Commentary Magazine


Topic: Minnesota

Flotsam and Jetsam

Eric Holder’s misstatements and gaffe-prone performance in front of Congress earlier this year lead the administration to … fire him? No! Delay the next round of testimony.

Even before ObamaCare, the Democrats were in trouble in Indiana: “Two of the three top Republican hopefuls for the U.S. Senate in Indiana continue to hold double-digit leads over Democratic Congressman Brad Ellsworth. Ellsworth supported President Obama’s health care plan in a state where opposition to the legislation is higher than it is nationally.” But post-ObamaCare, it may get worse: “Just 35% of Indiana voters favor the plan proposed by the president and congressional Democrats, while 63% oppose it.”

Republicans in a number of key Senate races are running on their pro-Israel credentials, while Democrats “must straddle” the divide in their own party between pro- and anti-Israel voters. Tevi Troy: “Support for Israel is one of those issues, like anti-communism used to be, that holds together a number of pieces of the conservative movement, including evangelicals but also neocons, economic conservatives and foreign policy hawks.”

So it begins: “Attorneys general from 13 states are suing the federal government to stop the massive health care overhaul, claiming it’s unconstitutional.”

Not deficit neutral? “The newly passed overhaul of the nation’s health care system is expected to push expenses ‘out of sight’ and cost the country ‘a couple trillion dollars,’ Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, told CNBC.”

And the chattering class was convinced Sarah Palin was the uncouth, vulgar VP candidate in 2008. Well, they also said Obama was a moderate.

Jeffrey Anderson reminds us that ObamaCare won’t really take hold “unless President Obama wins reelection, or unless enough Obamacare-supporting Democrats remain in Congress to thwart the following five-word agenda: Repeal, and then real reform. Based on CBO projections over the next decade, only 1 percent of the legislation’s costs will have kicked in over the next three years. The CBO projections cover the 2010 to 2019 stretch of Obamacare, with most entitlements not kicking in until 2014. So, most of Obamacare will not be implemented out until after the next two elections. We’ll see if the American people freely choose to send enough Obamacare-supporting Democrats — including President Obama — back to Washington, to complete their perhaps unprecedented project of ignoring the people’s will.”

John McCain or Chuck Schumer on Obama’s Iran engagement policy? “Diplomatic efforts have clearly failed. I believe that when it comes to Iran, we should never take the military option off the table. But I have long argued that economic sanctions are arguably the most effective way to choke Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

From Democratic Public Policy Polling: “It’s really looking like a brutal year for Democrats in the Big Ten states. … If the election was today Democrats would likely lose something they currently hold in every state where they have something to lose- Pennsylvania Governor and perhaps Senate, Michigan Governor, Ohio Governor, Indiana Senate, Iowa Governor, Wisconsin Governor and perhaps Senate, and Illinois Senate and/or Governor. Only Minnesota doesn’t join the party because Democrats have nothing to lose there. What all this really makes me wonder is just how many House seats Democrats are going to lose in the region this year.”

Eric Holder’s misstatements and gaffe-prone performance in front of Congress earlier this year lead the administration to … fire him? No! Delay the next round of testimony.

Even before ObamaCare, the Democrats were in trouble in Indiana: “Two of the three top Republican hopefuls for the U.S. Senate in Indiana continue to hold double-digit leads over Democratic Congressman Brad Ellsworth. Ellsworth supported President Obama’s health care plan in a state where opposition to the legislation is higher than it is nationally.” But post-ObamaCare, it may get worse: “Just 35% of Indiana voters favor the plan proposed by the president and congressional Democrats, while 63% oppose it.”

Republicans in a number of key Senate races are running on their pro-Israel credentials, while Democrats “must straddle” the divide in their own party between pro- and anti-Israel voters. Tevi Troy: “Support for Israel is one of those issues, like anti-communism used to be, that holds together a number of pieces of the conservative movement, including evangelicals but also neocons, economic conservatives and foreign policy hawks.”

So it begins: “Attorneys general from 13 states are suing the federal government to stop the massive health care overhaul, claiming it’s unconstitutional.”

Not deficit neutral? “The newly passed overhaul of the nation’s health care system is expected to push expenses ‘out of sight’ and cost the country ‘a couple trillion dollars,’ Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, told CNBC.”

And the chattering class was convinced Sarah Palin was the uncouth, vulgar VP candidate in 2008. Well, they also said Obama was a moderate.

Jeffrey Anderson reminds us that ObamaCare won’t really take hold “unless President Obama wins reelection, or unless enough Obamacare-supporting Democrats remain in Congress to thwart the following five-word agenda: Repeal, and then real reform. Based on CBO projections over the next decade, only 1 percent of the legislation’s costs will have kicked in over the next three years. The CBO projections cover the 2010 to 2019 stretch of Obamacare, with most entitlements not kicking in until 2014. So, most of Obamacare will not be implemented out until after the next two elections. We’ll see if the American people freely choose to send enough Obamacare-supporting Democrats — including President Obama — back to Washington, to complete their perhaps unprecedented project of ignoring the people’s will.”

John McCain or Chuck Schumer on Obama’s Iran engagement policy? “Diplomatic efforts have clearly failed. I believe that when it comes to Iran, we should never take the military option off the table. But I have long argued that economic sanctions are arguably the most effective way to choke Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

From Democratic Public Policy Polling: “It’s really looking like a brutal year for Democrats in the Big Ten states. … If the election was today Democrats would likely lose something they currently hold in every state where they have something to lose- Pennsylvania Governor and perhaps Senate, Michigan Governor, Ohio Governor, Indiana Senate, Iowa Governor, Wisconsin Governor and perhaps Senate, and Illinois Senate and/or Governor. Only Minnesota doesn’t join the party because Democrats have nothing to lose there. What all this really makes me wonder is just how many House seats Democrats are going to lose in the region this year.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Joe Lieberman, who continues to confound his critics, is championing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The Left blogosphere will no doubt discern a plot to drive them bonkers.

The AP gets into the Rahm Emanuel drama – – “a narrative that some (though it’s still unclear who) think Obama’s chief of staff is smarter than the president, an awkward development in Washington’s deeply ingrained tradition of aides staying behind the scenes and not upstaging the boss. At the least, it creates an embarrassment and a distraction at a perilous time. And it belies Obama’s own prized no-drama culture, where neither dirty laundry nor disagreements are aired and theatrics aren’t tolerated. At worst, it sets in motion a dynamic that could lead to shakeups and further doubts about Obama’s leadership.”

Charles Krauthammer in defense of snail mail and scented love letters: “You can’t smell your e-mail.”

Scott Johnson: “The Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy K-8 public charter school in suburban St. Paul. It appears to be is an Islamic school operating illegally at taxpayer expense. Among other things, the school’s principal is an imam and almost all of its students are Muslim. It is housed in a building that was owned originally by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (I’m not sure who owns it now). The school has in any event had a mutually beneficial relationship with MAS Minnesota since the school’s inception. The study of Arabic is required at the school. The Arabic comes in handy for the Koranic studies that follow the regular school day.” The ACLU is suing, and there is evidence that “TiZA has sought to intimidate witnesses.”

Rep. Bart Stupak says there are 12 votes that will switch from “yes” to “no” on the ObamaCare abortion-subsidy issue.

Ron Kampeas shares my amazement at Maureen Dowd’s latest column:  “To suggest [Israel] — and even its Orthodox — are sliding into theocracy is just nutty.”

The Cook Political Report (subscription required): “The retirement announcement of Democratic Rep. Eric Massa puts his Upstate New York ‘southern tier’ seat in grave jeopardy for Democrats. Massa won by only the barest of margins in 2008 after outspending a badly flawed GOP incumbent. … This seat moves from the Lean Democratic column to the Lean Republican column.”

Jonathan Capehart or Matt Continetti on Sarah Palin’s Jay Leno appearance? “Palin’s comfort in front of the camera and with the material, not to mention her don’t-mess-with-me jeans-and-heels outfit, made Palin a feast for the eyes and ears.”

Rep. Pete Stark, new House Ways and Means chairman, is too much even for Democrats who are looking for an alternative: “Looming over his bid for the top job is a long history of rash public statements. In 2004, a San Francisco talk radio station posted a voice mail message that Mr. Stark left for a constituent that said, in part: ‘Probably somebody put you up to this, and I’m not sure who it was, but I doubt if you could spell half the words in the letter and somebody wrote it for you.’  In late 2007 he apologized for saying that Republicans were sending American youth to Iraq ‘to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.'”

Joe Lieberman, who continues to confound his critics, is championing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The Left blogosphere will no doubt discern a plot to drive them bonkers.

The AP gets into the Rahm Emanuel drama – – “a narrative that some (though it’s still unclear who) think Obama’s chief of staff is smarter than the president, an awkward development in Washington’s deeply ingrained tradition of aides staying behind the scenes and not upstaging the boss. At the least, it creates an embarrassment and a distraction at a perilous time. And it belies Obama’s own prized no-drama culture, where neither dirty laundry nor disagreements are aired and theatrics aren’t tolerated. At worst, it sets in motion a dynamic that could lead to shakeups and further doubts about Obama’s leadership.”

