Commentary Magazine


Topic: House of Representatives

Liberal Gerrymander Myth Will Be Exposed

In yet another instance of the U.S. Supreme Court twisting the plain meaning of the words of the Constitution, a 5-4 majority ruled that states could bypass their legislatures to create commissions to determine Congressional districts. The U.S. Constitution states specifically, “The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof,” but, in writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that “legislature” can mean a referendum. That’s absurd, but after a week in which “by the states” can be translated as “by the federal government” (Chief Justice Roberts on ObamaCare) and an amorphous concept not mentioned in the Constitution such as “dignity” can be used as justification for overturning state laws (Justice Kennedy on gay marriage), what’s one more legal fiction if it gets a liberal majority what it wants? As with those other two cases, this has excited a lot of liberals who believe, as Paul Blest writes in The New Republic, that this decision can lead to a political earthquake that could eventually give the Democrats back control of the House of Representatives. But unlike the other decisions that will help transform the world to conform to liberal preferences, this one is bound to disappoint the left. The reason why Republicans seem to have acquired a lock on the House has less to do with the gerrymander myth that claims the GOP wins by cheating than it does to with population patterns and the Voting Rights Act.

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In yet another instance of the U.S. Supreme Court twisting the plain meaning of the words of the Constitution, a 5-4 majority ruled that states could bypass their legislatures to create commissions to determine Congressional districts. The U.S. Constitution states specifically, “The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof,” but, in writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that “legislature” can mean a referendum. That’s absurd, but after a week in which “by the states” can be translated as “by the federal government” (Chief Justice Roberts on ObamaCare) and an amorphous concept not mentioned in the Constitution such as “dignity” can be used as justification for overturning state laws (Justice Kennedy on gay marriage), what’s one more legal fiction if it gets a liberal majority what it wants? As with those other two cases, this has excited a lot of liberals who believe, as Paul Blest writes in The New Republic, that this decision can lead to a political earthquake that could eventually give the Democrats back control of the House of Representatives. But unlike the other decisions that will help transform the world to conform to liberal preferences, this one is bound to disappoint the left. The reason why Republicans seem to have acquired a lock on the House has less to do with the gerrymander myth that claims the GOP wins by cheating than it does to with population patterns and the Voting Rights Act.

Gerrymandering is almost as old as the republic, but it has always had a bad reputation. Both Democrats and Republicans have carved up states in bizarre patterns in order to maximize political advantage for one party or the other. But in recent years, as the GOP won midterm landslides that gained them control of the majority of state houses around the country, Republicans have had the opportunity to do more gerrymandering than Democrats.

Blest’s piece gives as good a summary of the gerrymander myth as can be found. In short, he blames the Republican victory in 2010 as enabling them to steal seats in Pennsylvania and Ohio by coming up with districts with “nonsensical formations.”

The effects of that redistricting were noticeable in 2012 when, despite easily holding the White House, adding to their Senate majority, and winning the popular vote in the House by over 1 million votes, Democrats only won back eight congressional districts. In Ohio, two longtime progressive members of Congress, Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich, were drawn into the same district, the boundaries of which are objectively ridiculous. After the 2012 election in Michigan, where Obama won by nearly ten points, Republicans held nine seats to just five for Democrats. And in Pennsylvania, the GOP picked up two seats despite Obama’s winning the state by over 300,000 votes and Senator Bob Casey’s winning re-election by an even wider margin. This process wasn’t limited to Republicans, either—they just had more opportunities to do it.

But while the GOP took advantage of their chance to redraw districts where they could, the sea change in House elections dates back more than two decades to the early 1990s when redistricting helped play a role in ending an almost unbroken 60-year streak (1946-48 and 1952-54 being the only brief exceptions) when Democrats controlled the House. Since then, the House has been generally trending to the Republicans, and they’ve run things other than Nancy Pelosi’s four-year reign from 2006-2010. But what happened in 1992 wasn’t the result of a vast GOP gerrymander. It was the result of court decisions interpreting the Voting Rights Act that demanded that states create minority-majority districts that would vastly expand the number of African-American and Hispanic members of the House. That effort succeeded brilliantly but though almost all of these members were Democrats, this triumph came at the expense of their party.

In the past, when Democrats had the chance to draw districts, they’d take advantage of the situation by trying to include areas with a high minority population in competitive districts. Since blacks were — and still are — an essential part of the base of the Democratic party, once they were concentrated into minority-majority districts, that left swing districts overwhelmingly white and as a consequence, far more likely to be won by Republicans. Moreover, the minority districts were far more “nonsensical” than anything any Republican or even Elbridge Gerry (after whom the practice is named) could have even dreamed of as they stretch across states and cross normal country and even geographic boundaries in order to corral as many minorities as possible into one district.

As Nate Cohn notes in the New York Times Upshot blogs, the Democrats’ dominance in urban districts with mostly minority voters inflates their national vote total in Congressional elections. But it does them little good to win inner city districts in cities by 8-1 margins while losing most of the competitive seats by close margins. What Cohn calls a “wasted vote problem” means that Democrats can win states like Pennsylvania decisively while losing the majority of Congressional seats.

The court, to the approval of liberal strongholds like the New York Times editorial page, believes good government pieties about non-partisanship will always favor the Democrats. But the liberal faith that supposedly non-partisan commissions such as the one created in Arizona will solve their problems is misplaced. Even non-partisan districts are always going to favor Republicans in states with minority and urban populations. Unless those commissions are prepared to break up minority districts and cost black and Hispanic politicians their jobs — something that is not only politically impossible but would be considered illegal by the courts — the fundamental GOP advantage will remain.

Moreover, as Cohn points out, instead of looking to the courts to win them victories they can’t achieve on their own, Democrats might do better to forget about commissions and concentrate on winning back state houses before the next census sets off the next round of redistricting. If the GOP wins the presidency in 2016, that might set up 2018 as the moment when Democrats might take advantage of the midterm pattern that gives the party out of power the edge. Of course, that means no President Hillary, so Democrats don’t even want to think about it.

But the most important lesson to be learned from this subject is that while redrawing districts can give political parties help, such devices are no substitute for popular support. If Democrats want to win back the House, they’ll have to do it at the ballot box winning swing districts and not by judicial fiat.

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The Truth About Race, Gerrymandering and the Democrats

Though the Democrats have high hopes for taking back the Senate and holding onto the presidency next year, not even the most optimistic of liberals think they have a prayer of winning control of the House of Representatives next year. But as the Washington Post reported on Friday, the party hopes that a strategy based on lawsuits will eventually change the balance of power in the House, if not soon, but after the next redrawing of district lines around the country following the 2020 census. But while the Post article details how legal challenges might undermine successful Republican efforts to gerrymander districts in their favor, it leaves out one essential element to the equation. The Democrats problem isn’t so much nefarious GOP maneuvers to create favorable boundaries for their candidates, as it is the Voting Rights Act that has created so many majority-minority districts. If all the lawsuits are successful, it will be African-American and Hispanic Democratic officeholders that are the big losers, not the Republicans.

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Though the Democrats have high hopes for taking back the Senate and holding onto the presidency next year, not even the most optimistic of liberals think they have a prayer of winning control of the House of Representatives next year. But as the Washington Post reported on Friday, the party hopes that a strategy based on lawsuits will eventually change the balance of power in the House, if not soon, but after the next redrawing of district lines around the country following the 2020 census. But while the Post article details how legal challenges might undermine successful Republican efforts to gerrymander districts in their favor, it leaves out one essential element to the equation. The Democrats problem isn’t so much nefarious GOP maneuvers to create favorable boundaries for their candidates, as it is the Voting Rights Act that has created so many majority-minority districts. If all the lawsuits are successful, it will be African-American and Hispanic Democratic officeholders that are the big losers, not the Republicans.

As even the Post article noted, the current Democratic court challenges to various districts around the country don’t amount to enough seats to tip the House in their direction even if they were all successful. But the goal is to set in place legal standards that would forbid states from lumping a large percentage of their African-American voters in to a few districts, leaving the rest dominated by white voters.

There’s no question that this practice has been a godsend for Republicans and a disaster for the Democrats. African-Americans are a huge part of the Democrats’ base throughout the country. In the south, they have become virtually their sole bulwark of support. Thus, grouping them together in a few districts has the effect of making the Democrats non-competitive everywhere else.

But what was left out of the Post article is the fact that this idea wasn’t invented in a backroom by some evil GOP genius bent on marginalizing blacks and empowering conservatives. Instead, it was more or less invented by liberal judges who interpreted the Voting Rights Act as mandating not just the right of everyone to vote but the creation of an electoral environment in which minorities could be set up to succeed.

The creation of a raft of these majority-minority districts took place after the 1990 census and the result was the beginning of the end of a 60-year-period of Democratic dominance in the House that stretched from the Great Depression to the Clinton presidency. It was accomplished by creating bizarre districts that ignored traditional boundaries as well as geography. These districts gave new meaning to the term gerrymandering but they accomplished exactly what the courts intended for them to do. The numbers of African-Americans and Hispanics in the House grew exponentially. It was only after this process began that some on both the left and the right realized that the fallout from the new districts was the end of many competitive districts as well as the completion of a long period of decline for the Democrats in the south.

It’s understandable if Democrats now want to rethink this situation since it more or less dooms them to permanent minority status in the House. But if they want to change it, they need to be careful of the consequences.

For the past few years, liberals have been waxing lyrical about the perfidy of Republican gerrymandering of districts. The fact that in states where Democrats have control of the legislature and the governor’s seat they do the same thing hasn’t deterred them from claiming that this is a sin unique to the GOP. But hypocrisy aside, it appears that a lot of them seem to have not thought through what would happen if this type of gerrymandering were eliminated.

