Commentary Magazine


Topic: senior adviser

Insights on Egypt from Israel

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yaakov Amidror, who held several senior posts in the Israel Defense Forces, including head of the IDF division preparing Israel’s National Intelligence Assessment, held a conference call this morning sponsored by One Jerusalem. In discussing Egypt, he said this:

There is no question that this is one of the fruits of the Internet technology — that these are mechanisms which give people the ability to organize without an organization … [T]his is the strength of the opposition: the fact that it was not organized by someone, but is a matter of people who organized themselves.

But when it comes to the next stage …  I mean “We don’t want Mubarak” is okay, but now you want something that can bring you to another stage. For that, you need an organization. And in elections after some months, there are very few organizations who have the ability to organize themselves … [other than] the Muslim Brotherhood. They have a long history, they have very deep roots in the society and when they compete with other elements of the opposition, which do not have these traditions, this organization, these roots, it is a new phenomenon …

In The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky warned that elections are never the beginning of the democratic process, but can only occur after the basic institutions of a free society are in place — a free press, the rule of law, independent courts, political parties. It was why he praised George W. Bush’s landmark June 24, 2002, speech conditioning U.S. support for a Palestinian state on prior Palestinian success in building “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty” — and then opposed the Roadmap, which he viewed as Bush’s abandonment of that condition in exchange for faith in Mahmoud Abbas as a “moderate.”

Sharansky’s insight was that moderation is not a function of a leader’s disposition or promises but of the society he governs: “One can rely on a free society to create the moderate, but one cannot rely on a moderate to create a free society.” In thinking about Egypt and its future, perhaps we can profit from a comparison of the Bush administration’s great achievement — the long, hard slog to create a representative government in Iraq — and the administration’s signal failure: the “shortcut” elections it sponsored in 2006 that produced the victory of Hamas.

The Obama administration’s current approach may be, as former State Department senior adviser Christian Whiton argues, too clever by half — closer to what produced Hamastan than what is necessary for a lasting democratic result.

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yaakov Amidror, who held several senior posts in the Israel Defense Forces, including head of the IDF division preparing Israel’s National Intelligence Assessment, held a conference call this morning sponsored by One Jerusalem. In discussing Egypt, he said this:

There is no question that this is one of the fruits of the Internet technology — that these are mechanisms which give people the ability to organize without an organization … [T]his is the strength of the opposition: the fact that it was not organized by someone, but is a matter of people who organized themselves.

But when it comes to the next stage …  I mean “We don’t want Mubarak” is okay, but now you want something that can bring you to another stage. For that, you need an organization. And in elections after some months, there are very few organizations who have the ability to organize themselves … [other than] the Muslim Brotherhood. They have a long history, they have very deep roots in the society and when they compete with other elements of the opposition, which do not have these traditions, this organization, these roots, it is a new phenomenon …

In The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky warned that elections are never the beginning of the democratic process, but can only occur after the basic institutions of a free society are in place — a free press, the rule of law, independent courts, political parties. It was why he praised George W. Bush’s landmark June 24, 2002, speech conditioning U.S. support for a Palestinian state on prior Palestinian success in building “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty” — and then opposed the Roadmap, which he viewed as Bush’s abandonment of that condition in exchange for faith in Mahmoud Abbas as a “moderate.”

Sharansky’s insight was that moderation is not a function of a leader’s disposition or promises but of the society he governs: “One can rely on a free society to create the moderate, but one cannot rely on a moderate to create a free society.” In thinking about Egypt and its future, perhaps we can profit from a comparison of the Bush administration’s great achievement — the long, hard slog to create a representative government in Iraq — and the administration’s signal failure: the “shortcut” elections it sponsored in 2006 that produced the victory of Hamas.

The Obama administration’s current approach may be, as former State Department senior adviser Christian Whiton argues, too clever by half — closer to what produced Hamastan than what is necessary for a lasting democratic result.

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Netanyahu’s Office Responds to Anti-Israel Time Article

If there was a bright side to Karl Vick’s Time magazine piece on Israel last week, it’s that it finally pushed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to issue a forceful response to the unhinged anti-Israel alarmists who’ve been claiming that the country is sliding toward fascism.

In a blunt and unapologetic letter to Time, Netanyahu’s senior adviser Ron Dermer called the allegations in the article “outrageous” and proceeded to tear apart the misleading and factually inaccurate statements in an expert manner. There’s too much information there to go through a blow-by-blow analysis, but check out Dermer’s letter in full here.

Dermer also gave a strong defense of Israel’s controversial new NGO law, which allows the Knesset to investigate whether certain NGOs are being funded by foreign governments. I’ve been critical of the law, but Dermer was able to skillfully convey the challenges Israel faces in addressing the growing number of foreign-funded NGOs that are working ceaselessly to undermine the country.

”What would Britain do if the French government was actively funding a British NGO that sought to eliminate the monarchy? What would the United States do if the Iranian government was funding American NGOs pressing for a withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East?” wrote Dermer.

And he noted that the NGO law might not be the perfect solution, and there is still a “vigorous public debate in Israel, including within the Likud party, over the best means to address the problem.”

“Israel has upheld its democratic values despite being threatened like no country on earth,” Dermer wrote in conclusion.

It’s sad that Israel still needs to be on the defensive on this subject. And even sadder that it has to point out that it’s worthy of being called a democracy.

But the letter was definitely necessary. Part of the reason the anti-Israel misinformation campaign has been so successful in the past few months is because Netanyahu’s office has not been quick enough to correct false reports and outright lies about controversial legislation. I hope this stronger public-relations effort continues.

If there was a bright side to Karl Vick’s Time magazine piece on Israel last week, it’s that it finally pushed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to issue a forceful response to the unhinged anti-Israel alarmists who’ve been claiming that the country is sliding toward fascism.

In a blunt and unapologetic letter to Time, Netanyahu’s senior adviser Ron Dermer called the allegations in the article “outrageous” and proceeded to tear apart the misleading and factually inaccurate statements in an expert manner. There’s too much information there to go through a blow-by-blow analysis, but check out Dermer’s letter in full here.

Dermer also gave a strong defense of Israel’s controversial new NGO law, which allows the Knesset to investigate whether certain NGOs are being funded by foreign governments. I’ve been critical of the law, but Dermer was able to skillfully convey the challenges Israel faces in addressing the growing number of foreign-funded NGOs that are working ceaselessly to undermine the country.

”What would Britain do if the French government was actively funding a British NGO that sought to eliminate the monarchy? What would the United States do if the Iranian government was funding American NGOs pressing for a withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East?” wrote Dermer.

And he noted that the NGO law might not be the perfect solution, and there is still a “vigorous public debate in Israel, including within the Likud party, over the best means to address the problem.”

“Israel has upheld its democratic values despite being threatened like no country on earth,” Dermer wrote in conclusion.

It’s sad that Israel still needs to be on the defensive on this subject. And even sadder that it has to point out that it’s worthy of being called a democracy.

But the letter was definitely necessary. Part of the reason the anti-Israel misinformation campaign has been so successful in the past few months is because Netanyahu’s office has not been quick enough to correct false reports and outright lies about controversial legislation. I hope this stronger public-relations effort continues.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Just another charm offensive? “President Barack Obama is preparing new overtures to business that may start with a walk into the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a retreat with corporate chief executive officers, according to people familiar with his plans.” So long as he plans on keeping ObamaCare and the financial regulation bill and raises taxes, it’s hard to consider it more than atmospherics.

Just another way of spinning that the White House is getting rid of him as soon as possible. “David Axelrod’s long-anticipated departure from the White House is happening a little earlier than expected — right after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech in late January or early February — so the  senior adviser can ‘recharge his batteries,’ according to a senior administration official.”

Just another bad poll for the White House to ignore. “Just about as many Americans want Tea Party-backed members of Congress to take the lead in setting policy during the next year as choose President Obama, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds. … The survey also underscores Obama’s weakened standing. His overall job approval rating, at 42%, is 1 percentage point higher than his historic low in midsummer. His 35% approval rating on the economy is the lowest of his presidency.”

Just another prominent conservative woman on the world stage? This one –Michèle Alliot-Marie, the foreign minister of France — plays rugby. ” The 64-year-old Gaullist is more than just another passive fan of the game. The normally austere MAM, as she is known in France, revealed in a rare informal television appearance in the mid-1980s that she had nearly been kicked out of school when she was young for converting the female handball squad into a rugby team. ‘I think that I’d still be able to make a pass,’ she noted.”

Just another move by Israel that’ll drive the left around the bend. How dare the Jewish state institute such democratic rules! “The Knesset passed the National Referendum Law during a late-night session Monday, approving legislation that will fundamentally alter Israeli negotiators’ ability to offer concrete peace deals involving the Golan Heights or east Jerusalem. The law, which was approved by a vote of 65-33, will require either a Knesset super-majority or a national referendum in order to hand over any annexed territories as part of a future peace deal.”

Just another day of nagging kids to eat vegetables. But is this really a job for the First Lady?

Just another human rights abomination in the “Muslim World.” Asia Bibi, a Pakistani mother of five, has been jailed for a year and sentenced to death for blasphemy. Although she might get a presidential pardon, that’s not the end of it. “Even if Ms. Bibi is pardoned or the Lahore High Court overturns the sentence, there are concerns about her safety. Many people acquitted on blasphemy charges continue to be hounded and are forced to move, change their identity or hide, the commission says.”