Charles Krauthammer in defense of snail mail and scented love letters: “You can’t smell your e-mail.”

Scott Johnson: “The Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy K-8 public charter school in suburban St. Paul. It appears to be is an Islamic school operating illegally at taxpayer expense. Among other things, the school’s principal is an imam and almost all of its students are Muslim. It is housed in a building that was owned originally by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (I’m not sure who owns it now). The school has in any event had a mutually beneficial relationship with MAS Minnesota since the school’s inception. The study of Arabic is required at the school. The Arabic comes in handy for the Koranic studies that follow the regular school day.” The ACLU is suing, and there is evidence that “TiZA has sought to intimidate witnesses.”

Rep. Bart Stupak says there are 12 votes that will switch from “yes” to “no” on the ObamaCare abortion-subsidy issue.

Ron Kampeas shares my amazement at Maureen Dowd’s latest column:  “To suggest [Israel] — and even its Orthodox — are sliding into theocracy is just nutty.”

The Cook Political Report (subscription required): “The retirement announcement of Democratic Rep. Eric Massa puts his Upstate New York ‘southern tier’ seat in grave jeopardy for Democrats. Massa won by only the barest of margins in 2008 after outspending a badly flawed GOP incumbent. … This seat moves from the Lean Democratic column to the Lean Republican column.”

Jonathan Capehart or Matt Continetti on Sarah Palin’s Jay Leno appearance? “Palin’s comfort in front of the camera and with the material, not to mention her don’t-mess-with-me jeans-and-heels outfit, made Palin a feast for the eyes and ears.”

Rep. Pete Stark, new House Ways and Means chairman, is too much even for Democrats who are looking for an alternative: “Looming over his bid for the top job is a long history of rash public statements. In 2004, a San Francisco talk radio station posted a voice mail message that Mr. Stark left for a constituent that said, in part: ‘Probably somebody put you up to this, and I’m not sure who it was, but I doubt if you could spell half the words in the letter and somebody wrote it for you.’  In late 2007 he apologized for saying that Republicans were sending American youth to Iraq ‘to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.'”

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Tim Pawlenty’s Classless Comment

During his speech at CPAC earlier today, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said this:

I think we should take a page out of her playbook [Elin Woods, wife of Tiger] and take a nine iron and smash the window out of big government in this country.

I’m told from those who know Governor Pawlenty that he is an impressive and decent person, and he certainly has a fine record as governor. But this kind of talk is pretty classless — and strikes me as inauthentic to Pawlenty, as an effort to throw some “red meat” to a conservative crowd.

He doesn’t need to do that. It undermines his appeal. He should speak in an intelligent, mature, serious way to his audience. These are, after all, serious times. Humor is fine and I’m all for tough-minded criticism. But grace and class are important, too. And we don’t need to pull down our political culture with stuff like this.

During his speech at CPAC earlier today, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said this:

I think we should take a page out of her playbook [Elin Woods, wife of Tiger] and take a nine iron and smash the window out of big government in this country.

I’m told from those who know Governor Pawlenty that he is an impressive and decent person, and he certainly has a fine record as governor. But this kind of talk is pretty classless — and strikes me as inauthentic to Pawlenty, as an effort to throw some “red meat” to a conservative crowd.

He doesn’t need to do that. It undermines his appeal. He should speak in an intelligent, mature, serious way to his audience. These are, after all, serious times. Humor is fine and I’m all for tough-minded criticism. But grace and class are important, too. And we don’t need to pull down our political culture with stuff like this.

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J Street Is Ba-a-a-ck

When last we left the J Street gang, they were enjoying their Washington confab — though with many fewer congressional “hosts” once it became clear what the group’s agenda really was and what sort of Israel-bashing “artists” planned to entertain the assembled crowd. Then the conference itself proved informative. We learned that the J Streeters didn’t fancy calling themselves “pro-Israel,” at least not on college campuses. And we learned that what really got their juices flowing was a healthy dose of anti-anti-Iranian-regime propaganda and good old-fashioned neocon-bashing. Alas, there’s not much of a market for that on Capitol Hill, so their “lobbying” devolved into some mushy nothingness in which lawmakers were asked to do something to show they favored a two-state solution. (Gutsy stuff from these J Streeters, eh?)

Soon afterward we learned that J Street and NIAC shared some interesting conference calls, the object of which seemed to be, among other things, to get Dennis Ross. J Street didn’t like any of the Iran-sanction measures floating around Congress but seemed powerless to influence the votes.

So now that our memories are refreshed (ever since “engagement with Iran” became a laugh line, they’ve been sort of quiet), we see this report that J Street will “be increasing the number and amount of its contributions to US Congressional candidates by at least 50 percent in the coming year. The announcement comes a few weeks ahead of J Street’s first planned trip to bring members of Congress to Israel.” One wonders if Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson are to be the tour guides.

And who are the recipients of the not-to-be-called-pro-Israel-if-it’s-inconvenient gang’s largesse? There are a bunch:

The 41 endorsees include one Republican, Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, and one of the two Muslim members of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Eight Jewish members also received JStreetPAC’s nod, including representatives Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Susan Davis of California, Barney Frank of Massachusetts and John Yarmuth of Kentucky, as well as the only senator on the list, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Also on the list are Bob Filner of California, Jared Polis of Colorado, and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

Well, no one can excuse himself by pleading ignorance this time around, as did many of the “hosts” when confronted with J Street’s record in October. These lawmakers must be well aware of J Street’s anti-anti-Iran agenda and be quite enamored of its Israel-can-do-no-right rhetoric. One wonders if these lawmakers’ constituents share these views. That’s what elections are for, I suppose. We’ll find out soon enough whether there’s a market for Israel-bashing and Iran-sanction opposition.

When last we left the J Street gang, they were enjoying their Washington confab — though with many fewer congressional “hosts” once it became clear what the group’s agenda really was and what sort of Israel-bashing “artists” planned to entertain the assembled crowd. Then the conference itself proved informative. We learned that the J Streeters didn’t fancy calling themselves “pro-Israel,” at least not on college campuses. And we learned that what really got their juices flowing was a healthy dose of anti-anti-Iranian-regime propaganda and good old-fashioned neocon-bashing. Alas, there’s not much of a market for that on Capitol Hill, so their “lobbying” devolved into some mushy nothingness in which lawmakers were asked to do something to show they favored a two-state solution. (Gutsy stuff from these J Streeters, eh?)

Soon afterward we learned that J Street and NIAC shared some interesting conference calls, the object of which seemed to be, among other things, to get Dennis Ross. J Street didn’t like any of the Iran-sanction measures floating around Congress but seemed powerless to influence the votes.

So now that our memories are refreshed (ever since “engagement with Iran” became a laugh line, they’ve been sort of quiet), we see this report that J Street will “be increasing the number and amount of its contributions to US Congressional candidates by at least 50 percent in the coming year. The announcement comes a few weeks ahead of J Street’s first planned trip to bring members of Congress to Israel.” One wonders if Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson are to be the tour guides.

And who are the recipients of the not-to-be-called-pro-Israel-if-it’s-inconvenient gang’s largesse? There are a bunch:

The 41 endorsees include one Republican, Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, and one of the two Muslim members of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Eight Jewish members also received JStreetPAC’s nod, including representatives Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Susan Davis of California, Barney Frank of Massachusetts and John Yarmuth of Kentucky, as well as the only senator on the list, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Also on the list are Bob Filner of California, Jared Polis of Colorado, and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

Well, no one can excuse himself by pleading ignorance this time around, as did many of the “hosts” when confronted with J Street’s record in October. These lawmakers must be well aware of J Street’s anti-anti-Iran agenda and be quite enamored of its Israel-can-do-no-right rhetoric. One wonders if these lawmakers’ constituents share these views. That’s what elections are for, I suppose. We’ll find out soon enough whether there’s a market for Israel-bashing and Iran-sanction opposition.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It seems that some human rights organization (or perhaps our secretary of state of 19-million-glass-ceiling-cracks fame) should care about all this: “Who, exactly, is it the misogyny-frenzied brutes in charge of administering ‘justice’ to the Saudi distaff side are protecting — and from what? When they condemn a woman who’s been gang-raped to 200 lashes for ‘having sex outside marriage,’ or give a destitute 75-year-old widow 40 lashes for engaging in ‘prohibited mingling’ by receiving charity from two young male relatives, or, in the most recent (known) instance, sentence a 13-year-old girl to 90 lashes — to be delivered in front of her classmates — for bringing a cell phone to school — what do they believe they are doing?”

Meanwhile, Cliff May reminds us that “in a growing number of Muslim-majority countries, a war is being waged against non-Muslim minorities. Where non-Muslim minorities already have been ‘cleansed’ — as in Afghanistan and Iraq — the attacks are against their memory. Ethnic minorities also are being targeted: The genocidal conflict against the black Muslims of Darfur is only the most infamous example. … In response to all this, Western journalists, academics, diplomats, and politicians mainly avert their eyes and hold their tongues. They pretend there are no stories to be written, no social pathologies to be documented, no actions to be taken. They focus instead on Switzerland’s vote against minarets and anything Israel might be doing to prevent terrorists from claiming additional victims.”

