Thursday, December 31, 2009

Oops.

Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano’s said Sunday that “the system worked.” She was discussing the U.S. effort to deal with Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab’s Christmas attempt to blow up a Delta flight carrying 300 passengers and crew.

Because the system utterly failed, Napolitano’s statement is rising to the level of George W. Bush’s famous line, spoken to inept Federal Emergency Management head Michael Brown shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, that "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." Bush’s presidency never got past those eight words. His Gallup approval ratings, at 50% in mid-2005 before Katrina, mostly stayed below 40% after Katrina.

Napolitano isn’t the president; Obama can fire her in fact. In that sense, Napolitano’s words damage Obama less than Bush’s own words relating to Hurricane Katrina hurt Bush. Nevertheless, here’s some of what makes Napolitano’s words count so heavily against Obama:

➢ Napolitano is in charge of Homeland Security, and her liberal (Anita Hill’s lawyer), non-security background (contrast her with ex-war hero Tom Ridge and rail-thin Justice Department tough guy Michael Chertoff, her only two predecessors) makes her from the word go seem unqualified to protect us. That reflects badly on Obama.

➢ Obama and Napolitano don’t like the “war on terror,” which supposedly ended with Bush-Cheney’s departure. Napolitano replaced the term terrorism with the phrase “man-caused disasters,” saying,”we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur."

➢ Fact is, Obama and Democrats hate the “war on terror.” It helped Republicans defeat Democrats in the 2002 and 2004 elections, when Republicans charged Democrats were weak on fighting terror before 2001 or in Iraq. Republicans truly worry about external threats to America and are willing to go to war against them. Democrats don’t believe foreign extremists threaten our way of life. For Democrats, the big threats are poverty, environmental degradation, and discrimination at home, best fought with money we can’t afford to waste on overseas wars.

➢ The real Obama wants to close Guantanamo, gain international recognition for outlawing “enhanced interrogation,” bring to justice Americans involved in illegal torture of terrorists (including Dick Cheney if possible), protect suspected U.S. terrorists from having their communications monitored, try terrorists in U.S. civilian—not military—courts with full U.S. constitutional protections, and be the man who understands the world’s people seek to move beyond U.S. imperialism to an era where we all live together in peace.

➢ Democrats fight terrorism now only because they have to. Democrats will bring the troops home as soon as it is politically possible to do so. They believe we are close to having a majority of Americans opposed to any overseas military involvement for any reason—recognizing our real challenge is at home.

For these reasons, Napolitano’s attempt to defend a failed response to Islamic extremism with the words “the system worked” is a disaster. It confirms American popular suspicion that the Obama who made Napolitano his Homeland Security boss isn’t serious about the threat Islamic terrorism poses for the U.S.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Obama gets Afghanistan right.

For a time, I was worried. Obama had a Peace Prize, and peace prizes don’t go to war makers. But tonight President Obama somewhat bravely made the case for war, as he ordered 30,000 more U.S. military personnel into Afghanistan by next June. It’s Obama’s “surge,” put together by the same folks who mapped out the 2007 surge in Iraq that Obama opposed every step of the way.

To those who say, “But he gave us a timetable for withdrawing in 18 months!” I say, “He makes withdrawal conditional on conditions on the ground,” the same language Bush used in Iraq. Way to go, Obama.

Obama made it clear that Afghanistan isn’t Iraq. Afghanistan is the war we must fight, the one to take out the people who gave us 9.11. Iraq was different, and Obama, as we all know, would have avoided that war. Still, this wasn’t easy for Obama. Right now, the war in Afghanistan is unpopular, though Obama’s speech should help change that.

I see Afghanistan special envoy Richard Holbrooke’s strong influence over Obama’s decision. Obama’s best, most sophisticated words were about making Pakistan a strategic partner. Pakistan is our real problem, and by playing in Afghanistan, we enable America to play in Pakistan. We are operating on one side of the border, the Pakistani army on the other, and it looks like it just might become a joint operation. Way to go, Holbrooke.

National security has become a Republican issue by default. The public does hate war, but they also want America to be safe. However much it goes against Obama’s true beliefs, using military force against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in the end can help Obama politically.

It’s not easy being elite.

“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”
--Henry IV, Part II (3. 1. 33)

“Those who try to lead the people can only do so by following the mob.”
--Oscar Wilde

“Stakeholders,” as we have said, is a word describing the interest group leaders liberals cultivate to hold their majority. Democracy is about people, voters, and capitalism empowers people, consumers. But when we legitimize “stakeholders’” rule, we entrench a status quo of club members who already have elite status. “Stakeholders” represent the parts of the Democratic coalition—leaders of public and private sector unions, Hispanic groups, civil rights organizations, the women’s movement, environmental groups—that deliver the organized blocs of voters liberals need to retain power.

As long as organized voting blocs do their part—follow their “stakeholder” leaders—liberal Democrats will retain control. We must be clear. Stakeholders have real power. It’s no surprise that America’s most powerful union leader, Andy Stern of the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union, has visited Obama’s White House more often than any other guest—an average of 3 times a month. Obama and other liberal leaders work hard to accommodate various stakeholders; it’s how they gain and retain power. Obama’s White House resembles a medieval king’s court, with the ruler engineering compromises among his various supporters.

Obama’s court is liberal. Minorities, women, labor, their leaders anyway, and the rest of the national elite including the media all share values. They reject war. They want big government and big spending at home, along with more taxes to support bigger government. They’ve got their act together inside the castle.

What they worry about are the peasants outside. What Oscar Wilde calls “the mob.” Do the elite genuinely worry about the “mob,” or do they worry most about elite figures beyond their control who might organize the mob? It matters little in practice.

Liberals want an enemy with a face, one they can treat as potentially powerful. And they don’t want to appear to be against the people. So the liberal elite still rail against Republican “malefactors of wealth” who they claim use money and various ruses to fool the mob. And more recently, liberals constantly attack “right wing extremists,” often associated with the “religious right,” a force that does genuinely seem to concern them.

Liberals should be worried. Now powerless Republicans and conservatives have little choice but to listen to those outside the liberal castle, and work with that mob to recapture power. Republicans believe they know best how to create jobs—you do so by helping small business. So if the mob cares most about job creation, and if liberals don’t deliver jobs, the mob will indeed threaten our king’s crown.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Minority Rule in a Democracy


“One is a majority if he is right.”

--Abraham Lincoln

Obama had the country with him when he took office. Bush had been highly partisan, relying on his small congressional majority to rule. Obama promised us something different, one country united, working together. But Rahm Emanuel let on when the country was undergoing economic collapse last fall that "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before."

Never waste a crisis. So instead of jobs, we got Obama’s “pillars,” a highly divisive drive for “investment” in education, renewable energy, and health care, all of which explode the deficit Obama shamelessly said he would reduce, all of which make it much harder to help business create jobs.

Turns out, Obama is a classic “tax and spend” liberal. Except on a scale never before seen in peacetime. He’s content to govern in an almost totally partisan way, as he is able to do, given his large Democratic majorities in both houses.

Polls show the country wants job creation, not Obama’s liberal agenda. Polls show the country is overwhelmingly center-right. But liberals believe they are correct today, and seemingly feel the country will follow them tomorrow. Never mind the actual majority. Because liberals are “right,” they are Lincoln’s “majority of one.”

Liberals’ self assurance that they know what’s best for the country stems from a belief that cream rises to the top; that liberals are America’s natural rulers and have been since Roosevelt righted the ship of state in 1933. That, plus the virtue of being “right” on the big issues since.

