Commentary Magazine


Topic: politician

What Jerry Brown Does Not Propose to Cut, Realign, or Reform

It was easy to miss California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address on Monday this week. Besides competing with events in the Middle East, his speech had the disadvantage of being little more than a pitch to California voters for the budget plan his office published in January. The plan is touted as inflicting pain on everyone, but it doesn’t. It postpones, for separate deliberation, a remedy for California’s looming $700 billion public-pension deficit. And it leaves the state’s regulatory posture untouched.

The Brown budget plan does propose significant cuts in health, higher-education, and welfare spending. It proposes a “fundamental realignment” of government that would shift more of the responsibility to pay for police and fire services, criminal courts, prisons, and parole programs to the counties and major cities. Brown plans to ease this transition with a five-year extension of the current, elevated tax rates, from which the revenues would be distributed to local governments. His budget includes consolidation of administrative functions in the state government, along with cuts of 8-10 percent in state-worker compensation.

But ultimately, the Brown approach is narrow and exclusively fiscal. The governor is trying to balance the books without addressing the government-imposed conditions that tend, inevitably, to unbalance them. The problem of unsustainable pensions is one of those conditions — and while Brown does propose to address it, he hasn’t attached any real incentives to the debate. By contrast, however, he is prepared to hold state funds for police and fire services hostage to the people’s willingness to vote for a tax extension. It’s a tribute to his laid-back brand of pugnacity (and the quiescence of the California media) that this veiled threat has gone virtually unrecognized for what it is. A New York politician would not be so lucky.

As alarming as the pension problem is, a more fundamental dysfunction is California’s vigorous, energetic, enthusiastically experimental regulatory environment. Regulation, as much as the tax code, drives businesses and jobs out of the state. Besides creating the artificial drought in the San Joaquin Valley, regulation has shut down entirely such potential sources of revenue as offshore drilling and modernized refineries, while ensuring that the state’s power and water infrastructures will not be adequately updated, and imposing some of the nation’s highest compliance costs on businesses and customers.

But Jerry Brown doesn’t propose to change policy on these matters, nor does he propose any changes in the administration of the regulatory environment. State regulatory agencies and their charters will be affected, in his budget, only by the government-wide consolidation of functions.

At some point, it may occur to California voters that they’re being asked to do all the adjusting so that the state government need suffer no interruption in imposing an ideological vision on them. I don’t see any other state government proposing to make these same choices in 2011; as usual, California is out on its own limb. It will be instructive, and no doubt cautionary, to observe what happens.

It was easy to miss California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address on Monday this week. Besides competing with events in the Middle East, his speech had the disadvantage of being little more than a pitch to California voters for the budget plan his office published in January. The plan is touted as inflicting pain on everyone, but it doesn’t. It postpones, for separate deliberation, a remedy for California’s looming $700 billion public-pension deficit. And it leaves the state’s regulatory posture untouched.

The Brown budget plan does propose significant cuts in health, higher-education, and welfare spending. It proposes a “fundamental realignment” of government that would shift more of the responsibility to pay for police and fire services, criminal courts, prisons, and parole programs to the counties and major cities. Brown plans to ease this transition with a five-year extension of the current, elevated tax rates, from which the revenues would be distributed to local governments. His budget includes consolidation of administrative functions in the state government, along with cuts of 8-10 percent in state-worker compensation.

But ultimately, the Brown approach is narrow and exclusively fiscal. The governor is trying to balance the books without addressing the government-imposed conditions that tend, inevitably, to unbalance them. The problem of unsustainable pensions is one of those conditions — and while Brown does propose to address it, he hasn’t attached any real incentives to the debate. By contrast, however, he is prepared to hold state funds for police and fire services hostage to the people’s willingness to vote for a tax extension. It’s a tribute to his laid-back brand of pugnacity (and the quiescence of the California media) that this veiled threat has gone virtually unrecognized for what it is. A New York politician would not be so lucky.

As alarming as the pension problem is, a more fundamental dysfunction is California’s vigorous, energetic, enthusiastically experimental regulatory environment. Regulation, as much as the tax code, drives businesses and jobs out of the state. Besides creating the artificial drought in the San Joaquin Valley, regulation has shut down entirely such potential sources of revenue as offshore drilling and modernized refineries, while ensuring that the state’s power and water infrastructures will not be adequately updated, and imposing some of the nation’s highest compliance costs on businesses and customers.

But Jerry Brown doesn’t propose to change policy on these matters, nor does he propose any changes in the administration of the regulatory environment. State regulatory agencies and their charters will be affected, in his budget, only by the government-wide consolidation of functions.

At some point, it may occur to California voters that they’re being asked to do all the adjusting so that the state government need suffer no interruption in imposing an ideological vision on them. I don’t see any other state government proposing to make these same choices in 2011; as usual, California is out on its own limb. It will be instructive, and no doubt cautionary, to observe what happens.

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Moynihan on Democracy

Yesterday I quoted Ronald Reagan on the central role freedom and human rights should play in American foreign policy. Today I want to follow up with a quote from the man Michael Barone called “the nation’s best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson.”

Writing in the May 1974 issue of COMMENTARY (subscription required), Daniel Patrick Moynihan said this:

There will be no struggle for personal liberty (or national independence or national survival) anywhere in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America which will not affect American politics. In that circumstance, I would argue that there is only one course likely to make the internal strains of consequent conflict endurable, and that is for the United States deliberately and consistently to bring its influence to bear on behalf of those regimes which promise the largest degree of personal and national liberty. …. We stand for liberty, for the expansion of liberty. Anything else risks the contraction of liberty: our own included.

Moynihan went on to warn about those “who know too much to believe anything in particular and opt instead for accommodations of reasonableness and urbanity that drain our world position of moral purpose.”

I certainly didn’t agree with Moynihan on everything — but whenever I read him, even when I disagree with him, I’m reminded just how much we miss him.

Yesterday I quoted Ronald Reagan on the central role freedom and human rights should play in American foreign policy. Today I want to follow up with a quote from the man Michael Barone called “the nation’s best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson.”

Writing in the May 1974 issue of COMMENTARY (subscription required), Daniel Patrick Moynihan said this:

There will be no struggle for personal liberty (or national independence or national survival) anywhere in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America which will not affect American politics. In that circumstance, I would argue that there is only one course likely to make the internal strains of consequent conflict endurable, and that is for the United States deliberately and consistently to bring its influence to bear on behalf of those regimes which promise the largest degree of personal and national liberty. …. We stand for liberty, for the expansion of liberty. Anything else risks the contraction of liberty: our own included.

Moynihan went on to warn about those “who know too much to believe anything in particular and opt instead for accommodations of reasonableness and urbanity that drain our world position of moral purpose.”

I certainly didn’t agree with Moynihan on everything — but whenever I read him, even when I disagree with him, I’m reminded just how much we miss him.

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RE: Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman

Following up on John’s post on Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: a standard trope in the mainstream news media is to bemoan the decline of bipartisanship and the disappearance of centrist politicians. If only there were more lawmakers willing to vote based on their principles rather than politics, we often hear, Washington would be a better place. Except this week just such a politician announced his retirement, and instead of offering him tributes for his political bravery, he has been kicked in the shins for daring to deviate from the party line.

I am thinking, of course, of Joe Lieberman, who has come to define genuine bipartisanship in Washington. A liberal Democrat on many issues, he voted for ObamaCare and led the charge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But he also courageously supported the Iraq war even when it became extremely unpopular to do so, and he stood by his friend John McCain even when McCain was opposing Barack Obama, the liberal darling. Thus Lieberman’s retirement announcement has been greeted not with tributes to his statesmanship but with brickbats hurled by the likes of New York Times columnist Gail Collins.

In an ungraceful and unpleasant column, Collins cannot seem to find anything nice to say about one of the nicest people in Washington. She even slights him rather than praises him for his leadership on allowing gays to serve openly in the military:

Last month, when he helped lead the fight for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” some people seemed more than a tad resentful at having to give up complaining about him for the duration of the debate. “Of course, he wants gay people in the military,” wrote Alex Pareene at Salon.com, “He wants everyone in the military.”

Whatever happened to civility in politics — that virtue much praised in recent weeks? Do its dictates apply only to Republicans? And is “courage” a virtue that can be exhibited only by those who take liberal policy stands? Silly questions, I know.  The commentary on Lieberman’s retirement confirms that there is no institution quite so partisan as the MSM, even as it sings the praises of bipartisanship.

