Commentary Magazine


Topic: New York

How Afghans View Their Country Now

Is Afghanistan a lost cause? Many Americans think so. In fact, on Wednesday night in New York, I’ll be debating the motion “Resolved: Afghanistan is a lost cause” as part of the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series. (Tickets still available — see the website.) Obviously, I’ll have more to say on this subject then, but for now it’s worth noting that the Asia Foundation has just released a survey of 6,467 Afghans — and they don’t view their country as a lost cause.

Here is the survey’s major finding: “In 2010, 47% of respondents say that the country is moving in the right direction. This figure has been increasing since 2008 (38%) and 2009 (42%).” By contrast, only 27% think the country is moving in the wrong direction. Insecurity remains the biggest source of concern for Afghans — cited by 44% of those who think their country is going in the wrong direction. But Afghans are happy with improvements in their economic situation: “More Afghans say they are better off now than a year ago in all domains, particularly in terms of the financial wellbeing of their household.”

Another major source of satisfaction for those who think Afghanistan is moving in the right direction is the performance of their government:

Satisfaction with the performance of the national government has risen steadily over the last three years (from 67% in 2008 to 71% in 2009 and 73% in 2010). The 2010 survey records the highest levels of positive assessments of national government performance since 2007 in almost all regions.

That may seem illogical to Americans who are used to focusing on the shortcomings of Hamid Karzai, but obviously Afghans — with experience of decades of war and oppression — have a different metric by which they measure governmental performance. In the West, we are concerned over the problems with Afghan elections. But Afghans are happy just to be holding elections: “Around three quarters (74%) of respondents say they think elections have improved the country.”

That doesn’t mean Afghans are blind to the flaws of their government — “Fifty-five percent say corruption is a major problem in their daily lives.” But they also see improvements that we tend to ignore. For instance, there has been much reporting on the deficiencies of the Afghan Security Forces. But more than 90% of respondents said that the Afghan National Army is “honest and fair with the Afghan people.” However, that doesn’t mean Afghans think their security forces can go it alone. Some 70% think the ANA still needs the support of foreign troops.

That is a level of nuance and realism that, alas, is all too often lacking in Western assessments of the situation.

Is Afghanistan a lost cause? Many Americans think so. In fact, on Wednesday night in New York, I’ll be debating the motion “Resolved: Afghanistan is a lost cause” as part of the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series. (Tickets still available — see the website.) Obviously, I’ll have more to say on this subject then, but for now it’s worth noting that the Asia Foundation has just released a survey of 6,467 Afghans — and they don’t view their country as a lost cause.

Here is the survey’s major finding: “In 2010, 47% of respondents say that the country is moving in the right direction. This figure has been increasing since 2008 (38%) and 2009 (42%).” By contrast, only 27% think the country is moving in the wrong direction. Insecurity remains the biggest source of concern for Afghans — cited by 44% of those who think their country is going in the wrong direction. But Afghans are happy with improvements in their economic situation: “More Afghans say they are better off now than a year ago in all domains, particularly in terms of the financial wellbeing of their household.”

Another major source of satisfaction for those who think Afghanistan is moving in the right direction is the performance of their government:

Satisfaction with the performance of the national government has risen steadily over the last three years (from 67% in 2008 to 71% in 2009 and 73% in 2010). The 2010 survey records the highest levels of positive assessments of national government performance since 2007 in almost all regions.

That may seem illogical to Americans who are used to focusing on the shortcomings of Hamid Karzai, but obviously Afghans — with experience of decades of war and oppression — have a different metric by which they measure governmental performance. In the West, we are concerned over the problems with Afghan elections. But Afghans are happy just to be holding elections: “Around three quarters (74%) of respondents say they think elections have improved the country.”

That doesn’t mean Afghans are blind to the flaws of their government — “Fifty-five percent say corruption is a major problem in their daily lives.” But they also see improvements that we tend to ignore. For instance, there has been much reporting on the deficiencies of the Afghan Security Forces. But more than 90% of respondents said that the Afghan National Army is “honest and fair with the Afghan people.” However, that doesn’t mean Afghans think their security forces can go it alone. Some 70% think the ANA still needs the support of foreign troops.

That is a level of nuance and realism that, alas, is all too often lacking in Western assessments of the situation.

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Thanks, but I’d Rather Not

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Who knew coconuts were so dangerous?

Who knew Obama’s speech to India’s parliament would be so historic? “This will be the first time a teleprompter will be used in the nearly 100-feet high dome-shaped hall that has portraits of eminent national leaders adorning its walls. Indian politicians are known for making impromptu long speeches and perhaps that is why some parliament officials, who did not wish to be named, sounded rather surprised with the idea of a teleprompter for Obama. ‘We thought Obama is a trained orator and skilled in the art of mass address with his continuous eye contact,’ an official, who did not wish to be identified because of security restrictions, said.”

Who knew it was all about the failure to deliver on jobs, jobs, jobs? Nancy Pelosi, for one: “Nine and a half percent unemployment damaged the majority. … What made a difference in the election is the fact that they said we are spending money, and where are the jobs?” Precisely.

Who knew? Obama has an ego problem, according to Politico. Next up: Obama is a liberal.

Who knew writing books about yourself wasn’t adequate preparation for the presidency? “He came across as a young man in a grown-up’s game—impressive but not presidential. A politician but not a leader, managing American policy at home and American power abroad with disturbing amateurishness. Indeed, there was a growing perception of the inability to run the machinery of government and to find the right people to manage it. A man who was once seen as a talented and even charismatic rhetorician is now seen as lacking real experience or even the ability to stop America’s decline. ‘Yes we can,’ he once said, but now America asks, ‘Can he?’”

Who knew Olbermann was even a “journalist”? This, from Richard Benedetto, is dead on: “Is Keith Olbermann a hypocrite? It is always hypocritical to criticize others for something you are doing yourself. But that point aside, let’s stop pretending that TV talking heads such as Olbermann, Hannity, Matthews, O’Reilly et. al. are journalists, and therefore must adhere to traditional journalism standards. They are not journalists. They are ideological partisans who take sides in political debate.” (Who do we think leaked the donation records — archrival Matthews?)

Who knew Obama had “accomplished” so much? “Last, April Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak disregarded appeals from the Obama administration and violated his own public promises by renewing the ‘emergency law’ that for decades has allowed security forces to prevent public demonstrations, break up political meetings, close media outlets and arrest opposition activists without charge. When the administration protested, Egyptian officials assured it that the law henceforth would be applied only in terrorism and drug cases. The White House cited that pledge in a recent summary of its human rights accomplishments.”

Who knew Nancy Pelosi had such good friends on the right? Bill Kristol: “Now there are those, of a churlish disposition, who would note that Speaker Pelosi has presided over the largest loss of House seats by a party in a midterm election in 62 years. There are second-guessers who would question her strategy and tactics on the stimulus, cap and trade, and health care. There are Democrats tempted by the superficial attraction of a new face as leader of their party in the House. There are Democrats in swing districts who are tempted by the prospect of their party following a more moderate path. … We urge Democrats to reject all such considerations and counsels. We urge the remaining House Democrats to keep Nancy Pelosi as their leader. … For the good of the republic (and the GOP), House Democrats in the 112th Congress need to march further down the path they blazed in the 111th Congress.” And Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters — you hang in there and fight to the bitter end!

Who knew 2010 was the easy part? “Witness the announcement this morning by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) that he was forming an exploratory committee to look at a run against Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in 2012. … Democrats must defend 23 seats while there are just 10 GOP seats up for grabs. And, it’s not just raw numbers that make the cycle daunting for Democrats — it’s where the races are taking place. In addition to Nelson, who represents a state where President Obama won just 42 percent in 2008, Democrats will have to defend seats in Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, North Dakota, Montana and Virginia — not exactly the friendliest of states for their side at the moment.”

Who knew there was someone who could top Michael Bloomberg? “New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was taken aback by President Obama’s arrogance, Rupert Murdoch said in an interview with an Australian outlet. Bloomberg described his conversation with Obama as ‘verbal ping-pong,’ Murdoch told the Australian Financial Review, and said he had a ‘pleasant’ day golfing on Martha’s Vineyard with the president. He came back and said, ‘I never met in my life such an arrogant man,’ Murdoch said.”

Who knew coconuts were so dangerous?

Who knew Obama’s speech to India’s parliament would be so historic? “This will be the first time a teleprompter will be used in the nearly 100-feet high dome-shaped hall that has portraits of eminent national leaders adorning its walls. Indian politicians are known for making impromptu long speeches and perhaps that is why some parliament officials, who did not wish to be named, sounded rather surprised with the idea of a teleprompter for Obama. ‘We thought Obama is a trained orator and skilled in the art of mass address with his continuous eye contact,’ an official, who did not wish to be identified because of security restrictions, said.”

Who knew it was all about the failure to deliver on jobs, jobs, jobs? Nancy Pelosi, for one: “Nine and a half percent unemployment damaged the majority. … What made a difference in the election is the fact that they said we are spending money, and where are the jobs?” Precisely.

Who knew? Obama has an ego problem, according to Politico. Next up: Obama is a liberal.

Who knew writing books about yourself wasn’t adequate preparation for the presidency? “He came across as a young man in a grown-up’s game—impressive but not presidential. A politician but not a leader, managing American policy at home and American power abroad with disturbing amateurishness. Indeed, there was a growing perception of the inability to run the machinery of government and to find the right people to manage it. A man who was once seen as a talented and even charismatic rhetorician is now seen as lacking real experience or even the ability to stop America’s decline. ‘Yes we can,’ he once said, but now America asks, ‘Can he?’”

Who knew Olbermann was even a “journalist”? This, from Richard Benedetto, is dead on: “Is Keith Olbermann a hypocrite? It is always hypocritical to criticize others for something you are doing yourself. But that point aside, let’s stop pretending that TV talking heads such as Olbermann, Hannity, Matthews, O’Reilly et. al. are journalists, and therefore must adhere to traditional journalism standards. They are not journalists. They are ideological partisans who take sides in political debate.” (Who do we think leaked the donation records — archrival Matthews?)

Who knew Obama had “accomplished” so much? “Last, April Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak disregarded appeals from the Obama administration and violated his own public promises by renewing the ‘emergency law’ that for decades has allowed security forces to prevent public demonstrations, break up political meetings, close media outlets and arrest opposition activists without charge. When the administration protested, Egyptian officials assured it that the law henceforth would be applied only in terrorism and drug cases. The White House cited that pledge in a recent summary of its human rights accomplishments.”

