29 April 2009

More on Specter and the GOP

Is ideological purity so important that conservatives are willing to give the Democrats a license to pass whatever they want? 

In the name of William Buckley, I'd like to hear a good conservative explanation for how the Republican Party is somehow better off with Arlen Specter as a part of the Democratic caucus -- especially when all indications from the polling data are that his replacement, Pat Toomey, is going to lose. 

I implore readers to leave their thoughts in the comments section, because I honestly don't understand. With Specter in the fold, the Democrats all of a sudden will enjoy a filibuster-proof majority when Al Franken arrives in Washington. From Specter to Lincoln Chafee to Mike DeWine, conservatives have effectively chased off three of the most moderate members of the Republican senatorial caucus, and in the process have lost 12 seats -- twelve! -- over two elections. 

In the face of a Democratic Party that aims to engage in the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, the idea that moderates must be expelled and that the Republican Party should become even more exclusive is bewildering.

I laughed at Howard Dean when he engaged in his ambitious 50-state strategy after the 2004 election, but it has paid enormous dividends. Dean, who concerned himself far less with ideological purity and simply focused on winning elections, helped build a true national party out of the tatters of the John Kerry candidacy in 2004. He went to places like Texas, Montana and the deep south -- places long unfriendly to the Democratic Party -- and won election after election after election. He accepted flawed (see: moderate) candidates on the ticket, understanding that a Georgia Democrat might well differ from the ideal, northeastern Democrat in the mold of Ted Kennedy. Dean understood that his job was to win as many seats as possible in each house of Congress. It's not to be an ideological figurehead. 

Barack Obama's presidential run further reinforced the Democrats as a big-tent party. Without the all-inclusive message to dress up the neo-liberal voting record, even in such a toxic political climate for the GOP, it's hard to imagine he would have won. The Obama presidential campaign was based upon appeal, not about ideology. The GOP can learn something from the Obama candidacy: Attracting voters is about policy, but it's just as much about message and cross-party appeal. 

I have such difficulty understanding why conservatives don't see a problem with what the Republican Party has become vis-a-vis their opponents. Instead of trying to figure out why it is that they continue to get slaughtered at the ballot box, many leading conservatives want to engage in a full-on cleansing of the party.

The Republican Party should be a political vehicle, not an ideological movement, but its opinion makers have it completely backward. 

Its policies have become secondary to this ideal that we must keep alive the flame of Reagan, years after the Gipper has passed on, and that any elected official with an (R) behind his name who dares step out of line has committed heresy. There is no room for ideological deviation.

Sen. Specter is a guy who has voted with the Republican Party a little less than half the time over his career. To be sure, he is no conservative. But he is a moderate, and he counted himself a member of the senatorial Republican caucus.

Republicans in 2009 have adopted the same attitude that Democrats took in 2006 when Joe Lieberman was up for re-election. Instead of accepting Lieberman's alleged flaws (basically, that he supported the Iraq War), the party establishment threw its support behind a phenomenally liberal candidate in Ned Lamont, who defeated Lieberman in the primary. However, of course, that wasn't the end of the story, as moderate Democrats and most Republicans (including McCain and Graham) threw their support behind Lieberman, the newly declared independent who eased to a 10-point victory. While Lieberman still caucuses with the Democrats, the Democrats effectively lost a seat, burned virtually all goodwill with one of the most senior and influential members of the Senate, and whatever control over Lieberman they might have had is now lost. It was a collective huge error in judgment.

Furthermore, the Lieberman/Lamont fiasco was an enormous black eye for the party, as it branded them a party whose policies were dictated by the extremists on the far left.

But that's exactly the path the Republican Party was on with respect to Arlen Specter. Republicans were ready to throw Specter out on his ear in favor of the "pure conservative" candidate, Pat Toomey, who now likely will get pounded by Specter in the general election. Is it cathartic for Republicans to expel heretics from the party, even if their replacements don't win?

Thursday morning update: Check out David Frum's spot-on analysis here.

28 April 2009

Specter switches parties

In the midst of the fight of his career, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter has announced that he is becoming a Democrat.

