28 January 2010

The dog who caught the bus

It's no surprise that I thought last night's State of the Union address was uninspiring, predictable and simply more of what Candidate Obama ran against in 2008.

The president called on Congress to embrace his post-partisan rhetoric, yet turned around minutes later and snidely ridiculed Republicans for ignoring the "overwhelming evidence" of global warming. I thought this entirely unbecoming of a president, and something that has no place in such a dignified setting. Can you imagine if Bush would have tried such a trick?

Obama also evinced no desire to change course on the health care battle; rather, he effectively told Congress, "give me something -- anything." I'm not sure if his political advisers -- Plouffe, Gibbs, Emanuel, et al. -- are still so awestruck by his celebrity that they are afraid to explain the opposition the populace has toward the current bill, or whether, like Bush, Obama simply expresses outright disdain for dissenting opinions.

He said he will ignore calls for more incremental reforms and the chatter that he can't do too much at once -- clearly, this was directed to the health care battle. However, the White House could probably garner 75-80 votes in the Senate for a bill that addresses portability, preexisting conditions, and removing the restrictions that keep insurance companies from competing across state lines. If the president was truly interested in bipartisanship, this is the course he would take. However, he continues to make veiled comparisons between people -- like me -- who have legitimate reservations about the size and scope of the current proposals -- and those who opposed civil rights legislation.

Obama also continued to further the fallacy that the government can spend wildly on education, health care, infrastructure and the vague idea of "green jobs," yet somehow freeze domestic discretionary spending and avoid raising taxes. By the way, this discretionary spending Obama speaks of freezing is only 20% of the federal budget. Freezing it after running a $1 trillion deficit last year is almost pointless.

The swagger with which Obama carried himself last night was all too reminiscent of the Bush attitude, circa 2007 -- complete defiance in the face of swelling unpopularity and resounding defeats at the polls. I'm so tired of seeing it. I think most other Americans are, too. Bush was convinced that he was God's hand-picked leader; Obama is convinced, against all evidence to the contrary, of his brilliance and post-partisan foresight.

In short, last night's address was combative, overtly partisan, and quite frankly, petty. If you're a Democrat, you probably loved it. (James Carville said it was "wonderful.") If you're a Republican or independent, the address cemented your impression of Obama as a cocky partisan lightweight.

The more I read about and observe President Obama, the more I become convinced that he's the proverbial dog who caught the bus.

He won an historic election, sweeping into power on the back of what was correctly characterized by the Hillary Clinton campaign as a "movement" -- as noted by Howard Wolfson and Mark Penn, these are almost impossible to defeat. He ran not on programs or policies, but rather on the overwhelming force of his own personality.

He's charismatic, but far from brilliant. He is only inspiring in the same way as the likes of Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck -- he can evoke strong emotions from hard-core partisans, regardless of his policy positions, simply because he strikes the right rhetorical cords and he is culturally familiar to his disciples. But real political leadership requires more than soaring rhetoric and red meat. It requires difficult decisions, and a willingness to challenge your own party -- and these are things that Barack Obama has never demonstrated a capacity to do.

Three-quarters of the way through Halperin & Heilemann's "Game Change," I continue to get the impression that Obama isn't some sort of Manchurian candidate, nor a socialist hell-bent on turning this country sharply to the far left -- rather, he is an empty vessel. He is a messiah to the same liberals that deify Ted Kennedy; he is a hope to redraw the electoral map to normal Democrats like Claire McCaskill; to starry-eyed young voters, he is a phenomenon; and to independents, he represents the distinct possibility of changing the tone in Washington and putting an end to the idiotic rhetoric that has befallen both sides.

After taking office, Obama reached his "now what?" moment.

And after a rambling, utterly inconsequential 70-minute speech last night, one year into his meandering snoozefest of a presidency, I'm not even sure he knows the answer.

19 January 2010

Where's the conservative skepticism?

I posted my thoughts on the Massachusetts special election yesterday. Today, before a trip to the Northwoods of Wisconsin for the rest of the week, I'm back to conservatism and civil liberties.

Thanks once again to Radley Balko's tremendous blog, The Agitator, I discovered an op-ed from the Richmond Times-Dispatch tackling a topic I've dealt with several times before on this site -- 21st century conservatives' unfailing deference to the government on law enforcement issues. My prior thoughts on the topic can be found here and here.

