Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Despite history, a Ryan presidential candidacy from the House makes sense for 2012
I commend to you this thoughtful and articulate post (including its comments) by my blogospheric friend Dafydd ab Hugh of Big Lizards. Dafydd considers my arguments in favor of drafting House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) as the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee, but finds himself unpersuaded.
One of Dafydd's minor points is a better-argued variation on a theme that's been sounded fairly frequently about presidential candidates who are sitting members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including such recent historical footnotes as John Anderson and Dennis Kucinich (Dafydd's boldface & italics omitted here):
Look, I like Paul Ryan, and I love his plan to rescue the budget and economy. But I'm nervous about him being the GOP standard bearer next year — given that the last time anyone went directly from the House to the White House was James Garfield in 1880.
A representative running for president was of course far more common in the nineteenth century, and the House was held in much higher regard than now. Too, Garfield was a nine-term congressman first elected during the Civil War; and he served for five years as Appropriations Committee chairman. But in 2012, Ryan will be a seven-term congressman who will have served as Budget Committee chairman less than two years....
(Dafydd's post continues with a series of other well-made arguments that I think are more specific to Chairman Ryan. I've addressed some of them briefly in comments on his blog, and I may eventually expand on those arguments, or address other points, in future posts here. I intend to confine this post, however, specifically to the argument that Ryan's poorly situated to run from the House.)
For several reasons, I'm less impressed by this "nobody's won from the House in decades" argument in this particular year. For one thing, we don't have a GOP candidate with high federal executive experience this cycle — none of the three theoretically eligible GOP ex-Veeps (Quayle, Cheney, and yes, think about it, Bush-41) are plausible candidates. The two most recent GOP presidential nominees drawn from the Senate, Dole and McCain, ran awful campaigns that made everyone wonder why we couldn't find a better nominee. Rick Santorum is running on the strength of his two terms in the Senate, but he was defeated in 2006. And since John Thune's decision not to run, no sitting GOP senators have been overtly preparing for the race or even generating any buzz — and no one seems to regret that at all this year.
State governors at least have executive experience, but not at the federal level. There are vast differences between governing even a very large state and serving as POTUS, and state governors almost inevitably lack even the foreign policy experience of the lowliest Congressman, who's at least had occasion to consider and vote on foreign policy legislation. But I agree with Dafydd that there are several plausible candidates, existing or rumored, who have as strong credentials as any state governor is likely to ever have, and they're serious candidates. (They'd also nicely balance Ryan's federal legislative experience if one of them were his Veep nominee; or, I concede, vice versa.)
Nevertheless, and more importantly, I believe we are on the cusp of an electoral revolution comparable to that which the Reagan-Bush ticket accomplished in their 1980 defeat of the Carter-Mondale ticket. Certainly several sitting state governors are playing high-profile roles in dealing with their respective states' analogs, at the state level, to the federal problems being hashed out in Washington. But as a direct consequence of the 2010 off-year elections — in which the White House was not in dispute, and the GOP failed to recapture the Senate, but quite dramatically regained control of the House — the House has been where the action's been since January 2011. The Senate, by contrast, continues in near paralysis.
Up through and including the November 2012 election, the House GOP members will continue to apply essentially all of the pressure which will drive (or undo) potential compromises elsewhere. Indeed, conservatives have to depend on the House GOP members to keep the pressure up on not only Senate Dems and Obama, but on Senate Republicans.
For the 2012 election, then, more than most others, I think it makes particularly good sense to consider, and properly appreciate, the leadership Ryan has shown, and continues to show daily, from the House. You find your most effective leaders by going where the conflict is most stark and checking to see who's following whom. For this cycle, the most critical action is in the U.S. House, and in overwhelming numbers the House GOP members are following Paul Ryan's lead.
Monday, May 30, 2011
My four-legged bit of Westeros
I've been recording HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, but I only began watching yesterday. I'd already read all the books in the still-unfinished series, but it didn't occur to me until just now that I have my own "direwolf" of sorts — although officially, my dog Weiss is more of a Dyer Wolf.
Yes, she's a very friendly dog, but check out that dentition!
Has Rep. Weiner defamed Twitter & Facebook?
Prof. Althouse has an interesting post about the alleged (*cough-cough*) simultaneous hacking of the Twitter and Facebook accounts of U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner. I, for one, believe that Rep. Weiner is lying through his teeth about the "hacking." But I either fail to follow Prof. Althouse's thinking, however, or else I respectfully disagree with her about an observation she's made in updates to her post (link & ellipsis hers):
AND: If Weiner is lying about his accounts getting hacked, he could be sued by Twitter (and the other companies) for defamation.
ALSO: NBC News reports "Lewd Photo Sent Over Rep. Weiner's Hacked Twitter Account... his Twitter account was hacked." Not that Weiner makes that claim, but an outright assertion that his account was hacked. Twitter is getting slimed here. Does it deserve it?
My disagreement with her is almost certainly not over the relevant law. The specific definitions vary somewhat from state to state, and the common law of libel and slander have been tweaked some by state legislatures and even federal constitutional interpretations. Nevertheless, as a general rule, in order to be defamatory, a statement must not only be false, but must also be harmful in a particular way to particular interests. For example, section 73.001 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code defines a libel as —
a defamation expressed in written or other graphic form that tends to blacken the memory of the dead or that tends to injure a living person's reputation and thereby expose the person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or financial injury or to impeach any person's honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation or to publish the natural defects of anyone and thereby expose the person to public hatred, ridicule, or financial injury.
Similarly, section 559 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts provides:
A communication is defamatory if it tends to so harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him.
I simply don't see how what Rep. Weiner's reported to have said — even if false — would harm Twitter's or Facebook's reputation.
Twitter and Facebook should bear no responsibility — legal or even causal — if Rep. Weiner simply chose a low-security password that someone guessed. Nor should they be responsible if, for example, Rep. Weiner used the same high-security password for several accounts and his password was stolen through some wrongdoer's hacking of one of those other services (either with or without the contributing negligence of that other service).
Simply put, unless one takes the view that every unauthorized use of an account must always and necessarily be the fault of the service which hosts that account, a statement that someone's account was hacked does not necessarily imply something harmful to the service's reputation. And I respectfully submit that such would be a patently unrealistic view — even though some people might jump to that conclusion if they have not thought through the alternatives.
The law treats this as a threshold issue to be decided by the judge "as a matter of law," even though it's necessarily based on an appreciation of what does or doesn't affect one's reputation in the community. So I'm curious:
Assume that you are the judge faced with Rep. Weiner's pretrial motion to dismiss Facebook and Twitter's (hypothetical) lawsuit on grounds that, as a matter of law, his statements did not expose Facebook or Twitter to the required sort of reputational harm. What's your ruling?
Friday, May 27, 2011
"Marketers, it turns out, are just really good at giving us stories we want to steal"
I was fascinated by Jonah Lehrer's article at Wired entitled Ads Implant False Memories, the ending sentence of which I've quoted in the headline above. (Hat-tip Prof. Oren Kerr at Volokh Conspiracy.)
Follow-up bonus questions:
Trial advocates are, in some respects, another sort of "marketer," and the most effective ones are inevitably good story-tellers. Could lawyers find a way to take advantage of the phenomenon described in this article?
And if we could, would it be ethical?
Thursday, May 26, 2011
BeldarBlog's new sidebar endorsement
Some readers may recall my sidebar endorsement of Sen. John McCain after he sewed up the GOP presidential nomination in 2008:
After Sen. McCain chose Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, my improved view of the combined ticket was reflected in a different sidebar endorsement that I ran through the November election:
My new sidebar endorsement is, like the others, an unpaid, spontaneous, and independent expression of my First Amendment rights. It has not been coordinated with or sponsored by Chairman Paul Ryan or anyone else:
I assert no copyright to the words or the public-domain photo, and anyone else who wishes to urge Chairman Ryan to run is welcome to copy and republish this .jpg with my enthusiastic blessing. This endorsement implies no disrespect to any of the other existing or rumored candidates for the GOP presidential nomination.
I'm in, Mr. Ryan. Consider me a pre-charter member of the "Ryan for President 2012 Campaign."
Your party and your country need you — not just as House Budget Chair, but in the White House — and we're calling!
The inevitability of a Ryan draft
I've heard others make the argument before, but none better than Dr. Krauthammer in these lines:
[J]ust because the Republican Party lost the [congressional] special election [in New York], it doesn’t mean it is completely a lost cause for the party going into 2012. Krauthammer said the GOP can make it a winning issue. But to do that, he said, it requires Ryan running as a presidential candidate to expertly explain his policy proposal.
