Commentary Magazine


Topic: Walter Mondale

Evening Commentary

Libertarians often look to the Founding Fathers as political role models, but would the Founders have actually fit the modern definition of a libertarian? David Frum argues no — and writes that those who attribute this ideology to the Founders are simply ignoring history: “[I]f the libertarian impulse summons us to take action to contain and constrain that government, very well let us take up the task. But we can do that task without duping ourselves with a false history that denies the reality of the past and — ironically — belittles the Founders’ actual achievements by measuring them against standards they would surely have rejected, if they had ever understood them.”

A church in Egypt was bombed during New Year’s Mass, killing 21 and injuring dozens more. Authorities believe the attack was carried out by extremist Muslims who were inspired by al-Qaeda but not necessarily associated with the terror group.

Good news: A new “groundbreaking” research project has found that conservative brains are structured to be “fearful” and “reflexive,” while liberal brains are structured to be “courageous” and “optimistic.” Over at the New York Post, Kyle Smith discovers that this important study has cleared up some confusing discrepancies in his own life: “[Professor] Rees has the answer to why, in my Army career, I kept running into so many conceptual performance artists from San Francisco and Chelsea. Seldom did I do a push-up or clean my M16 without finding myself amid heated debate from the officer class about whether Walter Mondale or Eugene McCarthy was the most inspiring American political leader of our era.”

Government spending can actually help stimulate economic growth, argues George Will. But in order for progress to occur, this spending needs to fund the projects of society’s top scientific innovators and pioneers. “With populism rampant, this is not a propitious moment to defend elites, even scientific ones. Nevertheless, the nation depends on nourishing them and the institutions that sustain them,” writes Will.

Well, this was bound to happen eventually. Leftists at the Guardian are now openly opposing human rights: “[Human-rights groups] promote an absolutist view of human rights permeated by modern western ideas that westerners mistakenly call ‘universal.’ In some cases, their work, far from saving lives, actually causes more death, more repression, more brutality and an absolute weakening of human rights.” Yeah, who are we to oppress the people of Saudi Arabia and Iran with our imperialist idea that women shouldn’t be stoned for adultery?

Five members of Hamas have been charged in a plot to bomb a major Israeli stadium during a soccer game. Authorities say that the attack was meant to be in retaliation for Operation Cast Lead in 2008: “According to a statement from Israel’s security service, the Shin Bet, the two main suspects were identified as Mussa Hamada of East Jerusalem, and Bassem Omri, an Israeli citizen living in Beit Tzafafa. Both are members of Hamas and the ‘Muslim Brothers’ movement in Jerusalem, the Shin Bet said.”

Libertarians often look to the Founding Fathers as political role models, but would the Founders have actually fit the modern definition of a libertarian? David Frum argues no — and writes that those who attribute this ideology to the Founders are simply ignoring history: “[I]f the libertarian impulse summons us to take action to contain and constrain that government, very well let us take up the task. But we can do that task without duping ourselves with a false history that denies the reality of the past and — ironically — belittles the Founders’ actual achievements by measuring them against standards they would surely have rejected, if they had ever understood them.”

A church in Egypt was bombed during New Year’s Mass, killing 21 and injuring dozens more. Authorities believe the attack was carried out by extremist Muslims who were inspired by al-Qaeda but not necessarily associated with the terror group.

Good news: A new “groundbreaking” research project has found that conservative brains are structured to be “fearful” and “reflexive,” while liberal brains are structured to be “courageous” and “optimistic.” Over at the New York Post, Kyle Smith discovers that this important study has cleared up some confusing discrepancies in his own life: “[Professor] Rees has the answer to why, in my Army career, I kept running into so many conceptual performance artists from San Francisco and Chelsea. Seldom did I do a push-up or clean my M16 without finding myself amid heated debate from the officer class about whether Walter Mondale or Eugene McCarthy was the most inspiring American political leader of our era.”

Government spending can actually help stimulate economic growth, argues George Will. But in order for progress to occur, this spending needs to fund the projects of society’s top scientific innovators and pioneers. “With populism rampant, this is not a propitious moment to defend elites, even scientific ones. Nevertheless, the nation depends on nourishing them and the institutions that sustain them,” writes Will.

Well, this was bound to happen eventually. Leftists at the Guardian are now openly opposing human rights: “[Human-rights groups] promote an absolutist view of human rights permeated by modern western ideas that westerners mistakenly call ‘universal.’ In some cases, their work, far from saving lives, actually causes more death, more repression, more brutality and an absolute weakening of human rights.” Yeah, who are we to oppress the people of Saudi Arabia and Iran with our imperialist idea that women shouldn’t be stoned for adultery?

