Commentary Magazine


Topic: Senator

Rand Paul Repeats Calls to End Aid to Israel

Sen. Rand Paul has doubled down on his call to cut foreign aid to Israel, despite the complete lack of political support for the proposal on the Hill:

I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel, but not with money you don’t have,” he said. “We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries, even if they are our friends.”

And, he said, giving money to the country is especially unwise considering Israel’s relative wealth. “I think they’re an important ally, but I also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world,” he said. “Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don’t think so.”

Pro-Israel conservative leaders disagree — and some are already disputing Paul’s claim that the Tea Party supports cutting aid to Israel.

“I do not believe that the Senator’s comments are representative of the Tea Party or the wider American public. [Christians United for Israel’s] members and leaders have met on several occasions with Tea Party leaders and elected officials; throughout our meetings, Tea Party leaders consistently expressed their commitment to supporting Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East,” said Christians United for Israel’s Rev. John Hagee in a press statement.

CUFI said its supporters have sent more than 22,500 e-mails criticizing the proposal to Paul’s office.

Like his father, Rand Paul seems to relish being a lone dissenter. But while the elder Paul is easy to ignore, the younger Paul is shaping up to be more of a force to be reckoned with. For one, the Kentucky senator is a much more convincing speaker than his father. He also doesn’t have to deal with past charges of racism and anti-Semitism.

So while there’s almost no chance that Paul’s position on Israeli aid will win political support at the moment, his proposal should still be a concern for Israel supporters.

Sen. Rand Paul has doubled down on his call to cut foreign aid to Israel, despite the complete lack of political support for the proposal on the Hill:

I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel, but not with money you don’t have,” he said. “We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries, even if they are our friends.”

And, he said, giving money to the country is especially unwise considering Israel’s relative wealth. “I think they’re an important ally, but I also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world,” he said. “Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don’t think so.”

Pro-Israel conservative leaders disagree — and some are already disputing Paul’s claim that the Tea Party supports cutting aid to Israel.

“I do not believe that the Senator’s comments are representative of the Tea Party or the wider American public. [Christians United for Israel’s] members and leaders have met on several occasions with Tea Party leaders and elected officials; throughout our meetings, Tea Party leaders consistently expressed their commitment to supporting Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East,” said Christians United for Israel’s Rev. John Hagee in a press statement.

CUFI said its supporters have sent more than 22,500 e-mails criticizing the proposal to Paul’s office.

Like his father, Rand Paul seems to relish being a lone dissenter. But while the elder Paul is easy to ignore, the younger Paul is shaping up to be more of a force to be reckoned with. For one, the Kentucky senator is a much more convincing speaker than his father. He also doesn’t have to deal with past charges of racism and anti-Semitism.

So while there’s almost no chance that Paul’s position on Israeli aid will win political support at the moment, his proposal should still be a concern for Israel supporters.

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Obama Must Act Now on Egypt

The president of the United States makes $400,000 a year. He has government-provided housing, a personal chef, his own helicopter and airplane, not to mention the best personal protection in the universe. It is at times like this that he really earns all those nice perks. There is no task more difficult than managing a revolution in progress. Jimmy Carter got it wrong in Nicaragua, and Iran and went down as a failure. Ronald Reagan got it right in the Philippines and South Korea, which contributed to the overall success of his presidency.

So far, I haven’t seen much evidence that Obama is earning his salary with his response to the revolution in Egypt. On Friday, he delivered an ultra-cautious statement, telling the “Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and saying that “the people of Egypt have rights,” including “the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny.” But he stopped well short of telling Hosni Mubarak, who is clearly on his last legs, that it was time for him to go — a message that Ronald Reagan memorably delivered via his friend Senator Paul Laxalt to Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

The New York Times explains Obama’s reticence by citing a “senior administration official” who said that “Mr. Obama warned that any overt effort by the United States to insert itself into easing Mr. Mubarak out, or easing a successor in, could backfire. ‘He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events.’”

Problem is, taking no stand isn’t an option for the United States in this situation. For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, and Mubarak has been one of our closest allies in the Middle East. Egyptian officers have been educated in the United States, its forces are equipped with American weapons, and they regularly conduct exercises with American troops. We have a large say, whether we want it or not. If Obama stays silent about Mubarak’s future, that will be interpreted within Egypt as American support for an increasingly discredited dictator. Read More

The president of the United States makes $400,000 a year. He has government-provided housing, a personal chef, his own helicopter and airplane, not to mention the best personal protection in the universe. It is at times like this that he really earns all those nice perks. There is no task more difficult than managing a revolution in progress. Jimmy Carter got it wrong in Nicaragua, and Iran and went down as a failure. Ronald Reagan got it right in the Philippines and South Korea, which contributed to the overall success of his presidency.

So far, I haven’t seen much evidence that Obama is earning his salary with his response to the revolution in Egypt. On Friday, he delivered an ultra-cautious statement, telling the “Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and saying that “the people of Egypt have rights,” including “the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny.” But he stopped well short of telling Hosni Mubarak, who is clearly on his last legs, that it was time for him to go — a message that Ronald Reagan memorably delivered via his friend Senator Paul Laxalt to Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

The New York Times explains Obama’s reticence by citing a “senior administration official” who said that “Mr. Obama warned that any overt effort by the United States to insert itself into easing Mr. Mubarak out, or easing a successor in, could backfire. ‘He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events.’”

Problem is, taking no stand isn’t an option for the United States in this situation. For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, and Mubarak has been one of our closest allies in the Middle East. Egyptian officers have been educated in the United States, its forces are equipped with American weapons, and they regularly conduct exercises with American troops. We have a large say, whether we want it or not. If Obama stays silent about Mubarak’s future, that will be interpreted within Egypt as American support for an increasingly discredited dictator.

The Working Group on Egypt, co-chaired by Bob Kagan and Michele Dunn at Brookings, suggests a more muscular response. They urge Obama to “call for free and fair elections for president and for parliament to be held as soon as possible” and for the government to “immediately lift the state of emergency” and “publicly declare that Mr. Mubarak will agree not to run for re-election.” And just to drive the point home: “We further recommend that the Obama administration suspend all economic and military assistance to Egypt until the government accepts and implements these measures.”

That’s more like it. The one recommendation I am not sold on is immediate elections (though, admittedly, there’s wiggle room in the phrase “as soon as possible”). As we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, elections that occur in an atmosphere of instability can exacerbate that instability. This is an especially tricky moment in Egypt because Mubarak has ruthlessly repressed the secular opposition. The only large nongovernmental organization in the country is the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamists would thus have an advantage in any immediate election, which could allow them to win, as Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006, even though they have not been at the forefront of recent protests and most Egyptians would no doubt recoil from the imposition of an Iranian-style theocracy. (Whether the Brotherhood would in fact try to impose such a regime is unknown. Unfortunately, the only way to find out would be to let them take over.)

A safer alternative, to my mind, would be to call for Mubarak to step down immediately and hand over power to a transition government led by Mohammed ElBaradai, the secular technocrat who has recently returned to Egypt to become the most high-profile opposition leader. As is now happening in Tunisia, he could work with military support to prepare the way for elections in a suitable period of time — say in six months or a year.

But I think the Working Group is right to grasp that standing pat isn’t really an option anymore. In this case, the best advice was offered by a conservative Sicilian aristocrat, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, in his great novel The Leopard (1958), where he wrote that “everything must change so that everything can stay the same.”

In other words, if the U.S. is to have any hope of salvaging our alliance with Egypt, we need to embrace the change wanted by its people — not try to cling blindly to a past represented by Mubarak and his mini-me, the intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has just been appointed vice president and putative successor.

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Reid vs. Ryan

ABC News broadcast a short, favorable profile on Representative Paul Ryan, which can be found here.

I thought the most delicious part was when Majority Leader Harry Reid — a man of blinding intellectual powers and unparalleled mastery of the budget — said, in the nicest way possible (!), that Ryan “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Senator Reid is a former boxer, so let’s use that sport to make an analogy. If Reid debated Ryan on the budget — or on any other topic for that matter — it would be a first round TKO; and it wouldn’t be in the Nevada senator’s favor.

ABC News broadcast a short, favorable profile on Representative Paul Ryan, which can be found here.

I thought the most delicious part was when Majority Leader Harry Reid — a man of blinding intellectual powers and unparalleled mastery of the budget — said, in the nicest way possible (!), that Ryan “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Senator Reid is a former boxer, so let’s use that sport to make an analogy. If Reid debated Ryan on the budget — or on any other topic for that matter — it would be a first round TKO; and it wouldn’t be in the Nevada senator’s favor.

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Why Palin Won’t Fade Away Soon

Ross Douthat’s advice to the media on Sarah Palin, which Peter Wehner wrote about on Monday, will be hard to follow. Douthat uses the metaphor of a marriage to frame his points on Palin and the media. But in this “marriage,” third parties play a decisive role — and in a telling way, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) filled a particular role this past weekend. Coburn, for whom I have great respect, has been a favorite with the Tea Party demographic because of his reputation as a fiscal hawk and constitutional-process curmudgeon. But in an interview with David Gregory on Meet the Press, Coburn failed to deliver in exactly the kind of situation in which Palin rarely disappoints her base.

Here is a key passage from Mediaite’s summary of the Coburn interview: Gregory persisted by saying some on the right speak of President Obama as an “outsider who is trying to usher in a system … that will injure America and deny them of their liberty” and wanted to know if Coburn rejects that idea and also the use of violent metaphors in political discourse. Coburn agreed that he does reject that, and Senator Charles Schumer added “we as elected officials have an obligation to try and tone that down, and if we tone it down, then maybe the media will be less vociferous.”

