Friday, January 29, 2010

A Supreme Political Scuffle

The Obama-Alito controversy has been gathering steam in the blogosphere and mainstream media. Setting aside the correctness of the Supreme Court’s decision for the time being, there are a number of interesting issues that have arisen. First of all, there is the issue of etiquette and precedence. Second, is the issue of the media’s and the Democrats’ treatment of the scuffle-by-proxy.

During the President’s State of the Union address, Obama criticized a recent Supreme Court ruling regarding campaign financing.  He stated, "With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections." (See video at Real Clear Politics). In response, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, one of the justices who voted in favor of the ruling, shook his head in disagreement and apparently mouthed “not true”.  What was "not true" from his perspective is not clear.  According to etiquette, the members of the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) are separated from general politics-as-usual. They and their decisions are never directly attacked and they refrain from displays of political support or disdain.

First, there is room for discussion on whether the historical procedures of etiquette are worthwhile or should be followed. Should the SCOTUS and its decisions be respected and left independent? Or like the majority of our government are they fair game for political attacks? ANR tends to believe that the Supreme Court should maintain a position above politics to assure the objectivity of its decisions. This has historically been the norm, forcing Presidential disagreements to be at most muted and often unsaid. Particularly, this has been true in large, public announcements or speeches such as the State of the Union. Obama clearly breached this etiquette by becoming the first President to attack the SCOTUS in a State of the Union address. If one ascribes to the view that this etiquette is important than Obama’s breach is particularly worrisome. If, on the other hand, one has no concern for such precedent then one should simply shrug their shoulders and move on.

However, this has not been the response of the Democrats or some in the MSM. This brings us to the second point. The Democrats have gone on the attack, targeting Justice Alito for his response. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-VT attacked Alito by stating “There were days when judges stayed out of politics. It would be nice to go back to those days.”  NBC, which spoke to Leahy, supported this storyline in the very title of their article, “Justice openly disagrees with Obama in speech.” NBC’s story focused on how this was Alito’s “Joe Wilson moment”, yet diminished Obama’s greater breach of etiquette.

Now, as said before there is room for debate on the importance of such etiquette; but if anyone is to blame it is Obama, not Alito. Obama was the first to break ‘the rules’. It is only understandable that Alito, who most likely did not expect to be attacked, would momentarily lose his composure. Yes, Alito broke etiquette, but it was in a far less severe and public fashion than Obama. All eyes and ears were on the President; everyone heard what he said. Alito was merely an observer who responded in arguably an unfortunate way.

The Democrats’ response and the very fact that Obama took the unprecedented step of criticizing the SCOTUS displays the outrageous arrogance and rampant populism of the administration. The arrogance comes from Obama’s unrelenting quest to attack anyone and everyone with whom he disagrees, regardless of position, etiquette, or precedent. All of this is in the name of his populist bent, appealing to ‘the people’ as a Washington “outsider”. In this instance it is particularly damning given the history of Presidents (eg FDR) who have had much more serious issues with Supreme Court decisions yet remained mum. If the etiquette is important, Obama is the culprit; if it is not then no one should be to blame. Attacks on Alito are just downright inappropriate.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The State of the Perpetual Campaign

“We can’t wage a perpetual campaign.” So said President Barak Obama in a State of the Union address that was arguably another stump speech in a long-line of campaign speeches. The address was mainly an attempt at resetting his presidency to a time, a little over a year ago, when the President was popular and perceived he had a mandate to govern. Rather than drastically alter his direction, Obama emphasized a number of trends that have been unvarying cornerstones of the past year, namely populism, an anti-Washington sentiment, and the call for more government.

His populist stance was evident throughout the speech. While he admirably accepted some responsibility and admitted to gaffes, he largely played to the misgivings of the masses. He continuously bashed Wall Street and banks, targeting bonuses and the bailout. He said, “[W]e all hated the bailout. I hated it….”  Even while appealing to the grand notion of bipartisanship he attempted to separate ‘the people’ from the ‘elite’ by, for instance, offering an end to capital gains taxes, but only for small businesses.

