Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ted Kennedy

Why an Outlier New Hampshire Poll Might Mean More Trouble for Dems

Democrats wondering if their hopes of keeping the Senate could receive any more hits this week got their answer yesterday: a new poll found Scott Brown trailing incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen by just two points. It’s either an outlier or a lagging indicator–more likely an outlier, but bound to give Democrats a scare either way.

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Democrats wondering if their hopes of keeping the Senate could receive any more hits this week got their answer yesterday: a new poll found Scott Brown trailing incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen by just two points. It’s either an outlier or a lagging indicator–more likely an outlier, but bound to give Democrats a scare either way.

That’s because if the race appears close, they’ll have to spend time, money, resources, etc. trying to fend off a challenge from an opponent given a new sense of momentum and likely able to improve his own fundraising on the news of apparently improving poll numbers. And at this point, with the way the Democrats’ luck has been going, they’d be tempting fate to dismiss a sign that their standing might be going from bad to worse.

As Andrew Stiles notes over at the Washington Free Beacon, the Democrats’ woes can be chalked up to two prominent factors, in addition to their affiliation with President Millstone: Republicans have recruited good candidates, and Democrats have recruited a mix of bad candidates and bonkers candidates.

The bad candidates include those like Iowa’s Bruce Braley and Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes, the latter a good candidate on paper but an almost shockingly terrible public speaker. There are struggling incumbents like North Carolina’s Kay Hagan and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu. And then there are candidates like the Democrats’ two choices thus far in Montana.

Incumbent Senator John Walsh was running for reelection, but bowed out due to revelations of plagiarism. The Democrats replaced Walsh on the ballot with a state representative and radical leftist named Amanda Curtis. Readers, meet Amanda Curtis:

So the last thing Democrats want to deal with is a possible upset in New Hampshire. And yet, there are good reasons not to ignore this one poll. One such reason is because their opponent is Scott Brown. He did, after all, win Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat after Kennedy died and while promising to vote against the major domestic reform proposal that was being sold in Kennedy’s name. Brown has been an underdog before, and the result was a Republican senator in uber-liberal Massachusetts.

Another is the flipside of one of Brown’s current weaknesses. He has switched states to run for this seat, losing his local-boy authenticity and having to build connections he could take for granted in his original home state. He also opens himself up to the charge of carpetbagging, though it’s not always a terribly effective accusation in the course of an election. But the other side of that coin is that he’s trading in an overwhelmingly liberal state for one with a more conservative streak. As a Republican, he’ll spot his opponent fewer points in New Hampshire than he did in Massachusetts.

Another reason for Democrats not to be too dismissive of the poll is that if Brown ends up winning this election, they will never hear the end of it. He would cause a much larger headache for national Democrats as a senator from New Hampshire than he could from Massachusetts. In both, of course, he gets only one vote. But in New Hampshire he’d have a stronger incumbency and a national profile because of the state’s role in presidential nominations, especially on the Republican side.

That means that if Democrats lose the New Hampshire seat to Brown, they will be witnessing the establishment of a genuine national politician. Unless his career there is a disaster, he will instantly be the subject of presidential speculation (which he will no doubt feed). If he doesn’t run for president, he will at least be a much sought after endorsement for aspiring Republican presidents. The spectacle of early-primary-season New Hampshire will now include a procession to the throne of Scott Brown.

So losing the seat to Brown is more than just another Senate seat, notwithstanding the fact that the midterms might be close enough that one Senate election really can determine who is in the minority and who the majority. Expect, then, this poll to refocus attention on New Hampshire. If that happens, Brown’s fundraising will increase. And if that happens, Shaheen will need more help from the national party and major donors as well. That would draw money away from other races, a serious hit for a party that is already on the defensive for November’s midterms.

Brown is still behind in New Hampshire, and probably by more than this latest poll suggests. But Democrats have already learned how dangerous it is to underestimate him.

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Cuomo’s Left Flank Gets Back in Line

Over the last few weeks a minor drama broke out within New York’s political left. The Working Families Party, a mix of liberal activists and interest groups that includes labor unions, threatened to run its own candidate for governor against incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican challenger Rob Astorino. On May 29, the New York Times quoted the WFP’s co-chair as saying that, due to Cuomo’s apparently insufficient leftist instincts (yes really), “Unless there is a significant new development in the next 24 hours, I don’t expect the state committee to endorse the governor.”

That development did not come within 24 hours, so the WFP went into its Saturday nominating convention with the threat intact. It didn’t happen even when Cuomo made an appeal Saturday night via video to the convention and live phone call. The leaders of the WFP were clear. “Party leaders had detailed specific language for Mr. Cuomo to use in his video, according to people familiar with the matter, and on at least one topic—increasing the minimum wage—he hadn’t used it,” reported the Wall Street Journal. The Journal notes that Cuomo remembered his lines just in time:

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Over the last few weeks a minor drama broke out within New York’s political left. The Working Families Party, a mix of liberal activists and interest groups that includes labor unions, threatened to run its own candidate for governor against incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican challenger Rob Astorino. On May 29, the New York Times quoted the WFP’s co-chair as saying that, due to Cuomo’s apparently insufficient leftist instincts (yes really), “Unless there is a significant new development in the next 24 hours, I don’t expect the state committee to endorse the governor.”

That development did not come within 24 hours, so the WFP went into its Saturday nominating convention with the threat intact. It didn’t happen even when Cuomo made an appeal Saturday night via video to the convention and live phone call. The leaders of the WFP were clear. “Party leaders had detailed specific language for Mr. Cuomo to use in his video, according to people familiar with the matter, and on at least one topic—increasing the minimum wage—he hadn’t used it,” reported the Wall Street Journal. The Journal notes that Cuomo remembered his lines just in time:

With the clock ticking, Mr. Cuomo spoke by phone to a smaller group backstage, including a top aide to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Emma Wolfe, and WFP members Jonathan Westin, Javier Valdes and Deborah Axt. This time, Mr. Cuomo used the agreed-upon language (concerning giving local authorities the ability to adjust the minimum wage within a formula), according to people familiar with the call.

Why would Cuomo go through all that trouble just to secure his left flank? The answer is that the WFP is more influential, and can make more trouble, than people outside the New York area (most of whom haven’t heard of the party) tend to think. As the Times mentioned in its report, a recent statewide Quinnipiac poll found Cuomo at 57 percent in a one-on-one matchup with Astorino, but sliding to 37 percent with the addition of a WFP candidate on the ballot.

In reality, the high drama wasn’t all that dramatic. Cuomo doesn’t want a challenger to his left because he doesn’t want the narrative of being too conservative, not because he would actually have his reelection spoiled by the WFP. The WFP wanted something similar: they know they can’t cost Cuomo his reelection, but they don’t want the narrative of seeming to cave on principle.

So Cuomo pretended to care about their opinions, and the WFP leadership pretended to believe him.

None of this is particularly surprising, and in fact speaks to the general mood of the left nationwide. The Democrats have, almost without exception, become the party of government. Their agenda is the agenda of the state, and their power is the bureaucracy. This wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time, Democrats believed the establishment was essentially conservative–not just the government’s muscular foreign policy but the social mores of the age as well. Even as late as 1980 there was a genuine struggle within the party, leading to Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge to a sitting Democratic president–a turn of events hard to imagine taking place today.

But today’s conformist left takes it one step further. While the Republicans were struggling to free their party from next-in-linism, the Democrats became the party of get-in-linism. Forget truly challenging a sitting president; the Democrats don’t want a primary fight for an open nomination, as evidenced by the emerging Clinton juggernaut. They went from challenging an incumbent president to hesitant to challenge a presumptive nominee.

This is not, by the way, spinelessness. It’s logic. As the Democrats’ policies have become increasingly unpopular, the party’s approach to governance has adjusted accordingly. Rather than compromise on legislation, they have simply empowered unelected bureaucrats and shielded them (not always successfully) from accountability. This has become a vicious circle: if Democrats don’t have to win public approval for their actions, they become less adept at engaging actual arguments, which forces them to turn to ever more executive power grabs.

It also means left-wing activists, such as those at the WFP, have more to gain by getting in line and ensuring Democrats win elections, because the vast expansion of the bureaucracy means there are more spoils to go around. The WFP is not going to defeat Cuomo, but they do need to make an occasional point about their own relevance. Their point has now been made, and they’re back in line. And the party of government rolls on.

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Gates Defends the Troops from Harry Reid

The lack of outrage directed at Harry Reid’s procedural shenanigans has always been more than simply an indication of the hypocrisy of the mainstream media and zealous good-government types. Even liberals now understand that Ted Kennedy’s behavior during Robert Bork’s confirmation hearings not only forever wrecked the confirmation process but also degraded the judiciary. But it was not obvious at the time that the Senate and the courts would never recover from Kennedy’s debacle.

The same cannot be said for Reid, whose destruction of Senate institutions has been both gradual and obvious, yet goes unremarked upon by those who attack Republicans trying to assert the diminishing rights of the minority. Every so often, however, we get a glimpse of the contempt with which America’s public servants view Reid’s constant assault on them and their work. The low esteem Reid has for trusted institutions is requited, and Bob Gates’s memoir has once again brought this to light.

