Commentary Magazine


Topic: Model

Reminds Me Of …

Pundits feel compelled to analogize every political figure or race to another pol or election. They debated whether 2010 was like 1994 or not. (Turns out it was like 1938.) Marco Rubio is like Barack Obama, except he hasn’t spent a career writing about himself, embraces American exceptionalism, and isn’t running for president now that he’s just been elected to the U.S. Senate.

So it is with Sarah Palin. She is wont to invoke Ronald Reagan as her model, but is this the Reagan of 1976, a base favorite who took on the party establishment and lost, or the Reagan of 1980, who took the party by storm and pivoted to win over what would become the Reagan Democrats? Richard Wolffe on Meet the Press invoked the memory of Howard Dean — a grassroots favorite who blew himself up during his primary run and would have been a problematic general-election candidate. But of course, all these are inexact comparisons because there has never been a political figure like Palin — a celebrity of this ilk who combines brilliant political instincts and confounding shortcomings.

Yes, history is a useful guide to the future, except when it isn’t and when there are lots of histories to guide us. The mistake that pundits make — because it reveals their prognostications to be nothing more than mere guesses and demonstrates that political “science” is a misnomer – is to minimize the importance of individual personalities and actual races. It is the human effort and the running of the race that decides elections, although demographics, unemployment figures, and the like help shape the playing field. We’re not going to know anything about Palin’s chances unless and until we see her going toe to toe with reporters, opponents, and debate moderators, and until it’s clear whom she’s running against and how they run their races.

What we can say is that Palin is not Reagan or Dean or anyone else. And 2012 will be exactly like no other race in history. The idiosyncratic nature of presidential politics, especially in a 24/7 news environment, makes us appreciate how deliciously unpredictable politics can be. As an intensely human endeavor, how could it be otherwise?

Pundits feel compelled to analogize every political figure or race to another pol or election. They debated whether 2010 was like 1994 or not. (Turns out it was like 1938.) Marco Rubio is like Barack Obama, except he hasn’t spent a career writing about himself, embraces American exceptionalism, and isn’t running for president now that he’s just been elected to the U.S. Senate.

So it is with Sarah Palin. She is wont to invoke Ronald Reagan as her model, but is this the Reagan of 1976, a base favorite who took on the party establishment and lost, or the Reagan of 1980, who took the party by storm and pivoted to win over what would become the Reagan Democrats? Richard Wolffe on Meet the Press invoked the memory of Howard Dean — a grassroots favorite who blew himself up during his primary run and would have been a problematic general-election candidate. But of course, all these are inexact comparisons because there has never been a political figure like Palin — a celebrity of this ilk who combines brilliant political instincts and confounding shortcomings.

Yes, history is a useful guide to the future, except when it isn’t and when there are lots of histories to guide us. The mistake that pundits make — because it reveals their prognostications to be nothing more than mere guesses and demonstrates that political “science” is a misnomer – is to minimize the importance of individual personalities and actual races. It is the human effort and the running of the race that decides elections, although demographics, unemployment figures, and the like help shape the playing field. We’re not going to know anything about Palin’s chances unless and until we see her going toe to toe with reporters, opponents, and debate moderators, and until it’s clear whom she’s running against and how they run their races.

What we can say is that Palin is not Reagan or Dean or anyone else. And 2012 will be exactly like no other race in history. The idiosyncratic nature of presidential politics, especially in a 24/7 news environment, makes us appreciate how deliciously unpredictable politics can be. As an intensely human endeavor, how could it be otherwise?

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Paul Ryan Articulates Conservative Philosophy

Representative Paul Ryan appeared on PBS’s Charlie Rose program earlier this week. The interview demonstrates Ryan’s mastery of budget and economic issues; he also speaks fluently and convincingly on taxes, health care, spending cuts, housing policy, Social Security, the Fed’s policy on quantitative easing, the German vs. the Japanese model, and the inner workings of Congress. He also shows an impressive ability to articulate the philosophical precepts underlying conservatism. But see for yourself.

Representative Paul Ryan appeared on PBS’s Charlie Rose program earlier this week. The interview demonstrates Ryan’s mastery of budget and economic issues; he also speaks fluently and convincingly on taxes, health care, spending cuts, housing policy, Social Security, the Fed’s policy on quantitative easing, the German vs. the Japanese model, and the inner workings of Congress. He also shows an impressive ability to articulate the philosophical precepts underlying conservatism. But see for yourself.

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Bad News Gets Worse for Dems

Nate Silver breaks the bad news to the Gray Lady’s readers:

The Democratic majority is in increasing jeopardy in the Senate, according to the latest FiveThirtyEight forecasting model. … Of late, the source of the Democrats’ problems has not necessarily been in high-profile Senate races where the Republicans have nominated inexperienced but headline-grabbing candidates, like  Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky (although the model regards both Ms. Angle and Mr. Paul as slight favorites). Instead, it has been in traditional swing states like  Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

So in other words, Kentucky and Nevada aren’t problems at all, notwithstanding the “headling-grabbing nominees.” And it gets worse. Those sneaky Republicans have also nominated “members of the G.O.P.’s establishment. … Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the former Republican Minority Whip, and in Ohio, Rob Portman, the former congressman who served as trade representative and budget director in the Bush administration. And so far, the Democrats’ strategy of Bush-bashing does not seem to be resonating in these states.”

To sum up, GOP establishment candidates are doing well. GOP insurgent candidates are doing well. The favorite Democratic strategy is a bust. One can imagine that this is the most optimistic version of events Silver can credibly present. (And he throws in a security blanket for panicky readers: “It could also be that the polling somewhat overstates the degree of danger that Democrats face.”) In fact, it is entirely possible that Silver’s outlook is unduly optimistic. After all, he doesn’t think much of Republican chances in Wisconsin and California, but both of those races are dead heats. And besides, many more of these kinds of columns and the Democrats will become more morose than they already are, further depressing turnout and tipping the playing field in the GOP’s favor.

All in all, the Obama era is proving to be quite a downer for liberals.

Nate Silver breaks the bad news to the Gray Lady’s readers:

The Democratic majority is in increasing jeopardy in the Senate, according to the latest FiveThirtyEight forecasting model. … Of late, the source of the Democrats’ problems has not necessarily been in high-profile Senate races where the Republicans have nominated inexperienced but headline-grabbing candidates, like  Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky (although the model regards both Ms. Angle and Mr. Paul as slight favorites). Instead, it has been in traditional swing states like  Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

So in other words, Kentucky and Nevada aren’t problems at all, notwithstanding the “headling-grabbing nominees.” And it gets worse. Those sneaky Republicans have also nominated “members of the G.O.P.’s establishment. … Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the former Republican Minority Whip, and in Ohio, Rob Portman, the former congressman who served as trade representative and budget director in the Bush administration. And so far, the Democrats’ strategy of Bush-bashing does not seem to be resonating in these states.”

To sum up, GOP establishment candidates are doing well. GOP insurgent candidates are doing well. The favorite Democratic strategy is a bust. One can imagine that this is the most optimistic version of events Silver can credibly present. (And he throws in a security blanket for panicky readers: “It could also be that the polling somewhat overstates the degree of danger that Democrats face.”) In fact, it is entirely possible that Silver’s outlook is unduly optimistic. After all, he doesn’t think much of Republican chances in Wisconsin and California, but both of those races are dead heats. And besides, many more of these kinds of columns and the Democrats will become more morose than they already are, further depressing turnout and tipping the playing field in the GOP’s favor.

All in all, the Obama era is proving to be quite a downer for liberals.

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Smearing 68% of America

Granted, the “conservative spot” on the Gray Lady’s op-ed pages comes with plenty of caveats and handcuffs. So if a conservative columnist is going to last more than a year, he will have to suppress his harshest impulses toward the left and a great deal of his critical faculties. The result is likely to be condescending columns like today’s by Ross Douthat.

He posits two Americas: “The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes.” The first cares about the Constitution, and the second is composed of a bunch of racist rubes, it seems. “The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.” Yes, you can guess which are the opponents of the Ground Zero mosque. (I was wondering if he was going to write, “The first America helped little old ladies across the street; the second America drowned puppies.)

I assume that this is what one has to do to keep your piece of turf next to such intellectual luminaries as Maureen Dowd, but it’s really the worst straw man sort of argument since, well, the last time Obama spoke. But he’s not done: “The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.” OK, on behalf of the rubes in Second America, enough!

Second America — that’s 68% of us — recognizes (and we’ve said it over and over again) that there may be little we can do legally (other than exercise eminent domain) to halt the Ground Zero mosque, but that doesn’t suspend our powers of judgment and moral persuasion. Those who oppose the mosque are not bigots or constitutional ruffians. They merely believe that our president shouldn’t be cheerleading the desecration of “hallowed ground” (“first America’s” term, articulated by Obama) or averting our eyes from the funding sources of the imam’s planned fortress.

Well, maybe all this was the price to be paid at the left’s altar for Douthat’s final two graphs — the ultimate buried lede. After acknowledging that second America has a point (“the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith”), he admits:

By global standards, Rauf may be the model of a “moderate Muslim.” But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.

They’ll need leaders, in other words, who understand that while the ideals of the first America protect the e pluribus, it’s the demands the second America makes of new arrivals that help create the unum.

OK, it’s something, at any rate. Think of it as a little consciousness-raising for the Upper West Side, a reminder that the object of their affection isn’t the best role model to promote religious reconciliation. No, it doesn’t excuse the rest of an obnoxious, fractured history of American history. (Which America is it that hired the infamous Israel Lobby authors to spout thinly disguised anti-Semitism from its Ivy-covered buildings? Which America does Reverend Wright belong to? Which America routinely ridicules Christian evangelicals?) But it does tell you what passes for “conservative” at the New York Times.

Granted, the “conservative spot” on the Gray Lady’s op-ed pages comes with plenty of caveats and handcuffs. So if a conservative columnist is going to last more than a year, he will have to suppress his harshest impulses toward the left and a great deal of his critical faculties. The result is likely to be condescending columns like today’s by Ross Douthat.

He posits two Americas: “The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes.” The first cares about the Constitution, and the second is composed of a bunch of racist rubes, it seems. “The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.” Yes, you can guess which are the opponents of the Ground Zero mosque. (I was wondering if he was going to write, “The first America helped little old ladies across the street; the second America drowned puppies.)

I assume that this is what one has to do to keep your piece of turf next to such intellectual luminaries as Maureen Dowd, but it’s really the worst straw man sort of argument since, well, the last time Obama spoke. But he’s not done: “The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.” OK, on behalf of the rubes in Second America, enough!

