Commentary Magazine


Topic: speaker

Reagan as Draftsman

Ronald Reagan’s hundredth birthday falls on Sunday, February 6. As Steven Hayward pointed out several years ago, Reagan is not only starting to feature in histories — a development that, given the passage of time, was inevitable — but he’s also getting a serious examination, and often a positive one. Historians don’t exist to serve as an applause squad, but when leaders get something right — or even when they have coherent and sensible reasons for doing something that turns out wrong — that deserves to be acknowledged.

Taking decisions under great pressure is an art. While never easy, it is easier to do well if you’ve given thought to the dilemmas beforehand. And Reagan left a remarkable body of evidence that he had, indeed, done that thinking. Kiron Skinner, with Annelise and Martin Anderson, did a great service by publishing Reagan in His Own Hand a decade ago. Years before Reagan’s diaries appeared, the collection revealed that the 40th president had given sustained thought to every aspect of foreign and domestic policy, and, like Eisenhower, had a unity of strategic vision that comes only with intelligence, hard work, and regular reading, speaking, and writing. Understanding Reagan is not the same thing as understanding his administration, or his era, but there is no excuse for saying that Reagan hadn’t prepared to lead.

Of course, Reagan had speechwriters, and remarkably skillful ones at that. But presidents get the speechwriters they deserve. Writing speeches is an art form akin to a Vulcan mind-meld: if the contents of the speaker’s mind are confused, cloudy, or vague, the speech is likely to suffer from the same defects. Reagan knew how to deliver a speech. (Being a former actor does have its advantages!) But he also knew how to write one. His famous “A Time for Choosing” address for Goldwater in 1964 launched his career. His “Goodbye Letter,” written three decades later, is just as clear and eloquent. In his farewell address, in 1989, Reagan explained why he thought he had the gift:

And in all of that time I won a nickname, “The Great Communicator.” But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation — from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries. They called it the Reagan revolution. Well, I’ll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.

Perhaps it’s not in keeping with Reagan’s legacy to lose hope. But I can’t help wondering if Reagan will be our last president who had the ability — even if none of them can be expected to have the time — to write his own speeches. If so, we will have lost something important. A president who cannot write clearly cannot be expected to think clearly either.

Ronald Reagan’s hundredth birthday falls on Sunday, February 6. As Steven Hayward pointed out several years ago, Reagan is not only starting to feature in histories — a development that, given the passage of time, was inevitable — but he’s also getting a serious examination, and often a positive one. Historians don’t exist to serve as an applause squad, but when leaders get something right — or even when they have coherent and sensible reasons for doing something that turns out wrong — that deserves to be acknowledged.

Taking decisions under great pressure is an art. While never easy, it is easier to do well if you’ve given thought to the dilemmas beforehand. And Reagan left a remarkable body of evidence that he had, indeed, done that thinking. Kiron Skinner, with Annelise and Martin Anderson, did a great service by publishing Reagan in His Own Hand a decade ago. Years before Reagan’s diaries appeared, the collection revealed that the 40th president had given sustained thought to every aspect of foreign and domestic policy, and, like Eisenhower, had a unity of strategic vision that comes only with intelligence, hard work, and regular reading, speaking, and writing. Understanding Reagan is not the same thing as understanding his administration, or his era, but there is no excuse for saying that Reagan hadn’t prepared to lead.

Of course, Reagan had speechwriters, and remarkably skillful ones at that. But presidents get the speechwriters they deserve. Writing speeches is an art form akin to a Vulcan mind-meld: if the contents of the speaker’s mind are confused, cloudy, or vague, the speech is likely to suffer from the same defects. Reagan knew how to deliver a speech. (Being a former actor does have its advantages!) But he also knew how to write one. His famous “A Time for Choosing” address for Goldwater in 1964 launched his career. His “Goodbye Letter,” written three decades later, is just as clear and eloquent. In his farewell address, in 1989, Reagan explained why he thought he had the gift:

And in all of that time I won a nickname, “The Great Communicator.” But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation — from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries. They called it the Reagan revolution. Well, I’ll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.

Perhaps it’s not in keeping with Reagan’s legacy to lose hope. But I can’t help wondering if Reagan will be our last president who had the ability — even if none of them can be expected to have the time — to write his own speeches. If so, we will have lost something important. A president who cannot write clearly cannot be expected to think clearly either.

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On the Persistence of Palin and the Possibility of Pence

Quayle was gone after one misspelled word. Howard Dean was finished after a single yell. Gingrich was not the same after a complaint about his seat on a plane. Edmund Muskie was done after a solitary tear.

These men were either the vice president of the United States, or leading presidential candidates, or the Speaker of the House. But they were down for the count after one punch — labeled (and libeled) as ignorant, out-of-control, petulant, and unmanly. Sarah Palin has been spared only the fourth adjective, but only because she has been criticized as too manly: shooting caribou, beating fish, describing animals as meat, riding a souped-up motorcycle.

Her degree from the University of Idaho could only be worse if it were from Eureka College, and her betters are constantly schooling her (“So you see, Sarah, the words ‘death panel’ don’t appear in the bill” and “So you see, Sarah, the phrase ‘blood libel’ refers to the Jews”). But her points were valid, made in a way that focused public discussion. For someone whose career was supposedly over once she made the supposedly disastrous decision to resign as governor, she continues to dominate political discussion — from her Facebook page. She even gets thoughtful columns written about her by people who think fewer columns should be written about her.

And if truth be told, her book was substantially better than Hillary’s. She is not Ronald Reagan, nor Menachem Begin, but the continual advice to her from the right not to run may reflect a certain fear that she might get the nomination if she did; she has certainly demonstrated she can take a punch.

She may nonetheless conclude that her candidacy would be a distraction from the issues she champions, and that another candidate might be better positioned to present them. If so, she might open up the Pence Possibility — a candidacy by someone whose Hillsdale College speech last September was remarkable in my view and came considerably closer to Lincoln than another recent one.

Quayle was gone after one misspelled word. Howard Dean was finished after a single yell. Gingrich was not the same after a complaint about his seat on a plane. Edmund Muskie was done after a solitary tear.

These men were either the vice president of the United States, or leading presidential candidates, or the Speaker of the House. But they were down for the count after one punch — labeled (and libeled) as ignorant, out-of-control, petulant, and unmanly. Sarah Palin has been spared only the fourth adjective, but only because she has been criticized as too manly: shooting caribou, beating fish, describing animals as meat, riding a souped-up motorcycle.

Her degree from the University of Idaho could only be worse if it were from Eureka College, and her betters are constantly schooling her (“So you see, Sarah, the words ‘death panel’ don’t appear in the bill” and “So you see, Sarah, the phrase ‘blood libel’ refers to the Jews”). But her points were valid, made in a way that focused public discussion. For someone whose career was supposedly over once she made the supposedly disastrous decision to resign as governor, she continues to dominate political discussion — from her Facebook page. She even gets thoughtful columns written about her by people who think fewer columns should be written about her.

And if truth be told, her book was substantially better than Hillary’s. She is not Ronald Reagan, nor Menachem Begin, but the continual advice to her from the right not to run may reflect a certain fear that she might get the nomination if she did; she has certainly demonstrated she can take a punch.

She may nonetheless conclude that her candidacy would be a distraction from the issues she champions, and that another candidate might be better positioned to present them. If so, she might open up the Pence Possibility — a candidacy by someone whose Hillsdale College speech last September was remarkable in my view and came considerably closer to Lincoln than another recent one.

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Morning Commentary

The street riots in Tunisia could lead to a democratic revolution, but they could also lead to the rise of an extremist government, like the 1979 Islamic revolution did in Iran. In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum writes about the potential outcomes of Tunisia’s political transition: “A month ago, they turned to street protests. So far, this is not an Islamic revolution — but it isn’t a democratic revolution yet, either. Instead, we are witnessing a demographic revolution: the revolt of the frustrated young against their corrupt elders. Anyone who looked at the population numbers and job data could have guessed it might happen, and, as I say, many did.”

Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, Natan Sharansky, Alan Dershowitz, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and other Jewish leaders spoke out against the anti-Israel delegitimization movement at a south Florida summit on Sunday. While the boycott and divestment campaign hasn’t entered the mainstream in the U.S., it has been increasingly problematic in Europe: “‘When there is a boycott of Israeli products — buy them. When trade unions and universities want companies to divest of their holdings in Israeli companies — invest in them. When there is a speaker from Israel — attend the speech and make sure the speaker can be heard,’ Oren said. Most of all, ‘We must educate our community about BDS. We must unite actively to combat it,’ he said.”

Claudia Rosett wonders when Saudi Arabia is going to send Israel a thank-you note for Stuxnet. After all, if WikiLeaks has shown us anything, it’s that the Saudis fear a nuclear Iran almost as much as Israel and the U.S. do: “But if the broad picture painted by the Times is accurate (and there are gaps in the trail described), then surely there is another group of countries which for more wholesome reasons owe a profound thank you to Israel. Prominent among this crowd are the Middle East potentates, from the king of Saudi Arabia to the king of Bahrain to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, whose private pleadings — as made to U.S. officials and exposed by Wikileaks — were to do whatever it takes to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Stuxnet may be the first instance of cyberwarfare, writes Spencer Ackerman. But how far can these types of attacks go in helping us attain our national-security goals? “That also points to the downside. Just as strategic bombing doesn’t have a good track record of success, Stuxnet hasn’t taken down the Iranian nuclear program. Doctrine-writers may be tempted to view cyberwar as an alternative to a shooting war, but the evidence to date doesn’t suggest anything of the sort. Stuxnet just indicates that high-level cyberwarfare really is possible; it doesn’t indicate that it’s sufficient for achieving national objectives.”

Happy MLK Day. Foreign Policy’s Will Inboden asks President Obama to remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for human rights and justice when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao this week: “As my Shadow Government colleague Mike Green pointed out in his excellent preview of the Hu visit, China’s imprisonment of democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo means that the White House meeting this week will be ‘our first summit (indeed, our first state visit) between a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a world leader who is imprisoning another Nobel Peace Prize laureate.’ Martin Luther King Jr. also won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1964.”

