Commentary Magazine


Topic: Rhode Island

Democrats Criticize Rand Paul’s Call to Cut Aid to Israel

JTA is reporting that seven Democratic senators sent a letter to top GOP senators yesterday, calling on the Republicans to repudiate Sen. Rand Paul’s comments about cutting foreign aid to Israel:

“At a time when U.S. foreign aid is being utilized to strengthen our partnerships around the world, particularly in the Middle East where our relationships are more important than ever, we urge you to commit to maintain full foreign aid funding to Israel,” the letter said. …

Signatories to Tuesday’s letter include Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)., Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

It’s always great to watch Republicans and Democrats in Congress fight over which side is more pro-Israel, because the winner of that argument is always Israel. However, there was one not-so-small accuracy problem with the letter — it implied that there’s been recent interest among Republicans for Paul’s plan. And that’s simply not true.

The opening of the note reads: “We write in light of recent statements that demonstrate the intent of certain Senators to eliminate foreign aid funding to the nation of Israel.” But as Ron Kampeas notes at JTA, Paul has been the only Senate Republican to recently support such a proposal. So obviously, the likelihood that Congress will actually vote to cut aid to Israel is pretty low, and Democrats are simply using Paul’s position to issue a partisan attack on the Republican Party as a whole.

JTA is reporting that seven Democratic senators sent a letter to top GOP senators yesterday, calling on the Republicans to repudiate Sen. Rand Paul’s comments about cutting foreign aid to Israel:

“At a time when U.S. foreign aid is being utilized to strengthen our partnerships around the world, particularly in the Middle East where our relationships are more important than ever, we urge you to commit to maintain full foreign aid funding to Israel,” the letter said. …

Signatories to Tuesday’s letter include Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)., Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

It’s always great to watch Republicans and Democrats in Congress fight over which side is more pro-Israel, because the winner of that argument is always Israel. However, there was one not-so-small accuracy problem with the letter — it implied that there’s been recent interest among Republicans for Paul’s plan. And that’s simply not true.

The opening of the note reads: “We write in light of recent statements that demonstrate the intent of certain Senators to eliminate foreign aid funding to the nation of Israel.” But as Ron Kampeas notes at JTA, Paul has been the only Senate Republican to recently support such a proposal. So obviously, the likelihood that Congress will actually vote to cut aid to Israel is pretty low, and Democrats are simply using Paul’s position to issue a partisan attack on the Republican Party as a whole.

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The Kennedys Leave Washington with a Whimper

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

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Thanks, but I’d Rather Not

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

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Bill O’Reilly Isn’t a Bigot. But He Is Wrong.

Bill O’Reilly appeared on The View yesterday, and the conversation turned to the effort to build a mosque near Ground Zero. In the course of the discussion, O’Reilly, who opposes building the mosque at this location, pointed out that 70 percent of the public (68 percent according to a CNN/Opinion Research poll) sides with him on this matter. When pressed as to why that’s the case, O’Reilly said, “Because Muslims killed us on 9/11!” This turned an acrimonious debate into an explosive one, with co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walking off the set.

The whole thing was something of an embarrassment for everyone involved. Perhaps predictably, though, Mr. O’Reilly devoted much of his show, The O’Reilly Factor, to this issue (see here and here). O’Reilly’s basic argument is that everyone knows, or should know, that he’s not an anti-Muslim bigot. Rather, he sees himself as an intrepid truth-teller (“I tell it like it is” and “I’m not in the business of sugar-coating harsh realities”). Everyone by now knows the distinction between radical Muslims and moderate Muslims, O’Reilly argues, so the distinction is unnecessary. Those who are criticizing him are part of the PC police. And it’s commonplace to say that the Japanese attacked us in World War II, so why shouldn’t we say Muslims attacked us on 9/11? Read More

Bill O’Reilly appeared on The View yesterday, and the conversation turned to the effort to build a mosque near Ground Zero. In the course of the discussion, O’Reilly, who opposes building the mosque at this location, pointed out that 70 percent of the public (68 percent according to a CNN/Opinion Research poll) sides with him on this matter. When pressed as to why that’s the case, O’Reilly said, “Because Muslims killed us on 9/11!” This turned an acrimonious debate into an explosive one, with co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walking off the set.

The whole thing was something of an embarrassment for everyone involved. Perhaps predictably, though, Mr. O’Reilly devoted much of his show, The O’Reilly Factor, to this issue (see here and here). O’Reilly’s basic argument is that everyone knows, or should know, that he’s not an anti-Muslim bigot. Rather, he sees himself as an intrepid truth-teller (“I tell it like it is” and “I’m not in the business of sugar-coating harsh realities”). Everyone by now knows the distinction between radical Muslims and moderate Muslims, O’Reilly argues, so the distinction is unnecessary. Those who are criticizing him are part of the PC police. And it’s commonplace to say that the Japanese attacked us in World War II, so why shouldn’t we say Muslims attacked us on 9/11?

I happen to agree with O’Reilly on the mosque/Ground Zero issue. But his analogy is flawed. With Japan, we were dealing with a nation-state; with al-Qaeda, we are dealing with a small percentage of militants in a faith that includes more than 1.5 billion people in more than 200 countries.

Moreover, O’Reilly’s claim is unfair – and O’Reilly should understand why. Here’s an illustration that might help clarify things. Assume that Sam Harris went on The O’Reilly Factor and, based on the child-abuse scandals that tarnished the reputation of the Catholic Church, made the sweeping claim that “Catholics are child molesters.” My guess is that O’Reilly would (rightly) respond, “No. Some priests molested children, and it was a horrific thing. But you can’t indict an entire faith based on the sins of a relatively few number of priests.”

We shouldn’t kid ourselves; there is a not-insignificant strand of people in the Muslim world who align themselves with the ideology of al-Qaeda – and an even larger number who more or less accept its narrative of history. The condemnations by more moderate Muslims against its militant strand could certainly be more muscular. At the same time, the militant Islamists who attacked us on 9/11 don’t represent the vast majority of Muslims in the world – and certainly not the views of most Muslim Americans.

I understand that in the midst of a passionate debate on television, you can say things in imprecise and offensive ways; we have to leave some room for that to happen in our public discourse. We’re all fallible, and we all, from time to time, say things we wish we could take back. Words that wound shouldn’t necessarily be a hanging offense. Still, I do wish that, on reflection, Mr. O’Reilly, rather than defending his comments, had simply said that in thinking over his statement, he made a mistake. His comment was far too sweeping. It was, in fact, an unfair indictment against all Muslims. And the distinction between radical Islamists and the wider Muslim world (including, of course, Muslim Americans) is important to maintain.

The offense most people might take to what O’Reilly said isn’t based on political correctness, I don’t think; it is based on a deep understanding of what it means to hold and to share the title American citizen. To be an American means, at least in part, to avoid creating unnecessary divisions over matters of faith. This view was central to America’s founding. Comity, tolerance, and respect for people who hold views different from your own is a sign of civility, not weakness.

