Commentary Magazine


Topic: W. Bush

Flotsam and Jetsam

But they are supposed to go into harm’s way for their country: the Navy takes away the lard and water hoses from a 60-year tradition in which plebes climb a greased 21-foot monument. Why? They might get hurt. A former Naval Academy graduate chimes in: “We’re going to send these guys to war but they can’t climb a monument because they might get hurt? Come on.” Next thing you know, they’ll be allowing proper names in Scrabble.

But don’t we have a First Amendment or something? “Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accused the president of being in the pocket of Big Oil, a charge usually leveled by Democrats at the GOP. ‘You’ve got to have a license to drive a car in this country, but, regrettably, you can get on a TV show and say virtually anything,’ White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.” Gosh, if we only licensed talking heads.

But he’s a “genius”! “Millions of Americans are out of work, the budget deficit is in the trillions and Europe is flirting with economic collapse. Fear not, says Larry Summers, the chief economic adviser to President Obama. It is merely a ‘fluctuation.’” His long-winded gobbledygook about moving from the G-7 to the G-20 “was vintage Summers: smart, esoteric — and utterly unhelpful.”

But isn’t it like allowing Keith Olbermann to review a George W. Bush biography? The Washington Post has David Frum (who’s carved out a niche in Limbaugh-bashing for the mainstream media) review the latest biography of Rush Limbaugh. Surprise, surprise, he concludes: “It might seem ominous for an intellectual movement to be led by a man who does not think creatively, who does not respect the other side of the argument and who frequently says things that are not intended as truth.”

But you didn’t really buy all that “transparency” jazz did you? “The Justice Department has rejected a Republican request to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations that the White House offered a job to Rep. Joe Sestak if he would drop out of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic primary. … In the letter to [Rep. Darrell] Issa, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote that the DOJ could handle the allegations without creating a special counsel. But Weich gave no indication that the department was looking into the Sestak matter.”

But if David Axelrod is right about there being “no evidence” of a deal, then Sestak is lying. Mark Hemingway: “There’s no good outcome here for the White House. Either the White House did something illegal here or their party’s Senate candidate in Pennsylvania is a delusional fabulist. But regardless, their prolonged foot-dragging here only appears to be making things worse.”

But the White House said, “Trust us”: “The number two Democrat in the Senate, who has close ties to the White House, is urging Rep. Joe Sestak to come clean. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN Tuesday that the Pennsylvania Democrat should fully explain whether Obama administration officials pressed him to drop his Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter in exchange for a job.”

But Democrats insisted we needed a humungous new uber-department! James Carafano on the BP response: “Explain to me why nine years after 9/11 we struggle with disasters. Well, the answer is easy. Homeland Security wastes its time on routine disaster; the secretary worries more about how to grant amnesty to illegals than battling terrorists and preparing for catastrophes. Congress dumps money in wasteful programs and uses 108 committees, sub-committees, and commissions to provide chaotic and incoherent oversight to the department.”

But (as a sharp colleague suggested) couldn’t we work out a deal where Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul both exit their races? Jonah Goldberg sums up why conservatives should carry no water for Paul: “[I]t’s certainly repugnant and bizarre for libertarians like Paul to lament the lost rights of bigots rather than to rejoice at the restored rights of integrationists.” (By the way, would Paul commend Obama for doing nothing at all about the BP spill?)

But they are supposed to go into harm’s way for their country: the Navy takes away the lard and water hoses from a 60-year tradition in which plebes climb a greased 21-foot monument. Why? They might get hurt. A former Naval Academy graduate chimes in: “We’re going to send these guys to war but they can’t climb a monument because they might get hurt? Come on.” Next thing you know, they’ll be allowing proper names in Scrabble.

But don’t we have a First Amendment or something? “Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accused the president of being in the pocket of Big Oil, a charge usually leveled by Democrats at the GOP. ‘You’ve got to have a license to drive a car in this country, but, regrettably, you can get on a TV show and say virtually anything,’ White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.” Gosh, if we only licensed talking heads.

But he’s a “genius”! “Millions of Americans are out of work, the budget deficit is in the trillions and Europe is flirting with economic collapse. Fear not, says Larry Summers, the chief economic adviser to President Obama. It is merely a ‘fluctuation.’” His long-winded gobbledygook about moving from the G-7 to the G-20 “was vintage Summers: smart, esoteric — and utterly unhelpful.”

But isn’t it like allowing Keith Olbermann to review a George W. Bush biography? The Washington Post has David Frum (who’s carved out a niche in Limbaugh-bashing for the mainstream media) review the latest biography of Rush Limbaugh. Surprise, surprise, he concludes: “It might seem ominous for an intellectual movement to be led by a man who does not think creatively, who does not respect the other side of the argument and who frequently says things that are not intended as truth.”

But you didn’t really buy all that “transparency” jazz did you? “The Justice Department has rejected a Republican request to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations that the White House offered a job to Rep. Joe Sestak if he would drop out of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic primary. … In the letter to [Rep. Darrell] Issa, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote that the DOJ could handle the allegations without creating a special counsel. But Weich gave no indication that the department was looking into the Sestak matter.”

