Commentary Magazine


Topic: the New Republic

Hagel Did the Smearing, Not His Critics

The fight over the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense is long over. The former Nebraska senator’s inept confirmation hearing and the uncovering of damning statements he made concerning his views about Israel and its supporters wasn’t enough to convince the Senate to reject him or for enough of his critics to block the nomination with a filibuster. Since taking office, he has tried to put his problems behind him and is currently in Israel, where he has promised to stand by the Jewish state. Let’s hope he sticks to those pledges.

But for some of those who defended him, victory in that battle wasn’t enough. Yesterday the New Republic published an astonishing piece by Alec MacGillis in which he claimed Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens’s writing about Hagel should have disqualified him for the Pulitzer Prize in Commentary that he was awarded earlier this month. According to MacGillis, Stephens “smeared” Hagel by accusing him of anti-Semitism.

This is false. If there was anything that we learned during the debate about Hagel, it was that it was the nominee who had indulged in smear tactics against supporters of Israel over the years.

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The fight over the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense is long over. The former Nebraska senator’s inept confirmation hearing and the uncovering of damning statements he made concerning his views about Israel and its supporters wasn’t enough to convince the Senate to reject him or for enough of his critics to block the nomination with a filibuster. Since taking office, he has tried to put his problems behind him and is currently in Israel, where he has promised to stand by the Jewish state. Let’s hope he sticks to those pledges.

But for some of those who defended him, victory in that battle wasn’t enough. Yesterday the New Republic published an astonishing piece by Alec MacGillis in which he claimed Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens’s writing about Hagel should have disqualified him for the Pulitzer Prize in Commentary that he was awarded earlier this month. According to MacGillis, Stephens “smeared” Hagel by accusing him of anti-Semitism.

This is false. If there was anything that we learned during the debate about Hagel, it was that it was the nominee who had indulged in smear tactics against supporters of Israel over the years.

Far from being inaccurate or unfounded, Stephens was right on the money when he noted that Hagel’s comments about “the Jewish lobby” intimidating Congress were straight out of the traditional anti-Semitic playbook.

The only other example that MacGillis provides for his charge that Stephens “smeared” Hagel is his citation of a column about a speech Hagel gave at Rutgers University. MacGillis says Stephens was out of line for noting that the speech was sponsored by the school’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies that was chaired by an academic who had been charged with obstruction of justice in an investigation of a front group for the Iranian government. According to the TNR scribe that was nothing less than guilt by association.

But MacGillis either didn’t read the piece thoroughly or was at pains to conceal the real reason Hagel’s speech was significant. The appearance became the subject of comment when it was revealed that during the course of his appearance, Hagel made the astounding charge that the U.S. State Department was run by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, a smear so absurd that it reveals as much about the nominee’s stupidity as it does his malevolence. Yet nowhere in his diatribe about how wrong it was of Stephens to mention this incident does MacGillis mention Hagel’s comments.

MacGillis doesn’t attempt to dispute Stephens’s takedowns of Hagel (with which I repeatedly concurred both here on COMMENTARY’s blog and in my article about the controversy in the April issue of the magazine). He merely dismisses them. In his view, anyone who thinks there’s something wrong with a U.S. Senator engaging in these kinds of slurs against American Jews or the State of Israel in terms that are redolent with anti-Semitic insinuations is at fault.

No one need argue with MacGillis about Stephens’s qualifications for journalism’s highest honor. The only surprise here was that the Pulitzers, which honor the unworthy at least as often as they do those who deserve the plaudits, had the sense to recognize Stephens.

There is one more thing to be said about this tawdry attack on a great writer. There was a time not so long ago when the New Republic could always be counted on as one Israel’s great defenders as well as among the ranks of those most vocal in denouncing exactly the kind of anti-Semitic innuendo that Hagel was guilty of spreading around. But instead of joining the Journal and COMMENTARY in holding Hagel accountable, TNR has become one of those seeking to silence those who speak out against such vile slurs. Its new ownership and editors apparently have a different view of their responsibilities in this regard than their predecessors. They should be ashamed.

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Sic Transit New Republic?

The news that The New Republic has been sold to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has prompted some worries that the venerable publication may be heading in a new direction. While TNR remained steadfastly liberal in its view of most domestic issues during the past decades, it has also been a resolute defender of Israel and generally a strong proponent of sensible views on foreign policy. The fact that Hughes, who will assume the title of editor-in-chief, was an organizer of the 2008 Obama campaign leaves us wondering whether it will remain so in the future.

But no matter what happens next, it is worthwhile taking a moment to honor all that the magazine achieved under longtime editor-in-chief and publisher Martin Peretz. The distinguished historian Ron Radosh, himself a frequent contributor to both COMMENTARY and TNR, writes about this at PJMedia in an article in which the author echoes our fears while also celebrating the great journalism and the important careers that were fostered under Peretz.

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The news that The New Republic has been sold to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has prompted some worries that the venerable publication may be heading in a new direction. While TNR remained steadfastly liberal in its view of most domestic issues during the past decades, it has also been a resolute defender of Israel and generally a strong proponent of sensible views on foreign policy. The fact that Hughes, who will assume the title of editor-in-chief, was an organizer of the 2008 Obama campaign leaves us wondering whether it will remain so in the future.

But no matter what happens next, it is worthwhile taking a moment to honor all that the magazine achieved under longtime editor-in-chief and publisher Martin Peretz. The distinguished historian Ron Radosh, himself a frequent contributor to both COMMENTARY and TNR, writes about this at PJMedia in an article in which the author echoes our fears while also celebrating the great journalism and the important careers that were fostered under Peretz.

Radosh rightly points out that TNR had a unique niche in the publishing world and it would be a shame if Hughes pushed it further to the left:

I am not optimistic about the fate of the new TNR. The last thing we need is a magazine slightly — very slightly — to the right of The Nation. Nor do we need another New Yorker, in which Hendrik Hertzberg’s predictable left-liberal views dominate the political commentary — and, yes, he too came from TNR as an old editor — and where its editor-in-chief David Remnick stands by the likes of Seymour Hersh as a major investigative reporter, despite the devastating expose of him in the new COMMENTARY  by a former TNR editor, James Kirchick. …

So, this is a swan song and sad goodbye to the old TNR. I wish the magazine well, and perhaps I will turn out to be very wrong. But as a natural pessimist, and for good reason, I only expect the worst.

We share Radosh’s sentiments. Let us hope TNR thrives under its new management while remaining a strong voice in support of Israel and the West.

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Judgment Calls and the Muslim Brotherhood

On Monday, White House press spokesman Robert Gibbs said that any new government in Egypt “has to include a whole host of important non-secular actors that give Egypt a strong chance to continue to be [a] stable and reliable partner.” In Egypt, that would mean the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the New York Times today, we’re told, “Significantly, during the meeting [on Monday], White House staff members ‘made clear that they did not rule out engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood as part of an orderly process,’ according to one attendee.”

This report comes after a June 2, 2009, report in the New Republic by Michael Crowley that “in an unexpected bit of diplomatic choreography, several members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been invited to attend Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo tomorrow.”

Now what is it about the Obama administration that would lead it to be mostly silent during the uprising against the Islamic theocracy in Iran, fearful to offend the regime in power, and yet go out of its way to try to secure a seat at the table for the Muslim Brotherhood in a post-Mubarak Egypt?

I understand that the Muslim Brotherhood is not al-Qaeda. But I also understand that the Muslim Brotherhood will never be confused with Madisonian reformers. The motto of the Brotherhood — “Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, Jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu akbar!” — hardly rivals “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

I appreciate the fact that when you’re serving in the White House during an unfolding foreign-policy crisis, there are hard, close calls to make. But whether to strengthen and legitimize the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t one of them.

(h/t: Charles Krauthammer)

On Monday, White House press spokesman Robert Gibbs said that any new government in Egypt “has to include a whole host of important non-secular actors that give Egypt a strong chance to continue to be [a] stable and reliable partner.” In Egypt, that would mean the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the New York Times today, we’re told, “Significantly, during the meeting [on Monday], White House staff members ‘made clear that they did not rule out engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood as part of an orderly process,’ according to one attendee.”

This report comes after a June 2, 2009, report in the New Republic by Michael Crowley that “in an unexpected bit of diplomatic choreography, several members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been invited to attend Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo tomorrow.”

Now what is it about the Obama administration that would lead it to be mostly silent during the uprising against the Islamic theocracy in Iran, fearful to offend the regime in power, and yet go out of its way to try to secure a seat at the table for the Muslim Brotherhood in a post-Mubarak Egypt?

I understand that the Muslim Brotherhood is not al-Qaeda. But I also understand that the Muslim Brotherhood will never be confused with Madisonian reformers. The motto of the Brotherhood — “Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, Jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu akbar!” — hardly rivals “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

I appreciate the fact that when you’re serving in the White House during an unfolding foreign-policy crisis, there are hard, close calls to make. But whether to strengthen and legitimize the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t one of them.

(h/t: Charles Krauthammer)

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Iran Nuclear Sabotage Helps Delay Inevitable

Outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s recent assessment that Iran won’t be able to build a bomb until 2015 appears to be further evidence that the sabotage campaign against the Iranian nuclear facilities is working beautifully. At the Washington Post, David Ignatius has the same impression:

What’s increasingly clear is that low-key weapons — covert sabotage and economic sanctions — are accomplishing many of the benefits of military action, without the costs. It’s a devious approach — all the more so because it’s accompanied by near-constant U.S. proposals of diplomatic dialogue — but in that sense, it matches Iran’s own operating style of pursuing multiple options at once.