“People are now writing, ‘Well Ryan — the boomlet for Ryan to a candidate is over,’” he continued. “I would say exactly the opposite. You now own this. Get the one man who can explain it, argue it and actually change minds on this. You need leadership on this or otherwise the Republicans are going to sink on this.”
I'd add this: The GOP needs Ryan promoting the Path to Prosperity from the GOP presidential nominee's position because otherwise, entitlements will not be reformed. The stakes aren't merely the GOP's success in retaking the White House, nor even the GOP's broader failure or success nationally in both federal and state elections, but rather our nation's basic solvency.
The rationale for Ryan's candidacy springs directly from the election result of 2010 that returned control of the House to the GOP. And lo and behold, we have a GOP Budget Committee Chair who's a grown-up, who's doing his job — who's leading. He is the most articulate and effective policy debater of either party since Bill Clinton when he was at his very best. And in fact, we've seen Ryan stand up for himself and his ideas quite powerfully in a head-to-head, no-teleprompter debate against Obama during the infamous White House Health Care Summit in February 2010. Friends and neighbors, that's what we call dramatic foreshadowing.
Since then, Paul Ryan has become the most consequential GOP politician in the country. We recognize our leaders by the fact that they're leading and, yes, being followed. As of Wednesday's Senate vote, more than 96% of the GOP members of Congress are on record voting for the Ryan budget, the Path to Prosperity. As was frequently exclaimed among the tractor-back philosophers on the prairies of west Texas whence I sprang, "Quod erat demonstrandum!"
It's just a question of whether and when people's perspective on the presidential election catches up with that reality.
I wasn't alive in January 1952, mere weeks before the New Hampshire primaries, when Eisenhower finally revealed that he was a Republican and permitted himself to be drafted for a run at the GOP nomination. There were other formidable candidates, including Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, Gov. Earl Warren of California, and ex-Gov. Harrold Stassen of Minnesota. But Ryan's position now seems to me like I think Ike's candidacy must have seemed then: The situation has chosen the man.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Watch the media spin hard to stick to their "GOP senators bail out on Ryan" narrative
Democrats and the main pundits of the mainstream media — but I repeat myself — have been saying for weeks that there would be huge GOP defections when, as a symbolic gesture, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) put the House's budget (principally authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan) up for a vote in the Senate.
Idiots and the main pundits of the mainstream media — but I repeat myself — might think this vote is somehow meaningful, and they indeed will insist that it is meaningful, whether it is or not, because that is their agreed-upon narrative. To them, facts and events don't matter; only their interpretation.
But here's the undeniable fact about today's events: That the GOP would lose this vote was conclusively determined in November 2010 when the GOP failed to retake the Senate.
When the outcome of a vote is 100% preordained, as the outcome of this one has always been, party leaders will often decide not to "whip the vote," meaning they decide not to twist any arms of their party's legislators, and not to waste political capital. If voting with the party would put a particular legislator at risk of losing reelection, then keeping the seat becomes more important than a symbolic show of unity.
Democrats and the main pundits of the mainstream media all understood this as recently as the House vote on Obamacare, in which then-Speaker Pelosi discreetly "released" several House Democrats to vote against it: No one has ever doubted San Fran Nan's ability to count noses and votes, and she and her crew knew exactly how many of their majority they could cut slack for without it becoming a close result. No one in the press or the punditocracy declared that the Dems had suffered some enormous schism. But now when Senate Minority Leader McConnell does the exact same thing, they manage to forget that rationale entirely. Thus, for example, a WaPo political blog post that treats a one-vote difference between the number of House and Senate GOP defectors as a sudden and ominous development for the GOP:
The budget plan, which was drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and which passed the House in April with the support of all but four Republicans, was rejected by the Senate Wednesday on a 40-to-57 vote.
As was the case in the House vote, all Democrats present in the Senate voted against the measure; they were joined by five Republicans, a sign of the wariness with which some Republicans have come to view the budget plan, particularly members who may face tough reelection bids in 2012.
The Republicans voting against the plan Wednesday were moderate Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), as well as conservative freshman Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), who argued that the plan did not go far enough in cutting spending.
Back in November 2010, even when they were flush with the glow from the GOP's landmark victory in re-taking the House, if you had asked most Republican strategists the likelihood that by late May 2011, all but nine of the 288-or-so Republicans in Congress (i.e., more than 96%) would go on record voting for a serious, grown-up, transformative, but therefore politically risky budget — one that actually addresses the explosive growth in entitlements — they'd have laughed at you. "Maybe the young guns and the freshmen Tea Party products might go out on that limb," they'd have said, "but not practically the whole House and Senate GOP." But if you had somehow persuaded them to take you seriously, then they probably also would have been able to predict at least four of the GOP senators who wouldn't go along.
Sens. Snowe and and Collins from Maine and Sen. Brown from Massachusetts have purple constituencies. Their voting with the Senate Dems today surprised absolutely no one in the Senate, and shouldn't surprise you either. Sen. Murkowski, of course, famously couldn't win her home-state GOP primary; her defection is no surprise either.
And the Paul family, father and son, together represent a quarter of the GOP's House defections and a fifth of the Senate's — both of them because they think the Ryan budget doesn't go far enough. They obviously share a bull-headedness gene, and I wish they would figure out that voting with the Democrats is almost never, ever a useful way to demonstrate one's adherence to conservative principles. Obviously, however, if you want an accurate head-count of who wants real budget cuts and spending reforms, you subtract both Paul votes from the anti-Ryan headcount and add each to the enormous majority of GOP senators and representatives (with those two, over 97%) who've gone on record voting for Chairman Ryan's Path to Prosperity.
I'm altogether pleased with this vote. And of course, there was this other event in the Senate today that you will tend not to see emphasized in headlines, that you will instead tend to see downplayed or left entirely unexplained, and that you will probably tend to see mentioned "below the fold" — if at all — by the mainstream media (boldface mine):
Immediately after the vote on the Ryan budget, the Senate unanimously rejected President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal. The Obama budget did not secure the support of a single lawmaker, with all 97 senators present voting “no.”
I humbly submit that any news report which contains that fact ought to be headlined something like, "Lightworker drops to zero-wattage output."
Again, as a matter of substance, this is no surprise: The Obama budget was dead on arrival. But you're lookin' for symbolism? The Senate, under exclusively Democratic leadership and almost exclusively with a Democratic POTUS, has now gone 755 days without approving a budget for a full fiscal year — and before we're done, it will probably have gone longer without approving a budget than the entire Kennedy administration lasted. And now not a single U.S. Senator of either party will cast even a symbolic vote in favor of Obama's budget, and yet there is no Democratic alternative at all.
So indeed, one party, in frantic fear of further electoral backlash in November 2012, is backpedaling furiously from its conduct between 2009-2010 and now. (I expect that any day now, it will be revealed that it was false intelligence from the CIA that lured all those Democrats into voting for the 2009 "stimulus" — undoubtedly false intelligence whose seeds were planted by Dick Cheney, perhaps in collaboration with Osama bin Laden, who's conveniently unable to deny anything anymore.)
The other party is actually hanging pretty tough for the most part, and pretty much on track. Oh, there's a whole lot more to be done: The Dems' fiscal recklessness, and what it's doing to our economy and our future, will be the key issue on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. We need to wrap that issue around Obama's and the Dems' necks on every one of the 531 days until then.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
God save the Queen
This is painfully funny — at "life imitating 'Saturday Night Live'" levels:
I suppose we should be grateful that Obama didn't confront the Brits over their bizarre rudeness in interrupting his speech with that instrumental version of "My Country 'Tis of Thee."
Gutsy toast, though.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Beldar still opposes filibusters of judicial nominees by either party
Were I a U.S. senator, I would have voted against, and spoken out in bitter and profound opposition to, the confirmation of Berkeley Law Prof. Goodwin Liu to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
I nevertheless join my good friend Hugh Hewitt, for essentially the same reasons he states, and that I've blogged about before: We both regret the "new norm" under which GOP senators — in explicit payback for past and vastly more egregious abuses by Dems — have filibustered a judicial nominee to prevent the Senate from giving an up or down vote as part of its constitutional "advice and consent" responsibilities.
I'm not angry at my home-state senator, John Cornyn, for going along with Minority Leader McConnell on this. (Sen. Hutchison is shown as "not voting," but I haven't looked into why.) I certainly would have encouraged, and participated actively in, using the Senate debate to express opposition to this nomination, because it's one that only a fraction of the American people will ever focus upon either way, and that's a damned shame: A shockingly bad nominee like Prof. Liu ought be hung around Obama's neck for November 2012 to illustrate the likely consequences to the federal bench of returning Obama to office.