But if David Axelrod is right about there being “no evidence” of a deal, then Sestak is lying. Mark Hemingway: “There’s no good outcome here for the White House. Either the White House did something illegal here or their party’s Senate candidate in Pennsylvania is a delusional fabulist. But regardless, their prolonged foot-dragging here only appears to be making things worse.”

But the White House said, “Trust us”: “The number two Democrat in the Senate, who has close ties to the White House, is urging Rep. Joe Sestak to come clean. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN Tuesday that the Pennsylvania Democrat should fully explain whether Obama administration officials pressed him to drop his Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter in exchange for a job.”

But Democrats insisted we needed a humungous new uber-department! James Carafano on the BP response: “Explain to me why nine years after 9/11 we struggle with disasters. Well, the answer is easy. Homeland Security wastes its time on routine disaster; the secretary worries more about how to grant amnesty to illegals than battling terrorists and preparing for catastrophes. Congress dumps money in wasteful programs and uses 108 committees, sub-committees, and commissions to provide chaotic and incoherent oversight to the department.”

But (as a sharp colleague suggested) couldn’t we work out a deal where Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul both exit their races? Jonah Goldberg sums up why conservatives should carry no water for Paul: “[I]t’s certainly repugnant and bizarre for libertarians like Paul to lament the lost rights of bigots rather than to rejoice at the restored rights of integrationists.” (By the way, would Paul commend Obama for doing nothing at all about the BP spill?)

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Sage Advice for Obama: First Do No Harm on Middle East

From an unlikely publication (Huffington Post) and from unlikely sources (a Wharton professor and a negotiations “expert”) comes some generally sound advice for Obama on the Palestinian conflict. The article recommends that Obama:

1. Avoid proposing simple solutions to complex problems. Look for causal linkages, not just proximity. Stopping movie downloads won’t stop the rain, and stopping the construction of new settlements won’t end centuries of misunderstanding and grievances.

2. Work with these linkages and with the situation as it is, not as he would want it to be. For example, if the Palestinians think they can get all of Palestine just by waiting, President Obama needs to create a better option, either by making it clear that they cannot just wait, or by offering them something they cannot get just by waiting.

3. Understand the complexity of the problem as it is. Making a problem undiscussable does not make the problem go away. President Obama seems to believe that use of phrases like “radical Islam” suggests Americans view Islamic states as terrorists and that the phrase should be banished; actually, this phrase suggests that the United States does make important distinctions between violent terrorists and others who disagree with us strongly but express this through different means. But denying the existence of radicals does not make them or their grievances go away. As long as the Islamic world feels it has real grievances, then palliatives, as expensive as they may be for the Israelis, are not a real solution. And as long as there are Islamic radicals there will be threats to the West, some of them quite severe. While some of these grievances and the problems they create may require real concessions from the West, others may require a truly forceful, even violent military response instead.

4. Above all, President Obama should do no harm. Although this is a Medical School takeaway, not a law school one, it is worth mentioning in conclusion. The law of unintended consequences suggests that any time anyone adjusts a complex system, the results may be surprising. In this instance, we suspect that President Obama and the rest of the world would find the results of this stare-down with Israel disappointing as well.

I’ll take exception to the authors’ objection to the use of the phrase “radical Islam” (although they aptly note that Obama’s aversion to descriptions of our enemies amounts to foolish denial). However, they get to the root of Obama’s error in dealing with the Palestinian problem: he’s not operating in the real world. It’s no accident his Cairo speech zipped past 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism or that he avoids talking about Israel’s multiple offers of a Palestinian state — these are unpleasant facts at odds with his linkages and that suggest he is, at best, doing nothing productive and, at worst, making things worse.

It is ironic in the extreme that this is the “ideology is so yesterday” crowd. In fact, “ideology” in the worst sense of the word — and as the Obami intend it, as a dig at George W. Bush — is the insistence on seeing the world through dogmatic blinders, impervious to facts and reason. It is precisely what Obama is all about when it comes to the U.S.-Palestinian conflict and why he is dangerously not following the most important bit of advice — “do no harm.”

From an unlikely publication (Huffington Post) and from unlikely sources (a Wharton professor and a negotiations “expert”) comes some generally sound advice for Obama on the Palestinian conflict. The article recommends that Obama:

1. Avoid proposing simple solutions to complex problems. Look for causal linkages, not just proximity. Stopping movie downloads won’t stop the rain, and stopping the construction of new settlements won’t end centuries of misunderstanding and grievances.

2. Work with these linkages and with the situation as it is, not as he would want it to be. For example, if the Palestinians think they can get all of Palestine just by waiting, President Obama needs to create a better option, either by making it clear that they cannot just wait, or by offering them something they cannot get just by waiting.

