Election 2008 aftermath

A tale of three Novembers

Snapshot of a Fast-Changing Political Landscape: What sets America apart from other countries is the extraordinary reservoir of idealism that has been a constant in our national life from the very beginning. The national narrative-a.k.a. The American Dream- has always been about individuals and groups who achieved remarkable things against great odds. Cynics for whom the glass is always half empty call the dream a myth but Americans know better for they have seen it fulfilled in their own lives or those of others for generations. Throughout our history the stories of Horatio Alger, Abraham Lincoln and countless others have reinforced our belief in the boundless potential of the common man and our deep conviction that such aspirations are no relic of the past but rather a living legacy for our children and grandchildren. A parallel theme to this American idealism is a recurring naivete in our initial assessments of politicians who seek to be our leaders. Through endless elections we have seen the triumph of hope over experience in our susceptibility to slogans like “ ending business as usual or “eliminating waste in government” or “driving out the special interests”. We tend to believe that if ordinary Americans can do extraordinary things then it is quite reasonable to expect politicians to deliver on their promises. Accordingly new Presidents invariably enter office with high approval ratings and even higher expectations.

A corollary to these themes of idealism and naivete is that when the politicians fail to deliver results or worse do things that contradict their promises we commonly feel disappointment, even anger, a sense of betrayal, and a righteous determination to punish those who have proved themselves unworthy of our trust (i.e. “Throw the Bums Out”)

The speed with which the people can turn on their elected leaders is in direct proportion to how high the initial approval ratings and how wide the subsequently perceived gap between expectations and performance.

In accord with the above political axioms America is now at the mid-point of one of the most dramatic transformations in all of our history. While the truth of this assertion cannot be fully known until at least November 2010, already the extraordinary events of 2009 culminating in the recent elections and the imminent climax of the proposed health care revolution give abundant evidence that a decisive turning point in our nation's history is at hand.

In the day following his narrow election in the tumultuous year of 1968 Richard Nixon told the story of the little girl who asked him to “Bring Us Together”. While that mission didn't end too well for Nixon, nonetheless that little girl's three words represented an enduring aspiration and expectation that Americans have for all their Presidents.

In 2004 a relatively unknown Barack Obama electrified the Democratic convention by insisting that there should be “ no blue states or red states, but only United States of America” Four years later candidate Obama-aided by the Perfect Storm of an unpopular war, a more unpopular President, and an apparently collapsing economy- with rare eloquence offered Americans the shining vision of a “post-partisan America” where old wounds racial and otherwise would be healed and the country would be “positively transformed”.

That vision and the visionary that inspired the nation on that sunny January Inauguration Day seemed almost too good to be true. And so it has proved.

Barack Obama's first year approval ratings though still respectable have fallen further faster than any other President in over half a century. Support for his ambitious agenda has plummeted even more precipitously. Instead of the promised “post-partisan” America our body politic is more polarized than at any time since the Vietnam /Watergate era.

The frighteningly unprecedented explosion of deficits, and the national debt so threatening to future generations and the vast societal redesign inherent in both Obamacare and Cap and Trade is not the “positively transformed” America that people thought they were being promised in the 2008 campaign.

Only events of the next twelve months punctuated by the mid-term elections will accurately measure the forces of political disaffection now clearly moving across the nation. Nonetheless current polling reveals growing majorities opposed to the “extreme makeover” of healthcare, seeing the country as on the “wrong track”, and deeply concerned about runaway spending and debt.

All this spells certain trouble for those who currently rule the political roost. What is equally certain is that just one year ago no one foresaw this extraordinary turn of events.

William Moloney's columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, U.S.A. Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun , Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post.


Straight talk on Gitmo, 'torture'

Last year many Americans decided to support a change in presidential administration at least partly because they believed that the United States government was running an abusive prison at Guantanamo Bay and torturing suspected Islamic terrorists. The case for both horror stories was shaky at best, and now we have an eminent biographer to thank for demolishing them once and for all. Arthur Herman, whose subjects have ranged from Winston Churchill and Mohandas Gandhi to the Scottish Enlightenment and Sen. Joseph McCarthy, has written "The Gitmo Myth and the Torture Canard" for Commentary, a monthly publication of the American Jewish Committee. In 13 densely packed pages Herman manages to discredit the liberal fantasy that has tried to pass itself off as a serious critique of the Bush Administration’s policies for dealing with America’s enemies.

