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Saturday
Jul172010

Fire David Axelrod?

By: John Prothro

So I took the bait and clicked on the Forbes.com article titled “Fire David Axelrod.”  I thought the author, Dan Gerstein, would cite the problem with leaders surrounding themselves with sycophants and the pitfalls of being advised by pure political operators.  I resented Karl Rove’s intimate involvement in the Bush White House and now feel the same about Axelrod.  After an election, leaders should be prudent in their decision-making and stop campaigning.

But that wasn’t Gerstein’s point at all.  Instead he was upset that, according to a recent poll by Democracy Corps, 55% of Americans believe “socialist” is a suitable label for President Obama.  This “shocking” result was to Gerstein proof the President’s team had failed to adequately communicate its message. 

According to Gerstein, “most economists” (read, his three friends at Morgan Stanley) believe the stimulus was an economic savior rather than a wasteful slush fund that failed by the President’s own measure.  The health care reform package was a similar success; it was a moderate push for more coverage, rather than the first step toward government-run care and an assault on liberty. The public would know the truth, Gerstein reasons, had Obama fought against the “uncountered conservative message machine,” presumably with words crafted by Gerstein.

This article was inevitable.  When politicians fail—and especially liberal ones—sympathetic media often find a suitable scapegoat in communication.  Media types think their polished rhetoric is needed to turn things around, not a change in policy. What Gerstein and his peers don’t realize, however, is that after an election communication must precisely match policy.   When one governs, he can no longer hide behind his words.  His actions are on the front page every day, and people live the results.  If his words don’t match reality, voters notice.

Communication is not Obama’s problem.  Dishonesty is.  Obama says he believes in the free market, but he advances big government.  He says he’s focused on jobs, but he pushes job killing policies. At every step, he supports the state over the private sector, redistributing taxpayer dollars to fund pet projects and his idea of social justice.  All this meddling has some—a majority, in fact—wondering if Obama isn’t a socialist after all.

But instead of blaming Obama for this perception, Gerstein prefers to blame Axelrod and by extension the American people.  Implicit in this argument is the assumption that voters have it all wrong; they've been duped by the opposition.  If only Axelrod had explained Obama more clearly, the simple-minded masses would have never misunderstood their leader.

I’ve argued before that Obama is not a socialist in the pure sense; I believe he’s more of an interventionist—one who knows the value of the free market but believes it is his job to right its wrongs. Obama is smart enough to know public ownership of the means of production doesn’t work, but he’s arrogant enough to think under his leadership there are exceptions. 

This isn't socialism, but it's awfully close.  And the American people shouldn't have to make the distinction. 

 

Wednesday
May262010

Requiem for a Flip-Flopper

By: Scott Spiegel

Senator Arlen Specter was a registered Democrat in Pennsylvania from the age of 21 to 35.  Like any sensible person, he became a Republican in his 30s, even though he switched parties not so much to suit his changing political philosophy as to be able to challenge an incumbent Democrat for the job of district attorney in Philadelphia in 1965.

A funny thing happened when Senator Specter turned 79 last year: he decided that his 21- to 35-year-old political self had been wiser than his 35- to 79-year-old self.  (Given his voting record for most of his Senate career, it’s hard to quibble with this point.)

Arlen Spectacle (as Mark Levin calls him) categorically stated in March 2009, “To eliminate any doubt, I am a Republican, and I am running for reelection in 2010 as a Republican on the Republican ticket.”  A month later, after genuine conservative Pat Toomey had thrown his hat into the ring for the Republican nomination, Specter announced that, to eliminate any doubt, he was a Democrat, and was running for reelection in 2010 as a Democrat on the Democratic ticket.

Specter inarguably changed parties to avoid a repeat of his close race in 2004 with Toomey, whom Specter beat with a measly 51% of the vote, despite the advantages of incumbency and overwhelming support from the national and state party establishments, including President George W. Bush and fellow Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.  As early as April 2009, just three months into Obama’s presidency, Specter must have sensed that the burgeoning anti-incumbent mood would smother him by the time of the 2010 primaries, and so he deserted the GOP.

