Commentary Magazine


Topic: Obama’s party

Obama Should Heed His Own Advice

This weekend President Obama delivered the University of Michigan commencement address and returned to a favorite theme of his: the need for civility and respect in public discourse. In the president’s words:

The… way to keep our democracy healthy is to maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate…. we cannot expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question someone’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism. Throwing around phrases like “socialist” and “Soviet-style takeover;” “fascist” and “right-wing nut” may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, or our political opponents, to authoritarian, and even murderous regimes.

… The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. It prevents learning — since after all, why should we listen to a “fascist” or “socialist” or “right-wing nut?” It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out. It robs us of a rational and serious debate that we need to have about the very real and very big challenges facing this nation. It coarsens our culture, and at its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response.

So what can we do about this?

As I’ve found out after a year in the White House, changing this type of slash and burn politics isn’t easy. And part of what civility requires is that we recall the simple lesson most of us learned from our parents: treat others as you would like to be treated, with courtesy and respect.

These are wise words that should be taken seriously. Especially by the president himself.

I say that because President Obama’s party and his chief defenders — including the DNC, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Reid — have routinely engaged in the kind of vilification the president condemns. Think of the assault on the Tea Party Movement and those who attended town-hall meetings last summer; they were accused of being racists and bigots, “an angry mob,” practitioners of “un-American tactics,” “astroturfers” and Nazi-like, and potential Timothy McVeighs. Harry Reid referred to people who showed up at town-hall meetings as “evil-mongers.” Representative Alay Grayson, in characterizing the GOP health-care plans, said that “the Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick…. This is what the Republicans want you to do.”

On and on it goes, issue after issue, slander after slander. Yet President Obama has done nothing to call off the attack dogs in his own party, despite his enormous influence with them.

In fact, Obama himself has engaged in ad hominem attacks to a degree that is unusual for a president. He constantly impugns the motives of those who have policy disagreements with him. His critics are greedy, venal, irresponsible, demagogic, cynical, bought and paid for, spreaders of misinformation, distorters of truth. “More than any President in memory,” the Wall Street Journal recently editorialized, “Mr. Obama has a tendency to vilify his opponents in personal terms and assail their arguments as dishonest, illegitimate or motivated by bad faith.”

So President Obama lacerates his critics for engaging in the very activity he indulges in. And he does so in the haughtiest way imaginable, always attempting to portray himself as hovering above us mere mortals, exasperated at the childish and petty quality of the political debate, weary of the name-calling. How hard it must be to be the embodiment of Socratic discourse, Solomonic wisdom, and Niebuhrian nuance in this fallen and broken world.

Here is the rather unpleasant reality, though: our president fancies himself a public intellectual of the highest order — think Walter Lippmann as chief executive — even as he and his team are accomplished practitioners of the Chicago Way. They relish targeting those on their enemies list. The president himself pretends to engage his critics’ arguments even as his words are used like a flamethrower in a field of straw men. It’s hard to tell if we’re watching a man engaged in an elaborate political shell game or a victim of an extraordinary, and nearly clinical, case of self-delusion. Perhaps there is some of both at play. Regardless, President Obama’s act became tiresome long ago.

I am reminded of the line from Emerson: “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

This weekend President Obama delivered the University of Michigan commencement address and returned to a favorite theme of his: the need for civility and respect in public discourse. In the president’s words:

The… way to keep our democracy healthy is to maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate…. we cannot expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question someone’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism. Throwing around phrases like “socialist” and “Soviet-style takeover;” “fascist” and “right-wing nut” may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, or our political opponents, to authoritarian, and even murderous regimes.

… The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. It prevents learning — since after all, why should we listen to a “fascist” or “socialist” or “right-wing nut?” It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out. It robs us of a rational and serious debate that we need to have about the very real and very big challenges facing this nation. It coarsens our culture, and at its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response.

So what can we do about this?

As I’ve found out after a year in the White House, changing this type of slash and burn politics isn’t easy. And part of what civility requires is that we recall the simple lesson most of us learned from our parents: treat others as you would like to be treated, with courtesy and respect.

