30 September 2010

Q&A time: The responses

That was quick. Answers in bold.

1. Your opinion on cutting defense spending to trim the deficit (as Obama did last year, phasing out those fighter jets that haven't been used in combat since the first Gulf War).

To me, defense is the very last thing that should ever be cut from a budget. At the same time, stuff (like these jets) that are doing nothing but taking up space for years should be phased out, and depending on the sensitivity of the technology onboard, sold to Afghanistan in helping them establish an Air Force (this assumes they'd be interested of course).

2. Every serious economist on the left, right and center agrees that even after you cut out out "welfare queens," end waste/fraud/abuse and outlaw earmarks, you still will be faced with a massive budget deficit. Do you agree with that conclusion, or not?

While it would help, it's clear some programs would have to be cut. I'd say cut programs with education and green energy. The federal government doesn't have any business running the education system (it's a local/state issue), and green energy simply is a low priority.

3 and 4. Do you seriously believe that as we're running a trillion dollar deficit, with the deficit expected to spike up to $1.2 trillion in FY 2011, you can eventually avoid raising taxes to balance the budget? If your answer is yes, that implies that you think you can find a trillion dollars to cut out of the budget, so ... Where do you plan to find this trillion dollars?

If you want to balance the budget tomorrow, you either cut EVERYTHING or raise taxes. If you're willing to make balancing the budget a process, I don't think taxes need to go up. As I'm willing to make this a process, we begin by repealing Obamacare which takes care of a bit of the deficit. From there, less government jobs at places like the Dept. of Education.

Those were precisely the answers I expected.

There will be more questions soon. I can't help myself.

29 September 2010

Question and answer time

Today, a Facebook friend sarcastically wondered why congressional Democrats would push back a vote on the Bush tax cuts until after the election. This friend -- a card-carrying member of the Palin/Limbaugh/Hannity wing of the Republican Party -- regularly makes disparaging comments toward Democrats on his Facebook page, which normally is fine with me, but he seems to be fond of recycling the cliches he hears on Hannity's show or from Palin's stump speeches. This is not a particularly insightful guy, and, I suspect, one that isn't able to grasp the disconnect between criticizing the size of the budget deficit and his own thirst for an extension of the Bush tax cuts.

To that end, I asked him the following four questions:

1. Your opinion on cutting defense spending to trim the deficit (as Obama did last year, phasing out those fighter jets that haven't been used in combat since the first Gulf War).

2. Every serious economist on the left, right and center agrees that even after you cut out out "welfare queens," end waste/fraud/abuse and outlaw earmarks, you still will be faced with a massive budget deficit. Do you agree with that conclusion, or not?

3. Do you seriously believe that as we're running a trillion dollar deficit, with the deficit expected to spike up to $1.2 trillion in FY 2011, you can eventually avoid raising taxes to balance the budget? If your answer is yes, that implies that you think you can find a trillion dollars to cut out of the budget, so ...

4. Where do you plan to find this trillion dollars?

Answers to come ...

28 September 2010

Tyranny in America

We were out in front on this one.

The Justice Department is claiming that it cannot be sued in federal court to enjoin its program that targets American citizens overseas for assassination (Glenn Greenwald here.) In effect, the Obama administration is arguing that the program is itself a state secret, which cannot be legally challenged in court, thereby taking a position that totally guts the due process clause of the 5th Amendment because it would serve as an automatic, absolute bar to lawsuits challenging the legality or constitutionality of the program. This absurdly expansive conception of executive power might even make Dick Cheney blush.

We linked Conor Friedersdorf yesterday.

Today, Radley Balko:

You can’t even make the weak argument that the executive at least has to claim this power in the course of protecting national security. Because it doesn’t matter. Obama is arguing that he has the right to keep everything about these executions secret—including the reasons they were ordered—merely by uttering the magic phrase “state secrets.” In other words, that this power would only arise under a national security context is deemed irrelevant by the fact that not only is Obama claiming the president’s word on what qualifies as “national security” is final, he’s claiming the power in such a way that there’s no audience to whom he would ever need to make that connection. So yeah. Tyranny. If there’s more tyrannical power a president could possibly claim than the power to execute the citizens of his country at his sole discretion, with no oversight, no due process, and no ability for anyone to question the execution even after the fact ... I can’t think of it.

Now: The question is whether the Cato/Reason contingent -- supplemented from time to time by the Ron Pauls and the Russ Feingolds -- will rise up to stop this constitutionally abhorrent practice that has become, sadly, business as usual in Washington.

This is precisely what is wrong with the Limbaugh/Palin/Levin wing of the Republican Party: It shrieks about things like Obamacare, cap and trade and taxes as unconstitutional encroachments on liberty, when in actuality, the most clear and present danger to American liberty in 2010 charges on, right under its nose.

27 September 2010

Random musings

Barack Obama and George W. Bush are more alike than even I originally thought. We all know that both Obama and Bush spent wildly, drove up the deficit and assaulted civil liberties. But both actually have substantive policy appeal to the opposing party that their opponents' blind hatred makes it impossible to see. Bush was actually a liberal, big-government interventionist on domestic policy -- something most Democrats ignored because of his military adventurism. Obama is almost a mirror image of Bush on civil liberties and executive power issues. Obama has claimed the right to assassinate U.S. citizens abroad by pure executive fiat, pushed an offensively expansionist view of the state secrets privilege, refused to shut down Gitmo and has actually increased drone attacks in Pakistan. But ask virtually Republican, and they'll tell you Obama is a terrorist sympathizer -- or worse.

This is hardly a novel observation, but I've been chewing on it for awhile -- the inability of the U.N. to do anything meaningful in Sudan demonstrates just how worthless it is. Wasn't the U.N. designed to prevent exactly that?

Several outlets have recently written up on this site's early favorite for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Mitch Daniels. Have a read here and here.

The litmus test for whether you're a thoughtful conservative or a hysterical reactionary is your opinion of this Dinesh D'Souza piece. Our reaction here.

