Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nancy Pelosi

Live Blogging Tonight During the State of the Union Speech

Members of Congress may be searching across the aisle for dates for the State of the Union speech tonight (Yes, we’re talking about you, Eric Cantor — there has to be somebody other than Nancy Pelosi for you to sit with!), but readers of CONTENTIONS don’t have that problem. Tonight at 9 p.m., join CONTENTIONS contributors Alana Goodman, Abe Greenwald, and Jonathan Tobin for a live-blog session during President Obama’s State of the Union speech. See you tonight!

Members of Congress may be searching across the aisle for dates for the State of the Union speech tonight (Yes, we’re talking about you, Eric Cantor — there has to be somebody other than Nancy Pelosi for you to sit with!), but readers of CONTENTIONS don’t have that problem. Tonight at 9 p.m., join CONTENTIONS contributors Alana Goodman, Abe Greenwald, and Jonathan Tobin for a live-blog session during President Obama’s State of the Union speech. See you tonight!

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Boehner’s Tears Seen as Sign of Strength

Members of the political left — who regard themselves as crusaders for gender equality — have an interesting habit of mocking conservatives like John Boehner and Glenn Beck for getting misty-eyed in public.

Nancy Pelosi had this to say about Boehner’s penchant for tearing up last November:

You know what? He is known to cry. He cries sometimes when we’re having a debate on bills. If I cry, it’s about the personal loss of a friend or something like that. But when it comes to politics — no, I don’t cry. I would never think of crying about any loss of an office, because that’s always a possibility, and if you’re professional, then you deal with it professionally.

That’s basically political-talk for saying Boehner acts like a girl. But according to a new Quinnipiac University study, voters in Ohio disagree: “Boehner’s tendency to cry in public is a sign of strength rather than weakness, voters say 36 – 27 percent, with 37 percent undecided,” said the study.

In the past, crying has been seen as political suicide, and it’s even been blamed for causing politicians to lose elections. So it’s quite a change if voters now see it as a symbol of strength.

There was still a pretty significant gender split on the question, however. According to the Quinnipiac study, “women see strength in Boehner’s tears 44 – 20 percent, while men see weakness 34 – 27 percent.”

And if I had to guess, I’d say that not all types of public crying are acceptable in modern politics. For example, crying in the middle of an especially overwhelming moment of glory, joy, or pride is probably fine. But crying after getting injured? That’s almost certainly unacceptable. And while misty eyes are perfectly acceptable, if more than a couple of tears are shed — four at most — it’s probably not a good political move. Needless to say, anything that involves sobbing, a running nose, or gasping for breath is totally out of bounds and should be avoided at all costs.

Members of the political left — who regard themselves as crusaders for gender equality — have an interesting habit of mocking conservatives like John Boehner and Glenn Beck for getting misty-eyed in public.

Nancy Pelosi had this to say about Boehner’s penchant for tearing up last November:

You know what? He is known to cry. He cries sometimes when we’re having a debate on bills. If I cry, it’s about the personal loss of a friend or something like that. But when it comes to politics — no, I don’t cry. I would never think of crying about any loss of an office, because that’s always a possibility, and if you’re professional, then you deal with it professionally.

That’s basically political-talk for saying Boehner acts like a girl. But according to a new Quinnipiac University study, voters in Ohio disagree: “Boehner’s tendency to cry in public is a sign of strength rather than weakness, voters say 36 – 27 percent, with 37 percent undecided,” said the study.

In the past, crying has been seen as political suicide, and it’s even been blamed for causing politicians to lose elections. So it’s quite a change if voters now see it as a symbol of strength.

There was still a pretty significant gender split on the question, however. According to the Quinnipiac study, “women see strength in Boehner’s tears 44 – 20 percent, while men see weakness 34 – 27 percent.”

And if I had to guess, I’d say that not all types of public crying are acceptable in modern politics. For example, crying in the middle of an especially overwhelming moment of glory, joy, or pride is probably fine. But crying after getting injured? That’s almost certainly unacceptable. And while misty eyes are perfectly acceptable, if more than a couple of tears are shed — four at most — it’s probably not a good political move. Needless to say, anything that involves sobbing, a running nose, or gasping for breath is totally out of bounds and should be avoided at all costs.

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RE: Is the Right Worse Than the Left?

When it comes to plain old bigotry, no. George Will in today’s column quotes Charles Blow’s March 26, 2010, column in  the Times. Blow notes that the “far right,” by which he means either mainstream conservatives or a group so small as to be of no importance, has romanticized the country of the past, a country that no longer exists. He writes:

Even the optics must be irritating. A woman (Nancy Pelosi) pushed the health care bill through the House. The bill’s most visible and vocal proponents included a gay man (Barney Frank) and a Jew (Anthony Weiner). And the black man in the White House signed the bill into law. It’s enough to make a good old boy go crazy.

As Will points out, Blow thus casually pronounces that conservatives are all “misogynistic, homophobic, racist anti-Semites.” Since I personally know lots of female, gay, non-white, and Jewish conservatives, none of whom are good ol’ boys — a group with which I am also not unfamiliar — I can testify that Blow is mistaken.

Bigotry can be defined as taking a group of people who share one characteristic — race, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political outlook, good-ol’-boyness, whatever — and assuming without evidence that they share another unrelated and undesirable characteristic. All blondes are dumb, for instance.

By that definition, Charles Blow is a bigot.

When it comes to plain old bigotry, no. George Will in today’s column quotes Charles Blow’s March 26, 2010, column in  the Times. Blow notes that the “far right,” by which he means either mainstream conservatives or a group so small as to be of no importance, has romanticized the country of the past, a country that no longer exists. He writes:

Even the optics must be irritating. A woman (Nancy Pelosi) pushed the health care bill through the House. The bill’s most visible and vocal proponents included a gay man (Barney Frank) and a Jew (Anthony Weiner). And the black man in the White House signed the bill into law. It’s enough to make a good old boy go crazy.

As Will points out, Blow thus casually pronounces that conservatives are all “misogynistic, homophobic, racist anti-Semites.” Since I personally know lots of female, gay, non-white, and Jewish conservatives, none of whom are good ol’ boys — a group with which I am also not unfamiliar — I can testify that Blow is mistaken.

Bigotry can be defined as taking a group of people who share one characteristic — race, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political outlook, good-ol’-boyness, whatever — and assuming without evidence that they share another unrelated and undesirable characteristic. All blondes are dumb, for instance.

By that definition, Charles Blow is a bigot.

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Why the Constitution — and What It Means — Matters

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter. Read More

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter.

For many modern-day liberals, the Constitution is, at best, a piece of quaint, even irrelevant, parchment. As Jonah Goldberg reminds us in his excellent column:

“Are you serious?” was Nancy Pelosi’s response to a question over the constitutionality of health care reform. Third-ranking House Democrat Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina famously declared that “there’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do.” Rep. Phil Hare of Illinois, before he was defeated by a Tea Party–backed candidate, told a town hall meeting, “I don’t worry about the Constitution” on health care reform.

At the core of the differences between contemporary liberals and conservatives, then, is the power of the federal government in our lives. The Constitution was designed as a check on the power of government, done in order to protect individual liberties. The Founders designed a federal government with limited, delegated, and enumerated powers, a theory of government that conservatives embrace and consider paradigmatic. (How that theory works itself out in practice is, of course, not always clear.)

The progressive/liberal disposition, on the other hand, believes that this view of the Constitution is obsolete and unwise; it is constantly, even relentlessly, looking for ways to increase the powers of the federal government (witness the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010). In order to achieve this, the Constitution needs to be ignored or, better yet, re-invented as a Living Constitution, constantly evolving, morphing from age to age, interpreted in light of the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

But as Justice Antonin Scalia has written, “Perhaps the most glaring defect of Living Constitutionalism, next to its incompatibility with the whole antievolutionary purpose of a constitution, is that there is no agreement, and no chance of agreement, upon what is to be the guiding principle of the evolution. Panta rei [“all things are in flux”] is not a sufficiently informative principle of constitutional interpretation.”

When determining when and in what direction the evolution should occur, Scalia asks:

Is it the will of the majority, discerned from newspapers, radio talk shows, public opinion polls, and chats at the country club? Is it the philosophy of Hume, or of John Rawls, or of John Stuart Mill, or of Aristotle? As soon as the discussion goes beyond the issue of whether the Constitution is static, the evolutionists divide into as many camps as there are individual views of the good, the true, and the beautiful. I think that is inevitably so, which means that evolutionism is simply not a practicable constitutional philosophy.

For those on the left, the answer to Scalia’s question is: The Constitution means whatever we say it means. And in order for this subjective, ad hoc interpretation to prevail, the left must control the levers of political and judicial power.