Five members of Hamas have been charged in a plot to bomb a major Israeli stadium during a soccer game. Authorities say that the attack was meant to be in retaliation for Operation Cast Lead in 2008: “According to a statement from Israel’s security service, the Shin Bet, the two main suspects were identified as Mussa Hamada of East Jerusalem, and Bassem Omri, an Israeli citizen living in Beit Tzafafa. Both are members of Hamas and the ‘Muslim Brothers’ movement in Jerusalem, the Shin Bet said.”

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Add at Least One More Name to the 2012 List

In her post about potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, Jennifer noted that “the most widely discussed contenders (Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, etc.) haven’t filled the base and party activists with optimism” and that fresher faces such as Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are not interested.

Even with the addition of Christie and Rubio, however, that list contains only eight names. Consider the following from Jimmy Carter’s White House Diaries, indicating that only a year and a half before being nominated, Carter ranked considerably lower than ninth:

About the time I announced my candidacy for president in December 1974, Gallup published a poll that included the question “Among Democrats, whom do you prefer as the next nominee?” There were thirty-two names on Gallup’s list of potential candidates, including George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, Henry (Scoop) Jackson, Walter Mondale, John Glenn, and even Georgia legislator Julian Bond. My name was not mentioned.

This is not to say that Republicans should be looking for a new face simply because the usual suspects carry varying weights of baggage. Someone may seem an attractive alternative only because he lacks the baggage any person who has been in the arena will have acquired. Surely the past two years have taught us that the presidency is not the right place for someone, no matter how attractive, who does not have much on his resume under the categories of “Experience,” “Accomplishments,” and “Significant Votes Other Than Present.”

But there is at least one person who combines a relatively fresh face with substantial experience and accomplishments: Mike Pence. The current issue of Imprimis features his remarkable Hillsdale College speech, “The Presidency and the Constitution,” worth reading in its entirety. Here are excerpts from the final paragraphs, which reach a level of eloquence considerably beyond hope, change, and receding oceans:

As Americans, we inherit what Lincoln in his First Inaugural called “the mystic chords of memory stretching from every patriot grave.” They bind us to the great and the humble, the known and the unknown of Americans past—and if I hear them clearly, what they say is that although we may have strayed, we have not strayed too far to return, for we are their descendants. … We owe a debt to those who came before, who did great things, and suffered more than we suffer, and gave more than we give, and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for us, whom they did not know. …

Many great generations are gone, but by the character and memory of their existence they forbid us to despair of the republic. I see them crossing the prairies in the sun and wind. I see their faces looking out from steel mills and coal mines, and immigrant ships crawling into the harbors at dawn. I see them at war, at work and at peace. I see them, long departed, looking into the camera, with hopeful and sad eyes. And I see them embracing their children, who became us. …

They are silent now and forever, but from the eternal silence of every patriot grave there is yet an echo that says, “It is not too late; keep faith with us, keep faith with God, and do not, do not ever despair of the republic.”

It may be worth noting that Pence also gave a significant speech last month at the 10th Annual Friends of the Family Banquet. It was in Iowa.

In her post about potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, Jennifer noted that “the most widely discussed contenders (Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, etc.) haven’t filled the base and party activists with optimism” and that fresher faces such as Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are not interested.

Even with the addition of Christie and Rubio, however, that list contains only eight names. Consider the following from Jimmy Carter’s White House Diaries, indicating that only a year and a half before being nominated, Carter ranked considerably lower than ninth:

About the time I announced my candidacy for president in December 1974, Gallup published a poll that included the question “Among Democrats, whom do you prefer as the next nominee?” There were thirty-two names on Gallup’s list of potential candidates, including George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, Henry (Scoop) Jackson, Walter Mondale, John Glenn, and even Georgia legislator Julian Bond. My name was not mentioned.

This is not to say that Republicans should be looking for a new face simply because the usual suspects carry varying weights of baggage. Someone may seem an attractive alternative only because he lacks the baggage any person who has been in the arena will have acquired. Surely the past two years have taught us that the presidency is not the right place for someone, no matter how attractive, who does not have much on his resume under the categories of “Experience,” “Accomplishments,” and “Significant Votes Other Than Present.”