Second America — that’s 68% of us — recognizes (and we’ve said it over and over again) that there may be little we can do legally (other than exercise eminent domain) to halt the Ground Zero mosque, but that doesn’t suspend our powers of judgment and moral persuasion. Those who oppose the mosque are not bigots or constitutional ruffians. They merely believe that our president shouldn’t be cheerleading the desecration of “hallowed ground” (“first America’s” term, articulated by Obama) or averting our eyes from the funding sources of the imam’s planned fortress.

Well, maybe all this was the price to be paid at the left’s altar for Douthat’s final two graphs — the ultimate buried lede. After acknowledging that second America has a point (“the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith”), he admits:

By global standards, Rauf may be the model of a “moderate Muslim.” But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.

They’ll need leaders, in other words, who understand that while the ideals of the first America protect the e pluribus, it’s the demands the second America makes of new arrivals that help create the unum.

OK, it’s something, at any rate. Think of it as a little consciousness-raising for the Upper West Side, a reminder that the object of their affection isn’t the best role model to promote religious reconciliation. No, it doesn’t excuse the rest of an obnoxious, fractured history of American history. (Which America is it that hired the infamous Israel Lobby authors to spout thinly disguised anti-Semitism from its Ivy-covered buildings? Which America does Reverend Wright belong to? Which America routinely ridicules Christian evangelicals?) But it does tell you what passes for “conservative” at the New York Times.

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Senator Robert Byrd, R.I.P.

Senator Robert Bryd was the longest serving senator in U.S. history. He cast more votes than any other senator. Others have commented on his maturation on civil rights issues. We’re told that his colleagues are bereft — they hardly can imagine the place without him. Indeed, he was a model – and the envy of many an eye. Really, who could come close to him when it came to looting the taxpayers?

The largess he bestowed on his state is legendary. He has more than 30 buildings, roads, and monuments — in a very small state (41st in the nation) – named after him. But we do have some data that put into perspective how much taxpayer money was spent on all those buildings and countless other pork-barrel projects. As the Tax Foundation explained:

West Virginia taxpayers benefit significantly more than the average state from federal spending. Per dollar of federal tax collected, West Virginia citizens received approximately $1.76 in the way of federal spending. This ranks West Virginia 5th highest among all states. This represents a significant rise from 1995, when West Virginia received $1.59 per dollar of taxes in federal spending, ranking it 2nd nationally.

With a huge helping hand from Byrd, since 1981, West Virginia never dropped below 13th in the grabbing-money-from-taxpayers department.
I asked a number of budget gurus the total value of the taxpayers’ money that Byrd has hauled into his state since 1959. The unanimous response: it’s impossible to tell. But it’s a really big number. You can imagine that’s the sort of epitaph many a U.S. senator would love to have.

Senator Robert Bryd was the longest serving senator in U.S. history. He cast more votes than any other senator. Others have commented on his maturation on civil rights issues. We’re told that his colleagues are bereft — they hardly can imagine the place without him. Indeed, he was a model – and the envy of many an eye. Really, who could come close to him when it came to looting the taxpayers?

The largess he bestowed on his state is legendary. He has more than 30 buildings, roads, and monuments — in a very small state (41st in the nation) – named after him. But we do have some data that put into perspective how much taxpayer money was spent on all those buildings and countless other pork-barrel projects. As the Tax Foundation explained:

West Virginia taxpayers benefit significantly more than the average state from federal spending. Per dollar of federal tax collected, West Virginia citizens received approximately $1.76 in the way of federal spending. This ranks West Virginia 5th highest among all states. This represents a significant rise from 1995, when West Virginia received $1.59 per dollar of taxes in federal spending, ranking it 2nd nationally.

With a huge helping hand from Byrd, since 1981, West Virginia never dropped below 13th in the grabbing-money-from-taxpayers department.
I asked a number of budget gurus the total value of the taxpayers’ money that Byrd has hauled into his state since 1959. The unanimous response: it’s impossible to tell. But it’s a really big number. You can imagine that’s the sort of epitaph many a U.S. senator would love to have.

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New World’s Record for Chutzpah: Obama’s Seder

Some 19 years ago, the first president Bush earned the enmity of American Jews with his rant about being “one lone guy” standing up against the horde of AIPAC activists exercising their constitutional right to petition Congress. Bush’s statement symbolized the intolerance and enmity that his administration felt toward Israel and its American friends. But say one thing for that Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@#$ the Jews” Baker: at least they never pretended to be anything but what they were, country-club establishment Republicans who were not comfortable with Israel or Jewish symbols. Not so Barack Hussein Obama.

After a week spent beating up on Israel, blowing a minor gaffe into an international incident, subjecting Israel’s prime minister to unprecedented insults that Obama would never think of trying on even the most humble Third World leader, and establishing the principle that the Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem — even in existing Jewish neighborhoods — is illegal and an affront to American interests – after all that, Obama plans on spending Monday night mouthing a few lines from the Passover Haggadah at a Seder held in the White House.

According to the New York Times, Obama will take part in a Seder in the Old Family Dining Room along with a band of court Jews such as David Axelrod. The Seder, as the newspaper notes, will end, according to tradition, with the declaration of ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ (Never mind the current chill in the administration’s relationship with Israel.)”

There will, no doubt, be many American Jews who are still so insecure in their place in American society that they will feel flattered that even a president who has proved himself the most hostile chief executive to Israel in a generation will pay lip service to Judaism in this way. No doubt the planting of this sympathetic story on the front page of the Sunday New York Times is calculated to soften the blow of his Jerusalem policy and his disdain for Israel in the eyes of many of Obama’s loyal Jewish supporters.

The vast majority of American Jews are not only liberals; they are, as they say in Texas, “yellow dog Democrats,” meaning they would vote for a yellow dog if it were on the Democratic ticket. But surely a sycophantic article like the Times feature must grate on even their sensibilities. Can any Jew with a smidgeon of self-respect or affection for Israel think that having a president say “Next year in Jerusalem!” while sitting at a table with matzo and macaroons makes up for policies that treat the 200,000 Jews living in the post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods of their own ancient capital as illegal settlers on stolen land?

Perhaps Obama and his coterie of Jewish advisers think they are entitled to expropriate the symbols of Judaism to lend legitimacy to their anti-Israel policies. Of course, if Obama had any real sympathy for the people of Israel or the Jewish people, he might instead spend Monday night reevaluating a policy that appears to concede nuclear weapons to the rabid Jew-haters of Islamist Iran and reinforces the intransigence of the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority and its allies across the Muslim world.

This week, Alan Dershowitz, who still counts himself among Obama’s supporters, warned the president that if he failed on Iran, his legacy would be indistinguishable from that of Neville Chamberlain, who appeased Hitler. He’s right, but it looks as though Chamberlain is becoming Obama’s model because, in addition to employing appeasement strategies, the president’s diktat on Jerusalem and the West Bank is faintly reminiscent of the British White Paper of 1939, which forbade the entrance of more Jewish immigrants into Palestine as the Holocaust loomed and sought to restrict the Jewish presence in most of the country.

But like the elder George Bush, at least Neville Chamberlain had the good manners not to try to portray himself as a friend of the Jews by having a Passover Seder at Number Ten Downing Street while simultaneously pursuing such policies.

Some 19 years ago, the first president Bush earned the enmity of American Jews with his rant about being “one lone guy” standing up against the horde of AIPAC activists exercising their constitutional right to petition Congress. Bush’s statement symbolized the intolerance and enmity that his administration felt toward Israel and its American friends. But say one thing for that Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@#$ the Jews” Baker: at least they never pretended to be anything but what they were, country-club establishment Republicans who were not comfortable with Israel or Jewish symbols. Not so Barack Hussein Obama.

After a week spent beating up on Israel, blowing a minor gaffe into an international incident, subjecting Israel’s prime minister to unprecedented insults that Obama would never think of trying on even the most humble Third World leader, and establishing the principle that the Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem — even in existing Jewish neighborhoods — is illegal and an affront to American interests – after all that, Obama plans on spending Monday night mouthing a few lines from the Passover Haggadah at a Seder held in the White House.

According to the New York Times, Obama will take part in a Seder in the Old Family Dining Room along with a band of court Jews such as David Axelrod. The Seder, as the newspaper notes, will end, according to tradition, with the declaration of ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ (Never mind the current chill in the administration’s relationship with Israel.)”

There will, no doubt, be many American Jews who are still so insecure in their place in American society that they will feel flattered that even a president who has proved himself the most hostile chief executive to Israel in a generation will pay lip service to Judaism in this way. No doubt the planting of this sympathetic story on the front page of the Sunday New York Times is calculated to soften the blow of his Jerusalem policy and his disdain for Israel in the eyes of many of Obama’s loyal Jewish supporters.

The vast majority of American Jews are not only liberals; they are, as they say in Texas, “yellow dog Democrats,” meaning they would vote for a yellow dog if it were on the Democratic ticket. But surely a sycophantic article like the Times feature must grate on even their sensibilities. Can any Jew with a smidgeon of self-respect or affection for Israel think that having a president say “Next year in Jerusalem!” while sitting at a table with matzo and macaroons makes up for policies that treat the 200,000 Jews living in the post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods of their own ancient capital as illegal settlers on stolen land?

Perhaps Obama and his coterie of Jewish advisers think they are entitled to expropriate the symbols of Judaism to lend legitimacy to their anti-Israel policies. Of course, if Obama had any real sympathy for the people of Israel or the Jewish people, he might instead spend Monday night reevaluating a policy that appears to concede nuclear weapons to the rabid Jew-haters of Islamist Iran and reinforces the intransigence of the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority and its allies across the Muslim world.

This week, Alan Dershowitz, who still counts himself among Obama’s supporters, warned the president that if he failed on Iran, his legacy would be indistinguishable from that of Neville Chamberlain, who appeased Hitler. He’s right, but it looks as though Chamberlain is becoming Obama’s model because, in addition to employing appeasement strategies, the president’s diktat on Jerusalem and the West Bank is faintly reminiscent of the British White Paper of 1939, which forbade the entrance of more Jewish immigrants into Palestine as the Holocaust loomed and sought to restrict the Jewish presence in most of the country.

But like the elder George Bush, at least Neville Chamberlain had the good manners not to try to portray himself as a friend of the Jews by having a Passover Seder at Number Ten Downing Street while simultaneously pursuing such policies.