There is an effort today to reassert the primacy of the traditional, rather than the Living, Constitution. Liberals understand this, which explains why they are reacting in the manner they are.

The controversy about members of the 112th Congress reading the Constitution is not really about that; it is about something much deeper and more significant. It has to do with how we understand and interpret our charter of government, the product of what John Adams called “the greatest single effort of national deliberations that the world has ever seen.” I suspect that this debate, which conservatives should welcome, will only intensify.

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Public’s Patience Thin with Both Parties

According to Gallup:

In 2010, 31% of Americans identified as Democrats, down five percentage points from just two years ago and tied for the lowest annual average Gallup has measured in the last 22 years. While Democrats still outnumber Republicans by two points, the percentage identifying as independents increased to 38%, on the high end of what Gallup has measured in the last two decades

The analysis goes on to say this:

While there is usually some year-to-year variation in party identification at the aggregate level, the changes are typically not large. Thus, the five-point drop in Democratic identification over the past two years, from the party’s 22-year high of 36% (tying the 1988 figure) to its 22-year low of 31%, is notable.

Perhaps equally significant is that the percentage of Americans identifying as Republicans has increased only slightly to 29% during this time, and remains on the low end of what Gallup has measured the past two decades.

Nevertheless, 2010 was a good year for Republicans, given the party’s major gains in the midterm elections. Those gains were in part driven by the party’s appeal to independents, evident in the strong support for Republican congressional candidates among independent voters.

Independents’ increasing affinity for the GOP is also evident in a separate measure of party affiliation Gallup tracks, which takes into account the party leanings of independents. In 2010, 45% of Americans identified as Democrats or said they were independent but leaned toward the Democratic Party, while 44% identified as Republicans or said they were independent but leaned Republican. The 1-point Democratic advantage is the party’s smallest since 2003, when the parties were even, and represents a sharp decline from the record 12-point Democratic advantage in 2008.

This survey shows several things occurring at once. The most important is that after two years of President Obama and four years of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Party is in a very weakened state. At the same time, the nation is far from enchanted with the GOP. When it came to winning voters in 2010, the Republican Party dominated, and that counts for a lot. But the GOP “brand” remains tarnished — and, presumably, public patience with the Republican Party is limited. In addition, the high number of voters identifying themselves as independents indicates that we are seeing something of a political de-alignment occur.

All of this can change, depending on how events unfold. For now, though, the decline of the Democratic Party in the Age of Obama (and Pelosi) is among the more notable political developments of the last half-decade.

According to Gallup:

In 2010, 31% of Americans identified as Democrats, down five percentage points from just two years ago and tied for the lowest annual average Gallup has measured in the last 22 years. While Democrats still outnumber Republicans by two points, the percentage identifying as independents increased to 38%, on the high end of what Gallup has measured in the last two decades

The analysis goes on to say this:

While there is usually some year-to-year variation in party identification at the aggregate level, the changes are typically not large. Thus, the five-point drop in Democratic identification over the past two years, from the party’s 22-year high of 36% (tying the 1988 figure) to its 22-year low of 31%, is notable.

Perhaps equally significant is that the percentage of Americans identifying as Republicans has increased only slightly to 29% during this time, and remains on the low end of what Gallup has measured the past two decades.

Nevertheless, 2010 was a good year for Republicans, given the party’s major gains in the midterm elections. Those gains were in part driven by the party’s appeal to independents, evident in the strong support for Republican congressional candidates among independent voters.

Independents’ increasing affinity for the GOP is also evident in a separate measure of party affiliation Gallup tracks, which takes into account the party leanings of independents. In 2010, 45% of Americans identified as Democrats or said they were independent but leaned toward the Democratic Party, while 44% identified as Republicans or said they were independent but leaned Republican. The 1-point Democratic advantage is the party’s smallest since 2003, when the parties were even, and represents a sharp decline from the record 12-point Democratic advantage in 2008.

This survey shows several things occurring at once. The most important is that after two years of President Obama and four years of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Party is in a very weakened state. At the same time, the nation is far from enchanted with the GOP. When it came to winning voters in 2010, the Republican Party dominated, and that counts for a lot. But the GOP “brand” remains tarnished — and, presumably, public patience with the Republican Party is limited. In addition, the high number of voters identifying themselves as independents indicates that we are seeing something of a political de-alignment occur.

All of this can change, depending on how events unfold. For now, though, the decline of the Democratic Party in the Age of Obama (and Pelosi) is among the more notable political developments of the last half-decade.

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Speaker Boehner’s Maiden Speech

In his first speech as Speaker of the House, John Boehner struck just the right tone, I thought. Though hardly a spellbinding orator, Boehner’s remarks were short and gracious, modest and at times elegant. He spoke about the power of ideas and the importance of fairness to the minority party. He also placed the job of the House within the framework of self-government, saying

The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them. That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people’s House. This is their Congress. It’s about them, not us. What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves.

Speaker Boehner appears to be, temperamentally at least, the antithesis of both his predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, and Newt Gingrich, who saw himself as a world-historical figure.

That is appropriate for the times.

By the end of his tenure, what Boehner said today will be long forgotten. He will be judged on his record and that of the 112th Congress, as he should. But at the outset of this journey, Mr. Boehner struck the right notes in the right way. Plus, he didn’t cry.

In his first speech as Speaker of the House, John Boehner struck just the right tone, I thought. Though hardly a spellbinding orator, Boehner’s remarks were short and gracious, modest and at times elegant. He spoke about the power of ideas and the importance of fairness to the minority party. He also placed the job of the House within the framework of self-government, saying

The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them. That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people’s House. This is their Congress. It’s about them, not us. What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves.

Speaker Boehner appears to be, temperamentally at least, the antithesis of both his predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, and Newt Gingrich, who saw himself as a world-historical figure.

That is appropriate for the times.

By the end of his tenure, what Boehner said today will be long forgotten. He will be judged on his record and that of the 112th Congress, as he should. But at the outset of this journey, Mr. Boehner struck the right notes in the right way. Plus, he didn’t cry.

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Saving Private Pelosi: Nancy’s Spielberg Makeovers

The Washington Post reported today that film director Steven Spielberg may soon be serving as a consultant to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she attempts to “rebrand” House Democrats after a historic defeat in which they lost 61 seats to the Republicans. Though Spielberg’s spokesperson attempted to throw cold water on this item, as the Post noted, it was a “classic non-denial denial.”

Spielberg is well known to be a loyal Democrat who has in the past helped raise money and promote the candidacies of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But the idea that the famed moviemaker can pull something out of his hat — other, that is, than some more Hollywood cash — to change America’s mind about one of the least-liked political figures of the day may be asking a bit too much. Though Spielberg is not unfamiliar with epic disasters, such as his famous flop 1941, attempting to “rebrand” a shrill, unlikeable ideologue like Pelosi is a daunting task.

What advice could Spielberg offer to Pelosi? Changing the public’s mind about a woman whose unpopularity was a greater factor in this year’s GOP victory than the virtues of her opponents will require Spielberg to tap deep into his archive of film hits. In the hope of providing some insight into the machinations of this liberal brain trust, here are some possible previews of Spielberg-inspired TV commercials and short films that will air in the future in battleground states:

Saving Private Blue Dog: A picked squad of Democratic House members led by Pelosi venture deep into a Red State in order to extricate a beleaguered member from a GOP-dominated district, climaxing with the wounded Speaker urging the lost Democrat to “earn this” as she expires.

E.T.: The Sequel: The famous cuddly alien is about to be waterboarded by Republicans but is rescued by Pelosi, who makes off with him on her bicycle as the two discuss immigration reform.

Close Encounters with Democrats: A random group of Americans find themselves inexplicably drawn to gather at the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming to attend an indoctrination session with Pelosi about supporting ObamaCare.

Raiders of the Lost Democrat: Pelosi leads a multi-continental search for the lost copy of the Bill of Rights. After being captured by Dick Cheney and his band of evil Republicans, Pelosi witnesses the opening of the ark, which contains what is believed to be the artifact. Cheney and the GOPniks melt, but when Pelosi reads the artifact, it turns out to be merely a memo from Rahm Emanuel about earmarks.

Jaws V: The Democrats’ Revenge: Pelosi attempts to save the population of a beach community endangered by a ruthlessly pro-business Republican town council in cahoots with a shark believed to be responsible for an oil spill. Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Richard Dreyfuss (as himself) take to the sea to catch the shark. Pelosi and Dreyfuss swim to shore after the battle, determined to make peace in the Middle East.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World of Politicians: An attempt to clone famous Democrats of the past at a theme park goes tragically wrong as the reincarnated Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson attempt to reimpose Jim Crow on an unwilling America. Pelosi is forced to join forces with Republicans as they bring back Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt to counter the Dem icons. The conclusion is a sermon on bipartisanship.