Just another political miscalculation and panic attack in the White House. “As the Senate’s leading Republican on nuclear security issues, Mr. Kyl has warned the White House for months that it couldn’t get its treaty ratified without addressing his concerns on warhead modernization and missile defenses. For months, the Administration gave him mere lip service. Now that it has discovered it doesn’t have the votes, the Administration is finally getting serious about Mr. Kyl’s concerns even as it is trying to bully him over immediate ratification. Republicans are right to take their time and debate this thoroughly.”

Just another charm offensive? “President Barack Obama is preparing new overtures to business that may start with a walk into the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a retreat with corporate chief executive officers, according to people familiar with his plans.” So long as he plans on keeping ObamaCare and the financial regulation bill and raises taxes, it’s hard to consider it more than atmospherics.

Just another way of spinning that the White House is getting rid of him as soon as possible. “David Axelrod’s long-anticipated departure from the White House is happening a little earlier than expected — right after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech in late January or early February — so the  senior adviser can ‘recharge his batteries,’ according to a senior administration official.”

Just another bad poll for the White House to ignore. “Just about as many Americans want Tea Party-backed members of Congress to take the lead in setting policy during the next year as choose President Obama, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds. … The survey also underscores Obama’s weakened standing. His overall job approval rating, at 42%, is 1 percentage point higher than his historic low in midsummer. His 35% approval rating on the economy is the lowest of his presidency.”

Just another prominent conservative woman on the world stage? This one –Michèle Alliot-Marie, the foreign minister of France — plays rugby. ” The 64-year-old Gaullist is more than just another passive fan of the game. The normally austere MAM, as she is known in France, revealed in a rare informal television appearance in the mid-1980s that she had nearly been kicked out of school when she was young for converting the female handball squad into a rugby team. ‘I think that I’d still be able to make a pass,’ she noted.”

Just another move by Israel that’ll drive the left around the bend. How dare the Jewish state institute such democratic rules! “The Knesset passed the National Referendum Law during a late-night session Monday, approving legislation that will fundamentally alter Israeli negotiators’ ability to offer concrete peace deals involving the Golan Heights or east Jerusalem. The law, which was approved by a vote of 65-33, will require either a Knesset super-majority or a national referendum in order to hand over any annexed territories as part of a future peace deal.”

Just another day of nagging kids to eat vegetables. But is this really a job for the First Lady?

Just another human rights abomination in the “Muslim World.” Asia Bibi, a Pakistani mother of five, has been jailed for a year and sentenced to death for blasphemy. Although she might get a presidential pardon, that’s not the end of it. “Even if Ms. Bibi is pardoned or the Lahore High Court overturns the sentence, there are concerns about her safety. Many people acquitted on blasphemy charges continue to be hounded and are forced to move, change their identity or hide, the commission says.”

Just another political miscalculation and panic attack in the White House. “As the Senate’s leading Republican on nuclear security issues, Mr. Kyl has warned the White House for months that it couldn’t get its treaty ratified without addressing his concerns on warhead modernization and missile defenses. For months, the Administration gave him mere lip service. Now that it has discovered it doesn’t have the votes, the Administration is finally getting serious about Mr. Kyl’s concerns even as it is trying to bully him over immediate ratification. Republicans are right to take their time and debate this thoroughly.”

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Coming Apart at the Seams

As much as Obama’s aura has dimmed in the United States, his international standing is potentially in worse condition, and with more dire consequences. As this report explains, he’s finding it hard — no matter how lucrative the bribe — to get any nation to make a deal:

From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control treaty with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency. …

“He assumed that because he was liked so clearly and overwhelmingly he could merely assert what he wanted to achieve and people would follow,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Clearly enough, the world that he imagined proved to be different than the world as it is.” …

The Middle East peace process he inaugurated two months ago has stalled. His mercurial ally in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is calling for scaled-back U.S. military operations there at the height of the 30,000-troop escalation Obama approved a year ago.

His pledge to remedy one polarizing legacy of the Bush administration by closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered this week when a jury convicted the first former detainee to face civilian trial on only one of 285 criminal counts. Read More

As much as Obama’s aura has dimmed in the United States, his international standing is potentially in worse condition, and with more dire consequences. As this report explains, he’s finding it hard — no matter how lucrative the bribe — to get any nation to make a deal:

From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control treaty with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency. …

“He assumed that because he was liked so clearly and overwhelmingly he could merely assert what he wanted to achieve and people would follow,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Clearly enough, the world that he imagined proved to be different than the world as it is.” …

The Middle East peace process he inaugurated two months ago has stalled. His mercurial ally in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is calling for scaled-back U.S. military operations there at the height of the 30,000-troop escalation Obama approved a year ago.

His pledge to remedy one polarizing legacy of the Bush administration by closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered this week when a jury convicted the first former detainee to face civilian trial on only one of 285 criminal counts.

You get the picture. So Obama’s gambits become more and more desperate. Hence, the cockeyed attempt to spare himself the collapse of the non-direct, non-peace talks. “National security analysts say the price Obama is willing to pay for another three months of talks is high, in part because he set a one-year timeline for their successful conclusion. Many believe that the deadline, like other of Obama’s foreign policy goals, was overly optimistic.” Well, that’s a generous way of putting it. To be blunt, he’s made hash out of our relationship with Israel, diminished our credibility with every player in the Middle East, and now is panicked that it is all about to come tumbling down around his ears.

Likewise, out of desperation to get a “win,” Obama is trying to force a Senate vote on New START. Saner voices are trying to warn him:

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations who held senior foreign-policy positions in both Bush administrations, said “it’s no big deal if gets kicked off until February, March, then passes.”

“You don’t want to bring this to a vote and lose,” Haass said. “You don’t want to have the Senate equivalent of going to Seoul and not getting a trade agreement.”

Funny how each new foreign policy fumble has a precursor. Seoul is like Copenhagen. New START is like the Syrian ambassador’s nomination. The handling of the Honduras “coup” is like pulling the rug out from under our Eastern European allies on missile defense. And on it goes — an endless series of half-baked ideas, offended allies, stalled negotiations, and poorly executed gambits. And we haven’t even gotten to the worst of it: an emboldened Iran racing toward membership in the nuclear power club.

It’s not all a disaster. Obama is showing some recognition that we must remain engaged in Iraq. He’s coming around to erasing the ill-advised Afghanistan deadline. And perhaps, after two years, he’s cluing into the need to get serious about human rights in Egypt and elsewhere. But the continuities with his predecessor (annoyingly accompanied by chest-puffing and refusal to credit President Bush) are outnumbered and overshadowed by the gaffes.

This is not a time for conservatives to cheer. It is deeply troubling that the president has imperiled our standing in the world. Congress is no substitute for a commander in chief, but responsible voices in the House and Senate should work — by resolution, oversight, private conversation, and funding — to guide the administration to more sober policymaking and less erratic execution. Unfortunately, once the credibility of the American president is diminished by hapless moves and unserious rhetoric, it’s hard to get it back.

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Verging on Irrelevancy

When looking for hopeful signs of a move to the center by the Obama administration, observers point to the about-face on the 2011 troop-withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan and to possible acquiescence in extending the Bush tax cuts. But is there progress on the latter front?

The New York Post editors observe:

Meanwhile, in the White House, the left hand seems not to know what the far left hand is doing. Within hours yesterday, senior adviser David Axelrod gave contradictory statements on the question of extending the Bush-era tax cuts. …

We have to deal with the world as we find it,” Axelrod told the Huffington Post. “The world of what it takes to get this done.” He continued: “There are concerns [over multiple temporary extensions for the wealthy], but I don’t want to trade away security for the middle class in order to make that point.” …

Except, Axelrod then did a 180-degree turn, later telling National Journal: “We’re willing to discuss how we move forward. But we believe that it’s imperative to extend the tax cuts for the middle class, and don’t believe we can afford a permanent extension of tax cuts for the wealthy.”

It’s not hard to understand why “Axelrod [is] talking out of both sides of his face.” The White House doesn’t know what it wants to do and what it can get away with. Message control has broken down, so aides now freelance, trying to push the president in one direction or another. Not only does this create uncertainty for investors, employers, and consumers, but it also suggests that the president is an observer in his own administration.

Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum; with a shrinking presidency, others (advisers, Congress, 2012 contenders, wanna-be primary opponents, etc.) will rush forward to fill the void. After the 1994 midterms, Clinton memorably declared that the president was still relevant — and then proved it to be the case. So Obama had better get out of his funk and decide which direction he wants to go in the next two years. Otherwise, he will become increasingly irrelevant at home and dangerously ineffective overseas.

When looking for hopeful signs of a move to the center by the Obama administration, observers point to the about-face on the 2011 troop-withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan and to possible acquiescence in extending the Bush tax cuts. But is there progress on the latter front?

The New York Post editors observe:

Meanwhile, in the White House, the left hand seems not to know what the far left hand is doing. Within hours yesterday, senior adviser David Axelrod gave contradictory statements on the question of extending the Bush-era tax cuts. …

We have to deal with the world as we find it,” Axelrod told the Huffington Post. “The world of what it takes to get this done.” He continued: “There are concerns [over multiple temporary extensions for the wealthy], but I don’t want to trade away security for the middle class in order to make that point.” …

Except, Axelrod then did a 180-degree turn, later telling National Journal: “We’re willing to discuss how we move forward. But we believe that it’s imperative to extend the tax cuts for the middle class, and don’t believe we can afford a permanent extension of tax cuts for the wealthy.”

