Monthly Archives: June 2009

What We’ve Built Today

under-constructionUpdated and with a mint on the pillow:

Honduras, We Have A Problem

The Confirmation Hearings Just Got More Interesting

By The Time He Gets Out, We’ll Have Those Flying Jetpacks

PomoCon’s In The Basement, Mixing Up The Medicine, Front Porch’s On The Pavement, Thinking About The Government

Nico, Nico, Nico…

Don’t Cry For Me, South Carolina

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The Hunt For A Theory Of Russia

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In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf interviewed James Poulos:

So here’s my peanut: bad relations with Russia make us feel so uncomfortable because they challenge and undermine our most cherished narratives about the moral and social progress of the global white community. I know even suggesting that we think analytically in terms of an ‘international white race’ sets off alarms, but it’s obvious that Russian disinterest in, or outright hostility to, liberal political norms is noteworthy primarily because virtually every other majority-white country in the world has embraced and institutionalized them. We (small-l) liberals recoil at the very idea that any white person could seriously appreciate or even live under a regime like Russia’s, because this is a reminder that white people are not the charmed winners of Earth’s civilizational marathon — contestants who can rest easy now that they’ve completed the course and won the race

[…]So good relations with Russia are important because writing off Russia as a kooky nationalistic foe allows us to all-too-conveniently keep ignoring this sensitive but real set of issues. There’s one other reason why they’re important: we can’t secure vital American interests around the world with Russia as an enemy. Full stop. When you boil it right down, this is true because Europe won’t function as the sort of counterweight we would need, in addition to allies like India, in order to manage an actively adversary Russia. I do think it’s essential that Europe recover the ability to defend and assert its own interests, and to take its own side in an argument, but not in order to ‘put the Russian bear at bay’ or any such colorful metaphor. Europe simply is adrift, confused, unsure, weak, and weakening. The Europeans have finally figured out how to neutralize the contending powers that have driven them to war so many times. But to neutralize should not be to neuter. Europe cannot survive as we know and like it — as thriving and powerful culture and a wealthy, stable civilization — unless it gathers around and follows the lead of a ruling vision of the highest, a vision that Europe can incarnate in institutional form. Despite the brilliant moral history of a people like the Poles, neither Poland, Germany, Italy, Spain, nor any other country but one can truly lead Europe. Only France has the economic, political, and cultural credibility, drawn from its venerable history and ideals, to organize the European identity and direct it toward the confident, worthy, and practical goals that Europe requires to endure.

Daniel Larison comments:

I have to give James high marks for creativity, but I don’t think so. The idea of a “global white community” doesn’t set off any alarms, because this refers to something that is a community in about the same way that “the international community” is actually a community. Discomfort with poor Russian relations is not anxiety caused by Russia’s subversion of some international white narrative. Put differently, what James is trying to say might not sound so strange. What annoys Westerners about Russia is that Russians are historically Christian, culturally European and are the most thoroughly Westernized so-called “Eastern” nation (in no small part because they have been part of “Western Civilization” for a millennium), but this does not lead most Russians to quite the same political preferences as their neighbors. That suggests that political preferences and constitutions are highly contingent and they are driven by particular interests and conditions. Western liberals seem to find this hard to believe, and they are reduced to explaining away such things by invoking irrationality as the cause.

[…] I would say that Russia vexes Western liberals (broadly defined) because the Russian example suggests that historical memory, culture and the nation’s past are far from irrelevant to the constitution of a polity. Western liberals seem to want these things to be absolutely irrelevant, because they tend to get in the way of planting liberal democracies in other countries. I’ll wager the people who are made uncomfortable by bad relations with Russia are very few, and we are unlikely to be representative. Most people are either indifferent to this or may even be pleased by it. Nothing brings back comfortable, lazy policy-making and self-congratulatory rhetoric like being able to vilify “the Russkies” as in the old days. Unless ensuring bad relations with Russia is the deliberate goal, I cannot explain how else Washington can persist in policies that are guaranteed to result in bad relations.

