Commentary Magazine


Topic: Vermont

And the Washington Madness Just Got Even Crazier

In the Senate, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders was in the seventh hour of a filibuster against the tax-cut deal, showing that when you give an old Socialist Jew a microphone, you do something more dangerous than you know. Then, suddenly, as Sanders was blathering on, the president appeared in the White House briefing room with Bill Clinton.

Clinton endorsed the tax-cut deal, and began leaning into the microphone and talking. And talking. And talking. And then…the president said, and I’m not kidding, “Michelle is waiting for me,” patted Clinton on the back, and left his predecessor there at the microphone. And he is talking and talking and talking.

“I’m out of politics now,” said Bill Clinton, two minutes after saying he did 133 events for Democrats in 2010. This is a treasure trove of self-revelatory stuff, as is Sanders’s filibuster, which features him praising a book on the Senate floor by Arianna Huffington, an article in Slate…

In the Senate, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders was in the seventh hour of a filibuster against the tax-cut deal, showing that when you give an old Socialist Jew a microphone, you do something more dangerous than you know. Then, suddenly, as Sanders was blathering on, the president appeared in the White House briefing room with Bill Clinton.

Clinton endorsed the tax-cut deal, and began leaning into the microphone and talking. And talking. And talking. And then…the president said, and I’m not kidding, “Michelle is waiting for me,” patted Clinton on the back, and left his predecessor there at the microphone. And he is talking and talking and talking.

“I’m out of politics now,” said Bill Clinton, two minutes after saying he did 133 events for Democrats in 2010. This is a treasure trove of self-revelatory stuff, as is Sanders’s filibuster, which features him praising a book on the Senate floor by Arianna Huffington, an article in Slate…

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RE: Why Aren’t There Any Republican Scientists?

Alana’s reference to the Pew Research poll that used the membership of the American Association for the Advancement of Science as a proxy for American scientists generally, which it is not, reminds me of perhaps the most famous poll in American History, the Literary Digest poll for the presidential election of 1936.

The Literary Digest, a middlebrow magazine perhaps roughly analogous to the Atlantic or Harper’s today, polled a huge number of people — 2,500,000 all told — and came up with the prediction that Alf Landon, the Republican candidate, would decisively defeat FDR. He didn’t. In fact he won only two states and eight electoral votes, tying the lowest total of any major party candidate since modern party politics began around the time of the Civil War.

What went wrong? As with the Pew Research poll, the problem was the pool from which the sample was drawn. The Digest used its own subscription base, people with registered automobiles, and those with telephones. In the Depression, that skewed the sample way up the socioeconomic scale. (It would not be until 1946 that half of American households had a telephone.)

When the poll was first published, it had a gloss of believability about it. Republicans had done well in the Maine gubernatorial and congressional races (which were then held in September), and Maine had a reputation a being a bellwether state. “As Maine goes,” went the political proverb, “so goes the nation.”

After the election, Democrats gleefully changed  the saying to “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.” And the Literary Digest soon folded.

Alana’s reference to the Pew Research poll that used the membership of the American Association for the Advancement of Science as a proxy for American scientists generally, which it is not, reminds me of perhaps the most famous poll in American History, the Literary Digest poll for the presidential election of 1936.

The Literary Digest, a middlebrow magazine perhaps roughly analogous to the Atlantic or Harper’s today, polled a huge number of people — 2,500,000 all told — and came up with the prediction that Alf Landon, the Republican candidate, would decisively defeat FDR. He didn’t. In fact he won only two states and eight electoral votes, tying the lowest total of any major party candidate since modern party politics began around the time of the Civil War.

What went wrong? As with the Pew Research poll, the problem was the pool from which the sample was drawn. The Digest used its own subscription base, people with registered automobiles, and those with telephones. In the Depression, that skewed the sample way up the socioeconomic scale. (It would not be until 1946 that half of American households had a telephone.)

When the poll was first published, it had a gloss of believability about it. Republicans had done well in the Maine gubernatorial and congressional races (which were then held in September), and Maine had a reputation a being a bellwether state. “As Maine goes,” went the political proverb, “so goes the nation.”

After the election, Democrats gleefully changed  the saying to “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.” And the Literary Digest soon folded.

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The 2010 Midterm Election in Perspective

In shifting through the fine analysis that emerged in the aftermath of last week’s midterm elections, a few data points are particularly noteworthy:

  • Republicans picked up more House seats than in any election since 1938. Republicans now control the most House seats, and Democrats now have the smallest number of House seats, since 1946.
  • Fifty incumbent Democratic congressmen were defeated, while only two incumbent House Republicans lost.
  • Independents comprised 28 percent of the electorate and supported Republican congressional candidates by a margin of 56 to 38 percent. That represents a 36-point turnaround from the last midterm election, in 2006, when independents supported Democratic congressional candidates by 57 to 39 percent. In addition, independents trust Republicans to do a better job than Democrats by a margin of 23 points on jobs and employment, 23 points on the economy, 27 points on government spending, and 31 points on taxes.
  • Voters support repealing/replacing ObamaCare by 51 to 42 percent. Democrats oppose repeal by 80 to 16 percent — but both independents (by 57 to 31 percent) and Republicans (by 87 to 7 percent) want to repeal and replace it.
  • Sixty-five percent of voters said that the stimulus bill either hurt the economy or did no good — and those voters overwhelmingly favored the GOP.
  • Fifty-four percent of those voting said they were dissatisfied with the performance of Barack Obama — and they broke 85-11 for the Republicans. Read More

In shifting through the fine analysis that emerged in the aftermath of last week’s midterm elections, a few data points are particularly noteworthy:

