Commentary Magazine


Topic: president of the United States

Afghanistan Exposes Old vs. New Europe

When, against the context of the Iraq war, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke of the differences between Old Europe (our traditional Cold War allies) and New Europe (states freed from the yoke of communist dictatorship), diplomats and the foreign policy elite castigated him. Diplomacy, after all, downplays the importance of reality, and seeks instead to paper over differences.

I just returned from Iasi, Romania, where I had the privilege to teach a few classes for the Romanian Land Forces’ 15th Mechanized Brigade, as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan. The Romanians are not partners in name only: They have actively taken part in the fighting, have contributed Special Forces, and have taken a number of casualties across multiple rotations. In addition, the Romanians jumped on the opportunity to cooperate in missile defense, and the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base near the Black Sea town of Constanta plays an increasingly important logistics role for the United States Air Force.

Because of flight schedules, I had to stay in London for a night on my way home, and cooling my heels at the airport hotel, I got an overdose of British media. While I was there and on European time, I also had an opportunity to do an interview on the Afghanistan situation for a French station.

Read More

When, against the context of the Iraq war, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke of the differences between Old Europe (our traditional Cold War allies) and New Europe (states freed from the yoke of communist dictatorship), diplomats and the foreign policy elite castigated him. Diplomacy, after all, downplays the importance of reality, and seeks instead to paper over differences.

I just returned from Iasi, Romania, where I had the privilege to teach a few classes for the Romanian Land Forces’ 15th Mechanized Brigade, as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan. The Romanians are not partners in name only: They have actively taken part in the fighting, have contributed Special Forces, and have taken a number of casualties across multiple rotations. In addition, the Romanians jumped on the opportunity to cooperate in missile defense, and the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base near the Black Sea town of Constanta plays an increasingly important logistics role for the United States Air Force.

Because of flight schedules, I had to stay in London for a night on my way home, and cooling my heels at the airport hotel, I got an overdose of British media. While I was there and on European time, I also had an opportunity to do an interview on the Afghanistan situation for a French station.

The juxtaposition between Old Europe and New Europe was palpable. British and French journalists seemed infused with defeatism and cynicism with regard to Afghanistan, and did not bother to disguise willingness to condemn others to totalitarian subjugation. The Romanians, however, understood that ideologies can kill and that passivity in the face of evil can condemn generations to slavery.

Alas, it seems that many in the White House are almost embarrassed by the enthusiasm with which countries that either suffered under dictatorship or face a looming threat embrace liberty. The Obama administration has, at various times, thrown Poland, the Czech Republic, and Georgia under the bus. Beyond the frontiers of Europe, add Taiwan, South Korea, Honduras, Colombia and Israel to the list.

Realists seek to base partnerships on short-term calculations of national interest. The truest friends, however, are those who embrace liberty as their guiding principle. How tragic it is that these natural allies increasingly doubt the commitment of the United States to them, even as they bend over backwards to become the flag-bearers of that for which the United States has traditionally stood.

Read Less

Why Is Jim Wallis Polishing the Windows on His Glass House?

Jim Wallis of Sojourners co-wrote, with Charles Colson, a piece in Christianity Today titled “Conviction and Civility.” According to Wallis and Colson, “when we disagree, especially when we strongly disagree, we should have robust debate but not resort to personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, assaulting their character, questioning their faith, or doubting their patriotism.”

“Demonizing our opponents poisons the public square,” the twosome inform us.

Agreed. But what is worth noting, I think, is that Wallis (as opposed to Colson) has repeatedly violated his commitment to civility. For example, in 2007, Wallis said: “I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this [Iraq] war and the shameful way they have fought it.”

Americans and Iraqis died “because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.” Wallis went on to say he favors investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on “official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges.” And if they were found guilty of these “high crimes,” Wallis wrote, “I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison. … Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.”

As I showed here, these statements are slanderous. Given that, how does Wallis square what he wrote with his counsel not to resort to “personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, [and] assaulting their character”?

More recently, Wallis strongly implied that the Tea Party movement was animated by racism. Is this the kind of thing Wallis has in mind when he cautions us against “demonizing our opponents,” which in turn “poisons the public square”?

These episodes are not isolated ones. Wallis recently accused World magazine’s Marvin Olasky of being a liar — a claim Wallis had to retract after Olasky provided indisputable evidence that it was Olasky, not Wallis, who was telling the truth.

My point here isn’t so much to call attention to the hypocrisy of Wallis, though that’s worth taking into account. Nor is it to argue that Wallis, based on his shrill outbursts, should never be able to make the case for civility in public discourse, though it would help if Wallis were to acknowledge his complicity in what he now decries. Read More

Jim Wallis of Sojourners co-wrote, with Charles Colson, a piece in Christianity Today titled “Conviction and Civility.” According to Wallis and Colson, “when we disagree, especially when we strongly disagree, we should have robust debate but not resort to personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, assaulting their character, questioning their faith, or doubting their patriotism.”

“Demonizing our opponents poisons the public square,” the twosome inform us.

Agreed. But what is worth noting, I think, is that Wallis (as opposed to Colson) has repeatedly violated his commitment to civility. For example, in 2007, Wallis said: “I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this [Iraq] war and the shameful way they have fought it.”

Americans and Iraqis died “because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.” Wallis went on to say he favors investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on “official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges.” And if they were found guilty of these “high crimes,” Wallis wrote, “I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison. … Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.”

As I showed here, these statements are slanderous. Given that, how does Wallis square what he wrote with his counsel not to resort to “personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, [and] assaulting their character”?

More recently, Wallis strongly implied that the Tea Party movement was animated by racism. Is this the kind of thing Wallis has in mind when he cautions us against “demonizing our opponents,” which in turn “poisons the public square”?

These episodes are not isolated ones. Wallis recently accused World magazine’s Marvin Olasky of being a liar — a claim Wallis had to retract after Olasky provided indisputable evidence that it was Olasky, not Wallis, who was telling the truth.

My point here isn’t so much to call attention to the hypocrisy of Wallis, though that’s worth taking into account. Nor is it to argue that Wallis, based on his shrill outbursts, should never be able to make the case for civility in public discourse, though it would help if Wallis were to acknowledge his complicity in what he now decries.

Perhaps the deeper thing to take away from this is that civility is difficult to achieve unless we gain some mental and emotional distance from political disputes. People on both sides of the divide employ double standards to advance their cause. What a reasonable person would consider an ad hominem attack is, for an ideologue, considered a self-evident truth. If  you’re a person on the hard left, as Wallis is, accusing Rumsfeld, Cheney, a conservative journalist and the Tea Party Movement of being liars, corrupt, war criminals, and racists is giving expression to what you consider to be a self-evident truth. Wallis even goes so far as to portray himself as a force moving us to a “kinder and gentler public square.” This is self-deception of a high order.

Those on the right are susceptible to the same temptations. They can accuse Barack Obama of hating white people and of being committed to destroying the country while also believing no lines have been crossed, that the charges are themselves incontestable.

This doesn’t mean that harsh judgments are never called for. Some people are knaves, while others are fools. My point is simply that all of us in the public arena come to it with certain predispositions and tendencies through which we interpret events. As a conservative, I would be among the last people in the world to reject the use of a philosophical system, of a worldview, to help us make sense of things.

On the other hand, people like Jim Wallis provide a cautionary tale of the blinding effects of zealotry. It can become so acute that even dispensers of libel can fashion themselves as peacemakers.

Read Less

Obama Must Act Now on Egypt

The president of the United States makes $400,000 a year. He has government-provided housing, a personal chef, his own helicopter and airplane, not to mention the best personal protection in the universe. It is at times like this that he really earns all those nice perks. There is no task more difficult than managing a revolution in progress. Jimmy Carter got it wrong in Nicaragua, and Iran and went down as a failure. Ronald Reagan got it right in the Philippines and South Korea, which contributed to the overall success of his presidency.

So far, I haven’t seen much evidence that Obama is earning his salary with his response to the revolution in Egypt. On Friday, he delivered an ultra-cautious statement, telling the “Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and saying that “the people of Egypt have rights,” including “the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny.” But he stopped well short of telling Hosni Mubarak, who is clearly on his last legs, that it was time for him to go — a message that Ronald Reagan memorably delivered via his friend Senator Paul Laxalt to Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

The New York Times explains Obama’s reticence by citing a “senior administration official” who said that “Mr. Obama warned that any overt effort by the United States to insert itself into easing Mr. Mubarak out, or easing a successor in, could backfire. ‘He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events.’”

Problem is, taking no stand isn’t an option for the United States in this situation. For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, and Mubarak has been one of our closest allies in the Middle East. Egyptian officers have been educated in the United States, its forces are equipped with American weapons, and they regularly conduct exercises with American troops. We have a large say, whether we want it or not. If Obama stays silent about Mubarak’s future, that will be interpreted within Egypt as American support for an increasingly discredited dictator. Read More

The president of the United States makes $400,000 a year. He has government-provided housing, a personal chef, his own helicopter and airplane, not to mention the best personal protection in the universe. It is at times like this that he really earns all those nice perks. There is no task more difficult than managing a revolution in progress. Jimmy Carter got it wrong in Nicaragua, and Iran and went down as a failure. Ronald Reagan got it right in the Philippines and South Korea, which contributed to the overall success of his presidency.

So far, I haven’t seen much evidence that Obama is earning his salary with his response to the revolution in Egypt. On Friday, he delivered an ultra-cautious statement, telling the “Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and saying that “the people of Egypt have rights,” including “the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny.” But he stopped well short of telling Hosni Mubarak, who is clearly on his last legs, that it was time for him to go — a message that Ronald Reagan memorably delivered via his friend Senator Paul Laxalt to Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

The New York Times explains Obama’s reticence by citing a “senior administration official” who said that “Mr. Obama warned that any overt effort by the United States to insert itself into easing Mr. Mubarak out, or easing a successor in, could backfire. ‘He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events.’”

Problem is, taking no stand isn’t an option for the United States in this situation. For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, and Mubarak has been one of our closest allies in the Middle East. Egyptian officers have been educated in the United States, its forces are equipped with American weapons, and they regularly conduct exercises with American troops. We have a large say, whether we want it or not. If Obama stays silent about Mubarak’s future, that will be interpreted within Egypt as American support for an increasingly discredited dictator.

The Working Group on Egypt, co-chaired by Bob Kagan and Michele Dunn at Brookings, suggests a more muscular response. They urge Obama to “call for free and fair elections for president and for parliament to be held as soon as possible” and for the government to “immediately lift the state of emergency” and “publicly declare that Mr. Mubarak will agree not to run for re-election.” And just to drive the point home: “We further recommend that the Obama administration suspend all economic and military assistance to Egypt until the government accepts and implements these measures.”

