Posts Tagged Obama

Presidential Statements & Presidential Silence

I guess I’m glad the president finally condemned attacks on policemen with the same vehemence he usually reserves for Israeli housing construction.

One normally only condemns that which requires condemnation, something about which there exists doubt as to its moral status. When he finds it necessary to remind us that the cold-blooded murder of police officers is a bad thing, to whom, exactly, is he speaking? Not to me, nor to anyone I personally know. We already have no doubts on that score.  It means that there’s almost nothing he could say that would be strong enough.

Why has he put himself in this rhetorical box to begin with? No comment should be necessary. The only reason we were waiting for one from him is because he’s opened his mouth so many times, on so many other subjects, that to *not* say something here would carry its own weight.

That doesn’t even touch on the quality of Obama’s comments about the Cambridge Police, the New York Police, or the Ferguson Police, all of which have tended to assume that there was some police misconduct, even in the absence of credible evidence to that effect.

I think that people who claim that Obama is in large part personally responsible for either the police murders, or the environment that makes them acceptable to some people, are going too far. I do think he’s in some small part responsible.  People don’t talk unless they believe that their words will have some effect, Presidents especially so.  In the past, that meant that presidents weighed their words and the occasions for them carefully.

Not everything requires a presidential comment.  In this case, he’s got enough on his plate trying to manage the executive branch of the federal government without trying to be the country’s police commissioner, to be sure.

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Anonymity Matters

During the IRS hearings, a recurring Democrat theme was that the IRS’s interpretation of 501(c)4 status, combined with the Citizens United ruling opened the door to political corruption by allowing – gasp! – anonymous political speech.  The argument, of course, is that you need to discount the speech based on the speaker.

This claim ignores the fact that there’s nothing inherently corrupt about anonymous speech, or in the Supreme Court’s interpretation, the anonymous funding of speech.  As many have pointed out, anonymous speech on substantive, even existential, political issues goes back to the founding days of the Republic.  The most famous example is the Federalist Papers, but even if you accept the notion that people didn’t know who Publius was the way that people today don’t know who Richard Bachman is, there are other contemporaneous examples.  Pauline Maier, in her fine survey of the Constitution’s ratification, Ratification, cites numerous anonymous anti-federalist writers, including a few that historians still haven’t been able to identify.

Unfortunately, for Democrats, a lack of anonymity is a feature, not a bug.  Via Instapundit, Kim Strassel’s column in today’s Wall Street Journal explains why:

In early August 2008, the New York Times trumpeted the creation of a left-wing group (a 501(c)4) called Accountable America. Founded by Obama supporter and liberal activist Tom Mattzie, the group—as the story explained—would start by sending “warning” letters to 10,000 GOP donors, “hoping to create a chilling effect that will dry up contributions.” The letters would alert “right-wing groups to a variety of potential dangers, including legal trouble, public exposure and watchdog groups digging through their lives.” As Mr. Mattzie told Mother Jones: “We’re going to put them at risk.” (emphasis added)

In an perfect example of blaming the victim, some Democrats would like to change the story from one of Democratic corruption of the IRS to the imaginary corruption of the political process by the Tea Party groups who found themselves on the wrong end of a partisan IRS proctological examination.

The Democrats argued that the sole purpose of claiming 501(c)4 status rather than forming a 527 was to keep donor lists secret.  There’s absolutely no evidence that this is true, but given Mattzie’s manifest intent to make Republican and conservative donors suffer personally for their political speech, could you blame conservative groups if it were?

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June 1998 Video of Obama on Political Coalitions and the Working Poor

The Daily Caller has posted the unedited audio of then-State Senator Barack Obama at a Loyola College forum, where he discusses the importance of uniting the working poor with welfare recipients as a political coalition.

Turns out this wasn’t a one-off, or a cool idea that occurred to him in the middle of the forum, but something he had been thinking about for a while.  Here’s C-SPAN video of him at a Brookings Institute forum on the State of the Cities four months earlier, on June 14, 1998:

Why is this problematic?  Traditionally, the working poor haven’t identified with welfare recipients, but with the middle class, just as the middle class tends to identify with the rich.  They tend to see themselves as hopeful and upwardly-mobile.  By getting the working poor to see themselves as having more in common with recent welfare recipients, Obama is hoping to get them to believe that they need/want/are entitled to government help that they might not have sought otherwise, and to form a voting bloc in favor of expanded government redistribution.


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Hear That Whistle Blowin’?

It’s not very loud just yet. But if you bend down, ear to the rails, you can hear the ever-so-quiet singing of a train in the distance.

