Friday, October 26, 2012
Speculations on the Benghazi terrorist attack's impact on the election
Most American presidential elections turn on domestic policy and issues, not foreign policy or war. Rare exceptions have included 1864, 1916, 1940 & 1944, arguably 1968, and 2004.
I do not believe that the Obama Administration's bizarre and sorry handling of the Benghazi terrorist attacks that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other fine Americans will overshadow domestic issues in the upcoming election. This election is still going to be mostly about the economy for most people, and it should be.
But short of that, I think the Benghazi story is still having a serious impact on the election. I know a lot of good Americans who voted joyously for Obama in 2008, and whose second thoughts and sober reappraisals since have diluted a lot of their zeal. Some of them still have open minds enough to have realized — especially during the three presidential debates — that the synchronized media and Obama-Biden portrayals of Mitt Romney as some sort of scary boogeyman were always detached from reality. Obama basically decided to campaign against Mild Mitt as Lyndon Johnson campaigned against Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Jimmy Carter campaigned against Ronald Reagan in 1980. But when the other 80% of America who only pays attention during the last six weeks before Election Day opened their eyes, they suddenly realized why hard-core movement conservatives have never mistaken Mitt Romney for Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan!
Yet many of those voters still held onto considerable residual fondness for President Obama. They sympathized with him. They felt like they could share and appreciate his own frustration with just how hard his job turned out to be. Many of them were disappointed by what they perceived as his sell-outs — Gitmo's still open, we've still got troops in combat overseas, Drones R Us, etc. But they could mostly forgive Obama for that, and they still believed he was basically a good and honest and competent man who'd never put his political ambition ahead of what's noble and good.
It's just damned hard for anyone to square that with this slow-motion horror show. Just about every corner of the Administration's preferred narrative has completely unraveled; nothing's been repaired; on this entire subject, the Obama Administration is entirely in confused and reeling tatters.
I think it could cost President Obama a fair number of votes outright, but I think it's going to have a much more serious impact on Democratic turn-out.
Even those who still love him can't miss the fact that he's getting smaller every day. Even if they still like him, they just can't continue to pretend that he's earned their vote for a second term. They might very well not be able to bring themselves to vote for Romney. But they are already reconciling themselves to the possibility of staying home, or procrastinating until the polls are closed, or whatever else they need to do to preempt any last guilty sentiments.
I could be completely wrong about this. It's just my hunch. I'm even reckless enough to try a medical analogy, which any lawyer should know better than: This Libya business seems to me like an occult ruptured spleen, one that doesn't present with the usual signs and symptoms that would signal the docs that the patient needs urgent surgery, one that may come on seemingly spontaneously many hours or even days after the original trauma. One minute the patient looks pretty normal and alert, maybe just a bit pale; and the next, they've bled out internally and they're dead.
Obama hams for the cameras when required to show voter ID in Chicago today: Was it pursuant to a law he voted for?
It has been some time since I've had occasion to link to any of Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo websites, but tonight I'll make an exception for this post from TPM's Ryan J. Reilly and its embedded video of President Obama casting an in-person early voting ballot in his home state of Illinois.
If you'd prefer, you can also see the same video here as embedded at NRO, or here directly from MSNBC, but I'm choosing to link TPM because I'm going to quote from its accurate but still eyebrow-raising explanation of why the President of the United States had to pull out photo identification in order to vote in Illinois:
Despite his personal stance against voter ID laws, President Barack Obama was asked to show a form of photo identification when he voted in Chicago on Thursday. While Illinois does not have a voter ID law, the state does require voters who take advantage of early voting to show a driver’s license, a state-issued identification card or government-issued photo ID.
"Voters don't need reasons or excuses to use Early Voting — but voters do need to present government-issued photo identification to use Early Voting," according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
I'm not licensed to practice law in Illinois and I lack the resources to do in-depth research into its statutes and, especially, their legislative history. But my very quick search of the Illinois election code suggests to me that this may be the provision in the Illinois early-voting statutes that obliged the election worker to ask for Obama's photo ID (italics mine):
(b) In conducting early voting under this Article, the election judge or official is required to verify the signature of the early voter by comparison with the signature on the official registration card, and the judge or official must verify (i) the identity of the applicant, (ii) that the applicant is a registered voter, (iii) the precinct in which the applicant is registered, and (iv) the proper ballots of the political subdivision in which the applicant resides and is entitled to vote before providing an early ballot to the applicant. The applicant's identity must be verified by the applicant's presentation of an Illinois driver's license, a non‑driver identification card issued by the Illinois Secretary of State, or another government‑issued identification document containing the applicant's photograph. The election judge or official must verify the applicant's registration from the most recent poll list provided by the election authority, and if the applicant is not listed on that poll list, by telephoning the office of the election authority.
Alternatively, it's possible that since Obama is residing out-of-state but performing government service, his vote is treated as an absentee ballot, even if cast in person while temporarily back in Chicago. If so, then this may be the relevant language covering in-person early voting before election day by someone who's entitled to vote absentee under Illinois law (italics mine):
In conducting in‑person absentee voting under this Section, the respective clerks shall be required to verify the signature of the absentee voter by comparison with the signature on the official registration record card. The clerk also shall reasonably ascertain the identity of such applicant, shall verify that each such applicant is a registered voter, and shall verify the precinct in which he or she is registered and the proper ballots of the political subdivisions in which the applicant resides and is entitled to vote, prior to providing any absentee ballot to such applicant. The clerk shall verify the applicant's registration and from the most recent poll list provided by the county clerk, and if the applicant is not listed on that poll list then by telephoning the office of the county clerk.
Regardless of which of these statutes was the basis for it, then, I have no reason to doubt Mr. Reilly's source's explanation.
What I am mildly curious about, however, is whether as a state senator, Barack Obama might have actually voted to pass the voter ID law that required him to show his photo ID to vote today. At the very end of the section of the Illinois statute regarding in-person casting of absentee ballots, we see this:
(Source: P.A. 93‑574, eff. 8‑21‑03; 94‑645, eff. 8‑22‑05; 94‑1000, eff. 7‑3‑06.)
And at the end of the more detailed and explicit section on early voting generally, we see this:
(Source: P.A. 94‑645, eff. 8‑22‑05; 94‑1000, eff. 7‑3‑06; 95‑699, eff. 11‑9‑07.)
My educated guess is that these are references to the legislative history of these sections, as originally passed and as subsequently modified. It would appear that the section containing the in-person absentee voting ID requirement was first passed to be effective in August of 2003, which in turn suggests that the statute was likely enacted earlier in 2003 or perhaps in 2002 — i.e., while Obama was in the Illinois senate. And it would appear that the far more detailed voter ID requirement for in-person early voting was originally passed to be effective in August 2005; depending on how long the notification gap was between passage and effective date, that statute might or might not have been passed before Obama resigned from the Illinois senate to take his seat in the U.S. Senate after the November 2004 elections.
I'm going to make a further inferential leap to posit that (1) since the Democratic Party has long dominated the Illinois legislature, such that no important legislation could be passed if the state Democratic leadership opposed it, and (2) as a state senator Obama was generally very reliable in voting in the fashion recommended by the state Democratic leadership, then (3) Barack Obama may very well have voted for the original version of the absentee in-person statute, and possibly may have voted for the original version of the early voting statute. Of course, Obama was also famous for voting "present" and for missing votes as a state senator, so my inferential leap is across a decent-sized chasm.
I can't quite take the last jump, though, that would be necessary to make this truly more than a wild goose chase, not even as a rational inference: Both sections have been amended after Obama left for Washington, but I don't know the details of the amendments. So the italicized language in the quotes above — which represent the law currently in effect — may or may not correspond to their original versions. But that's exactly the kind of legislative history research project that any Illinois lawyer, or indeed even any eager-beaver first-year law student at any Illinois-based law school, would have the resources to undertake fairly easily, if sufficient enthusiasm could be found for it. Maybe one of my readers knows a guy who knows a gal who hung a shingle a few years ago in Urbana, and maybe he or she will volunteer some definitive answers to my questions.
In any event, I was mildly amused by Mr. Mr. Reilly's concluding paragraph, in which he notes without further comment that the Obama Administration "has opposed voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina but approved of less-stringent voter ID laws in Virginia and New Hampshire." Nevertheless, for passing laws which would oblige Texas or South Carolina general election voters to do exactly that which Barack Obama himself had to do today to vote in person in Illinois, the Obama Administration has used the federal courts to block the considered legislative judgments of the Texas and South Carolina state legislatures, their governors, and the citizens of those states whom those duly elected state officials represent.
See, if what happened today to President Obama in Chicago were permitted to happen in Texas or South Carolina, that could only be because the citizens of Texas and South Carolina, their legislators, and their governors are fixated on discriminating against non-whites, doncha know? But in Illinois, it's all grins and giggles and a presidential photo op.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Does Obama-Biden have an edge in the GOTV ground game?
I would like all of my friends who are Democrats to read this very optimistic assessment of the relative quality of the two parties' get-out-the-vote "ground games" by a staff writer for the reliably left-leaning The Atlantic. (Hat-tip Avik Roy at The Corner.)
Seriously, I'd especially like for all my Dem friends in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wisconsin, Nevada, Michigan, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Iowa to read this very optimistic assessment. Treat it as authoritative. Consider its devastating logic and credibility as you cope with the many demands on your time in the next couple of weeks. Any good progressive can and should rely on The Atlantic, so you can be absolutely certain that with or without your vote, Obama's got this in the bag. Oh, sure, you could schlep down to the polls and engage in a bit of symbolic ritual, but really, what's going to more directly affect your real-world quality of life and the lives of those you love — some symbolism, or a really good, long, guilt-free nap?
My main question after reading this is: If the Obama campaign is actually this smart and effective, why is unemployment still above 8% and the deficit above $16T?
Also, if the Romney campaign is as clueless as it appears to be from this article, how did he ever manage to pull off that Olympics thing or make all that money?
These questions ought not trouble my Democratic friends, though. Yes, those are the droids you were looking for.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Say no to Trump
Donald Trump is a manufactured celebrity, a publicity whore unfit to shine the shoes of thousands of genuine business people I've had the pleasure of meeting and working with in my 30-plus years as a lawyer. I will not contribute to his cause by linking any of the various sources that are popping up regarding rumors of some "revelation" that Trump may or may not be planning on making now, on the brink of the election.
I will repeat, however, something I've said here and elsewhere repeatedly: Michelle Obama and I probably would never be close friends, but not a single one of my arguments as to why Barack Obama should lose this election has anything to do with her. When it comes to finding grounds to find fault with her husband, we are in a target-rich environment, friends and neighbors. But:
There is simply no net political upside for anyone who opposes Barack Obama's reelection in doing anything that will be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an attack on the First Lady, or an intrusion into the Obamas' marriage and family that has no close relationship to anything Pres. Obama has done or might do as President.
There is, by vivid contrast, an obvious and enormous potential for blowback and backlash. So anyone who does that — including Donald the Ridiculous — is acting entirely on his own behalf, not on behalf of Mitt Romney or the GOP or conservatives (even the most traditional social conservatives).
Monday, October 22, 2012
Leading from behind meant sending USN's carrier strike forces far from Libyan shores
If you're looking for cultural trivia clues to help you deduce how long the United States Navy and Marine Corps have been projecting power from the Mediterranean Sea — and very specifically, into what's now Libya — consider that the very first phrase of the Marines' Hymn refers to them fighting our country's battles all the way to "the shores of Tripoli." The Commander in Chief who dispatched those Marines there aboard warships of the U.S. Navy? That would be Thomas Jefferson. And the referenced action on those shores of Tripoli, the Battle of Derne in 1804, was the "first recorded land battle of the United States on foreign soil after the American Revolutionary War."
The U.S. Navy and the Marines it transports have been actively protecting American interests in the Mediterranean, and specifically in what's now Libya, for almost as long as those military services have existed. After Operation Torch and the successful North Africa landings during World War Two, the U.S. Navy gradually took over military dominance of the entire Mediterranean from the British. Throughout the entire Cold War, the Mediterranean was, in military terms, an American lake, actively patrolled at almost all times by at least one U.S. Navy carrier group. Those whose memories reach back to 1986 will remember Ronald Reagan deliberately flaunting Mumar Kadafi's cosmically silly Line of Death in the Gulf of Sidra to reassert and reestablish, in the only way meaningful, Freedom of the High Seas.
Does anyone doubt that if Ronald Reagan were alive and serving as POTUS during the "Arab spring," during the change in government of our economic and military client Egypt, during the civil unrest and rebellion in Syria, and during the ouster and killing of that same clown Kadafi, he would have done at least as much for the security of American assets in the Mediterranean area as the U.S. had done throughout the four-plus decades of the Cold War? Does anyone doubt that Ronald Reagan would have had a carrier strike group within overwatch and reaction distance before sending a U.S. Ambassador directly into harm's way in Libya on the anniversary of al Qaeda's greatest triumph?
We have eleven carrier strike groups. As best I can tell, on September 11, 2012, five of them were deployed: Three (Washington, Nimitz, and Stennis) were at sea in the Pacific, and two (Enterprise and Eisenhower) were at sea somewhere in the Fifth Fleet Area of Responsibility, which comprises the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Arabian Sea. Not until its passage through the Suez Canal on October 15, 2012, did the Enterprise carrier strike group finally enter the Sixth Fleet AOR, which includes the Mediterranean Sea.
Ponder that. Then read this set of blunt questions and observations by military writer, former Assistant Secretary of Defense, and USMC infantry officer (ret.) Bing West. Colonel West makes it clear that even with no carrier strike groups in range, President Obama had other military assets that could, and clearly ought, to have been employed. But carrier groups are also intended to deter as well as to respond. So how could it have failed to make a difference if a carrier strike group had been within rescue and response range during the many deadly hours of the Benghazi terrorist attack?
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Obama renews his acquaintance with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright
Was your last vote for Barack Obama based in any part upon the careful reassurances he gave the American public in April 2008 when he threw his longtime Chicago pastor and spiritual mentor — the Rev. Jeremiah "God DAMN America" Wright — under the proverbial campaign bus?
If so, this six-second snippet from a Looney Tunes classic exactly illustrates what President Obama has just done to you:
Recall that Rev. Wright and Barack Obama were joined at the hip for two decades in Chicago. In his sermons, Rev. Wright actually originated the phrase that became the title of Obama's second book, "The Audacity of Hope." But when even the mainstream media finally began to focus on what Obama himself conceded were "some inflammatory and appalling remarks [Rev. Wright had] made about our country, our politics, and [Obama's] political opponents" during the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Obama was obliged to assure the public in writing and on television that he "vehemently disagree[d] and strongly condemn[ed] the statements that have been the subject of this controversy." And candidate Obama didn't just denounce Rev. Wright's inflammatory statements, but also "the person" who'd made them (boldface mine):
I have been a member of [Rev. Wright's] Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992, and I've known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person that I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.
Indeed, Barack and Michelle Obama very publicly left Trinity only a few weeks later, in June 2008, and they unequivocally identified their split with Rev. Wright as the explanation:
Barack Obama announced Saturday that he and his wife had resigned as members of their Chicago church in the wake of controversial remarks from its pulpit that have become a serious distraction to his presidential campaign.
In a letter dated Friday to the pastor, the Rev. Otis Moss III, Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, had come to the decision "with some sadness." But they said their relations with Trinity United Church of Christ "had been strained by the divisive statements" of the retiring pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., "which sharply conflict with our own views."
The Illinois senator's decision to break with the church that he has credited with shaping his faith came after months of controversy over racially charged remarks Wright made to the 8,000-member congregation on Chicago's South Side.
And Team Obama has been careful to avoid any public ties to Rev. Wright ever since.
Until now, as let slip — doubtless to the intense chagrin of the Obama-Biden campaign — deep within a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed by the venerable and pernicious Willie Brown, former Democratic mayor of San Francisco and speaker of the California State Assembly (boldface mine; hat-tip Ed Driscoll guest-blogging at Instapundit):
By my estimate, you have to build in a three- to five-point slip from the poll numbers for any black candidate on election day. To overcome the slip, you need to pump up the black vote by equal measure.
And that's not easy, because brothers and sisters aren't among the top turnout groups.
In 2008, Barack Obama was able to compensate for the slip and then some. You would have thought it was Nelson Mandela coming out of jail. This time it's not going to be that easy.
If Obama looks as if he's going black, he could turn off white people. So he's largely been lying low on the race issues — visibly pushing for the Latino vote, the gay vote, the women's vote, but not the black vote.
But last weekend, he held a conference call with a collection of black preachers that included his old pastor, Jeremiah Wright. He wanted to talk to them about getting out the vote.
Mayor Brown didn't volunteer any further details about Rev. Wright's participation in the conference call. But you know someone on the conference call made a recording.
Once upon a time, some eager Woodward-and-Bernstein wannabe would actually be beating the bushes, working Democratic fundraising sources, trying to get a copy to make public, and dreaming of Pulitzers to be earned through a thorough investigation into this sort of stealth about-face conducted by a sitting President seeking reelection.
But those days are gone, and the "cleaners" from Team Obama's rapid response team doubtless began their scrubbing, shredding, and stonewall-building just as soon as they had conducted a mild but vivid session of political reeducation with Mayor Brown. Perhaps tomorrow Mayor Brown will extend and revise his op-ed to clarify that the voice of Jeremiah Wright he heard on that GOTV conference call was somehow also not the same man Barack Obama met twenty-plus years ago.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Beldar on the second Obama-Romney debate
I intend to mix metaphors with enthusiasm in this post, but that's the only enthusiasm you'll find in it if you're a fellow conservative.
Nobody made a Ford/Poland-size gaffe last night. There are those who argue that in the biggest picture, against an incumbent President, a challenger "wins" merely by holding his own, fighting to an approximate draw, because burnishing his "potentially presidential" image is more important than who made better arguments. I'm not entirely convinced of that, but in any event it begs the question of who got the better of whom in any particular debate. In my judgment, last night President Obama got the better of Gov. Romney by a nontrivial margin.
Of course the moderating was pathetically biased. Conservatives continue to find this surprising in exactly the same fashion that Charlie Brown continues to be surprised when Lucy snatches the football away just before he can kick it, causing him to flip over and land on his head. I stopped laughing when Charlie Brown does this sometime back in the 1970s. Lucy will keep yanking the ball away, though, until Charlie Brown withdraws his cooperation from the exercise, and so too the Democrats and the Debates Commission will keep foisting these mainstream media moderators onto us and the American public until we withdraw ours.
Single most important result:
President Obama generally succeeded in reversing the impression of disengagement and lassitude he'd generated in even his own partisans during his first appearance against Romney. And he did so without, for the most part, going nearly so over the top in his disrespect or smirking as Biden had. This was not a particularly high bar — the silver lining to what was perceived as Obama's disastrous first performance was that it certainly lowered expectations for his subsequent ones! — but he cauterized the wounds in the Democratic base's self-confidence that Biden had merely bandaged. Had Obama failed to clear this low bar, the race would have ended last night because the wounds from the first debate on the Dems' GOTV/turn-out efforts would have turned out to be definitively mortal. They may still turn out to be; but for now, the patient has been stabilized.