Following up on John’s post on Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: a standard trope in the mainstream news media is to bemoan the decline of bipartisanship and the disappearance of centrist politicians. If only there were more lawmakers willing to vote based on their principles rather than politics, we often hear, Washington would be a better place. Except this week just such a politician announced his retirement, and instead of offering him tributes for his political bravery, he has been kicked in the shins for daring to deviate from the party line.

I am thinking, of course, of Joe Lieberman, who has come to define genuine bipartisanship in Washington. A liberal Democrat on many issues, he voted for ObamaCare and led the charge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But he also courageously supported the Iraq war even when it became extremely unpopular to do so, and he stood by his friend John McCain even when McCain was opposing Barack Obama, the liberal darling. Thus Lieberman’s retirement announcement has been greeted not with tributes to his statesmanship but with brickbats hurled by the likes of New York Times columnist Gail Collins.

In an ungraceful and unpleasant column, Collins cannot seem to find anything nice to say about one of the nicest people in Washington. She even slights him rather than praises him for his leadership on allowing gays to serve openly in the military:

Last month, when he helped lead the fight for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” some people seemed more than a tad resentful at having to give up complaining about him for the duration of the debate. “Of course, he wants gay people in the military,” wrote Alex Pareene at Salon.com, “He wants everyone in the military.”

Whatever happened to civility in politics — that virtue much praised in recent weeks? Do its dictates apply only to Republicans? And is “courage” a virtue that can be exhibited only by those who take liberal policy stands? Silly questions, I know.  The commentary on Lieberman’s retirement confirms that there is no institution quite so partisan as the MSM, even as it sings the praises of bipartisanship.

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Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: Not Much of a Competition There

Gail Collins of the New York Times has written a column upon Joe Lieberman’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate that, as with so many of her pieces, is written in a spirit of jocularity when its author actually has no observable sense of humor. This one is full of invective without wit. It’s as if Collins, whose tenure as the editor of the Times editorial page made for excellent bird-cage lining, were the bastard child of Don Rickles and David Broder.

Of Lieberman, she says he was, at the outset of his career, “extremely boring.” Of his speech yesterday, she writes: “Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.” She quotes “a friend in Connecticut” who said, “He’s the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won’t have to make conversation.” She then tasks him, through a quote from a Connecticut pol, for “taking it personally” when people called him a baby-killer and a monster and evil for supporting the war in Iraq.

Listen. Hate Joe Lieberman all you want for his ideas — and she freely acknowledges she does hate him for “watering down” the health-care bill and “consolidating the intelligence services” — but it is simply preposterous to describe him as boring or the kind of person you flee from. Until the Iraq war rended the nation and heated up politics in Washington to a dangerous roil, Lieberman was certainly among the best-liked senators among people on both sides of the aisle. His staffers loved him, and so did the staffs of committees on which he served. And he is the opposite of boring: once (or maybe even twice) he won a contest that judged the funniest elected politician in Washington. Granted, that’s not much of a contest, but in the contest for unfunniest columnist in America, Gail Collins would win hands-down.

I know him a little; his daughter Rebecca is a very close friend of mine. At Rebecca’s wedding, Lieberman got up to make the paternal toast. “I am so happy today,” he said, “that I wish I could give you all an earmark.” If she lived a hundred lifetimes, Gail Collins would be unable to crack a joke one-thousandth as clever. Believe me, if you had to pick one or the other to go out and have a drink with, even if you were Noam Chomsky, you’d have a better time with Joe.

Gail Collins of the New York Times has written a column upon Joe Lieberman’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate that, as with so many of her pieces, is written in a spirit of jocularity when its author actually has no observable sense of humor. This one is full of invective without wit. It’s as if Collins, whose tenure as the editor of the Times editorial page made for excellent bird-cage lining, were the bastard child of Don Rickles and David Broder.

Of Lieberman, she says he was, at the outset of his career, “extremely boring.” Of his speech yesterday, she writes: “Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.” She quotes “a friend in Connecticut” who said, “He’s the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won’t have to make conversation.” She then tasks him, through a quote from a Connecticut pol, for “taking it personally” when people called him a baby-killer and a monster and evil for supporting the war in Iraq.

Listen. Hate Joe Lieberman all you want for his ideas — and she freely acknowledges she does hate him for “watering down” the health-care bill and “consolidating the intelligence services” — but it is simply preposterous to describe him as boring or the kind of person you flee from. Until the Iraq war rended the nation and heated up politics in Washington to a dangerous roil, Lieberman was certainly among the best-liked senators among people on both sides of the aisle. His staffers loved him, and so did the staffs of committees on which he served. And he is the opposite of boring: once (or maybe even twice) he won a contest that judged the funniest elected politician in Washington. Granted, that’s not much of a contest, but in the contest for unfunniest columnist in America, Gail Collins would win hands-down.

I know him a little; his daughter Rebecca is a very close friend of mine. At Rebecca’s wedding, Lieberman got up to make the paternal toast. “I am so happy today,” he said, “that I wish I could give you all an earmark.” If she lived a hundred lifetimes, Gail Collins would be unable to crack a joke one-thousandth as clever. Believe me, if you had to pick one or the other to go out and have a drink with, even if you were Noam Chomsky, you’d have a better time with Joe.

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Newt Gingrich’s Advice to Palin

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Newt Gingrich had some unsolicited words of advice for Sarah Palin, whose poll numbers have been dropping after the Tucson tragedy.

“I think that she has got to slow down and be more careful and think through what she’s saying and how she’s saying it,” said Gingrich, who will likely challenge Palin for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

And while that’s a good recommendation for any politician — something Gingrich should probably work on himself — will it do any good for Palin?

Her political troubles over the past few weeks weren’t caused by a failure to slow down and think carefully. In fact, a lot of her most controversial remarks have been well thought out. Those gun references from last spring? She used them repeatedly in her statements, especially after she saw the furious reaction they elicited from the media and Democrats. Her “target” map was designed by a professional graphic artist, probably with a good deal of input from her PAC’s communications staff. And her recent comment about blood libel was part of a pre-written speech crafted with the help of PR experts.

Again, Gingrich’s words were good advice for any politician. But at this point, is there any indication that Palin has any interest in being a politician (as opposed to just running for political office)? Her increasingly eye-popping statements can only be looked at in two ways. Either she’s a “media-manipulation genius” (as that old meme goes) interested in a career as a professional conservative pundit, or she’s a serious politician who is breathtakingly clueless about media strategy.

The latter one seems unlikely. Not only is Palin incredibly savvy; so are the strategists around her. But in the past year, as a potential front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, she’s continued to make pre-planned comments that even the greenest City Hall candidate would have good sense to avoid. Promoting a map with crosshairs over Democratic districts during a debate as heated as the one last spring on health care? And writing the term “blood libel” into a speech? Yes, these controversies were blown way out of proportion by the media, but they were also completely unnecessary, avoidable scandals.

Conservatives who have seen how much potential Palin has as a candidate have advised her to get serious for almost two years. But is the problem that she hasn’t heard what they are saying? Or is it that she doesn’t want to hear it?

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Newt Gingrich had some unsolicited words of advice for Sarah Palin, whose poll numbers have been dropping after the Tucson tragedy.

“I think that she has got to slow down and be more careful and think through what she’s saying and how she’s saying it,” said Gingrich, who will likely challenge Palin for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

And while that’s a good recommendation for any politician — something Gingrich should probably work on himself — will it do any good for Palin?

Her political troubles over the past few weeks weren’t caused by a failure to slow down and think carefully. In fact, a lot of her most controversial remarks have been well thought out. Those gun references from last spring? She used them repeatedly in her statements, especially after she saw the furious reaction they elicited from the media and Democrats. Her “target” map was designed by a professional graphic artist, probably with a good deal of input from her PAC’s communications staff. And her recent comment about blood libel was part of a pre-written speech crafted with the help of PR experts.

Again, Gingrich’s words were good advice for any politician. But at this point, is there any indication that Palin has any interest in being a politician (as opposed to just running for political office)? Her increasingly eye-popping statements can only be looked at in two ways. Either she’s a “media-manipulation genius” (as that old meme goes) interested in a career as a professional conservative pundit, or she’s a serious politician who is breathtakingly clueless about media strategy.

The latter one seems unlikely. Not only is Palin incredibly savvy; so are the strategists around her. But in the past year, as a potential front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, she’s continued to make pre-planned comments that even the greenest City Hall candidate would have good sense to avoid. Promoting a map with crosshairs over Democratic districts during a debate as heated as the one last spring on health care? And writing the term “blood libel” into a speech? Yes, these controversies were blown way out of proportion by the media, but they were also completely unnecessary, avoidable scandals.

Conservatives who have seen how much potential Palin has as a candidate have advised her to get serious for almost two years. But is the problem that she hasn’t heard what they are saying? Or is it that she doesn’t want to hear it?

