Friday, October 30, 2009

Poll: President Obama has had only a minimal impact on race relations

By Eric Zimmermann - 10/29/09 02:29 PM ET
Barack Obama's presidency hasn't notably changed views on race relations in America, according to the results of a new Gallup poll.

Fifty-six percent of Americans believe that a solution to America's race problems will eventually be worked out. That's roughly the same result that Gallup found in the years leading up to 2008.
In short, despite a brief and notable bump after Obama won the election, optimism (or lack thereof) about U.S. race relations is back to its previous level.
(Gallup interpets the drastic fluctuation in 1995 as a response to the O.J. Simpson trial.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Obama: Twelve months on, the star falls back to earth

Last year he could do no wrong. Now he is on the stump in a desperate bid to avert a Republican fightback. David Usborne reports

President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown walk from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington
President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown walk from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington

    If there was a degree of déjà vu for fans of Barack Obama crammed inside a university athletic arena in Hackensack, New Jersey, the other evening, it was entirely deliberate. They only had to close their eyes and listen to the deafening chants of "Yes We Can" to imagine they had been transported back to the heady days of a year ago when their candidate was on the verge of seizing the White House and making history.
    Even with open eyes they could have felt some of that old frisson. Event organisers wandered the hall wearing shirts proclaiming "Yes We Can 2.0", as if they were selling the latest Windows update, and a giant banner stage-right gave top billing to Obama. The name beneath his, Corzine, might almost have been an afterthought.
    This was not a re-election rally for Mr Obama – not yet, please – but for Jon Corzine, the former boss of Goldman Sachs and now governor of New Jersey. He had invited the president to speak because, when Jersey voters go to the polls next Tuesday – New Jersey and Virginia are the only states where governorships are in play this year – it is not at all clear that they won't ditch him in favour of his Republican opponent, Chris Christie. The latest polls say it's too close to call.
    That's better than in the summer when Christie had a double-digit lead. But, in the final stretch, Corzine needs to remind Democrats of the fervour of 12 months ago when they overwhelmingly chose Obama over John McCain. "One more time", the disco beat booms before the two men arrive on stage in front of a crowd of about 3,000 eager supporters. "One more time. We're going to celebrate. Oh yeah. Alright." Once at the microphone, Corzine promises to be brief. "I know who you came to see," he says.
    Obama does what is required of him with his usual eloquence, speaking for 30 minutes. He looks happy to be campaigning again, relieved of Oval Office responsibilities for an afternoon, his stump oratory uncaged. But selflessness and politics do not go together. He is in New Jersey because what happens here next week will matter to him. This is an off-year for congressional races, so, rightly or wrongly, the outcome of these two gubernatorial races will be viewed by some as a first referendum on his presidency.
    The President has already suffered a slow, but steady, decline in his approval ratings, so it cheers no one in the White House that the outcome in Jersey is so uncertain. In Virginia, where the President campaigned this week, the outlook is worse with most polls suggesting that the Democrat candidate, Creigh Deeds, will be walloped by his Republican rival, Bob McDonnell.
    If Republicans seize the governors' mansions in both states, the embarrassment will be acute. That is just what happened in both New Jersey and Virginia back in 1993 before the Republicans seized control of the US Congress the following year, dealing a crippling blow to the newly minted Democratic president of the time, Bill Clinton.
    But even losing one of them next week will scratch the sheen of President Obama, who seems, one year on from his election, to be hovering in the view of most Americans between competent and fumbling, notwithstanding the high esteem in which he is still held abroad and, of course, in the minds of the Nobel committee.
    What is certain is that the almost-mad expectations placed on Obama that unusually warm night in Chicago's Grant Park when he delivered his victory speech last November, have given way now to a general unease about his performance in office. For sure, he has mostly avoided calamity. Not getting the Olympics for Chicago doesn't count. Nor is his administration in disarray or anything close to it. (Mr Clinton had barely arrived in office before he was instantly engulfed in mini-scandals.) But the Obama magic that should be working to protect Democrats like Corzine and Deeds seems mostly to have leaked away.
    New Jersey is a state that naturally belongs in the Democratic column. Moreover, since 1947, only two Jersey governors have failed to win a second term. But Corzine is unpopular in the state, thwacked by raising property taxes and the effects of the economic recession. "The New Jersey governor's race is going down to the wire," predicted the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
    Virginia had been a red state – as far as the presidency was concerned – since 1964, but it turned blue for Obama and Democrats hailed it as a sign that their party was breaking the virtual lock that Republicans had long enjoyed on the South. Keep Virginia, they said, and the Democrats will keep the White House.
    The plight of Deeds – 11 points down according to a recent poll in the Washington Post – is being interpreted as a measure of how far the pendulum is already tracking back to the Republicans in that state, and probably elsewhere. Just as Mr Obama's victory was powered in part by his success in winning over independents, it is now the independents who are feeling disappointed and fleeing back to the other side.
    "This is a state that Obama won by seven points," said Nick Ayres, executive director of the Republican Governors Association. "They don't want this to be their Olympics, Part II."
    McDonnell, the Republican candidate, will be the first to put the blame on the President if he wins the Virginia race. "There are blocs of independent voters that are being driven over because they are very concerned about these federal policies: its spending and the new intrusions into the free enterprise system," he said. "Those voters probably leaned toward President Obama in the last cycle. But when voters see specifics... I think some bloc of voters said: 'This is not the change we thought we were getting'."