Like every news-following conservative who watched the debate, I am thoroughly mystified, and more than just a little disappointed, by Gov. Romney's unpreparedness on the subject of Ambassador Chris Stevens' assassination. For the last several days, the President's proxies have been pointing to the "no acts of terror" phrase in his Rose Garden remarks on the day after the attack. They've used that phrase as their exclusive justification for the claim that the Administration was not completely and unequivocally devoted to the dishonest "it was all about the YouTube video" excuse that was otherwise the entire focus of Obama's remarks that day, and that the Administration shamefully and dishonestly continued to peddle through U.N. Ambassador Rice and others for more than a week thereafter. Was Romney genuinely surprised when Obama used that phrase to defend himself in the debate? I think he was feigning surprise as part of an effort to set and spring a trap. But his effort was so bungled that he ended up looking merely badly informed himself — and thus the trap effectively closed on Romney instead of on Obama. An adequately skillful set-up would have anticipated that Obama would have nothing but that phrase to rely upon, and would therefore have acknowledged that single phrase, but gone on — before Obama had a chance to use it again — to explain why it's not a credible excuse.
Even TIME's Mark Thompson calls Team Obama's reliance on that single "no acts of terror" phrase a "[p]retty weak reed," and says of Obama's word games (italics his) that "in Tuesday night's second presidential debate, we also learned that President Obama isn’t beyond twisting what he said then [in his Rose Garden remarks] to make him sound better now." Weak or even twisted reed that it may have been, however, Romney permitted Obama (with an assist from the moderator) to thrash him about the head and shoulders with it on national television. In basketball terms, just as Romney was about to shoot, he bobbled the ball into Obama's hands, and then Obama got away with traveling on a fast-break and scored an uncontested three-pointer after the ref set a pick for him. But it still goes into the record books as an unforced error by Romney that destroyed a scoring opportunity and gave up a score to his opponent.
I also thought Gov. Romney missed another opportunity in his closing. Obama hadn't yet hit him hard on the "47 percent" gaffe. But both Romney and Obama knew that Obama would get to speak last. So Romney absolutely, positively knew when he gave his closing two minutes that an attack based on this gaffe would be coming, and that he (Romney) wouldn't have any further chance last night to rebut it. Romney did try to indirectly anticipate Obama's attack by insisting that he "cares about 100 percent of the American people," and that he wants "100 percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future." But this had become the ideal opportunity to make his most public and most specific disavowal of, and apology for, the gaffe. And had he done so, he might have effectively "pulled the teeth" from the gaffe himself before Obama could use them to bite Romney.
Since Romney didn't specifically and preemptively disavow the gaffe, however, when it came Obama's turn to close, then sure enough, instead of having had his planned sound-bite disrupted by a Romney spoiling attack, Obama was able to land the exact lines he'd pre-planned — and he still got good mileage from them.
So as far as the debates considered in isolation go, I score the series at two games to one, with one left to play. Certainly both candidates must avoid any Ford/Poland-magnitude gaffes at the last one. I still think unlikely any scenario in which the debates are going to turn out in a way that helps the Obama-Biden ticket overall on a net basis. And the Obama partisans' original fantasy — that Obama would dominate Romney as thoroughly in these debates as he had John McCain — isn't going to be resurrected, so at this point I think they'd be quite happy to salvage a two-to-two overall tie.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Beldar on the Ryan-Biden Veep debate
I'll give you even odds on whether the doctor who last adjusted Slow Joe's meds will be thrown under the Obama bus by Monday.
I started seriously touting Paul Ryan as the best potential GOP presidential nominee back on May 17, 2011; toward that end, I created a "Draft Paul Ryan" sidebar graphic on May 26, 2011. Every significant event since then, culminating in tonight's debate, has left me more convinced that he would be the best available person to undertake the world's most difficult job. But I will now settle with reasonable contentment for Ryan being the proverbial heartbeat away, and will cast my vote accordingly.
Strategically, big picture:
Biden over-reached, undoubtedly under prompting by Axelrod and the Chicago gang. He was not much more incoherent than normal, which is to say that when the Democratic talking heads who can still speak in sentences and paragraphs re-interpret and translate his remarks, they'll be able to pretend there's at least a kernel of reality associated with most of Biden's vocal shrapnel. I don't think he made the kind of gaffe that he's famous for; but he was never famous for making gaffes at debates. But instead, his bizarre behavior opened (or reopened) the most basic questions about his own temperament and competence. And it's much harder to spin bizarre behavior than sloppy factual assertions. There's nothing any talking head can ever say or write that could transform Joe Biden's performance tonight into anything remotely "presidential."
Biden put his own fitness as a potential presidential successor into issue. Ryan ended any remaining doubts about his. Therefore: GOP leads the series two to zero with two yet to play.
I think it's still a very close question whether the American electorate prefers the Obama-Biden ticket to the Romney-Ryan ticket. But only the most blind and stubborn of partisans — and I concede there are many such — can still pretend that anyone in America is anything but terrified of the words "President Biden."
UPDATE (Thu Oct 11 @ 10:45pm): By way of concluding postscript, from memory and without benefit of replay or transcript:
Ryan mentioned John F. Kennedy's tax cuts in 1961 and the resulting economic growth. Biden interrupted with what seemed to me to be a half-formed taunt along the lines of, "So now you're claiming to be Jack Kennedy?" I say "half-formed," because it was an allusion to, but without an explicit naming of, Lloyd Bentsen's devastating "Jack Kennedy was my friend, Senator, and you're no Jack Kennedy" put-down of Dan Quayle in their 1992 debate.
Ryan caught the reference and smiled, but tried to continue with his answer rather than responding to the taunt or following up on the allusion. And modesty forbade Ryan from doing the latter, I think.
But my immediate reaction was that Biden's instincts had caught him this once, and saved him from a possible disaster: He was wise to bite back the full taunt.
You see, unlike Lloyd Bentsen, Biden did not know Jack Kennedy personally or serve with him in the U.S. Navy. But if Biden had tried to say, out loud and in so many words, "Congressman, you're no Jack Kennedy," then I think that most of those Americans who can actually remember Jack Kennedy — those who can remember how articulate and poised and self-confident and self-deprecating Kennedy was at his best, and who can remember, more than anything else, his youthful vigor (or "VIG-gah" as they said at Hyannisport) — would have said to themselves, "Well, actually, Paul Ryan does remind me of Jack Kennedy!" It was best for Biden for his allusion to go unremarked and uncompleted, in other words, because it would have blown up in his face.
(As did Biden's first attempt to throw Romney's "47% gaffe" in Ryan's face. Ryan was obviously prepared, and his responsive sound-bite will be one of the most quoted and replayed lines from the debate. To all those who thought Obama was foolish not to have confronted Romney on that particular point during the first debate, I've always thought: Do you think Romney didn't have a super-polished focus-grouped response prepared for that? Do you think anything could please Romney more than having a chance to re-deliver and improve upon, during the debate itself, the walk-back he'd already been trying to get the press to cover? That was a deliberate choice on Obama's part, and in fact a wise one in context.)
I think, and certainly hope, that we saw the effective end of one long political career tonight, and the full unveiling of another whose potential is deep and vasty.
Saturday, September 22, 2012
Why was almost nothing the Obama Administration initially said about the Libyan tragedy accurate?
I recommend to you Stephen F. Hayes' timely essay entitled "Permanent Spin." Key bit:
So we are left with this: Four Americans were killed in a premeditated terrorist attack on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, and for more than a week the Obama administration misled the country about what happened.
This isn’t just a problem. It’s a scandal.
By all means, read the whole thing.
At least it wasn't Jimmy Carter's administration who made up the fiction that the terrorists who stormed the American embassy in Tehran and took its staff hostage — a terrorist group whose members included the current president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — were "merely students." Carter just republished that fiction — and indeed, he relied upon it to pretend that Iran hadn't committed what would have been immediately recognized throughout human history as an unequivocal declaration of war through an armed attack. (And should have been so recognized then.)
We can argue about whether this Administration's misinformation was merely incompetent or actively deceptive (i.e., disinformation). Hayes makes, in my judgment, a strong case for the latter, whereas I'd argue it's a combination of both.
But no one can argue that the early information released by the Obama Administration about the Libyan tragedy has been accurate or trustworthy.
I hope that during the foreign policy debate, Gov. Romney spotlights this particularly ugly performance by the Obama Adminstration. That will probably be his best chance to cut through the mainstream media's too-willing fog on these issues.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
On 9/11/01 plus eleven
As part of my private commemoration of the eleventh anniversary of 9/11/01, earlier this evening I finished reading No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden, written under the pseudonym "Mark Owen" by a senior member of SEAL Team 6 (with assistance from an experienced military author who'd been embedded with American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kevin Maurer). It is a quick read, and it is written in the most plain and straightforward prose, but I nevertheless found it to be a very satisfying and timely read.
But today's news is full of ugly omens. The President of the United States has once again publicly brushed off the Prime Minister of Israel, who'd like to meet this week to discuss the completely unresolved problem of Iran's nuclear weapons program. American embassies are being assaulted in Egypt as the Muslim Brotherhood-led government that we're supporting with money borrowed from China nominally stands watching and secretly plots America's mortification.
Roughly half of America has nevertheless been lulled back into the most false sense of security in human history. The voters among them will vote for Obama, again.
But when the next attack comes, and when it is worse, they will be incandescent in their resentment and fury whenever anyone suggests to them that they were foolish back in the Novembers of 2008 and 2012, back when Iran's nuclear program could still have been stopped at less than the cost of an American city.
UPDATE (Sep 12 @ 5:40am): All Americans of every political stripe will be horrified by the awful news coming out of Libya this morning. I'm not yet prepared to comment on it, and when I am I'll do that in another post, so I'm simply going to close comments on this post for now.
Monday, September 10, 2012
Press assumes nothing BUT Obamacare can possibly be caring
It is very hard for even well-informed members of the general public to stay focused during detailed discussions of health care reform, Obamacare, Medicare, and Medicaid. I have become very appreciative, therefore, of the consistently clear and powerful writing on these topics from Yuval Levin. He gives me detail at a level I can still absorb, and he gives us all links. And he always orients everything he says so that it can be understood as part of the biggest picture and broadest perspective: He explains and organizes so that things can be seen to fit together coherently.
His recent post on NRO's The Corner entitled "Pre-Existing Ignorance" is bracing. And its clarity dispels a lot of confusion and mental cobwebs.
Levin faults the reporters covering the political fights on these health-care reform issues for not even making an effort to inform themselves about the two nominees' respective positions on the subject matter, and he says they've completely "fallen for the Democratic line about Obamacare":
That line involves, first of all, the notion that Obamacare is simply the definition of health-care reform, and that to oppose it means to not want to solve the problems with our system. Reporters are therefore surprised anytime a Republican expresses the desire to solve those problems, and they assume that means he must want to keep Obamacare....
They're not journalists. They're acolytes.
Sunday, September 09, 2012
Of sidelines, collegiality, and Barack Obama's spectacular ineffectiveness
I've never doubted the reports that the University of Chicago Law School would gladly have put Barack Obama on a "tenure track" if he'd wanted that. They would have converted him from a "lecturer" or "senior lecturer" — both polite ways of pointing out to other academics that someone is neither tenured, nor on a tenure-track — into an "assistant professor." And then, in addition to teaching, he'd have had to produce appropriate proof of sustained scholarship, which in this profession means researching and writing serious articles for publication in law reviews like the one he helped edit when he was a student at Harvard Law. If his articles met the very subjective standards of the faculty, and if his teaching and other professorial work was acceptable, he'd have been granted tenure, and the title of "associate professor"; he'd have started participating in the faculty senate, voting on tenure decisions and law school policy; and eventually he'd have become a full professor (the "Professor of Law" that he's so often and so misleadingly claimed himself to be when away from the law school), and he'd probably eventually have ended up with an endowed chair (e.g., "the Fenster Q. Bigcontributor Chair in Socio-Legal Comparative Studies," or some such). And if Chicago hadn't embraced him for such a career path, literally hundreds of other law schools would have, and gladly, simply on the basis of Obama having been the first black editor-in-chief (a/k/a "president" in their odd nomenclature) of the Harvard Law Review.
Of course, as any career academic or even any one-time graduate student is keenly aware, "faculty politics" is some of the most intense and competitive politics around. But it's not always purely cut-throat; instead it must also be collaborative to be successful. Every academic's individual prestige is linked with that of his institution, and while they are rivals in some respects, all members of a faculty have a shared interest in seeing their institution prosper and grow in repute (and funding) over the long term. That they can and do cooperate to build great institutions of higher learning, and that leaders emerge among them to show the way, is why it's not a mockery that "college" and "collegiality" share the same linguistic roots.
But Obama chose not to go that path, for whatever reasons. He probably had a key to the faculty lounge and washroom, but by his choice, he was never part of the permanent, full-time faculty of Chicago Law School, or any law school.
Similarly, although Barack Obama could have had his choice of partnership-track associate positions at the top law firms in the country, he chose to be merely a non-owner part-time employee, "of counsel" at the small and not particularly distinguished Chicago law firm he joined after Harvard Law School.
Barack Obama was never anyone's fellow tenured faculty member, nor anyone's law partner and business co-owner. He never even tried to be.
I thought of that bit of Obama's personal history when I read this appalling story from Bob Woodward in the Washington Post. It's titled "Inside story of Obama’s struggle to keep Congress from controlling outcome of debt ceiling crisis," but the URL under which it was published contains a short and succinct indictment (italics mine, of course): "A president sidelined." It begins:
President Obama summoned the top four congressional leaders to the White House on Saturday morning, July 23, 2011. The night before, House Speaker John A. Boehner had withdrawn from negotiations to raise the $14 trillion federal debt limit and save the government from a catastrophic default. “Nobody wanted to be there,” Boehner later recalled. “The president’s still pissed.”
They had about 10 days left before the government would run out of money. Given the global importance of U.S. Treasury securities, failing to extend the debt limit could trigger a worldwide economic meltdown.
Boehner said he believed that he and the others — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — had a plan. He told Obama: We think we can work this out. Give us a little more time. We’ll come back to you. We are not going to negotiate this with you.
Obama objected, saying that he couldn’t be left out of the process. “I’ve got to sign this bill,” he reminded the leaders as they sat in the Cabinet Room off the Oval Office.
“Mr. President,” Boehner challenged, “as I read the Constitution, the Congress writes the laws. You get to decide if you want to sign them.”
Reid, the most powerful Democrat on Capitol Hill, spoke up. The congressional leaders want to speak privately, he said. Give us some time.
This was it. Congress was taking over. The leaders were asking the president to leave the meeting he had called in the White House.
Sidelined! Well, yeah, everyone else on the team has effectively sidelined him because he doesn't know the plays, doesn't know how to play his position, pays no attention to the snap count, draws a penalty flag with every other step he takes, and yet trash-talks endlessly. It's not unusual for a player to be sidelined. But it's pretty unusual when the other players sideline the nominal quarterback.
Barack Obama never learned to work and play constructively with others, so he certainly never learned how to effectively lead others.
The closest he ever came was when he was elected as a compromise candidate to head the Harvard Law Review. That was a great honor, but ask yourself: Other than the fact that he was the first black editor-in-chief, have you heard a single other notable fact about his service in that one-year slot? Oh, the HLR published on schedule (more or less, as law reviews tend to do), and it sailed along with the same standards of quality and scholarship that had built its reputation over more than a century. But frankly, the Harvard Law Review — like the Texas Law Review, on whose board I served in 1979-1980, or most other top law reviews — is easily capable of surviving for a year on auto-pilot regardless of the leadership skills of any single editor-in-chief. And I'm reasonably sure that during Obama's tenure, the HLR didn't have to borrow billions from the Chinese to put out its next issue either.
By all accounts, the only legislation of consequence that Obama ever passed as a state senator was that which was drafted by others and decided by the party bosses that, for symbolic reasons, he should sponsor. He passed absolutely nothing of consequence in his brief tenure as a U.S. Senator, served in no important leadership positions, and left not a single fingerprint on the institution of the United States Senate.
And now, when the United States and the world desperately need someone who can not just make speches, but actually lead — not just in public, but in private with his sleeves rolled up to deal with competing congressmen and constituencies — Barack Obama does not know what to do. He has the power of the Presidency, but not a clue how to use it effectively, so he is not taken seriously by any of the other players whom the Constitution makes part of the process of government.
And not only can Obama not lead, he can't even cooperate effectively.
I would feel slightly sorry for him, if he were not destroying my children's future.
"Lead, follow, or get out of the way," it's said. The 2012 election now represents President Obama — refusing even to get out of the way.
Friday, September 07, 2012
Friday morning national hangover
The fantasy from last night:
... And I’m asking you to choose that future. I’m asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country, goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit; real, achievable plans that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation.
We can choose a future where we export more products and outsource fewer jobs. After a decade that was defined by what we bought and borrowed, we’re getting back to basics, and doing what America has always done best:
We’re making things again....
I’ve worked with business leaders who are bringing jobs back to America, not because our workers make less pay, but because we make better products....
After a decade of decline, this country created over half a million manufacturing jobs in the last two and a half years....
We’ve doubled our use of renewable energy, and thousands of Americans have jobs today building wind turbines, and long-lasting batteries....
The reality in the cold morning light:
U.S. employers added 96,000 jobs last month, a weak figure that could slow any momentum President Barack Obama hoped to gain from his speech to the Democratic National Convention.
The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in July, the Labor Department said Friday. But that was only because more people gave up looking for work. The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively searching.
The government also said 41,000 fewer jobs were created in July and June than first estimated. The economy has added just 139,000 jobs a month since the beginning of the year, below 2011’s average of 153,000.
Dow Jones industrial futures, which had been up before the report, fell soon after it was released.
The report was weak throughout. Hourly pay fell, manufacturers cut the most jobs in two years and the number of people in the work force dropped to its lowest level in 31 years.
In addition to those who’ve given up looking for work, many young Americans are avoiding the job market by remaining in school. All told, the proportion of the population that is either working or looking for work fell to 63.5 percent. That’s the lowest level in 31 years for the labor force participation rate.
Average hourly wages dipped a penny to $23.52 and are only slightly ahead of inflation in the past year.
Many of the jobs were in lower-paying industries such as retail, which added 6,100 jobs, and hotels, restaurants and other leisure industries, which gained 34,000. Higher-paying manufacturing jobs fell by 15,000, the most in two years.
If you've been paying attention, you'll have noticed that the downward adjustment of previous figures for July and June by 41,000 jobs continues a long and depressingly consistent pattern: the Bureau of Labor Statistics, long thought to be one of the most genuinely nonpartisan of Washington institutions, now seems only able to err in one direction (overstating employment), but to do so like clockwork every month. So the 96k claimed new jobs for August — which was well short of the 125k expected by most economists before today's report — will probably be revised downward by tens of thousands, too.