That’s more like it. The one recommendation I am not sold on is immediate elections (though, admittedly, there’s wiggle room in the phrase “as soon as possible”). As we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, elections that occur in an atmosphere of instability can exacerbate that instability. This is an especially tricky moment in Egypt because Mubarak has ruthlessly repressed the secular opposition. The only large nongovernmental organization in the country is the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamists would thus have an advantage in any immediate election, which could allow them to win, as Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006, even though they have not been at the forefront of recent protests and most Egyptians would no doubt recoil from the imposition of an Iranian-style theocracy. (Whether the Brotherhood would in fact try to impose such a regime is unknown. Unfortunately, the only way to find out would be to let them take over.)

A safer alternative, to my mind, would be to call for Mubarak to step down immediately and hand over power to a transition government led by Mohammed ElBaradai, the secular technocrat who has recently returned to Egypt to become the most high-profile opposition leader. As is now happening in Tunisia, he could work with military support to prepare the way for elections in a suitable period of time — say in six months or a year.

But I think the Working Group is right to grasp that standing pat isn’t really an option anymore. In this case, the best advice was offered by a conservative Sicilian aristocrat, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, in his great novel The Leopard (1958), where he wrote that “everything must change so that everything can stay the same.”

In other words, if the U.S. is to have any hope of salvaging our alliance with Egypt, we need to embrace the change wanted by its people — not try to cling blindly to a past represented by Mubarak and his mini-me, the intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has just been appointed vice president and putative successor.

Read Less

The President’s Speech: An Irresponsible Performance

State of the Union speeches are typically unimpressive and unmemorable. Last night’s address by President Obama was in that tradition. While his delivery was fine, the speech itself was mediocre — flat, undisciplined and unfocused, at times pedestrian and banal, with goals seemingly pulled out of thin air (e.g., by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean-energy sources).

The speech was also oddly uncreative, with Obama dusting off slogans and ideas from past State of the Union speeches. For example, on the campaign trail in 2008 and during the first two years of his presidency, Barack Obama portrayed himself as the great enemy of earmarks. Perhaps the reason he has to keep reminding us of his antipathy for earmarks is because he has repeatedly signed into law legislation that contained thousands of them.

Still, this doesn’t mean the speech was unimportant. It was, in fact, quite significant in terms of highlighting the president’s cast of mind and how he understands, or fails to understand, the moment we’re in.

The State of the Union address reaffirmed that Barack Obama remains a man of the left. He spent most of the speech championing an array of new programs, explaining why he believes we need to expand the size, reach, scope, and cost of the federal government.

It was as if the president were awakening Leviathan from a two-year slumber rather than two years of hyperactivity.

Beyond that, though, Obama spoke as if he were living in an alternate universe — one where a $14 trillion debt and trillion dollar a year deficit don’t exist; where our entitlement programs are basically solvent and sound, in need of, at most, tweaking around the margins; and where the 2010 midterm election wasn’t a repudiation of the president’s progressive agenda.

The president dealt with our fiscal crisis as if it were a triviality, its importance on par with the need for more solar panels and high-speed rails.

Mr. Obama, I think, is misreading the public mood. Many Americans are unnerved by our fiscal imbalance, which helps explain the rise of the Tea Party movement. But whether or not Obama is out of touch with the public is, in one respect, irrelevant. Facts are stubborn things — and the fact is that we’re facing a crushing entitlement crisis that is getting worse literally by the hour. If we don’t come to grips with it soon, we are likely to experience something similar to the social unrest that is sweeping Europe.

More than mediocre, then, I found the president’s speech to be irresponsible. As the elected leader of the nation — and as one of the architects of our fiscal crisis — Obama has an obligation to address it in a serious, systematic, and intellectually honest manner. Instead, he is eschewing his governing duties. He is living in a world of his own imagination. That might be fine for writers of fiction and fairy tales. But for the president of the United States, it is quite a bad thing indeed.

State of the Union speeches are typically unimpressive and unmemorable. Last night’s address by President Obama was in that tradition. While his delivery was fine, the speech itself was mediocre — flat, undisciplined and unfocused, at times pedestrian and banal, with goals seemingly pulled out of thin air (e.g., by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean-energy sources).

The speech was also oddly uncreative, with Obama dusting off slogans and ideas from past State of the Union speeches. For example, on the campaign trail in 2008 and during the first two years of his presidency, Barack Obama portrayed himself as the great enemy of earmarks. Perhaps the reason he has to keep reminding us of his antipathy for earmarks is because he has repeatedly signed into law legislation that contained thousands of them.

Still, this doesn’t mean the speech was unimportant. It was, in fact, quite significant in terms of highlighting the president’s cast of mind and how he understands, or fails to understand, the moment we’re in.

The State of the Union address reaffirmed that Barack Obama remains a man of the left. He spent most of the speech championing an array of new programs, explaining why he believes we need to expand the size, reach, scope, and cost of the federal government.

It was as if the president were awakening Leviathan from a two-year slumber rather than two years of hyperactivity.

Beyond that, though, Obama spoke as if he were living in an alternate universe — one where a $14 trillion debt and trillion dollar a year deficit don’t exist; where our entitlement programs are basically solvent and sound, in need of, at most, tweaking around the margins; and where the 2010 midterm election wasn’t a repudiation of the president’s progressive agenda.

The president dealt with our fiscal crisis as if it were a triviality, its importance on par with the need for more solar panels and high-speed rails.

Mr. Obama, I think, is misreading the public mood. Many Americans are unnerved by our fiscal imbalance, which helps explain the rise of the Tea Party movement. But whether or not Obama is out of touch with the public is, in one respect, irrelevant. Facts are stubborn things — and the fact is that we’re facing a crushing entitlement crisis that is getting worse literally by the hour. If we don’t come to grips with it soon, we are likely to experience something similar to the social unrest that is sweeping Europe.

More than mediocre, then, I found the president’s speech to be irresponsible. As the elected leader of the nation — and as one of the architects of our fiscal crisis — Obama has an obligation to address it in a serious, systematic, and intellectually honest manner. Instead, he is eschewing his governing duties. He is living in a world of his own imagination. That might be fine for writers of fiction and fairy tales. But for the president of the United States, it is quite a bad thing indeed.

Read Less

Comparing the Obama and Palin Speeches

The ridiculous media reaction to the speeches made by President Obama and Sarah Palin yesterday is just a glimpse of the type of coverage we’ll see if Palin becomes the Republican nominee for 2012. Today’s theme is obviously that Obama is a post-partisan unifier/masterful orator and Palin is a divisive megalomaniac. And so far, the message has been quite extensive in its reach.

Politico picked it up this morning in a headline story. “At sunrise in the East on Wednesday, Sarah Palin demonstrated that she has little interest — or capacity — in moving beyond her brand of grievance-based politics,” wrote Jonathan Martin. “And at sundown in the West, Barack Obama reminded even his critics of his ability to rally disparate Americans around a message of reconciliation.”

The New York Times and the Washington Post also piled on. “Obama has proven to be a polarizing figure in office, but on Wednesday he sought to unify,” wrote the Post’s Dan Balz. “Palin ended up dividing. On a day of scripted messages, presumably carefully considered, Obama made the most of his. Palin did not.”

And then the “tone” — which seems to be the word of the week — of the criticism disintegrated quickly from there.

“What America has witnessed in the last 24 hours is a president of the United States who acted like a president of the United States, a Speaker of the House who acted like a Speaker of the House — and Sarah Palin, a pretender to the presidency who acted like a divisive, selfish, small-minded self-promoter,” wrote Brent Budowsky at the Hill.

Radio host Bill Press, in a column that could have been excellent satire if it wasn’t written in earnest, wrote that Obama’s speech “was one of the most powerful speeches I’ve heard any president give. Like the Gettysburg Address in its lasting message.”

“What a contrast with the sickening, self-serving video released the same day by the dropout governor of Alaska,” Press continued. “In his remarks, President Obama expressed the hope that some good will come out of the tragedy in Tucson. If we’re lucky, one good thing will be the end of the already-too-long political career of Sarah Palin. She can make plenty of money at Fox News. That’s where she belongs, not with the rest of America.”

So Sarah Palin’s “divisive” speech was so sickening that she (and Fox News) shouldn’t be allowed to belong with the rest of America. Got it. Read More

The ridiculous media reaction to the speeches made by President Obama and Sarah Palin yesterday is just a glimpse of the type of coverage we’ll see if Palin becomes the Republican nominee for 2012. Today’s theme is obviously that Obama is a post-partisan unifier/masterful orator and Palin is a divisive megalomaniac. And so far, the message has been quite extensive in its reach.

Politico picked it up this morning in a headline story. “At sunrise in the East on Wednesday, Sarah Palin demonstrated that she has little interest — or capacity — in moving beyond her brand of grievance-based politics,” wrote Jonathan Martin. “And at sundown in the West, Barack Obama reminded even his critics of his ability to rally disparate Americans around a message of reconciliation.”

The New York Times and the Washington Post also piled on. “Obama has proven to be a polarizing figure in office, but on Wednesday he sought to unify,” wrote the Post’s Dan Balz. “Palin ended up dividing. On a day of scripted messages, presumably carefully considered, Obama made the most of his. Palin did not.”

And then the “tone” — which seems to be the word of the week — of the criticism disintegrated quickly from there.

“What America has witnessed in the last 24 hours is a president of the United States who acted like a president of the United States, a Speaker of the House who acted like a Speaker of the House — and Sarah Palin, a pretender to the presidency who acted like a divisive, selfish, small-minded self-promoter,” wrote Brent Budowsky at the Hill.

Radio host Bill Press, in a column that could have been excellent satire if it wasn’t written in earnest, wrote that Obama’s speech “was one of the most powerful speeches I’ve heard any president give. Like the Gettysburg Address in its lasting message.”

“What a contrast with the sickening, self-serving video released the same day by the dropout governor of Alaska,” Press continued. “In his remarks, President Obama expressed the hope that some good will come out of the tragedy in Tucson. If we’re lucky, one good thing will be the end of the already-too-long political career of Sarah Palin. She can make plenty of money at Fox News. That’s where she belongs, not with the rest of America.”

So Sarah Palin’s “divisive” speech was so sickening that she (and Fox News) shouldn’t be allowed to belong with the rest of America. Got it.