3. Understand the complexity of the problem as it is. Making a problem undiscussable does not make the problem go away. President Obama seems to believe that use of phrases like “radical Islam” suggests Americans view Islamic states as terrorists and that the phrase should be banished; actually, this phrase suggests that the United States does make important distinctions between violent terrorists and others who disagree with us strongly but express this through different means. But denying the existence of radicals does not make them or their grievances go away. As long as the Islamic world feels it has real grievances, then palliatives, as expensive as they may be for the Israelis, are not a real solution. And as long as there are Islamic radicals there will be threats to the West, some of them quite severe. While some of these grievances and the problems they create may require real concessions from the West, others may require a truly forceful, even violent military response instead.

4. Above all, President Obama should do no harm. Although this is a Medical School takeaway, not a law school one, it is worth mentioning in conclusion. The law of unintended consequences suggests that any time anyone adjusts a complex system, the results may be surprising. In this instance, we suspect that President Obama and the rest of the world would find the results of this stare-down with Israel disappointing as well.

I’ll take exception to the authors’ objection to the use of the phrase “radical Islam” (although they aptly note that Obama’s aversion to descriptions of our enemies amounts to foolish denial). However, they get to the root of Obama’s error in dealing with the Palestinian problem: he’s not operating in the real world. It’s no accident his Cairo speech zipped past 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism or that he avoids talking about Israel’s multiple offers of a Palestinian state — these are unpleasant facts at odds with his linkages and that suggest he is, at best, doing nothing productive and, at worst, making things worse.

It is ironic in the extreme that this is the “ideology is so yesterday” crowd. In fact, “ideology” in the worst sense of the word — and as the Obami intend it, as a dig at George W. Bush — is the insistence on seeing the world through dogmatic blinders, impervious to facts and reason. It is precisely what Obama is all about when it comes to the U.S.-Palestinian conflict and why he is dangerously not following the most important bit of advice — “do no harm.”

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CPAC: Past, Present, and Future

One former VP, a former (and current) presidential aspirant, and a future rock star came to the CPAC gathering today. Two of them aren’t running for president in 2012, and you can bet the other is.

Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance and, in essence, passed the baton to the generation of his daughter Liz. (She might be running for something before too long.) As for Marco Rubio:

The star of CPAC continued his rise in the Republican Party on Thursday with a story about his American Dream. Marco Rubio, who has surged to near-even with Gov. Charlie Crist in the Florida GOP Senate primary, used his speech in front of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to bash President Barack Obama, Republican defector Sen. Arlen Specter and, by connection, the centrist Crist.

Rubio suggested that Crist would be another senator in the mold of Specter (D-Pa.), who in the face of a tough reelection last year fled the GOP to become a Democrat.

“We already have one Arlen Specter,” Rubio said, adding: “We already have one Democratic Party.”

Ouch. But it’s clear that his invocation of the American dream, his staunch position on the war against Islamic fascists, and his full-throated conservative economic message are a hit with the base, and will likely transfer comfortably to a general-election race.

Cheney and Rubio made clear that they will not be running in 2012. But Mitt Romney surely will. Ben Smith summed it up:

Mitt Romney has gone from being an overeager suitor to being a favored son of the Conservative Political Action Conference since he ended his presidential campaign here in 2008, and his speech today was well-calibrated to an audience basking in a conservative resurgence and eager for attacks on Obama.

Sen. Scott Brown introduced Romney, sharing a bit of his new star power with the former governor, whose aides ran Brown’s campaign, and calling him perfectly qualified “to fix a broken economy.”

Romney’s prepared remarks lace into Obama on an array of issues, all hinged on a single theme: Obama has departed from American values.

Several things were noteworthy in his speech. First, unlike his potential competitor Tim Pawlenty, who’s taken to slamming the GOP and, indirectly, George. W. Bush, Romney wasn’t going there:

When it comes to shifting responsibility for failure, however, no one is a more frequent object of President Obama’s reproach than President Bush. It’s wearing so thin that even the late night shows make fun of it. I am convinced that history will judge President Bush far more kindly — he pulled us from a deepening recession following the attack of 9/11, he overcame teachers unions to test school children and evaluate schools, he took down the Taliban, waged a war against the jihadists and was not afraid to call it what it is — a war, and he kept us safe.

Classy, and, after a year of not-Bush in the Oval Office, I suspect the message will resonate with conservatives.

Second, Romney, who struggled to find footing with social conservatives and to establish his bona fides on abortion and other such issues,  focused almost exclusively on foreign policy and the economy. When he did talk about “strengthening families,” it was education and health care, not abortion and gay rights, that were his focus. If 2012 will be about “letting Romney be Romney,” then you’re going to hear less of the hot-button issues that rang as not quite authentic last time around and, rather, more of this: “Conservatism has had from its inception a vigorously positive, intellectually rigorous agenda.”

