Commentary Magazine


Topic: public official

Morning Commentary

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from his former Mossad chief’s assessment that Iran won’t acquire a nuclear weapon before 2015: “‘I think that intelligence estimates are exactly that, estimates,’ Netanyahu said. ‘They range from best case to worst case possibilities, and there is a range there, there is room for differing assessments.’”

With the Russian and Belarusian governments cracking down on opposition leaders, the U.S. needs to figure out what steps to take now that the reset strategy has failed: “[The Carnegie Moscow Center’s Lilia] Shevtsova said the similar authoritarian direction the two countries are pursuing calls for the United States and Europe to create a coordinated policy for dealing with repressive regimes, one that could be developed for Belarus and fine-tuned for Russia.”

More information has surfaced about the strange online life of Arizona shooter Jared Loughner. A UFO website has told reporters that he frequented its Web forum, where his strange messages apparently confused the other posters: “His postings, they said, revealed ‘someone who clearly has many questions for which answers have been elusive if not outright impossible to obtain. And despite the best efforts by many of our members, it seemed there were no answers to be found here for which he was satisfied.’”

Now that the initial shock over the Arizona shooting has waned, here comes the inevitable debate over gun control: “’This case is fundamentally about a mentally ill drug abuser who had access to guns and shouldn’t have,’ [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg said at a news conference Tuesday with members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.”

Robert Verbruggen explains why stricter gun-control laws would probably not have prevented Loughner from carrying out his attack last weekend: “If someone intends to assassinate a public official, he’s already planning to break a few laws; there is absolutely no reason to believe that one more law — a law that will presumably mete out less punishment than do laws against murder — will affect his calculations. And given how easy it is to conceal a handgun until one’s target is in sight, there’s little hope that this law will help security or police officers disarm assassins before they commence shooting.”

The four-minute video that perfectly encapsulates the hypocrisy of the anti-violent-rhetoric crowd: “Sadly, it’s never war-mongers like Palin and Beck that get shot.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from his former Mossad chief’s assessment that Iran won’t acquire a nuclear weapon before 2015: “‘I think that intelligence estimates are exactly that, estimates,’ Netanyahu said. ‘They range from best case to worst case possibilities, and there is a range there, there is room for differing assessments.’”

With the Russian and Belarusian governments cracking down on opposition leaders, the U.S. needs to figure out what steps to take now that the reset strategy has failed: “[The Carnegie Moscow Center’s Lilia] Shevtsova said the similar authoritarian direction the two countries are pursuing calls for the United States and Europe to create a coordinated policy for dealing with repressive regimes, one that could be developed for Belarus and fine-tuned for Russia.”

More information has surfaced about the strange online life of Arizona shooter Jared Loughner. A UFO website has told reporters that he frequented its Web forum, where his strange messages apparently confused the other posters: “His postings, they said, revealed ‘someone who clearly has many questions for which answers have been elusive if not outright impossible to obtain. And despite the best efforts by many of our members, it seemed there were no answers to be found here for which he was satisfied.’”

Now that the initial shock over the Arizona shooting has waned, here comes the inevitable debate over gun control: “’This case is fundamentally about a mentally ill drug abuser who had access to guns and shouldn’t have,’ [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg said at a news conference Tuesday with members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.”

Robert Verbruggen explains why stricter gun-control laws would probably not have prevented Loughner from carrying out his attack last weekend: “If someone intends to assassinate a public official, he’s already planning to break a few laws; there is absolutely no reason to believe that one more law — a law that will presumably mete out less punishment than do laws against murder — will affect his calculations. And given how easy it is to conceal a handgun until one’s target is in sight, there’s little hope that this law will help security or police officers disarm assassins before they commence shooting.”

The four-minute video that perfectly encapsulates the hypocrisy of the anti-violent-rhetoric crowd: “Sadly, it’s never war-mongers like Palin and Beck that get shot.”

