Commentary Magazine


Topic: unpopular President

Money’s Not the Dems’ Problem

The canard that the GOP is going to make off with the election because of Karl Rove or mysterious foreign money is not passing the laugh test. Politico reports:

To hear top Democrats tell it, the party is being wildly outgunned this year in the fight for campaign cash as Republicans rely on outside groups to funnel money to GOP contenders. But the numbers tell a different story. …

So far, the latest figures show that the Democratic Party machinery has outraised its Republican counterpart in this campaign cycle by almost $270 million.

And even when outside spending on television advertising and direct mail is added to the mix, Republicans still haven’t closed the gap. The money race totals come to $856 million for the Democratic committees and their aligned outside groups, compared to $677 for their Republican adversaries, based on figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

In other words, money is the least of the Democrats’ problems. An unpopular president, an objectionable agenda, an arrogant disregard for the views of voters, ObamaCare, and sky-high unemployment (despite the promises that sold the stimulus plan) are all part of the picture. But money? That’s a dog-ate-my-homework excuse that is convincing no one but those doing the spinning (and maybe not even them). As Politico put it:

The argument seems designed to achieve two ends: insulating Democrats from blame that they gave up big losses in the House and Senate a mere two years after President Barack Obama’s historic win, and suggesting that the Republican wins have an unseemly edge, fueled by the secretive groups. “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where – because they won’t disclose it – is pouring in,” Pelosi recounted at a recent fundraiser.

Indeed. And the real danger for the Democrats is that they will fall in love with their own explanation and avoid taking the steps necessary to align themselves with public opinion.

The canard that the GOP is going to make off with the election because of Karl Rove or mysterious foreign money is not passing the laugh test. Politico reports:

To hear top Democrats tell it, the party is being wildly outgunned this year in the fight for campaign cash as Republicans rely on outside groups to funnel money to GOP contenders. But the numbers tell a different story. …

So far, the latest figures show that the Democratic Party machinery has outraised its Republican counterpart in this campaign cycle by almost $270 million.

And even when outside spending on television advertising and direct mail is added to the mix, Republicans still haven’t closed the gap. The money race totals come to $856 million for the Democratic committees and their aligned outside groups, compared to $677 for their Republican adversaries, based on figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

In other words, money is the least of the Democrats’ problems. An unpopular president, an objectionable agenda, an arrogant disregard for the views of voters, ObamaCare, and sky-high unemployment (despite the promises that sold the stimulus plan) are all part of the picture. But money? That’s a dog-ate-my-homework excuse that is convincing no one but those doing the spinning (and maybe not even them). As Politico put it:

The argument seems designed to achieve two ends: insulating Democrats from blame that they gave up big losses in the House and Senate a mere two years after President Barack Obama’s historic win, and suggesting that the Republican wins have an unseemly edge, fueled by the secretive groups. “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where – because they won’t disclose it – is pouring in,” Pelosi recounted at a recent fundraiser.

Indeed. And the real danger for the Democrats is that they will fall in love with their own explanation and avoid taking the steps necessary to align themselves with public opinion.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It took Barack Obama to turn an ex-president into a sleazy “bag man.”

What will it take for the left to break with the anti-Semites, racists, and Israel-bashers? “Democracy for America, the progressive group that grew out of Howard Dean’s campaign for president, is standing by its support for a House candidate who backs a radical single-state solution in the Middle East and suggested in an interview that Jewish Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman should ‘pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.”

Will Obama take this opportunity to dump the witch hunt against CIA interrogators? Stephen Hayes recommends that he should: “The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail. Obama should also insist that the Justice Department aggressively investigate the alleged exposure of CIA officials by lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Photographs of officials were discovered in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi and were reportedly provided by investigators working for the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. John Rizzo, former CIA general counsel and a 30-year intelligence veteran, said that the breach was far graver than the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.”

It took a few weeks of criticism to reveal Peter Beinart’s vile attitudes toward his fellow Jews: Nathan Diament on Beinart’s latest outburst in the Israel-hating the New York Review of Books: “Peter goes way beyond debating substance and drifts into stereotyping and calumny, saying: ‘the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall.’ He also slams Rav Ovadia Yosef and, apparently, anyone else in Israel who, we suppose, doesn’t agree with his view — or that of the editorial board of Ha’aretz — as to precisely what ought to happen.”

