Commentary Magazine


Topic: Reagan

Time for Democrats to Correct Course on Israel

In an interesting interview with Steve Moore, Minority Whip Eric Cantor explains the new face of the Republican Party — reform-minded, fiscally disciplined, and energetic. He also has this interesting observation on the pro-Israel coalition:

Mr. Cantor believes the American-Jewish community is overwhelmingly Democratic because Jews “are prone to want to help the underdog.” But he thinks the Jewish allegiance to the Democratic Party is changing, in large part because of Israel. “I tell the Jewish groups that more and more of the problems with convincing folks that Israel’s security is synonymous with our own comes from the Democrats. There are a lot in the progressive movement in this country who do not feel that the U.S. should ever be leaning towards Israel. They are openly hostile” toward the Jewish state.

Mr. Cantor points to a poll indicating that 46% of American Jews say they would consider voting for another individual for president. “That is astonishing given the history. Reagan got 40%—that was probably the high water mark.”

There are multiple reasons for Jewish allegiance to the Democratic Party, and I tend to favor an explanation other than Cantor’s. But his analysis of the Democratic caucus is candid and accurate. However, there is an opportunity for the Democratic Party, or a significant segment of it, to right itself and re-establish its full-throated support for Israel.

Certainly there are hard-core leftists who played footsie with Soros Street, signed on to the Gaza 54 letter, and cheered Obama’s Israel policy. But far more members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate and House were pulled by partisan concerns and felt obliged to run interference for Obama. For months and months they dared not criticize the administration. When Obama “condemned” Israel, many reacted with platitudes rather than a sharp rebuke of the president. When it came to the flotilla, the Senate letter (and the House letter to a lesser extent) revealed Democrats’ reluctance to challenge the president on his straddling at the UN.

But the landscape is about to shift dramatically. Obama’s approval ratings are tumbling. Those Democrats who survive the 2010 tsunami will owe little loyalty to the Obama team. And the putrid results of Obama’s flawed Middle East policy are now there for all to see. In other words, there is little reason for House and Senate Democrats to follow the Obama administration’s lead on Israel. We already saw a hint of this when 87 senators signed on to a letter that, in effect, warned Obama not to blame Bibi for the potential collapse of the peace talks.

Once the 2010 midterms are behind us, J Street completes its collapse, and the damage to the Democratic Party is assessed, there is an opportunity for those pro-Israel Democrats who pulled their punches to reconnect with their Republican colleagues and re-establish that broad-based pro-Israel coalition. A good start would be a unified message on Iran along the lines Joe Lieberman detailed in his recent speech on the subject. Another would be some congressional action with regard to political and human rights abuses in the Muslim World. Why are we giving billions to Mubarak when he represses his people? Why aren’t we cutting funds to the UN Human Rights Council?

There are still liberal Democrats who will shy away from such moves and be uneasy about confronting the administration. But frankly, carrying water for the Obami is not good for one’s political health. And Democrats will be all too familiar with that truism come November.

In an interesting interview with Steve Moore, Minority Whip Eric Cantor explains the new face of the Republican Party — reform-minded, fiscally disciplined, and energetic. He also has this interesting observation on the pro-Israel coalition:

Mr. Cantor believes the American-Jewish community is overwhelmingly Democratic because Jews “are prone to want to help the underdog.” But he thinks the Jewish allegiance to the Democratic Party is changing, in large part because of Israel. “I tell the Jewish groups that more and more of the problems with convincing folks that Israel’s security is synonymous with our own comes from the Democrats. There are a lot in the progressive movement in this country who do not feel that the U.S. should ever be leaning towards Israel. They are openly hostile” toward the Jewish state.

Mr. Cantor points to a poll indicating that 46% of American Jews say they would consider voting for another individual for president. “That is astonishing given the history. Reagan got 40%—that was probably the high water mark.”

There are multiple reasons for Jewish allegiance to the Democratic Party, and I tend to favor an explanation other than Cantor’s. But his analysis of the Democratic caucus is candid and accurate. However, there is an opportunity for the Democratic Party, or a significant segment of it, to right itself and re-establish its full-throated support for Israel.

Certainly there are hard-core leftists who played footsie with Soros Street, signed on to the Gaza 54 letter, and cheered Obama’s Israel policy. But far more members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate and House were pulled by partisan concerns and felt obliged to run interference for Obama. For months and months they dared not criticize the administration. When Obama “condemned” Israel, many reacted with platitudes rather than a sharp rebuke of the president. When it came to the flotilla, the Senate letter (and the House letter to a lesser extent) revealed Democrats’ reluctance to challenge the president on his straddling at the UN.

But the landscape is about to shift dramatically. Obama’s approval ratings are tumbling. Those Democrats who survive the 2010 tsunami will owe little loyalty to the Obama team. And the putrid results of Obama’s flawed Middle East policy are now there for all to see. In other words, there is little reason for House and Senate Democrats to follow the Obama administration’s lead on Israel. We already saw a hint of this when 87 senators signed on to a letter that, in effect, warned Obama not to blame Bibi for the potential collapse of the peace talks.

Once the 2010 midterms are behind us, J Street completes its collapse, and the damage to the Democratic Party is assessed, there is an opportunity for those pro-Israel Democrats who pulled their punches to reconnect with their Republican colleagues and re-establish that broad-based pro-Israel coalition. A good start would be a unified message on Iran along the lines Joe Lieberman detailed in his recent speech on the subject. Another would be some congressional action with regard to political and human rights abuses in the Muslim World. Why are we giving billions to Mubarak when he represses his people? Why aren’t we cutting funds to the UN Human Rights Council?

There are still liberal Democrats who will shy away from such moves and be uneasy about confronting the administration. But frankly, carrying water for the Obami is not good for one’s political health. And Democrats will be all too familiar with that truism come November.

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Part 2: Immigration and the Golden State

In this post I continue my responses to Peter Robinson’s thought-provoking questions about the degree to which immigration has contributed to California’s current predicament (e.g., fiscal ruin, economic stagnation, political dysfunction). Peter’s second question concerns the political impact on the Republican party. He asks:

Q:  There’s plenty of evidence that, as Hispanics move into the middle class, they begin voting Republican, following the same pattern as previous immigrant groups. In California, though, the Hispanics that do indeed join the middle class are always hugely outnumbered as the influx of poor Mexicans continues — and, as these recent arrivals begin voting, they vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The state that gave us Reagan has now become dark blue. … With California out of play, the GOP stands at a permanent disadvantage in presidential politics.  Isn’t all that too high a price to pay for loose immigration policies?

Let’s break this down into legal and illegal immigration. No critic of lax efforts to cut down on voter fraud has been more ferocious than I. But, honestly, I don’t believe that there are huge numbers of illegal immigrants who flock to the polls. And if there were (as well as for other reasons, which I have amplified in other writings on Obama Justice Department), we need to clean house at the DOJ. One way to start would be to make sure the Department, contrary to the directions of Obama appointees, enforces Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states to clean up their voter rolls.

But I think we’re principally talking about Hispanic citizens. Here, the GOP’s problem, I would suggest, is entirely one of its own making. If a party cannot connect with and make its case to a large segment of the electorate, which actually shares many of its fundamental values (e.g., family, the sanctity of life, economic opportunity), there is something wrong with the party. (Let Obama blame or write off voters.)

The argument that “We’ve tried, but nothing works” is a cop-out. (I’m not persuaded by the argument that John McCain’s inability to attract Hispanic voters in 2008 is proof of this. McCain essentially reversed course on immigration in the campaign. Moreover, McCain couldn’t even connect with New Englanders.) In Virginia,  now Gov. Bob McDonnell told me in late 2008 that Republicans had done a poor job of explaining that it is the illegal part they object to — not the immigrant part. And, in the 2009 campaign, he went to Hispanic communities explaining why conservative positions on education, family, low taxes, reasonable regulation, crime, etc. are good for them. If Republicans tried that over an extended period of time, continued to demonstrate that they are a diverse party (Marco Rubio and other Hispanic candidates and officials help in this regard), and tamped down on the over-the-top anti-immigrant rhetoric, they might improve their standing. “We don’t know that!” critics say. True, but why not give it a shot? (Given current polling data, this might be an opportune time to start.)

The question also touches on comprehensive immigration reform. If we legalize them all, the argument goes, then they will stream to the polls and the GOP will be toast. My response is two-fold: 1) see the preceding paragraph and 2) let’s consider what would happen if many of the current immigrants were legalized. For that discussion, let’s turn to Peter’s final question:

Q.  The 2.6 million immigrants in California illegally consume hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public services each year.  They pay sales taxes—but only sales taxes.  On balance, isn’t it likely that they represent an economic drag on the entire state?  “[T]he several million illegal aliens in the state,” Victor Davis Hanson wrote recently, “might make California’s meltdown a little bit more severe than, say, Montana’s or Utah’s.” Isn’t Victor on to something?

Victor is always on to something! But as I discussed in Part 1, the picture is a bit more complicated than anti-immigration activists would have us believe. The data is mixed regarding the net cost-benefits at the state level. Moreover, there are some illegal immigrants who pay more than sales tax. Do they pay property taxes? Do they, if they’ve managed to get on a payroll, pay Social Security taxes (perhaps under a phony Social Security card)? Some do. I think that saying they act as a drag on the state goes too far. The data cited here and in Part 1 suggest that while state expenditures might be stressed, the overall economy benefits tremendously by immigrants.

Still, I’ll concede that in the short run, new, poor immigrants may use more social services than they pay for in taxes, as compared to the rest of the population. But then — Peter sees this coming — let’s figure out how to naturalize the vast majority of them and get them to start paying all their taxes into the system. Am I arguing for “amnesty”? Amnesty is a free pass. I favor allowing otherwise law-abiding immigrants who want to pay a fine, contribute their share to taxes, and go through background checks and a waiting period to legalize their status. Then they can begin to contribute fully to the coffers of California and every other state.

Comprehensive immigration reform would also entail serious border enforcement, temporary worker rules, and employer verification measures. The constant stream of “poor Mexicans” then would slow down. Then we could get down to the business of discussing appropriate levels of legal immigration and an increase in visas for skilled workers.

I come back to Peter’s basic query: Is immigration (legal and not) a significant factor in California’s mess? In my view it isn’t, especially in comparison to Californians’ enormous self-inflicted wounds (e.g., state constitutional chaos, misguided reforms, public-employee union corruption and excess). Certainly, we should should address the issue. We might get around to it if Obama ever started treating immigration reform as a serious policy matter instead of a political football.

