Saturday, May 02, 2009


Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

As the initial skirmishes begin over Barack Obama's pick to replace David Souter, the conservative Committee For Justice released it's own "marker" position on the type of judges that should be considered.  

Note these two passages (emphasis added) : 
To Republican senators:

Take your time in examining the President’s Supreme Court nominee. Republicans on the Judiciary Committee should not be afraid to ask the kinds of tough questions that Democrats asked of nominees such as Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. In particular,
the next Supreme Court nominee must be asked whether they share the President’s decidedly activist view that judges should consider, not just the law and facts, but also empathy for certain classes of people, including African-Americans, the poor, gays, and the disabled. You owe it to the American people and to senators not on the Committee to ensure that support or opposition to the nominee is based on thorough scrutiny of their record and judicial philosophy.


To red and purple state Democrats:

Remember the values of the regular folks who sent you to Washington. Don’t vote for a Supreme Court nominee whose values are closer to those of the intellectual elite than to those of your constituents. Let President Obama know now that you will not appreciate being put in that position. While it’s too early to know how much money will be spent on advertising to defeat an activist nominee, it is virtually certain that the money will be directed at red and purple state Democrats.
So, on the one hand, Republicans must make sure that a nominee doesn't share the "activist" viewpoint of declaring "empathy" with "certain classes of people" -- but red and purple-state Democratic senators must guarantee that they share (empathze with) the "values" of their constituents! 

So, what is it about -- the "rule of law" as COJ asserts?  Or inquiring about judges empathy is OK -- depending on whom they are empathizing with?

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Getting "Real" With The GOP

Surrounding Obama's 100th day, the bottom appeared to fall out of the Republican Party over the last 10 days: It lost a special election -- and a senator -- and saw the RNC get into a civil war between its members and chairman while elected officials created their own "alternate" party structure. Paging Mark "Survivor" Burnett and Simon "American Idol" Cowell)! 

We may have your new reality TV smash!

Forget Rod Blagojevich! -- he's basically a one-trick pony (based on the hair -- one of the Shetland variety at that). The real action is in the Republican side of the ledger.  

This week, one liberal Republican senator jumped to the Democrats, starting an internecine party battle over whether moderates should be welcomedtolerated or expunged; a liberal Republican Supreme Court Justice retired (at 69, relatively young for high court justices) allowing a Democratic president to replace him;Republican National Committee members launched a procedural move to restrain their own recently elected party chairman from making decisions on how to spend the party money; that chairman blamed any possible money problems at the committee on his predecessor; and a former GOP speaker of the House mocked those members as "precious" spoiled individuals. 

And that doesn't even touch on the family part of it:  While Meghan McCain got into a Twitter fight with Karl Rove (just writing that shows how insane this has gotten), daddy John McCain signed onto a new GOP group designed to "rebrand the party" (which will undoubtedly raise money that might otherwise go to the RNC -- wonderful)! Making things even more interesting is that one of the members of this National Council For A New America is Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour -- himself a former RNC Chairman.  

Notably, neither Newt Gingrich nor Michael Steele were invited to be part of this new NCNA organization.. 

So, already it looks like some form of "Survivor"-like alliance has been created within the GOP structure, so a talking-head C-SPAN type-show would be awful. Instead, it should be a vote-off, like "Survivor" or "American Idol." Either have a Tribal Council (perhaps made up of folks like Grover Norquist orthe Club For Growth -- who took credit for driving Specter out of the party) or a panel of judges (including Robert Bork, who Specter famously helped vote down two decades ago) who decide who stays, who goes, and who gets electoral "immunity." 

It's got hit written all over it.  Spike TV, perhaps? Or, appropriately enough -- the USA Network! 

Alas, Peggy Noonan insists on being all responsible and serious abut the collapse of the GOP.  Sorry, Peggy, I think maturity went out the window sometime ago.  

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Friday, May 01, 2009


Open Thread

Good Friday, gentle RT readers. I've been rather lax in recent weeks in a number of areas at the site and I'm endeavoring to do some spring cleaning. At the very least, I want to get back into the habit of making sure that the "Open Thread" post goes up every Friday evening, so you all can have a chance to vent or post a link or just share your weekend plans!

More updates as developments warrant.

In the meantime, have at it.

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Your SCOTUS List

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder assembles an ultimate "mention" list (sure to be expanded in the weeks ahead) to be the next Supreme Court justice.

