Commentary Magazine


Topic: oil spill

Power Dirge

Passage of the Democrats’ health-care bill back in March was so historic, we were told, it not only established President Obama as a superstar against the backdrop of our political past; it would also secure his future standing in the pantheon of great American leaders. “Obama’s health care win ensures his legacy,” blared the McClatchy news service  headline.

This achievement was no end in itself. It heralded an Obama “power surge” of global reach. “In Washington, for the first time in his presidency, Obama is feared,” wrote the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. “Suddenly, Democrats are not so terrified about the midterm elections. …The Russians have backed down and signed an arms-control pact that doesn’t scrap missile defense in Eastern Europe.”

Pffh. Slaying the Russian bear with insurance regulation was just a warm-up. “Mr. Obama could retire into the history books, many presidential scholars say, on the health-care achievement alone,” wrote Helene Cooper in the New York Times. “But there is a swagger emanating from the White House that suggests he may now have acquired a liking for the benefits of sticking his neck out to lead.” Also in the Times, Tom Friedman assured us that health care’s passage made Obama a more formidable international player. “You don’t have to be Machiavelli to believe that the leaders of Iran and Venezuela shared the barely disguised Republican hope that health care would fail and, therefore, Mr. Obama’s whole political agenda would be stalled and, therefore, his presidency enfeebled,” he wrote.

Obama was on course to take out the Republicans, Russians, Iranians, Venezuelans, Martians, Aztecs, and Incas and still make tee time at Pebble Beach.

Too bad the power surge died before the spring. “Americans are more pessimistic about the state of the country and less confident in President Barack Obama’s leadership than at any point since Mr. Obama entered the White House,” runs an extraordinary lede in today’s Wall Street Journal. A new poll shows that the country is losing faith in the abilities of the world historic president who just three months ago passed historic legislation. That’s not nearly all. The White House is losing its grip on the military, getting smacked down by the judiciary on its drilling ban, and going into battle with about 15 states over health care. Oh, and the Russians ate us for breakfast on that arms treaty, the Iranians had us for lunch on UN sanctions, and the Venezuelans are seizing our oil rigs for dinner. Finally, pace Beinart, Democrats are “terrified about the midterm elections.”

How could this be? Leadership through Nancy Pelosi’s prop gavel and the imposition of mystery legislation doesn’t confer actual power? Go figure.

The big historic health-care victory was nothing more than a procedural high-wire act. Kind of like getting your package to FedEx at 7:55 p.m. on a rainy Friday. Never mind that the package is empty or, worse, that its contents are dangerous. ObamaCare’s popularity sinks with each day’s new frightening analysis.

What people do want are jobs. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that Americans chose “job creation and economic growth” as their top-priority issue for the federal government to address. “The Gulf Coast oil spill and energy” was second. Health care came in at a distant number six, beating last place “social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.”

Like Tom Friedman says, you don’t have to be Machiavelli to see that Obama isn’t competently addressing the most important issues; you just have to be American. In fact, you don’t have to be Machiavelli at all. You just have to be effective. People instruct the president to get mad or get compassionate. But he only needs to get things done. All the “impressive leadership” stuff comes after a leader actually accomplishes something. For now, the new poll does at least partially vindicate Peter Beinart: people are certainly afraid of Barack Obama.

Passage of the Democrats’ health-care bill back in March was so historic, we were told, it not only established President Obama as a superstar against the backdrop of our political past; it would also secure his future standing in the pantheon of great American leaders. “Obama’s health care win ensures his legacy,” blared the McClatchy news service  headline.

This achievement was no end in itself. It heralded an Obama “power surge” of global reach. “In Washington, for the first time in his presidency, Obama is feared,” wrote the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. “Suddenly, Democrats are not so terrified about the midterm elections. …The Russians have backed down and signed an arms-control pact that doesn’t scrap missile defense in Eastern Europe.”

Pffh. Slaying the Russian bear with insurance regulation was just a warm-up. “Mr. Obama could retire into the history books, many presidential scholars say, on the health-care achievement alone,” wrote Helene Cooper in the New York Times. “But there is a swagger emanating from the White House that suggests he may now have acquired a liking for the benefits of sticking his neck out to lead.” Also in the Times, Tom Friedman assured us that health care’s passage made Obama a more formidable international player. “You don’t have to be Machiavelli to believe that the leaders of Iran and Venezuela shared the barely disguised Republican hope that health care would fail and, therefore, Mr. Obama’s whole political agenda would be stalled and, therefore, his presidency enfeebled,” he wrote.

Obama was on course to take out the Republicans, Russians, Iranians, Venezuelans, Martians, Aztecs, and Incas and still make tee time at Pebble Beach.

Too bad the power surge died before the spring. “Americans are more pessimistic about the state of the country and less confident in President Barack Obama’s leadership than at any point since Mr. Obama entered the White House,” runs an extraordinary lede in today’s Wall Street Journal. A new poll shows that the country is losing faith in the abilities of the world historic president who just three months ago passed historic legislation. That’s not nearly all. The White House is losing its grip on the military, getting smacked down by the judiciary on its drilling ban, and going into battle with about 15 states over health care. Oh, and the Russians ate us for breakfast on that arms treaty, the Iranians had us for lunch on UN sanctions, and the Venezuelans are seizing our oil rigs for dinner. Finally, pace Beinart, Democrats are “terrified about the midterm elections.”

How could this be? Leadership through Nancy Pelosi’s prop gavel and the imposition of mystery legislation doesn’t confer actual power? Go figure.

The big historic health-care victory was nothing more than a procedural high-wire act. Kind of like getting your package to FedEx at 7:55 p.m. on a rainy Friday. Never mind that the package is empty or, worse, that its contents are dangerous. ObamaCare’s popularity sinks with each day’s new frightening analysis.

What people do want are jobs. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that Americans chose “job creation and economic growth” as their top-priority issue for the federal government to address. “The Gulf Coast oil spill and energy” was second. Health care came in at a distant number six, beating last place “social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.”

Like Tom Friedman says, you don’t have to be Machiavelli to see that Obama isn’t competently addressing the most important issues; you just have to be American. In fact, you don’t have to be Machiavelli at all. You just have to be effective. People instruct the president to get mad or get compassionate. But he only needs to get things done. All the “impressive leadership” stuff comes after a leader actually accomplishes something. For now, the new poll does at least partially vindicate Peter Beinart: people are certainly afraid of Barack Obama.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Doesn’t sound kosher: “Decoy Jews.”

Doesn’t sound like a problem easily fixed: Noemie Emery on the oil spill writes, “Initially, the diagnosis was that Mr. Cool perhaps had an emotional deficit — the downside of all that cerebral detachment — but this wasn’t quite accurate: He had, it turned out, a lot of emotion, but most of it (like with Hayward and the rest of the people at British Petroleum) turned more or less on himself.”

Doesn’t sound like a nominee who’s going to be much help to Obama: “Forty-two percent (42%) of U.S. voters now believe Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan should not be confirmed following the Senate hearings scheduled to begin next week. That’s up nine points from the week President Obama announced her nomination and the highest level of opposition to date.” Maybe it’s not Kagan but anything Obama that so many Americans are opposed to.

Doesn’t sound like they are kidding: “Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Kathleen Parker will co-host a new hour long CNN primetime news program starting in the fall as the nation prepares for the 2010 midterm election, the network announced Wednesday morning.” I look forward to Parker’s unbiased take on Sarah Palin’s impact on the races and Spitzer’s insights on morality. Maybe John Edwards can guest-host.

Doesn’t sound like California Democrats are thrilled with their nominee: “California Democrats are starting to worry that gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown — who hasn’t had a truly competitive election in three decades — isn’t ready for the 21st-century campaign trail. Since the general election kicked off two weeks ago, Brown — the state attorney general and former governor with a well-known penchant for micromanaging all aspects of his campaigns — has made news for all the wrong reasons, while motoring along without any evidence that he is assembling a basic infrastructure for a statewide race.”

Doesn’t sound like government can spend its way out of a recession: “Purchases of U.S. new homes fell in May to the lowest level on record after a tax credit expired, showing the market remains dependent on government support.”

Doesn’t sound like switching generals is going to change things. James Carafano: “It is still the president’s job to win the war and he is the one accountable to the American people. Nothing has really changed: the timeline is bad; by the military’s own estimate there are too few enough troops; and failure is not a good option.”

Doesn’t sound like the family name is an asset: “Nevada gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid (D) is on the air with his first campaign ad and it’s missing one thing: his last name.”

Doesn’t sound like the 17 percent have been paying attention: “New York State government is dysfunctional, 83 percent of voters say, the highest number ever measured in the state, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. … ‘New Yorkers are fed up with Albany. The resentment is bigger than we’ve ever measured. Just about half think that the whole Legislature should be voted out of office — even their own state senator and Assembly member,’ said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.”

Doesn’t sound kosher: “Decoy Jews.”

Doesn’t sound like a problem easily fixed: Noemie Emery on the oil spill writes, “Initially, the diagnosis was that Mr. Cool perhaps had an emotional deficit — the downside of all that cerebral detachment — but this wasn’t quite accurate: He had, it turned out, a lot of emotion, but most of it (like with Hayward and the rest of the people at British Petroleum) turned more or less on himself.”

Doesn’t sound like a nominee who’s going to be much help to Obama: “Forty-two percent (42%) of U.S. voters now believe Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan should not be confirmed following the Senate hearings scheduled to begin next week. That’s up nine points from the week President Obama announced her nomination and the highest level of opposition to date.” Maybe it’s not Kagan but anything Obama that so many Americans are opposed to.

Doesn’t sound like they are kidding: “Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Kathleen Parker will co-host a new hour long CNN primetime news program starting in the fall as the nation prepares for the 2010 midterm election, the network announced Wednesday morning.” I look forward to Parker’s unbiased take on Sarah Palin’s impact on the races and Spitzer’s insights on morality. Maybe John Edwards can guest-host.

Doesn’t sound like California Democrats are thrilled with their nominee: “California Democrats are starting to worry that gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown — who hasn’t had a truly competitive election in three decades — isn’t ready for the 21st-century campaign trail. Since the general election kicked off two weeks ago, Brown — the state attorney general and former governor with a well-known penchant for micromanaging all aspects of his campaigns — has made news for all the wrong reasons, while motoring along without any evidence that he is assembling a basic infrastructure for a statewide race.”

Doesn’t sound like government can spend its way out of a recession: “Purchases of U.S. new homes fell in May to the lowest level on record after a tax credit expired, showing the market remains dependent on government support.”

Doesn’t sound like switching generals is going to change things. James Carafano: “It is still the president’s job to win the war and he is the one accountable to the American people. Nothing has really changed: the timeline is bad; by the military’s own estimate there are too few enough troops; and failure is not a good option.”