Officials won’t discuss the clandestine program of cyberattack and other sabotage being waged against the Iranian nuclear program. Yet we see the effects – in crashing centrifuges and reduced operations of the Iranian enrichment facility at Natanz — but don’t understand the causes. That’s the way covert action is supposed to work.

Sabotage operations include the widely publicized Stuxnet virus, which has wreaked havoc on Iran’s facilities. But there have also been other less-reported operations that have helped slow the nuclear process. Over the summer, the New Republic’s Eli Lake reported that several Western countries had launched an extensive clandestine program aimed at undermining Iranian nuclear efforts:

Michael Adler, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, put it this way: “It seems to be clear that there is an active and imaginative sabotage program from several Western nations as well as Israel involving booby-trapping equipment which the Iranians are procuring, tricking black-market smugglers, cyber-operations, and recruiting scientists.” Three current U.S. government officials confirmed that sabotage operations have been a key part of American plans to slow down the Iranian program—and that they are continuing under Obama.

Of course, so far these operations have been able only to delay, not prevent, Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And while they help buy the U.S. more time to consider whether to take military action, obviously the decision can’t be put off forever.

Outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s recent assessment that Iran won’t be able to build a bomb until 2015 appears to be further evidence that the sabotage campaign against the Iranian nuclear facilities is working beautifully. At the Washington Post, David Ignatius has the same impression:

What’s increasingly clear is that low-key weapons — covert sabotage and economic sanctions — are accomplishing many of the benefits of military action, without the costs. It’s a devious approach — all the more so because it’s accompanied by near-constant U.S. proposals of diplomatic dialogue — but in that sense, it matches Iran’s own operating style of pursuing multiple options at once.

Officials won’t discuss the clandestine program of cyberattack and other sabotage being waged against the Iranian nuclear program. Yet we see the effects – in crashing centrifuges and reduced operations of the Iranian enrichment facility at Natanz — but don’t understand the causes. That’s the way covert action is supposed to work.

Sabotage operations include the widely publicized Stuxnet virus, which has wreaked havoc on Iran’s facilities. But there have also been other less-reported operations that have helped slow the nuclear process. Over the summer, the New Republic’s Eli Lake reported that several Western countries had launched an extensive clandestine program aimed at undermining Iranian nuclear efforts:

Michael Adler, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, put it this way: “It seems to be clear that there is an active and imaginative sabotage program from several Western nations as well as Israel involving booby-trapping equipment which the Iranians are procuring, tricking black-market smugglers, cyber-operations, and recruiting scientists.” Three current U.S. government officials confirmed that sabotage operations have been a key part of American plans to slow down the Iranian program—and that they are continuing under Obama.

Of course, so far these operations have been able only to delay, not prevent, Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And while they help buy the U.S. more time to consider whether to take military action, obviously the decision can’t be put off forever.

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What Audiences Applaud in the Arab World

Thanks to monitoring groups such as MEMRI.org, many in the West have become more aware of the tone of popular culture in the Arab and Islamic world. As a result, we have a better understanding of the way anti-Semitism has become a staple of popular culture there. But one needn’t focus solely on the hatred of Jews and Israel that is so prevalent in Islamic societies to understand the shocking differences between what is accepted and even applauded in these cultures and our own.

The New Republic’s Ruth Franklin attended the Marrakech Film Festival in relatively liberal Morocco this month. Her account might have focused on the Western stars in attendance and “the glitz of the film festival” or “the charm and warmth of the Moroccans.” Instead, she wrote about a film screening in which a largely Arab audience reacted with spontaneous applause to a scene in which two women are stoned by a mob.

As Franklin writes:

This was one crowd, on one evening, at one screening; and need it even be said that applause is not the same as stoning itself? But, as the lights went up in the theater and the men and women around me calmly gathered their belongings, I could not help but remember that in an Arab country … liberation, at least for women, inevitably comes with limits. The glitz, the red carpet, and the celebrities might have been the same, but the atmosphere in the theater that night felt very far from Cannes or Sundance.

Thanks to monitoring groups such as MEMRI.org, many in the West have become more aware of the tone of popular culture in the Arab and Islamic world. As a result, we have a better understanding of the way anti-Semitism has become a staple of popular culture there. But one needn’t focus solely on the hatred of Jews and Israel that is so prevalent in Islamic societies to understand the shocking differences between what is accepted and even applauded in these cultures and our own.

The New Republic’s Ruth Franklin attended the Marrakech Film Festival in relatively liberal Morocco this month. Her account might have focused on the Western stars in attendance and “the glitz of the film festival” or “the charm and warmth of the Moroccans.” Instead, she wrote about a film screening in which a largely Arab audience reacted with spontaneous applause to a scene in which two women are stoned by a mob.

As Franklin writes:

This was one crowd, on one evening, at one screening; and need it even be said that applause is not the same as stoning itself? But, as the lights went up in the theater and the men and women around me calmly gathered their belongings, I could not help but remember that in an Arab country … liberation, at least for women, inevitably comes with limits. The glitz, the red carpet, and the celebrities might have been the same, but the atmosphere in the theater that night felt very far from Cannes or Sundance.

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Morning Commentary

Are Republicans coming around on New START? Eight GOP members voted to open debate on the treaty in the Senate last night, which some see as a “proxy” for the final vote. New START needs nine Republican supporters in the Senate to pass.

As repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell passes the House for a second time, it picks up another Republican supporter in the Senate: “‘After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law,’ [Sen. Olympia] Snowe said in a statement.”

Well, this pretty much ensures that the next Organization of the Islamic Conferences summit is going to be sufficiently awkward: “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak compared Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East to a ‘cancer,’ according to a cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. ‘President Mubarak has made it clear that he sees Iran as Egypt’s — and the region’s — primary strategic threat,’ says the secret cable, sent April 28, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

Two writers and recent Columbia graduates discuss in the New Republic the problematic politics of the university’s controversial new Center for Palestine Studies: “Of course, there is nothing wrong with gathering a broad-based community of scholars behind a new academic initiative. Columbia and American academia need a venue for the interdisciplinary study of Palestine. But, unaccompanied by a dedication to real expertise, the CPS will be little more than a clique of like-minded academics whose defining commonality is hostility toward Israel. In its current form, it’s likely that the first Palestine Center at an American university will lead the way not in ‘a new era of civility,’ but, rather, in politicizing Middle East studies further than ever before.”

The Guardian is predictably outraged that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was given to, apparently, a neocon: “[Liu Xiaobo] has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. … Liu argues that ‘The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights [and the] major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.’… Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel’s stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as ‘often the provocateurs.’”

Ross Douthat responds to Mitt Romney supporters who excuse the politician’s “serial insincerity”: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a more serious person, and would probably be a better president, than his campaign style suggests. But issue by issue, policy by policy, that same campaign style makes it awfully hard to figure out where he would actually stand when the pandering stops and the governing begins … because everything he does feels like a pander, I don’t know where he really stands on any of them. And freak show or no freak show, base or no base, that’s no way to run for president.”

Are Republicans coming around on New START? Eight GOP members voted to open debate on the treaty in the Senate last night, which some see as a “proxy” for the final vote. New START needs nine Republican supporters in the Senate to pass.

As repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell passes the House for a second time, it picks up another Republican supporter in the Senate: “‘After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law,’ [Sen. Olympia] Snowe said in a statement.”

Well, this pretty much ensures that the next Organization of the Islamic Conferences summit is going to be sufficiently awkward: “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak compared Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East to a ‘cancer,’ according to a cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. ‘President Mubarak has made it clear that he sees Iran as Egypt’s — and the region’s — primary strategic threat,’ says the secret cable, sent April 28, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

Two writers and recent Columbia graduates discuss in the New Republic the problematic politics of the university’s controversial new Center for Palestine Studies: “Of course, there is nothing wrong with gathering a broad-based community of scholars behind a new academic initiative. Columbia and American academia need a venue for the interdisciplinary study of Palestine. But, unaccompanied by a dedication to real expertise, the CPS will be little more than a clique of like-minded academics whose defining commonality is hostility toward Israel. In its current form, it’s likely that the first Palestine Center at an American university will lead the way not in ‘a new era of civility,’ but, rather, in politicizing Middle East studies further than ever before.”

The Guardian is predictably outraged that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was given to, apparently, a neocon: “[Liu Xiaobo] has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. … Liu argues that ‘The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights [and the] major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.’… Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel’s stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as ‘often the provocateurs.’”

Ross Douthat responds to Mitt Romney supporters who excuse the politician’s “serial insincerity”: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a more serious person, and would probably be a better president, than his campaign style suggests. But issue by issue, policy by policy, that same campaign style makes it awfully hard to figure out where he would actually stand when the pandering stops and the governing begins … because everything he does feels like a pander, I don’t know where he really stands on any of them. And freak show or no freak show, base or no base, that’s no way to run for president.”

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Morning Commentary

Why Ron Paul’s new role as the head of the subcommittee that oversees the Federal Reserve is disconcerting (even to libertarians): “[W]hen you look at his speeches, he doesn’t understand anything about monetary policy. He might actually understand it less than the average member of Congress. My personal opinion is that he wastes all of his time on the House Financial Services Committee ranting crazily.”

Surprise: Michael Steele to run for a second term as Republican National Committee chair. “I come to my bosses with a record that only you can judge, based upon directions you made clear to me from the very beginning. Yes, I have stumbled along the way, but have always accounted to you for such shortcomings. No excuses. No lies. No hidden agenda. Going forward, I ask for your support and your vote for a second term,” Steele announced in an e-mail last night.

