Commentary Magazine


Topic: spasm

David Brooks vs. Straw Men

David Brooks is critical of an op-ed by AEI’s Arthur C. Brooks and Rep. Paul Ryan. The Times‘s Brooks is upset that the two conservatives don’t appreciate that there is a tradition of “limited but energetic” government, not simply “limited government.” Brooks is perhaps confusing Paul Ryan with Rand Paul.

Neither Ryan nor Brooks is a libertarian. And their op-ed rejects extreme notions (e.g., abolishing social security). Their sole plea is this:

[F]inding the right level of government for Americans is simply impossible unless we decide which ideal we prefer: a free enterprise society with a solid but limited safety net, or a cradle-to-grave, redistributive welfare state. Most Americans believe in assisting those temporarily down on their luck and those who cannot help themselves, as well as a public-private system of pensions for a secure retirement. But a clear majority believes that income redistribution and government care should be the exception and not the rule.

In fact, they make it clear that they are not for “no government”:

Nobody wants to privatize the Army or take away Grandma’s Social Security check. Even Friedrich Hayek in his famous book, “The Road to Serfdom,” reminded us that the state has legitimate—and critical—functions, from rectifying market failures to securing some minimum standard of living.

David Brooks has selected an odd target for his criticism. Ryan is among the most innovative reformers, one who has ideas on everything from education to health care. Is he really the example that Brooks is looking for? Brooks sounds the alarm:

If the current Republican Party regards every new bit of government action as a step on the road to serfdom, then the party will be taking this long, mainstream American tradition and exiling it from the G.O.P.

Well, he may be comforted by reading Ryan’s Roadmap. It strikes me as quite energetic.

Two additional points. Brooks claims that conservatism is supposed to be “nonideological and context driven.” Most modern conservatives believe it certainly is an ideology (although distinct from partisan loyalty). As for context, it is David, not Arthur, Brooks who seems to have lost track of where we are. We have experienced a gigantic spend-a-thon and a spasm of liberal statism. Ryan and Arthur Brooks are calling for a course correction. It seems an exceptionally timely adjustment.

David Brooks is critical of an op-ed by AEI’s Arthur C. Brooks and Rep. Paul Ryan. The Times‘s Brooks is upset that the two conservatives don’t appreciate that there is a tradition of “limited but energetic” government, not simply “limited government.” Brooks is perhaps confusing Paul Ryan with Rand Paul.

Neither Ryan nor Brooks is a libertarian. And their op-ed rejects extreme notions (e.g., abolishing social security). Their sole plea is this:

[F]inding the right level of government for Americans is simply impossible unless we decide which ideal we prefer: a free enterprise society with a solid but limited safety net, or a cradle-to-grave, redistributive welfare state. Most Americans believe in assisting those temporarily down on their luck and those who cannot help themselves, as well as a public-private system of pensions for a secure retirement. But a clear majority believes that income redistribution and government care should be the exception and not the rule.

In fact, they make it clear that they are not for “no government”:

Nobody wants to privatize the Army or take away Grandma’s Social Security check. Even Friedrich Hayek in his famous book, “The Road to Serfdom,” reminded us that the state has legitimate—and critical—functions, from rectifying market failures to securing some minimum standard of living.

David Brooks has selected an odd target for his criticism. Ryan is among the most innovative reformers, one who has ideas on everything from education to health care. Is he really the example that Brooks is looking for? Brooks sounds the alarm:

If the current Republican Party regards every new bit of government action as a step on the road to serfdom, then the party will be taking this long, mainstream American tradition and exiling it from the G.O.P.

Well, he may be comforted by reading Ryan’s Roadmap. It strikes me as quite energetic.

Two additional points. Brooks claims that conservatism is supposed to be “nonideological and context driven.” Most modern conservatives believe it certainly is an ideology (although distinct from partisan loyalty). As for context, it is David, not Arthur, Brooks who seems to have lost track of where we are. We have experienced a gigantic spend-a-thon and a spasm of liberal statism. Ryan and Arthur Brooks are calling for a course correction. It seems an exceptionally timely adjustment.

Read Less

Obama Unplugged — and Unintelligible

Before Obama’s presser on Friday, Michael Gerson wandered down the memory lane, recalling the 2008 campaign, when Obama’s “message had something to do with unity, healing and national purpose.” No more, he explained: “Obama’s initiatives … are not only unpopular; they have made it impossible for him to maintain the pretense of being a unifying, healing, once-in-a-generation leader. It is the agenda that undermined the idiom. With that image stripped away, Americans found Obama to be a somber, thoughtful, touchy, professorial, conventionally liberal political figure.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. For starters, it is hard to be “thoughtful” when you are touchy and prone to regurgitating leftist talking points. In fact, Obama’s Friday presser was at times rather incoherent — he didn’t change Washington, it’s the GOP’s fault, the stimulus isn’t really a stimulus but it is stimulating, and so forth. He insisted that, all along, he had warned that health-care costs would bend up (What!? When had that spasm of truth telling occurred?), and lamented that he couldn’t close Gitmo because of politics (i.e., there was no public support for it and no one solved the “where do we put them” problem.) At this point, all but the die-hard Obama supporters must be chagrined to find that the only straight answer he can give is on the Ground Zero mosque. (He is fine with it.)