This populism is rather disingenuous and anti-intellectual, as most populism is, and will only serve to foment fault-lines in American politics. All of America is responsible for the economic meltdown, not just Wall Street. By refusing to indict the average citizen for his mistakes alongside Wall Street, Obama is reinforcing a culture that dismisses personal responsibility.

The second major theme was the continued attempt to portray himself as an outsider to Washington. His repeated mantra was “Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems.” It is a time-tested tactic for campaigners to portray themselves as outsiders. America habitually wants new visions and ideas and elected Obama a year ago largely based on this successfully transmitted message.

However what worked during his ‘real’ campaign will largely fall on deaf ears now. After a year in office, Obama is Washington. He said this much when castigating his party for their failures, “To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills.”

Obama’s insistence on railing against Washington is interesting to say the least. It shows that he has yet to fully leave the campaign trail. From his perspective, this should be worrying as America has shown that it does not appreciate this politicking. America wants a president that leads not one that is on the campaign-trail.

The final major theme was his insistence on Big Government. Roughly two-thirds of his speech focused on the economy and rightly so. However, his entire approach of a paternalistic big government saturated his rhetoric. While his healthcare discussion was moderated, his language elsewhere continued the same cadence that drove the healthcare issue during the first year.  A prime example of this misguided economic policy was his discussion on college affordability. He stated:
And let's tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years –- and forgiven after 10 years if they choose a career in public service, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.
Now this sounds noble and, on the surface, profound. After all, every America should have access to college and most understand the heavy load from student loans. However, if one spends a few seconds considering the ramifications of the plan the economics simply fail.

For starters, if debt is forgiven it means someone has to cover the costs. There seem to be three options – the taxpayer, the lenders, or the schools. If it falls on the lenders, well they simply will stop lending. No business will be willing to operate at a loss and so such a plan will reduce available loans. If it’s the taxpayers, well we all know the problems there. If the schools have to shoulder the burden it will reduce the quality of education as schools would be forced to cut programs, salaries, and other expenditures. Alternatively, it would give schools incentives to only admit those who could pay their own way, thereby restricting access to universities (particularly the elite) to the rich.

Likewise, Obama’s plan could create a perverse incentive for individuals to get frivolous degrees. Higher education is an investment in one’s future. While many enjoy learning, a higher degree should generally only be pursued if it offers a positive return. Such a program would encourage people to complete degrees that have little bearing on their career paths. While this is certainly noble and learning is a paramount value, it should not be done at the expense of demolishing our education system.

This is but one example of the administration’s warped economic perspective. Obama, while often pure in aims, far too often attempts to correct the symptoms rather than address the underlying problems. It is economically unwise to expand government in order to force changes in the price one pays without addressing the underlying cost of the product. This backward economic principle only serves to grow government and exacerbate problems.

However, despite the many flaws of the address, credit must be given where it is due. Obama did make a number of strong points and called for some positive changes. First he stated, “We need to make sure consumers and middle-class families have the information they need to make financial decisions.” The flow of information is a principal aspect of free competitive markets and should be applauded. Second, he called for off-shore drilling and the construction of nuclear plants (amongst other proposals) both which will create jobs and promote energy independence. Third, Obama invited both parties to offer ideas for healthcare reform. He stated, “But if anyone from either party has a better approach… let me know.” Hopefully this is not mere rhetoric and the Republicans will take advantage.

Obama has work to do. Hopefully, he can step up as a leader, dismiss the big government, partisan, and populist focus of his administration and end his political campaign. He seems to have learned some lessons from the past year, and particularly Massachusetts, but he is not quite there yet.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Massachusetts, A Blue State Goes Brown

Today, in Massachusetts’s special election for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, the Republican candidate, Scott Brown, won an overwhelming victory. Brown defeated Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley, 52% to 47%, in a race that up until a few weeks ago was a nearly uncontested competition in favor of the Democrat. This marks the first time since 1972 that the very blue state of Massachusetts has sent a Republican Senator to Washington.

The Republican triumph is a massive political event. It follows two big GOP wins in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races and serves as a stark referendum on the Obama administration and the Democratic Congressional leadership. The swing of the historically Democratic state has shown that America is thoroughly dissatisfied with the profligate spending and arrogant politicking of Obama and the left-leaning Congress.