But back to the more substantive articles. While I wouldn’t go so far as to compare Obama’s speech with the Gettysburg Address, it deserves all the praise that it’s gotten from the media. It was emotional, inspiring, and comforting. In sum, it was everything a presidential speech should be in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

Palin’s speech, in comparison, didn’t seem as presidential. And so what? She’s not the president — and moreover, she wasn’t speaking at a memorial service — so there was no reason why she should have pretended otherwise.

Abe has already pointed to Jonah Goldberg’s post at the Corner; Goldberg also makes an apt point about Palin’s lack of a presidential demeanor:

I think the president was more presidential in no small part because he is the president. Palin’s video statement was something else because she is not the president. And the criticism that she should have turned the other cheek and not defended herself at all strikes me as beyond absurd. The woman was being accused of being a willful co-conspirator in murder. It is just unfair and flatly dishonest to expect her not to address that.

I second his other point as well. It’s particularly sleazy for the media to level false charges at Palin and then scold her for having the nerve to defend herself. Moreover, she barely even made any references to the criticisms leveled at her. The address struck me as more of a defense of free speech in general, something that is much more important to a democratic society than the protection of civil “tone.”

Read Less

The South’s Past Haunts Barbour’s Candidacy

Haley Barbour may be among the smartest men in contemporary politics, as well as one of the most able governors in the country. But there’s no denying that his potential presidential candidacy has taken a hit as a result of his remarks about growing up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and the role of the Citizens Councils in the racial strife of that era.

A profile of Barbour in the Weekly Standard by Andrew Ferguson quoted the governor as characterizing the segregated Mississippi of his youth in a rosy light. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” said Barbour, who also went on to describe the Citizens Councils as being the good guys who kept the Ku Klux Klan out of his hometown while neglecting to also note that they were the local enforcers of the racial status quo and the oppression of blacks. Yesterday, Barbour attempted to put out the fire with a clarification, admitting that the Citizens Councils were “totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country and, especially, African-Americans who were persecuted in that time.”

But that wasn’t good enough for some of his critics, particularly the editorial page of the New York Times, which roasted Barbour in today’s edition for what they termed his recollection of a “hazy, dream-coated South” that shows he suffers “from the faulty memory all too common among those who stood on the sidelines during one of the greatest social upheavals in history.” The Times‘s goal here is not so much clarity about history but to draw a line in the sand about Barbour’s future as it declared that “his recent remarks on the period fit a well-established pattern of racial insensitivity that raises increasing doubts about his fitness for national office.”

Given that it was the Times and other liberal organs that were quick to make a meal of this brouhaha, many conservatives will reflexively defend Barbour. It is, after all, more than a little unfair to speak of the Mississippi governor as someone who “stood on the sidelines” of this battle, since he was merely a teenager during the drama of the early 1960s. No one has alleged that he has ever been guilty of an act of racism, either then or since. Indeed, the worst that the Times can say of him is that he once scolded an aide for making a racist remark with a joke about watermelons. And, as the perceptive Ferguson noted in his article, a big part of the problem is Barbour’s thick and “unapologetic” Southern drawl, which may be more than a bit off-putting for Northerners quick to make stereotypical generalizations about Southern whites while ignoring the racial past of their own region.

But as Barbour’s quick retreat from his Weekly Standard quotes indicates, this is not a problem that he can simply dismiss as liberal media bias. While Barbour may be innocent of any racism personally, denial of the truth about the essential ugliness of much of what some like to term the “heritage” of the South is unacceptable. As the nation celebrates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War over the next four years, the willingness of some to indulge in fantasies about the Confederacy is something that is bound to cause problems for Southern white Republicans, especially one who is thinking about running against the first African-American president of the United States. Read More

Haley Barbour may be among the smartest men in contemporary politics, as well as one of the most able governors in the country. But there’s no denying that his potential presidential candidacy has taken a hit as a result of his remarks about growing up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and the role of the Citizens Councils in the racial strife of that era.

A profile of Barbour in the Weekly Standard by Andrew Ferguson quoted the governor as characterizing the segregated Mississippi of his youth in a rosy light. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” said Barbour, who also went on to describe the Citizens Councils as being the good guys who kept the Ku Klux Klan out of his hometown while neglecting to also note that they were the local enforcers of the racial status quo and the oppression of blacks. Yesterday, Barbour attempted to put out the fire with a clarification, admitting that the Citizens Councils were “totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country and, especially, African-Americans who were persecuted in that time.”

But that wasn’t good enough for some of his critics, particularly the editorial page of the New York Times, which roasted Barbour in today’s edition for what they termed his recollection of a “hazy, dream-coated South” that shows he suffers “from the faulty memory all too common among those who stood on the sidelines during one of the greatest social upheavals in history.” The Times‘s goal here is not so much clarity about history but to draw a line in the sand about Barbour’s future as it declared that “his recent remarks on the period fit a well-established pattern of racial insensitivity that raises increasing doubts about his fitness for national office.”

Given that it was the Times and other liberal organs that were quick to make a meal of this brouhaha, many conservatives will reflexively defend Barbour. It is, after all, more than a little unfair to speak of the Mississippi governor as someone who “stood on the sidelines” of this battle, since he was merely a teenager during the drama of the early 1960s. No one has alleged that he has ever been guilty of an act of racism, either then or since. Indeed, the worst that the Times can say of him is that he once scolded an aide for making a racist remark with a joke about watermelons. And, as the perceptive Ferguson noted in his article, a big part of the problem is Barbour’s thick and “unapologetic” Southern drawl, which may be more than a bit off-putting for Northerners quick to make stereotypical generalizations about Southern whites while ignoring the racial past of their own region.

But as Barbour’s quick retreat from his Weekly Standard quotes indicates, this is not a problem that he can simply dismiss as liberal media bias. While Barbour may be innocent of any racism personally, denial of the truth about the essential ugliness of much of what some like to term the “heritage” of the South is unacceptable. As the nation celebrates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War over the next four years, the willingness of some to indulge in fantasies about the Confederacy is something that is bound to cause problems for Southern white Republicans, especially one who is thinking about running against the first African-American president of the United States.

Evidence of the possibilities for such problems was displayed on the Times‘s website this week with a troubling article about a “Secession Gala” held in Charleston, South Carolina, where 300 participants dressed up like extras from Gone With the Wind to celebrate the anniversary of that state’s decision to leave the Union in 1860. While the event and the NAACP-sponsored protest outside the party went off without violence, the comments from the secession celebrants — in which they claimed that the Civil War was not fought over slavery — reflected the fact that many in the South are still in denial about this epic moment in American history. Post–Civil War reconciliation between the regions was based on a willingness by both sides to acknowledge the bravery of the combatants, but surely enough time has passed since the fighting that Americans no longer have to pretend that the “lost cause” was a noble one in order to unify the nation.

Even if all of the above were not an issue, it is still far from clear that Barbour’s prodigious political skills can transform him into a serious presidential contender in 2012. But if Barbour is really determined to run, he is going to have to do more to dispel this negative perception than the sort of damage-control comments we heard from him this week.

Read Less

The Extremism of E.J. Dionne Jr.

E.J. Dionne Jr. has a column registering his concerns about the “No Labels” group. But he isn’t entirely critical. Dionne makes it clear that there are some things he’s sympathetic to, including this:

The No Labelers are also right to be repulsed by the replacement of real argument with a vicious brand of name-calling. When a president of the United States is attacked simultaneously as an “extreme liberal liar” and a “Nazi,” there is a sick irrationality at work in our discourse.

It’s perhaps worth noting that during the Bush presidency, when George W. Bush was slandered by leading members of the Democratic Party as a “moral coward” (Vice President Al Gore), as a “loser” and a “liar” who had “betrayed his country” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and who “Week after week after week after week … told lie after lie after lie after lie” (Senator Edward Kennedy), Dionne, in an amazing feat of self-control, held his outrage in abeyance. Back then, it was not “sick irrationality at work in our discourse”; it was just the normal, good-spirited back and forth of American politics. And if E.J. has written a column reprimanding the loathsome Representative Alan Grayson for his vicious brand of name-calling, I missed it. (Grayson dubbed his opponent Daniel Webster “Taliban Dan” in a deeply dishonest ad. He has also said, “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: Die quickly.” And for good measure, Grayson has compared Republicans to “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals” and Nazis burning the Reichstag.)

In any event, in his column Dionne goes on to assure us that “I am still devoted to moderation.” Of course he is. But what’s really troubling him are those right-wing extremist Republicans and conservatives. Moderation, you see, is “very much alive on the center-left and among Democrats” — but it is “so dead in the Republican Party and on the right.” The No Labelers can yet be a constructive force, Dionne instructs us, “if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism.”

E.J. faces a bit of a problem, of course. The GOP he deems to be so radical, so zealous, and so outside the mainstream is barely a month removed from a historically successful midterm election. Republicans picked up more House seats (63) than in any election since 1938 and have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s. In addition, Americans, by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, self-identify as conservative rather than liberal. Public trust in government is at record lows; so is the approval rating for the Democratically controlled Congress. And the signature domestic initiative of the Obama presidency, health-care reform, is quite unpopular and falling short of virtually every promise its advocates made on its behalf. Read More

E.J. Dionne Jr. has a column registering his concerns about the “No Labels” group. But he isn’t entirely critical. Dionne makes it clear that there are some things he’s sympathetic to, including this:

The No Labelers are also right to be repulsed by the replacement of real argument with a vicious brand of name-calling. When a president of the United States is attacked simultaneously as an “extreme liberal liar” and a “Nazi,” there is a sick irrationality at work in our discourse.

It’s perhaps worth noting that during the Bush presidency, when George W. Bush was slandered by leading members of the Democratic Party as a “moral coward” (Vice President Al Gore), as a “loser” and a “liar” who had “betrayed his country” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and who “Week after week after week after week … told lie after lie after lie after lie” (Senator Edward Kennedy), Dionne, in an amazing feat of self-control, held his outrage in abeyance. Back then, it was not “sick irrationality at work in our discourse”; it was just the normal, good-spirited back and forth of American politics. And if E.J. has written a column reprimanding the loathsome Representative Alan Grayson for his vicious brand of name-calling, I missed it. (Grayson dubbed his opponent Daniel Webster “Taliban Dan” in a deeply dishonest ad. He has also said, “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: Die quickly.” And for good measure, Grayson has compared Republicans to “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals” and Nazis burning the Reichstag.)

In any event, in his column Dionne goes on to assure us that “I am still devoted to moderation.” Of course he is. But what’s really troubling him are those right-wing extremist Republicans and conservatives. Moderation, you see, is “very much alive on the center-left and among Democrats” — but it is “so dead in the Republican Party and on the right.” The No Labelers can yet be a constructive force, Dionne instructs us, “if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism.”