I'm still not sure what to make of the tea party. Is it an amorphous, organic grassroots uprising? Or is it controlled and bankrolled by elites like Dick Armey and Glenn Beck? On the one hand, tea partiers tend to echo my criticisms of Obama's domestic policy. On the other, I haven't heard a single tea partier offer up a serious solution to addressing the country's long-term fiscal problems.

Republicans seem to think that repealing Obamacare and eliminating earmarks will make the deficit go away. Hmmm. Not quite.

On that topic, check out this atrocious demagoguery by John Boehner.

John McCain will coast to a sixth term in the Senate, but at what cost? I'm beginning to change my tune from this earlier piece. The fact that he's out in front on Don't Ask, Don't Tell is just absurd. We expected McCain to track back toward the center once he dispatched JD Hayworth; the fact that he is painting himself up as some sort of anti-immigration, anti-civil liberties crusader is sad. Because that's not the real McCain. At least it didn't used to be.

Daniel Larison thinks Mitt Romney is the 2012 frontrunner. Andrew Sullivan thinks it's Sarah Palin. I think they're both wrong. There is no frontrunner yet.

The greatest threat to liberty in 2010 isn't Obamacare, cap and trade, tax hikes or even al Qaeda. It's the imperial national security state. Conor Friedersdorf agrees. Glenn Greenwald explains (in much greater detail than we did, above) how Obama is simply reprising the Bush policies.

If Obama manages to track toward the center -- e.g., suspending the payroll tax -- and happens to realize how abusive his administration has been of civil liberties, I'd seriously consider voting for him in 2012 over the likes of Palin, Huckabee or Thune. Two thoughts on that. First, I originally wrote "track back," but that would imply Obama has been in the center before. That's obviously not the case, so a moderation of his domestic policy is, let's say, less than likely. Second, what's perhaps most ironic is that it is precisely because of his adopting of the neoconservative dogma on national security and executive privilege matters that I find the entirety of his agenda so repulsive -- and therefore, I don't have the stomach to vote for him.

24 September 2010

Conservative soul-searching

In the wake of the GOP's banishment to the political wilderness after the 2008 bloodbath, it's evident to me that the party has split into three general factions.

The first group are those who follow the George W. Bush/Colin Powell theory of domestic governance. These are Republicans who either support massive government intervention like Medicare Part D or No Child Left Behind (as Bush did) or those that explicitly reject the Goldwater/Reagan model (as Powell did in announcing his endorsement of Obama in October 2008).

The second group are the tea partiers -- those people who are simply reflexive reactionaries, hysterically opposing everything the Obama administration says or does, believing absurd conspiracy theories about ACORN rigging elections or Obama being a crypto-Marxist, and -- most critically -- refusing to understand the inherent discrepancy in clamoring for lower taxes and cutting the deficit. This group doesn't have any ideas beyond deregulation, cutting spending without pointing out specific areas to cut, and the continued feeding of what Eisenhower termed the military-industrial complex. And it was specifically for this group that the GOP's utterly inconsequential Pledge to America was written.

The third group is made up of people like Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and Ross Douthat. Tim Pawlenty was firmly in this group until he began running for president; now, he's dipping his toe in the water of group number two. Newt Gingrich was in this group as well, until he decided he could make more money writing a book. This group doesn't go to rallies, doesn't devour the latest conservative book of the month (Palin's, Romney's, Newt's, Levin's, etc.) and doesn't tune in to Limbaugh. Most importantly, these are the Republicans who (i) have ideas like Paul Ryan's wonderful Roadmap; (ii) have turned a critical eye inward to assess what precisely went wrong from 2001-2008; and (iii) are willing to confront the reality that cutting the deficit and rescuing the country from the looming fiscal abyss will require tough decisions.

If folks like us have our way, the 45th President of the United States will come from this third group. Notably, many people from the first and second groups seem to like Ryan and Christie, especially. They like Daniels the more they learn about him. It's up to the Republican rank-and-file to decide what kind of leader they want. Do they want a demagogue like Palin, who spends her time spitting recycled, tinny cliches and calls her opponents names? Do they want a Romney, who has changed his position on virtually every issue and ebbs and flows with public opinion? Do they want a Huckabee, who, like Palin, has personal charm, but focuses on "family values" and has no real conservative credentials? Do they want someone from the first group like Bush, who drinks the neoconservative kool-aid on foreign policy and largely ignores the guiding principles of fiscal conservatism on domestic matters?

Or, will the Republican Party follow an adult with ideas? Daniels, Pawlenty and Christie are men who have governed in states Barack Obama won in 2008 -- Minnesota and New Jersey in particular are solidly blue -- yet have done so in a fundamentally conservative manner, balancing their state's budgets, injecting new life into their states with cutting-edge policies (read this excellent profile on the wonderfully wonkish Daniels), talk to voters like they're adults, and -- not surprisingly -- have become supremely popular as a result.

These are the men the GOP needs to follow. We don't need Palin's demagoguery, nor Bush's "compassionate conservatism," nor Beck's outlandish conspiracy theories. We need Daniels. We need Ryan. We need Christie. Republicans might well take back the House in the fall, and the Senate and the White House in 2012, but there is no good model for Republican governance in Washington, and virtually no hope for a transformative Republican agenda, save for Ryan. Rather, John Boehner and the congressional leadership will continue to talk a good game about fiscal responsibility, but will refuse to stand up and explain to voters the disastrous fiscal path the last two administrations have set us on.

22 September 2010

Responding to Sullivan, cont.

Here, we addressed Andrew Sullivan's contention that Sarah Palin was not only a serious contender for the 2012 nomination, but the near-unstoppable frontrunner.

To his credit, Sullivan routinely links those columnists who disagree with him, namely on the issue of Palin's prospects for the presidency. Today, he addresses the contentions of a favorite of this site, Ross Douthat. Douthat's remarks here.