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No Place to Hide

Although David Brooks may think Obama is the model of moderation, Obama’s fellow Democrats don’t. Politico reports:

Moderate House Democrats facing potentially difficult re-elections this fall have a message for President Barack Obama: don’t call us, we’ll call you. Interviews with nearly a dozen congressional Democrats on the ballot this year reveal a decided lack of enthusiasm for having Obama come to their districts to campaign for them—the most basic gauge of a president’s popularity.

He’s more toxic than even George W. Bush may have been late in his term. Obama, of course, is still in his first. And it seems the problem for Democrats is not limited to just a few locales. (“But the sense of uncertainty over what-to-with-Obama seen last year in Virginia — where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds wrestled with whether to run with or from the president before ultimately embracing him in the campaign’s final weeks — now seems to be evolving into a firmer feeling among many centrist Democrats that they’d be better off without him appearing in their districts with them.”)

But the problem is not simply physical proximity. Democratic incumbents can try to avoid appearing on a stage with Obama. But what about all those votes they cast in favor of the agenda that is now the subject of voters’ ire? When Creigh Deeds ran, someone who’d never cast a vote in Congress for ObamaCare or cap-and-trade, his opponent pummeled him, running a campaign designed to capture disaffected independents and angry Republicans. That approach will be all the more effective against those Democrats who are now scared to appear next to Obama but who had no problem rubber-stamping his budget, the failed stimulus, ObamaCare, and cap-and-trade. For those Democrats, there won’t be any place to hide.

Although David Brooks may think Obama is the model of moderation, Obama’s fellow Democrats don’t. Politico reports:

Moderate House Democrats facing potentially difficult re-elections this fall have a message for President Barack Obama: don’t call us, we’ll call you. Interviews with nearly a dozen congressional Democrats on the ballot this year reveal a decided lack of enthusiasm for having Obama come to their districts to campaign for them—the most basic gauge of a president’s popularity.

He’s more toxic than even George W. Bush may have been late in his term. Obama, of course, is still in his first. And it seems the problem for Democrats is not limited to just a few locales. (“But the sense of uncertainty over what-to-with-Obama seen last year in Virginia — where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds wrestled with whether to run with or from the president before ultimately embracing him in the campaign’s final weeks — now seems to be evolving into a firmer feeling among many centrist Democrats that they’d be better off without him appearing in their districts with them.”)

But the problem is not simply physical proximity. Democratic incumbents can try to avoid appearing on a stage with Obama. But what about all those votes they cast in favor of the agenda that is now the subject of voters’ ire? When Creigh Deeds ran, someone who’d never cast a vote in Congress for ObamaCare or cap-and-trade, his opponent pummeled him, running a campaign designed to capture disaffected independents and angry Republicans. That approach will be all the more effective against those Democrats who are now scared to appear next to Obama but who had no problem rubber-stamping his budget, the failed stimulus, ObamaCare, and cap-and-trade. For those Democrats, there won’t be any place to hide.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Maybe it was the health-care summit: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday shows that 22% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-three percent (43%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -21. That matches the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for President Obama. … Overall, 43% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance. That is the lowest level of total approval yet measured for this President.”

In RealClearPolitics.com, Obama’s average disapproval reaches an all-time high of 47.2 percent.

Put it this way: “Obama turned out to be quite an effective community organizer. But the community he organized was a majority of the American people in opposition to his agenda of big-government liberalism.”

David Wasserman of Cook Political Report, as quoted by the New York Times: “The concern among Democrats right now is that there are more yes votes reconsidering than no votes. … My sense is that for Democrats to pass this bill, they would have to convince several members who are already in serious jeopardy, even after voting no on the first health care bill, to put passage of the bill ahead of their own chances of being competitive in the fall.”

On the money: “In a GOP that the mainstream media loves to portray as ‘intensely divided’, we would do well to follow the [Bob] McDonnell model when approaching upcoming elections. For the first time in a long while, Republicans of all stripes appear united in their dislike for President Obama’s fiscal, regulatory, health care proposals and environmental policies. Focusing on the issues, and not on religious or social warfare, as Gov. McDonnell did, is the most likely pathway to success for Republicans in 2010.”

“Under the Obami Bus” would be a shorter headline. But this one does the job: “President Barack Obama abandons Rep. Charles Rangel against ethics charges.”

The good thing about being a former president is that you can tell off Jimmy Carter. George W. Bush: “I have no desire to see myself on television. I don’t want to be a panel of formers instructing the currents on what to do…  I’m trying to regain a sense of anonymity. I didn’t like it when a certain former president — and it wasn’t 41 or 42 — made my life miserable.” Actually, the current ones should do the same.

Republicans are probably wise to harp on reconciliation because so many Americans oppose it, and it does seem to reinforce their point that Democrats are trying to steamroll an unpopular bill. Sen. Tom Coburn used the GOP weekly radio address to bash Democrats for “procedural tricks and backroom deals to ram through a new bill that combines the worst aspects of the bills the Senate and House passed last year. … If the president and the leaders in Congress are serious about finding common ground they should continue this debate, not cut it off by rushing through a partisan bill the American people have already rejected.”

Maybe it was the health-care summit: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday shows that 22% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-three percent (43%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -21. That matches the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for President Obama. … Overall, 43% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance. That is the lowest level of total approval yet measured for this President.”

In RealClearPolitics.com, Obama’s average disapproval reaches an all-time high of 47.2 percent.

Put it this way: “Obama turned out to be quite an effective community organizer. But the community he organized was a majority of the American people in opposition to his agenda of big-government liberalism.”

David Wasserman of Cook Political Report, as quoted by the New York Times: “The concern among Democrats right now is that there are more yes votes reconsidering than no votes. … My sense is that for Democrats to pass this bill, they would have to convince several members who are already in serious jeopardy, even after voting no on the first health care bill, to put passage of the bill ahead of their own chances of being competitive in the fall.”

On the money: “In a GOP that the mainstream media loves to portray as ‘intensely divided’, we would do well to follow the [Bob] McDonnell model when approaching upcoming elections. For the first time in a long while, Republicans of all stripes appear united in their dislike for President Obama’s fiscal, regulatory, health care proposals and environmental policies. Focusing on the issues, and not on religious or social warfare, as Gov. McDonnell did, is the most likely pathway to success for Republicans in 2010.”

“Under the Obami Bus” would be a shorter headline. But this one does the job: “President Barack Obama abandons Rep. Charles Rangel against ethics charges.”

The good thing about being a former president is that you can tell off Jimmy Carter. George W. Bush: “I have no desire to see myself on television. I don’t want to be a panel of formers instructing the currents on what to do…  I’m trying to regain a sense of anonymity. I didn’t like it when a certain former president — and it wasn’t 41 or 42 — made my life miserable.” Actually, the current ones should do the same.

Republicans are probably wise to harp on reconciliation because so many Americans oppose it, and it does seem to reinforce their point that Democrats are trying to steamroll an unpopular bill. Sen. Tom Coburn used the GOP weekly radio address to bash Democrats for “procedural tricks and backroom deals to ram through a new bill that combines the worst aspects of the bills the Senate and House passed last year. … If the president and the leaders in Congress are serious about finding common ground they should continue this debate, not cut it off by rushing through a partisan bill the American people have already rejected.”

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LIVE BLOG: Senator Reid Speaks

Compared to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi was the model of bipartisan cheer. Harry Reid scolds Lamar Alexander, saying that the Republicans aren’t entitled to their own facts. No clue which particular facts he is so aggrieved about. And he, too, is back to the sob stories. Reid defends the use of reconciliation, saying it’s been used before. I think every moment spent defending the process of jamming through a bill on partisan lines is probably a lost one for the Democrats. One basic observation: Reid seems awfully mad and grumpy. Maybe there are some more bad poll numbers from his Senate race.

Compared to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi was the model of bipartisan cheer. Harry Reid scolds Lamar Alexander, saying that the Republicans aren’t entitled to their own facts. No clue which particular facts he is so aggrieved about. And he, too, is back to the sob stories. Reid defends the use of reconciliation, saying it’s been used before. I think every moment spent defending the process of jamming through a bill on partisan lines is probably a lost one for the Democrats. One basic observation: Reid seems awfully mad and grumpy. Maybe there are some more bad poll numbers from his Senate race.

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Extreme Opinions Regarding the Future of Our Military

Mark Helprin, meet John Arquilla. Helprin is a gifted novelist who, in his spare time, offers strategic commentary. Arquilla is a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School who coined the term “net war” and has become an influential strategist. They have just published articles with diametrically opposing — and equally wrong-headed — messages.

Helprin in the Wall Street Journal bemoans our having “recalibrated the armed forces to deal with perhaps a division’s worth of fluid irregulars worldwide, thus granting China, Russia, and Iran military holidays in which to redirect the balance of power.” He thinks we are losing conventional-combat power and warns of dire consequences: “This year, the Air Force will keep 150 fighters in all of Europe, as at one time, while it declined but before it burned, Rome kept only a shadow of legions upon the Rhine and Danube.” Really? The U.S. will fall like the Roman Empire did because we don’t have enough fighter aircraft in Europe? Helprin thinks so, and demands that the F-22 production line be restarted, even though we have another ultra-modern aircraft, the F-35, in the pipeline. The large picture he misses is that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined; our edge can’t be taken for granted but it won’t disappear soon either.

Arquilla, by contrast, thinks the U.S. military remains too conventional. His preferred analogy is not to Rome but rather to World War I: “When militaries don’t keep up with the pace of change, countries suffer. In World War I, the failure to grasp the implications of mass production led not only to senseless slaughter, but also to the end of great empires and the bankruptcy of others.” Today, he argues in Foreign Policy, the U.S. Navy is spending too much on surface warfare ships “whose aluminum superstructures will likely burn to the waterline if hit by a single missile”; the Army, on “a grab bag of new weapons, vehicles, and communications gadgets now seen by its own proponents as almost completely unworkable for the kind of military operations that land forces will be undertaking in the years ahead”; and the Air Force, on “extremely advanced and extremely expensive fighter aircraft — despite losing only one fighter plane to an enemy fighter in nearly 40 years.”

His solution is a radical one: cut defense spending by 10 percent a year, declare “a moratorium … on all legacy-like systems (think aircraft carriers, other big ships, advanced fighters, tanks, etc.),” and cut military manpower (more than 2 million serve today) by two thirds. “The model for military intervention,” he writes, “would be the 200 Special Forces ‘horse soldiers’ who beat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan late in 2001. Such teams would deploy quickly and lethally, with ample reserves for relieving ‘first waves’ and dealing with other crises.”