Among the many problems with the Republican Party's espoused position on national security, law enforcement, "enhanced interrogation" and the like is that party kool-aid drinkers are happy to afford Bush, Cheney, et al. all the discretion in the world, but when a Democratic administration sweeps into office, conservatives' opinion of their government takes a sharp 180.

How can a group of people that proclaims so much collective skepticism about the government's ability to do anything correctly -- financial regulation, health care, education and a thousand other issues where the federal government has routinely and completely failed -- be willing to afford such unbridled discretion to their leaders?

Furthermore, how can these so-called "conservatives" -- allegedly, ideological descendants of Edmund Burke, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton -- possibly reconcile their mistrust of the government on virtually every other issue with their support of the Bush administration's unabashed encroachment on the constitutional protections afforded every American citizen?

Furthermore, it is supremely disappointing that most conservatives seem not to care that the information obtained from tortured detainees has been found to be of highly questionable utility. Among the many Americans who have pointed out the folly of inhumane treatment is the man who undoubtedly has the most credibility in America on torture matters, John McCain.

Since the Obama administration took office last January, conservative opinion leaders everywhere -- at the Wall Street Journal, National Review, the Weekly Standard, on Fox News, talk radio and elsewhere -- have repeatedly argued that, to hand over government control of health care to the same people who handle the IRS and the Postal Service would be a disaster.

A. Barton Hinkle, the author of the above-linked op-ed in the Richmond paper, asked this question: "Do conservatives who speculate that the government which would ship granny off to a death panel think it will exercise greater care in deciding who ought to be tortured, and how much?"

I fear that modern conservatism is a movement that has become far too dense to recognize this glaring contradiction.

18 January 2010

The mess in Massachusetts

Unbelievably, state Sen. Scott Brown appears poised to pull one of the biggest upsets in recent political history. Tomorrow, the Senate seat that has been held by a member of the Kennedy family since 1952 will likely be won by a Republican.

Of course -- as will likely happen in October-November 2010 in his home state of Illinois -- the Changemaker attempted an 11th-hour campaign blitz that likely will do little to stem the astounding freefall of Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general and unfortunate Democratic candidate.

Aside from the likely breakup of the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, it's always nice to see an overzealous, unscrupulous law enforcement official lose an election. (A big hat tip to Radley Balko, aka The Agitator, for his superb work in unearthing Coakley's, let's say, spotty record as a prosecutor.)

The Brown-Coakley race truly is an example of how unpopular the Obama agenda is. As I've noted before, the levels of unpopularity of this liberal cabal, less than a year after the Obama administration took office, are astounding even to me. Massachusetts is of course one of America's most liberal states, and hasn't elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972. Recent polls suggest not only is Coakley viewed unfavorably, but the president's approval/disapproval rating among likely voters is 44/43. That's horrendous.

If Brown in fact hangs on to win the Massachusetts seat, the result will be unspinnable for Democrats. In the wake of Obama's election, Kennedy's death, the health care vote, and even as the Bush Era continues to linger, the fact that the Democrats can't hold this seat in ultra-liberal Massachusetts is mind-boggling.

November will be a bloodbath.

14 January 2010

Conservatives and the Constitution

As we've noted many times before, Republicans in the post-Bush era, ostensibly led by the tea party movement, seem convinced that the Obama administration is taking the Constitution on a death march.

A woman Politico quoted in a story a few months ago traveled from Colorado to a tea party rally in Washington to remind the Democrats in Congress that the Constitution "wasn't written on toilet paper."

Ask virtually any member of the right-wing noise machine, and they'll not only level charges that Obama and his congressional allies are taking the country in the wrong direction, but that virtually every one of the Democrats' initiatives -- beginning with the stimulus and the health care bill -- is unconstitutional.

That's where I draw the line.

As I've pointed out for years, even before I became an attorney, "unconstitutional" is not a synonym for bad policy. Liberal moonbats arguing in favor of Roe v. Wade use the "U" word hysterically when defending their pro-choice position. What was begun by the far left has now been reciprocated by the far right.

But the difference between the two sides is that the far right's heroes -- most of the Bush administration, and specifically, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales -- spent the last 8 years in a no-holds-barred executive branch power grab, claiming plenary wartime powers, and more importantly, launching a full-on assault against the civil liberties not just of enemy combatants picked up in Iraq or Afghanistan, but American citizens.

Remember Jose Padilla? You probably don't.