    Back in Hackensack, Carrie Wilkins, a 44-year-old hairstylist, is exasperated by the bad press the President has been getting. "He has a very tough job," she says, arriving for the Corzine event with her 14-year-old son, Troy, whom she has taken out of school specially. "I don't think he has had a chance to do anything yet. He is trying, but it was such a mess when he came in. I kind of feel bad for him, actually."
    Indeed, the attacks on Obama have become fiercer. Wisely, or otherwise, the White House has called out Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch, saying that it has abandoned all pretence of objectivity in the daily ear-boxing it gives Barack. Saturday Night Live, which last year so brilliantly skewered Sarah Palin, is getting sharper in its weekly skits on Obama. Meanwhile, the usual media stars of the conservative right, notably Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, continue to grow their Obama-bashing brands. The Nobel Prize was a gift to them from heaven.
    They know what they think, and would probably think it whatever the president did. A broader picture, and a much prettier one, is provided by the polls. According to the Real Clear Politics poll of polls, the President's approval rating is still hovering above 50 per cent, but only just. Sometimes we forget, however, to measure Mr Obama against his opponents. Little fuss was made over a poll by CNN last week, which showed the Republican Party with just 36 per cent approval – the lowest it has been in a decade.
    A more reliable observer of the scene may be Troy, the schoolboy. Asked if he thought Obama had done a good job so far, he paused for a second and then delivered a rolling shrug of the shoulders. "I guess so." Meaning he, like many Americans, is not quite sure yet.
    A lot of things are in the pending tray in Washington. Pending is the economic recovery, for instance. While the signs of recovery seem to multiply almost daily, so do the warnings that this will be a largely jobless one, at least for the time being. The breaking of the 10,000 mark on the Dow Jones Industrial Average this month looks encouraging to economists, but it is galling to the almost one-in-ten Americans out of work.
    Pending also is the grinding effort on Capitol Hill to pass healthcare reform. This has been much more of a struggle than the Obama team – many of whom came to Washington with scant experience of its labyrinthine ways – ever expected. The success or failure of the healthcare push could change the perception of Obama profoundly. While momentum towards a deal seems to be building at last, a wise person would not bet on its passing just yet.
    The debate has also exposed what some now see as a naivety in Obama's candidature: his dream of creating a new spirit of bi-partisanship in Washington has hardly come to pass. So far, only one Republican has stepped forward to support just one of the versions of healthcare reform to have surfaced from five congressional committees.
    Healthcare is one of several areas where Obama has displayed characteristics that his supporters call patience and a preference for conciliation, but which others brand as dithering and betraying an absence of the kind of toughness that was typically personified by Lyndon B Johnson, 45 years ago. "Healthcare could be his hammer," argues Larry Sabato, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia. "If he gets it, he will have proven that his style works, that you don't have to be an in-your-face LBJ type to get significant healthcare reform. But, if it falls apart or he gets a tiny piece of it, then there will be criticism that he is ineffective and not tough enough."
    The narrative of a President who is too pliable has been growing in volume since the summer, much to the chagrin of the White House. Nor is it coming only from the right. There are those on the left who feel let down by Obama and are infuriated by his "political pragmatism". They object, for instance, when he refuses to push aggressively for the so-called "public option" to compete with private insurers in a new healthcare system, or when he declines to meet with the Dalai Lama in Washington because his agenda with China is more important to him. They even don't like it when he brushes off a member of Congress openly calling him a liar as being unimportant.
    That's the way Obama is, but some contend it is unhelpful. "Obama has created an atmosphere of no fear," Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University and political biographer, told the National Journal. "Nobody is really worried about the revenge of Barack Obama, because he is not a vengeful man. That's what we love about him; he is so high-minded, and a conciliatory guy, and he tries to govern with a sense of consensus – all noble goals, but they don't get you very far in this Washington knifing environment."
    As Obama takes his time deciding whether to send as many as 40,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan, he has again come in for attack, not least from Dick Cheney, who brooded in the shadows while in power but prefers daylight in opposition. "What ... Cheney calls dithering, President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public," Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, shot back. "We've all seen what happens when somebody doesn't take that responsibility seriously."
    The truth is that when Obama has played it tough, it has usually been in ways almost designed to infuriate the conservatives who call him lily-livered. He fired the CEO of General Motors earlier his year before bailing the company out and, just last week, his administration took extraordinary steps to force banks and lending institutions to scale back previously outrageous pay deals for their executives. Both things were bold and in-your-face. But they also represent severe cases of interfering in the private market, which the right abhors.
    Obama knows he is still on probation. In his speech in Hackensack, he asked the crowd "to cast aside the cynics and the sceptics and prove to all Americans that leaders who do what's right and who do what's hard will be rewarded and not rejected". It was meant as an appeal to Jersey voters to show mercy to Corzine and give him back his job. But, with the 3 November polls being seen by some as the first verdict on Obama's infant presidency, he might too have been asking for a little understanding for himself.
    Dwindling fortunes: Obama's approval rating
    The percentage drop in Obama's approval rating since he became president.
    The number of US troops currently in Afghanistan. Obama is considering a request from his top general for another 40,000.
    The number of US troops killed in Afghanistan since Obama's election victory.
    The size of the Obama adminstration's fiscal stimulus programme.
    The amount Obama earned in royalties from the sale of his books last year.
    The number of presidents, including Barack Obama, to win the Nobel Peace Prize while in office.
    The number of rounds of golf played by President Obama this year.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    The Age of Obama: All Falling Down