In this post I continue my responses to Peter Robinson’s thought-provoking questions about the degree to which immigration has contributed to California’s current predicament (e.g., fiscal ruin, economic stagnation, political dysfunction). Peter’s second question concerns the political impact on the Republican party. He asks:

Q:  There’s plenty of evidence that, as Hispanics move into the middle class, they begin voting Republican, following the same pattern as previous immigrant groups. In California, though, the Hispanics that do indeed join the middle class are always hugely outnumbered as the influx of poor Mexicans continues — and, as these recent arrivals begin voting, they vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The state that gave us Reagan has now become dark blue. … With California out of play, the GOP stands at a permanent disadvantage in presidential politics.  Isn’t all that too high a price to pay for loose immigration policies?

Let’s break this down into legal and illegal immigration. No critic of lax efforts to cut down on voter fraud has been more ferocious than I. But, honestly, I don’t believe that there are huge numbers of illegal immigrants who flock to the polls. And if there were (as well as for other reasons, which I have amplified in other writings on Obama Justice Department), we need to clean house at the DOJ. One way to start would be to make sure the Department, contrary to the directions of Obama appointees, enforces Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states to clean up their voter rolls.

But I think we’re principally talking about Hispanic citizens. Here, the GOP’s problem, I would suggest, is entirely one of its own making. If a party cannot connect with and make its case to a large segment of the electorate, which actually shares many of its fundamental values (e.g., family, the sanctity of life, economic opportunity), there is something wrong with the party. (Let Obama blame or write off voters.)

The argument that “We’ve tried, but nothing works” is a cop-out. (I’m not persuaded by the argument that John McCain’s inability to attract Hispanic voters in 2008 is proof of this. McCain essentially reversed course on immigration in the campaign. Moreover, McCain couldn’t even connect with New Englanders.) In Virginia,  now Gov. Bob McDonnell told me in late 2008 that Republicans had done a poor job of explaining that it is the illegal part they object to — not the immigrant part. And, in the 2009 campaign, he went to Hispanic communities explaining why conservative positions on education, family, low taxes, reasonable regulation, crime, etc. are good for them. If Republicans tried that over an extended period of time, continued to demonstrate that they are a diverse party (Marco Rubio and other Hispanic candidates and officials help in this regard), and tamped down on the over-the-top anti-immigrant rhetoric, they might improve their standing. “We don’t know that!” critics say. True, but why not give it a shot? (Given current polling data, this might be an opportune time to start.)

The question also touches on comprehensive immigration reform. If we legalize them all, the argument goes, then they will stream to the polls and the GOP will be toast. My response is two-fold: 1) see the preceding paragraph and 2) let’s consider what would happen if many of the current immigrants were legalized. For that discussion, let’s turn to Peter’s final question:

Q.  The 2.6 million immigrants in California illegally consume hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public services each year.  They pay sales taxes—but only sales taxes.  On balance, isn’t it likely that they represent an economic drag on the entire state?  “[T]he several million illegal aliens in the state,” Victor Davis Hanson wrote recently, “might make California’s meltdown a little bit more severe than, say, Montana’s or Utah’s.” Isn’t Victor on to something?

Victor is always on to something! But as I discussed in Part 1, the picture is a bit more complicated than anti-immigration activists would have us believe. The data is mixed regarding the net cost-benefits at the state level. Moreover, there are some illegal immigrants who pay more than sales tax. Do they pay property taxes? Do they, if they’ve managed to get on a payroll, pay Social Security taxes (perhaps under a phony Social Security card)? Some do. I think that saying they act as a drag on the state goes too far. The data cited here and in Part 1 suggest that while state expenditures might be stressed, the overall economy benefits tremendously by immigrants.

Still, I’ll concede that in the short run, new, poor immigrants may use more social services than they pay for in taxes, as compared to the rest of the population. But then — Peter sees this coming — let’s figure out how to naturalize the vast majority of them and get them to start paying all their taxes into the system. Am I arguing for “amnesty”? Amnesty is a free pass. I favor allowing otherwise law-abiding immigrants who want to pay a fine, contribute their share to taxes, and go through background checks and a waiting period to legalize their status. Then they can begin to contribute fully to the coffers of California and every other state.

Comprehensive immigration reform would also entail serious border enforcement, temporary worker rules, and employer verification measures. The constant stream of “poor Mexicans” then would slow down. Then we could get down to the business of discussing appropriate levels of legal immigration and an increase in visas for skilled workers.

I come back to Peter’s basic query: Is immigration (legal and not) a significant factor in California’s mess? In my view it isn’t, especially in comparison to Californians’ enormous self-inflicted wounds (e.g., state constitutional chaos, misguided reforms, public-employee union corruption and excess). Certainly, we should should address the issue. We might get around to it if Obama ever started treating immigration reform as a serious policy matter instead of a political football.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Enough already. CNN cans Rick Sanchez.

Enough already. Yuval Levin suggests the White House scrap the fawning praise: “Rahm Emanuel, speaking to President Obama at his departure announcement today, said: ‘I want to thank you for being the toughest leader any country could ask for in the toughest times any president has ever faced.’ Really? The toughest times any president has ever faced? Tougher than the times Lincoln faced? Washington? FDR? Truman? Reagan? And the toughest leader any country could ask for? Yeah?”

Enough already. Nagging  young people doesn’t work. “President Obama is trying to do what he can to close any enthusiasm gap with the GOP. For the second time in a week, Obama told thousands of young people attending a rally to come out and vote in this fall’s mid-term elections to preserve Democratic majorities in Congress that could help the president move forward on his agenda.”

Enough already. Even Michael Bloomberg has had it with Obama’s anti-business outlook. “Obama never said he would be anything other than what he is now. He is a liberal guy, very pro-union, not particularly interested in business.” And he’s not interested in national security. And he’s not interested in entitlement reform. He’s very interested in partisan politics, however.

Enough already. Sen. Carl Levin is having none of this “flexibility” on the Afghanistan-war troop deadline. “‘The president is now under pressure from inside and outside the military to build flexibility into that July 2011 date,’ Levin said in prepared remarks he’s set to deliver to the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘I want to tell you why I believe sticking to that date is essential to success, and why President Obama should not, and I believe will not, modify the July 2011 date.'” Unfortunately, I suspect the president agrees.

Enough already. San Franciscans and their mayor want to take back their streets and sidewalks from the homeless.

Enough already. Kool-Aid non-drinkers say the White House’s gin-up-the-base election strategy is a loser. “In a new memo, the Third Way says the electorate has shifted over the past two years, becoming more conservative. They say that even candidates who are able to match Mr. Obama’s turnout among base voters will likely lose.”

Enough already. CNN cans Rick Sanchez.

Enough already. Yuval Levin suggests the White House scrap the fawning praise: “Rahm Emanuel, speaking to President Obama at his departure announcement today, said: ‘I want to thank you for being the toughest leader any country could ask for in the toughest times any president has ever faced.’ Really? The toughest times any president has ever faced? Tougher than the times Lincoln faced? Washington? FDR? Truman? Reagan? And the toughest leader any country could ask for? Yeah?”

Enough already. Nagging  young people doesn’t work. “President Obama is trying to do what he can to close any enthusiasm gap with the GOP. For the second time in a week, Obama told thousands of young people attending a rally to come out and vote in this fall’s mid-term elections to preserve Democratic majorities in Congress that could help the president move forward on his agenda.”

Enough already. Even Michael Bloomberg has had it with Obama’s anti-business outlook. “Obama never said he would be anything other than what he is now. He is a liberal guy, very pro-union, not particularly interested in business.” And he’s not interested in national security. And he’s not interested in entitlement reform. He’s very interested in partisan politics, however.

Enough already. Sen. Carl Levin is having none of this “flexibility” on the Afghanistan-war troop deadline. “‘The president is now under pressure from inside and outside the military to build flexibility into that July 2011 date,’ Levin said in prepared remarks he’s set to deliver to the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘I want to tell you why I believe sticking to that date is essential to success, and why President Obama should not, and I believe will not, modify the July 2011 date.'” Unfortunately, I suspect the president agrees.

Enough already. San Franciscans and their mayor want to take back their streets and sidewalks from the homeless.

Enough already. Kool-Aid non-drinkers say the White House’s gin-up-the-base election strategy is a loser. “In a new memo, the Third Way says the electorate has shifted over the past two years, becoming more conservative. They say that even candidates who are able to match Mr. Obama’s turnout among base voters will likely lose.”

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Whining About Whining

As the President and Vice President whine about the whining of their shrinking “base,” as being insufficiently appreciative of the superhuman efforts to confront our problems, they might remember the old saying that “in times like these, we should remember there have always been times like these.” Victor Davis Hanson writes that the problems Obama has faced have not, in fact, been worse than those that other presidents confronted as they entered the presidency:

A recession and 9/11 were not easy in 2001. And 18% interest, 18% inflation, 7% unemployment, and gas lines by 1981 greeted Reagan. Truman took over with a war … a wrecked Asia and Europe, a groundswell of communism, a climate of panic at home, and a soon to be nuclear Soviet Union … capped off soon by a war in Korea.

The President and Vice President might also reflect on the answer of the prior president, in his last press conference on January 12, 2009, when asked as to when Obama would feel the full impact of the presidency. Bush’s answer was “the minute he walks in the Oval Office,” but that:

… the phrase “burdens of the office” is overstated. You know, it’s kind of like, why me? Oh, the burdens, you know. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It’s just — it’s pathetic, isn’t it, self-pity. And I don’t believe that President-Elect Obama will be full of self-pity. He will find — you know, your — the people that don’t like you, the critics, they’re pretty predictable. Sometimes the biggest disappointments will come from your so-called friends. And there will be disappointments, I promise you. He’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, the job is so exciting and so profound …

In Wisconsin yesterday, Obama repeated his constant refrain that he had arrived in Washington to “confront the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” and blamed his current problems on an “opposition party … determined from the start to let us deal with the mess that they had done so much to create.”

And they figured, if we just sit on the sidelines and just say no and just throw bombs and let Obama and the Democrats deal with everything, they figured they might be able to prosper at the polls.

When politicians start whining about their fate and begin referring to themselves in the third person, it is a sign the campaign is not going well. Just ask Bob Dole, as Bob Dole might say.

As the President and Vice President whine about the whining of their shrinking “base,” as being insufficiently appreciative of the superhuman efforts to confront our problems, they might remember the old saying that “in times like these, we should remember there have always been times like these.” Victor Davis Hanson writes that the problems Obama has faced have not, in fact, been worse than those that other presidents confronted as they entered the presidency:

A recession and 9/11 were not easy in 2001. And 18% interest, 18% inflation, 7% unemployment, and gas lines by 1981 greeted Reagan. Truman took over with a war … a wrecked Asia and Europe, a groundswell of communism, a climate of panic at home, and a soon to be nuclear Soviet Union … capped off soon by a war in Korea.