Earlier in the week, it was pretty much the same story. In Thursday’s interview, Obama acknowledged: “If the election is a referendum on are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is, then we’re not going to do well. Because I think everybody feels like this economy needs to do better than it’s been doing.” Yup. And, after all, he said he’d be judged on the economy. That’s what a referendum is, after all — an opportunity for voters to give thumbs up or down on your performance.

Now, he wasn’t exactly taking responsibility for the economic mess. This is Obama, after all. So he insisted, “Well, look. If you’re asking are there mistakes that we made during the course of the last 19 months, I’m sure I make a mistake once a day. If you’re asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.” We’re still heading in the right direction, in his book. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asked which mistakes he made.

Even liberals are fed up with the excuses. Bob Herbert writes, “The Democrats are in deep, deep trouble because they have not effectively addressed the overwhelming concern of working men and women: an economy that is too weak to provide the jobs they need to support themselves and their families.” And Arianna Huffington neatly sums up:

[H]e admitted to making unspecified “mistakes,” but insisted, “if you are asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.”

Can he really believe that, with unemployment at 9.6 percent, underemployment at 16.7 percent, millions of homes foreclosed, millions more heading to foreclosure, and the middle class under assault?

In any case, this appears to be the administration’s story, and they are sticking to it — come hell or a double-dip recession.

The president’s comments were a continuation of the tack taken by Robert Gibbs who, when asked if the stimulus bill had been too small, offered this jaw-dropper: “I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. … Nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp of … what we were facing.”

In other words: who could have known? So much for changing the way Washington works. The Who Could Have Known mindset is at the very heart of the failure of our political system to address our mounting problems.

Even more telling than all that, however, was this nugget on extending the Bush tax cuts:

What I am saying is that if we are going to add to our deficit by $35 billion, $95 billion, $100 billion, $700 billion, if that’s the Republican agenda, then I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend that money.

“That” money is our money. But it sounds really horrid to say “I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend your money.” I’d be curious to know what better ways he has in mind. More billions on another flawed stimulus plan?

There is in his pre-election spin patrol a fundamental “cognitive dissonance,” as the Wall Street Journal editors put it. He feels compelled to toss a few limited tax breaks toward businesses but that hardly makes up for the incessant shin-kicking he delivers (“urging businesses to invest and lend more while attacking them for greed and sending jobs overseas”). The jabs are not merely rhetorical. In addition to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the administration has thrown at U.S. employers “a looming increase in capital gains and personal income tax rates, roughly half of which will come from noncorporate business profits; a minimum wage increase to $7.25 an hour from $6.55 in July 2009 when the jobless rate was 9%; the oil drilling moratorium, which has hit hundreds of small energy companies; the new health insurance mandate on employers with more than 50 employees; the new ObamaCare 1099 tax filing requirements; an increase in the death tax rate to 55% next year from zero today; a Medicare payroll tax increase to 3.8% from 2.9% starting in 2013; and compulsory unionism for government contractors and federal construction projects.”

To sum it all up, the voters are going to throw out his fellow Democrats if Americans follow Obama’s advice (hold the Democrats accountable for the economy). Despite control of both the White House and Congress, Obama whines that our problems are traceable to the Republican minority. He won’t concede that there is any connection between the massive burdens heaped on businesses and the paralysis on hiring by shell-shocked employers. And his underlying philosophy is that he knows best how to spend your money. No wonder Democrats don’t want to be seen campaigning with him.

Before Obama’s presser on Friday, Michael Gerson wandered down the memory lane, recalling the 2008 campaign, when Obama’s “message had something to do with unity, healing and national purpose.” No more, he explained: “Obama’s initiatives … are not only unpopular; they have made it impossible for him to maintain the pretense of being a unifying, healing, once-in-a-generation leader. It is the agenda that undermined the idiom. With that image stripped away, Americans found Obama to be a somber, thoughtful, touchy, professorial, conventionally liberal political figure.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. For starters, it is hard to be “thoughtful” when you are touchy and prone to regurgitating leftist talking points. In fact, Obama’s Friday presser was at times rather incoherent — he didn’t change Washington, it’s the GOP’s fault, the stimulus isn’t really a stimulus but it is stimulating, and so forth. He insisted that, all along, he had warned that health-care costs would bend up (What!? When had that spasm of truth telling occurred?), and lamented that he couldn’t close Gitmo because of politics (i.e., there was no public support for it and no one solved the “where do we put them” problem.) At this point, all but the die-hard Obama supporters must be chagrined to find that the only straight answer he can give is on the Ground Zero mosque. (He is fine with it.)

Earlier in the week, it was pretty much the same story. In Thursday’s interview, Obama acknowledged: “If the election is a referendum on are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is, then we’re not going to do well. Because I think everybody feels like this economy needs to do better than it’s been doing.” Yup. And, after all, he said he’d be judged on the economy. That’s what a referendum is, after all — an opportunity for voters to give thumbs up or down on your performance.

Now, he wasn’t exactly taking responsibility for the economic mess. This is Obama, after all. So he insisted, “Well, look. If you’re asking are there mistakes that we made during the course of the last 19 months, I’m sure I make a mistake once a day. If you’re asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.” We’re still heading in the right direction, in his book. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asked which mistakes he made.

Even liberals are fed up with the excuses. Bob Herbert writes, “The Democrats are in deep, deep trouble because they have not effectively addressed the overwhelming concern of working men and women: an economy that is too weak to provide the jobs they need to support themselves and their families.” And Arianna Huffington neatly sums up:

[H]e admitted to making unspecified “mistakes,” but insisted, “if you are asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.”

