21 December 2011

Ron Paul for the Republican nomination

A Ron Paul endorsement might be the last thing you'd expect from someone who offered a full-throated endorsement of John McCain in 2008.

But the country is much different four years later, and it's considerably worse off.

The housing bubble burst. National debt is expected to reach 100 percent of GDP by 2020. The entitlement crisis continues to loom. The federal government has claimed the novel power to coerce citizens to engage in private economic activities, such as purchasing private health insurance. The military-industrial complex has transformed into a bipartisan phenomenon. So has the thirst for endless war in the Middle East. The president has claimed the power to assassinate American citizens by executive order and will soon have the power to detain American citizens indefinitely, without trial.

Ron Paul represents a complete rejection of the last 11 years of Republican misrule.

George W. Bush was the most fiscally destructive president in American history. He ran up record deficits, passed an unfunded prescription drug liability and sat idly by as the Federal Reserve inflated the money supply, leading to the bursting of the housing bubble and the collapse of the markets. Ron Paul has promised to seek $1 trillion in cuts from the federal budget in 2013. Democrats call this "draconian." I call it fiscal responsibility.

The two "leading" contenders for the nomination, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, famously supported Barack Obama's cherished individual mandate to purchase health insurance. This is fundamentally unconservative, and the idea that a "conservative" could support such a policy is blasphemous. Ron Paul's conception of limited government and maximum liberty puts him at odds with Gingrich, Romney and Obama. He appears to be as upset with the idea of an individual mandate as me.

The war in Iraq cost 4,500 American lives, 30,000 other American casualties, 100,000 Iraqi civilians and about $1 trillion in American dollars. Once on the verge of a post-Saddam civil war, Iraq is spiraling toward a perpetual state of illiberal democracy, where Christians are persecuted and flee, the country is becoming Balkanized, political corruption is rampant and Iran -- America's supposed sworn worst enemy -- has gained considerable political influence.

Every Republican contender believes that America should launch another war against Iran and repeat our mistakes in Iraq. I'm supporting Ron Paul because he thinks this is absurd.

Every Republican contender supports sweeping federal laws codifying marriage, banning pornography and generally legislating morality. I'm supporting Ron Paul because he thinks the 10th Amendment still means something.

Every Republican contender supports President Obama's method of putting American citizens on "hit lists" without a shred of due process, and every contender appears to endorse the Imperial Executive's supposed power to indefinitely detain American citizens without access to counsel, a trial or even a formal charge. I'm supporting Ron Paul because he's read Amendments 4, 5 and 6.

Today's Republicans like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have more in common with Woodrow Wilson than Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater or William F. Buckley.

Conservatism demands an adherence to the Constitution's very words and a respect for the separation of powers that the Constitution has enshrined.

Aside from Jon Huntsman, who seems intent on alienating the Republican base, there is nothing fundamentally "conservative" about any of Ron Paul's challengers. The rest of the field is made up of big-government Republicans who would return America to the destructive era of George W. Bush, where the president enjoys unchecked executive power, deficits spiral even further out of control and the country pursues a foolish, Wilsonian foreign policy. I've had enough of that for one lifetime.

Paul's critics claim that he isn't electable. But according to whom? A recent Public Policy Polling report showed Paul running dead even with President Obama in Iowa, a state that John McCain lost by nine points in 2008. A CNN poll released today showed Paul performing equally as well as Mitt Romney in a hypothetical matchup with Obama, and nearly ten points better than Gingrich. Additionally, because of his staunch libertarian stance on executive power and foreign policy issues, Paul has the ability -- utterly unmatched by any of his competitors -- to carve into Obama's liberal base. The Glenn Greenwald/Russ Feingold vote is up for grabs, much as the Pat Buchanan/Conor Friedersdorf vote would be up for grabs if the contest putted Feingold against, say, Michele Bachmann. Paul could be the great fusion candidate so many liberals and libertarians have dreamed of, to run staunchly against the Bush/Obama perpetual warfare machine. We haven't ever seen a candidate like him on the national stage.

The more I write, the more this becomes a no-brainer for a conservative like me. I don't agree with Paul on everything -- I think his call for the abolition of the Federal Reserve contradicts conservatism's adherence to gradual structural change and a respect for existing institutions -- but I agree with him on far more than any of his rivals. The people who discount Paul as a serious general election candidate do so based on little to no hard evidence that he would make a poor nominee. To the contrary, given the country's fiscal crisis, the unpopularity of the president in most quarters outside of hardcore partisans and Paul's famous fidelity to the Constitution, it is just as likely that Paul wipes out Obama in a landslide.

18 December 2011

Newt Gingrich hates the Constitution

Back with a vengeance.

Newt Gingrich has emerged as the "conservative" alternative to Mitt Romney. Right.

Over the remainder of the primary season, we could probably dedicate a post a day to some of the absurd, statist, fundamentally unconservative things Gingrich says.

The idea that Gingrich is "conservative" is truly laughable.

If you believe this, you are stupid, ill-informed and a sucker for cheap political demagoguery.

In the 1990s, Gingrich supported a federal mandate to purchase health insurance, which would be the centerpiece of Obamacare 15 years later.

He appeared next to Nancy Pelosi in a cap-and-trade commercial sponsored by an Al Gore-funded outfit.

He took $1.6 million of taxpayer money from Freddie Mac during the height of the housing bubble, all while endorsing its business model and the idiotic liberal ideal that, irrespective of a person's credit history or income, everyone should own a house -- things for which Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann have rightfully excoriated him.

He pushed congressional Republicans to pass the budget-busting Medicare Part D in 2004, while taking money from Big Pharma. Medicare Part D was the largest expansion of the welfare state since the Great Society.

This is arguably just the tip of the iceberg, but I'm getting tired of not addressing what I just read 10 minutes ago.

On Face the Nation this morning, Gingrich doubled down on his outrageous idea that Congress should have the power to subpoena federal judges whose decisions they oppose. Not only did Gingrich reiterate his support for idea -- which is a completely unconstitutional usurping of the separation of powers doctrine -- but he endorsed the use of the federal marshals to haul these judges into the Rotunda. This is truly outrageous. A President Gingrich's first act would apparently be to put the Constitution through a paper shredder.

Furthermore, Gingrich told Bob Schieffer that he is running for president to stop federal judges from encroaching on the president's commander-in-chief powers.

This is outrageous. It should make any liberty-loving American sick to his stomach. The judiciary is charged with enforcing the Constitution, and it admirably curbed the grave excesses of the Bush administration during its unconstitutional assault on the Bill of Rights. Even Antonin Scalia and John Roberts -- conservative jurisprudence's two shining lights -- levied harsh criticisms of the unprecedented powers. Does Gingrich really believe what John Yoo and Dick Cheney believe -- that the Constitution is suspended, and the president can do whatever he wants, so long as the president says we're at war?

We should be thankful that someone so grossly unfit for the presidency comes across the American stage so infrequently. He believes that the Constitution's separation of powers doctrine should be junked, that the president should be able to operate without the constraints of the Constitution, and apparently, that big government can and should be used for "conservative" ends. And who is the ultimate arbiter of what is and isn't "conservative"? Gingrich, of course. Despite the fact that this man is so delusional and so outrageous, he is remarkably self-assured, such that many conservatives actually buy this nonsense. If Newt Gingrich is the nominee, it should be the end of American conservatism as we know it. Gingrich's deluded ideal of America has more in common with a Middle Eastern banana republic than it does the vision laid out by the Founders.

The fact that Republicans actually consider him the conservative alternative to anybody is sickening. The people who believe this are fools. Gingrich represents everything that Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan opposed. Even as much as Barack Obama -- and perhaps, arguably, more -- Newt Gingrich is an enemy of the Constitution.

08 September 2011

Debate reax

Mitt Romney was the clear winner. It's obvious that he has cemented himself as the moderate/electable alternative to Perry and Bachmann, and he won nearly every exchange with Perry due to his superior intellectual firepower. I've written here before that he is a dishonest, unprincipled hack, but I'll admit he had a fine showing last night, impressively trading punches with Perry from the get-go. He handled serious questions about Bain Capital with great skill. My concerns about Romney's viability in the general election are quickly disappearing. I think his business acumen would dwarf Obama on stage.

Jon Huntsman had an outstanding performance. While he demonstrated seriousness in the first debate, he was clearly a bit wooden and nervous. Last night, he was phenomenal, turning in one of the best debate performances I've ever seen. I liked that he took on Perry and Romney directly and contrasted his own, more impressive, economic record with theirs. Down in the polls, Huntsman is clearly trying to goad Perry and/or Romney into a fight to raise his profile. I've said before that I think Huntsman's ultimate goal is the nomination in 2016 or 2020, and he's obviously facing an uphill climb to peel away voters from the Romney machine. But last night's performance was fantastic, and I hope he stays in the race.

Michele Bachmann was laughably bad. Even next to an intellectual lightweight like Perry, she shrank deep into the periphery. She clearly is becoming a fringe candidate like Gary Bauer or Al Sharpton, which is precisely what she is. Pressed for a regulation she'd eliminate as president, Bachmann gave a tired, rehearsed line about Obamacare. While Obamacare is terrible policy, her answer was a complete copout, demonstrating that she has no clue about any other regulation that she'd repeal. Like Sarah Palin, she throws out tinny lines and soundbites without fully understanding what she's talking about.

As good as Ron Paul was in the previous debate, he was equally awful last night. Paul looked all of his 76 years, railing against FEMA, Social Security and the Fed, and failing to string together his libertarian narrative as he did so masterfully last month. If the moderators were attempting to paint Paul as an anti-government crank who shouldn't be trusted to sit next to the red phone, they did a superb job. He looked terrible. And despite what the polls might say, I cannot imagine some of these responses playing well against Obama in the general. Next to Obama's cerebral detachment, Paul will look hysterical and reactionary. He would make an excellent president, but after performances like this, I fear he'd be a terrible nominee.

