Commentary Magazine


Topic: Scott Brown

Warren’s Mistake: Nationalizing the Race

A poll of Massachusetts voters gave Scott Brown the win over Elizabeth Warren in last night’s Senate debate by ten points. Though I think Brown probably did win the debate, I thought Warren kept it very close—much closer than that poll suggests—and helped herself in a few ways. But I think two exchanges make up for the difference in perception between the poll results and the way it looked to those outside Massachusetts.

As I wrote on Wednesday, one major advantage Brown has over Warren is the fact that voters consider him to have a much stronger connection to the state than Warren, who is from Oklahoma. That discrepancy is magnified in a debate, where Brown’s accent, and Warren’s lack of one, drive the point home. But there are other ways to reinforce the local-vs.-outsider dynamic, and I think the two candidates did so clearly during their answers to a question about whether climate change is real and what can be done about it. Here is how Brown ended his answer:

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A poll of Massachusetts voters gave Scott Brown the win over Elizabeth Warren in last night’s Senate debate by ten points. Though I think Brown probably did win the debate, I thought Warren kept it very close—much closer than that poll suggests—and helped herself in a few ways. But I think two exchanges make up for the difference in perception between the poll results and the way it looked to those outside Massachusetts.

As I wrote on Wednesday, one major advantage Brown has over Warren is the fact that voters consider him to have a much stronger connection to the state than Warren, who is from Oklahoma. That discrepancy is magnified in a debate, where Brown’s accent, and Warren’s lack of one, drive the point home. But there are other ways to reinforce the local-vs.-outsider dynamic, and I think the two candidates did so clearly during their answers to a question about whether climate change is real and what can be done about it. Here is how Brown ended his answer:

[Warren is] in favor of putting wind turbines in the middle of our greatest treasure–down in the Nantucket Sound. I, like Senator Kennedy before me, believe that’s not right.

And here’s how Warren closed her answer on the same question:

This race really may be for the control of the Senate. But what that would mean is, if the Republicans take over the Senate, [Oklahoma Senator] Jim Inhofe would become the person who would be in charge of the committee that oversees the Environmental Protection Agency. He’s a man who has called global warming a hoax. In fact, that’s the title of his book. A man like that should not be in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, overseeing their work. And I just don’t understand how we could talk about going in that direction.

Brown’s rebuttal was a layup: “You’re not running against Jim Inhofe, you’re running against me, professor.”

And that was really Warren’s mistake, in a nutshell, because the other exchange I had in mind ended with Warren saying: “This really is about who you want as commander in chief,” explaining her support for President Obama over Mitt Romney as something the voters should consider.

The truth is, neither of Warren’s answers was bad, in and of itself. It’s that the responses explicitly nationalized a statewide election. And it only underlined the fact that Warren is, at heart, truly a national candidate. The Senate seat would be a consolation prize for her, since she really wanted to lead a new consumer protection bureaucracy in Washington. She has been focused on attacking Wall Street, and throughout the debate kept complaining about oil companies and a “rigged playing field.”

Her talking points are well rehearsed, but they’re mostly vague references worded for the Beltway press more than blue-collar Massachusetts voters. She seemed to be talking over her state, not to it–past the voters to the journalists who love catchy expressions of their own narratives.

Has Warren’s campaign even tested Jim Inhofe’s name recognition in Massachusetts? I’ll bet not—and I’d guess it wouldn’t be very high. That’s not because Massachusetts voters are disconnected from national issues. It’s just that name recognition of even high-ranking politicians is usually fairly low—lower, at least, than most people would think. So Warren’s decision to use her time in that answer to tie Brown to Inhofe may have been making a point her supporters would agree with, but it was probably a poor choice anyway.

It’s a bit of a vicious cycle for Warren: she is less familiar with Massachusetts issues than Brown, so she nationalizes the race, further seeming less familiar with Massachusetts issues. To break that cycle, she’d have to ditch Oklahoma politics for the Nantucket Sound.

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Polls Set the Stage for First Brown-Warren Senate Debate

Just a few hours after I wrote about Elizabeth Warren’s consistent lead in the polls over Scott Brown yesterday, the Boston Herald released its poll showing Brown back in the lead. The poll has Brown up by six among registered voters and four among likely voters. Mark Blumenthal suggests the sample sizes are partly to blame for the poll variation, and that the polls tell us one thing–the race is close:

The five other polls have shown Warren leading by margins varying from two to six percentage points. Relatively small sample sizes likely contribute to the variation. All but one of the new surveys sampled from 400 to 600 likely voters, for reported margins of error ranging from +/- 4 percent to +/- 5 percent.

When combined in the HuffPost Pollster Trend chart, designed to smooth out the random variation inherent in most polls, the new surveys show a virtual dead heat, with Warren just a half percentage point ahead of Brown (46.2 percent to 45.7 percent).

That will account for the attention the two candidates’ first debate will attract tonight. It will also be a good test for the question I mentioned yesterday: Warren’s populism is the only polling advantage she seems to have over Brown, who voters say is running the more positive campaign, has closer ties to the state than Warren, and has a high approval rating. So if Warren’s only advantage is her middle-class focused, soak-the-rich message, will that be sufficient to win enough public support?

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Just a few hours after I wrote about Elizabeth Warren’s consistent lead in the polls over Scott Brown yesterday, the Boston Herald released its poll showing Brown back in the lead. The poll has Brown up by six among registered voters and four among likely voters. Mark Blumenthal suggests the sample sizes are partly to blame for the poll variation, and that the polls tell us one thing–the race is close:

The five other polls have shown Warren leading by margins varying from two to six percentage points. Relatively small sample sizes likely contribute to the variation. All but one of the new surveys sampled from 400 to 600 likely voters, for reported margins of error ranging from +/- 4 percent to +/- 5 percent.

When combined in the HuffPost Pollster Trend chart, designed to smooth out the random variation inherent in most polls, the new surveys show a virtual dead heat, with Warren just a half percentage point ahead of Brown (46.2 percent to 45.7 percent).

That will account for the attention the two candidates’ first debate will attract tonight. It will also be a good test for the question I mentioned yesterday: Warren’s populism is the only polling advantage she seems to have over Brown, who voters say is running the more positive campaign, has closer ties to the state than Warren, and has a high approval rating. So if Warren’s only advantage is her middle-class focused, soak-the-rich message, will that be sufficient to win enough public support?

As Jonathan wrote this afternoon, both Brown and Connecticut Republican challenger Linda McMahon will have to rely on ticket-splitting Democrats, since there simply aren’t enough Republican voters to put them over the top in their two states (in Brown’s case, as I wrote yesterday, Republicans make up only about one in ten voters). The Herald talked to some Democratic and independent Massachusetts voters about Brown, and heard exactly what Brown needs to hear to win this election:

“I wasn’t too sure of him at first, but he’s been very independent,” said Jo Ann Dunnigan, a longtime Democrat and President Obama supporter from Fall River who participated in the poll, conducted Sept. 13-17….

“I like the fact he grew up poor and knows what it means to have problems in your family,” said Valerica Stanta, a self-described independent from Haverhill who supports Obama and took part in the poll.

That will make it more difficult for Warren to paint Brown as the corporate candidate, which she is trying to do. Because Warren does not have Brown’s charisma, she’ll be at something of a disadvantage at the debate. She’ll have to rely on hammering home her campaign message, but it turns out there’s more bad news for Warren’s prospects at convincing the electorate:

Warren is viewed favorably by 48 percent of voters — a 14-point increase from nine months ago — but her unfavorable rating has also increased seven points to 34 percent. And three of 10 registered voters say Warren’s views are “too liberal.”

Stanta said she has a “trust” problem with Warren because of her differing explanations for why she listed herself as an American Indian minority in law school directories. “When they avoid explaining exactly what is going on, I don’t feel comfortable,” Stanta said.

Apologies for stating the obvious, but if Warren has a “trust problem,” she’s in trouble–all the more so because of her weaknesses in other areas. Additionally, Warren is too liberal for nearly a third of Massachusetts? Her class warfare may have helped her some, but perhaps even her deep blue state can only take so much bashing of business owners during an economic downturn.

If voters already find her untrustworthy and overzealous, tonight’s debate, which will be on C-Span at 7 p.m. eastern, will be her best chance to improve voters’ perception of her communication style just as much as her substance. But if her Democratic National Convention speech is any indication, that will be no easy task.