Sullivan's comments in italics, mine in regular type:

Ross may be right, but I think he ignores just how much more radical the GOP base has become since 1994 (snip)

Maybe. We've noted ourselves that the popularity of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin among some corners of the conservative movement is based, at least in part, on either cultural horror at Barack Obama or a fundamental, deep-seated hatred for the other party. I'd also stipulate that GOP has become more radical in the foreign policy realm since 1994, as the Bush administration adopted the neoconservative obsessions with Iraq and torture, put many of the Wolfowitz/Kristol ideas into practice and thereby made them mainstream Republican thought. However, the GOP still stands on a tax-reduction, pro-business, pro-life platform. It's been anti-Don't Ask, Don't Tell forever. The message of fiscal responsibility -- and again, when it gets to the business of governing, things admittedly always seem to change -- rises above all else, regardless of the basis for the opposition to the other party. Everything else is secondary to that.

Therefore, that said, this has two consequences in the primaries. First, everyone -- not just Palin -- will be gleefully slamming the Obama administration for its fiscal irresponsibility. Every Republican believes this -- Palin is simply the one out front right now at tea parties and campaign rallies. By November 2011, the entire field of candidates will be climbing over one another to make this point. Second, Palin's record as a small-government deficit hawk is shockingly thin (some would argue it's non-existent), and not surprisingly, doesn't quote comport with her rhetoric. To the contrary, both Tim Pawlenty and Mitch Daniels managed to balance their respective states' budgets by lowering taxes. Palin's record as governor is no more impressive than, say, Huckabee's or Barbour's. If her entire message is fiscal responsibility, she'll get swallowed up. And truth be told, that's been her entire message thus far.

In addition, the opposition to Barack Obama is approached only by the seething hatred conservatives had toward Bill Clinton. Clinton was viewed among mainstream conservatives as a draft-dodging, tax-raising secular liberal who was, at his very core, a horrible person. Does no one remember the Clinton presidency? Does no one remember the awful things that were said about him? The personal attacks on Obama are simply par for the course.

... how enraged they have become over the years by what they see as condescension and betrayal by their own elites (snip)

Again, maybe. But Daniels, Pawlenty and Huckabee hardly qualify as elites. And as Peggy Noonan has pointed out, Palin is an elite confection "who may as well be a bon-bon." So if conservatives are truly enraged over elite condescension in the party, why in the world would they fall in line behind Palin? To me, this logic suggests that Palin will actually lose support to, say, Mike Huckabee. Virtually every conservative has talked about the party losing touch with its ideological roots.

... and the rise of Fox News and the Malkin/Reynolds blogosphere and Levin-style talk radio.

This logic assumes that all talk radio listeners/Fox News viewers are a bovine herd. Yes, it's a big problem that so many conservatives refuse to read or listen to anything that isn't run through the Fox filter first. But if the big-microphone elites were so powerful, wouldn't Mitt Romney have won the 2008 nomination in a cakewalk? Rush Limbaugh has spent his entire career criticizing John McCain. In slamming the Senior Senator, Glenn Beck actually said Hillary Clinton would be a better president, and Ann Coulter said HIllary was "more conservative." Levin, Malkin, Hannity and virtually every other major talking head on the right spent the better part of a year trying to convince their readers and listeners that McCain was a closet socialist and the most fundamentally un-conservative guy in the field. Romney was endorsed by virtually every major conservative outlet. McCain cruised to the nomination anyway, and the noisemakers' favorite son, Romney, finished a distant third, never really mounting a serious challenge (remember, Romney outspent Huckabee 15-to-1 in Iowa and still finished second). Sullivan and others imply that there is some sort of powerful Fox-Limbaugh-Palin conspiracy at work, when in reality, this conspiracy is either impotent or doesn't exist at all.

I also think that the people to whom Palin appeals will be as economically distressed in 2012 as they are now, since their jobs are overwhelmingly the ones that are gone for ever.

Sullivan doesn't offer any evidence of this, in part, because I don't think any exists. To the contrary -- based on my conversations with various members of my own family, and friends whose families support the tea party movement -- I'd wager that despite the heated rhetoric, the vast majority of tea partiers are actually middle-class. Palin isn't holding rallies in, for instance, Detroit, because those are places unserious folks such as her dare not go.

In this corner of the blogosphere, we fully expect Palin to run -- she very obviously considers herself presidential material -- but again, fully expect her to get crowded out by the adults.

19 September 2010

Suspending the payroll tax

I'm baffled that in a political system where the party in power is desperate for a jolt to the economy, and the other is singularly focused on tax cuts, the idea of a payroll tax holiday has somehow slipped through the cracks.

The refusal to even publicly broach this issue demonstrates two things -- severe partisan gridlock and Barack Obama's unwillingness to lead from the front.

Suspending the payroll tax for any period of time would, of course, immediately put money back in the pockets of ordinary, hard-working Americans.

President Obama has refused to even publicly address the subject. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, while warning the White House to leave the Bush tax cuts alone, have been eerily silent on the issue. Obama seems unwilling to move forward with this wildly popular idea, a policy that seems to be naturally trans-partisan. Instead, the White House has suggested that they may support a tax credit for research and development, something that, while perhaps worthwhile in the long-term, won't have any stimulative effect on the economy for at least 6-12 months.

Boehner and McConnell have also been mute on the subject, which is why Obama should pounce. Six weeks from what is shaping up to be a bloodbath of historic proportions, the Republican leadership understands full well that they will likely reap huge rewards on election night regardless of whether they express any interest in working with the White House on anything of substance. Boehner and McConnell understand the unpopularity of the Obama agenda and the futility of the administration's feeble attempts to spur economic recovery.

And this precisely is why Barack Obama could perhaps save himself and his party politically by pushing ahead with a payroll tax holiday. Boehner and McConnell would then have two choices -- either sign on and publicly legitimize the president's idea, or oppose the plan and generate the strange spectacle of Republicans opposing tax cuts.

I would be willing to wager that 80% of voters would support a payroll tax holiday. McConnell and Boehner must be fearful of being put in a situation where they have to choose between legitimizing the president's policies six weeks from election day or opposing a clearly stimulative tax cut. The problem is that Obama is clueless as to how popular a payroll tax holiday would be, or spineless to stand up to the loud minority of his party that would oppose such a policy.

Thereby, Obama will continue to dig his party's grave, doing nothing to stem the overwhelming tide that's building against the Democrats.