Ending majority-minority district will help the Democrats across the board. But it will set them up for an epic confrontation with their most loyal voters and that group’s political leaders. There is simply no way that the Congressional Black Caucus will ever consent to their numbers being decimated merely to help the Democratic Party.

Don’t bet on African Americans or Hispanics sitting back and merely letting their party eliminate so many of their seats. If they have to, they will make alliances with Republicans in the legislatures to ensure that their districts survive. The bottom line is that when it comes to the majority-minority districts that are killing the Democrats, the genie can’t be put back in the bottle. Whether by the Republicans committing some form of political suicide or by a sea change in the political environment, the Democrats could eventually win back the House. But they will not do on the backs of blacks or by eliminating their racial redistricting problem.

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The Grimm Truth About the Political Class

So after years of rumors about improprieties in fundraising, Rep. Michael Grimm was finally indicted today by the federal government on charges that had absolutely nothing to do with the reason he came under suspicion. While others were charged or remain under investigation in connection with questionable fundraising for his campaign, the former Marine and FBI agent was not. But as has often been the case with federal investigations, once the government started sniffing around Grimm’s finances, they wound up uncovering other unrelated misdeeds that may well wind up putting him in jail and perhaps costing the Republican Party a competitive House seat. Grimm’s spokesman may call it a “politically motivated vendetta,” but it’s difficult to talk about politics in the context of what appears to be a cut and dried case of tax fraud and lying under oath resulting from the way the congressman cooked the books at a health food store he opened in Manhattan before heading down to Washington.

But the thing that really interests me about this story is the way it illustrates once again the arrogance of public officials and the way political power has a way of persuading people that the rules they seek to enforce with respect to others don’t apply to them. Michael Grim’s story is familiar in this sense as it resembles those of countless other members of Congress over the years who have run afoul of the law. But just because it is not unique doesn’t mean it isn’t important. What Grimm, like every other public official who breaks the law, teaches us is the necessity of not taking our politicians at face value. If our system is to thrive, accountability, even for those in the public eye who seem to be straight out of a computer program for successful politicians (as the clean-cut former military man was) is a necessity. Grimm is the exception that proves the rule that most members of Congress are decent, hardworking public servants. But anyone who questions the need to send at least a few non-career politicians who are rabble-rousers that don’t go along to get along at Capitol Hill should remember Grimm’s example when asked to treat the political class with deference. He may be an outlier in the sense that there was little doubt about the questionable nature of his conduct, but he is far from the only member of Congress who thinks he is above the law.

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So after years of rumors about improprieties in fundraising, Rep. Michael Grimm was finally indicted today by the federal government on charges that had absolutely nothing to do with the reason he came under suspicion. While others were charged or remain under investigation in connection with questionable fundraising for his campaign, the former Marine and FBI agent was not. But as has often been the case with federal investigations, once the government started sniffing around Grimm’s finances, they wound up uncovering other unrelated misdeeds that may well wind up putting him in jail and perhaps costing the Republican Party a competitive House seat. Grimm’s spokesman may call it a “politically motivated vendetta,” but it’s difficult to talk about politics in the context of what appears to be a cut and dried case of tax fraud and lying under oath resulting from the way the congressman cooked the books at a health food store he opened in Manhattan before heading down to Washington.

But the thing that really interests me about this story is the way it illustrates once again the arrogance of public officials and the way political power has a way of persuading people that the rules they seek to enforce with respect to others don’t apply to them. Michael Grim’s story is familiar in this sense as it resembles those of countless other members of Congress over the years who have run afoul of the law. But just because it is not unique doesn’t mean it isn’t important. What Grimm, like every other public official who breaks the law, teaches us is the necessity of not taking our politicians at face value. If our system is to thrive, accountability, even for those in the public eye who seem to be straight out of a computer program for successful politicians (as the clean-cut former military man was) is a necessity. Grimm is the exception that proves the rule that most members of Congress are decent, hardworking public servants. But anyone who questions the need to send at least a few non-career politicians who are rabble-rousers that don’t go along to get along at Capitol Hill should remember Grimm’s example when asked to treat the political class with deference. He may be an outlier in the sense that there was little doubt about the questionable nature of his conduct, but he is far from the only member of Congress who thinks he is above the law.

Grimm, a repulsive character who will probably best be remembered for an on-camera threat to throw a television reporter off a Capitol balcony for having the temerity to ask him about his legal troubles, is clearly finished in politics. The only political question about this story is not whether he can survive the case (he can’t) but whether the GOP can persuade him to quickly resign his seat and allow them to somehow field a candidate who has a chance to hold onto a district that is one of the few in the Greater New York region where they have a shot as well as a rare example of a genuine swing seat. Considering that Vito Fosella, the last Republican to hold that Staten Island-based seat, also went down in the flames of scandal (a DUI charge that led to the revelation that he was leading a double life), the party doesn’t have a very good track record in picking winners who can stay out of trouble. The fact that the indictment came days after the deadline for replacing Grimm on the ballot this November except by a legal subterfuge is evidence that the Justice Department’s motivations here are not pure. But it also means Grimm’s troubles point to a Democrat pick-up there this fall.

Yet none of that answers the question about why a former FBI agent thought he could get around the tax laws as well as possibly evading campaign finance rules. Perhaps Grimm’s knowledge of the ins and outs of the justice system led him to believe he could evade detection. But there was something in his demeanor when called upon to account for his problems that spoke to a sense that he was a uniquely privileged character who could do what he wanted. That this was a delusion in a 24/7 political news environment may never have occurred to him. As such, he will be branded as peculiar sort of sociopath. But the nature of his office does seem to breed this sort of attitude even among those who are not under federal investigation on both sides of the political aisle.

We may mourn the fact that people like Michael Grimm deepen our sense of cynicism about politics. But rather than lament a mythical lost innocence, we would do well to recognize that politicians are cut from the same cloth as the rest of humanity and are as vulnerable to avarice and sin as the rest of us. Politicians should neither be lionized nor demonized. Rather, what we must do is to remember James Madison’s famous words that “if men were angels, no government would be necessary” and apportion power to our representatives and the institutions they run with care.

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Could Republicans Govern in 2015?

This past weekend the panic being felt on the left about the 2014 midterms reached epic proportions with a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about how fear of the “Obama Factor” was sapping Democratic morale. The story rehashed what has long been obvious about this year’s campaign: Democrats are at a huge disadvantage defending red-state Senate seats won in the 2008 Obama-fueled “hope and change” election. The unpopularity of ObamaCare and its disastrous rollout combined with the sinking poll numbers of the president may all combine to bring both houses of Congress under GOP control in January 2015.

With several months left for Republicans to pull defeat from the jaws of victory (as they did in 2010 and 2012 when golden opportunities to take winnable seats were sacrificed by terrible candidates and their gaffes), it’s way too early for the Democrats to give up or the GOP to start celebrating. But it isn’t too early to ask what exactly the Republicans would do if they did control Capitol Hill next year and to ponder what that would mean for the last two years of the Obama presidency. At the Washington Post’s Plum Line column, Paul Waldman takes up these questions and argues that the GOP’s possible 2014 triumph would be short-lived, if not entirely Pyrrhic. Waldman believes the basic antagonism between the House and the Senate will make any cooperation between the two impossible even if Republicans ran them both. Differing approaches to ObamaCare would provoke bitter and unwinnable fights between the varying GOP factions or “unrealistic bills that he [Obama] can veto without worrying about any backlash from the public.” In short, he predicts having the Senate as well as the House would do Republicans no good and maybe even help the Democrats heading into 2016.

Waldman is right that a 2014 win might well lead to plenty of internecine GOP warfare. He’s also correct that the 2016 Senate math (with a host of seats won in the 2010 GOP landslide up for grabs) might give Democrats a golden opportunity to snatch the upper House back, especially if they have a strong Democratic presidential candidate at the top of their ticket. But liberals who imagine that a GOP Congress would be no big deal are delusional. A Republican Senate will make the next two years a nightmare for Obama and give the GOP a chance to undermine his liberal agenda while setting the stage for what they hope will be a return to the White House in 2016.

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This past weekend the panic being felt on the left about the 2014 midterms reached epic proportions with a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about how fear of the “Obama Factor” was sapping Democratic morale. The story rehashed what has long been obvious about this year’s campaign: Democrats are at a huge disadvantage defending red-state Senate seats won in the 2008 Obama-fueled “hope and change” election. The unpopularity of ObamaCare and its disastrous rollout combined with the sinking poll numbers of the president may all combine to bring both houses of Congress under GOP control in January 2015.

With several months left for Republicans to pull defeat from the jaws of victory (as they did in 2010 and 2012 when golden opportunities to take winnable seats were sacrificed by terrible candidates and their gaffes), it’s way too early for the Democrats to give up or the GOP to start celebrating. But it isn’t too early to ask what exactly the Republicans would do if they did control Capitol Hill next year and to ponder what that would mean for the last two years of the Obama presidency. At the Washington Post’s Plum Line column, Paul Waldman takes up these questions and argues that the GOP’s possible 2014 triumph would be short-lived, if not entirely Pyrrhic. Waldman believes the basic antagonism between the House and the Senate will make any cooperation between the two impossible even if Republicans ran them both. Differing approaches to ObamaCare would provoke bitter and unwinnable fights between the varying GOP factions or “unrealistic bills that he [Obama] can veto without worrying about any backlash from the public.” In short, he predicts having the Senate as well as the House would do Republicans no good and maybe even help the Democrats heading into 2016.

Waldman is right that a 2014 win might well lead to plenty of internecine GOP warfare. He’s also correct that the 2016 Senate math (with a host of seats won in the 2010 GOP landslide up for grabs) might give Democrats a golden opportunity to snatch the upper House back, especially if they have a strong Democratic presidential candidate at the top of their ticket. But liberals who imagine that a GOP Congress would be no big deal are delusional. A Republican Senate will make the next two years a nightmare for Obama and give the GOP a chance to undermine his liberal agenda while setting the stage for what they hope will be a return to the White House in 2016.