Arlen “Act Like a Lady” Specter claims he didn’t leave the party—the party left him.

It’s funny how the exact same thing recently occurred with that paragon of political integrity, Charlie “Lincoln” Crist of Florida, who just happened to be down in the polls to Marco Rubio before he decided his newly evolving political ideology compelled him to become an Independent.

And it’s a bit funny that Specter used the exact same line to explain his party-hopping maneuver back in 1965.  As the Boston Herald quoted him on the campaign trail, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party…  The party left me.”

The Senator’s party affiliation isn’t the only thing he’s flip-flopped on.  In May 2009, The Sphincter (Monica Crowley’s nickname for him, not mine—honest!) was asked whether he supported a government-run public option in Congress’s health care overhaul bill, and insisted he did not.  By July, when it looked as though momentum were on the side of the public option, he was for it.

Specter voted in favor of pro-union leadership card check legislation in 2007; then announced he was against it in 2009; then, after switching parties, announced he was in favor of it again.

The Philadelphia Enquirer’s Dick Polman summarizes Benedict Arlen’s vast matrix of flip-floppery: “He has seemingly been everywhere, which arguably leaves him nowhere.  He says he voted for Bush-Cheney and McCain-Palin… but says he’ll vote for Obama in ‘12.  He voted against Elena Kagan for solicitor general, but says he has ‘an open mind’ about her ascent to the Supreme Court…  He voted against Robert Bork for the high court, but famously defended Clarence Thomas and voted for John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., although now, with respect to Roberts, he says that he made an error in judgment.”

Specter doesn’t just flip-flop—he does double lutzes and triple toe loops and tops it all off with a quadruple salchow, all before his supporters and opponents can catch their breath and figure out where he stands on an issue and whether his position has changed in the past five seconds.

FiveThirtyEight.com documents that Arlen Sepulcher voted 58% of the time with Democrats from January to March 2009, before Pat Toomey joined the Pennsylvania primary race.  After Toomey entered, but before Specter had switched parties, Specter voted 84% of the time with Republicans.  Then, during the period after Specter had switched parties but before liberal Joe Sestak had entered the race, he voted 69% of the time with Democrats again.  Finally, after Sestak emerged as his primary challenger, Specter tacked to the left and voted a whopping 97% of the time with Democrats.

The clincher that Specter is all about expediency, not principle, is that Obama’s grassroots group Organizing for America is working furiously to get Specter elected—even though there is a bona fide left-wing liberal, Joe Sestak, in the race—in exchange for Specter’s votes last year on the stimulus and health care bills.  With the cozy Obama-Specter alliance firmly in place, what does Obama need with a politician who might actually vote for his policies out of principle?

In a final ironic development capping Specter’s dishonorable career (proof of such: Time magazine named him one of the U.S.’s 10 best senators in 2006!), Specter discovered yesterday that his party switch was all for naught, and even harmful to his aspirations.  Specter recently admitted, before he was trounced in yesterday’s primary, “Well, I probably shouldn’t say this.  But I have thought from time to time that I might have helped the country more if I’d stayed a Republican.”

Democrats will no doubt claim that Sestak won the race because the country is clamoring for more socialism.  But really it’s because Americans loathe political opportunists like Specter.

Scott Spiegel lives in New York City and writes at: www.scottspiegel.com.

Tuesday
May182010

Question for Kagan: Does Saudi Arabia Allow Gays in the Military?

By: Scott Spiegel

As the newly appointed Dean of Harvard Law School, Obama Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan decided, in the middle of the War on Terror, to cripple the Reserve Officer Training Corps’ recruitment capability on campus by denying it crucial access to funding, operating space, and assistance from the Office of Career Services.