Read Less

What’s Really Eating David Axelrod

In a New Republic cover story by Noam Scheiber, “What’s Really Eating David Axelrod? The Disillusionment of Obama’s Political Guru,” we are told this:

Obama and Axelrod both believe in changing Washington for its own sake. “It’s in the president’s nature, it’s also in David’s nature,” says Stephanie Cutter, a senior White House aide. … Whatever his tendency to fall in and out of love with politicians, there’s no evidence Axelrod has soured on Barack Obama. Quite the contrary — he is said to take enormous pride in the president’s legislative accomplishments. “When Obama rejects Axe’s political advice, David’s attitude is not like, ‘Why isn’t he listening to me?’” says one administra­tion official. “It’s more like, ‘This is why I love this guy. He’s willing to follow his heart even when the short-term politics are not with him.”’  Instead, the source of Axelrod’s disillusionment these days is Washington itself. … As long as he was a civilian, Axelrod could blame the pace of change on the flawed politicians he helped elect. He could always move on and invest his hopes in someone else. But now that he’s serving in government, it’s clear that the problem isn’t so much flawed people — though, like anyone, Obama has his flaws — as a ferociously stubborn, possibly irredeemable system. For an idealist like David Axelrod, that may be the most terrifying thought of all.

David Axelrod, like Obama’s other aides, begins with an unshakable premise: Barack Obama is a man of almost superhuman gifts and virtues. Yet even Axelrod cannot deny the beating the president and his party are being administered. The president has passed much of his agenda — and, in the process, he has become very nearly radioactive. Mr. Obama’s popularity is reaching new lows, distrust of the federal government is reaching new highs, independents are fleeing him and the Democratic party in striking numbers, and Democratic candidates are explicitly running against Obama and his record. The opposition to Obamaism is extraordinary in its depth and passion.

So how does someone like Axelrod reconcile his premise with this unpleasant reality? Why, blame Washington and the political establishment, of course. The system is not only “ferociously stubborn,” but quite possibly “irredeemable.” Barack Obama’s failures, you see, are the fault of the founders.

We have all heard this before — during the Carter years, when it was said the presidency was too large for any single person; and from Ronald Reagan’s first OMB director, David Stockman, who became deeply disillusioned when his budget-cutting agenda ran up against our system of checks and balances. In his book The Triumph of Politics, Stockman wrote this: “There is only one thing worse [than politicians with short time horizons], and that is ideological hubris. It is the assumption that the world can be made better by being remade overnight.”

This is precisely what Axelrod and many in Obama’s inner circle are afflicted with. And whatever problems plague Washington, they are not new. Nothing fundamental has changed about Washington since Obama ran for president in 2008, promising to drive the moneychangers out of the temple.

Governing always seems easier from afar — and every public official experiences a gap between his hopes and his achievements. But in this instance, a group of arrogant, zealous aides — devoted to an arrogant, ideological man — thought they could remake the world and transform Washington easily and instantaneously. But now that they have been at the helm for a bit more than 20 months, idealism is giving way to crushing disillusionment.

“The blind faith in, and passion for, Obama was like nothing [Anita] Dunn had ever seen before,” we read in Game Change. “Around Hopefund they joked about it all the time, praying it wouldn’t go to Obama’s head; his ego was robust enough already. They even conferred on the senator a new nickname: ‘Black Jesus.’”

Investing that much hope in a single individual was destined to end in disenchantment. There is a cautionary tale and an important reminder in all of this: The best public servants are individuals whose idealism is tempered with realism and maturity, who understand and appreciate the nature of American government, who are steady and well-grounded, and who understand the difference between politics and romantic dreams.

In a New Republic cover story by Noam Scheiber, “What’s Really Eating David Axelrod? The Disillusionment of Obama’s Political Guru,” we are told this:

Obama and Axelrod both believe in changing Washington for its own sake. “It’s in the president’s nature, it’s also in David’s nature,” says Stephanie Cutter, a senior White House aide. … Whatever his tendency to fall in and out of love with politicians, there’s no evidence Axelrod has soured on Barack Obama. Quite the contrary — he is said to take enormous pride in the president’s legislative accomplishments. “When Obama rejects Axe’s political advice, David’s attitude is not like, ‘Why isn’t he listening to me?’” says one administra­tion official. “It’s more like, ‘This is why I love this guy. He’s willing to follow his heart even when the short-term politics are not with him.”’  Instead, the source of Axelrod’s disillusionment these days is Washington itself. … As long as he was a civilian, Axelrod could blame the pace of change on the flawed politicians he helped elect. He could always move on and invest his hopes in someone else. But now that he’s serving in government, it’s clear that the problem isn’t so much flawed people — though, like anyone, Obama has his flaws — as a ferociously stubborn, possibly irredeemable system. For an idealist like David Axelrod, that may be the most terrifying thought of all.