In his letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, President Washington wrote these beautiful words:

May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

I certainly don’t think Bill O’Reilly is a bigot. But I do believe that, in this instance, what he said was wrong. He should say so.

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Where Is Obama Going?

Obama is now politically toxic in many states. So where is he going on the campaign trail? The White House schedule is telling. He’s going to Delaware, where the Democrat is already running away with the race. He’s going to Massachusetts, the bluest state until the voters disregarded his advice and elected Scott Brown. He’s going to California and Nevada, but for fundraisers, not big public events. He’s going to Rhode Island (Rhode Island?), where one supposes he can do no harm.

The number of competitive races in which he is holding public events is limited to Washington (Patty Murray), Minnesota (gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton), and Ohio (Gov. Ted Strickland). That’s it. And he better be careful in both Washington (where a large plurality think his economic policies have hurt more than they’ve helped) and Ohio (where his approval rating has plummeted). Oh, and he’s going to Oregon for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who had this to say:

Oregon’s Democratic candidate for governor said Tuesday that President Obama’s health care reform bill will be a “toxic” issue in 2012 unless states are given the opportunity to address the problem of rising medical costs. …

“I supported the passage of the bill but I think we need to recognize that this was really health insurance reform and not health care reform,” he said in an interview over coffee at a Portland diner. “What it’s done is provided most people in the country financial access to medical care by 2014. The problem is it didn’t deal with the underlying cost drivers, and those are embedded in the delivery system.”

Should be a fun campaign trip.

It’s tricky finding places where Obama won’t do damage to the candidates he’s supposed to be helping. The White House seems to think gubernatorial races are “safer” for Obama than the Senate contests, where all those unpopular votes on the stimulus, ObamaCare, etc., are sure to come up. But the reality of a 24/7 news environment is that wherever Obama goes, he makes the news — and Republican Senate and House candidates have the benefit of free media to remind voters across the country whose agenda they are opposed to and who has been making all those silly promises (e.g., ObamaCare will save money). Unfortunately for the Dems, you really can’t hide the president of the United States.

Obama is now politically toxic in many states. So where is he going on the campaign trail? The White House schedule is telling. He’s going to Delaware, where the Democrat is already running away with the race. He’s going to Massachusetts, the bluest state until the voters disregarded his advice and elected Scott Brown. He’s going to California and Nevada, but for fundraisers, not big public events. He’s going to Rhode Island (Rhode Island?), where one supposes he can do no harm.

The number of competitive races in which he is holding public events is limited to Washington (Patty Murray), Minnesota (gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton), and Ohio (Gov. Ted Strickland). That’s it. And he better be careful in both Washington (where a large plurality think his economic policies have hurt more than they’ve helped) and Ohio (where his approval rating has plummeted). Oh, and he’s going to Oregon for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who had this to say:

Oregon’s Democratic candidate for governor said Tuesday that President Obama’s health care reform bill will be a “toxic” issue in 2012 unless states are given the opportunity to address the problem of rising medical costs. …

“I supported the passage of the bill but I think we need to recognize that this was really health insurance reform and not health care reform,” he said in an interview over coffee at a Portland diner. “What it’s done is provided most people in the country financial access to medical care by 2014. The problem is it didn’t deal with the underlying cost drivers, and those are embedded in the delivery system.”

Should be a fun campaign trip.

It’s tricky finding places where Obama won’t do damage to the candidates he’s supposed to be helping. The White House seems to think gubernatorial races are “safer” for Obama than the Senate contests, where all those unpopular votes on the stimulus, ObamaCare, etc., are sure to come up. But the reality of a 24/7 news environment is that wherever Obama goes, he makes the news — and Republican Senate and House candidates have the benefit of free media to remind voters across the country whose agenda they are opposed to and who has been making all those silly promises (e.g., ObamaCare will save money). Unfortunately for the Dems, you really can’t hide the president of the United States.

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RE: The Tax Issue Is Back

As I’ve noted before, Obama has brought the tax issue roaring back. Nothing like a liberal president willing to raise taxes on the non-rich (after promising not to), small businesses, and capital before the economy has rebounded to remind voters of the difference between the two parties. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors note:

Bipartisanship has broken out in the Senate, not that the media bothered to notice. Last week John McCain introduced a resolution stating that “It is the sense of the Senate that the Value Added Tax is a massive tax increase that will cripple families on fixed income and only further push back America’s economic recovery.” The resolution passed 85 to 13.

A VAT is a form of national sales tax applied at every stage of production and carried through to the final price paid by consumers. The typical VAT rate in Europe is close to 20%. That’s about how high a VAT would have to be in the U.S. to balance the federal budget, according to the Tax Foundation. Mr. McCain said about his VAT resolution that “With the economy in such bad shape, we should be cutting tax rates now, shouldn’t we?”

Who were the 13? Two who are retiring — George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) — and a whole bunch of Democrats: Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Ted Kaufman (Del.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Tom Udall (N.M.), James Webb (Va.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.). Kaufman may be toast already, but the others might come to regret walking out on the tax limb.

As I’ve noted before, Obama has brought the tax issue roaring back. Nothing like a liberal president willing to raise taxes on the non-rich (after promising not to), small businesses, and capital before the economy has rebounded to remind voters of the difference between the two parties. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors note:

Bipartisanship has broken out in the Senate, not that the media bothered to notice. Last week John McCain introduced a resolution stating that “It is the sense of the Senate that the Value Added Tax is a massive tax increase that will cripple families on fixed income and only further push back America’s economic recovery.” The resolution passed 85 to 13.

A VAT is a form of national sales tax applied at every stage of production and carried through to the final price paid by consumers. The typical VAT rate in Europe is close to 20%. That’s about how high a VAT would have to be in the U.S. to balance the federal budget, according to the Tax Foundation. Mr. McCain said about his VAT resolution that “With the economy in such bad shape, we should be cutting tax rates now, shouldn’t we?”

Who were the 13? Two who are retiring — George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) — and a whole bunch of Democrats: Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Ted Kaufman (Del.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Tom Udall (N.M.), James Webb (Va.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.). Kaufman may be toast already, but the others might come to regret walking out on the tax limb.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

In the second part of a fascinating interview (which should be read in full), former Israeli Defense Minister and ambassador to the U.S. Moshe Arens posits that Bibi has been too accommodating: “What he has been doing, however, is apologizing to the Obama administration, which, as part of its maneuver to pressure Israel, declared it was insulted by the announcement that 1,600 housing units were being added to a Jerusalem neighborhood. The whole thing is really ludicrous. It all had to do with some clerk on the local planning commission and a meeting that happened to fall on the day of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit. But the Netanyahu government decided to play along and say, ‘You’re insulted? OK, we apologize.’ It could have said, ‘You’re not insulted. There’s no reason to be insulted. You don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

Sen. Jon Kyl declares that the emperor has no clothes: “The greatest threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism comes from Iran, which has for years supported terrorists and is growing closer and closer to having a nuclear weapons capability. The summit, with 42 heads of state in Washington, should have been an opportunity to develop a consensus to deal with the greatest threat to our security: an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability. Despite the talk at the security summit, it appears we are no closer to tough sanctions or a meaningful Security Council resolution today, seven months after the President said that the regime would face sanctions.”