Yes, giving someone like Prof. Liu life tenure on a federal appellate bench is a very stiff price to pay to vindicate this principle. But it's the price built into the constitutional system: Elections have consequences. So after very thorough debate, I would ultimately have voted for cloture were I in Sen. Hutchison's or Sen. Cornyn's shoes. The Senate's obligation is to serve the Constitution and, through it, the senators' constituents (collectively, "We the People") — and that remains true even when the urge, and the practical political need, is to dish out some pay-back.
I therefore also agree with Hugh that "the senior members of [both parties in] the Senate ought to meet to consider a formal rule change that will return the body to its long-established practice of giving all judicial nominees who emerge with a recommendation of confirmation from the Judiciary Committee an up-or-down vote." Do your damn jobs, folks.
Friday, May 20, 2011
To Nato we sail, across a wide sea, to thank Nato's leaders (but kill not Kadafi!)
After reading Jake Tapper's report (h/t Instapundit) of the Obama Adminstration's position on its compliance (or non-) with the War Powers Resolution with respect to the kinetic non-war in Libya — as announced today in a late-Friday-afternoon news-dump — I should very much like to know:
Exactly where is this nation called "Nato"? Because I would like to visit its leaders to thank them for taking over the responsibility for leading this coalition. Do the Natonians permit Americans to visit?
I don't think the War Powers Resolution is constitutional. But as a legal argument, if Tapper's summary is correct and the quotes he includes are accurate and in context, then this attempted side-step by Obama is beyond pathetic, to the point of being insulting.
I'm looking for a link to the letter itself, and might have more to say after reading it in full.
UPDATE (Fri May 20 @ 10:55pm): What Tapper describes sounds like a variation on an ancient legal doctrine: "De minimis non curat lex," meaning "the law does not concern itself with trifles." I don't know exactly what U.S. forces are still involved, but they are concededly significant enough to include ships and helos for "search and rescue operations," "aircraft that have assisted in the suppression and destruction of air defenses," and "unmanned aerial vehicles."
In other words, those assets all by themselves exceed the projectable military capabilities of almost every other nation on earth. De minimis, uh-huh. So I want to see the letter in full-text, to see if anyone from the Administration had the temerity to use that little bit of Latin to describe our non-war war.
UPDATE (Sat May 21 @ 12:55am): Mm-kay, here's the letter. It mentions the War Powers Resolution not at all by name, and references it only indirectly (and that with plausible deniability) in the language about "our on-going consultations." That doesn't matter; the timing makes self-evident that this is intended to address those issues. Friday was the 60th day after Obama triggered the Resolution by "introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances." Since Congress hasn't given its blessing, Friday therefore was the day under 50 U.S.C. § 1544(b) by which Obama had to "terminate any [such] use of United States Armed Forces."
But to call this a "legal argument" would be far too generous. To call it a "credible excuse" would be a fantasy. This letter is worse than "the dog ate my homework." My paraphrase:
We've sorta kinda un-introduced those armed forces, mostly, because, see, they aren't really as involved, y'know? I mean they're still armed and everything. But you know, they're not, umm, leading or anything like they were at first. Follow? And okay, so "armed" yes, but "forces"? They aren't trying to be very forceful. We've talked about that. We've cut way back on that. Way back. Really. Back. Not very forceful, even though armed, yes. I mean, they could be forceful if I told them to — you saw what I did with those SEALs, yeah? you see that? — but seriously, I've told them: Not very forceful. Mostly not.
Yeah, I thought you'd agree, and, umm, so never mind that the Resolution says by Friday the president "shall terminate any use of United States Armed Forces," because you see, these really aren't any-any forces to speak of, you know — kinda like Roman Polanski didn't really commit rape-rape? It's just some planes and some ships and some junk, really, and — What? Well, yeah, there are some helicopters too, but most of the time they just stay on the boat and the pilots are down having chow and standing by. They have good chow on those Navy boats, I see to that, but that does not mean we're at war in Libya. That's a false choice, between good chow and war. Let me be clear about that.
And you know, that word "shall," that word sometimes really means "maybe." Like if I say to you, I go, "Shall we go to the park?" And then, like, you go, "Naw, I dun wanna." Then that's totally okay and we don't have to go! So it's really like, okay, well, "maybe" we should have terminated by now. Maybe. May. Be. And you know they really are "terminated," kinda — well not "them" but the missions, I mean. Mostly anyway. Unless like a plane crashes or we need to blow up some SAM sites and stuff. I can't control that. You know I can't control that, 'cause I did not put those SAM sites there.
Mostly we just talk on the phone and the radio a lot, really, and we wave at the British and the French and we go, like, "Hey dudes from Natonia, thumb's up dudes!" Seriously! I swear! Then they go blow stuff up and we go, like, "Yay! WTG dogs!" And they go, like, "Yeah! We're from Natonia, and we baaaad."
Oh, but hey, while we're talking about this, um, would you, like, sign this permission slip anyway for me? 'Cause I mean, it's no biggy, but like, I would really just want it for, like, y'know ... back-up? If there were ever some kind of impeachment thingy? Mm'kay, thx, bye!
Yes, Obama is now urging Congress to go ahead and give him permission for this not-war that the War Powers Resolution — if there is one, which we're not quite admitting there might be, but just, if there were, y'know, and if it were constitutional, which we're not denying or admitting today since we're not admitting that one exists — otherwise made illegal effective at the end of Friday.
UPDATE (Sat May 21 @ 1:55pm): I'm reprinting here (without block-quoting it) a comment I left on Patterico's blog on a post by his contributor Aaron Worthing, who's been following the whole War Powers issue diligently and thoughtfully (although I respectfully disagree with Aaron's ultimate conclusions in some important respects that aren't pertinent today):
The War Powers Resolution can be complied with even without ever saying its name. Obama’s letter from yesterday afternoon, for example, nowhere references 50 U.S.C. §§ 1541-1548, but it’s no coincidence that the letter was sent on the same day that section 1544(b)’s 60-day period expired. I believe that in this respect, that letter is fairly typical of what previous administrations have done while attempting to comply without admitting or implying any need to comply.
Obama’s March 21 letter to Congress did include a specific reference to the Resolution at its very end, but linked to an assertion of presidential authority:
For these purposes, I have directed these actions, which are in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.
I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution. I appreciate the support of the Congress in this action.
“Consistent with” is a carefully chosen qualifier, intended to acknowledge the Resolution without implying or conceding its binding authority. I have no particular fault to find with that, and prefer its honesty to the kabuki show of pretending the Resolution isn’t on the books.
Yesterday’s letter, though, isn’t actually even in compliance with anything in the Resolution. Rather, it’s a pathetic argument that might excuse non-compliance, and it includes (finally) a plea for Congress to give retroactive blessing.
In general, I’m content for the constitutionality of the Resolution to remain a matter of dispute, of continuing to-and-fro, push and push-back, between congressional and administrative branches without involving the judiciary. There are very good reasons why this hasn’t been litigated, and indeed, the whole system of checks and balances depends (counter-intuitively but undeniably) on some of its vague presumptions that never get tested. (To paraphrase Stalin’s comment about the Pope, “How many divisions does the Supreme Court command?”)
Obama could have mounted a serious, sustained, but quiet effort through bipartisan proxies in Congress to get a resolution passed that would bless what’s been done so far well before the 60-day deadline expired. He’s only doing that just now. Friends and neighbors, that delay is legal malpractice on behalf of those advising and representing the Executive. It may not turn out to be consequential malpractice — Obama may still get his retroactive blessing, which would moot the controversy as a practical matter — but it’s stumbling into a constitutional showdown, one that presents a relatively bad set of facts (from the Executive’s point of view) from which to establish a binding, precedential resolution of the Resolution’s constitutionality. And it’s inexcusable because the Administration damn well knew in March that this wasn’t going to be done by May 20.
UPDATE (Sat May 21 @ 7:15pm): I don't want to get into a protracted discussion on this post (or in its comments) about the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution. However, the expiration of this deadline is essentially certain to cause someone, somewhere, to jump into federal court asking for an injunction.
I am 100% certain that when that happens, there will be very technical, very tedious, and very fundamental preliminary motions. There will be challenges to standing — the right to bring suit by a particular person or entity, and/or the capacity in which that's being done. There will be challenges as to ripeness — whether this is something that has to be decided now at all, much less on an emergency injunction basis. And most of all, there will be challenges to justiciability — whether this is even the kind of dispute that the federal courts are in business to be deciding, and in particular whether this is the sort of "political question" that the federal courts are supposed to refuse to get involved in.