The Russian example is discouraging to democracy enthusiasts, because it makes clear how vital strong legal institutions and limitations on state power are to a mass democracy if it is not going to become a plebiscitary authoritarian state. Even if the enthusiasts acknowledge this, they don’t like being reminded that liberal and good government is largely of a function of all the very un-democratic institutions and elements of our system. Whenever these people whine about Russian “backsliding” away from democracy, they don’t want to have to think about how the current Russian government is illiberal, authoritarian and interventionist in the economy because this is in many (though not all) ways what most of the people want.

In other Russian posts, we have this article in Foreign Policy by Peter Savodnik:

Granted, there are many reasons to doubt that Russia is poised to forge a more constructive relationship with the United States: Putin remains (presumably) the most powerful man in the country, and the underlying systemic problems that have inhibited U.S.-Russian cooperation persist. No matter how many niceties Obama and Medvedev manage at their joint press conference, the United States and Russia will continue to butt heads about the future of Ukraine and Georgia. “The Obama administration has made clear that ‘resetting’ relations with Moscow does not mean accepting a Russian sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space,” says Steven Pifer, a former deputy assistant secretary of state and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

But there is a sense that something must change. This sense is reflected in the everyday behaviors of ordinary people worried about their pensions and their jobs; it is felt in the increasingly combative press; it is evident at the highest levels. (Putin’s recent very public spanking of oligarch Oleg Deripaska, in which the prime minister called the metals tycoon a greedy cockroach to his face, contrasts sharply with the chumminess of just a year or two ago, when optimism and consensus were the norm.) This development is not simply emotional, as if after eight years of worsening relations a sudden weariness has set in.

What is happening is historical, almost dialectic, a function of the sways and perturbations of global plate tectonics. For centuries, Russia has swung, with a metronome-like consistency, between a westernizing, outward-looking pole and an Oriental, inward-looking one. These swings have been demarcated by varying periods and intensities, but they are a constant; they are the constant. The signs of this most recent swing, or thaw, are there. The question for U.S. foreign policymakers is whether they take advantage of it.

UPDATE: Foreign Policy Initiative‘s letter to Obama. Peter Wehner is a signatory and blogs here.

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Royale With Cheese

Mike Steinberger has a new book out, Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France.

Excerpt in Slate:

In the battle for France, Jose Bové, the protester who vandalized a McDonald’s in 1999 and was then running for president, proved to be no match for Le Big Mac. The first round of the presidential election was held on April 22, and Bové finished an embarrassing tenth, garnering barely 1 percent of the total vote. By then, McDonald’s had eleven hundred restaurants in France, three hundred more than it had had when Bové gave new meaning to the term “drive-through.” The company was pulling in over a million people per day in France, and annual turnover was growing at twice the rate it was in the United States. Arresting as those numbers were, there was an even more astonishing data point: By 2007, France had become the second-most profitable market in the world for McDonald’s, surpassed only by the land that gave the world fast food. Against McDonald’s, Bové had lost in a landslide.

As reprehensible as Bové’s tactics were, it was difficult for a food-loving Francophile not to feel a little solidarity with him. If you believed that McDonald’s was a blight on the American landscape, seeing it on French soil was like finding a peep show at the Vatican, and in a contest between Roquefort and Chicken McNuggets, I knew which side I was on. But implicit in this attitude was a belief that McDonald’s had somehow been foisted on the French; that slick American marketing had lured them away from the bistro and into the arms of Ronald McDonald. However, that just wasn’t true. The French came to McDonald’s and la malbouffe (or fast-food) willingly, and in vast and steadily rising numbers. Indeed, the quarter-pounded conquest of France was not the result of some fiendish American plot to subvert French food culture. It was an inside job, and not merely in the sense that the French public was lovin’ it—the architects of McDonald’s strategy in France were French.

Carey Jones in Serious Eats

Dr. Vino

Veronique de Rugy in The Corner

Mark Hemingway in The Corner

Michael Goldfarb in TWS:

In the course of Donald Morrison’s review of Au Revoir to All That by Michael Steinberger, we learn that McDonald’s is the largest private employer in all of France, which is sort of like being the largest provider of health insurance in North Korea, but nonetheless, it feels like a major triumph for American culture and cuisine. I once ate at the McDonald’s right next to the Arc de Triomphe. My quarter pounder tasted like hegemony.