But there is at least one person who combines a relatively fresh face with substantial experience and accomplishments: Mike Pence. The current issue of Imprimis features his remarkable Hillsdale College speech, “The Presidency and the Constitution,” worth reading in its entirety. Here are excerpts from the final paragraphs, which reach a level of eloquence considerably beyond hope, change, and receding oceans:

As Americans, we inherit what Lincoln in his First Inaugural called “the mystic chords of memory stretching from every patriot grave.” They bind us to the great and the humble, the known and the unknown of Americans past—and if I hear them clearly, what they say is that although we may have strayed, we have not strayed too far to return, for we are their descendants. … We owe a debt to those who came before, who did great things, and suffered more than we suffer, and gave more than we give, and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for us, whom they did not know. …

Many great generations are gone, but by the character and memory of their existence they forbid us to despair of the republic. I see them crossing the prairies in the sun and wind. I see their faces looking out from steel mills and coal mines, and immigrant ships crawling into the harbors at dawn. I see them at war, at work and at peace. I see them, long departed, looking into the camera, with hopeful and sad eyes. And I see them embracing their children, who became us. …

They are silent now and forever, but from the eternal silence of every patriot grave there is yet an echo that says, “It is not too late; keep faith with us, keep faith with God, and do not, do not ever despair of the republic.”

It may be worth noting that Pence also gave a significant speech last month at the 10th Annual Friends of the Family Banquet. It was in Iowa.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Thunk. Do we tell her moving day is in January? “In the weekly briefing, Pelosi said that she believes the Democrats have a chance to retain their congressional majority. A week before, speaking to a women’s group in New York, Pelosi said that she ‘fully expects to be speaker of the House five weeks from now,’ the paper reported.”

Yikes (for the Dems). “Republicans have a significant lead over Democrats among likely voters in Gallup’s generic ballot poll released Monday. The figures show a much greater lead for Republicans among likely voters than registered voters, and suggest the party is poised to make large gains in the midterm elections. Gallup’s first generic ballot estimate of likely voters showed Republicans leading Democrats 53-40 percent in a high turnout scenario and 56-38 percent in a low turnout scenario.”

Oops. “Emanuel’s ‘Glad to be Home’ video filmed in Washington.”

Cringe. Eric Holder denies hostility to race-neutral enforcement of civil rights laws — by blaming the Bush administration. This contradicts shown testimony of two DOJ attorneys, so perhaps Holder should testify under oath as well.

Ouch. Walter Mondale criticizes Obama for using “idiot boards” (teleprompters) and failing to connect with voters.

Yowser. Linda McMahon nails Dick Blumenthal for lying about military service in Vietnam.

Well, yeah. Obama declares our fiscal situation to be “untenable.” Is he a bystander in his own presidency?

Thunk. Do we tell her moving day is in January? “In the weekly briefing, Pelosi said that she believes the Democrats have a chance to retain their congressional majority. A week before, speaking to a women’s group in New York, Pelosi said that she ‘fully expects to be speaker of the House five weeks from now,’ the paper reported.”

Yikes (for the Dems). “Republicans have a significant lead over Democrats among likely voters in Gallup’s generic ballot poll released Monday. The figures show a much greater lead for Republicans among likely voters than registered voters, and suggest the party is poised to make large gains in the midterm elections. Gallup’s first generic ballot estimate of likely voters showed Republicans leading Democrats 53-40 percent in a high turnout scenario and 56-38 percent in a low turnout scenario.”

Oops. “Emanuel’s ‘Glad to be Home’ video filmed in Washington.”

Cringe. Eric Holder denies hostility to race-neutral enforcement of civil rights laws — by blaming the Bush administration. This contradicts shown testimony of two DOJ attorneys, so perhaps Holder should testify under oath as well.

Ouch. Walter Mondale criticizes Obama for using “idiot boards” (teleprompters) and failing to connect with voters.

Yowser. Linda McMahon nails Dick Blumenthal for lying about military service in Vietnam.

Well, yeah. Obama declares our fiscal situation to be “untenable.” Is he a bystander in his own presidency?

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Have You Heard the One About . . .

Polls are one way to see who’s ahead in the endless game of politics. Humor is another, for the guys on the losing side tend to be a bit grumpy.

FDR had a wonderful sense of humor. His remarks about his “little dog, Fala” are a classic. So is his “Martin, Barton, and Fish” line that became a staple of the 1940 reelection campaign. It was later echoed by Hubert Humphrey in his acceptance speech for the nomination for vice president at the 1964 Democratic convention, where he ended paragraph after paragraph with the line, “But not Senator Goldwater!” Ronald Reagan was forever telling funny stories and his deadpan masterpiece during a debate with Walter Mondale knocked the age issue out of the ballpark in 1984. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, wouldn’t get a joke if it hit him on the nose. He got the boot after one term.

So who has the lead in humor this election? It isn’t the liberals. They, in fact, have been noticeably grumpy since the days of Hubert Humphrey, who, like Al Smith before him, was known as the Happy Warrior after Wordsworth’s great poem. According to liberals, the Tea Party movement is a hotbed of racism and a white-only club. The Tea Party begs to differ and this YouTube clip pretty much demolishes the idea with humor.