Who knew Nancy Pelosi had such good friends on the right? Bill Kristol: “Now there are those, of a churlish disposition, who would note that Speaker Pelosi has presided over the largest loss of House seats by a party in a midterm election in 62 years. There are second-guessers who would question her strategy and tactics on the stimulus, cap and trade, and health care. There are Democrats tempted by the superficial attraction of a new face as leader of their party in the House. There are Democrats in swing districts who are tempted by the prospect of their party following a more moderate path. … We urge Democrats to reject all such considerations and counsels. We urge the remaining House Democrats to keep Nancy Pelosi as their leader. … For the good of the republic (and the GOP), House Democrats in the 112th Congress need to march further down the path they blazed in the 111th Congress.” And Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters — you hang in there and fight to the bitter end!

Who knew 2010 was the easy part? “Witness the announcement this morning by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) that he was forming an exploratory committee to look at a run against Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in 2012. … Democrats must defend 23 seats while there are just 10 GOP seats up for grabs. And, it’s not just raw numbers that make the cycle daunting for Democrats — it’s where the races are taking place. In addition to Nelson, who represents a state where President Obama won just 42 percent in 2008, Democrats will have to defend seats in Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, North Dakota, Montana and Virginia — not exactly the friendliest of states for their side at the moment.”

Who knew there was someone who could top Michael Bloomberg? “New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was taken aback by President Obama’s arrogance, Rupert Murdoch said in an interview with an Australian outlet. Bloomberg described his conversation with Obama as ‘verbal ping-pong,’ Murdoch told the Australian Financial Review, and said he had a ‘pleasant’ day golfing on Martha’s Vineyard with the president. He came back and said, ‘I never met in my life such an arrogant man,’ Murdoch said.”

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It’s the Whole Country

David Brooks zeroes in on the Democrats’ meltdown in the Midwest:

Over the past two years, these voters have watched government radically increase spending in an attempt to put people back to work. According to the Office of Management and Budget, federal spending increased from about 21 percent of G.D.P. in 2008 to nearly 26 percent of G.D.P. this year. There was an $800 billion stimulus package, along with auto bailouts aimed directly at the Midwest.

Economists are debating the effects of all this, but voters have reached a verdict. According to exit polls on Tuesday, two-thirds of the Americans who voted said that the stimulus package was either harmful to the American economy or made no difference whatsoever. …

On Tuesday, the Democrats got destroyed in this region.

That is all true, but this was not simply a Midwest wipeout. The Democrats lost five House seats in New York and would have lost more had the top of the ticket not been pathetically unelectable. Tennessee, Arizona, Virginia, and Texas each had three seats swing to the Republicans. Four Florida seats swung as well. And those gubernatorial losses included Maine and New Mexico.

Brooks’s analysis of the Midwest is thus equally applicable to the country as a whole:

Some Democrats believe their policies have nothing to do with the debacle. It was the unemployment rate, they say. But it was Democratic economic policies that first repelled these voters. There’s been a sharp rise in the number of voters who think the Democrats are “too liberal.” Signature policy initiatives like health care remain gigantically unpopular. Republicans didn’t score gains everywhere unemployment was high (see California, for example). But they did score gains nearly everywhere where disapproval of President Obama and his policies was high.

We see from the exit polls that the Democrats’ thumping was delivered by the middle and upper classes, by the middle-aged and the old, by whites, by men and women, by Republicans and independents, by Protestants and Catholics, and by suburban, small-town, and rural voters. Moreover, although the Midwest went strongly Republican (54 percent), a higher percentage in the South voted for Republican House candidates (60 percent). And despite Californians’ inexplicable loyalty to the Democratic Party, the vote in the West was evenly split (Democrats won by a statistically insignificant margin of 49 to 48 percent).

So is this a Midwest problem or a nationwide problem for Obama? The evidence says it is the latter. As far as the midterms went, the Democrats have been reduced to a Dukakis-like shadow of its 2006-08 self. Blacks, Hispanics, Ph.d.’s, high school dropouts, the poor, limousine liberals, and big-city urbanites stuck with the Democrats. The Republicans won a majority of virtually every other segment of the country. In some respects, it is remarkable that the Democrats didn’t do worse. To paraphrase candidate Obama, there are not Blue States and Red States; there is a much Redder United States.

Is this permanent? Pshaw! It’s a cautionary tale that you can’t treat the American people as an annoyance and the country like a petri dish and stay in office. So if Obama and the Democrats persist on that course, their shellacking will continue.

David Brooks zeroes in on the Democrats’ meltdown in the Midwest:

Over the past two years, these voters have watched government radically increase spending in an attempt to put people back to work. According to the Office of Management and Budget, federal spending increased from about 21 percent of G.D.P. in 2008 to nearly 26 percent of G.D.P. this year. There was an $800 billion stimulus package, along with auto bailouts aimed directly at the Midwest.

Economists are debating the effects of all this, but voters have reached a verdict. According to exit polls on Tuesday, two-thirds of the Americans who voted said that the stimulus package was either harmful to the American economy or made no difference whatsoever. …

On Tuesday, the Democrats got destroyed in this region.

That is all true, but this was not simply a Midwest wipeout. The Democrats lost five House seats in New York and would have lost more had the top of the ticket not been pathetically unelectable. Tennessee, Arizona, Virginia, and Texas each had three seats swing to the Republicans. Four Florida seats swung as well. And those gubernatorial losses included Maine and New Mexico.

Brooks’s analysis of the Midwest is thus equally applicable to the country as a whole:

Some Democrats believe their policies have nothing to do with the debacle. It was the unemployment rate, they say. But it was Democratic economic policies that first repelled these voters. There’s been a sharp rise in the number of voters who think the Democrats are “too liberal.” Signature policy initiatives like health care remain gigantically unpopular. Republicans didn’t score gains everywhere unemployment was high (see California, for example). But they did score gains nearly everywhere where disapproval of President Obama and his policies was high.

We see from the exit polls that the Democrats’ thumping was delivered by the middle and upper classes, by the middle-aged and the old, by whites, by men and women, by Republicans and independents, by Protestants and Catholics, and by suburban, small-town, and rural voters. Moreover, although the Midwest went strongly Republican (54 percent), a higher percentage in the South voted for Republican House candidates (60 percent). And despite Californians’ inexplicable loyalty to the Democratic Party, the vote in the West was evenly split (Democrats won by a statistically insignificant margin of 49 to 48 percent).

So is this a Midwest problem or a nationwide problem for Obama? The evidence says it is the latter. As far as the midterms went, the Democrats have been reduced to a Dukakis-like shadow of its 2006-08 self. Blacks, Hispanics, Ph.d.’s, high school dropouts, the poor, limousine liberals, and big-city urbanites stuck with the Democrats. The Republicans won a majority of virtually every other segment of the country. In some respects, it is remarkable that the Democrats didn’t do worse. To paraphrase candidate Obama, there are not Blue States and Red States; there is a much Redder United States.

Is this permanent? Pshaw! It’s a cautionary tale that you can’t treat the American people as an annoyance and the country like a petri dish and stay in office. So if Obama and the Democrats persist on that course, their shellacking will continue.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

How’d they do it? By being the party of no: “It began in late January 2009, when Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a quick vote on an economic-stimulus package and Mr. Cantor helped engineer a unanimous Republican ‘no’ vote. … [T]he unified vote signaled to previously rattled Republicans that they didn’t have to go along with the big Democratic majority and the highly popular new president. The vote also set a pattern that would be repeated time and again over the next two years, with House Republicans solidly opposing one Democratic initiative after another. The strategy infuriated the White House and ran the risk Republicans would be damaged by the ‘party of no’ label.”

How’d they lose it? “A Congressional majority is a terrible thing to waste, as Rahm Emanuel might say, and yesterday the public took that lesson to heart. … Yes, the economy was the dominant issue and the root of much voter worry and frustration with Washington. But make no mistake, this was also an ideological repudiation of the Democratic agenda of the last two years. Independents turned with a vengeance on the same Democrats they had vaulted into the majority in the waning George W. Bush years, rejecting the economy-killing trio of $812 billion in stimulus spending, cap and tax and ObamaCare.”

How’d the governors do? The GOP picked up at least 10 seats.

How’d Republican New Yorkers do? They picked up five House seats, remarkable considering how badly the top of the ticket ran.

How’d they make history? “South Carolina voters have elected the first black Republican to Congress from the Deep South since Reconstruction.”

How’d it work out when he ignored the Tea Party? Obama really doesn’t like to experience bad news, but it might do him some good to hear directly what the media are saying about him. “Aides say the President received updates on races from his staff, but didn’t sit in front of the television watching the election returns himself.”

How’d Mitt Romney want you to reflect on the election? With a morning-after op-ed by him, touting his free-market credentials. A sample: “If the president is to become serious about spending, borrowing and deficits, he must subject government to the two budgeting rules employed by every well-run business and home.” Welcome to the 2012 GOP primary.

How’d you expect Maureen Dowd to react? Uh, not well: “Even though it was predicted, it was still a shock to see voters humiliate a brilliant and spellbinding young president, who’d had such a Kennedy-like beginning, while electing a lot of conservative nuts and promoting this central-casting congressman as the face of the future: a Republican who had vowed in a written pledge to restore America to old-fashioned values, returning to a gauzy ‘Leave It to Beaver’ image that never existed even on the set of ‘Leave It to Beaver.’” Was she really shocked? She should stop doing research in New York taxicabs. But, hey, she got the humiliation part right.

How’d they do it? By being the party of no: “It began in late January 2009, when Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a quick vote on an economic-stimulus package and Mr. Cantor helped engineer a unanimous Republican ‘no’ vote. … [T]he unified vote signaled to previously rattled Republicans that they didn’t have to go along with the big Democratic majority and the highly popular new president. The vote also set a pattern that would be repeated time and again over the next two years, with House Republicans solidly opposing one Democratic initiative after another. The strategy infuriated the White House and ran the risk Republicans would be damaged by the ‘party of no’ label.”

How’d they lose it? “A Congressional majority is a terrible thing to waste, as Rahm Emanuel might say, and yesterday the public took that lesson to heart. … Yes, the economy was the dominant issue and the root of much voter worry and frustration with Washington. But make no mistake, this was also an ideological repudiation of the Democratic agenda of the last two years. Independents turned with a vengeance on the same Democrats they had vaulted into the majority in the waning George W. Bush years, rejecting the economy-killing trio of $812 billion in stimulus spending, cap and tax and ObamaCare.”

How’d the governors do? The GOP picked up at least 10 seats.

How’d Republican New Yorkers do? They picked up five House seats, remarkable considering how badly the top of the ticket ran.