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Is Warren’s Class Warfare Working?

The disconnect between the polls that show Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in a dead heat and the media conventional wisdom desperately pronouncing Obama the easy victor is being turned on its head in the Massachusetts Senate race. There, it is Republican Scott Brown that seems to be running the better campaign, yet the polls are starting to show a consistent lead by his challenger, Elizabeth Warren.

Though Brown’s approval rating is no longer the stratospheric 73 percent it was only last year according to a Democratic committee poll, he is still above water at 55 percent among registered voters and 57 percent among likely voters. A new poll shows Massachusetts voters think Brown is running the more positive campaign, 35 percent to 21 for Warren. And Brown’s strong ties to the state are not lost on voters, nor is Warren’s lack of same; only 13 percent of voters think she has a strong connection to the state. Brown’s approval rating among independents is 67 percent and 30 percent among Democrats. So what’s causing Brown’s poll slide?

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The disconnect between the polls that show Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in a dead heat and the media conventional wisdom desperately pronouncing Obama the easy victor is being turned on its head in the Massachusetts Senate race. There, it is Republican Scott Brown that seems to be running the better campaign, yet the polls are starting to show a consistent lead by his challenger, Elizabeth Warren.

Though Brown’s approval rating is no longer the stratospheric 73 percent it was only last year according to a Democratic committee poll, he is still above water at 55 percent among registered voters and 57 percent among likely voters. A new poll shows Massachusetts voters think Brown is running the more positive campaign, 35 percent to 21 for Warren. And Brown’s strong ties to the state are not lost on voters, nor is Warren’s lack of same; only 13 percent of voters think she has a strong connection to the state. Brown’s approval rating among independents is 67 percent and 30 percent among Democrats. So what’s causing Brown’s poll slide?

Alex Burns thinks it’s the natural outgrowth of running as a Republican in a deep blue state: “It’s a state so strongly Democratic that the 2010 GOP wave had little impact there, and where Brown’s 14-point lead among independents in the WBUR still leaves him trailing by 5 points overall,” he writes. That’s true: the MassLive.com report on Brown’s approval notes that he gets 92 percent support from his own party, but that only represents about one in every ten Massachusetts voters.

There’s another possibility, however, and it’s one that should concern the Brown campaign. Warren is this campaign season’s original class warrior. It was her pro-government rant that laid the ground work for Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, and she is only running for the Senate because the GOP blocked Democrats’ original plan for her: as the head of a new consumer watchdog bureaucracy. And true to form, her current advertising campaign attacks Brown for sticking up for private industry and business owners while Brown ties Warren to Occupy Wall Street.

But that may play right into Warren’s hands. The Boston Globe reports that Warren’s populism may be working:

In the survey, 39 percent of likely voters believed Warren “will stand up for regular people when in the Senate,” an improvement from 30 percent from a poll in February.

On the same question, Brown’s support dropped to 29 percent from 33 percent.

In what the station described as a sign that Warren’s campaign themes seem to be resonating with voters, the poll found that 35 percent of voters view Warren as the candidate who best “understands the needs of middle-class families.” Only 27 percent said that phrase described Brown.

That “regular people” question showed a 13-point swing. The fallout from Romney’s fundraiser remarks may be overstated by the media, but if the GOP gets successfully tagged as the party for the rich, Brown will be put in the uncomfortable position of having to either distance himself from his party’s presidential ticket or struggle to fight Warren’s class warfare. Brown probably never expected to be in this situation; he’s the pickup-driving local guy and Warren is the tenured Harvard professor from out of state. In almost every way, Brown is running the superior campaign. But if Warren has the right message, that might be all the overwhelmingly liberal electorate there is looking for.

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Brown Camp Hits Warren’s Own “You Didn’t Build That” Moment

Politico’s James Hohmann points readers of his “Morning Score” to a two-and-a-half minute web ad the Scott Brown campaign will deploy against Elizabeth Warren. It capitalizes on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line by tying it to Warren, who made similar comments earlier in the campaign. It’s a powerful ad, using audio and video of Democratic presidents–Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton–as well as a few Republicans to drive home the extent to which the current Democratic Party has veered leftward, away from historically bipartisan agreement on the virtue of private industry.

The video then shows Obama delivering his infamous line, and closes with Warren’s–a much harsher version. Warren is frowning, raising her voice, and pointing fingers; as a demagogue, she puts Obama to shame (and that’s saying something). The contention that the Democratic Party has moved left is rather obvious; no one believes that Harry Truman, with his overt religiosity and lack of a college education, could earn the modern Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Equally out of place would be John Kennedy, simultaneously cutting taxes across the board–including for the rich–while promising that we would “pay any price, bear any burden” for the cause of liberty and to ensure the survival of “those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.”

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Politico’s James Hohmann points readers of his “Morning Score” to a two-and-a-half minute web ad the Scott Brown campaign will deploy against Elizabeth Warren. It capitalizes on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line by tying it to Warren, who made similar comments earlier in the campaign. It’s a powerful ad, using audio and video of Democratic presidents–Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton–as well as a few Republicans to drive home the extent to which the current Democratic Party has veered leftward, away from historically bipartisan agreement on the virtue of private industry.

The video then shows Obama delivering his infamous line, and closes with Warren’s–a much harsher version. Warren is frowning, raising her voice, and pointing fingers; as a demagogue, she puts Obama to shame (and that’s saying something). The contention that the Democratic Party has moved left is rather obvious; no one believes that Harry Truman, with his overt religiosity and lack of a college education, could earn the modern Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Equally out of place would be John Kennedy, simultaneously cutting taxes across the board–including for the rich–while promising that we would “pay any price, bear any burden” for the cause of liberty and to ensure the survival of “those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.”

But everyone knows the end of Johnson’s administration was the end of an era for the Democrats. It’s the consistent appearance of a living ex-president, Bill Clinton, that marks current GOP messaging strategy. The sudden appreciation for the opposing party’s past standard-bearers is common to both the Democrats and Republicans. Once they were pinko commies and neo-fascists, now they are centrist Democrats and compassionate Republicans. Even Bush saw the need for comprehensive immigration reform, says one. Even Clinton signed welfare reform, says the other.

But Clinton polls better among the nation and his own party than Bush, so he will find a place for himself in this campaign on both sides. Democrats will ask him to campaign for them, preferring him to Obama. Republicans will remind Democrats at every turn just how “reasonable” Clinton was compared to Obama. Mitt Romney hit this theme after Obama’s heavy-handed attempt to gut welfare reform by executive fiat:

“President Obama now wants to strip the established work requirements from welfare,” Romney said.  “The success of bipartisan welfare reform, passed under President Clinton, has rested on the obligation of work. The president’s action is completely misdirected. Work is a dignified endeavor, and the linkage of work and welfare is essential to prevent welfare from becoming a way of life.”

The Brown campaign’s video is only the latest, but almost surely not the last, time voters will see the GOP attempt to plant a flag on centrist territory abandoned by Obama. Because of Obama’s lack of private-sector experience, and Warren’s apparent attempt to claim minority status–paired with an inability to substantiate that claim–to get ahead in the academic world, the two make easy targets for such ads. Their opponents can criticize them not only for saying such nonsense, but for believing it too.

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Has the ObamaCare Ruling Given Us the Scott Brown Presidential Campaign?

When Scott Brown ran to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy, he had one overarching theme: he would cast what was then thought to be the deciding vote against ObamaCare. For all the liberal spin about his opponent running a clumsy campaign, the Senate election was the clearest referendum on ObamaCare yet. And in a liberal state, the Republican won the seat by winning the argument (or deploying the winning argument) against ObamaCare.

When the Senate Democrats used a procedural maneuver to get around the vote, Brown’s victory seemed to have been in vain. But now its value comes roaring back to Republicans–as a potential model for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the individual mandate may stand as a massive tax increase, Romney will deploy what was always going to be the strategy in this case: the claim that he is the last thing standing between ObamaCare and the people.

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When Scott Brown ran to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy, he had one overarching theme: he would cast what was then thought to be the deciding vote against ObamaCare. For all the liberal spin about his opponent running a clumsy campaign, the Senate election was the clearest referendum on ObamaCare yet. And in a liberal state, the Republican won the seat by winning the argument (or deploying the winning argument) against ObamaCare.