Richard Holbrooke: April 24, 1941–December 13, 2010. The New Republic has an excellent tribute to the legendary diplomat as well as a compilation of articles written about (and by) him.

European papers are reporting that the Stockholm bomber was radicalized in Britain, raising concerns about whether British universities have done enough to combat home-grown terrorism: “His parents were even a little worried that he was having too much fun. But then he went to England to study in 2001 and everything changed,” a friend of Stockholm terrorist Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly told the Telegraph. “When he came back he had grown a beard and he was very serious. He talked about Afghanistan and religion and did not want to hang out with his friends.”

Is WikiLeaks a force for good? Reason magazine spoke to four experts who gave their uncensored views on the controversial website.

Why Ron Paul’s new role as the head of the subcommittee that oversees the Federal Reserve is disconcerting (even to libertarians): “[W]hen you look at his speeches, he doesn’t understand anything about monetary policy. He might actually understand it less than the average member of Congress. My personal opinion is that he wastes all of his time on the House Financial Services Committee ranting crazily.”

Surprise: Michael Steele to run for a second term as Republican National Committee chair. “I come to my bosses with a record that only you can judge, based upon directions you made clear to me from the very beginning. Yes, I have stumbled along the way, but have always accounted to you for such shortcomings. No excuses. No lies. No hidden agenda. Going forward, I ask for your support and your vote for a second term,” Steele announced in an e-mail last night.

Richard Holbrooke: April 24, 1941–December 13, 2010. The New Republic has an excellent tribute to the legendary diplomat as well as a compilation of articles written about (and by) him.

European papers are reporting that the Stockholm bomber was radicalized in Britain, raising concerns about whether British universities have done enough to combat home-grown terrorism: “His parents were even a little worried that he was having too much fun. But then he went to England to study in 2001 and everything changed,” a friend of Stockholm terrorist Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly told the Telegraph. “When he came back he had grown a beard and he was very serious. He talked about Afghanistan and religion and did not want to hang out with his friends.”

Is WikiLeaks a force for good? Reason magazine spoke to four experts who gave their uncensored views on the controversial website.

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Morning Commentary

Liberals may still be grumbling about Obama’s tax-cut deal with Republicans, but Charles Krauthammer argues that the president actually won the face-off with the GOP: “If Obama had asked for a second stimulus directly, he would have been laughed out of town. Stimulus I was so reviled that the Democrats banished the word from their lexicon throughout the 2010 campaign. And yet, despite a very weak post-election hand, Obama got the Republicans to offer to increase spending and cut taxes by $990 billion over two years. Two-thirds of that is above and beyond extension of the Bush tax cuts but includes such urgent national necessities as windmill subsidies.”

As China escalates its crackdown on the media in preparation for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for jailed Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo today, Obama has issued a statement (as Pete noted here) urging China to release the laureate: “One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize — an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice. Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.”

Furthering his image as a “James Bond villain,” Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks office is literally carved into the side of a cliff 100 feet below a Stockholm park. The New York Post has photos.

With the recent masthead change at the New Republic, Ron Radosh suggests that the magazine start embracing a less-statist approach to domestic issues.

The bill to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” didn’t make it through the Senate last night, but Politico warns not to discount the legislation just yet: “[I]n a strange twist fit for a zombie movie, proponents of dismantling the law emerged from the bewildering defeat on Capitol Hill declaring that an end to the ban on gays in uniform not only isn’t dead—but that victory may finally be within sight. While that might be a tad optimistic on their part, the fact that appeal still mustered a pulse was a testament to the persistence of repeal advocates, the political risks even some Republicans see in offending gay voters, and the unpredictability of the closing days of a lame-duck congressional session.”

Hugo Chavez’s Socialist Party is seeking to censor online media in Venezuela. A bill making its way through the parliament yesterday would ban websites that the government believes could incite “violence” against Chavez.

Liberals may still be grumbling about Obama’s tax-cut deal with Republicans, but Charles Krauthammer argues that the president actually won the face-off with the GOP: “If Obama had asked for a second stimulus directly, he would have been laughed out of town. Stimulus I was so reviled that the Democrats banished the word from their lexicon throughout the 2010 campaign. And yet, despite a very weak post-election hand, Obama got the Republicans to offer to increase spending and cut taxes by $990 billion over two years. Two-thirds of that is above and beyond extension of the Bush tax cuts but includes such urgent national necessities as windmill subsidies.”

As China escalates its crackdown on the media in preparation for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for jailed Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo today, Obama has issued a statement (as Pete noted here) urging China to release the laureate: “One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize — an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice. Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.”

Furthering his image as a “James Bond villain,” Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks office is literally carved into the side of a cliff 100 feet below a Stockholm park. The New York Post has photos.

With the recent masthead change at the New Republic, Ron Radosh suggests that the magazine start embracing a less-statist approach to domestic issues.

The bill to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” didn’t make it through the Senate last night, but Politico warns not to discount the legislation just yet: “[I]n a strange twist fit for a zombie movie, proponents of dismantling the law emerged from the bewildering defeat on Capitol Hill declaring that an end to the ban on gays in uniform not only isn’t dead—but that victory may finally be within sight. While that might be a tad optimistic on their part, the fact that appeal still mustered a pulse was a testament to the persistence of repeal advocates, the political risks even some Republicans see in offending gay voters, and the unpredictability of the closing days of a lame-duck congressional session.”

Hugo Chavez’s Socialist Party is seeking to censor online media in Venezuela. A bill making its way through the parliament yesterday would ban websites that the government believes could incite “violence” against Chavez.

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The Obama Primary Challenger Issue and Why It’s Misunderstood

With angry leftists starting to discuss the possibility of a primary challenge to Barack Obama, the general reaction from serious and clever political observers has been that the idea is a preposterous one. Ed Kilgore on the New Republic‘s website (trans-ideological congratulations, by the way, to TNR’s new editor, Richard Just), my former colleague Jennifer Rubin on the WaPo site, Dave Weigel in Slate, and many others have sensibly pointed out that such a challenge would be doomed. Obama’s approval ratings among Democrats is in the 80s and not much lower among liberals (despite the outrage this week about the tax-cut deal).

The fact that Obama can surely depend on nearly universal support from black Democrats makes a primary challenge even more unlikely, they say. And not only unlikely, but pointless. Rather than achieving the near-win Eugene McCarthy scored in the 1968 Democratic primary in New Hampshire against sitting president LBJ or Pat Buchanan’s getting 38 percent against Bush the Elder in 1992, Weigel suggests that the outcome would be more like the foolish bid by Ohio Republican Rep. John Ashbrook against Richard Nixon in 1972 from the right, when Ashbrook got 9 percent there.

All worth considering. But in Kilgore’s case, the wish is father to the thought; he doesn’t want a challenge and is offering an analysis intended to talk interested Democrats and leftists out of attempting one. Weigel is giving voice to the “Oh, come on” school oft affected by those who spend most of their time thinking about politics and can’t imagine why anybody would make a political move that seems fruitless.

But here’s the thing. An Obama primary challenger wouldn’t be getting in the race to win. Pat Buchanan didn’t think he’d win, and I don’t think Eugene McCarthy thought so either. The question is whether a collection of factors next year — continued weakness in the economy and the fact that we haven’t pulled out of Afghanistan — creates the conditions under which a primary challenge will be staged. The point, which I make in my COMMENTARY article this month, is that one would arise in that instance because, in effect, the dynamic of the American political system would demand it. Read More

With angry leftists starting to discuss the possibility of a primary challenge to Barack Obama, the general reaction from serious and clever political observers has been that the idea is a preposterous one. Ed Kilgore on the New Republic‘s website (trans-ideological congratulations, by the way, to TNR’s new editor, Richard Just), my former colleague Jennifer Rubin on the WaPo site, Dave Weigel in Slate, and many others have sensibly pointed out that such a challenge would be doomed. Obama’s approval ratings among Democrats is in the 80s and not much lower among liberals (despite the outrage this week about the tax-cut deal).

The fact that Obama can surely depend on nearly universal support from black Democrats makes a primary challenge even more unlikely, they say. And not only unlikely, but pointless. Rather than achieving the near-win Eugene McCarthy scored in the 1968 Democratic primary in New Hampshire against sitting president LBJ or Pat Buchanan’s getting 38 percent against Bush the Elder in 1992, Weigel suggests that the outcome would be more like the foolish bid by Ohio Republican Rep. John Ashbrook against Richard Nixon in 1972 from the right, when Ashbrook got 9 percent there.

All worth considering. But in Kilgore’s case, the wish is father to the thought; he doesn’t want a challenge and is offering an analysis intended to talk interested Democrats and leftists out of attempting one. Weigel is giving voice to the “Oh, come on” school oft affected by those who spend most of their time thinking about politics and can’t imagine why anybody would make a political move that seems fruitless.

But here’s the thing. An Obama primary challenger wouldn’t be getting in the race to win. Pat Buchanan didn’t think he’d win, and I don’t think Eugene McCarthy thought so either. The question is whether a collection of factors next year — continued weakness in the economy and the fact that we haven’t pulled out of Afghanistan — creates the conditions under which a primary challenge will be staged. The point, which I make in my COMMENTARY article this month, is that one would arise in that instance because, in effect, the dynamic of the American political system would demand it.