Newt Gingrich was, as usual, abysmal. How a man who has been married to three women and cheated on two of them, and who was thrown out of Washington in disgrace 13 years ago, can proselytize like this is beyond the definition of chutzpah. His legacy is wasted potential, hypocrisy and unbounded egotism. Gingrich's attack of the moderators (and the "Liberal Media") for trying to flush out differences between the candidates was beyond absurd. It's a debate.

Herman Cain has a plan. Really. You can read it on his website.

Rick Santorum was his typically arrogant, aggrandizing self. I'm proud of the Republican Party that he remains on the fringe.

And finally, Rick Perry. He was underwhelming. He proved himself a lightweight when compared to Romney and Huntsman. His Texas jobs record, while facially impressive, has thousands of holes (massive oil and gas reserves, no state income tax, etc.). Despite the lines of attack being obvious from the opening, Perry stumbled badly several times when confronted with the spots on his record. We've written here before about Perry's serious deviations from conservative orthodoxy on issues like eminent domain and healthcare that are deeply disconcerting. Last night, I saw far too many resemblances between Perry and George W. Bush. The inability to match a smarter opponent (Romney) on policy. Heated rhetoric instead of policy prescriptions. The same lack of intellectual curiosity. What Perry has going for him is that many conservatives don't care about these things. They're more concerned with rhetoric than results -- hence the veneration of the likes of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, who have never accomplished anything meaningful in terms of conservative public policy, and the distrust of Mitch Daniels and Hunstman, who have sterling conservative records that would make any Reaganite proud. Conservative bloggers likely will deem Perry last night's winner because he was combative and, probably, because he reminded them of Bush. But that's no solace for me. I will certainly vote for Perry against Barack Obama if he's the nominee. But I wish the Republican base would stop cheerleading for candidates like this.

25 August 2011

The growing case against Rick Perry

I've been mostly apathetic about Rick Perry's entrance into the GOP primary, if for no other reason than none of his principal challengers thrills me. It's well-documented that I'd like to see the nominee come from the lower tiers -- specifically, Ron Paul (who is arguably a borderline first-tier candidate despite being completely ignored by most media types), Gary Johnson or Jon Hunstman.

Although Perry's entrance has thrilled many seeking an electable alternative to Michele Bachmann and a more conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, several damaging elements of Perry's record have emerged very quickly. While Romney's missteps are well-documented and have been discussed here ad nauseum, Perry is largely considered far more conservative than Romney, so his record is, as of yet, unimpeached.

First: In 2006, Perry supported a trans-Texan highway that would ostensibly link up the populous cities in the east to the sparsely populated west. To secure land on which to build the highway, Perry proposed gobbling up myriad property owners' homes through eminent domain. This reflects the worst excesses of the Kelo v. New London era, where state governments are held to an absurdly low standard when asked to justify why citizens should be thrown off their land. In the opinion of most conservatives (see the O'Connor/Roberts/Scalia/Thomas dissent in Kelo, for starters), the state must clear an exceptionally high bar, and have a deeply compelling interest, when taking private property through eminent domain. Building a "highway to nowhere" is far from a sufficient justification. West Texas is a notoriously sparse place, one of the most remote areas of the country. As such, Perry's initiative represented big government at its most dangerous. Property rights are sacrosanct. But apparently not to Rick Perry.

Second: While decrying the tyranny of big government, Perry is highly deferential to that same tyrannical government on matters of law and order. He exemplifies the maddening dichotomy that has enveloped 21st century conservatism: A distaste and even fear of intrusive government on the one hand, and ultimate deference to the Security State on the other. Perry vetoed a bill that would have spared mentally retarded defendants from the death penalty, despite Supreme Court decisions from time immemorial that require a minimum level of cognition in order to impose capital punishment. Since he took office a decade ago, he has seen fit to only reduce one death row inmate's sentence to life in prison, despite rampant evidence of prosecutorial misconduct nationwide. Perhaps most critically, Perry engaged in the most depraved sort of underhanded executive abuses regarding Cameron Todd Willingham. WIllingham was accused of setting fire to his home killing his wife and daughters. After he was convicted, and shortly before the execution, Willingham's lawyers provided Perry and his forensic science commission (who are appointed and serve at the pleasure of the governor) a report from an arson expert appearing to exonerate Willingham, and demonstrating that the prosecution's evidence and methodology was deeply flawed. The commission began to review the case after investigative journalists cast serious doubt on Willingham's guilt, and hired an investigator who was scheduled to give the commission a report. Shortly before the investigator's testimony, Perry dismissed the chairman and replaced three members of the commission. Willingham's appeal was subsequently denied, and he was executed in 2004. Whatever one's opinions about the death penalty, Perry's conduct was inexcusable and disgusting. That shouldn't be how "justice" is done in America.

Third: Perry once mandated that all 11- and 12-year-old girls be vaccinated with HPV while there were still serious questions about the drug's efficacy and safety. This was a mandate handed down from above without regard to parental control or local choice. Even the most genuine public health arguments are exactly those which have been made by liberals in defending Obamacare. To his credit, Perry now admits this was a mistake. Irrespective of whether mandating a vaccine is good policy, the equally damaging element of the story that Perry cannot possibly explain away is that one of the lobbyists pushing for the order, and who worked for the vaccine's manufacturer, once served as Perry's chief of staff and has since helped found a PAC for the purpose of elevating Perry to the presidency. This is cronyism of the worst kind.

Finally, Perry has engaged in embarrassing double-talk on the Tenth Amendment. Just weeks before announcing, Perry correctly, and admirably, told an audience that states should pass their own laws concerning gay marriage. Perry correctly pointed out that many Texans would not want to live in New York, and most New Yorkers probably would not care to live in Texas either. But shortly after announcing, Perry did a Gingrichian reversal, promising to impose a federal gay marriage ban if elected president. This is ludicrous and laughable. Someone must ask Perry whether he has read the Tenth Amendment lately. Even assuming the best, Perry was transparently pandering to a family-values audience. Assuming the worst, Perry is yet another Bachmann, mouthing support for the Constitution when it suits him and tossing it out the window when it doesn't.

The impression of Perry as a staunch, torch-bearing conservative is far from accurate. The press -- especially conservatives like the Wall Street Journal editorial board, National Review, Bill Kristol, Sean Hannity and yes, even self-described water carrier Rush Limbaugh -- must hold his feet to the fire and demand answers about his record, parts of which would not be out of place on the resume of a liberal Democrat.

15 August 2011

Exit Pawlenty

A year ago at this time, I would have been crushed if you had told me that Tim Pawlenty quit the presidential race after the Iowa straw poll.

Today, I frankly couldn't care less.

Tim Pawlenty ran an awful campaign. Despite building an infrastructure as early as 2009 to rival Mitt Romney's, hiring talented former McCain/Bush hands and accruing an impressive conservative record in Minnesota, Pawlenty badly underperformed in virtually every poll and never earned the "frontrunner" status so many tried to bestow on him. Lacking Romney's deep pockets or McCain's force of personality, Pawlenty had nothing to hang his hat on when Michele Bachmann entered the race and zoomed past him.

Pawlenty should have been a top-tier candidate, and instead was left fighting with the likes of Rick Santorum and Herman Cain in the also-ran bracket.

And good riddance. A pragmatic conservative who earned an "A" rating from the Cato Institute and coined the term "Sam's Club Republican," Pawlenty swung horrendously hard to the right once he announced his candidacy. He and Romney, embarrassingly, seemed intent on climbing over each other to reach Bachmann/Limbaugh territory. Pawlenty nauseatingly adopted neoconservative dogma on empire issues, promising never to cut a dime from the Pentagon's bloated budget, arguing that the Libyan military action was too weak and attacking Barack Obama for "alienating" Israel -- a ridiculous charge.

We remarked that Pawlenty seemed to be adrift, pandering to crowds that -- at least on foreign policy issues -- he didn't really understand.

In 2009, we assumed the primary rationale for his candidacy would be a sort of conservative pseudo-populism, highlighting his union background and blue-collar roots, and touting his record of job creation in Minnesota. Instead, Pawlenty tried to play culture warrior and McCain lapdog at once. In a time when unemployment is over 9% and voters are seeking economic results, this approach was baffling. Pawlenty gutted the entire rationale for his candidacy at a time when that message would have been so well-received.

Overall, Pawlenty's candidacy was a huge disappointment. He badly underachieved, pandered to a segment of the electorate that is much smaller than he assumed and became a hysterical reactionary.

Although many pundits and even Pawlenty's rivals are lamenting the exit of a genuinely civil guy, I fail to see how the race isn't better off without him.

12 August 2011

Debate post-mortem

Last night's GOP debate was highly entertaining and, surprisingly, informative. Here's a few observations:

1. I thought Tim Pawlenty had an excellent performance. I would have liked more specificity when he was going after Mitt Romney, but he did precisely what he needed to do. He criticized after Romney for his myriad missteps in Massachusetts and Bachmann for her nonexistent legislative record. He successfully painted Bachmann as a fringe voice rather than a real policymaker and leader. This was critical, because Pawlenty desperately needs a strong finish in the straw poll this weekend to keep his campaign viable.

2. After Pawlenty was through with her, Bachmann looked lost and defeated. This was the first time I can remember that Bachmann has had to face open hostility -- in the first debate, she went unchallenged and was the star -- and it was obvious. I haven't read any post-debate reaction, but I believe she took an enormous hit last night. It's offensive that Bachmann thinks she is even remotely qualified for the presidency, so I'm thrilled to see other candidates willing to step up and take shots at her.

3. I was also interested by how fixated Rick Santorum was on Bachmann. Santorum obviously thinks that he and Bachmann are going after the same segment of voters. If he would ease up on the culture-warrior shtick, voters might actually see a politician who grasps the nuances of public policy better than most of his competitors. Perhaps Santorum knows that the more he slobbers over social issues, the less likely it is that he will have to explain his vote on Medicare Part D.

