Commentary Magazine


Topic: Reagan

The Times Chimes in on Debates

Well, pardon me for repeating myself, but we’ve just been treated to another sure sign that the Obama media cult is the littlest bit worried about Wednesday’s debate.  This time it’s in the form of a “Political Memo”  in the New York Times from CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood.

Mr. Harwood’s memo, “Debates Can Shift a Race’s Outcome, but It’s Not Easy,” takes a different tack from Gwen Ifill’s debates-don’t-really-matter op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post.

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Well, pardon me for repeating myself, but we’ve just been treated to another sure sign that the Obama media cult is the littlest bit worried about Wednesday’s debate.  This time it’s in the form of a “Political Memo”  in the New York Times from CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood.

Mr. Harwood’s memo, “Debates Can Shift a Race’s Outcome, but It’s Not Easy,” takes a different tack from Gwen Ifill’s debates-don’t-really-matter op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post.

Al Gore, for example, lost his debates with George W. Bush because of some “minor factual inaccuracies,” “poor makeup that gave [Gore] an orange tint” and (special note to Mr. Obama) a “condescending, impatient demeanor.”

Read the whole thing to get the full treatment, but suffice it to say that Mr. Harwood concludes by reminding us about the Walter Mondale-Ronald Reagan debates in 1984. Mr. Reagan did poorly in the first but wiped the floor with Mr. Mondale in the second. “’I said to myself, this is probably over now,’ Mr. Mondale said. He ultimately carried one state, his native Minnesota.”  “These debates are the one chance to change how they look at him, and how they look at Obama,” Mr. Mondale is quoted as saying. And, finally, “The lesson of his own experience? ‘That’s a high hill to climb.’”

I, for one, look forward to seeing the post-debate spin.

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Reagan’s Capacity to Think and Act Anew

In a recent post, I praised the 19th-century journalist and essayist Walter Bagehot for his subtle mind and intellectual honesty. These qualities stand out because among the most difficult challenges in politics is not allowing truthful inquiry to become subordinate to one’s allegiance to a political cause, a political party, or a political ideology. It’s harder than we think, and rarer than we would wish, to find individuals who are open to a new set of facts, especially when they run counter to settled ways of thinking.

I thought about all this while recently watching an American Experience documentary on the life of Ronald Reagan. It covered a lot of ground, of course, but in the context of this discussion, one thing stood out: Reagan’s willingness to adjust his thinking in light of new circumstances. What I have in mind is Reagan’s attitude toward the Soviet Union.

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In a recent post, I praised the 19th-century journalist and essayist Walter Bagehot for his subtle mind and intellectual honesty. These qualities stand out because among the most difficult challenges in politics is not allowing truthful inquiry to become subordinate to one’s allegiance to a political cause, a political party, or a political ideology. It’s harder than we think, and rarer than we would wish, to find individuals who are open to a new set of facts, especially when they run counter to settled ways of thinking.

I thought about all this while recently watching an American Experience documentary on the life of Ronald Reagan. It covered a lot of ground, of course, but in the context of this discussion, one thing stood out: Reagan’s willingness to adjust his thinking in light of new circumstances. What I have in mind is Reagan’s attitude toward the Soviet Union.

Ronald Reagan is rightly considered one of the West’s most vocal and courageous critics of Soviet communism. Hatred for totalitarianism was, his biographer Edmund Morris said, among the very few hatreds Reagan ever held. In 1983, in a speech before the National Association of Evangelicals, Reagan referred to the U.S.S.R. as an “evil empire.” Such blunt language from an American president, even though true, caused outrage among the political class. Reagan, it was said, was a saber-rattler, needlessly provocative, reckless and even war-like. The vilification came in waves. But Reagan didn’t much care. He spoke the truth as it was — and in doing so, he inspired dissidents across the globe and re-moralized American foreign policy.

Fast-forward to May 1988, when Reagan toured the Soviet Union after having participated in several summits with General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. When asked whether the Soviet Union was still an “evil empire,” Reagan said no, it wasn’t. “I was talking about another time,” Reagan said, “another era.” And he was quite right.

President Reagan knew that the Soviet Union was hardly a model democracy. In fact, he made a point of meeting with more than 100 dissidents during his trip. The New York Times reported at the time, “In a reflection of the Kremlin’s irritation with President Reagan’s plans to dramatize human-rights issues during his visit to Moscow, a senior Soviet official said … that a planned Presidential meeting with Soviet dissidents would be an unwelcome breach of superpower protocol… Mr. Reagan’s determination to press the human-rights issue in Moscow loomed as a potentially disruptive issue on the eve of his arrival. Moscow has traditionally resented what is seen here as an unwarranted and intrusive American assumption of moral superiority.”

Still, the circumstances in 1988 were profoundly different than they were in 1983. Mr. Gorbachev was a Soviet leader — the first Soviet leader — Reagan (and Margaret Thatcher) could do business with. Reagan eventually signed sweeping arms control treaties that went far beyond anything the Nuclear Freeze Movement had ever called for.

It’s worth noting that Reagan, who had been a reviled figure by the left, was excoriated by some conservatives for going soft on the Soviet Union. He was accused of being a “useful idiot for Soviet propaganda,” for losing his way and succumbing to the chimera of arms control agreements. (It should be said that the criticisms of Reagan from conservatives was not nearly as widespread as it was from liberals.)

But what we saw in Reagan was quite a rare thing among politicians — a man of deeply held convictions who even while maintaining those convictions was willing to adjust his thinking in light of new developments. He was able to perceive the core realities of his time and align his views and policies to them. And so one of the most principled and ideological presidents in American history also turned out to be among its most flexible.

During his presidency, Reagan’s critics said he was simple, shallow, and unreasonably stubborn. In fact, he was a person of impressive depth, a man of many parts, and reasonably stubborn. It simply took some people a bit longer than others to understand that.

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Is Gingrich Another Reagan?

Once again, Newt Gingrich vowed tonight on CNN to take the Republican presidential race to the convention in Tampa. To back up his vow, he compared this contest to the GOP race in 1976 when the Ronald Reagan insurgency against incumbent President Gerald Ford took the fight to that convention and came close to winning. But Gingrich’s comparison is ridiculous for a number of reasons.

First of all, that battle was a two-man race between Reagan and Ford. The current GOP race involves four candidates. But, of course, the conceit of Gingrich’s comparison is that of the candidates. He’s casting Mitt Romney in the role of Ford and himself as the new Gipper. Romney may deserve the Ford comparison, as he is a relative moderate and the choice of most of the party establishment to the extent that one actually exists. But the big difference is Gingrich is no Ronald Reagan.

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Once again, Newt Gingrich vowed tonight on CNN to take the Republican presidential race to the convention in Tampa. To back up his vow, he compared this contest to the GOP race in 1976 when the Ronald Reagan insurgency against incumbent President Gerald Ford took the fight to that convention and came close to winning. But Gingrich’s comparison is ridiculous for a number of reasons.

First of all, that battle was a two-man race between Reagan and Ford. The current GOP race involves four candidates. But, of course, the conceit of Gingrich’s comparison is that of the candidates. He’s casting Mitt Romney in the role of Ford and himself as the new Gipper. Romney may deserve the Ford comparison, as he is a relative moderate and the choice of most of the party establishment to the extent that one actually exists. But the big difference is Gingrich is no Ronald Reagan.

Gingrich’s hubris is well-known, but the notion that he is in the same league as the great communicator is a joke. The point is it took a figure of enormous stature and charisma to nearly knock off an incumbent president in a series of primaries. That Republican revolt was fueled not by personal resentment of Ford, but of disgust with his détente policies and the other compromises made by the administration. Tea Partiers today may not trust Romney but they are angry with President Obama. In 1976 there truly was a fight for the soul of the Republican Party as conservatives were taking hold of the GOP. But that battle was won long ago and the Rockefeller liberals who once predominated (and largely formed the party’s real establishment) are long gone. Romney’s critics may see him as a moderate but by the standards of the Republican Party Reagan sought to revolutionize, today’s frontrunner is a conservative.

The former speaker of the House should, I suppose, be forgiven for saying anything to try and get his name in the news on a day when he may well be supplanted by Rick Santorum as the leading conservative alternative to Romney. But his attempt to link himself with Reagan’s legacy is still an embarrassing reach that says more about the candidate’s ego than his skills as a historian.