Let’s concede that the combative spirit of the House GOP caucus won’t be made any less confrontational by a victory in November. But the dynamic of Congress isn’t only defined by the institutional rivalries that Waldman discusses. By controlling the Senate, Democrats have exercised a pocket veto on everything the House produces, whether the product of centrist consensus or Tea Party fantasy. The unrealistic nature of much of the debate that has taken place on the House side is in no small measure the product of a situation in which nothing they do really matters so long as Harry Reid can frustrate them at will. If Reid is replaced by Mitch McConnell at the majority leader’s desk, that changes. At that point, the House caucus stops being a glorified debating society and becomes part of a governing majority. That won’t magically transform them or their Senate colleagues into a collection of legislative geniuses, but it will mean that suicidal gestures born in despair at their inability to pass bills will be a thing of the past.

Nor should Republicans fear—and Democrats anticipate with glee—the prospect of debates about fixes or alternatives to ObamaCare. Contrary to the liberal talking points echoed by many in the media, there are a number of realistic GOP proposals on health care out there that have been ignored because a Democratic Senate makes any new approaches to the misnamed Affordable Care Act impossible.

It is true that the continued presence of Barack Obama in the White House will mean the GOP will still not be governing the nation. He may well use his veto power more than before and frustrate Republican legislative initiatives. But by the same token, the ability of Republicans to hamstring Obama’s liberal agenda and subject his administration to probes will be enhanced.

The president may respond by accelerating his effort to bypass Congress and to govern by means of executive orders. But doing so as a lame duck will not only strike most voters as problematic from a constitutional point of view; it will also place a burden on Democrats in 2016 that they will be hard-pressed to cope with.

Most importantly, a Republican Senate would end any chance that Supreme Court retirements would allow the president to create a liberal court that could stand for decades or to continue his project of packing the appeals courts with like-minded jurists.

A Republican Congress won’t be able to undo everything Barack Obama has done or impose a Tea Party agenda on the nation. But it will act as a far more effective break on a liberal president than the current split Congress and also give Republicans more forums from which they can promote their ideas as they look to 2016. Any Democrat who doesn’t think that will materially damage his party or its leader will learn differently if the GOP vindicates the pundits and sweeps the board this November.

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The Difference Between COMMENTARY and the Jewish Funds for Justice Rabbis

Earlier today, Alana wrote about the ad in today’s Wall Street Journal taken out by the left-wing group Jewish Funds for Justice in which the organization called for the News Corporation to “sanction” Glenn Beck of FOX News and to force Roger Ailes, that network’s chief, to apologize for remarks Beck has made relating to the Holocaust. Alana rightly noted the one-sided nature of this group’s advocacy about the Holocaust. Though they clearly want Beck canned for what he has said, they’ve never uttered a word of complaint about the numerous misuses of Holocaust imagery by left-wing figures such as Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee or filmmaker Oliver Stone.

In the body of their ad is a quote from a COMMENTARY Web Exclusive article written by me about Beck’s willingness to raise questions about George Soros’s behavior during the Holocaust. In it I made it clear that while we consider Soros’s political stands abhorrent, his alleged activities as a 14-year-old boy during the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary ought to be out of bounds for his critics. As the Jewish Funds for Justice ad states, the piece said Beck’s attack on Soros on this point was marred by ignorance and innuendo, and I stand by that characterization.

At the time, COMMENTARY’s decision to denounce Beck’s behavior was criticized by some who thought that the TV host’s support for Israel and the fact that his target was a man who was no friend to Israel should have obligated us to be silent about his foolish slurs. They asserted that our willingness to lay out our differences with someone with whom we were otherwise in agreement would be used by left-wing groups who have no such scruples. That prediction has been vindicated by the Jewish Funds for Justice.

The difference between COMMENTARY and the rabbis who speak in the name of the Jewish Funds for Justice couldn’t be clearer. We agree that Holocaust imagery and related topics ought not to be abused for partisan political purposes, though we have to say in passing that Beck’s idiotic attack on Soros is nowhere near as great an offense as Rep. Cohen’s calling his Republican opponents Nazis on the floor of the House of Representatives. But unlike those rabbis, we do not do so only when the offenders are people we disagree with on other issues. Had these rabbis sought to denounce both right-wing and left-wing figures that have called their foes Nazis or made specious comparisons to Adolf Hitler or Joseph Goebbels, they might have done so with some credibility. But since they have invoked their status as spiritual leaders as well as the prestige of the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements solely to silence a conservative political speaker whom they dislike, they have none.

Earlier today, Alana wrote about the ad in today’s Wall Street Journal taken out by the left-wing group Jewish Funds for Justice in which the organization called for the News Corporation to “sanction” Glenn Beck of FOX News and to force Roger Ailes, that network’s chief, to apologize for remarks Beck has made relating to the Holocaust. Alana rightly noted the one-sided nature of this group’s advocacy about the Holocaust. Though they clearly want Beck canned for what he has said, they’ve never uttered a word of complaint about the numerous misuses of Holocaust imagery by left-wing figures such as Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee or filmmaker Oliver Stone.

In the body of their ad is a quote from a COMMENTARY Web Exclusive article written by me about Beck’s willingness to raise questions about George Soros’s behavior during the Holocaust. In it I made it clear that while we consider Soros’s political stands abhorrent, his alleged activities as a 14-year-old boy during the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary ought to be out of bounds for his critics. As the Jewish Funds for Justice ad states, the piece said Beck’s attack on Soros on this point was marred by ignorance and innuendo, and I stand by that characterization.

At the time, COMMENTARY’s decision to denounce Beck’s behavior was criticized by some who thought that the TV host’s support for Israel and the fact that his target was a man who was no friend to Israel should have obligated us to be silent about his foolish slurs. They asserted that our willingness to lay out our differences with someone with whom we were otherwise in agreement would be used by left-wing groups who have no such scruples. That prediction has been vindicated by the Jewish Funds for Justice.

The difference between COMMENTARY and the rabbis who speak in the name of the Jewish Funds for Justice couldn’t be clearer. We agree that Holocaust imagery and related topics ought not to be abused for partisan political purposes, though we have to say in passing that Beck’s idiotic attack on Soros is nowhere near as great an offense as Rep. Cohen’s calling his Republican opponents Nazis on the floor of the House of Representatives. But unlike those rabbis, we do not do so only when the offenders are people we disagree with on other issues. Had these rabbis sought to denounce both right-wing and left-wing figures that have called their foes Nazis or made specious comparisons to Adolf Hitler or Joseph Goebbels, they might have done so with some credibility. But since they have invoked their status as spiritual leaders as well as the prestige of the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements solely to silence a conservative political speaker whom they dislike, they have none.

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LIVE BLOG: Congressional Autograph Hounds

Forget about the unsightly and sophomoric partisan displays at past State of the Union speeches. Nothing is as bad as the spectacle of members of our House of Representatives and Senate besieging the president asking for his autograph on his way out of the chamber. At one point, the president could be heard joking about those signed programs winding up on eBay. It was a joke, but I’d bet that most of the audience on television believes it.

Forget about the unsightly and sophomoric partisan displays at past State of the Union speeches. Nothing is as bad as the spectacle of members of our House of Representatives and Senate besieging the president asking for his autograph on his way out of the chamber. At one point, the president could be heard joking about those signed programs winding up on eBay. It was a joke, but I’d bet that most of the audience on television believes it.

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Senate Freshmen Decline to Join Tea Party Caucus

Remember that Afghanistan trip Sen. Mitch McConnell took some of the GOP freshmen on last week? At the time, some conservative activists worried it was a “ploy” to co-opt the Tea Party members of the Senate. And now, interestingly, some of the same freshmen who went on the trip — Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson, and Marco Rubio — have decided not to join the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus.

In an interview with a Florida political website, Tea Party favorite Rubio said he won’t be involved in the caucus, because he thinks it will “co-opt” the whole concept of the movement:

“My concern is that politicians all of a sudden start co-opting the mantle of Tea Party. If all of a sudden being in the Tea Party is not something that is happening in Main Street, but rather something that’s happening in Washington D.C.,” he said in an interview with the Shark Tank, a Florida political website. “The Tea Party all of a sudden becomes some sort of movement run by politicians. It’s gonna lose its effectiveness and I’m concerned about that.”

What Rubio says is correct on its face. The Tea Party is a ground-up movement, and it would be completely inconsistent with its platform if Washington politicians began “running” it. But that doesn’t seem to be the point of Tea Party Caucus at all. The idea of the caucus is to take direction from the grassroots of the conservative movement and carry it out in Congress — not the other way around.

So Rubio is spinning a bit. But it’s not hard to see why. Politically, it wouldn’t be the greatest move for him to tie himself to a caucus, at least not if he wants to compromise and get things done in the Senate.

That might be why the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus hasn’t been successful in drawing members. The Hill reported that it currently has only three senators committed to attending its first meeting: Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Jim DeMint.

The House of Representatives, in comparison, has a 30-member strong Tea Party Caucus, which was created by Rep. Michele Bachmann last year. But the Senate is also a fraction of the size of the House, meaning that senators need to compromise much more with other members in order to get legislation through.

Remember that Afghanistan trip Sen. Mitch McConnell took some of the GOP freshmen on last week? At the time, some conservative activists worried it was a “ploy” to co-opt the Tea Party members of the Senate. And now, interestingly, some of the same freshmen who went on the trip — Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson, and Marco Rubio — have decided not to join the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus.