    Obama’s mega-borrowing is predicated on a rather thin margin of safety. We can service nearly $2 trillion in additional debt this year—on top the of the existing $11 trillion—only because interest rates are so low.
    But as a veteran of the near usury of the 1970s and early 1980s, I see no reason why interest rates won’t shoot up to 10% once the economy recovers and the U.S. has to convince lenders to buy our paper in an inflationary spiral. In other words, we could fork out each year about $150-200 billion in interest costs on our annual red ink, in addition to paying annually another trillion dollars to service the existing debt. (We forget that many of us young people in the 1970s and 1980s simply never bought anything new due to high interest: my first new car was not purchased until 1989 when interest was only 7.2% on it; my parents bought a small condo in 1980 for the unbelievably low rate of 8.8%, due only to redevelopment incentives in a bad neighborhood of Fresno. Inflation will be back, even in this quite different age of globalized competition and low wages.)
    When Obama talks of a trillion here for health care, a trillion there for cap-and-trade, it has a chilling effect. Does he include the cost of interest? Where will the money came from? Who will pay the interest? Has he ever experienced the wages of such borrowing in his own life? Did he cut-back and save for his college or law school tuition, with part-time jobs? Did he ever run a business and see how hard it was to be $200 ahead at day’s end?
    What destroys individuals, ruins families, and fells nations is debt—or rather the inability to service debt, and the cultural ramifications that follow. When farming, I used to see the futility in haggling over diesel prices, trying to buy fertilizer in bulk, or using used vineyard wire—when each day we were paying hundreds in dollars in interest on a “cut-rate” 14% crop loan.
    The difference between the 5th century BC and late 4th century BC at Athens is debt–and not caused just by military expenditures or war; the claims on Athenian entitlements grew by the 350s, even as forced liturgies on the productive classes increased, even as the treasury emptied. At Rome by the mid-3rd century AD  the state was essentially bribing its own citizens to behave by expanding the bread and circuses dole, while tax avoidance became an art form, while the Roman state tried everything from price controls to inflating the coinage to meet services and pay public debts.
    Integral to public debt are two eternal truths: a public demands of the state ever more subsidies, and those who pay for them shrink in number as they seek to avoid the increased burden.
    Once the conservative Bush people started talking about trillions in debt in terms of percentages of GDP rather than of real money, I feared we were done for: if a so-called conservative is doing this, I thought, what will the liberal Congress do when it gets back in power?
    (One more historical truth: the melodramatic language of people dying, starving, being ignored, etc. increases as the level of government services expands as the fears of public insolvency spread: in the late 1930s our grandparents thought tiny sums from social security were lavish godsends, now we assume a temporary suspension in cost-of-living increases on top of generous pay-outs is nothing short of a national disaster and proof of our collective selfishness.)
    The same storm clouds pile up on the horizon of foreign policy. One can get away with Carterism for a year or two. Remember, Jimmy Carter was loved up until about 1978, as he bragged of human rights, slashed defense to use the money for more entitlements, promised to get troops out of Korea, sold out the Shah, intrigued with the exiled Khomeini, pooh-poohed communists in Central America, sold warplanes without bomb racks to our allies, lectured on the inordinate fear of communism and sermonized how no one would die on his watch.
    We were his Plains Sunday school class, he the sanctimonious prayer leader. The lions abroad would lie down with us, the new lambs, at home. “I will never lie to you” Carter repeated ad nauseam. I used to listen to his call-in empathy radio shows while driving to work as a grad student, and at 24 thought “Does this adult really believe all this?”
    And then somewhere around 1979 the world finally sized him up—and the result was a bleeding American goat crossing the Amazon as the piranha swarmed. Radical Islam was on the rise. The Soviet army invaded Afghanistan. Nicaragua blew up. Iran took hostages. And in reaction Carter devised brilliant strategies like boycotting the Olympics and arming jihadists in Pakistan—and more lecturing us from the rose garden. He wanted a flashy hostage rescue mission—after slashing defense in 1977-8: but the two don’t mix, as he learned.
    Obama likewise is outside the mainstream of bipartisan Democratic foreign policy as practiced by Truman, JFK, LBJ, and Clinton. He’s to the left of Carter, and indeed, on both Afghanistan and Iran, to the left of France and Germany. Readers, none of you thought you would ever see Europeans wanting us to buck up in Afghanistan and  get tougher against Ahmadinejad.
    For now, however, Obama surely sounds mythic. The world adores us. We apologize for slavery, genocide, the cold war, and Hiroshima; you name the sin, Obama wrinkles his brow and provides the mea culpa. Brazilians love it. Egyptians now say we’re A-OK; even sourpuss Russians now smile. Listen to Obama apologize and you would have thought that Americans have leveled Grozny, or obliterated Hama, or swallowed Tibet.