The street riots in Tunisia could lead to a democratic revolution, but they could also lead to the rise of an extremist government, like the 1979 Islamic revolution did in Iran. In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum writes about the potential outcomes of Tunisia’s political transition: “A month ago, they turned to street protests. So far, this is not an Islamic revolution — but it isn’t a democratic revolution yet, either. Instead, we are witnessing a demographic revolution: the revolt of the frustrated young against their corrupt elders. Anyone who looked at the population numbers and job data could have guessed it might happen, and, as I say, many did.”

Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, Natan Sharansky, Alan Dershowitz, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and other Jewish leaders spoke out against the anti-Israel delegitimization movement at a south Florida summit on Sunday. While the boycott and divestment campaign hasn’t entered the mainstream in the U.S., it has been increasingly problematic in Europe: “‘When there is a boycott of Israeli products — buy them. When trade unions and universities want companies to divest of their holdings in Israeli companies — invest in them. When there is a speaker from Israel — attend the speech and make sure the speaker can be heard,’ Oren said. Most of all, ‘We must educate our community about BDS. We must unite actively to combat it,’ he said.”

Claudia Rosett wonders when Saudi Arabia is going to send Israel a thank-you note for Stuxnet. After all, if WikiLeaks has shown us anything, it’s that the Saudis fear a nuclear Iran almost as much as Israel and the U.S. do: “But if the broad picture painted by the Times is accurate (and there are gaps in the trail described), then surely there is another group of countries which for more wholesome reasons owe a profound thank you to Israel. Prominent among this crowd are the Middle East potentates, from the king of Saudi Arabia to the king of Bahrain to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, whose private pleadings — as made to U.S. officials and exposed by Wikileaks — were to do whatever it takes to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Stuxnet may be the first instance of cyberwarfare, writes Spencer Ackerman. But how far can these types of attacks go in helping us attain our national-security goals? “That also points to the downside. Just as strategic bombing doesn’t have a good track record of success, Stuxnet hasn’t taken down the Iranian nuclear program. Doctrine-writers may be tempted to view cyberwar as an alternative to a shooting war, but the evidence to date doesn’t suggest anything of the sort. Stuxnet just indicates that high-level cyberwarfare really is possible; it doesn’t indicate that it’s sufficient for achieving national objectives.”

Happy MLK Day. Foreign Policy’s Will Inboden asks President Obama to remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for human rights and justice when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao this week: “As my Shadow Government colleague Mike Green pointed out in his excellent preview of the Hu visit, China’s imprisonment of democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo means that the White House meeting this week will be ‘our first summit (indeed, our first state visit) between a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a world leader who is imprisoning another Nobel Peace Prize laureate.’ Martin Luther King Jr. also won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1964.”

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Comparing the Obama and Palin Speeches

The ridiculous media reaction to the speeches made by President Obama and Sarah Palin yesterday is just a glimpse of the type of coverage we’ll see if Palin becomes the Republican nominee for 2012. Today’s theme is obviously that Obama is a post-partisan unifier/masterful orator and Palin is a divisive megalomaniac. And so far, the message has been quite extensive in its reach.

Politico picked it up this morning in a headline story. “At sunrise in the East on Wednesday, Sarah Palin demonstrated that she has little interest — or capacity — in moving beyond her brand of grievance-based politics,” wrote Jonathan Martin. “And at sundown in the West, Barack Obama reminded even his critics of his ability to rally disparate Americans around a message of reconciliation.”

The New York Times and the Washington Post also piled on. “Obama has proven to be a polarizing figure in office, but on Wednesday he sought to unify,” wrote the Post’s Dan Balz. “Palin ended up dividing. On a day of scripted messages, presumably carefully considered, Obama made the most of his. Palin did not.”

And then the “tone” — which seems to be the word of the week — of the criticism disintegrated quickly from there.

“What America has witnessed in the last 24 hours is a president of the United States who acted like a president of the United States, a Speaker of the House who acted like a Speaker of the House — and Sarah Palin, a pretender to the presidency who acted like a divisive, selfish, small-minded self-promoter,” wrote Brent Budowsky at the Hill.

Radio host Bill Press, in a column that could have been excellent satire if it wasn’t written in earnest, wrote that Obama’s speech “was one of the most powerful speeches I’ve heard any president give. Like the Gettysburg Address in its lasting message.”

“What a contrast with the sickening, self-serving video released the same day by the dropout governor of Alaska,” Press continued. “In his remarks, President Obama expressed the hope that some good will come out of the tragedy in Tucson. If we’re lucky, one good thing will be the end of the already-too-long political career of Sarah Palin. She can make plenty of money at Fox News. That’s where she belongs, not with the rest of America.”

So Sarah Palin’s “divisive” speech was so sickening that she (and Fox News) shouldn’t be allowed to belong with the rest of America. Got it. Read More

The ridiculous media reaction to the speeches made by President Obama and Sarah Palin yesterday is just a glimpse of the type of coverage we’ll see if Palin becomes the Republican nominee for 2012. Today’s theme is obviously that Obama is a post-partisan unifier/masterful orator and Palin is a divisive megalomaniac. And so far, the message has been quite extensive in its reach.

Politico picked it up this morning in a headline story. “At sunrise in the East on Wednesday, Sarah Palin demonstrated that she has little interest — or capacity — in moving beyond her brand of grievance-based politics,” wrote Jonathan Martin. “And at sundown in the West, Barack Obama reminded even his critics of his ability to rally disparate Americans around a message of reconciliation.”

The New York Times and the Washington Post also piled on. “Obama has proven to be a polarizing figure in office, but on Wednesday he sought to unify,” wrote the Post’s Dan Balz. “Palin ended up dividing. On a day of scripted messages, presumably carefully considered, Obama made the most of his. Palin did not.”

And then the “tone” — which seems to be the word of the week — of the criticism disintegrated quickly from there.

“What America has witnessed in the last 24 hours is a president of the United States who acted like a president of the United States, a Speaker of the House who acted like a Speaker of the House — and Sarah Palin, a pretender to the presidency who acted like a divisive, selfish, small-minded self-promoter,” wrote Brent Budowsky at the Hill.

Radio host Bill Press, in a column that could have been excellent satire if it wasn’t written in earnest, wrote that Obama’s speech “was one of the most powerful speeches I’ve heard any president give. Like the Gettysburg Address in its lasting message.”

“What a contrast with the sickening, self-serving video released the same day by the dropout governor of Alaska,” Press continued. “In his remarks, President Obama expressed the hope that some good will come out of the tragedy in Tucson. If we’re lucky, one good thing will be the end of the already-too-long political career of Sarah Palin. She can make plenty of money at Fox News. That’s where she belongs, not with the rest of America.”

So Sarah Palin’s “divisive” speech was so sickening that she (and Fox News) shouldn’t be allowed to belong with the rest of America. Got it.

But back to the more substantive articles. While I wouldn’t go so far as to compare Obama’s speech with the Gettysburg Address, it deserves all the praise that it’s gotten from the media. It was emotional, inspiring, and comforting. In sum, it was everything a presidential speech should be in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

Palin’s speech, in comparison, didn’t seem as presidential. And so what? She’s not the president — and moreover, she wasn’t speaking at a memorial service — so there was no reason why she should have pretended otherwise.

Abe has already pointed to Jonah Goldberg’s post at the Corner; Goldberg also makes an apt point about Palin’s lack of a presidential demeanor:

I think the president was more presidential in no small part because he is the president. Palin’s video statement was something else because she is not the president. And the criticism that she should have turned the other cheek and not defended herself at all strikes me as beyond absurd. The woman was being accused of being a willful co-conspirator in murder. It is just unfair and flatly dishonest to expect her not to address that.

I second his other point as well. It’s particularly sleazy for the media to level false charges at Palin and then scold her for having the nerve to defend herself. Moreover, she barely even made any references to the criticisms leveled at her. The address struck me as more of a defense of free speech in general, something that is much more important to a democratic society than the protection of civil “tone.”

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Why the Constitution — and What It Means — Matters

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter. Read More

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter.

For many modern-day liberals, the Constitution is, at best, a piece of quaint, even irrelevant, parchment. As Jonah Goldberg reminds us in his excellent column:

“Are you serious?” was Nancy Pelosi’s response to a question over the constitutionality of health care reform. Third-ranking House Democrat Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina famously declared that “there’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do.” Rep. Phil Hare of Illinois, before he was defeated by a Tea Party–backed candidate, told a town hall meeting, “I don’t worry about the Constitution” on health care reform.

At the core of the differences between contemporary liberals and conservatives, then, is the power of the federal government in our lives. The Constitution was designed as a check on the power of government, done in order to protect individual liberties. The Founders designed a federal government with limited, delegated, and enumerated powers, a theory of government that conservatives embrace and consider paradigmatic. (How that theory works itself out in practice is, of course, not always clear.)

The progressive/liberal disposition, on the other hand, believes that this view of the Constitution is obsolete and unwise; it is constantly, even relentlessly, looking for ways to increase the powers of the federal government (witness the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010). In order to achieve this, the Constitution needs to be ignored or, better yet, re-invented as a Living Constitution, constantly evolving, morphing from age to age, interpreted in light of the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

But as Justice Antonin Scalia has written, “Perhaps the most glaring defect of Living Constitutionalism, next to its incompatibility with the whole antievolutionary purpose of a constitution, is that there is no agreement, and no chance of agreement, upon what is to be the guiding principle of the evolution. Panta rei [“all things are in flux”] is not a sufficiently informative principle of constitutional interpretation.”

When determining when and in what direction the evolution should occur, Scalia asks:

Is it the will of the majority, discerned from newspapers, radio talk shows, public opinion polls, and chats at the country club? Is it the philosophy of Hume, or of John Rawls, or of John Stuart Mill, or of Aristotle? As soon as the discussion goes beyond the issue of whether the Constitution is static, the evolutionists divide into as many camps as there are individual views of the good, the true, and the beautiful. I think that is inevitably so, which means that evolutionism is simply not a practicable constitutional philosophy.