Since his infamous vote against Robert Bork in 1987, Pennsylvania's Specter, who is 79 and will be seeking his sixth term in 2010, has been public enemy number one for most conservatives. If the pro-choice Specter had ever enjoyed half the TV time of John McCain, it's hard to believe that he ever would have ever survived a Republican primary. His 2008 American Conservative Union rating of 42 was right in line with his lifetime rating of just under 45. The label "RINO" is tossed around with great abandon by the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity (toward everyone from Lindsay Graham, lifetime ACU rating of 89; Chuck Hagel, lifetime ACU rating of 83; and McCain, lifetime ACU rating of 81), but if it applies to anyone, it certainly fits the senior senator from Pennsylvania.

While Specter will undoubtedly be venerated by the likes of Paul Krugman and Rachel Maddow, this move is clearly nothing more than a last-ditch attempt to save his political career. Recent polls had him down as much as an astonishing 20 points to his challenger in the Republican primary, Club for Growth president and staunch conservative Pat Toomey. Specter already survived one scare, as MSNBC's Chris Matthews ruled out a run against Specter in the general election after an excruciatingly long decision-making process. 

In his 2004 re-election campaign, Specter received 53% of the vote. I expect that he will receive the backing of the Democratic establishment in the primary and coast to a 10- to 15-point victory over Toomey in the 2010 senatorial election.

The immediate implications of Specter's switch are glaring. Whenever Al Franken is certified as the junior senator from Minnesota, the Democrats will enjoy a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. At this site, of course, we think that an entirely Republican - or Democratic-controlled government is a recipe for disaster (see: 1992 to 1994 and 2004 to 2006), so we are disappointed by Specter's move. For a man who fancies himself as a principled and bipartisan centrist, this is quite a curious time in our nation's history to be shifting the balance of power so significantly.

Specter said that he made his decision because he realized that his political views clashed with the GOP more than they meshed. If you believe that, I have a bridge you might be interested in. This is clearly a move to save his nosediving political career.

21 April 2009

Random musings from the Commish

One of the wonderful things about maintaining a blog with a centrist bent is that there rarely is a lack of things to complain about.

I was not thrilled to see President Obama paying a visit to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, but I won't go as far as Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, et al., to say that it was patently un-American to do so. Chavez does not support al Qaeda or provide them safe harbor. He is simply a socialist who, especially during the Bush years, peppered his speeches with anti-American rhetoric. It is very clear that whatever justification the president proffered for his visit is ridiculous and stupid -- there is clearly no compelling reason to visit with the man, and for that reason, if I were president, I would not have paid Mr. Chavez a visit. A meeting simply for the sake of having a meeting and a photo-op is unproductive. But to suggest that meeting him somehow threatens national security is absurd. 

If the president is going to pick a country with which diplomatic relations should be opened, it should be Syria. Yes, Boy Assad finances Hezbollah, and is an enemy of Israel, but he is a key pawn on the world stage because Syria remains Iran's lone ally. Reopening diplomatic relations could potentially lead to the isolation of Iran and cause Syria to move away from the financing of radical Islamic groups such as Hezbollah. The reason for this is because Assad fancies himself as progressive and western, and by all accounts, views his relationship with western Europe as more important than that with Ahmadenijhad. If President Obama wishes to do something really outside the box, instead of simply capitulating to the workers-of-the-world-unite wing of his party by visiting Hugo Chavez, he'd pay a visit to Damascus. In terms of state leaders, Ahmadenijhad is the most clear and present danger to the United States. Isolating him is imperative, and by any means necessary.

I have two thoughts on the tea party protests of April 15:

First, the premise of these protests is ridiculous. For eight years, a Republican president cut taxes and raised spending, blowing through an enormous budget surplus he inherited, causing the national debt to skyrocket. Non-defense discretionary spending, which rose an average of 3 percent every year under President Clinton, rose nearly 10 percent every year under President Bush. In 2008, the Bush administration shoved through two separate financial bailouts, one of them unilaterally after Congress voted it down. Every economic indicator is worse now than it was eight years ago. This happened under a Republican president. And now conservatives have the audacity to protest the "tax and spend" policies of a Democratic president, all of a sudden claiming that enough is enough? It's insane. Just insane. If Bush was still in office, they'd still be cheering wildly as they followed him over a cliff. These people are unbelievable. 

(Check out this random collection of signs photographed at various tea parties across the country, and try to gauge the level of intelligence.)

Second, however, much of the media coverage of the protests was despicable. On Countdown with Keith Olbermann, left-wing moonbat Janeane Garafaolo opined that these protests were simply borne out of hatred of a black president. Her claim went unchallenged. I watched coverage on CNN and MSNBC, and read reports in various mainstream media outlets, and it's safe to say that journalistic integrity has gone the way of the dinosaur. As a journalist, your job is to afford the subjects of your reporting a certain measure of respect. If you can't put aside your personal political predilections for a couple of hours, you're in the wrong field. 