The President and Vice President might also reflect on the answer of the prior president, in his last press conference on January 12, 2009, when asked as to when Obama would feel the full impact of the presidency. Bush’s answer was “the minute he walks in the Oval Office,” but that:

… the phrase “burdens of the office” is overstated. You know, it’s kind of like, why me? Oh, the burdens, you know. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It’s just — it’s pathetic, isn’t it, self-pity. And I don’t believe that President-Elect Obama will be full of self-pity. He will find — you know, your — the people that don’t like you, the critics, they’re pretty predictable. Sometimes the biggest disappointments will come from your so-called friends. And there will be disappointments, I promise you. He’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, the job is so exciting and so profound …

In Wisconsin yesterday, Obama repeated his constant refrain that he had arrived in Washington to “confront the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” and blamed his current problems on an “opposition party … determined from the start to let us deal with the mess that they had done so much to create.”

And they figured, if we just sit on the sidelines and just say no and just throw bombs and let Obama and the Democrats deal with everything, they figured they might be able to prosper at the polls.

When politicians start whining about their fate and begin referring to themselves in the third person, it is a sign the campaign is not going well. Just ask Bob Dole, as Bob Dole might say.

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Lieberman: It’s About American Interests

Sen. Joe Lieberman gave a speech today at the Council on Foreign Relations. It was everything the Obama Middle East policy is not — realistic, attuned to America’s national interests, and bold.

He smartly began describing the nervousness that has greeted the administration’s “smart diplomacy”: “I have been struck as I have traveled in the region in recent months by what seems to me to be a heightened uneasiness about the future of American power there. Behind closed doors, one hears an unmistakable uncertainty about our resolve and staying power.” He enumerates several reasons, but it is clear what the primary problem is:

I believe, the major geopolitical driver for the heightened anxiety about America’s staying power in the Middle East is the Islamic Republic of Iran — more specifically, its determined push to become the dominant power in the region and tilt the balance of governance there towards Islamist extremism — and whether the United States has the will to stop that push. The Iranian regime’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability cannot be separated from its long-term campaign of unconventional warfare, stretching back decades, to destabilize the region and remake it in its own Islamist extremist image.

Or, to put it bluntly, the problem is the administration’s seeming unwillingness or inability to thwart the rise of a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. It’s not about Israel; rather, it is about the U.S.: Read More

Sen. Joe Lieberman gave a speech today at the Council on Foreign Relations. It was everything the Obama Middle East policy is not — realistic, attuned to America’s national interests, and bold.

He smartly began describing the nervousness that has greeted the administration’s “smart diplomacy”: “I have been struck as I have traveled in the region in recent months by what seems to me to be a heightened uneasiness about the future of American power there. Behind closed doors, one hears an unmistakable uncertainty about our resolve and staying power.” He enumerates several reasons, but it is clear what the primary problem is:

I believe, the major geopolitical driver for the heightened anxiety about America’s staying power in the Middle East is the Islamic Republic of Iran — more specifically, its determined push to become the dominant power in the region and tilt the balance of governance there towards Islamist extremism — and whether the United States has the will to stop that push. The Iranian regime’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability cannot be separated from its long-term campaign of unconventional warfare, stretching back decades, to destabilize the region and remake it in its own Islamist extremist image.

Or, to put it bluntly, the problem is the administration’s seeming unwillingness or inability to thwart the rise of a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. It’s not about Israel; rather, it is about the U.S.:

If Iran succeeds in acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, it would severely destabilize the Middle East, a region whose stability has been an important long-term American national and economic security goal.

It would also damage America’s ability to sustain the commitments we have made in the Middle East: our commitment, dating back to the Carter and Reagan administrations, to prevent the domination of the Persian Gulf by a revisionist or extremist power; our commitment to secure lasting peace and security between Israel and its neighbors; and our commitment to deter, disrupt, and defeat state-sponsored Islamist extremist groups, who would suddenly be able to wage attacks from under the protection of Iran’s nuclear umbrella. …

That is why the single most important test of American power in the Middle East today is whether we succeed or fail in stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. How we do on that test will significantly affect our standing in the rest of the world.

It is particularly telling that as Lieberman identifies the principle concern in the region (arguably anywhere), the Obami are flitting about trying to get Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table, where nothing much has or will be accomplished.

Lieberman praises the “cascade” of sanctions, but cautions: “Iran’s nuclear efforts are continuing forward. Despite some apparent technical difficulties, Iran’s centrifuges keep spinning, and its stockpile of fissile material continues to grow.” In other words, the sanctions have failed, and we now need to consider other measures.

Sensing that the Obami are excited by the prospect of new talks with the mullahs, he warns: “The test is not whether the Iranian regime is talking, but what the regime is doing.” So what do we do?

Our sanctions effort should therefore increasingly aim not just to add pressure on the existing regime, but to target the fissures that already exist both within the Iranian regime itself and between the regime and Iranian society.

This should include much more robust engagement and support for opposition forces inside Iran, both by the United States and like-minded democratic nations around the world. The Obama administration missed an important opportunity in the wake of last year’s election in Iran. But it is certainly not too late to give strong support to the people in Iran who are courageously standing up against their repressive government.

In addition to regime change, we — not tiny Israel —  must make clear we will use force if need be:

It is time for us to take steps that make clear that if diplomatic and economic strategies continue to fail to change Iran’s nuclear policies, a military strike is not just a remote possibility in the abstract, but a real and credible alternative policy that we and our allies are ready to exercise.

It is time to retire our ambiguous mantra about all options remaining on the table. It is time for our message to our friends and enemies in the region to become clearer: namely, that we will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability — by peaceful means if we possibly can, but with military force if we absolutely must. A military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities entails risks and costs, but I am convinced that the risks and costs of allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapons capability are much greater.

There should be no effort to “outsource” this task, Lieberman explains. “We can and should coordinate with our many allies who share our interest in stopping a nuclear Iran, but we cannot delegate our global responsibilities to them.”

This is a powerful, mature speech that, I would suggest, should and can be the basis of a bipartisan policy. The new Congress as well as private citizens and groups concerned about the rise of a nuclear-armed Iran should make every effort to persuade the administration of the wisdom of Lieberman’s approach. There is no substitute for a determined commander in chief, but the president should know that resigning ourselves to a nuclear-armed Iran or another round of fruitless talks are non-options and will garner no public or congressional support. Moreover, Obama should know that the blame for a nuclear-armed Iran will fall on him.

A final note: Lieberman never uttered the word “Israel.” Israel certainly has a greater stake than any nation in disarming Tehran, but what the country and Obama must understand is that America’s national security is the primary issue.

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Mourning in America

I confess to a weakness for puns. As Rodgers and Hart said when they based The Boys from Syracuse on The Comedy of Errors, “If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for us.”

Maybe that’s why I like the ad from Citizens for the Republic called “Mourning in America” so much. It is, of course, a play on the classic Reagan campaign ad from 1984 called “Morning in America.” (You can see them both here. Play the Reagan one first.) But the ad works even if you don’t get the pun and, after all, you’d have to be in your forties to remember the 1984 campaign. With sadness, not anger, it makes it clear how colossal has been the failure of the Obama administration to bring about prosperity while implicitly noting that Reagan’s policies to do so had been a howling success.

TV ads are the poetry of our age and the great ones, like great poems, can add to the lexicon of everyday discourse (“Where’s the beef?”). Political ads run from the vicious to the sublime. It seems that the former is the province of the left this year. I hope conservatives will stick with the sublime.

I confess to a weakness for puns. As Rodgers and Hart said when they based The Boys from Syracuse on The Comedy of Errors, “If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for us.”

Maybe that’s why I like the ad from Citizens for the Republic called “Mourning in America” so much. It is, of course, a play on the classic Reagan campaign ad from 1984 called “Morning in America.” (You can see them both here. Play the Reagan one first.) But the ad works even if you don’t get the pun and, after all, you’d have to be in your forties to remember the 1984 campaign. With sadness, not anger, it makes it clear how colossal has been the failure of the Obama administration to bring about prosperity while implicitly noting that Reagan’s policies to do so had been a howling success.

TV ads are the poetry of our age and the great ones, like great poems, can add to the lexicon of everyday discourse (“Where’s the beef?”). Political ads run from the vicious to the sublime. It seems that the former is the province of the left this year. I hope conservatives will stick with the sublime.

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Britain’s Dwindling Defense Budget

American officials are right to be concerned about the further evisceration of British defense capabilities that is apparently planned by the Tory-Liberal Democratic coalition government. Britain has already seen the size of its armed forces shrivel since the end of the Cold War, but Prime Minister David Cameron and Defense Minister Liam Fox apparently have more cuts in the works, expected to be in the range of 10 to 20 percent. Defense spending as a percentage of GDP, already far below the U.S. level, is likely to fall under 2 percent, putting Britain in the same league as Italy, Spain, and other countries with little in the way of significant and deployable military resources.

The Telegraph reports that “the cuts…. will lead to a substantial reduction in the size of the Army, which will also have to give up many of its tanks and armoured vehicles.” Also on the chopping block are the frigates that are needed to fight pirates and other valuable weapons systems that allow Britain to punch far above its weight in the international system. For all of Cameron’s and Fox’s empty and unconvincing rhetoric about maintaining British capabilities while slashing the defense budget, the reality is that their planned budget will continue the sad undoing of Britain’s global leadership role, which traces back to the 16th century.

The Financial Times, hardly a bastion of right-wingery, denounces the cuts in an editorial that warns “there is little sign of coherent geopolitical thinking behind Britain’s planned defence cuts. Instead, this has turned into a money-driven rather than a threat-driven process.” The FT notes that it is particularly striking that at the same time that Cameron is chopping defense, he “is sticking stubbornly to his promise simultaneously to raise Britain’s spending on overseas aid to 0.7 per cent of GDP. This is a bizarre choice of priorities, especially for a Conservative prime minister and particularly when the country is still at war in Afghanistan.”

I would emphasize how bizarre this is for a Tory prime minister. If the Conservatives are not the strong-on-defense party, what identity do they have left? There is a lesson here for those Republicans who might be tempted to adopt a green-eyeshade approach to our own defense policy. As Danielle Pletka and Tom Donnelly eloquently warn in today’s Washington Post:

Conservatives, and the party that putatively represents them, need to decide whether they wish to continue to warrant that trust. They can continue to be the party of Eisenhower and Reagan, supporting and resourcing a robust American role in the world. Or they can reinvent themselves as a combination of Ebenezer Scrooge and George McGovern, withdrawing from the world to a countinghouse America.