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Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Slams PLO-Flag Decision

It’s so refreshing — and sadly rare — when a politician comes out and just says the honest truth. Today Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, issued some much-needed real talk on the Palestinian Authority’s decision to raise the PLO flag outside its Washington diplomatic mission today. From her press release:

“Raising this flag in DC is part of the Palestinian leadership’s scheme to manipulate international acceptance and diplomatic recognition of a yet-to-be-created Palestinian state while refusing to directly negotiate with Israel or accept the existence of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state.

“The Palestinian leadership’s ongoing drive to win recognition from foreign governments, and its latest push to condemn Israel at the UN, is part of the same strategy aimed at extracting concessions without being required to meet international commitments.

“I remain deeply disappointed that the Palestinian leadership continues to reject the opportunity to negotiate directly and in good faith with the Israeli government to resolve all outstanding issues and achieve security and peace. Instead, Palestinian leaders reject negotiations, they make excuses, and they seek shortcuts to statehood.”

This could not have been said better. The PA’s attempts to win statehood recognition prematurely doesn’t just hurt Israel — it harms the entire peace process. These tactics allow the Palestinian leadership to delay negotiations, which will only end up impeding the creation of a Palestinian state.

But Ros-Lehtinen doesn’t stop at calling out the Palestinian leadership. She also tears into the Obama administration, which has facilitated the PA’s destructive strategy:

“The U.S. has reinforced Ramallah’s rejectionism through economic and political support, including support for the PLO office in Washington, instead of requiring that they meet all conditions in U.S. law. Governments worldwide will interpret such actions as tacit U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state. These actions send precisely the wrong message to foreign governments.

“It’s long past time to change course, uphold our own laws by holding Ramallah accountable for its commitments, and encourage other responsible nations to do likewise.”

This is a key point. By allowing the PLO flag to be raised outside the Washington office, the Obama administration is sending an international message of implicit support for the PA’s strides toward unilateral statehood. And more than that, it’s seen as a pointed snub at Israel, giving both the PA and the Israeli governments an additional reason to avoid negotiations.

It’s so refreshing — and sadly rare — when a politician comes out and just says the honest truth. Today Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, issued some much-needed real talk on the Palestinian Authority’s decision to raise the PLO flag outside its Washington diplomatic mission today. From her press release:

“Raising this flag in DC is part of the Palestinian leadership’s scheme to manipulate international acceptance and diplomatic recognition of a yet-to-be-created Palestinian state while refusing to directly negotiate with Israel or accept the existence of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state.

“The Palestinian leadership’s ongoing drive to win recognition from foreign governments, and its latest push to condemn Israel at the UN, is part of the same strategy aimed at extracting concessions without being required to meet international commitments.

“I remain deeply disappointed that the Palestinian leadership continues to reject the opportunity to negotiate directly and in good faith with the Israeli government to resolve all outstanding issues and achieve security and peace. Instead, Palestinian leaders reject negotiations, they make excuses, and they seek shortcuts to statehood.”

This could not have been said better. The PA’s attempts to win statehood recognition prematurely doesn’t just hurt Israel — it harms the entire peace process. These tactics allow the Palestinian leadership to delay negotiations, which will only end up impeding the creation of a Palestinian state.

But Ros-Lehtinen doesn’t stop at calling out the Palestinian leadership. She also tears into the Obama administration, which has facilitated the PA’s destructive strategy:

“The U.S. has reinforced Ramallah’s rejectionism through economic and political support, including support for the PLO office in Washington, instead of requiring that they meet all conditions in U.S. law. Governments worldwide will interpret such actions as tacit U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state. These actions send precisely the wrong message to foreign governments.

“It’s long past time to change course, uphold our own laws by holding Ramallah accountable for its commitments, and encourage other responsible nations to do likewise.”

This is a key point. By allowing the PLO flag to be raised outside the Washington office, the Obama administration is sending an international message of implicit support for the PA’s strides toward unilateral statehood. And more than that, it’s seen as a pointed snub at Israel, giving both the PA and the Israeli governments an additional reason to avoid negotiations.

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Barak Pulls a Sharon

As Evelyn has noted, and in a move that surprised nobody except members of his own party, Ehud Barak today took a page from Ariel Sharon’s playbook, splitting from the ideologically founded movement he was leading to create a new centrist political party. Along with four other Labor members, the new party — it still doesn’t have a name — will remain committed to the current government, while in all likelihood the remaining members of Labor will, sooner or later, leave the coalition.

Before we dismiss the new party as yet another soon-forgotten splinter in Israeli politics, it’s worth considering the electoral reality Ehud Barak currently faces. When Sharon broke from Likud in 2005, he founded Kadima as a new centrist faction that would approve the disengagement from Gaza. Although he was joined by a few Labor icons like Shimon Peres and Chaim Ramon, many people saw in Kadima an incoherent collection of mostly moderate right-wingers and a few from the left. After Sharon’s stroke-induced departure from politics in early 2006, most people thought the party wouldn’t survive the next election.

They were wrong. Two leaders later, Kadima’s 28 seats is the largest single faction in the Knesset. This despite having few ranking members with serious governing experience, and despite the disgrace of its second leader, Ehud Olmert, and its finance minister, Avraham Hirschson, on corruption charges.

Why has Kadima survived? The answer should give pause to those who think Ehud Barak is on his last legs as an Israeli politician. For despite being essentially a Likud spin-off, Kadima has survived on the strength of a fairly large base of voters who traditionally saw themselves on the left — not the peace-process left of Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid, but rather the enlightened, heavily Ashkenazic, traditionally social-leaning yet nationalist left of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin. These are the voters who turned to Kadima in droves after the intifada made security more pressing, and more plausible, than peace — people who could never vote Likud for cultural reasons, even if they embraced most of its principles.

Nobody stands to lose more votes to Barak’s new party than Kadima. For if disaffected Laborites turned to Kadima as the closest expression of their political will, they may find a far more congenial home in the new party. As former IDF chief of staff and current defense minister, Barak suddenly embodies the pro-security, classic-Labor stance that neither the more dovish, pro-business, still-in-Labor types nor Kadima’s leader, Tzipi Livni, can hope to offer. To emphasize this, he’s taken with him a top former IDF general, Matan Vilnai. And he’s declared that his party “will follow David Ben-Gurion’s legacy.”

Much of how this turns out depends on the kind of people Barak can pull together around himself before the next election. If former-Labor people in Kadima start defecting to his new party, Israeli politics may see a major shift on the center-left. Barak’s personality has historically made it hard to keep the loyalty of those around him. But the field is open for him. Stay tuned.

As Evelyn has noted, and in a move that surprised nobody except members of his own party, Ehud Barak today took a page from Ariel Sharon’s playbook, splitting from the ideologically founded movement he was leading to create a new centrist political party. Along with four other Labor members, the new party — it still doesn’t have a name — will remain committed to the current government, while in all likelihood the remaining members of Labor will, sooner or later, leave the coalition.

Before we dismiss the new party as yet another soon-forgotten splinter in Israeli politics, it’s worth considering the electoral reality Ehud Barak currently faces. When Sharon broke from Likud in 2005, he founded Kadima as a new centrist faction that would approve the disengagement from Gaza. Although he was joined by a few Labor icons like Shimon Peres and Chaim Ramon, many people saw in Kadima an incoherent collection of mostly moderate right-wingers and a few from the left. After Sharon’s stroke-induced departure from politics in early 2006, most people thought the party wouldn’t survive the next election.

They were wrong. Two leaders later, Kadima’s 28 seats is the largest single faction in the Knesset. This despite having few ranking members with serious governing experience, and despite the disgrace of its second leader, Ehud Olmert, and its finance minister, Avraham Hirschson, on corruption charges.

Why has Kadima survived? The answer should give pause to those who think Ehud Barak is on his last legs as an Israeli politician. For despite being essentially a Likud spin-off, Kadima has survived on the strength of a fairly large base of voters who traditionally saw themselves on the left — not the peace-process left of Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid, but rather the enlightened, heavily Ashkenazic, traditionally social-leaning yet nationalist left of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin. These are the voters who turned to Kadima in droves after the intifada made security more pressing, and more plausible, than peace — people who could never vote Likud for cultural reasons, even if they embraced most of its principles.

Nobody stands to lose more votes to Barak’s new party than Kadima. For if disaffected Laborites turned to Kadima as the closest expression of their political will, they may find a far more congenial home in the new party. As former IDF chief of staff and current defense minister, Barak suddenly embodies the pro-security, classic-Labor stance that neither the more dovish, pro-business, still-in-Labor types nor Kadima’s leader, Tzipi Livni, can hope to offer. To emphasize this, he’s taken with him a top former IDF general, Matan Vilnai. And he’s declared that his party “will follow David Ben-Gurion’s legacy.”

