Commentary Magazine


Topic: state of the union

Liberals, Pragmatists, and Taxes

A week ago, David Brooks revealed a “vision” that would vindicate his belief in Barack Obama as a “pragmatist”: a State of the Union address proposing comprehensive tax reform to “lower rates and make the tax code fair,” eliminating loopholes and special-interest provisions. Today the lead article in the New York Times reports that Obama is “considering whether to push early next year for an overhaul of the income tax code to lower rates and raise revenues.” As Abe notes, Obama is learning economics in spite of himself.

It was not so long ago that Obama thought higher tax rates were essential for fairness — to help spread the wealth. In his 2008 colloquy with Charlie Gibson, Obama supported doubling tax rates on capital gains even if that generated less revenue — “for purposes of fairness.” A few days ago, Obama was angry about the inability to impose higher tax rates next year; he promised to try again in two years. If Brooks’s vision proves true, it will be one of the fastest transformations of a politician from doctrinaire liberal to pragmatic tax-cutter.

Two days ago, William Galston emphasized the pragmatism more directly in a New Republic post entitled “The Only Way Obama Can Win in 2012.” Galston urged Obama to move “comprehensive tax reform to the center of his agenda” with a State of the Union speech proposing a broadened tax base and reduced rates, making the system simpler and fairer. In his column today, Brooks has a new label for Obama: “network liberal” — a liberal willing to network with non-liberals to do things such as this week’s tax deal. Brooks urges Obama to bring a “networking style” to reforming the tax code.

There is a great networking opportunity right in front of Obama: Mike Pence’s flat tax proposal. It is a progressive tax with a large standard deduction and dependent exemptions for low- and middle-income taxpayers: after that, “the more money you make, the more you pay.” The tax would be “fair, simple and effective;” and you could tweet tax returns.

Perhaps a pragmatist is simply a liberal who has been shellacked by reality and wants to network. We’ll see.

A week ago, David Brooks revealed a “vision” that would vindicate his belief in Barack Obama as a “pragmatist”: a State of the Union address proposing comprehensive tax reform to “lower rates and make the tax code fair,” eliminating loopholes and special-interest provisions. Today the lead article in the New York Times reports that Obama is “considering whether to push early next year for an overhaul of the income tax code to lower rates and raise revenues.” As Abe notes, Obama is learning economics in spite of himself.

It was not so long ago that Obama thought higher tax rates were essential for fairness — to help spread the wealth. In his 2008 colloquy with Charlie Gibson, Obama supported doubling tax rates on capital gains even if that generated less revenue — “for purposes of fairness.” A few days ago, Obama was angry about the inability to impose higher tax rates next year; he promised to try again in two years. If Brooks’s vision proves true, it will be one of the fastest transformations of a politician from doctrinaire liberal to pragmatic tax-cutter.

Two days ago, William Galston emphasized the pragmatism more directly in a New Republic post entitled “The Only Way Obama Can Win in 2012.” Galston urged Obama to move “comprehensive tax reform to the center of his agenda” with a State of the Union speech proposing a broadened tax base and reduced rates, making the system simpler and fairer. In his column today, Brooks has a new label for Obama: “network liberal” — a liberal willing to network with non-liberals to do things such as this week’s tax deal. Brooks urges Obama to bring a “networking style” to reforming the tax code.

There is a great networking opportunity right in front of Obama: Mike Pence’s flat tax proposal. It is a progressive tax with a large standard deduction and dependent exemptions for low- and middle-income taxpayers: after that, “the more money you make, the more you pay.” The tax would be “fair, simple and effective;” and you could tweet tax returns.

Perhaps a pragmatist is simply a liberal who has been shellacked by reality and wants to network. We’ll see.

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Is President Obama the New Woodrow Wilson?

Jen referred this morning to David Brooks’s column, in which he advises the President to change his ways after the midterm election, especially if it turns out to be as disastrous for Democrats as nearly everyone expects. And this means changing his politics, just as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 midterm:

Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Unlike Clinton, who doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body, I’m not sure Obama has the capacity to do that. I’ve just finished reading Louis Auchincloss’s mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson (part of the “Penguin Lives” series), and I was struck by the similarities between the country’s first liberal president and the man who might be its last (I know, I know, ever the optimist).

Wilson was, at heart, an academic, the author of several books, (including Congressional Government, still in print after 125 years). He thought and acted like a professor even after he entered politics. Wilson always took it for granted, for instance, that he was the smartest guy in the room and acted accordingly. Does that sound familiar? Wilson was a remarkably powerful orator. (It was he who revived the custom of delivering the State of the Union message in person, a custom that had been dropped by Thomas Jefferson, a poor and most reluctant public speaker.)

Both men had very short public careers before the White House. Wilson’s only pre-presidential office was two years as Governor of New Jersey. And Wilson thought he had a pipeline to God, which allowed him to divine what was best for the world and gave him a moral obligation to give it to the world whether the world wanted it or not. This last tendency, evident even when he was president of Princeton University, became more pronounced with age as a series of debilitating strokes (the first at age 40) increasingly rigidified his personality.

Both Wilson and Obama were the subjects of remarkable public adulation, and both won the Nobel Peace Prize for their aspirations rather than their accomplishments. In Wilson’s case, at least, it only increased his sense of being God’s instrument on earth. Although the Republicans had won majorities just before Armistice Day in November 1918, in both houses of Congress — and the Senate’s consent by a two-thirds majority would be necessary to ratify any treaty — Wilson shut them out of any say in the treaty he went to Paris to negotiate with the other victorious powers. Obama, of course, shut the Republicans out of any say in both the stimulus bill and ObamaCare.

The result was disastrous for Wilson’s dream of world peace. So obsessed was he with creating a League of Nations that he was willing to surrender on almost everything else enunciated in his Fourteen Points to get it. Clemenceau and Lloyd George, shrewd and ruthless negotiators, played him like a fiddle. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps the most catastrophic work of diplomacy in world history, which produced a smoldering resentment in Germany at its harshness, a resentment exploited by Adolf Hitler.

When Wilson returned home, he flatly refused to compromise with the Republicans in the Senate and embarked on a speaking tour to build public pressure to force the treaty and the League through. The result was another stroke that left him incapacitated. The treaty was defeated 55-39, and when the Republicans tried to add a “reservation” that was essentially trivial but would have resulted in ratification, Wilson would have none of it. If he could not have the treaty, word for word, that he had negotiated, then he preferred nothing. He asked Democratic senators to vote against the amended treaty, and they did so. As a result, the United States did not join the League, which was hopelessly ineffective without the world’s greatest power, and what Wilson had hoped would be eternal peace became a 20-year truce.

President Obama, so far as I know, is in the best of health, but will he be any more able to deal with a changed political reality and work with Republicans? I hope so, but even this incorrigible optimist is not too confident of that.

Jen referred this morning to David Brooks’s column, in which he advises the President to change his ways after the midterm election, especially if it turns out to be as disastrous for Democrats as nearly everyone expects. And this means changing his politics, just as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 midterm:

Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Unlike Clinton, who doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body, I’m not sure Obama has the capacity to do that. I’ve just finished reading Louis Auchincloss’s mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson (part of the “Penguin Lives” series), and I was struck by the similarities between the country’s first liberal president and the man who might be its last (I know, I know, ever the optimist).

Wilson was, at heart, an academic, the author of several books, (including Congressional Government, still in print after 125 years). He thought and acted like a professor even after he entered politics. Wilson always took it for granted, for instance, that he was the smartest guy in the room and acted accordingly. Does that sound familiar? Wilson was a remarkably powerful orator. (It was he who revived the custom of delivering the State of the Union message in person, a custom that had been dropped by Thomas Jefferson, a poor and most reluctant public speaker.)

Both men had very short public careers before the White House. Wilson’s only pre-presidential office was two years as Governor of New Jersey. And Wilson thought he had a pipeline to God, which allowed him to divine what was best for the world and gave him a moral obligation to give it to the world whether the world wanted it or not. This last tendency, evident even when he was president of Princeton University, became more pronounced with age as a series of debilitating strokes (the first at age 40) increasingly rigidified his personality.

Both Wilson and Obama were the subjects of remarkable public adulation, and both won the Nobel Peace Prize for their aspirations rather than their accomplishments. In Wilson’s case, at least, it only increased his sense of being God’s instrument on earth. Although the Republicans had won majorities just before Armistice Day in November 1918, in both houses of Congress — and the Senate’s consent by a two-thirds majority would be necessary to ratify any treaty — Wilson shut them out of any say in the treaty he went to Paris to negotiate with the other victorious powers. Obama, of course, shut the Republicans out of any say in both the stimulus bill and ObamaCare.

The result was disastrous for Wilson’s dream of world peace. So obsessed was he with creating a League of Nations that he was willing to surrender on almost everything else enunciated in his Fourteen Points to get it. Clemenceau and Lloyd George, shrewd and ruthless negotiators, played him like a fiddle. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps the most catastrophic work of diplomacy in world history, which produced a smoldering resentment in Germany at its harshness, a resentment exploited by Adolf Hitler.

When Wilson returned home, he flatly refused to compromise with the Republicans in the Senate and embarked on a speaking tour to build public pressure to force the treaty and the League through. The result was another stroke that left him incapacitated. The treaty was defeated 55-39, and when the Republicans tried to add a “reservation” that was essentially trivial but would have resulted in ratification, Wilson would have none of it. If he could not have the treaty, word for word, that he had negotiated, then he preferred nothing. He asked Democratic senators to vote against the amended treaty, and they did so. As a result, the United States did not join the League, which was hopelessly ineffective without the world’s greatest power, and what Wilson had hoped would be eternal peace became a 20-year truce.

President Obama, so far as I know, is in the best of health, but will he be any more able to deal with a changed political reality and work with Republicans? I hope so, but even this incorrigible optimist is not too confident of that.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Democrats catch flak for their Stephen Colbert stunt. Steny Hoyer is embarrassed: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Sunday that comedian Stephen Colbert should not have appeared before a House subcommittee last week, blasting the move as ‘an embarrassment.'” Nancy Pelosi defends the move, affirming the sense that she’s going to be booted out of the House leadership.

The U.S. and Israeli media are catching on: Soros Street is a fraud. “The Washington Times report also revealed that one of J Street’s major donors was a Hong Kong-based businesswoman named Consolacion Esdicul. According to the tax returns, Esdicul donated $811,697 over three years. Asked if J Street had conducted a background check on Esdicul, [Amy] Spitalnick said she was not at liberty to divulge the process by which it examines whether to accept money from donors.” So maybe the money is Saudi? Or Iranian? Who knows?

Republican Charles Baker catches Gov. Patrick Duval: “With just five weeks to the election, Republican Charles D. Baker has pulled even with Governor Deval Patrick in a gubernatorial race shaped by anti-incumbent sentiment and unusually high excitement among Republican voters, according to a new Boston Globe poll. … Patrick, a Democrat, won support from 35 percent of likely voters, compared with 34 percent for Baker, a statistical tie given the poll’s margin of error.”