It’s the Hillary Special, and it’s scheduled to pull into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., on January 21st, 2013.

The engine has always been there, in the railyard, getting refitted and cleaned and tuned up. Bill took it out for its paces a few weeks ago with the comments about Obama’s handling of the economy. Then, of course, came his book, with its false choice between drowning government and crony capitalism.

And now come the test runs, starting with the Wall Street Journal op-ed and the write-in campaign.

The train’s route was made clear by Pat Caddell, in last Friday’s appearance on the Ricochet Podcast. Caddell, along with liberal-but-not-insane pundit partner Douglas Schoen, explained in last week’s Wall Street Journal why Obama had to step aside for Hillary, for the good of the country, and the good of the Democratic Party, not necessarily in that order.

While some read this as desperation and wishful thinking, I’m more inclined to see it as the launching of Hillary’s 2012 exploratory committee. It tests the waters while not committing her to anything, indeed, while not tying her to any possible disloyalty at all.

Caddell’s & Schoen’s idea, in a nutshell, is that Obama can’t win re-election in such a way as to allow him to govern. That in order to win, he’ll have to poison the political environment so thoroughly that cooperation with the Republicans will be impossible, and that the country simply can’t afford that right now. If he loses, he’ll lose whatever gains he’s made for the Left with him. So for Caddell & Schoen, an Obama candidacy is a lose-lose situation.

Worse, Obama is simply giving up on large swatches of the Democrat coalition, in particular working class whites. He’s offered nothing substantial to labor, only the procedural, and is willing at every turn to sacrifice jobs and the economy to the elite green ideologues. (This is a Democrat talking, by the way, not me.)

Hillary, on the other hand, has shrewdly used her tenure at the State Department to build up her own stature as the actual adult in the party, as opposed to the aspirational adult – also known as an adolescent – currently occupying the White House. She’s been disciplined in sticking to foreign policy, keeping her mouth shut about everything else. Even Bill has, according to Caddell, mostly kept his mouth shut.

If in 2000, the country was suffering from Clinton fatigue, it’s now going through some nostalgia for the 90s. Unlike the Bush years, we were (mostly) at peace. Unlike the Obama years, we were prosperous, with a president who seemed to understand the importance of that fact.

Less odious to the center than Obama, Hillary could win with a positive campaign, or at least one without the overt slash-and-burn strategy that Obama is committed to. Once in office, she may be able to cut a grand spending-and-taxing bargain with the Republicans, where Obama has no hope of doing so. Merely by winning, she’ll be able to preserve the key elements of Obamacare, seen by the Left as this generation’s Progressive Great Wave.

Caddell & Schoen remember how, in 1968, when Johnson won only 58% of the vote in New Hampshire, he decided that he didn’t have the stomach for a long primary campaign, even though he stood an excellent shot at re-election against Nixon. He stepped aside in favor of Hubert Humphrey, who might well have won had Johnson stopped bombing Vietnam a couple of weeks sooner. The appeal to Obama’s sense of duty to persuade him to make the same choice.

More than that, they’ll appeal to the same sense of not wanting to fight for renomination. Caddell & Schoen are now trying to get one or several large Democrat donors to run a Hillary Write-In Campaign in New Hampshire. They believe that were she to win a significant percentage of the vote, it might really shake up the race on the Democrat side.

Since it wouldn’t be controlled by or connected to Hillary (wink, wink), Obama couldn’t really tell her to shut it down. Were he to be too forceful, it could allow her to resign and actually run against him, which is the last thing he wants.

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed at the lack of close questioning by the Ricochet gang. A number of Caddell’s assertions were dubious at best, and yet went relatively unchallenged. Obama has abandoned labor on the high-profile projects like Keystone XL. But he’s practically turned the NLRB into an arm of the AFL-CIO. The NLRB itself, as an end-run around the loss of a quorum to conduct business, threatens to invest its general counsel with an unheard amount of unreviewable authority and power.

Bill, as we’ve seen, has not been very quiet of late, complaining about Obama’s handling of the economy. Caddell also claims that Hillary is the only thing keeping Obama’s National Security Advisor in check with respect to Israel, but in fact, we don’t really know what Hillary’s person opinions about Israel are, and there’s plenty of reason to think they’re not particularly friendly. I believe Caddell makes that claim because it appeals to a clearly disaffected part of the Democrat base that remembers, as do most Israelis, Bill as a friend of that state.