It’s not hard to understand why “Axelrod [is] talking out of both sides of his face.” The White House doesn’t know what it wants to do and what it can get away with. Message control has broken down, so aides now freelance, trying to push the president in one direction or another. Not only does this create uncertainty for investors, employers, and consumers, but it also suggests that the president is an observer in his own administration.

Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum; with a shrinking presidency, others (advisers, Congress, 2012 contenders, wanna-be primary opponents, etc.) will rush forward to fill the void. After the 1994 midterms, Clinton memorably declared that the president was still relevant — and then proved it to be the case. So Obama had better get out of his funk and decide which direction he wants to go in the next two years. Otherwise, he will become increasingly irrelevant at home and dangerously ineffective overseas.

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The Art of Discontent

Peter Baker, one of the nation’s finest and fairest political reporters, has written an illuminating story for the New York Times Magazine. “Education of a President” is based on interviews with Barack Obama and a dozen of his advisers.

There are three overriding impression I took away from the piece, beginning with how much events are humbling the president and his top aides. “This is an administration that feels shellshocked,” Baker writes. “Many officials worry, they say, that the best days of the Obama presidency are behind them.” One aide confessed to Baker, “We’re all a lot more cynical now.” In their darkest moments, Baker informs us, “White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed.”

The second takeaway from Baker’s piece is how the blame for Obama’s failures rests with everyone else. “Washington is even more broken than we thought,” one aide tells Baker. The system “is not on the level” — a phrase commonly used around the West Wing meaning “Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems.” Obama himself says, “Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” (Read: we were too virtuous for our own good.)

The third impression from Baker’s article is the degree of self-pity and moral and intellectual superiority that remains so prevalent in the Obama White House. “The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra,” Baker writes. “Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history.” Obama does little to disguise his disdain for Washington and the conventions of modern politics, Baker writes. He has little patience for what Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, calls “the inevitable theatrics of Washington.” And in his conversation with Baker, Obama used some variation of the phrase “they’re not serious” four times in referring to Republican budget plans. One prominent Democratic lawmaker told Baker that Obama “always believes he is the smartest person in any room.”

The White House, then, is characterized by habitual vanity, rising cynicism, collapsing morale, and increasing resentment toward politics and governing, itself. Having worked in the White House for most of two terms, I understand that life there can present an array of challenges. Still, those working in the Obama White House seem utterly devoid of any enchantment and joy rooted in an appreciation of history — the kind of that that makes working in the White House, even on the worst days, an honor beyond measure.

In writing about Edward Grey, John Buchan told about how he had been the most fortunate of mortals, for he had everything — health, beauty, easy means, a great reputation, innumerable friends. One by one, the sources of his happiness vanished, yet Grey persevered. “Under the buffetings of life he never winced or complained,” Buchan writes, “and the spectacle of his gentle fortitude was . . . an inspiration.”

Later in Pilgrim’s Way, Buchan, in describing himself, says, “I was brought up in times when one was not ashamed to be happy, and I have never learned the art of discontent.”

The White House today seems to be inhabited by people who have learned the art of discontent. Some day, it may dawn on them what a privilege and gift their White House years really were. But by then, the moment will be gone with the wind.

Peter Baker, one of the nation’s finest and fairest political reporters, has written an illuminating story for the New York Times Magazine. “Education of a President” is based on interviews with Barack Obama and a dozen of his advisers.

There are three overriding impression I took away from the piece, beginning with how much events are humbling the president and his top aides. “This is an administration that feels shellshocked,” Baker writes. “Many officials worry, they say, that the best days of the Obama presidency are behind them.” One aide confessed to Baker, “We’re all a lot more cynical now.” In their darkest moments, Baker informs us, “White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed.”

The second takeaway from Baker’s piece is how the blame for Obama’s failures rests with everyone else. “Washington is even more broken than we thought,” one aide tells Baker. The system “is not on the level” — a phrase commonly used around the West Wing meaning “Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems.” Obama himself says, “Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” (Read: we were too virtuous for our own good.)

The third impression from Baker’s article is the degree of self-pity and moral and intellectual superiority that remains so prevalent in the Obama White House. “The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra,” Baker writes. “Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history.” Obama does little to disguise his disdain for Washington and the conventions of modern politics, Baker writes. He has little patience for what Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, calls “the inevitable theatrics of Washington.” And in his conversation with Baker, Obama used some variation of the phrase “they’re not serious” four times in referring to Republican budget plans. One prominent Democratic lawmaker told Baker that Obama “always believes he is the smartest person in any room.”

The White House, then, is characterized by habitual vanity, rising cynicism, collapsing morale, and increasing resentment toward politics and governing, itself. Having worked in the White House for most of two terms, I understand that life there can present an array of challenges. Still, those working in the Obama White House seem utterly devoid of any enchantment and joy rooted in an appreciation of history — the kind of that that makes working in the White House, even on the worst days, an honor beyond measure.

In writing about Edward Grey, John Buchan told about how he had been the most fortunate of mortals, for he had everything — health, beauty, easy means, a great reputation, innumerable friends. One by one, the sources of his happiness vanished, yet Grey persevered. “Under the buffetings of life he never winced or complained,” Buchan writes, “and the spectacle of his gentle fortitude was . . . an inspiration.”

Later in Pilgrim’s Way, Buchan, in describing himself, says, “I was brought up in times when one was not ashamed to be happy, and I have never learned the art of discontent.”

The White House today seems to be inhabited by people who have learned the art of discontent. Some day, it may dawn on them what a privilege and gift their White House years really were. But by then, the moment will be gone with the wind.

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Abuse of Power

It is astonishing, really.

The president of the United States has accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, despite its denial and without supporting evidence, of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. campaigns. “Just this week,” Barack Obama said recently about the chamber, “we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these [political] ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.”

On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, if there is any evidence to support their accusation. Axelrod responded this way: “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”

Likewise, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, wouldn’t back away from the incendiary charges yesterday. “The president will continue to make the argument that we don’t know where this money comes from and entities like the Chamber have said they get money from overseas,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House.

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It is astonishing, really.

The president of the United States has accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, despite its denial and without supporting evidence, of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. campaigns. “Just this week,” Barack Obama said recently about the chamber, “we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these [political] ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.”

On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, if there is any evidence to support their accusation. Axelrod responded this way: “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”

Likewise, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, wouldn’t back away from the incendiary charges yesterday. “The president will continue to make the argument that we don’t know where this money comes from and entities like the Chamber have said they get money from overseas,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House.

Set aside the hypocrisy of this whole episode. (My former White House colleague Ed Gillespie points out that no Democrats, least of all Obama, expressed concern about such outside spending in 2008, when more than $400 million was spent to help elect Barack Obama, much of it from undisclosed donors.) Set aside the fact that Mr. Axelrod concedes that the chamber is abiding by long-standing rules, that it doesn’t have to disclose its donors list, and that no other organizations are disclosing theirs. Set aside the fact that the chamber has 115 foreign-member affiliates who pay a total of less than $100,000 in membership dues to a group whose total budget is more than $200 million. And set aside the fact that various news organizations have dismissed the charges, including the New York Times, which reports, “a closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the chamber does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents.”

What we are witnessing is the abuse of power. We are now in a situation in which the president and his most senior advisers feel completely at liberty to throw out unsubstantiated charges and put the burden on people (and institutions) to prove their innocence. Liberals once referred to such tactics as McCarthyism. But Joseph McCarthy, for all his abuses, was “only” a United States senator, one member out of 100. The president and his advisers, on the other hand, have at their disposal far more power and the ability to inflict far more injury.

What Obama and his aides are demanding is that the Chamber of Commerce prove a negative — and in doing so, they are trying to intimidate the chamber into disclosing what is, by law, privileged information. “If the Chamber doesn’t have anything to hide about these contributions,” Mr. Axelrod says, “and I take them at their word that they don’t, then why not disclose? Why not let people see where their money is coming from?”

Let’s see if we can help Mr. Axelrod out by providing him with an explanation.

For one thing, he is employing the guilty-until-proven-innocent argument. For another, the White House’s standard is being selectively applied. And it encourages slanderous charges because it forces innocent people to disprove them. All this is troubling in any case; but it is triply pernicious when it is practiced by those with unmatched power, because they have an unparalleled capacity to intimidate American citizens.

In further answering Axelrod’s argument, consider this thought experiment. It’s the year 2021, and a partisan critic of a future president repeatedly asserts that the president is addicted to child pornography. It turns out that the critic has no proof of the charge — but when told he is asking the president to prove a negative, he responds: “I take the president at his word. But just to be sure, we’d like to examine his phone records and text messages, his computer accounts, and his credit card receipts. What we want, in other words, is full access to all the relevant information we need. After all, if he’s innocent, why not disclose this information? Why not let people see what you’re doing with your life and free time?”

It must be obvious to Messrs. Axelrod and Obama that what they are doing is irresponsible, dangerous, and deeply illiberal. It’s important to note, however, that this libel is taking place within a particular context. The attack on the Chamber of Commerce is only the most recent link in a long chain. The Obama White House has targeted Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie, and John Boehner; George W. Bush and Dick Cheney; conservative talk radio; Fox News; the state of Arizona; the Supreme Court (for its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission); members of the Tea Party; critics of ObamaCare who attended town hall meetings; pharmaceutical, insurance, and oil companies; corporate executives, Wall Street, and the “rich.”