E.J. faces a bit of a problem, of course. The GOP he deems to be so radical, so zealous, and so outside the mainstream is barely a month removed from a historically successful midterm election. Republicans picked up more House seats (63) than in any election since 1938 and have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s. In addition, Americans, by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, self-identify as conservative rather than liberal. Public trust in government is at record lows; so is the approval rating for the Democratically controlled Congress. And the signature domestic initiative of the Obama presidency, health-care reform, is quite unpopular and falling short of virtually every promise its advocates made on its behalf.

If you want to place the Devoted-to-Moderation Dionne on the political spectrum, consider that he’s a great defender of the soon-to-be-ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose own extremism led to her registering an 8 percent favorability rating among independents just prior to the election (61 percent viewed her unfavorably).

The main problem for E.J., though, is that the 2010 midterm election was a massive repudiation of contemporary liberalism, as embodied by people like President Obama and E.J. Dionne. It was among the most nationalized midterm elections in our history. Having lived under liberal governance for two years, the public reacted to it like the human body reacts to food poisoning. This is something that Dionne doesn’t seem able to process; his ideology won’t allow it. And so he continues to bellow, week after week, about how radical the right has become.

It’s true that Dionne’s columns highlight political extremism of a sort. But the extremism is his, not conservatism’s.

Read Less

Mark Zuckerberg as Time‘s ‘Person of the Year’: A Brilliant Choice

As is always the case, it seems, Time magazine’s selection of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg as Person of the Year is generating scorn and outrage from people who had their own candidates — the Tea Partier, for example, or Julian Assange, or Kim Kardashian (my choice). This is silly (yes, so is my choice). As is often the case, the true Person of the Year is the president of the United States, and Time picked Obama two years ago; it doesn’t want to get boring. In any case, the magazine rarely makes its choice based solely on whom it thinks is the dominant news or power figure. (When it makes a selection based on newsworthiness without paying heed to the sense people have that it is a kind of news Oscar, Time courts a kind of controversy its editors and business side generally don’t like at all. The magazine received tens of thousands of letters protesting its choice in 1979 of Ayatollah Khomeini, for example.)

In point of fact, Zuckerberg is a brilliant selection. He has changed the daily habits and practices of hundreds of millions of people in a shockingly short time (Facebook is all of five years old). Despite the claims that Facebook endangers marriages and encourages bullying and all that — all of which simply represents an adaptation of pre-Facebook human failings to a new technology rather than a wholly new form of destructive interaction — it seems to me to be far more benign than malign. In any case, its creation and success are significant events in the history of capitalism, communications, and social relations, and Zuckerberg is more likely than most leaders alive today to be remembered 100 years from now as a hinge figure in history. He may, in other words, be something more than simply Person of the Year.

As is always the case, it seems, Time magazine’s selection of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg as Person of the Year is generating scorn and outrage from people who had their own candidates — the Tea Partier, for example, or Julian Assange, or Kim Kardashian (my choice). This is silly (yes, so is my choice). As is often the case, the true Person of the Year is the president of the United States, and Time picked Obama two years ago; it doesn’t want to get boring. In any case, the magazine rarely makes its choice based solely on whom it thinks is the dominant news or power figure. (When it makes a selection based on newsworthiness without paying heed to the sense people have that it is a kind of news Oscar, Time courts a kind of controversy its editors and business side generally don’t like at all. The magazine received tens of thousands of letters protesting its choice in 1979 of Ayatollah Khomeini, for example.)

In point of fact, Zuckerberg is a brilliant selection. He has changed the daily habits and practices of hundreds of millions of people in a shockingly short time (Facebook is all of five years old). Despite the claims that Facebook endangers marriages and encourages bullying and all that — all of which simply represents an adaptation of pre-Facebook human failings to a new technology rather than a wholly new form of destructive interaction — it seems to me to be far more benign than malign. In any case, its creation and success are significant events in the history of capitalism, communications, and social relations, and Zuckerberg is more likely than most leaders alive today to be remembered 100 years from now as a hinge figure in history. He may, in other words, be something more than simply Person of the Year.

Read Less

A Performance That Will Live in Infamy

I’m not sure I could have gotten through the Obama press conference just now without John’s bracing live-blog posts. I have to say, the president’s political performance was the most partisan I have seen from an American chief executive. The references to the needs of the people were perfunctory and disordered, at best. The cast of President Obama’s rhetoric was entirely in the mold of the bruised ideologue.

I don’t recall Obama ever coming off in a national forum quite so much like a leftist community organizer. In demonizing his political opponents, lecturing his base, and vowing to fight on in a long struggle, Obama appeared to be channeling his political roots in radical activism. He evoked an activist street fighter on the steps of city hall more than a president of the United States. The president is our head of government but also our head of state: a ceremonial symbol of national unity. One of his chief duties is to be happy about that.

As a partisan performance, Obama’s today didn’t stop with the relatively benign Democrat-versus-Republican divide. It recalled the European political sense in which partisanship is narrowly based on ethnicity or ideology, and opposes the putative complacency of all social compacts and central authorities. I suspect that one of the most difficult things for Obama himself, as well as for the more radical in his political base, is coming to grips with the truth that some homage must still be paid to the traditional compact of the U.S. government with its people. It was not, in fact, politically possible for Obama or the Democrats in Congress to imperil the finances of the middle class with a quixotic standoff over raising tax rates on the wealthy.

The people are, by and large, middle-class householders with no interest in suffering to make ideological points. The source of Obama’s peculiar dissonance in American politics is that he doesn’t feel, in his gut, that that is a good thing.

I’m not sure I could have gotten through the Obama press conference just now without John’s bracing live-blog posts. I have to say, the president’s political performance was the most partisan I have seen from an American chief executive. The references to the needs of the people were perfunctory and disordered, at best. The cast of President Obama’s rhetoric was entirely in the mold of the bruised ideologue.

I don’t recall Obama ever coming off in a national forum quite so much like a leftist community organizer. In demonizing his political opponents, lecturing his base, and vowing to fight on in a long struggle, Obama appeared to be channeling his political roots in radical activism. He evoked an activist street fighter on the steps of city hall more than a president of the United States. The president is our head of government but also our head of state: a ceremonial symbol of national unity. One of his chief duties is to be happy about that.

As a partisan performance, Obama’s today didn’t stop with the relatively benign Democrat-versus-Republican divide. It recalled the European political sense in which partisanship is narrowly based on ethnicity or ideology, and opposes the putative complacency of all social compacts and central authorities. I suspect that one of the most difficult things for Obama himself, as well as for the more radical in his political base, is coming to grips with the truth that some homage must still be paid to the traditional compact of the U.S. government with its people. It was not, in fact, politically possible for Obama or the Democrats in Congress to imperil the finances of the middle class with a quixotic standoff over raising tax rates on the wealthy.

The people are, by and large, middle-class householders with no interest in suffering to make ideological points. The source of Obama’s peculiar dissonance in American politics is that he doesn’t feel, in his gut, that that is a good thing.

Read Less

Will Gingrich Influence Palin?

During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, former House speaker Newt Gingrich said he is “much more inclined to run” for president in 2012 than not run.

I’m curious about the effect, if any at all, Gingrich’s words may have on Sarah Palin. Of those Republicans considered the most likely to run for president, Gingrich is perhaps the one individual who can compete with Palin when it comes to exciting the GOP base and its core conservative supporters. He can send a jolt of electricity through GOP audiences that is quite impressive and unmatched by anyone, with the exception of Palin and Governor Chris Christie (who continues to rule out a race in 2012).

I continue to believe that Ms. Palin will not run for president in 2012. She has structured a very impressive and profitable post-2008 campaign life for herself. She’s influential but not fully in the arena. If she decides to run, however, her limitations (which are considerable) will overwhelm her candidacy. She will not be president of the United States. Hopefully, she’s self-aware enough to know that.

During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, former House speaker Newt Gingrich said he is “much more inclined to run” for president in 2012 than not run.

I’m curious about the effect, if any at all, Gingrich’s words may have on Sarah Palin. Of those Republicans considered the most likely to run for president, Gingrich is perhaps the one individual who can compete with Palin when it comes to exciting the GOP base and its core conservative supporters. He can send a jolt of electricity through GOP audiences that is quite impressive and unmatched by anyone, with the exception of Palin and Governor Chris Christie (who continues to rule out a race in 2012).

I continue to believe that Ms. Palin will not run for president in 2012. She has structured a very impressive and profitable post-2008 campaign life for herself. She’s influential but not fully in the arena. If she decides to run, however, her limitations (which are considerable) will overwhelm her candidacy. She will not be president of the United States. Hopefully, she’s self-aware enough to know that.

Read Less

The Myth of Jewish-Only Roads

Helen Thomas is at it again.

“I can call a president of the United States anything in the book,” she said at an anti-Arab-bias workshop in Detroit, “but I can’t touch Israel, which has Jewish-only roads in the West Bank. No American would tolerate that — white-only roads.”

She’s right that no American would tolerate white-only roads. Israelis, likewise, would never tolerate roads for Jews only. That’s why such roads don’t exist.

The roads she’s referring to in the West Bank are Israeli, and they’re not just for Jews. Israeli Arabs can drive on them, and so can non-Jewish foreigners, including Arab and Muslim foreigners. Palestinians were once able to drive on them but have not been allowed to do so since the second intifada, when suicide bombers used them to penetrate Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in order to massacre people.

There are also, by the way, Palestinian roads in the West Bank that Israelis can’t use.

I don’t know if Helen Thomas knows this and is lying or if she’s just an ignoramus. What I’ll bet she doesn’t know is that Arab residents of Jerusalem can use both the Israeli roads and the Palestinian roads. They’re the only people who live in the area who can do this. (Foreigners also are allowed to use both.)

This doesn’t remotely line up with her narrative of perfidious Zion. But it’s true.

Helen Thomas is at it again.

“I can call a president of the United States anything in the book,” she said at an anti-Arab-bias workshop in Detroit, “but I can’t touch Israel, which has Jewish-only roads in the West Bank. No American would tolerate that — white-only roads.”

She’s right that no American would tolerate white-only roads. Israelis, likewise, would never tolerate roads for Jews only. That’s why such roads don’t exist.

The roads she’s referring to in the West Bank are Israeli, and they’re not just for Jews. Israeli Arabs can drive on them, and so can non-Jewish foreigners, including Arab and Muslim foreigners. Palestinians were once able to drive on them but have not been allowed to do so since the second intifada, when suicide bombers used them to penetrate Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in order to massacre people.