Happy holidays to readers of all persuasions and parties!

The Washington Post reported today that film director Steven Spielberg may soon be serving as a consultant to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she attempts to “rebrand” House Democrats after a historic defeat in which they lost 61 seats to the Republicans. Though Spielberg’s spokesperson attempted to throw cold water on this item, as the Post noted, it was a “classic non-denial denial.”

Spielberg is well known to be a loyal Democrat who has in the past helped raise money and promote the candidacies of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But the idea that the famed moviemaker can pull something out of his hat — other, that is, than some more Hollywood cash — to change America’s mind about one of the least-liked political figures of the day may be asking a bit too much. Though Spielberg is not unfamiliar with epic disasters, such as his famous flop 1941, attempting to “rebrand” a shrill, unlikeable ideologue like Pelosi is a daunting task.

What advice could Spielberg offer to Pelosi? Changing the public’s mind about a woman whose unpopularity was a greater factor in this year’s GOP victory than the virtues of her opponents will require Spielberg to tap deep into his archive of film hits. In the hope of providing some insight into the machinations of this liberal brain trust, here are some possible previews of Spielberg-inspired TV commercials and short films that will air in the future in battleground states:

Saving Private Blue Dog: A picked squad of Democratic House members led by Pelosi venture deep into a Red State in order to extricate a beleaguered member from a GOP-dominated district, climaxing with the wounded Speaker urging the lost Democrat to “earn this” as she expires.

E.T.: The Sequel: The famous cuddly alien is about to be waterboarded by Republicans but is rescued by Pelosi, who makes off with him on her bicycle as the two discuss immigration reform.

Close Encounters with Democrats: A random group of Americans find themselves inexplicably drawn to gather at the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming to attend an indoctrination session with Pelosi about supporting ObamaCare.

Raiders of the Lost Democrat: Pelosi leads a multi-continental search for the lost copy of the Bill of Rights. After being captured by Dick Cheney and his band of evil Republicans, Pelosi witnesses the opening of the ark, which contains what is believed to be the artifact. Cheney and the GOPniks melt, but when Pelosi reads the artifact, it turns out to be merely a memo from Rahm Emanuel about earmarks.

Jaws V: The Democrats’ Revenge: Pelosi attempts to save the population of a beach community endangered by a ruthlessly pro-business Republican town council in cahoots with a shark believed to be responsible for an oil spill. Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Richard Dreyfuss (as himself) take to the sea to catch the shark. Pelosi and Dreyfuss swim to shore after the battle, determined to make peace in the Middle East.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World of Politicians: An attempt to clone famous Democrats of the past at a theme park goes tragically wrong as the reincarnated Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson attempt to reimpose Jim Crow on an unwilling America. Pelosi is forced to join forces with Republicans as they bring back Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt to counter the Dem icons. The conclusion is a sermon on bipartisanship.

Happy holidays to readers of all persuasions and parties!

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Guess We’re Governable After All

Don’t look now, but the American government is working as it should. Harry Reid, bending to bipartisan reality, has quit fighting for his $1.2 trillion spending bill and turned to short-term budget solutions. We can debate the merits of the $858 billion tax compromise, but it passed without any trickery and, more important, we knew what was in it. Congress now turns to genuine deliberation on the Dream Act, the repeal of DADT, and the ratification of New START. Gone are the kabuki summits, unseemly prime-time sales pitches, and abstruse parliamentary con games. Where Nancy Pelosi had wielded a giant prop gavel and boasted of “making history” with ObamaCare, one real-life federal judge just declared it unconstitutional. How did all this happen? Only a year ago, liberal pundits had pronounced America ungovernable.

What spurred magazines like Newsweek to render that judgment in the first place? A civic and governmental travesty of such gargantuan proportion that it’s chilling to think it actually happened in the United States: Massachusetts elected a Republican senator.

This left little question about whom to blame. “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain,” the magazine’s editors wrote.  Moreover, “any regular observer of Washington would conclude that congressional Republicans have no desire to be reached out to — because they aren’t actually very interested in governing the country.”

Were grapes ever so sour? President Obama and an unbridled Democratic Congress drove Massachusetts into the arms of the GOP within one year, and this meant that Republicans were a danger to the union. The case made before the people was simply an inversion of reality. While Newsweek cited the “GOP’s flagrant use of parliamentary tricks,” Democrats on the Hill were employing maneuvers so recondite, few could accurately define or explain the intricacies of what was happening.  The editors lamented the Republicans’ bullying of the “spineless Democrats,” while Nancy Pelosi bragged of her commando legislation tactics: “We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in, but we’re going to get health-care reform passed for the America people.” Newsweek claimed that “congressional Republicans offered no serious counterproposals to the Democrats’ health-care initiative and sought instead to either mislead or simply lie about its key elements,” but it was President Obama who impatiently dismissed the prospect of a bipartisan effort as “another year of partisan wrangling around these issues, another six months’ or eight months’ or nine months’ worth of hearings in every single committee in the House and the Senate in which there’s a lot of posturing.”

What Obama’s first year actually proved was that America is undictatable. Scott Brown was elected because Americans were screaming out for governance and rejecting rule by decree. If a year ago liberals were weeping for America the ungovernable, less than a year later, with the midterm-election trouncing, only celebrity activists and zombified Democratic operatives continue to make such claims. Read More

Don’t look now, but the American government is working as it should. Harry Reid, bending to bipartisan reality, has quit fighting for his $1.2 trillion spending bill and turned to short-term budget solutions. We can debate the merits of the $858 billion tax compromise, but it passed without any trickery and, more important, we knew what was in it. Congress now turns to genuine deliberation on the Dream Act, the repeal of DADT, and the ratification of New START. Gone are the kabuki summits, unseemly prime-time sales pitches, and abstruse parliamentary con games. Where Nancy Pelosi had wielded a giant prop gavel and boasted of “making history” with ObamaCare, one real-life federal judge just declared it unconstitutional. How did all this happen? Only a year ago, liberal pundits had pronounced America ungovernable.

What spurred magazines like Newsweek to render that judgment in the first place? A civic and governmental travesty of such gargantuan proportion that it’s chilling to think it actually happened in the United States: Massachusetts elected a Republican senator.

This left little question about whom to blame. “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain,” the magazine’s editors wrote.  Moreover, “any regular observer of Washington would conclude that congressional Republicans have no desire to be reached out to — because they aren’t actually very interested in governing the country.”

Were grapes ever so sour? President Obama and an unbridled Democratic Congress drove Massachusetts into the arms of the GOP within one year, and this meant that Republicans were a danger to the union. The case made before the people was simply an inversion of reality. While Newsweek cited the “GOP’s flagrant use of parliamentary tricks,” Democrats on the Hill were employing maneuvers so recondite, few could accurately define or explain the intricacies of what was happening.  The editors lamented the Republicans’ bullying of the “spineless Democrats,” while Nancy Pelosi bragged of her commando legislation tactics: “We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in, but we’re going to get health-care reform passed for the America people.” Newsweek claimed that “congressional Republicans offered no serious counterproposals to the Democrats’ health-care initiative and sought instead to either mislead or simply lie about its key elements,” but it was President Obama who impatiently dismissed the prospect of a bipartisan effort as “another year of partisan wrangling around these issues, another six months’ or eight months’ or nine months’ worth of hearings in every single committee in the House and the Senate in which there’s a lot of posturing.”

What Obama’s first year actually proved was that America is undictatable. Scott Brown was elected because Americans were screaming out for governance and rejecting rule by decree. If a year ago liberals were weeping for America the ungovernable, less than a year later, with the midterm-election trouncing, only celebrity activists and zombified Democratic operatives continue to make such claims.

The present circumstance should serve as a “teachable moment” for those frustrated Obama enthusiasts who were more outraged by a non-compliant citizenry than they were by an entitled leadership. If there was a threat to the structural soundness of our democracy, it came not from voices of opposition but rather from the ideological bullies who assumed that dissent could only mean defectiveness. In a democracy, the machinery of governance comes to a halt when the people sense someone has tried to override the system. In despotic countries, friction can stop the gears. In the U.S., it’s the energy source that keeps things moving.

On matters of policy, this administration still has much to learn. A new NBC–Wall Street Journal poll shows that 63 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. This is the highest wrong-track number since Obama became president. The figure mostly reflects Americans’ concern about the economy and the government’s failure to raise employment prospects. As grim as things are, the good news is that America is now poised to tackle its toughest challenges. Accountability and ideological pluralism have come out of hiding. As Americans, we need to panic only when they go missing, not when our elected officials don’t get their way.