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Gingrich on Reagan: “He is in Some Danger of Becoming Another Jimmy Carter”

Matt Drudge links to several stories and videos (see here, here, here and here) highlighting Newt Gingrich’s past criticisms of President Reagan. This line of attack has clearly enraged Gingrich, who argues that he was certainly more of a Reaganite than Mitt Romney ever was.

What Gingrich says is true, but in some respects it’s beside the point. What these episodes reveal about Gingrich isn’t that he’s not a conservative; it’s that during the course of his career he’s been intemperate and erratic. He views himself as almost alone when it comes to understanding the world-historical moment he always seems to be living in. He has the courage that others, including Ronald Reagan, lacked. He possesses the insights that others, including Ronald Reagan, were deprived of. Gingrich’s comments were not those of a “loving critic,” to use a phrase from Madison. The former House speaker used words that were lacerating, extreme, and at times insulting.

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Matt Drudge links to several stories and videos (see here, here, here and here) highlighting Newt Gingrich’s past criticisms of President Reagan. This line of attack has clearly enraged Gingrich, who argues that he was certainly more of a Reaganite than Mitt Romney ever was.

What Gingrich says is true, but in some respects it’s beside the point. What these episodes reveal about Gingrich isn’t that he’s not a conservative; it’s that during the course of his career he’s been intemperate and erratic. He views himself as almost alone when it comes to understanding the world-historical moment he always seems to be living in. He has the courage that others, including Ronald Reagan, lacked. He possesses the insights that others, including Ronald Reagan, were deprived of. Gingrich’s comments were not those of a “loving critic,” to use a phrase from Madison. The former House speaker used words that were lacerating, extreme, and at times insulting.

One Gingrich quote is particularly revealing and hasn’t, to my knowledge, yet been highlighted. But in Steven Hayward’s wonderful book, The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution, Hayward quotes Gingrich as telling the Wall Street Journal that Reagan was “in some danger of becoming another Jimmy Carter.” That is about as wicked a rhetorical blow as one Republican could level against another. And this statement came after Reagan’s first term, in which he achieved historically important reforms.

Hayward recounts one White House meeting late in the second term, after Gingrich laid out complaints about important things the administration had left undone. President Reagan put his arm around the young Georgia congressman, according to Hayward, and said in his typically gentle fashion, “Well, some things you’re just going to have to do after I’m gone.”

This exchange is an illuminating one. Ronald Reagan was not only an unusually principled politician; he was also unusually well-grounded. He was at once idealistic and realistic. He had the ability to do more than give speeches; he had the wisdom to govern well and effectively. He was a man in a hurry, but he was never a man in a rush. There was something deeply reassuring and calming about the man from Dixon, Illinois. He was a conservative, not a revolutionary, in spirit, in temperament, and in his essential approach to life. That was one of his many virtues, and something Gingrich has lacked his entire political career.

That is why some of us, even as we’re willing to acknowledge Gingrich’s strengths and contributions during the years, believe he’s fundamentally lacking when it comes to the character–public and private–necessary to be president.

 

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Do Conservatives Want Another Goldwater?

Some conservative pundits are still mad at the editors of National Review for an editorial in which the venerable magazine urged Republicans not to back Newt Gingrich for president. Though NR didn’t endorse a candidate in the piece, many outraged conservatives who had embraced the former speaker as the leading “not Romney” in the race felt that Mitt Romney was the intended beneficiary of the broadside. The latest to vent his spleen about this alleged betrayal of conservative principle is Jeffrey Lord who wrote in the American Spectator that the attack on Gingrich was akin to NR’s founder William F. Buckley blasting Barry Goldwater in 1964 or Ronald Reagan in 1980. His point was not just that any of the other conservatives still in the race was better than Romney but that Buckley’s magazine had become the moral equivalent of the old-line GOP establishment that its founder had spent his life battling.

But Lord’s anguish is misplaced. Newt Gingrich isn’t Ronald Reagan. Neither is Rick Santorum, Michele Bachman or Rick Perry. And if you really think any of them are worthy successors to Barry Goldwater, does anyone on the right believe another 1964-style wipeout that would mean four more years of President Barack Obama is a good idea?

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Some conservative pundits are still mad at the editors of National Review for an editorial in which the venerable magazine urged Republicans not to back Newt Gingrich for president. Though NR didn’t endorse a candidate in the piece, many outraged conservatives who had embraced the former speaker as the leading “not Romney” in the race felt that Mitt Romney was the intended beneficiary of the broadside. The latest to vent his spleen about this alleged betrayal of conservative principle is Jeffrey Lord who wrote in the American Spectator that the attack on Gingrich was akin to NR’s founder William F. Buckley blasting Barry Goldwater in 1964 or Ronald Reagan in 1980. His point was not just that any of the other conservatives still in the race was better than Romney but that Buckley’s magazine had become the moral equivalent of the old-line GOP establishment that its founder had spent his life battling.

But Lord’s anguish is misplaced. Newt Gingrich isn’t Ronald Reagan. Neither is Rick Santorum, Michele Bachman or Rick Perry. And if you really think any of them are worthy successors to Barry Goldwater, does anyone on the right believe another 1964-style wipeout that would mean four more years of President Barack Obama is a good idea?

A focus on winning in 2012 is what many conservatives think is wrong with NR’s editors and others who have come to grips with the fact that Romney is the Republicans’ best chance for victory next November. Lord, and others who agree with him are not really arguing that Gingrich should be president any more than they are making a serious case for Perry, Bachmann or Santorum. None of them have a ghost of a shot at beating Obama though all of them can make a much better case than Gingrich for representing a consistent conservative stance on the majority of the issues. Rather, Lord seems to be making the case that ideological purity is a higher value than electability.

To that one can only respond with one of Buckley’s most famous sayings that instructed his followers to always back the most conservative candidate available who could win.

It should be stipulated that this didn’t mean you always backed a Republican. In Buckley’s heyday the two parties were not divided so much by ideology with conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, two now largely extinct factions, being very much a part of our political life. Buckley helped found the Conservative Party of New York to combat the leftward tilt of a Republican Party dominated by liberals like Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits.

But the notion that a relatively moderate candidate like Romney is in any way comparable to the liberal Rockefeller Republicans that the conservative moment defeated in 1964 is absurd. For all of his imperfections and flip-flopping there is no question that he is to the right of center. Like the first President George Bush whom Buckley and other conservatives backed in 1988, Romney is no favorite of the right and may disappoint them. But, as Republicans learned after 1992 when some stood by and watched Bill Clinton beat Bush, life is choice. Any conservative who would prefer to see Obama re-elected than to stomach a Romney presidency has lost perspective about the whole point of their movement.

Even more to the point, the argument that Gingrich — whose deviations from conservative principles over the years are too numerous to count — is more authentically conservative than Romney is unsustainable. As for Perry, Bachmann and Santorum, even the most fervent Romney-haters know they can’t be elected.

That may say something unflattering about the current state of American conservatism but it is no reason to willfully choose to go off the cliff with a certain loser. Unlike in 1964 when the main point of Goldwater’s candidacy was to seize control of the GOP from its liberal establishment, conservatives already run the party. To the extent that there is a Republican establishment these days (and I have argued that there is no such thing anymore), everyone that is supposedly part of  it, like Weekly Standard publisher William Kristol and the editors of NR, are all conservatives. Nominating another Goldwater (not that anybody in the race can really be compared to the Arizonan) would merely be doing a hard-core liberal like Obama a favor. Surely, that is not something Bill Buckley would ever have supported.

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Cold War Revisionism Run Wild

As J.E. Dyer pointed out a few days ago, the standard treatment of the Cold War in the academy of the 1970s and 1980s was that it was a bad idea. That argument had many facets, but among the most consistently presented of them was the theme that the artificial Cold War scare had been used to justify close American relations with anti-Communist dictators.

This anti–Cold War bias has, to my mind, waned slightly, in part because of the work of historians like John Lewis Gaddis, and in part because it’s now history, and as such is safe for everyone to be in favor of. Indeed, it’s so safe that President Obama is free to call for Sputnik moments.