UPDATE: Matt Y on Goldfarb:

It’s worth pointing out that this is not hegemony at all, but rather the dread soft power. When I was in Finland, I saw an episode of Medium dubbed into Swedish on television. There was a Starbucks near the hotel I stayed at in Geneva. I’ve shown you my photo of Dunkin Coffee in Barcelona before. I’m told that an American-style Santa Claus is popular in Japan. They play basketball in China and baseball in Colombia. And of course Microsoft Office and iPods are ubiquitous wherever you have people rich enough to own modern information technology.

UPDATE #2:Will Ferroggiaro and Judah Grunstein doing Bloggingheads

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The Sarah Palin Rorschach Test Continues, As More Ink Is Spilled

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Todd Purdum writes about Sarah Palin in the new Vanity Fair. The blogosphere reacts.

William Kristol at TWS:

Here’s a highlight of Purdum’s reporting: “More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin’s extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders–’a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy’–and thought it fit her perfectly.”

Is there any real chance that “several” Alaskans independently told Purdum that they had consulted the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders? I don’t believe it for a moment. I’ve (for better or worse) moved in pretty well-educated circles in my life, and I’ve gone decades without “several” people telling me they had consulted the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Meanwhile, on the day Purdum’s piece hit the web (today), a journalist who had expressed suspicions in the past that elements of the McCain campaign had undercut Palin suddenly got a friendly e-mail from top McCain-Palin campaign strategist Steve Schmidt. This journalist hadn’t heard from Schmidt in months. Perhaps Steve was nervous someone would finger him for the Purdum piece. One reason people might do so is this passage in Purdum’s article: “All the while, Palin was coping not only with the crazed life of any national candidate on the road but also with the young children traveling with her. Some top aides worried about her mental state: was it possible that she was experiencing postpartum depression? (Palin’s youngest son was less than six months old.)” In fact, one aide who raised this possibility in the course of trashing Palin’s mental state to others in the McCain-Palin campaign was Steve Schmidt.

Jason Zengerle in TNR on Kristol

However, as Eric Boehlert of Media Matters points out, hell has frozen over because Boehlert agrees with Kristol. (Yes, you read that right.)

Don’t you love how Purdum zeroed in on how self-obsessed Palin is; how (clinically) narcissistic she is? I’d be curious to find out how many VF features in recent years about male politicians stopped to ponder the me-me-me tendencies of those powerful players.

Tom Bevan in Real Clear Politics:

To be clear, there are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and the elitist MSM’s contract-killer journalism against political figures with whom they disagree – which, more often than not means conservatives.

Purdum’s piece is an absolute classic of the genre, complete with a slew of juicy, negative quotes from insiders and a smoothly crafted narrative that demeans and diminishes Palin’s accomplishments and portrays her as an ignorant white trash whack job who stumbled her way into the governorship of Alaska through a combination of raw ambition and blind luck.

Sarah Palin is one of those rare figures who evokes acute emotions in a lot of people. I’m not one of them, so it’s always been hard for me to understand why those who didn’t even know her name before August 28 of last year could either fall so madly in love with her or be driven into such an absolute blind rage over her.

Joe Gandelman in Moderate Voice:

The Daily News article ends with part of the Vanity Fair article where a McCain staffer takes a swipe at Palin from the standpoint of early hopes that she was raw talent — and that his worst negative fears about Palin were confirmed after the election. In other words: it blasts her for her campaign and post campaign performance.

This piece will only likely add to Palin’s woes in the political imagery needed to perhaps not get the 2012 GOP Presidential nomination but win a national campaign. She is already the target of a slew of Sarah Palin jokes. Her admirers, on the other hand, see her as the wave of the conservative future and many are members of the talk radio political culture that’s highly influential in the GOP.