First, presume that, if the status quo remains largely unchanged, Obama’s support will decline somewhat among Democrats and liberals. They won’t like the state of things; he’ll start to smell like a loser and people tend to desert losers; and many will be genuinely angry that his ideological concessions on taxes and war have not improved matters from their perspective. Someone would do it at that point because (and this sounds sentimental, but isn’t) he actually does hear the leftist body politic crying out for someone to represent its views. Protest candidacies are not about victory, which is why Hillary Clinton won’t stage one; they’re about protest.

Also remember that the cost of entry for a protest candidate is far lower than people realize. One would get in to make a showing in New Hampshire, which is not expensive to run in — and a protest candidacy that gets any kind of purchase will, in any case, be able to raise money very fast. (If Christine O’Donnell can raise a few million dollars in three days, so can Russ Feingold under the right circumstances, like the Huffington Post’s pushing his campaign.) The question then would be what kind of showing such a person could make in that one state. As it happens, it might well be built to help a leftist protest candidate.

For one thing, African Americans make up less than 2 percent of the population of New Hampshire. (Remember: Hillary Clinton won here in 2008.) For another, independents can vote in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, which could allow some genuinely angry people to cast protest votes just to send Obama a message, even though such people would probably end up voting Republican in November 2012.

I have no idea whether there will be such a candidate, because I have no idea what things will look like next fall. I do know that if a candidate turns out to be less like Ashbrook and more like Buchanan, Obama will be in serious trouble. (Read my piece to find out more.) Right now, it is as foolish to presume there won’t be one, or to argue that such a candidate would be unable to make a bid damaging to Obama, as it would be to presume one will definitely rise up to challenge him.

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Morning Commentary

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

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Morning Commentary

You can’t make this up: Charles Rangel is now being investigated for improperly using PAC money to fund his legal defense during his recent ethics violation case.

Cables show that cash is still flowing to terrorists from Arab states, indicating that U.S. efforts to halt terror funding since 9/11 have been woefully ineffective.

Cable Gate was a diplomatic disaster with dangerous consequences for our national security, but it’s undeniable that the leaked documents have also given the public a great deal of insight into the fascinating world of international diplomacy. The Atlantic has looked beyond the political ramifications of the leaked secrets and compiled an archive of the most captivating stories from the cables.

Muslims say that their relations with the FBI have been strained after a mosque informant filed a lawsuit against the bureau alleging that he was pressured to use unfair tactics to entrap Muslims.

While most Hollywood movies that are “based on real events” tend to stretch the truth, the film about Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson, Fair Game, starring Sean Penn, went too far, according to a scathing Washington Post editorial: “Mr. Wilson claimed that he had proved that Mr. [George W.] Bush deliberately twisted the truth about Iraq, and he was eagerly embraced by those who insist the former president lied the country into a war. Though it was long ago established that Mr. Wilson himself was not telling the truth — not about his mission to Niger and not about his wife — the myth endures. We’ll join the former president in hoping that future historians get it right.”

“Three meters between life and death” — the gripping story of a Yediot Aharonot photographer who found himself trapped in the Carmel inferno.

Is the Tea Party “wrecking” traditional GOP foreign policy and support for Israel? That’s what Barry Gewen argues in the New Republic. But the Tea Partiers hold such diverse views on foreign policy that it’s impossible to typecast them on this issue. While Ron Paul certainly has some influence over the movement, hawks like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Jim DeMint seem to have a far greater pull.

You can’t make this up: Charles Rangel is now being investigated for improperly using PAC money to fund his legal defense during his recent ethics violation case.

Cables show that cash is still flowing to terrorists from Arab states, indicating that U.S. efforts to halt terror funding since 9/11 have been woefully ineffective.

Cable Gate was a diplomatic disaster with dangerous consequences for our national security, but it’s undeniable that the leaked documents have also given the public a great deal of insight into the fascinating world of international diplomacy. The Atlantic has looked beyond the political ramifications of the leaked secrets and compiled an archive of the most captivating stories from the cables.

Muslims say that their relations with the FBI have been strained after a mosque informant filed a lawsuit against the bureau alleging that he was pressured to use unfair tactics to entrap Muslims.

While most Hollywood movies that are “based on real events” tend to stretch the truth, the film about Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson, Fair Game, starring Sean Penn, went too far, according to a scathing Washington Post editorial: “Mr. Wilson claimed that he had proved that Mr. [George W.] Bush deliberately twisted the truth about Iraq, and he was eagerly embraced by those who insist the former president lied the country into a war. Though it was long ago established that Mr. Wilson himself was not telling the truth — not about his mission to Niger and not about his wife — the myth endures. We’ll join the former president in hoping that future historians get it right.”

“Three meters between life and death” — the gripping story of a Yediot Aharonot photographer who found himself trapped in the Carmel inferno.

Is the Tea Party “wrecking” traditional GOP foreign policy and support for Israel? That’s what Barry Gewen argues in the New Republic. But the Tea Partiers hold such diverse views on foreign policy that it’s impossible to typecast them on this issue. While Ron Paul certainly has some influence over the movement, hawks like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Jim DeMint seem to have a far greater pull.

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LIVE BLOG: False Hopes, False Fears

As I write, at 6:24 pm, one can feel the last-minute manic mood of the political class doing its standard final-hours shift. To wit, Democrats and liberals are experiencing a confusing giddiness from bits of data suggesting–if you were looking at them to suggest it–that the night might not be as bad as they fear (indeed, the night is unlikely to end up as bad as they fear, since their worst fears now are losses in the range of 90 seats in the House). To wit, Ed Kilgore at The New Republic, one of the more unpleasant Democratic bloggers:

So CNN just released the first bit of actually revealing national exit poll data: President Obama’s job approval rating is 45 percent positive, 54 percent negative (looks like no one is ambivalent). Comparing this to some of the final polls, the final ABC/Washington Post poll, which gave Republicans only a 4-point advantage in House voting, had the Obama ratio at 46/52. The final Gallup “low-turnout” estimate, which gave Republicans a gigantic 15-point margin, had the Obama ratio at 40/56.  So based on this one data point, it looks like a wave, but maybe not a tsunami.

Exit polls usually skew as many as 10 points in the direction of Democrats, especially when they are done state-by-state. If CNN’s is showing Obama’s unfavorable numbers at 9 points, that’s bad, very bad for Democrats because it’s likely the data are skewed in their favor.

Similarly, emails and phone calls from conservatives and Republicans show a sudden terror that every single piece of information they’ve gotten over the past week may not actually be true — that the Real Clear Politics generic poll average doesn’t show an advantage for Republicans of 9.3 percent and that the final Gallup poll says GOP voters are twice as enthusiastic about turning up at the voting booth as Democrats.

This is always the way. The defeated get a moment to hope; the victors get a moment to fear.

As I write, at 6:24 pm, one can feel the last-minute manic mood of the political class doing its standard final-hours shift. To wit, Democrats and liberals are experiencing a confusing giddiness from bits of data suggesting–if you were looking at them to suggest it–that the night might not be as bad as they fear (indeed, the night is unlikely to end up as bad as they fear, since their worst fears now are losses in the range of 90 seats in the House). To wit, Ed Kilgore at The New Republic, one of the more unpleasant Democratic bloggers:

So CNN just released the first bit of actually revealing national exit poll data: President Obama’s job approval rating is 45 percent positive, 54 percent negative (looks like no one is ambivalent). Comparing this to some of the final polls, the final ABC/Washington Post poll, which gave Republicans only a 4-point advantage in House voting, had the Obama ratio at 46/52. The final Gallup “low-turnout” estimate, which gave Republicans a gigantic 15-point margin, had the Obama ratio at 40/56.  So based on this one data point, it looks like a wave, but maybe not a tsunami.

Exit polls usually skew as many as 10 points in the direction of Democrats, especially when they are done state-by-state. If CNN’s is showing Obama’s unfavorable numbers at 9 points, that’s bad, very bad for Democrats because it’s likely the data are skewed in their favor.

Similarly, emails and phone calls from conservatives and Republicans show a sudden terror that every single piece of information they’ve gotten over the past week may not actually be true — that the Real Clear Politics generic poll average doesn’t show an advantage for Republicans of 9.3 percent and that the final Gallup poll says GOP voters are twice as enthusiastic about turning up at the voting booth as Democrats.

This is always the way. The defeated get a moment to hope; the victors get a moment to fear.

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Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, Redux

Some liberals — including the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, who insisted in late 2008 and early 2009 that ObamaCare would be a great political success for Obama and the Democrats — continue to claim that they were right all along. The argument goes something like this: Obama’s troubles, which they can no longer deny, are completely unrelated to Obama’s signature domestic achievement. They have to do with “structural factors.” Health-care legislation, you see, has nothing to do with it. Nothing at all. But the evidence continues to shatter this claim. The Weekly Standard’s Jeffrey Anderson covers some of it here and here. And now we find out (courtesy of RealClearPolitics) that Democrat Joe Manchin, running for the open Senate seat in West Virginia, is joining the GOP’s call to repeal some pieces of health-care reform.

Hard as it is to imagine, people running for office have an even keener sense of what voters want, and don’t want, than writers at TNR. And the fact that few Democrats, if any, are running ads based on their support for ObamaCare, and many are now distancing themselves from it, tells you most of what you need to know.

Chait is working very hard to salvage his credibility — not an easy task, I grant you. (In addition to his health-care counsel, Chait declared that there was “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who supported President Bush’s surge strategy in Iraq. “It is not just that they are wrong,” he wrote in early 2007. “It’s that they are completely detached from reality.”) To that end, he is even beginning to anticipate ObamaCare’s failure — and, shockingly, Chait seems ready to blame the GOP. “If they [Republicans] can make the health care law fail by sabotaging its implemetation [sic], the public is going to hold President Obama responsible for the results, and Republicans will benefit politically,” according to Chait.