We’ll see who gets the last laugh on November 2nd. I don’t think it will be liberals.

Polls are one way to see who’s ahead in the endless game of politics. Humor is another, for the guys on the losing side tend to be a bit grumpy.

FDR had a wonderful sense of humor. His remarks about his “little dog, Fala” are a classic. So is his “Martin, Barton, and Fish” line that became a staple of the 1940 reelection campaign. It was later echoed by Hubert Humphrey in his acceptance speech for the nomination for vice president at the 1964 Democratic convention, where he ended paragraph after paragraph with the line, “But not Senator Goldwater!” Ronald Reagan was forever telling funny stories and his deadpan masterpiece during a debate with Walter Mondale knocked the age issue out of the ballpark in 1984. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, wouldn’t get a joke if it hit him on the nose. He got the boot after one term.

So who has the lead in humor this election? It isn’t the liberals. They, in fact, have been noticeably grumpy since the days of Hubert Humphrey, who, like Al Smith before him, was known as the Happy Warrior after Wordsworth’s great poem. According to liberals, the Tea Party movement is a hotbed of racism and a white-only club. The Tea Party begs to differ and this YouTube clip pretty much demolishes the idea with humor.

We’ll see who gets the last laugh on November 2nd. I don’t think it will be liberals.

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Reversing Political Fortunes

On ABC’s Good Morning America yesterday, the Democratic political strategist James Carville — in commenting on this devastating (for the Democrats) Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll — said that it is “absolutely possible” that the Democrats could lose control of Congress, and, if the election were held today, they almost certainly would. That is by now a commonplace belief.

Carville’s admission is quite a contrast to what he was saying just last year. “Today,” he proclaimed, “a Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.” Carville even wrote a book on the topic: 40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation.

Carville’s guarantee, at least at this hour, looks to have been quite a faulty one. Many Democrats were making extravagant claims in the aftermath of President Obama’s election, though few went so far as to guarantee a multigenerational rule in power. But, to be fair, Republicans are susceptible to similar intoxications. There is a tendency in politics, as in life, to take events that are clearly important and to ascribe to them unique, history-altering significance. That is rarely the case. And those moments in politics in which one party or one political philosophy is dominant can change, sometimes quickly. “This globe, and as far as we can see this Universe, is a theatre of vicissitudes,” John Adams wrote. That tends to be truer of politics than it is of most things.

Still, even with that caution in place, the declining fortunes of the Democrats since the inauguration of Mr. Obama is unusual. The midterm elections, by almost every metric, look like they will be shattering for the Democrats. And if they turn out to be so, the Obama presidency and modern liberalism will be badly damaged.

Beyond that, we don’t know what will emerge. I’m not inclined to make predictions much beyond this year, to say nothing of 40 years from now. Bill Clinton, after all, recovered quite well after the 1994 midterm elections and won reelection by a comfortable margin. Ronald Reagan looked vulnerable in the second year of his presidency and went on to defeat Walter Mondale in a landslide, carrying 49 states.

What we do know is that at this particular moment, President Obama and his party are back on their heels. They may well lose control of the House and potentially even the Senate. The GOP is in stronger shape than anyone could have imagined just a year ago. Republicans are winning the debate on the merits of most issues. And conservatism itself is on the ascendancy.

All of that is quite enough for me, for now.

On ABC’s Good Morning America yesterday, the Democratic political strategist James Carville — in commenting on this devastating (for the Democrats) Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll — said that it is “absolutely possible” that the Democrats could lose control of Congress, and, if the election were held today, they almost certainly would. That is by now a commonplace belief.

Carville’s admission is quite a contrast to what he was saying just last year. “Today,” he proclaimed, “a Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.” Carville even wrote a book on the topic: 40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation.

Carville’s guarantee, at least at this hour, looks to have been quite a faulty one. Many Democrats were making extravagant claims in the aftermath of President Obama’s election, though few went so far as to guarantee a multigenerational rule in power. But, to be fair, Republicans are susceptible to similar intoxications. There is a tendency in politics, as in life, to take events that are clearly important and to ascribe to them unique, history-altering significance. That is rarely the case. And those moments in politics in which one party or one political philosophy is dominant can change, sometimes quickly. “This globe, and as far as we can see this Universe, is a theatre of vicissitudes,” John Adams wrote. That tends to be truer of politics than it is of most things.