When the Senate Democrats used a procedural maneuver to get around the vote, Brown’s victory seemed to have been in vain. But now its value comes roaring back to Republicans–as a potential model for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the individual mandate may stand as a massive tax increase, Romney will deploy what was always going to be the strategy in this case: the claim that he is the last thing standing between ObamaCare and the people.

If Romney loses the election in November, it is doubtful the GOP would still gain enough seats in the Senate to overturn the health care reform law. And in either case, it is unlikely the GOP could take enough seats in the Senate to overturn an Obama veto. Only an election that produces a President Romney would carry with it the means to overturn the law. ObamaCare was unpopular enough for a Republican to win Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts, and it remains deeply unpopular. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled the law’s funding mechanism to be a massive nationwide tax increase, it’s possible the law may become even less popular.

That makes Romney’s argument, in theory, stronger than Brown’s was, at least in two ways: the country is far more conservative than Massachusetts, and the law’s tax increase is so politically radioactive that it never would have passed in the first place had it been described honestly as such from the beginning. Romney may not be able to authentically recreate the style of Brown’s campaign by driving around in a pickup truck, but he may otherwise have found his blueprint.

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Warren’s Troubles Extend Beyond Cherokee Problem

Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren have been locked in a dead-heat for months, despite the national attention on Warren’s Cherokee heritage controversy. But that doesn’t mean Warren is in the clear. Even if the Cherokee issue fades, Public Policy Polling found deeper problems for her in its latest poll today:

 The ever close Massachusetts Senate race has drawn closer in the last three months. Elizabeth Warren remains at 46 percent, but incumbent Republican Scott Brown has drawn up five points to tie Warren because of resurgent support from independent voters.

In fact, Brown has doubled his margin with independents. He led by 12 points with them the last time PPP polled the state in March, and he is up 24 now. The candidates’ shares of the respective two-party vote remain essentially unchanged, with Brown still drawing nearly 20 percent of Warren’s party and Warren pulling less than 10 percent of Brown’s. The problem for Warren is that 13 percent of current Obama voters and 18 percent of those who say they voted for him in 2008 are with Brown right now.

 

Brown’s support has doubled with independents since March, and while PPP didn’t ask about Warren’s ancestry issue, it’s hard to imagine that hasn’t played at least a minor role. But again, the problem goes deeper than that when you dig into the full polling data. Just 34 percent of voters say Brown is “too conservative,” compared to 42 percent who say Warren is “too liberal.” That’s remarkable for a state as deep-blue as Massachusetts.

Brown and Warren both have similarly high favorable ratings, but Brown’s job performance is at the 51 percent mark. Nearly half of respondents said he was an “independent vote for Massachusetts” compared to 39 percent who said he spoke primarily for the Republican Party. The bottom line is, voters are more likely to view Brown favorably and see him as more in-tune with their own opinions than Warren. This contradicts the entire premise of running Warren — the idea was that a Republican was only able to win in the liberal state because voters didn’t have an exciting, competent, likable choice in the Democratic Party. But even though respondents view Warren favorably — her Cherokee problem apparently didn’t hurt her too much in that regard — they are less likely to agree with her politically. And that’s a huge concern for any Massachusetts Democrat.

Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren have been locked in a dead-heat for months, despite the national attention on Warren’s Cherokee heritage controversy. But that doesn’t mean Warren is in the clear. Even if the Cherokee issue fades, Public Policy Polling found deeper problems for her in its latest poll today:

 The ever close Massachusetts Senate race has drawn closer in the last three months. Elizabeth Warren remains at 46 percent, but incumbent Republican Scott Brown has drawn up five points to tie Warren because of resurgent support from independent voters.

In fact, Brown has doubled his margin with independents. He led by 12 points with them the last time PPP polled the state in March, and he is up 24 now. The candidates’ shares of the respective two-party vote remain essentially unchanged, with Brown still drawing nearly 20 percent of Warren’s party and Warren pulling less than 10 percent of Brown’s. The problem for Warren is that 13 percent of current Obama voters and 18 percent of those who say they voted for him in 2008 are with Brown right now.

 

Brown’s support has doubled with independents since March, and while PPP didn’t ask about Warren’s ancestry issue, it’s hard to imagine that hasn’t played at least a minor role. But again, the problem goes deeper than that when you dig into the full polling data. Just 34 percent of voters say Brown is “too conservative,” compared to 42 percent who say Warren is “too liberal.” That’s remarkable for a state as deep-blue as Massachusetts.

Brown and Warren both have similarly high favorable ratings, but Brown’s job performance is at the 51 percent mark. Nearly half of respondents said he was an “independent vote for Massachusetts” compared to 39 percent who said he spoke primarily for the Republican Party. The bottom line is, voters are more likely to view Brown favorably and see him as more in-tune with their own opinions than Warren. This contradicts the entire premise of running Warren — the idea was that a Republican was only able to win in the liberal state because voters didn’t have an exciting, competent, likable choice in the Democratic Party. But even though respondents view Warren favorably — her Cherokee problem apparently didn’t hurt her too much in that regard — they are less likely to agree with her politically. And that’s a huge concern for any Massachusetts Democrat.

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Warren May Face Primary Challenge

Massachusetts Democratic Party leaders had hoped Elizabeth Warren could train her focus on Sen. Scott Brown after the state Democratic convention, but now it looks like anxious delegates may force Warren to face a primary challenger this summer:

But Warren’s advisers and some seasoned political hands say she will have a difficult time blocking Marisa DeFranco, a North Shore immigration lawyer, from getting the 15 percent of delegate votes she needs to qualify for the primary ballot. Since the 15-percent requirement was put in place in 1982, no leading Democratic candidate has eliminated an opponent by getting more than 85 percent of the delegate vote at a convention.

At the Boston Herald, Holly Robichaud wonders whether this is a case of rogue Democratic delegates going off the reservation, or if nervous party leaders are quietly plotting to keep DeFranco around as a Plan B:

By allowing DeFranco on the ballot, does that mean Democrats think that Lieawatha is a flawed candidate? Have Democratic leaders lost control of their party? Or is this their backup plan in case October’s hot Halloween costume is a Democratic Senate candidate, complete with Indian headdress?

Certainly, delegates defecting to DeFranco would be thumbing their collective noses at Democratic party leaders, who have been plotting for months to give Lizzy a direct shot at our hometown hero, Brown.

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Massachusetts Democratic Party leaders had hoped Elizabeth Warren could train her focus on Sen. Scott Brown after the state Democratic convention, but now it looks like anxious delegates may force Warren to face a primary challenger this summer:

But Warren’s advisers and some seasoned political hands say she will have a difficult time blocking Marisa DeFranco, a North Shore immigration lawyer, from getting the 15 percent of delegate votes she needs to qualify for the primary ballot. Since the 15-percent requirement was put in place in 1982, no leading Democratic candidate has eliminated an opponent by getting more than 85 percent of the delegate vote at a convention.

At the Boston Herald, Holly Robichaud wonders whether this is a case of rogue Democratic delegates going off the reservation, or if nervous party leaders are quietly plotting to keep DeFranco around as a Plan B:

By allowing DeFranco on the ballot, does that mean Democrats think that Lieawatha is a flawed candidate? Have Democratic leaders lost control of their party? Or is this their backup plan in case October’s hot Halloween costume is a Democratic Senate candidate, complete with Indian headdress?

Certainly, delegates defecting to DeFranco would be thumbing their collective noses at Democratic party leaders, who have been plotting for months to give Lizzy a direct shot at our hometown hero, Brown.

Some Massachusetts Democrats may want DeFranco available as a fallback, but they’re also opening the party up to risk if she gets on the ballot. Warren will have to fight attacks from both the right and left, and face criticism about her Native American ancestry claims from both sides. DeFranco isn’t anywhere near a serious threat at this point, as her fundraising, name-recognition, and organization are miniscule compared to Warren’s. And Democrats have no real reason to shift support from Warren’s campaign to DeFranco’s, as the ancestry controversy doesn’t seem to be hurting the presumed Democratic frontrunner in the polls yet. But DeFranco can still end up being a drain on Warren’s resources and a distraction.

Case in point: DeFranco has already challenged Warren to four debates during the summer, and it sounds like Warren is actually considering it:

Thomas Whalen, a political historian at Boston University, said of DeFranco’s debate demand, “It’s a Hail Mary pass, but I suppose if I were in her shoes, I would do the same. If you want a really strong showing in the primary, you need to have a serious debate to puncture holes in her arguments. If Elizabeth Warren turns down the debates, it looks bad, like she is shirking. … She’s caught in a tough situation. The state Democratic Party looks bad, like how can they allow this to happen?”