Quite a few Americans would say Coburn rejected the wrong thing. What he should have rejected was the rhetorical pairing of the right’s political ideas with “violent metaphors in political discourse.” Coburn didn’t question the terms in which David Gregory presented the proposition: as if proof of civility and peaceful intent could only be established by rejecting certain of the right’s political arguments against Obama’s policies. In the video clip, the senator came across as calculating, perhaps a little impatiently, that meeting Gregory’s test of “civility” was a minor but essential concession.

I imagine Coburn would defend it as valid for the people to disagree on basic political ideas, if the question were put to him directly. But in the context of a buried premise in a Sunday talk show, it didn’t seem to occur to him to make that point. It does, manifestly, occur to Palin. I don’t disagree with pundits who would like to see her be more succinct and less reactive to the personal element in media attacks on her. But the people hear with different ears: for every auditor who cringes at her style or extraneous commentary, there is another who hears, first and foremost, that she is affirming precious ideas to which other politicians are not moved to give voice.

Palin’s persistent popularity as a public icon is a financial factor for the media — and it’s not one they control. They could decline to talk about her, decline to feature photos and video clips of her, but they understand the connection between Palin, sales, Web hits, and audience share. Palin is a figure whose market power has been established through a direct bond — of love or hate — with the people.

This doesn’t mean she is or should be a front-runner for 2012. The issues are separate. My own belief is that a successful GOP candidate will find a way to transcend the arena of slings and arrows without making political compromises to secure its quiescence. Palin may not have transcended the slings-and-arrows arena, but her potential competitors have all, to varying degrees, made the kinds of compromises that Tom Coburn modeled this past Sunday. As long as other leading Republicans let their discourse be governed by a set of buried premises that disqualifies the right’s political ideas at the starting line, Sarah Palin will have devoted supporters and a prominent voice.

Ross Douthat’s advice to the media on Sarah Palin, which Peter Wehner wrote about on Monday, will be hard to follow. Douthat uses the metaphor of a marriage to frame his points on Palin and the media. But in this “marriage,” third parties play a decisive role — and in a telling way, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) filled a particular role this past weekend. Coburn, for whom I have great respect, has been a favorite with the Tea Party demographic because of his reputation as a fiscal hawk and constitutional-process curmudgeon. But in an interview with David Gregory on Meet the Press, Coburn failed to deliver in exactly the kind of situation in which Palin rarely disappoints her base.

Here is a key passage from Mediaite’s summary of the Coburn interview: Gregory persisted by saying some on the right speak of President Obama as an “outsider who is trying to usher in a system … that will injure America and deny them of their liberty” and wanted to know if Coburn rejects that idea and also the use of violent metaphors in political discourse. Coburn agreed that he does reject that, and Senator Charles Schumer added “we as elected officials have an obligation to try and tone that down, and if we tone it down, then maybe the media will be less vociferous.”

Quite a few Americans would say Coburn rejected the wrong thing. What he should have rejected was the rhetorical pairing of the right’s political ideas with “violent metaphors in political discourse.” Coburn didn’t question the terms in which David Gregory presented the proposition: as if proof of civility and peaceful intent could only be established by rejecting certain of the right’s political arguments against Obama’s policies. In the video clip, the senator came across as calculating, perhaps a little impatiently, that meeting Gregory’s test of “civility” was a minor but essential concession.

I imagine Coburn would defend it as valid for the people to disagree on basic political ideas, if the question were put to him directly. But in the context of a buried premise in a Sunday talk show, it didn’t seem to occur to him to make that point. It does, manifestly, occur to Palin. I don’t disagree with pundits who would like to see her be more succinct and less reactive to the personal element in media attacks on her. But the people hear with different ears: for every auditor who cringes at her style or extraneous commentary, there is another who hears, first and foremost, that she is affirming precious ideas to which other politicians are not moved to give voice.

Palin’s persistent popularity as a public icon is a financial factor for the media — and it’s not one they control. They could decline to talk about her, decline to feature photos and video clips of her, but they understand the connection between Palin, sales, Web hits, and audience share. Palin is a figure whose market power has been established through a direct bond — of love or hate — with the people.

This doesn’t mean she is or should be a front-runner for 2012. The issues are separate. My own belief is that a successful GOP candidate will find a way to transcend the arena of slings and arrows without making political compromises to secure its quiescence. Palin may not have transcended the slings-and-arrows arena, but her potential competitors have all, to varying degrees, made the kinds of compromises that Tom Coburn modeled this past Sunday. As long as other leading Republicans let their discourse be governed by a set of buried premises that disqualifies the right’s political ideas at the starting line, Sarah Palin will have devoted supporters and a prominent voice.

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Chuck Schumer and Chris Christie

Chuck Schumer is a senator from New York. He is upset that Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, canceled an ill-conceived and wildly expensive rail project that would have dug a new tunnel between the Garden State and the Empire State. According to today’s Wall Street Journal,

Schumer, a Democrat, also called Christie’s decision to cancel that tunnel “one of the most shortsighted in New York’s history.”

OK, but the thing is, Christie isn’t from New York. He’s from New Jersey. So maybe Christie didn’t think it was shortsighted for New Jersey.

Chuck Schumer is a senator from New York. He is upset that Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, canceled an ill-conceived and wildly expensive rail project that would have dug a new tunnel between the Garden State and the Empire State. According to today’s Wall Street Journal,

Schumer, a Democrat, also called Christie’s decision to cancel that tunnel “one of the most shortsighted in New York’s history.”

OK, but the thing is, Christie isn’t from New York. He’s from New Jersey. So maybe Christie didn’t think it was shortsighted for New Jersey.

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Is the Right Worse Than the Left?

Some on the left are still attempting to justify the biased nature of the story line that depicts conservative opinions as being the source of a poisoned debate that allegedly leads to violence. To that end, Michael Kinsley writes today in Politico that the real problem with coverage of the debate about Arizona isn’t the fact that the entire topic is a red herring promulgated in an attempt to silence the right, but that in the course of introducing this utterly false narrative, some liberals are accepting a “false balance” between the right and the left.

Though Kinsley concedes, “Democrats should be cautious about flinging accusations,” he still insists that “It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates.”

Why is this so? Because Kinsley says so, that’s why. From his perspective, the extreme left is represented by the chicly biased liberalism of NPR that is, I suppose, inherently more tasteful than Fox News.

But in order to accept Kinsley’s premise, you have to ignore the tone of Democratic opposition to President Bush for eight years, which was largely aimed at delegitimizing that administration and which encouraged even more extreme street rhetoric that manifested itself in demonstrations where vulgar and violent speech were commonplace. And you also have to ignore the rants that are heard today from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, to mention just two left-wing talk-show hosts. Not to mention the more intellectual riffs of anti-conservative hatred that emanate from Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Princeton University. Yesterday I noted that Krugman called for “hanging Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of the senator’s stand on ObamaCare. I neglected to mention that, according to a largely flattering profile in the New Yorker, Krugman hosted an election-night party at his home during which an effigy of Sen. John McCain was burned in effigy. Indeed, guests were invited to burn effigies of any politician they disliked. And yes, this is the same New York Times columnist who wrote that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative rhetoric. Read More

Some on the left are still attempting to justify the biased nature of the story line that depicts conservative opinions as being the source of a poisoned debate that allegedly leads to violence. To that end, Michael Kinsley writes today in Politico that the real problem with coverage of the debate about Arizona isn’t the fact that the entire topic is a red herring promulgated in an attempt to silence the right, but that in the course of introducing this utterly false narrative, some liberals are accepting a “false balance” between the right and the left.

Though Kinsley concedes, “Democrats should be cautious about flinging accusations,” he still insists that “It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates.”

Why is this so? Because Kinsley says so, that’s why. From his perspective, the extreme left is represented by the chicly biased liberalism of NPR that is, I suppose, inherently more tasteful than Fox News.

But in order to accept Kinsley’s premise, you have to ignore the tone of Democratic opposition to President Bush for eight years, which was largely aimed at delegitimizing that administration and which encouraged even more extreme street rhetoric that manifested itself in demonstrations where vulgar and violent speech were commonplace. And you also have to ignore the rants that are heard today from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, to mention just two left-wing talk-show hosts. Not to mention the more intellectual riffs of anti-conservative hatred that emanate from Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Princeton University. Yesterday I noted that Krugman called for “hanging Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of the senator’s stand on ObamaCare. I neglected to mention that, according to a largely flattering profile in the New Yorker, Krugman hosted an election-night party at his home during which an effigy of Sen. John McCain was burned in effigy. Indeed, guests were invited to burn effigies of any politician they disliked. And yes, this is the same New York Times columnist who wrote that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative rhetoric.

Kinsley is right when he decries hateful rhetoric. But he is not above taking comments out of context to back up his point. For instance, he claims Bill O’Reilly’s reaction to one of his columns consisted of a call by the FOX News host for Kinsley’s head to be cut off. That sounds despicable. But he neglects to mention that what O’Reilly was saying was that Kinsley’s opposition to Guantanamo and other tough anti-terror measures was so obstinate and foolish that perhaps the only thing that might change his mind was for al-Qaeda terrorists to treat him the same way they did Daniel Pearl. That’s pretty harsh, but not the same thing as a call for a beheading.

The cockeyed lesson that liberals seem intent on shoving down the throats of their fellow citizens is that when conservatives talk tough about liberals, it is tantamount to incitement to murder, but that when liberals talk tough about conservatives, it’s just talk, because liberals don’t mean anyone any harm. We have heard a great deal about the way political debate in this country has been debased by violent rhetoric in recent years. But for all of the nastiness of the left about Bush and of the right about Obama, I don’t think any of that has done as much damage to the fabric of democracy as the determination the past few days by the mainstream media and its liberal elites to exploit a crime carried out by a mentally ill person to further their own narrow partisan political agenda.