Give Arquilla props for “out of the box” thinking — as well as for demonstrating why it usually makes sense to stay in the box. The “Afghan model” he cites has been found wanting since 2001 — a few Special Forces troopers could help overthrow the Taliban but couldn’t keep them down. That requires dispatching lots of more troops, which is what President Obama is wisely doing today. Likewise, the projection of U.S. power around the world requires more, not fewer, soldiers. And I wouldn’t be so quick to junk the “legacy weapons system,” which for years to come will give us an invaluable edge over potential adversaries. Helprin goes too far in the other direction, however, by focusing exclusively on the F-22 and its ilk while ignoring developments in robotics (more advanced unmanned aircraft) and the need for effective counterinsurgency forces.

As usual, between the two extremes they represent — extreme unconventionality and extreme conventionality — the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Mark Helprin, meet John Arquilla. Helprin is a gifted novelist who, in his spare time, offers strategic commentary. Arquilla is a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School who coined the term “net war” and has become an influential strategist. They have just published articles with diametrically opposing — and equally wrong-headed — messages.

Helprin in the Wall Street Journal bemoans our having “recalibrated the armed forces to deal with perhaps a division’s worth of fluid irregulars worldwide, thus granting China, Russia, and Iran military holidays in which to redirect the balance of power.” He thinks we are losing conventional-combat power and warns of dire consequences: “This year, the Air Force will keep 150 fighters in all of Europe, as at one time, while it declined but before it burned, Rome kept only a shadow of legions upon the Rhine and Danube.” Really? The U.S. will fall like the Roman Empire did because we don’t have enough fighter aircraft in Europe? Helprin thinks so, and demands that the F-22 production line be restarted, even though we have another ultra-modern aircraft, the F-35, in the pipeline. The large picture he misses is that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined; our edge can’t be taken for granted but it won’t disappear soon either.

Arquilla, by contrast, thinks the U.S. military remains too conventional. His preferred analogy is not to Rome but rather to World War I: “When militaries don’t keep up with the pace of change, countries suffer. In World War I, the failure to grasp the implications of mass production led not only to senseless slaughter, but also to the end of great empires and the bankruptcy of others.” Today, he argues in Foreign Policy, the U.S. Navy is spending too much on surface warfare ships “whose aluminum superstructures will likely burn to the waterline if hit by a single missile”; the Army, on “a grab bag of new weapons, vehicles, and communications gadgets now seen by its own proponents as almost completely unworkable for the kind of military operations that land forces will be undertaking in the years ahead”; and the Air Force, on “extremely advanced and extremely expensive fighter aircraft — despite losing only one fighter plane to an enemy fighter in nearly 40 years.”

His solution is a radical one: cut defense spending by 10 percent a year, declare “a moratorium … on all legacy-like systems (think aircraft carriers, other big ships, advanced fighters, tanks, etc.),” and cut military manpower (more than 2 million serve today) by two thirds. “The model for military intervention,” he writes, “would be the 200 Special Forces ‘horse soldiers’ who beat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan late in 2001. Such teams would deploy quickly and lethally, with ample reserves for relieving ‘first waves’ and dealing with other crises.”

Give Arquilla props for “out of the box” thinking — as well as for demonstrating why it usually makes sense to stay in the box. The “Afghan model” he cites has been found wanting since 2001 — a few Special Forces troopers could help overthrow the Taliban but couldn’t keep them down. That requires dispatching lots of more troops, which is what President Obama is wisely doing today. Likewise, the projection of U.S. power around the world requires more, not fewer, soldiers. And I wouldn’t be so quick to junk the “legacy weapons system,” which for years to come will give us an invaluable edge over potential adversaries. Helprin goes too far in the other direction, however, by focusing exclusively on the F-22 and its ilk while ignoring developments in robotics (more advanced unmanned aircraft) and the need for effective counterinsurgency forces.

As usual, between the two extremes they represent — extreme unconventionality and extreme conventionality — the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

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Happy Anniversary, Marco Rubio

Chris Good smartly observes that yesterday was not simply the anniversary of the $787B stimulus plan but also that of the ascendancy of Marco Rubio. It was the stimulus plan that vaulted Rubio into the Senate race and now into a double-digit lead:

Much of the previously-little-known former state House speaker’s campaign against Gov. Charlie Crist (R) has focused on Crist’s support of the stimulus. Rubio has hit the governor repeatedly for it since announcing his candidacy. In November, Rubio launched the website CharlieandObama.com, dedicated entirely to tying Crist to Obama for his backing of the $787 billion package–with a now-infamous photo of Crist physically embracing Obama displayed prominently. …

Despite the money that it brought to Florida, that move proved to be an easy and effective weapon for Rubio–who wasn’t yet running for Senate–to claw his way into a competitive race with the well-known Crist. Since then, Rubio steadily hammered Crist on the stimulus, and, despite no one knowing who he was and seemingly having no chance in polls at the start of the primary race, he’s become the darling candidate not just of conservatives in Florida, but of activists and prominent conservative interest groups nationwide.

Today Rubio is the headliner at the CPAC gathering in D.C. (“A darling of the tea party movement and conservative grassroots activists who view the establishment-backed Crist as a squishy, unprincipled moderate, Rubio has suddenly emerged as the belle of the conservative ball.”) In typically tone-deaf fashion, a Crist aide put out a fake version of Rubio’s speech that began “Since my campaign began, I’ve had the privilege of becoming the latest cover boy.” Needless to say, Crist wasn’t invited to the event, and the reminder that Rubio is the latest conservative rock star probably doesn’t help Crist’s cause.

In his rise in the polls, Rubio had some help along the way, primarily from Crist, who ran a hapless race, seemed at odds with the energized conservative base, and now has to cope with a financial scandal in the state party headed by Crist’s confidante. But it was Rubio who sensed the right message well before many other Republicans did. Good explains, “Crist’s support for the stimulus was the beginning of Florida conservatives’ discontent with their centrist governor, opening a door for Rubio, according to South Florida Tea Party Chairman Everett Wilkinson. ‘It was the tipping point for most conservatives, who said enough is enough,’ Wilkinson said. ‘I think Rubio came along at the right time and said, ‘I’m for smaller government, I’m for balancing the budget.’”

Rubio has proved to be a successful political fundraiser and bridge-builder, putting together inside-the-Beltway conservatives and Tea Party protesters. But recall that a contingent of the “smart” (as in the Obami’s “smart” diplomacy, which means not at all) punditocracy on the Right didn’t want him to run. He’d mess up Crist’s victory lap, they said. Then the mainstream media got into the act, predicting a civil war.

Rubio wisely ignored all that and stuck to a principled conservative platform and an upbeat tone. The latter shouldn’t be ignored. If one looks at the Republican winners of late — Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, and Scott Brown — there wasn’t a grouchy, gloom-and-doomer in the lot. In fact, they made the other guys and gals seems like the aggrieved grumps.

So what are the political lessons from Rubio’s success for other Republicans? Ignore Republican insiders; they’re nearly always wrong. Take principled conservative stances on issues voters care most about and stick to them. Ignore early polls; they’re meaningless. Be cheery, avoid personal attacks, and never get in the way of your opponent when he’s self-destructing. That, come to think of it, was pretty close to the Christie-McDonnell-Brown model as well. Oh, and the most important thing: make sure to run when Obama-Reid-Pelosi are in charge. And that opportunity may not last much longer.

Chris Good smartly observes that yesterday was not simply the anniversary of the $787B stimulus plan but also that of the ascendancy of Marco Rubio. It was the stimulus plan that vaulted Rubio into the Senate race and now into a double-digit lead:

Much of the previously-little-known former state House speaker’s campaign against Gov. Charlie Crist (R) has focused on Crist’s support of the stimulus. Rubio has hit the governor repeatedly for it since announcing his candidacy. In November, Rubio launched the website CharlieandObama.com, dedicated entirely to tying Crist to Obama for his backing of the $787 billion package–with a now-infamous photo of Crist physically embracing Obama displayed prominently. …

Despite the money that it brought to Florida, that move proved to be an easy and effective weapon for Rubio–who wasn’t yet running for Senate–to claw his way into a competitive race with the well-known Crist. Since then, Rubio steadily hammered Crist on the stimulus, and, despite no one knowing who he was and seemingly having no chance in polls at the start of the primary race, he’s become the darling candidate not just of conservatives in Florida, but of activists and prominent conservative interest groups nationwide.

Today Rubio is the headliner at the CPAC gathering in D.C. (“A darling of the tea party movement and conservative grassroots activists who view the establishment-backed Crist as a squishy, unprincipled moderate, Rubio has suddenly emerged as the belle of the conservative ball.”) In typically tone-deaf fashion, a Crist aide put out a fake version of Rubio’s speech that began “Since my campaign began, I’ve had the privilege of becoming the latest cover boy.” Needless to say, Crist wasn’t invited to the event, and the reminder that Rubio is the latest conservative rock star probably doesn’t help Crist’s cause.

In his rise in the polls, Rubio had some help along the way, primarily from Crist, who ran a hapless race, seemed at odds with the energized conservative base, and now has to cope with a financial scandal in the state party headed by Crist’s confidante. But it was Rubio who sensed the right message well before many other Republicans did. Good explains, “Crist’s support for the stimulus was the beginning of Florida conservatives’ discontent with their centrist governor, opening a door for Rubio, according to South Florida Tea Party Chairman Everett Wilkinson. ‘It was the tipping point for most conservatives, who said enough is enough,’ Wilkinson said. ‘I think Rubio came along at the right time and said, ‘I’m for smaller government, I’m for balancing the budget.’”

Rubio has proved to be a successful political fundraiser and bridge-builder, putting together inside-the-Beltway conservatives and Tea Party protesters. But recall that a contingent of the “smart” (as in the Obami’s “smart” diplomacy, which means not at all) punditocracy on the Right didn’t want him to run. He’d mess up Crist’s victory lap, they said. Then the mainstream media got into the act, predicting a civil war.

Rubio wisely ignored all that and stuck to a principled conservative platform and an upbeat tone. The latter shouldn’t be ignored. If one looks at the Republican winners of late — Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, and Scott Brown — there wasn’t a grouchy, gloom-and-doomer in the lot. In fact, they made the other guys and gals seems like the aggrieved grumps.

