Commentary Magazine


Topic: Republican senator

Guess We’re Governable After All

Don’t look now, but the American government is working as it should. Harry Reid, bending to bipartisan reality, has quit fighting for his $1.2 trillion spending bill and turned to short-term budget solutions. We can debate the merits of the $858 billion tax compromise, but it passed without any trickery and, more important, we knew what was in it. Congress now turns to genuine deliberation on the Dream Act, the repeal of DADT, and the ratification of New START. Gone are the kabuki summits, unseemly prime-time sales pitches, and abstruse parliamentary con games. Where Nancy Pelosi had wielded a giant prop gavel and boasted of “making history” with ObamaCare, one real-life federal judge just declared it unconstitutional. How did all this happen? Only a year ago, liberal pundits had pronounced America ungovernable.

What spurred magazines like Newsweek to render that judgment in the first place? A civic and governmental travesty of such gargantuan proportion that it’s chilling to think it actually happened in the United States: Massachusetts elected a Republican senator.

This left little question about whom to blame. “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain,” the magazine’s editors wrote.  Moreover, “any regular observer of Washington would conclude that congressional Republicans have no desire to be reached out to — because they aren’t actually very interested in governing the country.”

Were grapes ever so sour? President Obama and an unbridled Democratic Congress drove Massachusetts into the arms of the GOP within one year, and this meant that Republicans were a danger to the union. The case made before the people was simply an inversion of reality. While Newsweek cited the “GOP’s flagrant use of parliamentary tricks,” Democrats on the Hill were employing maneuvers so recondite, few could accurately define or explain the intricacies of what was happening.  The editors lamented the Republicans’ bullying of the “spineless Democrats,” while Nancy Pelosi bragged of her commando legislation tactics: “We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in, but we’re going to get health-care reform passed for the America people.” Newsweek claimed that “congressional Republicans offered no serious counterproposals to the Democrats’ health-care initiative and sought instead to either mislead or simply lie about its key elements,” but it was President Obama who impatiently dismissed the prospect of a bipartisan effort as “another year of partisan wrangling around these issues, another six months’ or eight months’ or nine months’ worth of hearings in every single committee in the House and the Senate in which there’s a lot of posturing.”

What Obama’s first year actually proved was that America is undictatable. Scott Brown was elected because Americans were screaming out for governance and rejecting rule by decree. If a year ago liberals were weeping for America the ungovernable, less than a year later, with the midterm-election trouncing, only celebrity activists and zombified Democratic operatives continue to make such claims. Read More

Don’t look now, but the American government is working as it should. Harry Reid, bending to bipartisan reality, has quit fighting for his $1.2 trillion spending bill and turned to short-term budget solutions. We can debate the merits of the $858 billion tax compromise, but it passed without any trickery and, more important, we knew what was in it. Congress now turns to genuine deliberation on the Dream Act, the repeal of DADT, and the ratification of New START. Gone are the kabuki summits, unseemly prime-time sales pitches, and abstruse parliamentary con games. Where Nancy Pelosi had wielded a giant prop gavel and boasted of “making history” with ObamaCare, one real-life federal judge just declared it unconstitutional. How did all this happen? Only a year ago, liberal pundits had pronounced America ungovernable.

What spurred magazines like Newsweek to render that judgment in the first place? A civic and governmental travesty of such gargantuan proportion that it’s chilling to think it actually happened in the United States: Massachusetts elected a Republican senator.

This left little question about whom to blame. “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain,” the magazine’s editors wrote.  Moreover, “any regular observer of Washington would conclude that congressional Republicans have no desire to be reached out to — because they aren’t actually very interested in governing the country.”

Were grapes ever so sour? President Obama and an unbridled Democratic Congress drove Massachusetts into the arms of the GOP within one year, and this meant that Republicans were a danger to the union. The case made before the people was simply an inversion of reality. While Newsweek cited the “GOP’s flagrant use of parliamentary tricks,” Democrats on the Hill were employing maneuvers so recondite, few could accurately define or explain the intricacies of what was happening.  The editors lamented the Republicans’ bullying of the “spineless Democrats,” while Nancy Pelosi bragged of her commando legislation tactics: “We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in, but we’re going to get health-care reform passed for the America people.” Newsweek claimed that “congressional Republicans offered no serious counterproposals to the Democrats’ health-care initiative and sought instead to either mislead or simply lie about its key elements,” but it was President Obama who impatiently dismissed the prospect of a bipartisan effort as “another year of partisan wrangling around these issues, another six months’ or eight months’ or nine months’ worth of hearings in every single committee in the House and the Senate in which there’s a lot of posturing.”

What Obama’s first year actually proved was that America is undictatable. Scott Brown was elected because Americans were screaming out for governance and rejecting rule by decree. If a year ago liberals were weeping for America the ungovernable, less than a year later, with the midterm-election trouncing, only celebrity activists and zombified Democratic operatives continue to make such claims.

The present circumstance should serve as a “teachable moment” for those frustrated Obama enthusiasts who were more outraged by a non-compliant citizenry than they were by an entitled leadership. If there was a threat to the structural soundness of our democracy, it came not from voices of opposition but rather from the ideological bullies who assumed that dissent could only mean defectiveness. In a democracy, the machinery of governance comes to a halt when the people sense someone has tried to override the system. In despotic countries, friction can stop the gears. In the U.S., it’s the energy source that keeps things moving.

On matters of policy, this administration still has much to learn. A new NBC–Wall Street Journal poll shows that 63 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. This is the highest wrong-track number since Obama became president. The figure mostly reflects Americans’ concern about the economy and the government’s failure to raise employment prospects. As grim as things are, the good news is that America is now poised to tackle its toughest challenges. Accountability and ideological pluralism have come out of hiding. As Americans, we need to panic only when they go missing, not when our elected officials don’t get their way.

