Sunday, September 25, 2011

Netanyahu on Meet the Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down with David Gregory on Meet the Press to discuss the current state of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Netanyahu forcefully explained why Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's bid for unilateral statehood at the UN is untenable. He offered that the only way to a secure and viable peace, consisting of two independent states, was through direct negotiations.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Chris Christie: In It, To Win It?

The New York Post reports that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has stepped back from his adamant refusal to run for president and may be jumping into the race. According to the report, Christie will provide an answer this week "after getting lobbied hard from some of the GOP’s top leaders and money men."

The Post states that Christie has offered criticism of the current batch of GOP candidates, arguing they are not providing voters with the answers they are looking for. Christie stated:
I think what the country is thirsting for, more than anything else right now, is someone of stature and credibility to tell them that and say, ‘Here’s where I want us to go to deal with this crisis.’... The fact that nobody yet who’s running for president, in my view, has done that effectively is why you continue to hear people ask [Indiana Gov. Mitch] Daniels if he’ll reconsider and ask me if I’ll reconsider.
Christie's entry would certainly unsettle what has become essentially a two-candidate race. Current front-runners Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have seemingly taken the lead not because of any intrinsic qualities but because they are merely better than the rest of the pool. Romney would certainly do a commendable job as president but is rather bland and not overly appealing to the Tea Party-base. This has allowed Perry to steal part of the spotlight. However, some of his positions and unfortunate gaffes have put the essential independent voter ill-at-ease with his candidacy.

Christie would undoubtedly break the mold. As the pugnacious Republican governor of the very Democratic New Jersey, he has been able to appeal to independents and some Democrats. His no-BS style is precisely what the electorate wants in Washington. In many ways Christie is the opposite of Obama—he is a leader that eschews the pettiness of politicking and pushes through needed and helpful legislation. His early battle with the teachers unions demonstrate his ability to stand behind necessary legislation despite misleading rhetoric from opposition special interests.

Christie is precisely what the Republican Party needs—a candidate that can fire up the base, appeal across aisle, and honestly and forcefully communicate a better way forward. While Obama's odds of reelection are slipping of their own accord, Christie would offer the best chance of a desperately needed change in the White House.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Obama Turns to the Rabbis

President Obama is starting to worry about the growing divide between the administration and American Jews, a normally solid constituency in the Democratic base. Last week's special election in NY represented the most recent signal of the Jewish voter's distaste with Obama's administration.

According to recent Gallup poll numbers, 40% of Jews disapprove of Obama, while only 55% approve of the president. This represents a sharp falloff from historical numbers. Obama received 78% of the Jewish vote in the 2008 election.

Aside from general economic concerns, much of this decline in support is due to Obama's lackluster policies in the Middle East. His attempts to push an Arab-Israeli peace have unsurprisingly backfired. His two major sins—pushing Israeli PM Netanyahu on settlements and demanding an agreement based on the 1967 borders—have greatly angered many Jews. These policies have led to stalemate, as they forced both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to become locked into non-negotiable positions.

Obama's naive meddling has led to the most recent disaster today at the UN—a unilateral call for statehood by the Palestinians. Not only has this dealt a blow to the possibility of peace, but it has put Obama in an untenable position. If, as expected, this petition goes to vote in the Security Council this coming Monday, the United States will use its veto, undermining Obama's futile attempts to reach out to the Arab world. The administration's poor foresight has boxed them into a horrible corner, leaving them with little saving grace in the eyes of the international community. Somehow Obama has managed to anger everyone on all sides of the issue.

While there is little to be done about the international community at this point, Obama is apparently desperate to shore up the Jewish vote—a key constituency in what is an increasingly uphill battle for reelection. Obama  has directly reached out to a wide community of rabbis, attempting to garner Jewish support by sprinkling High Holiday[1] sermons with administration talking-points:
...[T]he Obama administration on Thursday convened a conference call with several hundred rabbis and Jewish leaders. According to a participant on the call, President Obama promoted his jobs bill—noting that those who have been more blessed should pay their fair share—and briefed the rabbis on U.S. efforts to counter the push for a declaration of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.
Phone calls with religious leaders is apparently a regular event, but one that has increasing importance as the president gears up for the 2012 election. The administration is clearly on the defensive, sending out Democratic National Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (a Jew), to assure pundits that Obama has firmly maintained the Jewish vote. Wasserman Schultz rejected any indication of trouble with the Jewish vote, stating:
That is absolutely not the case, and it will be demonstrated in the election next year that the natural home for Jewish voters, both domestically in terms of policy and in our Israel policy, is the Democratic Party and President Obama as our candidate.
Wasserman Schultz must either live in la-la land, oblivious to the poll numbers, or simply be hoping that if she states the illogical enough it will become true. Unfortunately for Obama, it is unlikely that simple rhetoric will help his waning support among Jews—or other demographics, for that matter. If Obama wants to win reelection he has to change his strategy: cut out the meaningless speeches and actually show some good policy. The administration needs to turn around the economy and straighten out foreign policy, not beseech rabbis to indoctrinate their congregations.