Like the Highlander, there can be only one!

The rest will have to get used being, ahem, rejected Souters!

Heh heh.

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One Biden Flu Over The Cuckoo's Nest

On the 101st day of the Obama administration, it became transparent for all to see why Barack Obama selected Joe Biden as his running mate.

Yep, it took the vice president's interview on the "Today" show for it all to come together (and it had to be "Today" -- the number one morning show). When the president has been projecting calm in the face of the swine flu (uh, H1N1 virus) outbreak, what does his Number Two do?

He tells people not to go into confined spaces -- like subways, airplanes, etc. Indeed, he says "I would tell all members of my family." Ah, just what the public needs to hear: "Stay away from trains and planes!" Basically, stay away from anything that transports large masses of people engaged in economic activity (including business travel).

Just the message needed during a recession -- especially for a city like New York which has both subways AND 20-some cases of the flu strain! Panic them all into not going into work -- or not traveling around the US (as the EU has already suggested!

Barack Obama -- who thinks three steps ahead of everyone else -- must have realized what a problem Joe Biden might present. So, why not use the man's foot-in-mouth disease to one's own advantage?

Why keep Biden around?  In one word -- insurance.

Sure, Biden is good for an occasional tactical maneuver like helping reel in Arlen Specter into the Democratic fold.  But, he has a much more important (to Obama) value -- terrifying anyone who thinks about what it would be like if Biden actually became  president. 

Just as Democrats never dared do anything that might risk George H. W. Bush leaving office prematurely -- with Dan Quayle as his VP  -- it looks like Joe Biden is providing Barack Obama with a perfect insurance policy! Heck, the fact that Biden has been around Washington for so long, yet still manages to say truly embarrassing things actually makes him more potentially dangerous were he to become president!  Yes, even more dangerous than Quayle back in '89!    

Seemingly, two terms of Bush-Cheney was enough for the American public. Going beyond just ending eight years of Republican rule, voters went further and decided to end more than two centuries of white males in the White House. The savvy Obama didn't just pick Biden to "balance" the ticket in November; he picked the one white male in the Democratic Party guaranteed to terrify people who actually contemplate him becoming president! 

Figure that each time Walking Gaffe-man Joe Biden opens his mouth, Obama's own personal popularity increases! At this point, even if the unlikely happened and Republicans managed to take back Congress in 2010, there's no way that they would try to impeach Obama (as they did Clinton). 

Are you kidding? They would want to make Joe Biden president about as much as someone would want to make Bruce Banner angry! ! 

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Obama's Supreme Chance

SCOTUS Justice David Souter will retire in June, CNN reports.  

God, this has been a bad week for the GOP (though, frankly, an Obama appointee to replace Souter won't change the make-up of the Court that much). 

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Byron White (Voters Matter More?)

DC Examiner (and former NRO) writer Byron York is a friend of mine, but goodness knows what he was smoking when he decided to write this piece (thanks Andrew Sullivan).

The president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.

Asked whether their opinion of the president is favorable or unfavorable, 49 percent of whites in the Times poll say they have a favorable opinion of Obama. Among blacks the number is 80 percent. Twenty-one percent of whites say their view of the president is unfavorable, while the number of blacks with unfavorable opinions of Obama is too small to measure. [Emphasis added].

So, um, if you take out the overwhelming black support, Obama isn't really doing as well as polls might suggest. So, feel free to discount all that!

Oh, Byron, Byron, Byron, where to begin? First, in fairness, he's not the first person in the media to start drifing into this rather disturbing territory. A few years ago, CNN's Bill Schneider helpfully pointed out the "dependence" that Democrats have on the black vote:

What would have happened if no blacks had voted in 2000? Six states would have shifted from Al Gore to George W. Bush: Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Oregon. Bush would have won by 187 electoral votes, instead of five. A Florida recount? Not necessary.

Right now, there are 50 Democrats in the Senate. How many would be there without African-American voters? We checked the state exit polls for the 1996, 1998, and 2000 elections. If no blacks had voted, many Southern Democrats would not have made it to the Senate. Both Max Cleland and Zell Miller needed black votes to win in Georgia. So did Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Bill Nelson in Florida, John Edwards in North Carolina, and Ernest Hollings in South Carolina.