All this ugliness comes to us courtesy of a man who said during the 2008 campaign that “the times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook”; who told us that we should “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long”; and who assured us, on the night of his election, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.”

Back in October 2009, I wrote about this White House’s burning anger and resentment toward its critics and what it foreshadowed. That inferno is burning hotter than ever – and if it goes unchecked, it will eventually lead to a crisis.

In an August 16, 1971, memorandum from White House Counsel John Dean to Lawrence Higby, titled “Dealing with our Political Enemies,” Dean wrote:

This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly – how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.

At comparable stages in their first terms, the Obama administration seems to be at least as eager as the Nixon administration to use the available federal machinery to “screw our political enemies.” We know how things turned out for the Nixon administration. President Obama cannot say he hasn’t been forewarned.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

This is what desperation looks like: “Forget the myth of an Obama recovery. The past week has been disastrous for the White House and America’s increasingly disillusioned Left. No wonder the angry and desperate Vice President Joe Biden is talking about ‘playing hell’ if his party suffers defeat in November.”

This is what old-style politics sounds like: “White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the burden of proving false the charge by Democrats that the business group is funneling foreign money to Republican campaigns. Axelrod was pressed by CBS’ Bob Schieffer on Sunday for evidence that the foreign campaign contributions benefiting the GOP is more than ‘peanuts.’  ‘Do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?’ Axelrod said on ‘Face the Nation.’  Ed Gillespie responded that it “was ‘an unbelievable mentality’ for Axelrod to assert charges about foreign contributions without backing them up.” It’s all too believable, unfortunately.

This is what a wave election looks like: “Democrats are buying advertising in places they hadn’t previously reserved it, a strong indication the battlefield is expanding. That includes New England, which hasn’t a single Republican House member. A new ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began airing this week in the Massachusetts district covering Cape Cod, where Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt is retiring and ex-police sergeant Jeff Perry is posting a strong GOP challenge.”

This is what a lousy TV appearance looks like: “Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois Democrat running for President Obama’s old Senate seat, said Sunday that he wants to “reform” the president’s health care overhaul, and that the $814 billion stimulus was imperfect but that it prevented Americans from standing in soup lines. Giannoulias, who appeared on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ to debate Republican Mark Kirk, was on the defensive throughout the debate regarding Obama’s policies, as well as his past work for his family’s community bank and its ties to mob figures.”

This is what an eloquent first lady’s writing looks like: “Though some Afghan leaders have condemned the violence and defended the rights of women, others maintain a complicit silence in hopes of achieving peace. But peace attained by compromising the rights of half of the population will not last. Offenses against women erode security for all Afghans — men and women. And a culture that tolerates injustice against one group of its people ultimately fails to respect and value all its citizens.” Yeah, I miss her too.

This is what the GOP sounded like in 2006. “The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee brushed off various members’ ads touting opposition to President Obama and Speakers Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying that it simply shows the party is a big tent unlike the right.”

This is what “hope and change” looks like? “President Obama’s new National Security Advisor spent the decade prior to joining the White House as a legal advisor to powerful interests including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, and as a lobbyist for Fannie Mae, where he oversaw the mortgage giant’s aggressive campaign to undermine the credibility of a probe into its accounting irregularities, according to government reports and public disclosure forms. … While housing sales were still booming, internally these were troubled years for the company. In a report first noted by ABC News in 2008, Donilon is described as someone who lobbied for and helped paint a rosy picture of Fannie Mae’s financial health to the company’s board. He did so at a time when Fannie Mae faced accusations that it was misstating its earnings from 1998 to 2004.”

This is what a flaky candidate sounds like: “Jerry Brown: Mammograms not effective.”

This is what desperation looks like: “Forget the myth of an Obama recovery. The past week has been disastrous for the White House and America’s increasingly disillusioned Left. No wonder the angry and desperate Vice President Joe Biden is talking about ‘playing hell’ if his party suffers defeat in November.”

This is what old-style politics sounds like: “White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the burden of proving false the charge by Democrats that the business group is funneling foreign money to Republican campaigns. Axelrod was pressed by CBS’ Bob Schieffer on Sunday for evidence that the foreign campaign contributions benefiting the GOP is more than ‘peanuts.’  ‘Do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?’ Axelrod said on ‘Face the Nation.’  Ed Gillespie responded that it “was ‘an unbelievable mentality’ for Axelrod to assert charges about foreign contributions without backing them up.” It’s all too believable, unfortunately.

This is what a wave election looks like: “Democrats are buying advertising in places they hadn’t previously reserved it, a strong indication the battlefield is expanding. That includes New England, which hasn’t a single Republican House member. A new ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began airing this week in the Massachusetts district covering Cape Cod, where Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt is retiring and ex-police sergeant Jeff Perry is posting a strong GOP challenge.”

This is what a lousy TV appearance looks like: “Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois Democrat running for President Obama’s old Senate seat, said Sunday that he wants to “reform” the president’s health care overhaul, and that the $814 billion stimulus was imperfect but that it prevented Americans from standing in soup lines. Giannoulias, who appeared on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ to debate Republican Mark Kirk, was on the defensive throughout the debate regarding Obama’s policies, as well as his past work for his family’s community bank and its ties to mob figures.”

This is what an eloquent first lady’s writing looks like: “Though some Afghan leaders have condemned the violence and defended the rights of women, others maintain a complicit silence in hopes of achieving peace. But peace attained by compromising the rights of half of the population will not last. Offenses against women erode security for all Afghans — men and women. And a culture that tolerates injustice against one group of its people ultimately fails to respect and value all its citizens.” Yeah, I miss her too.

This is what the GOP sounded like in 2006. “The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee brushed off various members’ ads touting opposition to President Obama and Speakers Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying that it simply shows the party is a big tent unlike the right.”

This is what “hope and change” looks like? “President Obama’s new National Security Advisor spent the decade prior to joining the White House as a legal advisor to powerful interests including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, and as a lobbyist for Fannie Mae, where he oversaw the mortgage giant’s aggressive campaign to undermine the credibility of a probe into its accounting irregularities, according to government reports and public disclosure forms. … While housing sales were still booming, internally these were troubled years for the company. In a report first noted by ABC News in 2008, Donilon is described as someone who lobbied for and helped paint a rosy picture of Fannie Mae’s financial health to the company’s board. He did so at a time when Fannie Mae faced accusations that it was misstating its earnings from 1998 to 2004.”

This is what a flaky candidate sounds like: “Jerry Brown: Mammograms not effective.”

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The Last Thing This Administration Needs

Earlier this month, I commented that it was quite possible that Obama could choose a worse chief of staff to replace Rahm Emanuel — Valerie Jarrett. Her personal judgment is poor, her political instincts run far-left, and she is so cozy with the president, she’s unlikely to part with him — or deliver contrary views — and thereby curb his most self-destructive tendencies. Dana Milbank confirms my take:

As the senior adviser in charge of “public engagement,” she has been the White House official responsible for maintaining relationships with the business community and with liberal interest groups — two of the most conspicuous areas of failure for the White House during Obama’s first two years.

She’s also the one who arranged the hiring of social secretary Desiree Rogers, only to cut her friend loose when Rogers was tarnished by the party-crashing Salahis at a state dinner in November.

In addition to Jarrett’s hiring of Van Jones, support for the Ground Zero mosque, and enthusiasm for Fox News–bashing, Milbank points out that she’s ridden to the rescue of two problematic figures:

Consider the recent hiring of Harvard’s Elizabeth Warren as the White House official in charge of setting up the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. Emanuel and others had opposed the appointment on grounds that Warren is difficult to work with and politically radioactive. But Jarrett, arguing for the need for more senior women in the White House, got Obama to overrule Warren’s detractors. …

Jarrett made a similar intervention months earlier, when some senior White House officials were losing confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder. His job appeared to be in jeopardy over the decision to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammad on trial in New York, but Jarrett made sure that Holder, a friend, would remain in good standing.

Her judgment is deeply flawed, and her ascension would essentially rule out any significant policy readjustment by the Obama administration.  Selecting her would confirm that Obama is not one to self-reflect, admit error, and adjust to new circumstances.

Earlier this month, I commented that it was quite possible that Obama could choose a worse chief of staff to replace Rahm Emanuel — Valerie Jarrett. Her personal judgment is poor, her political instincts run far-left, and she is so cozy with the president, she’s unlikely to part with him — or deliver contrary views — and thereby curb his most self-destructive tendencies. Dana Milbank confirms my take:

As the senior adviser in charge of “public engagement,” she has been the White House official responsible for maintaining relationships with the business community and with liberal interest groups — two of the most conspicuous areas of failure for the White House during Obama’s first two years.

She’s also the one who arranged the hiring of social secretary Desiree Rogers, only to cut her friend loose when Rogers was tarnished by the party-crashing Salahis at a state dinner in November.

In addition to Jarrett’s hiring of Van Jones, support for the Ground Zero mosque, and enthusiasm for Fox News–bashing, Milbank points out that she’s ridden to the rescue of two problematic figures:

Consider the recent hiring of Harvard’s Elizabeth Warren as the White House official in charge of setting up the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. Emanuel and others had opposed the appointment on grounds that Warren is difficult to work with and politically radioactive. But Jarrett, arguing for the need for more senior women in the White House, got Obama to overrule Warren’s detractors. …

Jarrett made a similar intervention months earlier, when some senior White House officials were losing confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder. His job appeared to be in jeopardy over the decision to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammad on trial in New York, but Jarrett made sure that Holder, a friend, would remain in good standing.