[1] The Jewish High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) will occur over the next two and a half weeks.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Essay Wins First Prize in New Threats To Freedom Essay Contest

My entry, An Old Threat in a New Garb, was awarded First Prize in the New Threats to Freedom essay contest. The entry was a response to Christine Rosen's The New Behaviorists, an essay included in The New Threats to Freedom book. The original essay discussed how behavioral science is a growing threat to freedom, as policymakers attempt to rely upon "expert" knowledge to legislate individuals' behaviors.

The response argued that behavioral science is not intrinsically bad, but instead a new tool that is sometimes used for age-old purposes of control. Tracing the history of increasing government from FDR, the argument holds that "ideology of centralized elite-run planning has since remained a staple of the American landscape." While this ideology ebbs and flows in intensity of implementation and precise form, it has consistently been utilized by various policymakers.

Behavioral science is the newest form of this desire to control. But as the essay argues, proponents of freedom should be careful to avoid disparaging the science because of its inappropriate use.  Behavioral science has much to offer and should not quickly be dismissed.

The full text of the essay can be read at New Threats to Freedom.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Rebuke Against Obama

One of America's most Democratic congressional seats has gone red.  NY-09, the district once held by former Congressman Anthony Weiner, was won last night by Republican Bob Turner in a special election to replace the disgraced former congressman.  The loss of this long-held district is a huge blow to the Obama administration.

The Democratic pedigree of the district is astounding and the statistics say it all.  The district, currently a bastion of (mostly Orthodox) Jews and Catholics nestled in Queens and Brooklyn, has been held by Democrats since 1923.  It has produced such notables as Chuck Schumer (current senator from New York) and Geraldine Ferraro (vice presidential candidate for Walter Mondale).  Only two Republicans have held the seat since 1874 (for a total of six years) and over the entire history of the United States, Republicans have represented the district for approximately nine years.

Yet even if the statistics are insufficient to convince naysayers of the impact, local Democrats concede the results are a clear rebuke of Obama. For instance, Democratic analyst Hank Sheinkopf said:
The Democrats said no to Obama, no to his economic plan, and no to his position on Israel.... It’s major smack at Democrats, a definite rejection of President Obama and it’s a warning that says if Catholics in the most blue of blue states can vote for the Republican they can do it in other states as well and the Democrats may have real trouble.
But while Sheinkopf is correct to focus on the Catholic vote, Obama should also worry about the second major demographic that makes up NY-09:  the Jewish vote.  New York Democratic leader Ed Koch outwardly supported Turner's campaign as a message against Obama's approach to the Middle East. Many Jews, a large Democratic staple, have become increasingly frustrated with Obama's caustic policies towards Israel and have turned against the administration.  This vote is a major indicator of that trend.

Dan Senor, in the Wall Street Journal, details a laundry lists of administration affronts to Israel, but sums up the meaning of the vote rather succinctly.
A Public Policy Poll taken days before the election found a plurality of voters saying that Israel was "very important" in determining their votes. Among those voters, Republican candidate Robert Turner was winning by a 71-22 margin. Only 22% of Jewish voters approved of President Obama's handling of Israel.
This trend, should it continue, does not bode well for the president and will certainly aid the Republicans come 2012.  Obama is getting hit hard in the supposedly safe bastions.  His mismanagement of the economy, poor foreign policy, and general inability to manage the political climate in Washington, have alienated many of his traditional voters.