Still, even with that caution in place, the declining fortunes of the Democrats since the inauguration of Mr. Obama is unusual. The midterm elections, by almost every metric, look like they will be shattering for the Democrats. And if they turn out to be so, the Obama presidency and modern liberalism will be badly damaged.

Beyond that, we don’t know what will emerge. I’m not inclined to make predictions much beyond this year, to say nothing of 40 years from now. Bill Clinton, after all, recovered quite well after the 1994 midterm elections and won reelection by a comfortable margin. Ronald Reagan looked vulnerable in the second year of his presidency and went on to defeat Walter Mondale in a landslide, carrying 49 states.

What we do know is that at this particular moment, President Obama and his party are back on their heels. They may well lose control of the House and potentially even the Senate. The GOP is in stronger shape than anyone could have imagined just a year ago. Republicans are winning the debate on the merits of most issues. And conservatism itself is on the ascendancy.

All of that is quite enough for me, for now.

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Obama, Jewish Voters, and the Lessons of 1984

Turns out there are real questions about the accuracy of that recent Quinnipiac poll showing President Obama’s approval rating at just 52 percent among Jewish voters. As the JTA’s Eric Fingerhut pointed out, the Jewish sampling “was derived from a sample of just 71 respondents, for a margin of error of plus or minus 11.6 percent — a sample size that pollsters generally say makes such surveys unreliable.”

Actually, common sense and some knowledge of Jewish voting habits should be enough to render any such poll findings suspect at best. Obama enjoys two important advantages that make him almost a shoo-in to win another landslide among Jewish voters three years from now: he’s a well-spoken, nonthreatening black man (a factor not to be underestimated when considering the voting psychology of liberal and moderate Jews), and he’s adamantly opposed to and by the Christian Right. Read More

Turns out there are real questions about the accuracy of that recent Quinnipiac poll showing President Obama’s approval rating at just 52 percent among Jewish voters. As the JTA’s Eric Fingerhut pointed out, the Jewish sampling “was derived from a sample of just 71 respondents, for a margin of error of plus or minus 11.6 percent — a sample size that pollsters generally say makes such surveys unreliable.”

Actually, common sense and some knowledge of Jewish voting habits should be enough to render any such poll findings suspect at best. Obama enjoys two important advantages that make him almost a shoo-in to win another landslide among Jewish voters three years from now: he’s a well-spoken, nonthreatening black man (a factor not to be underestimated when considering the voting psychology of liberal and moderate Jews), and he’s adamantly opposed to and by the Christian Right.

To put those realities into historical context, it’s instructive to look back at the presidential election of 1984. For a Republican, Ronald Reagan had done exceedingly well among Jews in 1980, winning 39 percent of their votes and holding the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, to an unimpressive plurality of 45 percent. (Third-party candidate John Anderson got the rest.) And then came the 1984 National Survey of American Jews, conducted between April and August that year, which found that while 39 percent of respondents acknowledged voting for Reagan in 1980, some 53 percent said that, looking back, Reagan was the candidate they would have preferred.

Certainly Reagan seemed poised to at least hold on to his 1980 share of the Jewish vote — and quite possibly exceed it.

In addition to Reagan’s performance in office, there was, in 1984, the Jesse Jackson factor. The longtime civil-rights firebrand was running for the Democratic nomination that year, and during the course of the campaign many of his past derogatory comments about Jews and Israel resurfaced, fueled both by his reference, in what he thought was an off-the-record conversation, to New York City as “Hymietown” and his reluctance to separate himself from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The Jackson factor was widely thought to threaten the Democratic party’s decades-old hold on Jewish loyalties, particularly when a Los Angeles Times poll of African-American delegates at the 1984 Democratic National Convention revealed that 75 percent of the delegates pledged to Jackson and almost 50 percent of those backing eventual nominee Walter Mondale felt no need to distance themselves from Farrakhan or his statements.

Come November, however, Reagan actually ended up losing significant ground among Jewish voters. “Exit polls taken the day of the election,” wrote Charles Silberman in his 1985 book A Certain People, “indicated that no more than 35 percent of American Jews, and perhaps as few as 31 percent, had voted for Reagan; the Jewish vote for Mondale was put at 65-69 percent … analysis of the polls indicated that between 25 and 35 percent of the Jews who had voted for Reagan in 1980 switched to Mondale in 1984.”

It seems that Reagan’s increasingly vocal embrace of the New — specifically, the Christian — Right scared Jews more than anything said by either Jackson or Farrakhan. Nearly 80 percent of Jews had an unfavorable opinion of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the most visible face of the Christian Right (never mind that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had presented Falwell with the Jabotinsky Prize in recognition of his strong support of the Jewish state). In fact, Silberman noted, “more Jewish voters indicated an unfavorable opinion of Falwell than of Jesse Jackson.”