    Our administration officials praise the mass-murdering Mao, or talk up the UN “human rights” commission. We reach out to Ahmadinejad, Assad, Chavez, Putin, and others. We snub the Brits, the Europeans, the Japanese, Colombians, Israelis and eastern Europeans. Russia tries a simple gambit—a) lie about helping on Iran, b) in exchange get the US out of the anti-missile business in eastern Europe—it works so well that Putin brags that he expects more of this, as if he is sitting at a rigged roulette wheel in Vegas.
    Like our spiraling debt, there will be a reckoning soon, maybe in a year or two—and it will cost more than boycotting the next Olympics.
    Then there is energy. We are in a very temporary lull of cheap energy, as the world economy catches its breath. And while Obama was right to stiffen efficiency standards and promote alternate energies, he is neglecting the only mechanisms that can tide us over for the next 20 years—more natural gas, domestic oil, shale, tar sands, clean coal, and nuclear energy.
    We should be on a dash to build nuclear plants for the coming demand from plug in hybrids and spikes in electricity usage. We should be leasing as much natural gas lands as possible, to gain the supplies to run energy plants and to power vehicles. There is plenty of oil in the Dakotas, California, Texas and in the Gulf and we should be drilling there like mad. Sorry, even Santa Barbara should either ban SUVs or have oil derricks on the horizon. Sarah Palin knows far more about ANWR than does Van Jones.
    Instead, we talk grandly of cap and trade, solar and wind, and green lunacies, while very shortly it will cost $5 a gallon to fill up the fleet of Barack Obama’s SUVs. Putin, sly fox that he is, only welcomes a confrontation with Iran: a great way to drive oil speculation sky-high. Ditto the Saudis and the rest. We are one Middle East crisis away from a $100 fill-up.
    Here is our anti-terrorism policy.
    1) Euphemism: hope that words can change reality—“overseas contingency operations” aimed at “man-caused disasters” (this will mean there is no more terrorism as our enemies are no longer demonized)
    2)   Apologies to Islam: boast that Muslims fueled the Renaissance, invented printing, pretty much gave the world our present civilization, while we offended them after 9/11 (this will mean no more plotting inside the US to kill us all, as they sense our newfound empathy)
    3)   “Bush Did it”: a) blame Bush the Impaler for our unpopularity and shredding the Constitution to pacify the Middle East and Europe; while stealthily keeping in play most of his protocols like Predators (more attacks in last 9 months than Bush did in 3 years); tribunals, renditions, intercepts, wiretaps, and Guantanamo, etc.); (this will mean that we copy Bush, but blame him for our failures and claim success as our own).
    4)   Reach-out: Become socialist at home, and UNish abroad, to convince an Ahmadinejad, Assad, Chavez, Putin, and others that we are a declining, 1950s British-like socialist state, a threat to no one, exceptional in the manner that Greece is, and becoming, as Pravda boasts daily, more like them than they like us (this will mean, why hate us when we are one of you?)
    5)  Declare victory and leave: there is a reason why Afghanistan and now Iraq have flared up since Obama took office, and it may well have to do with the fact that radical Islam, defeated in Iraq, stalemated in Afghanistan, suddenly bets that with a little push here and there, Obama will declare victory and leave, with something like “We can’t win Bush’s wars.” If I were a terrorist, I might think, “One or two more big death days, and this American government will Mogadishu its way home”).
    In a year or two, al Qaeda will begin to suspect we are the weaker horse. They hated us when we were strong, but they will hate us even more when we appear weak. There will be renewed plots at home, and a fiery Middle East within two years—with all sorts of opportunists like China and Russia ready to capitalize.
    Why the pessimism? I think there are a few truths that transcend politics and remain eternal. In life as a general rule, debt has to be paid back, and with greater pain and anger than it was to borrow it. Bullies do not respect magnanimity, but tragically interpret it as weakness to be exploited rather than to be admired.
    Hoping that  something good comes true —like being self-reliant through solar and wind—does not make it true; neglecting the riches at hand to dream about greater riches that do not exist is adolescent. Radical Islam hates the West, not because of what we do or say, but because of who we are: a dynamic, mercurial culture that challenges all the protocols of a traditional, tribal and religiously fundamentalist society.
    Diplomacy is a tool to lessen, but not eliminate, tensions—a way to conduct foreign policy, not a foreign policy in and of itself.
    I hope I am wrong about all of the above, and that human nature really has magically changed in the era of Obama. So close your eyes, listen to the Messiah’s voice, and repeat: “Debts will be forgiven by creditors; inflation will not follow from massive borrowing; breakthroughs in solar and wind will power our cars and heat our homes; enemies will admire our compassion and join us to achieve world peace; and terrorists are either misunderstood or provoked needlessly by our bellicosity that alone stands in the way of peace.”
    Believe all that and you can lay back and enjoy the age of Obama.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    The Post-Gracious President