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The Extremism of E.J. Dionne Jr.

E.J. Dionne Jr. has a column registering his concerns about the “No Labels” group. But he isn’t entirely critical. Dionne makes it clear that there are some things he’s sympathetic to, including this:

The No Labelers are also right to be repulsed by the replacement of real argument with a vicious brand of name-calling. When a president of the United States is attacked simultaneously as an “extreme liberal liar” and a “Nazi,” there is a sick irrationality at work in our discourse.

It’s perhaps worth noting that during the Bush presidency, when George W. Bush was slandered by leading members of the Democratic Party as a “moral coward” (Vice President Al Gore), as a “loser” and a “liar” who had “betrayed his country” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and who “Week after week after week after week … told lie after lie after lie after lie” (Senator Edward Kennedy), Dionne, in an amazing feat of self-control, held his outrage in abeyance. Back then, it was not “sick irrationality at work in our discourse”; it was just the normal, good-spirited back and forth of American politics. And if E.J. has written a column reprimanding the loathsome Representative Alan Grayson for his vicious brand of name-calling, I missed it. (Grayson dubbed his opponent Daniel Webster “Taliban Dan” in a deeply dishonest ad. He has also said, “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: Die quickly.” And for good measure, Grayson has compared Republicans to “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals” and Nazis burning the Reichstag.)

In any event, in his column Dionne goes on to assure us that “I am still devoted to moderation.” Of course he is. But what’s really troubling him are those right-wing extremist Republicans and conservatives. Moderation, you see, is “very much alive on the center-left and among Democrats” — but it is “so dead in the Republican Party and on the right.” The No Labelers can yet be a constructive force, Dionne instructs us, “if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism.”

E.J. faces a bit of a problem, of course. The GOP he deems to be so radical, so zealous, and so outside the mainstream is barely a month removed from a historically successful midterm election. Republicans picked up more House seats (63) than in any election since 1938 and have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s. In addition, Americans, by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, self-identify as conservative rather than liberal. Public trust in government is at record lows; so is the approval rating for the Democratically controlled Congress. And the signature domestic initiative of the Obama presidency, health-care reform, is quite unpopular and falling short of virtually every promise its advocates made on its behalf. Read More

E.J. Dionne Jr. has a column registering his concerns about the “No Labels” group. But he isn’t entirely critical. Dionne makes it clear that there are some things he’s sympathetic to, including this:

The No Labelers are also right to be repulsed by the replacement of real argument with a vicious brand of name-calling. When a president of the United States is attacked simultaneously as an “extreme liberal liar” and a “Nazi,” there is a sick irrationality at work in our discourse.

It’s perhaps worth noting that during the Bush presidency, when George W. Bush was slandered by leading members of the Democratic Party as a “moral coward” (Vice President Al Gore), as a “loser” and a “liar” who had “betrayed his country” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and who “Week after week after week after week … told lie after lie after lie after lie” (Senator Edward Kennedy), Dionne, in an amazing feat of self-control, held his outrage in abeyance. Back then, it was not “sick irrationality at work in our discourse”; it was just the normal, good-spirited back and forth of American politics. And if E.J. has written a column reprimanding the loathsome Representative Alan Grayson for his vicious brand of name-calling, I missed it. (Grayson dubbed his opponent Daniel Webster “Taliban Dan” in a deeply dishonest ad. He has also said, “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: Die quickly.” And for good measure, Grayson has compared Republicans to “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals” and Nazis burning the Reichstag.)

In any event, in his column Dionne goes on to assure us that “I am still devoted to moderation.” Of course he is. But what’s really troubling him are those right-wing extremist Republicans and conservatives. Moderation, you see, is “very much alive on the center-left and among Democrats” — but it is “so dead in the Republican Party and on the right.” The No Labelers can yet be a constructive force, Dionne instructs us, “if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism.”

E.J. faces a bit of a problem, of course. The GOP he deems to be so radical, so zealous, and so outside the mainstream is barely a month removed from a historically successful midterm election. Republicans picked up more House seats (63) than in any election since 1938 and have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s. In addition, Americans, by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, self-identify as conservative rather than liberal. Public trust in government is at record lows; so is the approval rating for the Democratically controlled Congress. And the signature domestic initiative of the Obama presidency, health-care reform, is quite unpopular and falling short of virtually every promise its advocates made on its behalf.

If you want to place the Devoted-to-Moderation Dionne on the political spectrum, consider that he’s a great defender of the soon-to-be-ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose own extremism led to her registering an 8 percent favorability rating among independents just prior to the election (61 percent viewed her unfavorably).

The main problem for E.J., though, is that the 2010 midterm election was a massive repudiation of contemporary liberalism, as embodied by people like President Obama and E.J. Dionne. It was among the most nationalized midterm elections in our history. Having lived under liberal governance for two years, the public reacted to it like the human body reacts to food poisoning. This is something that Dionne doesn’t seem able to process; his ideology won’t allow it. And so he continues to bellow, week after week, about how radical the right has become.

It’s true that Dionne’s columns highlight political extremism of a sort. But the extremism is his, not conservatism’s.

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Obama’s Not-So-Very-Good Week

David Brooks is not only an outstanding columnist; he’s also a friend. And so I want to register a friendly dissent with his column today.

As Rick noted, David argues that Barack Obama ran for president as a “network liberal” — defined as  one who believes progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. (Brooks contrasts this with “cluster liberals/cluster conservatives,” meaning those who believe that victory is achieved through “maximum unity” and that “partisan might” should be “bluntly applied.”) But in office, Brooks writes, “Obama, like George W. Bush before him, narrowed his networks.”

That is, I think, an unfair reading of the Bush presidency.

One of the first significant legislative undertakings of President Bush, for example, was No Child Left Behind, which was the result of substantial bipartisan cooperation. President Obama has, until now, shown no such inclination to work with Republicans. In the first term, Bush also worked with Democrats on Medicare prescription drugs. Both the Afghanistan and Iraq war resolutions had substantial to overwhelming bipartisan support; so did the Patriot Act. Even on the 2001 tax cuts, Bush worked with Democrats and took into account their input. (Then House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said a corporate tax cut was a non-starter with his caucus; he suggested instead sending out rebate checks to low- and moderate-income households. In response Bush, against his better judgment, instructed the White House staff to replace the corporate rate cut with Gephardt’s rebates. For more, see Karl Rove’s Courage and Consequence, chapter 19.)

At comparable points in their presidency, then, George W. Bush was much more of a “network conservative” than Obama has been a “network liberal.” Read More

David Brooks is not only an outstanding columnist; he’s also a friend. And so I want to register a friendly dissent with his column today.

As Rick noted, David argues that Barack Obama ran for president as a “network liberal” — defined as  one who believes progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. (Brooks contrasts this with “cluster liberals/cluster conservatives,” meaning those who believe that victory is achieved through “maximum unity” and that “partisan might” should be “bluntly applied.”) But in office, Brooks writes, “Obama, like George W. Bush before him, narrowed his networks.”

That is, I think, an unfair reading of the Bush presidency.

One of the first significant legislative undertakings of President Bush, for example, was No Child Left Behind, which was the result of substantial bipartisan cooperation. President Obama has, until now, shown no such inclination to work with Republicans. In the first term, Bush also worked with Democrats on Medicare prescription drugs. Both the Afghanistan and Iraq war resolutions had substantial to overwhelming bipartisan support; so did the Patriot Act. Even on the 2001 tax cuts, Bush worked with Democrats and took into account their input. (Then House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said a corporate tax cut was a non-starter with his caucus; he suggested instead sending out rebate checks to low- and moderate-income households. In response Bush, against his better judgment, instructed the White House staff to replace the corporate rate cut with Gephardt’s rebates. For more, see Karl Rove’s Courage and Consequence, chapter 19.)

At comparable points in their presidency, then, George W. Bush was much more of a “network conservative” than Obama has been a “network liberal.”

Second, David — in contrasting Obama favorably this week with “cluster liberals” — writes:

Cluster liberals in the House and the commentariat are angry. They have no strategy for how Obama could have better played his weak hand — with a coming Republican majority, an expiring tax law and several Democratic senators from red states insisting on extending all the cuts. They just sense the waning of their moment and are howling in protest.

They believe nonliberals are blackmailers or hostage-takers or the concentrated repositories of human evil, so, of course, they see coalition-building as collaboration. They are also convinced that Democrats should never start a negotiation because they will always end up losing in the end. (Perhaps psychologists can explain the interesting combination: intellectual self-confidence alongside a political inferiority complex.)

Some of this analysis I agree with. I would point out, however, that (a) during his press conference, Obama was as visibly angry as many people can recall seeing him, and (b) the term “hostage takers” was used by Obama against Republicans.