Still, the argument about American foreign policy endures. Since both Democratic and Republican presidents fought the Cold War, our policy, whatever you care to say about it, was bipartisan. Yet by and large, the charge of friendship with autocrats is used to tar Republicans. As Mark Mazower, a historian at Columbia, put it last year, “the kind of values talk that Reagan . . . injected into the Republican Party” is “tolerance for nasty dictators so long as they were not Reds.”

As John made clear in his earlier post, in regard to the binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, the argument about whom the U.S. should work with in pursuit of its national interests in this imperfect world is an old, long, and complicated one, and the only immediately nonsensical position is that we should simply ally ourselves with the absolutely pure. But what is really wonderful is to watch media liberals suddenly — now that we have a Democrat as president — discovering the virtues of American collaborations with the autocrats. Here, for instance, is Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday:

[Americans] do not like seeing people treat their friends badly. We treated Diem terribly, we let him get butchered then killed in Vietnam even though he was our ally for all those years. We watched the Shah become, as Henry Kissinger called him, a “flying Dutchman” before he died. Americans do sense when we’re being right with people.

Well, we did – or rather, President Kennedy did — treat Diem terribly. But this sudden surge of sympathy for the Shah, coming from the left, is remarkable, for — in his day — the Shah was close to the top of the left’s list of villains. By itself, this is Cold War revisionism run wild.

Even worse, though, is the way Matthews personalizes it. It wasn’t just Diem we treated badly: it was millions of our friends in Vietnam. Sure, one man matters, especially when he’s president. But we’re not going to “be right with people” if all we do is worry about the fate of their unelected leaders.

As J.E. Dyer pointed out a few days ago, the standard treatment of the Cold War in the academy of the 1970s and 1980s was that it was a bad idea. That argument had many facets, but among the most consistently presented of them was the theme that the artificial Cold War scare had been used to justify close American relations with anti-Communist dictators.

This anti–Cold War bias has, to my mind, waned slightly, in part because of the work of historians like John Lewis Gaddis, and in part because it’s now history, and as such is safe for everyone to be in favor of. Indeed, it’s so safe that President Obama is free to call for Sputnik moments.

Still, the argument about American foreign policy endures. Since both Democratic and Republican presidents fought the Cold War, our policy, whatever you care to say about it, was bipartisan. Yet by and large, the charge of friendship with autocrats is used to tar Republicans. As Mark Mazower, a historian at Columbia, put it last year, “the kind of values talk that Reagan . . . injected into the Republican Party” is “tolerance for nasty dictators so long as they were not Reds.”

As John made clear in his earlier post, in regard to the binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, the argument about whom the U.S. should work with in pursuit of its national interests in this imperfect world is an old, long, and complicated one, and the only immediately nonsensical position is that we should simply ally ourselves with the absolutely pure. But what is really wonderful is to watch media liberals suddenly — now that we have a Democrat as president — discovering the virtues of American collaborations with the autocrats. Here, for instance, is Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday:

[Americans] do not like seeing people treat their friends badly. We treated Diem terribly, we let him get butchered then killed in Vietnam even though he was our ally for all those years. We watched the Shah become, as Henry Kissinger called him, a “flying Dutchman” before he died. Americans do sense when we’re being right with people.

Well, we did – or rather, President Kennedy did — treat Diem terribly. But this sudden surge of sympathy for the Shah, coming from the left, is remarkable, for — in his day — the Shah was close to the top of the left’s list of villains. By itself, this is Cold War revisionism run wild.

Even worse, though, is the way Matthews personalizes it. It wasn’t just Diem we treated badly: it was millions of our friends in Vietnam. Sure, one man matters, especially when he’s president. But we’re not going to “be right with people” if all we do is worry about the fate of their unelected leaders.

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Obama and Egypt vs. Reagan and the Philippines

President Mubarak’s supporters have decided to instigate violence against the anti-government protesters. This ugly turn of events underscores why Mubarak must leave sooner rather than later. The longer he hangs on to power, weakened but not gone from the scene, the worse everything in Egypt will be. That is why the Washington Post is right in its editorial criticizing the president’s response last night to Mubarak’s statements as “ambiguous.”

“He said he had told the Egyptian president in a phone call that ‘an orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful, and must begin now’ — but he did not object to the strongman’s plan to remain in office,” according to the Post. “Like Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Obama did not go far enough.”

It’s worth comparing what is happening in Egypt with what happened in the Philippines during the Reagan presidency.

In his book An American Life, Reagan writes about how Ferdinand Marco had stolen an election and that an uprising of Filipinos on behalf of Corazon Aquino, the legitimate winner, was inevitable.

On February 23, Reagan was at Camp David and told that Marcos and a loyal general, Fabian Ver, had amassed a force of tanks and troops to attack army units of two military leaders who had resigned from the Marcos government and given their support to Aquino. Ver’s tanks were turned back by hundreds of thousands of civilians — “but the next time,” Reagan wrote, “the result might be huge casualties.” Read More

President Mubarak’s supporters have decided to instigate violence against the anti-government protesters. This ugly turn of events underscores why Mubarak must leave sooner rather than later. The longer he hangs on to power, weakened but not gone from the scene, the worse everything in Egypt will be. That is why the Washington Post is right in its editorial criticizing the president’s response last night to Mubarak’s statements as “ambiguous.”

“He said he had told the Egyptian president in a phone call that ‘an orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful, and must begin now’ — but he did not object to the strongman’s plan to remain in office,” according to the Post. “Like Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Obama did not go far enough.”

It’s worth comparing what is happening in Egypt with what happened in the Philippines during the Reagan presidency.

In his book An American Life, Reagan writes about how Ferdinand Marco had stolen an election and that an uprising of Filipinos on behalf of Corazon Aquino, the legitimate winner, was inevitable.

On February 23, Reagan was at Camp David and told that Marcos and a loyal general, Fabian Ver, had amassed a force of tanks and troops to attack army units of two military leaders who had resigned from the Marcos government and given their support to Aquino. Ver’s tanks were turned back by hundreds of thousands of civilians — “but the next time,” Reagan wrote, “the result might be huge casualties.”

Reagan drafted an appeal to Marcos not to use force and attended a meeting in the Situation Room on February 23, 1986. “We agreed that it was inevitable that Marcos would have to give up power,” Reagan wrote. “He no longer had the popular support to remain in office. … Everyone agreed that we had to do everything possible to avoid bloodshed in Manila; we didn’t want to see it come down to a civil war. I also wanted to be sure we did not treat Marcos as shabbily as our country had treated another former ally, the shah of Iran. At the same time, I knew it was important to start off with a good relationship with the new government of the Philippines.”

Reagan’s diary entries from the period are even more interesting. On February 23, the day of the Situation Room meeting, Reagan wrote, “It was a long meeting with no disagreement but lots of frustration. President Marcos is stubborn and refuses to admit he can no longer govern. I made the point that a message from me must appeal to him on the grounds that if there is violence I’ll be helpless to continue support for the Philippines.”

On February 24, Reagan’s diary reads: “The situation in the Philippines is deteriorating. … We’ve agreed that he [Marcos] should be told I’m recommending he step down and we’ll take the lead in negotiating his safety and offering him sanctuary in the US. He says he wants to live out his life in the Philippines. Well, we’ll try to negotiate that.”

On February 25, Reagan’s diary entry reads this way: “The call this morning was at 6:45. President Marcos and his family and close circle I was told are in our Clark Air Force Base.”

Now the situation in Egypt compared with that in the Philippines is different in important respects. Among other things, there was an obvious successor to Marcos, while there’s no obvious successor to Mubarak. And Reagan admitted that he didn’t want to push Marcos too hard. “We should lay down the facts and let [Marcos] make the decision we wanted him to make” is how Reagan put it.

The point is that, within 48 hours of Reagan’s laying down the facts, Marcos was gone. This development wasn’t the result of Reagan’s charm; it was the result of Reagan’s steel.

What happened to Marcos in the Philippines has to be to our goal with Mubarak in Egypt. Time is of the essence. The Egyptian dictator must leave. And it falls on President Obama to do what needs to be done to get him to exit, sooner rather than later, in a matter of hours or days rather than weeks or months. Otherwise Egypt might explode.

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LIVE BLOG: Triumphant Ending

The conclusion of the speech is stunning. Watch for the word “Reaganesque” to be applied ad nauseam by people who hated Reagan but love Obama.

