Commentary Magazine


Topic: Paul Ryan

Ryan Shows GOP Is In for the Long Haul

Even before the press conference announcing his budget plan was over, Democrats were bombarding House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan with abuse. After years of denouncing Ryan as an extremist, liberals see no need to be diplomatic about the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate’s ideas. Moreover, after several days of press hype about President Obama’s tentative outreach to Republicans in the capital’s budget standoff, Ryan’s blueprint for cutting spending is being portrayed as nothing less than a provocation intended to deepen the partisan divide. The very act of his sticking to the principles he has consistently articulated throughout his career is viewed as somehow a lack of respect for the verdict of the voters last November as well as an unhelpful diversion from the path to compromise.

Nevertheless, Ryan’s plan was not a mistake. Whatever course the negotiations between the parties take in the coming weeks and months, it is important that Republicans state what they stand for. Elections may have consequences but, as Ryan rightly noted today, they don’t mean the losers must abandon their principles. Restraining the reach of government, cutting back spending and preventing job-killing tax hikes are just as important today as they were before Mitt Romney and Ryan lost. The battle over the direction of the country is not the function of one election or the tussle over the budget in any given year. President Obama’s re-election makes it all the more imperative that conservatives understand that they are involved in a contest over ideas rather than personalities. Far from this being the moment to roll over and confine the debate to one over the details of Obama’s plans, conservatives need to follow Ryan’s example and speak up for what is right if they are ever to prevail.

Read More

Even before the press conference announcing his budget plan was over, Democrats were bombarding House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan with abuse. After years of denouncing Ryan as an extremist, liberals see no need to be diplomatic about the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate’s ideas. Moreover, after several days of press hype about President Obama’s tentative outreach to Republicans in the capital’s budget standoff, Ryan’s blueprint for cutting spending is being portrayed as nothing less than a provocation intended to deepen the partisan divide. The very act of his sticking to the principles he has consistently articulated throughout his career is viewed as somehow a lack of respect for the verdict of the voters last November as well as an unhelpful diversion from the path to compromise.

Nevertheless, Ryan’s plan was not a mistake. Whatever course the negotiations between the parties take in the coming weeks and months, it is important that Republicans state what they stand for. Elections may have consequences but, as Ryan rightly noted today, they don’t mean the losers must abandon their principles. Restraining the reach of government, cutting back spending and preventing job-killing tax hikes are just as important today as they were before Mitt Romney and Ryan lost. The battle over the direction of the country is not the function of one election or the tussle over the budget in any given year. President Obama’s re-election makes it all the more imperative that conservatives understand that they are involved in a contest over ideas rather than personalities. Far from this being the moment to roll over and confine the debate to one over the details of Obama’s plans, conservatives need to follow Ryan’s example and speak up for what is right if they are ever to prevail.

In one sense, Ryan’s critics are right to say his plan is not realistic. Since so much of it is predicated on the idea of repealing ObamaCare it must be admitted that it will not only be dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate after presumably being passed by the GOP-controlled House. Its provisions about ending the president’s signature health care legislation will also ensure that it won’t be a starting point for a putative deal between the White House and Republicans since there is no chance in the foreseeable future that ObamaCare can be eliminated.

But if Republicans are to continue to provide a viable alternative to Obama and the Democrats, it cannot be based on the idea that they are only going to argue about the margins of the debate rather than its substance. As Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus has said, Ryan’s budget is in effect a lemon law reminding the American people that there is an alternative to Obama’s health care boondoggle. As ObamaCare starts going into effect and the costs and the negative impact of the legislation are felt, Ryan’s critique will be seen as a dose of political realism rather than the partisan exercise that it is now being called.

It is entirely possible that if the president is serious about compromise that a “grand bargain” about the budget and tax reform can be struck. If so, then it may be that Republicans will give in on some of their positions on taxing just as Democrats will have to do more than pay lip service to entitlement reform.

But whether that happens or not, Republicans are still obligated to do more than provide a faint echo of liberal pieties. The voters chose a divided government last fall, not hegemony for the Democrats. That means any discussion about the budget must have two sides rather than the liberal narrative promoted by the president and his cheerleaders in the media. Ryan’s budget will never become law, but it is an important document that sets out the only real path to national solvency as well as for preserving Medicare. When contrasted with the president’s mindless defense of the status quo on entitlements as well as his inability to put forward to present a path to a balanced budget, Ryan’s plan doesn’t look so crazy.

Democrats who think they can win in 2014 by demagoguery aimed at Ryan are taking it for granted that public opinion is static rather than dynamic. Polls and even election results are variables, but political principles should reflect core beliefs about the future that are consistent with the value we place as a nation on freedom and limited government. There are many aspects of the Republican campaign last year that need revising, but a stand against the growth of government and holding down taxes is not a liability. Ryan has thrown down the gauntlet to the president and told the nation what he stands for. Win or lose, that’s the act of a party that is in this struggle for the long haul and can still eventually prevail.

Read Less

More on the GOP’s Intellectual Unfreezing

In reaction to my post on the intellectual unfreezing of the GOP, I received an e-mail from Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.

His argument to me (which he said I am free to share) is that the Republican Party and the conservative movement has in fact developed sound policies without a president pushing and pulling it and that we’re beyond waiting for the next Ronald Reagan, having developed many Jack Kemps.

What Norquist means by that is that there are exciting and encouraging developments that are occurring in the House (see especially Representative Paul Ryan’s last two budgets) and in the states, where Republican governors are advancing reforms dealing with taxes, pensions, education and more. Mr. Norquist’s broader point is that Members of Congress, governors, and state legislators are making real progress in the “new ideas” department, and that deserves to be recognized.

Read More

In reaction to my post on the intellectual unfreezing of the GOP, I received an e-mail from Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.

His argument to me (which he said I am free to share) is that the Republican Party and the conservative movement has in fact developed sound policies without a president pushing and pulling it and that we’re beyond waiting for the next Ronald Reagan, having developed many Jack Kemps.

What Norquist means by that is that there are exciting and encouraging developments that are occurring in the House (see especially Representative Paul Ryan’s last two budgets) and in the states, where Republican governors are advancing reforms dealing with taxes, pensions, education and more. Mr. Norquist’s broader point is that Members of Congress, governors, and state legislators are making real progress in the “new ideas” department, and that deserves to be recognized.

I don’t disagree with that at all, as anyone who has read my writings at Contentions over the years knows. In fact, I’m not sure there are many people who have been more vocal in their support for what Ryan is doing on entitlement reform, as well as tax reform.

My point in writing the piece was to welcome what I call the “unfreezing” of the GOP – meaning its willingness to entertain new and creative ideas from a variety of places. I do think it’s a fair to say, however, that in my post I should have acknowledged what’s occurring at the national and local level. And now, as an addendum, I have. 

I should add, though, that however good those ideas may be, a good deal more work needs to be done, both substantively and symbolically. Because, as Michael Gerson and I argue in our essay in the March issue of COMMENTARY, in the 2012 election Republicans did poorly in an election they should have done well in and the current trends for the GOP – demographic and otherwise — are not encouraging.
 
Gerson and I offered our thoughts on five areas the GOP is vulnerable, along with specific recommendations about what to do about it. We say explicitly in the essay that the agenda we sketched out is neither comprehensive nor definitive, but is intended as a spark for discussion. If it helps a bit in that regard, count me pleased.

Read Less

Ryan Has Options, But Has He Already Made His Choice?

Paul Ryan’s role in the 2012 presidential election was, from the standpoint of some congressional Republicans, perfect. Because Ryan is the author of budget-cutting legislation that seeks to reform entitlements, especially Medicare, his proposals are controversial. Republicans in Congress may be supportive of such legislation, and indeed voted for it in large numbers, but it opens up an easy line of attack for their opponents. But they also want to rein in debt, support their fellow (popular) conservative reformer, and stay in the good graces of the party’s grassroots–as Newt Gingrich found out when he criticized Ryan’s plan in harsh terms and earned the ire of conservative voters when he ran for the GOP nomination.

Gingrich backtracked, but he was in an unenviable position: he wanted to appeal to both the center and the base; he didn’t want to appear timid by backtracking and deferring to Ryan, who wasn’t running. But he also couldn’t embrace a plan he had genuine concerns about, both philosophically and with regard to electoral politics. This is where many in the party found themselves on the issue of trying to win local and national elections–caught between prudence and their reformist instincts. Ryan chose not to run for president, which prevented the party’s candidates from having to spend an entire election season defending that one proposal. And because he was picked up as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee, his own plans were overshadowed by those of Romney–the top of the ticket. Thus, had the GOP ousted President Obama in November, Republicans would have arrived on the cusp of major conservative reform in a relatively quiet way.

Read More

Paul Ryan’s role in the 2012 presidential election was, from the standpoint of some congressional Republicans, perfect. Because Ryan is the author of budget-cutting legislation that seeks to reform entitlements, especially Medicare, his proposals are controversial. Republicans in Congress may be supportive of such legislation, and indeed voted for it in large numbers, but it opens up an easy line of attack for their opponents. But they also want to rein in debt, support their fellow (popular) conservative reformer, and stay in the good graces of the party’s grassroots–as Newt Gingrich found out when he criticized Ryan’s plan in harsh terms and earned the ire of conservative voters when he ran for the GOP nomination.

Gingrich backtracked, but he was in an unenviable position: he wanted to appeal to both the center and the base; he didn’t want to appear timid by backtracking and deferring to Ryan, who wasn’t running. But he also couldn’t embrace a plan he had genuine concerns about, both philosophically and with regard to electoral politics. This is where many in the party found themselves on the issue of trying to win local and national elections–caught between prudence and their reformist instincts. Ryan chose not to run for president, which prevented the party’s candidates from having to spend an entire election season defending that one proposal. And because he was picked up as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee, his own plans were overshadowed by those of Romney–the top of the ticket. Thus, had the GOP ousted President Obama in November, Republicans would have arrived on the cusp of major conservative reform in a relatively quiet way.