  • Republicans picked up more House seats than in any election since 1938. Republicans now control the most House seats, and Democrats now have the smallest number of House seats, since 1946.
  • Fifty incumbent Democratic congressmen were defeated, while only two incumbent House Republicans lost.
  • Independents comprised 28 percent of the electorate and supported Republican congressional candidates by a margin of 56 to 38 percent. That represents a 36-point turnaround from the last midterm election, in 2006, when independents supported Democratic congressional candidates by 57 to 39 percent. In addition, independents trust Republicans to do a better job than Democrats by a margin of 23 points on jobs and employment, 23 points on the economy, 27 points on government spending, and 31 points on taxes.
  • Voters support repealing/replacing ObamaCare by 51 to 42 percent. Democrats oppose repeal by 80 to 16 percent — but both independents (by 57 to 31 percent) and Republicans (by 87 to 7 percent) want to repeal and replace it.
  • Sixty-five percent of voters said that the stimulus bill either hurt the economy or did no good — and those voters overwhelmingly favored the GOP.
  • Fifty-four percent of those voting said they were dissatisfied with the performance of Barack Obama — and they broke 85-11 for the Republicans.
  • Republicans have captured the seats in at least 57 of the 83 Democratic-held districts in which Obama won less than 55 percent of the vote.
  • Democrats hold a majority of the congressional delegation in only three states — Iowa, New Mexico, and Vermont — that don’t directly touch an ocean. Republicans similarly routed Democrats in gubernatorial races across the Midwest and the border states, from Ohio and Tennessee to Wisconsin and Iowa.
  • Republicans picked up 680 seats in state legislatures, the most in the modern era. In the 1994 GOP wave, Republicans picked up 472 seats. The previous record was in the post-Watergate election of 1974, when Democrats picked up 628 seats. The GOP gained majorities in at least 19 state house chambers. They now have unified control — meaning both chambers — of 26 state legislatures. And across the country, Republicans now control 55 chambers, Democrats have 38, and two are tied. (The Nebraska legislature is unicameral.)
  • Republicans have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s.
  • Voters who identified as ideologically conservative accounted for 41 percent of the turnout, an increase from the 34 percent figure in 2008 and the highest level recorded for any election since 1976.

Politico called the midterm elections a “bloodbath of a night for Democrats.” National Journal’s Ron Brownstein wrote, “If the U.S. genuinely used a parliamentary system, Tuesday’s result … would have represented a vote of no confidence in the president and the governing party.” And the Washington Examiner’s Michael Barone says that “you could argue that this is the best Republican showing ever.”

Apart from all that, it was a splendid midterm election for President Obama and his party.

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Bellow, Hitchens, and COMMENTARY

One of the pleasures of the just-published Saul Bellow: Letters is the letter about the 1989 dinner with Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens – where Commentary played a dramatic role. Amis wrote about it in his 2001 memoir, Experience; Hitchens described it last year in Hitch-22. Now we have Bellow’s perspective, in an August 29, 1989, letter to Cynthia Ozick.

Amis had invited Hitchens, his best friend, to join him for dinner at Bellow’s Vermont home. On the ride there, Amis warned Hitchens that he “wasn’t to drag the conversation toward anything political, let alone left-wing, let alone anything to do with Israel.” But before dinner, Hitchens spotted something that would soon set him off:

Right on the wicker table in the room where we were chatting, there lay something that was as potentially hackneyed in its menace as Anton Chekhov’s gun on the mantelpiece. If it’s there in the first act … it will be fired before the curtain comes down. … It was the only piece of printed matter in view, and it was the latest edition of COMMENTARY magazine, and its bannered cover-story headline was: “Edward Said, Professor of Terror.”

As Hitchens told it, Bellow made an observation during dinner about anti-Zionism and went to retrieve his underlined copy of COMMENTARY to prove his point, and Hitchens decided he could not allow his friend Edward Said to be “defamed.” And “by the end of dinner nobody could meet anyone else’s eye and [Amis’s] foot had become lamed and tired by its under-the-table collisions with my shins.” On the long ride home, Hitchens explained he had to defend his absent friend — to which Amis responded, “And what about me?” Read More

One of the pleasures of the just-published Saul Bellow: Letters is the letter about the 1989 dinner with Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens – where Commentary played a dramatic role. Amis wrote about it in his 2001 memoir, Experience; Hitchens described it last year in Hitch-22. Now we have Bellow’s perspective, in an August 29, 1989, letter to Cynthia Ozick.

Amis had invited Hitchens, his best friend, to join him for dinner at Bellow’s Vermont home. On the ride there, Amis warned Hitchens that he “wasn’t to drag the conversation toward anything political, let alone left-wing, let alone anything to do with Israel.” But before dinner, Hitchens spotted something that would soon set him off:

Right on the wicker table in the room where we were chatting, there lay something that was as potentially hackneyed in its menace as Anton Chekhov’s gun on the mantelpiece. If it’s there in the first act … it will be fired before the curtain comes down. … It was the only piece of printed matter in view, and it was the latest edition of COMMENTARY magazine, and its bannered cover-story headline was: “Edward Said, Professor of Terror.”

As Hitchens told it, Bellow made an observation during dinner about anti-Zionism and went to retrieve his underlined copy of COMMENTARY to prove his point, and Hitchens decided he could not allow his friend Edward Said to be “defamed.” And “by the end of dinner nobody could meet anyone else’s eye and [Amis’s] foot had become lamed and tired by its under-the-table collisions with my shins.” On the long ride home, Hitchens explained he had to defend his absent friend — to which Amis responded, “And what about me?”

In his letter to Ozick, Bellow wrote that Hitchens had identified himself as a regular contributor to the Nation — a magazine Bellow had stopped reading after Gore Vidal “wrote his piece about the disloyalty of Jews to the USA” – and as a great friend of Said:

At the mention of Said’s name, Janis [Bellow] grumbled. I doubt that this was unexpected, for Hitchens almost certainly thinks of me as a terrible reactionary – the Jewish Right. … [He said] he must apologize for differing with Janis but loyalty to a friend demanded that he set the record straight. … Fortunately (or not) I had within reach several excerpts from Said’s Critical Inquiry piece, which I offered in evidence. Jews were (more or less) Nazis. But of course, said Hitchens, it was well known that [Yitzhak] Shamir had approached Hitler during the war to make deals. I objected that Shamir was Shamir, he wasn’t the Jews. Besides I didn’t trust the evidence. The argument seesawed. Amis took the Said selections to read for himself. He could find nothing to say at the moment but next morning he tried to bring the matter up, and to avoid further embarrassment I said it had all been much ado about nothing.

Then Bellow broadened the point of his letter:

Well, these Hitchenses are just Fourth-Estate playboys thriving on agitation, and Jews are so easy to agitate. Sometimes (if only I knew enough to do it right!) I think I’d like to write about the fate of the Jews in the decline of the West — or the long crisis of the West, if decline doesn’t suit you. The movement to assimilate coincided with the arrival of nihilism. This nihilism reached its climax with Hitler. The Jewish answer to the Holocaust was the creation of a state. After the camps came politics and these politics are nihilistic. Your Hitchenses, the political press in its silliest disheveled left-wing form, are (if nihilism has a hierarchy) the gnomes. … And it’s so easy to make trouble for the Jews. Nothing easier. The networks love it, the big papers let it be made, there’s a receptive university population.