These are wise words that should be taken seriously. Especially by the president himself.

I say that because President Obama’s party and his chief defenders — including the DNC, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Reid — have routinely engaged in the kind of vilification the president condemns. Think of the assault on the Tea Party Movement and those who attended town-hall meetings last summer; they were accused of being racists and bigots, “an angry mob,” practitioners of “un-American tactics,” “astroturfers” and Nazi-like, and potential Timothy McVeighs. Harry Reid referred to people who showed up at town-hall meetings as “evil-mongers.” Representative Alay Grayson, in characterizing the GOP health-care plans, said that “the Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick…. This is what the Republicans want you to do.”

On and on it goes, issue after issue, slander after slander. Yet President Obama has done nothing to call off the attack dogs in his own party, despite his enormous influence with them.

In fact, Obama himself has engaged in ad hominem attacks to a degree that is unusual for a president. He constantly impugns the motives of those who have policy disagreements with him. His critics are greedy, venal, irresponsible, demagogic, cynical, bought and paid for, spreaders of misinformation, distorters of truth. “More than any President in memory,” the Wall Street Journal recently editorialized, “Mr. Obama has a tendency to vilify his opponents in personal terms and assail their arguments as dishonest, illegitimate or motivated by bad faith.”

So President Obama lacerates his critics for engaging in the very activity he indulges in. And he does so in the haughtiest way imaginable, always attempting to portray himself as hovering above us mere mortals, exasperated at the childish and petty quality of the political debate, weary of the name-calling. How hard it must be to be the embodiment of Socratic discourse, Solomonic wisdom, and Niebuhrian nuance in this fallen and broken world.

Here is the rather unpleasant reality, though: our president fancies himself a public intellectual of the highest order — think Walter Lippmann as chief executive — even as he and his team are accomplished practitioners of the Chicago Way. They relish targeting those on their enemies list. The president himself pretends to engage his critics’ arguments even as his words are used like a flamethrower in a field of straw men. It’s hard to tell if we’re watching a man engaged in an elaborate political shell game or a victim of an extraordinary, and nearly clinical, case of self-delusion. Perhaps there is some of both at play. Regardless, President Obama’s act became tiresome long ago.

I am reminded of the line from Emerson: “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

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Obama’s Political Prospects and the Claim of 1.5 Million Jobs Saved or Created

Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation examines the new Congressional Budget Office finding that the stimulus package “saved or created” 1.5 million jobs and notes that CBO made a series of assumptions about the value of every dollar spent — for example, that “every $1 of government spending sent to state and local governments for infrastructure ultimately raises GDP by $1.75.” According to its calculations, the stimulus led to GDP growth of 2.6 percent.

There will be a great deal of debate and discussion about these numbers, all of which will have to do with the degree of credit that should attach to the stimulus package, those who voted for it, and President Obama for the economic growth it undoubtedly provided. But in fact, none of that debate and discussion will matter at this point except as an intellectual exercise. It will be very important in that respect for the future. But not now. Now the question is simply this: Will the voting public feel that a trillion dollars in government spending had the effect of improving things for the American people?

For the stimulus to have any political oomph, it will not be enough for the public to feel that things would have been worse without that trillion dollars. The price tag is simply too high for that, and the sense that the spending has burdened them with debt is too powerful. Without sustained economic growth and a resulting increase in employment, the stimulus will have felt like a failure, which is what it feels like today. And that feeling is the primary cause of the political crisis that Obama and his party find themselves in. They can try to argue their way out of it, or spin it — which is what Riedl accuses CBO of doing with the generosity of its assumptions — but it won’t do any good. People will make political choices based on how the world seems to them, and there will have to be a stunning acceleration of good news for those political choices to go any way but calamitously for Obama’s party for the foreseeable future.

Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation examines the new Congressional Budget Office finding that the stimulus package “saved or created” 1.5 million jobs and notes that CBO made a series of assumptions about the value of every dollar spent — for example, that “every $1 of government spending sent to state and local governments for infrastructure ultimately raises GDP by $1.75.” According to its calculations, the stimulus led to GDP growth of 2.6 percent.

There will be a great deal of debate and discussion about these numbers, all of which will have to do with the degree of credit that should attach to the stimulus package, those who voted for it, and President Obama for the economic growth it undoubtedly provided. But in fact, none of that debate and discussion will matter at this point except as an intellectual exercise. It will be very important in that respect for the future. But not now. Now the question is simply this: Will the voting public feel that a trillion dollars in government spending had the effect of improving things for the American people?

For the stimulus to have any political oomph, it will not be enough for the public to feel that things would have been worse without that trillion dollars. The price tag is simply too high for that, and the sense that the spending has burdened them with debt is too powerful. Without sustained economic growth and a resulting increase in employment, the stimulus will have felt like a failure, which is what it feels like today. And that feeling is the primary cause of the political crisis that Obama and his party find themselves in. They can try to argue their way out of it, or spin it — which is what Riedl accuses CBO of doing with the generosity of its assumptions — but it won’t do any good. People will make political choices based on how the world seems to them, and there will have to be a stunning acceleration of good news for those political choices to go any way but calamitously for Obama’s party for the foreseeable future.

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Democrats Seek Distance from Obama

The Associated Press is the latest to discover the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress:

Almost by the day, Republicans are sensing fresh opportunities to pick up ground. Just Wednesday, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats announced he would try to reclaim his old seat from Democrat Evan Bayh, who barely a year ago had been a finalist to be Barack Obama’s running mate. And Republicans nationwide are still celebrating Scott Brown’s January upset to take Edward Kennedy’s former seat in Massachusetts.

A Republican takeover on Capitol Hill is still a long shot. But strategists in both parties now see at least narrow paths by which the GOP could win the House and, if the troubled environment for Democrats deteriorates further, possibly even the Senate.

The AP is a little less candid about the reasons, however. You see, it’s “the persistent 10 percent unemployment rate, the country’s bitterness over Wall Street bailouts and voters’ anti-Washington fervor. Obama’s party, controlling both the White House and Congress, is likely to feel that fury the most. And it’s defending far more seats than the Republicans.” But why, then, is the generic congressional polling number tilting in the Republicans’ favor, a historic anomaly? Could it have something to do with what the Democrats have done in the last year? Read More

The Associated Press is the latest to discover the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress:

Almost by the day, Republicans are sensing fresh opportunities to pick up ground. Just Wednesday, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats announced he would try to reclaim his old seat from Democrat Evan Bayh, who barely a year ago had been a finalist to be Barack Obama’s running mate. And Republicans nationwide are still celebrating Scott Brown’s January upset to take Edward Kennedy’s former seat in Massachusetts.

A Republican takeover on Capitol Hill is still a long shot. But strategists in both parties now see at least narrow paths by which the GOP could win the House and, if the troubled environment for Democrats deteriorates further, possibly even the Senate.

The AP is a little less candid about the reasons, however. You see, it’s “the persistent 10 percent unemployment rate, the country’s bitterness over Wall Street bailouts and voters’ anti-Washington fervor. Obama’s party, controlling both the White House and Congress, is likely to feel that fury the most. And it’s defending far more seats than the Republicans.” But why, then, is the generic congressional polling number tilting in the Republicans’ favor, a historic anomaly? Could it have something to do with what the Democrats have done in the last year?

Well those incumbent Democrats struggling for their political lives don’t seem to be so confused. We’ve seen a steady drumbeat of criticism from Democrats on Obama’s anti-terrorism policies. We see that Democratic lawmakers are flexing their muscles, trying to put some daylight between themselves and the Obama-Reid-Pelosi ultra-liberal domestic agenda as well. As this report notes:

A Democratic Senate candidate in Missouri denounced the budget’s sky-high deficit. A Florida Democrat whose congressional district includes the Kennedy Space Center hit the roof over NASA budget cuts. And a headline on the 2010 campaign website of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) blares her opposition to Obama’s farm budget: “Blanche stands up for Arkansas farm families.”