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Is Silence Enough?

Rand Paul is learning what it means to have the bright, hot light of national media on him. After an obnoxious outing on ABC during which Paul whined and railed at the mainstream media for outing his views on federal anti-discrimination legislation, he changed his tune and told Wolf Blitzer on CNN point blank that he would have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. With little explanation of the quick evolution in his views, he said he’s a definite yes on whether he’d have voted for the Act in 1964. On the Americans with Disabilities Act, he flailed around for a bit and then came down on the side of maybe.

Should we be surprised, then, that Paul abruptly cancelled on short notice his appearance on Meet the Press? I suppose he could try to hide from every unsympathetic reporter in the country, but such a decision will simply underscore the fact that he can’t be trusted to go out in public.

And one other disturbing note about the Blitzer interview: he didn’t firmly disassociate himself from his father’s foreign-policy views:

BLITZER: I want you to have a chance to differentiate, if you want to differentiate, with your dad. I’ve interviewed Congressman Ron Paul on many occasions and we’ve gone through all of these issues. He’s a principled libertarian, as you well know. First of all, are you as principled a libertarian in — from your perspective, as your dad?

PAUL:  Some will say not. I call myself a constitutional conservative, which I’m — means that I believe that the constitution does restrict and restrain the federal government and we should be doing a lot less than we’re doing. And if we did so, I think we would balance the budget and we would have more local and state control…

BLITZER: All right.

PAUL: So we’ll agree on a lot of issues and we’ll disagree on some and there may be some nuance. But I would say I —  you know, he will probably still be the — the number one libertarian in the country. I’m probably not going to supplant him there.

BLITZER: You’re not going to be able to compete, because there are four votes — and I’ve discussed this with him himself — in with the vote was 425-1 or 421-1, 424-1, for example, a war — asking Arab states to acknowledge genocide in Darfur, asking Vietnam to release a political prisoner, condemning the Zimbabwe government, awarding a gold medal to Rosa Parks.

Your dad was the only member on the Democratic and Republican side to vote against that because he’s a principled libertarian and he doesn’t want the U.S. government involved in any of these issues.

Are you the same as him?

PAUL:  Probably not. And the thing is, is that he is incredibly principled. And I admire him for the stands he’s taken. Interestingly, some of those things, it sounds like how could anybody be against that? The reason he votes against it a lot of times is not that he disagrees with the position. Often, he’ll disa — he’ll agree with the position of the resolution, but just think that the government really shouldn’t be making a statement on some of these things.

I think it’s yet to be seen how I’ll vote on resolutions — non-binding resolutions. But I’m probably not going to be the great path breaker that he is. But I think he stands on principle and I think he’s well respected because he doesn’t compromise his principles.

Does this include resolutions on Israel? Is he on board with the war in Afghanistan or not? Does he think we should be promoting human rights abroad? He recently did put out a position paper on Israel — presumably drafted for him — which was a step in the right direction. So one doesn’t sense that he’s exactly in lockstep with his father on foreign policy, but neither is he interested in conducting a robust war on Islamic jihadists or promoting American values around the world. If elected, will he have more in common with Obama on foreign policy than with any other Republican senator? I would think so.

If Paul is going to survive — and it’s an open question whether he should — he can’t hide from the media or the voters. He’s going to have to articulate a non-wacky view of foreign and domestic policy that is in line with average Kentucky voters. And if he can’t do that, or if he doesn’t really feel comfortable with non-wacky views, then Kentucky Republicans made a big mistake in nominating him. Other Republicans, conservative activists, and bloggers should consider their nominees this year and in 2012 very carefully; otherwise they will lose a golden opportunity afforded by Obama to unify conservatives and attract independent voters. They might want to consider the Republicans who won high-profile races: Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, and Scott Brown. Yes, they ran against big government and Obamaism, but they were all well-versed in policy and ideologically well within mainstream conservatism.

And if Republicans want an example of political suicide, they can take a look at the Democrats both in and outside of Connecticut. They collectively have failed the political sobriety test. Connecticut Democrats on Friday formally nominated Richard Blumenthal. With the Democrats painting Ron Paul as the GOP’s poster boy and Republicans doing the same with Blumenthal for the Democratic Party, voters may decide that sometimes it’s better to have a candidate with a bit of experience, who’s been vetted before the primary, and who doesn’t spend his time denying that he is a liar or an extremist.

Rand Paul is learning what it means to have the bright, hot light of national media on him. After an obnoxious outing on ABC during which Paul whined and railed at the mainstream media for outing his views on federal anti-discrimination legislation, he changed his tune and told Wolf Blitzer on CNN point blank that he would have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. With little explanation of the quick evolution in his views, he said he’s a definite yes on whether he’d have voted for the Act in 1964. On the Americans with Disabilities Act, he flailed around for a bit and then came down on the side of maybe.

Should we be surprised, then, that Paul abruptly cancelled on short notice his appearance on Meet the Press? I suppose he could try to hide from every unsympathetic reporter in the country, but such a decision will simply underscore the fact that he can’t be trusted to go out in public.

And one other disturbing note about the Blitzer interview: he didn’t firmly disassociate himself from his father’s foreign-policy views:

BLITZER: I want you to have a chance to differentiate, if you want to differentiate, with your dad. I’ve interviewed Congressman Ron Paul on many occasions and we’ve gone through all of these issues. He’s a principled libertarian, as you well know. First of all, are you as principled a libertarian in — from your perspective, as your dad?