But they didn’t win. And that meant the party faced the prospect of a new cycle of political fights over Ryan’s reforms, since he is the House budget leader. But he could also not be easily overlooked, since he returned as the party’s (unsuccessful) vice presidential hopeful. That’s why in today’s Politico story analyzing Paul Ryan’s competing paths to power, this particular segment stands out as possibly the best harbinger of what to expect from the rising conservative star:

Ryan associates say he has been surprised at how central his governing role has been among House Republicans since returning from his failed run for vice president. He was instrumental in cooking up the GOP’s new debt ceiling strategy and will craft a budget plan that sets the direction for the GOP caucus on virtually every consequential issue. With this in mind, he now calculates that naked national ambitions would only dilute his growing power as Speaker John Boehner’s unofficial wing man.

At the same time, Ryan continues to cultivate a national political and financial network that would serve him in any role. A top GOP source said Ryan recently huddled with Spencer Zwick, Mitt Romney’s fundraising guru, who made plain much of the 2012 donor base stands ready to back him if he were to ever warm again to a White House run. Ryan also made a fundraising trip to Texas last month for his Prosperity PAC. He was hosted by top Romney donors who urged him to run, convinced he has been totally vetted and passed the readiness test.

There are three nuggets of information in those two paragraphs, and they basically summarize Ryan’s current predicament. First, major party donors like him and want him to run for president; second, his instinct is not to run, and instead stick to policy; and third, that the GOP House caucus’s embrace of Ryan when he returned from the campaign played a fairly important role in all this.

Ryan understood that although he is young, losing a national race can halt anyone’s career momentum, and it can leave the impression that the losing candidate is an also-ran. Those perceptions are difficult, though far from impossible, to reverse. And Ryan would have one advantage: no one blames him for the election result, since he was not at the top of the ticket. His selection, in fact, energized grassroots conservatives. Nonetheless, as a candidate for the White House in a close election Ryan had one foot out the door of the House chamber. The fact that House Republicans welcomed his return as a congressional leader says a lot about the value House Republicans place in Ryan, and the confidence he instills in them that they can win with his agenda.

Though Ryan is a fine public speaker and a solid debater, he was always more at home writing policy than on the campaign trail. If he wanted to compete for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, he surely could, and he would have something of a head start on his rivals with both the base and party donors. But the lesson of Bob Dole’s run for president in 1996 looms large: it is difficult–Dole found it impossible, actually–to be a congressional leader and presidential candidate at the same time. Ryan may very well be the most influential Republican in the House already. Though he could certainly make a play for being even more, he appears to be relieved to have his old role back, for the time being. The party’s base has reason to be relieved, as well, that Ryan’s colleagues didn’t lose their resolve to fight for real reform in his brief absence.

Read Less

U.S. Headed for a Hollow Military?

Sequestration–the process of automatically cutting more than $500 billion from defense spending over the next decade–was momentarily delayed by a last-minute deal between Congress and the White House reached just before it was due to take effect on January 2. But the delay isn’t long–unless a new deal is reached, sequestration will hit on March 2. And odds are no deal will be reached. As Paul Ryan noted on TV this weekend, sequestration is likely to go into effect. This is because the price that the White House is demanding to prevent it–which would include further cuts in defense spending along with tax hikes–is too high for Republicans to stomach.

We don’t know exactly how this process is going to play out, but the Navy has released an instructive memo detailing the very real damage that sequestration will do to our defense capabilities. As summarized by Defense News, the consequences of sequestration include:

Read More

Sequestration–the process of automatically cutting more than $500 billion from defense spending over the next decade–was momentarily delayed by a last-minute deal between Congress and the White House reached just before it was due to take effect on January 2. But the delay isn’t long–unless a new deal is reached, sequestration will hit on March 2. And odds are no deal will be reached. As Paul Ryan noted on TV this weekend, sequestration is likely to go into effect. This is because the price that the White House is demanding to prevent it–which would include further cuts in defense spending along with tax hikes–is too high for Republicans to stomach.

We don’t know exactly how this process is going to play out, but the Navy has released an instructive memo detailing the very real damage that sequestration will do to our defense capabilities. As summarized by Defense News, the consequences of sequestration include:

A drastic cutback in the number of strike group deployments. Aircraft flying hours in the Middle East cut by more than half. Naval operations stopped around Latin America and reduced in the Pacific. Four of the fleet’s nine air wings shut down starting in March. Two carrier strike group deployments “extended indefinitely.” Only partial training for two more strike groups.

Similar consequences will be felt by the other services. As the Marine Corps Times notes, “The Marine Corps is bracing for sudden and severe budget cuts that could throttle programs and services at installations across the globe if Congress and the Obama administration fail to act by March 1.”

Also affected will be the Defense Department’s 800,000 civilian employees. Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters “that if Congress does not come up with a way to avoid mandatory budget cuts by March 1, hundreds of thousands of Pentagon civilian employees will face furloughs and reduced paychecks by April.”

Some of these parlous consequences could be stopped and even rolled back should Congress reach a deal on sequestration after it goes into effect. But given the partisan gridlock on the Hill, there is a very real chance that these cutbacks will not be reversed. If so, the damage to our armed forces will be serious at a time when they confront more threats than ever before–including the Iranian nuclear program, Chinese cyberattacks, Islamist gains in Mali and other countries in Africa and the Middle East, and the instability emanating from the Syrian civil war.

How anyone thinks we can chop defense spending at a time likes this is beyond me; but that is where Washington is heading. The result is likely to be, heaven help us, another “hollow” military like the one in the post-Vietnam years in the 1970s.

Read Less

Rand Auditions for Role of Insurgent Leader

Senator Chuck Schumer earned some chuckles among Democrats when he said today that the decision by House Republicans to suspend any limits on the national debt for three months was evidence that “The president stared down the Republicans. They blinked.” The GOP chose to remove, at least for a time, any threat of a government shutdown because they knew they were locked in an unequal struggle with the White House and the Democratic majority in the Senate. By backing down on the debt ceiling deadline, the House leadership decided they’d be better off avoiding a confrontation that would lead to them being blamed for damaging the economy while probably not getting the spending cuts and entitlement reform that they rightly know the country needs. But there is at least one Republican in the Senate who thinks Schumer is right and who hopes to gain from making clear his disagreement.

Senator Rand Paul made it clear earlier this week that he disapproves of Speaker Boehner’s embrace of Fabian tactics. Instead of trying another Alamo-like last stand such as the GOP’s ill-fated fiscal cliff tactics, Boehner is hoping the GOP will be better off retreating now and living to fight another day. But Paul isn’t the only Republican unhappy about the decision. The 33 Republicans who defected during the House vote on the debt legislation made it obvious that a substantial portion of the party is unwilling to accept anything but a policy of all-out war all the time against the president’s refusal to deal with the debt crisis. Boehner has his hands full in a fractious caucus, but the impulse to rebel against a more cautious approach to their political problem is not limited to the House. Paul’s statement makes it clear that he is auditioning for the role of the party’s insurgent leader.

Read More

Senator Chuck Schumer earned some chuckles among Democrats when he said today that the decision by House Republicans to suspend any limits on the national debt for three months was evidence that “The president stared down the Republicans. They blinked.” The GOP chose to remove, at least for a time, any threat of a government shutdown because they knew they were locked in an unequal struggle with the White House and the Democratic majority in the Senate. By backing down on the debt ceiling deadline, the House leadership decided they’d be better off avoiding a confrontation that would lead to them being blamed for damaging the economy while probably not getting the spending cuts and entitlement reform that they rightly know the country needs. But there is at least one Republican in the Senate who thinks Schumer is right and who hopes to gain from making clear his disagreement.

Senator Rand Paul made it clear earlier this week that he disapproves of Speaker Boehner’s embrace of Fabian tactics. Instead of trying another Alamo-like last stand such as the GOP’s ill-fated fiscal cliff tactics, Boehner is hoping the GOP will be better off retreating now and living to fight another day. But Paul isn’t the only Republican unhappy about the decision. The 33 Republicans who defected during the House vote on the debt legislation made it obvious that a substantial portion of the party is unwilling to accept anything but a policy of all-out war all the time against the president’s refusal to deal with the debt crisis. Boehner has his hands full in a fractious caucus, but the impulse to rebel against a more cautious approach to their political problem is not limited to the House. Paul’s statement makes it clear that he is auditioning for the role of the party’s insurgent leader.

Paul’s desire to run for president in 2016 is not exactly a secret. In addition to assuming a far more strident public role than in his first two years in the Senate, Paul even went to Israel this month in a not terribly persuasive effort to convince the pro-Israel community that he is evolving from an isolationist foreign policy worldview. But by criticizing Boehner in this manner, Paul is setting himself up as being far more than just another frustrated Tea Party critic of the party leadership.

In doing so, he is also picking a fight with the one Republican who is most identified with the cause of entitlement reform: Representative Paul Ryan. Democrats have spent the last two years demonizing Ryan for his visionary proposals challenging the status quo on Medicare. As the intellectual leader of the party, Ryan has been doing much of the heavy lifting for the party articulating the position that unless Washington changes the way it does business, that vital program as well as other government benefits won’t survive the coming fiscal meltdown. By backing Boehner’s compromise measure, Ryan is showing once again that he’s a team player who, though determined to promote reform ideas, isn’t interested in grandstanding or showing up Boehner or Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Yet if Ryan is, as many of his admirers hope, interested in running for president in 2016, this leaves him vulnerable to future attacks from Paul as a compromiser rather than a true Tea Party believer.

Paul’s increasing visibility makes it look as if he intends to spend the next three years auditioning for the role of leader of a far bigger faction of the party than his extremist libertarian father Ron ever had at his back. But part of that will entail a program of guerrilla warfare against Republicans like Ryan who are just as interested in stopping Obama’s liberal program but aren’t willing to throw his party’s leadership under the bus to do it. Some in the GOP may still dismiss his chances in 2016 but bashing Boehner’s decision, taking a shot at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and being among the most strident critics of Hillary Clinton at the Senate Benghazi hearing today are the kind of things that will win him fans among the GOP base. Paul’s isolationist foreign policy views and loner mentality still mark him as an outlier in his party, as well as someone who might have trouble winning a general election. But his bid to be the party’s leading insurgent is laying the groundwork for what may be a formidable presidential bid.

Read Less

Time-Out May Be the GOP’s Best Option

The top news out of the House Republican retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia is that the party is considering a short-term extension of the debt limit in order to give the party more time to try and convince their Democratic antagonists to start cutting spending. The proposal, which according to the New York Times, is being floated by Rep. Paul Ryan, could wind up connecting the debt ceiling issue with the deadline for the implementation of sequestration that would mandate devastating across-the-board spending cuts. That would theoretically give the GOP some room to maneuver in order to avoid a confrontation with President Obama that few think they would win. But it is hard to avoid the impression that the main object of a delay would be to deal with the Republicans’ biggest problems: a lack of unity.