Doesn’t sound like the family name is an asset: “Nevada gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid (D) is on the air with his first campaign ad and it’s missing one thing: his last name.”

Doesn’t sound like the 17 percent have been paying attention: “New York State government is dysfunctional, 83 percent of voters say, the highest number ever measured in the state, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. … ‘New Yorkers are fed up with Albany. The resentment is bigger than we’ve ever measured. Just about half think that the whole Legislature should be voted out of office — even their own state senator and Assembly member,’ said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.”

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Gen. Stanley McChrystal took the blame. But he isn’t the problem, says Jackson Diehl: “If anyone deserves blame for the latest airing of the administration’s internal feuds over Afghanistan, it is President Obama. For months Obama has tolerated deep divisions between his military and civilian aides over how to implement the counterinsurgency strategy he announced last December. The divide has made it practically impossible to fashion a coherent politico-military plan, led to frequent disputes over tactics and contributed to a sharp deterioration in the administration’s relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.”

It took Rolling Stone to make clear “just how badly Barack Obama’s ‘good war’ in Afghanistan is going.”

Obama took office in January 2009, yet voters think Hillary Clinton is more qualified to be president: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 57% of voters feel Clinton is qualified to be president, but 34% disagree and say she is not. As for President Obama, 51% say he is fit for the job. However, 44% say he is not qualified to be president, even though he has now served 17 months in the job.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell took a few hits early in his term but his approval stands at 63%, according to an internal poll.

The North Korean soccer team took a beating. (“After an embarrassing 7-0 drubbing by Portugal yesterday, will the North Korean soccer team have to face the wrath of Kim Jong Il?”) Maybe they should have hired Chinese players instead of Chinese fans.

Obama took it on the chin in court yesterday: “A federal judge in New Orleans halted President Obama’s deepwater drilling moratorium on Tuesday, saying the government never justified the ban and appeared to mislead the public in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Judge Martin L.C. Feldman issued an injunction, saying that the moratorium will hurt drilling-rig operators and suppliers and that the government has not proved an outright ban is needed, rather than a more limited moratorium. He also said the Interior Department also misstated the opinion of the experts it consulted. Those experts from the National Academy of Engineering have said they don’t support the blanket ban.”

It took the NRA to put a bullet through the heart of campaign finance “reform”: “Rep. Mike Castle (Del.), one of just two Republican sponsors of a sweeping campaign finance bill, is so upset about late changes to the measure he is considering withdrawing his support and voting against it. ‘He’s absolutely opposed to the [NRA] exemption,’ Castle spokeswoman Kate Dickens told The Hill. ‘The exemptions are getting bigger and bigger. I don’t think they are even done yet.'”

It took Obama to put Russ Feingold’s seat at risk. “Incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold is still in a virtual dead heat with endorsed Republican challenger Ron Johnson in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race.”

Gen. Stanley McChrystal took the blame. But he isn’t the problem, says Jackson Diehl: “If anyone deserves blame for the latest airing of the administration’s internal feuds over Afghanistan, it is President Obama. For months Obama has tolerated deep divisions between his military and civilian aides over how to implement the counterinsurgency strategy he announced last December. The divide has made it practically impossible to fashion a coherent politico-military plan, led to frequent disputes over tactics and contributed to a sharp deterioration in the administration’s relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.”

It took Rolling Stone to make clear “just how badly Barack Obama’s ‘good war’ in Afghanistan is going.”

Obama took office in January 2009, yet voters think Hillary Clinton is more qualified to be president: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 57% of voters feel Clinton is qualified to be president, but 34% disagree and say she is not. As for President Obama, 51% say he is fit for the job. However, 44% say he is not qualified to be president, even though he has now served 17 months in the job.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell took a few hits early in his term but his approval stands at 63%, according to an internal poll.

The North Korean soccer team took a beating. (“After an embarrassing 7-0 drubbing by Portugal yesterday, will the North Korean soccer team have to face the wrath of Kim Jong Il?”) Maybe they should have hired Chinese players instead of Chinese fans.

Obama took it on the chin in court yesterday: “A federal judge in New Orleans halted President Obama’s deepwater drilling moratorium on Tuesday, saying the government never justified the ban and appeared to mislead the public in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Judge Martin L.C. Feldman issued an injunction, saying that the moratorium will hurt drilling-rig operators and suppliers and that the government has not proved an outright ban is needed, rather than a more limited moratorium. He also said the Interior Department also misstated the opinion of the experts it consulted. Those experts from the National Academy of Engineering have said they don’t support the blanket ban.”

It took the NRA to put a bullet through the heart of campaign finance “reform”: “Rep. Mike Castle (Del.), one of just two Republican sponsors of a sweeping campaign finance bill, is so upset about late changes to the measure he is considering withdrawing his support and voting against it. ‘He’s absolutely opposed to the [NRA] exemption,’ Castle spokeswoman Kate Dickens told The Hill. ‘The exemptions are getting bigger and bigger. I don’t think they are even done yet.'”

It took Obama to put Russ Feingold’s seat at risk. “Incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold is still in a virtual dead heat with endorsed Republican challenger Ron Johnson in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race.”

Read Less

Changing the Default Reaction to Obama

Paul Rubin (no relation) writes that, with regard to Katrina:

President George W. Bush and the federal government were limited in what they could do. For example, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wanted to take command of disaster relief on the day before landfall, but Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco refused. Federal response was hindered because the law gave first authority to state and local authorities.

State and local efforts—particularly in New Orleans, and Louisiana more broadly—interfered with what actions the federal government could actually take. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was late in ordering an evacuation and did not allow the use of school buses for evacuation, which could have saved hundreds of lives.

In contrast, Rubin notes: “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is on federal offshore territory. The federal government has primary responsibility for handling the situation, while state and local governments remain limited in what they can do.” He explains, however, that local authorities “believe that the federal government is undermining their efforts.” Obama and his team have refused to waive the Jones Act and has hassled Gov. Jindal about deploying barges to skim oil.

While the Obama team’s response has been arguably worse that the Bush response to Katrina, Rubin points out, the press criticism of Obama is only now intensifying:

Now Mr. Obama has much more power than did Mr. Bush, but the federal response is ineffective and often stands in the way of those in the best position to know what to do. It is only in the last week or two that the mainstream press has voiced any criticism of Mr. Obama.

This is because the media’s default position for Mr. Bush was “Bush is wrong,” and it sought stories aimed at justifying this belief. For Mr. Obama the media’s default is “Obama is right,” and it takes a powerful set of facts to move it away from this assumption.

The danger for Obama is that the default is changing. It may not be “Obama is wrong” quite yet. But it’s getting there. At the very least, it is “Obama is under siege because the public thinks he’s wrong.” That’s progress, considering the mainstream media’s investment in Obama’s success.

Paul Rubin (no relation) writes that, with regard to Katrina:

President George W. Bush and the federal government were limited in what they could do. For example, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wanted to take command of disaster relief on the day before landfall, but Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco refused. Federal response was hindered because the law gave first authority to state and local authorities.

State and local efforts—particularly in New Orleans, and Louisiana more broadly—interfered with what actions the federal government could actually take. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was late in ordering an evacuation and did not allow the use of school buses for evacuation, which could have saved hundreds of lives.

In contrast, Rubin notes: “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is on federal offshore territory. The federal government has primary responsibility for handling the situation, while state and local governments remain limited in what they can do.” He explains, however, that local authorities “believe that the federal government is undermining their efforts.” Obama and his team have refused to waive the Jones Act and has hassled Gov. Jindal about deploying barges to skim oil.

While the Obama team’s response has been arguably worse that the Bush response to Katrina, Rubin points out, the press criticism of Obama is only now intensifying:

Now Mr. Obama has much more power than did Mr. Bush, but the federal response is ineffective and often stands in the way of those in the best position to know what to do. It is only in the last week or two that the mainstream press has voiced any criticism of Mr. Obama.

This is because the media’s default position for Mr. Bush was “Bush is wrong,” and it sought stories aimed at justifying this belief. For Mr. Obama the media’s default is “Obama is right,” and it takes a powerful set of facts to move it away from this assumption.

The danger for Obama is that the default is changing. It may not be “Obama is wrong” quite yet. But it’s getting there. At the very least, it is “Obama is under siege because the public thinks he’s wrong.” That’s progress, considering the mainstream media’s investment in Obama’s success.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

We all benefit when Obama goes golfing, says the White House spokesman. But not when Tony Hayward goes sailing.

The U.S. government can certainly crack down on “humanitarian” aid to terrorist groups, says the Supreme Court. But Israel is not permitted the same latitude, points out Elliott Abrams: “As Chief Justice Roberts explained, such support [for training and advice for humanitarian, non-terrorist activities] ‘also importantly helps lend legitimacy to foreign terrorist groups—legitimacy that makes it easier for those groups to persist, to recruit members, and to raise funds—all of which facilitate more terrorist attacks.’ Americans inclined to think Israel has gone overboard in stopping flotillas from landing in Gaza might think again.”

Democrats have had enough of Obama’s career-killing agenda and John Kerry’s pestering them about a climate-control bill. But Jonathan Chait mocks politicians’ desire for self-preservation, “Why can’t [Kerry] let us worry about something that really matters, like the midterm election?” It’s curious whom Chait thinks will stand in the way of the conservative resurgence if all these horribly self-absorbed Democrats commit political suicide.

Obama promised that all that stimulus money would create/save millions of jobs. But this handy chart suggests we might have gotten equal or better results with no stimulus at all.

The lefty protesters in San Francisco intended to block the unloading of an Israeli ship. But they got the timing wrong and wound up protesting a Chinese ship. As Jay Nordlinger put it: “But listen, who cares about protesting the PRC — which is merely a one-party dictatorship with a gulag — when you can protest and harass Israel, that nasty Jewish state whose inhabitants (Jewish inhabitants — the Arab ones are cool) can go back to you-know-where! (Of course, when the Jews were in Europe, in great numbers, they were told to go back … to Israel, ancient and eternal land of the Jews.)”

The military and sympathetic observers keep sounding the alarm over Obama’s Afghanistan timeline. But the White House keeps reinforcing it. At some point, we should take the administration at its word.

Obama says he’s doing everything possible to deal with the Gulf oil spill. But he’s refused to waive the Jones Act to allow easier passage of foreign ships between U.S. ports. So Republicans are introducing legislation. Hard to say — as it always is with Obama — whether he’s incompetent in riding herd on the federal bureaucracy or he’s ingratiating himself (again) with Big Labor. Maybe it’s both.

We can be grateful that Peter Beinart has taken a break from Israel-bashing. But his quotient of loopiness to facts is no better when he is writing about Hillary Clinton. He seems intent on debunking  “rampant” speculation (which consists of some bloggers at one website and some Peggy Noonan and Dick Morris musings) that Hillary will run for president in 2012. Well, given the inanity of the topic, he’s not likely to be embarrassed on Fareed Zakaria’s show over it.