Padilla was an unsavory character -- American-born and raised in Chicago, but a Muslim convert who was a member of at least one inner-city gang. In 2002, he was accused by the Bush administration of plotting to set off a "dirty bomb" in an unspecified major city in 2002 and having connections to al Qaeda, and arrested. However, instead of bringing charges against Padilla, trying him before a jury, convicting him and sending him away for life, Padilla was held without being charged for four years as an "enemy combatant" under highly specious legal theories about the president's wartime powers. When one circles back to the fact that Padilla was an American citizen, this is almost surreal.

I thought the fact that Padilla was held for four years without charges was abhorrent, in and of itself.

But it has come to light that, during his detention, Padilla was kept in solitary confinement despite being, by all accounts, a docile and respectful prisoner each day he was in custody; he was subjected to extreme temperature changes in his cell; he was forced to endure exceedingly long interrogation sessions without sleep; during these interrogation sessions, he was shaken and assaulted; he was threatened with being cut by a knife and having alcohol poured on his wounds; noxious fumes were introduced into his cell, causing severe physical reactions; he was put in stress positions for hours at a time; and he was kept in body manacles for literally years.

In the criminal context, just one of the above-referenced actions by the government would merit any confession or conviction being thrown out immediately. Such treatment of an American citizen accused of any crime is repugnant.

I echo Andrew Sullivan: This is more befitting of a dictatorship rather than the world's freest country.

I've implored readers and my conservative friends to go back to basics and read the text of the actual Constitution. Read the Federalist Papers. Read the works of the preeminent Founders, like Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson and Adams. There is a common thread running throughout these treasured writings -- a fear of tyranny. This fear is precisely why the Founders crafted the American system in the way they did -- a federalist system with power split between the national and state levels; three separate but equal branches of government at each; a system of checks and balances including the veto, the filibuster and judicial review; and a bicameral federal legislature. The Founders created our system carefully, and for a good reason.

Now think about Jose Padilla. We can discuss the rights of non-American enemy combatants at a later time. But what is unequivocal is that the Constitution does not take a vacation when it comes to American citizens, even when our country is at war.

Most conservatives will respond that Bush, Cheney, et al. were trustworthy men, and therefore their policies earned these conservatives' support. But we are a nation of laws, not of men. This is best encapsulated by Thomas Jefferson's famous quote where he asked, what can be said of our confidence in our fellow man? Answering his own question, Jefferson maintained that he must be bound "in chains" by the text of the Constitution. Jefferson, of course, was a man who had every incentive to push for an expansive conception of federal power -- one of colonial America's greatest leaders, he had a job in the first American administration, and eventually became our nation's third president.

Where liberty ends, tyranny begins. The Founders believed this. I believe this. But I'm not quite sure my fellow conservatives do anymore.

Conservatives in 2010 accuse the Obama administration of pushing "unconstitutional" initiatives, while ignoring the nearly decade-long assault by the Bush administration against the very text of the actual Constitution.

The hypocrisy is mind-boggling.

06 January 2010

Chris Dodd retiring

The senior senator from the great state of Connecticut must have read our year-opening post predicting his smashing defeat.

Dodd's retirement is good and bad news -- but surprisingly, mostly bad.

The good news is that one of the most corrupt (more importantly, see here) and unabashedly liberal senators of the last 30 years is on his way out the door. By announcing his retirement, Dodd has done a service to the Senate, his party and his country.

The bad news is that his open seat in Connecticut is now, at best, a toss-up. Former GOP Rep. Rob Simmons was poised to throttle Dodd by what was likely a double-digit margin in the November election. Instead, Simmons will have to face Connecticut Attorney General Dick Blumenthal, who despite the Dems' woes nationwide, remains an enormously popular figure. Remember -- Connecticut is a a state so heavily blue that it nearly elected Ned Lamont in 2006.

The other bad news is that any regulatory reform kick-started by Dodd -- which was likely begun to make up for his shameful conduct in the Countrywide and AIG affairs -- will probably stall and die out. Dodd's efforts were notable -- and admirable -- in that he paired up one Republican and one Democrat on his Senate Banking Committee to study solutions to a host of regulatory issues.

The other notable retirement announcement is Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. Dorgan reportedly faced a reasonably easy road to his fourth Senate term, but the consensus this morning is that Republican Gov. John Hoeven -- who to this point was only mulling a run and had not officially announced that he would challenge Dorgan -- will coast to an easy victory.

