Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lame Demagogue Session

Democrats have not reacted well to the “shellacking” voters administered to the party at the polls earlier this month. Far from doing any soul searching or introspection of any kind, Democrats embarked on a campaign to vindicate their leaders, reelecting Nancy Pelosi to head their now minority House caucus and Harry Reid to lead a reduced Senate contingent.

The leadership brooked no second-guessing of Democrats’ electoral strategy, either, declaring that the message was good and only the party’s delivery was flawed. They consoled themselves in the voters’ inability to understand just how wonderful four years of Democratic control of Congress had been, and rued their failure…no, their incomplete explanation of the benefits of another two years with Pelosi as speaker.

Democrats’ refusal to spend any time in the wilderness, indeed in their refusal to acknowledge the existence of a wilderness, has not served them well as they struggle to gain a foothold from which to spring back to power. The lame-duck session of Congress thus far has resulted in no legislative accomplishments: no deal on extending the Bush tax cuts, no talk of spending cuts, no incentives to create jobs, nothing to acknowledge the voters’ anger and frustration at the way Democrats have run the government.

Instead, the Democrats have wasted time dreaming of bills that will not pass and would enrage most of the country if they did. These bills include the aptly named Dream Act, which would create a backdoor amnesty for young illegal immigrants; an omnibus spending bill, no doubt festooned like a Christmas tree with pork-barrel spending projects; and a new START arms reduction treaty with Russia – that nobody outside the White House seems to want or think is important – which will certainly not create jobs.

On the political side, Democrats have not fared much better. In their first post-election coordinated assault, Democrats and their union hangers-on have taken to haranguing Republican opponents of Obamacare – the passage of which is likely the single biggest reason Democrats will find themselves in the minority next year. New York Representative Joseph Crowley and 60 Democrats sent a letter to the GOP leadership in both houses preemptively calling any member that opposed or campaigned against the government takeover of health care a hypocrite if that member signs up for the Congressional health care plan.

“If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable health care, your members should walk that walk,” Crowley wrote. “You cannot enroll in the very kind of coverage that you want for yourselves, and then turn around and deny it to Americans who don't happen to be Members of Congress.”

This argument is exactly the kind of rank demagoguery that Americans turned out in droves to vote against on November 2nd. It has the added benefit of being completely inane. It is rooted in the fundamental belief that voters are too stupid to know the difference between government run health care and government provided health insurance.

The federal government, as an employer, pays a premium to third-party providers for health care plans to cover members of Congress. The government does not provide the actual care, or make the decisions about coverage. It buys a market-based product, and makes it available to its employees and their families. What’s more, Congressmen pay up to twenty-five percent of the premium for the coverage they choose.

Acceptance of this job benefit by Republican legislators is no more an acceptance of the principle of government run health care than is acceptance of government censorship by people who check books out from government run libraries. Would AFSCME, which joined Democrats in this ridiculous line of attack, demand that its members renounce their employer-based coverage if they voted Republican? Should supporters of First Amendment rights turn in their library cards? Nonsense.

Of course, Republicans’ votes against Obamacare were actually votes in favor of retaining employer-based health care coverage. Democrats know this. Republicans are entirely consistent in signing their families up for whichever health insurance plan they wish. Rather, as is often the case, it is the Democrats who are tainted with the hypocrisy with which they accuse their opponents. If single-payer, government run health care is so much better, Democrat congressmen that support it should show some leadership themselves and renounce their coverage under the federal health benefits plan.

But by far the worst feature of this new Democratic push is that it isn’t even new. debunked this particular attack in 2009. Democrats might have known this too, if instead of rushing headlong to prop up the leaders who had brought them electoral disaster they had taken a short walk in the wilderness.

Cross posted at Human Events.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Acting Stupidly

If you want to figure out what a politician is up to, pay attention to what he accuses his opponents of doing. Chances are, the accuser is probably doing it himself.