There are also, by the way, Palestinian roads in the West Bank that Israelis can’t use.

I don’t know if Helen Thomas knows this and is lying or if she’s just an ignoramus. What I’ll bet she doesn’t know is that Arab residents of Jerusalem can use both the Israeli roads and the Palestinian roads. They’re the only people who live in the area who can do this. (Foreigners also are allowed to use both.)

This doesn’t remotely line up with her narrative of perfidious Zion. But it’s true.

Read Less

Where Are the Smart Liberals?

So who does Job remind you of? I bet you didn’t think of Barack Obama. But that’s what pops into Jon Meacham’s mind, as Rick noted, prompting many of us to wonder how Newsweek lasted as long as it did. It was Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas who first proclaimed Obama a “sort of God,” so I suppose this tale is the modern version of Paradise Lost.

Has Obama lost his family? Become destitute? No, he’s just not popular anymore. Meacham explains:

Outside politics, President Obama thinks of himself less as a professor or community organizer and more as a writer — a man who observes reality, interprets it internally, and then recasts it on the page in his own voice and through his own eyes. And he is a reader of serious books.

Given that, he might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him.

Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one:

Would that I were as in moons of yore, as the days when God watched over me,
when he shined his lamp over my head. …

But the Lord withdraws his protection, inflicting pain and death and misery on Job, who cries:

Terror rolls over me, pursues my path like the wind. …
At night my limbs are pierced, and my sinews know no rest.
With great power he seizes my garment, grabs hold of me at the collar.
He hurls me into the muck, and I become like dust and ashes.

God is having none of it. He will not be questioned by a mortal, even a mortal whom he once loved and who has honored him. Fairly snarling, the Lord taunts Job from a whirlwind: “Where were you when I founded earth? / Tell, if you know understanding.”

If you think about it (stop before you get a headache), this is utter nonsense. Obama has not been tested or punished to measure his faith in God. He’s being evaluated by voters for a shoddy two years. The entire point of the Job story is that Job had done nothing to deserve his fate, so far as mortals can imagine. Read More

So who does Job remind you of? I bet you didn’t think of Barack Obama. But that’s what pops into Jon Meacham’s mind, as Rick noted, prompting many of us to wonder how Newsweek lasted as long as it did. It was Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas who first proclaimed Obama a “sort of God,” so I suppose this tale is the modern version of Paradise Lost.

Has Obama lost his family? Become destitute? No, he’s just not popular anymore. Meacham explains:

Outside politics, President Obama thinks of himself less as a professor or community organizer and more as a writer — a man who observes reality, interprets it internally, and then recasts it on the page in his own voice and through his own eyes. And he is a reader of serious books.

Given that, he might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him.

Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one:

Would that I were as in moons of yore, as the days when God watched over me,
when he shined his lamp over my head. …

But the Lord withdraws his protection, inflicting pain and death and misery on Job, who cries:

Terror rolls over me, pursues my path like the wind. …
At night my limbs are pierced, and my sinews know no rest.
With great power he seizes my garment, grabs hold of me at the collar.
He hurls me into the muck, and I become like dust and ashes.

God is having none of it. He will not be questioned by a mortal, even a mortal whom he once loved and who has honored him. Fairly snarling, the Lord taunts Job from a whirlwind: “Where were you when I founded earth? / Tell, if you know understanding.”

If you think about it (stop before you get a headache), this is utter nonsense. Obama has not been tested or punished to measure his faith in God. He’s being evaluated by voters for a shoddy two years. The entire point of the Job story is that Job had done nothing to deserve his fate, so far as mortals can imagine.

This brings me to another point. What’s happened to liberal intellectuals these days? It seems they’ve fallen down on the job and ceased to be serious people. I mean, comparing Obama to Job is downright embarrassing. Does the Gray Lady have no standards?

Another case in point: there apparently is a new film out about Fran Lebowitz directed by Martin Scorsese. The problem is that while liberal New Yorkers imagine her to be the quintessential left-leaning intellectual (actually, they don’t need the modifier since, by definition, are intellectuals share their worldview), she hasn’t written anything of note for years, and the sum total of her “contribution” to the intellectual and cultural life of the nation’s greatest city is a string of one-liners. Even this reviewer is somewhat put off:

Except for a children’s book and a series of wise Vanity Fair articles in the 1990s (which were really just well-edited conversations between Lebowitz and an editor on broad subjects such as race and money), Lebowitz hasn’t produced much. Instead, she’s a study in brilliant coasting, which can’t be as fun as it seems. For all its many laughs, “Public Speaking” carries a necessary undercurrent of the morose.

“No one has wasted time the way I have,” Lebowitz tells Scorsese’s camera in her usual rat-a-tat delivery, a voice coarsened by years of smoking. “[I am] the outstanding waster of time of my generation. It was 1979, I looked up, it was 2007.”

Instead of writing, Lebowitz spends her time talking about American society and culture — either through paid appearances on the lecture circuit or from her usual booth at the Waverly Inn, a dimly-lit, exclusively small West Village restaurant co-owned by her friend Graydon Carter, who edits Vanity Fair.

Talking, she says, is all she ever wanted to do.

You really can’t make this stuff up. And one wonders, is this thin gruel of cultural poses and condescension all the left has to offer anymore?

There’s much more: New York is too expensive to be interesting anymore. Tourists are “herds of hillbillies.” Gay men, who so dazzled Lebowitz with their highbrow tastes in the 1970s, have let her down by working so diligently to get married and join the army. And revenge is a wonderful thing: “I absolutely believe in revenge. People always say revenge is a dish best served cold. No. It’s good any time you can get it.”

She is asked: Is there such a thing as being born lucky? Yes, she replies: “Any white, gentile, straight man who is not president of the United States, failed. That’s what a big piece of luck that is, okay?”

Not exactly John Kenneth Galbraith. Or even Dorothy Parker.

The trouble liberals face in maintaining their intellectual chops is that they operate in a world of knowing glances, incomplete sentences, and shared cultural references. Conformity is seen as a sign of intellectual prowess. And you need not write anything intelligible, let alone intellectually compelling, to qualify as a liberal public intellectual.

Read Less

The Other Dowd

OK, it’s lazy to let a relative write your column. But we should go easy on Maureen, for her brother Kevin is plainly the political maven in the Dowd family, being the sibling who apparently observes America not merely from Manhattan taxi cabs. A  sample of the column she subcontracted to him:

On Nov. 2, voters across every spectrum loudly stated their preference for a return to American exceptionalism, self-reliance, limited government and personal freedoms. … It is probably a product of the revisionist history we now teach in our schools that the Tea Party, a replica of the beginnings of the American Revolution, was marginalized and mocked as a lunatic fringe group by a dismissive news media.

That same media is becoming increasingly aware that its creation is in over his head. He seems unaware of, or ambivalent about, the results of his actions. The last three weeks of the campaign were particularly unseemly. The vision of the President of the United States, one who spoke of civility and hope and change, exposed as just another Chicago pol, viciously and personally attacking his opponents, was undignified.

When my children were small, I used to take them to visit my mother. One of her favorite lines if they complained was, “Do you want some cheese with that whine?” We may have to call Switzerland to get enough cheese for the presidential whines. Read More

OK, it’s lazy to let a relative write your column. But we should go easy on Maureen, for her brother Kevin is plainly the political maven in the Dowd family, being the sibling who apparently observes America not merely from Manhattan taxi cabs. A  sample of the column she subcontracted to him:

On Nov. 2, voters across every spectrum loudly stated their preference for a return to American exceptionalism, self-reliance, limited government and personal freedoms. … It is probably a product of the revisionist history we now teach in our schools that the Tea Party, a replica of the beginnings of the American Revolution, was marginalized and mocked as a lunatic fringe group by a dismissive news media.

That same media is becoming increasingly aware that its creation is in over his head. He seems unaware of, or ambivalent about, the results of his actions. The last three weeks of the campaign were particularly unseemly. The vision of the President of the United States, one who spoke of civility and hope and change, exposed as just another Chicago pol, viciously and personally attacking his opponents, was undignified.

When my children were small, I used to take them to visit my mother. One of her favorite lines if they complained was, “Do you want some cheese with that whine?” We may have to call Switzerland to get enough cheese for the presidential whines.

What is interesting — aside from the usual nature/nurture debate it might provoke — is how much closer the mainstream-media narrative is to the Kevin narrative. What Kevin and many others on the right have observed for two years — an excess of dangerous presidential hubris, a tone-deaf White House, a vibrant Tea Party movement, liberal overreach – is only now becoming part of the mainstream conventional wisdom. Or as Noemie Emery points out, even Esquire concedes that The One’s “aura” has dimmed. Sounding rather Kevin-esque, the style-is-everything crowd finds Obama suddenly a disappointment:

President Obama, after all, was elected by virtue of his personality, which provided not only contrast but novelty, and was grounded in his near-perfect pitch when addressing audiences large and small. Sure, he was cool and cerebral, but he was also confident, almost cocky, because he had the power to summon inspiring rhetoric on command, which meant that he had the power to summon us on command. …

Now his gift has all but deserted him, and all that prevents the story from becoming tragic is his own apparent refusal to be affected by it. … Of course, Obama has never turned his back on us, but so many Americans have turned their backs on him that it amounts to The Anointed One, as he is sometimes referred, being stripped of something that can never return: his anointment. And without it — without his air of destiny, without the idea of Obama augmenting his actuality — the rooms he used to occupy so effortlessly have changed dimensions on him, until at times he might as well be speaking from the bottom of a well.

What Kevin observes with glee (the downsizing of The Ego), many in the national press corps now treat as fact and the left views with exasperation. Conservatives who cringed and gritted through more than one painful George W. Bush press conference can relate to how the left feels watching Obama as sulker in chief (“the press conference was so painfully incommensurate to its historical moment that one had to wonder if he knew it — if he knew that even on this observance of loss he was losing his audience”).

So you now have columns by liberals that sound identical to those written by conservatives. Take a guess as to the author of this one, who frets about “the shellackee in chief” and Nancy Pelosi’s reaction to the election:

Their instincts have tended more toward blaming the dogs for not understanding how good the food is for them, not accepting that it’s time to tweak the recipe.

The president’s self-diagnosis in his post-election news conference was dominated by the assessment that voters had simply failed to grasp — and that his failure lay chiefly in explaining clearly enough — why the administration took the steps it did.

That’s Ruth Marcus, but it could easily have been Ross Douthat or Rich Lowry — or any of us here at CONTENTIONS.