Chait is once again unraveling the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. Those devilish Republicans are going to wreck Obama’s fantastically popular piece of legislation by sabotage-through-implementation and then take advantage of the ignorant, unwashed masses, who don’t realize just how wonderful ObamaCare really is.

Like the Psalmist, Jonathan Chait is crying out: “How long shall the wicked, O LORD, How long shall the wicked be jubilant?”

My guess is at least until November 3.

Some liberals — including the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, who insisted in late 2008 and early 2009 that ObamaCare would be a great political success for Obama and the Democrats — continue to claim that they were right all along. The argument goes something like this: Obama’s troubles, which they can no longer deny, are completely unrelated to Obama’s signature domestic achievement. They have to do with “structural factors.” Health-care legislation, you see, has nothing to do with it. Nothing at all. But the evidence continues to shatter this claim. The Weekly Standard’s Jeffrey Anderson covers some of it here and here. And now we find out (courtesy of RealClearPolitics) that Democrat Joe Manchin, running for the open Senate seat in West Virginia, is joining the GOP’s call to repeal some pieces of health-care reform.

Hard as it is to imagine, people running for office have an even keener sense of what voters want, and don’t want, than writers at TNR. And the fact that few Democrats, if any, are running ads based on their support for ObamaCare, and many are now distancing themselves from it, tells you most of what you need to know.

Chait is working very hard to salvage his credibility — not an easy task, I grant you. (In addition to his health-care counsel, Chait declared that there was “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who supported President Bush’s surge strategy in Iraq. “It is not just that they are wrong,” he wrote in early 2007. “It’s that they are completely detached from reality.”) To that end, he is even beginning to anticipate ObamaCare’s failure — and, shockingly, Chait seems ready to blame the GOP. “If they [Republicans] can make the health care law fail by sabotaging its implemetation [sic], the public is going to hold President Obama responsible for the results, and Republicans will benefit politically,” according to Chait.

Chait is once again unraveling the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. Those devilish Republicans are going to wreck Obama’s fantastically popular piece of legislation by sabotage-through-implementation and then take advantage of the ignorant, unwashed masses, who don’t realize just how wonderful ObamaCare really is.

Like the Psalmist, Jonathan Chait is crying out: “How long shall the wicked, O LORD, How long shall the wicked be jubilant?”

My guess is at least until November 3.

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Liberalism’s Existential Crisis

As the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party continue their journey into the Slough of Despond, it’s interesting to watch Obama’ supporters try to process the unfolding events.

Some blame it on a failure to communicate. E.J. Dionne, Jr., for example, ascribes the Democrats’ problems to the fact that Obama “has chosen not to engage the nation in an extended dialogue about what holds all his achievements together.” Joe Klein offers this explanation: “If Obama is not reelected, it will be because he comes across as disdaining what he does for a living.” And John Judis points to the Obama administration’s “aversion to populism.”

Others are aiming their sound and fury at the American people. According to Maureen Dowd, “Obama is the head of the dysfunctional family of America — a rational man running a most irrational nation, a high-minded man in a low-minded age. The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown.” Jonathan Alter argues that the American people “aren’t rationally aligning belief and action; they’re tempted to lose their spleens in the polling place without fully grasping the consequences.” And Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg has written that “the biggest culprit in our current predicament” is the “childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.” Read More

As the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party continue their journey into the Slough of Despond, it’s interesting to watch Obama’ supporters try to process the unfolding events.

Some blame it on a failure to communicate. E.J. Dionne, Jr., for example, ascribes the Democrats’ problems to the fact that Obama “has chosen not to engage the nation in an extended dialogue about what holds all his achievements together.” Joe Klein offers this explanation: “If Obama is not reelected, it will be because he comes across as disdaining what he does for a living.” And John Judis points to the Obama administration’s “aversion to populism.”

Others are aiming their sound and fury at the American people. According to Maureen Dowd, “Obama is the head of the dysfunctional family of America — a rational man running a most irrational nation, a high-minded man in a low-minded age. The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown.” Jonathan Alter argues that the American people “aren’t rationally aligning belief and action; they’re tempted to lose their spleens in the polling place without fully grasping the consequences.” And Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg has written that “the biggest culprit in our current predicament” is the “childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.”

For still others, Obama’s failures can be traced to James Madison. George Packer complains that Obama’s failures are in part institutional. He lists a slew of items on the liberal agenda items “the world’s greatest deliberative body is incapable of addressing.” Paul Krugman warns that the Senate is “ominously dysfunctional” and insists that the way it works is “no longer consistent with a functioning government.” For Vanity Fair’s Todd Purdum, “The evidence that Washington cannot function — that it’s ‘broken,’ as Vice President Joe Biden has said — is all around.” The modern presidency “has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives.”

Commentators such as the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein place responsibility on “powerful structural forces in American politics that seem to drag down first-term presidents” (though Klein does acknowledge other factors). The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait pins the blame on “structural factors” and “external factors” that have nothing to do with Obama’s policies.

Then there are those who see the pernicious vast right-wing conspiracy at work. Frank Rich alerts us to the fact that the problem lies with “the brothers David and Charles Koch,” the “sugar daddies” who are bankrolling the “white Tea Party America.” Newsweek‘s Michael Cohen has written that, “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain.” And Mr. Krugman offers this analysis: “What we learned from the Clinton years is that a significant number of Americans just don’t consider government by liberals — even very moderate liberals — legitimate. Mr. Obama’s election would have enraged those people even if he were white. Of course, the fact that he isn’t, and has an alien-sounding name, adds to the rage.” Krugman goes on to warn that “powerful forces are promoting and exploiting this rage” — including the “right-wing media.” And if they come to gain power, “It will be an ugly scene, and it will be dangerous, too.”

What most of these commentators are missing, I think, are two essential points. First, the public is turning against Obama and the Democratic Party because the economy is sick and, despite his assurances and projections, the president hasn’t been able to make it well. And in some important respects, especially on fiscal matters, the president and the 111th Congress have made things considerably worse. Second, an increasing number of Americans believe Obama’s policies are unwise, ineffective, and much too liberal. They connect the bad results we are seeing in America to what Obama is doing to America.

But there’s something else, and something deeper, going on here. All of us who embrace a particular religious or philosophical worldview should be prepared to judge them in light of empirical facts and reality. What if our theories seem to be failing in the real world?

The truth is that it’s rather rare to find people willing to reexamine or reinterpret their most deeply held beliefs when the mounting evidence calls those beliefs into question. That is something most of us (myself included) battle with: How to be a person of principled convictions while being intellectually honest enough to acknowledge when certain propositions (and, in some instances, foundational policies) seem to be failing or falling short.

It’s quite possible, of course, that one’s basic convictions can remain true even when events go badly. Self-government is still the best form of government even if it might fail in one nation or another. And sometimes it is simply a matter of weathering storms until certain first principles are reaffirmed. At the same time, sometimes we hold to theories that are simply wrong, that are contrary to human nature and the way the world works, but we simply can’t let go of them. We have too much invested in a particular philosophy.

President Obama’s liberal supporters understand that he is in serious trouble right now; what they are doing is scrambling to find some way to explain his problems without calling into question their underlying political philosophy (modern liberalism). If what is happening cannot be a fundamental failure of liberalism, then it must be something else — from a “communications problem” to “structural factors” to a political conspiracy. And you can bet that if things continue on their present course, ideologues on the left will increasingly argue that Obama’s failures stem from his being (a) not liberal enough or (b) incompetent.

If the Obama presidency is seen as damaging the larger liberal project, they will abandon Obama in order to try to protect liberalism. They would rather do that than face an existential crisis.

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Brutal for Obama and Joe Klein

According to Public Policy Polling (PPP), President Obama’s approval ratings in the key states of Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania are “brutal.”

How brutal?

In Florida, Obama’s approval-disapproval numbers are 39 percent v. 55 percent, with independents registering a 52 disapprove v. 36 percent approve rating.

In Pennsylvania Obama’s approval is 40 percent, while 55 percent of voters disapprove of him. Independents line up against the president by a 63/32 margin.

And in Ohio, Obama’s approval is 42 percent with 54 percent of voters disapproving of him — while the split among independents is 58/33.

These findings should be combined with Jennifer’s posting on the latest analysis by The Cook Report and the story she linked to in Politico, in which a Democratic pollster working on several key races said, “The reality is that [the House majority] is probably gone” and that that his data shows the Democrats’ problems are only getting worse (“It’s spreading,” the pollster said.)

I recall that once upon a time, Obama courtiers over at the New Republic and Time magazine ridiculed the amassing evidence Jennifer and I cited, warning of the impending political problems Democrats faced in the midterm. They would have none of it. The polls were nothing more than “white noise.” It was wishful thinking on our part. The election results in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts were anomalous and didn’t foreshadow a thing. According to Joe Klein, we were part of the “sky is falling” crowd. Democrats would be fine; the public would learn to appreciate all the wonderful achievements off Obama and his party.

Lately, I haven’t heard much from them about how baseless and irresponsible our analyses were, or how well things are shaping up for Democrats. In fact, poor Joe now refers to the “dismal electoral shape” the Democrats are now in.

Gee, that was a quick turnabout. And it’s so unlike Klein to experience such wide emotional and analytical swings.

By the way, I’m still waiting for an apology — or at least a note of explanation — from our liberal friends, Jen.