David Axelrod, like Obama’s other aides, begins with an unshakable premise: Barack Obama is a man of almost superhuman gifts and virtues. Yet even Axelrod cannot deny the beating the president and his party are being administered. The president has passed much of his agenda — and, in the process, he has become very nearly radioactive. Mr. Obama’s popularity is reaching new lows, distrust of the federal government is reaching new highs, independents are fleeing him and the Democratic party in striking numbers, and Democratic candidates are explicitly running against Obama and his record. The opposition to Obamaism is extraordinary in its depth and passion.

So how does someone like Axelrod reconcile his premise with this unpleasant reality? Why, blame Washington and the political establishment, of course. The system is not only “ferociously stubborn,” but quite possibly “irredeemable.” Barack Obama’s failures, you see, are the fault of the founders.

We have all heard this before — during the Carter years, when it was said the presidency was too large for any single person; and from Ronald Reagan’s first OMB director, David Stockman, who became deeply disillusioned when his budget-cutting agenda ran up against our system of checks and balances. In his book The Triumph of Politics, Stockman wrote this: “There is only one thing worse [than politicians with short time horizons], and that is ideological hubris. It is the assumption that the world can be made better by being remade overnight.”

This is precisely what Axelrod and many in Obama’s inner circle are afflicted with. And whatever problems plague Washington, they are not new. Nothing fundamental has changed about Washington since Obama ran for president in 2008, promising to drive the moneychangers out of the temple.

Governing always seems easier from afar — and every public official experiences a gap between his hopes and his achievements. But in this instance, a group of arrogant, zealous aides — devoted to an arrogant, ideological man — thought they could remake the world and transform Washington easily and instantaneously. But now that they have been at the helm for a bit more than 20 months, idealism is giving way to crushing disillusionment.

“The blind faith in, and passion for, Obama was like nothing [Anita] Dunn had ever seen before,” we read in Game Change. “Around Hopefund they joked about it all the time, praying it wouldn’t go to Obama’s head; his ego was robust enough already. They even conferred on the senator a new nickname: ‘Black Jesus.’”

Investing that much hope in a single individual was destined to end in disenchantment. There is a cautionary tale and an important reminder in all of this: The best public servants are individuals whose idealism is tempered with realism and maturity, who understand and appreciate the nature of American government, who are steady and well-grounded, and who understand the difference between politics and romantic dreams.

Read Less

The Democrat’s Health-Care Wounds: Six Months After the Suicide Mission

The discussion over the past week stimulated by Jay Cost’s claim that health-care reform must be accounted a major part of the desperate woes of Obama and the Democrats led me to go back and look at some of my own posts at the time the bill was passed in the spring. I do this not to claim prescience but to show that the deep damage the bill would do to the president and his party was already in the mix of the public discussion and obvious at the time to anyone who was not deluding himself with hope born from passion for the bill’s goals. The same delusions appear to be at work today in some quarters.

Three weeks before the bill passed, on February 26, in a post called “The Charge of the Democratic Light Brigade,” I wrote: “If the health-care bill collapses, the Obama presidency will be dealt a staggering blow from which it could recover, I would guess, only with a really extraordinary economic turnaround. The political calamity for Democrats in November will still take place; the president will lose the entirety of his capital with elected officials in his party; the media, sniffing a loser, will turn slowly but surely on him; and the conviction inside his own camp that he can work wonders with his silver-tongued patter will dissipate, causing a complete crisis of confidence inside the White House.  It would be better for him, unquestionably, for the legislation to pass, as a practical political matter. One could argue that the fate of his party really does rest on Obama’s shoulders, so it would be better for Democrats as well. But not for individual Democrats. So what happens if the Obama-Pelosi-Reid strategy for health-care passage is an order to House Democrats to carry out a suicide mission?…I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like this in American political history. Every way you look at it, Democrats are boxed in, forced to choose between extraordinarily unattractive options. What makes it especially noteworthy is that this was a calamity they summoned entirely upon themselves.”

Thus, on the evening the House approved the bill with 219 votes in favor, I wrote: “The passage tonight in the House of Representatives of the Senate’s health-care bill is indeed a historic moment. It draws the brightest ideological and political line between the two parties since the end of the Cold War — which featured a profound conflict of visions about the question of confronting the Soviet Union or accommodating it — and revivifies the Republican party’s role in opposition to the state’s growing encroachment on the particulars of American life. The fighting has only just begun.”