Finally, I disagree with David’s verdict that Obama had “a very good week.” Brooks’s argument is that Obama has put himself in a position to govern again, and I understand and have some sympathy with the point he’s making: Obama is distancing himself from his liberal base and, in so doing, embracing a policy that is both fairly popular and wise.

What’s going to damage Obama, though, is the manner in which the distancing was done. The president’s base is enraged at him; what we’re seeing looks very much like a political revolt within his own ranks. It’s stating the obvious to say that having members of your own congressional caucus cursing at you is not a very good thing. And as President George H.W. Bush found out with his violation of his “no new taxes” pledge, creating fury within your base in order to tack to the center can hurt one rather than help one.

Nor is it clear yet that Nancy Pelosi will even bring the legislation Obama has blessed to the floor for a vote without changes. I assume she will — but if the speaker decides not to, and if as a result Obama fails to get this deal signed into law, it will be a terrifically damaging blow to his prestige and his presidency. And even if Obama does succeed, he has created enormous unhappiness and mistrust among his base. This won’t be forgotten any time soon. Presidents, while needing to distance themselves from their base at times, don’t usually succeed when they are at war with it.

Democratic tempers will cool over time; new political battles will reconnect Obama to his party. And the key variable remains the economy. If in 2012 unemployment is going down, if the economy is growing at a brisk pace, and if people are confident about the trajectory the country is on, Obama will be in good shape with both his base and with independents. For now, though, the president is in a precarious position, having (for the moment at least) lost his base without having won over the rest of the country. It may be that the former is necessary to achieve the latter — but the way these things are done matters quite a lot. And this has been ugly all the way around.

If David Brooks is right and this week signaled the beginning of a fundamental change in Obama’s governing philosophy, then the president has helped himself. If, on the other hand, what Obama did this week was simply an anomaly, a tactical shift without a fundamental rethinking, then he has complicated his life and damaged his presidency.

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Obama Congratulates China on Human Rights

Did Barack Obama flaunt the famous presidential ego again? Some are criticizing the opening of his written statement congratulating jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama begins by saying, “One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize — an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice.”

Let’s be fair. Within the context of the Obama oeuvre, this line is generosity itself. He even went on to write, “Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.” Offense expunged.

However, his true misstep comes later in the statement. “We respect China’s extraordinary accomplishment in lifting millions out of poverty,” Obama writes, “and believe that human rights include the dignity that comes with freedom from want.” He did go on to suggest Liu Xiaobo be released from prison (as if it were a one-off case having nothing to do with the larger question of human rights in China), but the damage was already done. There was no more conclusive way to erase the significance of the Nobel committee’s choice than for the American president to contort himself into praising the human-rights accomplishments of the regime that imprisoned the absentee winner. It’s bad enough that Obama is scared to lead the world in the promotion of human rights and liberty. It’s worse that he won’t even capitalize on decisions like the one made in Norway and take an unapologetically pro–human rights stand alongside international bodies that are willing to lead.

If he thinks playing nice with autocrats will give the U.S. leverage, he’s wrong. Perhaps he hasn’t read the leaked diplomatic cable noting that Beijing was “scared to death” that Nancy Pelosi would raise the issue of human rights during a 2009 visit to China. Therein lies the power of American ideals. Now go back and look at the twisted, content-free gibberish Obama offered as flattery for China today. Who sounds scared to death to you?

Did Barack Obama flaunt the famous presidential ego again? Some are criticizing the opening of his written statement congratulating jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama begins by saying, “One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize — an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice.”

Let’s be fair. Within the context of the Obama oeuvre, this line is generosity itself. He even went on to write, “Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.” Offense expunged.

However, his true misstep comes later in the statement. “We respect China’s extraordinary accomplishment in lifting millions out of poverty,” Obama writes, “and believe that human rights include the dignity that comes with freedom from want.” He did go on to suggest Liu Xiaobo be released from prison (as if it were a one-off case having nothing to do with the larger question of human rights in China), but the damage was already done. There was no more conclusive way to erase the significance of the Nobel committee’s choice than for the American president to contort himself into praising the human-rights accomplishments of the regime that imprisoned the absentee winner. It’s bad enough that Obama is scared to lead the world in the promotion of human rights and liberty. It’s worse that he won’t even capitalize on decisions like the one made in Norway and take an unapologetically pro–human rights stand alongside international bodies that are willing to lead.

If he thinks playing nice with autocrats will give the U.S. leverage, he’s wrong. Perhaps he hasn’t read the leaked diplomatic cable noting that Beijing was “scared to death” that Nancy Pelosi would raise the issue of human rights during a 2009 visit to China. Therein lies the power of American ideals. Now go back and look at the twisted, content-free gibberish Obama offered as flattery for China today. Who sounds scared to death to you?

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The Divide Between Obama and His Base Widens

Count me among those who believe the agreement by President Obama to extend the Bush tax cuts to be a huge substantive (and political) victory for the GOP. There is, I think, one fact above all others that places things in their proper perspective: arguably the most liberal president in American history, still with huge majorities in the House and Senate, agreed to extend tax cuts that he and his party have been hammering for the better part of a decade.

The tectonic plates shifted yesterday — and they shifted as a result of the epic midterm election. After two years of activist government unseen since the middle part of the 1960s, things are going in the opposite direction.

The president knows it, and he’s clearly unhappy about it. Mr. Obama was clearly annoyed with the deal he felt forced to sign, going out of his way to express his distaste for allowing tax cuts to go to high-wage earners. And of course, there was the requisite Obama vanity and self-conceit. The lack of a deal on tax cuts would “be a chilling prospect for the American people whose taxes are currently scheduled to go up on January 1st because of arrangements that were made back in 2001 and 2003 under the Bush tax cuts,” Obama informed us. “I am not willing to let that happen. … I’m not willing to let working families across this country become collateral damage for political warfare here in Washington. And I’m not willing to let our economy slip backwards just as we’re pulling ourselves out of this devastating recession.”

Leave it to Barack the Great to once again hover high above politics as usual, the adult among the clamoring children, the voice of reason against the unruly political mob.

The president’s remarks were clearly aimed at his liberal base, which is terribly unhappy with him (see these stories here and here). In fact, according to the Hill, “House Democrats signaled Monday they will fight the tax-cut deal President Obama announced a day earlier with Republicans.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a post on Twitter, made clear her unhappiness with the tax deal.

This is very dangerous territory Mr. Obama is now in. He hasn’t done nearly enough to win back the confidence of independents — but he’s done more than enough to outrage his political base. We might even have the extraordinary situation of Speaker Pelosi leading the campaign to defeat a deal blessed by the president.

Obama set astronomical expectations when he ran, and so the disappointment among his core supporters is especially acute. Some on the left are eager to distance themselves from what they perceive to be a failing presidency. And we are in the midst of the weakest recovery since the government started keeping unemployment statistics. The Obama presidency is battered and adrift right now. The man who was supposed to revivify liberalism and the Democratic Party is overseeing their partial collapse. It is an amazing thing to witness.

Count me among those who believe the agreement by President Obama to extend the Bush tax cuts to be a huge substantive (and political) victory for the GOP. There is, I think, one fact above all others that places things in their proper perspective: arguably the most liberal president in American history, still with huge majorities in the House and Senate, agreed to extend tax cuts that he and his party have been hammering for the better part of a decade.

The tectonic plates shifted yesterday — and they shifted as a result of the epic midterm election. After two years of activist government unseen since the middle part of the 1960s, things are going in the opposite direction.

The president knows it, and he’s clearly unhappy about it. Mr. Obama was clearly annoyed with the deal he felt forced to sign, going out of his way to express his distaste for allowing tax cuts to go to high-wage earners. And of course, there was the requisite Obama vanity and self-conceit. The lack of a deal on tax cuts would “be a chilling prospect for the American people whose taxes are currently scheduled to go up on January 1st because of arrangements that were made back in 2001 and 2003 under the Bush tax cuts,” Obama informed us. “I am not willing to let that happen. … I’m not willing to let working families across this country become collateral damage for political warfare here in Washington. And I’m not willing to let our economy slip backwards just as we’re pulling ourselves out of this devastating recession.”

Leave it to Barack the Great to once again hover high above politics as usual, the adult among the clamoring children, the voice of reason against the unruly political mob.

The president’s remarks were clearly aimed at his liberal base, which is terribly unhappy with him (see these stories here and here). In fact, according to the Hill, “House Democrats signaled Monday they will fight the tax-cut deal President Obama announced a day earlier with Republicans.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a post on Twitter, made clear her unhappiness with the tax deal.