Her judgment is deeply flawed, and her ascension would essentially rule out any significant policy readjustment by the Obama administration.  Selecting her would confirm that Obama is not one to self-reflect, admit error, and adjust to new circumstances.

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Soros Unmasked

We have learned that J Street is not the grassroots group it has made itself out to be; rather, it is but one anti-Israel organization that George Soros had founded and funded. It isn’t simply $750,000 for J Street to advance its (or rather, Soros’s) Israel-bashing agenda. There is also Human Rights Watch.

As many others have documented, Human Rights Watch is another exercise in false advertising. Noah Pollak has adeptly analyzed HRW’s anti-Israel agenda, which has featured infamous figures like Joe Stork. Who is HRW’s sugar daddy? None other than George Soros – to the tune of $100 million.

Then there is MoveOn.org, the leftist group that ran the infamous “General Betray-us” ads and sought to move the Democratic Party and the country left. Who was the founder and financier of MoveOn.org? Well, it wasn’t netroots sending in pennies and dimes. It was Soros, who fed the group $5 million. With his pocket change ($20,000), he also contributed to the legal defense fund for terrorist’s lawyer Lynne Stewart. Read More

We have learned that J Street is not the grassroots group it has made itself out to be; rather, it is but one anti-Israel organization that George Soros had founded and funded. It isn’t simply $750,000 for J Street to advance its (or rather, Soros’s) Israel-bashing agenda. There is also Human Rights Watch.

As many others have documented, Human Rights Watch is another exercise in false advertising. Noah Pollak has adeptly analyzed HRW’s anti-Israel agenda, which has featured infamous figures like Joe Stork. Who is HRW’s sugar daddy? None other than George Soros – to the tune of $100 million.

Then there is MoveOn.org, the leftist group that ran the infamous “General Betray-us” ads and sought to move the Democratic Party and the country left. Who was the founder and financier of MoveOn.org? Well, it wasn’t netroots sending in pennies and dimes. It was Soros, who fed the group $5 million. With his pocket change ($20,000), he also contributed to the legal defense fund for terrorist’s lawyer Lynne Stewart.

The pattern is clear here: where there is a well-funded group seeking to undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship, delegitimize Israel, or push for America’s retreat from the world, it’s a good bet Soros is behind it. HRW and J Street should be seen in that light — the facade for a billionaire whose animosity toward Israel is well documented and who figuratively and literally bets against the West. (He bragged in 1992 that he broke the Bank of England by selling short $10 billion in British pound sterling.) A pro-Israel activist sums up (I have provided links for reference purposes):

Jeremy Ben Ami says he wants to change the meaning of “pro-Israel,” and now this week we hear from him what we’ve suspected all along: that J Street is “with the values and principles” of George Soros, and we all know what that means when it comes to Israel. His $100m gift to Human Rights Watch after their founder denounces them in the New York Times as obsessed with Israel and having lost all moral basis, their top military analyst is outed as an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia, and the head of their Middle East division, who has a poster in her office for a movie praising suicide bombing, is caught with her hand in the Saudi cookie jar begging for money to beat up on Israel, is a vivid reminder of who J Street’s mentor is.

And, of course, at the center of this operation is Soros’s right-hand man, Mort Halperin, who heads Soros’s OSI (the entity that spreads Soros’s money around). Follow the bouncing ball: Halperin is OSI’s senior adviser, but he’s also on Soros Street’s advisory council to keep an eye on Soros’s investment. And to boot, he wrote Richard Goldstone’s defense. How efficient.

A number of questions remain: How long will J Street survive? Are Jeremy Ben Ami’s days as a Beltway operator over? (The activist comments: “So when Jeremy says he wants to ‘redefine’ the word ‘pro-Israel,’ yeah, he does. So as to include anti-Israel, and hostile to Israel, and ambivalent to Israel, and  pretty much anything but actually ‘PRO-Israel.’ The jig is up.”) It will be fascinating to see if the media and politicians grasp that Soros-Halperin groups aren’t genuine expressions of popular opinion but rather the play things of a single billionaire. Will those who receive Soros’s money — think tanks, organizations, politicians — become concerned that they will be viewed as weapons in Soros’s personal arsenal?

And while we are on the subject of shadowy funders, Obama and David Axelrod have been whining about the influence of independent money in America politics. Obama has been obsessing over “corporate money.” (“The only people who don’t want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide.”) He’s furious that “the biggest impediment we have right now is that independent expenditures coming from special interests — who we don’t know because they’re not obligated to disclose their contributions under a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United — means that in some places, you’ve got third parties that are spending millions more than the candidates combined, more than the parties in these states.” Axelrod is incensed about the “audacious stealth campaign being mounted by powerful corporate special interests.” He is so very concerned: “There is still time for the media to shine a light on these front groups. There is still time for an aroused public to rise up against this ominous special-interest hijacking of our elections. There is still time for candidates on both sides of the aisle to take the side of average Americans and challenge these groups to disclose their secret funders.”

So are they ready to call out Soros, demand that he stop flooding elections with his loot, and cut off ties with his lackeys? (One wonders if J Street’s officials will get any more White House visits.) Don’t hold your breath. It’s only the other guys’ money that is a threat; the liberals will — and apparently do — take Soros’s money anytime.

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The Irresponsible Commander in Chief

The Washington Post is teasing the release of Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses on the war in Afghanistan. Usually in Woodward’s offerings, those who cooperate with the author come off the best, and those who don’t — well, don’t. But in this case, Obama did agree to be interviewed, and it is therefore surprising, at least from the Post‘s telling, how poorly Obama comes across. And frankly, those who are forever  searching for some sign of maturity in the commander in chief and pronouncing that he really “gets it” look rather silly themselves.

First off, Obama was obsessed with an Afghanistan exit strategy, determined to get out no matter what the advice of his military advisers:

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.” … Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

The disregard for his responsibilities — the equivalent of putting his fingers in his ears and humming — is stunning. It also stands in sharp contrast with his predecessor, who insisted on a review of flawed policy and ultimately the implementation of a winning one:

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] … unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Imagine FDR telling General Eisenhower, “I don’t want to hear things aren’t going well in Italy.” It’s inconceivable that Obama’s supposed role model, Abraham Lincoln, would have said, “No more news about McClellan’s shortcomings.” But then Obama’s not much for “victory”:

Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

After Obama, it is his political advisers who come off worst:

National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama’s political aides as “the water bugs,” the “Politburo,” the “Mafia,” or the “campaign set.” Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod to be “a complete spin doctor.”

But then it is the president who put political hacks in the thick of war-planning.

Obama’s peevishness and determination to avoid facts that conflict with his ideological disposition are chilling. His apparent disinclination to pursue victory should frighten both allies and foes. Has he matured since the events detailed in the book? We have no evidence of that. I think it’s time to stop pretending that Obama is “growing” in the job and that he understands the responsibilities of a wartime president.

The Washington Post is teasing the release of Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses on the war in Afghanistan. Usually in Woodward’s offerings, those who cooperate with the author come off the best, and those who don’t — well, don’t. But in this case, Obama did agree to be interviewed, and it is therefore surprising, at least from the Post‘s telling, how poorly Obama comes across. And frankly, those who are forever  searching for some sign of maturity in the commander in chief and pronouncing that he really “gets it” look rather silly themselves.

First off, Obama was obsessed with an Afghanistan exit strategy, determined to get out no matter what the advice of his military advisers:

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.” … Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

The disregard for his responsibilities — the equivalent of putting his fingers in his ears and humming — is stunning. It also stands in sharp contrast with his predecessor, who insisted on a review of flawed policy and ultimately the implementation of a winning one:

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] … unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Imagine FDR telling General Eisenhower, “I don’t want to hear things aren’t going well in Italy.” It’s inconceivable that Obama’s supposed role model, Abraham Lincoln, would have said, “No more news about McClellan’s shortcomings.” But then Obama’s not much for “victory”:

Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

After Obama, it is his political advisers who come off worst:

National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama’s political aides as “the water bugs,” the “Politburo,” the “Mafia,” or the “campaign set.” Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod to be “a complete spin doctor.”

But then it is the president who put political hacks in the thick of war-planning.

Obama’s peevishness and determination to avoid facts that conflict with his ideological disposition are chilling. His apparent disinclination to pursue victory should frighten both allies and foes. Has he matured since the events detailed in the book? We have no evidence of that. I think it’s time to stop pretending that Obama is “growing” in the job and that he understands the responsibilities of a wartime president.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Other than that, he’s done just fine. Howard Fineman: “Obama misread his mandate. … Obama misread the clock. … Obama misread his surroundings.” And most of all, the mainstream media misread him.

Other than “delusional,” how would you describe this? “White House senior adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that he thinks voters will eventually warm to health care reform.”

Other than the Obami, who likes ObamaCare? “Many Democrats have joined Republicans in pushing for the repeal of a tax provision in the new health care law that imposes a huge information-reporting burden on small businesses.” And that’s the New York Times reporting.