It is with that thought in mind that we take a look at President Barack Obama’s now infamous determination from afar that the police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, “acted stupidly,” in arresting Harvard Professor, and Obama friend, Henry Louis Gates. The president has since re-calibrated that remark, offering in his pre-eminent law enforcement opinion that Gates should not have been arrested for verbally assaulting Sgt. James Crowley and causing a public scene in front of his home in protest of the police coming to protect him and his property from potential vandals.

But the “acting stupidly” comment still hangs over the incident and over the White House like a dark cloud. Obama put it there with his inability to restrain himself from commenting on the Gates affair at last week’s White House press conference. And in so eagerly labeling the Cambridge Police, Obama has unwittingly provided the lens through which to view his first six months as president. For the Obama Administration has been acting stupidly almost since the very first day of his presidency.

President Obama came into office with perhaps more political capital than any president in recent history. Following an administration and a president that had become widely – if unfairly – unpopular, Obama took the office after a campaign based on broad themes of hope and change. Americans of all ideologies earnestly hoped that the country would thrive under his leadership, even if like Rush Limbaugh they wished his more liberal policy initiatives to fail. Supported by a press corps heavily invested in his election and his Administration’s success, and coupled with enlarged Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and a Republican minority looking for areas in which to cooperate with the popular new president, the young Administration had everything going for it.

Until it was time to govern.

The trouble began even before the inauguration with a series embarrassing tax problems for Administration nominees. Nominee after nominee was withdrawn for their failure to fully and completely pay their fair share, some might say their patriotic share, of income taxes. The most famous of these is former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Others, like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, survived their tax woes, with the support of the president. The entire episode, however, would have been avoidable were it not for a stupid oversight of the vetting committee. Just days after the inauguration, Obama was forced to admit, “I screwed up.”

On policy, the Obama Administration has acted no less stupidly than it did on personnel. President Obama’s guiding principle of his first 100 days in office can be summed up in this: If George W. Bush did it, it must be bad. Therefore I must undo it. There doesn’t seem to be much more to it than that. From reversing the ban on funding of family planning groups that counsel and conduct abortions overseas to ordering the closing of the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay, the first weeks of the Administration were characterized by a reflexive rejection of any and every policy instituted by the Bush administration.

Particularly in the case of Guantanamo Bay, the Administration has come to regret those heady days of its youth, when all Obama had to do was be the anti-Bush to win plaudits from his sycophantic press corps. Guantanamo has turned out to be thorny issue, on which Obama has had to eat his words. Not long after declaring that the prison would close within a year, Obama has had to admit that some of the detainees would have to remain incarcerated indefinitely, without charge or trial. It was unquestionably stupid of Obama to issue a definitive proclamation on the fate of the prison without considering the real world consequences of that decision, and he has been burned for it.

Legislatively, Obama has not fared much better, either. On his signature program to date, the economic stimulus bill, President Obama allowed the appropriators in Congress to write the bill with little guidance from the White House. The predictable result was a bill so laden with such obviously wasteful spending items, that Republicans were able to coalesce almost unanimously against it. But the real stupidity on the part of the Administration came when Obama invited Congressional Republicans to the White House for negotiations on the package. Instead of paying lip service to Republican concerns and perhaps throwing them a bone or two, in the spirit of bipartisanship, Obama stupidly and arrogantly dismissed Republicans with a curt “I won.”

The insult galvanized opposition to the bill and resulted in not one single Republican member of the House voting for it. Similarly, only three liberal Senate Republicans sided with the Administration on passage of the measure, and one of those is now a Democrat. Now that the stimulus bill is not working as advertised and the economy has gotten worse not better, there are only Democrats and the Administration to blame. Republicans have been so emboldened by their successful opposition that some are openly speculating that the GOP can take back the House in the 2010 mid-term elections.

Now comes the health care debate, and President Obama is displaying the hallmark of truly stupid behavior: the refusal to learn from one’s mistakes. Obama has once again allowed Congress to write the legislation with little guidance and the resulting bills have been disasters. Republicans are once again united in opposition while Democrats are fractured along ideological lines. As with the stimulus, the Administration has rejected all Republican initiatives on health care reform, to the point of claiming that Republicans have not offered a plan of their own.