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That Debt Ceiling Again

Responding to my post from earlier this week, a reader wrote me this:

This current article has raised questions for me. Why is it assumed that failure to raise the debt ceiling must necessarily result in a default? Is it not feasible that when forced to choose between default and cutting something that the correct choice would be made? It seems to me that until that awful decision is faced, meaningful spending cuts will never occur. Your example of [Senator] DeMint’s inconsistency drives home that point. Even conservatives cower from these painful choices. You must admit that the history of Democrats’ honoring their concessions is not a strong one. I know of nowhere other than government where it would be suggested that the way to cut spending is to borrow more, yet that seems to be what you are suggesting in raising the debt ceiling. As long as it is assumed that the ceiling will be endlessly raised, spending will not decrease.

Here, I think, is the answer to his question. Our debt is not a function of immediate spending decisions but of very-long-term spending trends. That means that in order to pay just the interest on the debt, the government has to roll over some existing debt by borrowing. It is simply not possible to cut spending enough immediately to avert this with some additional borrowing. Spending cuts will reduce the debt in the long term, so that we don’t have to raise the limit again; but they cannot reduce it immediately and could only put off the need to borrow more for a very short time. Raising the debt ceiling is about, as I wrote, existing obligations racked up by Obama and the last Congress.

In his letter to Congress yesterday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner put it this way:

Raising the debt limit is necessary to allow the Treasury to meet obligations of the United States that have been established, authorized, and appropriated by the Congress. It is important to emphasize that changing the debt limit does not alter or increase the obligations we have as a nation; it simply permits the Treasury to fund those obligations Congress has already established. In fact, even if Congress were immediately to adopt the deep cuts in discretionary spending of the magnitude suggested by some Members of Congress, such as reverting to Fiscal Year 2008 spending levels, the need to increase the debt limit would be delayed by no more than two weeks. The limit would still need to be raised to make it possible for the government to avoid default and to meet the other obligations established by Congress.

In this case, Geithner is right. And as I argued in my post, I’m in favor of using an increase in the debt ceiling as a way to win concessions on spending. I only wish Senator DeMint and some of those in the GOP leadership were as inclined to tackle entitlements as I am and as people like Representative Paul Ryan are.

The argument for limiting the size of the federal government and reducing spending is extremely strong; refusing to raise the debt ceiling, however, isn’t the way or the place to do it.

Responding to my post from earlier this week, a reader wrote me this:

This current article has raised questions for me. Why is it assumed that failure to raise the debt ceiling must necessarily result in a default? Is it not feasible that when forced to choose between default and cutting something that the correct choice would be made? It seems to me that until that awful decision is faced, meaningful spending cuts will never occur. Your example of [Senator] DeMint’s inconsistency drives home that point. Even conservatives cower from these painful choices. You must admit that the history of Democrats’ honoring their concessions is not a strong one. I know of nowhere other than government where it would be suggested that the way to cut spending is to borrow more, yet that seems to be what you are suggesting in raising the debt ceiling. As long as it is assumed that the ceiling will be endlessly raised, spending will not decrease.

Here, I think, is the answer to his question. Our debt is not a function of immediate spending decisions but of very-long-term spending trends. That means that in order to pay just the interest on the debt, the government has to roll over some existing debt by borrowing. It is simply not possible to cut spending enough immediately to avert this with some additional borrowing. Spending cuts will reduce the debt in the long term, so that we don’t have to raise the limit again; but they cannot reduce it immediately and could only put off the need to borrow more for a very short time. Raising the debt ceiling is about, as I wrote, existing obligations racked up by Obama and the last Congress.

In his letter to Congress yesterday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner put it this way:

Raising the debt limit is necessary to allow the Treasury to meet obligations of the United States that have been established, authorized, and appropriated by the Congress. It is important to emphasize that changing the debt limit does not alter or increase the obligations we have as a nation; it simply permits the Treasury to fund those obligations Congress has already established. In fact, even if Congress were immediately to adopt the deep cuts in discretionary spending of the magnitude suggested by some Members of Congress, such as reverting to Fiscal Year 2008 spending levels, the need to increase the debt limit would be delayed by no more than two weeks. The limit would still need to be raised to make it possible for the government to avoid default and to meet the other obligations established by Congress.

In this case, Geithner is right. And as I argued in my post, I’m in favor of using an increase in the debt ceiling as a way to win concessions on spending. I only wish Senator DeMint and some of those in the GOP leadership were as inclined to tackle entitlements as I am and as people like Representative Paul Ryan are.

The argument for limiting the size of the federal government and reducing spending is extremely strong; refusing to raise the debt ceiling, however, isn’t the way or the place to do it.

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The Unexpected Triumph of New START

It appears that yesterday, Republican opposition to the New START treaty in the Senate melted down; the treaty is on its way to passage tomorrow with, Rich Lowry says, as many as 75 votes. So what happened here? As late as the end of last week, it appeared that the principled objections to the treaty — specifically, the language of its preamble, which may be read as placing limits on America’s ability to defend itself against nuclear missiles — had the upper hand. Or at least a strong-enough hand either to prevent the treaty from coming to a vote or to deny it the 67 votes needed in the Senate to secure passage of any treaty (two-thirds of senators need to approve a treaty, according to the Constitution).

This is an unnecessary treaty, made with a bad international actor of the second rank whose word cannot be trusted and who does not deserve to be elevated to the level of a bilateral negotiator with the United States. That said, I think the problem the anti-START forces ran into is that the treaty itself is, arguably, anodyne. In other words, it’s unnecessary but not dangerous. And it appears the Obama administration made an effective case to wavering Republican senators that it would be dangerous to reject it. That argument may be specious, but it runs like this: We need Russian cooperation to keep Iran from going nuclear, there are signs we’re getting that cooperation, and it will end instantly if the treaty dies in the Senate. The administration might have dropped some important classified information into the ears of senators to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation. And there are enough intellectuals and policy thinkers on the right who agree that the risk of rejecting the treaty is worse than the risk of signing it that the wavering senators were given all sorts of good reasons for supporting it.

How bad a defeat is this for the conservatives making the case against New START? Opposing political action on the basis of principle or honestly maintained concern is never a defeat; the principle doesn’t end because the vote doesn’t go your way, nor does the concern simply vanish. Just because your view doesn’t prevail doesn’t mean the fight wasn’t worth it. So there’s no ideological cost.

There is a political cost, or rather two political costs, for those whose primary interest was in handing the Obama administration and its foreign policy a defeat. The first is that the relative intensity of the opposition just makes the president’s victory all the sweeter and helps make the argument that he has recovered his political footing after the November election more quickly than anyone expected. That is just a matter of perception — the Republican takeover of the House is looming, and dark days are coming for him legislatively — but perception matters in politics. Some people picked a fight on this with the hope that they could deliver an uppercut to Obama just after he had come off the ropes; they swung and they missed; and he knocked them down instead.

The second cost is that it will raise to some senators and staffers in the GOP the possibility that, on foreign policy at least, they need to be somewhat skeptical of the voices of some on the right whose counsel might now seem untrustworthy and politically imprudent to them.

On the other hand, it’s one thing for Barack Obama to get a lot done in a lame-duck session that no longer reflects the beliefs and ideological makeup of the country at large. Come 2011, there will be five more Republican senators (the sixth new senator, Mark Kirk of Illinois, has already been seated) and 63 new Republicans on Capitol Hill. Obama should savor these victories, because they’re likely to be among the last he sees for a long time.

It appears that yesterday, Republican opposition to the New START treaty in the Senate melted down; the treaty is on its way to passage tomorrow with, Rich Lowry says, as many as 75 votes. So what happened here? As late as the end of last week, it appeared that the principled objections to the treaty — specifically, the language of its preamble, which may be read as placing limits on America’s ability to defend itself against nuclear missiles — had the upper hand. Or at least a strong-enough hand either to prevent the treaty from coming to a vote or to deny it the 67 votes needed in the Senate to secure passage of any treaty (two-thirds of senators need to approve a treaty, according to the Constitution).

This is an unnecessary treaty, made with a bad international actor of the second rank whose word cannot be trusted and who does not deserve to be elevated to the level of a bilateral negotiator with the United States. That said, I think the problem the anti-START forces ran into is that the treaty itself is, arguably, anodyne. In other words, it’s unnecessary but not dangerous. And it appears the Obama administration made an effective case to wavering Republican senators that it would be dangerous to reject it. That argument may be specious, but it runs like this: We need Russian cooperation to keep Iran from going nuclear, there are signs we’re getting that cooperation, and it will end instantly if the treaty dies in the Senate. The administration might have dropped some important classified information into the ears of senators to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation. And there are enough intellectuals and policy thinkers on the right who agree that the risk of rejecting the treaty is worse than the risk of signing it that the wavering senators were given all sorts of good reasons for supporting it.

How bad a defeat is this for the conservatives making the case against New START? Opposing political action on the basis of principle or honestly maintained concern is never a defeat; the principle doesn’t end because the vote doesn’t go your way, nor does the concern simply vanish. Just because your view doesn’t prevail doesn’t mean the fight wasn’t worth it. So there’s no ideological cost.

There is a political cost, or rather two political costs, for those whose primary interest was in handing the Obama administration and its foreign policy a defeat. The first is that the relative intensity of the opposition just makes the president’s victory all the sweeter and helps make the argument that he has recovered his political footing after the November election more quickly than anyone expected. That is just a matter of perception — the Republican takeover of the House is looming, and dark days are coming for him legislatively — but perception matters in politics. Some people picked a fight on this with the hope that they could deliver an uppercut to Obama just after he had come off the ropes; they swung and they missed; and he knocked them down instead.

The second cost is that it will raise to some senators and staffers in the GOP the possibility that, on foreign policy at least, they need to be somewhat skeptical of the voices of some on the right whose counsel might now seem untrustworthy and politically imprudent to them.