In particular, the vote directly reflects the distaste that most Americans feel with the current healthcare package. Brown ran on a platform that promised a vote against the current healthcare bill. The overwhelming support for a Republican candidate exemplifies how out of touch the Democratic leadership’s strong-arm tactics are with the pulse of America. Furthermore, the newest Republican Senator also breaks the Democrats’ supermajority, giving the Democratic caucus 59 members. This ends the filibuster-proof Senate and prevents the Democrats from monopolizing legislative power without Republican input.

Both Republicans and Democrats should heed the lessons of this election. The win was primarily a triumph for the center. Democrats should recognize that their leftward tilt has alienated the bulk of America. Fifty-one percent of voters in Massachusetts are independents and obviously eschew extreme policies. In order to maintain their dominance, Democrats, particularly those who hail from conservative states or districts, would be wise to think twice about the supposed leftist mandate that they divined in Obama’s win a year ago. Today’s vote clearly is a harbinger of the disaster that will befall Democratic incumbents who are running for reelection in November. Brown’s win clearly shows that many other Democrats will face the ax from their moderate and conservative constituents if they fail to take note. America is primarily a center-right nation that voted for Obama on the ephemeral concept of change and as a refutation of Bush. The past year has painfully shown the Democrats that Obama’s election was not an anointment of new liberal era.

Likewise, Republicans must understand that the recent GOP success in Virginia, New Jersey, and now Massachusetts were on the back of the center-right. Senator Brown is a moderate, Northeast Republican, who for instance, is moderately liberal on issues such as abortion. In contrast to the Scozzafava fiasco in Upstate New York, the entire Republican Party rallied behind Brown. This is the Big-Tent paradigm that the Party needs to continue to rely upon. If they choose to ignore this fact and shrink the party to a narrow, ‘purist’ rump they will become as disparaged as the far-Left is has become.

This election is a grand win for the Republicans, but does not imply that such successes will continue. Much depends on how both parties respond. If Democrats continue their obstinacy (for instance by refusing to seat Brown or by pushing healthcare through in a surreptitious way) and the Republicans tack to the center, the Obama administration will surely fail. However, if the Republicans pursue a path of party-cleansing or the Democrats correct their failed leftward drift, the November elections, and certainly 2012, is anyone’s game. Two cheers to Scott Brown and two more to this being the first step in the reemergence of Big-Tent Republicanism and the resurgent Northeastern Republican.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The (Upcoming?) Attack On Iran: Israel Alone

In September, a Washington Post reluctantly deduced that the end of 2009 was Iran’s last chance for negotiations. The authors, Daniel R. Coats (a former Republican Senator), Charles S. Robb (a former Democrat Senator) and Charles Wald (a retired general and air commander) called for the application of military tactics. They wrote:
If all else fails, in early 2010, the White House should elevate consideration of the military option. This need not involve a strike. A naval blockade would help ensure the effectiveness of proposed sanctions, such as an embargo on gasoline imports. Ultimately, though, a U.S.-led military strike is a feasible, albeit risky, option of last resort.

Next month's talks may be one of the last opportunities to diplomatically address the advancing Iranian nuclear threat. If Iran chooses to waste yet another such chance, President Obama will have no choice but to fulfill his February commitment to "use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon."
It is now three weeks into the New Year and nothing has been done to address Iran’s missed deadline. As Iran gets closer to a nuclear weapon, the risks of catastrophe grow. Despite the fact that the administration’s na├»ve foreign policy eschews the discussion of military options, it is pertinent that such discourse begins. The administration must take the lead on quashing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, particularly before Israel feels compelled to take matters into their own hands.

An increase in the threats of (credible) military action would have two effects. First, it would provide disincentives to the otherwise obdurate Iran. As has been readily apparent, the carrots of negotiation and talk have done nothing to dissuade Iran’s quest for nuclear weaponry. The nation has developed an uncanny ability to work the system. By adding a healthy dose of ‘sticks’ to the bounty of carrots, the administration can hope to dissuade Iranian behavior.

However, such threats cannot be baseless. Iran may very well attempt to call a bluff. The administration must be ready to show that promises of military action are sincere. In order to limit the possibility of war, lower-scale military conflict, such as the naval blockade that Coats, Robb, and Wald suggest, can be the ‘bluff-testing’ actions. This would give the West ample opportunity to prove its commitment to ending the Iranian threat without immediately necessitating war.