Kagan’s action fits into a shameful history of antiwar college administrators’ kicking ROTC off university campuses nationwide, most visibly at Ivy League schools, out of opposition to the Vietnam War in the late 60s and 70s.  After the war ended, officials extended the policy out of supposed concern over the military’s ban on gays in the 80s and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the 90s.

After the Solomon Amendment barring federal funding to universities that ban military recruitment on campus was fully implemented at Harvard in 2003, Kagan signed on to a legal challenge to the amendment.  The Third Circuit Court overturned the amendment in 2004, but stayed its ruling pending Supreme Court review.  Kagan, impatient with the vagaries of the legal system, decided to force Harvard back onto its anti-ROTC policy, even though the law hadn’t yet been changed.  The Supreme Court unanimously overturned the Third Circuit ruling in 2006, at which point Kagan reversed her actions to comply with the ruling.

Gay rights supporters defend Kagan’s actions as a necessary stopgap against government-sponsored military discrimination.

It is instructive to reconsider Kagan’s stance in the context of the role our military plays, the people and the rights it protects, and our enemies’ attitudes toward individual liberty and their treatment of gays.

Who, for example, benefits from the protections the U.S. military provides its citizens—only straight people, or gays as well?

Who protects the rights of citizens of our country, in which gays may live more or less as they please; form relationships with same-sex partners; enter (in a growing number of states) into civil unions, domestic partnerships, and marriages; adopt (in a growing number of states) and raise children; file lawsuits if they believe they have been unlawfully discriminated against; push to change laws to promote equality with heterosexuals; protest for their rights and hold rallies and parades in America’s major cities; and engage our political leaders in debate about allowing gays to serve openly in the military?

How do governments treat gays in countries that are our adversaries—in particular, those that fund, sponsor, and sympathize with the war to defeat gay-tolerant Western civilization and promote radical Islam around the world?  Do these Islamic governments have the same enlightened perspective on gays as the U.S., or do they condemn gays and throw them in jail or execute them for homosexual behavior?

The left in this country has traditionally devalued or demonized the military—at worst, it is for them a barbaric, fascist, industrial complex that sparks unnecessary wars and engages in brutal imperialist conquests.  At best, it is for them a largely unseen, slightly tacky presence whose benefits they take for granted, just as they take for granted our capitalist economy’s wealth, which they seek to appropriate and redistribute with no concern for the effort required to create it.

As many soldiers pointed out during the Iraq War, our military protects the right of antiwar liberals to protest the military’s actions.  What a slap in the face it is to bar or hobble the military in recruiting the brightest students from the best universities across the country to help complete its mission.  Imagine if military recruiters were similarly barred from other U.S. institutions and were unable to recruit enough members to fill its ranks.

As liberal, DADT-opposing Peter Beinart wrote, “The United States military is not Procter and Gamble.  It is not just another employer.  It is the institution whose members risk their lives to protect the country.  You can disagree with the policies of the American military; you can even hate them; but you can’t alienate yourself from the institution without in a certain sense alienating yourself from the country.”

Kagan’s ROTC-bashing position is also counterproductive, in that it further isolates the military from liberal views and entrenches in the left the mindset that the military is hard-line and unreformable.  And how is spitting on ROTC fair to soldiers, commanders, and potential recruits who oppose DADT or might be gay themselves?

The American Spectator’s John Tabin, who also supports repealing DADT, notes, “[I]f you want a military leadership with more liberal views on homosexuality, you should be more reluctant to entrench this cultural estrangement, not less.”  The policy of banning or restricting ROTC is just another example of leftists prematurely deciding that debate on an issue is over, those who disagree with them should no longer have a voice in the conversation, and dissenters do not deserve to be persuaded out of their positions or treated with respect.

Although DADT is misguided, treating recruiters shabbily is merely one way for liberals to disguise their contempt for the military and its unapologetic defense of American values around the world.  The day that DADT is repealed, leftist college administrators will be scouring the horizon for some other excuse to ban recruitment at their schools.