The "problem" with this analysis is -- what's the point? Analysis of the GOP's relative strengths and weaknesses comes down to geographic assessment. Schneider doesn't devote a segment to "What would the Senate look like if white Southerners didn vote for Republicans (which in some states they do to upwards of 70 or 80 percent)?" But blacks voting for Democrats is staged as some sort of "exception" that should implicitly invalidate the reality of the current political situation.

Ironically, this Schneider segment -- as pernicious as it was in itself -- actually undermines York's even-worse piece: Simply put, because blacks tend to vote overwhelmingly black Democrat at the presidential level, there is actually very little difference between black support for Barack Obama and that of any "generic" Democratic president. Look at the general election: Obama received 95 percent of the black vote -- up from John Kerry's 88 percent in 2004; Al Gore received a rather stunning 90 percent in 2000, even better than Bill Clinton's 84 percent in '96)). Now, in pure numbers, far more blacks showed up at the polls than in previous elections because a black candidate was on the ballot, but with respect to the rest of the vote, the percentage of blacks voting for the Obama couldn't get that much higher. When one party regularly gets more than 90 percent of the vote from one ethnic group, there's only so much more that can get squeezed out.

So, based on York's own analysis: If 80 percent of blacks have a favorable opinion of Obama, how different is that than the general stamp of support that blacks would give to a Democratic president (particularly following a remarkably unpopular one as George W. Bush)?

York concludes his racial breakdown: "A continued high rating among black Americans will be a valuable pillar of support for the president, should he one day find himself in political trouble."

Oh, like Bill Clinton during impeachment, right?

UPDATE: As mentioned above, I've known Byron York for several years. The comment he made in his piece is pretty dumb. However, I'm reluctant to toss around the r-word -- "racist" -- in this column. Is it racially insensitive? Yes. Is it dumb. Sure. But I'm not sure if that makes York racist. For one thing, I remember a post he put up on NRO's "Corner" when the Sarah Palin story broke. When the news came out that Bristol's baby-daddy Levi Johnston would be attending the the GOP convention, York noted:

Perhaps I'm focusing on an irrelevant issue, but the presence, or non-presence, of Johnston on the stage tonight strikes me as important. It's one thing for delegates to be understanding and compassionate about the fix these two teenagers have gotten themselves into. It's another to actually celebrate it. And, given what we've learned in the last few days, if Johnston is up on stage with his girlfriend and the Palin family, and Republicans are wildly cheering, it will certainly look like they are celebrating this situation.

I don't usually engage in these scenarios, but I'll do it here. If the Obamas had a 17 year-old daughter who was unmarried and pregnant by a tough-talking black kid, my guess is if that they all appeared onstage at a Democratic convention and the delegates were cheering wildly, a number of conservatives might be discussing the issue of dysfunctional black families.
Sorry, that sort of sensitivity isn't what one might automatically expect from a white conservative political journalist. It is however more exemplary of my experience with York over the years. His Examiner piece is dumb -- and its implications are offensive -- but I'm not ready to hit the "R"-button. Of course, it is fine to entertain the question whether it is possible for someone (of any race or background) to write an article that is implicitly racist without that person being racist. That, however, forces a level of philosophical charity that few are willing to entertain.

UPDATE II: Correction made to reflect that blacks overwhelming tendency is to vote Democrat (not "black") at the presidential level! Oops!

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100 Days And Running

It's a mystery why we feel the need to examine and philosophize over a president's first 100 days in office. It made some sense during FDR and the Great Depression. But, in retrospect, FDR's full test had as much to do with his reaction to Pearl Harbor -- and subsequent leadership in World War II -- as it did with his radical domestic program in the Great Depression.

Similarly, while Ronald Reagan put the nation on a new course -- and gave it something of a new confidence after the months of Jimmy Carter malaise -- the Gipper is remembered for an economic program that wasn't passed until the summer of 1981, and a military buildup that sent the Soviet Union into bankruptcy years later.

In short, our greatest presidents are known because of what they do many days and months down the road after their 100th day in office. And, certainly, George W. Bush wouldn't face his most difficult moment until some nine months into his presidency.

All that said, assessments need to be made about this man called Barack Hussein Obama. In very brief, give the man an A for stagecraft and presence -- and a B for management and governance, leaving him with a B+ overall.

Obama was an historic figure from the moment he won on November 4, 2008 (arguably before that -- when it became clear that he would be a black candidate who had a truly legitimate shot at the White House). But 100 days into his term, it is quite clear that he has taken that sense of history and managed to leverage it into a political and cultural force that is -- in the real sense of the term -- awesome to behold.