17 September 2010

Palin paranoia

I'll admit that we've been guilty of slamming the former half-term governor one too many times. Unlike some of her other critics, however, we aren't particularly worried about her prospects as a presidential contender.

Here at this site, we admire the work of Andrew Sullivan, but we think he's dead wrong that Sarah Palin is an unstoppable force in 2012.

Sullivan is wrong for the following reasons:

First: While Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney are quietly building both grassroots support and support among the Republican kingmakers, Palin has done nothing of the sort. Sullivan routinely makes the incorrect parallel between Barack Obama in 2008 and Palin in 2012 and suggests that Palin will enjoy a similar trajectory. Obama became such a force primarily because of his enormous apparatus in Iowa. This was a highly organized, well-funded operation staffed with political heavyweights like David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Tom Daschle. Palin has nothing of the sort. In fact -- other than making random endorsements of political lightweights like Christine O'Donnell and Joe Miller -- Palin hasn't done anything in preparation for 2012. if she believes that a handful of endorsements will swing the nomination her way, she's dead wrong.

Second: Conservative elites abhor Palin and realize she's unelectable. Mitch Daniels is making the rounds. Pawlenty and Romney have already done so. If Haley Barbour jumps in, he will no doubt have his share of high-dollar bankrollers. The GOP elites -- at AIPAC, the Heritage Foundation, the Wall Street Journal, investment bankers, oil barons, old Reagan & Bush hands -- are the ones who are the kingmakers. Unlike the GOP, the Democratic Party is made up of seemingly hundreds of interest groups like the NEA, the ACLU, labor unions and the NAACP that only the most impressive candidates (basically, Clinton and Obama) can pull together. This is precisely why small-dollar donors can be so effective in the Democratic Party (Howard Dean in 2004, Obama in '08) but not even make a dent in the GOP (e.g., Ron Paul) -- the Democratic Party is often fractured, and the GOP isn't.

More on this point: Every single Republican candidate has either been a political veteran who wins the nomination simply because it's "his" turn (Nixon in 1968, Bush in 1988, Dole in 1996, McCain in 2008) and/or has received the blessing of the party kingmakers. This was particularly manifested with George W. Bush's campaign in 2000. Bush wasn't a particularly devoted conservative, nor was he even well known at the time he announced his candidacy, but he was able to bury the rest of the field precisely because the blessing of the kingmakers meant he effectively had unlimited pockets. In 2012, Palin will not be as fortunate, because conservative elites want nothing to do with her.

Third: The tea party crowd, from whom Palin draws the vast majority of her support, aren't new voters. In fact, we've noted here before that the tea party is simply an appendage of the Republican base. Again, Sullivan's comparison between Obama '08 and Palin '12 is off on this point. Obama drew out millions of new voters to the polls -- people who had never been politically active before and many who had never even voted. Palin won't be able to do the same thing. Her supporters are people who vote routinely. Although a few may be newcomers, most are not. Sullivan and many liberal critics who seem to be horrified by Palin assume that Palin has single-handedly drawn hundreds of thousands of voters out of the woodwork as Obama did. But there's no evidence of this at all.

Fourth: Palin isn't the only fresh face in the primaries. Sullivan seems to suggest that the partiers are dying for someone new after the Bush years and McCain's candidacy, for which they were lukewarm, at best. By this logic, Palin will get swallowed up by Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty and John Thune -- three very competent, reasonably young men, of whom most tea partiers have probably never heard. Mike Huckabee, if he runs, will siphon many votes away from Palin -- they will be going after the same wing of the party, and Huckabee is a fantastic campaigner. Additionally, if tea partiers are looking for someone new, isn't it just as likely that they'll tire of Palin? I'm already seeing signs of this in my own family, and the primaries are still a year away.

Fifth: Republican voters aren't as stupid as Sullivan implies. John McCain was clearly not the most "conservative" option in 2008 -- that distinction probably would have gone to Duncan Hunter or Fred Thompson -- but he and Mitt Romney -- a moderate governor of a blue state who at one time was pro-choice and pro-gay marriage -- became the two front-runners. It's probably no coincidence that McCain and Romney were arguably the two most electable candidates in the general election. Republicans understand that primaries have consequences -- grasping it much better than their Democratic counterparts (who support candidates like Howard Dean and John Edwards). While I would have supported Mike Castle in a heartbeat and am dumbfounded that he was defeated by O'Donnell in Delaware, there is a huge chasm between a few thousand votes in tiny Delaware and a presidential campaign. In fact -- again, based on my experiences and conversations with my own family -- I'd wager that while many voters might love what Palin has to say, admire her personally and will even support her causes (e.g., Miller, O'Donnell), they understand that she's simply unfit for the presidency.

Finally: Christine O'Donnell is going to lose in Delaware, period. O'Donnell's victory will cost Republicans a Senate seat that, had Castle been their candidate, they were almost assured of winning. There will be a backlash over this -- because O'Donnell won't just lose -- she'll get clobbered by perhaps 20 points. The GOP establishment will be sure to make clear that O'Donnell's candidacy was solely responsible, and it will be interesting to see how many conservative opinion leaders (the WSJ, George Will, Charles Krauthammer) make note of this as well. Republicans don't like to lose elections -- especially in years when there is a real chance to take back the Senate from Barack Obama's scary Marxist empire. Whether the rank-and-file will punish Palin, or tune her out, as a result of the drubbing O'Donnell is likely to take remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Daniel Larison agrees.

15 September 2010

More on conservatism's descent

A few days ago, we pulverized Dinesh D'Souza's outlandish characterization of the president as a "Kenyan anti-colonialist."

We've made this commentary before, but it bears repeating in light of D'Souza's nonsense being repeated by, among others, Newt Gingrich, who these days styles himself presidential timber.

