Commentary Magazine


Topic: Wis

The Wave Continues to Rise

This report should shake up even the most optimistic of Democrats:

Republicans are winning eight out of 10 competitive open House seats surveyed in a groundbreaking new poll by The Hill. Taken on top of 11 GOP leads out of 12 freshman Democratic districts polled last week, The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll points toward 19 Republican victories out of 22 races, while Democrats win only two and one is tied.

The telltale signs of a wave election — the vulnerability of previously “safe” seats — are popping up around the country:

The GOP appears ready to take retiring Rep. David Obey’s (D-Wis.) seat. The chairman of the Appropriations Committee announced his retirement in May, and Republican Sean Duffy holds a nine-point lead over Democrat Julie Lassa.

Democrats have held Arkansas’s 1st congressional district for almost a century, but Republicans have a solid lead going into November. The Hill’s poll found Republican candidate Rick Crawford leads by 12 points, 46 percent to Democrat Chad Causey’s 34. Rep. Marion Berry is retiring.

How’s the president doing pumping up the base? Not very well:

This week’s poll suggested Democrats face an enthusiasm gap in the districts surveyed despite efforts by Obama and national Democrats to close the difference. Ninety percent of Republicans surveyed said they will definitely vote, versus 85 percent for Democrats and 84 percent for independents.

Obama’s approval ratings were a net negative in the 10 districts, with 51 percent of likely voters voicing disapproval of the job he is doing. Among independent voters that number is higher, with 56 percent disapproving; 42 percent of independents “strongly disapprove” of the president.

Not even demonizing the Chamber of Commerce has helped his side.

There’s less than three weeks to go. At this point, the persuasion stage is drawing to an end, and both sides are shifting to mobilizing and turning out their supporters. Right now, Democrats don’t have enough of them, and those they do have aren’t go to be easy to drag to the polls. As for Republicans, they can only hope that Obama remains as visible and as unpopular as he now is.

This report should shake up even the most optimistic of Democrats:

Republicans are winning eight out of 10 competitive open House seats surveyed in a groundbreaking new poll by The Hill. Taken on top of 11 GOP leads out of 12 freshman Democratic districts polled last week, The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll points toward 19 Republican victories out of 22 races, while Democrats win only two and one is tied.

The telltale signs of a wave election — the vulnerability of previously “safe” seats — are popping up around the country:

The GOP appears ready to take retiring Rep. David Obey’s (D-Wis.) seat. The chairman of the Appropriations Committee announced his retirement in May, and Republican Sean Duffy holds a nine-point lead over Democrat Julie Lassa.

Democrats have held Arkansas’s 1st congressional district for almost a century, but Republicans have a solid lead going into November. The Hill’s poll found Republican candidate Rick Crawford leads by 12 points, 46 percent to Democrat Chad Causey’s 34. Rep. Marion Berry is retiring.

How’s the president doing pumping up the base? Not very well:

This week’s poll suggested Democrats face an enthusiasm gap in the districts surveyed despite efforts by Obama and national Democrats to close the difference. Ninety percent of Republicans surveyed said they will definitely vote, versus 85 percent for Democrats and 84 percent for independents.

Obama’s approval ratings were a net negative in the 10 districts, with 51 percent of likely voters voicing disapproval of the job he is doing. Among independent voters that number is higher, with 56 percent disapproving; 42 percent of independents “strongly disapprove” of the president.

Not even demonizing the Chamber of Commerce has helped his side.

There’s less than three weeks to go. At this point, the persuasion stage is drawing to an end, and both sides are shifting to mobilizing and turning out their supporters. Right now, Democrats don’t have enough of them, and those they do have aren’t go to be easy to drag to the polls. As for Republicans, they can only hope that Obama remains as visible and as unpopular as he now is.

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Does the Administration Mean What It Now Says About Human Rights?