So as you're imagining the whole range of potential scenarios that could unfold from this — to the continuing chagrin of Barack Obama, progressive superhero who's now committed a set of unforced, imbecilic, spectacularly ironic mistakes on Libya — consider this one, because it might well happen:
Congress: Hey SCOTUS, make him stop it! Make him follow the law we passed to tell him how to do his Commander-in-Chief gig! Order those ships to come home and those planes to stop flying right now!
POTUS: No, no, SCOTUS, that's my gig alone, and neither you nor Congress can tell me how to do it.
SCOTUS: We're just not going to talk about this subject. Go away.
[Courthouse door slams closed; POTUS and Congress trudge away, grumbling and snarling at one another. Exeunt all.]
I actually think that's the single most likely scenario, if it were pressed that far by the appropriate principals — who themselves may be precisely the ones who refuse to seek judicial involvement, because Congress has an interest in leaving this entirely unresolved, too.
UPDATE (Sun May 22 @ 8:15pm): I'm flattered that this post has been linked by both Instapundit and Ace, among others (and I'm no less grateful for links from blogs that lack the traffic of those two). Ace is wrong in guessing that my concerns about the constitutionality of the Resolution are limited to "overbreadth" arguments, but again, I really don't want to hash out that question in this post. It's a subject that's been debated, without closure, for literally my entire adult life — and I'm 53. (In assuming that the Resolution gives the POTUS 60 days plus an additional 30 days, I believe, for reasons I've explained in comments on Patterico's blog here and here, that Ace has simply misread the Resolution.)
However, it's worth mentioning that the Obama Administration's emphasis on the involvement of NATO allies in some sort of leadership role, and on the U.N. Security Council's blessing, may be explained by, or at least related to, 50 U.S.C. § 1547(b), which reads:
Nothing in [the War Powers Resolution] shall be construed to require any further specific statutory authorization to permit members of United States Armed Forces to participate jointly with members of the armed forces of one or more foreign countries in the headquarters operations of high-level military commands which were established prior to November 7, 1973, and pursuant to the United Nations Charter or any treaty ratified by the United States prior to such date.
If Obama plans to mount a defense for his non-compliance with the Resolution based on section 1547(b), though, that's a very stupid plan.
NATO certainly qualifies as a "high-level military command," and it was established prior to November 7, 1973, by a treaty ratified by the U.S. before then. But Section 1547(b) only means the POTUS doesn't need Congressional approval under the Resolution merely for "participat[ing] jointly" with NATO members in NATO's "headquarters operations." So boots on the ground in Brussels are okay, even if those Natonians get to arguing and tussling there at NATO headquarters; the War Powers Resolution didn't require the U.S. to pull out of NATO, in other words. There's no way, however, that dispatching a U.S. Navy F/A-18 to blow up a SAM site in Libya during a civil war there amounts to participation in NATO "headquarters operations."
Nor does section 1547(b) mean all U.N.-blessed action is okay. Rather, the reference to the U.N. is simply to make clear that the "participa[tion]" in "headquarters operations of high-level military commands" may include such high-level military commands as were established pursuant to the U.N. Charter prior to November 7, 1973, instead of pursuant to a prior treaty ratified by the U.S. (I'm thinking that was intended as a carve-out for some of the existing peace-keeping operations when the Resolution was passed, but I haven't checked the historical context.) It certainly can't include anything the U.N., much less just the U.N. Security Council, has done since 1973, however.
One would have to be a shockingly incompetent lawyer to claim that this section exempts what Obama's doing from War Powers Resolution coverage. I'm very much afraid, however, that this administration includes some shockingly incompetent lawyers.
Petty POTUS tilts against Israel
Regarding President Obama's speech at the State Department yesterday regarding the Middle East and North Africa:
Now, already, we’ve done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts. After years of war in Iraq, we’ve removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there. In Afghanistan, we’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue a transition to Afghan lead. And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader, Osama bin Laden.
I have no problem at all with the final sentence in that paragraph. I have no problem at all with Obama taking fair credit for authorizing the mission to kill bin Laden, and I commend him in particular for accepting the greater risk to our forces and our national interests from sending in the SEALs, instead of doing nothing or relying on a JDAM or cruise missile. (He managed to take advantage of hindsight to avoid repeating Bill Clinton's now-obvious mistakes, in other words, and for that I am glad.) It was certainly an event worth including in any look back at the last ten years. And it's still topical and fresh, so I don't even mind that Obama then goes on for another two paragraphs just about bin Laden.
But only a petulant jerk would ignore the fact that American and British forces defeated Saddam's army and deposed his regime in three weeks. Or the fact that coalition forces continue to come home from Iraq, on a timetable negotiated by Bush-43 and the Iraqis, precisely because they've generally succeeded in their multi-year counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism missions in Iraq. And between 9/11/01 and year-end, American special forces working with Afghan allies deposed the Taliban's regime, driving it from power into an exile (from which it continues to fight, but without the same ability it had to provide safe haven for bin Laden, al Qaeda, and others who'd export international terrorism). Multiple elections have been held in both countries — elections made possible only by the spilled blood of coalition forces fighting alongside natives committed to their countries' freedom too.
Those weren't just George W. Bush's accomplishments, no more than killing bin Laden was solely Barack Obama's accomplishment. They were America's accomplishments. But in his pique, his reflexive spite for his predecessor, Obama simply has to paint the things that America accomplished during Bush's presidency in bleak terms if he mentions them at all. Deposing a monster just as evil and cruel as bin Laden, but who as a head of state killed hundreds of thousands more people than bin Laden did, becomes merely "years of war in Iraq"; the monster's name is not even mentioned.
Isn't Obama's one-sentence write-off of everything done in Iraq before he took office just exactly what a politician might say if Saddam had beaten us, instead of Saddam ending up swinging at the end of a rope?
John Kennedy didn't treat Eisenhower like that. Nixon didn't treat Johnson like that, and Bill Clinton didn't treat Bush-41 like that. But much more importantly, to my knowledge, no American president has been so dismissive of the accomplishments on the field of battle of its armed forces from before he became Commander in Chief. Indeed, a key reason why John Kerry didn't ever occupy that position was precisely because upon his return from Vietnam, he'd done exactly that — disparaging our warriors — even while basking in glory for having been one of them. I concede that ignoring their accomplishments is better than telling lies that paint them as war criminals. But it's still wrong, ungracious, unpresidential.
I cannot like this man. I cannot re-kindle a liking for him. I would not like to have dinner with him or shake his hand. And although I would shake his hand if it were offered, or stand upon his entrance to a room I was in, I'd do that from respect for his office and not for the man who presently holds it.
He is petty, about little things and big things both. Were we ever to meet, I could no longer find it in myself to be magnanimous to him.
Many of the following paragraphs, in which Obama discusses what's been sometimes called "the Arab Spring," are entirely satisfactory to me. As many, many pundits of both the left and right have noted, they read very much like many speeches George W. Bush gave regarding the spread of democracy in the region. But then, suddenly — jarringly — everything once again has to be all about Obama:
But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.
As is said on the prairies of West Texas whence I sprang: "Do whut now?"
What part of deposing the Taliban's or Saddam's national governments, or the aftermaths of those events in Afghanistan and Iraq, was "accepting the world as it is in the region"? What decades is he talking about — 1820-1850?
Why does he have to pretend that he's the first person to have said these same things? Why does he have to pretend that what he's saying in this speech about America encouraging democracy is some big policy change — when actually all that's changed is that he's no longer criticizing Dubya's rhetoric but parroting it?
When he promised an additional $2 billion in loan guarantees and debt forgiveness to Egypt, I wanted to hear Obama also say "if its government doesn't include elements of the Muslim Brotherhood or other organizations with a history of supporting violence and international terrorism."
Nothing like that was said.
But then to Israel and the Palestinians:
For over two years, my administration has worked with the parties and the international community to end this conflict, building on decades of work by previous administrations. Yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks. The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on and on and on, and sees nothing but stalemate. Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward now.
Since Truman, American presidents, and the diplomats who serve at their pleasure, have displayed this sort of parallelism, this drawing of comparisons in a way that presumes and implies comparability and even equivalence.
It's time to stop that nonsense. The thieves, cut-throats, and thugs who purport to speak for the Palestinians aren't interested in taking "yes" for an answer from the Israelis. Only the Palestinian leaders are at fault for the fact that they do not already have a viable independent state. It was on the table for them to take, and Arafat walked away from it; his successors have never even seriously tried to get back to that point, preferring instead to squabble, snipe (figuratively and literally), and wallow in victimhood and violence. And it's not only dishonest to pretend that they and Israeli leaders are equally to blame for this state of affairs, it's very bad diplomacy. There are indeed disputes in which only one side is at fault, and however this one began, that's what this one has been for a long, long time.