Modern conservatism has come to embody the following: a characterization of Barack Obama as a Marxist, a Muslim, a Manchurian candidate, or all three; an economic policy comprised entirely of a demand for tax cuts; an energy policy comprised entirely of demands for more offshore drilling; an unwillingness to reconcile the inherent contradictions in tax cuts and deficit reduction; a crusade against not just radical Islamic extremists, but even moderate Muslims like Feisal Abdul Rauf; the support for a massive, Orwellian national security state; and a willingness to defend a president who claimed an absurd, unconstitutionally overbroad conception of executive power and who, in the execution of those supposed powers, openly broke federal law.

It's bitterly disappointing to observe conservatism's steep descent. I'm thoroughly convinced that, as Lindsay Graham has noted, Ronald Reagan would have a tough time winning a Republican primary in 2010.

It is also incredible to watch the Democratic Party slip even deeper into irrelevance by governing so ineffectually and being so out of step with the times. As we've said before, Barack Obama will probably be a one-term president, and before he can do any more damage, the GOP will almost certainly re-take control of the House this fall.

The good news? There are still a few responsible adults in the Republican Party, such as George WIll, Peggy Noonan, Ross Douthat -- and one of them -- Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels -- might well be the nominee in 2012.

Godspeed, Governor.

14 September 2010

Why Russ Feingold is worth voting for

The senator from Wisconsin, facing the fight of his political career, is one of the most liberal politicians in the country. On domestic matters, Feingold is a classic redistributionist who, among other things, is an unabashed supporter of a single-payor health care system.

But when the discussion turns to civil liberties and executive power abuses, there is no stronger defender of our Constitution.

I rarely vote for Democrats and can't think of another candidate with a (D) behind his or her name that I would consider supporting, but Feingold is a glaring exception because of the pugnacity with which he takes on issues that the vast majority of politicians, including most members of his own party, seem too scared to address.

I highly recommend Glenn Greenwald's fantastic piece on Feingold, found here. Greenwald describes Feingold's immense value as a civil liberties crusader much better than I ever could, but below is an example of how, in the wake of 9/11, Feingold was light years in front of the rest of us:

"Of course, there is no doubt that if we lived in a police state, it would be easier to catch terrorists. If we lived in a country that allowed the police to search your home at any time for any reason; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your email communications; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to hold people in jail indefinitely based on what they write or think, or based on mere suspicion that they are up to no good, then the government would no doubt discover and arrest more terrorists.

But that probably would not be a country in which we would want to live. And that would not be a country for which we could, in good conscience, ask our young people to fight and die."

-Sen. Russ Feingold, October 25, 2001

13 September 2010

The conservative movement bottoms out

Dinesh D'Souza calls the president an "anticolonial Kenyan" here. This piece is spreading like wildfire in the conservative blogosphere.

D'Souza's language in italics:

Barack Obama is the most antibusiness president in a generation, perhaps in American history. Thanks to him the era of big government is back.

That's some pretty absurd revisionist history. Non-defense discretionary spending rose nearly 10 percent per year under George W. Bush, three times the rate of that under Bill Clinton. Just because Bush styled himself a "Republican" and was a culturally admirable family man doesn't mean he was some sort of small-government crusader. Under Bush, the government: (i) created the Department of Homeland Security and a massive national security and domestic surveillance apparatus, (ii) outlandishly expanded the once-limited state secrets privilege and imprisoned and tortured American citizens while denying them the most basic of due process rights; (iii) created a huge unfunded prescription drug mandate (Medicare Part D); (iv) passed No Child Left Behind, which would have made most liberals proud; and (v) doubled the national debt in just eight years. And D'Souza implies the era of big government started in January 2009? Please.

More strange behavior: Obama's June 15, 2010 speech in response to the Gulf oil spill focused not on cleanup strategies but rather on the fact that Americans "consume more than 20% of the world's oil but have less than 2% of the world's resources." Obama railed on about "America's century-long addiction to fossil fuels." What does any of this have to do with the oil spill?

Other than the fact that American presidents have been talking about this since Nixon? Could it have anything to do with the fact that our dependence on foreign oil puts us at the mercy of the rest of the world? Bush threw out lines like this and got applause. Obama throws out lines like this and gets called un-American.

The President continues to push for stimulus even though hundreds of billions of dollars in such funds seem to have done little.

If the whole point of D'Souza's article is to paint Obama as un-American or extremist, D'Souza utterly fails here. Keynesian policies are supported by a majority of Democrats.

But we have been blinded to his real agenda because, across the political spectrum, we all seek to fit him into some version of American history. In the process, we ignore Obama's own history. Here is a man who spent his formative years--the first 17 years of his life--off the American mainland, in Hawaii, Indonesia and Pakistan, with multiple subsequent journeys to Africa.

Yes. This precisely explains the surge in Afghanistan and his decision to send unmanned drones into Pakistan on kill missions -- something even Bush didn't do.

But to his son, the elder Obama represented a great and noble cause, the cause of anticolonialism.

First, how in the world does one "represent" a cause? D'Souza doesn't explain this at all, simply opting for a conclusory statement with no factual support. Second, D'Souza never defines "anticolonialism." Is it the idea that African nationals find it offensive to be ruled by a government located in another hemisphere? Third, if so, D'Souza fails to explain what is so objectionable about this "anticolonialism." Finally, what we know about Obama is that he adored his mother and he met his father exactly twice. This type of identity, "he's not one of us" politics is just flat-out wrong. What happened to just arguing about policy?

It may seem incredible to suggest that the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States. That is what I am saying. From a very young age and through his formative years, Obama learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction. He came to view America's military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation. He adopted his father's position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder.

This is just absurd. This paragraph comes immediately after D'Souza explains how Obama Sr. viewed America and viewed the world. D'Souza simply makes a flat, conclusory statement with no factual support, no direct examples of how this alleged worldview has manifested itself in the president's policies and simply pronounces the president guilty by association. He imputes Obama Sr.'s motives and ideologies directly to the president, with no causal connection explained between what Obama learned from his father -- who he met twice -- and his policy prescriptions. And again, if Obama really views "America's military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation," would he have ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan?

Rejecting the socialist formula, Obama has shown no intention to nationalize the investment banks or the health sector. Rather, he seeks to decolonize these institutions, and this means bringing them under the government's leash.