Other than Larry King, who has the good sense to retire, is there a worse interviewer than Christiane Amanpour? Not a single tough follow-up question in her chat with Imam Abdul Rauf, no queries about his funding for the Ground Zero mosque, and no questions about his statements blaming the U.S. for 9/11. ABC execs who thought putting her in the host’s chair was a great idea should be embarrassed.

Other than keeping the current line-up, what personnel decision would be a loser? “There are indications that Obama plans to replace Emanuel with a loyalist. Among the names being floated is Valerie Jarrett, whose sole qualification for having a White House job is that she is a long-time Obama friend. In one of the most hilariously revealing utterances of the Obama presidency, Jarrett stated that the White House was ‘speaking truth to power’ by castigating Fox News. To make Jarrett chief of staff would be disastrous.”

Other than this, the recovery is going swell: “President Obama’s new chairman of the Council of Economic Affairs (CEA) said Sunday that the national unemployment rate will not decrease significantly anytime soon.”

Other than losing independents, turning off his base, and energizing conservatives, Obama has been great for his party. “Obama voters evince little interest in the midterm election. When they express goodwill toward the president, it rarely extends to his allies in Congress. Many do not consider themselves Democrats. Pew’s survey experts routinely ask respondents to characterize the president in a single word. In their most recent poll, conducted this summer, more respondents than ever answered with the word ‘disappointing.’ Some who threw their lot in with Obama expressed a sense of being let down by the man who promised change and pledged to transform the country. Some attributed that to their own lofty expectations and, perhaps, their naivete. Others pointed to what they saw as his lack of focus on the still-faltering economy.” These were people who voted for him in 2008.

Other than that, he’s done just fine. Howard Fineman: “Obama misread his mandate. … Obama misread the clock. … Obama misread his surroundings.” And most of all, the mainstream media misread him.

Other than “delusional,” how would you describe this? “White House senior adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that he thinks voters will eventually warm to health care reform.”

Other than the Obami, who likes ObamaCare? “Many Democrats have joined Republicans in pushing for the repeal of a tax provision in the new health care law that imposes a huge information-reporting burden on small businesses.” And that’s the New York Times reporting.

Other than Larry King, who has the good sense to retire, is there a worse interviewer than Christiane Amanpour? Not a single tough follow-up question in her chat with Imam Abdul Rauf, no queries about his funding for the Ground Zero mosque, and no questions about his statements blaming the U.S. for 9/11. ABC execs who thought putting her in the host’s chair was a great idea should be embarrassed.

Other than keeping the current line-up, what personnel decision would be a loser? “There are indications that Obama plans to replace Emanuel with a loyalist. Among the names being floated is Valerie Jarrett, whose sole qualification for having a White House job is that she is a long-time Obama friend. In one of the most hilariously revealing utterances of the Obama presidency, Jarrett stated that the White House was ‘speaking truth to power’ by castigating Fox News. To make Jarrett chief of staff would be disastrous.”

Other than this, the recovery is going swell: “President Obama’s new chairman of the Council of Economic Affairs (CEA) said Sunday that the national unemployment rate will not decrease significantly anytime soon.”

Other than losing independents, turning off his base, and energizing conservatives, Obama has been great for his party. “Obama voters evince little interest in the midterm election. When they express goodwill toward the president, it rarely extends to his allies in Congress. Many do not consider themselves Democrats. Pew’s survey experts routinely ask respondents to characterize the president in a single word. In their most recent poll, conducted this summer, more respondents than ever answered with the word ‘disappointing.’ Some who threw their lot in with Obama expressed a sense of being let down by the man who promised change and pledged to transform the country. Some attributed that to their own lofty expectations and, perhaps, their naivete. Others pointed to what they saw as his lack of focus on the still-faltering economy.” These were people who voted for him in 2008.

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The Increasingly Self-Pitying Obama White House

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

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Obama’s “False Narrative”

Dan Balz of the Washington Post has written an article on President Obama’s dismal standing among independents (it stands at 38 percent approval according to Gallup, an 18-point difference from a year ago). Balz quotes both Republican and Democratic strategists in searching for the reason for this perilous polling condition: high unemployment, an unpopular health-care law, bigger government, a liberal governing agenda, lack of bipartisanship, and the inability to change the culture of Washington. And then we find this:

White House senior adviser David Axelrod said that the criticism of Obama as a big-spending liberal grows out of decisions the president felt he had to make to prevent a depression. “We were forced to do things from the start to deal with this economic crisis that helped create a false narrative about spending and deficits that’s had some impact on independent voters,” Axelrod said. “And that’s something we have to work on.”

Ah, yes, there’s that darn False Narrative again.

According to the True Narrative, Obama the Great acted with wisdom and courage to forestall another Great Depression. The charges of profligate spending have been manufactured out of thin air. The stimulus package has been a spectacular success. ObamaCare will bend the cost curve down. The economy is doing swimmingly. The outreach to the Muslim world has led to unprecedented breakthroughs. Nation after nation — Iran, Turkey, Russia, China, Brazil, Venezuela — are bending to Obama’s will. And all the problems America faces — from nearly 10 percent unemployment to polarization to acne among teens — are owing to Obama’s predecessor.

Yet because the Forces of Darkness so thoroughly and completely control the media and dominate the messaging wars — because Republicans have such fantastic spokesmen as RNC Chairman Michael Steele and Democrats have no bully pulpits available to them — Obama has become massively unpopular among independents. The White House, you see, has a message problem, but no other. Once they get their message out better, Obama will once again stride atop the political world.

Within the walls of the White House, it seems, Barack Obama is still viewed by people like Mr. Axelrod as a near-mythical figure. To much of the rest of the nation, he appears to be presiding over a failing presidency. If Obama and his top advisers persist in their self-delusion — which is unusual even for those working in a profession (politics) prone to self-delusion — they and their party are going to face, sooner or later, a brutal awakening.

Dan Balz of the Washington Post has written an article on President Obama’s dismal standing among independents (it stands at 38 percent approval according to Gallup, an 18-point difference from a year ago). Balz quotes both Republican and Democratic strategists in searching for the reason for this perilous polling condition: high unemployment, an unpopular health-care law, bigger government, a liberal governing agenda, lack of bipartisanship, and the inability to change the culture of Washington. And then we find this:

White House senior adviser David Axelrod said that the criticism of Obama as a big-spending liberal grows out of decisions the president felt he had to make to prevent a depression. “We were forced to do things from the start to deal with this economic crisis that helped create a false narrative about spending and deficits that’s had some impact on independent voters,” Axelrod said. “And that’s something we have to work on.”

Ah, yes, there’s that darn False Narrative again.

According to the True Narrative, Obama the Great acted with wisdom and courage to forestall another Great Depression. The charges of profligate spending have been manufactured out of thin air. The stimulus package has been a spectacular success. ObamaCare will bend the cost curve down. The economy is doing swimmingly. The outreach to the Muslim world has led to unprecedented breakthroughs. Nation after nation — Iran, Turkey, Russia, China, Brazil, Venezuela — are bending to Obama’s will. And all the problems America faces — from nearly 10 percent unemployment to polarization to acne among teens — are owing to Obama’s predecessor.

Yet because the Forces of Darkness so thoroughly and completely control the media and dominate the messaging wars — because Republicans have such fantastic spokesmen as RNC Chairman Michael Steele and Democrats have no bully pulpits available to them — Obama has become massively unpopular among independents. The White House, you see, has a message problem, but no other. Once they get their message out better, Obama will once again stride atop the political world.

Within the walls of the White House, it seems, Barack Obama is still viewed by people like Mr. Axelrod as a near-mythical figure. To much of the rest of the nation, he appears to be presiding over a failing presidency. If Obama and his top advisers persist in their self-delusion — which is unusual even for those working in a profession (politics) prone to self-delusion — they and their party are going to face, sooner or later, a brutal awakening.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Warren Buffett doesn’t think Goldman Sachs did anything wrong: “t doesn’t make any difference whether it was Paulson on the other side of the deal or whether Goldman was on the other side of the deal or whether Berkshire was on the other side of the deal.”

Obama sure doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help Congressional Democrats: “President Barack Obama’s Washington-bashing could boomerang on his own party in Congress if he’s not careful, House Democratic leaders warned White House senior adviser Daivd Axelrod in a closed-door meeting Thursday. The fear — raised by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, campaign chief Chris Van Hollen and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn — is that Democrats have more to lose if anti-Washington sentiment is not directed at one party or the other.” Somehow Obama thinks voters won’t notice that he’s part of Washington.

Hezbollah and Syria have gotten the idea that the Obami aren’t going to do anything about the Scud missiles in Lebanon: “Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday that the Lebanese militia had a ‘legal and humanitarian’ right to amass weapons in order to protect those ‘oppressed and threatened by Israel,’ Israel Radio reported Saturday.”

The Gray Lady criticizes Obama for not doing anything about the Florida oil spill for days: “The company, BP, seems to have been slow to ask for help, and, on Friday, both federal and state officials accused it of not moving aggressively or swiftly enough. Yet the administration should not have waited, and should have intervened much more quickly on its own initiative. A White House as politically attuned as this one should have been conscious of two obvious historical lessons. One was the Exxon Valdez, where a late and lame response by both industry and the federal government all but destroyed one of the country’s richest fishing grounds and ended up costing billions of dollars. The other was President George W. Bush’s hapless response to Hurricane Katrina.” Ouch.