It’s not likely that Democrat Lee Fisher will catch Rob Portman in Ohio. “The numbers on the race to replace retiring Republican George Voinovich in the U.S. Senate … were in line with a number of other polls conducted in recent months, with the Republican — former Cincinnati congressman and Bush administration official Rob Portman — holding a 15 percentage point lead over the Democrat Lee Fisher, the state’s lieutenant governor.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s dismal record as senator is catching up with her. The liberal San Francisco Chronicle won’t endorse her: “The incumbent, Democrat Barbara Boxer, has failed to distinguish herself during her 18 years in office. There is no reason to believe that another six-year term would bring anything but more of the same uninspired representation. … It is extremely rare that this editorial page would offer no recommendation on any race, particularly one of this importance. This is one necessary exception. Boxer, first elected in 1992, would not rate on anyone’s list of most influential senators. Her most famous moments on Capitol Hill have not been ones of legislative accomplishment, but of delivering partisan shots.” Wow.

You really have to catch Candy Crowley’s State of the Union. After Dick Durbin declares that the Democrats have done everything right, Crowley asks: “So absolutely no culpability on the part of Democrats or the White House. This is all the Republicans’ fault that people are turning away from President Obama?” Priceless.

Chris Wallace catches Mara Liasson: Hasn’t the Obama agenda contributed to business uncertainty and kept billions on the sidelines of the economy? “Yes, I, on that part I totally agree,” admits Liasson.

The Democrats catch flak for their Stephen Colbert stunt. Steny Hoyer is embarrassed: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Sunday that comedian Stephen Colbert should not have appeared before a House subcommittee last week, blasting the move as ‘an embarrassment.'” Nancy Pelosi defends the move, affirming the sense that she’s going to be booted out of the House leadership.

The U.S. and Israeli media are catching on: Soros Street is a fraud. “The Washington Times report also revealed that one of J Street’s major donors was a Hong Kong-based businesswoman named Consolacion Esdicul. According to the tax returns, Esdicul donated $811,697 over three years. Asked if J Street had conducted a background check on Esdicul, [Amy] Spitalnick said she was not at liberty to divulge the process by which it examines whether to accept money from donors.” So maybe the money is Saudi? Or Iranian? Who knows?

Republican Charles Baker catches Gov. Patrick Duval: “With just five weeks to the election, Republican Charles D. Baker has pulled even with Governor Deval Patrick in a gubernatorial race shaped by anti-incumbent sentiment and unusually high excitement among Republican voters, according to a new Boston Globe poll. … Patrick, a Democrat, won support from 35 percent of likely voters, compared with 34 percent for Baker, a statistical tie given the poll’s margin of error.”

It’s not likely that Democrat Lee Fisher will catch Rob Portman in Ohio. “The numbers on the race to replace retiring Republican George Voinovich in the U.S. Senate … were in line with a number of other polls conducted in recent months, with the Republican — former Cincinnati congressman and Bush administration official Rob Portman — holding a 15 percentage point lead over the Democrat Lee Fisher, the state’s lieutenant governor.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s dismal record as senator is catching up with her. The liberal San Francisco Chronicle won’t endorse her: “The incumbent, Democrat Barbara Boxer, has failed to distinguish herself during her 18 years in office. There is no reason to believe that another six-year term would bring anything but more of the same uninspired representation. … It is extremely rare that this editorial page would offer no recommendation on any race, particularly one of this importance. This is one necessary exception. Boxer, first elected in 1992, would not rate on anyone’s list of most influential senators. Her most famous moments on Capitol Hill have not been ones of legislative accomplishment, but of delivering partisan shots.” Wow.

You really have to catch Candy Crowley’s State of the Union. After Dick Durbin declares that the Democrats have done everything right, Crowley asks: “So absolutely no culpability on the part of Democrats or the White House. This is all the Republicans’ fault that people are turning away from President Obama?” Priceless.

Chris Wallace catches Mara Liasson: Hasn’t the Obama agenda contributed to business uncertainty and kept billions on the sidelines of the economy? “Yes, I, on that part I totally agree,” admits Liasson.

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Tim Kaine Struggles as Dems Face Tsunami

At one time, Tim Kaine had a promising career. He was on Obama’s short list for VP and was mentioned as a possible Cabinet member. But instead, he was slotted as the head of the DNC and now watches as his party’s fortunes go down the drain. It’s hardly his fault; he’ll be no more responsible for the Democrats’ losses than Michael Steele will be for the GOP’s gains. But still, he makes a hapless spokesman for his party. And it is obvious that his task is to defend Obama, not to help his struggling congressional and Senate candidates.

On Candy Crowley’s State of the Union, he didn’t really have an explanation as to why so many Democrats are running against ObamaCare. The best he could muster was a plea to stop doing it:

KAINE: Well, Candy, I travel all over the country. I guess I’ve been in about 42 states, and most Democrats that I see on the trail are very proud of the accomplishment and they’re talking about it.

But you’re right, some, particularly House members in districts that, you know, can often get gerrymandered and become tough districts are distancing themselves from the health care bill. I don’t tell people how to run their races, but I’ve been on a ballot seven times and won seven races, and in my experience, you ought to be proud of what you’re doing and promote the accomplishments.

Now, obviously, folks who voted against health care, they’re going to talk about why. But I think for the Democratic Party, generally, this significant achievement for the uninsured, for people who have been abused by insurance company policies, for small businesses, for seniors, is something that we should be very proud of and we should be talking about.

I think he means that those in unsafe seats can’t win by defending their votes but that they should take one for the team. Then he struggled with this one:

CROWLEY: The Democrats have argued that because Republicans want to extend them for everyone, they are standing in the way of extending them for middle-class voters. Can’t you say the exact same thing about those 30-plus Democrats in the House and a handful of senators, all Democrats, who also think that even the wealthy should have their tax cuts stay in place? Aren’t they also standing in the way and holding middle-class taxes hostage?

KAINE: Well, it’s not standing in the way yet. We’re still in the debate and the dialogue place, and then we’re going to get to, eventually, having to vote. And I think that the comment that the speaker made in the clip that you showed is a good one, which is, if there’s uniform agreement — and there is — that we should extend tax cuts to middle-class folks and small businesses, then why do we need to wait until we fight out the other battle to go ahead and do what everybody agrees needs to be done?

CROWLEY: My point is that–

KAINE: I think uniform commitment by both Republicans and Democrats is important to act on, so we can give the middle class and small businesses tax relief.

CROWLEY: I guess my point is, you are slamming Republicans for holding the middle class hostage while they fight for the wealthy. Can’t the same be said for those Democrats who are now agreeing with Republicans on this extension?

KAINE: Well, they’re certainly expressing their preference. Now, I don’t think they’re expressing a preference to do exactly what the Republicans want to do. What the Republicans want to do is extend these tax cuts, make them permanent to the wealthy, and the CBO has estimated that would double the deficit projections going forward for the next couple of decades. This is from a Republican Party that’s been griping about deficits.

What I think the Democrats have been doing, that number that you mentioned, has been talking about some kind of a temporary extension for those at the top end. Obviously, this is going to be a hot debate in Congress between now and the end of the congressional session, but there isn’t any reason why if everyone agrees that tax cuts should go to middle class and small businesses, we can make that happen.

OK, she won that round. The Democrats’ class-warfare gambit doesn’t work, what with 38 Democratic House members and numerous Senate Democrats agreeing it’s dumb to raise taxes on anyone in a recession.

You see the problem. Kaine is Obama’s chosen chairman and owes his position and loyalty to the White House. But that’s not much help to Democratic candidates this year, who need to figure out how they can distance themselves from the president and his toxic agenda. As for Kaine, his mediocre tenure as Virginia governor looks positively brilliant in comparison with his current performance. Well, he’s just one of many Democrats to find their careers imperiled by Obama.

At one time, Tim Kaine had a promising career. He was on Obama’s short list for VP and was mentioned as a possible Cabinet member. But instead, he was slotted as the head of the DNC and now watches as his party’s fortunes go down the drain. It’s hardly his fault; he’ll be no more responsible for the Democrats’ losses than Michael Steele will be for the GOP’s gains. But still, he makes a hapless spokesman for his party. And it is obvious that his task is to defend Obama, not to help his struggling congressional and Senate candidates.

On Candy Crowley’s State of the Union, he didn’t really have an explanation as to why so many Democrats are running against ObamaCare. The best he could muster was a plea to stop doing it:

KAINE: Well, Candy, I travel all over the country. I guess I’ve been in about 42 states, and most Democrats that I see on the trail are very proud of the accomplishment and they’re talking about it.

But you’re right, some, particularly House members in districts that, you know, can often get gerrymandered and become tough districts are distancing themselves from the health care bill. I don’t tell people how to run their races, but I’ve been on a ballot seven times and won seven races, and in my experience, you ought to be proud of what you’re doing and promote the accomplishments.

Now, obviously, folks who voted against health care, they’re going to talk about why. But I think for the Democratic Party, generally, this significant achievement for the uninsured, for people who have been abused by insurance company policies, for small businesses, for seniors, is something that we should be very proud of and we should be talking about.

I think he means that those in unsafe seats can’t win by defending their votes but that they should take one for the team. Then he struggled with this one:

CROWLEY: The Democrats have argued that because Republicans want to extend them for everyone, they are standing in the way of extending them for middle-class voters. Can’t you say the exact same thing about those 30-plus Democrats in the House and a handful of senators, all Democrats, who also think that even the wealthy should have their tax cuts stay in place? Aren’t they also standing in the way and holding middle-class taxes hostage?

KAINE: Well, it’s not standing in the way yet. We’re still in the debate and the dialogue place, and then we’re going to get to, eventually, having to vote. And I think that the comment that the speaker made in the clip that you showed is a good one, which is, if there’s uniform agreement — and there is — that we should extend tax cuts to middle-class folks and small businesses, then why do we need to wait until we fight out the other battle to go ahead and do what everybody agrees needs to be done?

CROWLEY: My point is that–

KAINE: I think uniform commitment by both Republicans and Democrats is important to act on, so we can give the middle class and small businesses tax relief.

CROWLEY: I guess my point is, you are slamming Republicans for holding the middle class hostage while they fight for the wealthy. Can’t the same be said for those Democrats who are now agreeing with Republicans on this extension?

KAINE: Well, they’re certainly expressing their preference. Now, I don’t think they’re expressing a preference to do exactly what the Republicans want to do. What the Republicans want to do is extend these tax cuts, make them permanent to the wealthy, and the CBO has estimated that would double the deficit projections going forward for the next couple of decades. This is from a Republican Party that’s been griping about deficits.

What I think the Democrats have been doing, that number that you mentioned, has been talking about some kind of a temporary extension for those at the top end. Obviously, this is going to be a hot debate in Congress between now and the end of the congressional session, but there isn’t any reason why if everyone agrees that tax cuts should go to middle class and small businesses, we can make that happen.

OK, she won that round. The Democrats’ class-warfare gambit doesn’t work, what with 38 Democratic House members and numerous Senate Democrats agreeing it’s dumb to raise taxes on anyone in a recession.

You see the problem. Kaine is Obama’s chosen chairman and owes his position and loyalty to the White House. But that’s not much help to Democratic candidates this year, who need to figure out how they can distance themselves from the president and his toxic agenda. As for Kaine, his mediocre tenure as Virginia governor looks positively brilliant in comparison with his current performance. Well, he’s just one of many Democrats to find their careers imperiled by Obama.

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Really, Is There Any Alternative?

Candy Crowley on State of the Union had this exchange with former CIA director Michael Hayden:

COWLEY: … I mean, Iran doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to the sanctions. As far as we know, they are still trying to get nuclear capability. If it should, is there any alternative to taking out their facilities?

HAYDEN: It seems inexorable, doesn’t it?

We engage. They continue to move forward. We vote for sanctions. They continue to move forward. We try to deter, to dissuade. They continue to move forward.