Marc Thiessen dismantles Christiane Amanpour and her misrepresentations of waterboarding. Notice that when an informed conservative goes up against a liberal on terrorism issues (e.g., Cliff May vs. Jon Stewart, John Yoo vs. Jon Stewart), the liberal is never quite prepared. Almost like they all live in an echo chamber, with no one to challenge their firmly held and factually unsupported views.

Stuart Rothenberg moves the Arkansas Senate seat to “leans takeover”: “Multiple independent polls now show Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) losing or running even in ballot tests against any number of lower-tier GOP challengers.”

As if Arlen Specter didn’t have enough problems (including picking the exact wrong year to switch parties): “The deeply odd couple of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) appeared together on a Philly radio station yesterday — and things got ugly in short order.” Specter, it seems, told Bachmann to “act like a lady.”

And Specter certainly does have problems: “Republican Pat Toomey now leads incumbent Senator Arlen Specter 49% to 40% in Pennsylvania’s race for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Pennsylvania voters also finds Toomey with a 43% to 35% lead over Democratic challenger Joe Sestak.” As goes Massachusetts, so goes Pennsylvania?

Quin Hillyer writes a smart column: you don’t win upset political races unless you compete. “Too many professional pols and pollsters, consultants and consiglieres, allow their assessment of political potential to be hamstrung by conventional wisdom and by past results. Especially on the right of center, the political class in Washington consistently underestimates what can be achieved by solid principles well communicated. Washington Republicans especially act too often as if they expect to lose and are resigned to losing, just a little more slowly.”

It seems that some human rights organization (or perhaps our secretary of state of 19-million-glass-ceiling-cracks fame) should care about all this: “Who, exactly, is it the misogyny-frenzied brutes in charge of administering ‘justice’ to the Saudi distaff side are protecting — and from what? When they condemn a woman who’s been gang-raped to 200 lashes for ‘having sex outside marriage,’ or give a destitute 75-year-old widow 40 lashes for engaging in ‘prohibited mingling’ by receiving charity from two young male relatives, or, in the most recent (known) instance, sentence a 13-year-old girl to 90 lashes — to be delivered in front of her classmates — for bringing a cell phone to school — what do they believe they are doing?”

Meanwhile, Cliff May reminds us that “in a growing number of Muslim-majority countries, a war is being waged against non-Muslim minorities. Where non-Muslim minorities already have been ‘cleansed’ — as in Afghanistan and Iraq — the attacks are against their memory. Ethnic minorities also are being targeted: The genocidal conflict against the black Muslims of Darfur is only the most infamous example. … In response to all this, Western journalists, academics, diplomats, and politicians mainly avert their eyes and hold their tongues. They pretend there are no stories to be written, no social pathologies to be documented, no actions to be taken. They focus instead on Switzerland’s vote against minarets and anything Israel might be doing to prevent terrorists from claiming additional victims.”

Marc Thiessen dismantles Christiane Amanpour and her misrepresentations of waterboarding. Notice that when an informed conservative goes up against a liberal on terrorism issues (e.g., Cliff May vs. Jon Stewart, John Yoo vs. Jon Stewart), the liberal is never quite prepared. Almost like they all live in an echo chamber, with no one to challenge their firmly held and factually unsupported views.

Stuart Rothenberg moves the Arkansas Senate seat to “leans takeover”: “Multiple independent polls now show Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) losing or running even in ballot tests against any number of lower-tier GOP challengers.”

As if Arlen Specter didn’t have enough problems (including picking the exact wrong year to switch parties): “The deeply odd couple of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) appeared together on a Philly radio station yesterday — and things got ugly in short order.” Specter, it seems, told Bachmann to “act like a lady.”

And Specter certainly does have problems: “Republican Pat Toomey now leads incumbent Senator Arlen Specter 49% to 40% in Pennsylvania’s race for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Pennsylvania voters also finds Toomey with a 43% to 35% lead over Democratic challenger Joe Sestak.” As goes Massachusetts, so goes Pennsylvania?

Quin Hillyer writes a smart column: you don’t win upset political races unless you compete. “Too many professional pols and pollsters, consultants and consiglieres, allow their assessment of political potential to be hamstrung by conventional wisdom and by past results. Especially on the right of center, the political class in Washington consistently underestimates what can be achieved by solid principles well communicated. Washington Republicans especially act too often as if they expect to lose and are resigned to losing, just a little more slowly.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Democratic governors are in trouble, too — in states like Oregon, Ohio, and Washington. It seems the recession and Obamaism have not been kind to incumbent Democrats.

Keith Hennessey on ObamaCare: “If you’re concerned about long-run budget deficits, you should not make a massive new entitlement spending commitment, exclude a multi-hundred billion spending item that is almost certain to be enacted elsewhere, bet on speculative offsets, all to achieve the unimpressive goal of reducing deficits by “a small share of the total deficits that would be likely to arise in that decade under current policies. We need massive future spending reductions to address exploding future deficits, not to redistribute resources to a new entitlement program.”

Meanwhile, the latest Rasmussen survey reports that 60 percent of voters think ObamaCare will increase the deficit. Only 9 percent say it won’t have any impact.

Charles Krauthammer observes that “all Iran sees is an obsequious president, the most accommodating and appeasement-minded since the Carter administration vis-a-vis Iran, on bended knee, begging for a yes — and all [he] gets is no. At some point, and it should be today, it should have been a year ago, three years ago in the Bush administration, accept the fact that a no is a no. … [The Obama administration] actually took the side of the dictatorship against the people in the streets, hoping that it would create an opening and an overture to the regime — and [in response] the regime has spat in our face.”

Well, yes, we imagine that this is what everyone striving to establish himself as a 2012 contender will say: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty became the first likely GOP presidential candidate to criticize Mike Huckabee’s pardon of a suspected killer during his time as Arkansas’s governor. Pawlenty said that he would not have granted clemency to Maurice Clemmons, who was suspected of fatally shooting four police officers in Washington state on Sunday before being shot and killed by police in Seattle Tuesday morning.”

Pawlenty, perhaps explaining why he seems to be trying so hard, confesses: “Nobody knows who I am.”

A pre-speech Gallup survey: “Americans are far less approving of President Obama’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan than they have been in recent months, with 35% currently approving, down from 49% in September and 56% in July.” And more voters disapprove than approve of his performance on terrorism, the economy, health care, and creating jobs.

This is pathetic: the White House goes to war with Politico?! Next up: CNN and Vanity Fair. It seems the “purity” test — brook no heresy — is not a GOP thing but an Obami thin-skinned media thing.

Democratic governors are in trouble, too — in states like Oregon, Ohio, and Washington. It seems the recession and Obamaism have not been kind to incumbent Democrats.

Keith Hennessey on ObamaCare: “If you’re concerned about long-run budget deficits, you should not make a massive new entitlement spending commitment, exclude a multi-hundred billion spending item that is almost certain to be enacted elsewhere, bet on speculative offsets, all to achieve the unimpressive goal of reducing deficits by “a small share of the total deficits that would be likely to arise in that decade under current policies. We need massive future spending reductions to address exploding future deficits, not to redistribute resources to a new entitlement program.”

Meanwhile, the latest Rasmussen survey reports that 60 percent of voters think ObamaCare will increase the deficit. Only 9 percent say it won’t have any impact.

Charles Krauthammer observes that “all Iran sees is an obsequious president, the most accommodating and appeasement-minded since the Carter administration vis-a-vis Iran, on bended knee, begging for a yes — and all [he] gets is no. At some point, and it should be today, it should have been a year ago, three years ago in the Bush administration, accept the fact that a no is a no. … [The Obama administration] actually took the side of the dictatorship against the people in the streets, hoping that it would create an opening and an overture to the regime — and [in response] the regime has spat in our face.”

Well, yes, we imagine that this is what everyone striving to establish himself as a 2012 contender will say: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty became the first likely GOP presidential candidate to criticize Mike Huckabee’s pardon of a suspected killer during his time as Arkansas’s governor. Pawlenty said that he would not have granted clemency to Maurice Clemmons, who was suspected of fatally shooting four police officers in Washington state on Sunday before being shot and killed by police in Seattle Tuesday morning.”

Pawlenty, perhaps explaining why he seems to be trying so hard, confesses: “Nobody knows who I am.”

A pre-speech Gallup survey: “Americans are far less approving of President Obama’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan than they have been in recent months, with 35% currently approving, down from 49% in September and 56% in July.” And more voters disapprove than approve of his performance on terrorism, the economy, health care, and creating jobs.

This is pathetic: the White House goes to war with Politico?! Next up: CNN and Vanity Fair. It seems the “purity” test — brook no heresy — is not a GOP thing but an Obami thin-skinned media thing.

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All the News Barely Fit to Post

Politico breathlessly explains:

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spent $2,993 in taxpayer money on flowers between June and October. House Majority Whip James Clyburn has a thing for Chantilly Donuts, spending about $265 at the Virginia shop in the past quarter. And Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), a fiscal conservative, decided to give about $2,000 in unused office funds back to the government to help reduce the deficit.”