But don’t you feel safer — all nuclear material is going to be secured in four years. Who tells Ahmadinejad?

Meanwhile, proving Kyl right, we learn that a whole lot of nothing was accomplished: “President Barack Obama acknowledged on Tuesday that, despite his full-court press for tough sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program, he could not promise that China and other major powers would go along. … ‘Sanctions are not a magic wand. … What sanctions can do … is to hopefully change the calculus of a country like Iran.’” And if not, we learn to live with a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state sponsor of terror, you see.

Two senators who were not going to be nominated declare they aren’t interested in a Supreme Court nod. (Me neither!) “Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), two senators with significant legal backgrounds who have been mentioned as possible Supreme Court nominees, took themselves out of the running Tuesday.”

Dana Milbank has a fit when he learns this isn’t the “most transparent administration in history.”

Joe Sestak is within the margin of error of Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania primary. Maybe the whole party switcheroo wasn’t a good idea after all.

The “most ethical Congress ever” wasn’t: “Just three months after Eric Massa was elected to Congress, his young male employees on Capitol Hill began complaining to supervisors that the lawmaker was making aggressive, sexual overtures toward them, according to new interviews and internal documents. The senior staff, one of whom said he heard Massa (D-N.Y.) making lewd remarks to young staffers, tried to manage the problem internally. But reports of Massa’s inappropriate behavior continued, leaving junior workers feeling helpless, according to victims, other staffers and sources close to an ongoing House ethics investigation. … This account, drawn from more than two dozen interviews and internal documents, shows that aides were accusing the 50-year-old married lawmaker of far more egregious behavior than previously known.”

In the second part of a fascinating interview (which should be read in full), former Israeli Defense Minister and ambassador to the U.S. Moshe Arens posits that Bibi has been too accommodating: “What he has been doing, however, is apologizing to the Obama administration, which, as part of its maneuver to pressure Israel, declared it was insulted by the announcement that 1,600 housing units were being added to a Jerusalem neighborhood. The whole thing is really ludicrous. It all had to do with some clerk on the local planning commission and a meeting that happened to fall on the day of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit. But the Netanyahu government decided to play along and say, ‘You’re insulted? OK, we apologize.’ It could have said, ‘You’re not insulted. There’s no reason to be insulted. You don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

Sen. Jon Kyl declares that the emperor has no clothes: “The greatest threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism comes from Iran, which has for years supported terrorists and is growing closer and closer to having a nuclear weapons capability. The summit, with 42 heads of state in Washington, should have been an opportunity to develop a consensus to deal with the greatest threat to our security: an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability. Despite the talk at the security summit, it appears we are no closer to tough sanctions or a meaningful Security Council resolution today, seven months after the President said that the regime would face sanctions.”

But don’t you feel safer — all nuclear material is going to be secured in four years. Who tells Ahmadinejad?

Meanwhile, proving Kyl right, we learn that a whole lot of nothing was accomplished: “President Barack Obama acknowledged on Tuesday that, despite his full-court press for tough sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program, he could not promise that China and other major powers would go along. … ‘Sanctions are not a magic wand. … What sanctions can do … is to hopefully change the calculus of a country like Iran.’” And if not, we learn to live with a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state sponsor of terror, you see.

Two senators who were not going to be nominated declare they aren’t interested in a Supreme Court nod. (Me neither!) “Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), two senators with significant legal backgrounds who have been mentioned as possible Supreme Court nominees, took themselves out of the running Tuesday.”

Dana Milbank has a fit when he learns this isn’t the “most transparent administration in history.”

Joe Sestak is within the margin of error of Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania primary. Maybe the whole party switcheroo wasn’t a good idea after all.

The “most ethical Congress ever” wasn’t: “Just three months after Eric Massa was elected to Congress, his young male employees on Capitol Hill began complaining to supervisors that the lawmaker was making aggressive, sexual overtures toward them, according to new interviews and internal documents. The senior staff, one of whom said he heard Massa (D-N.Y.) making lewd remarks to young staffers, tried to manage the problem internally. But reports of Massa’s inappropriate behavior continued, leaving junior workers feeling helpless, according to victims, other staffers and sources close to an ongoing House ethics investigation. … This account, drawn from more than two dozen interviews and internal documents, shows that aides were accusing the 50-year-old married lawmaker of far more egregious behavior than previously known.”

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The Legion of the Disappointed

Labor bosses are joining the ranks of the grumpy Obama backers who have come to discover that all their millions and all their boosterism have gotten them precious little. The New York Times has even figured it out:

The nation’s union leaders said on Tuesday that they were “appalled” at remarks made by President Obama condoning the mass firing of teachers at a Rhode Island high school. Coming the day after union presidents sharply complained to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. over stubbornly high unemployment, stagnant wages and the administration’s failure to do more to create jobs, the statement — voicing a rare vehemence toward a Democratic president — underlined the disillusionment of an important Democratic constituency. Because unions have been so crucial to the Democrats election after election, political experts say labor’s ambivalence, or worse, toward the Democrats could greatly deepen that party’s woes this fall.

Big Labor, we are told by Charlie Cook, is “very disappointed, whether it’s about card check or the effort to tax Cadillac health plans. … They’re really disillusioned. I think one by one unions will start getting engaged and helping out the Democrats, but it could be half-hearted.” For some $200M or more that they spent electing Obama, not to mention millions for Democratic congressional candidates, labor bosses thought they’d get something. Card check? Nope. Jobs? Not unless you count the two car companies Obama rescued. A sweetheart deal on health care? Unlikely. (But before the Obami fret too much, it seems that union bosses are still willing to pony up $53M of their members’ dues to help save the Democrats in Congress.)

Even if union bosses threw more millions into the Democratic coffers, the question remains whether they really can get their members engaged on behalf of a president and a Congress that has done so little for them. After all, union households went for Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Nor is Big Labor the only aggrieved member of the Democratic coalition:

Mr. Obama and the Democrats face problems among much of their base. Women’s groups are angry that some Democrats are pushing new restrictions on abortion as part of the health care overhaul. Many Hispanic groups are upset that Mr. Obama has not pressed for immigration reform this year. And gay and lesbian groups are unhappy he has not ended “don’t ask, don’t tell” as a military policy.