The next day, I wrote a post called Obama’s Pseudo-Achievement: “He and his advisers surveyed the political field after the election of Scott Brown and they saw their own potential epitaph — not in the rejection of his ideas but in the potential exposure of his weakness. A president cannot seem politically weak; much if not most of his ability to act is predicated on the notion that he is the strongest public official in the country. They determined that they had to push health care or die, and they worked their will relentlessly, and they got what they wanted….And yet one must not get carried away. The story here is not that he succeeded against all odds and with the winds against him to push through historic legislation, even though that is what the media would have you believe. The story is that a party holding a 75-seat margin in the House of Representatives was barely able to squeak by with its greatest legislative priority and most devoutly desired policy. That is the salient fact here. What Obama pulled off was a textbook example of raw intra-party discipline; the unpopularity of the measure and its political consequences remain exactly as they were before the vote.”

What these quotes reveal is that the polling results of the present moment were baked in the cake back in the early spring. The failure of the economy to improve is the most important thing, but without the Pyrrhic victory of the passage of health-care reform, Obama and his party would be in significantly better shape.

The discussion over the past week stimulated by Jay Cost’s claim that health-care reform must be accounted a major part of the desperate woes of Obama and the Democrats led me to go back and look at some of my own posts at the time the bill was passed in the spring. I do this not to claim prescience but to show that the deep damage the bill would do to the president and his party was already in the mix of the public discussion and obvious at the time to anyone who was not deluding himself with hope born from passion for the bill’s goals. The same delusions appear to be at work today in some quarters.

Three weeks before the bill passed, on February 26, in a post called “The Charge of the Democratic Light Brigade,” I wrote: “If the health-care bill collapses, the Obama presidency will be dealt a staggering blow from which it could recover, I would guess, only with a really extraordinary economic turnaround. The political calamity for Democrats in November will still take place; the president will lose the entirety of his capital with elected officials in his party; the media, sniffing a loser, will turn slowly but surely on him; and the conviction inside his own camp that he can work wonders with his silver-tongued patter will dissipate, causing a complete crisis of confidence inside the White House.  It would be better for him, unquestionably, for the legislation to pass, as a practical political matter. One could argue that the fate of his party really does rest on Obama’s shoulders, so it would be better for Democrats as well. But not for individual Democrats. So what happens if the Obama-Pelosi-Reid strategy for health-care passage is an order to House Democrats to carry out a suicide mission?…I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like this in American political history. Every way you look at it, Democrats are boxed in, forced to choose between extraordinarily unattractive options. What makes it especially noteworthy is that this was a calamity they summoned entirely upon themselves.”

Thus, on the evening the House approved the bill with 219 votes in favor, I wrote: “The passage tonight in the House of Representatives of the Senate’s health-care bill is indeed a historic moment. It draws the brightest ideological and political line between the two parties since the end of the Cold War — which featured a profound conflict of visions about the question of confronting the Soviet Union or accommodating it — and revivifies the Republican party’s role in opposition to the state’s growing encroachment on the particulars of American life. The fighting has only just begun.”

The next day, I wrote a post called Obama’s Pseudo-Achievement: “He and his advisers surveyed the political field after the election of Scott Brown and they saw their own potential epitaph — not in the rejection of his ideas but in the potential exposure of his weakness. A president cannot seem politically weak; much if not most of his ability to act is predicated on the notion that he is the strongest public official in the country. They determined that they had to push health care or die, and they worked their will relentlessly, and they got what they wanted….And yet one must not get carried away. The story here is not that he succeeded against all odds and with the winds against him to push through historic legislation, even though that is what the media would have you believe. The story is that a party holding a 75-seat margin in the House of Representatives was barely able to squeak by with its greatest legislative priority and most devoutly desired policy. That is the salient fact here. What Obama pulled off was a textbook example of raw intra-party discipline; the unpopularity of the measure and its political consequences remain exactly as they were before the vote.”

What these quotes reveal is that the polling results of the present moment were baked in the cake back in the early spring. The failure of the economy to improve is the most important thing, but without the Pyrrhic victory of the passage of health-care reform, Obama and his party would be in significantly better shape.