How about you?

According to Public Policy Polling (PPP), President Obama’s approval ratings in the key states of Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania are “brutal.”

How brutal?

In Florida, Obama’s approval-disapproval numbers are 39 percent v. 55 percent, with independents registering a 52 disapprove v. 36 percent approve rating.

In Pennsylvania Obama’s approval is 40 percent, while 55 percent of voters disapprove of him. Independents line up against the president by a 63/32 margin.

And in Ohio, Obama’s approval is 42 percent with 54 percent of voters disapproving of him — while the split among independents is 58/33.

These findings should be combined with Jennifer’s posting on the latest analysis by The Cook Report and the story she linked to in Politico, in which a Democratic pollster working on several key races said, “The reality is that [the House majority] is probably gone” and that that his data shows the Democrats’ problems are only getting worse (“It’s spreading,” the pollster said.)

I recall that once upon a time, Obama courtiers over at the New Republic and Time magazine ridiculed the amassing evidence Jennifer and I cited, warning of the impending political problems Democrats faced in the midterm. They would have none of it. The polls were nothing more than “white noise.” It was wishful thinking on our part. The election results in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts were anomalous and didn’t foreshadow a thing. According to Joe Klein, we were part of the “sky is falling” crowd. Democrats would be fine; the public would learn to appreciate all the wonderful achievements off Obama and his party.

Lately, I haven’t heard much from them about how baseless and irresponsible our analyses were, or how well things are shaping up for Democrats. In fact, poor Joe now refers to the “dismal electoral shape” the Democrats are now in.

Gee, that was a quick turnabout. And it’s so unlike Klein to experience such wide emotional and analytical swings.

By the way, I’m still waiting for an apology — or at least a note of explanation — from our liberal friends, Jen.

How about you?

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The New Republic’s Keith Olbermann

In a story in the Washington Examiner, Stephen Hess, an expert on the presidency at the Brookings Institution, said Robert Gibbs’ remarks attacking the “professional left” shows how “unprepared” many in the Obama administration were for the rigors of the White House. “A lot of things had come too easy for them — a substantial election victory, and an almost messianic moment with the inauguration,” Hess said. “Governing is hard.”

The governing-is-hard theme is something some of us warned about a long time ago. And charting some of Obama’s early missteps caused commentators on the left, such as the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, enormous irritation. In May 2009 he wrote:

In anticipation of his prophesy coming true, [Wehner’s] blogging for Commentary has become a gleeful chronicle of Obama’s imagined descent into dysfunction and popular repudiation.

Well, now. The “imagined descent” into popular repudiation (and dysfunction, for that matter) is no longer imagined, is it?

Popular repudiation is precisely what Obama and Democrats are experiencing on a scale that is extremely rare — one the may prove to be unprecedented — for a president who has been in office for less than two years.

William Galston, who served in the Clinton administration, has warned his party that it might not only lose the House; its majority in the Senate is endangered, too. And the polarization some of us highlighted early on in Obama’s presidency was in fact on the mark. Chait dismissed the observation at the time, but then came (for Chait) a rather unfortunate Gallup survey released in January 2010, which reported that Barack Obama was the most polarizing first-year president in recorded history.

Now we should keep in mind that Chait is the same individual who, in December 2008, assured his readers that “undiluted liberalism” in the area of health care was hugely popular and that the path to political dominance for Obama and Democrats; and who, in February 2007, wrote that there was “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who supported President Bush’s surge strategy in Iraq. “It is not just that they are wrong,” our modern-day Metternich insisted. “It’s that they are completely detached from reality.”

Such detached-from-reality insights continue apace. Earlier this year, for example, Chait wrote:

The perception has formed, perhaps indelibly, that the reason Democrats will get hammered in the 2010 elections is that the party moved too far left in general and tried to reform health care in particular. This perception owes itself, above all, to the habit that political analysts in the media and other outposts of mainstream thought have of ignoring structural factors.

Of course; health-care reform has nothing to do with Obama’s plight or that of the Democratic Party. So sayeth The Great Chait.

Never mind that Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, analyzes the empirical data and declares that “the health overhaul remains a political loser in most of the country.” Or that Democratic pollster Doug Schoen writes that “recent polling shows that the [health care] bill has been a disaster for the party. … There may well be no single initiative as unpopular as the administration’s health care reform bill.” Or that Charlie Cook, who specializes in election forecasts and political trends, declared earlier this year that from a political perspective, pushing health care was a “colossal miscalculation.” Yet Chait – who doesn’t specialize in election forecasts or political trends – knows better.

And what should we make of the fact that by nearly a 3-to-1 margin, voters in Missouri voters rejected a key provision of President Obama’s health-care law? Easy. “Missouri is not a ‘bellwether’ state right now,” Chait cheerfully informs us. Missouri, you see, has suddenly become Utah. And the individual mandate never was popular, don’t you know?

Chait has been reduced to arguing (ad nauseam) that Obama’s unpopularity has virtually nothing to do with Obama’s policies or his liberal ideology; it has to do with the very bad economy and those darn “structural factors.” Barack Obama is a fantastic president, you see; it’s just too bad the conditions in the country are miserable.

Jonathan has become something of an amusing read. It is not simply watching him try to twist reality to fit his ideological presuppositions, which is amusing enough; it is the whole packaged deal – the adolescent rage, exemplified in his “I hate Bush” rant, the playground taunts, the pretense of governing and policy expertise.

And there is the matter of Chait’s slightly peculiar personal obsessions. For example, he admits that one of his “guilty pleasures” is a “morbid fascination” with me and that one of his “shameful hobbies” is watching the “almost sensual pleasure” taken by me at the coming November elections – with the latter written under the headline “Wehner Throbs with Anticipation.” Now this doesn’t particularly bother me, but perhaps it should bother Mrs. Chait.

The New Republic was once the professional home to some of the nation’s preeminent intellectuals, public figures, and journalists. Today it provides a perch to Jonathan Chait, TNR’s version of Keith Olbermann

In a story in the Washington Examiner, Stephen Hess, an expert on the presidency at the Brookings Institution, said Robert Gibbs’ remarks attacking the “professional left” shows how “unprepared” many in the Obama administration were for the rigors of the White House. “A lot of things had come too easy for them — a substantial election victory, and an almost messianic moment with the inauguration,” Hess said. “Governing is hard.”

The governing-is-hard theme is something some of us warned about a long time ago. And charting some of Obama’s early missteps caused commentators on the left, such as the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, enormous irritation. In May 2009 he wrote:

In anticipation of his prophesy coming true, [Wehner’s] blogging for Commentary has become a gleeful chronicle of Obama’s imagined descent into dysfunction and popular repudiation.

Well, now. The “imagined descent” into popular repudiation (and dysfunction, for that matter) is no longer imagined, is it?

Popular repudiation is precisely what Obama and Democrats are experiencing on a scale that is extremely rare — one the may prove to be unprecedented — for a president who has been in office for less than two years.

William Galston, who served in the Clinton administration, has warned his party that it might not only lose the House; its majority in the Senate is endangered, too. And the polarization some of us highlighted early on in Obama’s presidency was in fact on the mark. Chait dismissed the observation at the time, but then came (for Chait) a rather unfortunate Gallup survey released in January 2010, which reported that Barack Obama was the most polarizing first-year president in recorded history.

Now we should keep in mind that Chait is the same individual who, in December 2008, assured his readers that “undiluted liberalism” in the area of health care was hugely popular and that the path to political dominance for Obama and Democrats; and who, in February 2007, wrote that there was “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who supported President Bush’s surge strategy in Iraq. “It is not just that they are wrong,” our modern-day Metternich insisted. “It’s that they are completely detached from reality.”

Such detached-from-reality insights continue apace. Earlier this year, for example, Chait wrote:

The perception has formed, perhaps indelibly, that the reason Democrats will get hammered in the 2010 elections is that the party moved too far left in general and tried to reform health care in particular. This perception owes itself, above all, to the habit that political analysts in the media and other outposts of mainstream thought have of ignoring structural factors.

Of course; health-care reform has nothing to do with Obama’s plight or that of the Democratic Party. So sayeth The Great Chait.

Never mind that Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, analyzes the empirical data and declares that “the health overhaul remains a political loser in most of the country.” Or that Democratic pollster Doug Schoen writes that “recent polling shows that the [health care] bill has been a disaster for the party. … There may well be no single initiative as unpopular as the administration’s health care reform bill.” Or that Charlie Cook, who specializes in election forecasts and political trends, declared earlier this year that from a political perspective, pushing health care was a “colossal miscalculation.” Yet Chait – who doesn’t specialize in election forecasts or political trends – knows better.

And what should we make of the fact that by nearly a 3-to-1 margin, voters in Missouri voters rejected a key provision of President Obama’s health-care law? Easy. “Missouri is not a ‘bellwether’ state right now,” Chait cheerfully informs us. Missouri, you see, has suddenly become Utah. And the individual mandate never was popular, don’t you know?

Chait has been reduced to arguing (ad nauseam) that Obama’s unpopularity has virtually nothing to do with Obama’s policies or his liberal ideology; it has to do with the very bad economy and those darn “structural factors.” Barack Obama is a fantastic president, you see; it’s just too bad the conditions in the country are miserable.

Jonathan has become something of an amusing read. It is not simply watching him try to twist reality to fit his ideological presuppositions, which is amusing enough; it is the whole packaged deal – the adolescent rage, exemplified in his “I hate Bush” rant, the playground taunts, the pretense of governing and policy expertise.