In an interview with a Florida political website, Tea Party favorite Rubio said he won’t be involved in the caucus, because he thinks it will “co-opt” the whole concept of the movement:

“My concern is that politicians all of a sudden start co-opting the mantle of Tea Party. If all of a sudden being in the Tea Party is not something that is happening in Main Street, but rather something that’s happening in Washington D.C.,” he said in an interview with the Shark Tank, a Florida political website. “The Tea Party all of a sudden becomes some sort of movement run by politicians. It’s gonna lose its effectiveness and I’m concerned about that.”

What Rubio says is correct on its face. The Tea Party is a ground-up movement, and it would be completely inconsistent with its platform if Washington politicians began “running” it. But that doesn’t seem to be the point of Tea Party Caucus at all. The idea of the caucus is to take direction from the grassroots of the conservative movement and carry it out in Congress — not the other way around.

So Rubio is spinning a bit. But it’s not hard to see why. Politically, it wouldn’t be the greatest move for him to tie himself to a caucus, at least not if he wants to compromise and get things done in the Senate.

That might be why the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus hasn’t been successful in drawing members. The Hill reported that it currently has only three senators committed to attending its first meeting: Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Jim DeMint.

The House of Representatives, in comparison, has a 30-member strong Tea Party Caucus, which was created by Rep. Michele Bachmann last year. But the Senate is also a fraction of the size of the House, meaning that senators need to compromise much more with other members in order to get legislation through.

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Two Very Different GOP Responses to DADT Repeal

Two stories from yesterday highlight very different reactions to the recent Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, from two prominent Republican lawmakers who both fought to keep the policy in place.

The first one focuses on John McCain, who helped lead the charge against the repeal in the Senate. Now that the repeal passed, McCain has promised to do all he can to help the troops deal with the new challenge successfully:

“I think I have to do everything I can to make sure that the impact on morale, retention, recruitment and battle effectiveness of the military is minimized as much as possible,” the Arizona Republican and Vietnam war hero said on Fox Business.

“It’s the law. I’ve got to do whatever I can to help the men and women who are serving, particularly in combat, cope with this situation.”

McCain has supported “don’t ask, don’t tell” since it was put in place under then-President Clinton, but the 2008 GOP presidential contender said last year he would consider endorsing the repeal if the military leadership decided that was best.

Compare that to the reaction of Rep. Joe Wilson, the incoming chair of the House Armed Services Committee military personnel panel, who said he will work to find ways to reinstate the policy:

The new Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel panel says he will hold hearings to look at the Pentagon’s plans allow openly gay people to serve, and he will look for chances to reinstate the ban lifted by Congress in December.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who became the personnel subcommittee chairman on Wednesday when the 112th Congress convened, said it was “irresponsible” for Congress to repeal the ban on openly gay service members without giving the House of Representatives time to hold hearings into what is involved in changing the law and how the change might effect current and future service members.

I understand some people are still nervous about the impact of the DADT changes, but I honestly can’t think of a worse way to respond to the repeal than what Wilson is proposing. Now that Congress has made its decision on the matter, lawmakers need to trust that the institutions of our military will handle the implementation process appropriately and responsibly. Does anyone really believe that members of Congress have a better grasp on how to impose these policy changes than the current military leadership? Read More

Two stories from yesterday highlight very different reactions to the recent Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, from two prominent Republican lawmakers who both fought to keep the policy in place.

The first one focuses on John McCain, who helped lead the charge against the repeal in the Senate. Now that the repeal passed, McCain has promised to do all he can to help the troops deal with the new challenge successfully:

“I think I have to do everything I can to make sure that the impact on morale, retention, recruitment and battle effectiveness of the military is minimized as much as possible,” the Arizona Republican and Vietnam war hero said on Fox Business.

“It’s the law. I’ve got to do whatever I can to help the men and women who are serving, particularly in combat, cope with this situation.”

McCain has supported “don’t ask, don’t tell” since it was put in place under then-President Clinton, but the 2008 GOP presidential contender said last year he would consider endorsing the repeal if the military leadership decided that was best.

Compare that to the reaction of Rep. Joe Wilson, the incoming chair of the House Armed Services Committee military personnel panel, who said he will work to find ways to reinstate the policy:

The new Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel panel says he will hold hearings to look at the Pentagon’s plans allow openly gay people to serve, and he will look for chances to reinstate the ban lifted by Congress in December.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who became the personnel subcommittee chairman on Wednesday when the 112th Congress convened, said it was “irresponsible” for Congress to repeal the ban on openly gay service members without giving the House of Representatives time to hold hearings into what is involved in changing the law and how the change might effect current and future service members.

I understand some people are still nervous about the impact of the DADT changes, but I honestly can’t think of a worse way to respond to the repeal than what Wilson is proposing. Now that Congress has made its decision on the matter, lawmakers need to trust that the institutions of our military will handle the implementation process appropriately and responsibly. Does anyone really believe that members of Congress have a better grasp on how to impose these policy changes than the current military leadership?

Not to mention that holding hearings and investigations will only serve to complicate and drag out the process even more:

Armed services committee aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said hearings will focus on implementation issues, from housing to benefits to changes in criminal laws — which would have the effect of slowing down the change.

The Republican argument for keeping DADT in place was that our military shouldn’t have to deal with a major policy change while embroiled in two wars. Now that the ban has been lifted, McCain is taking the correct approach by offering to help ensure that the transition goes as smoothly as possible. Wilson’s proposals will only impede that effort, creating additional hurtles for our troops.

I know I keep returning to what Bill Kristol wrote in late December, but his advice to conservatives on this issue was dead-on: “Don’t fret, don’t whine.” Now that DADT’s been lifted, there’s no point in harping on it. There are more important battles out there to fight, more damaging policies that need to be repealed (ObamaCare being a perfect example). Congress had its say on the matter; now it’s time for lawmakers to step back and let our military take it from here.

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Why the Constitution — and What It Means — Matters

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter. Read More

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter.

For many modern-day liberals, the Constitution is, at best, a piece of quaint, even irrelevant, parchment. As Jonah Goldberg reminds us in his excellent column:

“Are you serious?” was Nancy Pelosi’s response to a question over the constitutionality of health care reform. Third-ranking House Democrat Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina famously declared that “there’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do.” Rep. Phil Hare of Illinois, before he was defeated by a Tea Party–backed candidate, told a town hall meeting, “I don’t worry about the Constitution” on health care reform.

At the core of the differences between contemporary liberals and conservatives, then, is the power of the federal government in our lives. The Constitution was designed as a check on the power of government, done in order to protect individual liberties. The Founders designed a federal government with limited, delegated, and enumerated powers, a theory of government that conservatives embrace and consider paradigmatic. (How that theory works itself out in practice is, of course, not always clear.)

The progressive/liberal disposition, on the other hand, believes that this view of the Constitution is obsolete and unwise; it is constantly, even relentlessly, looking for ways to increase the powers of the federal government (witness the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010). In order to achieve this, the Constitution needs to be ignored or, better yet, re-invented as a Living Constitution, constantly evolving, morphing from age to age, interpreted in light of the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

But as Justice Antonin Scalia has written, “Perhaps the most glaring defect of Living Constitutionalism, next to its incompatibility with the whole antievolutionary purpose of a constitution, is that there is no agreement, and no chance of agreement, upon what is to be the guiding principle of the evolution. Panta rei [“all things are in flux”] is not a sufficiently informative principle of constitutional interpretation.”

When determining when and in what direction the evolution should occur, Scalia asks:

Is it the will of the majority, discerned from newspapers, radio talk shows, public opinion polls, and chats at the country club? Is it the philosophy of Hume, or of John Rawls, or of John Stuart Mill, or of Aristotle? As soon as the discussion goes beyond the issue of whether the Constitution is static, the evolutionists divide into as many camps as there are individual views of the good, the true, and the beautiful. I think that is inevitably so, which means that evolutionism is simply not a practicable constitutional philosophy.

For those on the left, the answer to Scalia’s question is: The Constitution means whatever we say it means. And in order for this subjective, ad hoc interpretation to prevail, the left must control the levers of political and judicial power.

There is an effort today to reassert the primacy of the traditional, rather than the Living, Constitution. Liberals understand this, which explains why they are reacting in the manner they are.

The controversy about members of the 112th Congress reading the Constitution is not really about that; it is about something much deeper and more significant. It has to do with how we understand and interpret our charter of government, the product of what John Adams called “the greatest single effort of national deliberations that the world has ever seen.” I suspect that this debate, which conservatives should welcome, will only intensify.

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One More Reason Why the Military Is Among the Most Trusted of Institutions

I wanted to issue a concurring opinion to what Max wrote. I suspect the opposition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will, over time, appear either misplaced or exaggerated. Because social attitudes have shifted on gay rights so dramatically since the early 1990s, I rather doubt that the fears of DADT critics will be realized. As Max points out, the military has shown an impressive ability to adjust to shifting social mores. And other nations have adjusted fairly well to having openly gay members serve in the military.

I would add that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a persuasive argument, I think, in favor of congressional repeal because he foresaw a judgment by courts overturning the law. A legal judgment would require instant compliance, Gates warned, whereas a congressional repeal would allow time for the military to adapt.

Marine Corps commandant General James Amos was the most passionate advocate among the service chiefs against repealing DADT. “Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives,” Amos said in explaining his views on DADT. “That’s the currency of this fight. I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.” But now that the decision has been made, General Amos pledged to lead the effort to integrate openly gay Marines. Here is the text of the statement:

Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps. Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our Commander in Chief, Congress, our Chain of Command, and the American people.  The House of Representatives and the Senate have voted to repeal Title 10, US Code 654 “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the United States Armed Forces.” As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines. On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years.

Whatever one thinks of General Amos’s opposition to repealing DADT, his action today is quite impressive, and quite important. It’s also yet more evidence as to why the military is among the most trusted institutions in American life.