Read Less

The Bad Old Days

Many people (and more than a few journalists) live in a continual present. The current recession or riot or oil spill or whatever is judged in a vacuum. So one of the most important functions of history is to give you a sense of perspective.

With Maxine Waters and Charlie Rangel in very hot water, with an assortment of their former fellow members of Congress currently or recently in jail, it’s easy to think of the current era as peculiarly corrupt. An amusing article in today’s New York Times shows that it is not. Indeed, it’s not even close. When William Hale Thompson, mayor of Chicago during much of the Prohibition era, died in 1944, his safe-deposit boxes were found to contain no less than $1.5 million in cash (worth at least ten times that in today’s dollars). Convicted former Congressman William Jefferson’s $90,000 worth of cash in the freezer is chump change by comparison.

But even the Prohibition era pales by comparison with New York in the late 1860’s. All branches of government in both the city and the state were corrupt. An English magazine wrote in 1868 that “in New York there is a custom among litigants, as peculiar to that city, it is to be hoped, as it is supreme within it, of retaining a judge as well as a lawyer.” The great New York diarist (and lawyer) George Templeton Strong, wrote in his diary in 1870, “The Supreme Court [in New York state, the trial court, not the court of last appeal] is our Cloaca Maxima, with lawyers for its rats. But my simile does that rodent an injustice, for the rat is a remarkably clean animal.”

But it wasn’t just individuals who were corrupt at that time. New York government was institutionally corrupt. How bad was it? Consider this. In 1868, the New York State Legislature actually legalized bribery. Not in so many words, of course. Instead the law passed that year maintained that, “No conviction [for bribery] shall be had under this act on the testimony of the other party to the offense, unless such evidence is corroborated in its material parts by other evidence.” In that pre-electronic age, that meant that as long as the public official took the bribe in cash and in private, he was safe from prosecution. After the fall of the Tweed Ring, as honesty and probity swept — briefly — through New York’s halls of government like measles through the third grade, a stiff law against bribery was put into the state constitution where it remains, safe from legislators.

As long as people are human, there will be corruption where there are vast sums of money to tempt. But it was worse, far worse, in the not so distant past.

Many people (and more than a few journalists) live in a continual present. The current recession or riot or oil spill or whatever is judged in a vacuum. So one of the most important functions of history is to give you a sense of perspective.

With Maxine Waters and Charlie Rangel in very hot water, with an assortment of their former fellow members of Congress currently or recently in jail, it’s easy to think of the current era as peculiarly corrupt. An amusing article in today’s New York Times shows that it is not. Indeed, it’s not even close. When William Hale Thompson, mayor of Chicago during much of the Prohibition era, died in 1944, his safe-deposit boxes were found to contain no less than $1.5 million in cash (worth at least ten times that in today’s dollars). Convicted former Congressman William Jefferson’s $90,000 worth of cash in the freezer is chump change by comparison.

But even the Prohibition era pales by comparison with New York in the late 1860’s. All branches of government in both the city and the state were corrupt. An English magazine wrote in 1868 that “in New York there is a custom among litigants, as peculiar to that city, it is to be hoped, as it is supreme within it, of retaining a judge as well as a lawyer.” The great New York diarist (and lawyer) George Templeton Strong, wrote in his diary in 1870, “The Supreme Court [in New York state, the trial court, not the court of last appeal] is our Cloaca Maxima, with lawyers for its rats. But my simile does that rodent an injustice, for the rat is a remarkably clean animal.”

But it wasn’t just individuals who were corrupt at that time. New York government was institutionally corrupt. How bad was it? Consider this. In 1868, the New York State Legislature actually legalized bribery. Not in so many words, of course. Instead the law passed that year maintained that, “No conviction [for bribery] shall be had under this act on the testimony of the other party to the offense, unless such evidence is corroborated in its material parts by other evidence.” In that pre-electronic age, that meant that as long as the public official took the bribe in cash and in private, he was safe from prosecution. After the fall of the Tweed Ring, as honesty and probity swept — briefly — through New York’s halls of government like measles through the third grade, a stiff law against bribery was put into the state constitution where it remains, safe from legislators.

As long as people are human, there will be corruption where there are vast sums of money to tempt. But it was worse, far worse, in the not so distant past.