So what are the political lessons from Rubio’s success for other Republicans? Ignore Republican insiders; they’re nearly always wrong. Take principled conservative stances on issues voters care most about and stick to them. Ignore early polls; they’re meaningless. Be cheery, avoid personal attacks, and never get in the way of your opponent when he’s self-destructing. That, come to think of it, was pretty close to the Christie-McDonnell-Brown model as well. Oh, and the most important thing: make sure to run when Obama-Reid-Pelosi are in charge. And that opportunity may not last much longer.

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Pleasing None of the People, None of the Time

As Pete aptly described, the Left is in a tizzy. Angry at their floundering idol, they are increasingly aware they have gotten precious little from their wish list. That rage is directed now at both the public and the president, who is getting more and more push back from previously loyal congressional leaders.

Now, in the hands of a skilled politician, this might actually be an opportunity. Having strayed so far Left, Obama now can separate himself, “triangulate,” as Bill Clinton put it, to demonstrate that he really is the model of moderation and sobriety. He might call out the excesses on his own side, both rhetorical and substantive, to reconnect with the Center-Right coalition. But oddly, Obama seems incapable or unwilling to do just that.

Obama is doggedly pursuing health care — the same plan that the public has rejected overwhelmingly. He proposed an extraordinarily irresponsible budget. In short, he is not making an effort to separate himself from those extreme voices in the party who are now quite angry at him. We therefore see the remarkable situation in which independents are alienated, conservatives are enraged, and liberals are aggrieved. It’s hard in politics to please everyone, but it takes a certain talent to displease everyone. Yet Obama has managed to do so. How did that happen?

This, I think, has resulted from the collision of extreme ideology, grand ambition, and plain old incompetence. The Center-Right sees what Obama wants to do (pass a government takeover of health care, regulate carbon emissions, grow the size of government, raise taxes) and is frightened. The Left sees what Obama has done (practically nothing) and is frustrated, if not apoplectic. The Left wants him to be more effective in his extremism (and theirs) but that will further enrage the already motivated Center-Right.

It is quite a dilemma. Moreover, it is a reminder that electing someone very new to the national stage is quite a gamble. Unfortunately, it hasn’t paid off for his supporters. And we all must live with the consequences.

As Pete aptly described, the Left is in a tizzy. Angry at their floundering idol, they are increasingly aware they have gotten precious little from their wish list. That rage is directed now at both the public and the president, who is getting more and more push back from previously loyal congressional leaders.

Now, in the hands of a skilled politician, this might actually be an opportunity. Having strayed so far Left, Obama now can separate himself, “triangulate,” as Bill Clinton put it, to demonstrate that he really is the model of moderation and sobriety. He might call out the excesses on his own side, both rhetorical and substantive, to reconnect with the Center-Right coalition. But oddly, Obama seems incapable or unwilling to do just that.

Obama is doggedly pursuing health care — the same plan that the public has rejected overwhelmingly. He proposed an extraordinarily irresponsible budget. In short, he is not making an effort to separate himself from those extreme voices in the party who are now quite angry at him. We therefore see the remarkable situation in which independents are alienated, conservatives are enraged, and liberals are aggrieved. It’s hard in politics to please everyone, but it takes a certain talent to displease everyone. Yet Obama has managed to do so. How did that happen?

This, I think, has resulted from the collision of extreme ideology, grand ambition, and plain old incompetence. The Center-Right sees what Obama wants to do (pass a government takeover of health care, regulate carbon emissions, grow the size of government, raise taxes) and is frightened. The Left sees what Obama has done (practically nothing) and is frustrated, if not apoplectic. The Left wants him to be more effective in his extremism (and theirs) but that will further enrage the already motivated Center-Right.

It is quite a dilemma. Moreover, it is a reminder that electing someone very new to the national stage is quite a gamble. Unfortunately, it hasn’t paid off for his supporters. And we all must live with the consequences.

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Saving Obama from Himself

The best thing that could happen to President Obama tonight would be for Scott Brown to win the Massachusetts Senate seat.  This may sound crazy, but hear me out. Americans had no idea when they elected Barack Obama that he would turn out to be not a leader but a shill for Nancy Pelosi’s and Harry Reid’s left-wing agenda.  The president has let Pelosi-Reid dictate the terms of the economic stimulus package and health-care reform, and Americans aren’t happy with either. If Democrats lose their super-majority in the Senate, it will, at the very least, slow down the Pelosi-Reid legislative juggernaut and put Obama in a position to become more of the centrist many voters hoped he’d be when they cast their votes in ‘08.

It’s the model Bill Clinton adopted after the ’94 Republican rout. Health-care reform was almost Clinton’s undoing, as it is Obama’s now, but Obama and his advisers learned the wrong lesson from the failure of HillaryCare. It wasn’t the first lady’s (read White House’s) role that provoked the backlash from voters, but the government’s takeover of health care. Keeping Obama’s fingerprints off the bill isn’t enough to protect him from voters’ ire. Clinton had the right idea: abandon the Left. After the failure of health-care reform, Clinton made welfare reform and free trade his signature issues, with Republican help. If Obama loses that 60th vote in the Senate, he, too, will have to figure out an agenda that has more popular support — and that could redound to his benefit in 2012. A Republican victory tonight, along with big gains for the GOP in November, could end up saving Obama from himself.

The best thing that could happen to President Obama tonight would be for Scott Brown to win the Massachusetts Senate seat.  This may sound crazy, but hear me out. Americans had no idea when they elected Barack Obama that he would turn out to be not a leader but a shill for Nancy Pelosi’s and Harry Reid’s left-wing agenda.  The president has let Pelosi-Reid dictate the terms of the economic stimulus package and health-care reform, and Americans aren’t happy with either. If Democrats lose their super-majority in the Senate, it will, at the very least, slow down the Pelosi-Reid legislative juggernaut and put Obama in a position to become more of the centrist many voters hoped he’d be when they cast their votes in ‘08.

It’s the model Bill Clinton adopted after the ’94 Republican rout. Health-care reform was almost Clinton’s undoing, as it is Obama’s now, but Obama and his advisers learned the wrong lesson from the failure of HillaryCare. It wasn’t the first lady’s (read White House’s) role that provoked the backlash from voters, but the government’s takeover of health care. Keeping Obama’s fingerprints off the bill isn’t enough to protect him from voters’ ire. Clinton had the right idea: abandon the Left. After the failure of health-care reform, Clinton made welfare reform and free trade his signature issues, with Republican help. If Obama loses that 60th vote in the Senate, he, too, will have to figure out an agenda that has more popular support — and that could redound to his benefit in 2012. A Republican victory tonight, along with big gains for the GOP in November, could end up saving Obama from himself.

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Northern Virginia Up for Grabs

Virginia continues to surprise Democrats and the elite media. This week a special election was held to fill the state Senate seat in Fairfax County vacated by conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who was elected as the state attorney general. The Democrat won but by only a few hundred votes. Lee Hockstader of the Washington Post — not known to make excuses for the GOP — explained that the Democrat was a “well respected, two-term member of the House of Delegates who is universally acknowledged as one of the state’s leading experts on juvenile justice, incarceration and rehabilitation,” while the Republican “served a single term on the Fairfax School Board before being unceremoniously turned out of office.” The result should give Democrats pause:

This is a no-brainer. [Democrat Dave] Marsden should’ve cleaned up. Instead, he won by scarcely 1 percent of the 23,600 votes cast. His margin of victory came from a 2-1 edge among the state’s 1,200 absentee voters, a constituency GOP officials somehow overlooked. All 40 seats in the state Senate will be up for grabs next November. Be afraid, Virginia Democrats, be very afraid.

But before we get to another round of state races, we have this year’s congressional contests. Gerry Connolly, a first-term congressman in the 11th district and former Fairfax County supervisor who replaced longtime and very popular Tom Davis, should be “very afraid” as well. Two Republicans — Fairfax county supervisor Pat Herrity and businessman Keith Fimian (who lost to Connolly in 2008 by a 54 to 43 percent margin, considerably ahead of John McCain, who lost to Obama by a 60 to 39 percent margin in the county) — are vying to challenge him.

Since coming to the Hill, Connolly has eschewed the model of his predecessor, a moderate, pro-business Republican who remained popular in his district even when Republican fortunes flagged. Instead, Connolly has voted down the line with Nancy Pelosi and Obama on the left-wing agenda. His votes on cap-and-trade and especially ObamaCare (which will hit his constituents with a bevy of new taxes) will certainly be under attack. Connolly has reason to be nervous: Bob McDonnell shocked Virginia politicos, who had come to see Fairfax as drifting further and further into the Blue, by carrying the county 51 to 49 percent, running against the very Obama agenda items Connolly has supported.

In a year in which Massachusetts is competitive, northern Virginia certainly will be — especially if Republicans can make the case that incumbent Democrats have lost faith with their more moderate voters.

Virginia continues to surprise Democrats and the elite media. This week a special election was held to fill the state Senate seat in Fairfax County vacated by conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who was elected as the state attorney general. The Democrat won but by only a few hundred votes. Lee Hockstader of the Washington Post — not known to make excuses for the GOP — explained that the Democrat was a “well respected, two-term member of the House of Delegates who is universally acknowledged as one of the state’s leading experts on juvenile justice, incarceration and rehabilitation,” while the Republican “served a single term on the Fairfax School Board before being unceremoniously turned out of office.” The result should give Democrats pause:

This is a no-brainer. [Democrat Dave] Marsden should’ve cleaned up. Instead, he won by scarcely 1 percent of the 23,600 votes cast. His margin of victory came from a 2-1 edge among the state’s 1,200 absentee voters, a constituency GOP officials somehow overlooked. All 40 seats in the state Senate will be up for grabs next November. Be afraid, Virginia Democrats, be very afraid.

But before we get to another round of state races, we have this year’s congressional contests. Gerry Connolly, a first-term congressman in the 11th district and former Fairfax County supervisor who replaced longtime and very popular Tom Davis, should be “very afraid” as well. Two Republicans — Fairfax county supervisor Pat Herrity and businessman Keith Fimian (who lost to Connolly in 2008 by a 54 to 43 percent margin, considerably ahead of John McCain, who lost to Obama by a 60 to 39 percent margin in the county) — are vying to challenge him.

Since coming to the Hill, Connolly has eschewed the model of his predecessor, a moderate, pro-business Republican who remained popular in his district even when Republican fortunes flagged. Instead, Connolly has voted down the line with Nancy Pelosi and Obama on the left-wing agenda. His votes on cap-and-trade and especially ObamaCare (which will hit his constituents with a bevy of new taxes) will certainly be under attack. Connolly has reason to be nervous: Bob McDonnell shocked Virginia politicos, who had come to see Fairfax as drifting further and further into the Blue, by carrying the county 51 to 49 percent, running against the very Obama agenda items Connolly has supported.