The conclusion of the speech is stunning. Watch for the word “Reaganesque” to be applied ad nauseam by people who hated Reagan but love Obama.

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What Loughner’s Mental State Will Mean for His Trial

As more information trickles out to the media about the private life of Jared Loughner, it’s become apparent how severely unhinged and divorced from reality he was. Charles Krauthammer, a certified psychiatrist, noted yesterday that Loughner fits the textbook description of a paranoid schizophrenic, and he wasn’t the first commentator to reach that conclusion.

But what exactly will Loughner’s mental state mean for his trial? And how much of a chance is there that he’ll get a reduced sentence or not-guilty verdict by reason of insanity?

After John Hinkley was acquitted of shooting President Reagan by reason of insanity, it’s become much more difficult to mount that type of defense. At the Daily Caller, Alexis Levinson sheds some light on the three-step process:

First, “you have to have a mental disease or defect—you have to qualify,” [attorney Robert Delahunt Jr.] explained. This is not as simple as it seems, he said, because someone “can be mentally ill and it’s not a disease or defect as diagnosed by experts.” Or, there could be disagreement between experts. There “can be something wrong with this guy, can have an anxiety disorder, one expert will say it is a mental defect, one expert will say it isn’t.” …

If a defendant can get past this first hurdle, the second thing is to prove that the mental defect was relevant to the action — that “it was a big deal in his decision-making; it was a significant influence; it was the predominant impulse governing his behavior, shaping his decisions,” Delahunt said, as opposed being just a “distraction.” …

[Third], it is important to note that the defense need only prove that the defendant was either unable to “conform” to societal standards, or that he or she was unable to “appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her actions.” One or the other is sufficient to raise the issue of insanity.

Attorneys Levinson spoke to noted that it’s extremely difficult to prove that a client meets all three requirements. These types of pleas are also problematic because they can imply an admission of guilt.

Of course, admitting guilt may not be a huge risk for Loughner’s defense team. Attorneys who spoke to the Washington Post said that his culpability is probably not going to be much of a question during the trial:

“Guilt is not the issue here. Everyone saw him do it; he was stopped there. There’s just no question,” said Jonathan Shapiro, a Fairfax County death penalty expert who defended Washington area sniper John Allen Muhammad. “The issue is his mental state, and the sole goal is to avoid the death penalty.”

And since the facts of the case aren’t widely disputed, it’s much more likely that Loughner’s defense team will use his mental illness in order to get a reduced sentence. Loughner’s attorney, Judy Clarke — who opposes capital punishment — is known for helping her mass-murdering clients avoid the death penalty. According to the Post, Clarke will be sure to dig into the obscure details of her client’s life in an attempt to prove he was suffering from an extensive mental illness when he opened fire on the crowded political event. So get used to hearing about Loughner’s bizarre behavior once the trial gets underway.

As more information trickles out to the media about the private life of Jared Loughner, it’s become apparent how severely unhinged and divorced from reality he was. Charles Krauthammer, a certified psychiatrist, noted yesterday that Loughner fits the textbook description of a paranoid schizophrenic, and he wasn’t the first commentator to reach that conclusion.

But what exactly will Loughner’s mental state mean for his trial? And how much of a chance is there that he’ll get a reduced sentence or not-guilty verdict by reason of insanity?

After John Hinkley was acquitted of shooting President Reagan by reason of insanity, it’s become much more difficult to mount that type of defense. At the Daily Caller, Alexis Levinson sheds some light on the three-step process:

First, “you have to have a mental disease or defect—you have to qualify,” [attorney Robert Delahunt Jr.] explained. This is not as simple as it seems, he said, because someone “can be mentally ill and it’s not a disease or defect as diagnosed by experts.” Or, there could be disagreement between experts. There “can be something wrong with this guy, can have an anxiety disorder, one expert will say it is a mental defect, one expert will say it isn’t.” …

If a defendant can get past this first hurdle, the second thing is to prove that the mental defect was relevant to the action — that “it was a big deal in his decision-making; it was a significant influence; it was the predominant impulse governing his behavior, shaping his decisions,” Delahunt said, as opposed being just a “distraction.” …

[Third], it is important to note that the defense need only prove that the defendant was either unable to “conform” to societal standards, or that he or she was unable to “appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her actions.” One or the other is sufficient to raise the issue of insanity.

Attorneys Levinson spoke to noted that it’s extremely difficult to prove that a client meets all three requirements. These types of pleas are also problematic because they can imply an admission of guilt.

Of course, admitting guilt may not be a huge risk for Loughner’s defense team. Attorneys who spoke to the Washington Post said that his culpability is probably not going to be much of a question during the trial:

“Guilt is not the issue here. Everyone saw him do it; he was stopped there. There’s just no question,” said Jonathan Shapiro, a Fairfax County death penalty expert who defended Washington area sniper John Allen Muhammad. “The issue is his mental state, and the sole goal is to avoid the death penalty.”

And since the facts of the case aren’t widely disputed, it’s much more likely that Loughner’s defense team will use his mental illness in order to get a reduced sentence. Loughner’s attorney, Judy Clarke — who opposes capital punishment — is known for helping her mass-murdering clients avoid the death penalty. According to the Post, Clarke will be sure to dig into the obscure details of her client’s life in an attempt to prove he was suffering from an extensive mental illness when he opened fire on the crowded political event. So get used to hearing about Loughner’s bizarre behavior once the trial gets underway.

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Streisand Returns from Political Exile

Barbra Streisand — an influential figure within Democratic circles — told Larry King that while they were “misguided,” both Presidents Reagan and Bush showed “real strength,” which voters admire. This stands in contrast to Obama — though she credits him for having an “open mind,” an “open heart,” and being “very smart.”

She also said that the problem with Democrats is that — you guessed it — they had a “communications problem.” They were unable to convey to the public all the great things they had done. And oh, by the way, Ms. Streisand fled to Europe because of the last election. Alas, she didn’t stay.

Barbra Streisand — an influential figure within Democratic circles — told Larry King that while they were “misguided,” both Presidents Reagan and Bush showed “real strength,” which voters admire. This stands in contrast to Obama — though she credits him for having an “open mind,” an “open heart,” and being “very smart.”

She also said that the problem with Democrats is that — you guessed it — they had a “communications problem.” They were unable to convey to the public all the great things they had done. And oh, by the way, Ms. Streisand fled to Europe because of the last election. Alas, she didn’t stay.

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Obama Understands Economics in Spite of Himself

It turns out that Barack Obama understands the economic good sense of the so-called “tax cuts for the rich.” How do we know this? From reading the following in today’s New York Times: “President Obama is considering whether to push early next year for an overhaul of the income tax code to lower rates and raise revenues in what would be his first major effort to begin addressing the long-term growth of the national debt.” Did you catch that? “[T]o lower rates and raise revenues.” It is the reality of that negative correlation — and not a desire to comfort the rich at the expense of the poor — that lies behind the proposal to keep the Bush tax cuts in place on higher incomes. Lowering tax rates does not mean lowering tax revenues.

Many conservatives understand that by lowering tax rates on the rich, you can raise tax revenues, because this makes people with higher incomes more likely to invest capital in taxable ventures. In fact, this happened under Coolidge, Kennedy, Reagan, and George W. Bush. What’s news is that Obama is, at least in principle, aware of it.

However, as evidenced by his reluctance to let this happen among those earning $1 million or more a year — where it would do the most to pay off the debt and stimulate the economy — he seems to think the fundamental rules of economics change when applied to rich people. At that point, something called “fairness” kicks in, like quantum physics, to change the understood workings of the universe. “Republicans are going to have to explain to the American people over the next two years how making those tax cuts for the high end permanent squares with their stated desire to start reducing deficits and debt,” he said. To paraphrase a great campaigner, his own explanation is the one he’s been waiting for.

It turns out that Barack Obama understands the economic good sense of the so-called “tax cuts for the rich.” How do we know this? From reading the following in today’s New York Times: “President Obama is considering whether to push early next year for an overhaul of the income tax code to lower rates and raise revenues in what would be his first major effort to begin addressing the long-term growth of the national debt.” Did you catch that? “[T]o lower rates and raise revenues.” It is the reality of that negative correlation — and not a desire to comfort the rich at the expense of the poor — that lies behind the proposal to keep the Bush tax cuts in place on higher incomes. Lowering tax rates does not mean lowering tax revenues.