The need to maintain American strength — which won’t be cheap — is all the more imperative when one of our few reliable allies is slashing its own defense budget. That means, like it or not, that we will have to do more than ever to maintain global security, or else the entire world will pay a staggering price as terrorists, pirates, weapons proliferators, and other international menaces run free.

American officials are right to be concerned about the further evisceration of British defense capabilities that is apparently planned by the Tory-Liberal Democratic coalition government. Britain has already seen the size of its armed forces shrivel since the end of the Cold War, but Prime Minister David Cameron and Defense Minister Liam Fox apparently have more cuts in the works, expected to be in the range of 10 to 20 percent. Defense spending as a percentage of GDP, already far below the U.S. level, is likely to fall under 2 percent, putting Britain in the same league as Italy, Spain, and other countries with little in the way of significant and deployable military resources.

The Telegraph reports that “the cuts…. will lead to a substantial reduction in the size of the Army, which will also have to give up many of its tanks and armoured vehicles.” Also on the chopping block are the frigates that are needed to fight pirates and other valuable weapons systems that allow Britain to punch far above its weight in the international system. For all of Cameron’s and Fox’s empty and unconvincing rhetoric about maintaining British capabilities while slashing the defense budget, the reality is that their planned budget will continue the sad undoing of Britain’s global leadership role, which traces back to the 16th century.

The Financial Times, hardly a bastion of right-wingery, denounces the cuts in an editorial that warns “there is little sign of coherent geopolitical thinking behind Britain’s planned defence cuts. Instead, this has turned into a money-driven rather than a threat-driven process.” The FT notes that it is particularly striking that at the same time that Cameron is chopping defense, he “is sticking stubbornly to his promise simultaneously to raise Britain’s spending on overseas aid to 0.7 per cent of GDP. This is a bizarre choice of priorities, especially for a Conservative prime minister and particularly when the country is still at war in Afghanistan.”

I would emphasize how bizarre this is for a Tory prime minister. If the Conservatives are not the strong-on-defense party, what identity do they have left? There is a lesson here for those Republicans who might be tempted to adopt a green-eyeshade approach to our own defense policy. As Danielle Pletka and Tom Donnelly eloquently warn in today’s Washington Post:

Conservatives, and the party that putatively represents them, need to decide whether they wish to continue to warrant that trust. They can continue to be the party of Eisenhower and Reagan, supporting and resourcing a robust American role in the world. Or they can reinvent themselves as a combination of Ebenezer Scrooge and George McGovern, withdrawing from the world to a countinghouse America.

The need to maintain American strength — which won’t be cheap — is all the more imperative when one of our few reliable allies is slashing its own defense budget. That means, like it or not, that we will have to do more than ever to maintain global security, or else the entire world will pay a staggering price as terrorists, pirates, weapons proliferators, and other international menaces run free.

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David Stockman on the American Economy

David Stockman, who was President Reagan’s first OMB director, gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal’s Alan Murray. I certainly don’t agree with everything Stockman says. He has almost nothing to say about how to create growth in the economy. And Stockman’s betrayal of President Reagan (when he published The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed) was troubling then and remains troubling today. (In the interview, Stockman addresses the SEC criminal charges that were made against him, charges that were later dropped.)

Still, Stockman is not a stupid man, and his analysis of America’s precarious fiscal situation, while alarming, is worth listening to.

David Stockman, who was President Reagan’s first OMB director, gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal’s Alan Murray. I certainly don’t agree with everything Stockman says. He has almost nothing to say about how to create growth in the economy. And Stockman’s betrayal of President Reagan (when he published The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed) was troubling then and remains troubling today. (In the interview, Stockman addresses the SEC criminal charges that were made against him, charges that were later dropped.)

Still, Stockman is not a stupid man, and his analysis of America’s precarious fiscal situation, while alarming, is worth listening to.

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Democrats Raise White Flag in Class Warfare Gambit?

The Democrats have bollixed up what was supposed to be a “populist” (i.e., class warfare) midterm-election ploy –the extension of the Bush tax cuts for all but the “rich” (small businesses, investors, etc.). It turns out that the recession made Americans neither more envious of the rich nor more enamored of liberal statism but instead more sensitive to the need to bolster employers, foster growth, and abstain from doing things that make the economy even weaker (like  passing a mammoth tax and regulatory bill improperly labeled “health-care reform”).

As Kim Strassel explains:

The political problem Democrats have is self-created. Rather than embrace the winner of full tax relief, President Obama has chosen to draw an ideological line and to motivate his liberal base with his position against tax cuts “for the rich.” Democrats are now fearful that if they cave it will demoralize that base, and further handicap them in midterm races.

But if Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi don’t thrown in the towel on the Obama gambit, they may not be able to muster a majority for the president anyway, thereby embarrassing themselves (and him) and ensuring the defeat of any members silly enough to stick with the sinking U.S.S. Pelosi.

They might, as Strassel suggests, punt — do nothing before fleeing town. But that would look rather lame:

This option is, however, not so popular among many rank-and-file Democrats. Perhaps the only thing worse than being accused of voting for $700 billion in tax increases is being accused of doing nothing and allowing $4 trillion in tax increases, most of them on average Americans. Democrats will blame Republicans, but that will be hard to do if Democrats don’t even go through the vote motions.

The Republicans are exceptionally fortunate to have such inept opponents. If they can avoid the impulse to give away something for nothing (and in fairness to John Boehner, he’s pretty much abandoned his Sunday talk show mondo gaffe), they might not only win some political points but also drive a stake through the left, which for decades has inveighed against tax breaks for the “rich.” Finally, it seems we may all be Reagan supply siders. Conservative have every right to gloat.

The Democrats have bollixed up what was supposed to be a “populist” (i.e., class warfare) midterm-election ploy –the extension of the Bush tax cuts for all but the “rich” (small businesses, investors, etc.). It turns out that the recession made Americans neither more envious of the rich nor more enamored of liberal statism but instead more sensitive to the need to bolster employers, foster growth, and abstain from doing things that make the economy even weaker (like  passing a mammoth tax and regulatory bill improperly labeled “health-care reform”).

As Kim Strassel explains:

The political problem Democrats have is self-created. Rather than embrace the winner of full tax relief, President Obama has chosen to draw an ideological line and to motivate his liberal base with his position against tax cuts “for the rich.” Democrats are now fearful that if they cave it will demoralize that base, and further handicap them in midterm races.

But if Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi don’t thrown in the towel on the Obama gambit, they may not be able to muster a majority for the president anyway, thereby embarrassing themselves (and him) and ensuring the defeat of any members silly enough to stick with the sinking U.S.S. Pelosi.

They might, as Strassel suggests, punt — do nothing before fleeing town. But that would look rather lame:

This option is, however, not so popular among many rank-and-file Democrats. Perhaps the only thing worse than being accused of voting for $700 billion in tax increases is being accused of doing nothing and allowing $4 trillion in tax increases, most of them on average Americans. Democrats will blame Republicans, but that will be hard to do if Democrats don’t even go through the vote motions.

The Republicans are exceptionally fortunate to have such inept opponents. If they can avoid the impulse to give away something for nothing (and in fairness to John Boehner, he’s pretty much abandoned his Sunday talk show mondo gaffe), they might not only win some political points but also drive a stake through the left, which for decades has inveighed against tax breaks for the “rich.” Finally, it seems we may all be Reagan supply siders. Conservative have every right to gloat.

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New START, Old Patterns

Heritage’s Foundry blog urges the Senate to “avoid rubberstamping” the New START treaty, on which the Foreign Relations Committee begins official deliberations today. Author Conn Carroll is right that the treaty’s disadvantages for U.S. missile-defense development are its most problematic features. If we look deeper into the character of the relative situation the Russians hope to solidify, moreover, we must feel ourselves to be back in about 1970.

New START is a bad deal that helps the Russians and hobbles the U.S. The bad deal begins with the constraints on our missile-defense development. In a relative missile stasis — if we and the Russians merely maintained the missiles we have — this would be bad enough. But the Russians aren’t going to merely maintain the missiles they have. Unlike us, they have been developing new classes of ballistic missiles and fielding them in their forces. They will not have more missiles as their modernization program proceeds, but they will have better ones. And a key thing that’s better about the showpiece missile in Russia’s new inventory, the Topol-M ICBM (NATO designation SS-27), is that it’s designed to evade existing U.S. missile defenses.

Russian claims that the Topol-M will penetrate our national missile defense (NMD) 87 percent of the time are not unrealistic. We have focused NMD development for nearly 20 years on the less-challenging third-party threat from nations like North Korea or Iran. With that choice, we made it an easier task for the Russians to design an ICBM that can outperform our current defenses. They are confident they have succeeded in doing so.

But as this 2007 analysis indicates, the Russians have been able to introduce the Topol-M only slowly, due to cash constraints. They have faced a real prospect of seeing their older ICBMs reach the end of their service life without replacement. The greatest advantage they can wangle in treaty negotiations, therefore, is a reduction in U.S. launchers that is not matched by a requirement for Russian reductions, combined with constraints on the U.S. missile-defense program. It gives them financial breathing room to redress their perceived shortfall through U.S. cuts rather than Russian expenditures — as long as they’re confident that we have effectively committed to refrain from defending ourselves against the newer missiles.

New START gives them precisely those advantages. Meanwhile, in the three years since the 2007 report, Russia has deployed its new mobile Topol-M launchers and introduced the upgraded, multi-warhead Topol-M (RS-24) to the operating forces. Punctuating the sense of a reversion to Cold War-era patterns, the Topol-M was paraded through Moscow with great fanfare in this year’s World War II Victory Day parade. Out in the Russian submarine fleet, the Sineva ballistic missile (NATO: upgraded SS-N-23) entered service in 2007, equipped with 10 MIRVed warheads per missile instead of the previous four.

Russia is not a partner in eliminating nuclear weapons. Russia’s basic purpose has not changed in 50 years: to hold the West at risk with nuclear weapons and to use arms negotiations to gain effective U.S. concurrence with that objective. New START — a Russian triumph in principle over Reagan’s SDI concept — is laughably misnamed. It’s nothing new. It merely resurrects the old, pre-START dynamic in which Moscow relied on Americans to hobble themselves.