How’d they make history? “South Carolina voters have elected the first black Republican to Congress from the Deep South since Reconstruction.”

How’d it work out when he ignored the Tea Party? Obama really doesn’t like to experience bad news, but it might do him some good to hear directly what the media are saying about him. “Aides say the President received updates on races from his staff, but didn’t sit in front of the television watching the election returns himself.”

How’d Mitt Romney want you to reflect on the election? With a morning-after op-ed by him, touting his free-market credentials. A sample: “If the president is to become serious about spending, borrowing and deficits, he must subject government to the two budgeting rules employed by every well-run business and home.” Welcome to the 2012 GOP primary.

How’d you expect Maureen Dowd to react? Uh, not well: “Even though it was predicted, it was still a shock to see voters humiliate a brilliant and spellbinding young president, who’d had such a Kennedy-like beginning, while electing a lot of conservative nuts and promoting this central-casting congressman as the face of the future: a Republican who had vowed in a written pledge to restore America to old-fashioned values, returning to a gauzy ‘Leave It to Beaver’ image that never existed even on the set of ‘Leave It to Beaver.’” Was she really shocked? She should stop doing research in New York taxicabs. But, hey, she got the humiliation part right.

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LIVE BLOG: New York

New York remains deep Blue at the top of the ticket. Both Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand win, as does Andrew Cuomo in the gubernatorial race. But keep your eye on those House seats. The GOP was looking to pick up 4 to 6 seats. However, with the top of the ticket running so poorly, those House Republicans may have a tougher time of it.

New York remains deep Blue at the top of the ticket. Both Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand win, as does Andrew Cuomo in the gubernatorial race. But keep your eye on those House seats. The GOP was looking to pick up 4 to 6 seats. However, with the top of the ticket running so poorly, those House Republicans may have a tougher time of it.

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New York State of Mind?

New York State may be the only — the only — bright spot for Democrats in the United States today, as I say today in the New York Post:

As the great political analyst Jay-Z has observed, New York is “a concrete jungle where dreams are made of.” Perhaps the logic of that lyric eludes you. It shouldn’t, especially if you’re a Democrat. For today, this concrete jungle is the only place in America where a Democratic dream might be made of.

Prefer your wisdom from Billy Joel? Here it is: If all but one of the major national pollsters are right and there is a GOP blowout today that will make its 1994 blowout seem modest by comparison, Democrats will have to console themselves by placing themselves in a New York State of Mind.

There’s more, plus a few more song lyrics.

New York State may be the only — the only — bright spot for Democrats in the United States today, as I say today in the New York Post:

As the great political analyst Jay-Z has observed, New York is “a concrete jungle where dreams are made of.” Perhaps the logic of that lyric eludes you. It shouldn’t, especially if you’re a Democrat. For today, this concrete jungle is the only place in America where a Democratic dream might be made of.

Prefer your wisdom from Billy Joel? Here it is: If all but one of the major national pollsters are right and there is a GOP blowout today that will make its 1994 blowout seem modest by comparison, Democrats will have to console themselves by placing themselves in a New York State of Mind.

There’s more, plus a few more song lyrics.

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New York’s Silk-Stocking District

Carolyn Maloney has been the congresswoman from New York’s Upper East Side since 1993. (The district now includes a chunk of Queens, as well.) Known as the silk-stocking district, it was once as safely Republican as could be found in New York, and it still has more Republicans than anywhere else in solid-blue Manhattan. But it has been safely Democratic now for quite a while. It still is, but Maloney has had to spend more money this year than in her last three elections combined — a good example of how the Democrats have been forced to use resources just to hold their own.

Last night, she had the last of three debates with her Republican opponent, Ryan Brumberg. The fact that an incumbent facing a relatively unknown opponent felt that she had to agree to three debates is itself a sign of perceived weakness. And as the New York Observer reports, Brumberg held his own and even got off a nice piece of political theater:

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the debate occurred during the Q&A portion, when an audience member asked Maloney how she could justify supporting the health care reform bill, which the audience member called “an abomination.”

“I am proud to have been a part of that,” Maloney responded.

“Every single President has tried to get health coverage for the 33 million Americans who are uninsured.”

About half the audience applauded loudly, with a few shouts of “Yeah!” peppered in.

Then a member of audience shouted, “Nobody read it!”

“I read it,” Maloney quickly shot back. “It was read and discussed for at least three to six days before the caucus.”

For his rebuttal, Brumberg dragged a large white cardboard box from beneath the debate table. He pulled stacks and stacks of paper out of the box and placed them onto the table. The stack stood two to three feet tall. It was the health-care reform bill.

“I tried to read it,” he said. “It’s not a quick read — I’ll let that stand for itself.”

From the same box, he picked up two packets of paper, each about the thickness of a college essay. They were the Social Security bill and the Civil Rights Act, he said. Then he pulled a small booklet from his breast pocket.

“The Constitution,” he said.

Real Clear Politics regards the seat as safe. But while a recent poll had Maloney ahead by 20 points, she was below 50 percent, usually a sign of trouble for an incumbent, especially one who has been in for almost two decades.

So if Brumberg wins or even comes close in NY 14, it would be as clear a sign in the political world as the precipitate withdrawal of the sea from the shore is in the physical world: a tsunami is coming.

Carolyn Maloney has been the congresswoman from New York’s Upper East Side since 1993. (The district now includes a chunk of Queens, as well.) Known as the silk-stocking district, it was once as safely Republican as could be found in New York, and it still has more Republicans than anywhere else in solid-blue Manhattan. But it has been safely Democratic now for quite a while. It still is, but Maloney has had to spend more money this year than in her last three elections combined — a good example of how the Democrats have been forced to use resources just to hold their own.

Last night, she had the last of three debates with her Republican opponent, Ryan Brumberg. The fact that an incumbent facing a relatively unknown opponent felt that she had to agree to three debates is itself a sign of perceived weakness. And as the New York Observer reports, Brumberg held his own and even got off a nice piece of political theater:

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the debate occurred during the Q&A portion, when an audience member asked Maloney how she could justify supporting the health care reform bill, which the audience member called “an abomination.”

“I am proud to have been a part of that,” Maloney responded.

“Every single President has tried to get health coverage for the 33 million Americans who are uninsured.”

About half the audience applauded loudly, with a few shouts of “Yeah!” peppered in.

Then a member of audience shouted, “Nobody read it!”

“I read it,” Maloney quickly shot back. “It was read and discussed for at least three to six days before the caucus.”

For his rebuttal, Brumberg dragged a large white cardboard box from beneath the debate table. He pulled stacks and stacks of paper out of the box and placed them onto the table. The stack stood two to three feet tall. It was the health-care reform bill.

“I tried to read it,” he said. “It’s not a quick read — I’ll let that stand for itself.”

From the same box, he picked up two packets of paper, each about the thickness of a college essay. They were the Social Security bill and the Civil Rights Act, he said. Then he pulled a small booklet from his breast pocket.

“The Constitution,” he said.

Real Clear Politics regards the seat as safe. But while a recent poll had Maloney ahead by 20 points, she was below 50 percent, usually a sign of trouble for an incumbent, especially one who has been in for almost two decades.

So if Brumberg wins or even comes close in NY 14, it would be as clear a sign in the political world as the precipitate withdrawal of the sea from the shore is in the physical world: a tsunami is coming.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Terrible news: Carly Fiorina is hospitalized.

Rotten outlook for the Dems from Charlie Cook: “The Cook Political Report’s pre-election House outlook is a Democratic net loss of 48 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible. A turnover of just 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands. The midterm maelstrom pulling House Democrats under shows no signs of abating, if anything it has intensified.”

Dismal outlook for Virginia Democrats: Dick Boucher may be denied his 16th term.

Noxious moral equivalence from the UN: “‘Israeli officials slammed UN special envoy Robert Serry’s comments Tuesday equating alleged settler vandalism against olive trees to terrorism, saying such an equation was “absurd” and “reprehensible.” As for the use of the word “terror,” does he want to make believe that there are Israeli suicide bombers attacking Palestinians buses?’ [Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor] said.  ‘One cannot understand this absurd equation. The Israeli government has acted with determination against violence directed against Palestinians, with a number of offenders brought to trial and an unambiguous approach by the Israeli justice system to this problem.’”

On the good-news front, many sharp GOP foreign policy gurus will have new prominence in Congress. Josh Rogin has the rundown.

Fabulous entertainment value ahead: “Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will likely represent himself at his mid-November ethics trial, setting up a potential spectacle less than two weeks after what’s expected to be a disappointing — if not devastating — election for Democrats.”

A positive development for conservative Hoosiers: “House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence  of Indiana is considering stepping down from his post in the GOP leadership in preparation for a possible bid for president or governor in 2012. Pence, a darling of the conservative movement, would leave the leadership job with a blunt explanation to colleagues that he can’t commit to a two-year term in House leadership, a source familiar with his deliberations told POLITICO Tuesday.”

Terrible news: Carly Fiorina is hospitalized.

Rotten outlook for the Dems from Charlie Cook: “The Cook Political Report’s pre-election House outlook is a Democratic net loss of 48 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible. A turnover of just 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands. The midterm maelstrom pulling House Democrats under shows no signs of abating, if anything it has intensified.”

Dismal outlook for Virginia Democrats: Dick Boucher may be denied his 16th term.

Noxious moral equivalence from the UN: “‘Israeli officials slammed UN special envoy Robert Serry’s comments Tuesday equating alleged settler vandalism against olive trees to terrorism, saying such an equation was “absurd” and “reprehensible.” As for the use of the word “terror,” does he want to make believe that there are Israeli suicide bombers attacking Palestinians buses?’ [Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor] said.  ‘One cannot understand this absurd equation. The Israeli government has acted with determination against violence directed against Palestinians, with a number of offenders brought to trial and an unambiguous approach by the Israeli justice system to this problem.’”

On the good-news front, many sharp GOP foreign policy gurus will have new prominence in Congress. Josh Rogin has the rundown.

Fabulous entertainment value ahead: “Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will likely represent himself at his mid-November ethics trial, setting up a potential spectacle less than two weeks after what’s expected to be a disappointing — if not devastating — election for Democrats.”

A positive development for conservative Hoosiers: “House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence  of Indiana is considering stepping down from his post in the GOP leadership in preparation for a possible bid for president or governor in 2012. Pence, a darling of the conservative movement, would leave the leadership job with a blunt explanation to colleagues that he can’t commit to a two-year term in House leadership, a source familiar with his deliberations told POLITICO Tuesday.”