And guess what? She’s spent “$30,610 in food and beverage and about $2,740 on bottled water.” Oh, puleez. The woman has been leading the charge to spend trillions of our dollars on a liberal wish list, and the in-house paper for the Beltway is fixated on flowers, food, and bottled water for a grand total of less than $50,000? I haven’t done the math, but I suspect it’s equivalent to a teaspoon in the ocean of red ink she’s been spilling.

One has to read much of the way through this torrid account of beverages, magazine subscriptions, and donuts to learn that “most of the expenditures seem standard – everything from individual staff salaries to office supplies is listed.” Oh well, in that case. But you’ll be relieved to learn that there was a correction in the story: “An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the amounts Nancy Pelosi’s office spent on flowers and James Clyburn’s office spent on donuts.” That’s a relief. You wouldn’t want to get the glazed-donut hole or daisy figures wrong.

Politico breathlessly explains:

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spent $2,993 in taxpayer money on flowers between June and October. House Majority Whip James Clyburn has a thing for Chantilly Donuts, spending about $265 at the Virginia shop in the past quarter. And Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), a fiscal conservative, decided to give about $2,000 in unused office funds back to the government to help reduce the deficit.”

And guess what? She’s spent “$30,610 in food and beverage and about $2,740 on bottled water.” Oh, puleez. The woman has been leading the charge to spend trillions of our dollars on a liberal wish list, and the in-house paper for the Beltway is fixated on flowers, food, and bottled water for a grand total of less than $50,000? I haven’t done the math, but I suspect it’s equivalent to a teaspoon in the ocean of red ink she’s been spilling.

One has to read much of the way through this torrid account of beverages, magazine subscriptions, and donuts to learn that “most of the expenditures seem standard – everything from individual staff salaries to office supplies is listed.” Oh well, in that case. But you’ll be relieved to learn that there was a correction in the story: “An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the amounts Nancy Pelosi’s office spent on flowers and James Clyburn’s office spent on donuts.” That’s a relief. You wouldn’t want to get the glazed-donut hole or daisy figures wrong.

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The World’s Largest Trope

Fareed Zakaria has stimulated an amusing discussion on the subject of whether America has lost its world supremacy because it no longer strives to build the biggest things on earth. Zakaria’s List of Giant Things Built Elsewhere

The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood…. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year….The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American….[O]nly ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

–so displeased the businessman-blogger Jim Manzi that he went to Wikipedia to prove Zakaria was talking out of his hat, and, I fear, he succeeded:

Iran already had the world’s largest oil refinery by 1980. Russia had already built the world’s tallest Ferris wheel in 1995, topped by Japan in 1997. Canada had already built the world’s largest mall by 1986. Malaysia had already built the world’s tallest building in 1998. I couldn’t find any data on Bollywood in 1998. Using this data for 2001 and estimating back three years, it looks like Bollywood was already larger than Hollywood in 1998 in terms of films produced and total number of tickets sold.

Fareed’s larger point is that the rest of the world is on the rise, and that we are entering a “post-American world.” Like all superficially convincing Grand Theories of Everything, this one seems inarguably true for about three minutes. Then you spend a few seconds thinking deeply about it, as Manzi did, only to come up with a dozen ways in which it is false.

Still, Fareed has hit on something very interesting in this ill-conceived list of ways in which America is now #2, but it has nothing to do with the other nations and everything to do with America. What does it mean that this country evidently cares less and less about building capitalist monuments?

It may mean nothing more than we don’t have to — that the country itself is the capitalist monument par excellence, with a GDP that is almost triple what it was 25 years ago and a per capita income of nearly $46,000. When America began its frenzy of construction, it was trying to prove something; now it needs to prove nothing.  And Americans have gotten wise to the ambiguous nature of capitalist monument-building, since inevitably such things happen only with a considerable amount of taxpayer expenditure with no hope of return except to the private developer who takes on little risk and gets most of the reward.

Nonetheless, this does suggest America has lost some of its striver’s hunger. In New York City, for example, no major project can get off the ground, not even construction at Ground Zero. But this too is a double-edged sword. Most respectable opinion in the city supported a mammoth project in downtown Brooklyn to build a Frank Gehry stadium with 16 apartment buildings around it on the grounds that the stadium would sit on a platform above a rail yard in a mostly blighted neighborhood. Some people living an entire neighborhood away began to protest wildly and irrationally.

But in the five years since it was first proposed, the Brooklyn project has made less and less sense. The neighborhood, like the borough, has improved so radically that it really does seem as though the state’s power of eminent domain is being used to remove a perfectly functional middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood for the benefit of a private contractor (in this case, a developer named Bruce Ratner). And with the credit crunch now underway, it appears the project may die on the vine anyway.

On the one hand, the inability of very liberal New Yorkers to tolerate economic development offers a small-scale portrait of some of what ails this country. On the other hand, the notion that state power shouldn’t be used in this way and that private citizens can band together to prevent it is part of what makes this country such a remarkable world-historical experiment.

Fareed Zakaria has stimulated an amusing discussion on the subject of whether America has lost its world supremacy because it no longer strives to build the biggest things on earth. Zakaria’s List of Giant Things Built Elsewhere

The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood…. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year….The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American….[O]nly ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

–so displeased the businessman-blogger Jim Manzi that he went to Wikipedia to prove Zakaria was talking out of his hat, and, I fear, he succeeded:

Iran already had the world’s largest oil refinery by 1980. Russia had already built the world’s tallest Ferris wheel in 1995, topped by Japan in 1997. Canada had already built the world’s largest mall by 1986. Malaysia had already built the world’s tallest building in 1998. I couldn’t find any data on Bollywood in 1998. Using this data for 2001 and estimating back three years, it looks like Bollywood was already larger than Hollywood in 1998 in terms of films produced and total number of tickets sold.

Fareed’s larger point is that the rest of the world is on the rise, and that we are entering a “post-American world.” Like all superficially convincing Grand Theories of Everything, this one seems inarguably true for about three minutes. Then you spend a few seconds thinking deeply about it, as Manzi did, only to come up with a dozen ways in which it is false.

Still, Fareed has hit on something very interesting in this ill-conceived list of ways in which America is now #2, but it has nothing to do with the other nations and everything to do with America. What does it mean that this country evidently cares less and less about building capitalist monuments?

It may mean nothing more than we don’t have to — that the country itself is the capitalist monument par excellence, with a GDP that is almost triple what it was 25 years ago and a per capita income of nearly $46,000. When America began its frenzy of construction, it was trying to prove something; now it needs to prove nothing.  And Americans have gotten wise to the ambiguous nature of capitalist monument-building, since inevitably such things happen only with a considerable amount of taxpayer expenditure with no hope of return except to the private developer who takes on little risk and gets most of the reward.

Nonetheless, this does suggest America has lost some of its striver’s hunger. In New York City, for example, no major project can get off the ground, not even construction at Ground Zero. But this too is a double-edged sword. Most respectable opinion in the city supported a mammoth project in downtown Brooklyn to build a Frank Gehry stadium with 16 apartment buildings around it on the grounds that the stadium would sit on a platform above a rail yard in a mostly blighted neighborhood. Some people living an entire neighborhood away began to protest wildly and irrationally.

But in the five years since it was first proposed, the Brooklyn project has made less and less sense. The neighborhood, like the borough, has improved so radically that it really does seem as though the state’s power of eminent domain is being used to remove a perfectly functional middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood for the benefit of a private contractor (in this case, a developer named Bruce Ratner). And with the credit crunch now underway, it appears the project may die on the vine anyway.

On the one hand, the inability of very liberal New Yorkers to tolerate economic development offers a small-scale portrait of some of what ails this country. On the other hand, the notion that state power shouldn’t be used in this way and that private citizens can band together to prevent it is part of what makes this country such a remarkable world-historical experiment.

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Media Double Standards

Reminders of the mainstream media’s egregious political double standard vis-à-vis liberals and conservatives come on an almost daily basis. The latest is this week’s New York magazine, the cover of which features a head shot of John McCain smack in the middle of a bulls-eye target, accompanied by this charming teaser copy: “Target: Bush-Backing, Surge-Loving, Economically Clueless Geezer.”

Just try to imagine the frenzy of outrage that would ensue if a right-wing journal were to put on its cover Barack Obama’s face in a bulls-eye, along with the words “Target: Jeremiah Wright-Backing, Surrender-Loving, Foreign Policy-Clueless Slickster.”

The liberal blogosphere would suffer a nuclear meltdown and publications like…well, like New York would immediately commission articles on such an incendiary, and potentially tragic, choice of words and imagery and what it says about the scary intolerance–the “bitterness,” if you will–of Red-State America. Meanwhile, the New York Times would torture readers with a numbing slew of front-page news and “news analysis” pieces (think Augusta National Golf Club circa 2002-2003) on American bigotry, Republican sleaziness, and the approaching racial apocalypse.