In a year in which Massachusetts is competitive, northern Virginia certainly will be — especially if Republicans can make the case that incumbent Democrats have lost faith with their more moderate voters.

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McDonnell’s Model: Save the Flash

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Virginia governor-elect Bob McDonnell demonstrates the qualities that got him elected — an unflappable ability to stay on message, an attention to nitty-gritty details (on the budget, on school reform, etc.), a willingness to engage in meaningful bipartisan policy making (on charter schools), and an entirely conservative message. On the economy:

“Virginia’s unemployment rate, 6.6%, is lower than the 10% national average, but it is up sharply from its low of below 3% in 2007. In the worst economy in 80 years,” says Mr. McDonnell, “it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what we ought to be talking about.” He adds: “I do think that talking about the excesses of the federal government is something you are going to hear Republican and Democratic candidates for statewide office talk about for a while because I think you’re going to see a resurgence of discussions of federalism, about the 10th Amendment, about limits on federal power, and federal spending.”

Nor does he plan on jettisoning social issues or changing his political stripes to attract new supporters. (“I am 100% pro-life . . . We were unequivocal about our position on marriage.”) After all, he won by nearly 20 points.

He ran as a policy-wonkish conservative and he appears anxious to govern as one with an eye toward reform, rather than just slashing the size of government. He’s not, at least for now, running for anything else (Virginia limits its governors to one term); so he has the “luxury” of focusing on his job. In that and in his consistent political persona and message, he is an oddity these days. We have gotten used to politicians who run as one thing and govern as another, or those (like incumbent Tim Kaine) who take on other jobs or campaigns rather than attend to their day jobs.

Republicans will be scrambling to duplicate the McDonnell “model” — it is tempting to do so, given his margin of victory. But the real lesson of McDonnell is that the public, battered and bruised by recession, responds to serious campaigns and respects serious people. The key is to find candidates who don’t need to fake competency and who don’t need to reinvent themselves. We’ve had a year of learning that an “historic” and “charismatic” candidate doesn’t necessarily make for an effective office holder and that inviting everyone to project their own hopes and dreams onto a blank canvas may be a recipe for disappointment. If the public is tired and grumpy, maybe a little angry, and looking to once again throw the bums out, it might be attracted in 2010 to those who don’t want to dazzle but rather just want to do their jobs. It’s not an exciting formula, perhaps, but maybe we’ve had enough excitement for awhile.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Virginia governor-elect Bob McDonnell demonstrates the qualities that got him elected — an unflappable ability to stay on message, an attention to nitty-gritty details (on the budget, on school reform, etc.), a willingness to engage in meaningful bipartisan policy making (on charter schools), and an entirely conservative message. On the economy:

“Virginia’s unemployment rate, 6.6%, is lower than the 10% national average, but it is up sharply from its low of below 3% in 2007. In the worst economy in 80 years,” says Mr. McDonnell, “it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what we ought to be talking about.” He adds: “I do think that talking about the excesses of the federal government is something you are going to hear Republican and Democratic candidates for statewide office talk about for a while because I think you’re going to see a resurgence of discussions of federalism, about the 10th Amendment, about limits on federal power, and federal spending.”

Nor does he plan on jettisoning social issues or changing his political stripes to attract new supporters. (“I am 100% pro-life . . . We were unequivocal about our position on marriage.”) After all, he won by nearly 20 points.

He ran as a policy-wonkish conservative and he appears anxious to govern as one with an eye toward reform, rather than just slashing the size of government. He’s not, at least for now, running for anything else (Virginia limits its governors to one term); so he has the “luxury” of focusing on his job. In that and in his consistent political persona and message, he is an oddity these days. We have gotten used to politicians who run as one thing and govern as another, or those (like incumbent Tim Kaine) who take on other jobs or campaigns rather than attend to their day jobs.

Republicans will be scrambling to duplicate the McDonnell “model” — it is tempting to do so, given his margin of victory. But the real lesson of McDonnell is that the public, battered and bruised by recession, responds to serious campaigns and respects serious people. The key is to find candidates who don’t need to fake competency and who don’t need to reinvent themselves. We’ve had a year of learning that an “historic” and “charismatic” candidate doesn’t necessarily make for an effective office holder and that inviting everyone to project their own hopes and dreams onto a blank canvas may be a recipe for disappointment. If the public is tired and grumpy, maybe a little angry, and looking to once again throw the bums out, it might be attracted in 2010 to those who don’t want to dazzle but rather just want to do their jobs. It’s not an exciting formula, perhaps, but maybe we’ve had enough excitement for awhile.

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One Big Switzerland

Gideon Rachman has a bracing column in the Financial Times in which he says that Europe has become largely irrelevant in world affairs and that’s not a bad thing. His model is Switzerland, which has prospered for centuries by standing on the sidelines of world affairs. “Europe has become a giant Switzerland,” he writes approvingly.

That’s very nice for Europe (at least for the time being), but there are a few problems with this irresponsible posture (literally irresponsible–i.e., not taking responsibility for global security) which Rachman ignores. Neutral nations may prosper but there’s a price to be paid. During World War II, when it was surrounded by Axis states, Switzerland kept itself from being occupied by two expedients.

First it created a very robust defense of the kind that Europe now lacks. The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that “it eventually mobilized 850,000 people out of a total population of 4,000,000.” Second, and less to its credit (so to speak), Switzerland agreed to provide financing and all sorts of vital supplies to the Germans. The Swiss central bank even bought gold the Nazis had looted from occupied countries right up until the end of the war. As Britannica notes, “Germany used this money–its only remaining convertible currency–to purchase missing raw materials from abroad.”

If I may use the word of the moment without fear of contradiction from some Swiss Barack Obama, I would say that Switzerland was guilty of appeasing the most heinous regime in history. Of course, it’s hard to judge Switzerland too harshly. It was, after all, a small nation and had to make some repugnant compromises to survive.

But Europe as a whole is considerably larger and theoretically more powerful. Switzerland is a country of 7.5 million people with a GDP of $413 billion. That makes it considerably smaller than California. The European Union, by contrast, has more people (491 million) and a bigger GDP ($16.3 trillion) than the United States. (All statistics are from the CIA World Factbook).

The United States, as the leader of what used to be called the Free World, can afford to have Switzerland sit on the sidelines. It’s far from clear that we can afford to have the EU sit there too. At least not without imposing on us a huge defense burden that we are having difficulty meeting in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan where–whether the Europeans like it or not–we are fighting as much to safeguard them as ourselves.

It would not only be nice if Europeans chipped in to bear more of the burden of collective self-defense, it may well become essential. Or else the Europeans may one day wake up and find themselves in the unenviable position of tiny Switzerland, having to make dubious compromises with repugnant regimes. Of course, if you look at European relations with Russia, Iran, Syria, and other states (the latest example being French talks with Hamas), you could argue that that day has already dawned.

Gideon Rachman has a bracing column in the Financial Times in which he says that Europe has become largely irrelevant in world affairs and that’s not a bad thing. His model is Switzerland, which has prospered for centuries by standing on the sidelines of world affairs. “Europe has become a giant Switzerland,” he writes approvingly.

That’s very nice for Europe (at least for the time being), but there are a few problems with this irresponsible posture (literally irresponsible–i.e., not taking responsibility for global security) which Rachman ignores. Neutral nations may prosper but there’s a price to be paid. During World War II, when it was surrounded by Axis states, Switzerland kept itself from being occupied by two expedients.

First it created a very robust defense of the kind that Europe now lacks. The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that “it eventually mobilized 850,000 people out of a total population of 4,000,000.” Second, and less to its credit (so to speak), Switzerland agreed to provide financing and all sorts of vital supplies to the Germans. The Swiss central bank even bought gold the Nazis had looted from occupied countries right up until the end of the war. As Britannica notes, “Germany used this money–its only remaining convertible currency–to purchase missing raw materials from abroad.”

If I may use the word of the moment without fear of contradiction from some Swiss Barack Obama, I would say that Switzerland was guilty of appeasing the most heinous regime in history. Of course, it’s hard to judge Switzerland too harshly. It was, after all, a small nation and had to make some repugnant compromises to survive.

But Europe as a whole is considerably larger and theoretically more powerful. Switzerland is a country of 7.5 million people with a GDP of $413 billion. That makes it considerably smaller than California. The European Union, by contrast, has more people (491 million) and a bigger GDP ($16.3 trillion) than the United States. (All statistics are from the CIA World Factbook).

The United States, as the leader of what used to be called the Free World, can afford to have Switzerland sit on the sidelines. It’s far from clear that we can afford to have the EU sit there too. At least not without imposing on us a huge defense burden that we are having difficulty meeting in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan where–whether the Europeans like it or not–we are fighting as much to safeguard them as ourselves.

It would not only be nice if Europeans chipped in to bear more of the burden of collective self-defense, it may well become essential. Or else the Europeans may one day wake up and find themselves in the unenviable position of tiny Switzerland, having to make dubious compromises with repugnant regimes. Of course, if you look at European relations with Russia, Iran, Syria, and other states (the latest example being French talks with Hamas), you could argue that that day has already dawned.

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Obama Imitates Olmert

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has one of the lowest approval ratings in his country’s history thanks to his disastrous prosecution of the July 2006 war in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Nevertheless, and contrary to Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s delusional and arrogant boasts, Hezbollah didn’t win. I toured South Lebanon and the suburbs south of Beirut – Hezbollah’s two major strongholds – after the war. The magnitude of the destruction was stunning. It looked like World War II blew through the place. (Click here and here to see photos.) Nasrallah survived and replenished his arsensal stocks, but, as Israeli military historian Michael Oren put it, “If he has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

Israel didn’t win, either. None of Israel’s objectives in Lebanon were accomplished.

The best that can be said of that war is that it was a strategic draw with losses on both sides. Hezbollah absorbed the brunt of the damage.

It should be obvious why Israel didn’t prevail to observers of modern asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency. Olmert’s plan, such as it was, was doomed to fail from Day One. It may not have been obvious then, but it certainly should be by now.

American General David Petraeus proved counterinsurgency in Arabic countries can work. His surge of troops in Iraq is about a change of tactics more than an increase in numbers, and his tactics so far have surpassed all expectations. The “light footprint” model used during former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but American soldiers and Marines had no chance of defeating insurgents from behind barbed wire garrisons. Only now that the troops have left the relative safety and comfort of their bases and intimately integrated themselves into the Iraqi population are they able to isolate and track down the killers. They do so with help from the locals. They acquired that help because they slowly forged trusting relationships and alliances, and because they protect the civilians from violence.