Can he really believe that, with unemployment at 9.6 percent, underemployment at 16.7 percent, millions of homes foreclosed, millions more heading to foreclosure, and the middle class under assault?

In any case, this appears to be the administration’s story, and they are sticking to it — come hell or a double-dip recession.

The president’s comments were a continuation of the tack taken by Robert Gibbs who, when asked if the stimulus bill had been too small, offered this jaw-dropper: “I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. … Nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp of … what we were facing.”

In other words: who could have known? So much for changing the way Washington works. The Who Could Have Known mindset is at the very heart of the failure of our political system to address our mounting problems.

Even more telling than all that, however, was this nugget on extending the Bush tax cuts:

What I am saying is that if we are going to add to our deficit by $35 billion, $95 billion, $100 billion, $700 billion, if that’s the Republican agenda, then I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend that money.

“That” money is our money. But it sounds really horrid to say “I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend your money.” I’d be curious to know what better ways he has in mind. More billions on another flawed stimulus plan?

There is in his pre-election spin patrol a fundamental “cognitive dissonance,” as the Wall Street Journal editors put it. He feels compelled to toss a few limited tax breaks toward businesses but that hardly makes up for the incessant shin-kicking he delivers (“urging businesses to invest and lend more while attacking them for greed and sending jobs overseas”). The jabs are not merely rhetorical. In addition to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the administration has thrown at U.S. employers “a looming increase in capital gains and personal income tax rates, roughly half of which will come from noncorporate business profits; a minimum wage increase to $7.25 an hour from $6.55 in July 2009 when the jobless rate was 9%; the oil drilling moratorium, which has hit hundreds of small energy companies; the new health insurance mandate on employers with more than 50 employees; the new ObamaCare 1099 tax filing requirements; an increase in the death tax rate to 55% next year from zero today; a Medicare payroll tax increase to 3.8% from 2.9% starting in 2013; and compulsory unionism for government contractors and federal construction projects.”

To sum it all up, the voters are going to throw out his fellow Democrats if Americans follow Obama’s advice (hold the Democrats accountable for the economy). Despite control of both the White House and Congress, Obama whines that our problems are traceable to the Republican minority. He won’t concede that there is any connection between the massive burdens heaped on businesses and the paralysis on hiring by shell-shocked employers. And his underlying philosophy is that he knows best how to spend your money. No wonder Democrats don’t want to be seen campaigning with him.

Read Less

Martin Indyk Wants Obama to Charm Israel

Martin Indyk has been spinning fast and furiously for the administration, willing to bash Israel and twist recent history to fit the administration’s preferred narrative. But in a spasm of honesty on Obama’s charm offensive with American Jewry, he tells the New York Times:

The real charm offensive needs to take place in Israel. … I would accept it was a charm offensive if he caught a plane and went over there, which he needs to do. He’s lost the Israeli public. If he were to go over there and explain to the Israeli public, it would be hugely beneficial to his objectives.

Indyk at least lets on that Obama has entirely lost the Israeli public. And indeed, poll after poll shows that despite its best efforts, the Obama team has not been able to shift the Israelis’ ire toward Bibi or convince the Israeli public that Obama has its best interests at heart.

But Indyk raises an interesting proposition — an Obama trip to Israel. Gosh, he’s been all over the world as president but has studiously avoided visiting the Jewish state. You may recall that even before the Obama crowd started hollering at Bibi, the Israelis were a bit miffed that the president had sent Joe Biden rather appear himself, as he did in Egypt. But how would that work nowadays? Would Obama be booed at the Wall? Receive catcalls at the Knesset? I imagine he wouldn’t have the nerve to find out.

Indyk — like so many of the Obama sycophants —  thinks that Obama only need show his face and exude his charm to win over unbelievers. In this case, Indyk imagines that the Israeli public, which he seems to concede must come to trust the American president if Obama’s peace efforts are to succeed, can be won over with a visit and some fluffy speeches. Well, that sort of thing might work with all-too-willing American Jewish “leaders.” (One sometimes has a feeling that they, so desperate to be back in the embrace of the president they ardently support, are channeling Sally Field — “He likes us! He really likes us!”) But the Israel public can’t afford to be so dim-witted. They’ve figured out what Obama is up to and aren’t about to buy a charm offensive. Still, it’d be fun to see him try.

Martin Indyk has been spinning fast and furiously for the administration, willing to bash Israel and twist recent history to fit the administration’s preferred narrative. But in a spasm of honesty on Obama’s charm offensive with American Jewry, he tells the New York Times:

The real charm offensive needs to take place in Israel. … I would accept it was a charm offensive if he caught a plane and went over there, which he needs to do. He’s lost the Israeli public. If he were to go over there and explain to the Israeli public, it would be hugely beneficial to his objectives.

Indyk at least lets on that Obama has entirely lost the Israeli public. And indeed, poll after poll shows that despite its best efforts, the Obama team has not been able to shift the Israelis’ ire toward Bibi or convince the Israeli public that Obama has its best interests at heart.

But Indyk raises an interesting proposition — an Obama trip to Israel. Gosh, he’s been all over the world as president but has studiously avoided visiting the Jewish state. You may recall that even before the Obama crowd started hollering at Bibi, the Israelis were a bit miffed that the president had sent Joe Biden rather appear himself, as he did in Egypt. But how would that work nowadays? Would Obama be booed at the Wall? Receive catcalls at the Knesset? I imagine he wouldn’t have the nerve to find out.