We all benefit when Obama goes golfing, says the White House spokesman. But not when Tony Hayward goes sailing.

The U.S. government can certainly crack down on “humanitarian” aid to terrorist groups, says the Supreme Court. But Israel is not permitted the same latitude, points out Elliott Abrams: “As Chief Justice Roberts explained, such support [for training and advice for humanitarian, non-terrorist activities] ‘also importantly helps lend legitimacy to foreign terrorist groups—legitimacy that makes it easier for those groups to persist, to recruit members, and to raise funds—all of which facilitate more terrorist attacks.’ Americans inclined to think Israel has gone overboard in stopping flotillas from landing in Gaza might think again.”

Democrats have had enough of Obama’s career-killing agenda and John Kerry’s pestering them about a climate-control bill. But Jonathan Chait mocks politicians’ desire for self-preservation, “Why can’t [Kerry] let us worry about something that really matters, like the midterm election?” It’s curious whom Chait thinks will stand in the way of the conservative resurgence if all these horribly self-absorbed Democrats commit political suicide.

Obama promised that all that stimulus money would create/save millions of jobs. But this handy chart suggests we might have gotten equal or better results with no stimulus at all.

The lefty protesters in San Francisco intended to block the unloading of an Israeli ship. But they got the timing wrong and wound up protesting a Chinese ship. As Jay Nordlinger put it: “But listen, who cares about protesting the PRC — which is merely a one-party dictatorship with a gulag — when you can protest and harass Israel, that nasty Jewish state whose inhabitants (Jewish inhabitants — the Arab ones are cool) can go back to you-know-where! (Of course, when the Jews were in Europe, in great numbers, they were told to go back … to Israel, ancient and eternal land of the Jews.)”

The military and sympathetic observers keep sounding the alarm over Obama’s Afghanistan timeline. But the White House keeps reinforcing it. At some point, we should take the administration at its word.

Obama says he’s doing everything possible to deal with the Gulf oil spill. But he’s refused to waive the Jones Act to allow easier passage of foreign ships between U.S. ports. So Republicans are introducing legislation. Hard to say — as it always is with Obama — whether he’s incompetent in riding herd on the federal bureaucracy or he’s ingratiating himself (again) with Big Labor. Maybe it’s both.

We can be grateful that Peter Beinart has taken a break from Israel-bashing. But his quotient of loopiness to facts is no better when he is writing about Hillary Clinton. He seems intent on debunking  “rampant” speculation (which consists of some bloggers at one website and some Peggy Noonan and Dick Morris musings) that Hillary will run for president in 2012. Well, given the inanity of the topic, he’s not likely to be embarrassed on Fareed Zakaria’s show over it.

Read Less

Bad News For Democrats Now “Fit To Print”

It’s no secret that, as a smart Brookings Institution pundit conceded recently to me, that the CBS/New York Times poll “slants left.” So that makes the latest survey all the more bracing for the White House ( if they’d stop ignoring bad news):

[D]espite intense news coverage and widespread public concern about the economic and ecological damage from the gulf disaster, most Americans remain far more concerned about jobs and the nation’s overall economy.

And in that regard, President Obama does not fare well: 54 percent of the public say he does not have a clear plan for creating jobs, while only 34 percent say he does, an ominous sign heading into this fall’s midterm elections.

Respondents were nearly evenly split on the president’s handling of the economy — 45 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove. His job approval rating remains just below 50 percent. And by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

They are also impatient with Mr. Obama’s response to the oil disaster in the gulf, by a large margin, and attribute the spill to risks taken by BP and its partners in the failed well, according to the poll, which was conducted by telephone from June 16 to 2o with 1,259 adults.

And after his widely panned Oval office, the poll shows 59% of respondents don’t think Obama has a plan for cleaning up the Gulf.

The decline in Obama’s fortunes is not solely attributable to the oil spill, of course. It’s been a long time in coming, although Times readers have been sheltered from much of the bad news for Obama ( much like the president himself, we suspect). If they only read the Times, they might have missed the warning signs in the 2009 gubernatorial elections, written off the election of Scott Brown as a fluke, clung to the belief that the public would learn to love ObamaCare and been convinced George W. Bush could be blamed for everything that went wrong. But there’s no averting their eyes now — Obama and his party are in a heap of trouble and the election will in all likelihood deal a punishing blow to Democrats unlucky enough to be on the ballot.

It’s no secret that, as a smart Brookings Institution pundit conceded recently to me, that the CBS/New York Times poll “slants left.” So that makes the latest survey all the more bracing for the White House ( if they’d stop ignoring bad news):

[D]espite intense news coverage and widespread public concern about the economic and ecological damage from the gulf disaster, most Americans remain far more concerned about jobs and the nation’s overall economy.

And in that regard, President Obama does not fare well: 54 percent of the public say he does not have a clear plan for creating jobs, while only 34 percent say he does, an ominous sign heading into this fall’s midterm elections.

Respondents were nearly evenly split on the president’s handling of the economy — 45 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove. His job approval rating remains just below 50 percent. And by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

They are also impatient with Mr. Obama’s response to the oil disaster in the gulf, by a large margin, and attribute the spill to risks taken by BP and its partners in the failed well, according to the poll, which was conducted by telephone from June 16 to 2o with 1,259 adults.

And after his widely panned Oval office, the poll shows 59% of respondents don’t think Obama has a plan for cleaning up the Gulf.

The decline in Obama’s fortunes is not solely attributable to the oil spill, of course. It’s been a long time in coming, although Times readers have been sheltered from much of the bad news for Obama ( much like the president himself, we suspect). If they only read the Times, they might have missed the warning signs in the 2009 gubernatorial elections, written off the election of Scott Brown as a fluke, clung to the belief that the public would learn to love ObamaCare and been convinced George W. Bush could be blamed for everything that went wrong. But there’s no averting their eyes now — Obama and his party are in a heap of trouble and the election will in all likelihood deal a punishing blow to Democrats unlucky enough to be on the ballot.

Read Less

Measuring Obama: Their Finest Hour but Not Ours

In the wake of yet another disappointing Oval Office speech, this time about the oil spill and energy policy, the arrival today of the 70th anniversary of two of the most influential speeches by world leaders is a harsh reminder of the gap between President Barack Obama’s pedestrian yet self-aggrandizing style and the measure of genuine leadership. Measuring anyone, even someone whose supporters tend to speak of him as if he were the Messiah, against the standards set on June 18, 1940, by Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle may be unfair. But the contrast between Obama and these historical icons isn’t so much one of eloquence but their ability to see moral choices clearly, to act decisively based on those choices, and then to be able to articulate the reasoning behind them in such a way as to not only render them explicable to a general audience but also to inspire their listeners to act and sacrifice in the cause they have set forth.

Addressing the House of Commons after the collapse of the French army under the weight of the German blitzkrieg, Churchill made one of the most justly famous speeches in history. His concluding sentence still has the power to raise the hair on the back of our necks today: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ ”

But there was more to this speech than just a memorable phrase. He was brutally frank about the extent of the catastrophe to the Allies while urging that time not be wasted on recriminations. He spoke of the hope of victory but grounded that hope in practical policy. Most important, unlike many in the Commons as well as in his cabinet who still thought that peace with Hitler was possible and that accommodation with the reality of Nazi victory was merely common sense, Churchill was unafraid to state explicitly that such a decision would be unthinkable, because “if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

Elsewhere in London that day, De Gaulle, a mere brigadier general and an undersecretary of war in the last government of France’s Third Republic, made a speech on the BBC declaring that he and not the French leaders who would soon sign an armistice and set up the Nazi puppet Vichy regime truly represented the people of France. Though almost all of his countrymen could not see past their lamentable predicament at that moment, DeGaulle, almost alone, refused to submit. Like Churchill, he saw the war as more than merely a struggle of countries but of ideas. As he put it, “Honor, common sense and the best interest of our homeland all command the free French to fight.” He asked the French to consider that when “the forces of liberty finally triumph over those of servitude, what will be the destiny of a France which submitted to the enemy.” Though most of the French passively waited out the war until they were liberated by the sacrifices of others, De Gaulle not only saved the honor of his country but also inspired many Frenchmen and others to fight on against the Nazis.

Taken together, it is easy now to see these two statements as examples of how true statesmen can react at a crucial moment of history. By contrast, today the United States may be in a far stronger position than was Britain and France in 1940, but it, too, is faced with grave threats to its security that force it to fight wars that also demand inspired leadership. But it is led by a man who prides himself above all on his cool temperament, his willingness to see the world in terms of moral equivalences, his irrepressible desire to apologize to enemies of freedom rather than to confront them, and to temporize and prevaricate and to choose half measures when faced with dilemmas rather than to act decisively and with honor.

Comparisons with historical greatness are inevitably invidious, but seen in this light, the gap between Churchill and De Gaulle on the one hand and Barack Obama on the other must force Americans to sadly admit that this is not our finest hour.

In the wake of yet another disappointing Oval Office speech, this time about the oil spill and energy policy, the arrival today of the 70th anniversary of two of the most influential speeches by world leaders is a harsh reminder of the gap between President Barack Obama’s pedestrian yet self-aggrandizing style and the measure of genuine leadership. Measuring anyone, even someone whose supporters tend to speak of him as if he were the Messiah, against the standards set on June 18, 1940, by Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle may be unfair. But the contrast between Obama and these historical icons isn’t so much one of eloquence but their ability to see moral choices clearly, to act decisively based on those choices, and then to be able to articulate the reasoning behind them in such a way as to not only render them explicable to a general audience but also to inspire their listeners to act and sacrifice in the cause they have set forth.

Addressing the House of Commons after the collapse of the French army under the weight of the German blitzkrieg, Churchill made one of the most justly famous speeches in history. His concluding sentence still has the power to raise the hair on the back of our necks today: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ ”

But there was more to this speech than just a memorable phrase. He was brutally frank about the extent of the catastrophe to the Allies while urging that time not be wasted on recriminations. He spoke of the hope of victory but grounded that hope in practical policy. Most important, unlike many in the Commons as well as in his cabinet who still thought that peace with Hitler was possible and that accommodation with the reality of Nazi victory was merely common sense, Churchill was unafraid to state explicitly that such a decision would be unthinkable, because “if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

Elsewhere in London that day, De Gaulle, a mere brigadier general and an undersecretary of war in the last government of France’s Third Republic, made a speech on the BBC declaring that he and not the French leaders who would soon sign an armistice and set up the Nazi puppet Vichy regime truly represented the people of France. Though almost all of his countrymen could not see past their lamentable predicament at that moment, DeGaulle, almost alone, refused to submit. Like Churchill, he saw the war as more than merely a struggle of countries but of ideas. As he put it, “Honor, common sense and the best interest of our homeland all command the free French to fight.” He asked the French to consider that when “the forces of liberty finally triumph over those of servitude, what will be the destiny of a France which submitted to the enemy.” Though most of the French passively waited out the war until they were liberated by the sacrifices of others, De Gaulle not only saved the honor of his country but also inspired many Frenchmen and others to fight on against the Nazis.