Similarly, Caddell appeals to what the Democrat Party once was, but no longer is, when he tosses out with obvious disgust, but does not elaborate on, the notion that Obama will seek to circumvent a hostile Congress by ruling by executive fiat. True enough, but worthy of fuller examination, playing as it does to our fears of a truly imperial Presidency.

Thus, the outlines of the prospective Clinton 2012 campaign. The reality is, of course, is that Hillary would not govern as a centrist. She would likely be a more effective salesman for the old, unimaginative Blue Social Model policies that doom us to Europe’s fiscal fate, however.

That clickety clack that promises to take us back will, instead, leave us all – Obama included – singing the blues in the night.


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Obama’s Speech Lacks Structural Integrity

I just finished watching President Obama address AIPAC’s 2011 Policy Conference, and I can’t say I was comforted.

The crowd was enthusiastic, as one might expect for a sitting US President who didn’t openly pull the rug out from under Israel.  Obama mouthed all the right key phrases about not delegitimizing Israel, supporting its security, never questioning its existence or right to do so, and holding the Palestinians accountable.  No President will ever say anything different.

But the speech was very much the Tacoma Narrows Bridge: beautiful from a distance, but lacking all structural integrity.

Even as he was saying, “We will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their words,” everything else he said indicated that he won’t.

Obama said that the world is impatient with a peace process, or lack thereof, that produces no results, which is why the Palestinians are pursuing their statehood ambitions through the UN.  In order to forestall this, the Israelis must recognize the need for progress in negotiations.

This formulation completely ignores the fact that this is part of the Palestinians strategy, the whole Menendez-brothers-but-we’re-orphans Act, allowing them to avoid responsibility for their role in the talks’ failures.  It presumes that the Palestinians had any interest in coming to an agreement under the current framework, and makes Israel to blame for Palestinian intransigence.

Moreover, by listing the regions of the world (Latin America, really?) that are frustrated with the lack of an agreement, he highlights his administration’s utter incompetence in defending Israel diplomatically, which is what a large part of his speech claimed that he had done.

Obama said that the PLO-Hamas agreement posed a “huge obstacle,” and that Israel couldn’t be expected to negotiate with people who want to destroy it, therefore, he will continue to press Hamas to fulfill the basic requirements.

Israel is expected to negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, without negotiating with Hamas?  Or Hamas is to fundamentally transform itself from the equivalent of the Nazi Party into Social Democrats?  One proposition betrays the conditions the President just set, the other ignores the reality to which he is supposedly so attached.

He focused again on his line concerning the 1967 borders, repeating “mutually agreed swaps,” and adding in that the Palestinians “must” recognize facts on the ground.

And if they don’t?  The basic premise of everything is that there must be an agreement.  After a speech that does little but reward Palestinian intransigence, why should the Palestinians do anything other than dig in their heels?  If the Israelis open with an aggressive map, they’ll be quickly “reined in” by the rest of the world, that has no right to set terms, but every right to, well, set terms.  And if they open with a reasonably map, it will be treated as a good basis for the beginning of negotiations.

He was silent on Jerusalem and the “Right of Return.”

But security and the Jewish character of Israel, two things Obama claims to want, are tied up inextricably with those two issues.  For a President who opened the speech by congratulating himself he was remarkably silent on the two issues on which are the most zero-sum of all.

After months of having the Arab world ignore a President who repeatedly insists that they “must” do this and that they “must not” do that, the standing ovation he got in DC was probably dwarfed by the one he got in Ramallah and Gaza.

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Taking Their Victory Lap in a Clown Car

Yes, I know, he’s right there in that photograph of the senior staff watching the bin Laden operation on the live feed.  (Think about that for a moment.  We’re commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Lincoln used to spend a lot of time over at the War Department Telegraph Office waiting for scraps of war news from a couple of hundred miles away.  Nowadays he could just dial up a live feed from anywhere on the planet.)

And now, two apparently inside stories indicating that the President either didn’t get around to making an actual decision, or took 16 hours to do so.

I have no idea how much to credit these stories (although it would fit in with at least one fellow’s relatively generous reading of Obama’s presidency).  Politically, it is remarkable that within 72 hours of the President’s first only real accomplishment, someone inside the White House is putting about stories designed to undermine the President for that very accomplishment?

Typically, this sort of thing would take weeks to develop.  The fellow in question would want to see how the polls were moving, whether or not there was traction.  Right now, in the warm afterglow of the already-room-temperature remains, would be the last time you’d expect an insider to go around putting knives in the back of the Hero of Abbottabad.  This should be a moment when Obama begins to turn things around, and instead, you’ve got British newspapers and American blogs making the President out to be a spectator at his own presidency.