It took a year and a half of Obama’s presidency to ruin Blanche Lincoln’s career: “[Arkansas's] larger bloc of conservative Democrats and independents upset over the perception that the incumbent is overly cozy with the unpopular President Obama, the Agriculture Committee chair and Delta farmer’s daughter finds her 18-year congressional career in grave jeopardy.”

It took a determined Jewish mom from Los Angeles to figure out it only took a $15 dollar solar cooker (made of cardboard and aluminum) to help protect “female [Darfur] refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps.” She’s done more for human rights in Darfur — much more — than Obama and his embarrassingly ineffective special envoy have.

Have you noticed that Democrats aren’t so willing to take unpopular stands for this president on national security? “The Senate Armed Services Committee dealt a big setback to President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay when lawmakers stripped funding for a new prison in Illinois to hold the detainees. Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Friday told reporters the committee, in a voice vote, stripped $245 million that would have gone to buy and retrofit the Thomson prison in Illinois.”

Charles Hurt catches Obama taking responsibility for “zilch” at his BP oil-spill press conference: “It was yet another performance of the ‘full responsibility’ flimflam. … President Obama repeatedly took ‘full responsibility’ for the blundering efforts to clog up the geyser of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico coating everything in sight. At the same time, Obama repeatedly denied that his administration was complicit in allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place, slow to realize the devastating nature of it, or ham-handed in the five-week effort to try to stem the toxic tide. In other words, Obama — as he often does — took ‘full responsibility’ for being awesome.”

It took Barack Obama to turn an ex-president into a sleazy “bag man.”

What will it take for the left to break with the anti-Semites, racists, and Israel-bashers? “Democracy for America, the progressive group that grew out of Howard Dean’s campaign for president, is standing by its support for a House candidate who backs a radical single-state solution in the Middle East and suggested in an interview that Jewish Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman should ‘pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.”

Will Obama take this opportunity to dump the witch hunt against CIA interrogators? Stephen Hayes recommends that he should: “The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail. Obama should also insist that the Justice Department aggressively investigate the alleged exposure of CIA officials by lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Photographs of officials were discovered in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi and were reportedly provided by investigators working for the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. John Rizzo, former CIA general counsel and a 30-year intelligence veteran, said that the breach was far graver than the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.”

It took a few weeks of criticism to reveal Peter Beinart’s vile attitudes toward his fellow Jews: Nathan Diament on Beinart’s latest outburst in the Israel-hating the New York Review of Books: “Peter goes way beyond debating substance and drifts into stereotyping and calumny, saying: ‘the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall.’ He also slams Rav Ovadia Yosef and, apparently, anyone else in Israel who, we suppose, doesn’t agree with his view — or that of the editorial board of Ha’aretz — as to precisely what ought to happen.”

It took a year and a half of Obama’s presidency to ruin Blanche Lincoln’s career: “[Arkansas's] larger bloc of conservative Democrats and independents upset over the perception that the incumbent is overly cozy with the unpopular President Obama, the Agriculture Committee chair and Delta farmer’s daughter finds her 18-year congressional career in grave jeopardy.”

It took a determined Jewish mom from Los Angeles to figure out it only took a $15 dollar solar cooker (made of cardboard and aluminum) to help protect “female [Darfur] refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps.” She’s done more for human rights in Darfur — much more — than Obama and his embarrassingly ineffective special envoy have.

Have you noticed that Democrats aren’t so willing to take unpopular stands for this president on national security? “The Senate Armed Services Committee dealt a big setback to President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay when lawmakers stripped funding for a new prison in Illinois to hold the detainees. Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Friday told reporters the committee, in a voice vote, stripped $245 million that would have gone to buy and retrofit the Thomson prison in Illinois.”

Charles Hurt catches Obama taking responsibility for “zilch” at his BP oil-spill press conference: “It was yet another performance of the ‘full responsibility’ flimflam. … President Obama repeatedly took ‘full responsibility’ for the blundering efforts to clog up the geyser of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico coating everything in sight. At the same time, Obama repeatedly denied that his administration was complicit in allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place, slow to realize the devastating nature of it, or ham-handed in the five-week effort to try to stem the toxic tide. In other words, Obama — as he often does — took ‘full responsibility’ for being awesome.”