    Whenever he must make a difficult decision, Mr. Obama complains it's Bush's fault.

    Nine months after Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, his most adamant critics must concede he's delivered on "change." And we see it in our first post-gracious presidency.
    The most visible manifestations of the new ungraciousness are the repeated digs the president and his senior staffers continue to make against George W. Bush. Recently, the administration has given us two fresh examples. The first is about Afghanistan, the other about the economy.
    On Afghanistan, Mr. Obama's chief of staff went on CNN's "State of the Union" earlier this month to discuss the presidential decision on Afghanistan that everyone is waiting for. "It's clear that basically we had a war for eight years that was going on, that's adrift," said Rahm Emanuel. "That we're beginning at scratch, and just from the starting point, after eight years." Translation: If we screw up Afghanistan, blame Mr. Bush.
    The other came from Mr. Obama himself, speaking at various Democratic fund-raisers last week. "I don't mind cleaning up the mess that some other folks made," the president said. "That's what I signed up to do. But while I'm there mopping the floor, I don't want somebody standing there saying, 'You're not mopping fast enough.'"
    This is a frequent Obama complaint. The logic is clear if curious: While it's OK to blame Mr. Bush for spending too much, it's not OK to point out that Mr. Obama is already well on track to spend much more.
    Far from one-off asides, Mr. Obama's jabs at his predecessor have been a common feature of his speeches, fund-raisers and the like. They seem especially to pop up whenever Mr. Obama discovers some decision he must make is not as easy as he'd thought. And they date back to the first moments of his presidency.
    After a perfunctory thank you to Mr. Bush, a newly sworn-in President Obama declared that Americans had gathered for his inaugural "because we have chosen hope over fear," that his administration would "restore science to its rightful place," and that he would never allow America to "give [our ideals] up for expedience's sake." In other words, President Bush had chosen fear over hope, was being "expedient" rather than defending the nation, and had chosen religious fundamentalism over science when making decisions in areas such as embryonic stem-cell research.
    Martin Kozlowski
    In his first trip overseas, Mr. Obama continued the Bush bash. In France, he declared that in recent years "there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive." In answer to a question he underscored the point, suggesting that European solidarity over 9/11 was lost when America allowed itself to be "sidetracked by Iraq."
    In May, when it became obvious that his administration would not make good on his promise to close Guantanamo by this coming January, he explained it this way in a speech on national security. "We're cleaning up something that is, quite simply, a mess . . . [T]he problem of what to do with Guantanamo detainees was not caused by my decision to close the facility, the problem exists because of the decision to open Guantanamo in the first place."
    In August, he returned to the theme that while he can criticize his predecessor, it's unfair to criticize him. "I expect to be held responsible for these issues because I'm the president. But I don't want the folks who created the mess . . . to do a lot of talking. I want them just to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess."
    Nor is it only a matter of rhetoric. In September 1993, Bill Clinton invited his predecessor, George H.W. Bush, to the White House to help promote the North American Free Trade Agreement to a divided Congress. In contrast, when Mr. Obama announced our withdrawal from Iraq in February at Camp Lejeune, N.C.—an honorable withdrawal Mr. Bush's surge helped make possible—the president limited himself to a quick "courtesy call." Mr. Bush was neither present nor mentioned at what might have been a healing moment on a divisive war.
    Policy differences, of course, are fair game for sharp debate, and in the end history will apportion the credit and blame due Mr. Bush. By any measure, however, Mr. Obama's ongoing snipes against a predecessor who is no longer involved in setting policy are extraordinary. They are more extraordinary still issuing from a president who campaigned on a promise to transcend the political divisions of the past.
    Barack Obama may believe that his incessant whining about all the challenges his predecessor left him lets America know how tough he has it. The danger to his presidency is that it can sound awfully like "I'm not up to the job."
    Write to


    Monday, October 26, 2009

    Obama Ties George W. Bush on Golf

    President Obama golfs.
    President Obama has already hit the links as much as President Bush did in over two years. | AP Close
    President Barack Obama has only been in office for just over nine months, but he's already hit the links as much as President Bush did in over two years.

    CBS' Mark Knoller — an unofficial documentarian and statistician of all things White House-related — wrote on his Twitter feed that, "Today - Obama ties Pres. Bush in the number of rounds of golf played in office: 24.
    Took Bush 2 yrs & 10 months."

    This news comes on the heels of today's news that Obama played golf with a woman — chief domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes — for the first time since taking office.

    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    Mister Tough Guy

    Who are the real “Untouchables” here?

    By Mark Steyn

    Benjamin Disraeli’s most famous advice to aspiring politicians was: “Never complain and never explain.” For the greatest orator of our time, a man who makes Churchill, Lincoln, and Henry V at Agincourt look like first-round rejects on Orating with the Stars, Barack Obama seems to have pretty much given up on the explaining side. He tried it with health care with speech after speech after exclusive interview for months on end and the more he explained the more unpopular the whole racket got. So he declared that the time for explaining is over, and it’s time to sign on or else.

    Meanwhile, to take the other half of the Disraeli equation, Obama and his officials and their beleaguered band of surrogates never stop complaining. If you express concerns about government health care, they complain about all these “racists” and “domestic terrorists” obstructing his agenda. If you wonder why the president can’t seem to find time in his hectic schedule of international-awards acceptance speeches to make a decision about Afghanistan, they complain that it’s not his fault he “inherited” all these problems. And, if you wonder why his “green jobs” czar is a Communist 9/11 truther and his National Endowment for the Arts guy is leaning on grant recipients to produce Soviet-style propaganda extolling Obama policies, they complain about Fox News.

    The most recent whine  — the anti-Fox campaign — is, apart from anything else, unbecoming to the office. President Obama is the chief of state of one of the oldest free societies in the world, but his official White House website runs teasers such as: "For even more Fox lies, check out the latest Truth-O-Meter.” It gives off the air of somebody only marginally less paranoid than this week’s president-for-life in some basket-case banana republic ranting on the palace balcony because his interior security chief isn’t doing a fast enough job of disappearing his enemies.

    George W. Bush: Remember him? Of course, you do. He’s the guy who’s to blame for everything, and still will be midway through Obama’s second term. It turns out he’s in exile abroad. Presumably he jumped bail and snuck across the border on the roof of a box car. But, anyway, he was giving a speech in Saskatoon. That’s a town in Saskatchewan. And Saskatchewan’s a province in Canada apparently. And in the course of his glittering night playing the Saskatoon circuit, he was asked about media criticism of him, and he told the . . . Saskatoonistanies? Saskatchewannabees? Whatever. He told them the attacks never bothered him although his dad used to get upset: “He’d read the editorial pages, he’d watch the nightly news, and I didn’t. I mean, why watch the nightly news when you are the nightly news?”

    That attitude, while raising a bunch of other issues, is psychologically healthier. If you’re going to attack the press, you need a lightness of touch, not a ham-fisted crowbar such as the White House wielded on Thursday, attempting to ban Fox from the pool interviews with the “pay czar.” Another bit of venerable Disraelian insouciance, on the scribblers of Fleet Street: “Today they blacken your character, tomorrow they blacken your boots.” For two years, the U.S. media have been polishing Obama’s boots, mostly with their drool, to a degree unprecedented in American public life. But now it’s time for the handful of holdouts to make with the Kiwi — or else.

