to make speeches about the valuable guidance and critical balance provided by this loose body of bigshots whose silly name I can’t bear to type any more.

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