Big Insurance can’t find anything wrong with the Obami’s financial-reform bill. But “don’t expect this fact to get in the way of Obama portraying this bill as a broadside to the special interests. And that reformer-vs-industry narrative, like an old blanket or a bowl of chicken-noodle soup, is too familiar and too comfortable for the mainstream press to shed.”

Matt Continetti doesn’t see anything that will absorb Obama and his fellow Democrats as much as bullying his opponents: “Iran is close to obtaining nuclear weapons. The euro zone is in crisis. The U.S. unemployment rate is near 10 percent. America’s social insurance programs threaten to bankrupt the country. And—most unusual—the Washington Nationals are above .500. But rest easy. None of this is distracting the Obama administration and congressional Democrats from their full-time occupation: demonizing the political opposition.”

Stuart Rothenberg doesn’t think Charlie Crist’s independent run changes much of anything in the senate outlook: “Florida Governor Charlie’ Crist’s switch out of the GOP Senate race and into the Senate contest as an Independent, combined with the entry of wealthy businessman Jeff Greene into the Democrat race, adds some uncertainty into the contest. But it doesn’t, in our view, change the bottom line entirely. Move from Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party to Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party. Marco Rubio (R) remains the favorite, but the three-way contest is more unpredictable.” He thinks “the GOP seems most likely to net 5-7 Senate seats, with a 8-seat gain certainly possible (but still short of the 10-seat gain the GOP would need for control).”

Is anything going the Democrats’ way? Not really, says Charlie Cook: “The most recent, and quite compelling, bad omen surfaced in an April 27 Gallup report. The polling organization found that, based on interviews with more than 5,000 registered voters from April 1-25, Democrats had a 4-point lead in the generic congressional ballot test among those ‘not enthusiastic about voting.’ Among the all-important ‘very enthusiastic’ crowd, aka the folks most likely to vote, Democrats trailed by a whopping 20 points, 57 percent to 37 percent. . . . Even Democratic analysts don’t express much optimism about their party’s chances this fall.”

Warren Buffett doesn’t think Goldman Sachs did anything wrong: “t doesn’t make any difference whether it was Paulson on the other side of the deal or whether Goldman was on the other side of the deal or whether Berkshire was on the other side of the deal.”

Obama sure doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help Congressional Democrats: “President Barack Obama’s Washington-bashing could boomerang on his own party in Congress if he’s not careful, House Democratic leaders warned White House senior adviser Daivd Axelrod in a closed-door meeting Thursday. The fear — raised by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, campaign chief Chris Van Hollen and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn — is that Democrats have more to lose if anti-Washington sentiment is not directed at one party or the other.” Somehow Obama thinks voters won’t notice that he’s part of Washington.

Hezbollah and Syria have gotten the idea that the Obami aren’t going to do anything about the Scud missiles in Lebanon: “Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday that the Lebanese militia had a ‘legal and humanitarian’ right to amass weapons in order to protect those ‘oppressed and threatened by Israel,’ Israel Radio reported Saturday.”

The Gray Lady criticizes Obama for not doing anything about the Florida oil spill for days: “The company, BP, seems to have been slow to ask for help, and, on Friday, both federal and state officials accused it of not moving aggressively or swiftly enough. Yet the administration should not have waited, and should have intervened much more quickly on its own initiative. A White House as politically attuned as this one should have been conscious of two obvious historical lessons. One was the Exxon Valdez, where a late and lame response by both industry and the federal government all but destroyed one of the country’s richest fishing grounds and ended up costing billions of dollars. The other was President George W. Bush’s hapless response to Hurricane Katrina.” Ouch.

Big Insurance can’t find anything wrong with the Obami’s financial-reform bill. But “don’t expect this fact to get in the way of Obama portraying this bill as a broadside to the special interests. And that reformer-vs-industry narrative, like an old blanket or a bowl of chicken-noodle soup, is too familiar and too comfortable for the mainstream press to shed.”

Matt Continetti doesn’t see anything that will absorb Obama and his fellow Democrats as much as bullying his opponents: “Iran is close to obtaining nuclear weapons. The euro zone is in crisis. The U.S. unemployment rate is near 10 percent. America’s social insurance programs threaten to bankrupt the country. And—most unusual—the Washington Nationals are above .500. But rest easy. None of this is distracting the Obama administration and congressional Democrats from their full-time occupation: demonizing the political opposition.”

Stuart Rothenberg doesn’t think Charlie Crist’s independent run changes much of anything in the senate outlook: “Florida Governor Charlie’ Crist’s switch out of the GOP Senate race and into the Senate contest as an Independent, combined with the entry of wealthy businessman Jeff Greene into the Democrat race, adds some uncertainty into the contest. But it doesn’t, in our view, change the bottom line entirely. Move from Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party to Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party. Marco Rubio (R) remains the favorite, but the three-way contest is more unpredictable.” He thinks “the GOP seems most likely to net 5-7 Senate seats, with a 8-seat gain certainly possible (but still short of the 10-seat gain the GOP would need for control).”

Is anything going the Democrats’ way? Not really, says Charlie Cook: “The most recent, and quite compelling, bad omen surfaced in an April 27 Gallup report. The polling organization found that, based on interviews with more than 5,000 registered voters from April 1-25, Democrats had a 4-point lead in the generic congressional ballot test among those ‘not enthusiastic about voting.’ Among the all-important ‘very enthusiastic’ crowd, aka the folks most likely to vote, Democrats trailed by a whopping 20 points, 57 percent to 37 percent. . . . Even Democratic analysts don’t express much optimism about their party’s chances this fall.”

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Obama Escapes From His Offshore-Drilling Promise

So much for the Obami’s willingness to pursue domestic energy exploration and drilling:

There will be no new domestic offshore oil drilling pending a review of the rig disaster and massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast, the White House said Friday morning. Speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” senior adviser David Axelrod said “no additional [offshore] drilling has been authorized, and none will until we find out what happened and whether there was something unique and preventable here. … No domestic drilling in new areas is going to go forward until there is an adequate review of what’s happened here and of what is being proposed elsewhere.” The administration recently announced that it would open new coastal areas to oil exploration, including regions off Virginia’s coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, ending a long moratorium on new drilling.

Well, in essence, this gets the administration off the hook with enraged environmental lobbyists who went berserk when Obama suggested that we might open up offshore drilling. But then there was always less than met the eye when it came to Obama’s commitment to domestic energy development: “Any new drilling was years away anyway under the administration’s new drilling policy, which was interpreted as an attempt to show bipartisanship in energy policy and get greater support in the process for climate legislation.” So now even the fig leaf of bipartisanship is gone. And that “review,” one can bet, will be just as slow as the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell review. In short, the Obami aren’t about to move any quicker on offshore drilling than they are on gays in the military.

So much for the Obami’s willingness to pursue domestic energy exploration and drilling:

There will be no new domestic offshore oil drilling pending a review of the rig disaster and massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast, the White House said Friday morning. Speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” senior adviser David Axelrod said “no additional [offshore] drilling has been authorized, and none will until we find out what happened and whether there was something unique and preventable here. … No domestic drilling in new areas is going to go forward until there is an adequate review of what’s happened here and of what is being proposed elsewhere.” The administration recently announced that it would open new coastal areas to oil exploration, including regions off Virginia’s coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, ending a long moratorium on new drilling.

Well, in essence, this gets the administration off the hook with enraged environmental lobbyists who went berserk when Obama suggested that we might open up offshore drilling. But then there was always less than met the eye when it came to Obama’s commitment to domestic energy development: “Any new drilling was years away anyway under the administration’s new drilling policy, which was interpreted as an attempt to show bipartisanship in energy policy and get greater support in the process for climate legislation.” So now even the fig leaf of bipartisanship is gone. And that “review,” one can bet, will be just as slow as the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell review. In short, the Obami aren’t about to move any quicker on offshore drilling than they are on gays in the military.

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The Rahm Chronicles

The Washington Post runs another “It’s not Rahm Emanuel’s fault” piece, decrying Obama’s, and it seems David Axelrod’s, failure to heed the chief of staff’s advice. We’ve seen the drip, drip, drip of these stories already, making clear that the KSM trial was not Emanuel’s idea and that he has valiantly fought against the excesses of the Obami. (How this meshes with Emanuel’s own admonition that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste” isn’t clear. Wasn’t Emanuel fighting for the “do it all fast” ultra-liberal agenda?) On KSM, we’re told:

Emanuel made his case to Obama, articulating the political dangers of a civilian trial to congressional Democrats. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. presented a counterargument rooted in principle, for civilian trials.

David Axelrod, senior adviser to Obama, supported Holder, the source said. The president agreed that letting the Justice Department take the lead was the right thing to do.

“Axelrod has a strong view of the historic character Obama is supposed to be,” said an early Obama supporter who is close to the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity to give a frank assessment of frustration with the White House. The source blamed Obama’s charmed political life for creating a self-confidence and trust in principle that led to an “indifference to doing the small, marginal things a White House could do to mitigate the problems on the Hill. Rahm knows the geography better.”

Now that sort of I-know-better-than-the-president spin is going to get a chief of staff in trouble. And indeed it’s apparently ruffling some feathers. (“But the Rahm-knows-better-than-the-president notion, increasingly spread by his allies and articulated in a Washington Post column by Dana Milbank last month, is, regardless of its relation to reality, creating more tension for the chief of staff inside the White House and drawing more scrutiny from outside.”) But the fact remains that Emanuel and those close to him feel compelled to make clear to all who will listen that it’s not his fault. Honest.