Much of how this turns out depends on the kind of people Barak can pull together around himself before the next election. If former-Labor people in Kadima start defecting to his new party, Israeli politics may see a major shift on the center-left. Barak’s personality has historically made it hard to keep the loyalty of those around him. But the field is open for him. Stay tuned.

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Was It Time or Bias that Caused the Media to Slant the Story?

Since Daniel Okrent left the post, the men who have served as the public editor of the New York Times haven’t caused much trouble for the journalists they are supposed to be monitoring. That has certainly been true of Arthur Brisbane, the latest to sit in that seat. However, when confronted with a colossal case of journalistic malpractice, even a Brisbane can’t ignore it. Thus, Brisbane was forced to address the fact that, like much of the mainstream media, the Times‘s coverage of the Arizona tragedy led with and assumed that the shooting was the result of conservative incitement, which would lead to serious political repercussions.

Unfortunately, Brisbane’s analysis of the Times coverage ignores the real problems while focusing on the one element that journalists have always had to deal with: time. Brisbane seems to think that the Times’s initial report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead was terrible. It was an error but one that was an understandable result of a chaotic situation. Brisbane is more forgiving of the bigger mistake: “The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.”

While he rightly deplores the instinctive decision of both reporters and editors to “frame” the Arizona shooting as an event that was a direct result of conservative dissent against the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, Brisbane still thinks there “were some good reasons to steer the coverage in this direction.” But the only “good reason” he cites is the assumption that any violence directed at a politician must be the result of the fact that a lot of people disagree with her policies.

Brisbane acknowledges that a better focus of the Times coverage would have been one that highlighted the fact that the shooter was mentally ill. Yet he blames the false assumptions that caused the newspaper to “frame” all its coverage around a false belief that this was a political event for which conservatives must pay on the lack of time. But that is no excuse. Journalists never have enough time. But that’s no reason to take an event and shoehorn it into a fabricated story line that is based on the delegitimization of those who espouse political views that the Times opposes. Read More

Since Daniel Okrent left the post, the men who have served as the public editor of the New York Times haven’t caused much trouble for the journalists they are supposed to be monitoring. That has certainly been true of Arthur Brisbane, the latest to sit in that seat. However, when confronted with a colossal case of journalistic malpractice, even a Brisbane can’t ignore it. Thus, Brisbane was forced to address the fact that, like much of the mainstream media, the Times‘s coverage of the Arizona tragedy led with and assumed that the shooting was the result of conservative incitement, which would lead to serious political repercussions.

Unfortunately, Brisbane’s analysis of the Times coverage ignores the real problems while focusing on the one element that journalists have always had to deal with: time. Brisbane seems to think that the Times’s initial report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead was terrible. It was an error but one that was an understandable result of a chaotic situation. Brisbane is more forgiving of the bigger mistake: “The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.”

While he rightly deplores the instinctive decision of both reporters and editors to “frame” the Arizona shooting as an event that was a direct result of conservative dissent against the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, Brisbane still thinks there “were some good reasons to steer the coverage in this direction.” But the only “good reason” he cites is the assumption that any violence directed at a politician must be the result of the fact that a lot of people disagree with her policies.

Brisbane acknowledges that a better focus of the Times coverage would have been one that highlighted the fact that the shooter was mentally ill. Yet he blames the false assumptions that caused the newspaper to “frame” all its coverage around a false belief that this was a political event for which conservatives must pay on the lack of time. But that is no excuse. Journalists never have enough time. But that’s no reason to take an event and shoehorn it into a fabricated story line that is based on the delegitimization of those who espouse political views that the Times opposes.

It wasn’t time that caused the editors at the Times and other broadcast media to falsely accuse conservatives of inciting the shooter; it was their own very obvious political bias. Like the pundits who write on the paper’s op-ed page who have continued to link the crime to politics, even after President Obama urged his followers to stop doing so, the paper’s news editors live in a world where conservative opinions simply aren’t legitimate. Indeed, on the same page where Brisbane’s apologia for the paper appears was a column by Frank Rich that again sought to falsely link Palin to the shooting. Rich spoke of the widespread public anger against the Obama administration’s policies as a violent “insurrection” that threatens the rule of law rather than a grassroots movement that led to an overwhelming Republican victory at the polls last November. Like so many other liberals, Rich thinks it doesn’t matter than Jared Loughner was insane. As far as he is concerned, those who oppose the Democrats are still responsible, even though Rich has produced as much “hate” of President Bush and the Republicans as even the most rabid conservative talk-radio hosts have of Obama.

It is noteworthy that Brisbane even bothered to notice how badly his newspaper got the story wrong. But until he addresses the political bias that was the primary cause of that error, accountability at the Times is still not in the cards.

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Is the Right Worse Than the Left?

Some on the left are still attempting to justify the biased nature of the story line that depicts conservative opinions as being the source of a poisoned debate that allegedly leads to violence. To that end, Michael Kinsley writes today in Politico that the real problem with coverage of the debate about Arizona isn’t the fact that the entire topic is a red herring promulgated in an attempt to silence the right, but that in the course of introducing this utterly false narrative, some liberals are accepting a “false balance” between the right and the left.

Though Kinsley concedes, “Democrats should be cautious about flinging accusations,” he still insists that “It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates.”

Why is this so? Because Kinsley says so, that’s why. From his perspective, the extreme left is represented by the chicly biased liberalism of NPR that is, I suppose, inherently more tasteful than Fox News.

But in order to accept Kinsley’s premise, you have to ignore the tone of Democratic opposition to President Bush for eight years, which was largely aimed at delegitimizing that administration and which encouraged even more extreme street rhetoric that manifested itself in demonstrations where vulgar and violent speech were commonplace. And you also have to ignore the rants that are heard today from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, to mention just two left-wing talk-show hosts. Not to mention the more intellectual riffs of anti-conservative hatred that emanate from Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Princeton University. Yesterday I noted that Krugman called for “hanging Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of the senator’s stand on ObamaCare. I neglected to mention that, according to a largely flattering profile in the New Yorker, Krugman hosted an election-night party at his home during which an effigy of Sen. John McCain was burned in effigy. Indeed, guests were invited to burn effigies of any politician they disliked. And yes, this is the same New York Times columnist who wrote that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative rhetoric. Read More

Some on the left are still attempting to justify the biased nature of the story line that depicts conservative opinions as being the source of a poisoned debate that allegedly leads to violence. To that end, Michael Kinsley writes today in Politico that the real problem with coverage of the debate about Arizona isn’t the fact that the entire topic is a red herring promulgated in an attempt to silence the right, but that in the course of introducing this utterly false narrative, some liberals are accepting a “false balance” between the right and the left.

Though Kinsley concedes, “Democrats should be cautious about flinging accusations,” he still insists that “It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates.”

Why is this so? Because Kinsley says so, that’s why. From his perspective, the extreme left is represented by the chicly biased liberalism of NPR that is, I suppose, inherently more tasteful than Fox News.

But in order to accept Kinsley’s premise, you have to ignore the tone of Democratic opposition to President Bush for eight years, which was largely aimed at delegitimizing that administration and which encouraged even more extreme street rhetoric that manifested itself in demonstrations where vulgar and violent speech were commonplace. And you also have to ignore the rants that are heard today from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, to mention just two left-wing talk-show hosts. Not to mention the more intellectual riffs of anti-conservative hatred that emanate from Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Princeton University. Yesterday I noted that Krugman called for “hanging Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of the senator’s stand on ObamaCare. I neglected to mention that, according to a largely flattering profile in the New Yorker, Krugman hosted an election-night party at his home during which an effigy of Sen. John McCain was burned in effigy. Indeed, guests were invited to burn effigies of any politician they disliked. And yes, this is the same New York Times columnist who wrote that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative rhetoric.

Kinsley is right when he decries hateful rhetoric. But he is not above taking comments out of context to back up his point. For instance, he claims Bill O’Reilly’s reaction to one of his columns consisted of a call by the FOX News host for Kinsley’s head to be cut off. That sounds despicable. But he neglects to mention that what O’Reilly was saying was that Kinsley’s opposition to Guantanamo and other tough anti-terror measures was so obstinate and foolish that perhaps the only thing that might change his mind was for al-Qaeda terrorists to treat him the same way they did Daniel Pearl. That’s pretty harsh, but not the same thing as a call for a beheading.