For those on the left, the answer to Scalia’s question is: The Constitution means whatever we say it means. And in order for this subjective, ad hoc interpretation to prevail, the left must control the levers of political and judicial power.

There is an effort today to reassert the primacy of the traditional, rather than the Living, Constitution. Liberals understand this, which explains why they are reacting in the manner they are.

The controversy about members of the 112th Congress reading the Constitution is not really about that; it is about something much deeper and more significant. It has to do with how we understand and interpret our charter of government, the product of what John Adams called “the greatest single effort of national deliberations that the world has ever seen.” I suspect that this debate, which conservatives should welcome, will only intensify.

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Public’s Patience Thin with Both Parties

According to Gallup:

In 2010, 31% of Americans identified as Democrats, down five percentage points from just two years ago and tied for the lowest annual average Gallup has measured in the last 22 years. While Democrats still outnumber Republicans by two points, the percentage identifying as independents increased to 38%, on the high end of what Gallup has measured in the last two decades

The analysis goes on to say this:

While there is usually some year-to-year variation in party identification at the aggregate level, the changes are typically not large. Thus, the five-point drop in Democratic identification over the past two years, from the party’s 22-year high of 36% (tying the 1988 figure) to its 22-year low of 31%, is notable.

Perhaps equally significant is that the percentage of Americans identifying as Republicans has increased only slightly to 29% during this time, and remains on the low end of what Gallup has measured the past two decades.

Nevertheless, 2010 was a good year for Republicans, given the party’s major gains in the midterm elections. Those gains were in part driven by the party’s appeal to independents, evident in the strong support for Republican congressional candidates among independent voters.

Independents’ increasing affinity for the GOP is also evident in a separate measure of party affiliation Gallup tracks, which takes into account the party leanings of independents. In 2010, 45% of Americans identified as Democrats or said they were independent but leaned toward the Democratic Party, while 44% identified as Republicans or said they were independent but leaned Republican. The 1-point Democratic advantage is the party’s smallest since 2003, when the parties were even, and represents a sharp decline from the record 12-point Democratic advantage in 2008.

This survey shows several things occurring at once. The most important is that after two years of President Obama and four years of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Party is in a very weakened state. At the same time, the nation is far from enchanted with the GOP. When it came to winning voters in 2010, the Republican Party dominated, and that counts for a lot. But the GOP “brand” remains tarnished — and, presumably, public patience with the Republican Party is limited. In addition, the high number of voters identifying themselves as independents indicates that we are seeing something of a political de-alignment occur.

All of this can change, depending on how events unfold. For now, though, the decline of the Democratic Party in the Age of Obama (and Pelosi) is among the more notable political developments of the last half-decade.

According to Gallup:

In 2010, 31% of Americans identified as Democrats, down five percentage points from just two years ago and tied for the lowest annual average Gallup has measured in the last 22 years. While Democrats still outnumber Republicans by two points, the percentage identifying as independents increased to 38%, on the high end of what Gallup has measured in the last two decades

The analysis goes on to say this:

While there is usually some year-to-year variation in party identification at the aggregate level, the changes are typically not large. Thus, the five-point drop in Democratic identification over the past two years, from the party’s 22-year high of 36% (tying the 1988 figure) to its 22-year low of 31%, is notable.

Perhaps equally significant is that the percentage of Americans identifying as Republicans has increased only slightly to 29% during this time, and remains on the low end of what Gallup has measured the past two decades.

Nevertheless, 2010 was a good year for Republicans, given the party’s major gains in the midterm elections. Those gains were in part driven by the party’s appeal to independents, evident in the strong support for Republican congressional candidates among independent voters.

Independents’ increasing affinity for the GOP is also evident in a separate measure of party affiliation Gallup tracks, which takes into account the party leanings of independents. In 2010, 45% of Americans identified as Democrats or said they were independent but leaned toward the Democratic Party, while 44% identified as Republicans or said they were independent but leaned Republican. The 1-point Democratic advantage is the party’s smallest since 2003, when the parties were even, and represents a sharp decline from the record 12-point Democratic advantage in 2008.

This survey shows several things occurring at once. The most important is that after two years of President Obama and four years of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Party is in a very weakened state. At the same time, the nation is far from enchanted with the GOP. When it came to winning voters in 2010, the Republican Party dominated, and that counts for a lot. But the GOP “brand” remains tarnished — and, presumably, public patience with the Republican Party is limited. In addition, the high number of voters identifying themselves as independents indicates that we are seeing something of a political de-alignment occur.

All of this can change, depending on how events unfold. For now, though, the decline of the Democratic Party in the Age of Obama (and Pelosi) is among the more notable political developments of the last half-decade.

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Speaker Boehner’s Maiden Speech

In his first speech as Speaker of the House, John Boehner struck just the right tone, I thought. Though hardly a spellbinding orator, Boehner’s remarks were short and gracious, modest and at times elegant. He spoke about the power of ideas and the importance of fairness to the minority party. He also placed the job of the House within the framework of self-government, saying

The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them. That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people’s House. This is their Congress. It’s about them, not us. What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves.

Speaker Boehner appears to be, temperamentally at least, the antithesis of both his predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, and Newt Gingrich, who saw himself as a world-historical figure.

That is appropriate for the times.

By the end of his tenure, what Boehner said today will be long forgotten. He will be judged on his record and that of the 112th Congress, as he should. But at the outset of this journey, Mr. Boehner struck the right notes in the right way. Plus, he didn’t cry.

In his first speech as Speaker of the House, John Boehner struck just the right tone, I thought. Though hardly a spellbinding orator, Boehner’s remarks were short and gracious, modest and at times elegant. He spoke about the power of ideas and the importance of fairness to the minority party. He also placed the job of the House within the framework of self-government, saying

The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them. That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people’s House. This is their Congress. It’s about them, not us. What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves.

Speaker Boehner appears to be, temperamentally at least, the antithesis of both his predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, and Newt Gingrich, who saw himself as a world-historical figure.

That is appropriate for the times.

By the end of his tenure, what Boehner said today will be long forgotten. He will be judged on his record and that of the 112th Congress, as he should. But at the outset of this journey, Mr. Boehner struck the right notes in the right way. Plus, he didn’t cry.

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The Peaceful Transfer of Power Is No Small Thing

In watching C-SPAN’s coverage of the election of John Boehner as Speaker of the House, it’s worth recalling what is often overlooked: the peaceful transfer of political power from one party to another is an amazing achievement. By now it is commonplace, of course; the ballot is stronger than the bullet, Lincoln said; and for Americans, this choice has long since been made. But for much of human history, including in many countries in the world today, the loss of political power is accompanied by violence and bloodshed. To watch the proceedings today — the votes, ceremony, and formality; the milling around, side conversations, and even the looks of boredom — is to be reminded that this nation and its form of government is, as Gladstone said of the U.S. Constitution, “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”

Sometimes the normalcy and routine nature of events hide just how extraordinary they are.

In watching C-SPAN’s coverage of the election of John Boehner as Speaker of the House, it’s worth recalling what is often overlooked: the peaceful transfer of political power from one party to another is an amazing achievement. By now it is commonplace, of course; the ballot is stronger than the bullet, Lincoln said; and for Americans, this choice has long since been made. But for much of human history, including in many countries in the world today, the loss of political power is accompanied by violence and bloodshed. To watch the proceedings today — the votes, ceremony, and formality; the milling around, side conversations, and even the looks of boredom — is to be reminded that this nation and its form of government is, as Gladstone said of the U.S. Constitution, “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”

Sometimes the normalcy and routine nature of events hide just how extraordinary they are.

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Saving Private Pelosi: Nancy’s Spielberg Makeovers

The Washington Post reported today that film director Steven Spielberg may soon be serving as a consultant to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she attempts to “rebrand” House Democrats after a historic defeat in which they lost 61 seats to the Republicans. Though Spielberg’s spokesperson attempted to throw cold water on this item, as the Post noted, it was a “classic non-denial denial.”

Spielberg is well known to be a loyal Democrat who has in the past helped raise money and promote the candidacies of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But the idea that the famed moviemaker can pull something out of his hat — other, that is, than some more Hollywood cash — to change America’s mind about one of the least-liked political figures of the day may be asking a bit too much. Though Spielberg is not unfamiliar with epic disasters, such as his famous flop 1941, attempting to “rebrand” a shrill, unlikeable ideologue like Pelosi is a daunting task.

What advice could Spielberg offer to Pelosi? Changing the public’s mind about a woman whose unpopularity was a greater factor in this year’s GOP victory than the virtues of her opponents will require Spielberg to tap deep into his archive of film hits. In the hope of providing some insight into the machinations of this liberal brain trust, here are some possible previews of Spielberg-inspired TV commercials and short films that will air in the future in battleground states:

Saving Private Blue Dog: A picked squad of Democratic House members led by Pelosi venture deep into a Red State in order to extricate a beleaguered member from a GOP-dominated district, climaxing with the wounded Speaker urging the lost Democrat to “earn this” as she expires.

E.T.: The Sequel: The famous cuddly alien is about to be waterboarded by Republicans but is rescued by Pelosi, who makes off with him on her bicycle as the two discuss immigration reform.

Close Encounters with Democrats: A random group of Americans find themselves inexplicably drawn to gather at the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming to attend an indoctrination session with Pelosi about supporting ObamaCare.

Raiders of the Lost Democrat: Pelosi leads a multi-continental search for the lost copy of the Bill of Rights. After being captured by Dick Cheney and his band of evil Republicans, Pelosi witnesses the opening of the ark, which contains what is believed to be the artifact. Cheney and the GOPniks melt, but when Pelosi reads the artifact, it turns out to be merely a memo from Rahm Emanuel about earmarks.

Jaws V: The Democrats’ Revenge: Pelosi attempts to save the population of a beach community endangered by a ruthlessly pro-business Republican town council in cahoots with a shark believed to be responsible for an oil spill. Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Richard Dreyfuss (as himself) take to the sea to catch the shark. Pelosi and Dreyfuss swim to shore after the battle, determined to make peace in the Middle East.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World of Politicians: An attempt to clone famous Democrats of the past at a theme park goes tragically wrong as the reincarnated Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson attempt to reimpose Jim Crow on an unwilling America. Pelosi is forced to join forces with Republicans as they bring back Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt to counter the Dem icons. The conclusion is a sermon on bipartisanship.