But what about Obama’s condescending remarks on middle-class, small-town voters and their values? His words are a precise reflection of what liberal elitists have been thinking and saying for decades (with relative impunity in the private sector but at great cost during presidential campaigns). Yet similarly demeaning generalizations about subgroups on liberals’ endangered species list invariably result in orgies of self-righteous denunciation.

There’s something in the liberal mindset that causes otherwise intelligent and rational people to view small towns and their residents with inordinate fear and loathing. It’s why Hollywood, the epicenter of pop-culture liberalism, has long portrayed “townies” in a sinister light and often in need of help provided by their big-city superiors. In his 1979 book The View From Sunset Boulevard, Ben Stein devoted a chapter to “Small Towns on Television.” While a few of the writers and producers Stein interviewed had some positive things to say about small towns, the general attitude was highly negative and derogatory. “There are a lot of dumb, violent people in small towns,” declared the producer Garry Marshall (he of such brainy fare as “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Mork & Mindy,” and “Joanie Loves Chachi”). One unnamed producer told Stein that small towns are “the kinds of places where the Ku Klux Klan could grow today . . . right now.” Asked whether she saw small towns as “frightening,” the late producer Meta Rosenberg “at first said ‘No,’ and then added, ‘Jesus, they did vote for Nixon.’”

Indeed they did. As, in 1972, did the majority of Americans in 49 of 50 states. Twelve years later, Ronald Reagan, another Republican reviled by the Left, scored another 49-to-1 knockout (with Minnesota taking Massachusetts’s place as the lone entry in the losing column.) But in the eyes of liberal elitists, unless we pull the Democratic lever, we’re all bitter small-town Americans.

Reminders of the mainstream media’s egregious political double standard vis-à-vis liberals and conservatives come on an almost daily basis. The latest is this week’s New York magazine, the cover of which features a head shot of John McCain smack in the middle of a bulls-eye target, accompanied by this charming teaser copy: “Target: Bush-Backing, Surge-Loving, Economically Clueless Geezer.”

Just try to imagine the frenzy of outrage that would ensue if a right-wing journal were to put on its cover Barack Obama’s face in a bulls-eye, along with the words “Target: Jeremiah Wright-Backing, Surrender-Loving, Foreign Policy-Clueless Slickster.”

The liberal blogosphere would suffer a nuclear meltdown and publications like…well, like New York would immediately commission articles on such an incendiary, and potentially tragic, choice of words and imagery and what it says about the scary intolerance–the “bitterness,” if you will–of Red-State America. Meanwhile, the New York Times would torture readers with a numbing slew of front-page news and “news analysis” pieces (think Augusta National Golf Club circa 2002-2003) on American bigotry, Republican sleaziness, and the approaching racial apocalypse.

But what about Obama’s condescending remarks on middle-class, small-town voters and their values? His words are a precise reflection of what liberal elitists have been thinking and saying for decades (with relative impunity in the private sector but at great cost during presidential campaigns). Yet similarly demeaning generalizations about subgroups on liberals’ endangered species list invariably result in orgies of self-righteous denunciation.

There’s something in the liberal mindset that causes otherwise intelligent and rational people to view small towns and their residents with inordinate fear and loathing. It’s why Hollywood, the epicenter of pop-culture liberalism, has long portrayed “townies” in a sinister light and often in need of help provided by their big-city superiors. In his 1979 book The View From Sunset Boulevard, Ben Stein devoted a chapter to “Small Towns on Television.” While a few of the writers and producers Stein interviewed had some positive things to say about small towns, the general attitude was highly negative and derogatory. “There are a lot of dumb, violent people in small towns,” declared the producer Garry Marshall (he of such brainy fare as “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Mork & Mindy,” and “Joanie Loves Chachi”). One unnamed producer told Stein that small towns are “the kinds of places where the Ku Klux Klan could grow today . . . right now.” Asked whether she saw small towns as “frightening,” the late producer Meta Rosenberg “at first said ‘No,’ and then added, ‘Jesus, they did vote for Nixon.’”

Indeed they did. As, in 1972, did the majority of Americans in 49 of 50 states. Twelve years later, Ronald Reagan, another Republican reviled by the Left, scored another 49-to-1 knockout (with Minnesota taking Massachusetts’s place as the lone entry in the losing column.) But in the eyes of liberal elitists, unless we pull the Democratic lever, we’re all bitter small-town Americans.

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Obama’s America

One of the things worth noting about Senator Obama’s comments about the “bitter” working class voters who “cling” to guns, religion, and nativist sentiments because of their “frustrations” is this: Obama’s view of America and Americans is almost unremittingly bleak. In his increasingly prickly and aggressive defense, Obama insists that his comments about ordinary Americans are accurate. He is, he insists, completely “in touch” with the struggles that define modern American life. At least that’s how he defines things: if you review Obama’s speeches, his portrait of Americans is of a people broken and dispirited, anxious and angry and without hope (and for whom Obama, as you might have guessed, is the balm).

Obama has spoken about crumbling schools, growing divisions, and shattered dreams. He speaks about the one father who goes to work before dawn and lies awake at night wondering how he’s going to pay the bills, and the father who’s worried he won’t be able to send his children to college . . . about the mother who can’t afford health care for her sick child and the other mother who saw her mortgage double in two weeks and didn’t know where her two-year old children would sleep at night . . . the woman who works the night shift after a full day of college and still can’t afford health care for a sick sister . . . the senior who lost his pension when the company he gave his life to went bankrupt . . . the teacher who works at Dunkin’ Donuts after school just to make ends meet, and on and on. The American public, Obama believes, has justifiably become cynical, frustrated, and bitter.

It’s also worth considering the views of those to whom Obama is closest. His wife Michelle has said that America is “downright mean.” It’s a nation whose soul is “broken.” And it’s a nation in which she had never, until her husband ran for President, taken pride. Obama’s longtime friend, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr., describes America as fundamentally racist, the “U.S. of K.K.K,” a “Eurocentric wasteland of lily-white lies.”

Senator Obama, in casting himself as a change agent, wants to focus on the failings of our nation. That is typical fare for a presidential candidate. It’s perfectly legitimate, and even right, to call attention to problems that need to be solved and the struggles people are having.

The question for Obama, however, is whether his portrait of America is defining. Does he believe that his comments about working-class people are actually characteristic of them? When he looks out at Americans does he see people who are, on some deep level, broken, bitter, angry, and unable to cope with the vicissitudes of life?

It appears that he does. And if he does, it certainly explains his support for paternalistic government and for the nanny state. It has become unfashionable to point out that for all the problems we face, those of us now living in America are the most fortunate people in history. We live in a nation of extraordinary wealth and scientific and medical advancements. This country, while not without its flaws, has made great strides in alleviating poverty, discrimination, and injustice. We are free to speak, vote, worship, and associate with others. Americans now live longer and better than any previous generation. Our nation remains a force for good in the world. That doesn’t mean our citizen’s lives are without challenges or concerns. It only means that, relative to the rest of the world and relative to history, we’re in pretty good shape.

On some deep level, Obama doesn’t see this. He looks out at America and sees a nation needy, crippled, and desperate for succor from the federal government. A friend of mine wrote to me yesterday:

The supreme arrogance of this man [Obama] comes through with every new defense. I just saw his remarks to the steelworkers in Pittsburgh and, again, it’s everyone else who’s out of touch. Also, it really is a slander against millions of people. I’ve belonged to small town churches all my life (and still do) and I belong to [a gun club in his home state of Minnesota]. It’s hard to find more positive, affirming, communities than small town churches and the hunting/fishing/outdoor culture. What he really doesn’t “get” is the non-materialistic nature of these cultures.

That sounds about right to me. Barack Obama is running as the candidate of hope–but he views America as more or less a wreck and its people as beaten down. From this flawed assumption flows much else, from his rhetoric to his policy proposals. And it helps explain why Obama’s off-the-record comments to a group of wealthy liberals in San Francisco weren’t a “distraction,” as he now characterizes them, but rather a real insight into the mind and sensibilities of the junior senator from Illinois.

One of the things worth noting about Senator Obama’s comments about the “bitter” working class voters who “cling” to guns, religion, and nativist sentiments because of their “frustrations” is this: Obama’s view of America and Americans is almost unremittingly bleak. In his increasingly prickly and aggressive defense, Obama insists that his comments about ordinary Americans are accurate. He is, he insists, completely “in touch” with the struggles that define modern American life. At least that’s how he defines things: if you review Obama’s speeches, his portrait of Americans is of a people broken and dispirited, anxious and angry and without hope (and for whom Obama, as you might have guessed, is the balm).

Obama has spoken about crumbling schools, growing divisions, and shattered dreams. He speaks about the one father who goes to work before dawn and lies awake at night wondering how he’s going to pay the bills, and the father who’s worried he won’t be able to send his children to college . . . about the mother who can’t afford health care for her sick child and the other mother who saw her mortgage double in two weeks and didn’t know where her two-year old children would sleep at night . . . the woman who works the night shift after a full day of college and still can’t afford health care for a sick sister . . . the senior who lost his pension when the company he gave his life to went bankrupt . . . the teacher who works at Dunkin’ Donuts after school just to make ends meet, and on and on. The American public, Obama believes, has justifiably become cynical, frustrated, and bitter.