The Warren campaign has to avoid blatantly disrespecting DeFranco, because the Brown campaign – and the Massachusetts media – will likely be watching closely for any perceived arrogance on Warren’s part. It was that sort of self-entitled attitude that undermined Martha Coakley’s bid in 2010.

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Cherokee Controversy Not Hurting Warren

Suffolk University finds that Elizabeth Warren’s support is actually holding steady in Massachusetts, despite the ongoing controversy about her dubious Cherokee ancestry claims. Sen. Scott Brown and Warren still appear to be in a dead heat:

Republican incumbent Scott Brown (48 percent) clings to a one-point lead over Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren (47 percent) in the Massachusetts race for the U.S. Senate, according to a Suffolk University/7NEWS (WHDH-Boston) poll of likely general-election voters in Massachusetts.

The poll result is well within the margin of error. Five percent of voters were undecided in a race that has drawn interest from across the country, even though the primaries are months away. The race has closed since a February Suffolk University/7NEWS poll showed Brown leading Warren 49 percent to 40 percent, with 11 percent either undecided or choosing someone else.

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Suffolk University finds that Elizabeth Warren’s support is actually holding steady in Massachusetts, despite the ongoing controversy about her dubious Cherokee ancestry claims. Sen. Scott Brown and Warren still appear to be in a dead heat:

Republican incumbent Scott Brown (48 percent) clings to a one-point lead over Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren (47 percent) in the Massachusetts race for the U.S. Senate, according to a Suffolk University/7NEWS (WHDH-Boston) poll of likely general-election voters in Massachusetts.

The poll result is well within the margin of error. Five percent of voters were undecided in a race that has drawn interest from across the country, even though the primaries are months away. The race has closed since a February Suffolk University/7NEWS poll showed Brown leading Warren 49 percent to 40 percent, with 11 percent either undecided or choosing someone else.

As you can see, Warren has gained significant ground since Suffolk’s last poll in February, while Brown’s support has stagnated just below 50 percent. While the Cherokee story makes for delicious headlines and entertaining blog fodder, Massachusetts voters don’t seem to view it as a negative reflection on Warren’s personal ethics. On that point, Allahpundit points out perhaps the most telling finding in the entire poll: when asked which candidate respondents trusted more to tell the truth, 40 percent said Elizabeth Warren as opposed to 37 percent who said Scott Brown.

As AmSpec’s Aaron Goldstein writes: “If voters in Connecticut didn’t care about Richard Blumenthal misrepresenting his military service, is it really a stretch to imagine that Massachusetts voters won’t care if Elizabeth Warren lied about being Native American to advance her career?” Good point. If the state GOP is able to tie the ancestry issue to an angle Massachusetts voters do care about, maybe they can get some more mileage out of the scandal. Otherwise, it looks like Warren may be in the clear.

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Warren’s Indian Problem Isn’t Going Away

Genealogy has become a popular American pastime, but it’s not one that Elizabeth Warren seems to be enjoying. The law professor turned Democratic Senate candidate has discovered to her displeasure that more attention is being paid to her somewhat tenuous claim to Native American ancestry and the use her academic employers made of this fiction than her attempt to defeat Massachusetts incumbent Scott Brown. The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta has compiled all the available evidence on the matter and found some facts that will comfort Warren and others that her critics will promote. But even after we have gotten to the bottom of this — and Franke-Ruta appears to have done so — that won’t solve her problem. Warren’s dilemma is more pressing than merely the irony of a “progressive” hoisted on the petard fashioned by the left.

Warren is vulnerable on this score not just because it is amusing to see a liberal squirm after being called out for masquerading as a minority. Rather it is the fact that she’s a relative newcomer to politics and this controversy is helping to define her. Though she’s right that this is a distraction from the issues, having entered the public imagination as the object of popular scorn in this fashion, it’s going to be difficult for her to shake this image of faux Indian in the next six months.

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Genealogy has become a popular American pastime, but it’s not one that Elizabeth Warren seems to be enjoying. The law professor turned Democratic Senate candidate has discovered to her displeasure that more attention is being paid to her somewhat tenuous claim to Native American ancestry and the use her academic employers made of this fiction than her attempt to defeat Massachusetts incumbent Scott Brown. The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta has compiled all the available evidence on the matter and found some facts that will comfort Warren and others that her critics will promote. But even after we have gotten to the bottom of this — and Franke-Ruta appears to have done so — that won’t solve her problem. Warren’s dilemma is more pressing than merely the irony of a “progressive” hoisted on the petard fashioned by the left.

Warren is vulnerable on this score not just because it is amusing to see a liberal squirm after being called out for masquerading as a minority. Rather it is the fact that she’s a relative newcomer to politics and this controversy is helping to define her. Though she’s right that this is a distraction from the issues, having entered the public imagination as the object of popular scorn in this fashion, it’s going to be difficult for her to shake this image of faux Indian in the next six months.

A fraudulent item in a biography can be a devastating blow to a political career, but it doesn’t have to be fatal, as one prominent example shows.

Just two years ago, a U.S. Senate race in neighboring Connecticut might well have been defined by such an issue. Democratic nominee Richard Blumenthal was caught on something far worse than Warren’s belief that she was 1/32 Cherokee based on family lore and her grandfather’s high cheekbones. Blumenthal was caught on tape lying about having served in Vietnam. That’s more than just fibbing on a resume or treating family myths as fact. It’s about as low as you can get. Yet Blumenthal still breezed to victory and today sits in the U.S. Senate alongside a few members who actually did serve in Vietnam and does so without blushing.

Blumenthal was lucky to run in a blue state like Connecticut and he was even more fortunate that his opponent, pro wrestling mogul Linda McMahon (who is having another crack at the Senate this year as she seeks to replace the retiring Joe Lieberman) was widely seen as disreputable. But even with those favorable circumstances, the lie might have ended Blumenthal’s hopes but for one factor: he was a familiar and well-liked figure in the state. Having spent the previous 20 years running for and winning state-wide office as the longtime attorney general, it was easy for him to ask forgiveness from those who had already gotten to know and respect him. As a political novice, Warren can’t fall back on that same sense of trust.

As Franke-Ruta writes, there’s no evidence she used her fake Indian ancestry to gain entrance to schools or to win professorial posts. But her foolish determination to stick to her claim about having Native American heritage — even after, as Franke-Ruta also determines  — it became clear there is virtually no likelihood of it being true has given the story legs. And because the story solidified her public identity as the product of the academy rather than as an activist, it has helped turn this election into a town versus gown affair that is very much to her disadvantage.

Entering the public consciousness as a fraud, even a penny-ante fraud such as her mythical Cherokee forebears, may be a far greater burden for a politician to carry than even the revelation of a lie that is a case of moral turpitude as was true of Blumenthal. Unless Warren can fundamentally redefine the way voters think about her in the coming months, it appears the Democrats’ hope of retaking Ted Kennedy’s old seat was lost on the “Trail of Tears,” and not in Massachusetts.

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Warren’s Indian Tales Help Turn Mass. Race Into Town vs. Gown

Contentions has already explored the contradictions at the heart of Elizabeth Warren’s use of her slim ties to a Native American ancestor to portray herself as a member of a minority group at Harvard University Law School. The Democratic candidate has become something of a poster child for the excesses of the world of affirmative action, but the story got a bit more damaging today when the Boston Herald reported that in addition to using her status as a 1/32 Cherokee Indian, she also went native during her time at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Herald discovered that Penn (where she worked from 1987 to 1994), listed her as a minority in a “Minority Equity Report.” Warren’s office is probably right to say that her reputation was good enough in the world of liberal jurisprudence to have earned her a job at prestigious universities. But the revelation that she was touted as a minority hire at yet another school makes her claim that she was unaware of her status as an affirmative action case that much less credible. When added to the fact that she admits listing herself as a minority in the Association of American Law Schools directory for a decade (supposedly in order to meet “other Native Americans”), this new information gives the story new life.