The President bragged about the improvement of manufacturing employment, and promised a million new manufacturing jobs if he's given a second term. But the WaPo's reference to a drop in "higher paying manufacturing jobs" meant that manufacturing jobs in general are higher paying, not that just the number of top-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector dropped. Last month's 15k drop in total manufacturing jobs is the first since September 2011.
Of course, all such changes are completely dwarfed by the number of people who've given up and dropped out of the workforce altogether; there are almost three million more such Americans now than there were this time last year; 368k gave up in August alone, and if they hadn't, the nominal unemployment rate would have risen to 8.4% instead of dropping. And this is the 43rd straight month of unemployment above 8%, even using that understated calculation — can you remember when Dubya was villified for an unemployment rate around 5%?
The POTUS gets the monthly jobs report on the Thursday afternoon before they're released. President Obama knew these lousy numbers while he stood before the country claiming he has turned things around and that his "path leads to a better place." He and his partisans had a fine convention. It's too bad they are so unable to acknowledge — much less cope with — the world outside of it.
Thursday, September 06, 2012
Slow Joe seems secure
My blogospheric friend Dafydd ab Hugh asked earlier this week if I would be just a little bit disappointed if U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did indeed turn up in Timor-Leste and Brunei today, as scheduled, instead of in Charlotte, NC, to replace Slow Joe Biden as President Obama's running mate for the 2012 presidential election. As I answered him then,
I will be relieved if my prediction is false, not disappointed. I want Obama to lose, and I think replacing Biden with Hillary could and would help him win.
I'd like to be able to say "I told you so" if Hillary shows up on stage in Charlotte on Thursday night, but not remotely enough to wish, even a little, for something that would improve Obama's reelection chances.
I will concede only that if Obama does win, I would very much prefer for Joe Biden no longer to be first in the line of presidential succession....
Multiple news organizations are reporting that the SecState is indeed on schedule, and the AP photo at right purports to show Mrs. Clinton as she "enjoys a cup of coffee as she tours the Timor Coffee Cooperative in Dili, East Timor, Sept. 6, 2012." That is indeed enough to overcome my residual conspiracy-theory paranoia. Short of the Air Force strapping Mrs. Clinton into an SR-71 Blackbird, I don't think she could be in Charlotte in time to accept the Dems' nomination. That doesn't, of course, rule out a last-minute switch to someone else as a Biden replacement, but anyone else would be harder for the Democratic voting public to embrace spontaneously.
There is still a very, very, very remote chance that Obama could replace Biden before election day, but they're very close to ballot-printing deadlines across the country. If he had wanted to pull off a surprise comparable to the bin Ladin raid, the convention would have been the time for Obama to do it. So I think Slow Joe can breathe easy.
And as I predicted to Dafydd, I am indeed relieved, and I am very happy to contemplate, with chortles and chuckles, the prospect of the current Vice President debating he whom I believe should be the next one, Paul Ryan, in due course. Obama keeping Biden guarantees the maximum contrast in competency, and that Romney will get the most possible benefit from his Veep pick.
I think political wonks will someday mark this missed opportunity as the moment when Obama's political savvy finally finished turning from stainless steel to rust. The Dems will surely lick their wounds and re-write their convention rules and primary schedule and delegate selection procedures for 2016 — presumably to Clintonista specifications — during 2013-2014, when they take steps to prevent another accidental presidency by someone who's still coasting on fumes from one really good speech or exploiting one really appealing new angle. And some of them will wonder what might have been if only Obama had been slightly more adventurous, slightly more honest with himself about the risks of keeping Slow Joe, back in September 2012. As when the Dems recovered from the disastrous McGovern candidacy in 1972, as a party they'll surely tack more toward the center to return to competitiveness. That will probably be a good thing overall for the two-party system and for the country, and I support both.
"Bold and brittle talk, Beldar," you may say, "from one just proved so wrong." That may be, and this isn't the first time one of my predictions has come a cropper. But why should I lament the failure of my political opponents to exploit an opportunity that I saw, but that they, apparently, chose not to follow?
Just in case, though: I really, really do hope that President Obama has finally really given up smoking.
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
So what if a local meteorologist says that Thursday night is likely to be "the best weather of the entire week," with only a 20% chance of rain?
I think the Dems are just being pro-active here in recognizing that their natural constituency probably includes Wiccans. Some Wiccans may be from the west. A famous witch from the west once melted unexpectedly when she got wet. Mitt Romney probably admitted in his secret tax returns that a 20% chance of anyone melting at the Democratic National Convention is a perfectly acceptable gamble — but that just further highlights the stark choice facing Americans this November.
No, sir, Barack Obama may or may not have slowed the rise of the oceans as he promised. But no one is melting in the rain on his watch, regardless of his or her preferences regarding flying monkeys. And you can take that to the bank. (Just not to the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC.)
Hillary watch, pt. 2 [updated x 8]
I have a bad back myself. I know how back problems can flare up unexpectedly. So I'm certainly not asserting that Xi Jinping didn't really hurt his back:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday and pledged greater cooperation despite tensions on a rising number of issues.
But a meeting with Mr. Hu's expected successor, Xi Jinping, was unexpectedly canceled for what a U.S. official said was a back injury.
The severity and cause of the injury wasn't clear on Wednesday. The U.S. official said the cancellation wouldn't likely affect the tenor of Mrs. Clinton's visit. A senior State Department official said Mr. Xi had also canceled appearances with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and an unidentified Russian official.
From other news reports, under the slightly alarming headline "China's Xi Jinping cancels Hillary Clinton meeting amid 'tensions,'" we learn this:
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, asked at a joint news conference with Clinton about Xi's cancellation, said: "I hope people will not have unnecessary speculation."
China has in the past called off meetings at the last minute to show displeasure, although Xi has generally made US-friendly statements and sought warm relations during a trip across the United States earlier this year.
As I wrote earlier this week, I don't think our SecState would blow off an important meeting with the Chinese. I'm sure the senior State Department official who spoke to the WSJ's reporters was comprehensively briefed on the status of Mr. Xi's back and appointment schedule before going on the record (but not, apparently, for attribution by name) to Secretary Clinton's traveling press corps. And even the Chinese sometimes have trouble remembering the names of those Russian officials.
Surely only a delusional conspiracy theorist would believe that a high official in the Obama Administration might secretly bargain for a competing world power's cooperation by offering, for example, offering some vague quid pro quo during a second Obama term, when the President will have a little more flexibility.
But it might turn out to be awfully convenient for Secretary Clinton that Mr. Xi hurt his back if, for instance, she were in no particular hurry to get to Timor-Leste tomorrow to tour that coffee plantation.
So as I wrote on Monday: "I will be happy to be proved wrong, and I hope I will be." Nevertheless, "I'll believe Joe Biden's job is safe when I see reliable proof that Secretary Clinton has stepped onto the tarmac at the Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport in Dili."
UPDATE #1 (Wed Sep 5 @ 7:50am): Things are getting even weirder. Now WaPo correspondent William Wan is reporting from Beijing that other journalists can't get confirmation of the report I linked above from the Wall Street Journal, to the effect that the reason for cancellation was Mr. Xi's back:
The formal and highly scripted meetings in Beijing had their share of surprises. Besides the Wen comments, a meeting planned for Wednesday with Xi Jinping — the man expected to replace Hu Jintao as China’s president — was abruptly canceled upon Clinton’s arrival. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi did not explain the cancellation, only warning that people not use it as an excuse for "unnecessary speculation."
Xi also canceled meetings with the prime minister of Singapore and a Russian parliamentarian, according to U.S. officials. To try to make sure the United States would not interpret the cancellation as a snub, the Chinese set up a last-minute meeting instead with Vice Premier Li Keqiang, who is widely expected to succeed Wen as premier.
Yang also told the Clinton that the Chinese would deliver a letter to her from Xi on Wednesday.
Citing an anonymous U.S. official, the Wall Street Journal reported the Xi cancellation was due to a back injury, a claim that American diplomats traveling with Clinton refused to confirm.
I wish the WaPo had reported when the consolation meeting with Vice Premier Li Keqiang took place, or is scheduled to take place. But surely there is a perfectly innocent explanation for all this confusion. I'm just not clever enough to piece it together yet. Certainly none of these reporters who are rushing into print to contradict each other seem to sense that anything is amiss or other than what meets the eye. At least now we know that the unidentified Russian whose meeting with Mr. Xi was also cancelled was a parliamentarian instead of some other kind of official.
UPDATE #2 (Wed Sep 5 @ 8:15am): The NYT assures us that all is well and normal. The Chinese Foreign Ministry says so:
One of Mrs. Clinton’s most important appointments, a session with Vice President Xi Jinping, the likely next leader of China, was canceled. The Foreign Ministry said at its regular briefing that the cancellation was a “normal adjustment of the itinerary.” Mr. Xi also canceled his scheduled meeting Wednesday with Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong. “We have reached consensus with the United States and Singapore” on the cancellations, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said.
Diplomats in Beijing said they were told that Mr. Xi had hurt his back and said there was no reason not to believe that explanation, even though there was speculation about whether the cancellation of the meeting with Mrs. Clinton was connected to the once-in-a-decade transition, or whether it was intended as a snub.
Instead of Mr. Xi, Mrs. Clinton met with the vice premier, Li Keqiang, who is expected to become the premier early next year. Earlier Wednesday, she met with President Hu Jintao, whose term ends next year, at the Great Hall of the People.
So why can't the WaPo's reporter find the same "diplomats in Beijing" that the NYT's reporters found?
UPDATE #3 (Wed Sep 5 @ 9:55am): Hanna Beech of TIME now reports more specifics. They do not reduce my curiosity, but perhaps they will yours:
The urgent notice from the U.S. embassy in Beijing arrived in e-mail inboxes at 10:26 on Wednesday morning. The press conference with China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been moved up suddenly to 10:30. That would be in four minutes’ time. Could members of the foreign press please proceed quickly to Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on the edge of Tiananmen Square? The reason for the last-minute change of schedule appeared to be a no-show by the man widely expected to take over from President Hu Jintao in China’s upcoming once-a-decade leadership transition. Clinton’s scheduled talk this morning with Vice President Xi Jinping had been called off by the Chinese side, paving the way for an earlier press conference with the Chinese Foreign Minister. In the Sept. 5 media briefing, Clinton sidestepped a question about whether Xi’s cancellation might reflect tensions between the world’s two biggest economies at a time when competing territorial claims in waters off China have marred the People’s Republic’s relations with its maritime neighbors.
Despite the Xi cancellation, Clinton met with President Hu and other top Chinese leaders in Beijing on Tuesday and Wednesday. According to the American side, Xi’s scheduled meeting with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday was also scrapped. One version of events ascribes the Chinese Vice President’s absence to an injured back. “The current schedule of the secretary’s visit has been agreed by both sides,” said Yang, presumably referring to Xi’s cancellation. “I hope people won’t have unnecessary speculation.” China’s chattering classes are atwitter over how the upcoming leadership transition will play out in the coming weeks, as the first of the high-level staffing changes within the government trickle out of the capital. In a country where analysts often must seize on the briefest of shadow plays in order to guess what’s really going on behind the bamboo curtain, it’s only natural that Xi’s no-show will set off the rumor mill. Perhaps China’s presumptive heir to the presidency really does have an aching back. But convincing China pundits of that may be tough.
I'm no "China pundit," so I'm convinced! This is totally, totally a coincidence. Certainly there's no reason to think President Obama would have any incentive to create, at the moment of his re-nomination, the same kind of spectacular international distraction from his record that he briefly enjoyed after the bin Ladin raid. Surely the speech he plans to deliver on Thursday night, and that of Vice President Biden earlier that same evening, will be so wondrous that we'll all laugh, just laugh, to think that he might have ever wanted Hillary to replace Slow Joe.
But it only takes about fifteen hours to get from Beijing to Charlotte, N.C., by air, even flying commercial. And my wild fantasy has never involved Secretary Clinton taking any risks to offend the Chinese. But the East Timoreans are, perhaps, a different story. So I'm still looking for that "Dateline: Dili" news report confirming Secretary Clinton's arrival in Timor-Leste before I'm 100% convinced.
UPDATE #4 (Wed Sep 5 @ 10:20am): Now the AP (via Bloomberg) reports:
Clinton had been scheduled to meet Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over as China's top leader later this year, but that was canceled by the Chinese for "unexpected scheduling reasons," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. A meeting between Xi and the visiting prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, also was canceled without explanation.
Yang would say only there should not be "unnecessary speculation" about changes to Clinton's schedule.
So we might infer that at least one of the State Department officials who's been speaking on this subject is Victoria Nuland. She is the "Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson," for the State Department, which is impressive in a place filled with deputies and assistant vice underlings. I wonder if she knows any Russian parliamentarians. I'm guessing yes. Ms. Nuland, if you happen to read this in the next 24 hours, could you leave me a comment below, please?
UPDATE #5 (Wed Sep 5 @ 11:40am): From a southwest Asian source with which I'm not familiar, so for which I cannot vouch, a quote and time reference I haven't seen elsewhere yet:
China's likely next president Xi Jinping has cancelled a meeting with the visiting US Secretary of State, a US official said Wednesday, amid friction between the two global powers.
Hillary Clinton had been due to meet Vice President Xi later Wednesday during a brief visit to Beijing that looks set to be dominated by a series of territorial disputes between China and its neighbours, notably in the South China Sea.
"We were informed after 11:00 pm last night by the Chinese side that for unexpected scheduling reasons, the meeting between Vice President Xi and Secretary Clinton is not going to happen today," said the official, who requested anonymity.
"We understand from the Chinese side that Vice President Xi's meetings with the prime minister of Singapore and a Russian official have also been cancelled today."
Lots of things happen late at night. People hurt their backs. Airplanes fly, sometimes to secret destinations. It's sure hard for me to figure out what's going on with the SecState's travels, though.
UPDATE #6 (Wed Sep 5 @ 11:50am): Now the WSJ's reporters, Brian Spegele and Monica Langley, have posted an updated story:
China and the U.S. made little visible progress in resolving thorny diplomatic disputes during a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, as both sides stuck to long-standing positions on issues from regional territorial claims to violence in Syria.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government stayed silent on why Vice President Xi Jinping unexpectedly pulled out of a planned meeting with Mrs. Clinton on Wednesday. A U.S. official said Mr. Xi was suffering from a back problem. The incident highlighted how Beijing's information vacuum regarding its senior leaders spurs speculation by an increasingly curious and digitally savvy public.
Mr. Xi, the vice president, is expected to succeed Mr. Hu as Communist Party chief later this year and as president in 2013. Beijing's decision to cancel the meeting immediately drew speculation on the country's raucous online forums.
Chinese censors have struggled to quell political gossip on Twitter-like microblogging websites, which have become incubators for rumors. The rumors appear to be at least partly prompted by a lack of available information about the lives and work of China's senior leaders, whose very names are blocked on the services.
On Sina Corp.'s popular Weibo microblogging service, users who managed to evade censors put forward theories as to why Mrs. Clinton's meeting with Mr. Xi was canceled so suddenly.
"It seems like it's related to Japan's purchase today of the Diaoyu islands," wrote one user upon hearing the news, speculating that the Chinese might be preparing a military operation.
Mr. Yang, China's foreign minister, said there shouldn't be "unnecessary speculation" about why Mr. Xi's meeting was canceled.
Mr. Hong, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, described the cancellation as a normal "adjustment of itinerary" at Wednesday's daily press briefing.
One U.S. official said the meeting was canceled because Mr. Xi was suffering from a back problem. Further details were unclear. A senior State Department official said Mr. Xi had also canceled an appearance with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mr. Xi, who is 59 years old, hasn't appeared since Saturday on the government's official nightly news broadcast, which routinely spotlights the activities of senior leaders.
Aha. Perhaps this really is all about the Diaoyu Islands.
But why would Victoria Nuland, the most official of spokespersons, permit herself to be quoted by name by some reporters (unless we assume they risked banishment by naming her after having promised not to), but not by others, in one or more conversations about this specific topic within the last 24 hours? Isn't it reasonable to infer that there was perhaps another senior Treasury Department official who's also been speaking to the press about this — and if so, is the She Who Must Not Be Named someone who once lived in Arkansas?
This is hugely amusing to me, however it all turns out. If you're still reading this post, you must share my slightly warped sense of humor, or perhaps you just credit the Dems with the same capacity for deviousness that I do.
UPDATE #7 (Wed Sep 5 @ 12:15pm): How hard does BeldarBlog work to find out what the Secretary of State is doing on the opposite side of the globe? I even check the People's Daily Online, the official state-sponsored Chinese newspaper, which does indeed give us another piece of the puzzle, while leaving other questions unanswered:
Clinton arrived in Beijing Tuesday evening for a two-day visit at the invitation of Yang. She met with Chinese President Hu Jintao Wednesday morning and is due to meet with Premier Wen Jiabao, Vice Premier Li Keqiang and State Councilor Dai Bingguo in the afternoon.
So the consolation-prize interview with Vice Premier Li Keqiang took place many hours ago, and with it ended her need to remain in Beijing: It's already 1:15am on Thursday there. Is the SecState airborne already? And if so, are they headed to East Timor, or to North Carolina?
UPDATE #8 (Wed Sep 5 @ 1:40pm):
The LA Times, which I am normally loathe to link, has this:
In a short, frustrating visit to Beijing, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was stood up Wednesday by the future leader of China and delivered a stern lecture on China’s rights in the South China Sea.
During the third stop in her nearly two-week sweep of Asia, Clinton had hoped to meet with Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to get the nod next month to succeed Hu Jintao as China's president.
Xi also canceled meetings Wednesday with the Singapore prime minister and Russian officials, claiming a back injury. Nonetheless, the no-show at the session with Clinton was widely interpreted as a snub.
Xi’s cancellation of his meetings Wednesday triggered speculation that something was amiss with his candidacy and censors blocked any reference to “back injury” on the voracious microblog sites.
This is beginning to remind me of Akira Kurosawa's 1950 classic film, Rashomon.
And by the way, the video in the newer WSJ piece I linked above is an interview with their Sydney correspondent; the audio link was quite bad. But he made a determined and impressive case for the proposition that Secretary Clinton's visit to Timor-Leste is actually quite important because that new country has a lot of offshore hydrocarbons that are being developed by consortia which include American companies like Conoco-Philips. Moreover, he argued, a visit from a high-level U.S. diplomat is actually needed to show our support in the face of increased competition or even threat to Timor-Leste by China. That's all perfectly plausible. Yet none of it explains why Secretary Clinton couldn't instead simply make the visit next week after she finishes up in Vladivostok, or some other convenient time this fall.
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
Fixed that for ya, Mr. President
Among the websites controlled by the Obama White House is one intended for ready public access to fiscal matters — www.treasurydirect.gov. It even has a section for kids. There, we find this very educational bar chart showing the national debt:
For whatever reason, no one in the Obama Treasury Department has bothered to update the chart since 2009, which of course was only President Obama's first year in office. I was a liberal arts major, and I've only modest photoshop skills, but I do read the headlines and this bar chart is dirt simple to fix:
Of course, the chart is still slightly misleading because the selected dates aren't proportionately scaled along the X-axis, and of course the national debt history begins well before 1990.