It’s also worth considering the views of those to whom Obama is closest. His wife Michelle has said that America is “downright mean.” It’s a nation whose soul is “broken.” And it’s a nation in which she had never, until her husband ran for President, taken pride. Obama’s longtime friend, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr., describes America as fundamentally racist, the “U.S. of K.K.K,” a “Eurocentric wasteland of lily-white lies.”

Senator Obama, in casting himself as a change agent, wants to focus on the failings of our nation. That is typical fare for a presidential candidate. It’s perfectly legitimate, and even right, to call attention to problems that need to be solved and the struggles people are having.

The question for Obama, however, is whether his portrait of America is defining. Does he believe that his comments about working-class people are actually characteristic of them? When he looks out at Americans does he see people who are, on some deep level, broken, bitter, angry, and unable to cope with the vicissitudes of life?

It appears that he does. And if he does, it certainly explains his support for paternalistic government and for the nanny state. It has become unfashionable to point out that for all the problems we face, those of us now living in America are the most fortunate people in history. We live in a nation of extraordinary wealth and scientific and medical advancements. This country, while not without its flaws, has made great strides in alleviating poverty, discrimination, and injustice. We are free to speak, vote, worship, and associate with others. Americans now live longer and better than any previous generation. Our nation remains a force for good in the world. That doesn’t mean our citizen’s lives are without challenges or concerns. It only means that, relative to the rest of the world and relative to history, we’re in pretty good shape.

On some deep level, Obama doesn’t see this. He looks out at America and sees a nation needy, crippled, and desperate for succor from the federal government. A friend of mine wrote to me yesterday:

The supreme arrogance of this man [Obama] comes through with every new defense. I just saw his remarks to the steelworkers in Pittsburgh and, again, it’s everyone else who’s out of touch. Also, it really is a slander against millions of people. I’ve belonged to small town churches all my life (and still do) and I belong to [a gun club in his home state of Minnesota]. It’s hard to find more positive, affirming, communities than small town churches and the hunting/fishing/outdoor culture. What he really doesn’t “get” is the non-materialistic nature of these cultures.

That sounds about right to me. Barack Obama is running as the candidate of hope–but he views America as more or less a wreck and its people as beaten down. From this flawed assumption flows much else, from his rhetoric to his policy proposals. And it helps explain why Obama’s off-the-record comments to a group of wealthy liberals in San Francisco weren’t a “distraction,” as he now characterizes them, but rather a real insight into the mind and sensibilities of the junior senator from Illinois.

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Democrats’ Risky Alliance with Big Labor

Barack Obama addressed the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO today. Both have a lot at stake. The AFL-CIO and other unions clearly see 2008 as their year. The AFL-CIO just announced a $53 million ad campaign aimed at attacking John McCain. Yes, Obama doesn’t accept special interest money. But he’s happy to benefit from union help, all the same.

Among Big Labor’s key objectives in recent years has been passage of the Orwellian-sounding Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). That measure would replace secret ballot union elections with so-called “card checks” whereby cards signed by a majority of workers in the presence of union officials would be sufficient to unionize a workplace. Conservatives have long argued that such a measure would open up workers to union intimidation. Nevertheless, this remains a pet project for Big Labor, Congressional Democrats (who failed to pass it in 2007), and both Democratic presidential contenders. (Not surpringly, Obama plugged the EFCA in his AFL-CIO talk today.)

Now comes some evidence that Democrats do the bidding of Big Labor at their political peril. McLaughlin & Associates, a well-regarded GOP polling group, has conducted a survey for a business group, Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, in the battleground states of Minnesota, Colorado, and Maine. The results (according to the press release) show that large majorities of voters in Colorado (68%), Maine (72%), and Minnesota (65%) oppose the EFCA. Moreover, voters in Minnesota and Colorado would be less likely to support Democratic senate candidates who support the EFCA. (Specifically, a plurality of voters would be less likely to vote for Democratic Senate candidates Mark Udall (44%) and Al Franken (41%) if they support this legislation.) To boot, at least 80% of voters in all three states believe that secret ballot elections are the cornerstone of democracy and should be retained for union elections.

This is one more instance in which Democrats have confused the interests of union power brokers with the interests of working-class voters. Unions may want to do away with workplace democracy, but real workers do not. Similarly, teachers’ unions hate school choice measures, but working-class voters whose kids are trapped in underperforming public schools like them.

Will this slow down Big Labor or give Democratic politicians reason to reconsider their position? Probably not. But it’s an opening Republicans should exploit, now that they have some evidence to indicate it’s a smart strategy.

Barack Obama addressed the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO today. Both have a lot at stake. The AFL-CIO and other unions clearly see 2008 as their year. The AFL-CIO just announced a $53 million ad campaign aimed at attacking John McCain. Yes, Obama doesn’t accept special interest money. But he’s happy to benefit from union help, all the same.

Among Big Labor’s key objectives in recent years has been passage of the Orwellian-sounding Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). That measure would replace secret ballot union elections with so-called “card checks” whereby cards signed by a majority of workers in the presence of union officials would be sufficient to unionize a workplace. Conservatives have long argued that such a measure would open up workers to union intimidation. Nevertheless, this remains a pet project for Big Labor, Congressional Democrats (who failed to pass it in 2007), and both Democratic presidential contenders. (Not surpringly, Obama plugged the EFCA in his AFL-CIO talk today.)

Now comes some evidence that Democrats do the bidding of Big Labor at their political peril. McLaughlin & Associates, a well-regarded GOP polling group, has conducted a survey for a business group, Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, in the battleground states of Minnesota, Colorado, and Maine. The results (according to the press release) show that large majorities of voters in Colorado (68%), Maine (72%), and Minnesota (65%) oppose the EFCA. Moreover, voters in Minnesota and Colorado would be less likely to support Democratic senate candidates who support the EFCA. (Specifically, a plurality of voters would be less likely to vote for Democratic Senate candidates Mark Udall (44%) and Al Franken (41%) if they support this legislation.) To boot, at least 80% of voters in all three states believe that secret ballot elections are the cornerstone of democracy and should be retained for union elections.

This is one more instance in which Democrats have confused the interests of union power brokers with the interests of working-class voters. Unions may want to do away with workplace democracy, but real workers do not. Similarly, teachers’ unions hate school choice measures, but working-class voters whose kids are trapped in underperforming public schools like them.

Will this slow down Big Labor or give Democratic politicians reason to reconsider their position? Probably not. But it’s an opening Republicans should exploit, now that they have some evidence to indicate it’s a smart strategy.

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Durban Blues

Good news: Following up on Canada’s example, which I mentioned in a previous post, the United States has decided to boycott next year’s UN conference on human rights in Durban, South Africa, known as “Durban II.” This, according to Senator Norm Coleman (R – Minn.), who says the state department is calling off its participation, in response to a letter he and 26 other senators sent to Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice. In the letter, he senators cited the debacle of the previous Durban conference, which deteriorated into a festival of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing; and the fact that the Durban II organizers include such humane governments as Libya and Iran. The conference, the let ter says, is “yet another example of a seemingly noble UN agenda item being hijacked by member states to spew anti-Semitism.” The senators are right; the U.S. has made the right decision.

Or has it? According to reports, a State Department spokesman, Karl Duckworth, says no such decision has been made. Tom Casey, also at State, says that because the conference is being held after the current administration finishes its term, the decision will be up to the next one. On the other hand, he told reporters that “I certainly don’t think that presently we view it as a particularly valuable activity.”

Perhaps it is considered polite for outgoing administrations not to saddle subsequent ones with their decisions. Yet the question of whether to prop up one of the ugliest forums of world anti-Semitism or to deal it a belated diplomatic death is not next year’s—it’s today’s.

Good news: Following up on Canada’s example, which I mentioned in a previous post, the United States has decided to boycott next year’s UN conference on human rights in Durban, South Africa, known as “Durban II.” This, according to Senator Norm Coleman (R – Minn.), who says the state department is calling off its participation, in response to a letter he and 26 other senators sent to Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice. In the letter, he senators cited the debacle of the previous Durban conference, which deteriorated into a festival of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing; and the fact that the Durban II organizers include such humane governments as Libya and Iran. The conference, the let ter says, is “yet another example of a seemingly noble UN agenda item being hijacked by member states to spew anti-Semitism.” The senators are right; the U.S. has made the right decision.

Or has it? According to reports, a State Department spokesman, Karl Duckworth, says no such decision has been made. Tom Casey, also at State, says that because the conference is being held after the current administration finishes its term, the decision will be up to the next one. On the other hand, he told reporters that “I certainly don’t think that presently we view it as a particularly valuable activity.”

Perhaps it is considered polite for outgoing administrations not to saddle subsequent ones with their decisions. Yet the question of whether to prop up one of the ugliest forums of world anti-Semitism or to deal it a belated diplomatic death is not next year’s—it’s today’s.