And yet despite this wealth of evidence, many Democrats have tried to disavow any linkages to the administration's policy.  This is foolish.  Democrats can choose to ignore the lesson, but the interpretation of the special election as a rebuke against Obama stands rather solidly.  Even Turner acknowledged that there was little daylight between his and former opponent's, Democrat David Weprin, positions, particularly regarding Israel.  The voters, he argued, were not so much voting for him as sending a message of discontent to Washington.  Hopefully, for Obama's sake and the country's, the message does not fall on deaf ears.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Egypt's Protesters Destroying Peace with Israel

Egyptian protesters are squandering their newly found independence as they turn to violence instead of peacefully trying to build a free democracy. On Friday, protesters attacked the Israeli embassy, tearing down a concrete wall and looting the building.

Israeli quickly had to evacuate their personnel, except for the deputy ambassador.  According to reports, police did little to stop the rioting, although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu credits the Egyptian authorities with assisting in the evacuation of Israeli citizens.  Netanyahu was quoted saying:

The fact that the Egyptian authorities acted with determination and rescued our people should be noted and we extend them our thanks.... However, Egypt must not ignore the severe injury to the fabric of peace with Israel and such a blatant violation of international norms.

The Egyptian street should be very careful to avoid turning their rage towards the Israeli government, while the Egyptian authorities should do everything in their power to quell such rioting and destructive behavior.  It is in everyone's interest to maintain a robust peace between the two neighboring states.  No one, save the fundamentalist Islamists, will benefit from renewed strife between Egypt and Israel.

While it is unlikely for the relationship to quickly terminate in the near future, this is the second major instance in a month where Egypt's new government has failed to prevent attacks directed at Israel.  This is a worrisome trend, demonstrating not only that the Egyptians do not fully control their territory but also putting unnecessary strain between two of the region's most powerful states.  Peace between Egypt and Israel is essential for continued stability in the Middle East.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Just Another Stimulus Package

Obama's "jobs bill," announced last night, is just another stimulus package, plain and simple.  But not only is it just another Keynesian[1] spending package, it is the same old policy proposals cloaked (poorly) in a new garb.  The Wall Street Journal said it best:
If President Obama's economic policies have had a signature flaw, it is the conceit that by pulling this or that policy lever, by spending more on this program or cutting that tax for a year, Washington can manipulate the $15 trillion U.S. economy to grow. With his speech last night to Congress, the President is giving that strategy one more government try.
It seems that Obama has the vision of a new New Deal - the same type of stimulus; filling potholes, building infrastructure, and the like, that has already been attempted twice with little success during the Great Recession.  This is the same Keynesian economics that has, for some, justified profligate spending since World War Two.  Its record is, of course, highly debatable - after all, it was not so much the New Deal that brought America out of the Great Depression but World War II.  And while the staunchest defenders retort that military expenditures are government spending and thus justify Keynesian economics, there is a qualitative difference insofar as WWII spending occurred amid massive domestic and international structural changes.

But even if one concedes that Keynesian stimulus worked during WWII, it is the only event in American history that can make this claim.  Subsequent attempts have largely failed - most clearly demonstrated in the two most recent stimulus packages.  It is time to jettison this outmoded economic philosophy.  A simple enough reason is that Americans are catching on to the reality - any stimulus has to be paid by the taxpayer down the line.  Obama may wish to paper over this by claiming the "jobs bill" is fully funded, but the reality is if he is able to squeeze a few more billion out of the Super Committee, it should be used to further reduce our debt, rather than pay for new programs.

The truth is that the economy is failing to right itself because of fear.  Business owners and entrepreneurs have little certainty as to what is going to come out of Washington - more taxes or less, greater spending or austerity, increased or decreased regulation, downgrades, debt or solutions.  This has led to a near paralysis as a wait and see mentality has set in.  The volatility of the stock market says it all.  We have all become manic-depressives.

If Obama is serious about jobs, he has to allow business to do what it does best - get to work - by creating the stability it needs to properly function.  This is not even a call for decreased regulation or taxes [some regulation, as Obama pointed out is necessary to protect the safety and security of workers and consumers], but a need for businesses to know that their operating environment tomorrow will be the same as it is today.  This small thing, renewed confidence, will allow them to go forward and make long-term plans.  It is an easy solution - maybe too easy for a Democratic party beholden to the notion that complex government programs are needed to solve man's everyday problems.

The Republicans shouldn't even consider the bill; it is a waste of time.  Sure Obama will try to peg them as obstructionist and thus the Republicans should avoid grappling in the mud.  Their response so far - no response - is perfect.  There is no debate here, just political theater as Obama launches he reelection campaign. [But if one feels compelled to see what's economically wrong with his proposal the Heritage Foundation has put together a concise list.]