Hmm. So union leaders and members, liberal women, gays, and Hispanics, plus independents, fiscal conservatives, foreign-policy-establishment types, business groups, and Tea Party protesters have all had it with Obama. Some are angry because he’s proved to be ineffectual in pushing their liberal agenda, while others are miffed to discover that he’s, in fact, a statist (albeit incompetent) liberal.

Any president is bound to disappoint some supporters, but this one has disappointed more than his share. Granted, once the blank slate Obama maintained during the campaign was finally written on, some of the deluded Obamaphiles were bound to be disappointed. For those who fell for the candidate who promised to go line-by-line through the budget and pledged not to let Iran develop nuclear weapons, there’s a queasy realization that they were snowed. And for those like Big Labor who overestimated Obama’s ability to get their wish list fulfilled, there’s an awakening that they too were had. They thought they were getting a transformational president. Right now they’d settle for a minimally competent one.

Not all of the Obama-miffed will stay home or vote Republican. But many will. And if it’s a wave election, sweeping in Republican majorities or near-majorities in both houses, Obama may yet prove to be transformational. In just a couple of years he will have fundamentally altered the political landscape and shaken apart the Democratic coalition that was essential to his victory. Not the transformation he had in mind, of course.

Labor bosses are joining the ranks of the grumpy Obama backers who have come to discover that all their millions and all their boosterism have gotten them precious little. The New York Times has even figured it out:

The nation’s union leaders said on Tuesday that they were “appalled” at remarks made by President Obama condoning the mass firing of teachers at a Rhode Island high school. Coming the day after union presidents sharply complained to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. over stubbornly high unemployment, stagnant wages and the administration’s failure to do more to create jobs, the statement — voicing a rare vehemence toward a Democratic president — underlined the disillusionment of an important Democratic constituency. Because unions have been so crucial to the Democrats election after election, political experts say labor’s ambivalence, or worse, toward the Democrats could greatly deepen that party’s woes this fall.

Big Labor, we are told by Charlie Cook, is “very disappointed, whether it’s about card check or the effort to tax Cadillac health plans. … They’re really disillusioned. I think one by one unions will start getting engaged and helping out the Democrats, but it could be half-hearted.” For some $200M or more that they spent electing Obama, not to mention millions for Democratic congressional candidates, labor bosses thought they’d get something. Card check? Nope. Jobs? Not unless you count the two car companies Obama rescued. A sweetheart deal on health care? Unlikely. (But before the Obami fret too much, it seems that union bosses are still willing to pony up $53M of their members’ dues to help save the Democrats in Congress.)

Even if union bosses threw more millions into the Democratic coffers, the question remains whether they really can get their members engaged on behalf of a president and a Congress that has done so little for them. After all, union households went for Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Nor is Big Labor the only aggrieved member of the Democratic coalition:

Mr. Obama and the Democrats face problems among much of their base. Women’s groups are angry that some Democrats are pushing new restrictions on abortion as part of the health care overhaul. Many Hispanic groups are upset that Mr. Obama has not pressed for immigration reform this year. And gay and lesbian groups are unhappy he has not ended “don’t ask, don’t tell” as a military policy.

Hmm. So union leaders and members, liberal women, gays, and Hispanics, plus independents, fiscal conservatives, foreign-policy-establishment types, business groups, and Tea Party protesters have all had it with Obama. Some are angry because he’s proved to be ineffectual in pushing their liberal agenda, while others are miffed to discover that he’s, in fact, a statist (albeit incompetent) liberal.

Any president is bound to disappoint some supporters, but this one has disappointed more than his share. Granted, once the blank slate Obama maintained during the campaign was finally written on, some of the deluded Obamaphiles were bound to be disappointed. For those who fell for the candidate who promised to go line-by-line through the budget and pledged not to let Iran develop nuclear weapons, there’s a queasy realization that they were snowed. And for those like Big Labor who overestimated Obama’s ability to get their wish list fulfilled, there’s an awakening that they too were had. They thought they were getting a transformational president. Right now they’d settle for a minimally competent one.

Not all of the Obama-miffed will stay home or vote Republican. But many will. And if it’s a wave election, sweeping in Republican majorities or near-majorities in both houses, Obama may yet prove to be transformational. In just a couple of years he will have fundamentally altered the political landscape and shaken apart the Democratic coalition that was essential to his victory. Not the transformation he had in mind, of course.

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The System Is Working Exactly as Planned

Attorneys David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey rebut the punditocracy’s favorite theme these days: Washington is “broken.” Those annoyed with the failure to jam through controversial legislation bemoan the “gridlock” and urge all manner of parliamentary tricksterism to get what they want — the passage of Obama’s radical agenda. But Rivkin and Casey remind us that this is precisely how the system is supposed to work. It was designed to make swift passage of ill-conceived measures difficult, by “generally requiring a high level of consensus in support of governmental action.” The Constitution sets up an intricate framework of checks and balances and the Senate “did the framers one better” with the filibuster, which the Left wants now to abolish. The result, the attorneys explain, is that “the government established by the U.S. Constitution, as well as the document itself, is ‘conservative.’ Its default is the status quo, unless and until the advocates of change can secure a sufficient consensus to support their idea.”

The failure then is not of the “system,” but rather of the Obami and of the congressional Democrats — in eschewing the center and trying to push through a far-reaching agenda with no popular consensus, and, indeed, in the face of a great deal of opposition.

But the critics claim that we are then “doomed” to do “nothing.” Well, sometimes nothing is better than something horrible. But there are two obvious responses. First, come up with a shortlist of reforms that does enjoy bipartisan support. And second, look to the states. In addition to federal checks and balances, the Framers set up a federal system with power reserved to state governments, which until recently had primary responsibility for issues such as education, health care, and public safety.

As this report explains:

Some governors, frustrated by halted federal efforts to overhaul the U.S. health-care system, are introducing their own changes at the state level. “Most of what’s called health-care reform can be done at the state level,” Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri, a Republican, said on Sunday on the sidelines of an annual winter gathering of the National Governors Association here. . . A few states, such as Massachusetts, have sought their own solutions to address problems with the health-care system. More states appear to be pushing to take the initiative now, however, as they grapple with continued budget shortfalls, a big part of which is due to rising health-care costs, and as federal efforts to overhaul the country’s health-care system have faltered.

There are lots of good ideas and some bad ones out there. But let the states try these out, and figure out which work and which don’t. Pennsylvania is looking into requiring “medical facilities operate 24-hour non-emergency treatment centers that would offer services such as stitches for cuts. Mr. Rendell said he expected that savings generated from the operation of these centers could help pay for the new initiative.” Is he right? Who knows, but he and others can try out dozens of ideas. (“Other governors also suggested that the savings recouped from changes to the health-care system could help pay for new measures.”)