D'Souza is even wrong here. As Ross Douthat has noted, the fact that the Obama administration hasn't been able to nationalize the health care sector isn't because Obama isn't that liberal, but because Obama is a calculating politician who knew that a single-payor system (or even a public option) wasn't politically feasible. It's not because Obama is a political moderate. D'Souza gets this completely backward, which suggests to me that he hasn't been paying attention for the last 18 months.

If Obama shares his father's anticolonial crusade, that would explain why he wants people who are already paying close to 50% of their income in overall taxes to pay even more.

The top tax bracket is 36%. That's not half, and it's not even close. The stated policy of the Obama administration is to let the 2001 tax cuts expire, thus raising the top tax bracket back to 39.5%, which is where it was under the Clinton administration. D'Souza needs to get his facts straight. If wanting to raise taxes makes you an anticolonialist, then how does D'Souza explain the policies of Bill Clinton? Or the tax increases under Ronald Reagan?

Obama supports the Ground Zero mosque because to him 9/11 is the event that unleashed the American bogey and pushed us into Iraq and Afghanistan. He views some of the Muslims who are fighting against America abroad as resisters of U.S. imperialism.

Again, this is just intellectually lazy and takes no skill. D'Souza simply preys on the fears and cultural unfamiliarities many conservatives have vis-a-vis the president. D'Souza offers no factual support for any of these conclusions, simply implying that, well, Obama's father would have believed this. Like we've said before, how can you argue with someone who spouts these things? D'Souza clearly isn't concerned with facts or sound logic, making a proper response almost impossible.

11 September 2010

Nine years on

"On an early December morning many years ago, I watched my father leave for war. He joined millions of Americans to fight a war that would decide the fate of humanity. They fought cruel and formidable enemies bent on world domination. They fought not just for themselves and their families. They fought for love of an idea: that America stood for something greater than the sum of our individual interests.

From where did the courage come to make the maximum effort in that decisive moment in history? It marched with the sons of a nation that believed deeply in itself, in its history, in the justice of its cause, in its destiny. Americans went into battle armed against despair with the common conviction that the country that had sent them there was worth their sacrifice. Their families, their schools, their faith, their history, their heroes, had taught them that the freedom with which they were blessed was worth fighting and suffering for. Those who came home returned with an even deeper civic love. They believed that if America was worth dying for, then surely she was worth living for."

-Sen. John McCain, Worth the Fighting For

10 September 2010


Earlier this week, the civil libertarian side of the blogosphere was in an uproar over this 55-page opinion rendered by the Ninth Circuit, giving the Obama administration a watershed victory in its fight to unconstitutionally expand the legally dubious "state secrets" privilege. The plaintiffs, led by the ACLU, will almost certainly try to take their challenge to the Supreme Court.

The state secrets privilege has historically been a way for the federal government to shield certain documents from discovery in any number of cases, under the premise that such documents were a sensitive governmental secret or critical to national security. As a rule, it was limited to discovery disputes and the disgorging of documents that might in theory endanger the country.

Under the Bush administration, everything changed. As a part of the Bush White House's assault on civil liberties -- along with extra-judiical renditions, the PATRIOT Act, Jose Padilla, Yasir Hamdi and warrantless wiretapping, just to name a few -- the administration quietly expanded their conception of the state secrets privilege from a way to shield documents in discovery into a full-blown defense to lawsuits brought by private citizens to stop illegal governmental actions such as warrantless wiretapping. Most observers expected the Obama administration to roll back these abuses, and in particular, its conception of the state secrets doctrine.

Instead, in the above-cited case, the Obama administration has moved ahead full-bore with this patently offensive argument. By citing a laughably overbroad conception of this once-limited privilege, the Obama administration has argued that even if it (a) breaks federal law -- which it does every time it taps a citizen's telephone without a warrant in contravention of FISA, or (b) worse yet, imprisons someone without the right to counsel, a jury or even a formal criminal charge, it is wholly insulated from immunity simply because it is the government. The administration is effectively asking the judiciary, "Trust us. It's a secret." This is antithetical to the most well-settled constitutional ideals of divided government and limited executive power.

Of all the things that would make the Founders would roll over in their graves, this is the most repugnant.

The above cited Ninth Circuit decision has planted the seeds of what Hobbes termed the Leviathan. The ever-expanding national security state -- mining data, monitoring phone calls, blocking not only documents but entire lawsuits through an absurd conception of governmental privilege and ordering the extra-judicial killings of American citizens abroad by executive fiat -- has no identifiable boundaries.

What's perhaps most disturbing about this issue is that of all the issues where Democrats might have chosen to capitulate to the Cheney-Kristol wing of the Republican Party, this is the most critical -- and the most dangerous. It is unbelievable to me that any red-blooded American, who loves and believes in the Constitution, could find this abuse of power permissible.

I'd expect such behavior from George W. Bush and Alberto Gonzales. I can't believe I'm seeing it from Barack Obama and Eric Holder.

The imperial executive lives. And the national security state -- the most clear and present danger to the constitutional freedoms the Founders set out for us -- continues to charge on, unimpeded.

UPDATE: This outstanding editorial from the New York Times sets out the case against the state secrets doctrine and the Obama administration more eloquently and concisely than I could ever do. This might be the first time I've ever cited an editorial from the Old Gray Hag, but perhaps this is evidence of the shaky liberal-libertarian alliance on executive power abuses many have hoped for.

08 September 2010

They talk about me like I'm a dog!

Oh, Mr. President ...

*shakes head sadly*

Perhaps this is the encapsulating snapshot of the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama.

I've observed Obama closely for the better part of three years, and I've made two critical analyses, neither of which is particularly groundbreaking:

1. Barack Obama is in love with himself

2. Barack Obama doesn't take criticism very well

These two personality traits, put together, might make for entertaining campaign fodder, but they are a recipe for a disastrous presidency, where the chief executive spends more time exploring detours and personal firefights than driving the main road of proper governance.