But the ongoing tensions between McCain staffers (as well as subtle and perhaps not so subtle hints from McCain himself that he thinks the GOP should shop around before choosing a 2012 Presidential candidate) underscore Palin’s failure to mend political fences on the most fundamental, basic scale: with her own running mate’s staff. Moreover, this split seems to have personal as well as ideological roots: although Palin is painted as a political diva it’s no secret McCain is less predictable politically than Palin and she seemed to be unhappy at some of his less conservative stands.

Chris Good in The Atlantic

Isaac Chotiner in TNR

UPDATE: Jonathan Martin in Politico on the fight that this article has caused.

Jason Zengerle in TNR on the fight

Steve Benen

Jim Geraghty at NRO

Allah Pundit

Andrew Sullivan

UPDATE: This is evolving in many directions.

We got e-mails between various people. CBS has ’em between the campaign staff. Mark Hemingway at The Corner has ’em between Bill Kristol and Randy Scheunemann.

Hemingway again

David Frum

Jason Zengerle in TNR and Sadly, No both profess some sympathy for Steve Schmidt.

Two posts at Powerline from Paul Mirengoff, here and here.

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Another Supreme Court Ruling (Update: The Long Minnesota Saga Finally Ends)

Al wins at the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Josh Marshall

Minnesota Supremes rule unanimously for Al Franken.

Matt Y

Will update quite soon.

UPDATE:

Huffington Post

Atrios “The Al Franken Decade Begins”

Eric Kleefeld

UPDATE #2:

Wonkette:

Nearly a year ago, in a faraway land called “Minnesota Nice,” two Patriotic Jews fought an epic battle, if by “fought” you mean “people who were already going to vote for president also voted for one of these dorks (or the Lizard People) running for U.S. Senate.” One of them, the rich Hollywood liberal from Minneapolis, wasn’t anybody’s idea of a prize, but he beat the other guy, some kind of lamer from St. Paul. And the other guy, Norm Coleman, who always loses every campaign, just would not give up, because if he admitted defeat then Barack Obama would have 60 Democrats in the Senate and, well, let’s just say it will be “Good-bye Christianity and Hello Women’s Studies & the Hip Hop.” Anyway, the state Supreme Court says Franken won, the end.

Michelle Malkin brings the music

Steve Benen

UPDATE #3: Jonah Goldberg brings the Shatner

Ed Morrissey:

As I wrote before, the equal-protection argument Coleman used for this appeal had more chance of success in federal court rather than state court.  The state court kept itself to the issues of state law, rather than the more expansive federal issue of equal treatment of votes.  No one who followed the arguments at the court can be surprised by this decision, which was unanimous.

Coleman could push this into the federal courts, but he has yet to commit to doing so.  Tim Pawlenty indicated that he would follow the state Supreme Court’s direction in handling the election certificate, which means Franken will probably take his seat this week in the Senate.  If Coleman appeals to the federal court, he will have to also deal with Franken’s status as a seated Senator.

My guess — and this is just a guess — is that Coleman will call it a day.  We’ll soon see.

Update: Eric Black reports that the certificate was not specifically ordered.  Hmmm.  That gives Pawlenty an out, if he chooses to wait for a Coleman federal appeal.

Doug J.

James Joyner

UPDATE: We’re a little behind the rodeo; Coleman has conceded.

K-Lo at The Corner

Eric Kleefeld

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Right And Left Fight Over Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Sky Is Blue And Ice-Cream Is Yummy.

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So did Barack Obama write his own books or did Bill Ayers? This doesn’t break easily on right/left lines.

Jack Cashill at American Thinker:

Bill Ayers was no one’s ghostwriter.  The now overwhelming evidence strongly suggests that he used the frame of Obama’s life and finished it off with his own ideas, his own biases, his own experiences, his own passions, his own friends, even his own romances, all of this toned down just enough to keep Obama viable as a potential candidate.

I would argue that Ayers played Cyrano to Obama’s Christian.  His personal history was too ugly for him to woo Roxane/America himself.  But Obama — “articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” as Joe Biden reminded us — could and did make America’s heart melt.