Happy holidays to readers of all persuasions and parties!

The Washington Post reported today that film director Steven Spielberg may soon be serving as a consultant to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she attempts to “rebrand” House Democrats after a historic defeat in which they lost 61 seats to the Republicans. Though Spielberg’s spokesperson attempted to throw cold water on this item, as the Post noted, it was a “classic non-denial denial.”

Spielberg is well known to be a loyal Democrat who has in the past helped raise money and promote the candidacies of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But the idea that the famed moviemaker can pull something out of his hat — other, that is, than some more Hollywood cash — to change America’s mind about one of the least-liked political figures of the day may be asking a bit too much. Though Spielberg is not unfamiliar with epic disasters, such as his famous flop 1941, attempting to “rebrand” a shrill, unlikeable ideologue like Pelosi is a daunting task.

What advice could Spielberg offer to Pelosi? Changing the public’s mind about a woman whose unpopularity was a greater factor in this year’s GOP victory than the virtues of her opponents will require Spielberg to tap deep into his archive of film hits. In the hope of providing some insight into the machinations of this liberal brain trust, here are some possible previews of Spielberg-inspired TV commercials and short films that will air in the future in battleground states:

Saving Private Blue Dog: A picked squad of Democratic House members led by Pelosi venture deep into a Red State in order to extricate a beleaguered member from a GOP-dominated district, climaxing with the wounded Speaker urging the lost Democrat to “earn this” as she expires.

E.T.: The Sequel: The famous cuddly alien is about to be waterboarded by Republicans but is rescued by Pelosi, who makes off with him on her bicycle as the two discuss immigration reform.

Close Encounters with Democrats: A random group of Americans find themselves inexplicably drawn to gather at the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming to attend an indoctrination session with Pelosi about supporting ObamaCare.

Raiders of the Lost Democrat: Pelosi leads a multi-continental search for the lost copy of the Bill of Rights. After being captured by Dick Cheney and his band of evil Republicans, Pelosi witnesses the opening of the ark, which contains what is believed to be the artifact. Cheney and the GOPniks melt, but when Pelosi reads the artifact, it turns out to be merely a memo from Rahm Emanuel about earmarks.

Jaws V: The Democrats’ Revenge: Pelosi attempts to save the population of a beach community endangered by a ruthlessly pro-business Republican town council in cahoots with a shark believed to be responsible for an oil spill. Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Richard Dreyfuss (as himself) take to the sea to catch the shark. Pelosi and Dreyfuss swim to shore after the battle, determined to make peace in the Middle East.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World of Politicians: An attempt to clone famous Democrats of the past at a theme park goes tragically wrong as the reincarnated Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson attempt to reimpose Jim Crow on an unwilling America. Pelosi is forced to join forces with Republicans as they bring back Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt to counter the Dem icons. The conclusion is a sermon on bipartisanship.

Happy holidays to readers of all persuasions and parties!

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The Extremism of E.J. Dionne Jr.

E.J. Dionne Jr. has a column registering his concerns about the “No Labels” group. But he isn’t entirely critical. Dionne makes it clear that there are some things he’s sympathetic to, including this:

The No Labelers are also right to be repulsed by the replacement of real argument with a vicious brand of name-calling. When a president of the United States is attacked simultaneously as an “extreme liberal liar” and a “Nazi,” there is a sick irrationality at work in our discourse.

It’s perhaps worth noting that during the Bush presidency, when George W. Bush was slandered by leading members of the Democratic Party as a “moral coward” (Vice President Al Gore), as a “loser” and a “liar” who had “betrayed his country” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and who “Week after week after week after week … told lie after lie after lie after lie” (Senator Edward Kennedy), Dionne, in an amazing feat of self-control, held his outrage in abeyance. Back then, it was not “sick irrationality at work in our discourse”; it was just the normal, good-spirited back and forth of American politics. And if E.J. has written a column reprimanding the loathsome Representative Alan Grayson for his vicious brand of name-calling, I missed it. (Grayson dubbed his opponent Daniel Webster “Taliban Dan” in a deeply dishonest ad. He has also said, “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: Die quickly.” And for good measure, Grayson has compared Republicans to “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals” and Nazis burning the Reichstag.)

In any event, in his column Dionne goes on to assure us that “I am still devoted to moderation.” Of course he is. But what’s really troubling him are those right-wing extremist Republicans and conservatives. Moderation, you see, is “very much alive on the center-left and among Democrats” — but it is “so dead in the Republican Party and on the right.” The No Labelers can yet be a constructive force, Dionne instructs us, “if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism.”

E.J. faces a bit of a problem, of course. The GOP he deems to be so radical, so zealous, and so outside the mainstream is barely a month removed from a historically successful midterm election. Republicans picked up more House seats (63) than in any election since 1938 and have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s. In addition, Americans, by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, self-identify as conservative rather than liberal. Public trust in government is at record lows; so is the approval rating for the Democratically controlled Congress. And the signature domestic initiative of the Obama presidency, health-care reform, is quite unpopular and falling short of virtually every promise its advocates made on its behalf. Read More

E.J. Dionne Jr. has a column registering his concerns about the “No Labels” group. But he isn’t entirely critical. Dionne makes it clear that there are some things he’s sympathetic to, including this:

The No Labelers are also right to be repulsed by the replacement of real argument with a vicious brand of name-calling. When a president of the United States is attacked simultaneously as an “extreme liberal liar” and a “Nazi,” there is a sick irrationality at work in our discourse.

It’s perhaps worth noting that during the Bush presidency, when George W. Bush was slandered by leading members of the Democratic Party as a “moral coward” (Vice President Al Gore), as a “loser” and a “liar” who had “betrayed his country” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and who “Week after week after week after week … told lie after lie after lie after lie” (Senator Edward Kennedy), Dionne, in an amazing feat of self-control, held his outrage in abeyance. Back then, it was not “sick irrationality at work in our discourse”; it was just the normal, good-spirited back and forth of American politics. And if E.J. has written a column reprimanding the loathsome Representative Alan Grayson for his vicious brand of name-calling, I missed it. (Grayson dubbed his opponent Daniel Webster “Taliban Dan” in a deeply dishonest ad. He has also said, “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: Die quickly.” And for good measure, Grayson has compared Republicans to “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals” and Nazis burning the Reichstag.)

In any event, in his column Dionne goes on to assure us that “I am still devoted to moderation.” Of course he is. But what’s really troubling him are those right-wing extremist Republicans and conservatives. Moderation, you see, is “very much alive on the center-left and among Democrats” — but it is “so dead in the Republican Party and on the right.” The No Labelers can yet be a constructive force, Dionne instructs us, “if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism.”

E.J. faces a bit of a problem, of course. The GOP he deems to be so radical, so zealous, and so outside the mainstream is barely a month removed from a historically successful midterm election. Republicans picked up more House seats (63) than in any election since 1938 and have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s. In addition, Americans, by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, self-identify as conservative rather than liberal. Public trust in government is at record lows; so is the approval rating for the Democratically controlled Congress. And the signature domestic initiative of the Obama presidency, health-care reform, is quite unpopular and falling short of virtually every promise its advocates made on its behalf.

If you want to place the Devoted-to-Moderation Dionne on the political spectrum, consider that he’s a great defender of the soon-to-be-ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose own extremism led to her registering an 8 percent favorability rating among independents just prior to the election (61 percent viewed her unfavorably).

The main problem for E.J., though, is that the 2010 midterm election was a massive repudiation of contemporary liberalism, as embodied by people like President Obama and E.J. Dionne. It was among the most nationalized midterm elections in our history. Having lived under liberal governance for two years, the public reacted to it like the human body reacts to food poisoning. This is something that Dionne doesn’t seem able to process; his ideology won’t allow it. And so he continues to bellow, week after week, about how radical the right has become.

It’s true that Dionne’s columns highlight political extremism of a sort. But the extremism is his, not conservatism’s.

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Obama’s Not-So-Very-Good Week

David Brooks is not only an outstanding columnist; he’s also a friend. And so I want to register a friendly dissent with his column today.

As Rick noted, David argues that Barack Obama ran for president as a “network liberal” — defined as  one who believes progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. (Brooks contrasts this with “cluster liberals/cluster conservatives,” meaning those who believe that victory is achieved through “maximum unity” and that “partisan might” should be “bluntly applied.”) But in office, Brooks writes, “Obama, like George W. Bush before him, narrowed his networks.”

That is, I think, an unfair reading of the Bush presidency.

One of the first significant legislative undertakings of President Bush, for example, was No Child Left Behind, which was the result of substantial bipartisan cooperation. President Obama has, until now, shown no such inclination to work with Republicans. In the first term, Bush also worked with Democrats on Medicare prescription drugs. Both the Afghanistan and Iraq war resolutions had substantial to overwhelming bipartisan support; so did the Patriot Act. Even on the 2001 tax cuts, Bush worked with Democrats and took into account their input. (Then House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said a corporate tax cut was a non-starter with his caucus; he suggested instead sending out rebate checks to low- and moderate-income households. In response Bush, against his better judgment, instructed the White House staff to replace the corporate rate cut with Gephardt’s rebates. For more, see Karl Rove’s Courage and Consequence, chapter 19.)

At comparable points in their presidency, then, George W. Bush was much more of a “network conservative” than Obama has been a “network liberal.” Read More

David Brooks is not only an outstanding columnist; he’s also a friend. And so I want to register a friendly dissent with his column today.

As Rick noted, David argues that Barack Obama ran for president as a “network liberal” — defined as  one who believes progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. (Brooks contrasts this with “cluster liberals/cluster conservatives,” meaning those who believe that victory is achieved through “maximum unity” and that “partisan might” should be “bluntly applied.”) But in office, Brooks writes, “Obama, like George W. Bush before him, narrowed his networks.”

That is, I think, an unfair reading of the Bush presidency.

