Commentary Magazine


Topic: Republican president

A Moment for Political Courage

According to media accounts, in his State of the Union address, President Obama is going to avoid dealing with our entitlement crisis. The question is: will Republicans?

That is setting up to be the key debate of the next several months.

There is one line of argument, articulated by Ramesh Ponnuru, that insists that for House Republicans to take on entitlement reform would be noble but politically suicidal. The reasoning is that (a) for the next two years, reform is impossible unless and until President Obama takes the lead on it; (b) Republicans have no mandate for reform even if they wanted to; and (c) every time they have tried to reform entitlements in the past (George W. Bush on Social Security and Newt Gingrich on Medicare), they have paid a high political price.

The more responsible approach would be to champion cuts in discretionary spending and continue to insist on the repeal of ObamaCare. That would be entirely enough, this argument goes; to do more will require a Republican president willing to educate the nation on the entitlement crisis and to do something about it.

The counterargument is that we are in a new and different moment when it comes to entitlement reform. Due to the financial crisis of 2008 and the spending habits of President Obama and the 111th Congress, what was a serious problem has become an acute one. In the past, the deficit and debt were manageable; now, every serious person who has studied this matter concedes, the situation is unsustainable. The public understands this in one way or another; and if they’re not yet ready to take on entitlement reforms, they are certainly educable in a way that has never been the case before. Read More

According to media accounts, in his State of the Union address, President Obama is going to avoid dealing with our entitlement crisis. The question is: will Republicans?

That is setting up to be the key debate of the next several months.

There is one line of argument, articulated by Ramesh Ponnuru, that insists that for House Republicans to take on entitlement reform would be noble but politically suicidal. The reasoning is that (a) for the next two years, reform is impossible unless and until President Obama takes the lead on it; (b) Republicans have no mandate for reform even if they wanted to; and (c) every time they have tried to reform entitlements in the past (George W. Bush on Social Security and Newt Gingrich on Medicare), they have paid a high political price.

The more responsible approach would be to champion cuts in discretionary spending and continue to insist on the repeal of ObamaCare. That would be entirely enough, this argument goes; to do more will require a Republican president willing to educate the nation on the entitlement crisis and to do something about it.

The counterargument is that we are in a new and different moment when it comes to entitlement reform. Due to the financial crisis of 2008 and the spending habits of President Obama and the 111th Congress, what was a serious problem has become an acute one. In the past, the deficit and debt were manageable; now, every serious person who has studied this matter concedes, the situation is unsustainable. The public understands this in one way or another; and if they’re not yet ready to take on entitlement reforms, they are certainly educable in a way that has never been the case before.

The way to frame this argument, according to those who want to take on entitlement programs, is to simply state the reality of the situation: we can act now, in a relatively incremental and responsible way, in order to avoid the painful austerity measures that are occurring in Europe and elsewhere. Or we can delay action and, at some point not far into the future, be unable to avoid cuts that will cause a great deal of social unrest.

So we’re clear, the entitlement that really matters is Medicare. “The fact is,” my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin told Michael Gerson, “Medicare is going to crush the government, and if Republicans leave it unreformed then the debt picture is very, very ugly. They might never — literally never — show the budget reaching balance. Not in the 10-year window and not if they take their graphs out a hundred years. Obama could probably show balance just past the budget window in the middle of the next decade because of the massive Medicare cuts he proposes, even if in practice they will never actually happen.”

To get a sense of what we’re talking about, Veronique de Rugy has put together a very useful chart that can be found here.

It makes the point that cutting discretionary spending only makes a small difference in the overall budget picture. She lays out the difference between the Republican Study Committee plan, which cuts $2 trillion over 10 years and is therefore a good deal more aggressive than the House Republican leadership proposal, and where spending would be without those cuts over the next 10 years. As you will see, it’s a small difference. Spending keeps growing rapidly either way. Without entitlement reform, then, this is about as much as we could reasonably do — and it just isn’t that much.

In other words, if Republicans don’t take on Medicare, their credibility as a party of fiscal responsibility and limited government will be shattered. The math guarantees it. The GOP, having made the 2010 election largely (though not exclusively) a referendum on the deficit and the debt, will be viewed as fraudulent.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, as Gerson explains, if Republicans don’t touch Medicare, their budget approach — on paper, at least — will have less long-term debt reduction than Obama’s, both because Obama supports tax increases and he uses a slew of budget gimmicks to make his health-care plan appear to be far more affordable than it really is.

It’s a pretty good bet that the president will advance the same kind of gimmicks in his 2012 budget. If so, then unless Republicans are willing to champion Medicare reform (meaning changing it from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution program), Obama will be able to position himself as a budget hawk, at least compared to the GOP. This could have devastating political effects, including dispiriting the Republican base and the Tea Party movement. Having just elected Republicans in large measure to stop the financial hemorrhage and to restore fiscal balance, voters will not react well when they are told, in so many words, “Never Mind.”

So count me as one who believes Republicans need to embrace entitlement reform in general, and Medicare reforms in particular, because not doing so is irresponsible. It means willfully avoiding what everyone knows needs to be done in the hope that at some future, as-yet-to-be-determined date, a better and easier moment will arrive.

Sometime a political party needs to comfort itself with the axiom that good policy makes good politics. That isn’t always the case, certainly, but often it is. In any event, if the GOP avoids reforming Medicare, there is no way any Republican lawmaker, when pressed by reporters on fiscal matters, can make a plausible argument that their actions are remotely consistent with their stated philosophy.

They will hem and haw and duck and dodge and try to change the subject — and they will emerge as counterfeit, deceptive, and unserious. Here it’s worth recalling the words of the columnist Walter Lippmann, who wrote:

With exceptions so rare that they are regarded as miracles and freaks of nature, successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding and threatening elements in their constituencies. The decisive consideration is not whether the proposition is good but whether it is popular — not whether it will work well and prove itself but whether the active talking constituents like it immediately.

Perhaps I’m asking GOP lawmakers to prove themselves to be miracles and freaks of nature. But if I am right in my analysis, that is what is called for. It would mean Republicans have an enormous public-education campaign ahead of them. They will have to explain why their policies are the most responsible and humane. They will need to articulate the case not simply for entitlement reform but also for limited government. And they will need to explain, in a compelling and accessible way, why limited government is crucial to civic character.

None of this is easy — but lawmakers weren’t elected to make easy decisions. They were elected to make the right ones. And reforming Medicare is, in our time, the right decision.

Let’s get on with it.

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Morning Commentary

Despite the beltway chatter about President Obama’s recent “moves to the center,” Charles Krauthammer points out that the “shift” was just for show. Far from embracing a more moderate course, the president has instead used administrative power to stealthily impose several unpopular left-wing policies: “Now as always, Obama’s heart lies left. For those fooled into thinking otherwise by the new Obama of Dec. 22, his administration’s defiantly liberal regulatory moves — on the environment, energy and health care — should disabuse even the most beguiled.”

The U.S. military’s recent crackdown on the Taliban in the Kunduz province of Afghanistan is paying dividends. Officials confirmed this morning that NATO forces took out the Taliban’s shadow governor of Kunduz, Mullah Mawlawi Bahadur, last night. But the Washington Examiner’s Sara Carter reports that the region has also seen a steady increase in insurgents over the past year.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board looks back on the 111th Congress — and the assessment is not pretty: “The real story of 2010 is that the voters were finally able to see and judge this liberal agenda in its unvarnished form. For once, there was no Republican President to muddle the message or divide the accountability.”

At the New Republic, Eric Weinberger wonders whether academic freedom will be protected at Yale’s new college in Singapore. The idea seems unlikely given the trial of Alan Shadrake, a British journalist facing prison in that country for publishing an allegedly “defamatory” book about Singapore’s justice system.

M. Zuhdi Jasser throws his support behind Rep. Peter King’s plans to hold hearings on Islamic radicalization before the House Homeland Security Council next year: “Our national inability to discuss religious issues honestly is keeping American Muslims from having to accept the reforms needed to defeat political Islam and bring our faith into modernity. The victimization mantra feeds more Muslim isolation and radicalization.”

Secret papers released by the National Archives reveal how strained was the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Menachem Begin, who clashed over Begin’s support of the settlements in the West Bank. According to the papers, “Margaret Thatcher believed that Menachem Begin was the ‘most difficult’ man she had to deal with in the early years of her premiership, and thought his West Bank policy ‘absurd.’”

Despite the beltway chatter about President Obama’s recent “moves to the center,” Charles Krauthammer points out that the “shift” was just for show. Far from embracing a more moderate course, the president has instead used administrative power to stealthily impose several unpopular left-wing policies: “Now as always, Obama’s heart lies left. For those fooled into thinking otherwise by the new Obama of Dec. 22, his administration’s defiantly liberal regulatory moves — on the environment, energy and health care — should disabuse even the most beguiled.”

The U.S. military’s recent crackdown on the Taliban in the Kunduz province of Afghanistan is paying dividends. Officials confirmed this morning that NATO forces took out the Taliban’s shadow governor of Kunduz, Mullah Mawlawi Bahadur, last night. But the Washington Examiner’s Sara Carter reports that the region has also seen a steady increase in insurgents over the past year.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board looks back on the 111th Congress — and the assessment is not pretty: “The real story of 2010 is that the voters were finally able to see and judge this liberal agenda in its unvarnished form. For once, there was no Republican President to muddle the message or divide the accountability.”