PAUL:  Some will say not. I call myself a constitutional conservative, which I’m — means that I believe that the constitution does restrict and restrain the federal government and we should be doing a lot less than we’re doing. And if we did so, I think we would balance the budget and we would have more local and state control…

BLITZER: All right.

PAUL: So we’ll agree on a lot of issues and we’ll disagree on some and there may be some nuance. But I would say I —  you know, he will probably still be the — the number one libertarian in the country. I’m probably not going to supplant him there.

BLITZER: You’re not going to be able to compete, because there are four votes — and I’ve discussed this with him himself — in with the vote was 425-1 or 421-1, 424-1, for example, a war — asking Arab states to acknowledge genocide in Darfur, asking Vietnam to release a political prisoner, condemning the Zimbabwe government, awarding a gold medal to Rosa Parks.

Your dad was the only member on the Democratic and Republican side to vote against that because he’s a principled libertarian and he doesn’t want the U.S. government involved in any of these issues.

Are you the same as him?

PAUL:  Probably not. And the thing is, is that he is incredibly principled. And I admire him for the stands he’s taken. Interestingly, some of those things, it sounds like how could anybody be against that? The reason he votes against it a lot of times is not that he disagrees with the position. Often, he’ll disa — he’ll agree with the position of the resolution, but just think that the government really shouldn’t be making a statement on some of these things.

I think it’s yet to be seen how I’ll vote on resolutions — non-binding resolutions. But I’m probably not going to be the great path breaker that he is. But I think he stands on principle and I think he’s well respected because he doesn’t compromise his principles.

Does this include resolutions on Israel? Is he on board with the war in Afghanistan or not? Does he think we should be promoting human rights abroad? He recently did put out a position paper on Israel — presumably drafted for him — which was a step in the right direction. So one doesn’t sense that he’s exactly in lockstep with his father on foreign policy, but neither is he interested in conducting a robust war on Islamic jihadists or promoting American values around the world. If elected, will he have more in common with Obama on foreign policy than with any other Republican senator? I would think so.

If Paul is going to survive — and it’s an open question whether he should — he can’t hide from the media or the voters. He’s going to have to articulate a non-wacky view of foreign and domestic policy that is in line with average Kentucky voters. And if he can’t do that, or if he doesn’t really feel comfortable with non-wacky views, then Kentucky Republicans made a big mistake in nominating him. Other Republicans, conservative activists, and bloggers should consider their nominees this year and in 2012 very carefully; otherwise they will lose a golden opportunity afforded by Obama to unify conservatives and attract independent voters. They might want to consider the Republicans who won high-profile races: Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, and Scott Brown. Yes, they ran against big government and Obamaism, but they were all well-versed in policy and ideologically well within mainstream conservatism.

And if Republicans want an example of political suicide, they can take a look at the Democrats both in and outside of Connecticut. They collectively have failed the political sobriety test. Connecticut Democrats on Friday formally nominated Richard Blumenthal. With the Democrats painting Ron Paul as the GOP’s poster boy and Republicans doing the same with Blumenthal for the Democratic Party, voters may decide that sometimes it’s better to have a candidate with a bit of experience, who’s been vetted before the primary, and who doesn’t spend his time denying that he is a liar or an extremist.

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Kagan and the Military Recruiters

Ramesh Ponnuru makes an excellent point:

Elena Kagan helped to keep military recruiters from having equal access to the Harvard campus — based on what she called “the military’s policy” on don’t ask, don’t tell. When Congress voted to deny Defense Department funds to universities that discriminate against the military, she joined an effort to fight the law (called the Solomon amendment) in court. In effect, she was arguing that the school had a constitutional right to get government funding while discriminating against military recruiters. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the universities.

So on this issue it is hard to argue that Kagan was within the judicial mainstream. Her position is, additionally, hard to defend.

But that may not be the worst of it. The exclusion of openly gay men and lesbians — which I agree should be repealed — is not the military’s policy. It is a law that was enacted by Congress and signed by President Clinton. That didn’t stop Kagan from serving in Clinton’s White House. Nor did her opposition to what she considered the deep injustice of the policy move her to support continuing to discriminate against the recruiters when that would have required turning down some federal money.

So the military alone was supposed to pay a price for her principles — not politicians, and not the university.

Kurt Andersen also makes an interesting point on Facebook: It will, or should, be problematic for any Republican Senator who was in the Senate in 1999 to attack Elena Kagan’s appointment on the grounds that she has limited experience, since her experience is limited due in some measure to the Republican Senate in 1999. That year,  her nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was tabled by the Republican-dominated Senate, as were all upper-court appointments by the Clinton administration, since there was an election looming and Clinton was a lame duck. This was a  nakedly partisan ideological decision undertaken in part because the same had been done to Republican administrations by Democratic-dominated Senates in 1987-8 and 1991-2.

Ramesh Ponnuru makes an excellent point:

Elena Kagan helped to keep military recruiters from having equal access to the Harvard campus — based on what she called “the military’s policy” on don’t ask, don’t tell. When Congress voted to deny Defense Department funds to universities that discriminate against the military, she joined an effort to fight the law (called the Solomon amendment) in court. In effect, she was arguing that the school had a constitutional right to get government funding while discriminating against military recruiters. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the universities.

So on this issue it is hard to argue that Kagan was within the judicial mainstream. Her position is, additionally, hard to defend.

But that may not be the worst of it. The exclusion of openly gay men and lesbians — which I agree should be repealed — is not the military’s policy. It is a law that was enacted by Congress and signed by President Clinton. That didn’t stop Kagan from serving in Clinton’s White House. Nor did her opposition to what she considered the deep injustice of the policy move her to support continuing to discriminate against the recruiters when that would have required turning down some federal money.