But never let it be said that I wasn't trying to help the Obama Administration in its efforts to "tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times." We surely wouldn't want the kiddos to be confused about what Obama has done, and this bar chart certainly tells a story that gives me a sense of purpose.
I am so very guilty as charged
Should a video like this (hat-tip Jay Nordlinger) get wider distribution?
That's a clown question, bro.
Monday, September 03, 2012
In support of the "crazy like a fox" theory ...
Clint Eastwood's next movie — he starred in and co-produced, but didn't direct, this one — is called "Trouble With the Curve":
The ad campaign, featuring him, is on now. The film is scheduled for release on September 21st.
What percentage of the people who watch those ads between now and September 21st, or watch that film between September 21st and Election Day, do you suppose will also go back and watch Eastwood's speech — or, rather, performance — from the Republican National Convention?
Just in case you're curious — and I am, obviously — the SecState's official website says she's spending Monday (which is barely underway in Texas as I write this), September 3, in Jakarta (where it's already early Monday afternoon now), and she is expected in Beijing on Tuesday-Wednesday, September 4-5.
But what's next? Again per Secretary Clinton's official schedule on her official government website:
On [Thursday,] September 6, Secretary Clinton will be the first Secretary of State to travel to Dili, where she will emphasize U.S. support for the young democracy of Timor-Leste in her meetings with senior officials.
In Brunei, Secretary Clinton will meet with senior officials to emphasize the importance of the increasingly vibrant U.S.-Brunei relationship. She will also highlight the U.S.-Brunei ASEAN English Language initiative and discuss Brunei’s 2013 chairmanship of ASEAN.
The final stop on Secretary Clinton’s trip will be Vladivostok, where she will lead the U.S. delegation to the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting [on Saturday-Sunday,] September 8-9....
Meanwhile back in Charlotte, North Carolina, the official schedule for the Democratic National Convention promises that:
President Obama and Vice President Biden will accept the Democratic nominations for President and Vice President on Thursday, September 6 at Bank of America Stadium.
I note that many pundits have asserted that Secretary Clinton is not only not attending her husband Bubba's speech (which I fully expect to be the highlight of the entire convention), she's scheduled to be on the other side of the world. Many wise pundits whom I admire insist that Obama could never replace Biden because it would imply a mistake in choosing Biden to begin with, a mistake which Obama is incapable of admitting. And I certainly don't expect Secretary Clinton to create an international incident by publicly snubbing the Indonesians or the Chinese or the Russians.
But to the argument that Obama can't admit error: That's true, but it's still never stopped him from changing direction on a dime (see, e.g., his sudden epiphany that he really does support gay marriage). Obama is undeniably over-proud, but one must also take into account the Beldar Corollary: "Only a sucker would base any bet on the proposition that Barack Obama is capable of being shamed by anything."
Once or twice already in the two and a third centuries of American diplomatic history, a small country (like, say, Dili or Brunei) may have been disappointed when an American diplomat has sent a subordinate or asked to postpone a meeting. I don't know how important the Obama Administration thinks Timor-Leste is in the grand scheme of things, but apparently no American SecState has taken time to go there either before or since its independence a decade ago. While in Dili, Secretary Clinton is scheduled to "visit a coffee plantation," but one doubts whether missing that visit would be a casus belli even with the East Timoreans. And it would be in the Sultan of Brunei's financial interests to see Obama win, assuming the sultan wants to continue America's dependence on foreign oil. (He's surely shrewd enough to contain his giggles whenever anyone mentions Obama's "green energy" push.) Indeed, if you skimmed the roster of the U.N. looking for countries to which the SecState could most easily send a brush-off her polite regrets at the last minute and with no real consequence, Timor-Leste and Brunei would be hard to top.
Moreover, the world is smaller than it used to be, especially when you are the SecState and you have the resources of the U.S. Air Force at your command. The press covering her trip consists largely of the reporters traveling on her plane; and such reporters are routinely held incommunicado while they're being re-routed across the globe without notice or apology, as with Obama's recent surprise trip to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Charlotte Douglas International Airport is a joint civil-military facility, one to which a government plane could easily divert and land in complete secrecy. And even upon leaving the USAF's protective arms to venture into a busy city, a cabinet secretary, when she wants, can move with far greater stealth than, say, a Hollywood celebrity like Clint Eastwood (who famously played a Secret Service agent on film, but doesn't have any himself).
If the sudden replacement for Joe Biden had just secretly flown in from international diplomatic negotiations in Beijing, and was about to head off to Russia afterwards, that would certainly add to the breathless excitement of a Thursday night surprise, wouldn't it? Would anyone in the country still be talking on Friday about the latest disastrous unemployment figures or the $16 trillion national debt milestone?
So, being admittedly paranoid and fond of conspiracy theories — and still of the firm opinion that this switch would represent Obama's best hope for reelection and Hillary's best hope to succeed him — I'll believe Joe Biden's job is safe when I see reliable proof that Secretary Clinton has stepped onto the tarmac at the Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport in Dili.
I will be happy to be proved wrong, and I hope I will be.
But if you're a would-be Democratic voter this fall and my prediction indeed fails, will you not be disappointed?
Sunday, September 02, 2012
If he was born in Honolulu, must he therefore be the Messiah?
The following photo (hat-tip Mark Hemingway at the Weekly Standard) is from a post by David Weigel, Slate's token sorta-conservative, who in turn scanned this photo from a calendar sold by a street vendor outside the premises of the gathering Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina — so it's not fairly attributable directly to Obama or the Obama-Biden[?] campaign.
Weigel concludes from this merely that "the Cult of Obama staggers on." I think I'd say instead: "The Cult of Obama is just about all that's left."
I understand the Left's mockery of "birthers." By their dogged fixation on this issue, the birthers have given Obama and his supporters an enormous and comical distraction from the genuine mysteries in Obama's past — of which there are many that have not been addressed, much less rebutted, by Obama or his supporters. Even relying only on that which Obama admits, one could easily have concluded in 2008 that he was poorly qualified for the presidency even if he did meet the minimum constitutional qualifications, just as one can conclude that his sorry performance in office since January 2009 has more than justified all such reservations. And now, his actual performance in his first term is vastly more relevant to the question of whether he should be re-elected in 2012 than anything which came before his election in 2008.
But it seems to me that even from the point of view of an Obama supporter, there ought to be an awful lot of middle ground between "was born in the U.S." and "is the Son of God whose coming was prophesized by the Jews."
And besides, if the printing on this photo were accurate, shouldn't the birth certificate say "Bethlehem" instead of "Honolulu"? I'm pretty sure that when King Herod convened the greatest scholars of Judaism to ask them where the Messiah would be born (Matthew 2:4-6), none of them said, "We think it will be somewhere on Oahu."
(Weigel's Flickr account purports to claim copyright over this photo for Weigel. That's almost certainly incorrect; if it's a copyrighted photo, those rights belong to whoever took it and/or photoshopped the printing and snapshot onto it, or possibly (if the originator's rights were transferred) to the calender's publisher. I reprint it here, as Weigel undoubtedly did in Slate and on his Flickr feed, in reliance on the "fair use" exception to the copyright laws, but making no claim to ownership on my own behalf.)
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Today's vocabulary word
I had thought myself to have a perfectly adequate vocabulary to describe and discuss President Obama. But I have just learned a new word that I am trying to commit to memory, in part through this post. It is a term that most certainly may be fairly applied to to many politicians, and it's something of which Gov. Romney has been accused as well.
But I believe President Obama is much prone to tergiversation. (Yes, follow the link; and while you're there, do be sure to click for the pronunciation, for it is not at all what I had guessed it might be.) Indeed, with the possible exception of Bill Clinton toward the end of his second term, I think President Obama is probably the most accomplished and habitual tergiversator I've ever encountered.
Sputtering Puffington Host gives Beldar a morning grin
I opened my browser today to the Puffington Host for the specific purpose of seeing how badly "on tilt" the Lefties are after Paul Ryan's speech. Here was my answer:
Immediately I thought back to Datechguy's rallying cry, upon close observation of Team Obama and its partisans: "Ride right through 'em, they're demoralized as hell!"
I confess that I did not read the Puffington Host post linked from that dramatic headline. Perhaps in the Puffington Host's alternate universe, the Democratic whom Obama appointed to co-chair the Simpson-Bowles debt commission, Erskine Bowles, never gushed about fellow commission member Paul Ryan thusly:
Have any of you all met Paul Ryan? We should get him to come to the university. I’m telling you, this guy is amazing. I always thought I was okay at arithmetic, this guy can run circles around me. And he is honest, he is straightforward, he is sincere. And the budget he came forward with is just like Paul Ryan. It is a sensible, straightforward, honest, serious budget, and it cut the budget deficit, just like we did, by $4 trillion.
The president came out with his own plan. And, the president as you remember, came out with a budget. And I don’t think anybody took that budget very seriously. The Senate voted against it 97-to-nothing.
Perhaps in the Puffington Host's alternate universe, that GM plant is actually still open, and America's credit rating was never downgraded. Perhaps there, water flows uphill, Obamacare didn't raid Medicare, and one of the most reflexively liberal political blogs at the Washington Post never ran this headline and story:
But regarding those voters who are firmly tethered to this universe, I think Paul Ryan had a very good night, and the hysterical confabulation of this Puffington Host front-page makes me even more confident of that than I was last night.
Beldar reviews Wednesday night's GOP convention speakers
Tonight I recorded, and just now finished watching, the GOP convention speeches given by Gov. Susana Martinez (R-NM), former Secretary of State Condi Rice, and, of course, the newly official GOP Vice Presidential nominee, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI). I watched C-Span's coverage because I'm hard-core enough in my politics that I will even sacrifice HD just to avoid interruptions by insipid talking heads and toilet bowl cleaner commercials.
Susana Martinez opened a lot of eyes tonight. I know the Dems will inevitably label as "tokens," "sell-outs," or worse essentially every woman, and certainly every non-white person, who speaks at the GOP convention. But if you're actually listening to these speakers, I can't imagine how you could continue to insist that these non-WASP Republicans are just eye candy and time-fillers. My reaction to Gov. Martinez is like my reaction to U.S. Senate nominee Ted Cruz: "Stronger'n train smoke!" They are no one's clones, every one of them has a compelling personal story, and they radiate both authenticity and competency. The GOP has developed a deep and talented bench, folks, and it's been on display last night and tonight for anyone who cared to invest the time to look.
I have long been, and remain, among Condi Rice's fans. She is a prodigiously gifted writer and wordsmith, and she is commanding in one-on-ones and small groups, but she is not a career politician, nor a naturally confident public speaker in large venues. When I thought I heard an occasional nervous quiver in her voice tonight, I loved her for it all the more, because it simply highlighted the willpower and determination that have characterized her remarkable life story: she couldn't eliminate her jitters, but she relentlessly mastered them with every line of her speech.
Secretary Rice's critique of the Obama Administration's foreign policy was measured and substantive, if not very deep on details — which is to say, it was appropriately pitched for the audience and purpose at this nominating convention. But what was most noticeable and surprising to me — and this may have been something which came through better on C-Span, I don't know — was how very warmly the convention audience responded to her.
The Bush Presidents, with whom Rice is closely associated, and their spouses appeared only briefly tonight, and that in a brief, pre-recorded, and mostly sentimental video tribute. It was probably focus-grouped within an inch of its life to ensure its complete inoffensiveness. And everyone in the GOP — including the Bush family and all their allies and supporters — understands the decision Gov. Romney made long ago, back during the earliest pre-primary campaigning, to begin writing a new chapter of his own. There was no downside to de-emphasizing either Bush-41 or Bush-43, and no likely net benefit from highlighting them.
But the people in that convention hall are, for the most part, the GOP faithful. Thus, when Condi urged the audience to recall and appreciate "the will to make difficult decisions, heart-wrenching choices in the aftermath of 9/11 that secured us and prevented the follow-on attacks that seemed preordained at the time," the audience responded powerfully, with authentic affection that I believe was intended not just for her, but also for He Who For Purposes of Political Expediency Must Barely Be Named, the President in whose cabinet she most recently served. Even still, that applause was dwarfed by the approving roar she got from these lines (punctuation mine):
And on a personal note: A little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham, the most segregated big city in America. Her parents can't take her to a movie theater or a restaurant. But they make her believe that even though she can't have a hamburger at the Woolworth's lunch counter, she can be President of the United States. And she becomes the Secretary of State!
That applause all belonged to Condi — because, as she went on to say, "America has a way of making the impossible seem inevitable in retrospect. But of course it has never been inevitable." Many other people and circumstances made her career possible, but she is who actually made it happen. She built that career, one might say. And the audience just adored her, not just because they agreed with what she was saying, but because they approved of the fine and fierce example she has set.
Not a single word in Paul Ryan's acceptance speech surprised me, but that's because I've been listening closely to his public speaking for a couple of years now. I was, for example, utterly unsurprised that he did not back away a millimeter from his dogged commitment to make this election a debate over spending, the debt crisis, and the on-rushing collapse of our national safety net under the Democrats. But there were a few particularly well-crafted lines in this speech that I hadn't previously heard. My personal favorite among them was this:
None of us have to settle for the best this administration offers — a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us.
For tonight, I am content.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Best line of Tuesday evening's GOP convention speeches
There are several good contenders, but for my money, it was this one, from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's keynote speech:
You see, Mr. President — real leaders don't follow polls. Real leaders change polls.
Christie's remarkable and transformative success in blue New Jersey gives him the credibility to say that. It is a combined diagnosis and prescription that, alas, can be fairly directed not only at President Obama, but also at many other politicians on both sides of the aisle.
But no one has ever accused Paul Ryan of tailoring his politics to anyone's public opinion polling — and as Prof. Reynolds frequently and aptly notes, picking Ryan was Mitt Romney's first presidential-level decision. Picking Joe Biden was Obama's, and that contrast gives me hope for success in November.
My read on the subtext of Tuesday night's proceedings: Every speech had clearly been prescreened and edited to minimize any kind of negative campaigning directly against Obama. Romney-Ryan is obviously confident that the GOP is unified behind it, so it will focus essentially all of its own campaigning, including everything in this convention, on influencing independent and swing voters in battleground states. Those states quite literally contain the polls — the electoral kind, not the public-opinion kind — where the GOP strategists believe the election will be won or lost, and therefore those are the polls the results of which (per Gov. Christie's prescription) Romney-Ryan must change through a show of leadership. The Romney-Ryan campaign will rely on surrogates and outside groups to rally the base from now on; they're serving little to no red meat at this convention, but it will be served up, in more targeted campaigning, by others to those who want it or can be influenced by it.
Friday, August 24, 2012
Did you take my advice to bookmark my post on April 3, 2011?
I've been re-reading some of my old posts under my blog's Paul Ryan tag, which only dates back to April 2, 2011. I'd mentioned Ryan before then, but mostly in passing. Nevertheless, by the next day, I had posted this bit of political fortune-telling:
[Y]ou can bookmark this post: If Paul Ryan is the GOP Veep nominee, Obama will either dump Slow Joe Biden (probably through some contrived health or "more time with his family" excuse) or at least find another excuse for there to be no vice presidential debate. Because Paul Ryan would eat Joe Biden's lunch and then drink his milkshake.
I'm still hoping that my speculation about the Obama-Biden[?] 2012 ticket dumping Slow Joe will be proved wrong, but that particular ax is still suspended in mid-air as far as the public has been made aware. Perhaps it will end up missing outright.
I do confess that I laughed aloud at a sharp-but-juvenile joke about the Vice President that Peggy Noonan related yesterday. I just wonder if President Obama is still finding his Veep's verbal adventures very amusing.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Red books vs. blue books, and Obama's book(s) vs. Romney's book
Instapundit Glenn Reynolds links Amazon's Election Heat Map 2012, which contains Amazon.com's ongoing analysis of its sales of political books, which it divides into "neutral" books, "red" books, and "blue" books. A book's color, for this purpose, has nothing to do with its cover; instead, Amazon says it classifies political books as red or blue (rather than neutral) "if they have a political leaning made evident in book promotion material and/or customer classification, such as tags."
According to Amazon's current analysis, in the last 30 days, "red" books have outsold "blue" books by 56% to 44% nationally, and "red" books have outsold "blue" books in all states except New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia. Texas, colored cherry-red on Amazon's map, buys two "red" books for every "blue" book, but "red" books only hold a tenuous 2% lead in California.
Prof. Reynolds notes Amazon's sidebar, though, which tracks the sales of Barack Obama's second book, "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream," against Romney's "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness" — with Obama's book substantially outselling Romney's.
I haven't yet read Romney's book, but I read Obama's first quote-unquote "autobiography" — "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance," quite closely before the 2008 election. Indeed, I compared Obama's "Dreams" to John McCain's "Faith of My Fathers" in a long post then — McCain versus Obama: 'placelessness,' faith, and dreams — which I think holds up pretty well today. (My two key conclusions: (1) "Barack Obama's young life, and the people around him then, were filled with unconnected randomness. John McCain's young life, and the people around him then, were filled with deeply shared purpose"; and (2) "McCain got a rock-solid and abiding 'faith' from his grandfather and father — faith in them, in himself, in the U.S. Navy and the other U.S. military forces, and most importantly, in all of America — while at best, Obama got only 'dreams' from his.")
I also tried to read "The Audacity of Hope" in 2008, but I frankly found it dull, nearly impenetrable, and entirely forgettable: It's not really another autobiography, and it has no plot or story. Rather, it's more or less a repackaged bundle of early Obama campaign speeches and position papers. It's a typical politician's book — which is to say, it's a book that exists to be bought (so it will generate a nicely laundered royalty), and to be displayed on supporters' bookshelves, not a book to actually be read by anyone other than a zombied sycophant whose brains have already been scooped out and consumed.
Of course, both of Obama's books are still selling — and providing him with a handsome continuing royalty stream — and if we counted both Obama books against Romney's one, the sales gap would surely be even larger. And indeed, when I noticed that Amazon had only pitted one of Obama's two books against Romney's single book, I thought perhaps that Amazon was guilty of an oversight.
But then I had a small epiphany, and I suddenly understood why "Dreams From My Father" wasn't included in Amazon.com's sale comparison:
It simply wouldn't be fair to compare fiction to nonfiction.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
On GOP fundraisers who support gay marriage
Today's Washington Post included an article by Dan Eggen entitled "While GOP opposes gay marriage, key donors fund the other side." Mr. Eggen notes that while the official GOP party platform will include support for a proposed federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a number of prominent Republican fundraisers are nevertheless putting their support, and their considerable fundraising capacities, in service of the contrary position. Indeed, there is even "a new super PAC focused on supporting Republican congressional candidates who favor marriage equality" that's drawing multi-million contributions from some prominent Republican contributors.