Robert Farley links to Scott Eric Kaufman:

As all actual, practicing literary critics know, few sentences in critical works scream tendentiousness louder than:

What should be transparent to any literary critic is that . . .

Literary matters are only “transparent” when they’re not properly literary. If something is transparent, you don’t need a literary critic to ponder the depths it doesn’t have—any old idiot will suffice. And that’s exactly why Jack Cashill, author of the above and an idiot of long-standing, is just the man to prove that Bill Ayers wrote Obama’s autobiography, Dreams From My Father. For Cashill and his mysterious contributors (“[t]he media punishment that Joe the Plumber received” requires they remain anonymous), the case against Obama is a compelling one:

What Mr. Midwest noticed recently is that both Ayers in [A Kind and Just Parent] and Obama in [Dreams From My Father] make reference to the poet Carl Sandburg. In itself, this is not a grand revelation. Let us call it a C-level match. Obama and Ayers seem to have shared the same library in any case . . . Ayers and Obama, however, go beyond citing Sandburg. Each quotes the opening line of his poem “Chicago” . . . This I would call a B-level match. What raises it up a notch to an A-level match is the fact that both misquote “Chicago,” and they do so in exactly the same way.

So both Ayers and Obama misquote the opening line of Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago,” substituting “hog butcher to the world” for “hog butcher for the world.” This mutual error would be significant (an “A-level match”) if Ayers and Obama were the only two people who ever made it, but according to Google Book Search—a secret search engine to which only I have access—the same mistake has been made by Nelson Algren, Alan Lomax, Andrei Codrescu, H.L. Mencken, Paul Krugman, Perry Miller, Donald Hall, Ed McBain, Saul Bellow, S.J. Perelman, Nathanaël West, Ezra Pound, Wright Morris, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, and the 1967 Illinois Commission on Automation and Technological Progress. (To name but a few.) According to Cashill, I have now proven that Dreams From My Father was written by many a dead man of American letters, a living mystery writer, a New York Times columnist and the 1967 Illinois Commission on Automation and Technological Progress.

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

The hog-butcher line is a plodding cliche, not some obscure reference. There’s not a whiff of plagiarism here, the language and context read completely differently. As for them both getting the quote wrong, so what? I would bet that most, or at least a great many, people get that quote wrong in the same way. If you search Google Books, you’ll find 605 books or excerpts using the “to” and 655 using “for.” If you search Nexis you’ll find 536 instances of “to” and only 382 of “for.”

Cashill has many other examples like this one and a lot more that are much worse (i.e. less persuasive). Indeed he calls this “hog butcher” instance an “A” level example and cites it first presumably because it packs a wallop. It’s not a wallop; it’s a whiff.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Obama is a closer student of Ayers’s work than we’ve been told. I certainly believe they were closer friends then we’ve been told. But I think trying to claim some sort of literary conspiracy is a bridge too far.

Hilzoy

Tom Maguire

So let me see if I understand.  A careful reader identified 180 matches between Ayers’ work and Obama’s that Mr. Cashill considered to be “B-level or above”.  Mr. Cashill only matched at most sixteen of those phrases or features in his own writing, thereby proving… what?

What is the baseline?  For the exercise to be meaningful, a careful reader would need to go through Mr. Cashill’s work and compare it directly to Ayers.  If that were done, they might well find 164 other Cashill-Ayers matches which, combined with the 16 in hand, resulted in a total of 180 matches in all.  And since Obama would not be a match on these 164 new entries, I guess we would conclude that Ayers was the author of Cashill’s work.

Or maybe a careful reader would undertake a third comparison and discover Cashill and Obama match on 164 unique new points, thereby proving that Mr. Cashill was the author of “Dreams” and could save us a lot of time by simply admitting it.

That said, perhaps a careful, objective reader would establish that the Cashill-Ayers matches only total 30, which might lead us to wonder whether the Obama-Ayers match rate is unusually high.  But right now, we have no baseline at all and no reason to think that Obama, Ayers and Cashill all ought to match on the same phrases.

Moving on, Thomas Sowell in National Review:

A quadrupling of the national debt in just one year and accepting a nuclear-armed sponsor of international terrorism such as Iran are not things from which any country is guaranteed to recover.

