Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tom Davis

In Defense of Labels

Columbia University hosted a “No Labels” conference that John and Byron York have written about. The motto of the No Labels group is “Put the Labels Aside. Do What’s Best for America.” Tom Davis, the former GOP congressman from Virginia, puts it this way: “Labels … get in the way of getting things done.”

Now, I understand people wanting to avoid using labels. For one thing, it advances the impression (which often differs from the reality) that one is independent-minded and unbiased, pragmatic rather than dogmatic, willing to judge issues on the merits and based on reason rather than on rigid ideology. The impression people want to make is obvious: my mind — unlike The Labeled — is a Dogma-Free Zone. No simplistic labels can do justice to the complexity of my beliefs. It’s all quite self-affirming.

What is also at play, I think, is an understandable reaction against hyper-partisanship and the loyalty by some to a political party and ideology that overrides independent thought. Such a mindset is often at war with empirical evidence; any data or circumstances that call into doubt one’s most deeply help convictions have to be ignored, dismissed, or ridiculed. To be in politics is to be a member of a team — and the other side is always wrong. No aspect of its argument can be seen to have merit. We all know people like this — and the truth is that many of us in politics struggle, to one degree or another, with precisely this. The temptation to twist facts and reality to fit into our preconceived notions and theories is quite strong; not many of us resist it as well as we should.

At the same time, there is something to be said in defense of labels — and George Will (not surprisingly) put it as well as anyone when several years ago he wrote:

Particular labels, like everything else, come and go. But there always are various labels because they are useful, even necessary: Politics is a varied business. If a politician’s behavior is not utterly cynical, or mindless, it will have a pattern that is related, at least a bit, to his beliefs. Political actions tend to cluster; so do political actors. Labels describe how particular people generally cluster. … Labels identify classes; but people, by acting, classify themselves.

What one hopes to achieve in politics is to develop a coherent body of thought to help interpret the world. There’s actually quite a lot to be said for having a worldview that helps make sense of unfolding events. To apply a label to oneself (like “conservative” or “liberal”) often means associating with a particular intellectual tradition and with men and women who have thoughtfully and carefully reflected on human nature, society, and the role of government. It matters if your intellectual cast of mind is shaped and informed by Burke or by Rousseau, by Madison or by Marx, by C.S. Lewis or by Ayn Rand. And so it’s only natural that in politics, people, upon reflecting on certain basic questions, would coalesce around certain parties and certain labels.

Pace Tom Davis, then, labels don’t always get in the way of getting things done. Political labels, like political parties, can serve a useful purpose. And I for one would argue that allowing certain intellectual traditions (like conservatism) to inform our current political debates is doing what’s best for America.

A final warning to those who find themselves attracted to promise of a world without labels: No Labels can easily transmute into No Convictions — and politics without convictions, uninformed by deep principles and the best that has been thought and written, becomes simply a power game. And that world is even worse than a world with labels.

Columbia University hosted a “No Labels” conference that John and Byron York have written about. The motto of the No Labels group is “Put the Labels Aside. Do What’s Best for America.” Tom Davis, the former GOP congressman from Virginia, puts it this way: “Labels … get in the way of getting things done.”

Now, I understand people wanting to avoid using labels. For one thing, it advances the impression (which often differs from the reality) that one is independent-minded and unbiased, pragmatic rather than dogmatic, willing to judge issues on the merits and based on reason rather than on rigid ideology. The impression people want to make is obvious: my mind — unlike The Labeled — is a Dogma-Free Zone. No simplistic labels can do justice to the complexity of my beliefs. It’s all quite self-affirming.

What is also at play, I think, is an understandable reaction against hyper-partisanship and the loyalty by some to a political party and ideology that overrides independent thought. Such a mindset is often at war with empirical evidence; any data or circumstances that call into doubt one’s most deeply help convictions have to be ignored, dismissed, or ridiculed. To be in politics is to be a member of a team — and the other side is always wrong. No aspect of its argument can be seen to have merit. We all know people like this — and the truth is that many of us in politics struggle, to one degree or another, with precisely this. The temptation to twist facts and reality to fit into our preconceived notions and theories is quite strong; not many of us resist it as well as we should.

At the same time, there is something to be said in defense of labels — and George Will (not surprisingly) put it as well as anyone when several years ago he wrote:

Particular labels, like everything else, come and go. But there always are various labels because they are useful, even necessary: Politics is a varied business. If a politician’s behavior is not utterly cynical, or mindless, it will have a pattern that is related, at least a bit, to his beliefs. Political actions tend to cluster; so do political actors. Labels describe how particular people generally cluster. … Labels identify classes; but people, by acting, classify themselves.

What one hopes to achieve in politics is to develop a coherent body of thought to help interpret the world. There’s actually quite a lot to be said for having a worldview that helps make sense of unfolding events. To apply a label to oneself (like “conservative” or “liberal”) often means associating with a particular intellectual tradition and with men and women who have thoughtfully and carefully reflected on human nature, society, and the role of government. It matters if your intellectual cast of mind is shaped and informed by Burke or by Rousseau, by Madison or by Marx, by C.S. Lewis or by Ayn Rand. And so it’s only natural that in politics, people, upon reflecting on certain basic questions, would coalesce around certain parties and certain labels.

Pace Tom Davis, then, labels don’t always get in the way of getting things done. Political labels, like political parties, can serve a useful purpose. And I for one would argue that allowing certain intellectual traditions (like conservatism) to inform our current political debates is doing what’s best for America.