The cockeyed lesson that liberals seem intent on shoving down the throats of their fellow citizens is that when conservatives talk tough about liberals, it is tantamount to incitement to murder, but that when liberals talk tough about conservatives, it’s just talk, because liberals don’t mean anyone any harm. We have heard a great deal about the way political debate in this country has been debased by violent rhetoric in recent years. But for all of the nastiness of the left about Bush and of the right about Obama, I don’t think any of that has done as much damage to the fabric of democracy as the determination the past few days by the mainstream media and its liberal elites to exploit a crime carried out by a mentally ill person to further their own narrow partisan political agenda.

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Dogma and the New Progressives

Peter Berkowitz is one of the finest thinkers and writers on the scene today. He proves this again with his essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011” in the December/January issue of Policy Review.

Berkowitz, in analyzing what he calls the “new progressives,” helps explain one of the distinguishing features of the Obama presidency: its disdain for the people’s preferences and the lengths to which Mr. Obama goes to disguise his elitism and contempt for the views of the public.

In describing President Obama, Berkowitz writes this:

Confidence that one possesses the complete and final understanding of morals and politics can encourage a politician to think of himself as a transformer and redeemer rather than as a statesman. It can impel a president confronting dramatic electoral backlash to attribute opposition to his party and his programs to a fear that blinds voters to “facts and science and argument.” And it can drive him to rouse loyalists to adopt the ancient warriors’ ethic and declare, “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.” One reason that progressives under pressure so readily succumb to the common temptation to deride voters who disagree with them as frightened and foolish and to portray fellow citizens as adversaries to be vanquished is that progressive assumptions about knowledge and politics make such conclusions about those who decline to follow their lead hard to escape.

Berkowitz goes on to write that the “dogma embedded in the new progressivism, that it has transcended the legitimate and enduring divisions between left and right, is a potent mix of partisan self-deception and academic rationalization. It signifies not progress, but a dangerous decline.”

Mr. Berkowitz does not pretend to have provided a Unified Field Theory to explain Barack Obama. But his essay does help enlighten the public to what animates the president and many of his allies. It’s an impressive and persuasive case Berkowitz has made. We can’t say we haven’t been warned.

Peter Berkowitz is one of the finest thinkers and writers on the scene today. He proves this again with his essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011” in the December/January issue of Policy Review.

Berkowitz, in analyzing what he calls the “new progressives,” helps explain one of the distinguishing features of the Obama presidency: its disdain for the people’s preferences and the lengths to which Mr. Obama goes to disguise his elitism and contempt for the views of the public.

In describing President Obama, Berkowitz writes this:

Confidence that one possesses the complete and final understanding of morals and politics can encourage a politician to think of himself as a transformer and redeemer rather than as a statesman. It can impel a president confronting dramatic electoral backlash to attribute opposition to his party and his programs to a fear that blinds voters to “facts and science and argument.” And it can drive him to rouse loyalists to adopt the ancient warriors’ ethic and declare, “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.” One reason that progressives under pressure so readily succumb to the common temptation to deride voters who disagree with them as frightened and foolish and to portray fellow citizens as adversaries to be vanquished is that progressive assumptions about knowledge and politics make such conclusions about those who decline to follow their lead hard to escape.

Berkowitz goes on to write that the “dogma embedded in the new progressivism, that it has transcended the legitimate and enduring divisions between left and right, is a potent mix of partisan self-deception and academic rationalization. It signifies not progress, but a dangerous decline.”

Mr. Berkowitz does not pretend to have provided a Unified Field Theory to explain Barack Obama. But his essay does help enlighten the public to what animates the president and many of his allies. It’s an impressive and persuasive case Berkowitz has made. We can’t say we haven’t been warned.

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No Harm in Congratulations

Yesterday I wrote that ABC’s Jake Tapper, in leading up to his questions to President Obama regarding the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (“I have a couple of questions about ‘don’t ask/don’t tell.’ First of all, congratulations.”), was “revealing of a particular, widespread journalistic persuasion and worldview” regarding DADT.

A person for whom I have respect thought my judgment was overly harsh, that what Tapper said was an example of politeness (akin to saying “congratulations” to a politician who just won a primary or caucus) rather than solidarity on the issue.

On reflection, I think that’s a fair assessment. Tapper’s questions were (as I said in my post) quite good — and Tapper himself is an excellent, tough-minded reporter. And since I’ve argued for the importance of civility in politics and public discourse, it was silly of me to jump on him for offering one sentence of congratulations — especially when it’s followed by two fairly tough, if fair, questions on the subject.

All of which is to say I was wrong and unfair to Mr. Tapper. There are certainly enough egregious examples of journalistic missteps without jumping on him for saying “congratulations.”

Yesterday I wrote that ABC’s Jake Tapper, in leading up to his questions to President Obama regarding the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (“I have a couple of questions about ‘don’t ask/don’t tell.’ First of all, congratulations.”), was “revealing of a particular, widespread journalistic persuasion and worldview” regarding DADT.

A person for whom I have respect thought my judgment was overly harsh, that what Tapper said was an example of politeness (akin to saying “congratulations” to a politician who just won a primary or caucus) rather than solidarity on the issue.

On reflection, I think that’s a fair assessment. Tapper’s questions were (as I said in my post) quite good — and Tapper himself is an excellent, tough-minded reporter. And since I’ve argued for the importance of civility in politics and public discourse, it was silly of me to jump on him for offering one sentence of congratulations — especially when it’s followed by two fairly tough, if fair, questions on the subject.

All of which is to say I was wrong and unfair to Mr. Tapper. There are certainly enough egregious examples of journalistic missteps without jumping on him for saying “congratulations.”

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The Kennedys Leave Washington with a Whimper

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

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Morning Commentary

Are Republicans coming around on New START? Eight GOP members voted to open debate on the treaty in the Senate last night, which some see as a “proxy” for the final vote. New START needs nine Republican supporters in the Senate to pass.

As repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell passes the House for a second time, it picks up another Republican supporter in the Senate: “‘After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law,’ [Sen. Olympia] Snowe said in a statement.”

Well, this pretty much ensures that the next Organization of the Islamic Conferences summit is going to be sufficiently awkward: “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak compared Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East to a ‘cancer,’ according to a cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. ‘President Mubarak has made it clear that he sees Iran as Egypt’s — and the region’s — primary strategic threat,’ says the secret cable, sent April 28, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

Two writers and recent Columbia graduates discuss in the New Republic the problematic politics of the university’s controversial new Center for Palestine Studies: “Of course, there is nothing wrong with gathering a broad-based community of scholars behind a new academic initiative. Columbia and American academia need a venue for the interdisciplinary study of Palestine. But, unaccompanied by a dedication to real expertise, the CPS will be little more than a clique of like-minded academics whose defining commonality is hostility toward Israel. In its current form, it’s likely that the first Palestine Center at an American university will lead the way not in ‘a new era of civility,’ but, rather, in politicizing Middle East studies further than ever before.”

The Guardian is predictably outraged that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was given to, apparently, a neocon: “[Liu Xiaobo] has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. … Liu argues that ‘The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights [and the] major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.’… Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel’s stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as ‘often the provocateurs.’”

Ross Douthat responds to Mitt Romney supporters who excuse the politician’s “serial insincerity”: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a more serious person, and would probably be a better president, than his campaign style suggests. But issue by issue, policy by policy, that same campaign style makes it awfully hard to figure out where he would actually stand when the pandering stops and the governing begins … because everything he does feels like a pander, I don’t know where he really stands on any of them. And freak show or no freak show, base or no base, that’s no way to run for president.”

Are Republicans coming around on New START? Eight GOP members voted to open debate on the treaty in the Senate last night, which some see as a “proxy” for the final vote. New START needs nine Republican supporters in the Senate to pass.

As repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell passes the House for a second time, it picks up another Republican supporter in the Senate: “‘After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law,’ [Sen. Olympia] Snowe said in a statement.”

Well, this pretty much ensures that the next Organization of the Islamic Conferences summit is going to be sufficiently awkward: “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak compared Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East to a ‘cancer,’ according to a cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. ‘President Mubarak has made it clear that he sees Iran as Egypt’s — and the region’s — primary strategic threat,’ says the secret cable, sent April 28, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

Two writers and recent Columbia graduates discuss in the New Republic the problematic politics of the university’s controversial new Center for Palestine Studies: “Of course, there is nothing wrong with gathering a broad-based community of scholars behind a new academic initiative. Columbia and American academia need a venue for the interdisciplinary study of Palestine. But, unaccompanied by a dedication to real expertise, the CPS will be little more than a clique of like-minded academics whose defining commonality is hostility toward Israel. In its current form, it’s likely that the first Palestine Center at an American university will lead the way not in ‘a new era of civility,’ but, rather, in politicizing Middle East studies further than ever before.”