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Something New for McCain

Matt Dowd, the former strategist for George W. Bush’s election who later broke very publically with Bush, suggested that John McCain himself needs to break dramatically with the President. Dowd suggested a speech criticizing Bush for the growth of the federal government. Accepting that McCain will need to demonstrate some distance between himself and the hobbled President, Dowd has offered advice with a startling lack of pizzazz. Much as small-government conservatives would like to think otherwise, eliminating chunks of the federal government does not seem to be a winning message, especially with independent voters.

McCain actually has tried a few breaks with Bush — on global warming and on the general subject of competency (Katrina and the management of the Iraq War). But perhaps on the economy he might, if not break with Bush, at least escape his shadow. McCain’s embrace of the “Bush” tax cuts has always been problematic. It raised issues of consistency since he initially opposed the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. His adherence to them now forever links him to the unpopular President.

So what to do? McCain need not embrace the Democratic position of massive tax increases. But why not a new tax plan as the ultimate goal of a McCain presidency? There are no shortage of ideas. Mitt Romney raised the notion of tax-free capital gains for the middle class. There are interesting “pro-family” conservative tax plans. And there are any number of variations of the flat tax.

If McCain is in fact going to blunt the argument that his election would be a third Bush term there seems to be every incentive to adopt as a central plank of his domestic agenda something other than “retention of the Bush tax cuts.” Global warming proposals, earmark reform, increased managerial competency and some populist flourishes on health care and the housing crisis are all efforts to distinguish McCain from the incumbent administration. But it may be time for something more dramatic and more innovative.

It would require attention and focus on domestic policy development, a communications efforts to explain it and McCain’s commitment to sell it. And, yes, there are doubts about whether those are within the grasp of the McCain team. But the payoff could be great. At the very least, McCain would have his chance to explain why he is a different kind of Republican.

Matt Dowd, the former strategist for George W. Bush’s election who later broke very publically with Bush, suggested that John McCain himself needs to break dramatically with the President. Dowd suggested a speech criticizing Bush for the growth of the federal government. Accepting that McCain will need to demonstrate some distance between himself and the hobbled President, Dowd has offered advice with a startling lack of pizzazz. Much as small-government conservatives would like to think otherwise, eliminating chunks of the federal government does not seem to be a winning message, especially with independent voters.

McCain actually has tried a few breaks with Bush — on global warming and on the general subject of competency (Katrina and the management of the Iraq War). But perhaps on the economy he might, if not break with Bush, at least escape his shadow. McCain’s embrace of the “Bush” tax cuts has always been problematic. It raised issues of consistency since he initially opposed the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. His adherence to them now forever links him to the unpopular President.

So what to do? McCain need not embrace the Democratic position of massive tax increases. But why not a new tax plan as the ultimate goal of a McCain presidency? There are no shortage of ideas. Mitt Romney raised the notion of tax-free capital gains for the middle class. There are interesting “pro-family” conservative tax plans. And there are any number of variations of the flat tax.

If McCain is in fact going to blunt the argument that his election would be a third Bush term there seems to be every incentive to adopt as a central plank of his domestic agenda something other than “retention of the Bush tax cuts.” Global warming proposals, earmark reform, increased managerial competency and some populist flourishes on health care and the housing crisis are all efforts to distinguish McCain from the incumbent administration. But it may be time for something more dramatic and more innovative.

It would require attention and focus on domestic policy development, a communications efforts to explain it and McCain’s commitment to sell it. And, yes, there are doubts about whether those are within the grasp of the McCain team. But the payoff could be great. At the very least, McCain would have his chance to explain why he is a different kind of Republican.

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Distancing

Operation Separate-From-Bush is fully underway in the McCain campaign. First came a foreign policy speech which sounded policy notes not normally associated with the Bush administration (e.g. multi-lateralism, global warming). Then came the populism-sprinkled economic address. Yesterday it was Hurricane Katrina. McCain bluntly said “There were unqualified people in charge, there was a total misreading of the dimensions of the disaster, there was a failure of communications.”