Just two nuclear bombs were enough to get Japan to surrender in World War II. It is hard to believe that it would take much more than that for the United States of America to surrender — especially with people in control of both the White House and the Congress who were for turning tail and running in Iraq just a couple of years ago.

Perhaps people who are busy gushing over the Obama cult today might do well to stop and think about what it would mean for their granddaughters to live under sharia law.

The glib pieties in Barack Obama’s televised sermonettes will not stop Iran from becoming a nuclear terrorist nation. Time is running out fast and we will be lucky if it doesn’t happen during the first term of this president. If he gets elected to a second term  — which is quite possible, despite whatever economic disasters he leads us into — our fate as a nation may be sealed.

Brad DeLong

Tyler Cowen:

Today I wanted to cover lots of different topics, so here is a thought from Thomas Sowell:

Perhaps people who are busy gushing over the Obama cult today might do well to stop and think about what it would mean for their granddaughters to live under sharia law.

And to think that I was worried about high marginal rates of taxation.  The full article is here.

Not so long ago, Yana asked me: “What does Thomas Sowell think of Barack Obama?”  I believe I now have an answer for her.

Matthew  Yglesias:

And, yes, that was in National Review the flagship publication of the American right.

Steve Benen

Reading Sowell’s piece, though, my first thought wasn’t, “Wow, this is nuts”; it was, “Wow, National Review published this on purpose.”

Over the last couple of decades, the line between the GOP establishment/leadership and the unhinged GOP base has become blurred. At the same time, the line between the analysis offered by “serious” and “respectable” conservative voices and the unbalanced tirades put forward by the nutty conservative fringe has all but disappeared.

UPDATE: Sek on Cashill

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We’ve Looked At Health Care Reform From All Sides Now

Has Obama overlearned the Clinton lessons? That’s what some on the left, liberal, center-left and center are debating.

Karen Tumulty in Swampland rounds up three op-eds. Jonathan Cohn:

Bill and Hillary Clinton are off saving the world, he through his global foundation and she via the State Department. But their presence looms over the health care debate as surely as if they were running the White House. Their epic failure to pass reform in 1994 has become the defining object lesson in how to botch health care legislation–a lesson President Obama has obviously taken to heart. Push for reform right away; let Congress hash out the details; and, above all, don’t threaten people’s current insurance arrangements. You can sum up Obama’s strategy for health reform as “WWCD”: What Wouldn’t the Clintons Do.

And it’s working well so far. Notwithstanding the predictable fits-and-starts of the legislative process, it seems likely that Obama will have a bill to sign by year’s end, thereby accomplishing what the Clintons famously could not. But then what? Having crafted a bill that can pass Congress, will Obama be signing a bill that people actually like?

E.J. Dionne in WaPo:

There are progressives (probably including Obama) who would trade the public plan for a strong universal-coverage bill if it included genuinely tough rules on the insurance companies. What should be avoided above all is a fake public plan hemmed in by so many restrictions that it would be doomed to failure.

My own preference is for a bill with a strong public plan financed by broader tax increases on the best-off Americans. Still, there are many routes to universal coverage — the recent proposal by former Senate leaders Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and Howard Baker deserves more attention than it has received — and some compromises will be necessary.

The key is that no compromise should be allowed to undermine the long-term goals of covering everybody and containing costs. Concessions made for purely political reasons could produce an unworkable monstrosity of a bill.

Obama’s lobbying helped to save climate change legislation, and he now needs to weigh in more forcefully on health care. He should toughen Baucus’s negotiating strategy, and he’ll have to mediate among liberals. He doesn’t need stone tablets, just an iron will.

David Brooks in NYT:

On health care, too, the complicated job of getting a bill that can pass is taking priority over the complicated task of creating a program that can work. Dozens of different ideas are being added, watered down or merged together in order to cobble together a majority. But will the logrolling produce a sustainable health system that controls costs and actually hangs together?