Indyk — like so many of the Obama sycophants —  thinks that Obama only need show his face and exude his charm to win over unbelievers. In this case, Indyk imagines that the Israeli public, which he seems to concede must come to trust the American president if Obama’s peace efforts are to succeed, can be won over with a visit and some fluffy speeches. Well, that sort of thing might work with all-too-willing American Jewish “leaders.” (One sometimes has a feeling that they, so desperate to be back in the embrace of the president they ardently support, are channeling Sally Field — “He likes us! He really likes us!”) But the Israel public can’t afford to be so dim-witted. They’ve figured out what Obama is up to and aren’t about to buy a charm offensive. Still, it’d be fun to see him try.

Read Less

Where Is the Secretary of 19 Million Cracks?

Hillary Clinton periodically expresses a spasm of concern that her reputation and legacy are going down the drain with the Obami. She trotted out a defense lawyer’s case at AIPAC for her own pro-Israel credentials. She gives a human-rights speech now and then. But largely she dutifully follows the administration’s line — which is to strongarm Israel and shove human rights under the bus. It must be particularly galling to her feminist admirers to watch her passivity in the face of outrage after outrage perpetrated by the “Muslim World” against women and girls. She is seemingly unmoved to do much of anything about what one sharp commentator described as the “dual impulses to demonize and dehumanize females” that is not merely tolerated, but codified in the “Muslim World,” which Hillary and her boss so ardently suck up to.

The latest comes to us from Foreign Policy:

The sad case of Elham Assi, a 13-year old Yemeni girl who died from internal hemorrhaging after being raped by her 23-year-old husband, has certainly sparked conversation in Yemen over the longstanding practice of child marriage. But the conversations — taking place everywhere from Sanaa kitchens to the parliament building — aren’t exactly what you’d expect.

Instead of addressing the question of children’s rights in a country where a quarter of all girls are married before they’re 15 and half before they’re 18, some Yemenis are treating Elham Assi’sdeath as a rallying point against the so-called imposition of a Western agenda. Instead of catalyzing protective legislation for children in Yemen, as the tragic 1911 Triangle Factory fire did for industrial laborers in the United States, her death may actually make it more likely that others will share her fate.

Rather than rush to raise the legal age of marriage and unburden their shame — well, that would mean they experienced shame — the Yemenis take umbrage at the notion that NGOs should press them to outlaw child brides:

Over the past few months, Sheikh Mohammed Hamzi, an official in the powerful Islamist party, al-Islaah, along with hundreds of other conservative lawmakers and clerics, has issued a clarion call to “true believers” to oppose the law, arguing that it is a first step toward allowing the West to take over Yemeni affairs. “We will not bend to the demands of Western NGOs. We have our own laws, our own values,” said Hamzi, who made headlines again this week when a coalition of Yemeni rights groups announced it would take legal action against the sheikh for maligning activists as infidels and agents of the West during his regular sermons at a Sanaa mosque.

Where is our secretary of state? Why do we allow brutalizers of women to assume spots on the UN Commission on the Status of Women? Well, Hillary is now in the service of an administration which seeks to ingratiate itself with regimes whose laws and “values” include the notion that “to deprive little girls of conjugation with men old enough to be their grandfathers is to treat them ‘unfairly.'” For those who imagined Hillary — who never tires of counting the votes she achieved on the way to losing the Democratic presidential nomination — was a great defender of women and children, it must come as a great shock that they rank so low on her list of priorities.

Hillary Clinton periodically expresses a spasm of concern that her reputation and legacy are going down the drain with the Obami. She trotted out a defense lawyer’s case at AIPAC for her own pro-Israel credentials. She gives a human-rights speech now and then. But largely she dutifully follows the administration’s line — which is to strongarm Israel and shove human rights under the bus. It must be particularly galling to her feminist admirers to watch her passivity in the face of outrage after outrage perpetrated by the “Muslim World” against women and girls. She is seemingly unmoved to do much of anything about what one sharp commentator described as the “dual impulses to demonize and dehumanize females” that is not merely tolerated, but codified in the “Muslim World,” which Hillary and her boss so ardently suck up to.

The latest comes to us from Foreign Policy:

The sad case of Elham Assi, a 13-year old Yemeni girl who died from internal hemorrhaging after being raped by her 23-year-old husband, has certainly sparked conversation in Yemen over the longstanding practice of child marriage. But the conversations — taking place everywhere from Sanaa kitchens to the parliament building — aren’t exactly what you’d expect.

Instead of addressing the question of children’s rights in a country where a quarter of all girls are married before they’re 15 and half before they’re 18, some Yemenis are treating Elham Assi’sdeath as a rallying point against the so-called imposition of a Western agenda. Instead of catalyzing protective legislation for children in Yemen, as the tragic 1911 Triangle Factory fire did for industrial laborers in the United States, her death may actually make it more likely that others will share her fate.

Rather than rush to raise the legal age of marriage and unburden their shame — well, that would mean they experienced shame — the Yemenis take umbrage at the notion that NGOs should press them to outlaw child brides:

Over the past few months, Sheikh Mohammed Hamzi, an official in the powerful Islamist party, al-Islaah, along with hundreds of other conservative lawmakers and clerics, has issued a clarion call to “true believers” to oppose the law, arguing that it is a first step toward allowing the West to take over Yemeni affairs. “We will not bend to the demands of Western NGOs. We have our own laws, our own values,” said Hamzi, who made headlines again this week when a coalition of Yemeni rights groups announced it would take legal action against the sheikh for maligning activists as infidels and agents of the West during his regular sermons at a Sanaa mosque.