There is something rather unifying — like when the whole country watched the final M*A*S*H episode — about the emerging consensus. True, the left considers the cause of the shellacking to be insufficient liberalism, while the right views that explanation as daft. The “why” may be hotly disputed, but at least we’ve got some agreement on what is going on. On that score, there’s no denying that Obama is a unifier not a divider.

Read Less

Finding Out What Is in ObamaCare

Obama said he is only interested in tweaking ObamaCare. But what if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do? What if employers start dumping people from their existing health care, premiums go up, and the cost projections — shockingly! — are proved to have been entirely fraudulent? Well, no never mind as far as the president is concerned. He’s not an evidence man. He didn’t want the generals coming back to tell him more troops were needed in Afghanistan. He doesn’t want to alter his failed approach to the Middle East. And he’s not about to mess with his “historic” achievement.

Obama supporters, and those concerned that there own reputations may be at risk, are rushing forth to defend ObamaCare. However, the facts aren’t on their side. Veronique de Rugy takes issue with former OMB chief Peter Orszag, who declares that it is imperative to keep ObamaCare in order to control health-care costs. But de Rugy says that this is nonsense. Using CBO’s own data, she explains that ObamaCare will leave “the cost curve of federal healthcare spending virtually unchanged over the next 25 years.” In fact, ObamaCare makes things a whole lot worse:

The CBO finds that the effect of the healthcare legislation has been to increase government spending by $3.8 trillion between 2010 and 2020. From 2020 to 2035, federal spending under the two projections [ObamaCare and no ObamaCare] are equal percentages of GDP. If Orszag is arguing that the real cost-containment provisions kick in around 2036, such futuristic projections are simply not worth taking seriously. …

What we can be certain of is that this legislation increases the amount of money taxpayers will be forced by law to pay for health insurance to the tune of $420 billion over the next 10 years. Claims about ObamaCare’s deficit-reduction effects depend on new taxes growing even faster than new spending. Read More

Obama said he is only interested in tweaking ObamaCare. But what if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do? What if employers start dumping people from their existing health care, premiums go up, and the cost projections — shockingly! — are proved to have been entirely fraudulent? Well, no never mind as far as the president is concerned. He’s not an evidence man. He didn’t want the generals coming back to tell him more troops were needed in Afghanistan. He doesn’t want to alter his failed approach to the Middle East. And he’s not about to mess with his “historic” achievement.

Obama supporters, and those concerned that there own reputations may be at risk, are rushing forth to defend ObamaCare. However, the facts aren’t on their side. Veronique de Rugy takes issue with former OMB chief Peter Orszag, who declares that it is imperative to keep ObamaCare in order to control health-care costs. But de Rugy says that this is nonsense. Using CBO’s own data, she explains that ObamaCare will leave “the cost curve of federal healthcare spending virtually unchanged over the next 25 years.” In fact, ObamaCare makes things a whole lot worse:

The CBO finds that the effect of the healthcare legislation has been to increase government spending by $3.8 trillion between 2010 and 2020. From 2020 to 2035, federal spending under the two projections [ObamaCare and no ObamaCare] are equal percentages of GDP. If Orszag is arguing that the real cost-containment provisions kick in around 2036, such futuristic projections are simply not worth taking seriously. …

What we can be certain of is that this legislation increases the amount of money taxpayers will be forced by law to pay for health insurance to the tune of $420 billion over the next 10 years. Claims about ObamaCare’s deficit-reduction effects depend on new taxes growing even faster than new spending.

One benefit of the GOP House majority is that there can now be hearings on exactly the impact of ObamaCare. Nancy Pelosi said we’d have to pass it to find out what’s in it. Now we can. James Capretta gives us a peek at what we will find. No “death panels,” the Democrats insist?

But Obamacare does create the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB. … [T]he fifteen-member IPAB has the authority to implement cost-cutting mechanisms in Medicare without further congressional approval. Indeed, IPAB’s proponents have been quite explicit in their hope that the panel will use government-funded “comparative effectiveness research” as the basis to terminate Medicare reimbursement for items and services deemed not “cost effective” by budget cutters. So, here we have an unelected board of so-called experts with the authority to unilaterally decide that certain treatments should not be funded by Medicare.

Medicare will be just fine, they say? Capretta explains:

But Medicare’s chief actuary — who works for the president of the United States — has stated repeatedly that these cuts are so deep and arbitrary that they will force many hospitals and other institutions to stop seeing Medicare patients. In fact, the cuts in Obamacare would drive Medicare’s payment rates for services below those of Medicaid by 2019, and Medicaid’s network of willing suppliers of care and services is already very constrained. It’s quite clear that pushing Medicare’s rates to such low levels would drastically reduce access to care for many beneficiaries.

But don’t take de Rugy’s and Caparetta’s word for it. Beginning in January, the GOP Congress should explain exactly what is in the bill, how much it’s going to cost, how high the tax hike will be ($700B, most agree), and the short- and long-term impact on Americans’ health care. Will Democrats rush forth to defend their handiwork? Or will the evidence be compelling, and embarrassing? Pelosi’s rump liberal caucus in the House will never abandon ObamaCare, but will the Red State senators? Don’t bet on them going down with the ObamaCare ship. Especially after we find out what is in it.

Read Less

Rove Faces Down Schieffer

Karl Rove gave a feisty interview on Face the Nation to Bob Schieffer — who couldn’t really explain why it was somehow dangerous for conservative 501(c)4 groups to give to Republicans but perfectly fine if Big Labor gives to the Democrats:

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me just do a little shorthand here because if you add up the money raised by the congressional committees and the two national parties, Democrats have raised seven hundred fifty million dollars to the Republicans’ five hundred million dollars. … The two groups that you’re associated with alone expected to raise around sixty-five million dollars. And a lot of that money is coming from anonymous donors. So I — I — I want to just start with this. Why is the public interest served by flooding our politics with money from people who don’t want other people to know they’ve contributed?

KARL ROVE: Well, this has been going on for a long while. In fact, you left out a big player in this. Four unions alone will — will have — according to their own announcements spent two hundred and twenty-two million dollars in — in money on elections this year.

BOB SCHIEFFER: But we know who they are.

KARL ROVE: No, no, no you don’t, Bob. Here’s the disclosure report for the — for — for one who’s going to spend eighty-seven and a half million dollars — the American Federation of State commun — local and Community Employees. … They’re going to take in one hundred ninety million four hundred and seventy-seven do — thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine dollars, and that’s the extent of where you know where it’s coming from. So there’s a lot of money floating around in politics that’s not disclosed. Read More

Karl Rove gave a feisty interview on Face the Nation to Bob Schieffer — who couldn’t really explain why it was somehow dangerous for conservative 501(c)4 groups to give to Republicans but perfectly fine if Big Labor gives to the Democrats:

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me just do a little shorthand here because if you add up the money raised by the congressional committees and the two national parties, Democrats have raised seven hundred fifty million dollars to the Republicans’ five hundred million dollars. … The two groups that you’re associated with alone expected to raise around sixty-five million dollars. And a lot of that money is coming from anonymous donors. So I — I — I want to just start with this. Why is the public interest served by flooding our politics with money from people who don’t want other people to know they’ve contributed?

KARL ROVE: Well, this has been going on for a long while. In fact, you left out a big player in this. Four unions alone will — will have — according to their own announcements spent two hundred and twenty-two million dollars in — in money on elections this year.

BOB SCHIEFFER: But we know who they are.

KARL ROVE: No, no, no you don’t, Bob. Here’s the disclosure report for the — for — for one who’s going to spend eighty-seven and a half million dollars — the American Federation of State commun — local and Community Employees. … They’re going to take in one hundred ninety million four hundred and seventy-seven do — thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine dollars, and that’s the extent of where you know where it’s coming from. So there’s a lot of money floating around in politics that’s not disclosed.

Moreover, the real difference between all these groups and Big Labor is that the latter takes money from union members involuntarily. Schieffer seemed unmoved by the facts. Rove then zeroed in on the massive hypocrisy game being played by the White House and bolstered by much of the mainstream media:

Bob, I don’t remember you having a program in 2000, when the NAACP spent ten million dollars from one single donor, running ads anonymous leave contributed, attacking George W. Bush. The — suddenly — everybody is gone spun up about it this year when Republicans have started to follow what the Democrats have been doing and create 501(c)4s, which can use less than half their money for express advocacy. But you have the environment America, feminist majority, humane society, legislative front and they were all — vote — Vote Vets, Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife and a bunch of others which are all liberal groups that have been using 501(c)4s with undisclosed money for years. … And it’s never been an issue until the President of the United States on the day when we have a bad economic jobs report, when we lose ninety-five jobs in September, and the unemployment rate is 9.6 percent, the President of the United States goes out and calls conservatives at the Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads GPS, and says these are threats to democracy because they don’t disclose their donors. I don’t remember him ever saying that all these liberal groups were threats to democracy when they spent money exactly the same way we are.

Ouch.

And just as quickly as the hue and cry arose in opposition to conservative groups, it will go quiet again as Democrats form their own entities for the 2012 campaign. Then all that outside money will be a sign of the vibrancy of American politics. And so it is — for both sides.

Read Less

Time for Conservatives to Get Serious About Fiscal Responsibility

Tomorrow Prime Minister David Cameron, who heads a coalition government, is expected to announce the results of a Comprehensive Spending Review of all government expenditures — a review that will result in unprecedented cuts. The goal is to slash the budget deficit from over 10 percent of GDP to almost zero in five years — and in the process to (a) reduce the “crowding out” effect of big government, (b) restore market confidence in government finances, and (c) encourage private business to invest and hire people, which will in turn fuel economic growth.

The cuts in public spending will probably exceed anything either Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or President Reagan ever attempted.

In the past, David Cameron was chided by some American conservatives for being a faux conservative because of his stands on the environment, the National Health Service, and social issues like gay rights (see David Frum’s fine commentary here). But facing the preeminent domestic threat to the West these days — unsustainable budget deficits and the amassing debt – Cameron is wielding a budget axe. Unlike, say, David Stockman, it’s not something Cameron seemed terribly eager to do; he envisioned himself in a different role. But to Cameron’s credit, he is facing reality in a far more responsible manner than the president of the United States, who has made things considerably worse with his spending agenda (President Obama has added $3 trillion to the debt in his first two years in office).