But Obama doubles down:
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
So as soon as Israel rolls over completely and throws away all of its most valuable bargaining chips for nothing in return, then we'll all have a "basis for negotiations."
If you think I'm misinterpreting the sequencing here, Obama will correct you:
These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Territory is real. Security is flexible and temporary, and depends on the continued good faith of both sides. Why would Israel give up something real for something flexible and temporary? How could Obama possibly think they're that foolish?
This amounts to "1967 borders today, guys, and then we'll all return next week to decide precisely how badly you Israelis will fare on Jerusalem and the 'Palestinian right of return.'" I wonder whether Obama actually ever did any actual negotiation as a lawyer/community organizer. I've never had a negotiation in which I've persuaded one side that it ought agree today to a deal that exposes it to increased depredation by its opponents just so it can come back to the bargaining table later to arrange its further capitulation on its top "hot-button" issues.
Why should we ever think this will ever possibly happen? Obama answers:
I recognize how hard this will be. Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past. We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones. That father said, “I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.” We see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza. “I have the right to feel angry,” he said. “So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate. Let us hope,” he said, “for tomorrow.”
More shameful drawing of moral equivalents between things that are not at all morally equivalent.
Israel does not try to target little boys and girls, ever. Its opponents do, always. When Palestinian children are killed in collateral damage from Israeli responses to rockets and bombs, Israelis mourn and resolve to try harder to limit collateral casualties in the future. When Israeli children are killed in intentional damage from Palestinian suicide bombers (or rockets or mortars, both highly indiscriminate), Palestinians celebrate and resolve to kill more innocents the next time.
Yes, hate is caustic, but it's a whole lot more justified when directed toward deliberate murderers. And forgiveness is divine, but forgiveness is not absolution from responsibility. Whether they hate or forgive, both these fathers should hold responsible the Palestinian leaders who perpetuate this system and feed off these deaths.
Why does an American president treat these things as if they're the same? How does that lie advance the peace process?
Obama did not repeat this particular position on sequencing of negotiations, the 1967 borders, or the "right of return" in his joint press conference today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But neither did Obama retract the new position, and indeed its timing was obviously intended to present the Israelis with a fait accompli.
That's our President Gutsy.
Nevertheless, today Bibi politely but firmly responded to what Obama said yesterday, and he categorically rejected the notion of either a return to 1967 borders or the return of Palestinian refugees into Israel (as opposed to a proposed Palestinian state). I accord him high marks for self-restraint and statesmanship, because nowhere in his remarks did Netanyahu slip and use the Hebrew word "meshuga" (or its Yiddish cousin, perhaps better known here in the U.S., "meshugana").
UPDATE (Sat May 21 @ 3:10pm): Reading about Obama's speech at the State Department from Thursday, I've found a very, very wide range of interpretations about what Obama said and what it means. They range from "this is no more than business as usual, consistent with past U.S. policy," to "the sky is falling."
I am taking Obama exactly at his word, and giving him and his administration every benefit of every doubt. I'm not accusing him, for example, of already breaching promises made by the United States to Israel regarding borders. I'm giving Obama full credit for the broadest, and most Israel-friendly interpretation of, the phrase "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps" in order to keep that consistent with previous proposals that have involved some sort of land-for-peace deal. I'm not assuming that Obama is committing the U.S. to support only a return to precisely the 1948 truce lines; if you read his speech that way, then this is an incredibly perfidious betrayal of Israel, not just a "tilt."
Likewise, I'm not jumping to conclusions from such things as his reference to a "contiguous" Palestinian state, which could be read to mean a corridor between the West Bank and Gaza that bifurcates Israel entirely (in the manner Germany was split by the Danzig Corridor after WW1).
For an example of an extremely critical interpretation, read Caroline Glick's analysis; I respectfully disagree with her in many respects, and with Power Line's Scott Johnson, who characterizes Glick's commentary as "shrewd." I'd say it's frankly alarmist, albeit with some considerable justification, and I fault Ms. Glick in particular for not making exactly clear which parts of her analysis are based on inference rather than actual quotes from the speech.
But there is no possible interpretation of Obama's speech which ignores its commitment to borders now, Jerusalem/return later. And that itself is a significant and extremely unfortunate tilt.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Spring supper on a restaurant patio in southwest Houston
I am, for the most part, a creature of habit.
But my neighborhood and its environs are multi-cultural, and I live on a short residential street tucked in amongst Houstonians of very diverse races, languages, ethnicities, and national origins. I've lived here almost ten years now, and that suits me fine.
Occasionally, on a whim, I will set off, hungry, along one or another of Houston's many commercial streets almost at random. I tend to look for places I've never been before, nor heard or read of, but that seem to have been in business a good while.
Tonight I landed at a restaurant that bills itself as "Mex-Mex," in contrast to "Tex-Mex." I sat outside on the patio to enjoy a breezy afternoon in Houston's too-short Spring. It wasn't yet quite 5:00 p.m. and Friday's not until tomorrow, but nevertheless a frozen margarita was involved. Maybe two.
The waiter gave me a menu, but I handed it back and asked him to bring me whatever the restaurant is most proud of today. It was a pork loin slow-cooked in a rich tomatillo salza verde — bone in, but it melted from the bone at the touch of my fork. It was first-rate.
While waiting for and then eating my meal, I watched a young Hispanic family at the next table — husband and wife, plus two children, the daughter in perhaps the seventh grade and a son in perhaps the fourth or fifth. The entire family was bilingual in Spanish and English (my Spanish is poor but occasionally serviceable if I conceal my embarrassment) and moved without pause between each, with some Spanglish in-between. The two children were adorable and impeccably behaved. The pappa wore bermuda shorts that Ann Althouse might find inappropriate, but it was clear that his most important agenda item for this day was his supper out with his familia, and from the reaction of the wait-staff and restaurant owner and their respectful deference to the pappa, I'm confident they're regular customers.
The waiter brought me the dessert tray. After a bit of banter, I rationalized that I was entitled to dessert because I hadn't eaten much of the rice, I'd had no appetizer (unless one counts a few tortilla chips, which the rules say must not be counted), and I'd had no lunch today (and will have no late meal either). So I ordered coffee and something sweet and yummy that I haven't had before and don't know what to call.
I had almost finished my coffee when the waiter brought the dessert tray to the next table. "I'll have one of each!" declared the young man, very seriously. Because I'd (jokingly!) said exactly the same thing 10 minutes earlier when presented with the same tray, I practically doubled over laughing, as did the over-hearing patrons at the nearest three or four tables. The youngster ended up choosing an ambitious chocolate concoction that was roughly the volume of an adult-league soccer ball, but he shared it with his sister and his parents.
After I'd paid, I paused at that table on my way out. In mixed Spanish and English, I told the dad that he was obviously a very lucky man. "Con su permiso?" I asked before addressing his wife, and he nodded and smiled. "Your children are beautiful, and well-behaved, and so smart!" I said to her. This produced four smiles, two of them encrusted in large chocolate crumbs.
That scene, or one indistinguishable from it in all important regards, could have been seen at hundreds of restaurants tonight all throughout Houston, and all of Texas, and much of the U.S. I don't tell this anecdote to deny, or even minimize, the economic, ethnic, racial, or language hurdles that remain, nor to paint myself or my city as part of an optimal post-modern melting pot in the best of all possible worlds.
But I do love my city, and my state, and my country all the more for evenings like this one, and I'm glad to be reminded, again, that most self-isolation is self-imposed, self-destructive, and capable of self-resolution upon even casual, respectful contact.
I found the good meal I was looking for, but I'll digest it with the good cheer that comes from connecting, even briefly but with sincerity, with neighbors whose names I don't know, but whose dreams I understand and share. America!
Ryan's silver lining in l'affaire de l'explosion Gingrich
John Hinderaker at Power Line has posted an interesting analysis by an unidentified reader on the subject of Ryan versus Gingrich. I'm not assuming that Mr. Hinderaker thereby necessarily agrees with everything (or even anything) his reader has written, but among his reader's most provocative assertions was this initial one:
The Ryan budget represents, in part, a political power play by its author. Ryan understands that his plan has no chance of becoming law this year or next. His goal is to shape the budget debate and, if possible, dictate the Republican position in that debate. I have it on very good authority that Ryan specifically intended through his budget proposal to constrain the eventual Republican presidential nominee on the core issues that his plan raises.