Taken together, it is easy now to see these two statements as examples of how true statesmen can react at a crucial moment of history. By contrast, today the United States may be in a far stronger position than was Britain and France in 1940, but it, too, is faced with grave threats to its security that force it to fight wars that also demand inspired leadership. But it is led by a man who prides himself above all on his cool temperament, his willingness to see the world in terms of moral equivalences, his irrepressible desire to apologize to enemies of freedom rather than to confront them, and to temporize and prevaricate and to choose half measures when faced with dilemmas rather than to act decisively and with honor.

Comparisons with historical greatness are inevitably invidious, but seen in this light, the gap between Churchill and De Gaulle on the one hand and Barack Obama on the other must force Americans to sadly admit that this is not our finest hour.

Read Less

Rediscovering the Wonders of Federalism in the Gulf

In reviewing the chaos, confusion, and bureaucratic snafus associated with the response to the BP oil spill, David Brooks discovers that “we have a federalism problem.” He observes:

All around the region there are local officials who think they know their towns best. They feel insulted by a distant and opaque bureaucracy lurking above. The balance between federal oversight and local control is off-kilter. We have vested too much authority in national officials who are really smart, but who are really distant. We should be leaving more power with local officials, who may not be as expert, but who have the advantage of being there on the ground.

Umm, we have a president — who came highly recommended as “really smart” — who has decided to federalize health care and the car industry and would like to do the same with industrial emissions, financial regulation, and almost anything else he can get his hands on. And “smart,” as we have learned the hard way, doesn’t mean smart about managing a crisis, or smart about economics, or smart about the medical profession, or smart about any other area of governance. In sum, the people in Washington, especially the president, may be glib and polished, but they possess no monopoly on “smart”; rather, they have an acute shortage of common sense and business experience.

This is a good reminder to be wary of giving the federal government tasks outside its expertise — which includes more than cleaning up an oil spill.

In reviewing the chaos, confusion, and bureaucratic snafus associated with the response to the BP oil spill, David Brooks discovers that “we have a federalism problem.” He observes:

All around the region there are local officials who think they know their towns best. They feel insulted by a distant and opaque bureaucracy lurking above. The balance between federal oversight and local control is off-kilter. We have vested too much authority in national officials who are really smart, but who are really distant. We should be leaving more power with local officials, who may not be as expert, but who have the advantage of being there on the ground.

Umm, we have a president — who came highly recommended as “really smart” — who has decided to federalize health care and the car industry and would like to do the same with industrial emissions, financial regulation, and almost anything else he can get his hands on. And “smart,” as we have learned the hard way, doesn’t mean smart about managing a crisis, or smart about economics, or smart about the medical profession, or smart about any other area of governance. In sum, the people in Washington, especially the president, may be glib and polished, but they possess no monopoly on “smart”; rather, they have an acute shortage of common sense and business experience.

This is a good reminder to be wary of giving the federal government tasks outside its expertise — which includes more than cleaning up an oil spill.

Read Less

Still Out to Lunch on the Economy

Rep. Joe Barton’s statement wasn’t the most damaging political comment of the day. After all, he’s  not in the Republican leadership, and was forced to recant for rudely pointing out that once again the federal government was bullying private industry. Actually, the dumbest and most harmful thing said on Thursday came from Joe Biden, who managed to remind the voters how out of touch the White House is:

Vice President Joe Biden says the economic recovery act deserves credit for creating or saving upward of 2.8 million jobs so far, with thousands more projects coming soon in a busy summer of construction. At the White House Thursday, the vice president told reporters: “Folks, the act is working.”

With unemployment at historic highs — and predicted to stay that way for some time — and in the wake of another month of anemic private-sector job growth, virtually no one outside the White House believes this is true. Indeed, Biden’s timing could not have been worse:

The number of people filing new claims for jobless benefits jumped last week after three straight declines, another sign that the pace of layoffs has not slowed. Initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 472,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the highest level in a month and overshadowed a report that showed consumer prices remain essentially flat.

The public, as on health care and the oil spill, seems to have formed its opinion of the president’s performance. And it has come to see that White House utterances are often ludicrously wrong. The stimulus was going to keep unemployment at 8 percent. The health-care reform was going to cut the deficit. ObamaCare was going to let you keep your health-care plan.

By repeating spin that the public has already rejected, the White House isn’t changing anyone’s mind. Biden, like Obama and his economic advisers, is simply reinforcing the perception that the administration is either oblivious or dishonest — or both.

Rep. Joe Barton’s statement wasn’t the most damaging political comment of the day. After all, he’s  not in the Republican leadership, and was forced to recant for rudely pointing out that once again the federal government was bullying private industry. Actually, the dumbest and most harmful thing said on Thursday came from Joe Biden, who managed to remind the voters how out of touch the White House is:

Vice President Joe Biden says the economic recovery act deserves credit for creating or saving upward of 2.8 million jobs so far, with thousands more projects coming soon in a busy summer of construction. At the White House Thursday, the vice president told reporters: “Folks, the act is working.”

With unemployment at historic highs — and predicted to stay that way for some time — and in the wake of another month of anemic private-sector job growth, virtually no one outside the White House believes this is true. Indeed, Biden’s timing could not have been worse:

The number of people filing new claims for jobless benefits jumped last week after three straight declines, another sign that the pace of layoffs has not slowed. Initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 472,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the highest level in a month and overshadowed a report that showed consumer prices remain essentially flat.

The public, as on health care and the oil spill, seems to have formed its opinion of the president’s performance. And it has come to see that White House utterances are often ludicrously wrong. The stimulus was going to keep unemployment at 8 percent. The health-care reform was going to cut the deficit. ObamaCare was going to let you keep your health-care plan.

By repeating spin that the public has already rejected, the White House isn’t changing anyone’s mind. Biden, like Obama and his economic advisers, is simply reinforcing the perception that the administration is either oblivious or dishonest — or both.

Read Less

Disapproval of Oil Spill Continues, with Speeches to No Avail

Public disapproval of how Barack Obama has handled the oil spill has increased 15 percentage points from a month ago. I rather doubt that the president’s Oval Office address last night will reverse this slide.

Public disapproval of how Barack Obama has handled the oil spill has increased 15 percentage points from a month ago. I rather doubt that the president’s Oval Office address last night will reverse this slide.

Read Less

Unmasked in Plain Sight

Peter Wehner and Jennifer Rubin have thoroughly dissected the lameness of Obama’s speech last night on the oil spill. I agree with their takes, but was also struck by the reaction of the people in the Frank Luntz citizen panel featured by Sean Hannity in his Fox show after the speech. I expected them to find the speech weak, but I was surprised to hear so many argue that Obama’s rhetoric had focused on getting cap-and-trade legislation passed rather than on responding pragmatically to the oil spill.

This surprised me because Obama was actually oblique and nonspecific in his agenda-related references. Bill O’Reilly, in his discussions with Sarah Palin and Monica Crowley right after the speech, pointed out to them that Obama did not, in fact, press for the cap-and-trade legislation. He merely adduced the oil spill as a catalyst for reducing America’s dependence on oil and developing a sustainable energy policy. I suspect this absence of explicit policy references is what’s so particularly trying to the president’s supporters on the left. When Keith Olbermann, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews speak of Obama’s failing to project leadership, they mean Obama is allowing this crisis to go to waste.

But Frank Luntz’s panelists saw it differently. As far as most of them were concerned, Obama is not letting the crisis go to waste at all. Regardless of what he said, what they heard was that the president is more focused on passing cap-and-trade than on controlling the consequences of the oil spill.

If Luntz’s panelists are truly representative, as he labors to ensure they are, then there seems to be a decisive loss for Obama of the benefit of public doubt. The MSNBC pundits, for their part, were hoping to see Obama masterfully unite rhetoric, storytelling, and leadership to justify the carbon-tax program — justify it so thoroughly and inspirationally that its opponents would be confounded. It disappointed them not to get such a performance, but the absence of it was meaningless to the perceptions of the Luntz panelists. They held themselves undeceived: whatever he says, Obama is pushing for cap-and-trade.

This is a case in which the prosaic public mind is probably more acute than the perceptions of many in the punditry. Obama never achieved a soaring persuasiveness or any appearance of moral leadership in wrangling Congress to pass ObamaCare either. The American public spent painful months watching his detached, scheming Oval Office issue perfunctory sound bites by day while bribing and arm-twisting by night. It was a “Chicago machine” performance, devoid of even the superficial romance of true believers’ passion.

There is nothing today that justifies interpreting the president’s vagueness last night as a sign of moderation or judicious jury’s-still-out indecision. Frank Luntz’s panelists probably have Obama pegged. He’s pushing cap-and-trade. He may simply have seen no reason to provoke a backlash by making a more overt case on Tuesday evening. Doing so could well have been a tactical error, one that would have interfered later with ramming cap-and-trade through by holding congressmen at political gunpoint.

Peter Wehner and Jennifer Rubin have thoroughly dissected the lameness of Obama’s speech last night on the oil spill. I agree with their takes, but was also struck by the reaction of the people in the Frank Luntz citizen panel featured by Sean Hannity in his Fox show after the speech. I expected them to find the speech weak, but I was surprised to hear so many argue that Obama’s rhetoric had focused on getting cap-and-trade legislation passed rather than on responding pragmatically to the oil spill.

This surprised me because Obama was actually oblique and nonspecific in his agenda-related references. Bill O’Reilly, in his discussions with Sarah Palin and Monica Crowley right after the speech, pointed out to them that Obama did not, in fact, press for the cap-and-trade legislation. He merely adduced the oil spill as a catalyst for reducing America’s dependence on oil and developing a sustainable energy policy. I suspect this absence of explicit policy references is what’s so particularly trying to the president’s supporters on the left. When Keith Olbermann, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews speak of Obama’s failing to project leadership, they mean Obama is allowing this crisis to go to waste.

But Frank Luntz’s panelists saw it differently. As far as most of them were concerned, Obama is not letting the crisis go to waste at all. Regardless of what he said, what they heard was that the president is more focused on passing cap-and-trade than on controlling the consequences of the oil spill.

If Luntz’s panelists are truly representative, as he labors to ensure they are, then there seems to be a decisive loss for Obama of the benefit of public doubt. The MSNBC pundits, for their part, were hoping to see Obama masterfully unite rhetoric, storytelling, and leadership to justify the carbon-tax program — justify it so thoroughly and inspirationally that its opponents would be confounded. It disappointed them not to get such a performance, but the absence of it was meaningless to the perceptions of the Luntz panelists. They held themselves undeceived: whatever he says, Obama is pushing for cap-and-trade.