My personal view is that Iran, left to its own devices, will get itself to that step right below a nuclear weapon, that permanent breakout stage, so the needle isn’t quite in the red for the international community. And, frankly, that will be as destabilizing as their actually having a weapon.

When I was in government, what we would used to mystically call “the kinetic option” was way down on our list. In my personal thinking — in my personal thinking; I need to emphasize that — I have begun to consider that that may not be the worst of all possible outcomes.

To put it differently, the most destabilizing event would be a nuclear-armed Iran, not a military strike on Iran. Hayden was not predicting what Obama would do, merely what should be done if all other options fail. It remains far from clear that the Obama team — which has been insistent on playing out engagement and then sanctions long after their utility was widely called into doubt — will act to prevent the worst of all possible outcomes.

What remains inexplicable is that the administration has openly and repeatedly pooh-poohed the idea of military action. You would think a team so desperate to avoid military conflict would recognize that a credible threat of force would be useful. But the administration can’t even bring itself to bluff. How likely is it, then, that it will deploy military force?

It is an election year, so voters have maximum leverage to extract answers and commitments from candidates. It would seem there is no more important question to ask than this: if force is needed, would you urge military action to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran? For those incumbents who answer yes, the next question should be: so what are you doing to persuade the administration to do just that?

Come to think of it, that is the most telling pair of questions to pose for those lawmakers, pundits, and groups advertising themselves as pro-Israel. If the answer to the first is “no,” the respondent can’t, in any meaningful sense, be considered pro-Israel. If the answer to the second is “nothing,” then we know the respondent is too timid, too ineffective, or too shortsighted to be of any help to Israel in the Jewish state’s hour of need.

Candy Crowley on State of the Union had this exchange with former CIA director Michael Hayden:

COWLEY: … I mean, Iran doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to the sanctions. As far as we know, they are still trying to get nuclear capability. If it should, is there any alternative to taking out their facilities?

HAYDEN: It seems inexorable, doesn’t it?

We engage. They continue to move forward. We vote for sanctions. They continue to move forward. We try to deter, to dissuade. They continue to move forward.

My personal view is that Iran, left to its own devices, will get itself to that step right below a nuclear weapon, that permanent breakout stage, so the needle isn’t quite in the red for the international community. And, frankly, that will be as destabilizing as their actually having a weapon.

When I was in government, what we would used to mystically call “the kinetic option” was way down on our list. In my personal thinking — in my personal thinking; I need to emphasize that — I have begun to consider that that may not be the worst of all possible outcomes.

To put it differently, the most destabilizing event would be a nuclear-armed Iran, not a military strike on Iran. Hayden was not predicting what Obama would do, merely what should be done if all other options fail. It remains far from clear that the Obama team — which has been insistent on playing out engagement and then sanctions long after their utility was widely called into doubt — will act to prevent the worst of all possible outcomes.

What remains inexplicable is that the administration has openly and repeatedly pooh-poohed the idea of military action. You would think a team so desperate to avoid military conflict would recognize that a credible threat of force would be useful. But the administration can’t even bring itself to bluff. How likely is it, then, that it will deploy military force?

It is an election year, so voters have maximum leverage to extract answers and commitments from candidates. It would seem there is no more important question to ask than this: if force is needed, would you urge military action to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran? For those incumbents who answer yes, the next question should be: so what are you doing to persuade the administration to do just that?

Come to think of it, that is the most telling pair of questions to pose for those lawmakers, pundits, and groups advertising themselves as pro-Israel. If the answer to the first is “no,” the respondent can’t, in any meaningful sense, be considered pro-Israel. If the answer to the second is “nothing,” then we know the respondent is too timid, too ineffective, or too shortsighted to be of any help to Israel in the Jewish state’s hour of need.

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Tuning Out Obama

It’s like the joke: “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” “Yeah, I know — and such small portions.” Obama’s speech was widely panned, and he had such a small audience:

Barack Obama’s first address from the Oval Office delivered 32.1 million viewers Tuesday evening. The speech ranks as the president’s second least-watched major cross-network primetime event. … The 20-minute address was viewed across 11 networks — ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, TEL, UNI, CNN, CNBC, FOXNC, MSNBC, and TWC. The audience is down 33% from Obama’s first State of the Union address in January and down 21% from his last primetime speech announcing a strategy for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan last December. Of Obama’s major addresses, last night was the least-watched telecast yet. But the president’s health care reform press conference last July pulled a smaller audience, drawing 24.7 million.

In other words, Obama is no longer a draw, and the public is tuning him out — and off. It is a function of both his overexposure and his polarizing effect. Everyone who wants to see him has seen plenty of him, and many can’t bear to watch/listen to him. Others who are sympathetic no doubt find it painful to watch him flounder. In this case, the tune-out inclination was exacerbated, I think, by the fact that the public — which is much savvier than Obama thinks — understood that the president wasn’t going to say anything of substance. This was a “save Obama” speech, not a “save the Gulf” speech.

A more self-disciplined and introspective president would know that being omnipresent isn’t the way to retain the public’s interest and affection. Quite the opposite.

It’s like the joke: “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” “Yeah, I know — and such small portions.” Obama’s speech was widely panned, and he had such a small audience:

Barack Obama’s first address from the Oval Office delivered 32.1 million viewers Tuesday evening. The speech ranks as the president’s second least-watched major cross-network primetime event. … The 20-minute address was viewed across 11 networks — ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, TEL, UNI, CNN, CNBC, FOXNC, MSNBC, and TWC. The audience is down 33% from Obama’s first State of the Union address in January and down 21% from his last primetime speech announcing a strategy for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan last December. Of Obama’s major addresses, last night was the least-watched telecast yet. But the president’s health care reform press conference last July pulled a smaller audience, drawing 24.7 million.

In other words, Obama is no longer a draw, and the public is tuning him out — and off. It is a function of both his overexposure and his polarizing effect. Everyone who wants to see him has seen plenty of him, and many can’t bear to watch/listen to him. Others who are sympathetic no doubt find it painful to watch him flounder. In this case, the tune-out inclination was exacerbated, I think, by the fact that the public — which is much savvier than Obama thinks — understood that the president wasn’t going to say anything of substance. This was a “save Obama” speech, not a “save the Gulf” speech.

A more self-disciplined and introspective president would know that being omnipresent isn’t the way to retain the public’s interest and affection. Quite the opposite.

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Oren Responds to the Obami’s Temper Tantrum

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren is compelled to put the best possible face on U.S.-Israeli relations. So he tells Candy Crowely on State of the Union that the state of U.S.-Israeli relations is “great.” Well, such is the burden a diplomat must bear. But Oren was also candid and unequivocal in his reiteration of Israel’s position on Jerusalem:

Israel has a policy that goes back to 1967. This is not the policy of Benjamin Netanyahu. This is the policy of Golda Meir. It’s the policy of Yitzhak Rabin, that is, that Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel. Under Israeli law, it has the same status as Tel Aviv.  And our policy is that every Arab, every Jew has a right to build anywhere in the city legally as they — an Arab and Jew would have a right to build legally anywhere in a city in the United States, including in this city, in Washington, D.C. That’s our policy. The policy is not going to change.

And he swatted away the argument that Israel had somehow imperiled the “peace process” by continuing to allow building in the nation’s capital, as every previous government had permitted:

We understand that — we understand that we have negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt, a piece treaty with Jordan. There has been 16 years of negotiations with the Palestinians, including two cases where Israeli prime ministers put complete peace plans on the table, including Jerusalem. And throughout that entire period of peace-making, Israel’s policy on Jerusalem remained unchanged.

We feel that now we should proceed directly to peace negotiations without a change in policy. We understand that Jerusalem will be one of the core issues discussed in those peace negotiations, but the main issue is to get the peace negotiations started. We are waiting for the Palestinians to join us at the table. So far, they have not done so.

The Obami-staged fuss over building in Jerusalem was for naught, it seems. The Obami picked the wrong fight with the wrong prime minister. The Netanyahu administration is not about to be bullied; the Palestinians have only been encouraged to dig in their heels and throw stones; and the rest of the Arab world nervously eyes the U.S. as a fickle ally. Meanwhile the real threat to peace and security — the mullahs’ nuclear program — proceeds unchecked.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren is compelled to put the best possible face on U.S.-Israeli relations. So he tells Candy Crowely on State of the Union that the state of U.S.-Israeli relations is “great.” Well, such is the burden a diplomat must bear. But Oren was also candid and unequivocal in his reiteration of Israel’s position on Jerusalem:

Israel has a policy that goes back to 1967. This is not the policy of Benjamin Netanyahu. This is the policy of Golda Meir. It’s the policy of Yitzhak Rabin, that is, that Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel. Under Israeli law, it has the same status as Tel Aviv.  And our policy is that every Arab, every Jew has a right to build anywhere in the city legally as they — an Arab and Jew would have a right to build legally anywhere in a city in the United States, including in this city, in Washington, D.C. That’s our policy. The policy is not going to change.

And he swatted away the argument that Israel had somehow imperiled the “peace process” by continuing to allow building in the nation’s capital, as every previous government had permitted:

We understand that — we understand that we have negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt, a piece treaty with Jordan. There has been 16 years of negotiations with the Palestinians, including two cases where Israeli prime ministers put complete peace plans on the table, including Jerusalem. And throughout that entire period of peace-making, Israel’s policy on Jerusalem remained unchanged.

We feel that now we should proceed directly to peace negotiations without a change in policy. We understand that Jerusalem will be one of the core issues discussed in those peace negotiations, but the main issue is to get the peace negotiations started. We are waiting for the Palestinians to join us at the table. So far, they have not done so.

The Obami-staged fuss over building in Jerusalem was for naught, it seems. The Obami picked the wrong fight with the wrong prime minister. The Netanyahu administration is not about to be bullied; the Palestinians have only been encouraged to dig in their heels and throw stones; and the rest of the Arab world nervously eyes the U.S. as a fickle ally. Meanwhile the real threat to peace and security — the mullahs’ nuclear program — proceeds unchecked.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Michael Barone on ObamaCare: “In fall 2009, Democrats could have pivoted on health care to craft a popular bill or a watered-down unpopular bill to be passed by a bipartisan safe-seat coalition. Instead, they plunged ahead and rammed through unpopular bills on party-line votes. … It’s beginning to look like the goal of health care legislation was a bridge too far. There’s a reason it’s hard to pass unpopular legislation on party-line votes. It’s not the Senate rules. It’s called democracy.”

Prospects don’t look bright for ObamaCare: “House Democratic leaders hoping to pass a health care reform bill by the Easter congressional recess face increasingly difficult odds, as several of the party’s rank-and-file have come out against the plan passed by the Senate in December. According to an ongoing CNN survey, 17 House Democrats indicate that they would vote no on the Senate plan as currently written, including six members who voted in favor of the House bill passed in November.”

Especially without the pro-life Democrats: “House Democratic leaders abandoned a long struggle to appease the most ardent abortion opponents in their ranks, gambling Thursday that they can secure the support for President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care legislation with showdown votes looming next week. … Congressional leaders are hoping they can find enough support from other wavering Democrats to pass legislation that only cleared the House by five votes in an earlier incarnation.” But where are such votes?

No one has spotted them yet: “Our latest whip count shows no progress for House Dem leadership. In fact, more members are sneaking onto the watch list, as Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI) voiced concern over whether the Senate would actually pass a sidecar bill.”