Heritage’s Foundry blog urges the Senate to “avoid rubberstamping” the New START treaty, on which the Foreign Relations Committee begins official deliberations today. Author Conn Carroll is right that the treaty’s disadvantages for U.S. missile-defense development are its most problematic features. If we look deeper into the character of the relative situation the Russians hope to solidify, moreover, we must feel ourselves to be back in about 1970.

New START is a bad deal that helps the Russians and hobbles the U.S. The bad deal begins with the constraints on our missile-defense development. In a relative missile stasis — if we and the Russians merely maintained the missiles we have — this would be bad enough. But the Russians aren’t going to merely maintain the missiles they have. Unlike us, they have been developing new classes of ballistic missiles and fielding them in their forces. They will not have more missiles as their modernization program proceeds, but they will have better ones. And a key thing that’s better about the showpiece missile in Russia’s new inventory, the Topol-M ICBM (NATO designation SS-27), is that it’s designed to evade existing U.S. missile defenses.

Russian claims that the Topol-M will penetrate our national missile defense (NMD) 87 percent of the time are not unrealistic. We have focused NMD development for nearly 20 years on the less-challenging third-party threat from nations like North Korea or Iran. With that choice, we made it an easier task for the Russians to design an ICBM that can outperform our current defenses. They are confident they have succeeded in doing so.

But as this 2007 analysis indicates, the Russians have been able to introduce the Topol-M only slowly, due to cash constraints. They have faced a real prospect of seeing their older ICBMs reach the end of their service life without replacement. The greatest advantage they can wangle in treaty negotiations, therefore, is a reduction in U.S. launchers that is not matched by a requirement for Russian reductions, combined with constraints on the U.S. missile-defense program. It gives them financial breathing room to redress their perceived shortfall through U.S. cuts rather than Russian expenditures — as long as they’re confident that we have effectively committed to refrain from defending ourselves against the newer missiles.

New START gives them precisely those advantages. Meanwhile, in the three years since the 2007 report, Russia has deployed its new mobile Topol-M launchers and introduced the upgraded, multi-warhead Topol-M (RS-24) to the operating forces. Punctuating the sense of a reversion to Cold War-era patterns, the Topol-M was paraded through Moscow with great fanfare in this year’s World War II Victory Day parade. Out in the Russian submarine fleet, the Sineva ballistic missile (NATO: upgraded SS-N-23) entered service in 2007, equipped with 10 MIRVed warheads per missile instead of the previous four.

Russia is not a partner in eliminating nuclear weapons. Russia’s basic purpose has not changed in 50 years: to hold the West at risk with nuclear weapons and to use arms negotiations to gain effective U.S. concurrence with that objective. New START — a Russian triumph in principle over Reagan’s SDI concept — is laughably misnamed. It’s nothing new. It merely resurrects the old, pre-START dynamic in which Moscow relied on Americans to hobble themselves.

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Defining Recovery Down

What are we to make of the most recent jobs report, which shows that (a) unemployment increased from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent and (b) nonfarm payrolls fell by 54,000 last month? If you’re White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, you tweet, “Don’t be fooled — the economy added 67,000 private sector jobs, 8th straight month of added private sector jobs, job loss came in Census work.” Picking up on this, David Mark, Politico’s senior editor, writes this:

At the White House Friday morning President Obama praised the private sector addition of 67,000 jobs in August, the eighth straight month of job growth. “That’s positive news, and it reflects the steps we’ve already taken to break the back of this recession. But it’s not good enough,” the president said. And Christina Romer, outgoing chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, said the jobs figures were “better than expected.” Do they have a point about a slowly-but-surely improving jobs situation?

The answer is “no.” To understand why, it might be helpful to put things in a wider perspective. Read More

What are we to make of the most recent jobs report, which shows that (a) unemployment increased from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent and (b) nonfarm payrolls fell by 54,000 last month? If you’re White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, you tweet, “Don’t be fooled — the economy added 67,000 private sector jobs, 8th straight month of added private sector jobs, job loss came in Census work.” Picking up on this, David Mark, Politico’s senior editor, writes this:

At the White House Friday morning President Obama praised the private sector addition of 67,000 jobs in August, the eighth straight month of job growth. “That’s positive news, and it reflects the steps we’ve already taken to break the back of this recession. But it’s not good enough,” the president said. And Christina Romer, outgoing chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, said the jobs figures were “better than expected.” Do they have a point about a slowly-but-surely improving jobs situation?

The answer is “no.” To understand why, it might be helpful to put things in a wider perspective.

For one thing, the so-called underemployment rate, which includes workers who are working part-time but who want full-time work, increased from 16.5 percent to 16.7 percent. During our supposed “Recovery Summer,” we have lost 283,000 jobs (54,000 in June, 171,000 in July, and 54,000 in August). And for August, the employment-population ratio — the percentage of Americans with jobs — was 58.5 percent. We haven’t seen figures this low in nearly three decades. As Henry Olson of the American Enterprise Institute points out, “Since the start of this summer, nearly 400,000 Americans have entered the labor force, but only 130,000 have found jobs. … America’s adult population has risen by 2 million people since [August 2009], but the number of adults with jobs has dropped by 180,000. The unemployment rate declined slightly despite these numbers, from 9.7 percent to 9.6 percent, because over 2.3 million people have left the labor force entirely, so discouraged they are no longer even looking for work. ”

Keep in mind that all this is occurring during a period when job growth should be considerably higher, at least based on past post-recession recoveries. Former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Michael Boskin points out that “compared to the 6.2% first-year Ford recovery and 7.7% Reagan recovery, the Obama recovery at 3% is less than half speed.” Bear in mind, too, that today’s jobs report comes a week after the GDP for the second quarter was revised downward, from 2.4 percent to 1.6 percent. Economists generally agree that the economy needs to grow 2.5 percent to keep unemployment from going up, and a good deal better than that to begin to bring it substantially down.

What all this means, I think, is that we’re not in a recovery at all, at least not in any meaningful sense. And those who insist otherwise are (to amend a phrase from Daniel Patrick Moynihan) Defining Recovery Down.

The most recent GDP figures also have harmful fiscal ramifications. For example, estimates for the deficit this year (more than $1.3 trillion) are based on both the Congressional Budget Office’s and the Obama administration’s assumption of roughly 3 percent growth. If growth is well below that, government revenues are going to be lower than estimated. And so this year’s deficit and net increase in the debt are going to be worse than even the (already quite troubling) projections. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has very few, if any, arrows left in its quiver. It has done just about all that can be done.

The narrative the Obama administration is trying to sell is that we were on the edge of another Great Depression but avoided it and are now, in the president’s oft-repeated phrase, “moving in the right direction.” If we persist in following Obama’s policies on spending, taxes, and regulations, Obama assures us, we will build on this recovery and turn a sluggish one into a strong one. At the end of Obamaism lies the land of milk and honey.

This is wishful thinking. The economy right now is sick and, in some important respects, getting sicker. And the president is pursuing policies that are not only not helping; they are downright counterproductive.

Robert Gibbs can tweet away, but he cannot tweet away reality.

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How Bad Is Obamanomics?

Michael Boskin, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under the first President Bush, confirms just how bleak the economic picture is:

The Obama administration’s “summer of recovery” has morphed into a summer of economic discontent amid anxiety over the weakening economy. The greater than 4% growth and less than 8% unemployment envisioned by the president’s economic team are nowhere to be seen. Almost everything that is supposed to be up—the economic growth rate, the stock market, bond yields—is down. And almost everything that is supposed to be down—unemployment-insurance claims, new mortgage delinquencies—is up. …

How bad is it? In the data for the last few weeks and months, real personal disposable income was flat; core capital goods orders, a precursor of business capital spending, declined 8%; new home sales fell 12.4%, existing sales 27%, despite record low mortgage rates; single-family housing starts declined 4.2%; building permits, foreshadowing future construction, fell 1.2%; initial jobless claims spiked to over 500,000, leading forecasters to expect at best meager short-term private-sector job growth; the Kansas City, Philadelphia and New York Fed manufacturing indexes fell; and the trade deficit increased, as exports fell and imports rose.

Obama has done worse, much worse, than prior presidents when it comes to economic recovery. (“Compared to the 6.2% first-year Ford recovery and 7.7% Reagan recovery, the Obama recovery at 3% is less than half speed. The unemployment rate would now be 8% or lower at those higher growth rates.”)

As Boskin explains, Obama needs to reverse virtually every policy he has undertaken: slash spending, not increase it; cut taxes, not raise them; and address entitlements, not pass the buck to a do-nothing commission. It would certainly help if he were to stop imposing, and in fact cut back on, the draconian regulations, fees, and mandates he has saddled employers with.

What are the chances of this happening in the next two years? Very small. And accordingly, so are his re-election prospects.

Michael Boskin, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under the first President Bush, confirms just how bleak the economic picture is:

The Obama administration’s “summer of recovery” has morphed into a summer of economic discontent amid anxiety over the weakening economy. The greater than 4% growth and less than 8% unemployment envisioned by the president’s economic team are nowhere to be seen. Almost everything that is supposed to be up—the economic growth rate, the stock market, bond yields—is down. And almost everything that is supposed to be down—unemployment-insurance claims, new mortgage delinquencies—is up. …

How bad is it? In the data for the last few weeks and months, real personal disposable income was flat; core capital goods orders, a precursor of business capital spending, declined 8%; new home sales fell 12.4%, existing sales 27%, despite record low mortgage rates; single-family housing starts declined 4.2%; building permits, foreshadowing future construction, fell 1.2%; initial jobless claims spiked to over 500,000, leading forecasters to expect at best meager short-term private-sector job growth; the Kansas City, Philadelphia and New York Fed manufacturing indexes fell; and the trade deficit increased, as exports fell and imports rose.

Obama has done worse, much worse, than prior presidents when it comes to economic recovery. (“Compared to the 6.2% first-year Ford recovery and 7.7% Reagan recovery, the Obama recovery at 3% is less than half speed. The unemployment rate would now be 8% or lower at those higher growth rates.”)

As Boskin explains, Obama needs to reverse virtually every policy he has undertaken: slash spending, not increase it; cut taxes, not raise them; and address entitlements, not pass the buck to a do-nothing commission. It would certainly help if he were to stop imposing, and in fact cut back on, the draconian regulations, fees, and mandates he has saddled employers with.

What are the chances of this happening in the next two years? Very small. And accordingly, so are his re-election prospects.

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Shilling for Obama’s Religiosity

I’m sure you’ve said it a thousand times: “What did we do before the Internet?” Well, I, for one, wouldn’t have followed this trail. On an issue unrelated (more on that in a separate post), at First Read I came across a stunning assertion, even for the cable-news chief cheerleader for Obama. In his frenzy to defend Obama, Chuck Todd asserts: “President Obama is more religious than Reagan or H.W. Bush ever was; in fact, he gets Bible verses sent to his blackberry EVERY DAY.” Good golly — how does Todd know the level of religiosity of these three men? (And I imagine he knows what Obama gets on his blackberry because the White House tells him so, and that’s good enough for him.)