Third, he has clearly found his focus, which is a conservative economic message that goes after the Democrats’ statist agenda and touts his own business background. He is laying the case that Obama simply doesn’t understand how the economy works and isn’t prepared, even now, to be president:

As he frequently reminds us, he assumed the presidency at a difficult time. That’s the reason we argued during the campaign that these were not the times for on the job training. Had he or his advisors spent even a few years in the real economy, they would have learned that the number one cause of failure in the private sector is lack of focus, and that the first rule of turning around any troubled enterprise is focus, focus, focus. And so, when he assumed the presidency, his energy should have been focused on fixing the economy and creating jobs, and to succeeding in our fight against radical violent jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he applied his time and political capital to his ill-conceived healthcare takeover and to building his personal popularity in foreign countries. He failed to focus, and so he failed.

And finally, there is a reason Romney is saying nice things about both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney — he’s running against the not-Bush (and Cheney) national-security policy:

We will strengthen our security by building missile defense, restoring our military might, and standing-by and strengthening our intelligence officers. And conservatives believe in providing constitutional rights to our citizens, not to enemy combatants like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed! On our watch, the conversation with a would-be suicide bomber will not begin with the words, “You have the right to remain silent!”

Romney never quite clicked with the conservative base last time. But Republicans are notoriously forgiving types and have a habit of going back to the runner-up. If he’s going to run as Romney the businessman, experienced executive, free-market advocate, and tough-as-nails commander in chief, it will be quite a contrast with Obama. But first he’s got to wow the conservative base and get by some formidable competition. Bringing along Scott Brown to introduce him was one small sign that he understands the need to connect with not just mainstreet Republicans but also with the grassroots tea party movement, which carried Brown into office. No easy task, but then again, we should all get a grip — it is still 2010.

One former VP, a former (and current) presidential aspirant, and a future rock star came to the CPAC gathering today. Two of them aren’t running for president in 2012, and you can bet the other is.

Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance and, in essence, passed the baton to the generation of his daughter Liz. (She might be running for something before too long.) As for Marco Rubio:

The star of CPAC continued his rise in the Republican Party on Thursday with a story about his American Dream. Marco Rubio, who has surged to near-even with Gov. Charlie Crist in the Florida GOP Senate primary, used his speech in front of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to bash President Barack Obama, Republican defector Sen. Arlen Specter and, by connection, the centrist Crist.

Rubio suggested that Crist would be another senator in the mold of Specter (D-Pa.), who in the face of a tough reelection last year fled the GOP to become a Democrat.

“We already have one Arlen Specter,” Rubio said, adding: “We already have one Democratic Party.”

Ouch. But it’s clear that his invocation of the American dream, his staunch position on the war against Islamic fascists, and his full-throated conservative economic message are a hit with the base, and will likely transfer comfortably to a general-election race.

Cheney and Rubio made clear that they will not be running in 2012. But Mitt Romney surely will. Ben Smith summed it up:

Mitt Romney has gone from being an overeager suitor to being a favored son of the Conservative Political Action Conference since he ended his presidential campaign here in 2008, and his speech today was well-calibrated to an audience basking in a conservative resurgence and eager for attacks on Obama.

Sen. Scott Brown introduced Romney, sharing a bit of his new star power with the former governor, whose aides ran Brown’s campaign, and calling him perfectly qualified “to fix a broken economy.”

Romney’s prepared remarks lace into Obama on an array of issues, all hinged on a single theme: Obama has departed from American values.

Several things were noteworthy in his speech. First, unlike his potential competitor Tim Pawlenty, who’s taken to slamming the GOP and, indirectly, George. W. Bush, Romney wasn’t going there:

When it comes to shifting responsibility for failure, however, no one is a more frequent object of President Obama’s reproach than President Bush. It’s wearing so thin that even the late night shows make fun of it. I am convinced that history will judge President Bush far more kindly — he pulled us from a deepening recession following the attack of 9/11, he overcame teachers unions to test school children and evaluate schools, he took down the Taliban, waged a war against the jihadists and was not afraid to call it what it is — a war, and he kept us safe.

Classy, and, after a year of not-Bush in the Oval Office, I suspect the message will resonate with conservatives.

Second, Romney, who struggled to find footing with social conservatives and to establish his bona fides on abortion and other such issues,  focused almost exclusively on foreign policy and the economy. When he did talk about “strengthening families,” it was education and health care, not abortion and gay rights, that were his focus. If 2012 will be about “letting Romney be Romney,” then you’re going to hear less of the hot-button issues that rang as not quite authentic last time around and, rather, more of this: “Conservatism has had from its inception a vigorously positive, intellectually rigorous agenda.”

Third, he has clearly found his focus, which is a conservative economic message that goes after the Democrats’ statist agenda and touts his own business background. He is laying the case that Obama simply doesn’t understand how the economy works and isn’t prepared, even now, to be president:

As he frequently reminds us, he assumed the presidency at a difficult time. That’s the reason we argued during the campaign that these were not the times for on the job training. Had he or his advisors spent even a few years in the real economy, they would have learned that the number one cause of failure in the private sector is lack of focus, and that the first rule of turning around any troubled enterprise is focus, focus, focus. And so, when he assumed the presidency, his energy should have been focused on fixing the economy and creating jobs, and to succeeding in our fight against radical violent jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he applied his time and political capital to his ill-conceived healthcare takeover and to building his personal popularity in foreign countries. He failed to focus, and so he failed.