Environmentalism: the Liberal religion.

Liberals wear a halo for being right on government intervention to fight poverty, to end legalized discrimination, and to stop unnecessary war. Because they're right on three issues, they can be blind to contrary wisdom found on these and other issues.

It’s difficult for conservatives to deal with liberals’ superior, dismissive tone. People who know best, our most intelligent citizens, should value truth above all else, be open to differing viewpoints, and most of all, have perspective on how little we really know about the universe of which we occupy such an infinitesimal speck. Liberals might be more humble.

Many would credit liberals for being right about the environment, about the need to protect the only planet we have. Yet environmentalism rarely generates political heat as an issue. Most people are environmentalists in that they oppose destroying the environment (pollution, clear cutting, hunting and fishing endangered species) just as they oppose killing people.

Environmentalists become controversial when they set themselves against people whose way of life depends upon a practice environmentalists oppose. If such battles demand winners and losers, with environmentalists seeking, so to speak, “coonskins to nail to the wall,” their science begins to look like religion. Environmental extremists carry the traits of religious zealots more than those of scholars. And if one is a secular liberal with no expectation of an afterlife, if one believes “God’s work must truly be our own,” then isn’t protecting mother nature for our children the highest calling we have?

To an environmental extremist, someone of privilege running a corporation destroying the earth—almost certainly a Republican—is more the enemy than any impoverished, unemployed Muslim male youth abroad using violence to further his warped religion. Environmentalists, after all, face religious zealots at home—almost certainly Republicans—who care far less about protecting an earth that is their temporary home than they do about (needlessly) fighting Islamic extremists abroad. Also, domestic environmentalists daily battle conservatives—almost certainly Republicans—who in the name of free markets fight needed laws and regulations that protect our world.

When science brought the Bible’s teachings into question during the reformation, the church used its resources to fight back.

Now environmentalists, judging by emails hacked from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU)—a major resource center for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—are seemingly involved in a war against science similar to religion’s counter-reformation. Whether or not we are witnessing
“the greatest scientific scandal of our age,” as Christopher Booker, author of The Real Global Warming Disaster: Is the Obsession with 'Climate Change' Turning Out to be the Most Costly Scientific Blunder in History? calls it, the CRU-based effort tells us some environmental zealots will pervert science in pursuit of their version of “truth”.

Isn’t Michael Barone talking about a religion, not science, when he writes:
the CRU e-mailers were sincere in their belief that they were saving the planet. Like Al Gore, they wanted to convince the world's elites that the time for argument is over, the scientific consensus is clear and those who disagree can be dismissed as cranks (and should be disqualified from receiving research grants). If they had to cut a few corners, well, you have to break eggs to make an omelette.

Liberals feel they deserve to be our elite because they possess virtue and truth. They wear the halo.

So it hurts their cause when we find them suppressing truth. As Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) said, “Hypocrisy: prejudice with a halo.” Some liberals attack religion in the name of science, then practice a truth-suppressing religion of their own.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Why liberals embrace Obama, and folks don’t.

“The White House Goes Glam,” gushes a headline in Tina Brown’s online “The Daily Beast.” Can we just give the word “glam” to the liberal elite, lock, stock, and barrel? It’s yours! Take it, with our blessing.

Rants against Republicans for being the party of money are outdated. The party of money, as Michael Lind noted, is now the Democrats.

Liberals embraced Obama because he was one of them—cultured, a successful writer, a poised speaker on behalf of the poor, Columbia and Harvard educated, comfortable dining with the national elite. As such, Obama’s color was all upside, no downside. Because he’s black, Obama drew votes the way failed Democratic presidential nominees Gore and Kerry could not.

Otherwise, former Senator Obama is much like the well-bred, well-educated, wealthy former Senator Gore and current Senator Kerry (the Senate: the world’s most exclusive club). Obama is of the better class, the upper class. In these tough times, people are beginning to feel a class divide, which helps explain Obama’s declining job approval numbers.

Why does Obama care so much about “their” health care reform, and so little about our jobs? Answer: he’s their leader, not ours.

Class warfare, re-defined.

Populists against Liberals

“Can populism be liberal?” asks an article at the liberal online webhost, “Salon.” To ask the question answers it, and Michael Lind, himself a progressive, provides the reasons for “No.”

Here’s what Lind writes:

➢ the Obama Democrats. . . cannot take advantage of the popular backlash against Wall Street [because Obama’s] attempt . . . to win Wall Street campaign donations has been all too successful. As Clinton's Treasury secretary, Robert Rubin helped complete the conversion of the Democrats from a party of unions and populists into a party of financial elites and college-educated professionals. Subsequently Obama raised more money from Wall Street than his Democratic primary rivals and John McCain.

➢ Obama owed his meteoric rise [to] the big money that allowed him to abandon campaign finance limits. According to one Obama supporter I know, the Obama campaign pressured its Wall Street donors to [write] many small checks, [creating] the illusion that the campaign was . . . dependent on small contributors . . . Obama continues to raise money on Wall Street. . .

➢ the moral fervor of the . . . left [comes from] the environmental movement[, which] insist[s] global warming must be combated not only by low-CO2 energy technology but also by radical lifestyle changes like switching from industrial farming to small-scale organic agriculture and moving from car-based suburbs and exurbs to deliberately "densified" cities with mass transit. [This] campaign triggers the populist nightmare of arrogant social elites trying to dictate where and how ordinary people should live.

➢ New Deal liberalism was primarily about jobs and wages, with benefits as an afterthought. [Today’s liberalism is] about benefits, with jobs and wages as an afterthought. . . -- universal healthcare coverage first, jobs later.

➢ New Dealers [wanted] economic growth with full employment, on the theory that if the economy is growing and workers have . . . wages, you don't need a vastly bigger welfare state. . . today's progressives seem to [be] primarily about redistribution from the rich to the poor[, a shift] connected with the shift in the social base of the Democratic Party from the working class to an alliance of the wealthy, parts of the professional class and the poor[, reflecting] the plutocratic social structure of the big cities that are now the Democratic base.

➢ Unlike the egalitarian farmer-labor liberalism that drew on . . . the small town and the immigrant neighborhood, metropolitan liberalism [is] charity for the disadvantaged carried out by affluent altruists. Tonight the fundraiser for endangered species; tomorrow the gala charity auction for poor children.

➢ the Republican Party benefited from the last two populist upheavals. . . [first,] the anger of George Wallace voters, and, following the campaign of Ross Perot in 1992, Newt Gingrich captured anti-system reformism to build a Republican congressional majority for most of the period between 1994 and 2006. In each case, liberals and progressives indiscriminately rejected the populist voters [as racists or] crypto-fascists. Today ridicule of the bombastic Sarah Palin shades all too easily into loathing for the lower middle class.

Comment: Liberals have become the elite at whom the populist masses wave their pitchforks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wowzie.

Obama’s job approval rating is below 50% in the RealClearPolitics average (7 polls). It’s 49% in the Gallup poll. Obama’s disapproval average of 44.6% is at its all-time high, and the gap between approval and disapproval—5.3%—is the smallest it’s ever been. We, many in politics, follow this number the way Wall Street tracks the Dow. Dropping below 50% is big news to Washington folks. Remember, Clinton never fell below 53% in his second term, while sinking approval ratings ruined Bush 43’s presidency.