A final warning to those who find themselves attracted to promise of a world without labels: No Labels can easily transmute into No Convictions — and politics without convictions, uninformed by deep principles and the best that has been thought and written, becomes simply a power game. And that world is even worse than a world with labels.

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No Labels? No Viewers.

Today marks the announcement of the new crusade called No Labels, which is about … well, it’s hard to say what it’s about, except that there’s too much partisanship and polarization and we need to work together to get things done. Various politicians (L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa, N.Y. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former GOP Rep. Tom Davis, and, of course, Michael Bloomberg) are speaking about moving the country forward by finding common ground without vilification.

Do they mean things like … the Iraq war, for which half the Democratic caucus in the Senate voted in 2002? Or the No Child Left Behind Act, probably the most bipartisan piece of legislation of our generation, back in 2001? Or … the TARP bailout in 2008, which had bipartisan support as well? Those votes, and the policies that followed from them, have really done a lot to advance the cause of bipartisanship, no?

Anyway, I’m watching the No Labels webcast. And guess what? At this very moment, as I type, a grand total of 508 people are watching the webcast.

Today marks the announcement of the new crusade called No Labels, which is about … well, it’s hard to say what it’s about, except that there’s too much partisanship and polarization and we need to work together to get things done. Various politicians (L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa, N.Y. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former GOP Rep. Tom Davis, and, of course, Michael Bloomberg) are speaking about moving the country forward by finding common ground without vilification.

Do they mean things like … the Iraq war, for which half the Democratic caucus in the Senate voted in 2002? Or the No Child Left Behind Act, probably the most bipartisan piece of legislation of our generation, back in 2001? Or … the TARP bailout in 2008, which had bipartisan support as well? Those votes, and the policies that followed from them, have really done a lot to advance the cause of bipartisanship, no?

Anyway, I’m watching the No Labels webcast. And guess what? At this very moment, as I type, a grand total of 508 people are watching the webcast.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Stu Rothenberg doesn’t think much of the Dems’ Chamber of Commerce gambit: “This is what we call the political version of ‘jumping the shark’ — a desperate-looking charge that a campaign or a party hopes could be a game-changer. It’s pretty early for Democrats to jump the shark, and you have to wonder whether this is really the best shot they have in their arsenal. Yes, it might get some folks agitated, but not many. And it reeks of desperation.”

Voters don’t think much of it either: “Election Day is just two weeks away, and Republican candidates hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, October 17, 2010. … Even more worrisome for Democrats, however, is the finding that among the voters who are most closely following the midterm elections Republicans hold a 55% to 36% lead.”

CNN voters don’t think much of the Parker-Spitzer show, and Vic Matus thinks even less of Spitzer’s likening himself to Icarus: “Putz. He doesn’t even know the quotation. …It ends, ‘… they first make mad.’ As in insane. Which is precisely the case with Spitzer. … Sorry. I knew Icarus—Icarus was a friend of mine. Eliot Spitzer is no Icarus.”

Charles Lane doesn’t think much of Democrats’ excessive dependence on public-employee unions. “But in an era of increasing discontent over taxes, government spending and the perks of government employees, these are not necessarily the allies you want to have. A party that depends on the public employees to get elected will have trouble reaching out to the wider electorate — i.e., the people who pay the taxes that support public employee salaries and pensions. In politics, you never want to find yourself beholden to a minority whose core interests often clash with the interests of voters.”

Josh Rogin doesn’t think much of Jon Stewart’s claim that Sen. Tom Coburn is holding up aid to Haiti. “The problem is that Coburn’s hold is not responsible for delaying the $1.15 billion Congress already appropriated in late July to help Haiti. … Even the State Department acknowledges that Coburn is not responsible for the delay in this tranche of funds for Haiti.”

ABC doesn’t think much of Dems’ chances of holding the House majority: “In the House, many key House races have seen some tightening, but it’s not enough to make Democrats feel all that much better. Democrats have 63 seats in serious danger compared to just four for Republicans.”

Anyone who lives in the VA-11 (like me!) doesn’t think much of Marc Ambinder’s spin that Rep. Gerry Connolly “knows this district inside and out.” If he did, he would have maintained a moderate voting record like his predecessor Tom Davis, instead of rubber-stamping the Obama agenda and putting his seat at risk.

The liberal JTA doesn’t think much of Howard Berman’s claim that Mark Kirk didn’t have anything to do with the Iran-sanctions bill: “Kirk gets this one, I think, on points — as the Sun Times notes, Berman thanked [co-sponsor Rep. Rob] Andrews for his work, a hint that the bill he and Kirk shaped played a role in the final bill. So did AIPAC when the bill passed. And, the sanctions are pretty much identical.”

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee doesn’t think much of its party’s chances in at least five races. A fundraising appeal, Ben Smith explains, “seems to concede what many on both sides now see as nearly done: Five open GOP-held seats, in Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida, and Kansas, have slipped pretty near out of reach.”

Stu Rothenberg doesn’t think much of the Dems’ Chamber of Commerce gambit: “This is what we call the political version of ‘jumping the shark’ — a desperate-looking charge that a campaign or a party hopes could be a game-changer. It’s pretty early for Democrats to jump the shark, and you have to wonder whether this is really the best shot they have in their arsenal. Yes, it might get some folks agitated, but not many. And it reeks of desperation.”

Voters don’t think much of it either: “Election Day is just two weeks away, and Republican candidates hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, October 17, 2010. … Even more worrisome for Democrats, however, is the finding that among the voters who are most closely following the midterm elections Republicans hold a 55% to 36% lead.”