And at least in the days following Scott Brown’s win, we heard a raft of Democrats suggest that maybe now it was time to move on from health-care reform to something voters actually like, maybe some pro-job measures.

The tension between the Reid-Pelosi-Obama trio, fueled by ideological determination and the fear of offending their base, and those Democrats who think that a good deal of the problem they face stems from the very agenda set out by Reid-Pelosi-Obama will, I suspect, increase throughout the year. Obama wants to “punch through” on health care; Red State Democrats want to run for their lives. Obama is touting a massive budget; Sen. Kent Conrad is already throwing cold water on it. And so it will go. The more the leadership pushes to the Left, the greater the risk for those members nervously watching the polls. And the result may well be legislative gridlock. But if the alternative is more big-government power grabs, that might not be a bad thing for at-risk Democrats.

Moreover, there is a growing realization among Democrats that the White House is vamping it — that it lacks a plan to achieve much of anything. The Hill reports that after the TV cameras left, the Democratic senators pounced on the White House aides:

Democrats expressed their frustration with the lack of a clear plan for passing healthcare reform, according to one person in the room. One Democratic senator even grew heated in his remarks, according to the source. “It wasn’t a discussion about how to get from Point A to Point B; it was a discussion about the lack of a plan to get from Point A to Point B,” said a person who attended the meeting. “Many of the members were frustrated, but one person really expressed his frustration.” Senators did not want to press Obama on healthcare reform in front of television cameras for fear of putting him in an awkward spot. “There was a vigorous discussion about that afterward with some of his top advisers and others,” Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said regarding the healthcare discussion.

Not unlike the debacle in Copenhagen (the first one mostly, but really both), the Democrats are coming to see that the White House lacks a game plan. It is not merely ideologically out of step with the country; it is also incapable of governing, and of leading the party. And that will make already skittish incumbents more likely to make their own political judgments, quite apart from whatever suggestions Obama doles out.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not content to lose just Massachusetts, key Democrats want to keep at ObamaCare negotiations: “There is a still sizable contingent of Democrats who continue to believe failure is not an option, even though their voices have been softer since the Senate loss in Massachusetts. Obama, Pelosi and Reid, by all accounts, still agree with this thinking and remain sincerely committed to pushing ahead. Most Democrats have already voted for the bill, making them more invested in finishing the job than their counterparts were in 1994.”

No, honest: “President Obama’s campaign to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system is officially on the back burner as Democrats turn to the task of stimulating job growth, but behind the scenes party leaders have nearly settled on a strategy to salvage the massive legislation. They are meeting almost daily to plot legislative moves while gently persuading skittish rank-and-file lawmakers to back a sweeping bill.” They would be skittish, of course, because  two-thirds of the country hates the legislation.

But you can understand that Democrats want to run on something other than failure: “The $700 billion bailout program for the financial industry has so far done little to boost bank lending, aid small businesses or reduce home foreclosures, a top government watchdog said in a report. Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general over the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), said in a report that while the bailout has helped stabilize the financial system, many of the program’s original goals have not been met.”

And they probably don’t want to run on their fiscal management because: “the White House expects the annual gap between spending and revenue to approach a record $1.6 trillion this year as the government continues to dig out from the worst recession in more than a generation, according to congressional sources. The red ink would recede to $1.3 trillion in 2011, but remain persistently high for years to come under Obama’s policies.” Yes, the spending “freeze” is really just for show.

And their good-government pledges are nothing to brag about: “The recent awarding of a lucrative federal contract to a company owned by a financial contributor to the Obama presidential campaign — without competitive bidding — ‘violated’ President Obama’s many campaign pledges to crack down on the practice, a top State Department official told Fox News.”

Seems the voters don’t think Obama gets a B+: “Just 19% of voters nationwide believe that President Obama achieved most of his goals during his first year in office. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 70% hold the opposite view and say he did not accomplish those goals.”