Like a sports team in disarray, the GOP needs a time out where they can catch their breath and somehow get on the same page with each other. As the votes over House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B and then the final fiscal cliff deal revealed, the party is badly split between those who don’t want to give an inch on spending and taxes, those who think that compromise with the president is inevitable and those who believe the best the party can do is to speak out for its principles and oppose tactics that will blow up the economy and help demonize the party. But the problem for the Republican leadership is that even if they can buy themselves some more time to get their fractious caucus in line, the likelihood that a confident and aggressive President Obama will either accept a short-term extension or deal honestly with them on the issues.

Read More

The top news out of the House Republican retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia is that the party is considering a short-term extension of the debt limit in order to give the party more time to try and convince their Democratic antagonists to start cutting spending. The proposal, which according to the New York Times, is being floated by Rep. Paul Ryan, could wind up connecting the debt ceiling issue with the deadline for the implementation of sequestration that would mandate devastating across-the-board spending cuts. That would theoretically give the GOP some room to maneuver in order to avoid a confrontation with President Obama that few think they would win. But it is hard to avoid the impression that the main object of a delay would be to deal with the Republicans’ biggest problems: a lack of unity.

Like a sports team in disarray, the GOP needs a time out where they can catch their breath and somehow get on the same page with each other. As the votes over House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B and then the final fiscal cliff deal revealed, the party is badly split between those who don’t want to give an inch on spending and taxes, those who think that compromise with the president is inevitable and those who believe the best the party can do is to speak out for its principles and oppose tactics that will blow up the economy and help demonize the party. But the problem for the Republican leadership is that even if they can buy themselves some more time to get their fractious caucus in line, the likelihood that a confident and aggressive President Obama will either accept a short-term extension or deal honestly with them on the issues.

The argument for a time out is that in its current condition with a leadership that can’t count on its members to agree to back a unified strategy on fiscal issues, Republicans are doomed to defeat no matter what option they choose. The president is counting on the GOP splintering into warring factions and has done his best to help that process along by goading his opponents whenever possible including his stunning attack on them even as the two sides were negotiating a deal to prevent the nation from going over the fiscal cliff earlier this month.

As Robert Costa and Andrew Stiles noted in their sum up from the retreat, even though Republicans remain in control of the House, the tone of the gathering was that of a defeated party searching for answers. Given the shock felt by many in the party over the president’s re-election and the beatings they’ve received over the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff, that’s understandable. But Bill Kristol’s advice to them to “suck it up,” is exactly what they need to hear.

I think those Republicans who want to make a stand on the debt ceiling are right. Even though the odds are against them prevailing in such a battle, the party can’t simply stand by and let President Obama off the hook without at least trying to stop him by whatever means are at their disposal. That sort of surrender would split the GOP and make it harder for them to recover at the next midterm.

But the one given in this equation is that without a united caucus, House Republicans haven’t a prayer of doing anything effective to halt the country’s drift toward insolvency and to head off new taxes.

For all of their pessimism, the GOP still controls the power of the purse. President Obama may have the wind at his back right now but his political capital is finite. So is his time. If conservatives can use the coming weeks to agree on a strategy to exploit his weaknesses — such as the division among Democrats and the president’s refusal to deal with entitlement reform — their position could be stronger than they think. The question is do Boehner, Eric Cantor or even Paul Ryan have the ability to convince their colleagues that if they don’t hang together, their hopes of stopping Obama from worsening the nation’s problems are nonexistent.

Read Less

Obama Prepares for Immigration Overhaul

Even as Obama is focusing on gun control and the debt ceiling, the New York Times reports that he’s preparing to launch his major push for immigration reform in the first months of his second term:

President Obama plans to push Congress to move quickly in the coming months on an ambitious overhaul of the immigration system that would include a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, senior administration officials and lawmakers said last week.

Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats will propose the changes in one comprehensive bill, the officials said, resisting efforts by some Republicans to break the overhaul into smaller pieces — separately addressing young illegal immigrants, migrant farmworkers or highly skilled foreigners — which might be easier for reluctant members of their party to accept.

The president and Democrats will also oppose measures that do not allow immigrants who gain legal status to become American citizens one day, the officials said.

Read More

Even as Obama is focusing on gun control and the debt ceiling, the New York Times reports that he’s preparing to launch his major push for immigration reform in the first months of his second term:

President Obama plans to push Congress to move quickly in the coming months on an ambitious overhaul of the immigration system that would include a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, senior administration officials and lawmakers said last week.

Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats will propose the changes in one comprehensive bill, the officials said, resisting efforts by some Republicans to break the overhaul into smaller pieces — separately addressing young illegal immigrants, migrant farmworkers or highly skilled foreigners — which might be easier for reluctant members of their party to accept.

The president and Democrats will also oppose measures that do not allow immigrants who gain legal status to become American citizens one day, the officials said.

According to the Times, administration officials are already crafting proposals, since they think it will be easier to move this forward at the beginning of Obama’s second term. There are few details on the White House plan so far, but the must-haves reportedly include a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country; implementing a national citizenship-verification system for employers similar to E-Verify; and establishing a guest-worker program.

Based on the scant details, Obama’s proposal doesn’t sound far off from Senator Marco Rubio’s, which is also still in the works. The biggest difference seems to be that Obama wants his reform passed as one single piece of legislation, while Rubio wants to introduce his in parts. 

These comprehensive bills are Obama’s M.O. It makes it easier for him to include controversial proposals, since GOP objections to a portion of the bill will be portrayed as objections to the entire bill. It’s also a good way to obscure the debate–demonize your opponents for opposing immigration reform instead of engaging them on the specific measure they’re criticizing.

There are signs the GOP is serious about tackling immigration reform, including Paul Ryan’s endorsement of Rubio’s plan, and a bipartisan group of senators called the “Gang of Eight” that’s busy on its own bill. We’ll see if Obama uses this as an opportunity to actually work with Republicans toward a reasonable solution, or if he just sees it as another chance to score political points.

Read Less

GOP Identity: It’s Not Just 2016 Contenders

There has been, and will continue to be, buzz around certain young conservative politicians who are expected to be in consideration for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. These young stars, such as Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and others, have their every statement and every vote examined for its relevance to the 2016 nomination battle.

One reason for this is that the GOP seems to have finally shed its allegiance to next-in-linism, the practice of nominating last cycle’s runner-up or someone with the right pedigree, or even someone viewed as having paid his dues. The party that does not hold the White House is usually in search of an identity. But this is even more the case with regard to the current Republican Party, which has no obvious nominee waiting in the wings, and as such, no obvious leader. But the party’s identity going forward is going to be shaped as much by up-and-coming politicians who aren’t vying for the 2016 nomination as those who are.

Read More

There has been, and will continue to be, buzz around certain young conservative politicians who are expected to be in consideration for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. These young stars, such as Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and others, have their every statement and every vote examined for its relevance to the 2016 nomination battle.

One reason for this is that the GOP seems to have finally shed its allegiance to next-in-linism, the practice of nominating last cycle’s runner-up or someone with the right pedigree, or even someone viewed as having paid his dues. The party that does not hold the White House is usually in search of an identity. But this is even more the case with regard to the current Republican Party, which has no obvious nominee waiting in the wings, and as such, no obvious leader. But the party’s identity going forward is going to be shaped as much by up-and-coming politicians who aren’t vying for the 2016 nomination as those who are.

Last week, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appointed as his two “counsels” Senators Kelly Ayotte and Bob Corker. New Texas Senator Ted Cruz has been a conservative favorite from the moment he declared his Senate candidacy, and is garnering profiles from publications left and right. And today Mike Allen’s Politico “Playbook” carries part of his interview with Washington State Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who had a prominent place at the GOP’s convention in the fall and who has now become the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House.

Aside from the fiscal conservative nature of today’s congressional GOP, this group gives us a few hints as to the identity of the party post-2012.

1. The Republican Party is not a “regional” party, as so many on the left would have us believe. McMorris Rodgers represents a northwestern state; Cruz is from Texas, at this point virtually its own region of the country; Corker is from Tennessee; Ayotte is from New Hampshire. When you combine this with the classic GOP strongholds in the Midwest and Republican statehouse success in places like Michigan–not to mention the unignorable Chris Christie in New Jersey–and young officeholders like Susana Martinez in New Mexico, you have a national party, full stop.

2. The GOP’s lack of clarity and focus on foreign policy is likely to be (very) temporary. As the Washington Post story on Ayotte and Corker notes:

Ayotte has also struck up a friendship with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who along with former senator Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) were often dubbed the “three amigos” for their frequent globe-trotting and general agreement on foreign policy. With Lieberman’s departure, he deemed Ayotte as his capable — and more attractive — successor in the trio.

Leaving aside the comment on Ayotte’s looks, Lieberman’s approval of Ayotte on foreign policy is significant, and she could scarcely have chosen a better mentor.

Corker, meanwhile, is now the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (John McCain is joining the committee, but has said he won’t challenge Corker for leadership.)

McMorris Rodgers, in her interview with Allen, alluded to the issue of immigration, perhaps the issue on which the younger generation of conservative politicians is most clearly separating itself from party elders. (Though it should be noted that McCain and Lindsey Graham are both notably pro-immigration.) Immigration is no longer simply about domestic policy. In a globalized world, understanding cultures abroad is increasingly essential to domestic politics, and it’s encouraging that the GOP seems to finally recognize this.

3. Republicans love to tease the left that the Tea Party is far more diverse than, say, the snow-white Occupy movement or Barack Obama’s cabinet, but aside from the political point-scoring the GOP’s diversity is a significant step forward for the party. As John Steele Gordon wrote last month, the trajectory of South Carolina Senator Tim Scott’s career, which included defeating Strom Thurmond’s son for his House seat and now serving in the Senate delegation in which Strom Thurmond once served, to become the Senate’s only African-American of either party, is quite a story. This, combined with Barack Obama’s reelection, will hopefully inspire the Democratic Party to free itself from its poisonous obsession with racial division. This would be good for the country, but it would also be good for the Democrats.