Obama and his secretary of state are making some effort to step up — or start, some would say — support for human rights. Obama spoke on the topic at the UN. Albeit too little and too late, the administration is taking action against Iranian human rights abuses:

Citing “mounting evidence” of repression of the Iranian opposition, the Obama administration added more sanctions against Iranian government officials, members of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and others accused by the United States of being responsible for human rights abuses.

The sanctions, announced Wednesday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, block the assets of, and prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in any business with, those on the list, which includes the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the country’s prosecutor general, and the ministers of welfare and intelligence.

There’s less here than meets the eye, however. As the Washington Post editors note, ” The high-profile announcement could give important encouragement to Iran’s opposition. But it’s worth noting that the sanctions themselves were recently mandated by Congress.” Oh. And why haven’t we committed ourselves to full support for the Green movement?

The real proof of the Obama administration’s devotion to democracy promotion will come with clear and decisive action. When do we adopt regime change as our official policy? When do we call it quits and pull the financial plug on the UNHRC? These would demonstrate actual, rather than rhetorical, support for human rights.

The Post editors observe that there’s another opportunity to prove the administration’s bona fides on human rights. Why not take action against the repressive Mubarak government, which is in the process of rigging another election?

[A] resolution authored by Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) has won broad and bipartisan support. The resolution urges Mr. Mubarak’s regime “to take all steps necessary to ensure that upcoming elections are free, fair, transparent and credible, including granting independent international and domestic electoral observers unrestricted access.” …

After the president’s last meeting with Mr. Mubarak this month, a White House summary said Mr. Obama had referred to the need for “credible and transparent elections in Egypt.” The question is whether the administration is willing to take action in support of its words. So far, it has offered no indication that Mr. Mubarak’s failure to accept election observers will result in any consequence for a country that receives $1.5 billion annually in American aid. Nor has the White House offered support for the Senate resolution, in public or in private. It could, at least, do that.

Let’s see what the Obama administration does. Frankly, the president’s words don’t carry all that much credibility these days.

Obama and his secretary of state are making some effort to step up — or start, some would say — support for human rights. Obama spoke on the topic at the UN. Albeit too little and too late, the administration is taking action against Iranian human rights abuses:

Citing “mounting evidence” of repression of the Iranian opposition, the Obama administration added more sanctions against Iranian government officials, members of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and others accused by the United States of being responsible for human rights abuses.

The sanctions, announced Wednesday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, block the assets of, and prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in any business with, those on the list, which includes the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the country’s prosecutor general, and the ministers of welfare and intelligence.

There’s less here than meets the eye, however. As the Washington Post editors note, ” The high-profile announcement could give important encouragement to Iran’s opposition. But it’s worth noting that the sanctions themselves were recently mandated by Congress.” Oh. And why haven’t we committed ourselves to full support for the Green movement?

The real proof of the Obama administration’s devotion to democracy promotion will come with clear and decisive action. When do we adopt regime change as our official policy? When do we call it quits and pull the financial plug on the UNHRC? These would demonstrate actual, rather than rhetorical, support for human rights.

The Post editors observe that there’s another opportunity to prove the administration’s bona fides on human rights. Why not take action against the repressive Mubarak government, which is in the process of rigging another election?

[A] resolution authored by Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) has won broad and bipartisan support. The resolution urges Mr. Mubarak’s regime “to take all steps necessary to ensure that upcoming elections are free, fair, transparent and credible, including granting independent international and domestic electoral observers unrestricted access.” …

After the president’s last meeting with Mr. Mubarak this month, a White House summary said Mr. Obama had referred to the need for “credible and transparent elections in Egypt.” The question is whether the administration is willing to take action in support of its words. So far, it has offered no indication that Mr. Mubarak’s failure to accept election observers will result in any consequence for a country that receives $1.5 billion annually in American aid. Nor has the White House offered support for the Senate resolution, in public or in private. It could, at least, do that.

Let’s see what the Obama administration does. Frankly, the president’s words don’t carry all that much credibility these days.