And finally, there is a reason Romney is saying nice things about both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney — he’s running against the not-Bush (and Cheney) national-security policy:

We will strengthen our security by building missile defense, restoring our military might, and standing-by and strengthening our intelligence officers. And conservatives believe in providing constitutional rights to our citizens, not to enemy combatants like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed! On our watch, the conversation with a would-be suicide bomber will not begin with the words, “You have the right to remain silent!”

Romney never quite clicked with the conservative base last time. But Republicans are notoriously forgiving types and have a habit of going back to the runner-up. If he’s going to run as Romney the businessman, experienced executive, free-market advocate, and tough-as-nails commander in chief, it will be quite a contrast with Obama. But first he’s got to wow the conservative base and get by some formidable competition. Bringing along Scott Brown to introduce him was one small sign that he understands the need to connect with not just mainstreet Republicans but also with the grassroots tea party movement, which carried Brown into office. No easy task, but then again, we should all get a grip — it is still 2010.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

A must-read new blog, Bad Rachel, is off with a bang, examining a study of Pashtun men in the Afghan army. “If through the good offices of our military—especially our women soldiers—we could help Afghani women unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

Obama doubles down on his George W. Bush buck-passing, repeating Eric Holder’s line that the Obama administration is treating terrorists just as its predecessor did. (No mention of the terrorists who were treated as combatants under Bush, and no word on why Obama’s not using the military-tribunal system put into place since many of the Bush-era terror cases.) Then the real double-talk starts: we got “actionable intelligence” from the Christmas Day bomber, the president says. But then why was he telling the American people that this was an “isolated extremist” in the days after the bombing? Something sure doesn’t add up.

Bill Kristol reminds us: “Robert Gibbs said to you right here at this desk, right here in snowy Washington, D.C., Chris, where you’re — you seem to have escaped from and enjoying nice weather there in Nashville — Gibbs said to you, what, two days after the Christmas bomber, ‘We got everything we needed from him.’ Do you remember that? There’s no — 50 minutes of interrogation with the FBI. That was great. Now — that was their spin then. Their spin now is, ‘Oh, it’s great. He’s talking again. He’s giving us lots of useful information.’ Which is it? Robert Gibbs was not telling the truth one of those two times. … When you have a White House that’s spinning constantly, they’re going to be criticized and they deserve to be criticized.”

Bill Sammon explains: “And Kit Bond was pretty direct, the senator saying the FBI director personally told him, ‘Look, the guy is talking to us again after five weeks but we got to keep that quiet. If that gets out, that could compromise national security.’ Because, of course, the intelligence that you’re getting from the guy is perishable. It’s actionable. And you don’t want to be blabbing to the world that the guy’s talking. So what happens? Twenty-four hours later, you have this unseemly spectacle of the White House press operation hurriedly summoning reporters to the West Wing to trumpet, ‘Guess what? He’s talking again! He’s talking again!’”

In case you thought it was very hard to get the federal budget under control: “Republican senator George LeMieux of Florida has done the math. If government spending were reduced to its 2007 level, we’d have a balanced budget (with a $163 billion surplus). Returning to the 2008 level of spending, the budget would be balanced in 2014 (a $133 billion surplus). And in both cases, that’s while keeping the Bush tax cuts across the board and indexing the loathed alternative minimum tax for inflation.”

Illinois Democrats had enough of this: “The ex-girlfriend who accused Democratic Lt. Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen of threatening her with a knife said Saturday she ‘does not believe he is fit to hold any public office.”” Only a week after the nomination: “Embattled Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen said Sunday night he’s dropping out of the race. ‘For the good of the people of [the] state of Illinois and the Democratic party I will resign,’ he said.”

Arlen Specter gets the endorsement of the  Pennsylvania Democratic party. But Democrats there don’t seem to like him all that much.

The Washington Post gives a blow-by-blow account of Sarah Palin’s appearance — her physical appearance, that is — at the Tea Party Convention. I can’t imagine them doing the same in the case of, say, Tim Pawlenty. One noteworthy observation: “In her lapel, a small pin with two flags — for Israel and the United States.”

Here’s a good bipartisan issue for conservatives to get behind: “The Obama administration is reaching out to business-friendly Democrats to win support for free-trade policies that divide the party. The effort is part of President Barack Obama’s push on trade that was launched with his State of the Union address. Obama said he wanted to double exports over the next five years as part of an effort to grow the U.S. economy.” If nothing else, it will annoy Big Labor.

A must-read new blog, Bad Rachel, is off with a bang, examining a study of Pashtun men in the Afghan army. “If through the good offices of our military—especially our women soldiers—we could help Afghani women unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

Obama doubles down on his George W. Bush buck-passing, repeating Eric Holder’s line that the Obama administration is treating terrorists just as its predecessor did. (No mention of the terrorists who were treated as combatants under Bush, and no word on why Obama’s not using the military-tribunal system put into place since many of the Bush-era terror cases.) Then the real double-talk starts: we got “actionable intelligence” from the Christmas Day bomber, the president says. But then why was he telling the American people that this was an “isolated extremist” in the days after the bombing? Something sure doesn’t add up.