But that did get me thinking about George H.W. Bush. And, because I live in the Internet age, I found this speech, which Bush 41 delivered to the National Association of Evangelicals. It is a beautiful statement on religion and faith in public life that is worth reading in full. A sample:

As I said many times before, prayer always has been important in our lives. And without it, I really am convinced, more and more convinced, that no man or no woman who has the privilege of serving in the Presidency could carry out their duties without prayer. I think of Lincoln’s famous remark, “I’ve been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” The intercessionary prayers that so many Americans make on behalf of the President of the United States, in this instance on behalf of me and also of my family, they inspire us, and they give us strength. And I just wanted you to know that, and Barbara and I are very, very grateful to you. …

Like you, President Reagan and I understood that the cold war wasn’t simply some mundane competition between rival world powers. It was a struggle for the mind of man. On one side was a system dedicated to denying the life of the spirit and celebrating the omnipotence of the state. On the other was a system founded on a profound truth, that our Creator has endowed his children with inalienable rights that no government can deny.

And now, 8 years later, we can say confidently, Americans won the cold war. We won it by standing for what’s right. Tonight our children and grandchildren — and I take great joy in this — tonight our children and our grandchildren will go to their beds untroubled by the fears of nuclear holocaust that haunted two generations of Americans. In our prayers we asked for God’s help. I know our family did, and I expect all of you did. We asked for God’s help. And now in this shining outcome, in this magnificent triumph of good over evil, we should thank God. We should give thanks.

Yes, wow. And needless to say, there are oodles of equally and even more eloquent discourses by Reagan on faith, prayer, evil, and God.

Now, I’m not about to rank presidents by devoutness, but Todd’s got some nerve boasting about Obama’s religious faith, which is, as with all presidents, unknowable except to the Creator. It’s bad enough when Todd shills for the White House on subjects that are a matter of public record, but he really should leave religion out of it.

I’m sure you’ve said it a thousand times: “What did we do before the Internet?” Well, I, for one, wouldn’t have followed this trail. On an issue unrelated (more on that in a separate post), at First Read I came across a stunning assertion, even for the cable-news chief cheerleader for Obama. In his frenzy to defend Obama, Chuck Todd asserts: “President Obama is more religious than Reagan or H.W. Bush ever was; in fact, he gets Bible verses sent to his blackberry EVERY DAY.” Good golly — how does Todd know the level of religiosity of these three men? (And I imagine he knows what Obama gets on his blackberry because the White House tells him so, and that’s good enough for him.)

But that did get me thinking about George H.W. Bush. And, because I live in the Internet age, I found this speech, which Bush 41 delivered to the National Association of Evangelicals. It is a beautiful statement on religion and faith in public life that is worth reading in full. A sample:

As I said many times before, prayer always has been important in our lives. And without it, I really am convinced, more and more convinced, that no man or no woman who has the privilege of serving in the Presidency could carry out their duties without prayer. I think of Lincoln’s famous remark, “I’ve been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” The intercessionary prayers that so many Americans make on behalf of the President of the United States, in this instance on behalf of me and also of my family, they inspire us, and they give us strength. And I just wanted you to know that, and Barbara and I are very, very grateful to you. …

Like you, President Reagan and I understood that the cold war wasn’t simply some mundane competition between rival world powers. It was a struggle for the mind of man. On one side was a system dedicated to denying the life of the spirit and celebrating the omnipotence of the state. On the other was a system founded on a profound truth, that our Creator has endowed his children with inalienable rights that no government can deny.

And now, 8 years later, we can say confidently, Americans won the cold war. We won it by standing for what’s right. Tonight our children and grandchildren — and I take great joy in this — tonight our children and our grandchildren will go to their beds untroubled by the fears of nuclear holocaust that haunted two generations of Americans. In our prayers we asked for God’s help. I know our family did, and I expect all of you did. We asked for God’s help. And now in this shining outcome, in this magnificent triumph of good over evil, we should thank God. We should give thanks.

Yes, wow. And needless to say, there are oodles of equally and even more eloquent discourses by Reagan on faith, prayer, evil, and God.

Now, I’m not about to rank presidents by devoutness, but Todd’s got some nerve boasting about Obama’s religious faith, which is, as with all presidents, unknowable except to the Creator. It’s bad enough when Todd shills for the White House on subjects that are a matter of public record, but he really should leave religion out of it.

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Reasons for Conservatives Not to Fiddle with the Constitution

CONTENTIONS’ Pete Wehner and others have participated in a New York Times forum on immigration reform, specifically focused on the notion that we should amend the 14th Amendment. It should come as no surprise to regular readers that I concur with Pete’s take. There are certainly political considerations, as Pete reminds us: “Hispanics are among the fastest growing demographic groups in America. The party of Lincoln and Reagan can appeal to them with a principled stand on illegal immigration, in combination with policies that increase economic growth, entrepreneurship, and social cohesion.” But I find the following to be the most compelling reasons for conservatives to oppose a constitutional amendment repealing birthright citizenship:

For one thing, the evidence that “anchor babies” are a magnet for illegal immigration doesn’t exist (the main motivators are searching for work and better economic conditions). For another, amending the 14th Amendment — which would require a vote of two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, followed by a ratification of three-fourths of the state legislatures — is a distraction from necessary things that need to be done, including securing the southern border, toughening enforcement policies, and expediting the legal process to cut the average deportation time.

It would also be a dramatic and unnecessary break with precedent. As a general matter, conservatives oppose tinkering with the Constitution, especially for empty causes.

It is because the repeal of birthright citizenship is so radical an idea (the most extreme solution to a problem that can be resolved by less draconian means) and so antithetical to the evidence-based, reasoned arguments that conservatives generally engage in that I find the push for a revision of the Constitution so objectionable. I admit to being somewhat shocked that so many usually sober-minded conservatives are serious about the idea.

Tamar Jacoby explains what a push for a constitutional amendment would and wouldn’t do:

Amending the Constitution is, and should be, an extremely difficult process – we’ve done it only 17 times since the Bill of Rights. The 14th Amendment cuts to the heart of what it means to be American. A reconsideration would touch on some of the most deeply felt issues in our political psyche – slavery, immigration, assimilation, racial and ethnic equality. And the debate would give new meaning to the word “wrenching,” all but tearing the country apart. Yet because of the way the constitutional process is rigged against change, the fight would probably not produce an amendment.

Besides, even if it did, that would hardly fix what’s broken about our immigration system. Revoking birthright citizenship would punish the children of the workers who have entered illegally in past decades. But it would do little to prevent others from coming in the future. They come overwhelmingly to work, not to have babies. And it would only make it harder – immeasurably harder – to assimilate those already here.

Perhaps this is an unseemly election-year stunt that will vanish once the votes are counted in November. We can only hope so, and also hope for a return to a perfectly rational solution: a tall wall (border enforcement) and a wide gate (a very generous legal-immigration policy), to borrow from Charles Krauthammer.

CONTENTIONS’ Pete Wehner and others have participated in a New York Times forum on immigration reform, specifically focused on the notion that we should amend the 14th Amendment. It should come as no surprise to regular readers that I concur with Pete’s take. There are certainly political considerations, as Pete reminds us: “Hispanics are among the fastest growing demographic groups in America. The party of Lincoln and Reagan can appeal to them with a principled stand on illegal immigration, in combination with policies that increase economic growth, entrepreneurship, and social cohesion.” But I find the following to be the most compelling reasons for conservatives to oppose a constitutional amendment repealing birthright citizenship:

For one thing, the evidence that “anchor babies” are a magnet for illegal immigration doesn’t exist (the main motivators are searching for work and better economic conditions). For another, amending the 14th Amendment — which would require a vote of two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, followed by a ratification of three-fourths of the state legislatures — is a distraction from necessary things that need to be done, including securing the southern border, toughening enforcement policies, and expediting the legal process to cut the average deportation time.

It would also be a dramatic and unnecessary break with precedent. As a general matter, conservatives oppose tinkering with the Constitution, especially for empty causes.

It is because the repeal of birthright citizenship is so radical an idea (the most extreme solution to a problem that can be resolved by less draconian means) and so antithetical to the evidence-based, reasoned arguments that conservatives generally engage in that I find the push for a revision of the Constitution so objectionable. I admit to being somewhat shocked that so many usually sober-minded conservatives are serious about the idea.

Tamar Jacoby explains what a push for a constitutional amendment would and wouldn’t do:

Amending the Constitution is, and should be, an extremely difficult process – we’ve done it only 17 times since the Bill of Rights. The 14th Amendment cuts to the heart of what it means to be American. A reconsideration would touch on some of the most deeply felt issues in our political psyche – slavery, immigration, assimilation, racial and ethnic equality. And the debate would give new meaning to the word “wrenching,” all but tearing the country apart. Yet because of the way the constitutional process is rigged against change, the fight would probably not produce an amendment.

Besides, even if it did, that would hardly fix what’s broken about our immigration system. Revoking birthright citizenship would punish the children of the workers who have entered illegally in past decades. But it would do little to prevent others from coming in the future. They come overwhelmingly to work, not to have babies. And it would only make it harder – immeasurably harder – to assimilate those already here.

Perhaps this is an unseemly election-year stunt that will vanish once the votes are counted in November. We can only hope so, and also hope for a return to a perfectly rational solution: a tall wall (border enforcement) and a wide gate (a very generous legal-immigration policy), to borrow from Charles Krauthammer.

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How Bad in 2010?

Obama is tumbling in the polls, and his party will bear the brunt. That’s what Gallup reports today:

President Obama averaged 47.3% job approval during his sixth quarter in office, spanning April 20-July 19 — his lowest quarterly average to date. Americans’ approval of Obama has declined at least slightly in each quarter of his presidency. … The average presidential job approval rating across all presidents in Gallup’s trends since Franklin Roosevelt is 54%, about seven points above Obama’s sixth quarter average. … Elected presidents with sub-50% approval ratings in their sixth quarters in office — Carter, Reagan, and Clinton — tended to see more significant midterm congressional seat losses than other presidents.

Just how bad could those midterm losses be? Gallup’s chart going back to 1946 is eye-opening. In 1994, Bill Clinton was at 46 percent approval, and Democrats lost 53 House seats. LBJ was at 44 percent, and the Democrats lost 47 seats in 1966 (just two years after the 1964 landslide).