Second, an increase in bellicose rhetoric would assuage some of Israel’s disquietude. The small Jewish state is rightly concerned with a nuclear Iran. Ahmadinejad has long called for the destruction of Israel. The Israeli government will not sit idly as Iran develops a nuclear arsenal.  However, It is in America's interest to lead any potential military action against Iran.  An Israeli-led conflict, that will most defintely pull in the United  States, will have negative effects on global opinion and support for the war making its prosecution all the more difficult.

However, Israel is understandably wary about preemptively attacking Iran. Contrary to its past attacks on nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria, a military strike on Iran’s facilities would be extremely difficult. In all likelihood, as a recent article in The Economist discusses, a preemptive strike would most likely fail to completely eliminate the Iranian threat. Furthermore, any attack, either from Israel or the United States, would certainly lead to a counterattack on the Jewish state.

However, unlike what seems to be an increasing acceptance of a nuclear Iran in the White House, Israel is unlikely to tolerate a regional game-changer. The Obama administration is obviously restraining Netanyahu, but will only be able to do so for so long. At the end of the day the threat of annihilation will outweigh any pitfalls of a military excursion or the cajoling from America.  In order to prevent full military action it is necessary for the administration to finally take the mantle of leadership and rely on the use of military threats. The Obama Doctrine of extending hands to clenched fists has proven a dismal failure. However, it is not too late for the President to alter his foreign policy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Road to El Dorado

As Obama’s second year in office begins to pick up steam, one of his primary campaign promises has yet to be addressed.  However, as Time.com suggests, the administration will begin to push for immigration reform in 2010.  If they are wise, Republicans will take the lead and beat the Democrats out of the gate.  Not only is immigration an important issue but successful handling of reform could reap political rewards for the GOP.

If Republicans fail to offer a concrete proposal they run the risk of being portrayed as obstructionist.  This has been all too evident in the political quagmire that has become healthcare reform.  Rather than playing defense against a filibuster-proof Senate, Republicans need take the offense and offer solid, well articulated policy.  The need to frame the debate is important for two reasons.

First, as in healthcare, there are divergent principles at issue and the deck is already stacked against conservative ideals.  The Democrats’ first salvo will all but obliterate any Republican counter-attack.  In order to jumpstart the type of honest national debate that was absent in the healthcare process, Republicans need to get their ideas out first.

Primarily, the GOP needs to emphasize that the rule of law has to be maintained under any system.  Individuals who violate laws, whether immigration or otherwise, cannot be allowed to reap the benefits.  However, simultaneously, Republicans must emphasize that this is a pro-immigrant policy.  Immigration has been and will continue to be the backbone of this country.  The majority of, if not all, Americans are descended from or are immigrants.  Any Republican plan should trumpet this fact.  Upholding the rule of law means supporting the honest and hardworking immigrants, who choose to make the legal journey to citizenship or other legal status.  It does not mean penalizing them by rewarding those that chose an illegal method.

This is important in light of the second reason:  the Hispanic vote.  As a recent article in The Economist reports, Hispanics are one of the fastest growing populations in America.  Although, as a second article in The Economist reports, they voted approximately two-to-one in favor of Obama in 2008, they are far from a solid Democratic force.  The article states:
In a fair number of keenly contested states, the Hispanic population in effect holds the balance of power; and as long as they continue to vote solidly Democratic (as they did in 2008, by a whopping 67-31% margin), that is great news for the blue party. The big Hispanic vote for Barack Obama in Florida turned that vital state from Republican to Democratic; the Hispanic vote also proved crucial in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. It is not impossible to imagine that, in time, Texas’s huge Hispanic population could turn America’s second-largest state Democratic