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Ed Koch Fingers a Congressman Hostile to Israel

Democrat Ed Koch and national security expert Dan Senor are supporting the Republican candidate in the NY-22 race. The reason why has to do with their assessment of the Democratic incumbent’s record on Israel. A portion of the Koch-Senor letter that I have obtained:

Unfortunately, when it comes to Maurice Hinchey, who represents New York’s 22nd District, we have one of the least sympathetic, most hostile lawmakers in Congress on all issues impacting the U.S.-Israel relationship. Hinchey is a member of a small group of Representatives that routinely votes against the bipartisan resolutions and legislation by which Congress supports the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Consider just a few items from his record:

—In 2002, at the height of the Intifada, as Israeli civilians were being murdered by the hundreds in suicide bombings, a simple House resolution expressing solidarity with Israel passed by a 352-21 margin. Hinchey voted “present.”

—In 2006, Hinchey voted against a bill to promote democratic institution-building in the Palestinian territories titled the “Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act.” It passed 361-37.

—In 2009, he voted against a resolution condemning the Goldstone Report, an infamous product of the UN that accused Israel of intentionally committing war crimes in Gaza. The anti-Goldstone resolution passed 344-36.

—This year, he signed a letter to President Obama that accused Israel of the “de facto collective punishment” of Palestinians in Gaza and demanded that President Obama pressure Israel to open its borders with Gaza, a move that would leave Israel dangerously vulnerable to terrorism.

—Most stunningly of all, Hinchey voted against one of the Obama administration’s most important foreign policy initiatives, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Act, passed by overwhelming margins in both houses of Congress and signed into law this summer. This key piece of legislation, vital to both American and Israeli security, sailed through the House 412-12.

Hinchey voted against it.

If there is a Member of Congress who has voted more consistently against consensus American foreign policy interests and against U.S.-Israel friendship, we would be hard-pressed to name him.

This is the sort of “divisive” criticism that the left castigates. But it is coming from Democrat Ed Koch and is based on the congressman’s own voting record and signature on the Gaza 54 letter. Oh, and by the way, Hinchey’s endorsed and funded in part by … don’t even have to finish the sentence, do I? A voting record like that can only be admired by the sort of people who would defend Richard Goldstone, escort him around the Capitol, and lie about it.

Democrat Ed Koch and national security expert Dan Senor are supporting the Republican candidate in the NY-22 race. The reason why has to do with their assessment of the Democratic incumbent’s record on Israel. A portion of the Koch-Senor letter that I have obtained:

Unfortunately, when it comes to Maurice Hinchey, who represents New York’s 22nd District, we have one of the least sympathetic, most hostile lawmakers in Congress on all issues impacting the U.S.-Israel relationship. Hinchey is a member of a small group of Representatives that routinely votes against the bipartisan resolutions and legislation by which Congress supports the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Consider just a few items from his record:

—In 2002, at the height of the Intifada, as Israeli civilians were being murdered by the hundreds in suicide bombings, a simple House resolution expressing solidarity with Israel passed by a 352-21 margin. Hinchey voted “present.”

—In 2006, Hinchey voted against a bill to promote democratic institution-building in the Palestinian territories titled the “Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act.” It passed 361-37.

—In 2009, he voted against a resolution condemning the Goldstone Report, an infamous product of the UN that accused Israel of intentionally committing war crimes in Gaza. The anti-Goldstone resolution passed 344-36.

—This year, he signed a letter to President Obama that accused Israel of the “de facto collective punishment” of Palestinians in Gaza and demanded that President Obama pressure Israel to open its borders with Gaza, a move that would leave Israel dangerously vulnerable to terrorism.

—Most stunningly of all, Hinchey voted against one of the Obama administration’s most important foreign policy initiatives, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Act, passed by overwhelming margins in both houses of Congress and signed into law this summer. This key piece of legislation, vital to both American and Israeli security, sailed through the House 412-12.

Hinchey voted against it.

If there is a Member of Congress who has voted more consistently against consensus American foreign policy interests and against U.S.-Israel friendship, we would be hard-pressed to name him.

This is the sort of “divisive” criticism that the left castigates. But it is coming from Democrat Ed Koch and is based on the congressman’s own voting record and signature on the Gaza 54 letter. Oh, and by the way, Hinchey’s endorsed and funded in part by … don’t even have to finish the sentence, do I? A voting record like that can only be admired by the sort of people who would defend Richard Goldstone, escort him around the Capitol, and lie about it.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Even Obama’s old seat may be lost. Mark Kirk has a small lead in two recent polls.

Even the White House couldn’t spin this one: “All signs point to huge Republican victories in two weeks, with the GOP now leading Democrats on virtually every measure in an Associated Press-GfK poll of people likely to vote in the first major elections of Barack Obama’s presidency … 50 percent say they will back the GOP candidate in their House district; 43 percent say they’ll support the Democrat … 54 percent disapprove of Obama’s job performance; 45 percent approve.” No wonder Obama wants to talk about the Chamber of Commerce.

Even the VP spot in 2012 is out, says Chris Christie. “Christie also once again said there’s ‘no way’ he’d run for president in 2012. But his wife suggested the freshman governor would be good in the role. ‘Oh, absolutely,’ Mary Pat Christie told MSNBC when asked if she thought her husband would make for a ‘good president.’” Hey, Obama changed his mind about running in 2008.

Even Christine O’Donnell (probably) knows it by heart: “At a Democratic fundraiser on Monday night, President Obama once again misquoted the Declaration of Independence’s most famous sentence and once again omitted its reference to our ‘Creator.’” If you are counting, this is the third time he edited the Preamble. “Other presidents didn’t deliberately misquote the Declaration, and they didn’t leave out (or rewrite) the words about our rights being endowed by our Creator.” But he’s an intellectual, don’t you see?

Even William Galston can’t convince me that Obama will “reach across the aisle” to work cooperatively with a GOP Congress. He should, but he sure isn’t laying the groundwork now.

Even the “unambiguous success” of the GM bailout really isn’t. Charles Lane explains that GM has $27 billion in unfunded pension-plan obligations. “Long term, the bailout can’t work unless the public buys GM’s cars. But the company’s share of the U.S. market was 19 percent in September 2010, down from 19.6 percent at the beginning of the year. Hence, [independent ratings agency] Fitch says, GM’s bonds deserve a ‘junk’ rating: BB-. That, too, is not a big surprise. But it does suggest that the success of the bailout is still, well, ambiguous. GM is not out of the woods yet, and neither are the taxpayers.”

Even the Harvard Club of New York has higher standards than CNN. “This year, the Midtown club turned down Mr. Spitzer’s application for membership — a rare snub by the club — because officials there did not want to be associated with Mr. Spitzer and the prostitution scandal that forced him from the governorship of New York in 2008, according to a person told of the decision by Harvard officials.” Shunning is a much-underrated tool in maintaining ethical standards. (Speaking of which, why did the same Harvard University have Spitzer speak last year on ethics?)

Even unacceptable to Human Rights Watch: “Human Rights Watch has slammed a ruling by an Emirati court which condones the beating of wives by their husbands, saying it sends out a signal that violence against women and children is acceptable.” Would be nice if Obama and his secretary of state would do so as well, since they’re all about human rights these days.

Even liberal Matthew Duss concedes that George Bush was on to something with his “freedom agenda.” In a backhanded way, he advises: “But just because the Bush administration latched onto this critique as a justification for its attempt to reorder the Middle East doesn’t mean it was necessarily wrong. A focus on security at the expense of democracy does generate bad consequences, and acknowledgement of this fact, by anyone, however late coming, is a good thing.” In all his suck-uppery to the PA, Obama has ignored this truism: “Political freedom is not a peripheral concern in Palestine — it is central to the U.S. goal of a functioning, viable, and democratic Palestinian state at peace with Israel.”

Even Obama’s old seat may be lost. Mark Kirk has a small lead in two recent polls.

Even the White House couldn’t spin this one: “All signs point to huge Republican victories in two weeks, with the GOP now leading Democrats on virtually every measure in an Associated Press-GfK poll of people likely to vote in the first major elections of Barack Obama’s presidency … 50 percent say they will back the GOP candidate in their House district; 43 percent say they’ll support the Democrat … 54 percent disapprove of Obama’s job performance; 45 percent approve.” No wonder Obama wants to talk about the Chamber of Commerce.

Even the VP spot in 2012 is out, says Chris Christie. “Christie also once again said there’s ‘no way’ he’d run for president in 2012. But his wife suggested the freshman governor would be good in the role. ‘Oh, absolutely,’ Mary Pat Christie told MSNBC when asked if she thought her husband would make for a ‘good president.’” Hey, Obama changed his mind about running in 2008.

Even Christine O’Donnell (probably) knows it by heart: “At a Democratic fundraiser on Monday night, President Obama once again misquoted the Declaration of Independence’s most famous sentence and once again omitted its reference to our ‘Creator.’” If you are counting, this is the third time he edited the Preamble. “Other presidents didn’t deliberately misquote the Declaration, and they didn’t leave out (or rewrite) the words about our rights being endowed by our Creator.” But he’s an intellectual, don’t you see?

Even William Galston can’t convince me that Obama will “reach across the aisle” to work cooperatively with a GOP Congress. He should, but he sure isn’t laying the groundwork now.

Even the “unambiguous success” of the GM bailout really isn’t. Charles Lane explains that GM has $27 billion in unfunded pension-plan obligations. “Long term, the bailout can’t work unless the public buys GM’s cars. But the company’s share of the U.S. market was 19 percent in September 2010, down from 19.6 percent at the beginning of the year. Hence, [independent ratings agency] Fitch says, GM’s bonds deserve a ‘junk’ rating: BB-. That, too, is not a big surprise. But it does suggest that the success of the bailout is still, well, ambiguous. GM is not out of the woods yet, and neither are the taxpayers.”

Even the Harvard Club of New York has higher standards than CNN. “This year, the Midtown club turned down Mr. Spitzer’s application for membership — a rare snub by the club — because officials there did not want to be associated with Mr. Spitzer and the prostitution scandal that forced him from the governorship of New York in 2008, according to a person told of the decision by Harvard officials.” Shunning is a much-underrated tool in maintaining ethical standards. (Speaking of which, why did the same Harvard University have Spitzer speak last year on ethics?)

Even unacceptable to Human Rights Watch: “Human Rights Watch has slammed a ruling by an Emirati court which condones the beating of wives by their husbands, saying it sends out a signal that violence against women and children is acceptable.” Would be nice if Obama and his secretary of state would do so as well, since they’re all about human rights these days.