The Chairman remarked to me during campaign season in 2008 that Barack Obama genuinely believes that he is the antidote to all of America's problems. From Iran to Palestine to the economy to health care and beyond, this rather ordinary, back-benching senator seems to sincerely believe that he is a transformative historical figure. Among other things, his belief that he could convince the Iranians to halt uranium enrichment simply by offering them a seat at a bargaining table was naive, dangerous and silly. His rhetoric even into his presidency suggests that he views himself as a transformative political figure, transcending not only racial divides but also partisan gridlock, with an uncanny ability to speak to the country's soul. And darn it, if those Republicans would just get out of his way, he could transform the country into a post-partisan utopia.

The second element of his personality -- that he bristles at criticism and can't work well with others once he's been criticized -- has manifested itself time and again. He called former President Clinton a racist after Clinton compared his primary candidacy to Jesse Jackson's in 1988 and the two continue to have a frosty relationship. He thinks that criticism of his big-government profligacy equates to criticism of him personally -- at which he recoils. He has taken some unfair shots from the political right, to be sure, but the vast majority of the criticism has been legitimate and policy-based. He talks a good game on bipartisanship, but on the two signature initiatives of his presidency -- the stimulus and the health care bill -- he adopted almost no Republican ideas, and wasn't concerned with garnering any Republican support.

Obama can't do that because he isn't able to separate personality from policy -- it's one and the same. Therefore, if someone disagrees with his policy prescriptions, he considers it a personal affront.

This is precisely why he never worked across the aisle on anything of substance during his Senate career. During the campaign, anytime he was asked to give an example of working across the aisle, he cited a bill he co-sponsored with Dick Lugar of Indiana to round up loose nukes in the Soviet Union (something absolutely no American could ever oppose) -- which passed the Senate by near-unanimous consent. He didn't have to take a tough stand on this issue, because no one disagreed with him. How easy does it get?

He didn't run on policy prescriptions, but on the singular force of his own personality. Obama is the policy. This is precisely why his approval ratings have suffered such a cataclysmic drop. He is a standard-issue, old-time liberal in the vein of Lyndon Johnson and Ted Kennedy, and America is a center-right country.

He has repeatedly set up straw men to criticize Republicans -- that they want to completely deregulate Wall Street, that they want to line the pockets of their Wall Street buddies, that they want to take away seniors' Social Security, and on and on -- because he appears to be unable to separate those who have legitimate criticisms of his policies from those few hateful folks who actually detest him personally. He demonizes his political opponents much in the same way Karl Rove did. To Obama, all politics is personal.

It came to a head over Labor Day, when, in that idiotic dialect he falls into when he's trying to get a crowd riled up, he said, "They talk about me like I'm a dog." This was the encapsulation of his presidency in a nutshell. He's so in love with himself, and so thin-skinned, and so recoils from legitimate bipartisan compromise, that he becomes offended that people disagree with him at all.

Obama's comments over the weekend were immature at best, and unpresidential at worst. For all of his failings, George W. Bush never once complained of the vitriolic personal attacks levied against him by the American left. He didn't stoop to their level, because he fundamentally understood that simply by holding the office of the presidency, you're going to get criticized. Period.

In his short, utterly inconsequential political career, Barack Obama hasn't learned this. I doubt he ever will.

Unless the Republicans nominate Sarah Palin in 2012, he will be a one-term president.

03 September 2010

Who are we?

When we started this blog in April 2008, campaign season was in full swing. Two of us -- the Commissioner and Gilbert -- had just voted in the Republican primary for John McCain. The other one -- the Chairman -- voted in the Democratic primary for Hillary Clinton. When November rolled around, all three of us voted for McCain over Barack Obama. It was to our great dismay that the liberal Democratic senator from Illinois, who wrote more autobiographies in his Senate career than serious pieces of legislation, would become the 44th president of the United States.

While we gave him a chance, we've had no choice but to be very critical of Obama from the outset. It took less than a month for us to conclude that he was unfit for the presidency. We've criticized him on virtually everything -- the stimulus package, the health care bill, the oil spill response, civil liberties abuses so many times that we can't link just one, his rank partisanship and his absurd, unpresidential demagoguery on Social Security. We've criticized the stupid battles the White House has picked, in particular against Politico and Rush Limbaugh. Although at times we've been accused of being Obama sympathizers because we think he's neither foreign-born nor Muslim, we point out that because of our civil libertarian bent, we actually disagree with Obama's entire agenda, as opposed to conservatives, who -- if they stopped calling the president a Muslim -- might find they agree with his policies that are abusive of civil liberties.

While we've hammered the president time and again, we've been equally harsh to the other side of the aisle. We've hit Sarah Palin here, here and here. Rush Limbaugh here and here. Glenn Beck here. John Boehner here. The congressional Republican leadership here. We've explained why it's un-American to give Israel unconditional support. We've criticized Republicans' obsession with torture. We've harshly criticized what we believe to be a dumbing-down of what was once a great political party here . And as much as we disapprove of his job as president, we genuinely don't understand the mass hysteria on the right concerning Obama.

We've taken on a lot of other issues. Our views on smoking bans are here. The wonderful old filibuster here. Political nepotism here. Tort reform here.

The bottom line is that this site is a political tour de force with no regard for party or clique. The American political landscape has provided us almost daily fodder to shoot at, from Sarah Palin's claims about "death panels" to Barack Obama's broken promises about lobbyists. We were one of the few sites to lobby for a McCain-Lieberman ticket.

We try to make arguments based solely on fact and sound logic, and regularly point readers to the invaluable FactCheck.org. If a claim doesn't have factual support, we're willing to change our minds. We want the government out of our pocketbook and out of our private lives, but that doesn't mean we want no government at all. It still has a responsibility to defend the homeland, build roads, responsibly and reasonably regulate markets and deal with things -- like the economic meltdown of September 2008 and the BP oil spill -- that the private sector simply can't handle.

In short, we're reasonable, and we expect the same from our leaders.

02 September 2010

Final thoughts on Iraq

Thanks to the brave and talented men and women in uniform, the foresight of Senator McCain and President Bush and the Anbar Awakening, the United States has snatched victory from the jaws of almost sure defeat in Iraq. Back in 2005, it was almost unthinkable that we would have come this far.