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Contentions has already explored the contradictions at the heart of Elizabeth Warren’s use of her slim ties to a Native American ancestor to portray herself as a member of a minority group at Harvard University Law School. The Democratic candidate has become something of a poster child for the excesses of the world of affirmative action, but the story got a bit more damaging today when the Boston Herald reported that in addition to using her status as a 1/32 Cherokee Indian, she also went native during her time at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Herald discovered that Penn (where she worked from 1987 to 1994), listed her as a minority in a “Minority Equity Report.” Warren’s office is probably right to say that her reputation was good enough in the world of liberal jurisprudence to have earned her a job at prestigious universities. But the revelation that she was touted as a minority hire at yet another school makes her claim that she was unaware of her status as an affirmative action case that much less credible. When added to the fact that she admits listing herself as a minority in the Association of American Law Schools directory for a decade (supposedly in order to meet “other Native Americans”), this new information gives the story new life.

Far from a distraction from more important issues, the WASPy Warren’s use of “family lore” to get a leg up as a faux minority at some of the country’s most prestigious institutions speaks volumes about the cynical way liberals think about affirmation action and their thinly-veiled contempt for real minorities.

The bad news for Warren is not just that she has been taken off message for weeks dealing with a campaign hiccup that no one could have foreseen. It is that she has been effectively branded as a fake when it was her authenticity as a tough-talking advocate of liberalism which launched her political career.

Even worse, the affirmative action fraud reminds Massachusetts voters of everything they hate about Harvard elites. Though the Bay State is reliably liberal and Democratic, it is a mistake to think most of its citizens worship at the altar of Harvard. Warren needed her race against incumbent Scott Brown to be one of liberal versus conservative. Instead, the Cherokee story will help him frame it as one of town versus gown. And that is a contest that gown will lose every time.

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Another Warren Bizarre Plot Twist

Just when you thought the Elizabeth Warren controversy couldn’t get any more disastrous, Breitbart’s Michael Patrick Leahy reports on yet another bizarre plot twist:

For over a quarter of a century, Elizabeth Warren has described herself as a Native American. When recently asked to provide evidence of her ancestry, she pointed to an unsubstantiated claim on an 1894 Oklahoma Territory marriage license application by her great-great grand uncle William J. Crawford that his mother, O.C. Sarah Smith Crawford, Ms. Warren’s great-great-great grandmother, was a Cherokee. …

But the most stunning discovery about the life of O.C. Sarah Smith Crawford is that her husband, Ms. Warren’s great-great-great grandfather, was apparently a member of the Tennessee Militia who rounded up Cherokees from their family homes in the Southeastern United States and herded them into government-built stockades in what was then called Ross’s Landing (now Chattanooga), Tennessee—the point of origin for the horrific Trail of Tears, which began in January 1837.

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Just when you thought the Elizabeth Warren controversy couldn’t get any more disastrous, Breitbart’s Michael Patrick Leahy reports on yet another bizarre plot twist:

For over a quarter of a century, Elizabeth Warren has described herself as a Native American. When recently asked to provide evidence of her ancestry, she pointed to an unsubstantiated claim on an 1894 Oklahoma Territory marriage license application by her great-great grand uncle William J. Crawford that his mother, O.C. Sarah Smith Crawford, Ms. Warren’s great-great-great grandmother, was a Cherokee. …

But the most stunning discovery about the life of O.C. Sarah Smith Crawford is that her husband, Ms. Warren’s great-great-great grandfather, was apparently a member of the Tennessee Militia who rounded up Cherokees from their family homes in the Southeastern United States and herded them into government-built stockades in what was then called Ross’s Landing (now Chattanooga), Tennessee—the point of origin for the horrific Trail of Tears, which began in January 1837.

Notably, Warren hasn’t denied the story, instead dismissing it as a distraction and “politics as usual.” If she was actually aware of this ancestry beforehand, it might explain her frenzied, stumbling response to the controversy from the beginning. With a bombshell like that dangling over her head, it’s no wonder she was evasive about her history.

At the very least, the development will help keep the controversy alive, and increase pressure on Warren to release more information about her minority status claims. Sen. Scott Brown is now calling on Warren to release her law school applications:

“Serious questions have been raised about the legitimacy of Elizabeth Warren’s claims to Native American ancestry and whether it was appropriate for her to assume minority status as a college professor,” the statement said.

“The best way to satisfy these questions is for Elizabeth Warren to authorize the release of her law school applications and all personnel files from the various universities where she has taught.”

The death-by-a-thousand-cuts scandal harkens back to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s downfall when she ran against Brown for Senate in 2010. In many senses, Warren is a stronger candidate than Coakley was. She’s been able to build more of a national profile and is considered a rising progressive star, whereas Coakley was never really able to energize the liberal base. But Coakley’s demise also wasn’t due to any overwhelming flaws as much as it was due to a number of small-scale mishaps that played into the sense she was an out-of-touch elitist who didn’t want to smudge her manicured shaking hands outside Fenway Park.

The growing narrative about Warren, on the other hand, is that she’s an ivory tower liberal with some shady character flaws. This latest Trail of Tears development also makes her something of a punchline, similar to how Coakley became a running joke after she cluelessly claimed former Red Sox pitcher and Brown supporter Curt Schilling was a Yankee fan. While the Coakley’s meltdown happened shortly before Election Day, Warren still has time to repair her image. But her window of opportunity is quickly closing, and the drip-drip of details like this will make it difficult for her to turn things around.

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Is it Ever Okay to Nominate a RINO?

The transformation of the Republican Party in the mid to late 20th century from one dominated by a moderate-liberal Eastern establishment to the current conservative model is a historic fact. Even the mere hint of moderation on the part of a Republican candidate is enough to send the party’s grass roots into conniption fits. The most damning accusation that can be lodged against anyone in the GOP these days is that of being a RINO — Republican in name only — a term that is synonymous with betrayal of principle and mushy statism. But two important Senate contests this year raises an interesting question that Republicans ought to seriously consider: is it ever okay for the party to nominate a moderate?

In Connecticut, two candidates are contesting the Republican nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Joe Lieberman: Wrestling mogul Linda McMahon and former congressman Chris Shays. For conservatives in this very blue state, the choice may be an easy one since McMahon is a Tea Party sympathizer. By contrast, Shays is more or less what most people think of when they hear the term RINO. In his 21 years representing Fairfield County in Congress Shays voted more often with liberals than conservatives. Yet a Quinnipiac University poll showing the pair in matchups against the two prospective Democratic challengers in the race ought to give even the most ardent RINO-haters pause. The survey shows Shays in a virtual dead heat against either Democrat while McMahon is badly beaten in both matchups. Should that influence GOP voters?

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The transformation of the Republican Party in the mid to late 20th century from one dominated by a moderate-liberal Eastern establishment to the current conservative model is a historic fact. Even the mere hint of moderation on the part of a Republican candidate is enough to send the party’s grass roots into conniption fits. The most damning accusation that can be lodged against anyone in the GOP these days is that of being a RINO — Republican in name only — a term that is synonymous with betrayal of principle and mushy statism. But two important Senate contests this year raises an interesting question that Republicans ought to seriously consider: is it ever okay for the party to nominate a moderate?

In Connecticut, two candidates are contesting the Republican nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Joe Lieberman: Wrestling mogul Linda McMahon and former congressman Chris Shays. For conservatives in this very blue state, the choice may be an easy one since McMahon is a Tea Party sympathizer. By contrast, Shays is more or less what most people think of when they hear the term RINO. In his 21 years representing Fairfield County in Congress Shays voted more often with liberals than conservatives. Yet a Quinnipiac University poll showing the pair in matchups against the two prospective Democratic challengers in the race ought to give even the most ardent RINO-haters pause. The survey shows Shays in a virtual dead heat against either Democrat while McMahon is badly beaten in both matchups. Should that influence GOP voters?

By the time he lost his seat in 2008, Shays had become a poster child for a nearly extinct species: moderate to liberal Republicans. On abortion, gun control, campaign finance reform and other conservative litmus test issues, Shays was on the liberal side of the spectrum. He also angered many by ditching his party on the war in Iraq in 2006 by calling for a troop withdrawal, a tilt to the left that helped hold onto his seat for one more term. Ironically, that was the same year Lieberman refused to bend to pressure from left to oppose the war and thereby lost his party’s nomination before winning re-election as an independent.