Cruz is the one member of this group that is a wild card, since there is already buzz about him as a possible 2016 contender. But he seems more likely to stay in the Senate to build a record and a following, for now. Questions about his eligibility would be raised–he was born in Canada to an American mother–but he is almost certainly constitutionally eligible to hold the office. Looking at the 2016 contenders is only one way to gauge the direction of the party. By the time that election rolls around, the next generation of congressional leaders may have already taken the baton.

Read Less

The Cliff Vote and the Ryan-Rubio Race

It did not escape the notice of political observers that some of the leading candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination came down on opposite sides of the vote on the fiscal cliff deal. No one was surprised that an extreme libertarian like Rand Paul would be one of the eight no votes in the Senate on the pact. But the votes of Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Paul Ryan did raise some eyebrows, and could potentially impact the way conservative primary voters view the pair four years from now when Iowa and New Hampshire are again the center of the political universe.

Rubio’s decision to join Paul in opposition to the deal makes sense for those who remember that although he is a very mainstream figure today, just three years ago he was viewed in Washington as just another Tea Party insurgent determined to upset the plans of the establishment to make Charlie Crist the GOP candidate for a Florida Senate seat. However, the reaction to Paul Ryan’s decision to join House Speaker John Boehner in supporting the pact did create something of a stir. Ryan’s vote for a deal that he and most other Republicans despised might have been the responsible thing to do since the alternative was to let the taxes of all Americans go up. But in doing so he may have lowered his stock among conservative activists who preferred the futile gesture of protest that most House Republicans made when they joined Majority Leader Eric Cantor in voting against the bill. Though no one should be under the misapprehension that we can know what will determine the outcome of primaries that will be held so far in the future, there’s little doubt Ryan’s stand is going to be held against him by some segments of his party.

Read More

It did not escape the notice of political observers that some of the leading candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination came down on opposite sides of the vote on the fiscal cliff deal. No one was surprised that an extreme libertarian like Rand Paul would be one of the eight no votes in the Senate on the pact. But the votes of Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Paul Ryan did raise some eyebrows, and could potentially impact the way conservative primary voters view the pair four years from now when Iowa and New Hampshire are again the center of the political universe.

Rubio’s decision to join Paul in opposition to the deal makes sense for those who remember that although he is a very mainstream figure today, just three years ago he was viewed in Washington as just another Tea Party insurgent determined to upset the plans of the establishment to make Charlie Crist the GOP candidate for a Florida Senate seat. However, the reaction to Paul Ryan’s decision to join House Speaker John Boehner in supporting the pact did create something of a stir. Ryan’s vote for a deal that he and most other Republicans despised might have been the responsible thing to do since the alternative was to let the taxes of all Americans go up. But in doing so he may have lowered his stock among conservative activists who preferred the futile gesture of protest that most House Republicans made when they joined Majority Leader Eric Cantor in voting against the bill. Though no one should be under the misapprehension that we can know what will determine the outcome of primaries that will be held so far in the future, there’s little doubt Ryan’s stand is going to be held against him by some segments of his party.

Portraying someone who has been the leading congressional advocate of entitlement reforms as just another DC establishment tax and spender may be a stretch. But that’s exactly the line taken by former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough on his “Morning Joe” show today as he abused Ryan for his vote. While the rantings of an MSNBC host shouldn’t be confused for a scientific sample of conservative opinion, right-wing websites are already chiming in on his theme that Ryan’s votes for the prescription drug benefit add-on during the George W. Bush administration and his backing of the fiscal cliff deal mark him as part of the government spending problem rather than its solution.

The Ryan vote is an example of the difficulty of running for president while attempting to govern. It is easy for conservatives to agree with the stand of Rand and Rubio in opposing legislation that gave President Obama most of what he wanted while getting the GOP almost nothing in return on spending or entitlements. But had all House Republicans followed their lead, the bill would have been defeated, ensuring that all Americans would get a massive income tax hike in addition to the hit they will take from the rise in payroll deductions and the impact of ObamaCare on their pocketbooks.

Like the 2008 TARP vote that has been used to label some Republicans as sellouts, it’s likely that Ryan will never hear the end of this no matter how valiant his stands against Obama’s agenda in the coming months and years turn out to be. Though it is not a given that he or any of the candidates we currently assume will be the main choices in 2016 will actually run, it would be foolish to think this won’t be brought up in a future debate and have some impact on his prospects.

To be fair to Rubio, it would be wrong to paint his vote as a cynical pander to the GOP base since it is consistent with his past views on such inadequate compromises. Nevertheless, Rubio is giving us a clear indication that he is unlikely to cast any vote over the course of the next four years that can be portrayed as a betrayal of his Tea Party roots the way Ryan’s decision will be blasted. As a backbench member of the Senate minority, that’s easier for him than it would be for Ryan, who is chair of the House Budget Committee.

Four years is an eternity in politics and it may well be that when the GOP candidates are trudging through the snows in rural hamlets in Iowa and New Hampshire few will remember this week’s votes. A lot will happen between then and now to potentially alter the conservative base’s view of Ryan and Rubio. But right now it appears Rubio is staking out ground to the former veep candidate’s right. That can’t harm his chances of winning a future presidential nod.

Read Less

The Recalibration of Conservatism

I heard from a couple of prominent conservatives yesterday who mentioned to me the pessimism, and even depression, they sense among conservatives throughout the land. That’s understandable, given the results of the 2012 election. Because unlike 2008, this is an election Barack Obama should have lost and that the right fully expected him to lose.

Still, there have been worse wilderness years than what we’re experiencing now. (Retaining control of the House will prove to be an important check on Mr. Obama’s second-term ambitions.) In addition, the loss Republicans experienced can be leveraged to conservatives’ advantage, if we take away the right lessons from the 2012 defeat.

Two individuals who are doing just that are Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio. They spoke earlier this week at the annual dinner of the Jack Kemp Foundation. Both speeches (which can be found here and here) are well worth reading.

Read More

I heard from a couple of prominent conservatives yesterday who mentioned to me the pessimism, and even depression, they sense among conservatives throughout the land. That’s understandable, given the results of the 2012 election. Because unlike 2008, this is an election Barack Obama should have lost and that the right fully expected him to lose.

Still, there have been worse wilderness years than what we’re experiencing now. (Retaining control of the House will prove to be an important check on Mr. Obama’s second-term ambitions.) In addition, the loss Republicans experienced can be leveraged to conservatives’ advantage, if we take away the right lessons from the 2012 defeat.

Two individuals who are doing just that are Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio. They spoke earlier this week at the annual dinner of the Jack Kemp Foundation. Both speeches (which can be found here and here) are well worth reading.

The speeches focused on the plight of the poor, the challenges facing the middle class, upward mobility and opportunity, and (especially in the case of Senator Rubio) education. Messrs. Ryan and Rubio offered intelligent defenses of limited government while also acknowledging the important role of government. And they used terms like “compassion,” “the common good,” “civil society,” and “social infrastructure.” Their tone was inclusive, humane, aspirational, and captured the true, and full, spirit of conservatism.

What Ryan and Rubio are doing is widening the aperture of the Republican Party and the conservative movement, which in recent years either ignored (in the case of civil society and education) or took aim at (in the case of compassion) issues and concepts that are morally important and politically potent. It isn’t so much that what was being said was wrong, though in some cases (like on immigration) it was; it’s that the vision being offered was constricted. 

The task facing conservatives today is somewhat akin to what Ronald Reagan faced in 1977 with the GOP, Bill Clinton faced in 1992 with the Democratic Party, and Tony Blair faced in 1994 with the Labour Party. In this instance, the Republican Party and conservatism have to remain powerful defenders of liberty and limited government. But they also have to establish themselves in the public imagination as advocates for reform and modernization, of the middle class and social mobility, and of a generous, inclusive vision. There is much more work to be done, and the speeches by Ryan and Rubio were encouraging first steps.

The necessary recalibration of conservatism is under way, and that is something that ought to lift the spirits of conservatives.

Read Less

Will Ryan Lead GOP Resistance to Deal?

As negotiations over a deal on the federal deficit continue, President Obama pressed his advantage with his House Republican antagonists yesterday with his latest speech harping on the need to raise taxes. Though he calls his plan a “balanced approach,” as the New York Times notes today, “the high-profile public campaign he has been waging in recent days has focused almost entirely on the tax side of the equation, with scant talk about his priorities when it comes to curbing spending.” That doesn’t mean that some spending cuts won’t eventually be included in any deal. But with more signs of GOP panic about being blamed for the standoff, the expectation is that the president will get a lot more than he will give in the negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner.

As Politico reports today, the outline of a deal is already in place and few in Washington believe the Republicans will stand their ground when it comes to opposing the raising of rates on wealthier Americans, even if those hikes won’t do much to solve the deficit. Even worse is the possibility that rather than just closing loopholes and eliminating deductions instead of raising rates, what will happen is that the GOP will wind up doing both while failing to extract an agreement on reforming the tax code or an end to out-of-control spending on entitlements.

But if the assumption that Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will decide that discretion is the better part of valor and fold in order to avoid the fiscal cliff is correct, that leaves us with the not unimportant question of who it will be that will lead the resistance to such a deal. The answer to that question will tell us a lot about the future of the Republican Party as well as the 2016 presidential race.

Read More

As negotiations over a deal on the federal deficit continue, President Obama pressed his advantage with his House Republican antagonists yesterday with his latest speech harping on the need to raise taxes. Though he calls his plan a “balanced approach,” as the New York Times notes today, “the high-profile public campaign he has been waging in recent days has focused almost entirely on the tax side of the equation, with scant talk about his priorities when it comes to curbing spending.” That doesn’t mean that some spending cuts won’t eventually be included in any deal. But with more signs of GOP panic about being blamed for the standoff, the expectation is that the president will get a lot more than he will give in the negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner.

As Politico reports today, the outline of a deal is already in place and few in Washington believe the Republicans will stand their ground when it comes to opposing the raising of rates on wealthier Americans, even if those hikes won’t do much to solve the deficit. Even worse is the possibility that rather than just closing loopholes and eliminating deductions instead of raising rates, what will happen is that the GOP will wind up doing both while failing to extract an agreement on reforming the tax code or an end to out-of-control spending on entitlements.