Will all this enable McCain to escape the shadow of an unpopular president? This will be threshed out in the general election. The Democrats will paint McCain as Bush’s twin, on Iraq and taxes in particular. McCain will emphasize his many areas of disagreement with Bush ( e.g. administration of the war, torture, spending, global warming). It is an open question whether any candidate can entirely escape the drag exerted by a limping incumbent of the same party. What is certain is that this will not be the last time McCain blasts the Bush administration.

Operation Separate-From-Bush is fully underway in the McCain campaign. First came a foreign policy speech which sounded policy notes not normally associated with the Bush administration (e.g. multi-lateralism, global warming). Then came the populism-sprinkled economic address. Yesterday it was Hurricane Katrina. McCain bluntly said “There were unqualified people in charge, there was a total misreading of the dimensions of the disaster, there was a failure of communications.”

Will all this enable McCain to escape the shadow of an unpopular president? This will be threshed out in the general election. The Democrats will paint McCain as Bush’s twin, on Iraq and taxes in particular. McCain will emphasize his many areas of disagreement with Bush ( e.g. administration of the war, torture, spending, global warming). It is an open question whether any candidate can entirely escape the drag exerted by a limping incumbent of the same party. What is certain is that this will not be the last time McCain blasts the Bush administration.

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Helping the Iranian People

On Wednesday, Iran’s Guardian Council, the country’s constitutional watchdog, said that it had reinstated more than 280 candidates for the March 14 parliamentary elections. Earlier, more than 2,200 contenders, most of them reformists, had been disqualified, including a grandson of Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s theocracy. The hardline Council may accept additional names in the next few weeks, when it will publish a final list of individuals eligible to run. There will be only a week of official campaigning.

The result is already foreordained: the disqualifications ensure that supporters of the unpopular president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will dominate the legislative body. At best, insurgents can win a tenth of the seats. Consequently, there will not be too much suspense on election night next month in the Islamic Republic. And don’t expect Wolf Blitzer to be announcing precinct-by-precinct results.

Electoral contests in tightly controlled regimes are never about outcome, of course. Turnout is the key factor. Autocrats always seek high participation levels to legitimize their rule, while dissidents change tactics, sometimes competing in rigged contests and at other moments shunning them. History tells us there is no one correct strategy for people who want to upend an odious government, and I do not know what ordinary Iranians should do between now and the 14th of next month.

“We have no such thing as majority rule in Islam,” said one elected member of Iran’s parliament a few years ago. Or as Khomeini himself once declared, “What we should have in mind is the satisfaction of God, not the satisfaction of the people.” Fortunately for us, that ayatollah’s doctrine ensures that theocratic governments will fail after initial fervor passes. The Iranian Revolution will be three decades old next year, and the corrupt and tired government that it left in its wake is sustaining itself primarily through oil and gas revenues, appeals to patriotism, and the support of big-power sponsors China and Russia. The Iranian people not only have to struggle against their own theocrats but also against the authoritarians in Moscow and Beijing.

There may be little we can do internally to affect the balance of power between the people and their rulers, but we certainly have the means to help Iranians by convincing the Russians and Chinese to withdraw their support for the government in Tehran. Regime change in the Islamic Republic is inevitable, but it can only happen soon if we do our part at this moment.

On Wednesday, Iran’s Guardian Council, the country’s constitutional watchdog, said that it had reinstated more than 280 candidates for the March 14 parliamentary elections. Earlier, more than 2,200 contenders, most of them reformists, had been disqualified, including a grandson of Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s theocracy. The hardline Council may accept additional names in the next few weeks, when it will publish a final list of individuals eligible to run. There will be only a week of official campaigning.

The result is already foreordained: the disqualifications ensure that supporters of the unpopular president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will dominate the legislative body. At best, insurgents can win a tenth of the seats. Consequently, there will not be too much suspense on election night next month in the Islamic Republic. And don’t expect Wolf Blitzer to be announcing precinct-by-precinct results.

Electoral contests in tightly controlled regimes are never about outcome, of course. Turnout is the key factor. Autocrats always seek high participation levels to legitimize their rule, while dissidents change tactics, sometimes competing in rigged contests and at other moments shunning them. History tells us there is no one correct strategy for people who want to upend an odious government, and I do not know what ordinary Iranians should do between now and the 14th of next month.