Eggen describes this as evidence of a "growing rift" within the GOP on issues of sexual preference, but he also asserts that "support for same-sex unions remains an outlier among Republicans." In my evaluation, both of these statements are technically correct, but they miss and indeed conceal a larger and more important context:
Eggen appears to think this is new news. And he appears to think that there's only a "rift" within one party on such social policy. If so, he's wrong on both accounts.
In fact, each's party's platform will contain again this year — as they have since the mind of living man reacheth not back — policy positions that may indeed reflect the views of a majority of convention delegates, but that are much less fervently or consistently held by the voters who will cast ballots for that party's candidates.
The classic and still-valid example on the Democratic side will be the Democratic Party's official embrace of government-financed abortion on demand. There actually are still substantial numbers (quite literally millions) of pro-life Democrats who oppose abortion as a matter of broad principle; they've been rudely conditioned to keep their views mostly to themselves within the supposed party of tolerance, but they actually do exist, and a few of them still are "on record" with that position. Short of that, there are quite a few Democrats (and quite a few Republicans, including me) who are weakly and reluctantly pro-choice, but who genuinely and sincerely still believe in the Bill Clinton formulation that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare — a last resort whose moral complications must be acknowledged. And there are indeed Republican daughters who end up having abortions. There are Democratic daughters who end up bringing their unborn children safely to term, even though inconvenient or unplanned, even if they support the "right to choose" as a general matter, but out of personal reverence for that which distinguishes a human embryo or fetus from a "lump of tissue."
And likewise, on the questions of gay marriage and sexual orientation more generally, there are both Republicans and Democrats scattered all along the spectrum. There will be married gay Republicans who vote for Romney-Ryan. There will be Democrats who stay home because they're disappointed that Obama has endorsed gay marriage. There are voices even within the gay rights movement who caution against overreaching through court decisions, and who (correctly in my judgment) point to the recent repeal of "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" as the better model for gradual and politically legitimate changes in social policy.
And actually, Dick Cheney and I are part of a sizeable plurality in the GOP who oppose any government discrimination on the basis of sexual preference, but who are unwilling to engage in the pernicious and unprincipled fiction that the U.S. Constitution somehow already addresses sexual preference. Cheney and I have held that position for many years, whereas Barack Obama only came around to the first part of it a few weeks ago. So the new news is supposed to be that there are Republicans who — gasp! — support same-sex marriage as a policy matter? You'd think the recency of Obama's conversion might have merited more than the brief and passing mention that it got in this article, but I suppose we've always been at war with Eastasia.
Nope, when the WaPo reports on something like this story that deviates from the Democratic Party narrative, it suits the WaPo's purposes to pretend that this is the new news, and that these people are mere "outliers." Otherwise, they can't use fear to move votes. Otherwise they can't pretend that these controversies are going to be resolved, once and for all time, definitively and forever, based on this November's election. Otherwise they can't distract voters from the shambles which this Administration has made of our national economy and the government fisc.
Americans really can't be neatly sorted so neatly into boxes. But that doesn't stop the mainstream media and the political meme-spinners from trying.
And that doesn't mean we have to fall for it.
Obama-Biden[?] 2012 dares not relinquish the spotlight for the GOP convention
In 2008, after promising that he would accept federal campaign financing and therefore abide by its spending limits for the general election, Barack Obama brazenly broke that promise. I was therefore somewhat surprised, and mildly gratified, that Obama-Biden 2008 nevertheless honored a long-standing and bipartisan tradition by self-limiting its own campaigning during the 2008 GOP convention. McCain-Palin, of course, also honored that tradition during the Democratic convention. (And it also took federal financing, as a result of which McCain-Palin was vastly outspent.)
There was a practical and mutual benefit to the tradition: Everyone on both sides of the political aisle recognized that every presidential campaign could benefit from a three- or four-day breather, a chance to recharge and reorganize and quietly fund-raise, a chance to gather resources and determination for the sustained push to Election Day. And by honoring the tradition, both parties' campaigns also showed class and self-confidence — an affirmation by each campaign that it was not afraid to give the other campaign a brief monopoly on publicity. The tradition demanded that each side be willing to say, in effect: "Give it your very best shot for a half-week during your convention, only let us have a comparable half-week during our convention in return, and we'll both have better served the American public."
But apparently, desperate times at 1600 Pennsylvania call for desperate measures. Obama-Biden[?] 2012 has announced multiple campaign appearances for Vice President Biden, the First Lady, and President Obama himself during the GOP convention (which will officially run from August 27-30, 2012).
So what's next? At the presidential debates, when it's Mitt's turn to talk, is Obama going to put his fingers in his ears and chant "Na-na-na-na I can't hear you na-na-na-na!" to drown out the sound of Romney's voice?
But the GOP convention comes first this year. And the more Obama-Biden[?] 2012 tries to distract from it, the more justification Romney-Ryan will have to return the favor when the Dems hold their convention on September 3-6, 2012. So why would Obama-Biden[?] 2012 break a tradition when it's certain that the GOP can and will retaliate, and when the sequencing favors the GOP?
The only explanation I can think of is that Obama-Biden[?] 2012 is totally fixated on continuing to divert the public's attention from the exact issues which Paul Ryan's selection has brought to the fore. With the Congressional Budget Office warning that "the economy will enter a recession next year if the country goes over the so-called fiscal cliff" at year-end 2012 — with "the economy contracting by 2.9 percent in the first half" of 2013, and even the artificially understated unemployment rate reaching 9.1 percent — Obama-Biden[?] obviously feels it has to keep up a steady, indeed, an increasing hue and cry about any and all possible distractions. So expect Obama to use these swing-state campaign appearances to continue talking about Romney's tax returns from 2003 or his dog's vacation travels in the 1980s, whatever will get even an iota of traction. So determined are they to distract from the Romney-Ryan message that they're willing to have their own convention undercut.
Of course, since they have no plan other than more taxing, spending, debt, and graft, which they'd rather not talk about, they're not damaged as much by chaos. And besides, when and if Romney-Ryan campaigns during the Democratic National Committee, Obama-Biden[?] 2012 can always employ its universal fall-back:
Monday, August 20, 2012
Dogs that don't bark in the night, and an obvious campaign talking point we haven't heard
The conventional wisdom among the chatterati is that despite all the hoop-la about Joe Biden's most recent set of gaffes, his spot on the ticket is safe.
The Obama-Biden[?] campaign's spin-meisters have been hard at work: The Vice President was misunderstood; the Vice President meant to say "shackles" instead of "chains"; Danforth, Virginia, is actually very close to North Carolina, so perhaps the Vice President really was exhorting those Virginians to mobilize their cross-border friends and family to take North Carolina again this November.
You know what proposition, what obvious campaign talking point, I haven't heard anyone — from any stripe or shade of the political spectrum — assert with respect to Joe Biden in many, many months? It's this one:
Well, you know, no matter what else may be said, at least Joe Biden would probably make a pretty good President if called upon.
It hasn't even occurred to anyone to make that argument.
And the only possible response to that assertion would be: "Are we talking about the same Joe Biden?"
The Vice President's delicate condition
Writing at Forbes.com, Henry I. Miller opines that "Joe Biden's gaffes call for a thorough neurological examination":
Are these aberrations stupidity, dementia or personality disorders? To find out, shouldn’t there be some vetting or testing of people in, or who aspire to, governmental positions as critical as the vice-presidency? After all, we require bus drivers and hairdressers to prove their competence before they are permitted to ply their trades, and applicants to most police forces undergo psychological testing.
Biden should submit to a thorough neurological and psychiatric examination, with special attention to whether he is experiencing “transient ischemic attacks” – marked by impaired blood flow to the brain – small strokes, seizures, or suffers from a brain tumor. After all, we often demand to know whether a candidate has recovered from open-heart surgery, cancer or a stroke, and many states require elderly drivers to be re-licensed.
Aren’t the vice-president’s highest-level security clearance and his influence on public policy as important as the ability to drive a car?
Don’t voters have a right to know whether Biden is ill or merely unlikeable, impulsive and prone to deceitfulness?
I'm not sure how much of this is tongue-in-cheek. I don't know, or know of, Dr. Miller. Forbes lists him as "a physician [and] the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution." I can tell from this op-ed that he has a fairly good sense of humor. And he came up with a couple of pretty good anecdotes about Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) that I hadn't heard before; by themselves, they're worth following the link to his piece.
I'm not quite sure whether Dr. Miller is urging this prescription (i.e., that Biden seek medical and perhaps psychiatric help) upon the Obama-Biden[?] campaign, or whether he's contending instead that the American press or the voting public ought to demand it of the Obama-Biden[?] campaign, and penalize them at the ballot-box if they're non-compliant. If Dr. Miller is counting on the press, though, he might want to consider that there's not a single reporter in the White House press corps who has even the guts or the integrity to ask whether Pres. Obama is or isn't still smoking cigarettes! Perhaps he will recall that before asking America to elect him, Obama released a grand total of one-half page of medical information — that being a conclusory set of opinions from a physician selected by Obama, given without a whit of supporting data or detail. Press furor at an obvious stonewall? Zero. Follow-up on that, by anyone in the mainstream media, since the 2008 election? Zero.
Nevertheless, I must reluctantly disagree with Dr. Miller's prescription. For one thing, I'm not sure whether Dr. Miller was aware of Vice President Biden's public medical history, which includes surgery to repair two brain aneurysms some years ago. It is by the design of the Obama-Biden[?] campaign that we know so little more, but I would still be very surprised if Biden's not already getting more thorough-than-usual neuro workups anyway, if only as a consequence of that history.
More fundamentally, though, I am pretty skeptical of sentences which begin, "Don't voters have a right to know ....?" Voters decide for themselves, for better and often quite demonstrably for worse, how much and what type of vetting they want. Voters can and do employ ridiculous double standards. And it wasn't just the mainstream media who gave Obama a free ride in 2008. A majority of the American republic, as represented through the presidential electors from their respective states, ratified the media's inaction by electing a man who'd campaigned on his "Kansas values" even though he never lived in Kansas for a single day. Some of us cared; some of us were horrified; but not enough of us were, obviously, and so we've been stuck with both President Cypher and his faithful sidekick, Bozo the Veep, for the last three-and-three-quarter years now.
But the voters don't need a neuro or psych report on Joe Biden. His unfitness for office is obvious, but it was obvious in 2008 too. Remember that even among Democratic voters, when Biden was running again for President during the 2007-2008 Democratic primaries (from which Biden dropped out on January 3, 2008), Biden ran a distant tied-for-fourth (with Chris Dodd), polling at a mere 5% — far behind not only Obama and Hillary, but also far behind that blight on the reputation of the entire male sex, Johnny Reid Edwards. No amount of professional whitewash could change any of that; Joe Biden's as far beyond rehabilitation as he is beyond the onset of male pattern baldness.
Nope, even without expert opinions, everyone knows Joe Biden is a disgrace, a bad joke, a catastrophe being kept from America only by Barack Obama's steady heartbeat, may the Lord protect and preserve his good health. The question is whether more of us, this time, will care.
Friday, August 17, 2012
Is the conventional wisdom on Biden's inevitable renomination crumbling?
In the "fabulous fourth-hand gossip, but could this possibly be true?" category, Robert Costa at NRO's The Corner quotes Larry Kudlow's CNBC interview with Edward Klein, author of a controversial recent book about Obama and his administration called The Amateur. Klein, in turn, claims to know from Clintonista sources that the White House was "putting out feelers" about Hillary replacing Biden "up until just a couple of weeks ago," when Hillary supposedly turned down the offer. There's much more — Bubba's name is mentioned — but read the whole titilating tale.
I wonder if Jay Carney interprets "a couple of weeks ago" to be the same as "a long, long time ago"? Because, you know, in a political campaign, it can be. Ask the ghost of Thomas Eagleton, the "18-Day Nominee" whom George McGovern continued to trust in 1972 even after news leaked of Eagleton's hospitalizations for exhaustion and depression and his electroconvulsive therapy sessions. Indeed, McGovern went on record saying that he was "one thousand percent for Tom Eagleton," and that he had "no intention of dropping him from the ticket." And McGovern struck doggedly to those positions, too, for several more hours at least.
On the one hand, it's not hard to imagine that replacing Biden might have become a more-than-theoretical inquiry after Biden's off-script comments forced Obama's timing on his gay marriage reversal (or as I prefer to call it, Obama's very belated joinder in my own and Dick Cheney's position). On the other hand, though, it would have been imprudent for Obama to turn over any cards — even to Hillary, and arguably especially to Hillary — before he knew who Romney was going to pick as the GOP's nominee-presumptive. And Team Obama is presumably already pretty sure that they've thoroughly vetted Hillary, who'd been under intense public scrutiny for over a decade before Team Obama even began their "opposition research" for the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. If he wanted her to accept, the smart play would have been to clam up, sit tight, and then have Obama spring it on Hillary in person, on short notice and with a short fuse. But on the third hand, that may be imputing better organization and planning, and more acute political sophistication, to Team Obama than it deserves.
I'd surely like to see how Frank J imagines that alleged lunchtime conversation between Hillary and Obama consigliere Valerie Jarrett might have taken place, though.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Big and little reasons: Why Hillary would say "yes"
My commenters here, and many pundits elsewhere on the web, argue very persuasively that Hillary Clinton would turn down an offer from Barack Obama to replace Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket for 2012. They advance many small but cumulatively weighty reasons why Hillary would say "no" if Obama asked. Here, for example, is respected political analyst John Fund's take at National Review Online:
I’ve no doubt that some Democratic strategists would love for Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to swap jobs and bolster the Democratic ticket with a little Clinton magic. But there’s no evidence that Hillary would take that deal. If she wants to run, she is already the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic nomination and would gain no advantage by being yoked to Obama, her old adversary, for the next three months if they lost or the next four years if they won.
So Democrats are stuck with Old Joe, who will turn 70 this November. It’s said that few people vote for a presidential ticket based on who is filling the No. 2 slot. But some do, and they may matter in a very close race....
I confess not to being able to follow Mr. Fund's logic in that last paragraph. Don't the last two sentences directly support the notion that Obama should replace Biden? If you're looking to get to the polls those people, few or otherwise, who might be excited about a vice presidential nominee, do you want Hillary or do you want Slow Joe? Just about the only unanimous opinion about Sarah Palin's impact on the 2008 election was that she energized and turned out a lot of the GOP base who were unenthused about John McCain. There's no reason to think that Hillary Clinton would do less well among the Democratic base, and some reason to think that she might do quite a bit better in attracting independent voters.
And does anyone think George H.W. Bush didn't gain a net advantage over Dukakis in 1988 by being the sitting Veep? Dukakis' attempts to tar Bush-41 with Iran-Contra and other Reagan controversies didn't work well enough to make a difference, and Poppy successfully campaigned as Reagan's natural heir and annointed designee. However well it works out in any given election cycle, having to campaign as a sitting Veep is hardly the political kiss of death.
But put that aside, and let's get back to how Hillary Clinton would necessarily have to evaluate an offer from Obama that she replace Biden.
I humbly submit to you that there is one big reason why she would say "yes," and that it alone outweighs all the other little reasons why she might say "yes" or she might say "no":
If she says yes and they win, she will be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
The number of former First Ladies who have become President is zero, of course. The number of former U.S. Senators who've become President is considerably higher, and so is the number of former Secretaries of State. The number of people who've already placed a reasonably close second in a long-running party presidential primary is pretty small. But any of those examples might give Hillary statistical hope for her chances in 2016, whatever happens in 2012, right?
Yet look at the percentages. It's true that sixteen U.S. Senators have gone on to become POTUS, but that's out of well over 2100 total U.S. Senators (less than 0.8%). Six former SecStates have become POTUS, but that's only nine percent of our sixty-seven total Secretaries of State. I don't have stats handy for how many primary runner-ups have later gone on to become POTUS, and of course primaries are relatively new. But if taken separately, the percentages of former SecStates and Senators and presidential primary runner-ups who've gone on to become President are all small; and taken collectively, they surely amount to only some tiny fraction of 1%.
By very sharp contrast, nine Vice Presidents have succeeded to the presidency due to the death or resignation of the POTUS (Tyler, Filmore, A. Johnson, Arthur, T. Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, L. Johnson, and Ford). And no one but a Vice President (i.e., no then-current House Speaker nor Senate President Pro Tem nor SecState, etc.) has ever succeeded to the presidency due to the POTUS' death or resignation.
Five more Vice Presidents (Adams, Jefferson, Van Buren, Nixon, and G.W.H. Bush) were elected POTUS in their own rights. Another (Gore) failed by no more than a whisker just 12 years ago, and at least one failed Veep nominee (FDR) also later became POTUS (and there may have been others). But even discounting the near-misses and valuable set-ups, there's one stat which simply cannot be ignored:
Through succession or election, fourteen out of our forty-four Presidents — almost a third — have previously been Vice President. I think Hillary is smart enough to follow that math.
I also think she's smart enough to prioritize. Do she and Obama like or trust one another? Who cares? That's way, way down the list of factors either one would consider in answering the question of whether they can stay/become POTUS. Who gets to sit in the big chair in the Oval Office is controlled solely by Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, which governs both the electoral college and the order of presidential succession. If your goal is the top, everything else is a subsidiary issue.
President Obama is himself young, and but for his cigarette habit (about which we haven't heard much lately), he seems to be healthy and athletic. There's no reason to think he's likely to become disabled or to die in office from any medical cause. He is as well protected as the Secret Service can make him, and we all share in hoping that he remains safe and healthy. But there are no guarantees against disease, nor other causes of death or disability. There's no guarantee against a successful presidential impeachment, for that matter, nor against circumstances that could prompt a President's resignation. As a matter of structural constitutional opportunity and long national history, there's no shorter pathway to the presidency than through the vice presidency — nor any that's more likely, nor any path at all that is so unambiguously prescribed. That the vice presidency under Obama would guarantee her preeminence as the Dem favorite for 2016, and keep her continuously in the public eye until then, would simply be gravy.
If asked to replace Biden, Hillary would have to ask herself the same question that an aging Lyndon Johnson asked himself when JFK offered him the Democratic Veep nomination in 1960: What maximizes my chances of becoming POTUS? And as LBJ recognized in 1960, any way you slice it, becoming your party's nominee for Vice President is the best way to maximize your odds.
And finally, this:
Suppose you're Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama comes to you and says he's decided to replace Joe Biden on the ticket. He offers you the spot, but you believe that if you decline, he will pick someone else — a second choice, but still someone whom he reasonably believes will help him counter the change the Ryan selection has made in the race. He mentions a couple of names; assume, for purposes of this hypothetical, that you agree with his assessment of the likelihood they'll help him more than Biden.
What does that do to your 2016 plans and dreams?