4. The last point on Bachmann: I genuinely don't understand how true "conservatives" can line up behind her. She hasn't ever accomplished anything, so how do you know how she's going to govern? I can understand tea partiers lining up behind the likes of Jim DeMint, Rand Paul or even Pawlenty. But Bachmann? Is the tea party really about rhetoric and not results? If so, that would explain its fixation with Bachmann.

5. Herman Cain doesn't belong here. He has such a laughably poor grasp of public policy that I almost felt sorry for him. He is embarrassing himself and his party by continuing his campaign. I don't know that a less-informed man has ever taken a debate stage.

6. Newt Gingrich's obsession with trying to fit every world event into some grand historical puzzle is both dishonest and annoying. The next debate drinking game should be based on Gingrich's use of the phrase "in my lifetime." I give Republican primarygoers a great deal of credit for not buying his nonsense.

7. Chris Wallace's line of the night, to Jon Huntsman: "At the risk of raising Speaker Gingrich's ire, I'm going to ask about your record, sir." Brilliant.

8. Huntsman seems like the forgotten candidate after all the fur flying, but he is clearly a serious person concerned with serious things. Even if he is only truly running for 2016, he made an excellent first impression last night. Additionally, his record demonstrates that he is more conservative than John McCain or George W. Bush, so any suggestion that he's not "electable" in a Republican primary is completely off-base. I would be thrilled with Huntsman as the nominee.

9. While I have concerns about his electability, Ron Paul has powerful conservative ideas, and my agreement with him on so many issues will make it hard for me to vote for anyone else. Paul has studied monetary policy for three-plus decades, criticized the Bush administration long before it was in vogue for conservatives to do so, and regularly points out the folly of our interventionism overseas. Our country would be in a much better place if we had listened to Ron Paul in 2002 and 2003. Everyone seems to be obsessed with Gingrich as the "ideas man," but I have yet to see a candidate demonstrate such a deep understanding of the issues that have befallen American as Paul.

10. Finally, once again, where was Gary Johnson? He was a successful two-term governor of a blue state who cut taxes and annually ran balanced budgets. Bachmann has been in Congress for five years and never authored a single bill that has been signed into law. The fact that Johnson is a marginal candidate and Bachmann -- until last night, at least -- is considered a frontrunner is truly absurd.

20 July 2011

Is Michele Bachmann fit to be president?

The story of Michele Bachmann's migraines is sweeping the internet.

Politico had a wide-ranging story this morning citing several sources close to Bachmann, who confirmed that Bachmann has suffered several serious migraines during her time in the House that have affected her ability to work. The sources confirmed that Bachmann occasionally has to close the door to her office during the workday and lie down on the floor, in the dark.

Bachmann pushed back on the migraine issue last summer, alleging that while she suffered from them, they didn't affect her ability to legislate, but these new revelations have resuscitated the story. Due to Bachmann's original denials, this story has suddenly become much bigger than it needs to be.

I frankly don't care whether Bachmann suffers from migraines. I certainly hope she gets relief and stops having them, because I understand they are miserable and utterly debilitating. But it doesn't affect my evaluation of her fitness to be president one bit.

Michele Bachmann is unfit to be president because in five years in Congress, she has never drafted a bill that has been signed into law. She is unfit to be president because she routinely engages in wild conspiracy theories and name-calling. She is unfit to be president because, like Sarah Palin, she is woefully inexperienced. She is unfit to be president because she wraps herself in some parts of the Constitution (2nd Amendment) while completely ignoring others (4th Amendment). She is unfit to be president because her short, utterly unremarkable congressional career demonstrates that she would rather grandstand than legislate.

Bachmann is also unfit to be president because, when pushing back on the migraine story, she argued that migraines wouldn't affect her ability "to be commander in chief." It is not the president's primary constitutional responsibility to be commander in chief. Bachmann's job as president would be to take care that the nation's laws are faithfully executed. The Constitution -- which Bachmann claims to venerate -- states that the president is only the commander in chief of the armed forces -- not the entire country -- and the plain language of Article II indicates that the commander in chief power only vests once Congress declares war. If Bachmann believes her primary responsibility as president is to be in charge of the military, that is yet another strike against her.

Whether she suffers from migraines is irrelevant.

Any conservative who even fathoms voting for Bachmann for president is a hypocrite, since much of the conservative case against Barack Obama in 2008 was based on his nonexistent legislative resume and laughable inexperience. Now, many tea partiers are ready to elevate Bachmann -- who manages to have even fewer legislative accomplishments under her belt than Obama -- to the exact same office they said Obama was unfit to hold.

14 July 2011

Musings on the debt-ceiling showdown

It's no secret that this site is an avowed opponent of big government and believes that America's debt crisis is solely a function of out-of-control spending and government profligacy in virtually every area the state infects.

The fact is that out-of-control discretionary spending, unfunded wars and a looming entitlement crisis are pushing America to the brink of fiscal collapse. Both Republicans and Democrats share equally in the blame. George W. Bush -- enabled by first a Republican Congress, then a Democratic one -- doubled the size of the national debt in just eight years. Despite his assurances that he would do something about the deficit, Barack Obama has managed to be even worse than his predecessor, with his last fiscal budget clocking in with a $1.4 trillion deficit. Democrats in Congress have even failed to pass a budget. Short of taxing the rich and shrieking about rich yacht owners, the Democrats have done little to demonstrate any concern whatsoever with the massive fiscal crisis. President Obama -- as with the perpetual warfare state, executive power and civil liberties -- has completely ignored Candidate Obama's own words. Given that Obama promised to cut the deficit in half in four years, his presidency has been an utter failure.

But I was bitterly disappointed to see Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor walk the GOP away from a plan that would cut the deficit by an estimated $4 trillion over the next decade. Here's why:

1. Big-picture legislation requires compromise. There is not a single piece of significant legislation passed in the last 50 years that did not require each side to give, even a little.

2. Ronald Reagan, the ultimate conservative icon and the greatest president of the 20th century, presided over some sort of tax increase 11 times in 8 years. For conservatives to suggest -- as Cantor has implied -- that any tax increases are completely off the table because they are "not conservative" is preposterous. It's yet another example of the 21st century Republican Party wrapping itself in only part of Reagan's legacy while completely ignoring others.

3. Politically, Republicans (again, particularly Cantor) need to be careful about defending taxes and loopholes, such as the capital gains tax, that benefit only the wealthiest Americans. While most Americans do not want marginal rates to increase, the GOP is playing a very dangerous game by appearing to align themselves behind policies that only benefit the rich.

4. We've noted this before, but it is highly misleading for Republicans to suggest that the way to a balanced budget is through tax cuts, as Tim Pawlenty has. Marginal rates increased incrementally in 1993, and due to a combination of increased revenue and spending cuts, the government was running a surplus by 1999. That increase was reversed by the Bush tax cuts in 2001, and in FY 2002, the government began running a budget deficit and has never recovered. It is so mind-bogglingly stupid for anyone to suggest that cutting taxes automatically increases revenue, or raising taxes cuts revenue, that I cannot take them seriously.

5. Just so we are clear, my ideal tax reform would include 2 items: (i) throwing out the entire tax code, including all tax breaks and loopholes; and (ii) instituting a flat tax of 22 percent, applied equally to individuals and corporations.

6. For conservatives to suggest -- as Gov. Pawlenty has implied -- that it would be better for the U.S. to default on its obligations than to raise the debt limit is as unconservative a policy as one could concoct. Conservatism values stability, order and reason; it eschews radical change. And if the U.S. government defaults, it would throw the global financial market into upheaval. This is not in any way conservative. It is suicidal and stupid.

7. Since he took office, President Obama has engaged in egregious demagoguery on Social Security, but the fact that he put not only Social Security, but Medicare, on the table is significant. This has upset liberals like Glenn Greenwald, who have shrieked about taking money out of seniors' pockets and giving it to Wall Street.

8. The most critical part of any long-term deal is revamping Social Security and making it sustainable. As such, please ignore the atrocious AARP ads.

9. Finally, most damning to the Republicans: In March 2011, the House GOP blasted out a fantastic, in-depth study of comparable debt crises that had taken place over the past several decades across the globe. The report found that successful policy solutions to these crises had an average ratio of about 85% spending cuts to 15% revenue increases. In March, this was considered the "conservative" avenue. It has recently come to light that Republicans walked away from a package with a ratio of roughly 83/17. Minimally, walking away over such a small change in ratio makes the GOP look petulant at best, and hyper-partisan at worst.

10 July 2011

Michele Bachmann's "constitutional conservatism"

She may be the rising anti-Romney, but contrary to her campaign tagline, Michele Bachmann is no "constitutional conservative."

For Bachmann, the actual words of the Constitution don't matter, outside of the Second Amendment's right to bear arms, and the Tenth's exhortation that the powers not granted to the federal government are reserved to the states. Perhaps she also likes Article I's commerce clause limitation on Congress, or Article II's commander in chief language.

What I'm certain of is that Bachmann is no big fan of Amendments 1, 4, 5, 6 or 14. If she actually took the time to internalize what those parts of the Constitution actually say, her critique of federal power would sound a lot like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson.

This past week, Bachmann pledged to support an outright ban on all pornography, a position that is patently violative of the First Amendment and Stanley v. Georgia, a 40-year-old case holding that the government cannot regulate the private possession of pornography.

George W. Bush claimed the novel power to break federal wiretapping laws, in obvious violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. Since time immemorial, jurisprudence has required a warrant before the government infringes on one's privacy. But for Bachmann, allowing the president to break the law is allowable under the Orwellian defense of Keeping Us Safe.

I have yet to hear Bachmann bring up the "state secrets" doctrine, extrajudicial assassinations, Jose Padilla or Yaser Hamdi. The plain language of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause notwithstanding, I have never heard Bachmann levy one complaint against the Imperial Executive's war on liberty.

Bachmann further has never levied a Constitution-based complaint against the Bush administration for its myriad violations of the Sixth Amendment's notice, speedy trial, right to counsel or confrontation provisions.