    At a superficial level, this looks tough. A famously fair-minded centrist told me the other day that he’d been taken aback by some of the near parodic examples of leftie radicalism discovered in the White House in recent weeks. I don’t know why he’d be surprised. When a man has spent his entire adult life in the “community organized” precincts of Chicago, it should hardly be news that much of his Rolodex is made up of either loons or thugs. The trick is identifying who falls into which category. Anita Dunn, the communications director commending Mao Zedong as a role model to graduating high school students, would seem an obvious loon. But the point about Mao, as Charles Krauthammer noted, is that he was the most ruthless imposer of mass conformity in modern history: In Mao’s China, everyone wore the same clothes. So when Communications Commissar Mao Ze Dunn starts berating Fox News for not getting into the same Maosketeer costumes as the rest of the press corps, you begin to see why the Chairman might appeal to her as a favorite “political philosopher.”

    So the troika of Dunn, Emanuel, and Axelrod were dispatched to the Sunday talk shows to lay down the law. We all know the lines from The Untouchables — “the Chicago way,” don’t bring a knife to a gun fight — and, given the “pay czar”’s instant contract-gutting of executive compensation and the demonization of the health insurers and much else, it’s easy to look on the 44th president as an old-style Cook County operator: You wanna do business in this town, you gotta do it through me. You can take the community organizer out of Chicago, but you can’t take the Chicago out of the community organizer.

    The trouble is it isn’t tough, not where toughness counts. Who are the real “Untouchables” here? In Moscow, it’s Putin and his gang, contemptuously mocking U.S. officials even when (as with Secretary Clinton) they’re still on Russian soil. In Tehran, it’s Ahmadinejad and the mullahs openly nuclearizing as ever feebler warnings and woozier deadlines from the Great Powers come and go. Even Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize is an exquisite act of condescension from the Norwegians, a dog biscuit and a pat on the head to the American hyperpower for agreeing to spay itself into a hyperpoodle. We were told that Obama would use “soft power” and “smart diplomacy” to get his way. Russia and Iran are big players with global ambitions, but Obama’s soft power is so soft it doesn’t even work its magic on a client regime in Kabul whose leaders’ very lives are dependent on Western troops. If Obama’s “smart diplomacy” is so smart that even Hamid Karzai ignores it with impunity, why should anyone else pay attention?

    The strange disparity between the heavy-handed community organization at home and the ever-cockier untouchables abroad risks making the commander-in-chief look like a weenie — like “President Pantywaist,” as Britain’s Daily Telegraph has taken to calling him.

    The Chicago way? Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight? In Iran, this administration won’t bring a knife to a nuke fight. In Eastern Europe, it won’t bring missile defense to a nuke fight. In Sudan, it won’t bring a knife to a machete fight.

    But, if you’re doing the overnight show on WZZZ-AM, Mister Tough Guy’s got your number.

    Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of America Alone. © 2009 Mark Steyn 

    America’s Obama Obsession

    Anatomy of a passing hysteria.

    By Victor Davis Hanson

    For 30 months the nation has been in the grip of a certain Obama obsession, immune to countervailing facts, unwilling to face reality, and loath to break the spell. But like all trances, the fit is passing, and we the patient are beginning to appreciate how the stupor came upon us, why it lifted, and what its consequences have been.

    Barack Obama was elected rather easily because, in perfect-storm fashion, five separate trends coalesced last autumn.

    1) Obama was eloquent, young, charismatic — and African-American. He thus offered voters a sense of personal and collective redemption, as well as appealing to the longing for another JFK New Frontier figure. An image, not necessarily reality, trumped all.

    2) After the normal weariness with eight years of an incumbent party and the particular unhappiness with Bush, the public was amenable to an antithesis. Bush was to be scapegoat, and Obama the beginning of the catharsis.

    3) Obama ran as both a Clintonite centrist and a no-red-state/no-blue-state healer who had transcended bitter partisanship. That assurance allowed voters to believe that his occasional talk of big change was more cosmetic than radical.

    4) John McCain ran a weak campaign that neither energized his base nor appealed to crossover independents. McCain turned off conservatives; many failed to give money, and some even stayed home on election day. Meanwhile, the media and centrists who used to idolize McCain’s non-conservative, maverick status found Obama the more endearing non-conservative maverick.

    5) The September 2008 financial panic turned voters off Wall Street and the wealthy, and allowed them to connect unemployment and their depleted home equity and 401(k) retirement plans with incumbent Republicans. In contrast, they assumed that Obama, as the anti-Bush, would not do more bailouts, more stimuli, and more big borrowing.

    Take away any one of those factors, and Obama might well have lost. Imagine what might have happened had Obama been a dreary old white guy like John Kerry; or had Bush’s approvals been over 50 percent; or had Obama run on the platform he is now governing on; or had McCain crafted a dynamic campaign; or had the panic occurred in January 2009 rather than September 2008. Then the trance would have passed, and Obama, the Chicago community organizer and three-year veteran of the U.S. Senate, would have probably lost his chance at remaking America.

    I note all this at length because Obama seems to act as if this right-center country — one that polls oppositely to his positions on most of the major issues (deficits, spending, nationalized health care, homeland security, Guantanamo, cap-and-trade, etc.) — has given him a mandate for a degree of change not seen in nearly 80 years.

    Apparently, Team Obama figured that with sizable majorities in both the House and the Senate, Obama would snap his fingers, Congress daily would pass bills redefining America, and Obama would stay in perpetual campaign mode to hope and change the country to accept his agenda. Governing would be like campaigning, as audiences fainted hearing the details of a 1,500-page health-care bill or of ever more sins from America’s past.

    But, after just a few months in office, that proved not to be the case. Just as a number of planets had to line up precisely to allow an inexperienced hard-left ideologue to be elected president, so there would have had to be a similar configuration to allow him to govern successfully.