Even liberal Matthew Duss concedes that George Bush was on to something with his “freedom agenda.” In a backhanded way, he advises: “But just because the Bush administration latched onto this critique as a justification for its attempt to reorder the Middle East doesn’t mean it was necessarily wrong. A focus on security at the expense of democracy does generate bad consequences, and acknowledgement of this fact, by anyone, however late coming, is a good thing.” In all his suck-uppery to the PA, Obama has ignored this truism: “Political freedom is not a peripheral concern in Palestine — it is central to the U.S. goal of a functioning, viable, and democratic Palestinian state at peace with Israel.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

D.C. runs over black schoolkids. “Michelle Rhee—the tough broad who spent nearly four years as D.C. schools chancellor in a pitched battle against the corruption-plagued, incompetence-ridden Washington teachers union to reform a rotten public school system—was forced out today by mayor-elect Vincent Gray in what surely must be seen as a kind of triumph for the union and a potential tragedy for the city’s underprivileged, mostly-black schoolchildren.” Meanwhile, the Obamas are “tucking their own cute kids safely away in private schools.” Read the whole thing.

Officials from cities like New York should run, not walk, to grab her. “DC’s loss could be New York’s gain, and it behooves city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to scoop her up before she departs for another system.”

Pat Toomey is running away with it in Pennsylvania. “Republican Pat Toomey now holds a 10-point lead over Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak, the widest gap between the candidates since early April in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race. … The race now moves from Leans GOP to Solid GOP in the Rasmussen Reports Election 2010 Senate Balance of Power rankings.”

According to the Cook Political Report (subscription required), Nancy Pelosi isn’t going to be running the House come January. “At the moment, 22 Democratic seats, including 10 open seats and 12 incumbents, sit in the Lean or Likely Republican columns, while two Republican seats sit in the Lean or Likely Democratic columns, for a net of 20 Republican seats. That means Republicans only need to win 21 of the 40 seats in the Toss Up column to win a majority, not even counting many of the 30 Democratic seats in the Lean Democratic column that are rapidly becoming more competitive. At this point, all but four of the Democrats in our Toss Up column have trailed in at least one public or private poll, and Democrats’ fortunes in most of these seats are on the decline. … Overall, given the status of these Toss Up races and the length of the Lean Democratic column, Democrats’ chances of losing at least 50 seats are now greater than their chances of holding losses under 45 seats.”

By the time they start running for president in 2012, ObamaCare may be in the rear-view mirror. “A federal judge says some parts of a lawsuit by 20 states challenging the Obama administration’s health care overhaul as unconstitutional can go to trial. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled Thursday in Pensacola, Fla., that some parts of the lawsuit need to be heard. The administration had asked him to dismiss the entire lawsuit, which was spearheaded by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.”

He says he isn’t running in 2012, but there is — as I predicted — a “Draft Chris Christie” website. One benefit: in a Christie administration, I sincerely doubt the first lady would be nagging us to stop eating fast food.

Is Obama pitching to young voters merely to stage a practice run for the 2012 get-out-the-vote operation? The New York Times thinks so. After all, it’s always about him.

Democrats around the country are running against supposedly “extremist” Tea Partiers. But the voters have minds of their own, wouldn’t you know it? “Likely voters in battleground districts see extremists as having a more dominant influence over the Democratic Party than they do over the GOP. This result comes from The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll, which found that 44 percent of likely voters say the Democratic Party is more dominated by its extreme elements, whereas 37 percent say it’s the Republican Party that is more dominated by extremists.” By the end of this campaign, the public will be convinced that the Democrats are being funded by mystery foreign donors.

D.C. runs over black schoolkids. “Michelle Rhee—the tough broad who spent nearly four years as D.C. schools chancellor in a pitched battle against the corruption-plagued, incompetence-ridden Washington teachers union to reform a rotten public school system—was forced out today by mayor-elect Vincent Gray in what surely must be seen as a kind of triumph for the union and a potential tragedy for the city’s underprivileged, mostly-black schoolchildren.” Meanwhile, the Obamas are “tucking their own cute kids safely away in private schools.” Read the whole thing.

Officials from cities like New York should run, not walk, to grab her. “DC’s loss could be New York’s gain, and it behooves city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to scoop her up before she departs for another system.”

Pat Toomey is running away with it in Pennsylvania. “Republican Pat Toomey now holds a 10-point lead over Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak, the widest gap between the candidates since early April in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race. … The race now moves from Leans GOP to Solid GOP in the Rasmussen Reports Election 2010 Senate Balance of Power rankings.”

According to the Cook Political Report (subscription required), Nancy Pelosi isn’t going to be running the House come January. “At the moment, 22 Democratic seats, including 10 open seats and 12 incumbents, sit in the Lean or Likely Republican columns, while two Republican seats sit in the Lean or Likely Democratic columns, for a net of 20 Republican seats. That means Republicans only need to win 21 of the 40 seats in the Toss Up column to win a majority, not even counting many of the 30 Democratic seats in the Lean Democratic column that are rapidly becoming more competitive. At this point, all but four of the Democrats in our Toss Up column have trailed in at least one public or private poll, and Democrats’ fortunes in most of these seats are on the decline. … Overall, given the status of these Toss Up races and the length of the Lean Democratic column, Democrats’ chances of losing at least 50 seats are now greater than their chances of holding losses under 45 seats.”

By the time they start running for president in 2012, ObamaCare may be in the rear-view mirror. “A federal judge says some parts of a lawsuit by 20 states challenging the Obama administration’s health care overhaul as unconstitutional can go to trial. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled Thursday in Pensacola, Fla., that some parts of the lawsuit need to be heard. The administration had asked him to dismiss the entire lawsuit, which was spearheaded by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.”

He says he isn’t running in 2012, but there is — as I predicted — a “Draft Chris Christie” website. One benefit: in a Christie administration, I sincerely doubt the first lady would be nagging us to stop eating fast food.

Is Obama pitching to young voters merely to stage a practice run for the 2012 get-out-the-vote operation? The New York Times thinks so. After all, it’s always about him.

Democrats around the country are running against supposedly “extremist” Tea Partiers. But the voters have minds of their own, wouldn’t you know it? “Likely voters in battleground districts see extremists as having a more dominant influence over the Democratic Party than they do over the GOP. This result comes from The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll, which found that 44 percent of likely voters say the Democratic Party is more dominated by its extreme elements, whereas 37 percent say it’s the Republican Party that is more dominated by extremists.” By the end of this campaign, the public will be convinced that the Democrats are being funded by mystery foreign donors.

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Excavating the Left’s Tunnel Vision

After several hysterical pieces in the New York Times denouncing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s refusal to sink his state deeper in debt to build a train tunnel to New York, David Brooks attempts to inject a little sanity into the debate in his column today. His colleagues Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert waxed hysterical about the decision, claiming that the governor’s reluctance to spend billions on the tunnel that the state doesn’t have is based on irrational hatred of government.

Both claim that the refusal is based on a lack of vision and imagination and bespeaks a smallness of spirit. But, of course, this is pure hyperbole, with Krugman claiming that the cause of potentially making his (and mine, as I wrote last week) commute a bit quicker is comparable to building the Erie Canal or the Hoover Dam, projects that transformed the American economy and its history.

Krugman downplays the cost overruns on the project (which even Christie’s much greater estimates almost certainly underestimate) and claims that New Jersey was getting a bargain; but when all is said and done, what Christie has refused to do is to spend $8 billion or more to get $3 billion in federal money. I guess you have to have won a Nobel Prize in economics to think that’s a bargain. Herbert laments the loss of 6,000 construction jobs involved in the tunnel’s cancellation but fails to note that at $1 million+ per job, what we’re talking about here is a boondoggle that might have made Tony Soprano’s fictional mobster exploitation of “The Esplanade” look like small change.

Brooks acknowledges that the tunnel is needed but rightly notes that the state’s inability to afford it stems from the fact that our states and municipalities are drowning in debt largely generated by the costs of paying government employees and their pensions (an issue that Jeff Jacoby explores at length in this month’s issue of COMMENTARY). It’s all well and good to say that big infrastructure projects are exactly the sort of thing government should be doing, but the liberal addiction to public-sector spending has made that impossible. And the public-sector unions that dominate the Democratic Party make sure this never changes.

One reader reacted to my earlier post on this subject by claiming that what Christie has done is to try and live without debt, a bad policy for any government, business, or family. In fact, what Christie is attempting to do is establish the principle that there must be a limit to debt. Unless our states free themselves from the massive debt that government unions have created, it will become increasingly difficult for government to afford the basic services they are supposed to provide, let alone money pits like the Hudson River Tunnel.

Brooks laments the fact that the left won’t make the hard choices about which government expenditures to prioritize. But the problem here isn’t about priorities but a liberal philosophy that wants no limits on government’s power to spend and therefore tax. Under these circumstances, commonsense conservatives like Christie have no choice but to simply draw a line in the sand and say “no” to the tunnel.

After several hysterical pieces in the New York Times denouncing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s refusal to sink his state deeper in debt to build a train tunnel to New York, David Brooks attempts to inject a little sanity into the debate in his column today. His colleagues Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert waxed hysterical about the decision, claiming that the governor’s reluctance to spend billions on the tunnel that the state doesn’t have is based on irrational hatred of government.

Both claim that the refusal is based on a lack of vision and imagination and bespeaks a smallness of spirit. But, of course, this is pure hyperbole, with Krugman claiming that the cause of potentially making his (and mine, as I wrote last week) commute a bit quicker is comparable to building the Erie Canal or the Hoover Dam, projects that transformed the American economy and its history.

Krugman downplays the cost overruns on the project (which even Christie’s much greater estimates almost certainly underestimate) and claims that New Jersey was getting a bargain; but when all is said and done, what Christie has refused to do is to spend $8 billion or more to get $3 billion in federal money. I guess you have to have won a Nobel Prize in economics to think that’s a bargain. Herbert laments the loss of 6,000 construction jobs involved in the tunnel’s cancellation but fails to note that at $1 million+ per job, what we’re talking about here is a boondoggle that might have made Tony Soprano’s fictional mobster exploitation of “The Esplanade” look like small change.

Brooks acknowledges that the tunnel is needed but rightly notes that the state’s inability to afford it stems from the fact that our states and municipalities are drowning in debt largely generated by the costs of paying government employees and their pensions (an issue that Jeff Jacoby explores at length in this month’s issue of COMMENTARY). It’s all well and good to say that big infrastructure projects are exactly the sort of thing government should be doing, but the liberal addiction to public-sector spending has made that impossible. And the public-sector unions that dominate the Democratic Party make sure this never changes.