Read Less

Bullying in the Name of Financial Reform

In the frenzy to prove their populist bona fides, Sen. Carl Levin’s committee demanded and then leaked out a handful of Goldman Sachs e-mails. This led to a plethora of supposedly shocked mainstream reporters who were aghast to learn that there are times when one side profits by others’ losses. We do, after all, allow “selling short” in the U.S. Yes, it’s perfectly legal (not in Britain, however, so I suppose Levin could try to outlaw it here too). The issue with Goldman is whether fraud was committed in a deal with extremely sophisticated investors who understood all too well that others might gain from their losses. But that real case may be hard to prove and is not so politically attractive as the Wall Street “greed” story line.

The liberal spasm of outrage reached its low point on Fox News Sunday when Juan Williams went around the bend. The relevant exchange is comic but also instructive as to how liberals think of private industry, the rule of law, and government:

KRISTOL: Senator Levin’s committee — I’m sorry. Senator Levin authorized his staff to release e-mails that were provided to this investigation (inaudible) on the committee, ostensibly on the grounds that the committee was doing a serious investigation. Then they release e-mails that are simply, they say, embarrassing.

It’s an outrage, actually. What is — this is — now any business in the United States has to worry that any e-mail sent anywhere, at some point, if you — three years later, that could be made to look embarrassing to a chief executive who’s testifying on Tuesday.

And I say this as no fan of Goldman Sachs. But Lloyd Blankfein’s testifying Tuesday and they want to embarrass him or put him on the spot, and they release these e-mails.

KRISTOL: But the core issue here is the issue of rule of law and this notion that this bill increases executive authority discretion so much as opposed to other ways of fixing the financial crisis because of the bankruptcy code and the like, that it’s bad to increase the authority of the discretion of the big government in Washington this much. That is the core objection to the bill, the core dispute over the bill. For President Obama to pretend that the only reason you might not like this bill is if you were interested in bilking people as he said, that’s really ridiculous.

WILLIAMS: It’s not ridiculous when you read the e-mail. The core here is not the release of the e-mail but the content of the e- mail. The e-mails reveal that they are saying that people at Goldman Sachs are saying, you know what? We’re going to make money while investors are losing money. In fact, we’re going to have a windfall they say in the e- mail. That is the outrage in case you missed it. That’s why public outrage over the behavior by these Wall Street titans is over the top. And I might add, you know what else?

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Shouldn’t Senator Levin’s e-mails be released? He’s the public official. I mean, if he believes that everything should be transparent, let’s see the e-mail to his staff when he discussed whether to embarrass Lloyd Blankfein or not.

WILLIAMS: Listen, you are lost in the weeds on this. It doesn’t matter who released —

KRISTOL: It doesn’t matter what the rule of law in Washington?

WILLIAMS: Of course it matters, rule of law. But let me just say, you sit at your desk at your corporation, guess what? Your boss can read your e-mail. That is not the issue.

KRISTOL: You know what?

WILLIAMS: The issue is the government of these people —

KRISTOL: The Senate of the United States is not the boss of every employee at Goldman Sachs. That is a very revealing statement, Juan. Let me tell you something, we all work for Carl Levin. That is the future — what about the investors, the people who are putting money in these Wall Street firms and being gyped?

So the Democrats’ view of private industry is that there is no private industry. There is no better argument against the ever-expanding reach of the federal government in the name of “financial reform” than this sort of devil-may-care attitude about the right of politicians to peer into every nook and cranny of a business, read every e-mail, and haul executives before the glare of the cameras and then harangue them for devising transactions that the politicians only dimly understand. With the power to regulate goes the power to snoop, harass, and bully. We should be very wary of giving government officials too much leeway; they are certain to abuse it.

In the frenzy to prove their populist bona fides, Sen. Carl Levin’s committee demanded and then leaked out a handful of Goldman Sachs e-mails. This led to a plethora of supposedly shocked mainstream reporters who were aghast to learn that there are times when one side profits by others’ losses. We do, after all, allow “selling short” in the U.S. Yes, it’s perfectly legal (not in Britain, however, so I suppose Levin could try to outlaw it here too). The issue with Goldman is whether fraud was committed in a deal with extremely sophisticated investors who understood all too well that others might gain from their losses. But that real case may be hard to prove and is not so politically attractive as the Wall Street “greed” story line.