Where is our secretary of state? Why do we allow brutalizers of women to assume spots on the UN Commission on the Status of Women? Well, Hillary is now in the service of an administration which seeks to ingratiate itself with regimes whose laws and “values” include the notion that “to deprive little girls of conjugation with men old enough to be their grandfathers is to treat them ‘unfairly.'” For those who imagined Hillary — who never tires of counting the votes she achieved on the way to losing the Democratic presidential nomination — was a great defender of women and children, it must come as a great shock that they rank so low on her list of priorities.

Read Less

John Edwards Was Only the VP Nominee. Obama Is President

Richard Cohen’s weekly column spends seven paragraphs recitating the awfulness of John Edwards (I haven’t written about him because his loathsomeness has been aptly conveyed by others), the scariness of putting him on the 2004 presidential ticket, and the reaffirmation that liberals were right all along about Sarah Palin. (We know they were right because they obsessively keep telling us so: “I withdraw none of it; the better we got to know Palin, the more egregious a choice she became — astonishingly unprepared and unsuited for the presidency.” Never mind that she was on the money on health-care rationing, global-warming fakery, Guantanamo, and a great deal more. )

Then comes the kicker: Cohen suggests that Obama was as scary a choice and that we knew as little about him as we did about Edwards — or THAT woman:

The out-of-nowhere rise of Palin and Edwards in less than a decade is warning enough that something is wrong. I will also throw Barack Obama into the mix, not because I know something nefarious about him but because I realize more and more that I know so little about him.

When, for instance, the call goes out to let Obama be Obama, I’m not sure what that is. For the moment, it’s a tendentious populism, but the sound of it is tinny and inauthentic, a campaign tactic, nothing more. When, however, we were asked to “let Reagan be Reagan,” we could be certain it was a call for a hard-right turn. Ronald Reagan had devoted many years to the conservative cause. Obama, in contrast, was in the Illinois Senate just six years ago.

Well, it may not be nefarious — but we now know he’s rather ill-equipped to be president. (We hold out some hope that he might get up to speed.) And Cohen’s still not sure exactly what bill of goods we were sold by the Obama campaign. When Cohen complains that we “have substituted the camera — fame, celebrity — for both achievement and the studied judgment of colleagues,” he is not sparing this president, whose fame and celebrity were fanned by the not-very-studied judgment of media cheerleaders convinced there was something spectacular there.

There certainly is a spasm of honesty breaking out in the punditocracy. Perhaps there’s a trend to fess up. What did they know about Obama’s shortcomings and when did they know it? A support group (Regretful Flacks for Obama) might be formed. There they can confess the error of their ways. They mistook physical elegance and a nice speaking voice for profundity. They heard gibberish (“We are the change blah, blah …”) and spun it as pearls of wisdom. They saw a man of slight accomplishment and falsely inferred skills that weren’t there. They confused reserve and remoteness with calm under fire. They ignored signs that he had disdain for average Americans and their values. They ignored his associations and extremely liberal voting record while reciting his promises of “moderation.” And so on.

Ultimately, voters are grown-ups and responsible for their own choices. But if Cohen is upset with the rise of a synthetic, overhyped candidate who’s turning out to be at best a mediocre president, he should talk to his media colleagues. They certainly did their part.

Richard Cohen’s weekly column spends seven paragraphs recitating the awfulness of John Edwards (I haven’t written about him because his loathsomeness has been aptly conveyed by others), the scariness of putting him on the 2004 presidential ticket, and the reaffirmation that liberals were right all along about Sarah Palin. (We know they were right because they obsessively keep telling us so: “I withdraw none of it; the better we got to know Palin, the more egregious a choice she became — astonishingly unprepared and unsuited for the presidency.” Never mind that she was on the money on health-care rationing, global-warming fakery, Guantanamo, and a great deal more. )

Then comes the kicker: Cohen suggests that Obama was as scary a choice and that we knew as little about him as we did about Edwards — or THAT woman:

The out-of-nowhere rise of Palin and Edwards in less than a decade is warning enough that something is wrong. I will also throw Barack Obama into the mix, not because I know something nefarious about him but because I realize more and more that I know so little about him.

When, for instance, the call goes out to let Obama be Obama, I’m not sure what that is. For the moment, it’s a tendentious populism, but the sound of it is tinny and inauthentic, a campaign tactic, nothing more. When, however, we were asked to “let Reagan be Reagan,” we could be certain it was a call for a hard-right turn. Ronald Reagan had devoted many years to the conservative cause. Obama, in contrast, was in the Illinois Senate just six years ago.

Well, it may not be nefarious — but we now know he’s rather ill-equipped to be president. (We hold out some hope that he might get up to speed.) And Cohen’s still not sure exactly what bill of goods we were sold by the Obama campaign. When Cohen complains that we “have substituted the camera — fame, celebrity — for both achievement and the studied judgment of colleagues,” he is not sparing this president, whose fame and celebrity were fanned by the not-very-studied judgment of media cheerleaders convinced there was something spectacular there.