So many ironies in this episode: only a few months before, Hitchens had learned that his mother and maternal grandparents were Jews, and that he was thus a Jew himself. Today he technically qualifies as part of the Jewish right (and believes that the U.S. military attracts the nation’s most idealistic people). He would write an introduction to a new edition of The Adventures of Augie March and receive a warm letter from Bellow; he left the Nation, in part because of the magazine’s tolerance of Gore Vidal, and he fell out with Edward Said, in part because of Said’s rigid anti-Americanism. Hitch-22 is marred by the occasional eruption of Hitchens’s anti-Zionism (reflecting his longstanding Palestinian blind spot), but it is a fascinating account of an extraordinary life by someone who traveled a long road after that dinner 20 years ago.

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The Generic Shock

So Gallup’s final read on the 2010 elections features a generic advantage for Republicans of 15 percent, 55-40. That’s been making people shake their heads in astonishment all day. Never before on election day have Republicans even led on the generic ballot (the question Gallup asks is whether the person polled will vote for a Republican or a Democrat). In 1994, the best midterm for Republicans in our time, the final Gallup tally had the two parties tied.

This is why people are saying something is happening here that has never happened before. The “poll of polls” at Real Clear Politics, which averages out all reputable surveys, has the Republican advantage tonight at 8.7 points. Which means even if you think Gallup is screwy, there’s still no way to avoid the conclusion that Democrats are in for a horrific day tomorrow.

But wait. There’s more. The Gallup number today is 55-40 assuming a voter turnout of 45 percent nationally. It is assumed that the higher the turnout, the better the number is for Democrats owing to the Democratic edge in the number of registered voters. Fine. 45 percent. Except that the midterm in which more voters participated than any other in the past 28 years was 1994 — and in that year, turnout was 41.1 percent. This year, a voting expert named Michael McDonald thinks the number could be a record-breaking 41.3 percent.

Think this through. An amazing number for turnout would be around 41 percent. Gallup is using a model predicting 45 percent turnout — that’s a differential of 10 percentage points. On other words, Gallup might be wildly overstating the size of tomorrow’s electorate. And what does this mean? It means that the Republican advantage of 15 points might be low. Might be very low. That the actual Republican advantage might be closer to 20 points.

The low end prediction by Gallup of the number of House seats Democrats will lose at a 45 percent turnout? 80 seats. (The best Democrats can hope for, according to Gallup, is 55.) But what if the turnout model is off significantly, as is likely? Could the Democrats actually be on track to lose 90 seats or more? Could the best they can hope for be a loss of 70? (Sean Trende, the impressive number-cruncher at Real Clear Politics, says the Gallup number translates into a Democratic loss of 98 seats.)

The problem with these percentage guesses is that the Republican advantage is not evenly distributed across the country; it might be close to 30 percent in the Southwest but only a point or two in the Northeast. Republicans can’t win many more than 90 seats because they don’t even have a sufficient number of candidates to do so.

But — and this is the big but — numbers this large, should they hold, presage doom for Democrats in the Senate. A wave this large is unlikely to tilt any close race into Democratic hands. And it might mean a shocking Republican victory in a Senate race no one has even paid attention to (Oregon? Vermont?)

Meanwhile, the story that has barely been told over the past 20 years is this: American elections have become the greatest public dramas I can think of. Clinton and Perot and Bush in 1992. The Republican Revolution of 1994. The 36 Days of Florida in 2000. The Bush-Kerry seesaw in 2004. The Democratic surge in 2006. The Year of Obama, guest-starring the surprise rookie phenom Sarah Palin, in 2008. And now this. Anybody who thinks he knows what 2012 is going to look like is living in a fantasy world. Reality is much too twisty for us to have any sense where all this will go after tomorrow night.

So Gallup’s final read on the 2010 elections features a generic advantage for Republicans of 15 percent, 55-40. That’s been making people shake their heads in astonishment all day. Never before on election day have Republicans even led on the generic ballot (the question Gallup asks is whether the person polled will vote for a Republican or a Democrat). In 1994, the best midterm for Republicans in our time, the final Gallup tally had the two parties tied.

This is why people are saying something is happening here that has never happened before. The “poll of polls” at Real Clear Politics, which averages out all reputable surveys, has the Republican advantage tonight at 8.7 points. Which means even if you think Gallup is screwy, there’s still no way to avoid the conclusion that Democrats are in for a horrific day tomorrow.

But wait. There’s more. The Gallup number today is 55-40 assuming a voter turnout of 45 percent nationally. It is assumed that the higher the turnout, the better the number is for Democrats owing to the Democratic edge in the number of registered voters. Fine. 45 percent. Except that the midterm in which more voters participated than any other in the past 28 years was 1994 — and in that year, turnout was 41.1 percent. This year, a voting expert named Michael McDonald thinks the number could be a record-breaking 41.3 percent.

Think this through. An amazing number for turnout would be around 41 percent. Gallup is using a model predicting 45 percent turnout — that’s a differential of 10 percentage points. On other words, Gallup might be wildly overstating the size of tomorrow’s electorate. And what does this mean? It means that the Republican advantage of 15 points might be low. Might be very low. That the actual Republican advantage might be closer to 20 points.

The low end prediction by Gallup of the number of House seats Democrats will lose at a 45 percent turnout? 80 seats. (The best Democrats can hope for, according to Gallup, is 55.) But what if the turnout model is off significantly, as is likely? Could the Democrats actually be on track to lose 90 seats or more? Could the best they can hope for be a loss of 70? (Sean Trende, the impressive number-cruncher at Real Clear Politics, says the Gallup number translates into a Democratic loss of 98 seats.)

The problem with these percentage guesses is that the Republican advantage is not evenly distributed across the country; it might be close to 30 percent in the Southwest but only a point or two in the Northeast. Republicans can’t win many more than 90 seats because they don’t even have a sufficient number of candidates to do so.

But — and this is the big but — numbers this large, should they hold, presage doom for Democrats in the Senate. A wave this large is unlikely to tilt any close race into Democratic hands. And it might mean a shocking Republican victory in a Senate race no one has even paid attention to (Oregon? Vermont?)

Meanwhile, the story that has barely been told over the past 20 years is this: American elections have become the greatest public dramas I can think of. Clinton and Perot and Bush in 1992. The Republican Revolution of 1994. The 36 Days of Florida in 2000. The Bush-Kerry seesaw in 2004. The Democratic surge in 2006. The Year of Obama, guest-starring the surprise rookie phenom Sarah Palin, in 2008. And now this. Anybody who thinks he knows what 2012 is going to look like is living in a fantasy world. Reality is much too twisty for us to have any sense where all this will go after tomorrow night.