So the military alone was supposed to pay a price for her principles — not politicians, and not the university.

Kurt Andersen also makes an interesting point on Facebook: It will, or should, be problematic for any Republican Senator who was in the Senate in 1999 to attack Elena Kagan’s appointment on the grounds that she has limited experience, since her experience is limited due in some measure to the Republican Senate in 1999. That year,  her nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was tabled by the Republican-dominated Senate, as were all upper-court appointments by the Clinton administration, since there was an election looming and Clinton was a lame duck. This was a  nakedly partisan ideological decision undertaken in part because the same had been done to Republican administrations by Democratic-dominated Senates in 1987-8 and 1991-2.

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Misconstruing the Message of Robert Bennett’s Defeat

The defeat of Robert Bennett in the Utah Republican convention has unleashed a torrent of overheated and silly analysis. For example, Politico intones:

Republican Sen. Robert Bennett was one of the most powerful and likable members of the Senate, he diligently protected Utah’s interests from his post in GOP leadership and he funneled millions of dollars back to his state as an appropriator. But Utah Republicans didn’t care. In fact, that’s exactly why they tossed him out Saturday in a humbling second ballot vote at the state party convention. … For Republicans who are measuring the drapes in anticipation of reclaiming power, Bennett’s loss should be sobering. If the anti-Washington and tea party winds keep blowing this strong, some of them could be measuring their own political graves.

Does it really mean that Republicans are imperiled and the voters are racing to elect Democrats to replace GOP stalwarts? No, of course not. What happened in Utah was the desire for a more authentic and, frankly, younger conservative voice. There is virtually no chance Utah’s seat will go to the Democrats. As Bill Kristol explained on Fox News Sunday:

Bennett was defeated by two very attractive, young conservatives who are now going into a primary runoff. And you know, one can say that he was defeated by the Tea Party, but he was actually defeated — if you look at these actual candidates, they’re impressive young conservatives who I think want to rethink fiscal policy and economic policy across the board in a much bolder way than an establishment Republican like Bob Bennett was willing to do.

But that’s not a story line that is attractive to the mainstream media — which desperately want to portray the anti-liberal sentiment sweeping the country as generically anti-Beltway. The delegates in Utah tossed Bennett because he was an insufficiently stalwart standard bearer of the small-government, anti-bailout phenomenon that is exciting the GOP base and sweeping up support from independents. As Politico acknowledges:

For others, their vote was primarily about adherence to orthodoxy on fiscal issues, a unifying cause of the tea party movement. It didn’t matter to them that Bennett favors gun rights, tougher immigration laws and even voted against President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. The first explanation offered by most delegates here referenced his vote for the TARP bailout program. A smattering of delegates even began chanting, “TARP, TARP, TARP” during one of Bennett’s floor speeches.

It stands to reason, then, that Democrats will be in more trouble, not less, than a Republican senator. So unless Democrats are running to the right of Republicans, it’s hard to see how Bennett’s defeat is good news for them.

The defeat of Robert Bennett in the Utah Republican convention has unleashed a torrent of overheated and silly analysis. For example, Politico intones:

Republican Sen. Robert Bennett was one of the most powerful and likable members of the Senate, he diligently protected Utah’s interests from his post in GOP leadership and he funneled millions of dollars back to his state as an appropriator. But Utah Republicans didn’t care. In fact, that’s exactly why they tossed him out Saturday in a humbling second ballot vote at the state party convention. … For Republicans who are measuring the drapes in anticipation of reclaiming power, Bennett’s loss should be sobering. If the anti-Washington and tea party winds keep blowing this strong, some of them could be measuring their own political graves.

Does it really mean that Republicans are imperiled and the voters are racing to elect Democrats to replace GOP stalwarts? No, of course not. What happened in Utah was the desire for a more authentic and, frankly, younger conservative voice. There is virtually no chance Utah’s seat will go to the Democrats. As Bill Kristol explained on Fox News Sunday:

Bennett was defeated by two very attractive, young conservatives who are now going into a primary runoff. And you know, one can say that he was defeated by the Tea Party, but he was actually defeated — if you look at these actual candidates, they’re impressive young conservatives who I think want to rethink fiscal policy and economic policy across the board in a much bolder way than an establishment Republican like Bob Bennett was willing to do.

But that’s not a story line that is attractive to the mainstream media — which desperately want to portray the anti-liberal sentiment sweeping the country as generically anti-Beltway. The delegates in Utah tossed Bennett because he was an insufficiently stalwart standard bearer of the small-government, anti-bailout phenomenon that is exciting the GOP base and sweeping up support from independents. As Politico acknowledges:

For others, their vote was primarily about adherence to orthodoxy on fiscal issues, a unifying cause of the tea party movement. It didn’t matter to them that Bennett favors gun rights, tougher immigration laws and even voted against President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. The first explanation offered by most delegates here referenced his vote for the TARP bailout program. A smattering of delegates even began chanting, “TARP, TARP, TARP” during one of Bennett’s floor speeches.

It stands to reason, then, that Democrats will be in more trouble, not less, than a Republican senator. So unless Democrats are running to the right of Republicans, it’s hard to see how Bennett’s defeat is good news for them.

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Waterloo Time?

Michael Gerson sums up the Democrats’ ObamaCare dilemma:

Their proposal has divided Democrats while uniting Republicans, returned American politics to well-worn ideological ruts, employed legislative tactics that smack of corruption, squandered the president’s public standing, lowered public regard for Congress to French revolutionary levels, sucked the oxygen from other agenda items, reengaged the abortion battle, produced freaks and prodigies of nature such as a Republican senator from Massachusetts, raised questions about the continued governability of America and caused the White House chief of staff to distance himself from the president’s ambitions.