I wanted to issue a concurring opinion to what Max wrote. I suspect the opposition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will, over time, appear either misplaced or exaggerated. Because social attitudes have shifted on gay rights so dramatically since the early 1990s, I rather doubt that the fears of DADT critics will be realized. As Max points out, the military has shown an impressive ability to adjust to shifting social mores. And other nations have adjusted fairly well to having openly gay members serve in the military.

I would add that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a persuasive argument, I think, in favor of congressional repeal because he foresaw a judgment by courts overturning the law. A legal judgment would require instant compliance, Gates warned, whereas a congressional repeal would allow time for the military to adapt.

Marine Corps commandant General James Amos was the most passionate advocate among the service chiefs against repealing DADT. “Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives,” Amos said in explaining his views on DADT. “That’s the currency of this fight. I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.” But now that the decision has been made, General Amos pledged to lead the effort to integrate openly gay Marines. Here is the text of the statement:

Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps. Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our Commander in Chief, Congress, our Chain of Command, and the American people.  The House of Representatives and the Senate have voted to repeal Title 10, US Code 654 “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the United States Armed Forces.” As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines. On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years.

Whatever one thinks of General Amos’s opposition to repealing DADT, his action today is quite impressive, and quite important. It’s also yet more evidence as to why the military is among the most trusted institutions in American life.

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Reapportionment Means Obama Just Lost Six Electoral Votes

Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election so handily that losing a few electoral votes from his 365 to 173 margin of victory wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But there is every indication that the public’s repudiation of Obama’s policies at the polls this past November shows he will not have as easy a time of it in 2012. And now that the results of the reapportionment based on the 2010 census have been announced, Obama’s re-election just got a bit more difficult.

The new totals for each state’s representation in the House of Representatives will also change the number of electoral votes they can cast for president. So if we tally up the states’ new electoral votes based on the 2008 election, it shows that states that voted for Obama lost a net total of six votes, and those that backed McCain gained the same number. If you look back to the election before that, in which George W. Bush beat John Kerry, although some Blue States in 2008 were Red in 2004, the new electoral vote totals shows the same difference, a net gain of six for Bush states and a net loss of six for those that went for Kerry.

The big winners in the reapportionment are Texas, with four more seats, and Florida, with two. Washington, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona all gained one. The biggest losers are New York and Ohio, which each lost two seats. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all lost one.

Of course, there is no telling how these states will vote in 2012; but however you slice it, the hill may have just gotten a little steeper for Obama in his quest for re-election.

Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election so handily that losing a few electoral votes from his 365 to 173 margin of victory wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But there is every indication that the public’s repudiation of Obama’s policies at the polls this past November shows he will not have as easy a time of it in 2012. And now that the results of the reapportionment based on the 2010 census have been announced, Obama’s re-election just got a bit more difficult.

The new totals for each state’s representation in the House of Representatives will also change the number of electoral votes they can cast for president. So if we tally up the states’ new electoral votes based on the 2008 election, it shows that states that voted for Obama lost a net total of six votes, and those that backed McCain gained the same number. If you look back to the election before that, in which George W. Bush beat John Kerry, although some Blue States in 2008 were Red in 2004, the new electoral vote totals shows the same difference, a net gain of six for Bush states and a net loss of six for those that went for Kerry.

The big winners in the reapportionment are Texas, with four more seats, and Florida, with two. Washington, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona all gained one. The biggest losers are New York and Ohio, which each lost two seats. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all lost one.

Of course, there is no telling how these states will vote in 2012; but however you slice it, the hill may have just gotten a little steeper for Obama in his quest for re-election.

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Special January 2011 Preview: The Democrats and Health Care

The passage of Barack Obama’s health-care legislation in the spring of 2010 proved profoundly injurious to the president and his party in the November midterm elections. Studies conducted at Stanford University and the University of Minnesota agree that at least one-third of the 63-seat Democratic loss in the House of Representatives can be attributed to the electorate’s negative reaction to the health-care bill—which suggests that the legislation was responsible for taking a bad election and turning it into a historic disaster.

To read the rest of this feature article from the upcoming January issue of COMMENTARY magazine, click here.

To make sure you never miss an article or issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

The passage of Barack Obama’s health-care legislation in the spring of 2010 proved profoundly injurious to the president and his party in the November midterm elections. Studies conducted at Stanford University and the University of Minnesota agree that at least one-third of the 63-seat Democratic loss in the House of Representatives can be attributed to the electorate’s negative reaction to the health-care bill—which suggests that the legislation was responsible for taking a bad election and turning it into a historic disaster.

To read the rest of this feature article from the upcoming January issue of COMMENTARY magazine, click here.

To make sure you never miss an article or issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

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Call It Cynicism Squared

Peter Wehner referred earlier this week to President Obama’s “cynical maneuvering” in arguing, prior to the passage of ObamaCare, that the penalty to enforce the individual mandate was not a “tax” — only to have his lawyers argue, after passage, that it was constitutional precisely because it was a “tax.”

There was another bit of cynical maneuvering regarding another ObamaCare provision, also relating to its characterization as a “tax.” Judge Hudson’s opinion in Virginia v. Sebelius sheds light on the common denominator of both maneuvers.

In ruling that the individual-mandate penalty is not a “tax,” Judge Hudson noted the “unequivocal denials by the Executive and Legislative branches that the [legislation] was a tax.” He referenced the Christmas Eve maneuver in the Senate:

Earlier versions of the bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate used the more politically toxic term “tax” … Each of these earlier versions specifically employed the word “tax” as opposed to “penalty” for the sanction for noncompliance.

In the final version of the [bill] enacted by the Senate on December 24, 2009, the term “penalty” was substituted for “tax” … This shift in terminology during the final hours preceding an extremely close floor vote undermines the contention that the terms “penalty” and “tax” are synonymous.” [Opinion at pp. 33-34]

As I have previously noted, the day before the House vote on ObamaCare, the name of the new “Medicare Tax” on investment income was changed to a “Medicare Contribution.” But the “contribution” had nothing to do with Medicare, since none of the revenue went to the Medicare Trust Fund but instead was designated for the general fund, to be spent for non-Medicare purposes. Like the Christmas Eve maneuver, however, the change avoided the politically toxic term “tax.”

The common goal of these maneuvers was to avoid a political problem for President Obama. He had rejected, in absolute terms, on national television, the idea that the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate was a tax; when its name was changed to a “penalty,” it was neither an inadvertent nor insignificant change. Likewise, changing the “Medicare Tax” to a “contribution” solved the problem of imposing a substantial new tax on investment income when there was already a plan to increase the tax substantially later by having the Bush tax rates expire.

The solution in both situations was to change the name so that neither the “penalty” nor the “contribution” was a “tax.” The “Medicare Contribution” label reached a new high in legislative cynicism. Is there a name for passing a “Medicare Contribution” in which both words in the name are disingenuous?

Peter Wehner referred earlier this week to President Obama’s “cynical maneuvering” in arguing, prior to the passage of ObamaCare, that the penalty to enforce the individual mandate was not a “tax” — only to have his lawyers argue, after passage, that it was constitutional precisely because it was a “tax.”

There was another bit of cynical maneuvering regarding another ObamaCare provision, also relating to its characterization as a “tax.” Judge Hudson’s opinion in Virginia v. Sebelius sheds light on the common denominator of both maneuvers.

In ruling that the individual-mandate penalty is not a “tax,” Judge Hudson noted the “unequivocal denials by the Executive and Legislative branches that the [legislation] was a tax.” He referenced the Christmas Eve maneuver in the Senate:

Earlier versions of the bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate used the more politically toxic term “tax” … Each of these earlier versions specifically employed the word “tax” as opposed to “penalty” for the sanction for noncompliance.

In the final version of the [bill] enacted by the Senate on December 24, 2009, the term “penalty” was substituted for “tax” … This shift in terminology during the final hours preceding an extremely close floor vote undermines the contention that the terms “penalty” and “tax” are synonymous.” [Opinion at pp. 33-34]

As I have previously noted, the day before the House vote on ObamaCare, the name of the new “Medicare Tax” on investment income was changed to a “Medicare Contribution.” But the “contribution” had nothing to do with Medicare, since none of the revenue went to the Medicare Trust Fund but instead was designated for the general fund, to be spent for non-Medicare purposes. Like the Christmas Eve maneuver, however, the change avoided the politically toxic term “tax.”

The common goal of these maneuvers was to avoid a political problem for President Obama. He had rejected, in absolute terms, on national television, the idea that the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate was a tax; when its name was changed to a “penalty,” it was neither an inadvertent nor insignificant change. Likewise, changing the “Medicare Tax” to a “contribution” solved the problem of imposing a substantial new tax on investment income when there was already a plan to increase the tax substantially later by having the Bush tax rates expire.

The solution in both situations was to change the name so that neither the “penalty” nor the “contribution” was a “tax.” The “Medicare Contribution” label reached a new high in legislative cynicism. Is there a name for passing a “Medicare Contribution” in which both words in the name are disingenuous?

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The Rangel Censure Joke

For months now, we’ve witnessed a charade when it comes to the wrongdoing of Rep. Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York. The charade came to a climax yesterday with the official vote to censure Rangel. But what is censure? Censure is nothing. Rangel will have to stand before his colleagues and have the details of his wrongdoing read aloud to him. That’s it.

You’re hearing, I’m sure, about how this is extraordinary because it’s the first time in 27 years that a House member will be formally censured. Yes, it’s very rare, so the punishment sounds very dire. But how totally dire can it be when the House has actually expelled more members in the past 30 years than it has censured? Since 1980, two sitting congressmen were kicked out of the body because of their illegal behavior (Michael Myers of Pennsylvania, who took an ABSCAM bribe, and Jim Traficant of Ohio, following convictions for tax evasion and bribery).