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Rudy’s Decision

ABC News has officially called the race as a battle between Mitt Romney and John McCain for first, meaning Rudy is at best a third. I suspect his inclination would be to support the man he said he’d favor if he were not running, John McCain. The most effective way to do that (which of course would avoid the prospect of further losses in New York and New Jersey) would be to do so quickly. Regardless of the outcome tonight, that will further strengthen McCain in the Tri-State area plus Illinois, Minnesota, Delaware and a few other states. There are many strategic and more fundamental reasons one can point to for Rudy’s lack of success, but simply put, McCain and Rudy could not both succeed in this race. Once McCain’s campaign revived and he claimed the national security mantle, Rudy’s campaign had no room for error, which of course is an impossibility in presidential politics.

ABC News has officially called the race as a battle between Mitt Romney and John McCain for first, meaning Rudy is at best a third. I suspect his inclination would be to support the man he said he’d favor if he were not running, John McCain. The most effective way to do that (which of course would avoid the prospect of further losses in New York and New Jersey) would be to do so quickly. Regardless of the outcome tonight, that will further strengthen McCain in the Tri-State area plus Illinois, Minnesota, Delaware and a few other states. There are many strategic and more fundamental reasons one can point to for Rudy’s lack of success, but simply put, McCain and Rudy could not both succeed in this race. Once McCain’s campaign revived and he claimed the national security mantle, Rudy’s campaign had no room for error, which of course is an impossibility in presidential politics.

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What Happens Wednesday?

Beginning Wednesday, we will be in the midst of a phenomenon we have never experienced: a national primary. On the Republican side, we have twenty-one states, including California (173 delegates) and winner-take-all contests in big delegate states like New York (101), New Jersey (52), Missouri (58), and Arizona (53). John McCain is ahead by solid, but not insurmountable margins, in New York, New Jersey and California. Huckabee is competitive in Missouri and is well positioned in deep Red states like Georgia and Alabama. So far, Romney has the edge in Utah, Massachusetts, and Colorado.Should McCain’s post-Crist endorsement momentum result in a Florida win, there is every reason to believe he will hold his leads in the big three February 5 states of New York, New Jersey, and California (a total of 153 winner-take-all delegates and 173 proportionally awarded California delegates) and do quite well in the remainder. Retail politicking is out, obviously; what remains is paid and free media. Part of that is the national media coverage of the “frontrunner” in national polling, which will create something of a bandwagon effect for McCain. An added factor in his favor: even if Rudy remains in the race, he is not likely to hold his share of the voters in February 5 states, which may benefit McCain in Missouri, Delaware, Connecticut, Illinois and Minnesota.What if Mitt Romney pulls out a win? I think we have a wild coast-to-coast fight. McCain will still hold the advantage in the states in which he currently leads, but Romney, with fresh momentum and lots and lots of money for paid ads, will have a very good shot at consolidating conservative support. In short, all bets are off at that point.

As for Huckabee, his role is not unlike that of John Edwards: potentially a spoiler and holder of some cards if we get to a brokered convention. However, it is difficult to imagine him even playing the Edwards role should McCain win in Florida.

Bottom line: I don’t see how McCain can be stopped if he wins tomorrow.

Beginning Wednesday, we will be in the midst of a phenomenon we have never experienced: a national primary. On the Republican side, we have twenty-one states, including California (173 delegates) and winner-take-all contests in big delegate states like New York (101), New Jersey (52), Missouri (58), and Arizona (53). John McCain is ahead by solid, but not insurmountable margins, in New York, New Jersey and California. Huckabee is competitive in Missouri and is well positioned in deep Red states like Georgia and Alabama. So far, Romney has the edge in Utah, Massachusetts, and Colorado.Should McCain’s post-Crist endorsement momentum result in a Florida win, there is every reason to believe he will hold his leads in the big three February 5 states of New York, New Jersey, and California (a total of 153 winner-take-all delegates and 173 proportionally awarded California delegates) and do quite well in the remainder. Retail politicking is out, obviously; what remains is paid and free media. Part of that is the national media coverage of the “frontrunner” in national polling, which will create something of a bandwagon effect for McCain. An added factor in his favor: even if Rudy remains in the race, he is not likely to hold his share of the voters in February 5 states, which may benefit McCain in Missouri, Delaware, Connecticut, Illinois and Minnesota.What if Mitt Romney pulls out a win? I think we have a wild coast-to-coast fight. McCain will still hold the advantage in the states in which he currently leads, but Romney, with fresh momentum and lots and lots of money for paid ads, will have a very good shot at consolidating conservative support. In short, all bets are off at that point.

As for Huckabee, his role is not unlike that of John Edwards: potentially a spoiler and holder of some cards if we get to a brokered convention. However, it is difficult to imagine him even playing the Edwards role should McCain win in Florida.

Bottom line: I don’t see how McCain can be stopped if he wins tomorrow.

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Let’s Help al Qaeda to Kill Americans

What is the best way for terrorists to wreak havoc in the United States? That was the question posed, and answered, yesterday on the New York Times website by Steven D. Levitt, the University of Chicago professor of economics and author of the best-selling book, Freakonomics.

Levitt’s advice to al Qaeda, based upon the economic principle of generating the greatest quantity of harm with the least possible input of resources, would be to learn from the Washington D.C snipers of 2002. He suggests arming

20 terrorists with rifles and cars, and arrang[ing] to have them begin shooting randomly at pre-set times all across the country. Big cities, little cities, suburbs, etc. Have them move around a lot. No one will know when and where the next attack will be. The chaos would be unbelievable, especially considering how few resources it would require of the terrorists. It would also be extremely hard to catch these guys. The damage wouldn’t be as extreme as detonating a nuclear bomb in New York City, of course; but it sure would be a lot easier to obtain a handful of guns than a nuclear weapon.

This does indeed sound like a terrifying scenario and perhaps there is a terrorist cell hidden here that will carry it out.

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What is the best way for terrorists to wreak havoc in the United States? That was the question posed, and answered, yesterday on the New York Times website by Steven D. Levitt, the University of Chicago professor of economics and author of the best-selling book, Freakonomics.

Levitt’s advice to al Qaeda, based upon the economic principle of generating the greatest quantity of harm with the least possible input of resources, would be to learn from the Washington D.C snipers of 2002. He suggests arming

20 terrorists with rifles and cars, and arrang[ing] to have them begin shooting randomly at pre-set times all across the country. Big cities, little cities, suburbs, etc. Have them move around a lot. No one will know when and where the next attack will be. The chaos would be unbelievable, especially considering how few resources it would require of the terrorists. It would also be extremely hard to catch these guys. The damage wouldn’t be as extreme as detonating a nuclear bomb in New York City, of course; but it sure would be a lot easier to obtain a handful of guns than a nuclear weapon.

This does indeed sound like a terrifying scenario and perhaps there is a terrorist cell hidden here that will carry it out.

Levitt believes that putting such suggestions in print for terrorists to read is “a form of public service.” By thinking of plausible ways of causing violent destruction, he writes, “it gives terror fighters a chance to consider and plan for these scenarios before they occur.”

Levitt’s column generated what he says today, in a subsequent posting on the Times website, was an immense amount of hate mail: “The people e-mailing me can’t decide whether I am a moron, a traitor, or both.”

But there are also quite a few letters on the site applauding Levitt, like this one from a person who identifies herself simply as Kelly: “I think you are doing a terrific job actually THINKING about our situation rather than reacting like so many of our fellow Americans.”

Is Levitt indeed performing a public service, or is he a moron, traitor, or both?

Answering this is not as easy as it might appear at first glance. The fact is that we do need to think carefully about the manifold ways terrorists might attack us again. The U.S. government has failed abysmally at that task in the past.

In his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, CIA Director George Tenet recalls with some pride how on the evening of September 12, 2001, he was sitting in his office “kicking around ideas” with a senior agency official when they hit upon the idea of creating “a group with the CIA whose sole purpose in life would be to think contrarian thoughts.” Such a unit, duly created by Tenet and dubbed the “Red Cell,” was given the assignment of “speculat[ing] on what was going through Osama bin Laden’s mind.”

In other words, up until September 11, it never occurred to the clueless Tenet or anyone else in a position of responsibility at our premier intelligence agency to perform the elementary task of thinking systematically about how our terrorist adversaries were thinking about us, including about how they might attack us.

There is thus a case for a public discussion of the issue raised by Levitt. But raising the issue and generating actual scenarios in public are two different things. Levitt defends himself on this point by noting that “a lot of the angry responses [he received made] me wonder what everyday Americans think terrorists do all day. My guess is that they brainstorm ideas for terrorist plots. And you have to believe that terrorists are total idiots if it never occurred to them after the Washington D.C. sniper shootings that maybe a sniper plot wasn’t a bad idea.”

True enough. Or is it true at all?

Yes, there are terrorist masterminds out there who do not need our help cooking up the most intricate and lethal plots against the United States. The attacks of September 11 alone are sufficient evidence of that.

But there are also more than a few terrorists and would-be terrorists roaming around who might qualify as “idiots,” or something close. Most recruits for terrorist action in the Islamist cause are not sophisticated planner types like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed but angry, ignorant, low-level figures, used by the higher-level terrorist plotters as expendable “muscle.”