This is a case in which the prosaic public mind is probably more acute than the perceptions of many in the punditry. Obama never achieved a soaring persuasiveness or any appearance of moral leadership in wrangling Congress to pass ObamaCare either. The American public spent painful months watching his detached, scheming Oval Office issue perfunctory sound bites by day while bribing and arm-twisting by night. It was a “Chicago machine” performance, devoid of even the superficial romance of true believers’ passion.

There is nothing today that justifies interpreting the president’s vagueness last night as a sign of moderation or judicious jury’s-still-out indecision. Frank Luntz’s panelists probably have Obama pegged. He’s pushing cap-and-trade. He may simply have seen no reason to provoke a backlash by making a more overt case on Tuesday evening. Doing so could well have been a tactical error, one that would have interfered later with ramming cap-and-trade through by holding congressmen at political gunpoint.

Read Less

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way in Afghanistan

Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger, sometime consultant to General McChrystal, and a Middle East expert who blogs as “Abu Muqawama,” joins in the general hand-wringing over the state of Afghanistan. He says it’s “probably true” that the “United States and its allies have vital interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” but like much of the commentariat, he is growing pessimistic about our chances of safeguarding those interests. He renounces his previous belief that the “United States and its allies will devote the time, money, and troops to execute a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.” He now writes that this is “probably false”:

For a variety of reasons — some good, some less good, some having to do with massive oil spills that didn’t exist in 2009 and a financial crisis that didn’t exist in 2007 — the United States and its allies will likely not provide the resources necessary for a long-term counterinsurgency effort. They might have in 2003. But in 2009? In retrospect, it was always going to be unlikely, and I think I personally overestimated U.S. and allied resources available (including but not limited to political will).

I agree with him that the political will to prevail appears to be waning. But I think it’s bizarre that he treats “political will” as a fixed, exogenous factor like the weather or the terrain. Hurricane Katrina did not make impossible the success of the surge in Iraq; so too the BP oil spill does not make impossible the success of the ongoing surge in Afghanistan. The question is whether President Obama will have the will to see this through as President Bush did in the face of much greater public opposition.

All it would take would be a speech from the president saying something like this: “I was wrong about trying to set a timeline for American withdrawal. I wanted to inject fresh vigor into our military and diplomatic efforts. But I now realize that my talk about starting to pull American troops out next summer has been misinterpreted; it has caused some in the region to doubt our resolve. So let me be clear. We will stay as long as necessary to defeat the cruel evil of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and associated extremists. I now pledge that, to paraphrase another young Democratic president, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty in Afghanistan.”

Boom. With a few gutsy words like that, President Obama could instantly change assumptions about our willpower. That’s all it would take, because in all likelihood the Democratic Party would fall in behind him — or at least not challenge him too aggressively. Republicans, for their part, would enthusiastically support him as they have whenever he has increased our commitment to Afghanistan.

I admit that this is unlikely to happen (particularly the last line from John F. Kennedy, a very different kind of Democrat!), but it’s hardly impossible given that Obama has already done full or partial flip-flops on other issues, such as civil trials for terrorists and the closing of Gitmo. We have the resources (money, manpower) to prevail in Afghanistan — just as we had the resources to prevail in Iraq. The question is whether President Obama will commit those resources and give our commanders the time needed to make effective use of them.

That remains to be determined, but I would caution Andrew and others about suggesting that the necessary willpower simply doesn’t exist and can’t be manufactured. That can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger, sometime consultant to General McChrystal, and a Middle East expert who blogs as “Abu Muqawama,” joins in the general hand-wringing over the state of Afghanistan. He says it’s “probably true” that the “United States and its allies have vital interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” but like much of the commentariat, he is growing pessimistic about our chances of safeguarding those interests. He renounces his previous belief that the “United States and its allies will devote the time, money, and troops to execute a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.” He now writes that this is “probably false”:

For a variety of reasons — some good, some less good, some having to do with massive oil spills that didn’t exist in 2009 and a financial crisis that didn’t exist in 2007 — the United States and its allies will likely not provide the resources necessary for a long-term counterinsurgency effort. They might have in 2003. But in 2009? In retrospect, it was always going to be unlikely, and I think I personally overestimated U.S. and allied resources available (including but not limited to political will).

I agree with him that the political will to prevail appears to be waning. But I think it’s bizarre that he treats “political will” as a fixed, exogenous factor like the weather or the terrain. Hurricane Katrina did not make impossible the success of the surge in Iraq; so too the BP oil spill does not make impossible the success of the ongoing surge in Afghanistan. The question is whether President Obama will have the will to see this through as President Bush did in the face of much greater public opposition.

All it would take would be a speech from the president saying something like this: “I was wrong about trying to set a timeline for American withdrawal. I wanted to inject fresh vigor into our military and diplomatic efforts. But I now realize that my talk about starting to pull American troops out next summer has been misinterpreted; it has caused some in the region to doubt our resolve. So let me be clear. We will stay as long as necessary to defeat the cruel evil of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and associated extremists. I now pledge that, to paraphrase another young Democratic president, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty in Afghanistan.”

Boom. With a few gutsy words like that, President Obama could instantly change assumptions about our willpower. That’s all it would take, because in all likelihood the Democratic Party would fall in behind him — or at least not challenge him too aggressively. Republicans, for their part, would enthusiastically support him as they have whenever he has increased our commitment to Afghanistan.

I admit that this is unlikely to happen (particularly the last line from John F. Kennedy, a very different kind of Democrat!), but it’s hardly impossible given that Obama has already done full or partial flip-flops on other issues, such as civil trials for terrorists and the closing of Gitmo. We have the resources (money, manpower) to prevail in Afghanistan — just as we had the resources to prevail in Iraq. The question is whether President Obama will commit those resources and give our commanders the time needed to make effective use of them.

That remains to be determined, but I would caution Andrew and others about suggesting that the necessary willpower simply doesn’t exist and can’t be manufactured. That can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Read Less

The Liberal Tipping Point Away from Obama

Jen and Pete, you both point out the grave disappointment expressed last night about Barack Obama’s speech on the part of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and Howard Fineman. This is a significant development, because it indicates this is a liberal tipping point — both tactical and emotional — away from Barack Obama.

The bad polling news for Democrats and Obama, the apparent refusal of the economy to turn itself around dramatically enough to stave off a reckoning in the November elections, the worrisome headlines from Afghanistan, and the increasing public confusion about the response to the oil spill are now taking their toll on the finger-in-the-wind brigade. I’m referring to that breed of media and political professionals whose enthusiasm for the politicians they support and admire is conditioned in part on how the politicians are doing. The finger-in-the-wind brigade is made up of fair-weather friends. When they feel the political breezes shifting, they shift as well — from passionate support to analytical distance, then to careful criticism, then confused dismay, and eventually to outright contempt. This happened to George W. Bush in 2005 among the finger-in-the-wind brigade on the conservative side, and it’s now happening in 2010 on the liberal side.

In their various expressions of dismay and worry and even contempt, the members of the fair-weather brigade are holding Obama to a peculiar standard. They seem to want him to transmute the oil spill into a huge moral drama with BP or capitalism or deregulation or the carbon-based economy itself as the villain and Obama himself as the crusading muckraker who will take the bad guys down. Obama himself would like to do nothing more. That’s why, in just three days’ time, he (a) likened the oil spill to 9/11, (b) compared the cleanup to the American response to World War II, and (c) said that if we could put a man on the moon, we could fix the whole oil problem. He wants to figure out how to make this a “game changer” for him and for his left-liberal agenda.

The problem is, it can’t be. The accident was an accident, and the cleanup after the accident is one of those godawful, uninspiring, unthrilling, and highly confusing tasks that inevitably follow any accident. Nobody seems quite to have known what to do and when, and there were and are conflicting crosscurrents involving the potential environmental damage from the cleanup itself that cannot be wished or willed away through strong “leadership.” What’s happening is a catastrophe, but it’s the result of something very, very big that cannot be turned into a cause Obama can fight —  decades’ worth of policy decisions based on the desire to extract billions of gallons of oil invisibly, without public complaint, so that no one would have to see a rig or smell the work the way everybody in the New York metropolitan used to have to roll up his windows and put on the air conditioner going past exit 12 on the New Jersey Turnpike when Standard Oil refineries were still active there. The temptation to believe in semi-magical oil extraction proved so great that Obama himself found it irresistible this year.

But if the standard to which they are holding Obama is impossible, that’s because it’s hoist-by-his-own-petard time for Obama, as brought to you by Euripides. Anyone who greets a primary victory as Obama did in 2008 by saying that history would record that “this was the moment when the oceans began to recede” is just asking for it. And “it” may be upon him.

Jen and Pete, you both point out the grave disappointment expressed last night about Barack Obama’s speech on the part of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and Howard Fineman. This is a significant development, because it indicates this is a liberal tipping point — both tactical and emotional — away from Barack Obama.

The bad polling news for Democrats and Obama, the apparent refusal of the economy to turn itself around dramatically enough to stave off a reckoning in the November elections, the worrisome headlines from Afghanistan, and the increasing public confusion about the response to the oil spill are now taking their toll on the finger-in-the-wind brigade. I’m referring to that breed of media and political professionals whose enthusiasm for the politicians they support and admire is conditioned in part on how the politicians are doing. The finger-in-the-wind brigade is made up of fair-weather friends. When they feel the political breezes shifting, they shift as well — from passionate support to analytical distance, then to careful criticism, then confused dismay, and eventually to outright contempt. This happened to George W. Bush in 2005 among the finger-in-the-wind brigade on the conservative side, and it’s now happening in 2010 on the liberal side.

In their various expressions of dismay and worry and even contempt, the members of the fair-weather brigade are holding Obama to a peculiar standard. They seem to want him to transmute the oil spill into a huge moral drama with BP or capitalism or deregulation or the carbon-based economy itself as the villain and Obama himself as the crusading muckraker who will take the bad guys down. Obama himself would like to do nothing more. That’s why, in just three days’ time, he (a) likened the oil spill to 9/11, (b) compared the cleanup to the American response to World War II, and (c) said that if we could put a man on the moon, we could fix the whole oil problem. He wants to figure out how to make this a “game changer” for him and for his left-liberal agenda.

The problem is, it can’t be. The accident was an accident, and the cleanup after the accident is one of those godawful, uninspiring, unthrilling, and highly confusing tasks that inevitably follow any accident. Nobody seems quite to have known what to do and when, and there were and are conflicting crosscurrents involving the potential environmental damage from the cleanup itself that cannot be wished or willed away through strong “leadership.” What’s happening is a catastrophe, but it’s the result of something very, very big that cannot be turned into a cause Obama can fight —  decades’ worth of policy decisions based on the desire to extract billions of gallons of oil invisibly, without public complaint, so that no one would have to see a rig or smell the work the way everybody in the New York metropolitan used to have to roll up his windows and put on the air conditioner going past exit 12 on the New Jersey Turnpike when Standard Oil refineries were still active there. The temptation to believe in semi-magical oil extraction proved so great that Obama himself found it irresistible this year.