Everybody knows that Rangel played it extraordinarily fast and loose with federal income tax laws, the rules governing nonprofits, and New York City’s rent-control statutes. On a planet filled with graft-mad politicians, what Rangel has done is small beer, even by recent standards of the House of Representatives — in which one San Diego Republican named Duke Cunningham took millions from defense contractors, and William Jefferson of Louisiana had that famous $90,000 in his freezer. Neither was censured or expelled, because they left the House before action could be taken against them. This is what explains Rangel’s seemingly inexplicable hauteur in relation to the charges; it is as though he were saying, “You’re nailing me for this? I’m only doing what everybody does, and I’m not getting credit for much I’ve turned down!”

Rangel’s true wrongdoing has far more to do with the ways he and others impeded economic progress in Harlem than it does with a Caribbean vacation or a fourth cheap apartment. But the only censure he gets for that is from the people who know the truth about it.

There’s something of a game afoot here. Rangel, by fighting so hard against censure, has made it seem like it’s just a terrible, terrible punishment; but it isn’t at all. Maybe it’s kind of embarrassing, although it couldn’t be much more embarrassing than what he’s already been through. By acting as though he’s being scourged, he’s playing a role. Indeed, he has played it so well that he got himself a standing ovation from the very same Democrats who had just voted to censure him. Which really gives the game away.

For months now, we’ve witnessed a charade when it comes to the wrongdoing of Rep. Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York. The charade came to a climax yesterday with the official vote to censure Rangel. But what is censure? Censure is nothing. Rangel will have to stand before his colleagues and have the details of his wrongdoing read aloud to him. That’s it.

You’re hearing, I’m sure, about how this is extraordinary because it’s the first time in 27 years that a House member will be formally censured. Yes, it’s very rare, so the punishment sounds very dire. But how totally dire can it be when the House has actually expelled more members in the past 30 years than it has censured? Since 1980, two sitting congressmen were kicked out of the body because of their illegal behavior (Michael Myers of Pennsylvania, who took an ABSCAM bribe, and Jim Traficant of Ohio, following convictions for tax evasion and bribery).

Everybody knows that Rangel played it extraordinarily fast and loose with federal income tax laws, the rules governing nonprofits, and New York City’s rent-control statutes. On a planet filled with graft-mad politicians, what Rangel has done is small beer, even by recent standards of the House of Representatives — in which one San Diego Republican named Duke Cunningham took millions from defense contractors, and William Jefferson of Louisiana had that famous $90,000 in his freezer. Neither was censured or expelled, because they left the House before action could be taken against them. This is what explains Rangel’s seemingly inexplicable hauteur in relation to the charges; it is as though he were saying, “You’re nailing me for this? I’m only doing what everybody does, and I’m not getting credit for much I’ve turned down!”

Rangel’s true wrongdoing has far more to do with the ways he and others impeded economic progress in Harlem than it does with a Caribbean vacation or a fourth cheap apartment. But the only censure he gets for that is from the people who know the truth about it.

There’s something of a game afoot here. Rangel, by fighting so hard against censure, has made it seem like it’s just a terrible, terrible punishment; but it isn’t at all. Maybe it’s kind of embarrassing, although it couldn’t be much more embarrassing than what he’s already been through. By acting as though he’s being scourged, he’s playing a role. Indeed, he has played it so well that he got himself a standing ovation from the very same Democrats who had just voted to censure him. Which really gives the game away.

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Tax Cuts, Talking Points, Silly Maneuvers

So this afternoon, the lame-duck House of Representatives — still controlled by Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats — pulled a fast one by using an already existing bill as the vehicle for a vote on the Bush tax cuts in the way they want to vote on them, with the top rate jumping up while the others stay constant. This is pointless, since negotiations continue between the president and Republicans that everybody thinks will lead to a compromise bill that keeps all the tax cuts in place. That bill will have to be taken up at the beginning of the next session instead of now, which will create accounting headaches but not make all that much difference. Republicans voted against the trick.

It’s a nice piece of theater, I suppose, and it led Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, the premier website of the populist hard left, to quote approvingly on Twitter from a follower of his: “If Dems were any good at messaging, they’d be all over TV saying Republicans just voted to raise taxes on 95% of Americans.”

Oh, Democrats will, and there will be screaming and yelling on cable shows about it. But there’s a simple reason “messaging” like this doesn’t work. It doesn’t conform with reality. People who care about these things know that Republicans are for lower taxes, and they know this because it’s true.

You can make a case that the Republican fondness for lower taxes is fiscally irresponsible, or it’s bad because government needs more dollars to fund social programs, or any number of other complaints. But saying Republicans are supporters of higher taxes is like saying Democrats don’t care about the environment. You can say it, and you can even offer little bits of evidence to prove it (the Kennedys blocked wind farms on Cape Cod), but it doesn’t ring true and people won’t believe it.

Indulging in the belief that politics is about “messaging” as opposed to core beliefs is one of the great temptations for people whose own views are not actually that popular and wish to believe the problem is just one of communication rather than essence.

So this afternoon, the lame-duck House of Representatives — still controlled by Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats — pulled a fast one by using an already existing bill as the vehicle for a vote on the Bush tax cuts in the way they want to vote on them, with the top rate jumping up while the others stay constant. This is pointless, since negotiations continue between the president and Republicans that everybody thinks will lead to a compromise bill that keeps all the tax cuts in place. That bill will have to be taken up at the beginning of the next session instead of now, which will create accounting headaches but not make all that much difference. Republicans voted against the trick.

It’s a nice piece of theater, I suppose, and it led Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, the premier website of the populist hard left, to quote approvingly on Twitter from a follower of his: “If Dems were any good at messaging, they’d be all over TV saying Republicans just voted to raise taxes on 95% of Americans.”

Oh, Democrats will, and there will be screaming and yelling on cable shows about it. But there’s a simple reason “messaging” like this doesn’t work. It doesn’t conform with reality. People who care about these things know that Republicans are for lower taxes, and they know this because it’s true.

You can make a case that the Republican fondness for lower taxes is fiscally irresponsible, or it’s bad because government needs more dollars to fund social programs, or any number of other complaints. But saying Republicans are supporters of higher taxes is like saying Democrats don’t care about the environment. You can say it, and you can even offer little bits of evidence to prove it (the Kennedys blocked wind farms on Cape Cod), but it doesn’t ring true and people won’t believe it.

Indulging in the belief that politics is about “messaging” as opposed to core beliefs is one of the great temptations for people whose own views are not actually that popular and wish to believe the problem is just one of communication rather than essence.

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Diversity Matters Only on the Left

As the New York Post‘s editors remind us:

Remember the “angry, racist Tea Party?” For months, that was the line pushed by Democrats, the NAACP and much of the mainstream media. Funny, though: The Tea Party-inspired wave that produced historic Republican wins also revealed a substantial diversity in the movement.

Two African-Americans — Tim Scott from South Carolina and Allen West from Florida — won election to the House of Representatives, the first black Republicans to serve there in eight years. In a victory showing how far his state has come, Scott’s road to Congress included a GOP runoff win over the son of the late Strom Thurmond — once the face of Jim Crow racial intolerance.

Those new office holders also include Nikki Haley, the second Republican governor of Indian descent and the first woman governor of South Carolina, as well as “America’s first Latina governor in New Mexico’s Susana Martinez; Nevada’s first Latino governor, in Brian Sandoval; Texas Rep.-elect Francisco ‘Quico’ Canseco and, yes, the breakout Tea Party superstar of the campaign — Florida’s Sen.-elect Marco Rubio, a son of Cuban exiles.” New Hampshire has a new woman senator, Kelly Ayotte. Republican Mary Fallin was elected Oklahoma’s first woman governor, and Jan Brewer was elected in Arizona.

You missed the cheering from MALDEF and the NAACP? You didn’t hear the howls from NOW when Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle were defeated by their male opponents? You see, “diversity” is only an election issue for the left when the right is short on it. And indeed, as with Justice Clarence Thomas and Miguel Estrada, these conservatives don’t really “count” as minorities, and the women aren’t “real” women in the eyes of the left; they are sellouts or worse. Because they don’t spout the victimology mantra and are not devotees of big government, they are not “authentic.”

Aside from helping to shed the GOP’s image as a “white male only” party, the election of these individuals — in addition to the views and attributes they will bring to their jobs — have performed an important service. They will, one suspects, mute the obsessive diversity chatter that treats candidates as representatives of racial or ethnic groups rather than of the people they serve. After all, Nikki Haley isn’t actual the Indian-American governor; she’s the governor of South Carolina. And that’s exactly as it should be. Unless, of course, the point is not diversity but the endless churning of racial grievances.

As the New York Post‘s editors remind us:

Remember the “angry, racist Tea Party?” For months, that was the line pushed by Democrats, the NAACP and much of the mainstream media. Funny, though: The Tea Party-inspired wave that produced historic Republican wins also revealed a substantial diversity in the movement.

Two African-Americans — Tim Scott from South Carolina and Allen West from Florida — won election to the House of Representatives, the first black Republicans to serve there in eight years. In a victory showing how far his state has come, Scott’s road to Congress included a GOP runoff win over the son of the late Strom Thurmond — once the face of Jim Crow racial intolerance.

Those new office holders also include Nikki Haley, the second Republican governor of Indian descent and the first woman governor of South Carolina, as well as “America’s first Latina governor in New Mexico’s Susana Martinez; Nevada’s first Latino governor, in Brian Sandoval; Texas Rep.-elect Francisco ‘Quico’ Canseco and, yes, the breakout Tea Party superstar of the campaign — Florida’s Sen.-elect Marco Rubio, a son of Cuban exiles.” New Hampshire has a new woman senator, Kelly Ayotte. Republican Mary Fallin was elected Oklahoma’s first woman governor, and Jan Brewer was elected in Arizona.