As Beinart wrote, “Barring the military from campus is a bit like barring the president or even the flag.”  But liberals can’t ban the American flag, can they?  Oh, wait—yes they can!

Scott Spiegel lives in New York City and writes at: www.scottspiegel.com.

Friday
May142010

Confirm Elena Kagan to the SCOTUS

Elena Kagan should be the next justice on the Supreme Court, and in the absence of any unforeseen disqualifiers, should be confirmed with significant Republican approval.

There are four main reasons why.

1. She’s likely the best nominee conservatives could hope for from the Obama administration

Pres. Obama did win the election, and the president ought to be able to appoint the qualified nominee of their choice. Conservatives who argued for a more lenient path for Bush’s nominees should not in turn disqualify Obama’s nominee via policy nitpicking.

Elena Kagan seems to be by all accounts, a center-left mainstream Democrat. Her conservative colleagues respect her, and she seems amenable to at lease some of the Roberts-Scalia-Thomas-Alito views, particularly as they pertain to executive power and rights for suspected terrorists.

True, her lack of a judicial record leaves some guesswork as to what kind of justice she’d be. However, her professional track-record over several decades shows little evidence of the sort of ultra-left, “activist” philosophies—you know the sort that conservative groups have nightmares about.

2. At worst, she moves the court slightly to the right

Fox News’s excellent legal analyst Megyn Kelly made the very valid point that the outgoing Justice Stevens is the court’s most leftwing justice. So Kagan, at worst, is still going to move the court further to the right. She’s exactly right. Replacing Stevens with Kagan would likely be a net gain for conservatives.

3. The criticisms of her don’t hold much water

The two main criticisms of Kagan are that she hasn’t been a judge before and she is something of an elite. Regarding her lack of judicial experience, no big deal. Justice Rehnquist had no judicial experience before his appointment and that was no hindrance. Furthermore, she has tremendous non-judicial experience in the legal world as a White House council, Dean of Harvard Law School, and Solicitor General.

As to the charge of being an elite, eh, so what? Would I rather her have a law degree and legal experience from somewhere in the South or the Heartland? Yeah. Is it a little ridiculous 8 of 9 justices would be from Harvard and Yale? Yeah. But if Kagan is an elite, so is Alito and so is Roberts. And the charges of elitism weren’t a concern during their conformations and shouldn’t be now.

4.  Conservatives ought to use their energy on other fights

Spending. Cap and Trade. Immigration. The 2010 Midterm Elections.

There are so many other areas on which conservatives need to use their focus and energy. Mounting a colossal opposition to a Supreme Court nominee who is not a radical lefty seems like a waste of time and resources. Now don’t get me wrong, Kagan deserves tough questions and thorough investigation. However, if at the end of the day, she’ll move the court rightward, why stand in knee-jerk opposition? I’d much rather defeat Cap and Trade legislation and have Kagan skate onto the court fairly easily.

Conservatives need to be focus on holding the line on spending, arguing effectively against harmful legislation, and crafting a winning message to take back the House and the Senate in November. Elena Kagan is a qualified, center-left nominee taking the place of a hard-left justice. She’s simply not worth a huge fight.

For conservatives to mobilize their infrastructure of legislative leaders, think tanks, websites, talk radio, interest groups, and the like, in order to support or oppose something, it takes an enormous effort with no guarantee of success (see: healthcare). Cap and Trade legislation and new spending are well worth these efforts. Spending the time on opposing Elena Kagan is akin to having a son who is cutting class, doing drugs, and having unprotected sex, and then choosing to lecture him about his haircut.

As long as nothing unqualifying comes out about Kagan (and if rumors about her sexuality are true, that does not count as unqualifying), and she performs well at the conformation hearing, then conservatives shouldn’t raise hell in opposing her. They don’t have to enthusiastically support her, but they ought to vote yes with full confidence she’s tilting the court more in their preferred direction. 