“We have no such thing as majority rule in Islam,” said one elected member of Iran’s parliament a few years ago. Or as Khomeini himself once declared, “What we should have in mind is the satisfaction of God, not the satisfaction of the people.” Fortunately for us, that ayatollah’s doctrine ensures that theocratic governments will fail after initial fervor passes. The Iranian Revolution will be three decades old next year, and the corrupt and tired government that it left in its wake is sustaining itself primarily through oil and gas revenues, appeals to patriotism, and the support of big-power sponsors China and Russia. The Iranian people not only have to struggle against their own theocrats but also against the authoritarians in Moscow and Beijing.

There may be little we can do internally to affect the balance of power between the people and their rulers, but we certainly have the means to help Iranians by convincing the Russians and Chinese to withdraw their support for the government in Tehran. Regime change in the Islamic Republic is inevitable, but it can only happen soon if we do our part at this moment.

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The Sinking Immigration Bill

President Bush seems determined to expend what remains of his dwindling reserves of political capital on his overwhelmingly unpopular (but Senate-supported) immigration bill. Directing his criticism at part of the very coalition that had elected him, he recently explained his reasoning:

I’m deeply concerned about America losing its soul. Immigration has been the lifeblood of a lot of our country’s history. And I am worried that a backlash to newcomers would cause our country to lose its great capacity to assimilate newcomers.

Those are worthy thoughts. But they’re disconnected from middle- and lower-middle-class voters who feel that the very size of the current, largely single-source immigration is forcing them (and not the newcomers) to adapt.

Despite the considerable efforts of Bush and the bi-partisan group of senators backing the bill, public support remains stuck at 26 percent. And Bush’s popularity on this score will only be further weakened by the loud and lusty booing of America’s entrant in the Miss Universe contest by a Mexican audience recently.

Read More

President Bush seems determined to expend what remains of his dwindling reserves of political capital on his overwhelmingly unpopular (but Senate-supported) immigration bill. Directing his criticism at part of the very coalition that had elected him, he recently explained his reasoning:

I’m deeply concerned about America losing its soul. Immigration has been the lifeblood of a lot of our country’s history. And I am worried that a backlash to newcomers would cause our country to lose its great capacity to assimilate newcomers.

Those are worthy thoughts. But they’re disconnected from middle- and lower-middle-class voters who feel that the very size of the current, largely single-source immigration is forcing them (and not the newcomers) to adapt.

Despite the considerable efforts of Bush and the bi-partisan group of senators backing the bill, public support remains stuck at 26 percent. And Bush’s popularity on this score will only be further weakened by the loud and lusty booing of America’s entrant in the Miss Universe contest by a Mexican audience recently.

The White House has missed the fact that while 68 percent of those surveyed in Wednesday’s Rasmussen telephone poll do agree with President Bush that we need to establish a path to legalization for those already here, only one in six Americans believe that this particular bill will actually reduce illegal immigration. Forty-one percent think the legislation will lead to an increase in illegal immigration. (What’s especially striking about these numbers is that 81 percent of those surveyed said that are following the issue closely and 37 percent very closely, leaving little room for maneuver.)

McCain’s close identification with the bill has sent his poll numbers so far south that Mitt Romney (an opponent of the bill) has passed the Arizonan and moved into second place, behind the frontrunner Giuliani. The generally immigration-friendly former New York mayor, recognizing the core issue at stake—72 percent of those surveyed insist that enforcing border laws is the primary issue—has opposed the bill on security grounds. But the imminent entrance of Fred Thompson may give Giuliani competition on this score.

Thompson recently told a radio audience last week that “A nation without secure borders will not long be a sovereign nation.” “No matter how much lipstick Washington tries to slap onto this legislative pig,” he continued, “it’s not going to win any beauty contests.”

The beauty of this issue for both Giuliani and Thompson is that it allows them to separate themselves from an unpopular President and simultaneously appeal to the GOP base. This could set off a bidding war of sorts between Giuliani, Thompson, and Romney as to who is more strongly opposed to the Bush position.

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