More cringey news from Illinois for Democrats: “The owner of the Boston Blackie’s restaurant chain — a man with strong political ties to U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias — was charged today with bank fraud, along with the owner’s son and an employee. Boston Blackie’s owner Nick Giannis, 62, his son, Chris Giannis, 38, and Boston Blackie’s manager Andy Bakopoulos, 38, allegedly defrauded Charter One and Washington Mutual banks of nearly $2 million, Cook County prosecutors said.”

In the New York Senate race: “Encouraged by state and national Republican Party leaders, Dan Senor, an author, private equity executive and Defense Department adviser in the last Bush administration, is seriously considering a political challenge against Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, according to three people told of the discussions. … The Republican leaders, who cautioned that they were not backing any single candidate, have told Mr. Senor that his deep ties in the party, expertise on national security and background as a businessman would make him a formidable candidate.” Well, if you’re a Republican with political ambitions, this is certainly the year to make a run.

Mark Levin pierces the fog of sanctimony surrounding the Justice Department lawyers who previously represented terrorists: “And on what basis do we think the Obama administration selected these seven lawyers (there may be more) from 1 million other lawyers to serve in top political positions at Justice? Is it a coincidence that they had roles (direct or related) in defending detainees? … Personnel makes policy, and that includes lawyers in policy positions. So, while the selection of these lawyers clearly has some relationship to their private practices, the attempt to identify who they are and what they’re doing since being appointed is said to be off limits, unless, of course, you appointed them. Preposterous.”

Let’s face it: the”most transparent administration in history” isn’t. Sen. Jeff Sessions, for one, wants to know why Eric Holder didn’t disclose in his confirmation hearing an amicus brief in support of Jose Padilla.

A wonderful suggestion by George Will: no one should go to the State of the Union. “Next year, Roberts and the rest of the justices should stay away from the president’s address. So should the uniformed military, who are out of place in a setting of competitive political grandstanding. For that matter, the 535 legislators should boycott these undignified events. They would, if there were that many congressional grown-ups averse to being props in the childishness of popping up from their seats to cheer, or remaining sullenly seated in semi-pouts, as the politics of the moment dictates.”

Michael Barone on ObamaCare: “In fall 2009, Democrats could have pivoted on health care to craft a popular bill or a watered-down unpopular bill to be passed by a bipartisan safe-seat coalition. Instead, they plunged ahead and rammed through unpopular bills on party-line votes. … It’s beginning to look like the goal of health care legislation was a bridge too far. There’s a reason it’s hard to pass unpopular legislation on party-line votes. It’s not the Senate rules. It’s called democracy.”

Prospects don’t look bright for ObamaCare: “House Democratic leaders hoping to pass a health care reform bill by the Easter congressional recess face increasingly difficult odds, as several of the party’s rank-and-file have come out against the plan passed by the Senate in December. According to an ongoing CNN survey, 17 House Democrats indicate that they would vote no on the Senate plan as currently written, including six members who voted in favor of the House bill passed in November.”

Especially without the pro-life Democrats: “House Democratic leaders abandoned a long struggle to appease the most ardent abortion opponents in their ranks, gambling Thursday that they can secure the support for President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care legislation with showdown votes looming next week. … Congressional leaders are hoping they can find enough support from other wavering Democrats to pass legislation that only cleared the House by five votes in an earlier incarnation.” But where are such votes?

No one has spotted them yet: “Our latest whip count shows no progress for House Dem leadership. In fact, more members are sneaking onto the watch list, as Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI) voiced concern over whether the Senate would actually pass a sidecar bill.”

More cringey news from Illinois for Democrats: “The owner of the Boston Blackie’s restaurant chain — a man with strong political ties to U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias — was charged today with bank fraud, along with the owner’s son and an employee. Boston Blackie’s owner Nick Giannis, 62, his son, Chris Giannis, 38, and Boston Blackie’s manager Andy Bakopoulos, 38, allegedly defrauded Charter One and Washington Mutual banks of nearly $2 million, Cook County prosecutors said.”

In the New York Senate race: “Encouraged by state and national Republican Party leaders, Dan Senor, an author, private equity executive and Defense Department adviser in the last Bush administration, is seriously considering a political challenge against Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, according to three people told of the discussions. … The Republican leaders, who cautioned that they were not backing any single candidate, have told Mr. Senor that his deep ties in the party, expertise on national security and background as a businessman would make him a formidable candidate.” Well, if you’re a Republican with political ambitions, this is certainly the year to make a run.

Mark Levin pierces the fog of sanctimony surrounding the Justice Department lawyers who previously represented terrorists: “And on what basis do we think the Obama administration selected these seven lawyers (there may be more) from 1 million other lawyers to serve in top political positions at Justice? Is it a coincidence that they had roles (direct or related) in defending detainees? … Personnel makes policy, and that includes lawyers in policy positions. So, while the selection of these lawyers clearly has some relationship to their private practices, the attempt to identify who they are and what they’re doing since being appointed is said to be off limits, unless, of course, you appointed them. Preposterous.”

Let’s face it: the”most transparent administration in history” isn’t. Sen. Jeff Sessions, for one, wants to know why Eric Holder didn’t disclose in his confirmation hearing an amicus brief in support of Jose Padilla.

A wonderful suggestion by George Will: no one should go to the State of the Union. “Next year, Roberts and the rest of the justices should stay away from the president’s address. So should the uniformed military, who are out of place in a setting of competitive political grandstanding. For that matter, the 535 legislators should boycott these undignified events. They would, if there were that many congressional grown-ups averse to being props in the childishness of popping up from their seats to cheer, or remaining sullenly seated in semi-pouts, as the politics of the moment dictates.”

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RE: Lawyers Should Cheer

Jan Crawford (h/t Glenn Reynolds), among the best of the mainstream media Supreme Court reporters, socks it to the White House for its juvenile insistence on getting the last word on its running spat with the Court. After Chief Justice John Roberts made the fine suggestion that the Court should abstain from the State of the Union, Robert Gibbs seemed to make Roberts’ point for him by replaying the president’s slap at the Court. (“What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections – drowning out the voices of average Americans.”) Crawford thinks this is ridiculous:

But after Chief Justice John Roberts made some entirely reasonable remarks yesterday — and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs just had to respond — it’s now getting ridiculous. Whether the White House has a short-term or long-term strategy or no strategy at all, it’s flat-out absurd and ill-advised for the administration to think it should always have the last word. It’s like my 6-year-old: “I don’t LIKE your idea. I like MY idea.”

She continues:

This administration is going to have to be dealing with this Supreme Court for at least three more years, if not more. Its lawyers are going to have to appear before these justices to defend presidential initiatives or federal laws in case after case, big and small.

I’m not suggesting they won’t get a fair shake simply because the White House is trying to stick it to the conservative justices. George Bush repeatedly got slapped down by this Court, even though he never lashed out at the justices.

But at some point — and I’d say that point is now — the Obama Administration is working against its interests.

They’d do well to remember that on a lot of the issues they care about, the Supreme Court gets to decide. No matter how much they stomp their feet and shout, “I don’t LIKE your idea; I like MY idea,” the Supreme Court is going to get the last word.

This is par for the course at this White House. It’s the perpetual rat-tat-tat, the quintessential campaign quick-response mode. There is no respect for the Chief Justice or the Court as an institution, nor for the point the Chief Justice was making: that it’s unseemly for the Court to appear and to get dragged into partisan brawls. In their partisan vitriol, the Obami, of course, proved the Chief Justice’s case. But then, self-awareness was never the White House’s strong suit.

Jan Crawford (h/t Glenn Reynolds), among the best of the mainstream media Supreme Court reporters, socks it to the White House for its juvenile insistence on getting the last word on its running spat with the Court. After Chief Justice John Roberts made the fine suggestion that the Court should abstain from the State of the Union, Robert Gibbs seemed to make Roberts’ point for him by replaying the president’s slap at the Court. (“What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections – drowning out the voices of average Americans.”) Crawford thinks this is ridiculous:

But after Chief Justice John Roberts made some entirely reasonable remarks yesterday — and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs just had to respond — it’s now getting ridiculous. Whether the White House has a short-term or long-term strategy or no strategy at all, it’s flat-out absurd and ill-advised for the administration to think it should always have the last word. It’s like my 6-year-old: “I don’t LIKE your idea. I like MY idea.”

She continues:

This administration is going to have to be dealing with this Supreme Court for at least three more years, if not more. Its lawyers are going to have to appear before these justices to defend presidential initiatives or federal laws in case after case, big and small.

I’m not suggesting they won’t get a fair shake simply because the White House is trying to stick it to the conservative justices. George Bush repeatedly got slapped down by this Court, even though he never lashed out at the justices.

But at some point — and I’d say that point is now — the Obama Administration is working against its interests.

They’d do well to remember that on a lot of the issues they care about, the Supreme Court gets to decide. No matter how much they stomp their feet and shout, “I don’t LIKE your idea; I like MY idea,” the Supreme Court is going to get the last word.

This is par for the course at this White House. It’s the perpetual rat-tat-tat, the quintessential campaign quick-response mode. There is no respect for the Chief Justice or the Court as an institution, nor for the point the Chief Justice was making: that it’s unseemly for the Court to appear and to get dragged into partisan brawls. In their partisan vitriol, the Obami, of course, proved the Chief Justice’s case. But then, self-awareness was never the White House’s strong suit.

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Lawyers Should Cheer

Following the flap over Obama’s State of the Union attack on the Supreme Court’s decision striking down a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, I wrote that it would be a good idea for the justices to skip the event in the future, since it has become a partisan affair that needlessly embroils them in political matters. I am delighted to see that I am on the same wavelength as the chief justice:

Chief Justice John Roberts told students at the University of Alabama Tuesday that President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he singled out a recent Supreme Court decision on campaign finance law for criticism, was “very troubling” and said the annual event has “degenerated into a political pep rally,” the A.P. reports.

Taking a question from a law school student, Roberts said anyone is welcome to criticize the court. “I have no problems with that,” he said. “On the other hand, there is the issue of the setting, the circumstances and the decorum. The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court – according the requirements of protocol – has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling. . . I’m not sure why we’re there,” he said.

This is precisely the question raised by the president’s use of the justices as props for his showboating. Shouldn’t there be universal agreement that the Court should remove itself from partisan affairs? Let’s see how the media and legal elite greet this one. At least one thing is clear: this supposedly post-partisan president, who ran for office decrying old-style politics, has hyper-charged with partisanship nearly everything with which he comes in contact — the census, the Court, and the Justice Department, for starters. It’s good to see that not everyone is playing along. And it’s better still to see Chief Justice Roberts defend the dignity and apolitical nature of the Court. Obama may lose his props, but we should all benefit from the reminder that the justices are not in the business of cheerleading the president nor duty bound to perform the role of mute extras in his political drama.

Following the flap over Obama’s State of the Union attack on the Supreme Court’s decision striking down a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, I wrote that it would be a good idea for the justices to skip the event in the future, since it has become a partisan affair that needlessly embroils them in political matters. I am delighted to see that I am on the same wavelength as the chief justice:

Chief Justice John Roberts told students at the University of Alabama Tuesday that President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he singled out a recent Supreme Court decision on campaign finance law for criticism, was “very troubling” and said the annual event has “degenerated into a political pep rally,” the A.P. reports.

Taking a question from a law school student, Roberts said anyone is welcome to criticize the court. “I have no problems with that,” he said. “On the other hand, there is the issue of the setting, the circumstances and the decorum. The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court – according the requirements of protocol – has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling. . . I’m not sure why we’re there,” he said.