There certainly is a spasm of honesty breaking out in the punditocracy. Perhaps there’s a trend to fess up. What did they know about Obama’s shortcomings and when did they know it? A support group (Regretful Flacks for Obama) might be formed. There they can confess the error of their ways. They mistook physical elegance and a nice speaking voice for profundity. They heard gibberish (“We are the change blah, blah …”) and spun it as pearls of wisdom. They saw a man of slight accomplishment and falsely inferred skills that weren’t there. They confused reserve and remoteness with calm under fire. They ignored signs that he had disdain for average Americans and their values. They ignored his associations and extremely liberal voting record while reciting his promises of “moderation.” And so on.

Ultimately, voters are grown-ups and responsible for their own choices. But if Cohen is upset with the rise of a synthetic, overhyped candidate who’s turning out to be at best a mediocre president, he should talk to his media colleagues. They certainly did their part.

Read Less

Spender’s Remorse

Obama is reacting to the epic rebuff in Massachusetts with his usual mix of denial and detachment. It’s not really his fault. It’s the economy, which is Bush’s fault. The mob is angry. He understands anger, but never shows it. And so on. He may be attempting to project calm, but as in the aftermath of the Christmas Day bombing, you really wonder if there’s no one in the White House to bring him bad news and speak frankly to him.

Meanwhile, Democratic senators are experiencing a spasm of candor. Politico gives us a sample:

“If there’s anybody in this building that doesn’t tell you they’re more worried about elections today, you absolutely should slap them,” said Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). …

“Every state is now in play,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who faces the toughest reelection battle of her career — most likely against wealthy Republican Carly Fiorina. Boxer is pushing a cap-and-trade bill to control greenhouse gases, but her counterpart from California, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said a “large cap-and-trade bill isn’t going to go ahead at this time.”

There seems to be a grudging recognition that the president’s agenda — and their own — missed the mark. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) confesses that Red State Democrats should be nervous:

“I think part of the problem is the agenda itself,” said Conrad, who doesn’t face voters again until 2012. Instead of spending so much time on health care reform, Conrad said Democrats should have focused first on reducing the national debt and a bipartisan energy bill — and that President Barack Obama should have done a better job of explaining that the economic situation he inherited was “far worse” than he’d originally thought.

So will they stop spending so much time on health-care reform now? It would seem like a good idea for all those Red State senators who could have stopped health care last year but simply went with the flow. Mary Landrieu got bribed … er … received a compromise deal for her state (“the Louisiana Purchase,” which begat the Cornhusker Kickback and Gator-Aid). But now she’s singing a different tune. (“Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), one of the more conservative members of the caucus, said some in the Democratic Party were ‘overreaching’ and ‘advocating more government’ than her constituents want. She blamed House Democrats for advancing liberal proposals that skewed the public’s perception of more moderate measures moving through the Senate.”) So why didn’t she, you know, vote no last year?

It seems that Democrats were content to ignore the voters, run up the deficit, and create a monstrous health-care bill that no one but the Democratic leadership could defend. But only now, given that Scott Brown has won in a deep Blue State, do they regret it. We’ll see how forgiving the voters are in November and what, aside from some humble sentiments, Democratic lawmakers offer in the meantime. But give them some credit: they sound a lot less out to lunch than the White House political hacks.

Obama is reacting to the epic rebuff in Massachusetts with his usual mix of denial and detachment. It’s not really his fault. It’s the economy, which is Bush’s fault. The mob is angry. He understands anger, but never shows it. And so on. He may be attempting to project calm, but as in the aftermath of the Christmas Day bombing, you really wonder if there’s no one in the White House to bring him bad news and speak frankly to him.

Meanwhile, Democratic senators are experiencing a spasm of candor. Politico gives us a sample:

“If there’s anybody in this building that doesn’t tell you they’re more worried about elections today, you absolutely should slap them,” said Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). …

“Every state is now in play,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who faces the toughest reelection battle of her career — most likely against wealthy Republican Carly Fiorina. Boxer is pushing a cap-and-trade bill to control greenhouse gases, but her counterpart from California, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said a “large cap-and-trade bill isn’t going to go ahead at this time.”

There seems to be a grudging recognition that the president’s agenda — and their own — missed the mark. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) confesses that Red State Democrats should be nervous:

“I think part of the problem is the agenda itself,” said Conrad, who doesn’t face voters again until 2012. Instead of spending so much time on health care reform, Conrad said Democrats should have focused first on reducing the national debt and a bipartisan energy bill — and that President Barack Obama should have done a better job of explaining that the economic situation he inherited was “far worse” than he’d originally thought.

So will they stop spending so much time on health-care reform now? It would seem like a good idea for all those Red State senators who could have stopped health care last year but simply went with the flow. Mary Landrieu got bribed … er … received a compromise deal for her state (“the Louisiana Purchase,” which begat the Cornhusker Kickback and Gator-Aid). But now she’s singing a different tune. (“Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), one of the more conservative members of the caucus, said some in the Democratic Party were ‘overreaching’ and ‘advocating more government’ than her constituents want. She blamed House Democrats for advancing liberal proposals that skewed the public’s perception of more moderate measures moving through the Senate.”) So why didn’t she, you know, vote no last year?

It seems that Democrats were content to ignore the voters, run up the deficit, and create a monstrous health-care bill that no one but the Democratic leadership could defend. But only now, given that Scott Brown has won in a deep Blue State, do they regret it. We’ll see how forgiving the voters are in November and what, aside from some humble sentiments, Democratic lawmakers offer in the meantime. But give them some credit: they sound a lot less out to lunch than the White House political hacks.