Nonetheless, Iraq remains an intellectual quagmire.

I fully supported the invasion -- as did most Americans -- in March 2003. We were assured by the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein possessed and intended to use weapons of mass destruction, and that he had significant ties to al Qaeda. The fact that Saddam was a brutal dictator who had murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people and had ties to Palestinian suicide bombers made the decision a no-brainer at the time. But once you remove the primary rationale for going to war -- the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found, and virtually all reported ties between Saddam and al Qaeda were debunked -- whether war was the right decision becomes a legitimate question.

If, as neoconservatives believe, we were right to invade Iraq solely because Saddam allegedly possessed nuclear weapons, then by extension, we should have invaded North Korea and Iran first. North Korea has actually tested a nuclear warhead, and Iran has openly stated that it intends to become a nuclear power, and is perhaps five years away from having a nuclear arsenal. Compounding this with Iran's overt financing of Hezbollah -- based on the logic of Wolfowitz, Kristol and others -- we should have gone to war against Iran yesterday.

The problem with the logic of "America as nuclear watchdog" is that Iraq stretched our military amazingly thin, and the lessons of 2005-2007 demonstrate that America simply can't fully function if it fights wars in two different theaters. This "America as nuclear watchdog" idea fails to deal with the reality that unlike China, the United States doesn't have an endless supply of tropps -- and additionally, fails to take into account the fact that war is extraordinarily expensive. Arguably, from 2005-2007, America was losing both wars it was fighting. While it might be nice to pound the table in think tanks and at CPAC and cry for war against the Iranian mullahs, the U.S. has never in its history tried to fight multiple wars at once.

Additionally, the Bush administration had virtually no plan for ultimate victory after Saddam was toppled. David Petraeus might have predicted that we needed a counterinsurgency strategy in December 2003, but no one had heard of him until years later. Wars have traditionally wrought unintended, unexpected consequences, and Iraq was no exception. Because the Bush administration expected Saddam's troops to fight for months, there was little or no plan in place once "victory" was achieved and the country was under American control.

There is another -- revisionist -- school of thought that posits that, while Saddam didn't have nuclear weapons, he was still a despicable tyrant, and therefore the invasion was justified anyway. The obvious problem with the logic of "America as human rights policeman" is that while Saddam was a despot, there are many other unsavory characters around the globe -- not only Kim Jong Il in North Korea and Ahmadenijhad in Iran, but Lukashenka in Belarus, Qaddafi in Libya and the entire regime in Sudan. By this logic of "America as human rights policeman," we should have intervened in Darfur five years ago.

Additionally, what the Iraq war should impress upon us is the idea of "us vs. them" -- the Bush Doctrine that you're either with us, or with "the terrorists" -- has serious limitations. While Saddam Hussein no doubt meant Israel harm, it is quite a stretch to say that he intended to inflict damage on the U.S. mainland, or was even concerned with the U.S. at all. There is no evidence to support this, or support the idea that he had anything to do with 9/11. Part of the folly of the brand of neoconservatism espoused by the Bush administration is the proclivity to see the enemy as a single homogenous entity -- instead of very loose coalitions of shadowy networks, as it is. In Afghanistan, for instance, I'd expect that most conservatives don't understand that we are actually fighting three enemies -- al Qaeda, the Taliban of Afghanistan, and the Taliban of Pakistan. These are three completely separate entities who although share a common objective, don't necessarily work in concert. Where is the line between overt state financing of terror -- as Iran does with Hezbollah, or as the Taliban did with al Qaeda pre-9/11, and what Qaddafi does in Libya?

Furthermore, extending the "us vs. them" analogy further, Russia has consulted with Iran about building a nuclear reactor. By the logic of the Bush Doctrine, Russia is "with the terrorists," because it is overtly aiding a state government that has clear ties to terrorist groups. Does this mean that we should launch a full-scale attack on Moscow tomorrow? The limitations of this mindset are obvious.

Perhaps my opinion of the Iraq war would be better had it not been so badly mismanaged. Check out this incredible exchange from Meet the Press way back in August 2003, when John McCain and Joe Biden confronted and addressed the problems that would face the United States if the administration refused to go all-in on Iraq. There is no doubt that if McCain was in charge, we would have left in victory long ago, with thousands of fewer lives lost. Because the Bush administration didn't come to grips with the realities on the ground until, literally, years later -- and this almost cost him the presidency in 2004, by the way -- we sustained thousands more casualties than were necessary. Bush as commander in chief deserves great credit for standing up and ordering the troop surge of 2007, but his policies arguably created the mess in the first place. Only time will tell whether Iraq will be a stain on Bush's legacy.

Finally, what encapsulation of Iraq would be complete without a tip of the hat to this site's hero, John McCain? In the middle of 2007, as casualties mounted in Iraq and his prospects for the presidency dimmed, McCain took a trip to Iraq. He came back reinvigorated, inspired by the men and women he met in uniform, and by the glimmers of progress on the ground. Immediately thereafter, he launched his famous "No Surrender" tour, gathering Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham and his old POW buddies back together and riding around the country talking about the necessity of a troop surge in Iraq. When journalists pointed out that the vast majority of Americans -- even many Republicans -- wanted to leave Iraq tomorrow, and that his prospects for the presidency hinged entirely on a very unpopular idea, McCain famously replied, "I'd rather lose an election than lose a war."

The Bush administration, to its credit, bought into McCain's idea of a troop surge -- which was bolstered by the endorsement of America's brilliant new commander, David Petraeus -- and the tide began to turn near the end of 2007. Simultaneously, McCain received new political life and, of course, had sewn up the Republican nomination by March 2008. The only reason Iraq was not an election year issue in the 2008 presidential election was, as Michael Gerson so astutely pointed out, in large part because McCain's strategy worked so well that the next president didn't have to make a tough decision.

To paraphrase Gerson, Obama was left was a pleasing paradox -- the successes of a strategy he opposed paved his way to the presidency; and McCain was left with a cold comfort -- in an odd twist of fate, he lost an election, in large part, because the war he helped win became a non-issue.