CNN voters don’t think much of the Parker-Spitzer show, and Vic Matus thinks even less of Spitzer’s likening himself to Icarus: “Putz. He doesn’t even know the quotation. …It ends, ‘… they first make mad.’ As in insane. Which is precisely the case with Spitzer. … Sorry. I knew Icarus—Icarus was a friend of mine. Eliot Spitzer is no Icarus.”

Charles Lane doesn’t think much of Democrats’ excessive dependence on public-employee unions. “But in an era of increasing discontent over taxes, government spending and the perks of government employees, these are not necessarily the allies you want to have. A party that depends on the public employees to get elected will have trouble reaching out to the wider electorate — i.e., the people who pay the taxes that support public employee salaries and pensions. In politics, you never want to find yourself beholden to a minority whose core interests often clash with the interests of voters.”

Josh Rogin doesn’t think much of Jon Stewart’s claim that Sen. Tom Coburn is holding up aid to Haiti. “The problem is that Coburn’s hold is not responsible for delaying the $1.15 billion Congress already appropriated in late July to help Haiti. … Even the State Department acknowledges that Coburn is not responsible for the delay in this tranche of funds for Haiti.”

ABC doesn’t think much of Dems’ chances of holding the House majority: “In the House, many key House races have seen some tightening, but it’s not enough to make Democrats feel all that much better. Democrats have 63 seats in serious danger compared to just four for Republicans.”

Anyone who lives in the VA-11 (like me!) doesn’t think much of Marc Ambinder’s spin that Rep. Gerry Connolly “knows this district inside and out.” If he did, he would have maintained a moderate voting record like his predecessor Tom Davis, instead of rubber-stamping the Obama agenda and putting his seat at risk.

The liberal JTA doesn’t think much of Howard Berman’s claim that Mark Kirk didn’t have anything to do with the Iran-sanctions bill: “Kirk gets this one, I think, on points — as the Sun Times notes, Berman thanked [co-sponsor Rep. Rob] Andrews for his work, a hint that the bill he and Kirk shaped played a role in the final bill. So did AIPAC when the bill passed. And, the sanctions are pretty much identical.”

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee doesn’t think much of its party’s chances in at least five races. A fundraising appeal, Ben Smith explains, “seems to concede what many on both sides now see as nearly done: Five open GOP-held seats, in Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida, and Kansas, have slipped pretty near out of reach.”

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Trouble in VA-11

My congressman in the Virginia 11th district, Gerry Connolly, is having a tough time with the White House. TPM reports:

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) told TPM pointedly he wants at least a temporary extension, saying that he’s on the same page as former OMB director Peter Orszag. He said it “could do some harm” if the tax rates go up when the tax cuts expire as scheduled.

I told Connolly that the White House cited his support for extending the cuts temporarily as a wrinkle in their big plans. “They said that? I sure don’t want to complicate anything for anybody,” he told me.

He added, “A strong majority of the caucus is of the point of view to keep them for $250,000 and under, and they will stay there. Ours is the minority view, even though we’re gaining some.”

Connolly is in a jam. He’s blindly followed Obama on his leftward quest, eschewing the middle-of-the-road and pro-business line that kept Republican Tom Davis in office for 14 years. Now he is struggling with his leadership and the White House, which seems to think it’s not all that important that the Democrats hang on in VA-11.

What is Connolly’s message now — “I have no influence with my far-left leaders, but my heart is in the right place?” And what’s his excuse for not fighting them on cap-and-trade, the stimulus plan, and ObamaCare? You can see why the district is in play.

My congressman in the Virginia 11th district, Gerry Connolly, is having a tough time with the White House. TPM reports:

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) told TPM pointedly he wants at least a temporary extension, saying that he’s on the same page as former OMB director Peter Orszag. He said it “could do some harm” if the tax rates go up when the tax cuts expire as scheduled.

I told Connolly that the White House cited his support for extending the cuts temporarily as a wrinkle in their big plans. “They said that? I sure don’t want to complicate anything for anybody,” he told me.

He added, “A strong majority of the caucus is of the point of view to keep them for $250,000 and under, and they will stay there. Ours is the minority view, even though we’re gaining some.”

Connolly is in a jam. He’s blindly followed Obama on his leftward quest, eschewing the middle-of-the-road and pro-business line that kept Republican Tom Davis in office for 14 years. Now he is struggling with his leadership and the White House, which seems to think it’s not all that important that the Democrats hang on in VA-11.

What is Connolly’s message now — “I have no influence with my far-left leaders, but my heart is in the right place?” And what’s his excuse for not fighting them on cap-and-trade, the stimulus plan, and ObamaCare? You can see why the district is in play.

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RE: Virginia’s 11th

If you needed any reminder of the Washington Post‘s egregious cheerleading for Democrats in Virginia (which results in comical reporting and flawed analysis, as Gov. Bob McDonnell, a survivor of Post-attack syndrome, can attest), along comes this take on the contest in Virginia’s 11th:

The 11th District’s recent history suggests it is favorable to centrists. [Gerry] Connolly and his predecessor, GOP Rep. Tom Davis, lean toward the middle ideologically, and Connolly beat [Keith] Fimian in 2008 partly by arguing that the Republican was too conservative. Without explicitly calling himself a moderate, Herrity said he was the only Republican who could beat Connolly. Many national party strategists privately agreed with that assessment, although some worried about the effectiveness of [Pat] Herrity’s campaign. On Tuesday, Herrity barely scratched out a win in his home base of Fairfax County and lost by a huge margin in Prince William County.