Matthew Dowd, a Democrat who helped Bush win in 2004, says every president with a job approval rating above 51% has won re-election in the last 60 years, while no president below 47% has won. So Obama’s in an uncomfortable gray zone between winning and losing. He wants, at minimum, to stay above 47%, but really to reverse his downward trend and get back over 51%.

At 49.9%, Obama’s weakened in his dealings with Congress, itself with an average job approval rating of only 27% (disapproval average is at 64%).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

But there’s his Peace Prize.

"How am I doing?"

--Ex New York Mayor Ed Koch

Maybe not so good:

1. Commenting on Obama’s inability thus far to tame Iran, Russia, or China, National Review editor Rich Lowry writes:

George W. Bush put too much faith in oppressed people - their ability and willingness to rise up for freedom[.] Barack Obama puts too much faith in their oppressors. . .

the administration's self-described "smart power" has -- to borrow an old gibe about the Moral Majority -- proven to be neither.

2. On health care, the latest USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds that 49% of respondents would urge their member of Congress to vote against health care legislation. Only 44% would urge a vote for it.

3. Climate change is headed for very rough sailing after hundreds of hacked emails, according to the Wall Street Journal,
give every appearance of testifying to concerted and coordinated efforts by leading climatologists to fit the data to their conclusions while attempting to silence and discredit their critics. In the department of inconvenient truths, this one surely deserves a closer look by the media, the U.S. Congress and other investigative bodies.

4. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s November 5 killing of 13 people at Ft. Hood, Texas needs to be branded for what it is—the second
successful Muslim terrorist attack on American soil since 9.11.01 (the first was in Arkansas June 1). There will be a trial, and Hasan may plead insanity, but the plea won’t work. Hasan knew what he was doing—killing infidels as fellow Islamic extremists around the world routinely do in their ongoing “holy war” against the values we cherish.

5. Eric Holder’s and Obama’s decision to use a civilian court to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other top al-Qaeda terrorists has to be an attempt to put the Bush administration’s—in the eyes of Obama and Holder, illegal—“War on Terror” on trial. The plan probably appealed to Obama’s political team, knocked off-balance by recent losses in Virgina and New Jersey, as a way of returning to their winning 2008 strategy of perpetually running against Bush instead of the real opponent (in 2008, Clinton or McCain).

The trial has a huge potential downside. No enemy combatant in U.S. history has ever before been granted a civil trial. A recent CNN poll found that 64% believed the 9.11 terrorists belonged in a military court; only 34% agreed with the Holder-Obama decision. It’s easy to predict Americans won’t like the civilian trial as it unfolds, a feeling that could backfire against those who unnecessarily and wrongly ordered it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eva Palin?

I have watched Sarah Palin’s interviews with Oprah, Barbara Walters, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly. Here's what we are dealing with. The media are right to try to destroy Palin. No one interested in overthrowing the established order (including its media arm) in 2010 will find a more compelling vehicle than Sarah Palin.

The celebrity-driven, politics-ignoring culture that grips America’s non-college graduate majority have in Palin a person with whom they can identify. Beautiful, the rock star they want. Down-to-earth, just as they want. Blunt, honest, outspoken, yet friendly and self-deprecating, exactly as they want their leader. Most of all, fed up with everything that represents failed elitism, as are they.

Sarah Palin could be our next president. She is, what Obama is not though seemed for a moment to be, the real thing. The country is ready to dump George W. Obama big government/big business, especially Wall Street. The masses are populist, longing for a populist leader. They want a celebrity, a superstar who lifts them out of their ordinary lives, someone in whom they can believe.

They want Eva Palin.

O’Reilly asked Palin how she felt about people comparing her to Eva Peron. Palin demurred, as she normally does when paid a complement. In other words, Palin is flattered to be linked to the corrupt, power hungry, but beloved by the Argentine “shirtless ones”—Evita.

So what’s next?

1. Palin will keep gaining if the media keep hammering her. Blunt attacks will backfire. (Both Oprah and Barbara seemed to understand this, engaging Palin with fairly gentle questioning.)

2. Palin will do best if she talks mostly about the economy, especially job creation. That means, as she says, helping small businesses, not raising their taxes. Palin can also continue advocating for free trade, while telling China to rebalance its currency in favor of increased imports.

3. However much of a “rogue” Palin is, she’s unlikely to run as a third party candidate. She will be Republican because Republicans are increasingly drawn to populism that rejects both big government and big business. Also, business itself will lean toward Palin populism as preferable to Democrats and big government. Palin won’t need a third party. If she plays her cards right, the Republican Party is hers.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Here comes Sarah Palin!

public opinion is now tilted against the idea [of] voting for Palin in 2012, 53% say they would not. Just 9% say they would definitely vote for her; another 37% say they would consider it.

--Washington Post, “Behind the Numbers”

Despite being characterized by many as a divisive force in her party and the nation, Americans are much more likely to give Palin a positive rating (47%) than another prominent female leader -- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (28%). . . Palin's favorable [is] up 9% over last July's reading of 38%. . . Moreover, 61% think Palin has been treated unfairly by the press. . . [Republicans give] Palin the highest favorable ratings (70%) amid a group of other possible contenders for the GOP nomination, including Mike Huckabee (63%), Mitt Romney (60%) and Newt Gingrich (58%).

--Fox News Poll, 11.18.09

Palinism works by draping hard-right policy in a winning personal story and just-folks rhetoric. Its genius rests in its ability to magically absorb inconvenient facts and mutually contradictory realities into an unassailable personal narrative. . . the bedeviling thing about Sarah Palin, and the secret to her success [is] neither the left nor the right can get enough of her.

--Richard Kim and Betsy Reed, Going Rouge: Sarah Palin--An American Nightmare

Michelle Bachmann, a smarter, better-educated (her crazy comes in paragraphs) and more photogenic Sarah Palin, is definitely somebody to watch. The big question is whether indulging lunacy will do more damage to the Republican Party or the country. Nobody familiar with 20th-century history can be entirely confident that reason will prevail. In troubled times, even great nations can go stark, raving mad. [emphasis added]

--Gene Lyons, “Salon”

[In “Slate,”] one supposed Palinophobe took dead aim at the former Alaska governor's writing chops, excerpting the following sentence from her book: “The apartment was small, with slanting floors and irregular heat and a buzzer downstairs that didn't work, so that visitors had to call ahead from a pay phone at the corner gas station, where a black Doberman the size of a wolf paced through the night in vigilant patrol, its jaws clamped around an empty beer bottle.”

Other readers pounced like wolf-sized Dobermans on an intruder. One guffawed, "That sentence by Sarah Palin could be entered into the annual Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest. It could have a chance at winning a (sic) honorable mention, at any rate." But soon, the original contributor confessed: "I probably should have mentioned that the sentence quoted above was not written by Sarah Palin. It's taken from the first paragraph of Dreams From My Father, written by Barack Obama."

--Jonah Goldberg, Chicago Tribune

both the national media and Democrats are likely to keep Palin in the spotlight as long as possible. For the media, the former governor of Alaska is a celebrity with an "interesting" family, while for Democrats, she is an easy target - a political lightweight of uncertain substance, who drives "tea party" conservatives into a euphoric frenzy but divides the GOP into two very different camps.

--Stu Rothenberg, “Rothenberg Report”

For Sarah Palin, with her personality and history, to tell Rush Limbaugh that Republicans should welcome primary fights within their own ranks is hardly surprising. As much as it may pain her many critics, she also has a lot of history on her side. . .Palin. . .got to be governor of Alaska by knocking off incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski in a Republican primary in 2006. When she told Limbaugh, "What I appreciate about the Republican Party (is) we have contested, aggressive, competitive primaries," she had that fight in mind.