President Barack Obama still has not closed the Guantanamo prison, partly because it has been no simple task to transfer dangerous men to other facilities and doubtless from the knowledge that no abuse ever took place there. The success of the campaign owes more than anything else to the efforts of the misnamed Center for Constitutional Rights, headed by Michael Ratner, which disseminated misinformation repeatedly.

In fact, only three persons were ever water boarded, a technique that falls short of torture, while the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point found that 73 percent of the detainees were a "demonstrated threat" to Americans.

It is well to remember, Herman writes, that "the detention facility was created in the wake of a declaration by Congress in September 2001 that ‘all necessary and appropriate force’ should be used ‘against those nations, organizations, or persons’ [emphasis added] responsible for the attacks of September ll."

No one had to read secret documents to learn that Gitmo inmates were accorded every courtesy (and then some) to accommodate their religious and cultural needs during their long confinement. They were so well fed they gained weight. Meanwhile, some tried to commit suicide while others threw human urine and excrement at prison guards.

Those supposedly torture-rationalizing memos written by John Yoo (for which service to his country congressional Democrats would like him prosecuted) were actually written to spell out limits so that the understandable zeal with which Central Intelligence Agency officers interrogated terrorists was tempered by constitutional and legal guidelines. As Herman observes, those memos were better characterized as anti torture, rather than pro torture.

In any case, the waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques were not used until after the memos were written. And when they were used they yielded high value information, particularly the plot to blow up airliners flying out of Los Angeles.

And remember the Abu Ghraib controversy? There was never any doubt that those abuses were entirely the work of the "night shift," as the Schlesinger Committee report concluded, not attributable to any high official of the Bush Administration, as was so often alleged. The least temperate critics were the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, who said that Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers had reopened under American management, and Sen. Dick Durbin, who compared Abu Ghraib to Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago and Pol Pot’s death camps in Cambodia.

Unfortunately, the propaganda campaign influenced the federal courts, which ruled that detainees were entitled to due process rights, thereby second guessing the military judgment that men bearing arms on a battle field were necessarily enemies of the United States. Nearly 400 men have been released, Herman reports, at least 18 of which returned to the battlefield and 43 are listed as "suspected" of going back to the fight. In fact, one killed a judge in Afghanistan.

Now Attorney General Eric Holder is investigating whether CIA officers who interrogated suspects are guilty of violating the law, ignoring the fact that these men were (and are) at war with the very idea of the rule of law and therefore out of its protection.

We are in danger, in fact, of abandoning the war on terror, returning to the disastrous policy of the Clinton Administration, which treated terrorism as a nuisance rather than the full-fledged adversary of civilization that it is.

It is more than a little ironic that the same persons who are so solicitous of the nonexistent constitutional rights of our enemies have so little trouble making blank paper of the Constitution when it comes to governing American citizens who desire only to raise decent families and engage in honest commercial enterprise.

Are voters finally turning against the Obama power grab?

We all know that common sense is in short supply these days. I blame in large part the insidious cancer of political correctness -- a scourge that seems to make it impossible for people to speak (and act) in pursuit of the truth anymore. Its a shame, but the combination of political correctness, the liberal media and the over-active tort bar has made wimps of almost everyone in any position of power -- from local school boards to town councils. And, of course, this goes double for those in Washington DC -- who will always put politics and their insatiable thirst for power above doing the right thing for the American people. Fortunately, it appears that the American people may be catching on. As Michael Barone reports, recent polls seem to show that the public is starting to wake up to the big government power grab going on with Obama and his minions:

Last month's Washington Post-ABC poll reported that Americans favor smaller government with fewer services to larger government with more services by a 54 percent to 41 percent margin -- a slight uptick since 2004. The percentage of independents favoring small government rose to 61 percent from 52 percent in 2008. The June NBC-Wall Street Journal poll reported that, even amid recession, 58 percent worry more about keeping the budget deficit down versus 35 percent worried more about boosting the economy. A similar question in the June CBS-New York Times poll showed a 52 percent to 41 percent split.

Other polls show a resistance to specific Democratic proposals. Pollster Whit Ayres reports that 58 percent of voters agree that reforming health care, while important, should be done without raising taxes or increasing the deficit. Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that 56 percent of Americans are unwilling to pay more in taxes or utility rates to generate cleaner energy and fight global warming.