Let’s count the ways in which this is ridiculous and misleading to voters. First, the key problem for Connolly, which the Post conceals, is that he has departed from Tom Davis’s moderate approach and aligned himself with Nancy Pelosi and the president on taxes, health care, cap-and-trade, and spending. But the Post has its narrative — Fimian is too extreme, Connolly is suited to the district — and it is not going to let facts get in the way. Second, which national party strategists are we talking about? None are named. The ones I’ve talked to knew all along that Herrity was a weak candidate, unimpressive on the stump, and unlikely to fire up the troops. That’s why Eric Cantor, among others, endorsed Fimian.

This is just one more example of why the Post‘s Virginia political reporting is routinely ignored by readers and politicians alike.

If you needed any reminder of the Washington Post‘s egregious cheerleading for Democrats in Virginia (which results in comical reporting and flawed analysis, as Gov. Bob McDonnell, a survivor of Post-attack syndrome, can attest), along comes this take on the contest in Virginia’s 11th:

The 11th District’s recent history suggests it is favorable to centrists. [Gerry] Connolly and his predecessor, GOP Rep. Tom Davis, lean toward the middle ideologically, and Connolly beat [Keith] Fimian in 2008 partly by arguing that the Republican was too conservative. Without explicitly calling himself a moderate, Herrity said he was the only Republican who could beat Connolly. Many national party strategists privately agreed with that assessment, although some worried about the effectiveness of [Pat] Herrity’s campaign. On Tuesday, Herrity barely scratched out a win in his home base of Fairfax County and lost by a huge margin in Prince William County.

Let’s count the ways in which this is ridiculous and misleading to voters. First, the key problem for Connolly, which the Post conceals, is that he has departed from Tom Davis’s moderate approach and aligned himself with Nancy Pelosi and the president on taxes, health care, cap-and-trade, and spending. But the Post has its narrative — Fimian is too extreme, Connolly is suited to the district — and it is not going to let facts get in the way. Second, which national party strategists are we talking about? None are named. The ones I’ve talked to knew all along that Herrity was a weak candidate, unimpressive on the stump, and unlikely to fire up the troops. That’s why Eric Cantor, among others, endorsed Fimian.

This is just one more example of why the Post‘s Virginia political reporting is routinely ignored by readers and politicians alike.

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Rubber-Stamping Obama’s Agenda Can Be Hazardous to Democrats

This report on the prospects for Republicans’ gains in the House in suburban districts features my home district, the 11th in northern Virginia. Represented for years by moderate Republican Tom Davis, Gerry Connolly now occupies the seat. He’s brimming with confidence — sort of:

Rep. Gerry Connolly, a liberal Democrat who won the seat by a wide margin in 2008, agrees—up to a point. “Seeing it go Republican again would be big,” he said, before adding, “I don’t expect that to happen.”

But unlike his immediate predecessor, who hewed a moderate line and often confounded the conservative base, Connolly has been a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi and the Obama agenda. And his constituents are none too pleased. At a health-care town hall, they vented their frustration:

He touted the hundreds of millions he had won for his district to expand its congested highways and intersections. He defended the president’s stimulus package, noting that $77 million was going to help build a rail line to Dulles Airport, which lies partly in Fairfax County.

He then gave a detailed defense of the health bill. “I voted for it and am proud to have voted for it,” he said.

What followed was a barrage of negative comments and questions on health care. Did he really read the whole bill? Why is my doctor now telling me that he’ll check my pacemaker only four times a year instead of monthly? What in the Constitution gives you the power to demand people pay for health insurance?

Mr. Connolly cut off questioning after 20 minutes, saying he has to get home to his wife. A knot of constituents gathered to shake his hand and to invite him to various events. One asked about his daughter, who’s now in college.

Outside, he waved off the hostility. “Yeah, they were critical in there,” he said. “But I’ve known these folks for years. You saw how they were asking about my daughter. I’ll win this precinct.”

Perhaps. Or maybe the voter was being polite. The two Republicans vying to oppose Connolly have figured out his weak spot: he’s gone far left in a moderate district. (“‘He’s been acting as Nancy Pelosi’s personal lieutenant,’ Mr. [Pat] Herrity said to a chorus of boos, speaking one morning to several hundred party faithful in the gym of West Springfield High School. ‘I call him Gerry Pelosi.’”) Keith Fimian is focusing on the deficit that the Democrats have piled up, accusing them of “preparing for the next generation a life of servitude and mediocrity.”

It is noteworthy that Obama crushed John McCain in 2008 in Fairfax County, winning by more than 20 points. But it is a different story now. Bob McDonnell won the county in the 2009 gubernatorial race. It seems that the voters have gotten a good look at Obamaism and don’t like what they see. Connolly — like Obama — took a risk that voters had moved left and would welcome a huge  expansion of federal power and shrug off the taxes to pay for it. We’ll find out in November if that was a smart bet.

This report on the prospects for Republicans’ gains in the House in suburban districts features my home district, the 11th in northern Virginia. Represented for years by moderate Republican Tom Davis, Gerry Connolly now occupies the seat. He’s brimming with confidence — sort of:

Rep. Gerry Connolly, a liberal Democrat who won the seat by a wide margin in 2008, agrees—up to a point. “Seeing it go Republican again would be big,” he said, before adding, “I don’t expect that to happen.”

But unlike his immediate predecessor, who hewed a moderate line and often confounded the conservative base, Connolly has been a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi and the Obama agenda. And his constituents are none too pleased. At a health-care town hall, they vented their frustration:

He touted the hundreds of millions he had won for his district to expand its congested highways and intersections. He defended the president’s stimulus package, noting that $77 million was going to help build a rail line to Dulles Airport, which lies partly in Fairfax County.