One reader reacted to my earlier post on this subject by claiming that what Christie has done is to try and live without debt, a bad policy for any government, business, or family. In fact, what Christie is attempting to do is establish the principle that there must be a limit to debt. Unless our states free themselves from the massive debt that government unions have created, it will become increasingly difficult for government to afford the basic services they are supposed to provide, let alone money pits like the Hudson River Tunnel.

Brooks laments the fact that the left won’t make the hard choices about which government expenditures to prioritize. But the problem here isn’t about priorities but a liberal philosophy that wants no limits on government’s power to spend and therefore tax. Under these circumstances, commonsense conservatives like Christie have no choice but to simply draw a line in the sand and say “no” to the tunnel.

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Even Angry Voters Want Responsible Leaders

Democrats are, as Jennifer noted, rapidly coming to understand that the proportions of the Republican wave this fall may turn out to swamp not only incumbents in competitive districts but also those once thought safe. Voters have had enough of taxes and spending and deficits and are profoundly dissatisfied with the Obama administration. But even in the midst of what may prove to be an unprecedented midterm tsunami, there are races that will prove that no matter how angry voters may be, there are limits to what they will accept from insurgents seeking their votes.

One obvious example is the unelectable Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. But as frustrating as that lost opportunity for a Senate seat may be for the national GOP, the spectacle of their party’s New York gubernatorial nominee is even more embarrassing.

Carl Paladino won the New York GOP primary over Rick Lazio because he presented a well-funded alternative to a retread that had no pulse and no chance to tap into the vein of voter anger that has generated the Tea Party revolution. Paladino’s bull-in-the-china-shop personality seemed perfectly suited to the 2010 election. The thinking here was that if he could sustain his momentum with attacks on his liberal-establishment opponent in Andrew Cuomo, it was just possible that the real estate mogul could make this Blue State competitive. And some polls taken in September showed that this might be happening.

Yet what this races teaches is that it even angry voters are unprepared to elect a man who is not cool under fire and devoid of judgment as well as what Main Street America used to consider common decency. With the media spotlight shining on him in the aftermath of his stunning primary victory and polls showing him to be closing the gap with Cuomo, Paladino quickly came undone. Reacting to the coverage of the revelations about his fathering an out-of-wedlock child (not all of which was unsympathetic, as the candidate’s wife was trotted out to defend her husband and the notion of a blended, if unorthodox, family group), the nominee physically threatened a reporter and then began to make unsubstantiated charges about his opponent’s personal life.  While trying to pose as the victim of a prurient media, he engaged in personal slanders that made the coverage of his own life look tame. Then he used a speech before an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Brooklyn to make remarks that went beyond opposition to gay marriage and were easily construed as homophobic.

Paladino defends himself as a man who doesn’t bother with political correctness. But the pattern of his behavior in the past few weeks is more of an out-of-control blowhard who has no respect for anyone or anything. The result is that his standing in the polls has plunged, which has also damaged the already shaky chances of GOP Senate candidate Joseph DioGuardi, who is running against the vulnerable Kirsten Gillibrand.

The lesson here is that the electorate expects candidates for high office to more or less behave themselves. Rather than acting like a governor, Paladino has comported himself like the kind of guy who gets thrown out of bars for disorderly behavior. And even angry voters draw the line at electing someone like that to high office.

Democrats are, as Jennifer noted, rapidly coming to understand that the proportions of the Republican wave this fall may turn out to swamp not only incumbents in competitive districts but also those once thought safe. Voters have had enough of taxes and spending and deficits and are profoundly dissatisfied with the Obama administration. But even in the midst of what may prove to be an unprecedented midterm tsunami, there are races that will prove that no matter how angry voters may be, there are limits to what they will accept from insurgents seeking their votes.

One obvious example is the unelectable Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. But as frustrating as that lost opportunity for a Senate seat may be for the national GOP, the spectacle of their party’s New York gubernatorial nominee is even more embarrassing.

Carl Paladino won the New York GOP primary over Rick Lazio because he presented a well-funded alternative to a retread that had no pulse and no chance to tap into the vein of voter anger that has generated the Tea Party revolution. Paladino’s bull-in-the-china-shop personality seemed perfectly suited to the 2010 election. The thinking here was that if he could sustain his momentum with attacks on his liberal-establishment opponent in Andrew Cuomo, it was just possible that the real estate mogul could make this Blue State competitive. And some polls taken in September showed that this might be happening.

Yet what this races teaches is that it even angry voters are unprepared to elect a man who is not cool under fire and devoid of judgment as well as what Main Street America used to consider common decency. With the media spotlight shining on him in the aftermath of his stunning primary victory and polls showing him to be closing the gap with Cuomo, Paladino quickly came undone. Reacting to the coverage of the revelations about his fathering an out-of-wedlock child (not all of which was unsympathetic, as the candidate’s wife was trotted out to defend her husband and the notion of a blended, if unorthodox, family group), the nominee physically threatened a reporter and then began to make unsubstantiated charges about his opponent’s personal life.  While trying to pose as the victim of a prurient media, he engaged in personal slanders that made the coverage of his own life look tame. Then he used a speech before an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Brooklyn to make remarks that went beyond opposition to gay marriage and were easily construed as homophobic.

Paladino defends himself as a man who doesn’t bother with political correctness. But the pattern of his behavior in the past few weeks is more of an out-of-control blowhard who has no respect for anyone or anything. The result is that his standing in the polls has plunged, which has also damaged the already shaky chances of GOP Senate candidate Joseph DioGuardi, who is running against the vulnerable Kirsten Gillibrand.

The lesson here is that the electorate expects candidates for high office to more or less behave themselves. Rather than acting like a governor, Paladino has comported himself like the kind of guy who gets thrown out of bars for disorderly behavior. And even angry voters draw the line at electing someone like that to high office.

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From the October Issue: ‘The Mosque and the Mythical Backlash’

On August 25, 2010, a New York City cabdriver was slashed and stabbed by a drunken passenger who allegedly accompanied his assault with anti-Muslim remarks. The driver, Ahmed H. Sharif, a native of Bangladesh, survived the attack, and the accused assailant was quickly arrested and faces a stiff prison sentence. Attacks on New York cabdrivers are not unheard of, but this incident quickly assumed the nature of a symbol of American intolerance for Muslims because of the contentious national debate over plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero—the site of the former World Trade Center destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

To read the rest of this article from the October issue of COMMENTARY magazine, click here.

On August 25, 2010, a New York City cabdriver was slashed and stabbed by a drunken passenger who allegedly accompanied his assault with anti-Muslim remarks. The driver, Ahmed H. Sharif, a native of Bangladesh, survived the attack, and the accused assailant was quickly arrested and faces a stiff prison sentence. Attacks on New York cabdrivers are not unheard of, but this incident quickly assumed the nature of a symbol of American intolerance for Muslims because of the contentious national debate over plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero—the site of the former World Trade Center destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

To read the rest of this article from the October issue of COMMENTARY magazine, click here.

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Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, and America’s “Crisis in Spirit”

I’ve certainly had my run-ins with Joe Klein in recent years. But this story, written after a four-week road trip across America, is worth reading. “Topic A is the growing sense that our best days as a nation are behind us,” Klein writes, “that our kids won’t live as well as we did, that China is in the driver’s seat. … I found the same themes dominant everywhere — a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection.”

The reasons for this anxiety and national introspection are complicated — based in part, but certainly not solely, on the failure of our political class. Yet in the coming years, this cast of mind is going to frame politics in America, much like Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of spirit” speech framed politics at the end of the 1970s. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave his most memorable, and disastrous, speech – declaring, in part, this:

But after listening to the American people I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

In the end, the public will (rightfully) insist that its political leaders not simply diagnosis such problems, but do something to solve them. Ronald Reagan did this for the country as a whole, which is one reason he’s now widely seen as having been a great president. On a smaller scale, Rudy Giuliani could have lamented the desiccated state of New York City when he became mayor. Instead, he took steps to repair it. The result was a better, stronger, prouder city. New York became great again.

So far, President Obama has fallen terribly short of what the citizenry expects of him. He has contributed rather than ameliorated the anxieties and concerns people have. His policies, especially on the economy, are holding us down. Mr. Obama doesn’t seem able to tap into America’s remarkable strengths, spirit, and resilience, which are unique in the world and virtually unmatched in history. Indeed, in some deep way, he doesn’t even seem to recognize them and can therefore hardly acknowledge them.

If the president doesn’t correct these things relatively soon – if this “crisis of confidence” continues to spread and the president seems impotent to deal with the problems we face – then Barack Obama will share a fate similar to that of Jimmy Carter.

I’ve certainly had my run-ins with Joe Klein in recent years. But this story, written after a four-week road trip across America, is worth reading. “Topic A is the growing sense that our best days as a nation are behind us,” Klein writes, “that our kids won’t live as well as we did, that China is in the driver’s seat. … I found the same themes dominant everywhere — a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection.”

The reasons for this anxiety and national introspection are complicated — based in part, but certainly not solely, on the failure of our political class. Yet in the coming years, this cast of mind is going to frame politics in America, much like Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of spirit” speech framed politics at the end of the 1970s. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave his most memorable, and disastrous, speech – declaring, in part, this:

But after listening to the American people I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

In the end, the public will (rightfully) insist that its political leaders not simply diagnosis such problems, but do something to solve them. Ronald Reagan did this for the country as a whole, which is one reason he’s now widely seen as having been a great president. On a smaller scale, Rudy Giuliani could have lamented the desiccated state of New York City when he became mayor. Instead, he took steps to repair it. The result was a better, stronger, prouder city. New York became great again.

So far, President Obama has fallen terribly short of what the citizenry expects of him. He has contributed rather than ameliorated the anxieties and concerns people have. His policies, especially on the economy, are holding us down. Mr. Obama doesn’t seem able to tap into America’s remarkable strengths, spirit, and resilience, which are unique in the world and virtually unmatched in history. Indeed, in some deep way, he doesn’t even seem to recognize them and can therefore hardly acknowledge them.

If the president doesn’t correct these things relatively soon – if this “crisis of confidence” continues to spread and the president seems impotent to deal with the problems we face – then Barack Obama will share a fate similar to that of Jimmy Carter.