McMahon has no such liabilities as far as conservatives are concerned. But she does have two big problems. One is that her past as the head of a business as disreputable as professional wrestling makes her a tough sell in the state that calls itself the “land of steady habits.” The other is that her raw conservative populism is politically radioactive in liberal Connecticut. It should be remembered that during her initial foray into electoral politics in 2010 she faced off against an ethically damaged Democrat (Richard Blumenthal had been caught on tape lying about his service in Vietnam) in a year in which the Republicans made historic gains but was still beaten in a landslide. There’s no reason to think she will do any better this time around. Shays has, at worst, an even chance at stealing a seat the Democrats are counting on in a desperate battle to hold onto their Senate majority.

Across the state line to the east, Republicans won a huge victory a year ago when Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat. Brown comes across as a populist, but once you get beyond his opposition to ObamaCare and his truck, he is pretty much a standard issue New England moderate. Brown might be what passes for a conservative in Cambridge but does anyone think the GOP would have even a ghost of a chance of holding that seat in November against Elizabeth Warren with someone conservatives might like better? Its not likely Shays’ votes would be all that different from Brown’s or those of the retiring Olympia Snowe in Maine.

Having worked hard to purge the RINOs some conservatives are so offended by moderates that they are prepared to sacrifice electability for purity. They will argue, as some have in this year’s presidential primaries, that Republicans lose when they nominate moderates. But whatever one might think of the veracity of that claim on a national level, it makes no sense when you are discussing states that simply will never elect a conservative like Connecticut.

South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint famously said in 2010 that he’d “rather have 30 Marco Rubios [in the Senate with him in the Republican caucus] than 60 Arlen Specters.” But while his distaste for Specter was understandable, does that mean he and others on the right would really prefer to have a standard-issue liberal Democrat representing Connecticut rather than a squishy Republican who might make Mitch McConnell the Majority Leader rather than Harry Reid? Does no one in the GOP remember the seats they tossed away by nominating unsuitable right-wing candidates in Nevada and Delaware in 2010 rather than moderates or the advantage that gave Barack Obama in a score of legislative fights in 2011 and 2012?

Democrats won back the Congress in 2006 largely through a policy of nominating conservatives to run on their line in red states (think Heath Shuler in North Carolina). While Shays has an uphill battle to overcome McMahon’s enormous financial advantage in a GOP primary, that’s a lesson Connecticut Republicans might do well to remember.

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Afternoon Commentary

A member of the Iranian Qods force, an elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, was found to be moonlighting as a Taliban commander. As Stephen Hayes points out at the Weekly Standard, this development is further evidence that the doctrinal differences between Iranians and the Taliban don’t preclude them from working together.

From Scott Brown’s Senate win to Glenn Beck’s big rally, Politico counts down the top 10 political moments of 2010.

While national security experts remain concerned about the growing military capabilities of China’s navy, the Washington Post notes that the country is still struggling with some basic components of its air force technology.

Why do Israelis support a two state solution, but oppose a freeze on settlement construction? Jeremy Sharon argues that it’s because they have become discouraged about the possibility of a peace deal at this point in time: “Support for the notion of ‘two states for two peoples’ remains high at over 60 percent because Israelis acknowledge that ultimately, continued rule over the Palestinians is untenable. But there is no desire to rush into an irreversible agreement which could result not with the shelling of Sderot or Haifa, but of Tel Aviv.”

A member of the Iranian Qods force, an elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, was found to be moonlighting as a Taliban commander. As Stephen Hayes points out at the Weekly Standard, this development is further evidence that the doctrinal differences between Iranians and the Taliban don’t preclude them from working together.

From Scott Brown’s Senate win to Glenn Beck’s big rally, Politico counts down the top 10 political moments of 2010.

While national security experts remain concerned about the growing military capabilities of China’s navy, the Washington Post notes that the country is still struggling with some basic components of its air force technology.

Why do Israelis support a two state solution, but oppose a freeze on settlement construction? Jeremy Sharon argues that it’s because they have become discouraged about the possibility of a peace deal at this point in time: “Support for the notion of ‘two states for two peoples’ remains high at over 60 percent because Israelis acknowledge that ultimately, continued rule over the Palestinians is untenable. But there is no desire to rush into an irreversible agreement which could result not with the shelling of Sderot or Haifa, but of Tel Aviv.”

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Morning Commentary

New START picked up support from Republican Sens. Scott Brown, Bob Corker, Judd Gregg, and George Voinovich on Monday, making it look like the treaty may actually get ratified before the end of the week. Sens. Richard Lugar, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins had previously come out in favor of New START, which means Democrats now just need to pick up two more GOP “yes” votes to get the treaty ratified.

The latest Public Policy Polling survey of conservative voters in eight states found Sarah Palin to be the top pick for a 2012 presidential run. She’s followed closely by Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, with Mitt Romney in last place. PPP has more results and analysis from the poll on its blog.

Sadness: Melanie Phillips explains why the left is at war with itself over whether to canonize Julian Assange as a hero or convict him as a rapist without trial: “To understand why there is such an ear-splitting screeching of brakes from The Guardian, it is necessary to consider the mind-bending contradictions of what passes for thinking on the Left. For it believes certain things as articles of faith which cannot be denied. One is that America is a force for bad in the world and so can never be anything other than guilty. Another is that all men are potential rapists, and so can never be anything other than guilty.”

Steve Chapman discusses how political correctness in American schools helps turn top students into mediocre ones: “The danger in putting the brightest kids in general classes is that they will be bored by instruction geared to the middle. But their troubles don’t elicit much sympathy. Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless told The Atlantic magazine, ‘The United States does not do a good job of educating kids at the top. There’s a long-standing attitude that, “Well, smart kids can make it on their own.”’ But can they? Only 6 percent of American kids achieve advanced proficiency in math—lower than in 30 other countries. In Taiwan, the figure is 28 percent.”

Nathan Glazer reviews Kenneth Marcus’s latest book on campus anti-Semitism and the inclusion of Jews in Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. An essay adapted from Marcus’s book was published in the September issue of COMMENTARY.

The nastiness of the anti-Israel fringe is now invading the morning commute. JTA reports that Seattle buses will soon be plastered with ads decrying “Israeli war-crimes.” From JTA: “The Seattle Midwest Awareness Campaign has paid $1,794 to place the advertisements on 12 buses beginning Dec. 27, the day Israel entered Gaza to stop rocket attacks on its southern communities, according to Seattle’s King 5 News. The ads feature a group of children looking at a demolished building under the heading ‘Israeli War Crimes: Your tax dollars at work.’”

New START picked up support from Republican Sens. Scott Brown, Bob Corker, Judd Gregg, and George Voinovich on Monday, making it look like the treaty may actually get ratified before the end of the week. Sens. Richard Lugar, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins had previously come out in favor of New START, which means Democrats now just need to pick up two more GOP “yes” votes to get the treaty ratified.

The latest Public Policy Polling survey of conservative voters in eight states found Sarah Palin to be the top pick for a 2012 presidential run. She’s followed closely by Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, with Mitt Romney in last place. PPP has more results and analysis from the poll on its blog.

Sadness: Melanie Phillips explains why the left is at war with itself over whether to canonize Julian Assange as a hero or convict him as a rapist without trial: “To understand why there is such an ear-splitting screeching of brakes from The Guardian, it is necessary to consider the mind-bending contradictions of what passes for thinking on the Left. For it believes certain things as articles of faith which cannot be denied. One is that America is a force for bad in the world and so can never be anything other than guilty. Another is that all men are potential rapists, and so can never be anything other than guilty.”

Steve Chapman discusses how political correctness in American schools helps turn top students into mediocre ones: “The danger in putting the brightest kids in general classes is that they will be bored by instruction geared to the middle. But their troubles don’t elicit much sympathy. Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless told The Atlantic magazine, ‘The United States does not do a good job of educating kids at the top. There’s a long-standing attitude that, “Well, smart kids can make it on their own.”’ But can they? Only 6 percent of American kids achieve advanced proficiency in math—lower than in 30 other countries. In Taiwan, the figure is 28 percent.”

Nathan Glazer reviews Kenneth Marcus’s latest book on campus anti-Semitism and the inclusion of Jews in Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. An essay adapted from Marcus’s book was published in the September issue of COMMENTARY.

The nastiness of the anti-Israel fringe is now invading the morning commute. JTA reports that Seattle buses will soon be plastered with ads decrying “Israeli war-crimes.” From JTA: “The Seattle Midwest Awareness Campaign has paid $1,794 to place the advertisements on 12 buses beginning Dec. 27, the day Israel entered Gaza to stop rocket attacks on its southern communities, according to Seattle’s King 5 News. The ads feature a group of children looking at a demolished building under the heading ‘Israeli War Crimes: Your tax dollars at work.’”