You missed the cheering from MALDEF and the NAACP? You didn’t hear the howls from NOW when Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle were defeated by their male opponents? You see, “diversity” is only an election issue for the left when the right is short on it. And indeed, as with Justice Clarence Thomas and Miguel Estrada, these conservatives don’t really “count” as minorities, and the women aren’t “real” women in the eyes of the left; they are sellouts or worse. Because they don’t spout the victimology mantra and are not devotees of big government, they are not “authentic.”

Aside from helping to shed the GOP’s image as a “white male only” party, the election of these individuals — in addition to the views and attributes they will bring to their jobs — have performed an important service. They will, one suspects, mute the obsessive diversity chatter that treats candidates as representatives of racial or ethnic groups rather than of the people they serve. After all, Nikki Haley isn’t actual the Indian-American governor; she’s the governor of South Carolina. And that’s exactly as it should be. Unless, of course, the point is not diversity but the endless churning of racial grievances.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Chamber of Commerce gambit is a bust. So Jonathan Chait tries: “Hear me now and believe me later: If Republicans win and maintain control of the House of Representatives, they are going to impeach President Obama.” OK, that’s just pathetic.

A Ben Smith reader also thinks it’s a loser.Why not run against the VFW, Knights of Columbus, or maybe the Lions Club? The ‘Chamber of Congress’ does not exactly conjure up a nefarious image to voters in the middle of the spectrum. Further, it just makes Obama’s anti-business tag stick even harder. I’m not quite sure what the Democrats hope to gain by demonizing these folks, the money is not going to stop and the Democrats’ attacks make for pretty bad optics, unless one is simply very anti-business.”

The liberal meme that the Tea Partiers are racists is fizzling. “A new analysis of political signs displayed at a tea party rally in Washington last month reveals that the vast majority of activists expressed narrow concerns about the government’s economic and spending policies and steered clear of the racially charged anti-Obama messages that have helped define some media coverage of such events.”

The Dems’ “comeback” storyline is a dud, too. Charlie Cook has 92 seats in play. Eighty-five of them are held by Democrats.

Obama’s base-rousing efforts have bombed. “In a punctuation mark to what is shaping up to be a tough political year for the Democrats, Obama’s approval rating dropped to 43 percent from 47 percent last month, with 53 percent disapproving of the way he is handling his job. Obama’s handling of the economy was a leading cause of the drop. And much of this decline came from his own Democrats. The poll found Democrats’ approval rating of Obama has dropped to 70 percent this month from 78 percent last month.”

New evidence every day that Obama’s Middle East policy is a total flop. “Israel’s stance, which has been clearly expressed over recent days, is that Ahmadinejad’s visit proves that Lebanon is becoming more extreme, on its way to becoming an Iranian outpost. ‘Lebanon has joined the axis of extreme nations which object to the peace process and support terror,’ said a senior Israeli official involved in preparations for the two-day visit. … Iran’s president is visiting Lebanon like a commander coming to inspect his troops — Hezbollah terrorists — who serve as a wing of Iran’s military in the region.” This is Iran without the bomb. Imagine when the regime gets nukes.

Obamamania is kaput. “An Associated Press-mtvU poll found college students cooling in their support for President Barack Obama, a fresh sign of trouble for Democrats struggling to rekindle enthusiasm among many of these newest voters for the crucial midterm elections in three weeks. Forty-four percent of students approve of the job Obama is doing as president, while 27 percent are unhappy with his stewardship, according to the survey conducted late last month. … [H]is diminished backing from college students raises further questions about whether the Democrats’ efforts to rally them — and other loyal supporters such as blacks and union members — will be enough to prevent Republicans from winning control of Congress in the Nov. 2 elections.”

The Chamber of Commerce gambit is a bust. So Jonathan Chait tries: “Hear me now and believe me later: If Republicans win and maintain control of the House of Representatives, they are going to impeach President Obama.” OK, that’s just pathetic.

A Ben Smith reader also thinks it’s a loser.Why not run against the VFW, Knights of Columbus, or maybe the Lions Club? The ‘Chamber of Congress’ does not exactly conjure up a nefarious image to voters in the middle of the spectrum. Further, it just makes Obama’s anti-business tag stick even harder. I’m not quite sure what the Democrats hope to gain by demonizing these folks, the money is not going to stop and the Democrats’ attacks make for pretty bad optics, unless one is simply very anti-business.”

The liberal meme that the Tea Partiers are racists is fizzling. “A new analysis of political signs displayed at a tea party rally in Washington last month reveals that the vast majority of activists expressed narrow concerns about the government’s economic and spending policies and steered clear of the racially charged anti-Obama messages that have helped define some media coverage of such events.”

The Dems’ “comeback” storyline is a dud, too. Charlie Cook has 92 seats in play. Eighty-five of them are held by Democrats.

Obama’s base-rousing efforts have bombed. “In a punctuation mark to what is shaping up to be a tough political year for the Democrats, Obama’s approval rating dropped to 43 percent from 47 percent last month, with 53 percent disapproving of the way he is handling his job. Obama’s handling of the economy was a leading cause of the drop. And much of this decline came from his own Democrats. The poll found Democrats’ approval rating of Obama has dropped to 70 percent this month from 78 percent last month.”

New evidence every day that Obama’s Middle East policy is a total flop. “Israel’s stance, which has been clearly expressed over recent days, is that Ahmadinejad’s visit proves that Lebanon is becoming more extreme, on its way to becoming an Iranian outpost. ‘Lebanon has joined the axis of extreme nations which object to the peace process and support terror,’ said a senior Israeli official involved in preparations for the two-day visit. … Iran’s president is visiting Lebanon like a commander coming to inspect his troops — Hezbollah terrorists — who serve as a wing of Iran’s military in the region.” This is Iran without the bomb. Imagine when the regime gets nukes.

Obamamania is kaput. “An Associated Press-mtvU poll found college students cooling in their support for President Barack Obama, a fresh sign of trouble for Democrats struggling to rekindle enthusiasm among many of these newest voters for the crucial midterm elections in three weeks. Forty-four percent of students approve of the job Obama is doing as president, while 27 percent are unhappy with his stewardship, according to the survey conducted late last month. … [H]is diminished backing from college students raises further questions about whether the Democrats’ efforts to rally them — and other loyal supporters such as blacks and union members — will be enough to prevent Republicans from winning control of Congress in the Nov. 2 elections.”

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The Blue Dogs Won’t Just Be Playing Dead

The Blue Dog Democrats fancy themselves as fiscal conservatives. It is those other Democrats, they tell us, who are responsible for all the debt, the out-of-control spending, etc. Chris Chocola of the Club for Growth says that this is bunk:

In the House of Representatives, the 54 members of the Blue Dog Coalition are the self-described fiscal conservatives in the Democratic caucus. Unfortunately, the description doesn’t fit. …

[T]he Blue Dogs became Mrs. Pelosi’s lap dogs, voting with her 80% of the time on economic issues. Every one of them voted for the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Sixty-three percent voted for the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program; 91% voted for the stimulus package in February 2009; 85% voted for the cash-for-clunkers program; 74% voted for President Obama’s debt-tripling 2010 budget; 73% voted for the auto bailout; and 54% voted for the federal takeover of health care.

But now their voting records have caught up with them, and it is precisely these Democrats who are at extreme risk in the midterms. You hear pundits bemoan how the “moderate” Democrats will be lost, leaving the party controlled by the extreme left. Listen, that’s been the story for a while now. Had they pushed back against Nancy Pelosi, neither they nor their party would be headed for a thumping. It seems that the Blue Dogs’ obedience to their liberal leaders may cost them their political careers.

The Blue Dog Democrats fancy themselves as fiscal conservatives. It is those other Democrats, they tell us, who are responsible for all the debt, the out-of-control spending, etc. Chris Chocola of the Club for Growth says that this is bunk:

In the House of Representatives, the 54 members of the Blue Dog Coalition are the self-described fiscal conservatives in the Democratic caucus. Unfortunately, the description doesn’t fit. …

[T]he Blue Dogs became Mrs. Pelosi’s lap dogs, voting with her 80% of the time on economic issues. Every one of them voted for the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Sixty-three percent voted for the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program; 91% voted for the stimulus package in February 2009; 85% voted for the cash-for-clunkers program; 74% voted for President Obama’s debt-tripling 2010 budget; 73% voted for the auto bailout; and 54% voted for the federal takeover of health care.

But now their voting records have caught up with them, and it is precisely these Democrats who are at extreme risk in the midterms. You hear pundits bemoan how the “moderate” Democrats will be lost, leaving the party controlled by the extreme left. Listen, that’s been the story for a while now. Had they pushed back against Nancy Pelosi, neither they nor their party would be headed for a thumping. It seems that the Blue Dogs’ obedience to their liberal leaders may cost them their political careers.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not going to happen: “Specifically, the smartest thing Obama could do in replacing outgoing Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel would be to pick an outsider who can address some of the obvious weaknesses his administration has. … It is critically important that Emanuel’s replacement have strong ties to the business community, a history of good relations with both parties in Congress, and the independence and integrity to be able to tell the president ‘no’ when he is wrong.”

Not going to be a good Election Day for Virginia Democrats. Three of the  four at-risk House Democrats trail GOP challengers, two by double digits. The fourth Republican trails narrowly.

Not close: “Republican Marco Rubio continues to hold an 11-point lead over independent candidate Charlie Crist in Florida’s race for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Florida finds Rubio with 41% support, while Crist, the state’s current governor, picks up 30% of the vote. Democrat Kendrick Meek comes in third with 21%.”