If I understand this correctly, it amounts to a grave charge that Paul Ryan is mounting a well-conceived, practical, and sustained effort to be, as the chair of the House Budget Committee, a national leader in passing the House budget into law as soon as that can be accomplished. If true, this seems to me a very desirable feature, not a bug. I'm unconcerned and, instead, favorably impressed by these accusations of competency and effectiveness. Is there something not to like about those qualities, or Chairman Ryan's demonstration of them?
Mr. Hinderaker's reader goes on:
[F]rom the perspective of a legitimate contender for the Republican presidential nomination[,] ... Ryan's power play seems unwelcome. A rational candidate would always want the maximum freedom to stake out policy positions. And he certainly would not want to come under pressure a year and a half before the election to take a potentially unpopular position on Medicare reform.
Rational (in the short run) and gutless, perhaps.
Friends and neighbors, we can't kick the can down the road to some time past the 2012 presidential election before we come to grips with the entitlement programs that most imminently threaten our national solvency. We can't put the showdown off until some future election.To win the 2012 election, to re-take the White House and re-take the Senate with a decent majority, we must —
- hold Obama and his party accountable for their dismal economic record since January 2009;
- prove that the GOP has a rational, detailed, and credible plan to fix things (a "path to prosperity"), even though it (like any such plan) must contain hard and unpopular choices that the Dems will relentlessly (and transparently) demagogue regardless of their substance; and
- vividly confirm that Obama and his party blocked the GOP plan even though they have nothing to offer but more of what we've seen since January 2009: the same old tax-spend-and-regulate, albeit on a scale that would have staggered even Lyndon Johnson or Franklin Roosevelt.
For all that to happen, it is absolutely essential that long before November 2012, and certainly by the end of the GOP primaries, the GOP's congressmen, senators, and presidential candidate all speak with one voice on the federal budget. Whether Ryan's that presidential candidate (as I'd like to see) or not, because of the House vote, it's already essentially certain that — perhaps with GOP senators' tweaks and improvements — the Path to Prosperity will be the substance of what that one voice needs to be saying.
In law, there's a concept called "ready, willing, and able." Sometimes one side to a proposal or a contract will demand that the other demonstrate that it can actually perform in accordance with its representations. To satisfy that demand, the other side demonstrates that it stands ready, willing, and able.
So simply put, unless and until someone on the GOP side comes up with improvements to the House plan or something to replace it outright, the GOP needs to make the strongest possible showing that before the November 2012 election, the GOP, as a party, stood ready, willing, and able to pass the House budget and send it to Obama. To the credit of Chairman Ryan, Speaker Boehner, and nearly the entire House GOP, the House has already done that with a message-sending record vote in which all but four GOP representatives voted for the Ryan plan.
It was already improbable, but the recent collapse of the Gang of Six makes it nearly certain that Senate isn't up to independently replicating or superseding Chairman Ryan's and the House GOP's work. I hope that some GOP senators may suggest useful improvements or modifications to the Path, and I'm certainly not ruling out that possibility. (Nor are Chairman Ryan, Speaker Boehner, and the House GOP.) But the election results from 2010, plus the four-year presidential election cycle, effectively dictated the relative potential contributions of the House and Senate GOP contingents for the leadup to the 2012 election.
The 2010 election also put the resulting GOP Chairman of the House Budget Committee into position as the House's key member on the 2012 election's key issues — and Chairman Ryan is performing appropriately, I'd even say superlatively, from that position.
Now we must put every Democrat in the Senate on record on cloture votes — repeatedly — on not only the House budget and any proposed improvements to it, but also as many other spending votes as possible. And it's entirely likely that we'll have several more opportunities for that: In addition to whole debt ceiling issue, we're likely to have several more continuing resolution struggles while the Senate remains deadlocked, all the way through Tuesday, November 6, 2012, on any comprehensive budget for FY2012 (much less FY2013, which begins on October 1, 2012).
So I respectfully but emphatically disagree with Mr. Hinderaker's reader: It's entirely rational to expect serious GOP presidential contenders to start taking definitive positions on entitlement reforms now, early enough in the primary process for it to matter. If any rational candidate has an equally detailed budget he or she wants to offer up in lieu of the Path to Prosperity that the House is now committed to, then great — just lay it out there, take the same risks that Chairman Ryan, Speaker Boehner, and the House Republicans have, and act like a grown-up who's deserving of the public's respect.
But Mr. Gingrich laid out neither improvements nor credible alternatives. He didn't contribute to solving any problems, he just tried to sprint in the opposite direction from Chairman Ryan because he (Mr. Gingrich) was afraid that taking a stand would make him politically radioactive. To clean up a bawdy Texas idiom, Mr. Gingrich stomped on his own genitals in the process, and then sent his flak out to proclaim, "Oh, but look — through the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia! — at how surpassingly fine and big those genitals are!" Brave Sir Newt, ex-history professor and author who now demands script approval and re-write privileges from history. Real life doesn't offer the same opportunities to "revise and extend remarks" that the House or Senate traditionally, and by unanimous consent, permit their members to use to massage the Congressional Record.
I'm not saying Mr. Gingrich is into, or even close to, John Edwards territory yet in terms of self petard-hoisting, but I can't see how he salvages his campaign. Who's going to write this guy a campaign check now? Only those who also bet on 90-to-1 longshots at the horse tracks, methinks.
Apart from any remaining insinuation that there's something wrong with Chairman Ryan doing his job in pushing for the House budget, I do agree with Mr. Hinderaker's reader's observations in his or her penultimate paragraph, and in part with the observations in his or her concluding paragraph (link and ellipsis in original):
Where do things stand now, In light of the well-deserved backlash? Just about where Ryan wants them to stand, I believe. As the estimable policy star Yuval Levin, one of Ryan's biggest cheerleaders, put it yesterday, "Whatever else may be said about this week's Gingrich contortions, one thing is clear: Paul Ryan and the House Republican budget have the strong support of an exceptionally broad array of conservatives — from the DC establishment to the talk radio world to the grass roots and the Tea Party.... All contenders for the Republican nomination should take note."
They should, indeed. But those contenders with a serious chance of facing the full electorate, not just a broad array of conservatives, should proceed with caution. It was Gingrich's rush of blood to the head, not his instinctive understanding of the risks associated with unequivocal support for the Ryan budget, that landed him in so much trouble.
This pre-primary season is turning out to be — appropriately! — the Season of Political Land Mines. I am grudgingly grateful to Donald Trump for throwing himself on the Birther landmine and thereby simultaneously removing both the single most ridiculous issue and candidate from the GOP fold.
Mr. Gingrich's explosive misstep, by contrast, didn't spare the rest of his party from collateral damage, but rather inflicted it in non-trivial amounts, and on an issue of surpassing importance. And Mr. Gingrich has no legitimate excuse for such clumsy fratricide; if he wanted to remain gutless on entitlements reform for some further weeks or even months, he ought to have had the political skills and sense to simply remain vague. I agree that Mr. Gingrich was rash, but I disagree that other candidates ought to consider emulating Mr. Gingrich's substantive gutlessness, whether rashly or not.
Ultimately, however, I agree that the silver lining in l'affaire de l'explosion Gingrich is indeed that it's helping focus the party on, and unite the party behind, the Path to Prosperity. That makes all the more compelling the potential — albeit still entirely hypothetical — presidential candidacy of the Grand Old Party's best spokesman on the Path. With no implied disrespect to Speaker Boehner, I agree with Yuval Levin that Chairman Ryan is increasingly revealing himself to be the GOP's most consequential and even indispensable national leader.
Beldar's suggested question for the next GOP presidential debate
Q: In 2008, Barack Obama publicly broke his repeated promises to abide by campaign finance limits that would have accompanied federal financing of his general election campaign.
Instead, Obama raised a substantial multiple of the sums John McCain received — many hundreds of millions of dollars more than McCain had available to spend — when McCain honored his own promise to abide by the limits and restricted himself to federal general election funding.
May I have a show of hands, please: Raise your hand if you will pledge tonight that if you are the GOP nominee in 2012, you will not repeat McCain's mistake of relying on Obama's promises, and that you will instead do your best to legally raise money sufficient to keep your campaign competitive with the $1 billion which most are estimating that the Obama 2012 reelection campaign will raise and spend?