He then gave a detailed defense of the health bill. “I voted for it and am proud to have voted for it,” he said.

What followed was a barrage of negative comments and questions on health care. Did he really read the whole bill? Why is my doctor now telling me that he’ll check my pacemaker only four times a year instead of monthly? What in the Constitution gives you the power to demand people pay for health insurance?

Mr. Connolly cut off questioning after 20 minutes, saying he has to get home to his wife. A knot of constituents gathered to shake his hand and to invite him to various events. One asked about his daughter, who’s now in college.

Outside, he waved off the hostility. “Yeah, they were critical in there,” he said. “But I’ve known these folks for years. You saw how they were asking about my daughter. I’ll win this precinct.”

Perhaps. Or maybe the voter was being polite. The two Republicans vying to oppose Connolly have figured out his weak spot: he’s gone far left in a moderate district. (“‘He’s been acting as Nancy Pelosi’s personal lieutenant,’ Mr. [Pat] Herrity said to a chorus of boos, speaking one morning to several hundred party faithful in the gym of West Springfield High School. ‘I call him Gerry Pelosi.’”) Keith Fimian is focusing on the deficit that the Democrats have piled up, accusing them of “preparing for the next generation a life of servitude and mediocrity.”

It is noteworthy that Obama crushed John McCain in 2008 in Fairfax County, winning by more than 20 points. But it is a different story now. Bob McDonnell won the county in the 2009 gubernatorial race. It seems that the voters have gotten a good look at Obamaism and don’t like what they see. Connolly — like Obama — took a risk that voters had moved left and would welcome a huge  expansion of federal power and shrug off the taxes to pay for it. We’ll find out in November if that was a smart bet.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama could use an “intervention,” says Noemie Emery. “Denial is a river that runs through the White House, where the denizens are in the grip of two major delusions: One, that the country really wants really expensive big government, and two, that Obama is ‘sort of like God.’ Since early last spring, they’ve been waging a fight with the reality principle, convincing themselves (and fewer and fewer in the larger political universe) that in the very next speech, Obama will recapture that old campaign magic. If people don’t like what they’re doing, the way to regain and to hold their affection was to give them much more of the same.”

Obama could use a change of topic. ObamaCare is killing him: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Wednesday shows that 22% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-three percent (43%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -21. That matches the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President.”

Nancy Pelosi could use some votes. “Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s task of securing 216 votes for passage is only getting more difficult. Several members who voted against the legislation when it was first before the House in Nov. told Hotline OnCall [Tuesday] they would vote against the measure again, trimming the number of Dems who might be persuaded to make up the difference.”

The Democrats could use some esprit de corps (or a marriage counselor): “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to stop assigning deadlines to Congress for finishing the health care reform bill. In a House-Senate leadership meeting on health care Tuesday, she essentially told Emanuel to ‘cool it,’ according to one Hill Democratic aide — an account confirmed by a second aide.”

We could all use less Glenn Beck and Eric Massa.

We could use more forthrightness about our feeble Iran policy. AIPAC steps up to the plate with a rare public letter expressing “outrage at the U.S. government’s continuing relationship with dozens of companies doing business with Iran. These ongoing financial dealings undermine longstanding American efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.” Great. Now where’s the letter on the Obama administration’s pathetic effort to wriggle out of its promise to impose crippling sanctions?

The Democrats could use a break from the bad news in Virginia (which Bob McDonnell swept in a landslide in November): “Fairfax County businessman Keith Fimian, who unsuccessfully ran against former County Board chairman Gerry Connolly for the congressional seat of retiring Republican congressman Tom Davis, has just released a poll giving him a five-point lead over Connolly, the president of the Democrats’ 2008 freshman class. … Pollsters found voters in a strong ‘very anti-incumbent’ mood, with two-thirds (65 percent) saying they believe Washington is on the wrong track. And they’re blaming Congress in general — and Connolly in particular — for the mess.”

Democrats could use more enthusiasm, says Jonathan Chait: “Democrats face an enormous problem here. The electorate that shows up in November could be far more Republican than the electorate as a whole. In these circumstances, it seems like the party’s number one imperative has to be shoring up the base and giving its voters a reason to go to the polls in November.” His solution: pass ObamaCare! Which, of course, will only fire up conservatives even more.

Charlie Crist could use an exit plan. “Former House Speaker Marco Rubio’s stunning early lead in Florida’s Republican U.S. Senate race was confirmed today by an Insider Advantage/Florida Times-Union poll that shows him leading Gov. Charlie Crist by 34 points among likely voters in August’s primary.”

Obama could use an “intervention,” says Noemie Emery. “Denial is a river that runs through the White House, where the denizens are in the grip of two major delusions: One, that the country really wants really expensive big government, and two, that Obama is ‘sort of like God.’ Since early last spring, they’ve been waging a fight with the reality principle, convincing themselves (and fewer and fewer in the larger political universe) that in the very next speech, Obama will recapture that old campaign magic. If people don’t like what they’re doing, the way to regain and to hold their affection was to give them much more of the same.”

Obama could use a change of topic. ObamaCare is killing him: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Wednesday shows that 22% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-three percent (43%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -21. That matches the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President.”

Nancy Pelosi could use some votes. “Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s task of securing 216 votes for passage is only getting more difficult. Several members who voted against the legislation when it was first before the House in Nov. told Hotline OnCall [Tuesday] they would vote against the measure again, trimming the number of Dems who might be persuaded to make up the difference.”