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RE: Down to West Virginia and Washington

If the GOP were to pick up nine seats and neither Ben Nelson nor Joe Lieberman could be lured across the aisle, that would tie the Senate at 50-50. That last happened after the 2000 election (before Jim Jeffords of Vermont crossed the aisle in the other direction a few months later and gave the Democrats a 51-49 majority). In 2001, that meant that Vice President Dick Cheney was the deciding vote on how the Senate would be organized. Now it would be Joe Biden. It would also mean that Biden would have to stick pretty close to home while the Senate was in session to be available to break any ties. Whether that would be a net plus or minus for the Republic, I know not.

But how likely is it that Lieberman or Nelson would switch? I agree with James Taranto that it’s not likely.

And then there’s Alaska. It’s now a Republican seat, but the current holder, Lisa Murkowski, lost the primary and decided, in a fit of chutzpah, to run a write-in campaign. Some polls show her ahead, but do they have any predictive value? I doubt it. I think a lot of people who told the pollsters they were voting for her will, on arriving at the polling booth, decide a write-in vote is just too much trouble and vote for Joe Miller. Even if she wins, I imagine that she would caucus with the Republicans, despite the fact that she was roundly denounced by her Republican colleagues for not accepting the results of the primary and thus putting the seat in jeopardy by splitting the vote. If that were to happen, and the Democrat were to win thanks to Murkowski’s ego, thereby depriving the Republicans of the majority, I don’t think that Murkowski will be invited to many future Republican picnics.

If the GOP were to pick up nine seats and neither Ben Nelson nor Joe Lieberman could be lured across the aisle, that would tie the Senate at 50-50. That last happened after the 2000 election (before Jim Jeffords of Vermont crossed the aisle in the other direction a few months later and gave the Democrats a 51-49 majority). In 2001, that meant that Vice President Dick Cheney was the deciding vote on how the Senate would be organized. Now it would be Joe Biden. It would also mean that Biden would have to stick pretty close to home while the Senate was in session to be available to break any ties. Whether that would be a net plus or minus for the Republic, I know not.

But how likely is it that Lieberman or Nelson would switch? I agree with James Taranto that it’s not likely.

And then there’s Alaska. It’s now a Republican seat, but the current holder, Lisa Murkowski, lost the primary and decided, in a fit of chutzpah, to run a write-in campaign. Some polls show her ahead, but do they have any predictive value? I doubt it. I think a lot of people who told the pollsters they were voting for her will, on arriving at the polling booth, decide a write-in vote is just too much trouble and vote for Joe Miller. Even if she wins, I imagine that she would caucus with the Republicans, despite the fact that she was roundly denounced by her Republican colleagues for not accepting the results of the primary and thus putting the seat in jeopardy by splitting the vote. If that were to happen, and the Democrat were to win thanks to Murkowski’s ego, thereby depriving the Republicans of the majority, I don’t think that Murkowski will be invited to many future Republican picnics.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sigh: “The heads of the Democratic and Republican parties on Sunday criticized controversial comments made by two Senate hopefuls in their own parties, but each stood behind their candidacies [Rand Paul and Richard Blumenthal].” Well, party chairmen are paid to defend the indefensible, I suppose. And really, does any ordinary voter care what Michael Steele and Tim Kaine say?

Aaargh! “‘I was offered a job, and I answered that,’ [Joe] Sestak said. ‘Anything that goes beyond that is for others to talk about.'” He was bribed by the White House to get out of the Senate primary race and isn’t going to talk about it? I think an ethics probe and a special prosecutor are in order. It is a crime, after all, to bribe a candidate.

What??! Marc Ambinder, who, as Mickey Kaus once put it, spins more furiously for Obama than a dreidel, has this to say about the alleged White House offer to Sestak: “In essence, if this White House ascribes to a higher ethical standard, then it might want to agree to some investigation even if it believes there is no legal merit.” Because after all, the administration’s own conclusion about its wrongdoing is basically conclusive, right?

Whoopee! (for Republicans): “Republican Charles Djou won a special congressional election in Hawaii Saturday night, giving the GOP a boost as it attempts to retake the U.S. House in the November elections. … Mr. Djou will become the first Republican to represent Hawaii in 20 years. Hawaii is a traditionally Democratic stronghold that is President Barack Obama’s native state.” Democrats say this doesn’t really matter because the votes were divided by two feuding Democratic candidates. Besides, only special elections that Democrats win are bellwethers.

Yikes! John Kerry is back in Syria sucking up to Bashar al-Assad. And this is no comfort: “Senator Kerry has emerged as one of the primary American interlocutors with the Syrian government.” Yes, that’s part of the problem.

Oooh: “Iran’s parliament speaker earlier Sunday repeated threats that Iran would abandon a nuclear fuel swap plan brokered by Brazil and Turkey if the United States imposes new sanctions on the Islamic state.” So don’t be passing any useless sanctions or the mullahs will reject the meaningless Brazil-Turkey deal. The only thing more absurd (and more dangerous) is Obama’s Iran policy. (Come to think of it, it’s not clear he has one.)

Ouch: “‘The oil is gushing and we’re being lied to by how much oil is gushing … and the administration has now named a commission,’ Cokie Roberts said derisively. ‘Now this is what you do when you really don’t have anything else to do: you name a commission,’ she said. ‘That’s not going to stop the oil.'” Donna Brazile had harsh criticism as well, and when Obama loses Donna Brazile, you know he’s hitting rock bottom.

Awww (subscription required): “The muted conservative response is in marked contrast to the unease among some liberal activists toward [the nomination of Elena] Kagan. Obama, they say, made a ‘safe choice’ that was more appropriate for a Senate with a 52-seat Democratic majority rather than the 59-seat advantage (counting independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont) that the party holds. These disappointed liberals say that Obama, once again, has turned his back on them.”

Thunk! Maureen Dowd writes a column on Richard Blumenthal that’s daft even for her: “‘I think that lies are like wishes,’ said Bella DePaulo, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. … But chronic puffer-uppers can have impressive public service careers.” I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I think lies are like lies.

Sigh: “The heads of the Democratic and Republican parties on Sunday criticized controversial comments made by two Senate hopefuls in their own parties, but each stood behind their candidacies [Rand Paul and Richard Blumenthal].” Well, party chairmen are paid to defend the indefensible, I suppose. And really, does any ordinary voter care what Michael Steele and Tim Kaine say?

Aaargh! “‘I was offered a job, and I answered that,’ [Joe] Sestak said. ‘Anything that goes beyond that is for others to talk about.'” He was bribed by the White House to get out of the Senate primary race and isn’t going to talk about it? I think an ethics probe and a special prosecutor are in order. It is a crime, after all, to bribe a candidate.