This is precisely the question raised by the president’s use of the justices as props for his showboating. Shouldn’t there be universal agreement that the Court should remove itself from partisan affairs? Let’s see how the media and legal elite greet this one. At least one thing is clear: this supposedly post-partisan president, who ran for office decrying old-style politics, has hyper-charged with partisanship nearly everything with which he comes in contact — the census, the Court, and the Justice Department, for starters. It’s good to see that not everyone is playing along. And it’s better still to see Chief Justice Roberts defend the dignity and apolitical nature of the Court. Obama may lose his props, but we should all benefit from the reminder that the justices are not in the business of cheerleading the president nor duty bound to perform the role of mute extras in his political drama.

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Doubtful Democrats

The big moment, the game changer, never comes. That’s been the story on health care for over a year. We had the September speech. We had the State of the Union. We had the health-care summit. Obama never garners the momentum from these events to change minds and votes. Indeed, the passage of time and the repetition of dubious talking points have unnerved Democrats whose votes are essential. This report explains:

On Sunday, two Democrats who hold swing votes said they were focusing on how much money the overhaul would actually save, both for employers and insured workers, and for the federal government. The House and Senate have passed competing bills, and leaders now are putting together a compromise version. Details on cost savings are still being worked out.

“If the House and Senate can’t work out cost containment, I don’t see how I could support a bill that doesn’t help our business community,” Rep. John Adler (D., N.J.) said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I’m not sure we’ve gone far enough in terms of fixing the underlying system to make it affordable for businesses and taxpayers.”

Rep. Jason Altmire (D., Pa.), also appearing on Fox, said he needed “to see a much clearer picture of the cost containment.” He suggested strengthening provisions in the bill aimed at shifting the way providers are reimbursed, to be based on quality of care rather than the number of procedures performed. Critics say the government’s current fee-for-service reimbursement system within its Medicare program encourages providers to offer patients unnecessary procedures.

Why hasn’t the president been able to win over these and the other needed House Democrats? Well, the nature of the bill simply cannot be disguised – it’s a massive new entitlement, a huge tax increase, a whack at Medicare, and set of Rube Goldberg funding gimmicks designed to conceal the true cost. The lawmakers know it, and the public knows it.

So all that is left is to see if the congressional leaders can cajole their members into passing something that is neither substantively nor politically sound. Unfortunately, the bribery and strong-arming needed to do that only intensifies the public’s disgust for the process and for the lawmakers who are pushing this on them. The longer this goes on, the less sense ObamaCare makes, especially to those who really have no reason to throw themselves over a cliff so that Obama-Reid-Pelosi can spare themselves humiliation. After all, the troika can come up with a face-saving, bare-bones deal, the lawmakers can tell the voters they did something, and they can get back to the Democratic members’ real concern — trying to save themselves from the angry electorate.

The big moment, the game changer, never comes. That’s been the story on health care for over a year. We had the September speech. We had the State of the Union. We had the health-care summit. Obama never garners the momentum from these events to change minds and votes. Indeed, the passage of time and the repetition of dubious talking points have unnerved Democrats whose votes are essential. This report explains:

On Sunday, two Democrats who hold swing votes said they were focusing on how much money the overhaul would actually save, both for employers and insured workers, and for the federal government. The House and Senate have passed competing bills, and leaders now are putting together a compromise version. Details on cost savings are still being worked out.

“If the House and Senate can’t work out cost containment, I don’t see how I could support a bill that doesn’t help our business community,” Rep. John Adler (D., N.J.) said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I’m not sure we’ve gone far enough in terms of fixing the underlying system to make it affordable for businesses and taxpayers.”

Rep. Jason Altmire (D., Pa.), also appearing on Fox, said he needed “to see a much clearer picture of the cost containment.” He suggested strengthening provisions in the bill aimed at shifting the way providers are reimbursed, to be based on quality of care rather than the number of procedures performed. Critics say the government’s current fee-for-service reimbursement system within its Medicare program encourages providers to offer patients unnecessary procedures.

Why hasn’t the president been able to win over these and the other needed House Democrats? Well, the nature of the bill simply cannot be disguised – it’s a massive new entitlement, a huge tax increase, a whack at Medicare, and set of Rube Goldberg funding gimmicks designed to conceal the true cost. The lawmakers know it, and the public knows it.

So all that is left is to see if the congressional leaders can cajole their members into passing something that is neither substantively nor politically sound. Unfortunately, the bribery and strong-arming needed to do that only intensifies the public’s disgust for the process and for the lawmakers who are pushing this on them. The longer this goes on, the less sense ObamaCare makes, especially to those who really have no reason to throw themselves over a cliff so that Obama-Reid-Pelosi can spare themselves humiliation. After all, the troika can come up with a face-saving, bare-bones deal, the lawmakers can tell the voters they did something, and they can get back to the Democratic members’ real concern — trying to save themselves from the angry electorate.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

As many predicted, Steny Hoyer says the House will go first: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Sunday that the House must pass the Senate bill before fixes to both bills can be approved. … Hoyer said that Democrats have not yet started counting votes and have not yet nailed down all the details for what they plan to pass. Both of those will be finalized soon, he said.” Well, if they ever get the votes.

As many knew, the Democrats don’t have the votes yet in the House for ObamaCare. When asked if she has the 217 votes, Nancy Pelosi replied on This Week: “Well, right now we’re working on the policy.”

As many suspected, Nancy Pelosi hasn’t got a clue: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Democrats ‘share some of the views’ of the Tea Party movement, even though it ‘takes direction from the Republican Party.'”

As many Republicans whisper among themselves, they’re lucky she’s the face of the House Democrats. Nancy Pelosi, on CNN: “I say, you can bake the pie, you can sell the pie, but you have to have a pie to sell. And when we do we will take it out there.” Got that? Try this one: “A bill can be bipartisan without bipartisan votes.”

As many Democrats feared, Pelosi isn’t giving up on Charlie Rangel: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Sunday she wants let House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., hold onto his gavel for now, despite his admonishment by the House ethics committee last week.”

As many incumbents fret, John McCain plots to make his colleagues squirm on ObamaCare: “On the verge of a procedural fight over health care, Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican’s presidential nominee in 2008, said Sunday that he plans to introduce legislation that would prevent Congress from changing Medicare through a process that only requires a simple majority in the Senate.”

As many conservatives have urged, Evan Thomas pleads with Obama to do something meaningful on tort reform: “If Obama were to come out squarely for medical-malpractice reform—in a real way—he would be making an important political statement: that as president he is willing to risk the political fortunes of his own party for the greater good. It would give him the moral standing, and the leverage, to call on the Republicans to match him by sacrificing their own political interests—by, for instance, supporting tax increases to help pay down the debt.”

As many of us have argued, there is no good option for Democrats on health-care reform. According to Mara Liasson: “Passing this bill is not going to be a political winner. I mean, either way, it’s pretty grim. But I think it’s marginally worse if they go home with nothing. They show that they cannot govern effectively.”

Not many of the chattering class anticipated this, but the health-care summit was a big plus for Republicans. Sen. Mitch McConnell on State of the Union: “We — we had a chance Thursday actually to display some of our brightest, most knowledgeable Republicans. I thought it was actually very good for us because it certainly refuted the notion that Republicans are not interested in this subject and not knowledgeable about it and don’t have alternatives. And we laid out a number of different things that we think will make a lot more sense, to go step by step to fix the cost problem.”

As many predicted, Steny Hoyer says the House will go first: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Sunday that the House must pass the Senate bill before fixes to both bills can be approved. … Hoyer said that Democrats have not yet started counting votes and have not yet nailed down all the details for what they plan to pass. Both of those will be finalized soon, he said.” Well, if they ever get the votes.

As many knew, the Democrats don’t have the votes yet in the House for ObamaCare. When asked if she has the 217 votes, Nancy Pelosi replied on This Week: “Well, right now we’re working on the policy.”

As many suspected, Nancy Pelosi hasn’t got a clue: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Democrats ‘share some of the views’ of the Tea Party movement, even though it ‘takes direction from the Republican Party.'”

As many Republicans whisper among themselves, they’re lucky she’s the face of the House Democrats. Nancy Pelosi, on CNN: “I say, you can bake the pie, you can sell the pie, but you have to have a pie to sell. And when we do we will take it out there.” Got that? Try this one: “A bill can be bipartisan without bipartisan votes.”

As many Democrats feared, Pelosi isn’t giving up on Charlie Rangel: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Sunday she wants let House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., hold onto his gavel for now, despite his admonishment by the House ethics committee last week.”

As many incumbents fret, John McCain plots to make his colleagues squirm on ObamaCare: “On the verge of a procedural fight over health care, Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican’s presidential nominee in 2008, said Sunday that he plans to introduce legislation that would prevent Congress from changing Medicare through a process that only requires a simple majority in the Senate.”

As many conservatives have urged, Evan Thomas pleads with Obama to do something meaningful on tort reform: “If Obama were to come out squarely for medical-malpractice reform—in a real way—he would be making an important political statement: that as president he is willing to risk the political fortunes of his own party for the greater good. It would give him the moral standing, and the leverage, to call on the Republicans to match him by sacrificing their own political interests—by, for instance, supporting tax increases to help pay down the debt.”

As many of us have argued, there is no good option for Democrats on health-care reform. According to Mara Liasson: “Passing this bill is not going to be a political winner. I mean, either way, it’s pretty grim. But I think it’s marginally worse if they go home with nothing. They show that they cannot govern effectively.”

Not many of the chattering class anticipated this, but the health-care summit was a big plus for Republicans. Sen. Mitch McConnell on State of the Union: “We — we had a chance Thursday actually to display some of our brightest, most knowledgeable Republicans. I thought it was actually very good for us because it certainly refuted the notion that Republicans are not interested in this subject and not knowledgeable about it and don’t have alternatives. And we laid out a number of different things that we think will make a lot more sense, to go step by step to fix the cost problem.”

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Spinning Obama’s Indifference to Foreign Policy

Buried on page 15 of the Washington Post (but not linkable) is an interesting chart and short column by Glenn Kessler. He writes: “When President Obama did not mention the Middle East peace process in his State of the Union speech, some commentators said it was an unusual lapse, perhaps signifying that he had lost interest in the issue after a year of disappointing results.” But no! Kessler jumps into the fray to defend the president (is he now on the White House payroll?) pointing out that lots of other presidents didn’t mention the Middle East either. Kessler spent time checking 50 of these and found that only 30 percent had mentioned the Middle East peace process. He then provided a chart, time line, and, sometime, photos. Wow. That’s a lot of spin … er … work on the subject.

But wait. Obama said that no other president had really tried hard enough to broker a peace deal. He was going to be different in that regard. He was going to roll up his sleeves and personally get involved. He was “impatient” with the lack of progress to date, remember? Well, not so much any more. And he’s belatedly reaching the conclusion that there is no peace to process. So, for all his spin, Kessler seems to prove the critics’ point: so much for Obama the Middle East peace maker.