Gates harshly criticized one of Reid’s lowest moments in office (among many contenders): when, as the U.S. deployed the “surge” troops to stabilize Iraq, Reid publicly denigrated the troops, their prospects for success, and their mission more generally by preemptively judging their mission to be a failure. Gates, the former defense secretary, understandably took umbrage:

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The lack of outrage directed at Harry Reid’s procedural shenanigans has always been more than simply an indication of the hypocrisy of the mainstream media and zealous good-government types. Even liberals now understand that Ted Kennedy’s behavior during Robert Bork’s confirmation hearings not only forever wrecked the confirmation process but also degraded the judiciary. But it was not obvious at the time that the Senate and the courts would never recover from Kennedy’s debacle.

The same cannot be said for Reid, whose destruction of Senate institutions has been both gradual and obvious, yet goes unremarked upon by those who attack Republicans trying to assert the diminishing rights of the minority. Every so often, however, we get a glimpse of the contempt with which America’s public servants view Reid’s constant assault on them and their work. The low esteem Reid has for trusted institutions is requited, and Bob Gates’s memoir has once again brought this to light.

Gates harshly criticized one of Reid’s lowest moments in office (among many contenders): when, as the U.S. deployed the “surge” troops to stabilize Iraq, Reid publicly denigrated the troops, their prospects for success, and their mission more generally by preemptively judging their mission to be a failure. Gates, the former defense secretary, understandably took umbrage:

But, Gates continued, “When you have somebody like the Senate Majority Leader come out in the middle of the surge and say ‘this war is lost,’ I thought that was one of the most disgraceful things I’ve heard a politician say.”

“That sends a riveting message to kids who are putting their lives on the line every day that they’re doing it for nothing,” Gates noted, “and that was absolutely not the case.”

Indeed, it was certainly a disgraceful thing for Reid to say. It called to mind a time when Democrats in Congress openly slandered the troops in an effort to pander to their restive left-wing base. As a congressional leader of his party, Reid had a responsibility to try and rein in his party’s anti-military extremism. Instead, he joined in.

But it isn’t just the troops Reid disdains; he feels that way toward their civilian leadership as well. He shot back at Gates: “I’m surprised he would in effect denigrate everybody he came in contact with in an effort to make a buck,” Reid said yesterday.

Gates’s response was pitch-perfect:

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired back at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday night, quipping that “it’s common practice on the Hill to vote on bills you haven’t read, and it’s perfectly clear Sen. Reid has not read the book.”

Reid faulted Gates’s book in an interview with The Associated Press earlier in the day, charging Gates had denigrated him, Vice President Joe Biden and others “just to make a buck.” But Gates said he plans to donate most of what he makes to charities that work with wounded troops, and encouraged Reid and others to actually read his new memoir.

That doesn’t mean that Reid was wrong, however.

 “He will find I that do denigrate him, but I think he will find that, in fact, I have a lot of positive things to say about virtually everybody I wrote about,” Gates said. “As with myself, in the book, I’ve tried to critically appraise others. I call attention to mistakes I believe I made as secretary, things I could’ve done better, and I think I have positive things to say about virtually everybody else.”

In other words, Gates could find redeeming qualities in everyone he criticized–except Reid, apparently. Gates also defended himself against the accusation that he was being disloyal in releasing the book while President Obama was still in office:

“One of the charges is, that I’m hypocritical, that I’m speaking out about things now that I was quiet about when I was in office,” Gates said. “The reality is, if you talk with anybody in the administration, you’ll find I was as open in expressing my concerns directly, face to face, with the president, the White House chief of staff and other senior members of the administration about virtually every one of the issues I raised in the book. What I didn’t do was be disloyal to the president by taking those concerns public — or leaking.”

There’s plenty of room in there for honest disagreement–though, as I’ve written before, I don’t think the timing was particularly problematic and other suggested dates for release might have been more so. But it’s difficult not to sympathize with Gates’s defense of the troops and their mission in the face of Reid’s ignorant insults. The human element to the troops and their command is often forgotten or downplayed, especially since we have an all-volunteer army instead of a draft. Politicians are commonly told that the enemy can hear their statements. So can our troops, as Gates reminds us.

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The End of the Scott Brown Senate Saga

When then-State Senator Scott Brown decided to run for United States Senate from Massachusetts in 2010, he knew he would be a long shot. He also knew that if he won the seat, which he did, he would have to run another statewide election two years later to keep his seat. What he did not expect to have to do was run four statewide Senate elections in five years in order to serve in the Senate for a full term. And that is exactly what he would have had to do had he decided to run for John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat in Massachusetts.

Instead, Brown opted against throwing his hat in the ring, leaving local and national Republicans disappointed. But it’s easy to understand the decision. Not only would Brown have to win a special election this year, but the seat is up in 2014, which means he’d have to run another election next year. One Senate election is exhausting. Two in three years is even more so. The prospect of running four Senate elections in five years, three of them in a row, was nothing less than daunting. This would be the case for any election, but in Brown’s case he was up against the odds of winning as a Republican in deep-blue Massachusetts. He also had a fairly attractive fallback option: run for governor of Massachusetts in 2014.

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When then-State Senator Scott Brown decided to run for United States Senate from Massachusetts in 2010, he knew he would be a long shot. He also knew that if he won the seat, which he did, he would have to run another statewide election two years later to keep his seat. What he did not expect to have to do was run four statewide Senate elections in five years in order to serve in the Senate for a full term. And that is exactly what he would have had to do had he decided to run for John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat in Massachusetts.

Instead, Brown opted against throwing his hat in the ring, leaving local and national Republicans disappointed. But it’s easy to understand the decision. Not only would Brown have to win a special election this year, but the seat is up in 2014, which means he’d have to run another election next year. One Senate election is exhausting. Two in three years is even more so. The prospect of running four Senate elections in five years, three of them in a row, was nothing less than daunting. This would be the case for any election, but in Brown’s case he was up against the odds of winning as a Republican in deep-blue Massachusetts. He also had a fairly attractive fallback option: run for governor of Massachusetts in 2014.

This could not have been an easy decision for Brown, who was suddenly catapulted to national fame by coming out of nowhere to win Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat after the late liberal lion passed away. He retained high approval numbers in office, and though he was a moderate, Massachusetts Republican, the national party–and even conservatives–could always console themselves with the thought of a GOP struggling nationally yet holding a seat in Massachusetts. It was a bright spot for the party and a constant reminder that the party could win virtually anywhere with the right candidate (and a bit of luck), and Brown joined Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell in Virginia as politicians whose mid-term and off-year victories stood as symbols of popular pushback against Obama administration excesses, most of all the unpopular Obamacare.

Brown also helped the GOP balance its sometimes-harsh national image. Thanks to our 24/7 digital media age, even statewide elections are now nationalized (which is part of what helped Brown’s liberal opponent defeat him in November). Thus, candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock didn’t only doom their own chances for election, but they contributed to the image of a clumsy and cold GOP. That may be an unfair brush with which to paint the Republican Party, but it’s a predictable by-product of the messaging struggles that haunted the party in a disappointing election cycle. Brown was not susceptible to the same attacks, and thus helped to disrupt the Democrats’ dishonest portrait of the GOP.

Brown hasn’t made any announcement on whether he’ll run for governor, but that was always looking like a more winnable race anyway–and it’s a race he’d only have to win once to serve a full term. While Massachusetts rarely elects Republican senators, current Governor Deval Patrick is the state’s first Democratic governor since Michael Dukakis left office in 1991. Since Brown left the Senate with an approval rating near 60 percent, he would probably be a formidable gubernatorial candidate. Massachusetts voters could also vote for him guilt-free–electing Brown as governor would do no damage to the Democratic Party’s hold on the U.S. Senate. (Perhaps they’ll even be inclined to reward Brown for not putting them through two more close Senate elections as well.)

Brown might also run against Martha Coakley for governor, which would allow him to face an opponent he has already defeated in an election in more favorable conditions than the first time they ran against each other. It could also raise Brown’s national profile in ways a Senate seat could not; there’s a reason voters seem to prefer electing governors president. Whether or not Brown actually envisions such a run down the road, experience as governor will pad his resume in ways most political offices cannot.

After Brown announced he was passing on the Senate race, Massachusetts Republicans hoped they could run with Richard Tisei, a state politician who lost a close election for a House seat in November. Tisei, too, will sit out the Senate race, as will former governor Bill Weld (who succeeded Dukakis). State Republicans have reportedly been trying to get both Anne Romney and the Romneys’ eldest son Tagg to consider running for the seat, which has Tagg intrigued enough not to say no. But Romney lost the state in November by 23 points; anything can happen in a special election, but it appears Massachusetts Democrats–and the national party–can breathe a sigh of relief with Brown stepping out of the Senate fray.

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Why Congress Doesn’t Trust Obama on Immigration Reform

One of the reasons conservatives and pro-immigration reform politicians worried President Obama would do something to scuttle a bipartisan compromise on the issue is that it would follow a pattern Obama has set throughout his administration. The president has a habit of not participating in bipartisan negotiations and then harpooning them–or attempting to–from the outside. This was the case when Obama gave his much-derided rally during the fiscal cliff negotiations that seemed designed to kill the deal that was being formed at the 11th hour.