--David Broder, Washington Post

In Alaska, Palin didn't run as a culture warrior. She focused on issues with overwhelming public support: ethics reform, a revised oil tax, and more competition and transparency in the effort to build a natural gas pipeline. She took the conservative vote for granted and focused on winning independents and even some Democrats.

The 2006 Palin model looks a lot like the approach that Virginia's next governor, Republican Bob McDonnell, used to win his election last week. It means applying conservative principles to problems like the economy, health care, and out-of-control federal spending. It means addressing voter concern that big government and big business are in cahoots, heaping expensive burdens on small businesses and individual entrepreneurs.

--Matthew Continetti, author of The Persecution of Sarah Palin

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Market Rally Sustainable?

The stock market passed another benchmark on the road to recovery yesterday. The S&P 500 rose to 1109, clearing 1100 for the first time since the market crashed last Fall. At the same time, my FOX INDEX has reached its new high for 2009 [chart]. The INDEX measures as a percentage the distance traveled from the market’s March 9 bottom; while also marking the distance remaining to its pre-crash healthy level (12,000 Dow, 1,300 S&P, 2,500 NASDAQ). As of today, the distance traveled from the bottom to healthy has covered 71.5% of the full path.

It’s a strange market, though. It’s going up on the dollar’s weakness, partly because a weak dollar means stronger commodity prices. Eventually, dollar weakness will hurt the market. Volume is low, suggesting “money shifting from strong hands to weak hands.” A “correction” (decline) seems near.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Helpful Liberal

Fareed Zakaria is an editor of Newsweek, the journal consciously seeking to become American liberal Democrats’ in-house journal. So when Zakaria criticizes the work of Obama, someone another Newsweek editor, Evan Thomas, called “sort of God,” I pay attention.

Zakaria thinks Obama’s making a mistake pushing a health care reform that worries more about coverage than cost. Here are Zakaria’s words:
There are two great health-care crises in America—one involving coverage and the other cost. The Obama plan appears likely to tackle the first but not the second. This is bad economics but also bad politics: the crisis of cost affects 85% of Americans, while the crisis of coverage affects about 15%. Obama's message to the country appears to be "We have a dysfunctional health-care system with out-of-control costs, and let's add 45 million people to it."

Americans see a health-care bill that has been produced by the old Democratic machine rather than the new Democratic technocrats—more Lyndon Johnson than Larry Summers. That might please the party's base but it will dismay independents. Were costs to rocket over the next few years, the Democrats will have squandered a reputation for economic competence that was hard won.

I agree with Zakaria and hope Obama listens to his wise friend.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Unhelpful Liberal

Republicans want to keep a public plan out of the mix and thus leave private insurers free to charge higher premiums for the well-being of their tycoon CEOs and shareholders.

-- Froma Harrop


Harrop is a 59 year old liberal columnist, known as a strong supporter of Obama’s health care plan. She’s smart and well-informed. And she thinks we are stupid. Why else would she write Republicans oppose the public option in order to help “private insurers” boost the profits “of their tycoon CEOs and shareholders” at the expense of the public?

I mean, why bother to have political campaigns if Republicans truly are about helping the rich at the average voters’ expense? If Republican means, “rich richer, poor poorer,” there is no political contest. Democrats will win, every time. The poor and middle classes heavily outvote the rich.

Such strange logic, when the wealthiest congressional districts (that’s where the money lives) are all Democratic (Shays lost to Democrat Jim Himes in 2008). No, Republicans aren’t really the suicidal campaigners Harrop and the unions claim they are, out to help the rich at the common person’s expense.

Republicans oppose the public option because it’s the first step to what liberals truly want—national health insurance. Republicans fear a Democratic/government-run national health system like those in the U.K. and Canada. Democrats don’t. That’s the real difference between the parties.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Election 2009 (V): Looking Forward

The 2009 election was only the third time in modern two-party history that both Virginia and New Jersey simultaneously switched governors from the party of the president to the opposition party. This possible precursor of change first occurred in 1993, when Republicans in Virginia and New Jersey replaced Democratic governors during Bill Clinton’s first year. A year later, 1994, Republicans swept the mid-term elections, taking over the House for the first time in 42 years, and recapturing the Senate as well.

A similar change occurred in 2001, when Democrats replaced Republican governors in New Jersey and Virginia during Bush 43’s first year. At the time, Bush was preoccupied with the Afghanistan war that had just begun, and with much else relating to the 9.11 attacks eight weeks before. Bush and Karl Rove had by 2002 nationalized that year’s mid-term elections, turning them into a winning referendum on Bush’s response to 9.11, including defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan (the Iraq war had yet to begin).

The 2001 Democratic victories in Virginia and New Jersey provided a very early warning Republicans held an insecure grip on the country. This became clearer after Democrats again elected governors in both states four years later; the 2005 New Jersey and Virginia wins rolled into Democrats’ sweeping recapture of Congress in the 2006 mid-term elections.

It’s hardly inevitable Republicans will make major gains in next year’s mid-terms. Democrats can and should respond to their double loss in New Jersey and Virginia by redoing their playbook, as Bush did after both states went Democratic in 2001.

The economy is nearly the whole game now—it was the leading issue by far in New Jersey, and the biggest issue in Virginia. It will dominate next year’s mid-terms, should unemployment remain around 10% in April (polling shows people’s perception of the economy changes little in the campaign’s final six months—one reason Bush 41 lost to Clinton in 1992 even though the economy was by then improving).

As a Democrat once said, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Monday, November 09, 2009

Election 2009 (IV): The Lower Depths

Once, when a pollster made him angry, Emanuel sent him a dead fish.

--TIME bio of Rahm Emanuel


Here are two reasons why Democrats feel they can rule as liberals in a moderate-conservative country. The first is that they are America’s natural leadership class—better educated, wealthy, and correct on the big issues our nation faced over the last century. The second is that, with the help of a protective media, they feel able to fool “some of the people”—the non-liberal 30% they need for a majority—“all of the time.”

One key part of “fooling” people is Democrats’ willingness to play hardball (we won’t say “dirty”) politics. Lee Atwater, as George H.W. Bush’s campaign manager running Bush’s 1988 campaign for president, became the prototypical hardball campaigner. Democrat Michael Dukakis led Bush by 17% in early polls, but Bush carried 40 states in a November 1988 landslide.

To win, Atwater redefined Dukakis as a “Massachusetts liberal,” most infamously making a household name out of Willie Horton, a black murderer who raped a woman while on a furlough program Massachusetts Governor Dukakis oversaw. Democrats keyed in on the Willie Horton ad as blatantly racist, even though Atwater never used Horton’s picture, and his successful campaign to redefine Dukakis had several other pieces to it. (Incidentally, Donna Brazile, later Al Gore’s campaign manager, unsuccessfully attempted to savage Bush in that same 1988 campaign for an affair she said he had in the 1970s.)

After 1988, Democrats and their media friends determined not to be out-Atwatered in the future. The Democrats’ current Atwater is Rahm Emanuel, who orchestrated the Democrats’ 2006 take-back of the U.S. House, and today is the Obama chief of staff who runs most everything. As this blog noted in 2006, the media largely ignored the story Emanuel knew about the Mark Foley scandal a year in advance, but sat on it until he could use it to blow up Republicans during the campaign’s final six weeks.