Former CIA director Michael Hayden has convinced Diane Ravitch of Brookings: “I realized that Eric Holder has misplaced priorities. He Mirandizes suspected terrorists (alleged terrorists, that is), and vigorously pursues CIA agents. Holder should go.”

Conservatives should give the president some credit: “It took a year, but one bright spot in President Obama’s State of the Union was that he bothered to say nice things about trade. ‘We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are,’ he said. ‘If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores.'” Now let’s see if Obama’s party will move trade deals through Congress.

Not content to lose just Massachusetts, key Democrats want to keep at ObamaCare negotiations: “There is a still sizable contingent of Democrats who continue to believe failure is not an option, even though their voices have been softer since the Senate loss in Massachusetts. Obama, Pelosi and Reid, by all accounts, still agree with this thinking and remain sincerely committed to pushing ahead. Most Democrats have already voted for the bill, making them more invested in finishing the job than their counterparts were in 1994.”

No, honest: “President Obama’s campaign to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system is officially on the back burner as Democrats turn to the task of stimulating job growth, but behind the scenes party leaders have nearly settled on a strategy to salvage the massive legislation. They are meeting almost daily to plot legislative moves while gently persuading skittish rank-and-file lawmakers to back a sweeping bill.” They would be skittish, of course, because  two-thirds of the country hates the legislation.

But you can understand that Democrats want to run on something other than failure: “The $700 billion bailout program for the financial industry has so far done little to boost bank lending, aid small businesses or reduce home foreclosures, a top government watchdog said in a report. Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general over the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), said in a report that while the bailout has helped stabilize the financial system, many of the program’s original goals have not been met.”

And they probably don’t want to run on their fiscal management because: “the White House expects the annual gap between spending and revenue to approach a record $1.6 trillion this year as the government continues to dig out from the worst recession in more than a generation, according to congressional sources. The red ink would recede to $1.3 trillion in 2011, but remain persistently high for years to come under Obama’s policies.” Yes, the spending “freeze” is really just for show.

And their good-government pledges are nothing to brag about: “The recent awarding of a lucrative federal contract to a company owned by a financial contributor to the Obama presidential campaign — without competitive bidding — ‘violated’ President Obama’s many campaign pledges to crack down on the practice, a top State Department official told Fox News.”

Seems the voters don’t think Obama gets a B+: “Just 19% of voters nationwide believe that President Obama achieved most of his goals during his first year in office. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 70% hold the opposite view and say he did not accomplish those goals.”

Former CIA director Michael Hayden has convinced Diane Ravitch of Brookings: “I realized that Eric Holder has misplaced priorities. He Mirandizes suspected terrorists (alleged terrorists, that is), and vigorously pursues CIA agents. Holder should go.”

Conservatives should give the president some credit: “It took a year, but one bright spot in President Obama’s State of the Union was that he bothered to say nice things about trade. ‘We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are,’ he said. ‘If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores.'” Now let’s see if Obama’s party will move trade deals through Congress.

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The Cost of Overreach

Charles Lane writes: “Who would have thought that just one year into Obama’s promising presidency, the Democrats who had pinned their hopes on him would be dangerously close to political meltdown?” He thinks it is more than “the lousy economy, public concern about the messy health-care compromise, renewed fear of terrorism, the usual cyclical problems of the incumbent party in an off-year election.” He sees a break-up of the two parties into four subgroups: “Roughly speaking, the Democrats consist of a liberal wing (epitomized by, say, Howard Dean) and a centrist wing (think of Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln). The Republicans include a conservative wing (e.g., Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio) and an ultra-conservative wing (Sarah Palin).”

But that doesn’t quite explain why the Democrats are disproportionately impacted and why it is Obama’s party rather than the GOP that is looking at a meltdown in the 2010 races. There is a simpler explanation: Obama and the Democrats overreached. The temptation is great when you’ve won a big election and the media is telling you that you are now the “permanent majority.” You overestimate the election results (e.g., the new New Deal!), treat opponents and the public with contempt (labeling town-hall attendees “un-American”), don’t think you have to keep promises (C-SPAN negotiations, only taxing the rich), and try to enact controversial legislation through narrow, strictly partisan majorities. Throw in some scandals, a grumpy president who seems out to lunch on national security, a terrorist attack (three, actually, last year), and pretty soon everyone is asking: who voted for these guys?