But Kessler also distorts the gravamen of many of those who commented on Obama’s State of the Union omission. It wasn’t simply the failure to mention the Middle East non-peace process that raised eyebrows. It was Obama’s cursory, back-of-the-hand treatment of all matters of foreign policy and national security. He barely mentioned Iran, didn’t bother with any mention of the mullahs’ human-rights atrocities, and devoted a single sentence to the Christmas Day bombing incident (“We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security, and swifter action on our intelligence.”), and then repeated his mantra that he “prohibited torture.” (Wrong! It was illegal before him to begin with. He was the one who determined that all we could utilize in interrogations was the Army Field Manual — a distinction he purposefully blurs.) Perhaps if Kessler had compared the paragraphs devoted to terrorism in Obama’s speech with those of George W. Bush’s State of the Union addresses, we would have had a more meaningful bit of data.

Obama never tires of telling us that he’s not George W. Bush. Well, when it comes to focus and passion devoted to defending us in the war against Islamic fascists, I think he’s right.

Buried on page 15 of the Washington Post (but not linkable) is an interesting chart and short column by Glenn Kessler. He writes: “When President Obama did not mention the Middle East peace process in his State of the Union speech, some commentators said it was an unusual lapse, perhaps signifying that he had lost interest in the issue after a year of disappointing results.” But no! Kessler jumps into the fray to defend the president (is he now on the White House payroll?) pointing out that lots of other presidents didn’t mention the Middle East either. Kessler spent time checking 50 of these and found that only 30 percent had mentioned the Middle East peace process. He then provided a chart, time line, and, sometime, photos. Wow. That’s a lot of spin … er … work on the subject.

But wait. Obama said that no other president had really tried hard enough to broker a peace deal. He was going to be different in that regard. He was going to roll up his sleeves and personally get involved. He was “impatient” with the lack of progress to date, remember? Well, not so much any more. And he’s belatedly reaching the conclusion that there is no peace to process. So, for all his spin, Kessler seems to prove the critics’ point: so much for Obama the Middle East peace maker.

But Kessler also distorts the gravamen of many of those who commented on Obama’s State of the Union omission. It wasn’t simply the failure to mention the Middle East non-peace process that raised eyebrows. It was Obama’s cursory, back-of-the-hand treatment of all matters of foreign policy and national security. He barely mentioned Iran, didn’t bother with any mention of the mullahs’ human-rights atrocities, and devoted a single sentence to the Christmas Day bombing incident (“We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security, and swifter action on our intelligence.”), and then repeated his mantra that he “prohibited torture.” (Wrong! It was illegal before him to begin with. He was the one who determined that all we could utilize in interrogations was the Army Field Manual — a distinction he purposefully blurs.) Perhaps if Kessler had compared the paragraphs devoted to terrorism in Obama’s speech with those of George W. Bush’s State of the Union addresses, we would have had a more meaningful bit of data.

Obama never tires of telling us that he’s not George W. Bush. Well, when it comes to focus and passion devoted to defending us in the war against Islamic fascists, I think he’s right.

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Don’t Ask, No Telling When Obama Will Lead

As I speculated a couple of weeks ago, the Left has been duped by Obama on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Obama didn’t move forward by executive order or push for prompt congressional action by sending specific legislation to the Hill. Rather, Obama has called for a long study and then, as he does everything else, left it to Congress to meander. The result one suspects (as the Left certainly does now) is that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Politico reports:

Obama’s historic commitment — featured prominently in his State of the Union speech last month — helped soothe his frayed relationship with the politically powerful gay and lesbian community. … But House Democratic leadership aides tell POLITICO they are growing increasingly worried over the lack of a detailed White House road map for passing a repeal — and that without such a road map, repeal will end up in the same kind of Senate gridlock that hobbled health reform.

Moreover, the Left is spotting an insincerity (or is it ineptness?) in the gap between Obama’s rhetoric and any action on other key concerns, including health-care reform. (Rep. Anthony Weiner: “The frustration has been that while the president has said the right things when he’s on the road, he’s emphasized bipartisanship and not [moved] towards issues of importance to the Democratic base when he comes back to Washington.”) For its part, the White House seems baffled: But we made  a speech! Really, that’s what the Obami think the job is all about. A White House spokesman whined: “I don’t know how you get a more clear signal than calling for repeal in your first State of the Union address in front of an audience of 50 million people and having the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense express their support for ending the ban. … The timing of when Congress acts is up to Congress.” LBJ Obama is not, huh?

And because his ability to prioritize and move agenda items through a Congress with huge Democratic majorities is so lacking, there is the suspicion that he really isn’t interested in achieving some of his self-proclaimed goals. Honestly, how could any president get so little done? He must not be trying. That’s it, reason irritated liberals. Well, it’s possible that it’s a devious plot to raise everyone’s expectations and deliver nothing, thereby setting up his own party for a wipeout in November, but that seems a peculiar tactic. Rather, the Left may be learning the hard way that Obama has little facility for the job of being president and zero talent for crafting historic legislation. He’s the quintessential academic — filled with big ideas (none of which bears much relation to the real world) yet utterly incompetent. Next time they might look for a “transformative” figure who can transform something.

As I speculated a couple of weeks ago, the Left has been duped by Obama on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Obama didn’t move forward by executive order or push for prompt congressional action by sending specific legislation to the Hill. Rather, Obama has called for a long study and then, as he does everything else, left it to Congress to meander. The result one suspects (as the Left certainly does now) is that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Politico reports:

Obama’s historic commitment — featured prominently in his State of the Union speech last month — helped soothe his frayed relationship with the politically powerful gay and lesbian community. … But House Democratic leadership aides tell POLITICO they are growing increasingly worried over the lack of a detailed White House road map for passing a repeal — and that without such a road map, repeal will end up in the same kind of Senate gridlock that hobbled health reform.

Moreover, the Left is spotting an insincerity (or is it ineptness?) in the gap between Obama’s rhetoric and any action on other key concerns, including health-care reform. (Rep. Anthony Weiner: “The frustration has been that while the president has said the right things when he’s on the road, he’s emphasized bipartisanship and not [moved] towards issues of importance to the Democratic base when he comes back to Washington.”) For its part, the White House seems baffled: But we made  a speech! Really, that’s what the Obami think the job is all about. A White House spokesman whined: “I don’t know how you get a more clear signal than calling for repeal in your first State of the Union address in front of an audience of 50 million people and having the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense express their support for ending the ban. … The timing of when Congress acts is up to Congress.” LBJ Obama is not, huh?

And because his ability to prioritize and move agenda items through a Congress with huge Democratic majorities is so lacking, there is the suspicion that he really isn’t interested in achieving some of his self-proclaimed goals. Honestly, how could any president get so little done? He must not be trying. That’s it, reason irritated liberals. Well, it’s possible that it’s a devious plot to raise everyone’s expectations and deliver nothing, thereby setting up his own party for a wipeout in November, but that seems a peculiar tactic. Rather, the Left may be learning the hard way that Obama has little facility for the job of being president and zero talent for crafting historic legislation. He’s the quintessential academic — filled with big ideas (none of which bears much relation to the real world) yet utterly incompetent. Next time they might look for a “transformative” figure who can transform something.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A must-read new blog, Bad Rachel, is off with a bang, examining a study of Pashtun men in the Afghan army. “If through the good offices of our military—especially our women soldiers—we could help Afghani women unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

Obama doubles down on his George W. Bush buck-passing, repeating Eric Holder’s line that the Obama administration is treating terrorists just as its predecessor did. (No mention of the terrorists who were treated as combatants under Bush, and no word on why Obama’s not using the military-tribunal system put into place since many of the Bush-era terror cases.) Then the real double-talk starts: we got “actionable intelligence” from the Christmas Day bomber, the president says. But then why was he telling the American people that this was an “isolated extremist” in the days after the bombing? Something sure doesn’t add up.

Bill Kristol reminds us: “Robert Gibbs said to you right here at this desk, right here in snowy Washington, D.C., Chris, where you’re — you seem to have escaped from and enjoying nice weather there in Nashville — Gibbs said to you, what, two days after the Christmas bomber, ‘We got everything we needed from him.’ Do you remember that? There’s no — 50 minutes of interrogation with the FBI. That was great. Now — that was their spin then. Their spin now is, ‘Oh, it’s great. He’s talking again. He’s giving us lots of useful information.’ Which is it? Robert Gibbs was not telling the truth one of those two times. … When you have a White House that’s spinning constantly, they’re going to be criticized and they deserve to be criticized.”

Bill Sammon explains: “And Kit Bond was pretty direct, the senator saying the FBI director personally told him, ‘Look, the guy is talking to us again after five weeks but we got to keep that quiet. If that gets out, that could compromise national security.’ Because, of course, the intelligence that you’re getting from the guy is perishable. It’s actionable. And you don’t want to be blabbing to the world that the guy’s talking. So what happens? Twenty-four hours later, you have this unseemly spectacle of the White House press operation hurriedly summoning reporters to the West Wing to trumpet, ‘Guess what? He’s talking again! He’s talking again!'”

In case you thought it was very hard to get the federal budget under control: “Republican senator George LeMieux of Florida has done the math. If government spending were reduced to its 2007 level, we’d have a balanced budget (with a $163 billion surplus). Returning to the 2008 level of spending, the budget would be balanced in 2014 (a $133 billion surplus). And in both cases, that’s while keeping the Bush tax cuts across the board and indexing the loathed alternative minimum tax for inflation.”

Illinois Democrats had enough of this: “The ex-girlfriend who accused Democratic Lt. Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen of threatening her with a knife said Saturday she ‘does not believe he is fit to hold any public office.”” Only a week after the nomination: “Embattled Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen said Sunday night he’s dropping out of the race. ‘For the good of the people of [the] state of Illinois and the Democratic party I will resign,’ he said.”

Arlen Specter gets the endorsement of the  Pennsylvania Democratic party. But Democrats there don’t seem to like him all that much.

The Washington Post gives a blow-by-blow account of Sarah Palin’s appearance — her physical appearance, that is — at the Tea Party Convention. I can’t imagine them doing the same in the case of, say, Tim Pawlenty. One noteworthy observation: “In her lapel, a small pin with two flags — for Israel and the United States.”

Here’s a good bipartisan issue for conservatives to get behind: “The Obama administration is reaching out to business-friendly Democrats to win support for free-trade policies that divide the party. The effort is part of President Barack Obama’s push on trade that was launched with his State of the Union address. Obama said he wanted to double exports over the next five years as part of an effort to grow the U.S. economy.” If nothing else, it will annoy Big Labor.

A must-read new blog, Bad Rachel, is off with a bang, examining a study of Pashtun men in the Afghan army. “If through the good offices of our military—especially our women soldiers—we could help Afghani women unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

Obama doubles down on his George W. Bush buck-passing, repeating Eric Holder’s line that the Obama administration is treating terrorists just as its predecessor did. (No mention of the terrorists who were treated as combatants under Bush, and no word on why Obama’s not using the military-tribunal system put into place since many of the Bush-era terror cases.) Then the real double-talk starts: we got “actionable intelligence” from the Christmas Day bomber, the president says. But then why was he telling the American people that this was an “isolated extremist” in the days after the bombing? Something sure doesn’t add up.

Bill Kristol reminds us: “Robert Gibbs said to you right here at this desk, right here in snowy Washington, D.C., Chris, where you’re — you seem to have escaped from and enjoying nice weather there in Nashville — Gibbs said to you, what, two days after the Christmas bomber, ‘We got everything we needed from him.’ Do you remember that? There’s no — 50 minutes of interrogation with the FBI. That was great. Now — that was their spin then. Their spin now is, ‘Oh, it’s great. He’s talking again. He’s giving us lots of useful information.’ Which is it? Robert Gibbs was not telling the truth one of those two times. … When you have a White House that’s spinning constantly, they’re going to be criticized and they deserve to be criticized.”