Ironically, Bachmann's "Pledge" also violates the Tenth Amendment which she claims to hold so dearly, in that it usurps the traditional rights of states by pushing a federal gay marriage ban, instead of allowing for federalist, state-by-state self-determination.

Conservatives -- mainly tea-party types -- love to wrap themselves in the flag and wave around copies of the Constitution, but when you dig into what the Constitution actually says, it's quite obvious that if you love the Constitution, you've ceased being a Republican.

Republicans claimed the president has unlimited wartime powers. Republicans claimed the president could break federal law without consequence. Republicans claimed that the president could designate someone an "enemy combatant" and make them disappear. Republicans -- led by John Yoo, championed by Dick Cheney -- crafted the most constitutionally destructive powers in our republic's history. And Republicans, led by Bachmann and the likes of Mike Huckabee, are pushing a "Pledge" that would impose a sweeping set of "family values" on individual states, federalism be damned.

If Michele Bachmann was truly a "constitutional conservative," she would conclude that the type of government championed by the 21st century Republican Party has very little in common with the text of the actual Constitution. Bachmann's critique would not include just President Obama and Nancy Pelosi, but George W. Bush and Alberto Gonzales. It would include not only the folly of intervention in Libya, but also the ill-advised war in Iraq. It would include not only Obamacare, but warrantless wiretaps, extrajudicial renditions and yes, a "Pledge" that aggregates federal power.

If Michele Bachmann takes Conor Friedersdorf's advice and runs at Obama from the left -- not only criticizing the Libyan intervention, but also his ridiculous conception of the "state secrets" doctrine, his presidential assassination program and the absurd executive powers he has claimed -- then perhaps I could take her claims of "constitutional conservatism" seriously. As it is, Bachmann has almost as little in common with the Constitution as Obama.

29 June 2011

Tim Pawlenty's awful foreign policy

Tim Pawlenty is becoming a bad joke.

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, Pawlenty established himself as the clear ideological heir to John McCain, giving remarks that could have been lifted wholesale from any of McCain's speeches over the last two decades.

That's not meant as a compliment.

First, he continued the outrageous argument, proffered by McCain, that the president should be able to wage war unrestricted by Congress. He seems to believe, as McCain does, that any Congress that attempts to discharge its responsibilities under Article I of the Constitution and exercise its rights under the War Powers Resolution hurts the country, puts our troops in danger and is generally unpatriotic. The plain language of the Constitution and relevant federal law notwithstanding, Pawlenty's argument is strikingly similar to that of the Bush administration, which would have the president alone determine the scope of his Article II power and remain unbound by pesky federal laws. This is at its heart a fundamentally un-conservative position, and one that would have abhorred James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Edmund Burke, Friedrich Hayek, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. To argue that the president is somehow above the law, or alternatively, that Congress' power to declare war is meaningless, is absurd. If Pawlenty seriously believes this, that alone should disqualify him from being president.

Second: By a strict application of Pawlenty's metric, we can reasonably assume that a Pawlenty administration would launch military interventions nearly everywhere across Africa and the Middle East beginning in 2013. How America can finance such operations, both in terms of blood and treasure, is something that Pawlenty should probably explain. To examine the last decade's worth of misadventures and conclude, as Pawlenty apparently has, that they have been worth it -- and that the efforts should be replicated in countless other venues across the globe -- requires a suspension of reality that I'm not willing to engage in.

Third: Pawlenty's argument that it is the responsibility of the United States to impose democracy overseas blatantly ignores the effects of democratization in Arab countries. In nearly every place where elections have been liberalized -- Lebanon and Gaza being two examples -- extreme factions deeply hostile toward America have filled the vacuum. In Egypt, neocons like Pawlenty have shrieked about possible rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Does Pawlenty seriously think that a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood would serve America's interests better than did Hosni Mubarak? Does Pawlenty really think that we'd be better off if an elected Islamist party replaced the Saudi royal family? It's one thing to pander, which I seriously hope is all Pawlenty is doing -- but If he genuinely believes that the United States is better off with democratically elected radical Islamists in power across the Middle East, it demonstrates such poor judgment that it again should automatically disqualify him from the presidency.

Finally, as Conor Friedersdorf astutely noted, Pawlenty's logic suffers from an inherent contradiction: According to the governor, the United States has wrongfully backed dictators and despots in the Middle East for the last six decades, and the current U.S. policy is deeply flawed, but only the U.S. has the moral clarity to help the world lead the MIddle East out of darkness. It is a contradiction so blatantly obvious that it's hard to believe Pawlenty's advisers didn't at least alert him to how ridiculous his argument is.

Tim Pawlenty appears to be a nice guy, but the evidence is becoming overwhelming that he is so disconnected from reality, so shamelessly willing to pander, and so fundamentally unserious, that he would be a terrible president.

28 June 2011

Jon Stewart vs. Fox News

With its cable-news competitors disappearing in the rear-view mirror, it appears that Fox's biggest rival is now Jon Stewart's crew at The Daily Show.

Stewart has struck a nerve over at Fox, and I'm glad he has. His recent interview with Chris Wallace is the second time in recent weeks I've seen Stewart face down a Fox News personality and come away unscathed. Both Wallace and Bill O'Reilly claimed that they were asking questions, in part, to "understand" Stewart better. But frankly, the fact that either man can't seem to understand their guest -- especially Wallace, who is probably the best Sunday morning host of the post-Russert era -- demonstrates a thickheadedness as to precisely what role Stewart actually plays in public life, and more critically, a massive blind spot to the shortcomings of their employer.

Not surprisingly, neither Wallace nor O'Reilly has been able to rebut Stewart's charge that Fox is a sharply ideological organization that uses real journalists like Wallace as mere window dressing.

Frankly, it's impossible to view Fox News as simply a news organization. Certainly, Wallace and Shep Smith are tremendous journalists. They are among the best -- if not the best -- at what they do. But Fox's business model is not built around them. Bill O'Reilly consistently has the highest-rated show on cable news. Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck are routinely in the top five, and Greta van Susteren is often sixth or seventh. Bret Baier's program (rated #2 behind O'Reilly), a hard newscast for the first half-hour, turns into a hyperpartisan talk show during the last 20 minutes. Fox still gives a massive platform to Mike Huckabee and at one time, employed five potential Republican presidential candidates (Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and John Bolton).

If Fox didn't hold itself out as "fair and balanced," and simply embraced the fact that it is a deeply ideological organization, I doubt Stewart would care much. For instance, MSNBC runs out a comparable lineup of partisan hacks (Schultz, Matthews, O'Donnell, Maddow) every night, and those shows are likewise that channel's biggest draws. Creating a biased product is not itself objectionable, but when that organization goes out of its way to squeal about the bias of other news outlets (how many times a day do you hear the term "mainstream media"?) it's outrageous and hypocritical. To its credit, MSNBC doesn't bother pretending to be objective. This is embodied by its slogan, "Lean Forward," an obvious nod to the term "progressive."

Attempting to rebut Stewart's charge that Fox is a deeply ideological organization, Wallace told Stewart that Roger Ailes gives no marching orders from above. But what Stewart missed when responding to Wallace is that Ailes doesn't need any. The Obama-era Fox News Channel is built on the back of deep-seated partisanship. True, objective journalists -- Wallace, Smith and to a lesser extent, Baier -- are not the moneymakers. Rather, the primetime lineup is where Fox gets its identity and generates its revenue. Hannity was elevated from the co-host of a left/right debate show to arguably the face of the network after his mousey liberal counterpart was given his walking papers. Beck's weepy populist shtick was well-known when Ailes hired him away from Headline News. The "all-star" panels on Baier's show are always, without exception, heavily slanted rightward. And the revolving door of established Republican politicians on Fox's payroll speaks for itself. To Wallace's argument, of course there aren't company-wide memos. Ailes' hiring decisions more than suffice.

Conor Friedersdorf, in writing about the Stewart/Fox battle, pointed out the most glaring difference between Fox and its main antagonist, the New York Times, is that Times publisher Bill Keller will appear anywhere, anytime, to discuss the factual integrity of his reporters' stories. Can anyone imagine Roger Ailes taking to the airwaves to address some of the things Glenn Beck has said?

Certainly, one has to read "mainstream" outlets such as the Times with an eye toward ideological bias of the reporters and editors. There's no doubt about that. But Fox is another animal entirely, fabricating entire storylines -- the Ground Zero "mosque," or rapper Common getting an invite to the White House, or "death panels" -- on purely ideological grounds. The Times doesn't do that. Fox does it regularly.

Whether it started with the Clinton impeachment or the acrimony of the 2000 election, we are simply in a different news era. Each organization has its own biases, and the 24/7 availability of news on both TV and the internet has allowed people to pick and choose their sources. Fox News does journalism a disservice by holding itself out as a purely objective media organization only interested in delivering the hard facts to its customers.

Regardless of what you think of his ideological predispositions -- and frankly, I don't care for them -- Jon Stewart is exactly right.

14 June 2011

The strange case of Tim Pawlenty

At the beginning of 2011, I was convinced that Gov. Pawlenty possessed all the attributes -- social conservative, strong fiscal record, eminently likable -- to secure the Republican nomination. Frankly, after watching snippets of the debate last night, I think Pawlenty is this year's version of Fred Thompson: Conservative and excruciatingly unremarkable.

On Sunday, Pawlenty used Fox News Sunday as a platform to try the "Obamneycare" handle, referencing the obvious similarities between Mitt Romney's healthcare bill of 2006 and what eventually became Obamacare. It was simultaneously clever and accurate, potentially the first real criticism of frontrunner Mitt Romney that would actually stick.

But when John King teed it up for Pawlenty last night, the governor embarrassingly backtracked, saying that he was simply repeating Obama's words, and repeating his "I won't be the first to criticize" shtick, which is already getting plenty old.