[1] Keynesian economics is the economic philosophy that government spending is sometimes needed to support the economy.  First developed by John Maynard Keynes in the early 20th century, it has often been used to justify countercyclical deficit spending (i.e. during recessions) by the government to stimulate the economy.  Largely beyond its original intent it has been argued by some (most notably following the Kennedy administration) that it should not solely be used during recessions but during other times of non-full employment.  This argument has led to deficit spending during economical booms to increase employment.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Showdown at the UN and a Setback in the Middle East

According to the New York Times, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has confirmed the Palestinians' decision to appeal to the UN for unilateral statehood.  While the vote will undoubtedly fail to pass the Security Council, there is a good chance that it will pass the General Assembly, where the US does not possess a veto.

While in a practical sense the vote is meaningless - the General Assembly does not have the power to grant statehood - the decision to press for unilateral recognition will have severe negative consequences for the Israeli-Arab peace process.  Abbas's decision to proceed follows extensive pressure by Israeli, American, and other diplomats to avoid making an international scene at the UN.

The vote could serve to severely raise tensions in the region, already inflamed by the Arab Spring.  Some pundits believe that it could spark rioting and Israeli reprisals within the West Bank and Gaza.  It has already led to increased divisiveness in the world community as the US Congress has moved to cut funding to any UN organization that supports unilateral Palestinian statehood.  But worst of all, it may force Israel, already feeling isolated and abandoned, particularly by its number one ally, to retrench, granting further power to anti-peace extremists.  Ultimately, the vote will cause greater polarization between the sides and move them further away from an attainable peace accord.

Undoubtedly, the Obama administration's shoddy handling of the Middle East has contributed to this unfortunate turn of events.  Obama's insistence on Israeli preconditions for negotiations, namely an immediate freeze on building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and a bold-faced demand for a settlement based on the 1967 armistice lines, has all but terminated any common ground for negotiations.  While these terms will likely be incorporated into any final peace accord, they cannot serve as starting points for negotiations.

Obama may understand the need for these terms in any final agreement, but he has allowed his policy wonkery to get in the way of sound politics.  His vocalized demands have forced the Israelis to harden their positions, especially given the right-wing basis of the governing Likud coalition.  Likewise, such explicit preconditions have boxed-in Abbas, who can no longer come to the bargaining table deprived of these assurances (the Israelis won't be giving them) without appearing to undermine his people.

This is clearly a huge factor in precipitating Abbas's turn to the UN, a move that angers both the US and Israel.  According to the NYT:
Mr. Abbas says for direct talks to begin, Israel should carry out a short-term freeze in settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as agree that the basis of the talks would be the lines drawn in 1967.
This is shame.  The Middle East peace process has enough hindrances already and sorely does not need more.  Accordingly, any forward movement on a Palestinian state will be thwarted the moment the issue is put to a unilateral vote before the General Assembly.  Hopefully, the Palestinian leadership realizes this before it is too late.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Has Perry Helped Romney?

Dana Milbank has an interesting thesis:  Rick Perry's rapid rise to the top in the race for the GOP presidential nomination has helped former front-runner Mitt Romney.
[Perry's ascent] has, by unburdening Romney of his head-of-the-pack status, released him from the tedious and timid campaign he was running. Relieved of the high expectations, Romney is free to take sides unapologetically in a battle over whether the Republican Party will reclaim its mainstream traditions or remain a protest movement.
Romney, who has led in the vast majority of primary polls over the summer, has recently and summarily been replaced by Perry, who shot to the top following his recent entry into the field.  Perry has strongly appealed to the Tea Party movement, but has caused some consternation among moderates and independents.  His entry has also notably hurt Tea Partier Bachmann, in addition to Romney.

Whatever Perry's immediate success has been, Milbank's argument cuts to the core of the Republican primaries.  Simply put, they are a battle between the moderate establishment and the far-right Tea Party.  Ultimately, the GOP (particularly the far-right) is going to have to decide if it wants to select a candidate that hews the Tea Party line or choose someone that has a greater chance of wooing moderates and thus defeating Obama.  