Bill Sammon explains: “And Kit Bond was pretty direct, the senator saying the FBI director personally told him, ‘Look, the guy is talking to us again after five weeks but we got to keep that quiet. If that gets out, that could compromise national security.’ Because, of course, the intelligence that you’re getting from the guy is perishable. It’s actionable. And you don’t want to be blabbing to the world that the guy’s talking. So what happens? Twenty-four hours later, you have this unseemly spectacle of the White House press operation hurriedly summoning reporters to the West Wing to trumpet, ‘Guess what? He’s talking again! He’s talking again!'”

In case you thought it was very hard to get the federal budget under control: “Republican senator George LeMieux of Florida has done the math. If government spending were reduced to its 2007 level, we’d have a balanced budget (with a $163 billion surplus). Returning to the 2008 level of spending, the budget would be balanced in 2014 (a $133 billion surplus). And in both cases, that’s while keeping the Bush tax cuts across the board and indexing the loathed alternative minimum tax for inflation.”

Illinois Democrats had enough of this: “The ex-girlfriend who accused Democratic Lt. Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen of threatening her with a knife said Saturday she ‘does not believe he is fit to hold any public office.”” Only a week after the nomination: “Embattled Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen said Sunday night he’s dropping out of the race. ‘For the good of the people of [the] state of Illinois and the Democratic party I will resign,’ he said.”

Arlen Specter gets the endorsement of the  Pennsylvania Democratic party. But Democrats there don’t seem to like him all that much.

The Washington Post gives a blow-by-blow account of Sarah Palin’s appearance — her physical appearance, that is — at the Tea Party Convention. I can’t imagine them doing the same in the case of, say, Tim Pawlenty. One noteworthy observation: “In her lapel, a small pin with two flags — for Israel and the United States.”

Here’s a good bipartisan issue for conservatives to get behind: “The Obama administration is reaching out to business-friendly Democrats to win support for free-trade policies that divide the party. The effort is part of President Barack Obama’s push on trade that was launched with his State of the Union address. Obama said he wanted to double exports over the next five years as part of an effort to grow the U.S. economy.” If nothing else, it will annoy Big Labor.

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Maybe He Should Get Down to Work

A growing number of Democrats are openly fretting about Obama. You can’t blame them, considering that he led the party on a yearlong, fruitless quest for health care, and they are now staring at a potential wave election. Moreover, it’s hard to see what he thinks the presidency is all about. He gives speeches and goes on TV, but what else?

He’s not connecting with voters, even his own party concedes. One of the at-risk Democratic Virginia congressmen, Gerry Connolly, complains the president should “go out and talk to the unemployed. Go out and talk to small businesses.” He says that Obama is  “‘too much the cerebral, cool, detached’ president and that he needs to weigh in forcefully to break the logjam over health-care reform and other issues. ‘He needs to recalibrate what the proper balance is moving forward.'”

But he really doesn’t do the whole legislative drafting thing:

White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama will not delve into the minutiae of writing a health-care bill. “He’s not a legislative technician,” Burton said. “He’s not going to get into the nitty-gritty of what the best way forward is at this point.”

So what does he do? He campaigns and speechifies, of course. He gives the State of the Union and talks about fiscal responsibility, but his minions draft a monstrous tax-and-spend blueprint that not even Democrats can defend. He tells lawmakers to “punch through” on health care but simply recycles the same talking points. He has outsourced anti-terrorism policy to Eric Holder. What’s missing in all this is a conscientious attention to governance, a well-thought set of policies that could engender bipartisan support, and a willingness to talk directly to voters without laying blame for all his travails on others. Yes, the presidency is hard, as he said of the Middle East. But it doesn’t get easier by ignoring many of the job’s key tasks.

A growing number of Democrats are openly fretting about Obama. You can’t blame them, considering that he led the party on a yearlong, fruitless quest for health care, and they are now staring at a potential wave election. Moreover, it’s hard to see what he thinks the presidency is all about. He gives speeches and goes on TV, but what else?

He’s not connecting with voters, even his own party concedes. One of the at-risk Democratic Virginia congressmen, Gerry Connolly, complains the president should “go out and talk to the unemployed. Go out and talk to small businesses.” He says that Obama is  “‘too much the cerebral, cool, detached’ president and that he needs to weigh in forcefully to break the logjam over health-care reform and other issues. ‘He needs to recalibrate what the proper balance is moving forward.'”

But he really doesn’t do the whole legislative drafting thing:

White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama will not delve into the minutiae of writing a health-care bill. “He’s not a legislative technician,” Burton said. “He’s not going to get into the nitty-gritty of what the best way forward is at this point.”

So what does he do? He campaigns and speechifies, of course. He gives the State of the Union and talks about fiscal responsibility, but his minions draft a monstrous tax-and-spend blueprint that not even Democrats can defend. He tells lawmakers to “punch through” on health care but simply recycles the same talking points. He has outsourced anti-terrorism policy to Eric Holder. What’s missing in all this is a conscientious attention to governance, a well-thought set of policies that could engender bipartisan support, and a willingness to talk directly to voters without laying blame for all his travails on others. Yes, the presidency is hard, as he said of the Middle East. But it doesn’t get easier by ignoring many of the job’s key tasks.

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The Justices Should Stay Home

Justice Clarence Thomas, appearing at a Florida law school, made some interesting remarks about the Supreme Court’s decision striking down portions of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform law. The New York Times dutifully reports his jab, “I found it fascinating that the people who were editorializing against it were The New York Times Company and The Washington Post Company. … These are corporations.” And there was more:

“If 10 of you got together and decided to speak, just as a group, you’d say you have First Amendment rights to speak and the First Amendment right of association,” he said. “If you all then formed a partnership to speak, you’d say we still have that First Amendment right to speak and of association.”

“But what if you put yourself in a corporate form?” Justice Thomas asked, suggesting that the answer must be the same.

Asked about his attitude toward the two decisions overruled in Citizens United, he said, “If it’s wrong, the ultimate precedent is the Constitution.”

That’s as compelling and succinct an argument as you will get in defense of constitutional principles and the sanctity of political speech. Most interesting, perhaps, were his remarks on attending the State of the Union:

“I don’t go because it has become so partisan and it’s very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there,” he said, adding that “there’s a lot that you don’t hear on TV — the catcalls, the whooping and hollering and under-the-breath comments.”

“One of the consequences,” he added in an apparent reference to last week’s address, “is now the court becomes part of the conversation, if you want to call it that, in the speeches. It’s just an example of why I don’t go.”

Regardless of how one feels about the Citizens United v. FEC case or Justice Sam Alito’s “not true” retort, it’s hard to disagree with that logic. There is good reason for the justices to stop showing up. This is a partisan affair in which the president lays out a political agenda and, at least in this case, swipes at the other branches of government. Why should judges feel obligated to sit there? Why would they even feel comfortable? And really, there is no purpose to be served by the judges sitting mutely (or not) as the president solicits cheers for health care or incurs boos for a budget freeze. These are justices and not political players, after all, although the line between political apparatchiks and judges is becoming unfortunately blurry these days.

The ABA Canon 4 of judicial ethics (which is the model for many state-bar ethics rules) states: “A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.” Well, the State of the Union is not exactly political “activity” in the way that a campaign rally is, but it’s close and becomes more “interactive” each year. If the purpose of that rule is to maintain the divide between judges and politics and to avoid ensnaring judges in partisan brawls, then a good place to start would be for justices to follow Justice Thomas’s guidance. Really, they can watch it on TV.

Justice Clarence Thomas, appearing at a Florida law school, made some interesting remarks about the Supreme Court’s decision striking down portions of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform law. The New York Times dutifully reports his jab, “I found it fascinating that the people who were editorializing against it were The New York Times Company and The Washington Post Company. … These are corporations.” And there was more:

“If 10 of you got together and decided to speak, just as a group, you’d say you have First Amendment rights to speak and the First Amendment right of association,” he said. “If you all then formed a partnership to speak, you’d say we still have that First Amendment right to speak and of association.”

“But what if you put yourself in a corporate form?” Justice Thomas asked, suggesting that the answer must be the same.

Asked about his attitude toward the two decisions overruled in Citizens United, he said, “If it’s wrong, the ultimate precedent is the Constitution.”

That’s as compelling and succinct an argument as you will get in defense of constitutional principles and the sanctity of political speech. Most interesting, perhaps, were his remarks on attending the State of the Union:

“I don’t go because it has become so partisan and it’s very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there,” he said, adding that “there’s a lot that you don’t hear on TV — the catcalls, the whooping and hollering and under-the-breath comments.”

“One of the consequences,” he added in an apparent reference to last week’s address, “is now the court becomes part of the conversation, if you want to call it that, in the speeches. It’s just an example of why I don’t go.”

Regardless of how one feels about the Citizens United v. FEC case or Justice Sam Alito’s “not true” retort, it’s hard to disagree with that logic. There is good reason for the justices to stop showing up. This is a partisan affair in which the president lays out a political agenda and, at least in this case, swipes at the other branches of government. Why should judges feel obligated to sit there? Why would they even feel comfortable? And really, there is no purpose to be served by the judges sitting mutely (or not) as the president solicits cheers for health care or incurs boos for a budget freeze. These are justices and not political players, after all, although the line between political apparatchiks and judges is becoming unfortunately blurry these days.

The ABA Canon 4 of judicial ethics (which is the model for many state-bar ethics rules) states: “A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.” Well, the State of the Union is not exactly political “activity” in the way that a campaign rally is, but it’s close and becomes more “interactive” each year. If the purpose of that rule is to maintain the divide between judges and politics and to avoid ensnaring judges in partisan brawls, then a good place to start would be for justices to follow Justice Thomas’s guidance. Really, they can watch it on TV.

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Pole Vaulting into the Minority

So how’s health-care reform going? When last we left Nancy Pelosi, she was pole-vaulting over the fence of public opinion, proclaiming her devotion to ObamaCare — or at least putting up a good face. But out in the country, not that far out really, not even Democrats can stomach the central pillar of ObamaCare — the requirement that Americans be forced to buy insurance they don’t want and/or can’t afford from Big Insurance. In Virginia, where the governor has declared that he’s not taking the KSM trial, Democrats joined Republicans in the state Senate in announcing that they aren’t taking ObamaCare either. The Washington Post reports:

Virginia’s Democratically controlled state Senate passed measures Monday that would make it illegal to require individuals to purchase health insurance, a direct challenge to the party’s efforts in Washington to reform health care.

The bills, a top priority of Virginia’s “tea party” movement, were approved 23 to 17 as five Democrats who represent swing areas of the state joined all 18 Republicans in the chamber in backing the legislation.

The votes came less than a week after President Obama implored Democrats in Washington not to abandon their health-care efforts, urging them in his State of the Union address not to “run for the hills” on the issue.

Well, if not running for the hills, they’re certainly taking a stand. You can imagine how nervous House and Senate Democrats inside the Beltway must feel as they fret that Nancy Pelosi might be serious about venturing into another career-ending round of health-care negotiations. In fact, you don’t have to imagine it. One of the four at-risk Virginia House Democrats is already feeling the heat:

“It doesn’t make it easier,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, who voted for health-care legislation and is one of several Virginia Democrats who faces a strong challenge this year. Each of three similar bills that passed the state Senate on Monday would run counter to legislation passed by both chambers of Congress, which would require all individuals to purchase health care.