As public support for the plan has cratered, the Obama Administration has panicked, insisting on an August recess deadline for passage of a plan and exposing the legislation’s Achilles Heel. Republicans have been successful at forcing Democrats to miss that deadline, and are on the precipice of killing the plan outright.

Meanwhile, Obama has only made things worse, holding his disastrous prime-time press conference at which he stupidly decided to weigh in on a minor law enforcement matter in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Incredibly, unable to admit his mistake, Obama first doubled down on his remarks, then invited Crowley and Gates to the White House for a beer, thereby guaranteeing another week of bad press from the incident.

There are more examples - the much-hyped lobbyist ban that the White House broke the very next day after the president signed it comes to mind – but the point is clear. Any of these stumbles on their own might be chalked up to the growing pains that accompany a transition of power. But all of them taken together, and in such a relatively short time, could be said to constitute stupidity in governance. The next time President Obama is tempted to label a public servant’s actions as stupid, he would do better to look a little closer to home.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sotomayor's Discriminating Defense

President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, has been deservedly criticized for her stated belief that minority judges make better decisions than “white males” because of their race, gender, ethnicity, and life experiences. The remark, repeated by Sotomayor in near identical form in speech after speech, has raised questions about her ability to be fair and impartial on the bench.

Surprisingly less criticized has been Sotomayor’s defense of her membership in an exclusive women’s club, The Belizean Grove. A little over two weeks ago, Sotomayor responded to questions from Senators about the group with an answer that made even her champions at the New York Times blush. Sotomayor said that her membership in the all-female group was appropriate because the group did not “invidiously discriminate” against men.

“I am a member of the Belizean Grove, a private organization of female professionals from the profit, nonprofit and social sectors. The organization does not invidiously discriminate on the basis of sex. Men are involved in its activities — they participate in trips, host events and speak at functions — but to the best of my knowledge, a man has never asked to be considered for membership.”

The Times pointed out that the group’s own website does not agree with Sotomayor’s characterization, describing the group as a, “constellation of influential women,” and seemingly containing no mention of any roles for men. Like her explanation of her racial comments, Sotomayor’s defense of her membership raises more questions than answers.

Those questions could be fertile ground for Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to plow at Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, which begin July 13. According to the group, The Belizean Grove’s members strive to form “mutually-beneficial relationships.” Republicans should pursue the notion that a sitting federal judge has no business belonging to such a group.

Senators might ask the nominee just how, if at all, members of the group could have expected to benefit from her membership. Did Sotomayor perform any favors for her sister members in her professional capacity as a supposedly impartial judge? Did she hear cases in which members of the group, their businesses, or their employers had an interest? Did she recuse herself from any case in which a member of the group had an interest? Why or why not?

Sotomayor’s membership in the group, even if it resulted in no tangible benefit to her fellow members, is a shocking case of poor professional judgment. The fact that, her interpretation notwithstanding, the group clearly discriminates on the basis of sex is bad enough. But for a federal judge to give the appearance that she is seeking to benefit from her position should be disqualifying. To paraphrase a famous alleged federal office broker, it is as if Judge Sotomayor believed that a federal judgeship is a valuable thing, and she was determined to make the most of it.

The Sotomayor nomination has largely fallen off the radar screen for the mainstream press. Even the Supreme Court’s reversal of her decision in Ricci v. DeStefano this week received only passing mentions and not very much detailed analysis of her original decision. The lull in coverage has served Sotomayor’s interest, as the public has not been exposed to a daily drumbeat of criticism of her nomination. It will be up to Republicans then to give her a thorough examination at her conformation hearings. Sotomayor’s Belizean Grove membership, her inability to recognize the discriminatory nature of the group’s membership policy, and the potential for conflict between her membership and her professional duties should all be explored in detail.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NY State Senate Follies Continue

The standoff in Albany j4b7dq8wmp between State Senate Republicans and Democrats continues, as Democrats refuse to acknowledge the new reality that they are no longer in control of the chamber after two of their members voted with Republicans to oust Malcolm Smith as majority leader. The latest act to appear in the center ring of this circus is New York Governor David Paterson. After alternately vowing to not let the Senate takeover stand and admitting that there is really nothing he can do about it, Paterson said Sunday that he will call the Senate into special session.