At the New Republic, Eric Weinberger wonders whether academic freedom will be protected at Yale’s new college in Singapore. The idea seems unlikely given the trial of Alan Shadrake, a British journalist facing prison in that country for publishing an allegedly “defamatory” book about Singapore’s justice system.

M. Zuhdi Jasser throws his support behind Rep. Peter King’s plans to hold hearings on Islamic radicalization before the House Homeland Security Council next year: “Our national inability to discuss religious issues honestly is keeping American Muslims from having to accept the reforms needed to defeat political Islam and bring our faith into modernity. The victimization mantra feeds more Muslim isolation and radicalization.”

Secret papers released by the National Archives reveal how strained was the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Menachem Begin, who clashed over Begin’s support of the settlements in the West Bank. According to the papers, “Margaret Thatcher believed that Menachem Begin was the ‘most difficult’ man she had to deal with in the early years of her premiership, and thought his West Bank policy ‘absurd.’”

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The Policies That Keep Us Safe

The foiled package-bomb plot originating in Yemen is the latest sign of how determined Islamist extremists remain in trying to strike the United States. Just in the past year, we have seen the shooting at Fort Hood, which left 13 people dead; an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with explosives hidden in underwear; an attempt to set off an explosion in Times Square with explosives hidden in a vehicle; and the arrest of a suspect accused of plotting to attack the Washington subway. These attacks serve as a reminder, as Andy McCarthy notes, that our homeland remains very much in danger. So why isn’t terrorism more of an election issue? Largely because this is an area where there is — mercifully — a high degree of bipartisan agreement.

That hasn’t always been the case. Barack Obama ran for president not only pledging to pull out of Iraq but also to end what he viewed as the abuses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” The very term “war on terror” has been banished from the Obama administration’s lexicon, but luckily, most of the practices instituted by Bush have been continued.

Obama, recall, promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, to try terrorists in civilian courts, to end “renditions” of terrorist suspects, to end torture, and to end or severely curtail warrantless wiretaps. What has he actually done?

He has limited the use of interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects — but they had already been curtailed by Bush, who banned the use of most “stress techniques” in his second term. But Obama hasn’t closed Gitmo, largely because of overwhelming congressional opposition. His plan to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court came to naught. The military commissions are still in business. Suspected terrorists continue to be  held without trial, not only at Gitmo but also in the Parwan detention facility in Afghanistan. He signed an extension of the Patriot Act, which provides most of the surveillance authorities instituted after 9/11. Renditions continue. And Obama has actually stepped up the use of drone strikes to kill terrorists, especially but not exclusively in Pakistan. He has even placed an American citizen (Anwar al-Aliki, a leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch) on the list for elimination without any judicial overview. Finally, he has essentially continued the Bush policy of drawing down slowly in Iraq while building up our forces in Afghanistan.

Thus Obama has, in most important respects, essentially ratified the post-9/11 measures instituted by the Bush administration. He has not instituted a “law enforcement” approach to terrorism, as was feared by so many of his critics and expected by so many of his supporters. A Republican president might approve harsher interrogation techniques or make some other changes at the margins, but I doubt that anything very substantial will change no matter who succeeds Obama — unless there is some horrific new attack on American soil, in which case the balance will swing even more against civil liberties.

Just as we have a wide degree of agreement now on how to fight terrorism at home, so we have bipartisan uncertainty about how to fight it in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. No one seriously suggests invading them barring another 9/11. The debate is mainly about how much and what kind of aid we should give to the governments in question, how much we can trust them to act on our behalf, and how many unilateral strikes we should carry out. These are not ideological questions; they are tough judgment calls on which experts of all stripes can disagree.

Obama, to his credit, hasn’t hesitated to approve drone strikes and other covert actions against terrorists in places like Somalia and Yemen, but there is a limit to what such measures can do. Defeating the terrorists who hide in these unstable areas requires improving their level of governance — a difficult, long-term project that we are attempting to undertake but without any great prospects of immediate success.

More than nine years after 9/11, we have made great strides in countering terrorism, especially in toughening up domestic security, increasing intelligence-gathering, and lowering barriers between law enforcement and intelligence. We still have more to do domestically — for instance, the latest plots highlight the need for better inspection of cargo. And there is much more to do abroad to try to root al-Qaeda out of its foreign bastions. But the greatest progress we have made is to reach a high degree of domestic consensus about what it takes to fight terrorism.

Give Obama credit for breaking his campaign pledges and essentially adopting the Bush approach. And of course, give Bush credit for weathering years of abuse from Senator Obama and other critics to hang tough and institute policies that have helped keep us safe.

The foiled package-bomb plot originating in Yemen is the latest sign of how determined Islamist extremists remain in trying to strike the United States. Just in the past year, we have seen the shooting at Fort Hood, which left 13 people dead; an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with explosives hidden in underwear; an attempt to set off an explosion in Times Square with explosives hidden in a vehicle; and the arrest of a suspect accused of plotting to attack the Washington subway. These attacks serve as a reminder, as Andy McCarthy notes, that our homeland remains very much in danger. So why isn’t terrorism more of an election issue? Largely because this is an area where there is — mercifully — a high degree of bipartisan agreement.

That hasn’t always been the case. Barack Obama ran for president not only pledging to pull out of Iraq but also to end what he viewed as the abuses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” The very term “war on terror” has been banished from the Obama administration’s lexicon, but luckily, most of the practices instituted by Bush have been continued.

Obama, recall, promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, to try terrorists in civilian courts, to end “renditions” of terrorist suspects, to end torture, and to end or severely curtail warrantless wiretaps. What has he actually done?

He has limited the use of interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects — but they had already been curtailed by Bush, who banned the use of most “stress techniques” in his second term. But Obama hasn’t closed Gitmo, largely because of overwhelming congressional opposition. His plan to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court came to naught. The military commissions are still in business. Suspected terrorists continue to be  held without trial, not only at Gitmo but also in the Parwan detention facility in Afghanistan. He signed an extension of the Patriot Act, which provides most of the surveillance authorities instituted after 9/11. Renditions continue. And Obama has actually stepped up the use of drone strikes to kill terrorists, especially but not exclusively in Pakistan. He has even placed an American citizen (Anwar al-Aliki, a leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch) on the list for elimination without any judicial overview. Finally, he has essentially continued the Bush policy of drawing down slowly in Iraq while building up our forces in Afghanistan.

Thus Obama has, in most important respects, essentially ratified the post-9/11 measures instituted by the Bush administration. He has not instituted a “law enforcement” approach to terrorism, as was feared by so many of his critics and expected by so many of his supporters. A Republican president might approve harsher interrogation techniques or make some other changes at the margins, but I doubt that anything very substantial will change no matter who succeeds Obama — unless there is some horrific new attack on American soil, in which case the balance will swing even more against civil liberties.

Just as we have a wide degree of agreement now on how to fight terrorism at home, so we have bipartisan uncertainty about how to fight it in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. No one seriously suggests invading them barring another 9/11. The debate is mainly about how much and what kind of aid we should give to the governments in question, how much we can trust them to act on our behalf, and how many unilateral strikes we should carry out. These are not ideological questions; they are tough judgment calls on which experts of all stripes can disagree.

Obama, to his credit, hasn’t hesitated to approve drone strikes and other covert actions against terrorists in places like Somalia and Yemen, but there is a limit to what such measures can do. Defeating the terrorists who hide in these unstable areas requires improving their level of governance — a difficult, long-term project that we are attempting to undertake but without any great prospects of immediate success.

More than nine years after 9/11, we have made great strides in countering terrorism, especially in toughening up domestic security, increasing intelligence-gathering, and lowering barriers between law enforcement and intelligence. We still have more to do domestically — for instance, the latest plots highlight the need for better inspection of cargo. And there is much more to do abroad to try to root al-Qaeda out of its foreign bastions. But the greatest progress we have made is to reach a high degree of domestic consensus about what it takes to fight terrorism.

Give Obama credit for breaking his campaign pledges and essentially adopting the Bush approach. And of course, give Bush credit for weathering years of abuse from Senator Obama and other critics to hang tough and institute policies that have helped keep us safe.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Peter Berkowitz makes mincemeat of an E.J. Dionne column. “Dionne continues to insist, contrary to the evidence, that the Tea Party is a small and inconsequential movement. He leaves unchallenged my main claim that many highly educated Americans misunderstand the Tea Party’s central commitment to limited government because the political science and history departments at the distinguished colleges and universities that credential them are failing to teach the principles of American constitutional government (I do not dispute Dionne’s assurance that he was well trained by his college teachers). And while insisting on the importance of a thoughtful conservatism, he seems to be unaware of its existence.” Ouch.

NPR makes the case (another one) for its own defunding. You see, “zombies and vampires are malleable metaphors; they’ve symbolized anxieties over wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, environmental holocaust, and technological disaster.” And you, fellow taxpayer, are funding this stuff.

She must make even Democrats shudder. Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where — because they won’t disclose it — is pouring in.”

It sure makes that whole “race is narrowing!” storyline seem silly. “With Election Day eight days away, Republican candidates hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, October 24, 2010. It’s the second week in a row the gap between the parties has been that wide. Forty-nine percent (49%) of respondents say they would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate, while 40% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent. Even more worrisome for Democrats, however, is the finding that among the voters who are most closely following the midterm elections Republicans hold a 56% to 38% lead.”