This is consistent with the most recent Rasmussen poll that shows Obama's approval rating now hovering just above 50% -- in fact, below the percentage of vote he got in the 2008 election. Polls now consistently show that Obama and the Democrats are starting to steadily lose support among the all-important Independent swing voters -- the very same voters who were the difference in the 2008 election. As Ben Smith at Politico notes:

In a potentially alarming trend for the White House, independent voters are deserting President Barack Obama nationally and especially in key swing states, recent polls suggest.

“This is a huge sea change that is playing itself out in American politics,” said Democratic pollster Doug Schoen. “Independents who had become effectively operational Democrats in 2006 and 2008 are now up for grabs and are trending Republican.

“They’re saying, ‘Costing too much, no results, see the downside, not sure of the upside,’” he said.

Predictably, of course, the White House is dismissing any shift in independent support as inconsequential -- the typical hubris of a party that thinks it won a realigning election in 2008.

I have consistently argued that Obama ignores these kinds of polls at his own peril -- for the 2008 election did not reflect a fundamental shift in the American polity from a center-right to center-left orientation.

Increasingly it seems now that people are starting to wake up to the fact that the power grab going on in Washington has come without much thought -- and without any debate. This is an argument that the Republicans seem to be effectively making now, and it is resonating with Independents. Take a look at this very powerful video that Republican Senatorial Committee put out: here

This video -- as well as others up on Youtube and now circulating the net are starting to make A pretty strong case that I think many voters will respond to. The fact is that the Obama Administration has made an unprecedented grab for power in the form of big government programs with almost no debate -- spending trillions of tax payer dollars far into the future, and committing America to a future of higher taxes, onerous environmental regulation with no purpose, and ultimately to sub-standard government-run health care.

Any American without an ideological stick to beat knows there is no common sense in what is going on in Washington. My guess is that this will become crystal clear in 2010, and a huge backlash is coming.

Farewell to a president

George W. Bush gave his farewell address to the nation last night.  I thank him for his service. And in some important ways I will miss him.

Yes, there is plenty for conservatives to lament about his presidency. He presided over an unprecedented expansion of government pork and failed at every turn to rein in the profligate spenders in Congress. From 2001 to 2006 he presided over a unified government where the opportunities for driving home small-government conservatism were everywhere. But, alas, George W. Bush proved himself to be a big government conservative instead – failing to veto a single bill spending until 2006 (after the Democrats took control) and allowing a vast expansion of Medicare entitlements under his watch. Clearly, George Bush is no Ronald Reagan.

But it is equally clear to me that after 9/11, George Bush made a deal with himself and the nation: he would work tirelessly to keep us safe, even if he had to make compromises with Congress on spending and the economy. For as painful as the recent economic meltdown is, it is not fatal. 9/11 put this presidency on a wartime footing and in war you sometime make deals with the devil. FDR, the president the left likes to prominently stand up as the ideal Democrat, interned thousands of Japanese Americans in the name of national security.

War isn’t pretty. It requires lots of compromises in both policy and practice, and sometimes you have to do things that you don't want to do. One guesses that Barack Obama will soon see how tough this is.

So, George Bush decided that to keep Congress in line on fighting Al Qaeda and taking out Saddam Hussein, he would allow all sorts of domestic shenanigans. And this included looking the other way as the risks associated with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac escalated, fueling the sub-prime mortgage mess that exploded late in the 2008 campaign. Yes, there were warning signs galore – the collapse of Bear Stearns, the puncturing of the housing bubble, the government’s own internal audits.

But it hardly mattered to this war president: By 2006, with Iraq in disarray and verging on catastrophic failure, the president was focused exclusively outward. The slow fires burning at home were nagging problems that could hardly compare to the challenges of war in the Mid East. Bush – nor anyone else – could have predicted the massive crisis that has ensnared the world economy.

This, of course, doesn’t give the President a pass. Hardly. His failure to create and sustain a clear philosophy on economic matters helped to ensure that the storm that hit the financial markets would be stronger and more sustained than it ordinarily might have been. He was derelict in his leadership, of that there is no question – and history will judge him so.

But I give the man ample credit for trying to change the balance of power in the Middle East and in keeping the homeland safe from attack. No one on 9/12/2001 would have bet that Al Qaeda would not attack again and soon. His strength and unwavering discipline to do “what is necessary” to keep America safe is something that he will be lauded for in years to come. And his courage to take out Saddam and create a democracy in Iraq has the chance to remake the Arabian peninsula for years to come.  And while he has failed to confront Iran with sufficient force, the opportunity to make Iraq into an ally in the region should provide a useful base from which to both oppose Iran and support Israel.  Iraq -- if successful and intelligently utilized -- can provide a critical "balance shifter" in the fight against Shia extremism.