Not even handpicked audiences like him. In Iowa: “Holding the latest in a series of backyard meetings with middle-class voters, Obama heard one small businessman’s fears that his tax plans could ‘strangle’ job creation. The president also fielded concerns about high unemployment and the impact of his healthcare overhaul. It was a marked contrast to the enthusiastic university crowd that greeted Obama on Tuesday in Wisconsin when he sought to fire up his youthful base of support, and showed the obstacles his Democratic Party faces in the Nov. 2 elections.”

Not only Sen. Joe Lieberman is calling for Obama to get tough on Iran: “Barack Obama’s policy to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability is under pressure from members of Congress, who argue that Washington should make clear it will consider military action unless sanctions yield swift results. … Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, said recently the administration had ‘months, not years’ to make sanctions work. He added that military action was preferable to accepting an Iran with nuclear weapons capability.”

Not encouraging: “One of the most remarkable aspects of Bob Woodward’s new book, ‘Obama’s Wars,’ is its portrait of a White House that has all but resigned itself to failure in Afghanistan.” In fact, it is reprehensible for the commander in chief to order young Americans into war without confidence and commitment in their mission.

Not a fan. David Brooks on Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski: “I can’t imagine what Murkowski is thinking. The lady must have too many admiring conversations with the mirrors in her house.” Ouch.

Not a vote of confidence from one of Soros Street’s more sympathetic observers: “Will J Street even be around in its current form in coming days, now that it is enveloped in a scandal (more of a cover-up than a crime, in the traditional Washington style)?”

Not going to happen: “Specifically, the smartest thing Obama could do in replacing outgoing Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel would be to pick an outsider who can address some of the obvious weaknesses his administration has. … It is critically important that Emanuel’s replacement have strong ties to the business community, a history of good relations with both parties in Congress, and the independence and integrity to be able to tell the president ‘no’ when he is wrong.”

Not going to be a good Election Day for Virginia Democrats. Three of the  four at-risk House Democrats trail GOP challengers, two by double digits. The fourth Republican trails narrowly.

Not close: “Republican Marco Rubio continues to hold an 11-point lead over independent candidate Charlie Crist in Florida’s race for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Florida finds Rubio with 41% support, while Crist, the state’s current governor, picks up 30% of the vote. Democrat Kendrick Meek comes in third with 21%.”

Not even handpicked audiences like him. In Iowa: “Holding the latest in a series of backyard meetings with middle-class voters, Obama heard one small businessman’s fears that his tax plans could ‘strangle’ job creation. The president also fielded concerns about high unemployment and the impact of his healthcare overhaul. It was a marked contrast to the enthusiastic university crowd that greeted Obama on Tuesday in Wisconsin when he sought to fire up his youthful base of support, and showed the obstacles his Democratic Party faces in the Nov. 2 elections.”

Not only Sen. Joe Lieberman is calling for Obama to get tough on Iran: “Barack Obama’s policy to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability is under pressure from members of Congress, who argue that Washington should make clear it will consider military action unless sanctions yield swift results. … Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, said recently the administration had ‘months, not years’ to make sanctions work. He added that military action was preferable to accepting an Iran with nuclear weapons capability.”

Not encouraging: “One of the most remarkable aspects of Bob Woodward’s new book, ‘Obama’s Wars,’ is its portrait of a White House that has all but resigned itself to failure in Afghanistan.” In fact, it is reprehensible for the commander in chief to order young Americans into war without confidence and commitment in their mission.

Not a fan. David Brooks on Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski: “I can’t imagine what Murkowski is thinking. The lady must have too many admiring conversations with the mirrors in her house.” Ouch.

Not a vote of confidence from one of Soros Street’s more sympathetic observers: “Will J Street even be around in its current form in coming days, now that it is enveloped in a scandal (more of a cover-up than a crime, in the traditional Washington style)?”

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The Democrat’s Health-Care Wounds: Six Months After the Suicide Mission

The discussion over the past week stimulated by Jay Cost’s claim that health-care reform must be accounted a major part of the desperate woes of Obama and the Democrats led me to go back and look at some of my own posts at the time the bill was passed in the spring. I do this not to claim prescience but to show that the deep damage the bill would do to the president and his party was already in the mix of the public discussion and obvious at the time to anyone who was not deluding himself with hope born from passion for the bill’s goals. The same delusions appear to be at work today in some quarters.

Three weeks before the bill passed, on February 26, in a post called “The Charge of the Democratic Light Brigade,” I wrote: “If the health-care bill collapses, the Obama presidency will be dealt a staggering blow from which it could recover, I would guess, only with a really extraordinary economic turnaround. The political calamity for Democrats in November will still take place; the president will lose the entirety of his capital with elected officials in his party; the media, sniffing a loser, will turn slowly but surely on him; and the conviction inside his own camp that he can work wonders with his silver-tongued patter will dissipate, causing a complete crisis of confidence inside the White House.  It would be better for him, unquestionably, for the legislation to pass, as a practical political matter. One could argue that the fate of his party really does rest on Obama’s shoulders, so it would be better for Democrats as well. But not for individual Democrats. So what happens if the Obama-Pelosi-Reid strategy for health-care passage is an order to House Democrats to carry out a suicide mission?…I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like this in American political history. Every way you look at it, Democrats are boxed in, forced to choose between extraordinarily unattractive options. What makes it especially noteworthy is that this was a calamity they summoned entirely upon themselves.”

Thus, on the evening the House approved the bill with 219 votes in favor, I wrote: “The passage tonight in the House of Representatives of the Senate’s health-care bill is indeed a historic moment. It draws the brightest ideological and political line between the two parties since the end of the Cold War — which featured a profound conflict of visions about the question of confronting the Soviet Union or accommodating it — and revivifies the Republican party’s role in opposition to the state’s growing encroachment on the particulars of American life. The fighting has only just begun.”

The next day, I wrote a post called Obama’s Pseudo-Achievement: “He and his advisers surveyed the political field after the election of Scott Brown and they saw their own potential epitaph — not in the rejection of his ideas but in the potential exposure of his weakness. A president cannot seem politically weak; much if not most of his ability to act is predicated on the notion that he is the strongest public official in the country. They determined that they had to push health care or die, and they worked their will relentlessly, and they got what they wanted….And yet one must not get carried away. The story here is not that he succeeded against all odds and with the winds against him to push through historic legislation, even though that is what the media would have you believe. The story is that a party holding a 75-seat margin in the House of Representatives was barely able to squeak by with its greatest legislative priority and most devoutly desired policy. That is the salient fact here. What Obama pulled off was a textbook example of raw intra-party discipline; the unpopularity of the measure and its political consequences remain exactly as they were before the vote.”

What these quotes reveal is that the polling results of the present moment were baked in the cake back in the early spring. The failure of the economy to improve is the most important thing, but without the Pyrrhic victory of the passage of health-care reform, Obama and his party would be in significantly better shape.

The discussion over the past week stimulated by Jay Cost’s claim that health-care reform must be accounted a major part of the desperate woes of Obama and the Democrats led me to go back and look at some of my own posts at the time the bill was passed in the spring. I do this not to claim prescience but to show that the deep damage the bill would do to the president and his party was already in the mix of the public discussion and obvious at the time to anyone who was not deluding himself with hope born from passion for the bill’s goals. The same delusions appear to be at work today in some quarters.

Three weeks before the bill passed, on February 26, in a post called “The Charge of the Democratic Light Brigade,” I wrote: “If the health-care bill collapses, the Obama presidency will be dealt a staggering blow from which it could recover, I would guess, only with a really extraordinary economic turnaround. The political calamity for Democrats in November will still take place; the president will lose the entirety of his capital with elected officials in his party; the media, sniffing a loser, will turn slowly but surely on him; and the conviction inside his own camp that he can work wonders with his silver-tongued patter will dissipate, causing a complete crisis of confidence inside the White House.  It would be better for him, unquestionably, for the legislation to pass, as a practical political matter. One could argue that the fate of his party really does rest on Obama’s shoulders, so it would be better for Democrats as well. But not for individual Democrats. So what happens if the Obama-Pelosi-Reid strategy for health-care passage is an order to House Democrats to carry out a suicide mission?…I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like this in American political history. Every way you look at it, Democrats are boxed in, forced to choose between extraordinarily unattractive options. What makes it especially noteworthy is that this was a calamity they summoned entirely upon themselves.”

Thus, on the evening the House approved the bill with 219 votes in favor, I wrote: “The passage tonight in the House of Representatives of the Senate’s health-care bill is indeed a historic moment. It draws the brightest ideological and political line between the two parties since the end of the Cold War — which featured a profound conflict of visions about the question of confronting the Soviet Union or accommodating it — and revivifies the Republican party’s role in opposition to the state’s growing encroachment on the particulars of American life. The fighting has only just begun.”

The next day, I wrote a post called Obama’s Pseudo-Achievement: “He and his advisers surveyed the political field after the election of Scott Brown and they saw their own potential epitaph — not in the rejection of his ideas but in the potential exposure of his weakness. A president cannot seem politically weak; much if not most of his ability to act is predicated on the notion that he is the strongest public official in the country. They determined that they had to push health care or die, and they worked their will relentlessly, and they got what they wanted….And yet one must not get carried away. The story here is not that he succeeded against all odds and with the winds against him to push through historic legislation, even though that is what the media would have you believe. The story is that a party holding a 75-seat margin in the House of Representatives was barely able to squeak by with its greatest legislative priority and most devoutly desired policy. That is the salient fact here. What Obama pulled off was a textbook example of raw intra-party discipline; the unpopularity of the measure and its political consequences remain exactly as they were before the vote.”

What these quotes reveal is that the polling results of the present moment were baked in the cake back in the early spring. The failure of the economy to improve is the most important thing, but without the Pyrrhic victory of the passage of health-care reform, Obama and his party would be in significantly better shape.

Read Less




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