Last cycle, Romney dealt with virtually an entire field -- John McCain and Mike Huckabee, in particular -- who openly disdained him. As a consequence, Romney fielded criticism from all sides. If the 2008 candidates had simply played nice as Pawlenty apparently intends to, I have no doubt Romney would have walked away with the nomination. But because politics is inherently bloodsport -- and because Romney is so fundamentally phony -- the criticisms stuck and Romney wound up a distant third.

I've resisted calling Romney a "front-runner," because I believe his core support in New Hampshire is soft and because I think Republican primarygoers can see right through his phoniness, but after last night it's clear there is no one in Romney's league. With Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush and Haley Barbour out of the picture, and Chris Christie still on the sidelines, there isn't a single candidate who should scare him. The nomination is Romney's to lose. Unless he starts to field attacks from serious rivals -- e.g., Pawlenty -- he will win the nomination in a cakewalk.

That brings me to my next point: If Pawlenty doesn't distinguish himself from the field, his modest fundraising portfolio and snooze-inducing persona will keep him buried as others -- Michelle Bachmann? Jon Huntsman? -- zoom by him. Once the great white hope of the anti-Romney movement, Pawlenty is starting to sink, and he has nothing but his own unremarkable candidacy to blame. Romney's organization and fundraising apparatus have him badly outgunned. If Pawlenty does not begin attacking Romney directly -- as McCain and Huckabee did in 2008 -- then he won't win a single state.

Last night was Pawlenty's opportunity -- sharing the stage with Romney for the first time -- to take the fight directly to his opponent. Instead, he cowered and backtracked, suggesting that he doesn't have the stomach for a brass-knuckles campaign. Romney is his principal opponent and a fundamentally dishonest one at that. If Pawlenty can't take the fight directly to Romney, then how can conservatives trust him to stand up to Obama in the general election?

(And by the way, this is a very legitimate concern, the dismissiveness of some pundits notwithstanding. The president is popular enough to survive a Republican opponent who plays nice, especially one like Pawlenty who voters have never seen before. The Republican nominee needs to attack Obama's demagoguery, his statist worldview and his general contempt for the rule of law.)

Every candidate -- even ridiculous ones like Herman Cain and Bachmann -- can articulate the basis for his or her candidacy. Pawlenty hasn't, because it isn't clear that he has anything to offer voters other than the fact that he doesn't offend any of the traditional Republican constituencies. The best thing anyone can say about Pawlenty is that he is a lot of voters' second choice.

At times, Pawlenty's political instincts -- going on the Daily Show, announcing his opposition to ethanol subsidies and Sunday's clever criticism of Romney on national TV -- are very good.

But at his core, Pawlenty appears to be a meek, mousey, conventional politician who can't stomach a fight and has very little to offer voters who are desperately searching for an alternative to his principal rival.

10 June 2011

Pawlenty in Iowa: Win or go home

Many, including yours truly, have assumed that Tim Pawlenty -- a former two-term governor of a blue state who has received high marks from both fiscal and social conservatives, and seems to be eminently likable -- would establish himself as the top alternative to Mitt Romney. While Romney continues to poll reasonably well nationwide, however, Pawlenty remains mired in the mid-single digits, often polling worse than the likes of Herman Cain.

While Pawlenty has a campaign infrastructure in New Hampshire, his partisan pandering won't play well there. Such behavior never does. While Romney (who of course has pandered even more than Pawlenty) lost there in 2008, his second-place finish was due to John McCain capturing the middle. Without a viable candidate running to Romney's "left" -- in quotes because Romney's record demonstrates that he's actually the most liberal candidate in the field -- and because voters in New Hampshire accurately view Romney as a northeastern moderate rather than a red-meat conservative -- I see no scenario in which Pawlenty even comes close to winning the Granite State. In fact, given the emphasis Gary Johnson and Jon Huntsman appear to be placing on New Hampshire, and the state's receptiveness to Ron Paul's message, it's entirely possible that Pawlenty finishes outside the top 5.

As a result, the Iowa caucuses are absolutely critical. If Pawlenty doesn't win there, I see no logical path to the nomination. Romney is cunningly ignoring the straw poll so he doesn't become a victim of elevated expectations in the likely event that he wins the straw poll and then underperforms again in the caucuses. In presidential politics, perception is everything.

And before Pawlenty wins the Iowa caucuses, he probably has to win the straw poll.

In the era of the 24-hour news cycle, the press is obsessed as never before with the horse race. Often, policy prescriptions are condensed into insufficient soundbites or ignored altogether. Any poll that is released becomes immediate "Breaking News" and sweeps across the blogosphere. This helps cement the imagine of someone like Romney -- who has high name recognition, despite being merely acceptable, at best, to most conservatives -- as a "frontrunner," while someone like Pawlenty or Huntsman -- who are known by very few voters outside their home states -- as underachievers. Another example of this horrendously stupid process is Donald Trump, who, before he announced he wasn't running, was typically blowing Pawlenty away in the polls, despite the fact that he had no campaign infrastructure, made outlandish statements and wasn't ever considered to be a serious candidate.

As a consequence, the story becomes -- or at least, will soon become -- why Pawlenty, Huntsman and others are struggling so badly in the polls. Eight months away from the Iowa caucuses, this is truly absurd. And it's almost entirely the fault of the national press, who believes that it's more important to discuss the latest poll results rather than exploring the differences between the candidates on issues like Libya or Afghanistan.

But the consequence for someone like Pawlenty is that bad poll results are magnified, because he is widely considered to be a "first-tier candidate" along with Romney and perhaps Sarah Palin. As a result, anything less than an outright win in the Iowa straw poll will be viewed as an enormous disappointment, and feed the narrative that Pawlenty's campaign has severely underperformed.

08 June 2011

John McCain's contempt for the rule of law

Buried deep in George Will's excellent excoriation of President Obama's handling of the Libyan conflict is this remarkable quote from John McCain:

“No president has ever recognized the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, and neither do I. So I don’t feel bound by any deadline.”

McCain was referring to the provision of the WPA that mandates that, if the president does not seek a congressional declaration of war and initiates a conflict abroad, he must provide an explanation of his actions to Congress within 90 days.

Even coming from a man who picked Sarah Palin as his running mate and recently called the Libyan jihadists "my heroes," this is perhaps the most absurd thing McCain has ever said or done.

I wasn't aware that the Constitution -- which specifically endows Congress with the right to declare war -- shields the president from the application of a law if the president or his lackey Congress decides not to "recognize" it. Perhaps the senator would be kind enough to advise us of the constitutional provision upon which he relies.

An avowed opponent of "judicial activism," McCain's position on the WPA is particularly outrageous because -- in McCain's view -- the legislature and the president alone determine the laws that apply and those that don't. McCain urges a sort of extra-judicial congressional activism that is unprecedented and is probably the most extreme theory of checks and balances I've ever read. Under this twisted logic, we may as well scrap the federal judiciary.

On the other hand, McCain's solution is always "more troops" or "more war," so the fact that he isn't bothered by an illegal, unconstitutional war launched in a country where America has no strategic interest at stake isn't surprising.

McCain has an unquenchable, self-righteous thirst for war, which causes him to demand that American troops fight and die solely to fulfill his own lust for foreign adventurism and so he is able to grandstand against "isolationists" on the Senate floor. Perhaps McCain is now coming around to his old rival Obama, who obviously shares his desire for pointless, illegal interventionism abroad and his utter contempt for the rule of law.

From a strictly foreign policy perspective, McCain may well have turned out to be the most destructive president since Woodrow Wilson. Perhaps his 2008 defeat was a blessing in disguise.

07 June 2011

Suspension of reality and the cult of Sarah Palin

We've written here before that Sarah Palin inspires a fervent cult of personality that most resembles the Obamatrons who swept Barack Obama into the White House in 2008. As we've noted with respect to both Palin and Obama, policy rarely matters to their followers -- Palin and Obama are the policy.

In that vein, this piece of Palin-worshipping drivel from a gentleman named AWR Hawkins embodies the worst excesses of the Cult of Palin. It's aptly entitled, "Can Sarah Palin Really Beat Barack Obama? 'You Betcha.'"

Hawkins' thesis boils down to this: The "mainstream media" and the "Republican establishment" are giving Palin short shrift because on her vaunted bus tour, she is spreading a patriotic message and connecting with Americans who can't help but fall in love with her. Hawkins' his piece is typical of the horrendously illogical zealotry that has spread throughout a small, but powerfully vocal, minority of Republican voters.

First: As George Will has repeatedly pointed out, there is no such thing as the "Republican establishment." And if there is such a thing as the establishment, Sarah Palin owes everything to it. She is an elite confection, plucked out of obscurity for no other reason than John McCain's reckless desire for a potential game-changer on his ticket. Without the establishment -- certainly encompassing McCain, Steve Schmidt (McCain's campaign manager and an old Bush/Cheney hand) and Charlie Black (who has spent the last two decades as a Republican lobbyist and kingmaker extraordinaire) -- Sarah Palin is still an unremarkable one-term governor from the smallest state in the union. Other "establishment" figures who have lauded her bona fides include Bill Kristol, Roger Ailes, Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh.

Point 1-A: If there is a "Republican establishment," it is madly disjointed to the point of being woefully ineffective. In the 21st century, the conservative blogosphere writ large carries equal, if not greater, weight than typical establishment-type figures such as the Wall St. Journal editorial board, National Review or John Boehner. Who precisely is the "Republican establishment"? And have Palin disciples forgotten how powerless this "establishment" was when McCain and Mike Huckabee -- both considered apostates by "the establishment" -- combined to win 70% of the primary electorate in 2008?

Second: Carping about the Republican establishment -- or the "mainstream media" -- allows Palin acolytes to avoid addressing very serious concerns about Palin's experience, the myriad ethical complaints that continue to follow her, her poor performance when facing precisely the same hostile press that George W. Bush faced every day for eight years, and most critically, the apprehension that true-blue conservatives seem to have about whether Palin is actually qualified for the presidency. This is the height of intellectual dishonesty, because I have yet to hear a Palin devotee make a compelling case that she is fit for the office.