Tuesday
May112010

Obama Slips on Oil Slick

By: Scott Spiegel

I’ve got it—an excuse the Obama administration can use to explain why it waited so long to take substantive action in dealing with the Gulf oil spill, an account that also manages to stick it to George W. Bush: Obama was so busy cleaning up Bush’s messes that he didn’t have time to clean up the mess in the Gulf!

The timeline of events since the explosion of the British Petroleum-leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20 reveals a less than flattering picture of the acuity and alacrity of the government in fulfilling its role in handling the crisis.

Three days after the explosion, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted to reporters that the catastrophe would not affect the President’s plans to open several microscopic pockets of our vast offshore oil reserves for drilling, the only reassuring result of this debacle.

It is important to understand that in Obama WhiteHouseSpeak, Gibbs’ statement is tantamount to announcing, “It’s a teeny-tiny spark that’ll be put out by morning, and we’re not remotely worried about it.  Why bow over spilt milk?”  The administration that popularized the saying “Never let a serious crisis go to waste” and would love any excuse to backtrack on its recent Democrat-infuriating promise to minimally expand drilling would not have let the opportunity to renege on its promise go by if it had truly apprehended the full extent of the impending disaster.

True, the first Deep Horizon oil leaks were not discovered until the next day, after the Coast Guard had called off its search operation for the missing rig workers.  Yet somehow it took until the following Tuesday, a full week after the explosion, for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to announce that he would be launching an investigation into the incident.

One might wonder whether the department had fully grasped the enormity of the situation even then, given that on the same day, Salazar’s chief of staff, Tom Strickland—whom Salazar had assigned to be the “point person” on this issue—set off with his wife for a three-day “work-focused” trip to the Grand Canyon that apparently included a day of “work-focused” rafting.

Days later, when the potential danger of the spreading oil spill was beginning to dawn on department staff, the National Park Service rushed a helicopter to the 55th state to airlift Strickland out of the Canyon and whisk him off to New Orleans.

In the meantime, Homeland Security Secretary Janet “The System Worked” Napolitano, whose department was supposed to be working closely with the Interior Department to address the crisis, told reporters that the Defense Department had no involvement in addressing the spill: “If and when they have something to add, we’ll certainly make that known,” she snapped.

Just as Napolitano had changed her answer regarding the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing from “The system worked” to “The system didn’t work,” three days after her disavowal of Defense Department involvement in the cleanup she told “Meet the Press” that the Defense Department had been in the Gulf “from Day One.  This was a situation that was treated as a possible catastrophic failure from Day One.”  (The administration later flirted with the idea of claiming Napolitano had actually said “May One,” but then decided even they weren’t dishonest enough to pull that off.)

To reconcile her conflicting comments, a department spokesman claimed that in her latter statement, Napolitano had been referring to the presence of the Coast Guard, which had been in the Gulf since Day One.

Yes, the Coast Guard was very probably on the scene since Hour One, since that is their mission whenever such an accident happens at sea.  For Napolitano to claim that a search mission by the Coast Guard was equivalent to sending Defense Department resources to the area to deal with “a possible catastrophic failure” is like saying that flight attendants collecting trash from passengers on Northwest Flight 253 reflected the Transportation Security Administration’s initiative in helping stop underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

At least Obama is pointing the finger at BP for their role in the disaster—a potential conflict of interest, one might think, given the recent revelation that Obama is the federal candidate who has received the greatest amount in campaign contributions from the oil company over the past 20 years.

Normally I wouldn’t rag on Obama for failing to address the oil spill crisis sooner, but he brought it on himself when he parachuted into New Orleans as a newly elected Senator in 2005 to make a big show of mouthing off, Kanye West-style, about the incompetence of the Bush administration in dealing with the Katrina aftermath.  Obama stepped into this oil slick all by himself, so to speak.

To combine two Kanye West malapropisms: “BP, I’ma let you finish cleaning up the Gulf… But Barack Obama doesn’t care about Louisiana jumbo shrimpers!”

Scott Spiegel lives in New York City and writes at: www.scottspiegel.com.