The liberal spasm of outrage reached its low point on Fox News Sunday when Juan Williams went around the bend. The relevant exchange is comic but also instructive as to how liberals think of private industry, the rule of law, and government:

KRISTOL: Senator Levin’s committee — I’m sorry. Senator Levin authorized his staff to release e-mails that were provided to this investigation (inaudible) on the committee, ostensibly on the grounds that the committee was doing a serious investigation. Then they release e-mails that are simply, they say, embarrassing.

It’s an outrage, actually. What is — this is — now any business in the United States has to worry that any e-mail sent anywhere, at some point, if you — three years later, that could be made to look embarrassing to a chief executive who’s testifying on Tuesday.

And I say this as no fan of Goldman Sachs. But Lloyd Blankfein’s testifying Tuesday and they want to embarrass him or put him on the spot, and they release these e-mails.

KRISTOL: But the core issue here is the issue of rule of law and this notion that this bill increases executive authority discretion so much as opposed to other ways of fixing the financial crisis because of the bankruptcy code and the like, that it’s bad to increase the authority of the discretion of the big government in Washington this much. That is the core objection to the bill, the core dispute over the bill. For President Obama to pretend that the only reason you might not like this bill is if you were interested in bilking people as he said, that’s really ridiculous.

WILLIAMS: It’s not ridiculous when you read the e-mail. The core here is not the release of the e-mail but the content of the e- mail. The e-mails reveal that they are saying that people at Goldman Sachs are saying, you know what? We’re going to make money while investors are losing money. In fact, we’re going to have a windfall they say in the e- mail. That is the outrage in case you missed it. That’s why public outrage over the behavior by these Wall Street titans is over the top. And I might add, you know what else?

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Shouldn’t Senator Levin’s e-mails be released? He’s the public official. I mean, if he believes that everything should be transparent, let’s see the e-mail to his staff when he discussed whether to embarrass Lloyd Blankfein or not.

WILLIAMS: Listen, you are lost in the weeds on this. It doesn’t matter who released —

KRISTOL: It doesn’t matter what the rule of law in Washington?

WILLIAMS: Of course it matters, rule of law. But let me just say, you sit at your desk at your corporation, guess what? Your boss can read your e-mail. That is not the issue.

KRISTOL: You know what?

WILLIAMS: The issue is the government of these people —

KRISTOL: The Senate of the United States is not the boss of every employee at Goldman Sachs. That is a very revealing statement, Juan. Let me tell you something, we all work for Carl Levin. That is the future — what about the investors, the people who are putting money in these Wall Street firms and being gyped?

So the Democrats’ view of private industry is that there is no private industry. There is no better argument against the ever-expanding reach of the federal government in the name of “financial reform” than this sort of devil-may-care attitude about the right of politicians to peer into every nook and cranny of a business, read every e-mail, and haul executives before the glare of the cameras and then harangue them for devising transactions that the politicians only dimly understand. With the power to regulate goes the power to snoop, harass, and bully. We should be very wary of giving government officials too much leeway; they are certain to abuse it.

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Obama’s Pseudo-Achievement

Give him this: Barack Obama did not lay down. He and his advisers surveyed the political field after the election of Scott Brown and they saw their own potential epitaph — not in the rejection of his ideas but in the potential exposure of his weakness. A president cannot seem politically weak; much if not most of his ability to act is predicated on the notion that he is the strongest public official in the country. They determined that they had to push health care or die, and they worked their will relentlessly, and they got what they wanted. These are tough and resourceful political players, and they played this one very well.

And yet one must not get carried away. The story here is not that he succeeded against all odds and with the winds against him to push through historic legislation, even though that is what the media would have you believe. The story is that a party holding a 75-seat margin in the House of Representatives was barely able to squeak by with its greatest legislative priority and most devoutly desired policy. That is the salient fact here. What Obama pulled off was a textbook example of raw intra-party discipline; the unpopularity of the measure and its political consequences remain exactly as they were before the vote.

Give him this: Barack Obama did not lay down. He and his advisers surveyed the political field after the election of Scott Brown and they saw their own potential epitaph — not in the rejection of his ideas but in the potential exposure of his weakness. A president cannot seem politically weak; much if not most of his ability to act is predicated on the notion that he is the strongest public official in the country. They determined that they had to push health care or die, and they worked their will relentlessly, and they got what they wanted. These are tough and resourceful political players, and they played this one very well.