In sum, the system is far from broken. We simply have leaders who have failed in their jobs to garner popular support for reasonable reforms. If they can’t do it, maybe the states will, and then in the process remind us of the benefits of federalism and of the excessive reliance we have come to place on Washington to solve our problems with one-size-fits-all solutions.

Attorneys David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey rebut the punditocracy’s favorite theme these days: Washington is “broken.” Those annoyed with the failure to jam through controversial legislation bemoan the “gridlock” and urge all manner of parliamentary tricksterism to get what they want — the passage of Obama’s radical agenda. But Rivkin and Casey remind us that this is precisely how the system is supposed to work. It was designed to make swift passage of ill-conceived measures difficult, by “generally requiring a high level of consensus in support of governmental action.” The Constitution sets up an intricate framework of checks and balances and the Senate “did the framers one better” with the filibuster, which the Left wants now to abolish. The result, the attorneys explain, is that “the government established by the U.S. Constitution, as well as the document itself, is ‘conservative.’ Its default is the status quo, unless and until the advocates of change can secure a sufficient consensus to support their idea.”

The failure then is not of the “system,” but rather of the Obami and of the congressional Democrats — in eschewing the center and trying to push through a far-reaching agenda with no popular consensus, and, indeed, in the face of a great deal of opposition.

But the critics claim that we are then “doomed” to do “nothing.” Well, sometimes nothing is better than something horrible. But there are two obvious responses. First, come up with a shortlist of reforms that does enjoy bipartisan support. And second, look to the states. In addition to federal checks and balances, the Framers set up a federal system with power reserved to state governments, which until recently had primary responsibility for issues such as education, health care, and public safety.

As this report explains:

Some governors, frustrated by halted federal efforts to overhaul the U.S. health-care system, are introducing their own changes at the state level. “Most of what’s called health-care reform can be done at the state level,” Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri, a Republican, said on Sunday on the sidelines of an annual winter gathering of the National Governors Association here. . . A few states, such as Massachusetts, have sought their own solutions to address problems with the health-care system. More states appear to be pushing to take the initiative now, however, as they grapple with continued budget shortfalls, a big part of which is due to rising health-care costs, and as federal efforts to overhaul the country’s health-care system have faltered.

There are lots of good ideas and some bad ones out there. But let the states try these out, and figure out which work and which don’t. Pennsylvania is looking into requiring “medical facilities operate 24-hour non-emergency treatment centers that would offer services such as stitches for cuts. Mr. Rendell said he expected that savings generated from the operation of these centers could help pay for the new initiative.” Is he right? Who knows, but he and others can try out dozens of ideas. (“Other governors also suggested that the savings recouped from changes to the health-care system could help pay for new measures.”)

In sum, the system is far from broken. We simply have leaders who have failed in their jobs to garner popular support for reasonable reforms. If they can’t do it, maybe the states will, and then in the process remind us of the benefits of federalism and of the excessive reliance we have come to place on Washington to solve our problems with one-size-fits-all solutions.

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Breaking the Cynicism Meter

Republicans have long suspected that the Obama health-care summit is a setup. After all, the first ground rule seems to be: “I get ObamaCare.” But sometimes even the Democrats outdo themselves in the cynicism department. Roll Call reports:

Senate Democrats say they see no need to abandon the idea of using reconciliation to pass health care reform this year just because President Barack Obama has scheduled a bipartisan summit next week to try to break the impasse on Capitol Hill. . .Given the unified GOP opposition to their health care effort, Senate Democrats argued just before departing for the Presidents Day recess that Obama’s summit is no reason to shelve reconciliation as a potential strategy. The tactic would allow Democrats pass certain aspects of health care reform with just 51 votes.

“I think it should be constantly pursued,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Thursday when asked whether Democrats should take a break from drafting a reconciliation bill until after Obama’s summit.

“I think the Republicans are pretty committed to the notion that obstructing everything that President Obama would like to accomplish is very key to their base and their political success,” Whitehouse added. “I don’t see them departing from that strategy.”

Nevertheless, there is reason to believe they lack the votes to utilize reconciliation. (“Some moderate Senate Democrats have already announced their opposition to a reconciliation bill regardless of what is in it.”) And that is before we get to the merits. It isn’t at all clear that, post-Scott Brown, there are votes for what’s in ObamaCare (e.g., massive tax hikes, $500 billion in cuts to Medicare with no real reform element, forcing people to buy health-care plans they don’t want from Big Insurance). Wouldn’t Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln (and maybe others as well) jump at the chance to return to the good graces of voters whom they have enraged?

Then on the House side, we hear that Nancy Pelosi may be 100 votes short of a majority to pass ObamaCare. As Michael Barone explains:

So you, as a Democratic member with potentially serious opposition, do the political caucus. If you vote for the Senate bill, you’re voting for something that has 35% support nationwide and probably a little less than that in your district. You will have voted for the Cornhusker Hustle and the Louisiana Purchase. Your Republican opponent will ask why you voted for something that gave taxpayers in Nebraska and Louisiana better treatment than the people you represent (there are no Democratic House members running for reelection in those two states: Nebraska has only Republican House members and the single Louisiana House Democrat is running for the Senate). The only protection you have against this is the assurance that the Senate parliamentarian and scared incumbent senators will come through for you, and that Harry Reid will pursue a steady course.

So your response to the leadership is either, I gotta think about this, or, Hell no. The House Democratic leadership’s problem is that it cannot credibly promise that the Senate will keep its part of the bargain.

So the bottom line: it is hard to believe Obama is operating in good faith. But that’s OK with conservatives, independents, and the two-thirds of us who don’t want a government takeover of health care. Obama still doesn’t have the votes, and those lawmakers who see their careers passing before their eyes probably don’t even want a vote on it. Obama has done enough damage to their re-election prospects already.

Republicans have long suspected that the Obama health-care summit is a setup. After all, the first ground rule seems to be: “I get ObamaCare.” But sometimes even the Democrats outdo themselves in the cynicism department. Roll Call reports:

Senate Democrats say they see no need to abandon the idea of using reconciliation to pass health care reform this year just because President Barack Obama has scheduled a bipartisan summit next week to try to break the impasse on Capitol Hill. . .Given the unified GOP opposition to their health care effort, Senate Democrats argued just before departing for the Presidents Day recess that Obama’s summit is no reason to shelve reconciliation as a potential strategy. The tactic would allow Democrats pass certain aspects of health care reform with just 51 votes.

“I think it should be constantly pursued,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Thursday when asked whether Democrats should take a break from drafting a reconciliation bill until after Obama’s summit.

“I think the Republicans are pretty committed to the notion that obstructing everything that President Obama would like to accomplish is very key to their base and their political success,” Whitehouse added. “I don’t see them departing from that strategy.”