    1) Obama had to match his unity rhetoric with brotherly action. In fact, he has done the opposite.

    At one time or another, Obama and his supporters have, rather scurrilously, insulted doctors, insurers, the police, tea-partiers and town-hallers, opponents of his health-care plan, non-compliant members of the media, and a host of other groups as either greedy, dishonest, treasonous, unpatriotic, moblike, racist, or in general worthy of disrespect.

    Fewer and fewer Americans now believe that Obama — after just nine months of governance — is a uniter. In Obama’s world, doctors carve out children’s tonsils for profit, racist morons rant at legislators about losing their private health care, and trillions in borrowed money must be paid back by the greedy rich whose capital was unearned in the first place.

    When his base supporters lambaste him for softness, they are lamenting his inability to become an effective partisan — not a lack of partisanship in general. In surreal fashion, liberals demand that the ideologue Obama become more ideological precisely at the time his ideologically driven agenda is souring millions of non-ideological Americans.

    2) His opposition is no longer ossified, but decentralized and grass roots. One of the oddest proofs of that statement is the sudden leftist furor at tea parties, town halls, the media, dissent, and free speech. As long as Obama was opposed by calcified Republicans in Congress, there was no real danger to him. But once the opposition proved populist, panicked liberal elites started demonizing populism — and Obama now finds himself opposed to the popular grievance-mongering that was once the mother’s milk of our Chicago organizer’s existence.

    3) Obama campaigned on the notion that even if voters might not like his policies, they most assuredly would like him. Even that spell is now lifting. The more the American public gets to know Barack Obama, the less they find him appealing.

    On matters racial, their campaign-season unease with his connection to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his toss-offs like “typical white person,” and his stereotyping of rural Pennsylvanians has not been allayed; rather, it has been amplified by Eric Holder’s Justice Department, Obama’s own statement that the Cambridge police acted “stupidly” in arresting Professor Gates, and the use of the race card by prominent Democrats from the likes of Rep. Charles Rangel to Gov. David Paterson of New York.

    Much of the newly stirred public suddenly assumes two things from the Obama administration: that the president himself will periodically say something racially insensitive or unwise; and that his supporters will call opponents of his policies racist. If we have wearied of all that in nine months, think what four years of it will do to the public mood.

    In just nine months the phrase “Chicago style” has gone from something old-time that evokes Al Capone or Mayor Daley to something very real, contemporary, and scary — as David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, and others try to strong-arm the opposition, demonize the media, and manipulate government largesse to either penalize or reward recipients on the basis of their degree of support for Obama.

    Could the most imaginative right-wing political operative have invented the idea of a National Endowment for the Arts official gleefully considering quid pro quo grants, administration officials trying to persuade other media outlets that a network critical of Obama is “not a news organization,” or an administration communications director bragging about how her team sandbagged the American media and took them to the cleaners? We can believe there might be one statement like Van Jones’s slander of “white people,” or Sonia Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” boast, or Anita Dunn’s lengthy praise of the mass-murdering Mao, but not an entire series of them. At some point, the American public snaps out of it, and sighs, “Wow, these people really are nuts!”

    4) “Bush Did it” was the IV drip of the Obama campaign, always there to infuse a fresh life-saving excuse into every Obama fainting spell. But the problem now is that it has been more than nine months since Bush left office, and Obama’s “mop up” metaphors are getting stale. Worse still, the reasons the public soured on Bush are precisely the reasons it may well sour more on Obama, inasmuch as he took Bush’s problems like deficits, soaring federal spending, bailouts, and unemployment and made them far worse.

    Yet Obama has given no credit for the good that Bush did, and therefore must remain mum about the other “Bush Did It”s, like quiet in Iraq; the homeland-security protocols, from renditions and tribunals to wiretaps and intercepts; AIDS relief for Africa; friendly governments in Britain, France, Germany, India, and Italy; and domestic safety since 9/11. If Bush is at least partly responsible for all these things as well, were they therefore bad?

    Obama very soon is going to have to make a tough choice, far tougher than his current “present” votes on the option of sending additional troops to Afghanistan.
    As the midterm elections near, and his popularity bobs up and down around 50 percent, Obama can do one of two things.

    He could imitate Bill Clinton’s 1995 Dick Morris remake. In Obama’s case, that would mean, abroad, cutting out the now laughable apologies for his country, ceasing to court thugs like Ahmadinejad, Chávez, and Putin, keeping some distance from the U.N., and paying closer attention to our allies like Britain and Israel. At home, he could declare victory on his sidetracked agenda and then start over by holding spending in line, curbing the deficit, stopping the lunatic Van Jones–style czar appointments, courting the opposition, and tabling cap-and-trade. I think there is very little chance of any of the above, whatever voters may have thought during the campaign.
    Or, instead, Obama could hold the pedal to the floor on the theory that, as a proven ideologue, he must move the country far left before the voters catch on and stop him in his tracks in November 2010. That would mean more of the “gorge the beast” effort to spend and borrow so much that taxes have to soar, and thus redistribution of income will be institutionalized for a generation. He would push liberal proposals no matter how narrow the margin in the Senate. He would keep demonizing Fox News. In Nixonian fashion he might continue to hit the stump, ratcheting up his current “they’re lying” message and energizing his left-wing base by catering to the unions, gays, minorities — and liberal Wall Street special interests.

    If he chooses the former, he might well be a more successful version of Bill Clinton given that his appetites are far more in check.