It was also exactly what Obama did with immigration reform last year, when Senator Marco Rubio stepped up to lead GOP efforts to find a compromise and the president preempted any possible deal with executive action. Yet as the Hill reminds us today, if Obama did something to derail immigration reform this time it would actually be the third time he worked assiduously and successfully to kill reform. The Hill notes the story of the ill-fated immigration reform negotiations of 2007. Obama, then a senator, asked to join the bipartisan negotiating group at its core, which agreed to oppose any amendment that could kill the bill even if they agreed with it to ensure the bill would move forward. Obama apparently ignored the negotiating sessions but always showed up for the press conferences, and then both supported and offered his own “poison pill” amendments, including the one that both parties credit with finishing off the reform effort for good:

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One of the reasons conservatives and pro-immigration reform politicians worried President Obama would do something to scuttle a bipartisan compromise on the issue is that it would follow a pattern Obama has set throughout his administration. The president has a habit of not participating in bipartisan negotiations and then harpooning them–or attempting to–from the outside. This was the case when Obama gave his much-derided rally during the fiscal cliff negotiations that seemed designed to kill the deal that was being formed at the 11th hour.

It was also exactly what Obama did with immigration reform last year, when Senator Marco Rubio stepped up to lead GOP efforts to find a compromise and the president preempted any possible deal with executive action. Yet as the Hill reminds us today, if Obama did something to derail immigration reform this time it would actually be the third time he worked assiduously and successfully to kill reform. The Hill notes the story of the ill-fated immigration reform negotiations of 2007. Obama, then a senator, asked to join the bipartisan negotiating group at its core, which agreed to oppose any amendment that could kill the bill even if they agreed with it to ensure the bill would move forward. Obama apparently ignored the negotiating sessions but always showed up for the press conferences, and then both supported and offered his own “poison pill” amendments, including the one that both parties credit with finishing off the reform effort for good:

Obama in 2007 backed an amendment to sunset a guest-worker program that was an essential part of an immigration deal crafted by Republicans and former Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Kennedy opposed the amendment, but Obama — who was then running for president — supported the measure, and it was approved by one vote, 49-48.

The immigration bill then stalled, and the Senate coalition failed to regain enough momentum to push it to final passage.

Obama’s behavior apparently angered even Kennedy, who told the young senator he couldn’t just parachute in to torpedo the work. But that’s exactly what Obama did. As the bill began losing steam, on June 4, 2007 the Washington Post listed the primary obstacles to the compromise, including an amendment from Obama and Robert Menendez. The next day, Obama refused to back down, even if it meant killing the bill, explaining he intended to hold up the process until he could win the presidency. Two days after that, the bill was effectively dead, though for good measure two weeks later Obama would offer another controversial amendment just in case the bill gained any last-minute momentum before that year’s congressional summer break.

That history probably explains why the White House declined to dispute the Hill’s characterization of the events of 2007–they were accurate. And each time, Obama has made the decision to keep the issue on the table for electoral purposes. Before the 2008 election, he sabotaged the immigration reform process and then ran a Spanish-language ad against John McCain distorting McCain’s record on the issue and setting a new low for the campaign’s dishonest advertising and dirty tricks. When Rubio tried to fix the immigration system last year, Obama scuttled that one too, using the issue to help his re-election campaign.

The question now is whether Obama actually wants reform since he no longer needs the votes, or if yet again he’ll stand outside the process while others are working toward a compromise only to destroy the process at the last moment. The latter would, unfortunately, be more consistent with Obama’s history.

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Scott Brown’s Choice

Last season, as the Knicks approached their return to the NBA playoffs, they faced a strange dilemma: If they kept winning, they would improve their playoff seed but draw a far tougher opponent in the first round: the eventual champion Miami Heat. In the end, they drew the Heat and lost in the first round. In sports, you generally cannot choose your opponent.

But every so often, in politics you can. And that is what may be tempting Scott Brown to pass on running in the upcoming Massachusetts Senate election to replace John Kerry in favor of running for Massachusetts governor instead. Massachusetts Democrats, according to the Boston Herald, fear Brown is considering doing what the Knicks could not: picking which opponent he’d rather run against. Joe Battenfeld encourages him to do exactly that:

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Last season, as the Knicks approached their return to the NBA playoffs, they faced a strange dilemma: If they kept winning, they would improve their playoff seed but draw a far tougher opponent in the first round: the eventual champion Miami Heat. In the end, they drew the Heat and lost in the first round. In sports, you generally cannot choose your opponent.

But every so often, in politics you can. And that is what may be tempting Scott Brown to pass on running in the upcoming Massachusetts Senate election to replace John Kerry in favor of running for Massachusetts governor instead. Massachusetts Democrats, according to the Boston Herald, fear Brown is considering doing what the Knicks could not: picking which opponent he’d rather run against. Joe Battenfeld encourages him to do exactly that:

Republicans close to the departing U.S. senator said he’s itching to go back to Washington to replace John Kerry, but Democrats are buzzing more about a potential Brown gubernatorial campaign in 2014. It may be tempting for Brown to run in a special election against a vulnerable Rep. Edward J. Markey, but he should reject the easy play and go for the job that really matters — running the state of Massachusetts….

But if you were Scott Brown, who would you rather run against, Ed Markey and the entire Democratic Party, or state Treasurer Steve Grossman or Attorney General Martha Coakley?

Markey already has the backing of Kerry, and as a congressman has acquired campaign experience and connections across the state. Coakley, meanwhile, was the Democrat Brown defeated in the special election to replace Ted Kennedy.

Additionally, the state is no stranger to Republican governors. Mitt Romney was governor of the state before running for president, and he was preceded by a Republican governor as well, Paul Cellucci, who himself was preceded by a Republican governor, Bill Weld. (Who is reportedly considering running for the Kerry seat as well.) That makes the current Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, the state’s first Democratic governor since Michael Dukakis.

Brown would be considered a formidable candidate in either election. But his high-profile promise to be a vote against Obamacare in the special election in 2010 helped contribute to his victory and also helped rally the state’s Republican voters. And that issue is, obviously, off the table. The difficulty of winning a Senate seat in Massachusetts as a Republican was demonstrated by Brown’s loss to liberal class warfare icon Elizabeth Warren in November. Brown entered the race with high approval ratings and a moderate, bipartisan voting record to complement his blue-collar appeal and local roots. He lost anyway to Warren, an Oklahoma-born Harvard Law professor with scant knowledge of local issues and no experience running for office.

Democrats are far from confident they’d beat Brown again, even with Markey. As Slate’s Dave Weigel noted, this is a pessimistic, but not irrational, fear:

They beat Brown this year with a huge turnout, which allowed Elizabeth Warren to run 15 points behind Barack Obama and still win. Brown won 1.17 million votes in the 2010 special election. That rose to 1.45 million in 2012. Martha Coakley won 1.06 million in the special, and Warren won 1.68 million votes in the general. Republicans, somewhat cynically, hope that a special election with lower turnout will mean a proportionately bigger fall-off in Democratic votes. November’s exit polls found that the same electorate that was kicking Brown out gave him a 60 percent favorable rating.

That’s where the trauma comes in. Democrats remember a smooth, likeable Brown running over Martha Coakley, gathering momentum as she stumbled all over the place. The final polls before the 2010 special put Brown’s favorables in the high 50s. In the Senate, where he voted the Democrats’ way on some popular bills (DADT repeal, for example), he only got more popular. In June 2011, Brown led any potential Democratic opponent by nine to 25 points. He led Warren by 15 points.

The Democrats’ “trauma,” as Weigel characterizes it, is quite the opposite for Brown, and it’s hard to imagine he’d rather run against Markey than Coakley. The national Republican Party would almost surely prefer the opposite. They don’t gain much with a moderate Republican governorship, but would love another Senate seat heading into the 2014 midterms. Brown, however, would give his career (and any national ambitions he might have) quite a boost by winning the governor’s seat. And he is only too aware of the temporary nature of Massachusetts voters’ desire to see a Republican represent their state in the Senate.

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Dukakis Won’t Be Senate Placeholder

Surprisingly enough, Michael Dukakis apparently doesn’t want to upend his schedule for the next few months to play placeholder for a bunch of Democratic Senate hopefuls. He waved off rumors that he’d accept a temporary appointment to the seat until a special election is convened, in an interview with WBZ-TV yesterday (h/t HotAir):

Former Gov. Michael Dukakis says he will not be a candidate for appointment as interim senator should Sen. John Kerry resign to accept appointment as Secretary of State.

In a brief State House interview Monday, Dukakis told WBZ-TV: “I’m headed for the West to teach,” alluding to his annual spring-semester teaching duties at UCLA.

“That’s a no,” said Dukakis in reference to a possible appointment by Gov. Deval Patrick to fill the seat until a special election can be held. Dukakis also said he had not been contacted by the governor’s office in regard to a possible appointment.

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Surprisingly enough, Michael Dukakis apparently doesn’t want to upend his schedule for the next few months to play placeholder for a bunch of Democratic Senate hopefuls. He waved off rumors that he’d accept a temporary appointment to the seat until a special election is convened, in an interview with WBZ-TV yesterday (h/t HotAir):

Former Gov. Michael Dukakis says he will not be a candidate for appointment as interim senator should Sen. John Kerry resign to accept appointment as Secretary of State.

In a brief State House interview Monday, Dukakis told WBZ-TV: “I’m headed for the West to teach,” alluding to his annual spring-semester teaching duties at UCLA.