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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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LIVE BLOG: Obama’s Seat Goes to the GOP

If Ted Kennedy’s seat can go to Scott Brown, then Obama’s seat can go to Mark Kirk. And it did. It is, to put it mildly, an embarrassment to the president and his party. The Democrats selected an ethically flawed candidate. Could a better candidate have won? Maybe. But recall that the Illinois Democratic Party largely did this to themselves. Sen. Roland Burris will become the answer to a trivia question. The party hemmed and hawed, couldn’t find a way to boot him out and refused to have an early special election when Obama’s standing was higher.  And ultimately the president could not save even his former seat for his party. This was a seat highly coveted by the Republicans. The total Senate haul for the GOP is now 6. Nevada, Colorado and Washington are still to be determined. Yes, Harry Reid’s demise would be bigger than Illinois. But make no mistake, the GOP is especially delighted to snatch this one from the Dems.

If Ted Kennedy’s seat can go to Scott Brown, then Obama’s seat can go to Mark Kirk. And it did. It is, to put it mildly, an embarrassment to the president and his party. The Democrats selected an ethically flawed candidate. Could a better candidate have won? Maybe. But recall that the Illinois Democratic Party largely did this to themselves. Sen. Roland Burris will become the answer to a trivia question. The party hemmed and hawed, couldn’t find a way to boot him out and refused to have an early special election when Obama’s standing was higher.  And ultimately the president could not save even his former seat for his party. This was a seat highly coveted by the Republicans. The total Senate haul for the GOP is now 6. Nevada, Colorado and Washington are still to be determined. Yes, Harry Reid’s demise would be bigger than Illinois. But make no mistake, the GOP is especially delighted to snatch this one from the Dems.

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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: A Whole Lot Harder

Charlie Cook (subscription required) wastes no time:

Marketing consultant Christine O’Donnell’s upset of Rep. Mike Castle in last night’s Republican primary puts this open seat, which should have been an easy pick up for the GOP, out of their reach. While the primary provided Democrats with enough fodder to bury O’Donnell, from her personal finances to dubious claims she made in a lawsuit against a former employer, the reality is that Delaware is a Democratic-leaning state where Democrats have a 17-point advantage over Republicans in voter registration. Democrats also have a strong candidate in New Castle County Executive Chris Coons, who saw his fortunes turn 180 degrees over the course of a few hours last night.

National Republicans harbor no delusions that they can make O’Donnell a viable candidate, issuing a terse one-sentence statement from National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Jesmer congratulating O’Donnell on her win. It is clear that the NRSC has no intention of playing in Delaware and will put their resources into more winnable races.

The Tea Party’s enthusiasm has contributed to wins by figures like Scott Brown, a candidate who is about as conservative as you can get and still be viable in Massachusetts. Success in electoral politics is not measured by whether you win primaries but rather by your track record in the general election. The former shows you are an influence in the party; the latter that you are a positive influence. When better candidates who are equally or more viable in the general race are substituted for worse ones (e.g., Joe Miller for Lisa Murkowski), that is something to crow about. But simply getting a sliver of your own base very excited at the expense of a broader appeal is nothing to be proud of — unless the point is to annoy the Republican establishment, not to win elections and influence the country’s agenda.

In November we’ll see whether Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Rand Paul, and Joe Miller are a new group of fresh, conservative guns or footnotes in history. I suspect the results will be mixed, as is the Tea Party’s blessing.

Charlie Cook (subscription required) wastes no time:

Marketing consultant Christine O’Donnell’s upset of Rep. Mike Castle in last night’s Republican primary puts this open seat, which should have been an easy pick up for the GOP, out of their reach. While the primary provided Democrats with enough fodder to bury O’Donnell, from her personal finances to dubious claims she made in a lawsuit against a former employer, the reality is that Delaware is a Democratic-leaning state where Democrats have a 17-point advantage over Republicans in voter registration. Democrats also have a strong candidate in New Castle County Executive Chris Coons, who saw his fortunes turn 180 degrees over the course of a few hours last night.

National Republicans harbor no delusions that they can make O’Donnell a viable candidate, issuing a terse one-sentence statement from National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Jesmer congratulating O’Donnell on her win. It is clear that the NRSC has no intention of playing in Delaware and will put their resources into more winnable races.

The Tea Party’s enthusiasm has contributed to wins by figures like Scott Brown, a candidate who is about as conservative as you can get and still be viable in Massachusetts. Success in electoral politics is not measured by whether you win primaries but rather by your track record in the general election. The former shows you are an influence in the party; the latter that you are a positive influence. When better candidates who are equally or more viable in the general race are substituted for worse ones (e.g., Joe Miller for Lisa Murkowski), that is something to crow about. But simply getting a sliver of your own base very excited at the expense of a broader appeal is nothing to be proud of — unless the point is to annoy the Republican establishment, not to win elections and influence the country’s agenda.

In November we’ll see whether Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Rand Paul, and Joe Miller are a new group of fresh, conservative guns or footnotes in history. I suspect the results will be mixed, as is the Tea Party’s blessing.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not even Dana Milbank can make excuses for Imam Abdul Rauf: “He claims he wishes to improve the standing of Muslims in the United States, to build understanding between religions, and to enhance the reputation of America in the Muslim world. But in the weeks since he — unintentionally, he says — set off an international conflagration over his plans to build an Islamic center near the scene of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York, he has set back all three of his goals.”

Not even Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen is advocating a partial extension of the Bush tax cuts. “If [Republicans] were to come back and say, ‘hey, let’s just do one year for the top 2 percent, and permanent for the middle class,’ that would be something that obviously people would have to think about,’ Van Hollen said in an interview with Bloomberg this past weekend. Van Hollen’s suggestion partially mirrors a plan outlined by former White House budget director Peter Orszag, who argued that Democrats and Republicans should back a fixed two year extension of all the tax cuts and then end them altogether.”

Not even Senate Democrats want to end the Bush tax cuts: “[T]he list of Senate Democrats in favor of an extension is now up to five. Evan Bayh (Indiana), Kent Conrad (North Dakota) and Ben Nelson (Warren Buffett) were already on board, and this week Connecticut Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman and Virginia’s Jim Webb came around.”

Not even Connecticut is safe for the Democrats. “Pres. Obama’s poll numbers have plummeted in Connecticut, a state he carried by an overwhelming margin 2 years ago. A majority of likely voters — 52% — in the Quinnipiac poll disapprove of how Obama is handling his job as president. Only 45% approve of his performance. The Quinnipiac survey found Blumenthal leading former WWE CEO Linda McMahon by 6 points — 51% to 45%.” Hey, if Scott Brown can win “Ted Kennedy’s seat” then McMahon can win ” Chris Dodd’s seat.”

Not even competent, says Mona Charen, of the president: “The president himself doesn’t at all concede that government is attempting to do too much (and failing at most of it). On the contrary, his vanity (and it is a common one for left-wingers) is that he believes his particular ideas on business investment, medical procedures, housing, and thousands of other matters are the solutions to our woes, but ‘politics’ keeps getting in the way.” All that Ivy League education did, it seems, is convince Obama of his own brilliance.

Not even Imam Abdul Rauf may be able to resist pressure to move the Ground Zero mosque. Now he’s telling us it is all about serving Lower Manhattan’s Muslim residents. Gosh, seems like there already are mosques in the neighborhood.

Not even second place for Charlie Crist if this trend continues: “The independent Senate bid of Florida Governor Charlie Crist is in serious trouble, according to a new Fox News poll. Crist drew 27 percent of likely voters in the poll of the three-way race. Republican Marco Rubio registered 43 percent support. Democrat Kendrick Meek came in third with 21 percent.” Republican Senate candidates also lead in the Fox poll in Nevada (by one point), Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Barbara Boxer is up by only 2 points.

Not even Dana Milbank can make excuses for Imam Abdul Rauf: “He claims he wishes to improve the standing of Muslims in the United States, to build understanding between religions, and to enhance the reputation of America in the Muslim world. But in the weeks since he — unintentionally, he says — set off an international conflagration over his plans to build an Islamic center near the scene of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York, he has set back all three of his goals.”