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Boxing In the Democrats

It wasn’t a good day for House Minority Leader John Boehner. As the Wall Street Journal editors explain, he smudged up a clear and effective distinction between the parties on the Bush tax cuts, leaving his members dazed:

Republicans scrambled yesterday to regain their footing, with House Minority Whip Eric Cantor returning to the winning GOP argument that any tax hike on “working families, small-business people and investors” is a “non-starter.” We hope so. As for Mr. Boehner, this stumble on the easy issue of taxation in the best GOP year since 1994 makes us wonder if he’s ready for prime time.

Fortunately, House Republicans didn’t compound their leader’s error. To the contrary, they moved swiftly to box in their Democratic colleagues in advance of the midterm elections. Roll Call reports:

The top Republicans on three House committees on Monday called on their Democratic counterparts to clear committee agendas immediately and begin work on a bipartisan bill to create jobs by freezing spending and cutting taxes.

In their letter to the chairmen of the Ways and Means, Appropriations and Budget Committees, Ranking Members Dave Camp (Mich.), Jerry Lewis (Calif.) and Paul Ryan (Wis.) proposed the House work to enact a two–point plan to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years and freeze non-security discretionary spending at 2008 levels.

It’s smart politics — which Democrats are brave enough to vote no or to stall? — and smart policy. What’s interesting is that both Camp and Ryan, two of the sharpest reform-minded congressmen in the Republican caucus (both of whom made a good impression at the health-care summit), are leading the charge. They have figured out that this is no time to be a squish. Elections, after all, are about choices, and this move presents voters with a stark one.

It wasn’t a good day for House Minority Leader John Boehner. As the Wall Street Journal editors explain, he smudged up a clear and effective distinction between the parties on the Bush tax cuts, leaving his members dazed:

Republicans scrambled yesterday to regain their footing, with House Minority Whip Eric Cantor returning to the winning GOP argument that any tax hike on “working families, small-business people and investors” is a “non-starter.” We hope so. As for Mr. Boehner, this stumble on the easy issue of taxation in the best GOP year since 1994 makes us wonder if he’s ready for prime time.

Fortunately, House Republicans didn’t compound their leader’s error. To the contrary, they moved swiftly to box in their Democratic colleagues in advance of the midterm elections. Roll Call reports:

The top Republicans on three House committees on Monday called on their Democratic counterparts to clear committee agendas immediately and begin work on a bipartisan bill to create jobs by freezing spending and cutting taxes.

In their letter to the chairmen of the Ways and Means, Appropriations and Budget Committees, Ranking Members Dave Camp (Mich.), Jerry Lewis (Calif.) and Paul Ryan (Wis.) proposed the House work to enact a two–point plan to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years and freeze non-security discretionary spending at 2008 levels.

It’s smart politics — which Democrats are brave enough to vote no or to stall? — and smart policy. What’s interesting is that both Camp and Ryan, two of the sharpest reform-minded congressmen in the Republican caucus (both of whom made a good impression at the health-care summit), are leading the charge. They have figured out that this is no time to be a squish. Elections, after all, are about choices, and this move presents voters with a stark one.

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Forcing a Vote on Jobs-Gate

Earlier this month, House Judiciary Committee ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Constitution Subcommittee ranking member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced a resolution demanding that the administration turn over information about the Department of Justice’s involvement in the White House’s efforts to drive Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff out of their Senate primary races. That resolution will be taken up by the House Judiciary Committee today. As a GOP staffer explained, House Democrats “will be forced to vote on whether to hold the Administration accountable to its promises of transparency and change—especially with regard to providing documents on the Sestak-Romanoff job offers.”

I imagine there will be some vigorous debate and some feisty speeches from House Republicans. The resolution will almost certainly fail on a party-line vote, but it’s one more sign that Washington will be a very different place if the Republicans take over majority control of one or both houses in November. In the meantime it will be interesting to see how Democrats will defend their refusal to get basic information about the Blago-lite operation being run out of the White House.