One of the first significant legislative undertakings of President Bush, for example, was No Child Left Behind, which was the result of substantial bipartisan cooperation. President Obama has, until now, shown no such inclination to work with Republicans. In the first term, Bush also worked with Democrats on Medicare prescription drugs. Both the Afghanistan and Iraq war resolutions had substantial to overwhelming bipartisan support; so did the Patriot Act. Even on the 2001 tax cuts, Bush worked with Democrats and took into account their input. (Then House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said a corporate tax cut was a non-starter with his caucus; he suggested instead sending out rebate checks to low- and moderate-income households. In response Bush, against his better judgment, instructed the White House staff to replace the corporate rate cut with Gephardt’s rebates. For more, see Karl Rove’s Courage and Consequence, chapter 19.)

At comparable points in their presidency, then, George W. Bush was much more of a “network conservative” than Obama has been a “network liberal.”

Second, David — in contrasting Obama favorably this week with “cluster liberals” — writes:

Cluster liberals in the House and the commentariat are angry. They have no strategy for how Obama could have better played his weak hand — with a coming Republican majority, an expiring tax law and several Democratic senators from red states insisting on extending all the cuts. They just sense the waning of their moment and are howling in protest.

They believe nonliberals are blackmailers or hostage-takers or the concentrated repositories of human evil, so, of course, they see coalition-building as collaboration. They are also convinced that Democrats should never start a negotiation because they will always end up losing in the end. (Perhaps psychologists can explain the interesting combination: intellectual self-confidence alongside a political inferiority complex.)

Some of this analysis I agree with. I would point out, however, that (a) during his press conference, Obama was as visibly angry as many people can recall seeing him, and (b) the term “hostage takers” was used by Obama against Republicans.

Finally, I disagree with David’s verdict that Obama had “a very good week.” Brooks’s argument is that Obama has put himself in a position to govern again, and I understand and have some sympathy with the point he’s making: Obama is distancing himself from his liberal base and, in so doing, embracing a policy that is both fairly popular and wise.

What’s going to damage Obama, though, is the manner in which the distancing was done. The president’s base is enraged at him; what we’re seeing looks very much like a political revolt within his own ranks. It’s stating the obvious to say that having members of your own congressional caucus cursing at you is not a very good thing. And as President George H.W. Bush found out with his violation of his “no new taxes” pledge, creating fury within your base in order to tack to the center can hurt one rather than help one.

Nor is it clear yet that Nancy Pelosi will even bring the legislation Obama has blessed to the floor for a vote without changes. I assume she will — but if the speaker decides not to, and if as a result Obama fails to get this deal signed into law, it will be a terrifically damaging blow to his prestige and his presidency. And even if Obama does succeed, he has created enormous unhappiness and mistrust among his base. This won’t be forgotten any time soon. Presidents, while needing to distance themselves from their base at times, don’t usually succeed when they are at war with it.

Democratic tempers will cool over time; new political battles will reconnect Obama to his party. And the key variable remains the economy. If in 2012 unemployment is going down, if the economy is growing at a brisk pace, and if people are confident about the trajectory the country is on, Obama will be in good shape with both his base and with independents. For now, though, the president is in a precarious position, having (for the moment at least) lost his base without having won over the rest of the country. It may be that the former is necessary to achieve the latter — but the way these things are done matters quite a lot. And this has been ugly all the way around.

If David Brooks is right and this week signaled the beginning of a fundamental change in Obama’s governing philosophy, then the president has helped himself. If, on the other hand, what Obama did this week was simply an anomaly, a tactical shift without a fundamental rethinking, then he has complicated his life and damaged his presidency.

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The Divide Between Obama and His Base Widens

Count me among those who believe the agreement by President Obama to extend the Bush tax cuts to be a huge substantive (and political) victory for the GOP. There is, I think, one fact above all others that places things in their proper perspective: arguably the most liberal president in American history, still with huge majorities in the House and Senate, agreed to extend tax cuts that he and his party have been hammering for the better part of a decade.

The tectonic plates shifted yesterday — and they shifted as a result of the epic midterm election. After two years of activist government unseen since the middle part of the 1960s, things are going in the opposite direction.

The president knows it, and he’s clearly unhappy about it. Mr. Obama was clearly annoyed with the deal he felt forced to sign, going out of his way to express his distaste for allowing tax cuts to go to high-wage earners. And of course, there was the requisite Obama vanity and self-conceit. The lack of a deal on tax cuts would “be a chilling prospect for the American people whose taxes are currently scheduled to go up on January 1st because of arrangements that were made back in 2001 and 2003 under the Bush tax cuts,” Obama informed us. “I am not willing to let that happen. … I’m not willing to let working families across this country become collateral damage for political warfare here in Washington. And I’m not willing to let our economy slip backwards just as we’re pulling ourselves out of this devastating recession.”

Leave it to Barack the Great to once again hover high above politics as usual, the adult among the clamoring children, the voice of reason against the unruly political mob.

The president’s remarks were clearly aimed at his liberal base, which is terribly unhappy with him (see these stories here and here). In fact, according to the Hill, “House Democrats signaled Monday they will fight the tax-cut deal President Obama announced a day earlier with Republicans.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a post on Twitter, made clear her unhappiness with the tax deal.

This is very dangerous territory Mr. Obama is now in. He hasn’t done nearly enough to win back the confidence of independents — but he’s done more than enough to outrage his political base. We might even have the extraordinary situation of Speaker Pelosi leading the campaign to defeat a deal blessed by the president.

Obama set astronomical expectations when he ran, and so the disappointment among his core supporters is especially acute. Some on the left are eager to distance themselves from what they perceive to be a failing presidency. And we are in the midst of the weakest recovery since the government started keeping unemployment statistics. The Obama presidency is battered and adrift right now. The man who was supposed to revivify liberalism and the Democratic Party is overseeing their partial collapse. It is an amazing thing to witness.

Count me among those who believe the agreement by President Obama to extend the Bush tax cuts to be a huge substantive (and political) victory for the GOP. There is, I think, one fact above all others that places things in their proper perspective: arguably the most liberal president in American history, still with huge majorities in the House and Senate, agreed to extend tax cuts that he and his party have been hammering for the better part of a decade.

The tectonic plates shifted yesterday — and they shifted as a result of the epic midterm election. After two years of activist government unseen since the middle part of the 1960s, things are going in the opposite direction.

The president knows it, and he’s clearly unhappy about it. Mr. Obama was clearly annoyed with the deal he felt forced to sign, going out of his way to express his distaste for allowing tax cuts to go to high-wage earners. And of course, there was the requisite Obama vanity and self-conceit. The lack of a deal on tax cuts would “be a chilling prospect for the American people whose taxes are currently scheduled to go up on January 1st because of arrangements that were made back in 2001 and 2003 under the Bush tax cuts,” Obama informed us. “I am not willing to let that happen. … I’m not willing to let working families across this country become collateral damage for political warfare here in Washington. And I’m not willing to let our economy slip backwards just as we’re pulling ourselves out of this devastating recession.”

Leave it to Barack the Great to once again hover high above politics as usual, the adult among the clamoring children, the voice of reason against the unruly political mob.

The president’s remarks were clearly aimed at his liberal base, which is terribly unhappy with him (see these stories here and here). In fact, according to the Hill, “House Democrats signaled Monday they will fight the tax-cut deal President Obama announced a day earlier with Republicans.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a post on Twitter, made clear her unhappiness with the tax deal.

This is very dangerous territory Mr. Obama is now in. He hasn’t done nearly enough to win back the confidence of independents — but he’s done more than enough to outrage his political base. We might even have the extraordinary situation of Speaker Pelosi leading the campaign to defeat a deal blessed by the president.

Obama set astronomical expectations when he ran, and so the disappointment among his core supporters is especially acute. Some on the left are eager to distance themselves from what they perceive to be a failing presidency. And we are in the midst of the weakest recovery since the government started keeping unemployment statistics. The Obama presidency is battered and adrift right now. The man who was supposed to revivify liberalism and the Democratic Party is overseeing their partial collapse. It is an amazing thing to witness.

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Morning Commentary

Chas Freeman’s New York Times column “Why Iran Loves WikiLeaks” is as scary as it sounds.

Obama finally speaks with China about North Korea, nearly two weeks after the North’s attack on South Korea. Some experts see this as a sign of strained relations between the U.S. and China.

New WikiLeaks dump reveals list of international facilities vital to U.S. security. There are concerns that these locations may become targets of terrorist attacks.

The New York Times’s public editor on why he’s glad the paper published WikiLeaks: “The Times, like other serious news organizations in democracies, exists to ferret out and publish information — most especially information that government, business and other power centers prefer to conceal. Arming readers with knowledge is what it’s about, and journalists are motivated to pursue that end.”

The Iranian foreign minister snubs Hilary Clinton in Bahrain as the heat turns up on Iran’s nuclear program. Talks between Tehran and P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear ambitions begin today.

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about John Boehner can be found in an extensive New Yorker profile out today. The congressman takes over as speaker of the House on January 5.

Afghani confidence with the U.S. is faltering, according to a new poll: “[T]he results … lay bare the challenge that remains in encouraging more Afghans to repudiate the insurgency and cast their lot with the government.”

Chas Freeman’s New York Times column “Why Iran Loves WikiLeaks” is as scary as it sounds.

Obama finally speaks with China about North Korea, nearly two weeks after the North’s attack on South Korea. Some experts see this as a sign of strained relations between the U.S. and China.

New WikiLeaks dump reveals list of international facilities vital to U.S. security. There are concerns that these locations may become targets of terrorist attacks.

The New York Times’s public editor on why he’s glad the paper published WikiLeaks: “The Times, like other serious news organizations in democracies, exists to ferret out and publish information — most especially information that government, business and other power centers prefer to conceal. Arming readers with knowledge is what it’s about, and journalists are motivated to pursue that end.”

The Iranian foreign minister snubs Hilary Clinton in Bahrain as the heat turns up on Iran’s nuclear program. Talks between Tehran and P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear ambitions begin today.

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about John Boehner can be found in an extensive New Yorker profile out today. The congressman takes over as speaker of the House on January 5.