The historian Stephen Whitfield elaborated on that point in 1986, writing: “The rise of the New Right has been more disturbing to Jews than the circulation within the Democratic Party of Third World sympathies that collide with Israeli interests.”

How does all this relate to Obama and Jewish support? For one thing, the Republican party’s identification with the Christian Right is immeasurably stronger today than it was 25 years ago, making it unlikely that liberal or moderate Jews will find a comfort level with the GOP anytime soon. For another, the current generation of American Jews is not nearly as supportive of Israel and Israeli policies as were their parents and grandparents — and support for Israel was the one factor that in the past might have swayed some liberal Jews to vote for a Republican.

If Jimmy Carter, fresh off a disastrous four years in office and displaying an increasingly palpable animus toward Israel, could still outpoll his Republican opponent among Jews (and absent the Anderson candidacy, Carter probably would have won at least 55 percent of the Jewish vote), there’s no reason to believe that even a mediocre Democratic president — particularly if he’s a likable African American who talks a good liberal game — need worry about Jewish voters.

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It Can’t Be 2012 Thune Enough

In a typically informative and original column today, my friend David Brooks takes up the 2012 cause of John Thune of South Dakota, the handsome face of small-town non-Alaskan Republicanism. Thune is not too hot, not too cold, just right. That may be, but then David offers this observation regarding the contention that the political tide has turned against the president:

Obama remains the most talented political figure of the age. After health care passes, he will pivot and pick some fights with his own party over spending. He’ll solidify his standing with independents, and if the economy recovers, he could go into his re-election with as much momentum as Ronald Reagan enjoyed in 1984.

Perhaps, but if that is so, then why does it matter whether the face of Republicanism is John Thune or Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee? Reagan won 49 states in 1984; Walter Mondale couldn’t even draw 40 percent of the vote. Perhaps Mondale ran a problematic campaign, promising tax increases and the like, but a victory like Reagan’s was so overwhelming that the world’s greatest candidate could have run against Reagan and only won a few more states.

Thune may indeed have a pleasing mien and an appropriate demeanor for 2012. But to face down a sitting president and unseat him, a party is going to need more from its candidate. It’s going to take the ability to explain why the country has gone wrong, why what’s wrong is his opponent’s doing, and what he will do to set it right. That requires passion, animation, and a profound sense of the rightness of his views and the wrongness of the views of his rivals. To judge from David’s summary of Thune’s virtues, he may be the best person to lead the GOP if it stays in the wilderness — on “first do no harm grounds” — but not to lead it to a victory that reverses the country’s ideological direction:

Republicans are still going to have to do root-and-branch renovation if they hope to provide compelling answers to issues like middle-class economic anxiety. But in the meantime, people like Thune offer Republicans a way to connect fiscal discipline with traditional small-town values, a way to tap into rising populism in a manner that is optimistic, uplifting and nice.

Optimism, uplift, and niceness are … nice. But they are minor components in a victory strategy — they are there to file off the rough edges of the party. They cannot be its leading edge.

In a typically informative and original column today, my friend David Brooks takes up the 2012 cause of John Thune of South Dakota, the handsome face of small-town non-Alaskan Republicanism. Thune is not too hot, not too cold, just right. That may be, but then David offers this observation regarding the contention that the political tide has turned against the president:

Obama remains the most talented political figure of the age. After health care passes, he will pivot and pick some fights with his own party over spending. He’ll solidify his standing with independents, and if the economy recovers, he could go into his re-election with as much momentum as Ronald Reagan enjoyed in 1984.

Perhaps, but if that is so, then why does it matter whether the face of Republicanism is John Thune or Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee? Reagan won 49 states in 1984; Walter Mondale couldn’t even draw 40 percent of the vote. Perhaps Mondale ran a problematic campaign, promising tax increases and the like, but a victory like Reagan’s was so overwhelming that the world’s greatest candidate could have run against Reagan and only won a few more states.

Thune may indeed have a pleasing mien and an appropriate demeanor for 2012. But to face down a sitting president and unseat him, a party is going to need more from its candidate. It’s going to take the ability to explain why the country has gone wrong, why what’s wrong is his opponent’s doing, and what he will do to set it right. That requires passion, animation, and a profound sense of the rightness of his views and the wrongness of the views of his rivals. To judge from David’s summary of Thune’s virtues, he may be the best person to lead the GOP if it stays in the wilderness — on “first do no harm grounds” — but not to lead it to a victory that reverses the country’s ideological direction:

Republicans are still going to have to do root-and-branch renovation if they hope to provide compelling answers to issues like middle-class economic anxiety. But in the meantime, people like Thune offer Republicans a way to connect fiscal discipline with traditional small-town values, a way to tap into rising populism in a manner that is optimistic, uplifting and nice.