If the Republicans want to avoid that fearful fate, they need to reconnect with Hispanic voters, and fast. In principle it ought not to be too hard. Culturally conservative, strongly religious, family-oriented and with a long and distinguished tradition of service in America’s armed forces, Hispanics are natural Republicans. But they are also, on the average, poorer than whites, and they are rightly incensed at anything that smacks of xenophobia.
The Republicans would be wise to heed this poignant analysis. By articulating an immigration policy that appeals to Hispanics and conservative principles, the GOP would not only fend off attacks from the Left but possibly be able to swing a number of blue states in their favor (such as New Jersey which just elected a Republican governor).  Furthermore, a successful policy maneuver will redeem the opposition Republicans’ image and give broad swaths of voters a renewed confidence in the Party’s ability to lead.  If they fail to appropriately frame the debate, the GOP will not only be demonized by the Democrats as racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant, but will likely lose the chance at capturing the increasingly important Hispanic vote.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Racism of Reid and the Democrats

The recent political uproar caused by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev) comments about President Obama’s race bring to the fore the failure of the Democratic Party to stand by its presumptive principles. In an upcoming book, Reid is quoted as privately describing Obama as “light skinned” and “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” when he ran against the current President in the 2008 Democratic primaries.

Unsurprisingly, the Democrats have rushed to protect the Majority Leader by accepting his apology and commencing an attack on the GOP. Even the vitriolic Al Sharpton, forever looking for an excuse to play the race card, has defended Reid. This stands in stark contrast to a similar incident involving former Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott, who praised the segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond. After stating the arguably ambiguous racist statement that, “…if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years,” Lott was summarily abandoned by Republicans and forced to resign.

Admittedly, the GOP has used this to their political advantage. Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, who is black, has decried the Democrats’ double standard. However, regardless of whether Reid’s comments warrant dismissal or other punitive action, the incident highlights the increasing hypocrisy in the Democratic Party. Modern Democrats are largely out of touch with the fundamentals of the Democratic Party. While Democrats of yesterday argued for equal opportunity and treatment for everyone regardless of individual characteristics, Democrats of today clamor for special treatment for groups based on these same traits. In a discussion on McGovernism, the political philosophy of modern Democrats rising from McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972, Norman Podhoretz, in his book “Why are Jews Liberal?,” develops this profound analysis:
…[W]heras the Democrats [since Roosevelt] had believed in treating individuals as individuals without regard to “race, creed, color, or country of national origin,” McGovernism’s embrace of quotas translated into treating individuals entirely with regard to race, creed, and color; and whereas the Democrats had interpreted the idea of equality as meaning of opportunity for individuals, McGovernism took it to mean equality of results for groups.
This new style of racism undermines the very premises on which the Democratic Party is supposedly built. Harry Reid’s comment is only the latest indication of the rampant prejudice and naked disparagement of minorities harbored by the New Left. This adds to a long line of questionable incidents within the Democratic fold; from the inclusion of former Ku Klux Klan member Senator Robert Byrd as one of the leading Democrats in the Senate (current President pro tempore) to the multifarious occurrences of race-baiting by the pernicious Al Sharpton and equally pestiferous Jesse Jackson.

The fact of the matter is the Democrats have long since failed to live up to their own professed high standards of equality. Reid’s snafu is indicative of how the party is only able to think in terms of race. A race-tinted world view is the operating paradigm amongst those who profess a desire to have an equal society. This colored perspective severely debilitates the party from not only forming the ideal society they supposedly envision but also from bettering the condition of those they allegedly aim to help.

It is appalling that the Democrats are continuously able to seize ownership of the race issue by dismissing both the blatant and subtle racism on the Left, while successfully portraying the isolated and peripheral racism on the Right as mainstream. It is even more embarrassing that the supposed leaders of the black and minority communities stand for this subterfuge. As embarrassing as it may be, the Democrats are nevertheless able to maintain their primacy as standard-bearers of racial protection due to their pandering to noble societal goals followed by their dismissal in favor of targeted handouts.

It is high time that Republicans reveal this illiberal agenda for what it is; and maybe win a few minority votes in the process. Republicans can and should proclaim how the rampant favoritism and paternalism of Reid’s ilk not only injure America’s minorities but are also dismissive of the founding American principles of equality. Rather than simply using Reid’s commentary as a simplistic but easy political ploy, they should capitalize on the opportunity to drastically change the debate on and ownership of race and equality in America. Unfortunately, as past experiences have shown, Republican leadership will most likely fumble once again.