At his press conference, Paterson chided the Senate, saying that the impasse has "inconvenienced the lives of every New Yorker."

"Over the last couple of weeks, the senators' conduct has been laughable, but what's going on around here these days is no joke and I don't find it funny. There will be no excuses and there will be no tolerance for noncompliance with this order. And as they have inconvenienced all New Yorkers for the past few weeks, maybe we'll see how they like feeling the same way."

For all his bluster, however, Paterson has no authority to force the Senate to debate bills or take votes. He can only make them sit in the chamber. And as for his assertion that the standoff has "inconvenienced" New Yorkers, there is no evidence of this. Despite the great tragedy of the New York State Senate holding no official sessions for a couple of weeks, all the traffic lights still work, and all the government offices are still open. How exactly has even one New Yorker been directly affected by the Senate standoff?

Quite the contrary, New York has been better off without a legislature to meddle in their daily lives. Consider the agenda that the governor is so eager to have the Senate consider.

The governor's 55-bill agenda includes legislation to extend the law granting the mayor control over the school system and a bill authorizing the city to hike its 4% local sales tax by another 0.5%.

[Paterson] said once those issues are dealt with, he will call another special session to deal with more controversial matters, like the legalization of same-sex marriage.

And those are just the highlights. Higher taxes and redefining marriage. Goodness knows what else the governor has in store for the state if he only had a Senate to act. Surely the good people of New York City can go another summer without an extra half a percent on top of the already sky high 8.75% sales tax. Recognizing same-sex marriages is not a high-priority concern for the vast majority of New Yorkers, one suspects. With the exception of mayoral control of the schools, this is not the "people's business," as the governor so high-and-mightily put it. It is the politicians' business, the special interests' business.

The New York State GOP, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skellos in particular, should be commended for giving the nation a glimpse of the consequences when a state legislature fails to act: nothing. There's a lesson in this for state parties and the national Republican Party. If government would stop doing the "people's business," and just let the people go about their business, everything will be just fine. More state legislatures should try it. Maybe even Congress. So for now, let the circus continue in Albany. It will be resolved in its own good time, the governor's frustrations notwithstanding. The people can wait.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Not So Wise

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has come under fire for the following controversial comment that she made in prepared remarks at the University of California-Berkeley.
“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Both the Obama Administration and the nominee herself have said that the comments would have been better “restated.” If by “restated” the Administration meant “repeated,” then the revelation that Sotomayor made nearly the exact same remark twice before and twice after the 2001 Berkeley speech would not be a surprise. As it is, however, Sotomayor’s views on the role of gender and ethnicity in her judicial decision making process has never been in more doubt.

More trouble for Sotomayor has come to light recently as a result of her filing an incomplete Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire. The White House boasted that Sotomayor turned in her questionnaire, “faster than any nominee in modern history,” just nine days since her nomination. She may have wanted to hold onto it a bit longer.

Sotomayor did not mention a memorandum she signed as a member of a Puerto Rico Legal Defense Fund task force on the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York State in 1981. In the memo, the group argues that the death penalty, “…is associated with evident racism in our society.” Sotomayor, signature on the document is another indication of her apparently incessant and ingrained tendency to see race and ethnicity first, and facts second.