Afghani confidence with the U.S. is faltering, according to a new poll: “[T]he results … lay bare the challenge that remains in encouraging more Afghans to repudiate the insurgency and cast their lot with the government.”

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America Is Powerful, After All

The headlines claim that China was “scared to death of Nancy Pelosi,” but the real story is far more important:

China was “scared to death” over a visit by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is outspoken on human rights, and rejected her request to visit Tibet, according to files leaked Monday.

A top diplomat at the US embassy in Beijing said he asked Chin to consider letting Pelosi go to Tibet during her May 2009 visit to China, according to a cable obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei responded that China could not arrange the trip due to Pelosi’s “tight schedule,” according to the cable reprinted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The Chinese ambassador in Kazakhstan was blunter, telling his US counterpart over an expansive dinner that Beijing was “fearful” over Pelosi’s visit.

The Chinese were not, in fact, fearful of Pelosi. They were fearful of American ideals. This speaks to the enduring power of American condemnation. Onlookers are quick to dismiss the official naming and shaming of human rights abusers as a toothless substitute for “real” policy. That’s because they’ve come to underestimate the damage a little truth and justice can wreak on an abusive, secretive regime. This is why dissidents always push American leaders to talk about human rights abroad. They’ve lived under these regimes and have a feel for their fears and weaknesses. It’s only in free countries that we view public criticism of leaders as a form of impotence.

It’s no small thing to note that in an age when both threats and conciliations get us nowhere, a public embrace of our foundational ideals still sends a potent message. We talk about extending an outstretched hand to theocrats and the theocrats laugh. We talk about crippling sanctions and they laugh harder. To others, we offer aid in exchange for promises of an anti-terrorism crackdown; they collect and then ignore us. For others, we strain our alliances and make demands on our friends; we end up stymied. Still, to others we offer obsequious compromises and fresh starts; they smile kindly and make their own plans.  But we now know the one time in recent memory we had a regime “scared to death” was when it thought we’d mention the sanctity of human rights. Doubtless, this lesson in the fusion of ideals and interests will be lost on the great non-ideological, pragmatic leaders of our time.

The headlines claim that China was “scared to death of Nancy Pelosi,” but the real story is far more important:

China was “scared to death” over a visit by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is outspoken on human rights, and rejected her request to visit Tibet, according to files leaked Monday.

A top diplomat at the US embassy in Beijing said he asked Chin to consider letting Pelosi go to Tibet during her May 2009 visit to China, according to a cable obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei responded that China could not arrange the trip due to Pelosi’s “tight schedule,” according to the cable reprinted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The Chinese ambassador in Kazakhstan was blunter, telling his US counterpart over an expansive dinner that Beijing was “fearful” over Pelosi’s visit.

The Chinese were not, in fact, fearful of Pelosi. They were fearful of American ideals. This speaks to the enduring power of American condemnation. Onlookers are quick to dismiss the official naming and shaming of human rights abusers as a toothless substitute for “real” policy. That’s because they’ve come to underestimate the damage a little truth and justice can wreak on an abusive, secretive regime. This is why dissidents always push American leaders to talk about human rights abroad. They’ve lived under these regimes and have a feel for their fears and weaknesses. It’s only in free countries that we view public criticism of leaders as a form of impotence.

It’s no small thing to note that in an age when both threats and conciliations get us nowhere, a public embrace of our foundational ideals still sends a potent message. We talk about extending an outstretched hand to theocrats and the theocrats laugh. We talk about crippling sanctions and they laugh harder. To others, we offer aid in exchange for promises of an anti-terrorism crackdown; they collect and then ignore us. For others, we strain our alliances and make demands on our friends; we end up stymied. Still, to others we offer obsequious compromises and fresh starts; they smile kindly and make their own plans.  But we now know the one time in recent memory we had a regime “scared to death” was when it thought we’d mention the sanctity of human rights. Doubtless, this lesson in the fusion of ideals and interests will be lost on the great non-ideological, pragmatic leaders of our time.

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On the Offense Against Israel’s Delegitimizers

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.'”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.'”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Hooray for Newton, Massachusetts!: “Temple Beth Avodah, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Newton, has abruptly canceled an event with the president of J Street, a lobbying group that supports liberal positions on Israel, because of vociferous objections from some members of the congregation about J Street’s politics.” Bravo — why should Jews, even liberal ones, keep up the facade that the Soros-funded group is a legitimate, pro-Israel organization.

Three cheers for hope and change: “The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, was re-elected on Wednesday to lead the Democrats in the next Congress, despite her party’s loss of more than 60 seats and its majority control of the House in the midterm elections. Officials said that Ms. Pelosi defeated Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina in an internal party vote, 150 to 43.” We now know that there are 43 Dems who have sense enough to perhaps join their Republican colleagues on key votes.

Bingo! “The whole TSA procedure is hugely frustrating to travelers because not only is it needlessly invasive, but it is also a complete waste of time. Other countries facing similar threats respond in much less irritating and much more intelligent and effective ways. Israel, for example, does not do body scans and invasive pat-downs. If the Republicans want to cut government spending, a good place to start would be to abolish TSA. I say this as a very frequent traveler who regularly flies 150,000 miles per year.”

Wow-wee. Look what $1.5B in aid and Muslim Outreach got us: “Financial ties between Egypt and Iran have recently improved as a result of the Misr Iran Development Bank (MIDB), jointly owned by the two countries, according to a report by the Atlantic Monthly on Monday. According to the report, the MIDB, founded in 1975, has become a potential route for Teheran to bypass imposed economic sanctions with Egypt. The bank serves as evidence of the complex challenge faced by the US in enforcing international sanctions against Iran.”

Bravo, Just Journalism, for documenting 10 years of the London Review of Books‘s noxious anti-Israel screeds. “The LRB consistently portrayed Israel as a bloodthirsty and genocidal regime out of all proportion to reality, while sympathetic portraits abounded of groups designated as terrorist organisations by the British government such as Hamas and Hezbollah. While the Palestinian narrative was fully represented, Israel’s narrative on its legitimate security concerns, Arab rejectionism and terrorism was near absent.” Do you think they could do the New York Review of Books next?

Kudos to Lela Gilbert, who highlights this: “Recent terrorist attacks against Christians in Iraq have spotlighted their desperate circumstances in the Middle East, characterized by threats of terror and bloodshed, and culminating in a silent exodus from their ancient homelands—an exodus that mirrors that of the Jews half a century before. Murders, rapes, beatings, extortions, the burning and desecration of houses of worship and mob violence are abuses are all too familiar to surviving Jews who remember their own perilous journeys.” Where’s our Islam-Explainer-in-Chief, and why doesn’t he ever talk about this topic?

Way to go! First an earmark ban and now this: “House Republicans announced Wednesday they plan to force a floor vote on defunding NPR in response to the firing of analyst Juan Williams last month. House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.) said that cutting funds to the publicly subsidized news organization was the winner of the conference’s weekly ‘YouCut’ contest, in which the public votes online on spending items they want eliminated.”

Whew. No candidates like Mary Robinson for the Medal of Freedom this year. But Stan “the Man” Musial, Yo-Yo Ma, and Angela Merkel will get their awards. Also Bush 41. Bush 43 will have to wait to get his — maybe in Marco Rubio’s first term. (Yeah, yeah — Maya Angelou is an awful poet, but harmless enough.)

Better late than never. A gathering of 100 CEOs delivered the administration some long overdue pushback: “The CEOs, in a vote, said the government’s top priority should be to foster global trade and create a more business-friendly environment. But CEOs also said uncertainty about government policy on taxes and regulation remained a barrier to unlocking $2 trillion in capital sitting in the treasuries of U.S. non-financial businesses.”

Hooray for Newton, Massachusetts!: “Temple Beth Avodah, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Newton, has abruptly canceled an event with the president of J Street, a lobbying group that supports liberal positions on Israel, because of vociferous objections from some members of the congregation about J Street’s politics.” Bravo — why should Jews, even liberal ones, keep up the facade that the Soros-funded group is a legitimate, pro-Israel organization.

Three cheers for hope and change: “The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, was re-elected on Wednesday to lead the Democrats in the next Congress, despite her party’s loss of more than 60 seats and its majority control of the House in the midterm elections. Officials said that Ms. Pelosi defeated Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina in an internal party vote, 150 to 43.” We now know that there are 43 Dems who have sense enough to perhaps join their Republican colleagues on key votes.

Bingo! “The whole TSA procedure is hugely frustrating to travelers because not only is it needlessly invasive, but it is also a complete waste of time. Other countries facing similar threats respond in much less irritating and much more intelligent and effective ways. Israel, for example, does not do body scans and invasive pat-downs. If the Republicans want to cut government spending, a good place to start would be to abolish TSA. I say this as a very frequent traveler who regularly flies 150,000 miles per year.”

Wow-wee. Look what $1.5B in aid and Muslim Outreach got us: “Financial ties between Egypt and Iran have recently improved as a result of the Misr Iran Development Bank (MIDB), jointly owned by the two countries, according to a report by the Atlantic Monthly on Monday. According to the report, the MIDB, founded in 1975, has become a potential route for Teheran to bypass imposed economic sanctions with Egypt. The bank serves as evidence of the complex challenge faced by the US in enforcing international sanctions against Iran.”

Bravo, Just Journalism, for documenting 10 years of the London Review of Books‘s noxious anti-Israel screeds. “The LRB consistently portrayed Israel as a bloodthirsty and genocidal regime out of all proportion to reality, while sympathetic portraits abounded of groups designated as terrorist organisations by the British government such as Hamas and Hezbollah. While the Palestinian narrative was fully represented, Israel’s narrative on its legitimate security concerns, Arab rejectionism and terrorism was near absent.” Do you think they could do the New York Review of Books next?

Kudos to Lela Gilbert, who highlights this: “Recent terrorist attacks against Christians in Iraq have spotlighted their desperate circumstances in the Middle East, characterized by threats of terror and bloodshed, and culminating in a silent exodus from their ancient homelands—an exodus that mirrors that of the Jews half a century before. Murders, rapes, beatings, extortions, the burning and desecration of houses of worship and mob violence are abuses are all too familiar to surviving Jews who remember their own perilous journeys.” Where’s our Islam-Explainer-in-Chief, and why doesn’t he ever talk about this topic?