Many conservatives understand that by lowering tax rates on the rich, you can raise tax revenues, because this makes people with higher incomes more likely to invest capital in taxable ventures. In fact, this happened under Coolidge, Kennedy, Reagan, and George W. Bush. What’s news is that Obama is, at least in principle, aware of it.

However, as evidenced by his reluctance to let this happen among those earning $1 million or more a year — where it would do the most to pay off the debt and stimulate the economy — he seems to think the fundamental rules of economics change when applied to rich people. At that point, something called “fairness” kicks in, like quantum physics, to change the understood workings of the universe. “Republicans are going to have to explain to the American people over the next two years how making those tax cuts for the high end permanent squares with their stated desire to start reducing deficits and debt,” he said. To paraphrase a great campaigner, his own explanation is the one he’s been waiting for.

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Three Months, Three Speeches

Mike Pence’s speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club was his third major address on national issues in three months. Combined with his speech at Hillsdale College in September and his speech in Iowa in October, Pence has been setting forth proposals that might engage an electorate that wants something more than “hope and change.”

Yesterday Pence proposed a program he labeled “S.T.A.R.T.” — Sound monetary policy, Tax relief and reform, Access to American energy, Regulatory reform, and Trade — with a lengthy discussion of each topic. The section on taxes was a 1,500-word discussion that read in part:

In an upcoming study written by the legendary Dr. Art Laffer, Wayne Winegarden and John Childs, they found the cost of compliance with today’s tax code to be over $540 billion annually and that individuals and businesses spend 7.6 billion hours on their taxes. … The Laffer study predicts that by simplifying the tax code and cutting complexity costs in half, our economy would grow $1.3 trillion more over ten years than if we maintain the status quo. …

There is one system that [provides the necessary revenue without discouraging economic growth and imposing undue compliance burdens] … a flat tax. …

Individuals would pay taxes on their wages or salary after receiving a basic income exemption and an exemption for any dependents, including children and elderly family members and others who you care for in your home. Imagine how easy this would be for people. Gross income minus a generous standard deduction minus any dependent exemptions and you’ve got your taxable income. Apply the rate and your taxes are done.  Everyone pays the same rate, and the more money you make, the more you pay. It’s fair, simple and effective.

We’ve heard this proposal before, and figures like $540 billion of compliance costs, 7.6 billion hours on taxes, and $1.3 trillion in projected economic growth deserve the same skepticism that properly greets projections of savings from eliminating “fraud, waste, and abuse” (or from enacting ObamaCare). The estimates are only as good as the assumptions underlying them — many of which are inherently speculative and none of which can be forecast accurately for 10 years (or even a few years). But Pence made the case that the time for a flat tax may be approaching:

A flat tax is in use in more than twenty countries around the world, and they have been proposed and supported by various legislators and economists in America over the past 30 years, such as Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka, Dick Armey, Steve Forbes, Art Laffer, Jack Kemp and Richard Gephardt. We don’t think about it, but we already use flat taxes in America as taxes for Social Security, Medicare taxes, sales and property taxes. …

If you look back at history, the Kennedy, Reagan and 2001/2003 tax reforms were all followed by strong economic growth.  The flat tax goes beyond these tax cuts and provides not just lower taxes but a greatly simplified system.

It is not clear that Pence wants to run for president; some think he plans to run for governor of Indiana (one of the other lessons of “hope and change” is that executive experience is at least as important for the presidency as the ability to give a good speech). He may simply want his ideas in the arena (a commentator who has written frequently about him describes him as fundamentally a man of ideas).

But we should know soon: the presidential race will start in roughly two months, if Barack Obama’s February 2007 presidential announcement is any indication of the lead time that now governs such a race.

Mike Pence’s speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club was his third major address on national issues in three months. Combined with his speech at Hillsdale College in September and his speech in Iowa in October, Pence has been setting forth proposals that might engage an electorate that wants something more than “hope and change.”

Yesterday Pence proposed a program he labeled “S.T.A.R.T.” — Sound monetary policy, Tax relief and reform, Access to American energy, Regulatory reform, and Trade — with a lengthy discussion of each topic. The section on taxes was a 1,500-word discussion that read in part:

In an upcoming study written by the legendary Dr. Art Laffer, Wayne Winegarden and John Childs, they found the cost of compliance with today’s tax code to be over $540 billion annually and that individuals and businesses spend 7.6 billion hours on their taxes. … The Laffer study predicts that by simplifying the tax code and cutting complexity costs in half, our economy would grow $1.3 trillion more over ten years than if we maintain the status quo. …

There is one system that [provides the necessary revenue without discouraging economic growth and imposing undue compliance burdens] … a flat tax. …

Individuals would pay taxes on their wages or salary after receiving a basic income exemption and an exemption for any dependents, including children and elderly family members and others who you care for in your home. Imagine how easy this would be for people. Gross income minus a generous standard deduction minus any dependent exemptions and you’ve got your taxable income. Apply the rate and your taxes are done.  Everyone pays the same rate, and the more money you make, the more you pay. It’s fair, simple and effective.

We’ve heard this proposal before, and figures like $540 billion of compliance costs, 7.6 billion hours on taxes, and $1.3 trillion in projected economic growth deserve the same skepticism that properly greets projections of savings from eliminating “fraud, waste, and abuse” (or from enacting ObamaCare). The estimates are only as good as the assumptions underlying them — many of which are inherently speculative and none of which can be forecast accurately for 10 years (or even a few years). But Pence made the case that the time for a flat tax may be approaching:

A flat tax is in use in more than twenty countries around the world, and they have been proposed and supported by various legislators and economists in America over the past 30 years, such as Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka, Dick Armey, Steve Forbes, Art Laffer, Jack Kemp and Richard Gephardt. We don’t think about it, but we already use flat taxes in America as taxes for Social Security, Medicare taxes, sales and property taxes. …

If you look back at history, the Kennedy, Reagan and 2001/2003 tax reforms were all followed by strong economic growth.  The flat tax goes beyond these tax cuts and provides not just lower taxes but a greatly simplified system.

It is not clear that Pence wants to run for president; some think he plans to run for governor of Indiana (one of the other lessons of “hope and change” is that executive experience is at least as important for the presidency as the ability to give a good speech). He may simply want his ideas in the arena (a commentator who has written frequently about him describes him as fundamentally a man of ideas).

But we should know soon: the presidential race will start in roughly two months, if Barack Obama’s February 2007 presidential announcement is any indication of the lead time that now governs such a race.

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The Revolt Against the TSA: It’s the Election, Part 2

And all of a sudden, people are going bananas about the inconveniences and unpleasantnesses of airport security. Why? Well, yes, it appears the Transportation Safety Administration has tightened up its procedures, including pat-downs. And it has, in recent months, stepped up its testing of full-body scanners — which are extremely inconvenient devices, because they don’t work very well yet. But while no one should doubt the sincerity of people’s anger and disgust, I think something else is going on here.

It may be that the TSA story has taken on a life of its own because Obama and the Democrats have refused to hear the very plain message coming from the November election — as the failure to depose Nancy Pelosi last week and the president’s gobsmacking declaration to people who had volunteered in the November election debacle that they had converted “Yes, we can” into “Yes, we did” suggest.

The message of the election was: No, stop, enough. The federal government has gotten too big, is doing too much, and may be acting in ways that are impinging on our freedoms. Through a coincidence unfortunate for the Obama administration’s political future, it just so happens that the same month in which the public was explaining this to the political class, the terror threat rose, and the TSA instituted tougher measures to counter it. And where do people outside Washington encounter the federal government directly? At the airport.

I do not share the negative emotions here. I have been through both a pat-down and full-body screen (twice in the latter case), and found them both deeply annoying. But it was nothing personal. It seemed to me that the TSA employees were just doing their jobs, and they are tough jobs, especially since some members of the inconvenienced traveling public blame them unfairly for the inconvenience.

That is exactly what the Obama people seem to have expected when they tightened things without telling anybody — that nobody would take it personally, that it would all be understood as part of the public interest. And who knows — under other conditions, that expectation might well have been met. But the libertarian outrage expressed by the electorate on November 2 seems not to have made a dent in the way the Democratic leadership is pursuing power or handling itself, and so the TSA has been left wide open and exposed to a pretty thoroughgoing and unpleasant public pat-down of its own.