Earlier this month, House Judiciary Committee ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Constitution Subcommittee ranking member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced a resolution demanding that the administration turn over information about the Department of Justice’s involvement in the White House’s efforts to drive Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff out of their Senate primary races. That resolution will be taken up by the House Judiciary Committee today. As a GOP staffer explained, House Democrats “will be forced to vote on whether to hold the Administration accountable to its promises of transparency and change—especially with regard to providing documents on the Sestak-Romanoff job offers.”

I imagine there will be some vigorous debate and some feisty speeches from House Republicans. The resolution will almost certainly fail on a party-line vote, but it’s one more sign that Washington will be a very different place if the Republicans take over majority control of one or both houses in November. In the meantime it will be interesting to see how Democrats will defend their refusal to get basic information about the Blago-lite operation being run out of the White House.

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Democrats Face the Voters with Lousy Economic Results

This report explains:

Real personal income for Americans — excluding government payouts such as Social Security — has fallen by 3.2 percent since President Obama took office in January 2009, according to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

For comparison, real personal income during the first 15 months in office for President George W. Bush, who inherited a milder recession from his predecessor, dropped 0.4 percent. Income excluding government payouts increased 12.7 percent during Mr. Bush’s eight years in office.

“This is hardly surprising,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist and former director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. “Under President Obama, only federal spending is going up; jobs, business startups, and incomes are all down. It is proof that the government can’t spend its way to prosperity.”

It’s also more bad news for Democrats this election year. It was Obama, after all, who went after his predecessor for falling incomes. (“American families, since George Bush has been in office, have seen average family incomes go down $2,000,’ Mr. Obama said in a September 2008 speech on the economy in Green Bay, Wis.”) The “Bush did it” excuse is sure to follow, but plainly Obama’s stimulus plans haven’t made a dent in incomes or unemployment as he promised they would. The report also reminds us that the AP survey of leading economists has more gloomy news: “The unemployment rate will stay high for the next two years and still be at 8.4 percent by the end of 2011. Home prices will remain almost flat for the next two years, even after dropping an average 32 percent nationwide since peaking in 2006. The economy will grow about 3 percent this year, less than usual during the early phase of a recovery, but few jobs will be added.”

It’s not a record of success by any measure, and having spent over a year producing a health-care bill the country dislikes, Democrats are going to be hard-pressed to defend their economic record. The only question remains is how badly the electorate will punish those who controlled every lever of government and failed to deliver on their economic promises.

This report explains:

Real personal income for Americans — excluding government payouts such as Social Security — has fallen by 3.2 percent since President Obama took office in January 2009, according to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

For comparison, real personal income during the first 15 months in office for President George W. Bush, who inherited a milder recession from his predecessor, dropped 0.4 percent. Income excluding government payouts increased 12.7 percent during Mr. Bush’s eight years in office.

“This is hardly surprising,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist and former director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. “Under President Obama, only federal spending is going up; jobs, business startups, and incomes are all down. It is proof that the government can’t spend its way to prosperity.”

It’s also more bad news for Democrats this election year. It was Obama, after all, who went after his predecessor for falling incomes. (“American families, since George Bush has been in office, have seen average family incomes go down $2,000,’ Mr. Obama said in a September 2008 speech on the economy in Green Bay, Wis.”) The “Bush did it” excuse is sure to follow, but plainly Obama’s stimulus plans haven’t made a dent in incomes or unemployment as he promised they would. The report also reminds us that the AP survey of leading economists has more gloomy news: “The unemployment rate will stay high for the next two years and still be at 8.4 percent by the end of 2011. Home prices will remain almost flat for the next two years, even after dropping an average 32 percent nationwide since peaking in 2006. The economy will grow about 3 percent this year, less than usual during the early phase of a recovery, but few jobs will be added.”

It’s not a record of success by any measure, and having spent over a year producing a health-care bill the country dislikes, Democrats are going to be hard-pressed to defend their economic record. The only question remains is how badly the electorate will punish those who controlled every lever of government and failed to deliver on their economic promises.