I am with Sen. McCain on the issue of the release of the interrogation memos. Even if you support the president's decision to close Guantanamo Bay and bring our interrogation policies into line with the Geneva conventions, let's move forward. Grandstanding and railing against the Bush administration is just another example of the Obama administration childishly pointing the finger at someone else. 

On Friday, I walked to the Starbucks a few blocks from my office, and while waiting for my drink, I picked up the New York Times. On the front page was a "news story" about the interrogation memos. The headline called these techniques "harsh," and the lede called them "brutal." What were these techniques, you ask? Sleep deprivation. Placing detainees in cramped quarters. Forced nudity. Dousing detainees with water. And my favorite: Putting insects in their cells to "exploit their fears." Give. Me. A. Break. Once again, journalistic integrity no longer exists. Could Times reporters Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane perhaps put aside their biases just for the purposes of this assignment? Could the Times editors at least pretend to have journalistic integrity, instead of allowing their reporters to preach from the front page? I will cheer the day the Old Gray Hag shutters its doors. 

Dick Cheney should take the lead from President Bush and Secretary Rice and gracefully ride into the sunset. Along with Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, Cheney was one of the chief architects of the "preemption" doctrine that led to a war in which we sustained thousands more casualties than necessary. Unlike past Republican leaders like Henry Kissinger and James Baker III, Mr. Cheney has very little foreign policy capital left to use up. And Mr. Cheney's rhetoric drags down the rest of the party, as escaping his large shadow becomes even more difficult. It's time to move on, sir. You have had your chance to lead.

17 April 2009

Bob Gates wants the terrorists to win!

As noted in our "Required reading" post last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to trim the fat from a number of defense programs. For the first time this century, defense spending might actually go down in 2010.

For those of you looking for some thoughtful commentary, Fareed Zakaria knocked this one out of the park.

The administration's announcement, of course, is the subject of much consternation from the right side of the political sphere. Reaction from the Wall Street Journal can be found here, while the temper tantrum thrown by Michelle Malkin (who warns that Obama's military will be "dramatically scaled back") can be found here.

The Wall Street Journal columnists opine that, if President Obama has his way, the military will "be smaller and pack less wallop." A post at Sister Toldjah, one of the more highly read blogs on the right, called this another part of the president's socialist agenda, and in the 21st century, any cut to DoD is inevitably harmful to the military. Similarly, Prairie Pundit, a lesser-read right-wing blog, opined that the administration was cutting defense programs that "keep us safe" while favoring myriad social endeavors -- of course, without any documentation as to the usefulness of said programs that Gates wants to reduce or eliminate.

Conservatives treat defense spending as a zero-sum game. They seem to believe that the only way America can become more safe is if Congress pours huge, nondiscretionary sums of money into the Department of Defense. And, to these people, any talk of cutting any defense spending whatsoever -- no matter how wasteful the program is found to be -- emboldens the terrorists and is unpatriotic.

Defense spending is out of control and has been for decades. Congress exercises virtually no oversight over the programs into which taxpayer money is being poured. Defense spending comprises roughly 20% of the federal budget. Last year, the Department of Defense was allocated $665 billion -- and that doesn't include Iraq's $10 billion per month price tag. All told, the United States spent nearly $800 billion on national defense in 2008.

What Secretary Gates understands -- and most conservatives seemingly do not -- is that the U.S. military stockpiles 21st century weapons in a 20th century mindset.

What is the problem with allowing the secretary of defense to reshape our military in ways that reflects the dangers of the world we actually inhabit?

The answer: Nothing.

Until the Berlin Wall fell, the United States was constantly faced with the very real threat of World War III. (Just ask the still-living members of President Kennedy's cabinet.) The Soviet Union maintained the second-most powerful military in the world, a conventional land, air and sea force, which required an enormous American military buildup to counter it. President Reagan understood this, perfecting the American "peace through strength" mentality. Enormous military budgets were necessary in the 1970s and 80s, because the United States was rivaled by a superpower that wished to pour just as many resources into its military. 

But shortly after Reagan left office, the Soviet Union collapsed.

And it's very clear that radical Islamic extremism is fundamentally different from the dangers posed by the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. 