Republicans shouldn’t be celebrating yet. The Democrats may get wise, put off the hugely unpopular health-care bill, and scramble toward the political center. Unlike Republicans in 2006, Democrats have plenty of warning that they are heading over a political cliff. To avoid going over it, however, requires their making a real course correction, signaling that they “have heard the voters.” Otherwise, the voters will want to send them a message on Election Day.

Charles Lane writes: “Who would have thought that just one year into Obama’s promising presidency, the Democrats who had pinned their hopes on him would be dangerously close to political meltdown?” He thinks it is more than “the lousy economy, public concern about the messy health-care compromise, renewed fear of terrorism, the usual cyclical problems of the incumbent party in an off-year election.” He sees a break-up of the two parties into four subgroups: “Roughly speaking, the Democrats consist of a liberal wing (epitomized by, say, Howard Dean) and a centrist wing (think of Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln). The Republicans include a conservative wing (e.g., Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio) and an ultra-conservative wing (Sarah Palin).”

But that doesn’t quite explain why the Democrats are disproportionately impacted and why it is Obama’s party rather than the GOP that is looking at a meltdown in the 2010 races. There is a simpler explanation: Obama and the Democrats overreached. The temptation is great when you’ve won a big election and the media is telling you that you are now the “permanent majority.” You overestimate the election results (e.g., the new New Deal!), treat opponents and the public with contempt (labeling town-hall attendees “un-American”), don’t think you have to keep promises (C-SPAN negotiations, only taxing the rich), and try to enact controversial legislation through narrow, strictly partisan majorities. Throw in some scandals, a grumpy president who seems out to lunch on national security, a terrorist attack (three, actually, last year), and pretty soon everyone is asking: who voted for these guys?

Republicans shouldn’t be celebrating yet. The Democrats may get wise, put off the hugely unpopular health-care bill, and scramble toward the political center. Unlike Republicans in 2006, Democrats have plenty of warning that they are heading over a political cliff. To avoid going over it, however, requires their making a real course correction, signaling that they “have heard the voters.” Otherwise, the voters will want to send them a message on Election Day.

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Alice in Wonderland Justice

The decision to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a federal courthouse in Manhattan, where he and his four co-conspirators will receive the full array of rights enjoyed by American citizens, will show the world that our system of justice is an enlightened model for the rest of the world. It will “vindicate this country’s basic values” and “stand as a symbol in the world of something different from what the terrorists represent.” We will be adhering to the “rule of law.” Or so Obama defenders argue.

But imagine KSM being found not guilty, which is a possibility. What happens then? According to Democratic Senator Jack Reed, “under basic principles of international law, as long as these individuals pose a threat, they can be detained, and they will.” Come again? You mean if KSM is acquitted he will still be detained? Yes indeed, according to Senator Reed. He will not be released, “because under the principle of preventive detention, which is recognized during hostilities,” we can continue to hold KSM.

Well, now. It seems to me as though President Obama and Attorney General Holder need to be asked whether they agree with Senator Reed. If not — if they believe that the proud, self-confessed mastermind of the deadliest attack in history on the American homeland should be able to walk free if acquitted in this trial — then Obama and Holder should certainly say so. If KSM were acquitted, the president and his attorney general should proclaim from the rooftops that Mohammed is a free man, found innocent in a civilian court of law, and then allow voters to render a judgment on their decision.

If, on the other hand, Obama and Holder agree with Senator Reed, they should state that as well.