What??! Marc Ambinder, who, as Mickey Kaus once put it, spins more furiously for Obama than a dreidel, has this to say about the alleged White House offer to Sestak: “In essence, if this White House ascribes to a higher ethical standard, then it might want to agree to some investigation even if it believes there is no legal merit.” Because after all, the administration’s own conclusion about its wrongdoing is basically conclusive, right?

Whoopee! (for Republicans): “Republican Charles Djou won a special congressional election in Hawaii Saturday night, giving the GOP a boost as it attempts to retake the U.S. House in the November elections. … Mr. Djou will become the first Republican to represent Hawaii in 20 years. Hawaii is a traditionally Democratic stronghold that is President Barack Obama’s native state.” Democrats say this doesn’t really matter because the votes were divided by two feuding Democratic candidates. Besides, only special elections that Democrats win are bellwethers.

Yikes! John Kerry is back in Syria sucking up to Bashar al-Assad. And this is no comfort: “Senator Kerry has emerged as one of the primary American interlocutors with the Syrian government.” Yes, that’s part of the problem.

Oooh: “Iran’s parliament speaker earlier Sunday repeated threats that Iran would abandon a nuclear fuel swap plan brokered by Brazil and Turkey if the United States imposes new sanctions on the Islamic state.” So don’t be passing any useless sanctions or the mullahs will reject the meaningless Brazil-Turkey deal. The only thing more absurd (and more dangerous) is Obama’s Iran policy. (Come to think of it, it’s not clear he has one.)

Ouch: “‘The oil is gushing and we’re being lied to by how much oil is gushing … and the administration has now named a commission,’ Cokie Roberts said derisively. ‘Now this is what you do when you really don’t have anything else to do: you name a commission,’ she said. ‘That’s not going to stop the oil.'” Donna Brazile had harsh criticism as well, and when Obama loses Donna Brazile, you know he’s hitting rock bottom.

Awww (subscription required): “The muted conservative response is in marked contrast to the unease among some liberal activists toward [the nomination of Elena] Kagan. Obama, they say, made a ‘safe choice’ that was more appropriate for a Senate with a 52-seat Democratic majority rather than the 59-seat advantage (counting independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont) that the party holds. These disappointed liberals say that Obama, once again, has turned his back on them.”

Thunk! Maureen Dowd writes a column on Richard Blumenthal that’s daft even for her: “‘I think that lies are like wishes,’ said Bella DePaulo, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. … But chronic puffer-uppers can have impressive public service careers.” I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I think lies are like lies.

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Justice Brandeis, Call Your Office

The Times this morning ran a story on yet another fiddle that has been uncovered from the depths of the health-reform bill that passed in the Senate on Christmas Eve. This one favors construction unions. While, under the act, most companies with fewer than 50 employees would not have to provide government-mandated health insurance or pay a tax, those in the construction business would be exempt only if they have fewer than five employees. At least the Times notes that:

The construction industry provision is receiving a second look as work begins in earnest this week to resolve differences in bills passed by the Senate and the House to remake the nation’s health care system. Other provisions sure to be scrutinized include a tax break for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan in Nebraska; Medicare coverage for residents of Libby, Mont., sickened by a mineral mine; extra Medicaid money for Massachusetts, Nebraska and Vermont; and a special dispensation for a handful of doctor-owned hospitals.

One would hope that the endless number of constitutionally dubious provisions, including such lulus as requiring a supermajority in the Senate to repeal certain portions of the act, will also get a second look.

Of course, it may be that these provisions end up rescuing the country from this dreadful legislation. In 1933, at the very end of his 100 days, Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the National Industrial Recovery Act. Title II of that act established one of the New Deal’s most famous agencies, the Public Works Administration (PWA), which would build across the country post offices, highways, dams, etc. But Title I of the NIRA established the National Recovery Administration (NRA). It authorized the president to regulate industry, including the establishment of cartels and monopolies, to set prices, and, in effect, oversee the entire American economy, much as today’s health bill would regulate the health-care industry.

It was a breathtaking expansion of federal power and, for a while, the NRA’s symbol — a blue eagle with a gear wheel in one claw and lightning bolts in the other — and its slogan, “We Do Our Part,” were everywhere. But two years later, the Supreme Court ruled in a famous case, Schechter Poultry  Corp v. United States, that the bill violated both the separation of powers doctrine by delegating legislative authority to the president and the commerce clause.

While the court at that point had a majority of conservative justices (two years later FDR would try to pack the court to get rid of it), the decision was unanimous. Justice Louis Brandeis, no conservative, told aides of the president, “This is the end of this business of centralization, and I want you to go back and tell the president that we’re not going to let this government centralize everything.”

Where is Justice Brandeis now that we really need him?

The Times this morning ran a story on yet another fiddle that has been uncovered from the depths of the health-reform bill that passed in the Senate on Christmas Eve. This one favors construction unions. While, under the act, most companies with fewer than 50 employees would not have to provide government-mandated health insurance or pay a tax, those in the construction business would be exempt only if they have fewer than five employees. At least the Times notes that:

The construction industry provision is receiving a second look as work begins in earnest this week to resolve differences in bills passed by the Senate and the House to remake the nation’s health care system. Other provisions sure to be scrutinized include a tax break for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan in Nebraska; Medicare coverage for residents of Libby, Mont., sickened by a mineral mine; extra Medicaid money for Massachusetts, Nebraska and Vermont; and a special dispensation for a handful of doctor-owned hospitals.

One would hope that the endless number of constitutionally dubious provisions, including such lulus as requiring a supermajority in the Senate to repeal certain portions of the act, will also get a second look.

Of course, it may be that these provisions end up rescuing the country from this dreadful legislation. In 1933, at the very end of his 100 days, Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the National Industrial Recovery Act. Title II of that act established one of the New Deal’s most famous agencies, the Public Works Administration (PWA), which would build across the country post offices, highways, dams, etc. But Title I of the NIRA established the National Recovery Administration (NRA). It authorized the president to regulate industry, including the establishment of cartels and monopolies, to set prices, and, in effect, oversee the entire American economy, much as today’s health bill would regulate the health-care industry.

It was a breathtaking expansion of federal power and, for a while, the NRA’s symbol — a blue eagle with a gear wheel in one claw and lightning bolts in the other — and its slogan, “We Do Our Part,” were everywhere. But two years later, the Supreme Court ruled in a famous case, Schechter Poultry  Corp v. United States, that the bill violated both the separation of powers doctrine by delegating legislative authority to the president and the commerce clause.