Obviously, Republicans have a lot to look forward to on election night.

04 January 2010

Sarah Palin's year ahead

This site's opinions of the former Alaska governor don't need to be recycled again. For our view on Palin's role in the dumbing-down of the party of William F. Buckley, click here or here.

Putting ideology aside for a moment, it's important from a purely political perspective to analyze exactly where Sarah Palin is headed. Regardless of what you think of her, she is a fascinating political figure who is the right's answer to Barack Obama. For whatever reason, she has galvanized millions.

It's obvious that Palin considers herself presidential material. That makes examining her post-election trajectory even more alarming.

She returned to Alaska in November 2008, despite the myriad ethical problems, as a highly popular governor. After a few high-profile speaking engagements, she inexplicably stepped down in July 2009, after roughly two and a half years as governor. After doing so, Palin made waves with her outrageous rhetoric about "death panels." As expected, her memoir was released at the end of the year, rocketing to the top of virtually every best-seller list.

She has reached the "now what?" moment.

I noted in a previous post that she would be wise to mount a primary challenge to Lisa Murkowski, the strongly pro-choice senior senator from Alaska. I'm not tuned in to Alaska politics, but if 1) Palin is remotely as popular among ultra-conservatives in Alaska as she is everywhere else and 2) pro-choice Republicans are treated as black sheep in Alaska as they are everywhere else, Palin stands quite a strong chance of becoming the Republican nominee. Given the Democrats' stunning collapse, she would win the general election in a cakewalk. And remember: Palin has upended an incumbent Murkowski before -- she beat incumbent Frank Murkowski in the Alaskan gubernatorial primary in 2006.

Making a play for national office would be an incredibly shrewd move -- like Hillary Clinton in 1999-2000, Palin is in need of a serious public makeover if she aspires higher office. Unfortunately, given her annoying penchant for doing the exact opposite of what she should, I can't seriously envision a scenario where Palin even entertains challenging Murkowski.

Palin must get back to the business of governing. If she continues to write books, make campaign appearances at highly scripted rallies and give softball interviews to the likes of Sean Hannity, she doesn't stand a chance of ever reaching the presidency. We've written here numerous times that she ought to put her head down, run for the Senate, become engaged in national affairs, and most importantly, establish herself as a serious person prone to serious things.

Otherwise, she will remain a highly divisive public figure, and be hero to a very small percentage of Americans.

01 January 2010

2010 predictions

Happy new year.

Some predictions for the year ahead:

The Democrats' beloved cap-and-trade bill will not pass, as moderate Dems will have had enough of the administration's pushy, unpopular initiatives.

Unemployment will continue to recede and the stock market will continue to rise, but the president will be lucky to maintain his current approval rating in the high-40s/low-50s.

Cooler heads will prevail and our beloved filibuster will remain untouched.

Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney will emerge as the clear-cut frontrunners for the Republican nomination.

Sarah Palin will continue to do everything wrong, and choose not to launch a primary challenge against the avowedly pro-choice Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has had her own ethical troubles.

Republicans will enjoy a big election night in November, but because of their huge deficits in the House and the Senate, will fail to re-take either chamber of Congress.

The far left Dept. of Moonbattery, of course, will maintain that their party sustained such heavy losses because the president isn't liberal enough.

Venerable Democrat Chris Dodd will lose his seat -- and lose big -- to former Rep. Rob Simmons.

Harry Reid will be the second consecutive Democratic majority leader (following his predecessor Tom Daschle) to lose his seat.

The Democrats will hang onto Obama's old seat in Illinois, as suburban Chicago Rep. Mark Kirk will be buried by an 11th-hour campaign blitz led by the Changemaker himself.

The GOP will lose retiring Sen. Kit Bond's seat, as Secretary of State Robin Carnahan will edge Rep. Roy Blunt.

Ron Paul's son, Rand, will win outgoing Sen. Jim Bunning's seat, once thought to be in danger of flipping to blue.

The Club for Growth's Pat Toomey will oust Arlen Specter.

In sum, the GOP will gain between 4-6 seats in the Senate and 20-30 in the House, effectively closing the Democrats' window for slamming through the remainder of their agenda.

Iran will continue to thumb its nose at the global community and continue on its path to nuclear armament, and the administration will continue to respond with spongy-kneed rhetoric about deadlines that can't and won't be enforced.

And this band will put out the album of the year.