“That’s a no,” said Dukakis in reference to a possible appointment by Gov. Deval Patrick to fill the seat until a special election can be held. Dukakis also said he had not been contacted by the governor’s office in regard to a possible appointment.

So who’s next on the list? Patrick said he won’t appoint anyone who wants to run in the special election, which limits the possibilities. Interestingly enough, Ted Kennedy’s widow Vicki Kennedy’s name is also being floated for a temporary role, despite speculation that she’d be a top potential candidate in the election. If that happens, we can either assume she won’t run or that that the Massachusetts Democratic Party is more nervous about competing with Scott Brown than it’s letting on and wants to give Kennedy an early boost.

Another interesting possibility is that Bay State Democrats could change the state law that prevents governors from appointing someone to finish out the departing senator’s term, though Dukakis rejected the idea:

Dukakis dismissed speculation that Beacon Hill Democrats might seek to once again change the succession law to allow the governor to appoint someone to fill out the remainder of Kerry’s term, which runs through 2014. The law was changed in 2004 as Kerry sought the presidency for fear that then-Gov. Mitt Romney would be able to make that coveted appointment.

Democrats could certainly do it, but that would create other problems for them. Senate seats rarely come up in Massachusetts, and if it looks like they aren’t giving candidates in their own party a fair chance then future recruitment could suffer.

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How Democrats Keep Their Bench Shallow

Though there has been no official announcement, it appears John Kerry will be nominated to serve as the next secretary of state. This isn’t surprising, and one of the reasons newspapers feel so confident reporting it is that there have been no other names mentioned seriously for the post since conventional wisdom solidified around Susan Rice and Kerry as the two main choices. (Earlier in the process there were indeed other names floated, but the same process that brought down Rice’s shot at the post elevated Kerry.)

The question, then, is not who will be nominated but why there isn’t any such question. One answer is that President Obama had a clear first choice–Rice–and never intended to use her understudy. Kerry’s name was bandied about as an easier way to flatter the longtime senator. Since Kerry was always the bridesmaid but never the bride, having been passed over for this position before, it would have seemed cruel to make him compete for second place. Like a football team that goes into a game with only two activated quarterbacks and then loses its starter, the second-string quarterback gets the ball without much fuss. But that raises another question, posed by Yochi Dreazen in the Washington Post: Why would the Democrats have so few options in the first place?

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Though there has been no official announcement, it appears John Kerry will be nominated to serve as the next secretary of state. This isn’t surprising, and one of the reasons newspapers feel so confident reporting it is that there have been no other names mentioned seriously for the post since conventional wisdom solidified around Susan Rice and Kerry as the two main choices. (Earlier in the process there were indeed other names floated, but the same process that brought down Rice’s shot at the post elevated Kerry.)

The question, then, is not who will be nominated but why there isn’t any such question. One answer is that President Obama had a clear first choice–Rice–and never intended to use her understudy. Kerry’s name was bandied about as an easier way to flatter the longtime senator. Since Kerry was always the bridesmaid but never the bride, having been passed over for this position before, it would have seemed cruel to make him compete for second place. Like a football team that goes into a game with only two activated quarterbacks and then loses its starter, the second-string quarterback gets the ball without much fuss. But that raises another question, posed by Yochi Dreazen in the Washington Post: Why would the Democrats have so few options in the first place?

It’s not terribly surprising that a political party that earns a reputation as disdainful of the military and its missions has trouble producing credible defense secretaries, as Dreazen notes when discussing the probable elevation of Chuck Hagel, a Republican, to run the Pentagon. But that does not answer the question about the weak bench at State. Indeed, you would think it would have the opposite effect: a generation of peacenik Democrats come of age would seem to be fertile ground for producing the kind of dealmaking bureaucrats who should be comfortable at Foggy Bottom, where vague terms like “engagement” and “smart power” represent a raison d’être.

This is a problem already in the process of working itself out, as Dreazen notes: the Democrats will (presumably) hold the White House for eight years now, training a new generation of diplomats and national security professionals. The party is also beginning to shake its aversion to the military, and so it has veterans in its civilian ranks as well.

Additionally, the Democrats seem to have realized that they have been hindering their party’s development for years now. Reports have centered on two possible interim replacements for Kerry should he be nominated: Michael Dukakis and Vicki Kennedy, Ted Kennedy’s widow. Either one would be expected to hold the seat until a special election can be held a few months later. This would enable Democrats to avoid what they have done in the past–actions that help explain how the Democratic Party could have such a shallow bench. In November, an election was held to replace the House seat long held by the ill-tempered and voluble Barney Frank. Now that a seat in Massachusetts had finally opened up, would the party use it to groom new talent? No, it would not. It would parachute in an inexperienced young Kennedy to close off the seat for what could be decades. (The state’s Democrats better hope Vicki Kennedy doesn’t get too comfortable in her interim seat, if she gets the nod, for that reason as well.)

Though it hasn’t been part of the discussion, Hillary Clinton’s nomination and service as secretary of state was evidence of the same problem. Having never served in elected office before Bill Clinton’s presidency, Hillary was handed a Senate seat upon moving out of the White House. Obama assumed Clinton would be less trouble to him abroad than in the Senate, where his initiatives would have to go through her. So rather than someone with foreign policy experience, Clinton was given the job. And now no one working for her at State will be elevated to take her place. Instead, it will be Kerry. And then Clinton will presumably run for president in 2016, when her party’s strategists are on record proposing that she run for the party’s nomination unopposed and simply be handed another title, at the expense of those with experience actually governing–in whose stead, should they win, would arise a new Democrat who would then get that same governing experience, and so on and so forth.

I don’t presume to speak for all the Democrats who keep being ignored by their party leadership in favor of generations of leadership by ruling family. They might not care, or they might enjoy serving a party run by an elite to which they will never belong. But they will probably also never be future secretaries of state or defense in Democratic presidential administrations.

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Bay State Senate Race Once Again on National Stage

In September, after the first Senate debate between Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown and his liberal challenger Elizabeth Warren, I criticized Warren’s decision to nationalize the race. In the debate, Brown—a local Bay Stater who sounds the part and speaks with fluency about local issues–repeatedly offered answers to questions that showed his moderate, bipartisan streak and his insistence on voting as he believes Massachusetts voters would want him to. Warren, on the other hand, kept referring to what the U.S. Senate would be like if Republicans won back the majority.

But Warren seems intent on proving such criticism wrong. She has now wagered the entire campaign on this gamble. As the race nears its end Warren has given up on trying to portray Brown as a Tea Partier and instead paints a picture of what has to be a dystopian future in the minds of northeastern liberals. Here is Warren’s closing argument, per her TV ad (followed by the transcript):

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In September, after the first Senate debate between Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown and his liberal challenger Elizabeth Warren, I criticized Warren’s decision to nationalize the race. In the debate, Brown—a local Bay Stater who sounds the part and speaks with fluency about local issues–repeatedly offered answers to questions that showed his moderate, bipartisan streak and his insistence on voting as he believes Massachusetts voters would want him to. Warren, on the other hand, kept referring to what the U.S. Senate would be like if Republicans won back the majority.

But Warren seems intent on proving such criticism wrong. She has now wagered the entire campaign on this gamble. As the race nears its end Warren has given up on trying to portray Brown as a Tea Partier and instead paints a picture of what has to be a dystopian future in the minds of northeastern liberals. Here is Warren’s closing argument, per her TV ad (followed by the transcript):

Just one vote, just one senator, could put Republicans in control of the United States Senate. Scott Brown could be that senator. What would republican control mean? Deep cuts in education, Medicare; new tax breaks for millionaires; the next Supreme Court justice could overturn Roe v. Wade. One vote could make the difference–your vote, against a Republican Senate; your vote for Elizabeth Warren.

And this is the ad (and transcript) Brown is currently playing:

The coal company had moved on, but they didn’t just leave buildings behind. LTV Steel went to court to avoid paying health benefits it promised to retired coal miners. The corporation’s hired gun was Elizabeth Warren. Warren sided with yet another big corporation against working people. First, asbestos victims; now, she worked against coal miners. Elizabeth Warren’s just not who she says she is.

Though I’ve long thought that talking over the heads of Massachusetts voters would harm Warren’s campaign, there is an argument to make that she was left with no choice. Elections like this are often like a chess match: the player who moves first has an advantage in setting the tempo, and controlling the center often gives the player who does so the best chance at winning. As the incumbent, Brown set the tempo by putting his record out there and challenging his opponent to compete within those parameters.

And his moderate record has won control of the center, forcing Warren to his left. But Massachusetts is such an overwhelmingly Democratic state that there are quite a lot of votes left of center. And Brown’s record is popular—even in a blue state, his approval rating is above water. So she can’t run against his record, but must use him as a proxy for his national party.

The ironic aspect to all this is that Brown did something similar when he ran in the 2010 special election to replace Ted Kennedy. Obamacare was on the march and the Democrats thought they needed 60 votes in the Senate to pass it. Since the bill was unpopular in Massachusetts as elsewhere, Brown ran as the 41st vote against Obamacare, and won. Warren is trying to turn the tables on him by re-nationalizing the race, and telling voters that far from being the 41st Republican in the Senate, Brown might actually be the 51st, giving the GOP the majority.