While the court at that point had a majority of conservative justices (two years later FDR would try to pack the court to get rid of it), the decision was unanimous. Justice Louis Brandeis, no conservative, told aides of the president, “This is the end of this business of centralization, and I want you to go back and tell the president that we’re not going to let this government centralize everything.”

Where is Justice Brandeis now that we really need him?

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Re: The Culture of Corruption

Pete, your focus on the fundamental corruption at the heart of the Senate bill is, I think, exactly right and that corruption rather extraordinary. In the days after the Senate cloture vote on the health-care bill, you would think the mainstream media would be touting the bill’s benefits and focusing on the huge “win” for the president. But instead the buzz in both the mainstream and conservative media has not been about the merits of the “historic” legislation but about the backroom deals necessary to achieve its passage, which its sponsors assure us will usher in a wonderful era of improved health-care access and care.

We’re going to remember for years to come the names of the deals, just as surely as did the infamous Bridge to Nowhere become part of the political vocabulary: Louisiana Purchase, Cornhusker Kickback, U Con, Bayh Off, Handout Montana, and Gator Aid. Vermont and Massachusetts got billions more in Medicare funding. Sen. Roland Burris managed to slip in some funding for none other than ACORN, under the guise of improving minority community health. The scope and number of the deals are breathtaking, but it goes beyond the unseemliness of the average pork-barrel bill.

After all, this is not merely a transportation appropriations bill where the whole point is to dole out federal monies and the “game” is for each lawmaker to grab as much of the pie as possible for his own constituents. That might be distasteful to legislative purists and raise doubts as to whether all the money is being wisely spent. But it’s just about spreading the largess. In a case of transportation pork, one district gets a bike path and another doesn’t get the highway off-ramp, but neither district probably needed the project anyway.

In the case of health care, however, the bill rests on the premise that we are improving access to care and working toward a healthier society, reducing the problem of haves and have-nots. For decades that is how health-care “reform” has been sold by liberals.

But instead, what we “get” for health-care sweetheart deals is a new regime of rationed care, which will primarily impact the elderly. The nauseating plethora of backroom deals and special carve-outs for this or that state in health-care “reform,” therefore, is more egregious, and thus more politically toxic.

A central feature of this bill is the $500B cuts in Medicare funding, including slashing the popular Medicare Advantage plan and the imposition of a newly beefed-up Medicare Advisory Board, which will be empowered to devise new ways of cutting payments to doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and other health-care providers. In the absence of any real reform measures, the only feasible way to control costs is limiting care—i.e., rationing. Medicare already denies medical claims at double the rate of many large private insurers. And with $500B or so less to work with, many more Medicare claims will be denied.

This is what the Cornhusker Kickback and the rest of the bribe-a-thon are enabling. The Senate bill spared voters in a few states the harshest impact of the new care-depriving regime so that the same regime could be foisted on the entire country. Connecticut voters get $600 million in additional Medicaid benefits, Vermont voters get $10B in health-care centers, and hospitals in North Dakota and Iowa get richer Medicare reimbursement rates. Those deals made possible reduced rates of reimbursement and Medicare funding for the rest of the country, rates so paltry and unacceptable to a few key senators that they had to use all their pull to spare their own states. If it is unacceptable for them, why must the rest of the country live with it?

The colorfully named backroom deals may well induce a fiery public backlash, complicating the bill’s passage and negating any political benefit derived by its proponents. Voters will discover not only the ugly side of secret deals; they may also figure out that the moral justification for health care has been jettisoned by those who used their clout to squeeze care for millions of voters while sparing themselves the worst of that backlash.

Pete, your focus on the fundamental corruption at the heart of the Senate bill is, I think, exactly right and that corruption rather extraordinary. In the days after the Senate cloture vote on the health-care bill, you would think the mainstream media would be touting the bill’s benefits and focusing on the huge “win” for the president. But instead the buzz in both the mainstream and conservative media has not been about the merits of the “historic” legislation but about the backroom deals necessary to achieve its passage, which its sponsors assure us will usher in a wonderful era of improved health-care access and care.

We’re going to remember for years to come the names of the deals, just as surely as did the infamous Bridge to Nowhere become part of the political vocabulary: Louisiana Purchase, Cornhusker Kickback, U Con, Bayh Off, Handout Montana, and Gator Aid. Vermont and Massachusetts got billions more in Medicare funding. Sen. Roland Burris managed to slip in some funding for none other than ACORN, under the guise of improving minority community health. The scope and number of the deals are breathtaking, but it goes beyond the unseemliness of the average pork-barrel bill.

After all, this is not merely a transportation appropriations bill where the whole point is to dole out federal monies and the “game” is for each lawmaker to grab as much of the pie as possible for his own constituents. That might be distasteful to legislative purists and raise doubts as to whether all the money is being wisely spent. But it’s just about spreading the largess. In a case of transportation pork, one district gets a bike path and another doesn’t get the highway off-ramp, but neither district probably needed the project anyway.

In the case of health care, however, the bill rests on the premise that we are improving access to care and working toward a healthier society, reducing the problem of haves and have-nots. For decades that is how health-care “reform” has been sold by liberals.

But instead, what we “get” for health-care sweetheart deals is a new regime of rationed care, which will primarily impact the elderly. The nauseating plethora of backroom deals and special carve-outs for this or that state in health-care “reform,” therefore, is more egregious, and thus more politically toxic.

A central feature of this bill is the $500B cuts in Medicare funding, including slashing the popular Medicare Advantage plan and the imposition of a newly beefed-up Medicare Advisory Board, which will be empowered to devise new ways of cutting payments to doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and other health-care providers. In the absence of any real reform measures, the only feasible way to control costs is limiting care—i.e., rationing. Medicare already denies medical claims at double the rate of many large private insurers. And with $500B or so less to work with, many more Medicare claims will be denied.

This is what the Cornhusker Kickback and the rest of the bribe-a-thon are enabling. The Senate bill spared voters in a few states the harshest impact of the new care-depriving regime so that the same regime could be foisted on the entire country. Connecticut voters get $600 million in additional Medicaid benefits, Vermont voters get $10B in health-care centers, and hospitals in North Dakota and Iowa get richer Medicare reimbursement rates. Those deals made possible reduced rates of reimbursement and Medicare funding for the rest of the country, rates so paltry and unacceptable to a few key senators that they had to use all their pull to spare their own states. If it is unacceptable for them, why must the rest of the country live with it?