Emanuel plays real hardball, for as a sitting House member, Emanuel had an obligation to bring Foley’s actions to leadership’s attention much earlier. Emanuel wanted an election issue more, and the delay worked, with voters in exit polls giving corruption—highlighted by the Foley scandal—as a reason just behind the Iraq war for turning Republicans out of office.

Dishonesty marked the 2008 Obama campaign. Obama promised to take public financing and limit campaign expenditures accordingly, promised not to hire lobbyists, promised to publish legislation on the internet so everyone could read it 5 days before signing, promised to be bi-partisan and post-partisan in governing, promised health care wouldn't increase the deficit, promised to put health care negotiations on C-SPAN, promised not to force people to purchase health care, promised not to raise middle class taxes, indicated we were in Afghanistan to win a “necessary” war, and promised to bring down the Bush budget deficits. Was any of this serious, and does it build trust to ignore promises so quickly and often? Beyond this, there is the illegal overlap between the Obama campaign and ACORN.

So in 2009, it’s no surprise that Democrats and media friends played hardball in the key New Jersey and Virgnia gubernatorial campaigns. In New Jersey, Jon Corzine was desperate to stave off defeat by Chris Christie, the Republican. It helped immensely to have independent conservative Christopher Daggett in the race, taking votes away from Christie. But it’s beyond hardball to, as Democrats did, pay for phone calls to voters advocating they vote for Daggett over Christie. And never mind that marathon runner Corzine also ran ads talking about the corpulent Christie “throwing his weight around” (the ads may have backfired; few New Jerseyites run marathons).

The Virginia gubernatorial campaign featured a series of Washington Post articles attacking Republican Bob McDonnell for views expressed in his 1989 masters' thesis, a document the Post proudly surfaced as relevant to 2009. Thesis in hand, the Post repeatedly hit at McDonnell for writing 20 years ago that working women were detrimental to families. Post coverage blankets northern Virginia; the attacks drew blood, dropping McDonnell’s lead to near zero. But McDonnell's opponent Creigh Deeds kept harping on the same point. McDonnell, who rallied support from his wife, daughters, and women who had worked for him, eventually found the public tiring of articles and ads based on an old academic paper.

The Post attack failed. McDonnell whipped Deeds by 18%, in contrast to the Post’s successful 2006 effort to end Republican Virginia Senator George Allen’s career by finding and repeating the story that Allen had called an ethnic Indian volunteer working for Allen’s Democratic opponent James Webb a “macaca,” and had welcomed the U.S.-born volunteer “to America.” Thanks to the Post, Webb won a squeaker.

Score after two big Virginia elections: Post & Democrats 1, Virginia Republicans 1. All’s fair in war and politics at the lower depths, so the Post will likely be back helping Democrats and Emanuel (also known as Rahm-bo) again next election.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Why is Obama Not in Berlin?

Rich Lowry of National Review is asking that question for all of us. In his first year, Clinton visited 3 countries, Bush 11. Obama’s visited 16, but not Berlin with our allies on the 20th anniversary of the Wall’s fall—the event that effectively marked the Cold War’s end.

Lowry notes Obama was in Berlin last year, where he said, "a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one." Obama used the passive voice to obscure one big fact—“a wall came down” because we won, they lost.

Ronald Reagan went to Berlin in 1987 and said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Two years later, thanks to the West’s strength and the East’s increasing weakness, oppression lost, freedom triumphed.

Obama lives a politically correct life. White men didn’t make history. They ruined history for the world’s oppressed masses. Obama gets it. He will bring the world together, as he brought white and black together organizing Chicago’s south side, winning the Iowa caucuses, then winning the world’s most powerful office.

Berlin? Cold War? So yesterday. So all white, a tiny white part of a big, mostly colored world.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Election 2009 (III): Halo Effect

Democrats believe they hold the moral high ground. They talk among themselves. They have a tough time accepting the legitimacy of any other perspective.

U.S. adults are 20% liberal, and 28% college graduates. College graduates are the people most likely to follow politics, to read and pay attention to news, to contribute money, to vote Democratic, and to do so because liberal Democrats are the “good guys.”

Democrats wear the halo for three big reasons:

1. After capitalism collapsed in 1929-32, Democrats used government power to help “the little guy,” “the common man,” those thrown out of work by failed businesses. Republicans argue, “government is the problem, not the solution,” and insist only private enterprise creates jobs. But liberals, college graduates, don’t fear government. After all, the people in government are much like them. Liberals want good government that helps those left behind. That means Democrats; the good guys.

2. Democrats delivered
during the 1960s on America’s most important moral crusade, equality for African-Americans. Democrats led the fight for civil rights, unlike Republicans who gained from the white backlash in its Southern (“redneck”) and Northern ethnic (“Archie Bunker”) neighborhood base. Republicans used code words like “crime in the streets,” “welfare queens,” and “Willie Horton,” but their campaigns were about race. Race helped Nixon, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush win five of six times between 1968 and 1992. As Lyndon Johnson supposedly said, when signing the 1964 civil rights act, "We have lost the South for a generation." True, and a truly disgusting reality for most of America’s best educated.

The Democratic commitment to equality gained a bigger, more instant payoff when it expanded to include Hispanics and especially women. The party’s strong commitment to a woman’s right to choose locked in the support of America’s more educated and independent females. The Democrats’ subsequent battle for gay rights is proving more controversial, but partly because helping gays isn’t good politics, it solidifies the halo effect Democrats earn from pursuing female and minority equality.

3. Democrats oppose war. Vietnam tore our nation apart, but it also united much of the college-educated elite behind Democrats’ anti-war banner. So while Democrats lost millions of votes when they turned away from the anti-Communist foreign policy of Democrats Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson, other millions of Americans, mostly better educated, favored Democrats who put domestic reform before fighting tyranny abroad (thinking “Where’s the real tyranny anyway, if not inside the Republican Party?”). The Iraq “war of choice”, including the very “nation building” George W. Bush denounced as a candidate, has helped fix the halo even more firmly on the Democratic Party’s head.

Democrats won over America’s elite by being right on the three great battles that divided us since 1929. The moral sanctity Democrats feel supporting (good) government, pursuing equality, and opposing war leads to advocacy journalism from a self-righteous media and blogosphere, intolerant screams from entertainment and the arts, arrogant put-downs from intellectuals in universities, the government, and the non-profit sector, even pro-government posturing by business giants like Google’s Eric Schmidt. Democrats believe they are right not only because they are bright, but also because their cause is just.

And right makes might.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Election 2009 (II): Bye Bye, W.

In July, “Politico’s” Jonathan Martin told us that Democrats running for governor in both New Jersey and Virginia were trying to plant George Bush on the backs of their Republican opponents. I said, “November elections in New Jersey and Virginia will show how well it works to continue running against Bush, months after he has left office.”

Well, the results are in. It doesn’t work. Obama, you are president now, for better or worse, and you now own the economy.

Election 2009 (I): Thumpin’ 4 years on


Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.

--Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers Coach


The 2005 off-year Democratic victories in New Jersey and Virginia helped Rahm Emanuel recruit the candidates needed to take back the House in 2006. The double win showed potential challengers Democrats had a bright future (Emanuel’s efforts are covered in the book The Thumpin’). The year 2005 was a tough one for Republicans—an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, and disastrous White House handling of Hurricane Katrina, the largest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Emanuel’s successful recruiting led to a Democratic take-over of the House—indeed Washington—in 2006 (the Senate also went Democratic that year).