It is quite an accomplishment. For the president, it must also be quite a shock, because he thought he was taking a reasonable, middle path on health reform.

Gerson contends we got here because Obama eschewed incrementalism in favor of transformation and failed to appreciate that there was little appetite for a new entitlement program. And it didn’t help that it seemed to be only one element in a series of big-government power grabs. These were not small tactical errors but huge errors of judgment and vision. In short, he got just about everything wrong.

Is there a way out? Well, after HillaryCare went down to defeat, Bill Clinton moved on to other things. There was no “Plan B” for mini-reforms. And Clinton lived to fight another day, win a second term, and benefit from the restraint imposed by a Republican Congress. Another option is to move away from a massive plan before a painful, if not humiliating, vote comes down. The murmurs in favor of “incrementalism” are being heard on the Democratic side. It would not be as stinging a defeat as a “no” vote on ObamaCare. But right now Obama, as he has done every time he’s been given a chance to turn back, is instead plunging ahead, trying to force a vote in a matter of days.

Obama seems oddly eager to create a make-or-break moment — to put his entire presidency and the congressional majority of his party on the line for the sake of a bill reviled by 2/3 of the country. The result may be bracing. And he will have no one to blame but himself if he fails, nor much, if any, political capital left to sustain him through the remainder of his term. He better know something the rest of us don’t about the House vote count, or this will, in fact, be his Waterloo.

Michael Gerson sums up the Democrats’ ObamaCare dilemma:

Their proposal has divided Democrats while uniting Republicans, returned American politics to well-worn ideological ruts, employed legislative tactics that smack of corruption, squandered the president’s public standing, lowered public regard for Congress to French revolutionary levels, sucked the oxygen from other agenda items, reengaged the abortion battle, produced freaks and prodigies of nature such as a Republican senator from Massachusetts, raised questions about the continued governability of America and caused the White House chief of staff to distance himself from the president’s ambitions.

It is quite an accomplishment. For the president, it must also be quite a shock, because he thought he was taking a reasonable, middle path on health reform.

Gerson contends we got here because Obama eschewed incrementalism in favor of transformation and failed to appreciate that there was little appetite for a new entitlement program. And it didn’t help that it seemed to be only one element in a series of big-government power grabs. These were not small tactical errors but huge errors of judgment and vision. In short, he got just about everything wrong.

Is there a way out? Well, after HillaryCare went down to defeat, Bill Clinton moved on to other things. There was no “Plan B” for mini-reforms. And Clinton lived to fight another day, win a second term, and benefit from the restraint imposed by a Republican Congress. Another option is to move away from a massive plan before a painful, if not humiliating, vote comes down. The murmurs in favor of “incrementalism” are being heard on the Democratic side. It would not be as stinging a defeat as a “no” vote on ObamaCare. But right now Obama, as he has done every time he’s been given a chance to turn back, is instead plunging ahead, trying to force a vote in a matter of days.

Obama seems oddly eager to create a make-or-break moment — to put his entire presidency and the congressional majority of his party on the line for the sake of a bill reviled by 2/3 of the country. The result may be bracing. And he will have no one to blame but himself if he fails, nor much, if any, political capital left to sustain him through the remainder of his term. He better know something the rest of us don’t about the House vote count, or this will, in fact, be his Waterloo.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A must-read new blog, Bad Rachel, is off with a bang, examining a study of Pashtun men in the Afghan army. “If through the good offices of our military—especially our women soldiers—we could help Afghani women unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

Obama doubles down on his George W. Bush buck-passing, repeating Eric Holder’s line that the Obama administration is treating terrorists just as its predecessor did. (No mention of the terrorists who were treated as combatants under Bush, and no word on why Obama’s not using the military-tribunal system put into place since many of the Bush-era terror cases.) Then the real double-talk starts: we got “actionable intelligence” from the Christmas Day bomber, the president says. But then why was he telling the American people that this was an “isolated extremist” in the days after the bombing? Something sure doesn’t add up.

Bill Kristol reminds us: “Robert Gibbs said to you right here at this desk, right here in snowy Washington, D.C., Chris, where you’re — you seem to have escaped from and enjoying nice weather there in Nashville — Gibbs said to you, what, two days after the Christmas bomber, ‘We got everything we needed from him.’ Do you remember that? There’s no — 50 minutes of interrogation with the FBI. That was great. Now — that was their spin then. Their spin now is, ‘Oh, it’s great. He’s talking again. He’s giving us lots of useful information.’ Which is it? Robert Gibbs was not telling the truth one of those two times. … When you have a White House that’s spinning constantly, they’re going to be criticized and they deserve to be criticized.”

Bill Sammon explains: “And Kit Bond was pretty direct, the senator saying the FBI director personally told him, ‘Look, the guy is talking to us again after five weeks but we got to keep that quiet. If that gets out, that could compromise national security.’ Because, of course, the intelligence that you’re getting from the guy is perishable. It’s actionable. And you don’t want to be blabbing to the world that the guy’s talking. So what happens? Twenty-four hours later, you have this unseemly spectacle of the White House press operation hurriedly summoning reporters to the West Wing to trumpet, ‘Guess what? He’s talking again! He’s talking again!'”

In case you thought it was very hard to get the federal budget under control: “Republican senator George LeMieux of Florida has done the math. If government spending were reduced to its 2007 level, we’d have a balanced budget (with a $163 billion surplus). Returning to the 2008 level of spending, the budget would be balanced in 2014 (a $133 billion surplus). And in both cases, that’s while keeping the Bush tax cuts across the board and indexing the loathed alternative minimum tax for inflation.”