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Taxes Are Taxes

Democrats wary of pushing for a “surtax” for the war in Afghanistan are tiptoeing into an argument that they may want to avoid. Steny Hoyer was the most recent example:

Hoyer said he is generally in favor of legislation that would institute a surtax to pay for congressionally mandated war efforts. But he pointed to the sagging economy as a primary reason not to levy new taxes on Americans.

Sen. Evan Bayh made the same argument over the weekend.

Well, it’s nice to see that Democrats appreciate the link between tax hikes and the recession. But wait: they’re considering hundreds of billions of new taxes as part of health-care reform. There’s no difference from an economic standpoint whether you’re “paying” for health-care subsidies for your neighbor or salaries for troops in Afghanistan. Taxes are taxes. If it’s a dumb idea to pass a surtax to pay for a war, then it’s equally dumb to pass taxes as part of ObamaCare. And come to think of it, until we’re out of the economic woods, it would be equally dumb to let the Bush tax cuts expire.

I’m not sure why Democrats have wandered into this minefield. But those opposed to hundreds of billions in new taxes — for whatever purpose — might want to collect these quotes. They may come in handy — if not in a debate, then in the 2010 elections.

UPDATE: Another Democrat joins the “Don’t raise taxes in a recession!” chorus: “House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt on Tuesday (D-S.C.) said he could not support a proposed ‘war surtax’ to fund troop increases in Afghanistan. Spratt said that the measure introduced by Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) would raise taxes during a recession, an uptick he believes the country cannot afford.”

Democrats wary of pushing for a “surtax” for the war in Afghanistan are tiptoeing into an argument that they may want to avoid. Steny Hoyer was the most recent example:

Hoyer said he is generally in favor of legislation that would institute a surtax to pay for congressionally mandated war efforts. But he pointed to the sagging economy as a primary reason not to levy new taxes on Americans.

Sen. Evan Bayh made the same argument over the weekend.

Well, it’s nice to see that Democrats appreciate the link between tax hikes and the recession. But wait: they’re considering hundreds of billions of new taxes as part of health-care reform. There’s no difference from an economic standpoint whether you’re “paying” for health-care subsidies for your neighbor or salaries for troops in Afghanistan. Taxes are taxes. If it’s a dumb idea to pass a surtax to pay for a war, then it’s equally dumb to pass taxes as part of ObamaCare. And come to think of it, until we’re out of the economic woods, it would be equally dumb to let the Bush tax cuts expire.

I’m not sure why Democrats have wandered into this minefield. But those opposed to hundreds of billions in new taxes — for whatever purpose — might want to collect these quotes. They may come in handy — if not in a debate, then in the 2010 elections.

UPDATE: Another Democrat joins the “Don’t raise taxes in a recession!” chorus: “House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt on Tuesday (D-S.C.) said he could not support a proposed ‘war surtax’ to fund troop increases in Afghanistan. Spratt said that the measure introduced by Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) would raise taxes during a recession, an uptick he believes the country cannot afford.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Andy McCarthy writes: “A panel of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of my old adversary, Lynne Stewart, for providing material support to terrorism — i.e., helping the Blind Sheikh run his Egyptian terrorist organization from U.S. prison, where he is serving a life-sentence.” You mean terrorists run plots out of U.S. prisons? Oh yes, indeed. Another reason to keep the Guantanamo detainees where they are.

Democrats realize the problem with the phony stimulus numbers. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.): “The inaccuracies on recovery.gov that have come to light are outrageous and the Administration owes itself, the Congress, and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes. … Credibility counts in government and stupid mistakes like this undermine it.”  Indeed.

Tim Geithner is in trouble again. Fred Barnes explains: “Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is in trouble again, and this time he may not be able to save his job. You’ll recall that his confirmation was threatened by revelations of cheating on his income taxes. Now he’s accused of paying billions too much for the bailout of AIG and allowing the insurance firm’s Wall Street creditors — Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia — to be paid in full for their derivative contracts with $27.1 billion in taxpayers’ money.”