After 2006, it was on to the White House. Emanuel and Democrats viewed their 2006 victory as a stepping-stone to winning the presidency in 2008. Though Emanuel was a staffer in Clinton’s White House, he used his Chicago ties to get close to Hillary Clinton’s chief rival, Barack Obama. The 2008 campaign ended in the Democrats’ sweeping victory.

By year 4, Emanuel had become Obama’s chief of staff, committed to a permanent campaign to keep Obama in power. Both know the White House is the best place from which to run for president in 2012. But first, the president has to do what Clinton failed to do in 1994 and Bush failed to do in 2006—win the upcoming mid-term election. You gain power by winning. You keep power by winning. Win, win, win. Obama will be the source of Democratic victories in 2010 or Emanuel will fail.

The need to win in 2010 brings us to the 2009 gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, two states Obama carried in 2008. If either state went Republican, no big deal. But if both went Republican, Democrats in Congress facing mid-terms less than a year later would become nervous. So for Emanuel, it became vital that Democrats hold at least one of the two governorships.

With New Jersey's Jon Corzine confronting terrible favorability ratings, stuck with a bad economy, with personal ties to a highly unpopular Wall Street, having failed on a promise to fix high property taxes, and with Democratic corruption too much for even highly-tolerant New Jerseyites, Emanuel viewed Virginia as the state Democrats must hold. He went to work holding Virginia by:

➢ making incumbent Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (Obama’s almost-vice president and ineligible to run for re-election) head of the Democratic National Committee with one major job—keep Virginia Democratic;

➢ attempting to wrap up the contentious Congressional health care debate by November, so it wouldn’t become an issue that told wobbly Democrats they risked re-election in 2010 if they backed Obama’s bill;

But Virginia went very wrong for Virginia Governor Kaine and the Democrats. The GOP had the better candidate and in polls he surged to a big lead. And Congress ignored Emanuel’s timetable; health care was becoming a big issue. Emanuel made the best of the situation by:

➢ shifting the 2009 focus from Virginia to New Jersey, throwing everything into an effort to pull Corzine through;

➢ delaying until after the election the White House decision on sending troops to Afghanistan, so that troop increases wouldn’t drive liberal votes away from Corzine.

But as we saw yesterday, nothing worked. After two big wins, Congress in 2006, Congress and the White House in 2008, Emanuel suffered his first defeat. Virginia and New Jersey both went Republican—the one unacceptable outcome. Emanuel is therefore no longer a winner. House members worried about 2010 won’t have to listen to him. In hardball, everything depends on winning the last one. And Emanuel’s big four years ended in defeat.

Of course, the White House has a different four-year cycle, one that has three years yet to run. Still, a significant 1/4th of that precious time is gone, a year that went badly. The next election, next year's mid-terms less than a year away, look a little harder today than they did Tuesday.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Noblesse oblige 2009

Tom Friedman’s latest column provides real evidence our national elite’s in a different place than the rest of us.

According to Friedman, many Americans are “Warren Buffett centrists.” We agree with Buffett that whatever we achieve in life is because we were born in America at this time, with all of its advantages and opportunities.

I think Friedman means we are well positioned to “give back.” I think this, because Friedman also writes America’s “becoming a declining great power” in need of “nation-building at home,” something in turn requiring “a spirit of shared sacrifice.”

Friedman underlines our need for nation-building through sacrifice by quoting Harvard political theorist Michael Sandel, author of the new best seller — Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?:
Obama’s election marked a shift — from a politics that celebrated privatized concerns to a politics that recognized the need for effective government and larger public purposes. You can’t get nation-building without shared sacrifice. [emphases added]

Here’s the problem with Friedman’s thinking. Most of us aren’t wealthy like Buffett or like Friedman, who married the daughter of shopping mall king Matthew Bucksbaum (General Growth Properties). These aren’t the folks, even including Harvard’s Sandel, to be inviting us to a “shared sacrifice.” Nor are Obama and most of the people around him.

Noblesse oblige, maybe. “Shared sacrifice,” no.

I think the elite don’t get it. So they take a shot at people focused on “privatized concerns,” which to me is kitchen-table talk about holding onto a job or a home, or managing disappearing savings. By trashing “privatized concerns,” the elite again fail to notice the rising populist anger against America’s government and business privileged.

Or perhaps you don’t buy this, and instead accept Friedman’s reason for people not joining Obama’s “shared sacrifice”?:
independents and conservatives who voted for Mr. Obama [note Friedman’s only interested in holding Obama’s 2008 majority; forget about the other 47%] have been so easily swayed against him by Fox News . . . because [Obama] has not given voice to the truly patriotic nation-building endeavor in which he is engaged.

Whoa! FOX News again!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

What’s the deal on cutting carbon emissions?

Bjørn Lomborg is a controversial environmental figure. A Danish professor (Ph.D. in political science) who heads the Copenhagen Consensus Institute, Lomborg has attacked the “consensus” view that the way to combat global warming (now called “climate change”) is to reduce carbon emissions. According to Lomborg, “If we spent $800 billion over the next 90 years solely on the Gore solution of mitigating carbon emissions, we would rein in temperature increases by just 0.3 degrees by the end of this century.”

Lomborg even has the nerve to say wind, solar, geothermal, and wave are “incredibly inefficient.” He instead favors a targeted use of money on developing second-generation biofuel from biomass, investing in energy efficiency, fission and fusion, and carbon capture and storage (for coal, presumably).

It’s hard just to dismiss Lomborg. He believes climate change represents a serious threat to the planet. He believes climate change is a human-caused problem. He’s Danish, he is gay (maybe, maybe not, making him more sincerely leftist), he’s writing in Esquire, a decidedly liberal publication. So we should pay attention, when Lomborg says:
When we calculate the costs and benefits of [my] alternative solution, we discover that each time we invest a dollar, we create benefits worth $16 — at least 18 times and possibly 400 times better than the Gore approach. This is because the money spent on research and development will make alternatives to fossil fuels cheaper sooner, and make for a genuine transition to a low-carbon future, with all its benefits accruing sooner and at lower costs.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Democrats Old Hat



Quoting the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Henninger without comment:

In a world defined by nearly 100,000 iPhone apps, a world of seemingly limitless, self-defined choice, the Democrats are pushing the biggest, fattest, one-size-fits all legislation since 1965. And they brag this will complete the dream Franklin D. Roosevelt had in 1939.

If we were really living in the world of leading-edge politics that many people thought they were getting with Barack Obama, he would have proposed an iPhone for health care--a flexible system for which all sorts of users could create or choose health-care apps that suited their needs. Over time, with trial and error, a better system would emerge.

No chance of that.

People thought something small, agile and smart was coming to government, but so far it's turning out to be just big-box politics.

So long as the Democratic Party is the party of the Old Hat People, dependent on public-sector unions with Orwellian names like the Service Employees International Union, it will remain yoked to a pre-iPhone political model that will increasingly strike average everyday American voters as weird and alien to their world.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gallup: America leans conservative.

In July, Gallup found that Americans identify Democrat over Republican by 34% to 28%. By pushing independents to lean one way or the other, Gallup increased the margin for Democrats to 49% over 40%. Good news for Democrats, though down from April’s 52% to 39% margin.