Optimism, uplift, and niceness are … nice. But they are minor components in a victory strategy — they are there to file off the rough edges of the party. They cannot be its leading edge.

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Hillary Couldn’t Say This

Hillary Clinton’s remarks suggesting that Barack Obama has a white voter problem brought howls of protest from Democrats and pundits. What she didn’t say, probably because she is still nominally running for the Democratic nomination in a primary dominated by liberals, is that his race may not be as big a problem as his views. That’s the premise of this Los Angeles Times column, which makes a persuasive case that Obama’s appealing demeanor and the issue of his race have masked a larger, ideological problem.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a prominent Obama supporter, admits: “The key is going to be whether Barack can avoid getting on defense on social ‘wedge’ issues and can stay on the offense on economic issues.” She’s not the only one who thinks Obama may be caught on the wrong side of the ideological divide. The LA Times piece explains:

Obama has “handicaps and potential problems, race being one of them, [but] it’s not the only one,” Pew Center President Andrew Kohut said. “He is perceived as a liberal. He is perceived by many voters as not well grounded on foreign policy and not tough enough . . . and he has a potential problem, distinct from race, of being seen as an elitist, an intellectual.”

Well, that sounds quite a bit like the McCain game plan. Jill Zuckerman reports:

“We’ll make the case that Barack Obama is a wonderful new voice selling old, discredited ideas, including the most massive tax increase since Walter Mondale ran for president,” said Steve Schmidt, a senior McCain adviser. “It’s a combination of weakness, not being ready to be president and not being able to deliver on the things he says he will deliver on.”

So it might have been more accurate for Clinton to have said that Democrats who nominate a left-liberal without foreign policy experience do so at their own peril, though she did try a bit of that with her “3 a.m.” ad. Obama has yet to confront an all-out ideological attack. Such criticism may sound like “old” politics. But all politics, in the end, is about making distinctions and getting voters to choose between candidates’ competing visions.

McCain’s camp appears eager to do just that, perhaps in the town hall formats where they believe their candidate thrives. (Has Obama ever faced questions from a crowd that doesn’t agree with his ideological premises?) How Obama stands up to that line of inquiry will in large part determine, just as much as the unavoidable politics of race, who wins in November.

Hillary Clinton’s remarks suggesting that Barack Obama has a white voter problem brought howls of protest from Democrats and pundits. What she didn’t say, probably because she is still nominally running for the Democratic nomination in a primary dominated by liberals, is that his race may not be as big a problem as his views. That’s the premise of this Los Angeles Times column, which makes a persuasive case that Obama’s appealing demeanor and the issue of his race have masked a larger, ideological problem.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a prominent Obama supporter, admits: “The key is going to be whether Barack can avoid getting on defense on social ‘wedge’ issues and can stay on the offense on economic issues.” She’s not the only one who thinks Obama may be caught on the wrong side of the ideological divide. The LA Times piece explains:

Obama has “handicaps and potential problems, race being one of them, [but] it’s not the only one,” Pew Center President Andrew Kohut said. “He is perceived as a liberal. He is perceived by many voters as not well grounded on foreign policy and not tough enough . . . and he has a potential problem, distinct from race, of being seen as an elitist, an intellectual.”

Well, that sounds quite a bit like the McCain game plan. Jill Zuckerman reports:

“We’ll make the case that Barack Obama is a wonderful new voice selling old, discredited ideas, including the most massive tax increase since Walter Mondale ran for president,” said Steve Schmidt, a senior McCain adviser. “It’s a combination of weakness, not being ready to be president and not being able to deliver on the things he says he will deliver on.”

So it might have been more accurate for Clinton to have said that Democrats who nominate a left-liberal without foreign policy experience do so at their own peril, though she did try a bit of that with her “3 a.m.” ad. Obama has yet to confront an all-out ideological attack. Such criticism may sound like “old” politics. But all politics, in the end, is about making distinctions and getting voters to choose between candidates’ competing visions.

McCain’s camp appears eager to do just that, perhaps in the town hall formats where they believe their candidate thrives. (Has Obama ever faced questions from a crowd that doesn’t agree with his ideological premises?) How Obama stands up to that line of inquiry will in large part determine, just as much as the unavoidable politics of race, who wins in November.