The Democrats could use some esprit de corps (or a marriage counselor): “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to stop assigning deadlines to Congress for finishing the health care reform bill. In a House-Senate leadership meeting on health care Tuesday, she essentially told Emanuel to ‘cool it,’ according to one Hill Democratic aide — an account confirmed by a second aide.”

We could all use less Glenn Beck and Eric Massa.

We could use more forthrightness about our feeble Iran policy. AIPAC steps up to the plate with a rare public letter expressing “outrage at the U.S. government’s continuing relationship with dozens of companies doing business with Iran. These ongoing financial dealings undermine longstanding American efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.” Great. Now where’s the letter on the Obama administration’s pathetic effort to wriggle out of its promise to impose crippling sanctions?

The Democrats could use a break from the bad news in Virginia (which Bob McDonnell swept in a landslide in November): “Fairfax County businessman Keith Fimian, who unsuccessfully ran against former County Board chairman Gerry Connolly for the congressional seat of retiring Republican congressman Tom Davis, has just released a poll giving him a five-point lead over Connolly, the president of the Democrats’ 2008 freshman class. … Pollsters found voters in a strong ‘very anti-incumbent’ mood, with two-thirds (65 percent) saying they believe Washington is on the wrong track. And they’re blaming Congress in general — and Connolly in particular — for the mess.”

Democrats could use more enthusiasm, says Jonathan Chait: “Democrats face an enormous problem here. The electorate that shows up in November could be far more Republican than the electorate as a whole. In these circumstances, it seems like the party’s number one imperative has to be shoring up the base and giving its voters a reason to go to the polls in November.” His solution: pass ObamaCare! Which, of course, will only fire up conservatives even more.

Charlie Crist could use an exit plan. “Former House Speaker Marco Rubio’s stunning early lead in Florida’s Republican U.S. Senate race was confirmed today by an Insider Advantage/Florida Times-Union poll that shows him leading Gov. Charlie Crist by 34 points among likely voters in August’s primary.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not a report the Obami want to read: “The Fed said the unemployment rate this year could hover between 9.5 percent and 9.7 percent and between 8.2 percent and 8.5 percent next year. By 2012, the rate will range between 6.6 percent and 7.5 percent, it predicted. Those forecasts are little changed from projections the Fed released in late November. But they suggest unemployment will remain elevated heading into this year’s congressional elections and the presidential election in 2012. A more normal unemployment rate would be between 5.5 percent and 6 percent.”

Not a poll they want to see: “Just 28% of U.S. voters say the country is heading in the right direction, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. This marks the lowest level of voter confidence in the nation’s current course since one year ago and appears to signal the end of a slight burst of confidence at the first of this year.”

Not a view they want to hear (from Victor Davis Hanson): “Given that the people apparently don’t want bigger deficits, more stimulus, statist health care, cap and trade, or ‘comprehensive’ immigration reform, and given that the most influential members of the Obama administration think the people either do or should want those things, we are apparently left with blaming George Bush, or self-righteously blaming the people for their stupidity, selfishness, brainwashing, or racism. Yet all of those assumptions only exacerbate the problem, and if continually voiced will turn a mid-term correction into an abject disaster for Democrats.”

Not a prediction they want to consider: “If the midterm election was held tomorrow, Republicans would retake control of Congress, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said Wednesday. … Voters are angry about the economy and the Democrats’ infighting in Congress, Greenberg said. ‘Right now they are just interested in punishing Democrats for not getting the job done, and in some cases getting it done badly. They [are] relishing an opportunity to bloody the Democrats.’”

James Capretta doesn’t think much of the debt commission. For starters, ObamaCare is still on the table. (“The primary reason for long-term budgetary imbalance is out-of-control spending on health-care entitlements. And so what would the Democratic health-care bills do? Stand up another runaway health-care entitlement, of course.”) Moreover, the “fundamental problem here is lack of presidential leadership. If the president thinks the long-term budget outlook is a serious threat to economic prosperity, he needs to do more than talk about it and punt the solution to a commission.”

Former GOP congressman and election statistical guru Tom Davis says there is a potential for four Republican House seat pickups in his home state of Virginia: “He noted that an internal poll in his old congressional district shows Connolly running neck-and-neck with Republican Pat Herrity, a Fairfax County supervisor, one of the leading candidates to win the GOP nomination. Davis also pointed to Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) as an enticing target, asserting that he put his seat in play by supporting a cap-and-trade energy bill that is highly unpopular with constituents in his coal-producing district.”

Zachery Kouwe resigns from the New York Times in a plagiarism scandal. Maureen Dowd keeps chugging along.

Democratic senatorial campaign committee chairman Bob Menendez is getting blamed for the Democrats’ tailspin. But is it really his fault? Well, “no one claims Menendez is entirely to blame for Martha Coakley’s humiliating defeat in Massachusetts, the retirements of Bayh and North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan and Beau Biden’s decision to skip the Delaware Senate race. They cite any number of external factors that have dimmed the party’s prospects: the tanking popularity of President Barack Obama and his policies, the inevitability of Democratic letdown after four years of historic successes and, above all, the lousy economy.” But he’s going to get slammed because the alternative is blaming Obama.

Not a report the Obami want to read: “The Fed said the unemployment rate this year could hover between 9.5 percent and 9.7 percent and between 8.2 percent and 8.5 percent next year. By 2012, the rate will range between 6.6 percent and 7.5 percent, it predicted. Those forecasts are little changed from projections the Fed released in late November. But they suggest unemployment will remain elevated heading into this year’s congressional elections and the presidential election in 2012. A more normal unemployment rate would be between 5.5 percent and 6 percent.”