Joe Sestak makes it competitive, but Pat Toomey is once again back in the lead in the Pennsylvania Senate race.

Rep. Shelley Berkley makes for a lively interview (h/t JTA). A sample: “[W]hile she faults President George W. Bush for many things during his presidency, she believes the Republican president was more personally committed to Israel than Obama. It’s this sort of blunt talk that impresses folks like [Gary] Bauer. … ‘I think she’s a leader in this regard,” says Bauer. … ‘There are other people on Capitol Hill that will privately say to their constituents, ‘Of course I’m with Israel and I’m talking to the White House behind the scenes’ to get the policy better. But she’s been willing to say it publicly. This is the way you can tell when a political figure really feels something in their heart.’ Because of her prominence on Israel, Berkley’s own constituents occasionally seem to forget how liberal she is.” Because liberals don’t bother with Israel these days?

Obama’s low standing, along with his unpopular agenda, makes Democratic candidates nervous — and suddenly declare their independence. If only they had voted that way, they might not be in such trouble.

Peter Berkowitz makes mincemeat of an E.J. Dionne column. “Dionne continues to insist, contrary to the evidence, that the Tea Party is a small and inconsequential movement. He leaves unchallenged my main claim that many highly educated Americans misunderstand the Tea Party’s central commitment to limited government because the political science and history departments at the distinguished colleges and universities that credential them are failing to teach the principles of American constitutional government (I do not dispute Dionne’s assurance that he was well trained by his college teachers). And while insisting on the importance of a thoughtful conservatism, he seems to be unaware of its existence.” Ouch.

NPR makes the case (another one) for its own defunding. You see, “zombies and vampires are malleable metaphors; they’ve symbolized anxieties over wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, environmental holocaust, and technological disaster.” And you, fellow taxpayer, are funding this stuff.

She must make even Democrats shudder. Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where — because they won’t disclose it — is pouring in.”

It sure makes that whole “race is narrowing!” storyline seem silly. “With Election Day eight days away, Republican candidates hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, October 24, 2010. It’s the second week in a row the gap between the parties has been that wide. Forty-nine percent (49%) of respondents say they would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate, while 40% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent. Even more worrisome for Democrats, however, is the finding that among the voters who are most closely following the midterm elections Republicans hold a 56% to 38% lead.”

Joe Sestak makes it competitive, but Pat Toomey is once again back in the lead in the Pennsylvania Senate race.

Rep. Shelley Berkley makes for a lively interview (h/t JTA). A sample: “[W]hile she faults President George W. Bush for many things during his presidency, she believes the Republican president was more personally committed to Israel than Obama. It’s this sort of blunt talk that impresses folks like [Gary] Bauer. … ‘I think she’s a leader in this regard,” says Bauer. … ‘There are other people on Capitol Hill that will privately say to their constituents, ‘Of course I’m with Israel and I’m talking to the White House behind the scenes’ to get the policy better. But she’s been willing to say it publicly. This is the way you can tell when a political figure really feels something in their heart.’ Because of her prominence on Israel, Berkley’s own constituents occasionally seem to forget how liberal she is.” Because liberals don’t bother with Israel these days?

Obama’s low standing, along with his unpopular agenda, makes Democratic candidates nervous — and suddenly declare their independence. If only they had voted that way, they might not be in such trouble.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

I’m sure it is going to be blamed on the Chamber of Commerce: “Gallup finds 21% of Americans satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time. If that figure does not improve considerably in the next two weeks, it would be the lowest level of U.S. satisfaction Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election in more than 30 years of tracking this measure.”

If Jimmy Carter is talking about Israel, it’s going to be slanderous: “Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that Palestinians are ‘living in a cage’ in Gaza and that the militant group Hamas must be included in all major efforts for peace.” Oh, and Obama’s Medal of Freedom winner Mary Robinson was along for the trip.

Now that the PA has bugged out of direct non-peace talks, Israeli leaders are right to be concerned that the next step is going to be an attempt to impose a peace deal. Ambassador Michael Oren is having none of it: “Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.”

If he’s not taking responsibility for the economy or his party’s train wreck now, there’s no way he’s going to be sticking around to explain the election results: “President Obama is giving Republicans a 10-day window to set the agenda for a lame-duck session and the new legislative year by leaving the country right after the midterm elections.” In short, run away!

Jack Conway is going to be the winner of one contest, according to Jason Zengerle: “There are still two weeks left until the midterm elections, but it’s not too early to declare a winner in the contest for the most despicable political ad of this campaign season. … When the debate was over, Paul refused to shake Conway’s hand. Frankly, I don’t blame him. First, no candidate over the age of, say, 30 should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony. Second, and more importantly, a politician’s religious faith should simply be off-limits.”

Matt Continetti explains that it’s not going to be easy for Sarah Palin to get the GOP nod: “Palin needs to run a campaign in which she demonstrates the ability to stay on message, raise significant sums of money from a broad group of donors, demonstrate familiarity with the intricacies of domestic and foreign policy, and present a unifying theme of American strength, at home and abroad. It’s a tall order, I know. But the next Republican president will do all these things.” At least she’ll have the argument that an Ivy League degree is irrelevant to the presidency.

It’s going to be a long two years: “[T]he Obama administration is still absorbing the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to date rejected a proposed American compromise package that would have offered various security and other assurances to Israel in exchange for a 60-day renewal of a partial West Bank settlement freeze that expired last month. The American team is said to be frustrated and upset at Netanyahu’s dismissal to date of the package, which was drafted by the NSC’s Dennis Ross in close consultation with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molho.” They didn’t see this coming? Now that is scary.

I’m sure it is going to be blamed on the Chamber of Commerce: “Gallup finds 21% of Americans satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time. If that figure does not improve considerably in the next two weeks, it would be the lowest level of U.S. satisfaction Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election in more than 30 years of tracking this measure.”

If Jimmy Carter is talking about Israel, it’s going to be slanderous: “Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that Palestinians are ‘living in a cage’ in Gaza and that the militant group Hamas must be included in all major efforts for peace.” Oh, and Obama’s Medal of Freedom winner Mary Robinson was along for the trip.

Now that the PA has bugged out of direct non-peace talks, Israeli leaders are right to be concerned that the next step is going to be an attempt to impose a peace deal. Ambassador Michael Oren is having none of it: “Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.”

If he’s not taking responsibility for the economy or his party’s train wreck now, there’s no way he’s going to be sticking around to explain the election results: “President Obama is giving Republicans a 10-day window to set the agenda for a lame-duck session and the new legislative year by leaving the country right after the midterm elections.” In short, run away!

Jack Conway is going to be the winner of one contest, according to Jason Zengerle: “There are still two weeks left until the midterm elections, but it’s not too early to declare a winner in the contest for the most despicable political ad of this campaign season. … When the debate was over, Paul refused to shake Conway’s hand. Frankly, I don’t blame him. First, no candidate over the age of, say, 30 should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony. Second, and more importantly, a politician’s religious faith should simply be off-limits.”

Matt Continetti explains that it’s not going to be easy for Sarah Palin to get the GOP nod: “Palin needs to run a campaign in which she demonstrates the ability to stay on message, raise significant sums of money from a broad group of donors, demonstrate familiarity with the intricacies of domestic and foreign policy, and present a unifying theme of American strength, at home and abroad. It’s a tall order, I know. But the next Republican president will do all these things.” At least she’ll have the argument that an Ivy League degree is irrelevant to the presidency.

It’s going to be a long two years: “[T]he Obama administration is still absorbing the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to date rejected a proposed American compromise package that would have offered various security and other assurances to Israel in exchange for a 60-day renewal of a partial West Bank settlement freeze that expired last month. The American team is said to be frustrated and upset at Netanyahu’s dismissal to date of the package, which was drafted by the NSC’s Dennis Ross in close consultation with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molho.” They didn’t see this coming? Now that is scary.

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Maybe the Peace Processors Just Don’t Have a Clue

Leslie Gelb fervently hopes that “the Obama administration did not shove Palestinians and Israelis into direct talks, for the first time in over two years, just to get them talking to each other.” Umm … but there really isn’t any evidence to the contrary, is there? No, sighs Gelb, there isn’t:

Many officials tell me that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel nor President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority came close to giving Mr. Obama any specific indications of compromise in their White House meetings two weeks ago. In other words, neither offered any concrete basis for accommodation. They spoke only of being serious and bargaining in good faith, the usual stuff. Nor did either leader push Mr. Obama into these talks; Mr. Obama pushed them. Netanyahu wasn’t eager for talks at all, and Abbas favored them only with good and prior indications of success.

In fact, a PA official told the Jerusalem Post that “he had ‘no explanation’ for why some US government officials were sounding optimistic about the direct talks.” That may be the most honest statement ever uttered by a Palestinian spokesman in the past 60 years. Read More

Leslie Gelb fervently hopes that “the Obama administration did not shove Palestinians and Israelis into direct talks, for the first time in over two years, just to get them talking to each other.” Umm … but there really isn’t any evidence to the contrary, is there? No, sighs Gelb, there isn’t:

Many officials tell me that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel nor President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority came close to giving Mr. Obama any specific indications of compromise in their White House meetings two weeks ago. In other words, neither offered any concrete basis for accommodation. They spoke only of being serious and bargaining in good faith, the usual stuff. Nor did either leader push Mr. Obama into these talks; Mr. Obama pushed them. Netanyahu wasn’t eager for talks at all, and Abbas favored them only with good and prior indications of success.