Illinois Democrats had enough of this: “The ex-girlfriend who accused Democratic Lt. Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen of threatening her with a knife said Saturday she ‘does not believe he is fit to hold any public office.”” Only a week after the nomination: “Embattled Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen said Sunday night he’s dropping out of the race. ‘For the good of the people of [the] state of Illinois and the Democratic party I will resign,’ he said.”

Arlen Specter gets the endorsement of the  Pennsylvania Democratic party. But Democrats there don’t seem to like him all that much.

The Washington Post gives a blow-by-blow account of Sarah Palin’s appearance — her physical appearance, that is — at the Tea Party Convention. I can’t imagine them doing the same in the case of, say, Tim Pawlenty. One noteworthy observation: “In her lapel, a small pin with two flags — for Israel and the United States.”

Here’s a good bipartisan issue for conservatives to get behind: “The Obama administration is reaching out to business-friendly Democrats to win support for free-trade policies that divide the party. The effort is part of President Barack Obama’s push on trade that was launched with his State of the Union address. Obama said he wanted to double exports over the next five years as part of an effort to grow the U.S. economy.” If nothing else, it will annoy Big Labor.

A must-read new blog, Bad Rachel, is off with a bang, examining a study of Pashtun men in the Afghan army. “If through the good offices of our military—especially our women soldiers—we could help Afghani women unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

Obama doubles down on his George W. Bush buck-passing, repeating Eric Holder’s line that the Obama administration is treating terrorists just as its predecessor did. (No mention of the terrorists who were treated as combatants under Bush, and no word on why Obama’s not using the military-tribunal system put into place since many of the Bush-era terror cases.) Then the real double-talk starts: we got “actionable intelligence” from the Christmas Day bomber, the president says. But then why was he telling the American people that this was an “isolated extremist” in the days after the bombing? Something sure doesn’t add up.

Bill Kristol reminds us: “Robert Gibbs said to you right here at this desk, right here in snowy Washington, D.C., Chris, where you’re — you seem to have escaped from and enjoying nice weather there in Nashville — Gibbs said to you, what, two days after the Christmas bomber, ‘We got everything we needed from him.’ Do you remember that? There’s no — 50 minutes of interrogation with the FBI. That was great. Now — that was their spin then. Their spin now is, ‘Oh, it’s great. He’s talking again. He’s giving us lots of useful information.’ Which is it? Robert Gibbs was not telling the truth one of those two times. … When you have a White House that’s spinning constantly, they’re going to be criticized and they deserve to be criticized.”

Bill Sammon explains: “And Kit Bond was pretty direct, the senator saying the FBI director personally told him, ‘Look, the guy is talking to us again after five weeks but we got to keep that quiet. If that gets out, that could compromise national security.’ Because, of course, the intelligence that you’re getting from the guy is perishable. It’s actionable. And you don’t want to be blabbing to the world that the guy’s talking. So what happens? Twenty-four hours later, you have this unseemly spectacle of the White House press operation hurriedly summoning reporters to the West Wing to trumpet, ‘Guess what? He’s talking again! He’s talking again!'”

In case you thought it was very hard to get the federal budget under control: “Republican senator George LeMieux of Florida has done the math. If government spending were reduced to its 2007 level, we’d have a balanced budget (with a $163 billion surplus). Returning to the 2008 level of spending, the budget would be balanced in 2014 (a $133 billion surplus). And in both cases, that’s while keeping the Bush tax cuts across the board and indexing the loathed alternative minimum tax for inflation.”

Illinois Democrats had enough of this: “The ex-girlfriend who accused Democratic Lt. Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen of threatening her with a knife said Saturday she ‘does not believe he is fit to hold any public office.”” Only a week after the nomination: “Embattled Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen said Sunday night he’s dropping out of the race. ‘For the good of the people of [the] state of Illinois and the Democratic party I will resign,’ he said.”

Arlen Specter gets the endorsement of the  Pennsylvania Democratic party. But Democrats there don’t seem to like him all that much.

The Washington Post gives a blow-by-blow account of Sarah Palin’s appearance — her physical appearance, that is — at the Tea Party Convention. I can’t imagine them doing the same in the case of, say, Tim Pawlenty. One noteworthy observation: “In her lapel, a small pin with two flags — for Israel and the United States.”

Here’s a good bipartisan issue for conservatives to get behind: “The Obama administration is reaching out to business-friendly Democrats to win support for free-trade policies that divide the party. The effort is part of President Barack Obama’s push on trade that was launched with his State of the Union address. Obama said he wanted to double exports over the next five years as part of an effort to grow the U.S. economy.” If nothing else, it will annoy Big Labor.

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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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A Perfect Political Storm

A month ago even most political junkies – at least outside Massachusetts – would have been hard-pressed to name the Democratic and Republican candidates in tomorrow’s special election for U.S. Senate. In that Bluest of Blue states, which hasn’t had a Republican senator in 32 years and has no Republican House members, it was a foregone conclusion that Martha Coakley was going to win in a walk. She was 30 points ahead. Ho hum.

But Coakley obviously believed she was a shoe-in and at first ran a lackluster, minimal, take-no-risks campaign. She even took a week off to celebrate the holidays. And when she was campaigning, she made gaffe after gaffe. She said that Curt Schilling is a Yankees fan; dissed Fenway Park; said Catholics (48.2 percent of the electorate in Massachusetts) shouldn’t work in emergency rooms because, in effect, Church teachings on abortion conflict with the liberal gospel; and said that “we need to get taxes up.” Her opponent, Scott Brown, has run a smart, effective campaign and seems to have pitch-perfect political instincts. His “it’s the people’s seat” was the best sound bite to come out of a debate in years.