The colorfully named backroom deals may well induce a fiery public backlash, complicating the bill’s passage and negating any political benefit derived by its proponents. Voters will discover not only the ugly side of secret deals; they may also figure out that the moral justification for health care has been jettisoned by those who used their clout to squeeze care for millions of voters while sparing themselves the worst of that backlash.

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Liberals in Revolt, Looking for Allies

The Left is having a meltdown. They might yet get nationalized health care, but they’re beside themselves with fury. As this report sums up:

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is mounting a campaign of sorts against the initiative in its current form. MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has declared, “This is not health. This is not care. This is certainly not reform.” Liberal blogs such as Daily Kos are blasting the Senate bill, especially since it dropped a government-run “public option” and killed a plan to expand Medicare. Liberal House members are venting their fury at senators who are lukewarm on the revamp, especially Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson. Labor unions are protesting proposed taxes on high-value insurance policies.

On one hand, there’s reason to view all this with a great deal of skepticism. We haven’t seen, with the possible exception of Sen. Bernie Sanders, any indication that the Left will submarine the bill in the Senate. And virtually everyone suspects that whatever does get through the Senate will be jammed down the throats of House Democrats. They’ve shown no inclination to resist Nancy Pelosi on any significant vote.

However, there is reason for the White House and Democratic lawmakers to be very, very nervous. They need these angry liberals to support them, give money, and turn out to vote in 2010. The “angry Left” is useful to Democratic pols — so long as the Left’s anger is directed at others — and gets liberals to the polls for establishment Democrats. Should the liberal base stay home in a huff, the bleak 2010 picture will get bleaker.

What to do? Well, the White House and Democratic congressional leaders are convinced it will all work out in the end if the reviled health-care bill passes. Everyone — the Left included — will learn to love it, they keep telling themselves. Perhaps. But maybe there’s a strange convergence of interests. The Left wants to kill the bill. Conservatives want to kill the bill. Red State Democrats don’t really want to vote on the bill. What all these diverse groups need to do, then, is, well, kill the bill.

But then Democrats will need to look for someone to blame. (You don’t suppose they could blame George W. Bush? He’s come in so handy for so long, and on this one he almost surely wouldn’t mind.) Perhaps the Democrats should have held tight on the public option and let Sen. Joe Lieberman sink it. Come to think of it, that would have made a whole lot of people very happy. And it might have saved a lot of Democratic seats in 2010. Ah, well.

The Left is having a meltdown. They might yet get nationalized health care, but they’re beside themselves with fury. As this report sums up:

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is mounting a campaign of sorts against the initiative in its current form. MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has declared, “This is not health. This is not care. This is certainly not reform.” Liberal blogs such as Daily Kos are blasting the Senate bill, especially since it dropped a government-run “public option” and killed a plan to expand Medicare. Liberal House members are venting their fury at senators who are lukewarm on the revamp, especially Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson. Labor unions are protesting proposed taxes on high-value insurance policies.

On one hand, there’s reason to view all this with a great deal of skepticism. We haven’t seen, with the possible exception of Sen. Bernie Sanders, any indication that the Left will submarine the bill in the Senate. And virtually everyone suspects that whatever does get through the Senate will be jammed down the throats of House Democrats. They’ve shown no inclination to resist Nancy Pelosi on any significant vote.

However, there is reason for the White House and Democratic lawmakers to be very, very nervous. They need these angry liberals to support them, give money, and turn out to vote in 2010. The “angry Left” is useful to Democratic pols — so long as the Left’s anger is directed at others — and gets liberals to the polls for establishment Democrats. Should the liberal base stay home in a huff, the bleak 2010 picture will get bleaker.

What to do? Well, the White House and Democratic congressional leaders are convinced it will all work out in the end if the reviled health-care bill passes. Everyone — the Left included — will learn to love it, they keep telling themselves. Perhaps. But maybe there’s a strange convergence of interests. The Left wants to kill the bill. Conservatives want to kill the bill. Red State Democrats don’t really want to vote on the bill. What all these diverse groups need to do, then, is, well, kill the bill.

But then Democrats will need to look for someone to blame. (You don’t suppose they could blame George W. Bush? He’s come in so handy for so long, and on this one he almost surely wouldn’t mind.) Perhaps the Democrats should have held tight on the public option and let Sen. Joe Lieberman sink it. Come to think of it, that would have made a whole lot of people very happy. And it might have saved a lot of Democratic seats in 2010. Ah, well.

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Not That Close

Those ever-faulty exit polls painted a false picture which drove much of the media coverage last night, suggesting the races were closer than they were. Hillary Clinton won Rhode Island and Ohio by double digits. In Rhode Island she netted 4 delegates and in the latter, she won by a margin of 62 to 46. (She lost a net of three delegates in Vermont.) Given the convoluted Texas caucus we won’t know the final tally in Texas but based on the primary itself, as of this morning she had netted 6 delegates.

But delegates, of course, are not what Clinton will talk about. She will talk about Democrats “just beginning to pay attention” and the “biggest prize” of Pennsylvania yet to come. For the first time in weeks she has the momentum–and if not the affection, at least the respect, of the media. Most importantly, she has a leg up in her effort to show Barack Obama has a glass jaw.

Those ever-faulty exit polls painted a false picture which drove much of the media coverage last night, suggesting the races were closer than they were. Hillary Clinton won Rhode Island and Ohio by double digits. In Rhode Island she netted 4 delegates and in the latter, she won by a margin of 62 to 46. (She lost a net of three delegates in Vermont.) Given the convoluted Texas caucus we won’t know the final tally in Texas but based on the primary itself, as of this morning she had netted 6 delegates.

But delegates, of course, are not what Clinton will talk about. She will talk about Democrats “just beginning to pay attention” and the “biggest prize” of Pennsylvania yet to come. For the first time in weeks she has the momentum–and if not the affection, at least the respect, of the media. Most importantly, she has a leg up in her effort to show Barack Obama has a glass jaw.

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McCain On His Way

With  winner-take-all Vermont and Ohio (already 58 of 85 delegates) called for him, John McCain is all but certain to be crowned the nominee tonight. At least one of the networks has moved McCain’s delegate count to over 1100. There is one fellow that would be delighted for the Obama-Clinton race to go on for weeks, indeed months, longer.

With  winner-take-all Vermont and Ohio (already 58 of 85 delegates) called for him, John McCain is all but certain to be crowned the nominee tonight. At least one of the networks has moved McCain’s delegate count to over 1100. There is one fellow that would be delighted for the Obama-Clinton race to go on for weeks, indeed months, longer.