The dean of Harvard Medical School finds that “the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care’s dysfunctional delivery system. … Worse, currently proposed federal legislation would undermine any potential for real innovation in insurance and the provision of care. It would do so by over-regulating the health-care system in the service of special interests such as insurance companies, hospitals, professional organizations and pharmaceutical companies, rather than the patients who should be our primary concern.” Maybe the status quo is not so bad after all.

PelosiCare is so awful that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to “shield” his caucus from ever having to vote on it. Hmm. One wonders how all the Democrats forced to walk the plank in the House feel about that. Sort of like cap-and-trade, huh?

This, from Public Opinion Strategies poll, may explain why: “Opposition to President Obama’s health care plan is higher after the House vote than our previous tracks (29% favor/40% oppose). Voters’ net opposition to the plan has increased from -6% in September (31% favor/37% oppose) to -11% today.”

Ben Smith on the teleprompter jibes: “It’s a bad storyline for the president, and thoroughly in the bloodstream.”

James Pinkerton: “Obama is betting his presidency on the proposition that what America needs is another Warren Court, bringing the wondrous benefits of Miranda warnings to Al Qaeda and other civilization-clashers.”

Republicans are finding it easier to recruit top-tier challengers for House races. The same thing happened in 1994 and for Democrats in 2006. When solid candidates think they can win, they are willing to throw their hats into the ring.

Andy McCarthy writes: “A panel of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of my old adversary, Lynne Stewart, for providing material support to terrorism — i.e., helping the Blind Sheikh run his Egyptian terrorist organization from U.S. prison, where he is serving a life-sentence.” You mean terrorists run plots out of U.S. prisons? Oh yes, indeed. Another reason to keep the Guantanamo detainees where they are.

Democrats realize the problem with the phony stimulus numbers. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.): “The inaccuracies on recovery.gov that have come to light are outrageous and the Administration owes itself, the Congress, and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes. … Credibility counts in government and stupid mistakes like this undermine it.”  Indeed.

Tim Geithner is in trouble again. Fred Barnes explains: “Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is in trouble again, and this time he may not be able to save his job. You’ll recall that his confirmation was threatened by revelations of cheating on his income taxes. Now he’s accused of paying billions too much for the bailout of AIG and allowing the insurance firm’s Wall Street creditors — Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia — to be paid in full for their derivative contracts with $27.1 billion in taxpayers’ money.”

The dean of Harvard Medical School finds that “the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care’s dysfunctional delivery system. … Worse, currently proposed federal legislation would undermine any potential for real innovation in insurance and the provision of care. It would do so by over-regulating the health-care system in the service of special interests such as insurance companies, hospitals, professional organizations and pharmaceutical companies, rather than the patients who should be our primary concern.” Maybe the status quo is not so bad after all.

PelosiCare is so awful that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to “shield” his caucus from ever having to vote on it. Hmm. One wonders how all the Democrats forced to walk the plank in the House feel about that. Sort of like cap-and-trade, huh?

This, from Public Opinion Strategies poll, may explain why: “Opposition to President Obama’s health care plan is higher after the House vote than our previous tracks (29% favor/40% oppose). Voters’ net opposition to the plan has increased from -6% in September (31% favor/37% oppose) to -11% today.”

Ben Smith on the teleprompter jibes: “It’s a bad storyline for the president, and thoroughly in the bloodstream.”

James Pinkerton: “Obama is betting his presidency on the proposition that what America needs is another Warren Court, bringing the wondrous benefits of Miranda warnings to Al Qaeda and other civilization-clashers.”

Republicans are finding it easier to recruit top-tier challengers for House races. The same thing happened in 1994 and for Democrats in 2006. When solid candidates think they can win, they are willing to throw their hats into the ring.

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“Running out of People to Kill”

Today’s Washington Post reports this:

The drop in violence caused by the U.S. troop increase in Iraq prompted refugees to begin returning to their homes, American and Iraqi officials said Wednesday. Tahsin al-Sheikhly, an Iraqi government spokesman, said 46,030 displaced Iraqis had returned last month from outside the country to their homes in the capital. He declined to comment on how the government determined those statistics. “People are starting to return to their homes,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander of U.S. troops in Baghdad. “There’s no question about it.”