The Guardian is predictably outraged that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was given to, apparently, a neocon: “[Liu Xiaobo] has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. … Liu argues that ‘The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights [and the] major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.’… Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel’s stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as ‘often the provocateurs.’”

Ross Douthat responds to Mitt Romney supporters who excuse the politician’s “serial insincerity”: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a more serious person, and would probably be a better president, than his campaign style suggests. But issue by issue, policy by policy, that same campaign style makes it awfully hard to figure out where he would actually stand when the pandering stops and the governing begins … because everything he does feels like a pander, I don’t know where he really stands on any of them. And freak show or no freak show, base or no base, that’s no way to run for president.”

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In Defense of Labels

Columbia University hosted a “No Labels” conference that John and Byron York have written about. The motto of the No Labels group is “Put the Labels Aside. Do What’s Best for America.” Tom Davis, the former GOP congressman from Virginia, puts it this way: “Labels … get in the way of getting things done.”

Now, I understand people wanting to avoid using labels. For one thing, it advances the impression (which often differs from the reality) that one is independent-minded and unbiased, pragmatic rather than dogmatic, willing to judge issues on the merits and based on reason rather than on rigid ideology. The impression people want to make is obvious: my mind — unlike The Labeled — is a Dogma-Free Zone. No simplistic labels can do justice to the complexity of my beliefs. It’s all quite self-affirming.

What is also at play, I think, is an understandable reaction against hyper-partisanship and the loyalty by some to a political party and ideology that overrides independent thought. Such a mindset is often at war with empirical evidence; any data or circumstances that call into doubt one’s most deeply help convictions have to be ignored, dismissed, or ridiculed. To be in politics is to be a member of a team — and the other side is always wrong. No aspect of its argument can be seen to have merit. We all know people like this — and the truth is that many of us in politics struggle, to one degree or another, with precisely this. The temptation to twist facts and reality to fit into our preconceived notions and theories is quite strong; not many of us resist it as well as we should.

At the same time, there is something to be said in defense of labels — and George Will (not surprisingly) put it as well as anyone when several years ago he wrote:

Particular labels, like everything else, come and go. But there always are various labels because they are useful, even necessary: Politics is a varied business. If a politician’s behavior is not utterly cynical, or mindless, it will have a pattern that is related, at least a bit, to his beliefs. Political actions tend to cluster; so do political actors. Labels describe how particular people generally cluster. … Labels identify classes; but people, by acting, classify themselves.

What one hopes to achieve in politics is to develop a coherent body of thought to help interpret the world. There’s actually quite a lot to be said for having a worldview that helps make sense of unfolding events. To apply a label to oneself (like “conservative” or “liberal”) often means associating with a particular intellectual tradition and with men and women who have thoughtfully and carefully reflected on human nature, society, and the role of government. It matters if your intellectual cast of mind is shaped and informed by Burke or by Rousseau, by Madison or by Marx, by C.S. Lewis or by Ayn Rand. And so it’s only natural that in politics, people, upon reflecting on certain basic questions, would coalesce around certain parties and certain labels.

Pace Tom Davis, then, labels don’t always get in the way of getting things done. Political labels, like political parties, can serve a useful purpose. And I for one would argue that allowing certain intellectual traditions (like conservatism) to inform our current political debates is doing what’s best for America.

A final warning to those who find themselves attracted to promise of a world without labels: No Labels can easily transmute into No Convictions — and politics without convictions, uninformed by deep principles and the best that has been thought and written, becomes simply a power game. And that world is even worse than a world with labels.

Columbia University hosted a “No Labels” conference that John and Byron York have written about. The motto of the No Labels group is “Put the Labels Aside. Do What’s Best for America.” Tom Davis, the former GOP congressman from Virginia, puts it this way: “Labels … get in the way of getting things done.”

Now, I understand people wanting to avoid using labels. For one thing, it advances the impression (which often differs from the reality) that one is independent-minded and unbiased, pragmatic rather than dogmatic, willing to judge issues on the merits and based on reason rather than on rigid ideology. The impression people want to make is obvious: my mind — unlike The Labeled — is a Dogma-Free Zone. No simplistic labels can do justice to the complexity of my beliefs. It’s all quite self-affirming.

What is also at play, I think, is an understandable reaction against hyper-partisanship and the loyalty by some to a political party and ideology that overrides independent thought. Such a mindset is often at war with empirical evidence; any data or circumstances that call into doubt one’s most deeply help convictions have to be ignored, dismissed, or ridiculed. To be in politics is to be a member of a team — and the other side is always wrong. No aspect of its argument can be seen to have merit. We all know people like this — and the truth is that many of us in politics struggle, to one degree or another, with precisely this. The temptation to twist facts and reality to fit into our preconceived notions and theories is quite strong; not many of us resist it as well as we should.

At the same time, there is something to be said in defense of labels — and George Will (not surprisingly) put it as well as anyone when several years ago he wrote:

Particular labels, like everything else, come and go. But there always are various labels because they are useful, even necessary: Politics is a varied business. If a politician’s behavior is not utterly cynical, or mindless, it will have a pattern that is related, at least a bit, to his beliefs. Political actions tend to cluster; so do political actors. Labels describe how particular people generally cluster. … Labels identify classes; but people, by acting, classify themselves.

What one hopes to achieve in politics is to develop a coherent body of thought to help interpret the world. There’s actually quite a lot to be said for having a worldview that helps make sense of unfolding events. To apply a label to oneself (like “conservative” or “liberal”) often means associating with a particular intellectual tradition and with men and women who have thoughtfully and carefully reflected on human nature, society, and the role of government. It matters if your intellectual cast of mind is shaped and informed by Burke or by Rousseau, by Madison or by Marx, by C.S. Lewis or by Ayn Rand. And so it’s only natural that in politics, people, upon reflecting on certain basic questions, would coalesce around certain parties and certain labels.

Pace Tom Davis, then, labels don’t always get in the way of getting things done. Political labels, like political parties, can serve a useful purpose. And I for one would argue that allowing certain intellectual traditions (like conservatism) to inform our current political debates is doing what’s best for America.

A final warning to those who find themselves attracted to promise of a world without labels: No Labels can easily transmute into No Convictions — and politics without convictions, uninformed by deep principles and the best that has been thought and written, becomes simply a power game. And that world is even worse than a world with labels.

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Liberals, Pragmatists, and Taxes

A week ago, David Brooks revealed a “vision” that would vindicate his belief in Barack Obama as a “pragmatist”: a State of the Union address proposing comprehensive tax reform to “lower rates and make the tax code fair,” eliminating loopholes and special-interest provisions. Today the lead article in the New York Times reports that Obama is “considering whether to push early next year for an overhaul of the income tax code to lower rates and raise revenues.” As Abe notes, Obama is learning economics in spite of himself.

It was not so long ago that Obama thought higher tax rates were essential for fairness — to help spread the wealth. In his 2008 colloquy with Charlie Gibson, Obama supported doubling tax rates on capital gains even if that generated less revenue — “for purposes of fairness.” A few days ago, Obama was angry about the inability to impose higher tax rates next year; he promised to try again in two years. If Brooks’s vision proves true, it will be one of the fastest transformations of a politician from doctrinaire liberal to pragmatic tax-cutter.

Two days ago, William Galston emphasized the pragmatism more directly in a New Republic post entitled “The Only Way Obama Can Win in 2012.” Galston urged Obama to move “comprehensive tax reform to the center of his agenda” with a State of the Union speech proposing a broadened tax base and reduced rates, making the system simpler and fairer. In his column today, Brooks has a new label for Obama: “network liberal” — a liberal willing to network with non-liberals to do things such as this week’s tax deal. Brooks urges Obama to bring a “networking style” to reforming the tax code.

There is a great networking opportunity right in front of Obama: Mike Pence’s flat tax proposal. It is a progressive tax with a large standard deduction and dependent exemptions for low- and middle-income taxpayers: after that, “the more money you make, the more you pay.” The tax would be “fair, simple and effective;” and you could tweet tax returns.

Perhaps a pragmatist is simply a liberal who has been shellacked by reality and wants to network. We’ll see.

A week ago, David Brooks revealed a “vision” that would vindicate his belief in Barack Obama as a “pragmatist”: a State of the Union address proposing comprehensive tax reform to “lower rates and make the tax code fair,” eliminating loopholes and special-interest provisions. Today the lead article in the New York Times reports that Obama is “considering whether to push early next year for an overhaul of the income tax code to lower rates and raise revenues.” As Abe notes, Obama is learning economics in spite of himself.