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Lost In The Scandal

In the blur of yesterday’s news about Eliot Spitzer’s self-destruction came two unrelated comments that should have gotten more attention. First, there was the latest Michelle Obama utterance, this time insulting men. As we learned yesterday, some men do put themselves first. But trashing an entire gender hardly seems fair or politic. Her list of the mean and rotten things in life is growing longer: America, men, college loan payments. Western civilization as a whole is surely next.

Then there was Geraldine Ferraro, who said that no one would be talking about Barack Obama if he were white. (She also showed a little self-awareness and admitted she would never have been Walter Mondale’s VP if she were a man.) Clinton’s spokesman responded with a terse “We disagree with her.” Clearly after Bill Clinton’s South Carolina outburst comparing Obama to Jesse Jackson, this is not something the Clinton folks want to touch with a ten-foot pole. (They’re too busy patronizing Obama with an offer of the VP slot, provided he can bone up on foreign policy by the convention.)

John McCain couldn’t have had any idea that his jaunt to Israel and Europe would provide such a contrast between himself and his Democratic opponents. Who knew the gravitas gap would be so large? There are times when it is good to appear entirely above the fray. And this is one of those times.

In the blur of yesterday’s news about Eliot Spitzer’s self-destruction came two unrelated comments that should have gotten more attention. First, there was the latest Michelle Obama utterance, this time insulting men. As we learned yesterday, some men do put themselves first. But trashing an entire gender hardly seems fair or politic. Her list of the mean and rotten things in life is growing longer: America, men, college loan payments. Western civilization as a whole is surely next.

Then there was Geraldine Ferraro, who said that no one would be talking about Barack Obama if he were white. (She also showed a little self-awareness and admitted she would never have been Walter Mondale’s VP if she were a man.) Clinton’s spokesman responded with a terse “We disagree with her.” Clearly after Bill Clinton’s South Carolina outburst comparing Obama to Jesse Jackson, this is not something the Clinton folks want to touch with a ten-foot pole. (They’re too busy patronizing Obama with an offer of the VP slot, provided he can bone up on foreign policy by the convention.)

John McCain couldn’t have had any idea that his jaunt to Israel and Europe would provide such a contrast between himself and his Democratic opponents. Who knew the gravitas gap would be so large? There are times when it is good to appear entirely above the fray. And this is one of those times.

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Hillary: Not Dead Yet

While I share Pete Wehner’s enthusiasm for the possible demise of the Clinton era, I think dancing on Hillary Clinton’s political grave is premature. Yes, the latest USA Today survey has Obama up by a remarkable 13 points. But she is not dead yet. New Hampshire has a long history of embarrassing frontrunners (Gary Hart over Walter Mondale in 1984, Pat Buchanan over Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain over George W. Bush in 2000). Clinton also retains 20-point-plus leads in California, New York, and Florida. Like her once commanding New Hampshire lead, these could evaporate on Wednesday. But don’t forget that she still has more money than anyone in the campaign and deep, embedded support in key states. If, after Tuesday, the race comes down to just Obama and Clinton, we might see a real contest of “new versus experience.” More fascinating will be Democratic organizers scrambling to split their base: Obama’s team driving African American voters, Hillary calling on unmarried women. Judging by the last week alone, it is remarkable that Clinton, with her mix of self-righteousness and unpleasantness ever managed to be the dominant candidate. Yet it also clear from her performance this weekend that she is not giving up quietly. An Obama win on Tuesday may give him strength in Michigan and South Carolina, but the battles in Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California could be mean, epic Democratic warfare, where Hillary’s experience really does matter.

While I share Pete Wehner’s enthusiasm for the possible demise of the Clinton era, I think dancing on Hillary Clinton’s political grave is premature. Yes, the latest USA Today survey has Obama up by a remarkable 13 points. But she is not dead yet. New Hampshire has a long history of embarrassing frontrunners (Gary Hart over Walter Mondale in 1984, Pat Buchanan over Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain over George W. Bush in 2000). Clinton also retains 20-point-plus leads in California, New York, and Florida. Like her once commanding New Hampshire lead, these could evaporate on Wednesday. But don’t forget that she still has more money than anyone in the campaign and deep, embedded support in key states. If, after Tuesday, the race comes down to just Obama and Clinton, we might see a real contest of “new versus experience.” More fascinating will be Democratic organizers scrambling to split their base: Obama’s team driving African American voters, Hillary calling on unmarried women. Judging by the last week alone, it is remarkable that Clinton, with her mix of self-righteousness and unpleasantness ever managed to be the dominant candidate. Yet it also clear from her performance this weekend that she is not giving up quietly. An Obama win on Tuesday may give him strength in Michigan and South Carolina, but the battles in Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California could be mean, epic Democratic warfare, where Hillary’s experience really does matter.

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