In fact, a PA official told the Jerusalem Post that “he had ‘no explanation’ for why some US government officials were sounding optimistic about the direct talks.” That may be the most honest statement ever uttered by a Palestinian spokesman in the past 60 years.

As many of us predicted, Obama, a peace-process worshiper of the first order, and his envoy, who is convinced that if he solved the Northern Ireland crisis he can bring peace to the Middle East, are now facing the collapse of their 18-month venture into Middle East policymaking. (By the way, given Mitchell’s performance in the Middle East, do you get the feeling that the settlement of the Northern Ireland conflict was coincidental to, not a result of, his presence?) Gelb, as many of us on the right have argued, explains why peace talks can be quite dangerous if you really don’t know what you’re doing:

The real danger between these two star-crossed inhabitants of the same Holy Land is not failure to negotiate; it’s the failure of the negotiations. Flashpoints in the Holy Land tend to burst after they sit down at the negotiating table, give their speeches, fail to agree, and watch the process collapse. That is when the explosions begin. That is when Palestinian terrorism reignites in Israel. People tend to resort to violence when their hopes and expectations are dashed formally and frontally, not when they are merely hoping.

Actually, in this case, “people” don’t — the Palestinians do. (There’s no Jewish intifada.) And the Palestinians also resorted to violence in anticipation of the talks. Really, any excuse will do.

The collapse of the talks would not merely raise the specter of another intifada; it would threaten to decimate what is left of the president’s prestige and credibility. Hence, Gelb sees reason for Bibi to spare Obama that humiliation:

The Israeli hawk understands full well, though he doesn’t like it, that he must burnish and safekeep ties with America. For the time being, that requires good ties with Mr. Obama, whom Netanyahu and his fellow hawks don’t like very much. To them, Mr. Obama sounded too pro-Arab in his first years in office, and they don’t have much trust in him. So, they have to get along with him well enough for at least another year – or until the American presidential election season erupts. At that point, these particular Israelis will pray for rain and a Republican president.

But, of course, both sides must stay in the room, and so far it seems that Abbas is itching to get out.

This brings us back to Gelb’s concern: maybe the Obami had not a clue what they were doing and now have a mess they are not equipped to clean up. And gosh, maybe the same is true of Iran. Perhaps they were silly to assume that engagement and Swiss-cheese sanctions were going to work to disarm the mullahs and now have no idea what to do. To be blunt, the president’s supporters and even some critics have both assumed that there is at work here a level of foreign policy competence and clearheadedness that may not, in fact, exist. Gelb hints that what we are dealing with are rank and arrogant amateurs. Yes, it’s scary.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

You can buy “$80 bottles of perfume, Turkish-made suits and Israeli yogurt,” and there are “toy displays, supermarket and racks of clothes … and a toy store, a perfume and accessories shop and clothing stores.” At the Gaza mall.

You can pretty much write off the Democrats’ House majority. From the Cook Political Report (subscription required): “[T]here are a whopping 32 Democratic incumbents who have trailed GOP challengers in at least one public or private poll. At this point in 2006, there were only 11 Republican incumbents who trailed in at least one public or private poll, yet 22 went on to lose. It happens every time there is a wave: as challengers get better known and voters start to zero in on their choices, the lion’s share of those undecided falls to the surging party. Today we are monitoring 120 races, the largest playing field we’ve seen in years. … And it’s a lopsided playing field: 102 of these 120 races are currently held by Democrats.” Umm, 102 Democratic seats could realistically be lost?

You can find no more honest Democratic pollster than Tom Jensen of PPP: “Barack Obama expanded the map in 2008 but for the most part you’re still going to find Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania as the most important states at the Presidential level because of their size and competitiveness and Obama’s numbers in those places right now are brutal. The trend is the same in all three states: independents are very unhappy with Obama and Republicans dislike him more than Democrats like him. And although part of the reason his numbers are so bad in these states is that they model a 2010 electorate, the polls also show him losing far more of his 2008 voters than picking up support from folks who went for John McCain.” How brutal? Thirty-nine percent approval in Florida, 40 in Pennsylvania, and 42 in Ohio.

You can move California’s gubernatorial race from Toss Up to Leans Republican: “The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in California finds Whitman earning 48% support, while Democrat Jerry Brown picks up 40% of the vote. Six percent (6%) prefer some other candidate in the race, and six percent (6%) are undecided.”

You can always blame a Republican president. Jonathan Cohn says it is Ronald Reagan’s fault there is an egg salmonella problem. Bill Clinton and Barak Obama held the White House collectively for almost 10 years, but nothing that went wrong is ever attributable to anything they did or didn’t do.

You can take lessons from Chris Christie in how to handle the media. He exudes common sense. His skewering of the mindless Washington bureaucrats is priceless. Watch the whole thing. (I vote for “mindless drones” as the best phrase.)

You can tell which Democrats are in competitive races: “Rep. John Hall argues that an Islamic community center planned for two blocks from Ground Zero should be built elsewhere out of respect for 9/11 victims and their families. ‘Freedom of religion is a bedrock principle of our democracy,’ Hall, D-Dover Plains, said in a prepared statement. ‘I think honoring those killed on Sept. 11 and showing sensitivity to their families, it would be best if the center were built at a different location.’”

You can see that the White House doesn’t even try to keep up the pretense anymore: “White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said [Major] Garrett lived up to Fox’s fair-and-balanced motto: ‘I have always thought Major was one of the smartest people in the briefing room. He’s tough, and I’d say the slogan actually did fit him.’” So, the White House’s beef with Fox was what exactly?

You can buy “$80 bottles of perfume, Turkish-made suits and Israeli yogurt,” and there are “toy displays, supermarket and racks of clothes … and a toy store, a perfume and accessories shop and clothing stores.” At the Gaza mall.

You can pretty much write off the Democrats’ House majority. From the Cook Political Report (subscription required): “[T]here are a whopping 32 Democratic incumbents who have trailed GOP challengers in at least one public or private poll. At this point in 2006, there were only 11 Republican incumbents who trailed in at least one public or private poll, yet 22 went on to lose. It happens every time there is a wave: as challengers get better known and voters start to zero in on their choices, the lion’s share of those undecided falls to the surging party. Today we are monitoring 120 races, the largest playing field we’ve seen in years. … And it’s a lopsided playing field: 102 of these 120 races are currently held by Democrats.” Umm, 102 Democratic seats could realistically be lost?

You can find no more honest Democratic pollster than Tom Jensen of PPP: “Barack Obama expanded the map in 2008 but for the most part you’re still going to find Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania as the most important states at the Presidential level because of their size and competitiveness and Obama’s numbers in those places right now are brutal. The trend is the same in all three states: independents are very unhappy with Obama and Republicans dislike him more than Democrats like him. And although part of the reason his numbers are so bad in these states is that they model a 2010 electorate, the polls also show him losing far more of his 2008 voters than picking up support from folks who went for John McCain.” How brutal? Thirty-nine percent approval in Florida, 40 in Pennsylvania, and 42 in Ohio.

You can move California’s gubernatorial race from Toss Up to Leans Republican: “The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in California finds Whitman earning 48% support, while Democrat Jerry Brown picks up 40% of the vote. Six percent (6%) prefer some other candidate in the race, and six percent (6%) are undecided.”

You can always blame a Republican president. Jonathan Cohn says it is Ronald Reagan’s fault there is an egg salmonella problem. Bill Clinton and Barak Obama held the White House collectively for almost 10 years, but nothing that went wrong is ever attributable to anything they did or didn’t do.

You can take lessons from Chris Christie in how to handle the media. He exudes common sense. His skewering of the mindless Washington bureaucrats is priceless. Watch the whole thing. (I vote for “mindless drones” as the best phrase.)

You can tell which Democrats are in competitive races: “Rep. John Hall argues that an Islamic community center planned for two blocks from Ground Zero should be built elsewhere out of respect for 9/11 victims and their families. ‘Freedom of religion is a bedrock principle of our democracy,’ Hall, D-Dover Plains, said in a prepared statement. ‘I think honoring those killed on Sept. 11 and showing sensitivity to their families, it would be best if the center were built at a different location.’”

You can see that the White House doesn’t even try to keep up the pretense anymore: “White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said [Major] Garrett lived up to Fox’s fair-and-balanced motto: ‘I have always thought Major was one of the smartest people in the briefing room. He’s tough, and I’d say the slogan actually did fit him.’” So, the White House’s beef with Fox was what exactly?

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A Political Crybaby

Sen. John Kerry told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria this:

I think what’s happened is, Fareed, in the last six months I think there was an article even in the paper this week about people no longer blaming Bush. They’re beginning to target this White House. That’s a natural course of events as you go through any administration, but I don’t think it is fair to the President… I think that part of the problem is that a lot has been accomplished, but the story has not been sufficiently told, and we need to go out with some passion, and energy, and a little bit of anger even and make sure people understand how difficult this road has been against constant, non-stop Republican obstructionism.

Kerry’s short answer reveals a lot.

For one thing, it reminds people that Sen. Kerry, like others in his party, is a chronic political crybaby.