UPDATE (Thu Aug 16 @ 6:45pm): White House Press Secretary Jay Carney today gave an unequivocal "yes" when asked directly if Obama-Biden[?] "is the ticket." Carney added that "that was settled a long, long time ago." And I'm sure that's all technically correct. It will be until the moment that Obama dumps him, which is every bit as possible now as it was before Jay Carney said it wasn't. Democrats live in an alternate universe anyone, one in which Bill Clinton never had sex with that woman and Tony Weiner never sent those penis self-portraits to young women — until they confessed that yes, they actually had. (Also, you will always be able to keep the health care you had in 2008; the stimulus was full of shovel-ready jobs; unemployment is now 5.6%; we weren't in combat in Libya when our ships and aircraft were blowing stuff up; we tried Obama's plan and it worked; and Obama completely turned around the economy in his first three years in office. That alternate universe. Oh, and we've always been at war with Eastasia.)
Obama can always say, "Mr. Carney was speaking before we realized that the country needs Joe more to be heading up the peace-and-relief mission to ________ [fill-in-the-blank] than I need him to be with me on the campaign trail. We're lucky he's so committed to the good of the country."
As a supplement to Geraghty's Rule — "All statements from Barack Obama come with an expiration date. All of them." — I offer the Beldar Corollary: "Only a sucker would base any bet on the proposition that Barack Obama is capable of being shamed by anything."
UPDATE (Thu Aug 16 @ 8:15pm): Since we're not talking about replacing Vice Presidents as such, but about replacing candidates for Vice President, another fairly recent precedent, at least for those of my generation or older, is George McGovern's abandonment of Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-MO), the Veep nominee McGovern had picked, and the Democratic National Convention delegates had accepted, on July 13, 1972. Eagleton had not disclosed several hospitalizations for physical and nervous exhaustion, his electroshock therapy treatments, or his diagnosed depression. (Would anyone today think any of that more disqualifying than Biden's idiocies? I wouldn't.) When the news broke 18 days after the nomination, McGovern at first insisted that he was "one thousand percent for Tom Eagleton" and that he had "no intention of dropping him from the ticket" — which sounds almost exactly like what Jay Carney said about Biden today, doesn't it?
But McGovern soon decided that not replacing Eagleton would hurt worse than replacing him, so McGovern turned instead to Kennedy-family in-law Sargent Shriver, who joined the ticket in plenty of time to prepare for their eventual 49-state blowout loss. Certainly choosing Eagleton, then dumping him, made McGovern look bad. No one has suggested it had more than a tiny and marginal effect on the outcome of the election, however, and we'll never know whether McGovern would have fared better or worse with Eagleton than he did with Shriver.
You see, what the Vice President really meant to say was ...
The Weekly Standard's Daniel Halper passes along along news "that aides to Vice President Joe Biden have taken the unusual step of wrangling the press for edits to pool reports." Quoting a source I don't choose to link, this post explains that "attempting to intervene in the drafting of accounts that reporters share with one another is all but unheard of," not just regular spin. The quoted source goes on to say that this "reflects the deep concern Biden’s team has about offering any fodder to the opposition."
In other words, the political pros are trading favors and using all their influence to get friendly reporters (i.e., virtually all of them) to take it easy on Slow Joe. They are literally telling the reporters how to do their jobs in a way that will benefit the Obama-Biden[?] campaign.
("Obama-Biden[?] campaign," with that question mark in brackets, is exactly how I'm going to refer to the prospective Democratic ticket for the next three weeks or so. Feel free to do likewise, or not. I'm not in the business of telling my readers how to do their jobs.)
It's hard to imagine a more dispiriting job than being one of Joe Biden's handlers. I'm sure they tell themselves that they're star performers at the circus. In their dreams, they're high-wire performers, or perhaps trapeze artists, always skillfully recovering from desperate peril at the very last moment. But everyone else can see that they're the guys with push-brooms and wheeled trash cans who follow the circus parade to deal with the poop it's left in the streets.
The notion that Obama might replace Biden is spreading, and in addition to Hillary, New York governor Andrew Cuomo is also being floated as a possible replacement. Cuomo is indeed a rising star of the Democratic Party, but he's still a very young man. He is not yet widely known outside New York, and has never run in any sort of national campaign before; we might predict that he'd do well when rolled out, as Paul Ryan has, but Cuomo has only a tiny fraction of Hillary's current name recognition and approval nationally. Cuomo also has many future presidential election cycles in which he might plausibly compete; he's surely ambitious, but the calendar isn't his enemy like it is Hillary's. If (and I don't assume that at all) Cuomo thinks Obama is going to lose this year regardless of whether Biden's replaced, Cuomo might well think it in his best long-term interests to pass on a chance to be the Veep nominee this year. But that's a luxury I don't think Hillary has, as I've previously explained — no more than LBJ could resist JFK's offer in 1960.
UPDATE (Thu Aug 16 @ 10:08am): Meanwhile, it turns out that my whimsical title on yesterday's post has been proved prophetic: Even as I write this update, Obama, Biden, and Clinton are huddled together in the Oval Office. Doubtless the POTUS and SecState are merely drawing upon the VPOTUS' vast foreign policy experience — in which case we should expect an announcement this afternoon that Iraq is being partitioned into three parts.
Or maybe they're having a conversation that includes the phrases "take one for the team" and "good sport."
Is anyone monitoring the lockdown status of Wikipedia's entries on Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton?
Whatever other consequences might flow from Obama picking a different Veep nominee to run with him in 2012, and whatever someone like Hillary might bring to the ticket that Biden cannot, the one thing that Obama can be reasonably certain of is this: Dropping Joe Biden won't cost Obama a single electoral vote. Biden has no constituency; so long as Biden exits with reasonable grace, even the voters of Delaware — probably including Biden's close friends and family — will still vote for Obama-Whoever in at least the same numbers as they would if Biden remained on the ticket.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Madame Secretary, please hold — the President says he needs to speak with you urgently
On Sunday, I predicted that Obama will replace Biden with Hillary, and I explained why I think that:
... Paul Ryan's selection just moved Hillary Clinton from "possible" to "probable" as Biden's replacement on the 2012 Dem ticket. Look for Slow Joe to find a sudden yearing to become an elder statesman who has more time to spend with his family. I'll bet Hill & Bill are having champagne tonight. Even most of my Democratic friends will admit, if pressed, that it would be a good thing for the country to get Joe Biden out of the line of presidential succession....
Pawlenty, Portman, or even Rubio would have whipped Biden in the Veep debate and as a campaign surrogate, but not so badly as to make Biden look much worse than Biden does even with no active opponent. If Romney had chosen one of them, then keeping Biden would have been a closer call. But recall that Paul Ryan is the only Republican politician in the last two years to have obviously bested Obama himself in face-to-face argument in a public forum. And whether you credit Obama with modest or supernatural eloquence, he's certainly aware that Biden isn't in his own league, and he surely knows that Ryan will disarticulate Biden, both stylistically and substantively, in the Veep debate.
Biden turns 70 in late November, and his medical history includes two brain aneurysms. The rationale for him being on the ticket in 2008 (that he would offset Obama's foreign policy inexperience) no longer exists. He brings no constituency that Obama doesn't already have on his own now; among young voters, whose participation Obama wants desperately to encourage, Biden is very nearly as much a standing joke as he is among Republicans. There has always been a decent chance that Obama would dump him in 2012, but of course that would never conceivably have happened until Obama first saw who Romney picked, in order that Obama could know who Biden's successor would be up against. Now he knows.
The best chance the Dems have to respond to the Ryan selection would be asymmetric political warfare — which translates quite neatly into replacing Biden with the most ambitious and most popular Democrat in the country, Hillary Clinton. Indeed, that will mesh like clockwork with the coming Obama pivot to foreign policy as the best possible distractraction, and the only substantive distraction, from the economic ruin he's wrought. The rest of the Obama-Clinton campaign would largely consist of heaping calumny on Romney-Ryan and Mediscare — Dems cannot talk about the economy in anything but the most simplistic, jingoistic talking points, because anything else is poison to Obama's campaign — but SecState/Veep nominee Clinton, along with a newly energized Bubba, would surely be employed to highlight the relative lack of traditional foreign policy credentials on the part of both Romney and Ryan.
Since then, though, Biden has, in short order, told the citizens of Danville, Virginia, that "With you, we can win North Carolina again," and that Romney's "gonna put y'all back in chains."
The only thing remarkable about the latest Biden gaffe is how routine these gaffes have become, and what a cosmic double standard everyone in the public eye — the press, both campaigns, everyone but the general public and its snarky bloggers — employs to avoid asking the question, "Just how panicked would we all be if Barack Obama suddenly had chest pains?"
I could well be proved wrong. I'm out alone on my limb, it would seem. But I'll bet you there are back-up provisions in the election laws that, in the event of a convenient "health crisis" involving V.P. Biden,* or perhaps simply a decision by him that he wants to forego the nomination so he can spend more time with his family, would still let Obama pick a replacement even after the Democratic convention. I don't think he'll wait that long because Obama will want to use the convention to squeeze one last sentimental appearance out of Biden as he goes to pasture, and more importantly, to rub some of Hillary's popularity back off onto himself.
And when you say "sure, Ford changed Veeps, and FDR switched Veeps like he changed his underwear, but the Dems couldn't replace a prominent candidate this late in a major federal election these days," I have one name for you: Bob Torricelli.
If you think Hillary would say no: The conventional wisdom is that that's what "everyone" thought LBJ would say when JFK offered him the Veep nomination at the Democratic convention in 1960. Robert Caro's newest volume in his phenomenal biography of LBJ takes a fresh look at that historical surprise and concludes that it made perfect sense from both JFK's and LBJ's points of view. Caro also convincingly debunks the later attempts by the Camelot Crew (led by Bobby) to claim that JFK had only offered Johnson the spot as a "courtesy," and that JFK had been stunned when Johnson accepted, but too polite to withdraw the offer. Instead, Kennedy offered the spot to Johnson not out of any courtesy at all, but because without Johnson on the Democratic ticket, Jack Kennedy thought Nixon would probably win — it was exactly that simple, and Jack knew it whether Bobby could come to grips with it or not. The notion that Jack Kennedy would have taken on a Veep for four years who he didn't really think was the best choice, simply to avoid offending Johnson, is risible.
It will come down to one two-part question: Does Barack Obama think he'll have a better chance to win this election by replacing Biden with someone else — and if so, with whom? And as with JFK's pick of LBJ in 1960, it's exactly that simple.
*(Lest anyone think or suggest otherwise, I stress that I wish the Vice President a long and healthy life, whether in or out of politics, as his wishes and the fates decide. I bear him no personal ill-will. This is simply about him being an anchor dragging back the Obama campaign, and whether it makes political sense for Obama to replace him.)
Sunday, August 12, 2012
A true-life parable from Beldar on low interest rates, "free money," and Democrat logic
In July, for the first time during this millennium, I bought a car. I'm very happy with it and with the transaction by which I acquired it: I test-drove at the dealer closest to my home, did further comparison shopping and took competitive bids on the internet, and then struck a fair deal with no game-playing by me or the salesman I dealt with. But when I was arranging the paperwork, one of his colleagues was tasked by the dealership with selling me something I was not much interested in buying — one of their various extended warranty packages.
For some people and on at least some kinds of purchases, extended warranties can make economic sense. In my circumstances, for a purchase like a car, they don't: I'm at a lower than average risk than many other car owners whose vehicle use is more demanding than mine, I can usually tolerate the kind of cash flow disruption caused by unexpected car repairs, and when you add in the transaction costs and profit margin that's necessarily part of the price for an extended warranty, it just makes more sense for me to rely on the original manufacturer's warranty (which on this vehicle was already excellent) until it runs out, then to self-insure.
So I knew going into the conversation that there was zero chance that this fellow could persuade me, even though he was charming and professional and knowledgeable. I cut through most of the chase and told him my decision, and my rationale for it, right away. He didn't argue with my facts or logic.
But he had to at least give it one last try. So he pointed out that I could finance the entire up-front cost of a multi-year extended warranty using very attractive manufacturer-provided financing at less than one percent interest! "That's like doubling your original manufacturer's warranty using practically free money! It's too good a deal to pass up at those rates, even if you normally wouldn't buy the extended warranty package."
(I'm thinking to myself: Either this guy is a Democrat, or he thinks I think like one. He thinks I'm an Obama voter.)
"So," I asked, "this 'free money' — that means if I finance the cost of the extended warranty package, the manufacturer will loan me the entire cost and I'll only ever have to pay 1% of it back, and they'll just write off the rest at no charge to me, is that it?"
He looked at me with puzzlement; I think he was wondering if he'd overestimated my financial acumen. "No," he replied, "You'd just pay it back over several years' time at this very attractive interest rate."
"So I would still have to pay back every single dime that I borrow, plus a little more," I continued, "in order to buy something that I really don't want anyway and that I otherwise couldn't justify buying. Is that what you're telling me? And you think that because the extra I'd have to pay back is just a little more instead of a lot more, that makes this too good a deal to pass up?"
The confusion disappeared and was replaced with a moderately respectful grin. He pushed the paperwork to my side of the desk. "Check here and here to acknowledge that I explained the extended warranty options to you and that you declined them," he said, "and we're all done." I did, and we were.
Romney picks Ryan
On my recent post entitled Paul Ryan on entrepreneurial capitalism vs. crony capitalism, reader Greg Q commented today: "So, why aren't you gloating yet about Romney picking Ryan?" And my dear friend DRJ, recalling my support for Sarah Palin in June 2008 and my support for a possible Paul Ryan presidential campaign earlier in this election cycle, inquired today in the comments on that same post: "Has any other blogger picked two VPs in a row? Well done, Beldar."
DRJ gives me too much credit: Although I'm happy to see this selection, and I certainly favored and tried to promote both Palin and Ryan as potential Veep nominees months before either was selected, I didn't go on record with a prediction as to whom Gov. Romney would pick this time. And in fact, I'm mildly surprised that he did choose Paul Ryan, although I'm obviously delighted by the choice.
On a superficial level, Ryan is more widely known throughout America now than Sarah Palin was in 2008. As Stephen Hayes wrote in the Weekly Standard on July 23, since John McCain's defeat in November 2008, Paul Ryan has become the intellectual leader of the Republican Party. Speaker John Boehner wields more raw power in the House, but he has relied heavily on Ryan. Boehner deliberately (and commendably) has placed Ryan at the forefront of the House Republicans' opposition to Obama, especially since the GOP recaptured the House after the 2010 mid-term elections. The Dems had already started their slurs campaign against Ryan just based on the threat he posed to Obama from his chairmanship of the House Budget Committee, and when I read Ryan Lizza's grudgingly admiring but fundamentally dishonest profile of Ryan in a recent issue of the New Yorker (which I'm not going to link), I knew the Dems were taking him seriously as a potential GOP Veep nominee.
Nevertheless, to all but perhaps the 10% of American voters who closely follow politics even outside election season, the depth and substance of Paul Ryan and his political philosophy are still largely unknown. Between now and the conventions, the Romney-Ryan campaign will seek to remedy that, and the Obama-Whoever campaign will do what it always does, which is to tell lies designed to frighten and confuse people.
I will go on record with a Veep prediction now, though — not about Ryan, but about his counterpart in the race: If Romney had chosen Rob Portman or Tim Palenty or Marco Rubio instead of Ryan, then Slow Joe Biden and his boss could both have breathed easier. In my view, however, Paul Ryan's selection just moved Hillary Clinton from "possible" to "probable" as Biden's replacement on the 2012 Dem ticket. Look for Slow Joe to find a sudden yearing to become an elder statesman who has more time to spend with his family. I'll bet Hill & Bill are having champagne tonight. Even most of my Democratic friends will admit, if pressed, that it would be a good thing for the country to get Joe Biden out of the line of presidential succession.
To answer Greg Q's question, though: The enthusiasm with which I might otherwise be greeting this pick is not diminished, but is nevertheless deeply tempered, by my conviction that things in America are today much worse than they were at this same time in 2008 — or even, for that matter, than they were in September 2008 during the financial system's near meltdown. We no longer have to speculate how badly a generic Democrat would do as Dubya's successor. We know exactly how abysmally the actual Democrat who succeeded him has performed, and there is absolutely not a reason in the universe to think he will be a whit better or less disastrous if he's permitted four more years to continue dismantling the American Dream.
Romney's choice of Ryan gives me grim satisfaction, then, rather than elation or surprise. It does give me new hope insofar as it demonstrates Gov. Romney's willingness to take on the biggest issues and to move this campaign cycle beyond the ridiculous trivialities that Obama counts upon to distract Americans from his own conspicuous incompetency, his own insufficiency for the office.
But the Dems can't compete with Ryan's principles, which are, very fundamentally, America's principles too. So to keep the conversation on other topics, as they are desperate to do, the Dems will have to pull out all the stops.
Barack Obama's reelection campaign is already the most shamefully dishonest in my memory, which dates back to LBJ vs. Goldwater in 1964. It is about to get much, much worse.
Fortunately, and may God continue to bless him in this regard, one of Paul Ryan's most defining characteristics is his unflappability. Many call Ryan's style "Reaganesque," and it is indeed cheerful and passionate and hope-filled — but Reagan never had Paul Ryan's handle on details.
Those who think the Ryan selection is risky essentially base their projections upon a very poor opinion of the American public's intelligence. But I believe, as did Ronald Reagan, that almost all Americans understand that we can't live forever in a world of magic unicorns and "free" stuff from the government. The magic dust that Obama sprinkled over Americans in 2008 — the magic that he told them could make them fly if only they thought happy thoughts and held Obama's hand — has now all worn off. The entire audience can see the wires, and that most of them are broken. The gap between the Lightworker character as written in Democratic fiction and the tired political hack now playing that part has become more obvious than Mary Martin's bosom. I believe that enough Americans know that it's time to exit the theater as grownups, and to get back to work in the real world.
Batten down the hatches, then, folks. The deluge is here, and the Obama campaign is going to make sure we're all at least waist deep in fecal matter before the voters send that campaign back to the sewers where such nastiness belongs.
UPDATE (Sun Aug 12 @ wee-smalls): I asserted that Ryan's selection improves the odds that Obama will dump Biden for Hillary, but I didn't explain why. The short version is: Pawlenty, Portman, or even Rubio would have whipped Biden in the Veep debate and as a campaign surrogate, but not so badly as to make Biden look much worse than Biden does even with no active opponent. If Romney had chosen one of them, then keeping Biden would have been a closer call. But recall that Paul Ryan is the only Republican politician in the last two years to have obviously bested Obama himself in face-to-face argument in a public forum. And whether you credit Obama with modest or supernatural eloquence, he's certainly aware that Biden isn't in his own league, and he surely knows that Ryan will disarticulate Biden, both stylistically and substantively, in the Veep debate.
Biden turns 70 in late November, and his medical history includes two brain aneurysms. The rationale for him being on the ticket in 2008 (that he would offset Obama's foreign policy inexperience) no longer exists. He brings no constituency that Obama doesn't already have on his own now; among young voters, whose participation Obama wants desperately to encourage, Biden is very nearly as much a standing joke as he is among Republicans. There has always been a decent chance that Obama would dump him in 2012, but of course that would never conceivably have happened until Obama first saw who Romney picked, in order that Obama could know who Biden's successor would be up against. Now he knows.