But if the standard to which they are holding Obama is impossible, that’s because it’s hoist-by-his-own-petard time for Obama, as brought to you by Euripides. Anyone who greets a primary victory as Obama did in 2008 by saying that history would record that “this was the moment when the oceans began to recede” is just asking for it. And “it” may be upon him.

Read Less

RE: Obama’s Boring Speech

Things have gotten so bad for Obama that MSNBC pundits sound like me. The troika of Keith Olbermann, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews, ripping Obama’s Oval Office speech with the bitterness of spurned lovers, complain he didn’t do much or say much or project much leadership. And indeed, with his hands folded on that really big and empty desk, you got the impression not that Obama was in charge of that office but that he didn’t do much real work there.

Salon’s Joan Walsh was similarly dismissive. (“I was underwhelmed by President Obama’s first Oval Office speech, as I expected to be. From the moment he began, hands folded on his desk like a well-behaved student, the imagery and energy was off, inadequate to the visual, horror-movie scope of the Gulf oil disaster.”) Maureen Dowd remains infuriated with the hapless president. (“How can a man who was a dazzling enough politician to become the first black president at age 47 suddenly become so obdurately self-destructive about politics?”) Hmm. Because he’s in over his head? Because all he’s ever done is promote himself? Even Politico — the Daily Variety of D.C., which has few harsh words for the town’s stars — acknowledged that “this wasn’t one of Obama’s best speeches” and observed “it wasn’t entirely clear where Obama would go from here to achieve this ‘national mission.'”

This was  certainly the liberal media’s big chance to write the “Comeback Kid” story on the oil spill, as they tried to do after every equally ineffective health-care address (“Game changer!” we heard after nothing at all was changed). Instead, they informed the president that he’s no FDR. (Howard Fineman: “It was Obama who compared the Gulf disaster to World War Two, and it was, unfortunately, Obama who was unable to approach let alone match the specificity, combativeness and passion of Franklin Roosevelt.”) Have they suddenly become more savvy or recovered their objectivity? Perhaps they see it all crumbling — the generic polling, the NPR poll, and the president’s ratings slide all confirm that Obama and his party are heading for a drubbing.

Not unlike what the White House did to Creigh Deeds: rather than admit to the failure of liberal ideas, the easiest solution is to blame the candidate — in this case, the perpetual candidate who resides in the White House. So just as readily as they scrambled onto the Obama bandwagon, they are scurrying off. The MSNBC gang and liberal columnists look now to empathize with and retain the loyalty of their liberal audience, which is frustrated that the “sort of a God” has proved inept.

The same “Run for your lives!” mentality will soon take hold of the Democrats on the ballot. Whether they aim to reconnect with their base (as Bill Halter tried to do) or dash to the center of the political spectrum, they will flee from association with the president for whom they walked the plank on vote after vote. I suspect they will have as hard a time retaining voters as MSNBC, Salon, and the New York Times will in keeping their target audience and readership. The Democratic base is depressed — for good reason — and probably won’t be much interested in voting, watching gobs of cable news, or reading endless recriminations from aggrieved columnists as the liberal media tracks the descent of the Obama presidency.

Things have gotten so bad for Obama that MSNBC pundits sound like me. The troika of Keith Olbermann, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews, ripping Obama’s Oval Office speech with the bitterness of spurned lovers, complain he didn’t do much or say much or project much leadership. And indeed, with his hands folded on that really big and empty desk, you got the impression not that Obama was in charge of that office but that he didn’t do much real work there.

Salon’s Joan Walsh was similarly dismissive. (“I was underwhelmed by President Obama’s first Oval Office speech, as I expected to be. From the moment he began, hands folded on his desk like a well-behaved student, the imagery and energy was off, inadequate to the visual, horror-movie scope of the Gulf oil disaster.”) Maureen Dowd remains infuriated with the hapless president. (“How can a man who was a dazzling enough politician to become the first black president at age 47 suddenly become so obdurately self-destructive about politics?”) Hmm. Because he’s in over his head? Because all he’s ever done is promote himself? Even Politico — the Daily Variety of D.C., which has few harsh words for the town’s stars — acknowledged that “this wasn’t one of Obama’s best speeches” and observed “it wasn’t entirely clear where Obama would go from here to achieve this ‘national mission.'”

This was  certainly the liberal media’s big chance to write the “Comeback Kid” story on the oil spill, as they tried to do after every equally ineffective health-care address (“Game changer!” we heard after nothing at all was changed). Instead, they informed the president that he’s no FDR. (Howard Fineman: “It was Obama who compared the Gulf disaster to World War Two, and it was, unfortunately, Obama who was unable to approach let alone match the specificity, combativeness and passion of Franklin Roosevelt.”) Have they suddenly become more savvy or recovered their objectivity? Perhaps they see it all crumbling — the generic polling, the NPR poll, and the president’s ratings slide all confirm that Obama and his party are heading for a drubbing.

Not unlike what the White House did to Creigh Deeds: rather than admit to the failure of liberal ideas, the easiest solution is to blame the candidate — in this case, the perpetual candidate who resides in the White House. So just as readily as they scrambled onto the Obama bandwagon, they are scurrying off. The MSNBC gang and liberal columnists look now to empathize with and retain the loyalty of their liberal audience, which is frustrated that the “sort of a God” has proved inept.

The same “Run for your lives!” mentality will soon take hold of the Democrats on the ballot. Whether they aim to reconnect with their base (as Bill Halter tried to do) or dash to the center of the political spectrum, they will flee from association with the president for whom they walked the plank on vote after vote. I suspect they will have as hard a time retaining voters as MSNBC, Salon, and the New York Times will in keeping their target audience and readership. The Democratic base is depressed — for good reason — and probably won’t be much interested in voting, watching gobs of cable news, or reading endless recriminations from aggrieved columnists as the liberal media tracks the descent of the Obama presidency.

Read Less

Obama’s Problem Isn’t Leadership — It’s Liberal Policy

In the endless wake of the BP oil spill, the new word is leadership. Everyone from Mitt Romney to James Carville to Maureen Dowd says that Barack Obama is in desperate need of some. In the New York Times, Dowd questioned how Obama came to “lose control of his own narrative.” On Good Morning America, Carville told George Stephanopoulos that Obama “looks like he’s not in control.” Romney penned a USA Today column about the absence of presidential command. “When a crisis is upon us,” he wrote, “America wants a leader, not a politician.” Go to any source and you’ll learn that Obama plays too much golf, shows too little anger, and is far too aloof to be a successful leader.

The criticisms have merit but are, in the end, secondary. If Obama’s policies — in the Gulf and beyond — were demonstrably effective, the same leadership style would be overlooked or reflexively praised. Reclaiming your own narrative — whatever that means — won’t get results; nor will looking like you’re in control or projecting bottomless empathy. Successful policy implementation gets results.

The popular exemplar here is Rudolph Giuliani. Yet national memory has skipped over important mundane details because New York City did, in fact, pull through after it was attacked. “We saw leadership on Sept. 11, 2001,” Romney wrote. “Rudy camped out at Ground Zero — he didn’t hole up in his office or retreat to his residence.” But if that’s all Giuliani did, his 9/11 performance would have gone down as hollow grandstanding. As Michael Powell reported in the New York Times, “There was garbage pickup on Sept. 12. City payroll checks went out on Sept. 13. On the sixth day, the stock exchange opened. Security was omnipresent.”

Speeches aside, had trash piled up on street corners and security been wanting, no one would have called Giuliani “America’s mayor.” Leadership isn’t an impressionistic art form in which symbols are aligned and tones calibrated in a decision-free vacuum. Leadership, rather, is public perception alongside the fact of concrete accomplishment.

And is it really accurate to say that Obama lacks the ability to head up a crusade, anyway? Even if we discount his force-of-nature presidential campaign, it wasn’t long ago that pundits were calling him unstoppable for ramming through transformative health-care legislation with barely a handful of true supporters.

Blaming Americans’ sense of uncertainty on the absence of a vaporous trait called presidential leadership isn’t only wrong; it’s detrimental to recovery because it lets bad policy off the hook. Obama believes in the power of government to fix the glitches and hazards of the free market. But every day, as the country watches the furious leak on the BP spill-cam juxtaposed with the manufactured fury of the White House, it’s more convinced of the limitations of big government. And as Americans learn of Washington’s pressure to push offshore drilling farther out into more risky depths, faith in regulation becomes its opposite. All this leaves Obama selling unrealistic policy. No amount of press conferences or beachfront photo-ops will change that. Giuliani simply held fast to what he knew the government could reasonably deliver: police protection and basic municipal services.

Most critical, the policy failings highlighted by the reaction to the spill reinforce Americans’ misgivings about the administration’s larger policy direction. People want jobs and, despite Obama’s claim of “saving” them, the most recent job-growth numbers prove that federal spending is insufficient to the task of raising employment levels. (Nevertheless, the president has just asked Congress for an additional $50 billion in recovery funds.) If Obama was successfully creating jobs, no one would dream of saddling him with the responsibility for a piece of commercial machinery that went bad 5,000 feet under the ocean. On top of unemployment worries, new independent reports on ObamaCare have cast credible doubts on its claims to consumer choice, expanded senior coverage, and general affordability. Not least damaging to Obama’s vision of a more activist federal government is the historic economic collapse of the European entitlement state.

On June 13, the New York Times’s Caucus blog noted, “Polls show that American voters give Mr. Obama the same mixed evaluation as before the spill. They like him personally but have reservations about his policies.” So, for all the convictions of the pundit class, this isn’t about the president’s personal qualities, leadership included. If Obama’s policies were enjoying success, Americans would be happy to call him a new kind of leader, a stealth leader, a reluctant leader, something. But with his agenda in such disrepair, it’s hard even to imagine what exactly Obama is expected to lead. The candidate who had promised to lower the sea levels is now stuck on the ocean floor.

In the endless wake of the BP oil spill, the new word is leadership. Everyone from Mitt Romney to James Carville to Maureen Dowd says that Barack Obama is in desperate need of some. In the New York Times, Dowd questioned how Obama came to “lose control of his own narrative.” On Good Morning America, Carville told George Stephanopoulos that Obama “looks like he’s not in control.” Romney penned a USA Today column about the absence of presidential command. “When a crisis is upon us,” he wrote, “America wants a leader, not a politician.” Go to any source and you’ll learn that Obama plays too much golf, shows too little anger, and is far too aloof to be a successful leader.