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More on Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa

I wrote about the new Nobel Literature laureate here yesterday, and add more today in the New York Post. And with thanks for the archival help provided by the library at the Washington Times, here’s a chunk of a profile I wrote of Mario Vargas Llosa in 1990:

The losing candidate in Peru’s last presidential election – the one who advocated free markets and an end to socialism – found himself on Rockville Pike in Borders Book Shop on a Wednesday evening in October. But he wasn’t out there among the Burger Kings and the K marts and the I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurts to discuss his political career in Latin America. No, Mario Vargas Llosa had come to read aloud from the brand-new English translation of his shocking and highly experimental novel about the sexual liaison between a 40-year-old woman and her pre-adolescent stepson.

One of the world’s most distinguished writers and thinkers, peddling an erotic novel called “In Praise of the Stepmother” in a Rockville bookstore? The same day he appeared on the “Today” show in New York with Bryant Gumbel? It’s all too strange for words: Mario Vargas< Llosa, sandwiched between Willard Scott’s weather and the results of Deborah Norville’s latest sonogram.
“Well, you know, those interviews are so short that you can’t really express yourself,” he says with a touch of impatience when asked about the “Today” show in his suite at the Sheraton-Carlton. But, as if fearful to give offense, he adds, “I suppose it’s important for a book to be mentioned on a much-watched program, no?”

Here’s another irony: Mr. Vargas Llosa probably only got booked on the “Today” show because his publishers have linked “In Praise of the Stepmother” and its disturbing subject matter to Sexy Topic No. 1 in the arts this year: Censorship. “I’ve been asked about this since I arrived,” the startlingly good-looking and surprisingly slight 53- year-old writer says in his lilting, hesitant English. “It has been a surprise for me because, on the one hand, the United States seems so free. . . . On the other hand, I can’t understand that in a country so open and so free, these old and obsolete issues of censorship can still become a national issue. But I suppose it is inevitable.”

It was certainly inevitable that “In Praise of the Stepmother” would discomfit people, because it is a genuinely discomfiting book. This is no funny and playful erotic romp, like the novel that made him famous in the United States, “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.” No, the sex in “Stepmother” is powerful, primal and frightening. It is, well, dirty. “I wouldn’t say ‘dirty,’ ” Mr. Vargas Llosa corrects. “I disagree. I don’t think sex is dirty. It may be dirty, but I don’t think it’s dirty in the story I tell. Threatening, yes.” The novel has four characters – an angel-faced boy named Fonchito, his passionate and beautiful stepmother, his blissfully happy father and the inevitable chambermaid. The stepmother is slowly and unwillingly seduced by her seemingly innocent stepson…

Writing the book may have had catastrophic consequences for its author. It was published in the midst of his two-year campaign for the presidency of Peru, which ended in June when Alberto Fujimori defeated Mr. Vargas Llosa in a surprise upset. “It was used against me by my adversary in the campaign,” he recalls. “I don’t know if that had any effect, but, oh, yes, it was read on the national television, as if to say, “Look at the kind of man that is this candidate!’ ” He laughs….

Mr. Vargas Llosa is thrilled that Mexican poet Octavio Paz recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature because, he says, “they are giving the prize to someone who has been fighting for democracy.”

“Things have changed so much in the world that even the Swedish Academy is accepting that there can be a very good Latin American writer who is not a communist, not a socialist.”

He pleases himself with this crack and explodes in machine-gun laughter…

I had forgotten that Vargas Llosa had discussed Octavio Paz and his Nobel; interesting, given that Vargas Llosa is the first Latin American since Paz to win the prize.

I wrote about the new Nobel Literature laureate here yesterday, and add more today in the New York Post. And with thanks for the archival help provided by the library at the Washington Times, here’s a chunk of a profile I wrote of Mario Vargas Llosa in 1990:

The losing candidate in Peru’s last presidential election – the one who advocated free markets and an end to socialism – found himself on Rockville Pike in Borders Book Shop on a Wednesday evening in October. But he wasn’t out there among the Burger Kings and the K marts and the I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurts to discuss his political career in Latin America. No, Mario Vargas Llosa had come to read aloud from the brand-new English translation of his shocking and highly experimental novel about the sexual liaison between a 40-year-old woman and her pre-adolescent stepson.

One of the world’s most distinguished writers and thinkers, peddling an erotic novel called “In Praise of the Stepmother” in a Rockville bookstore? The same day he appeared on the “Today” show in New York with Bryant Gumbel? It’s all too strange for words: Mario Vargas< Llosa, sandwiched between Willard Scott’s weather and the results of Deborah Norville’s latest sonogram.
“Well, you know, those interviews are so short that you can’t really express yourself,” he says with a touch of impatience when asked about the “Today” show in his suite at the Sheraton-Carlton. But, as if fearful to give offense, he adds, “I suppose it’s important for a book to be mentioned on a much-watched program, no?”

Here’s another irony: Mr. Vargas Llosa probably only got booked on the “Today” show because his publishers have linked “In Praise of the Stepmother” and its disturbing subject matter to Sexy Topic No. 1 in the arts this year: Censorship. “I’ve been asked about this since I arrived,” the startlingly good-looking and surprisingly slight 53- year-old writer says in his lilting, hesitant English. “It has been a surprise for me because, on the one hand, the United States seems so free. . . . On the other hand, I can’t understand that in a country so open and so free, these old and obsolete issues of censorship can still become a national issue. But I suppose it is inevitable.”

It was certainly inevitable that “In Praise of the Stepmother” would discomfit people, because it is a genuinely discomfiting book. This is no funny and playful erotic romp, like the novel that made him famous in the United States, “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.” No, the sex in “Stepmother” is powerful, primal and frightening. It is, well, dirty. “I wouldn’t say ‘dirty,’ ” Mr. Vargas Llosa corrects. “I disagree. I don’t think sex is dirty. It may be dirty, but I don’t think it’s dirty in the story I tell. Threatening, yes.” The novel has four characters – an angel-faced boy named Fonchito, his passionate and beautiful stepmother, his blissfully happy father and the inevitable chambermaid. The stepmother is slowly and unwillingly seduced by her seemingly innocent stepson…

Writing the book may have had catastrophic consequences for its author. It was published in the midst of his two-year campaign for the presidency of Peru, which ended in June when Alberto Fujimori defeated Mr. Vargas Llosa in a surprise upset. “It was used against me by my adversary in the campaign,” he recalls. “I don’t know if that had any effect, but, oh, yes, it was read on the national television, as if to say, “Look at the kind of man that is this candidate!’ ” He laughs….

Mr. Vargas Llosa is thrilled that Mexican poet Octavio Paz recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature because, he says, “they are giving the prize to someone who has been fighting for democracy.”

“Things have changed so much in the world that even the Swedish Academy is accepting that there can be a very good Latin American writer who is not a communist, not a socialist.”

He pleases himself with this crack and explodes in machine-gun laughter…

I had forgotten that Vargas Llosa had discussed Octavio Paz and his Nobel; interesting, given that Vargas Llosa is the first Latin American since Paz to win the prize.

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A Novel Idea: Pay-as-You-Go Government

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still acting as if he means what he says about controlling the costs of government. By canceling the long-planned construction of a second commuter tunnel under the Hudson River today, Christie has reaffirmed the principle that government should not try to do more than it can afford. A close look at the finances of the scheme showed that cost overruns were likely to send the bill on the project to as much as $14 billion, almost $6 billion more than the original estimate. That means that New Jersey — which is to say, New Jersey’s taxpayers — would have to pay at least $8 billion of that amount, the remainder being contributed by New York’s Port Authority and the federal government. But in the absence of givebacks by the state’s civil-service unions, whose contracts and pensions threaten to send the state into the red even if the tunnel were not to be paid for, Christie said no, to the utter consternation of the unions, the rest of the political class, and New York Times‘s columnist Paul Krugman.

Other politicians (like Christie’s predecessor Jon Corzine, who authorized ground breaking on the project without thinking about the costs to the taxpayers) are shocked by Christie’s chutzpah. The idea that government should only undertake those projects it can pay for without having to further bilk the taxpayers is considered a shocking concept.

Krugman, the Times editorial page, the unions, and many of the politicians who have worked for this project all think the mere fact that the tunnel is needed justifies any amount of debt to build it. They also seem to think that worrying about where the extra $6 billion will come from is just silly.

They are right in that a new tunnel is desperately needed. New Jersey Transit is currently forced to share one Hudson River tunnel that is owned by Amtrak. The result is massive congestion and delays that will only get worse in the years to come. Even worse, since Amtrak owns the tunnel, to the injury of those commuters who take NJ Transit, the worst commuter line in the region (in terms of its on-time record), is added the insult of often having to wait for long periods while Amtrak trains breeze through — Amtrak always getting priority from the dispatchers. This means that there is a large (and generally ill-tempered) constituency of commuters who would like to see the tunnel built. Among them is Krugman, who confessed on his blog that: “And yes, if anyone should mention it, I am a resident of New Jersey who often visits Manhattan, and therefore has a personal stake in this project. You got a problem with that?”

As it happens, I, too, am a daily NJ Transit commuter into New York. But as much as the prospect of a better train ride in the distant future appeals to me, I’d bet that the majority of disgruntled and delayed passengers would prefer not to have their taxes raised. Nor would they like Krugman’s suggestion that Christie radically raise gasoline taxes to pay for the cost overruns, since almost all of them drive their cars to the train stations from which they start and end their daily trek to work. Voters are sick and tired of tax-and-spend politicians who think nothing about the long-term consequences of their largesse, so long as someone else is paying for it.

Christie will probably take a lot of flak for his decision, perhaps even more than the criticism he took for his confrontation with the state’s teacher unions. But the bet here is that the majority of the people of New Jersey — including many of those unhappy souls who are forced to take NJ Transit — prefer to have a governor who doesn’t think he has a right to pick their pockets in order to play the hero by championing expensive projects. In case Krugman forgot, that’s the reason Christie was elected last year and why so many other fiscal conservatives will rout free-spending liberals in the congressional elections this fall. And whether or not Krugman has a problem with that, it’s what we Americans call democracy.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still acting as if he means what he says about controlling the costs of government. By canceling the long-planned construction of a second commuter tunnel under the Hudson River today, Christie has reaffirmed the principle that government should not try to do more than it can afford. A close look at the finances of the scheme showed that cost overruns were likely to send the bill on the project to as much as $14 billion, almost $6 billion more than the original estimate. That means that New Jersey — which is to say, New Jersey’s taxpayers — would have to pay at least $8 billion of that amount, the remainder being contributed by New York’s Port Authority and the federal government. But in the absence of givebacks by the state’s civil-service unions, whose contracts and pensions threaten to send the state into the red even if the tunnel were not to be paid for, Christie said no, to the utter consternation of the unions, the rest of the political class, and New York Times‘s columnist Paul Krugman.