Way to go! First an earmark ban and now this: “House Republicans announced Wednesday they plan to force a floor vote on defunding NPR in response to the firing of analyst Juan Williams last month. House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.) said that cutting funds to the publicly subsidized news organization was the winner of the conference’s weekly ‘YouCut’ contest, in which the public votes online on spending items they want eliminated.”

Whew. No candidates like Mary Robinson for the Medal of Freedom this year. But Stan “the Man” Musial, Yo-Yo Ma, and Angela Merkel will get their awards. Also Bush 41. Bush 43 will have to wait to get his — maybe in Marco Rubio’s first term. (Yeah, yeah — Maya Angelou is an awful poet, but harmless enough.)

Better late than never. A gathering of 100 CEOs delivered the administration some long overdue pushback: “The CEOs, in a vote, said the government’s top priority should be to foster global trade and create a more business-friendly environment. But CEOs also said uncertainty about government policy on taxes and regulation remained a barrier to unlocking $2 trillion in capital sitting in the treasuries of U.S. non-financial businesses.”

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Get the feeling that Michael Steele has no friends these days? “Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins resigned from his post Tuesday morning with a stinging indictment of Chairman Michael Steele’s two-year tenure at the committee. In a four-page letter to Steele and the RNC’s executive committee obtained by POLITICO, Collins lays out inside details, previously only whispered, about the disorganization that plagues the party. He asserts that the RNC’s financial shortcomings limited GOP gains this year and reveals that the committee is deeply in debt entering the 2012 presidential election cycle.”

Get ready for a really, really tough punishment for Charles Rangel. “A House panel on Tuesday found Representative Charles B. Rangel guilty of 11 counts of ethical violations, ruling that his failure to pay taxes, improper solicitation of fund-raising donations and failure to accurately report his personal income had brought dishonor on the House. … While the committee has the power to recommend expulsion, that is highly unlikely. Ethics experts and committee members have said that Mr. Rangel, 80, is more likely to face a letter of reprimand or a formal censure.” OK, maybe just a hand slap.

Get government to downsize? Puleeze. David Malpass explains what’s so bad about the Fed’s $600B bond-purchase scheme. “By buying longer term assets, whose value will decline when interest rates rise, the Fed is engineering a fundamental change in the nature of U.S. monetary policy. This has undercut global confidence in the Fed, as reflected in high gold prices, dollar weakness, and large-scale investments abroad by U.S. companies and wealthy individuals. … Both fiscal stimulus and Fed asset purchases raise the same giant red flag. As the government expands its role in the economy, business confidence and hiring decline in the knowledge that there’s no free lunch.”

The Obama team simply doesn’t get it: once again, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates throws cold water on the use of military force for preventing Iran from going nuclear. They sure have gone out of their way to give the mullahs assurance that they can defy us without risking a military strike.

Bibi says he needs to get the U.S. bribes promises in writing. “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israeli approval of a 90-day settlement freeze was contingent upon a written US pledge regarding a package of incentives that insured his country’s security and national interests, diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post.” Now, there’s a “rock-solid” relationship for you.

House Dems get their anger out. “Disgruntled Democrats finally had a chance to confront Speaker Nancy Pelosi face-to-face for the first time during a raucous closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday, as defeated Rep. Allen Boyd called her ‘the face of our defeat.’ ‘We need new leadership,’ Boyd, a Florida Democrat, told his colleagues, according to sources in the room. … Pelosi, her top elected lieutenants and her aides have been scrambling to defuse discontent following the election. They are actively working to prevent a delay in the leadership vote and to deny support to a slate of proposals by moderate ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats that would weaken her hand in the minority by making top appointive positions subject to caucus election.”

Investors get jittery: “Global stock markets’ steady march higher was interrupted by concerns about growth in China, debt in Europe and the Federal Reserve’s $600 billion plan to stimulate the U.S. economy. Tuesday’s world-wide selling was touched off by a 4% stock drop in Shanghai. It spread to Europe, where markets fell more than 2%, and then to the U.S., pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1.6%, its worst point and percentage decline since August 11.”

Get the feeling that Michael Steele has no friends these days? “Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins resigned from his post Tuesday morning with a stinging indictment of Chairman Michael Steele’s two-year tenure at the committee. In a four-page letter to Steele and the RNC’s executive committee obtained by POLITICO, Collins lays out inside details, previously only whispered, about the disorganization that plagues the party. He asserts that the RNC’s financial shortcomings limited GOP gains this year and reveals that the committee is deeply in debt entering the 2012 presidential election cycle.”

Get ready for a really, really tough punishment for Charles Rangel. “A House panel on Tuesday found Representative Charles B. Rangel guilty of 11 counts of ethical violations, ruling that his failure to pay taxes, improper solicitation of fund-raising donations and failure to accurately report his personal income had brought dishonor on the House. … While the committee has the power to recommend expulsion, that is highly unlikely. Ethics experts and committee members have said that Mr. Rangel, 80, is more likely to face a letter of reprimand or a formal censure.” OK, maybe just a hand slap.

Get government to downsize? Puleeze. David Malpass explains what’s so bad about the Fed’s $600B bond-purchase scheme. “By buying longer term assets, whose value will decline when interest rates rise, the Fed is engineering a fundamental change in the nature of U.S. monetary policy. This has undercut global confidence in the Fed, as reflected in high gold prices, dollar weakness, and large-scale investments abroad by U.S. companies and wealthy individuals. … Both fiscal stimulus and Fed asset purchases raise the same giant red flag. As the government expands its role in the economy, business confidence and hiring decline in the knowledge that there’s no free lunch.”

The Obama team simply doesn’t get it: once again, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates throws cold water on the use of military force for preventing Iran from going nuclear. They sure have gone out of their way to give the mullahs assurance that they can defy us without risking a military strike.

Bibi says he needs to get the U.S. bribes promises in writing. “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israeli approval of a 90-day settlement freeze was contingent upon a written US pledge regarding a package of incentives that insured his country’s security and national interests, diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post.” Now, there’s a “rock-solid” relationship for you.

House Dems get their anger out. “Disgruntled Democrats finally had a chance to confront Speaker Nancy Pelosi face-to-face for the first time during a raucous closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday, as defeated Rep. Allen Boyd called her ‘the face of our defeat.’ ‘We need new leadership,’ Boyd, a Florida Democrat, told his colleagues, according to sources in the room. … Pelosi, her top elected lieutenants and her aides have been scrambling to defuse discontent following the election. They are actively working to prevent a delay in the leadership vote and to deny support to a slate of proposals by moderate ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats that would weaken her hand in the minority by making top appointive positions subject to caucus election.”

Investors get jittery: “Global stock markets’ steady march higher was interrupted by concerns about growth in China, debt in Europe and the Federal Reserve’s $600 billion plan to stimulate the U.S. economy. Tuesday’s world-wide selling was touched off by a 4% stock drop in Shanghai. It spread to Europe, where markets fell more than 2%, and then to the U.S., pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1.6%, its worst point and percentage decline since August 11.”

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Obama Shouldn’t Bet on the GOP Messing Up

Gallup reports:

Americans’ opinions of House Republican Leader John Boehner, who is in line to be the speaker of the House in the new Congress, improved after the midterm elections. Though 4 in 10 Americans are still unfamiliar with Boehner, more Americans now rate him positively than negatively, a shift from three prior 2010 readings, including one taken in mid-October. …

Boehner’s counterpart in the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, is somewhat better known, though one in three still do not have an opinion of him. Unlike Boehner, Reid is viewed much more negatively than positively. In the latest poll, 25% have a favorable opinion of Reid and 43% an unfavorable one. That is little changed from the prior measurement of Reid from May.

We shouldn’t put too much stock in poll numbers, which come in advance of anyone doing anything. But still, this suggests the problem for the Dems: their leaders in Congress are the same old unlikeable figures; the president is exasperating even his own party; and, meanwhile, the GOP leadership is comprised of fresh faces to much of the electorate and is trying its best not to overplay its hand.

The Democrats would have been wise to dump Reid, but after the voters of Nevada refused to do their dirty work, neither Chuck Schumer nor Dick Durbin had the nerve to challenge him. And when you throw in the possibility of Nancy Pelosi in the minority leader’s chair, you see that the “change” party has become the defenders of the status quo. And, my, how negative they are – nixing the debt commission, nixing tax relief for Americans, nixing  revision of ObamaCare. It’s almost like they are the “party of no.”

Gallup reports:

Americans’ opinions of House Republican Leader John Boehner, who is in line to be the speaker of the House in the new Congress, improved after the midterm elections. Though 4 in 10 Americans are still unfamiliar with Boehner, more Americans now rate him positively than negatively, a shift from three prior 2010 readings, including one taken in mid-October. …

Boehner’s counterpart in the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, is somewhat better known, though one in three still do not have an opinion of him. Unlike Boehner, Reid is viewed much more negatively than positively. In the latest poll, 25% have a favorable opinion of Reid and 43% an unfavorable one. That is little changed from the prior measurement of Reid from May.

We shouldn’t put too much stock in poll numbers, which come in advance of anyone doing anything. But still, this suggests the problem for the Dems: their leaders in Congress are the same old unlikeable figures; the president is exasperating even his own party; and, meanwhile, the GOP leadership is comprised of fresh faces to much of the electorate and is trying its best not to overplay its hand.

The Democrats would have been wise to dump Reid, but after the voters of Nevada refused to do their dirty work, neither Chuck Schumer nor Dick Durbin had the nerve to challenge him. And when you throw in the possibility of Nancy Pelosi in the minority leader’s chair, you see that the “change” party has become the defenders of the status quo. And, my, how negative they are – nixing the debt commission, nixing tax relief for Americans, nixing  revision of ObamaCare. It’s almost like they are the “party of no.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Who knew coconuts were so dangerous?