The best chance the Dems have to respond to the Ryan selection would be asymmetric political warfare — which translates quite neatly into replacing Biden with the most ambitious and most popular Democrat in the country, Hillary Clinton. Indeed, that will mesh like clockwork with the coming Obama pivot to foreign policy as the best possible distractraction, and the only substantive distraction, from the economic ruin he's wrought. The rest of the Obama-Clinton campaign would largely consist of heaping calumny on Romney-Ryan and Mediscare — Dems cannot talk about the economy in anything but the most simplistic, jingoistic talking points, because anything else is poison to Obama's campaign — but SecState/Veep nominee Clinton, along with a newly energized Bubba, would surely be employed to highlight the relative lack of traditional foreign policy credentials on the part of both Romney and Ryan.
Thursday, August 02, 2012
Harry Reid: Pederast?
We simply can't know that all the rumors about Harry Reid's pederasty are false until he releases his personal porn collection. Of course, if he denies having a porn collection, we will know he's a liar.
(There are also rumors that Reid and Mitt Romney are both Mormons. I know, that's hard to believe, but I hope someone looks into that. I'm sure someone from Team Obama will get around to it between now and November.)
An email from a law school friend prompted me to remember this post from 2004, in which I revealed the real dirt on John Kerry, too.
Monday, July 30, 2012
Cruz vs. Dewhurst: Beldar handicaps the runoff
William A. Jacobson at the Legal Insurrection blog reports: Upset brewing in Texas runoff? PPP says Cruz up big. (Hattip: Instapundit.) This post is adapted from a comment I left there earlier tonight.
I put almost no faith in political polls as a general rule. But I am cautiously optimistic about Ted Cruz' chances in his primary-election runoff against David Dewhurst. I'm going out on a limb to predict that Ted Cruz will win by five or more points.
(1) By merely forcing a runoff, Cruz instantly gained the strategic advantage. He’s been exploiting it adeptly. Dewhurst started with a VAST name recognition advantage among Texas Republicans. But he has never had a serious primary or general election challenge in his previous state-wide races, and his actual performance in office as lieutenant governor was obscure except among those who closely follow state-house politics. So Dewhurst’s support was the proverbial mile wide but only an inch deep.
Dewhurst therefore should have pulled out all the stops against Cruz for the primary. Dewhurst was counting on the third and fourth candidates in the race (former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert and former SMU running back/sportscaster Craig James) to draw most of their support away from Cruz. Instead they drew most of their support from Dewhurst — depriving Dewhurst of the primary-election simple majority that would have prevented a run-off.
(2) When Dewhurst has asserted that most or all of Cruz’ support comes from out-of-state generally — or from Washington, D.C., in particular — that accusation has rung false in the ears of every Texan who’s been paying attention. Cruz lacked Dewhurst’s broad name recognition, but long before the Tea Party movement, Cruz had deep and passionate support among Texas' politically aware movement conservatives. Based on Cruz’ superb performances before the U.S. Supreme Court as Texas’ solicitor general, we were already talking, writing, and blogging about Ted Cruz as a potential U.S. Senator back during Dubya’s first term.
Cruz has built on that support very steadily, and the Tea Party connections and the endorsements from folks like Gov. Palin and Drs. Ron & Rand Paul have indeed brought him visibility. But conservative Texans aren't xenophobic, and nobody here confuses Sarah Palin with Olympia Snowe, nor Rand Paul with Arlen Specter; we're reasonably picky about which out-of-staters we mock as RINOs.
(3) On a net basis, I think it's quite likely that Dewhurst's negative ads will end up costing him runoff votes, not winning them. Dewhurst and Cruz were both already doing some hard-hitting negative advertising even before the initial primary election. But with the additional time (and advertising) permitted by the runoff, many Texans who’d previously been generally aware and generally approving of David Dewhurst as lieutenant governor have found cause for second thoughts. They've learned, to the disappointment of many, that Dewhurst has actually made quite a few legislative compromises that undercut his claim to be a thorough-going conservative.
Worse, they've seen that Dewhurst has a real and very ugly mean streak. That mean streak is no surprise, however, to anyone who's followed Dewhurst's wielding of power as Texas' lieutenant governor: The man has always had sharp elbows and a sharp tongue when he close to employ them. Imagine a rough cross between J.R. Ewing, Bob Dole, and John McCain — each on a bad day.
Fortunately for both Cruz and Dewhurst, though, whatever damage either has done to the other's reputation during this primary election is unlikely to matter in the general election: Obama was never competitive in Texas in 2008, and he's even less competitive here today; he will have negative coattails in this state come November. Neither candidate in the Dems' primary runoff has a fraction of the appeal that Bill White had as the Dem gubernatorial candidate in 2010, and he lost decisively; the Dems haven't won a major statewide election since 1994, and this year's election will extend that losing streak. This runoff will effectively determine Texas' next junior U.S. Senator.
(4) Runoff-election voters are exactly the kind of people most likely to be turned off by negative campaigning that insults their intelligence — but that's exactly the kind of negative campaigning that Dewhurst has chosen to wage. A lot of negative campaign tactics are geared to the politically illiterate. But the Texas Republicans who are likely to turn up in a low-turnout run-off election are relatively better-educated, at least politically, than either their initial primary-election or general-election counterparts. Only the committed bother to show up for primary election runoffs; movement conservatives punch above their weight in runoffs.
Those who understand the Rule of Law and the ethical responsibilities of lawyers acting within its adversary system, for example, are inherently less likely to fall for character assassination attempts which depend upon misattributing to a lawyer who's running for public office the most unsavory characteristics and views of his (or his firm's) most unpopular clients. There will be a higher proportion of primary voters who know, for example, that the second President of the United States, John Adams, had ethically and honorably represented the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre even while he was among the most ardent of American revolutionaries. Those voters can look at Cruz' legal career in context; they can appreciate the conservative causes he championed so ably as Texas' solicitor general; and they can draw the appropriate inferences from the genuine respect that Cruz has earned from judges and appellate lawyers of all political persuasions.
As a result of Dewhurst overplaying his hand by going so negative, a lot of Texans who would happily have voted for Dewhurst in November if he’d won the primary outright have now decided that they don’t want to vote for Dewhurst at all — ever again — for anything. If Cruz wins this runoff, expect Dewhurst to draw a serious primary challenge if he runs for lieutenant governor again in 2014. It's not hard to imagine Dewhurst running for governor instead, even against the incumbent. Speaking of whom:
(5) The diminution in Rick Perry’s luster means he’s had less that could rub off onto David Dewhurst. A considerable portion of Dewhurst’s starting advantage and name recognition was closely bound up with the governor with whom he’s run so frequently, and so successfully, in state-wide elections.
That’s somewhat ironic, because until Perry endorsed Dewhurst against Cruz, Perry and Dewhurst had not been particularly close; they could have been most charitably described as natural rivals for power in Austin who sometimes cooperated with, and just as often opposed, one another.
Perry’s disastrous presidential campaign didn’t hurt him as badly in Texas as it did outside the state, but it still remains to be seen just how badly Perry’s self-immolation will hurt his own long-term standing with the Texas conservatives who’ve kept returning him to the governor’s mansion. My own sense is that Perry is himself now vulnerable to a primary challenge in any future statewide race he runs. By endorsing Dewhurst and campaigning against Cruz, Perry has further dismayed a lot of movement conservatives and Tea Partiers who might have forgiven or forgotten Perry’s debate performances last fall. He’s certainly in no position, for example, to challenge in 2014 for the U.S. Senate seat now held by John Cornyn.
I will support the GOP's nominee whether it's Dewhurst or Cruz. But I fear that Dewhurst would be a "Peter Principle" senator. And even if the Senate doesn't represent Dewhurst's personal level of incompetence, at best he would be a thoroughly conventional senator who's unlikely to ever break out of that crowd of fifty pairs of presidential wanna-bes.
Cruz could stand out among them, and he may well be destined for even bigger responsibilities. Conservative Texans should view their vote for Ted Cruz in this runoff as an inspired long-term strategic investment in Texas' and America's future.
UPDATE (Mon Jul 30 @ 4pm): See also National Review's editors' latest runoff election endorsement, Yes, Ted Cruz for Texas. Key paragraph:
Given the intensity with which conservatives prefer Mr. Cruz to Texas’s popular lieutenant governor, some Republicans have asked, not unfairly, “What’s so bad about David Dewhurst?” Six months ago, our answer might have been: “Nothing, really, if there weren’t a much better choice available. Ted Cruz is far and away a preferable candidate for conservatives seeking an effective and articulate champion of their ideals.” But much has happened since the early days of this race, and Mr. Dewhurst’s vulgar and dishonest campaign of scorched-earth ad hominem against Mr. Cruz raises serious questions about his judgment and his commitment to conservative values.
Yeppers, that's about right.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Paul Ryan: "America Deserves a Better Path"
In my view, the GOP should nominate for President the single currently most consequential Republican leader, the one who's most doing the most, and proving the most effective right now, on the most urgent issues threatening our country — not someone who merely has served in a single state, or whose service was mostly or entirely back in the 1990s. With due respect to Speaker Boehner (who actually I'm pretty sure would agree with me on this), the currently most consequential Republican leader is not him. And again, with due (but sincerely calibrated) respect to them, it's certainly not any of the current candidates.
It's Paul Ryan.
As the tag-line suggests, this video is intended as a preview of what Chairman Ryan plans to do with his House committee, and with this year's revised version of the Path to Prosperity, between now and Election Day. Make no mistake, this is targeted at Barack Obama and his Democratic cohorts.
But I agree with the Weekly Standard's Mark Hemmingway when he titles this "the best political campaign ad of 2012." Hemmingway's wistful subtitle: "Unfortunately, he's not running."
The only thing entirely certain about the GOP convention is that it has to produce a nominee for President and Vice President. In some parallel universe in which candidates could put aside their personal ambition — even the kind of driving, compulsive, relentless personal ambition necessary to campaign for President of the United States — in favor of the good of the Nation (and, therefore, the good of the Grand Old Party), I would hope for a brokered convention at which, on the 10th round of deadlock, some combination of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrinch, and Ron Paul would implore all of their original delegates to cast their next ballot for the chairman of the House Budget Committee. But in this universe, I've still not been persuaded to change my sidebar by anything any of those candidates have done since ... well, since ever.
Ryan, by the way, hasn't endorsed anyone, and has promised not to (he says it would be a conflict with his party fundraising position). Wisconsin is a purplish state that's in play. And his pre-Election Day work for the Budget Committee will necessarily be complete or nearly so by the time of the GOP National Convention in Tampa, after which he's going to be campaigning anyway, if (probably) only (sigh) for his current House seat.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Is it okay for Obama to tell voters that Obamacare's individual mandate is not a tax, while telling the federal courts that it is?
I have been following the ongoing litigation about the constitutionality of Obamacare, and I have very strong opinions about it. But I haven't written much about it here because there are so very many other conservative and libertarian law-bloggers who are doing such a good job — including many of them who are directly involved in the litigation — that I haven't felt I had anything novel or useful to add. However, I was much struck by the concluding paragraphs of Wisconsin conlaw professor Ann Althouse's post today entitled "The Obama Administration clearly states that the individual mandate is not a tax" (all emphasis hers):
Well, I suppose it depends on what the meaning of the word "tax" is. It's one thing for the purpose of political argument: Democrats in Congress didn't want to call it a tax when they were jamming it through, and Obama doesn't want to call it a tax now as he's promoting a budget with no new taxes for those making less than $250,000 a year. But for the purposes of legal argument, you might want to characterize it as a tax. The serious question is whether the Supreme Court will accept that characterization for the purpose of upholding the law, even though for political purposes the word was not — and is not — used.
And the answer to that question depends on whether the Justices think that analysis of the political dynamics matters in the interpretation of the scope of Congress's enumerated powers. Whatever the vigor of the Court's role here — and obviously much is left to Congress's political will — it is crucial for the people — exercising their political pressure on the Congress that works its political will — to see what is happening. Even in the thrall of judicial restraint, the Court should reject an argument based fooling the people about what Congress is doing. The people are especially vigilant about new taxes, so denying that something is a tax is an important maneuver in the political arena. If that move is made to ward off public outrage, it should not be easy to turn around win the favor of judges by calling it what you did not dare tell the people it was.
As I said in a comment to her post (reprinted here without blockquoting, slightly edited and expanded here for clarity):
Every statute passed by Congress and signed by the POTUS (or passed over his veto) must be justifiable by some provision of the United States Constitution. That is essential to the maintenance of our Republic as a government of limited, enumerated powers — a government subordinate to, not the dictator over, its people.
Flacks for the Obama Administration, including many lefty lawyers and law professors, would love to persuade you, the people, that they're entitled to rely on one part of the Constitution, the taxing and spending clause, as a justification for Obamacare while they're arguing in the federal courts over its constitutionality, and yet to deny elsewhere that Obamacare involves any "taxes."
"This is complicated lawyer-stuff that only us high priests of penumbras and the living, breathing Constitution can possibly comprehend," they suggest. "Go back to your circuses — look, look, they're handing out more free bread! FREE BREAD!"
(Or maybe just free condoms and birth control pills.)
Democrats are the masters of cognitive dissonance. That's not in dispute and won't change. What might change — as between November 2008 and November 2012 — is the number of rubes who remain enthralled by their shameless hoaxes.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
The Somalia rescue
I put aside for today the many faults I find with President Obama's handling of military and foreign policy, in order to state clearly and without further dilution the following:
God bless and keep the United States Navy and those Navy SEALs — again! — and everyone else in the military, intelligence, and diplomatic communities who in any way contributed to the successful rescue of American Jessica Buchanan and a Danish man, Poul Hagen Thisted, from kidnappers in Somalia. Due credit goes to President Obama at the top of that chain of command. His decision to authorize this, like the authorization of the bin Laden raid, was correct and fully justified.
That is all. Carry on.
Monday, January 16, 2012
Obama is signaling Iran that America will remain in a purely defensive mode, and will impose that on Israel, as Iran gets its Bomb
Teddy Roosevelt's prescription for effective diplomacy was "Walk softly and carry a big stick." It worked. By all accounts he was among the most successful foreign policy presidents ever. While simultaneously boosting American prestige and military credibility around the world, he kept us out of war, and he personally mediated the settlement of the hottest war then on-going (between Russia and Japan), actually earning a Nobel Peace Prize.
Then there's our Mr. Obama, who believes in setting the biggest stick in the history of the world off to one side, and then speaking loudly, inconsistently, and interminably.
I commend to your attention, from its first lines to its last, this tightly reasoned, cautiously stated, immaculately resourced essay from J.E. Dyer. The introductory paragraphs (boldface mine):
Is the Obama administration building up for a major war against Iran? No.
The administration appears to be doing what it thinks will avert one. Military force is playing a quiet and relatively minor role. There has been more “messaging” about force in the last few weeks than actual force activity. The administration is also trying to discourage Israel from mounting an independent strike on Iran, by frequently advertising US concerns about that possibility. Presumably the White House knows that this particular messaging campaign serves to keep Iran alerted. Ultimately, there is more talk than anything else. Military preparations, such as they are, are defensive in nature. That includes the acceleration of missile-defense sales to the Persian Gulf nations.
If you are like me, then your blood pressure will rise steadily as you read the evidence she marshals to support these conclusions. It's chilling.
So far as I know, Ms. Dyer is no close relation of mine, but I'm definitely among her fans. (She has, of course, her own blog, and in addition to being a regular contributor to HotAir's Green Room, she's also written for the Weekly Standard and Commentary.) As for whether she knows whereof she speaks, consider her perspective:
J.E. Dyer is a retired US Naval intelligence officer who served around the world, afloat and ashore, from 1983 to 2004. Her last operations in the Navy were Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in 2003, and she retired at the rank of Commander. She lives now in the "Inland Empire" of southern California, where she writes for various blogs and is preparing a book on the Cold War.
If you're unconcerned by the prospect of Iran getting the Bomb, none of this will bother you. If you're concerned by that prospect but you're unconcerned by the Obama Administration's handling of this situation, you may be eligible for immediate promotion to Commanding General of the Unicorn Brigade.
Saturday, January 07, 2012
Can Romney's commitment to expediency be a substitute for reliable conservative instincts?
I was intrigued by Fred Barnes' essay in the online Weekly Standard entitled "More Conservative Than You Think: The New Mitt Romney." Barnes marshals solid evidence to support the premise that — based upon Gov. Romney's current positions —
[Romney is] at least as conservative as his GOP rivals on jettisoning Obamacare and more conservative than some on entitlements, national security, and immigration. He’s no match for Gingrich on taxes, but that’s about it. Overall, he’s to the right of Gingrich.
Nevertheless, Barnes immediately notes, "Romney wasn’t always there" — and then Barnes proceeds to acknowledge some of the landmarks from Gov. Romney's political record which may indeed have reflected the preferences of Gov. Romney's constituency in Massachusetts, but which are considerably to the left of the national GOP mainstream.
Barnes' concluding lines are especially apt, but they don't necessarily support the essay's title thesis and, indeed, they may undercut it:
[Romney]’s neither a movement conservative nor an ideological conservative. He’s a pragmatist for whom conservatism makes the most sense. That it helps him politically no doubt makes sense, too.
And therein lies the best comfort for American conservatives who are wondering whether they can generate enthusiastic support for Gov. Romney if he becomes the nominee: If you think he values expediency over principle, then take comfort that the choices a President Romney will find expedient will indeed be conservative ones — if he wants to be re-nominated by the GOP in 2016! Besides, the Tea Party-influenced conservative "Young Guns" who've been driving the national policy debate from the House GOP since January 2011 — and yes, I'm referring specifically to the guy who my sidebar still urges we draft in lieu of anyone now running, but not only to him — would drag any GOP president in mostly the correct direction if the GOP can also recapture a working majority in the Senate.
The reason Romney has continued to hover in the mid-20% range in the GOP national polls, of course, is not because GOP voters disagree with the substance of the policies he's endorsing now. Their concern is that, like George H.W. Bush when he went back on his "Read My Lips" pledge, Romney will get talked out of his current positions — that he'll get suckered by the Dems the way Bush-41 did.
My own concern, however, is actually a variation of that.
Gov. Romney's main credential is as an "executive," in multiple senses of that word: as a business executive and turn-around specialist at Bain Capital; as the executive who took charge over the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics (another turn-around job); and as chief executive of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He demonstrated genuinely impressive management skills in each of those jobs. Certainly we need a well-managed turn-around from the disastrous path the current White House has put the country on.
What I fear, though, is that in addition to bringing well-honed management skills, Gov. Romney may also bring the East Coast/Ivy League confidence in technocracy. I specifically fear that Mitt Romney shares with Barack Obama an over-confidence in his own — and indeed, in anyone's — ability to use the federal government to solve problems.