On the other hand, it’s one thing for Barack Obama to get a lot done in a lame-duck session that no longer reflects the beliefs and ideological makeup of the country at large. Come 2011, there will be five more Republican senators (the sixth new senator, Mark Kirk of Illinois, has already been seated) and 63 new Republicans on Capitol Hill. Obama should savor these victories, because they’re likely to be among the last he sees for a long time.

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Toomey Support for DADT Repeal Highlights a Conservative’s Independent Streak

The announcement that Pennsylvania Senator-elect Pat Toomey will support repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy about gays in the military may signal the end of this pointless rule. Those who haven’t followed Toomey’s career may be surprised that a hard-core conservative Republican and devout pro-life Catholic like Toomey would support a gay-rights measure. But Toomey’s libertarian instincts and abhorrence of big government have led him to the correct conclusion that seeking to ban a portion of the population that might usefully serve their country is a mistake. Nor is this a new position for Toomey.

During his successful Senate campaign, Toomey made it clear that he wanted to end DADT. In fact, he mentioned it in an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he wrote last summer in which he detailed why he would have voted against Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court. In the piece, he criticized Kagan for banning military recruiters from Harvard Law School because of DADT. Toomey wrote:

I share the view that the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy regarding gay servicemen and women has outlived its usefulness and, subject to the military’s conclusion of the feasibility of removing it, I support its repeal. However, one’s disagreement with a federal law does not give one license to circumvent it.

While Toomey won’t be able to cast a vote on the repeal attempt during the lame-duck session of Congress, his willingness to do so after January may change the mathematics of this debate. Moreover, Toomey — whose reputation as a pro-life stalwart, Tea Party favorite, and libertarian hardliner on fiscal matters renders him largely impervious to attacks from the right — could help give cover to other wavering Republicans. Previously, the only Republicans to announce support for the end of DADT were the liberal Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Toomey’s stand on gays in the military might put him in conflict with conservative culture-war advocates, who will lament his willingness to put this issue to rest. Indeed, this puts him at odds with Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who has recently been beating the bushes in New Hampshire promoting a possible 2012 presidential candidacy (though not too many people are taking Santorum’s ego-trip of a campaign seriously). But the irony here is that six years ago, Santorum, the man who now proclaims himself as the true guardian of conservative values, did his best to torpedo Toomey’s primary challenge of liberal Arlen Specter. Though Santorum and President Bush urged Toomey to step aside, he wouldn’t compromise and stayed in the race, ultimately narrowly losing the primary to Specter. Six years later, Toomey, who stuck to his guns on his conservative principles, is now about to take the place of the turncoat Specter, who was beaten out for the Democratic nomination earlier this year.

Six years is a lifetime in politics, but Pennsylvania Democrats are already looking ahead to 2016, since they believe the election of a conservative like Toomey was a fluke that cannot be repeated. They may be right, but what we will see until then is a senator who denounces big government and actually means it. That may not earn Toomey many friends in a state that has long counted upon its representatives to fight for local special interests, something that Toomey is unlikely to do. But as we are seeing with the issue of gays in the military, Toomey’s principled independence is a factor that political observers ought not to take for granted.

The announcement that Pennsylvania Senator-elect Pat Toomey will support repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy about gays in the military may signal the end of this pointless rule. Those who haven’t followed Toomey’s career may be surprised that a hard-core conservative Republican and devout pro-life Catholic like Toomey would support a gay-rights measure. But Toomey’s libertarian instincts and abhorrence of big government have led him to the correct conclusion that seeking to ban a portion of the population that might usefully serve their country is a mistake. Nor is this a new position for Toomey.

During his successful Senate campaign, Toomey made it clear that he wanted to end DADT. In fact, he mentioned it in an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he wrote last summer in which he detailed why he would have voted against Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court. In the piece, he criticized Kagan for banning military recruiters from Harvard Law School because of DADT. Toomey wrote:

I share the view that the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy regarding gay servicemen and women has outlived its usefulness and, subject to the military’s conclusion of the feasibility of removing it, I support its repeal. However, one’s disagreement with a federal law does not give one license to circumvent it.

While Toomey won’t be able to cast a vote on the repeal attempt during the lame-duck session of Congress, his willingness to do so after January may change the mathematics of this debate. Moreover, Toomey — whose reputation as a pro-life stalwart, Tea Party favorite, and libertarian hardliner on fiscal matters renders him largely impervious to attacks from the right — could help give cover to other wavering Republicans. Previously, the only Republicans to announce support for the end of DADT were the liberal Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Toomey’s stand on gays in the military might put him in conflict with conservative culture-war advocates, who will lament his willingness to put this issue to rest. Indeed, this puts him at odds with Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who has recently been beating the bushes in New Hampshire promoting a possible 2012 presidential candidacy (though not too many people are taking Santorum’s ego-trip of a campaign seriously). But the irony here is that six years ago, Santorum, the man who now proclaims himself as the true guardian of conservative values, did his best to torpedo Toomey’s primary challenge of liberal Arlen Specter. Though Santorum and President Bush urged Toomey to step aside, he wouldn’t compromise and stayed in the race, ultimately narrowly losing the primary to Specter. Six years later, Toomey, who stuck to his guns on his conservative principles, is now about to take the place of the turncoat Specter, who was beaten out for the Democratic nomination earlier this year.

Six years is a lifetime in politics, but Pennsylvania Democrats are already looking ahead to 2016, since they believe the election of a conservative like Toomey was a fluke that cannot be repeated. They may be right, but what we will see until then is a senator who denounces big government and actually means it. That may not earn Toomey many friends in a state that has long counted upon its representatives to fight for local special interests, something that Toomey is unlikely to do. But as we are seeing with the issue of gays in the military, Toomey’s principled independence is a factor that political observers ought not to take for granted.

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Helen Thomas Loses Some Awards, Wins Others

After Helen Thomas’s “go back to Germany” rant ended her career last June, there were still some left-wing journalists who twisted themselves into pretzels trying to argue that Thomas’s remarks weren’t anti-Semitic, per say, but simply “anti-Zionist.”

But Thomas’s recent statements remove any doubt as to where she stands. Jonathan Chait, who defended Thomas’s remarks in June, has begrudgingly acknowledged that her newest tirade probably crossed the line into anti-Semitism. “I prefer to hold off on imputing motives of bigotry without strong proof,” writes Chait. “[B]ut there’s not a whole lot of doubt remaining here.”

In response to Thomas’s latest, the Anti-Defamation League called on organizations to revoke any awards given to her in the past. This prompted her alma mater, Wayne State University, to nix an award it had been giving in her name:

Wayne State University, the Detroit, Michigan, institution that Thomas graduated from in 1942, said in a statement Friday that the school will no longer give out the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media Award.

“Wayne State encourages free speech and open dialogue, and respects diverse viewpoints,” the school’s statement said. “However, the university strongly condemns the anti-Semitic remarks made by Helen Thomas during a conference yesterday.”

But Thomas’s controversial outburst last June actually won her accolades from some Arab-American organizations. The Council on American Islamic Relations presented her with a lifetime achievement award in September. And the Arab American National Museum played host to Thomas’s most recent anti-Semitic speech, which received a standing ovation from the audience.

The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee also presented Thomas with the “Mehdi Courage in Journalism” award last month. The namesake of the award, the late M.T. Mehdi, served as an adviser to the Blind Sheik, who famously noted that “most Jews are sick people and would benefit from Dr. Freud’s couch,” called Hitler “the real father of Israel,” and wrote a book arguing that Sirhan Sirhan’s assassination of Robert Kennedy was morally defensible because the senator had grown sympathetic to Zionism.

So the ADL may be wrong on this one. Let Thomas keep the awards — the tributes sound pretty fitting.

After Helen Thomas’s “go back to Germany” rant ended her career last June, there were still some left-wing journalists who twisted themselves into pretzels trying to argue that Thomas’s remarks weren’t anti-Semitic, per say, but simply “anti-Zionist.”

But Thomas’s recent statements remove any doubt as to where she stands. Jonathan Chait, who defended Thomas’s remarks in June, has begrudgingly acknowledged that her newest tirade probably crossed the line into anti-Semitism. “I prefer to hold off on imputing motives of bigotry without strong proof,” writes Chait. “[B]ut there’s not a whole lot of doubt remaining here.”

In response to Thomas’s latest, the Anti-Defamation League called on organizations to revoke any awards given to her in the past. This prompted her alma mater, Wayne State University, to nix an award it had been giving in her name:

Wayne State University, the Detroit, Michigan, institution that Thomas graduated from in 1942, said in a statement Friday that the school will no longer give out the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media Award.

“Wayne State encourages free speech and open dialogue, and respects diverse viewpoints,” the school’s statement said. “However, the university strongly condemns the anti-Semitic remarks made by Helen Thomas during a conference yesterday.”

But Thomas’s controversial outburst last June actually won her accolades from some Arab-American organizations. The Council on American Islamic Relations presented her with a lifetime achievement award in September. And the Arab American National Museum played host to Thomas’s most recent anti-Semitic speech, which received a standing ovation from the audience.

The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee also presented Thomas with the “Mehdi Courage in Journalism” award last month. The namesake of the award, the late M.T. Mehdi, served as an adviser to the Blind Sheik, who famously noted that “most Jews are sick people and would benefit from Dr. Freud’s couch,” called Hitler “the real father of Israel,” and wrote a book arguing that Sirhan Sirhan’s assassination of Robert Kennedy was morally defensible because the senator had grown sympathetic to Zionism.

So the ADL may be wrong on this one. Let Thomas keep the awards — the tributes sound pretty fitting.

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So Much for Civility: Dem Senator Likens Tax Cutters to “Terrorists”

When establishment kibitzers talk about the need to restore for civility, there isn’t much doubt whom they are complaining about. In the last year and a half, Tea Party insurgents helped change the nature of the political conversation in this country from one that assumed that President Obama’s election meant a return to orthodox liberal big-government solutions to one where even Democrats are talking about lowering taxes. So it’s clear that the lack of civility being deplored is the rudeness liberals encountered from angry independents and conservatives on the hustings and at the ballot box, not the liberal backlash at the temerity of the unwashed masses.