In the end, the truest measure of how serious American conservatives are about governing will be how they address the entitlement crisis. Will they follow the path charted by David Cameron (with the caveat that the UK’s fiscal problems are somewhat different in scope and nature from ours)? Or will they wilt when it comes to reforming entitlement programs by raising the retirement age (for people under 55), tying benefits to prices rather than to wages, means-testing Social Security and Medicare, and turning Medicare into a defined contribution (instead of a defined benefit) program (see here).

Having served in three different administrations, I realize that dealing with entitlements is not an easy task. Republicans need to put forward plans that are gradual, responsible, and prudent. Impaling itself on entitlement reform is not a reasonable demand to make of a political party. Nevertheless, there needs to be a governing strategy that gets America from where we are (an unsustainable fiscal path) to where we need to be (reconfiguring entitlements).

That will need to be done incrementally rather than all at once. But what the Republican Party cannot do is to speak endlessly about the virtues of limited government and the need to cut spending in the abstract — but avoid the hard choices in the particulars. Sooner rather than later, the GOP is going to have to address head on this issue of entitlements (as Representative Paul Ryan has done). Failing to do so would damage its credibility, its cause (conservatism), and its claim that it is serious about fiscal responsibility.

Tomorrow Prime Minister David Cameron, who heads a coalition government, is expected to announce the results of a Comprehensive Spending Review of all government expenditures — a review that will result in unprecedented cuts. The goal is to slash the budget deficit from over 10 percent of GDP to almost zero in five years — and in the process to (a) reduce the “crowding out” effect of big government, (b) restore market confidence in government finances, and (c) encourage private business to invest and hire people, which will in turn fuel economic growth.

The cuts in public spending will probably exceed anything either Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or President Reagan ever attempted.

In the past, David Cameron was chided by some American conservatives for being a faux conservative because of his stands on the environment, the National Health Service, and social issues like gay rights (see David Frum’s fine commentary here). But facing the preeminent domestic threat to the West these days — unsustainable budget deficits and the amassing debt – Cameron is wielding a budget axe. Unlike, say, David Stockman, it’s not something Cameron seemed terribly eager to do; he envisioned himself in a different role. But to Cameron’s credit, he is facing reality in a far more responsible manner than the president of the United States, who has made things considerably worse with his spending agenda (President Obama has added $3 trillion to the debt in his first two years in office).

In the end, the truest measure of how serious American conservatives are about governing will be how they address the entitlement crisis. Will they follow the path charted by David Cameron (with the caveat that the UK’s fiscal problems are somewhat different in scope and nature from ours)? Or will they wilt when it comes to reforming entitlement programs by raising the retirement age (for people under 55), tying benefits to prices rather than to wages, means-testing Social Security and Medicare, and turning Medicare into a defined contribution (instead of a defined benefit) program (see here).

Having served in three different administrations, I realize that dealing with entitlements is not an easy task. Republicans need to put forward plans that are gradual, responsible, and prudent. Impaling itself on entitlement reform is not a reasonable demand to make of a political party. Nevertheless, there needs to be a governing strategy that gets America from where we are (an unsustainable fiscal path) to where we need to be (reconfiguring entitlements).

That will need to be done incrementally rather than all at once. But what the Republican Party cannot do is to speak endlessly about the virtues of limited government and the need to cut spending in the abstract — but avoid the hard choices in the particulars. Sooner rather than later, the GOP is going to have to address head on this issue of entitlements (as Representative Paul Ryan has done). Failing to do so would damage its credibility, its cause (conservatism), and its claim that it is serious about fiscal responsibility.

Read Less

Barack Obama Can’t Handle the Truth

In the well-known line from the movie A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson tells Tom Cruise, “You can’t handle the truth!” It appears as if President Obama is finding himself in a similar predicament.

I base this conclusion on the president’s comments at a fundraising event on Saturday in West Newton, Massachusetts, where he said this:

Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we’re hardwired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country’s scared.

According to press reports, the president told the several dozen donors that he was offering them his “view from the Oval Office.” He faulted the economic downturn for Americans’ inability to “think clearly” and said the burden is on the Democrats “to break through the fear and the frustration people are feeling.”

Read More

In the well-known line from the movie A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson tells Tom Cruise, “You can’t handle the truth!” It appears as if President Obama is finding himself in a similar predicament.

I base this conclusion on the president’s comments at a fundraising event on Saturday in West Newton, Massachusetts, where he said this:

Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we’re hardwired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country’s scared.

According to press reports, the president told the several dozen donors that he was offering them his “view from the Oval Office.” He faulted the economic downturn for Americans’ inability to “think clearly” and said the burden is on the Democrats “to break through the fear and the frustration people are feeling.”

The views expressed by Obama are not new to him; he made similar comments at a fundraising event in San Francisco during the 2008 campaign, when he said, in discussing blue-collar Pennsylvanians who had seen their standard of living decline, “It’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Mr. Obama seems to have a particular weakness for saying supremely condescending things about the American people when speaking in front of rich liberals.

Part of the explanation for this may be a tendency for the president to pander to his base. And part of it may be a variation of what psychiatrists call Impulse Control Disorder, the tendency to seek short-term gain that ultimately proves harmful. (This explanation is appealing because the strategy of painting opposition to Obama’s agenda — which now includes a clear majority of the American people — as benighted is quite insane. But Obama may believe this and find himself unable to keep those views private.)

My hunch, though, is that what’s mostly at play here is vanity on a scale we are simply not familiar with — and a need to do what academics refer to as creating a narrative.

Mr. Obama clearly views himself as a world-historical figure. His election, he informed us, was going to heal the planet and slow the rise of the oceans. “This is our moment, this is our time,” Obama said time and again during the 2008 campaign. His goal was nothing less than “a nation healed, a world repaired, an America that believes again.” He was going to put people back to work and restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace. As president, Mr. Obama would end wars and convince America’s enemies to beat their swords into plowshares.

None of this has been achieved. The president’s ambitions mostly lie in ruins, his agenda has become radioactive, his party is on the cusp of an election-year thrashing perhaps unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes. For a man of Obama’s self-regard, these failures must be rooted in something other than his own mistakes in judgment. And so, according to the president, they are.

It turns out that the problems lie not with Mr. Obama or even the stars; they lie with the American polity. The country should be seen as a small child — dazed and confused, scared to the point of having lost its senses. The situation in America is so bad, the level of irrationality so great, the ignorance so widespread, that even the preternatural precision and wisdom of the president’s arguments cannot carry the day. That seems to be the cast of mind of the man now inhabiting the Oval Office.

The president is also, consciously or not, creating a narrative to explain the defeat he and his party are about to be administered. The reasons are multiple — from the latent bigotry and racism of the Tea Party movement, to the lies of the GOP, to foreign-money corruption our politics, to the inability of the voting public to think clearly.

All this is nonsense, of course – and, for Obama, it is self-destructive. All of us, including political leaders, experience hardships and setbacks in life. In order to succeed, we need to respond to them in a way that is both honest and intelligent. And for that to happen, we need to see things as they are. We need to be grounded enough, and humble enough, to comprehend errors of our making. That is the sine qua non for adjusting to new facts and circumstances and to interpreting experiences in a way that will be beneficial.

President Obama seems almost incapable of such a thing. Rather, he is busily constructing an alternate reality. He is choosing to live in a world that begins with “Once upon a time.”

The president of the United States, it appears, can’t handle the truth. He and his party will suffer mightily because of is. So, alas, will our country.

Read Less

This Is All They’ve Got?

Liz Cheney, Howard Dean, and Bill Galston mixed it up on Face the Nation. Howard Dean didn’t have much material to work with. So he was back to arguing that the Tea Party is a fringe, racist group. As to that, Cheney responded:

I mean, I think that this notion that the tea parties is too far right is really wishful thinking or that the Republican Party is somehow on the fringe or the extreme of the American electorate. Again, I think it’s wishful thinking. I think that– you know all you have to do is look at somebody like Marco Rubio who won the Republican primary in Florida. And when he did, a lot of the pundits said, well, that’s great. He won the primary, but he’s clearly won be able to win the general election. And, he now has double-digit lead over Charlie Crist in that election. Crist was supposed to be the moderate Republican, who was going to come in and demonstrate that he could capture this supposed mass number of people who are in the center–just not the case. What the Tea Party stands for is a set of conservative principles which are for limited government, low taxes–really individual rights. And, you know, those aren’t fringe. I would say those are fundamental American values. So, you know, I understand why Governor Dean may be wanting to try to portray this as fringe, But I– I’d say, you know, continue to do that because I think that fringe is going to, in fact, demonstrate to you that they have enough support to have a very big win come election day this November.

Then there is the Chamber of Commerce. On this one, Dean felt obliged to wiggle away from the White House’s unsubstantiated charge. Again Dean came out looking rather feeble:

HOWARD DEAN: The Chamber of Commerce has become an arm of — finance arm of the Republican Party.
LIZ CHENEY (overlapping): Do you have evidence?
HOWARD DEAN: It’s ridiculous.
LIZ CHENEY (overlapping): Governor Dean, do you have evidence that any foreign money from the Chamber of Commerce is going into the American election right now.
HOWARD DEAN: That is not the issue. The issue is we have a right to–
LIZ CHENEY (overlapping): Well, that’s what David Axelrod–
HOWARD DEAN (overlapping): — we have a right to know if foreign money is going into the–
LIZ CHENEY (overlapping): — and the President of the United States thinks that’s the issue.
HOWARD DEAN: And we have a right to know if foreign money is going –
LIZ CHENEY (overlapping): That’s not the charge the President has made. … Governor Dean, look. If — if the President of the United States is going to stand up and make a charge, you can try to throw spaghetti here and see what sticks and hits. The President said there is foreign money from the Chamber of Commerce going into this election cycle through Republican Candidates. That’s not true. It’s not fair and it’s an abomination and a shame that he’s attempting to chill First Amendment rights–

That’s essentially what the Democrats are left with — arguing that a mass movement that has fielded front-running candidates is a fringe gang of racists and accusing with zero evidence that the GOP is taking foreign money via the Chamber of Commerce. If this seems rather lame to you, evidence that the Obama agenda is a political loser, you are not alone. On Election Day, the majority of voters, I suspect, will agree.