It was not so long ago that Obama thought higher tax rates were essential for fairness — to help spread the wealth. In his 2008 colloquy with Charlie Gibson, Obama supported doubling tax rates on capital gains even if that generated less revenue — “for purposes of fairness.” A few days ago, Obama was angry about the inability to impose higher tax rates next year; he promised to try again in two years. If Brooks’s vision proves true, it will be one of the fastest transformations of a politician from doctrinaire liberal to pragmatic tax-cutter.

Two days ago, William Galston emphasized the pragmatism more directly in a New Republic post entitled “The Only Way Obama Can Win in 2012.” Galston urged Obama to move “comprehensive tax reform to the center of his agenda” with a State of the Union speech proposing a broadened tax base and reduced rates, making the system simpler and fairer. In his column today, Brooks has a new label for Obama: “network liberal” — a liberal willing to network with non-liberals to do things such as this week’s tax deal. Brooks urges Obama to bring a “networking style” to reforming the tax code.

There is a great networking opportunity right in front of Obama: Mike Pence’s flat tax proposal. It is a progressive tax with a large standard deduction and dependent exemptions for low- and middle-income taxpayers: after that, “the more money you make, the more you pay.” The tax would be “fair, simple and effective;” and you could tweet tax returns.

Perhaps a pragmatist is simply a liberal who has been shellacked by reality and wants to network. We’ll see.

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Livni’s Hypocrisy and Israel’s PR Problem

Israel was a sideshow in the latest WikiLeaks document dump, but the leaked cables did include one noteworthy nugget from Jerusalem: in January 2007, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who today is leader of the opposition, told two U.S. senators that following some exploratory talks with the Palestinians, she didn’t believe a final-status agreement could be reached with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

This is significant because publicly, Livni always says a peace deal is achievable and lambastes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his failure to produce one. Even yesterday, confronted with the WikiLeaks cable, she continued this line, insisting that a deal wasn’t achievable in 2007, but in 2010 “a peace agreement is possible and it needs to done.”

She didn’t explain this about-face, for the very good reason that no convincing explanation exists: Abbas is no more willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, agree to defensible borders, or cede the “right of return” than he ever was. But this mantra has paid off for her politically, making her the West’s favorite Israeli.

A politician being hypocritical for political gain is nothing new. But in this case, Livni’s personal gain has come at the price of grave damage to her country. If a leading Israeli politician — the woman whose party won the most seats in the last election — claims that Abbas is ready to make a deal, that obviously carries weight overseas. But if Abbas is indeed ready to deal, then it’s clearly Israel’s fault that no deal has ever been signed. And so Israel is painted worldwide as the obstacle to peace, with all the opprobrium that entails.

Livni’s hypocrisy, however, is merely one facet of a much larger problem: virtually the entire Israeli governing class adopts the same tactic. Despite privately believing that Abbas isn’t ready for peace, it publicly insists that he is — and thereby implicitly paints Israel as the party responsible for the ongoing lack of peace. And it does so not only for political gain but also at its own political cost.

Netanyahu, for instance, repeatedly claims that Abbas is his “partner for peace,” with whom he could reach a deal in a year (if only Abbas would agree to negotiate with him). But having insisted that Abbas isn’t the obstacle, the obvious conclusion is that Netanyahu himself must be the problem. After all, some obstacle must exist, since peace clearly hasn’t broken out.

The Palestinians suffer no such pathology: Palestinian leaders blame Israel nonstop for the lack of peace. And since Israel never offers a competing narrative — namely, that Palestinian rejectionism is the real reason for the absence of peace — the Palestinian narrative has inevitably gained worldwide currency.

Thus if Israel is ever to extricate itself from the global dock, its leaders must start telling the truth: that Palestinians aren’t ready to make the compromises peace requires, that they still don’t accept the Jewish state’s right to exist, and that this is why they have rejected every single Israeli offer to date. You can’t win a public relations war by refusing to fight it.

Israel was a sideshow in the latest WikiLeaks document dump, but the leaked cables did include one noteworthy nugget from Jerusalem: in January 2007, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who today is leader of the opposition, told two U.S. senators that following some exploratory talks with the Palestinians, she didn’t believe a final-status agreement could be reached with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

This is significant because publicly, Livni always says a peace deal is achievable and lambastes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his failure to produce one. Even yesterday, confronted with the WikiLeaks cable, she continued this line, insisting that a deal wasn’t achievable in 2007, but in 2010 “a peace agreement is possible and it needs to done.”

She didn’t explain this about-face, for the very good reason that no convincing explanation exists: Abbas is no more willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, agree to defensible borders, or cede the “right of return” than he ever was. But this mantra has paid off for her politically, making her the West’s favorite Israeli.

A politician being hypocritical for political gain is nothing new. But in this case, Livni’s personal gain has come at the price of grave damage to her country. If a leading Israeli politician — the woman whose party won the most seats in the last election — claims that Abbas is ready to make a deal, that obviously carries weight overseas. But if Abbas is indeed ready to deal, then it’s clearly Israel’s fault that no deal has ever been signed. And so Israel is painted worldwide as the obstacle to peace, with all the opprobrium that entails.

Livni’s hypocrisy, however, is merely one facet of a much larger problem: virtually the entire Israeli governing class adopts the same tactic. Despite privately believing that Abbas isn’t ready for peace, it publicly insists that he is — and thereby implicitly paints Israel as the party responsible for the ongoing lack of peace. And it does so not only for political gain but also at its own political cost.

Netanyahu, for instance, repeatedly claims that Abbas is his “partner for peace,” with whom he could reach a deal in a year (if only Abbas would agree to negotiate with him). But having insisted that Abbas isn’t the obstacle, the obvious conclusion is that Netanyahu himself must be the problem. After all, some obstacle must exist, since peace clearly hasn’t broken out.

The Palestinians suffer no such pathology: Palestinian leaders blame Israel nonstop for the lack of peace. And since Israel never offers a competing narrative — namely, that Palestinian rejectionism is the real reason for the absence of peace — the Palestinian narrative has inevitably gained worldwide currency.

Thus if Israel is ever to extricate itself from the global dock, its leaders must start telling the truth: that Palestinians aren’t ready to make the compromises peace requires, that they still don’t accept the Jewish state’s right to exist, and that this is why they have rejected every single Israeli offer to date. You can’t win a public relations war by refusing to fight it.

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Whose America Is It?

Richard Cohen, who occasionally writes sensible things on race, suggests in his Washington Post column today that among the many reasons Sarah Palin is unqualified to be president is:

She could not be the president of black America nor of Hispanic America. She knows more about grizzlies than she does about African Americans — and she clearly has more interest in the former than the latter.

Palin draws Cohen’s fire for a passage in her new book in which she says that President Obama “seems to believe” that “America — at least America as it currently exists — is a fundamentally unjust and unequal country.” Cohen suggests that Palin’s comment is proof that she is ignorant of America’s racial history.

I’m not a Palin fan — she lost the right to be taken seriously in my book when she gave up the governorship of Alaska to embark on her career as celebrity politician — but the idea that there is a “black America” or a “Hispanic America” is offensive. Cohen’s reference is also more than a little ironic given President Obama’s own claim that “There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.”

Cohen aside, being familiar with the racial injustices of the past and our fight to overcome them should make us more, not less, proud that we are a fundamentally just nation, where equal opportunity remains a principle more honored in the observance than the breach.

Richard Cohen, who occasionally writes sensible things on race, suggests in his Washington Post column today that among the many reasons Sarah Palin is unqualified to be president is:

She could not be the president of black America nor of Hispanic America. She knows more about grizzlies than she does about African Americans — and she clearly has more interest in the former than the latter.

Palin draws Cohen’s fire for a passage in her new book in which she says that President Obama “seems to believe” that “America — at least America as it currently exists — is a fundamentally unjust and unequal country.” Cohen suggests that Palin’s comment is proof that she is ignorant of America’s racial history.

I’m not a Palin fan — she lost the right to be taken seriously in my book when she gave up the governorship of Alaska to embark on her career as celebrity politician — but the idea that there is a “black America” or a “Hispanic America” is offensive. Cohen’s reference is also more than a little ironic given President Obama’s own claim that “There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.”

Cohen aside, being familiar with the racial injustices of the past and our fight to overcome them should make us more, not less, proud that we are a fundamentally just nation, where equal opportunity remains a principle more honored in the observance than the breach.

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Dems Pipe Up: What a Rotten Politician He Is!