But the pious bleating we’ve been hearing from the chattering classes in recent months about how political speakers needed to behave was always delivered via a double standard. Angry taxpayers who gave politicians hell at town meetings were portrayed as little better than terrorists, while liberal politicians who regularly demonized their opponents were either ignored or praised as truth tellers.

But just as the carrying-on about civility was reaching its peak, we can thank an influential member of the Senate Democratic caucus for reminding us just how hypocritical much of this discussion has been. At a press conference with other Democratic leaders yesterday, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) likened Senate Republicans who disagree with him about tax cuts to “terrorists.”

Menendez expressed his frustration with Republicans who believe all and not just some of the Bush tax cuts should be preserved, thereby avoiding a major tax increase next year, with the following statement: “Do you allow yourself to be held hostage and get something done for the sake of getting something done, when in fact it might be perverse in its ultimate results? It’s almost like the question of do you negotiate with terrorists.”

A Menendez spokesman later dismissed those who questioned the statement by saying it was taken out of context. But the implication of his remarks was clear. Republican ideas about tax cuts aren’t just wrong; they’re “perverse.” His opponents aren’t just standing firm on their principles; they’re like “terrorists.” Again, it’s a case of a liberal stooping not just to class warfare but also to the demonization and delegitimization of those who disagree with him.

As for the merits of the issue in question, Menendez undermined his own argument about taxes by falsely claiming that tax cuts for wealthier citizens would mean “taking money out of your [the middle classes’] pockets.” The point is, raising taxes on anyone, especially the richest Americans, who are the likeliest source of investment in the private sector, at a time of layoffs and recession isn’t an economic plan; it’s an exercise in politically inspired rabble-rousing, albeit not one that has shown much sign of attracting a lot of support for all the Democrats’ confidence in the idea that the word “millionaire” will give the willies to the Republicans. It also reflects the liberal mentality that sees everyone’s private income as somehow really belonging to the government. To people like Menendez, every dollar you have that the government doesn’t take from you via taxes is to be viewed as stolen from the government or from other citizens who would like it to be redistributed to them.

If anything, Menendez’s absurd rant — which was uttered while Democrat Chuck Schumer chuckled and leered behind him — reflects his party’s inability to cope with the political realities of life in the Tea Party era. It knows that the public wants to hear less hyper-liberal talk about the expansion of government power and more about tax-cutting. But it can’t seem to manage it without resorting to its familiar rhetoric, which attempts to label all opposition as being beyond the pale. So much for liberal civility.

When establishment kibitzers talk about the need to restore for civility, there isn’t much doubt whom they are complaining about. In the last year and a half, Tea Party insurgents helped change the nature of the political conversation in this country from one that assumed that President Obama’s election meant a return to orthodox liberal big-government solutions to one where even Democrats are talking about lowering taxes. So it’s clear that the lack of civility being deplored is the rudeness liberals encountered from angry independents and conservatives on the hustings and at the ballot box, not the liberal backlash at the temerity of the unwashed masses.

But the pious bleating we’ve been hearing from the chattering classes in recent months about how political speakers needed to behave was always delivered via a double standard. Angry taxpayers who gave politicians hell at town meetings were portrayed as little better than terrorists, while liberal politicians who regularly demonized their opponents were either ignored or praised as truth tellers.

But just as the carrying-on about civility was reaching its peak, we can thank an influential member of the Senate Democratic caucus for reminding us just how hypocritical much of this discussion has been. At a press conference with other Democratic leaders yesterday, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) likened Senate Republicans who disagree with him about tax cuts to “terrorists.”

Menendez expressed his frustration with Republicans who believe all and not just some of the Bush tax cuts should be preserved, thereby avoiding a major tax increase next year, with the following statement: “Do you allow yourself to be held hostage and get something done for the sake of getting something done, when in fact it might be perverse in its ultimate results? It’s almost like the question of do you negotiate with terrorists.”

A Menendez spokesman later dismissed those who questioned the statement by saying it was taken out of context. But the implication of his remarks was clear. Republican ideas about tax cuts aren’t just wrong; they’re “perverse.” His opponents aren’t just standing firm on their principles; they’re like “terrorists.” Again, it’s a case of a liberal stooping not just to class warfare but also to the demonization and delegitimization of those who disagree with him.

As for the merits of the issue in question, Menendez undermined his own argument about taxes by falsely claiming that tax cuts for wealthier citizens would mean “taking money out of your [the middle classes’] pockets.” The point is, raising taxes on anyone, especially the richest Americans, who are the likeliest source of investment in the private sector, at a time of layoffs and recession isn’t an economic plan; it’s an exercise in politically inspired rabble-rousing, albeit not one that has shown much sign of attracting a lot of support for all the Democrats’ confidence in the idea that the word “millionaire” will give the willies to the Republicans. It also reflects the liberal mentality that sees everyone’s private income as somehow really belonging to the government. To people like Menendez, every dollar you have that the government doesn’t take from you via taxes is to be viewed as stolen from the government or from other citizens who would like it to be redistributed to them.

If anything, Menendez’s absurd rant — which was uttered while Democrat Chuck Schumer chuckled and leered behind him — reflects his party’s inability to cope with the political realities of life in the Tea Party era. It knows that the public wants to hear less hyper-liberal talk about the expansion of government power and more about tax-cutting. But it can’t seem to manage it without resorting to its familiar rhetoric, which attempts to label all opposition as being beyond the pale. So much for liberal civility.

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Christie-mania

In a lengthy piece on Chris Christie filled with winks and nods to the left and more than a few unsubstantiated jibes (Christie, we are told, was previously a “political hack,” and it’s just the “sane” wing of the GOP that likes him), Jason Zengerie of New York magazine nevertheless provides an interesting peek inside Christie’s political operation and just a sliver of hope to his fans that he might still be persuaded to make a 2012 presidential run.

Why the excitement?

These are strange days for Republicans. After their historic midterm victories, they are seemingly ascendant, with George Will hailing 2010 as “conservatism’s best year in 30 years—since the election of Ronald Reagan.” And yet there is no Reagan-like figure to lead them. In Congress, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are Establishmentarians ill-suited to the fervor of the times. The Republicans who are currently angling to run for the White House in 2012—Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, John Thune, to name a few—inspire little enthusiasm. Sarah Palin, the one potential presidential candidate who does get Republican pulses racing, is such a polarizing figure that the party Establishment is terrified she’ll run. At the very moment that the GOP appears poised to return from its short sojourn in the political wilderness, the party is desperately searching for a leader. Which explains conservatives’ serious—and sudden—infatuation with Chris Christie. Read More

In a lengthy piece on Chris Christie filled with winks and nods to the left and more than a few unsubstantiated jibes (Christie, we are told, was previously a “political hack,” and it’s just the “sane” wing of the GOP that likes him), Jason Zengerie of New York magazine nevertheless provides an interesting peek inside Christie’s political operation and just a sliver of hope to his fans that he might still be persuaded to make a 2012 presidential run.

Why the excitement?

These are strange days for Republicans. After their historic midterm victories, they are seemingly ascendant, with George Will hailing 2010 as “conservatism’s best year in 30 years—since the election of Ronald Reagan.” And yet there is no Reagan-like figure to lead them. In Congress, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are Establishmentarians ill-suited to the fervor of the times. The Republicans who are currently angling to run for the White House in 2012—Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, John Thune, to name a few—inspire little enthusiasm. Sarah Palin, the one potential presidential candidate who does get Republican pulses racing, is such a polarizing figure that the party Establishment is terrified she’ll run. At the very moment that the GOP appears poised to return from its short sojourn in the political wilderness, the party is desperately searching for a leader. Which explains conservatives’ serious—and sudden—infatuation with Chris Christie.

That explains the search for someone, but why him?

He has set the tone, in part, by being “a strong governor who has opinions and is willing to express them,” he said. When I asked him about New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg’s criticism of his decision to cancel the tunnel, Christie shot back, “All he knows how to do is blow hot air … so I don’t really care what Frank Lautenberg has to say about much of anything.” Anything? “I’m always willing to read something in the paper that he said, and if he makes sense, I’m happy to work with him on it. I haven’t found one yet.” Christie believes his aggressive approach sends a signal to everyone else in the state. “The tone I’m trying to set for New Jersey is: action. Less talk, more action. And I think that’s what I’m doing as governor, and I think we’ve gotten a lot of stuff done already because of that, because I’m pushing and pushing and pushing.” …

Christie’s combativeness has made him a popular figure with the tea party in a way that someone like Indiana governor Mitch Daniels—who’s fought some of the same fiscal battles in his state but with the mien of an accountant—can only dream of. More than anything, Christie fills the longing, currently felt in all corners of the GOP (and beyond), for a stern taskmaster. “People just want to be treated like adults,” Christie says. “They just want to be told the truth. They know we’re in tough times, and they’re willing to sacrifice. But they want shared sacrifice.”

Less well known is his ability to co-opt and work with key Democrats in the deep Blue State. (He’s “cultivated strong relationships with the three most prominent Democratic power brokers currently not in jail.”)

The good news for Christie fans is that there are a few scraps suggesting that he hasn’t entirely closed the door on a 2012 run.  (“Christie’s actions aren’t those of someone who has ruled out a presidential bid.”) His staff’s YouTube videos, the trip to Iowa, and some whispers from his political confidantes are encouraging those in the GOP who are searching for Mr. Right.

But the premise underlying the piece is a bit off. The reason Christie has become a “star” is not because he’s captured the imagination of the “sane” wing of the party but because he transcends the divide (which is part real and part media-driven hype) between Tea Partiers and establishment Republicans. He combines serious governance with political theater. He’s got undeniable stage presence, but he’s also a serious budget wonk. He has no patience with political insiders, yet he’s learned to handle his opponents. And he’s become a master at disarming the liberal media without personal acrimony or a sense of victimhood.