The great paradox of the age is that Barack Obama, the most riveting of recent presidents, is leading us into an era of Congressional dominance. And Congressional governance is a haven for special interest pleading and venal logrolling.

When the executive branch is dominant you often get coherent proposals that may not pass. When Congress is dominant, as now, you get politically viable mishmashes that don’t necessarily make sense.

Tumulty:

It’s also important to remember that a bill–if it passes–is only the beginning of the process. Implementing any kind of far-reaching health reform is going to take years, maybe decades. And that is an argument for making sure that it starts with both a broad base of support, as well as with its gain and pain in balance. Congress, with its two-year election cycles, is not exactly known for taking the long view.

Ezra Klein:

Of course, as David Brooks points out, a firm hand with Congress is remembered as the defining mistake of the Bill Clinton’s first-term. As you can read in detail here, there was no mistake more consequential than the president’s decision to dictate every jit and tot of his health reform plan to the legislature. Obama’s congressionalist approach is an effort to avoid the mistakes of the Clinton years. Predictably enough, that’s led to a growing chorus flaying him for making the opposite mistakes.

And maybe that chorus is right. But the implicit assumption of these arguments about strategy is that there is, somewhere out there, a workable strategy. That there is some way to navigate our political system such that you enact wise legislation solving pressing problems. But that’s an increasingly uncertain assumption, I think.

Imagine a group of men sitting in a dim prison cell. One of the walls has a window. Beyond that wall, they know they’ll find freedom. One of the men spends years picking away at it with a small knife. The others eventually tire of him. That’s an idiotic approach, they say. You need more force. So one of the other men spends his days ramming the bed frame into the wall. Eventually, he exhausts himself. The others mock his hubris. Another tries to light the wall of fire. That fails as well. The assembled prisoners laugh at the attempt. And so it goes. But the problem is that there is no answer to their dilemma. The problem is not their strategy. It’s the wall.

Digby:

Clinton’s health care plan was derailed largely because it was perceived as being cumbersome and complicated. They had to explain things like “managed competition” and “global budgets” and “premium caps.” Those things don’t exactly read well on a bumper sticker and the right was able to persuade people that the whole thing was a big mess that wasn’t going to work.

Times have changed. People have learned a lot about health insurance in the past 16 years — more than they ever wanted to know — and they have come to realize that the system is already complicated and that it’s not working for them a good part of the time. But using the public plan as a rallying cry keeps the pressure on the congress to at least see this through.

I recognize that there are people of good faith out there who believe that the public plan is a sham and that progressives are selling out their beliefs by backing it instead of insisting on single payer or nothing. I would just say that if there were any other path to getting reform in the next eight years, I’d agree. But I don’t see that there is. The politicians are already making the sausage. We don’t know yet what they are going to put together and for the sake of all those millions of people who have no insurance or are about to lose theirs, it seems to me that we at least try to get something passed. I wish it could be more perfect, but I have absolutely no idea how to make it better at this point. Standing in the way without a serious strategic alternative that could actually result in real reform seems short sighted to me.

Philip Klein in the American Spectator:

My sense of Obama is that if it came down to it, he would be willing to settle for pared down legislation so he could at least point to some sort of legislative accomplishment, as opposed to the political fallout of watching the whole effort go down in flames. That’s why he isn’t drawing any lines in the sand, because he doesn’t want to end up in a box like Bill Clinton did when he declared in his 1994 State of the Union speech that he would veto any health care bill that fell short of guaranteed coverage for every American. Yet even if Obama is willing to settle for less, he’ll have his work cut out for him explaining that approach to liberal activists.

And on what Axelrod said on MTP last Sunday?

Jim Geraghty in NRO

I’m glad that people are noticing that when Obama’s chief advisor David Axelrod won’t rule out the possibility of taxing employer-based health insurance, it’s a major reversal of Obama’s campaign rhetoric. I just wish more folks noted just how much of Obama’s campaign message was based on this — $44 million on 16 different attack-ad commercials ripping McCain for proposing the very same idea.

When a man won’t even stand by his attack ads, he’s really without principles.

Allah Pundit

RDemocrat in Daily Kos

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