Nevertheless, there is reason to believe they lack the votes to utilize reconciliation. (“Some moderate Senate Democrats have already announced their opposition to a reconciliation bill regardless of what is in it.”) And that is before we get to the merits. It isn’t at all clear that, post-Scott Brown, there are votes for what’s in ObamaCare (e.g., massive tax hikes, $500 billion in cuts to Medicare with no real reform element, forcing people to buy health-care plans they don’t want from Big Insurance). Wouldn’t Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln (and maybe others as well) jump at the chance to return to the good graces of voters whom they have enraged?

Then on the House side, we hear that Nancy Pelosi may be 100 votes short of a majority to pass ObamaCare. As Michael Barone explains:

So you, as a Democratic member with potentially serious opposition, do the political caucus. If you vote for the Senate bill, you’re voting for something that has 35% support nationwide and probably a little less than that in your district. You will have voted for the Cornhusker Hustle and the Louisiana Purchase. Your Republican opponent will ask why you voted for something that gave taxpayers in Nebraska and Louisiana better treatment than the people you represent (there are no Democratic House members running for reelection in those two states: Nebraska has only Republican House members and the single Louisiana House Democrat is running for the Senate). The only protection you have against this is the assurance that the Senate parliamentarian and scared incumbent senators will come through for you, and that Harry Reid will pursue a steady course.

So your response to the leadership is either, I gotta think about this, or, Hell no. The House Democratic leadership’s problem is that it cannot credibly promise that the Senate will keep its part of the bargain.

So the bottom line: it is hard to believe Obama is operating in good faith. But that’s OK with conservatives, independents, and the two-thirds of us who don’t want a government takeover of health care. Obama still doesn’t have the votes, and those lawmakers who see their careers passing before their eyes probably don’t even want a vote on it. Obama has done enough damage to their re-election prospects already.

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The Smugness Problem

Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times entertainment section ran an interesting bit of election analysis from Mary McNamara. Considering the pop songs and television ratings generated by these campaigns, it would seem wisdom from observers such as Ms. McNamara is becoming increasingly vital. The election is, after all, a hit show. Ms. McNamara’s take reveals the strengths and the limitations of doing a purely Hollywood-type analysis of American politics: She hits the nail on the head in asserting that smugness has been the Democrats’ downfall, but she gets things woefully wrong in assuming Republican folksiness to be a sham.

When will Democrats learn that smug just doesn’t work for them? You would think after watching Al Gore go down in eye-rolling flames as George W. Bush’s carefully orchestrated folksiness trumped vice presidential experience, Hillary Rodham Clinton would have known better.

That Bush is at once learning-disabled and in possession of a dastardly brilliance has been a longtime talking point problem for the Left. Whether or not you like him, it’s plain as day that Bush’s easygoing manner is etched into his DNA. And the fact that Al Gore himself has gone on from his presidential defeat to try to remake the state of the very heavens suggests that no lesson in humility has registered. However, Ms. McNamara makes some useful points. Hillary at first ran on a sense of entitlement. As it became more clear that she planned to coast on overconfidence the media and the public grew nauseated. During this time, Obamamania ballooned. However, by the time everyone had left Hillary for dead, the balloon was now on display atop Obama’s shoulders. His overconfidence has become in itself an unprecedented phenomenon. “And what happened?” writes Ms. McNamara. “What has been happening in this race since Iowa. Democratic voters ditched smug for earnest and, whoops, there went Rhode Island, Texas, and Ohio right over to Clinton.”

Ms. McNamara recommends the candidates observe make-believe presidents on “The West Wing” and “Commander in Chief” for lessons in tempering their egos:

See the steely-eyed focus tempered with a sense of humor, the insanely quick grasp of the facts softened by the recognition that most everyone is flawed in some way? This is what you should be shooting for. Self-deprecating confidence. A little arrogance is OK because people with self-esteem issues don’t usually run for president, but there is no sense of personal entitlement, no smugness.

Hillary does seem in some genuine sense taken down a few pegs. “Humanizing” is what the press used to say she needed. The thing is—it can’t be faked, especially in someone as sincerity-challenged as her. If Hillary Clinton appears to have been humanized it’s because she went to the brink of political extinction and back again. So far, there’s no evidence that Obama is acknowledging the possibility of following her lead.

Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times entertainment section ran an interesting bit of election analysis from Mary McNamara. Considering the pop songs and television ratings generated by these campaigns, it would seem wisdom from observers such as Ms. McNamara is becoming increasingly vital. The election is, after all, a hit show. Ms. McNamara’s take reveals the strengths and the limitations of doing a purely Hollywood-type analysis of American politics: She hits the nail on the head in asserting that smugness has been the Democrats’ downfall, but she gets things woefully wrong in assuming Republican folksiness to be a sham.

When will Democrats learn that smug just doesn’t work for them? You would think after watching Al Gore go down in eye-rolling flames as George W. Bush’s carefully orchestrated folksiness trumped vice presidential experience, Hillary Rodham Clinton would have known better.

That Bush is at once learning-disabled and in possession of a dastardly brilliance has been a longtime talking point problem for the Left. Whether or not you like him, it’s plain as day that Bush’s easygoing manner is etched into his DNA. And the fact that Al Gore himself has gone on from his presidential defeat to try to remake the state of the very heavens suggests that no lesson in humility has registered. However, Ms. McNamara makes some useful points. Hillary at first ran on a sense of entitlement. As it became more clear that she planned to coast on overconfidence the media and the public grew nauseated. During this time, Obamamania ballooned. However, by the time everyone had left Hillary for dead, the balloon was now on display atop Obama’s shoulders. His overconfidence has become in itself an unprecedented phenomenon. “And what happened?” writes Ms. McNamara. “What has been happening in this race since Iowa. Democratic voters ditched smug for earnest and, whoops, there went Rhode Island, Texas, and Ohio right over to Clinton.”

Ms. McNamara recommends the candidates observe make-believe presidents on “The West Wing” and “Commander in Chief” for lessons in tempering their egos:

See the steely-eyed focus tempered with a sense of humor, the insanely quick grasp of the facts softened by the recognition that most everyone is flawed in some way? This is what you should be shooting for. Self-deprecating confidence. A little arrogance is OK because people with self-esteem issues don’t usually run for president, but there is no sense of personal entitlement, no smugness.

Hillary does seem in some genuine sense taken down a few pegs. “Humanizing” is what the press used to say she needed. The thing is—it can’t be faked, especially in someone as sincerity-challenged as her. If Hillary Clinton appears to have been humanized it’s because she went to the brink of political extinction and back again. So far, there’s no evidence that Obama is acknowledging the possibility of following her lead.