Time will tell if the Obama administration will risk or reward this grand effort.

In the end, my guess is that George W. Bush will be kindly remembered by historians, though like Truman, it may take a generation or two for it to happen. The long-term impact of Iraq and the overall war on terror will not quickly be clear. But when it is, he will get much credit for seeing evil and trying to defeat it.

We can only hope that his successor has such clarity.

Dems feeling cognitive dissonance

Transitions are a great entertainment form, the more so if we get a new party as well as a new President. DC real estate folks always vote against the “in” party because a full blown turnover is always good for business. Casually strolling around Georgetown or similar neighborhoods one notes the frequency of double parked moving vans further clogging the Imperial City’s already impossible traffic congestion. Republicans are holding small parties saying good-bye to old friends; Democrats are holding big parties saying hello to new friends. Democratic parties are bigger because the crowd is swelled by lobbyists and general hangers-on who know that a lot of jobs and money will soon be changing hands and just maybe there might be something for them.

Republican Angst and Democratic Triumphalism have been amply reported elsewhere. A modest consolation for Republicans who so enjoyed watching Democrats carve each other up in the very extended nomination battle is to now see the Donkey Party squabbling over the spoils of victory. A highlight of this entertainment has been the much publicized combat over Senate appointments in Illinois and New York. By comparison the Democratic infighting over the Salazar Succession in Colorado was fairly modest.

If you like underdogs you have to love the way Illinois’ scandal plagued Governor out maneuvered Harry Reid and the entire Democratic caucus through his artful appointment of Roland Burris.

In the “Big Apple” who could imagine that the New York Times would actually assign a reporter to count the number of times (138) Caroline Kennedy said “you know” during a forty minute interview with their editors. Where’s the respect, the love, of days gone by?

Perhaps best of all is the growing indignation spreading through the left-wing blogosphere in response to some strangely centrist impulses coming from the new administration.

Markos Moulitsas, Commandante of the very influential “Daily Kos” huffily announced that he was “absolutely through with Harry Reid” when the latter failed to oust Joe Lieberman from his key Senate committee chairmanship.

The gay lobby-already reeling from three ballot defeats on same-sex marriage ( Fla, Ariz, & Calif.)- went ballistic over Obama’s choice of Pastor Rick Warren to give the Inaugural Invocation.

On a wider front Obama’s generally centrist picks for his Economic and National Security teams has set media tongues wagging and the left-wing wailing.

Barack Obama- closet moderate! Who knew?

Very interesting is the curious “Dual Presidency” we’re experiencing in the eleven weeks between Election and Inauguration. President-Elect Obama properly reminds us that the country only has one President at a time, but someone forgot to tell Joe Biden who’s already off on a world-wide junket meeting foreign leaders ( Joe may become the best Presidential side-show since Billy Carter).

This split-screen effect is most evident in the very different way Obama has responded to economic vs. foreign policy issues.

On the economy- clearly the country’s top issue and the one that elected him- Obama has weighed in frequently, forcefully, and in general usefully. Obviously it is the economy and other domestic issues ( e.g. health care, energy, environment) that he feels the greatest affinity for, as is also the case with Congressional Democrats.

On foreign policy however Obama has been strikingly more reticent, entirely happy to allow President Bush to deal with those “hot potatoes” that have made the front page in recent weeks- rising tensions between India and Pakistan post Mumbai, lengthening casualty lists in Afghanistan, growing evidence of Iran’s imminent nuclear capacity, Russia’s interdiction of gas supplies to Western Europe, and the violent renewal of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

On these issues Obama and his party seem very wary, almost viewing them as an annoying distraction from the domestic issues that they are truly eager to pursue. This discomfort with America’s foreign challenges reveals a deep fault line that has haunted the Democratic party for over forty years. From Vietnam forward the related issues of foreign policy and national security have divided Democrats and cost them several elections.

A great irony emerges: Democrats-desperately wanting to spend money on huge initiatives- are constrained by an economy that is going broke. In contrast those issues which have been the Democrat’s Achilles Heel for two generations are pressing in upon them with an urgency that cannot be met by “referral to committee”.

Barack Obama will not be the first President who won office to pursue one agenda, only to find that History was imposing another.

William Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times. Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, and Rocky Mountain News.