Since voters are usually averse to any approach that involves minimizing their local issues in favor of overarching culture wars, such a strategy often fails. But Warren is betting that a state that voted in an anti-national-healthcare Republican to succeed Ted Kennedy has another surprise in it this year.

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Mormon Issue Not New for Romney Adviser

Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski has unearthed a fascinating old C-SPAN clip from 1994, after Ted Kennedy defeated Mitt Romney in that year’s Massachusetts Senate race. The clip shows Stu Stevens, a GOP media strategist who is currently Romney’s chief strategist, discussing the Kennedy campaign’s conduct during the election. Kennedy elections are notoriously no-holds-barred affairs, and Stevens credited the Kennedy win in part to the Democrat’s repeated use of “the Mormon card”:

The Kennedy campaign very insidiously played the Mormon card in Massachusetts, by simply saying over and over again they weren’t going to talk about the fact that Romney was a Mormon. And this sort of worked. And the Romney campaign should’ve reacted more quickly to it. I think that they felt in Massachusetts it wouldn’t work because Massachusetts has a reputation of being a very tolerant state.

Romney’s rookie mistake, assuming the famous “liberal tolerance” was not the mirage it has always been, may not be a mistake the campaign will make again. That is all the more likely as Stevens is now a prominent campaign adviser. And it’s an important lesson to learn, because as Alana pointed out yesterday, Kaczynski’s colleague McKay Coppins is only the latest to produce a study showing that liberal anti-Mormon bigotry continues to rise.

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Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski has unearthed a fascinating old C-SPAN clip from 1994, after Ted Kennedy defeated Mitt Romney in that year’s Massachusetts Senate race. The clip shows Stu Stevens, a GOP media strategist who is currently Romney’s chief strategist, discussing the Kennedy campaign’s conduct during the election. Kennedy elections are notoriously no-holds-barred affairs, and Stevens credited the Kennedy win in part to the Democrat’s repeated use of “the Mormon card”:

The Kennedy campaign very insidiously played the Mormon card in Massachusetts, by simply saying over and over again they weren’t going to talk about the fact that Romney was a Mormon. And this sort of worked. And the Romney campaign should’ve reacted more quickly to it. I think that they felt in Massachusetts it wouldn’t work because Massachusetts has a reputation of being a very tolerant state.

Romney’s rookie mistake, assuming the famous “liberal tolerance” was not the mirage it has always been, may not be a mistake the campaign will make again. That is all the more likely as Stevens is now a prominent campaign adviser. And it’s an important lesson to learn, because as Alana pointed out yesterday, Kaczynski’s colleague McKay Coppins is only the latest to produce a study showing that liberal anti-Mormon bigotry continues to rise.

And after Barack Obama’s strikingly negative campaign in 2008, and the campaign’s record of playing the Mormon card already, it’s clear the Obama campaign will try to out-Kennedy Kennedy (surely a dubious honor). As Alana also noted, the media–especially the New York Times–have relentlessly pushed the anti-Mormon nonsense in just about every conceivable way. And David Axelrod has repeatedly signaled that this will be one element in the president’s reelection strategy.

The question, then, is what Stevens plans to do to counter it. The rising rates of liberal anti-Mormon bigotry combined with the institutional support for that bigotry offered by the media limits the effectiveness of using Kennedy’s campaign as a model. And it also means talking about his religion may work against Romney.

There is also another challenge to countering such bias. In 2008, the Obama campaign believed that part of what sunk John Kerry’s campaign in 2004 was the candidate’s slow response to criticism. (In reality, what sunk John Kerry was being John Kerry.) So the Obama campaign resolved to preemptively accuse Republicans of racism, on the record and often. And when President George W. Bush gave a moving speech in 2008 at the Israeli Knesset at which he denounced appeasers, the combination of Obama’s acute narcissism and overdeveloped sense of self-pity caused the campaign to have one of its lowest moments, announcing that when Bush mentioned appeasers he must have been talking about Obama, and how dare he.

Stevens would do well to learn his own lesson from that: It is off-putting to always be in complaint mode, and voters don’t really like being told they are bigots. So his desire to be proactive on the issue of Romney’s religion carries its own inherent risks. It’s not clear exactly what the right answer is, but we now know Stevens has been mulling over this very question for quite some time.

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Solid Case Against Birth Control Mandate?

More than 40 religious institutions, included Catholic universities and charities, filed simultaneous lawsuits against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate yesterday, As The Hill reports, the biggest threat to the mandate in court is a 1993 religious freedom law, which was originally introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, of all people:

RFRA sailed through Congress with broad bipartisan support in response to an unpopular decision by the Supreme Court that was seen as curbing Native Americans’ religious freedom to use peyote, a traditional hallucinogen.

Now it will force the government to prove that federal regulators did not have another way to expand women’s access to birth control that would be less burdensome on religion — an argument experts say conservatives can win.

The law puts the onus on the federal government to show that it had a compelling interest in requiring Catholic employers to provide birth control coverage, and that it couldn’t have achieved these aims another way. The Hill reports that legal experts think this case is solid:

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More than 40 religious institutions, included Catholic universities and charities, filed simultaneous lawsuits against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate yesterday, As The Hill reports, the biggest threat to the mandate in court is a 1993 religious freedom law, which was originally introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, of all people:

RFRA sailed through Congress with broad bipartisan support in response to an unpopular decision by the Supreme Court that was seen as curbing Native Americans’ religious freedom to use peyote, a traditional hallucinogen.

Now it will force the government to prove that federal regulators did not have another way to expand women’s access to birth control that would be less burdensome on religion — an argument experts say conservatives can win.

The law puts the onus on the federal government to show that it had a compelling interest in requiring Catholic employers to provide birth control coverage, and that it couldn’t have achieved these aims another way. The Hill reports that legal experts think this case is solid:

“I think the odds are pretty good for the plaintiffs here,” Marc DeGirolami, an assistant law professor at St. John’s University, told The Hill.

Because of the law, courts now have to apply certain standards to federal actions that might inadvertently infringe on religious liberty. In one sense, laws under scrutiny must aim to achieve a “compelling” government interest. In another sense, they must be designed in a way that burdens religion as little as possible.

It’s much smarter for Catholic groups to fight this in the courts than through Congress. The legal challenge will refocus the issue on religious freedom, and make it much more difficult for Democrats to argue that opposition to the birth control mandate is all about waging a “war on women.” And the administration will be forced to argue against a religious freedom law backed by the late Ted Kennedy and Democratic attack dog Chuck Schumer, who helped push the war on women narrative.

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How Obama Could Louse Up the Obama-Comeback Story

We are going to hear, over the next few months, that Barack Obama has staged a dramatic comeback. The story line began last week, with his string of bill signings, and will continue when the fourth-quarter economic numbers show an improved growth rate (maybe up to 3 percent) with expectations of more to come in the first quarter of next year. He has now established, whether honestly or not, that he can work with Republicans, etc. etc. It will be the mainstream media meme to end all mainstream media memes.

That’s fine, and good for him, but here’s the truth: We also judge presidents based on how they react in unexpected and unanticipated situations — when the oil well explodes in the waters off Louisiana, when the Republican is elected in Massachusetts to Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, when somebody announces something about apartment construction in East Jerusalem, when hundreds of thousands of Iranians take to the streets. Nothing that’s happened since the election should give us any reason to believe that the gut-instinct way Obama reacts to difficulties, setbacks, or disappointments has changed. He seems split between remaining almost affectless (as in the month or so post-Deepwater) and overly angry (his post-election press conference, and the press conference after the tax-cut deal in which he called Republicans hostage takers and Democrats sanctimonious).

Sure, when he gets his way, he’s all smiles and bonhomie, but that’s not going to be the hand he’s dealt next year either domestically or in foreign affairs. He managed to pull off a few weeks of last-minute triumphs that have made him feel good and that do set him up far better than failure would have done. But he’s going to have to fight against his own nature to cope with the kinds of troubles that will be coming at him in the next year, and usually, troubles only deepen people’s core personalities, they don’t alter them.

We are going to hear, over the next few months, that Barack Obama has staged a dramatic comeback. The story line began last week, with his string of bill signings, and will continue when the fourth-quarter economic numbers show an improved growth rate (maybe up to 3 percent) with expectations of more to come in the first quarter of next year. He has now established, whether honestly or not, that he can work with Republicans, etc. etc. It will be the mainstream media meme to end all mainstream media memes.

That’s fine, and good for him, but here’s the truth: We also judge presidents based on how they react in unexpected and unanticipated situations — when the oil well explodes in the waters off Louisiana, when the Republican is elected in Massachusetts to Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, when somebody announces something about apartment construction in East Jerusalem, when hundreds of thousands of Iranians take to the streets. Nothing that’s happened since the election should give us any reason to believe that the gut-instinct way Obama reacts to difficulties, setbacks, or disappointments has changed. He seems split between remaining almost affectless (as in the month or so post-Deepwater) and overly angry (his post-election press conference, and the press conference after the tax-cut deal in which he called Republicans hostage takers and Democrats sanctimonious).

Sure, when he gets his way, he’s all smiles and bonhomie, but that’s not going to be the hand he’s dealt next year either domestically or in foreign affairs. He managed to pull off a few weeks of last-minute triumphs that have made him feel good and that do set him up far better than failure would have done. But he’s going to have to fight against his own nature to cope with the kinds of troubles that will be coming at him in the next year, and usually, troubles only deepen people’s core personalities, they don’t alter them.