But your reading glasses would have to be exceptionally rosy to see real evidence of a 2012 stealth campaign. The most his supporters can hope for is that the field of current contenders will prove underwhelming and that a serious movement to draft Christie will develop. But if the governor resists the entreaties of his fans, Republicans should remember that he became an overnight success thanks to a bunch of irresistible YouTube moments. Who’s to say that someone else couldn’t do the same?

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Explaining Foreign Policy Failures

Jackson Diehl thinks Obama’s foreign policy is badly out of date. Obama is frantic to conclude an old-style nuclear arms treaty while the “threat of nuclear weapons now comes from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and maybe from terrorist organizations.” He’s obsessed over Israeli settlements, which leads to bizarre dealmaking efforts (“a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement”), while the real threat to peace and stability in the region is the rise of the Iranian axis and a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state.

Why is Obama fixated on issues that were in vogue when he was a college student and oblivious or disinterested in the world as we find it in 2010? One can argue that this is simply a function of leftist ideology — a worldview frozen in time and sealed off from reality. In that conception, our enemies are misunderstood, America’s problems are largely of its own making, and we’d be better off re-creating the U.S. in the image of Western Europe than in pushing despotic regimes to democratize.

Then there is the rudderless-ship explanation. As Diehl observes: “this administration is notable for its lack of grand strategy — or strategists. Its top foreign-policy makers are a former senator, a Washington lawyer and a former Senate staffer. There is no Henry Kissinger, no Zbigniew Brzezinski, no Condoleezza Rice; no foreign policy scholar.” We’ve seen the same in the economic realm — there is no one who understands free markets, has experience as an entrepreneur, or questions the class warfare, anti-business stance that has characterized the first two years of Obama’s term. In short, the administration is in over its head in a very complex and dangerous world.

And then there is the possibility that there is a method, however inept, to the Obama foreign policy approach. It is the path of least resistance. We want to make progress with the Russians, so we  give them what they want. The Palestinians harp on settlements, so we become their agent. Iran isn’t amenable to sanctions or engagement, but we’d better make sure no one gets the idea that we are headed for a military confrontation. The Chinese don’t want to talk about human rights, so we don’t. It’s always easier to beat up on small allies than to stand up to intransigent bullies.

None of these explanations is entirely satisfying or mutually exclusive. Obama’s foreign policy is made all the more curious by the fact that sometimes he gets it right. Obama, however reluctantly, has followed the Bush approach in Iraq and attempted to duplicate it in Afghanistan. In these areas he’s departed from the leftist playbook and to a large extent followed the advice of the one truly expert national security guru he has: Gen. David Petraeus. So go figure.

Perhaps it comes down to this: only when faced with the prospect of a massive loss of American credibility (e.g., a defeat in Afghanistan), a severe domestic backlash (American Jews’ falling out with him), or resolute opposition (from Israel on Jerusalem) does Obama do what is smart and productive for American interests. In other words, only when exhausting all other opportunities and trying every which way to force his ideologically driven preferences does he stumble upon a reasonable outcome. This, if true, contains a powerful lesson for Israel, for Obama’s domestic critics, and for our other allies: hang tough, be clear about the Obama administration’s errors, and don’t blink. Chances are, he will instead.

Jackson Diehl thinks Obama’s foreign policy is badly out of date. Obama is frantic to conclude an old-style nuclear arms treaty while the “threat of nuclear weapons now comes from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and maybe from terrorist organizations.” He’s obsessed over Israeli settlements, which leads to bizarre dealmaking efforts (“a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement”), while the real threat to peace and stability in the region is the rise of the Iranian axis and a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state.

Why is Obama fixated on issues that were in vogue when he was a college student and oblivious or disinterested in the world as we find it in 2010? One can argue that this is simply a function of leftist ideology — a worldview frozen in time and sealed off from reality. In that conception, our enemies are misunderstood, America’s problems are largely of its own making, and we’d be better off re-creating the U.S. in the image of Western Europe than in pushing despotic regimes to democratize.

Then there is the rudderless-ship explanation. As Diehl observes: “this administration is notable for its lack of grand strategy — or strategists. Its top foreign-policy makers are a former senator, a Washington lawyer and a former Senate staffer. There is no Henry Kissinger, no Zbigniew Brzezinski, no Condoleezza Rice; no foreign policy scholar.” We’ve seen the same in the economic realm — there is no one who understands free markets, has experience as an entrepreneur, or questions the class warfare, anti-business stance that has characterized the first two years of Obama’s term. In short, the administration is in over its head in a very complex and dangerous world.

And then there is the possibility that there is a method, however inept, to the Obama foreign policy approach. It is the path of least resistance. We want to make progress with the Russians, so we  give them what they want. The Palestinians harp on settlements, so we become their agent. Iran isn’t amenable to sanctions or engagement, but we’d better make sure no one gets the idea that we are headed for a military confrontation. The Chinese don’t want to talk about human rights, so we don’t. It’s always easier to beat up on small allies than to stand up to intransigent bullies.

None of these explanations is entirely satisfying or mutually exclusive. Obama’s foreign policy is made all the more curious by the fact that sometimes he gets it right. Obama, however reluctantly, has followed the Bush approach in Iraq and attempted to duplicate it in Afghanistan. In these areas he’s departed from the leftist playbook and to a large extent followed the advice of the one truly expert national security guru he has: Gen. David Petraeus. So go figure.

Perhaps it comes down to this: only when faced with the prospect of a massive loss of American credibility (e.g., a defeat in Afghanistan), a severe domestic backlash (American Jews’ falling out with him), or resolute opposition (from Israel on Jerusalem) does Obama do what is smart and productive for American interests. In other words, only when exhausting all other opportunities and trying every which way to force his ideologically driven preferences does he stumble upon a reasonable outcome. This, if true, contains a powerful lesson for Israel, for Obama’s domestic critics, and for our other allies: hang tough, be clear about the Obama administration’s errors, and don’t blink. Chances are, he will instead.

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Here’s the “Civil War” the Press Has Been Looking For

The civil war between Tea Partiers and establishment Republicans never really emerged. Candidates won and lost in primaries, the old guard agreed with the new on earmarks, and all the elected and re-elected GOP senators and House members are on board with key elements of the conservative agenda (extend the Bush tax cuts, refudiate ObamaCare, cut spending, etc.). However, the Dems are another story. This report will amuse Republicans and, frankly, shock a lot of readers who imagined that Obama had retained some level of respect in his own party:

Senate Democrats — including typically mild-mannered Bill Nelson of Florida — lit into President Barack Obama during an unusually tense air-clearing caucus session on Thursday, senators and staffers told POLITICO.

Nelson told colleagues Obama’s unpopularity has become a serious liability for Democrats in his state and blamed the president for creating a toxic political environment for Democrats nationwide, according to two Democrats familiar with his remarks. …

In interviews after the marathon three hour meeting, several senators and senior aides told POLITICO that Nelson was just one of several senators to express anger at White House missteps – and air deep concerns about their own political fates if Obama and the Democratic Party leadership can’t turn things around by 2012.

Added one veteran senator: “It was the most frank exchange of views I’ve ever seen.”

“Frank” is one way to put it. Another way of putting it is that Obama has lost his luster and the respect and trust of his party. Democrats are alarmed, and rightly so, that this president is in over his head.

The solution is simple for those who want to survive: make common cause with Republicans to roll back the Obama agenda, cut taxes, and restore business confidence. On foreign policy, urge resoluteness on Afghanistan, military action if needed to disarm the mullahs, and an end to smart silly diplomacy in the Middle East and elsewhere. In other words, they should fend for themselves, and in the process do what is right on the merits. They might survive the 2012 election, even if Obama does not.

The civil war between Tea Partiers and establishment Republicans never really emerged. Candidates won and lost in primaries, the old guard agreed with the new on earmarks, and all the elected and re-elected GOP senators and House members are on board with key elements of the conservative agenda (extend the Bush tax cuts, refudiate ObamaCare, cut spending, etc.). However, the Dems are another story. This report will amuse Republicans and, frankly, shock a lot of readers who imagined that Obama had retained some level of respect in his own party:

Senate Democrats — including typically mild-mannered Bill Nelson of Florida — lit into President Barack Obama during an unusually tense air-clearing caucus session on Thursday, senators and staffers told POLITICO.

Nelson told colleagues Obama’s unpopularity has become a serious liability for Democrats in his state and blamed the president for creating a toxic political environment for Democrats nationwide, according to two Democrats familiar with his remarks. …

In interviews after the marathon three hour meeting, several senators and senior aides told POLITICO that Nelson was just one of several senators to express anger at White House missteps – and air deep concerns about their own political fates if Obama and the Democratic Party leadership can’t turn things around by 2012.

Added one veteran senator: “It was the most frank exchange of views I’ve ever seen.”

“Frank” is one way to put it. Another way of putting it is that Obama has lost his luster and the respect and trust of his party. Democrats are alarmed, and rightly so, that this president is in over his head.

The solution is simple for those who want to survive: make common cause with Republicans to roll back the Obama agenda, cut taxes, and restore business confidence. On foreign policy, urge resoluteness on Afghanistan, military action if needed to disarm the mullahs, and an end to smart silly diplomacy in the Middle East and elsewhere. In other words, they should fend for themselves, and in the process do what is right on the merits. They might survive the 2012 election, even if Obama does not.