Third: To address Hawkins' thesis directly, there exists not a shred of evidence that Palin would have a prayer against Obama in the general election.

I've made this point when discussing Mitt Romney's chances against Obama, which, frankly, I believe are well under 50 percent: If Romney had, and continues to have, trouble convincing conservative primary voters that he is an acceptable choice, how can he expect to rally a much more moderate general electorate? Currently -- in a field that doesn't include Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels or Donald Trump -- Palin is polling at approximately 17 percent, this despite the degree to which she dominates nearly every news cycle. In January, Palin's nationwide unfavorables were at 56 percent. She consistently has the highest negative marks even when only Republican voters are polled. And, critically, she is such a known quantity that it will be considerably more difficult for her to swing those numbers versus someone like, say, Tim Pawlenty or Herman Cain. It is difficult to see how she has any path to the Republican nomination should she choose to run, especially since all signs point toward Michelle Bachmann laying the groundwork for a campaign.

In a general election matchup, the evidence is overwhelming that Palin would not be competitive against Obama. While Palin would assuredly win Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Utah and Wyoming, it is conceivable that she would lose the other 43 states and suffer the worst loss since Ronald Reagan routed Walter Mondale in 1984. In swing states, she polls abysmally -- by far the worst of any serious Republican contender -- against Obama. She would lose by 7 points in Ohio; 9 in North Carolina; 11 in Virginia; 13 in Nevada; 14 in Florida; 16 in Iowa; 19 in Colorado; and a whopping 29 in New Mexico. It's important to note that George W. Bush carried all but Iowa and New Mexico in 2004. Not only would Palin underperform Bush's reelection effort in all eight of those states, but she'd badly outperform McCain's futile 2008 run as well. An ABC News/Washington Post poll -- the most recent on the hypothetical matchup -- has Palin losing to Obama by a 55-40 margin. In fact, the last four polls pitting Palin against Obama in a hypothetical matchup have Palin losing by an average of 18 points.

While Palin may be a culturally familiar, admirable figure to Hawkins and others, her acolytes ignore all evidence when insisting that she could take down an incumbent president whose approval ratings have settled in around 50 percent. Her nomination would assure Barack Obama a second term -- precisely why all conservatives should line up behind her strongest opponent.

24 May 2011

Tim Pawlenty mans up

Yesterday, in a post lamenting Mitch Daniels' decision to forego a presidential run, I expressed my disappointment with what I believed to be Tim Pawlenty's willingness to adopt Bushian dogma on a series of critical issues, and my resulting disapproval of his rightward swing.

But yesterday, Pawlenty -- who has gotten nowhere by pandering -- demonstrated serious political courage by announcing his opposition to ethanol subsidies ... in Des Moines, Iowa. In 2008, John McCain made it very clear that he thought that ethanol subsidies were a waste of money, and as a result, he didn't even bother campaigning in Iowa. Pawlenty, on the other hand, probably has to win Iowa outright to have a serious chance at the nomination. As a result, his verbal takedown of King Corn was a very bold -- and perhaps politically foolish -- move. Today, he will be in Florida to announce his support for raising the retirement age and means-testing Social Security -- both positions that were championed by Daniels. And he'll be speaking to an audience that is made up, in part, of senior citizens. These are courageous moves, demonstrating a willingness to put principle over politics that we haven't seen from Pawlenty in months. He deserves great credit for taking these stands, especially as his presidential campaign isn't even two days old.

There is a Mitch Daniels-sized hole in the race. Daniels' Saturday night/Sunday morning announcement rocked the Republican field and eliminated the party's most electable candidate. At this point, with Santorum and Gingrich demagoguing, Romney flip-flopping, Cain broke and the libertarians quiet, there is a massive hole in the middle of the party. Pawlenty's recent statements demonstrate an intention to drive a truck through it.

Pawlenty rose to prominence in the national discussion by being a reasonable, likable, pragmatic governor. It is clear his pandering has not paid off. If he jettisons the demagoguery and can co-opt the Daniels message, he will be very difficult for me to ignore.

23 May 2011

Daniels is out

In a very discouraging piece of news yesterday morning, Mitch Daniels' family torpedoed his presidential candidacy before it ever got off the ground.

Daniels would have been both the most conservative and the most electable candidate in the Republican field. We've written glowingly about his six-plus year record transforming Indiana into one of the most business-friendly states in the union -- as well as the most fiscally solvent. Not only is the best candidate now out of the running, but the quality of the debate will be markedly worse because of it. Daniels is a serious man. While fiercely principled, he doesn't alienate moderates and independents with foolish name-calling. He doesn't shift in the wind like Romney, doesn't pander like Palin, doesn't demagogue like Gingrich and doesn't stake out put-on hawkish positions that make him look silly like Pawlenty. He is a real adult, a real conservative and has serious intellectual gravitas.

Now that Daniels is out, I frankly have no idea who I will vote for. Gary Johnson would be a tremendous standard-bearer for what I want the GOP to morph into, but his libertarianism won't play well in either Iowa or South Carolina, and I refuse to waste my vote on a candidate who doesn't have a serious chance at the nomination. To that end, I suspect I will half-heartedly pull the lever for whichever candidate emerges as the electable alternative to Romney. This probably means either Jon Huntsman or Pawlenty. I have great reticence supporting Pawlenty because of his foolish statements on Libya, his support for waterboarding and his stated refusal to cut a dime from the Pentagon's budget. These are serious issues, and Pawlenty's sudden hawkish stands on each -- that more closely resemble reflexive verbal diarrhea than coherently constructed policy statements -- suggest to me that he hasn't studied these issues very closely. The more Pawlenty talks, the more he sounds like a neoconservative trying to pander to a conservative base that -- at least on foreign policy issues -- he doesn't seem to understand very well.

Huntsman, on the other hand, will no doubt be tarred for his service in the Obama administration and his ideological support for cap and trade. He is making a trip to Kennebunkport for a "kiss the ring" session with President George H.W. Bush, and with Daniels out of the running, to make his case for access to the expansive Bush support network. Huntsman's record as governor of Utah, while not quite as sterling as Daniels', is still impressive, and he seems on the surface to be a fine man to represent the party. My fear is that his affiliation with Obama will cause him deep trouble in Iowa and South Carolina.

It is difficult to overstate how discouraging Daniels' decision is for the Republican Party. Without his measured, affable, wonkish presence, the Republican debates could turn out to be unwatchable train wrecks. He would have been an outstanding president, perhaps the one prospective candidate whose record demonstrates an ability to tackle our massive fiscal crises. It seemed like a perfect marriage of man and moment, and the fact that Daniels has chosen not to pursue it is unspeakably disappointing.

20 May 2011

The manufactured outrage over Israel

At the risk of being tarred as an anti-Semite for my lack of reflexive, unqualified support for everything Israel does, my reactions to President Obama's speech yesterday, and the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations generally:

1. Obama's speech was an unremarkable extension of the Bush and Clinton doctrines and broke very little new ground. A two-state solution is something that both Presidents Clinton and Bush pushed and has been at the heart of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for two decades. I appreciate the president's willingness to state the objective publicly, but for either side -- liberal or conservative -- to suggest the president's speech marks a change in mid-east policy is silly.

2. Let's keep in mind the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the first place. Israel was created by a U.N. charter in 1948 in the wake of the Holocaust. While the land was of course historically the Jewish homeland, the Bible references a Palestinian presence there at least 500 years before Christ. So this idea that the Palestinians have no claim to any territory whatsoever -- especially when Israel the nation-state is only 60 years old -- is truly absurd.

3. How do Republican-AIPAC conservatives (Bill Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Mike Huckabee) expect to achieve peace in the Middle East, other than by carving out a small Palestinian state? They are in favor of expanded settlements, they are in favor of the blockade of Gaza (which also, arguably, violates international law), they were in favor of the flotilla raid, and they are stridently opposed to a two-state solution. So I'd posit this question: How do you plan to achieve peace? And as a follow up, for what reasons are Palestinians not entitled to a separate state?

4. Israel is not owed America's unfettered, reflexive support. Last May, the Israeli navy attacked a flotilla off the coast of Gaza in international waters, killing citizens aboard a ship carrying a Turkish flag. The attack happened in international waters and violence only started when the Israeli commandos stormed the tiny ship. This was an act of war, no matter who perpetuated it. We wrote here at the time that if the flotilla had entered Israeli waters, then the commandos' actions would have been taken in defense of the Israeli homeland. But the attack did not happen in Israeli waters. If you supported the Israeli navy in that endeavor, then it demonstrates that you put the interests of Israel over the rule of international law. And it demonstrates that you are a fanatic. To hold that Israel is above the scope of international law is deeply offensive, because I doubt that you would even make such a claim about America.

5. I am an American. I love my country. I view the world through American-tinted lenses. If a country's strategic interests are aligned with America's, I'd like the president and the State Department to cultivate a positive relationship with that country. I'm all for international engagement, free trade, free-flowing diplomacy, and the like -- and yes, that includes a close, vibrant relationship with the State of Israel. But when a country's interests diverge with America's -- and where that country, like Israel, takes explicit steps to break international law and infuriate critical allies in the Middle East, such as Turkey and Egypt -- that country deserves a rebuke. It is no different than Hosni Mubarak -- an American ally for three decades -- deserving a similar rebuke for his violent crackdown on the Egyptian protests several months ago. American support for Israel -- just like American support for every other country on the face of the planet -- should only extend as far as Israel's conduct furthers America's strategic interests. To argue otherwise is to argue that Israel's interests are superior to those of America's. And to argue otherwise calls your patriotism into serious question.

17 May 2011

Rick Santorum, too, might be retarded

Yesterday, the former Pennsylvania senator took time off from talking about man-on-dog sodomy to discuss "enhanced interrogation techniques" (read: torture) on Hugh Hewitt's radio show.