But if the assumption that Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will decide that discretion is the better part of valor and fold in order to avoid the fiscal cliff is correct, that leaves us with the not unimportant question of who it will be that will lead the resistance to such a deal. The answer to that question will tell us a lot about the future of the Republican Party as well as the 2016 presidential race.

As Politico notes, the wild card in the GOP leadership is Rep. Paul Ryan, who is now back on the Hill in his role as House Budget Committee chair after his stint as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee. Reportedly, Ryan is the sole member of the top House GOP leadership who is still opposed to conceding the argument about raising taxes that his colleagues consider to be inevitable.

If Ryan came out openly against the agreement, it would take the already fractious debate about the direction of the Republican Party to a new level of contentiousness. A full-scale revolt would pit the Tea Party core of the GOP against its more pragmatic leaders with consequences that can’t be entirely predicted. That would be catnip for a liberal media that loves to depict the GOP as extremists. It could also set the stage for a difficult vote in which liberal Democrats might choose to join with conservatives in opposing an Obama-Boehner deal in the hope that sending the country over the cliff would be blamed solely on the Republicans. However, a Ryan-led opposition to a deal would be no pushover, and even the possibility of such a party split might cause Boehner to pull back from a deal that could sunder his caucus and achieve the same results.

A Ryan revolt or even a situation in which he was seen as the one member who kept the GOP true to its principles might also be the first blow in what is sure to be a protracted four-year lead-up to the 2016 presidential contest. By taking a stand now, Ryan would further establish himself as the hero of conservatives and the Tea Party even as he alienated the party’s House leadership. But it is the former rather than the latter that helps picks party nominees.

However, should Ryan decide to go along with Boehner, that won’t mean there won’t be any opposition to a pact with Obama. There will, and it will be angry and loud. But if it falls to someone like Michele Bachmann or a similar Tea Party rabble-rouser, the effect won’t be the same as if Ryan were the standard-bearer. In that case, Boehner would probably prevail. Seen in that light, Ryan’s decision may well decide the fate of any fiscal deal.

Read Less

Rubio Goes to Head of the Class of 2016

There may be something slightly unseemly about talking about the 2016 election the day after Election Day 2012, but in contemporary American politics one election begins the moment after the previous one is concluded. While the defeat of Mitt Romney concludes the political career of a man who will probably be seen as a transitional figure, it does open up a new era for Republicans in which a new and younger generation will begin to compete for the leadership of their party. As has been frequently mentioned in the last few months, while the choices presented to GOP voters in the 2012 primaries seemed a rather uninspiring lot, the party’s bench is pretty deep. Though there are a few obvious names among those who will automatically be placed in consideration for the next presidential go-round, based on yesterday’s dismal returns, one star is shining a bit brighter than the others today: Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

The day after the defeat, many Republicans are rightly pondering what they can do to offset what appears to be a strong partisan advantage for Democrats in the electorate in general, but especially among Hispanic voters. I think that makes Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and a popular senator in a key state that Romney narrowly lost, a presumptive favorite for 2016 if he is inclined to run for president. Though Rubio can’t solve all of his party’s problems, a consensus about the need to think outside the usual GOP box could give him an edge over other obvious possibilities, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Romney running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, and a host of lesser known options.

Read More

There may be something slightly unseemly about talking about the 2016 election the day after Election Day 2012, but in contemporary American politics one election begins the moment after the previous one is concluded. While the defeat of Mitt Romney concludes the political career of a man who will probably be seen as a transitional figure, it does open up a new era for Republicans in which a new and younger generation will begin to compete for the leadership of their party. As has been frequently mentioned in the last few months, while the choices presented to GOP voters in the 2012 primaries seemed a rather uninspiring lot, the party’s bench is pretty deep. Though there are a few obvious names among those who will automatically be placed in consideration for the next presidential go-round, based on yesterday’s dismal returns, one star is shining a bit brighter than the others today: Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

The day after the defeat, many Republicans are rightly pondering what they can do to offset what appears to be a strong partisan advantage for Democrats in the electorate in general, but especially among Hispanic voters. I think that makes Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and a popular senator in a key state that Romney narrowly lost, a presumptive favorite for 2016 if he is inclined to run for president. Though Rubio can’t solve all of his party’s problems, a consensus about the need to think outside the usual GOP box could give him an edge over other obvious possibilities, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Romney running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, and a host of lesser known options.

It should be remembered that Rubio’s star turn at the Republican National Convention outshone the speeches of both Ryan and keynoter Christie. The former’s presentation was smart and heartfelt. But it was a bit pedestrian and turned out to be a foretaste of what would be a creditable but ultimately lackluster couple of months in the national spotlight for Ryan. He may still be the intellectual leader of his party, but he isn’t the dynamic figure many of his admirers thought he would prove to be before he was chosen. Christie’s convention speech was brilliant but was also, characteristically, all about himself rather than Romney or his party. Christie articulated a coherent theme for Republican governance that deserved applause. But like his fulsome praise for President Obama during Hurricane Sandy, fairly or unfairly, it will be chiefly remembered as a slight to his party’s standard-bearer. Of the trio, only Rubio emerges from this election cycle with his 2016 appeal untarnished.

Of course, there’s no way of knowing who will be on the party’s radar screen at the start of 2015 when the presidential merry-go-round truly begins. There are other young party stars that will deserve a look. Among them, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has attained the status of a folk hero among party activists. There are also holdovers from past cycles such as Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and even Sarah Palin, who may still harbor presidential ambitions even if their chances of winning may not come close to matching their celebrity quotients. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will also be a factor in 2016 if he runs, since he has the capacity to expand upon his father Ron’s base of libertarian extremists even if he is still very much outside the GOP consensus on foreign policy issues.

Rubio’s greatest strengths are his personal charisma (a factor that was sorely lacking among the Republican candidates in 2012) and an ability to appeal to both Tea Partiers and mainstream Republicans. His Hispanic identity won’t eliminate the GOP’s problems there, as many Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans aren’t going to think of a Cuban with the warmth they would reserve for a member of their own group. But anyone who thinks it wouldn’t make it harder for Democrats to retain the loyalty of Hispanics is mistaken.

Rubio’s main weakness is the fact that the country still doesn’t know him that well, and though he has become a regular on cable news shows, he is untested on the national political stage. His apparent reluctance to be considered for the vice presidential nomination did feed rumors of his having some sort of skeleton in his closet. That’s highly unlikely, and his decision (if it was his decision, rather than that of Romney) may have been born out of sensible reluctance to move up after only two years in the Senate. That could also be an obstacle in 2016, since running for president would obligate Rubio to give up his seat after only one term, something that will generate unflattering and unfair comparisons to John Edwards.

The only known problem in his background is that although he was born in the United States and is therefore a native born citizen, the fact that his parents were not yet naturalized will generate a new crackpot “birther” controversy in the fever swamps of the right. But that is not something that will hurt him with 99.9 percent of the electorate.

We’ve a long way to go before 2015, and it’s possible that Ryan’s leadership on fiscal issues will catapult him back to the top of the class. A successful re-election campaign in New Jersey in 2014 for Christie will energize his many fans as well as generate coverage that the other hopefuls may not get that year. But as of this moment, I’d rate Rubio as being at the top of the GOP’s class of 2016.

Read Less

Is Paul Ryan the Leader of the Conservative Movement?

When the Republican Party took back control of the House in 1994, a confluence of events combined to make it even more of a watershed moment than it would otherwise have been. The fact that the GOP had been out of power in Congress for four decades gave it an “underdog” storyline. Newt Gingrich, who led the “revolution,” was combustible and charismatic and understood better than most politicians of his time–especially his fellow Republicans–how to garner attention and win a news cycle. And CNN’s breakthrough coverage of the first Gulf War a few years earlier created a new cable TV news landscape perfectly set up to cover the Gingrich-Clinton drama as it unfolded.

The Republican takeover that year had lasting effects, not least because of the fact that Republicans suddenly kept winning, even as they became more politically conservative and developed a party agenda that was more than just standing athwart the Democrats’ plans yelling “Stop.” That post-1994 new normal held steady until the first Obama term and this election season, combined with the new prominence of social media and grassroots conservative fundraising prowess, created another such political tectonic shift: the rise of the fiscal conservative reformers. And there is perhaps no more recognizable leader of this conservative core than vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

Read More

When the Republican Party took back control of the House in 1994, a confluence of events combined to make it even more of a watershed moment than it would otherwise have been. The fact that the GOP had been out of power in Congress for four decades gave it an “underdog” storyline. Newt Gingrich, who led the “revolution,” was combustible and charismatic and understood better than most politicians of his time–especially his fellow Republicans–how to garner attention and win a news cycle. And CNN’s breakthrough coverage of the first Gulf War a few years earlier created a new cable TV news landscape perfectly set up to cover the Gingrich-Clinton drama as it unfolded.

The Republican takeover that year had lasting effects, not least because of the fact that Republicans suddenly kept winning, even as they became more politically conservative and developed a party agenda that was more than just standing athwart the Democrats’ plans yelling “Stop.” That post-1994 new normal held steady until the first Obama term and this election season, combined with the new prominence of social media and grassroots conservative fundraising prowess, created another such political tectonic shift: the rise of the fiscal conservative reformers. And there is perhaps no more recognizable leader of this conservative core than vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

As much influence as the Tea Party-affiliated members of Congress have been able to exert over the legislative affairs of the country, the Republican Party is still clearly at a crossroads. Mitt Romney’s nomination was the result of many factors, but it was not because he leads a movement within the party. No strand of the conservative movement, therefore, was elevated above the others by Romney’s successful bid for the GOP presidential nomination. That is one reason there was so much interest, especially on the right, in Romney’s choice of vice presidential nominee.

What would a President Romney’s agenda look like? Many suggested that question would be answered as much by his running mate as anything else. But above all, Romney had the ability to elevate a conservative (or moderate Republican) and that person’s followers within the party. There were plenty of strong choices for the veep position because there are so many talented rising stars in the party: Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Susana Martinez, Kelly Ayotte, and others. But the one that stood out the most to Romney was also the one with arguably the broadest coalition within the party and among the conservative movement: Paul Ryan.

When considering potential presidential nominees for 2016 if Obama wins reelection, we can probably take Jim DeMint’s name off the list, as he is unlikely to run. Jeb Bush is a wild card: many will say he missed his window, or that he won’t run against Rubio, but he would also attract immediate support from across the party spectrum. It makes sense for Rand Paul to run, I suppose, if only to build his base and his following the way his father did. But I doubt he’d be much of a threat to the others. Jindal is immensely qualified, but it’s unclear if he can thrive on the national stage.