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Not That Close

Those ever-faulty exit polls painted a false picture which drove much of the media coverage last night, suggesting the races were closer than they were. Hillary Clinton won Rhode Island and Ohio by double digits. In Rhode Island she netted 4 delegates and in the latter, she won by a margin of 62 to 46. (She lost a net of three delegates in Vermont.) Given the convoluted Texas caucus we won’t know the final tally in Texas but based on the primary itself, as of this morning she had netted 6 delegates.

But delegates, of course, are not what Clinton will talk about. She will talk about Democrats “just beginning to pay attention” and the “biggest prize” of Pennsylvania yet to come. For the first time in weeks she has the momentum–and if not the affection, at least the respect, of the media. Most importantly, she has a leg up in her effort to show Barack Obama has a glass jaw.

Those ever-faulty exit polls painted a false picture which drove much of the media coverage last night, suggesting the races were closer than they were. Hillary Clinton won Rhode Island and Ohio by double digits. In Rhode Island she netted 4 delegates and in the latter, she won by a margin of 62 to 46. (She lost a net of three delegates in Vermont.) Given the convoluted Texas caucus we won’t know the final tally in Texas but based on the primary itself, as of this morning she had netted 6 delegates.

But delegates, of course, are not what Clinton will talk about. She will talk about Democrats “just beginning to pay attention” and the “biggest prize” of Pennsylvania yet to come. For the first time in weeks she has the momentum–and if not the affection, at least the respect, of the media. Most importantly, she has a leg up in her effort to show Barack Obama has a glass jaw.

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Tom Lantos, R.I.P

Congressman Tom Lantos died yesterday morning at the age of 80. A Hungarian survivor of the Nazi death camps who immigrated to the United States as a teenager, there was perhaps no other member of Congress who better understood the promise and potential of America. Lantos lost most of his family during the Holocaust, and unlike the vast majority of his colleagues, he experienced genocidal totalitarianism–and the consequences of appeasing it–first hand.

As such, Lantos was the most vociferous advocate on behalf of international human rights in the House of Representatives, spending much time and effort drawing the body’s attention to crises around the world from Burma to Darfur. While Lantos was a fervent critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the post-invasion reconstruction of Iraq, he never apologized for his decision to vote in favor of the United States overthrowing a murderous dictator. He was also a strong supporter of Israel during his near three-decade tenure in Congress.

This report in the San Francisco Chronicle covers some of Lantos’s many achievements in the House.

Upon announcing his retirement from Congress last year, Lantos issued a statement which read, in part:

It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust … could have received an education, raised a family and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a member of Congress. I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country.

Few people in public life better embodied, or conveyed, the American immigrant experience than Tom Lantos. This country–and the world–is a lesser place without him.

Congressman Tom Lantos died yesterday morning at the age of 80. A Hungarian survivor of the Nazi death camps who immigrated to the United States as a teenager, there was perhaps no other member of Congress who better understood the promise and potential of America. Lantos lost most of his family during the Holocaust, and unlike the vast majority of his colleagues, he experienced genocidal totalitarianism–and the consequences of appeasing it–first hand.

As such, Lantos was the most vociferous advocate on behalf of international human rights in the House of Representatives, spending much time and effort drawing the body’s attention to crises around the world from Burma to Darfur. While Lantos was a fervent critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the post-invasion reconstruction of Iraq, he never apologized for his decision to vote in favor of the United States overthrowing a murderous dictator. He was also a strong supporter of Israel during his near three-decade tenure in Congress.

This report in the San Francisco Chronicle covers some of Lantos’s many achievements in the House.

Upon announcing his retirement from Congress last year, Lantos issued a statement which read, in part:

It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust … could have received an education, raised a family and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a member of Congress. I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country.

Few people in public life better embodied, or conveyed, the American immigrant experience than Tom Lantos. This country–and the world–is a lesser place without him.

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Not Quite Camelot

Journalists, of the overt and covert liberal variety, went gaga yesterday over Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, his dutiful son and Rhode Island Congressman Patrick, and his niece Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg endorsing Barack Obama and all but crowning him as the successor to JFK. A “Mount Rushmore of Kennedy faces was arrayed behind” Obama, gushed The Nation. “Kennedy focused on Obama’s ability to channel JFK-levels of inspiration and use good judgment on foreign policy and other issues,” crowed the ever-earnest American Prospect. About 100 journalists were turned away from the event, which says something about reporters and their love for these sorts of staged, media-friendly spectacles.

I was born and raised in Massachusetts. Yet the Kennedy bug never quite rubbed off on me. In fact, my feelings toward the Kennedys have been quite the opposite from those of my parents’ generation. Perhaps it’s because I was born in 1983, long after the fabled days of “Camelot.” The Kennedys I grew up with weren’t Jack and Bobby, but Michael (who sexually molested his children’s 14-year-old babysitter and died skiing down a mountain while recklessly tossing around a football), William Kennedy Smith, and the aforementioned Patrick (whose antics frequently show that Rhode Island’s First Congressional District is the most forgiving in the nation, second only to the entire state of Massachusetts). Worst of all might be Joe Kennedy, a former Congressman who now spends his days shilling on behalf of the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

And, of course, there was Ted himself. I was a very liberal and politically active teenager, but something always struck me as profoundly wrong with the way people in my state lionized Ted Kennedy. I had a foggy knowledge of Chappaquiddick, but it was enough. The fact that this man was re-elected, time and time again, shocked my faith in America’s system of justice. But more than that, it made me question my own liberal faith. That so many of my fellow liberals would apologize for and explain away a man who–were it not for his privileged station in life–would have served a long jail sentence, seemed to contradict the most fundamental tenets of liberalism, namely, equality before the law and opposition to political power accrued by dynastic lineage.

In light of yesterday’s endorsement, now is as good a time as any to go back and re-read the classic GQ story on Kennedy by Michael Kelly, former editor of The New Republic, entitled “Ted Kennedy on the Rocks.” It’s a different animal entirely from yesterday’s herd-like and fawning press coverage of the Kennedy clan.

Journalists, of the overt and covert liberal variety, went gaga yesterday over Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, his dutiful son and Rhode Island Congressman Patrick, and his niece Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg endorsing Barack Obama and all but crowning him as the successor to JFK. A “Mount Rushmore of Kennedy faces was arrayed behind” Obama, gushed The Nation. “Kennedy focused on Obama’s ability to channel JFK-levels of inspiration and use good judgment on foreign policy and other issues,” crowed the ever-earnest American Prospect. About 100 journalists were turned away from the event, which says something about reporters and their love for these sorts of staged, media-friendly spectacles.