For the first time in nearly 20 years Americans truly like their president. NBC's poll has his personal likability at 81 percent -- a ridiculous figure. Republicans, who have serious doubts about his policies, nonetheless truly admire the man. After 16 years in which roughly 50 percent of the nation didn't just dislike the man in the Oval Office, but actively despised him and conjured up the worst sort of conspiracy theories about their commander-in-chief, it's actually wonderful to have representing America someone that Americans of all backgrounds appear to admire.

Perhaps it's because Barack Obama seems to demand that he be taken seriously. Immediately after his election, there was much media speculation about whether comedians would be able to joke about this president. Part of it was a concern that the predominantly white comic "class" would be uncomfortable making jokes about a black man. But, the real difficulty about making jokes about Barack Obama is that he doesn't give either the media or the comedians easy material.

Both of his baby boomer predecessors invited self-deprecation -- almost to the point that one wondered about what sort of insecurity lay underneath. Even before the impeachment crisis, Bill Clinton reveled in the image of the "Bubba" -- the Southern good 'ol boy who liked the ladies and a good time. He invited the "Saturday Night Live" parodies. George W. Bush -- the son of a president and the grandson of a senator would go to his own alma mater and boast that being a C-student could get you to the White House. And he wondered why the media loved describing him as an ignorant fool?

Conversely, we know more about Barack Obama than almost any individual who became president. His autobiography put the father issues, the drug stuff, the exotic background, etc., all out there. For the first time in a long time, Americans seem to have a president who is comfortable in his own skin -- the fact that it is a bit darker than that of his 42 predecessors (yes, including Grover Cleveland who counts as being president twice) matters little to the man himself. Perhaps not since Reagan has there been a president who knows who he is -- and projects that sense of confidence and authority onto his country. And that's just the sort of person the country seems to need when it is going through its most difficult economic times since the Great Depression.

As noted here recently, why else would the country's "right track" numbers start moving into positive territory -- despite the fact that the recession persists and unemployment figures continue to rise? This country believes in this president, his wife and his family -- even if his policies are suspect. So, on that level alone -- being a leader whose own sense of self and optimism help inspire the same in his nation. For that Barack Obama deserves an A.

Still, being president isn't all just about stagecraft: It's also about actual governance and management. Here, the president slips somewhat. His early decisions concerning his Cabinet continue to bedevil him. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's tax woes brought an early cloud over the office of the man who would have the most significant role in Obama's domestic agenda. It took literally weeks for Geithner to get stabilized, even longer for his department to be fully staffed. Given that the depth of the economic crisis was known even before the election, this sort of chaos in the critical agency is rather inexcusable.

Similarly, because the president had so much personal investment in former Sen. Tom Daschle, Obama insisted on him as secretary of health and human services. Of course, Daschle became so compromised because of his post-Senate lobbying career that he was uncomfirmable. Because of that delay, Obama's back-up choice Kathleen Sebelius was only confirmed on Tuesday -- after the onset of a swine flu outbreak that could be horrific. Did the fact that the top spot in the health agency cause delays in reaction to the swine flu outbreak. Keep an eye on that when the second 100 days begins.

And it took Obama three tries at getting a Commerce Secretary. One of them, of course, was New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson -- who stepped down after being implicated in a federal probe which may also touch on a state pension scandal in New York, thus implicating Obama's auto task force overseer, Steve Rattner. For an administration that demands high levels of ethical scrutiny and probity, there are just a few clouds hovering overhead that might become storm clouds sometime down the road.

Yes, the president -- and his wife -- have wowed their overseas counterparts. Notably, however, he has gotten few commitments from them on either economic or military/strategic approaches. Again, stagecraft is easy; governance a little less so.

Still, domestically President Obama got his stimulus package passed in near-record time -- along with supplemental spending bill and billions more in various bailouts and rescue packages. This has been a rather profligate presidency -- which can be justified given the recession. But, that level of spending can't continue without foreign investors beginning to balk -- or inflation starting to kick in. These are not choices that a Republican president would have made and it is hardly surprising that the GOP doesn't give this president good marks because of that. But, the public voted for change -- and that direction seems to mean more public spending and bigger government. If that's the era in which we are about to embark, so be it. If it is indeed too much, the public will launch a correction beginning in 2010.