This is very dangerous territory Mr. Obama is now in. He hasn’t done nearly enough to win back the confidence of independents — but he’s done more than enough to outrage his political base. We might even have the extraordinary situation of Speaker Pelosi leading the campaign to defeat a deal blessed by the president.

Obama set astronomical expectations when he ran, and so the disappointment among his core supporters is especially acute. Some on the left are eager to distance themselves from what they perceive to be a failing presidency. And we are in the midst of the weakest recovery since the government started keeping unemployment statistics. The Obama presidency is battered and adrift right now. The man who was supposed to revivify liberalism and the Democratic Party is overseeing their partial collapse. It is an amazing thing to witness.

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Tax Cuts, Talking Points, Silly Maneuvers

So this afternoon, the lame-duck House of Representatives — still controlled by Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats — pulled a fast one by using an already existing bill as the vehicle for a vote on the Bush tax cuts in the way they want to vote on them, with the top rate jumping up while the others stay constant. This is pointless, since negotiations continue between the president and Republicans that everybody thinks will lead to a compromise bill that keeps all the tax cuts in place. That bill will have to be taken up at the beginning of the next session instead of now, which will create accounting headaches but not make all that much difference. Republicans voted against the trick.

It’s a nice piece of theater, I suppose, and it led Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, the premier website of the populist hard left, to quote approvingly on Twitter from a follower of his: “If Dems were any good at messaging, they’d be all over TV saying Republicans just voted to raise taxes on 95% of Americans.”

Oh, Democrats will, and there will be screaming and yelling on cable shows about it. But there’s a simple reason “messaging” like this doesn’t work. It doesn’t conform with reality. People who care about these things know that Republicans are for lower taxes, and they know this because it’s true.

You can make a case that the Republican fondness for lower taxes is fiscally irresponsible, or it’s bad because government needs more dollars to fund social programs, or any number of other complaints. But saying Republicans are supporters of higher taxes is like saying Democrats don’t care about the environment. You can say it, and you can even offer little bits of evidence to prove it (the Kennedys blocked wind farms on Cape Cod), but it doesn’t ring true and people won’t believe it.

Indulging in the belief that politics is about “messaging” as opposed to core beliefs is one of the great temptations for people whose own views are not actually that popular and wish to believe the problem is just one of communication rather than essence.

So this afternoon, the lame-duck House of Representatives — still controlled by Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats — pulled a fast one by using an already existing bill as the vehicle for a vote on the Bush tax cuts in the way they want to vote on them, with the top rate jumping up while the others stay constant. This is pointless, since negotiations continue between the president and Republicans that everybody thinks will lead to a compromise bill that keeps all the tax cuts in place. That bill will have to be taken up at the beginning of the next session instead of now, which will create accounting headaches but not make all that much difference. Republicans voted against the trick.

It’s a nice piece of theater, I suppose, and it led Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, the premier website of the populist hard left, to quote approvingly on Twitter from a follower of his: “If Dems were any good at messaging, they’d be all over TV saying Republicans just voted to raise taxes on 95% of Americans.”

Oh, Democrats will, and there will be screaming and yelling on cable shows about it. But there’s a simple reason “messaging” like this doesn’t work. It doesn’t conform with reality. People who care about these things know that Republicans are for lower taxes, and they know this because it’s true.

You can make a case that the Republican fondness for lower taxes is fiscally irresponsible, or it’s bad because government needs more dollars to fund social programs, or any number of other complaints. But saying Republicans are supporters of higher taxes is like saying Democrats don’t care about the environment. You can say it, and you can even offer little bits of evidence to prove it (the Kennedys blocked wind farms on Cape Cod), but it doesn’t ring true and people won’t believe it.

Indulging in the belief that politics is about “messaging” as opposed to core beliefs is one of the great temptations for people whose own views are not actually that popular and wish to believe the problem is just one of communication rather than essence.

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America Is Powerful, After All

The headlines claim that China was “scared to death of Nancy Pelosi,” but the real story is far more important:

China was “scared to death” over a visit by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is outspoken on human rights, and rejected her request to visit Tibet, according to files leaked Monday.

A top diplomat at the US embassy in Beijing said he asked Chin to consider letting Pelosi go to Tibet during her May 2009 visit to China, according to a cable obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei responded that China could not arrange the trip due to Pelosi’s “tight schedule,” according to the cable reprinted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The Chinese ambassador in Kazakhstan was blunter, telling his US counterpart over an expansive dinner that Beijing was “fearful” over Pelosi’s visit.

The Chinese were not, in fact, fearful of Pelosi. They were fearful of American ideals. This speaks to the enduring power of American condemnation. Onlookers are quick to dismiss the official naming and shaming of human rights abusers as a toothless substitute for “real” policy. That’s because they’ve come to underestimate the damage a little truth and justice can wreak on an abusive, secretive regime. This is why dissidents always push American leaders to talk about human rights abroad. They’ve lived under these regimes and have a feel for their fears and weaknesses. It’s only in free countries that we view public criticism of leaders as a form of impotence.

It’s no small thing to note that in an age when both threats and conciliations get us nowhere, a public embrace of our foundational ideals still sends a potent message. We talk about extending an outstretched hand to theocrats and the theocrats laugh. We talk about crippling sanctions and they laugh harder. To others, we offer aid in exchange for promises of an anti-terrorism crackdown; they collect and then ignore us. For others, we strain our alliances and make demands on our friends; we end up stymied. Still, to others we offer obsequious compromises and fresh starts; they smile kindly and make their own plans.  But we now know the one time in recent memory we had a regime “scared to death” was when it thought we’d mention the sanctity of human rights. Doubtless, this lesson in the fusion of ideals and interests will be lost on the great non-ideological, pragmatic leaders of our time.

The headlines claim that China was “scared to death of Nancy Pelosi,” but the real story is far more important:

China was “scared to death” over a visit by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is outspoken on human rights, and rejected her request to visit Tibet, according to files leaked Monday.

A top diplomat at the US embassy in Beijing said he asked Chin to consider letting Pelosi go to Tibet during her May 2009 visit to China, according to a cable obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei responded that China could not arrange the trip due to Pelosi’s “tight schedule,” according to the cable reprinted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The Chinese ambassador in Kazakhstan was blunter, telling his US counterpart over an expansive dinner that Beijing was “fearful” over Pelosi’s visit.

The Chinese were not, in fact, fearful of Pelosi. They were fearful of American ideals. This speaks to the enduring power of American condemnation. Onlookers are quick to dismiss the official naming and shaming of human rights abusers as a toothless substitute for “real” policy. That’s because they’ve come to underestimate the damage a little truth and justice can wreak on an abusive, secretive regime. This is why dissidents always push American leaders to talk about human rights abroad. They’ve lived under these regimes and have a feel for their fears and weaknesses. It’s only in free countries that we view public criticism of leaders as a form of impotence.

It’s no small thing to note that in an age when both threats and conciliations get us nowhere, a public embrace of our foundational ideals still sends a potent message. We talk about extending an outstretched hand to theocrats and the theocrats laugh. We talk about crippling sanctions and they laugh harder. To others, we offer aid in exchange for promises of an anti-terrorism crackdown; they collect and then ignore us. For others, we strain our alliances and make demands on our friends; we end up stymied. Still, to others we offer obsequious compromises and fresh starts; they smile kindly and make their own plans.  But we now know the one time in recent memory we had a regime “scared to death” was when it thought we’d mention the sanctity of human rights. Doubtless, this lesson in the fusion of ideals and interests will be lost on the great non-ideological, pragmatic leaders of our time.

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Admit Error?

Pete asks when will liberals acknowledge certain foreign policy facts now that we know that the views propounded by many conservative critics of the administration are shared by foreign powers (some of whom the left purports to champion). Well, I’m not holding my breath. Liberals spent over $860B on the stimulus without achieving much more than an ever-growing sea of red ink. Have they repudiated Keynesian economics? ObamaCare has turned out to be more expensive than advertised and has already resulted in dislocations contrary to the president’s promise that we’d all get to keep our insurance. Are the Democrats willing to admit error there?

George W. Bush was excoriated for refusing to enumerate his errors. Why isn’t the same standard applicable to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the president? Perhaps some enterprising reporter will ask each one for a mea culpa on these and other errors. No, I don’t think that’s going to happen. The memory hole for the left is quite deep.

Pete asks when will liberals acknowledge certain foreign policy facts now that we know that the views propounded by many conservative critics of the administration are shared by foreign powers (some of whom the left purports to champion). Well, I’m not holding my breath. Liberals spent over $860B on the stimulus without achieving much more than an ever-growing sea of red ink. Have they repudiated Keynesian economics? ObamaCare has turned out to be more expensive than advertised and has already resulted in dislocations contrary to the president’s promise that we’d all get to keep our insurance. Are the Democrats willing to admit error there?