If Milbank's argument is right, Romney now is in the best position to portray himself as the only one that can beat Obama.  According to Milbank, Romney has successfully began recasting himself a moderate, pro-market, Republican by presenting reasonable conservative economic solutions and announcing a mainstream team of economic advisers, while shedding the fire and brimstone of the Tea Party.  When it comes down to the actual primaries, such a tactic may swing the vote in favor of Romney, who can appeal to the sensibilities of the GOP: "Select me or Obama gets four more years."  The Republican base may be fired up about Tea Party candidates, but if such a candidate cannot beat Obama in a national election, he is useless.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Don't Fear the Islamists

The Arab Spring and the fall of Arab leaders, particularly US-allied dictators such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, have led to much consternation in many circles.  While few would refute that the likes of Mubarak, Libya's Qaddafi, or Syria's al-Assad are genuinely good guys, some argue that the stability provided by these despots is preferable to the unknown vacuum that will result after their downfall.  Particularly, it is argued, that with radical Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, waiting in the wings, these secular dictators are a safer bet for Western interests.

There is little doubt that another Iran (an Islamist led regime) would not bode well for US interests in the Middle East.  Even Syria, the most anti-Western regime currently experiencing Arab Spring turmoil, could tilt further towards the Iranians.  However, these fears are considerably overblown.  There is much ground to believe that even if Islamist groups gain greater control in these countries that the outcome will be more benign than many doomsdayers predict.

First, it is far from clear that many Islamist groups want to control their governments.  Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, for instance, has disavowed any attempt to control the legislature and is running an incomplete slate of candidates.  Arguably this is because many Islamists are concerned that the next general government will fail and thus feel it is best to be in opposition, not in control.  Furthermore, many prefer to target the softer realms of government - welfare, religion, health services, etc. - and are not quite ready to take on the higher politics of foreign policy and economic affairs.

This later point dovetails with the second reason to avoid fear over the changes in the Middle East.  The Islamists have, for decades, been a force of opposition.  This is a relatively easy role to play, particularly when a country's leadership consists of dictators or military juntas.  However, as Islamists step out from this role two trends will emerge.  First, there will be growing divergence within the movement.  As an opposition they could remain strong and united in saying "no;" as leaders they will invariably differ in how to proceed. [This may be another explanation for why the Islamist leadership is wary about taking full control of the government - they wish to get their base in line before power splits them apart.]  Invariably such dissension will weaken the movement and undermine their ability to create serious harm.

The second trend to emerge will be that of moderation.  Those who assume leadership positions in democracies with strong non-Islamist bases will be forced to tailor their message and policy goals in order to maintain their position.  For instance, Egyptian Islamists have long disparaged the peace accord with Israel, but it seems unlikely that, once running the country, they would choose to create a new enemy on their border by repudiating the deal. Such moderation will lead to further fractionalization of the movements and more amenable rulers.

Finally, it is doubtful whether the Islamist parties, particularly in their present manifestations, will be able to maintain significant popular support to dominate their respective countries. While they have historically been the most vocal and organized critics of the Arab regimes, the Arab Spring has largely been a secular movement.  In fact, the recent revolutions largely discredit the Islamist movement, which has failed over the past decades to achieve what these secular, youth movements have achieved over the past year.  The Arab Street does not want to shift from secular dictatorships to theocratic ones.  This partially explains the moderation of the Islamist movements but will also explain the inevitable rise of more secular parties.

None of this is to say that the next few years will be a time of peace and harmony in the Middle East.  Nor is it to suggest that the West's interests will always be paramount under these new regimes - new democracies will undoubtedly be fickle.  These new countries will not be younger, carbon-copies of the West but youthful and unique states that blend democratic institutions with experiences and expectations of the Arab and Muslim world.  Many policies may be anathema to America sentiments, for instance the treatment of women.  However, it is arguable that despite what a Western would call "missteps," most new democratic regimes will not be nearly as threatening as some fear.

In a sense, the un-repression of the Islamists will be their death knell.  Their ideology will be unable to withstand the open competition natural to democracy.  The superior systems of democracy and freedom will undoubtedly win the hearts and minds of the people, as the Islamists will be forced either to moderate or splinter off into smaller groups.  While this may not happen immediately and it is quite possible to have a seriously wrong turn in the short-run, over the long-run it is relatively clear that such an ideology cannot have a long-lasting hold.  One only need to look at the current struggles in Iran (and possibly soon to be second revolution) to understand this point.

The West would be wise to co-opt this to the best of their ability.  They should facilitate the removal of the current regimes, like Syria, to not only be perceived by the Arab masses as friends of freedom but to undercut the Islamist movements.  This will not only provide greater input and sway into the new regimes, but allow more Western-friendly parties to flourish.  Additionally, the West needs to exploit the inevitable divisions within Islamist movements, cultivating the most moderate and marginalizing the extremists.  While this will not ensure an immediate win on all fronts, it will guarantee the best possible long-term outcome for both the Middle East and the West.