Ideologically, however, both Ryan and Rubio are in good standing with each of the party’s wings. On budgetary issues, most of the young conservatives are on the same page. But judging from the response to the various speeches at the Republican National Convention, the party remains closer on foreign policy to both John McCain’s hawkishness and Condoleezza Rice’s muscular realism than to Rand Paul’s retrenchment. (I don’t think the term “isolationist” is accurate, especially since isolationism used to mean opposition to free trade.) And on social issues, the party remains strongly pro-life.

Would that last one exclude Christie? He is pro-life, but not especially fond of legislating his preferences on social issues. There is probably one more category of conservative worth mentioning: the intellectual wing of the movement. This wing is often more moderate, and therefore at odds with the grassroots base, but still has a high degree of influence within the party and may be best positioned to advance ideas, if not candidacies.

Many of the rising stars in the party would attract their support, and that certainly includes Paul Ryan. And now there is one more advantage for Ryan: even if Romney loses, Ryan will be the lone member of this presidential ticket still vying for prominence within the Republican Party. It does not quite make him a standard bearer, but I think it’s close enough. He has been touring the country making the case for conservatism, and he would garner support from each faction of the movement. So would others, surely. But Ryan may wake up on Wednesday the vice president-elect of the United States, and that means something.

If Romney wins tomorrow, Ryan is undoubtedly first in line, at least for the time being, to inherit the party. But even if he loses tomorrow he is poised to make that claim anyway. That means the conservative grassroots would be elevated to prominence right along with him, solidifying this tectonic shift.

Read Less

What’s Going on With Chris Christie?

Those inclined to consider the talk about the embrace between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy as being more the result of hyperactive political reporting on the eve of the election than a genuine controversy might have been right. But yesterday’s Politico story about the governor being Mitt Romney’s first choice to be his running mate lent credence to the notion that there was some substance to the notion that Christie was up to something. The anonymously sourced story seemed to indicate Christie was the likely veep nominee until late in the process when he was suddenly dropped in favor of Paul Ryan. The upshot of the piece seemed to be that Christie and his friends were mad about being used as decoys or thought he had been snubbed.

All this is leading some observers to not unreasonably connect the dots between this, Christie’s convention speech in which he barely mentioned Romney, and his much-publicized post-hurricane “bromance” with Obama. Whether they are right about that is an open question, but there is little doubt that if Christie doesn’t want Republican activists (whom presumably he will need if he runs for president in the future) holding a grudge against him for sandbagging their candidate in the last week of a close race, then he needs to listen to this New York Post editorial and give the country a loud and clear reminder that he wants Romney to win on Tuesday, not Obama.

Read More

Those inclined to consider the talk about the embrace between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy as being more the result of hyperactive political reporting on the eve of the election than a genuine controversy might have been right. But yesterday’s Politico story about the governor being Mitt Romney’s first choice to be his running mate lent credence to the notion that there was some substance to the notion that Christie was up to something. The anonymously sourced story seemed to indicate Christie was the likely veep nominee until late in the process when he was suddenly dropped in favor of Paul Ryan. The upshot of the piece seemed to be that Christie and his friends were mad about being used as decoys or thought he had been snubbed.

All this is leading some observers to not unreasonably connect the dots between this, Christie’s convention speech in which he barely mentioned Romney, and his much-publicized post-hurricane “bromance” with Obama. Whether they are right about that is an open question, but there is little doubt that if Christie doesn’t want Republican activists (whom presumably he will need if he runs for president in the future) holding a grudge against him for sandbagging their candidate in the last week of a close race, then he needs to listen to this New York Post editorial and give the country a loud and clear reminder that he wants Romney to win on Tuesday, not Obama.

In thinking about this story, we are inevitably forced to wonder who benefits from the leak? In doing so, we can certainly eliminate Romney or his campaign, since the story does nothing to help the GOP candidate. But does it help Christie? Perhaps.

It could be that Christie supporters are floating the story in order to point to his absence from the GOP as the reason why they think Romney will fall short on Election Day. Republicans should be unhappy about anyone in their party starting the blame game before rather than after the election (though some Democrats started doing so last month). But if this is the result of Christie seeking to score points at Romney’s expense in the week prior to the election, this is something many in the GOP aren’t going to forget.

While Christie’s decision to abandon any thought of politics in the wake of the hurricane was appropriate, he has to know that his lauding of Obama has been interpreted as a statement about his feelings about Romney. As I wrote on Friday, I think he is probably more focused on his re-election than on a putative run for president that may not come for four or eight years — or never materialize. Yet he needs to debunk that notion pronto. If he doesn’t — whether out of characteristic stubbornness or genuine pique at Romney for actual or perceived slights — he needs to understand that like their cartoon symbol the elephant, Republicans have long memories.

UPDATE:

As Reuters reports (h/t Politico), Chris Christie has made a statement that might pass the bar the New York Post editorial set about him needing to clarify his stand on the election:

I’m a Republican and I have endorsed Mitt Romney, I support him and I intend to vote for him on Tuesday,” said Christie, interviewed in his home state by a visiting Israeli television reporter.

That may go a long way toward tamping down the controversy but it will also still leave a lot of people wondering about Christie’s motives as well as the source for the Politico story about the vice presidential nomination. One suspects that if Romney loses, we won’t have heard the last of this.

Read Less

Obama Pretends to Be Well-Read, Proves He Isn’t

I’ve written previously about the opportunity that the Democratic Party seemed to have in recent years to woo libertarians into their camp. Even right-leaning libertarians were frustrated by the Bush administration’s spending and some of the national security infrastructure put in place after September 11. In addition, the surging support on the left for gay marriage and other social issues seemed to present an opening if the Democrats nominated in 2008 an even modestly pro-market candidate.

They didn’t, and instead nominated Barack Obama, who promised to increase the federal government’s reach into private life, enact a top-town government-run health care system (he was a vocal supporter of the single-payer system), and spread the wealth around. So it was strange to watch libertarians vote for Obama in reasonably large numbers. Reason magazine’s 2008 list of their editors and contributors’ vote preferences makes for sobering reading to any libertarian-leaning voter. And so does part of President Obama’s Rolling Stone interview with historian Douglas Brinkley.

Read More

I’ve written previously about the opportunity that the Democratic Party seemed to have in recent years to woo libertarians into their camp. Even right-leaning libertarians were frustrated by the Bush administration’s spending and some of the national security infrastructure put in place after September 11. In addition, the surging support on the left for gay marriage and other social issues seemed to present an opening if the Democrats nominated in 2008 an even modestly pro-market candidate.

They didn’t, and instead nominated Barack Obama, who promised to increase the federal government’s reach into private life, enact a top-town government-run health care system (he was a vocal supporter of the single-payer system), and spread the wealth around. So it was strange to watch libertarians vote for Obama in reasonably large numbers. Reason magazine’s 2008 list of their editors and contributors’ vote preferences makes for sobering reading to any libertarian-leaning voter. And so does part of President Obama’s Rolling Stone interview with historian Douglas Brinkley.

Obama is asked at one point if he has ever read Ayn Rand. He responds “sure,” though it soon becomes clear that this is highly unlikely. Brinkley asks Obama about what he terms Paul Ryan’s “obsession with her work,” and how Obama thinks it would be relevant should Ryan become vice president. Since a silly question deserves only a silly answer, Obama gleefully provides the silliest he could come up with:

Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we’d pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we’re only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we’re considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity – that that’s a pretty narrow vision. It’s not one that, I think, describes what’s best in America. Unfortunately, it does seem as if sometimes that vision of a “you’re on your own” society has consumed a big chunk of the Republican Party.

Those who follow politics will recognize immediately the president’s signature on this answer. Clutching mightily to any straw man Obama can find rather than grapple honestly with, or seek to begin to understand, any political philosophy that stands in the way of his own political agenda, is classic Obama. But it also makes clear, as Hans Schulzke at United Liberty suggests, that the president hasn’t actually read Rand. Schulzke writes:

If President Obama had read Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, or We the Living, he’d know that Rand’s characters often undergo pain, difficulty, or danger for the sake of their friends. This isn’t sacrifice; Rand rejected sacrifice saying,  “‘Sacrifice’ is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue.”[sic] In the Objectivist ethos, a man’s physical security or well-being could be valued less highly than his integrity, his love for friends, or his compassion for the poor. The distinction lies in it being a conscious choice between values….

Put in simplest terms, the success of the free market relies on cooperation and trade. You can be free and isolated, but you cannot have a market without society. That’s a basic definitional distinction that the President fails to grasp.

Schulzke’s whole post is worth a read. I am not a fan of Ayn Rand or her philosophy, and I tend to think that conservatism as I envision it could not credibly thrive in a Randian Objectivist world, and that neither could religion in the organized way nor even faith as a private common value. Nonetheless, there are two points worth making here.

First, I don’t know where Obama gets his idea of Rand being the province of brooding 18-year-olds, but most people come into contact with Rand’s work because they went to high school. (I was a freshman in high school when first assigned Rand.) That is, Rand’s work is interesting and worthwhile even if you don’t agree with the philosophy behind it, just like many of the other authors commonly assigned to high school students. I don’t know much about the president’s education, but it does not seem to have produced a particularly well-rounded or open-minded attitude toward fiction and literature, and that goes double for political philosophy.

And second, neither Brinkley nor Obama seem to be paying much attention to the current presidential race, which is a shame in Brinkley’s case because he is a historian and in Obama’s case because he is one of the candidates running. As I wrote last week, Ryan believes the strength of the polity lies in part in volunteer organizations and a community-minded ethos that holds charity and personal sacrifice in fairly high regard. The president’s hostility to these and to the role of faith groups in American society is closer to Rand than to Ryan. Which he would know, if he were even superficially familiar with either of them.

Read Less

Paul Ryan, Robert Nisbet, and the Fight to Save Civil Society

Yesterday in Cleveland, Paul Ryan gave easily one of the most important and substantive speeches of this entire election cycle. The fact that it was substantive alone draws a contrast with President Obama’s reelection focus on Big Bird and binders. But it also outlined with frankness and sophistication the distinction between the worldviews of the two tickets.