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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has one of the lowest approval ratings in his country’s history thanks to his disastrous prosecution of the July 2006 war in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Nevertheless, and contrary to Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s delusional and arrogant boasts, Hezbollah didn’t win. I toured South Lebanon and the suburbs south of Beirut – Hezbollah’s two major strongholds – after the war. The magnitude of the destruction was stunning. It looked like World War II blew through the place. (Click here and here to see photos.) Nasrallah survived and replenished his arsensal stocks, but, as Israeli military historian Michael Oren put it, “If he has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

Israel didn’t win, either. None of Israel’s objectives in Lebanon were accomplished.

The best that can be said of that war is that it was a strategic draw with losses on both sides. Hezbollah absorbed the brunt of the damage.

It should be obvious why Israel didn’t prevail to observers of modern asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency. Olmert’s plan, such as it was, was doomed to fail from Day One. It may not have been obvious then, but it certainly should be by now.

American General David Petraeus proved counterinsurgency in Arabic countries can work. His surge of troops in Iraq is about a change of tactics more than an increase in numbers, and his tactics so far have surpassed all expectations. The “light footprint” model used during former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but American soldiers and Marines had no chance of defeating insurgents from behind barbed wire garrisons. Only now that the troops have left the relative safety and comfort of their bases and intimately integrated themselves into the Iraqi population are they able to isolate and track down the killers. They do so with help from the locals. They acquired that help because they slowly forged trusting relationships and alliances, and because they protect the civilians from violence.

The Israel Defense Forces did nothing of the sort in Lebanon. Most Lebanese Shias are so hostile to Israel that such a strategy might not work even if David Petraeus himself were in charge of it. Even then it would take years to produce the desired results, just as it has taken several years in Iraq. Israelis have no wish to spend years fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon. International pressure would force them out if they did.

A Petraeus-like strategy wasn’t an option for Olmert. That, however, doesn’t mean we can’t compare the effectiveness of the Olmert and Petraeus strategies.

The Israel Defense Forces fought a month-long asymmetrical war in Lebanon mostly with air strikes. Israel didn’t aim at civilians, but it goes without saying that Israel likewise didn’t protect civilians from violence as the Americans protect Iraqis from violence. That can’t be done from the air. Israel did nothing at all to inspire the people of South Lebanon to come around to their side. Israelis, from the point of view of South Lebanese, are faceless enemies that devastated their towns from the heavens.

Many Hezbollah fighters were killed in the targeted strikes. Bunkers and weapons caches were destroyed. Safe houses proved to be anything but. Civilians as well as combatants were heavily punished.

At the end of the day, though, none of it mattered. Hezbollah remains standing. Their weapons stocks have been replenished by Iran through Syria. Civilian supporters of Nasrallah’s militia are more ferociously anti-Israel than ever. United Nations troops who deployed to the area will inadvertently function as “human shields” for Hezbollah if war breaks out again.

Meanwhile in Iraq, Al Qaeda has been vanquished almost everywhere. Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Shia Mahdi Army militia declared a unilateral ceasefire. Many previously anti-American enemies have flipped to our side. Overall violence has been reduced by almost 90 percent. 75 percent of Baghdad is now secure.

Responsible political leaders and military commanders would be well-advised to analyze both approaches to assymetrical warfare and counterinsurgency, and to hew as closely as possible to the Petraeus model. Olmert’s is broken.

Senator Barack Obama, though, prefers the Olmert model whether he thinks of it that way or not. (Actually, I’m sure he doesn’t think of it as Olmert’s model, though basically that’s what it is.)

“Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq,” says a statement on the senator’s Web site. “He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.” [Emphasis added.]

Targeted strikes do kill some terrorists (and often, tragically, civilians, as well). But they have little or no effect overall in counterinsurgent urban warfare. Perhaps the senator or his advisors should read the new counterinsurgency manual – the one that has proven effective – and compare its strategy to targeted strikes which have proven to fail.

Here is just one critical excerpt:

Sometimes, the More You Protect Your Force, the Less Secure You May Be

1-149. Ultimate success in COIN [Counter-insurgency] is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained… . These practices ensure access to the intelligence needed to drive operations. Following them reinforces the connections with the populace that help establish real legitimacy.

From “Counterinsurgency/FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5”

This strategy was not available to Olmert and the Israel Defense Forces. It will be available to Obama and the United States military should he choose to excercise it.

Obama is competing in a Democratic primary race. Perhaps if he is elected commander in chief and no longer needs to appease the left-wing of his party he will reverse himself and keep Petraeus right where he is. Reality has a way of imposing itself on presidents.

He would be wise to carefully consider what works and what doesn’t, not only for the sakes of the United States and Iraq, but also for purely calculating and self-interested reasons. Obama is a likeable guy. He could, in theory, be a popular president. Olmert, though, was also popular once. He probably never will be again.

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Zuma’s In

There is good and bad news from South Africa. The good news is that the ruling party, the African National Congress, had its first wide-open and competitive election to choose a new leader. The bad news is that the winner is Jacob Zuma, an uneducated populist given to violent rhetoric (at campaign rallies he sings a catchy ditty called, “Bring me my machine gun”). With this victory, Zuma becomes a shoo-in for the Presidency. Zuma was fired as Deputy President over charges of corruption, and still faces trial over those allegations. He has beaten charges of rape in the past (his defense was that the woman was asking for it by wearing a short skirt in his house). It is almost as if Huey Long had become the Democratic Party Presidential nominee in the 1930′s, except that democracy in South Africa is much newer and more fragile than it was in America at the time.

The incumbent President and ANC leader, Thabo Mbeki, has hardly had an unimpeachable tenure. As my fellow contentions blogger Jamie Kirchick has pointed out, he has been guilty of not paying enough attention to AIDS or to human-rights abuses next door in Zimbabwe. But he has been a model of economic stewardship, eschewing the ANC’s Marxist rhetoric in favor of sound fiscal management. Despite pressure from his party’s base, he has not moved to punish whites or to dispossess them of their farms and businesses. Instead, he has continued the reconciliation policies of Nelson Mandela, one of the great men of the 20th century. In the process, Mbeki has made his country a model of democracy and economic growth on a continent that badly needs some success stories.

The concern now is that Zuma could undo Mbeki’s legacy, the worst case being that he could turn into another out-of-control tyrant like Robert Mugabe. Such concerns seem overblown, at least for the moment. Zuma has been promising business leaders that he will not depart too radically from Mbeki’s pro-business policies. More importantly, although South Africa has a fairly anemic, if vocal, opposition party, it does have some robust checks and balances from an independent press and judiciary. The latter may wind up being the country’s salvation. If Zuma is convicted in a pending bribery case, he would be ineligible to serve as President, and a more moderate ANC leader might emerge to succeed Mbeki.

There is good and bad news from South Africa. The good news is that the ruling party, the African National Congress, had its first wide-open and competitive election to choose a new leader. The bad news is that the winner is Jacob Zuma, an uneducated populist given to violent rhetoric (at campaign rallies he sings a catchy ditty called, “Bring me my machine gun”). With this victory, Zuma becomes a shoo-in for the Presidency. Zuma was fired as Deputy President over charges of corruption, and still faces trial over those allegations. He has beaten charges of rape in the past (his defense was that the woman was asking for it by wearing a short skirt in his house). It is almost as if Huey Long had become the Democratic Party Presidential nominee in the 1930′s, except that democracy in South Africa is much newer and more fragile than it was in America at the time.

The incumbent President and ANC leader, Thabo Mbeki, has hardly had an unimpeachable tenure. As my fellow contentions blogger Jamie Kirchick has pointed out, he has been guilty of not paying enough attention to AIDS or to human-rights abuses next door in Zimbabwe. But he has been a model of economic stewardship, eschewing the ANC’s Marxist rhetoric in favor of sound fiscal management. Despite pressure from his party’s base, he has not moved to punish whites or to dispossess them of their farms and businesses. Instead, he has continued the reconciliation policies of Nelson Mandela, one of the great men of the 20th century. In the process, Mbeki has made his country a model of democracy and economic growth on a continent that badly needs some success stories.

The concern now is that Zuma could undo Mbeki’s legacy, the worst case being that he could turn into another out-of-control tyrant like Robert Mugabe. Such concerns seem overblown, at least for the moment. Zuma has been promising business leaders that he will not depart too radically from Mbeki’s pro-business policies. More importantly, although South Africa has a fairly anemic, if vocal, opposition party, it does have some robust checks and balances from an independent press and judiciary. The latter may wind up being the country’s salvation. If Zuma is convicted in a pending bribery case, he would be ineligible to serve as President, and a more moderate ANC leader might emerge to succeed Mbeki.

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LIVE: Blogging the Republican Candidate Debate, Part Two

The debate is over. I think at the end, as I thought throughout, that it changed nothing.

Moderator Carolyn Washburn has just made the worst demand in the history of debating: Offer a New Year’s resolution for somebody else on stage. She is the editor of the Des Moines Register. It must not be a very good paper.

McCain is asked when he wished he would have compromised on his ideals. He says he can’t think of a time.

Completely pointless observation: For a very tall man, Fred Thompson still has an uncommonly huge head.

Duncan Hunter is attacking Mitt Romney for having a company that funded a Chinese corporation’s effort to buy an American defense contractor. I don’t know the case, and chances are Hunter is being unfair, but thank G-d somebody is going after somebody else at long last.

Romney says it’s incredibly important that the next president should be a conservative. We need to follow Ronald Reagan’s model: social conservatives, economic conservatives and foreign policy conservatives. I want to draw on those strengths. Very strong answer.

Huckabee’s faith means, he says, that the poor and the rich should have the same health care and education.

Quick call on the debate: Romney is very good. Huckabee is fine. Thompson is intelligent and thoughtful, but still not totally engaged. Giuliani is very fluid. McCain seems a little reduced in stature, for some reason. I don’t see much change coming out of this.

Character question for Giuliani: My government in New York City was very transparent. I’m used to it, I’m used to being analyzed, I haven’t had a perfect life and I wish I had. I’ve had an open transparent government and an open transparent life.

Giuliani: I’ve been tested by having to show leadership through a crisis — not just 9/11 but as a U.S. attorney and a mayor. We have problems we haven’t solved — terrorism, the border. We need an optimistic leader who can bring us solutions.

Romney: I know how to keep America strong. I know a lot about the economy. I know a lot about health care and the economy. And I know a lot about values. “And to the People of Iowa, I need your help, I’d like your vote.”