Speaking of the eventual killing of Osama bin Laden -- and John McCain's recent comments that the identity of bin Laden's trusted courier were not obtained through torture -- Santorum launched into one of the stupidest monologues in American political history.

I don't, everything I've read shows that we would not have gotten this information as to who this man was if it had not been gotten information from people who were subject to enhanced interrogation.

This is absurd. There isn't a shred of evidence to suggest that torture, or enhanced interrogation, led to the identification of bin Laden's courier. I don't know what "shows" Santorum has been watching, but they are probably found in the "fiction" section of the public library. In fact, the evidence is overwhelming that the critical information was gleaned using standard, humane interrogation tactics that comport with both U.S. and international law. At best, Santorum is deeply confused. At worst, he is an outright liar.

The next part is priceless, and even dumber.

And so this idea that we didn't ask that question while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was being waterboarded, [John McCain] doesn't understand how enhanced interrogation works. I mean, you break somebody, and after they're broken, they become cooperative.

Right. A man who was subjected to torture for five and a half years doesn't understand how torture works. Rather, Rick Santorum, lobbyist, former senator and moralist proselytizer extraordinaire does. McCain has said and written, time and again, how the prisoner will do or say anything to make the pain stop. McCain occasionally relates that once when he was tortured, and his interrogators asked him about the identities of his squadron leaders, he gave them the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line. The torture stopped.

As McCain himself noted, the only evidence concerning the waterboarding of Khalid Shiekh Mohammed is that, when waterboarded, he gave his interrogators false information about the identity of bin Laden's courier. Instead of being convinced by the torture to play ball with American interrogators, he went the complete other direction, and gave false information.

I genuinely don't understand the strange obsession with torture that has gripped the Republican Party in the wake of 9/11. Against all reason and evidence, hard-headed fools like Rick Santorum continue to maintain that but for torture, bin Laden would still be alive. This is preposterous, and completely false.

Rick Santorum shouldn't be trusted with a lemonade stand, much less the presidency.

16 May 2011

Thoughts on the GOP field

In the vein of Ross Douthat, some comments on the prospective Republican field:

1. Even if it increases the odds of a Mitt Romney nomination, I'm quite happy about Mike Huckabee staying out of the race. His fiscal legacy in Arkansas is disastrous, and he'd represent nothing more than a return to Bushism -- cementing the GOP's desire for statism at home and foolish interventionism abroad. And the last thing the Republican field needs is yet another culture warrior beating the social issues drum; Rick Santorum's sermonizing in the South Carolina debate was difficult to stomach, and Huckabee comes off as a snarkier version of Santorum. I'm sure he's a nice guy, but he was a terrible governor, he'd be an even worse president, and he'd be an absolutely horrendous face for the conservative movement.

2. Donald Trump is a self-aggrandizing clown.

3. I frankly don't see the Jon Huntsman candidacy going anywhere. While I'm sure Huntsman is a fine man, he is a pro-choice, pro-cap-and-trade, Obama administration official who happens to be from the same state as Mitt Romney and like Romney, happens to be Mormon. Hunstman's presence in the race will probably be most damaging to Romney -- which is good -- but his best chance of success is in 2016, not 2012. If he runs now, the attack ads (see above) write themselves, and he runs the risk of entering the 2016 race weakened by the beating he took in 2012, much like Romney still bears the scars of 2008 that exposed how deeply flawed he was (and still is) as a candidate.

4. Mitch Daniels is going to run, but as Douthat noted, there is no incentive for him to announce his candidacy now. Huntsman has yet to formally announce -- Romney technically does too -- and there is no reason to jump in at this early stage and risk silly attacks by culture warriors like Santorum and Newt Gingrich; the Iowa causes are still 9 months away. While he no doubt will have access to Haley Barbour's formidable Rolodex and his own web of Republican bankrollers, Daniels needs to develop a campaign infrastructure and formulate a strategy before he wades in.

5. Gary Johnson would be a fantastic standard-bearer for the Republican Party; Conor Friedersdorf once described him as "Ron Paul, but without the baggage." He is a fantastically likable, articulate fellow who has a genuine wonky side and seems passionate about the expansion of individual liberty. He vetoed hundreds of bills as governor of New Mexico and -- unlike Paul -- comes across as measured and sharp. I frankly think that Paul is doing a disservice to the libertarian cause by staying in the race and splitting the libertarian vote with Johnson. While I like Paul a great deal, he is not a viable contender for the nomination, and it's clear that Johnson has a much better shot at being competitive. If Paul endorsed Johnson and threw his support behind his friend, I frankly think Johnson would be a serious top-tier contender, especially in such a splintered field.

6. The general-election viability of the putative Republican field, from strongest to weakest: Daniels, Huntsman, Pawlenty, Romney, Johnson, Paul, Santorum, Gingrich, Bachmann, Cain, Palin.

13 May 2011

Mitt Romney's exceptional dishonesty

Yesterday, Mitt Romney tried, and failed, to tackle the 800-lb. gorilla in the room: The 2006 Massachusetts healthcare plan that he signed while governor, and why it looks awfully similar to President Obama's signature legislation of 2010.

To review, the two plans have the following provisions in common:

1. An individual mandate to purchase insurance, assessing tax penalties for failure to comply
2. An employer mandate
3. Subsidies for low-income individuals to purchase insurance
4. The expansion of Medicaid
5. The creation of a government-run bureaucracy called an exchange that regulates premiums
6. Prohibition of denials based on pre-existing conditions

Hat tip: The Wonk Room, via Andrew Sullivan

/bangs head on desk.

Yesterday, Romney began a full-on propaganda blitz to convince his audience, and the electorate at large, that his plan was markedly different from Obamacare. This is patently false, as has been pointed out by not only the liberals at Think Progress, but the libertarians at the Cato Institute. To argue that Romneycare is any different in any respect from Obamacare is exceptionally dishonest. They are the same bill.

Romney's most demagogic argument has been that while Romneycare was an attempt to help people get and keep insurance, Obamacare was a "government takeover of healthcare." This is absurd. Romney may as well have called Obamacare "green cheese" and it wouldn't make any difference to the substance of his argument or the arguments of his critics. What Romney calls, or how he describes, the two plans is irrelevant. The proof is in the actual policies advanced in the respective bills, and in every important respect, Obamacare and Romneycare are identical.

Romney is the most dishonest politician I have seen in my lifetime. His lack of principle is beyond offensive. Putting aside whether he may be objectively competent to handle the office of the presidency, his misstatements (yesterday's speech being only the latest of which) and myriad brazen position changes should disqualify him before the race even begins.

11 May 2011

"Compassionate conservatism" and the war on drugs

Many more articulate than me, including Daniel Larison and E.D. Kain, have ripped apart Michael Gerson's mindless hit piece decrying Ron Paul's opposition to the war on drugs.

Gerson, of course, was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, and now takes to the Washington Post's op-ed page to blast his particularly annoying brand of "compassionate" (read: big-government; see also, paternalistic) conservatism.

I won't rehash the myriad arguments against the war on drugs, most of which are extraordinarily compelling. Rather, Gerson's op-ed demonstrates precisely why the "compassionate conservatism" of George W. Bush was destructive not just to the Republican Party, but to centuries-old conceptions of individual liberty.

Gerson's piece, straight out of the Terri Schiavo/stem cell/internet gambling moralist playbook, exemplifies what can properly be called the "conservative" position on drug prohibition. His argument essentially boils down to this: The government can ban cocaine, marijuana and even internet gambling, because those things are bad for you.

But what Gerson and his Bushian ilk miss entirely is that this is precisely the same logic that President Obama and liberal Democrats used to justify the individual mandate to purchase health insurance that was slammed through Congress last year. As David Boaz of the Cato Institute has noted, conservatives' idea of personal responsibility entails the individual making the decision about which health insurance plan to purchase (or whether to purchase insurance at all), and living with the consequences of those decisions. What is so offensive about Obamacare is that this idea of "personal responsibility" is turned completely on its head, wherein a government decree requires the citizen to engage in a certain activity, because that activity is good for him.

In the exact same way, Gerson and statist Republicans desire to regulate what Americans put into their bodies due to an offensive brand of paternalism, rooted in the deep-seated belief that the imperial state knows what's best for its citizens. This informed, among other things, the Bush administration's war on internet gambling. It is the same in every compelling respect to the Obama "personal responsibility" doctrine that says that government can, and should, mandate that individuals act a certain way, or engage in a certain activity.

Gerson's column -- in addition to being intellectually dishonest in the ways set out by Larison and Kain -- pushes an exhausted, offensive brand of moralistic statism that is antithetical to the tenets of liberty, and at which true conservatives should recoil.

07 May 2011

Erick Erickson might be retarded

We've written here before about Mitch Daniels' sterling, nearly unimpeachable record as governor of Indiana. In a time of fiscal crisis, Daniels is cementing himself as the party's chief fiscal hawk.

A few days ago, Daniels traveled to Manhattan to meet with a swath of journalists from across the political spectrum. Among those participating were former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, whom I adore, and the National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru.

This certainly jarred Red State's Erick Erickson.

Surrounded by people across the spectrum, the liberals seemed to like him better than any of the other Republican candidates out there. Well, there you go.

This is incomprehensibly stupid. Because a liberal like Hendrik Hertzberg happened to like Daniels personally, that must mean Daniels is a liberal. It's been fascinating to watch the bottom layer of the right-wing noise machine -- Erickson, Levin, Limbaugh -- criticize Daniels as insufficiently conservative simply because he doesn't make outlandish statements or engage in partisan demagoguery. Never mind his record, which indicates that he would govern as the most conservative president since Ronald Reagan. We -- and others -- have seen enough of Daniels to know that he simply isn't a name-calling bomb-thrower. (Watch this episode of MitchTV for a glimpse of the man.) Liberals no doubt like him because of his calm, easygoing manner, much like Republicans are fond of the arch-liberal Joe Lieberman because he similarly doesn't engage in hyperpartisan sabre-rattling. Does Erickson really think that Daniels is a closet liberal? He should check out what Democrats in Indiana think.