Suddenly what had been a sure thing became competitive, and the national parties and political activists across the country awoke to what was at stake. Scott Brown’s election would end the Democrat’s filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. More, the election quickly became perceived as a referendum on the increasingly unpopular ObamaCare and on President Obama, himself. It became clear that a Brown win would be interpreted as a rebuke to the President and almost certainly mean the end of ObamaCare in anything like its present form. It would make Democrats in Congress, especially those in competitive seats, far more reluctant to vote in ways that might be unpopular. It would induce some Democrats facing uphill campaigns next November to retire.

Republicans, watching Brown climb the polls, sensed a historic opportunity. Democrats, watching Coakley drop in the polls, sensed a disaster in the making. Resources, money, and people from around the country have poured into Massachusetts in the last two weeks. The news networks sent their heavy hitters to cover the election. Pundits covered the story like a rug. And Brown kept climbing. Coakley kept making mistakes like flying to Washington to collect money from lobbyists at a private cocktail party and saying she didn’t know anything about a member of her entourage roughing up a reporter, even though photographs showed her standing right there, watching it happen from five feet away.

Finally President Obama, who had had no plans to campaign personally, decided to put his own prestige on the line to salvage the situation. It was a big risk, as a loss for Coakley would now inescapably be seen as a rebuke to him.  But he was in a damned-if-he-did-damned-if-he-didn’t situation. He and Coakley had a rally at Northeastern University. The hall wasn’t filled. Brown (and Curt Schilling) had a rally in Worchester. It was jammed. Hand-painted yard signs have sprung up all over the state for Brown, and the momentum seems to be all with him. Once down 30 points, he is now up from 4 to 11 points, although polling in this sort of election is very unreliable. Intrade, a prediction market that taps into the “wisdom of crowds,” had Coakley up 55-45 a few days ago but now has Brown up 64-37.

Six weeks ago, nobody cared. Now the entire political nation is awaiting the outcome of what might well be regarded as the most important and consequential by-election in American history.

A month ago even most political junkies – at least outside Massachusetts – would have been hard-pressed to name the Democratic and Republican candidates in tomorrow’s special election for U.S. Senate. In that Bluest of Blue states, which hasn’t had a Republican senator in 32 years and has no Republican House members, it was a foregone conclusion that Martha Coakley was going to win in a walk. She was 30 points ahead. Ho hum.

But Coakley obviously believed she was a shoe-in and at first ran a lackluster, minimal, take-no-risks campaign. She even took a week off to celebrate the holidays. And when she was campaigning, she made gaffe after gaffe. She said that Curt Schilling is a Yankees fan; dissed Fenway Park; said Catholics (48.2 percent of the electorate in Massachusetts) shouldn’t work in emergency rooms because, in effect, Church teachings on abortion conflict with the liberal gospel; and said that “we need to get taxes up.” Her opponent, Scott Brown, has run a smart, effective campaign and seems to have pitch-perfect political instincts. His “it’s the people’s seat” was the best sound bite to come out of a debate in years.

Suddenly what had been a sure thing became competitive, and the national parties and political activists across the country awoke to what was at stake. Scott Brown’s election would end the Democrat’s filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. More, the election quickly became perceived as a referendum on the increasingly unpopular ObamaCare and on President Obama, himself. It became clear that a Brown win would be interpreted as a rebuke to the President and almost certainly mean the end of ObamaCare in anything like its present form. It would make Democrats in Congress, especially those in competitive seats, far more reluctant to vote in ways that might be unpopular. It would induce some Democrats facing uphill campaigns next November to retire.

Republicans, watching Brown climb the polls, sensed a historic opportunity. Democrats, watching Coakley drop in the polls, sensed a disaster in the making. Resources, money, and people from around the country have poured into Massachusetts in the last two weeks. The news networks sent their heavy hitters to cover the election. Pundits covered the story like a rug. And Brown kept climbing. Coakley kept making mistakes like flying to Washington to collect money from lobbyists at a private cocktail party and saying she didn’t know anything about a member of her entourage roughing up a reporter, even though photographs showed her standing right there, watching it happen from five feet away.

Finally President Obama, who had had no plans to campaign personally, decided to put his own prestige on the line to salvage the situation. It was a big risk, as a loss for Coakley would now inescapably be seen as a rebuke to him.  But he was in a damned-if-he-did-damned-if-he-didn’t situation. He and Coakley had a rally at Northeastern University. The hall wasn’t filled. Brown (and Curt Schilling) had a rally in Worchester. It was jammed. Hand-painted yard signs have sprung up all over the state for Brown, and the momentum seems to be all with him. Once down 30 points, he is now up from 4 to 11 points, although polling in this sort of election is very unreliable. Intrade, a prediction market that taps into the “wisdom of crowds,” had Coakley up 55-45 a few days ago but now has Brown up 64-37.

Six weeks ago, nobody cared. Now the entire political nation is awaiting the outcome of what might well be regarded as the most important and consequential by-election in American history.

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Who Talks To Obama?

A story on Zbigniew Brzezinski from the Telegraph:

Mr Brzezinski said “it’s not unique to the Jewish community – but there is a McCarthyite tendency among some people in the Jewish community”, referring to the Republican senator who led the anti-Communist witch hunt in the 1950s. “They operate not by arguing but by slandering, vilifying, demonising. They very promptly wheel out anti-Semitism. There is an element of paranoia in this inclination to view any serious attempt at a compromised peace as somehow directed against Israel.” Although Mr Brzezinski is not a formal day-to-day adviser and stressed he doesn’t speak for the campaign, he said that he “talks to” Mr Obama. He endorsed the Illinois senator, lauding him as “head and shoulders” above his opponents. He said that he was the only candidate who understood “what is new and distinctive about our age”. In turn, Mr Obama has praised Mr Brzezinski as “someone I have learned an immense amount from” and “one of our most outstanding scholars and thinkers”.