Richard Reid is one such figure. If he had been smart enough to set off his shoe-bomb in the privacy of the bathroom instead of while remaining in his seat, American Airlines Flight 63 might now be resting quietly on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean with all of it 197 passengers and crew.

Then there was Zacharias Moussaoui, who was encountering trouble in his Minnesota flight school. This deranged fanatic might have only needed scant prompting, perhaps by stumbling across a clever scenario cooked up by Steven Levitt, to find a way to work al Qaeda’s will that was easier than poring through aviation manuals and struggling to operate a Boeing 747 simulator.

There was also el Sayyid Nosair, an operative in the nascent al Qaeda operation, part of the band that was to attack the World Trade Center the first time around in 1993. In 1990, Nosair spent his time and energy planning and carrying out the assassination of the firebrand rabbi Meir Kahane. Given the combination of Kahane’s extremist views and marginal status, this act was senseless, and even counterproductive, from the point of view of Nosair’s own cause. In choosing his victim, Nosair could well have used some help from an economist like Levitt. Will Levitt now offer to provide a public list of superior human targets, whose deaths would be far more useful to the Islamist cause? The logic of his argument suggests that the answer would be yes.

But beyond the logic or illogic of Levitt’s argument, there is something else. Thousands of Americans died on September 11. Although Levitt minimizes the dangers that lie ahead, blithely writing that his guess is that “the terrorism threat just isn’t that great,” the fact is that, like everyone else, he does not know what he does not know. It is entirely possible that the United States will be hit again, and hit harder than we were on September 11.

To Levitt, however, this solemn subject is not solemn at all. He writes about it in a glib and flippant tone, as in his summons to the public to come up with even more lethal scenarios by which al Qaeda might wreak death and destruction on the United States: “I’m sure many readers have far better ideas. I would love to hear them.”

One of the better ripostes to Levitt on the Times website came from a reader named Steve: “Sir, unable to determine if you are demonic, but your actions are demonic. Contemplate this name, Christine Lee Hanson.”

Christine Lee Hanson was a two-year old who perished on board United Airlines Flight 175 when it plowed into the World Trade Center on September 11.

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Bookshelf

• I observed in the current issue of COMMENTARY that “one learns surprisingly little about American religiosity from modern American art. Though some of our major novelists, most notably Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, have been preoccupied with religious matters, it is far more common for American writers either to ignore religion altogether or to portray it as a destructive feature of American life.” I might also have mentioned Jon Hassler, were it not for the fact that he is comparatively little known outside of his home state of Minnesota. He is, nevertheless, a novelist of real quality—and one who differs from most of his contemporaries in understanding that it is impossible to portray modern American life as it is lived without making room for religion.

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• I observed in the current issue of COMMENTARY that “one learns surprisingly little about American religiosity from modern American art. Though some of our major novelists, most notably Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, have been preoccupied with religious matters, it is far more common for American writers either to ignore religion altogether or to portray it as a destructive feature of American life.” I might also have mentioned Jon Hassler, were it not for the fact that he is comparatively little known outside of his home state of Minnesota. He is, nevertheless, a novelist of real quality—and one who differs from most of his contemporaries in understanding that it is impossible to portray modern American life as it is lived without making room for religion.

To be sure, Hassler is more a middlebrow than a modernist, and his (mostly) sympathetic chronicles of Minnesota life are written in a straightforward, accessible style. Judge him by the exalted standards of Proust and Joyce—or, for that matter, O’Connor—and he’ll come up short. Try thinking of him as a Midwestern John P. Marquand and you’ll get a better idea of what he’s about. “Of all the people I know,” Marquand observed, “only Americans, because of some sort of inferiority complex, keep attempting the impossible and trying to get away from their environment.” Jon Hassler has never made that mistake. His novels are set in the small-town world where he was born and in which he has spent the whole of his 74 years, and his characters are ordinary people who spend their days grappling, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, with the ordinary problems of life, love, aging, and death.

One of the things that makes these characters so distinctive is that many (though not all) of them are churchgoers. Not coincidentally, Hassler is a Catholic novelist, and certain of his books are very decidedly the work of a Catholic novelist. Yet their temperate emotional climate has little in common with the claustrophobic creations of, say, Graham Greene or François Mauriac. In Hassler’s novels, no one, not even the priests, is obsessed with the problem of faith in the modern world, nor do his teachers, grocery-store owners, and family doctors take much of an interest in what Browning called “the dangerous edge of things.” They are simply trying to get along in a complicated world, and though they view that world through the prism of belief, most have learned that few answers are quite so easy as they look:

Rain’s only value, for Miss McGee, was that it reminded her how precious was good weather. She despised rain. But she knew that to the earth, rain was as necessary as sunshine. Could it be, she wondered, that the vice and barbarism abroad in the world served, like the rain, some purpose? Did the abominations in the Sunday paper mingle somehow with the goodness in the world and together, like the rain and sun feeding the ferns, did they nourish some kind of life she was unaware of?

The “Miss McGee” of this passage from Staggerford, Hassler’s first novel, is Agatha McGee, a schoolmarm of strongly conservative bent who turns up in several of his later books, most prominently in A Green Journey and Dear James. Like Barbara Pym and Elmore Leonard, Hassler likes to reuse his characters, and so there is something to be gained from reading his books in sequence, though North of Hope stands slightly apart from his ongoing chronicle of life in Staggerford and its environs, and can be read without reference to any of his other books. Reissued last year as part of the Loyola Classics series, North of Hope takes a hackneyed situation—an unhappily married woman falling in love with a priest—and contrives to turn it into something fresh and satisfying.

No matter which one you read first, Hassler’s books repay close reading, not least for their unpretentiously thoughtful observations about life. Here are two of my favorites, from North of Hope and The Love Hunter:

There ought to be a limit (she thought as she steered the bronze Chrysler through the cemetery gate) on the number of open graves you had to look down into in any given lifetime.

He had supposed that when you dissolved a joyless marriage, you opened yourself to the return of joy, but he discovered himself open instead to loneliness.

North of Hope is my favorite Hassler novel. If you’re allergic to priestly protagonists, start with the first two, Staggerford and Simon’s Night. Both are out of print, but used copies are easy to find online.

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Franken’s Shtick

The comedian Al Franken, author of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, recently announced that he is running for Senate from Minnesota, where he grew up. An alumnus of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Franken made his name satirizing conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and National Review’s Rich Lowry, whom he challenged to a fist fight in his garage.

His candidacy has been greeted with predictable enthusiasm. As Time gushed, “Enter the clown, who’s ready to play not Hamlet but Disraeli.” But is Franken really ready? Obviously, Americans have taken a political chance on ex-entertainers before, most notably with Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Franken’s case poses special difficulties because his work has always been so harshly political and partisan.

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The comedian Al Franken, author of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, recently announced that he is running for Senate from Minnesota, where he grew up. An alumnus of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Franken made his name satirizing conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and National Review’s Rich Lowry, whom he challenged to a fist fight in his garage.

His candidacy has been greeted with predictable enthusiasm. As Time gushed, “Enter the clown, who’s ready to play not Hamlet but Disraeli.” But is Franken really ready? Obviously, Americans have taken a political chance on ex-entertainers before, most notably with Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Franken’s case poses special difficulties because his work has always been so harshly political and partisan.

In the final episode of his program on Air America, the now-bankrupt liberal radio station, Franken announced his candidacy with old-fashioned American optimism. “I know I have an awful lot to learn from the people of Minnesota,” he declared. I want “to help our country become everything I hope it can be and everything I know it can be.”

But reconciling aw-shucks populist rhetoric with the well-established cynicism of Franken’s public persona won’t be easy. After all, this is a “comedian” who once ironically raised the possibility that George Bush and Dick Cheney should be executed for treason, quickly adding that “we should never ever, ever, ever execute a sitting President.” He has also made snide comments about McCain’s POW experience: “I don’t understand why all this war hero stuff. I mean, anybody can get captured. Isn’t the idea to capture the other guy? As far as I’m concerned, he sat out the war.”

There are many who find humor in Franken’s shtick, and his candidacy can’t be judged solely on the basis of his stand-up routine and the books he has written. But episodes like the one at a Dean fundraiser in 2003, when Franken went on an expletive-laced, demagogic rant about Brit Hume and Fox News, are among many troubling instances when he has seemed authentically malicious–and out of control.

At Franken’s official campaign website, you can listen to him talk about middle-class values and his hardscrabble family history; you can even hear this Harvard grad use the expression “guv’ment.” But his attempts at folksy spontaneity seem flat and scripted. After ten minutes of self-mythologizing, he finally gets to a subject he can warm to: his agenda, which sounds like leftovers from a 2003 John Kerry press release.

Franken is clearly an intelligent man. He knows that rural-style charm and meat-and-potatoes liberalism play well in Minnesota. But unless he is a preternaturally gifted politician, his humble-pie charade will not survive the extreme rhetoric and partisan titillation in which he has always trafficked. In the run-up to the election in 2008, Minnesotans will have to be on the look-out for the real Al Franken.

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