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The Kennedys Leave Washington with a Whimper

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

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What’s the Palin Rationale?

Back in September, Sarah Palin had this to say about a presidential run:

A reason to run is if nobody else were to step up with the solutions that are needed to get the economy back on the right track and to be so committed to our national security that they are going to do all that they can, including fighting those on the extreme left who seem to want to dismantle some of our national security tools that we have in place.

Now, in an upcoming New York Times Magazine piece, she let’s on that she is engaged in internal discussions about a run, and there really aren’t many policy differences among potential GOP candidates:

Palin went on to say that there weren’t meaningful differences in policy among the field of G.O.P. hopefuls “but that in fact there’s more to the presidency than that” and that her decision would involve evaluating whether she could bring unique qualities to the table. “Yes, the organization would have to change,” Palin said during an hourlong phone conversation.

“I’d have to bring in more people — more people who are trustworthy … I know that a hurdle I would have to cross, that some other potential candidates wouldn’t have to cross right out of the chute, is proving my record. That’s the most frustrating thing for me — the warped and perverted description of my record and what I’ve accomplished over the last two decades. It’s been much more perplexing to me than where the lamestream media has wanted to go about my personal life.”

This raises a few questions. First is a variation on the Roger Mudd to Ted Kennedy question: if the policy differences aren’t great, what is the rationale for her candidacy, which she acknowledges has hurdles that other candidates don’t have? There may be some good reasons for her to run anyway, but she will have to justify it. Second, why hasn’t she she brought on “more trustworthy” people already? Frankly, her pronouncements on foreign policy have been rock-solid and, to a large extent, ahead of the pack of Obama’s conservative critics, but where’s the same level of seriousness on domestic policy? And where’s the strategy to reach out to skeptics rather than simply forge an alliance with the base? Third, if she keeps using phrases like “lamestream media,” that suggests she is still in victim mode and feed-the-base mode, rather than expanding her reach and elevating her stature. To the faithful, that’s a phrase that warms the heart, but to others, it is an eye-roller. Finally, if she is fed up with obsession over her personal life, why is she doing a show about her life in Alaska that is all about her family, nature outings, etc.?

All of this points to the promise and the peril of her candidacy. She can command attention, she has a degree of self-awareness about the challenges, and yet she has trouble leaving her comfort zone. Fundamentally, the questions for her and for her party remain: can she bring something to the race that other candidates can’t, and do her assets outweigh her liabilities? Stay tuned.

Back in September, Sarah Palin had this to say about a presidential run:

A reason to run is if nobody else were to step up with the solutions that are needed to get the economy back on the right track and to be so committed to our national security that they are going to do all that they can, including fighting those on the extreme left who seem to want to dismantle some of our national security tools that we have in place.

Now, in an upcoming New York Times Magazine piece, she let’s on that she is engaged in internal discussions about a run, and there really aren’t many policy differences among potential GOP candidates:

Palin went on to say that there weren’t meaningful differences in policy among the field of G.O.P. hopefuls “but that in fact there’s more to the presidency than that” and that her decision would involve evaluating whether she could bring unique qualities to the table. “Yes, the organization would have to change,” Palin said during an hourlong phone conversation.

“I’d have to bring in more people — more people who are trustworthy … I know that a hurdle I would have to cross, that some other potential candidates wouldn’t have to cross right out of the chute, is proving my record. That’s the most frustrating thing for me — the warped and perverted description of my record and what I’ve accomplished over the last two decades. It’s been much more perplexing to me than where the lamestream media has wanted to go about my personal life.”

This raises a few questions. First is a variation on the Roger Mudd to Ted Kennedy question: if the policy differences aren’t great, what is the rationale for her candidacy, which she acknowledges has hurdles that other candidates don’t have? There may be some good reasons for her to run anyway, but she will have to justify it. Second, why hasn’t she she brought on “more trustworthy” people already? Frankly, her pronouncements on foreign policy have been rock-solid and, to a large extent, ahead of the pack of Obama’s conservative critics, but where’s the same level of seriousness on domestic policy? And where’s the strategy to reach out to skeptics rather than simply forge an alliance with the base? Third, if she keeps using phrases like “lamestream media,” that suggests she is still in victim mode and feed-the-base mode, rather than expanding her reach and elevating her stature. To the faithful, that’s a phrase that warms the heart, but to others, it is an eye-roller. Finally, if she is fed up with obsession over her personal life, why is she doing a show about her life in Alaska that is all about her family, nature outings, etc.?

All of this points to the promise and the peril of her candidacy. She can command attention, she has a degree of self-awareness about the challenges, and yet she has trouble leaving her comfort zone. Fundamentally, the questions for her and for her party remain: can she bring something to the race that other candidates can’t, and do her assets outweigh her liabilities? Stay tuned.

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Can Obama Be a “Superior” Ex-President, Too?

Jimmy Carter has been an annoyance to every one of his successors. He’s played footsie with dictators, made common cause with Israel’s enemies, made Osama bin Laden’s book list, and demonstrated the peevishness that was not yet fully in evidence during his presidency. He then pronounces that he is “superior” to all his successors. Sensing that is a bit much for Saint Jimmy, he backpedals, explaining, “What I meant was, for 27 years the Carter Center has provided me with superior opportunities to do good.” Not much better is it? Frankly, on this one even Bill Clinton has the right to be offended.

Carter, as one of the wittiest commentators points out, now insists in his diary (on Osama bin Laden’s nightstand no doubt!) that he would have won in 1980 had it not been for those darn hostages and the pesky Ted Kennedy. (If, alas, the latter were true, we’d finally have something to praise Kennedy for.) But truth be told, those were the least of his problems. “Had he not also, in other words, been the worst U.S. president ever, before, that is, the Advent of Barak Obama, he would have been re-elected.”

Having “surpassed” Carter in so many ways (e.g., disdain for Americans, cluelessness about our enemies), one can only imagine that Obama in his ex-presidency will be characterized by the same humbleness, wisdom, and love of the Jewish state that has marked Carter in his. Carter has managed, arguably, to be a worse ex-president than president. For Obama, that will be a challenge.

Jimmy Carter has been an annoyance to every one of his successors. He’s played footsie with dictators, made common cause with Israel’s enemies, made Osama bin Laden’s book list, and demonstrated the peevishness that was not yet fully in evidence during his presidency. He then pronounces that he is “superior” to all his successors. Sensing that is a bit much for Saint Jimmy, he backpedals, explaining, “What I meant was, for 27 years the Carter Center has provided me with superior opportunities to do good.” Not much better is it? Frankly, on this one even Bill Clinton has the right to be offended.

Carter, as one of the wittiest commentators points out, now insists in his diary (on Osama bin Laden’s nightstand no doubt!) that he would have won in 1980 had it not been for those darn hostages and the pesky Ted Kennedy. (If, alas, the latter were true, we’d finally have something to praise Kennedy for.) But truth be told, those were the least of his problems. “Had he not also, in other words, been the worst U.S. president ever, before, that is, the Advent of Barak Obama, he would have been re-elected.”

Having “surpassed” Carter in so many ways (e.g., disdain for Americans, cluelessness about our enemies), one can only imagine that Obama in his ex-presidency will be characterized by the same humbleness, wisdom, and love of the Jewish state that has marked Carter in his. Carter has managed, arguably, to be a worse ex-president than president. For Obama, that will be a challenge.

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Another Liberal with Radical Ties (Part One)

In 2008, Obama’s supporters and campaign flacks assured us that his association with a grab bag of radical leftists (e.g. Bill Ayers), a racist and anti-Semitic preacher (Rev. Wright), and a PLO spokesman (Rashid Khalidi), and a Senate voting record that rated him more liberal than Ted Kennedy were irrelevant to his candidacy. It turns out that all that was more revealing of his values and political inclinations than his campaign platitudes. If it weren’t for Obama, Rep. Joe Sestak’s associations (CAIR, J Street) and voting record (97.8 percent agreement with Nancy Pelosi) might not be of concern to Pennsylvania voters. But frankly, they and voters around the country now should sense what is truly enlightening and what is not about a candidate’s associations and allies.

Sestak has made much of his service in the U.S. Navy, which certainly is worthy of respect (although he’s refused to release records that would shed light on the reasons for his resignation). But that service should not obscure his very radical foreign policy associates. Much has already been written about his views on the Middle East and Israel, but practically unnoticed is his association with a group that goes by the name Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), until recently known by the Orwellian name “the World Federalist Association.” Who are they, and why have they endorsed Sestak and raised $5,700 for him this year and $4,000 in previous years? (The numbers are not extraordinarily large, but Sestak is far and away the top beneficiaries of the group’s largess.) Read More

In 2008, Obama’s supporters and campaign flacks assured us that his association with a grab bag of radical leftists (e.g. Bill Ayers), a racist and anti-Semitic preacher (Rev. Wright), and a PLO spokesman (Rashid Khalidi), and a Senate voting record that rated him more liberal than Ted Kennedy were irrelevant to his candidacy. It turns out that all that was more revealing of his values and political inclinations than his campaign platitudes. If it weren’t for Obama, Rep. Joe Sestak’s associations (CAIR, J Street) and voting record (97.8 percent agreement with Nancy Pelosi) might not be of concern to Pennsylvania voters. But frankly, they and voters around the country now should sense what is truly enlightening and what is not about a candidate’s associations and allies.