Ryan spoke about poverty and education, individualism and dependency. But he also focused on the enduring necessity of civil society and the role that local communities play in the typical American life. Though Ryan credited his mentor Jack Kemp, the true unnamed force behind his speech was the late Robert Nisbet. Here is what Ryan said yesterday:

Read More

Yesterday in Cleveland, Paul Ryan gave easily one of the most important and substantive speeches of this entire election cycle. The fact that it was substantive alone draws a contrast with President Obama’s reelection focus on Big Bird and binders. But it also outlined with frankness and sophistication the distinction between the worldviews of the two tickets.

Ryan spoke about poverty and education, individualism and dependency. But he also focused on the enduring necessity of civil society and the role that local communities play in the typical American life. Though Ryan credited his mentor Jack Kemp, the true unnamed force behind his speech was the late Robert Nisbet. Here is what Ryan said yesterday:

[Romney is] the type we’ve all run into in our own communities – here in Cleveland, too, and all around America. Americans are a compassionate people, and there’s a consensus in this country about our fundamental obligations to society’s most vulnerable. Those obligations are not what we’re debating in politics. Most times, the real debate is about whether they are best met by private groups, or by the government; by voluntary action, or by more taxes and coercive mandates from Washington.

The short of it is that there has to be a balance – allowing government to act for the common good, while leaving private groups free to do the work that only they can do.  There’s a vast middle ground between the government and the individual.  Our families and our neighborhoods, the groups we join and our places of worship – this is where we live our lives.  They shape our character, give our lives direction, and help make us a self-governing people.

Nisbet wrote about this in his most celebrated work, The Quest for Community. (And for a great explanation of why that work is relevant to this election, see Ross Douthat’s highly worthwhile introduction to the updated edition of the book.) But possibly more relevant to Ryan’s speech was Nisbet’s underrated book, Twilight of Authority.

“In most ages of history some one institution–kinship, religion, economy, state–is ascendant in human loyalties,” Nisbet wrote in Twilight of Authority. “Other institutions, without being necessarily obliterated, retreat to the background in terms of function and authority.”

History shows that the usual cycle of predominant authority goes something like: kinship, state, religion, and then state again, he writes. “When major institutions die or become weak, it is ultimately by virtue of their loss of power to command respect and allegiance. That loss of power is manifest today in the state.”

Nisbet was writing in the age of Watergate and Vietnam, but the electorate’s near-immediate rejection of Jimmy Carter and consistent concern over taxes and deficits since then would suggest the country never took a holiday from the mistrust of government of Nisbet’s time. According to Nisbet, interest and participation in the government wanes considerably during such a time because the public sees it as corrupt and corrupting.

I would suggest, however, that Nisbet’s characterization has met a rather unique circumstance in the U.S. Nisbet points out that such institutional change is usually brought about by revolution, but that obviously isn’t going to happen here (nor should it). Instead, what we’re experiencing now is a split: conservatives have ditched government as the trusted institution, but liberals have only strengthened their faith in the government, especially the presidency. What Nisbet called the “forms of belief which find in the political state or any other external structure of social order the possibility of redemption or salvation” were on full display by Barack Obama himself, when he finally knocked Hillary Clinton out of the race for the Democratic nomination:

“I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

That’s also why Ryan brought up the Obama administration’s birth control mandate in that same speech: it’s the perfect example of left’s perception that the government works in competition, not concert, with faith groups; that true benevolence is enabled first by government coercion; and that, as the theme of Obama’s nomination convention had it, “government is the only thing that we all belong to.”

This is one reason for the degree of political polarization in America today. The emergence of a true small-government core identity on the right and the end of the pro-life left and Blue Dog Democrats is also the end of Nisbet’s cycle of affiliation and institutional trust. The populace doesn’t throw its weight behind its political leaders in unison, then its religious leaders in unison. Instead, the right has embraced faith groups and other local institutions as integral to the survival of the community, while the left has outsourced its charitable instincts to a strong central government as a lone, cold–and increasingly failed–authority.

Read Less

Does Biden Speak for the Administration on Iran?

Obviously Jeffrey Goldberg is no rosy-eyed optimist when it comes to the threat of a nuclear Iran, but he’s also spent the last few years trying to assure everyone that President Obama is dead serious about preventing the bomb. Which is why it’s surprising to see this relatively tough criticism of the administration in his latest column:

Romney was handed an additional gift last week by Vice President Joe Biden. Over the past three years, I’ve been impressed with Obama’s seriousness on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, the urgency with which he treats the subject, and the measures he has taken to keep the regime from crossing the atomic threshold. But last week, in the vice-presidential debate, Biden attempted to portray Representative Paul Ryan as a hysteric on the subject, even though Ryan’s seriousness on Iran matches the president’s.

In so doing, Biden downplayed the importance of confronting Iran. Biden said that when Ryan “talks about fissile material, they have to take this highly enriched uranium, get it from 20 percent up. Then they have to be able to have something to put it in. There is no weapon that the Iranians have at this point. Both the Israelis and we know — we’ll know if they start the process of building a weapon. So all this bluster I keep hearing, all this loose talk — what are they talking about?”

Read More

Obviously Jeffrey Goldberg is no rosy-eyed optimist when it comes to the threat of a nuclear Iran, but he’s also spent the last few years trying to assure everyone that President Obama is dead serious about preventing the bomb. Which is why it’s surprising to see this relatively tough criticism of the administration in his latest column:

Romney was handed an additional gift last week by Vice President Joe Biden. Over the past three years, I’ve been impressed with Obama’s seriousness on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, the urgency with which he treats the subject, and the measures he has taken to keep the regime from crossing the atomic threshold. But last week, in the vice-presidential debate, Biden attempted to portray Representative Paul Ryan as a hysteric on the subject, even though Ryan’s seriousness on Iran matches the president’s.

In so doing, Biden downplayed the importance of confronting Iran. Biden said that when Ryan “talks about fissile material, they have to take this highly enriched uranium, get it from 20 percent up. Then they have to be able to have something to put it in. There is no weapon that the Iranians have at this point. Both the Israelis and we know — we’ll know if they start the process of building a weapon. So all this bluster I keep hearing, all this loose talk — what are they talking about?”

Goldberg writes that Biden “downplayed the importance of confronting Iran,” and calls this a “dramatic, deviation from the administration’s line on Iran.” He notes that Biden was wrong in both substance (an Iranian bomb isn’t that far off when you look at the work they’ve done so far) and tone (yes, it actually is a big deal).

It’s definitely unsettling to hear the vice president dismiss concern over a nuclear Iran as “bluster” and “loose talk,” the same terms used by people like Stephen Walt to smear journalists like Goldberg as warmongers. But was Biden off-message, or just clumsily parroting the administration’s internal sentiment? Keep in mind that “bluster” and “loose talk” were the same two words used by President Obama to dismiss Republican critics of his Iran policy at AIPAC last spring. Kind of a coincidence, no? Recently, Obama also referred to Israeli concern over the nuclear program as “noise.” The difference may just be that Obama phrased his administration’s line a bit more carefully, which wouldn’t be a surprise considering, well … Biden.

Read Less

Afghan Bugout Will Have Consequences

One of the more frustrating exchanges in the vice presidential debate this past week was the one about Afghanistan. Vice President Biden thinks he won the point by insisting that the United States was simply pulling out: “We are leaving Afghanistan in 2014, period. There is no ifs, ands or buts.” By contrast, Paul Ryan’s position was more nuanced, expressing a clear desire to end the American military role in the war there but criticizing the administration’s decision to announce a firm deadline for the pullout that has told the Taliban that all they need to do to triumph is to just wait for the U.S. to bug out. Ryan has the better argument, but at a time when fatigue with foreign wars is high, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Biden’s position might be more popular.

That sentiment reflects not merely the wish to extricate U.S. troops from a bloody and difficult task but a desire to ignore what happens to Afghanistan and its people and to treat the conflict as irrelevant to American interests. That position was more fully articulated in today’s lengthy lead editorial in the New York Times. The piece, titled “Time to Pack Up,” takes the position that the United States should not even wait until 2014 to abandon Afghanistan but flee within the next 12 months leaving the country to the tender mercies of the Taliban. Ironically, the Times underlines Ryan’s fears about what the administration is about to do in Afghanistan. The paper, which in this case probably speaks for most liberals on the issue, treats the Taliban’s eventual victory as perhaps regrettable but unavoidable. They concede defeat to the Islamists but seem to think that admitting this will strengthen rather than hurt American interests in the region. They could not be more mistaken.

Read More

One of the more frustrating exchanges in the vice presidential debate this past week was the one about Afghanistan. Vice President Biden thinks he won the point by insisting that the United States was simply pulling out: “We are leaving Afghanistan in 2014, period. There is no ifs, ands or buts.” By contrast, Paul Ryan’s position was more nuanced, expressing a clear desire to end the American military role in the war there but criticizing the administration’s decision to announce a firm deadline for the pullout that has told the Taliban that all they need to do to triumph is to just wait for the U.S. to bug out. Ryan has the better argument, but at a time when fatigue with foreign wars is high, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Biden’s position might be more popular.

That sentiment reflects not merely the wish to extricate U.S. troops from a bloody and difficult task but a desire to ignore what happens to Afghanistan and its people and to treat the conflict as irrelevant to American interests. That position was more fully articulated in today’s lengthy lead editorial in the New York Times. The piece, titled “Time to Pack Up,” takes the position that the United States should not even wait until 2014 to abandon Afghanistan but flee within the next 12 months leaving the country to the tender mercies of the Taliban. Ironically, the Times underlines Ryan’s fears about what the administration is about to do in Afghanistan. The paper, which in this case probably speaks for most liberals on the issue, treats the Taliban’s eventual victory as perhaps regrettable but unavoidable. They concede defeat to the Islamists but seem to think that admitting this will strengthen rather than hurt American interests in the region. They could not be more mistaken.

The editorial acknowledges that the paper, like many liberals, used to think of Afghanistan as the “good war” that needed to be pursued to victory as opposed to the “bad war” in Iraq. But that has long since been exposed as a cheap rhetorical device whose intent was to bash President George W. Bush rather than a sincere desire to ensure that the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies did not regain control of Afghanistan. The Times claims that any chance of victory was lost because of Iraq but fails to explain why that is so since they believe no amount of counter-insurgency efforts would root out the Taliban.