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It Isn’t Too Late to Interrogate Abdulmutallab

Dennis Blair, for reasons not entirely clear (a parting shot? a spasm of guilt for a job poorly done?), took a big swing at the Obami yesterday where they’re most vulnerable: their knee-jerk fixation on treating Islamic terrorists as common criminals. This report explains:

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair faulted the decision not to use the “High Value Interrogation Group” (HIG) to question alleged al-Qaeda operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

“That unit was created exactly for this purpose — to make a decision on whether a certain person who’s detained should be treated as a case for federal prosecution or for some of the other means,” Blair told the Senate homeland security committee.

The intelligence chief said the interrogation group was created by the White House last year to handle overseas cases but will be expanded now to domestic ones. “We did not invoke the HIG in this case; we should have,” he added.

Later in the day Blair was forced to walk it back with the “my words were misconstrued” lingo that is the telltale sign of being big-footed by an irate White House. Still, the damage had been done. Blair’s complaint is precisely the one that critics have been making since it was revealed that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab chatted with the FBI for a bit and then clammed up, having been handed a full panoply of constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent. No more dot-connecting information will come from him unless he disregards his lawyer’s admonitions or, more likely, makes a plea deal.

It seems the Obami operate on cruise control — set the car in motion, hit the button, and never touch the controls again. The lack of thoughtful analysis or consideration is breathtaking. As the report notes, “Blair, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael E. Leiter and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers that they were not consulted about the charging decision.” Well, with Eric Holder and the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department apparently running anti-terror policy, no one thought that those responsible for preventing future attacks and gathering critical intelligence data might want to weigh in on the matter.

But here’s the thing: it isn’t too late. We can still declare Abdulmutallab an enemy combatant and ship him off for questioning and a military tribunal. Sure we’ve lost time, and it was a grievous error not to have used all the tools at our disposal to extract information, but why compound the error by leaving him in the criminal justice process? Blair has admitted that the Obami erred, so someone should ask him why Mueller, Leiter, Napolitano, and maybe even the president (he is in charge, right?) aren’t now considering how to limit the damage done by the ill-advised and unthinking actions taken on Christmas Day.

Dennis Blair, for reasons not entirely clear (a parting shot? a spasm of guilt for a job poorly done?), took a big swing at the Obami yesterday where they’re most vulnerable: their knee-jerk fixation on treating Islamic terrorists as common criminals. This report explains:

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair faulted the decision not to use the “High Value Interrogation Group” (HIG) to question alleged al-Qaeda operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

“That unit was created exactly for this purpose — to make a decision on whether a certain person who’s detained should be treated as a case for federal prosecution or for some of the other means,” Blair told the Senate homeland security committee.

The intelligence chief said the interrogation group was created by the White House last year to handle overseas cases but will be expanded now to domestic ones. “We did not invoke the HIG in this case; we should have,” he added.

Later in the day Blair was forced to walk it back with the “my words were misconstrued” lingo that is the telltale sign of being big-footed by an irate White House. Still, the damage had been done. Blair’s complaint is precisely the one that critics have been making since it was revealed that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab chatted with the FBI for a bit and then clammed up, having been handed a full panoply of constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent. No more dot-connecting information will come from him unless he disregards his lawyer’s admonitions or, more likely, makes a plea deal.

It seems the Obami operate on cruise control — set the car in motion, hit the button, and never touch the controls again. The lack of thoughtful analysis or consideration is breathtaking. As the report notes, “Blair, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael E. Leiter and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers that they were not consulted about the charging decision.” Well, with Eric Holder and the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department apparently running anti-terror policy, no one thought that those responsible for preventing future attacks and gathering critical intelligence data might want to weigh in on the matter.

But here’s the thing: it isn’t too late. We can still declare Abdulmutallab an enemy combatant and ship him off for questioning and a military tribunal. Sure we’ve lost time, and it was a grievous error not to have used all the tools at our disposal to extract information, but why compound the error by leaving him in the criminal justice process? Blair has admitted that the Obami erred, so someone should ask him why Mueller, Leiter, Napolitano, and maybe even the president (he is in charge, right?) aren’t now considering how to limit the damage done by the ill-advised and unthinking actions taken on Christmas Day.

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Gray Lady Capsizes — Again

The New York Times is incapable of punishing its “star” columnists, no matter what the offense. Maureen Dowd was caught plagiarizing and was allowed to skate by with a lame excuse and no real confession of guilt. Paul Krugman in a column last week wrote, “By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy.” Today, in a pathetic parenthetical, he writes: (“Management wants me to make it clear that in my last column I wasn’t endorsing inappropriate threats against Mr. Lieberman.”) A more insincere apology would be hard to find.

Let’s imagine — for we will have to, barring a spasm of transparency from public editor Clark Hoyt — that the Times management received one or more complaints about Krugman’s disgusting remark. What would they have said? “Well, no, we don’t actually support hanging in effigy U.S. senators.” If pressed as to their editorial judgment, would they have lamely acknowledged, “Er, yes, had anyone used that phrase with the regard to the president, we would have caught it and squelched it”? The mind reels.

What is clear is that for all the Times’s snooty condescension about the blogosphere, the editorial pages of the Gray Lady are no better than the average netroot blog. Journalistic ethics? Puh-leez! Common decency? Fuggedaboutit!