If this report is in fact true—and the Post points out that the Iraqi Red Crescent says the number of internally displaced people has increased significantly in the last year—it would be another important step in the path toward the healing of Iraqi society.

The situation in Iraq remains enormously challenging—and even if things continue to go well, it will take a long time before Iraq becomes a functioning state. At the same time, this year we have witnessed several significant developments in Iraq: a sharp drop in violence across much of the nation, al Qaeda’s taking enormous punishment, steps toward “bottom up” reconciliation, and Sunnis turning against al Qaeda and its murderous ideology. If Iraqis are beginning to return to their homes, it means we are beginning to see the positive, radiating effects of better security.

This good news should be juxtaposed with the comments made earlier this week by Representative David Obey. According to the Hill:

If violence is decreasing in Iraq, it may be because insurgents “are running out of people to kill,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said Monday. “There are fewer targets of opportunity,” Obey said in a speech to the National Press Club. Obey was responding to a question about reports touted by Republicans that security is improving in Iraq and that President Bush’s “surge” strategy is working. He stressed that military success has not led to political reconciliation.

These kinds of comments, made by a senior Democratic lawmaker, are by now perfectly predictable—but that makes them no less irresponsible. It remains stunning that critics of the war continue to deny what is true, simply because what is true is encouraging. Mr. Obey’s words embody what many of his Democratic colleagues think—and help explain why approval ratings for this Congress have sunk to new lows. Their marks are richly deserved.

Today’s Washington Post reports this:

The drop in violence caused by the U.S. troop increase in Iraq prompted refugees to begin returning to their homes, American and Iraqi officials said Wednesday. Tahsin al-Sheikhly, an Iraqi government spokesman, said 46,030 displaced Iraqis had returned last month from outside the country to their homes in the capital. He declined to comment on how the government determined those statistics. “People are starting to return to their homes,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander of U.S. troops in Baghdad. “There’s no question about it.”

If this report is in fact true—and the Post points out that the Iraqi Red Crescent says the number of internally displaced people has increased significantly in the last year—it would be another important step in the path toward the healing of Iraqi society.

The situation in Iraq remains enormously challenging—and even if things continue to go well, it will take a long time before Iraq becomes a functioning state. At the same time, this year we have witnessed several significant developments in Iraq: a sharp drop in violence across much of the nation, al Qaeda’s taking enormous punishment, steps toward “bottom up” reconciliation, and Sunnis turning against al Qaeda and its murderous ideology. If Iraqis are beginning to return to their homes, it means we are beginning to see the positive, radiating effects of better security.

This good news should be juxtaposed with the comments made earlier this week by Representative David Obey. According to the Hill:

If violence is decreasing in Iraq, it may be because insurgents “are running out of people to kill,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said Monday. “There are fewer targets of opportunity,” Obey said in a speech to the National Press Club. Obey was responding to a question about reports touted by Republicans that security is improving in Iraq and that President Bush’s “surge” strategy is working. He stressed that military success has not led to political reconciliation.

These kinds of comments, made by a senior Democratic lawmaker, are by now perfectly predictable—but that makes them no less irresponsible. It remains stunning that critics of the war continue to deny what is true, simply because what is true is encouraging. Mr. Obey’s words embody what many of his Democratic colleagues think—and help explain why approval ratings for this Congress have sunk to new lows. Their marks are richly deserved.

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Friedman’s Folly

Thomas Friedman is the second- or third-best columnist at the New York Times. Admittedly that’s damning with faint praise. But he does know a fair amount about the Middle East and some other topics, and even if he repeats himself far too often (especially on the need for ending oil dependency), and gets a lot of things wrong (such as his support for the Oslo Peace Process), and exaggerates in those areas where he’s basically right (his support of globalization), I find him often worth a read, which is more than I can say for some of his colleagues. But in yesterday’s newspaper, Friedman sounded more like a talk-radio blowhard than the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist for the Newspaper of Record. (Read his column free here.)