When populist issues bubble up and take government officials by surprise, it’s often a sign of how profoundly out of touch the politicians and the people who work for them are getting. It happens to every administration. Reagan had Bitburg in 1985; Bush the Elder had his note card reading, “Message: I Care“; Bill Clinton had midnight basketball; George W. Bush had Dubai Ports World. What happens when these things blow up is that the government is so busy talking to itself and concerning itself with its own internal deliberations on policy that it forgets how these things might look or be experienced outside the executive branch.

They lose the benefit of the doubt. And once that is lost, it’s very hard to get back.

And all of a sudden, people are going bananas about the inconveniences and unpleasantnesses of airport security. Why? Well, yes, it appears the Transportation Safety Administration has tightened up its procedures, including pat-downs. And it has, in recent months, stepped up its testing of full-body scanners — which are extremely inconvenient devices, because they don’t work very well yet. But while no one should doubt the sincerity of people’s anger and disgust, I think something else is going on here.

It may be that the TSA story has taken on a life of its own because Obama and the Democrats have refused to hear the very plain message coming from the November election — as the failure to depose Nancy Pelosi last week and the president’s gobsmacking declaration to people who had volunteered in the November election debacle that they had converted “Yes, we can” into “Yes, we did” suggest.

The message of the election was: No, stop, enough. The federal government has gotten too big, is doing too much, and may be acting in ways that are impinging on our freedoms. Through a coincidence unfortunate for the Obama administration’s political future, it just so happens that the same month in which the public was explaining this to the political class, the terror threat rose, and the TSA instituted tougher measures to counter it. And where do people outside Washington encounter the federal government directly? At the airport.

I do not share the negative emotions here. I have been through both a pat-down and full-body screen (twice in the latter case), and found them both deeply annoying. But it was nothing personal. It seemed to me that the TSA employees were just doing their jobs, and they are tough jobs, especially since some members of the inconvenienced traveling public blame them unfairly for the inconvenience.

That is exactly what the Obama people seem to have expected when they tightened things without telling anybody — that nobody would take it personally, that it would all be understood as part of the public interest. And who knows — under other conditions, that expectation might well have been met. But the libertarian outrage expressed by the electorate on November 2 seems not to have made a dent in the way the Democratic leadership is pursuing power or handling itself, and so the TSA has been left wide open and exposed to a pretty thoroughgoing and unpleasant public pat-down of its own.

When populist issues bubble up and take government officials by surprise, it’s often a sign of how profoundly out of touch the politicians and the people who work for them are getting. It happens to every administration. Reagan had Bitburg in 1985; Bush the Elder had his note card reading, “Message: I Care“; Bill Clinton had midnight basketball; George W. Bush had Dubai Ports World. What happens when these things blow up is that the government is so busy talking to itself and concerning itself with its own internal deliberations on policy that it forgets how these things might look or be experienced outside the executive branch.

They lose the benefit of the doubt. And once that is lost, it’s very hard to get back.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Here’s the “civil war” the liberal punditocracy has been pining for: “Liberals want Obama to confront Republicans more directly. Moderates, remembering how Bill Clinton altered course after losing control of Congress in 1994 and won reelection in 1996, want the president to work more cooperatively with Republicans in hopes of avoiding gridlock.”

Here’s another national security disaster in the making: “The Obama administration has dispatched a team of experts to Asian capitals to report that North Korea appears to have started a program to enrich uranium, possibly to manufacture more nuclear weapons, a senior U.S. administration official said Saturday. The team was sent out after North Korea told two visiting American experts earlier this month that it possessed such a program and showed them a facility where it claimed the enrichment was taking place.” It sort of puts in context how daft were those meetings and planning for a “nuke-free world.”

Here’s the beginning of the walk-back: “Heeding a sudden furor, John Pistole, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, said in a Sunday afternoon statement to POLITICO that airport screening procedures ‘will be adapted as conditions warrant,’ in an effort to make them “as minimally invasive as possible, while still providing the security that the American people want and deserve.”

Here’s why voters hate pols: there is always one rule for politicians and another for the rest of us. “Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday that security threats were a concern in the Transportation Security Administration’s new invasive pat-downs and body scans, but heartily acknowledged that she wouldn’t want to go through the screening herself.”

Here’s Mona Charen’s case for why Sarah Palin shouldn’t run for president: “Voters chose a novice with plenty of starpower in 2008 and will be inclined to swing strongly in the other direction in 2012. Americans will be looking for sober competence, managerial skill, and maturity — not sizzle and flash. … There is no denying that Sarah Palin has been harshly, sometimes even brutally, treated by the press and the entertainment gaggle. But any prominent Republican must expect and be able to transcend that. Palin compares herself to Reagan. But Reagan didn’t mud-wrestle with the press. Palin seems consumed and obsessed by it, as her rapid Twitter finger attests, and thus she encourages the sniping.” I imagine that such advice is simply brushed off as part of the GOP establishment plot to get her.

Here’s further evidence that the Obami just don’t get it. Hillary Clinton isn’t giving up on civilian trials for terrorists. “So I don’t think you can, as a — as a rule, say, ‘Oh, no more civilian trials,’ or ‘no more military commission.'” Sure you can; it’s just that the leftists who dominate the Obama legal brain trust are putting up quite a fuss.

Here’s another sign that Obama’s ditzy peace-process Hail Mary isn’t going to help matters: “The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said on Sunday that any American proposal for restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations must include a complete halt in Israeli settlement building, including in East Jerusalem.” Gosh, where do you think he got the idea that building in Jerusalem was such a hot-button, non-final-status issue?

Here’s the “civil war” the liberal punditocracy has been pining for: “Liberals want Obama to confront Republicans more directly. Moderates, remembering how Bill Clinton altered course after losing control of Congress in 1994 and won reelection in 1996, want the president to work more cooperatively with Republicans in hopes of avoiding gridlock.”

Here’s another national security disaster in the making: “The Obama administration has dispatched a team of experts to Asian capitals to report that North Korea appears to have started a program to enrich uranium, possibly to manufacture more nuclear weapons, a senior U.S. administration official said Saturday. The team was sent out after North Korea told two visiting American experts earlier this month that it possessed such a program and showed them a facility where it claimed the enrichment was taking place.” It sort of puts in context how daft were those meetings and planning for a “nuke-free world.”

Here’s the beginning of the walk-back: “Heeding a sudden furor, John Pistole, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, said in a Sunday afternoon statement to POLITICO that airport screening procedures ‘will be adapted as conditions warrant,’ in an effort to make them “as minimally invasive as possible, while still providing the security that the American people want and deserve.”

Here’s why voters hate pols: there is always one rule for politicians and another for the rest of us. “Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday that security threats were a concern in the Transportation Security Administration’s new invasive pat-downs and body scans, but heartily acknowledged that she wouldn’t want to go through the screening herself.”

Here’s Mona Charen’s case for why Sarah Palin shouldn’t run for president: “Voters chose a novice with plenty of starpower in 2008 and will be inclined to swing strongly in the other direction in 2012. Americans will be looking for sober competence, managerial skill, and maturity — not sizzle and flash. … There is no denying that Sarah Palin has been harshly, sometimes even brutally, treated by the press and the entertainment gaggle. But any prominent Republican must expect and be able to transcend that. Palin compares herself to Reagan. But Reagan didn’t mud-wrestle with the press. Palin seems consumed and obsessed by it, as her rapid Twitter finger attests, and thus she encourages the sniping.” I imagine that such advice is simply brushed off as part of the GOP establishment plot to get her.

Here’s further evidence that the Obami just don’t get it. Hillary Clinton isn’t giving up on civilian trials for terrorists. “So I don’t think you can, as a — as a rule, say, ‘Oh, no more civilian trials,’ or ‘no more military commission.'” Sure you can; it’s just that the leftists who dominate the Obama legal brain trust are putting up quite a fuss.

Here’s another sign that Obama’s ditzy peace-process Hail Mary isn’t going to help matters: “The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said on Sunday that any American proposal for restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations must include a complete halt in Israeli settlement building, including in East Jerusalem.” Gosh, where do you think he got the idea that building in Jerusalem was such a hot-button, non-final-status issue?