I was born and raised in Massachusetts. Yet the Kennedy bug never quite rubbed off on me. In fact, my feelings toward the Kennedys have been quite the opposite from those of my parents’ generation. Perhaps it’s because I was born in 1983, long after the fabled days of “Camelot.” The Kennedys I grew up with weren’t Jack and Bobby, but Michael (who sexually molested his children’s 14-year-old babysitter and died skiing down a mountain while recklessly tossing around a football), William Kennedy Smith, and the aforementioned Patrick (whose antics frequently show that Rhode Island’s First Congressional District is the most forgiving in the nation, second only to the entire state of Massachusetts). Worst of all might be Joe Kennedy, a former Congressman who now spends his days shilling on behalf of the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

And, of course, there was Ted himself. I was a very liberal and politically active teenager, but something always struck me as profoundly wrong with the way people in my state lionized Ted Kennedy. I had a foggy knowledge of Chappaquiddick, but it was enough. The fact that this man was re-elected, time and time again, shocked my faith in America’s system of justice. But more than that, it made me question my own liberal faith. That so many of my fellow liberals would apologize for and explain away a man who–were it not for his privileged station in life–would have served a long jail sentence, seemed to contradict the most fundamental tenets of liberalism, namely, equality before the law and opposition to political power accrued by dynastic lineage.

In light of yesterday’s endorsement, now is as good a time as any to go back and re-read the classic GQ story on Kennedy by Michael Kelly, former editor of The New Republic, entitled “Ted Kennedy on the Rocks.” It’s a different animal entirely from yesterday’s herd-like and fawning press coverage of the Kennedy clan.

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Mitt Romney’s Boilerplate Mistake

So Mitt Romney, facing the rise of Mike Huckabee’s Christian-centric campaign in Iowa and judging that the Huckabee surge is related to discomfort with Romney’s Mormonism, gave his much-anticipated speech on faith this morning. It’s perfectly fine Republican boilerplate — faith must inform our views but it does not guide them, the public square should not be naked, our Founders believed in religion and yet even they had to deal with intolerance toward minority faiths, Martin Luther King was really very good, etc. etc. Many commentators on the Right are praising the speech, but I fear they’re grading on a curve; strictly as a matter of rhetoric, it tended toward the bland. The only genuinely novel aspect of it was the addition of the Mormon trail to a brief account of the history of religious intolerance in America (“Because of their diverse beliefs, Ann Hutchinson was exiled from Massachusetts Bay, a banished Roger Williams founded Rhode Island, and two centuries later, Brigham Young set out for the West. Americans were unable to accommodate their commitment to their own faith with an appreciation for the convictions of others to different faiths…”).

The key passage is this:

I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith. Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin….

If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.

There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers — I will be true to them and to my beliefs.

That’s entirely fine. But there’s something oddly pointless about this protestation. Who is the audience for this speech, aside from people like me who make their living in part watching them and reading their texts and writing about them? No one thought Romney would say that Mormon elders would play a leading role in his White House counseling him on policy. Anyone inclined to believe such a thing won’t be convinced by Romney’s protestations in any case.

Romney has always had an uphill battle in this election, although you’re not supposed to say it, as it will occasion someone else delivering you a long speech about religious tolerance. As far as minority religions go, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is one of the minority-est. There are, by at least one count, three times as many Jews in the United States. The number of Americans who openly profess to be Christian is around 74 percent; the number of those raised Christian is 84 percent. Americans are without a doubt the most tolerant people on earth, but religion is very important to them, and someone whose fellow believers number 1/55th of the population of the United States is someone who is going to have trouble closing the deal with voters.

For those who don’t know Romney is a Mormon, well, they sure will now. For the next two or three days, it’s all anybody will know about him. Chances are it is the word that people will most associate with him from here on out. I don’t think that’s a good direction for a campaign that finds itself in the fight of its life in Iowa against the most explicitly Christian candidate in the field. (The only response so far comparable to mine is David Frum’s, though his typically trenchant criticism has more to do with the underlying meaning of the speech.)

So Mitt Romney, facing the rise of Mike Huckabee’s Christian-centric campaign in Iowa and judging that the Huckabee surge is related to discomfort with Romney’s Mormonism, gave his much-anticipated speech on faith this morning. It’s perfectly fine Republican boilerplate — faith must inform our views but it does not guide them, the public square should not be naked, our Founders believed in religion and yet even they had to deal with intolerance toward minority faiths, Martin Luther King was really very good, etc. etc. Many commentators on the Right are praising the speech, but I fear they’re grading on a curve; strictly as a matter of rhetoric, it tended toward the bland. The only genuinely novel aspect of it was the addition of the Mormon trail to a brief account of the history of religious intolerance in America (“Because of their diverse beliefs, Ann Hutchinson was exiled from Massachusetts Bay, a banished Roger Williams founded Rhode Island, and two centuries later, Brigham Young set out for the West. Americans were unable to accommodate their commitment to their own faith with an appreciation for the convictions of others to different faiths…”).

The key passage is this:

I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith. Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin….

If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.

There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers — I will be true to them and to my beliefs.

That’s entirely fine. But there’s something oddly pointless about this protestation. Who is the audience for this speech, aside from people like me who make their living in part watching them and reading their texts and writing about them? No one thought Romney would say that Mormon elders would play a leading role in his White House counseling him on policy. Anyone inclined to believe such a thing won’t be convinced by Romney’s protestations in any case.

Romney has always had an uphill battle in this election, although you’re not supposed to say it, as it will occasion someone else delivering you a long speech about religious tolerance. As far as minority religions go, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is one of the minority-est. There are, by at least one count, three times as many Jews in the United States. The number of Americans who openly profess to be Christian is around 74 percent; the number of those raised Christian is 84 percent. Americans are without a doubt the most tolerant people on earth, but religion is very important to them, and someone whose fellow believers number 1/55th of the population of the United States is someone who is going to have trouble closing the deal with voters.

For those who don’t know Romney is a Mormon, well, they sure will now. For the next two or three days, it’s all anybody will know about him. Chances are it is the word that people will most associate with him from here on out. I don’t think that’s a good direction for a campaign that finds itself in the fight of its life in Iowa against the most explicitly Christian candidate in the field. (The only response so far comparable to mine is David Frum’s, though his typically trenchant criticism has more to do with the underlying meaning of the speech.)

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The Indispensable Man

Scott Johnson at Powerline has a great post commemorating George Washington’s actual birthday—today, February 22nd. Johnson mentions especially the famous correspondence between Washington and Moses Seixas, then-president of America’s oldest Jewish congregation, Newport’s* Touro Synagogue, on the occasion of Washington’s visit there after Rhode Island’s ratification of the Constitution. Read the whole post here.

* The post originally mislabeled the location of the Touro synagogue as Providence.

Scott Johnson at Powerline has a great post commemorating George Washington’s actual birthday—today, February 22nd. Johnson mentions especially the famous correspondence between Washington and Moses Seixas, then-president of America’s oldest Jewish congregation, Newport’s* Touro Synagogue, on the occasion of Washington’s visit there after Rhode Island’s ratification of the Constitution. Read the whole post here.

* The post originally mislabeled the location of the Touro synagogue as Providence.

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