Not a poll they want to see: “Just 28% of U.S. voters say the country is heading in the right direction, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. This marks the lowest level of voter confidence in the nation’s current course since one year ago and appears to signal the end of a slight burst of confidence at the first of this year.”

Not a view they want to hear (from Victor Davis Hanson): “Given that the people apparently don’t want bigger deficits, more stimulus, statist health care, cap and trade, or ‘comprehensive’ immigration reform, and given that the most influential members of the Obama administration think the people either do or should want those things, we are apparently left with blaming George Bush, or self-righteously blaming the people for their stupidity, selfishness, brainwashing, or racism. Yet all of those assumptions only exacerbate the problem, and if continually voiced will turn a mid-term correction into an abject disaster for Democrats.”

Not a prediction they want to consider: “If the midterm election was held tomorrow, Republicans would retake control of Congress, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said Wednesday. … Voters are angry about the economy and the Democrats’ infighting in Congress, Greenberg said. ‘Right now they are just interested in punishing Democrats for not getting the job done, and in some cases getting it done badly. They [are] relishing an opportunity to bloody the Democrats.’”

James Capretta doesn’t think much of the debt commission. For starters, ObamaCare is still on the table. (“The primary reason for long-term budgetary imbalance is out-of-control spending on health-care entitlements. And so what would the Democratic health-care bills do? Stand up another runaway health-care entitlement, of course.”) Moreover, the “fundamental problem here is lack of presidential leadership. If the president thinks the long-term budget outlook is a serious threat to economic prosperity, he needs to do more than talk about it and punt the solution to a commission.”

Former GOP congressman and election statistical guru Tom Davis says there is a potential for four Republican House seat pickups in his home state of Virginia: “He noted that an internal poll in his old congressional district shows Connolly running neck-and-neck with Republican Pat Herrity, a Fairfax County supervisor, one of the leading candidates to win the GOP nomination. Davis also pointed to Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) as an enticing target, asserting that he put his seat in play by supporting a cap-and-trade energy bill that is highly unpopular with constituents in his coal-producing district.”

Zachery Kouwe resigns from the New York Times in a plagiarism scandal. Maureen Dowd keeps chugging along.

Democratic senatorial campaign committee chairman Bob Menendez is getting blamed for the Democrats’ tailspin. But is it really his fault? Well, “no one claims Menendez is entirely to blame for Martha Coakley’s humiliating defeat in Massachusetts, the retirements of Bayh and North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan and Beau Biden’s decision to skip the Delaware Senate race. They cite any number of external factors that have dimmed the party’s prospects: the tanking popularity of President Barack Obama and his policies, the inevitability of Democratic letdown after four years of historic successes and, above all, the lousy economy.” But he’s going to get slammed because the alternative is blaming Obama.

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Northern Virginia Up for Grabs

Virginia continues to surprise Democrats and the elite media. This week a special election was held to fill the state Senate seat in Fairfax County vacated by conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who was elected as the state attorney general. The Democrat won but by only a few hundred votes. Lee Hockstader of the Washington Post — not known to make excuses for the GOP — explained that the Democrat was a “well respected, two-term member of the House of Delegates who is universally acknowledged as one of the state’s leading experts on juvenile justice, incarceration and rehabilitation,” while the Republican “served a single term on the Fairfax School Board before being unceremoniously turned out of office.” The result should give Democrats pause:

This is a no-brainer. [Democrat Dave] Marsden should’ve cleaned up. Instead, he won by scarcely 1 percent of the 23,600 votes cast. His margin of victory came from a 2-1 edge among the state’s 1,200 absentee voters, a constituency GOP officials somehow overlooked. All 40 seats in the state Senate will be up for grabs next November. Be afraid, Virginia Democrats, be very afraid.

But before we get to another round of state races, we have this year’s congressional contests. Gerry Connolly, a first-term congressman in the 11th district and former Fairfax County supervisor who replaced longtime and very popular Tom Davis, should be “very afraid” as well. Two Republicans — Fairfax county supervisor Pat Herrity and businessman Keith Fimian (who lost to Connolly in 2008 by a 54 to 43 percent margin, considerably ahead of John McCain, who lost to Obama by a 60 to 39 percent margin in the county) — are vying to challenge him.

Since coming to the Hill, Connolly has eschewed the model of his predecessor, a moderate, pro-business Republican who remained popular in his district even when Republican fortunes flagged. Instead, Connolly has voted down the line with Nancy Pelosi and Obama on the left-wing agenda. His votes on cap-and-trade and especially ObamaCare (which will hit his constituents with a bevy of new taxes) will certainly be under attack. Connolly has reason to be nervous: Bob McDonnell shocked Virginia politicos, who had come to see Fairfax as drifting further and further into the Blue, by carrying the county 51 to 49 percent, running against the very Obama agenda items Connolly has supported.

In a year in which Massachusetts is competitive, northern Virginia certainly will be — especially if Republicans can make the case that incumbent Democrats have lost faith with their more moderate voters.