George W. Bush was excoriated for refusing to enumerate his errors. Why isn’t the same standard applicable to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the president? Perhaps some enterprising reporter will ask each one for a mea culpa on these and other errors. No, I don’t think that’s going to happen. The memory hole for the left is quite deep.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

I’m with Ben Chandler on this one. “Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler is blaming President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the Democrats’ poor showing nationally in the Nov. 2 elections. … ‘If not there, where else does the responsibility lie? … You’re talking about the loss of 60 or something seats held by capable public servants. There had to be something going on at a level above them. If that isn’t the lesson, I don’t know what is.’”

I’m with Jeffrey Rosen on this one. “In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both ‘minimally intrusive’ and “effective” — in other words, they must be ‘well-tailored to protect personal privacy,’ and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. … As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito’s tests.” Read the whole thing — it’s quite persuasive.

I’m with Norm Coleman on this one. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit. ‘I think that race is over. I think the counting’s been done. I’m not sure there’s anything that would change that,’ Coleman told C-SPAN in an interview set to air on Sunday. Coleman himself fought until the bitter end of his 2008 Senate race against Democrat Al Franken, which dragged on for seven months because of a recount and legal challenges.”

I’m with John McCain on this one: “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued in an interview Sunday that the U.S. has not exacted enough pressure on North Korea and that the current tensions in the region may present an opportunity for regime change. ‘I think it’s time we talked about regime change in North Korea,’ he said, quickly adding that he did not mean ‘military action.’”

I’m with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on this one. In regards to Iran, apparently he’d been warning the administration to “‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.” But the Obami are too busy obsessing over non-direct, non-peace talks that are going nowhere.

I’m with Josh Block on this one. “One of the most interesting overall themes is the restraint seen to typify the Israelis on Iran, in contrast to the typical Brzezinski, Scowcroft, Walt/Mearsheimer, Glenn Greenwald-Neo-progressive, netroots claims Israel is trying to prod us to fight and bomb Iran for them. In the end, one of the most obvious take-aways from these WikiLeaks documents is devastating to the whole Left/Realist narrative about Israeli manipulation. The Israelis come off as cool customers, while the Arabs are the ones freaking out, justifiably many would argue, and literally demanding the U.S. bomb the Iranian nuclear program.”

I’m with Lindsey Graham on this one. “I think it is a big mistake to criminalize the war, to take someone you’ve held under the law of war as an enemy combatant for six or seven years, then put them in civilian court. It is a disaster waiting to happen. I believe I got the votes to block it. I don’t think Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will ever get congressional approval to see a civilian court. He should be tried at Guantanamo Bay. He should be tried now. He was ready to plead guilty before the Obama administration stopped the trial. We should have him in a military commission trial beginning Monday and get this case behind us.”

I’m with Ben Chandler on this one. “Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler is blaming President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the Democrats’ poor showing nationally in the Nov. 2 elections. … ‘If not there, where else does the responsibility lie? … You’re talking about the loss of 60 or something seats held by capable public servants. There had to be something going on at a level above them. If that isn’t the lesson, I don’t know what is.’”

I’m with Jeffrey Rosen on this one. “In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both ‘minimally intrusive’ and “effective” — in other words, they must be ‘well-tailored to protect personal privacy,’ and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. … As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito’s tests.” Read the whole thing — it’s quite persuasive.

I’m with Norm Coleman on this one. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit. ‘I think that race is over. I think the counting’s been done. I’m not sure there’s anything that would change that,’ Coleman told C-SPAN in an interview set to air on Sunday. Coleman himself fought until the bitter end of his 2008 Senate race against Democrat Al Franken, which dragged on for seven months because of a recount and legal challenges.”

I’m with John McCain on this one: “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued in an interview Sunday that the U.S. has not exacted enough pressure on North Korea and that the current tensions in the region may present an opportunity for regime change. ‘I think it’s time we talked about regime change in North Korea,’ he said, quickly adding that he did not mean ‘military action.’”

I’m with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on this one. In regards to Iran, apparently he’d been warning the administration to “‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.” But the Obami are too busy obsessing over non-direct, non-peace talks that are going nowhere.

I’m with Josh Block on this one. “One of the most interesting overall themes is the restraint seen to typify the Israelis on Iran, in contrast to the typical Brzezinski, Scowcroft, Walt/Mearsheimer, Glenn Greenwald-Neo-progressive, netroots claims Israel is trying to prod us to fight and bomb Iran for them. In the end, one of the most obvious take-aways from these WikiLeaks documents is devastating to the whole Left/Realist narrative about Israeli manipulation. The Israelis come off as cool customers, while the Arabs are the ones freaking out, justifiably many would argue, and literally demanding the U.S. bomb the Iranian nuclear program.”

I’m with Lindsey Graham on this one. “I think it is a big mistake to criminalize the war, to take someone you’ve held under the law of war as an enemy combatant for six or seven years, then put them in civilian court. It is a disaster waiting to happen. I believe I got the votes to block it. I don’t think Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will ever get congressional approval to see a civilian court. He should be tried at Guantanamo Bay. He should be tried now. He was ready to plead guilty before the Obama administration stopped the trial. We should have him in a military commission trial beginning Monday and get this case behind us.”

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The Revolt Against the TSA: It’s the Election, Part 2

And all of a sudden, people are going bananas about the inconveniences and unpleasantnesses of airport security. Why? Well, yes, it appears the Transportation Safety Administration has tightened up its procedures, including pat-downs. And it has, in recent months, stepped up its testing of full-body scanners — which are extremely inconvenient devices, because they don’t work very well yet. But while no one should doubt the sincerity of people’s anger and disgust, I think something else is going on here.

It may be that the TSA story has taken on a life of its own because Obama and the Democrats have refused to hear the very plain message coming from the November election — as the failure to depose Nancy Pelosi last week and the president’s gobsmacking declaration to people who had volunteered in the November election debacle that they had converted “Yes, we can” into “Yes, we did” suggest.

The message of the election was: No, stop, enough. The federal government has gotten too big, is doing too much, and may be acting in ways that are impinging on our freedoms. Through a coincidence unfortunate for the Obama administration’s political future, it just so happens that the same month in which the public was explaining this to the political class, the terror threat rose, and the TSA instituted tougher measures to counter it. And where do people outside Washington encounter the federal government directly? At the airport.

I do not share the negative emotions here. I have been through both a pat-down and full-body screen (twice in the latter case), and found them both deeply annoying. But it was nothing personal. It seemed to me that the TSA employees were just doing their jobs, and they are tough jobs, especially since some members of the inconvenienced traveling public blame them unfairly for the inconvenience.

That is exactly what the Obama people seem to have expected when they tightened things without telling anybody — that nobody would take it personally, that it would all be understood as part of the public interest. And who knows — under other conditions, that expectation might well have been met. But the libertarian outrage expressed by the electorate on November 2 seems not to have made a dent in the way the Democratic leadership is pursuing power or handling itself, and so the TSA has been left wide open and exposed to a pretty thoroughgoing and unpleasant public pat-down of its own.

When populist issues bubble up and take government officials by surprise, it’s often a sign of how profoundly out of touch the politicians and the people who work for them are getting. It happens to every administration. Reagan had Bitburg in 1985; Bush the Elder had his note card reading, “Message: I Care“; Bill Clinton had midnight basketball; George W. Bush had Dubai Ports World. What happens when these things blow up is that the government is so busy talking to itself and concerning itself with its own internal deliberations on policy that it forgets how these things might look or be experienced outside the executive branch.

They lose the benefit of the doubt. And once that is lost, it’s very hard to get back.

And all of a sudden, people are going bananas about the inconveniences and unpleasantnesses of airport security. Why? Well, yes, it appears the Transportation Safety Administration has tightened up its procedures, including pat-downs. And it has, in recent months, stepped up its testing of full-body scanners — which are extremely inconvenient devices, because they don’t work very well yet. But while no one should doubt the sincerity of people’s anger and disgust, I think something else is going on here.

It may be that the TSA story has taken on a life of its own because Obama and the Democrats have refused to hear the very plain message coming from the November election — as the failure to depose Nancy Pelosi last week and the president’s gobsmacking declaration to people who had volunteered in the November election debacle that they had converted “Yes, we can” into “Yes, we did” suggest.

The message of the election was: No, stop, enough. The federal government has gotten too big, is doing too much, and may be acting in ways that are impinging on our freedoms. Through a coincidence unfortunate for the Obama administration’s political future, it just so happens that the same month in which the public was explaining this to the political class, the terror threat rose, and the TSA instituted tougher measures to counter it. And where do people outside Washington encounter the federal government directly? At the airport.