Whether the Massachusetts senior senator understands it or not, the public is right to hold the president of the United States responsible for his policies more than 18 months after he’s been in office. That is doubly true in the case of President Obama, whose administration made certain guarantees in advance about what its policies would produce. (For example, passing the stimulus package would keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent; it topped 10 percent and is currently well above 9 percent.)

In addition, Kerry (like many other liberals) insists that the major difficulty facing the Obama administration is a “communication problem.” This is a risible explanation, given that Obama has at his disposal the largest bully pulpit in the world, to say nothing of Democratic control of both branches of Congress and a largely sympathetic media (at least compared to what a Republican president faces).

The problems facing Obama and the Democrats don’t have to do with a failure to communicate; they have to do with a failure to even begin to meet the expectations they set – from a flourishing economy to the dawning of a new age of effective diplomacy to the most ethical Congress ever, and much else.

The strategy Mr. Kerry is advocating is essentially this: Democrats should: (a) complain more than they are; (b) point fingers at Obama’s predecessor even beyond what they already have (which is very nearly impossible); and (c) become even angrier when making the case that they are overmatched by events.

That this counsel is the best that the Democratic Party’s 2004 presidential nominee has to offer underscores what a difficult bind Democrats find themselves in these days.

Sen. John Kerry told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria this:

I think what’s happened is, Fareed, in the last six months I think there was an article even in the paper this week about people no longer blaming Bush. They’re beginning to target this White House. That’s a natural course of events as you go through any administration, but I don’t think it is fair to the President… I think that part of the problem is that a lot has been accomplished, but the story has not been sufficiently told, and we need to go out with some passion, and energy, and a little bit of anger even and make sure people understand how difficult this road has been against constant, non-stop Republican obstructionism.

Kerry’s short answer reveals a lot.

For one thing, it reminds people that Sen. Kerry, like others in his party, is a chronic political crybaby.

Whether the Massachusetts senior senator understands it or not, the public is right to hold the president of the United States responsible for his policies more than 18 months after he’s been in office. That is doubly true in the case of President Obama, whose administration made certain guarantees in advance about what its policies would produce. (For example, passing the stimulus package would keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent; it topped 10 percent and is currently well above 9 percent.)

In addition, Kerry (like many other liberals) insists that the major difficulty facing the Obama administration is a “communication problem.” This is a risible explanation, given that Obama has at his disposal the largest bully pulpit in the world, to say nothing of Democratic control of both branches of Congress and a largely sympathetic media (at least compared to what a Republican president faces).

The problems facing Obama and the Democrats don’t have to do with a failure to communicate; they have to do with a failure to even begin to meet the expectations they set – from a flourishing economy to the dawning of a new age of effective diplomacy to the most ethical Congress ever, and much else.

The strategy Mr. Kerry is advocating is essentially this: Democrats should: (a) complain more than they are; (b) point fingers at Obama’s predecessor even beyond what they already have (which is very nearly impossible); and (c) become even angrier when making the case that they are overmatched by events.

That this counsel is the best that the Democratic Party’s 2004 presidential nominee has to offer underscores what a difficult bind Democrats find themselves in these days.

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What to Do About Obama’s Assault on Israel: Acquiescence or Confrontation?

Ed Koch writes about his disappointment over “the lengthy acquiescence of members of Congress to Obama’s actions” regarding Israel. He reminds us:

Senator Obama received 78 percent of the votes of the Jewish community nationwide. The only group giving him a higher percentage was the African-American community. Many Jewish leaders, myself included, have concluded that President Obama has reneged on his support for the security of Israel – a major priority for most American Jews and many Christians – and is shifting American foreign policy to favor the Muslim, and in particular, the Palestinian cause.

He then compares that “lengthy acquiescence” with the stance of Pilar Rahola, a Spanish politician, journalist, and activist. He quotes her:

“I am not Jewish. Ideologically, I am left and by profession a journalist. Why am I not as anti-Israel as my colleagues? Because as a non-Jew, I have the historical responsibility to fight against Jewish hatred and currently against the hatred for their historic homeland, Israel. To fight against anti-Semitism is not the duty of the Jews, it is the duty of the non-Jews. As a journalist, it is my duty to search for the truth beyond prejudice, lies and manipulations. The truth about Israel is not told. As a person from the left who loves progress, I am obligated to defend liberty, culture, civic education for children, coexistence and the laws that the Tablets of the Covenant made into universal principles. Principles that Islamic fundamentalism systematically destroys. That is to say that as a non-Jew, journalist and lefty, I have a triple moral duty with Israel, because if Israel is destroyed, liberty, modernity and culture will be destroyed too. The struggle of Israel, even if the world doesn’t want to accept it, is the struggle of the world.”

The contrast with the American liberals could not be more stark — or more terrifying for friends of Israel and supporters of a robust U.S.-Israel relationship. We have a president who won’t utter the term “Islamic fundamentalism,” let alone make the connection to the joint fate of Israel and the West. We have Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House that treat the president (who is pulling them and his entire party down the drain) with kid gloves and tie themselves in knots to avoid directly challenging him on policies over which they’d fiercely combat a Republican president. And we have conflicted, largely Democratic Jewish groups who have never confronted such a political situation. They lack the will and creativity to devise a new strategy for combating a president whose antagonism toward Israel continues to grow, as does his infatuation with embracing the Israel-haters in the “international community.”

There are two existential threats to Israel — a nuclear one and a political one. The first may be solved only by an Israeli military action and at great human and economic cost to the Jewish state. And if Israel is forced to go it alone, the damage to American credibility and prestige will be immense.

The political threat will only be solved when a new occupant arrives in the White House or there is a widespread, forceful, and effective effort to confront the actions of the current one. As to the former, I don’t know that Israel can hold out until January 2013. As to the latter, I wish there were reason for optimism.

Ed Koch writes about his disappointment over “the lengthy acquiescence of members of Congress to Obama’s actions” regarding Israel. He reminds us:

Senator Obama received 78 percent of the votes of the Jewish community nationwide. The only group giving him a higher percentage was the African-American community. Many Jewish leaders, myself included, have concluded that President Obama has reneged on his support for the security of Israel – a major priority for most American Jews and many Christians – and is shifting American foreign policy to favor the Muslim, and in particular, the Palestinian cause.

He then compares that “lengthy acquiescence” with the stance of Pilar Rahola, a Spanish politician, journalist, and activist. He quotes her:

“I am not Jewish. Ideologically, I am left and by profession a journalist. Why am I not as anti-Israel as my colleagues? Because as a non-Jew, I have the historical responsibility to fight against Jewish hatred and currently against the hatred for their historic homeland, Israel. To fight against anti-Semitism is not the duty of the Jews, it is the duty of the non-Jews. As a journalist, it is my duty to search for the truth beyond prejudice, lies and manipulations. The truth about Israel is not told. As a person from the left who loves progress, I am obligated to defend liberty, culture, civic education for children, coexistence and the laws that the Tablets of the Covenant made into universal principles. Principles that Islamic fundamentalism systematically destroys. That is to say that as a non-Jew, journalist and lefty, I have a triple moral duty with Israel, because if Israel is destroyed, liberty, modernity and culture will be destroyed too. The struggle of Israel, even if the world doesn’t want to accept it, is the struggle of the world.”

The contrast with the American liberals could not be more stark — or more terrifying for friends of Israel and supporters of a robust U.S.-Israel relationship. We have a president who won’t utter the term “Islamic fundamentalism,” let alone make the connection to the joint fate of Israel and the West. We have Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House that treat the president (who is pulling them and his entire party down the drain) with kid gloves and tie themselves in knots to avoid directly challenging him on policies over which they’d fiercely combat a Republican president. And we have conflicted, largely Democratic Jewish groups who have never confronted such a political situation. They lack the will and creativity to devise a new strategy for combating a president whose antagonism toward Israel continues to grow, as does his infatuation with embracing the Israel-haters in the “international community.”

There are two existential threats to Israel — a nuclear one and a political one. The first may be solved only by an Israeli military action and at great human and economic cost to the Jewish state. And if Israel is forced to go it alone, the damage to American credibility and prestige will be immense.

The political threat will only be solved when a new occupant arrives in the White House or there is a widespread, forceful, and effective effort to confront the actions of the current one. As to the former, I don’t know that Israel can hold out until January 2013. As to the latter, I wish there were reason for optimism.

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Elena Kagan — Stealth Nominee?

Elena Kagan is the prohibitive favorite for the Supreme Court. She has made it through one confirmation hearing for her current post as solicitor general and possesses academic credentials, a reputation for collegiality with conservatives, and a limited paper trail. Moreover, she is the closest we have to a stealth candidate among the front-runners. As Tom Goldstein notes, “I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade.”

Casual observers assume that a dean of Harvard Law School and a domestic-policy aide in the Clinton administration must have a sizable body of work reflecting her legal views. But not so. Paul Campos has read all there is to read — and it’s not much:

Yesterday, I read everything Elena Kagan has ever published. It didn’t take long: in the nearly 20 years since Kagan became a law professor, she’s published very little academic scholarship—three law review articles, along with a couple of shorter essays and two brief book reviews. Somehow, Kagan got tenure at Chicago in 1995 on the basis of a single article in The Supreme Court Review—a scholarly journal edited by Chicago’s own faculty—and a short essay in the school’s law review. She then worked in the Clinton administration for several years before joining Harvard as a visiting professor of law in 1999. While there she published two articles, but since receiving tenure from Harvard in 2001 (and becoming dean of the law school in 2003) she has published nothing. (While it’s true law school deans often do little scholarly writing during their terms, Kagan is remarkable both for how little she did in the dozen years prior to becoming Harvard’s dean, and for never having written anything intended for a more general audience, either before or after taking that position.)