I believe that, on the whole, conservatives, more so than liberals (with some exceptions) understand the fundamental nature of the enemy America faces in the 21st century. For all of his shortcomings, President Bush was precisely right when he characterized radical Islamic extremists such as al Qaeda and Islamic Jihad as a shadowy, amorphous adversary. Afghanistan was arguably the only true safe haven for al Qaeda, and the military's powerful show of force in steamrolling the Taliban put the rest of the world on notice as to America's intentions in seeking and destroying the extremists who wish to harm us. 

But there is a clear disconnect between this conception of our enemy and the programs into which conservatives wish to pour unbridled sums of money.

The might of the American military is unrivaled. Russia and China, combined, spend roughly $120 billion on their militaries. As noted above, the United States spends roughly five times that amount every year. The war on terror will not be won via American air or sea power. It requires a new way of thinking, of attacking, of infiltrating the most shadowy places on the globe. I had the pleasure of reading Shadow War by acclaimed author Bill Miniter, written in the wake of the American invasion of Afghanistan. In the book, Miniter describes in detail the harsh reality of the 21st century -- hundreds, perhaps thousands, of small, slippery, fast-moving cells of terrorists who, after being thrown out of the Middle East, have begun to take refuge in the most lawless places in the world -- namely, northern Africa. 

Even a potentially dangerous country such as Iran cannot hope to match the might of the American military. Mahmoud Ahmadenijad is many things, but he is not dumb.

In this post-9/11 world, why is the Department of Defense allowed to conduct business like it's 1981? As Zakaria noted, these weapons systems are not only subject to negligible oversight, but are crafted and maintained without regard to the type of enemy America faces in the 21st century. By and large, the budgets submitted to Congress by DoD departments are based upon those from the Cold War. What is the necessity of such an enormous F-22 program (created during the Cold War) if there is no air force to get into dogfights with the American military? As noted by Zakaria, despite the fact that we are currently fighting wars in two theaters, not a single F-22 has been used in either one.

I applaud Secretary Gates -- who, remember, was the secretary of defense under a Republican president -- for beginning to evaluate our military spending in light of the wars that we are currently fighting, as well as those wars which America might fight in the future.

In the 21st century battle against radical Islamic extremists, America is much more likely to engage in much smaller conflicts against shadowy, quick-moving enemies on difficult terrain, such as the mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of northern Africa. Don't think so? Pick up Miniter's book.

This war requires a shift in the American paradigm, with intelligence capabilities coming to the fore and the Department of Defense being willing to share the stage. A reluctance to embrace this reality only delays America's ability to effectively deal with our 21st century enemies.

The harsh reality is that the current paradigm doesn't focus at all on the capabilities of our enemies -- and the capabilities of our enemy throughout the Cold War was the driving force behind the American military buildup in the first place.

13 April 2009

On gay marriage

As noted in our "Required reading" post of April 10, both houses of the Vermont legislature this week overrode the governor's veto of a bill that would legalize gay marriage. 

This was the first instance of a duly elected state legislature defining marriage to include homosexual unions, outside the purview of some unelected judicial body.

In general, with the exception of our friends listed in the "Essentials" section, I try to avoid taking in comments from conservative blogs on a regular basis. However, I tried to do a short survey of the conservative blogosphere, and discovered that few actually commented on this landmark act by the Vermont legislature. (I'm assuming that the reason for this is because the standard "judicial activism" argument doesn't work here.)

In fact, I searched so hard for conservative treatment of this issue that I ran across the comments of a gentleman named Bob Maistros at North Star Writers group. After reading his take on the issue, I thought he set forth a fairly standard conservative case against gay marriage. 

As an initial matter, Mr. Maistros got off on the wrong foot by using the following terms in his treatment of the Iowa supreme court's ruling that no substantial governmental objective supported the traditional definition of marriage (which happened the week before the Vermont legislature's actions): "dense," "galactically stupid," "ideologically blind" and "smoking something other than cornstalks." It seems that such namecalling, previously reserved for Daily Kos members railing against the evil Bush presidency and kindergartners everywhere, is the favorite tool of angry conservatives these days.

Aside from initially treating the issue as a child, Mr. Maistros' central premise was somehow that gay marriage was injurious to public health and morals -- specifically, that homosexuals have a much higher incidence of contracting HIV. 