I don't want a clever president who just does different things than Obama's been doing. I want a president who's wise enough to know that what's most important now is for the federal government to do less: to spend less; to tax no more; to meddle and nag and intrude less; to quote-unquote "protect" me from myself less (e.g., "protecting" me from making disfavored decisions on what kind of light bulb to buy); to stop trying to transfer wealth; to quit trying to pick losers and winners, and enforce those picks despite (and sometimes contrary to) the Rule of Law; and to quit trying to "manage" the economy, but to simply be predictable and get the hell out of its way.
Put another way: I fear that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have more in common with each other than either has in common with Calvin Coolidge. And we need the discipline of Calvin Coolidge. We need fewer 49-point programs and more zero-point (as in, "we're getting the federal government out of this") programs.
Simply undoing all the bad that Obama has done is a huge management challenge. That's a lot of what needs doing. But it's not the hardest part of what, unfortunately, must be done: Without fundamental entitlements reform, our government will absolutely, positively be bankrupt before this decade is out. The reforms must be in the direction of replacing government top-down controls and Washington management with free-market competition and individual liberty; no other reforms can lead to anything but shared scarcity and progressive impoverishment of the entire nation. Managing those reforms will require as much competency and energy as Romney or anyone else could muster.
There are at least a half dozen conservative leaders whom I'd rather see as the nominee than Mitt Romney precisely because I'm confident they "get" all this. I am confident, based on their performance in office, that they understand the limited role of government in general and the federal government in particular. But none of them are presently running for president.
Of those who are running, Perry gets this (in its broadest outlines) but can't win. Nor Laup gets it but is crazy, mean, and isolationist, and can't win. Santorum claims to get it, but we have to take his word for that (just like Romney's) because when Santorum was in office, he was a big-government Republican too. And Gingrich gets it, but only three days a week. (Then Newt's on the Beltway couch with Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry for three more days, and then on one of the moons of Jupiter for each seventh day.)
I'm not hoping for a stand-off through the primaries and for a floor-fight leading to a brokered convention. But on the other hand:
Most delegates awarded through the primaries are only pledged for a limited number of ballots and/or days, and many of them aren't pledged beyond the very first ballot. We just saw Rick Santorum come from months of single-digit polling to tied-for-first in a matter of days — and do we count him as the fourth "not-Romney" to become the flavor-of-the-week, or is he the fifth? I've lost count. If Romney can't nail down a first-ballot nomination before the convention, could the final flavor-of-the-week end up being someone not currently running? Someone who wasn't in the primaries at all?
Probably not. But I'm not quite ready yet to take down my sidebar.
Sunday, January 01, 2012
Obama's magic death ray
Covert operations involving drones, including targeted counter-terrorism assassinations, are something on which I'm inclined to give the POTUS, as Commander in Chief — whoever is in that office, even Obama — a lot of deference and discretion. But as suggested by this Wall Street Journal story entitled "Tensions Rising Over Drone Secrecy," this is turning into a situation from Marvel Comics: The only difference is that in the funny papers, it was always an orbiting death ray instead of an unmanned drone made out of composites, cameras, computer chips, and Hellfire missiles. As we use this power, it's increasingly going to motivate other countries and, yes, non-state actors like al-Qaeda, to want their own equivalent toys. But even before they can match our capabilities to use (and defend against?) such drones, there is going to be international attention and concern.
I hope and (must, for now) trust that the White House and the Pentagon and Langley have a cohesive, comprehensive, and wise plan for what America's going to do to moderate, channel, and otherwise affect the resulting change in international security affairs. This is already a bigger deal than most folks realize, and it's going to become a very, very big deal indeed.
But that hope and trust require me to assume, however, a degree of wisdom and simple competency that the Obama Administration has never displayed in anything else. Certainly its handling of the just-lost drone in Iran suggests that they're making up American diplomatic and military/operational policy as they go along, and that they're making it up not just on a day-by-day basis, but an hour-by-hour basis. And as the WSJ story points out:
John Bellinger, a top legal adviser for the State Department during the Bush administration, said the White House needs to start thinking about a legal framework that would define acceptable practices. He pointed to the risk that other countries will start using drones in ways that the U.S. may find objectionable.
"If Russia starts using drones to go after terrorists, will the U.S. look like we have a double standard if we criticize them?" Mr. Bellinger asked.
In short, the whole world, including his own legislators and constituents, is going to be listening more carefully to what Obama says (and doesn't say) about drones during the coming year, and comparing those words to what's actually being done (and not done) with the drones in actual practice, much of which will be covert.
The growing Congressional challenges to Obama's authority here — implemented so far only by demanding broader reporting to Congress, but likely to be subjected to more intrusive involvement, with associated security risks — suggest that I'm not the only one to have noticed this, or to have become concerned by it. Certainly the mainstream media is doing very little to put it on the voting public's respective radar screens. But even carefully targeted Hellfire missile strikes eventually demand attention; and any one of these strikes might trigger something quite unexpected, and potentially much bigger, as a counter-response by someone.
I'm perplexed at the silence of my liberal friends who, in theory, at least the last time we discussed such things in other contexts, don't share my views on the breadth of the Executive's authority to prosecute the war on terror and to defend the country from both foreign and domestic threats. How many layers of duct tape have they had to wrap around their heads to prevent them from exploding at the notion that, by executive order, the POTUS can now selectively vaporize almost any given roomful or carload of people, including U.S. citizens (at least while abroad)? The enormity of their double-standard has never been more obvious: If any Republican, and certainly if George W. Bush, had taken the same positions and engaged in the same volume of drone activities that Obama has, we'd be in the midst of full-blown impeachment proceedings by now.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Beldar on the failure of the "supercommittee"
Regarding the unsurprising failure of the congressional "supercommittee," consider this:
Democrats simultaneously insist that (a) they want to raise taxes on America's rich, while (b) rejecting GOP proposals to reform and save Social Security and Medicare by making them be "means-tested." Means-testing would only affect those who are not currently on, or about to qualify for, those programs. For those later beneficiaries, however, the wealthiest subsets would receive lesser benefits than the poorest ones, with the very poorest continuing to be subsidized at current levels (adjusted over time with inflation).
The Dems insist that the federal government continue giving rich people money for their retirement and medical care, in other words, even if those people can quite comfortably afford to pay for those things themselves. But those same Dems also insist on taking a higher percentage of rich people's current income to pay for the costs of ever-expanding government programs, most notably those same entitlement programs which are already operating in the red, with alarming increases on the near horizon that are demographic and actuarial certainties.
The explanation is as old as Tammany Hall: the Democratic Party depends on handing out government largess, including outright graft, to keep its disparate power bases in line. This is why General Electric pays no federal income taxes. This is why Hollywood studios show paper losses on films that generate multi-hundreds of millions at the box office. This is why unions give hundreds of millions in political donations, but more than 85% of that always goes to Democrats. This is why the federal government hands out millions based on allegedly frustrated "intent to be a farmer," or pays tax dollars to prop up commercially nonviable car companies or solar panel manufacturers, while rejecting a badly needed pipeline construction project that would create thousands of jobs at no government expense whatsoever.
If your source of political power is based on hand-outs to favorites, preferences for government-picked "winners," and government-effectuated or government-mandated income redistribution, then you protect that power quite literally at all costs — even costs that will positively bankrupt the government in fairly short order.
If any of this surprises you, then congratulations: You're the guy at the poker table wondering which one of his fellows is "the mark."
This is what the 2012 election should be fought over.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Wishful thinking on the Left
"This is our most desperate hour. Help us, Obi-Wan Hillary! You're our only hope!"
— My paraphrase of this Clintonista op-ed in today's WSJ, which urges Obama to abandon his campaign so that the Dems can nominate his SecState as their 2012 presidential candidate "by acclamation." (So much for small-d democracy in the Democratic Party, eh?)
Actually, if they could just get Joe Biden, John Boehner, and Daniel Inouye to resign in series immediately after Obama did, then the Dems could run Hillary as the incumbent.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Shocking pix prove that at Bain Capital, Romney and friends had access to at least $100 in cash
I'm shocked — shocked! — to learn that while working at a company with a two-word name, the second word of which is a synonym for "money," a young Mitt Romney had the bad taste to allow himself to be photographed touching some actual cash currency. As republished and described in the Boston Globe:
Despite the pressures at Bain Capital, Mitt Romney kept the atmosphere loose. One year, after posing for a photo for a firm brochure, the partners did another take, the second time holding $10 and $20 bills. From left, Fraser Bullock, Eric A. Kriss, Joshua Bekenstein, Mitt Romney, Coleman Andrews, Geoffrey S. Rehnert, and Robert F. White. (Provided by Bain Capital)
Actually, if any of Bain Capital's deals ever were transacted using $10 and $20 bills, I really would be shocked.
But seriously, the Romney campaign should put this photo up on their website. If Obama wants to continue to run his 2012 reelection campaign on the notion that Obama is pro-job but anti-business despite double-digit real unemployment, that will be interesting to watch.
(Hat-tip: Karl @ Patterico's, in an interesting post about prospective Obama campaign strategies.)
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Federal courts refuse to hear challenge to Obama's Libyan intervention, but Congress should push back — with the power of the purse — over Obama's new Ugandan adventure
In a post about the Obama Administration's ridiculously stupid efforts to argue that the "kinetic military action" in Libya didn't trigger the War Powers Resolution and its associated reporting requirements and deadlines, I had this to say on May 21, 2011, immediately after "the day under 50 U.S.C. § 1544(b) by which Obama had to "terminate any [such] use of United States Armed Forces" if the War Powers Resolution were constitutional and enforceable:
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.
Today — on the very day the non-war war finally achieved the laudable (and bizarrely denied) goal of regime change via decapitation — in proceedings styled Kucinich v. Obama, it has turned out that my predictions about how the federal courts would refuse to even hear such a challenge were proved absolutely correct. From the Blog of Legal Times (link in original; hat-tip Above the Law and WSJ Law Blog):
A federal judge in Washington has dismissed a suit challenging the Obama administration's legal justification for military action against targets in Libya.
The suit, filed by a bipartisan group of congressmen in June in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, sought a ruling that the U.S. military strikes are unconstitutional without a congressional declaration of war....
Responding to the suit, the U.S. Justice Department said the claims raise political questions that federal district judges are not authorized to entertain and that the plaintiffs do not have standing to sue in the first place.
Walton agreed, ruling that the lawmakers do not have standing. He rejected the alleged injury the lawmakers claimed—that they have been deprived the ability to vote on a war declaration.
In a footnote, Walton questioned the plaintiffs’ decision to sue given legal precedent, he said, that didn't bode well for the members of Congress.
“While there may conceivably be some political benefit in suing the President and the Secretary of Defense, in light of shrinking judicial budgets, scarce judicial resources, and a heavy caseload, the Court finds it frustrating to expend time and effort adjudicating the relitigation of settled questions of law,” Walton said.
Take a step back. Pretend we don't have "Republican" and "Democrat" labels here, or even "conservative" and "liberal" labels, and that we're just looking at this solely as a test of power between the respective branches of the federal government.
Looking at it as part of that big picture, today's ruling granting the Administration's motion to dismiss made no new law at all: It didn't weigh or decide any facts at all; it didn't endorse Obama's argument that the War Powers Resolution wasn't implicated. It just announced that this handful of Congressmen lacked standing "either in their capacity as Members of the House of Representatives or because of their status as taxpayers" to challenge Obama's actions in federal court, even if the court assumed that all the facts they alleged were absolutely true.
This exact result was a predictable outcome, one that I (and many others) had in fact predicted — so predictable that the federal district judge who first heard it became rather grumpy about having to waste his time on it. (Indeed, one of the prior precedents on which Judge Walton relied was a 2002 case in which this same lead plaintiff, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, had tried to sue President George W. Bush over the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty without Congressional approval.) But is either today's court result or Kadafi's death likely to result in a new extra-legal precedent, an unenforceable but nevertheless notable practical precedent in the grand interplay of constitutional checks and balances in the 21st Century?
Naw, not so much. The mild and short-lived court scuffle between Obama and a handful of Congressmen here was just an isolated example of something we already knew:
If Congress, acting as Congress (as opposed to acting through its individual members who're trying to be litigants in court), declines to exercise the express powers granted Congress by the Constitution — chief among them, the power of the purse — to protect other express privileges and responsibilities also conferred upon Congress by the Constitution, including the exclusive power to "declare war," then we're not seeing an actual constitutional confrontation.
With the opposition to Obama's Libyan adventure, then, in Obama's silly efforts to claim the War Powers Resolution didn't really apply, in the resulting Congressional grumbling, and in this lawsuit, we've only seen a kabuki show intended to fool the easily fooled. Obama calculated that he could get away with something like the Libyan adventure — and this time, Congress has clearly let him. That is the only important take-away message.
But as I've said here earlier this week, I do not think Congress should continue to let Obama get away with sending American ground forces into conflict in Uganda with neither Congressional approval nor even the merest hint of a shadow of a whisper of a threat (imminent or even just gathering) to significant American strategic interests. Such interests do not exist in Uganda. No, this particular frolicsome detour — which is indeed likely to become extremely "kinetic" at some times and places (since that's part of what Special Ops guys are known for, after all, and they're being sent specifically to catch and kill tyrants) — cannot possibly be justified under any theory other than that America is the world's policeman.
If the GOP and those Dems who opposed the Libyan adventure voted together, they could certainly override even a presidential veto of legislation defunding this sub-Saharan Africa adventure. And the GOP by itself, with its majority in the House, could certainly refuse to include funding for it in their next appropriations bill.
This is a confrontation that needs to be had. Even though the scale and risks and expenses of the sub-Saharan Africa adventure may be smaller than what we're doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, or even Libya, the Uganda operation pits the Executive's and the Legislature's respective responsibilities and powers against one another far more vividly: This isn't a Cold War-era "proxy war" like that conducted over Nicaragua in opposition to the Soviet Union's challenge to the Monroe Doctrine and American interests close to home. No one in Uganda is pursuing WMD capabilities or harboring and supporting terrorists; it has no oil wealth or other strategically important position or resources. It has nothing at all, in fact, except some very bad African men who are regularly and enthusiastically killing and terrorizing other Africans.
If Barack Obama wants to host a telethon to raise private contributions to help the victims, that would be peachy. If he wants to propose sanctions or other legislation, or encourage Congressional resolutions on relevant topics, or even to try to gather support from our allies and other countries whose interests are more directly involved, or who simply share our humanitarian concerns, I'll not say a word of criticism. And I am, in general, a strong supporter of a strong Executive Branch, with a great deal of practical and implied power to respond to emergencies, conduct American foreign policy, and direct the U.S. military as Commander-in-Chief both in and out of war.
But this is too much. This is genuinely unprecedented, and the practical precedent it threatens to set is a bad one. The GOP presidential candidates need to start talking about this, because it's a mark of how fundamentally flippant Barack Obama is when it comes to his execution of his Oath of Office and the Constitution. But Congress needs to push back, current electoral politics notwithstanding, because all of its members, Republican and Democrat, have an institutional duty to respect and preserve Congress' proper role in our system of checks and balances.
Friday, October 14, 2011
I am an unapologetic hawk when it comes to protecting American interests abroad. And I define those interests broadly.
After Saddam's fall, Mumar Kadafi gave up his WMD program and permitted western inspectors to confirm that; in effect, he negotiated a parole under which he could reasonably hope to avoid a fate like Saddam's so long as he behaved himself. But early this year, when he turned heavy weapons on random city blocks filled with his own countrymen — not just those who were protesting, but those who were convenient to kill — Kadafi violated his parole.
At that point, we were confronted with (a) a genocidal scofflaw no longer even pretending to adhere to basic tenets of civilization, who (b) had a demonstrated history of chasing weapons of mass destruction, who (c) also had a demonstrated history of sponsoring successful international terrorism against America and its allies, and who (d) still had untold billions of petrodollars to spend on that goal, the accomplishment of which (e) had again become his best hope for remaining in power. No, he posed no imminent threat to the United States, but Kadafi had reemerged as the most imminent threat to acquire (or in the case of chemical and biological weapons, reacquire) and then use WMDs against America (or to feed them to terrorist groups who'd do that). The danger he posed was exactly the kind of "grave and gathering danger," even short of imminent threat to the U.S., which America showed itself determined to confront and neutralize when we deposed Saddam.
I've mocked Obama for his ridiculous mangling of the War Powers Resolution's plain terms in an attempt to insist that it was inapplicable, but I think the WPR is unconstitutional anyway, so I was only mildly critical of Obama's commitment of U.S. armed forces, without Congress' consent, to try to force Kadafi out of power. Of course I agreed that our NATO allies, especially France and Italy, ought to bear a disproportionate share of the costs since it was their short- and middle-term oil and gas supplies that were threatened by Libyan instability, and I supported coordinating our armed forces and theirs under NATO's flag. But it was disingenuous and foolish to pretend we weren't doing the most difficult and dangerous missions, or to deny that our military forces were essential prerequisites for even such limited air action as Britain and France have been able to manage. It was cosmically stupid to pretend that we weren't trying to get rid of Kadafi himself, and that we were just "protecting innocent civilians." And I'm clear-eyed about the dangers of Kadafi being replaced by something as bad or worse, but that was no longer an acceptable justification for permitting him to remain in power.
So although I have not been a fan of Obama's ridiculous lies and misrepresentations about our Libyan mission, and although I think he's bungled almost every aspect of its management, I was nevertheless ultimately supportive of that mission. I think that leaves me in a fairly modest minority of Americans, even of Republicans or conservatives.
From out of nowhere — Uganda on a Friday afternoon?
If George W. Bush had purported to commit many dozens of U.S. special forces personnel to Uganda, 99% of all Democrats in America, including 100% of their elected officials, would have been screaming for Dubya's impeachment continuously, very loudly, and in perfect unison. And they would not have had a trivial argument to support impeachment, conviction, and removal from office — in sharp contrast to every other suggestion of impeachable offenses by anyone in that administration throughout its eight years of service.
America has no strategic interests in Uganda. Not even with the broadest possible definition of "strategic interests" do we have them in Uganda. This is a pure humanitarian mission, one in which we've picked winners and losers and are now enforcing that choice at the point of American bayonets. If this mission is critical for the United States, then there is no bully, no despot, whose local crimes against his own people is outside our vital strategic interests. We are indeed to be the world's policeman.
Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) is the chump of the day, having been completely snookered by the Obama Administration into speaking out in favor of this mission. A well-intentioned sucker is ultimately just a sucker, and Inhofe should certainly know better than this.
Obama seems determined to outdo Bill Clinton's foolishness in Somalia — to learn none of the lessons, and to repeat all of Clinton's deadly mistakes.
The United States House of Representatives should vote to de-fund this mission immediately and send that bill to the Senate. The GOP members of the Senate should permit no other business — refuse unanimous consent to everything — until that defunding bill is put to an up-or-down vote. The mushy and muddled support that kept Congress from ever reacting to Obama's mishandling of the Libyan adventure should not, and I think will not, save Obama from a constitutional confrontation this time. We should have it, and Obama should lose it.