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The Palin Quandary

Sarah Palin has the ability to make news anytime, anyplace. She did that with the upcoming interview in the New York Times Magazine and in additional comments in which she explained the difficulty of remaining governor while bogus ethics charges and real security concerns plagued her. (“I don’t have the funds to pay for my family to travel with me, and the state won’t pay for it, either. I can’t afford to have security at my home — anybody can come up to my door, and they do. Under the laws of Alaska, anybody can file suit or an ethics charge against me, and I have to defend it on my own. I’m going into debt.”)

But the question remains: does she run for president and put herself in a position to lose her iconic standing, or does she continue as the organizer-fundraiser-newsmaker, which has made her wealthy and famous but not more popular with voters outside the conservative base? In a must-read piece of solid reporting, Jon Ward goes out among Tea Partiers to find out if Palin’s most devoted fans want her to run. The answer may surprise some:

Interviews over the last few months with numerous Tea Party and conservative voters in states around the country yielded no one who was enthusiastic about Palin running for president, though a handful said they were open to it. In addition, conservative and Tea Party leaders who are speaking to the grassroots regularly report that they have consistently heard the same thing.

These are the sorts of comments he hears from Tea Party activists:

“She’s got too many negatives, not for me, but for too many people. So I think she’s better off on the outside looking in.”
“I would like to see someone else emerge. I think she’s too divisive. … It’s good for her to be part of the party. I have nothing against her. But I just think a leader has to be more articulate than she is. I just don’t think that person’s emerged yet.”

“I’m not sure if we have seen the one who needs to run. It has to be someone who can articulate the conservative message like a Buckley or Reagan. … We have time to find someone. I do like Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio.” Read More

Sarah Palin has the ability to make news anytime, anyplace. She did that with the upcoming interview in the New York Times Magazine and in additional comments in which she explained the difficulty of remaining governor while bogus ethics charges and real security concerns plagued her. (“I don’t have the funds to pay for my family to travel with me, and the state won’t pay for it, either. I can’t afford to have security at my home — anybody can come up to my door, and they do. Under the laws of Alaska, anybody can file suit or an ethics charge against me, and I have to defend it on my own. I’m going into debt.”)

But the question remains: does she run for president and put herself in a position to lose her iconic standing, or does she continue as the organizer-fundraiser-newsmaker, which has made her wealthy and famous but not more popular with voters outside the conservative base? In a must-read piece of solid reporting, Jon Ward goes out among Tea Partiers to find out if Palin’s most devoted fans want her to run. The answer may surprise some:

Interviews over the last few months with numerous Tea Party and conservative voters in states around the country yielded no one who was enthusiastic about Palin running for president, though a handful said they were open to it. In addition, conservative and Tea Party leaders who are speaking to the grassroots regularly report that they have consistently heard the same thing.

These are the sorts of comments he hears from Tea Party activists:

“She’s got too many negatives, not for me, but for too many people. So I think she’s better off on the outside looking in.”
“I would like to see someone else emerge. I think she’s too divisive. … It’s good for her to be part of the party. I have nothing against her. But I just think a leader has to be more articulate than she is. I just don’t think that person’s emerged yet.”

“I’m not sure if we have seen the one who needs to run. It has to be someone who can articulate the conservative message like a Buckley or Reagan. … We have time to find someone. I do like Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio.”

And there are others. Those whom Ward spoke with are not unnamed party insiders with a motive to bolster their own candidates’ standing. These are Tea Party attendees willing to go on record and face their fellow activists. In short, these are the people most sympathetic to the causes Palin champions.

What’s interesting is that the reaction of ordinary Tea Partiers is not that far removed from leaders both in the Tea Party and in establishment circles. A Tea Party leader tells Ward:

“Lot’s love her on a personal level, and as a conservative icon, but I haven’t heard widespread support for her as a presidential candidate,” he said. “I think the candidates who will be on top in 2012 have yet to really emerge from the pack. … Folks have interest in Mike Pence and of course [Sen. Jim] DeMint. I would guess that if asked, DeMint would be the top choice of Tea Party folks right now. He’s fighting the establishment from inside, and I think that will be a plus in 2012.”

And a conservative leader chimes in:

“I think people love to hear her speak and love that she’s out there stirring the waters and challenging the status quo,” the conservative leader said, asking that his name not be used. “But I don’t get the sense that they’re ready to say, ‘She’s the one we want to see as president.’”

“You would think if people were going to coalesce around her that would be happening. And quite frankly I don’t see it,” he said.

Palin and her defenders would no doubt say that none of these people are representative of sentiment in the party. But at some point, the candidate has to take these kinds of  reports — by credible conservative-leaning outlets — and the ample poll data seriously if she is serious about a run. She will have to weigh the risk that she may not prevail (either in the primary or the general election), and thereby lose her aura and the anticipation of a future candidacy.

In that regard, as in so many other ways, she is unique. For the average pol, a presidential run, even an unsuccessful one, raises his profile and gives him new credibility and earning power. For Palin, it may be the opposite.

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If Only King Arthur Had a Videographer Like Obama’s

Some 40 years ago, author Joe McGinniss shined a light on the way campaign imagery shapes our perceptions of politics with his The Selling of the President about Richard Nixon’s 1968 run for office. Though aimed at the evil geniuses behind the “new Nixon” who beat Hubert Humphrey, one of the most famous lines in the book recounted the way Nixon’s old nemesis John Kennedy had beguiled the American people with a White House that was sold as a new Camelot. As McGinniss put it: “We forgave, followed and accepted because we liked the way he looked. And he had a pretty wife. Camelot was fun, even for the peasants, as long as it was televised to their huts.”

American politics was played by different rules from 1961 to 1963. The image of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and their two adorable children was ubiquitous in American culture in those years, and the publication or broadcast of unpleasant truths about the president and his brother the attorney general was simply out of the question. Since then, no American president has received the same kid glove treatment from the press. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, and the second Bush were all treated with little deference and much cynicism by the media.

But the election of the first African-American president in 2008 has changed the way the presidency is treated in popular culture. In the past two years, the images coming out of Barack Obama’s White House of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and two adorable daughters have been highly reminiscent of Kennedy’s Camelot imagery. That’s a big part of the reason why, despite the administration’s well-documented troubles in selling its hyper-liberal policies to the public, Obama’s personal popularity remains high.

Part of Obama’s dream machine was highlighted yesterday in a puff piece in The New York Times about Arun Chaudhary, the former New York University film instructor who is Obama’s full-time videographer. Chaudhary’s “West Wing Week” films may not be sweeping the nation, but they are part of the way the president’s personal image — and that of his family — have been carefully burnished. The midterm elections illustrated the rejection of Obama’s political agenda by the voters. But anyone who thinks that the 2012 election, in which the president will be personally on the ballot, will not be heavily influenced by the Camelot factor is not paying attention. With such loving images of Obama being beamed out regularly — not merely to our huts but to the peasantry’s computers, iPads, and phones — the task of defeating even a president whose policies are unpopular will be that much harder. Obama’s Camelot may not be impregnable, but it is buttressed by the sort of stained-glass image that has not been seen since the days of John Kennedy.

Some 40 years ago, author Joe McGinniss shined a light on the way campaign imagery shapes our perceptions of politics with his The Selling of the President about Richard Nixon’s 1968 run for office. Though aimed at the evil geniuses behind the “new Nixon” who beat Hubert Humphrey, one of the most famous lines in the book recounted the way Nixon’s old nemesis John Kennedy had beguiled the American people with a White House that was sold as a new Camelot. As McGinniss put it: “We forgave, followed and accepted because we liked the way he looked. And he had a pretty wife. Camelot was fun, even for the peasants, as long as it was televised to their huts.”

American politics was played by different rules from 1961 to 1963. The image of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and their two adorable children was ubiquitous in American culture in those years, and the publication or broadcast of unpleasant truths about the president and his brother the attorney general was simply out of the question. Since then, no American president has received the same kid glove treatment from the press. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, and the second Bush were all treated with little deference and much cynicism by the media.

But the election of the first African-American president in 2008 has changed the way the presidency is treated in popular culture. In the past two years, the images coming out of Barack Obama’s White House of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and two adorable daughters have been highly reminiscent of Kennedy’s Camelot imagery. That’s a big part of the reason why, despite the administration’s well-documented troubles in selling its hyper-liberal policies to the public, Obama’s personal popularity remains high.