The criticisms have merit but are, in the end, secondary. If Obama’s policies — in the Gulf and beyond — were demonstrably effective, the same leadership style would be overlooked or reflexively praised. Reclaiming your own narrative — whatever that means — won’t get results; nor will looking like you’re in control or projecting bottomless empathy. Successful policy implementation gets results.

The popular exemplar here is Rudolph Giuliani. Yet national memory has skipped over important mundane details because New York City did, in fact, pull through after it was attacked. “We saw leadership on Sept. 11, 2001,” Romney wrote. “Rudy camped out at Ground Zero — he didn’t hole up in his office or retreat to his residence.” But if that’s all Giuliani did, his 9/11 performance would have gone down as hollow grandstanding. As Michael Powell reported in the New York Times, “There was garbage pickup on Sept. 12. City payroll checks went out on Sept. 13. On the sixth day, the stock exchange opened. Security was omnipresent.”

Speeches aside, had trash piled up on street corners and security been wanting, no one would have called Giuliani “America’s mayor.” Leadership isn’t an impressionistic art form in which symbols are aligned and tones calibrated in a decision-free vacuum. Leadership, rather, is public perception alongside the fact of concrete accomplishment.

And is it really accurate to say that Obama lacks the ability to head up a crusade, anyway? Even if we discount his force-of-nature presidential campaign, it wasn’t long ago that pundits were calling him unstoppable for ramming through transformative health-care legislation with barely a handful of true supporters.

Blaming Americans’ sense of uncertainty on the absence of a vaporous trait called presidential leadership isn’t only wrong; it’s detrimental to recovery because it lets bad policy off the hook. Obama believes in the power of government to fix the glitches and hazards of the free market. But every day, as the country watches the furious leak on the BP spill-cam juxtaposed with the manufactured fury of the White House, it’s more convinced of the limitations of big government. And as Americans learn of Washington’s pressure to push offshore drilling farther out into more risky depths, faith in regulation becomes its opposite. All this leaves Obama selling unrealistic policy. No amount of press conferences or beachfront photo-ops will change that. Giuliani simply held fast to what he knew the government could reasonably deliver: police protection and basic municipal services.

Most critical, the policy failings highlighted by the reaction to the spill reinforce Americans’ misgivings about the administration’s larger policy direction. People want jobs and, despite Obama’s claim of “saving” them, the most recent job-growth numbers prove that federal spending is insufficient to the task of raising employment levels. (Nevertheless, the president has just asked Congress for an additional $50 billion in recovery funds.) If Obama was successfully creating jobs, no one would dream of saddling him with the responsibility for a piece of commercial machinery that went bad 5,000 feet under the ocean. On top of unemployment worries, new independent reports on ObamaCare have cast credible doubts on its claims to consumer choice, expanded senior coverage, and general affordability. Not least damaging to Obama’s vision of a more activist federal government is the historic economic collapse of the European entitlement state.

On June 13, the New York Times’s Caucus blog noted, “Polls show that American voters give Mr. Obama the same mixed evaluation as before the spill. They like him personally but have reservations about his policies.” So, for all the convictions of the pundit class, this isn’t about the president’s personal qualities, leadership included. If Obama’s policies were enjoying success, Americans would be happy to call him a new kind of leader, a stealth leader, a reluctant leader, something. But with his agenda in such disrepair, it’s hard even to imagine what exactly Obama is expected to lead. The candidate who had promised to lower the sea levels is now stuck on the ocean floor.

Read Less

Obama, the Oil Spill, and 9/11

What was the president thinking when he likened the oil spill to the attacks of September 11? My analysis here.

What was the president thinking when he likened the oil spill to the attacks of September 11? My analysis here.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama is finally meeting expectations: “That the WH would hold discussions with candidates about running for office, as they did with ex-CO House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D), is no surprise to most; 65% of voters — including 56% of GOPers — say it is business as usual for a WH to encourage candidates not to run for office. But a clear majority also believes the practice is either unethical or downright illegal. Four in 10 voters say the Obama admin had done something unethical, but not illegal; 12% said they believe the WH’s actions in approaching both Romanoff and Sestak about other jobs was illegal. Just 30% said the WH hadn’t done anything wrong.”

With technology at everyone’s fingertips, the public is finally getting a look at how too many politicians behave. But Rep. Etheridge apologized, so everything is OK, right? (Ben Smith dryly observes, “It’s pretty hard to think of a context in which Etheridge’s assault on the videographer would be acceptable.”)

Obama finally will address the country from the Oval Office. Not war, or bombings, or economic crisis, but rather a crisis in his own standing seems to have done it: “That the president has chosen this moment to give his first address from the Oval Office indicates not only the severity of the environmental and economic disaster caused by the BP oil spill, but also the perils the crisis poses for his presidency. With almost seven in ten Americans rating the federal response to the spill as negative — a worse rating than that for the government’s performance after Hurricane Katrina — the president’s political capital and his agenda are at risk.”

Iraqis finally get the knack of American democracy: “Iraq Parliament Opens, Then Recesses.”

Will American Jews finally wake up? “Asked if he sees Obama losing Jewish support, [Democrat Rep. Ron] Klein said, ‘I think there are a lot of people that are questioning. I’ve heard some people, a lot of conversations.'” I’ll believe it when I see the 2012 exit polls.

We finally have a perfect distillation of Obama’s foreign policy. The topic is Georgia, but Michael McFaul’s words could be applied to any issue: “Is it a foreign policy objective of the Obama administration to help end Russia’s occupation of Georgia in a peaceful manner and restore Georgia’s territorial integrity? Absolutely yes. … Have we made progress on the central objective? My answer is no. We haven’t. That’s the truth.”

The media finally have a beautiful, religious, conservative female candidate other than Sarah Palin to go after. She was endorsed by Palin, however. How long before there are demands for her OB-GYN files? Really, how certain are we that those adorable children are really hers?

Jonathan Chait finally discovers that the Beagle Blogger swings wildly from one position to another, mischaracterizing his opponents’ position.

Obama is finally meeting expectations: “That the WH would hold discussions with candidates about running for office, as they did with ex-CO House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D), is no surprise to most; 65% of voters — including 56% of GOPers — say it is business as usual for a WH to encourage candidates not to run for office. But a clear majority also believes the practice is either unethical or downright illegal. Four in 10 voters say the Obama admin had done something unethical, but not illegal; 12% said they believe the WH’s actions in approaching both Romanoff and Sestak about other jobs was illegal. Just 30% said the WH hadn’t done anything wrong.”

With technology at everyone’s fingertips, the public is finally getting a look at how too many politicians behave. But Rep. Etheridge apologized, so everything is OK, right? (Ben Smith dryly observes, “It’s pretty hard to think of a context in which Etheridge’s assault on the videographer would be acceptable.”)

Obama finally will address the country from the Oval Office. Not war, or bombings, or economic crisis, but rather a crisis in his own standing seems to have done it: “That the president has chosen this moment to give his first address from the Oval Office indicates not only the severity of the environmental and economic disaster caused by the BP oil spill, but also the perils the crisis poses for his presidency. With almost seven in ten Americans rating the federal response to the spill as negative — a worse rating than that for the government’s performance after Hurricane Katrina — the president’s political capital and his agenda are at risk.”

Iraqis finally get the knack of American democracy: “Iraq Parliament Opens, Then Recesses.”

Will American Jews finally wake up? “Asked if he sees Obama losing Jewish support, [Democrat Rep. Ron] Klein said, ‘I think there are a lot of people that are questioning. I’ve heard some people, a lot of conversations.'” I’ll believe it when I see the 2012 exit polls.

We finally have a perfect distillation of Obama’s foreign policy. The topic is Georgia, but Michael McFaul’s words could be applied to any issue: “Is it a foreign policy objective of the Obama administration to help end Russia’s occupation of Georgia in a peaceful manner and restore Georgia’s territorial integrity? Absolutely yes. … Have we made progress on the central objective? My answer is no. We haven’t. That’s the truth.”

The media finally have a beautiful, religious, conservative female candidate other than Sarah Palin to go after. She was endorsed by Palin, however. How long before there are demands for her OB-GYN files? Really, how certain are we that those adorable children are really hers?

Jonathan Chait finally discovers that the Beagle Blogger swings wildly from one position to another, mischaracterizing his opponents’ position.

Read Less

Obama Grasps at Straws

Barack Obama is learning the hard way about the limits of the power of the presidency.

Obama told Louisiana residents, who are confronting the worst environmental disaster in history because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that he couldn’t “suck it up with a straw.” “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama told residents from Grand Isle as they sat around a table together. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

When a major American city was 80 percent under water due to a breached levee caused by one of the worst hurricanes in our history, then-Senator Obama was silent about the limits on the power of the president. In fact, he excoriated his predecessor for his “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina, despite the fact that George W. Bush had to deal with local and state leaders far more incompetent than the ones facing Obama. “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe,” Obama said in 2008.

There was no mention of straws.

Obama’s comments to Louisiana residents come on top of what Obama told Politco’s Roger Simon in an interview. “The overwhelming majority of the American people” have reasonable expectations, Obama said. “What they hope and expect is for the president to do everything that’s within his power. They don’t expect us to be magicians.”

I think most American do have reasonable expectations of what a president can and cannot do. But if their expectations are reasonable, it is not because of anything Barack Obama has ever said before. In fact, you can review his speeches during the campaign, and you will find a lot about what a magical, transformational, hopeful, and historical moment his election would be. Even when offering a perfunctory acknowledgement of his own limitations, what Obama promised America was, even by campaign standards, extraordinary (see here and here.)

Yet almost 17 months into his presidency, the man who was going to remake this nation, who was going to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, who was going to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, who was going to open doors of opportunities to our kids and replace cynicism with hope and stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet — this man has come up short. None of this has come to pass. It turns out he cannot even, in his own words, “plug the damn hole.” He has not issued waivers that he should, nor has he provided Gulf Coast governors with the requests they need, nor coordinated the clean-up effort that the people of the Louisiana are begging for. He can do nothing, it seems, except blame others. The man whom, we were told, was the next Lincoln and FDR is coming to grips with his own impotence and ineptitude. From Iran to the Gulf of Mexico, from Middle East peace to job creation, from uniting our country to cleansing our politics, Barack Obama is being brought to his knees.

This doesn’t mean the Obama presidency is broken or beyond repair. And Obama’s admission of the limits to the power of the presidency is justified. The problem for the president is that his comments now were preceded by so much hubris. Obama and his aides set mythic expectations. Those expectations now lie in ruin. What we’re seeing was, therefore, inevitable and predictable. Barack Obama is reaping what he has sown. Let’s hope for the sake of the country that he learns from the punishing blows reality has dealt him.

Barack Obama is learning the hard way about the limits of the power of the presidency.