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Scooter Libby Has His Say

Quin Hillyer of the Washington Times provides essential reading: an interview with Scooter Libby — the first time Libby has gone on the record to discuss his conviction and President Bush’s refusal to grant him a complete pardon. It should be read in full to appreciate how ludicrous was the decision to prosecute and how shaky was the evidence that Libby intentionally lied about hearing Valerie Plame’s name from Tim Russert. The key graph:

Never mind that Mr. Russert’s own memory had proved flagrantly untrustworthy in a previous instance. Never mind that equally famous journalist Bob Woodward testified that his own notes of a near-simultaneous conversation with Mr. Libby indicated that Mr. Woodward might have said to Mr. Libby what Mr. Libby remembered being told by Mr. Russert — in other words, that the conversations easily and innocently could have become conflated in Mr. Libby’s mind. And never mind that Mr. Libby was never shown to have a motive for lying about his conversation with Mr. Russert.

When considered with another solidly reported piece on the topic, one is left mystified as to how he could have been convicted, let alone denied a pardon. In his masterful analysis, Stan Crock explains:

Even at the end of the long ordeal, poor memory — and irony — continued to played a role. Libby called White House counsel Fred Fielding as the clock was winding down on Bush’s term to ask if he could meet with the president to make his case for a pardon. Fielding mentioned he had received a call from a senator who had defended Libby. That surprised Libby, who knew the senator but had not considered him an ardent supporter. And Libby suggested it might have been another senator who Libby knew had spoken to Fielding.

Libby, who answered questions for this article, asked Fielding three times if he was sure it was the senator Fielding mentioned, and Fielding insisted that it was. But a little later, Fielding realized that he had made a mistake and that the senator Libby had mentioned was the one who had called. “Fred,” Libby said wryly, “you could be indicted.” The incident evidently didn’t convince Fielding that Libby may have made a similar memory error. Fielding didn’t return calls seeking comment.

After reading through these and contemporaneous accounts of the trial and investigation (and when we consider Patrick Fitzgerald’s overzealousness, revealed in his most recent trial flop), one cannot but agree that something went terribly wrong. Or, put more bluntly: “And to Fred Fielding, wherever you are: Shame, shame, shame!”

Quin Hillyer of the Washington Times provides essential reading: an interview with Scooter Libby — the first time Libby has gone on the record to discuss his conviction and President Bush’s refusal to grant him a complete pardon. It should be read in full to appreciate how ludicrous was the decision to prosecute and how shaky was the evidence that Libby intentionally lied about hearing Valerie Plame’s name from Tim Russert. The key graph:

Never mind that Mr. Russert’s own memory had proved flagrantly untrustworthy in a previous instance. Never mind that equally famous journalist Bob Woodward testified that his own notes of a near-simultaneous conversation with Mr. Libby indicated that Mr. Woodward might have said to Mr. Libby what Mr. Libby remembered being told by Mr. Russert — in other words, that the conversations easily and innocently could have become conflated in Mr. Libby’s mind. And never mind that Mr. Libby was never shown to have a motive for lying about his conversation with Mr. Russert.

When considered with another solidly reported piece on the topic, one is left mystified as to how he could have been convicted, let alone denied a pardon. In his masterful analysis, Stan Crock explains:

Even at the end of the long ordeal, poor memory — and irony — continued to played a role. Libby called White House counsel Fred Fielding as the clock was winding down on Bush’s term to ask if he could meet with the president to make his case for a pardon. Fielding mentioned he had received a call from a senator who had defended Libby. That surprised Libby, who knew the senator but had not considered him an ardent supporter. And Libby suggested it might have been another senator who Libby knew had spoken to Fielding.

Libby, who answered questions for this article, asked Fielding three times if he was sure it was the senator Fielding mentioned, and Fielding insisted that it was. But a little later, Fielding realized that he had made a mistake and that the senator Libby had mentioned was the one who had called. “Fred,” Libby said wryly, “you could be indicted.” The incident evidently didn’t convince Fielding that Libby may have made a similar memory error. Fielding didn’t return calls seeking comment.

After reading through these and contemporaneous accounts of the trial and investigation (and when we consider Patrick Fitzgerald’s overzealousness, revealed in his most recent trial flop), one cannot but agree that something went terribly wrong. Or, put more bluntly: “And to Fred Fielding, wherever you are: Shame, shame, shame!”

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Tea Party Wins on Earmarks

Elections are wondrous things. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who previously expressed some skepticism about doing away with earmarks, has heard the voters. On the Senate floor today he declared:

I have seen a lot of elections in my life, but I have never seen an election like the one we had earlier this month. The 2010 midterm election was a “change” election the likes of which I have never seen, and the change that people want, above all, is right here in Washington.

Most Americans are deeply unhappy with their government, more so than at any other time in decades. And after the way lawmakers have done business up here over the last couple of years, it’s easy to see why. But it’s not enough to point out the faults of the party in power. Americans want change, not mere criticism. And that means that all of us in Washington need to get serious about changing the way we do business, even on things we have defended in the past, perhaps for good reason. …

I have thought about these things long and hard over the past few weeks. I’ve talked with my members. I’ve listened to them. Above all, I have listened to my constituents.  And what I’ve concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example. Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.

Make no mistake. I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don’t apologize for them. But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight. And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government.

That’s why today I am announcing that I will join the Republican Leadership in the House in support of a moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress.

Chalk one up for the Tea Party. As I said earlier today, it simply isn’t tenable for Republicans to oppose measures like this. Moreover, if this is any indication, the media-driven narrative of the Tea Party vs. the establishment will quickly fade as both halves of the party make common cause in trying to re-establish the GOP as the party of fiscal discipline.

Elections are wondrous things. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who previously expressed some skepticism about doing away with earmarks, has heard the voters. On the Senate floor today he declared:

I have seen a lot of elections in my life, but I have never seen an election like the one we had earlier this month. The 2010 midterm election was a “change” election the likes of which I have never seen, and the change that people want, above all, is right here in Washington.

Most Americans are deeply unhappy with their government, more so than at any other time in decades. And after the way lawmakers have done business up here over the last couple of years, it’s easy to see why. But it’s not enough to point out the faults of the party in power. Americans want change, not mere criticism. And that means that all of us in Washington need to get serious about changing the way we do business, even on things we have defended in the past, perhaps for good reason. …

I have thought about these things long and hard over the past few weeks. I’ve talked with my members. I’ve listened to them. Above all, I have listened to my constituents.  And what I’ve concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example. Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.

Make no mistake. I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don’t apologize for them. But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight. And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government.

That’s why today I am announcing that I will join the Republican Leadership in the House in support of a moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress.

Chalk one up for the Tea Party. As I said earlier today, it simply isn’t tenable for Republicans to oppose measures like this. Moreover, if this is any indication, the media-driven narrative of the Tea Party vs. the establishment will quickly fade as both halves of the party make common cause in trying to re-establish the GOP as the party of fiscal discipline.

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Is There a Replacement for Syria’s Friend in the Senate?

As the calendar ticks off the last days of Arlen Specter’s 30-year reign in the United States Senate, it appears that one of his colleagues might be assuming a role that the Pennsylvanian had long cherished: that of the Assad clan’s American interlocutor.

For decades, Specter embarrassed the Senate and many of his Jewish supporters and donors with his regular visits to Damascus, where he schmoozed with Syrian dictator Hafez Assad and then, after the elder Assad’s death, his son Bashar, who succeeded his father as that country’s leader. It was a good deal for both the senator and the Syrians. Specter got to play diplomat, with the United States Treasury picking up the tab, while the Syrians had a permanent advocate for engagement with the Assad regime no matter how atrocious its behavior had been. To his credit, Specter did use his cordial relationship with the Assads to help rescue the remnants of Syrian Jewry, but that was accomplished 18 years ago. Since then, Specter’s frequent flyer miles to Damascus served no constructive purpose other than to further inflate the senator’s considerable ego.

But with Specter headed to retirement after losing his bid for re-election, Sen. John Kerry appears to be picking up the slack in the Syrian appeasement category. Today’s New York Times quoted the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate as saying that his recent trip to Damascus encouraged him to believe that engagement with Syria was a good idea. Syria’s return to control in Lebanon and successful efforts to undermine the international investigation of the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as its refusal to distance itself from Iran as the Obama administration had hoped, have discouraged many of even the most determined Arabists in Washington. But Kerry said, “I remain absolutely convinced there is an opportunity to have a different relationship with Syria.”

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Kerry can muster up a better rationale for his international travels than Specter did, and reportedly went to Syria at the behest of an Obama administration that remains desperate to preserve the illusion that its engagement policies are not a complete bust even if it is evident that Syria has no interest in abandoning its ally Iran, allowing Lebanon to be free, or making peace with Israel.

While back-channel diplomacy can have its uses every once in a while, the sort of freelance diplomacy practiced by Specter served Syria’s interests more than those of the United States. Now that he’s out of the picture, it would be unfortunate if Kerry, or any of his other colleagues who love to spend congressional recesses on taxpayer-financed road trips, allowed the Assad clan to think that they can continue to bamboozle Washington. The message from everyone in the capital to Damascus must be crystal clear: if it wants better relations with the United States, it will have to alter its behavior.

As the calendar ticks off the last days of Arlen Specter’s 30-year reign in the United States Senate, it appears that one of his colleagues might be assuming a role that the Pennsylvanian had long cherished: that of the Assad clan’s American interlocutor.

For decades, Specter embarrassed the Senate and many of his Jewish supporters and donors with his regular visits to Damascus, where he schmoozed with Syrian dictator Hafez Assad and then, after the elder Assad’s death, his son Bashar, who succeeded his father as that country’s leader. It was a good deal for both the senator and the Syrians. Specter got to play diplomat, with the United States Treasury picking up the tab, while the Syrians had a permanent advocate for engagement with the Assad regime no matter how atrocious its behavior had been. To his credit, Specter did use his cordial relationship with the Assads to help rescue the remnants of Syrian Jewry, but that was accomplished 18 years ago. Since then, Specter’s frequent flyer miles to Damascus served no constructive purpose other than to further inflate the senator’s considerable ego.