If his argument stopped there, it wouldn't have been terribly objectionable. But Mr. Maistros went further. He claimed that gay marriage would somehow erode democracy because these individual state decisions would inevitably be foisted upon the rest of the union via the full faith and credit clause (a gargantuan logical leap, which would require a Supreme Court ruling in direct contravention of the Defense of Marriage Act, which explicitly provides otherwise). He claimed that a "traditional" marriage would help reduce poverty, crime, drug abuse and teenage pregnancies, and would lead to increased educational performance. Mr. Maistros offered no scientific data or social explanation for these conclusions. 

Mr. Maistros capped his comments off with what seemed to be standard right-wing criticism of this allegedly liberal, declining 21st century culture: "Sexual license is already joining with other moral lapses -- such as lying to mortgage brokers -- to produce social breakdown and economic disaster. Which in turn have opened the door wide for government to step in with misguided, heavy-handed and counterproductive strategies that rob freedom and reward the morally bankrupt at the expense of the principled and productive."

By logical extension, homosexuality is apparently responsible for our trillion-dollar deficit.

This is insane. 

It's one thing to argue public policy, but it's quite another to use any and every opportunity to point out our society's moral decay.

At the risk of ruining your day, the stability of the traditional family began to unravel long before "activist" judicial bodies began striking down bans on gay marriage. As has been reported ad nauseum, more than half of American marriages end in divorce. Do Mr. Maistros and other conservatives really believe that homosexuality is the root cause?

Or could the erosion of personal responsibility -- both inside and outside of the church -- have anything to do with it? 

Conservatives' case against gay marriage and gay adoption generally includes a charge that gay marriage is irreparably harmful to children. Although that's entirely speculative, let's ignore that charge for a moment and pose a hypothetical:

Let's say your state passes a law tomorrow that legalizes gay marriage. In 2024, after 15 years, gay marriages have a far greater success rate than traditional marriage -- let's say only 20% of them end in divorce. Also, for the sake of argument, assume that the divorce rates in traditional marriages remain steady at around 50%. Now, this rhetorical question: In 2024, which will have turned out to be more harmful to children and to society generally?

Divorce is crushing. Perhaps instead of taking the time to campaign against gay marriage, social conservative leaders could look inside the church to repair existing marriages that are heading toward dissolution. Any suggestion that being the child of a homosexual marriage is more injurious than being the child of a marriage that ends in divorce is preposterous. A broken home turns a child's life upside-down and causes scars that are impossible to heal. As a corollary, perhaps social conservatives would have a stronger case to make to society if so many traditional marriages didn't end in divorce. 

Let's be clear also: I support traditional marriage and don't necessarily support gay marriage. My quibbles are largely with the bases social conservatives highlight in opposition to it.

Furthermore, if you've ever taken the time to read the 14th Amendment, it's clear that there exists a very legitimate due process argument in favor of allowing homosexuals to marry. Whether you agree with it or not is another matter, but to deny that such grounds is debatable is to misread the very language of the Constitution and the last 150 years of constitutional jurisprudence.

Yes, our society might well be in decline. But it's an intellectual decline, as evidenced by the slobbering deification of the likes of Barack Obama and Sarah Palin. It's both polarizing and mind-numbing, expedited by the rise of biased journalism on both sides and a soundbite-driven culture, and has served to shove reasoned, thoughtful discourse and moderate political thought completely out the door. If America is in decline, it is because its people and institutions have become too simplistic and stupid, not because of the breakdown of its supposed moral character. 

As a regular churchgoing Christian, the Bible forms the basis of my personal moral opposition to homosexuality. 

But when the discussion turns to matters of governmental policy, I believe that it takes more than a faith-based opposition to a particular issue (because, by that logic, things like premarital sex or gambling should also be criminalized). And to my dismay, I've discovered that any conservative case against gay marriage is largely rooted in moralizing.

And that's not good enough for me.

10 April 2009

Required reading: Mid-April

The next several weeks will keep me busy, as law school graduation and a wedding approach (I know, who would marry an obnoxious bomb-thrower like the Commish?), so here's some reading to tide you over:

This idiotic column epitomizes everything that is wrong with the average Obama voter.

But if you agree with it, starry-eyed Obamatrons, have I got something for you!

Mort Zuckerman takes a thoughtful look at the president's Iran problem.

The Economist evaluates his push to include Turkey in the E.U.

Thanks to his illustrious tenure as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Chris Dodd's bid for re-election is in serious trouble. (That 33 percent approval rating is legitimate Bush territory.)

I won't ever claim that Ted Stevens is an entirely above-board guy, but the prosecutorial misconduct in his corruption trial was disgusting.