Sestak has made much of his service in the U.S. Navy, which certainly is worthy of respect (although he’s refused to release records that would shed light on the reasons for his resignation). But that service should not obscure his very radical foreign policy associates. Much has already been written about his views on the Middle East and Israel, but practically unnoticed is his association with a group that goes by the name Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), until recently known by the Orwellian name “the World Federalist Association.” Who are they, and why have they endorsed Sestak and raised $5,700 for him this year and $4,000 in previous years? (The numbers are not extraordinarily large, but Sestak is far and away the top beneficiaries of the group’s largess.)

CGS has some very radical ideas, which make Obama seem like a raging nationalist. Its history as a champion of world government, multinational institutions and treaties (which subsume the laws of nation-states), and devotion to the international redistribution of wealth is no secret:

Seeking to create a world in which nations work together to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms, and solve the problems facing humanity that no nation can solve alone, Citizens for Global Solutions has a long, proud tradition of activism. Tracing its earliest roots back to the years prior to World War II, United World Federalists (later the World Federalist Association) was created in 1947 as a partnership between a number of like-minded organizations that united to achieve their commons goals.

CGS and its predecessor group, the World Federalist Association (WFA), haven’t been shy about their views. They have decried the “myth” of national sovereignty, supported expansion of international entities like the UN Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court, and even a standing UN army, all to be funded by the U.S. and new global taxes. (“The United States would benefit from an increased involvement in United Nations peacekeeping missions,” the group explains.) In 1999 in the Washington Times, the issues director for the WFA wrote in an op-ed: “This could bring into favor a global e-commerce tax that could be redistributed back to local, state, and national governments.” He explained the organization’s focus:

The crisis-filled future we face is primarily a result of policy-makers holding onto the myth of independence or national sovereignty and a reliance primarily on unilateral action for dealing with global problems. If Congress continues cutting foreign aid and undermining the vital work of the United Nations, we will have to give up either our personal freedoms or our security.

Under its new name (World Federalist Association probably creeped out too many people), CGS has kept up the internationalist drumbeat and the preference for a slew of agreements that diminish U.S. sovereignty, from the Law of the Seas Treaty to global warming accords to the enhancement of the UN authority. The group thinks the UN Human Rights Council is swell:

Currently, the HRC is the primary global intergovernmental body able to address human rights issues and this is the first time the U.S. has been an active participant. Membership will help generate goodwill toward the U.S. and prove the United States’ commitment to multilateral diplomacy. The HRC is direct, resultant, and demands accountability in human rights from its members and the world. Through HRC actions, a strong basis in international action is created so countries can collectively come to the aid of any human rights crisis.

(Of course, it should also get an A+ in Israel-bashing.) Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the only instance in which CGS has demonstrated a marked anti-Israel bias. Its deputy director of government relations, Drew Asson, went after Israel in the Lebanon war, bellowing from his website: “When will this senseless onslaught by Israeli hawks end? When will the UN Security Council step up to the plate and condemn this vicious obviously disproportionate response by Israel?”

You get the picture. This isn’t the first time a politician’s association with CGS has landed him in hot water. In his 2006 Senate run (the same year CGS started giving Sestak money), Bob Casey was pressured to return campaign donations from the group.

Sestak’s relationship with CGS is indicative of a pattern — he solicits support and receives backing from groups whose agenda is at the far left of the political spectrum. (As such, his supporters and donors have a decidedly anti-Israel cast.) So there is reason for the voters to ask what he sees in these groups’ agendas and, more important, what do they see in him?

The answer may lie in his answers on the CGS questionnaire. It’s an eye-opener, to be discussed in Part Two.

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Obama Sinks to a New Low … in the Polls

President Obama’s Gallup approval/disapproval rating is now 44 percent/48 percent, a new low.

As a reference point, Obama’s three-day average was 52 percent when Chris Christie beat Jon Corzine in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell destroyed Creigh Deeds in Virginia. And Obama’s approval/disapproval rating on January 20, 2010 — when Republican Scott Brown shocked the political world by winning the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy — Obama’s three-day average (January 19-21) was 49 percent/45 percent (it was 47/47 on January 20).

This matters because presidential approval ratings are an important, if not always a decisive, factor in political races — and right now Obama’s public standing is considerably below where it was last November and below where it was in January, when Democrats were getting pounded by GOP candidates.

The bad news for Democrats keeps rolling in, day by day. And as the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf continues unabated, the job picture remains bleak, trust in government reaches all-time lows, and disdain for Congress approaches all-time highs, there’s little reason for Democrats to view the midterm elections with anything less than anxiety bordering on panic.

That may change – but if it does, more likely than not it will change for the worse.

President Obama’s Gallup approval/disapproval rating is now 44 percent/48 percent, a new low.

As a reference point, Obama’s three-day average was 52 percent when Chris Christie beat Jon Corzine in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell destroyed Creigh Deeds in Virginia. And Obama’s approval/disapproval rating on January 20, 2010 — when Republican Scott Brown shocked the political world by winning the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy — Obama’s three-day average (January 19-21) was 49 percent/45 percent (it was 47/47 on January 20).

This matters because presidential approval ratings are an important, if not always a decisive, factor in political races — and right now Obama’s public standing is considerably below where it was last November and below where it was in January, when Democrats were getting pounded by GOP candidates.

The bad news for Democrats keeps rolling in, day by day. And as the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf continues unabated, the job picture remains bleak, trust in government reaches all-time lows, and disdain for Congress approaches all-time highs, there’s little reason for Democrats to view the midterm elections with anything less than anxiety bordering on panic.

That may change – but if it does, more likely than not it will change for the worse.

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Ford Runs Over Democrats

Harold Ford Jr. has decided not to run for the Senate. But — in an Evan Bayh–like  move — he’s going out with guns blazing. He aims for the liberal Democratic leadership:

Voting for health care legislation that imposes billions in new taxes on New Yorkers and restricts federal financing for abortions is not good for the people of this state. Voting against critical funds necessary to ensure the survival of the financial services industry — the economic backbone of this state — is not good for the people of New York.

I was considered out of touch with mainstream Democrats when I argued against spending more than $200 million a year to hold the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed trial in New York. I was also labeled out of touch for advocating a payroll tax cut for small businesses and for putting a jobs bill before a scaled-down health reform bill. Though much more needs to be done to create jobs, I am pleased that these ideas have now become part of the Democratic mainstream.

And then he unleashes this:

Yet the party has been too slow to change. The effects of its lack of flexibility have been clear in a series of worrisome political events: Ted Kennedy’s “safe” Senate seat was lost to a Republican; Evan Bayh of Indiana and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota announced they weren’t running for re-election; Senate seats held by Democrats in Wisconsin and Delaware now seem to be in jeopardy; New York’s state government faces even more controversy and challenge. …

Our elected officials have spent too much time this past year supporting a national partisan political agenda — and not enough time looking out for their own constituents.

New Yorkers aren’t asking for much. A jobs bill that cuts taxes for the middle class and invests in the future; a health care system that doesn’t bankrupt people when they get sick; and public schools that lay the groundwork for children to take advantage of all the future holds.

Once again we can expect the liberal punditocracy, which has rooted for the very items Ford deplores, to either ignore or attack Ford. Carpetbagger! Spoilsport! Perhaps. But his views are more in line with public sentiment than with the rest of his party and, at this point, with the White House’s agenda. If Ford is an outcast in the Democratic party and Bayh can’t take it either, that should tell the Obami that something is amiss. But I doubt that lesson will be learned. They’ve invested too much in their ultra-liberal extremism. Only defeat of their cherished signature item, and then of many of their fellow Democrats in November, I think, will register. But as Obama told us, perhaps a one-term president is all he wants to be. Ignoring Ford and Bayh, not to mention the voters, is a recipe for just that.

Harold Ford Jr. has decided not to run for the Senate. But — in an Evan Bayh–like  move — he’s going out with guns blazing. He aims for the liberal Democratic leadership:

Voting for health care legislation that imposes billions in new taxes on New Yorkers and restricts federal financing for abortions is not good for the people of this state. Voting against critical funds necessary to ensure the survival of the financial services industry — the economic backbone of this state — is not good for the people of New York.

I was considered out of touch with mainstream Democrats when I argued against spending more than $200 million a year to hold the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed trial in New York. I was also labeled out of touch for advocating a payroll tax cut for small businesses and for putting a jobs bill before a scaled-down health reform bill. Though much more needs to be done to create jobs, I am pleased that these ideas have now become part of the Democratic mainstream.

And then he unleashes this:

Yet the party has been too slow to change. The effects of its lack of flexibility have been clear in a series of worrisome political events: Ted Kennedy’s “safe” Senate seat was lost to a Republican; Evan Bayh of Indiana and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota announced they weren’t running for re-election; Senate seats held by Democrats in Wisconsin and Delaware now seem to be in jeopardy; New York’s state government faces even more controversy and challenge. …

Our elected officials have spent too much time this past year supporting a national partisan political agenda — and not enough time looking out for their own constituents.

New Yorkers aren’t asking for much. A jobs bill that cuts taxes for the middle class and invests in the future; a health care system that doesn’t bankrupt people when they get sick; and public schools that lay the groundwork for children to take advantage of all the future holds.