Liz Cheney, Howard Dean, and Bill Galston mixed it up on Face the Nation. Howard Dean didn’t have much material to work with. So he was back to arguing that the Tea Party is a fringe, racist group. As to that, Cheney responded:

I mean, I think that this notion that the tea parties is too far right is really wishful thinking or that the Republican Party is somehow on the fringe or the extreme of the American electorate. Again, I think it’s wishful thinking. I think that– you know all you have to do is look at somebody like Marco Rubio who won the Republican primary in Florida. And when he did, a lot of the pundits said, well, that’s great. He won the primary, but he’s clearly won be able to win the general election. And, he now has double-digit lead over Charlie Crist in that election. Crist was supposed to be the moderate Republican, who was going to come in and demonstrate that he could capture this supposed mass number of people who are in the center–just not the case. What the Tea Party stands for is a set of conservative principles which are for limited government, low taxes–really individual rights. And, you know, those aren’t fringe. I would say those are fundamental American values. So, you know, I understand why Governor Dean may be wanting to try to portray this as fringe, But I– I’d say, you know, continue to do that because I think that fringe is going to, in fact, demonstrate to you that they have enough support to have a very big win come election day this November.

Then there is the Chamber of Commerce. On this one, Dean felt obliged to wiggle away from the White House’s unsubstantiated charge. Again Dean came out looking rather feeble:

HOWARD DEAN: The Chamber of Commerce has become an arm of — finance arm of the Republican Party.
LIZ CHENEY (overlapping): Do you have evidence?
HOWARD DEAN: It’s ridiculous.
LIZ CHENEY (overlapping): Governor Dean, do you have evidence that any foreign money from the Chamber of Commerce is going into the American election right now.
HOWARD DEAN: That is not the issue. The issue is we have a right to–
LIZ CHENEY (overlapping): Well, that’s what David Axelrod–
HOWARD DEAN (overlapping): — we have a right to know if foreign money is going into the–
LIZ CHENEY (overlapping): — and the President of the United States thinks that’s the issue.
HOWARD DEAN: And we have a right to know if foreign money is going –
LIZ CHENEY (overlapping): That’s not the charge the President has made. … Governor Dean, look. If — if the President of the United States is going to stand up and make a charge, you can try to throw spaghetti here and see what sticks and hits. The President said there is foreign money from the Chamber of Commerce going into this election cycle through Republican Candidates. That’s not true. It’s not fair and it’s an abomination and a shame that he’s attempting to chill First Amendment rights–

That’s essentially what the Democrats are left with — arguing that a mass movement that has fielded front-running candidates is a fringe gang of racists and accusing with zero evidence that the GOP is taking foreign money via the Chamber of Commerce. If this seems rather lame to you, evidence that the Obama agenda is a political loser, you are not alone. On Election Day, the majority of voters, I suspect, will agree.

Read Less

Abuse of Power

It is astonishing, really.

The president of the United States has accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, despite its denial and without supporting evidence, of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. campaigns. “Just this week,” Barack Obama said recently about the chamber, “we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these [political] ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.”

On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, if there is any evidence to support their accusation. Axelrod responded this way: “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”

Likewise, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, wouldn’t back away from the incendiary charges yesterday. “The president will continue to make the argument that we don’t know where this money comes from and entities like the Chamber have said they get money from overseas,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House.

Read More

It is astonishing, really.

The president of the United States has accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, despite its denial and without supporting evidence, of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. campaigns. “Just this week,” Barack Obama said recently about the chamber, “we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these [political] ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.”

On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, if there is any evidence to support their accusation. Axelrod responded this way: “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”

Likewise, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, wouldn’t back away from the incendiary charges yesterday. “The president will continue to make the argument that we don’t know where this money comes from and entities like the Chamber have said they get money from overseas,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House.

Set aside the hypocrisy of this whole episode. (My former White House colleague Ed Gillespie points out that no Democrats, least of all Obama, expressed concern about such outside spending in 2008, when more than $400 million was spent to help elect Barack Obama, much of it from undisclosed donors.) Set aside the fact that Mr. Axelrod concedes that the chamber is abiding by long-standing rules, that it doesn’t have to disclose its donors list, and that no other organizations are disclosing theirs. Set aside the fact that the chamber has 115 foreign-member affiliates who pay a total of less than $100,000 in membership dues to a group whose total budget is more than $200 million. And set aside the fact that various news organizations have dismissed the charges, including the New York Times, which reports, “a closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the chamber does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents.”

What we are witnessing is the abuse of power. We are now in a situation in which the president and his most senior advisers feel completely at liberty to throw out unsubstantiated charges and put the burden on people (and institutions) to prove their innocence. Liberals once referred to such tactics as McCarthyism. But Joseph McCarthy, for all his abuses, was “only” a United States senator, one member out of 100. The president and his advisers, on the other hand, have at their disposal far more power and the ability to inflict far more injury.

What Obama and his aides are demanding is that the Chamber of Commerce prove a negative — and in doing so, they are trying to intimidate the chamber into disclosing what is, by law, privileged information. “If the Chamber doesn’t have anything to hide about these contributions,” Mr. Axelrod says, “and I take them at their word that they don’t, then why not disclose? Why not let people see where their money is coming from?”

Let’s see if we can help Mr. Axelrod out by providing him with an explanation.

For one thing, he is employing the guilty-until-proven-innocent argument. For another, the White House’s standard is being selectively applied. And it encourages slanderous charges because it forces innocent people to disprove them. All this is troubling in any case; but it is triply pernicious when it is practiced by those with unmatched power, because they have an unparalleled capacity to intimidate American citizens.

In further answering Axelrod’s argument, consider this thought experiment. It’s the year 2021, and a partisan critic of a future president repeatedly asserts that the president is addicted to child pornography. It turns out that the critic has no proof of the charge — but when told he is asking the president to prove a negative, he responds: “I take the president at his word. But just to be sure, we’d like to examine his phone records and text messages, his computer accounts, and his credit card receipts. What we want, in other words, is full access to all the relevant information we need. After all, if he’s innocent, why not disclose this information? Why not let people see what you’re doing with your life and free time?”

It must be obvious to Messrs. Axelrod and Obama that what they are doing is irresponsible, dangerous, and deeply illiberal. It’s important to note, however, that this libel is taking place within a particular context. The attack on the Chamber of Commerce is only the most recent link in a long chain. The Obama White House has targeted Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie, and John Boehner; George W. Bush and Dick Cheney; conservative talk radio; Fox News; the state of Arizona; the Supreme Court (for its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission); members of the Tea Party; critics of ObamaCare who attended town hall meetings; pharmaceutical, insurance, and oil companies; corporate executives, Wall Street, and the “rich.”

All this ugliness comes to us courtesy of a man who said during the 2008 campaign that “the times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook”; who told us that we should “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long”; and who assured us, on the night of his election, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.”

Back in October 2009, I wrote about this White House’s burning anger and resentment toward its critics and what it foreshadowed. That inferno is burning hotter than ever – and if it goes unchecked, it will eventually lead to a crisis.

In an August 16, 1971, memorandum from White House Counsel John Dean to Lawrence Higby, titled “Dealing with our Political Enemies,” Dean wrote:

This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly – how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.

At comparable stages in their first terms, the Obama administration seems to be at least as eager as the Nixon administration to use the available federal machinery to “screw our political enemies.” We know how things turned out for the Nixon administration. President Obama cannot say he hasn’t been forewarned.

Read Less

Where Is Obama Going?

Obama is now politically toxic in many states. So where is he going on the campaign trail? The White House schedule is telling. He’s going to Delaware, where the Democrat is already running away with the race. He’s going to Massachusetts, the bluest state until the voters disregarded his advice and elected Scott Brown. He’s going to California and Nevada, but for fundraisers, not big public events. He’s going to Rhode Island (Rhode Island?), where one supposes he can do no harm.

The number of competitive races in which he is holding public events is limited to Washington (Patty Murray), Minnesota (gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton), and Ohio (Gov. Ted Strickland). That’s it. And he better be careful in both Washington (where a large plurality think his economic policies have hurt more than they’ve helped) and Ohio (where his approval rating has plummeted). Oh, and he’s going to Oregon for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who had this to say:

Oregon’s Democratic candidate for governor said Tuesday that President Obama’s health care reform bill will be a “toxic” issue in 2012 unless states are given the opportunity to address the problem of rising medical costs. …

“I supported the passage of the bill but I think we need to recognize that this was really health insurance reform and not health care reform,” he said in an interview over coffee at a Portland diner. “What it’s done is provided most people in the country financial access to medical care by 2014. The problem is it didn’t deal with the underlying cost drivers, and those are embedded in the delivery system.”

Should be a fun campaign trip.

It’s tricky finding places where Obama won’t do damage to the candidates he’s supposed to be helping. The White House seems to think gubernatorial races are “safer” for Obama than the Senate contests, where all those unpopular votes on the stimulus, ObamaCare, etc., are sure to come up. But the reality of a 24/7 news environment is that wherever Obama goes, he makes the news — and Republican Senate and House candidates have the benefit of free media to remind voters across the country whose agenda they are opposed to and who has been making all those silly promises (e.g., ObamaCare will save money). Unfortunately for the Dems, you really can’t hide the president of the United States.

Obama is now politically toxic in many states. So where is he going on the campaign trail? The White House schedule is telling. He’s going to Delaware, where the Democrat is already running away with the race. He’s going to Massachusetts, the bluest state until the voters disregarded his advice and elected Scott Brown. He’s going to California and Nevada, but for fundraisers, not big public events. He’s going to Rhode Island (Rhode Island?), where one supposes he can do no harm.

The number of competitive races in which he is holding public events is limited to Washington (Patty Murray), Minnesota (gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton), and Ohio (Gov. Ted Strickland). That’s it. And he better be careful in both Washington (where a large plurality think his economic policies have hurt more than they’ve helped) and Ohio (where his approval rating has plummeted). Oh, and he’s going to Oregon for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who had this to say:

Oregon’s Democratic candidate for governor said Tuesday that President Obama’s health care reform bill will be a “toxic” issue in 2012 unless states are given the opportunity to address the problem of rising medical costs. …

“I supported the passage of the bill but I think we need to recognize that this was really health insurance reform and not health care reform,” he said in an interview over coffee at a Portland diner. “What it’s done is provided most people in the country financial access to medical care by 2014. The problem is it didn’t deal with the underlying cost drivers, and those are embedded in the delivery system.”

Should be a fun campaign trip.

It’s tricky finding places where Obama won’t do damage to the candidates he’s supposed to be helping. The White House seems to think gubernatorial races are “safer” for Obama than the Senate contests, where all those unpopular votes on the stimulus, ObamaCare, etc., are sure to come up. But the reality of a 24/7 news environment is that wherever Obama goes, he makes the news — and Republican Senate and House candidates have the benefit of free media to remind voters across the country whose agenda they are opposed to and who has been making all those silly promises (e.g., ObamaCare will save money). Unfortunately for the Dems, you really can’t hide the president of the United States.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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