Glenn Greenwald pens a must-read on the expansive privileges claimed by the Obama Justice Department. Greenwald's analysis is fantastic and hopefully will get treatment here in a future post.

Will you conservative readers stay on your "states' rights" soapbox after Vermont did this? (You should.)

Steve Malenga skewers the Democrats' curious obsession with those evil rich people.

The GOP -- finally -- made its first good decision since the November election.

Bob Gates as defense secretary is a good thing.

This is something the Commish's fraternity proudly would have done. (Hat tip: Pajama Pundit.)

As Jeff Gordon of STLtoday.com noted, since the Bengals have signed Tank Johnson, doesn't the artist formerly known as Harris Smith have to be next on Marvin Lewis' shopping list?

And renowned rock journalist Stefan Chirazi chronicles Metallica's big night in Cleveland as only he can.

09 April 2009

The president's curious rhetoric

Readers who have followed us from the beginning know that I was no big fan of President George W. Bush. However, I voted for him in 2004 and would do so again if that election took place tomorrow. 

I am still struggling to actually get my thoughts about President Bush reduced to writing. It will happen one day on this blog, and it probably will elicit a great amount of reader reaction, both positive and negative. I finished Bob Woodward's "The War Within" (go buy it) and have started "Plan of Attack," and my thoughts are even more conflicted than when I started. Woodward gives Bush and his team an incredibly fair treatment, and throughout the book, two traits about Bush are readily apparent: His sometimes maddening reliance on hunches, and his unswerving conviction to do what he believes is best for the country. 

President Obama, however, seems to have other ideas about President Bush. We noted earlier this month that the current president seems to enjoy populating his speeches with forests of straw men. During his tour of Europe this week, the Changemaker had this to say about America under his predecessor: 

"Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive."


That graceful send-off of January 20, 2009, seems like it happened years ago.

Presumably, the Changemaker was referring to Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003. There was of course no mention of Bush's annual appearances at G-8 conventions, his stunning outreach to third-world countries, his friendship with former French president Jacques Chirac, his deference to the U.N. and E.U. vis-a-vis Iran's uranium enrichment program, or his role in including European allies in the Israeli/Palestinian peace talks. 

It feels a bit odd to actually be the one defending President Bush.

But listening to the Hopemonger speak, you'd think that President Bush pretended that Europe didn't even exist.

He did a similar thing when speaking before the Turkish parliament on Monday, promising that the United States was not "at war with Islam" and urging "broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect." If he or his cohorts could point to specific acts or statements by the Bush administration that were somehow disrespectful to the Muslim community, that would be tremendous.

Barack Obama seems unable to resist throwing rocks at his predecessor for the awestruck Euro masses. That, combining with his all-too-apparent penchant for intellectual laziness, might be why his approval rating has dropped some 15 points since his inauguration. He's actually become quite petulant.

After 9/11, President Bush could have blamed the whole mess on the Clinton administration's reluctance to take custody of Osama bin Laden in 1998, or the president's nonchalant responses to the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000. 

He didn't. 

Perhaps, as a McCain supporter, I am still looking for holes in the Changemaker's arsenal. Perhaps my support for the most qualified candidate for the presidency I'll ever have the chance to vote for has turned me into a cynic, looking for any and every opportunity to criticize President Obama.

But I don't think so. I want the president to succeed. I want his enormous stimulus package to do its job. I want the president's withdrawal plan from Iraq to work smoothly, and I support his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. Even if the administration has some socialist tendencies, how can you not root for people to get back to work?

I, along with many others who voted against him, believed that the president could become a truly transformative figure. He has been given an enormous opportunity to lift our country out of a deep recession, claim victory in the longest war in American history, and solve once-in-a-generation problems like energy independence or Social Security reform.

But to this point, President Obama has turned out exactly as I feared: An all-too-conventional liberal Democrat, virtually incapable of working meaningfully across the aisle, beholden to the interests who got him where he now sits, and slobbering apologetically to our European allies for American "arrogance" under his evil warmongering predecessor.

01 April 2009

Revisionism we can believe in

I still have trouble fathoming the thought of being so devoted to a particular ideology or political figure that, no matter what, people will continue to go to the mat for that person or idea.

But so it apparently goes with the president's many approvers. 

Because Barack Obama's hypocrisy passed beyond shameless long ago.

In February, we noted the great divide between Barack Obama's rhetoric and his actions with respect to the treatment of lobbyists in his administration. 