Virginia continues to surprise Democrats and the elite media. This week a special election was held to fill the state Senate seat in Fairfax County vacated by conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who was elected as the state attorney general. The Democrat won but by only a few hundred votes. Lee Hockstader of the Washington Post — not known to make excuses for the GOP — explained that the Democrat was a “well respected, two-term member of the House of Delegates who is universally acknowledged as one of the state’s leading experts on juvenile justice, incarceration and rehabilitation,” while the Republican “served a single term on the Fairfax School Board before being unceremoniously turned out of office.” The result should give Democrats pause:

This is a no-brainer. [Democrat Dave] Marsden should’ve cleaned up. Instead, he won by scarcely 1 percent of the 23,600 votes cast. His margin of victory came from a 2-1 edge among the state’s 1,200 absentee voters, a constituency GOP officials somehow overlooked. All 40 seats in the state Senate will be up for grabs next November. Be afraid, Virginia Democrats, be very afraid.

But before we get to another round of state races, we have this year’s congressional contests. Gerry Connolly, a first-term congressman in the 11th district and former Fairfax County supervisor who replaced longtime and very popular Tom Davis, should be “very afraid” as well. Two Republicans — Fairfax county supervisor Pat Herrity and businessman Keith Fimian (who lost to Connolly in 2008 by a 54 to 43 percent margin, considerably ahead of John McCain, who lost to Obama by a 60 to 39 percent margin in the county) — are vying to challenge him.

Since coming to the Hill, Connolly has eschewed the model of his predecessor, a moderate, pro-business Republican who remained popular in his district even when Republican fortunes flagged. Instead, Connolly has voted down the line with Nancy Pelosi and Obama on the left-wing agenda. His votes on cap-and-trade and especially ObamaCare (which will hit his constituents with a bevy of new taxes) will certainly be under attack. Connolly has reason to be nervous: Bob McDonnell shocked Virginia politicos, who had come to see Fairfax as drifting further and further into the Blue, by carrying the county 51 to 49 percent, running against the very Obama agenda items Connolly has supported.

In a year in which Massachusetts is competitive, northern Virginia certainly will be — especially if Republicans can make the case that incumbent Democrats have lost faith with their more moderate voters.

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Recruitment Is a Leading Indicator

The weekend before the Virginia gubernatorial election, I spoke with former Rep. Tom Davis. Sensing a victory in the offing, he told me that an immediate effect of a big GOP win would be recruiting for 2010. In 1994, a majority of the GOP’s successful recruiting, which enabled the Republicans to regain the House, took place after gubernatorial wins that year in New Jersey and Virginia.

It seems that Davis is right. The GOP victories in Virginia and New Jersey are accelerating a trend that was already well under way. As this report notes:

Several Democratic candidates have decided to drop out of tough races, while Democratic members of Congress who rarely face serious challenges are finding themselves with their toughest re-elections in years. … But in 2010, defense is the name of the game for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is defending several dozens vulnerable freshmen and second-term members, while also protecting veteran members who could find themselves in newfound trouble. It will be a lot more challenging for a first-time candidate running in a tough district to get financial support from the DCCC when the party is worried about defending its own.

Meanwhile, Republican recruiting is turning up challengers to Democrats who haven’t had significant challenges in the past. David Wasserman at Cook Report explains:

This is not to say that highly influential and venerated fixtures such as Reps. Ike Skelton (MO-04), John Spratt (SC-05), Bart Gordon (TN-06), John Tanner (TN-08) and Rick Boucher (VA-09) are goners next year. Their eventual vulnerability is highly dependent on the quality of GOP nominees and the discipline of their “time for change” messages. But if these party elders decide to seek reelection rather than retire, the underlying dynamics of their districts suggest at least several will need to fight to survive.

All this suggests that 2010 is shaping up to be a potential “wave” year in which there are more opportunities for pickups than in a run-of-the-mill year. If we learned anything in the past year, it’s that political prognostication is a dicey business. The GOP is now challenging in places it was considered dead (e.g. New England) and has recaptured momentum on key issues. But much can change, and the Democrats — if they can figure out what to do with it — have the power of incumbency.

The weekend before the Virginia gubernatorial election, I spoke with former Rep. Tom Davis. Sensing a victory in the offing, he told me that an immediate effect of a big GOP win would be recruiting for 2010. In 1994, a majority of the GOP’s successful recruiting, which enabled the Republicans to regain the House, took place after gubernatorial wins that year in New Jersey and Virginia.

It seems that Davis is right. The GOP victories in Virginia and New Jersey are accelerating a trend that was already well under way. As this report notes:

Several Democratic candidates have decided to drop out of tough races, while Democratic members of Congress who rarely face serious challenges are finding themselves with their toughest re-elections in years. … But in 2010, defense is the name of the game for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is defending several dozens vulnerable freshmen and second-term members, while also protecting veteran members who could find themselves in newfound trouble. It will be a lot more challenging for a first-time candidate running in a tough district to get financial support from the DCCC when the party is worried about defending its own.

Meanwhile, Republican recruiting is turning up challengers to Democrats who haven’t had significant challenges in the past. David Wasserman at Cook Report explains:

This is not to say that highly influential and venerated fixtures such as Reps. Ike Skelton (MO-04), John Spratt (SC-05), Bart Gordon (TN-06), John Tanner (TN-08) and Rick Boucher (VA-09) are goners next year. Their eventual vulnerability is highly dependent on the quality of GOP nominees and the discipline of their “time for change” messages. But if these party elders decide to seek reelection rather than retire, the underlying dynamics of their districts suggest at least several will need to fight to survive.

All this suggests that 2010 is shaping up to be a potential “wave” year in which there are more opportunities for pickups than in a run-of-the-mill year. If we learned anything in the past year, it’s that political prognostication is a dicey business. The GOP is now challenging in places it was considered dead (e.g. New England) and has recaptured momentum on key issues. But much can change, and the Democrats — if they can figure out what to do with it — have the power of incumbency.

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