Not even Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen is advocating a partial extension of the Bush tax cuts. “If [Republicans] were to come back and say, ‘hey, let’s just do one year for the top 2 percent, and permanent for the middle class,’ that would be something that obviously people would have to think about,’ Van Hollen said in an interview with Bloomberg this past weekend. Van Hollen’s suggestion partially mirrors a plan outlined by former White House budget director Peter Orszag, who argued that Democrats and Republicans should back a fixed two year extension of all the tax cuts and then end them altogether.”

Not even Senate Democrats want to end the Bush tax cuts: “[T]he list of Senate Democrats in favor of an extension is now up to five. Evan Bayh (Indiana), Kent Conrad (North Dakota) and Ben Nelson (Warren Buffett) were already on board, and this week Connecticut Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman and Virginia’s Jim Webb came around.”

Not even Connecticut is safe for the Democrats. “Pres. Obama’s poll numbers have plummeted in Connecticut, a state he carried by an overwhelming margin 2 years ago. A majority of likely voters — 52% — in the Quinnipiac poll disapprove of how Obama is handling his job as president. Only 45% approve of his performance. The Quinnipiac survey found Blumenthal leading former WWE CEO Linda McMahon by 6 points — 51% to 45%.” Hey, if Scott Brown can win “Ted Kennedy’s seat” then McMahon can win ” Chris Dodd’s seat.”

Not even competent, says Mona Charen, of the president: “The president himself doesn’t at all concede that government is attempting to do too much (and failing at most of it). On the contrary, his vanity (and it is a common one for left-wingers) is that he believes his particular ideas on business investment, medical procedures, housing, and thousands of other matters are the solutions to our woes, but ‘politics’ keeps getting in the way.” All that Ivy League education did, it seems, is convince Obama of his own brilliance.

Not even Imam Abdul Rauf may be able to resist pressure to move the Ground Zero mosque. Now he’s telling us it is all about serving Lower Manhattan’s Muslim residents. Gosh, seems like there already are mosques in the neighborhood.

Not even second place for Charlie Crist if this trend continues: “The independent Senate bid of Florida Governor Charlie Crist is in serious trouble, according to a new Fox News poll. Crist drew 27 percent of likely voters in the poll of the three-way race. Republican Marco Rubio registered 43 percent support. Democrat Kendrick Meek came in third with 21 percent.” Republican Senate candidates also lead in the Fox poll in Nevada (by one point), Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Barbara Boxer is up by only 2 points.

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The Democrat’s Health-Care Wounds: Six Months After the Suicide Mission

The discussion over the past week stimulated by Jay Cost’s claim that health-care reform must be accounted a major part of the desperate woes of Obama and the Democrats led me to go back and look at some of my own posts at the time the bill was passed in the spring. I do this not to claim prescience but to show that the deep damage the bill would do to the president and his party was already in the mix of the public discussion and obvious at the time to anyone who was not deluding himself with hope born from passion for the bill’s goals. The same delusions appear to be at work today in some quarters.

Three weeks before the bill passed, on February 26, in a post called “The Charge of the Democratic Light Brigade,” I wrote: “If the health-care bill collapses, the Obama presidency will be dealt a staggering blow from which it could recover, I would guess, only with a really extraordinary economic turnaround. The political calamity for Democrats in November will still take place; the president will lose the entirety of his capital with elected officials in his party; the media, sniffing a loser, will turn slowly but surely on him; and the conviction inside his own camp that he can work wonders with his silver-tongued patter will dissipate, causing a complete crisis of confidence inside the White House.  It would be better for him, unquestionably, for the legislation to pass, as a practical political matter. One could argue that the fate of his party really does rest on Obama’s shoulders, so it would be better for Democrats as well. But not for individual Democrats. So what happens if the Obama-Pelosi-Reid strategy for health-care passage is an order to House Democrats to carry out a suicide mission?…I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like this in American political history. Every way you look at it, Democrats are boxed in, forced to choose between extraordinarily unattractive options. What makes it especially noteworthy is that this was a calamity they summoned entirely upon themselves.”

Thus, on the evening the House approved the bill with 219 votes in favor, I wrote: “The passage tonight in the House of Representatives of the Senate’s health-care bill is indeed a historic moment. It draws the brightest ideological and political line between the two parties since the end of the Cold War — which featured a profound conflict of visions about the question of confronting the Soviet Union or accommodating it — and revivifies the Republican party’s role in opposition to the state’s growing encroachment on the particulars of American life. The fighting has only just begun.”

The next day, I wrote a post called Obama’s Pseudo-Achievement: “He and his advisers surveyed the political field after the election of Scott Brown and they saw their own potential epitaph — not in the rejection of his ideas but in the potential exposure of his weakness. A president cannot seem politically weak; much if not most of his ability to act is predicated on the notion that he is the strongest public official in the country. They determined that they had to push health care or die, and they worked their will relentlessly, and they got what they wanted….And yet one must not get carried away. The story here is not that he succeeded against all odds and with the winds against him to push through historic legislation, even though that is what the media would have you believe. The story is that a party holding a 75-seat margin in the House of Representatives was barely able to squeak by with its greatest legislative priority and most devoutly desired policy. That is the salient fact here. What Obama pulled off was a textbook example of raw intra-party discipline; the unpopularity of the measure and its political consequences remain exactly as they were before the vote.”

What these quotes reveal is that the polling results of the present moment were baked in the cake back in the early spring. The failure of the economy to improve is the most important thing, but without the Pyrrhic victory of the passage of health-care reform, Obama and his party would be in significantly better shape.

The discussion over the past week stimulated by Jay Cost’s claim that health-care reform must be accounted a major part of the desperate woes of Obama and the Democrats led me to go back and look at some of my own posts at the time the bill was passed in the spring. I do this not to claim prescience but to show that the deep damage the bill would do to the president and his party was already in the mix of the public discussion and obvious at the time to anyone who was not deluding himself with hope born from passion for the bill’s goals. The same delusions appear to be at work today in some quarters.

Three weeks before the bill passed, on February 26, in a post called “The Charge of the Democratic Light Brigade,” I wrote: “If the health-care bill collapses, the Obama presidency will be dealt a staggering blow from which it could recover, I would guess, only with a really extraordinary economic turnaround. The political calamity for Democrats in November will still take place; the president will lose the entirety of his capital with elected officials in his party; the media, sniffing a loser, will turn slowly but surely on him; and the conviction inside his own camp that he can work wonders with his silver-tongued patter will dissipate, causing a complete crisis of confidence inside the White House.  It would be better for him, unquestionably, for the legislation to pass, as a practical political matter. One could argue that the fate of his party really does rest on Obama’s shoulders, so it would be better for Democrats as well. But not for individual Democrats. So what happens if the Obama-Pelosi-Reid strategy for health-care passage is an order to House Democrats to carry out a suicide mission?…I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like this in American political history. Every way you look at it, Democrats are boxed in, forced to choose between extraordinarily unattractive options. What makes it especially noteworthy is that this was a calamity they summoned entirely upon themselves.”

Thus, on the evening the House approved the bill with 219 votes in favor, I wrote: “The passage tonight in the House of Representatives of the Senate’s health-care bill is indeed a historic moment. It draws the brightest ideological and political line between the two parties since the end of the Cold War — which featured a profound conflict of visions about the question of confronting the Soviet Union or accommodating it — and revivifies the Republican party’s role in opposition to the state’s growing encroachment on the particulars of American life. The fighting has only just begun.”

The next day, I wrote a post called Obama’s Pseudo-Achievement: “He and his advisers surveyed the political field after the election of Scott Brown and they saw their own potential epitaph — not in the rejection of his ideas but in the potential exposure of his weakness. A president cannot seem politically weak; much if not most of his ability to act is predicated on the notion that he is the strongest public official in the country. They determined that they had to push health care or die, and they worked their will relentlessly, and they got what they wanted….And yet one must not get carried away. The story here is not that he succeeded against all odds and with the winds against him to push through historic legislation, even though that is what the media would have you believe. The story is that a party holding a 75-seat margin in the House of Representatives was barely able to squeak by with its greatest legislative priority and most devoutly desired policy. That is the salient fact here. What Obama pulled off was a textbook example of raw intra-party discipline; the unpopularity of the measure and its political consequences remain exactly as they were before the vote.”

What these quotes reveal is that the polling results of the present moment were baked in the cake back in the early spring. The failure of the economy to improve is the most important thing, but without the Pyrrhic victory of the passage of health-care reform, Obama and his party would be in significantly better shape.

Read Less




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