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November Surprise

In spite of what the polls supposedly tell us, I strongly suspect that the Democrats may already have blown the 2008 election. Unlike the late Senator Aiken of Vermont, who proposed that we declare victory and get out of Vietnam, the Democrats want us to declare defeat and get out of Iraq. This, they imagine, is what the American people were demanding in the congressional election of 2006.

But it seems far more likely that the message of that election was not “Get out,” but rather “Win, or get out.” In any case, the position the Democrats are now taking can only have the effect of revivifying and reinforcing the sense of them as weak on national security. And this was the very factor that led to the ignominious defeat of their presidential candidate, George McGovern, in 1972, when they also misread the public temper by paying too much attention to the left wing of their party.

Furthermore, reading the first volume of Bill Bennett’s America: The Last Best Hope, I am reminded that the American distrust of defeatist political parties goes back beyond 1972—all the way back, in fact, to the War of 1812. Like Iraq, it was an unpopular war that its Federalist-party opponents called “Mr. Madison’s war,” just as the Democrats today call Iraq “Bush’s war.” In addition, just as the Democrats today keep threatening to cut off funds for Iraq, a number of state governments controlled by the Federalists “refused to supply militia troops for the war effort.” The end result, says Bennett, was that the Federalists would “never again seriously contend for the presidency.”

Read More

In spite of what the polls supposedly tell us, I strongly suspect that the Democrats may already have blown the 2008 election. Unlike the late Senator Aiken of Vermont, who proposed that we declare victory and get out of Vietnam, the Democrats want us to declare defeat and get out of Iraq. This, they imagine, is what the American people were demanding in the congressional election of 2006.

But it seems far more likely that the message of that election was not “Get out,” but rather “Win, or get out.” In any case, the position the Democrats are now taking can only have the effect of revivifying and reinforcing the sense of them as weak on national security. And this was the very factor that led to the ignominious defeat of their presidential candidate, George McGovern, in 1972, when they also misread the public temper by paying too much attention to the left wing of their party.

Furthermore, reading the first volume of Bill Bennett’s America: The Last Best Hope, I am reminded that the American distrust of defeatist political parties goes back beyond 1972—all the way back, in fact, to the War of 1812. Like Iraq, it was an unpopular war that its Federalist-party opponents called “Mr. Madison’s war,” just as the Democrats today call Iraq “Bush’s war.” In addition, just as the Democrats today keep threatening to cut off funds for Iraq, a number of state governments controlled by the Federalists “refused to supply militia troops for the war effort.” The end result, says Bennett, was that the Federalists would “never again seriously contend for the presidency.”

Then, too, there was the Mexican war, into which a Democratic President (the “mendacious Polk,” as he was described by his Whig opponents) led the country in 1846. The Whigs, Bennett writes, were mindful of the damage done to the Federalists by their position on the War of 1812, and therefore they “made sure to vote to supply the troops.” Even so, the Whigs did themselves no political good by acting as though it was Polk’s war and not the nation’s. Although this was not the only or even the main reason they eventually followed the Federalists onto the ash heap of American political history, it surely played a part.

I am not predicting that the Democrats of today will suffer the same fate as the Federalists and the Whigs did. But I do think that they are in the process of ensuring their defeat in the next presidential election. In many respects, of course, the people of this country are very different from their forebears of 1812 and 1846. But I suspect that most of us are not all that different from them in how we view politicians who conspicuously fail to root for American troops fighting in the field, and who seem to think that they can get away with it by sticking the responsibility for the war on the sitting president of the other party. In 1972, this deeply ingrained American attitude still had enough life in it to give Richard Nixon, unpopular though he was, an overwhelming victory against George McGovern. Unless the American leopard has changed his spots since then, the Democrats are in for a very big surprise in November 2008.

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Anbar Against al Qaeda

I’ve argued in the past, and still believe, that you can’t blame the news media for the fact that we’re losing the war in Iraq. But it’s hard to defend some press actions, such as the decision by the New York Times to bury the most important Iraq story of the weekend. Readers of the Saturday New York Times had to turn to the bottom of page A8 to read this dispatch from Edward Wong in Baghdad: “In Lawless Sunni Heartland of Iraq, a Tribal Chief Opposes the Jihadists, and Prays.”

Wong describes a trend I’ve been hearing about on the military grapevine but which hasn’t been much reported in the MSM: the growing willingness of tribal leaders in Anbar province to turn against al Qaeda and offer to fight for the government. The anti-al Qaeda sheiks have formed a group called the Anbar Salvation Council, and they’ve begun encouraging their young men to join the police and various militia forces to battle the jihadists. Thanks to the council’s efforts, the number of Iraqi police recruits in Anbar has shot up from 30 to 300 a month.

Read More

I’ve argued in the past, and still believe, that you can’t blame the news media for the fact that we’re losing the war in Iraq. But it’s hard to defend some press actions, such as the decision by the New York Times to bury the most important Iraq story of the weekend. Readers of the Saturday New York Times had to turn to the bottom of page A8 to read this dispatch from Edward Wong in Baghdad: “In Lawless Sunni Heartland of Iraq, a Tribal Chief Opposes the Jihadists, and Prays.”

Wong describes a trend I’ve been hearing about on the military grapevine but which hasn’t been much reported in the MSM: the growing willingness of tribal leaders in Anbar province to turn against al Qaeda and offer to fight for the government. The anti-al Qaeda sheiks have formed a group called the Anbar Salvation Council, and they’ve begun encouraging their young men to join the police and various militia forces to battle the jihadists. Thanks to the council’s efforts, the number of Iraqi police recruits in Anbar has shot up from 30 to 300 a month.

Wong’s story focuses on the council’s leader, Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawa, the 35-year-old chief of the Rishawai tribe, which accounts for about 40,000 of the 400,000 residents of Ramadi, the provincial capital. The sheik’s father and three brothers were killed, most likely by al Qaeda, but this hasn’t cowed him; it has only fueled his thirst for vengeance. Wong quotes a U.S. army civil-affairs officer, who emailed him before his own death in combat in December, that Sheik Abdul Sattar “is the most effective local leader in Ramadi I believe the coalition has worked with since they arrived in Anbar in 2003.”

A measure of caution is warranted here. We have heard before about tribal elders rising up against al Qaeda, and there have been previous reports about local militias, such as the Fallujah Brigade, which did not live up to their hype. But if the trends portrayed in Wong’s story continue, it will be a hugely significant break in the battle to reestablish control of Anbar province, the most lawless region of Iraq since the downfall of the Baathist regime.

You might think that this would deserve front-page play. But no. The Times editors have more important stories to place there, such as this article from Montpelier, Vermont: “Warm Winters Upset Rhythms of Maple Sugar.”

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