I do not share the negative emotions here. I have been through both a pat-down and full-body screen (twice in the latter case), and found them both deeply annoying. But it was nothing personal. It seemed to me that the TSA employees were just doing their jobs, and they are tough jobs, especially since some members of the inconvenienced traveling public blame them unfairly for the inconvenience.

That is exactly what the Obama people seem to have expected when they tightened things without telling anybody — that nobody would take it personally, that it would all be understood as part of the public interest. And who knows — under other conditions, that expectation might well have been met. But the libertarian outrage expressed by the electorate on November 2 seems not to have made a dent in the way the Democratic leadership is pursuing power or handling itself, and so the TSA has been left wide open and exposed to a pretty thoroughgoing and unpleasant public pat-down of its own.

When populist issues bubble up and take government officials by surprise, it’s often a sign of how profoundly out of touch the politicians and the people who work for them are getting. It happens to every administration. Reagan had Bitburg in 1985; Bush the Elder had his note card reading, “Message: I Care“; Bill Clinton had midnight basketball; George W. Bush had Dubai Ports World. What happens when these things blow up is that the government is so busy talking to itself and concerning itself with its own internal deliberations on policy that it forgets how these things might look or be experienced outside the executive branch.

They lose the benefit of the doubt. And once that is lost, it’s very hard to get back.

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New E-Mails May Bolster Ethics Case Against Rep. Maxine Waters

Just one day after Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) received a censure for violating House ethics rules, new revelations prompted the House Ethics Committee to postpone the high-profile trial of another Democratic member of Nancy Pelosi’s Most Ethical Congress Ever. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) is being charged with helping to steer more than $12 million in federal bailout funds to a bank in which her husband had a substantial financial stake.

While Waters insists that the House Ethics Committee delayed her trial due to of lack of evidence, the New York Times is reporting that the exact opposite appears to be the case. Newly discovered e-mails between Waters’s chief of staff and members of the House Financial Services Committee may show that her office continued to lobby on the bank’s behalf after she publicly agreed to halt her involvement in the issue:

The e-mails are between Mikael Moore, Ms. Waters’s chief of staff, and members of the House Financial Services Committee, on which Ms. Waters serves. The e-mails show that Mr. Moore was actively engaged in discussing with committee members details of a bank bailout bill apparently after Ms. Waters agreed to refrain from advocating on the bank’s behalf. The bailout bill had provisions that ultimately benefited OneUnited, a minority-owned bank in which her husband, Sidney Williams, owned about $350,000 in shares.

A person closely involved in the investigation told the Times that the new evidence “may directly contradict a bit of Maxine’s story, if not the actual facts, the way she has told it.”

Waters has vehemently denied any wrongdoing ever since she was charged over the summer (she now says that the trial delay “demonstrates that the committee does not have a strong case and would not be able to prove any violation has occurred”). Back in August, she mounted an unusually public defense against the allegations, even treating the press to a 90-minute presentation (complete with a 50-page PowerPoint slideshow) disputing the charges.

It’s unclear how long the trial will be postponed for, but the Times reported that the e-mails will have to be examined by an investigative subgroup of the House Ethics Committee before the case can move forward.

Just one day after Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) received a censure for violating House ethics rules, new revelations prompted the House Ethics Committee to postpone the high-profile trial of another Democratic member of Nancy Pelosi’s Most Ethical Congress Ever. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) is being charged with helping to steer more than $12 million in federal bailout funds to a bank in which her husband had a substantial financial stake.

While Waters insists that the House Ethics Committee delayed her trial due to of lack of evidence, the New York Times is reporting that the exact opposite appears to be the case. Newly discovered e-mails between Waters’s chief of staff and members of the House Financial Services Committee may show that her office continued to lobby on the bank’s behalf after she publicly agreed to halt her involvement in the issue:

The e-mails are between Mikael Moore, Ms. Waters’s chief of staff, and members of the House Financial Services Committee, on which Ms. Waters serves. The e-mails show that Mr. Moore was actively engaged in discussing with committee members details of a bank bailout bill apparently after Ms. Waters agreed to refrain from advocating on the bank’s behalf. The bailout bill had provisions that ultimately benefited OneUnited, a minority-owned bank in which her husband, Sidney Williams, owned about $350,000 in shares.

A person closely involved in the investigation told the Times that the new evidence “may directly contradict a bit of Maxine’s story, if not the actual facts, the way she has told it.”

Waters has vehemently denied any wrongdoing ever since she was charged over the summer (she now says that the trial delay “demonstrates that the committee does not have a strong case and would not be able to prove any violation has occurred”). Back in August, she mounted an unusually public defense against the allegations, even treating the press to a 90-minute presentation (complete with a 50-page PowerPoint slideshow) disputing the charges.

It’s unclear how long the trial will be postponed for, but the Times reported that the e-mails will have to be examined by an investigative subgroup of the House Ethics Committee before the case can move forward.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: The Never-Ending Worst Week Ever

Barack Obama is on an open-ended run of “worsts.” The New York Post’s Michael Goodwin opened his November 7 column thus: “He took a ‘shellacking,’ a 2012 poll shows him trailing two Republicans, and losing candidates in his own party are griping about his ‘tone deaf’ leadership. And the Mad Hatter, Nancy Pelosi, refuses to exit quietly. Welcome to Barack Obama’s worst week in the Oval Office.”

Days later, on November 12, Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio told the Daily News: “This certainly was the worst 10 days of [Obama’s] political life.” Commenting on the president’s failed Asia trip, Muzzio noted, “He came back with bupkis,” and said, “Given that he’s not going to be able to get any domestic achievements with the Republicans in control of the House … if he doesn’t do it in foreign policy that’s a big problem for him.”

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Barack Obama is on an open-ended run of “worsts.” The New York Post’s Michael Goodwin opened his November 7 column thus: “He took a ‘shellacking,’ a 2012 poll shows him trailing two Republicans, and losing candidates in his own party are griping about his ‘tone deaf’ leadership. And the Mad Hatter, Nancy Pelosi, refuses to exit quietly. Welcome to Barack Obama’s worst week in the Oval Office.”

Days later, on November 12, Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio told the Daily News: “This certainly was the worst 10 days of [Obama’s] political life.” Commenting on the president’s failed Asia trip, Muzzio noted, “He came back with bupkis,” and said, “Given that he’s not going to be able to get any domestic achievements with the Republicans in control of the House … if he doesn’t do it in foreign policy that’s a big problem for him.”

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Nerves of Steele

The contrast is great: one party can’t eliminate the personification of its problems, while the other is moving swiftly to dump its baggage. The Dems can’t bear to part with Nancy Pelosi, who gets another stint at the helm of the increasingly liberal House Democratic caucus. Yet the Republicans have no qualms when it comes to booting Michael Steele from the RNC chairmanship:

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s prospects for a second term dimmed Wednesday as Republicans went public with their concerns about the committee’s fundraising and two prominent governors indicated a preference for new leadership atop the party.

Asked in an interview at the Republican Governors Association (RGA) meeting here if there should be a new chairman of the party, Mississippi Gov. and outgoing RGA Chairman Haley Barbour flatly said: “Yes.”

Tim Pawlenty echoed that sentiment, citing a letter by outgoing RNC political director Gentry Collins. (“You have to have a high-functioning, effective ground game and the RNC has to be able to deliver that consistently every cycle and it appears based on this letter that that didn’t happen.”)

Unlike Pelosi, there is no “Steele constituency” pleading to keep the gaffe-prone chairman. And unlike the House Dems, the RNC isn’t about to pretend that everything is just swell at the RNC.

The contrast is great: one party can’t eliminate the personification of its problems, while the other is moving swiftly to dump its baggage. The Dems can’t bear to part with Nancy Pelosi, who gets another stint at the helm of the increasingly liberal House Democratic caucus. Yet the Republicans have no qualms when it comes to booting Michael Steele from the RNC chairmanship:

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s prospects for a second term dimmed Wednesday as Republicans went public with their concerns about the committee’s fundraising and two prominent governors indicated a preference for new leadership atop the party.

Asked in an interview at the Republican Governors Association (RGA) meeting here if there should be a new chairman of the party, Mississippi Gov. and outgoing RGA Chairman Haley Barbour flatly said: “Yes.”

Tim Pawlenty echoed that sentiment, citing a letter by outgoing RNC political director Gentry Collins. (“You have to have a high-functioning, effective ground game and the RNC has to be able to deliver that consistently every cycle and it appears based on this letter that that didn’t happen.”)

Unlike Pelosi, there is no “Steele constituency” pleading to keep the gaffe-prone chairman. And unlike the House Dems, the RNC isn’t about to pretend that everything is just swell at the RNC.

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