I'm duly impressed that Mitt Romney, this early, can raise more than $10 million in a day. But $10 million is going to be a spit in the lake in 2012. I don't want another nominee who is tricked into tying one of his own hands behind his back before going in to slug it out with an unhindered opponent.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Beldar on Preston on "Perry 2012"
My fellow Texan Bryan Preston has a provocative and well-argued post up at The PJ Tatler entitled "Why Rick Perry should run for president." I've left a few comments, as have a few other conservative Texans, and I think it's a fairly interesting thread overall.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Beldar reads tea leaves on Ryan and finds subtle comfort
I've been posting a lot today about Paul Ryan. I'm increasingly convinced that I want him to be the next POTUS, and that he could beat Obama in a watershed election as big or bigger than 1980's was. Ryan says publicly, and many people take him at face value when he says, that he's not interested in running for president. But consider these lines from his superb speech today at the Economic Club of Chicago (emphasis Ryan's):
Now in criticizing the President’s policies, I should make clear that I am not disputing for a moment that he inherited a difficult fiscal situation when he took office. He did.
Millions of American families had just seen their dreams destroyed by misguided policies and irresponsible leadership that caused a financial disaster. The crisis squandered the nation’s savings and crippled its economy.
The emergency actions taken by the government in the fall of 2008 did help to arrest the ensuing panic. But subsequent interventions – such as the President’s stimulus law and the Fed’s unprecedented monetary easing – have done much more harm than good, in my judgment.
Ryan's in a safe district. His vote for TARP in 2008 is no threat to his reelection to Congress, and probably wouldn't be a threat to him were he to run for the Senate seat from Wisconsin coming open in 2012 upon Herb Kohl's retirement.
Ryan is a wonk, and maybe that's the sort of distinction he'd make out of a passion for accuracy rather than political motivation.
But it's sure also the sort of thing someone eying the GOP nomination for president would say if he wanted to self-inoculate against criticism of his TARP vote from the farthest right in a GOP presidential primary, isn't it?
Beldar to Newt: Ryan's plan is the plan
In the category of "brutally harsh but on target within micrometers," Dr. Krauthammer has fairly chronicled Newt Gingrich's self-immolation over the weekend.
We might think of the political parties as two rival crowds cheering opposing teams at an athletic contest. I'm thinking Texas/OU in the Cotton Bowl every fall, but pick your own favorite rivalry as you follow me in this metaphor.
There's a point in every play when the ball has already been snapped, and it's too damned late to call an audible. If one of the players (or would-be players) ignores that, and tries to change the play after it's already begun, that can result in nasty things, like a fumble that is returned for an easy touchdown by one's opponents.
Newt's singular credential is as the ex-Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the first GOP speaker in decades.
Members of his same party, in that same House, have already voted for the Ryan budget. All but four voted for it.
Gingrich himself had said that he'd have voted for the Ryan plan if he were still in the House. He knew what the play was.
But anyway, come last Sunday, there was ole Newt — and well after the ball has been snapped, he's doing something completely different. He's fading back for what, a Statue of Liberty toss-back? He's yellin' "Red-Blue! Social Engineering, hut!" And he trips and stumbles into the whole rest of the backfield and knocks down half the offensive line. Eventually Newt is standing 40 years back behind the line of scrimmage, right next to — you guessed it, Ron Paul, who was one of the four GOP House members who voted against the Ryan plan. (From the opposing team, Jerry Brown floats out somewhere to the left, where he's become entangled with the Goodyear blimp, which has been hijacked by Ralph Nader.)
Now, don't misunderstand. This was a spectacular screw-up by Newt, but for the rest of the team, the play's not over. It's not even a busted play yet.
But Newt has fully earned the boos he's getting from his team's fans. If I were coaching, I'd send him to the bench.
UPDATE (Tue May 17 @ 1:55am): Dr. K's on-target, but Ace wins for snark: "I'm just saying, right now, I'd like to see some of the same authenticity and realness in Gingrich that I see in Mitt Romney."
Monday, May 16, 2011
Health-care reform in two sentences
Our plan is to give seniors the power to deny business to inefficient providers. Their plan is to give government the power to deny care to seniors.
Exactly.The reason health-care costs are out of control is because no centralized command and control system — including the existing Medicare and Medicaid schemes — can be effective at allocating resources effectively. Only a competitive marketplace can do that. But as long as individuals can insist, "I want everything, without regard to cost or benefit," they will so insist. And the Dems will let them do that forever, until the money runs out (at which point the system will collapse) or until the government-imposed rationing leads to a miserable lowest-common denominator sort of healthcare for everyone.
Inform people. Empower people to make choices. Hold people responsible for their choices. Rinse and repeat. Healthcare will get better and cheaper as a result. The example of how that works is the computer (or smartphone or iPad or whatever) set-up you're reading from right now — a combination of high-tech goods and services which provides power and convenience that was inconceivable at any price thirty years ago, but that's now priced so low that almost everyone in our society can find some access to it, with prices continuing to drop as quality and variety continue to increase.
Individuals, even brilliant individuals, cannot possibly be smart enough to make the right choices as regulators for everyone. Aggregated populations of health-care consumers, in a marketplace that's competitive and with a free flow of knowledge and free choices, will allocate resources more efficiently and — because competition includes (but isn't limited to) price — will end up making better care available to everyone over time.
Some people will make stupid choices that will result in bad consequences. Thus it has always been, and will always be, and no legislator or bureaucrat can change that. But even those bad consequences will be less harsh than what everyone will suffer if we continue on the path of pretending that government can provide everything and make everyone's choices.
Obama as Grant
This past weekend's "Week in Review" section of the NYT included Peter Baker's essay entitled Comparisons in Chief. Mr. Baker muses over the comparisons, flattering and un-, of Barack Obama, the forty-fourth POTUS, with predecessors such as John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and the Bushes (George H.W. and George W.):
What makes us so eager to find historical parallels for Mr. Obama? Why do we take one president and try to fit him into the mold of another? Maybe it is because more than halfway through his term, we just cannot agree on who Mr. Obama really is. Or maybe it is the same public fascination with historical personalities that lately has filled best-seller lists with presidential biographies. Or maybe it is just a surplus of shallow punditry in an era with endless hours of airtime and Internet space to fill.
“Sometimes I think the only president we haven’t been compared to is Franklin Pierce,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “But I am not ruling out the possibility of that comparison sometime in the next couple of years.”
Mr. Pfeiffer said he assumes these comparisons come up because many political writers were history majors. Naturally, he, too, has read many books on presidents. “The key,” he said, “is studying the similarities and differences and understanding that history is informative but not determinative.”
Mark K. Updegrove, director of the Johnson presidential library, points to the proliferation of news media. “In my view,” he said, “pundits often make comparisons to previous presidents because it allows them to sound authoritative without putting forth a great deal of thought.” He added that he has been among those who have made such comparisons.
After Mr. Baker's quotes about pundits who want to sound authoritative or were history majors, however, I could not help but shake my head when I read his concluding lines (emphasis mine):
In the end, said Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian, our views matter less than Mr. Obama’s: “The real key is, in his heart, which historical figures does Obama himself really find himself looking to most often for inspiration and guidance?” Usually, he added, we do not find out until after a president leaves office and historians can read his records or memoirs.
So maybe then, Mr. Obama will actually be another Ulysses S. Grant, who wrote the most celebrated presidential memoir of all time. Remember, you read it here first.
Mr. Baker is correct that U.S. Grant's memoirs have been celebrated, and justly so. I recommend them to anyone interested in U.S. history, and they're available in full-text, free, online.
Anyone who's actually read them, however, would surely recall the careful, disciplined organizational style of Grant's memoirs. His chapter titles, for example, are verbose by modern standards, but they comprehensively summarize the contents of each chapter. The next-to-last one, Chapter 70, was entitled: "The End of the War — The March to Washington — One of Lincoln’s Anecdotes — Grand Review at Washington — Characteristics of Lincoln and Stanton — Estimate of the Different Corps Commanders." Grant's memoirs basically stop at the end of the Civil War. And even in his final chapter, entitled simply "Conclusion," Grant said nothing of his two terms as president.
Grant's memoir, in short, was not a presidential memoir, but a commanding general's. Given the enormous disparity between history's concensus verdict on Grant as a commanding general (top-tier) and as a president (bottom of the barrel), that's a rather significant fact.
Depending on whether you credit his second book as a memoir or just campaign flackery (and I lean toward the latter), Obama's already written either one or two memoirs of his own pre-presidential days. And if Mr. Baker thinks that Barack Obama's accomplishments as a community organizer, part-time lawyer, part-time seminar teacher, and part-time state legislator compare in any respect to Grant winning the Civil War — or even that Obama writes as well as Grant did — then Mr. Baker's punditry is very silly and shallow indeed.