Once again we can expect the liberal punditocracy, which has rooted for the very items Ford deplores, to either ignore or attack Ford. Carpetbagger! Spoilsport! Perhaps. But his views are more in line with public sentiment than with the rest of his party and, at this point, with the White House’s agenda. If Ford is an outcast in the Democratic party and Bayh can’t take it either, that should tell the Obami that something is amiss. But I doubt that lesson will be learned. They’ve invested too much in their ultra-liberal extremism. Only defeat of their cherished signature item, and then of many of their fellow Democrats in November, I think, will register. But as Obama told us, perhaps a one-term president is all he wants to be. Ignoring Ford and Bayh, not to mention the voters, is a recipe for just that.

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What Do They Do Now?

John Harris of Politico observes that Obama is in new, uncharted territory: “With the big-bang strategy officially a failure, Obama’s speech revealed in real-time a president groping for a new and more effective one. The speech was woven with frequent acknowledgements that the laws of political gravity applied to him after all.” Well, that – and a deep and abiding desire to pass the buck (e.g., to Congress, to “special interests”). On his signature domestic issue, he has left a void and much confusion. He urged Congress to keep at it, but to what end and when wasn’t clear:

Obama offered no clarity at all on exactly when or how this would happen after the stalemate caused by the Republican capture of Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat in Massachusetts. His tepid rallying cry: “As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed.”

There is understandably concern in the Democratic ranks. What are they to do now? They are going to have to run on something, after all. Yet their electoral position continues to deteriorate. The Cook Political Report’s e-mail tells us:

In the districts of Democratic Reps. Baron Hill (IN-09), Mark Schauer (MI-07), Dina Titus (NV-03), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), and Glenn Nye (VA-02), we no longer see the incumbent Democrats as clear favorites for reelection. We now rate 50 Democratic-held seats as Lean Democratic or more vulnerable, including 20 Democratic seats in the Toss Up column. Republicans need to pick up 40 seats to take back the House majority.

Perhaps the Democrats will figure it out in time, but it is far from clear what signature issue or issues will take the place of health care. The president made many small suggestions ill-suited to tackle a very big problem — high unemployment. Unless he can make headway on that big issue and provide direction to his party, we will see, I suspect, further erosion of support for Democrats who have now acquired a dual and electorally disastrous reputation. Conservatives and independents consider them too liberal and irresponsible; their base finds them inept. That’s not a recipe for holding majority control of both houses.

John Harris of Politico observes that Obama is in new, uncharted territory: “With the big-bang strategy officially a failure, Obama’s speech revealed in real-time a president groping for a new and more effective one. The speech was woven with frequent acknowledgements that the laws of political gravity applied to him after all.” Well, that – and a deep and abiding desire to pass the buck (e.g., to Congress, to “special interests”). On his signature domestic issue, he has left a void and much confusion. He urged Congress to keep at it, but to what end and when wasn’t clear:

Obama offered no clarity at all on exactly when or how this would happen after the stalemate caused by the Republican capture of Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat in Massachusetts. His tepid rallying cry: “As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed.”

There is understandably concern in the Democratic ranks. What are they to do now? They are going to have to run on something, after all. Yet their electoral position continues to deteriorate. The Cook Political Report’s e-mail tells us:

In the districts of Democratic Reps. Baron Hill (IN-09), Mark Schauer (MI-07), Dina Titus (NV-03), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), and Glenn Nye (VA-02), we no longer see the incumbent Democrats as clear favorites for reelection. We now rate 50 Democratic-held seats as Lean Democratic or more vulnerable, including 20 Democratic seats in the Toss Up column. Republicans need to pick up 40 seats to take back the House majority.

Perhaps the Democrats will figure it out in time, but it is far from clear what signature issue or issues will take the place of health care. The president made many small suggestions ill-suited to tackle a very big problem — high unemployment. Unless he can make headway on that big issue and provide direction to his party, we will see, I suspect, further erosion of support for Democrats who have now acquired a dual and electorally disastrous reputation. Conservatives and independents consider them too liberal and irresponsible; their base finds them inept. That’s not a recipe for holding majority control of both houses.

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The Worst Failure Isn’t Health Care

In the flurry over ObamaCare’s collapse, some have lost sight of a more serious and far-reaching failure by Obama. This report from Time‘s Massimo Calabresi observes that in addition to “his party’s loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts, the collapse of health care reform and a disorganized war against the banks,” Obama has a really big foreign-policy problem: his Iran policy is an abject failure. Engagement was supposed to wean the mullahs off their nukes, or at least demonstrate to recalcitrant powers like Russia and China that we had exhausted all reasonable options so we could proceed with those crippling sanctions. Calabresi asks: “So, how’s that working? Not very well, by all indications.” Not well at all.

We’ve blown through deadline after deadline. No progress has been made in rounding up support, even as Iran snubbed the West and murdered its own people. The Russians and Chinese still oppose sanctions:

But where Russia had previously taken the lead in blocking sanctions efforts, that role has now fallen to China, which has a rapidly growing stake in Iran’s energy sector. … Without China, which holds a Security Council veto, there is no prospect of meaningful sanctions at the U.N. That in turn means difficulty getting tough sanctions from all the European countries, some of whom can’t act without U.N. approval.

Meanwhile, the Obami are watering down the “crippling” sanctions before we even get to the process of negotiating with “our” side and/or the UN. And then, even if we did get some consensus on mild pinpricks, we’d have to roll them out, implement them, and see if they were “working.” But frankly, we’re not likely to get an agreement on anything worth implementing, even after all that genuflecting to the Chinese. The end result:

Now Obama faces the unpleasant reality that neither the engagement track nor the sanctions track appear to be going anywhere. His defenders at home and abroad say it was the right way to proceed, but skeptics of Obama’s policy are emerging, even in his own party. “What exactly did your year of engagement get you?” asks a Hill Democrat.

Good question: what did we get? Well the mullahs got time to consolidate their grip on the throats of the Iranian people while gaining some international legitimacy. The Iranian protesters got their funding cut and saw the United States go practically mute when it might have mattered the most. The U.S. seems only to have frittered away its moral standing in the world. What we got was another year in which Iran moved closer to membership in the international nuclear-arms club.

Compared to this, health care has been a triumph. But unlike harebrained domestic schemes, getting nowhere is not good enough when dealing with a revolutionary Islamic state bent on acquiring nuclear arms. Both the United States and Israel will soon be confronted with the choice that Obama’s policy was designed to avoid: engage in military action or live with a nuclear-armed Iran. (Who among us seriously thinks Obama won’t be inclined to do the latter?) Obama’s Iran-engagement strategy, among a host of misguided efforts and half-baked ideas, is arguably the most egregious policy failure of his first year. It certainly is the most dangerous.

In the flurry over ObamaCare’s collapse, some have lost sight of a more serious and far-reaching failure by Obama. This report from Time‘s Massimo Calabresi observes that in addition to “his party’s loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts, the collapse of health care reform and a disorganized war against the banks,” Obama has a really big foreign-policy problem: his Iran policy is an abject failure. Engagement was supposed to wean the mullahs off their nukes, or at least demonstrate to recalcitrant powers like Russia and China that we had exhausted all reasonable options so we could proceed with those crippling sanctions. Calabresi asks: “So, how’s that working? Not very well, by all indications.” Not well at all.

We’ve blown through deadline after deadline. No progress has been made in rounding up support, even as Iran snubbed the West and murdered its own people. The Russians and Chinese still oppose sanctions:

But where Russia had previously taken the lead in blocking sanctions efforts, that role has now fallen to China, which has a rapidly growing stake in Iran’s energy sector. … Without China, which holds a Security Council veto, there is no prospect of meaningful sanctions at the U.N. That in turn means difficulty getting tough sanctions from all the European countries, some of whom can’t act without U.N. approval.

Meanwhile, the Obami are watering down the “crippling” sanctions before we even get to the process of negotiating with “our” side and/or the UN. And then, even if we did get some consensus on mild pinpricks, we’d have to roll them out, implement them, and see if they were “working.” But frankly, we’re not likely to get an agreement on anything worth implementing, even after all that genuflecting to the Chinese. The end result:

Now Obama faces the unpleasant reality that neither the engagement track nor the sanctions track appear to be going anywhere. His defenders at home and abroad say it was the right way to proceed, but skeptics of Obama’s policy are emerging, even in his own party. “What exactly did your year of engagement get you?” asks a Hill Democrat.

Good question: what did we get? Well the mullahs got time to consolidate their grip on the throats of the Iranian people while gaining some international legitimacy. The Iranian protesters got their funding cut and saw the United States go practically mute when it might have mattered the most. The U.S. seems only to have frittered away its moral standing in the world. What we got was another year in which Iran moved closer to membership in the international nuclear-arms club.

Compared to this, health care has been a triumph. But unlike harebrained domestic schemes, getting nowhere is not good enough when dealing with a revolutionary Islamic state bent on acquiring nuclear arms. Both the United States and Israel will soon be confronted with the choice that Obama’s policy was designed to avoid: engage in military action or live with a nuclear-armed Iran. (Who among us seriously thinks Obama won’t be inclined to do the latter?) Obama’s Iran-engagement strategy, among a host of misguided efforts and half-baked ideas, is arguably the most egregious policy failure of his first year. It certainly is the most dangerous.

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