Part of Obama’s dream machine was highlighted yesterday in a puff piece in The New York Times about Arun Chaudhary, the former New York University film instructor who is Obama’s full-time videographer. Chaudhary’s “West Wing Week” films may not be sweeping the nation, but they are part of the way the president’s personal image — and that of his family — have been carefully burnished. The midterm elections illustrated the rejection of Obama’s political agenda by the voters. But anyone who thinks that the 2012 election, in which the president will be personally on the ballot, will not be heavily influenced by the Camelot factor is not paying attention. With such loving images of Obama being beamed out regularly — not merely to our huts but to the peasantry’s computers, iPads, and phones — the task of defeating even a president whose policies are unpopular will be that much harder. Obama’s Camelot may not be impregnable, but it is buttressed by the sort of stained-glass image that has not been seen since the days of John Kennedy.

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NATO Death Watch

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

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More J Street Donors Revealed

The Jerusalem Post has the latest on J Street’s unusual donors:

According to records filed with the US Federal Election Committee on October 20 and October 21, J Street recorded hundreds of donations from Americans of all sorts, most Jewish and some Muslim. But several names jumped out from the 2,100 pages.

Lenny Ben David, who wrote the item, mentions Genevieve Lynch, a member of the National Iranian American Council’s board.

Lynch, the NIAC board member and a member of J Street’s Finance Committee, is listed contributing $10,000 in October. At one point last year, J Street and NIAC leaders worked together to block anti-Iran sanctions measures proposed by Congress. Belatedly, J Street changed its position and supported sanctions.

Nancy Dutton earmarked last week $250 for the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak. Her late husband Fred served as a Saudi foreign agent in Washington for 30 years. (During the 1982 AWACS debate he was believed to be responsible for the line, “Reagan or Begin?” which strongly suggested American Jews’ double loyalty.)  After Fred’s death, Nancy picked up the pricey Saudi gig.

Oddly enough, the donors have a decidedly anti-Israel perspective:

Another new name on the J Street PAC’s list of contributors is  M. Cherif Bassiouni, a well-known professor of law at DePaul University. Bassiouni is also an unlikely candidate to contribute to a purported “pro-Israel” organization.  Several years ago he complained in an article in the Harvard International Law Journal, “A large segment of the world population asks why Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people, which includes the commission of ‘grave breaches’ of the Geneva Convention and what the customary law of armed conflict considers ‘war crimes,’ is deemed justified, while Palestinians’ unlawful acts of targeting civilians are condemned? These are only some contemporary examples of the double standard that fuels terrorism.”

Now, the jig has been up for some time that J Street allies itself with foes of the Jewish state. The latest is simply more evidence, as if any were needed, that J Street’s pro-Israel label is fraudulent and its sponsored candidates are those it perceives to be most helpful to its — and its allies’ — mission.

The Jerusalem Post has the latest on J Street’s unusual donors:

According to records filed with the US Federal Election Committee on October 20 and October 21, J Street recorded hundreds of donations from Americans of all sorts, most Jewish and some Muslim. But several names jumped out from the 2,100 pages.

Lenny Ben David, who wrote the item, mentions Genevieve Lynch, a member of the National Iranian American Council’s board.

Lynch, the NIAC board member and a member of J Street’s Finance Committee, is listed contributing $10,000 in October. At one point last year, J Street and NIAC leaders worked together to block anti-Iran sanctions measures proposed by Congress. Belatedly, J Street changed its position and supported sanctions.

Nancy Dutton earmarked last week $250 for the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak. Her late husband Fred served as a Saudi foreign agent in Washington for 30 years. (During the 1982 AWACS debate he was believed to be responsible for the line, “Reagan or Begin?” which strongly suggested American Jews’ double loyalty.)  After Fred’s death, Nancy picked up the pricey Saudi gig.

Oddly enough, the donors have a decidedly anti-Israel perspective:

Another new name on the J Street PAC’s list of contributors is  M. Cherif Bassiouni, a well-known professor of law at DePaul University. Bassiouni is also an unlikely candidate to contribute to a purported “pro-Israel” organization.  Several years ago he complained in an article in the Harvard International Law Journal, “A large segment of the world population asks why Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people, which includes the commission of ‘grave breaches’ of the Geneva Convention and what the customary law of armed conflict considers ‘war crimes,’ is deemed justified, while Palestinians’ unlawful acts of targeting civilians are condemned? These are only some contemporary examples of the double standard that fuels terrorism.”

Now, the jig has been up for some time that J Street allies itself with foes of the Jewish state. The latest is simply more evidence, as if any were needed, that J Street’s pro-Israel label is fraudulent and its sponsored candidates are those it perceives to be most helpful to its — and its allies’ — mission.

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It’s the White House That’s Scared, Not the Voters

In examining the White House’s “bunker mentality,” Howard Kurtz talks to the Ragin’ Cajun, James Carville:

James Carville, the Cajun strategist, describes the White House mood bluntly: “They’re frightened.” Obama, he says, is “very insular” and “relies on a small group of people.” Recalling the atmosphere in the Clinton White House before the Republicans took both houses in 1994, Carville says: “You know it’s going to be bad but there’s a piece of you that says it’s not that bad, that there’s a new Newsweek poll out or something. You get beat down.”

Well, good to know that Newsweek is a joke among liberals as well. Now, his point is well taken, but this crew was in the bunker even when their polling was high. From Day 1, they’ve been super-sensitive to the slightest criticism. They’ve felt besieged by talk radio, Fox News, Gallup, and on and on. Combine bare-knuckle politics with a president with a messiah complex and you get a White House that goes for the jugular at the mildest provocation.

And nothing is ever their fault. Not even the media strategy:

Despite Obama’s sky-high profile, White House advisers scoff at suggestions of overexposure, saying that shrinking viewership requires the president to make multiple appearances to reach the same audience that Reagan could with a single network interview. …

It’s equally true that 9.6 percent unemployment isn’t a communications problem. But deflecting the political blame certainly is. Perhaps this is the new normal—a president and White House staff having to work overtime to peddle their wares in a crowded marketplace.

“It’s a chaotic environment,” [Dan] Pfeiffer says. “There are no clean shots anymore. Everything we do is instantly analyzed by people who are our allies and people who are our adversaries.”

Oh, woe is them. No other president — not Lincoln or FDR — has ever had it so hard. No president — not George W. Bush — ever faced so much criticism. Silly? Yes. But it goes a long way toward explaining why the White House continually doubles down on losing strategies. It’s never their fault, you see.

In examining the White House’s “bunker mentality,” Howard Kurtz talks to the Ragin’ Cajun, James Carville:

James Carville, the Cajun strategist, describes the White House mood bluntly: “They’re frightened.” Obama, he says, is “very insular” and “relies on a small group of people.” Recalling the atmosphere in the Clinton White House before the Republicans took both houses in 1994, Carville says: “You know it’s going to be bad but there’s a piece of you that says it’s not that bad, that there’s a new Newsweek poll out or something. You get beat down.”

Well, good to know that Newsweek is a joke among liberals as well. Now, his point is well taken, but this crew was in the bunker even when their polling was high. From Day 1, they’ve been super-sensitive to the slightest criticism. They’ve felt besieged by talk radio, Fox News, Gallup, and on and on. Combine bare-knuckle politics with a president with a messiah complex and you get a White House that goes for the jugular at the mildest provocation.

And nothing is ever their fault. Not even the media strategy:

Despite Obama’s sky-high profile, White House advisers scoff at suggestions of overexposure, saying that shrinking viewership requires the president to make multiple appearances to reach the same audience that Reagan could with a single network interview. …

It’s equally true that 9.6 percent unemployment isn’t a communications problem. But deflecting the political blame certainly is. Perhaps this is the new normal—a president and White House staff having to work overtime to peddle their wares in a crowded marketplace.

“It’s a chaotic environment,” [Dan] Pfeiffer says. “There are no clean shots anymore. Everything we do is instantly analyzed by people who are our allies and people who are our adversaries.”

Oh, woe is them. No other president — not Lincoln or FDR — has ever had it so hard. No president — not George W. Bush — ever faced so much criticism. Silly? Yes. But it goes a long way toward explaining why the White House continually doubles down on losing strategies. It’s never their fault, you see.

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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




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