Aside from the phalanx of Obama spinners who hoped for so much more from this president, the real fretters are congressional Democrats. The Post explains:

Another senior member of the House Democratic caucus put it more bluntly. “I don’t think the White House has listened to him enough,” said the member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss frustration with the White House. “There is this growing sense in the House that this White House is tone-deaf and doesn’t care about 2010, that it is sacrificing members for 2012 and that the president thinks he doesn’t need to get engaged, or that he thinks politics don’t matter and that he could care less about what is happening on the streets of our districts. That’s not Rahm.”

One early supporter of Obama, who has known Emanuel for years, did not give the chief of staff a pass. “The House members recruited by Rahm say to me, ‘He is supposed to know our needs; how come we are being cut off at the knees on so many issues?’ They don’t understand why Rahm is not being more aggressive.”

Implicit is the realization that Obama is seriously out to lunch on the implications of his agenda and the impact his presidency is having on his fellow Democrats. It’s all well and good to play the Washington version of Kremlinology, but in the end no set of advisers can counteract a president bound and determined to do foolish things or lacking in some essential executive skills. As frustrating as the Emanuel vs. Axelrod and Emanuel vs. Obama conflicts may be for them, the Democrats’ real beef is with the president. And unless he undergoes some serious self-evaluation and makes a dramatic course correction, their problems will only intensify. And after November, they will likely have far fewer colleagues with whom to commiserate.

The Washington Post runs another “It’s not Rahm Emanuel’s fault” piece, decrying Obama’s, and it seems David Axelrod’s, failure to heed the chief of staff’s advice. We’ve seen the drip, drip, drip of these stories already, making clear that the KSM trial was not Emanuel’s idea and that he has valiantly fought against the excesses of the Obami. (How this meshes with Emanuel’s own admonition that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste” isn’t clear. Wasn’t Emanuel fighting for the “do it all fast” ultra-liberal agenda?) On KSM, we’re told:

Emanuel made his case to Obama, articulating the political dangers of a civilian trial to congressional Democrats. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. presented a counterargument rooted in principle, for civilian trials.

David Axelrod, senior adviser to Obama, supported Holder, the source said. The president agreed that letting the Justice Department take the lead was the right thing to do.

“Axelrod has a strong view of the historic character Obama is supposed to be,” said an early Obama supporter who is close to the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity to give a frank assessment of frustration with the White House. The source blamed Obama’s charmed political life for creating a self-confidence and trust in principle that led to an “indifference to doing the small, marginal things a White House could do to mitigate the problems on the Hill. Rahm knows the geography better.”

Now that sort of I-know-better-than-the-president spin is going to get a chief of staff in trouble. And indeed it’s apparently ruffling some feathers. (“But the Rahm-knows-better-than-the-president notion, increasingly spread by his allies and articulated in a Washington Post column by Dana Milbank last month, is, regardless of its relation to reality, creating more tension for the chief of staff inside the White House and drawing more scrutiny from outside.”) But the fact remains that Emanuel and those close to him feel compelled to make clear to all who will listen that it’s not his fault. Honest.

Aside from the phalanx of Obama spinners who hoped for so much more from this president, the real fretters are congressional Democrats. The Post explains:

Another senior member of the House Democratic caucus put it more bluntly. “I don’t think the White House has listened to him enough,” said the member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss frustration with the White House. “There is this growing sense in the House that this White House is tone-deaf and doesn’t care about 2010, that it is sacrificing members for 2012 and that the president thinks he doesn’t need to get engaged, or that he thinks politics don’t matter and that he could care less about what is happening on the streets of our districts. That’s not Rahm.”

One early supporter of Obama, who has known Emanuel for years, did not give the chief of staff a pass. “The House members recruited by Rahm say to me, ‘He is supposed to know our needs; how come we are being cut off at the knees on so many issues?’ They don’t understand why Rahm is not being more aggressive.”

Implicit is the realization that Obama is seriously out to lunch on the implications of his agenda and the impact his presidency is having on his fellow Democrats. It’s all well and good to play the Washington version of Kremlinology, but in the end no set of advisers can counteract a president bound and determined to do foolish things or lacking in some essential executive skills. As frustrating as the Emanuel vs. Axelrod and Emanuel vs. Obama conflicts may be for them, the Democrats’ real beef is with the president. And unless he undergoes some serious self-evaluation and makes a dramatic course correction, their problems will only intensify. And after November, they will likely have far fewer colleagues with whom to commiserate.

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McCain Agrees with Clinton on This One

Hillary Clinton is turning up the heat on Barack Obama’s efforts to thwart re-votes in Michigan and Florida. This report explains just how tough the rhetoric is getting:

“When it comes to protecting the vote, he likes to say, ‘This is something I know something about,'” Deputy Communications Director Phil Singer said in a conference call. “Well, now he knows something about disenfranchising voters.” “Slapping these people is not the way to engender support and it gives the Republicans a real opening,” senior adviser Harold Ickes continued . “Florida, in particular, is really sensitive about disenfranchisement.” “It is absolutely critical that we start looking at the electoral vote map to start assembling 270 votes,” Ickes said, grouping Florida with other electoral battlegrounds.

There is, of course, a heavy dose of self-serving prognostication here. But it is not hard to imagine that in the general election John McCain would go to Florida and tell independents and Democrats that Obama shoved them out of the way to grab the nomination and now wants them to let bygones be bygones. Voters, self-centered creatures that they are, generally like to think that politicians value them. Obama’s tactics won’t sit well. (And, as we’ve learned, in Florida a very small number of “some voters” may be all it takes to swing the state one way or another.)

McCain used his primary race in January to put a state team in place and introduce himself to Florida voters. The Democrats didn’t and likely won’t do so (if Obama is successful in blocking a re-vote effort) until the nomination is decided. That’s an advantage for McCain, which is reflected in polling showing him leading both candidates.

As for Obama, an old-style strong-armed victory secured by excluding Florida and Michigan seems at odds with the era of new politics he is supposed to usher in. With each passing week and each tactical move Obama’s campaign seems less and less about “change” and more and more like hand-to-hand combat. For any ordinary candidate that might not be a problem. But for the savior of our entire political system it may be.

Hillary Clinton is turning up the heat on Barack Obama’s efforts to thwart re-votes in Michigan and Florida. This report explains just how tough the rhetoric is getting:

“When it comes to protecting the vote, he likes to say, ‘This is something I know something about,'” Deputy Communications Director Phil Singer said in a conference call. “Well, now he knows something about disenfranchising voters.” “Slapping these people is not the way to engender support and it gives the Republicans a real opening,” senior adviser Harold Ickes continued . “Florida, in particular, is really sensitive about disenfranchisement.” “It is absolutely critical that we start looking at the electoral vote map to start assembling 270 votes,” Ickes said, grouping Florida with other electoral battlegrounds.

There is, of course, a heavy dose of self-serving prognostication here. But it is not hard to imagine that in the general election John McCain would go to Florida and tell independents and Democrats that Obama shoved them out of the way to grab the nomination and now wants them to let bygones be bygones. Voters, self-centered creatures that they are, generally like to think that politicians value them. Obama’s tactics won’t sit well. (And, as we’ve learned, in Florida a very small number of “some voters” may be all it takes to swing the state one way or another.)

McCain used his primary race in January to put a state team in place and introduce himself to Florida voters. The Democrats didn’t and likely won’t do so (if Obama is successful in blocking a re-vote effort) until the nomination is decided. That’s an advantage for McCain, which is reflected in polling showing him leading both candidates.

As for Obama, an old-style strong-armed victory secured by excluding Florida and Michigan seems at odds with the era of new politics he is supposed to usher in. With each passing week and each tactical move Obama’s campaign seems less and less about “change” and more and more like hand-to-hand combat. For any ordinary candidate that might not be a problem. But for the savior of our entire political system it may be.

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NEVADA: Delegate War . . .

. . . as expected.
From MSNBC:

The Obama campaign just held a conference call with reporters asserting that — due to Obama beating Clinton outside of Clark County (Las Vegas) — they actually won more pledged Nevada delegates than Clinton did, 13-12.

From the Washington Post:

Both the chairwoman of the Nevada Democratic Party and a senior adviser for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign are insisting that the contention that Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) won more delegates in today’s caucus is incorrect.

The Clintons were calling foul when Hillary was clearly winning . . .

. . . as expected.
From MSNBC:

The Obama campaign just held a conference call with reporters asserting that — due to Obama beating Clinton outside of Clark County (Las Vegas) — they actually won more pledged Nevada delegates than Clinton did, 13-12.

From the Washington Post:

Both the chairwoman of the Nevada Democratic Party and a senior adviser for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign are insisting that the contention that Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) won more delegates in today’s caucus is incorrect.

The Clintons were calling foul when Hillary was clearly winning . . .

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The Most Unsurprising Politico-Intellectual News of the Year

Sidney Blumenthal is leaving his perch at Salon.com, where he writes weekly about American politics and the neoconservative menace with all the subtlety of Buddy Hackett and all the delicacy of Sophie Tucker, to become a senior adviser to…the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Sidney Blumenthal is leaving his perch at Salon.com, where he writes weekly about American politics and the neoconservative menace with all the subtlety of Buddy Hackett and all the delicacy of Sophie Tucker, to become a senior adviser to…the Hillary Clinton campaign.

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