Both the additional speeches and the omission of the memo underscore the decidedly unwise manner in which the Obama Administration, and Sotomayor herself, have handled the nomination, the nominee’s characterization of herself notwithstanding. Whether the Administration did not anticipate the level of scrutiny that would be visited on its first Supreme Court nomination, or whether it is simply trying to rush the nomination through before all the facts can be ascertained is not known. But questions about what the Administration knew and when about the speeches and the memo are now bound to be a feature of her confirmation hearing. As are other as yet undiscovered controversies in Sotomayor’s professional career.

With 59 Senators and a high personal approval rating, President Obama should have been able to drive Sotomayor’s nomination through the Senate with little or no question. However, the Administration’s ham-handed attempts at crisis management, and it’s juvenile pursuit of some superfluous record has brought greater scrutiny on Sotomayor than otherwise may have been expected. This has provided Republicans with an opportunity to define Sotomayor and President Obama at the confirmation hearings. They should take full advantage of the Obama Administration’s missteps, and Sotomayor’s omission, to give her a thorough examination.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Question of National Character

This piece originally appeared in the American Spectator. Thanks to Jim Antle and Caleb Howe.

Speaking to a French reporter while on his Middle East trip, President Obama said that the United States would be “one of the largest Muslim countries,” if its Muslim population was the measure. Jake Tapper fact checked that claim and reports that the White House used the CIA World Fact Book as a source for Obama’s erroneous statistic that there are seven million Muslims in the U.S. The actual size of the Muslim population in America, according to the CIA, is 0.6% of the total, or just under 2 million.

Tapper points out that the president did not say, and does not believe, that the United States is a Muslim nation, as some have lamented. As evidence for this, he recalls Obama’s speech of April 6, in Turkey, in which the president said that America, “does not consider itself a Christian nation, a Jewish nation, or a Muslim nation.” While Tapper may be correct on the literal meaning of the president’s words, the rationale behind them is utter nonsense.
The idea that America would be one of the largest Muslim nations is silly not just because the president’s figures were grossly over-inflated. It is silly because population size is not what makes a nation inherently Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. Culture does.

Take India as an example. India has the second largest population in the world at just under 1.2 billion people. Of them, the CIA says that 13.5% are Muslim. That gives India a Muslim population of over 162 million. Compare that to the largest Muslim nation of Indonesia, which has 200 million. Yet no one would think to claim that India is a Muslim nation, or that it is even, “one of the largest Muslim countries,” based on that number alone. India’s culture is as unique as it is ancient. In modern times, India’s culture and society may have been shaped by Muslims, but they are undoubtedly rooted in a history that long predates the introduction of Islam.

Similarly, America has a history rooted in Western European civilization, which is undeniably Christian. The Founders were Christian men who, guided by their Christian faith, stitched together a nation. Although they had the restraint to forbid the government from sponsoring a particular religion, to say that the United States is not a Christian nation is to deny both its history and the present reality. Indeed, with roughly one tenth of the worldwide Christian population, by the president’s own logic the United States would be one of the world’s biggest Christian nations, if not the biggest.

One aspect of the United States’ Christian culture is its acceptance of other religions. This is simply not the case in many Muslim nations, where Christians and Jews are shunned, discriminated against, and even driven out. A powerful example is the systematic marginalization of the minority Coptic Christian community in the president’s host nation, Egypt.
It is understandable that President Obama wants better relations with the Muslim world. It has been, after all, the source of many of America’s problems for the past 30 years. But to deny the very nature of the county in that effort is not outreach, it is obsequiousness. America’s relationship to Muslims should be predicated on mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance of one another. That means Muslims must understand and accept that America is at its root a Christian nation, just as they must realize that America’s actions in the world are not guided by that fact. The president does his cause no favors by pretending otherwise.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Obama Met Secretly with Jeremiah Wright During Campaign

Last May, in the heat of the Democratic primary and coming off of a disastrous showing in the Pennsylvania primary, Barack Obama reversed course and publicly denounced his controversial pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, after refusing to do so the month before. In his now famous Philadelphia speech on race relations, Obama said he could no more disown Wright than he could disown the black community. Wright then made an appearance at the National Press Club on April 28th, one week after the Pennsylvania primary, in which he refused to recant his controversial sermons, the revelation of which had brought pressure on the Obama campaign. Soon after, Obama would disown him, using the pretext of Wright's affirmation of his sermons as the reason for his change of mind.