Campos goes so far as to suggest that Kagan is a Harriet Miers type – minus the cronyism. He concludes:

Indeed, the most impressive thing about Kagan is that she seems to have a remarkable ability to ingratiate herself with influential people across the ideological spectrum. … As a private lawyer, Miers, after all, had a fairly good excuse for having no public views on the great legal issues of our day. For most of the past 20 years, Kagan’s job has been to both develop and publicize such views. That she has nevertheless managed to almost completely avoid doing so is rather extraordinary.

What to make of this? Well, if a Republican president were to select a person with such a skimpy written record, conservatives would be (and were with the Miers nomination) rightfully worried. But do the same concerns — ideological infidelity, intellectual mediocrity — really apply to Kagan? Let’s be honest, it works differently for liberals. Very few are tempted to moderate their views and slide rightward, while Republican-nominated jurists (David Souter, John Paul Stevens) have a history of “disappointing” their side. And while no one has claimed that Kagan has achieved greatness in legal scholarship, the assumption — rightly or not — is that the dean of one of the top law schools in the country must have some intellectual wattage. Nevertheless, liberal legal activists might have reason to be a bit nervous — after all, would a justice who lacks judicial chops be the best choice to sway Justice Kennedy on those all-important 5-to-4 decisions? Is she really the one who is going to go toe-to-toe with Justice Scalia? There is some risk there if Obama were to choose a lesser known quantity than an appellate judge such as Diane Wood.

Nevertheless, there are clues as to Kagan’s legal mindset. Indeed, one such clue is also her primary shortcoming. Stuart Taylor explains:

The one issue that could slow down Kagan’s confirmation is her impassioned effort as dean to bar military recruiting on campus to protest the law banning openly gay people from serving in the military, which she called “a moral injustice of the first order.”

Kagan carried this opposition to the point of joining a 2005 amicus brief whose strained interpretation of a law denying federal funding to institutions that discriminate against military recruiters would — the Supreme Court held in an 8-0 decision — have rendered the statute “largely meaningless.” This helps to explain the 31 Republican votes against confirming her as solicitor general.

Well, that might be enough to lose her a batch of GOP Senate votes, but would it derail her nomination? Probably not. And it might just give enough comfort to the left that Kagan is a “safe” pick for them.

Elena Kagan is the prohibitive favorite for the Supreme Court. She has made it through one confirmation hearing for her current post as solicitor general and possesses academic credentials, a reputation for collegiality with conservatives, and a limited paper trail. Moreover, she is the closest we have to a stealth candidate among the front-runners. As Tom Goldstein notes, “I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade.”

Casual observers assume that a dean of Harvard Law School and a domestic-policy aide in the Clinton administration must have a sizable body of work reflecting her legal views. But not so. Paul Campos has read all there is to read — and it’s not much:

Yesterday, I read everything Elena Kagan has ever published. It didn’t take long: in the nearly 20 years since Kagan became a law professor, she’s published very little academic scholarship—three law review articles, along with a couple of shorter essays and two brief book reviews. Somehow, Kagan got tenure at Chicago in 1995 on the basis of a single article in The Supreme Court Review—a scholarly journal edited by Chicago’s own faculty—and a short essay in the school’s law review. She then worked in the Clinton administration for several years before joining Harvard as a visiting professor of law in 1999. While there she published two articles, but since receiving tenure from Harvard in 2001 (and becoming dean of the law school in 2003) she has published nothing. (While it’s true law school deans often do little scholarly writing during their terms, Kagan is remarkable both for how little she did in the dozen years prior to becoming Harvard’s dean, and for never having written anything intended for a more general audience, either before or after taking that position.)

Campos goes so far as to suggest that Kagan is a Harriet Miers type – minus the cronyism. He concludes:

Indeed, the most impressive thing about Kagan is that she seems to have a remarkable ability to ingratiate herself with influential people across the ideological spectrum. … As a private lawyer, Miers, after all, had a fairly good excuse for having no public views on the great legal issues of our day. For most of the past 20 years, Kagan’s job has been to both develop and publicize such views. That she has nevertheless managed to almost completely avoid doing so is rather extraordinary.

What to make of this? Well, if a Republican president were to select a person with such a skimpy written record, conservatives would be (and were with the Miers nomination) rightfully worried. But do the same concerns — ideological infidelity, intellectual mediocrity — really apply to Kagan? Let’s be honest, it works differently for liberals. Very few are tempted to moderate their views and slide rightward, while Republican-nominated jurists (David Souter, John Paul Stevens) have a history of “disappointing” their side. And while no one has claimed that Kagan has achieved greatness in legal scholarship, the assumption — rightly or not — is that the dean of one of the top law schools in the country must have some intellectual wattage. Nevertheless, liberal legal activists might have reason to be a bit nervous — after all, would a justice who lacks judicial chops be the best choice to sway Justice Kennedy on those all-important 5-to-4 decisions? Is she really the one who is going to go toe-to-toe with Justice Scalia? There is some risk there if Obama were to choose a lesser known quantity than an appellate judge such as Diane Wood.

Nevertheless, there are clues as to Kagan’s legal mindset. Indeed, one such clue is also her primary shortcoming. Stuart Taylor explains:

The one issue that could slow down Kagan’s confirmation is her impassioned effort as dean to bar military recruiting on campus to protest the law banning openly gay people from serving in the military, which she called “a moral injustice of the first order.”

Kagan carried this opposition to the point of joining a 2005 amicus brief whose strained interpretation of a law denying federal funding to institutions that discriminate against military recruiters would — the Supreme Court held in an 8-0 decision — have rendered the statute “largely meaningless.” This helps to explain the 31 Republican votes against confirming her as solicitor general.

Well, that might be enough to lose her a batch of GOP Senate votes, but would it derail her nomination? Probably not. And it might just give enough comfort to the left that Kagan is a “safe” pick for them.

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Obama’s Financial Failure

It’s impossible to know with certainty at this point because we’re only about 30 percent through President Obama’s first term, but I suspect he will be judged quite harshly by history and his countrymen for not simply avoiding but dramatically accelerating the major domestic concern facing the United States: our unsustainable and soon-to-be debilitating deficit and debt.

I don’t lay all, or even most, of the blame on President Obama for the debt he faced upon taking office. While his party, like the GOP, was clearly complicit in the situation, and Obama’s own actions in the Senate (especially blocking reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which played a role in the collapse of the housing market) contributed to what went wrong, much of the river of red ink he inherited was due to a financial and credit implosion for which he wasn’t chiefly responsible.

What I do hold President Obama responsible for is that he took office when it was clear that our debt and deficit had reached crisis proportions. While that situation wasn’t the case when he decided to run for the presidency, it was the situation when he assumed the presidency. And rather than rethink the core purpose of his presidency, he decided to pursue his agenda in a state of denial, as if the financial collapse that began in September 2008 never happened, as if our ominous new fiscal reality had never occurred.

At the moment when history demanded one thing of Mr. Obama, he did another.

What the president should have done, in the wake of market collapse, was to create his own Nixon-to-China moment: trimming and reforming our middle-class-welfare state. It is the type of thing that a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress have much greater latitude to do than a Republican president and a Republican Congress. Instead, Obama used this moment to create a new middle-class entitlement, ObamaCare, at precisely the moment when our other ones are falling into bankruptcy. On top of that, of course, was the president’s $860 billion-plus stimulus package, his $410 billion omnibus spending bill, and his decision to spend hundreds of billions of TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) repayment dollars rather than to pay down the deficit.

Consider where we are and where we are headed. The deficit in 2009 was $1.4 trillion — the equivalent of 10 percent of the nation’s economic output and the highest percentage since the end of World War II. The president’s 2011 budget will generate a combined $9.75 trillion in deficits over the next decade. Our publicly held debt, which was $6.3 trillion when Obama entered office, now totals $8.2 trillion. According to the CBO, it’s headed to more than $20 trillion in 2020, equaling 90 percent of the estimated gross domestic product that year. (As a reference point, nations that comprise the European Union are required to keep their debt levels below 60 percent.) Interest rates alone would consume some $900 billion per year, almost five times what they were last year. In addition, the total unfunded liability (the gap between projected assets and benefit obligations) for Medicare and Social Security is $43 trillion; in five years, the total is estimated to grow to $57 trillion. (For more, see this, this, and this.

Confronting figures like this, Mr. Obama should have made spending restraint and entitlement reform his top domestic priority. And yet the president has taken us in exactly the opposite direction, engineering the passage of ObamaCare (over its first ten years of full implementation, it will cost at least $2 trillion). That is the equivalent of dropping plane loads of lighter fluid onto a fire that is raging out of control.

Why Mr. Obama made this fateful decision is hard to tell. He is a person of unusual ideological rigidity. The president is undeniably committed to expanding the size, scope, and reach of government. Like any 21st century Man of the Left, his ambition is to make more and more citizens wards of the state, to create greater dependency on the federal government. That, at least, is what Obama’s actions indicate his intentions to be. But whatever his motivations, the results are what matter. Whether or not we can ever undo the fiscal damage that is being inflicted on us is an open question. It will require us to take steps that we as a society have been exceedingly reluctant to take, including means-testing entitlements and increasing the retirement age. It will require fiscal self-discipline, restraint, and what Adam Smith called “self-command.” (For an enlightening analysis of Smith, see this essay by Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague and National Affairs Yuval Levin.