And there is the matter of Chait’s slightly peculiar personal obsessions. For example, he admits that one of his “guilty pleasures” is a “morbid fascination” with me and that one of his “shameful hobbies” is watching the “almost sensual pleasure” taken by me at the coming November elections – with the latter written under the headline “Wehner Throbs with Anticipation.” Now this doesn’t particularly bother me, but perhaps it should bother Mrs. Chait.

The New Republic was once the professional home to some of the nation’s preeminent intellectuals, public figures, and journalists. Today it provides a perch to Jonathan Chait, TNR’s version of Keith Olbermann

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Galston: Can the Republicans Win Back the Senate?

William Galston is something of a rarity — a blogger at the New Republic who is both mature and worth reading. Professor Galston provides his analysis on whether the Republicans can win back the Senate. The answer is yes. But take a look for yourself.

William Galston is something of a rarity — a blogger at the New Republic who is both mature and worth reading. Professor Galston provides his analysis on whether the Republicans can win back the Senate. The answer is yes. But take a look for yourself.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Christians United for Israel catches its critics practicing willful ignorance: “Despite what readers may have been led to believe, the paper has not actually visited CUFI in some time. In fact, the editorial was written in the past tense, but was published online on July 20, before the major events at our 2010 Washington Summit had even occurred. With a minimum amount of research, or even one substantive phone call to CUFI in the past 12 months, the paper would have easily received answers to the ‘unanswered questions’ its editors claim CUFI needs to address.” Ouch! Read the whole thing for an excellent debunking of critics of pro-Zionist Christians.

Peter Beinart catches the ADL not savaging Israel. And the real problem, don’t you see, is that “[i]ndifference to the rights and dignity of Palestinians is a cancer eating away at the moral pretensions of the American Jewish establishment.” Is this another in the “I bet I write a more ludicrous column than you” sweepstakes with the weaselly set at the New Republic?

The Chicago Sun Times catches another shady bank loan by Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias: “On Feb. 14, 2006, newly obtained records show, [Giannoulias’s] bank made a $22.75 million loan to a company called Riverside District Development LLC, whose owners, it turns out, included [Tony] Rezko. … Not only does its disclosure come during the Senate campaign, but records show the loan was made while Broadway Bank was already having problems with an earlier loan to another Rezko company.”

The House Ethics Committee catches Rep. Maxine Waters doing bad things: “The House Ethics Committee this afternoon announced in a statement that it has formed an ‘adjudicatory subcommittee’ to consider ethics violations charges against Waters. The subcommittee has yet to determine when it will meet. The committee also today released an 80-page report, submitted in August 2009 by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), detailing the allegations against Waters.”

Jonathan Capehart catches the racial-grievance mongers being ridiculous (again). On the allegation that charges of ethics violations against Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters are racially motivated: “As an African American, I know and understand the sensitivity to unfair prosecution and persecution of blacks in the court of law and the court of public opinion. … But there are times when that sensitivity can blind us to very real questions that have nothing to do with race. In the cases of Rangel and Waters, I have to agree with a tweet by NBC News political director Chuck Todd. Their troubles have to do with ‘entrenched entitlement.'”

If CAIR catches wind of this, look out for the lawsuits: “Accused Fort Hood Shooter Nidal Hasan Can’t Find a Bank Willing to Cash His Checks; Hasan’s Lawyer Says His Client Is Being Discriminated Against.”

Bill Kristol catches Obama being a “self-centered elitist (and ageist!)” in trying to strong-arm Charlie Rangel out of office. He advises Rangel: “Defend yourself, make your case, fight for your reputation, and if need be accept a reprimand (or even censure) — but let your constituents render the real verdict, not the D.C. mob. If you do this, you have a good chance of extending your political career … beyond Obama’s. In any case, do not follow Obama’s prescription of political death with dignity. ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.'”

Christians United for Israel catches its critics practicing willful ignorance: “Despite what readers may have been led to believe, the paper has not actually visited CUFI in some time. In fact, the editorial was written in the past tense, but was published online on July 20, before the major events at our 2010 Washington Summit had even occurred. With a minimum amount of research, or even one substantive phone call to CUFI in the past 12 months, the paper would have easily received answers to the ‘unanswered questions’ its editors claim CUFI needs to address.” Ouch! Read the whole thing for an excellent debunking of critics of pro-Zionist Christians.

Peter Beinart catches the ADL not savaging Israel. And the real problem, don’t you see, is that “[i]ndifference to the rights and dignity of Palestinians is a cancer eating away at the moral pretensions of the American Jewish establishment.” Is this another in the “I bet I write a more ludicrous column than you” sweepstakes with the weaselly set at the New Republic?

The Chicago Sun Times catches another shady bank loan by Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias: “On Feb. 14, 2006, newly obtained records show, [Giannoulias’s] bank made a $22.75 million loan to a company called Riverside District Development LLC, whose owners, it turns out, included [Tony] Rezko. … Not only does its disclosure come during the Senate campaign, but records show the loan was made while Broadway Bank was already having problems with an earlier loan to another Rezko company.”

The House Ethics Committee catches Rep. Maxine Waters doing bad things: “The House Ethics Committee this afternoon announced in a statement that it has formed an ‘adjudicatory subcommittee’ to consider ethics violations charges against Waters. The subcommittee has yet to determine when it will meet. The committee also today released an 80-page report, submitted in August 2009 by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), detailing the allegations against Waters.”

Jonathan Capehart catches the racial-grievance mongers being ridiculous (again). On the allegation that charges of ethics violations against Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters are racially motivated: “As an African American, I know and understand the sensitivity to unfair prosecution and persecution of blacks in the court of law and the court of public opinion. … But there are times when that sensitivity can blind us to very real questions that have nothing to do with race. In the cases of Rangel and Waters, I have to agree with a tweet by NBC News political director Chuck Todd. Their troubles have to do with ‘entrenched entitlement.'”

If CAIR catches wind of this, look out for the lawsuits: “Accused Fort Hood Shooter Nidal Hasan Can’t Find a Bank Willing to Cash His Checks; Hasan’s Lawyer Says His Client Is Being Discriminated Against.”

Bill Kristol catches Obama being a “self-centered elitist (and ageist!)” in trying to strong-arm Charlie Rangel out of office. He advises Rangel: “Defend yourself, make your case, fight for your reputation, and if need be accept a reprimand (or even censure) — but let your constituents render the real verdict, not the D.C. mob. If you do this, you have a good chance of extending your political career … beyond Obama’s. In any case, do not follow Obama’s prescription of political death with dignity. ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.'”

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Obama: A Gift to the GOP That Keeps On Giving

Jonathan Rauch has written an interesting cover story in the National Journal on “The Tea Party Paradox.” He argues that the country has indeed moved to the right but it’s not clear whether this is happening in a way that helps the GOP in the long run (he does say it will help Republicans in the short term, for sure).

In his article, Rauch quotes from something I recently wrote, in which I pointed to opinion polls showing that a growing percentage of Americans regard the Democrats as too liberal. “What’s happening, in other words, is that an increasing number of Americans are becoming more conservative,” I wrote. “This is more fallout from the Age of Obama. Mr. Obama is, for the GOP, the gift that keeps on giving.”

Then comes this:

Wrong, replies Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic-leaning political analyst and a senior fellow with the liberal Center for American Progress. “It’s not Obama that’s the gift that keeps on giving, it’s the economy that’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he said in a recent interview. “I think it’s a judgment on how things are going in the country. I don’t think it’s a judgment to take the country in a conservative direction.”

Teixeira is repeating an argument some of the New Republic’s bloggers make ad nauseam: the problem isn’t Obama; it’s the economy. If Obama had a roaring economy, he’d be far more popular than he is. Obama’s policies are not to blame; the conditions of the country are. To which one could respond: if during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the inflation and interest rates had been 2 percent instead of topping 18 percent, Carter would have been more popular too. But they weren’t, and he wasn’t. Mr. Carter was judged a failure and jettisoned from office after a single term because people believed the conditions of the country were due, in large measure, to his performance as president.

Teixeira’s argument can work when a president has been in office for one month; it’s harder to pull off when he’s been in office for more than 18 months. And if you read public-opinion polls carefully, what you will find isn’t simply that people are upset by the state of the economy; they are also troubled by Obama’s response to the economy. They believe he’s pursuing policies that are making things worse, not better. That is why Obama’s poll ratings are sinking and why his party is in danger of losing both the House and the Senate come November. And in response to Obamaism, the nation is, in significant respects, moving in a more conservative direction.

This trend is not inexorable. If liberals are correct and the policies that Obama is pursing are wise and necessary, then we will see their manifestation: unemployment figures will tumble, the deficit will shrink, the economy will come roaring back — and Obama will sail to victory in 2012. The country will also give liberalism a second look. But if conservatives are correct and the policies Obama is pursuing are misguided, then we will see that manifest itself, too. And Obama and his party will continue to pay a very heavy price for this.

It’s true that many people ascribe too much influence to the president when it comes to the economy. On the other hand, administration policies matter quite a lot — and when the Obama administration makes grand, sweeping claims for its economic policies and insists the stimulus package will keep unemployment below 8 percent when it ends up topping 10 percent, the public is right to hold the White House responsible.

American voters tend to be pretty fair and reasonable. They don’t expect the president to be a magician — but they do insist on progress, on results, and on accountability. Obama is no exception. These days, liberals comfort themselves by telling each other that in his second year as president, Ronald Reagan was unpopular too, and Obama is really another Reagan. Conservatives hear this comparison and chuckle; Obama is more nearly the antithesis of Reagan — they point out — and the policies Obama is pursuing will not meet with nearly the same success as Reagan’s did.