Wright disappeared from the campaign after that, disproving speculation that he was out to destroy Obama's campaign out of anger at his former charge's repudiation. At the time, I questioned whether it was all a set up. Did Obama and Wright conspire together to get Wright and the controversy surrounding Obama's 20-year attendance at his Trinity United Church out of the news in advance of the crucial North Carolina and Indiana primaries? Now, there may be proof.

This is what I speculated on May 2nd, three days after Obama denounced his former pastor:

Here’s how the theory goes. When Wright’s controversial sermons...were made public, the Obama campaign took the occasion to have the candidate make a big speech on race relations. The speech was delivered in Philadelphia, the better to help Obama calm the fears of rural, white, working-class Democrats, to whom he now looked a little more like a sixties radical than an agent of a new kind of politics. It was expected that Obama would distance himself from his firebrand pastor. But he didn’t...Far from distancing himself, Obama drew closer to Wright. [...]

Obama lost Pennsylvania by 10 points on April 22nd...Faced with the sudden realization that his campaign was foundering among rural whites, and with four heavily rural states next to vote, Obama needed a way to reach out to that crucial Democratic demographic.

But for the post-partisan Obama to suddenly turn on his pastor, mentor, and friend of more than 20 years would have seemed too opportunistic, too old politics. He needed to find a way to denounce Wright without having it be seen as politically motivated. [...]

Less cynical observers say that the new Wright controversy is too damaging for Obama’s campaign to be a political ploy...But it has been three days since Obama’s dismissal of Wright, and there has been no word from the Reverend. If Wright remains silent through Monday, consider it a certainty that he is executing a plan designed to give Obama the political cover to opportunistically deny him. There may never be proof of coordination, but there seems to be a lot of winking and nodding going on.

In his forthcoming book on the 2008 campaign, Richard Wolfe reports that Obama and Wright met between the Pennsylvania and North Carolina primaries at Wright's home in suburban Chicago. The Obama campaign set up the meeting with the express goal of getting Wright to end his public appearances. The meeting was not reported in the press.

Wolfe's account of the discussion between the besieged pastor and the beleaguered candidate leaves plenty of questions. Wolfe says Obama, "adopt[ed] the tone of a concerned friend giving advice," and tried to, "nudge [Wright] in the right direction by making him aware of what was about to happen." The account is silent about whether the two men discussed the campaign. But coming off a loss in a heavily rural state, and heading into two more contests in heavily rural battleground states, is it really much of a stretch to surmise that Obama asked Wright to get out of the way?

The proof, of course, is that Wright did exactly that. He made no more public appearances after his National Press Club speech. There was no attempt to destroy Obama's campaign. And thanks to Republican John McCain's decision not to make Wright an issue, Obama did not have to face serious questions about his former pastor again during the campaign.

Complicit in this deception is the mainstream media, which clearly was not paying close enough attention to Obama to know of the meeting. Considering the intensity of the Wright story and the Democratic primary, the meeting would have been blockbuster news. Somehow, Obama was able to meet with the most controversial figure in the campaign, at his home, on the cusp of two critically important primaries, and not one media outlet reported on it.

All of this calls into question whether Obama was telling the truth in his embrace of Wright in Philadelphia, or in his denunciation of him the following month; and whether Wright's National Press Club appearance and Obama's subsequent distancing from him was part of a quid pro quo designed to allow Obama to appear more moderate without explicitly denying his radical preacher. Had news of the meeting been reported, that question may have been explored, at least in the conservative blogosphere. Instead, the public was deprived of the context necessary to make a true judgment about Obama's relationship to Wright. But perhaps a clue to Obama's motivations in both speeches can be found in the words of Wright himself.
"Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls...He does what politicians do."