Sunday, May 08, 2011
Beldar quibbles with McCarthy to show that Holder's conflicts are even worse than McCarthy's revealed
Andrew C. McCarthy led the team of federal prosecutors who obtained convictions in 1995 against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (a/k/a "the Blind Sheik") and eleven others in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Since he left the Justice Department in 2003, he's been among the most articulate critics of those who'd respond to international terrorism as if it were merely a civilian criminal offense. As someone who's actually done as well as can be done in such cases in our civilian criminal courts, I accord him credibility on this topic that's roughly the size, shape, and mass of the Rock of Gibraltar. I rarely find myself disagreeing with what he's written as a contributor to National Review and other conservative outlets.
I agree entirely, for example, with Mr. McCarthy's verbal thrashing of Attorney General Eric Holder in an NRO column from yesterday entitled Holder vs. Holder. In it, Mr. McCarthy explains why Eric Holder is a particularly leaky vessel into which to entrust the profound obligation of serving as chief counsel for the United States of America, and in particular why that's so when it comes to prosecuting/fighting the Global War on Terrorism (a term that Holder himself, like his master at the White House, has disavowed).
My one quibble is with a shortcut that Mr. McCarthy has taken in this opinion article — one which I think actually detracts from its overall persuasiveness.Mr. McCarthy begins thusly:
Why does the Obama Justice Department seem to have trouble mounting a full-throated, compelling legal defense of Osama bin Laden’s killing? The problem for Eric Holder the attorney general could be Eric Holder the private attorney.
In 2004, Mr. Holder chose to file an amicus brief on behalf of Jose Padilla, the al-Qaeda terrorist sent to our country by bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to carry out a post-9/11 second wave of attacks. In the brief, Holder argued that a commander-in-chief lacks the constitutional authority to do what his boss, the current commander-in-chief, has just done: determine the parameters of the battlefield. By Holder’s lights — at least when the president is not named Obama — an al-Qaeda terrorist must be treated as a criminal defendant, not an enemy combatant, unless he is encountered on a traditional battlefield.
It would be useful if staffers at congressional oversight hearings passed around copies of Holder’s Padilla brief. It is a comprehensive attack on Bush counterterrorism, an enthusiastic endorsement of the law-enforcement approach in vogue during the Clinton era (when Holder was deputy attorney general under Janet Reno, who also signed on to the Padilla brief). This might explain why Holder sometimes has difficulty answering seemingly easy questions. That’s what happened this week, when the Senate Judiciary Committee quizzed the attorney general on the lawfulness of the U.S. military’s targeted killing of bin Laden.
I have a problem with that line of argument. It's wrong, and dangerous, to presume that a lawyer privately supports every element of every cause, or every aspect of every defendant, whom he champions in court. And I know Mr. McCarthy knows this principle, and I believe he likely believes in it. Mr. McCarthy went around this hurdle — ignored it — when it's fairly easily overcome in this specific case, however:
Holder didn't take on Padilla as a paying client because he (Holder), like every lawyer, needs to put bread on his family's table. Holder didn't in fact represent Padilla at all, and the Second Circuit brief to which Mr. McCarthy refers wasn't filed by Mr. Holder in his capacity as a lawyer, pro bono or otherwise, for anyone. Holder wasn't among counsel of record in the case.
Rather, Holder — with Janet Reno and two other former Clinton Administration lawyers — were themselves the "amici curiae," literally "friends of the court," who sought and received permission to address the Second Circuit on legal issues relating to Padilla's pending appeal. The lawyers who actually signed and filed the brief, acting in the role as counsel to the "amici curiae" including Holder, were from Arnold & Porter — one of the main (but mainly friendly) cross-town rivals of the Washington, D.C. firm at which Holder was then employed, Covington & Burling.
So attributing the views in this brief to Holder personally is entirely appropriate: The "mouthpieces" who may or may not have agreed with the "clients' position," but who figuratively and literally "signed off" on the brief, were the Arnold & Porter lawyers. Holder, although he had no stake in the case other than as a bystander and "friend of the court," was himself their client. Holder wasn't insisting on being heard by the Second Circuit through counsel because he was at the same risk of imprisonment or death that Padilla himself was in. Rather, Eric Holder, as a private lawyer whose only special credibility arose from his past government service, went out of his way to align himself with Padilla not as an advocate, but as a fellow principal interested in the same matters (albeit in the limited capacity of an amicus).
It's thus entirely fair — and indeed, much more fair than with other legal briefs in which Holder was merely a paid, or even volunteer, advocate for some client — to attribute the views in this amicus brief to Holder personally. Once the A&P lawyers agreed to represent these "amici curiae," the A&P lawyers were obliged to diligently advocate for Holder's (and his felllow amici curiae's) interests. They spoke not for themselves, but for Eric Holder — and it is to him that their arguments and positions must be attributed. Otherwise, the clients upon whose behalf the brief was filed lacked any authority even as a "friend of the court" to be heard at all.
Holder can't, in other words, hide behind the usual — and oftentimes entirely legitimate — beard that "I was only representing my client's interests, and I don't necessarily agree personally with everything I said on the client's behalf." Rather, everything said in the amicus brief in the Padilla case was said specifically on behalf of Holder; he was the client of the lawyers who wrote and filed it.
Holder's own law degree and licensure and experience is also important, however, because it utterly deprives him of any possibility of saying now, "Oh, I really didn't grasp all the implications of the legal arguments my lawyers from Arnold & Porter were making on my behalf." Even moreso than the average client who lacks legal training and skills, it's not just a conclusive legal presumption that the Arnold & Porter lawyers were fairly and accurately representing Holder's views, it's a practical fact. It's simply inconceivable that this brief could have been filed without Holder (and Reno and the other two Clintonista lawyers) having a chance to review and participate substantively in the editing of its contents.
I suspect Mr. McCarthy would agree with all this, and perhaps he omitted it in the interests of concission. I lack his gift for that, but I also have a very strong attachment to the underlying general rule that for the Rule of Law to function, the lawyers participating in its administration must be free from the strictures that would come from attributing personally to them every principle or cause they've supported as an advocate.
Thursday, May 05, 2011
Brilliantly stupid legal reasoning, or stupidly brilliant legal reasoning?
Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, in the Wall Street Journal:
When a Muslim or a Jew is the victim of a homicide in the United States, religious considerations do not trump civil requirements. Their bodies are generally sent to the medical examiner for thorough examination. Notwithstanding religious prohibitions, autopsies are performed and organs removed for testing. No special exception should have been made for bin Laden's body.
But bin Laden was not "the victim of a homicide in the United States." There's no need to discuss the right or wrong of making "exceptions" to a set of "civil requirements" that emphatically do not apply.
So I'm going with "brilliantly stupid" — lucidly and articulately argued in simple, clear language, but entirely based on a premise which is indisputably and unmistakably false. I won't quibble, however, with anyone pithier than me who concludes that Prof. Dershowitz' argument is just stupid.This is the kind of nonsense that comes from civilian lawyers uncritically (i.e., stupidly) applying rules from the domestic U.S. criminal justice system to the transnational war against radical Islamic terrorists. This is also the kind of nonsense that comes from people who take the movie/mass media versions of themselves way too seriously.
The main point of Prof. Dershowitz' op-ed is to argue that the Obama Administration ought to release photographs of OBL's corpse. Typically for Prof. Dershowtiz, he makes some good points, most of which were already obvious, but he fails to even acknowledge that there are competing concerns that are also entitled to weight in that decision. I don't have a firm opinion on whether the corpse photos ought to be released because I have not seen them myself. (Indeed, it seems impossible to me that anyone could make a thoughtful decision about the photographs' likely effects unless one has actually seen them.) But whichever way one comes out on the merits, it's only fair and honest to concede that there are good policy arguments to support either outcome, yet problems with both. My point is that an advocate who refuses even to address contrary arguments cannot possibly do a good job advocating his position about their relative weightiness. So again, color me unimpressed, overall, with Prof. Dershowitz. Your mileage may vary.
Today's winner in the "I am not a lawyer but I watch lots of cop shows" category: William Saletan in Slate, who's breathlessly cross-examining third-hand, unsourced wire service stories as to whether the OBL raid would have been a case of police brutality if judged by the standards of domestic U.S. police officers conducting an arrest. Mr. Saletan is still missing the really key factual issue, however: Was bin Laden permitted a reasonable opportunity to inquire about his Miranda rights?
(That's me being sarcastic. But some people, possibly including Mr. Saletan, may think that's a serious question. They should enroll at Harvard Law School and take lots of classes from Alan Dershowitz.)
Monday, May 02, 2011
A simple question, asked upon the just dispatch of Osama bin Laden
How do we reconcile our president (a) holding a press conference to claim credit for killing Osama bin Laden, while at the very same time (b) maintaining a policy against targeting Mumar Kadafi?