Gallup just released findings that paint a less favorable picture for the liberal President Obama’s supporters. After 16 separate surveys involving over 5,000 people a quarter, Gallup concludes Americans are conservative over liberal by 40% to 20%. The last time conservatives polled this high was 2002-04. Liberals are lower than they’ve been since 2005. Also, Gallup’s findings are consistent with an earlier Pew survey that reported a 2:1 conservative:liberal ratio.

Obama’s liberal agenda is up against the reality America remains a moderate-conservative nation.

Zingales Tells GOP to Go Populist

In an earlier post, I summarized Luigi Zingales’ analysis of why the big business pursuit of security differs from market capitalism’s desire for competition. At the end of my summary, I said
Zingales suggests where Republicans should be—leaving the corporate elite to the Democrats, and channeling populist rage into political support for genuinely pro-market reforms.
Now Zigales has his own Investor’s Business Daily article directly stating the GOP must go populist, and “take on the financial industry on behalf of everyone else.”

Obama Attacks, FOX News Thrives

Last week, FOX News programs topped the combined audience of CNN + MSNBC every day, every hour, between 5 pm and midnight. In fact, CNN, MSNBC, plus HLN (the old “Headline News”) combined beat FOX in only 5 of the 35 measured time slots, 3 of those during Greta Van Susteren’s “On the Record” hour. Understand, Greta beat everyone handily, but she did fall short of topping the other three’s combined audience on 3 of 5 nights.

Bill O’Reilly’s 11 pm re-run of his earlier, 8 pm show beat the other three networks combined every night.

I believe the White House knew it would drive FOX’s ratings even higher with its attacks. The White House’s objective isn’t to knock down FOX’s numbers. Rather, it’s to stop news stories jumping from FOX to the other networks.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why Moderate Republicans Are Worried

Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen of “Politico” have an article entitled “Conservatives roar; Republicans tremble” that is generating attention. GOP Congressman Mike Pence took strong exception to the piece, calling it “hogwash” (see here). I’m less inclined to dismiss the article’s analysis.

Vandehei and Allen quote several Republicans concerned that the loud, belligerent roars coming from anti-Obamaists like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck alienate the very independents that Republicans need to win in 2010. The concerned Republicans or conservatives include Minnesota Governor Tom Pawlenty, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Bush White House staffer Ed Gillespie, Sen. Lindsey Graham, the New York Times’ David Brooks, and some people close to John McCain.

Vandehei and Allen damage their case a bit by quoting Bob Michel, the ex-House minority leader the conservative Newt Gingrich pushed aside before in 1994 leading the party to its first House majority in 40 years. Conservatives point to Michel-style Republicanism as the kind of ill-defined mush the GOP must discard, if it hopes to return to power.

I think where Canter, Graham, Brooks, etc. are right is that Republicans need moderate/independent support to win. Barry Goldwater may have excited the Republican base in 1964, but he also delivered the GOP its worst election disaster between the Depression and today. Conservatives can’t win by themselves.

Nevertheless, it should be obvious even to those folks who live in the BosWash media corridor so disconnected from Limbaugh and Beck that the Republican Party begins with conservatives, secular and religious, just as the Democrats’ soul is MoveOn.org liberal. Goldwater paved the way for Reagan, the GOP version of Obama, a person who transparently projected his basic values in a non-threatening way that gathered a majority.

Republicans need a modern Reagan, a GOP Obama.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Polls Favor Health Care Public Option

The Washington Post/ABC News poll says so. When asked, “Would you support or oppose having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans?”, 57% answered, “support.” Other similarly-worded polls found even higher numbers in favor.

But according to Gallup:
With respect to one of the more contentious issues being debated -- whether the plan should include a government-run insurance plan to compete with private providers (a so-called public option) -- Americans are about evenly split, with 50% in favor and 46% opposed.

Jay Cost, who is skeptical of poll results favoring a public option, goes through the kind of long-winded explanation that usually indicates one’s holding the stick’s short end. Yet Cost makes a valid point. Gallup added the damning words “government-run” to its question, and support dropped to 50%.

Still, most polls supporting means the public option will be part of the bill that passes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

White House Communications Director looks to Mao for political advice.


Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, calls Mao Zedong a “favorite political philosopher.” Dunn also said this in June to an audience of high school students:

Mao Tse Tung and Mother Teresa. Not often coupled with each other, but the two people that I turn to most to basically deliver a simple point, which is: You're going to make choices. ... But here's the deal: These are your choices; they are no one else's. In 1947, when Mao Tse Tung was being challenged within his own party on his own plan to basically take China over, Chiang Kai-shek and the nationalist Chinese held the cities, they had the army. … They had everything on their side. And people said “How can you win? How can you do this against all of the odds against you?” And Mao Tse Tung says, “You fight your war, and I'll fight mine.” … You fight your war, you let them fight theirs. Everybody has their own path.

Mao had a small red book full of pithy sayings. He also twice tore his country apart after liberating it from Chiang Kai-shek (and by the way, Mao in 1947 led a peasant-backed party unified in its struggle against Chiang's U.S.-supplied army; better to have the countryside than the cities, contrary to what Dunn suggests). After liberation, Mao killed more people than Stalin or Hitler, #1 in the 20th century. China is still working to live past the damage Mao wrought.

Why would Anita Dunn—the person who from the White House launched the Obama administration’s initial attack on FOX News—turn to Mao for political advice? Why? Why?

Monday, October 19, 2009

White House employs “Chicago way” against FOX News.

In 1972, I knew the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times—courageously pursuing the Watergate story—were right about Nixon being a gangster-president. But I worried about the power Nixon had, and about his intense hatred of his enemies. Could Nixon prevail and actually silence his media critics, many of whom wouldn’t touch the Watergate "caper" with a 10-foot poll? It was a truly scary time for America. Nixon was very popular, carrying 49 states that November.

Tom Bevan runs the website, RealClearPolitics, valuable because it covers opinion from both sides of our national debate, including the right. If people want both sides, he’s a great source. If they view liberal media alone—the major networks except FOX, the major print media except the Wall Street Journal—as sufficient, well then, why bother with RealClearPolitics? So Bevan has a self-interest in balanced coverage.

Still, I’m shaken by the intensity of Bevan’s attack on the White House for going after FOX News. I’m shaken because I think Bevan’s truly worried about the White House’s gangster-like (Chicagoan Bevan calls it “the Chicago way”) effort to crush America’s leading cable news network. If Bevan weren’t truly worried, why risk his site’s reputation for balanced coverage by going after the White House?

Here’s what bothers Bevan:

➢ Obama’s top two politicos, Chicagoans David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, made clear on Sunday talk shows that White House efforts to delegitimize FOX News are deadly serious.

➢ Axelrod told George Stephanopoulos: "[FOX News] is not really a news station. It's not just their commentators but a lot of their news programming it's really not news it's pushing a point of view. " Axelrod also went out of his way to suggest to Stephanopoulos that ABC News adopt the White House strategy and not treat FOX News as legitimate. "The bigger thing is," Axelrod said, "other news organizations, like yours, ought not to treat them that way. We're not going to treat them that way. "

➢ Emanuel echoed the line to John King on CNN's State of the Union: "The way the president looks at it - we look at it - it's not a news organization so much as it has a perspective. And more importantly is not have the CNN's and others in the world basically be led and following FOX, as if what they're trying to do is a legitimate news organization, in the sense of both sides and a sense of valued opinion."