The New York Times is incapable of punishing its “star” columnists, no matter what the offense. Maureen Dowd was caught plagiarizing and was allowed to skate by with a lame excuse and no real confession of guilt. Paul Krugman in a column last week wrote, “By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy.” Today, in a pathetic parenthetical, he writes: (“Management wants me to make it clear that in my last column I wasn’t endorsing inappropriate threats against Mr. Lieberman.”) A more insincere apology would be hard to find.

Let’s imagine — for we will have to, barring a spasm of transparency from public editor Clark Hoyt — that the Times management received one or more complaints about Krugman’s disgusting remark. What would they have said? “Well, no, we don’t actually support hanging in effigy U.S. senators.” If pressed as to their editorial judgment, would they have lamely acknowledged, “Er, yes, had anyone used that phrase with the regard to the president, we would have caught it and squelched it”? The mind reels.

What is clear is that for all the Times’s snooty condescension about the blogosphere, the editorial pages of the Gray Lady are no better than the average netroot blog. Journalistic ethics? Puh-leez! Common decency? Fuggedaboutit!

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11th-Hour Monstrosity

The Washington Post‘s editors argue that Harry Reid’s “11th hour compromise” is actually a very old idea going back decades and “a far more dramatic step toward a single-payer system than lawmakers on either side realize.” Actually, I think Senate leaders on one side realize exactly what is afoot here and are daring moderates and conservatives in their party to cry foul. There is plenty to cry foul about. The editors reel off a list of queries and issues:

Currently, Medicare benefits are less generous in significant ways than the plans to be offered on the [bill’s planned insurance] exchanges. For instance, there is no cap on out-of-pocket expenses. So would near-seniors who buy in to Medicare get Medicare-level benefits? If so, who would tend to purchase that coverage? Sicker near-seniors might be better off purchasing private insurance on the an exchange. But the educated guessing — and that’s a generous description — is that sicker near-seniors might tend to place more trust in a government-run program; they might assume, with good reason, that the government will be more accommodating in approving treatments, and they might flock to Medicare. That would raise premium costs and, correspondingly, the pressure to dip into federal funds for extra help. …

Will providers cut costs — or will they shift them to private insurers, driving up premiums? Will they stop taking Medicare patients or go to Congress demanding higher rates? Once 55-year-olds are in, they are not likely to be kicked out, and the pressure will be on to expand the program to make more people eligible.

Reid and the White House, in the guise of taking out the public option to allay centrists’ concerns, are setting up a financially reckless but very obvious gateway to a single-payer system. The purported moderate and conservative Democratic senators who objected to the public option because it would crowd out private insurers, do nothing to reduce costs, and insert the heavy hand of government into personal medical decisions should be doubly alarmed by this scheme. We’re going to herd millions of new, more sickly patients into a system that’s already facing financial strain — and then cut hundreds of billions in funding from that same system. Whoever thinks this can be done without severely impacting care and/or knocking a jumbo hole in the deficit raise your hand. No hands, I see.

Yes, it’s actually a worse plan than PelosiCare. That’s why Reid is so desperate to do this very, very fast. If it took only a day for the Post to figure this out, the rest of the Senate will certainly clue in by the end of the month. And once they do, it will become increasingly hard for conscientious senators to go along with this spasm of irresponsibility.

The Washington Post‘s editors argue that Harry Reid’s “11th hour compromise” is actually a very old idea going back decades and “a far more dramatic step toward a single-payer system than lawmakers on either side realize.” Actually, I think Senate leaders on one side realize exactly what is afoot here and are daring moderates and conservatives in their party to cry foul. There is plenty to cry foul about. The editors reel off a list of queries and issues:

Currently, Medicare benefits are less generous in significant ways than the plans to be offered on the [bill’s planned insurance] exchanges. For instance, there is no cap on out-of-pocket expenses. So would near-seniors who buy in to Medicare get Medicare-level benefits? If so, who would tend to purchase that coverage? Sicker near-seniors might be better off purchasing private insurance on the an exchange. But the educated guessing — and that’s a generous description — is that sicker near-seniors might tend to place more trust in a government-run program; they might assume, with good reason, that the government will be more accommodating in approving treatments, and they might flock to Medicare. That would raise premium costs and, correspondingly, the pressure to dip into federal funds for extra help. …

Will providers cut costs — or will they shift them to private insurers, driving up premiums? Will they stop taking Medicare patients or go to Congress demanding higher rates? Once 55-year-olds are in, they are not likely to be kicked out, and the pressure will be on to expand the program to make more people eligible.

Reid and the White House, in the guise of taking out the public option to allay centrists’ concerns, are setting up a financially reckless but very obvious gateway to a single-payer system. The purported moderate and conservative Democratic senators who objected to the public option because it would crowd out private insurers, do nothing to reduce costs, and insert the heavy hand of government into personal medical decisions should be doubly alarmed by this scheme. We’re going to herd millions of new, more sickly patients into a system that’s already facing financial strain — and then cut hundreds of billions in funding from that same system. Whoever thinks this can be done without severely impacting care and/or knocking a jumbo hole in the deficit raise your hand. No hands, I see.

Yes, it’s actually a worse plan than PelosiCare. That’s why Reid is so desperate to do this very, very fast. If it took only a day for the Post to figure this out, the rest of the Senate will certainly clue in by the end of the month. And once they do, it will become increasingly hard for conscientious senators to go along with this spasm of irresponsibility.

Read Less




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