[For two interesting articles that expand on these arguments see "The Rise of the Islamists" by Shadi Hamid  and "Terrorism After the Revolution" by Daniel Byman both published in May/June 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs.]

Thursday, September 1, 2011

American Exceptionalism, the Left, and Obama

What is American exceptionalism?  And, what is Obama's and the American left's view of it?  Shelby Steele has the answer in a well-crafted essay in the Wall Street Journal.
American exceptionalism is, among other things, the result of a difficult rigor: the use of individual initiative as the engine of development within a society that strives to ensure individual freedom through the rule of law. Over time a society like this will become great. This is how—despite all our flagrant shortcomings and self-betrayals—America evolved into an exceptional nation.
Steele's link between this "difficult rigor," essentially the American character, and our own exceptional standing as a global leader is aptly made and far too often not discussed or even considered by many.  Our own commitments to hard-work, sacrifice, innovativeness and ingenuity, individuality, and, amongst other attributes, the rule of law, have played an enormous role in developing the United States as a singularly powerful and desirable (in the terms of other people and nations wanting to be like us or join us) nation.  However, many in America, particularly on the left, do not agree with these values and especially our exceptionalism.  Steele outlines how America's imperfect history has become, for some, a cloak of repulsiveness over America's current successes and the values that helped us achieve them.
At home the values that made us exceptional have been smeared with derision. Individual initiative and individual responsibility—the very engines of our exceptionalism—now carry a stigma of hypocrisy. For centuries America made sure that no amount of initiative would lift minorities and women. So in liberal quarters today—where historical shames are made to define the present—these values are seen as little more than the cynical remnants of a bygone era.  
So we Americans cannot help but feel some ambivalence toward our singularity in the world—with its draining entanglements abroad, the selfless demands it makes on both our military and our taxpayers, and all the false charges of imperial hubris it incurs. Therefore it is not surprising that America developed a liberalism—a political left—that took issue with our exceptionalism. It is a left that has no more fervent mission than to recast our greatness as the product of racism, imperialism and unbridled capitalism.
This self-loathing is bad enough as is.  It is never practically or emotionally commendable to look in the mirror and hate what you see - this is why psychologists make quite nice salaries helping individuals understand that their flaws or historical missteps do not obscure their true value.  But as so often occurs in individuals, Steele correctly argues that this systematic recasting of American values and exceptionalism as morally defunct has lead to the undermining of the very greatness of the American way.   

Since the '60s we have enfeebled our public education system even as our wealth has expanded. Moral and cultural relativism now obscure individual responsibility. We are uninspired in the wars we fight, calculating our withdrawal even before we begin—and then we fight with a self-conscious, almost bureaucratic minimalism that makes the wars interminable.
America seems to be facing a pivotal moment: Do we move ahead by advancing or by receding—by reaffirming the values that made us exceptional or by letting go of those values, so that a creeping mediocrity begins to spare us the burdens of greatness?
In Steele's analysis, this is not just a historical force of the left, but a very real problem of the current administration, who's leaders were raised in the heyday of this sort of political thinking.  Now, as leaders of the very institution they were raised to detest, they are torn between pursuing their responsibility of advancing America's position and being true to the elixir of principles they imbibed as youth.

Mr. Obama came of age in a bubble of post-'60s liberalism that conditioned him to be an adversary of American exceptionalism. In this liberalism America's exceptional status in the world follows from a bargain with the devil—an indulgence in militarism, racism, sexism, corporate greed, and environmental disregard as the means to a broad economic, military, and even cultural supremacy in the world. And therefore America's greatness is as much the fruit of evil as of a devotion to freedom. 
As a president, Barack Obama has been a force for mediocrity. He has banked more on the hopeless interventions of government than on the exceptionalism of the people. His greatest weakness as a president is a limp confidence in his countrymen. He is afraid to ask difficult things of them.
All-in-all, this leaves America and the left in a very precarious position.  How do we trust a leadership that wants to "take the country down a notch" or wants to "lead from behind"?  How can the people be comfortable with representatives that were raised on an opposition ideology, who have fixated on what is wrong, not what is right with our system?  But most importantly how can those who ascribe to such beliefs reconcile the fact that their ideology is in many ways at odds with the responsibility of ruling?