And yet one must not get carried away. The story here is not that he succeeded against all odds and with the winds against him to push through historic legislation, even though that is what the media would have you believe. The story is that a party holding a 75-seat margin in the House of Representatives was barely able to squeak by with its greatest legislative priority and most devoutly desired policy. That is the salient fact here. What Obama pulled off was a textbook example of raw intra-party discipline; the unpopularity of the measure and its political consequences remain exactly as they were before the vote.

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Why Would He Resign Now?

Perhaps Spitzer will realize he has disgraced himself and that his political situation is untenable and resign swiftly. Perhaps. But a savvy ex- attorney general knows that in a prosecution of a public official (one potentially involving the Mann Act and financial hanky panky as well) a significant bargaining chip is the official’s resignation from public office. Why would Spitzer leave without a deal with the feds on potential charges? It’s not like he has shown a prediliction to put the interests of his family, his Party or his state above his own. Suspecting that he won’t go on his own, New York GOP leaders have now threatened impeachment.

Perhaps Spitzer will realize he has disgraced himself and that his political situation is untenable and resign swiftly. Perhaps. But a savvy ex- attorney general knows that in a prosecution of a public official (one potentially involving the Mann Act and financial hanky panky as well) a significant bargaining chip is the official’s resignation from public office. Why would Spitzer leave without a deal with the feds on potential charges? It’s not like he has shown a prediliction to put the interests of his family, his Party or his state above his own. Suspecting that he won’t go on his own, New York GOP leaders have now threatened impeachment.

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Bad Ad

In yesterday’s “The Public Editor” column for the New York Times, Clark Hoyt informs us that the Times, after almost two weeks of insisting otherwise, now admits that it gave favorable treatment to the MoveOn.org ad defaming General David Petraeus—charging MoveOn.org $64,575 for the ad instead of the $142,083 MoveOn.org should have paid.

What a shocking revelation.

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In yesterday’s “The Public Editor” column for the New York Times, Clark Hoyt informs us that the Times, after almost two weeks of insisting otherwise, now admits that it gave favorable treatment to the MoveOn.org ad defaming General David Petraeus—charging MoveOn.org $64,575 for the ad instead of the $142,083 MoveOn.org should have paid.

What a shocking revelation.

The Hoyt article is full of insights into the mindset of those who work at the Times. For one thing, we learn that Steph Jespersen, the executive who approved the MoveOn.org ad, said that while it was “rough,” he regarded it as a “comment on a public official’s management of his office and therefore acceptable speech for the Times to print.” We also are told that Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the Times and chairman of its parent company, said this:

If we’re going to err, it’s better to err on the side of more political dialogue…. Perhaps we did err in this case. If we did, we erred with the intent of giving greater voice to people.

The trouble with this explanation, of course, is that what we are dealing with is not free speech so much as slander. The MoveOn.org ad accuses General Petraeus, a four-star general and war hero, of betraying his nation and “cooking the books.” These charges are false and malicious, yet in response, the best Sulzberger can say is that he believes that “perhaps”—perhaps!—the Times erred in this case. Sulzberger is almost Ratheresque in his ability to defend the journalistically indefensible.

One wonders if an organization ran a full-page ad accusing the publisher of the Times, without evidence, of being a traitor or a racist with strong ties to hate groups, he would view such charges as “giving greater voice to people.” Perhaps. And would those who work for him characterize such an ad as “rough” but “acceptable” speech for the Times to print? Perhaps.

We are also told that Jespersen, director of advertising acceptability, “bends over backward to accommodate advocacy ads, including ads from groups with which the newspaper disagrees editorially.” Of course he does. And Jespersen, we learn, has rejected an ad from the National Right to Life Committee—not, he said, because of its message, but because it pictured aborted fetuses.

Now isn’t that rich? The New York Times rejected an ad that is certainly “rough” but also has the virtue of being accurate—after all, it shows what aborted fetuses look like—but gave a huge discount rate to an ad that was “rough” but was also utterly false and slanderous. It’s worth bearing in mind that the Times—which took almost two weeks to correct its false claims and admit wrongdoing—is the same newspaper that regularly lacerates public officials (like former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales) for not being able to get their stories straight. Is it any wonder, then, that the New York Times is losing money, readers, respect, and credibility by the day?

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