Bill Kristol reminds us: “Robert Gibbs said to you right here at this desk, right here in snowy Washington, D.C., Chris, where you’re — you seem to have escaped from and enjoying nice weather there in Nashville — Gibbs said to you, what, two days after the Christmas bomber, ‘We got everything we needed from him.’ Do you remember that? There’s no — 50 minutes of interrogation with the FBI. That was great. Now — that was their spin then. Their spin now is, ‘Oh, it’s great. He’s talking again. He’s giving us lots of useful information.’ Which is it? Robert Gibbs was not telling the truth one of those two times. … When you have a White House that’s spinning constantly, they’re going to be criticized and they deserve to be criticized.”

Bill Sammon explains: “And Kit Bond was pretty direct, the senator saying the FBI director personally told him, ‘Look, the guy is talking to us again after five weeks but we got to keep that quiet. If that gets out, that could compromise national security.’ Because, of course, the intelligence that you’re getting from the guy is perishable. It’s actionable. And you don’t want to be blabbing to the world that the guy’s talking. So what happens? Twenty-four hours later, you have this unseemly spectacle of the White House press operation hurriedly summoning reporters to the West Wing to trumpet, ‘Guess what? He’s talking again! He’s talking again!’”

In case you thought it was very hard to get the federal budget under control: “Republican senator George LeMieux of Florida has done the math. If government spending were reduced to its 2007 level, we’d have a balanced budget (with a $163 billion surplus). Returning to the 2008 level of spending, the budget would be balanced in 2014 (a $133 billion surplus). And in both cases, that’s while keeping the Bush tax cuts across the board and indexing the loathed alternative minimum tax for inflation.”

Illinois Democrats had enough of this: “The ex-girlfriend who accused Democratic Lt. Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen of threatening her with a knife said Saturday she ‘does not believe he is fit to hold any public office.”” Only a week after the nomination: “Embattled Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen said Sunday night he’s dropping out of the race. ‘For the good of the people of [the] state of Illinois and the Democratic party I will resign,’ he said.”

Arlen Specter gets the endorsement of the  Pennsylvania Democratic party. But Democrats there don’t seem to like him all that much.

The Washington Post gives a blow-by-blow account of Sarah Palin’s appearance — her physical appearance, that is — at the Tea Party Convention. I can’t imagine them doing the same in the case of, say, Tim Pawlenty. One noteworthy observation: “In her lapel, a small pin with two flags — for Israel and the United States.”

Here’s a good bipartisan issue for conservatives to get behind: “The Obama administration is reaching out to business-friendly Democrats to win support for free-trade policies that divide the party. The effort is part of President Barack Obama’s push on trade that was launched with his State of the Union address. Obama said he wanted to double exports over the next five years as part of an effort to grow the U.S. economy.” If nothing else, it will annoy Big Labor.

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Blaming Bush, Again

In his dogged determination to blame George W. Bush for everything, Obama persists with the narrative that he inherited the huge deficit. He’s a victim, you see, a mere bystander next to yet another train wreck from the Bushies. Well, not exactly.

As Robert Robb makes clear, Bush didn’t come close to the spending bonanza Obama is proposing: “Even with Bush’s tax cuts, federal revenues in 2007 were at the average as a percentage of GDP, 18.5 percent, going back to 1960. The deficit was just 1.2 percent of GDP, historically on the low side. Accumulated federal debt was 36 percent of GDP.” Obama is in a whole other league:

Obama proposes that the federal government spend over 25 percent of GDP in 2011, compared to a historical average of around 20.5 percent. He justifies this as necessary to continue to fight the recession.Obama, however, projects that the recession will be fully over in 2011 and robust growth under way. Yet he proposes that federal spending continue to be nearly 24 percent of GDP through 2020. In other words, rather than wind down the additional recession spending after recovery, Obama is proposing that it simply become a new, higher base. . .

If Obama were to recommend a path to return spending to its historical share of economic output, in 2020 the deficit would be just $255 billion, about what the federal government spends each year on large capital projects, and just 1 percent of GDP. In other words, not a problem. And federal spending would have still increased by more than 4 percent a year since 2008.

Instead, Obama recommends a 2020 deficit of over $1 trillion and a troubling 4.2 percent of GDP.

It is certainly unseemly to blame others when you not only occupy the Oval Office but enjoy large congressional majorities. Obama senses this, of course, and hence his frequent “the buck stops here” rhetoric. But he soon reverts to form, unwilling to acknowledge that he, not Bush, is now responsible for setting us on an untenable fiscal trajectory. As is his habit, he is banking on no one fact checking him and on the compliant media to simply go along with the Bush-bashing narrative. A year ago that would have been a good bet. Now? Not so much.