In the meantime, the president might want to watch for rhetorical bits of overkill: Any more "too cute by half" statements like calling for earmark reform after signing a bill with 9,000 earmarks or asking for $100 million in cuts after submitting a $3.6 trillion budget will underimine the one area where this president is both strongest and most vulnerable -- his likeability and credibility.

Those are two things that the 44th president has in abundance. Let's hope that they remain assets upon which he can depend as the nation inevitably faces more difficult moments come weeks and months after this 100-day mark.

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SPECTER Beats (GOP) Bond

Could Barack Obama have wanted a better headline to wake up to Wednesday morning than some variation of the following?

"Will the last Republican east of the Mississippi please turn out the lights?"

With Arlen Specter's jump to the Democrats, that shrinking roll call include the Maine Senate femme fatales -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe -- Delaware Rep. Mike Castle and just three out of the 29-member New York House delegation. Except for the aforementioned Collins, Snowe and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, there are no elected members of Congress in New England. The blue trend of New York was consolidated last Friday when Republican Jim Tedisco (a long-time state assemblyman) conceded the 20th district congressional seat to newbie Scott Murphy. The Democratic National Committee wasted no time in gloating over the win -- and the importance that RNC Chairman Michael Steele place on winning the seat.

With a party deteriorating, it's not exactly wise for its chairman to further that trend. After suggesting that the RNC might support a primary challenger to Specter and two other stimulus-supporting Republicans, Chairman Steele sort-of backed down. Understandably, he unleashed a bucket of venom on Specter after this switch -- referring to Specter's "left-wing" votes. But, does Steele really believe that having an ideologically "pure" party is really in his best interests? Even worse, the party is also just about as geographically isolated as it is philosophically. As has been noted elsewhere, the Specter switch puts Democrats within a hairsbreath of a spot where no party has been in the Senate in thirty years -- with a filibuster-breaking 60-vote majority.

Even Patrick Buchanan realizes that the demographic lines aren't favorable to the Republicans. The party doesn't have to become an echo of the Democrats, but it should realize that it needs flexibility and diversity within its ranks. Not-so-subtly suggesting that an Arlen Specter shouldn't be in the party -- or urging, as Rush Limbaugh did Tuesday, that John McCain should also leave -- is a prescription for continued disaster. Unlike Specter, McCain didn't vote against the stimulus package. Just because his daughter has been expressing more liberal views than the rest of the party, why should a man who has served the party well be a target for expulsion?

It's statements like this that underscore why it's a disaster for Limbaugh to even be considered a "leader" of the party. Leaders try to expand their constituency -- not reduce it.  Sure, Limbaugh is expanding his "constituency" -- his listeners.  But based on recent polls, fewer Americans than ever are identify with the Republican Party. Those are trends going in two different directions.  

Specter's leap -- and Limbaugh's response to it -- says all that one needs to know about the state of the Republican Party after 100 days of Barack Obama.  The party is grasping for true leadership, direction and vision -- and showing little signs of that any are in sight. 

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Arlen Makes GOP A Specter of It's Former Self

Another Northeast Republican seat departs as PA's senior senator decamps.

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Monday, April 27, 2009


Conservative Crack-up

It's been a pretty busy late-winter and early spring, so I haven't really had much chance to chime in on the relatively under-reported story of the last few months, which is, simply, the mental breakdown of much of the organized political right. When Charles Johnson of the once really out-there Little Green Footballs is becoming a voice of reason against some of his former proteges, you know that things have gotten really bad.

Here's another example: David Weigel reports that Concerned Women of America president Wendy Wright believes that the swine flu emergency was ginned up by the Obama administration to help push through the Kathleen Sebelius nomination to be secretary of health and human services. Conservatives oppose the nomination because of Sebelius' view on abortion. Wright points to speculation "on talk radio" for her views.


What's so absurd about this is that there was a much easier -- and sane -- shot that the right could have taken over preparation on the swine flu epidemic without going into conspiracy theory territory: How about pointing out that there would probably be an HHS secretary if Obama hadn't nominated the ridiculously compromised Tom Daschle in the first place. Because of that rather bone-headed error, the country doesn't have a top health official -- in the middle of what could be a serious world-wide health crisis (unlikely, but it could happen). If one wants to make a partisan jab against Obama, that's the one to make.

No wonder that, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll, the number of self-identifying Republicans is at its lowest level -- 21 percent -- in 26 years.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009


Open Thread

Back from traveling in Annapolis. Feel free to opine.

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