Right now Obama and Holder, in saying they are answering the “call to justice and fairness,” take great pride in presenting themselves as committed to equal justice under the law. That they are willing to try KSM in a civilian court is supposedly proof of their enlightened worldview. Except that if President Obama and Attorney General Holder agree with Senator Reed, it is all a fiction: If KSM is acquitted, he will not walk the streets of New York City or of any other place. He will be detained. The verdict in his trial will be rendered inoperative. And the justice and fairness that Obama and Holder speak about will turn out to be quite different from what most people who are praising Obama’s decision have in mind. The “rule of law” our president and his attorney general hope to showcase will actually be a game that has been rigged at the outset. It will be Alice in Wonderland justice (first the verdict, then the trial; and if the trial turns out differently from what you had hoped, ignore the verdict). If that’s the case, then what Obama and Holder are doing will turn out to be a very dangerous stunt done only for optics. Their actions will be revealed as cynical and misleading. And engaging in this charade in order to impress the rest of the world will do significant harm to our nation.

Every month the Obama administration seems to outdo itself in terms of making terribly unwise decisions. This one ranks high among them. It will add another damaging brushstroke to the Obama canvas. The current administration is revealing itself one act at a time; the curtain is being pulled back on it one decision at a time. The liberal, and in some cases the radical, actions of the Obama administration are piling up like cars in a rush-hour traffic accident. But a day of reckoning will come, I suspect; first to Mr. Obama’s party, and then to Mr. Obama himself.

The decision to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a federal courthouse in Manhattan, where he and his four co-conspirators will receive the full array of rights enjoyed by American citizens, will show the world that our system of justice is an enlightened model for the rest of the world. It will “vindicate this country’s basic values” and “stand as a symbol in the world of something different from what the terrorists represent.” We will be adhering to the “rule of law.” Or so Obama defenders argue.

But imagine KSM being found not guilty, which is a possibility. What happens then? According to Democratic Senator Jack Reed, “under basic principles of international law, as long as these individuals pose a threat, they can be detained, and they will.” Come again? You mean if KSM is acquitted he will still be detained? Yes indeed, according to Senator Reed. He will not be released, “because under the principle of preventive detention, which is recognized during hostilities,” we can continue to hold KSM.

Well, now. It seems to me as though President Obama and Attorney General Holder need to be asked whether they agree with Senator Reed. If not — if they believe that the proud, self-confessed mastermind of the deadliest attack in history on the American homeland should be able to walk free if acquitted in this trial — then Obama and Holder should certainly say so. If KSM were acquitted, the president and his attorney general should proclaim from the rooftops that Mohammed is a free man, found innocent in a civilian court of law, and then allow voters to render a judgment on their decision.

If, on the other hand, Obama and Holder agree with Senator Reed, they should state that as well.

Right now Obama and Holder, in saying they are answering the “call to justice and fairness,” take great pride in presenting themselves as committed to equal justice under the law. That they are willing to try KSM in a civilian court is supposedly proof of their enlightened worldview. Except that if President Obama and Attorney General Holder agree with Senator Reed, it is all a fiction: If KSM is acquitted, he will not walk the streets of New York City or of any other place. He will be detained. The verdict in his trial will be rendered inoperative. And the justice and fairness that Obama and Holder speak about will turn out to be quite different from what most people who are praising Obama’s decision have in mind. The “rule of law” our president and his attorney general hope to showcase will actually be a game that has been rigged at the outset. It will be Alice in Wonderland justice (first the verdict, then the trial; and if the trial turns out differently from what you had hoped, ignore the verdict). If that’s the case, then what Obama and Holder are doing will turn out to be a very dangerous stunt done only for optics. Their actions will be revealed as cynical and misleading. And engaging in this charade in order to impress the rest of the world will do significant harm to our nation.

Every month the Obama administration seems to outdo itself in terms of making terribly unwise decisions. This one ranks high among them. It will add another damaging brushstroke to the Obama canvas. The current administration is revealing itself one act at a time; the curtain is being pulled back on it one decision at a time. The liberal, and in some cases the radical, actions of the Obama administration are piling up like cars in a rush-hour traffic accident. But a day of reckoning will come, I suspect; first to Mr. Obama’s party, and then to Mr. Obama himself.

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