In his dogged determination to blame George W. Bush for everything, Obama persists with the narrative that he inherited the huge deficit. He’s a victim, you see, a mere bystander next to yet another train wreck from the Bushies. Well, not exactly.

As Robert Robb makes clear, Bush didn’t come close to the spending bonanza Obama is proposing: “Even with Bush’s tax cuts, federal revenues in 2007 were at the average as a percentage of GDP, 18.5 percent, going back to 1960. The deficit was just 1.2 percent of GDP, historically on the low side. Accumulated federal debt was 36 percent of GDP.” Obama is in a whole other league:

Obama proposes that the federal government spend over 25 percent of GDP in 2011, compared to a historical average of around 20.5 percent. He justifies this as necessary to continue to fight the recession.Obama, however, projects that the recession will be fully over in 2011 and robust growth under way. Yet he proposes that federal spending continue to be nearly 24 percent of GDP through 2020. In other words, rather than wind down the additional recession spending after recovery, Obama is proposing that it simply become a new, higher base. . .

If Obama were to recommend a path to return spending to its historical share of economic output, in 2020 the deficit would be just $255 billion, about what the federal government spends each year on large capital projects, and just 1 percent of GDP. In other words, not a problem. And federal spending would have still increased by more than 4 percent a year since 2008.

Instead, Obama recommends a 2020 deficit of over $1 trillion and a troubling 4.2 percent of GDP.

It is certainly unseemly to blame others when you not only occupy the Oval Office but enjoy large congressional majorities. Obama senses this, of course, and hence his frequent “the buck stops here” rhetoric. But he soon reverts to form, unwilling to acknowledge that he, not Bush, is now responsible for setting us on an untenable fiscal trajectory. As is his habit, he is banking on no one fact checking him and on the compliant media to simply go along with the Bush-bashing narrative. A year ago that would have been a good bet. Now? Not so much.

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On a Letter from London

Geoff Dyer’s column “My American Friends” in the New York Times is hitting my mailbox from every direction at once. If you’ve not read it, you should: it’s fun. It’s got, of course, a few swipes at George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair, but it’s really a love letter from Britain to the United States. Dyer points out that many of the British clichés voiced about America reflect either ignorance or a barely-disguised, liberal-elite desire to bring the U.S. down a peg or two because, as too many Britons are grumpy and desperate to feel superior about something, Americans must be made out to be inferior.

He’s certainly right about the grumpiness. I’ve written about this myself, pointing out that “Britain is a more self-absorbed, less expansive, society than it was in the post-war era, and while it is more prosperous, it is also less happy and less sure of itself.” The Economist writes this week along the same lines, noting the British, of all the citizens of the advanced democracies, are among the least satisfied with the state of their nation. Of course, given the parlous condition of Britain’s economy, their dissatisfaction may be a sign of rationality, but Dyer is not alone in thinking that it’s not just the economy getting Britain down. Read More

Geoff Dyer’s column “My American Friends” in the New York Times is hitting my mailbox from every direction at once. If you’ve not read it, you should: it’s fun. It’s got, of course, a few swipes at George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair, but it’s really a love letter from Britain to the United States. Dyer points out that many of the British clichés voiced about America reflect either ignorance or a barely-disguised, liberal-elite desire to bring the U.S. down a peg or two because, as too many Britons are grumpy and desperate to feel superior about something, Americans must be made out to be inferior.

He’s certainly right about the grumpiness. I’ve written about this myself, pointing out that “Britain is a more self-absorbed, less expansive, society than it was in the post-war era, and while it is more prosperous, it is also less happy and less sure of itself.” The Economist writes this week along the same lines, noting the British, of all the citizens of the advanced democracies, are among the least satisfied with the state of their nation. Of course, given the parlous condition of Britain’s economy, their dissatisfaction may be a sign of rationality, but Dyer is not alone in thinking that it’s not just the economy getting Britain down.

My own reaction to Dyer’s piece is twofold. First, I do think he’s onto something when he writes that Americans have better manners and are more freespoken because “deep down, everyone is agreed on the premise that America is better than anyplace else.” Of course, traditional American openness isn’t based just on this: the fact that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, and relatively classless, has a lot to do with it. But it is easier to be civil when you’re optimistic about your nation and inclined -– partially because of religious faith -– to think well of your fellow man than it is if you think poorly of everyone.

But it’s just not true that “everyone is agreed” on the premise that the U.S. is best. The President’s oft-quoted remark that “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism” implies that, at best, he has a distinctly posmodern approach to this belief. If everyone thinks they’re special, then presumably no one really is. The poorly hidden declinism of his administration, which implies that the greatest service the U.S. can do the world is to plan a graceful exit from its role as the hegemon, also clashes with Dyer’s assessment. For my part, I think Dyer’s got a better grasp of the American people, and of reality, than Obama does, and that Obama’s unexceptional approach will be what trips him up.