Now, in the wake of the news that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has picked Neal Wolin to fill the #2 post at the Treasury Department, the Changemaker's rhetoric against deregulation is worth a second look.

Since virtually the very day he announced his candidacy for president, Obama decried the supposedly failed "right-wing" ideal of market deregulation. Many times, he was quoted as condemning the "philosophy that views even the most common-sense regulations as unwise or unnecessary." 

As a preliminary matter, if anything can be said about our president, it is that he is quite fond of straw men. No one -- save for a few Ron Paul supporters marching around and chanting slogans about how John McCain is a socialist -- actually subscribes to this supposed philosophy. To President Obama, every decision is framed to the public as a choice between his policy and the most extreme, fundamentalist right-wing philosophy that his advisers can concoct. This man is obtuse -- not to mention intellectually lazy and morally arrogant. 

And on this site, we don't deal with intellectual laziness very well. We believe the president is an extraordinarily smart man, so it's quite frustrating to see him simply create forests of straw men and knock them down.

First of all, here's why Obama is substantively wrong:

The alleged deregulation our president so often references was passed in 1999, and repealed the 65-year-old Glass-Steagall Act, which was passed during the Great Depression. As the president has correctly noted, one of the main drafters of this bill was former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, a close friend and campaign adviser to John McCain. The 1999 legislation was passed with broad bipartisan support, with Clinton administration officials working together with the Republican-controlled Congress to craft new regulations that would allow our financial system to enter the 21st century. 

The bill separated commercial banking from investment banking, bringing American regulations into line with European laws. It allowed for banks to merge more readily with other financial institutions, but in the event of such a merger, the new entity would actually be subject to more stringent regulations from the Federal Reserve. It did not lead to the mess we are currently in, as the president so often claims.  If you dispute this, you need to put down the president's kool-aid. Notable Democrats who confirm that the 1999 bill had positive effects and in no way led to the current crisis include President Clinton and his Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin. In fact, the bill had the exact opposite effect, allowing Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. to take up refuge as holding companies, and allowed Bank of America to buy out Merrill Lynch when the crisis hit.

Here's what the 1999 bill didn't do: It did not lower mortgage underwriting standards. Lowered underwriting standards allowed, of course, for otherwise unqualified borrowers to qualify for mortgages. If you don't believe this caused the economic collapse, read this. Whether you think predatory lending practices contributed to the crisis is another matter entirely, but even conceding such an argument, that still in no way bears on the "deregulation" President Obama rails against.

Additionally, as early as 2003, the Bush administration was pushing for stricter regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, including the creation of an entirely new regulatory body to oversee its lending practices. But guess who resisted? Congressional Democrats, led by Chris Dodd and Barney Frank. And get this -- in 2004,  when the Bush administration renewed its call for stricter regulation, Frank accused the president of creating an artificial issue. "People tend to pay their mortgages," he so presciently said. "I don't think we're in any real danger here." In 2005, Sen. McCain was one of three Republicans who renewed the push for stricter oversight of Fannie and Freddie, but congressional Democrats again rebuffed the GOP's efforts.

Readers know I am no great defender of the GOP, but any suggestion that the GOP's policies are to blame for the present crisis -- which took place while a Republican administration pushed for stricter controls over the very industry whose collapse caused the crisis, only to be stymied time and again by congressional Democrats -- is preposterous.

I have never heard President Obama provide a detailed explanation as to how the 1999 bill led to the economic collapse, because I'm convinced that he either simply doesn't understand the fundamentals of economics, or the truth is too inconvenient.

Second, not only is the president wrong, he's a complete hypocrite.

One of the chief architects of this allegedly tyrannical 1999 regulation was Neal Wolin, who served as general counsel at the Treasury Department under President Clinton. Coincidentally, that's the very same Neal Wolin that the Obama administration has tapped to be the #2 man at the Treasury. 

Barack Obama ran an entire campaign on crucifying the idea of deregulation.

Now that he's in the White House, the man whom he has nominated to be the second most powerful monetary policymaker in the country ... was directly responsible for crafting the very regulations he spent his entire campaign decrying.

This is the height of hypocrisy, but it's far from new.

I can't ever remember observing another politician who is such a blatant hypocrite. It's like the president assumes that the country has a collective long-term memory deficiency.

Really, Mr. President. Do you think I'm that dumb?

And, to the president's admirers: Is this change you can believe in?