This is what this moment demanded of this president and this Congress. Instead, we got the opposite. Rather than tapping the fiscal brakes and eventually nudging us into reverse, they have hit the accelerator and are leading us over a cliff. I suppose there are worse things for the political leadership of a nation to do, though it’s hard to come up with them just now.

I have little doubt that Obama, having helped to engineer this fiscal calamity, will, later in his term, try to portray himself as a model of fiscal rectitude and Republicans as the party unconcerned with the mind-bending levels of deficit and debt he’s saddled us with. I am skeptical this trick will work. Family members are surely happy if a gambling addict gives up habit, but they aren’t about to be lectured on financial responsibility by a person whose gambling ruined the family finances.

The majority of the Obama presidency is still before us. Nevertheless, it’s not too early to say that on this vital front, Barack Obama has been, and will eventually be judged to be, a significant failure. He not only missed history’s calling, he mocked it. He placed his own statist ambitions above the needs of the nation he was elected to serve. Soon enough, and perhaps on a scale he cannot now imagine, Obama and his party will be held accountable for having done so.

It’s impossible to know with certainty at this point because we’re only about 30 percent through President Obama’s first term, but I suspect he will be judged quite harshly by history and his countrymen for not simply avoiding but dramatically accelerating the major domestic concern facing the United States: our unsustainable and soon-to-be debilitating deficit and debt.

I don’t lay all, or even most, of the blame on President Obama for the debt he faced upon taking office. While his party, like the GOP, was clearly complicit in the situation, and Obama’s own actions in the Senate (especially blocking reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which played a role in the collapse of the housing market) contributed to what went wrong, much of the river of red ink he inherited was due to a financial and credit implosion for which he wasn’t chiefly responsible.

What I do hold President Obama responsible for is that he took office when it was clear that our debt and deficit had reached crisis proportions. While that situation wasn’t the case when he decided to run for the presidency, it was the situation when he assumed the presidency. And rather than rethink the core purpose of his presidency, he decided to pursue his agenda in a state of denial, as if the financial collapse that began in September 2008 never happened, as if our ominous new fiscal reality had never occurred.

At the moment when history demanded one thing of Mr. Obama, he did another.

What the president should have done, in the wake of market collapse, was to create his own Nixon-to-China moment: trimming and reforming our middle-class-welfare state. It is the type of thing that a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress have much greater latitude to do than a Republican president and a Republican Congress. Instead, Obama used this moment to create a new middle-class entitlement, ObamaCare, at precisely the moment when our other ones are falling into bankruptcy. On top of that, of course, was the president’s $860 billion-plus stimulus package, his $410 billion omnibus spending bill, and his decision to spend hundreds of billions of TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) repayment dollars rather than to pay down the deficit.

Consider where we are and where we are headed. The deficit in 2009 was $1.4 trillion — the equivalent of 10 percent of the nation’s economic output and the highest percentage since the end of World War II. The president’s 2011 budget will generate a combined $9.75 trillion in deficits over the next decade. Our publicly held debt, which was $6.3 trillion when Obama entered office, now totals $8.2 trillion. According to the CBO, it’s headed to more than $20 trillion in 2020, equaling 90 percent of the estimated gross domestic product that year. (As a reference point, nations that comprise the European Union are required to keep their debt levels below 60 percent.) Interest rates alone would consume some $900 billion per year, almost five times what they were last year. In addition, the total unfunded liability (the gap between projected assets and benefit obligations) for Medicare and Social Security is $43 trillion; in five years, the total is estimated to grow to $57 trillion. (For more, see this, this, and this.

Confronting figures like this, Mr. Obama should have made spending restraint and entitlement reform his top domestic priority. And yet the president has taken us in exactly the opposite direction, engineering the passage of ObamaCare (over its first ten years of full implementation, it will cost at least $2 trillion). That is the equivalent of dropping plane loads of lighter fluid onto a fire that is raging out of control.

Why Mr. Obama made this fateful decision is hard to tell. He is a person of unusual ideological rigidity. The president is undeniably committed to expanding the size, scope, and reach of government. Like any 21st century Man of the Left, his ambition is to make more and more citizens wards of the state, to create greater dependency on the federal government. That, at least, is what Obama’s actions indicate his intentions to be. But whatever his motivations, the results are what matter. Whether or not we can ever undo the fiscal damage that is being inflicted on us is an open question. It will require us to take steps that we as a society have been exceedingly reluctant to take, including means-testing entitlements and increasing the retirement age. It will require fiscal self-discipline, restraint, and what Adam Smith called “self-command.” (For an enlightening analysis of Smith, see this essay by Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague and National Affairs Yuval Levin.

This is what this moment demanded of this president and this Congress. Instead, we got the opposite. Rather than tapping the fiscal brakes and eventually nudging us into reverse, they have hit the accelerator and are leading us over a cliff. I suppose there are worse things for the political leadership of a nation to do, though it’s hard to come up with them just now.

I have little doubt that Obama, having helped to engineer this fiscal calamity, will, later in his term, try to portray himself as a model of fiscal rectitude and Republicans as the party unconcerned with the mind-bending levels of deficit and debt he’s saddled us with. I am skeptical this trick will work. Family members are surely happy if a gambling addict gives up habit, but they aren’t about to be lectured on financial responsibility by a person whose gambling ruined the family finances.

The majority of the Obama presidency is still before us. Nevertheless, it’s not too early to say that on this vital front, Barack Obama has been, and will eventually be judged to be, a significant failure. He not only missed history’s calling, he mocked it. He placed his own statist ambitions above the needs of the nation he was elected to serve. Soon enough, and perhaps on a scale he cannot now imagine, Obama and his party will be held accountable for having done so.

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Troubling, Indeed

Stuart Rothenberg writes:

With a nearly 80-seat House majority, 60 seats in the Senate for more than eight months, a GOP brand so damaged that the party looked completely incompetent and a charismatic African-American president taking over from a failed two-term Republican president, you’d have thought that Democrats were set up for a pretty decent two years.

But only one year after the passage of the economic stimulus that was advertised as the first step to revitalizing the American economy and getting Americans back to work, the outlook for November is increasingly troubling for Democrats.

Troubling is one way to put it. He lists the problems. There is “depressing” economic news. Then, the “Democrats have botched their top legislative priority — health care reform — in so many ways that there is plenty of blame to go around. Yes, they may pass a comprehensive bill, but at a steep cost.”Next you can add in the ethics scandals, made more juicy for the media because the Democrats “ran against the ‘culture of corruption’ just a couple of cycles ago.” Then there is Obama (“it’s the rise in his disapproval ratings from the mid-20s in early March 2009 to the mid-40s now that ought to be troubling for Democratic strategists”) and all those disaffected independents who have gone “from virtually mirroring the sentiments of Democrats during the last two election cycles to now more closely resembling the views of Republicans.”

Kind of a mess, isn’t it? What is remarkable is that at multiple points — after the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races or after Scott Brown’s election — Obama and the Congress could have looked up, taken stock, and readjusted. They either didn’t care that their party was plummeting (“Take one for the team!” they essentially keep telling to panicky Democrats) or really were deluded, believing that none of these elections or polling was indicative of anything they were doing wrong.

Obama has already hinted that a single term might be good enough for him. But in his hubris (hubris is like this, of course) he has neglected to recognize that his own political nosedive has real-world consequences both for his agenda (no one is taking his political advice all that seriously) and for his party. That may all become clear after November. As he said, that’s what elections are for.

Stuart Rothenberg writes:

With a nearly 80-seat House majority, 60 seats in the Senate for more than eight months, a GOP brand so damaged that the party looked completely incompetent and a charismatic African-American president taking over from a failed two-term Republican president, you’d have thought that Democrats were set up for a pretty decent two years.

But only one year after the passage of the economic stimulus that was advertised as the first step to revitalizing the American economy and getting Americans back to work, the outlook for November is increasingly troubling for Democrats.

Troubling is one way to put it. He lists the problems. There is “depressing” economic news. Then, the “Democrats have botched their top legislative priority — health care reform — in so many ways that there is plenty of blame to go around. Yes, they may pass a comprehensive bill, but at a steep cost.”Next you can add in the ethics scandals, made more juicy for the media because the Democrats “ran against the ‘culture of corruption’ just a couple of cycles ago.” Then there is Obama (“it’s the rise in his disapproval ratings from the mid-20s in early March 2009 to the mid-40s now that ought to be troubling for Democratic strategists”) and all those disaffected independents who have gone “from virtually mirroring the sentiments of Democrats during the last two election cycles to now more closely resembling the views of Republicans.”

Kind of a mess, isn’t it? What is remarkable is that at multiple points — after the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races or after Scott Brown’s election — Obama and the Congress could have looked up, taken stock, and readjusted. They either didn’t care that their party was plummeting (“Take one for the team!” they essentially keep telling to panicky Democrats) or really were deluded, believing that none of these elections or polling was indicative of anything they were doing wrong.