It doesn’t make it easier to pass ObamaCare — or for Connolly to keep his seat. It seems that Democrats in state office have now adopted the arguments of House and Senate Republicans, not to mention some conservative legal scholars. (“‘I don’t believe someone should be forced to buy something they don’t want to,’ said Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, a Democrat who represents rural Russell County and backed the measures. ‘It’s un-American. And it might be unconstitutional.'”) At the very least, it’s one more indication that ObamaCare has become a nonstarter for Democrats in any locale less “safe” than Massachusetts.

And in case the Democratic leadership needed any more bad news, the Post tells us that there are similar measures pending in 29 state legislatures.

There are two ways to read the ongoing rumblings from Democratic congressional leadership and the White House that health-care reform isn’t dead yet. One, they really are out to lunch and will eventually face an embarrassing replay of 1994, when then Senate Majority leader George Mitchell had to pull HillaryCare from the floor because the votes just were not there. The alternative is that Pelosi is just biding her time, afraid to confess to the netroot Left that, in fact, the work does not go on, the cause (of universal health care) does not endure, the hope doesn’t live, and the dream for now is dead. And since that would not be well received in San Francisco or among liberal donors, she will continue her Olympian efforts to revive health-care reform. And all those Democratic lawmakers from places like Virginia will just have to fend for themselves.

So how’s health-care reform going? When last we left Nancy Pelosi, she was pole-vaulting over the fence of public opinion, proclaiming her devotion to ObamaCare — or at least putting up a good face. But out in the country, not that far out really, not even Democrats can stomach the central pillar of ObamaCare — the requirement that Americans be forced to buy insurance they don’t want and/or can’t afford from Big Insurance. In Virginia, where the governor has declared that he’s not taking the KSM trial, Democrats joined Republicans in the state Senate in announcing that they aren’t taking ObamaCare either. The Washington Post reports:

Virginia’s Democratically controlled state Senate passed measures Monday that would make it illegal to require individuals to purchase health insurance, a direct challenge to the party’s efforts in Washington to reform health care.

The bills, a top priority of Virginia’s “tea party” movement, were approved 23 to 17 as five Democrats who represent swing areas of the state joined all 18 Republicans in the chamber in backing the legislation.

The votes came less than a week after President Obama implored Democrats in Washington not to abandon their health-care efforts, urging them in his State of the Union address not to “run for the hills” on the issue.

Well, if not running for the hills, they’re certainly taking a stand. You can imagine how nervous House and Senate Democrats inside the Beltway must feel as they fret that Nancy Pelosi might be serious about venturing into another career-ending round of health-care negotiations. In fact, you don’t have to imagine it. One of the four at-risk Virginia House Democrats is already feeling the heat:

“It doesn’t make it easier,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, who voted for health-care legislation and is one of several Virginia Democrats who faces a strong challenge this year. Each of three similar bills that passed the state Senate on Monday would run counter to legislation passed by both chambers of Congress, which would require all individuals to purchase health care.

It doesn’t make it easier to pass ObamaCare — or for Connolly to keep his seat. It seems that Democrats in state office have now adopted the arguments of House and Senate Republicans, not to mention some conservative legal scholars. (“‘I don’t believe someone should be forced to buy something they don’t want to,’ said Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, a Democrat who represents rural Russell County and backed the measures. ‘It’s un-American. And it might be unconstitutional.'”) At the very least, it’s one more indication that ObamaCare has become a nonstarter for Democrats in any locale less “safe” than Massachusetts.

And in case the Democratic leadership needed any more bad news, the Post tells us that there are similar measures pending in 29 state legislatures.

There are two ways to read the ongoing rumblings from Democratic congressional leadership and the White House that health-care reform isn’t dead yet. One, they really are out to lunch and will eventually face an embarrassing replay of 1994, when then Senate Majority leader George Mitchell had to pull HillaryCare from the floor because the votes just were not there. The alternative is that Pelosi is just biding her time, afraid to confess to the netroot Left that, in fact, the work does not go on, the cause (of universal health care) does not endure, the hope doesn’t live, and the dream for now is dead. And since that would not be well received in San Francisco or among liberal donors, she will continue her Olympian efforts to revive health-care reform. And all those Democratic lawmakers from places like Virginia will just have to fend for themselves.

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Don’t Ask When, Don’t Tell the Left They’ve Been Conned

As with everything Obama-related, his promise to abolish Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell turns out to be less than billed during the State of the Union. This report explains:

The Defense Department starts the clock next week on what is expected to be a several-year process in lifting its ban on gays from serving openly in the military. A special investigation into how the ban can be repealed without hurting the morale or readiness of the troops was expected to be announced Tuesday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Given that the one-year, self-imposed deadline for Guantanamo has come and gone, it is quite possible that the abolition of the policy could then very well never occur, with the debate extending long past Obama’s presidency. Surely his base will not be mollified with this sort of fluff, right? Others, however, may be delighted by the lackadaisical pace:

Democrats in Congress are also unlikely to press the issue until after this fall’s midterm elections. This will probably satisfy [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, who has long suggested that change shouldn’t come too quickly. In a speech last year at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., Gated noted that the 1948 executive order for racial integration took five years to implement. “I’m not saying that’s a model for this, but I’m saying that I believe this is something that needs to be done very, very carefully,” he told the audience.

As J.E. Dyer explained in her thoughtful post, there are serious issues to consider before we allow the military to tolerate openly gay servicemen. And there is reason to wonder why — other than pure domestic politics to assuage the president’s disillusioned netroot fans — we should subject one of the few highly effective public institutions to “an untested, unnecessary, and probably unwise social experiment,” as Bill Kristol puts it.

Aside from the merits of the existing policy and the real cost in time, focus, and morale to change it, this is yet another example of the president’s rhetorical excess, which I suspect will now be seen as flimflam by his base. He promised to end the policy; the reality is that he is setting up an endless bureaucratic process to study it.

Guantanamo is open, the Patriot Act remains in place, ObamaCare is dead, and now Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is likely to be with us for years, perhaps forever. At some point, the president’s fans on the Left will realize they have been had.

As with everything Obama-related, his promise to abolish Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell turns out to be less than billed during the State of the Union. This report explains:

The Defense Department starts the clock next week on what is expected to be a several-year process in lifting its ban on gays from serving openly in the military. A special investigation into how the ban can be repealed without hurting the morale or readiness of the troops was expected to be announced Tuesday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Given that the one-year, self-imposed deadline for Guantanamo has come and gone, it is quite possible that the abolition of the policy could then very well never occur, with the debate extending long past Obama’s presidency. Surely his base will not be mollified with this sort of fluff, right? Others, however, may be delighted by the lackadaisical pace:

Democrats in Congress are also unlikely to press the issue until after this fall’s midterm elections. This will probably satisfy [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, who has long suggested that change shouldn’t come too quickly. In a speech last year at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., Gated noted that the 1948 executive order for racial integration took five years to implement. “I’m not saying that’s a model for this, but I’m saying that I believe this is something that needs to be done very, very carefully,” he told the audience.

As J.E. Dyer explained in her thoughtful post, there are serious issues to consider before we allow the military to tolerate openly gay servicemen. And there is reason to wonder why — other than pure domestic politics to assuage the president’s disillusioned netroot fans — we should subject one of the few highly effective public institutions to “an untested, unnecessary, and probably unwise social experiment,” as Bill Kristol puts it.

Aside from the merits of the existing policy and the real cost in time, focus, and morale to change it, this is yet another example of the president’s rhetorical excess, which I suspect will now be seen as flimflam by his base. He promised to end the policy; the reality is that he is setting up an endless bureaucratic process to study it.

Guantanamo is open, the Patriot Act remains in place, ObamaCare is dead, and now Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is likely to be with us for years, perhaps forever. At some point, the president’s fans on the Left will realize they have been had.

Read Less

“I Am Not an Ideologue”

Barack Obama’s claim to the GOP lawmakers today — “I am not an ideologue” — calls to mind Richard Nixon’s famous claim, “I am not a crook.” Unfortunately both Messrs. Obama and Nixon were what they claimed they were not. Now being a crook is much worse than being an ideologue; but being an ideologue, especially a liberal one, can have its own high costs, as our 44th president is discovering.

I rather doubt Obama considers himself an ideologue; he has probably convinced himself that he is what he wants to project: an empiricist, a pragmatist, and person who makes decisions based on evidence and reason instead of ideology. The fact that he has pursued an agenda blessed, in almost every instance, by Nancy Pelosi is the oddest of coincidences.

I happen to be glad that Obama met with House Republicans; and if this signals a new way of doing business, more power to him. We’ll see. He certainly deserves the chance to amend his ways. But because Obama is, himself, deeply ideological, I suspect he will be more resistant than most. Yet political reality and political defeats can quickly concentrate the minds of politicians.

I have heard sound bits of Obama in two post-State of the Union settings. There is an almost plaintive quality to the president’s words, at least at several points. He simply doesn’t seem able to process what is happening to him or to deal with the mounting problems he and his party face. For a man beginning his second year in office, he can’t understand why he is the most polarizing president we have seen. Or why his disapproval ratings are at a record high this soon into his presidency. Or why he has lost more support in his first year than any other president in our lifetime. Or why the public is rejecting his agenda almost across the board. Or why the public is rejecting his party in almost every possible case. Or why Democratic lawmakers, themselves, are beginning to break with him. (Hint: it has to do with the fact that the president is, at this stage at least, widely seen as a failure.)

One day, the president is defiant and petulant; the next day, he pleads to be understood and accepted. Barack Obama, a man of limitless self-regard, appears to be struggling with what to say and how to find his way out of the dark and deep woods he finds himself in. Such things can be almost poignant to watch.

Barack Obama’s claim to the GOP lawmakers today — “I am not an ideologue” — calls to mind Richard Nixon’s famous claim, “I am not a crook.” Unfortunately both Messrs. Obama and Nixon were what they claimed they were not. Now being a crook is much worse than being an ideologue; but being an ideologue, especially a liberal one, can have its own high costs, as our 44th president is discovering.

I rather doubt Obama considers himself an ideologue; he has probably convinced himself that he is what he wants to project: an empiricist, a pragmatist, and person who makes decisions based on evidence and reason instead of ideology. The fact that he has pursued an agenda blessed, in almost every instance, by Nancy Pelosi is the oddest of coincidences.

I happen to be glad that Obama met with House Republicans; and if this signals a new way of doing business, more power to him. We’ll see. He certainly deserves the chance to amend his ways. But because Obama is, himself, deeply ideological, I suspect he will be more resistant than most. Yet political reality and political defeats can quickly concentrate the minds of politicians.

I have heard sound bits of Obama in two post-State of the Union settings. There is an almost plaintive quality to the president’s words, at least at several points. He simply doesn’t seem able to process what is happening to him or to deal with the mounting problems he and his party face. For a man beginning his second year in office, he can’t understand why he is the most polarizing president we have seen. Or why his disapproval ratings are at a record high this soon into his presidency. Or why he has lost more support in his first year than any other president in our lifetime. Or why the public is rejecting his agenda almost across the board. Or why the public is rejecting his party in almost every possible case. Or why Democratic lawmakers, themselves, are beginning to break with him. (Hint: it has to do with the fact that the president is, at this stage at least, widely seen as a failure.)

One day, the president is defiant and petulant; the next day, he pleads to be understood and accepted. Barack Obama, a man of limitless self-regard, appears to be struggling with what to say and how to find his way out of the dark and deep woods he finds himself in. Such things can be almost poignant to watch.

Read Less




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