Second, in the British context, Dyer is a bit glib when he argues that, because Britain’s Muslims are among the most unsatisfied in Europe, this proves that they’ve assimilated very well — in that they’re just as unhappy as everyone else. But again, he’s not totally wrong. The traditional American approach to assimilation was to be proud of the United States, to invite immigrants to restrict their Old World customs to their private lives, and to expect them to conform publicly to existing American norms and beliefs. As bin Laden might have expected, that “strong horse” approach was quite attractive: being invited to join a self-confident, assertive, and successful community is a great compliment because it implies that you, yourself, possess those qualities and will be welcomed as an equal.

Britain has done the opposite: it has tried the “weak horse” approach, consisting of lots of multiculturalism and plenty of welfare payments. Again, not surprising, this hasn’t worked terribly well: there are few reasons to want to join a community that beats itself up so relentlessly. Where Dyer is totally wrong is when he writes that “the qualities that make us indubitably British . . . are no longer conducive to Greatness.” According to Dyer, those qualities consist mostly of a mustn’t-grumble spirit that allows the British public to put up with poor quality service and to accept apologies as a substitute for actual improvements.

But this has nothing to do with the qualities the British actually displayed in the formative era of British identity, the late-Hanoverian to mid-Victorian era. Britons in those days were relentless improvers -– in the quality of government, in public services, in industry, and through charity. Not for nothing did Asa Briggs title his great history of the era “The Age of Improvement.

One of those improvements, of course, was in British manners, where Dyer now celebrates the U.S. and gripes about the U.K. But English manners before the Victorian era were nothing special: only in the nineteenth century did the idea take hold that Britain was a nation of line-formers, of forthright “manly” speakers, and of courteous, “evenin’ all” bobbies. Maybe what made Britain British above all in that era was its political pride: in the Commons, in its freedom of the press and of trade, in its religious toleration, in its limited and liberal government, and in its contributions to the spread of civilization. Those are all still great qualities. The problem is that, since the 1960s, too many Britons have forgotten about them, or even cooperated in slandering or traducing them, which in turn has made the problem of assimilation -– or simply maintaining social order -– a lot more formidable.

What Dyer is basically and accurately complaining about is the collapse of the Victorian model in Britain; he is basically praising its partial survival in the U.S. He’s not wrong to dismiss the febrile leftism that has taken its place. But in one sense, his complaints are part of the problem because the model is so far gone that even a sympathetic and obviously careful observer like Dyer no longer recognizes that it ever existed in the first place.

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Now He Can Be Funny

This week’s Saturday Night Live skit has gotten quite a bit of attention. Republicans are delighted that even in the bastion of liberal comedy, there is some recognition, indeed mocking, of Obama’s notions of “cost savings.” In the skit, the faux Chinese president observes: “I am noticing that each of your plans to save money involves spending even more money. This does not inspire confidence.” No, it doesn’t.

But like many things that have changed over the course of the year since Obama’s election, it seems the fact that Obama can be funny — or the source of humor, at any rate. Granted, the comedy driven by the events of this week or the unfulfilled to-do list, which was the topic of another skit, does not match the ferocity of the jibes thrown at George W. Bush and other politicians, but it is something. Moreover, humor of this type depends on a set of shared perspectives (so that everyone “gets the joke”), one of which is that Obama is presiding over a fiscal train wreck. Another, also from the SNL skit, is that the stimulus is a bust (“How many jobs has it created?” “Uh, so far, none”) and that it’s impossible to explain how extending health-insurance coverage to 30 million more Americans will save money (“I … don’t know”).

Does this signify something beyond the necessity to find good material for political humor? Well, it suggests that Obama no longer enjoys deity-like status and that even among liberal comics there is a shared understanding that he’s peddling snake oil. It’s not everything, but it’s a lot — and it happened less than a year after Obama took office.

This week’s Saturday Night Live skit has gotten quite a bit of attention. Republicans are delighted that even in the bastion of liberal comedy, there is some recognition, indeed mocking, of Obama’s notions of “cost savings.” In the skit, the faux Chinese president observes: “I am noticing that each of your plans to save money involves spending even more money. This does not inspire confidence.” No, it doesn’t.

But like many things that have changed over the course of the year since Obama’s election, it seems the fact that Obama can be funny — or the source of humor, at any rate. Granted, the comedy driven by the events of this week or the unfulfilled to-do list, which was the topic of another skit, does not match the ferocity of the jibes thrown at George W. Bush and other politicians, but it is something. Moreover, humor of this type depends on a set of shared perspectives (so that everyone “gets the joke”), one of which is that Obama is presiding over a fiscal train wreck. Another, also from the SNL skit, is that the stimulus is a bust (“How many jobs has it created?” “Uh, so far, none”) and that it’s impossible to explain how extending health-insurance coverage to 30 million more Americans will save money (“I … don’t know”).

Does this signify something beyond the necessity to find good material for political humor? Well, it suggests that Obama no longer enjoys deity-like status and that even among liberal comics there is a shared understanding that he’s peddling snake oil. It’s not everything, but it’s a lot — and it happened less than a year after Obama took office.

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