In yesterday’s Times, Friedman went for cheap and easy populist point-scoring. He excoriated Iraqi parliamentarians for taking August off while our troops swelter in the Iraq heat wearing body armor. “Here’s what I think of that: I think it’s a travesty,” he exclaimed—words you can easily imagine coming out of the mouth of Lou Dobbs or Bill O’Reilly or someone else not normally to be confused with Tom Friedman.

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Thomas Friedman is the second- or third-best columnist at the New York Times. Admittedly that’s damning with faint praise. But he does know a fair amount about the Middle East and some other topics, and even if he repeats himself far too often (especially on the need for ending oil dependency), and gets a lot of things wrong (such as his support for the Oslo Peace Process), and exaggerates in those areas where he’s basically right (his support of globalization), I find him often worth a read, which is more than I can say for some of his colleagues. But in yesterday’s newspaper, Friedman sounded more like a talk-radio blowhard than the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist for the Newspaper of Record. (Read his column free here.)

In yesterday’s Times, Friedman went for cheap and easy populist point-scoring. He excoriated Iraqi parliamentarians for taking August off while our troops swelter in the Iraq heat wearing body armor. “Here’s what I think of that: I think it’s a travesty,” he exclaimed—words you can easily imagine coming out of the mouth of Lou Dobbs or Bill O’Reilly or someone else not normally to be confused with Tom Friedman.

The rest of Friedman’s column was equally simplistic. He proposes that we “draft the country’s best negotiators—Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, George Shultz, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross, or Richard Holbrooke” and send them to Baghdad to either force the Iraqi factions to reach a political deal to settle all their problems, or report back that no such deal is possible. Friedman gives no reason to think that any of these gentlemen would have any better luck than the negotiators we’ve had in Baghdad before—diplomats of formidable accomplishment such as John Negroponte and Zalmay Khalilzad.

While it’s true that the long-term solution in Iraq must be political, we won’t achieve a political deal unless we can create a more secure environment in which to negotiate. Thus, as I argued on the Times op-ed page in an article designed to deflate the very argument that Friedman now makes, our focus at the moment has to be military, not political or diplomatic.

We need above all to defeat Shiite and Sunni extremists who are holding the more moderate elements of their communities hostage. In this endeavor, U.S. troops are hardly alone. Iraqi cops and soldiers are fighting alongside them and actually suffering higher casualties—two to three times more killed and wounded. So much for Friedman’s offensive inference that Americans are dying to save Iraq while Iraqis won’t lift a finger to help their own country.

His attempted analogy between U.S. troops (“fighting in the heat”) and Iraqi legislators (“on vacation in August so they can be cool”) is bogus in any case. The better parallel is between Iraqi and American legislators. The Iraqis could certainly do better, but they are also risking their lives and their relatives’ lives to serve, not something that could be said of American senators and congressmen.

For the past few weeks—before they take off on their own August recess—our legislators have hardly been a profile in courage or perspicacity. Democrats and some Republicans have been loudly screaming to “end the war” even while showing scant interest in what will happen after U.S. troops are gone.

This Los Angeles Times story features some hair-raising quotes from the advocates of withdrawal about the consequences of their preferred strategy:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s horrendous,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.), who has helped spearhead efforts against the war. “The only hope for the Iraqis is their own damned government, and there’s slim hope for that.”

“I believe, if we leave, the region will pull together,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), a founding member of the influential House Out of Iraq caucus. “It’s important to them that Iraq stabilize.”

“The Out of Iraq caucus really has not looked beyond ending military involvement,” acknowledged Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a caucus leader and Pelosi ally. “Now that the environment is changing pretty significantly . . . everybody may be starting to look at what happens after the United States leaves.”

In their combination of naiveté, ignorance, and irresponsibility, our lawmakers almost make the Iraqis look good.

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