The problem may be even more acute for Democrats this year insofar as Obama’s approval is especially low in the very House districts that are in play. The extent of the losses will depend on a variety of factors in individual races, but the blame will fall on Obama. If history is any guide, the damage will be great as will the Democrats’ anger at the White House.

UPDATE: Gallup is not an outlier: “A year after President Barack Obama’s political honeymoon ended, his job approval rating has dropped to a negative 44 – 48 percent, his worst net score ever, and American voters say by a narrow 39 – 36 percent margin that they would vote for an unnamed Republican rather than President Obama in 2012, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. … American voters also say 48 – 40 percent Obama does not deserve reelection in 2012.”

Obama is tumbling in the polls, and his party will bear the brunt. That’s what Gallup reports today:

President Obama averaged 47.3% job approval during his sixth quarter in office, spanning April 20-July 19 — his lowest quarterly average to date. Americans’ approval of Obama has declined at least slightly in each quarter of his presidency. … The average presidential job approval rating across all presidents in Gallup’s trends since Franklin Roosevelt is 54%, about seven points above Obama’s sixth quarter average. … Elected presidents with sub-50% approval ratings in their sixth quarters in office — Carter, Reagan, and Clinton — tended to see more significant midterm congressional seat losses than other presidents.

Just how bad could those midterm losses be? Gallup’s chart going back to 1946 is eye-opening. In 1994, Bill Clinton was at 46 percent approval, and Democrats lost 53 House seats. LBJ was at 44 percent, and the Democrats lost 47 seats in 1966 (just two years after the 1964 landslide).

The problem may be even more acute for Democrats this year insofar as Obama’s approval is especially low in the very House districts that are in play. The extent of the losses will depend on a variety of factors in individual races, but the blame will fall on Obama. If history is any guide, the damage will be great as will the Democrats’ anger at the White House.

UPDATE: Gallup is not an outlier: “A year after President Barack Obama’s political honeymoon ended, his job approval rating has dropped to a negative 44 – 48 percent, his worst net score ever, and American voters say by a narrow 39 – 36 percent margin that they would vote for an unnamed Republican rather than President Obama in 2012, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. … American voters also say 48 – 40 percent Obama does not deserve reelection in 2012.”

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Barack Obama “Really Excited” by Helen Thomas

In respect of the comment of the Washington columnist for Hearst Newspapers, Helen Thomas, that the Jews of Israel should “go home” to Germany and Poland, there are two points to be made.

The first is that these comments should come as no surprise whatsoever to anyone who has followed Ms. Thomas’s career. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has a page full of the relevant details; back in 2008 even the Washington Post, not known for being a knee-jerk defender of Israel, was writing of Thomas’s “stridency in criticizing Israel and defending its enemies.” President George W. Bush’s press secretary Tony Snow once described her as offering “the Hezbollah view,” and back in 1991, George H.W. Bush, also not known for being a knee-jerk defender of Israel, had to explain publicly to Ms. Thomas why Iraq was not justified in lobbing scud missiles into Israel.

The second is that, even given Ms. Thomas’s well known status as a virulent critic of Israel and as more of a speechifier than questioner at White House press conferences, President Obama has chosen to call on her at two of his six full-scale press conferences. The only ones who have gotten called on more by Mr. Obama work for either the big five television networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News Channel, and CNN) or the Associated Press or Bloomberg wire services.

At his first presidential press conference, Mr. Obama called on her as follows: “All right, Helen. This is my inaugural moment here. I’m really excited.”

Her question: “Mr. President, do you think that Pakistan are maintaining the safe havens in Afghanistan for these so-called terrorists? And also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?”

At Mr. Obama’s most recent press conference, the president called on her again and she said, “Mr. President, when are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are we continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse? And don’t give us this Bushism, ‘if we don’t go there, they’ll all come here.’”

At a third press conference, Ms. Thomas had gotten in a question even without being formally called on. Mr. Obama responded, “Hold on a second, Helen.”

You can maybe excuse calling on her at the first press conference on the grounds that Mr. Obama or his press aides wanted to defer to her seniority, to sound a note of continuity with past presidencies, and to elevate the new president’s stature somehow by showing the public that the same woman who once hounded Reagan is now hounding him. But three questions in six press conferences for Helen Thomas? And the president pronouncing himself “really excited”?

It’s enough to make a person wonder whether either the president or some of his close advisers are sympathetic to Ms. Thomas’s views or, at least, think they deserve a more prominent place in the public eye.

In respect of the comment of the Washington columnist for Hearst Newspapers, Helen Thomas, that the Jews of Israel should “go home” to Germany and Poland, there are two points to be made.

The first is that these comments should come as no surprise whatsoever to anyone who has followed Ms. Thomas’s career. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has a page full of the relevant details; back in 2008 even the Washington Post, not known for being a knee-jerk defender of Israel, was writing of Thomas’s “stridency in criticizing Israel and defending its enemies.” President George W. Bush’s press secretary Tony Snow once described her as offering “the Hezbollah view,” and back in 1991, George H.W. Bush, also not known for being a knee-jerk defender of Israel, had to explain publicly to Ms. Thomas why Iraq was not justified in lobbing scud missiles into Israel.

The second is that, even given Ms. Thomas’s well known status as a virulent critic of Israel and as more of a speechifier than questioner at White House press conferences, President Obama has chosen to call on her at two of his six full-scale press conferences. The only ones who have gotten called on more by Mr. Obama work for either the big five television networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News Channel, and CNN) or the Associated Press or Bloomberg wire services.

At his first presidential press conference, Mr. Obama called on her as follows: “All right, Helen. This is my inaugural moment here. I’m really excited.”

Her question: “Mr. President, do you think that Pakistan are maintaining the safe havens in Afghanistan for these so-called terrorists? And also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?”

At Mr. Obama’s most recent press conference, the president called on her again and she said, “Mr. President, when are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are we continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse? And don’t give us this Bushism, ‘if we don’t go there, they’ll all come here.’”

At a third press conference, Ms. Thomas had gotten in a question even without being formally called on. Mr. Obama responded, “Hold on a second, Helen.”

You can maybe excuse calling on her at the first press conference on the grounds that Mr. Obama or his press aides wanted to defer to her seniority, to sound a note of continuity with past presidencies, and to elevate the new president’s stature somehow by showing the public that the same woman who once hounded Reagan is now hounding him. But three questions in six press conferences for Helen Thomas? And the president pronouncing himself “really excited”?

It’s enough to make a person wonder whether either the president or some of his close advisers are sympathetic to Ms. Thomas’s views or, at least, think they deserve a more prominent place in the public eye.

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No One Better Than Obama

Yes, no one tops Obama when it comes to polarizing the electorate — not Reagan or even George W. Bush. Gallup reports:

His first-year ratings were the most polarized for a president in Gallup history, with an average 65-point gap between Republicans and Democrats. Obama’s approval ratings have become slightly more polarized thus far in his second year in office, with an average 69-point gap between Democrats (83%) and Republicans (14%) since late January.

Obama’s approval ratings among non-Hispanic whites slid below the majority level in July 2009, and have not returned to that mark, generally hovering around 40% since mid-November. Meanwhile, his approval ratings among blacks have been stable throughout his presidency, right around 90%.

Though the latest 58% weekly approval average among 18- to 29-year-olds is among the lowest Obama has registered to date, it remains his highest current rating among the four age groups and is significantly better than his rating among senior citizens. Older Americans last gave Obama an approval rating above 50% last July. The gap in ratings between young adults and senior citizens has averaged 16 points during Obama’s presidency.

There are several noteworthy aspects to this. First, we know historically and from the “enthusiasm” gap in recent polling that the groups that fervently support Obama — Democrats, blacks, and young voters — are those more likely to have lower turnout numbers in November than those that oppose him — Republicans, whites, and older voters. This is very bad news for House and Senate Democratic candidates.

Second, the winning coalition that Obama constructed to win the primary and then the general election has collapsed, and he is back to his core supporters. It remains unclear whether he can put the pieces back together for the 2012 election.

Third, the hyper-partisanship and ideological agenda have taken their toll. Obama wanted to do “historic things” and create a “new foundation,” but these goals lacked broad-based support, leaving Obama and his party politically vulnerable. And most important, the campaign themes that Obama successfully rode to the presidency — that he was post-partisan, post-racial, moderate, and unifying — have been thoroughly repudiated, and with them has gone the image of a larger-than-life figure. He is now a not-too-popular liberal-Democratic pol with limited support for his extreme agenda.

Which come to think of it was pretty much what he’s always been — minus the campaign hype.

Yes, no one tops Obama when it comes to polarizing the electorate — not Reagan or even George W. Bush. Gallup reports:

His first-year ratings were the most polarized for a president in Gallup history, with an average 65-point gap between Republicans and Democrats. Obama’s approval ratings have become slightly more polarized thus far in his second year in office, with an average 69-point gap between Democrats (83%) and Republicans (14%) since late January.

Obama’s approval ratings among non-Hispanic whites slid below the majority level in July 2009, and have not returned to that mark, generally hovering around 40% since mid-November. Meanwhile, his approval ratings among blacks have been stable throughout his presidency, right around 90%.

Though the latest 58% weekly approval average among 18- to 29-year-olds is among the lowest Obama has registered to date, it remains his highest current rating among the four age groups and is significantly better than his rating among senior citizens. Older Americans last gave Obama an approval rating above 50% last July. The gap in ratings between young adults and senior citizens has averaged 16 points during Obama’s presidency.

There are several noteworthy aspects to this. First, we know historically and from the “enthusiasm” gap in recent polling that the groups that fervently support Obama — Democrats, blacks, and young voters — are those more likely to have lower turnout numbers in November than those that oppose him — Republicans, whites, and older voters. This is very bad news for House and Senate Democratic candidates.

Second, the winning coalition that Obama constructed to win the primary and then the general election has collapsed, and he is back to his core supporters. It remains unclear whether he can put the pieces back together for the 2012 election.

Third, the hyper-partisanship and ideological agenda have taken their toll. Obama wanted to do “historic things” and create a “new foundation,” but these goals lacked broad-based support, leaving Obama and his party politically vulnerable. And most important, the campaign themes that Obama successfully rode to the presidency — that he was post-partisan, post-racial, moderate, and unifying — have been thoroughly repudiated, and with them has gone the image of a larger-than-life figure. He is now a not-too-popular liberal-Democratic pol with limited support for his extreme agenda.

Which come to think of it was pretty much what he’s always been — minus the campaign hype.