William Daley was supposed to provide gravitas, professionalism, stability, and order to a White House Staff that was looking terribly undisciplined.  Instead, while the operation itself was brilliantly done, they’ve gotten just about everything since wrong.  From the changing stories, to the photographs, to the disposal of the body, to the speech itself.  That along with announcing an intelligence bonanza to the world, “the world” including our enemies.  No, I don’t think they’re lying about what happened; those images can move awfully fast, and it’s just normal fog-of-war stuff; but why rush out with a story you’re going to have to correct?  Why dither for two days about whether or not to release the death scene photographs?  In short, they’re “taking their victory lap in a clown car.”

There’s a point in a market, when it’s near it’s top, that even good news isn’t good news.  Strong earnings reports, hiring reports, strong consumer confidence, all get shrugged aside because there’s a feeling that the market just has no upside to it.  When you have some experience with the market, sometimes you can sniff that out, and let me tell you, it’s a great time to be in cash.

I wonder if something similar isn’t going on here with this President.  They were fond of deriding their predecessors for having won the war, but not having a plan for the peace.  In this case, they won the assault, but didn’t have a plan for the rest of the piece.  As a result, someone inside the Administration isn’t afraid of putting knives in his boss’s back, even when you’d think it would be a good time to lay low and start spiriting out your diaries for a book deal.

For a politician, especially an executive, that’s abbottabad as it gets.


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Why Purim Matters – Fate and Destiny

Today is Purim, the holiday that celebrates  the victory of the Jews over Haman’s genocidal faction in ancient Persia, during the Babylonian exile.  As always, there are questions.

On most holidays, Jews recite a set of Psalms of praise and thanksgiving collectively known as Hallel.  We do recite it on Chanukah.  We do not recite it on Purim.  Why?

Rav Yosef Soloveitchik argues that the reason is that Chanukah established Jewish independence, and therefore regaining control over our own destiny.  Purim, on the other hand, was a reprieve, but one that left our fate in the hands of a king and a system that had been proven arbitrary.  (The difference between Fate and Destiny is one that Rav Soloveitchik explores in greater depth in an essay, later released as a short book, by that name, Fate and Destiny.)  Purim thus established the “Fiddler on the Roof” scenario, the shtetl paradigm, that would come to dominate and define Jewish existence for most of the next 2500 years, interrupted only by the 2nd Commonwealth.

And arrested again by the establishment of the State of Israel.

While many times Ahashveraus, the Persian king, is depicted as foolish, rather like the king in Aladdin, the rabbinical commentators see him as considerably more malevolent, anywhere from looking for a reason to exterminate the Jews to hostile, and willing to let himself be persuaded in the matter.  They note that it was under his rule that reconstruction on the Temple came to a halt, under obstacles and threats from the throne.

Which brings us to today.

While history doesn’t repeat, President Obama is certainly doing a fine, fine Ahashveraus impersonation when it comes to Israel.  His hostility is manifest, and even if he’s not willing to take positive action himself on the matter, he doesn’t seem very interested in doing anything to impede Israel’s neighborhood enemies.  His recent on-again-off-again veto or not of yet another Security Council resolution on Israel was designed as much to show the Israelis who was in charge, as though Israel really believes it can willingly alienate an American president.  His lecture to American Jewish leaders that they need to “search their souls” on Israel’s (and their) desire for peace, made the implicit threat almost explicit.

Much of the point of Fate and Destiny is the difference between being active in your future, and being passive, at the mercy of other people and forces.  (I’m not sure if the essay, written to provide a theological basis for Orthodox support for Israel, uses the Purim-Chanukah comparison.  Undergoing an Omahavian exile myself, I don’t have access to my copy.)  Unfortunately, then, as now, too many Jews are more comfortable acting under those parameters.  It is too much like a replay, at a national level, of the deals-for-today that Jews had to make for centuries for their communities to survive.

Instead, we should be acting forcefully to shape our own future.  Forcefully doesn’t mean recklessly or insultingly.  But as an Orthodox Jew and a patriotic American, I believe that Israel’s interests & principles, and those of the US coincide far, far more often than they collide, and lucky for me that they do.

Right now, when we have a President who shows himself to be uncertain at best about American interests and principles, the temptation is to try to ride things out.  But such decisions, taken cumulatively, have long-term consequences.  It’s one of the reasons why I supposed Sharon’s disengagement strategy – it was an attempt to seize the initiative and set the terms of the debate, and but for his age and health, it might have succeeded.

We need to remember that we do have another choice.  We are lucky to live in an age when we can choose Chanukah over Purim.

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