Other politicians (like Christie’s predecessor Jon Corzine, who authorized ground breaking on the project without thinking about the costs to the taxpayers) are shocked by Christie’s chutzpah. The idea that government should only undertake those projects it can pay for without having to further bilk the taxpayers is considered a shocking concept.

Krugman, the Times editorial page, the unions, and many of the politicians who have worked for this project all think the mere fact that the tunnel is needed justifies any amount of debt to build it. They also seem to think that worrying about where the extra $6 billion will come from is just silly.

They are right in that a new tunnel is desperately needed. New Jersey Transit is currently forced to share one Hudson River tunnel that is owned by Amtrak. The result is massive congestion and delays that will only get worse in the years to come. Even worse, since Amtrak owns the tunnel, to the injury of those commuters who take NJ Transit, the worst commuter line in the region (in terms of its on-time record), is added the insult of often having to wait for long periods while Amtrak trains breeze through — Amtrak always getting priority from the dispatchers. This means that there is a large (and generally ill-tempered) constituency of commuters who would like to see the tunnel built. Among them is Krugman, who confessed on his blog that: “And yes, if anyone should mention it, I am a resident of New Jersey who often visits Manhattan, and therefore has a personal stake in this project. You got a problem with that?”

As it happens, I, too, am a daily NJ Transit commuter into New York. But as much as the prospect of a better train ride in the distant future appeals to me, I’d bet that the majority of disgruntled and delayed passengers would prefer not to have their taxes raised. Nor would they like Krugman’s suggestion that Christie radically raise gasoline taxes to pay for the cost overruns, since almost all of them drive their cars to the train stations from which they start and end their daily trek to work. Voters are sick and tired of tax-and-spend politicians who think nothing about the long-term consequences of their largesse, so long as someone else is paying for it.

Christie will probably take a lot of flak for his decision, perhaps even more than the criticism he took for his confrontation with the state’s teacher unions. But the bet here is that the majority of the people of New Jersey — including many of those unhappy souls who are forced to take NJ Transit — prefer to have a governor who doesn’t think he has a right to pick their pockets in order to play the hero by championing expensive projects. In case Krugman forgot, that’s the reason Christie was elected last year and why so many other fiscal conservatives will rout free-spending liberals in the congressional elections this fall. And whether or not Krugman has a problem with that, it’s what we Americans call democracy.

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Blair vs. Obama

In a world of moral equivalence, political correctness, and intentional obtuseness, Tony Blair stands apart. He has quickly become the most cogent and articulate defender of the West in the war against Islamic terror.

In his new book, he begins with an eloquent tribute, practically a love letter, to America. His first sentence: “America’s burden is that it wants to be loved, but knows it can’t be.” He of course is speaking of other nations and the truism that “powerful nations aren’t loved.” But that doesn’t pertain to Blair himself, and he is candid about his affection for America. He acknowledges that Americans are accused of being “brash, loud, insular, obsessive and heavy-handed,” but that’s not the America Blair is so fond of:

America is great for a reason. It is looked up to, despite all the criticism, for a reason. There is nobility in the American character that has been developed over the centuries, derived in part no doubt from the frontier spirit, from the waves of migration that form the stock, from the circumstances of independence, from the civil war, from a myriad of historical facts and coincidences. But it is there.

The nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. The ideal is about values: freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work.

It is a remarkable description, Reagan-esque to be sure, of what America is about. And, to be blunt, it is all the more remarkable because our current president is not only averse to such lavish praise (triumphalism annoys him, you see) but also lacks, as a reader pointed out to me, the belief in an American exceptionalism that a former British prime minister grasps so clearly. Read More

In a world of moral equivalence, political correctness, and intentional obtuseness, Tony Blair stands apart. He has quickly become the most cogent and articulate defender of the West in the war against Islamic terror.

In his new book, he begins with an eloquent tribute, practically a love letter, to America. His first sentence: “America’s burden is that it wants to be loved, but knows it can’t be.” He of course is speaking of other nations and the truism that “powerful nations aren’t loved.” But that doesn’t pertain to Blair himself, and he is candid about his affection for America. He acknowledges that Americans are accused of being “brash, loud, insular, obsessive and heavy-handed,” but that’s not the America Blair is so fond of:

America is great for a reason. It is looked up to, despite all the criticism, for a reason. There is nobility in the American character that has been developed over the centuries, derived in part no doubt from the frontier spirit, from the waves of migration that form the stock, from the circumstances of independence, from the civil war, from a myriad of historical facts and coincidences. But it is there.

The nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. The ideal is about values: freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work.

It is a remarkable description, Reagan-esque to be sure, of what America is about. And, to be blunt, it is all the more remarkable because our current president is not only averse to such lavish praise (triumphalism annoys him, you see) but also lacks, as a reader pointed out to me, the belief in an American exceptionalism that a former British prime minister grasps so clearly.

I would also suggest that it is that moral clarity on Blair’s part and confusion on Obama’s that account for the starkly different visions of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. For Obama, it simply doesn’t exist, or it’s not polite to point it out. He is determined to avert his eyes — and insist we do as well — in a bizarre effort to deflect potential criticism that we are at war with an entire religion. That George W. Bush managed to explain the nature of our enemy (and articulate the stakes for American civilization) and that Obama’s excising of “radical jihadism” from our official vocabulary actually undermines moderate Muslims are lost on the president. He, in sum, neither appreciates the country he leads nor the seriousness of the enemy we face.

A case in point occurred this week:

In a speech in New York, the former prime minister said that warnings over the past week of terrorist plots against Europe should remind people that they remained under threat.

Mr Blair said a “narrative” that Muslims were under attack from the US and its allies, who acted out of support for Israel, had been allowed to take hold, aided by “websites and blogs.”

A fresh confrontation was needed because it would be impossible to defeat extremism “without defeating the narrative that nurtures it”, he said.

“The practitioners of extremism are small in number. The adherents of the narrative stretch far broader into parts of mainstream thinking,” Mr Blair told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“It is a narrative that now has vast numbers of assembled websites, blogs and organisations.”

Blair was candid in his critique of Obama:

Mr Blair said a tendency to “sympathise” with extremism was not only dangerous but also disempowering for moderate Muslims, because it made people resent them as much as extremists.

He said he was “intrigued” by the fact that Western leaders, including President Barack Obama, felt the need to condemn Terry Jones, a pastor who threatened to burn a Koran.

“Suppose an imam, with 30 followers, in Karachi was to burn a Bible,” he said. “I can barely imagine a murmur of protest. It wouldn’t be necessary for the president of Pakistan to condemn it because no one here would remotely consider he supported it.”

He was also emphatic on the subject of Iran:

Mr Blair also called on the West to make it “crystal clear” to Iran that its acquisition of a nuclear bomb would be unacceptable to the “civilised world.”

“Go and read the speech of Iran’s president to the United Nations just days ago here in New York, and tell me that is someone you want with a nuclear bomb,” he said.

Compare Blair on the European bombings to Obama. You say you don’t recall what Obama said? Don’t worry. You didn’t miss anything — he was silent, as he is wont to be when inconvenient facts disturb the narrative he has created. Blair was not quite bold enough to say it, but it is not simply blogs, websites, and organizations that are distorting the West’s perception of radical Islam; it is the American president, too.

And finally, consider the contrast between Blair and Obama on Iran. Obama has given up using even the platitudinous crutches (“unacceptable” and “all options remain on the table”) that gave some wishful observers hope that he would take military action if needed to stop Iran from going nuclear. But Obama never seems to put the pieces together — the rhetoric of Iran, the conduct of Iran, the prospect of an even more aggressive revolutionary Islamic state. Perhaps if Obama had a better conception of the country he leads and of the enemy we face, his foreign policy would be both more coherent and more effective.

We’re going to begin the 2012 presidential race before long. Conservatives who regard Obama’s vision and foreign policy failings with a mixture of horror and disdain should keep their eye out for an American Tony Blair. Let’s pray there is one, or a least a faint imitation.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Thunk. Do we tell her moving day is in January? “In the weekly briefing, Pelosi said that she believes the Democrats have a chance to retain their congressional majority. A week before, speaking to a women’s group in New York, Pelosi said that she ‘fully expects to be speaker of the House five weeks from now,’ the paper reported.”

Yikes (for the Dems). “Republicans have a significant lead over Democrats among likely voters in Gallup’s generic ballot poll released Monday. The figures show a much greater lead for Republicans among likely voters than registered voters, and suggest the party is poised to make large gains in the midterm elections. Gallup’s first generic ballot estimate of likely voters showed Republicans leading Democrats 53-40 percent in a high turnout scenario and 56-38 percent in a low turnout scenario.”

Oops. “Emanuel’s ‘Glad to be Home’ video filmed in Washington.”

Cringe. Eric Holder denies hostility to race-neutral enforcement of civil rights laws — by blaming the Bush administration. This contradicts shown testimony of two DOJ attorneys, so perhaps Holder should testify under oath as well.

Ouch. Walter Mondale criticizes Obama for using “idiot boards” (teleprompters) and failing to connect with voters.

Yowser. Linda McMahon nails Dick Blumenthal for lying about military service in Vietnam.

Well, yeah. Obama declares our fiscal situation to be “untenable.” Is he a bystander in his own presidency?

Thunk. Do we tell her moving day is in January? “In the weekly briefing, Pelosi said that she believes the Democrats have a chance to retain their congressional majority. A week before, speaking to a women’s group in New York, Pelosi said that she ‘fully expects to be speaker of the House five weeks from now,’ the paper reported.”

Yikes (for the Dems). “Republicans have a significant lead over Democrats among likely voters in Gallup’s generic ballot poll released Monday. The figures show a much greater lead for Republicans among likely voters than registered voters, and suggest the party is poised to make large gains in the midterm elections. Gallup’s first generic ballot estimate of likely voters showed Republicans leading Democrats 53-40 percent in a high turnout scenario and 56-38 percent in a low turnout scenario.”

Oops. “Emanuel’s ‘Glad to be Home’ video filmed in Washington.”

Cringe. Eric Holder denies hostility to race-neutral enforcement of civil rights laws — by blaming the Bush administration. This contradicts shown testimony of two DOJ attorneys, so perhaps Holder should testify under oath as well.

Ouch. Walter Mondale criticizes Obama for using “idiot boards” (teleprompters) and failing to connect with voters.

Yowser. Linda McMahon nails Dick Blumenthal for lying about military service in Vietnam.

Well, yeah. Obama declares our fiscal situation to be “untenable.” Is he a bystander in his own presidency?

Read Less




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