Bevan feels
the current presidency [depends entirely on] the President's personal popularity. President Obama has, out of necessity, become the Salesman-in-Chief for his progressive agenda. . . the White House . . . is [apparently] unable to brook criticism of the President . . . Thus FOX News is targeted as the enemy. [And, as] Axelrod and Emanuel made clear, they also want to drive a wedge between the rest of the media and FOX News, enlisting other television networks in the effort to paint FOX News as illegitimate.

All this prompts Bevan to editorialize:
And MSNBC doesn't push a certain "perspective?" . . .The White House is all for news organizations taking certain "perspec- tives" -- so long as they're favorable to the administration's agenda. It's actually quite brazen [for Axelrod and Emanuel to suggest] that ABC, CNN and other networks . . . join [the] White House's war to marginalize a competitor because it takes a "perspective" that displeases the President.

Such tactics may not be frowned upon by brass-knuckle operatives working for the political machine in a one party town. But it's different when you're the President. . . the White House's strategy may be the Chicago way, but it isn't the American way.

Hope Yet: Washington Post Supports Troops to Afghanistantan

The Washington Post, a newspaper heretofore unambiguously behind President Obama, last week editorialized against those around Obama (think Vice President Biden) who would defeat al Qaeda but not the Taliban. Saying it’s clear the Taliban’s effort to gain control over nuclear-armed Pakistan is “bad news” for the U.S., the newspaper writes, ”it's curious that spokesmen for the Obama administration continue to talk down the Taliban threat.”

The Post first quotes White House press secretary Robert Gibbs:
I think the Taliban are, obviously, exceedingly bad people that have done awful things. Their capability is somewhat different, [from al Qaeda] though, on that continuum of transnational threats.

The newspaper then adds,
That analysis—which is being used by many who oppose sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan—is badly out of date. Al-Qaeda. . . has suffered serious reverses in the past several years, while the Taliban has gone from struggling for survival to aiming for control over both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Post finds it ironic that with Pakistan’s army “at last” ready to go after the Taliban in Waziristan, the Obama administration is “considering a strategy that would give up” on defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan. The editorial concludes,
Adopting such a strategy would condemn American soldiers to fighting and dying without the chance of winning. But it would also cripple Pakistan's fight against the jihadists. With the pressure off in Afghanistan, Taliban forces would have a refuge from offensives by Pakistani forces. And those in the Pakistani army and intelligence services who favor striking deals or even alliances with the extremists could once again gain ascendancy. [If the U.S.] gives up trying to defeat the Taliban, can it really expect that Pakistan will go on fighting?

To me, the pro-Obama Post’s stance provides hope Obama may do right by Afghanistan, in spite of leftist pressure to get out.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Markets value competition, big business doesn’t, the difference matters.

Luigi Zingales writes, in the inaugural issue of National Affairs, about how Wall Street’s growing dependency on government threatens American capitalism. Traditionally, U.S. business doesn’t want government around, preferring a free, competitive market. Americans have supported our open market economy with its freedom of entry, widespread access to financial resources, and its level playing field. But now, concentrated power at the top, shared between government and corporate and financial powers out to stifle competition, mean America is developing what Zingales calls “crony capitalism,” the stogy political economy that prevails most everywhere else.

Here’s a summary of Zingales’ main points:

➢ Public support for capitalism is positively associated with the perception that hard work, not luck, determines success, and is negatively correlated to any perception of corruption.

➢ Instead under “crony capitalism”, the best way to make money is not to come up with brilliant ideas and work hard to implement them, it’s to cultivate a government connection.

➢ Only in America, democracy predated industrialization. The U.S. enacted regulations reducing the power of big business, developing anti-trust law—pro-market but often anti-business—fueled by an inquisitive press and a populist (but not anti-market) political movement. When Louis Brandeis attacked the money trust, he was trying to make markets work better, not stifle them.

➢ Until World War I, America had a tiny federal government, due in part to our facing no military threat. With government small and weak, people made money by starting a successful business. But as government grew, it became easier to make money by diverting public resources. Starting a business involves a lot of risk—getting a government contract is easier and safer.

➢ In countries with powerful Communist or socialist parties, pro-market and pro-business forces merged to fight the common enemy. Facing the prospect of nationalization (control of resources by a small political elite), “crony capitalism” (control of resources by a small business elite) seemed the lesser evil.

➢ Though American capitalism came closer than any other to the ideal of economic freedom and open competition, obscene wages and profits over the last 30 years have attracted our best talents to finance—with profound implications for government. The brightest undergraduates used to go into science, technology, law, and business. Now, it's finance. Four of the last six Treasury secretaries in fact were directly or indirectly linked to one financial firm: Goldman Sachs. By contrast, only one of the previous six Treasury secretaries even had a finance background.

➢ America’s financial industry is fragile because it relies on the sanctity of contracts and the rule of law. That sanctity cannot be preserved without broad popular support. Yet public mistrust of government, mistrust of bankers, concerns about wasting taxpayer dollars, and worries about rewarding Wall Street threaten a vicious cycle.

➢ To avoid being linked with the companies they are working to help, politicians encourage an assault on finance, which in turn scares off legitimate investors, no longer able to count on contracts and the rule of law. And this in turn forces troubled businesses to seek government assistance.

➢ This is the unhealthy cycle capitalism faces elsewhere. On one hand, entrepreneurs and financiers feel threatened by public hostility, and thus justified in seeking government privileges. On the other hand, ordinary citizens are outraged by the privileges entrepreneurs and financiers receive, which inflames even greater hostility.

We just saw how populism threatens both Democrats (big government) and Republicans (big business). Zingales suggests where Republicans should be—leaving the corporate elite to the Democrats, and channeling populist rage into political support for genuinely pro-market reforms. Republicans should seek to limit the financial industry’s power—any businesses’ power—and restore the fundamental principles that make capitalism ethical: freedom, meritocracy, a direct link between reward and effort, and willingness to ensure those who reap the gains also bear the losses. This would mean abandoning the notion that any firm is too big to fail, and adopting a pro-market, rather than pro-business, approach to our economy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Populism Hurts Both Parties

Naftali Bendavid [picture] writes for the Wall Street Journal, but was until recently the Chicago Tribune’s #2 in Washington and its White House correspondent. He wrote a book about how Rahm Emanuel and Democrats “thumped” Republicans in 2006.

You should read Bendavid’s latest article, which argues that populism—strong negative feelings about both big business and big government or elites in general—is dominating current politics. That’s bad for both Republicans (big business) and Democrats (big government). Bendavid cites poll numbers to make his point: 43% don’t like Republicans, 39% don’t like Democrats; 45% say the stimulus was a bad idea; 49% feel government tries to do too much; and the $700 billion Wall Street bailout is “especially unpopular”.

Bendavid writes:

➢ With voters simultaneously recoiling at laissez-faire policies and a big-government approach neither party in Washington seems capable of corralling an angry public. . . [There’s] an angry distrust of government, and politicians of all stripes, that is palpable . . .

➢ Some don't see government and business as opposing forces. They see a unified elite pursuing one big swindle, as government takes taxpayers' money and bails out powerful companies such as banks and auto makers. . .People on both sides . . . share a frustration with larger forces.

➢ "They're mad at institutions -- all institutions," said Karin Johanson, a Democratic strategist. "Nobody can underestimate the angst, or even fear, of the American voter right now...The institutions they were relying on which were assuring them of their security were not there."

➢ Episodes of populism in U.S. history are marked by "people being fearful of and opposing concentrated power of any kind," said Michael Kazin, a Georgetown University historian and author of The Populist Persuasion. "Big corporations and big government can be seen as parts of the same problem."