Time will tell who is right and who is wrong. At this stage, conservatives certainly have the better of the argument, though this political drama has several more acts to play out. But here’s one thing you can be sure of: if unemployment is still high, if the deficit and debt are still exploding, and if the economy is still struggling in 2011 and 2012, then the Teixeira/TNR effort to create miles of distance between Obama and the economic conditions of the country will fail. Appeals to sophisticated political-science models and pleas for more time and understanding will fail. Lashing out at critics and Bush won’t work. And if dogmatic liberals continue to insist, as they have in the past, that “the widespread conclusion that Obama is losing popularity because he’s too liberal … is totally unpersuasive,” they will be seen as increasingly detached from reality.

The public will hold the president accountable for his actions. That is what Obama’s increasingly desperate courtiers are most afraid of.

Jonathan Rauch has written an interesting cover story in the National Journal on “The Tea Party Paradox.” He argues that the country has indeed moved to the right but it’s not clear whether this is happening in a way that helps the GOP in the long run (he does say it will help Republicans in the short term, for sure).

In his article, Rauch quotes from something I recently wrote, in which I pointed to opinion polls showing that a growing percentage of Americans regard the Democrats as too liberal. “What’s happening, in other words, is that an increasing number of Americans are becoming more conservative,” I wrote. “This is more fallout from the Age of Obama. Mr. Obama is, for the GOP, the gift that keeps on giving.”

Then comes this:

Wrong, replies Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic-leaning political analyst and a senior fellow with the liberal Center for American Progress. “It’s not Obama that’s the gift that keeps on giving, it’s the economy that’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he said in a recent interview. “I think it’s a judgment on how things are going in the country. I don’t think it’s a judgment to take the country in a conservative direction.”

Teixeira is repeating an argument some of the New Republic’s bloggers make ad nauseam: the problem isn’t Obama; it’s the economy. If Obama had a roaring economy, he’d be far more popular than he is. Obama’s policies are not to blame; the conditions of the country are. To which one could respond: if during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the inflation and interest rates had been 2 percent instead of topping 18 percent, Carter would have been more popular too. But they weren’t, and he wasn’t. Mr. Carter was judged a failure and jettisoned from office after a single term because people believed the conditions of the country were due, in large measure, to his performance as president.

Teixeira’s argument can work when a president has been in office for one month; it’s harder to pull off when he’s been in office for more than 18 months. And if you read public-opinion polls carefully, what you will find isn’t simply that people are upset by the state of the economy; they are also troubled by Obama’s response to the economy. They believe he’s pursuing policies that are making things worse, not better. That is why Obama’s poll ratings are sinking and why his party is in danger of losing both the House and the Senate come November. And in response to Obamaism, the nation is, in significant respects, moving in a more conservative direction.

This trend is not inexorable. If liberals are correct and the policies that Obama is pursing are wise and necessary, then we will see their manifestation: unemployment figures will tumble, the deficit will shrink, the economy will come roaring back — and Obama will sail to victory in 2012. The country will also give liberalism a second look. But if conservatives are correct and the policies Obama is pursuing are misguided, then we will see that manifest itself, too. And Obama and his party will continue to pay a very heavy price for this.

It’s true that many people ascribe too much influence to the president when it comes to the economy. On the other hand, administration policies matter quite a lot — and when the Obama administration makes grand, sweeping claims for its economic policies and insists the stimulus package will keep unemployment below 8 percent when it ends up topping 10 percent, the public is right to hold the White House responsible.

American voters tend to be pretty fair and reasonable. They don’t expect the president to be a magician — but they do insist on progress, on results, and on accountability. Obama is no exception. These days, liberals comfort themselves by telling each other that in his second year as president, Ronald Reagan was unpopular too, and Obama is really another Reagan. Conservatives hear this comparison and chuckle; Obama is more nearly the antithesis of Reagan — they point out — and the policies Obama is pursuing will not meet with nearly the same success as Reagan’s did.

Time will tell who is right and who is wrong. At this stage, conservatives certainly have the better of the argument, though this political drama has several more acts to play out. But here’s one thing you can be sure of: if unemployment is still high, if the deficit and debt are still exploding, and if the economy is still struggling in 2011 and 2012, then the Teixeira/TNR effort to create miles of distance between Obama and the economic conditions of the country will fail. Appeals to sophisticated political-science models and pleas for more time and understanding will fail. Lashing out at critics and Bush won’t work. And if dogmatic liberals continue to insist, as they have in the past, that “the widespread conclusion that Obama is losing popularity because he’s too liberal … is totally unpersuasive,” they will be seen as increasingly detached from reality.

The public will hold the president accountable for his actions. That is what Obama’s increasingly desperate courtiers are most afraid of.

Read Less

GOP Puts Principle Ahead of Politics and Backs President

According to the New York Times,

the House of Representatives agreed on Tuesday to provide $37 billion to continue financing America’s two wars, but the vote showed deepening divisions and anxiety among Democrats over the course of the nearly nine-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. The 308-to-114 vote, with strong Republican support, came after the leak of an archive of classified battlefield reports from Afghanistan that fueled new debate over the course of the war and whether President Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy could work.

GOP support was strong indeed: 160 Republicans backed the war spending, while only 12 opposed it. By way of comparison, 148 Democrats backed the war spending, while 102 opposed it.

This is a good opportunity, then, to praise Republicans for standing with a Democratic president during a war that is increasingly unpopular.

I am reminded how, during the Bush years, the situation was very much reversed. Virtually the entire Democratic Party, with very few exceptions, turned hard against the Iraq war (which most of them initially supported). It is one of the most irresponsible and reckless displays we have seen in modern political history.

Democrats’ opposition to Bush and the surge was so intense, their commitment to a particular (defeatist) narrative so strong, and their eagerness to withdraw from Iraq so irresistible that they declared the Petraeus-led surge would not and could not work. It was simply incomprehensible to consider any other possibility.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for example, declared that “this surge is not accomplishing anything” and in April 2007 announced flatly that the Iraq war was “lost.” A young senator from Illinois, on the night President Bush announced the surge, proclaimed, “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” So said Barack Obama. Not to be outdone, Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.”

(I can’t help but point out that a few future Journolisters joined in the Surrender Chorus as well, with Time magazine’s Joe Klein ridiculing “Bush’s futile pipe dream” and the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, having convinced himself that he brought some actual knowledge and expertise to the debate, said he found “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who actually supported the new strategy. “It is not just that they are wrong. . . . It’s that they are completely detached from reality. Their arguments have nothing to do with what is actually happening in Iraq.” The detachment from reality, of course, was found among people like Chait, whose self-declared hatred for Bush caused him to once again look foolish.)

In the case of Afghanistan, GOP and conservative opposition to Obama on domestic polices, which is fierce, has not led them to oppose Obama in his efforts to win the war. The Republican Party is, in this instance, the responsible party, standing with a wartime president in a conflict of enormous significance. With a new commanding general in place and a new counterinsurgency strategy in the very early states of implementation, now is not the time to go wobbly. To its credit, the GOP, unlike the Democratic Party with Iraq, is holding shape.

According to the New York Times,

the House of Representatives agreed on Tuesday to provide $37 billion to continue financing America’s two wars, but the vote showed deepening divisions and anxiety among Democrats over the course of the nearly nine-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. The 308-to-114 vote, with strong Republican support, came after the leak of an archive of classified battlefield reports from Afghanistan that fueled new debate over the course of the war and whether President Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy could work.

GOP support was strong indeed: 160 Republicans backed the war spending, while only 12 opposed it. By way of comparison, 148 Democrats backed the war spending, while 102 opposed it.

This is a good opportunity, then, to praise Republicans for standing with a Democratic president during a war that is increasingly unpopular.

I am reminded how, during the Bush years, the situation was very much reversed. Virtually the entire Democratic Party, with very few exceptions, turned hard against the Iraq war (which most of them initially supported). It is one of the most irresponsible and reckless displays we have seen in modern political history.

Democrats’ opposition to Bush and the surge was so intense, their commitment to a particular (defeatist) narrative so strong, and their eagerness to withdraw from Iraq so irresistible that they declared the Petraeus-led surge would not and could not work. It was simply incomprehensible to consider any other possibility.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for example, declared that “this surge is not accomplishing anything” and in April 2007 announced flatly that the Iraq war was “lost.” A young senator from Illinois, on the night President Bush announced the surge, proclaimed, “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” So said Barack Obama. Not to be outdone, Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.”

(I can’t help but point out that a few future Journolisters joined in the Surrender Chorus as well, with Time magazine’s Joe Klein ridiculing “Bush’s futile pipe dream” and the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, having convinced himself that he brought some actual knowledge and expertise to the debate, said he found “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who actually supported the new strategy. “It is not just that they are wrong. . . . It’s that they are completely detached from reality. Their arguments have nothing to do with what is actually happening in Iraq.” The detachment from reality, of course, was found among people like Chait, whose self-declared hatred for Bush caused him to once again look foolish.)

In the case of Afghanistan, GOP and conservative opposition to Obama on domestic polices, which is fierce, has not led them to oppose Obama in his efforts to win the war. The Republican Party is, in this instance, the responsible party, standing with a wartime president in a conflict of enormous significance. With a new commanding general in place and a new counterinsurgency strategy in the very early states of implementation, now is not the time to go wobbly. To its credit, the GOP, unlike the Democratic Party with Iraq, is holding shape.

Read Less




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