    But if, as is likely, he chooses the latter, he will polarize the country in a way not seen since 1968, set back racial relations to the 1960s, do to the reputation of big government what LBJ did from 1964 to 1968, and, in the manner of what Jimmy Carter wrought, turn voters off liberal foreign policy for a generation.


    Obama's Columbia Thesis Excerpt Surfaces

    Michael Ledeen at PJM reports on President Obama's Columbia college thesis, of which ten whole pages were made available to Joe Klein. The paper was entitled "Aristocracy Reborn," and Obama wrote this about the Constitution:

     "... the Constitution allows for many things, but what it does not allow is the most revealing. The so-called Founders did not allow for economic freedom. While political freedom is supposedly a cornerstone of the document, the distribution of wealth is not even mentioned. While many believed that the new Constitution gave them liberty, it instead fitted them with the shackles of hypocrisy."

    What on earth does this President have to do to get the media coverage he so richly deserves!

    In the Virginia Governor's race, Republican candidate Robert McDonnell wrote a graduate thesis twenty years ago that could be politically damaging to his campaign. That decades old thesis has been covered by the Washington Post on August 30 and again on September 1. It has been reported on in some depth across the spectrum of media outlets from NPR to US News to the CS Monitor to FOX and on and on!

    Or maybe a decades old claim that the U.S. Constitution didn't give early Americans liberty but fitted them with the shackles of hypocrisy doesn't deserve some questions, like what did you mean by that and when and how did your thoughts change -- if they did?

    Barack Obama Must Stop Campaigning and Start Governing

    President Barack Obama still steems to be running for office, rather than running the country, says Toby Harnden

    Barack Obama must stop campaigning and start governing
    Barack Obama retains the style of a campaigner, even in office Photo: GETTY
    Perhaps we should not be surprised that the land of the permanent campaign has produced a president like Barack Obama. During his White House bid, Mr Obama's staff argued that his masterful oversight of the machinery that ultimately got him elected was his highest achievement.
    In many respects this was true, though Mr Obama was more chairman than CEO. Even Republican political operatives acknowledge that the Obama '08 campaign was a thing of beauty.
    Essentially, however, Mr Obama won because of his persona – post-racial, healing, cool, articulate and inspirational. In a sense, therefore, his greatest achievement in life is being Barack Obama. Or the campaign version, at least.
    Therein lies the problem. While campaigning could centre around soaring rhetoric, governing is altogether messier. It involves tough, unpopular choices and cutting deals with opponents. It requires doing things rather than talking about them, let alone just being.
    Mr Obama is showing little appetite for this. Instead of being the commander-in-chief, he is the campaigner-in-chief.
    After a disastrous summer that saw his approval rating drop more than any other president at the same stage since Harry Truman in 1953, Mr Obama has temporarily abandoned the campaign-style events promoting his stalled health-care reform initiative.
    Now, he is stumping for Democratic candidates in states he won last year but which are now in danger. Last Wednesday in Hackensack, Mr Obama took to the stage to proclaim: "Your voice can change the world. Your voice can elect Jon Corzine, governor once again of New Jersey." Change the world? Mr Corzine is a former Goldman Sachs executive whose political career was launched when he spent $57 million of his own money on a Senate seat in 2000.
    The rally was an attempted 2008 reprise. There was the spontaneous (or not) cry of "I love you!" bashfully acknowledged by Mr Obama with a "I love you back."
    There were the Obama-led chants of "Fired up! Ready to go!" and the ubiquitous "Yes We Can" signs.
    And as he always does, Mr Obama blamed every economic woe on the Bush years, conveniently forgetting that Republicans are no longer in office and it's been his mess for nine months now.
    Campaigning and raising cash is what Mr Obama does best. Next week's fundraising events in Florida and Virginia will bring to 24 the number of such functions he had headlined since entering office in January. During his first year in office, Mr Bush attended just six fundraisers.
    Just as instructive is Mr Obama's war on the cable channel Fox News.
    Everyone knows that Fox leans Right and contains some of the most virulent critics of the president. Most prominent is Fox's weeping, ranting Glenn Beck, who fulminated bizarrely in July that Mr Obama "has a deep-seated hatred for white people".
    Rather than ignoring or even repudiating Fox commentators, the White House has instead sought to marginalise Fox News in its entirety. Top Obama aide David Axelrod even lectured that Fox was not a news organisation and the rest of the media "ought not to treat them that way".
    This was the same Mr Axelrod who advised Mr Obama in a 2006 campaign memo: "You care far too much what is written and said about you."
    Also in the doghouse is the US Chamber of Commerce, which Obama aides have branded as representing "special interests" and a Bush agenda. Never mind that moderate Democratic candidates across the country proudly tout endorsements for the Chamber, which is hardly part of any radical Republican fringe.
    All this says much about Mr Obama's priorities at a time when he is sitting on an urgent request for 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, seemingly unsure about whether the counter-insurgency strategy he announced in March is the right one.
    Late-night comics, although unabashedly liberal and at a loss last year as to how to poke fun at the rather humourless Mr Obama, are having a field day portraying him as a do-nothing prevaricator obsessed with his own image.
    "President Obama agreed to commit an additional 40,000 troops to help fight Fox News," quipped NBC's Jay Leno. "Senior White House adviser David Axelrod told reporters that Fox News is just pushing a point of view. Well, yes, but at least they've got a point of view." Mr Obama was elected on a promise of being post-partisan to Washington and transforming the country. Thus far, he has won the support of only a single Republican for his health-care plan and has shown himself to be as aggressive a Democratic partisan in office as anyone in the fabled Clinton war room.
    Beyond the grand announcements, fine speeches and his eager acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, Mr Obama has yet to achieve anything of substance. It is time for the campaign to end.