Democrats are worried. Or, more precisely, they are confessing that they are worried. Politico reports:

[M]any Democrats privately say they are skeptical that Obama is self-aware enough to make the sort of dramatic changes they feel are needed – in his relations with other Democrats or in his very approach to the job. …

“This guy swept to power on a wave of adulation, and he learned the wrong lessons from that,” said a Democratic official who deals frequently with the White House. “He’s more of a movement leader than a politician. He needs someone to kick his ass on things large and small, and teach him to be a politician.”

Some of the complaints are downright petty. This one didn’t get to shake his hand and that group of senators wasn’t warmly greeted. This certainly doesn’t explain why Obama’s party is on the ropes, but it does reveal Obama to be uncommonly rude and standoffish. It is, perhaps, what comes from too much fawning over and too little criticism in one’s formative years. Moreover, it reinforces how oddly mismatched Obama is to his chosen profession; he seems neither to enjoy nor able to master the plethora of social interchanges that are essential to maintaining political support and popularity.

More critical is the evaluation of business leaders:

And business leaders, even the few who continue to be Obama-friendly, say they are convinced he is hostile to free markets and the private sector. Some of these executives have balance sheets flush with cash but are reluctant to add jobs or expand in part because they don’t trust Obama’s instincts for growth.

“He used anti-corporate, confrontational rhetoric too for legislative gain, and kept doing it after folks found it gratuitous,” a top executive said. “During health reform it was the bad, evil hospitals. … Same with financial regulation: It was fat cats, greed, corruption.”

Surrounded by yes men and bolstered by sycophantic press coverage, Obama had yet, we suppose, to receive this sort of criticism. Or if he did, he ignored it because he knew best. If he seemed bewildered at last week’s post-election press conference, you can understand why. Up to now, everything was going so well! Scary, but that’s how isolated and self-absorbed the president has been. We’ll see if he can undergo a policy and personality transformation. I’m not holding my breath.

Democrats are worried. Or, more precisely, they are confessing that they are worried. Politico reports:

[M]any Democrats privately say they are skeptical that Obama is self-aware enough to make the sort of dramatic changes they feel are needed – in his relations with other Democrats or in his very approach to the job. …

“This guy swept to power on a wave of adulation, and he learned the wrong lessons from that,” said a Democratic official who deals frequently with the White House. “He’s more of a movement leader than a politician. He needs someone to kick his ass on things large and small, and teach him to be a politician.”

Some of the complaints are downright petty. This one didn’t get to shake his hand and that group of senators wasn’t warmly greeted. This certainly doesn’t explain why Obama’s party is on the ropes, but it does reveal Obama to be uncommonly rude and standoffish. It is, perhaps, what comes from too much fawning over and too little criticism in one’s formative years. Moreover, it reinforces how oddly mismatched Obama is to his chosen profession; he seems neither to enjoy nor able to master the plethora of social interchanges that are essential to maintaining political support and popularity.

More critical is the evaluation of business leaders:

And business leaders, even the few who continue to be Obama-friendly, say they are convinced he is hostile to free markets and the private sector. Some of these executives have balance sheets flush with cash but are reluctant to add jobs or expand in part because they don’t trust Obama’s instincts for growth.

“He used anti-corporate, confrontational rhetoric too for legislative gain, and kept doing it after folks found it gratuitous,” a top executive said. “During health reform it was the bad, evil hospitals. … Same with financial regulation: It was fat cats, greed, corruption.”

Surrounded by yes men and bolstered by sycophantic press coverage, Obama had yet, we suppose, to receive this sort of criticism. Or if he did, he ignored it because he knew best. If he seemed bewildered at last week’s post-election press conference, you can understand why. Up to now, everything was going so well! Scary, but that’s how isolated and self-absorbed the president has been. We’ll see if he can undergo a policy and personality transformation. I’m not holding my breath.

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Now It’s All About Pelosi

Republicans are gleeful. Sober Democrats are horrified. But many liberal columnists — the very ones who cheered on ObamaCare, ignored and disparaged the Tea Party, and rooted for Obama in 2008 — are rushing to defend her. It’s all about Nancy Pelosi. In more ways than one.

Those defending her effort to remain the House Democrats’ leader seem as obsessively indifferent as she is to the meaning of the midterm elections. We are told, “She’s losing her job not because she does it poorly but because she does it so well.” That, as Bill Clinton would say, depends on the meaning of “well.” If “well” is piling up a mound of red ink with nothing to show for it, she did well. If decimating her own caucus is “well,” then she’s second to none. If passing a hugely unpopular health-care bill that has already proved to be more fiscally irresponsible than anyone would let on, she is a superstar.

Now, of course, the left is obliged to defend her. She pushed the agenda for which they rooted and embodies the statist liberalism they adore. But Americans plainly hate that agenda, and the economy remains in the doldrums, in large part because that agenda has freaked out employers. If a politician advances neither the public good nor her party’s interests, isn’t it time to give her the boot? The left would rather have a “historic accomplishment” quite likely wiped out in the next few years than it would a viable governing majority. Republicans reply, “Way to go!”

There is another school of thought on the left. We have to indulge her, we are told, because she is so darn admirable. She ignored the voters, ridiculed the Tea Party, refused to hold a vote on the Bush tax cuts, and recognized that the voters punished her party because those jobs, jobs, jobs never emerged. So naturally, they insist, we should let her stay. They realize that it might not be the best thing for the party, but gosh, what a spunky gal she is. It has become a “boost Nancy’s self-esteem” movement on the left. Swell for her, not so hot for a Democratic Party struggling to assure the public that it “gets” the message the voters are sending.

Others point to the “unfairness” of allowing Harry Reid to keep his job while Pelosi is, her non-deluded colleagues hope, hustled offstage. To that I can only say, “Take it up with Chuck Schumer.” He’s apparently not nervy enough to make a play for Reid’s post. And, Reid’s defenders would argue, at least he didn’t lose the majority for his caucus like Nancy did for hers.

Unless the rump leftist caucus comes down with a case of common sense, Pelosi is likely to remain atop the House Democratic caucus. Even more troubling for Democrats who aspire to pull out of their party’s tailspin, the “Damn the voters, full speed ahead!” mentality may also dominate the White House’s thinking. If so, the tsunami of 2012 will make 2010′s results look like a ripple.

Republicans are gleeful. Sober Democrats are horrified. But many liberal columnists — the very ones who cheered on ObamaCare, ignored and disparaged the Tea Party, and rooted for Obama in 2008 — are rushing to defend her. It’s all about Nancy Pelosi. In more ways than one.

Those defending her effort to remain the House Democrats’ leader seem as obsessively indifferent as she is to the meaning of the midterm elections. We are told, “She’s losing her job not because she does it poorly but because she does it so well.” That, as Bill Clinton would say, depends on the meaning of “well.” If “well” is piling up a mound of red ink with nothing to show for it, she did well. If decimating her own caucus is “well,” then she’s second to none. If passing a hugely unpopular health-care bill that has already proved to be more fiscally irresponsible than anyone would let on, she is a superstar.

Now, of course, the left is obliged to defend her. She pushed the agenda for which they rooted and embodies the statist liberalism they adore. But Americans plainly hate that agenda, and the economy remains in the doldrums, in large part because that agenda has freaked out employers. If a politician advances neither the public good nor her party’s interests, isn’t it time to give her the boot? The left would rather have a “historic accomplishment” quite likely wiped out in the next few years than it would a viable governing majority. Republicans reply, “Way to go!”

There is another school of thought on the left. We have to indulge her, we are told, because she is so darn admirable. She ignored the voters, ridiculed the Tea Party, refused to hold a vote on the Bush tax cuts, and recognized that the voters punished her party because those jobs, jobs, jobs never emerged. So naturally, they insist, we should let her stay. They realize that it might not be the best thing for the party, but gosh, what a spunky gal she is. It has become a “boost Nancy’s self-esteem” movement on the left. Swell for her, not so hot for a Democratic Party struggling to assure the public that it “gets” the message the voters are sending.

Others point to the “unfairness” of allowing Harry Reid to keep his job while Pelosi is, her non-deluded colleagues hope, hustled offstage. To that I can only say, “Take it up with Chuck Schumer.” He’s apparently not nervy enough to make a play for Reid’s post. And, Reid’s defenders would argue, at least he didn’t lose the majority for his caucus like Nancy did for hers.

Unless the rump leftist caucus comes down with a case of common sense, Pelosi is likely to remain atop the House Democratic caucus. Even more troubling for Democrats who aspire to pull out of their party’s tailspin, the “Damn the voters, full speed ahead!” mentality may also dominate the White House’s thinking. If so, the tsunami of 2012 will make 2010′s results look like a ripple.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Who knew coconuts were so dangerous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who knew coconuts were so dangerous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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