Obama has already hinted that a single term might be good enough for him. But in his hubris (hubris is like this, of course) he has neglected to recognize that his own political nosedive has real-world consequences both for his agenda (no one is taking his political advice all that seriously) and for his party. That may all become clear after November. As he said, that’s what elections are for.

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What Obama Needs Is a Calendar…

The New York Times this morning reports that Obama is trying to “turn around his presidency.”

That would be an excellent idea in the wake of the results of Tuesday’s election in Massachusetts. But I have my doubts that he is going to change his approach, his attitude, or his agenda. He doesn’t seem to have changed his rhetoric. The Times quotes the president in an ABC News interview as saying:

Here’s my assessment of not just the vote in Massachusetts but the mood around the country — the same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry and they are frustrated. Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.

Ummm, Mr. President, one of those eight years was on your watch. This is January 2010, not 2009. The people of Massachusetts didn’t elect a Republican senator to a seat held by a Democrat since 1952 because of the failures of a Republican president.

I usually hate having to watch the State of the Union speech, but the one President Obama will deliver next Wednesday is must-see TV. If we get more of the failure-of-the-last-eight-years rhetoric, Obama’s political capital — already severely depleted — will be gone. If he acknowledges that he blew it in his first year and will mend his ways, the American people — a forgiving group — will give him another chance.

By the way, if the Republicans need someone to give the Republican response, I have a suggestion: Scott Brown.

The New York Times this morning reports that Obama is trying to “turn around his presidency.”

That would be an excellent idea in the wake of the results of Tuesday’s election in Massachusetts. But I have my doubts that he is going to change his approach, his attitude, or his agenda. He doesn’t seem to have changed his rhetoric. The Times quotes the president in an ABC News interview as saying:

Here’s my assessment of not just the vote in Massachusetts but the mood around the country — the same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry and they are frustrated. Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.

Ummm, Mr. President, one of those eight years was on your watch. This is January 2010, not 2009. The people of Massachusetts didn’t elect a Republican senator to a seat held by a Democrat since 1952 because of the failures of a Republican president.

I usually hate having to watch the State of the Union speech, but the one President Obama will deliver next Wednesday is must-see TV. If we get more of the failure-of-the-last-eight-years rhetoric, Obama’s political capital — already severely depleted — will be gone. If he acknowledges that he blew it in his first year and will mend his ways, the American people — a forgiving group — will give him another chance.

By the way, if the Republicans need someone to give the Republican response, I have a suggestion: Scott Brown.

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Lieberman’s Vision

It seems to be about 40 years too late for Joseph Lieberman to run for President as a Democrat, the 1960′s being the last time that hawks were dominant within the party’s ranks. But there is time yet for him to become Vice President or Secretary of State under a Republican President. (One or the other would seem a sure thing if his good friend John McCain wins the White House.) He certainly deserves nothing less for his consistent willingness to say and do the right thing on national security matters, regardless of which way the political winds are blowing.

He has, most notably, remained a stalwart supporter of the war effort in Iraq in the face of its increasing unpopularity among the public at large and among almost all of his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill. (Joshua Muravchik has already reported on the great speech Lieberman gave in Prague laying out the stakes in Iraq and the broader Middle East.) Not only does Lieberman want to take the war to the jihadists in Iraq, but he is also breaking the great taboo in Washington by proposing to take the war to their sponsors in Iran.

Read More

It seems to be about 40 years too late for Joseph Lieberman to run for President as a Democrat, the 1960′s being the last time that hawks were dominant within the party’s ranks. But there is time yet for him to become Vice President or Secretary of State under a Republican President. (One or the other would seem a sure thing if his good friend John McCain wins the White House.) He certainly deserves nothing less for his consistent willingness to say and do the right thing on national security matters, regardless of which way the political winds are blowing.

He has, most notably, remained a stalwart supporter of the war effort in Iraq in the face of its increasing unpopularity among the public at large and among almost all of his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill. (Joshua Muravchik has already reported on the great speech Lieberman gave in Prague laying out the stakes in Iraq and the broader Middle East.) Not only does Lieberman want to take the war to the jihadists in Iraq, but he is also breaking the great taboo in Washington by proposing to take the war to their sponsors in Iran.

The consensus view in the capital seems to be that while Iran makes war by proxy on the U.S., we are supposed to make nice with Iran. That was the recommendation of the Iraq Study Group. But Iran continues to flaunt the can’t-we-all-get-along approach through shipping potent mines and rockets to anti-American fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, refusing to end its nuclear-weapons program, and its recent seizure of innocent Iranian-Americans as purported spies, among other offenses. The Bush administration reacts largely with rhetorical bluster, backed up by some sanctions and the movement of aircraft carriers into the Persian Gulf.

Lieberman quite rightly points out that our pressure has been insufficient to make Iran change its behavior and that stronger medicine may be in order. On CBS’s Face the Nation this past Sunday, he declared:

I think we’ve got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq. And to me that would include a strike into—over the border into Iran where I—we have good evidence that they have a base at which they are training these people coming back into Iraq to kill our soldiers. . . . They can’t believe that they have immunity for training and equipping people to come in and kill Americans. It’s just—we cannot let them get away with it. If we do, they’ll take that as a sign of weakness on our part, and we will pay for it in Iraq and throughout the region, and ultimately right here at home.

This has earned Lieberman yet more rebukes, such as this bombastic article in the New York Observer, entitled “Lieberman’s Iranian War Fantasy.” In prose that almost parodies State Department thinking, the author, Niall Stanage, concludes: “Dialogue and diplomacy do not make for especially magnetic rallying calls. But they are a much more sensible idea than the dangerous chimera of a short sharp shock to Iran proposed by Mr. Lieberman.”

Stanage is right that the idea of using force against Iran—given its potentially serious repercussions—needs more careful study. But it is his own call for “dialogue and diplomacy” with mullahs who plainly reject both that is the “fantasy” here. Lieberman is willing to face up to the unpleasant reality of the Middle East today, while most of Washington prefers to look the other way as Iran makes war on us.

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Does the name Jan Egesborg ring a bell? I didn’t think so; the Danish artist has received precious little coverage in this country. Yet he has just done what every politically-minded artist ardently yearns to do: make a powerful and arrogant world leader look ridiculous. Remarkably, this leader is not named Bush but Ahmadinejad.

In December 2006, a group calling itself “Danes for World Peace” took out a half-page ad in the English-language Tehran Times. Five anti-war declarations, in rather plodding English, were printed under a photograph of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

Support his fight against Bush
We are also tired of Bush
Iran has the right to produce nuclear energy
No U.S. aggression against any country
Evil U.S. military stay home

Not until after the ad appeared did anyone notice that the five initial letters of the five-line statement, when read downward, spell out the word SWINE—a word chosen to be as offensive as possible—directly beneath Ahmadinejad’s photograph.

Egesborg is the founder of Surrend, the artists’ collaborative whose stated goal is “to make fun of the world’s powerful men” by means of posters, stickers, and newspaper advertisements. Such street theater has been a staple of agit-prop art since the 1960′s, in Europe as well as America, but it is simply inconceivable that any group of American artists would single out for abuse the figures recently mocked by Surrend, a roster that includes the Belorussian despot Alexander Lukashenko, the Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic, and dictator of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe.

As political art satire goes, Egesborg’s sophomoric stunt comes in somewhat below Animal Farm. On the other hand, to carry it out required an abundance of personal courage, not necessarily the first quality that comes to mind when thinking of performance artists. Moreover, it actually does what contemporary art so routinely promises and just as routinely fails to deliver: it “challenges our assumptions about art,” in this case, the assumption that for contemporary artists there is no tyrant on the earth so despicable as a Republican president. Egesborg’s merry little prank was easily the most important work of political art of 2006.

Does the name Jan Egesborg ring a bell? I didn’t think so; the Danish artist has received precious little coverage in this country. Yet he has just done what every politically-minded artist ardently yearns to do: make a powerful and arrogant world leader look ridiculous. Remarkably, this leader is not named Bush but Ahmadinejad.

In December 2006, a group calling itself “Danes for World Peace” took out a half-page ad in the English-language Tehran Times. Five anti-war declarations, in rather plodding English, were printed under a photograph of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

Support his fight against Bush
We are also tired of Bush
Iran has the right to produce nuclear energy
No U.S. aggression against any country
Evil U.S. military stay home

Not until after the ad appeared did anyone notice that the five initial letters of the five-line statement, when read downward, spell out the word SWINE—a word chosen to be as offensive as possible—directly beneath Ahmadinejad’s photograph.

Egesborg is the founder of Surrend, the artists’ collaborative whose stated goal is “to make fun of the world’s powerful men” by means of posters, stickers, and newspaper advertisements. Such street theater has been a staple of agit-prop art since the 1960′s, in Europe as well as America, but it is simply inconceivable that any group of American artists would single out for abuse the figures recently mocked by Surrend, a roster that includes the Belorussian despot Alexander Lukashenko, the Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic, and dictator of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe.

As political art satire goes, Egesborg’s sophomoric stunt comes in somewhat below Animal Farm. On the other hand, to carry it out required an abundance of personal courage, not necessarily the first quality that comes to mind when thinking of performance artists. Moreover, it actually does what contemporary art so routinely promises and just as routinely fails to deliver: it “challenges our assumptions about art,” in this case, the assumption that for contemporary artists there is no tyrant on the earth so despicable as a Republican president. Egesborg’s merry little prank was easily the most important work of political art of 2006.

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