Obama told Louisiana residents, who are confronting the worst environmental disaster in history because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that he couldn’t “suck it up with a straw.” “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama told residents from Grand Isle as they sat around a table together. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

When a major American city was 80 percent under water due to a breached levee caused by one of the worst hurricanes in our history, then-Senator Obama was silent about the limits on the power of the president. In fact, he excoriated his predecessor for his “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina, despite the fact that George W. Bush had to deal with local and state leaders far more incompetent than the ones facing Obama. “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe,” Obama said in 2008.

There was no mention of straws.

Obama’s comments to Louisiana residents come on top of what Obama told Politco’s Roger Simon in an interview. “The overwhelming majority of the American people” have reasonable expectations, Obama said. “What they hope and expect is for the president to do everything that’s within his power. They don’t expect us to be magicians.”

I think most American do have reasonable expectations of what a president can and cannot do. But if their expectations are reasonable, it is not because of anything Barack Obama has ever said before. In fact, you can review his speeches during the campaign, and you will find a lot about what a magical, transformational, hopeful, and historical moment his election would be. Even when offering a perfunctory acknowledgement of his own limitations, what Obama promised America was, even by campaign standards, extraordinary (see here and here.)

Yet almost 17 months into his presidency, the man who was going to remake this nation, who was going to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, who was going to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, who was going to open doors of opportunities to our kids and replace cynicism with hope and stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet — this man has come up short. None of this has come to pass. It turns out he cannot even, in his own words, “plug the damn hole.” He has not issued waivers that he should, nor has he provided Gulf Coast governors with the requests they need, nor coordinated the clean-up effort that the people of the Louisiana are begging for. He can do nothing, it seems, except blame others. The man whom, we were told, was the next Lincoln and FDR is coming to grips with his own impotence and ineptitude. From Iran to the Gulf of Mexico, from Middle East peace to job creation, from uniting our country to cleansing our politics, Barack Obama is being brought to his knees.

This doesn’t mean the Obama presidency is broken or beyond repair. And Obama’s admission of the limits to the power of the presidency is justified. The problem for the president is that his comments now were preceded by so much hubris. Obama and his aides set mythic expectations. Those expectations now lie in ruin. What we’re seeing was, therefore, inevitable and predictable. Barack Obama is reaping what he has sown. Let’s hope for the sake of the country that he learns from the punishing blows reality has dealt him.

Read Less

Obama Failing on the Things the Public Cares Most About

We’ve seen oodles of polls of late, all reflecting a precipitous decline in Obama’s approval ratings. But none is more interesting than the poll by the Economist. It is all the more fascinating — and devastating for Obama — because it is a  poll of all adults, not registered or likely voters, which normally would tilt more to the Left. In other words, among likely voters Obama would probably be doing even worse.

The results show a president struggling. On the oil spill, 28% approve and 42% disapprove of his performance. On taxes, government spending, immigration, gun control, national defense, and terrorism the respondents say they are closer to the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. On gun control and national defense there is a double-digit gap. Democrats do better on regulating business (but within the margin of error), the environment, abortion (also within the margin of error), gay marriage, health care (by four points) and energy policy. In an enormous turnaround since Obama took office, the parties tie on the economy.

38 percent support the goals of the Tea Party movement; 27 percent do not. In a slew of areas (the Middle East, Afghanistan, energy policy, the environment, the economy, job security, health-care coverage, education, entitlement programs, the financial system, and Wall Street) the public thinks we are worse off than two years ago. There is no area in which the public thinks things have improved. They disapprove of Obama’s performance on Iraq, the economy (39 percent strongly so), immigration (41 percent strongly so), the environment, terrorism, gay rights, social security, the deficit (57 percent strongly or somewhat), Afghanistan, and taxes. On education they approve, but within the margin of error. Overall 44 percent approve of his performance and 49 percent do not.

With the exception of education and health care, the areas respondents are most concerned about (the economy, terrorism, social security, the budget deficit, and taxes) are ones on which Obama is doing very poorly and which most respondents believe have gotten worse in the last two years.

Finally, with regard to personal qualities, some of the results are stunning. Only 14 percent describe Obama as experienced, 47 percent don’t. (After 18 months in office, that is.) 31 percent  do not describe him as effective, only 25 percent do. 35 percent would not describe him as unifying, only 18 percent would. Although within the margin of error, more would not describe him as patriotic or in touch.

I go through these in some detail because the results present a picture of a president failing in nearly every area the public cares most about and who has lost the advantage on personal qualities, which were the foundation of his appeal as a candidate. In 18 months he has gone from “a sort of God” to “a sort of goat.” Maybe he can turn things around, but he has a long way to go.

We’ve seen oodles of polls of late, all reflecting a precipitous decline in Obama’s approval ratings. But none is more interesting than the poll by the Economist. It is all the more fascinating — and devastating for Obama — because it is a  poll of all adults, not registered or likely voters, which normally would tilt more to the Left. In other words, among likely voters Obama would probably be doing even worse.

The results show a president struggling. On the oil spill, 28% approve and 42% disapprove of his performance. On taxes, government spending, immigration, gun control, national defense, and terrorism the respondents say they are closer to the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. On gun control and national defense there is a double-digit gap. Democrats do better on regulating business (but within the margin of error), the environment, abortion (also within the margin of error), gay marriage, health care (by four points) and energy policy. In an enormous turnaround since Obama took office, the parties tie on the economy.

38 percent support the goals of the Tea Party movement; 27 percent do not. In a slew of areas (the Middle East, Afghanistan, energy policy, the environment, the economy, job security, health-care coverage, education, entitlement programs, the financial system, and Wall Street) the public thinks we are worse off than two years ago. There is no area in which the public thinks things have improved. They disapprove of Obama’s performance on Iraq, the economy (39 percent strongly so), immigration (41 percent strongly so), the environment, terrorism, gay rights, social security, the deficit (57 percent strongly or somewhat), Afghanistan, and taxes. On education they approve, but within the margin of error. Overall 44 percent approve of his performance and 49 percent do not.

With the exception of education and health care, the areas respondents are most concerned about (the economy, terrorism, social security, the budget deficit, and taxes) are ones on which Obama is doing very poorly and which most respondents believe have gotten worse in the last two years.

Finally, with regard to personal qualities, some of the results are stunning. Only 14 percent describe Obama as experienced, 47 percent don’t. (After 18 months in office, that is.) 31 percent  do not describe him as effective, only 25 percent do. 35 percent would not describe him as unifying, only 18 percent would. Although within the margin of error, more would not describe him as patriotic or in touch.

I go through these in some detail because the results present a picture of a president failing in nearly every area the public cares most about and who has lost the advantage on personal qualities, which were the foundation of his appeal as a candidate. In 18 months he has gone from “a sort of God” to “a sort of goat.” Maybe he can turn things around, but he has a long way to go.

Read Less

Democrats Heap Scorn on Obama

Fareed Zakaria has become an all-purpose apologist for Obama. First it was on the flotilla.  A colleague passes on the latest one. It seems he’s now shilling for Obama on his response to the oil spill. Last time, Zakaria was dismantled by Elliott Abrams. This time it was James Carville:

Zakaria, a Newsweek editor but also host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, recently wrote a defense of Pres. Obama’s response (actually he criticized the President for his overreaction).  … King read from Zakaria’s recent column, which said “what worries me is that we have gotten to the point where we expect the president to somehow magically solve every problem in the world, appear to be doing it and to reflect our anger and emotion. This is a kind of bizarre trivializing of the presidency into some kind of national psychiatrist-in-chief.”

Carville, smiling – but only at first – responded strongly:

“Yes, he talked about an offensive linebacker. And when I read that I wanted to hit him with a football bat, okay? This guy, there’s some kind of a breakdown here, because this is a very smart man. And I don’t think that he understands exactly what is going on down here. I don’t think he understands that an entire culture is at risk, an entire way of life that there is an invasion going here and he is whining about the fact that the president had to cancel a trip to Indonesia to do something about what’s going on in Louisiana. . … If that thing was in the Long Island Sound, I guarantee you Fareed Zakaria and all his friends would be going nuts out there.”

This tells us a few things. First, we should be wary of “experts” who peddle their foreign-policy lines while reflexively defending the administration across the board. Second, Obama no longer can command respect or discretion, let alone affection, from Democrats. Granted this is Carville, whose Clinton loyalty is well known and who has likely not let bygones be bygones. But if you turn on MSNBC, you will hear plenty of Democrats heaping criticism on Obama.

Again, as I and many others have pointed out, accidents — including big and awful ones — are not necessarily the president’s fault. But neither was 9/11 Rudy Giuliani’s.  But he grabbed the crisis by the throat. He was candid, informed, and informative. He did not whine or complain. He did not treat it as a PR problem but as a civic emergency. It is the failure of leadership and of executive competence that has exposed Obama. The closet analogy is not Jimmy Carter but the emperor who had no clothes. And now everyone notices.

Fareed Zakaria has become an all-purpose apologist for Obama. First it was on the flotilla.  A colleague passes on the latest one. It seems he’s now shilling for Obama on his response to the oil spill. Last time, Zakaria was dismantled by Elliott Abrams. This time it was James Carville:

Zakaria, a Newsweek editor but also host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, recently wrote a defense of Pres. Obama’s response (actually he criticized the President for his overreaction).  … King read from Zakaria’s recent column, which said “what worries me is that we have gotten to the point where we expect the president to somehow magically solve every problem in the world, appear to be doing it and to reflect our anger and emotion. This is a kind of bizarre trivializing of the presidency into some kind of national psychiatrist-in-chief.”

Carville, smiling – but only at first – responded strongly:

“Yes, he talked about an offensive linebacker. And when I read that I wanted to hit him with a football bat, okay? This guy, there’s some kind of a breakdown here, because this is a very smart man. And I don’t think that he understands exactly what is going on down here. I don’t think he understands that an entire culture is at risk, an entire way of life that there is an invasion going here and he is whining about the fact that the president had to cancel a trip to Indonesia to do something about what’s going on in Louisiana. . … If that thing was in the Long Island Sound, I guarantee you Fareed Zakaria and all his friends would be going nuts out there.”

This tells us a few things. First, we should be wary of “experts” who peddle their foreign-policy lines while reflexively defending the administration across the board. Second, Obama no longer can command respect or discretion, let alone affection, from Democrats. Granted this is Carville, whose Clinton loyalty is well known and who has likely not let bygones be bygones. But if you turn on MSNBC, you will hear plenty of Democrats heaping criticism on Obama.

Again, as I and many others have pointed out, accidents — including big and awful ones — are not necessarily the president’s fault. But neither was 9/11 Rudy Giuliani’s.  But he grabbed the crisis by the throat. He was candid, informed, and informative. He did not whine or complain. He did not treat it as a PR problem but as a civic emergency. It is the failure of leadership and of executive competence that has exposed Obama. The closet analogy is not Jimmy Carter but the emperor who had no clothes. And now everyone notices.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.