But more so, when asked who he’d call at 3 a.m. for foreign policy advice, given the choice between John McCain and Dick Lugar, he went with Lugar. I don’t think I need to remind you that, as Jenn ably notes, Lugar “has run interference for President Obama on foreign policy issues such as START.”

Apparently securing loose nuclear material in a state that has a robust trading partnership with Iran is not a high priority for Erickson. Listening to President Reagan's national security team apparently isn't, either.

The title of Erickson's post? Mitch Daniels: The Anti-Tea Party Candidate

I'm not sure what the tea party has anything to do with Daniels' sit down with Noonan, et al., but if Erickson wants to engage on this topic, I'm glad to. Daniels outlawed all collective bargaining by all public-sector employees on his first day in office. He balanced the budget, paid off all Indiana's outstanding debts and restored its long-lost AAA bond rating, all without raising taxes. He has, almost singlehandedly, transformed his state into the best business climate in the Midwest. At CPAC this year, he referred to our mounting national debt as "the new red menace." So what about any of that indicates to Erickson that Daniels is "anti-tea party"? These are precisely the concerns around which the tea party has coalesced. What Erickson and other self-appointed opinion leaders apparently long for is a Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee, whose records demonstrate little to no adherence to conservative principles, and who are forced to resort to demagoguery and name-calling to make up for their laughable records. "Conservatives" like Erickson really don't care about actual conservative governance, hence the relentless apologies for George W. Bush's big-government statism, the adoration of Sarah Palin and her non-existent record, and the overwhelming disdain for people, like Daniels, who have a thoughtful, educated mind.

Erickson and his ilk followed Bush over a cliff, and three years later, all they seem to care about is plummeting toward the bottom as fast as possible.

04 May 2011

Bill Kristol, wrong yet again

There is so much wrong with this email from Bill Kristol to Politico's Ben Smith, regarding Sarah Palin's foreign-policy views, that it numbs the mind.

Kristol: My other thought: The surge in Iraq works.

Well, yes. But as we've noted here before, and has been discussed ad nauseum by the likes of thoughtful conservatives like Ross Douthat, Andrew Sullivan and Daniel Larison, the idea that Iraq was an unqualified success to be duplicated elsewhere is absurd. We were told that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs. We were told wrong. We were told that he had close ties to al Qaeda and/or a role in 9/11. We were told wrong. We were told he was a clear and present danger to the United States. We were told wrong. In addition to the attack in hindsight being completely baseless, the Iraq adventure cemented Iran's status as chief antagonist in the Middle East and removed its greatest enemy, a man against whom Iran went to war in the mid-1980s. If the objective was to increase Iranian hegemony and influence in the Middle East, Iraq can be considered a success, but I doubt Kristol feels that way. Not only has Iran's regional influence been elevated, but its influence inside of Iraq has been greatly furthered by the murderous Shiite cleric ad-Sadr, who has the blood of hundreds of American servicemen and thousands of innocent Iraqis on his hands. Finally, Iraq and Abu Ghraib have proven to be enormous recruiting tools for al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden explicitly stated that it was his intention to weaken the United States by drawing it into a global war against Islam, so it is difficult to imagine him doing anything other than cheering the American invasion. So to put a fine point on it -- and putting aside the issue of whether the surge was a success -- Kristol is living in an alternate reality if he thinks America is better off since having gone into Iraq.

The surge in Afghanistan works.

Is this a statement of fact or an objective? There is no evidence that the Afghanistan "surge" has worked in any credible respect.

The world obviously needs American strength and leadership more than ever.

Kristol and other neocons perpetually spout tinny lines like this, which don't mean anything unless "American strength and leadership" is defined. If it means launching attacks against any nation that doesn't offer absolute support for American objectives, or against any nation that isn't a western democracy, then he has a vastly different idea of "American strength and leadership" than Ronald Reagan. As we've said before, the answer for Kristol is always "more troops" or "more war," regardless of the facts on the ground, regardless of how reckless such action might actually be, and regardless of whether such a projection of force would actually be detrimental to American interests. It is an incomprehensible foreign policy and would cause America, both economically and militarily, to crumble in on itself. And it ignores the plain reality that revolutions must by nature be organic.

And now everyone (even Palin, to some degree) decides, hey, time to back off? It’s foolish substantively and politically.

What is foolish is continuing to sabre-rattle for war despite the horrific misadventure in Iraq, the muddled quagmire of Afghanistan and the complete lack of an objective in Libya. If backing off from random, haphazard, foolish military adventurism abroad, which has harmed American interests in the world's most critical region, is considered "foolish," then consider me and most Americans foolhardy. Most Americans are tired of this idiotic brand of foreign policy.

03 May 2011

bin Laden: post-mortem

Literally and figuratively, a post-mortem following the death of OBL:

1. There is no limit to the incredible power and razor-sharp precision of the American military.

2. This is the biggest achievement of Barack Obama's presidency.

3. Donald Trump begins the week with egg on his face and all over his five-dollar haircut. While the president was answering silly questions about his birth certificate last week, he was apparently finalizing the groundwork of the raid that killed bin Laden. Obama comes away looking presidential, and Trump leaves looking like -- as usual -- a clown.

4. As we've written here before, any implication that Obama is somehow "weak on terror" is patently false and has no basis in fact. In addition to ordering the capture or killing of bin Laden, he ordered a troop surge in Afghanistan, refused to close Guantanamo Bay, proffered absurd theories of executive power under the state secrets privilege, ordered the assassinations of American citizens abroad and denied basic constitutional protections to the Wikileaks mole. These activities are either continuations or extensions of existing Bush policies. In nearly all cases -- with the exception of Afghanistan -- they are also unconstitutional and/or illegal.

5. During the 2008 campaign, Obama stated in no uncertain terms that he would order American troops into Pakistan to track down OBL. He kept his word.

6. In response, John McCain criticized Obama's desire to infringe on Pakistan's sovereignty. By implication, if McCain was president, bin Laden would still be alive.

7. The fact that bin Laden was hiding just 40 miles from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, in a private residence several times bigger than any home within miles -- and had been doing so since at least August 2010 -- is troubling. Pakistan is a repressive police state and its intelligence service is virtually omnipotent. It is very, very hard to believe that high-ranking officials in the Pakistani government weren't aware of bin Laden's presence.

8. Therefore, the fact that the CIA flagged this particular home as a possible hideout -- without any help from Pakistan whatsoever -- speaks to both the skill and resourcefulness of the CIA and the suspiciousness with which we should view the Pakistani leadership.

9. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was very critical of the American effort to kill OBL, as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty. This was somewhat surprising, as Musharraf's rule was marked by consistent cooperation in the US-Pakistan relationship. Musharraf was the victim of multiple assassination attempts for his cooperation with America. I would think that -- especially given the fact that Musharraf nearly lost his life for his relationship with America -- the current Pakistani leadership would deserve at least a passing rebuke for letting bin Laden sit under their noses for months, if not years.

10. I genuinely hope that bin Laden's death will begin a national discussion on what precisely we are doing in Afghanistan, whether there is a tangible, realistic endgame, and whether the United States should be engaged in such nation-building. While bin Laden's death changes very little about the nature of the current conflict, perhaps it will push popular opinion toward a withdrawal.

27 April 2011

Mitch Daniels' opportunity

We've written about the Indiana governor in this space before. Mitch Daniels is arguably the best governor in the country, boasting a record replete with cutting taxes, streamlining government, putting the screws to wasteful spending and paying off all of Indiana's outstanding debts. When Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced that his state would be forced to raise income taxes across the board, Daniels called a press conference the next morning and taunted his neighbor to the west, pointing out that under his leadership, Indiana has transformed itself into one of the most business-friendly states in the Union.

Daniels is a fundamentally serious man. Short, balding and bland, he nonetheless possesses what George Will has called "the charisma of competence." Unlike the rest of the Republican field, Daniels has never sought out presidential speculation, and in fact has often shied away from the spotlight; instead, it's been leading conservatives like Will and David Brooks who have highlighted his masterful record and sterling resume as evidence of presidential material. In other words, the spotlight has found him.

Although serious conservatives make the least noise, there are millions who would love Daniels if they knew more about him. He has the intellectual gravitas that is lacking in Palin, Trump and Santorum and would make the likes of Gingrich, Romney and Pawlenty look like demagogues in any debate.

He demonstrates a masterful grasp of both the nuances of public policy making and the fundamental underpinnings of the conservative cause as espoused by Burke, Buckley, Goldwater and Reagan.

If Daniels chooses to run, the division of the Republican primary vote will be truly bizarre: Daniels' record indicates that he is arguably the most conservative candidate in the prospective field, but because of his intellectual gravitas and serious manner, he could take the lion's share of the moderate vote that went for John McCain and Rudy Guiliani in 2008.

We've written here before that we believe there is a massive gap in the center of the Republican Party. Romney, Pawlenty, Gingrich and Santorum have repeatedly attempted to one-up each other and demagogue each and every national issue. Donald Trump is either engaged in a massive publicity stunt or truly is a clown. John Thune, the unremarkable but serious senator from South Dakota, announced in February that he would not run. Despite his massive fundraising network, Jeb Bush appears unwilling to jump in. And just yesterday, Daniels' close friend Haley Barbour announced that he won't seek the nomination, either. In a prepared statement, Daniels said he would have gladly supported Barbour's candidacy if he ran.

Instead, with Thune, Bush and Barbour on the sidelines, the spring and summer of 2011 could be Daniels' moment to finally step into the spotlight and brandish his formidable record. Barbour will likely endorse him; Bush has been very complementary of Daniels in recent weeks in light of Daniels' sweeping education reforms. Daniels has even received kind words from tea party types like Dick Armey. Columnists like Will, Brooks and Ross Douthat have been pushing him to run for months. With Indiana's legislative session nearing a close, is it finally time?

We're pulling for the governor to throw his hat in the ring. He would be an outstanding president.