I have no doubt that Obama’s staff will rush forward to declare, as they have before, that Brzezinski is only a informal adviser. But the question remains why Obama has had a retinue of advisors (both formal and not) like Brzezinski, McPeak, and Malley who hold views so antithetical to Obama’s supposedly unassailable record and views on Israel. You can understand how rational voters, Jewish or not, would conclude that something is amiss and wonder why Obama does not disassociate himself entirely from these people. But no, those Jews are just hung up on Obama’s name and the phony emails about Obama’s Muslim upbringing. That must be it.

A story on Zbigniew Brzezinski from the Telegraph:

Mr Brzezinski said “it’s not unique to the Jewish community – but there is a McCarthyite tendency among some people in the Jewish community”, referring to the Republican senator who led the anti-Communist witch hunt in the 1950s. “They operate not by arguing but by slandering, vilifying, demonising. They very promptly wheel out anti-Semitism. There is an element of paranoia in this inclination to view any serious attempt at a compromised peace as somehow directed against Israel.” Although Mr Brzezinski is not a formal day-to-day adviser and stressed he doesn’t speak for the campaign, he said that he “talks to” Mr Obama. He endorsed the Illinois senator, lauding him as “head and shoulders” above his opponents. He said that he was the only candidate who understood “what is new and distinctive about our age”. In turn, Mr Obama has praised Mr Brzezinski as “someone I have learned an immense amount from” and “one of our most outstanding scholars and thinkers”.

I have no doubt that Obama’s staff will rush forward to declare, as they have before, that Brzezinski is only a informal adviser. But the question remains why Obama has had a retinue of advisors (both formal and not) like Brzezinski, McPeak, and Malley who hold views so antithetical to Obama’s supposedly unassailable record and views on Israel. You can understand how rational voters, Jewish or not, would conclude that something is amiss and wonder why Obama does not disassociate himself entirely from these people. But no, those Jews are just hung up on Obama’s name and the phony emails about Obama’s Muslim upbringing. That must be it.

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Are There Any Lessons From Eastern Europe For Iraq?

For some years now, the U.S. has been attempting to establish a democracy in Iraq. Obviously, the effort is going very badly and public support for the war is evanescing before our eyes. Yesterday, another Republican Senator, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, joined Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, in calling for a radical change of course, i.e., a draw-down of American forces followed by withdrawal.

At this point, even many supporters of the democratization effort might be satisfied by the emergence of any sort of government that could impose a semblance of order and keep the forces of Islamism at bay. We may not even get that. An abrupt U.S. pull-out might prompt a horrifically bloody war of all against all. It is difficult to see a silver lining in any of this. But as we stare into the abyss, we should also remember that history can be full of unexpected twists and turns.

In the early 1980’s, the USSR and the countries it dominated—all of them brutal, Communist police states—were trapped in what seemed like an immutable stasis. Two decades later, most of the countries of Eastern Europe are burgeoning democracies, and Russia itself, whatever backsliding is taking place under Vladimir Putin, is not the soul-numbing totalitarian edifice it once was.

Read More

For some years now, the U.S. has been attempting to establish a democracy in Iraq. Obviously, the effort is going very badly and public support for the war is evanescing before our eyes. Yesterday, another Republican Senator, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, joined Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, in calling for a radical change of course, i.e., a draw-down of American forces followed by withdrawal.

At this point, even many supporters of the democratization effort might be satisfied by the emergence of any sort of government that could impose a semblance of order and keep the forces of Islamism at bay. We may not even get that. An abrupt U.S. pull-out might prompt a horrifically bloody war of all against all. It is difficult to see a silver lining in any of this. But as we stare into the abyss, we should also remember that history can be full of unexpected twists and turns.

In the early 1980’s, the USSR and the countries it dominated—all of them brutal, Communist police states—were trapped in what seemed like an immutable stasis. Two decades later, most of the countries of Eastern Europe are burgeoning democracies, and Russia itself, whatever backsliding is taking place under Vladimir Putin, is not the soul-numbing totalitarian edifice it once was.

How did such profound change come about? Aleksa Djilas, among the most brilliant and lucid intellectuals in Eastern Europe (and an occasional COMMENTARY contributor who writes from Belgrade), calls it “one of the most massive shifts in the balance of power that has ever occurred in peacetime,” which he traces to “change in standards of legitimacy,” as Communist authority was discredited, almost by domino effect, across the region.

This profound change had many sources, and one of them was the role played by heroic dissidents, who risked their freedom and their lives to bring liberty to their imprisoned countries. Is there an equivalent force within Iraq or within the broader Arab world? Tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are attempting to build a new life under a new government in the face of murderous attacks by terrorist extremists of various stripes. Should we give up on our efforts to help them, or should we find another path? Is there another path? Or should we just call it quits?

In his recent lecture, “What We Can Learn From Dissidents Under Communism,” worth reading in its entirety, Djilas notes that [i]n spite of all its serious flaws, liberal democracy is the great masterpiece of Western political culture and it is a great blessing that it has spread into many other parts of the world. The West has a right and a duty to do its best to make it encompass the whole of mankind.”

Ringing words, but the question still remains: does any aspect of the East European experience apply to the Middle East? The problem of Eastern Europe, it turns out, was primarily one of regimes and not the society underneath. Is that true of the Middle East, or is the problem of the Arab world not only with the regimes but with the people?

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