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The Nasty Presidential Comic

Pete and I recently commented on Obama’s unfortunately snippy tone and nasty approach to his political adversaries. The evidence continues to mount that this president is lacking in basic graciousness and possesses, even for a politician, an overabundance of arrogance. The Washington Post reports on his comedy routine at the Correspondents’ Association Dinner over the weekend:

Breaking with presidential punch line tradition for the second consecutive year, Obama dropped zinger after zinger on his opponents and allies alike at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Obama went all Don Rickles on a broad range of topics and individuals: Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential advisers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, the news media, Jay Leno, and Republicans Michael Steele, Scott Brown, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute stand-up routine.

It did not go unnoticed by those who expect the president to be self-deprecating and ingratiating at these events:

Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama’s] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

In isolation, one night of barbed humor doesn’t amount to much. But when seen in conjunction with his general lack of respect for adversaries and his nonstop attacks on everyone from Sarah Palin to Fox News to his predecessor, one comes away with a picture of a thin-skinned and rather nasty character. It’s not an attractive personality in a president, and he may regret having failed to extend a measure of kindness and magnanimity that we have come to expect from presidents.

Pete and I recently commented on Obama’s unfortunately snippy tone and nasty approach to his political adversaries. The evidence continues to mount that this president is lacking in basic graciousness and possesses, even for a politician, an overabundance of arrogance. The Washington Post reports on his comedy routine at the Correspondents’ Association Dinner over the weekend:

Breaking with presidential punch line tradition for the second consecutive year, Obama dropped zinger after zinger on his opponents and allies alike at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Obama went all Don Rickles on a broad range of topics and individuals: Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential advisers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, the news media, Jay Leno, and Republicans Michael Steele, Scott Brown, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute stand-up routine.

It did not go unnoticed by those who expect the president to be self-deprecating and ingratiating at these events:

Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama’s] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

In isolation, one night of barbed humor doesn’t amount to much. But when seen in conjunction with his general lack of respect for adversaries and his nonstop attacks on everyone from Sarah Palin to Fox News to his predecessor, one comes away with a picture of a thin-skinned and rather nasty character. It’s not an attractive personality in a president, and he may regret having failed to extend a measure of kindness and magnanimity that we have come to expect from presidents.

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Hedgehogs and Foxes in the Middle East

The fox, as Isaiah Berlin wrote, knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Reagan was a hedgehog because his presidency was animated by a basic belief in the superiority of democracy and free markets to Communism. When it comes to the Middle East, President Obama is what could be called a reverse hedgehog: he is animated by one grand vision, and it is completely wrong.

In this vision, the conflicts, failures, and policy difficulties of the Middle East revolve around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All roads in the Middle East, for Obama, lead back to Israel, and probably to the West Bank and the Golan Heights. As Tony Badran notes, another high-level administration official has confirmed this fixation:

This was the first time that an official openly laid out what the administration’s end game is. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who was the official testifying before the [congressional] subcommittee, outlined the administration’s conceptual framework as follows: The US is working to mitigate Iran’s regional influence, which Syria facilitates. But Syria is not Iran, and there’s a basic policy difference between them: Unlike Iran, Syria has an interest in negotiating a peace agreement with Israel. Therefore, the peace process is, in Feltman’s words, the “big game”. The administration believes that a peace deal between Damascus and Jerusalem would cure the Syria problem. …

Witness, for example, this statement by Feltman: “Syria’s relationship with Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist groups is unlikely to change absent a Middle East peace agreement.” The logic of this statement is but one step removed from justifying the arming of Hezbollah. It’s the logic that holds Syrian policy to be reactive and grievance-based.

When it comes to national leaders, hedgehogs are almost always preferable to foxes. But the worst possible scenario is the reverse hedgehog — the leader who is possessed of a grand fantasy.

The fox, as Isaiah Berlin wrote, knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Reagan was a hedgehog because his presidency was animated by a basic belief in the superiority of democracy and free markets to Communism. When it comes to the Middle East, President Obama is what could be called a reverse hedgehog: he is animated by one grand vision, and it is completely wrong.

In this vision, the conflicts, failures, and policy difficulties of the Middle East revolve around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All roads in the Middle East, for Obama, lead back to Israel, and probably to the West Bank and the Golan Heights. As Tony Badran notes, another high-level administration official has confirmed this fixation:

This was the first time that an official openly laid out what the administration’s end game is. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who was the official testifying before the [congressional] subcommittee, outlined the administration’s conceptual framework as follows: The US is working to mitigate Iran’s regional influence, which Syria facilitates. But Syria is not Iran, and there’s a basic policy difference between them: Unlike Iran, Syria has an interest in negotiating a peace agreement with Israel. Therefore, the peace process is, in Feltman’s words, the “big game”. The administration believes that a peace deal between Damascus and Jerusalem would cure the Syria problem. …

Witness, for example, this statement by Feltman: “Syria’s relationship with Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist groups is unlikely to change absent a Middle East peace agreement.” The logic of this statement is but one step removed from justifying the arming of Hezbollah. It’s the logic that holds Syrian policy to be reactive and grievance-based.

When it comes to national leaders, hedgehogs are almost always preferable to foxes. But the worst possible scenario is the reverse hedgehog — the leader who is possessed of a grand fantasy.

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A New Sheriff in the Strait

In the flurry of mildly interesting disclosures from the Iranian military exercise this week, one is likely to be overlooked. Iranian state media report that on Friday, April 23, the Revolutionary Guard’s naval arm stopped two ships for inspection in the Strait of Hormuz. The ships, according to Iran’s Press TV, were French and Italian. The photo accompanying the story depicts a Kaman-class guided-missile patrol boat on which the boxy, Chinese-designed C802 anti-ship-missile launchers can be seen amidships. The stated purpose of the inspections was to verify “environmental compliance.”

The names of the foreign ships were not provided; sketchy details make it difficult to be certain exactly where in the strait they were stopped. But European ships — even private yachts — rarely venture outside the recognized navigation corridors in the Strait of Hormuz. If this news report is valid, it almost certainly means that Iran detained ships that were transiting those corridors.

That, as our vice president might say, is a big effing deal. That’s not because Iran has committed an act of war by intercepting these ships, as some in the blogosphere are speculating. The intercepts were not acts of war. The purpose of verifying environmental compliance is one Iran can theoretically invoke on the basis of its maritime claims lodged with the UN in 1993. Ironically, however, Iran has never signed the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), the instrument by which the terms of its claims are defined. Many nations, of course, have yet to either sign or ratify UNCLOS, America being among them. In the meantime, world shipping has operated in the Strait of Hormuz for decades on the basis of UNCLOS’s definition of “transit passage,” which has customarily immunized ships in routine transit through straits against random intercept by the littoral navies (e.g., Iran’s or Oman’s).

Iran would be breaking with that custom by stopping ships for inspection in the recognized transit corridors. But this venue for a newly assertive Iranian profile is chosen well: stopping foreign ships that are conducting transit passage is uncollegial and inconvenient for commerce, but it is not clearly in breach of international law.

What it is, however, is an incipient challenge to the maritime regime enforced by the U.S., which includes the quiescent transit-passage custom on which global commerce relies. Mariners take care to observe the law as it is written, regardless of their nationality or national position on UNCLOS; but the guarantee of their unhindered passage isn’t international law, it’s the U.S. Navy. Demonstrations of force are required only rarely. Reagan put down revolutionary Iran’s only serious challenge to international maritime order back in 1988, in the final months of the Iran-Iraq War. Since then, Iran has refrained from unilateral action against shipping in the recognized transit corridors of the strait.

It’s ingenious to use environmental inspection as a pretext for establishing a new regime of unilateral Iranian prerogative. Iran is probing the U.S. and the West with this move. Fortunately, for the time being, diplomacy is the ideal tool for making it clear to Iran that the U.S. won’t tolerate capricious interference with shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. This initiative of Tehran’s must be nipped in the bud promptly, however. It can only escalate — and without pushback, it will.

In the flurry of mildly interesting disclosures from the Iranian military exercise this week, one is likely to be overlooked. Iranian state media report that on Friday, April 23, the Revolutionary Guard’s naval arm stopped two ships for inspection in the Strait of Hormuz. The ships, according to Iran’s Press TV, were French and Italian. The photo accompanying the story depicts a Kaman-class guided-missile patrol boat on which the boxy, Chinese-designed C802 anti-ship-missile launchers can be seen amidships. The stated purpose of the inspections was to verify “environmental compliance.”

The names of the foreign ships were not provided; sketchy details make it difficult to be certain exactly where in the strait they were stopped. But European ships — even private yachts — rarely venture outside the recognized navigation corridors in the Strait of Hormuz. If this news report is valid, it almost certainly means that Iran detained ships that were transiting those corridors.

That, as our vice president might say, is a big effing deal. That’s not because Iran has committed an act of war by intercepting these ships, as some in the blogosphere are speculating. The intercepts were not acts of war. The purpose of verifying environmental compliance is one Iran can theoretically invoke on the basis of its maritime claims lodged with the UN in 1993. Ironically, however, Iran has never signed the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), the instrument by which the terms of its claims are defined. Many nations, of course, have yet to either sign or ratify UNCLOS, America being among them. In the meantime, world shipping has operated in the Strait of Hormuz for decades on the basis of UNCLOS’s definition of “transit passage,” which has customarily immunized ships in routine transit through straits against random intercept by the littoral navies (e.g., Iran’s or Oman’s).

Iran would be breaking with that custom by stopping ships for inspection in the recognized transit corridors. But this venue for a newly assertive Iranian profile is chosen well: stopping foreign ships that are conducting transit passage is uncollegial and inconvenient for commerce, but it is not clearly in breach of international law.

What it is, however, is an incipient challenge to the maritime regime enforced by the U.S., which includes the quiescent transit-passage custom on which global commerce relies. Mariners take care to observe the law as it is written, regardless of their nationality or national position on UNCLOS; but the guarantee of their unhindered passage isn’t international law, it’s the U.S. Navy. Demonstrations of force are required only rarely. Reagan put down revolutionary Iran’s only serious challenge to international maritime order back in 1988, in the final months of the Iran-Iraq War. Since then, Iran has refrained from unilateral action against shipping in the recognized transit corridors of the strait.

It’s ingenious to use environmental inspection as a pretext for establishing a new regime of unilateral Iranian prerogative. Iran is probing the U.S. and the West with this move. Fortunately, for the time being, diplomacy is the ideal tool for making it clear to Iran that the U.S. won’t tolerate capricious interference with shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. This initiative of Tehran’s must be nipped in the bud promptly, however. It can only escalate — and without pushback, it will.

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