But with Specter headed to retirement after losing his bid for re-election, Sen. John Kerry appears to be picking up the slack in the Syrian appeasement category. Today’s New York Times quoted the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate as saying that his recent trip to Damascus encouraged him to believe that engagement with Syria was a good idea. Syria’s return to control in Lebanon and successful efforts to undermine the international investigation of the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as its refusal to distance itself from Iran as the Obama administration had hoped, have discouraged many of even the most determined Arabists in Washington. But Kerry said, “I remain absolutely convinced there is an opportunity to have a different relationship with Syria.”

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Kerry can muster up a better rationale for his international travels than Specter did, and reportedly went to Syria at the behest of an Obama administration that remains desperate to preserve the illusion that its engagement policies are not a complete bust even if it is evident that Syria has no interest in abandoning its ally Iran, allowing Lebanon to be free, or making peace with Israel.

While back-channel diplomacy can have its uses every once in a while, the sort of freelance diplomacy practiced by Specter served Syria’s interests more than those of the United States. Now that he’s out of the picture, it would be unfortunate if Kerry, or any of his other colleagues who love to spend congressional recesses on taxpayer-financed road trips, allowed the Assad clan to think that they can continue to bamboozle Washington. The message from everyone in the capital to Damascus must be crystal clear: if it wants better relations with the United States, it will have to alter its behavior.

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Thanks, but I’d Rather Not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is ABC Becoming MSNBC?

This Week is a sort of media car wreck. It is invariably a display of terrible journalism — so much so that you can’t help but stop and gawk. On Sunday, Christiane Amanpour badgered Senator-elect Rand Paul on what cuts he would favor to address the debt. He repeatedly answered that he’d favor across-the-board cuts, including defense and entitlements. You might not agree, but it was his answer. The following ensued:

AMANPOUR: Give me one specific cut, Senator-elect.

PAUL: All across the board.

AMANPOUR: One significant one. No, but you can’t just keep saying all across the board.

PAUL: Well, no, I can, because I’m going to look at every program, every program. But I would freeze federal hiring. I would maybe reduce federal employees by 10 percent. I’d probably reduce their wages by 10 percent. The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year. Let’s get them more in line, and let’s find savings. Let’s hire no new federal workers.

AMANPOUR: Pay for soldiers? Would you cut that? Read More

This Week is a sort of media car wreck. It is invariably a display of terrible journalism — so much so that you can’t help but stop and gawk. On Sunday, Christiane Amanpour badgered Senator-elect Rand Paul on what cuts he would favor to address the debt. He repeatedly answered that he’d favor across-the-board cuts, including defense and entitlements. You might not agree, but it was his answer. The following ensued:

AMANPOUR: Give me one specific cut, Senator-elect.

PAUL: All across the board.

AMANPOUR: One significant one. No, but you can’t just keep saying all across the board.

PAUL: Well, no, I can, because I’m going to look at every program, every program. But I would freeze federal hiring. I would maybe reduce federal employees by 10 percent. I’d probably reduce their wages by 10 percent. The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year. Let’s get them more in line, and let’s find savings. Let’s hire no new federal workers.

AMANPOUR: Pay for soldiers? Would you cut that?

PAUL: Right. I think that soldiers have to be paid. Now, can we say that gradually we don’t need as large of an Army if we’re not in two wars? Yes, I think you can say that. You can save money there. You can bring some troops home or have Europe pay more for their defense and Japan pay more and Korea pay more for their defense or bring those troops home and have savings there. . .

AMANPOUR: So, again, to talk about the debt and to talk about taxes, there seems to be, again, just so much sort of generalities, for want of a better word.

PAUL: Right.

AMANPOUR: And, for instance, there are many people…

PAUL: Well, the thing is that you can call it a generality, but what if — what if I were president and I said to you, “Tomorrow, we’re going to have a 5 percent cut across the board in everything”? That’s not a generality, but there are thousands of programs. If you say, “Well, what are all the specifics?” There are books written on all the specifics.

Is she so wedded to her script that she’s not listening to the answers? Or is she simply there to argue with her conservative guests while lobbing softballs at those with whom she is in ideological agreement? She ends with an inappropriate snipe at her guest: “Well, we hope to have you back, and we’ll get more details from you next time.” I suspect he won’t be back anytime soon.

There are a couple of problems with her approach. For starters, it’s not very enlightening. Paul repeatedly answered Amanpour’s question, but we didn’t learn much beyond that. (Do other Republicans share his position? How do we cut defense while fighting a war?) She was so busy arguing with his answer that she never followed up on the answer he gave.

Second, she is so obviously playing the role of partisan advocate that her interviews take on a lopsided, cheerleading quality for her invariably liberal positions. In the interview with David Stockman and Mike Pence that followed, all her probing “You can’t really mean that?” questions were directed at Pence, while she all but applauded Stockman for his insistence that we needed to raise taxes.

The faux interview format in which hosts use guests not to elicit information but to push their own agenda works for Keith Olbermann on MSNBC and Glenn Beck on Fox, but is that the approach ABC News, which hasn’t gone the partisan route, now wants to adopt? So far, Amanpour is a ratings loser and a journalistic embarrassment. The ABC execs will have to decide whether it’s worth risking their brand for no apparent financial gain.

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RE: Senate Shifts

As I noted yesterday, the new Senate will have more Republicans and, just as important, many more nervous Democrats. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is thinking along the same lines:

“I think the most interesting thing to watch in the next Congress is how many Democrats start voting with us,” McConnell said.

“Every one of the 23 Democrats up [for re-election] in the next cycle has a clear understanding of what happened Tuesday,” he said. “I think we have major opportunities for bipartisan coalitions to support what we want to do.”

There are roughly three groupings of these Democrats. First are those who already cross the aisle now and then. “Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska has voted with Republicans about 32 percent of the time during this Congress, according to the Washington Post. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has broken with her party on about 1 in 5 votes.” Yes, this is deceptive because on the really big issues (e.g., ObamaCare), these two voted with the White House. Still, their proclivity is not knee-jerk agreement with their leaders.

Next are those up for re-election in 2012. “Sen. John Tester, who’s up for re-election in 2012, represents red state Montana. And Senator-elect Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has to run again in two years for a full term, has already promised to take aim at Democratic policies — literally.” You can add in Kent Conrad. And Jim Webb.

And finally, you have the Blue State senators whose states aren’t all that Blue anymore. “Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin will say goodbye to Badger State delegation colleague Russ Feingold; Pennsylvania’s Sen. Bob Casey and Florida’s Bill Nelson will be joined on the Hill in January by conservative Republicans instead of by fellow Dems; and Sen. Sherrod Brown witnessed the Democrat in Ohio’s Senate contest beaten by almost 20 points.” In short, they risk being shown up by their states’ more-conservative senators.

For years, the conservative base has grumbled about the least-conservative members of the Senate caucus (the two Maine gals and Snarlin’ Arlen before he switched parties). Now it’s the Dems’ turn to wrestle with the least-liberal members on their side. Harry Reid’s headaches didn’t end on Election Day, and his own narrow escape from a highly vulnerable opponent will serve as a warning to members who don’t have the influence and seniority of a minority leader.

McConnell, with 47 on his side and more to poach from the Democratic side, will be a potent force. Prepare to see him run rings around Reid. Chuck Schumer can take some small consolation that he isn’t going to be the victim of McConnell’s parliamentary skills. And a final point: with a working majority of Red State Democrats and Republicans, prepare to see the liberal intelligentsia defend the wondrous filibuster. Just you wait.

As I noted yesterday, the new Senate will have more Republicans and, just as important, many more nervous Democrats. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is thinking along the same lines:

“I think the most interesting thing to watch in the next Congress is how many Democrats start voting with us,” McConnell said.

“Every one of the 23 Democrats up [for re-election] in the next cycle has a clear understanding of what happened Tuesday,” he said. “I think we have major opportunities for bipartisan coalitions to support what we want to do.”

There are roughly three groupings of these Democrats. First are those who already cross the aisle now and then. “Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska has voted with Republicans about 32 percent of the time during this Congress, according to the Washington Post. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has broken with her party on about 1 in 5 votes.” Yes, this is deceptive because on the really big issues (e.g., ObamaCare), these two voted with the White House. Still, their proclivity is not knee-jerk agreement with their leaders.

Next are those up for re-election in 2012. “Sen. John Tester, who’s up for re-election in 2012, represents red state Montana. And Senator-elect Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has to run again in two years for a full term, has already promised to take aim at Democratic policies — literally.” You can add in Kent Conrad. And Jim Webb.

And finally, you have the Blue State senators whose states aren’t all that Blue anymore. “Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin will say goodbye to Badger State delegation colleague Russ Feingold; Pennsylvania’s Sen. Bob Casey and Florida’s Bill Nelson will be joined on the Hill in January by conservative Republicans instead of by fellow Dems; and Sen. Sherrod Brown witnessed the Democrat in Ohio’s Senate contest beaten by almost 20 points.” In short, they risk being shown up by their states’ more-conservative senators.

For years, the conservative base has grumbled about the least-conservative members of the Senate caucus (the two Maine gals and Snarlin’ Arlen before he switched parties). Now it’s the Dems’ turn to wrestle with the least-liberal members on their side. Harry Reid’s headaches didn’t end on Election Day, and his own narrow escape from a highly vulnerable opponent will serve as a warning to members who don’t have the influence and seniority of a minority leader.

McConnell, with 47 on his side and more to poach from the Democratic side, will be a potent force. Prepare to see him run rings around Reid. Chuck Schumer can take some small consolation that he isn’t going to be the victim of McConnell’s parliamentary skills. And a final point: with a working majority of Red State Democrats and Republicans, prepare to see the liberal intelligentsia defend the wondrous filibuster. Just you wait.

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