Alan Keyes says he would, upon assuming the presidency, instantly commit himself to an asylum. Okay, he didn’t say that.

John McCain: I can lead, I can inspire confidence and restore confidence in government.

Mike Huckabee: The first priority of the next president is to bring all the people together. We’re too polarized. The left is fighting the right — who is going to bring this country together again? We need to be the united people of a United States. This guy has a way of saying absolutely nothing and making it sound deeply meaningful.
Romney says we need to fight global jihad, reduce the size of government, and have stronger families with stronger values.

Thompson says he would go before the American people and “tell them the truth.” I’d tell them that we need to fight the enemy, that we’re bankrupting the next generation, that judges are setting the social policy in this country and that’s got to stop, and tell Congress we need to work together.

Rudy Giuliani says in the first year he would confront Islamic terrorism, end illegal immigration, and move to achieve energy independence. “You need bold leadership to accomplish that.”

Mike Huckabee says he has had the most executive experience of anyone on stage. Smart.

Thompson says the biggest obstacle to education is the National Education Association.

Alan Keyes inserts himself on education. He complains about how he is being treated unfairly. He is a deeply unpleasant buffoon.

Huckabee says we need to “personalize” learning for students who drop out because they’re bored to death. We need to build a curriculum around their interests. Unleash “weapons of mass instruction.” We need to teach the right side of the brain with the same energy as the left.

Romney gives an extraordinarily good and detailed answer on education.

Duncan Hunter cites Jaime Escalante as his model on education. This is like listen to an Oldies station. Twenty years ago, I wrote words of praise about Jaime Escalante as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan to speak.

Rudy Giuliani says parents should choose the school their child can go to. In America, higher education is the best in the world and there’s total consumer choice.

John McCain says on education, we need more choice and more competition. We need more charter schools, we need more vouchers where it’s approved locally, need more home schooling, need to be able to pay good teachers more and fire bad teachers. Odd praise for Mike Bloomberg’s work on public education, which doesn’t deserve much praise; is that a strange shot at Giuliani?

Mike Huckabee says Americans are looking for leadership, looking for change, want politicians not to be a ruling class, but a serving class. When we are elected, we are not elected to be elevated up but to truly remember what we’re looking for. Trying to help Americans be the very best they can be.

The debate is over. I think at the end, as I thought throughout, that it changed nothing.

Moderator Carolyn Washburn has just made the worst demand in the history of debating: Offer a New Year’s resolution for somebody else on stage. She is the editor of the Des Moines Register. It must not be a very good paper.

McCain is asked when he wished he would have compromised on his ideals. He says he can’t think of a time.

Completely pointless observation: For a very tall man, Fred Thompson still has an uncommonly huge head.

Duncan Hunter is attacking Mitt Romney for having a company that funded a Chinese corporation’s effort to buy an American defense contractor. I don’t know the case, and chances are Hunter is being unfair, but thank G-d somebody is going after somebody else at long last.

Romney says it’s incredibly important that the next president should be a conservative. We need to follow Ronald Reagan’s model: social conservatives, economic conservatives and foreign policy conservatives. I want to draw on those strengths. Very strong answer.

Huckabee’s faith means, he says, that the poor and the rich should have the same health care and education.

Quick call on the debate: Romney is very good. Huckabee is fine. Thompson is intelligent and thoughtful, but still not totally engaged. Giuliani is very fluid. McCain seems a little reduced in stature, for some reason. I don’t see much change coming out of this.

Character question for Giuliani: My government in New York City was very transparent. I’m used to it, I’m used to being analyzed, I haven’t had a perfect life and I wish I had. I’ve had an open transparent government and an open transparent life.

Giuliani: I’ve been tested by having to show leadership through a crisis — not just 9/11 but as a U.S. attorney and a mayor. We have problems we haven’t solved — terrorism, the border. We need an optimistic leader who can bring us solutions.

Romney: I know how to keep America strong. I know a lot about the economy. I know a lot about health care and the economy. And I know a lot about values. “And to the People of Iowa, I need your help, I’d like your vote.”

Alan Keyes says he would, upon assuming the presidency, instantly commit himself to an asylum. Okay, he didn’t say that.

John McCain: I can lead, I can inspire confidence and restore confidence in government.

Mike Huckabee: The first priority of the next president is to bring all the people together. We’re too polarized. The left is fighting the right — who is going to bring this country together again? We need to be the united people of a United States. This guy has a way of saying absolutely nothing and making it sound deeply meaningful.
Romney says we need to fight global jihad, reduce the size of government, and have stronger families with stronger values.

Thompson says he would go before the American people and “tell them the truth.” I’d tell them that we need to fight the enemy, that we’re bankrupting the next generation, that judges are setting the social policy in this country and that’s got to stop, and tell Congress we need to work together.

Rudy Giuliani says in the first year he would confront Islamic terrorism, end illegal immigration, and move to achieve energy independence. “You need bold leadership to accomplish that.”

Mike Huckabee says he has had the most executive experience of anyone on stage. Smart.

Thompson says the biggest obstacle to education is the National Education Association.

Alan Keyes inserts himself on education. He complains about how he is being treated unfairly. He is a deeply unpleasant buffoon.

Huckabee says we need to “personalize” learning for students who drop out because they’re bored to death. We need to build a curriculum around their interests. Unleash “weapons of mass instruction.” We need to teach the right side of the brain with the same energy as the left.

Romney gives an extraordinarily good and detailed answer on education.

Duncan Hunter cites Jaime Escalante as his model on education. This is like listen to an Oldies station. Twenty years ago, I wrote words of praise about Jaime Escalante as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan to speak.

Rudy Giuliani says parents should choose the school their child can go to. In America, higher education is the best in the world and there’s total consumer choice.

John McCain says on education, we need more choice and more competition. We need more charter schools, we need more vouchers where it’s approved locally, need more home schooling, need to be able to pay good teachers more and fire bad teachers. Odd praise for Mike Bloomberg’s work on public education, which doesn’t deserve much praise; is that a strange shot at Giuliani?

Mike Huckabee says Americans are looking for leadership, looking for change, want politicians not to be a ruling class, but a serving class. When we are elected, we are not elected to be elevated up but to truly remember what we’re looking for. Trying to help Americans be the very best they can be.

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The Decline of Racial Politics

If the findings of a new Pew poll are any indication, race—or more specifically, the declining prospects of African-Americans—ought to be at the very center of the presidential campaign. Today, notes Juan Williams, summarizing the grim numbers,

only 20 percent of black Americans think life is generally better for black people than it was five years ago, the lowest positive response to that question in polls going back 24 years. Only 44 percent of black people expect life to get better; that’s well below the 57 percent who predicted a better life for black people when the same question was asked in 1986.

And yet, race is playing the smallest role in any election since 1964. Part of the reason for this is the absence of a black Democrat using the presidential primaries to campaign indirectly for the leadership of black America. There is no Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton in the contest. Barack Obama’s appeal, though it has a racial element, is primarily to the same sorts of upper-middle-class Americans who once thought Adlai Stevenson a model of gentlemanly intellect. But more importantly there has been a shift in attitudes that make it harder to use race as a political issue. The Pew Poll found that

71 percent of whites and 59 percent of Hispanics feel that personal behavior—values, education, hard work—is what holds back those black Americans still trapped in poverty. But what is most striking is that a small majority, 53 percent, of black Americans agree that “blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition.”

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If the findings of a new Pew poll are any indication, race—or more specifically, the declining prospects of African-Americans—ought to be at the very center of the presidential campaign. Today, notes Juan Williams, summarizing the grim numbers,

only 20 percent of black Americans think life is generally better for black people than it was five years ago, the lowest positive response to that question in polls going back 24 years. Only 44 percent of black people expect life to get better; that’s well below the 57 percent who predicted a better life for black people when the same question was asked in 1986.

And yet, race is playing the smallest role in any election since 1964. Part of the reason for this is the absence of a black Democrat using the presidential primaries to campaign indirectly for the leadership of black America. There is no Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton in the contest. Barack Obama’s appeal, though it has a racial element, is primarily to the same sorts of upper-middle-class Americans who once thought Adlai Stevenson a model of gentlemanly intellect. But more importantly there has been a shift in attitudes that make it harder to use race as a political issue. The Pew Poll found that

71 percent of whites and 59 percent of Hispanics feel that personal behavior—values, education, hard work—is what holds back those black Americans still trapped in poverty. But what is most striking is that a small majority, 53 percent, of black Americans agree that “blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition.”

Confirmation of the shift described by the Pew Poll can be found in the controversy surrounding a new survey by Congressional Quarterly, which found that Detroit was the most crime ridden city: “More people were murdered in Detroit than in San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose combined—and each one of those cities has a bigger population than Detroit.” The findings were contested by the American Society of Criminology, which denounced it as an “irresponsible misuse” of crime data. Not surprisingly, Detroit’s African-American police chief concurred. “Every year,” said Ella Bully-Cummings, “this organization sends out a press release with big, bold lettering that labels a certain city as Most Dangerous, USA…. It really makes you wonder if the organization is truly concerned with evaluating crime or increasing its profit.”

But strikingly, the Detroit Free Press refused to be assuaged by Bully-Cummings’s attempts at displacement. The Free Press took mocking aim at the chief’s

bizarre defense that the report didn’t account for all the crime victims who are druggies and felons. That, of course, is supposed to show that crime isn’t “random” in Detroit, so the city is not that dangerous…. Applying the chief’s logic, why even bother to count undesirables as whole people? When a drug addict gets gunned down by a drug dealer, or an ex-con is shot in a robbery, those should be half-murders. A victim with two priors maybe counts as only a third.

(The phrase “whole people” refers, of course, to the Three-Fifths Compromise, the amendment to the Constitution that defined slaves as 3/5 of a person for the purpose of allocating seats in the House of Representatives.)

Philadelphia’s soaring black-on-black murder rate similarly has made it harder to play racial politics. In 2003, corrupt mayor John “If you want to play you have to pay” Street won re-election by campaigning against an alleged white racist plot against him. But the new mayor Michael Nutter (also an African-American) won by making honest administration and cleaning up the violent crime that’s shaken the city—and not institutional racism—the central campaign issues. “The sad truth,” argues Henry Louis Gates Jr., “is that the civil rights movement cannot be reborn until we identify the causes of black suffering, some of them self-inflicted.” There’s no political hay to be made out of that conclusion—which may be why it’s had such a hard time gaining traction.

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