Advocates of quick withdrawal blame the situation there on the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai. On that score, Karzai and his corrupt regime have much to answer for. But the willingness of the Taliban and other Islamists to go on fighting until victory would not be diminished even were the Kabul government to be led by saints. For far too long, America has not treated victory over the Taliban as its priority and the result is an unsatisfying stalemate. But what will follow American withdrawal will be a disaster as even the Times notes:

We are not arguing that everything will work out well after the United States leaves Afghanistan. It will not. The Taliban will take over parts of the Pashtun south, where they will brutalize women and trample their rights. Warlords will go on stealing. Afghanistan will still be the world’s second-poorest country. Al Qaeda may make inroads, but since 9/11 it has established itself in Yemen and many other countries.

The only problem with this assessment is that it may be too optimistic. If the Afghan people believe the government is no longer the “strong horse” in the country, the Taliban and Al Qaeda may achieve far more than a takeover of the south. The result will be ruinous for the people we have sought to protect there, a point on which the Times editors shed few tears. The Times writes as if the end of the Vietnam War was a worthy model for the U.S. to pursue in Afghanistan. Given the toll in human suffering in terms of mass executions, hundreds of thousands sent to “reeducation camps” and or made to flee as boat people, that’s an immoral position. But it is also wrong about the strategic effects of defeat in Afghanistan.

The end in Vietnam did lead to collapse and genocide in Cambodia, but Southeast Asia was always a strategic backwater in America’s Cold War against the Soviet Union. By contrast Afghanistan’s fall would not only reinvigorate an al-Qaeda that the Obama administration pretends to have defeated. It will impact the stability of non-Islamist regimes throughout the Middle East and reduce the chances that a democratic government in Iraq will survive in the long run.

The Times also foolishly asserts that such an outcome would strengthen America’s hand in Pakistan, but it is difficult to see how a victory for their Taliban allies across the border would make Karachi any more amenable to U.S. interests.

It should also be noted that the editorial concludes with a passage that is factually incorrect. Dwight Eisenhower did negotiate an end to the fighting in Korea but he did not leave Korea as the Times asserts. American troops are there to this day guaranteeing the survival of the peace that Ike made. The absence of such a tough-minded peace doomed Vietnam to a totalitarian nightmare and may yet be felt in Iraq. The Times’s claim that what follows our defeat will be, “likely to be more presentable than North Korea, less presentable than Iraq and perhaps about the same as Vietnam.” That demonstrates ignorance of the differences between the Vietnamese communists and our foes in Afghanistan. But if Americans willingly allow the nation that launched 9/11 to fall back into the hands of those who aided and abetted that crime then it will reduce our prestige and harm our interests far more than advocates of withdrawal seem to understand.

Unlike Southeast Asia in the 1970s, America cannot pretend as if the Middle East is on a different planet. The costs of trying to do so will not only be immoral but will also make the United States and the world far less safe.

Read Less

Biden’s Lie About Religious Freedom

Here’s one final note about the vice presidential debate. Both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their weak moments. Ryan couldn’t explain what Mitt Romney would do differently in the future to deal with the tragedy in Syria even if he was right about President Obama’s mistakes. He was also flummoxed by Biden’s comeback about his request for stimulus funds for his Wisconsin congressional district, something for which he should have been prepared. The list of Biden’s mistakes is much longer. Biden told a flat out lie when he claimed he opposed the Iraq War and the add-on of the prescription drug plan to Medicare. He voted for both of the wars and the free drugs for seniors. But as bad as that was, far more offensive was the lie about the administration’s attack on religious freedom via ObamaCare.

In response to Ryan’s accurate charge that the HHS Mandate under ObamaCare forces religious institutions to violate their consciences to pay for services their faith opposes, Biden claimed the following:

With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, one might ask Biden if Georgetown is not being compelled to pay for contraception, then what exactly was behind the ruckus about Sandra Fluke’s complaints about the university’s refusal to do so. Biden’s claim was not only an offensive falsehood, it was a stupid one since even his liberal supporters know that is what is happening.

Read More

Here’s one final note about the vice presidential debate. Both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their weak moments. Ryan couldn’t explain what Mitt Romney would do differently in the future to deal with the tragedy in Syria even if he was right about President Obama’s mistakes. He was also flummoxed by Biden’s comeback about his request for stimulus funds for his Wisconsin congressional district, something for which he should have been prepared. The list of Biden’s mistakes is much longer. Biden told a flat out lie when he claimed he opposed the Iraq War and the add-on of the prescription drug plan to Medicare. He voted for both of the wars and the free drugs for seniors. But as bad as that was, far more offensive was the lie about the administration’s attack on religious freedom via ObamaCare.

In response to Ryan’s accurate charge that the HHS Mandate under ObamaCare forces religious institutions to violate their consciences to pay for services their faith opposes, Biden claimed the following:

With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, one might ask Biden if Georgetown is not being compelled to pay for contraception, then what exactly was behind the ruckus about Sandra Fluke’s complaints about the university’s refusal to do so. Biden’s claim was not only an offensive falsehood, it was a stupid one since even his liberal supporters know that is what is happening.

In truth, the attempt to force both church institutions and individuals to bow to the dictates of the president’s signature health care legislation is the subject of legal challenges that are still making their way through the courts. As the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty noted today, there are currently 33 such cases representing over 100 hospitals, universities, businesses and schools that are seeking to defend their constitutional rights against the administration’s attempt to compel them to do exactly what Biden says they are not being asked to do. These plaintiffs face potential government fines of millions of dollars, but they are determined to stand up for their faith and their beliefs in spite of the government’s efforts to intimidate them.

There is a lively debate going on about the future of health care, but there may be no more insidious aspect to the ObamaCare issue than this threat to religious liberty. Both Biden and his party support the HHS Mandate, something that was made abundantly clear at the Democratic Convention at which Ms. Fluke was unveiled as a prime time liberal star. But the vice president’s willingness to lie about that support tells us that he understands just how unpopular this stand is outside of the precincts of the left. He should have had the guts and the honesty to say so.

Democrats repeating their “liar, liar” mantra about Romney and Ryan (and claiming that this justified Biden’s boorishness) need to own up to the barefaced lies Biden told at the debate.

Read Less

The Rising Veep Futures Market

Analysis of the vice presidential debate has rightly focused on whether the dustup between Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan will influence the fortunes of their respective tickets next month. The jury is obviously out on that question, but though we ought not to get too far ahead of ourselves, the debate is also very likely to impact the 2016 contest. Whatever one may think of their performances, both Biden and Ryan are likely to be players on the national scene for some time to come.

That this would be so for the 42-year-old Ryan is hardly news. Ryan is already a major figure in his party and the Congress, so win or lose this year, he’s going to be a factor in the future. But despite, or perhaps because of, his ludicrous behavior during the debate, the same can probably be said of the 69-year-old vice president. Though many may have laughed about Biden’s thinly concealed ambition to succeed President Obama, on the strength of his well-received Democratic National Convention acceptance speech as well as his debate performance, no one should be chuckling about such a prospect today. Though only the most hard-core Democratic partisans were not appalled by his boorish behavior in the debate, both appearances capture his appeal to the party base. If he maintains his health and especially if he is the sitting vice president, Biden will be a formidable competitor for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

Read More

Analysis of the vice presidential debate has rightly focused on whether the dustup between Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan will influence the fortunes of their respective tickets next month. The jury is obviously out on that question, but though we ought not to get too far ahead of ourselves, the debate is also very likely to impact the 2016 contest. Whatever one may think of their performances, both Biden and Ryan are likely to be players on the national scene for some time to come.

That this would be so for the 42-year-old Ryan is hardly news. Ryan is already a major figure in his party and the Congress, so win or lose this year, he’s going to be a factor in the future. But despite, or perhaps because of, his ludicrous behavior during the debate, the same can probably be said of the 69-year-old vice president. Though many may have laughed about Biden’s thinly concealed ambition to succeed President Obama, on the strength of his well-received Democratic National Convention acceptance speech as well as his debate performance, no one should be chuckling about such a prospect today. Though only the most hard-core Democratic partisans were not appalled by his boorish behavior in the debate, both appearances capture his appeal to the party base. If he maintains his health and especially if he is the sitting vice president, Biden will be a formidable competitor for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

It is true that Biden is something of a buffoon, as he so clearly demonstrated last night. But it is the sort of buffoonery that the liberal core of the Democratic Party adores. His bloviating is of the sort that engenders disgust among his opponents but liberals have always longed for a leader who doesn’t merely argue with the other side but bullies them into submission. Biden combines the glad-handing spirit of the traditional politicians with the conduct of a bare-knuckles brawler, exactly the combination that is most likely to charm some of the interest groups who are most likely to turn out in Democratic primaries. He will also benefit from his close association with the president, a not inconsiderable credential in a 2016 race that is unlikely to have a major African-American in the running (sorry, Corey Booker, you won’t be ready by then, if ever). Biden will also have no trouble raising the money needed for a presidential run.

That is not to say I’m predicting Biden will be the Democratic nominee four years from now. Though his party’s bench is terribly thin, someone else is bound to emerge and any fresh face will have an edge against what will by then be a terribly familiar and somewhat elderly Biden whom most rational Democrats will have to know would be a disastrous top of the ticket in a general election. But I do think Biden has a more than decent chance to be competitive in the primaries.

As for Ryan, as most of the TV talking heads said last night, he did himself no damage last night. He remains the intellectual leader of his party and should Romney win, Ryan will be his natural successor as well as the next in line during his presidency. Even if he loses, Ryan will assume the role of the de facto leader of Congressional Republicans and spend the next four years in the spotlight as speculation about the next round grows. Indeed, as the nation’s drift toward insolvency becomes even more apparent, entitlement reform will grow in importance as an issue. That means the Wisconsin congressman will be even more of a player in the next few years than he was in the past.

Unlike the Democrats, the Republican bench is deep and strong. Marco Rubio and Chris Christie are just two of a formidable array of potential GOP candidates. As much as I admire Ryan’s intellect, integrity and good manners, unless Ryan is the sitting vice president, he will be hard pressed to beat either Rubio or Christie. But if he runs, he has as good a chance as anyone.

All of which means it is entirely conceivable, if not necessarily likely, that we haven’t seen the last debate between Biden and Ryan. If so, you can bet that Ryan will insist on rules about interruptions the next time around.

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.