Who knew Obama’s speech to India’s parliament would be so historic? “This will be the first time a teleprompter will be used in the nearly 100-feet high dome-shaped hall that has portraits of eminent national leaders adorning its walls. Indian politicians are known for making impromptu long speeches and perhaps that is why some parliament officials, who did not wish to be named, sounded rather surprised with the idea of a teleprompter for Obama. ‘We thought Obama is a trained orator and skilled in the art of mass address with his continuous eye contact,’ an official, who did not wish to be identified because of security restrictions, said.”

Who knew it was all about the failure to deliver on jobs, jobs, jobs? Nancy Pelosi, for one: “Nine and a half percent unemployment damaged the majority. … What made a difference in the election is the fact that they said we are spending money, and where are the jobs?” Precisely.

Who knew? Obama has an ego problem, according to Politico. Next up: Obama is a liberal.

Who knew writing books about yourself wasn’t adequate preparation for the presidency? “He came across as a young man in a grown-up’s game—impressive but not presidential. A politician but not a leader, managing American policy at home and American power abroad with disturbing amateurishness. Indeed, there was a growing perception of the inability to run the machinery of government and to find the right people to manage it. A man who was once seen as a talented and even charismatic rhetorician is now seen as lacking real experience or even the ability to stop America’s decline. ‘Yes we can,’ he once said, but now America asks, ‘Can he?'”

Who knew Olbermann was even a “journalist”? This, from Richard Benedetto, is dead on: “Is Keith Olbermann a hypocrite? It is always hypocritical to criticize others for something you are doing yourself. But that point aside, let’s stop pretending that TV talking heads such as Olbermann, Hannity, Matthews, O’Reilly et. al. are journalists, and therefore must adhere to traditional journalism standards. They are not journalists. They are ideological partisans who take sides in political debate.” (Who do we think leaked the donation records — archrival Matthews?)

Who knew Obama had “accomplished” so much? “Last, April Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak disregarded appeals from the Obama administration and violated his own public promises by renewing the ‘emergency law’ that for decades has allowed security forces to prevent public demonstrations, break up political meetings, close media outlets and arrest opposition activists without charge. When the administration protested, Egyptian officials assured it that the law henceforth would be applied only in terrorism and drug cases. The White House cited that pledge in a recent summary of its human rights accomplishments.”

Who knew Nancy Pelosi had such good friends on the right? Bill Kristol: “Now there are those, of a churlish disposition, who would note that Speaker Pelosi has presided over the largest loss of House seats by a party in a midterm election in 62 years. There are second-guessers who would question her strategy and tactics on the stimulus, cap and trade, and health care. There are Democrats tempted by the superficial attraction of a new face as leader of their party in the House. There are Democrats in swing districts who are tempted by the prospect of their party following a more moderate path. … We urge Democrats to reject all such considerations and counsels. We urge the remaining House Democrats to keep Nancy Pelosi as their leader. … For the good of the republic (and the GOP), House Democrats in the 112th Congress need to march further down the path they blazed in the 111th Congress.” And Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters — you hang in there and fight to the bitter end!

Who knew 2010 was the easy part? “Witness the announcement this morning by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) that he was forming an exploratory committee to look at a run against Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in 2012. … Democrats must defend 23 seats while there are just 10 GOP seats up for grabs. And, it’s not just raw numbers that make the cycle daunting for Democrats — it’s where the races are taking place. In addition to Nelson, who represents a state where President Obama won just 42 percent in 2008, Democrats will have to defend seats in Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, North Dakota, Montana and Virginia — not exactly the friendliest of states for their side at the moment.”

Who knew there was someone who could top Michael Bloomberg? “New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was taken aback by President Obama’s arrogance, Rupert Murdoch said in an interview with an Australian outlet. Bloomberg described his conversation with Obama as ‘verbal ping-pong,’ Murdoch told the Australian Financial Review, and said he had a ‘pleasant’ day golfing on Martha’s Vineyard with the president. He came back and said, ‘I never met in my life such an arrogant man,’ Murdoch said.”

Who knew coconuts were so dangerous?

Who knew Obama’s speech to India’s parliament would be so historic? “This will be the first time a teleprompter will be used in the nearly 100-feet high dome-shaped hall that has portraits of eminent national leaders adorning its walls. Indian politicians are known for making impromptu long speeches and perhaps that is why some parliament officials, who did not wish to be named, sounded rather surprised with the idea of a teleprompter for Obama. ‘We thought Obama is a trained orator and skilled in the art of mass address with his continuous eye contact,’ an official, who did not wish to be identified because of security restrictions, said.”

Who knew it was all about the failure to deliver on jobs, jobs, jobs? Nancy Pelosi, for one: “Nine and a half percent unemployment damaged the majority. … What made a difference in the election is the fact that they said we are spending money, and where are the jobs?” Precisely.

Who knew? Obama has an ego problem, according to Politico. Next up: Obama is a liberal.

Who knew writing books about yourself wasn’t adequate preparation for the presidency? “He came across as a young man in a grown-up’s game—impressive but not presidential. A politician but not a leader, managing American policy at home and American power abroad with disturbing amateurishness. Indeed, there was a growing perception of the inability to run the machinery of government and to find the right people to manage it. A man who was once seen as a talented and even charismatic rhetorician is now seen as lacking real experience or even the ability to stop America’s decline. ‘Yes we can,’ he once said, but now America asks, ‘Can he?'”

Who knew Olbermann was even a “journalist”? This, from Richard Benedetto, is dead on: “Is Keith Olbermann a hypocrite? It is always hypocritical to criticize others for something you are doing yourself. But that point aside, let’s stop pretending that TV talking heads such as Olbermann, Hannity, Matthews, O’Reilly et. al. are journalists, and therefore must adhere to traditional journalism standards. They are not journalists. They are ideological partisans who take sides in political debate.” (Who do we think leaked the donation records — archrival Matthews?)

Who knew Obama had “accomplished” so much? “Last, April Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak disregarded appeals from the Obama administration and violated his own public promises by renewing the ‘emergency law’ that for decades has allowed security forces to prevent public demonstrations, break up political meetings, close media outlets and arrest opposition activists without charge. When the administration protested, Egyptian officials assured it that the law henceforth would be applied only in terrorism and drug cases. The White House cited that pledge in a recent summary of its human rights accomplishments.”

Who knew Nancy Pelosi had such good friends on the right? Bill Kristol: “Now there are those, of a churlish disposition, who would note that Speaker Pelosi has presided over the largest loss of House seats by a party in a midterm election in 62 years. There are second-guessers who would question her strategy and tactics on the stimulus, cap and trade, and health care. There are Democrats tempted by the superficial attraction of a new face as leader of their party in the House. There are Democrats in swing districts who are tempted by the prospect of their party following a more moderate path. … We urge Democrats to reject all such considerations and counsels. We urge the remaining House Democrats to keep Nancy Pelosi as their leader. … For the good of the republic (and the GOP), House Democrats in the 112th Congress need to march further down the path they blazed in the 111th Congress.” And Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters — you hang in there and fight to the bitter end!

Who knew 2010 was the easy part? “Witness the announcement this morning by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) that he was forming an exploratory committee to look at a run against Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in 2012. … Democrats must defend 23 seats while there are just 10 GOP seats up for grabs. And, it’s not just raw numbers that make the cycle daunting for Democrats — it’s where the races are taking place. In addition to Nelson, who represents a state where President Obama won just 42 percent in 2008, Democrats will have to defend seats in Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, North Dakota, Montana and Virginia — not exactly the friendliest of states for their side at the moment.”

Who knew there was someone who could top Michael Bloomberg? “New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was taken aback by President Obama’s arrogance, Rupert Murdoch said in an interview with an Australian outlet. Bloomberg described his conversation with Obama as ‘verbal ping-pong,’ Murdoch told the Australian Financial Review, and said he had a ‘pleasant’ day golfing on Martha’s Vineyard with the president. He came back and said, ‘I never met in my life such an arrogant man,’ Murdoch said.”

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Too Good to Be True?

Republicans will be rubbing their hands with glee if this turns out to be for real:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is gathering input from colleagues as she weighs whether to stay in Democratic leadership and run for minority leader after losing control of the House Tuesday night, according two senior Democratic aides and one lawmaker. … For members of her inner circle, the calls suggest that she may not be ready “to turn the keys over” while she’s gauging the more general feelings of Democrats outside her tightest clutch of backers, according to one of the aides.

Can you imagine? The voters deliver a historic thumping, toss out more than 60 Democrats, and the survivors — in a demonstration of how clearly they understood the voters’ message — put Pelosi in charge of their caucus. Oh, and she is the most vilified Democrat on the scene, and perhaps the figure who appeared most frequently in campaign ads — for the other party.

True, her caucus is now far more liberal — smaller, but more liberal. These are the Dems from the most solidly Blue districts whom no Republican, even in a historic sweep year, could unseat. But even they must have more common sense than to install the pol who became a poster girl for the Obama backlash. Right? I mean that would be like passing  a monstrous health-care bill the public doesn’t want while ignoring record unemployment. Oh. Yes. Don’t count Nancy out quite yet.

Republicans will be rubbing their hands with glee if this turns out to be for real:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is gathering input from colleagues as she weighs whether to stay in Democratic leadership and run for minority leader after losing control of the House Tuesday night, according two senior Democratic aides and one lawmaker. … For members of her inner circle, the calls suggest that she may not be ready “to turn the keys over” while she’s gauging the more general feelings of Democrats outside her tightest clutch of backers, according to one of the aides.

Can you imagine? The voters deliver a historic thumping, toss out more than 60 Democrats, and the survivors — in a demonstration of how clearly they understood the voters’ message — put Pelosi in charge of their caucus. Oh, and she is the most vilified Democrat on the scene, and perhaps the figure who appeared most frequently in campaign ads — for the other party.

True, her caucus is now far more liberal — smaller, but more liberal. These are the Dems from the most solidly Blue districts whom no Republican, even in a historic sweep year, could unseat. But even they must have more common sense than to install the pol who became a poster girl for the Obama backlash. Right? I mean that would be like passing  a monstrous health-care bill the public doesn’t want while ignoring record unemployment. Oh. Yes. Don’t count Nancy out quite yet.

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